Friday, March 19, 2010

Train Reading

This weekend, I'm actually leaving the city and heading south on the train. I've packed some reading for the trip. Sometimes I feel like a small child whose mother needs to make sure that s/he has enough toys to keep him/her occupied, snacks, and other goodies (in this case Pandora) so that there's smooth sailing all the way to the destination.

After having finished Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food, I'm now on The Omnivore's Dilemma. I know that this is the reverse of the order in which they were written, but I sort of think that they make more sense going in this direction. Of course, the former book is also shorter, which is what really what made me tackle it first. After reading it, I went through my cupboards to see if anything that I had in it fit the guidelines that Mr. Pollan had laid down. All in all, I did pretty well.

Truthfully, I'd really have to go back to my great-grandmothers' generation to meet his criteria. From some of the recipes that we do have from my grandmothers, I know that they had already embraced using processed food products in some of the dishes that they made. In my cupboard, I probably have quite a few things that they didn't eat, as they were from the Midwest. My pasta stash, the bags of cornmeal for polenta, the various lentils, olive oil, and many of the other spices and seasonings that I use are not likely the same items that they had in their pantries.

I know that I don't collect my own eggs, bake my own bread, or kill my own animals for meat, which they did even in that generation. At the same time, I'm further away from my parents in terms of how few pre-packaged foods I do eat. This isn't to be critical of them, as that's how I ate growing up as well. I'm curious to see where The Omnivore's Dilemma takes this discussion of factory farming and how our mass food production works. Having kept track of many of the food issues we face for quite a while, and after seeing Food, Inc., I'm not sure that there will be too many things that he'll discuss of which I'll be completely unaware.

Buon appetito!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Polenta with Sausage Sauce

Mother Nature is taunting us. Last weekend was warm with lots of sunshine, and it looked like the weather had turned a corner into spring. Then, it turned cloudy, cold, and very rainy. Fortunately, this winter I got on a kick to try to perfect my polenta-making skills. I've always loved eating polenta, but the few times I had tried to make it, I didn't get very good results. It was always sort of o.k. tasting. What I wanted was what I've eaten in several restaurants: silky smooth with a hint of body, full corn flavor wrapping itself creamily around your tongue. Good polenta can be very seductive.

It seems like others had the same idea. Mark Bittman's Minimalist column in the NY Times had a recipe for making polenta several weeks ago: "Taking the Fear out of Polenta." Like risotto, polenta is one of those dishes that scares people off from trying to make it, when, in reality, it is quite simple to do once one learns the technique and appreciates that this is a dish in which the ingredients really do matter.

I bought the basic grain at my local gourmet grocery store: Bob's Red Mill Coarse Ground Cornmeal. I also tested out another version that I found at the Greenmarket. This last version is a fruit-and-veg take on nose-to-tail eating. I bought the cornmeal from the folks from whom I usually buy corn in the summertime. From there, it was a matter of following the instructions.


Sunday, March 07, 2010

Easy-Bake Ovens, Rose Gray, and Twice-Baked Potatoes

These three things might just seem like random stream-of-conscious musings on the state of the universe, but, in reality, they are a few things that have appeared in the food press over the course of the last few weeks. They sort of don't really go together on the surface, so I'll see if I can link up everything.

The inventor of the East-Bake Oven died more than a week ago. He was also the inventor of the Spirograph. What do these things have in common? I wasn't allowed to have either one of them as a child. On the blog posts that lament the inventor's passing, I've found out I am not the only one who has a latent semi-bitterness at not owning one of these baking devices. My mother, and apparently other people's as well, felt that I had a real oven with which to put together real cakes and cookies. She didn't understand the appeal. Sorry, Mom, this just goes right up there with things that had to be played with at other kids' houses, although for some reason, I never did get to try it anywhere else either. I missed out on a childhood icon for my generation. Of course, this had nothing to do with my later love for baking.


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