Sunday, February 5, 2012

An Exploration of Cheese (A GSW 1120 Honors Collaboration)

As I’ve hinted at in my Connotation Press column as well as in an episode of Spatula, I’m addicted to cheese. I eat it at least once a day, and sometimes well more than that. What’s beautiful about cheese is that no two are the same. I’ve even found very different flavor profiles among the same brand of cheese; for example, I’ve had Grass Point Farm Sharp Cheddars that are perfectly tangy and rich and others that taste like lavender dish soap; it all depends on the grass the cow ate. 

In an attempt to introduce source synthesis to the students in my food-themed Honors writing course, I took my love of cheese into the classroom. This past Thursday the nine of us chowed down five different cheeses and talked about the similarities and differences between them. Because they are an awesome, talkative, sharp bunch, our discussion was lively and intelligent. And the writing was even better.

The five cheeses we tasted and critiqued were:

Raw Milk GoatCheddar by Rosewood Products, Ann Arbor, MI bought at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor. 15.99/lb (Can be procured at Happy Badger too.)

Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese bought at The Anderson's. 10.99/lb

Naturally GoodKosher Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Meijer. 4.99/ 1/2 lb

Kraft Easy Cheddar Cheese from Kraft Foods Global bought from Kroger. $4.29 a can.

Kroger brand Marbled CheddarCheese by Kroger bought from Kroger. $1.88 1/2 lb

Without further ado, I welcome the following guest writers to The Everyday Palate: David, Kara, Alyssa, Laura, Tiffany, Spencer, Sarah, and Jess. Please enjoy these reviews of our tasting. Preferably with a glass of red wine (or sparkling grape juice, if you’re under 21.)
From The Cookbook Chronicles
"Photography internship
with Clare Barboza"

Cheese reminds of us many things: our grandmas, recipes, pizza, crackers, and, as Alyssa pointed out, mice. (Think about all the children’s books about mice can cheese!) While the French are the true connoisseurs of cheese, Americans have just as much love for this dairy product—we just show it in a different way; Spencer pointed out our love of fried cheese on a stick, when he jotted down his top five things that come to mind when someone says cheese. Tiffany, however, thought of France, and Sarah was reminded of the cheese tastings she had in high school.  Laura brings together Tiffany and Sarah’s thoughts when she recalled, “My favorite memory of cheese is from my French class. Every year, over the past four years, my French teacher would always take one day off of teaching the class and let us have a ‘culture experience day.’ That day would consist of eating or trying different types of cheese and crackers/ bread. Along with the cheese we would try different types of drinks and such as well. It was always a fun day every year of just hanging out with my friends, spending time with our awesome teacher, and discussing with each other. This is one of the things that made this my favorite class (aside from bio) in high school.”  But the sacred cheese dish that ignited ignites our senses and memories the most was Macaroni and Cheese. Jessica wrote, “A memory I have attatched to cheese is the paula dean mac and cheese my best friend makes it's my favorite mac and cheese, and she spent 4 hours making it for me for my graduation party.” Elaborating on Jessica’s memory that addressed the sacredness of Mac and Cheese is Kara who said, “My cheese memory that comes to mind is my Grandma's mac and cheese.  It is gooey and has bread crumbs on the top and is baked and really delicious.  I love it when I'm sick or if it is a cold winter day and I keep getting cravings for it while I'm at school, but I would have to go home to have it.  It also helps that Mac and Cheese is my favorite food, which is why I probably crave her Mac and Cheese so much.” For me, Mac and Cheese has always been attached to nostalgia; it was the first food that ever appeared in a poem on mine, and it remains a meal that conquers so many memories I don’t know where to begin. Essentially, cheese is part of the foundation of American food culture, and will probably always remain as such.

During our tasting we learned many things about our palates and the cheese we liked and didn’t like.

David and Kara ate Raw Milk Goat Cheddar, which is produced by Rosewood Products. For this review, we purchased it at Whole Foods in Ann Arbor, MI, but it can also be purchased at Happy Badger.  We would describe this cheese as being chalky and dry with a slightly grainy texture.  It also has a very distinct taste.  The distance to travel to get it is a little ridiculous as well.  David said that he thinks that "it was my favorite of all the cheeses, however I would not pay that much for any type of cheese."  Kara agreed about the price; however, she disagreed with David when it came to the goat cheese.  She said that it had a "strong aftertaste" and was only "good if you prefer the taste of goat cheese."  Essentially, this cheese is good if you have the palate for it; otherwise, there are better options available that are easier and cheaper to get a hold of.

Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese from The Anderson’s receives different reactions from altering consumers, making it hard to determine it’s worth. Alyssa, not an avid cheese taster, says that the Grass Point Farms Sharp Cheddar Cheese was “too strong for me and was dry in texture.” Laura disagrees with Alyssa saying that it “was creamy and had a slight taste, but not to strong taste.” Due to the differentiating reaction from the tasters, this cheese is not only easily favored but can also be disliked. When it comes to texture and taste of cheese, the two disagree. However, the two do agree on the fact that the cheese was not worth $10.99 per pound.

Tiffany considers Naturally Good Kosher Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Meijer to be quite delicious because of it's sharp, prominent flavor. Tiffany believes that this sharp flavor is the reason that this cheese went so well with the cracker it was accompanying. Tiffany also believes that this specific cheese would be a great addition to a fondue party. In concordance with Tiffany's opinion, Spencer finds the flavor of this cheese to be well worth the price, at $4.99 for every 1/2 pound. Spencer's opinion reflects on Tiffany's statement about the use of this cheddar for a fondue party because the flavor obtained is worth the amount spent on it and will ensure that the party will be a success. These two individuals both agree that Naturally Good Kosher Extra Sharp Cheddar Cheese from Meijer is a fantastically delicious cheese.

During the cheese tasting experiment, Jessica and Sarah both refused to try the Kraft Easy Cheddar Cheese From Kraft Foods Global. This cheese can be purchased at Kroger in a can. Jessica stated, “I did not eat the spray cheese, because it is so processed.” Sarah agreed with Jessica, and further went on to state, “ I try to eat foods that are pretty healthy and that do not contain ingredients I have never heard of, as well as unhealthy chemicals.” The ingredients in this cheese include calcium phosphate, sodium phosphate, lactic acid, and sorbic acid as a preservative. In trying all of the cheeses, we chose not to try this cheese, because it just does not seem natural compared to the others. 

(During our writing time, Amanda said, “I did it. I ate the spray cheese. And, honestly, I had to stop myself from having more. I have no clue what that says about my food ethics. Here I am a true locavore, all-natural, gluten-free-endorsing home cook, and I could easily become addicted to spray cheese…”)

Overall, our exploration of cheese let us see the many flavor profiles cheese can have. And it showed us how essential cheese is to our diets here in the Midwest, which was more proof of how food has meaning beyond it’s nutritional value. 

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Reflection: The Food Lover's Guide to Wine by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg

Photo from
I'm obsessed with the end of the world. It's probably from the lack of oxygen while not breathing during movies about the apocalypse. The suspense in end-of-the-world movies about kills me. Zombies, aliens, natural disasters, diseases: they all seem possible to me.

And so I find myself considering, if I had to pack a bag in twenty minutes, what would I shove in it. Sure, Smartwool base layers, socks galore, and water are all viable options, but I know to stay sane I would need a few books. Jane Kenyon's Otherwise, Jane Austen's Pride and Predjuice, and definitely THE ultimate in cooking reference Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg's The Flavor Bible. Yes, I would choose The Flavor Bible over any of Nigel Slater's, Jamie Oliver's and Alice Waters' cookbooks. If you know me, that's says volumes about how much I respect and use The Flavor Bible. I've cited in many of my BG News articles, and I've opened it countless times while developing recipes or planning elaborate Sunday evening meals. Want to know what flavors are compatible with rosemary? Look up rosemary and you will find yourself immersed in a list that will NEVER lead you astray. God bless you, Karen and Andrew.

When Sarah L., co-star of Spatula and dear friend, showed me the latest addition to the Page and Dornenburg collection of food books, I flipped my lid: The Food Lover's Guide to Wine. There's no doubt I'm a food lover. And there's even littler doubt that I love wine--maybe to a fault at times...But as a food lover, I've been really wanting to work on collecting awesome wines and, better yet, pairing them with food that would create a holy matrimony on my palate. Additionally, becoming a gluten-free household has made us much more aware of wine's radness! As Page and Dornenburg share through quotes from Michael Pollan, Alice Waters, and Julia Child (aka gods of food and wine), food is better when paired with wine AND, when consumed moderately, wine is actually good for your health. In the preface, the authors thoughtfully and intelligently spell out the benefits of drinking wine and defend wine as something that is accessible to Americans --" 2010 the United States became the world's largest wine-consuming country for the first time in history..." (x).

In the following chapters, the authors include a timeline of notable events in American wine history; reflections from articulate, down-to-earth sommeliers; a how-to for talking about wine; and the beauty of winemaking. These are the chapters I really found myself lost--in a good way--as I read and reread passages, taking notes. What I really enjoy is the authors' writing style. They identify with their audience  by using casual diction, a relatable tone, and humor at times. At least I laughed out loud when I read the last point in the "What Information Is Required on a Wine Label?" box: "The government warning ('Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery')" (95).

Probably one of my favorite lists is the "Wines Under $15." As someone who does not drink commercial pop (soda) and who is on a budget, this list of over 150 wines really hit home. I realized many of them were ones I have found and bought at my local Kroger or better yet at The Anderson's. Also, I'm a fan that the authors championed boxed wines. Too often boxed wines get bad reputations, when, many times, they can stand up a good bottle of value wine.

Finally, I like how the wines are listed. The authors provide pronunciation, country, region, color, grapes, weight, volume, dry/sweet, acidity, tannin, flavors, texture, temperature, comparables, season, pairings, tips, aging, producers, and iconic examples for more than 250 wines. AWESOME, right? I've learned a lot from just nonchalantly flipping through Chapter 4 a little bit each evening, sometimes while listening to tunes or watching Law & Order. I do have one criticism, though; for a recent dinner party I hosted, I referenced The Food Lover's Guide to Wine for what wines to serve with each course, but because the lists are arranged by wines rather than food, it was a bit difficult. I do feel, though, that's an easy fix; next time I'll reference What To Drink With What You Eat, another book by Page and Dornenburg, one that's definitely on my wish list. For The Food Lover's Guide to Wine what I have been doing and plan to continue to do is find a wine that sounds interesting to me, and then plan a menu around its "pairings", of course, using The Flavor Bible to help me fully construct it.

Which reminds me. My next blog post should be a menu that's worthy of the end of the world...with a stellar wine list.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

On The Verge of a New Year

GF Lemon & Rosemary Cookies (Blackbird Bakery)
2011 was pretty good to me.

The first episode of Spatula aired this year. Our transition into a  Gluten-Free house was a delightful challenge this year. I experienced Yosemite National Park for the first time. I wrote a lot of articles and did a lot of yoga. I've been lucky enough to share the year with some really awesome friends and family.  And, throughout the year, I've made some kick-ass food.

That makes me a pretty happy girl.

While walking Bleu Dog this afternoon, FD and I talked about our New Year's Resolutions. Of course, we discussed the little things that we want to accomplish in the new year and our life-long goals that we always revisit. And we shared the things we have overcome this year as well as those that we still need more time to resolve, or grow from, or experience--all those things we carry between every year. But, ultimately, I told FD, I'm not making any resolutions for New Year's; I'm going to resolve things as I go along this year. In other words, I'm going to go with the flow, be more open to seeing the present moment and thoughtfully reflecting and changing in that moment.
Lake Erie Walleye Fish Cheeks

If 2011 taught me anything, it was that change is possible all of time, and if we are open to seeing opportunities and taking chances, things can happen. Good things, bad things, different things, job things, personal things--things. It's these things that shape who we are. So why put all the pressure onto becoming someone I hope to be on one day of the year when I should be aware of myself everyday and resolving to be who I am in the moment and going from there?

That said, I have quite a bit great memories from 2011. From the special meals shared at Revolver with close friends or the most fantastic meal at Lolita with my in-law's to the unexpectedly perfect meals that just happened, from our Fish Fry in July to Fairy Dust, from my obsession with Nigel Slater to my new-found love for Chicken Pate with Basil and Cashews and from eating the most perfect burger to baking the most beautiful GF Christmas cookies, I have to say that no matter what every year I feel my palate gets stronger and my skill gets sharper.  My journey with food feels never-ending, and that is a beautiful realization today, the last day of 2011.

Since the semester has been over, I've either been in the kitchen--figuring out GF holiday baking--or spending time with family. Most people would think spending six-to-eight hours in the kitchen in one day is maddening, but more and more, for me, it's becoming a mediation. A place where I can challenge the mind and calm it at the same time. And because of the time I'm willing to commit to the kitchen, I found several awesome GF cookie recipes (all from Blackbird Bakery). And those those quick moments mean so much more too, such as sautéing Walleye fish cheeks quickly in butter, lemon, salt and pepper, as Michael Ruhlman recommended; these fast meals, in contrast to more time-consuming recipes, show me that every dish has its own possibilities, secrets, and sanity.

 I don't know what the new year will bring, but I hope there are even more aha! moments in my kitchen, many more great meals shared with dear friends and family, and a lot more moments of reflection and resolve.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

I Ain't Playing Games!

The past two weeks I have been completely preoccupied. I graded over 125 student essays, read over 125 student reflections, and helped over 125 students prepare for the portfolio process and the end of the semester--all the while reading The Hunger Games trilogy.

Needless to say, I am exhausted.

But I am satisfied.

With the end of the semester. And with how the Hunger Games trilogy ends.

I could do a book review, give spoiler alerts, forecast how the movies will be different from the books, and try to convince you to read them, but that's a waste.

Really all I want to talk about is the food.

These YA books portray a strong female main character, have bomb-ass action scenes, and perfectly blend Harry Potter with Twilight, but what I love the most is when the food appears.

I don't think it's supposed to be the highlights of the book, seeing that most characters are starving, but I'm thoroughly intrigued that an author has taken on describing high-end food while (un)consciously taking on world hunger as an issue.

Of course, I'm torn. I want more descriptions of the lamb stew Katniss loves. I want to taste Peeta's family's bread. At the same time, I'm frustrated by how many families are starving while others are getting their fill and much, much more.

Everyone should have equal access to good food. Be in it a fictional trilogy or, more importantly, in reality.

Reading The Hunger Games was the first time I've seen food highlighted in a YA novel. It confirmed for me how food does form culture, set social classes apart, and gives us the nutrition we need. I knew all those things, obviously, but seeing them play out in a YA novel was truly compelling for me.

And as I was thinking about this blog post and researching, I came across several sites that developed recipes based on The Hunger Games. Fictional Food is pretty rad. But this recipe adapted from Mark Bittman for the lamb stew has me quite smitten.

But then I feel guilty. Not everyone can afford lamb.

Then there is the saving grace: The Hunger Games advocates hunting.

Alright, I'm on board.

My philosophy with meat is simple. If you can't respect the life of an animal, you shouldn't eat animals. I know that sounds like I'm vegan, which I could be, if not for the local farms that surround us. In other words, I want to be able to meet the animals I could be eating, I want to know that they are humanely raised, I want to cook and eat meat that has its bones in proper places because it reminds me of the sacrifice of a life for my life, and I want to "honor" the animal by appreciating how ALL of its parts provide edible, delicious food, clothing or shelter.

Besides buying from local farmers, such as Luginbill Family Farms or Omega Meats, the only other way to ensure completely honoring an animal is having the balls to be a hunter. Not a sport hunter, but a real hunter.

This is where Collins, author of The Hunger Games, got it right. Two of the main characters are hunters. And wildfowl hunters, in additional to small and big game hunters. That's pretty kick-ass awesome, in my opinion. What seems like a trivial action to get a potential "couple" engaged with one another, hunting takes on this beautiful theme--that hunting can provide for MANY people, that hunting isn't ethically wrong--it's a means to survival, and that hunting actually reconnects us with nature, others, and the self.

Any day in the week I'd take wild goose over a steak/hamburger at a restaurant where I have no idea how they procured it.

I respect animals. So much so, I'm toying with the notion of only eating meat when I know exactly where it came from. If I don't know, I eat vegetarian or, better yet, vegan.

The Hunger Games has made me feel like I've fragilely connected the worlds between left and right politics. And better yet, it made me committed to finding a stellar wildfowl recipe in honor of the premier of the movie on March 23, 2012.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Eggs: Two Ways!

 One of my side projects this semester has been filming and airing an online cooking show through Connotation Press. What I love most about this project is working with Sarah and figuring out what fun foods to cook. While we're still getting our bearings being in front of a camera, I'm definitely proud of the unique camera work, our approach in the kitchen, and the concept of one food, two ways. I have to admit, though, it's been strange living within this new medium after so much hanging out with written words.

Because each episode is accompanied by an essay from me and Sarah, I think it's solid attempt at experimenting with multi-modal food writing. Even though it may seem as though we collaborate on our essays, we don't. Probably because we share a "food-brain," Sarah and I just end up writing about the same things more often than not. I think it's pretty funny.

Our second episode all about eggs really showcases how versatile eggs are. In fact, it was hard to pick what egg recipe to do. Easily, we could have made mayo, a meringue, omelets, a custard, a quiche, a strata, etc. etc. etc. In the end, I chose a frittata because it is my favorite egg dish, and one I make quite often.

I hope you'll enjoy this episode of Spatula and our accompanying essays, and tune in to our newest episodes and essays that air on the 1st of every month. For December, we're celebrating kale, our shared favorite vegetable!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Documenting A Weekend (Or A Lack Thereof)

Alexandria's Opening Night 11/18/2011
My dear friend and co-star of Spatula Sarah says where you find a foodie, you find a camera in hand and guests at the dinner table rolling their eyes.  It's true. Almost any time I go out to eat, I take my camera. I never know when I will need to capture a meal in a photograph.

This weekend while I had my camera on me at all times, I only took the photograph you see here. And it doesn't even capture the deliciousness of the meal. If anything, it documents a food memory I always want to remember.

During the fall and early winter, often I find myself as a hunter's widow. At first I wasn't a big fan of that new role. But as the seasons have come and gone, I've learned to enjoy the time in our quiet house when I grade, cook, write, work on projects, and/or catch up on Jersey Shore. I've realized alone time really nurtures my interior life. But after 36 hours I really start to miss FD.

This weekend was not so quiet as most, though. It began with a family dinner at my house with my in-laws and my sister-in-law on Thursday night. Then us ladies departed around 10 p.m. to get seats for the midnight showing of the epic Twilight Saga's Breaking Dawn (which was fucking awesome, despite what any haters would say.) Friday afternoon after Big F and FD got back from the marsh, FD took off for the island, and Sarah came over to run through our Winter Wheat presentation entitled "Food Writing: Subgenre or Multigenre?" Then, joined by her hubs, we headed to Findlay for the opening of Alexandria's, where Michael from Revolver is the head chef. (The mole is the die for. An in-depth review is forthcoming.) We met up with G and E there and had a great time; the only thing missing for me was FD. Saturday morning Sarah and I gave our presentation, which went exceptionally well, and then Saturday night I had a date with my sis SEM at Revolver.

What's funny is I had imagined taking lots of pictures at family dinner, at Alexandria's, at Winter Wheat, and at Revolver. It was weekend full of a lot of my favorite people and my favorite food. But the lighting wasn't all that great at Alexandria's. And at Revolver, the opportunity never presented itself for SEM and I to "snap" some pics of us. To force a photographic moment is way worse than not taking any at all. The chicken meatballs that SEM ordered at Revolver were gorgeous; the perfectly cut pieces of toast with an even spread of cream cheese and herbs standing like small pyramids on SEM's dish are embedded in my mind. And seeing her in a pretty dress and feeling all girly in my Odd Molly dress was the perfect way to eat a meal celebrating her moving on in her life and going to LA.  I can't help to wonder, though, if sometimes the best meals are better honored as memories.

In an age where Facebook has made us all feel like celebrities with our need to post every last picture of our comings and goings, it was nice to have a weekend with some of my family and best friends that I can cherish as vivid memories, without photographs. And being surrounded my the ones I loved, especially after FD left for his trip, made my weekend feel a lot less lonely. Great friends truly are one of the best parts of life.

Though a part of me does wish I would have taken just a few more pics, at least for my journal...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Chew Got It Right with Marrow-naise

I'll admit it. I'm addicted to The Chew. It all comes down to my love for Michael Symon. I totally have a foodie crush on him. The man is no Rob Pattinson, but when he cooks, he is wayyyyy hotter than Rob, hands-down. And better yet: he's Cleveland-proud, like me.

Seriously, I'm truly fascinated by the idea of The Chew, a daytime talk show that revolves around all things food--from fitness to recipes to politics to family connections and much, much more. The show is a true testimony of food's cultural, social, environmental, political, psychological, and sociological power. It's a truly brilliant idea. And while I'm still getting used to Clinton's quirkiness, I gained a lot of respect for him the day he took a stand against the Kardashian divorce (See Nov. 1st's Tweet or episode of The Chew.) But I find Mario and Michael to be wonderfully engaging hosts, and I'd love to see more of Carla's authentic, yogi self and Daphne's learning to love meat and trying new foods. All the hosts offer something important to their audience. I could go on, but I don't have the time right now, my loves.

What I need to address in the few minutes I do have between grading and conferencing is this: Michael Symon's Marrow-naise, homemade mayo with garlic, lemon juice, capers, parsley, and beef bone marrow. When I saw Michael make it last Monday, I drooled and swore I would make it on Saturday night as part of a special meal for FD.

Bearing in mind  Ruhlman's Twenty and the several suggested ways to home-make mayo, I chose my immersion blender with the whisk attachment. Usually when I make mayo in my stand-mixer, it breaks. Not this time. This time it held together and made the most luscious mayo. And the roasted bone marrow only elevated its richness and accentuated our strip steaks. Not to brag, but I think I've mastered the perfect sear and bake for my steaks that surpasses almost all restaurants, so I was extremely pleased when FD sliced into this perfectly cooked medium-rare steak, spread with marrow-naise, and sighed that glad-to-be-home-with-my-baby sigh. With a side of roasted sweet potatoes with dried kale and herbs and smashed brussels sprouts, we enjoyed a delightful Saturday night dinner. 

I have a feeling the only cook would have out-cooked me that night was Micheal Symon himself.