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Archive for the ‘Other Things About Food’ Category

Corn on the cobI know I’ve said it before, but it’s really here. Summer, that is. The first local corn is coming in (none of that Su’thun stuff). I know for sure you can get some at None Such Farm Market. Be on the look-out at your local farms and stores, and let me know where it pops up and how good it is.

And while we’re “sighting,” the first peaches are here too! We just had some from Fairview Farm, on Pineville Manoff peachesRoad (just down the road from the Pineville Tavern) this weekend and they were delicious (thanks, Sharon). Manoff Market Gardens on Comfort Road in Solebury also has peaches now, but Manoff reminds that these are “eating” peaches as opposed to the kind used for canning and jamming (not “freestone”). Those come in August. The Manoffs have a great blog too. Check it out.

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Farm-fresh cocktailIf all the lovely veggies now showing up at local farmers’ markets don’t do it for you (??), here’s a Philadelphia Daily News article that highlights some delectable drinks you can make with local ingredients. That should motivate you to get out to the farmers’ market.

Here’s a couple of items that caught my eye on how to use the ingredients, particularly herbs. Recipes are included in the article.

Bistro St. Tropez chef/owner Patrice Rames is crazy about peaches right now … After blanching the fruit for two minutes to remove the skin, Rames dips it in ice water to stop the cooking process. Then he roasts the fruit, sprinkled with raw sugar, lemon thyme or mint and a little butter, in a 350-degree oven for 10 minutes. “I use the peach for a dessert with caramel or vanilla ice cream, but I also puree it for cocktails,” he said.

At Noble, the new restaurant on Sansom Street from Todd Rodgers and Bruno Pouget, the focus is on seasonality … Rodgers … creates a long list of cocktails using fresh ingredients, house-brewed ginger beer and cider and even homemade tonic. His two best sellers are the French 75, a mix of gin, citrus and champagne, and the Ti Jean, made with ginger beer, rye, lemon juice and mint. “The secret to getting added oomph from your mint is to smack it in the palm of your hand before you put it in the drink. That releases its natural oils,” he said.

 Guess we’ve got some research to do this weekend.

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I opened up the Bucks County Courier Times/The Intelligencer yesterday to the Food Section (of course). I’ve become a follower of Betty Cichy. She does great, creative articles on local food people, restaurants and stores. I wish I could link to more of her stories but the newspaper doesn’t post Lifestyle/Food pieces online. Hmmn. I think there’s a letter to the publisher in my future.

Mastering Art of French CookingBetty is running a contest involving food and blogging. How could I not like it? If you haven’t heard, a movie-based-on-the-book is coming out in August called, “Julia & Julie.” It tracks the famous cook and TV chef Julia Child’s beginnings and career. For those of you not old enough to remember anything before the Food Network, Julia WAS THE FIRST. The book was written by blogger Julie Powell, a New York office worker, who decided over the course of a year to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s first cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and blog about it.

Now Betty has thrown down the potholder, so to speak. She is challenging folks to try a Julia recipe and blog about it. Here are the contest rules:

We’d like you to be like Julie on a small scale. Pick a recipe from one of Julia Child’s first four cookbooks, follow it step by step, and blog about your experience. Choose a recipe that challenges or intrigues you in some way …

Make your post as interesting and personal as you can. Tell us why you chose that particular recipe. Describe the problems and disasters you had along the way, from shopping to serving. Look back over the experience and reflect on what you learned from it, and whether you think the recipe is worth making again. If you did make it again, how would you change it? Are there ways you’d update or simplify the recipe for 21st century cooks?

Take some pictures and notes as you follow the recipe, and when you’ve finished, tell us how it went in a post on the Julie/Julia blog we’ve set up on phillyBurbs. When all the entries have been posted, readers will be able to go online and vote for their favorite blogger.

As for judging, the top vote-getter and two bloggers chosen by a panel of experts will compete in a cook-off at Manny Brown’s in Neshaminy Mall on Aug. 5. Each of the three finalists will put on a little cooking show, demonstrating key steps in the recipe and then showing off the finished product.  A panel of judges will choose the grand-prize winner and two runners-up. Then the contestants and the audience will attend a free screening of “Julie & Julia.” Go to the newspaper’s website for the full contest rules.

I must admit, I’m intrigued – and intimidated. I started cooking in the ’80’s and by that time classic French cooking was considered passe, and Julia Child, well, I think Saturday Night Live took a few jabs at her (or was it she just sounded too much like Terry Jones from Monty Python?) I will admit, publicly, that I don’t even own a copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. But I’m seriously considering it. I mean, after all, what kind of food blogger would I be? I’ll keep you “posted.”

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If you think following good tea time manners is difficult (“pinky up!”), try doing it when you need your hands to “chat.” That’s what a group of high school students from the New Jersey School for the Deaf  learned when they visited the Talking Teacup in New Britain recently.

You’ll find the interesting article in yesterday’s (Sunday, June 7th) Intelligencer describing the students’ experience, learning how to make small talk while munching on highbrow finger food. One of the students, Erin Gasque, had read about a tea house and wanted the experience firsthand. She suggested it and teacher Sherri Anderson, a communications instructor, set up the trip for Erin and other interested classmates. Anderson wanted to give the teenagers a real-world experience with making polite conversation while eating – “no simple task when your hands are required for both.” We probably all know some non-hearing-impaired teenagers who could use the lesson too.

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Make sure you take a peek at the Food & Entertaining blog at www.phillyburbs.com. Betty Cichy, food editor for the Bucks County Courier Times and the Intelligencer, and content editor, Jennifer Wielgus, regularly serve up interesting food tidbits, including recipes, videos, and the latest local food news. Oh, and Bucks County Taste got a mention, too, last week (May 29th)! (Thanks, Jen).

I especially liked Betty Cichy’s post this week on how she used all the ingredients she bought at the Springtown Farmers’ Market for a great spring salad.RTEmagicC_Betty__s_salad_JPG

 

FARMERS MARKET SALAD with STRAWBERRIES
and GOAT CHEESE

INGREDIENTS:

Fresh salad greens for 2 servings (looseleaf lettuce, romaine, dandelion, spinach and baby arugula would all work well, as would a good spring mix)(from Trauger Farm in Kintersville)

6 to 8 strawberries, or more if you like (from Tall Pines Farm in Rushland)

A few drops good balsamic vinegar (optional)

1 ounce fresh goat cheese (about ¼ cup crumbled) (from Flint Hill Farms)

1 plump farmers market scallion (or 3 thin supermarket ones)

2 teaspoons sherry vinegar (or your favorite vinegar)

1 teaspoon dijon mustard (regular or herb-flavored)

Salt and pepper to taste

A pinch of sugar (optional)

2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

HOW TO:

Rinse the salad greens well, tear into large pieces, and either pat dry or spin in a salad spinner. Refrigerate if not serving the salad right away.

Rinse the strawberries under cool running water, and cut off the green cap and any tough core with a paring knife. Cut strawberries in half if they’re small, in quarters if they’re larger.

Place the strawberries in a small bowl and drizzle with a few drops of good balsamic vinegar if you have it. The rich sweetness of the vinegar complements the flavor of the strawberries, but if you don’t have any good balsamic vinegar, you can skip this step. Set the strawberries aside until you’re ready to add them to the salad.

Unwrap the goat cheese and break into small pieces. If the cheese is so soft it doesn’t crumble easily, you could instead spread it on thin slices of toasted French bread and then cut the slices into small pieces, so they become goat cheese croutons.

To make the vinaigrette, place the vinegar and mustard in a small bowl, and add a little salt and pepper. Whisk together until the salt is dissolved and the mustard and vinegar are well incorporated. Then whisk in the oil in a steady stream until the vinaigrette thickens and looks smooth. Stir in the chopped scallions. Taste and add more salt if needed, and if the dressing is too tart, add a pinch of sugar.

To assemble the salad, place the greens in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette until the greens are lightly coated. Divide the greens between two plates, top each with the crumbled goat cheese, and arrange the strawberries on top.

Makes 2 servings.

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Last month we talked with Sharon Schwartz about her evolution into a fine home chef. This month, we offer part two. Sharon talks about why she decided to “go organic,” and her favorite sources for ingredients in Bucks County. In her own words…

I started to get interested in healthy food choices when I was pregnant with my first child, Jennifer. At the time (this was the 1970’s), we were living on Long Island, and I decided to join a food co-op. They offered bulk food – mostly organic – at cheap prices.  It was the quality of the food that attracted me, and the fact that we had to work there sometimes, and I could meet like-minded people. 

We were also fortunate to live very close to a poultry farm where they raised their fowl and offered eggs that were raised with organic feed. To this day, those were the most incredibly delicious chickens we’ve ever had.  I bought the chickens the day they were killed and got eggs the day they were laid.  You can’t get better than that, and without having to do any of the work!

In those days there was not much organic farming being done in our area. The vegetables at the health food stores tended to be limp and old because they did not move quickly enough.  About the only decent veggies I could get were organic carrots. I did my best to buy produce from local farmers in season, and we did have a vegetable garden (organic of course) in our yard by the time the kids were 3 and 5 years old. 

It was also around that time that an especially great health food store opened in our town on Long Island, and I got very involved with macrobiotics.  I practiced it pretty strictly for myself, and offered it in the house, with much resistance from the kids and Mark (my husband).  In keeping with my “style,” I did take macrobiotic cooking lessons and learned to get pretty creative with my veggies, beans and miso soup.  After finding that my body needed more protein, I kind of gave up on it, but tried to find food choices that were as pure as possible for myself and my family.  I didn’t go back to eating beef or veal, however, because of the ways in which the animals were raised.

When we moved to Bucks County in the mid-80’s, it became more difficult to find organically raised chickens and eggs, and even fish choices were not as fresh or varied as what was available on Long Island.  I did the best I could, but loosened my standards a great deal out of necessity.  I was happy if I could find locally grown food of good quality. 

It has only been recently, with the advent of more local organic farming, and the arrival of Whole Foods and a few other sources, that I have gone back to my purist organic food choices.  Between the organic sections in most markets, the better selections in health food stores, and the arrival of a great wholly organic meat department at Whole Foods (and some at Wegmans) I can get most anything I want (beef and veal included) at the level of quality I want.  Hallelujah!

These are some of Sharon’s favorite places to get ingredients, both in Bucks County and nearby. (Sharon lives in Central Bucks, so she is partial to places nearest to her.) In alphabetical order:

  • Altomonte’s (Doylestown and Warminster): assorted Italian ingredients, including oils (Iliada Greek Olive Oil) and vinegars, and cage-free, organic eggs, handmade ricotta
  • Blue Moon Acres (Buckingham): organic salad greens and herbs; “I’ve even gotten beautiful, big zucchini flowers in season from them which I use to make ‘Ricotta-Stuffed Zucchini Flowers.””
  • Buckingham Seafood (Buckingham): good quality, wild caught fish
  • Cote & Co.  (Doylestown): they carry Max and Me Smoked (organic) Salmon, oils, vinegars
  • Heller’s Seafood (Warrington): good selection of fish
  • Jamie Hollander (New Hope): organic aged strip steaks, good take-out, interesting grocery items
  • The Larder (Doylestown): great bulk food, specialty items, cashews
  • Newtown Farmer’s Market (Newtown): from the Amish stand, chicken, other types of poultry, organic, cage-free eggs; good quality fruits and vegetables from the Asian produce stand (although not organic), and “the falafel guy is great!”
  • None Such Farms (Buckingham): Antibiotic-free, hormone-free, locally raised meats; local produce. “I can even get a brisket with the deckle (fatty part) still on – which makes a superb brisket!”
  • Wegmans (Warrington): for organic produce and other natural foods, in particular, baby artichokes and handmade ricotta
  • Whole Foods (Montgomeryville, Jenkintown, Princeton): for everything organic, but especially meats (Jenkintown store has complete butcher shop). The Princeton store is “huge and fantastic.”

And Sharon’s favorite in-season farm stands:

What are your favorite places to shop for ingredients? Please let us know.

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A lot of things have been swirling around in my head lately. Maybe too many. But as we’ve gotten deeper into the Bucks County food scene, I’ve been forced to pay attention to some things that I have pushed – I’m ashamed to say – to the periphery. Namely, where does my food come from? What choices should I be making more carefully, say about organic, locally produced, or non-hormone/antibiotic protein sources?

You know what I’m talkin’ about.

Often these days, I find my hand – and mind – hovering over these choices in the grocery store. And too often, I allow price and price alone, to make my decision for me. I guess I’m basically cheap (my family will agree).

USDA SealPart of the problem is these decisions are not clear cut. For instance, what does “organic” mean? Pure, safe, non-chemical, good for the environment? Is an organic certification some kind of “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval?” Or is it an empty marketing promise? And is buying something organic from Chile better than from a local Bucks County farmer, who’s following sustainable agriculture practices, not using chemicals, but can’t afford to pay an organic certification organization to give him that seal? Yikes. So you see why my hand hovers.

I was gladdened, therefore, to see several articles appear in the New York Times over the past month, exploring these issues and providing some education for me. I’m excerpting them below, but I strongly recommend you go and read them in their entirety, along with any useful links.

Kim Severson and Andrew Martin explore the topic in light of the recent peanut salmonella scare in their article, It’s Organic, but Does That Mean It’s Safer?

Although the rules governing organic food require health inspections and pest-management plans, organic certification technically has nothing to do with food safety.

Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst with Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, puts a finer point on it.

Because there are some increased health benefits with organics, people extrapolate that it’s safer in terms of pathogens. I wouldn’t necessarily assume it is safer.

Reading that gave me a jolt. I realized that I too had assumed that. The article goes on to describe the history of organic food certification, stating that by 2002 a set of federal organic regulations limiting pesticide use, restricting kinds of animal feed and forbidding dozens of other common agricultural practices had been put into place. Severson and Martin report:

To determine who would be allowed to use the green and white “certified organic” seal, the Department of Agriculture deputized as official certifiers dozens of organizations, companies and, in some cases, state workers. These certifiers, then, are paid by the farmers and manufacturers they are inspecting to certify that the standards have been met. Depending on several factors, the fee can be hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Arthur Harvey, a Maine blueberry farmer who does organic inspections, says in the article:

Certifiers have a considerable financial interest in keeping their clients going.

First, let me say I think most organic growers are in it for the best of reasons. But I was surprised to learn how all this works. I think I’m like most Americans in that I assumed some government agency was “taking care” of this. As it turns out, like most things these days, both the Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration have their hands full, and have difficulty overseeing all of it.

Mark Bittman, food writer for the New York Times  and well-known cookbook author, tackles the topic in his article, Eating Food That’s Better for You, Organic or Not . His bone to pick, so to speak, is the confusion around what “organic” really means, and whether it is the only choice if one want to eat healthy. In his recent U.S. book tour, he shares the reactions he got from audiences.

No matter how carefully I avoided using the word “organic” when I spoke to groups of food enthusiasts about how to eat better, someone in the audience would inevitably ask, “What if I can’t afford to buy organic food?” It seems to have become the magic cure-all, synonymous with eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically.

But eating “organic” offers no guarantee of any of that. And the truth is that most Americans eat so badly…that the organic question is a secondary one. It’s not unimportant, but it’s not the primary issue in the way Americans eat.

Bittman goes on to quote Michael Pollan, the author of In Defense of Food, who advises that we avoid eating “edible food-like substances” and stick to real ingredients, like vegetables. Pollan argues for a “simple shift in eating habits away from animal products and highly processed foods to plant products.” From these changes, says Bittman, “Americans would reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals used to produce the food we eat, as well as the incidence of lifestyle diseases linked to unhealthy diets, and greenhouse gases from industrial meat production.”

And, Bittman says:

The food would not necessarily have to be organic, which, under the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition, means it is generally free of synthetic substances; contains no antibiotics and hormones; has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge; was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides; and contains no genetically modified ingredients.

The government’s organic program, says Joan Shaffer, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, “is a marketing program that sets standards for what can be certified as organic. Neither the enabling legislation nor the regulations address food safety or nutrition.”

Finally, a definition of organic that I can hang my hat on. And, “organic” doesn’t mean “local” either – another misconception. It just means it meets the USDA’s organic certification standards. “It doesn’t matter if it’s from the farm down the road or from Chile,” Ms. Shaffer said. “As long as it meets the standards it’s organic.” So it might be organic frozen vegetables grown in China and sold here. Think about that carbon footprint.

Let’s look at the local picture. Those of us living in Bucks County are blessed with local produce in abundance, especially in the prime growing seasons. But as Bittman points out:

…most farmers who practice truly sustainable farming, or what you might call “organic in spirit,” operate on small scale, some so small they can’t afford the requirements to be certified organic by the government. Others say that certification isn’t meaningful enough to bother.

 So your local farmer may actually be farming organic, but can’t officially say so. Talk to him or her, which you can do at your local farmers’ markets, and find out.

Finally, in another recent New York Times article , Andrew Martin discusses what may be the “Age of Aquarius” for the organic and natural food movement, with Democrats in power, and a first lady digging her own garden on the White House lawn (Note: As part of the economic stimulus plan, the Agriculture Department also plans to award $250 million in loan guarantees, spread over the next two years, for local and regional food networks.)

Everyone seems to be giving the administration advice. For example, “author Michael Pollan has called on President Obama to pursue a ‘reform of the entire food system’ by focusing on…diversified, regional food networks,” Martin reports. But there are fears the movement may not be savvy enough for Washington. Pollan compares sustainable-food activists to environmentalists in the 1970s, saying, the movement “is not ready for prime time. It’s not like we have an infrastructure with legislation ready to go.” But Martin says that while the movement may not be ready to turn Washington on its head:

Sustainable-food activists and entrepreneurs have convinced more Americans to watch what they eat. They have encouraged the growth of farmers’ markets and created such a demand for organic, natural and local products that they are now sold at many major grocers…

“Increasingly, companies are looking to reduce the amount of additives,” says Ted Smyth, who retired earlier this year as senior vice president at H. J. Heinz. “Consumers are looking for more authentic foods. This trend absolutely has percolated through into mainstream foods.”

Nancy M. Childs, a professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University, said sustainable food activists forced the broader public to focus on the quality and sourcing of food, which in turn has prompted demand for farmers’ markets and local produce…

But Ms. Childs worries that some of the activists’ recommendations for buying fresh, local or organic food cannot be adopted by many Americans because those foods may be too expensive. “By singling out certain lifestyles and foods, it’s diminishing very good quality nutrition sources,” she says. “Frozen goods, canned goods, they are not bad things. What’s important is that people eat well, within their means.”

This all leaves me with one conclusion. We, as consumers, have to educate ourselves and make choices that are in the best interest of our health, our wallets and our concerns for the planet, trying to balance all three. The fortunate part is that living in America in the 21st century, and in Bucks County, we have a lot of options at our fingertips. And price is not always the issue – in fact, especially in season, local food can be cheaper.

Also, to learn more, check out this glossary of terms on the Pennsylvania Buy Fresh Buy Local Web site.

What are your thoughts on these topics? Please leave us your comments and educate us all a bit more.

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