World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Month: May, 2005

Table Talk

If you want someone to know you, well you’ve got to do a bit of sharing, yourself.  From time to time I come across something that doesn’t exactly fit into a food posting.  But it would make good dinner conversation.  Most of these mentions will fall into my other areas of interest, travel, books, film, the arts–dance, photography and cultural commentary.

The LA Times piece on the state of art criticism–with digressions into wine and restaurant criticism. 

Over at the Telegraph Arts BOOKS section this week was a thought piece on the  "the distinction between novels and short stories."  Journalist, critic and author, Philip Hensher states that the purist definition of a novel and a short story "is becoming blurred."  He noticed the shift about 10 years ago as a competition judge.  In his view, in the past short stories were

"pretty clearly a succession of separate entities. Some collections were basically put together out of whatever the writer had been doing recently and given a unity only by one man’s recurrent preoccupations – William Trevor’s Angels at the Ritz, say, or most of V S Pritchett’s. Other writers preferred to give their collections a deliberate unity; perhaps, as in James Joyce’s Dubliners, by staying in a specific place; some, like Raymond Carver, by not venturing from a specific tone, a specific social flavour. The distinction, for readers, between the novel and the collection of short stories seemed pretty clear."

Siting examples such as Ali Smith’s Hotel World, David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas he suggests that these books are more of a succession of near-unrelated narratives.  So if literature serves as a reflection of our current state the whys offered by Hensher are worthwhile reading particularly if you enjoy a good book.

Merriam-Webster posts their top ten words not in the dictionary such as

confuzzled (adj): confused and puzzled at the same time

chillax (v): chill out/relax, hang out with friends

…but after roaming the site I uncovered some food-related new words:

onionate (v): to overwhelm with post-dining breath

smushables (n): the groceries that must be packed at the top of the bag or separately to avoid being mangled by the time you get home

spatulate (v): remove cake batter or other substances from the side of a mixing bowl with a spatula

And a cheaper America doesn’t necessarily equal an increase in overseas travelers.  CSM states that "the problem is not economic, but political. A poor US image abroad, coupled with overblown concerns about visa and security hassles, is keeping international visitors away." Couple this with the US losing market share to other nations doing more marketing.

B B Q = Slow Food

Bbq_bible “Barbecuing is a dance on a razor’s edge between grilling and burning.” Steve Raichlen

I hope you are prepared.  In less than three days BBQ season officially opens across America.   

Over at Slate David Plotz is on a noble quest to find the "greatest barbecue joints in America, an R.W. Apple-ian gut-stuffing to sample as much ‘cue of as many different varieties as I could in a week, to try to figure why barbecue was so distinctly American and where you should go to eat the best meat in the world." What a rough job. 

As he points out, many of us don’t know the difference between grilling and barbecuing:

"What most Americans call barbecuing is not barbecuing. When you throw some charcoal on the Weber and sear some T-bones and burgers, you are "having a barbecue" but you are not "barbecuing." You are "grilling." When you grill, you cook fast over high, direct heat. But when you barbecue, you cook meat slowly, over low heat (as low as 170 degrees), and with smoke. Grilling is a transatlantic flight on the Concorde. Barbecuing is a cruise on the QE2. Grilling is a quickie on the kitchen table. Barbecue is tantric."

Amen and Ah-hem!

According to Celebrating BBQ there are four regional styles of BBQ in America: Carolina, known for its whole pork, shredded pork and hot-sour-vinegar-based sauce; Memphis, where smoky, sweet-hot ribs and pulled pork shoulder are "the real signature of Southern barbecue"; Texas, where savory beef brisket and pork rules the range; and Kansas City, whose hot, sticky, tomato-based sauce was the prototype for the bottled commercial sauces now found in supermarkets everywhere.

One of the simplest methods that yields great flavor is to use dry spice rubs which if you think about it is a dry marinade. Now there are as many rub blends as there are uses and grill meisters.  Everyone has their signature rub it seems so the idea here is to experiment until you find a composition that pleases you. The mixture is worked over the outside of food which will encourage the formation a concentrated flavor. 

Rubs are usually a dry combination of herbs and spices, although sometimes a little oil is added to moisten the mixture. As they are often massaged into the meat.  Steve Raichlen, author and BBQ expert, says that a good rub "should certainly hit the basics–sweet, sour, salty and bitter." Generally speaking you can use rubs across all meats and poultry in varying, to your liking, degree, but here are a few parameters:

  • Stick with earthier spices (red and black pepper, cumin, cinnamon) for meats  and lighter ones (ginger, cardamom) for fish and chicken
  • Rubs can be massaged on the meat or poultry just before grilling or for a more pronounced flavor leave the rub on longer and in the fridge until ready to grill
  • Shirmp needs only 10-15 minutes; boneless chick and fish 30-45 depending on thickness; whole chickens 4 hours or overnight;  steaks about 1-3 hours

If you are not feeling like rubbing it all together Tom Douglas has a line of very aromatic and exotic products called Rub with Love.

Pincho Powder

Excerpted from "Barbecue! Bible™ Sauces, Rubs, and Marinades, Bastes, Butters & Glazes" (2000) the definitive cookbook on global grilling. Pinchos is the Spanish word for shish kebabs.  You’ll find the dish in bars in Spain and in Puerto Rico.  Steve recommends using Spanish or Hungarian paprika. And accompanying it with sangria certainly wouldn’t hurt.

1/2 teaspoon saffron
1/4 cup Spanish paprika
1/4 cup dried parsley
1/4 cup freeze-dried chives
2 tablespoons coarse salt (kosher or sea)
2 teaspoons dried onion flakes
2 teaspoons dried garlic flakes
2 teaspoons chili pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons black pepper

Crumble the saffron between your fingers into a bowl.  Whisk the remaining ingredients together.  Place all the powders into something that you can gently crush together–a pestle is good. It needs to be a semi fine powder.

To make the pinchos, sprinkle the powder on 1/2" – 1" cubes of pork, beef, lamb, or chicken in a mixing bowl. Add a little olive oil and marinate the cubes covered in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours. Skewer meats and grill over high heat, basting with olive oil.

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Organic Pudding

Bottles While pulling together material for yesterday’s IMBB event I learned a few things related to gelatin. 

First I came across "It’s Pudding!" which is a new organic and new pudding line available on the market. While the name is a bit odd to me–say, "No Kidding!" they will be offering flavors including chocolate, vanilla, rice, tapioca, and banana this summer. It’s also certified Kosher OU.  It will be sold in 4-ounce containers as 4- packs. for around $3.99.  "It’s Pudding!" is made with all natural ingredients and no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. It will be available in the coming months in the refrigerated section of natural food stores and specialty sections of supermarkets nationwide. The puddings are made by Lifeway.  The company was named as Forbes’ 38th best small business and Fortune Small Business’ 47th Fastest Growing Small Business. 

The company is also America’s leading supplier of the cultured dairy product known as kefir. Kefir is a milk-based beverage that contains ten types of "friendly," active probiotic cultures. The liquid is a cultured, enzyme-rich food filled with friendly micro-organisms that help balance your insides. It’s more nutritious than yogurt as it supplys complete proteins, essential minerals, and valuable B vitamins. 

In the course of my research I also cleared up a long held food belief that gelatin is made from horses hooves.  While it’s no longer common I’m not certain knowing where it is from is making me feel any better. 

And the best thing I learned?  Any time you see a call for a small box of Jell-O you can use a packet of unflavored gelatin such as Knox and then substitute fruit juice for the water used in the recipe. 

IMBB #15-Gelatin

Gelo Many thanks to Elise over at Simply Recipes for hosting this go round of Is My Blog Burning "Jelled".  Dishes prepared with gelatin, jello, agar, and other jelling agents.  Round-up can be found here.

Gelatin dishes rose to fame in school cafeterias, at ladies’ luncheons, and at children’s birthday parties.

Gelatin use in the food industry is probably best recognized in gelatin desserts and confectioneries such as gum drops, lozenges, marshmallows, gummy bears and those "fruit leathers" that only children seem to enjoy. It is also used as a binding and/or glazing agent in meats and aspics; as a stabilizer in the processing of dairy products such as ice cream, sour cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese.

Aquarium_024 Interestingly, a new and major application for gelatin is in the paintball industry. The classic-style "war games" are played out using projectiles constructed of gelatin. Some of us even attempted odd non-food creations such as the aquarium pictured here.

For this IMBB participation I chose a variation on gelo di melone ("watermelon pudding") a smooth and refreshing summertime staple in Palermo that is rarely found outside the region. Historically it is always served on the Feast Day of St. Rosalie, the city’s patron saint. In other parts of the island August 15, Feast of the Assumption is when the watermelons are rolled out.  This particularly recipe is a variation because I needed to use gelatin instead of cornstarch which the standard recipe calls for.  In this capital city it is garnished with chopped pistachios and shaved chocolate with a fresh jasmine flower as garnish. 

Gelo di Melone
Making my first "jello" from scratch was an eye-opening experience.  The possibilities with the fresh tastes of summer fruit seem endless.

6 cups coarsely chopped seeded watermelon (from a 4 1/2-lb piece, discard rind) 1 1/2 tablespoons gelatin (this is several envelopes–it’s best to measure it out)
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon anise seeds
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste


Shelled, chopped pistachios

Shaved Italian chocolate

Purée watermelon in a blender until smooth, then pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a 2-quart saucepan, pressing on pulp and then discarding any remaining solids.

Ladle about 1/4 cup watermelon juice into a small bowl and stir in gelatin until smooth.

Bring remaining watermelon juice to a boil with 1/2 cup sugar and anise seeds, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Stir gelatin mixture again, then whisk into boiling juice. Reduce heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Whisk in lemon juice.

Pour mixture through a clean sieve into a bowl, then transfer to a wide 1-quart serving dish or 6 small ramekins.  Chill, uncovered, until cold, about 30 minutes. Cover loosely and leave in fridge until set, at least 3 hours. Can be made can be prepared up to 1 day.

Garnish with pistachios and chocolate before serving.

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Say it with Flowers

Gerbera_1 When we plan a special meal taking the care to find the best ingredients, place the good dinnerware on the fine linen tablecloth we often don’t think twice about the floral centerpiece. Many of us buy flowers without considering if we could do one better in this area.

Conventionally grown flowers are bought by us because, well they are pretty and often near perfect looking. The farmers that raise these high-value crops use a huge amount of pesticides to yield consistent growths.  Another consideration is this, 70 percent of cut flowers sold in the U.S. are imported from countries like Ecuador and Colombia, where labor is cheap and pesticide regulations are less stringent. So what’s a host or hostess to do?

Why not buy organic or locally grown blooms, or plan ahead for next year and grow them yourself.  And often times they last just as long or even longer than standard cut flowers.  According to the Organic Trade Association sustainably grown flowers are continue to bud and are having an impact on the $16 billion U.S. floral industry. In the States alone, the newly emerging organic floral market reach $8 million in 2003–that’s a 52 per cent increase over 2002 and continuing to grow at an annual 13 per cent through 2008. 

One of the easiest and smartest ways through the online florist Organic Bouquet.  The company’s mission is to set a new standard for the floral industry by upholding the well being of farm workers, protecting the ecosystem and environmental preservation.  You can help them out next time you need to say it with flowers.

Image: Organic Bouquet

She’s a Winner!

Browniebliss There are women that I envy. And Camilla Saulsbury PhD is one of them. Just look at her author bio:

CAMILLA V. SAULSBURY is a native of the San Francisco Bay area. A food writer, food scholar and recipe developer, her award-winning recipes have appeared in SOUTHERN LIVING, BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS, VEGETARIAN TIMES, COOKING LIGHT and SUNSET. She earned her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and her doctorate in sociology from Indiana University. She currently lives in Bloomington, Indiana with her husband. 

And this isn’t the end of the bio.  She’s written two cookbooks, Cookie Dough Delights and the just-released Brownie Mix Bliss.  This past week her winning chicken recipe placed first in The National Chicken Cooking Contest.  An entree of chicken breast meat cut into cubes, broiled on bamboo skewers and basted with a sauce containing sugar, mustard, hoisin sauce and vinegar, served over mashed sweet potatoes, and drizzled with chimichurri sauce. In addition to her food and academic career, Dr. Saulsbury is an exercise instructor and personal trainer. I want to meet her only to know how her secrets to doing it all.

I’ve written before about cook offs and in particular, The National Chicken Cooking Contest which is the oldest continuously held cooking competition in the United States, having started in 1949.  I love cooking contests.  I’m not confident enough to participate but they do offer a window into America’s kitchen diversity and creativity. So if you are feeling ambitious they are still accepting applications over at the 43rd Pillsbury Bake-Off or for something simpler try Camilla Saulsbury’s first place dish.

Mahogany Broiled Chicken with Smoky Lime Sweet Potatoes and Cilantro Chimichurri

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Fresh Air-Ruth Reichl

Gs_1 A re-broadcast of an interview between Terry Gross and Ruth Reichl, food critic and editor-in-chief of Gourmet Magazine from this past October. Just as enjoyable the second time around where Ms. Reichl talks about discovering her "inner blonde," dining with "Aunt Betty", coffee shops and dining alone.  Interview is just under 20 minutes in length.

Brew the Right Thing

Auduboncoffee Today is International Migratory Bird Day and World Fair Trade Day.  And it seems that we should all have a cup o’ coffee. 

Now I want you to know that I am a pretty cynical consumer when I see big corporations jumping on causes for their own gain.  When I started this post I wanted to challenge Starbucks.  However, I’ve altered–if ever so slightly–my perceptions.

You see Starbucks is wrapping its fair trade coffee arms around World Fair Trade by featuring fair trade coffee as the "Coffee of the Week" until May 15.  In 2001, Starbucks purchased 1 million pounds; in fiscal year 2002, 1.1 million pounds were purchased; in fiscal year 2003, the Company purchased 2.1 million pounds; and in fiscal 2004, the amount more than doubled to 4.8 million pounds. The coffee giant is committed to purchasing 10 million pounds of Fair Trade Certified coffee, which according to TransFair USA would account for nearly 25 percent of all Fair Trade coffee imported into the United States in 2005.

Starbucks also works with farmers and co-op managers in Costa Rica with its team of agronomists and sustainability experts to develop best practices for growing quality coffee responsibly and on improving the quality of coffee crops

And what I didn’t know is that Starbucks Fair Trade Blend coffee is promoted as Coffee Of the Week on a quarterly basis and can be brewed anytime upon request in the U.S. and Canada.  Of course, there’s a premium charge placed on the specialness of the beans. But even this small price means a lot to the producers, who are mostly small family farmers. While most bean growers receive about 20 cents per pound, the fair trade price is $1.26 – a difference that can provide a decent life in countries such as Colombia, Ethiopia and Indonesia.

According to Transfair there are about 400 companies that sell fair trade products, including Dunkin’ Donuts and Proctor & Gamble, makers of Millstone. Just this week Cadbury-Schweppes announced it’s purchase of organic-fair trade confectionery maker Green & Black’s.  Unilever, owners of Ben & Jerry’s, has joined the party with Coffee Heath Bar Crunch and Coffee Coffee Buzz Buzz Buzz flavors which has been certified by Transfair USA with it’s "Fair Trade Certified" mark.  Transfair is an Oakland-based nonprofit group that audits the books of U.S. companies to ensure that the ingredients come from farmers who get fair prices for their goods.

And let’s not forget International Migratory Bird Day, which celebrates the incredible journeys of migratory birds between their breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central, and South America.  Today’s goal of the three sponsoring organizations–Audubon, the Rogers Family Coffee Companies and the Rainforest Alliance–is to promote environmentally and socially responsible products that protect bird species, wildlife habitat, and dwindling rainforests, and raise the quality of life for people in the world’s coffee growing regions.

The beans can be found in San Francisco and around the bay at Andronico’s, visiting the Audubon Coffee Club or by calling 800-770-9381.

So while I still have a problem with Starbucks non-stop aggressive expansion policy because it pushes out the small, locally run coffee shops I am willing to let up on them a little bit. Grab a thermos of fairly trade, organic, shade grown coffee and visit your local Audubon sanctuary or rent the remarkable and beautiful Winged Migration.

Earlier post on Fair Trade Chocolate

Stamp Out Hunger

2005cartoon Tomorrow is your chance to help those who may not have enough to eat. And it couldn’t be any easier than leaving your cans of nonperishable, by your mailbox for the members of the National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) as part of their annual food drive.

Stamp Out Hunger, now in it’s 13th year, is quite possibly the largest organized food drive.  Roughly 30 million people face hunger every day in the United States, including more than 12 million children. The timing of the drive helps in stocking local food bank pantries when children who rely on school lunches are on summer recess.

The food drive was started as a volunteer effort by letter carriers who became aware of the needs of their communities by virtue of being there and walking the streets of the local neighborhood each day. Today almost 1,500 postal branches in all 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands will be involved in the one-day drive.

Come on you know that you can part with at least three cans of beans, vegetables or soup.  Place the goods in a bag near the mailbox before your mail drop.  You’ll feel good inside.


Storewars_logo From Free Range Studios, makers of The Meatrix, comes another epic
sci-fi mini-movie not to be missed:

                  STORE WARS

Meet the heroes of the Organic Rebellion: Cuke Skywalker, Ham Solo and
Chewbroccoli. With guidance from wise old Obi Wan Cannoli, this small
band  of vegetable puppets (yes, vegetable puppets) is battling against
Darth  Tader, evil lord of the Dark Side of The Farm.

May the Farm Be With You.