Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Variety in the American Diet

My dietitian friends always give me the same advice. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. According to MyPyramid, we need to consume 2 to 2½ cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit per day. A recent study shows that only 6% of Americans consume the recommended amount of vegetables per day and 8% consume the recommended amount of fruits.
One solution for getting a variety of fruits and vegetables is to shop the farmers markets. During the early spring Midwestern farmers markets have rhubarb, asparagus, lettuce and spinach. As the season progresses, we get tomatoes, sweet corn, raspberries and summer squash. Markets in the Midwest normally end with winter squash, pumpkins, a second crop of lettuce, apples and pears. Talking about variety, farmers markets are loaded with variety.
The US has always had farmers markets, just not so many of them. According to the USDA, between 1994 and 2010, farmers markets increased from 1,755 to 6,132. People shop at farmer’s markets for a number of reasons. People want to support the local economy. They want to talk to the person who grew their food. Farmer’s markets also offer the chance to get varieties not normally found at the grocery store. Farmer’s markets were where I first saw Chioggia beets, watermelon radishes, Thai eggplants and zebra tomatoes. Vendors at farmer’s market generally choose varieties based on flavor, texture and other quality parameters.
I decided to take a stroll through one of the last farmer’s markets. Check out the video to see what I found.
Here are the recipes for the food we purchased.

Apple, Goat Cheese and Honey Tartlets
For the tartlets:
1 package (17.3 ounce) frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten to blend
3.5 ounces soft fresh goat cheese, such as Montrachet
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup honey

For the apples:

1 cup boiling water
¾ cup sugar
3 whole cloves
1 small piece of cinnamon
2 medium Granny smith apples (any tart, firm apple will work)
¼ cup dried cranberries

Apple Filling:
1. Combine boiling water, cinnamon, cloves, and sugar in a saucepan. Let this mixture come to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium and let the mixture simmer for 5 minutes.
2. In the meantime, peel, core, and slice the apples into ¼ inch pieces. Add apples to the saucepan and simmer for about 20 minutes. Apples will become translucent. During the last 5 minutes add the dried cranberries just to rehydrate them.

Forming the Tartlets:

1. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Roll out each puff pastry sheet onto a lightly floured surface into an 11 inch square. Using a 5 inch diameter cookie cutter (or bowl), cut out 4 circles from the pastry sheet.
3. Roll out the second puff pastry sheet the same way and cut out 4 more circles.
4. From these circles, take a 3 inch diameter cookie cutter and cut out smaller circles from the center of each one to make a ring.
5. Brush the outer 1 inch edges of the 5 inch rounds on a baking sheet with beaten egg; top each with the pastry ring.
6. Freeze for 30 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
8. Mix the cheese and lemon juice in a bowl. Spread mixture inside the frozen pastry rounds.
9. Meanwhile, drain apples and cranberries. Overlap the apple slices on top of the cheese (use about 3 tablespoons of apples).
10. Mix butter and honey together and brush over the pastry and apples.
11. Bake until pastry is puffed and golden, about 30-35 minutes.

Fried Okra
Serves 4.

1 pound okra
½ cup flour
½ cup cornmeal
2 Tablespoon Cajun seasoning (recipe follows)
Oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Cajun Seasoning:
1 Tablespoon sweet paprika
2½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground red pepper, preferably cayenne
¾ teaspoon white pepper
¾ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon dried thyme leaves
½ teaspoon dried oregano leaves

1. With a sharp knife, slice the okra into 1-inch slices. Place okra in a medium bowl. Pour in enough buttermilk to cover okra. Add about 1 teaspoon seasoning. Stir, refrigerate for 30 minutes.
2. Place about 1 quart of oil in a large saucepan. Heat oil.
3. Drain okra. In a shallow dish combine flour, cornmeal and seasoning. Stir to combine. Coat okra completely with flour/cornmeal mixture. Fry the okra, in batches, in the hot oil until golden brown, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove okra from oil and drain on paper towels. Season with additional Cajun seasoning or serve with hot sauce.

Thai Green Curry
For the rice:

1½ cup jasmine rice
1¾ cup water
For the curry:

2 Tablespoons of instant green curry paste
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup coconut milk
1 cup water or vegetable stock
½ Chinese eggplant (about 8 in long) cut lengthwise and then crosswise into half-moon shapes**
7 to 8 pea-shaped Thai eggplants (makua puong)
½ cup yellow onion, finely chopped
8 ounces raw shrimp, peeled with tails left intact
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
Pinch of sugar
2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 stems of sweet Thai basil, leaves picked off
A handful of coriander stems, roughly chopped

1. Place rice in a small saucepan. Rinse the rice about three times or so, draining the water after each rinse.
2. Add water to rice. Cover and bring the rice to a boil.
3. Turn the heat down to low. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
4. Remove the rice from the heat and allow the rice to sit covered for about 10 minutes.
5. Fluff rice with a fork.
1. In the meantime, heat the oil in a wok or a deep saucepan. Add curry paste, frying just long enough to evaporate any moisture from the paste or until it becomes fragrant.
2. Add the coconut milk and vegetable stock, stir to mix. Taste the curry to check the level of spiciness and creaminess (if you’d like more heat, add a tablespoon more of curry, if it’s too spicy add 2 tablespoons more of coconut milk).
3. When the mixture starts to bubble, add the Thai eggplants and onion, and leave to cook for about 5 minutes our until the eggplants start to soften.
4. Add the Chinese eggplant and cook for 3 minutes until the eggplant start to soften. When the vegetables are cooked, reduce the heat and add the shrimp. Cook for a minute.
5. Add the sugar and the fish sauce. Taste the curry and adjust flavors as needed. Add lime juice and basil leaves.
6. Stir then serve on top of jasmine rice and garnished with chopped cilantro, basil leaves, and lime wedges.
**If you cannot find Chinese eggplant use ¼ of an American eggplant.

Baked Sweet Dumpling Squash

Serves 2.
1 sweet dumpling squash
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup honey
3 Tablespoons water

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. With a sharp knife cut the squash in half, scoop out the seeds. Cut each half in half to make quarters.
3. Melt the butter, cinnamon, and honey in a microwave proof bowl for 30-60 seconds. Stir.
4. Add the water to a baking pan and place the squash in the pan flesh side down.
5. Bake for 35 minutes. Poke the squash with a fork to check for tenderness, if the squash is still hard bake for another 10 minutes.
6. Turn the squash over so the flesh is facing up. Spread the honey mixture on the flesh and bake for another 5 minutes.
7. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Additional Resources
*Cooking Light – Cooking Through the Seasons
*Eating Well – Eating Well In Season: The Farmers Market Cookbook
*Sur La Table and Janet Fletcher – Eating Local, the Food Inspired by America’s Farmers

Monday, November 15, 2010

Mama Still Rocks

I am a fan of Cook's Illustrated books and magazine. I like to know the science of food and how to make the ‘best’.

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, I decided to try and make the ‘best’ pumpkin pie. Since I did not grow up with pumpkin, I enlisted the help of a few friends. I started by asking around to see how people make pumpkin pie. One friend says, they always used butternut squash because they grew so much of it that why should they use a canned product. Yet, another friend says, I just use the recipe on the back of the can of pumpkin.

I started with the recipe from Cook's Illustrated (Nov/Dec, 2008), since it was the ‘best’. I also found recipes from a couple of Midwestern cookbooks. After all, a Midwesterner should know how to make pumpkin pie. I gathered my ingredients and began making pies. And here are my results.

The Cooks Illustrated recipe made the pie with the mildest flavor. It was deemed as being ‘good’. One pie was made with condensed milk and fresh pumpkin or squash. It was deemed as ‘gummy’ and good but not the ‘best’. The last was made with canned pumpkin and evaporated milk. A friend summed up his thoughts on this pie in this manner. “It tastes like Mom’s. “ He didn’t say anything about the best, but it tastes like Mom’s.

This little experiment reminded me that sometimes it’s not the best that we seek. We seek the comfort of the familiar, tradition, home and Mom. And I think that’s just fine. In this day of instant messaging and all other ‘instant’ stuff, it’s nice to hold on to tradition.

To all those folks at Cook's Illustrated, thanks for giving us the ‘best pie’. But apparently Mom still rocks.

Finally, I came up with my version of Mom’s and Cook’s Illustrated pumpkin pie recipe. I made it for my same friend. He liked it, but wished it was more orange, aka, the canned stuff. If you like, you can substitute one can of pumpkin and one cup of sweet potatoes.

Pumpkin Pie

Crust for 1-9” pie
3 cups pumpkin or butternut squash
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup dark brown sugar
1½ cups half and half or 1 can (12 ounce) evaporated milk
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Mix all ingredients together and pour into pie crust. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes in a 425°F oven. Center will be slightly soft, but will set upon cooling.

Note: If desired the filling can be made in a food processor.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Trying Something New: Cheddar Cheese Pie Crust

I often talk to students in my foods class about trying something new. I tell them that if they never try anything new, they are not accomplishing very much. To help them try something new, I gave them an assignment to go to the grocery store and explore the world of cheese. They could only use natural cheeses, none of that processed stuff. These were their choices.
  • American cheese, that is, made in America
  • A non-American blue vein cheese
  • Cheese made from either goat or sheep’s milk
  • A cheese from Spain, France, Italy or Germany
  • A cheese made in Nebraska.
Since I am always telling my students to try something new, I thought I too, would give something new a try. For my first cheese, I chose Cheddar cheese. Now, I have eaten Cheddar plenty of times, so that part is not new. But I always see Cheddar cheese on top of a slice of apple pie. My chef friend says Cheddar cheese on apple pie is just like eating cheese and fruit. I have never tried it. It just sounds awful. But, I always tell the students to try something new. So for me, I am going to put Cheddar cheese in my pie crust. Sorry, but I just can’t put it on top yet. One step at a time.

I chose to use an extra sharp Cheddar cheese from Crystal Farm in Lake Mills, WI. This is one of the less costly brands of cheese, 5.19/pound. I was not about to spend too much money for cheese to go into a pie crust. I’ll eat the more expensive stuff straight up.

Cheddar cheese originated in the village of Cheddar in Somerset, South West England. It is believed that Cheddar has been produced since at least the 12th century. It has a relatively hard texture and is yellow to off-white in color. Yellow cheese is usually made by adding annatto, a seed of the achiote tree. Its flavor ranges from mild to sharp, depending on the length of aging. While Cheddar is the most popular cheese in England, it is the second most popular cheese in the US. Per capita consumption of Cheddar for Americans is about 10 pounds per year.

Apple Pie with Cheddar Crust

2 pounds assorted apples, about 5 medium
¾ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 Tablespoons cornstarch
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
Pie crust, recipe follows

1. Peel, core and thinly slice apples. Place apples in a large bowl.
2. Stir together sugar, salt, cinnamon, and cornstarch. Stir into apples. Add lemon juice.
3. Roll out half of dough for crust and place in pie pan and add apples. Roll out the remaining dough and cover the apples or cut dough into strips and make a lattice top.

3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup vegetable shortening or lard
1 cup grated Cheddar cheese
1 Tablespoon vinegar
1 egg, slightly beaten
5 Tablespoons cold water

1. Sift together flour and salt. Cut fat into flour until mixture resembles small peas.
2. Stir in cheese.
3. Combine vinegar and egg. Add to flour mixture. Stir to combine. Add enough water to make a soft dough. Wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour.

My Thoughts on the Pie
This would not be my favorite pie. It was an issue with the crust. It was too difficult to work with and was thick and tough. I may try it again with a different cheese crust. Normally, when I write this blog, I tell you about my successes. But everything you make cannot be a success and this was one of those things.