Archive for May, 2010

Discovered Word: Zarf

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Zarf: An insulating sleeve that fits around a cup to make it more comfortable for the drinker to hold—which is to say that plastic or cardboard sleeve that coffee shops slide around their disposable cups.

My sister actually has a quilted zarf that she carries with her to slide around disposable cups.  Aurora and I tried to convince her that she ought to get a reusable cup instead—she’d cut down on her disposability quotient quite a bit more by reusing the cup than she does by reusing the zarf.  Plus, though it drastically reduces the opportunities one has to introduce the word zarf into conversation, the discounts offered by coffee shops for using your own mug will generally allow that mug to pay for itself within a dozen visits.  She says that she would lose a reusable travel mug, and therefore it wouldn’t pay for itself ever.

It’s true that on occasion I have dropped, left, or otherwise lost a travel mug.  On the other hand, I also have picked up, discovered, or otherwise found replacements.  For instance, my mug that I’m using today came to me from Carnegie Mellon’s Portugal campus via a Forbes Avenue street corner where it had been forgotten.  It’s quite a bit nicer than the mug I left in Berlin, PA three days before I found it.  Easy come, easy go, as my grandfather used to say.  These things tend to have a way of evening themselves out.

“Ingredients” Movie Screening at Hartwood

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

Mark your calendars and come out to the Hartwood Acres amphitheater on Sunday, June 6 at 7:00 pm to watch the movie “Ingredients” and participate in a forum and discussion with several individuals active in the local foods scene.

Ingredients is the type of movie that reminds us how much we have to be thankful for in Western Pennsylvania, where we’re surrounded by a productive rural landscape and local foods abound.  And yet, there is still room for growth, still more that we can do to make certain that the production and availability of local foods is a truly sustainable phenomenon and will bless our region for generations to come.

This is Allegheny County’s first event of this nature.  The availability of fresh foods is important to us all.  Come show your support, learn something new, and meet some of the key players in the local foods movement, including Mindy Schwartz of Garden Dreams.  There will be a question and answer session with Mindy and other local foods experts—a great opportunity for you to find out more about where you can shop and what you can do to support local farmers and grow your own local foods.

A trailer for “Ingredients” can be found at the film’s website, www.ingredientsfilm.com.  Watch it—I think you’ll be intrigued.

Getting Kids to Eat Vegetables

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

I must admit, I don’t remember ever not liking vegetables.  Even when I was really young, I never understood why Dennis the Menace didn’t want to eat his peas or his broccoli (maybe his mom’s just a bad cook.)  I loved when I was assigned the task of picking cherry tomatoes before dinner—because that meant I could eat a few as I plucked the ripe ones off their vine.  I always wanted to take as much asparagus as I could get away with (”Can I have 8 pieces?”).  The only vegetable I can remember not enjoying were beets—I had to get to be quite a bit older before I could appreciate them.

That having been said, I understand that not all children get excited about eating fresh vegetables.  Researchers at Penn State have determined with empirical evidence that a common-sense solution works: feed kids fresh veggies before the meal, when they are at their hungriest.

[The researchers] found that when preschool children received no first course of carrots, they consumed about 23 grams (nearly 1 ounce) of broccoli from the main course.

When the children received 30 grams (about 1 ounce) of carrots at the start of the meal, their vegetable intake rose by nearly 50 percent compared to having no carrots as a first course. But when the first course was increased to 60 grams (about 2 ounces) of carrots, average vegetable consumption nearly tripled to about 63 grams — or a third of the recommended vegetable intake for preschool children.

Putting the team’s findings to use should be quite easy.  As researcher Maureen Spill notes, “The great thing about this study is the very clear and easy message for parents and care-givers that while you are preparing dinner, put some vegetables out for your children to snack on while they’re hungry.”

The first step toward getting anyone to enjoy a new flavor is getting them to taste it.  While no one will necessarily enjoy every new food that they try, they will not enjoy every food that they don’t try.  Or, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, “You miss 100% of the shots that you don’t take.”  Simply getting kids to taste something different could help them to realize that they actually enjoy the flavor, crunch, and finger-food nature of fresh vegetables.

One other strategy parents might use?  Maureen Spill suggests (and I heartily concur) that “Parents also need to set an example by eating vegetables while children are young and impressionable.”

For more information on the Penn State study, click here.

What Makes A Good Cook?

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Hey Jesse—

In your opinion, what separates a good cook from a bad cook?

Thanks,

Gary

Gary—

Whoo, tough question.  I’ve been letting this one simmer in my mind for a few days trying to sort it out.  My first instinct was knife skills, but I had to rethink that one pretty quickly, as you asked about good from bad.  And, whereas knife skills can separate a great cook from a good cook, they are far from necessary to avoid being a bad cook.  One can be a quite good cook with only functional knife skills.

Next, I thought about respect for ingredients: their quality and their integrity.  And whereas I do believe that such respect is crucial for someone who aspires to cook as well as possible, there are plenty of cooks who do just fine without a great deal of consideration going into the provenance of their ingredients.

So, perhaps a passion for the results?  A love for flavors and how they combine?  Again, helpful, but not necessary.  While these can provide one with the motivation to persevere through kitchen mishaps and produce a better result on one’s next attempt, misguided enthusiasm has been responsible for many a kitchen error, from the novice’s tendency to throw the entire spice rack into the pan, to the combination of dissonant flavors (just to see what they would taste like).

Eventually, though, I decided that there is but one quality that truly separates a good cook from a bad:

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Pork Chop Waffle with Ramp and Rhubarb Sauce

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

I went shopping at the Farmers @ The Firehouse Market this morning to get my ingredients for my Kick Ass Cookery with Corduroy Orange live from the Waffle Shop cooking show; combined what I bought with some pickings from my garden; gathered my spices and my cooking equipment…. In short, I prepared everything I needed for today except for taking a camera to snap a picture of what I made (D’oh!).  But, here are instructions in case you’d like to have Pork Chop Waffles with Rhubarb and Ramp Sauce.

  • 1/4 pound ramps
  • 1/4 pound spring (green) garlic
  • 1/2-3/4 pound rhubarb
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger
  • 10 leaves dinosaur kale
  • 6 leaves kohlrabi greens
  • 6 leaves red mustard greens
  • 1-2 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 4-6 ounces apple cider (I used Woodchuck brand hard cider)
  • 4-6 ounces vegetable stock
  • 1 pork chop
  • kosher salt
  • pepper (I used a mix of black, white, green, and aleppo peppers)
  • powdered ginger
  • cardamom

Cut the green, leafy tops of the ramps and the spring garlic away from their denser bottom sections.  Set the tops aside for later and cut the bottoms into a fine dice.

Start the diced garlic and ramp bottoms caramelizing in a hot pan with a bit of oil (enough to cover the bottom of the pan), some pepper, some ginger, and some kosher salt.  Stir frequently so that the onions’ natural sugars toast in the hot oil but do not scorch and burn.

Meanwhile, cut the rhubarb into 1/2-inch chunks and add them to the pan as the garlic and ramps approach the point when, should you caramelize them further, they would run the risk of burning.  Provide the rhubarb with a very small pinch of salt and stir it in with the ramps and garlic.

Remove the stems from the kale and the kohlrabi.  Cut the greens into thin ribbons, and add them to the pan.  Saute them briefly, then add the flour and stir the flour in to combine with the oil that the vegetables are sauteing in.  Once you have formed a roux around the vegetables, add the cider, slowly, and stir it in to combine with the roux.  Let simmer for a few minutes, and adjust the consistency of the sauce with vegetable stock as necessary.

For the pork chop, craft a spice mix from the spices and the kosher salt.  Use as much pepper as you would like to reach your tolerance for spiciness.  Temper with ginger, equivalent to perhaps 1/3 of the pepper you have used.  Stir in a pinch of cardamom—a little dab’ll do you!  This spice is bitter in large quantities—and enough salt to balance the spices.  Taste the result.  Adjust as needed until you have the taste you desire.   Rub this mix on the pork chop and then sear the chop in a hot cast iron pan (in order to get the sauce and the chop done at the same time, sear the chop at about the same time as you’re crafting the roux to make the sauce.  It helps to have an assistant in order to accomplish both tasks simultaneously).

Once the one side has seared, turn the chop over and cover your cast iron pan with the saute pan that you have made the sauce in.  This will help keep the finished sauce warm whilst (and at the same time as) trapping more heat around the pork chop to help it cook all the way through.

As the second side of the pork chop cooks, slice a few inches of rhubarb into very thin pieces and stir it into the sauce to add a second, fresher and tarter layer of rhubarb flavor.  Slice the mustard greens and the tops of the ramps and green garlic into thin ribbons to use as a garnish.

Flip the pork chop once more to reheat the first side and prod the pork chop with your fingers to make sure it feels done.  If you;re in doubt, feel free to slice it open to check out the inside.  An appropriately cooked pork chop will still have a pale pink hue to the center.

Serve the pork chop atop a freshly cooked waffle.  Spoon a line of the rhubarb and ramp sauce across the waffle such that it covers a corner of the pork chop, leaving at least half of the chop exposed to display the crust that has developed from searing the spice rub.  Top it all off with a small pile of the thinly-sliced mustard, ramp, and garlic greens.

Meat and produce used for the creation of this waffle was purchased from the following farms:

  • Mott Family Farm
  • Next Life Farm
  • Goose Creek Gardens, Ltd.
  • Heilman’s Hog Wash Farms
  • The Allegheny Mushroom Man

Find all of these farmers and more every Saturday at the Farmers @ The Firehouse market in the Strip District.

Thanks also to Sophia for appearing on camera today.  Unless that thanks should go to Sofia.  I’m actually not quite sure how she spells her name….

A Rake, A Hoe, A Piece of Fertile Ground

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

What’s in my garden this year

Though I live in Pittsburgh, and I don’t have much land, I try to make the most of it and grow as many different crops as I can.  Ordinarily, as we approach Mother’s Day weekend, I would be figuring out what I want to plant first in my garden and making plans to get the plants.  This year, though, I paid a little more attention to plants that can go in the ground earlier and have a decent start.  Plus, I have a fondness for perennials—so long as they’re willing to keep coming back, that’s one fewer plant I have to worry about each year.  Nonetheless, I’m still kind of impressed by how many foodstuffs I already have going—not to mention the ones that haven’t gone in the ground yet!

In my garden already:

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Plum Disappointed

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Saturday at Penn Mac: cheese in hand, approaching the checkout, taking a look around the produce.  The bulk mushrooms, as usual, were dried out and older looking.  Not a hot pepper to be seen.  Red bells, as usual, looked good and were selling for the same price as their green peppers.  Avocados are cheap, sure, why not, let’s grab a couple.  Anything else?

The plums looked good.

The PLU stickers said “Chile.”  I knew they’d been shipped across the continent to get here.  But, the plums looked good.

They reminded me of summer days when I’d pluck similar-looking fruit from my family’s fruit bowl and bite through tart, crisp skin into moist, syrupy flesh.  The peculiar sensation of having your mouth pucker and smile at the same time.  The dribble of juice that escapes and runs down your chin and onto your t-shirt.

I bought four.  I ate two today.  There was no tartness, no juice, no moistness to the flesh.  The body was pasty and the flavor was dull.  It was, beyond question, the out of season fruit I should have recognized it to be when I read the country of origin, as clearly marked on the sticker: Chile is approximately 5,000 miles away from Pittsburgh.  That’s a long distance for a fruit to travel.

Caveat imperator—that’s Latin for, “You should’ve known better, stupid!”

Kick Ass Cookery with Corduroy Orange!

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

PLEASE NOTE—THE DATE AND TIME HAVE BOTH BEEN CHANGED (for the earlier)!

Live this Saturday, May 8, 12:00(ish) pm at the Waffle Shop and live online at www.waffleshop.org

This Saturday, May 8, I will be presenting “Kick Ass Cookery with Corduroy Orange!” live from the Waffle Shop.  For the inaugural episode, I’ll be crafting non-traditional waffle toppings (so as to exercise a bit of synergy with the venue).  If you’re in Pittsburgh, come on down to watch me cook and heckle me from the audience (questions from the floor will be accepted, encouraged, and responded to).  Samples will be distributed following the demonstration, and all recipes used will be posted on Corduroy Orange after the demonstration.

The cookery is scheduled to begin at 12:00 pm.  May 8 is the day before Mother’s Day, so please feel free to bring any mothers or children with whom you may associate.  There’s no better way to say, “I love you, Mom!” than by treating her to a waffle accompanied by live cooking demonstrations.

If you’re not local, you don’t necessarily have to miss out on the kickkassery of the event.  Please tune in to watch streaming video at www.waffleshop.org.  Unfortunately, due to limits on what can be streamed over the internet, samples will not be distributed to those in the virtual audience.