Saturday, May 28, 2011

In Case You Plan to Grill Out This Weekend

The weather forecast for the weekend here in DC includes thunderstorms almost every day. Last night, I used a grill pan for these turkey burgers to avoid getting caught out in the storm which started, no joke, as my husband ran into the house after returning from a business trip. The rain was, literally, "on his heels," chasing him into the house through the murky dusk.

I am hoping to use the grill at least once this weekend, though. We have a Weber kettle grill with a chimney starter so grilling is not something we do on a weeknight or on a whim. It requires some time and planning and half way decent weather. This weekend, I was planning to grill a flank steak, but after the ones at Whole Foods were not grass fed and were $14.99 per pound, I ended up buying a skirt steak. As I wanted meat from a locally raised, grass fed cow, my options were limited but if that's not your issue, they had flank, flap, and flatiron steaks that would all work well for this. Unfortunately, my busy schedule lately has caused me to miss many of my usual farm stand haunts so I'm scrambling a bit and using the grocery stores a little more than usual.

This is an easy marinade with a Latin American feel. I like to grill a larger steak than I need (or even two) so that I'll have leftovers for another day. By making it yourself, you can control the sodium, which can be very high in commercial brands. There's a little kick to the marinade thanks to the chipotle pepper, which you can play with to your taste. If you like less heat, choose a smaller pepper from the can or use half. If you like a lot of heat, use two! Save the rest of the can of chiles for the next time or for chili. They keep in a sealed container in the refrigerator for quite a long time and are easily available in most grocery stores.

If you want to emphasize the Latin flavors, serve with warmed tortillas, beans and rice, avocado slices, grilled onions and peppers, tomatoes and cheese for toppings. A green salad rounds out the meal. If it's for a party, you could even serve some spicy grilled shrimp as an appetizer. Here's a great recipe. Then, all you'll need is some chilled and slightly fizzy vinho verde, beer or sangria and your party will be complete!

The marinade is versatile enough, though, that you are not limited - try it with some potatoes, or other veggies on the side! I sometimes serve it with my olive oil potato salad and some mayo free slaw.

Mojo Criollo

(makes enough marinade for a steak for 4 people or about 1 smallish cut up chicken)

juice of 1/2 orange
juice of 1 lime (if the lime is particularly dry, use an extra half)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce (just one chili, not one can), minced with a little of the sauce
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
pinch or two of salt

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl and use to marinate a flank, flatiron, or hangar type steak or chicken. Marinate several hours and then grill. These thinner cuts grill quickly so keep an eye on it. On a charcoal grill, I might only grill for a few minutes on each side to sear and then move the steak to the other side of the grill and close the lid for another few minutes of indirect heat. I like to throw the meat into the marinade in the morning and then it's all ready to go at dinner time.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Why I Love Wednesdays

After hearing from many friends that they only read the newspaper online or on an ipad, I'm beginning to think my Wednesday morning ritual is not of this century. Most mornings I begin my day online with news, email, my blog roll, Food News Journal and now Twitter, as well. I then quickly review two daily newspapers and move on with my day. Not so on Wednesday, hump day. On Wednesdays I slow down a little to savor the food sections of the print versions of the NY Times and Washington Post.

While I can (and do) read much of my food news online, I love the ritual of sitting at the kitchen counter with the newspapers spread open in front of me, milky cup of Taylors of Harrogate Afternoon Darjeeling - yes, in the morning - in hand. I page through the News, Style, Arts, and then settle in for my reward, the food sections. It's a perfect opportunity to leave my oven on a very low heat to make some dehydrated style kale chips and to slow roast some off-season grape tomatoes for tonight's dinner.

It's late spring days like this that I miss having a screen porch, because that would only augment the experience. It's still cool enough in the morning to sit outside with a warm drink and not break a sweat, which anyone in DC can tell you will occur soon enough. There's still a sweet morning dewy smell to the air and you can feel the grit of fallen pollen on the soles of your bare feet. Later in the day, if it's anything like yesterday, the air will get heavy with the ever impending rainstorm and the outside get much less welcoming to a weather migraine sufferer like me.

Today's Post yielded stories about a barbecue sauce contest and a small review about a new Jamaican place in Silver Spring that Tom Sietsema says has the best jerk chicken in the area since Fish, Wings and Tings. Anyone remember that place in Adams Morgan? The New York Times' Sam Sifton took me to London's newest restaurants and even mentioned a gluten-free shop in NY.

Does anyone else still read the printed newspaper?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Eat Write Retreat! and Where to Go From Here

Earlier this spring, I heard about a new food blogging conference right here in DC, called Eat Write Retreat! Note: the exclamation point is part of the name. I've got no recollection of where I first saw the link to their website, but I did, and the schedule of presenters and activities made it clear that it would be a great conference for me to attend.

But, as is typical for me, I spent weeks wavering over whether to enroll. The expense wasn't outrageous, but enough to make me really ponder whether this would be worth it for me. After all, I have a small blog, only a couple of dozen followers and another few dozen regular readers. I occasionally get comments, often via email or Facebook rather than on the blog itself, as most of my readers seem more comfortable navigating in those media. The ones I love are about the recipes - the ones that tell me that I am achieving my goal, in some small way, of helping people make it easier to cook at home. For me, it's always been about the recipes, the writing, and the hope that what I put out there helps someone. I'm working on the photos.

I would not have even considered a larger conference but this one seemed warm and friendly and most of all, small. So why hesitate? I guess I waffled on the conference because I temporarily lost sight of my goals and my vision. I started to equate success of the blog with growth and popularity and worried that without a larger following, my little blog wasn't worthy of more public scrutiny. And maybe I still worry about that even after attending Eat Write Retreat! and hearing from other bloggers about klout scores and followers, discussing SEO (Search Engine Optimization), and even more shockingly, starting to Tweet. But mostly, I'm glad I attended because this conference has helped me to find my voice again.

When I say "voice" I don't mean it only in the writer's sense of the word. I truly mean my ability to articulate to people, verbally as well as in writing, why I do this, and what my blog is really about. Because at its essence, it's an exploration for me as well as a conduit to bring what I find to others and hopefully, help them as well. And most of all, it honors my sister who always supported my cooking and was all over social media before it was even a term. So, via this conference, I realized that I do this because I have to. Because some force impels me into new stores and markets, compels me to read yet another cookbook or food magazine, come up with some new ideas and takes my hand and causes me to write about it all probably more than anyone cares to read.

Now, sitting at home trying to digest all that I learned, felt, absorbed, thought this past weekend, a little distance allows me to appreciate why this conference was so helpful to me. Sure, there was some amount of adrenaline in the room coursing as a result of the sheer star power aligned with the event. But most importantly, the presenters shared their humanity with us. These are all food lovers who pursued a path they love, not to chase success, but to do what felt real for them. Yes, there was a session about the practicalities of blogging and PR, marketing and those sorts of business-side issues, all aspects of this world that still feel foreign to me. Regardless, I left with a strong sense of self and a new found focus to persist at this even if I only reach a few people. If friends continue to tell me that their kids love my muesli, or chicken, or were moved, even a little, by my passion about sustainability and healthy food then it doesn't matter that I am not a viral sensation and that I had to use Google to find out what a klout score is.

So, many thanks to all the presenters for sharing their expertise and perspectives with us and especially to the bloggers who shared so freely of themselves and their journeys. Casey and Robin, you put together such amazing panels, great sponsors and such a fabulous community of support - can't wait until next year!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Maddy's Morning Smoothie

Weekday mornings around here are a blur of activity and quick transitions in yellowy-lit rooms amid the darkened house. Maddy's bus pulls up a few houses down the street at precisely 6:35 a.m., so all is based on her getting down the hill on time.

Breakfast is from 6:18 until 6:25 for her, so we make it light, quick and healthy. Often, in warmer weather, I make her a smoothie so that she has a good hit of protein to start her day. These can be made a number of different ways, but this is our fall back, basic recipe. The first step is keeping a supply of frozen bananas. Whenever a banana is a little overripe and I don't have enough for banana bread, I peel and freeze it broken up into halves or thirds, depending on size. I keep a plastic zip top bag in the freezer with these bits, ready to use at 6:15 in the morning.

For the rest of the fruit, you can either freeze your own fruit or buy frozen fruit. We particularly like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and mango. You can also omit the banana and double up on the other fruit. Using frozen fruit gives the smoothie its thick, satisfying consistency, while the yogurt and milk add protein. I like to use agave nectar as the liquid is easy to work with here.

Strawberry-Banana Smoothie

(serves 1 -2)

1 cup skim milk
1/3 cup nonfat Greek yogurt
approximately half a frozen banana
about 1/2 cup frozen strawberries (or you can use raspberries or blueberries)
1 - 2 tablespoons agave nectar (add one and then taste - fruit varies in sweetness. One tablespoon is often plenty)

Put all of the above ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. This makes a little more than 2 cups of smoothie, which can either serve one in a really large glass, or two smaller glasses. Serve with a straw and a spoon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wheatberry Salad

At last week's Future of Food conference, one component of our delicious lunch was a wheatberry and apple salad. It reminded me quite a lot of a salad I had created for a food52 contest and was inspired by a sweet and salty tapa at Jose Andres' (last night's James Beard award winner!) Jaleo, which is simply matchsticks of green apple and manchego cheese in a vinaigrette.

This makes a hearty meatless lunch or dinner, and if you omit the cheese, could be a lovely salad alongside some chicken apple sausage or a bit of fish, pork or chicken.

Wheatberry Salad with Apples and Manchego

(Serves 4 - 6 as a side dish, 3 or 4 as a light lunch)

1 cup wheatberries
3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton de la Vera)
couple of pinches salt, plus more to taste
couple of grinds black pepper, plus more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup diced red onion
1 - 1 1/2 tart apples. Granny Smith are fine, but Suncrisp would be stellar
1/3 to 1/2 pound Manchego cheese
2 -3 ounces arugula
1/3 cup dried, tart cherries, roughly chopped if particularly large

1. Soak the wheatberries overnight in water to cover by a couple of inches. When you're ready to cook them, drain and place in a medium to large saucepan with three cups of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. Begin checking them at 30 minutes - you want to see the endosperm appear at one end and they should be a little chewy but not tough. Drain the wheatberries and then immediately place back into the hot pan and cover and let steam off the heat for another ten minutes. Transfer cooked wheatberries into a medium sized bowl.

2. In a small bowl, add the ingredients from the vinegar through the salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Then stream in the olive oil while whisking

3. Add the red onion into the vinaigrette and stir a little so that the onions are submerged.

4. Peel, core and dice the apple and add to the wheatberries.

5. Dice up the Manchego cheese and add that to the bowl as well.

6. Pour the vinaigrette over the wheatberry/apple/Manchego mix in the bowl and stir to coat all the ingredients. Check for salt and pepper.

7. Either individually plate or serve over bed of arugula. Garnish with the dried cherries.

Prince Charles and Laurie David in One Room with an Array of Notable Food Experts

The past is a funny thing. I'm not a huge follower of the British royals, but I've definitely been aware of a few of their goings on over the years. Although I don't have any recollection of actually watching Diana and Charles' wedding in 1981, I do remember her dress, as well as media reports of the hollow nature of their marriage soon after. I guess watching William and Kate's wedding last week with my teenaged daughter reminded me of watching that earlier wedding as a teenager myself.

I certainly didn't expect my reaction when I heard that Prince Charles was going to be the keynote speaker at the Washington Post Live's Future of Food conference last week. My first thought had nothing to do with his commitment to sustainable agriculture, which is long-standing and seems heartfelt and sincere. I just couldn't get those images of Diana's sad face out of my mind.

Once he started his speech, though, his thoughtful words about the practicality and economics of sustainable agriculture and his engaging delivery made me forget about his personal life. He spoke for 40 minutes or so, giving a focused, well crafted and calmly passionate speech. You can see the transcript of his speech here if you're interested.

He wasn't alone. The lineup of speakers and panelists was thrilling: Eric Schlosser, Wendell Berry, Marion Nestle, Will Allen, Sam Kass, Dan Barber, Angela Glover Blackwell, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, as well as other CEOs, writers, activists, policy makers, policitians and thinkers. I had not heard of her before, but was just wowed by Debra Eschmeyer, a relatively young and totally impressive woman who founded FoodCorps and is the outreach director of the National Farm to School Network in addition to working her own organic farm. While there were representatives of food corporations, most that participated have already added healthier food initiatives into their structure. According to Eric Schlosser, most corporations declined to participate. Congratulations to Susan Crockett who gamely represented General Mills.

Two of the panelists were the founders of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, which successfully achieved a one cent per pound increase in pay for migrant tomato pickers in that area of Florida. They had a lot to say about the poor working conditions for the agriculture workers and how that small increase in pay makes such a difference. We also heard from Eric Schlosser about the dangers of pesticides, not just to us as consumers, but to the farm workers on regular commercial farms who are in contact with contaminated soil every day. If you are interested in learning more about the tomato workers, the amazing Barry Estabrook (recent recipient of a James Beard award - too bad he wasn't speaking at the conference too!) has written a soon to be released book called Tomatoland on the subject. You can also see his articles on the subject here.

Even the lunch made a statement. As we entered the room, somewhat reminiscent of the dining set up at Hogwarts with four long tables, we were asked by greeters to file in, remaining in the line we were in and seat ourselves along one side of the table in that order. This made for a pleasant way to avoid the awkward need to find a place to sit when attending a conference solo. The greeters and servers were a mix of volunteers and participants in DC Central Kitchen's restaurant training program. At my place setting was a napkin holder decorated by Raquel, a third grade student at one of the DC public schools participating in a healthy food and ecology curriculum being piloted by FarmtoDesk and funded by Kaiser Permanente.

The meal was composed entirely of local organic foods from farms and producers within 200 miles of DC. Everything was served family style, which was another nice way to meet the people seated nearby. We enjoyed two salads to start: a crab salad over greens and a wheatberry and apple salad over arugula. On the table was a cheese board with three cheeses, Damson plum jam and a local honey, along with some artisanal crackers. While we joked that a crisp white wine would be a perfect addition, we happily substituted strawberry agua fresca with mint. We were all a bit surprised when the next course arrived, as we thought the salads and cheeses were the lunch. We then had lamb kabobs with flat bread and tzatziki, cannellini beans with kale and hen of the woods mushrooms and asparagus with sorrel. Strawberry rhubarb cobbler with whipped cream followed for dessert. Did I mention this conference was free?

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was the previously unannounced afternoon keynote speaker, cutting short a very interesting panel with Marion Nestle on Health and Nutrition. He was very generous with both his time and opinions, some of which were not terribly popular in this crowd. Although he's taken some positive steps in attempts to improve school lunches and get fresh fruits and vegetables to more people in areas that have been under supplied, his support of genetically modified alfalfa and grains and failure to eliminate hormones in livestock are opposed to the general opinions in the sustainable agriculture philosophy. Hollywood activist, Laurie David, questioned him from the audience on the issue of why we are still allowing healthy animals to be injected with antibiotics.

Marion Nestle later stated on her blog that the sustainable food movement is now mainstream. There certainly is momentum and energy fueled by these great thinkers and activists who've been writing and lobbying on these issues for years and given a hit of a double espresso by Michelle Obama's healthy food and living initiatives.

One major theme that I took away from this conference is the importance of cooking at home, and the need to bring healthy, clean foods as well as cooking knowledge to the poor and people of color.

I'm still trying to figure out my role in all this. I'd like to play a part somehow, but haven't yet found the right niche. For now, I'd be content to know that I helped one or two of you make the task of cooking a family meal a little bit easier.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Meatless Monday and Fewer Calories

I think you should make this soup. I really do. It's delicious, hearty, and healthy - perfect for a meatless Monday dinner. And now, thanks to the New York Times, we know that it helps reduce calories. Who knew that cayenne pepper could be an appetite suppressant. Read all about it here.

I checked back in the New York Times cookbook for the original recipe and found that I liked Louisa's changes quite alot. Call it a soup or call it a ragout, doesn't matter. Either way, it's spicy and terribly appealing. I cut back the cayenne a little, but after reading the Times, I'd keep it in if you can handle it!