Monday, June 28, 2010

Food News You Can Use

News from around the horn:

From Big Red Kitchen, this cool iPhone app and website from, all about cooking frozen fish. No, not the fish sticks from elementary school cafeterias, but fresh-frozen sea food.

Actor/commedian Sarah Silverman joins the school lunch improvement movement. Big ups to Sarah, Woody Harrelson, and Scarlett Johansson for lending this voice to a problem we have ignored for way too long.

On NPR, more news on the basil blight that's quickly moving through this country.

Is local / organic farming sustainable? Lots of folks think, no, according to Heather Rogers at the American Prospect.

Why do we like the food that we like? Paul Bloom peels back the onion on pleasure in SEED.

Good Magazine is teaming up with Let's Move to help raise awareness about childhood obesity. Check out their infographic contest.

June 28th: National Tapioca Day

Today is National Tapioca Day.

Does anyone eat plain old tapioca anymore?

Couple of ideas:

Good ol' strawberry rhubarb pie.

Blackberry cobbler.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Age is Just a Number

Jeannie Longo, 51 years young, just took her 57th national title, winning the French national championship in the individual time trial.

Story here at VeloNews.

How big of a deal is this? First of all, the individual time trial is called the Race of Truth ... no tactics, no teammates, no one fetching water bottles for you. Just you and your bike and the road ... best man or woman wins.

Then there's the number 57. Fifty-seven national titles. By comparison, George Hincapie is one of our top racers when nationals come around ... and he has three titles. On the track, we have Marty Nothstein, with 34 gold medals. Marty dominated for many years, but it's still a huge leap from 34 to 57.

Winning in one discipline is hard. Winning in two is phenomenal. But Jeannie has wins on the open road, the individual time trail, cyclocross, and on the track. That's like Usain Bolt adding a marathon and shot put title to his sprinting wins.

Finally, we have the big Five-One. Professional bike racers have been known to race into their early 40s ... to race, but not to win. You're carrying water, escorting the team leader, fetching a rain cape from the team car ... racing, but not winning.

All I can say is, chapeau. Chapeau, and ... now what's my excuse?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Harvest Time

Last three years I've tried to clear a week during the summer to head to Nebraska to go help M's folks cut wheat. Something always comes up. Typically, one of the geriatric dogs isn't well and I don't want to leave M home alone taking care of 300 pounds of four legged critters.

But this year, I'm trying to nip all of the excuses in the bud. Might board the dogs for a week, prepare a week's worth of dinners so M can come home from work and just relax, and I'll grab a wide-brimmed hat and head out to the farm.

Part of me just wants to help out, but let's face it, most of me just wants to drive a combine and work out under a fierce mid-west sun for a week or ten days.

So, I tell M of my plans, how I don't want to let another summer go by without pitching in ...

Her response? "That's great! You'd make a great lunch boy! They'll love getting one of your brown bags while they're out there working."

See what I gotta deal with?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Chicken and Veggies in Chile-Lime Adobo

I've been in a grilling rut for a while, especially when it comes to chicken and vegetables. I have two stand-bys that I keep returning to. For a rub, it's based on the Mustang Spice from Canyon Cafe: a Tbs Cajun blacking spice, a Tbs chile powder (New Mexico or Ancho), a shake of salt and a shake of fennel seed. For a marinade, it's half lemon juice, half olive oil, with a shake of salt, Mexican oregano, and chile powder. They're both quick, easy, and don't take a lot of measuring.

But like I said, a rut. No matter how good something is, no one wants it all of the time.

Which is why this adobo from Chef Louise Mellor caught my eye. (That, and the fact that she is an amazing photographer, so everything she posts catches my eye.) "Adobo" is like "salsa," in that it simply means "sauce." There's no right or wrong answer as to what constitutes an adobo, and the term differs greatly from region to region. Many of them seem to be thinner than most grilling sauces, as they work as both a marinade and mop, and the vinegar base of this helps it to penetrate the chicken before it hits the flame.

I just happened to pick up a bag of dried New Mexico chile peppers, even though I had no idea what I was going to do with them. I'm sure I could soak them and reconstitute them, but since they were already dried and I needed chile powder for this adobo, I figured I could grind them in a coffee bean grinder.

The result was a spice that was full-flavored without being overwhelming, that tasted fresh as though it had just been picked that afternoon. One dried pepper turned into 2-3 Tbs of fresh chile powder, and since a bag of 8-10 dried peppers cost around $1.50, it also turned out to be more economical than getting a generic bottle of chile spice from the grocery store.

For the chicken, we marinade it for a couple of hours before grilling. The veggies got a coating right before they hit the grill, with a little in reserve for mopping about halfway through.

Again, her recipe is here, and she's also on Facebook here.

Chicken and Veggies in Chile-Lime Adobo, adapted from Satisfied.

1 teaspoon sugar
3 Tbs ground New Mexico chile powder
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp ground garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
3/4 cup white vinegar
Juice of 3 limes
2 Tbs olive oil

More on spice:

There's a little shop right down the street from the big REI in Denver called Savory Spice. A whole shop, nothing but spices.

Now a lot of folks will look at this and think, nothing but spices? Gotta be some kind of hippy, yuppy, over-priced hooplah, yeah? You can get spice from the grocery store ... why make a special trip for your paprika?

First of all, they are anything but over-priced. Some specialty spices might cost a little bit more, but most are actually less expensive than their major brand counterparts, I'm guessing because they buy in bulk and grind them in shop as they need them, without adding stabilizers or preservatives, without fancy labels or advertising, and without a lot of shipping and distribution costs. And because you can purchase your spice in whatever size you want, you're not going to buy a big bottle of something you'll use twice that will go bad sitting on your shelf unused for years and years and years. You can buy just about everything in 0.5/ 1/2/4/8/16 oz packets, and use your own bottles and save even more.

So price and value are the first reasons to shop there. But quality is the most important. Without any stabilizers or preservatives, and because the spice was ground right there in the shop, it's amazing how the target flavor of a particular spice shines through. The words you keep hearing as folks sample in the shop are bright, crisp, and fresh.

Of course, you could do this yourself, if you are willing to hunt down the raw materials each and every time, which is typically a lot harder than it sounds. Sometimes it is quite easy, though. And if you're lucky enough to have a good Hispanic section in your grocery store, dried peppers are a great way to start.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Spent the weekend on M's folks' farm, and finally got to watch her mom make a pie from start to finish. Typically, we're showing up late and the pie's already in the oven. This time, we got there late again ... but she made the pie the next day, so for once, we were early ... well, early for tomorrow, if that can still count as early.

Anyhoo ...

I'm amazed by rhubarb. It sells for around $3 / lb for conventional in most grocery stores, which isn't bad. The thing is, it's the easiest thing in the world to grow. You plant it, and it grows. Basic stuff.

And apparently I have a rather unconventional sense of beauty, because I think it's a beautiful plant. Big and bold, assertive, staking it's claim. Most folks, though, think of it more as a cross between a weed and a shrub ... a shreed, if you will. Ungainly and gangly, with no apparent symmetry or form. But I appreciate it's strength and perseverance, which more than make up for not being a leggy super-model of the plant world.

In a world that favored function over form, everyone would grow rhubarb right in front of their front porch, or as a divider between their yard and the neighbors. Ugly? Yeah, right, call it ugly when you're having yet another free pie or cobbler, courtesy this shreed that keeps coming back year after year.

For more on the wheres and whyfors of rhubarb, check out this. The key point is, rhubarb is about the tartest thing you'll ever taste, but the common misconception is that you have to kill it with tons of sugar to tame it down. But tart and sweet aren't like a pH factor — you can't just add them together until you get a neutral. Too much sugar kills the tartness of the rhubarb, and you just get an overly sweet pie. You really don't want to use any more sugar than you would for a peach pie of the same size, just enough to take the edge off without drowning it.

Here's the original family recipe:

And if you can't read the 3x5 card, here's another version:

Strawberry/Rhubarb Pie

1.5 cup sugar
4 Tbs minute tapioca
1/4 tsp salt
2+cups rhubarb
2+cups strawberries

Pastry shell for top/bottom
2 cups flour
2/3 cup + 2tbs crisco
1/2 tsp salt
5 Tbs cold water

1Tbs butter

Combine sugar /tapioca/salt.
Add fruit, mix well, let stand.
Spoon fruit into pastry shell.
Optional: dot with butter

For the pie crust, it's just: mix flour and salt, cut in shortening, sprinkle with water and you toss it with a fork, gather into a ball and roll into a shell.

Bake at 375 for about 40 mins. Watch the edge of the crusts; if the edges start to get too dark, remove from the oven, cover with strips of foil, and return to the oven. Wait for the fruit to really bubble or the rhubarb will be crunchy.

Father's Day: Updated

Old post here updated with new pix.

Summer Solstice

Just an observation about human nature ... but as a species, we seem to like to know funny little things about our world that don't directly impact our day-to-day life. And today is Summer Solstice, the "longest" day of the year. I think everyone knows that: that today, those of us in the northern hemisphere will experience the longest period of daylight of the year. From this point until Winter Solstice, the days get shorter and the nights get longer.

Everyone knows that. But slightly fewer people seem to remember that today is also the aphelion of the Earth's orbit around the sun. That's counter-intuitive to some, as in the northern hemisphere, it's warm right now, so we should be closer to the Sun, yeah? But then we remember that the tilt is much more significant than the distance from the sun. It's kinda like getting sunburned when skiing. Between the reflected rays from the snow and the thinner air at elevation, you're getting more sun exposure, even though the temps are hovering around freezing. Lots of factors, some are more significant than others.

I have found that even fewer people realize that Summer Solstice equates to the "slowest" days of the year. By slow, I mean, the earth's orbital velocity around the sun is the slowest. This might be easiest to explain by thinking of a tether ball. If you serve up a tether ball and watch it wind around the pole, it starts off relatively slow, but as the rope shortens and the orbital radius decreases, the ball appears to speed up. Similarly, when the earth is closest to the sun (on Winter Solstice), the orbital velocity is the fastest, but during the summer, our big blue globe is moving at it's slowest rate.

Because of inertia, the actual slowest day is around July 4th or 5th. Around New Year's, we're traveling at around 18.8 miles/sec, while on Independence Day, we're putzing about at around 18.2 miles/sec. (Either way, that's just over 65,000 mph.)

I guess folks don't remember this, or think about this, because we just can't relate. Longest and shortest days, those we can see, can feel. We plan our lives around the changing the of seasons, eating different foods at different times, even tailoring our holidays to match the prevailing conditions. That's why we don't grill hamburgers on Christmas Day, or decorate a pine tree to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. But relative orbital velocities ... well, we just can't "feel" that.

Maybe Corona should have a special ad campaign the first week of July: Slow it down on the slowest day of the year with a Corona. Copy needs some work, but there's a Science Meets Madison Avenue moment in there somewhere.

But like most things in life, it doesn't matter if you notice them or not ... they're still out there, happening, being, impacting your very being, in their own way, at their own pace.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Getting ready for Father's Day

I know I'm going to eat well this Father's Day ... because I'm heading to the farm to see M's folks, and that guarantees good grub.

(Left: poppies from the front yard.)

Best fried chicken in the free world, fresh salads and veggies, and they always have 20 gallons or so of cookies down in the deep freezes in the basement.

Yes, you heard that right ... you gotta measure cookies by the gallon in this house, because you'd run out of fingers and toes trying to count them by the dozens.

See the box on the left? Imagine a dozen similar containers, all stored in a couple or three deep freezers in the basement.

And then there's the rhubarb pie ...

So, I'm going to eat well, and the fact that it's not in my honor and that I will only minimally help in the preparation (by maybe setting the table or putting ice in the water) doesn't bother me in the least.

Since I have no food prep responsibilities, I thought I should use the time to come up with some good ideas for subsequent Father's Days, and by "come up with," I mean, "steal from others."

So, going 'round the horn ... some stuff I think dads might like:

Coffee-marinated Pork from the Greasy Skillet

Coffee-brushed BBQ Ribs from A Spicy Perspective.

Grilled Shrimp with Lime, Cilantro, and Peanuts from The Arugula Files

Burger ideas from Mark Bittman and Whole Foods

Capreses Burger from My Kitchen in the Rockies

Tuna with spicy green sauce from My Little Expat Kitchen

A wedge salad with thousand island dressing from One Perfect Bite

Cinnamon Roll Pancakes from the Big Red Kitchen

What are you making for Father's Day?

PS. Happy Bloomsday!

“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Salsa is as Salsa does

Couldn't grill last night because we've had a couple or three days of rain and hail, so Mr. Weber's feeling lonely. Summer is his time, not because that's the only time you can grill but because all of the farmer's markets are in full swing so there's lots of interesting stuff to smack on his grates.

But it's been oven and stovetop for a few days, which is fine.

(Left: broiled mahi-mahi with mango salsa. Recipe: broil the fish and spoon on the salsa.)

But for me, more so than grilling season, summer is salsa season. Again, not something that only works in the summer, but something that works so much better in the summer because of all of the fresh produce to mix in there.

Salsa is a perfect example of my cooking sensibility: you can throw out measurements, forget 25% of the ingredients, swap out half of the ingredients for something else, and it still works. In fact, I find the idea of a salsa "recipe" to be a bit of an oxymoron. You don't really have recipes, you have guidelines or rules of thumb.

F'rinstance, last night's mango salsa can be summarized as follows: mango salsa = less tomato than normal (or none at all), some extra red pepper, and go easy on the spices. It's not about a precise combination of set ingredients; it's about "mostly this," "easy on that." You got your fruity salsas, your mostly tomato, your mostly tomatilla, your fresh and your roasted veggie versions, your pure veggie and your heavily spiced, and your with or without beans.

What was in last night's mango salsa? I dunnoh ... some mango, I seem to recall. Maybe one tomato. Some cilantro. Lime juice. I think I forgot the onion, but might add some to the leftovers. Salt. Cumin? I think I left that out. Can't remember for sure.

From last year, everything you need to know about salsa.

What's in your favorite salsa?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Foodie quote of the week

"Irish food isn't cuisine, it's penance."
Dennis Leary

Winter Potato Salad that's great in the summer

Roasted veggies sound like a winter dish, and some folks are adverse to running the oven any longer than they have to in the summer. But the addition of green beans to this anti-mayo potato salad, along with the bright balsamic dressing, make it a nice change of pace for summer time dining.

You need:
4 oz green beans, cut half
1 head of garlic
1 lb new potatoes, 1-to-2 inch cubes
1 red pepper, cut into largish chunks
2-4 green onions, finely chopped
(Optional: button mushrooms, sweet onion, green/yellow/orange peppers)

salt and pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 Tbs or more balsamic vinegar
1+ Tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp snipped fresh rosemary
(optional: chopped cooked bacon)

Heat your oven to 400º.

Cook the green beans in boiling water for 3 minutes. Drain and dump into ice water to cool. Drain again.

Peel away the paper from the bulb of garlic. Slice off the pointy top of the bulb, just enough to slightly expose the tops of the cloves. Place in a square of tin foil, then drizzle with olive oil. Wrap the foil over the top of the garlic, twisting the top so that it is covered but the foil is not touching the exposed tops. Set aside.

Add the green beans, potatoes, red pepper, and green onions in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and then drizzle half of the broth (about 1/4 cup) over everything. Place the
garlic bulb in the middle of the veggies and roast in the oven for 1 hour. Stir at least twice, drizzling with the remaining chicken broth.

Remove from the oven and set the pan aside to cool for just a few minutes. Remove the garlic bulp from the foil and squeeze out the roasted garlic paste into a bowl or measuring cup. Add 2 Tbs balsamic vinegar and 1 Tbs olive oil and mix with a fork. Add the rosemary and mix again.

If you really, really like balsamic, you can add another Tbs or two. Or you can add another Tbs of olive oil instead to thin it out. Spread the dressing over the veggies and gently stir to coat. (Optional: bacon!!) Serve immediate warm or cove and chill for up to six hours. Since this is anti-mayo potato salad, it travels well for outdoor events, and it's easily doubled for large groups.

Pepper trivia: Most folks know that Christopher Columbus, the famous explorer known for getting lost and "discovering" things that had already been discovered, misnamed the indigenous people of this country as "Indians" based on a the mistaken belief that he was half a world away. Columbus is also responsible for mistakenly naming peppers, which went by forms of the words capsicum or chile amongst the peoples who already grew them. In Europe, "pepper" referred to any hot spice, stemming from the peppercorns that come from the unrelated Indian plant Piper nigrum. Because Columbus "found" this "new" family of plants that were spicy, they also became known as peppers, and to this day the term refers to both groups of plants.

Father's Day Grilling Ideas

For a while it seemed that everyone was loading up their hamburgers with weird stuff that did nothing for the flavor. Fillers, I guess. If the burger was concrete, this junk was the cement, something to bind it or hold it together. I saw packets of taco seasoning or onion soup mix, or bread and eggs. The whole thing turned me off to adding anything at to a burger. Just meat, had to be the authentic way if everyone else was playing evil mad scientist with theirs.

But there's something to be said for adding real food to the burger concoction. Not packets of crap that were processed who knows how many years ago, but real food with real flavor.

Two normal sized burgers for the two-legged animals in home, and a couple of mini-burgers for the mutts.

A whole bunch of ideas are here at the Whole Story.

I think my favorite is just a little bit of blue cheese or Gorgonzola with some onion or fennel.

And the maestro will walk you through a plethora of options here.

What do you like on or in your burgers?

Friday, June 11, 2010

Always the last to know

I learned how to make whipped cream this week. Apparently, the ingredients are (get ready for this) cream, and a whipping instrument. You whip cream. Hence the name, whipped cream.

That was probably obvious to 99% of the folks out there, but growing up, we couldn't afford whipped cream. Whipped cream was for the rich kids, and it came in a pressurized can at the ice cream shop or maybe in a tub, kept in the freezer, at your grandma's when pumpkin pie was on the menu. Me, I was lucky to have a mayonnaise sandwich without bread, or maybe the infamous wish sandwich.

So I never made the connection that whipped cream was just cream that was whipped. I just thought it was a name someone gave it because that's what it looked like. So when I followed this recipe for strawberry shortcake, courtesy Dine and Dash, it was kinda cool figuring out that fresh whipped cream is pretty darn easy to make, tastes worlds better than anything in the frozen food section of your local grocer, and (best of all) is easy to whip up (oops! sorry!) on a moment's notice.

The reason I mention this is, I'm kind of an idiot. The other day someone said that they were intimidated to cook for me because I was always posting interesting looking menus on the world wide interweb. And while they meant it as a compliment, I was a bit taken back. (See, I'm an idiot ... shouldn't that be, I was taken back a bit?) Because I've tried very, very hard NOT to make this a "oooh, look at me" site. The exact opposite, in fact. Purpose #1 is quite simply to record the stuff we make, so we don't have to look too hard to find it later if we want to make it again. Purpose #2 is to have a little fun making mistakes as we grope our way through dinner each night. And purpose #3 is to throw some ideas out there, and with a little luck maybe someone else tried it a different way with better results.

So, looking forward to hearing about your "a-ha" culinary moment.

Once again, Dine and Dash's Strawberry Shortcake is here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I just knew these guys would do a show on rhubarb sooner or later. And glad it was sooner rather than later.

Spilled Milk: Rhubarb

Download it at iTunes.

Rhubarb in it's non-grocery store form.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Health News Round-up

Haven't done this in a while, but stumbled on to some stories that deserve to go around one more time.

Strong mind in a strong body: Exercise and good grades go hand in hand.
(From the NYTimes Well)

Yet another barefoot running convert. Only took her a couple of hours.
(From SPI)

Do you do yoga? Or, do you do Yoga ©™?
(Via the Guardian UK)

Note: Patenting yoga? Who do they think they are, the US Customs Court of New York?

What?!?! Chocolate isn't a magic cure-all health food?!?! (Actually, not saying it isn't, not saying it is ... just saying the studies are not conclusive.)
(From the LA Times)

Friday, June 4, 2010

Crackers from scratch

I have been meaning to try my buddy Muddy's flatbread (either this one or this one or the non-flat one here, doesn't really matter which) for quite some time now, so will have to make that a priority this summer.

But there was another crazy-easy flour-based snack food that has been on the backburner for ages as well. About five minutes of prep and 12 minutes in the oven, so it had my name written all over it.


Yep, crackers. Those cheap little snacks you get in a box for $2 at the grocery store. Why in the world would anyone make their crackers?

Well, because it's easy, for one. Because you know exactly what's in them, for two. (No partially hydrogenated soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable monoglycerides, monosodium glutamate, or yellow dye #5, for instance.) And because they do taste a ton better when you know that they were in your very own oven just minutes ago.

And maybe mostly because this is another one of those recipes where there are 1-2 things you have to do, and then everything else is optional.

Here's what you have to do: Mix flour with a little liquid, roll it out, and bake it.

Here's what else you can do: Add butter, milk, cream, cheese, salt, spices, herbs, etc. Use whole wheat flour, or mix in some rye or other whole grains. Roll it thick or thin. Piece the dough with your fork to let out steam for a crisper cracker, or don't for a more tender one.

I went with the first version I ever saw, Parmesan Cream Crackers from Mark Bittman.

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus some for dusting your rolling surface
1/2 tsp salt
a heaping 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
4 Tbs butter
about 1/4 cup milk, half-and-half, or cream (have a little bit more on hand just in case)
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the oven to 400º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Mix everything but the liquid in a food processor and pulse until it is uniformly combined.

Pour in half of your quarter-cup of cream while running the processor on the lowest setting. Then slowly add the rest, just a little bit at a time, just until the dough holds together.

Now for the best part. What you basically have now is cheesy pastry dough, but unlike a pie shell, you don't have to be careful about overworking this dough. It's just a cracker, so you can work it over pretty good.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough until it's around a quarter-inch thick. Common sense here: thicker means a more tender cracker, thinner means crispier. Then slide the dough onto your baking sheet.

If you score it with a knife or pizza cutter (I used a faux-Ulu, the Wüstof weigemesser mincing knife), then you'll have nice square crackers that break off easily when you're done. You can also prick the dough with a fork, 2-4 times per square, to release some steam for a crisper cracker. (The first time you try this, maybe prick half and don't prick the other, and see which side you prefer.)

Finally, sprinkle with salt and any other spice you want, such as freshly ground black pepper, garlic, red pepper flakes. (Again, maybe sprinkle something different on a couple of different sections the first time out.)

Bake for 10-12 minutes, then cool on a rack.

These will most certainly satisfy any hankering for a hunk of cheese.

(Hat tip to One Ordinary Day for the pro-fromaggio PSA.)