Tuesday, February 21, 2012

On the Shores of the Aegean...

Last night, my mom, a friend, and her mom traveled to the local community college for a night of healthy cuisine.  The theme: the Mediterranean.  Oh yeah...

In a nutshell, here's the key:  red wine + olive oil + spices + garlic.

After finally locating the actual classroom and registering and standing around for a few minutes, we were soon divvied up in half.  First up - a red wine vinaigrette (red wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, mustard).  All the ingredients were measured out and prepped for us, so we just whisked it all together before tasting it on some salad greens. 

Delicious, but a little disillusioning as we saw the student chefs referencing a recipe from EatingWell.com.  We weren't eating some kind of fancy homebrew, but yet, if we wanted to duplicate the dressing, we knew where to get the recipe.

Then, it was onto the chicken curry (chicken, oil, rice, chicken broth, coriander, curry, cayenne).  We stood with our saute pans at the stovetop while students ladled ingredients in for us.  Again, a little unexpected as none of the students informed us why we were using the spices, what each spice contributed to the dish, etc.

All chicken curry was collected in a big metal pan for further cooking in the oven.  And we were off to the red wine risotto (italian rice, red wine, beef broth).  In general, risotto is good, but it takes a while to cook.  The instructors added broth to our pans for us, often without telling why or what the point was.  I think we maybe stirred the rice in our pans for a half-hour maybe?  After that, we at least got to eat it right away, and it was savory-yummy.

At this point, it's a little after seven (class started at six), and we now had several minutes to loiter in the hallway waiting for the other half to finish their two pasta dishes.

The student instructors here did not refer to recipes, but thankfully, it was pretty simple: throw some vegetables in a saute pan, drizzle olive oil, splash white wine, cook until tenderish.  Toss it all together with some egg noodles.  We did a red bell pepper and sweet potato pasta (shredded sweet potatoes!  must remember this!).  We ended the evening with a pan-seared breaded chicken breast, topped with another pasta-sauteed vegetable-white wine combination.  That last entree was delicious...the wine taste was very evident, which might put off some, but not me!

It was about quarter after nine before we'd packed up all of our to-go-home food and began the half-hour trip home.  While we enjoyed the class, we all agreed that some parts of the evening could have used improvement.  The downtime, the lack of "instruction" were all negatives.  One of the ladies suggested that since many of the recipes were from a website, next time we could pool our $25 a piece and buy food ourselves to cook at someone's house.

And...we could DRINK the wine while we douse our food with it!  Win-win situation!

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Huzzah! Food and Drink!

Our family stepped back through the portals of time tonight to...The Middle Ages.

Sort of.

Spencer has just finished his 12-week study on the medieval time period, and one of his final projects was to plan and help prepare an era-appropriate "feast".  A few days' of research produced recipes for a soup/stew dish called 'pottage' and Caraway Rye bread (courtesy of www.medievalplus.com and www.allrecipes.com)

A simple repast for a family of peasants.

Pottage is a soup that containing mostly vegetables (and whatever other substantial foodstuffs were available.)  Spencer and I chucked twelve cups of water, powdered chicken broth and a bag of dried split peas in with chopped carrots, onion, celery, and potatoes (the last two weren't on the recipe, but they were shriveling in my crisper, so...into the pot they went).  The pottage then boiled down for a hour and a half before I took out (and added back in) six cups for puree, for thickness.  In the end, here's what we got:

Looks a lot like split-pea soup, yes?
The cooking down turns everything in a homogeneous slop...but then again, presentation and taste weren't exactly the headliners for medieval fare.

While the pottage is more of a Western European food, Caraway Rye bread is more Eastern Europe.  I was surprised by how simple it is: rye flour, all-purpose flour, olive oil, brown sugar, water, yeast.  Mix, knead for ten minutes, let it rise for 90 minutes, punch and roll it out.  Shape it into two round dough balls and let rise another 30 minutes before baking for 25 minutes at 375.

And what you get is:

After this meal, Spencer explained the rules to two popular games called Fox and Geese and Nine Men's Morris.

Medieval food?  Medieval games?  Win-win situation tonight!

Friday, February 10, 2012

More on "Extra Virginity"

I am actually embarrassed to write this, because I am terrible at writing book reviews.  I don't take any notes as I read (and I should), and so really, by the time I finish the book (and depending on how long it took), I'm not giving a very, good accurate review.

So now that I've destroyed my credibility, watch me go!

A month or so ago, I was listening to an NPR program called "The Splendid Table", and the fascinating topic of discussion was 'Green Soup'.  Naturally, I was impelled to look the soup recipe up online, and found it to be very complicated.  But what caught my interest right next to the recipe was an interview with Tom Mueller, the author of the book "Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil".

It's a book.  A book about food.  Well, you know me, I'm in.  So I bought it for my Kindle.

Olives and olive oil are old.  We all know that.  They've been around since ancient Greek times.  The author tells an interesting tale of its history, interwoven with stories from Old World olive growers.  Olive oil was once extremely revered, used in Olympic Games, religious sacraments, and even for personal grooming rituals.  But it was also very versatile, having many, many uses besides food.

However, as industry changed, so did the scruples. 

Olive oil growers, shippers, and producers learned over the last several centuries that extra-virgin (read: the first press juice, aka the best) olive oil could be diluted/adulterated with cheaper oils (e.g. pomace, cottonseed).  And really, only the conscientious, true connoisseurs know when it's really EVOO...which meant a lot of hardworking, everyday people were getting swindled.  Also, throw in some ineffective government regulations and corrupt customs officials, and fake olive oil goes beyond the borders of the Mediterranean.

Along with huge corporation monopolies and the corruption that goes with it, Americans (who are beginning to love olive oil) are suffering from the little to no governmental regulation for olive oil growers/producers, and that means the likelihood that we're consuming fake olive oil is very, very high.  However, a few dedicated Europeans and Americans and Australians are trying to change that.  And that's the hopeful note this book ends on.

As for me, key points/revelations:

1.  I want to eat more extra-virgin olive oil.  But, more than likely, anything I buy at a grocery store will be lampante (lamp oil).

2. I want to go to Italy.

3. I want to go to the place mentioned in the previous post.

4. People need to stop trying to cheat us.  A lot.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review, In a Nutshell

Okay, so I just finished reading this book:

And now, I want to visit this place in Southern California: The Olive Press

Perhaps tomorrow I'll elaborate.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Recipe Nirvana

It's one of my goals to know a recipe so inside and out that I could do it without ever referring to the stained index card I'd scribbled the directions on.  Alas, there is nothing I make so frequently that I *could* prepare it without a recipe. 

Until now.

I've gotten into a bit of a groove now with the new semester and new schedule.  Tuesday and Thursday are my days off, and thus, they are my bread-baking days.  Remember that I'd begun my sourdough starter in August, and thus, I've been in the habit since August (six months!).  For many of those months, I was using a recipe out of a book I'd borrowed from the library.  Can't say I really cared for it, but I hadn't found anything better...

until I came across the Rustic Sourdough bread recipe at the King Arthur Flour website (www.kingarthurflour.com).  And yes, indeed, I'd struck gold.  And you can find that recipe here.

And yes, just last week, I reached recipe memorization.  I've made the KAF bread so often now, I've committed the recipe to memory.  The recipe itself is a two-loaf batch, and my new Breville mixer was having a tough time with all that dough...but, I resolved that dilemma by mixing it in batches of two.  Solved!

Here's another little fun thing I discovered, just this week: by adding a teaspoon of allspice to one of the doughs, I'd made a delicious "sweet" bread perfect for French toast.  I'd like to try some chicken bouillon next for a savory loaf.