Monday, December 19, 2011

Kale Campaign

I know it’s annoying, but I can’t help myself. Every time someone tells me they don’t like a certain food, I have a really hard time believing them. Usually, I think when people don’t like a certain food, what they really don’t like is a certain preparation, or a bad specimen. And what they need is exposure to a great version of that food, prepared well. (Or, I think they need me to cook it for them.)
It’s like the rosé phenomenon. Ten years ago, many people I know (including myself) would have said they did not like rosé. Now, we’re all about it. We can be discerning within the category, we’re drinking rosé in the winter, we like it with bubbles. Ten years ago I had only tried two or three glasses of rosé, and I didn't like them. I certainly wouldn’t consider chucking all red wine because of a bad glass, but my rosé sample size was small and I drew false conclusions based on insufficient evidence.
And so it was when my dear friend confided that he didn’t like kale. I tried to play it cool, but on the inside the kale campaign was officially launched. I began thinking of all the ways to woo a hater with kale goodness. 

There’s my favorite: raw kale salad with shallots andricotta salada. Or Susan Goin’s kale heaven with squash and faro. Or strips of hearty kale in traditional minestrone soup. Or lemony kale with pepitas under chili verde. Or kale with tofu and miso dressing. Or....
While my kale campaign may not have been a success based on original intent (we’ve moved from “I hate kale” to “I’m not a fan of kale”), it has been successful in another way. I have discovered and rediscovered so many wonderful ways to prepare kale. In this season with so few, fresh green options, kale ends up being the hero of many meals.  Here’s one of my new favorites. On cold, work-from-home afternoons, I’ve been eating it for lunch with a hunk of crusty bread. But I bet it would also be awesome next to a juicy steak, or under a fried egg.

Spicy Creamed Kale
2 T butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ t red pepper flakes
1 bunch Tuscan kale, spines removed, chopped
½ cup half and half
1-2 ounces tomme or other firm cheese, grated
Salt and pepper
  • Heat the butter over medium heat in a sauté pan. Add the onions and cook for 3-4 min.
  • Add garlic and red pepper and cook until onions are translucent. Stir to keep from browning.
  • Add the kale and stir to coat with butter and onions. Cook until soft and wilted, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the half and half and cheese, stir until combined. Cook over low heat for a few minutes until the cream has thickened and the cheese is fully incorporated.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Magic Antlers

On most days, and definitely on good days, hundreds of ideas run through my head. I don’t think I’m alone here. They are certainly not all good ideas (maybe I should cut my hair like Grimes), but they don’t all suck either (orange clove vodka could taste good). But most of those ideas drop out just as quickly as they pop in. Ephemeral like a shooting star, they can spark and then fizzle in a matter of seconds. 

Upon inspection, every big to-do list and all my New Year’s resolutions have some underlying theme of holding on to more ideas. I yearn to nurture just a few more ideas into something real. To give just a little more thought, spend a few more minutes, and take some of the better ideas a bit further.
I love this print by Jenn Renninger I Will Gather the Stars for You. It’s just what I need: a mystical deer looking out for me, gathering all the good stuff that flitters around in my brain and funneling it down through his magic antlers into some digestible action plan. But short of a mystical deer, I have my blog. It’s a forum that inspires me to take an idea that made an appearance in my mind, and develop it just a tiny bit more.
On Thanksgiving, while making Honey and Herb Biscuits and Pecan, Bourbon and Butterscotch Bread Pudding, I heard a rerun of an interview with Nora Ephron.  She discussed the process she goes through, when blessed with a new idea, of determining which medium to take it to. Should it be a movie, a play, an essay, a book, a blog post? For Ms. Ephron, a blog post is a fleeting idea that she may not even agree with the next day. I liked this. It sets the standard low—a blog post does not need to be a work of greatness, but a forum to mature an idea, to lend focus to a flurry of thoughts, and to put something out there.
With this approach, I plan to start blogging again. Same place, same voice, and maybe a slightly broader theme. I am excited!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Fatty Pig Cheeks

Earlier this week, I was giving a friend a tour of my home and it dawned on me that there should be a new stop:  the storage unit/meat curing room. My place is small, so usually it’s the living room/kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and patio. Depending on my guest’s interest, I can turn every piece of art into a full-saga, so if I want to draw out the tour, the art usually is where I do it.
But now that I have pork jowls hanging in my basement storage locker, there’s a whole new angle to the tour.  

“It’s a pig jowl. Like fatty pig cheeks.” (I make a hand gesture outlining the jowl area on my own face.) “No, I don’t really know what I’m doing. Yes, I’m going to eat it. No, I’m not afraid I’m going to poison my friends.”
That seems to cover it.
As part of my personal assignment of 12 months of preserving, I made guanciale a few months ago, and one of them is still hanging next to my Christmas decorations and snow shoes. I followed Ruhlman’s recipe precisely, and I am quite pleased with the results. In addition to providing a new stop on the tour, my guanciale is tasty with turnip greens and a fried egg, in pasta, and with leeks as described below.

I had the leeks for dinner with a piece of toast and goat cheese, but I bet it’d be great along-side a halibut steak too.  

Leeks with Guanciale
3 large leeks
4 oz. guanciale, diced
½ cup white wine
  • Julienne the leeks and wash thoroughly by soaking in cold water.
  • Heat a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the guanciale and cook, stirring occasionally, until it’s dark brown and crispy. Remove the guanciale and set aside. Pour off most of the pig fat, leaving a thin coating across the pan.
  • Add the leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the wine and simmer until all the excess liquid has evaporated. Continue to cook the leeks until some of them become brown and crispy.
  • Stir in the guanciale.

Friday, April 22, 2011

50 Miles to Coffee

No matter how you measure it, Texas is big. We spent 11 days tasting, smelling, exploring and getting dusty in the Lone Star State and we never left the little jut that makes up West Texas.
I loved it. And I want to go back. 

As Rock Hudson declared to Elizabeth Taylor in the 1956 hit Giant, when you’re plunked down in the middle of wide-open Presidio County,  it’s “fifty miles to coffee” and even farther to any other familiar treats you might be looking for like fresh produce to cook up at camp—or cell coverage. So we made our own coffee when we needed to. And guacamole too.

And the beauty of West Texas is overwhelming—filled with plants that haven’t seen a drop of rain since August and still manage to eke out a shock of green or a desperate bloom, and people who disoriented us with their kindness.
I’ve been having a debate with my coconspirator in this recent Texas adventure about the impact of such a getaway: Does really escaping—the emails, meetings, piles of laundry, and drizzle—and basking in the heat, the open space and the quiet actually rejuvenate you to engage with everything that’s waiting back at home? Or does that taste of fantasy darken your reality upon return with a cloud of knowing what else is out there?
Regardless, I wouldn’t trade the luxury of a getaway for anything, and I’m already plotting my next one.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sorry, Homework.

I remember singing a sweet sayonara when I left grad school. Though I had learned loads, and was endlessly grateful for the opportunity, there was still an inner voice that said somethig like, “F%#k you, homework. Never again.”

But now I am eating my inner words, and would like to issue a formal apology, “Sorry, homework, you’re not all that bad.”

Over the past two months, I have been reveling in the experience of having an assignment—lots of assignments. Somehow, they seem to be keeping me creative. There are a lot of things that take priority in my life, and these things are not bad. For example: work, seeing my friends and family, exercise, grocery shopping. And I have a pretty manageable list (no kids, no elderly parents to care for, one job). But these tasks often edge out making time for creative projects, and those projects are a very core part of what keeps me, me. So, I have been enjoying assignments that force me to prioritize being creative.

I was in a quilting slump. I had started a quilt with awesome visions in my head, but it wasn’t materializing how I had envisioned it, and I stopped. For a long time. But then my friends decided to have a party: Bad Art—It’s Trashy. Guest “artists” were invited to create a piece of bad, trashy art to be displayed at an opening. Yes! That was the assignment I needed to make friends with my sewing machine and get exited again about creating.

And I’m not the only one. The popularity of programs like Project Food Blog from FoodBuzz and Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Charcutepalooza, and 100 Push Ups is a sign that lots of people are clamoring for an assignment to help them accomplish their goals.

So behold, my food assignment to myself for 2011: make a new preserved item each month. And by new, I mean new to me. So, build a new pantry skill twelve times this year. I started out easy. In January, I made preserved lemons: pack lemons in salt, wait. I’m still waiting. For February, I am just under the wire. I am headed out now to pick up two freshly butchered pork jowls from Sea Breeze Farms, with which I will make guanciale.

Wish me luck. And I'll wish you assignments that keep you creative.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Magic Muffins

With all the talk these days about wheat allergies, gluten intolerance and celiac disease, it was nice to read a story about how muffins improved a little girl’s life. Nice because it bolstered my up-on-muffins weekend, adding to the already-good feeling of having brought some pretty serious corn muffins to a chili potluck this weekend.
And nicer, I’d say, because Jermome Groopman’s The Peanut Puzzle, published in last week's New Yorker, is one of a handful of articles I have read in the last few months that cover investigations about what we might be doing as a culture to impact childhood allergies. All seem to point to a solution that includes fewer diet restrictions and a simpler way of keeping kids healthy.

In The Peanut Puzzle, Groopman explores the growing incidence of food allergies, and doctors’ changing wisdom on what causes allergies and how to prevent them. Scientists are questioning whether the guidelines to delay children’s exposure to common allergens (dairy, peanuts, shellfish, etc.) actually reduce incidents of allergies. Some studies indicate that perhaps the opposite is more effective—that exposing children at a young age to peanuts and dairy may help ward off related allergies. And in the case of the girl and the muffins—a seven year old with a severe dairy allergy—slow introduction of baked goods with dairy helped reduce her reaction to cheese and enabled her to enjoy pizza.

While my corn muffins with coriander, Poblanos and white cheddar didn’t cure anyone of any ailments, they were rich, moist, and flavorful, and tasted great with a big bowl of beefy chili. Give them a try, and I’ll keep reading as we aim to solve the peanut puzzle and get a handle on allergies.

Coriander Corn Muffins
1 T coriander seeds
1/3 cup flour
2/3 cup medium grind yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1½ cups sharp white cheddar, grated
1½ cups frozen corn

  • Char the pepper over a flame, cool it in a closed paper bag, and rub off the charred skin. Remove the stem, seeds and ribs, and dice.
  • Toast the coriander in a dry pan over medium heat until aromatic. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle.
  • Mix the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coriander in a bowl. Mix the butter, eggs and buttermilk in a separate bowl. Combine the wet and dry ingredients. Stir in the Poblanos, cheese and corn.
  • Spoon the batter into medium muffin tins lined with parchment paper or muffin cups. Bake at 375° for 20 – 25 minutes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Company I Keep

My companion predicted that the evening would be about food shame, but I walked away from Michael Pollan’s talk feeling quite the opposite. Pollan’s premise that restoring community, culture, and the wholeness of foods to eating can correlate with better health and a healthier agricultural system is energizing. The fact that whole foods taste better, and that enjoying them with other people can be better for both the individual and the community motivates me to live in a healthy way—an opposite feeling than, say, a diet. It’s the connection that comes with good food that gets me excited about sourcing, cooking and sharing meals. And it turns out that that connection can serve a larger good as well.

I (like many others) have been a Pollan fan for years, and attending his talk was certainly an act of the converted heading out to be preached to. I am a very new fan, however, of Brene Brown, and I saw her TED talk shortly after I went to see Pollan. Based on her research, she talks about the power of vulnerability as a key ingredient to living a whole-hearted life with a “strong sense of love and belonging.” That connection, as she describes it, is what gives purpose to all our lives—it’s why we’re here.
This, I thought, is why I love food. And it’s not really food that I love, but that strong sense of connection that comes from sharing a part of myself with people I love, and connecting around something that has meaning for all of us. That’s what "In Pleasant Company" is about for me.

I closed out this week of food-and-connection talk with a Sunday afternoon of crafting with my friends, a big pot of chili to share as we prepared for the coming week, and an immense feeling of gratefulness.
The combination of gamey buffalo and flavorful pork was a nice change from the traditional beef. It was good chili, for sure, but it was better in pleasant company.

Buffalo Chili
¼ cup canola oil
2 yellow onions, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 # ground buffalo
½ # ground pork
14 oz canned, diced tomatoes
6 oz canned tomato paste
½ # dried pinto beans, cooked until almost tender
6-8 cups water
4 large, dried Ancho chilies, rinsed and stems removed
1 T cumin seeds
2 t coriander seeds
1/4 t red pepper flakes
Kosher salt

  • Heat the oil in a large heavy pot. Add the onions and the garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are translucent but not caramelized.

  • Add the buffalo and pork, break apart the meat with a wooden spoon, and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through, about 10 minutes.

  • Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste and water, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Chili should cook for a total of about an hour, adding the following ingredients as you go.

  • In a separate, dry, sauté pan, heat the chilies until they become fragrant, turning occasionally, 3-4 minutes. Remove them from the pan, put them in a heatproof bowl, and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 15 minutes until the chilies are tender, then puree them with an immersion blender (or in a traditional blender) to make a smooth chili paste. Add to the pot.

  • Heat the sauté pan again and add the cumin and coriander. Heat until fragrant, about 5 minutes, tossing frequently to avoid burning. Transfer the toasted spices to a mortar and pestle, and grind until fine. Add to the pot.

  • After the chili has been cooking for a total of about 45 minutes, add the cooked beans. Cook for about 15 minutes more until the beans are soft and the flavors have mixed. Add salt to taste, about 1 tablespoon.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mazama Snacks

I think if we had stopped snowshoeing for more than the four minutes necessary to catch our breaths and plan our route, the very flesh on our faces might have frozen.
That’s how I feel, anyway. It was cold in Mazama and my northwest-moderate sensibilities were caught off guard by the low of negative six degrees Fahrenheit.
Photo by Daniel Schmeichler
It was so cold that a picnic lunch while snowshoeing didn’t seem like a good idea, and we had to plan our meals accordingly. So each morning of our snowy mountain getaway we’d wake up, eat a hearty breakfast, and head out into the frozen fluff with only a few snacks to eat while walking. And when we made it back to the warm cabin around 3:00, we were seriously ready for lunch. No time to wait.

Enter snack lunch. It was perfect. Salami, cheese, pickles, clementines, last night’s squab and lamb chops, a friend’s leftover chicken livers, crackers, rolls from the general store, chocolate, biscotti. All eaten standing up in the kitchen with matted hat hair, that satisfied vacation glow, and a beer.
We did take the time to cook one thing though: truffle popcorn. I like to make popcorn with olive oil for the flavor, and that sprinkle of truffle salt turns a simple snack into something a little special.
I wish I could pack this lunch and bring it to work, but I don’t have enough Tupperware. And the beer might become an issue. So I guess I'll save it for special afternoons with friends.