Saturday, May 9, 2009

Special delivery

Don't forget to leave a can (or cans) of food out by your mailbox today. Letter carriers will be bringing the food they collect to area food banks. Every little bit helps in these hard times; be as generous as you can.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Spring sprung from the earth

I've written how I've come to view fava beans, with their short growing season, as the herald of spring. And they almost are exclusively a home cook's dish, since their preparation time precludes most restaurants from offering them.

Another lovely springtime offering, which also is best fresh, is morels. Even in season, they are very pricey, but the good news is that you don't need but a few ounces to make an impact in a dish. The photograph is of a black morel, courtesy of The Great Morel Picture Page.

If you go hunting for morels yourself, the good news is that the only similar poisonous mushroom is the false morel, and even that one can be tolerated by most people if cooked (but even in Finland, where the false morel is a cherished delicacy, there are deaths from eating them). Here's a bit more information on identifying the difference:
The early false morels can be told apart from the true morels by careful study of how the cap is attached to the stalk. The edge of true morels' (morchella) caps are intergrown with the stalk, but early morels' (verpas) caps hang over like a thimble, for which they are sometimes referred to as "thimble morel." Early false morels are the first morels to fruit in the spring, shortly after leaves begin to form on deciduous trees. Narrow-head morels (morchella angusticeps) fruit next, around May. The last morels to fruit are the yellow or white morels (Morchella esculenta), then crassipes.
Cap: the cap of false morels is wrinkled and irregular, bell shaped or cone shaped, attached only at apex (top) of cap not like true morels which have caps that are attached at the bottom, the color yellow brown to olive yellow or tan, darkens with age.
Stalk: 6-16 cm high, white to creamy or tan, hollow, often stuffed with white cottony pith. Spores when seen under a microscope are elliptical and have large oil droplets; true morels have no oil droplets.

Here's how we used a few fresh morels (purchased from Foods of All Nations) last night.

Twice-as-nice-a-roni with fava beans and morels
Serves 4 as a side dish

Ingredients
1 pound fava beans
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided use
1/2 cup angel hair pasta, broken into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup basmati or other long grain rice
2 cups non-fat chicken or turkey broth
1 teaspoon butter
4 ounces fresh morels, sliced
Fresh ground pepper

Instructions
Prepare fava beans: Remove the beans from the spongy pods (the pods and the bean casings make great additions to your compost pile). Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the raw beans in their casings. Fill a bowl with water and ice. When the beans have returned to a boil, remove them from the boiling water and put in the bowl of ice water. When cool, remove the beans from their casings. Set aside.

In a saucepan that has a tight fitting lid, saute the pasta bits and the rice in a tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat until the rice turns white and the pasta browns. Add the broth and bring to a true boil (the liquid will look like it's boiling when you add it to the hot grains, but will then subside), then cover and turn down the heat to simmer. Set a timer for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, saute the mushrooms in the butter and teaspoon of olive oil. Add a generous grinding of pepper. When they are almost softened, add the fava beans, and heat until they are just warm.

When the rice/pasta is done, add the morels/favas and stir gently to mix. Serve hot.

Note: If you want more vegetables, a half-pound of crisp-tender asparagus cut in 1/2 slices would be a good addition.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gone viral

In the "well, duh" category comes this warning by Jorgen Schlundt, director of the World Health Organization's Department of Food Safety, Zoonoses and Foodborne Diseases:
"Sick animals should not enter the food chain. If you are following existing guidelines it (the virus) will not get into the human food chain," he said in an e-mail to Reuters reporter Tan Ee Lyn today.
It is possible for flu viruses such as the new H1N1 strain to survive the freezing process and be present in thawed meat, as well as in blood, Schlundt said. But the virus that has been sending folks to the hospital has been passed from human to human by airborne transmission, not from pig to human by foodborne transmission.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Oscar night, for foodies

The 2009 James Beard Foundation Awards, which honor professionals in the food and beverage industries, were presented last night, with the media awards on Sunday night. The ceremony was hosted by Cat Cora, Emeril Lagasse and Stanley Tucci at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall. For a complete list of winners, click here.

Highlights from this year's list of winners include:
  • Outstanding Restaurant: Jean Georges (Chef/Owner: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Owner: Phil Suarez, New York, NY)
  • Outstanding Chef: Dan Barber (Blue Hill, New York, NY)
  • Rising Star Chef: Nate Appleman (A16, San Francisco, CA)
  • Best New Restaurant: Momofuku Ko (Chef/Owners: David Chang and Peter Serpico, New York, NY)
  • Cookbook of the Year: Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes (Author: Jennifer McLagan, Publisher: Ten Speed Press, Editor: Clancy Drake)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award: Ella Brennan (Partner: Commander's Palace Family of Restaurants)
  • Newspaper Food Section: The Washington Post, Joe Yonan
  • Television Food Show, National or Local: Lidia's Italy: Sweet Napoli, Host: Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
  • Website Focusing on Food, Beverage, Restaurant, or Nutrition: Epicurious.com, Tanya Steel
  • Restaurant Reviews: Adam Platt, New York Magazine, "Faux French"; "The Mario of Midtown"; "Corton on Hudson", 07/14/08, 09/15/08, 11/24/08
Established in 1990, the James Beard Foundation Awards recognize culinary professionals for excellence and achievement in their fields and continue to emphasize the Foundation's mission: to celebrate, preserve, and nurture America's culinary heritage and diversity. All award winners receive a certificate and a bronze medallion engraved with the James Beard Foundation Awards insignia. There are no cash awards.

James Beard was a cookbook author and teacher with an encyclopedic knowledge about food. He died in 1985. 

Monday, May 4, 2009

A tender, flavorful pork roast

I've been using Forever Roasted Pork from the Tra Vigne Cookbook for a week now: First as a main dish, then as sandwiches, tacos and quesadillas, and a main dish encore warmed then mixed with rice and tomatoes cooked together. So good, and too good not to share. So here's the original recipe.

Forever Roasted Pork
Recipe courtesy Michael Chiarello

Prep time: 1 hour 20 min (not including the time to bring pork to room temp)
Cook time: 8 hours (or so)
Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients
4 pounds pork leg or shoulder
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage leaves
Gray salt
Freshly ground black pepper
About 1/4 cup Fennel Spice, recipe follows

Directions
Bring pork to room temperature by removing it from refrigerator 1 to 2 hours before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees F.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until hot. Add the onions, cover pan, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until light brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sage and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions cease throwing off water, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, allow to cool on plate.
Peel back the pork skin, and spread a good amount of the fennel spice and add the onions directly on the fat layer. Fold the skin back over the onions and tie closed with kitchen string. Season well all over with the remaining fennel spice.
Arrange the meat on a rack in a casserole pan lined with foil, drizzle with more olive oil and cook until the meat is very tender, about 8 hours. It is ready when it pulls away easily if picked at with a pair of tongs. It is often easiest to cook the meat overnight, or put it in the oven in the morning and let it cook all day. It does not need to be attended.

Variations: This dish can be simplified or made more elaborate depending on your taste. You can omit the onions and simply season the meat with the fennel spice. You can roast aromatic vegetables until caramelized and add them to the bottom of the roasting pan. Or you can add another layer of flavor to the onions: mince fresh rosemary and fruits such as oranges, kumquats, Meyer lemons, apples, pears, or quince, and cook with the onions, or make a paste of garlic and fresh or dried chiles and add to the onions.

Lori K's note: You don't need to tie up the meat, either. It just won't cut as nicely when it's hot. It's usually done enough after six hours, but I've left it in for as long as 10 hours and it has come out fine, just a little crustier. When you use this in tacos or other Mexican dishes, do not season with other spices, just add jalapenos or salsa to taste. 

Fennel Spice Rub:
1 cup fennel seeds
3 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons white peppercorns
3 tablespoons kosher salt

Put the fennel seeds, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in a heavy pan over medium heat. Watch carefully, tossing frequently so the seeds toast evenly. When light brown and fragrant, pour the seeds onto a plate to cool. They must be cool before grinding, or they will gum up the blades. Pour the seeds into a blender or spice grinder and add the salt. Blend to a fine powder, shaking the blender occasionally to redistribute the seeds. Store in a tightly sealed glass jar in a cool, dry place, or freeze.

Yield: about 1 1/4 cups

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Stress = snacking = excess weight

An unexpected twist of the recession, as reported by Reuters news service last week:
The recession that is shrinking workers' paychecks may also be expanding their waistlines.

One in 10 U.S. workers said they are snacking more during the day due to concerns over the economic situation, and nearly half complained of gaining weight in their jobs, according to a survey by CareerBuilder.com, an online jobs site.

It said 43 percent of employees surveyed reported they have gained weight while in their present jobs. A quarter said they gained more than 10 pounds and a sixth gained more than 20 pounds.

Admitting to eating habits that can contribute to weight gain, 39 percent said they eat out for lunch twice or more a week, and 12 percent buy lunch from a vending machine at least once a week, the survey showed.

Two-thirds said they snack at least once a day, including 24 percent who snack twice a day, it said.

"Weight gain in the office is common and is a result of a variety of issues including today's economic stress and poor eating habits," said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources for CareerBuilder.com.

Only 9 percent of employees exercise at midday, the survey said, although a quarter of U.S. companies provide gym passes, workout facilities or similar benefits, it said.

Women are more likely than men to say they have gained weight, 48 to 39 percent, it said.

The online survey was conducted Feb. 20 through March 11 by Harris Interactive among 4,435 U.S. adults employed full-time. The margin of error was plus or minus 1.47 percentage points.

CareerBuilder.com is owned by Gannett Co, the Tribune Co, McClatchy Co and Microsoft Corp.
Full disclosure here: I worked for the McClatchy Co. for more than 20 years. But they acquired CareerBuilder when they swallowed up the Knight Ridder chain, and I had no contact with that part of the company.

And one thing I noticed in those 20+ years: When the editor and the corporate officers used the gym, and made a point of taking some time out of their day to march down to basement with their gym bags, many of the employees followed suit. Once that stopped happening, the gym gradually emptied, and when I left, it was used only by the most dedicated exercisers.