Saturday, March 31, 2012

Asparagus Lemon Almost Risotto

If you looking for fresh recipes for spring asparagus now in season, look no further. This is delish!


1 pound fresh asparagus
3 tablespoons butter
1.5 cups brown rice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 lemon zested and juiced
1/2 cup dry white wine
3 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper


1. Soak asparagus to remove grit. Rinse and dry. Break off the woody stems. Dice on the diagonal into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

2. Melt half the butter in a 2.5 quart sauce pan. Saute' onions and garlic until translucent, but not brown.

3. Add rice and saute' until the rice is well-glazed and fragrant. (A white rice will be translucent.)

4. Add wine and lemon zest. Stir and cook until the wine is fully absorbed.

5. Add 3 cups of broth. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to simmer.

6. When the rice has simmered about 20 minutes, add asparagus and half the lemon juice. Mix well. Continue cooking at a simmer until the rice is done - about another 20 minutes. (White rice cooks much faster, so you'll need to adjust according to the timing on the package instructions.)

7. When the rice is done, stir in the balance of lemon juice, butter and Parmesan. Let cook on low for an additional 5 or 10 minutes so the flavors meld. Salt and pepper to taste.

Garnish with chervil or chives.

The original recipe from Yummy Supper gives explicit instructions for making a risotto using white rice. Since I had neither Arborio rice nor the patience to mind the pot for 40 minutes, I took a short cut. I also used more garlic and onion because I like it.

It was lovely!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Ag Gag Laws: Coming to Your State Soon

When advocates for the humane treatment of food animals successfully blocked state laws criminalizing undercover investigations last year, industry lobbyists found a way to legislate around it. It is now a criminal act to lie on an application for employment at one of these outfits. What are they trying to hide? Plenty according to this report by Cody Carslon about Hiding Factory Farm Abuses from Public Scrutiny in The Atlantic.

ariadne de raadt/Shutterstock

Earlier this month, politicians in Iowa bowed to corporate pressure when they passed a law designed to stifle public debate and keep consumers in the dark. Instead of confronting animal cruelty on factory farms, the top egg- and pork-producing state is now in the business of covering it up. As one of the people this new law is designed to silence, I'm concerned that Iowa is shooting the messenger while letting the real criminals go unpunished.

HF 589 (PDF), better known as the "Ag Gag" law, criminalizes investigative journalists and animal protection advocates who take entry-level jobs at factory farms in order to document the rampant food safety and animal welfare abuses within. In recent years, these undercover videos have spurred changes in our food system by showing consumers the disturbing truth about where most of today's meat, eggs, and dairy is produced. Undercover investigations have directly led to America's largest meat recalls, as well as to the closure of several slaughterhouses that had egregiously cruel animal handling practices. Iowa's Ag Gag law -- along with similar bills pending in other states -- illustrates just how desperate these industries are to keep this information from getting out.

The original version of the law would have made it a crime to take, possess, or share pictures of factory farms that were taken without the owner's consent, but the Iowa Attorney General rejected this measure out of First Amendment concerns. As amended, however, the law achieves the same result by making it a crime to give a false statement on an "agricultural production" job application. This lets factory farms and slaughterhouses screen out potential whistleblowers simply by asking on job applications, "Are you affiliated with a news organization, labor union, or animal protection group?"

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Steps Set for Livestock Antibiotic Ban: Will It Work?

Advocates pushing a ban on the pervasive use of antibiotics in factory farm animals and poultry take one step forward, two steps back. A New York judge has ruled that the FDA must order the cessation of using antibiotics to promote growth.

“In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown, and there is no evidence the F.D.A. has changed its position that such uses are not shown to be safe,” Judge Katz wrote in his order.

Eighty percent of antibiotics bought in the United States are used in animals, not humans. Meanwhile, outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity, killing thousands.

Environmental and health groups petitioned the F.D.A. in 1999 and 2005 to restart the process to ban the drugs for promoting animal growth. The Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists filed suit against the F.D.A.

On Thursday, Judge Katz ruled that these groups had won their case without need for a trial.

Judge Katz ordered the F.D.A. to alert drug manufacturers that it intended to prohibit the use of penicillin and tetracycline to promote growth in animals.

Factory-farm industry groups are unconcerned, easily side-stepping the ruling. They don't use antibiotics for growth, but as a prophylactic against disease. The ruling does not specifically prevent this.


Friday, March 23, 2012

Taix' s French Split Pea Soup

Thanks to the LA Times for this delicious split pea soup from Taix French Restaurant. It hits the spot on a cool, rainy day as winter turns the corner to spring.

Split Pea Soup


2 tablespoons olive oil
2 - 3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, diced
3 ribs celery, diced
4 carrots, diced
1/4 head of cabbage, chopped fine
2-1/2 cups yellow or green split peas
3 quarts vegetable broth
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon white pepper (or to taste)
2 teaspoons sea salt
1 Bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Dash of Worcestershire sauce (to taste)

1.  Saute' onions, garlic in olive oil until they begin to tan (caramelize.) Stir in celery, carrots, cabbage to glaze. Add 2 quarts of broth. Bring to a high boil, reduce heat, cover loosely and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

2. Stir in the split peas, add 1 quart of water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer for an additional 1.5 hours, stirring often while the soup thickens. Add oregano, Bay leaf and thyme. Add more water if necessary.

3. When the split peas start to break down, season with salt, white pepper and Worcestershire. Simmer until the soup is the consistency you prefer and the flavors meld. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Optional: sour dough garlic croutons or diced ham

Ah those French cooks. They are so smart about everything. The idea to saute' and simmer the vegetables before adding the split peas makes a very rich vegetable stock. The cabbage adds depth of flavor, texture and dimension. I added fresh thyme and bay leaves for a bit more complexity. The end result is a rustic split pea soup with a depth of flavor, texture and body to hit all the right notes in your appetite. (And it's only 167 calories a serving if you're counting.)

Bon appetit

Thursday, March 22, 2012

In Season: The First Stalks of Asparagus YES!

Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables. It's tasty, nutritious and easy to prepare.Although it makes a gorgeous salad for your Easter feast when topped with a lemon vinaigrette, every day cooking is a snap.

Steam or roast. Add lemon juice. Voila'.

Asparagus is a cool-weather crop in season from February to June. It's at its fresh best now.

LATimes Test Kitchen gives you the skinny of how to pick, prepare and cook fresh asparagus.
When shopping for asparagus, look for firm stalks with tight heads and good coloring (white asparagus is grown out of sunlight to keep the stalks from coloring). As for thick or thin stalks, it's really only up to you and what you prefer -- they're both fine.

To prepare asparagus for cooking, trim the woody base (2 to 3 inches) at the end of the stalk (some people prefer snapping the stalks -- I don't do this because the break often occurs too high on the stalk and you lose some good with the bad). Peel thicker stalks to remove the heavy skin; thin stalks are tender enough and do not need to be peeled.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Kitchen Gadgets I Won't Be Without

Let's face it. We could all get along perfectly well in the kitchen with a few basic pots, pans and utensils. But of course, we always accumulate more things. So after you invest in the basics and you purge the misfit toys, what are the kitchen gadgets you won't be without?

Here are mine:

1. Good knives

Wusthof knives are the best in my book. Elegantly designed and beautifully balanced. I have more, but I only need two: the cook's knife shown above and a paring knife.

2. Mini-Prep Processor

Every kitchen needs a good food processor. It makes short work of  many tasks; but I recently learned first-hand how valuable the mini-prep food processor. I broke the blade and decided to do nothing about it just to see how often I missed it.  A lot. It's a must-have for salad dressings.

3. Slow Cooker

This is not a kitchen tool I'll cart around the south of France when I go on holiday, but after using one for over a year, I wonder why it took me so long to get on board the slow-cooking train. A 3.5 quart, programmable slow cooker has proved essential for everything that I need to cook low and slow: herbal oil infusions, red beans, stew.

4. Citrus Juicer

Norpro Citrus Juicer

I've used the Norpro Citrus Juicer almost every day since I purchased it 15 years ago for 7 bucks. Enough said.

5. Microplane Graters


Oh I know the old-fashioned box grater does it all, but for sheer utility, the microplane grater beats the box hands down. I have one each for fine and medium grated foods.

6. Wine Saver Vacuum Pump

Anyone who knew me way back when would find this amusing. I never finish a bottle of wine in one evening.  Of course, there are other more expensive gadgets for saving wine after the bottle has been opened, but the vacuum pump is inexpensive, space-saving and effective.

7. Nested Bowls

I didn't know how much I appreciate this set of nested bowls until they broke at Christmas in what can only be described as combustion by chaos. I dropped a pork roast into my Dutch oven; the jolt broke the nested bowls in the cabinet opposite the stove. From the smallest to the largest, they are indispensable to food preparation.

8. Chemex Coffee Pot

Stuart will love this. After I spent 30 years evolving from Mr. Coffee to Bunn - he demonstrated that there is no substitute for knowledge, patience and the Chemex coffee pot.  (The French press coffee pot is a close second.)

9. Marble Mortar & Pestle

I'm having a ball with my newly discovered mortar and pestle. I've also been on the hunt for an inversion blender that works and wears well.

Don't get me wrong. There is a long list of gadgets essential to every kitchen - things like measuring spoons, measuring cups, spatulas, wooden spoons, a vegetable steamer and many others are necessary basics. Then there are a host of electronic tools that are nice to have like a food processor, blender, hand-mixer, burr-grinder. A few very specialized gadgets to peel potatoes, core apples and pineapples are also nice to have.

But the list above are the nice-to-have gadgets I'd be lost without.

What kitchen gadgets would you be lost without?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ga-Ga for Kitchen Gizmos? You're in Good Company

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Knife Holder Called "The Ex""][/caption]


So it seems that I am not the only kitchen gadget freak who has a collection of specialized gizmos stashed away for "some day." You know what I mean - the mandolin, the crepe pan, the escargot clamps and forks, a serrated bread knife with an adjustable guide to cut each slice precisely the same width, the garlic press, the electric popcorn popper and so on.

Each was a great idea at the time. I used it occasionally, then rarely and finally never when I moved on to simpler tools or foods. Now they sit at the back of my pantry like misfit toys.

Well a whole lot of celebrated foodies are equally ga-ga for gadgets according to this report in the New York Times.

EVERY kitchen has one. The ingenious asparagus peeler. The automatic paper-towel dispenser. The whiz-bang electric pepper grinder.

These are the tools that Gail Simmons, a judge on the Bravo series “Top Chef” and the author of “Talking With My Mouth Full: My Life as a Professional Eater,” calls “the skeletons in the kitchen closet.” Unlike the preposterous gadgets that turn up uninvited beneath the Christmas tree, they were purchased with enthusiasm and high culinary expectations. Now they languish in the drawer or take up space on the counter, where they eventually die of neglect

I'm honored by the company I keep.

What are some of the gadgets you have languishing in the back of your pantry?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Shopping Local in Paris


I read this post about Shopping for Local In Paris with some interest.

I currently have this fantasy that everything is better in France.

It's a food culture. Not only is pizza sauce not a vegetable in French schools, but ketchup has been banned.

It's a conscious culture. France recently banned Genetically Modified food. Growth hormones that some jackasses in our political arena have declared "better for you" are forbidden.

I see myself walking to a daily market, picking through fresh, locally grown produce that I can be sure is organic. Haggling with a brittle vendeuse over price. (It would be so un-French not to.) And stopping en route home for a bouquet of fresh flowers and a loaf of bread, real French bread - croustillant - as French bread is supposed to be.

I have also relocated enough to realize that this idealization is rather fantastic.

Big agriculture casts it shadow everywhere. People are people the world over. That which we seek to escape in reverie often bites us on the butt in reality.

Phyllis Flick confirmed this. With one notable distinction.  Honestly disclosing the country of origin, even at outdoor markets, is required.
Outdoor markets in Paris are not farmers markets, which means that shopping at your weekly market doesn’t guarantee that your produce even comes from France. You’ll have to read the labels to know what’s local and what’s not. Fortunately, every product sold in France must be labelled according to its origin, so you’ll know if the apples you want are from the Loire Valley, Spain, or even China, if you take the time to look.

Why is this disclosure important?

First, nutritional value.

As Phyllis Flick points out, the nutritional value of foods quickly dissipates after vegetables have been picked. The farther afield the point of origin, the less nutritional value.

Secondly, environment. The longer the distance to market, the higher the cost to the environment.  Long-distance food transportation is believed to contribute as much as 10% to emission of greenhouse gas - a negative impact that will last for years.

Finally, honest disclosure. Nobody likes to be deceived about the source or growing methods of produce billed as fresh, natural, organic or local. But deception happens quite often.

I once purchased what were billed as "fresh, organic, local tomatoes" only to discover that the seller had purchased them at Costco.

That is so not cool.

Ah, so I don't have a sweet, little patisserie on the corner; I am friends with two very sweet pastry chefs and a chocolatiere. I don't get to walk to a market every day. I can drive to any number of markets around town on most days - Sunday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday.

As for honest disclosure?

As a regular market goer, it helps to know the grower. But in a major metro area with many markets and many growers, this is not always possible.

Just as a rule of thumb: Paris or Austin, when you find out-of-season vegetables at your local farmer's market - whether it's broccoli in summer or tomatoes in winter -  there's a good chance they are not locally grown.













Thursday, March 15, 2012

Irish Soda Bread

Looking ahead to St. Patrick's Day? Try Irish Soda Bread with that green beer. This recipe from Bittman couldn't be easier.

Ireland's Famous Bread from Beard on Food

Time: About 45 minutes
Makes: One round loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 “very level” teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups buttermilk
Butter for greasing
Optional: 1/2 cup raisins or currants and 1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds

  1. Heat the oven to 375F.

  2. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

  3. Stir in the buttermilk, one half cup at a time, until the dough is soft but sticky. (I used the entire 2 cups.)

  4. Lightly flour a work surface and knead the dough for a minute or two.

  5. Shape the dough into a round ball and place it on a buttered baking sheet; cut a large cross in the top with a sharp knife.

  6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the outside is brown and the loaf sounds hollow when you tap it. Serve immediately or store for up to a few days.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Mortar and Pestle (and Pasta Puttanesca)

Crate & Barrell Marble & Pestle

Mortar and pestle. I knew it was coming when I needed crushed fennel seed a few weeks ago for fennel baked in milk (Finnochio con Latte al Forno.) How did our grandmothers crush nuts, garlic, basil, olives, red pepper, herbs and seeds? I improvised. But this awesomely yummy recipe for Pasta Puttanesca from The Pioneer Woman Cooks sealed the deal.

Little did I know what an adventure acquiring a mortar and pestle would be.

First, what kind?

Early American Wooden Mortar Pestle

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors relied on makeshift mortars and pestles (typically a tree stump or rock paired with a flat stone) to make meal and flour from previously indigestible grains.

Mexican Mortar Pestle in Shape of a Pig

The molcajete, a version used by pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures including the Aztec and Maya, stretching back several thousand years, is made of basalt and is used widely in Mexican cooking. These are often carved into fanciful shapes of pigs and other animals, often passed from one generation to the next as a precious heirloom.

This likely evolved from the more primitive metate grinding slab. Other Native American tribes used mortars carved into the bedrock to grind acorns and other nuts. Many such depressions can be found in their former territories.

In Japan, earthenware mortars and pestles are called suribachi (the mortar) and surikogi (the pestle). Cooks in Southeast Asia and India prefer granite mortars and pestles. Traditional Mexican versions, known as molcajetes, are made of basalt. Western cooks often favor marble; it’s hard, smooth, hefty and relatively non-porous.
Olive Wood Mortar Pestle from Crate & Barrel

Olive wood makes a beautiful pesto along with an impressive presentation, but the wood will dry and crack in time. You can find a mortar and pestle crafted of bamboo, stoneware, ceramic, porcelain, iron, stainless steel and other materials, each with pluses and minuses in control and ease of the grind.

Next, what size?

Form follows function. In other words, what do you want to use it for? 

Mexican Mortar Pestle

The Mexican mortar and pestle — molcajete being the mortar, tejolote the pestle is typically made of basalt (volcanic rock). These rough-hewn vessels are geared for heavy duty grindage - salsas and mole's (mohl-LAY), as well as guacamole. It is also used for grinding chilies, garlic or other herbs and spices for food preparation.

The Thai mortar and pestle, used for centuries in making rich, spicy curry pastes, has been recently popularized by TV chef, Jamie Oliver. The smooth, non-porous interior makes a good grinding surface and is easy to clean as well. Sizes vary from 6 to 9 inches, with the largest vessels being quite heavy (thus stable.)

Smaller sized mortar and pestle - bowls from to 3 to 5 inches - can be used to pulverize garlic, herbs, dried peppers and seeds for specialized spice blends or to prepare herbal medicine.

If the variety in materials, form and function weren't enough to make a perfectionist crazy, there was the preparation before using it.

What do you mean I have to season my mortar and pestle before using it? Did I mention instant gratification?

Some of my favorite food writers like the Homesick Texan have hilarious stories about this tricky step. I'm impressed. But sisters, there was just no way I was going to work at this for a week before having this sassy, southern Italian sauce.

Plus after an evening researching options, I could foresee having more than one of these handy, albeit old-fashioned gadgets in my kitchen.

Bottom line, crushing garlic, bruising herb leaves and pulverizing tiny grains releases oils - and flavors - that your mini-food processor simply can't produce. What's more, the food processor creates heat that causes some herbs to oxidize. Quickly processing them by hand in a mortar and pestle keeps them a fresh green and adds more texture to the dishes you prepare with it.

Suffice to say, this is not a toy ... er ... kitchen tool for people who have need for immediate gratification. What's more, using it is work! After all, it's what our fore-mothers used instead of a food processor.

But oh the joy of a perfect puttanesca sauce - whore's sauce. It has become my new favorite!

It's the perfect supper when you've worked all day without the time to slow cook a Bolognese sauce and have just enough energy to throw a few ingredients in a pan - this season's garlic, onion, last summer's oven-roasted tomatoes, anchovies, pitted olives, red wine and pasta, of course.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hat's Off to Paul Qui, Top Chef

Congratulations to Austin's, Paul Qui, named Top Chef of the ninth season of the Emmy-winning series on Bravo TV.

Chicago chef Sarah Gruenberg placed second to Paul in the finale at the Black & Blue restaurant in Vancouver.

In an 11th hour reveal of fan text votes, Paul was overwhelmingly favored by viewers. But the show's editors did a good job of faking us out. Right up to the announcement of the winner, it appeared that Gruenberg and her kitchen crew were eating his lunch.

Maybe this was due to the overall consistency of his performance in a  contest that took chefs and viewers from a hell-ish Texas summer to snowy British Columbia.

Qui won six out of the 12 elimination challenges, a car and a trip to Costa Rica. He'll take home an additional $125,000 as the overall winner.

According to Addie Broyles, Austin Statesman food writer, Mr. Qui trained under Uchi chef Tyson Cole before taking the reins at Cole's second restaurant, Uchiko. He also runs several Asian street food trailers called East Side King.