Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Food for Thought

As you all know, dear readers, my roommate Brianna and I are part of a CSA.  Well, this week, on Food for Thought Wednesday, I would like to introduce a new type of food co-op into my life (and my blog): a work lunch co-op.

It all started with this little article in the New York Times.  I'm sure most of you have seen it already.  At first, I was skeptical.  While the cooking co-op sounded like a good idea in theory, I wondered about the logistics.  Say I joined a cooking co-op.  What if my co-op buddies didn't like my food?  What if I didn't like their food?  What if, like Andy Remeis, I got stuck with (heaven forbid) Hamburger Helper meals?  Most importantly, where would I even find such a "trusted community of friends and neighbors," as Laurie Woolever so fondly describes, with whom to share weekly meals?

Just as I was about to give up on ever starting, finding, or joining a cooking co-op, my coworker came to the rescue.  Yesterday, as we were on our way to happy hour after work, he casually mentioned the New York Times article.

"I think we should start a lunch co-op at work," he said.

I stopped, turned around, and beamed at him.

And the rest is history.

Well, not really.  We still have lots of details to work out, like who wants to participate, food allergies, general guidelines, etc.

But, as you can imagine, I am so excited.  I've already been lucky enough to experience the pleasure of some of my coworkers' cooking skills, and, if they're any indication of what's to come, these co-op lunches are sure to be a success.

So stay tuned for the first co-op post, and other goodies!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Food for Thought and Roasted Duck Legs

Hello!  Happy Wednesday!

First, just for kicks, some blue mozzarella to start off your morning.

And now, this Wednesday's Food for Thought:

Every week, my cousin and I have a phone date to catch each other up on our lives.  We talk about our family, our friends, boys, and we talk about food.  When she called me last Sunday, we both happened to be severely hungover and in desperate need of some remedial binge eating.

Her: "Oh man.  I just want some chicken mcnuggets right now.  I could eat 20 of them."

Me: "Eeewwwwwughhhblechhhhhhh!"

Her: "Oh, yeah.  You don't really eat processed foods, do you?"

It's not that I don't eat processed foods.  I love instant ramen, and I'm obsessed with Tofutti Cuties.  Occasionally I'll have a Boca Burger.  But, as I'm sure I've said here many times, I prefer fresh, local, homemade food.

I'll be the first to admit that I often fall for marketing gimmicks and shiny packaging telling me that what I'm buying is actually healthy and natural and "organic," even though the items are actually highly processed.  Recently, though, I've become wary of such labels.

Rightly so, I should think, considering the strategy of restaurants like Otarian.  As Jennie Yabroff points out in her article about the self-proclaimed eco-friendly restaurant, carbon-efficiency and composting have become fads used to sell "green" food.  At this point, it seems that it's no longer about the food; it's about the packaging.

Obviously, labels and menus and marketing play a huge role in the success of a restaurant or fast-food chain.  And, as this article from the Economist tells us, offering healthier and more diverse items can actually help business.

Of course, much of this labeling also has to do with health risks and regulation.  The ban of trans-fats in New York City is just one of many campaigns around the world to get people to pay attention to what they're eating and to live a healthier life.

For me, these articles simply serve as a reminder to always be conscious of what I am putting into my body.  No Spaghettios for me, thanks.

On to the real food...

Last weekend, at the Tompkins Square greenmarket, I picked up some duck legs from the Hoosic River Poultry farm.  I daydreamed about confit-ing them, glazing them, and braising them all week, but in the end I settled on a simple roast in the oven.  Which, it turns out, pretty much allows them to bathe in their own fat for a short while, kind of like the confit procedure.  The result of this easy, little-prep, throw-it-in-the-oven-and-walk-away-to-watch-a-few-episodes-of-Sex-and-the-City method is perfectly cooked duck legs, with just enough fat left in the pan to whip up some duck fat mashed potatoes.  Which is precisely what I did.

Can you think of anything more indulgent, more decadent, more luxurious than duck fat mashed potatoes?

I certainly can't.

Roasted Duck Legs and Leeks with Duck Fat Mashed Potatoes

2 duck legs
1 leek, trimmed, thoroughly rinsed, and dried
1/2 pound potatoes
salt and pepper
olive oil

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Season duck legs with salt and pepper.  Cut leeks in half lengthwise, then into thirds crosswise.  In a large bowl, toss leeks with a little bit of olive oil and salt and pepper.  In a small baking dish (just big enough for the duck legs and the leeks), arrange duck legs and leeks so that everything fits together tightly without overlapping.  Roast in the oven for 2 hours, or until duck meat is tender and falls off the bone.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Cut potatoes into quarters.  Boil potatoes until fork-tender.  Drain.

When the duck is done, reserve duck fat and transfer duck legs and leeks onto a plate.  Mash potatoes with duck fat and season liberally with salt and pepper.  If potatoes are too dry, add a knob of butter, splash of cream, and/or glug of olive oil.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Food for Thought Wednesdays

Welcome to Food for Thought Wednesdays!

I've decided to start a weekly post about food news and events, where I will be discussing the latest food trends, the week's most interesting (to me) food articles, and recent developments in the sustainable food movement, among other things.  I'll also throw in my two cents regarding these issues, and I look forward to hearing from you, dear reader, on some of them as well.

This week I've noticed a particular anxiety regarding nutrition in several of the articles I've read.  While there always seems to be an underlying tone of desperation when talking about sustainability and the implications of the current state of our food system, I have always felt that these discussions are rarely solution-oriented.

A combination of articles that I found this week are beginning to change my mind.

First, this piece from the Seattle Times.  Ed Murrieta writes about his transition from being a restaurant critic for the Tacoma News Tribune with an expense account to living off of food stamps.  His sole income, for food or otherwise, is $200 a month.  Because of his culinary background and his experience working in restaurants, Mr. Murrieta is a smart shopper and a conscious cook.  He is able to prepare nutritious meals for himself with the food he buys at the grocery store and at the farmers market.  He stays away from soda and processed goods; he spends his $200 wisely.

Mr. Murrieta addresses an issue that is constantly brought up in discussions about sustainability; namely, the price one has to pay for "sustainable" goods.  Can a family living off of food stamps afford the local, grass-fed, organic ground beef sold at $14.99/pound?  Though Mr. Murrieta doesn't directly answer this question, he does give us a glimpse at his grocery list.  He mentions buying local produce and oysters at the farmers market in the summer.  He also mentions canned "Pork with Juices."

I don't think "Pork with Juices" would be considered environmentally sustainable by anyone's standards.  But Mr. Murrieta accepts the can from the food bank and puts it to good use, because he needs to feed himself.  The important thing is that he is still able to, and he does, buy local, fresh produce from the farmers market.  With this produce, supplemented by staples from the grocery store (organic or otherwise), Mr. Murrieta is able to cook nutritious meals for himself at a reasonable price.

Now I don't want to overlook the fact that Mr. Murrieta is at an advantage because of his background, but to me, his story savors of hope, hope that perhaps our food system can move towards sustainability, and hope that individuals and families can begin to improve how and what they eat.

The first step, it seems, is to move away from highly processed foods and to learn to cook.  Which is exactly what this article from the Chicago Tribune suggests.  With our current food system at the center of the debate when it comes to issues such as obesity in America, how can we begin to change our attitudes and habits to curb the health risks facing American families?  In the Chicago Tribune article, Janet Helm sites a doctor, an analyst, a dietitian, and two health professionals who all come to the same conclusion: get in the kitchen and start cooking.  Dr. David Eisenberg believes that teaching his patients to cook is "one of the best strategies to battle obesity and chronic medical conditions in this country."

And the problem isn't that people don't know what they should and shouldn't be eating.  The problem is that they don't know how to do it.  Sure, we all know that fruits and veggies are good, and too much sugar is bad, but how does one put together a meal that tastes good and that satisfies?

Perhaps the answer is home economics class in high school, as the article suggests.  Perhaps it's simply learning about why, for example, grass-fed beef is better for your health than grain-fed beef.  Jennifer Sygo at the National Post explains in her article that, not only does the cow benefit from eating grass, you just might benefit from eating grass-fed beef, too.

Better yet, perhaps the answer comes down to plain old trial and error.  Yes, you, and I, and most of my friends and family know that grass-fed beef is what we should be buying.  But according to this article from the Wall Street Journal, grass-fed beef makes up only 3% of the beef we eat here in America.  Yet author Peter King comes to the conclusion that, along with being healthier, grass-fed beef actually tastes better.  How can you argue with that?

Just make sure you do your research.  And to that end, here's a slideshow from the Huffington Post that tells you just exactly what those labels on your meat mean.

One last thing: I just wanted to follow up on the Greenpoint Food Market, which I mentioned a couple of weeks ago.  Unfortunately, the operation has been shut down by the Health Department, as the Brooklyn Paper reports.  Hopefully the folks who run it will be able to get the proper permits to get it up and running again soon.

Happy Wednesday!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Chinese Chicken Salad

Last weekend was the kind of weekend that summers in New York City are made of.  The weather was warm, everyone was out and about, and the city was buzzing.  These kinds of summer weekends are usually jam-packed with barbecues, rooftop parties, and picnics in the park.  They are the kinds of weekends that make me fall in love with the city I live in.

The weekend in question was a variation on those brilliant summer weekends.  Complete with a trip to Governors Island and a crawfish boil, this was the weekend to kick off all summer weekends to come.  And, being me, I started it all off by roasting a chicken.

I saw this technique in a post on The Kitchn.  The article immediately drew my attention for several reasons.  First, it made me giggle.  Second, what an innovative use of the bundt pan!  I had only ever made bundt cakes in my bundt pan, and I loved the idea of multiple usage for this usually singular kitchen tool.  Third, it just seemed like such an efficient and mess-free way to roast a chicken.  I mean, the chicken roasts just beautifully vertically, and it bastes any vegetables under it as it cooks.  All I had to do was throw the contraption into the oven, and an hour or so later, I had quite possibly the most perfect chicken I have ever roasted.  You just have to try it!  Maybe the next time you're in the mood for roasted chicken.

Or for some Chinese chicken salad.

Let me back up a bit.  On the Saturday of the previously mentioned glorious weekend, Brianna, a few of our friends, and I were slated to go to the free concert on Governors Island for the Yeasayer concert.  This being our first concert of the summer, I wanted to do things right, and maybe a little fancy, too.  I packed a small picnic of Chinese chicken salad, plus a vegan version of the salad, and a few sandwiches.  I filled my stainless steel water bottle with cold white wine, stuffed it all into my backpack with a few forks and a dish towel, and we all headed downtown to catch the ferry.

When we arrived at the Battery Maritime Building, we discovered that food and drink were not allowed. I watched in horror as the security guards took my Chinese chicken salad and tossed it into the trash barrel.  It was depressing.  Thankfully, they didn't even glance at my stainless steel water bottle.  As I clutched my wine and boarded the ferry, I mourned just a bit for my dearly departed picnic.  However, thanks to a friend who provided us with VIP passes to the concert, and to a few glugs of wine, my sorrow quickly faded.

The concert was amazing.  The view was incredible.  Our VIP passes didn't hurt either.  And, when we finally made it back home, I snacked on leftover Chinese chicken salad.  Not too shabby.

Not too shabby at all.

Chinese Chicken Salad

1 cup leftover cooked chicken, shredded
1 bunch spinach, roughly chopped
half of a small head of red cabbage, shredded
1/4 cup toasted almonds, roughly chopped
3 or 4 scallions, sliced
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons sesame oil

In a large bowl, combine chicken, spinach, cabbage, and almonds.  In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together vinegar, soy sauce, and sugar.  While whisking, incorporate sesame oil.  The mixture will not emulsify completely, but just enough to give you time to pour it over the salad and toss it all together.  Then you can pack it up for a picnic.  Just don't bring it to Governors Island.

For the vegan version, omit the chicken.  It still tastes pretty damn good!

But wait!  Before you go, some pictures from the crawfish boil at the Redhead from Sunday:

Thanks for sticking with me through this long post.  Hope you enjoyed it!

Friday, June 4, 2010

CSA Salad

As you know, faithful readers, Brianna and I rely a great deal on our weekly CSA pick-up.  So, last week, when the Winter/Spring season ended and our dear Sixth Street Community Center CSA took a break, we were at a loss.  We bought lunch every day that week, which is a rarity for us, as we usually make and bring lunch every day of the week.  We ate out for dinner and even ordered pizza one night.  It was really weird.

Though I did have the opportunity to go to Northern Spy Food Company, which I had been dying to try, and I did have awesome bánh mì for lunch one day, my wallet cried a little and my digestive system was all out of whack by the end of the week.  So you can imagine my excitement when, this week, I picked up our first batch of veggies for the Summer/Fall season of our CSA.  I skipped home, a bunch of collard greens in my tote, a basket of strawberries in hand.  What, oh what, would I make for dinner?

In the end I settled on a simple summer salad of several different greens, some radishes, said strawberries, and a homemade dressing.  I topped it all off with a few crumbles of fresh farmstead cheese from Robie Farm in New Hampshire, which I also picked up at my CSA.  A perfect meal for a hot summer day, this salad was more than just the sum of its parts.  The greens tasted freshly picked (rightly so, since they were) and packed an earthy, spicy punch.  And maybe it was just me, in all of my CSA excitement, but the strawberries seemed still warm from the fresh farm sun.  And the radishes.  Oh, the radishes.  They delivered a perfect crispy, cooling contrast to the strawberries and pulled the salad together.  They have that tendency, radishes do, of harmonizing and making things right in the world.

And now, a word (or two) on homemade salad dressing: once you try it, you never go back to the bottled stuff.  People have said it before, and I'm saying it again.  It's just so much better than anything you'd buy at the store.  Now, every time I am forced (usually only in a desperate situation) to use store-bought dressing, I find myself wondering what the heck I'm tasting.  Obviously it's stuff that does not belong in salad dressing.  So, dear reader, if you've never made your own dressing before, I suggest you try it.  Today.  I know I make a lot of promises, but I really do promise, you won't regret it.

CSA Salad

a couple of handfuls of different greens (I used arugula, mustard greens, and something that our CSA labeled "baby spicy greens," which I think were actually a baby cress), rinsed and thoroughly dried
1/4 cup radishes, trimmed and quartered or sliced into half moon shapes
1/4 cup strawberries, trimmed and sliced
a handful of crumbled cheese, whatever kind you like

1 tablespoon dijon mustard
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Combine greens, radishes, and strawberries in a large bowl and gently toss together.  In a large measuring cup or bowl, whisk together mustard and vinegar until smooth.  Season with a bit of salt and pepper to taste.  While continuously whisking, slowly dribble in olive oil.  As the dressing begins to emulsify, increase dribble to drizzle.  Continue adding oil until all ingredients are incorporated.  Taste for seasoning; add more salt and pepper if necessary.  Dress salad with vinaigrette and top with crumbled cheese.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy Hump Day

Happy Wednesday!

I just wanted to pop in to share a few things that I've been reading this week...

First: The folks at Serious Eats have posted some great stuff this week.  My favorites include the Ramen Quiz, which I sadly failed, an article about gochujang, yet another recipe for shaved asparagus (which is SO hot right now), and The Best Falafel Sandwich in New York, which I will most definitely be trying in the near future.

Also, you must check this out.  It's nuts.  I can hardly believe that all these bloggers are teenagers.  Aren't teenagers supposed to be awkward and inarticulate and consumers of fast food?  Well, let me tell you, these bloggers are anything but.  I've added a few of their blogs to my blog roll.  I'm amazed.

Michael Natkin from Herbivoracious has got me thinking about meal planning -- specifically, for vegetarians.  I've definitely planned meals around a specific type of cuisine in the past, but Michael suggests considering the type of grain you're craving when planning a dinner for herbivores.

Oh, and I can't believe I missed this.  The New York Times covered last Saturday's event.  Luckily, there's another one on June 26.  I'll see you there.

And finally, 10 Pieces of Inspiration for Planning Your Summer Picnics, from the folks over at The Kitchn.  These past few days, Brianna and I have been researching and scouring the internet for all the free summer activities New York City has to offer.  We've come up with a sizable list, and now I'm beginning to daydream about the picnics we'll pack for Movies With A View and the treats we'll be bringing to the concerts at Summerstage.  I can hardly contain my excitement!

Stay tuned for a CSA salad, baked goods, and picnic fare...