May 31, 2006
Mea culpa, mea pulpa.

You may have noticed that my personal recipe output on this site has been a little lacking lately. I could simply blame it on the fact we're busy buying a house (done, thank you), packing (not done, sadly, but we have a plan), and moving (which will be done way too soon).

But I've also been faling into a trap that most people would call just plain living. We've been making corn tacos and other simple meals that I've made before and already blogged on this site. Unfortunately, I doubt many people are interested in seeing the same recipe several times a week.

Meg and I discussed that we now have to spend more time on the recipes we write up because we're proud of what we've built over the last couple of years here at Too Many Chefs. My first few photographs were, um, unappetizing to say the least, though I think the recipes hold up.

I wanted to make sure you, our readers know, that any slowdown in recipe output from this side of the Too Many Chefs site is only temporary and that I will return with a vengence once we move at the end of the month.

In the meantime, as a post for today, let me recommend a discovery I've made recently:

I was in the fruteria near our place this weekend, and a peek in the freezer section led me to discover something new. Goya, the mega-Latino food manufacturer and processor, has started packaging fruit pulp in frozen form.

It's a great way to get fruit you might not otherwise find in your local grocery. I see mangos and guavas and even papaya in my market but do you have a reliable source for lulo, soursop, tomate de arbol, curuba, nance, jocote, tamarind, or mamey? The packet shape makes it easy to stack the fruit in the freezer until your ready to use it in a sauce or cocktail.

I picked up packs of guanabana (aka cherimoya), passion fruit, and tamarind. On the side of the guanabana package was a recipe for a nice cold fruity drink, which we made and enjoyed for breakfast. I modify the original recipe just a little below because I think the Goya people want the drink a lot too sweet. Try it my way for breakfast, and then add a little rum after Noon to have a good cocktail for lying out in the sun.

If you are lucky enough to live near an ethnic Latino market or an enlightened supermarket where they carry these these pulp packets, pick up a guanabana pack and give this lighter version of the Goya drink a try:

Guanabana Cocktail
1/2 packet Goya frozen guanabana pulp (or equivalent, about 7.5 ounces)
2 cups skim milk (original uses whole milk)
2 cup ice cubes
3 tablespoons sugar (original called for 5)
Optional dark rum - as much as your boozy self wants. A coconut rum like Malibu might be interesting as a substitute

Put all that stuff in a blender. Blend. Drink. Repeat. Stagger back to the chaise lounger by the pool and hit on the pool boy/girl.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:45 AM | Comments (6)
May 30, 2006
Dubiously Authentic Chicken Tacos

tacos.jpgI have hesitated to post a recipe for any Mexican dish since we started Too Many Chefs, simply because although I know what I like, I also know that I have no expertise in Mexican cuisine other than eating in many cheap Mexican restaurants in Chicago. (We won't even discuss Parisian restaurants with so-called Mexican cuisine. If Chicago is some 1000 miles from the border, Paris is a few centuries away.) But every once in a while you make a dinner and think: that was right, that was exactly what I wanted and it worked. Each time I make my version of Mexican food it varies slightly based on what I have in the cupboard, my mood and what fresh food is in season. This time, I was constrained by the Eat Local Challenge and (perhaps this shouldn't surprise me) the fact that I stuck to seasonal ingredients meant that the result was delicious.

Despite the store-bought tortillas. (I promise, Barrett, I will make use of the masa you brought me at such great effort from Chicago. Soon.) The tortillas were already in my refrigerator, by the way, and thus exempt from the local rule.

One problem I usually have with Mexican food is that with all the various ingredients and factoring in how much of each I'll need. This time I used up everything and had one tortilla left over. For me that's pretty darn good.

Meg's Amazing Chicken Tacos (serves two generously with three large tacos each)

2 boneless chicken breasts
1 Tbs spicy olive oil*
2 Tbs oil (I used olive, but corn oil would work even better)
1 Tbs cumin
1 tsp piment d'espelette or other spicy pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup canned sweet corn
1 small potato

2 small tomatoes
2-3 small white onions
2 cloves fresh garlic
1 tsp spicy olive oil
1 tbs lime juice
1/4 cup fresh coriander/cilantro

1 cup lettuce, shredded

1 1/2 cup cheese (I used a mix of sharp Cheddar and Tomme, because it's what I had to hand)

Sour cream or creme fraiche to taste

6 large corn tortillas
olive oil or corn oil to fry tortillas

Chop the potato in small cubes. While you are chopping them, heat the tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of non-spicy oil in a frying pan. Add the potatoes. While they are sizzling, cut up the chicken in small cubes. Add the chicken and let it brown well on one side before turning them (and the potatoes). While the chicken and potaotes are cooking, chop the tomatoes and onions finely and mix in a bowl. Mince the garlic and add to the bowl. Add the lime juice and chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) and toss to mix.

Keep tossing the meat and potatoes while you shred the lettuce and grate the cheese.

Add the corn, ground cumin and pepper powder to the chicken and potatoes. Add half the salt and after a few minutes taste. You will probably need the full teaspoon (and maybe more) but taste before adding it all. Add a quarter of a cup (a generous splash) of water to the pan and cover. Lower the heat.

Heat some oil in another frying pan to cook the tortillas. When it is nice and hot (if it starts smoking add the tortillas FAST and lower the heat slightly - if you add a tortilla and it doesn't sizzle it probably isn't quite hot enough). Fry for about 30 seconds on one side and then flip over, folding the tortilla in half. Cook for another minute or so and then flip over to cook the other half of the second side.

Drain the tortilla, standing up if possible like an upside-down U, on paper towels. I found that draping paper towels and the taco over a spice bottle worked very well. Fill with one sixth of each of the fillings - tomato and onion mix, cheese, meat and a smear of creme fraiche or sour cream. If you have a spice-loving spouse you can also throw a chopped jalepeno in too.

Three was the perfect number, filling but not making you groan afterwards. I had exactly the right amount of each element, both in terms of the flavour in my mouth and the amount left in the bowls when I was done (none).

* Spicy olive oil can be made by pouring a cup or so of dried peppers in a clean bottle and adding olive oil. Further instructions here.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 3:03 PM | Comments (1)
May 29, 2006
No Comment!

If you've been obsessively checking our site every ten minutes to see if we're up or not (and who doesn't?), you'll have noticed we've been down a lot lately.

The culprit is a single or small set of very aggressive spammers who have overloaded us with attacks. I've shut down the comments for now so we can verify the problem comes from spammers attacking the comment script.

Once we verify the server crashing attacks are being caused by the comment script and no other service, we will take steps to alleviate the problem. One thing is for certain - it will get a little harder to comment on Too Many Chefs.

Yes, this sucks. I'll try to make it as short a duration without comments as possible before we turn them back on. Thanks for your patience.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:33 PM | Comments (1)
May 27, 2006
Posts of the Week
Too Many Chefs post of the week

Posts of the Week has been on hiatus (which is Latin for "in hiding from the Feds"), but now that Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling are behind bars, we're back and our attorneys assure us we can be for at least a little while.

So here are three posts we liked this week from the world of food blogs that you can enjoy while we hope we won't soon have to fight Kenny-Boy Lay for the top bunk.

A. Hot hot hot. What We're Eating starts us off with a Wasabi-Pea Encrusted Salmon w/ Potatoes and Bok Choy. There is so much wasabi in this dish that the dang salmon in the photo is green. I like the dialogue nature of this post and the fact that Tyler calls Amanda "dude". I find that totally gnarly.

I. I love foods where intense colors pull you into the dish even before you can smell or taste them. For Sugar High Friday #19, Nami-Nami made a Chocolate-Ginger Tartlet with a filling that promises deep rich flavor from the first glance. Ae we entirely sure that tartlet isn't actually a hole in the space-time continuum? Nice-Nice!

1. I'm not familiar with Phat Phrik Khing, a Thai pork and long bean dish, but Austin Bush at Real Thai makes it look delicious. This beautifully photographed site takes us into the heart of Thai cuisine from the view of someone discovering an entire culture in depth. Well worth monitoring.

That's it for this week. Uh-oh, is that Jeffrey Skilling in the back of that police van outside? I gotta go - see you next week (I hope).

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:50 AM | Comments (1)
May 26, 2006
Happy Birthday To Me!

imac.jpg Thirty-nine years ago today, my mother checked into St. Joseph's Hospital in Chicago. Her doctor wanted to go away for the weekend and so they had decided that the 26th would be a good day for me to meet the world. It was a pretty lucky day for me back then and I'm feeling pretty lucky today too. On the list of intangible but most important pieces of luck, I have a wonderful family - husband, son, sister, brother, mother and father, not to mention the extended and loving group of cousins, aunts, uncles, great-nephews and great-niece and nieces. (Did I miss anyone?) I also have pretty good health for a 39 year old body. I have a job which I find fulfilling and interesting and a hobby which is all that and more. And friends, such good friends.

And then, to top it off, people GIVE me things. Like my far too generous husband, the Critic, who couldn't wait until this morning to give me my brand new iMac (on which I am typing this). And a new friend, Eileen, who met me in the Parc Monceau this morning so that our children could play and gave me this lovely little book of brunch recipes. I am so going to have to invite her and her family over soon for brunch.

I am truly blessed. I hope all of you are having as good a day as I am.

(P.S. if anyone has a suggestion for a great restaurant in Paris that doesn't require reservations on a Friday night, shoot it my way - we still haven't decided where we are going!)

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 7:52 AM | Comments (10)
May 24, 2006
How does my garden grow?

garden2.jpg

I mentioned earlier that this is The Year. The Year That I Have A Proper Garden On The Terrace. I've done my best, awful cold Paris weather notwithstanding. A few days after I wrote about finding tomato plants at the market, I finally put together the present my mother brought me from the US earlier this year: one of those nifty planters you see in the Sky Mall magazine on planes which grows tomatoes UPSIDE DOWN. This allows you to put herbs (for example) growing UP from the same dirt.

Ingenious.

Actually, I can see the point of this: no need for stakes to hold the plants straight, no worry about tomatoes resting on soft moist earth and rotting. And double use of your dirt.

We shall see how it goes. If the sun doesn't come out (and stay out) soon the experiment will fail, but it won't be the fault of the tools. For the moment, we get at least an hour or so of sun every day and a good dose of rain. The temperature is far too cold, but so far the plants don't seem to mind.

So in this photo: in the upper part we have lemon thyme, rosemary, tarragon, mint and oregano. I will undoubtedly add parsley though it remains to be seen whether I can raise it from seed or resort to a plant. On the underside of the planter, there are four tomato plants. And in the planter on the right? Six more tomato plants, two tomato seedlings (they finally sprouted!) and three violet plants that have not yet found their permanent home. The man who sold them to me at the Salon de Saveurs told me to wait until the roots are well established before replanting. Anyway, I haven't yet decided where to put them.

flowers.jpg

Here you have - mostly - some of the flowers in my new garden. I've decided that with 23 square meters I can spare a few planters for purely decorative plants. Don't get me wrong - vegetable plants are very decorative too. Strawberries with their cheerful white flowers, the flaming zucchini flowers, beautiful purple rosemary blooms are all lovely. But they don't compare with plants which are grown purely for the flowers. So the peas are flanked by Campanula on one side and daisies on the other. I'm still holding onto the sad hope that one day that Anna's lilac bushes (which came to me through Charles - these are well-travelled bushes) will some day flower again. And I have four long containers with a mix of petunias, geraniums and nicotania plants. And, of course, thyme and rosemary. Oh and I am most excited about the rhubarb which you can almost but not quite see in the baby bath on the bottom left of the photo, along with something labelled "balloon flowers" (?)

For the moment the planters of petunias and geraniums look a bit sparse and young but I'm hoping they will thrive on worm tea and fill the containers so that I don't have much weeding this summer.

basiltaterszuke.jpg

Last year, the zucchini was in a planter next to the one above with the tomato plants. Four plants thrived for about six weeks, snaking around the planter and putting out gorgeous flowers. And then, suddenly, they just withered away. I don't think it was the size of the planters, as I have successfully grown zucchini in smaller ones. I am thinking the problem may be the fact that the planters are recessed under a bit of roof and so don't get the maximum amount of sun. This year I moved the planter to the corner of the terrace that gets the most sun and put in it one zucchini plant, three basil plants (you can see that one died), one Thai basil and three sprouting potatoes.

I've never actually planted potatoes before. So I didn't know if I should plant them deep and cover the sprouting leaves or shallow so that the leaves are already in daylight. I experimented: four in the baby bath well sunk and four in the zucchini planter with tips poking out into the sunlight. These are potatoes that sprouted in a basket in my kitchen and were destined for the garbage. (Worms apparently don't like potatoes or they would have gone into the wormery.) So if they turn into elegant potato plants, great. If I get some new potatoes out of them, even better. And if not - well they will enrich the soil without going into a landfill. My friend Daniel tells me that potato plants are very pretty; he grew them once for esthetic reasons and wasn't able to tell me about what happens below the soil.

herbstrawbs.jpg

Here you have my baker's rack of herbs and strawberries. I bought this shelving unit a few years ago for the terrace for about $30 and have loved it ever since. It's metal and rust-free, sturdy enough to take a few plants and - I think - very decorative. I figured that even if it only lasted a year or two it would be worth the initial cost. And that was about four years ago and it looks as pretty and sturdy now as it did then. It has coriander (which I usually kill much more quickly than this), four strawberry plants, thyme, a bucket of marigolds and, on the bottom, a planter of dirt and spinach seeds. I really hope the spinach comes off as I love the stuff. On the right: more lilacs and soe lavendar.

So, overall, not a bad start: 10 tomato plants, 4 strawberry plants, 3 thyme plants, 2 rosemary plants, 8 potential potato plants, tarragon, mint, oregano, one rhubarb plant, the hope of spinach and a variety of flowers. I'm a happy gardener, though it remains to be seen now green my thumb actually is. In any case, it is all organic and local and it starts my day off with a smile when I take a little tour and see what new leaves have appeared overnight!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 4:15 PM | Comments (8)
May 23, 2006
Food that fights back: The Nettle Challenge

nettles.jpgNot long ago, Clotilde of Chocolate and Zucchini wrote about her first experience with nettles. And I thought "Damn, I've been meaning to tackle that one for a while now!" And then I decided, well, perhaps there is someone in the world who doesn't read her blog and DOES read ours who might be interested. Or maybe not. But either way, I'm tired of feeling like I've been a wimp on this one and not tried the Food That Fights Back. So I bought some at the organic market. This stuff grows everywhere, but the particular bag I bought came from the Paris area, not far from Disneyland Paris.

My first contact with nettles was down in the Vendée region. "Attention aux orties!" my friend warned. Never having seen nettles before in my life, and never having encountered the French word for "stinging nettles" in six years of French classes I blundered around going "wha? where? huh?" until the stinging came into play. I learned three important lessons that day: 1) what stinging nettles are called in French (a dictionary settled that) 2) what they looked like (practical experience) and 3) that vinegar is a very effective remedy to the stinging reaction.

Since then my beloved Critic has explained to me repeatedly that there is a plant which nearly always grows near nettles that is also a remedy. I have not gone so far as to test this theory though I'm more than happy to look on while he demonstrates. (So far he hasn't offered.)

When I bought the nettles at the market I was surprised to see the stall-holder sweep them up in her hands with no protection. "Doesn't that hurt?" I asked her. She shrugged her shoulders and told me you just get used to it over time. When I was younger and shorter I remember my Austrian grandmother used to wash the dishes in water so hot that it brought tears to my eyes. She had the same response and I have to say that I can take water which is pretty hot today. So perhaps they are both right. But I wasn't going to touch those nettles without gloves.

Like Clotilde, I went with the classic use of nettles: dark green soup, seething with vitamins and deeply fragrant with a kind of a seaweed aroma. It was very tasty, reminiscent of cress soup but indefinably different. I think next time round I might try it with basil and garlic, a bit less liquid, as a powerful pasta sauce. A bit like pesto but lessy sunny. Nevertheless, I am perfectly happy with my first taste of nettles as a soup.

One funny thing to note: cooking with them (and in fact writing about them) brought about an attack of compulsive itchiness everywhere. It didn't matter that I had rubber gloves on (or, now, that it's been a few days): I was/am itchy all over. Am I suggestible or WHAT?

Soupe aux orties

For my first attempt on the soup, I treated it much as I would cress soup, with parmesan and a bit of crème fraiche. I also added slivers of fresh garlic, which complimented the sharp flavour of the nettles very well.

1 large handful of nettles (about 300 grams)
3 cloves of fresh garlic (less if it's normal dried cloves)
4 cups unsalted chicken stock (a good vegetarian stock can be substituted)
1 small onion
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 Tbs unsalted butter
creme fraiche to garnish (about 1 Tbs per bowl)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
the rind of a piece of Parmesan (optional)
salt and pepper and lemon juice to taste
Special equipment (for the faint-hearted and suggestible): a pair of rubber gloves.

Chop the onion and saute it in the butter until soft. Add the garlic and thyme just before you finish cooking the onions; if the thyme is fresh it won't need to cooked much as it's already much sweeter than normal raw garlic. While this is cooking, you can clean the nettles: don the gloves and wash them in water and then strip the leaves from the stems. Add the broth to the onion mixture and bring to a simmer. Add the nettles, cover and cook for five to seven minutes or until the nettles have wilted. Using a hand blender or a food processor, puree the soup until smooth. Add the Parmesan and the rind (if you are using one) and cook for a bit longer until the cheese melts. Taste for salt and pepper. Whether you need the salt will depend on your broth and your Parmesan, but the pepper will definitely be welcome. A squeeze of lemon juice will add a tang to the soup and bring out the flavours a bit.

Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche in each bowl and a bit of Parmesan on the side if you are so inclined. (We like Parmesan a lot.)

Even though I told the Critic before serving what the soup was made with, he finished his bowl. For him this is high praise, as he is not adventuresome, especially when it involves ingredients that are "weird"!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:59 PM | Comments (3)
May 22, 2006
David Burke's Primehouse

At the corner of Ontario and Rush in Chicago the newly remodeled James Hotel, New York favorite David Burke is making his presence known with Primehouse - sorry, David Burke's Primehouse.

When I say he's making his presence known, I mean the man himself walked past me at least seven times while I waited for my dining compatriot to arrive. Burke was prowling the new space not just to make sure things were moving smoothly, but to pick out friends and VIP's from the National Restaurant Show crowd in town who had decided to try Burke's latest place.

I should explain that although I am primarily a fish-eating vegetarian, I allow myself two steaks a year. Primehouse (I'm shortening the name - sue me), opened a few months ago and judging by the recent reviews, it seemed like a likely place for this year's first hunk of cow.

The place looks great. The old diner from before the transformation of the Lenox House into the James has been made into a swank hotel bar, with the obligatory $11 signature cocktails and servers in short black dresses. I tried the mojito topped with lime foam and found it tasty, but the foam was too tart and the drink underneath not tart enough. Try as I could, I couldn't get the foam to subside into the drink with a cocktail straw. I might have managed with a mixer, but only just.

Once my friend arrived, we were taken to a booth where the seats, tablecloth, and wine list were all covered in leather. Yes, this is a steak house and they don't want you to forget it.

Appetizers are creative and include the steak house standards, like a delicious Caesar salad made tableside (anchovy paste only, no actual little fishies), along with creative dishes like a salmon and tuna tartare with two curled potato gallette chips and salmon roe that can be scooped onto toasts spread with sweet butter and seaweed. Three sauces come with the tartare. Of these, the pale curry sauce paired best with the fish.

The bonus "appetizer" every diner receives is an enormous popover, made with poppyseeds and gruyere. They'll keep them coming as long as you're interested. I filled up after one, but my friend enjoyed two and a half before deciding to save room for the main event.

You don't have to order steak at Primehouse. Burke's swordfish chop was available the night we dined, along with a variety of fish, pork, and chicken dishes. I almost gave up one of my twice-yearly steaks for an oxtail pot roast dish. Almost.

As for the steaks, the reviews online have focused on the South Side filet, a bone-in cut that's "lightly-aged" in a salt-lined room for 4-5 days. Other steaks include the 20 ounce porterhouse for one which is aged in the same salt-lined "cave" much longer.

You won't be disappointed with any of the steaks, but the reviewers who have focused on the South Side filet mignon cut have done so for good reason. It's an amazing cut of meat, and it is so tender, it disintegrates in your mouth. I enjoyed the porterhouse quite a bit, but I wished at the end of the meal that I'd had the South Side cut as well. My dining companion practically crawled inside the bone trying to find any bits of meat he'd missed.

Sides were sized to share, but not ridiculously big, as at Gibson's or other older Chicago steakhouses. The garlic spinach was lightly sauteed and nicely garlicky, and the basil mashed potatoes flavorful and creamy. I was diasappointed by the mushrooms, which I found a little watery and too heavily infused with an anise flavor.

There were other minor disappointments.

* Our very responsive server (originally from my wife's home city of Louisville) confirmed to us when we asked that the enclosure we saw a booth away was a multidirectional security camera. I'm not a fan of being watched while eating, particularly by a faceless security guard. How's my steak look, General Hayden?

* The steaks are presented on beautiful wooden carts, but the aisles are not quite wide enough to allow the Caesar salad cart to sit in any one location for long without being banged up and the Ceasar salad specialist rousted by carts with steaks rolling by.

* I was also disappointed that Burke's restaurant drops unopened bottles of his commercially available steak sauce on the table, but charges $2 for any other sauce (like the bearnaise my companion ordered). That would be forgiveable in a restaurant where the margins were slimmer, but at nearly $40/steak, the charge for sauce seems petty and the push on Burke's branded steak sauce disrespectful to the steaks themselves and a transparent ploy to push Burke's commercial products.

* In what's supposed to be a positive note, Burke's menu brags that they've bought their own bull to ensure that all their steaks are his offspring. OK, I understand where meat comes from, and acknowledge that I might be more sensitive to this as a usually semi-vegetarian, but this seems grotesque. "Make some more babies, bull-man, so we can cut them up and serve them with blue cheese sauce for an extra $2." I'd rather have an anonymous steak than yet another one of Bob the Bull's kids. Am I alone in thinking this?

Overall, however, the annoyances were more than made up for by the excellent service and the delicious food. I was too stuffed at meal's end to order any dessert more ambitious than the sparkling fruit salad (an assortment of cut fruit and berries in a champagne mint sauce), but I did try a bite of the Prime, a massive and intensely chocolate cake. Next time, I'll be sure to try the cheesecake tree where cheesecake "lollipops" extend from the branches of a treelike serving piece. It looked tasty and fun, but I was on the verge of bursting. Next time.

I'd go back to David Burke's Primehouse for my next steak if I were in Chicago. given the interesting seafood pieces, I may even try to bring the Redhead to Primehouse It was a good experience, and even for the price, was worth the money paid. I do encourage them to lose the supermarket shoplifting cameras, and to maybe rearrange the tables to allow the Caesar salad specialist to do his job without getting jostled.

David Burke's Primehouse
616 N. Rush St., Chicago
312 660 6000

P.S. So what does eating a 20 ounce steak do a semi-vegetarian? It makes it so he can't sleep. I was up until 3:00 pulsing with meaty protein energy and a bit of indigestion. I'll spare you any further reports. But boy, was that tasty steak.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:45 AM | Comments (6)
May 19, 2006
Roast Loué chicken with lemon and fresh herbs

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Roast Loué yellow chicken, before and after

Loué is a town about 228 km from Paris, down in the Sarthe departement of the Loire valley. It's not quite within my goal of finding ingredients within a 200 km radius of Paris, but it's pretty darn close. And the town is justifiably proud of its poultry: chickens from Loué are raised free range (with a minimum of 4 square meters per bird during the day), are fed no antibiotics and are not slaughtered until at least 84 days old. This latter fact is particularly important when you are looking at chickens, because it indicates that the birds have not been stuffed with all kinds of hormones to make the mature artificially quickly. I once read a very good in-depth article in the Observer about the evils of theh battery chicken farming trade but I wasn't able to find it online. This article, however, gives the gist of it.

Even if you aren't opposed to battery farming on humane grounds, once you have tasted a free-range Loué chicken you'll be converted to good practices on the basis of taste. There are several varieties - blanc, noir, jaunes - as well as capons, geese and ducks coming out of the region. My favourite is the yellow one. Aptly named, not only is the plumage yellow but even the flesh is a deep yellow in its raw state. I don't know if it's just the association of ideas or a genuine fact, but once it's cooked the bird does seem buttery and rich. It roasts up beautifully, with crackling brown skin and deep woody flavour. The sharp acidity of a lemon brings the flavours out beautifully and keeps the flesh moist too. The soft herbs give it a fresh spring-like feel. With roasted potatoes and a tomato and goat's cheese salad, it made a very satisfying meal, not too rich but satisfyingly savoury on a cool spring evening.

Another thing I love about this roast chicken is that although it usually takes just over an hour for the bird to cook the actual preparation time is less than ten minutes. If you don't peel your potatoes (and unless they are really old and tired I generally don't) you can have it all underway in 15 minutes and spend the rest of the time playing with your family. You can put together the tomatoes and cheese while the bird is resting before you carve it, so even once the cooking is done the assembly is compact.

Roast Loué chicken with lemon and fresh herbs

1 medium sized poulet jaune de Loué
a few glugs of olive oil
2 Tbs soft sweet butter
1 tsp salt
6-8 sprigs of thyme, lemon thyme or a mix of the two
6-8 leaves of oregano
1/2 a lemon (mine was an old slightly dry one from the fridge - it's a good way to use up old tired ones)

Potatoes for roasting

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Put the olive oil in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the chicken in the pan. Squeeze the lemon half over the chicken and then put it inside the cavity of the chicken. Stuff most of the thyme and all of the oregano inside the chicken. Smear the butter on the outside of the chicken and scatter the potatoes around it. Sprinkle the rest of the thyme leaves over the bird and the potatoes and then sprinkle with the salt.

Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a thermometer shows that the chicken is done and the juices run clear. Allow the chicken to rest for 10-15 minutes while you assemble the tomato and goat's cheese salad (drizzle a little high-quality olive oil over them). Pour the juices from the chicken into one of those nifty gravy boats that has a side which pours the juice without the grease. It is a meat-eater's nectar - salty and tangy and deeply chicken flavoured. If you have any left after you finish the chicken be sure to add it to the bones when you make up stock from them. Whatever you do, don't waste it: it is the essence of chicken with lemon and herbs.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:25 AM | Comments (5)
May 18, 2006
This Dish Can't Be Beet

Quinoa_beet_goat1_jf.jpgHallelujah! The organic section of my grocery store has expanded to included about twice the number of vegetables (and many spices, as well). I couldn't resist getting a bag of beets, but I brought them home and kind of had no idea what to do with them (my previous experience with beets comes from opening up a can of them to put onto a salad). Some internet research quickly confirmed how long to roast them and at what temperature to bring out the best in the beets. The rest was improvised by the Ambassatrix and me.

I can't tell you how wonderful the roasted beets tasted and pairing them with the goat cheese was just perfect. The beets are earthy but rather sweet (they got lots of sugar in them) and the cheese gives the requisite fat needed to balance out all those healthy veggies.

Roasted Beets and Goat Cheese with Veggie Quinoa Mix

3/4 cup quinoa
1 3/4 cup water
4-6 beets, depending on the size
100 grams goat cheese
3 T olive oil
2 leeks, sliced
8-10 oz mushrooms, crimini or portobello, cut in bite size pieces
salt and pepper

Wrap beets in aluminum foil (not necessary to do that individually, but wrap 2-3 together in a line) and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour on 350.

Put the quinoa and water in a small pot and bring to boil, then reduce to simmer, partly cover, until almost all water is evaporated. In another pan, sauté leeks and mushrooms in oil over medium heat, until mushrooms have shrunk and leeks have begun to caramelize (see picture to right). When veggies are sufficiently cooked, add quinoa (which still has just a little water in it, although the seeds are cooked) to the veggies. Add salt and pepper as you see fit. Mix together.

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Remove beets from oven and allow to cool slightly. Peel with a vegetable peeler or knife (alternatively, you could experiment with peeling them before roasting. I hear this works also.) Slice beets into rounds or half-moons or clovers or whatever you like. Handle the beet without fear. It will make your hands red; it's proof positive that you are a proud cooker of beets. Only babies use gloves when peeling beets.

So, put some quinoa veggie mix on a plate or in a bowl. Arrange some slices of beet and top it off with some slices of goat cheese. Eat up!

Taking the beets and cheese and putting them on some greens would also make a simple and quick salad/side dish.

And don't be alarmed when you excrete the beets; that red color dyes everything.

Posted by Justin at 8:32 AM | Comments (6)
May 16, 2006
Elotes Tacos, Albany Park style


Albany Park is one of Chicago's wonderful ethnic neighborhoods. Though sprinkled with Thai, Bosnian, and Arabic families, Albany Park is dominated by Latino influences. It happens to be where Barrett in Chicago and the Redhead currently live, and is a great place to find Latino food favorites.

Along the Chicago River on the East border of Albany Park is beautiful Horner Park. Every day, you can find kids and adults playing baseball, tennis, soccer, and basketball. When they get hungry from all the exercise, everyone heads to the carts on California Avenue where they buy mangos, pork skins with hot sauce, flavored shaved ices, and best of all elotes (corn).

When you buy elotes from the street carts, you can get it on a stick or in a cup with butter, cheese, and spicy chili powder. It's amazing. I've adapted the basic idea behind the elotes in a cup and made it into a taco filling. But don't worry, food-on-a-stick afficianados, we've got the original cob on a stick version as well (though I will admit my cheese sprinkle coating skills don't rate compared to the cart version).

The hot cayenne powder will make your lips tingle, but the sweet sweet corn will cut the burn on your tongue, letting you eat way too much of these tacos filled with elotes.

The Redhead last night declared this simple meal the best thing ever and her favorite dish. It was cheap, easy to make, and delicious. I can guarantee this is going to be a summer staple around our household.

Elotes Tacos, Albany Park style serves two very hungry adults
3 ears or corn
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2-3 ounces Cotija cheese, or other non-melty very finely crumbled cheese. Parmesan might be very interesting, if not Latin American.
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder
salt and pepper to taste
6 flour tortillas, warmed
1 avocado, sliced
lime wedges

Put a big pot of water on to boil. Shuck your corn and discard all but a couple of the leaves of the inner green husk (not the silk, the leaves). Add the leaves to the pot. This is the great secret in boiling corn. More than the corn itself, this adds a wonderful corn aroma to the kitchen and flavor to the corn itself.

When the water is boiling, add the 3 ears of corn and boil until tender but not mushy - about 10-15 minutes for the average ear.

When the corn is done, remove it from the pot, and shave the corn from the cob with a sharp knife. I use a skewer to steady the cob without burning my fingers.

Mix the melted butter, cheese, cayenne, and salt and pepper into the corn kernels. Taste and adjust salt and pepper (and cayenne if you really like it hot).

Put the corn mix into warmed four tortillas, and add a couple of avocado slices. Serve with grilled bulb onions and a lime wedge. A little lime on the taco filling really wakes the corn flavor up.

Now if you'd like to try this the original way I experienced it (on a stick), put the butter in a corn dish or similar vessel where you can roll corn cobs in it and do the same for the cheese.

Boil the corn as above. Skewer the corn on a long stick, then roll the cobs first in butter, then the cheese, then sprinkle cayenne, salt and black pepper on them to taste. You'll find that the cheese won't stick where there is no butter, so make sure you have enough butter on the plate before rolling.

Eat outside in the sunshine in the middle of a beautiful Spring/Summer day.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:27 AM | Comments (8)
May 15, 2006
This is as local as it gets

garden.jpg

I've been an enthusiastic, if only randomly successful, balcony gardener for about five years now. My first year - the one where I was most enthusiastic - was the most successful and I managed to harvest a few dozen tomatoes and three misshapen zucchini. I even had a web site about the garden, a forerunner of a blog. (It was updated about monthly to the expressed delight and fascination of my friends and family.) And this year is the year. This is the year when I am going to invest the money and the time so that I have a proper garden that is pretty AND useful. (I say that every year, by the way.)

When I read Barbara's recent post about grubbing in the dirt, I was eaten up with envy and frustration. I did plant quite a few seeds this year - enough for 8 tomato plants, 2 cayenne plants, 4 zucchini, 4 pea plants, coriander, parsley, and a few others that never sprouted (and the notes on the cardboard containers have leached away). I have two cayenne seedlings, a zucchini and a pea plant. So you can see where I get those negative feelings.

This weekend, I purged them at the organic market. I found two stalls selling tomato plants and herbs and was so excited that I had to drag the stroller to a cash machine 15 minutes away to get some more money. Oh joy, oh bliss! I have a nearly complete herb garden, ten tomato plants and four strawberry plants covered with flowers and strawberry buds. Now begins the race to get them into planters before they wilt. Does anyone know of a store that delivers (non-peat) soil in Paris??

For those who are curious, the plants are as follows, starting with the tomatoes at the bottom and working counter clockwise around: ten tomato plants, lemon thyme (I already have two classic thyme plants), four strawberry plants, a basil (bought that at the supermarket, it's not as healthy as the market ones), a daisy plant, mint (also from the supermarket earlier this week), rosemary (the one I have seems to be reaching the end of its life cycle), two more basil plants, Thai basil and - in the center - oregano.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:33 PM | Comments (21)
May 12, 2006
Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

medsalad.jpgIt's been such a long, cold spring in Paris that I've been longing lately for fresh vegetables. Non-root vegetables. No more carrots or potatoes. No more dried old tired onions. I want fresh flavours and bright colours. And although these vegetables have not yet come into season in the Paris region I was able to find ingredients that were produced in France, which is my fall-back postition on the Eat Local Challenge. Not only are the elements all Mediterranean in flavour, undoubtedly most of them CAME from the Med.

I like cooking my own chickpeas (garbanzo beans to some) but you could make this much more quickly (22 hours at least) by using canned ones. If you do, however, I would still recommend making it at least an hour before serving so that the flavours can mingle and be absorbed by the chickpeas. In this case you would also want to go easy on the salt.

Mediterranean Chickpea Salad

200 grams dried (or canned) chickpeas
1 eggplant
2 small ripe tomatoes, diced
4-6 spring onion, sliced
6-8 Tbs olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 large sprig of rosemary, chopped finely
a splash of fresh lemon juice
1 tsp sweet paprika

If you are cooking dried chickpeas, place them in a bowl and cover them with a few inches of water. Allow them to soak overnight or at least 8 hours. Cook them over a medium heat with the crushed garlic clove for an hour and a half or longer, until they are tender. (I soaked the chickpeas overnight and then put them in a crock pot in the morning to cook all day on low.) Once they are tender, drain them and allow them to cool.

Cut the eggplant in half and score it with a knife in a diamond pattern. Drizzle a little olive oil over the eggplant and bake it at 200c for about 35 minutes, or until soft and tender. Let it cool while you begin assembling the rest of the salad, dicing tomatoes and slicing onions. Toss the tomatoes, onions, chickpeas and rosemary with the remaining olive oil. Cut the eggplant into bite-sized pieces and toss the salad again. Ideally, you should allow it to sit in a refrigerator for a few hours to develop flavours. Before serving, add the lemon juice and paprika and taste for salt, pepper and sour. You might want to add another glug of olive oil too, especially if you are using a really good quality one.

The salad is a lovely filling one. I personally love the satisfying texture of chomping on a chickpea and the nutty flavour that explodes in your mouth. On a bed of rocket (arugula) it makes a very healthy first course or (if a larger serving) a satisfying main dish.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:17 AM | Comments (2)
May 11, 2006
Homemade Tempeh

tempeh4_jf.jpgThis picture is of a batch of my own hand-crafted tempeh and here's how to make your own tempeh. But first...

What is Tempeh?
If you are unfamiliar with tempeh, I'll just say that it is a fermented soybean product. For more, read up here. It's related, but quite different from tofu. While the tofu process is similar to cheese (the curds and whey thing), tempeh is fermented and is, I guess, more analogous to yogurt.

Why Tempeh?

Well, lots of reasons. If you are a vegan, B-12 is hard to get, since it's mostly found in meat, dairy, and eggs. B-12 is needed for red blood cell production and so vegans can be susceptible to anemia. While some caution is advised against relying on tempeh for B12, since levels vary between batches, tempeh is the richest vegetarian source of B12. People also like it because it has a more "meaty" texture than tofu and can be used more as a meat substitute in recipes for variety. There are many health benefits to tempeh as with all soy products (although if you deep fry it in palm oil it's kind of a wash as far as your heart is concerned). For example, tempeh is cholesterol-free. Finally, for those of us who don't keep a vegetarian diet, it's simply economical to eat tempeh every once in a while, as it's cheaper than a lean steak. And if you needed another reason to try it, tempeh is delicious. Don't assume that if you don't like tofu, you won't like tempeh; they are very different.

Homemade Tempeh

Ingredients:
2 1/2 c. soybeans
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon Tempeh starter

Process: My instructions presume starting with split, hulled beans, which can be hard to find. Starting with whole beans requires rubbing them between your hands after they have boiled (and cooled) in order to break them in half and get the hulls off (which, fortunately, float in water). Also, there are many variations on this process. I am just writing up what worked for me (though I summarize other suggestions along the way).

Cook soybeans for 1 hour at a boil, skimming off any skins that float to the top (if some are left, that's OK). Drain and pat beans dry in an absorbent towel until they are surface dry. Put beans in dry bowl. Having beans too wet is one of the most common causes of a bad batch.

When the beans are cooler than skin temperature, add vinegar. Mix well. Sprinkle beans with tempeh starter. Mix well for 1 minute to distribute evenly.

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Put into 2 zip lock bags or other containers[1] and incubate[2] for 24-48 hours at 28-33C degrees (82.4-91.4F) (optimally 30-32C (86-89.6F)) degrees. Basically, keep it as close at you can to 88F/31C as possible. Be aware that at about the 12 hour mark, the tempeh will start to generate its own heat and you'd need to turn down your source of heat.

tempeh2_jf.jpg

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[1] What to use for containers?
Plastic Ziploc bags (7"by 8"), perforated with holes at distance of 1 cm by a .6 mm diameter needle/nail.
Tetra Brik (disadvantage: not transparent)
Plastic sandwich Tupperware
Go with the original: banana leaves

tempeh3_jf.jpg

[2]How to incubate?
If you live in a warm climate, experiment with leaving it outside. Otherwise, the old fridge or Styrofoam box method. Or try your oven using only the light bulb. Or rig a space heater to a thermostat. Or, if you really want lots of control and accuracy, go and spend the big bucks on a proper chicken incubator with circulating fan and thermostat.

[3]Temperature / Time?
30-32C for 36-48 Hours (tempeh.info)
88F (31.1C) for 24 Hours (veggiemenu)
?C for 24-36 Hours (ellenskitchen)
88F (never less than 85 (29.4C) or more than 95 (35C) for 24-30 Hours (motherearthnews)
30-32 (86-89 F) for 24 hours minimum (henrynugroho)
88F (31C) for 24-36 hours (Manfred).
88F for 24-36 hours (pvachuska)

Order the starter from
Gem Cultures
or
Some European dudes
or
The Farm (the folks that really made tempeh popular in the US).

I first got the free sample from the Europeans and then for this batch I went with The Farm.

Finally, if your first batch doesn't work out, do not get discouraged. My first batch was a total failure (I think due to my incubation method, the oven with an incandescent bulb wasn't keeping a constant 88F). These pictures are the result of my second attempt, which went well.

Books:
The Book of Tempeh, 160 pages, by William Shurtleff and Akiko Aoyagi
This is the Tempeh Bible. If you are going to make some tempeh at home, you absolutely must buy this book (or find it in your local library). It is wonderful for nutritional, cultural, and historical information. It also has info on variants of soy tempeh and how to make your own starter plus lots of recipes, including traditional Indonesian dishes and creative uses for working tempeh into Western classics. It also has a directory of tempeh vendors around the world, though the book (my copy at least) is very old and possibly out of date in this regard.

I also have The Tempeh Cookbook by Dorothy Bates which is mostly recipes, but has some good info about making it. There are probably better books out there.

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Web Resources that I found particularly helpful:
Tempeh.info : how to make tempeh
Tempeh.info : incubator ideas
VeggieMenu
EllensKitchen
MotherEarthNews
HenryNugroho
Manfred
Pvachuska

Posted by Justin at 7:44 AM | Comments (255)
May 10, 2006
Spinach Pesto Pasta with Lemon Crusted Chicken

spinachpesto.jpgMany years ago, in our wild youth, Barrett and I were roommates in a coachhouse in Chicago. Barrett's then-girlfriend was also there and so we had our little Three's Company household. Except that it was the late 1980s and nobody cared if two girls and a guy shared a house. And the wild youth? Every Friday in the winter, almost without exception, we would play out the same comedy. "What do you want for dinner?" "I dunno, what do you want?" "Let's order in." "Where?" "I don't care." And so Barrett and I would shoot out suggestions - Thai, Indian, Italian, Ethiopian, Mexican, Chinese, Japanese, Jamaican? (Yes, our neighborhood was that rich in ethnic choices. There are things I miss about Chicago and that's high on the list.) And She would shoot down every suggestion. "Nah." "Don't feel like it." "Had it for lunch." "Not AGAIN." (Roll of eyes.) So in the end, we nearly always ended up with the same restaurant: Leona's. Italian-American food, not even great pizza. And She always had the spicy Buffalo wings. And I, after much deliberation and hemming and hawing and "this time I really AM going to try something different" would always get the ravioli (mixed cheese and meat, please) with spinach pesto. (Barrett actually changed his order frequently enough that I don't remember what his standby was, shades of the experimental genius he has become.)

If you are wondering why we always ordered in on a Friday night, you obviously have not experienced many Chicago winters first-hand. In the summer we would barbecue or possibly drag ourselves to a restaurant with good air conditioning.

Spinach pesto is one of those dishes that probably has authentic Italian lovers shuddering. But it's pretty tasty. I have always loved spinach and I also love "real" pesto. And I love them mixed together. So sue me. I'm half Austrian and half Irish-American, not Italian.

When I lived in Chicago I never made spinach pasta for two reasons. I had a large cement planter in the cement yard in front of our house and it was full of bushy basil. That was the summer of the pesto and the failed Mint Liqueur experiment. Barrett tactfully doesn't mention it in his post about pesto, but when I think of those days I remember that he and She were begging me to stop making pesto by the end of the summer. I made a lot of it. So that is reason number one; I didn't need to "cut" my pesto with spinach. Reason number two, of course, is that I could get the Leona's stuff simply by picking up the phone and anyway by the end of the winter I was sick of it.

Now that I live here in Paris I sometimes get nostalgic about things I ate in Chicago. (One of these days I'm going to make a true Chicago stuffed pizza and enlighten the masses, or at least our friends here in Paris.) I also recognise that one of the reasons Leona's probably made the spinach version is that spinach is cheaper and easier to source all winter long. And right now, it's in season in France. Bingo.

Spinach Pesto (serves four as a side dish)

500 grams spinach
200 grams basil
100 grams pine nuts
3 plump cloves of garlic (or more, to taste)
about a 1/2 cup of olive oil
salt, pepper
100 grams (about a cup) grated Parmesan, divided

In a dry frying pan, scatter the pine nuts and place the pan on a medium flame. Watch them carefully and shake the pan from time to time so that they do not burn, but brown a bit on at least two sides. Remove to a food processor. Wash the spinach and place it, water still clinging to the leaves, in a large pot (or the same pan as you used for the pine nuts, if you were far-sighted enough to use a nice deep one). Cover, and over a low flame cook until all the spinach is just wilted. Drain the spinach (if necessary) and add it to the food processor. Add the rest of the ingredients, reserving the olive oil and a few tablespoons of the cheese. Process until you have a thick sludge and then add olive oil until you achieve the consistency you like. It has to be thin enough to mix well with the pasta, but thick enough to stick to the pasta. Cook enough pasta for four according to the directions on the package. (We used the bow-tie shape as I thought it would make it easier for the Boy to eat the leftovers.) When the pasta is al dente, drain it and toss it with the spinach pesto. Garnish with the remaining grated cheese.

To accompany the pasta, I wanted a very simple chicken dish and this one goes perfectly.

Lemon crusted chicken breasts (serves 2)

2 boneless skinned free range chicken breasts
juice of half a lemon
1 Tbs chopped fresh (or frozen) basil
1/2 cup flour
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 Tbs butter
1 Tbs olive oil
salt, pepper

Marinate the chicken in the lemon juice and basil for at least half an hour. Dredge each chicken piece in the flour, coat it with egg and then roll it in the bread crumbs. Melt the butter in a pan and add half the oil. When it is hot, but not browning, add the chicken breasts and quickly brown on both sides. Remove to a hot oven and bake until the juices run clear, about half an hour at 200c. (This is when I made the pesto and pasta). Serve with a lemon wedge and sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper.

The crunchiness of the chicken is very satisfying next to the soft pasta and the basil pulls the two parts of the dish together nicely. And the leftovers were enjoyed greatly by the Boy the next day. He likes spinach. Not as much as broccoli, but frankly I can't complain.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:05 PM | Comments (6)
May 9, 2006
Eat local? No thanks.

There's a movement afoot to eat only food made with local ingredients prepared simply. Don't get your milk from a dozen dairies across the country, don't get your potatoes from Idaho, dont get your artichokes from California and your winter grapes from Chile. Get only what is produced locally and only when it's in season.

To this, I say "Phooey!"

Let me clarify and add a few facts. As I write this, I live in Chicago, Illinois, at the southwest tip of Lake Michigan. To the north lays Wisconsin, the home of cheese and fresh milk. To the east is Indiana, where eggs, corn, and mint are found. To the west and south, the vast corn and soybean fields of Illinois, and beyond to the west is Iowa, where thousands of well-fed pigs meet their fate every day. It would seem that there is plenty here to eat to keep body and soul together sticking only to local agriculture.

Well yes, but also no. It's important to remember that the quest for different varieties of food is one of the great driving forces of human history. The expansion of Rome into Egypt was as much for control of the grain grown along the Nile as for the cotton or Cleopatra's charms. The merchants of Venice built an empire on spices like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and pepper, and the Portuguese desire to break that monopoly led to the financing of Columbus's expedition to India, which was blocked by a New World of opportunity.

All this movement and trade and conflict brought new foods to old cultures and transformed them.

Can you imagine Italian food without tomatoes? Scandinavian or German food without potatoes? Indian food without chili peppers of any sort? It was once the case.

There were no tomatoes in Italy until after they were discovered in the New World. Potatoes came from the Andes and before the chile pepper was brought to Goa by the Portuguese, the hottest thing the Indians had going was "long pepper", similar to black pepper. Even before the Portuguese, Northern Indian food was heavily influenced by Mughal rulers who could trace their origins back to Persia, and who introduced many new foods to the Indian diet.

Of course these foreign foods were incorporated into the agriculture of these regions where possible. Tomatoes grow in Italy and peppers love the Indian climate. Still, no Christmas oranges grew in England (maybe at Gibraltar), and no cinnamon or nutmeg grew in Norway or Sweden, and these foods still became a part of the national cuisine. An orange from Spain contracted for and arrived in Britain was as much a symbol of the nation's sea power as the appearance of a frigate off an enemy coast.

Today, global capitalism brings mangos, bananas, and coconuts from Africa, the Caribbean and South America, avocados from Mexico, tomatoes from Italy, and spices from India, Indonesia, and Malaysia.

I am all for using and cooking with locally grown produce when it is better than that which is available from far-off countries. If asparagus or potatoes are grown in the collar counties around Cook County, Illinois, they have a freshness advantage, and I'm glad to get them from the local market. We get fine apples from Michigan, cherries from Wisconsin, and even some grapes from Michigan in the fall. And you'll never catch me knowingly eating sweet corn or sunflower seeds that are not from Illinois or Iowa.

But for the sake of Eating Locally am I expected to cut mangoes and bananas and avocados and coconuts and oranges and lemons from my diet? Am I supposed to forego grapes in the winter and artichokes completely? Should I rely on chili peppers grown in a cooler Illinois climate, or look for a bundle of serranos, poblanos, and jalapenos grown in properly hot conditions to come in from south of the Rio Grande?

Look, importing food is not evil. If tariffs are fair, and agribusiness hasn't turned the exporter into a "banana republic", it can be a great way to alleviate poverty and bring a slumping agricultural economy into the 21st century.

Agricultural imports, despite pollution from transport are also often ecologically more sound than trying to force inappropriate crop production. I'd rather have rice imported from Nicaragua or Brazil or Vietnam than rice from California where scarce fresh water resources have been wasted growing rice in a natural desert climate.

We must also acknowledge that there is a geographic inequity inherent in the Eat Local challenge. If you live in California, or Italy, or France, the "eating locally" challenge is much, much easier than if you live in Chicago, or Edinburgh, or Moscow. Instead of being limited to a small number of crops, I encourage those of us in more "variety challenged" areas to take advantage of the global economy.

I'm not saying you shouldn't support your local farmers. They are the best place to find regional specialties and heirloom produce. Buy a share in a CSA, go to the farmer's markets as long as they run.

But when you see a mango from the Philippines, a can of Italian Pomodoro tomatoes, or Swiss chocolates in the supermarket, don't hesitate. Drop them in the cart and enjoy the amazing variety of food that modern agriculture and transportation has brought to your doorstep.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:52 AM | Comments (31)
May 8, 2006
Mini Pistachio-Lime Cakes


Peanut butter and chocolate, red beans and rice - some foods just go together. I submit to you that pistachios and lime should be considered one of those pairings. They go very well together in these cakes you bake in ramekins.

During the IMBB 24 round-up, I found Mekuno Cooking's entry, which incuded a very nice quick nut cake recipe. She had adapted the recipe from Epicurious, and I've now adapted the recipe from her.

The recipe I swiped this cake from was a walnut cake and had a very different flavor to it. I was matching a flashy main dish and needed a flashy dessert to finish the meal, but one that wouldn't take forever to make.

A little creativity, a little math, and I can now give you a recipe that will make four ramekin-sized cakes to serve at the end of any meal that had strong flavors in it.

The pistachio flavor is somewhat muted until the cake cools. When it's hot, the lime flavor overpowers everything else. I suggest letting these cool so the multi-layered pistachio flavor can cut through the lime to make a more complex treat.

Further experiments I may try with this recipe would involve the inclusion of coconut or the substitution of macadamias. I might even sprinkle in a little cayenne to keep the flavors bright. It's a simple recipe and wide open to interpretation, so please riff on this riff on Mekuno Cooking's riff on a recipe from Epicurious.

Mini Pistachio-Lime Cakes makes 4 mini-nut cakes - from a recipe from Epicurious via Mekuno Cooking

Cake:
1 1/3 cup pistachios (4 oz), plus some for topping
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
An 8 tablespoon stick of butter cut in small pieces
the zest of two small or one large lime
4 eggs
1/2 cup AP flour

For syrup
5 small or two large limes
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons water
4 teaspoons honey

Preheat your oven to 350 F.
In a food processor, blend the sugar and pistachios together until they are finely ground. Add the butter and zest and pulse until well mixed and butter is incorporated fully. Add the eggs, and pulse until mixture is smooth.

Add the flour evenly to the processor, and pulse just until incorporated, about four-five pulse of one-two second duration.

Spoon the mix evenly into four un-greased ramekins. To get the mix smooth and evenly distributed in the ramekins, swirl them in the air gently in small circles. The batter will smooth out if you are not too violent.

Sprinkle whole or crushed pistchios on top of each cake, covering the cake evenly, and as thickly as you like.

Place the ramekins on a cookie sheet, and place the cookie sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until a wooden tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.

Remove the ramekins to a cooling rack and let cool several minutes before trying to take the cake out of the ramekins.

Run a dull knife aorund the outside of the ramekins to release the nut cakes. Use a glove or towel to pick up the still warm ramekin, and invert the cake into your hand. One good shake should get the cake out.

Let cool to room temperature for best flavor. You can eat them when they're hot, but they're better and the flavor is more complex at room temperature.

When ready to serve, combine all the syrup ingredients in a medium saucepan over high heat. Stir well to dissolve honey and sugar. Let boil briefly, then simmer for a couple of minutes to thicken up the syrup. It will still be pretty thin.

Drizzle the hot syrup over each individual nut cake and serve. Each cake serves 1-2 people.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 6:49 AM | Comments (4)
May 6, 2006
Shopping Locally at the Organic Market

localfood.jpg

Ever since the first of May, I've been waiting impatiently for the weekend. Although it's been interesting to see how much information I can get about the food I buy at the supermarket (not much) I knew that the open air organic market would be the real testing ground of how feasible eating locally can be in Paris. Markets in general in Paris tend to have only small(ish) producers. For the organic market, this is even more the case, as it's even more of a niche market. This means that the producers don't have the resources to travel across the country with their produce; most of them have have to get up early to get to the market by 8 a.m. and so are limited in how far away they want to travel.

At first glance, as expected, it was a lot easier to see the origin of produce: most of the chalkboard slates marking prices told the region of France that produced the vegetables. However, even within a single stall I found that some listed the exact departement and some did not give any indication whatsoever. The first person I asked about the origin of his produce was a young man walking through the only self-service stall at the market who was offering an absolutely mouth-watering mango for tasting to patrons. I accepted a piece for myself and one for the boy (he didn't want it - yippee!) and asked, "Ca vient d'ou, s'il vous plait?" That checked him in his progress and he asked me to repeat myself. "Where is it from?" I repeated patiently. Burkina Faso. Which is not a part of France. Interesting. This was the stall that had the greatest number of slates without the origin marked and had the most exotic fruit.

I'm torn between feeling like it's a good thing that they are enticing into the market more "mainstream" clients by supplying exotic fruits and being annoyed that they are no better than the supermarkets about flying in produce.

Also, I wonder how strict the rules for organic certification is in the exotic countries the produce hails from.

I moved on paying more attention than usual to the little cards and learning a few points:

- there is not much meat that is produced within 200km of Paris

- a lot of stalls sell fruit that is obviously not produced by the stallholder (I actually knew this already because Clotilde had advised me to look for the signs marked "a nous", signifying that the produce actually came from the seller's property)

- a lot of the fruit and vegetables sold by the above stallholders comes from very far away and is sold completely out of season

and the most gratifying one:

- the stall that supplied me with delicious butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash all autumn long only sells their own produce and are only about 50km from Paris. I have always bought from this stall in the past but I'll make it a priority now. What's more, it's very small and I really like the woman who sells the produce.

So what did I buy? I'm guessing the exact distance below but they give a rough idea. Clockwise from the upper left corner on the photo:

- 2 bunches of spring onions from the Seine et Marne region (about 50km)

- 1 kilo of Swiss chard (Seine et Marne)

- 700 grams of carrots (Seine et Marne)

- 4 litres of semi-skimmed organic fresh milk from the Loire Valley (about 100km)

- 2 kilos of flour from a mill near Auxerre (about 100km)

- 4 bunches of onions from the Loire valley

- Pears from the Loire valley (I think, actually, that the pears the boy has been eating daily for the last three months pretty much all come from the Loire...)

- 2 duck breasts from the Vendee region (about 400 km from Paris, about the best I could do)

- Brie de Meaux (50km)

- a loaf of raisin bread from near Auxerre (the same mill as the flour)

- 2 artichokes from Brittany, about 300km from Paris, depending on where in the region. I've been seeing Spanich 'chokes all over Paris for a couple of weeks and broke down even though they were from a bit far away.

- and in the center, barely visible, 1 kilo of rhubarb from the Seine et Marne stall.

I was right about the cost, though: nearly 80 euros for the lot. The duck breasts were the worst, coming in at 24 euros for the two. If I had looked more carefully at the price and the weight of the two breasts, I probably would have gone for one or maybe even bought something else. Live and learn!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:27 PM | Comments (3)
May 5, 2006
Random Acts of Kindness in the Supermarket, Day two of Shopping Locally and a Leek Recipe

Yesterday as I stood in line at the supermarket doing my usual game of "now if I had chosen THAT line, would I be closer to actually paying and getting myself out of here?" I noticed the girl in front of me getting a bit restless. After a moment, it became obvious that she was struggling with the desire to get some chewing gum about three feet away from the line and her reluctance to lose her place in line. Eventually, she took the plunge and darted over to get the gum. It took her a moment to get the container out of the rack, probably because she was in such a panicky hurry to get back to her place in line before I noticed she was out. Standard Parisian etiquette (or lack thereof), you see, dictates that I should have immediately scooted forward to her place in line and shot her dirty looks if she tried to get back in line there. In fact, the woman behind ME was bumping into me with impatience. I stood my ground, though, and let the young woman back to her place and she shot me a surprised smile in return. It felt nice being nice.

Usually, I'm fuming when I'm in line at the Monoprix. The biggest culprits in the Driving Me Mad Game are the cashier who sees a patron looking through her change purse for exact change and then - when she is presented with a bill - asks if the client doesn't have exact change? (HELLO, did you not see me look for exact change and realise reluctantly that I'll have to break a bill? Do you think I'm just toying with you and actually could have given you 36 cents?) Her accomplice is the sad little old lady who delights in being asked if she has exact change as it gives her an excuse to prolong the conversation and discuss small coins, the disappearance of the franc and other weighty matters. I should really be more patient.

Anyway, the second random act of kindness came my way as I was checking out today. I was struggling with half a dozen bags because the second supermarket I frequent has started using really flimsy ones that can't take two bottles of wine and a half a kilo of vegetables. And the fellow behind me reached over and (more competently than I) sorted out the handles of the last few bags and handed them to me with a smile. It made me smile all the way home.

As for the local shopping, I found to my surprise that I was gravitating automatically towards every product that was shouting "I COME FROM VERY FAR AWAY AND USED A LOT OF FUEL TO GET HERE". It reminds me of the days when I was pregnant and my cravings mostly consisted of all the foods that were forbidden: soft unpasteurised cheeses, raw oysters, sushi, rare meat. I would pick up a package of chorizo and scan it anxiously to see if, by chance, it was actually made in France. The funny thing is that without the challenge I would normally be doing the opposite: making sure it was actually Spanish and therefore authentic.

In the end, I purchased some wine from Chablis, a couple of steaks, some pretty nice tomatoes and 8 leeks, all from France, exact origin unknown. (It will be easier to pinpoint the exact origin of produce when I go to the market tomorrow and can ask the sellers.) I made a lovely Stilton sauce for the leeks and grilled them for extra flavour. (The Stilton, for those who are wondering, fell into the "already in my fridge" exemption to shopping locally...and in fact it was in desperate need of being used up. Waste not, want not!)

I've made variations on this cheese sauce quite a few times but last night was the first time I used milk instead of cream or creme fraiche. To my surprise it came out just as creamy and delicious as usual and was easier on the calories.

Grilled Leeks with Stilton Sauce (serves 3-4 as a side dish or starter)

8-10 leeks, cleaned with the tough dark green ends and roots chopped off
3/4 cup Stilton or other blue cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup grated cheddar
1/2 small onion
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 tsp tarragon
freshly ground pepper
200 ml milk

Fill a deep frying pan with water and bring it to a boil. Drop the leeks in and cook them for a few minutes, just until they are starting to scent the kitchen. This will ensure that they don't dry out when you put them on the grill. Drain them and set them aside until the grill is hot.

Melt the butter in a small sauce pan. Chop the small onion finely (or a shallot would do nicely too) and add to the butter, cooking for a few minutes until it softens and smells nice. Add the tarragon and cook for a few minutes longer. Stir in the flour and turn up the heat, stirring quickly to coat all the onions and keep the flour from just sitting in the bottom of the pan. Slowly stir in the milk, whisking rapidly. Once the milk is hot and the flour lumps have been beaten into submission, gradually add the cheeses. Don't add them all at once or they will cool down the milk and you'll have to increase the heat and risk curdling the milk trying to melt all the cheese. Taste for seasoning: it probably won't need salt but pepper will bring out the flavours.

Toss the leeks on a hot grill and let them brown on all sides before serving them with the cheese sauce. It goes very well with a few grilled steaks (we used the sauce on the steaks too!) and the first tomato salad of the season.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:01 AM | Comments (3)
May 4, 2006
Almost Kosher for Passover Macaroons

macaroon_jf.jpgWhile the main event for dessert during our seder was the chocolate cake, these macaroons didn't hang out on the side lines and pout. In fact, guests gushed over the macaroons and were grateful when I sent them home with a few. (In fact, I was told the next evening that they were gone and there was a bit of fighting as to who would get to eat them)

I've had this recipe on my computer for years and have made batches of these on no fewer than 5 occasions, I'd estimate (the height of creativity coming when I and two friends added McCormick's pineapple and rum flavoring to a batch). Unfortunately I have no note telling me from where I lifted this recipe, but it's a relatively basic recipe with many similar versions floating around out there.

The chocolate dipping, obviously, is optional, but highly recommended.

The flour in the recipe tells you how religious I am.

Almost Kosher for Passover Macaroons

4 large egg whites
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cups sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 1/2 cups lightly packed sweetened flaked coconut
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
3 1/2 tbs butter or margarine

In a large bowl beat egg whites with a mixer or whisk until frothy. Add vanilla, sugar, and flour; mix until smooth. Stir in coconut until evenly moistened. On 2 well greased 12- x 15-inch baking sheets, evenly space 1/4 cup portions of dough. Bake in a 325F oven until macaroons are golden, about 25 minutes. Switch positions of baking sheets halfway through baking. Transfer macaroons to rack and let cool. Place chocolate and butter in a 1 1\2 to 2-quart pan; set pan over slightly larger pan filled with about 1/2 inch water. Bring water to simmering over medium heat and warm just until chocolate and butter melt; stir occasionally. Remove pans from heat; keep chocolate mixture over hot water. One at a time, dip half of each macaroon in chocolate, tipping top pan and scraping sides to collect chocolate. Set macaroons slightly apart on waxed paper placed on a 12- x 15-inch baking sheet. Chill, uncovered, until chocolate hardens, about 45 minutes. Serve, or wrap each airtight in plastic wrap, then chill up to one week.

Posted by Justin at 10:28 AM | Comments (44)
May 3, 2006
Better late than never: Joining the Eat Local Challenge

This is as local as it getsWe are actually three days into the Eat Local Month of May, hosted by Locavore and Jen of Life begins at 30. Although this is the first mention of it on the blog, I've actually been testing the process since the first of May. Well, the second really: we were travelling on the first of the month and so it's hard to say what was local. We brought sausages back from England; I'm counting them as local because they were brought over in transportation that would have made the trip regardless.

I'm glad I'm participating in this effort already, because it's made me aware after only two days exactly how difficult it is to eat locally. I've always thought I that I'm particularly spoiled for choice, living here in Paris. And it's true that we get great produce. At the markets, the origin of produce is always labelled and I've always delighted in watching each fruit make its way up in the labels marked "Maroc", then "Espagne", then "Provence" and finally - if you are lucky - "Ile de France". But I hadn't noticed how the supermarkets just label the country of origin, not the region. And I certainly hadn't noticed that the small organic section of my local Monoprix is mostly stocked with fruit and veg from South America, South Africa and Israel.

I hadn't thought about the fact that the super-cheap drinkable wine I buy doesn't even have a proper designation, giving its origin. It has a label saying "bottled in F32725" or some such postal code, which is apparently somewhere in the Pyrenee mountains. Decent Loire wines or a nice Chablis are going to cost us at least twice as much but they will also be twice as tasty so I guess I can't complain.

On that note, last night I bought an experimental Loire rose that was not spectacular. The Critic took one taste and said "This wine is too sweet. You can drink this bottle but I'm having the white." When I explained that I had bought it so I could participate in the Eat Local Challenge, he said "But do I have to??!?"

Well he didn't: I was stuck drinking the sweet pink wine and he had the dry white.

I have had to make some exceptions of course. Well, not of course, but I'm not a freak and I have work, this blog and a very active 16 month old in my life (not to mention a somewhat needy husband) so I'm doing what's practical. Read on to find out more about my personal goals...

1. What's your definition of local for this challenge?

Ideally 200km, but I'll settle for France when necessary. I'm thinking of rating each recipe on a scale of one to ten on how well I've succeeded in keeping to the radius. This should allow me fish from the Atlantic, wine from the Loire or north end of Burgundy and chickens from Loue, which is actually known for its great poultry.

2. What exemptions will you claim?

Things that are already in my kitchen will be exempted: I'm not going to ignore them or let them go bad. I have not stocked up on difficult items before the challenge and I'm going to be hoarding that small piece of remaining ginger. I have already been avoiding exotic fruits such as mango and pineapple and bananas for a while and will probably continue. I might have to break down on Spanish lemons as I love them and only have one and a half left. I will also be exempting food consumed at someone else's table, be it a restaurant or friends. We don't eat out that much these days but I know that we are invited to a few dinners in May.

3. What is your personal goal for the month?

My goal is twofold: Firstly to learn more about the food I'm eating - I tend to pay attention when the source is mentioned but don't ask questions when it's not. And secondly to see how far I can carry the principle while factoring a busy life of work, family and blog.

A note on the photo: the best local food is the stuff I grow myself. Last year was a middling year in terms of vegetables and May is certainly too early for vegetables anyway. But I'll be including lots of locally grown (i.e. less than two metres from the kitchen) sage, bay leaves, thyme and rosemary. Unfortunately, the three baby lemons on my lemon tree won't be ripe for a few months.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:59 PM | Comments (7)
May 1, 2006
Grilled Onions, Living Ginger Ale, and the Best Pizza in Chicago

We start the week with three items that don't fully deserve a post of their own, but that I think are worth knowing about.

First off is a dish I've been making as a side for Mexican dishes, but that would be right at home next to a steak or pork roast or grilled chicken.

In one Mexican restaurant we visited recently, these were called "cebollitas" or "little onions". The onions I use for this side are more bulby than scallions and less huge than normal white onions. The bulbs are about the size of a fat thumb, and have their scallion-like greens still attached.

To prepare these, slice the onion in half lengthwise. Next, break out the grill pan or set up the barbecue. Get a nice hot fire going, and brush the grll or grill pan with corn or olive oil. Next brush the onions lightly with the same oil.

Place the onions across the grill and sprinkle lightly with kosher salt. Grill a few minutes on one side, then flip the onions over. Grill them until they wilt and the bulbs are tender. Serve immediately as a side dish. They're amazing.

Secondly, I am pleased to report that Fankhauser's Ginger Ale recipe produces a fine, fizzy beverage. The taste is not like Canada Dry or Schweppes, but much cleaner, even if there is a little ginger pulp in the mixture.

Fankhauser's recipe is better than commercial gingerales in one other way, also. It's a living thing, so more fizz can be generated easily. I first let the mix sit near the radiator for 24 hours, at which point the bottle was tight, and felt full of gas. After refrigeration, the tautness of the bottle had eased, and I had a slightly fizzy beverage, but nowhere near as fizzy as a commercial drink.

I took the bottle out of the refrigerator and set it back near the radiator for 30 or so hours. The bottle was taut again and once refrigerated this time produced a seriously fizzy glass of ginger ale. As long as you don't kill the yeast, you could probably repeat this trick, though at some point I'd be worried about other beasties growing in the bottle. All in all, it was a huge success.

Third and finally, I have found the best stuffed pizza in Chicago, where stuffed pizza is a religion. It's not Edwardo's or Giordano's or Lou Malnati's or Uno's or Due's any of the usual suspects. The best stuffed pizza in Chicago (or at least the best I've ever tasted) is found on West Montrose at a place called Bellona's.

There's one problem with Bellona's. From what I could see, they have very little seating - as in one table and two chairs. Yep, if you want to enjoy Bellona's unbelievably crispy crust, slightly sweet marinara sauce, and a mozzarella that is better than any I've had on any other pizza, you have to either pick up or live in their delivery area.

We've had their pizza four times now, and each time, it impresses. We get spinach and mushroom, which is usually a recipe for a soggy pie from any of the big name pizza joints, but Bellona's delivers a crispy crust every time. I was also impressed with the prices, which are a few dollars per pie lower than the big name joints.

Bellona's Pizza is at
3447 W Montrose in Chicago
Call 773-588-8500
I have not found a web site for them.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at 7:27 AM | Comments (5)
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