Vegetables Every Day

Vegetables Every Day
Carrot Tarator with Beets

Monday, December 28, 2009

Catching Fire

A very interesting book that answers the question of what makes humans different than animals... cooking! Most of it is an anthropology study determining when in the evolutionary chain humans starting cooking their food, and the implications to society. What makes it good is that it brings together several branches of science to support the theory, and although a bit technical, is well written. It pulls together several things that once put together seem obvious (like much of our food, like most grains, are not digestible if not cooked). The other is that it takes much more energy to digest raw foods (vegetable or animal), and that as humans, our digestive systems are not designed to eat large quantities of raw foods (it also supports this with some not so flattering studies done on current raw-foodists, especially if their goal was to propagate the species). The key take-away for me was that no one has a good understanding of the net energy value of foods (calories in the food minus calories needed to digest minus what is not digested). Small studies show that both cooking foods and making food finer in texture (like grinding) increases the energy and nutrient value of food, and reduces the amount of energy needed to digest the food. Which supports one of my key beliefs on nutrition: there is still a lot we don't know.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

3rd Annual Napa trip

For the 3rd December in a row, we journeyed to Napa Valley.  (here's why).  Mornings were foggy but the afternoons were sunny... not bad for this time of year.   Unfortunately, one of the couple that was going meet us there got sick, so we were on our own.
Courtyard at Clos Pegase

We grabbed lunch in Napa (the city) at the Fatted Calf,  and had soup and a sandwich (the are really a butcher, but have a special every day). We started our winery visits at Clos Pegase, one of our long time favorites (and a good place to start, since we had not bothered with reservations).  We re-joined their wine club which we had to stop when we moved to Arizona, fortunately the shipping laws have changed so we can once again get club shipments.   They also took care of making us a reservation that afternoon at Failla, a winery we passed on the way there. We had had (and really liked) their Pinot's, but  had never visited.  Failla was definitely the new find for this trip.  They are a small producer, mostly Pinot Noir's and a Chardonnay. Most of the fruit is sourced from the the Russian River or Sonoma, which is a bit cooler and better suited to these grapes.  They ferment in open containers (!), and then into French oak.   We tasted several different Pinot's ... they were all good.. and only one is available outside the winery.   Last, we visited Salvestrin, which is conveniently were we stayed (again).    Dinner was at Cook, a small restaurant in St. Helena.  Roy had some really awesome pasta, with roasted pork.  I had cioppino... lots of good seafood, but it was pretty spicy, which was OK but not wine friendly.

On Saturday, after a good and huge breakfast at the B&B, we wandered around St Helena a bit.  Then we went to Casa Nuestra, an even smaller winery.  They did some interesting stuff ... we bought a few bottles, I'm reserving judgement until we tasted them a bit more. Lunch was at Greystone, in addition to the temptations appetizer, I had the onion soup which had a fun meringue / souffle top.  Roy had the butternut squash soup.  That afternoon we visited Bremer Family Winery, one of our absolute favorites.  We liked everything we tasted!   After that, we were pretty much winery-ed out... and had enough wine coming to fill the wine fridge.   Dinner was at Martini House.  I had chicken pot pie and Roy has pot roast... nothing like comfort food done sous-vide!

There was another great breakfast Sunday morning, then we were back to airport to come home.  And now, the wine starts to arrive... did I mention that before?  Not like in the summer where you need to have the wine held before shipping.  Another great reason to go this time of year!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Appetite for Life: The Biography of Julia Child by Noel Riley Fitch

I will be the first to admit I’m not the type to read big non-fiction books.  So I’m pretty proud of myself for actually getting through the 500 pages of Appetite for Life!  This is a biography with a big B:  it was authorized; the author had full access to Julia Child, her letters, several family diaries, as well as letters and interviews with family and friends.   It’s very much the historical work, sometimes overstuffed with minutia, names and dates, but does an excellent job of describing Julia and how she fit into the recent history of food as well as US history. The appendices describe all the source material, a great job was done in editing to only 500 pages. In the end, I find myself awed and inspired by Julia and her works.

The early part of the book is slow, she grew up as a spoiled California party girl which was not all that interesting.  The story picks up during the time she was in the OSS in India and China.  Fascinating to me (as someone who doesn’t read big historical books, but lately, lots of WWII fiction) was the non-European perspective of WWII:  the people and politics of the time, including the OSS, McCarthy-ism, and their influence on Vietnam. 

Later in life, Julia Child was quite the celebrity between PBS shows and Good Morning America appearances in addition to her books. I never saw much of her on TV (but knew enough to fully enjoy Dan Aykroyd’s satire of the show), and never had the Mastering The Art of French Cooking  cookbooks. I didn’t understand her real influence on food.  Her memoir, My Life in France by Julia Child and Alex Prud'Homme gave me much more background on what went into the first cookbook, but this book brought so much more to the story. 

Julia was passionate about food, and wanted to share this passion with others.  She followed through with incredible organization, detail and hard work to share the vision through teaching.  She had the drive to get things right (and that would be her definition of right).  Also impressive was the energy that Julia had, right through her 80’s, even with the problems of aging like bad knees and loved ones in nursing homes.

Julia’s vision started with an attempt bring the pleasures of cooking and eating to the American public, not the “America home economics with its undercurrent of nineteenth-century melioristic scientism”.  (Definition of melioristic: the notion that the world can be improved by human effort). Her cookbook was out of step with the current fashion: “Americans were then eating canned vegetables with marshmallows melted on top, frozen chickens cooked in canned mushroom soups, frozen fish sticks, and dishes that could be served during commercials…  Processed food products and junk food led to unwanted poundage, which in turn stirred up a wave of dieting and diet books … Avis [Julia’s agent] commented about  the “gunk” in the American kitchen and the increasing number of manuscripts for diet books she was receiving … “[There is] not a single honest recipe in the whole book – everything is bastardized and quite nasty .. Desserts .. sweetened with saccharin and topped with imitation whipped cream. Fantastic!  And I do believe a lot of people in this country eat just like that, stuffing themselves with faked materials in the fond belief that by substituting a chemical for God’s good food they can keep themselves slim while still eating hot breads and desserts and GUNK.”  This was in 1959!  (and its taken until 2009 for me to get all of the high fructose corn syrup out of my house, and even then some slips back in, last in the guise of Rice Crispy Squares).

The other theme that runs through Julia’s work was to help Americans overcome their “fanatical fear of food”. An example: “fear of food was endemic in suburbia. Every new health warning (Poisons in Your Food) reinforced America’s puritanical relationship to food and wine. Food was either a sinful or a bothersome necessity.  The most popular food books in the early 1960s were Calories Don’t Count and the I Hate to Cook Book…”  That said, she had some confrontations with other visionaries of the time, like Alice Waters. Julia felt that all the talk of organic foods and evils of pesticides would just further scare people from cooking.

I could go on.. but this book really hit home for me during my current quest to reduce the amount of processed food in my diet and understand the struggles of those around me with food.  Plus I have another role model on living a full life, continuing to learn and share and grow (bad knees and all).  The other take away: During the life of Julia Child, there was massive amount of written communication compiled, including letters, diaries, manuscripts, and written articles.  I sometimes wondered if she ever made a phone call!    But I can hope that in addition to more people cooking from the larger selection of fresh food available, that someday people can use our blogs, tweets, Facebook and other written communications to write inspiring biographies!

Monday, December 7, 2009

Stuffed Mushrooms

Last night at a wonderful party with lots of friends, we were discussing seasonal favorites, and someone mentioned how often she makes "my" stuffed mushrooms and how everyone loves them.  I'm not even sure where I got the recipe, and have not made it myself in a long time.  But a good reminder of something yummy I should make for the next get together  -- especially convenient since you can make them ahead, and bake when you need them.   And maybe a good experiment when I get around to trying to make sausage (being that I can't do anything the easy way). 

Stuffed Mushrooms

3 hot Italian Turkey sausages, casings removed
1 clove garlic chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
Olive oil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 3 ounces) 
6 ounces low fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 large egg yolk

48 small ( or 24 large 2-inch-diameter) mushrooms, stemmed
1/3 cup dry white wine 

Sauté sausage, garlic and oregano in heavy large skillet in small amount of oil over medium-high heat until sausage is cooked through and brown, breaking into small pieces, for about 7 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage mixture to large bowl and cool. Mix in 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, then cream cheese. Season filling with salt and pepper; mix in egg yolk. 

Line cookie sheet with parchment. Brush cavity of each mushroom cap with white wine; fill with scant 1 tablespoon filling.  (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)   Arrange mushrooms, filling side up on prepared sheet pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. 

Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake uncovered until mushrooms are tender and filling is brown on top, about 25 minutes.