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I just thought everyone should know that there is an Intergalactic food festival going on in New Jersey on Sunday. In case you’re interested. That’s what it’s called. Intergalactic Food Festival. I am not making this up.

Intergalactic Food Festival

img_1641As I’ve been making my way through the food books and blogs out there recently, I’ve noticed that one topic comes up again and again: how to roast the perfect chicken. Almost everyone has a different technique, whether it’s stuffing herbs under the skin, the fat vs. no fat debate, cooking it on its own or with vegetables, rotation, temperature, basting, etc. etc. Roasting a whole chicken can be a very economical way to cook chicken, provided you have a plan for the leftovers. Shredded, cubed or sliced, it can be used in any number of ways – in tacos or burritos, as chicken salad, on a salad, or as versatile sandwich meat. You get the idea. The carcass (great word) can be used to make chicken stock. Just freeze it and use it whenever you’re ready to make your stock (and then freeze the stock until you’re ready to use that. freezers are a great invention).

I’ve only used 2 techniques so far for my roasting trials. First is Alice Waters’ method, which involves salting the skin of the chicken 1-2 days ahead of cooking and then roasting with just a bit of oil under the bird, 20 minutes breast side up, 20 minutes upside down, and 20 minutes back around again. The second method I tried was courtesy of Ann Burrell (Secrets of a Restaurant Chef for you Food Network junkies), which involved making a paste of oil, garlic, salt, and copious amounts of herbs, and then rubbing it all the way under the skin. Definitely the messier method, but didn’t require the forethought of the first method.

I have to say, in this case, Alice Waters for the win. The skin was crispier, which, to me, is basically the whole point of roasting a chicken. This time around I did just pieces of chicken, so I reduced the cooking time from 1 hour to about 40 minutes with tasty results. I made a compound butter with sage, garlic and thyme and lemon zest to add some flavor to the chicken.

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Thanks to Melissa for the adorable new icons and logo you see at the top of my blog! (and to Brian for his suggestions). Graphic design. It’s a good thing.

img_16261There’s nothing that will make you poor faster in New York than buying your lunch every day. You could easily spend $12 on a crappy sandwich, a bag of chips, and a can of coke. I do whatever I can to bring my lunch.

Even though I didn’t get home until late last night, I had to find a pantry lunch solution because my soup is all gone already. I turned to those chickpeas that I forgot to use in my bulgur salad and some random stuff I had in my fridge. Add some spaghetti squash and voila! Lunch for two.

Southwestern Chickpea Salad

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/8 c. diced red onion
1/8 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 t. cumin
salt to taste

Vinaigrette

juice of 1 lime
2 T. olive oil
1/2 – 1 chipotle in adobo, minced

Combine all ingredients. Whisk vinaigrette and pour over chickpeas. Enjoy!

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More interesting stuff via the New York Times (well, the blog The Internet Food Association, which Mark Bittman linked to in his blog). In the debate about school lunch reform, Alice Waters has made her demands clear. I am a huge fan of her philosophy about food, but I think she falls victim to the “True Believer” syndrome, which makes her proposals somewhat impractical.

The way Tom Lee puts it in his post about the topic is pretty perfect:

“If our goal is really to feed these kids properly then we ought to be looking seriously at how to make that happen rather than musing about the Platonic ideal of the school lunch. That means being realistic about how to achieve our goals as simply and cheaply as possible. And here it really does seem simple: brutally reduce kids’ unhealthy lunchroom options, come up with approved national menus and fund the existing school lunch infrastructure a little bit better.

I believe this is a genuinely important thing for us to do, and such a relatively easy thing that there’s no justifiable reason for failing to do so. So I got a little irked when I saw Waters throwing around terms like “organic” and “locally produced” in her proposal. I enjoy foodie pretension as much as the next guy (ask me about my strongly-held opinions regarding shallots as a sandwich onion replacement!), but dicking around with that nonsense while middle schoolers are contracting diabetes is frankly inexcusable.”

As someone with a bit of foodie pretentiousness myself, I completely agree. It is one thing for those of us with ACCESS and RESOURCES to make it our mission to support local, organic, slow food, but in the interest of getting something done quickly to remedy the terrible epidemic of childhood malnutrition (I know it’s not technically malnutrition but I see eating McDonald’s as the equivalent) the goal of introducing slow foods into schools is a bit ambitious, at least on this scale.

I work with Slow Food NYC as a volunteer for its Harvest Time in Harlem program, which is an amazing collaboration with a tuition-free private school in Harlem. It consists of monthly classes teaching 3rd – 5th graders about the origins of food, cooking, nutrition, and all the tangential topics that come up along the way. I would view the work as a success if the kids leave the class and ask for edamame for a snack instead of cheetos, or having tasted raw salmon for the first time (they did, and I was blown away at the enthusiasm for raw fish displayed by a bunch of 8 year-olds). This kind of education will hopefully trickle up to the parents, who ultimately are responsible for the food options these kids will have at least until they leave the house.

There is often a debate about whose job it is to teach kids: schools or parents. Obviously it’s both, but given the fact that there are a lot of parents out there who aren’t teaching their children good nutrition, it is the job of schools to at least provide something to children (in addition to actual education about food) that approximates good nutrition. I know school menus are often affected by what subsidized food is given to them as opposed to what they can use or need, and what facilities they have available (some only have microwaves and no real ovens), and that is truly a crime. Schools should not have to let Coke advertise in their hallways just for the payout they desperately needs to fund basic programs.

I know you’ve got a lot on your mind, President Obama, but I hope this is somewhere on your list.

From today’s New York Times: Brooklyn’s New Culinary Movement

p1000208In honor of Fat Tuesday, I was going to make crawfish etouffee, but not knowing where to procure crawfish in New York and being in possession of a massive amount of soup leftovers, I am going to have to wait a few days and try it with shrimp. Even though I’m a Yank, technically, my dad’s family is from Louisiana and I’ve had some home-cooked cajun food that’ll melt your face off with deliciousness. Gumbo, fresh boudain sausage, Jambalaya…I’m drooling just thinking about it.

I’ve honestly only had etouffee once – made by my aunt in Louisiana almost 10 years ago – but I still remember it as one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Talk about a love of butter! I remember walking into her kitchen and being greeted with all kinds of incredible smells emanating from bubbling pots on the stove, and the counter was covered with savory and sweet pies, salads, and other goodies.

I recently went to Stan’s, a New Orleans-style restaurant in Brooklyn, and they had chicken etouffee on the menu, which I found very odd…their gumbo was pretty good, but my dad’s is better. I think to satisfy my southern food itch I’m going to have to scratch it myself, by attempting some classic dishes, including etouffee and some andouille and chicken gumbo (I’m not a big fan of oysters after a raw one sent me to the bathroom for about 9 straight hours…so I’m never touching those things again. Chicken and sausage gumbo it is). I found an Emeril Lagassee recipe for etouffee online that seems pretty authentic, so I’ll update once the task is done. Hopefully it will live up to my hype!

img_1616My secret shame is that I went to acting school and I hate improv. I should clarify: I hate improve games. I can’t be funny under pressure, and I’m terrible at coming up with pithy one-liners. Plus bad improv makes me want to slit my wrists, but I digress. Improvising food is another story. I love it, and I think it comes from my dad. He likes just taking whatever’s around and making good food out of it.

Since I was bitching about bad pre-made chicken stock in my earlier post, I figured I had to make some today. And since I was going to have some fresh chicken stock, the easiest meal to make was a soup. I decided on a vegetable bean soup with Italian flavors (I’m calling it Italian White Bean Soup with Veggies) – cannellini beans, tomatoes, rosemary, sage, thyme, and lots of roasted garlic. That’s along with the usual suspects: carrots, celery and onion (fancy food word of the day: mirepoix, which refers to these three vegetables used as a flavor base in French cooking). I decided to throw a zucchini and kale in there for more veggie power. Top it with some grated parmeggiano reggiano cheese (not from a green canister!) and serve with a slice of buttered crusty bread toasted under the broiler. Holy crap it’s good. I know it sounds like too many veggies. IT’S NOT. Seriously I love this soup so much I want to marry it. What am I, 12?

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I know cats have nothing to do with food. Except that our gray cat, Leah, loves tortilla chips. However, cats are related to my blog because when I was taking pictures for my cookies post, the cats were doing this:

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Leah is like, why do you leave me alone with her all the time? and Zoe is like, gnnsnnnngghhhhhh.

img_1597I am sick of winter. I know I’m not alone. I am sick of the sheer amount of physcial accessories I must carry with me at all times, in the event of a violent wind gust (wtf, wind, what is your problem?) or snow shower or arctic freeze. SICK. OF. IT. However, I must acknowledge that now is the perfect time for baking. I’m not much of a baker, only because I have little patience for the minutia of baking – all the measuring and whatnot. I can’t taste as I go, and there is a real possibility something will burn. But, without the modern convenience of central air conditioning, the winter months are really my only opportunity to bake comfortably.

Yesterday was rainy and cold and grey, and I had plenty of tea on hand but no cookies, which I felt I had to remedy. Again I turned to my new massive cookbook, How to Cook Everything, and found a simple recipe for oatmeal cookies. I love both simple and oatmeal cookies so I decided to go for it – with the peanut butter modification (substitute 1/2 of the butter with peanut butter). Because everything is better with peanut butter. (Random aside. Favorite “Peanuts” quote ever: “Nothing takes the taste out of peanut butter quite like unrequited love”).

The cookies came out OK, but actually not my favorite cookie texture ever. They are kind of spongy and don’t spread out that much when they cook. I prefer the thin cookies that are soft when first out of the oven and then get crunchy. I also thought the cinnamon flavor was a bit strong – I would probably halve it next time. But they still hit the cookie spot!

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