Monday, June 29, 2009

Alice Waters Rocks!

I recently had the pleasure, courtesy of a Mother’s Day gift from Brilliant Daughter, to attend an Omnivore Books event in San Francisco. This special event, featuring Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard, was limited to 50 participants and sold out quickly, making us one of the lucky few to hear Alice talk about this wonderful project in such an intimate setting.

The Edible Schoolyard (ESY) is a program that is sponsored by the Chez Panisse Foundation. Located in Berkeley, this one-acre plot is a real-time classroom, teaching middle schoolers everything from soil prep to planting, water systems to pest control, and harvest to marketing. Classroom modules are created around the ESY concept and an adjacent test kitchen allows students to learn how to prepare healthy meals with the produce they have grown.

One of the perks of the event, other than being in the presence of Alice Waters, is the book she has written on this project, aptly named The Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea. Meant to inspire and assist others in duplicating all or part of the Berkeley project, the book delves into edible education, sustainable agriculture, and childhood nutrition.

In my next life, I think I might want to be Alice Waters—her calm demeanor, her culinary style, her willingness to give so much of herself. While I certainly am working toward all these things, I have a long, long way to go to match up to this larger-than-life culinary giant.

ALERT: The Edible Schoolyard will be holding a one-day Farmers Market on Wednesday, July 1st from 11:30 – 1 at the corner of Grant and Rose in Berkeley. Students will sell vegetables, flowers, and herbs grown and harvested by their own hand and will give you the opportunity to show your support for the school, the children and urban agriculture.

NOTE: A full-length post on this topic will appear in my “Healthy Cooking” column in July.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Summer Inspiration

Summer has been a bit late coming to our neck of the woods. Normally we tuck away the coats and scarves in late April, but this year summer didn’t arrive until the first official day of summer. We are just now starting to warm up, sleeping with the doors and windows open, shunning long pants, and praising the glorious sunshine and warmth.

Summer is my favorite time of year. I love the warm weather, the daily golden rays warming my arthritic bones, and the bounty that the season brings with it. I always have so many more ambitions in the summer, probably because I am at my happiest.

This summer I seem to be particularly avid about produce and barbecue. In my mind’s eye, I plan on canning tomato sauce, marinara sauce, salsa, jams, applesauce, pickles (and pickled vegetables), pesto, and anything else I can get my hands on. I’ve been gathering recipes to make my own barbecue sauce and rubs. The problem is time. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do all I want.

I’m a very good time manager. Ask anyone who knows me and they will sing my praises in that regard. So why is it that I’m having so much trouble planning canning? Perhaps it’s because I don’t have much of a garden of my own and must rely on others. I have to seek out what I want and hope that I can find it, in the correct stage of ripeness, in a large enough quantity, and at a price that makes it affordable. Maybe it’s because I have too much on my plate already, not an unusual occurrence. Travel plans can also put a wrench in things.

Whatever the reason(s), I need to find some time. Canning is one of those things that satisfies my soul. I love the ritual of it and the end result, glistening bottles of homemade goodness lined up like soldiers waiting to be called to battle. In the middle of winter, when all is cold and dreary, I can pop open a jar of strawberry jam for my biscuits and taste a little bit of summer, putting a smile on my face.

So, I’m going to have to do some serious planning with my calendar. Meanwhile, I can start with the easy stuff. Last night, while Mr. B and Brilliant Daughter were in the City seeing Spamalot at the Golden Gate Theater, I made three kinds of rubs, all cocoa or coffee based. Over the next few weeks we will be testing them out on pork tenderloins, cowboy steaks, filets, and anything else Butcher Son deems appropriate. So, stay tuned.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's New in Healthy Eating

Just in case you haven't been over to my regular weekly column on HealthNews, I thought you might like to know what I've been up to. Here are some of my recently columns, with links to take you there in a jiffy.

Fresh Fruit & Veggies Delivered to You
Promoting healthier eating through CSAs, farmer’s markets, and a new service from FruitGuys. l

Introducing Solid Food to Your Infant
Times haven’t changed much from when my kids were small when it comes to baby’s first foods. Do you know which 4 foods are best to start out on?

Warm Weather Treats: Which Popsicles Are Healthiest?
Are any of them healthy?

Chicken: Cheap, Quick and Tasty
Recipe from the new cookbook by Food & Wine editors, Quick from Scratch Chicken.

Strawberries: America’s Favorite Fruit
It’s that time of year – strawberries are in abundance and put a smile on everyone’s face, not to mention being good for you.

Frozen Yogurt: Friend or Foe?
If you’re spending much time in the local fro-yo shop, you might want to read this one.

Health Quotient for What You Put in Your Mouth
GoodGuides provides the world's largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home.

A Homemade Life: A Great Book
Everyone seems to know Molly Wizenberg these days. Longtime blogger by the name of Orangette, she also has a regular column in Bon Appetit. Now she has a new book out that you need to know about.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A Charlie Palmer Odyssey

Company’s coming, so I knew I had better think of something wonderful to serve. And not any old company, but a recent culinary school grad (and her foodie hubby) who could cook the socks off me in any kitchen. Oh, and did I mention that she just finished at internship at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen in Healdsburg (Sonoma County). Yeah, it was gonna be a tough one.

Perusing my wall of cookbooks, my eye fell to Great American Food by…Charlie Palmer, a gift from a friend that has intimidated me and remained closed since I first received it. Really, quite a shame, since it is a wonderful tome with beautiful food photography. I was determined to find a recipe to use. I’d been hungry for fish, and came up on a recipe I felt I could master, and then called up to Butcher Son to order several pounds of fresh tuna for the occasion. Kinda handy being able to order whatever I want and get it fresh the next day. (NOTE: You, too, can do this at your local butcher or fishmonger. Most are happy to special order what you need, usually with 24-48 hours notice.)

The recipe was for Seared Tuna Steak with Ginger Sesame Glaze, which sat on a Crisped Soba Noodle Cake, and was served with sautéed garlic spinach (no recipe required). I was able to do most of the prep ahead of time, and 15 minutes before serving, we all jumped into the kitchen to cook. That’s right, 4 bodies, 4 burners, 4 components (tuna, noodle cakes, spinach, and sauce) going at once. It was a tight fit, but 3 of the 4 of us are quite thin, making it all possible.

I noticed that while prepping the ingredients that the recipe for the ginger-sesame glaze had no sesame seeds, only sesame oil. This would have been fine, except that the accompanying photograph showed significant quantities of sesame seeds. A little “oopsie” by the author and editors, one I have made on more than one occasion. I was able to remedy the situation by adding the seeds in at the end, although possibly a bit too liberally. Live and learn.

I also was made to wonder about following recipes that have a photo with them. I can be so terribly disappointed when my dish doesn’t look quite right, or taste near as mouthwatering as the photo would imply. Such was the case here. While everything cooked quite quickly, the sauce never got as dark or as thick as I would have anticipated, and the flavor was not as intense as I felt it should be. Tuna, being a hearty and thick piece of fish, needs something bold in my opinion, and this didn’t quite live up to my expectations. (Although the recommended Petite Sirah we had with it was marvelous.)

I did love the Crisped Soba Noodle Cake, however. Fried and crispy on the outside, soft and tasty on the inside, it was a lovely foil for the tuna steak, which perched atop it perfectly. I cooked the noodles earlier in the day, added all the ingredients, and put them into individual round molds. When it was time to cook, I popped them out, dusted them with flour and they fried right up. It is also recommended that you can fry them in advance and then reheat in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. My guess is they wouldn’t be quite as crisp, which is part of what makes them so good.

So, while everything looked good, and most of it tasted good, it was a tad bit disappointing (especially given the cost of the tuna). But, of course, dessert saved the day. Said culinary grad baked a pear tart that was heavenly. She must have spent five hours thinly slicing the pears and arranging them just so. It was almost too perfect to eat. Well, it probably was too perfect to eat, but that wasn’t gonna stop me!