Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Henpecked? Ouch (Windsor Dairy Pt. 2)

Last weekend I mentioned that we went to check out the raw milk Windsor Dairy. I didn't go into much depth because there was so much to talk about, I had to control myself and ration it out. This installment? CHICKENS!!!

Why am I devoting yet another blog post to chickens? (see my previous series on free range chickens) I'll just come out and say it ... because they are really weird.

Ok, as I've confessed, I'm a hard-core offspring of suburbia. I have seen maybe a handful of chickens in my life. I've eaten a lot but haven't actually seen them in their feathers.

Windsor Dairy has a few thousand chickens, most of which are wandering around. Around the parking lot, around the road, around my car, chasing my baby, chasing the dog, being chased by the dog. You get the idea, they were everywhere.

The dairy only just started raising chickens recently. They were setting themselves up for raising a much smaller number of two breeds, one egg-laying hen breed and one breed of roasters, when another organic farm turned down an order of 1600 hen chicks. They decided to accept the chicks, leaving them with a serious housing problem.

Ultimately, all of the chickens will be not just free-range but pastured. They will live in portable chicken coops, currently being built, which will be rotated onto pastures recently grazed by cows so that they can clean the field of bugs (attracted by the cow manure) and fertilize the field by scratching the cow and their own manure into the ground. Some time later, the fertilized soil will be covered in new grass, ready for more hungry cows.

Not only will the chickens be providing free labor in the fields, but their eggs and meat will be rich and delicious because their current diet of organic feed will be supplemented heavily by grass and live bugs.

But the chickens aren't quite on the road yet because they need some free-range education.

Apparently, chickens don't automatically know that they need to go back into their coops at night (and if they don't, they're chances of survival are not good). Even chickens in pens have trouble finding their way back at first.

So how are they trained? Initially, they are raised to a certain size in a closed, heated coop. After a little while, they're released into a pen. Later they're released into a larger enclosure, and finally released out onto the farm. The dairy hasn't tried actually moving the coops from field to field yet, but I have a feeling the chickens might be running around like chickens with their heads ... well, you know.

When we saw them, the chickens were in various stages of training, some still inside, some in pens, and many more than I can count living out of a trailer and having the run of the whole farm. Not a bad life.

All of this doesn't explain why I think they're weird. First, there are just so many of them, everywhere, crowding, strutting, squeezing into small spaces. Check out the picture up top of them pushing each other in and out of the trailer. These were the completely free chickens ... they were doing this by choice!

And the way they carry themselves. They're cocky (!), completely oblivious to the much larger size of the people, goats, and cows that they seem to love to annoy.

And finally... I had no idea what the term henpecked meant. According to Webster, it means "to subject (one's husband) to persistent nagging and domination," but I have now seen with my own eyes that it literally means getting pecked by a hen. I would have thought that the life of a rooster in a hen house would be great, but not so. A rooster gets pecked and pecked and pecked, not just by one hen, but by as many as can crowd in close to him. Perhaps the attention is nice, but is it worth the pain?

Monday, April 27, 2009

Almond Biscotti and Hazelnut Cheesecake

The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey's Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.

So this month was my first month of joining The Daring Bakers for a worldwide baking experiment. What am I talking about? Each month, a group of daring bakers all cook the same recipe, pre-chosen by one host, on the same day and then write about it. This month's challenge, as I said, was to make cheesecake with your own personal twist ... any variation you could devise.

I struggled with this one for a few weeks. I wanted to do something besides the obvious chocolate or berry accompaniments, especially since berries are out of season. I finally settled on a mixed nuts theme.

I skipped the graham crackers in the crust (in keeping with my avoidance of processed foods, I can't bring myself to buy one baked good to make another), and instead decided to search for a dry, crispy cookie with a similar texture to a cracker. Turning to one of my favorite cookbooks, I found Anise-Almond Biscotti from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food.

Other than the nutty modifications listed below, I followed the recipe exactly.

I used a 9" springform pan, and heeding the warnings about leakage from the water bath, I layered the inside of the pan with about 4 layers of aluminum foil.

The verdict? The cake was definitely as good as or better than restaurant cheesecake - smooth, creamy and fresh instead of the usual soggy and grainy texture common in so many. The mixed nuts worked well together, and the unsweetened hazelnut topping provided a pleasant contrast to the sweetness of the filling. In the end, it may be a little rich for my tastes, but if it's cheesecake you're after, Abbey's recipe is more fabulous than infamous.

The full cheesecake recipe is on JennyBakes blog.

My modifications

  1. Amaretto is the optional liqueur in the filling.
  2. Substitute crumbs of Anise-Almond Biscotti for the graham crackers in the filling.
  3. Top with 1 cup of toasted, coarsely chopped hazelnuts. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 6 minutes in a 3500F oven. Let nuts cool. Rub between two rough towels to remove as much skin as possible (you'll never get it all). Crush the nuts in a large mortar and pestle, chop or pulse in a food processor to get a coarse, irregular mix. Press the nuts into the top of the chilled cheesecake.
Anise-Almond Biscotti (from Alice Water's The Art of Simple Food)

*(about 40 cookies - I don't recommend it, but you can halve the recipe if you only want enough for the cheesecake)
  • 1 1/2 c. whole almonds
  • 2 1/4 c unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp aniseed
  • 3 eggs, room temperature
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/4 tsp lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 3500F.

On a baking sheet, toast the almonds in the oven for 5 minutes, let cool and then coarsely chop.

Combine in a bowl the flour, baking powder and aniseed.

In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar and lemon zest. Beat until themixture forms a ribbon. Stir in the flour until just incorporated and then gently fold in the almonds.

On a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, form the dough into two 3-inch wide loaves, 3 inches apart. Smooth the loaves with damp hands. Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes. Lower oven temp to 3000F. Cut the loaves into 1/2 inch thick cookies and place cut side down on 2 baking sheets. Cook for 10 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Open Access at Windsor Dairy

In a recent post exploring raw milk, I concluded that because the alleged benefits and safety of raw milk are directly dependent on the living and cleanliness standards of each dairy, one could not safely drink raw milk without seeing first hand the dairy from which the milk is purchased.

This gives me a good reason for a field trip. Bonus - my son is currently going through the obligatory animal obsession phase, so he will probably enjoy it too.

Windsor Dairy is the best known dairy in this area offering raw milk shares*, and conveniently, they also feel pretty strongly that consumers should check out their cows. They require every prospective milk share purchaser to tour the dairy on one of their two weekly tours. So we went, the whole family in tow.

I had no idea what to expect. Having spent my whole life in the suburbs, I'm not even sure that milk comes from cows; I've never seen a live chicken, and I've certainly never seen a baby goat lying asleep with his head nuzzled in the crook of his front leg.

I think I was expecting a big field filled with cows next to an industrial-style milking building, but what I saw was completely surprising.

The farm was like a cross between a petting zoo and a bustling animal city: a city with a downtown (the farmhouse, the shop, the milking building, the chicken coops, the "maternity ward" for young cows and goats and their mothers), a diverse population (cows, chickens, goats, a dog, a horse and a few sheep), rush hour (free range chickens EVERYWHERE), and the burbs (200 acres of pasture just starting to green up).

I was stunned at the perfect balance of manic activity with the easy, timeless pace of nature. The frantic pace of the chickens. (they are so weird that they deserve a post of their own). The heart wrenching cuteness of the kids bumping into each other for access to the trough of hay. The black lab chasing terrified chickens. And all the while, the cows just hanging out watching everything, lazily chewing, chewing, chewing their cud.

In the coming weeks, I'll do a few more posts, one on chickens, just because they're so fun, and the other on the point of my visit - the cows. But before getting into detail, I'll say that the whole place was wonderful, interesting, natural, clean and totally open. It was much more than I'd been hoping to see.

One final note - one of the chicken coops has apparently been taken over by a very exclusive club. See the rules below...

*Colorado is one of many states that prohibits the sale of raw milk. To get around this, raw milk dairies sell shares of cows ... you buy part of a cow for a one-time fee, and then pay a monthly boarding and milking fee to get your milk.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

What is the Food Safety Modernization Act (HR 875)?

A few weeks ago, I got a newsletter from my CSA, Abbondanza. As I scanned my way through it (easter egg hunt, hmm, that might be too advanced for a 2 year old, book club, bummer can't go but that book Slow Money looks interesting, CSA pickups start in May, yay!), I noticed a quick footnote at the bottom, "HR875 and S425 are not bad ... do not be afraid to speak up and make these bills take shape to support your community."

Interesting ... a potential blog topic for a rainy day.

Tonight, I finally took the time to find out what this meant. I'll specifically discuss HR875 - the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Where did I start? The first place Google directed me was the horses mouth, congress's website. It had a summary, the full text and the current status of the bill. So, so, so dry. I could hardly get through the summary. As far as I could tell, it creates one agency to manage food safety and by the way, we need some food safety regulation.

I should probably try to find the Cliff notes.

The next references I found were to numerous blogs and websites claiming that this bill will mean the end of small farming, it's sponsored by evil GMO giants Monsanto, and that you'll be thrown in jail for growing basil in your kitchen window. Hmmm, this doesn't sound good. The government and their agro-business lobbyists are out to get us again.

Ok, so after about two more hours of research, I think I found a few voices of reason. In particular, I found a thoughtful analysis from Tom Philpott of Grist. He explains it a little better in a podcast on Good Food on KCRW.

He says the main intention of the bill is to create one agency (there are currently 15) that ensures the safety of food sold in supermarkets.

Is the bill a good bill? Not necessarily. It doesn't account for the difference in scale between mass produced food and food from artisinal producers. For instance he points out that inspections are a good thing, but if small producers with low profit margins have to pay for them, this will make their business less viable.

Is the bill a bad thing? Not necessarily. First, it hasn't progressed very far, so it still has the potential to change. Second, it is not as potentially destructive to small farmers as other bills which are currently further along (HR 1332 and HR 759).

His main takeaway, and that of a few other seemingly rational voices I found out there, is that this bill has the potential to be good and it is still in a stage where citizens can have an influence, so they should. Small growers do need safety regulation, ones that do not harm their business, and they should work to create these. For example, see what some farmers in Maine are up to. This link also contains a brief summary of the other bills mentioned above.

One final thought/side rant. I found it interesting that many of the rumours about this bill surround its status. It is either: already passed, will be passed in a week, or will be passed tomorrow if this blog post is not emailed to 30 of your closest friends in the next 30 minutes.

In my search "house bill hr 875", the first link returned was to the government website with a status showing that it is in committee. That wasn't too hard.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Step Away from the Banana

I haven't been blogging as much as I'd like to lately. It's not because I'm not thinking about it or because I have run out of topics ... actually it's the opposite. As I do more and more research, I get sucked into the wealth of interesting information out there. I want to draw it all together somehow, introduce you to a few interesting articles you may not have found, and then point out interesting conclusions or questions that were left out.

But there is too much. So instead, I just keep reading and thinking...

This week's fascinating topic? The economics of locavorism.

After reading the New York Times' column by James McWilliams on the topic of not-so-free range pigs, about which I wrote last week, I found more interesting columns from him and also from the Freakonomics blog in The New York Times.

The theme - eating local is not a panacea to all of our environmental and economic woes. A few of the major points:

  • Food miles travelled is not necessarily an indicator of the carbon footprint of a food. For example, lamb raised in New Zealand on their abundant source of clover and then shipped to Britain, requires about 1/4 of the energy of lamb raised in Britain which must be supplemented with feed. Therefore, while the distance a food has traveled is a nice metric to follow, the environmentally minded consumer must actually think about the entire life cycle of the item to determine the least impactful choice.1
  • Most places are not suited to growing a diverse, healthy diet year round. 2 Therefore, the amount of fossil fuel and water that must be devoted to producing such a diet locally is offset by any reduction in fossil fuel spent on transporting it from a more suitable climate. 3 Actually, I guess this a slightly different statement of the previous point. Oh well, I like it. Maybe I should edit more, but tonight I'm not going to ;)
  • What about economics of scale? Large scale farming of only tomatoes is efficient in a way that cannot be reproduced by small farmers or home-gardeners, regardless of whether the climate is suited to growing tomatoes.
  • Consumers would have to adopt a radically different diet if they were to avoid, for instance, bananas, which can't even grow in this country.
  • How local is local enough? If everyone agreed to eat food grown within a 100 mile radius, it wouldn't be possible to feed all of New York City. Does this mean that everyone should leave?

While all of these are certainly interesting points, I'm left, as usual, with more questions than answers.

How sustainable long-term is large scale farming? How much soil is depleted and resources are required by repeatedly farming the same tomato crop on the same plot of soil?

What about the non-economic value of a fresh, varied diet? While variety can certainly be added to a diet by importing tropical fruits from abroad, it can also be added by redeveloping countless heirloom plant varieties not sold in supermarkets. Fruit and veg (and meat) sold in supermarkets is bred for two things, consistency and yield. Whether grown locally or not, a diet consisting year round of the same single variety each of strawberries, carrots, potatoes, spinach, apples and bananas may be efficient but I doubt if it provides us with the complex set of nutrients you can get from experimenting with regional varieties. Local farmers aren't in it for the efficiency, that's true. They're in it for exactly this inefficient diversity, among other things. And I like that.

Ok, ok, each of these columns raises some interesting points, and while I don't wholeheartedly agree, I definitely have some things to think about.

But geez, who are these extremists to which these columns refer? Yes, Barbara Kingsolver managed to do it, and write about it (is her book published on locally sourced paper?), but what about the rest of us? According to those close to me, I am BY FAR the most extreme local eater of anyone I know. And yes, I do eat bananas. And I only feel a little guilty about it. Ok, maybe a lot. But I still do it.

1 Food That Travels Well, James McWilliams. The New York Times: August 6, 2007

2 Do We Really Need a Few Billion Locavores, Stephen J. Dubner. The New York Times: June 9, 2008.

3 Will the Anti-Locavorism Never End, Stephen J. Dubner and James McWilliams. The New York Times: August 26, 2008.

Friday, April 17, 2009

(Finally Enough) Chocolate Mousse Cake

I've been analyzing some pretty serious topics lately (free-range pigs, raw milk). Weighed down by the endless list of thought-provoking issues I'd like to discuss, I need a break. What better diversion than joining in the fun for Poornima's first event on the Tasty Treats blog TASTY TREATS....: Announcing... "For the Love of Chocolate!!"

Let's step back for a moment to discuss the topic of desserts, specifically chocolate ones. We have a love/hate relationship. I love to eat chocolate desserts, but I am always left feeling either unsatisfied or guilty. If I eat enough to satisfy my intense dark chocolate craving, I feel just a bit guilty. If I stop at what most might consider a reasonable quantity, well, that's just not chocolatey enough.

So for this dessert, I had one requirement, and one requirement only. Blow me away with the richest chocolate dessert I'd ever had. Well, I think this one comes pretty close ... Nothing fancy, just a LOT of rich, dark chocolate.

From one of my favorite cookbooks, Darina Allen's Ballymaloe Cookery Course, here it is. Two layers of light, airy chocolate, separated and covered by a thick coating of heavenly, dark, rich, smooth ganache. I'd say there is only one special technique to this recipe... buy good chocolate. I used Callebaut Bittersweet. At about $10/pound (and this recipe uses half a pound), it's not cheap, but really, is there any better use for five dollars than a killer chocolate cake? No contest.

Garden Cafe Chocolate Mousse Cake

  • 3 organic eggs
  • 250 g (8 oz) caster sugar
  • 6 Tbs water
  • 110 g (4 oz) white flour
  • 25 g (1 oz) unsweetened cocoa
  • 1 tsp baking powder

  • 300 ml (1/2 pt) heavy whipping cream
  • 225 (8 oz) really good dark chocolate, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 1900C/3750F.

Line the bases of two 8 inch cake pans with parchment paper, then butter the bottom and sides and dust with cocoa.

Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and sugar for two minutes. Blend in the water. Whisk until firm and creamy, about 10 minutes. I strongly recommend using a mixer because this does take a while. Sift in the flour, cocoa and baking powder.

Beat the egg whites in a separate bowl to stiff peaks, then fold them very gently into the yolk mixture.

Divide the mixture between the two pans and bake for about 30 minutes. Cool on a rack.

Meanwhile make the ganache. Put the cream in a heavy, non-reactive saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Stir or whisk until smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a large bowl and whisk until just stiff enough to pipe. Do not over-whisk or it will curdle and separate.

Sandwich the cakes together with the ganache. Spread the rest over the tops and sides of the cake.

Sit back, admire your creation, and then dig in. I recommend two slices for the beginner.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Free Range Pork is Safer, Right?

The New York Times carried quite an interesting op-ed piece from James McWilliams this weekend disputing the safety of pork from free-range pigs. The article is interesting and short, so I won't analyze it in detail here, but I will summarize a few of his more interesting points:

  • A study was done last year to test the levels of dangerous pathogens in more than 600 anti-biotic free, free-range pigs. Levels of pathogens causing toxoplasmosis and salmonella were found to be substantially higher than in confined pigs, and 2 pigs were found to have the dangerous parasite trichina, which has been eradicated from confined pigs.
  • Free-range pigs can come into contact with dangerous contaminants from which confined pigs are protected, specifically rats, cats and contaminated soil.
  • Free-range does not mean wild. It is somewhere halfway between confined and wild. Since animal husbandry began, humans have been searching for ways to control meat production such that it is safe and consistent - this is not a new practice. Much of the process followed in industrial pork production is to protect against exactly the diseases identified in the study.
  • While free-range may make the pork taste better, and make us feel better because the pigs are supposedly leading a more natural lifestyle, ultimately it is another form of meat production, one which disregards the dangers against which the confinement of pigs is trying to protect and which isn't really close at all to pigs natural wild state.

I found this article interesting because it calls into question my assumption that free range is always the best choice for meat. I find especially intriguing the idea that any form of meat production, as opposed to hunting meat, is industrial, no matter how PC it seems. Here are a few of the questions I was left with:

  • What exactly does free-range mean for the pigs in the cited study? Like beef, I'd guess there are vastly differing environments for how free-range pigs are raised and fed. Is there a concept of pastured vs. free-range for pigs?
  • When compared with free-range pigs, what issues surround confined pork production? You may remember the recent Irish pork recall due to the contamination of a small amount of pig feed. (By the way, I hope I'm never forced to eat anything called "feed." I like my food to have names. Just a thought.)
  • Is any kind of pork consumption, short of meat from hunted pigs, safe to eat? Just why are there so many religious and social taboos against eating pork as opposed to other meats? Could this be an evolutionary safety mechanism?

These are interesting questions that I'd like to begin exploring. I've been steering clear of pork for a while, and until I better inform myself, I will probably continue to do so.

A few last points:

The La Vida Locavore blog carried an interesting response to this piece that claims the study referenced was funded by the National Pork Board (although I can't figure out how this was determined). The article and comments show that once again, this is a complex subject that requires detailed research on the part of any consumer striving for a complete understanding of what he or she is eating.

James McWilliams has a book coming out soon entitled Just Food: How Locavores Are Endangering the Future of Food and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly. I can't wait, but I really hope this doesn't mean that I have to reconsider some of my opinions ;)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Nature's Perfect Power Bar - cashews, chocolate and apricots

I am what you might call a mildly enthusiastic runner and biker. A few years ago, I would have classified myself as very enthusiastic, and I was about as regimented as it gets. Part of my regimen naturally involved "power" food.

I was into it all - the gels, the bars, the energy drink. I timed workouts meticulously such that I consumed just the right number of calories at just the right intervals in just the right proportions.

You're probably thinking that this doesn't sound very consistent with my philosophies on eating local, natural food. Well, it isn't. And as the years have passed and I've become more interested in really understanding what I'm eating, I don't feel comfortable buying or consuming these little processed energy units.

So what's the alternative? Make my own of course!

My requirements - a combination of quick and slow burning carbohydrates, some salt, a little protein and fat all wrapped up in a neat package. I could carry a banana, a piece of whole wheat bread, some nuts and a few chocolate chips in the pocket of my cycling jersey, but that isn't quite the level of portability I'm hoping for.

Geez, I always do these long, long intros and then finally get around to the point. Basically, my husband and I have been trying to find the perfect natural power bar recipe.

I like the way oatmeal cookies go down - they seem to stay with you, without giving a sugar rush, and they carry other ingredients without breaking down. So this is where we started.

After experimenting with a few different recipes and even more variations, we've finally come pretty close.

As a coincidence, I just came across the following event on the Tasty Treats Blog:

Thanks for giving me the inspiration to write it down, Poornima!

So while we haven't finished our quest, and I will have to confess that none of these "power cookies" have actually made it onto a ride or a run, they have become a weekly feature in our house.

Here they are, modified from a recipe in King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking. A little sweet, a little salty, filling but not greasy or heavy, chewy but sturdy enough to hold together in a pocket (as previously mentioned, though, this theory is untested). Delicious AND healthy!!!
One final note/confession... my husband is actually the baker on these great cookies. I'm the happy consultant and consumer.

Nature's Perfect Power Cookie (modified from Nutty for Oats Cookies) makes 24 cookies

  • 1/3 c. smooth peanut butter, room temperature
  • 2 Tbs. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/8 c. (2 3/4 oz) dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 large egg, room temperature
  • 1/2 c. (1 3/4 oz) rolled oats, ground for 30 seconds in a food processor
  • 3/4 c. (2 5/8 oz) rolled oats
  • 3/4 c. chocolate chips
  • 1/2 c. roasted, salted cashews
  • 10 dried apricots
Preheat the oven to 3750F. Grease 2 baking sheets or line with parchment paper.

Soak the apricots in hot water for a few minutes, then drain and slice thinly.

Cream the peanut butter, butter and sugar in a medium bowl until lightened in color. Mix in the vanilla and egg. In a separate bowl, mix both types of oats and the baking soda, then mix this into the wet ingredients. Add the chocolate chips, cashews and apricots. Drop the dough by tablespoonfuls onto the baking sheets.

Bake until the cookies are just set and beginning to brown around the edges, about 13-15 minutes. Let the cookies cool completely on the pan.

Variations: Any combination of additions can be used as long as it adds up to about 1 and a half cups. We've used raisins, dried cranberries, coconut, and walnuts. They're all good, but the apricot, chocolate, cashew combination is definitely the best.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Snow Welcomes the Boulder Farmer's Market

Winter was unseasonably warm this year in Boulder. I can't say that I've complained - lots of pleasant, sunny runs and bike rides, made only slightly less pleasant by an eerie, nagging feeling that this was warning of an oh-so-hot Boulder summer. Not to worry, just as spring arrived on the calendar, winter arrived in force. We've had snow every other day, mixed with cloudy, brisk winds.

I was worried that Friday evening's snowfall would mean cancellation for the first farmer's market of the season, but my fears proved to be unfounded. By late morning, the snow had subsided and the temperature was in the low 40's. I decided to head downtown with my son to see what I could find.

Sure enough, the market was on. Admittedly, there weren't too many stalls or people. The hot food area only had a natural burger stand and one selling corn tamales, and the rest of the market was just as thinly populated. But there was enough - I got some good veggies and a few other luxuries to boot.

  • parsnips - just harvested from Cure Organic Farm. Unbelievably, they're small ones, which are not easy to find; these have a more delicate texture than the large ones typical in fall. Two pounds should be enough for two good meals.
  • salad mix - also from Cure.
  • sunchokes - at $5 for a bag of about 1.5 lb, this is an unusually low price. After eating carrots, potatoes, onions and winter squash for the last million weeks, I couldn't bring myself to ask if they were organic or why they were so cheap. Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are a delicious root vegetable from the sunflower family and related to artichokes. They taste similar to artichokes but are less work to prepare and are delicious in soups and gratins. We had them last night in a pureed sunchoke and potato soup.
  • chocolate truffles - from Seth Ellis, a local organic chocolatier. I do wonder what "local" chocolate means, as chocolate is a tricky subject if you're interested in eating food with a small carbon footprint. Mr. Ellis's chocolate is from Peru, processed in Belgium and then shipped here via a few other places. This is probably a topic for another day, but I eat a LOT of dark chocolate, and the circuitous trail seems to be pretty similar for all brands, organic or not.
  • whole wheat bread from Udi's Bakery - I have such bread envy
  • Winechick White wine from Augustina's Winery just about a mile from our house. I'm not a great judge of wine, but I did enjoy this one, which was reasonably priced at $12.

All in all, it was worth the journey. I think I bought the only three types of vegetables for sale in the whole market, but they should be enough to create some much needed variety in our menu this week.

Viva la Farmer's Market!!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Ode to Jamie

When I started this blog, I knew that one of the early things I wanted to do was pay tribute to my first cooking love and hero Jamie Oliver. I haven't done it yet because I have a (not so) secret hope of sending him a link to this and that he might actually be interested in reading it - but until I had more content, who would be interested in reading it. Well I have 30 entries now, all of them way too long, so I'll proceed...

First love? You're probably thinking, hmm, that's a bit celebrity-stalker-ish. I mean love strictly in the food sense. I'll start at the beginning.

Let's go back to the year 2000. My husband and I enjoyed a leisurely lifestyle of lazy lie-ins, all day bike rides, sunny afternoons on the West End rooftop patio drinking beer in the shadow of the flatirons (back before the view was blocked by hideous condos), eating out for pretty much every meal, and definitely not cooking. Sounds pretty good right? Actually it wasn't bad. Then he came along.

One night we were watching TV, eating sandwiches from Snarf's (really good sandwiches, actually), and this show came on called The Naked Chef. My husband says, "I've been meaning to tell you about this show. It's hilarious."

I'm sure by now, everyone has seen the reruns, but at the time, it was an all new concept. Like The Real World meets Emeril and goes to Britain with a cool DJ in the background. I was sucked in. For the food? Yea right. For the coolness/dorkiness. On the one hand, the funky kitchen, cool friends just "stopping by" and Jamie's crazy accent seemed so contrived. On the other hand, I wanted to have a funky kitchen, cool friends and a crazy accent.

As I sat back to enjoy my sandwich and laugh at the ridiculousness of such a trendy show, something caught my eye.

"Hey, do you see what he's making? That fish looks really good. And it actually looks kind of easy to make."

I was mesmerized. For the first time in my life, I was actually considering buying and cooking fish.

The blur of infatuation that followed is a little hazy for me to remember now... did I buy the first cookbook the next day, or did I watch a few episodes first? It all happened so fast.

The first cookbook, also called The Naked Chef, kept the promise that the show had made... and this is really what got me hooked. The beautiful, glossy pictures draw you in, but the freshness and ease of the recipes is what keeps you coming back for more.

Jamie doesn't advertise himself as a health food chef, but in my opinion, it doesn't get any healthier. From the beginning, he has been a strong advocate for eating wholesome, organic, natural food - lots of vegetables and herbs in place of pre-made sauces and canned ingredients. That is the origin of the nickname Naked Chef.

Yea, he is a bit of a commercial empire. He has a million cookbooks, I think Jamie Makes a Sandwich is the latest one, but he's done a lot more than get rich. He is one of the strongest voices in the western world to advocate for eating organic, local food, including leading an ongoing campaign to improve school lunches in Britain.

That influence has changed my life forever. From the first time I cooked Fish in a Bag, a whole new world opened for me. Since then I've moved on to other amazing chefs and cookbooks. I don't need the glossy pictures and cool TV shows anymore to get me interested in turning on the stove, but I will always have a special place in my heart for Jamie. There is only one celebrity I'd ever be interested in meeting. And if I did meet him, I would just say Thanks.

I probably shouldn't do this, but here is my favorite Jamie Oliver recipe. Simple and bursting with amazing flavors. From The Naked Chef - which I highly recommend...

Fish Baked in a Bag with Marinated Cherry Tomatoes, Black Olives and Basil

  • 4 fish fillets, about 6-8 oz each (I usually use wild salmon)
  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 3/4 c dry white wine
  • 1 handful black olives, pitted
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1/2 small dried red chili, crumbled
  • 1 handful fresh basil or marjoram, roughly chopped
  • 2-3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 20 cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
Put the olives, garlic, chili, herbs, extra virgin olive oil and tomatoes into a bowl and toss. Leave for half an hour, then add the lemon juice and seasoning to taste.

Season the fish on both sides with salt and pepper. For each fillet, take a large piece of aluminum foil. Place 1/4 of the tomato mixture in the center of one half. Lay the fish on top of the tomatoes. Fold the foil over and seal two sides by folding over tightly. Add 1 Tbs olive oil and a quarter of the white wine, then seal the remaining side. Bake at 4750 for approximately 10 minutes. I'm not sure why, but this recipe tastes much better when cooked on the grill. Let the fish rest in the bag for 3-4 minutes before opening.

Serve each unopened bag on a plate, to enjoy the fish, tomatoes, juices and all.