Monthly Archives: August 2005

Paper Chef, New Orleans, cooking dinner this weekend and the Red Cross

New Orleans is celebrated for many things. A special culture and community and feeling. Unique food. Unique music. Unique experiences. But it is also celebrated for celebrating! Right now there isn’t much time for that but you bet there will be as the water goes back down and rebuilding gets under way. And it is important not to forget what New Orleans was so that in the serious rebuilding ahead those special things also get rebuilt. So in the spirit of a unique place with unique food and its own unique style, it is time for Paper Chef to give a little back and given that New Orleans is one of the three cities most celebrated for food and cooking in the US, I am going to ask you all to please participate in the Paper Chef this weekend specifically INSTEAD of going out to dinner one night (or even two nights). Invite the special someone you’d go out with over for a Paper Chef dinner instead. And then donate the money you would have spent on dinner to the red cross for hurricane disaster relief. If you don’t live in the US, why not donate it for famine relief in Niger instead?
Since we are also celebrating the relaunch of Is My Blog Burning with a virtual party, we are keeping one of the ingredients as beer – and there’s nothing New Orleans likes better than a good party! But I am suspending our usual methodology and am going to pick and choose from the current nominated ingredients list to allow as much as possible for a New Orleans inspired dish. And I will give everyone a little more time to spread the news about this and get a recipe ready.
The current list is: Sausage, dried fruit, berries, eggplant, summer squash, star anise, shrimp, scallops, cherries, wasabi, tomatoes, pears, fresh coconut, something you get from a neighbour’s garden, walnuts, lavender, nut butter, tofu, parsnips, sweetcorn, duck and little fishes.

So we are going to have the following four required ingredients this time around…

Ingredient 1: Beer – for Is My Blog Burning and for New Orleans – Cheers! (if you are allergic or don’t drink alcohol, substitute any other celebratory liquid you like)

Ingredient 2: Sausage – nothing more Louisianan than that! (vegetarians – think of a sausage substitute!)

Ingredient 3: Shrimp – ok there IS something more Louisianan  than sausage! (vegetarians – again – substitute…)

Ingredient 4: Tomatoes.

Sneak Preview of ‘Topical’ Ingredient for the Paper Chef

Because it is going to be the official launch virtual party for the revamped Is My Blog Burning food blog metasite on Firday, we are announcing the topical/seasonal ingredient early and in support of the launch party. That ingredient is beer! The usual rule about substitutions applies – since I know gluten allergies make beer a no-no you can substitute any other common party drink. But not being able to find beer isn’t an excuse!
Update to ingredient list coming later…

350+ Food Blogs #-Z

I mentioned in a previous post that I would put my humungous (but not as big as kiplog’s) list of food blogs up on the Press For Change site soon. Just to show that I am going to do that and as a foretaste of what is to come, here are food blogs starting with numerals and the letter A…

[NOTE – I cannot promise that these are all still in existence – I merely add them to a list and then track them very very sporadically…]


Nominations needed for the Paper Chef

It is that time again – the turn of the month is upon us and nominations are needed for ingredients for the next Paper Chef. From this list three ingredients will be chosen as well as an additional seasonal/topical ingredient. Please only nominate once per month and only nominate things that are actually edible and not totally disgusting and gross.

The current ingredient list is:

Sausage, dried fruit, berries, eggplant, summer squash, star anise, shrimp, scallops, cherries, wasabi, tomatoes, pears, fresh coconut, something you get from a neighbour’s garden, walnuts and lavender.

Dinner tonight versus dinner this weekend

I was thinking about what I am going to make tonight and it got me started musing about how I think differently about cooking in different circumstances. Dinner on a weeknight or even a busy weekend is a very very different affair from dinner on the weekend or even a dinner party and they are both different from a planned cooking project.

An example of a good dinner for a weeknight for me happened last night. I got a call on the way home: everyone was starving and worn out from a busy day. Could I hurry home and hurry up with dinner? I asked for a pot of water to be put on to boil. I remembered that I had baked a slab of Trader Joe’s herbed pizza dough that morning simply for fresh bread to go with the kids’ lunches (ready in 20 minutes in a 450 degree oven – pull it out hot and wrap a hunk in foil). Then when I got home I rifled through the vegetables. Eggplant, mushrooms, zucchini all in need of use in the next couple of days. I sliced the first two up roughly and put them on to fry in olive oil in a covered skillet on high to help them cook fast. The water was boiling so I dropped in some rotini pasta (10 minutes to cook). Then I sliced up some previously cooked chicken pesto sausage and added it to the skillet with a little powdered garlic, herbes de provence and salt. I stirred the pan about every two minutes for the next ten minutes. I put the broiler on high, sliced up the herbed bread, sprinkled with a little grated cheddar cheese and put halved cherry tomatoes on top and put it on to broil. Then I grabbed some sorrel from the yard sliced it in little strips, sliced the zucchini and halved about half a pound more of cherry tomatoes. I poured a splash of red wine into the skillet and turned it down and pulled some washed spinach out of the fridge (already starting to wilt a little I’m afraid). Then I took the bread and cheese and tomatoes out of the broiler, drizzled a tiny bit of olive oil, sprinkled a little salt and spread out the sorrel. In the meantime I had also put the kettle on and three blackcurrant teabags in a bowl. I put lots of ice in a pitcher, poured the boiling water on the tea and let it sit. Called everyone to the table and served up the bread/cheese/tomato/sorrel appetizers. Poured the steeped tea (and teabags into the pitcher, added about a cup of concord grape juice and served blackcurrant-grape iced tea. Drained the pasta and tossed with the skillet sauce, the spinach and the halved cherry tomatoes. tossed in some gated parmesan and about two tablespoons of lemon juice.

So that’s how a nicer weeknight dinner comes together at our house. Elapsed time about half an hour. A more typical dinner might be ground buffalo burgers (preformed and frozen) with orzo pasta made aglio e olio with crushed red pepper and any fresh vegetable sauteed usually with soy sauce and vinegar. That takes longer (lots of garlic to chop).

Nicer meals have more planning. This weekend there is grilling by the pool. That usually means chicken, burgers, sausages and lamb in some combination. The burgers, chicken and lamb will always be different depending on what I can get. Salads, grilled bread, pilau rice (made in the rice cooker), sauces and dips, grilled garden-fresh vegetables, bread and almost any kind of dessert.

Dinner parties get a full day of thought. The guests known preferences are taken into account. So is the weather, what looks really good at the store or the market and what our CSA has delivered unto us. Specialties de maison include indian food, roast leg of lamb, stuffed roast chickens, complex, slow-cooked stews. Then side dishes, appetizers and desserts could be almost anything. My friends tell me it is time to make more puddings again, but I’m liking fruit purees whipped with creme fraiche or mascarpone.

And cooking projects are the most controlled. A dish is thought out completely and time is put aside to make it properly. No rushing.

It doesn’t seem to me that it is quite so chaotic for everyone else. Most non-food people I know just make one of their standard sets of family meals or go eat out. People without kids have less time pressure and fewer constraints. But there are plenty of people I know out there with kids who manage the whole process with grace. What I want to know is…how?

Organization is my middle name – or get ready for the Paper Chef!

Ha ha ha ha! If anyone I know well ever reads this, please accept my apologies for the bump from where you fell off your chair.

But I am being organized just this once.

Paper Chef is coming up Friday September 2nd. I have a host of constitutional and philosphical issues to sort out before then (OK – one or two) since I have been asked for clarification re judging and the ‘competition’ side of it. So in the spirit of the brotherhood and sisterhood of the Paper Chef and in the spirit of building a groundswell of consensus from the thousands (OK tens) of you out there who have an opinion, I am opening up the discussion. First, I only decided to have it be a competition because I thought the teeny tiny competitive edge would bring out the best in everyone – the ‘I want to show my fellow food bloggers how well I can do with this…’

That seems to have more than succeeded, so I am willing to consider making it all non-competitive. The only issue with that is that I think everyone who judges likes judging!

That brings up the issue of rational criteria and a level playing field for all. This one is tougher. Since we don’t get to taste the recipes and since everything is subjective, I’m not sure we CAN do that. I’d prefer to put the burden back on all the judges. I think we should do multiple awards (everyone’s a winner) but still pick an overall personal favorite for the main title. I guess it is just nice to have that winner=judge chain thing going on.

But let me know what you all think. I don’t want to get anyone or anything all bent out of shape about this.

Food Blogs coming out of your ears

Well, there will be soon…

I finally got around to cleaning out my food weblog list that I keep over at Yahoo’s MyWeb (kind of automatic bookmarking on the web) and I have a list of 345 food blogs in it. Now some of them have probably closed down since I added them to the list, but that’s still a LOT of food blogs. Also remember that I don’t add EVERY food blog – these are the ones that I think are interesting in some way and that might be of interest for including in Digital Dish 2.0 if I ever sell enough of Digital Dish to do a second one.

Anyway, I am going to post the list over at Press For Change Publishing as a community resource. That’ll be in a day or two. I’ll let you know here when I get it up – probably broken down alphabetically kind of like kiplog does. And of course, there’s a LOT of overlap in our listings but not completely. The kiplog list is 609 sites by the way but they aren’t all blogs. Regardless, it’s an awful lot of blogs. If you include all the French and the burgeoning Asian, Italian and German food blogs I’m sure there are more than a thousand now!

It ain’t easy bein’ greens

It’s funny to me that my most requested dish for potlucks is greens. After all, they are vile, disgusting and your parents MADE you eat them when you were little, so you ended up slowly plastering layers of them to the underside of the dining table and surreptitiously feeding them to the dog who either ate anything or quietly mouthed them and then let them slip to the floor coated in drool.

Even now, when people actually believe that their parents might have been right and that greens might be good for you in some undefined kind of way, greens STILL have a bad reputation – the geeky, ugly, unloved cousin who shows up unwanted and is reluctantly accepted in very, very small doses.

So I am justified, I think, in being proud that people want my greens. People request my greens. People even actually EAT my greens. So what’s the secret?

Well, first there isn’t really one. Once people start eating greens they realize that not only are they really, really good for you, but they taste really, really good too. If we are getting all excited nowadays about blueberries, pomegranates and broccoli and anti-oxidants and bioflavinoids and so on, just think what they’d find if they looked at greens for anti-oxidants and bioflavinoids!

Plus, Jared Diamond, best-selling author (of Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse) and deep-thinker about society says that our hunter-gatherer ancestors lived on a diet of up to 70 different kinds of gathered plants a day – many of which were some form of greens – and in many ways enjoyed better digestive health than we do today.

So, however you come to the conclusion, it is established that greens are good FOR you. Now comes the hard part – how to make them flat out good so that your children happily agree to eat them and even sometimes ASK for them. Here are the deep, dark secrets…

First, debunking a couple of myths. It is a Southern tradition to make your greens with sugar and lots of pork fat. These greens are edible it is true, but they go a long way toward removing any health benefit. And more importantly, they aren’t as good as the much healthier greens described below. It is also a Southern and just about everywhere else tradition that you need to cook your greens for a long time to make them soft and tender and with a good (foodie jargon alert) ‘mouth feel.’ Also not true.

What you DO need however are salt to bring out the flavor and high heat to cook them fast. The same basic technique applies to all greens but it is a good idea to think about the time taken to cook the stalk versus the leaf. For example, collards have hefty, tough stalks. They DO need more cooking than the leaves. On the other hand, chard has big but relatively soft stalks – all you have to do is add the stalk parts first before the tender leaf tips. I also have to confess that the one green I cannot face is the dandelion – they are just flat out bitter.

The Best Greens Ever

You need the following: a bunch or more of greens, soy sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, a big skillet, frying pan or wok. Optional extras include garlic, ginger, cumin, coriander, chilli, onion, spring onion and bacon (pork fat may be bad for you but it does taste good…)

Wash the greens thoroughly and shake ’em dry. Chop them up roughly in strip about three quarters of an inch wide across the leaves (at right angles to the stem). Chop the stalks as well but push as much of the stalky bits as you can to one side. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in your pan until hot (but short of smoking). Add the optional seasoning elements and let them cook a little. Now add all the stalky bits and stir them in thoroughly so they are coated and cooking hard. Keep the heat high throughout. Once the stalks are starting to soften (longer for collards, no time at all for spinach) add the rest of the leaves in two stages, stirring them in thoroughly after each stage and letting them start to settle in the pan. Once both sets of leaves are in, stir again and once the leaves start to soften, add a tablespoon of soy sauce and a tablespoon of lemon juice (adjust oil, soy sauce and lemon juice upward if making a larger amount of greens and also to taste with experience). Stir in thoroughly and cook just until all the greens are soft. Remove from heat and serve immediately.

There are other great things to do with greens as well. The softer and more highly spiced greens like spinach, arugula (rocket), mustard greens and some of the asian greens can be cooked in with some stock and then blended with a little cream and flavorings to make fantastic creamy soups (see arugula, spinach, sorrel soup with smoked oysters). I also like to make pesto-like sauces from them and finely chop them into salads where they add huge, heaping explosions of flavors.

So there you have it – greens are good and even though Kermit the Frog was right, he shouldn’t have been. It should be easy being green.

The 39 Steps

One of my favorite movies of all time for the eery juxtaposition of the mundane and the extraordinary and the creation of a feeling, an emotion and an atmosphere is Alfred Hitchcock’s version of the amazing John Buchan novel ‘The Thirty-Nine Steps.’

That novel and movie have almost nothing at all to do with this posting which is about how I am going to try to do the remaining 20 or so things on the food blogger’s ‘50 things‘ list that I have not yet done. So I really only have 20 steps. But the movie deserves a mention anyway.

I am going to try to do the remaining 20 things over the course of the next year and will write about them here – or at least those of them I am willing to share…

The Joys of Smoked Lamb

Although I have smoked a few meats in my time (nothing like the smokemeister, Dr. Biggles of course) I have previously restricted myself to the ‘white’ meats – in other words chicken, turkey and pork. But a few days ago we had an impromptu gathering around the grill and pool and I had made two different lamb dishes, both from an unusual half shoulder half leg cut. One was marinated in yoghurt and ginger and cilantro and lemon and cumin and garlic and other spicy things. This came out very delicious but surprisingly mild. It was grilled in more or less the traditional way and was first off the grill. The other piece was cooked in the smoker because that is all the room that was left. It was cooked for much longer (the period of the party – about three and a half hours) and over lower heat with deliberate smoke from applewood and bay tree branches. This one was marinated in red wine, garlic, rosemary, pepper, olive oil and bay leaves. And it came out smokey and delicious. Next time we do it even slower for six to eight hours. It was the hands-down winner and even better we had leftovers since people had already eaten all the Indian marinated lamb.

So two days later I made a curry with some of the lamb and eggplant and tomatoes and cardamom and coriander and ginger and garlic and onions and garam masala and yellow squash and zucchini and a little curry powder. It was smoky and stunningly full of flavor – one of my best curries yet. Served with basmati pilau with cumin seeds and with roasted pumpkin seeds and yoghurt on the side. Plus fresh green beans. I thought I had made too much. I was wrong.