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Omnivore Food Blog By Suzanne Podhaizer

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November 2007

November 28, 2007

Farmers' Dinner at the Kitchen Table Bistro

I had an incredible dessert on Monday. It was a dense, moist, maple-y apple cake called made by Lara Atkins at The Kitchen Table Bistro in Richmond. I don't have much of a sweet tooth, so it's rare for me to fall in love with a last course, but this one did the trick.

I was at the KTB for a "Farmers' Dinner." Throughout each summer and fall, the Vermont Fresh Network teams up with restaurants and farmers for this series of special meals. Most are multi-course fixed price deals, and involve supping on whatever local meats, cheeses and produce are available at that time of year. Most of the restaurants also offer optional wine pairings with dinner.


Most restaurants have only one Farmers' Dinner each year, but the KTB's first one, on November 14, sold out so quickly that they added a second one on the 26th. And that one sold out, too!

Here's the menu:

Treats from the Kitchen; Gruet Winery's Blanc de Noirs Sparkling

The treats included smoked chicken salad with cranberry and honey coulis, Yukon gold (I think) potato chips topped with beef tartare, bacon & blue cheese fritters and apple & cheddar fritters. All were delighful, but the tartare was my fave.

Smoked Bacon and Summer Corn Chowder; Brancott Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc

Roasted Pheasant with Cardoon & Onion Gratin, Pheasant Jus; Leitz Riesling

Braised Short Rib, Radicchio, Shaved Watermelon Radish, Honey Vinaigrette; Patricia Green Cellars Pinot Noir

Grilled Lamb Chops, Garlic & Yellow Eye Bean Ragout, Braised Red Cabbage and Boucher Farms Blue Cheese; Allegrini, blend of Crovina, Rondinella & Sangiovese

Grandmother's Apple Cake, Cider Sorbet, Warm Maple; Bonny Doon Vineyards Muscat

Each course proved delightful and the wine pairings were perfect. Besides the dessert, the dish that moved me the most was the braised short rib. It was so tender that I'm pretty sure it fell off the bone when I looked at it. The bitter radicchio balanced nicely with the meaty, fatty flavors, and the pretty watermelon radish added a splash of bright color to the plate.

I can't wait to go back.

The San Fran Plastic Bag Ban

"Would you like paper or nothin'" may be the new refrain at San Francisco grocery stores. Beginning last  week, traditional, petroleum-based sacks became a thing of the past at the bigger shopping centers (mom & pop stores are exempt). Markets can offer a choice between compostable plastic (although these don't actually compost too quickly in regular landfills), paper, and good old canvas. And shoppers have a couple extra-creative options, too. 'Round here I've seen people carrying their groceries in camping bags and woven baskets that can be worn like backpacks.

My first instinct was that this is a great move. Just because human ingenuity allows us to create all kinds of wacky food additives, drugs and materials doesn't mean everything we come up with should be unleashed. Harmful stuff is banned all the time, and this is an example of catching something on the flip attempt to make changes after decades of environmental abuse.

But upon mentioning the ban to a environmentally active co-worker he surprised me by getting squeamish, wondering aloud whether this is an example of draconian government that is limiting customers individual rights.

After some thought, I think I'm still OK with the ban on principle. For one thing, consumers still have "free" ways of moving their groceries from store to car. Therefore, the ban isn't really changing the shopping experience in any kind of fundamental way. For another, the compostable bags work exactly the same way the other ones do, although they're more expensive for the stores to procure. But if our local health food stores and co-ops can offer them, I think the ones in CA will probably survive the switch. Surely the cost will ultimately be passed to the shoppers, but the environmental protection is worth the extra couple of pennies, I think. In principle, it's like making cars more fuel efficient (and expensive) instead of limiting how much we're allowed to drive.

Unfortunately, paper bags aren't good for the environment, either. In fact, some say that the process of manufacturing them creates more pollution than producing plastic, and it's certainly not good for trees. The best of all possible situations would be if everyone had reusable cloth bags for grocery shopping (or picking up their CSA shares).

Part of me wishes that SF would have gone further and mandated the use of cloth bags -- that would have a real environmental impact -- but I know that there are folks who can't afford to buy them. I only shop for two people and I often need two such bags (which I bought for $10 each)  to carry my purchases. A person with a family of 5 might need five bags, and for someone with low income, coming up with an extra $50 (or $20, or $10) for something non-essential isn't feasible.

Here's another thought, though. Because stores give paper and plastic bags away for free, they'd save money if they didn't have to provide them. So in some ways, it would make sense for the stores to help people get their hands on reusable bags. Maybe there could be a way to subsidize the bags so that those who can't afford them can acquire them for free?

Ultimately, we're going to be forced to change the way we transport our food because we'll be left with no other choice. When petroleum runs low, neither paper nor plastic bags will make the list of things we can't live without.

November 23, 2007

Recipe: Creamy Celeriac and Chestnut Soup

My husband and I invented this soup on Thanksgiving, and it turned out really well. As usual, I didn't measure as I cooked, so this is more a technique than a recipe. But this way, when I publish my first cookbook with all of the actual measurements, you'll still want to buy it! Maybe.

Creamy Celeriac and Chestnut Soup

A bunch of chestnuts
Homemade chicken stock
Olive oil
Celery stalks
Heavy Cream

With a very sharp knife, cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut. Be careful. Place the chestnuts in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and leave for around 10 minutes. Turn of the heat. Now you must be brave. Remove two or three chestnuts from the water with a slotted spoon. The shell around the X you cut should have opened up like flower petals. Pull off the hot shells, trying to burn your fingers as little as possible. Often, there is a skin left on the chesnuts once the shell is removed. Carefully remove that, too. Continue until  all of the chestnuts are peeled. If it becomes impossible to slip off the skins, bring the pot of water back to a simmer for a couple of minutes.

Peel and chop the onions, shallots and celeriac. Wash and chop the parsnips and celery, setting any celery leaves aside for another use. Sweat the vegetables in a small amount of olive oil, stirring regularly, until the onions are translucent and the parsnips and celeriac have begun to soften. At the same time, bring the stock to a boil.

Add the vegetables and chestnuts to the stock, reserving one nut per serving for garnish. Simmer until the vegetables are completely tender. 

Puree the soup with an immersion blender, stir in cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Top each serving with a sliced chestnut.

***** Added Note...

The soup can easily be adapted to fit vegetarian or vegan lifestyles. To make it vegan, just use homemade vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, and leave out the cream.


Another Thanksgiving Gone...

It's the day after Thanksgiving and I'm tired. Not as tired as people who had to fly or drive long distances to attend a holiday gathering, but tired nonetheless.  And I can't blame it on the turkey.

Maybe it's because my husband and I made Thanksgiving dinners two nights in a row. On the first night, we cooked for my dad. On the second, for my mom and aunt. We used almost entirely local ingredients -- many from my Pete's Greens winter farm share. Here are the menus:

With Dad:
Smoked salmon pizza (dad made it)
Minestrone (also dad)
Roasted squash gnocchi with Bayley Hazen blue sauce
Lamb shoulder stuffed with lamb sausage, duxelles, and bread crumbs
Pumpkin Pie

With Mom & Aunt:
Greens with toasted walnuts, apples and goat cheese. Cider vinaigrette with shallots.
Creamy celeriac and chestnut soup
Breadsticks (mom)
Scalloped potatoes topped with cave-aged Gruyere
Spiced cranberry jelly (yes, from scratch)
Cheesecake with apple topping (mom and aunt)
Cinnamon-raisin babka (mom and aunt)

What did you have?

November 21, 2007

A Couple More Thanksgiving Disasters...

For this week's Seven Days, I called a bunch of people around the state to find out if they had any amusing Thanksgiving anecdotes to share. Happily for them, most people claimed that their T-days usually go pretty smoothly.

At my holiday feasts, though, drama is a regular attendee. For as long as I can remember, since I was 20 or 21, I think, I've been the primary Thanksgiving cook at my mom's house. Because my family doesn't get out to eat much, I've always tried to make extra exciting and fancy stuff for them. This often ends in tears, or dinners eaten at 11 p.m. And then there was the time that my sister was cutting sweet potatoes and removed part of her fingertip with the brand-spankin'-new chef knife I'd given my mom for her birthday. Sorry, sis.

Anyway, one year I decided to make a chestnut and celeriac ravioli from Thomas Keller's French Laundry Cookbook. The time-consuming dish involved roasting and peeling chestnuts and pureeing them with cooked celeriac, mixing the puree with cream, pushing it through a sieve to render it perfectly smooth, and then dolloping it on sheets of homemade pasta dough.

Needless to say, it took forever to make the filling, but it tasted amazing.  However, my family was hungry, the hour was late, and I started to rush. As I cranked out the pasta dough, I dusted each sheet with flour and put plastic wrap between them to keep 'em separated. Bad, bad choice. I hadn't used enough flour and they stuck together. Frustrated, I tugged them apart, stuffed them and put them in boiling water. And they disintigrated. When I separated them, I had created spots in the dough that were too thin, and the water blew them open and washed away the filling. Almost all of my beautiful puree ended up taking a bath. About 6 of the ravioli came out unscathed. Next time I'll know better. Luckily there was plenty of other food, everything tasted good, and we really savored those few, perfect pillows of pasta.

I wish I could tell you about the time my husband had to singe the bristles off of half of a suckling pig over the flame on my mom's gas stove. But that didn't happen on Thanksgiving...

I also asked a few members of the Seven Nights Bite Club to share some of their stories. I only got two responses, not enough to make a separate section in the paper, but here they are:

Doug Massey:

"I visited my aunt and uncle, along with eight or nine others.  My cousin (their son) is a great kid with a severe mental handicap and his idea of helping his mom with the cooking was to secretly turn off the oven shortly after the bird went in.  This wasn't discovered until late in the process, when much of the other food had been prepared and the family had gathered at the house for the scheduled 2 PM meal.  There was a sudden rescheduling, of course, to get the oven warmed up again and get the turkey back on the menu."

Cat Woodward:

"The men in my family are gourmets. This may not seem like a dire pronouncement to you, but when it comes to big, family holidays, each is convinced that his own food should reign supreme. This competitiveness isn't a big problem at Christmas - one will bake ham, one will roast a turkey, another will braise a rabbit, and so on. However, everyone knows that turkey is the crowning glory of a traditional Thanksgiving and we easily end up with several full sized turkeys a year from those who refuse to stoop side dish levels.  Each guy spends weeks plotting new recipes and days marinating, brining, smoking, and roasting, hoping his turkey will be recognized as the best of the year. However, it's all for naught as the women pronounce the family patriarch's turkey best every year without fail and leave the others to their culinary schemes for next year.

My boyfriend (yet another man who loves to cook) is traveling to Virginia with me this year to meet my family for the first time. Luckily, he does not yet know about the turkey rivalries and Thanksgiving food wars. For at least one year, peace will be kept and he will be a solid side dish man."

What's your story?   

November 19, 2007

Recipe: Cider-Braised Pork Belly with Winter Vegetables

There's nothing like a piece of perfectly prepared braised pork belly. With crisp golden fat on the outside and impossibly tender meat within, it manages to be sexy and comforting at the same time.

In the Northern U.S., we don't use that much uncured pork belly, although 20-ton units of the stuff are traded on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Mostly we salt it or smoke it and call it bacon. In other countries, such as Canada, they make a much leaner "bacon" using different cuts. I confess a passionate attachment to the "streaky kind" we make here. It's one of the few remaining things that makes me swell with nationalistic pride.

Anyway...This weekend, I decided to try my hand at preparing a hunk o' belly for the very first time. As usual, I decided to improvise. The dish turned out really, really well, so I thought I'd share. I apologize for the lack of photos...When it comes to whipping out my camera before my fork, I seem to have a mental block.

Cider-Braised Pork Belly with Winter Vegetables

Equipment: Heavy duty metal pan with a lid (I used the Viking sauté pan with cover).

Olive oil
1 hunk of pork belly
1 large onion, chopped
1 large shallot, chopped
1 Star anise
1 two-inch cinnamon stick
4 cloves
Cider vinegar
Apple cider
Carrots and cabbage (or other winter veggies), chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Heat oil in pan until hot, but not smoking. Pat the pork belly dry and season with salt and pepper. Beginning with the fattiest part, sear pork belly on all four sides until browned. Decrease heat, move the meat to one side, and add the chopped onions and shallots. Use the liquid that is released to stir up some of the browned bits of meat and fat (called "fond") stuck to the pan. Add the star anise, cinnamon and cloves.

Continue cooking, stirring regularly, until the onions and shallots are caramelized.

Deglaze the pan with a splash of cider vinegar, then add apple cider until it comes about a third of the way up the piece of pork. Cover pan and place in oven.

Cook for 1 1/2 hours, turning the pork and stirring the mixture every half-hour. If the cider seems to be in danger of drying up (this should only happen if the cover doesn't fit correctly) add a bit more.

Add chopped carrots and cabbage to the pan, stir, replace the lid and return the pan to the oven.

When the vegetables are tender, remove the pan from oven. Turn the oven to broil and place the meat on a broiler-proof dish. Season the vegetables and cider sauce to taste with salt and pepper.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables to a serving dish and set in a warm place, leaving the cider sauce in the pan. Place the pan on a burner over medium-low heat and simmer to reduce the sauce. At the same time, broil the meat on all sides until the fat sizzles and turns a deeper shade of brown. Take care that it doesn't burn.

To serve, make a bed of vegetables on each plate, add slices of pork belly, and drizzle with sauce.

November 16, 2007

Baffled by PETA

A post on the Serious Eats blog pointed me towards PETA's list of regular grocery store items that just so happen -- through no intention on the part of the companies that produced them -- to be vegan.

Here are a few items that made the list: Corn Pops, Unfrosted Strawberry Pop-Tarts, Reese's Puffs, Kool-Aid, Cracker Jack, Barbecue Fritos, Krispy-Kreme Fruit Pies, Chocolate Creme Oreos, Swedish Fish, Campbell's Franco-American Mushroom Gravy, McCormick Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning (oh, so useful for those who don't eat chicken), French's Beef Stew Mix (wtf? ),  Smucker's Goober Grape Peanut Butter,  Smart Squeeze Fat Free Margarine.

I've never seen a less compelling argument for veganism. I'm not vegan, but I can do much better. How about spicy black bean soup with fresh-baked rolls and a spinach salad?

Do the folks at PETA not realize that many of these products are made with genetically modified soy and corn; that the pesticides sprayed on conventional crops kill innocent insects and are likely dangerous to birds and probably humans; and that growing, processing and shipping these products damages the environment?

How about the fact that as delightful as sugary cereals and meat-free-gravy-in-a-can might taste, they are filled with unhealthy high-fructose corn syrup and weird food additives, and replace healthier foods in people's diets? And there's this: Building the supermarkets that sell 'em, their parking lots, and the roads that get people there destroyed wildlife habitat forever. How good does that Airheads Taffy taste now, huh?

If you truly love animals and you want to be a (healthy) vegan, stay away from this highly-processed crap and eat fresh, minimally-processed products and whole foods. If you love animals but aren't a vegetarian, eat them thoughtfully and thankfully (and only those that are ethically raised and local, if you can afford to). And no matter what kind of diet you choose, do your damndest to protect the environment.

November 15, 2007

Eco-Friendly Frito-Lay?

I have a tendency to be pretty down on multi-national corporations — note my feelings about Williston in my previous post — but sometimes the sheer size and financial flexibility a huge company wields allows for some cool innovation.

Although the only thing I've read on this topic is this New York Times article, Frito-Lay's (owned by PepsiCo) "net zero" concept for churning out potato and corn chips without impacting the environment seems pretty appealing. Simply put, their goal is to take their plant in Casa Grande, Arizona off the grid, and run the thing on "renewable fuels and recycled water."

According to The Times: "The retrofit of the Casa Grande factory, scheduled to be completed by 2010, would reduce electricity and water consumption by 90 percent and its natural gas use by 80 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions would be cut by 50 percent to 75 percent, the company said." 

Of course they do have 36 other factories...The ultimate plan is to do some of the same upgrades at the others, too. The article also says that Pepsico "has become the nation’s biggest buyer of renewable energy credits..."

I've been unmoved by the addition of "healthy" options to fast food menus and have mixed feelings about the corporate usurpation of the term "organic" — yay fewer pesticides sprayed world-wide: boo animal welfare issues, clear-cutting of the rainforest to grow organic crops and attempts to weaken organic standards  — but this seems like a whole new level of corporate eco-friendliness. Or maybe I'm just less cynical than I should be.

This doesn't mean I'll start drinking soda or bringing home value-sized bags of Doritos, but maybe I'll feel less guilty when I chow a few Cheetos at a party.

Yummy Lunch at Chef's Corner

I hardly ever venture to Williston because I hate "box stores" with an unholy fervor. Last week I made an exception because I needed to locate some weatherstripping for my ultra-drafty apartment. I didn't think I could find any artisan, locally produced window plastic or vinyl foam, so Home Depot it was.

As my mom's birthday had been the previous day, I decided to invite her along and buy her lunch at Chef's Corner. The café and bakery is owned by two talented chefs, Jozef Harrewyn and Scott Sorrell (Sorrell recently purchased co-founder Rene Ball's share of the biz). I've met Jozef a couple of times — First at a wine pairing dinner at Vermont National Country Club and then while snacking on crispy pig's ears at Shelburne Farms  — but due to my Williston-itis, I'd never eaten at his restaurant.

I'm really glad I did. Mom and I shared the meatloaf lunch special with mushroom gravy, a Niçoise salad made with fresh tuna on a bed of buttery lettuce, and tiny tastes of marinated artichoke salad and sweet 'n' earthy roasted corn salad. Everything was well made and really delicious.

We took home a bunch of desserts, too. I can't vouch for the ones my mom got, but I can say that the mini maple cheesecake, coffee meringue and lemon diplomat (it's a dessert made with mousse)  were  excellent. 

I may have to start going to Williston just to eat there. My next venture will be for weekend brunch. Jozef tells me that they have an eggs Benedict special every Sunday.

November 13, 2007

More Fun with "The Onion"

Last month, I posted a collection of links to funny food articles on "The Onion." Now that I've added the funny paper to my RSS feed, I've located a bunch more. Enjoy!

1) New Fig Newton's Ad Preys on Inherent Human Weakness
2) Fancy Man Enjoys Tea
3) As An Upper-Class Gourmand, I Will Settle for Nothing Less Than the Luxury of Ritz-Brand Snack Crackers
4) Double Stuf Oreos Could Raise Tolerance To Stuff
5) My God, What Passes For Crunch-Tastic These Days
6) Yacht Club Regatta Marred by Tragic Undergrilling of Mahi Mahi
7) I've Got a New Soup that Will Knock Campbell's on Its Ass

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