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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Help Save Public Broadcasting

Sesame Street, America's Test Kitchen, NPR, Nova, Masterpiece Theatre, American Experience, Antiques Roadshow.  The list of quality educational, entertaining and important television and radio on Public Broadcasting goes on and on.

Right now, there are three separate bills before Congress to severely decrease or even eliminate all federal funding for Public Broadcasting.  If passed, not only could these bills prevent us and our children from watching and listening to these great shows, but local stations such as WHYY, WDIY, WLVT and others could be put in jeopardy.  Shows like World Cafe out of WXPN and distributed by NPR could also be terribly affected.

Do your kids watch PBS Kids shows like Jake does? Is it part of your routine to watch cooking shows on the weekends on PBS or listen to All Things Considered each afternoon on NPR?  If you love the shows on public television and radio, please sign the survey at 170MillionAmericans.org

Monday, January 24, 2011


            Photo courtesy of camacdonald.com

The tasty morsel known as
the ortulan.

Birds are a staple food in every culture.  Chicken, turkey, goose, quail, pheasant and even ostrich.  What we don't think of eating--especially here in America--are songbirds.  They just don't seem worth the effort.  They sure don't have a lot of meat on them.  And you'd have to eat a bunch of them to feel full.

Since ancient times--and still in many parts of Europe (France, especially)--birds of this type have been eaten.  Thrushes and larks, for example.  The most prized--and controversial--of these is the ortulan.

The ortulan is illegal to sell in France, although not illegal to catch and eat.  According to Wall Street Journal food writer, Bruce Palling:
The traditional way to consume ortolan is to capture them with nets, fatten them up in a darkened space, drown them in Armagnac, then roast and consume them whole, bones and all, while your head is covered by a large napkin. Some say this was necessary to avoid the wrath of God, others put it down to the pleasure of capturing the aromas, while still others say it was necessary because it is such a disgusting spectacle.

Interesting, huh?  This ain't just fried chicken we're talking about here.  Sorry, chewing through bones isn't my idea of a nice dinner. 

Palling was invited to a special meal in Paris featuring these little critters.  Read all about his interesting--and somewhat disappointing--adventure in his article, "Tasting Forbidden Fruits".

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Eating (and Much More) in South Africa

In 2009, my cousin, Andrew Steele, spent a month in Lesotho, a small landlocked country within South Africa during his final year at Wittenberg University.  He was so taken by all that he saw and the people that he met during this service trip, that he has decided to dedicate himself to making the lives of these people better.

                   Photo courtesy of Andrew Steele
First, he founded BLOOM Africa, which, according to its mission statement, exists to provide resources to orphans in support of their basic life’s needs through sustainable projects, educational programming and financial support by collaborating with the people of African nations. 

After graduating, he signed up to spend a year in Bloemfontein, South Africa through the Young Adults in Global Mission program through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).  He's been living, working and learning there since August.  I won't go into all that he's done (and is doing)--you can read all about it in his blog.  It's worth the reading--it's entertaining, educational and very inspiring. 

But I'm here to write about food, so I asked him to tell me a bit about what he's been eating (or not eating) while there.  Here's some of what he told me:

The most common food in SA is called Pap (pronounced pop), which is simply cornmeal mixed with water.  Just as it is in many cultures, cornmeal provides the staple of nourishment.  Andrew says that it's eaten with almost every meal--especially in rural areas.  Again, like cornmeal in most cultures (tortillas, polenta, grits, etc), pap is prepared in different ways depending on the area in which you're eating.  He says, "In the northern province of Limpopo, the pap is first made into a soft porridge, and then given time to thicken.  Once thick, they serve the pap as round balls, which can easily be eaten with your hands as it has a somewhat thick outer layer and is soft on the inside.  The pap made in...the region of Free State tends to be more crumbly and dry."

                                     Photo by Arne Larson
Yum...Mopane Worm!
Another favorite of the locals is chicken heads and feet--or "walkie-talkies" as they are called.  Andrew hadn't tried chicken heads (yet?), but had eaten feet.  "I would sum it up as the texture and consistency of chicken-flavored jelly.  I definitely won't try it again, I don't think."

Some other "strange" foods Andrew mentions are cow heels, mopane worms (a caterpillar that is usually dried or smoked and eaten as a snack), sheep heads, chicken intestines (which Andrew thought tasted pretty good), ox tail and, thanks to lingering British influence, tea.  Tea time is a regular occurrence in South Africa.

                                                               Photo courtesy of Andrew Steele
Tastes like chicken...intestines.
 From some of these foods, you can see that, just as in pretty much every culture in the world (except for ours), every possible part of an animal or plant is used for food.  I often think, if I'm watching Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern or some other travel/food show like that, how the only reason some of the foods that other cultures eat are bizarre to us, is because we leave so much to waste.  It only makes sense to eat the feet and heads of critters if they're edible.  Bajillions of people around the world have been eating these "bizarre" foods for thousands of years.  Somewhere along the line, our culture decided not to any more.

Anyway, thanks a lot to Andrew for sharing some of his culinary adventures.  If he gives me any more to share, I'll be sure to pass them on. 

And to Andrew: I know that missing your family--especially during the holidays, missing the Eagles season and the upcoming Phillies season (you'll be home for the Series drive!) and just being away from home for so long can be tough.  But you'll look back on this year as something that you'll always remember--and that most people don't have the opportunity or the guts to actually do.  Good for you!  Keep up the good work.  And don't eat anything I wouldn't eat!  (Or on second thought, go ahead!)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Future Personal Chefs?

Thursday and Friday of last week, I was fortunate to be asked to come in as a guest to Sharon Poorman's 8th grade Family Consumer Science classes at Palisades Middle School.  It was a great time.

These kids have been working on units on careers and many of them have expressed some interest in jobs in the food industry.  In the cooking portion of the class, they've been learning and cooking healthy and ethnic foods.  In fact, their final project for the class (due this week!) is to create and cook a full meal for their families.  So Mrs. Poorman thought having me in to talk to them and demo some dishes would be a good fit with their classwork.

                                                             Photo courtesy of Sharon Poorman
I tried to combine all of those topics in my visit.  We talked about what a personal chef is and how I became one.  We discussed what it takes to come up with a good menu.  I talked about how healthy eating and local foods go hand-in-hand.  And, of course, we did a little cooking.

I decided to go with two easy and tasty Asian dishes--Asian Pork Lettuce Wraps and Beef Satay.  I made the dishes as they watched--she's got one of those nifty mirrors so they can see what's going on--and, best of all, they got to taste!

I was really impressed with their attentiveness and some of the really good questions that they had about my business and cooking in general.  Some of the kids went away saying how they really wanted to try to make these dishes at home.  I know that exposing young people to different ideas, flavors, etc. only helps them to be more willing to try things in all parts of their lives.  And that makes my visit well worth my time.

Read Mrs. Poorman's write-up on my visit on her web page.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Like a Good Burger, But...

Have you heard about the $5000 burger? 

                                          Photo courtesy of Kirvin Doak Communications
 Chef Hubert Keller's new Las Vegas restaurant Fleur, offers one.  Yes, it's made with some of the world's best ingredients--Kobe beef, foie gras, black truffles--and it comes with some good wine.  But 5 grand? 

Well, it's a gimmick and some bajillionaire will pay for it just to say that he did.  I wonder if they serve Heinz or Hunt's ketchup...

Read more about it in this article from Speakeasy.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Winter Fruit Salad

We had our annual post-holiday blahs party on Saturday.  As usual, we made tons of food (we're still eating some of it!).  Surprisingly, though, the one thing we didn't have left over was a fruit salad that I found in Food Network Magazine

You can use whatever fruit you can find if you can't get those that are suggested--we used starfruit instead of kumquats, for example.  It's a little bit more involved than a typical fruit salad, but believe me, it's worth it.  The vanilla and ginger flavors really complement the sweet fruit.  Very delicious.

Photo courtesy of Food Network

1/2 cup sugar
1" piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped out
1 lemon
5 large navel or blood oranges (I used a combination)
2 mangoes, peeled and diced
2 firm bananas, peeled and diced
5 kiwis, peeled and diced
12 kumquats, very thinly sliced crosswise, seeds removed
1 cup pomegranate seeds (from 1 pomegranate--see my post, "Pom 101")
  • Combine sugar, 2 cups water, ginger and vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan.  Use a vegetable peeler to remove wide strips of zest from the lemon and 1 orange, add to saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce the heat and simmer 5 minutes.  Refrigerate until cold.
  • Meanwhile, peel the remaining oranges with a paring knife, cutting along the natural curve of the fruit.  Hold an orange over a large bowl and cut along both sides of each membrane to free the segments, letting them fall into the bowl.  Squeeze each empty membrane to release the juices.  Repeat with the remaining oranges.  Add the mangoes, bananas, kiwis, kumquats and pomegranate seeds and gently toss.  Pour the syrup over the fruit and chill overnight.
  • Before serving, remove the citrus zest, ginger and vanilla pod.  (I put those things in a cheesecloth pouch to make removing them easier.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Pig Out on Dessert

The holidays are over, but how much of your holiday sweets are still sitting around?  Cookies, candy and more will be tempting us over the next few weeks, at least.
Photo by Evan Sung for The New York Times

After eating all of those kinds of things, though, you get to a point where you yearn for something a little different.  Well, famed chef and food writer, Mark Bittman, offers a suggestion in the New York Times for a dessert that fits the bill.

All you need is four ingredients: apples, sugar, ice cream and bacon.  Yeah, I'm writing about bacon again.  As Bittman writes, those of you who have either intentionally or mistakenly eaten bacon and maple syrup know, the smoke and salt of bacon goes great with sweet.  (It's one of my favorite combos--as I wrote in my post, "Make Me a Match" from October.

Bittman says to cook the bacon and then add sugar to give a crunchy, caramelization to the meat.  Cook the apple in the bacon fat with some more sugar and then serve with ice cream.  As he says, "I don't see this as a trend, but it's pretty great as a one-shot deal."  Read his article for more details on how to make this.  I'm going to have to try it soon.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Great Licorice

Black licorice is a love it/hate it kind of food, isn't it?  Some kids pick out all the black jelly beans and toss them.  Others pick them out and eat them. 

Well, I'm one of the latter--I love it.  Jelly beans, Twizzlers, Sambuca, whatever.  Have you ever tried licorice tea?  Yum.

Thanks, Santa!
 Well this year Santa went out of his way and got me some licorice for me stocking.  According to the candy store owner where Santa found them, he thinks that they are the best licorice you can find.  I can't argue with him.

You know by now that I'm a supporter of local foods, but this stuff comes from New Zealand.  It's made by a company called RJ's and the kind I have is their "Soft Eating" version--big logs of soft and chewy goodness.  Not too sweet and full of real licorice flavor.  Check out their website and see some of their other products--black licorice with filled with chocolate!? I have to get some of those. 

I've been good--there's still 2 or 3 left in the bag.  But they easily could have been gone after about 10 minutes.  If you can find them, and you're a licorice fan, you HAVE to try them.  You won't be disappointed.  If you can't find them...well, be a good boy or girl and maybe Santa will bring you some next Christmas!