Kitchen Survival Guide: Garlic

December 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Tackle the stinkiest member of the allium family with these tips from a post I recently wrote for Devour, the Cooking Channel’s blog.

Here’s the link: Kitchen Survival Guide: Garlic

Garlic at the farmers' market

The Market Report: November 18, 2012

November 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Berck Ville, France

Last weekend, we drove to France. From London. Literally.

The secret is the Channel train, which leaves from Folkestone four times each hour. We drove directly onto the train, which swiftly took us to Calais, France in just 30 minutes. With minor alterations to the car – namely adding a breathalyser kit per EU law – we were on the road to fruits de mer and Calvados.

We missed the Saturday morning market in Montreuil, famous for the setting of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, but woke early for the Sunday market at nearby Berck.

Beautiful church in the town of Montreuil, where we spent the night — right across from the Victor Hugo bar!

Here is a market where the locals shop. Baskets piled high with potatoes, children clamouring for sweets, an elderly woman paying for her Camembert with food stamps – there was no pretence, just an appreciation for the local fare as sustenance as much as it was also the makings of a delicious week.

Turnips glittering in the morning sun.

Odd-shaped Jerusalem artichokes, also called sunchokes — one of my favorite things to eat after tasting them in a salad at St John Bread & Wine in Spitalfields, London.

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Black Radishes: there’s a first time for everything.

The secret to French cuisine: shallots

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Coquilles St Jacques — scallops, with their shell!

A few recipes:

Roasted sunchokes with hazelnut gremolata: Good sunchoke recipes are few and far between, but Food52 saves the day with this incredible preparation for the tuber.

Scallops with herb broth, braised radishes, & bacon: We enjoyed a similar dish the evening before our market excursion — fresh scallops barely need more than a sear in brown butter.

Potato leek soup with buttermilk: A British classic, potato leek soup highlights the oft-overlooked member of the Allium family. Put this relative of the onion to work!

The Market Report: November 10, 2012

November 18, 2012 § 1 Comment

Amherst, MA, USA

Last weekend was the type of weather than farmers and football fans alike dream of. And it so happened that I was up at Amherst College for those two reasons: a farmers’ market and a football game, in that order.

It was Homecoming at Amherst College, a place where family ties run deep. My little brother and sister are current undergraduates, and my other brother, mother and grandfather are alumni. We wear a lot of purple.

While the College isn’t known for football (although the team logged a win over Williams), it is known for its farms. My brother is even starting one on campus! So the local Saturday morning farmers’ market is packed with local produce, as well as grass-based meats and dairy.

“Feast your eyes” never held more meaning than in the packed produce stalls of Amherst’s farmers, even in fall. I’ve never found more varieties of turnips, carrots and radishes in one place, and with such color!

Early start at the Amherst Farmers’ Market

The market sits in the center of the town green, equidistant from Main Street and the College’s campus.

Fresh ginger, grown organically in greenhouses to survive the harshest Northeastern winters. Its skin is so delicate, I didn’t even need to peel it when I made green curry!
Old Friends Farm in Amherst, MA

Another surprise from Old Friends Farm: fresh turmeric, also grown organically.

A panoply of colors among the carrots from Simple Gifts Farm, an organic operation where a pair of oxen sometimes help!
Simple Gifts Farm in North Amherst, MA

A single variety of radish produces this colorful array — another bright surprise from Simple Gifts Farm.

A side of popcorn few people see anymore — on the cob!
Astarte Farm in Hadley, MA

Flying Amherst colors: these turnips capture the Lord Jeffs’ hue as if by design.
Atlas Farm in Deerfield, MA

Curious about the funny name for this radish? Cut into it and you’ll understand — their inside is a shocking shade of pink! Another organically-grown heirloom variety from Atlas Farm

Inspiration in the kitchen:

Thai Chicken & Coconut Soup: Fresh ginger is the secret ingredient in this flavorful soup, a simple recipe that takes no more than 5 minutes to make. And from Williams Sonoma of all places!

Spicy Carrot Salad: Show off different varieties of carrots with this elegant yet easy preparation — especially if you like cayenne pepper!

Pickled Radishes: Let radishes become the exotic pickle on your next gourmet burger or even just a garnish on a garden salad. This recipe adds vim and vi(ne)gor to the humble root.

The Market Report: November 3, 2012

November 5, 2012 § Leave a comment

Phoenixville, PA, USA

We all have weekend rituals, and mine is going to the farmers’ market. I use the definite article loosely, because the market may be near our family farm in Pennsylvania, in New York City, in London, or wherever I happen to be traveling.

The market used to be just a routine. Back in 2002 when my parents started our local farmers’ market in Pennsylvania, we had to go, or there would be no shoppers. By the time I left for college, it was thriving, and I couldn’t imagine a week without one. It wasn’t long before I started a campus farmers’ market at Princeton. By now, the morning market has become more than a routine: it’s a ritual.

Wherever I wake up on Saturday morning, the local market is my first destination.

No two markets are alike, but a good farmers’ market features good local food. Selection changes with the seasons, and every growing season is different from the last. One year’s bumper crop of apples is next year’s time for cherries to shine. At home on the farm, our beets are tiny this year, but our sweet potatoes have thrived. I harvested 15 pounds of glittering yams from one plant alone!

It’s this dependence on the seasons, and the variety they bring, that turns a farmers’ market into an edible treasure hunt.

Here’s a weekly peek into my market basket. At a good market, what’s good at the market? I’m on a perpetual search for fresh, delicious finds, led by chats with producers, occasional taste tests and constant cooking with the bounty.

This post marks the first of many notes on highlights from the market.

Phoenixville Farmers’ Market
Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, USA

Saturday, November 3, 2012

This fall has been an incredible season for sweet potatoes. I was fearful that the largest ones would be the least flavorful, but they’ve proved me wrong. Weighing up to 4 or 5 pounds a piece, the giant yams are a super-sweet and an efficient choice in the kitchen.
Jacks Farm in Pottstown, PA

These giant candy onions bleed a milky juice when I slice into them, a boon to the caramelization process. They also store well, so I stock up when I find them.
Farmer Aaron Esch in Quarryville, PA

Some of the finest mushrooms in the world come from Pennsylvania, and Joe and Angela grow some best. This week, they brought four varieties, harvested that morning. Clockwise from the top left: Criminis, Shiitakes, Portobellos, Oysters.
Oley Valley Mushrooms in Oley, PA

I can’t get enough of Sue Miller’s raw milk cheese, and was excited to discover her newest, Clipper. It is a hard cheese aged for 8 months, with the sharpness of a cheddar and slight sweetness of gruyere. And check out the legs on that table. . .                                                                                 Birchrun Hills Farm in Birchrunville, PA

It was a great year for cabbage at our family’s CSA, Charlestown Farm. These leafy brassicas are particularly sweet this late in the season.
Charlestown Farm in Phoenixville, PA

The end to my farmers’ market haul is signaled when my bag comes to a breaking point. With a sigh, I have to leave new delicious finds behind, until next week. . .

A few favorite recipes:

Caramelized Onion Sage Tart: I’ve been making this recipe from Jerry Traunfeld’s cookbook, The Herb Farm, for years. With one bite, dinner guests refuse to leave without the recipe in hand!

Homemade Sweet Potato Fries: They’re one of my favorite quick and healthy snacks, and Cookie & Kate includes great photos for the best way to elegantly tackle a monster sweet potato. You won’t be able to return to normal fries.

Grilled Oyster Mushrooms: Joe from Oley Valley has always suggested grilling his oysters, and this recipe from Gourmet is foolproof. Let the mushrooms get crispy around the edges.

Secret Weapon: Gochujang

October 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you have a penchant for Sriracha and a thing for Miso, there’s another ingredient you should add to your shopping list: Gochujang, or Korean Chili Paste. If you’ve had traditional Korean dishes like bibimbap or bulgogi, you’ll recognize the flavor of this thick paste, made from fermented soybeans, red chili, salt, and sugar. I recently covered this “secret weapon” for Devour, the Cooking Channel’s blog — here’s the link, enjoy!

Original post: Secret Weapon: Gochujang [Korean Chili Paste]

An Epicurean Inquisition with Michael Pollan

October 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m thrilled. It’s 10 am on Monday morning, and Michael Pollan has just told me the best news I’ve heard in a while: he’s got a new book coming out.

Pollan might just be the biggest influence on the modern American sustainable food system. He took Power Steer, published in the New York Times Magazine in 2002, and turned it into The Omnivore’s Dilemma, for which he won a James Beard Award and encouraged millions of Americans to reflect on soda and fast food. He’s taken his latest NYT Mag article, “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch” published in 2009, and turned it into an upcoming book about cooking. If it’s not the Next Big Thing In Food Journalism, I’ll be shocked.

It’s a testament to his influence on our country’s growing interest in food that he was named to Time’s 100 list in 2012.

So the chance to share a cappuccino and talk shop on a rainy morning on the Upper East Side was a welcome one. Pollan’s not preachy. He’s just smart. And articulate. And kind. And it’s a powerful combination, wielded in all the right ways.

Michael, my Kindle’s had no new Pollan for three years. What have you been working on?

I’m about to finish my latest book. It’s been three years coming, and it’s about cooking. I take four elements – fire, water, air, earth – and show how each one corresponds to processing nature into food. It’s really about how cooking transformed us as a species.

Sounds like you’ve been spending some time in the kitchen.

I learned how to cook. It’s the part of the food chain that I haven’t written about yet. I’ve covered agriculture and nutrition, but not cooking. We are the only species who cooks our food.

There are huge benefits to cooking. People who cook eat a healthier diet because they avoid processed food. We’ve been processing food forever, but it used to make the meal better. Humans milled grain to make bread, fermented milk to make cheese, grilled meat to eat it.

But around the 1880s, processing food started to make it worse. At the grocery store today, it’s mostly what you find: highly processed, unhealthy food. It’s cooking that will bring back our health.

So individuals can solve their health problems through cooking?

I don’t see corporations cooking in a way that will work for our health. It’s hard to solve problems at an industrial level in a way that addresses public health.

I hope to re-attach food to something real: to a farm, a process, a person. I’ve learned how to pickle vegetables, to brew my own beer, to bake bread.

Bread! Everyone’s baking bread at home these days. They all talk about Jim Lahey. Are you another Lahey disciple?

I’ve made his no-knead bread. But I’ve mainly been spending time with Chad Robertson at Tartine. And some of his mentors, like Richard Bourdon at Berkshire Mountain Bakery up in Massachusetts.

Sounds incredible. I have to tell you, when people hear those famous three sentences, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” there’s always the same reaction: Does Michael Pollan practice what he preaches?

I do, actually. I eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t eat meat when I don’t know where it comes from. In a restaurant, if they don’t know where their chicken or beef was raised, I won’t order it. I defend a very small portion of the meat industry.

Short of sending in a detective, I really do stick to those words.

So do you ever sneak in a Coke?

No. [laughs] I don’t crave sweet things. I grew up without soda in the house, but was allowed a Coke – probably actually a Shirley Temple – when we went out.

If I’m going to binge, it’s on cheese.

Do you have a favorite cheese?

Spanish sheep’s milk cheese. Actually, there’s one I’ve been eating a lot, from Barinaga Ranch, in Marshall, CA. Marcia Barinaga has a beautiful herd of sheep and makes this awesome Basque-style cheese. I’ve also been eating a lot of St. Nectaire. I learned how it’s made for the new book. But I pretty much like all cheese.

What would be the biggest surprise to find in your kitchen?

Right now, it’s a ridiculous number of pickled things, including a massive amount of sauerkraut. It certainly wasn’t there a year ago.

Where do you shop for all these foods?

Monterrey Market. Berkeley Bowl. There’s a farmers’ market two blocks away from my house, on Thursdays. I go there a lot.

So is it hard to eat when you travel?

Oh, it’s the biggest challenge. There’s no good food in airports yet. I try to bring something, but when I forget, I get a vegetarian burrito. The problem is, it’s the size of a football!

Chipotle makes healthy food, but too much of it. It’s an interesting problem to have. For fast food, from a calorie perspective, Chipotle is one of the worst.

I travel around the country to give talks; a lot of people want to have this conversation. And there’s always one local restaurant that gets it. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, there’s a restaurant called Greenhouse Grille, where they buy grass-fed beef, pastured poultry, vegetables from local farmers. They keep a seasonal menu. And it’s become the locus of the food movement in that community.

If you’re visiting Fayatteville, you must mean Walmart? Is there any truth in their sustainability efforts?

They call me from time to time. They’re committed to sustainability, but by their definition. Which is really to eliminate waste and to reduce fossil fuel use. To the extent that [fossil fuel reduction] applies to the food system, they’re making an impact. For example, they’re getting farmers to reduce use of synthetic fertilizer. It’s low-hanging fruit, the easy stuff.

Ask them about antibiotic use in livestock? Labor issues? Anything that increases costs, they start to get really uncomfortable.

So when it comes to eating locally, what’s your advice for people who also want their coffee, their orange juice?

I don’t think it’s all or nothing. Don’t get hung up on being faithful. The concepts of vegetarianism, veganism are so exclusive. It’s very American. It’s like, you’ve fallen off the wagon if you eat one piece of bacon. Like you’ve lost your identity.

Go ahead. Drink coffee. Eat bananas. Just pay attention to what kind of coffee, what kind of bananas you choose.

Have you seen the effects of the economy on eating habits since The Omnivore’s Dilemma came out in 2007, right before the Great Recession?

One of the surprises of the last four years is that the market for alternative, more expensive foods has thrived. It should have collapsed. Organic should have collapsed. People felt squeezed.

I have a colleague at Berkeley’s journalism school, a crusty old investigative reporter who doesn’t have the patience for what I write about. Back in mid-2008, we were walking down Shattuck Ave, past Chez Panisse and the Cheese Board and all these places, and he brought up the financial crisis. He turned to me and said, “Well that’s it for your food shit.”

It [the organic, local food movement] could have gone away. The fact that it didn’t, is telling. Last year, the organic food category was up 10 percent.

What do you think about the recent marketing efforts by lobbyists to call HFCS “Corn Sugar”?

I don’t think they’ll succeed. The problem is, high-fructose corn syrup isn’t that accurate, either. Both names put lipstick on a pig. If I had to pick a name, it’d be enzymatically-altered corn gluten. Now that’s accurate.

Have you spent any time looking into China’s food system?

The Chinese have a crisis of trust. We read about melamine in the papers, but there are a slew of issues we never hear about. They have a similar problem to the US: a food chain that is very long and full of uncertainty. A nascent food movement is growing, led by the affluent who can afford to reconnect with local producers. There are even CSAs cropping up in Beijing!

Food, politics, news, what’s up with the rumors of “Michael Pollan vs. Mark Bittman” tremors? I would think you guys should get along?

You know, people ask me this question and I think it’s funny. It’s great to have someone on the East Coast paying attention to these issues, and especially at the Times. There’s less solidarity. We talk from time to time, he’ll ask me for farms to visit out in Iowa, I’m so glad the momentum for food and politics is growing!

Glad to hear it. Back to your writing. Botany of Desire is one of my all-time favorite books but it doesn’t get the same kind of press that Omnivore received. Why don’t people want to read about marijuana and the history of Johnny Appleseed?

I think it might be my best book. But it’s less pointed. It doesn’t address how to live, it’s an argument for how nature works. It didn’t plug into social, political, cultural issues. But it got me into all this. I guess we owe it something.

When I published The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I thought I was really late. Eric Schlosser had published Fast Food Nation already, and I didn’t know if there was still an appetite for these issues.

You never know if your book is going to meet what the culture needs. But you might get lucky.

All this talk about food makes me hungry. What was your most unforgettable meal?

There’s a restaurant called Etxebarri in Spain, in the Basque region. Every course is grilled. The chef, Victor Arguinzoniz, and no I can’t pronounce his name, has dedicated his career to finding the right wood, the right temperature, for the right ingredient.

I had the best steak I’ve ever eaten there, and it was from a 14-year old dairy cow. The chef grilled a single oyster under a single ember – the perfect ember, wood and temperature and all – and it was the best oyster I’d ever had.

It was so unexpectedly good!

And if you have to choose, what would be your last meal?

People ask me the death row question a lot. My favorite meal is a good roast chicken. With roasted root vegetables, cooked in the same pan with all the drippings.

Have your own questions? Tweet to @MichaelPollan

This post originally appeared here on May 23, 2012 on Aftertaste, the Lot18 blog.

An Epicurean Inquisition with Jeffrey Steingarten

October 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

I would never tell him, but Jeffrey Steingarten’s book The Man Who Ate Everything is the work that inspired my obsession with food.

His essay on the wonders of salt sent me to investigate the salt harvests of Trapani in Sicily. His essays on Chinese cuisine sent me eating across Hong Kong, Beijing, even Shanghai. After he showed me his Berkel, the hand-cranked Italian meat slicer in his College and Law School alma mater’s Harvard crimson, I wanted my own – in a day and age where most girls covet Birkins, not Berkels.

But what do you ask the sharp-tongued man who regularly castigates world-renowned chefs on Iron Chef America? The man whom Anna Wintour invited to write Vogue’s food column years ago, who introduced a whole new style of food writing to the world? The man who has won countless James Beard Awards (the food world’s Oscar) and was given a Chevalier in the Order of Merit from the French government for his coverage of French cuisine?The Man Who Ate Everything, and who led me to do the same?

I decided to start simply.

How are you?

Everything is perfect.

Well, this is going well already!

I have no opinions, only truths.

So, Jeffrey, you probably eat out a lot, but I know you cook quite often, too. What’s your favorite meal to prepare at home?

Just eating at home, probably the old roast chicken. My favorite way is still on a 1950s rotisserie – the Roto-Broil 400. They were manufactured in Long Island City between 1955 and ’57. They’re still available on eBay, although you have to watch yourself. The reason it’s better than all other rotisseries is that this gets so hot, if you touch it after it’s been on for a half hour, you may die.

I did a test of all of those on the market, and there’s no doubt that the Roto-Broil is the absolute best. [The chicken] comes out so crispy and good.

And then, sandwiches. I bake a couple loaves of bread every week — not at the same time, only when it’s all used up. I love the bread that I bake, based on Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread, and I love sandwiches. One of my favorites might be grilled cheese. Last night my wife and I went to Eataly, and I must say I was yearning a sandwich with my bread.

What’s your go-to book about food or cooking (besides your own)?

A “go-to book,” I’ve never used that expression. Please remind me never to use that expression. How can there ever be one book? If you want to find out about a subject, you might start out with the Oxford English Dictionary. It’s the greatest dictionary ever written, one keystroke away.

The second thing you’d want to look at is Alan Davidson.

He pauses, distracted.

You might find that your assistant, as mine just did, has dropped food into the Alan Davidson. And then you’ll find your food all over the centerfold.

I can hear poor Elise, his assistant, plead the Fifth.

The only problem with that book is it’s much too anglo-tropic. There are a million Victorian desserts – they’re very complicated, and just like Italian cheeses: They give many different names to what an American would consider the exact same thing.

Several of the best cookbooks written in America in the past 20 years, as far as I know, have never been digitized. People don’t know about them. For example, Paula Wolfert. She wrote a cookbook after being in Morocco for two years. Or Fuchsia Dunlop, who went to Oxford and then SOAS, to learn Chinese and the Sichuan dialect. She wrote the only good Sichuan cookbook.

Is there any good Sichuan food in the city?

I once had a database done by the health department of the city of New York — which is the only department that has a list of every restaurant in the city — of how many restaurants had the word Sichuan/Szechuan in the title. It was about 200. True Sichuan? Not many. I want to go back to Chengdu.

What would be the biggest surprise I’d find in your pantry?

This is the year of the hundredth anniversary of the Oreo. It was the most popular cookie in the world and was made in New York. In the Chelsea Market, there’s a plaque for the American Baking Company, at some point they changed their name to National Biscuit Company [NaBisCo], who made the Oreo. So I asked my assistant to go to the supermarket to buy every type of Oreo they had. I’m afraid they now have eight different kinds.

I think they’ve gone downhill, but maybe my taste has gotten too snobbish. I’m not sure if any are any good except the Golden Oreo, which is totally addictive and you can’t stop eating it. Just once, buy a package of Golden Oreos and try eating them.

It must be difficult to enjoy everything you eat by this point in your writing career!

When you’re in this business, you spend a lot of time judging and distinguishing among different food. It’s hard to eat bad food. It’s even hard to eat mediocre food anymore.

For example, the only steak I’m really willing to eat is very very good, very expensive steak. Lobel’s is probably still the best butcher in the country – but there’s so much more variety in types of meat and sources, and different ways of raising it, that you can’t just go to one place. But if you want a really good dry-aged, the old-fashioned kind of well-marbled, corn-fed steak, Lobel’s is probably the best place to go.

So given the amount of time you spend in the kitchen, there must be at least one gadget you can’t live without.

I used to be a real gadgeteer. But now I don’t think there’s any gadget that I really love except precise thermometers and a mortar and pestle.

You realize I was the one to introduce the laser thermometer to the world of cooking. I needed to develop temperatures in my grill that would be hot enough for real pizza, 800 – 900 degrees. I asked the guy at Barbecues Galore how you would measure the temperature of a surface so I’d know how hot the pizza stone was. He didn’t know. I have a friend who’s an auto-mechanic and often has to know the temperature of sheet steel; he said there are infra-red thermometers in the shape of guns. So I went to a nearby industrial hardware store and bought one: You had to pay $500 if you wanted something that got up to 1,000 degrees. And then the company immediately went out and made a culinary one.

However, I would love to have a brick oven. Paul Bertolli has one, Alice Waters has one. I had dinner the other night with Will Rubel who has written about cooking with fire, and I still want one.

I welcome the opportunity – this will sound pretentious I know – to use one of my mortar and pestles. There’s nothing like a mortar and pestle. I learned how to use it from old ladies in Thailand. Real Thai food has to be made with a mortar and pestle. You can’t make Thai Curry without a mortar and pestle.

So yes, the Roto-broil, a mortar and pestle, and my collection of electronic thermometers. And also, of course course, my ice cream makers.

Do you want to know my favorite food? Fruit is my favorite food.

So where do you do most of your food shopping?

I shop everywhere, except for Citarella.Eataly has an amazing selection of Italian cheeses that you don’t find anywhere else. And then you have to go, for the best Parmigiano, to Di Palo. They probably have the best selection of Parmigiano in America. And you have to go to Chinatown – there are things there you can’t get outside of Chinatown.

The idea that you can go to one store and shop once a week, that’s for you suburbanites. I live a block away from the Greenmarket, and that’s the main place we shop.

Anything else?

Maybe you can explain to me why kale isn’t against the law. We don’t have to eat everything God created.

Have your own questions? You can tweet @jsteingarten

This post originally appeared here on May 9, 2012 on Aftertaste, the Lot18 blog.

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