# Wednesday, February 04, 2004

It’s harder and harder these days to promote good nutrition at home, since so many of the products that kids and other family members are exposed to are full of complete and total crap.  Don’t even get me started on school lunches.  (More on that some other time.)  So there are times when it’s useful to sneak in some nutritious foods without your kids (or others :-) ) noticing. 

My son is pretty adventurous in his eating habits. He loves sushi, eats bean-spread sandwiches with relish (enjoyment, not pickles) and demands chicken livers at New Years.  My daughter, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  If she could live exclusively on cheese-flavored wheat flour paste, she would. 

One of the areas that I always seem to get into conflict with the rest of the family is pancakes.  I like “weird” pancakes.  Whole wheat, cornmeal, buckwheat, barley flour, you name it.  And I tend to throw in things like flax seed meal, wheat germ, soy flour, and other (IMHO) interesting ingredients.  Since I took up the low-glycemic lifestyle 2 years ago, the last thing I’m down with is pasty white pancakes. 

This doesn’t go down well with the rest of the gang.  My wife asks for “regular” pancakes, and my son begs for no more “healthy” pancakes. 

I’ve discovered, however, that crepes are apparently exempt from these restrictions.  I make what my wife calls crepes, and I grew up calling “roll-ups” with all the weird ingredients I want.  Bring on the flax seed, bran, soy protein, you name it, and no one seems to be too bothered.  Of course, when you roll said crepe around enough butter and applesauce, there’s only so bad it can be.  I continue on the path of pancake experimentation, but for now at least I have an out.

I’ve been meaning to try some yeast-risen pancakes or waffles.  I used to do that fairly often, but haven’t in ages.  I noticed that in this months Cooks Illustrated, there’s an article on yeast-risen waffles, so I’m feeling re-inspired. 

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 10:21:03 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

If you like Ethiopian food (or if you’ve never tried it, you should) and you happen to be in or around Portland check out Queen of Sheba.  I love Ethiopian food, and they make some of the best I’ve had.  I went a couple of weeks ago, and it was fabulous.  Vikki and I had the vegetarian sampler, and everything was just right.  Spicy but not too hot, very flavorful, and everything was a little bit different.  Definitely a place where vegetarians won’t feel denied.  It’s gotten me all in the mood to make Ethiopian food at home, which I haven’t done in ages, but I just haven’t had the time to do all the prep work yet. 

If you want to try it at home yourself, I’d recommend checking out Exotic Ethipian Cooking by Daniel Mesfin if you can find a copy, Amazon seems to suggest it’s out of print.  My other favorite source for Ethiopian recipes is the rather unlikely source, Jeff Smith’s The Frugal Gourmet on Our Immigrant Ancestors.  Check out your favorite used book store for copies of either.  Powell’s might be a good bet. 

I think the best Ethiopian food experience I ever had was in Washington DC.  Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the restaurant.  There’s one block in DC that has no less than three Ethiopian restaurants, two across the street from one another.  I’ve been to two of them on various trips.  The last time was with Scott Hanselman and Joe Tillotson when we did the Gear.com roadshow. Scott ordered in Amharic (yes, it was impressive) so I’m not sure what I ate, but it was fabulous.  It’s a three story restaurant on what I vaguely remember to be the west side of the street, but I could be wrong about that.  I’ll see if I can come up with a name at some point.

 

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 5:38:38 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [4]

I realize that this is rather stream-of-consciousness, but the rhubarb got me thinking about stuffed dates. 

These are possibly the most decadent dessert product I can think of, or at least that I eat semi-regularly :-)

Mix together

  • Some mascarpone cheese (I’ve tried this with whipped cream, but the mascarpone is WAY better)
  • Sweetener of your choice (I use honey or agave nectar, powdered sugar also works)
  • True cinnamon, although regular grocery store cinnamon (which is really cassia) can be used, but doesn’t have the same floral quality
  • A touch of either rose water or orange flower water.  I’ve used both, and tend to prefer the rose, but some people don’t like it

 

Now get some fresh (NOT DRIED) dates, split them down the long axis, take out the pit, and fill the resulting cavity with the filling.  Especially if the dates are really fresh, these will just melt in your mouth (and go straight to your backside).  The best dates I’ve ever had were labeled as “Black Sphinx” dates, and they were truly sublime, like little bags of date flavored jelly, but since I’ve only ever seen them in stores twice, I usually go for medjools instead.  You can use dried dates, but it really won’t be as good.

I’ve also seen some recipes for dates stuffed with almond paste but I haven’t tried those.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004 12:13:56 AM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [3]
# Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I’m not sure how, but some how or another Jason went from chicken livers to rhubarb, so now I’m thinking about rhubarb. 

Makes a fine pie, especially with strawberries or blueberries.  I’ve also had good luck with strawberry/rhubarb crisps or crumbles.  Up the topping over what you’d use for apples, since rhubarb gives off a lot of liquid. 

My absolute favorite rhubarb thing is a Persian lamb (or beef) and rhubarb stew (or “khoresh”).  Truly amazing.  Take some cubed lamb or beef and brown it with onions, then add some cinnamon, preferable true cinnamon from Penzey’s or your favorite serious spice source.  Add water or stock to cover and then simmer until the meat is tender.  Then add some cut up rhubarb, and lots of parseley, like a bunch worth or more, and some fresh or dried mint and salt & pepper to taste.  Cook until the rhubarb is just tender, then serve up with Persian saffron rice.

Truly amazing.  It’s worth getting the good cinnamon for, and some quality mint.  I use dried Bulgarian spearmint, also from Penzey’s. 

There are some other really great Persian meat/fruit combinations, like chicken and pomegranate, and beef w/ peaches.  Check out Najmieh Khalili Batmanglij’s New Food of Life: Ancient Persian and Modern Iranian Cooking and Ceremonies for all this and more.  It’s my favorite Persian cookbook.  I have a couple others that I can’t think of titles for right now.  Maybe it’ll come to me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004 10:23:57 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

OK, I’ve already gotten one semi-snide comment about the chicken liver and smoked pork pie.  As I said, I’m sure it’s not for everyone, but I thought it was really quite tasty. 

And as long as I’m here, let’s talk about chicken livers.  My parents aren’t fans, and so I’d never really had any exposure to the little death bombs until I was in my teens.  My stepmother’s family is big on rumaki at New Years.  If you haven’t tried them, they’re worth the effort:  sauté some chicken livers (do yourself a favor and try to get organic ones, for the sake of your own liver) wrap them up in some bacon with a piece of water chestnut, and broil until the bacon is done.  Best served with some Chinese-style hot mustard.  For the faint of heart, green olives make a fine substitute for the livers.

My son, who is 8, loves rumaki with a passion.  This turned out to be the first time in many years that we didn’t spend New Years with my stepmother’s family, so he begged me to make him some myself.  I’ve got to say, cooking chicken livers is pretty nasty, but they tasted great. 

I’ve been wanting to try making some Jewish-style chopped liver, and just haven’t gotten around to it yet.  The grocery store we frequent (New Seasons Market) only has large quantities of organic livers every once is a while, and I haven’t gotten the timing right yet.  Maybe for Passover.  I’m not Jewish, but when it comes to food, I try to hit all the holidays regardless of denomination.  :-)

Tuesday, February 03, 2004 6:38:37 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [1]
# Monday, February 02, 2004

The SCA household we belong to (Ulfredsheim) held their annual mid-winter feast this weekend.  It was big fun to see everyone, and there was (as usual with our household) a really lot of really good food.  Some highlights for me were some period gingerbread, a Roman honey cheesecake (mmmmmm) a flourless almond cake with caraway, and a very tasty pie of chicken livers and smoked pork products.  That last one was not for the weak of palette, but I thought it was great.  I love to see people recreating historical recipes, and it’s even better when I get to eat them. 

Vikki and I still aren’t quite sure where / when we’ll do this year’s Cast Iron Chef contest, but I’ll try to keep everyone posted. 

Monday, February 02, 2004 10:18:35 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Sunday, January 25, 2004
Some good web resources on Viking food
Sunday, January 25, 2004 3:35:51 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]
# Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Back in my wayward youth in the far off 70’s I was raised pretty much exclusively on hippy vegetarian food.  Seeing as I grew up (through my elementary school years) in Marin County, CA, and it was the 70’s after all, that seemed to me the norm rather than the exception.  I’m talking old school hippy vegetarian, the likes of the original Moosewood cookbook, and lots of things involving tofu, wheat germ, and (heaven forefend) carob. 

The result of such an upbringing was that when I went away to college, I thought things like chicken fried steak and chipped beef on toast were exotic and fascinating, but that’s another story.

Occasionally I miss those old standbys of hippy vegetarian comfort food, and lately I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with peanut butter balls.  For those of you who aren’t into such things, peanut butter balls basically consist of some peanut butter, with some other binding agents and something to dry them out enough so that they don’t stick to the hands of children or nostalgic adults.  Back in the dim time, dry milk powder and wheat germ were popular additives. 

When you’re done, you get little balls of peanutty goodness, just bursting with protein, some fat, and just enough sugar (usually honey) to make them attractive.  A great snack for kids on the go, since they’re full of energy and not full of sugar and starch. 

Anyway, I’ve been experimenting a bit, and have come up with a pretty decent combination of stuff. 

  • Peanut butter (my personal favorite is Maranatha organic)
    • I’ve also tried adding some sesame butter (also Maranatha brand) and almond butter with good results
  • Wheat germ (adds fiber and has a nice texture)
  • Flax seeds (a nice crunch, and lots of Omega-3s)
  • Barley malt (a nice mellow sweetener, and lots of vitamins)
  • A little honey or agave nectar (a low-glycemic alternative to honey)
  • Dry whey powder (protein, nice filler, I use Bob’s Red Mill brand)
  • Instead of whey powder, I’ve also used soy grits (about the texture of fine cornmeal) which was good but adds a very slight bitterness
  • I’ve also tried substituting some flax seed meal for some of the wheat germ, which adds some nutrition and didn’t seem to affect the taste.
  • Raisins (my favorite are organic “flame” raisins)

 

Mix all that up in a bowl, check the consistency (should be like playdough) and roll into little balls.  I’ve tried rolling the balls in either wheat germ, or coconut, which makes them less sticky.  My kids especially liked the coconut.

A quick, nostalgic (at least for some of us) and healthy snack.  Mmmmmm, good :-)

 

Wednesday, January 21, 2004 6:11:06 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [2]
# Monday, January 19, 2004

I've got PDF versions of a couple of food history classes I've taught at SCA events. 

The first is on “Cooking for Cultures with No Extant Recipes”.  Many cultures throughout history haven't used written recipes, but I don't think that should stop us from being able to recreate their cooking.  For example, we don't have an Viking “recipes”, but we do know from the archeological record what ingredients they used, and what equipment they had for cooking.  We can also refer to literature to get a feel for their tastes. 

The second is on the “Evolution of Food Processing Techniques”.  I looked at how food processing techniques have evolved over time, and what impact they have had on daily life.

Enjoy.

Monday, January 19, 2004 10:24:07 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]

Thanks to an article in the New York Times (reg. req.) I just found Centropa.  It's a project dedicated to gathering and preserving oral histories of Jews living in Central- and Eastern Europe.  One of their main focuses is food, and they've gathered some pretty interesting recipes and oral histories to go with them. 

Well worth checking out if you're interested in culinary history. 

Monday, January 19, 2004 8:39:05 PM (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)  #    Comments [0]