Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ah, it's merely a flesh wound...

Well, it seems the annual tradition of me inadvertently slicing or stabbing myself in the hand continues.

Today's adventure involved a wickedly sharp chef's knife and some fresh herbs that got a little too close to my left thumb while I was chatting and chopping away, in the midst of making a delicata and chard alfredo dish at the Bloomingdale farmers' market....

Luckily, I am calm during self-inflicted wound crises. (I should be by now: don't tell me you have forgotten the incidents in 2010 and 2011 already.) After looking down at my suddenly slivered nail, I put down the knife, picked up a paper towel, put some pressure on the seeping cut, and made my way directly to the market information table. The market director, Robin, and nearby Big Bear Cafe owner, Stu, were both nearby and quick to supply me with first-aid supplies. I managed to stop the bleeding, rinse out the cut, and get bandaged and rubber-gloved by Stu within about five minutes before I was back to whisking the alfredo sauce.

I swear I am not a masochist and I am generally pretty good with knives. No really. Have you any idea how often I am wielding potentially dangerous kitchen implements? It's actually somewhat impressive that I only injure myself with sharp objects once every 600 times that I pick up a knife. Okay, fine, I made up that statistic, but it really isn't that often, all things considered.

Anyway, it'll heal. The sooner the better: using the Blackberry (TM) with one thumb and a forefinger is really awkward....

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A kid will eat anything if dipping sauce is involved

At least this was my theory during the recipe planning stage of last Wednesday's cooking class with young kiddos in the anti-obesity program at the neighborhood health clinic. Tell me I am wrong: that a child will not be more likely to eat something if they can dip it into something else. Doesn't matter if it's ranch dressing or barbecue sauce or ketchup or a healthy dressing. The point is the dipping.

So after we collectively washed and chopped broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, onions, avocados, bell peppers, and string beans; once we'd juiced a bag of lemons and whisked olive oil and ground black pepper and torn fresh herbs; following our mincing of garlic, peeling of hard-boiled eggs, and draining of black beans; and subsequent to the rinsing and patting dry of our lettuce leaves that would be the base for our vegetarian wraps; we each dunked our "tortillas de lechuga rellenas y enrolladas" in one of four simple, healthy, just-made dips. Ha! If they only realized that was low-fat Greek yoghurt instead of sour cream. And they were positively guzzling the lemon herb concoction....


The vast majority of students came back for seconds, some under the auspices of trying out one of the other (surprisingly healthy, moo ha ha ha) dips. Some came back for thirds! I did feel a little bad when one of the adults told me later that the students had their physical activity after the snack session. Oops. Well, at least it was a light and healthy snack.... that hopefully did not end up regurgitated all over the 3rd floor of the Upper Cardozo Health Clinic.

The low-carb wraps and cut up raw veggies were a hit! I attribute it to the hands-on nature of the class. I consistently find that folks young and old alike (but especially the young) are more willing to try -- and also more likely to enjoy -- food that they've had a hand in preparing. But just as important, I will concede, is the appeal of dipping stuff into a sauce of some sort. (I know plenty of grown-up kids who could be similarly cajoled. Heck, half the reason I ordered chicken wings tonight at Boundary Stone's one-year anniversary celebration was because of the bleu cheese dipping sauce. I am no purist, though I did check first to be sure that the now-wingless chickens were local and free-range. The waitress couldn't tell me the name of the farm, but I only realized that after beer #2. But I digress....)

Should you want some inspiration for some irresistible dipping sauces to get yourself or a picky eater in your house to eat more veggies, try one or more of these on for size:

Dipping sauce ideas

1) Lemony and tart:
In a jar, shake together 3 tablespoons olive oil + 1 tablespoon lemon juice + pinch of salt & pepper + handful of fresh herbs, minced + 1 clove garlic, minced (optional).

2) Creamy and savory:
Combine ¼ cup plain Greek yoghurt + pinch of salt + ½ teaspoon of curry powder OR hot sauce OR a handful of fresh mint, chopped.

3) Nutty and spicy:Whisk together ½ small onion, minced + 2 tablespoons oil + 2 garlic cloves, minced + ½ cup water + ¼ cup creamy peanut butter + 1 tablespoon chili powder + 2 tablespoons lemon juice +  2 tablespoons soy sauce.
(Whisk in a few spoonfuls of olive oil to any of these to make a delicious dressing for a salad, too.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Surgeon hands

"What's the first thing a good cook does before doing anything else in the kitchen? Right! She washes her hands with soap and water...."

Thus began the cooking portion of the class of twenty-six 3rd graders earlier this week. And you'd better believe the groups I am teaching Thursday and Friday will be practicing good hygiene, too. I mean, schools are veritable germ factories and elementary school students seem particularly prone to regular nose wiping and shoelace tying and virus smearing. (While I have mostly gotten past my hypochondriac tendencies, I also know that I am a terrible sick person... too impatient... and I have classes to teach!) Half of the stuff we'd be eating at the end of class was going to be chopped and served raw, to be dipped in the (also raw) pesto we were making. So before they even headed over to the sinks, I made sure my young sous chefs knew that they were grown up enough to practice "surgeon hands."

Yep, visualize a roomful of 8-year-olds walking around with their hands up in front of their faces, bent at 90 degrees from the elbows and carefully scooting out their chairs using one foot and you could be a fly on the wall of the FoodPrints classroom last Monday. "You're in third grade now," I told them, very seriously as I demonstrated, thankfully without tripping over the chair myself, "so I know you can handle this." And they could. Hands-free chair scooting? No problem! Self-directed hand rewashing? Like clockwork. I noticed a few of them patiently tapping a tablemate on the shoulder and pointing out that there had been an inadvertent face scratch or nose rub or hair adjustment, that it would be wise for the (mildly) accused to rewash and come back with surgeon hands. "If you need to touch anything," I overheard one student matter-of-factly reminding another one, "hold on to your other clean hand."

Love it.

I probably should have followed my own advice and not been nibbling on the remains of my own plate of food while packing up the classroom and wiping down tables after class ended. Well, I wasn't making food for other people at that point. If I get sick, it's my own fault. (Do what I say, not what I do....)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chocolate-covered bacon

I'll bet this post gets a lot more google search hits than usual. Why? Because it is FREAKING DELICIOUS.

I will admit that most things taste better when either bacon or dark chocolate are involved. Using both is almost -- almost but not quite -- too much. Behold: Smith Meadows pastured bacon slathered in Green & Black's 80% dark chocolate.

This was the spectacular final course during the celebratory dinner I had with my friends Michelle and Forrest after helping out at the family farm part of last week in nearby Berryville, VA. After a long day of serious apple picking, chicken coop painting, egg gathering, sassafras hunting, and maybe just a little late afternoon napping, Michelle let me play with some truly beautiful ingredients in the kitchen. The homemade pasta and tomato-gin-bacon sauce were a great start, and the pickled veggies and (flat -- alas!) pumpkin beer were good complements, but the highlight of the meal was the dessert course... in three parts.

I am not big on dessert eating, certainly not in large quantities, but tell me honestly: if you had to choose between roasted-then-chocolate-dipped garlic cloves, just-baked apple pie, and bacon covered in dark chocolate, would you be able to not at least make a little sampler plate? It was divine, we agreed, as Forrest first regaled us with some points from his upcoming book -- if it is truly the intersection of The Princess Bride, The Ominvore's Dilemma, and A River Runs Through It like it sounds to be shaping up as, I will get myself in line for an autographed copy -- and then whipped out the guitar for an impromptu singalong. What a fun visit. Work hard, play hard, sing loud, eat well. My kind of people.

(I wonder if Michelle noticed that I gobbled up most of the leftover chocolate bacon as I carried snack supplies out to the truck at 5am to catch a ride back into the city with the farmers' market crew the next morning....)

Should you want to get some of your very own local, pastured bacon and endear yourself to friends and loved ones with a batch of chocolate-covered bacon, here's where you can get some of the good stuff.

Instructions: cook bacon, cool bacon, have a beer and rest a bit, dunk bacon in melted chocolate, chill to set chocolate, devour.

Rushing the Saison

Okay, fine, so I may or may not have happened to stop by Meridian Pint last night, where the judging of the DC State Fair homebrew competition was taking place. And my charming companion, Kenton, may or may not have wandered off from the main bar area away from the men's room "by mistake" in the general direction of where we suspected the judging might be happening. Fear not, though various friends have offered to try and sway the judges' opinions in my favor, I have not in any way tampered with whatever the outcome will be. No, I am confident that once they taste my very first beer, with pumpkin grown not five blocks from the site where my inaugural homebrew -- along with as many as 99 other DC-area submissions -- was first tasted by the professionals, they will conclude that the "Rushing the Saison Pumpkin Ale" is undeniably delicious.

Well, assuming I didn't somehow end up giving them one of the uncarbonated bottles.... Eep.

The first taste I had of the much-anticipated pumpkin ale was with my friend Jessica last Monday, after we finished canning a whole mess of tomatoes at her place. It was, in a word, DELICIOUS. Nice color, nice body, nice flavor, not overly pumpkinny....

Then Kenton and I, while we were finalizing the name of this most homegrown of homebrews, split a bottle a few nights later. Again, though slurped surreptitiously out of travel coffee mugs downtown and thus enjoyed in a less than optimal drinking vessel, the beer was quite delicious. I was perhaps getting a little cocky. Oh, I should know better by now....

Then, as part of the celebratory final dinner with my friends Michelle and Forrest out at their farm in Berryville on Friday night, we cracked open a bottle of chilled pumpkin beer goodness and... it was flat! (More on that stellar dinner later, though I cannot help but mention that dark-chocolate-covered, local, pastured bacon was one of three desserts involved. It would have been perfect with a nice, carbonated pumpkin ale to wash it down.) It didn't taste bad, exactly, but it just wasn't great. Hmmm.

Well, here's hoping that everything turned out alright with the homebrew competition. Assuming that they followed my very specific instructions to drink it cold, and I didn't manage to inadvertently submit 3 flat 12-ounce bottles of the RTS pumpkin ale, I think we have a good shot at winning... something. I'll find out when they make the big announcement at the fair proper on Saturday afternoon! (By the way, I wonder how someone gets on that panel of judges....)

Many thanks to all who helped brew, bottle, name, and taste my very first batch! (Don't worry, dad, I'm saving a 6-pack of it for your birthday dinner in a few weeks.)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Er, your salad is moving

I love when I have a chance to hang out with my cousin Caroline. It doesn't happen nearly as often as I would like, to be sure (and it's certainly harder since she stopped living in Queens and I no longer reside in Brooklyn). But I make it out to the Poconos to help her and Farmer Gary once or twice a year. Mostly around harvesting and festival time. You know, when there's lots of chocolate and garlic around.

I like helping on the farm itself, but most of my favorite times are in the kitchen making and sharing meals. Such amazing ingredients to play with: venison, freshly dug potatoes and carrots and beets, heirloom tomatoes and garlic, garple, homemade maple syrup, shiitakes from the logs they started a few years ago, edible flowers, and herbs galore. Mmm mmm mmm. And Gary and Caroline are quite the conversationalists.

During my final meal of this most recent visit, in the midst of an intense discussion about raw fish and pickled meats -- neither on the menu that night, thankfully -- I was about to stab a roasted beet with my fork when a squiggly green caterpillar meandered out of a nearby nasturtium on my plate. Guess I shouldn't harvest salad ingredients after dark without a flashlight, eh?

A few years ago, I might've freaked out a little bit. These days, I simply reflected on how the invertebrate still has more backbone than the last guy I dated. (At least the caterpillar has the excuse of having no opposable thumbs to be able to pick up the phone....) I delicately plucked the errant wriggler and moved him away from my salad and onto the table while continuing my defense of sushi as delicious. Didn't even lose my appetite. Imagine that!

(In case you're wondering, Gary eventually moved the little guy into the compost bin -- aka leaf-eater paradise. And, also in case you're wondering, no, I don't normally overlook lepidoptera when preparing food for others.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

When nature attacks

I was just minding my own business, humming quietly to myself while picking some zinnias at cousin Caroline's farm when I found myself suddenly and inexplicably under attack. Who does that?? I mean, seriously, what kind of self-respecting bee stings a woman behind her ear? Jerk.

I wonder if it might be the long lost cousin of this guy....