Monday, April 26, 2004
A while back I posted some quick thoughts on what to consider when trying to recreate the cuisine of the past (Viking in particular). I've since had some additional revalations, and thought I'd jot them down while I'm thinking about it. They all center around resource availability.
When we try to recreate the food of the past, one thing we tend not to think of right off hand is the effect of resource availability on cooking. We're so used to being able to hop right down to the local grocery store and buy pretty much whatever we want to eat, regardless of what time of year it is, the agricultural potential of where we live, etc.
However, when recreating historic cooking, take it into account. In the Viking case, for example, resource availability varied pretty widely depending on where in the Viking world you lived. Denmark has much more arable and grazing land than does Norway. For many people, the first thing that comes to mind if you say "Viking food" is some huge roast beast. However, for the average farmer in the Trondheim in Norway, that's simply not a possibility. There's not enough grazing land to support many cows on the fjords, and the ones that could be supported are much more useful for diary products than for meat. Plus, beef is comparatively hard to preserve (pork is much easier, but pigs like warmer weather). Taking that into account, we have to think more in terms of meat as a condiment, rather than as a central part of a meal. Things like corned beef, salt beef, salt pork, bacon, smoked fish, all lend themselves well to being used in other dished like soup, porridge (oat, barley, or peas), or vegetable dishes. On the other hand, when living on the fjord fish is probably pretty available for much of the year.
Preservation techniques make a big difference in terms of resource availability. In the south of Europe, salt is readily available, so things like salami, bacon, hard cheese etc. are pretty common, as are salted herring, salmon, and other oily fish. However, in Northern Europe, salt is much harder to come by and expensive, so many foods were more likely to be preserved with lactic acid fermentation (saurkraut, pickled herring, sour milk products) are much more practical.
So, to sum up, when recreating historic cooking in the absense of "recipes" it's important to consider the availability of foods, seasonally or in preserved form, rather than just considering whether of not X ingredient was ever eaten.
The Culinary Ithra went really well this weekend, and was a lot of fun. I taught three classes in a row, and was pretty hoarse by the end of the day, but I really enjoyed it and people were really engaged, which always makes it easier.
Best of all, I just happened to score the leftovers from one of the classes of the lovely and amazingly talented Baroness Anne-Marie d'Ailleurs for lunch. I left home in a hurry and hadn't had time to put anything together for lunch, so Anne-Marie's mushroom pie, stuffed eggs, smoked halibut, et. al. was a lovely surprise. Mmmmmm. French Medieval goodness.
Between the lovely lunch and prepping for my classes I got all fired up to try some more historic recreation cooking. If I get to it I'll post about the results.
My handout for the Viking Food class ended up pretty lame (poor preparation on my part) but I'll post what I have soon.
Friday, April 23, 2004
I'll be teaching three classes at tomorrow Culinary Ithra
- Viking food: a reconstruction from available sources (which I'll post soon)
- Cooking for cultures with no extant recipes (here)
- The evolution of food processing techniques (here)
Should be a lot of fun. There are still spots available if anyone who happens to read this today is interested.
On a completely separate note, I've recently aquired some pretty good new (to me at least) historical cookbooks, which I'll post reviews on soon (maybe this weekend).
Sorry there hasn't been much in the way of new content here lately. I'm pretty swamped with life right now, and haven't had a lot of time for food. Unfortunately. I did take the time to make a giant bowl of cereal for dinner last night, which was really good, and just what I was craving. It's what my son calls "healthy breakfast".
- fruit (whatever is in season. right now mostly apples and pears, sometimes a banana, but in the summer time berries, peaches, plums, you name it)
- raw grain cereal. I use Bob's Redmill Muesli, which has several kinds of raw grain flakes, some sunflower seeds, raisins, etc.
- extra nuts (often I use walnuts, but lately I've been using organic raw cashews)
- milk, soy milk or yogurt (soy or dairy). I've tried kefir a few times, but found it too sweet. I use mostly unflavored or vanilla soy yogurt.
- extra rasins (if I've a mind)
- flax seed oil (for extra omega-3s and a nice texture)
- sometimes I add whole flax seeds for a nice crunch
good for you, filling, and relavitely low on the glycemic index.
Saturday, April 17, 2004
My friend Scott has been in Morocco this week, and since he knows I'm a foodie he's been sending my pictures of some of the food he's been eating over there, and I thought I'd share.
First, some couscous
some couscous with chicken
a whole stuffed lamb (minus the head, says Scott)
various good eats
fruit (don't those dates look good?)
the whole spread
Those are making me pretty hungry. I think I might just have to make some Moroccan food this weekend. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Wednesday, April 14, 2004
I have a deep abiding love of Persian food. Especially those dishes that combine meat and fruit. It's a combination that's pretty common in Middle Eastern cooking, and was once common in the West during the Medieval period.
Earlier this week I tried some lamb stew (khoresh) with apples that came out really well.
Sautee some onions, and brown some lamb stew meat, then add water to cover and set them to braise with some cinnamon, just a little cumin, and black pepper.
When the meat is tender (an hour or so) sautee some cut-up apples (I used ghee for grease, and used half Braeburn and half Pink Lady apples). Add some lime juice to keep the apples from browning, and maybe a little sweetener if they're too tart.
When the apples are just tender, throw them in with the meat, and add salt to taste.
Goes well with chelow, a Persian saffroned rice.
The NYTimes has a very interesting article
(reg. req.) on a kind of "truffle" which is vaguely related to the French kind that grows in the desert between Syria and Iraq. Cool. What's even more interesting is that the article says the Bedouin say the truffles are more prolific if there's more thunder in the Spring, and it turns out there's a scientific reason why that's really true. Even cooler.
Thursday, April 08, 2004
I saw a really interesting tidbit in the new issue of EatingWell (which, BTW, is a great magazine: good recipes, and great nutrition info) that really hilights the fact that what you eat is at least as important as how many calories you eat.
Anyway, a study took a group of overweight men and women and put them on 1,000 calorie-a-day diets. Half of those calories were from the same foods for all the participants. The other half came from different sources. Half the people got those calories from complex carbs like pasta and bread, the other half got the same number of calories from almonds. The almond people lost 62% more weight, and more body fat.
That's pretty dramatic. That's why the whole low-glycemic thing makes sense to me. I think the biggest problem with low-carb versus low-glycemic is that low-carb encourages people (since most people don't think very carefully about it) to eat lots of calories in the form of fat, which has other consequences. Just because you aren't eating carbs doesn't mean you aren't eating calories, and no matter what food you eat, if you eat more calories than you burn, you won't lose weight. The key to the low-glycemic diets is that you encourage your body to burn the fats you are eating, so that you are burning all the calories you are eating instead of storing them in favor of burning carbs. That's true of low-carb diets too, but my personal feeling is that low-glycemic diets encourage healthier long-term eating habits as opposed to the either all meat or all fake foods that people tend to fall into on the low-carb diets.
That said, I eat my fare share of low-carb protein bars, sweets, etc. But I also try to get good low-glycemic whole foods that are nutritious. It's tough on a busy schedule, but it can be done.
Unfortunately, my life has been pretty much crazed lately, and as a result I've been eating a lot of really crappy food. It's hard to motivate yourself to cook when you get home at 8:30 or 9:00 at night (and have to get the kids to bed, etc).
Last night I rebelled against fast / frozed food (which unfortunately has been my mainstay the last few weeks) and brought home a giant pile of salads and fresh veggies. Inside of 15 minutes I had raw celery, cauliflower, carrots and mushrooms, some goop to dip them in, coleslaw, and some French bread and whole grain roles. Good eats, simple, fast, and (relatively) nutritious. And the kids totally went for it, which was an extra bonus. I threw in some string cheese for variety and for the pickier, although she pretty much ate her veggies too .
Wednesday, March 24, 2004
The New York Times (reg. req.) has a great article about halvah, the sweetened sesame seed confection common to healthfood stores and Middle Eastern markets. It talks about the nostalgic effect halvah has on lots of people, and I'm one of them.
In my hippie vegetarian youth, my sister and I weren't allowed "regular" candy like chocolate, etc. I don't think I had a snickers until I was in High School. What we had instead were things like carob bars, honey/sesame candy, and halvah. Halvah was always one of my favorites. It's made from ground seseme seeds (tahini) sweetened with sugar or honey and pressed into bars. Great stuff. The texture is fantastic. It's grainy, sticky, melting... Boy, now I'm jonesing.
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