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Meal Kits Mishegoss
So many reactions to this Kim Severson piece.
I think we tend to want to find a camp "It's the end of civilization!" or "It's the best thing since sliced bread!" And I imagine when bread slicers were created people reacted in similar fashion.
But here's a thought: maybe the process of connecting to our heritage through food, with our friends or family through food, connecting to the hunting for recipes, for ingredients and whether we find THAT enjoyable or loathsome....all these reactions, maybe they can and do live side by side, maybe even in our own homes.
If a kit would help someone, say a school-aged or teen, develop some confidence in the kitchen, or help a spouse who normally doesn't cook because they never have and are reluctant to ask guidance - maybe these are good things?
And maybe a delivered meal kit does help someone explore a new cuisine or technique? And maybe it's also true that for many of us this seems to gut what we love about cooking. Maybe there's a huge environmental cost to all that packaging and all those deliveries. How does that compare to the footprint of takeout delivery or wasted groceries?
Do people who learn a recipe from a kit, then know how to replicate it without the kit? How to plan for three or four meals with little or no waste by actually planning meals and grocery shopping? Could these kits actually support local farms like Al-Freshco here in Boston and be low impact on the environment (delivered by the founder on a trike)?
Maybe all these things are true?
Give 'em something to talk about
National Geographic -
I was delighted to join the conversation at National Geographic's The Plate, with my friend Maryn McKenna. She, Charlotte McGuinn and i talked about essential life skills, like learning how to feed one's self, cooking, are no longer part of most school curricula. We envisioned something like Americorps maybe the Roast Chicken Corps. Everyone knows it's back to school time. What would it look like to have an afterschool cooking club? Or to make an interdisciplinary course that links history, geography, biology, and cooking?
Do you cook? Do your kids cook? Are they learning to in school?
With apologies to my scientist friends, I do not use equations every day, but I eat at least three times a day. Not from a box nor from a frozen block of something. The personal and public health consequences of our decreasing food literacy and cooking proficiency are clear.
Curse the darkness or light a candle, I prefer to light a candle. That's part of why I began private cooking service. People are hungry for basic culinary skills and even not so basic ones. I love the idea of a Roast Chicken Corps.
The Boston globe-
Cooks wear many different things, a uniform is a signifier after all.
Superbowl Parties and Food Allergies
Whether you're hosting or attending a Superbowl party, if food allergies or intolerances are part of your crew, here are some tips to keep everyone safe and happy. (Everyone except Patriots fans, that is....grumble, grumble.)
Current estimates are that 15 million Americans have food allergies.
While the "why" of it is still debated and being explored, there's wide agreement that the incidence of food allergies is on the rise. There is no cure, no pill. The only safe course is strict avoidance.
- Did you know flour particles can remain airborne for 24 hours? All utensils, sponges, aprons, measuring spoons must be clean (full 20 seconds hot soapy water) to ensure no cross contact.
Since acquiring my own allergies, I've learned a lot, and try to share what I've learned as often as possible. I've written for The Washington Post, The Boston Globe and trained restaurants and private cooking clients on how to handle food allergies and intolerances.
How to HOST a food-allergic guest
- Understand what you're dealing with - have a direct conversation with your guest to get clear. Ask what your guest can and cannot eat. Guessing is dangerous.
- Does your guest wish to bring a dish or help out? Maybe cooking together would be fun and enlightening.
- Perhaps you can share recipes so your guest can check for problematic ingredients?
- Don't announce to the party that someone's allergic, unless they themselves have asked you to share that info.
- Don't make substitutions without checking in with your allergic guest. Or at least, alerting them to it.
- Understand cross-contact. A large ice bin or buffet style service are opportunities for cross-contact.
How to be a good GUEST, even with allergies
I'm so grateful when someone is willing to go the extra mile (or seven) to accommodate my food allergies. Often, I will suggest I could just come for drinks or I will bring something delicious to share.
- Offer to go over recipes, ingredients. You may wish to bring something that is a good substitute, but which may be unfamiliar to your guests.
- Offer to bring something to share that everyone can safely enjoy. Ask if there are any other intolerances or allergies you need to be aware of.
- Bring something extra for the host to show your appreciation. They have brought you into their home, and probably worried and fussed a little extra about serving you.
- Don't play games. If you just don't like something, don't lie and say you're allergic. This serves no one well.
Be aware of the cross-contact opportunities
Cross-contact is a little different from cross-contamination. Cooking does not "kill" or eliminate most instances of cross-contact.
Buffets - a serving spoon goes from one dish to the next or a drip from one dish falls into another. Tip: Place the allergen-free foods behind the other dishes to minimize drips. Remember only a molecule is needed to trigger a reaction.
Tip: offer to plate or grill the food for your allergic guest first.
Dips - we all know double dipping is gross, but it can quickly move from gross to life-threatening if anaphylaxis is in the house. Tip: Place a safe dip on a separate table and let the allergic guest know which is safe. Place a bowl of safe chips near that dip.
High Fives - and smooches - both opportunities for cross-contact!
Get the Scoop - an open ice bin is a high risk zone. Someone scoops ice with a hand instead of a clean cup or scoop, and that hand just grabbed a cube of cheese, the ice has been contaminated.
To learn more about training for your restaurant, or cooking for your family.
Read more about dining out with food allergies.
Terrific cookies anyone can enjoy:
Fruity Chocolate Energy Bites
These are very customizable. I created this to meet the needs of FA travelers, starting with taste, eliminating the top 8 allergens and making them gluten-free as well. These store at room temp and travel well. You can substitute regular oats, flour, cereal if gluten is not your issue. Peanut butter can stand in for SunButter if you don't have a peanut allergy.
- 3/4 C sunflower seeds or pepitas, or combo
- 1 TBSP ground golden flax
- 1 1/2 C GF Flour
- 1 C GF oats old fashioned rolled
- 1/4 C cereal (Erewon quinoa/chia flakes) or brown rice crisps GF
- 1/3 C shredded coconut
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 C dried fruit (choose cherries, apricots, prunes, dates or combo ) (I like dates & apricots)
- 1/2 C hot water to soak fruit (minus 2 TBSP), reserve
- 1/3 C GF veg shortening, combined with sun butter
- 1/2 C Lyle’s Golden Syrup
- 1/2 C Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips
- 1/4 tsp imitation almond extract
- 1/4 tsp orange blossom water, optional*
- 1/4 cinnamon
- pinch cardamom, optional
- Preheat oven to 325. Combine seeds, toast about 8 mins., remove, cool.
- In a large bowl, combine flour, oats, baking powder, salt, spices, cereal, coconut.
- In a 1/3 measuring cup combine shortening and sun butter, melt on low setting in microwave, cool shortening.
- Soak fruit in very hot water, after 15 mins, strain fruit, reserving all but 2 TBSP of soaking liquid.
- Add chocolate chips, fruit, and cooled seeds to flour mix.
- Add syrup, mix lightly, then add just as much soaking liquid from the fruit as you need to moisten the dough.
- Use small scoop to place on parchment lined cookie sheet.
- Bake 7 minutes, turn and rotate pans, bake another 7 minutes, do not over bake.
These energy bites are not overly sweet, but the Golden Syrup and dates add just enough sweetness without being cloying. Mini chocolate chips are the perfect size for these bite-sized snacks. Good as afternoon snack or as part of breakfast.
*Orange blossom water can be found in Middle Eastern or Halal Markets, fantastic ingredient for granola, cookies, cakes. Because it is not packaged in the US it does not include FALCPA info or manufacturing info, if in doubt, leave it out. I have not had problems with it.
- Vietnamese summer rolls
- Tortilla Española
The Beauty of a Good Rolling Pin
My Eye on the Sparrow
I'm not a religious person but that old song about 'his eye on the sparrow' came to me watching these delightful birds this morning. In the original (and the Barretta theme song version) I think the tune is meant to encourage us to leave our cares behind because Jesus is watching over us, keeping his eye on us (the sparrow). I prefer to think of each of us as each others' keepers. Watching out for our loved ones, for those in need, and even for the animals that pass through our lives.
I found some hominy in the pantry that had gone stale due to a hole in the bag (no critters in there, just a crack in the old cellophane wrapper, which I dismissed and threw into a mason jar.) Rather than waste it, I ground it in the spice grinder and added a little millet or amaranth, today I added sesame seeds.
To my delight, these little guys are loving it. I got to see a mother feeding a hungry baby several times. A gift! I hid behind a bookcase and those peaches ripening nicely, and was still. For a moment, I could forget about the cancelled client, the need of an intern, the age of the cat, whether the knees and rain would let me run today... I just watched, and loved it. (Forgive the windows, these are old old old and unable to be cleaned in between the panes.)
Please do note the marigolds. Fried and dried out on the Lowe's $1 rack. They've blossomed and are doing quite nicely, thank you. Those prayer flags got re-strung, pressed, re-hung.. Hopefully those wind-horses will continue to carry my wishes for fortune out into the universe.
And now, for that run.
Sobremesa "over the table" stories and laughs: the very best part of the meal
I had planned a Japanese meal in my head. I really did. Little braised meatballs made with okara, nimono soy-simmered vegetables, hakkusai with yuzu kosho, rice, miso soup...my favorite matcha panna cotta. Then a little bug (me) a sprained foot (him) got in the way of the shopping. As I began to mull over alternative menus for this upcoming dinner, I stumbled across a random tweet or post somewhere with the word “sobremesa” which I’d totally forgotten.
It’s a simple word that conjures such warmth, evoking more than a single word should. Sobremesa, literally “over the table” it refers to the lingering conversation, laughter that happens with friends after a good meal. The Spanish have elevated it to an art form, of course, and many Latin cultures carry on after dinner in this way. I’ve seen dinner parties that seemed as if the whole evening was only foreplay. Dancing might break out. Joking and naughty tale shared or a remembrance of the last party, absent friends are toasted.
This is the warm feeling people will remember fondly, long after the meal. When we were planning our wedding and I reached the freaking-out point, Caleb stopped me and said, "This is our day. What do we want people to remember?" I said I wanted them to be filled with warm memories of good food and a good time. That clarified things for us and I was able to (mostly) ignore the distractions that came along with that process. Almost ten years later, I think that’s what folks remember from our wedding.
These are the best moments in life when the phones are put away, the laughs continue, the stories unfold.
When you’ve eaten, drunk wine. You’re comfy, maybe a little fuzzy, but enjoying the company - when the right pieces come together -- this is what you get: sobremesa. People don’t want to leave the table.There may be nibbles and crumbs, the last dregs of one bottle, the need to open another. Maybe another round of food, or at least some cookies or bread comes out. Some digestif. On and on it goes.
Begin with the end in mind
This is how our dinner comes together - I begin with the end in mind. I think this is a good starting point for anyone planning a dinner, a party, a brunch, even a wedding. Don’t be distracted by someone’s notion of “the perfect dinner” or the “ultimate appetizer” or “drop dead gorgeous dessert.” Stress is the number one killer of any party plan.
Think of a good time, create an atmosphere that will invite your guests to relax. Some nice music, not jarring, not too loud, a lively but gentle soundtrack for the evening. Some candles for a soft glow. Think about what you can do ahead, so you too, can relax and enjoy your company. Our guests this night: Elissa Altman, author of Poor Man's Feast and her wife Susan Turner, Senior Designer at Random House who just published the Big New Yorker Book of Cats. My former Duckathalon teammates had yet to meet Doc. It was their anniversary, too. Much toasting ensued.
I was trying to make a meal with some gluten-free options, dairy-free, but all delicious.
Here’s what we ended up with:
- Coca de Pimientos Rojos y Tomates - Catalonian Flatbread with roasted peppers and tomato; one with chorizo, caramelised onions and roasted peppers. (not gluten-free, but I needed to test the Baking Steel and wanted a variety of nibbles.)
- Jamon w/figs - Fold jamon with figs, spear (in my case, scrunch jamon, spear with figs macerated in their own syrup)
- Tortilla Española - made ahead, cut into squares (gluten-free)
- Gambas al ajillo - sizzling garlic shrimp
- Paella "Brut"- chorizo, chicken, shrimp, peppers, artichokes ("brut" means rustic, not really one or another regional style)
Bubbles to celebrate good friends, accomplishments, plans, the new year. (La Vida al Camp Cava - Macabeu, Xarello, Parellada grapes I came to know in Valencia. Bright citrus notes, good acid, fine bubbles usually found in more expensive bottles. One of the top 100 wines of 2013 according to the International Wine Report.)
Wine with dinner - Garnacha from old vines: a perfect blend of new world fruit forward and old world structure and minerality. Garnacha (Grenache) . (Breca Garnacha 2011) Drinks well above its price point. Robert Parker said: "Frankly, I was at a loss for words when I tasted it. It may be the most amazing wine I have ever tasted at this price in over three decades. The wine world is changing, and Jorge Ordonez and his associates deserve a huge amount of credit for producing something this remarkable at this price point. Consumers should fill their trunks with these beauties."
Matcha & black sesame layered panna cotta with lemon-ginger simple syrup; genmai cha.
Fernet Leopold - Amaro from Colorado, minty, herby, lovely.
And laughs. And stories. More laughs. Ah... sobremesa the perfect end to an evening.