Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reflection: A Local Foods Presentation at BGSU

Within the last week about 20 friends emailed me this ad for a local foods presentation that was held on the BGSU main campus:

The Center for Environmental Programs is sponsoring a presentation on January 27th at 4:30 in 274 Overman on locally available food. Joshua Pribanic of Eric Country Coalition for Local Resources will discuss community supported agriculture (CSA). John and Diane Riehm from Riehm Farms and Kurt Bench from Shared Legacy Farm then will discuss the local produce programs that they offer to the region.

My Honors Food Theme class meets at the same time, so we took a field trip to Overman Hall.

And, thanks to well-informed presenters, we learned a lot about Industrial Food Systems vs Local Food Systems.

The three pieces of information really stuck with me. 1.) According to The Erie Wire's Food System presentation, "Since the beginning of the 21st century we've experienced almost 50 epidemic food-borne illness outbreaks that have resulted from the Industrial Food System." 2.) Buying organic doesn't solve the problems presented by the Industrial Food System because many organic companies are part of the industry. 3.) Ohioans consume only 2% or less of food grown in Ohio.

I've been making it a point to buy Ohio products whenever possible or from our surrounding states, especially Michigan, when Ohio products aren't available. But what's difficult for me is the produce situation. During the spring, summer, and even fall, we eat up to 95% local produce. But I just don't have the freezer space or time to can, so during the winter I buy mostly organic produce from California and try to buy from stores that showcase "homegrown" foods such as The Anderson's and Meijer. I feel guilty sometimes, but this is Ohio, and I do my best to buy local when I can. I just wish Ohio had the same climate as California.

Last year the guilt overwhelmed me, and we ate very little veggies all winter. And I was more miserable than I am now. Sometimes this battle against Industrial Foods vs Local Foods feels so overwhelming--to the point I wonder what difference I'm making.

But I know I am making a difference. During the spring, summer, and fall, I feel elated when I eat a tomato that grew organically in a garden of a farmer I personally know. Nothing can replace that feeling of being connected to my food. And we buy local meats from a family farm that are grass-fed or from Bellville Brothers Meat Market in Bowling Green. And the meats we get year-round from these fantastic people.

What's inspiring about this movement is the momentum and the hope. While I am IN LOVE with our local farmer (who happens to be one of the instructors in our Composition program), I was really excited to learn about Riehm Farms and their CSA, which I think would be awesome to join. But I'd still buy a lot from Homestead Gardens, especially their potatoes, which I'm craving right now. At this moment...

Local tastes so much better.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

JB's Sarnie Shoppe

Think New York deli.

No think Levis Commons.

Belinda Carlise, you were right; "Heaven is a place on earth."

Welcome to JB's Sarnie Shoppe.

Located on the cul-de-sac in Levis Commons, JB's is the go-to shoppe for thick, fresh, ultra-tasty deli sandwiches (aka sarnie to the Brits. Imagine Jamie Oliver talking to you about sandwhiches.) JB's use only the best ingredients: fresh baked bread (including a Gluten-Free one!), crisp veggies, and my fav, Boar's Head lunch meat.

The Shoppe offers their own favorites that range from the Traditional Reuben to the vegetarian friendly Veggie Sarnie as well as Build-Your-Own sandwiches with an array of meats (oven roasted chicken to mortadella), cheeses (cheddar to goat), veggies (lettuce to portabella caps), and sauces (mustard to tapanade).

During my visit with FD and Babs I was drawn to the daily special board. For one reason and one reason only: The Amanda Sandwich. Roasted Beef, Brie, Tomato, Asparagus, and low fat herb mayo on 7 Grain & Grilled. Yes, if I was a sandwich, this just might be me. (Honestly, I'm not that much of an ego-maniac; I just should resist ordering myself.)

Served with a HUGE dill pickle, my sandwich was rich, velvety, crunchy, chewy, and just plain good. That's sounds about what someone who took a bite out of me might get.

I scarfed mine down. Against my better judgment and all my Weight Watchers practice. The sandwich was New York size. (Pictured with a few bites taken out of it; I just couldn't wait!) Thick with meat, slathered in low fat mayo, oozing with Brie, and brimming with asparagus. Inventive and flavorful, the Amanda stood out, but near the end it was a bit overwhelming. (Again, that's pretty accurate in terms of me.)

I'm still not sure how felt about the asparagus. Some bites were full of love; others not so much. But I did like its flavor with the Brie.

FD had #5 Cuban. He reported that he liked it and would get it again (JB's orders the ciabatta from a bakery in Miami), but he wished he had stuck to a classic like the Reuben or Italian. This is a place where it's hard not to have sandwich-envy or regret for not getting something...

Babs had #3 Turkey Avocado. She said it was good, but it tasted like a good sandwich. I'm thinking JB's is a place where you want to go big. Get a classic or get a unique flavor profile. Babs and I decided if you want healthy, buy the lunch meat from them and make your own at home.

All regular Sarnies are $6.99 with a pickle or a side of chips.

Besides Boar's Head lunch meat and condiments, JB's serves salads, soups, and smoothies. Kids meals are available.

Open for lunch and dinner (Monday-Saturday 9-9 and Sundays 11-7), this is a great stop after a movie or some shopping. And I plan to make visits from BG just to eat there. It's a much shorter wait then Biaggi's and a bit more fun. They also offer catering services for all those events that need good eats, such as the Superbowl.

The only drawback: pop and smoothies are the only beverage choices. FD kept raving that his sandwich would have been so much better with a microbrew. But bars are located with Levis Commons if you need to wet your whistle after your sarnie.

JB's Sarnie Shoppe is the perfect solution to your New York deli cravings. And, if you're lucky during your visit, maybe you'll even be able to eat a sandwich bearing your name.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Snow Leads to Soup

In an effort to use all produce and not waste any tiny bit of it, I've taken to scouring websites, blogs, and magazines for soup recipes. Soup is the easiest to stay warm when snow and wind threaten Northwest Ohio, but mostly it's the easiest way, for me, to make something out of a bunch of random seemingly nothings.

This soup adventure began with a head of cauliflower that stared at me every time I opened our produce drawer. One friend gave me the idea to mash it, but I got more excited about mashing parsnips. So when those little white florets started looking really sad this past weekend, I knew I had to find something to make with it.

I figured I'd put my iPhone addiction and the Epicurious app to work. Solution: Cauliflower, Swiss Chard, and Chicken Soup. The caraway seeds awaken what could be a sleeper of a soup. And it was easy to find substitutes and use what I had in the freezer and cupboards: brown rice, frozen kale mix from my favorite local farmers, homemade chicken broth and shredded cooked chicken from a roast I made last week. I think this soup turned out the better because of all the wonderful ingredients. (Not to mention, get my kale fix.)

FD and I both loved it, even though next time I would add a bit more broth. It was a bit thick. Soup's always an easy dish that save us during a busy week of rough-draft-commenting and general late evenings full of work of some kind. Actually this week I should thank the cauliflower for forcing me to find this recipe, which will feed us through the end of the week.

God bless you, cauliflower and cook-aheads. You rock.

Jools' Favorite Beef Stew & Mine Too!

During these sad months of longing for dinosaur kale I have turned to another vegetable.


They don't compare to kale, but they're keeping me busy, happy, and quite full.

I've never really thought about parsnips. They've gotten lost in a family of other, more-popular root veggies: the baby carrots and the robust red bliss potatoes. But parsnips shouldn't be ignored. They're sweet sourness adds so many layers to simple dishes like roasted vegetables or more complex (flavor-wise) dishes such as Zinfandel Braised Short Ribs.

After making the absolutely-heavenly-so-easy-to-make-cook-them-tomorrow Short Ribs for friends on Saturday night I had a few parsnips leftover, and, of course, I turned to Jamie Oliver to see what recipes he had to ensure I use them wisely.

I came across Jools' Favorite Beef Stew in Jamie's Dinners. I was excited by how easy the recipe is but I was reluctant to make it. Beef stews, in my experiences, are pretty boring. I've tried countless stew recipes, but they always seem to turn out the same--edible but not memorable, a conglomeration of lack-luster tomato and beef. I had a feeling I'd like my mate Jamie's, though; he adds one whole bottle of red wine. I'm a sucker for red wine.

This was by far one of the best beef stews I have ever eaten. The flavors stood out. From the parsnips to the butternut squash to the lemon zest (a necessary step; do NOT skip). This stew partied on my palate and settled quite nicely in my tummy. I served it over some leftover mashed parsnips and potatoes, which was divine.

I did do something a little different from Jamie. I softened the onions and sage with a bit of garlic too. I didn't flour the beef cubes; I just browned them for a few minutes before adding all the veggies, wine, and broth. I brought all that to boil and dumped it into a Crock Pot. I let the Crock Pot cool, set in the fridge overnight, and put it in its cradle before heading to work the next morning. After being on Low for 8 hours, we came home a delightful little but hearty meal.

Leave it to Jamie for yet another success.

You know if Julie Powell hadn't done the whole Julie / Julia Project, I would totally do a Jamie / Amanda project. Or sacrifice my dignity for the sake of sounding catchier and rename it The Mandie / Jamie Project.

Even writing Mandie makes me cringe.

Alas, no worries, since that's been done before. I just need to find my own little niche. Or at least get on one of Jamie's shows...

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Perfect Sunday Morning Breakfast on a Rainy Day

When people tell me they don't eat breakfast, I feel sad for them.

Breakfast is wonderful. Granted most mornings I eat 1/4 cup of plain fat yogurt with a teaspoon of Ohio maple syrup and berries (when in season), but on the weekends, I enjoy a good hearty b-fast that involves more dirty dishes than a bowl and spoon.

My favorite lately is Jamie Oliver's (no surprise, is it really?) Eggy Breakfast Crumpets. I've been dying to make this dish, but I haven't been able to find crumpets. And now it's my fav dish because finally--FI-NAL-LYYYY--I found crumpets at the Anderson's in Maumee.

Perfectly sweet, salty, chewy, luscious, and crisp, this totally easy first meal of the day is fabulous when you want something to hold you over and give you a reason to eat a light lunch and perhaps even a light dinner. I just love it, and it's definitely a recipe worth sharing...

Makes 2 servings

2 large eggs
coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1 chile, deseeded, chopped finely
4 slices of bacon
2 crumpets
maple syrup

Whisk eggs, salt, pepper, and chili. Push crumpets into eggs. Make sure to coat both sides of the crumpets several times, then let them soak in eggs.

Meanwhile fry bacon on medium heat. When done, drain on paper towel.

Drain most of bacon fat from pan. Leave 1T. Add crumpets to pan. Fry for a few minutes on each side until golden.

Drizzle crumpets and bacon with maple syrup. Serve.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Food for Thought

For the next 15 weeks I'm excited to say I'm on a food adventure with 10 exceptional Honors students.

For my food-theme Academic Writing class, we're discussing food as it affects identity, health, culture, economies, and many other aspects of our lives.

Today Lucy Long is visiting our class to talk about foodways and, specifically, her article "Green Bean Casserole and Midwestern Identity: A Regional Foodways Aesthetic and Ethos."

Of course I had to make two versions of green bean casserole to celebrate our special guest. To read about my reflections while cooking up these traditional casseroles, visit my Honors blog, where I'll be posting many more reflections about our class and our discussions revolving around food.


01/24/10 -- Update

It seems most of the students enjoyed the homemade casserole (the one in the white dish) more so than the Campbell's soup one because it was less salty and had "more flavor." I wonder, though, if there wasn't something subconscious about the term "homemade" that possibly made the students feel more emotional connection with that one. I remember being a student and craving anything "homemade." I'm excited to continue this food adventure with other dishes. Stay tuned.

Monday, January 18, 2010

The 67th Golden Globes

In honor of a tradition that stems from a good friend from grad school, I hosted a Golden Globe party last night. Guests were required to fill out ballots and a grand prize was awarded to the one who guessed the most wins. In addition to this healthy competition I upped the ante and help a "best appetizer" contest as well that had a nice grand prize too!

There's nothing like opening the door to guests with elaborate dishes and determined game faces.

While being a hostess is in itself very rewarding, I didn't have a chance to take a picture of each app. However, I'm going to do my best to recount each dish.

The grand prize winner: bacon-wrapped dates. A date wrapped in bacon is a perfect date for the Golden Globes. (Horrible pun intended.)

Also on the menu: bite-sized Caesar salad phillo cups; fresh from Sarah L.'s backyard hens deviled eggs with homemade mayo, caviar, and chives; red curry salmon bites; prosciutto bites with basil and cream cheese; mini Oreo crust cheesecakes; cranberry and sauerkraut meatballs, chocolate mascarpone toffee squares; and tomato swiss canapes.

I omitted myself from the competition, but I made chile-corn custard squares, spice crispies, and pimento cheese. (Please visit links for recipes.) The pimento cheese seemed to be the biggest hit of the apps I prepared, and it was definitely the easiest to prepare. I liked the spice crispies a lot. And the chile-corn custard squares were good but a little greasy; I don't think I'd oil the non-stick pan before baking.

And where there is good food there is always good company! I have to thank all of our guests for their generous and adventurous spirits. Seriously, it was the first party I've ever hosted where I left everyone gel and become a community of common folk. It was divine. I'm lucky to have such fabulous friends.

Congrats to Sarah L.--the app AND Golden Globes winner! She swept all the categories. In true Hollywood style.

Now, if only I could feel content that Sandra Bullock won best actress in a drama...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sans Hood

Finally, I was brave enough to get the perfect sear on our ribeye steaks. I heated my cast iron skillet until it was smoking hot, brushed the bottom with a sliver of butter, and slipped in our grassfed friends.
In two seconds the whole house looked like a Halloween haunted house--fog machines in full effect. And not one smoke alarm went off. Nice.
I opened all the windows. When I flipped the switch for the useless, loud kitchen fan, I thought to myself, "When I grow up I'm getting a hood in my kitchen."
I swatted away the smoke so I could actually see the steaks as I flipped them after two minutes. After another two minutes I popped them in a 400 degree oven for 6-8 minutes. They were restaurant quality, but it took me two hours to air out the house.
I was proud of the side too: potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, and turnip dressed with olive oil, basil, orgeano, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. I baked them for 25 minutes. They were amazing.
For a weeknight meal, I was really proud of myself. But now I'm obsessing over hoods. I thought I had expensive taste, but this is ridiculous. I'm learning quickly if I ever build a kitchen it will cost more than the actual house...

Monday, January 11, 2010

In-N-Out Burger

This past week I was invited to be a table leader for a study regarding portfolio assessment that was being conducted by Ed White and funded by McGraw-Hill.

Part of the invitation was to go to Phoenix, Arizona where the study was conducted and where McGraw-Hill had their January Sales Meeting.

I said yes for several reasons: 1.) I'm genuinely interested in the study and its results; 2.) I knew it would look good on my resume; 3.) The day I left it was 11 degrees in Ohio and 77 in Phoenix; 4.) It's been my lifelong dream to eat at In-N-Out Burger.

Like most Midwestern families, I grew up eating Happy Meals. Fast Food was a just part of my culinary experience as as kid, and I embrace it. I'm positive the McDonald's hamburger was responsible for addiction to my all-time favorite comfort food: a burger and fries. I probably would have continued to embrace fast food if not for two things: reading Fast Food Nation and becoming extremely ill after eating some bad Taco Bell.

Since both of those experiences, I haven't eaten fast food--McDonald's, Burger King, Wendy's, or Taco Bell. (I do eat Chipotle and will eat Subway if it's the only option.) And I haven't really craved fast food either. But I think about it. And wonder. Especially about Taco Bell.

I still have a soft spot for Taco Bell in my heart.

When I learned from my friend Jen that there was an In-N-Out Burger by the hotel in Phoenix, I knew I had to eat it. No choice.

Back in my grad school days, when some days I ate three or meals of fast food alone, my buddy Ken told me about In-N-Out Burger. He's from Cali. I trust the palates of peeps from Cali. His descriptions of the juicy burger, the tangy fancy sauce, the crisp onion has stuck with me for almost ten years.

To get a taste of that burger I was willing to renounce my no-fast-food pledge.

Because there aren't many cabs--supposedly--I was forced into taking a hotel town car to In-N-Out. I should have walked it because it probably only two miles, but each way in the town car cost me $5. But I didn't care. That's how badly I wanted In-N-Out. I made the driver go through the drive-thru because I wanted to photo document the experience in private. What if eating fast food made me violently sick? I couldn't risk any public accidents.

A Double-Double meal with onion, fries, and coke was $6.04. I gave exact change.

I carried the sweet smelling bag up to my fourth floor room, locked the door behind and went out on the patio to enjoy my guilty pleasure under the clear, sunny sky.

I nibbled on a few fries first to get ready for the first big bite of the burger. The fries I could take or leave. I'm guessing I should have gotten them "animal style" but wasn't prepared for that. I didn't think the fries were salty enough and they had a bit of a cardboard taste. Could it be that my taste for fries has gotten snobby? Possibly, maybe, yes.

The photo you see is the first bite. I took it myself. I think it's repulsive. I have three chins. My jaw is unhinged. I look dazed. There's no good side when you're stuffing your face with 2 patties of meat, fancy sauce, some random veggies from God-knows-where, and two buns.

Eating fast food isn't pretty.

However, the first bite was actually wonderful: perfectly salty, tangy, moist, crisp, chewy. It was everything I imagined. Every bite after, though, declined in pleasure until there was half left and the fumes from it all made me a little nauseous. Don't get me wrong. I loved every single bite, and it was a joy to be eating something I have sworn off for so long. But I hated how my stomach felt bloated, how my cheeks felt swollen, how my mind felt dulled after half the burger. It's nothing like the high, the lightness, the energy I get from eating pan-seared kale.

The whole time I was eating my fast food meal on the patio, alone I kept thinking, I have passed the test. I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel. (Yes, often when I am alone I think of things in terms Lord of the Rings.) I came, I ate, I conquered. Now I will abstain from fast food for the rest of my life. Yes, that moment was worth it. But not. I felt gross all day in a way that eating 8 courses of local, fresh food at Revolver never has made me feel. I felt tired and groggy in a way that a simple pb&j sandwich and apple has never has made me feel. I felt sick to my stomach in a way a simple bowl of soup never has made me feel.

I firmly believe giving up fast food has helped me maintain my goal weight, has given me more energy, and has guided me to the splendors of the freshest fast foods--veggies and fruits--that I wouldn't try in the past.

To all those In-N-Out Burger fans out there, I'm not knocking the joint. In fact, I proudly live vicariously through you as you eat your way through your next Double-Double. I'm just saying that for me it was awesome but not awesome enough for me to eat it ever again, let alone every day. There's just so many other dishes and foods I must try that I know will stay with me just a bit longer, that won't be so in-n-out.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

At the Start of 2010

I rang in the new year with beef tartar.

And several other delectable dishes part of Revolver's New Year's Eve special seven-course 5:30 service. Keeping our tradition of going to Revolver for NYE, FD and I had a fantastic meal gave us time to reflect on 2009 and welcome 2010.

And I'll forever be obsessing about the best beef tartar I've ever had in my life. And probably ever will.

God, I love raw beef.


Today on the Epiphany, I had an epiphany: use cubed steak in a chili. I got the idea from my pal KC, but after tasting the chili I felt like I had an epiphany. It was divine, and so tender after an afternoon of simmering on the stovetop.

Resolution 1: use cubed steaks for chili.

Resolution 2: make my own bread.

After reading Ruhlman's Ratio, I vowed to start making my own bread. He made it sound simple enough, and I do own a scale that needs more use. My only dilemma is I'm in love with Zingerman's breads that the totally sweet folks at Happy Badger General Store sell. So I'm thinking I'll ease into it. I'll make bread and until I get good twice a month I'll buy a Zingerman's loaf. That sounds like a plan. And the Ratio app for iPhone and iTouch is totally helpful, especially if you are NOT math inclined, much like myself. Michael Ruhlman rocks.


Resolution 3: accept that I rock--sometimes.

During our break I've been reading lots of food writing--be it books, blogs, columns, or recipes--and I've keep thinking to myself, I have no clue about food. What the heck am I doing? (Resolution 4: stop cussing like a sailor.) I started feeling kind of down about my palate, my blog and my perspective on food because it's so everyday. But then after much more obsessing I decided an everyday perspective on food is important. I'm a snob on many levels, but I don't think I could ever be a food snob. And I shouldn't want to be. I see food as something way more than nourishment but I don't think it elevates my status or qualifies me to be a preacher. I just want to share my food adventures, start a dialog, and create a bond through food.

Lately I've been attending mass again, and the more I go, the more I see the connection between body, soul, and food. And I want to express it, mostly by cooking. I need accept that's what I do. I cook. I make mistakes cooking. I'm learning. Like most other cooks I know. We're all learning, right? I hope I'm adding an everyday perspective to the conversation about food. I hope I give someone who wouldn't dream of eating chicken livers the courage to try a nibble. Or someone who wants to try a local diet the motivation to do so. Or at least I hope I'm staying in touch with my loved ones through this blog and my Connotation Press column. I guess what I'm trying to say, ultimately, is I shouldn't feel like I don't belong in the world of food. Here I am. I should embrace it.

Cheers to 2010. And many more years to come!

Friday, January 1, 2010