Sep 12, 2012

Dear Readers,

Please follow me at fork + spade, my new blog about the kitchen AND the garden.  Dream Kitchen will remain online. Thank you kindly.

Lauren

Feb 15, 2012

In Which Liver Tastes Mighty Good

In September we got an eighth of a cow from Phillycowshare, and the liver was included in our eighth, lucky us. Finally this week I worked up the nerve to thaw it. How to cook this much-maligned organ? Classic liver and onions sounded OK but too close to the liver I was forced to eat as a child. It was tough and gray and it took forever to eat. So I found a recipe for liver with, yes, bacon and onions, but also ketchup. It sounded palatable enough to try to feed the kids. Instead of ketchup I used Trader Joe's barbecue sauce because that's what we had. Personally, I thought it was kinda fantastic. And the liver was not tough in the least. The pieces were about 1/2 inch thick and I only cooked them for two minutes on each side.

Mr. Dream Kitchen thought the liver was just fine. He is an agreeable, low-maintenance guy. My younger son made dire faces and writhed about in his chair for a minute, and groaned, while the rest of us ignored him. He eventually ate a few bites, and all the bacon. (This is a kid who made a baconmobile the other week for the Pinewood Derby.) My older son had a couple of bites.

In other words, the liver was a raging success!!! As Julia Child once said, "When it comes to liver, you gotta set the bar low, girl!" Maybe she didn't actually say it, but I feel she might have said it in a comment below, had she been imbibing, and had she never taken classes at Le Cordon Bleu.

Feb 13, 2012

The Sadness of Supermarkets at Night

Or: I'm Sorry This Ends on a Downbeat But It's about Why Supermarkets Depress Me, So It Sort of Has To.

When I was a kid, my mom would load up the cart with frozen vegetables, boxes of cereal, cartons of milk, a couple of TV dinners, meat in styrofoam packages, instant coffee, Tang, jars of peaches, a few pale tomatoes and heads of iceberg lettuce. We would leave with four or five bags full and pack it in the Ford Country Squire station wagon. Then we would come back a week later to get the same stuff. This ritual trip played a central part in our family's food life because the supermarket, whether A & P, Acme, Penn Fruit, Piggly Wiggly, or the Army post's Commissary, was where the food was. A big well lit, chilly room that played Muzak and sold Soap Opera Digest and The National Enquirer.

Now it's the CSA, Swarthmore Co-op, Philly Cowshare, and Trader Joe's. The supermarket's role has shrunk, shrunk, shrunk over the years to the point where I only go there after the Swarthmore Co-op closes and I really need something before 8 AM the next day. Sometimes it's milk. Or it could be ice cream because we want to celebrate a baseball or Pinewood Derby success. After 9:00 PM you have to go in a secondary entrance, and it's all weird because I inevitably end up walking the wrong way through a checkout line. My supermarket happens to be a Genuardi's, which was a family-run store that expanded and was then sold to Safeway, who worked hard to make it as mediocre as possible. Now it has been bought by Giant. Yawn.

Every time I go to Genuardi's, the wind is howling and snow is blowing, or frogs are raining down from the sky, or death-eaters are swooping through the parking lot looking for the few carts that don't squeak. I enter and the usual tinny music is playing. The music remainds me of some random part of my adolescence and dictates my thoughts for the evening. "Benny and the Jets"--10th grade gym class and those navy blue jumpsuits we had to wear. "Both Sides Now"--love wasn't all it was cracked up to be, 9th grade. "The Long and Winding Road"--eating lunch at the Benjamin Franklin Village Officers' Club every day of 7th grade. I will be glad to explain that to you some time. Wait, I'm here to get milk. It's always about a kilometer away from the door. Hike over to get it, pass the baked goods that look tasty but aren't, and get in the line.

The line is short because everyone else is at the apocolypse, but it's long enough for me to read some tabloid headlines about Jennifer Aniston or Angelina Jolie. It's long enough for me to remember my single years of supermarket shopping, which coincided with the rise and fall of Princess Diana. Every time I went to the supermarket, whether it was in Center City, Philadelphia (Acme, Super Fresh) or Harrisonburg, Virginia (Kroger, Food Lion) I would read the latest about "Di" waiting in line. The almost-plump virginal phase, big-hat phase, baby phase, anorexic moping phase, thirty and separated and wearing a kickass black turtleneck phase, the extra blond extra divorced phase, and then the end.

The supermarket at night connects me to all the other supermarkets I've ever been to, the trips to get diapers (no longer needed) and Tampax (no longer needed) and milk and Benadryl blending into one long string of banal experiences that never quite disappear from memory. The rise and fall of princesses and movie stars continues. My mother's supermarkets are never coming back, any more than my mother is coming back, any more than Princess Di or Whitney Houston or my youth are coming back.

"Will that be all, ma'am?" It sure will. And when did I become "ma'am"? A long time ago.

Feb 8, 2012

Making Lunches at Home: The Dark Side

DISCLOSURE: The child in these statements is a composite and the events here did not really take place all in the same week.

Let's be frank. This practice of making lunches has a rarely acknowledged dark side. Let me walk you through it.

Lunch is prepared by a devoted parent, late at night when said parent would rather be sleeping or making her way through Season 4 of Six Feet Under, or at 6:40 AM, when this parent would rather be mainlining coffee and reading the entertaining Republican primary results.

This lunch, packed carefully in reusable containers, is then trotted out either at 11:00 or 1:30 or some other odd assigned lunch period, where it may or may not be eaten. Here are the possibilites, and I'm just tellin' it like is, America.

1. The entire lunch is eaten. This is theoretically possible but . . . has this ever happened? Get back to me, readers.

2. The lunch is not eaten at all. This happens five percent of the time because "I thought I was buying" or "I couldn't find it" or "Jimmy had a birthday party and he brought doughnuts" (elementary school only).

3. Two bites or less are taken out of the sandwich (if it is a sandwich) because "It smells funny," "It's dry" or "I ran out of time." Occasionally in these circumstances, said child will eat more of the fruit or vegetables than usual. That's rare.

4. The sandwich is eaten and the fruit and veggies are untouched. Again, "I ran out of time." This is a valid point. It's true that they must do lunch and recess in a short time, and recess rocks. Whereas a stinky cafeteria full of yelling kids and grumpy "monitors" does not rock.

This neglect of lovingly prepared foods is then compounded by the following practices:

1. (I love numbered lists so much.) The child leaves the lunchbag and contents in the locker. Middle school introduces this whole new private, dark place where junk and valuables accumulate in a heap. It's like the unconconscious only it smells.

2. The previous problem causes a cascading set of issues. Now the parent must pack the next lunch in a CVS bag and GLAD containers.

3. Repeat #1, only with Target bag that's too big.

4. Repeat #1, only with newspaper bag with a hole in it.

5. Repeat #1, with Victoria's Secret bag.

6. The child brings home all the lunches at once on Friday because now there's room in the backpack for them, because the huge bursting binder is left in the locker because there's no homework. Are you following this?

5. Someone must then must dispose of the molding, decomposing food and wash the containers on a lovely Friday afternoon. Someone is crabby and repercussions make themselves known.

Makes you shiver, doesn't it?

Feb 7, 2012

How to Be the Boss of Kale

Perhaps you are afraid of kale. You're intimidated by its huge dark green leaves and its commanding bulk, you're rendered mute by its assertive bitterness, or you're not brave enough to break its toughness.

It's true. Kale has been around the block a few times. In fact, kale was the dominant vegetable in Northern Europe through the Middle Ages. How do you think King Arthur became so wise? It wasn't from eating petits-pois.

And Scotland was basically a giant kale garden, where the writer J. M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan, was a member of the "Kailyard School" of fiction.

So let's not be cowards when it comes to kale. You just have to show kale who's boss. You must tame its strength. Here are a few tips:

--You can eat it raw. But it's best cut up into thin strips. This is true for lots of strong winter vegetables. Thin strips tame the bitterness and allow more surface area for dressing or sauce. I made a dressing the other day of olive oil, lemon juice, and salt. I used the kale as a bed for roasted onions, squash, and sweet potato. The sassy kale was a perfect partner for the sweet vegetables.

--You can throw it into soups or stews. I even put a whole bunch in a lamb chili last night. Again, it was cut in small pieces. One reason I make small pieces is to make it that much harder for certain boys to separate it out from the rest of the food. I'm shrewd that way.

--If you are sauteing it, pair it with bacon. Cut up some bacon slices with kitchen scissors and cook the pieces, stirring occasionally. Drain any excess fat and cook some kale in with the bacon, again stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper. Other tasty additions are Sriracha or tamari, depending what taste you are seeking.

And if you are already a kale fan, or becoming one, you will be glad to know that the northern Germans have a kale celebration every winter, centered around eating boiled kale! Is that festive or what? The name of the ritual is Grunkohlfahrt (pronounced grune-cole-fart--yes, I know) and it also seems to involve wurst (of course) and schnapps. I would imagine a great deal of schapps.

And, seriously, all fart jokes aside, kale is a great anticarcinogen (not boiled) and has tons of other vitamins including calcium. So boss around some kale today. And in the mean time, Happy Grunkohlfahrt!

Jan 5, 2012

Alice's Revolution

40 Years of Chez Panisse: The Power of Gathering.

Chez Panisse, Chez Panisse. Alice Waters, Alice Waters, Chez Panisse. Are you getting sick of hearing about this place? Me neither. Alice Waters is the one who started this whole farm to table movement, and for the past few years she and the Chez Panisse Foundation have spearheaded the Edible Schoolyard, a way of empowering children to grow and eat their own food at school.

All Alice ever did, at first, was so modest and simple. She opened a restaurant that served a three-course fixed-price menu. The staff would decide on the menu that day, depending on what produce, meat or fish they had procured. They actually told the diners where the food came from, which was never from far away. And the diners came, year after year, decade after decade, and now it's been forty years. Chez Panisse's philosophy has become de rigueur. She started a revolution.

At Chez Panisse, they even serve mulberry sorbet, the berries always from the same big old tree in Sonoma. I always thought they were flavorless, and although we had a giant mulberry tree when I was growing up, we kids only used the berries to smear on our arms as "blood." Then we went inside and ate canned fruit cocktail.

A revolution, no matter how small, threatens institutions. That's why it's called a revolution. If everyone in the United States ate local, that would be the end of agribusiness, supermarket chains, corporate food services, and the end of a whole industry of transport, refrigeration, shipping, and distribution systems. To say nothing of genetically engineered produce. And in its place? A nation of people who either grow their own food, or buy what is near them, in season. Or they "put up" for the winter. They nourish their land. They share their bounty with those in need, and teach those in need how to grow and forage.

It's happening, but slowly. Even in my "progressive" town, our local elementary school serves an impoverished lunch full of factory meat and white flour. The flavorless apples remain largely untouched, the children preferring--you guessed it--canned fruit cocktail.

Much work remains to be done. But we can do this. So it's January. Buy turnips instead of tomatoes. Invite friends over for a simple meal. Use the money that you would use for a diet program on organic eggs or locally grown meat. Invite friends to cook with you. Plan a modest garden this year.

Let's take on Alice's revolution, one mulberry at a time.

Sep 20, 2011

And The Highest Purpose of Green Tomatoes Is . . .

I was going to say the special purpose of green tomatoes, but once you've seen The Jerk you can never say "special purpose" again. So the highest purpose of green tomatoes is a gratin. They're fine pickled or fried, but in a gratin they reach their apotheosis, their verdant tartness marrying the rich creamy sauce so perfectly.

The link to the recipe I worked from is in the previous post, but I changed it enough that I'm including my own version here. I tripled the recipe, using scallions instead of shallots, and breadcrumbs from homemade bread instead of panko, and lots more breadcrumbs than originally called for. In other words it's a bigger bolder recipe. Not to imply that the original recipe is dinky and timid.

Green Tomato Gratin, Chez Dream Kitchen

This will feed 10 people if they like it. And they will like it.

3 lbs green tomatoes

For breadcrumb topping:

2 1/2 C breadcrumbs (diced stale bread)
Kosher or sea salt
black pepper
3 T olive oil

For Mornay sauce:

4 1/2 T butter
1/3 cup finely chopped scallions
6 T flour
2 1/4 C heavy cream
2 t Kosher or sea salt (less if you use regular salt)
3/4 C fresh grated parmesan or pecorino
1/4 t fresh grated nutmeg

You can cut the tomatoes a few hours ahead of time, and you can also make the sauce ahead of time. Just warm the sauce up in the microwave a little before mixing it with the tomatoes.

Preheat oven to 450.

Mix all the ingredients for the breadcrumb topping together and set aside.

To make the Mornay, put the butter and scallions in a medium saucepan and saute over medium heat for about five minutes. Add the flour and stir for about 1 minute. Whisk in the cream then add the cheese, salt and nutmeg. Continue whisking until the sauce thickens, then take it off the heat.

Spread the tomatoes evenly between two large shallow glass or ceramic baking dishes. Pour the sauce over the tomatoes. Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping evenly on top then place the dishes in the oven.

Bake for 15 minutes or until the sauce is bubbling and the breadcrumbs are golden brown.

For selfish reasons, I'm sad that this disappeared so quickly at the dinner party. I did take three or four slices that were left on a child's plate . . . is that pathetic?