Monday, September 27, 2010

On the merits of doing it by hand.

A farmer friend of mine said to me recently (in only the wise way a farmer can), "Isn't it funny how all these things were developed  are supposed to make our lives easier, give us more time; but it turns out they only occupy our time further?" In this instance, he was referring to the so-called "smart phones", but isn't it true about so much in our lives? As Americans, we are a naturally fast-paced, on-demand, instant gratification craving society. We want it now, or yesterday. We want it hot, fast, and cheap. We want it the way WE WANT IT.  And while this is an understandable notion, wanting things our way, it has enveloped us in the Burger King mantra which dictates our very existence!
   If you are reading this blog, then you are most likely one, or a combination of,  the following:

1) a close personal friend of mine (love you!)
2) a web addict (for shame!)
3) a foodie who's digging out niblets of worth online
4) a food publicist/editor (please contact me!!)

-and in being one or a combo of these, you are likewise well-informed, and are aware of the backlash in our food culture against the American non-culture. People are becoming acutely aware of the sugar content of their food, the origin of their apples and tomatoes, the detrimental monocultures of corn and soy degrading our Midwest and our economy. They are shopping at farmer's markets, buying seasonally, and exploring organics in a responsible way. (Side note: organic grapes from Peru are NOT more eco-friendly than conventional grapes from NJ!) I am among these people. I joined a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program 2 years ago at Fernbrook Farms in Bordentown, NJ, and am rewarded weekly with pounds of fresh, local, organic fruits and veggies - not to mention an embracing community of hope. I bake my own bread as much as possible; I can my extra fruits and vegetables for the winter. I can honestly and reasonably tell you that 98% of the food I consume, and that my husband and daughter consume, is homemade from fresh ingredients, or handmade. This is a fact that brings me extreme pride and comfort, especially when I see 10 year olds in the mall who might be 25, and/or in puberty. What are we doing to ourselves here!!??
   Blah, blah, blah, soapbox! is what you're crying, right? Well, TOO BAD. I'm not perfect, far from it. I order Chinese takeout once in a while, happen to LIVE for a decent crab rangoon. On busy days out shopping for my fresh produce, we might hit Wendy's for chicken nuggets (or as my daughter calls it, 'the chicken nugget store'). But I will call you out - yes, you - on being a lazy American, and not trying something by hand. There is no excuse, for instance, for buying whipped cream in a can when you can make your own whipped cream, complete with flavors YOU choose, and no preservatives. And I mean, gallons of it! One half cup of heavy cream can yield a full 1 cup of whipped. Plus, it takes less time than you could possibly imagine.
   Did I mention, you're doing this by hand? NO MIXERS ALLOWED. Doesn't count. My goal here is to break you from your technological dependence. Even when we THINK we're doing it "by hand", we're using machines to make it easy for us. Stop making it easy for yourself. You can do it, I have faith!

Easy Whipped Cream - makes 2 cups
You'll need 1 cup heavy whipping cream, 2 tbsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. flavoring of your choice, either real vanilla extract, rum, or just about any other liquid flavoring you want. I would not use coffee; if you want coffee whipped cream, add 1 tbsp. instant espresso into the cream and dissolve before whipping. Pour everything into a bowl. Grab a WHISK - that's the balloon shaped, wiry thing in your miscellaneous kitchen stuff drawer - and start beating in a circular motion, as fast as you can. You will quickly realize 1) your arm is getting a workout!, and 2) the cream is !surprise! getting thick. Keep whipping until it looks like the stuff you squirt from the can. Now, look at the clock. It takes me about 1 1/2 minutes to make, being an experienced cook - which incidentally, is less time than it takes me to figure out how to open the Redi-Whip cap. It might take you three minutes tops. In that time, have your partner in eating cut up some delicious store-bought pound cake and top it with fresh peaches or berries. I bet you'll finish first!

Enjoy your newfound freedom from electricity! If you need more ideas on how to go at it by hand, I'll be happy to oblige.

Two recommended readings for breaking the cycle: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (http://www.animalvegetablemiracle.com/), and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Both are easy to read, and will shine a hopeful light into your bleak American diet.
To find out more about local produce in your area, please visit http://www.eatwild.com/ or http://www.localharvest.org/

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Summer's Sweet (and Spicy) End

Hello to all my new blog-buds, from my sunny patio herb garden. Even though I just posted earlier, I'd like to thank the fine folks at Better Homes and Gardens for choosing my Summer Snapper with Mango Pico de Gallo as THEIR WINNING RECIPE  for Easy Weeknight Meals (and onward bound, my monetary reward!!). Please enjoy this, my classic summer snapper perfection, as the leaves begin to turn, the sun wanders farther from the Northern Hemisphere, and the first day of autumn will be - what??!! - 90 degrees?!
   Ah, New Jersey and global warming - Perfect Together!

Enjoy!

Summer Snapper with Mango Pico de Gallo
Serves 4
2 large heirloom tomatoes (I prefer Brandywine or Russian Black), seeded and diced, or 1 pint red or orange cherry tomatoes, quartered (try to find Sungold)
2 medium jalapeno peppers, seeded and membrane removed, minced
1 small yellow onion, finely diced
¼ c. loosely packed  fresh parsley, chopped
½ c. loosely packed fresh cilantro, chopped
1 mango, diced
1 ear white sweet corn, shucked, kernels removed from cob
2 tsp. kosher salt, divided
¾ tsp. ground black pepper, divided
Juice of 2 limes
4 large snapper fillets
½ c. Flour, for dusting
2 tbsp. olive oil
Combine tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, herbs, mango, corn kernels, 1 tsp. salt, ¼ tsp. pepper, and lime juice in large bowl. Cover and set aside.
Heat 2 large nonstick skillets over medium high heat. Season fillets on both sides with remaining salt and pepper. Pour flour into a shallow baking dish. Coat both sides of fish lightly with flour, shaking off excess. Pour 1 tbsp. oil into each pan, tilting to coat bottom. Add 2 fillets to each pan. Cook 3 minutes per side, until fish is golden brown and flakes easily with a fork. Remove to 4 serving plates and spoon a generous amount of salsa over each fillet. Serve immediately.

'Tis the Beginning of the End...

On the recommendation of a dear old friend from Florida, I am beginning this blog. Apparently, my views and opinions on food, food culture, and food life interest someone besides me and my (reluctant) husband, so...here goes nothing! WELCOME TO FOOD FOR LIFE.
   This blog will focus not only on my daily (okay, realistically, maybe weekly) dabbles into the creation of recipes and new dishes, but recreating old ones, helping out friends and family, bitching about what spices my daughter won't eat THIS WEEK, and in general, hitting the bigger issue of why is it - can someone tell me really? - that in this sorry food-cultureless nation, we eat ONLY TO FUNCTION?? I am a fervent believer, that one should not eat to live, but LIVE TO EAT. Hence the blog title : Food For Life.
   Why the beginning to the end? I am hoping, among other lofty dream sequences, that in the midst of writing to you I will gather the tools and experience to move on with my life into the world of culinary arts as a career, and not just an engrossing hobby. My dead-end job has me beyond depressed, physically and emotionally drained, and itching to beat someone in the face....just because it'd be fun.  Hmmm, blog, or therapy? You decide. Let's have a vote!
   So, with the mindset of "Hey, let's get the hell outta Dodge!", I am posting to you my first recipe ever considered for a national award! Yes, it's only banana pudding, but as of yesterday, I have been chosen to compete in the National Banana Pudding Cookoff in Lyles, TN on Oct. 2nd. This, loyal legion of fan(s), is the winning recipe. Wish me luck!
With love and good eats,
Christine

Roasted Banana Walnut Pudding
1 c. light brown sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
¼ tsp. salt
2 c. whole milk
1 c. plus 1 ½ c. heavy cream, divided
4 large egg yolks
3 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
1 tbsp. plus 1 tsp.  dark rum, divided
1 c. whole walnut halves
1/2 c. white sugar, divided
45 Nilla wafers
5 ripe, firm bananas
In a heavy saucepan, mix together brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Add milk and 1 c. cream, stirring over low heat to dissolve. When sugar is incorporated, spoon about ¼ c. of the warm milk into the egg yolks and whisk to temper. Add the egg yolks back into the saucepan, whisking constantly. Raise heat to medium and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken. Bring to a simmer; reduce heat to low and cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, strain into a shallow dish, and stir in vanilla, rum, and butter. Press a sheet of plastic wrap on top to prevent a skin. Cool completely.
Meanwhile, roast walnuts in a 400 degree F oven until fragrant and browning in spots, about 10 minutes.  Allow to cool.
In a large bowl, whip remaining 1 ½ c. heavy cream with 1 tsp. rum and ¼ c. white sugar until soft but firm peaks form. Cover and refrigerate.
Slice the bananas lengthwise, and lay cut side up on a baking sheet covered with parchment. Dust the tops liberally with some of the remaining white sugar. Run under a broiler until tops are golden brown, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and let cool.
To assemble, lay 20 Nilla wafers in the bottom of a 9x9 inch glass baking dish. Spoon half the pudding on top of the wafers, and top with half the bananas. Spoon half the whipped cream on top, smooth, and sprinkle with half the walnuts. Repeat the layering of 20 Nilla wafers, pudding, banana, whipped cream, and walnuts. Crumble the last 5 Nilla wafers and sprinkle on top with the walnuts. Refrigerate and serve cold.