Saturday, August 22, 2009

Market photos

Taken at Charlottesville City Market on Aug. 22, 2009. © 2009 Lori Korleski Richardson

Off to market!

I'm going over to Charlottesville City Market, and will post photos if it doesn't rain. Happy shopping!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Vegetarian avocado soup

Daniel Hoyer's "Mayan Cuisine: Recipes from the Yucatán Region" is a fabulous cookbook, in presentation, depth and photographs by Marty Snortum (the photo to the right is copyrighted by Gibbs Smith). I'm working on a review of this excellent book, but for a taste of it, here's Crema de Aguacate. It can be served hot or cold and I made it last night as a vegetarian dish, just substituting vegetable broth (my favorite is Seitenbacher instant) for the chicken. Make it vegan as well by substituting coconut cream (a can of Thai Kitchen full fat coconut milk, refrigerated then drained of the thin part, will get you about the amount you'll need for this recipe) for the light cream and use all the juice from half a lime.

Crema de Aguacate
Avocado Soup
"Both hot and versions of this soup are found around the Yucatán. This recipe may be used either way. I use the cold version as an appetizer or palate cleanser in a multi-course meal and serve it warm with some crispy bacon crumbles along with some white rice as a light supper or lunch entree."
Tester's note: Serve it quickly, because the small amount of lime juice isn't strong enough to keep the avocados from turning an unappetizing shade of brown for very long. Adapted from "Mayan Cuisine" (Gibbs Smith, $35, 224 pages).

Serves 4 to 6

1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup tomato, charred then chopped
1 or 2 serrano, yellow hot, New Mexican green or jalapeño chilies or 1/2 chile habanero, well charred and seeded (tested with two jalapeños)
4 cloves garlic, toasted and peeled
2 to 3 Mexican avocado leaves, toasted and ground, or 1/4 teaspoon toasted and ground anise seed (used latter)
3-1/2 cups chicken broth (tested with vegetarian broth)
3 large ripe avocados (Hass preferred)
1/3 cup light cream or half-and-half
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
Garnish suggestions
Vegan/vegetarian: Chopped cilantro, thinly sliced radishes, tortilla chips, pickled red onion, lime slices, sour cream or Mexian crema
Omnivore: Chicharrones or crumbled bacon

Sauté the onion in the oil until soft and just beginning to brown. Add the chopped tomato and fry 2 minutes more.
Add the chilies, garlic, ground avocado leaves or anise seed and broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
Peel, pit and coarsely chop the avocados and add to the broth with the cream and lime juice.
Pureée in a blender, adjust for salt and pepper and serve warm with your choice of garnishes, or chill to serve cold later.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Weight and food stamps

Pity the poverty-stricken: Not only do they have to struggle to find food, the food that is often affordable is quite fattening. And according to one study, even the help that food stamps provide is working against them.

"We can't prove that the Food Stamp Program causes weight gain, but this study suggests a strong linkage," Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at Ohio State University's Center for Human Resource Research, Columbus, noted in a university-issued statement.

Zagorsky and Patricia Smith of the University of Michigan in Dearborn studied nearly 4,000 people in the food stamp program and almost 6,000 not in the program for weight changes.

"While this association does not prove that the Food Stamp Program causes weight gain, it does suggest that program changes to encourage the consumption of high-nutrient, low-calorie foods should be considered," Zagorsky and Smith note in the latest issue of Economics and Human Biology.

In 2008, roughly 28 million people, about 10 percent of U.S. citizens, received benefits from the food stamp program in a given month.

Food stamp participants, Zagorsky and Smith say, may choose cheap, calorie-dense, high-fat, processed foods over healthier, more expensive food because food stamps don't provide enough money to buy healthy foods.

The study says that in 2002 the average recipient received $81 in food stamps per month. "That figure was shocking to me," Zagorsky said. "I think it would be very difficult for a shopper to regularly buy healthy, nutritious food on that budget."

Not factored into the study is the amount of time the poor must sit waiting - for food stamps, for free health care, for transit. Sitting burns few calories, and boredom makes most people want to eat salty or sweet fatty things. Throw in the seductive TV ads for fast food, and you have a sure-fire formula for weight gain.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bourbon and soy and peppers, oh my!

I found some very inexpensive pork butt steaks at the store the other day, but wasn't sure what to do with them. Being pork butt, I knew the best cooking method for that cut was long and slow, but these were thin. So, marinade. But the bottle of vin ordinaire was nowhere to be found.

However, the little brown jug was at hand, so in went a cup of Virginia bourbon, along with 1/2 cup of soy sauce and a teaspoon of habanero hot sauce. I let them marinade for four hours, then seared them on the grill briefly before popping them into a 350-degree oven for about 40 minutes.

Mmm, mmm, mmm. The bite of the bourbon was intensified by the saltiness of the soy and the habanero added spice and just a hint of heat. The meat was tender and moist.

Since it's a fatty cut of meat, be sure to pat off the excess with paper towels before serving. Grilled corn on the cob and a salad with fresh peaches made an excellent grouping.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Vegetable and fruit tips

  • Never put tomatoes in the fridge. It changes their cell structure and causes them to get mealy. (This is one reason that tomatoes picked green and shipped cold don't ever taste as good as garden tomatoes.) And if you are having a hard time slicing them, sharpen your knife. (Tip from the class: Serrated knives work well, too.)
  • Many vegetables, including corn on the cob, are best cooked in the microwave. You can put two ears in, unshucked, cook for 3 minutes, shuck and remove silk easily, then finish on the grill. Brush with butter or oil with your favorite seasonings before serving.
  • To keep cauliflower white while cooking, add a little milk to the water.
  • For truly clean leeks, chop them first, then give them a bath in cold water and drain in a colander.
  • If you need only 1/2 an onion, save the root half. It will last longer.
  • When tossing a salad with a basic vinaigrette, always make the vinaigrette at least 1/2 hour ahead of time and let the mixture sit to allow the flavors to marry. Pour the vinaigrette on the chopped additions to the greens -- tomatoes, cucumbers, radishes, carrots, sunflower seeds, sprouts, etc. -- not directly on the greens, and toss, for a more evenly dressed salad. If you want to plate a salad ahead of time, don't use a vinaigrette. Sprinkle chilled, crisp greens with sea salt, pepper, herbs and a a little fine extra-virgin olive oil, and toss to coat. The salad won't wilt.
  • If you do have to use a plastic bag to store greens, wash and wrap them in dry paper towels. They will keep longer.
  • Romaine and leaf lettuces are loaded with vitamins compared to iceberg. They have has three times as much Vitamin C and six times as much Vitamin A.
  • When buying cabbage, look for heads that appear heavier than their size with crisp leaves.
  • Buy mushrooms before they "open." When stems and caps are attached snugly, mushrooms are truly fresh.
  • When picking a melon, smell it for freshness and ripeness. Check to see that the fruit is heavy for its size and that the spot on the end where it has been plucked from the vine is soft.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Blue crabs and lima beans

I had my first taste of live blue crabs this week, and they were spectacular. More work than the dungeness, which is bigger with a less-sweet taste and drier texture: Whereas a dungeness crab can feed one or two people, it took three blue crabs apiece to get our fill. Our guide Cyane suggested a dip of Worcestershire and vinegar, but it wasn't really needed, although it was tasty.

The lima beans came from the City Market the next day. I have seldom seen limas in the shell, and despite my lifelong aversion to them from the frozen mixed vegetables bag, I bought a pound, which was just enough for three (or two lima bean lovers). I shelled them, put them in boiling water, brought them back up to a boil for a couple of minutes, then turned off the heat as I prepared the rest of lunch. They were very tender, and the texture somewhat improved over the frozen, but still... I'd rather have favas.