Sunday, March 30, 2008

Alton Brown's Roasted Broccoli

Lately I haven't been watching much Food Network beyond Iron Chef America, but since the prospect of doing some work on a future prime-time show on the network has been dangled in front of me like a carrot, I thought I'd bone up on their offerings. In particular was the show that seems like it might be the closest in nature to the project I mentioned—Good Eats with Alton Brown. (Don't get too excited, I'll let you know more about it if the network picks up the pilot.)

So anyway, I happened to catch Alton's episode on broccoli, which happens to be one of my favorite veggies. Did you know that microwaving broccoli renders up to 90% of its nutrients more-or-less worthless? Yeah... So I'm going to have to stop nuking it instead of blanching it like I was taught to do in culinary school. (You know you'd take that shortcut too if you were cooking for just yourself...)

I like Alton's recipe for Oven Roasted Broccoli because it doesn't require a lot of prep time aside from cutting the broccoli into florets and it's a hell of a lot more interesting than steamed broccoli, which is the other way Alton suggests cooking broccoli. When he roasts it, he tosses in some toasted breadcrumbs and garlic along with the ubiquitous roasting trio of olive oil, salt and pepper. After it's out of the oven, he adds some cheese. I forgot the garlic since I made this from memory a couple days after watching the episode and went with Parmesan instead of sharp cheddar. It was still delicious, though! The breadcrumbs add some textural interest and the roasting really changed the broccoli's flavor, making it almost nutty-tasting.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Stepping back in time

OK, maybe it just seems that way, but lately I've been feeling a strong urge to move back to Mid-Missouri, buy a house (so cheap compared to ANYTHING in the NYC vicinity) and spend my days taking care of a huge vegetable garden, cooking as much from scratch as possible and "simplifying" by relearning how to find joy in the simple things.

I say it's "stepping back in time" because it reminds me of how my maternal grandparents used to live. They would spend a good amount of time tending to their vegetable garden. They also grew grapes and had an apple tree—both of which would find their way into homemade "wine" that I found repulsive. (Unfortunately their supply of basement-fermented alcohol ran dry before I was old enough to be able to appreciate—or not—their efforts.

I remember climbing their apple tree and not wanting to eat the ugly, blemished apples, but not minding the applesauce or dehydrated apple slices. One thing's for sure, there was never a shortage of apples and there always seemed to be baskets of them stashed away in the dark, cool corners of the unfinished side of their basement. I also used to derive such satisfaction from (don't laugh...) "painting" their brick sidewalk with water and an old toothbrush. Now that's simple!

It seems like I'm not the only one that's been yearning for a step away from the excess and back toward the garden. In her article for the New York Times: Cows Grazing in the Rumpus Room, Allison Areiff, points out the many ways that people are making time and space for gardening whether they live in the suburbs or in high-rises. Since the article focused on the design aspects of this topic, I wasn't surprised to see mention of the movement for people to replace their front lawns with either vegetable gardens or less thirsty greenery in an effort to reduce water use. Here a fact she mentions that, if true, is quite disturbing: homeowners apparently use up to 10 times more chemical pesticides per acre on their lawns than farmers use on crops.

Great... Even if I choose to follow natural, organic methods in my future yard and garden, I'll still have to deal with my neighbor's runoff. Lovely... So, on my future-home wish list next to "large backyard with privacy fence," I'm going to add "yard at higher elevation than neighbors' to prevent contamination."

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Bum popcorn bag...

Right now I'm in recovery mode after a long week at work, so I'm not doing much of anything aside from catching up on TV shows I recorded and cleaning up the accumulating clutter. Long hours at work also mean no recent trips to the grocery store, but luckily I had some popcorn stashed on my shelf of our tiny shared kitchen cabinet. And yes, you read that right, "my shelf," not "my cabinet." The tiny shared kitchen is FAR from my ideal, especially if I want to cook more intricate things. (What I give for enough counter space to roll out pizza or pie dough....)

Burnt popcorn isn't my favorite smell so I stuck around to make sure I stopped the microwave at just the right moment. But before the popcorn was even halfway there, I heard a new sound: kernels bouncing around the microwave. Sure enough, the bag was spewing them at is spun on the turntable. By the time I stopped the action, the hole was big enough for a small hand and the microwave was a mess of popped and unpopped kernels, but what managed to stay in the bag was as normal (and boring) as ever.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Italian Rainbow Salad

This recipe was inspired by my old roommate Chelle Leskovistch. Her version had cherry tomatoes, mozzarella, pepperoni, pasta and Italian Dressing. I kept all those elements and added a couple extra veggies, but it's close enough that it definitely reminds me of the lazy days we used to spend lounging around in Riverside Park.

Italian Rainbow Salad

Note: My version is a bit of a non-recipe, so just toss in whatever veggies are fresh and available. You scale it up or down, but it holds up fairly well in the fridge for a couple days and also makes a great dish for a picnic or party. Add more pasta to stretch it for a crowd if cost is a concern. I'm not providing amounts since everything can be adjusted to suit your personal taste.

Pasta (Fusilli's spiral shape holds onto the dressing well)

Cherry tomatoes (halved)

Bell peppers: yellow, orange or red (julienned)

Green beans (cut into inch-long pieces)

Red onion (thinly sliced)

Mozzarella (diced)

Pepperoni (slices cut into pieces)

Italian salad dressing

1. Set a pot of water to boil while you slice and dice.

2. Add salt when the water comes to a boil and drop in the green beans when it returns to a boil. When done, move them to an ice bath with a slotted spoon to stop the cooking. (Taste one to test doneness before removing the rest.)

3. In the same pot of boiling water, cook the pasta. Drain it and let it cool a bit before adding to the rest of the ingredients so that you don't melt the mozzarella.

4. Add dressing to taste and toss everything together.

Monday, March 3, 2008

"Legless" Meat and Other Atrocities

First, I stumbled upon this from a recent issue of Wired magazine (which I wouldn't get if MediaBistro didn't send it to me for free...). If you haven't already clicked on the link, it's an illustration of the yet-to-be-invented Ronco Meat-O-Matic, which allows you to grow "meat" from tissue cultures in a vat of nutrient-fortified liquid. The scary thing is that I wouldn't put it past today's feed-lot-crowding, corn-feeding, antibiotic pushing meat producers as a way to further scale up production. And who can blame them when the vast majority of meat-eating Americans are stuffing themselves silly with the cheapest meat they can find. (Why do you think McDonald's has sold billions? It's not the quality of service that keeps people coming back...)

So today, while reading Mouthing Off, one of Food & Wine magazine's blogs, I stumbled upon Rethinking the Meat Guzzler, by regular New York Times contributor Mark Bittman. It's a well-written essay on how harmful the current meat production industry is to the environment and our collective health among other things. In it, Bittman also alludes to the prospect of "legless meat." To quote from the article:
"Longer term, it no longer seems lunacy to believe in the possibility of “meat without feet” — meat produced in vitro, by growing animal cells in a super-rich nutrient environment before being further manipulated into burgers and steaks."

And then there's this gem, an Op-Ed by a farmer who was fined for daring to grow fruit and vegetables on land earmarked for corn. "How dare he!" I say with the utmost level of sarcasm. It's ludicrous that a farmer, who is trying to grow more watermelons to satisfy demand for local, organic produce, is told that he's breaking some law by doing this on land set aside for corn.

This all makes we wonder how I can best work to roll back the "progress" we've made in terms of agriculture. The more I learn about the Farm Bill and its subsidies to the largest corn, soybean, rice, cotton and wheat growers (at the expense of the very small farms those subsidies were originally intended to aid and those farmers wishing to grow the fruits and vegetables that we're supposed to be eating more of) the more I'm disgusted. I just want some antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef (three or four ounces is enough) to go with my local, organic, seasonal vegetables that rest on top of my brown rice pilaf that I made with homemade chicken stock. Is that so much to ask?