Friday Links: February 24, 2012

Getting real with sardines. (Follow me on Instagram: anjaliruth.)

 

What I’ve been reading:

Mucky fat butties and a sense of place – The Guardian UK (side note: best article title ever?)

James Beard Awards 2012: Semifinalists Announced – LA Weekly

The Real Caveman Diet – Slate

After the Feast, the Digestif – New York Times

Tijuana’s Salad Days Are Back! – Carolynn Carreno

 

What I’ve been cooking:

Charred Carrot Salad – The Yellow House

Crispy Sardines with Lemon and Mint – Donna Hay

Spicy Lemon Date Spread – Joy the Baker

…and thinking about cooking:

Jerry Traunfeld’s Root Ribbons with Sage – Food 52

Beet (not beef) Bourguignon – Green Kitchen Stories

The CSA Project, Part 1: What’s In the Box

I hate wasting food. Blame my Presbyterian missionary lineage, in particular my grandfather, who spent many of his formative years living in India and Thailand, where sweetened condensed milk was a delicacy and underwear was purchased once every five years. In bulk.

The happiest I ever saw him outside of the usual weddings, graduations and baby births was the one time the family gave him a giant box stuffed with generic brand goods from the supermarket for his birthday. It was back when generic brands had monochromatic packaging and just had words like COLA, SHAMPOO and HAM printed on the labels. I remember there was lots of RAMEN in the box and that he was smiling from ear to ear.

So I often feel like I’m channeling Norm when I pack up the three bites of mashed potato left in the bottom of the serving bowl, or take home the wilty bunch of kale from work rather than tossing them out. I can mix the potatoes into a soup, I can perk up the kale in a little cold water. My refrigerator is usually filled with tiny containers that Rob doesn’t bother to explore. I’m the guide: “The leftover rice? Go past the unmarked roasted sweet potato wrapped in foil and to the left, under the Parmesan rind.”

That’s why when I buy a box of vegetables from my favorite CSA — South Central Farmers, they’re great — I try to plan carefully to make sure we eat them all before they go bad. I usually come close to succeeding, and that feels good — even better than a box full of RAMEN.

So how do we eat all these vegetables? I thought it might be interesting to write out a list of what I got in this week’s box and then check back in next week, to see how it all got used. If anything, it will be motivation for me to be on top of it, what with you looking over my shoulder and all.

In this week’s box:
• 1 (large!) bunch celery
• 1 bunch turnips
• 1 bunch arugula
• 1 head romaine lettuce
• 1 head red lettuce
• 4 oranges
• 2 heads broccoli
• 2 red onions
• 1 bunch cilantro
• 1 bunch purple amaranth (?) red mustard
• 1 large cabbage

There is a lot of lettuce in my refrigerator. I foresee more than a few salads this week.

Friday Links: February 17, 2012

On fruit day in my food prep class, some genius made Thai green papaya salad. (Find me on Instagram: anjaliruth.)

 

What I’ve been reading:

McDonald’s Teams Up With Humane Society To Phase Out Pig Crates – NPR

Heart Attack Grill Customer Has Heart Attack — While Eating 6,000-Calorie Burger – LA Weekly

Charles McIlvaine, Pioneer of American Mycophagy – The Smithsonian

Why Farms Want Cold Winters – Gilt Taste

 

What I’ve been cooking:

Perfect Baked Polenta – LA Times

Spicy Oven-Roasted Chickpeas – The Kitchn

Asparagus & Ricotta Tart – Apples & Onions

…and thinking about cooking:

Lamb-and-White-Bean Chili – New York Times

Bay-Smoked Potatoes – LA Times

When To Put Down the Olive Oil (and Give Grapeseed Oil a Try)


Extra-virgin olive oil is a magical elixir, right? You should pour it over your salad greens and drizzle it over roasted vegetables and dip your first-born child in it to ensure a long life and no heart disease. Right?

Almost right. There’s one thing extra-virgin olive oil is not good at, and one very important reason why you shouldn’t use it in all your cooking.

It comes down to this: smoke point. I used to just think of smoke point as the annoying temperature at which an oil started to get smoky and stink up the kitchen. I thought it might also have something to do with an oil not working as well and letting food stick to the pan. Totally scientific and based on factual data, clearly.

In actuality, smoke point is the temperature at which a specific oil begins to break down, not only smoking and releasing unwanted flavors, but also generating toxic fumes and free radicals*, those scary cell-damaging molecules that only antioxidants can tame.

Extra-virgin olive oil has a smoke point of 200-300°F, depending on how refined it is**. (The more refined an oil, the higher its smoke point.) That’s low, too low for searing a piece of meat on a cast-iron skillet or stir-frying vegetables over a high flame.

So save your extra-virgin olive oil for salads or low-heat cooking, and give grapeseed oil a try. This oil, extracted from — you guessed it — grape seeds, is high in healthy polyunsaturated fats, which lower LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase HDL (good) cholesterol. It also has a high smoke point, around 425-475°F and is virtually flavorless, so it lets the flavor of your ingredients shine through.

Look for expeller pressed grapeseed oil, which has been extracted without chemicals. (Because grape seeds are so low in oil, many manufacturers use the solvent hexane to extract the oil. You probably don’t want to be eating that.) Spectrum Organics, La Tourangelle, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s brand grapeseed oils are all expeller pressed. So get a bottle and go to town!

 

* Guide to Oils, Whole Foods Market

** Is it OK to cook with extra-virgin olive oil?, WHFoods

Beans From Scratch: The Slow Cooker Method

I’m serious about beans. For many years, I didn’t understand what the big deal was. I used canned beans in my chili and thought they were fine, but nothing to get excited about. Like tofu*, they seemed to be a vehicle for other flavors, not something to enjoy on their own.

Then I started cooking them properly from scratch and everything changed. I became a bean girl. What does a bean girl do, besides eat lots of beans? Try to figure out the best way to cook beans and store beans. Bookmark a lot of bean recipes. Spend an inordinate amount of time in the bulk foods aisle at Whole Foods.

I’ve soaked, I’ve simmered, I’ve slow-cooked. And I have two favorite methods for cooking beans from scratch; this is the first. If you don’t have a slow cooker, you’ll have to wait for part two.

In the meantime, this burning question: To soak or not to soak? I always soak chickpeas — they’re so hard, you have to — and only soak other beans if I happen to think of it either hours or a day before. But let’s speak briefly about the unspeakable: the digestive effects of beans, henceforth referred to as “the toots.” When I am eating beans at least once a week, I am not afflicted by the dreaded toots. Regular intake of fiber seems to keep things running smoothly and, uh, silently. If you aren’t so lucky, there are some who say soaking your beans and discarding the soaking water before cooking will help. With the toots.

I hope that answers your question because I’m not going to go into more detail.

So what to do with all your lovely, non-gassy, perfectly tender beans? Once cooked, they can be used immediately, or stored, covered in their cooking liquid, in the refrigerator for up to a week or in the freezer for several months. Then they are as convenient as canned beans, but with a better texture and a kajillion times tastier.

Many recipes for dishes with from-scratch beans to come. I am a bean girl, after all.

* Some other time, I will discuss eating tofu to eat tofu, rather than eating tofu to pretend it is meat. It’s all very Zen.
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