Roundup: Letters from my love edition

April 28, 2010

Feelin' sneezy? Get some local honey! (Full disclosure: I rely solely on pharmaceuticals for my allergy relief. But I do like a squeeze of honey on toast or in tea.)

Have you read this story on ways to save money in your food budget? Did that first piece tick you off a little bit? I love the person who wrote this response (third letter down). Really, I do. He's my favorite person.

Homophobic douchebaggery, or "science?" The President of Bolivia thinks hormone-laden chicken is making men "deviate from their manhood."

I'd love to try some raw milk. It's supposed to have amazing nutritional properties, despite the fact that the FDA hates it. I happen to have an iron stomach made entirely of acid, so I think I could handle a little "danger with my cookies."

Despite my interest in raw milk, I don't think I have what it takes to become a raw foodist. From a WaPo article on the subject: "Fruitarians are among the more extreme raw-foodism groups. They eat only uncooked food that has fallen to the ground." I am totally picturing a bunch of dudes in a rainstorm, huddled under trees in an orchard, waiting to be conked on the head with an apple like Isaac Newton. 

A mango thumbs up to Christopher Kimball (of America's Test Kitchen fame), whose e-newsletter I subscribe to . He informed me that his maple-sugaring has produced the worst crop in 40 years! Bummer! But the mango thumb is for this bizarre tidbit (and no, I don't know what it has to do with food either, but it cracked me up nonetheless):
Back in Vermont, here is a recent story that sounds completely made up. A resident of a nearby town is very well liked but more than a little crazy and a bit of a drinker—you never know what he will do next. His wife came home one day and noticed that he looked a bit shaken. He said, “I caught a troll!” and proceeded to lead her upstairs. When they got to the bedroom, she heard a voice from the closet shouting, “Let me out! Let me out!” Well, he had all sorts of furniture stacked up against the door to keep the troll in. Once the way was cleared, she found a very pleasant, rather short gentleman in disarray, shaken after having spent a few hours locked up inside. He was working for the U.S. Census, had rung the bell, and, as soon as the door had opened, the husband had somehow mistaken him for a troll, spiriting him upstairs. No word yet on the impending lawsuit.
Even though I usually do a thumbs down item, this week I'm doing another thumbs up - to ramps! Thank you, delicious wild leek, for making it feel like spring. That's a photo of the little fellers up at the top there.

Why I love onesies

April 26, 2010

My former colleague Joan once commented that I wore a lot of dresses in the summer. I told her dresses are the working woman's onesie. I love one-dish meals for the same reason I like to wear dresses. Everything already is matched up for you. Just as you don't have to coordinate a top to your pants, a one-dish meal already includes the vegetable to go with your protein. Sure, you still have to accessorize (shoes, wine or beer), but you had to do that anyway. A dress takes up less space in a suitcase, and a one-dish meal takes up less pots on the stove. Less pots on the stove, less pots my husband has to clean after dinner. Everyone wins!

Halibut, spinach and orzo onesie, adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2005
Serves 2

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons lemon juice
salt and pepper
2 4-6 ounce halibut fillets
3/4 cup orzo (or any other teeny pasta)
2 garlic clove, minced
1 pint cherry tomatoes
8 ounce bag of baby spinach

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Whisk together two tablespoons of the olive oil and the lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Put the halibut fillets on a small baking sheet and drizzle with about half of the dressing. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until opaque in the center.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in boiling water until tender. Saute the garlic in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil about one minute. Add the cherry tomatoes and cook over medium high heat until they start to burst, about 5-7 minutes. Toss the spinach in and allow it to wilt. When the orzo is done, add it to the pan too. Season with more salt and pepper. To serve, divide the orzo/spinach/tomato mixture amongst plates, top with a piece of halibut, and drizzle with the remaining lemon dressing.

Roundup: Curly weed edition

April 21, 2010

Happy spring! While asparagus, ramps, and morels tend to steal the arbiter of spring spotlight - those of you in the north might be excited about the arrival of your delicious friend, the fiddlehead fern! I was able to get my hands on some recently, and did them up simple style: just let some garlic sizzle in olive oil, then add the fiddleheads until they are tender, about five minutes.  Aren't they so cute you could just die? Or, alternatively, eat them?

My friend Bev really likes pizza. But I don't think she likes it enough to eat it topped with locusts.

Apparently, the Food Channel is feeling less than hip. So they are going to launch another, "grittier" network called "The Cooking Channel." Possible shows to look forward to include hosers (Canadians) making taco vending machines, demonstrations on how to break a chicken's neck, and vintage Julia Child. Sounds kinda badass. I think I might tune in...

The FDA wants you to stop eating so much sodium. I concur. That's why I respect recipes that say "season to taste." I RARELY add as much salt as a recipe asks for, because I've conditioned my taste buds to want less salt. I also think I'm really sensitive to salt. I eat a salted french fry, and two hours later I practically feel hungover. So, watch the sodium, people. Your skin will thank you.

The state of farmworkers wages in Florida is horrendous. The reasons I stopped buying tomatoes in the grocery store is not because they taste terrible - they do - but because the people who pick them are horribly treated, and I didn't want my money to go towards those practices. (I've linked to this Gourmet article before, but its worth linking again.)

The World Maple Syrup Festival will be crowning World Champions in four categories (Fancy, Medium Amber, Dark Amber, and Grade B) this Saturday in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  Miss Teen Vermont will also be making an appearance.

A mango thumbs up to the people who created this pesticide awareness guide/iPhone app. It's a handy guide of what to buy organic and what's ok to buy conventional. I can never remember beyond "seeds on the outside" means you should get organic.

I give a mango thumbs down to the students at a school in New Jersey who are bitching and complaining that they had to eat cheese sandwiches as punishment after a food fight. I happen to think that cheese sandwiches are awesome, and in fact, I ate one for lunch today. And yesterday. (Can I get a cheese sandwich high five, Carly?) In fact, that same Carly once served me moldy cheese on month-old bread, with mustard, as a snack. And you know what, food-throwing teens, I was happy about it! (This may have been at 2am, after a recreational evening. The Scooby-Snack van was closed.)

Meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf. I LOVE meatloaf

April 20, 2010

Yes, that's (modified) from the Christmas Story movie, right before the mom encourages Randy to eat his meatloaf "like a little piggy!" I do not need to be bribed to eat my meatloaf like a pig; I do that on autopilot. Once I made a meatloaf in college and all three of my roommates said they weren't interested in having any because they didn't like meatloaf. I was briefly excited, thinking this meant I could eat it for six meals straight. Until I took it out of the oven. Then everyone was interested and immediately recanted their statements. Sadly, I think all of them had been scarred by bad meatloaf experiences as children.

Herb and sun-dried tomato turkey meatloaf, loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, March 1996
Serves 6 (or two for dinner, then leftovers for two days of meatloaf sandwiches)

1 lb ground dark meat turkey (We ground our own from two big turkey legs, but if you use pre-ground, don't use the really lean stuff.)

1 small onion, finely diced
2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, stems removed and caps chopped (discard the stems)
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt
fresh pepper
2 tablespoons white wine

2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes*
1 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
fresh pepper
a few tablespoons of ketchup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat a few teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, celery, carrot, cooking for five minutes, or until softened, then add mushrooms and saute until all the vegetables are tender. Season with salt, pepper, thyme; cook two minutes. Add the white wine, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Transfer to a large bowl to let it cool a little.

To the vegetables, add the turkey, eggs, tomatoes, breadcrumbs, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper. Mix it all  together VERY GENTLY. Pat it into a loaf pan and smear the top with some ketchup. Pop it into the oven for one hour, until it is 165 degrees in the middle. Let cool 5-10 minutes before cutting and serving.

*I like sun-dried tomatoes that come in a container or bag - not packed in oil. If yours are really dry, cover them with water and put them in the microwave for 15 seconds, then drain and chop.

Roundup: Yurts n' Yaks Edition

April 14, 2010

Changes are coming to Miss Mango Hands! Well, if I can figure out how to read instructions, that is. I'm doing lots of behind the scenes work on my little web log and hopefully will be debuting a Brand New Look sometime in the near future. But in the meantime, I'm still here using Blogger (which rhymes with Frogger! Wasn't that a fun game?!) and so without further ado, my dinky, random, Wednesday food news roundup...

  • All of my husband's immediate family should avoid this link, but OMG - Meatpaper! It's a funky periodical all about meat. And one of the five editors is a vegetarian! So maybe the in-laws can read every fifth page? I just signed up for their (free) e-mail newsletter, so I can't wait to learn more. From their website: "Meatpaper is neither a pro- nor an anti-meat soapbox, nor is it a competitor with the many glossy food magazines already available... (it) is an investigation into what we see as a growing cultural trend of meat consciousness." Mentally adding a subscription to my wish list...

  • A Scottish chocolatier has created haggis flavored chocolate. Necessary? Probably not. But it doesn't actually contain any sheep stomachs, eyeballs, or other inner bits - it just has haggis spices in it.

  • My dad loves bananas. Especially in desserts. In honor of my dad's birthday - WHICH IS TODAY (happy birthday dad!!) - I bring you news of a banana museum.

  • I've heard in the past that people who don't like cilantro might be that way because of genetics. I kind of wish the article would have covered more foods that might fall in this category. Considering the fact that its now in season, what about the asparagus pee phenomenon? Some people get weird smelling pee, some people don't, and some people have the ability to smell it, and others don't. It's all genetic. I think I'll start saying the reason I hate cooked egg yolks is genetic, too.

  • One of my favorite apps for my phone is Urban Spoon, which lets you select a town (or city neighborhood), food type, and price range, then you shake it to get restaurant. Plus it makes a cool noise like a slot machine. Also, it's free.

  • If you eat frozen veggie burgers, please read this article about how some of them contain brain poison - seriously. The chemical is also found in gasoline.

  • We all know someone who might be voted most likely to live in a yurt. Maybe you should call that person and have them help you build this $20 outdoor pizza oven. It's basically a yurt-oven.

  • I love exotic meats. But I've never had yak. Maybe once I move to Vermont. Apparently its all the rage.

  • A mango thumbs down to the guy in Trader Joe's who I overheard making these astute observations to someone he was "teaching" how to cook, "If you want to cook a roast, buy a roast. If you want to cook a steak, buy a steak. If you want to cook a stew, buy stew meat. But avoid anything that says organic or pasture raised. That's just code for more expensive." (Yes, it is more expensive. But it's not just code, it is actually a different product.)

  • A mango thumbs up to my friend Brother Barley who gives me a little shout out in his amazingly informed podcast interview on beer with world famous blogger, Wild and Crazy Pearl.

Light and springy

April 13, 2010

The single best meal of my life was a dinner my dad won in a silent auction. He bid on the "chef's table" at a restaurant called Jackson's, and the chef in question happened to be our next door neighbor when I was a kid. (In the interest of full disclosure, he was my boyfriend for two days in the fourth grade and then later in high school we used to hang around the same troublemakers. Yes, b&b, I'm referring to you.) But back to the dinner. First there was ceviche as an amuse bouche. Then fresh pea soup with a little island of crab, then tuna carpaccio, beef tartar, tenderloin slow boiled in olive oil, and a banana upside down thing for dessert (it was starting to be a haze at that point). It was chock full of fresh, seasonal delicacies. No one could move at the end of the night, but if you are going to be a glutton, do it right. With all those amazing foods, though, my favorite was the pea soup. It was fresh, light, sweet and herbaceous. Thank you, Rick, for the amazing pea soup memories. 

While flipping through some magazines and deciding what to make for Easter dinner, I came upon a pea soup recipe. This one is pretty good (nowhere near Rick's, but I am a mere mortal) and really easy - which is what I like in first courses! I wouldn't recommend it as a dinner entree, it's better as a starter or a side. And if you can garnish it with a little crostini - all the better.

Spring pea soup (not as good as Rick's), loosely adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2010
Serves 4

1 tablepoon olive oil
2 shallots, chopped
1 small garlic clove, minced
about 2 cups frozen peas (from a new bag, not one that has been sitting in your freezer, opened, for 2 years)
2 cups low-sodium chicken or veggie broth
1/4 cup half and half
1/4 cup fresh mint, plus a little for garnish if you're feeling fancy.
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Add the shallots and cook until they are soft and tender, turning the heat down if they start to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in the peas, then the broth and bring to a simmer. Let it simmer for about 10 minutes or until the peas are nice and tender. Let it cool a little, then pour into a blender, add the dairy and mint, and puree until very smooth. (This took about 2 minutes of blender time, for me.) Taste it, and add salt and pepper as necessary. Refrigerate for at least an hour before serving cold. Garnish with mint, if you want.

Haiku for the vealcake...

April 8, 2010

You had me swooning
"This is SO good I could die"
Twelve times during dinner.

Um, yes, so there's a reason I'm not a poet. MOVING ON.

My parents bought half of a baby cow last year from a butcher last year. Don't worry, he was hugged and snuggled and loved to his last days. Is it odd that I only buy responsibly raised fish, but will eat veal? Maybe. But this was a LOCAL cow. So I justified it in my head. Plus if you had to live in an area where high school football dominates the newspaper year round, you might not mind dying young either. So there. Anyway, back to the veal. My parents found out they could buy a half cow when my dad showed up at the butcher and said he was ready to pick up his order. The below exchange is approximate.

Butcher guy: We have the whole lamb you ordered processed and ready to go.

Dad: I'm not allowed to take something like that home without a note from my wife.

But it gave them the idea! After my mom wrote the note, they got a lamb, and this past year was half a baby cow. So that's how I ended up with a couple of pounds of ground veal a few weeks back. And how this luscious vealcake came into my life. And now my pants will never fit the same...

Vealcake with mushrooms, from Gourmet, February 2006
Serves 2

1 slice of bread, torn into bits
3 tablespoons cream, divided
1 egg, beaten
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chopped chives - divided
3/4 lb ground veal
1/4 cup bread crumbs*
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1-2 tablespoon butter
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, chopped

Put the torn bread and two tablespoons of cream in a large bowl to soak for five minutes. Add the egg, salt, pepper, two tablespoons of chives and veal, then mix gently with your hands. (No squishing and squashing between your fingers allowed.) Form the veal into two patties. Spread the bread crumbs on a plate and dredge the vealcakes in the crumbs.

Heat the vegetable oil and one tablespoon butter in a heavy skillet. Cook the vealcakes 4-5 minutes per side, until golden brown on the outside. If you have a meat thermometer, it should read 148 degrees. If you don't - well, go with your gut or use the time-honored method of cutting and peeking to see if its done.

Remove the vealcakes to a plate and cover with foil. If there's enough fat in the pan to cook the mushrooms, then just toss them in. If not, add a tablespoon or so of butter. Cook until they are softened, about 5 minutes. To really guild the lily, add a tablespoon of cream and let that cook for a minute or so. Serve the mushrooms on top of the vealcakes, and garnish with the remaining tablespoon of chives.

*When I have fresh bread that gets too stale to eat, I zip it up in the food processor to make crumbs, which I keep in a bag in the freezer. It's a motley mixture of crumbs - English muffin, whole wheat bread, sourdough, etc. But they work just fine for most coating and stuffing jobs.

Roundup: Life cycle edition

April 7, 2010

So I'm going to try to start doing a little roundup of food news every Wednesday. Because according to the two (dead tree) newspapers I subscribe to, Hump Day is apparently Food Day, as that's when both the Washington Post and the New York Times publish their food sections. (The NYT calls it "Dining;" so much more couth than WaPo's "Food.")
  • Related to yesterday's environmentally-friendly fish diatribe: Trader Joe's will begin selling only sustainable fish in its stores starting in 2012. A big Wa-Hoo! to them. (Pun intended. Wahoo, by the way, is classified as a "good alternative" fish.)
  • I've been a bit obsessed with octopi ever since I went to the Newport, KY, aquarium (across the river from Cincinnati) during Phish's fall tour, and saw the sign pictured at left. But, now I have a new quest: to see (but not eat) a novem-pus!
  • Food-fests around the country! I haven't been to a food fest in ages. If you go to one, please tell me so I get insanely jealous.
  • Check out this chart of per capita food consumption of packaged vs. fresh foods. Really, USA? Russia eats more fresh food than we do? And, damn, Mexicans eat a lot of baked goods. (I'm jealous, I wish I could eat more baked goods. For more information, see: Pants, fitting.)
  • I'm posting this link to "Consider the Oyster" for two reasons. One, it contains this phrase, which I think is awesome: "Eating ethically is not a purity pissing contest," and two, it allows me to tell you that it IS possible to cut oneself with a butter knife, which I discovered while my husband and I shucked (locally sourced) oysters the other weekend in our tiny kitchen. (We don't have an oyster-shucking knife, but I heard Alton Brown say the second-best tool is a butter knife.) We had them with homemade cocktail sauce - which had freshly ground horseradish in it - and they were awesome.
  • Hipster food trends in DC include cupcakes, yogurt, burgers, and now salad. I'm giving a mango thumb up to Sweetgreen, a hipster salad joint that serves (some) locally sourced food! My friend Bev and I went there last night. (They also do yogurt. And are next door to a hipster burger joint. If you aren't careful, you might leave the area with an ironic mustache and skinny jeans.)
  • I usually try to not say anything if I can't say anything nice (at least in print), but I have to give a mango thumb down to this new place in my neighborhood called the Cereal Bowl. Granted, I have not been there. But, if I wanted to put gummy worms and sprinkles on top of Froot Loops, I think I could handle that myself. (That is their successful business model!!) Unless they offer an insulin shot and free compression hose to avoid getting your feet removed from diabetes complications, I think I'm all set.

Fish, responsibly

April 6, 2010

For me, salmon falls on my food-like scale basically right in the middle between deviled eggs (which would be a zero) and lasagna (which would be a ten). It's always sort of been "meh" to me. So I kind of surprised myself when I picked out this recipe to try. Well, it wasn't that much of a surprise. It has noodles in it. And if there's anything that can sway me, it's a noodle.

And a (non-preachy) word on salmon, if you will. I actually used arctic char for this recipe. It's a close relative. Reason being, you ask? Well, I downloaded this Monteray Aquarium app for my phone that tells me which fish to avoid for environmental reasons. The store I shop at has little signs that say where the fish is from and how it's caught, because when you punch in "salmon" into the app, there are some you can eat and others that you shouldn't. My store had the responsible choice of salmon, but it was more expensive than the arctic char, so I went with that. I think its a little less "fishy" tasting than salmon, too. Now that I've downloaded the app, I feel like I really can't buy a not responsibly-fished fish. That's why I left you at the store, whole flat fish...sigh of sadness.

Honeyed char (or salmon) and noodles, from Donna Hay's Off the Shelf
Serves 2

10 oz. salmon or arctic char
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper
olive oil

1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1/4 cup chopped basil
splash olive oil
1 zucchini, shredded on a box grater

1 tablespoon lime juice
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
6 ounces soba noodles

If your fish has skin on it, remove the skin. Cut the fish into 1 inch strips. Whisk the honey, salt and pepper in a flat bowl, then coat the fish on all sides with honey. Set aside.

Cook the soba noodles in boiling water until al dente. Rinse under cold water.

Whisk the lime juice, soy sauce and honey in a small bowl. 

Heat a splash of olive oil in each of two skillets (one being nonstick or cast iron, and the other being the biggest one you have). In the nonstick, sear the salmon until browned and carmellized on all sides, probably about 2-3 minutes total. In the second skillet, add the shredded zucchini until heated through, about a minute. Add the soba noodles and lime/soy/honey mixture and toss to combine. Turn off the heat and add all the chopped herbs.

Serve the fish atop the noodles, and give yourself 2 points for trying to eat responsibly raised food.

Sugar Shack

April 1, 2010

Happy Sugaring! It's maple sugaring season, meaning its time for a maple-y recipe to get that liquid gold down the gullet! As I've mentioned before - I'm not a baker, mostly due to my opposition to measuring. One of the hardest things about blogging about the recipes I make up myself is remembering to guesstimate the quantity of what I throw into the pan. So being forced to measure quantities in order to make something turn out in the first place? Bah! No thanks.

So, if I've baked for you - you know I love you. I can actually count on one hand the people for whom I've baked an actual dessert. One of them being he who puts the Mango in my Mango Hands - my husband. He's pretty easy to please - he basically loves any type of baked good. But, being from Vermont, if its got maple in it, he'll have three, please. And taking into account the weird cranberry hoarding he does every winter, this was a great surprise dessert.

Maple cheesecake with cranberry maple topping, cake adapted from a recipe from The Arlington Inn* and cranberry topping from Bon Appetit
Serves 2, once a day for a week
Note: This has to chill for at least 8 hours before you serve it

twenty-four cinnamon graham crackers
1 stick of butter, melted
1/2 cup real maple syrup (don't you dare use that fake shit)

3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
3/4 cup pure maple syrup (preferably Grade B)
3 eggs
3/4 tablespoon vanilla
6 tablespoons cup heavy cream

Cranberry-maple goodness
2 cups cranberries
1 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup brown sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 350. Crumble the graham crackers into a food processor, and then pulse until you've made them into crumbs. Add the melted butter and syrup and pulse until it is all combined. Press this mixture into a springform pan (I think mine was 9 inches). Put the pan on a baking sheet.

If you have a mixer, put the paddle attachment on. (If you don't have a mixer, then just use a bowl, a spoon, and a really strong arm.) Put all the cream cheese in the bowl and beat until it is smooth. Add the syrup, then  the eggs one at a time, letting each egg get incorporated before you add the next one. Add the vanilla and cream until just combined.

Pour the filling into the crust and put it in the oven on the baking sheet. (In case you have some overflow, it will prevent a giant oven mess.) Bake for about an hour, or until the center is almost set. It will set as it cools, which it should do on a rack until its at room temperature, then cover with foil and cool in the fridge for at least 8 hours.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the cranberry topping in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium low heat. Let it boil for 3-4 minutes, or until the cranberries are bursting. Let it cool, then refrigerate until you are ready to use. You can warm it up to serve, or just serve it cold.

Top each slice of cheesecake with a healthy dollop of the cranberry sauce.

*I've never been to this place, but I love that they have a llama on their website. (Is that a llama?)