Thursday, July 23, 2009

Egg Drop Soup

Egg Drop Soup has long been a favorite of mine. I no longer remember my first bowl. It's as if egg drop soup has always existed, pre-memory, due to it being so good the thought of being without it is too traumatic. I would eat so much of the soup, I would never have enough room for anything else. My family began giving me rations instead of allowing me to have full access since I would fail to leave any for the rest of them. The warm, silky broth was just too pleasurable for me to dare leave behind. And the wontons. Oh, the wontons add a delicious, sensual crunch. Egg drop soup is irresistible.

I eventually learned to share. Then ventured on to other Asian foods I found even more enjoyable. Slowly as I got older, it wasn't something I ate very much anymore.

It all started with egg drop soup though.

While researching about real food on Food Renegade, I came across a recipe for egg drop soup. I knew right away this was a recipe I had to make. And the right way, too. It was almost too easy finding the local, organic ingredients for this soup. Obviously the egg drop soups gods wanted me back.

I was surprised how few ingredients were needed and how quickly the soup came together. As a child, I imagined a cauldron full of secret spices and endless stirring to create such a magical soup. And I couldn't believe my life would change again.

As soon as the soup had cooled, and I took the first sip from the spoon, time stood still. My whole body tingled with excitement from the warm, flavorful goodness. I never knew egg drop soup could taste like this - and it had been seemingly perfect before. I didn't even bother with the spoon after that first taste. I set the spoon on the table, grabbed the bowl on either side, and drank to my heart's content. I know the fresh ingredients made a world of difference, but the sesame oil is the star. The toasted aroma and smoothness it brings to the soup is outstanding.

It didn't even last 24 hours. I ate the whole thing. I'm not ashamed to admit it.

Whether as an appetiser or entree, you'll never look at egg drop soup the same way again.

Egg Drop Soup

1 medium onion, diced
4 stalks celery, diced
1 tbsp butter
8 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sesame oil
3 tbsp arrowroot powder (or cornstarch)
3 tbsp water

Melt the butter over medium-low heat and saute the onion and celery. Add the broth; then add the ginger, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Bring to a boil. Mix the arrowroot powder and water. Reduce the heat to medium-high and add the mixture. Cook for 5 min without vigorous bubbling, stirring occasionally.

Whisk the eggs together and pour into the soup - very slowly for thin ribbons and a faster drizzle for thicker noodles (but please do not pour it all in at once!). Serve immediately.

~Adapted from Food Renegade.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Food, Inc.

At last! The day had arrived with Food, Inc. in tow. I had been waiting several weeks for the movie to premier in town. I discovered the documentary as word spread online through some of my favorite food blogs. I'm a sucker for a documentary. I try and get my hands on as many as possible, especially when food or health is involved. I was excited to read this film exposed multiple sides of the food industry, a beginners film if you will, and hope you will take the time to see it in theatres or rent the movie when it becomes available.

Although I was familiar with the problems covered in the movie, I did learn more about the origin of our food issues and some of the parties responsible.

The film includes footage of animals being abused while on factory "farms", which is difficult to watch, but important nonetheless. Understanding what is occurring to animals during the entire food process needs to be exposed for a variety of reasons; the point of which being the abuse needs to cease immediately, and the butchering process needs to be as sanitary and chemical free as possible. A comparison was shown with a private farmer's, Joel Salatin, chicken slaughtering process. Even though the deaths still made me squirm, it was a world of difference from how most meat makes it to the supermarkets these days.

Another segment also stands out in my memory is when the documentary mentioned Oprah. The inclusion of a celebrity was the last thing I was expecting in this film. They explained how on a previous show of hers discussing E. coli poisoning being on the rise, she commented how she now fears eating hamburgers. No brands were mentioned or any derogatory comments made. However, a certain food industry group sued Oprah for defamation of their product, along with several other claims. It took Oprah six years and over one million dollars to barely win in court and have the lawsuit dropped. If she has struggled against food corporations, what chance do the rest of us have?

The film shows a perfect example. Tobacco companies once had a firm grip on our government and society; however, with a public outcry and hard work, the tobacco companies have had to answer for their abuses. The same can be done with our food.

One of my favorite moments of the film was a comment Joel made. He had me chuckling with his use of words like "critter", but in the same sentence he would make a profound statement. The one that stuck with me was his belief that if businesses are abusing animals and have no problem with it, then they also have no problem abusing their employees and customers - either by providing unsafe working conditions or unsafe foods. I found this to be an excellent point. Another big laugh was the tour by Wal-Mart executives of a private family farm that contributes foods used in Stonyfield products, which their stores now carry. As soon as they were introduced to the woman that owned the farm, she responds in surprise, 'Oh, really? Guess what? I've never been to Wal-Mart! My family and I agreed to never shop there - ever'. It was hilarious.

Documentaries like Food, Inc. confirm the switch I made to organic foods several years ago was the right one. I plan to continue discovering better, healthier food choices available.

If you enjoy this film, or are interested in others similar in genre, check out HBO's documentary "Death on a Factory Farm" and Aaron Woolf's "King Corn"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Happy Bastille Day!

Joyeux Quatorze Juillet!

Today is Bastille Day in France - although this is the foreign term. In France, their national holiday is called Le Quatorze Juillet or Fête Nationale.

A series of catalysts merged in the summer of 1789. France was facing economic crisis, mainly due to their large contributions to the American Revolutionary War (along with the hope of invading Great Britain after the war, but that's another story). French citizens were being heavily taxed and even the nobility was not having any of it and refused to contribute. The lower classes were starting to go hungry. A National Assembly & National Guard were formed to ensure the monarchy would take notice of what the citizens of France desired in restoring order to the country. However, changes were none too swift. The Hôtel des Invalides was raided and arms were taken. Alas, they were without gunpowder.

Thus came the Bastille. The French knew stockpiles of gunpowder were available. Although the Bastille was scheduled for closing, due to its high cost of maintenance and lack of purpose, it had already become a symbol of tyranny. On July 14th, Several hundred citizens gathered outside and demanded access to gather supplies - and for the French Guard to surrender. After hours of negotiation, the crowd could be quelled no longer. No one knows which side fired first, but a grotesque battle ensued. The French Guard relented and the fortress was liberated. News spread of the Bastille's fall. Citizens took up arms and barricaded the city streets of Paris for fear of retaliation by other troops of French Guards. However, the liberation of the Bastille proved to the monarchy their reign of power was over. The French had won their own Revolution.

The first celebration was the year after on 14 July 1790 in Paris. Fireworks were used to commemorate the occasion, which are still widely enjoyed. Today the French also enjoy parades and peasant foods, along with plenty of pastis and beer.

With both our countries' independence holidays being so close together, Americans also like to join in the celebration with our fellow Revolutioners. Communities all across the country have their own Bastille Day parties. One of the most humorous is in Washington, D.C. - the French Maid Relay Race at L'Enfant. The photos speak for themselves.

I, too, won a battle with this dish - frying food for the first time. I can happily report it went very well. Very few frites were sacrificed. I was once fearful of frying foods since I knew this could be unhealthy. However, this never stopped me from eating foods I knew were fried outside my home. I came to realize if I'm going to eat fried foods, it would be better to do it myself. I would know exactly which oil and what caliber of foods I'd be consuming. I do not have that guarantee elsewhere. Plus it's fun to discover new ways of cooking. I had a great time making these recipes.

I also discovered several new ingredients. I had my favorite specialty foods store order a pound of merguez. They also helped me pick out a sheep's milk cheese called Agour Ossau-Iraty. Finally, I picked up a container of créme fraîche for a dipping sauce. I had never tried any of these ingredients before and was so excited to create my Bastille Day dish.

The smell of cooked merguez was intoxicating. I have never experienced such a mosaic of lingering flavors, while enjoying the delicate taste of a sausage before. The seasonings possess an ending of spiciness without any heat, which would dissolve any taste of the meat. The merguez beautifully paired with the porcini mushrooms as a topping, which left a hint of walnut on my tongue. The Agour was strong both in aroma and taste, bringing more earthy goodness to the dish. The pommes frites rounded out the rustic quality and were delicious. Lastly, the dipping sauce completed the French appeal, allowing the frites to shine, but adding a tangy accompaniment of cream and butter flavors.

Pommes Frites
Printable Recipe

4 large russet potatoes (2 potatoes per person)
32 oz palm oil or peanut oil
kosher salt

Cut both ends off the potato and then cut in half. Cut each piece in half again and then stand up the pieces on the newly cut side.

Slice each piece in half and lay the pieces flat. Finally, cut in half and discard the small outer piece. Place the pieces in a large bowl of cold water while cutting the remaining potatoes.

Drain the water and refill the bowl again and allow the pieces to rest in cold water for 10 min. Drain once more and thoroughly dry each piece.

Use a pan that will allow an oil depth of 2 - 3 inches. Heat the oil to 320*F. In small batches (up to 10 pieces), fry the frites for 4 - 5 min. Do not allow the frites to brown. Remove and place on a plate lined with paper towels. Continue until all the frites have been cooked once. Allow them to rest and reach room temperature. Finish the final frying step just before serving.

Increase the oil temperature to 375*F. Cook the frites for a second time for 2 -3 min, again in small batches. Drain on a plate lined with fresh paper towels. Sprinkle liberally with kosher salt as they first come out of the oil.

~Adapted from Cook's Journal and The Recipe Hound.

Porcini Sauce
2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms
1/3 cup boiling water
2 tsp butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup shiraz (The Wishing Tree, 2006)
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1 tbsp organic, non-bleached all purpose flour
1 tbsp whole milk
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp pepper

Pour 1/3 cup boiling water over 2 tbsp dried porcini mushrooms in a small bowl. Cover for 15min to rehydrate.

Finely chop 1/4 cup shallots and set aside. Drain the mushrooms in a colander over a bowl; using cheesecloth, filter the liquid and retain 1/4 cup. Rinse and drain the porcini mushrooms, and finely chop.

Melt butter over medium heat and add shallots, cooking for 3 min. Add the shiraz and cook for 1 min. Next add the porcini mushrooms, reserved mushroom liquid, chicken broth, and thyme; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 min. Combine the flour and milk in a small bowl and slowly add to the sauce, while returning to a boil. Reduce the heat again to medium-low and slowly stir until desired thickness is reached, 20 - 30 min. Add salt and pepper at the end.

~Adapted from Cooking Light.

Open-Faced Merguez Sandwich
1 slice Pain au Levain or sourdough bread
1/3 cup arugula
1 1/2 merguez sausages, sliced lengthwise
3 tbsp porcini sauce
1 tbsp Agour Ossau-Iraty or sheep's milk cheese

Toast the slice of bread and top with arugula. Lay the merguez cut side up and cover with porcini sauce. Finally, add shavings of sheep's milk cheese.

Please forgive my photographs - they do not do the meal any justice. Not only do I lack a proper camera, but after making the Porcini Sauce, my hands were a bit shaky from partaking in the shiraz. I promise I am working to correct this issue - acquiring a camera that is.

~Original recipe by Brie.

Willow Sauce*
3 tbsp créme fraîche
2 tbsp raw milk
2 tsp horseradish
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp freshly minced dill
pinch of kosher salt

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and serve with pommes frites.

If créme fraîche is unavailable, sour cream can be substituted and the milk can be halved or omitted depending on the desired viscosity.

~Original recipe by Brie.

*The name for this sauce came to me as I was chopping the dill. The herb has always reminded me of a weeping willow tree, and the name implies a delicateness. I thought it would describe the subtle flavors

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Boundless Blueberry Bushes

While preparing my next post, I came across these photos taken while picking blueberries a few weeks ago.

I was not aware of any organic farms in the area until another food blog led me to this discovery. I was suddenly overwhelmed by all my options. I knew I had to get my hands on these organic and farmed raised foods. I made plans to go to Monticello the next day before all the blueberries were gone since the picking season was almost over. I knew my fiancé would have no problem coming along to help since blueberries are his favorite.

The farm I chose to visit first is owned by a retired couple, Ronny & Delores, who enjoy providing organic foods to locals. They had a cute personal garden, complete with a little white fence to keep any mischievous creatures at bay, next to their home. The blueberry bushes in the "backyard" were too numerous to count; many more than I expected. Delores was glad to see some new faces, but warned us most of the plump, juicy ones were gone. She did say we'd probably get lucky since we can reach the top of the bushes (we're both pretty tall) and get the ones others have to leave behind. She gave us two wooden baskets and we were off!

I was afraid we'd have to scour the land for some good bushes, but we were able to find plenty of berries on the first row we came to. The bushes were still producing new buds, too.

The best thing about picking from organic farms is the all-you-can-eat policy! It's a wonderful thing seeing where your food comes from.

Another bonus to getting to know your farmers is the community they are a part of. I was able to snag some fresh eggs from a nearby farm who leaves a few cartons daily with Delores.

Opening the carton felt like unwrapping a Christmas present. Each egg was a different color and size and shape. They're beautiful. It's also a good feeling knowing these eggs came from hens who are healthy, happy, and well taken care of. Ironically, when I was a little girl, I had access to fresh eggs, but was afraid of them. I thought they were dirty since they were plucked from a nest and did not look bright white like the ones from the grocery store. I might have started eating differently a lot sooner if my family had taken the time to explain to me the value of fresh foods. I found my way though, so it has all worked out.

When we got home, I washed and froze the blueberries right away. Instead of throwing them all in a bag, I found a great tip online: dry the blueberries after washing and spread them out on a cookie sheet (with a lip preferably); then place the sheet in the freezer until the blueberries are firm. Then they can be stored in a bag. By taking this extra step, they will not be frozen in a big clump and you can take only the amount you need when it's time to use them. This came in handy when baking cheesecake for the 4th of July (the eggs I also used in the recipe are the ones you see above).

We gathered 2 lbs that day, and still have 1 1/2 lbs left. I would hate to use them all up so quickly, but it's very tempting. When we go next year, I'll be ready early so we can get twice as much.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy (Feasting on The) 4th of July

Happy Independence Day! I hope you're able to enjoy the holiday relaxing and with the ones you love. My fiancé and I will be out on a picnic watching the fireworks tonight. Hopefully, some of our friends will get a chance to join us. It's sometimes difficult to convince people to venture outside in the Florida heat. Once we told them what was on the menu though, they signed right up.

I'm the nostalgic type and like thinking about our nation's history on days like today. I try not to take what I have for granted, and am grateful for all Americans who have sacrificed for our freedoms. I love having so many choices for enjoying the things I love - one of those being food. Three years ago I began researching the history of food in this country. The rapid changes made within the last half-century caused me to stop and think about what we are doing. I decided to start eating local, organic foods, and believe I'm healthier for it. I'm grateful I have that choice, the freedom, to choose something so important for myself. My cooking has come alive since I've started using organic ingredients. The flavors are so clean, and fresh. I was able to taste the difference immediately between the same dishes I had cooked before and then after I began using natural foods. I love being able to taste every item I've put into a dish and not have any of the flavors covered up by artificial ingredients. I no longer feel guilty feeding my loved ones foods I know we shouldn't be eating. Therefore, the ingredients I list in my recipes are organic and I hope to inspire you to try some, too.

When choosing this holiday's menu, I knew we were going to be outside for several hours in the sun. I wanted to choose foods that would be safe outdoors in a cooler, and contain high water content since dehydration can happen quickly and be dangerous. I also wanted dishes that are lighter than the usual breads, potatoes, and the like. It's still a party though, so the idea was to keep the dishes fun and delicious.

And I also got to go shopping for some new items! I usually write things down on lists to help me remember - my thoughts tend to be scattered at times. I was sure I'd be able to keep track of three little things. Oh, how wrong I was. I had to go to the store three separate times for each item! Thankfully, it's right up the block and each trip made me feel like I bought more than I really did. This time (or times actually) I picked up a 13-by-18-inch pan, a zester, and a sifter. I'll have to think of more things to bake with my extra-large pan. Yummy.

Eat up!

Papaya & Pineapple Salsa in Cucumber Cups
Printable Recipe

4 large, straight cucumbers
1 ripe papaya, finely chopped
1 pineapple, finely chopped
1/3 cup bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp capers
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Using a zester, remove the cucumber skins in different patterns.

Cut off each cucumber end and then in half. Next cut each half once, which makes 4 cups per cucumber. Using a small, sharp knife, cut a cone into a cup, remembering not to reach the bottom. Then even the sides to create room for the filling.

(If you choose to make smaller cucumber cups, I would recommend scooping them with a melon baller rather than attempting to hollow the centers with a knife. Also, if the bottom of a cup is accidentally cut away, it can be plugged with a cucumber strip and still hold filling.)

Combine the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and toss gently. Fill each cup and use the cucumber skins for decoration if desired.

~Original recipe by Brie.

Crab, Corn, & Tomato Salad with Lemon-Basil Dressing
Printable Recipe

1 tbsp grated lemon rind
5 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp honey
1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh corn kernels
1/4 cup freshly chopped basil leaves
1/4 cup chopped red bell pepper
2 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 lb lump crab meat
2 3/4 cup chopped tomatoes, 2 varieties

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.

This dish was heavy on the crab, so a 1/2 - 3/4 lb fresh crab meat would be fine. Also, the flavors in the dish were not very pronounced. After a taste test, I decided to double the olive oil, honey, Dijon mustard, and pepper, which made a difference (this is not reflected in the amounts above). Adding more spices or more powerful ingredients, such as avocado, would make it even tastier.

~ This is a Cooking Light recipe.

Mango & Black Bean Salad
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 cups cubed mango
1 cup finely chopped green onions
1/2 cup cooked wild or brown rice
3 tbsp fresh cilantro
2 tbsp fresh salsa or tomatillo
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 can no-salt black beans, rinsed and drained

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and toss gently.

This dish can be served chilled or warm by serving right after the cooked rice is added.

~This is a Cooking Light recipe.

Fruited-Cheesecake Flag
Printable Recipe

3 cups all-purpose flour
Coarse salt
12oz (3 sticks) unsalted butter - room temperature
1 cup + 2 tbsp light brown sugar
32oz cream cheese - room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp almond extract
4 large eggs - room temperature
6oz (1 1/2 cups) blackberries
9oz (2 cups) blueberries
12oz (3 cups) raspberries

Preheat the oven to 300*F. Use the 4th stick of butter that comes in the box to coat a 13-by-18-inch pan. Line the pan with parchment and leave a few inches of overhang on both short ends. Then coat the parchment with butter.

Cream the butter in a mixer on medium-high speed for 5 min. While the butter is busy, sift the flour and 1 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl. Next, lower the mixer to a medium setting add the light brown sugar to the butter in a slow, steady stream, and allow it to blend together for 2 min. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides. Turn back on to a low setting and add the flour mixture, beating until just incorporated.

Transfer the dough to the center of the baking sheet. Using a piece of parchment the size of both hands, use your palms to spread the dough evenly around the pan. Be careful not to pull at the dough, as this will cause it to tear. Refrigerate for 20 min. Once chilled, bake the dough for 40 min. (With this downtime, wash the mixing bowl and beater for the filling.) Then remove from the oven and set the crust aside to cool completely. Raise the oven temperature to 350*F.

Beat the cream cheese in a mixer on medium speed for 3 min. Reduce the speed to low and add the sugar in a slow, steady stream. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides. Turn back on to a low speed and add the lemon zest, vanilla and almond extracts, and a pinch of salt. Next add the eggs, one at a time. Stop to scrape down the sides one more time and turn back on for a moment to just incorporate ingredients.

Pour the mixture over the crust and spread into an even layer (you might need to wiggle the pan to remove any air bubbles). Bake for 25 min. Remove from the oven and allow the cheesecake cool completely. Then refrigerate until firm, 4 hrs to overnight.

Run a sharp knife along the long sides of the cheesecake. Carefully pull up the four corners of the cheesecake to loosen. Then grip the parchment and carefully lift the cheesecake out of the tray onto a flat surface. Using a sharp knife, cut the cheesecake into 48 squares - 8 vertical cuts and 6 horizontal cuts. Make sure to clean the knife after each cut to prevent the filling from tearing. Martha's Tip: you can use unflavored floss to mark straight lines before cutting.
(Note: I found the crust difficult to cut once the cheesecake was chilled, which also tore the filling. I would recommend cutting the cheesecake after allowing it to rest for 10-15 min once it has been removed from the tray.)

Transfer the cut squares to a serving platter. Decorate the top left squares (3 down, 4 across) with a blackberry in the center, surrounded by blueberries. Beginning with the remaining top row squares, and every other row thereafter, adorn with raspberries. Finally, dust the empty squares with powdered sugar or top with halved strawberries dusted with powdered sugar. To prevent the other rows from being dusted, you can choose to remove the squares and replace them once covered, or use paper towels to carefully cover the berries while dusting the rows. Make sure to dust thoroughly as the powdered sugar will seep into the cheesecake filling.