Wednesday, December 24, 2008

I've Moved!

Hi Everyone! For the New Year, I have a New BLOG! Its beautiful, redesigned, but full of the same content. History, chemistry and culture still come together in a tasty mix of words and flavors. I'll be posting on this page from now on, so if you would like to update the RSS feed that would be a wonderful holiday present for me! Thank you all for reading, can't tell you how much I appreciate it.

Check it out!

http://www.elliebarczak.com/


Happy Holidays!

Peace, Love and Good Eating!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Pomegranates

An exceedingly handsome waiter leans over to take your order. “ Yes,” you say, “hi [blush] I’ll take a Pom-tini and the pomegranate arugula salad with goat cheese to start.” He nods, you swoon and can’t wait to tell him you intend to order-- sirloin with pomegranate balsamic reduction and pomegranate gelato for dessert.

Yep. Perfectly Yum. Is it the hunky wait staff at this swank joint, or the sexy pomegranate that has you reeling? Well, except for the occasional aphrodisiac I deal in dining, not dating, so lets talk about the pomegranate.

First off, where does it come from? This fruit hails from the ancient Middle East, native to arid climates like Iran, India and Turkey. Both a religious and cultural symbol, the pomegranate has a long list of main-stage appearances. Rumor has it that this is the true forbidden fruit, Eve took one look at the beautiful gems hidden inside the rind and couldn’t resist. In the Jewish religion it is a symbol of righteousness because its 613 seeds (not an accurate measure, its more like 800) correspond directly to the 613 mitzvot or commandments.

The pom also figures into the Greek myth of the seasons: Hades was in need of some loving so he kidnapped Persephone and tricked her into eating 6 pomegranate seeds binding her forever t the underworld for half the year. Her mother, Demeter goddess of the harvest was so sad during that lonely time, plants withdrew and died, and thus, winter was born.

But back to the waiter, though I made him up, pomegranate is now a mainstay in dining Mecca’s all over the US. But why didn’t we hear about this bad girl fruit earlier?

The pomegranate madness started in 2002 when POM Wonderful Company first hit the juice market. The company funded millions of dollars in medical studies to explore the fruit health benefits, and lo and behold, a star was born. Credited with the highest antioxidant count in any juice, pomegranate also protects the heart by fighting fight bad cholesterol, delivers a wallop of vitamin C and slows the advance of prostate cancer.

This week, I’m going to eat as much pomegranate as I can get my hands on. It started last night with a simply salad, let the fruit speak for itself. I did however learn the correct way to extract the arils (seeds) from the white flesh inside the rind.

First, cut the crown of the pomegranate, then cutting just through the rind divide into four sections. Now, in a large bowl of cold water, break up the quarters and proceed to gently role the arils away from the white lacy bits. That membrane will float and the seeds sink so straining is easy! This is also the surest way NOT to get stained….a perennial problem for me. video

Originally this salad calls for Prosciutto, a decadent leisure that I can neither afford, nor feed to my vegetarian friend. To substitute for its salty bite, I shaved a little Reggiano over the top.

1. Shave a bit of ParmigianoReggiano, extract those arils and chop some chives. Now push all that to the side of the cutting board for later.
2. Combine 1 tablespoon olive oil with 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar and set a side in a bowl with slivered garlic.
3. Thinly slice a small fennel bulb and toss with 1 teaspoon olive oil and set aside.
4. Toss 1 bunch arugula with dressing and distribute to plates. Top with fennel, chives, pomegranate seeds and cheese. One good grind of black pepper and your good to go.
5. (if you’ve got it, lay the Prosciutto on top. Sigh…. don’t I wish)

This has been trial #1. This weekend I intend to introduce my pomegranate to some lamb!

A Tally of Pomegranate-Related Items I have eaten this week
1 pomegranate Sucker from Yummy Earth Organics

1 Container of Rachel’s Pomegranate Blueberry yogurt.
1 bowl of left over bowl of juicy pom jewels as a snack.


Sources: http://www.nationmaster.com/encyclopedia/Pomegranate#cite_note-24
http://www.thenibble.com/reviews/main/beverages/juices/pomegranate-juice.asp#arils
Mayo Clinic Online

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Food of The week: Parsnips

All of a sudden the winds changed a little bit, air got crisper and I put on some bigger socks. It’s time for bundle up for fall. But, there is a silver lining, it's also time for autumn veggies.

This week, it’s carrots ugly albino cousin, the Parsnip. But hey! Don’t be a veggist (one who is discriminatory against certain vegetables just because of the color of their peel) the parsnip holds a sweet, nutty, sitting-by-the-fireside kind of flavor.

History
The ‘snip is a cold weather vegetable. It actually requires some freezing temperatures to convert its starchy compounds into sugar. Before the Idaho potato dominated the American scene this little guy kept the colonists and their cattle well fed all winter long. And their health might have been better for it. (not that the spud isn’t great because it IS!)

Health
In one serving of parsnips you’ll get almost 7 grams of fiber, half your daily potassium and a healthy dose of vitamin C. We all know what fiber and Vitamin C contribute to a healthy body, but let me remind you about the third nutrient. Potassium keeps your muscles and nerves functioning properly and helps you store carbohydrates as fuel. Perfect! When you eat a parsnip, not only does the fibrous tuber give you carbs (the healthy kind) but potassium helps hang on to the power.

Cooking
Now, I understand this is not a vegetable people are familiar with. So, let me break it down for you. Luckily, everything you do with a parsnip is easy. First, wash and peel the waxy skin. Then try cutting it into French fry shapes (avoiding the core) and roasting them in the oven with a little butter or olive oil (roast means setting your oven at 475 for about 20 minutes.) Salt, pepper and you’re good to go. Try cooking them like mashed potatoes, sautéing with carrots and rosemary or popping them in a soup. The sweetness of the ‘snip goes really well with a strongly flavored meat like sausage or seasoned pork loin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Fall at the Evanston Farmers Market II

The much awaited part two....
I gained a new appreciation for architectural beauty at the Farmers Market last Saturday. I love the idea of food as art and this was like seeing a Gaudi building. At the far side of the market, a man with large hands, well seasoned with fresh earth, cut piece off an enormous ruffly mushroom. Called Hen of the Woods, or Maitake in Japanese, this is a great fungi. Maitake means "dancing mushroom" and that's just what it looks like, a lady's skirt flying across the floor. Or, I suppose, maybe it means you'll dance when you find it!


I can't wait to use this mushroom. Though the fall season isn't nearly long enough fully expound on this guy, it fresh-freezes very well. It's also great for you. Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital has conducted some serious research with this fungi, and found some serious results. Anti-cancer and anti-diabetic elements are only the beginning. It's also great for immune system support, hypertension relief and high cholesterol reduction. But the Chinese said it best, the Maitake balances the systems of your bodies. I like that. How can you not??

References: Sloan Kettering, americanmushrooms.com, and admittedly a little wikipedia.

Fall at the Evanston Farmers Market I

YES! The Farmers market is wonderful in the fall. It's the time of the apple, the pumpkin and the squash. This Saturday, I made two discoveries I want to share. This is the first.

My new favorite apple is called the Mutsu. To unseat the HoneyCrisp as my number one is not an easy task. I'm a Minnesotan, and I harbor fierce loyalty for the Honey, and I don't renege on my commitments. But, that said, I'm having an apple affair.

The Mutsu looks like a granny smith, but the skin is not that horrible industrial green, its hue is soft and spring like, like new moss in April. The taste is tart like a Granny, but instead of biting into your tongue, it is smooth and cooling and refreshing. A little lemon, a little chamomile.

The Mutsu hails from Japan, but was renamed Crispin in the 1960, to make it more appealing to Americans. It is also related to the Golden Delicious, but its firm, and super crispy flesh makes it great for cooking, although I think I might eat all the slices!

Stay posted for discovery number two....it might make you a healthier person, no, I'm sure it will.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Sunday Salmon


This maybe the best easy-salmon I've ever made. I'm back at school, so no kitchen of my own per sem but I simply tote my traveling kitchen around and make myself useful. Last weekend, was a collegiate triumph. Its lovely to cook for my friends, they are appreciative and generally easier to please than my picky, over-analyzing self. I'm picky and I always think about what I could have done better.

This salmon though, doesn't need second guessing. A Dijon mustard glaze keeps the fish moist and potato chips get an upgrade from collegiate snack to gourmet ingredient.

But first, a little background on my favorite condiment: Dijon Mustard.

A true Dijon mustard must adhere to very specific qualifications. It's a French national treasure, and this 150 year old recipe is worth guarding. It's a concoction of brown mustard seeds, white wine, salt and some spices to heat things up. And its great for you. Mustard can be used medicinally to stimulate digestion, increase circulation, and clear the sinuses. Also, its a rubefacient, drawing blood to the surface of the sink. Warming, soothing, and muscle relaxing. Think that oatmeal is the only thing you'd every put in a bat tub you cure an ill? Well, try a mustard foot bath....I wish I had a tub in college.

But back to the salmon, here's how it goes.

Ingredients:

Salmon fillet
2-3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons dried dill or 4 tablespoons fresh
1 - 1.5 cups crush potato chips

All the measurements are subject to the size of the salmon. First, place the salmon on a rimmed baking sheet line with foil and season olive oil, salt and pepper (not too much salt, remember the chips!). Pop it under the broiler for about 9-11 minutes depending on the thickness. Meanwhile, mix the crunched potato chips with the dill and set aside. When salmon is almost cooked, take it out of the oven and paint it with the mustard. Then press the chip mixture into the mustard and broil for another minute or two until cooked through. Then, eat and enjoy. Maybe a side of orzo red onions? I think yes!

If you're interested, Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink, wrote an article on the rise of Grey Poupon to dominate the market. Check it out.

Sources: http://www.globalgourmet.com/food/egg/egg0796/musthlth.html
www.cooksillustrated.com

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Tomato Summer

Strawberries are gone, blueberries past their prime and I can’t find a fresh local raspberry to save my life. So, in late late summer (ok maybe early fall) I’ve turned my love of jam to the tomato.

Mark Bittman, of the NY Times blog Bitten, featured a tomato jam this august. It was the mention of Barcelona which truly caught my eye (I’ll spend almost 7 months there early next year). I'm all about foods used out of their normal element, and I was quite tired of caprese salad. The jam delivered true tomato taste that and enhanced by the spices.

However, I have to disagree with Mr. Bittman that this is a good morning treat, I much prefer it in the afternoon with a piece of good sharp white cheddar and fresh crusty bread. Because of my affinity for the salty rather than the sweet, I reduced the 1 cup sugar in the recipe to less than 1/3 cup. The jam didn't suffer, in fact, the tomato's sweetness was nearly enough to balance the lime's acidity and jalapeno's heat. I also increased the amount of cayenne and added some seeds from the jalapeno to kick it to the next level. I think the two types of peppers give this recipe dimension and identity.

Side note about the type of tomato: you want something that will hold up alright late in the cooking process. Avoid mushiness and look for firm-ripe. Romas or plums are actually wonderful in this, but only if you can get the locally grown kind or the really thing from San Marzano.

This is my version of Late Summer Tomato Jam

1 1/2 lbs tantalizingly ripe tomatoes
1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar depending on your taste buds
2 1/2 Tbsp fresh squeezed lime juice
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger...oooh what a smell
3/4 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp allspice
1 jalapeno seeded and finely chopped
1/2-3/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Put all ingredients in a mediums sauce pan and stir to mix. Heat over a medium flame until boiling, stirring frequently.
2. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the tomatoes have deconstructed and yielded to a mushy goodness, about 75 min. Taste, season, cool and enjoy.

Other suggestions: its great with pork loin (as almost any fruit or chutney is). Try it with a side of scallion studded couscous. Killer, and great for your health too!