Thursday, December 20, 2007

Book Review: The Taste of America

Probably the most bizarre thing about John and Karen Hess' book is not that it puts down preservatives, excess use of sugar and white flour, ready made meals, and "gourmet" food, but that it was written in 1977!! About the only thing that makes the book outdated is that Europe has caught up to the US in their use of preservatives, convenience foods, sugary soft drinks, and a corporate food structure.

While John (former food reviewer for the NY Times) and Karen do spend a lot of time bashing Fannie Farmer, Julia Child, Craig Claiborne and my boy James Beard, they do it with 1) a lot of research and 2) a lot of careful reading of their cookbooks and work. And unfortunately they are right. There is absolutely no reason to put sugar in bread, sugar in salad dressings or use head lettuce, something all of the above routinely employ.

The Hess' do not ever embrace the "local food movement" per se, but since they value tomatoes that are picked fresh from the vine, organic farming methods, and good home cooking (instead of fake gourmet cooking), overall their message could be: grow your own vegetables or buy them from the person who does. Their intensive history lesson basically proves that America once grew the most flavorful vegetables (so flavorful that Europe thought they were gross) and that we can do it again.

We have a long way to go. The best thing the government could do is either eliminate the farm bill or restructure it and then start buying from small farmers what they need for school cafeterias, the military, etc, etc. The best thing we can do is start buying from Farmer's Markets and only eating food that comes from over 100 miles as needed (okay, I live in PA but LOVE avocados). [As a side note on that, apparently I have never even had a good avocado because now they only grow ones with thick skin that cannot be bruised. ]

It's a great book for people who love food and for people who love history. And while I will still use my Beard on Bread's cookbook, it will be for those recipes that do not use sugar!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Turkey and Brie Sandwich

Local Ingredients
Fair Foods Farmstand: Cranberries
Metropolitan (via the Palm Market on N 2nd St): Demi-baguette
Goodshall's Poultry: Turkey

This locally-raised free range turkey was cooked to perfection by my neighbor, who employed a paper bag to keep it moist during the cooking process.

Make fresh cranberry sauce: put fresh cranberries in a pot add water until they are covered. Add some sugar, a cinnamon stick, orange zest and some black peppercorns (which will get removed later). Bring to boil, then keep at a simmer on the stovetop until the cranberries have all burst and the sauce begins to thicken (this can be helped along with a potato masher or a fork, once they've been cooking for a while). Test for sugar. Remove the cinnamon stick and peppercorns before serving.

Cut open baguette. Spread generous amounts of brie and cranberry sauce, topping with slices of left-over turkey. Bake in oven until the Brie is melty, the bread is toasty, and everything is nice and warm.

Goes well with cider!

Vegan Mushroom Gravy

Local Ingredients
Fair Foods Farmstand
Button Mushrooms
Farmer's Market (36th & Walnut, Wednesdays from 10-2)

Ok, so it's not entirely local, but it goes so well with the dressing! Recipe from a friend of ours who is a fantastic cook, and a vegan. A special bonus was that a vegetarian friend of mine who joined us for Thanksgiving got to pour gravy all over her stuffing and mashed potatoes for the first time ever.

1 cup button mushrooms, sliced

3 tablespoons Red Star nutritional yeast

1 tsp vegetable Better than Bouillion

½ cup finely chopped shallots

2 tbsp. olive oil

2 cups boiling water

¼ cup flour dissolved in a little water to form a paste

salt and pepper to taste

Combine mushrooms, nutritional yeast, shallots, oil, bouillion, and water in a saucepan. Boil for five-ten minutes. Add flour paste and whisk in slowly until gravy starts to thicken. When gravy has thickened, set aside.

Mushroom and Leek Stuffing

Local Ingredients
Fair Food Farmstand (Reading Terminal)
Shiitake and Button Mushrooms
Livengood's Produce (Reading Terminal)
Metropolitan Bakery

This is the third year I've made a variation of this stuffing (adapted from a recipe on and it's been delicious every time.

Pour 1.5-2 cups boiling over half an ounce dried porcini (I got these at Iovine's); let stand about 30 minutes.

Melt about half a cup of butter (I used Earth Balance to make this a vegan stuffing) and saute chopped button mushrooms (1 lb), shiitake (1/4 lb) and portabello mushrooms (3/4 lb). The mushrooms can be any combination that sounds good, but the flavor is best with a variety of types. Saute about 10 minutes.

Add 1 1/2 cups chopped leeks (I used 3 large, pale green and white parts only) and 4-6 cloves chopped garlic, saute 5 minutes.

Add 2 cups dry white wine, 1-2 Tbsp of chopped fresh thyme or another herb of your choice, and porcini mushrooms (remove from soaking liquid but reserve it for later! and then chop up finely and add in). Cook until almost all the wine has evaporated. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

This can be done the day before if needed, just don't mix the bread in or it will get all mushy! Be sure to reserve the soaking liquid from the porcini.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350. Generously butter a baking dish. Cut the bread into bite-size pieces and add into the mushroom mixture. Moisten with the reserved porcini liquid. If desired, you can mix in an egg to bind, but it's not necessary (I didn't and it turned out fine). Just add a little extra butter instead. Transfer to the baking dish and bake at 350, uncovered, about 45 minutes.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Spaghetti Squash w Tomato Sauce

Local Ingredients
Fitler Square Farmer's Market Spaghetti Squash
Buoni Amici (Hammonton NJ) Tomatoes
Fitler Square Farmer's Market Basil
Fair Food Farmstand Garlic

To be fair, I am not exactly sure where the squash or basil is from since I froze the basil and the squash had been sitting around for awhile. But am pretty certain it was from one of the fine vendor's at Fitler Square (Saturdays 10am-2pm, year round). The tomatoes were from Buoni Amici (Fitler Square Farmer's Market) - she has the best red pepper & arugula during the summer.

Step 1: Saute garlic in olive oil for 1-2 minutes.
Step 2: Blanch tomatoes by dipping into boiling water and then into a bowl of cold water. Peel tomatoes and remove cores. Either chop or hand squish into the pan with the garlic.
Step 3: Bring tomato, oil, garlic to a boil and add salt and basil (fresh, dried, frozen). Adding the salt early in the process causes the tomatoes to break down into a sauce. Adding the salt later in the process will result in a chunkier sauce.
Step 4: Simmer sauce for 1-2 hours adding water as needed. The sauce should always be a little bit runny.
Step 5: Cut spaghetti squash in half and remove seeds. Rub cut side of squash with oil and place cut side down in pan. Roast for 1 hour at 350-400*.
Step 6: Use a fork to pull the "spaghetti" strands out of the halves of spaghetti squash and put in a bowl. Top with sauce (and parmesan cheese if you like).

Alternative: Use spaghetti squash halves as "bowls". You have to hold them with a thick towel and cannot put them down - but this eliminates dishes. S and D thought this was a fabulous invention, K prefers a bowl.

Apple Pie

Local Ingredients:
PA Pastry Flour (from Fair Foods in Reading Terminal Market)
Grey Horse Farm Eggs (from Sue's Produce)
Fahnestock, North Star, and Beechwood Apples (from Rittenhouse Farmer's Market)

D's mom might kill her if she reveals the secret pie crust recipe. Hint: involves baking soda and vinegar which makes it fun to make. She uses egg, but a vegan pie crust recipe would also be yummy for this apple pie.

Step 1: Make Pie Crust of your choice
Step 2: Peel and cut up tons of local apples (we used many varieties, but Stayman Winesaps are always good), and soak in water with fresh lemon juice to prevent browning as you cut up the rest of the apples.
Step 3: Drain and mix with 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon and a pinch of salt
Step 4: Roll out 2 pie crusts; place one in pie plate, fill with apples and dot with butter. Place second pie crust on top and flute edges. Puncture top crust with fork tines to create steam holes. Sprinkle with more cinnamon
Step 5: Place in 450* oven for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350* and bake 45-60 min.
Step 6: Enjoy with local ice cream or cheese!