Saturday, April 4, 2009

Cville City Market opening day

There wasn't that much produce to buy yet at the market, but I did buy greens that I hadn't ever come across in California - creasy greens. They are a kind of mild winter cress with about the same degree of bite as baby arugula. And like purslane, they grow like a weed here. I'm told they become like spinach when cooked.
Euell Gibbons, in his book "Stalking the Healthful Herbs," says that 100 grams of winter cress contain an impressive 5,067 I.U. of vitamin A and 152 milligrams of vitamin C. By comparison, oranges, known as a good source of vitamin C, provide a comparatively measly 50 milligrams of C per 100 grams.

The two photos, the creasy greens, above, and
the plants to the right below, were taken by me.

You can see the creasy greens also
 in the slideshow below, in a wooden crate.
The slideshow photos were taken by Jim.

Charlottesville City Market opens!

We're off to the farmers market; I'll post photos when we return.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Asian white pepper alert

Your white pepper is probably safe. But if you have any ground white pepper packaged under the Lian How or Uncle Chen brands, throw it out. The spice, imported from Vietnam, is contaminated with salmonella and has sickened a number of people on the West Coast.

Wondering how a spice could pick up salmonella? Food science writer Harold McGee had an excellent post here on the processing of white pepper and how it can pick up off-flavors. It didn't mention bacterial contamination, but you easily can see how it might happen.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good food for the G20

From The (Manchester, UK) Guardian, Jamie Oliver's menu for the G20 dinner tonight:

Organic salmon from Shetland, served with samphire and sea kale, a selection of vegetables from Sussex, Surrey and Kent, and Irish soda bread.
Goat's cheese starter (vegetarian)

Main course
Slow-roasted shoulder of lamb from the Elwy Valley in north Wales, with Jersey Royal potatoes, wild mushrooms and mint sauce.
Lovage and potato dumplings for the main course (vegetarian)

Bakewell tart and custard

Bakewell Tart by Jamie Oliver
from Jamie's Dinners
(Hyperion, 2004)
Serves 8

1 vanilla bean, optional
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup powdered sugar
Small pinch of salt
2 scant cups flour
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cold milk or water

12 ounces blanched whole almonds
1 cup plus 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
3 free-range eggs
6 tablespoons good-quality strawberry jam
1 pint crème fraîche

1. Score down the length of the vanilla bean, if using, and remove the seeds by scraping a knife down the inside of each half (keep the pod for making vanilla sugar).
2. Cream together the butter, powdered sugar, and salt and then rub in the flour, vanilla seeds, lemon zest, and egg yolks — you can do all this by hand or in a food processor. When the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs, add the cold milk or water. Pat and gently work the mixture together until you have a ball of dough, then flour it lightly and roll it into a large sausage shape — don't work the pastry too much, otherwise it will become too elastic and chewy, not flaky and short as you want it to be.
3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for at least an hour. Remove it from the fridge, slice it up, and line an 11-inch tart mold with the slivers. Push them together, then tidy up the sides by trimming off any excess. Place the tart mold in the freezer for an hour.
4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, then take the pastry out of the freezer and bake for around 15 minutes or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven, place to one side, and turn the heat down to 325 degrees.

1. Blitz the whole almonds in a food processor until you have a fine powder and put this into a bowl.
2. Now blitz the butter and sugar until light and creamy. Add this to the almonds with the lightly beaten eggs and fold in until completely mixed and smooth. Place in the fridge to firm up slightly.
3. Smear the jam over the bottom of the pastry shell, pour the chilled frangipane mixture on top, and sprinkle with some sliced blanched almonds. Bake the tart for about 40 minutes, or until the almond mixture has become firm and golden on the outside but is still soft in the middle.
4. Allow to cool for about 30 minutes and serve with crème fraîche or custard.

Recipe © 2004 Jamie Oliver. All rights reserved.

Lettuce examine the roots

When I first saw "living lettuce" in the stores, I doubted it was worth the extra cost. But three weeks ago, when I had a hankering for butter lettuce to eat with my tuna salad for lunch, I bought one of them in a clamshell and added a little water for its roots when I got home. Well, there is still a bit of it in the fridge and it's still just as fresh as when I bought it.

And I was even more impressed with it after viewing the video below. Most lettuce is more economical to buy by the traditional head, and since we have salad at almost every meal, there isn't usually the problem of any of it going to waste. But for specialty lettuces, I'm not going to feel too bad about spending a little extra for one with roots.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Days without food...

Sorry I haven't posted in a couple of days; been dealing with the gang who is trying to get us into a new house (and a new kitchen!). Besides, it's April Fool's Day, so why would you believe anything I said, anyway? I'll post tomorrow morning before things get all crazy again.

Meanwhile, here are some links to today's food sections:

Mark Bittman (The Minimalist) on Spanish tortillitas, with recipe.

Brown rice, once synonymous with hippies and vegetarianism, gets mainstream respect. San Francisco Chronicle.

And an asparagus recipe from Debbie Arrington of The Sacramento Bee:

Crispy California asparagus straws

Prep time: 35 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Serves 9 (36 straws total, 4 per serving)

This is a fast appetizer with great flavor. You can prepare them ahead of time and bake just before serving. As an option you can add a slice of prosciutto when you roll the asparagus up in the dough.

36 asparagus spears
4 sheets of phyllo dough, thawed
1/4 cup butter, melted
4 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated, divided use
Salt and pepper to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Trim ends of asparagus. Blanche asparagus in boiling salted water until lightly tender to the bite, about 3 minutes.
Place one sheet of phyllo on a cutting board. Set aside the remaining sheets, cover with a damp towel. Brush the phyllo sheet with melted butter. Cut the sheet into nine rectangles, two cuts down from the top, two cuts across.
Place an asparagus spear at the bottom of the short side of the rectangle with the tip sticking out from the dough by two inches. Sprinkle on a teaspoon of cheese. Roll up spear and seal with butter. Finish with remaining spears.
Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, salt and pepper. Cover the exposed asparagus tips with foil. Bake until golden brown and crispy 10 to 12 minutes. Serve warm.

Per serving: 181 cal.; 9 g pro.; 30 g carb.; 3 g fat (1 sat.); 3 mg chol.; 338 mg sod.; 2 g fiber; 14 percent calories from fat.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Food on the block

Move over hunters and gatherers, and make way for those with the numbered paddles. According to the Associated Press, grocery auctions are gaining in popularity as an easy way to cut costs. The sales operate like regular auctions, but with bidders vying for dry goods and frozen foods instead of antiques and collectibles. Some auctioneers even accept food stamps. 

One story I read in the Baltimore Sun about a week ago on using up your pantry staples was interesting on its face, but when I called it up, I realized the only item on the list that had ever gone bad on me was tahini. (There's only so much hummus and tahini dressing two people can use, even if you throw parties regularly.) Here's the rest of the list; for suggestions on how to use them up before they go bad, click here.

Bananas - Capers - Carrots - Celery - Chipotles in adobo sauce - Cilantro - Cilantro - Coconut milk -Cottage cheese -  Egg whites - Egg yolks - Garlic - Mayonnaise - Oranges - Pumpkins - Ricotta cheese - Romaine lettuce - Scallions - Sour cream - Tahini - Tomato paste

Photograph: Auctioneer Kirk Williams calls out to costumers during a grocery auction in Dallas, Pa., earlier this month. As consumers seek relief from the recession and spiraling food prices, grocery auctions are gaining in popularity as an easy way to cut costs. (Matt Rourke / The Associated Press)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Snippets and snipes

I thought today I’d make a note of recent food news and opinion from around the nation.

From today’s Detroit Free Press editorial page:
If those carrots you bought at the local supermarket the other day are looking a little tired, it isn't their fault. Their journey to your refrigerator was likely an arduous one - typically in excess of 1,800 miles.
That broccoli hiding under the carrots likely traveled as far - even if, like most Americans, you live within a few dozen miles of a broccoli farmer. No wonder it's looking a little brown.
It wasn't always this way. As recently as the 1950s, most of what Michiganders ate was produced or raised close to their homes. The state's 151,000 farms sold most of what they grew or raised to local food outlets, selling only the excess to other states and countries.
Today, Michigan has only a third as many farms - and most of what they produce ends up in freezers or pantries far from the Great Lakes State.
Michiganders still consume huge quantities of fresh produce themselves. But the great majority of those fruits and vegetables are imported from other states and countries.
Like most arrangements that seem absurd on their face, this one follows a certain economic logic.
The big supermarket chains that distribute most of the nation's fresh produce are partial to drier climate varieties that travel well.
Michigan growers typically do better selling the state's succulent fruits and vegetables to food processing companies that freeze, dehydrate or can them for distribution worldwide.
But Michiganders concerned about food safety and the diminished nutritional value of processed foods, plus the high monetary and environmental costs of shipping food across vast distances, are hungry for fruits, vegetables, meat and dairy goods produced closer to where they live -- and farmers, distributors and retailers are all responding.
Now it's up to policymakers to promote a trend that promises enormous benefits to Michigan's health, environment and economic vitality.

From Reuters news service: Many U.S. food handlers do not maintain proper records to track products such as milk and oatmeal, making it hard to identify the source of a food-borne outbreak, a government investigator said on Thursday.
A review by the inspector general's office in the Health and Human Services Department found 59 percent of foodmakers, transporters, warehouses, retailers and other facilities in the study failed to meet requirements to keep records about sources, recipients and transporters of food.
A quarter of the firms were unaware they were required to do so by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), according to the review, which was based on a traceback test of 40 products, including milk, oatmeal and leafy vegetables.
The traceback test found in most cases the facility that "likely" handled the product was identified. Five items were traced throughout the entire supply chain, while investigators had trouble identifying who handled four of the products.
The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 requires produce processors and distributors to keep track of where food goes and has arrived from, enabling the FDA to use the records to track a product when there is a serious health threat.
Restaurants and farms are not covered by this requirement.
The pitfalls of the system were exposed last year when health officials took months to find the source of a salmonella outbreak. After first pointing to tomatoes as the source, the strain was later identified as coming from Mexican peppers.
The FDA defended that investigation, saying the process was delayed by poor record-keeping and delays checking paperwork. But critics called for a national tracking system.
"Traceability today is simply not good enough," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, chairwoman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the FDA.
"It's inconsistent, unreliable and these findings confirm, what many in Congress already believe: That we need to do better," said DeLauro, who has introduced a bill that would improve food supply tracking.
Requiring a firm that handles a food product to maintain records of every facility or farm that handled the product and allowing the FDA to request a firm's record any time are among recommendations to strengthen the system.

From the Los Angeles Times: Adding to the chorus seeking an overhaul of the nation's food safety system, a report issued Wednesday called on the Obama administration to put someone in charge of safeguarding the food supply and to create a Food Safety Administration.
The food safety system is "plagued with problems," said Jeffrey Levi, executive director of Trust for America's Health, which released the report in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
"We are way overdue for a makeover," said Michelle Larkin, director of the foundation's Public Health Team. "It costs us around $44 billion annually in medical care and lost productivity, so the stakes are really high."
Michael Taylor, a former FDA deputy and a professor at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services, said obsolete laws focus on reacting to problems rather than preventing them, and the agency is underfunded. Also, he said, there is no unified system for inspection, enforcement and notifying the public of dangers.

From the Associated Press: Drug industry advocates are quietly allying with some of their longtime critics pushing to split the Food and Drug Administration into two agencies, one for food safety and one for medical products.
President Barack Obama bolstered hopes for a breakup last Saturday when he named two public health specialists to the agency's top positions and appointed an advisory group to reassess the nation's decades-old food safety laws.
Drug executives see a chance to speed up drug approvals that have lagged amid a drought of new products, provided their regulator is no longer distracted by high-profile food-safety breakdowns.
"Every CEO that I know in health care is in favor of this, but none that value their share prices will go on the record for fear of retribution from the FDA," said Steve Brozak, president of WBB Securities, an investment brokerage focused on drug and biotech companies.
While FDA's food and drug staffs are separate, Brozak and others believe the public lashings over food outbreaks have made senior officials even more risk-averse on drug approvals.