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Omnivore Food Blog By Suzanne Podhaizer

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October 2007

October 29, 2007

Prepared (Hoping?) for Disaster

Pkgarmageddon2Sometimes I wonder how on earth my name ended up on a given
mailing list. One such head-scratcher occurred on Saturday when I received a newsletter from the Survival Food Store.

The missive reads: "Be prepaired [sic] when you need it the most, The Survival Food Store now offers long term storage food for times of emergency.  Stock up now and be ready when man made or natural disasters strike."

Their specials include the "survival kits" such as the "Castaway Pack" and the "Hurricane Pack." What's the diff? "Castaway" includes enough food to feed a family of 4 for 21 days, and costs $339.95. "Hurricane," at a modest $169.95, will last the same number of people for 10 days. Now,  my first instinct is that I could keep four people alive that long on less, but would life be worth living without  seven-pound cans of butterscotch and vanilla pudding? Probably not.

"A step up from our Earthquake Pack, the Hurricane Pack is for the slightly more cautious family and potentially more devastating natural disaster. It includes all the meat, cheese, bread, eggs, milk, and even pudding to keep everyone eating normal [sic] in a possibly surreal and alarming time that could last for over a week. It will also more than cover the nessecities [sic] of eating should your family decide to stay on that middle-of-nowhere vacation for another week."

If I had to spend my vacation eating fortified turkey chunks and processed cheese from a can, I'd be begging my boss to let me come back to work. And here's a logistical question, once I've opened a six-pound can of apple filling, must my stranded family eat the whole thing at once, because hypothetically, we have no refrigeration?

Anyway, if you're in the market for 6, 10-pound cans of freeze-dried cottage cheese or a whey-based milk alternative that "tastes just like real milk," this is the site to visit.

My personal fave: The "Armageddon Pack," advertised with a friendly graphic of a falling bomb.

October 27, 2007

Marilyn Manson gets "Absinthe Minded"

Some celebs have fragrances named after them, others have their own clothing lines, but Marilyn Manson always stands out from the crowd. His personalized product: a brand of absinthe, also known as "the green fairy." The anise-flavored, wormwood-based spirit is blamed for ills from  Van Gogh's ear-ectomy to a man's murder of his pregnant wife and two children. The latter cause the liquor to be banned in Switzerland and many other European countries. It has now been legalized again in a bunch of them.

Right now, the goth rocker's "Mansinthe" is available in a bunch of countries, and they are working on getting it on the shelves in the U.S. (which is only possible because it's low in thujone, the chemical said to be responsible for all of the ill effects). As of now, you can order it on the Mansinthe website and have it shipped to the U.S. for an exorbitant fee.

Want to sample the green stuff without paying? Manson, a visual artist as well as a musician, sometimes paints with it. You can find a few watercolor and absinthe pieces on his website.

I'm not sure what this says about me, but I find many of his paintings really appealing. The one of Hunter S. Thompson is great, as is the portrait of Poe. Even though most of them feature really simple lines, they are always evocative, and sometimes downright scary.

October 25, 2007

Be really nice to your waiter...

According to a new study, he or she could really use a break. According to info gathered by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association, 10.3% of people in jobs that involve food preparation and service have experienced serious bouts of depression, making it the second most depressing job category the group accounted for. The food service workers follow right on the tail of people who are in personal care positions (i.e. caring for children, those with disabilities or the elderly). Further down the list are folks in "farming, fishing and forestry," 5.6% of whom get the field & stream blues.

So leave that extra dollar on the table, send a compliment to the chef or take the time to tell your favorite farmer how much you love her tomatoes. Who knows...it could help!

Your Last Meal...Ever

Did you know that Marilyn Monroe ate guacamole and meatballs at a Mexican buffet before she died, or that Julia Child headed to the great beyond with a bellyful of French onion soup? I learned these fun yet freaky details while researching my recent story, Last Bites, which I wrote for the Halloween edition of Seven Days. The coolest part of putting together the piece? Asking local celebs what they would want their last meals to be, given the choice.

Most of the high-profile folks I spoke to, including Weatherman Tom Messner and
Film Director John O'Brien, chuckled at the concept. Health Inspector Al Burns made sure to let me know that he doesn't plan to eat his last meal for a long, long time.

Now I want to know what YOUR last meal would be...would you select a voluptuous assortment of dainties or an all-you-can-eat buffet of comfort foods? Unlike inmates on death row in Florida, who have a $20 spending limit on their final feasts, you can spend as much virtual money as you wish.

To get you started, here's mine. I realize that this list will mean an eternity in the 3rd circle of hell, in which gluttons lie in the mud during a perpetual rain and hail storm. That's gonna suck.

I would share this meal with my husband, who is the best (dining) partner a girl could ask for.

 

Apps:
A selection of sashimi, mostly o-toro
12 West Coast oysters on the half-shell with just a drizzle of mignonette sauce
Kobe beef tartare. I've never tried Kobe beef, but it's now or never
A rather large slab of foie gras, prepared in some creative fashion by Thomas Keller (I know the hate mail will be forthcoming. Look, there's not a single factory farmed chicken on this menu, nor milk from any cow treated with Monsanto's rBST, etc.)

Salad:
Mesclun greens, roasted walnuts, cherries and slices of a bloomy-rind goat cheese, sprinkled with sea salt and dressed with olive oil and an older balsamic

Soup:
I'd want really small servings of five, super-creative soups. I don't know what they would be.

Meal:
Chestnut ravioli in a truffle cream
Roasted Duck with port and fig sauce
Brussels sprouts with shallots, bacon and blue cheese
Potato and celeriac gratin

Dessert:
An extra large cheese course, featuring at least 30 of the best artisan cheeses in the country plus accompaniments such as honey, nuts and fruit, along with appropriate beverages. I know I'd want Humboldt Fog, Beecher's Flagship Reserve, Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain, alongside a variety of cheeses from Willow Hill, Lazy Lady and Jasper Hill. I'd let Jeff Roberts pick out the rest.

A dessert wine tasting, including ice wines, Tokays and Sauternes, which I'll sip as I wait for eternity.

October 20, 2007

Recipe: Roasted Squash Gnocchi with Chard and Blue Cheese

Img_3531I invented this dish a couple of weeks ago for a good friend's birthday celebration. Because I made the gnocchi the "easy way" (stay tuned for details) it's neither uniform nor particularly pretty. But it tasted really good!

The recipe doesn't have exact measurements for some things, 'cause I didn't want to hold up the celebration by trying to pin them down. But hopefully it will be easy in enough to follow nevertheless.

Roasted Squash Gnocchi with Chard and Blue Cheese

1 medium squash, I prefer buttercup
2 eggs
a bunch of flour
sea salt
2 medium shallots
2 large bunches swiss chard
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
At least 1/2 pound chopped or crumbled blue cheese. I used Jasper Hill Farm's Bailey Hazen Blue

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds and reserve (so you can cook them and eat them as a snack later), and place the halves cut side down in an oiled pan. Roast until the squash starts to collapse when you poke it, it should be soft enough that you can easily scoop out the flesh.


While the squash is roasting: Peel and mince the shallots. Then wash the chard and slice it into ribbons. If you'd prefer not to use the stems in this dish, you can save them for another use. Sweat the shallots in a bit of butter or olive oil, when they're translucent, add the chard and let it wilt. Reserve.

Now the blue cheese sauce. Put the 2 T. flour in a pan (no oil) and heat over medium heat until lightly browned, stirring constantly. You will smell a nice toasty aroma as it heats. Drop in the butter (it'll sizzle) and quickly whisk the butter and flour together. Slowly drizzle in the milk (if you don't mind using an extra pot, it's best for the milk to be hot, but it'll still work if it's not), whisking constantly, until you have a smooth, creamy consistency. Let simmer until thickened. Stir in blue cheese and remove from heat.

Put the shallot chard mixture in a 9 X 13 baking dish and add the sauce. Stir.

 

When the squash is done, remove from the oven and carefully scoop the flesh into a large mixing bowl. Discard the shell. Allow to cool until is is comfortable to touch. Add salt and pepper to taste. Then, with a fork, blend in two eggs. Stir in two cups flour. Then, add 1/2 cup flour at a time until you've formed a smooth and elastic dough.

Put a big pot of water on to boil.

To make gnocchi the easy way, grab a chunk of dough and roll it between your palms to form a long "worm" (like playing with Play-Doh). Place this on a floured cutting board and chop it into bite-sized pieces with a chef knife. Take the bits, make sure they're coated in flour, and lay  them in a single layer on any surface that you won't need for a few minutes: a sheet pan, cutting board, etc. Continue until all the dough is gone.

Salt the boiling water and drop in the gnocchi a few at a time. You'll need to do a few batches. Each batch should take around 5 minutes to cook, and the gnocchi will rise to the top when nearly done. Skim them out with a skimmer, add them to the pan with the veggies and sauce, and stir to coat. Let the water come back to a boil and add the next batch.

When all the gnocchi are done or the pan is nearly full, make sure the ingredients are thoroughly mixed and put the pan in the oven. If there are leftover gnocchi, toss them with oil and save for another time. Let cook until hot and bubbly. Serve.

Whew...that was more complicated than I expected. It took me three days to write this post! By the way, if you make this, use your own discretion during most steps. If medium heat on your stove will make the sauce boil instead of simmer, use medium low instead. You get the idea.

October 18, 2007

Eating "The Onion"

There aren't many publications that are funnier than The Onion. Delightfully, many of the satirical pub's articles happen to be about everyone's favorite topic: food.

Here's a tasty sampler:

1) Pudding-Factory Disaster Brings Slow, Creamy Death to Town Below
2) Top Rated Programs on the Food Network
3) Fast-Food Purchase Seething with Unspoken Class Conflict
4) Enchanted Spatula Can Only be Used to Flip Food by One Who Is Pure and Thought and Deed
5) America's Favorite Food Additives
6) New  High-Viscosity Mayonnaise to Aid in American Swallowing
7) Snacktime Made More Fun
8) FDA Approves Seconds

October 16, 2007

Eat Crap (an interesting article on Slate.com)

Think that irradiation is the answer to gastrointestinal woes? Think again! According to Kent Sepkowitz, what Americans really need to do is "ingest more excrement."

Read all about it...

While munching on manure is anything but appetizing, I've certainly been swayed by the numerous articles that blame everything from allergies to drug-resistant strains of bacteria on our obsession with cleanliness.

For that reason, I will now eat food that I've dropped on the floor whereas I used to throw it away or scrub it thoroughly. And I'm slightly less paranoid about food that has been in "the danger zone" than I used to be.

October 12, 2007

"Beef Up" Your Culinary Skills at It's Arthur's Fault

There's not much that's more empowering than being able to turn a side of beef into juicy steaks, ribs and roasts. Or maybe I'm just a bit strange.

Butchering know-how is crucial for folks in food service, NECI even has a special "Meat Fabrication Lab" in which budding chefs learn the art of dismemberment, but it's a skill that few home cooks ever learn.

But that can change! Arthur Shelmandine, the bottled sauce guru at It's Arthur's Fault, teaches cooking classes out of his Jericho home. One upcoming class is called, "Meat Cutting and Butchering," and will take place on November 17. Here's part of the course description: "We'll be butchering a sizable piece of locally raised, grass-fed beef. Our efforts will produce cuts to be used in our dinner as well as freezer packaged items." The meat will come from Jericho Settler's Farm.

Attendees get to bring home a few pounds of beef, and can also invite a guest to share in the items they prepare. What's on the menu? It's not set in stone yet, but possibilities include: Keftedes, steak and shallots, and Stroganoff.

I tried to find other meat-cutting classes in the area, but Google was less helpful than usual. Know of any?

October 10, 2007

Getting Drunk Can Save Your Life and More Weird Food News...

1) Two months ago, an Italian tourist in Australia ingested a rather large quantity of ethylene glycol, a chemical found in antifreeze. He was initially treated with pure alcohol, which inhibits the kidney-damaging effects of EG. When the hospital ran out of pure alcohol, they turned to...vodka. Using a nasogastric tube, they gave him the equivalent of three drinks per hour for three days! The young man is doing fine. No word on what brand of vodka they used.

2) Taco Bell's Plan to sell "Mexican" food in Mexico isn't so hot...Read all about it.

3) Ever had a really intense food craving? A 6-year-old in Colorado recently did. He tried to drive his grandmother's standard-transmission car to Applebee's. But instead of a "steak quesadilla tower" and a "triple chocolate meltdown," or whatever it is the kid was after, he got a blackout. The youngster, unable to take the car out of reverse, backed into a transformer. Whatever else you say about him, he does sound precocious. He even thought to put his booster seat in front of the steering wheel!

4) Charlie Brown and Linus got nothing on these guys.  Chip Deleeuw and  Randy Lemke grew a 1,180 pound pumpkin, this year. They even kept it warm with an electric blanket on cold nights. The bad boy survived a rotting stump, 8" fall onto a truck and 29 competitors to win an award for the biggest pumpkin in the county. How much did the world's biggest pumpkin weigh? According to one website, Joe Jutras of Rhode Island set the record with a 1689 pounder this September 29th.

5) Banquet Pot Pies should be off your menu...They've been linked to 183 cases of Salmonella, including two in Vermont. According to a Vermont Department of Health press release, "Banquet brand and generic store brand frozen not-ready-to-eat pot pie products with “P-9” printed on the side of the package may be the potential source of the reported illnesses nationwide."

October 09, 2007

Stuffed Portabella Mushroom Recipe

Planning dinner for my friend Devon's 30th birthday last Saturday was kind of like being on Iron Chef. I knew that party guests Chris and Laura, owners of Bread and Roses Farm in Westford, planned to bring an assortment of veggies when they arrived at my apartment, I just didn't know which ones (see, "secret ingredients!"). They showed up with a little of everything: red peppers, eggplant, carrots, beets, chard, kale, mesclun mix, leeks, parsley, dill and buttercup squash. The b-day crew also spent part of the afternoon at Shelburne Orchards picking apples in a rain storm. So we had those to work with, too.

I did my menu planning on the fly at Shelburne Supermarket...no cookbooks, no internet. Just me, a vegetarian birthday girl with veto power, and thousands of products. Here's what I came up with: Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms, Roasted Squash Gnocchi with Chard and Bayley-Hazen Blue Cheese Sauce, Salad with Toasted Pecans and Apples, and Apple Crisp for dessert.

Here's the first recipe (others will follow in future posts).

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms (serves 6 as an appetizer)

3 medium-sized portabella 'shrooms
olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic
a handful of flat-leaf parsley
bread crumbs
salt to taste
pepper to taste
A round of Demitasse, a mixed-milk cheese from Lazy Lady Farm (or substitute any soft cheese with a white rind that you like)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the mushrooms' stems, cutting off and discarding the really dirty bit that was underground. Clean mushroom stems and caps.

Lightly oil both sides of the caps and place them in a Pyrex dish or other oven-friendly container. Bake, turning once, until cooked through. Once done, remove from oven and turn heat to "broil."

While the caps are cooking, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Mince garlic and add to pan, stirring regularly to prevent burning. Mince mushroom stems and add. Do the same to the parsley. When the ingredients are cooked through, add breadcrumbs until you have enough crumb filling to top the three mushrooms (maybe around 2/3 c.). Saute until the crumbs are golden brown.

Spoon the filling onto the mushroom caps, forming a mound in the middle that tapers towards the edges.

Cut the cheese into sixths, and put one slice atop each of the stuffed mushrooms. Place under the broiler and leave until cheese is runny. Cut each mushroom cap in two and serve.

Stay tuned for the Roasted Squash Gnocchi recipe...

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