Harissa Roasted Carrots and Fennel – “A Boat, A Whale and A Walrus”

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“The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake”

For July, the Kitchen Reader book club read “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake“.  

 

Lately I’ve been gravitating towards books about food whether that be day in the life’s,  memoirs or essays on women chefs. Before this, I would almost exclusively read novels. But since getting on this food book kick, I’ve stuck with non-fiction since that seems to be the most common type in the gastronomic genre.  The Kitchen Reader book club selected a novel for its July selection and I was intrigued. I went through a few different levels of interest while reading this book.

I know, never judge a book by its cover but you know what, I do. At least initially. That is what catches your eye and piques your interest. Or, at least it is supposed to. This cover paired with its cloying title immediately made me think it was going to be about some lovesick career woman who can’t find love when its right in front of her and wallows in lemon cake. Eye roll. Who wants to read that? As I sat down to read it, preparing my eyes for rolling, I discovered it wasn’t about this at all. The premise was quite interesting and I became curious. It took a bit to reel me in, but after actual things started to happen I was intrigued. Though I couldn’t help but be disgusted by the protagonist’s necessary diet of factory created food, I was a fan of the idea that she could taste the feelings of the people who created her meals. We all do that a bit right? A rushed plate of spaghetti and carefully prepared ravioli with perfectly crinkled edges will be completely different. I enjoyed this phenomenon being explored in a charmingly mysterious way.

However, I soon became quite frustrated. The story, while unpredictable, went to places that I didn’t feel I could follow. I wanted to keep her “power” and its origins more of a secret and some of the revelations seemed incoherent or quite frankly, kind of dumb. The explanations were hard to follow and Rose became harder and harder to understand. The non-culmination of her romantic feelings was not explained in any sort of satisfactory manner and I was just continually frustrated by the lack of communication and relation between all of the characters. I just couldn’t understand it or get behind it. Once Rose starts to cook for herself things picked up a bit, but again the explanations of her own feelings didn’t make sense to me. I’m not really one for poetry and some reviews I’ve read of this novel mentioned that it was like poetry. Maybe that’s why I liked the initial conceit, but not much else. I do wish I had some cake though…

 

 

Book Review : “A History of the World in Six Glasses”

This is my first month doing book reviews alongside The Kitchen Reader online book club. May’s selection was “A History of the World in Six Glasses” by Tom Standage.

 

As you can gather from the title, this is a work of nonfiction and explores the narrative of humanity through the lens of 6 definitive drinks: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and Coca-Cola. The premise is vaguely interesting and I was curious to learn some little known tidbits about these drinks, their discovery process and culture shaping tendencies. The book is divided into one section for each drink and follows a sort of liquid timeline exploring each libation in its heyday, from invention to acceptance to mass consumption.

Contrary to its damp subject matter, I found this book kind of dry. While each drink had some curious insights, for the most part I think the author placed too heavy an importance on the evolution of these liquids and their influence on the annals of history. Surely they were formative, but I had a hard time giving them the clout he did. He dedicates the rise and fall of civilizations, societies, the Enlightenment and British Imperialism to these powerful elixirs which eh, seemed like a stretch to me.

Though Coca-Cola is my least favorite of these drinks, I enjoyed that chapter the most. Probably  because it was the most modern setting and there were some fun facts about its infiltration around the world. The brand recognition and its association with the spreading of Western culture were vastly interesting points. All in all, this book isn’t gripping or life changing, but it could be worth a skim for history buffs just for a different perspective. I recommend reading in a comfy chair, surrounded by many leather-bound books while sipping an old fashioned and occasionally spinning an antique globe. Smoking jacket optional.

 

 

Olive Oil 101

Olive-Oil

My mother had a fanatical reverence for fancy, foreign olive oils and would only rarely venture into the Forbidden Pantry of Italian Ingredients  to bring it to the dinner table. It was usually reserved for my parent’s meals as our young, immature palates were not yet refined enough to appreciate the complex nuances of that golden, green liquid of the gods. 

Following right in her footsteps, I purchased my first “grown up” bottle of extra virgin olive oil in Athens last June. It is strictly reserved for scarce drizzling on light dishes where the flavor can shine. Lets be real though. Does this expensive, organic, hand-picked, foot pressed olive oil taste that much different then  your average supermarket version? Is it worth the adoration and restraint that my mother and I  bestow upon our bottles?

In my quest to discover the answer, I came across the blog Truth in Olive Oil.  This website is like a college course on olive oil.

How to Buy Great Olive Oil highlights

-Bitterness and pungency are usually indicators of an oil’s healthfulness.  Sweetness and butteriness are often not.

-Unlike many wines, which improve with age, extra virgin olive oil is perishable:  like all natural fruit juices, its flavor and aroma begin to deteriorate within a few months of milling, a decline that accelerate when the oil is bottled, and really speeds up when the bottle is opened.

-…be sure your oil is labeled “extra virgin,” since other categories – “pure” or “light” oil, “olive oil,” not to mention “pomace olive oil” – have undergone chemical refinement which strips away olive flavors and many of the oil’s health benefits.

– When choosing bottled oil, prefer dark glass or other containers that protect against light, buy a quantity that you’ll use up quickly, and keep it well sealed in a cool, dark place.

– Good oils come in all shades, from vivid green to gold to pale straw…

– Phrases like “packed in Italy” or “bottled in Italy,” do not mean that the oil was made in Italy, much less that it was made from Italian olives.  Italy is one of the world’s major importers of olive oil, much of which originates in Spain, Greece, Tunisia and elsewhere, so don’t be taken in by Italian flags and scenes from the Tuscan countryside on the packaging.

-Once you’ve bought your oil, store it in a place where it is protected from light, heat and oxygen, the three enemies of good oil, which speed spoilage.

Homework

To see how your favorite Trader Joe’s oil stands up to the expert see here and other supermarket versions here.

For a list of the author’s favorite oils from around the world ( complete with tasting notes) look here.

For up to the minute olive oil news check out his blog here.

And for extra credit, read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil and write a 1-2 page book report for me by next week.

Now you are ready to start classes at The International Olive Oil School!

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School

On a trip to my recent discovery, Elliot Bay Book Company, I picked up “The Kitchen Counter Cooking School” because it sounded fun, educational and was in the bargain area. I didn’t realize until I got home and took a closer look at the cover, that I owned the author’s first book, “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less you Cry“. I read that one a little over a year ago and truly enjoyed getting a glimpse into her trials, tribulations and successes attending Le Cordon Bleu  in Paris. I loved that she was just a regular foodie who decided to be adventurous and attend one of the top cooking schools in the world. That book is a memoir and has more of a concrete narrative with a very sweet story. 

The “Kitchen Counter Cooking School” is sort of the story of an experiment. Kathleen herself doesn’t know how it will turn out in the end, but takes it upon herself to give basic cooking lessons to 9 “culinary novices” to see if giving them the skills and tools to take on their kitchens will change their eating habits and boost their cooking confidence. She even had some food pros as guest teachers for some of the classes to teach on their respective area of expertise.

Growing up eating homemade, delicious, “from scratch” meals, I hadn’t really realized how spoiled I was. My mom is an exceptional cook and I was lucky enough to grow up eating healthy, fantastic meals consistently. The desire to continue those eating habits is probably what spurs my food obsession to this day.

The cooking newbies described in the book were mostly intimidated of the kitchen and had financial or time constraints that prevented them from doing much actual cooking in their kitchens. When meeting each student, Kathleen had them create a meal that they make often. These meal descriptions almost made me sick! “White Trash Garlic Bread” consisted of a hamburger bun, margarine, garlic salt and canned Parmesan cheese. “El Paso Casserole” was made up of canned tomato soup, canned turkey chili, canned cream corn and shredded Cheddar cheese. Their cupboards were stocked with cans, packaged, processed and instant “food”. I was so thankful this was the beginning of the book and that there would hopefully be some progress!

The basic skills that she taught these students were super helpful for me to read. I learned scads about knife skills, flavor profiles, baking bread, creating vinaigrettes, stocks, soups and using leftovers. I don’t think I was taught much on “how to cook”, I just really wanted to eat healthily and scrumptiously so I just tried to figure it out. I’m still intimidated by things like yeast, sifted flour and fish but after reading this book, I feel pretty confident that I should just get over my fear and try. Seriously, what is the worst that could happen!? It doesn’t turn out perfectly and you try again. Just like with anything else, practice makes (close enough to) perfect.

And on the off chance that it does turn out, I can’t think of anything better than food to experiment with. Can you?

This book had some seriously useful tips, lessons, theories and some great stories thrown in .  Can I get a ticket to one of those Red Velvet Dinners!? Kathleen Flinn also has a website that is sort of an offshoot of the book and curates anything and everything that will help you “Cook Fearlessly“.

Provisions by Food52

For our wedding this summer we received so many fun kitchen products, some essential and some simply decorative. I love them all dearly, but there always seems to be more out there!

I’ve recently discovered Food52 , which is basically a online food community. They have columns, recipes, contests and even a hotline where you can ask or answer food questions. Beautiful photos, decadent recipes and some awesome columns make it a must add to your feedly or whatever stand in you are using for Google Reader ( may it rest in peace).  I’ve found some of my favorite food blogs from here and continue coming back for more.

They’ve recently launched provisions, which is an online store for artisanal food products and artsy kitchen accessories. I’ve been pinning a lot to my secret Gift board as well as my “I Want” board…

Some favorites

There are some handy Collections where products are helpfully curated by project, such as The Coffee Collection, Tea Time, Linens, Eating Outdoors, Indie Food Mags and DIY Kombucha.

The Coffee Collection

I’d love to get my hands on some Lucky Peach and Chickpea subscriptions.

Then just loads of pretty products and tools.

Spice and Herb Salt Tower – $25

Espresso cups – $36

Limited Edition Sfoglini Summer Basil Radiators (2 pounds) – $24

Superior Servers – $30 – $55

Sagaform Oak Grater – $25

Peugeot “Paris” U’Select Pepper Mill – $42

Brooklyn Slate Cheese Board, Knife and Soapstone Pencil Set- $48

Tiffin 3-Tier Bento Lunch Pail- $25

The Classic, Tea Crafted for Cocktails $32

Medley + Noir Blooming Tea Set $28

There is also a superb pinterest board of similar products from other vendors. I think they have asked well known bloggers to contribute to it so there is a nice variety of unique things. Be sure to follow their instagram too. Pure eye candy.

You are what you eat

The facts in this Food Mythbusters video about fast food marketing to kids are alarming.

My Netflix queue has been filling up with food related documentaries lately. Now, most of them are slick and cool, highlighting crazy awesome chefs who do mind-boggling things with food. But I’m going to start challenging myself to actually learn while watching documentaries, and not just be entertained.  Putting myself through Food 101.

The very first foodish film that I remember being challenging and actually changing the way I think about what I eat was  Food, Inc.  It’s been a few years now so I don’t remember all the details it stated, but I do remember being shocked and outraged.

Shocked and outraged at the travesties, manipulation, and flagrant greed by the food and advertising industries. But I was also ashamed that I had been duped and remained ignorant for so long.

Always a fan of looking “behind the scenes”, this started me on a quest to learn more about the food we eat, why we eat it and what is in this “food” we eat. Cuz guys, often it isn’t even food. It is chemicals and wood pulp and dye  and carcinogens  and just absolute insanity. And the animals we eat, are horrifically tortured and pumped full of nonsense which makes its way into our bodies.

I’ve read a few books and articles that have enlightened me enough to change the way I eat. I’m become  kinda hippy-ish with my vegetarianism, green smoothies, quinoa, whole plant based foods and wheatgrass shots.  I love it.

Obviously food is an extremely personal decision and is, unfortunately, often dictated by outside factors such economic status or cultural norms. But I sincerely encourage you to educate yourself about what you and your family eat each and every day. I believe food and diet is an ENORMOUS factor in the state of our health today. Enormous.

How can you expect your body to act optimally if you feed it processed junk!? Logic people!

Books that were helpful to me:

The Kind Diet

Beauty Detox Solution

Eating Animals

In Defense of Food

Omnivore’s Dilemma

The China Study

The Food Revolution

I’m going to put these on my “To Watch” list:

16 TED talks that make you smarter about food

26 Films every food activist should know

What have you learned about food recently that outraged you? I’d love to know!

Spinning Plates

So I adore all things food obviously, but movies are another obsession of mine.

I’m very excited about this upcoming film as it follows such food centric yet very human stories.

One of the characters they follow is Grant Achatz,  who started Next and Alinea and recently survived tongue cancer. Can you just imagine? A chef getting tongue cancer. Just horrific. Read about it in his book “Life, On The Line”  or watch the movie Spinning Plates.

A dinner alone

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Angel hair pasta with sautéed tomatoes, onions, black pepper crusted tempeh with a brown butter sage drizzle.

Being an introvert , I need at least a few hours a week by myself to recuperate and recharge.

“Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant” is a book of essays by various authors about their secret, solitary eating habits and rituals. The essays are mostly quirky, wise* or poetic and a few are a bit lame. But I loved learning about everyone’s routine when there was no one around to impress but themselves.

Some came up with the weirdest combination of ingredients while some ate asparagus for every meal all summer long.

Some people loathed every lonely meal while others relished each silent, restful moment.

Some ate mac and cheese straight out of the pot and others set an entire place setting and feasted on multiple courses of gourmet experiments.

Personally I look forward to the delicious luxury of eating a random meal that only the eater can appreciate, but if you are eating a meal alone, be sure not to feel lonely. Be adventurous, silly and brave.

Take yourself out to a restaurant that you never get to go to and don’t feel silly about eating all by your self. People watching is super entertaining, or bring a book to read or just simply be. It’s awesome. No one is judging you and if they are, who the hell cares?

If you are home and need to eat up the contents of your pantry because you are moving across the country in a few days, then by all means create the most absurd concoction you can imagine because it is just for you anyway. It could be brilliant, it could be a disaster or it could be just what you need.

What are your solitary eating habits?

*Nora Ephron and her potatoes

Reading and Eating

Reading about eating. whoahhhh.

Over the past year I’ve tried to read a book connected to a  foodish subject every so often. Some were diet and detox books, some were factual about our current food situation in the world, some pro-vegetarian or pro- vegan. I read memoirs of a food critic, a middle-aged Le Cordon Bleu student, and a year at a small farm in central Illinois. I read a bit about the behind the scenes of restaurants and some chef’s talent for innovation for their meals. Since graduating into the real adult world I’ve missed education. Obviously, that doesn’t mean I miss homework and silly assignments meant to keep you busy. I’m not crazy. But I really missed learning.  Enter the Chicago Public Library where I can choose my subject, hours and get free textbooks!

Henry’s Farm

I loved reading “The Season’s of Henry’s Farm” about a family farm ( run by Henry of course) in Illinois. This book goes through one entire year and all the intricate knowledge, processes, early mornings, hot days and cold nights it takes to make a farm fruitful. Henry’s sister writes beautiful and cheeky descriptions of the hard work and seemingly innate knowledge that lies inside a farmer and the frustrations and joy that go along with the responsibility of growing food. What I love most about this book is its way of drawing you into intimate family situations and weaving it with the obvious love, dedication and pride they have for their livelihood.  The stories are interspersed with family recipes and the inside jokes and stories that go along with each one.

This book can definitely be read at your leisure,  maybe a chapter or two every so often. But once you finish, be sure to visit the Henry’s Farm stand at the Evanston Farmer’s Market and finally taste for yourself what you’ve probably been drooling over for a while.