Monday, July 28, 2008

Pizza three tasty ways and one not so tasty block mildly resembling pizza

Last week, I had some friends over for a pizza dinner. One friend brought over two large balls of dough, which we split into four to make four pizzas. I had three strong ideas for toppings based on ingredients I had gotten at the Farmer's Market the previous Saturday and was hoping the fourth idea would come to me while cooking (as you might be able to guess from the title of this post, it didn't really succeed).I started off with the ingredient about which I was most excited: the squash blossoms. I wanted to experiment a little with the blooms before the following weekend where I was going to be frying them for a dish (to be written about in the next post). I have had the truffled squash blossom flatbread from COCO 500 twice now, and I really like the rich truffle taste coupled with the delicate squash blossoms, and wanted to play with that a little. I had some leftover white truffle oil, which I mixed with the four cheese cheese mix before spreading it on top of the pizza (a suggestion of my friend Rebecca whose father used to make pizzas every Sunday while she was growing up), which serves to moisten the cheese and blend the flavors together. I spread this cheese across the pizza the place the squash blossoms on the pizza, with petals facing in, and then added lines of ricotta in between. While the dough was sort of on odd shape, I really like the ingredient layout.I then went on to make a pizza with some prosciutto I had bought at Bocallone. I wanted to play off the idea of eggs and bacon, so my idea was to have a pizza with prosciutto and fry an egg on top of the pizza in the middle of its being in the oven. I really do love fried eggs on pizza as it is not only a totally interesting and unusual presentation, but the taste of warm egg yolk as it freshly bursts across the pizza is quite detectable.The third pizza idea I had was a basic marguerite, which I made with fresh basil with roots (a week and a half after buying the basil, it's still fresh!) and some heirloom tomatoes.By the time, I had finished these three pizzas I had hoped a flash of brilliance would have come to me, which unfortunately it didn't. The best I could think of was five cheese pizza. The basic cheese I had been using was already using was a three cheese mix to which I then added parm and a hard goat cheese. At this point, the dough had gotten quite warm, and the pizza had been hard to role out completely, so I knew it was going to be a little thick. The result, however, was a block like pizza that look horribly unappetizing to me and all but one of the people there.He took it home.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Farming at your back doorstep...

On Monday, my friend Daniela (of Citytropic fame) emailed me an NY Times article (A Locally Grown Diet with Fuss but no Muss) and asked me what I thought, commenting that it was possibly a little bougie. The article discusses a new phenomena where urban professionals are hiring gardeners to cultivate organic, edible gardens in their backyards. On some levels, especially with way the NY Times presents the concept, having someone farm vegetables in your backyard and placing a weekly box of these "locally grown" produce on your back doorstep, so that you can proudly call yourself a "locavore," is a bit privileged; I would argue, however, the the concept has its heart in the right place.

For one, having someone garden for you is not a new concept, especially for us less green-thumbed. The idea of having someone plant a mini farm in your backyard, on the other hand, seems a little removed from the romantic idea of the local farm where the farmer still gets his or her hands dirty in protest of the newest farming equipment. Still, if we are okay with gardeners help us grow flowering plants, I think having a gardener helping us grow produce in our backyard is a better use of the space and is certainly an affective way to free oneself from eating Chilean avocados while in San Francisco during avocado season.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Summer Feast: A Gastronomically Gluttonous Meating

This past Sunday night, I had the gastronomic pleasure of attending the Summer Feast, co hosted by Meatpaper and Gastronomica. And what a bloody feast it was! Bloody in two senses: when I first arrived, around 6:30 pm, at Perbacco, the restaurant was packed and buzzing with food consuming activity; my instinct to compete for food against my fellow humans kicked in and the four of us that came together strategically divided in order to help the rest of the pack get the the most diverse food and drink samplings. And bloody in that some of the dishes incorporated blood in a way I had not tasted: pig's blood sausage and pig's blood chocolate pudding with pistachio mascarpone topping.

After much glutenous consumption, my three most favorite tastes were the bacon, pistachio marshmallows, the blood pudding--both prepared by Perbacco--and the chopped liver from Serpentine. The bacon/pistachio marshmallow had a sweet and fluffy initial bite that was quickly follow up by the crunch and salt of the bacon and the fatty sweetness of the nuts. The blood pudding was just cool to me because it had been made from, well, blood and it's nice to know that you are using the most of the animal as you can. And I also just love liver. It's the anemic in me, really.

Anyways, here are some photographs from the event; the first is an image of the marshmallows, the second and third are images of the chocolate blood pudding, and the final a picture of three bites from Perbacco, the upper right of which is the blood sausage:

Friday, July 18, 2008

Boccalone's $9 Sandwich, so worth every penny...

I had heard from a few friends about Boccalone's $9 sandwich, and how amazing it was. I had even come close to buying it a few times, but hesitated twice, not wanting to fork over the cash. On the third time, however, I obliged my desire to spend too much money on a gourmet sandwich. And boy, was it worth it. The sandwich consists of peach slices, delicious Boccolone prosciutto, salt, pepper, olive oil, and fresh mint leaves on top of some very fresh, tasty bread. The prosciutto was especially smooth and deliciously salty, which brought out the sweet acidity of the peaches. The final taste of the sandwich was the sweet mint, which added a great complexity to each bight in which mint made its way. I had this sandwich for dinner, and while it was probably one of the best sandwiches I've ever had, I was a little hungry at the end and probably would say was best as a hearty lunch sandwich.

Boccalone just opened a new stall in the Ferry Terminal Market, replacing Capay Bay I believe, and has a mission of combining sustainable raised, heritage-breed pork with the freshest of ingredients to make the tastiest of meat products. In 2005, Boccalone started producing salumi, fresh sausages, and cooked products such as pate out of an Oakland facility that was once home to Moniz, a Portuguese sausage factory originally founded in 1900. In any case, their new store in the Ferry Terminal sells a host of delicious products, so you should visit, if not for the prosciutto and peach sandwich, at least to see what Lardo, cured pig fat, looks like.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Michael Pollen and Grass Fed Beef

After yesterday's posting describing the new ingredients of non-grass fed beef's feed, I thought I should write a little more about why feeding cows grass is such an important thing to champion.

First of all, cows' ruminant digestive systems are well evolved to digest grass; the cow's digestive system has two stomachs, in which the food is softened first before being fully digested in the second stomach. In this manner, feeding cows food other than grass messes with their natural digestive process; one of the reasons why cows are given so many antibiotics now is because feeding them corn and other food that their stomachs aren't meant to digest causes an upset in their bodies natural chemistry, thus opening them up to infection.

Another important thing to note is that humans, among most other species without rumens, cannot digest grass. I am currently reading Michael Pollen's Omnivore's Dilemma and am reading the section where he visits Polyface Farm, which raises grass fed beef along with a whole slew of other livestock raised on their natural food. Without going into a long description of the merits of Polyface Farm, Pollen's discussion of the advantages of feeding cows grass, from the perspective of energy consumption, is one of the strongest arguments for eating meat. At Polyface farm, the cows are rotationally grazed, which means that the cows are allowed to eat in one area of the pasture before being moved to another area of the farm to eat the following day. In this manner, the cows partially eat the grass stem, but not the whole stalk. As a result, the grass grows back much faster than it would if the cows were allowed to stay on one plot of land for an extended period of time and ate the grass stalks to the ground. Because of this constant trimming and growth cycle, the pastures at Polyface Farm, and at other farms that rotationally graze their livestock, produce more biomass than the same plot of land would if corn were raised in its place. One of the strong arguments against eating meat is that great amount of food energy wasted every time an animal eats another animal (a 9 to 1 ratio), but in the case of cows that are grass fed, they are eating biomass from which we cannot glean food calories. In addition, the energy to grow grass comes from the sun, which means cows are, in essence, converting the sun's energy, through the venue of grass, into food energy that we can consume. And, importantly, grass fed beefy is mighty tasty.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Cows are now eating chocolate for feed!

My dad sent me this video today from the Wall Street Journal about the effects of the rising costs of corn fed cattle. The most alarming bit of information I found to be the fact that some farmers are substituting chocolate (yes, chocolate, as in Mars) for corn feed. Chocolate (as a major part of one's diet) isn't healthy for humans who have omnivorous digestive systems suitable for the consumption of a much great variety of foods; why do cattle farmers think that cows, whose digestive system has evolved to digest grass, should be eating chocolate? Sort of an argument for grass fed beef, yes?

Monday, July 14, 2008

Meatpaper Issue 4 and Summer Feast

So I really like this new(ish) journal called Meatpaper. Meatpaper is a "journal of meat culture" detailing meat,s many cultural implications. The fourth issue of Meatpaper was just published, and my friend Will Payne has an article in this most recent issue where he talks about landscapes made of meat, specifically comparing the National Cattleman's Beef Association's (NCBA)most recent add campaign with the collage art of Nicolas Lampert.

Meatpaper is thought provoking, visually engaging, and informative. They also have fun fun food-related celebrations; specifically, they are having a gathering this coming Sunday at Perbacco Restaurant in conjunction with Gastronomica, The Journal of Food and Culture. Both vegetarian and carnivorous selections will be served. Come and embrace the omnivorous consumption!

Friday, July 11, 2008

The Alarming Cleaning of Soft Shell Crabs

A few months ago, Mark Bittman published, in his weekly New York Times food column, an article about Pasta with Soft Shell Crab. I got really excited when I saw this recipe as I had just seen soft shall crabs at the San Francisco Fish Company in the Ferry Terminal Market and had wanted to figure out a way to cook them; thanks Mark Bittman!

The next week, I went ahead and bought the little guys, four as the recipe suggested. I was told at the fish counter that I shouldn't clean them until right before I cooked them as they would loose water and was then demonstrated how to clean the crabbies. The process involves cutting off their eyes, pulling out their lungs (really gills, but they were referenced as lungs at the time), and then snapping off their tails (called an apron, technically). Right as I was leaving, the guy at the fish counter proudly showed me that the four crabs I had just purchased were still alive, as demonstrated by the foaming liquid near their mouths. At first glance, this fact illustrated the crab's freshness, it was, in fact, foreboding of the upcoming crab cleaning.

Later that day, when I brought the crabs out of the refrigerator to prepare for cooking, I placed them on a plate for about twenty minutes. During this time, the crabs warmed up and began to wake up, so to speak. When I picked the first one up, the claws and legs began to move around. Oh god. I then brought my scissors to the eyes of the crab, as instructed earlier at the Fish Market, avoiding the now moving appendages. After I snipped the eyes, however, the crabs claws and legs continued to move. At this point I, embarrassingly, shrieked. I was now going to have to pull out the lungs of a moving creature. And so I did, after some squeamish moments and thoughts of calling off dinner.

I eventually got through the cleaning of all four crabs and cooked one my most favorite meals ever. The soft, creamy texture of the crab meat coupled with the crunch of the shell is pretty darn sexy while the pasta brilliantly absorbs the excess olive oil and garlic infused juices of the soft shell crab. Beyond the tastiness of the final product, however, I found the experience of cleaning the crabs to be a significant one; understanding where your meat comes from is important knowledge but also being accountable for killing your proteins feels, well, responsible.

Here's a not so great picture of the final product:

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Community-Supported Agriculture in the NYT

My friend Peter sent me an article in the New York Times published today about community sponsored (or supported) agriculture (CSA). The concept of CSA originated in Japan and Switzerland in the 1960s and was brought to the United States in the 1980s. The basic premise is that consumers buy shares in a local farm with other local consumers; each person then gets a portion of the farm's crops for the seasons they buy shares. In this manner, local people share the financial responsibility of their local farms and agree to support their local farms, the farms becoming, in some ways, the community's farm. The CSA movement has been gaining a lot of moment in recent years, mostly in areas with a lot of farms, such as New York, the Great Lakes regions, and, more recently, California.

I looked up some of the places where one can find such farms and found that a lot of the farms local to San Francisco had merged with spud!, North America's largest natural foods delivery service. While the idea behind spud! is a good one, using economics of scale to market but purchasing locally, it sort of takes the community/getting your hands dirty feel out of CSA farming. I found another website, however, that I thought was really useful, Local Harvest, which has a database searchable by zip and state that allows you to found local CSA farms. For SF, I found 11 CSA farms; sort of cool, yes? I think so...

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

4th of July=Grilling fun time!

This past weekend, I went down to Los Angeles to visit my friend Ethan; as it was the 4th of July weekend, and Ethan lives in a home with a great backyard equipped with a grill, I had fun 'q-ing my way through my dinner...

Saturday morning (Ethan's bbq was on on the 5th), Ethan and I went to the Silver Lake farmer's market; while slightly smaller than the Saturday Ferry Terminal market, I was vastly impressed with the quality of the foods I was able to find. Most notably, the peaches, golden raspberries, and shrimpies I bought were especially encouraging of the salivary glands.

So, early in the afternoon, it was grilling time. First up, I grilled the peaches, both white and yellow--make sure they are free stone!--that I had bought at the farmer's market. Grilled peaches have a wonderful smoky flavor coupled with a caramelized exterior. I then added the grilled peaches (still warm) to sliced buffalo mozzarella. The combination of the slightly acidic peaches with the creamy mozzarella is amazing; the cheese cutting through the slight bite of the fruit. I then sprinkled the peaches and mozzarella with crushed walnut pieces, salt, pepper, and olive oil.
I then went on to grill the amazing shrimp I bought. Having cleaned a lot of shrimp lately, and been slightly grossed out about how dirty the animals I was about to eat actually are, these shrimp were a rare treat. Apparently fished (if that's the right word) the day before I bought them and never frozen, they were easy to clean and the meat seemed crisp, if that word can even be applied to shrimp. Anyways, I marinated the little guys in olive oil, cilantro, basil, red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, garlic, and ginger, and let them sit for a while. They were pretty tasty, although the red pepper flakes I used (from Trader Joe's) were not as potent as I had hoped...Still, fresh shrimp is pretty awesome. I would recommend.

I think Mark Bittman has a crush on Michael Pollen...