As part of the ongoing effort to transform my less-than-a-quarter-acre urban property into a farm-let, I've been shopping for crops. On my most recent visit to Gardens of Babylon at the Farmers' Market, Peter Anderson, a.k.a. the Personal Farmer, introduced me to some starts that were ready to hit the ground running. Among the unusual varieties of delicate lettuces and herbs, many of which come from a nearby Amish farm, Peter tried to entice me with a pumpkin vine that "grows ugly pumpkins but has great seeds."
Under normal circumstances, I would snub that homely fruit and wait to buy a jack-o-lantern in October. But it just so happens that I've become addicted to the Guatemalan chicken soup at Whole Foods, of which a primary ingredient is pumpkin seeds.
This soup really is something. First off, it's unabashedly spicy, which is a refreshing twist in a store-bought recipe. Secondly, it has the most unexpected texture, riddled with nubbly bits of brown rice, sesame seeds and the aforementioned pumpkin seeds. Finally, it's green, colored by tomatillos, cilantro, jalapenos and bell peppers.
It occurs to me that, theoretically, I could grow many of these items on the farm-let, which means that, theoretically, I could ultimately source the majority of the ingredients for pollo en jocon from my own garden.
Of course, there is still the unresolved issue of pollo (Do I have enough space for chickens? Are they a public nuisance? Will the coyotes get them? Will my husband leave me?), but we'll pursue that topic later--perhaps in Chapter 5.
As I've mentioned, I am the proud owner of Mark Bittman's book Food Matters. It's full of simple, fresh, healthy recipes and it enlightened me on the joys of no-knead bread. That recipe is really great (I have a loaf on the counter as we speak) but requires foresight in the form of 12 to 24 hours of rising time for the dough.
This leads me to my most recent obsession from Bittman's book: whole grain flatbread (also discussed in his New York Times Minimalist column a couple weeks ago). The whole process takes about 40 minutes, perfect for those days when you have no bread in the house or want a quick, cheap dinner. And all the recipe requires is whole wheat flour, salt, olive oil and an oven-proof skillet--things I always have around.
You can top it like a pizza or liven up the dough and have it with a salad or cold toppings (my future plans include lemon-herb ricotta and prosciutto). I personally think that starting the pan with fresh herbs (I used rosemary and oregano the other day) and half a sliced onion leads to the most exciting result. The onions get sweet and the bits closest to the pan brown to the most intense, delicious state. I topped this finished version with some sliced cherry tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, pine nuts and fresh Parmesan, threw it under the broiler for about three minutes and it was out of this world. (I also experimented with a couple whole garlic cloves in the dough--it created these amazing, intense pockets of roasted garlic. Not for the faint of heart.) The olive oil is really the key ingredient--it creates a crunchy, flavorful crust that had my man exclaiming, "You made this?!"
Here is a video of Bittman making the plain version and one with cauliflower and curry.
Even though I suspect that books are a better medium for fully exploring an issue as complex as the food supply, I'm also willing to guess that there is a level of skepticism that documentary film is more readily able to overcome. In any case, I'm really interested to see Food, Inc., the new film about what we put in our pieholes:
....Robert Kenner lifts the veil on our nation's food industry, exposing the highly mechanized underbelly that's been hidden from the American consumer with the consent of our government's regulatory agencies, USDA and FDA. Our nation's food supply is now controlled by a handful of corporations that often put profit ahead of consumer health, the livelihood of the American farmer, the safety of workers and our own environment. Food, Inc. reveals surprising -- and often shocking truths -- about what we eat, how it's produced, who we have become as a nation and where we are going from here.
I encourage you to watch the trailer here. Food, Inc. opens June 12, at least in some cities. Update: It opens June 26 at The Belcourt, and we're told there will be some surprises to go along with the screening.
I met a gifted baker this weekend. She could really pick a recipe -- a gift in itself -- and she could truly execute.
Her name was Beth, she was from Chickasaw, Georgia, and her cookie tray consisted of a beautifully textured dark chocolate rocky road brownie that was just sweet enough, and punctuated by marshmallows. Lemon sandwich cookies that were well-shaped with a refined flavor. And a deceptively plain-looking browned butter cookie that is simply devastating.
This cookie is a test.There are people who can't distinguish looks from substance. This cookie will weed them out, because it's not much to look at, though the icing helps. A shallow person will go for the flashier cookie. And it will probably meet their expectations.
At the darkly delicious basis of this cookie is browned butter, which seems to me to be the caramelized onion of the baking world: it's the magic touch that makes every food taste great.
I asked for the recipe and she said It's on All Recipes. So now I pass it along to you, because you're the kind of person who appreciates inner beauty.
In what is possibly the best emerging trend of the alleged Depression, yet another restaurant is giving away free food. On May 1, Back Yard Burgers will dole out 1/3-pound burgers to the first 100 people in the store. The Nashville-based company's inaugural burger bailout--which kicks off National Burger Month--comes on the heels of free cone day at Ben & Jerry's, free sandwiches at Which Wich and free burritos for a year at Moe's Southwestern Grill. What other free stuff are we missing?
Back Yard Burgers has two stores in the Nashville area: 2744 Elm Hill Pike and 5004 Maryland Way.
A couple of years ago Jack Silverman reviewed The Slick Pig in Murfreesboro. For research purposes, a bunch of us piled in his car and headed out there to nosh on lots and lots of meat. This was one of those times when I realized just how cool my job was--but that's not the only thing that stuck with me from that beautiful Middle Tennessee afternoon: the smoked wings. I. Was. Obsessed.
Yup, they smoke wings there (alongside killer ribs, pulled pork and chicken) which, it seems, is the perfect preparation for these little flavor bundles. By the time they arrive at the table, the meat practically falls off the bone and any tough bits have been gloriously mellowed by the low and slow cooking. They're salty and smoky and, though delish on their own, are improved by a small dab of tangy blue cheese.
I've been trying to convince my intensely carnivorous boyfriend that we needed to make the trip. He was incredulous, not having the magical Murfreesboro memories that I do (rock shows at the Temptation Club, late nights at Grand Palace, watching my buddy play live jazz at Liquid Smoke, oh, and those wings). But, this weekend, he had a Yankee friend in town. This friend wanted ribs. I saw my opening.
We ordered 20 wings, a rack of ribs and some pulled pork to share. I also ordered--and hoarded--a serving of their excellent banana pudding. My memory had not deceived me: The wings were just as I remembered them, and the ribs were fall-off-the-bone-extra-special as well.
We closed out our 'Boro adventure with a trip to Stones River Battlefield. Meat + history = quite the nice little Saturday.
My late grandfather, the third James Allison Ridley, used to say that he'd rather have cornbread chased down with cold buttermilk than a piece of cake. The cornbread I could understand--especially in my mother's sour-cream recipe, baked in an ancient iron skillet with butter melted in the bottom to assure that crunchy crust. But buttermilk? Bleah. If it spoiled, how could you tell?
Over the years, I've tried to make peace with buttermilk's sour twang. I've come closest pairing it with finger-thick sourdough pretzels, whose salt and bready taste bring out the buttery Dr. Jekyll side of the buttermilk, rather than yogurty Mr. Hyde. I'm still not entirely convinced...but after reading Sunday's NY Times Magazine report on Knoxville's Cruze Farm (h/t Caleb Hannan), I'm ready to give it another try:
Once a popular Southern drink, buttermilk had gradually been relegated to the ingredients column, starting in the 1940s. But with its tangy flavor, creamy consistency and golden flecks of butter, Cruze Farm's buttermilk has the necessary charm for the artisanal generation.
"If you dare to do a side-by-side taste test, you'll be blown away," said the chef John Fleer, who found it at a local farmers' market 10 years ago and incorporated it into the Foothills cuisine he was pioneering at Blackberry Farm, a luxurious restaurant and inn in Walland, Tenn. Fleer has showcased buttermilk in everything from panna cotta to cornbread soup, even whipping it with cream to give desserts "an acidic edge." Fleer is figuring out how to get it to Cashiers, N.C., where he'll open Canyon Kitchen at Lonesome Valley this summer. (The Cruzes deliver only within 90 miles.)
Ninety miles! D'oh! I'm not sure I'm ready to drive to Maryville for buttermilk. Then again...
That week, Earl received "the rock star treatment" for his cultured buttermilk, which remains a key ingredient in such totemic Southern dishes as biscuits and fried chicken. (Said treatment also stemmed from the video in which the smooth-skinned, twinkly-eyed 66-year-old Earl, who drinks up to a quart of buttermilk a day, deemed it "better than Viagra.")
Patrick Martin's Bar-B-Que Joint in Nolensville was hopping this past weekend, according to diehards who waited in line and at tables for up to an hour for slow-cooked ribs and brisket. But that crowd is nothing compared to the throng that Martin plans to feed this summer at the Big Apple Barbecue Block Party in New York City.
As one of 14 pitmasters from around the country tapped to participate in the seventh annual barbecue fest, Martin will prepare enough whole hog and sweet pickles to feed 6,000 people on June 13 and 14. He's taking a dozen assistants and will cook alongside such barbecue luminaries as Ed Mitchell from the Pit in Raleigh, N.C., and Drew Robinson, head chef of Jim 'N Nick's from Birmingham, who will be showcasing the Alabama-based chain's smoked sausage with pimiento cheese and saltines.
After leaving a career in the financial markets and starting up his barbecue joint two-and-a-half years ago, Martin is humbled by the invitation to participate, which he equates to a James Beard Award for the barbecue world. "I'll be the only one there without a book and a Food Network show," he jokes.
But Martin does have a new website in the works and a blog where you can track everything from his baby on the way to his plans for a new store. (You can bet we'll update that on Bites as we learn more.)
In the meantime, Pat, good luck in the Big Apple. If you can make it there, well, you know.
What a deliciously generous city we live in, where chefs and restaurateurs repeatedly answer the call to support nonprofit organizations through dining-related events. From Eté du Vin to Dining Out for Life, talented culinary professionals help fuel and feed Nashville's philanthropic machine.
But a group of home cooks has found a way to help their community from their own kitchens, and they're hoping to encourage other food-lovers to follow their lead. Three years ago Susan Goodwin cooked up a plan to help raise money for people in need. She gathered a group of friends to prepare a feast at which they passed the hat. And so was born Wine Dine Donate, a monthly series of dinners raising money for Second Harvest.
Three years later, WDD has raised $4,000 for the food bank, and the group has been featured in Cooking Club: Great Ideas & Delicious Recipes for Fabulous Get-Togethers (Sasquatch Books; May 2009), by Dina Guillen and Michelle Lowrey.
This weekend, the group will host their own launch party to celebrate their inclusion in the book. Two dozen attendees will sit down to a "Southern Spring Picnic" including Applewood-smoked "Coca-Cola ham" with Jack Daniels glaze, chicken Tetrazzini, cranberry salad, deviled eggs, sweet potato salad, wild rice salad, cornbread, biscuits, broccoli salad, green beans, fruit pie with ice cream and Texas sheet cake.
"The book-launching is a wonderful reason for us to celebrate all we have accomplished," Goodwin said. "We hope that by spreading the word about WDD, it might result in other people forming their own WDD cooking club and developing even more supporters of Second Harvest."
Jeremy Barlow of Tayst. Jason Love of Ombi. Guerry McComas of Yellow Porch. Bart Pickens of Saffire. Tandy Wilson of City House. Five of the hottest chefs in the region, all located in Middle Tennessee--and all prepared to battle for gustatory glory in next week's Iron Fork competition at the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Those destined to fry will salute you today from 4 to 6 p.m. at Whole Foods in Green Hills, where the five chefs will greet their public. You can register for prizes from Whole Foods and tickets to the event, or you can purchase your Iron Fork tickets ($30 advance, $40 at the door, if any remain) for the rock-bottom price of $25.
Make sure you stop by and congratulate all the participants. No matter who goes home with the Fork, anybody who samples the five chefs' work is the winner.
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