Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Lentil with rice and zucchini fritters


For the lentils:

1 cup lentils

1 cup long grain or Jasmine rice

1 large onion, minced

1 large carrot, finely chopped

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon salt

black pepper to taste

4 cups of beef, chicken or vegetable broth

For the topping:

2 large onion, diced

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced

3/4 cup olive oil

1/3 cup lemon juice

1 or 2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 teaspoons oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

Shredded lettuce (optional)

chopped tomatoes (optional)


For the lentils:

Sauté the onion, carrot and garlic in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and sauté for a couple of minutes, add the lentils, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, salt and pepper and pour in the broth. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 - 25 minutes without removing the lid of the pan.

For the topping:

Sauté the diced onion in 1/4 cup of olive oil until they are caramelized, if they become a little blackened, this is good, it adds to the flavor - just don't burn them to a crisp.

For the dressing:

In a jar or cruet, combine the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, jalapeno, oregano and salt and shake until the mixture is emulsified.

Serve the caramelized onions on top of the lentils and rice with a dash of the dressing on top.

The sweetness of the caramelized onion and the tang of the dressing elevate the lentils and rice - if you try them once you will miss them if you just make the lentils and rice again and decide to skip the onions and dressing.

Beignets de Courgettes


2 pounds of zucchini

3 eggs

3/4 cups flour

1 tsp. salt

1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

oil for frying


Shred the zucchini using ther largest holes on a box grater and put in a large mixing bowl.

Stir in the eggs, garlic, flour, salt, pepper and cheese and mix until blended.

Heat about 1/2 inch oil in a frying pan or electric skillet to 350 degreees. Drop the batter by
large spoonfuls and cook 3 to 4 minutes per side, until lightly browned. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon or spatula and drain on brown paper or paper towels to absorb the grease.

Reheat for 15 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Just in time for Thanksgiving

 Stuffing bread


3/12 to 4 cups all purpose flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons active dried yeast

1 Tablespoon rubbed sage

2 Tablespoons poultry seasoning

1 teaspoon celery salt

1 teaspoon onion powder

2 teaspoons dried thyme

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

1 1/2 cups warm water

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 egg.


Using a stand mixer,combine 2 cups of flour, yeast,sugar and seasonings. Add the water and oil, egg and mix until smooth. Stir in the remaining flour a little at a time until a soft dough forms. Turn onto a floured surface and knead for 6 to 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot to rise for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Punch down and shape into a large round loaf. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Place on greased baking sheet and bake for 25 to 35 minutes until golder brown. Cool on a wire rack then cut into cubes and bake in a low oven until the cubes are dry. These freeze well.

To make stuffing


3 eggs, lightly beaten

1/4 cup melted butter plus more to saute the onions and celery

1 large onion, diced

3 large celery stalks, sliced

4 cups chicken broth, turkey broth or water.


Saute the onions and celery in oil or butter until the onions are just translucent. In a large bowl, combine the bread cubes, onions, celery, butter, eggs and broth. Stir to moisten the cubes, adding more broth if the stuffing seems dry.  Pour into a greased baking dish and cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Remove the aluminum foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The great pizza divide - William loved them, I wasn't thrilled.

I experimented with my personal favorite food last night, which, if you've looked through the blog at all you have to have guessed, is pizza.

I've never made a really slow rise dough but came across a recipe for one that sounded too good to ignore. Slow rise dough uses less yeast but rises long and slow in the refrigerator. The slow rise adds a depth of flavor to the dough. If you try this, heed the instructions and make sure that your refrigerator is no cooler than 40 degrees or you will kill the yeast and end up with hardtack.

I found the dough recipe here:

I made three variations - once plain cheese, once cheese and pepperoni and two "supremes" with black olives, onion, Italian sausage, pepperoni and mushrooms.

William liked these more than I did. If I made these pizzas with this dough again I would increase the oven temperature or increase the cooking time to 10 minutes. The last pizza I made I left in for 10 minutes and that's the one I think turned out the best.

I like my own sauce so that is what I used:

Pizza sauce


1 28 ounce can of peeled Italian plum tomatoes

1 4 ounce can tomato sauce

1/2 large onion, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 links Italian sausage with fennel (optional)

Put the tomatoes in a large bowl and crush them with your hands.

Heat the oil in a sauce pan and add the minced onion and garlic. Saute until the onion is translucent then add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, oregano and sausage links, if using.

Simmer until the onions are very soft and the sausage is cooked through. Remove the sausage links from the sauce and set aside to slice as a topping for one or two of your pizzas.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank you Lesley Blackner for helping me to decide what to fix for dinner last night

I was talking to my friend Lesley yesterday and she asked me if I had any good vegetarian recipes.

I have a pretty good collection of them since Emily and I used to have vegetarian summers when Emily, Ryan and I spent their school vacations in North Florida without William around to complain about the lack of meat.

Looking though my recipes gave me the inspiration for last night's peanut noodles. I decided to try Soy Sauce Chicken to go with them to keep my husband happy.

It's the first time I've made this chicken and it was excellent.

Peanut Sesame Noodles

For peanut dressing:

1 cup smooth peanut butter

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup hot pasta water

2 tablespoons chopped peeled fresh ginger

2 medium garlic cloves, minced

2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoons Asian sesame oil

2 teaspoons honey

1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes

For noodle salad:

1 lb dried linguine or spaghetti

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips

1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips

1 small head of broccoli cut into florets and steamed


for dressing:

Purée dressing ingredients (except the pasta water ) in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.

Add the scallions, bell peppers, and broccoli to dressing.

for salad:

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender. Reserve a cup of  the pasta water for the 1/2 cup water to add to the sauce plus a little extra to thin the sauce if necessary. Add the hot pasta water to the sauce. Drain pasta in a colander and add to the bowl with the sauce. Toss to combine and serve immediately.

Soy Sauce Chicken


1 small chicken  -  3 to 4 pounds

1 cup soy sauce

3 cups water

3 tbsp sherry

1 tbsp sugar

1  bunch chopped scallions

8 slices of ginger

4 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed


Put all of the ingredients except the chicken in a small heavy pot. You want the pot to be small enough so that the chicken fits in the pot with the liquid reaching at least halfway up the chicken.
Bring the sauce to a boil.
Place chicken in liquid and continue to boil over high heat, covered, for 15 minutes.

Turn off heat and let chicken sit in liquid, covered, 20 minutes.

Remove the chicken from the cooking liquid and place in  a roasting pan and roast 15 to 20 minutes at 500 degrees.

To reuse the poaching liquid, strain the sauce and keep in the freezer until the next time. Just add fresh ginger, garlic and scallions the next time you use it.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Homemade pita bread - one of life's little pleasures

 I love pita, it's soft, chewy and versatile.
When I was in Egypt, a typical breakfast was pita with olives and feta cheese or sweetened condensed milk and jam -  manna when paired with little cups of strong, sweet Turkish coffee brewed in an ibrik or the hot mint tea that for some reason was always served in small glasses instead of cups.

When we lived in Tarpon Springs, we would have lunch at the Sponge Docks and my favorite part of the meal was the side order of pita and tzatziki.
Pita they sell at the grocery store is OK in a pinch, but if you really want to treat yourself, making your own is quick, easy and very satisfying.

I've been on a cooking jag since the election a week ago trying to blot out the anger and sadness I feel over the defeat of Florida's Amendment 4. I made a huge batch of chicken broth last week and it's been calling me from the freezer. Temperatures were in the high 30's here yesterday morning so I decided to make a big pot of avgolemono for dinner. While I was digging the broth out of the freezer I unearthed a two-pound package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts perfect for souvlaki.
Somebody, quick, offer me a job or we are going to get fat.

On a happy note, I finally mastered the art of using my baker's peel to slide the little loaves of pita onto my baking stone without screwing them up.

I've tried several different recipes but this one from the Tyler Florence and JoAnn Cianciulli is practically foolproof and has great texture and flavor.


1 package active dry yeast

1 teaspoon sugar

11/2 cups warm water

1 teaspoon salt

31/2 cups bread flour, plus more for dusting

1 teaspoon olive oil


In the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the yeast, sugar, and warm water; stir to blend. Let the yeast stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Stir in the salt. Add the flour, a little at a time, mixing at the lowest speed until all the flour has been incorporated and the dough gathers into a ball; this should take about 4 minutes.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until it's smooth and elastic. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turn it over to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

Place a large pizza stone on the lower oven rack, preheat the oven (and stone) to 500 degrees F.

Punch the dough down, divide it into 8 pieces, and gather each piece into a ball; keeping all of them lightly floured and covered while you work. Allow the balls of dough to rest, covered, for 15 minutes so they will be easier to roll out.

Using a rolling pin, roll each dough ball into a circle that is about 8-inches in diameter and 1/4-inch thick. Make sure the circle is totally smooth, with no creases or seams in the dough, which can prevent the pitas from puffing up properly. Cover the disks as you roll them out, but do not stack them up. Slide one pita round at a time on the hot pizza stone and bake for 3 to 4 minutes, or until the bread puffs up like a balloon and is pale golden. Watch closely; they bake fast. Remove the bread from the oven and place on a rack to cool for 5 minutes; they will naturally deflate, leaving a pocket in the center. Wrap the pitas in a large kitchen towel to keep them soft.

Avgolemono is the ultimate chicken soup with rice...
When my children were little, one of their favorite books was Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice:


10 cups  Chicken broth; strained

3/4 cup Raw long grain white rice

4 Whole eggs, whites and yolks separated

3  Lemons; (juice only)


Bring the broth to a full boil in a soup kettle. Gradually add the rice, stirring constantly until the broth boils again. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is just tender, not mushy, 12 to 14 minutes.
 Remove from the heat and keep warm while preparing avgolemono.
Beat the yolks for 2 minutes or until they become thick and frothy. Continue to beat, gradually adding the lemon juice.
In a mixing bowl with a whip attachment, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form, as if you were making meringue. Gently fold the lemon/egg yolk mixture into the egg whites then slowly add some of the hot broth to the egg-lemon mixture, beating steadily. Stir the mixture into the soup and cook over minimum heat, without boiling, until the soup thickens to coat a spoon. Taste for salt, and keep warm over hot water until ready to serve.
Chicken Souvlaki
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3 green peppers
1 red pepper
1 large sweet onion
3 lemons, juiced
1/3 cup olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 TBS oregano
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, oregano and minced garlic and pour over the chicken breasts. Let marinate in the refrigerator for about 2 hours.
Cut the peppers and onion into strips and set aside.
Shake the marinade off the chicken and broil or grill the breasts until they are cooked through - the amount of time this takes will depend on the thickness of the meat.
Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside to cool. Add the peppers and onions and broil for about 10 minutes or until they are softened and slightly charred.
Cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and put the chicken and onion and peppers together in a big bowl.

This can be served over Greek rice pilaf  (especially good with a little tomato sauce and parmesan cheese) or, the way we had it last night, stuffed in a pita with a dollop or tzatziki on top. Diced tomatoes are optional but good too.
1 small cucumber
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of Greek yogurt or sour cream
1/2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp salt
Peel the cucumber and use a spoon to remove the seeds and discard the seeds. Shred the cucumber into a bowl and add the salt, mint, garlic and stir in the yogurt or sour cream.
This is great as a dip with the pita bread or served on top of the souvlakis.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Fresh tagliatelli and Ragu Bolognese

Making pasta from scratch is the adult version of playing with Play Doh. You can roll it, cut it, extrude it. But unlike Play Doh, the best thing is,

you get to eat it.

Fresh Semolina Pasta


5 extra large eggs

3 1/2 cups semolina flour

2 ounces, more or less white wine


Put the flour in the bowl of  a food processor and pulse until the dough starts to come together - it will probably be very stiff and dry. Drizzle in the wine a little at a time, pulsing between additions until the dough forms a ball. You want eh dough to be pliable and elastic, not dry and crumbling or too sticky.

Wrap in plastic and let rest for at least 1/2 hour before rolling and cutting.

I use a pasta machine to roll and cut the dough but you can use a rolling pin and sharp knife to roll the dough into sheets and cut into strips. After the noodles are cut, let them dry on an old sheet for about 20 minutes to an hour to prevent them from clumping. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water for 3 to 4 minutes. Be careful not to overcook them.

Bolognese sauce is rich and tomato is not the primary flavor, but a compliment to the meat and cream. I experimented with various recipes before coming up with this one. I use evaporated milk because it has the richness of heavy cream with less fat.

Ragu Bolognese


10 -14 oz salt pork (streak o lean)

1 1/4 pounds course ground chuck

1/2 cup minced onion

1/2 cup of minced carrot

1/2 cup minced celery

1/2 cup dry white wine or vermouth

1 cup crushed tomatoes

2 cups evaporated milk

plenty of fresh ground black pepper


Bring one quart of water to a boil and blanch the saltt pork for about 10 minutes.
Let cool and cut off the outer layer of skin. Cut into cubes and mince in the food processor.

Saute over medium heat in a heavy bottomed pan until most of the fat has rendered, about 8 minutes.

Add the minced vegetables and saute until the onions are translucent.

Turn up the heat and add the ground beef and saute until the beef is browned but not crispy.

Add the tomatoes, wine and 1/2 tsp pepper and reduce the heat to a slow simmer.

Simmer for two hours, periodically adding two or three tables spoons of the evaporated milk and stirring until the milk is incorporated into the sauce. When all the milk has been added, simmer for an additional 10 minutes before serving tossed with fresh pasta. Don't over sauce the pasta. You just want the pasta to be coated in the sauce, not swimming in it.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

In less than two weeks, I should be back to posting.

Chicken and stuffing casserole (no canned soup)

 Beef and black bean enchiladas (homemade enchilada sauce)
 Apple pie
Rigatoni with sausage, eggplant and red peppers

Monday, August 16, 2010

Recipes to come

Shredded chicken fry bread tacos with homemade refried beans and guacamole.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We need more people in this country to care about our food sources.


Italian Activists Storm Field, Crush GM Maize
Syndicated from Common Dreams
Promoted by blackandred on Wed, 2010/08/11 - 9:45pm.

Italian Activists Storm Field, Crush GM Maize

Tuesday, August 10, 2010 - ANSA News (Italy)

PORDENONE, Italy - A group of 70 no global activists on Monday staged a lightening strike against a field of genetically modified (GM) maize, crushing all the plants and effectively preventing their harvest.

The GM crop at Vivaro, near the northeastern town of Pordenone, has been at the centre of a storm for the last two weeks, after the farmer who planted the maize, Giorgio Fidenato, announced it was ready to be harvested.

Some 70 activists, dressed alike in white overalls, were able to stomp on all the plants before police arrived and dragged them away, a spokesman for the Ya Basta anti-GM group said.

"Our action was aimed against the violence that GM crops wreak on the environment and on humans," said Luca Tornatore.

Despite widespread opposition to GM crops by most Italian farmers, the action was nevertheless roundly condemned by all. Pro-biotech group Futuragra said the raid was "an act of vandalism" and the result of "terror sown by the media" against GM crops. Farmers' union Coldiretti, which actively campaigns for organic agriculture, blasted the anti-globalists, saying that "the law must always be respected".

But Coldiretti also criticised officials for having dallied on the issue. Last week several members of the largest opposition group, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), joined MPs of the governing coalition's rightwing Northern League party at a press conference outside the Senate to protest the lack of an "effective response" to the situation at Vivaro.

An umbrella organization coordinating efforts against the crops, the Task Force for an Italy Free of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), which represents 27 conservation, farming and environmental associations, called for the "immediate destruction of fields where GM maize is grown".

It warned of a "devastating impact on the local environment, wild fauna and the crops of other farmers" if pollen from the maize was allowed to disperse.

Greenpeace attempted to storm the field last week and numerous representatives from the GMO-Free Italy Task Force erected a protest camp next to the land.

The governor of Friuli Venezia Giulia where Vivaro is located, Renzo Tondo, has vowed that the law will be upheld and any infringements will be dealt with swiftly.

The president of the neighbouring region of Veneto, former Italian agriculture minister Gianluca Zaia, voiced support for Greenpeace, warning that cross-contamination from the crop could have a catastrophic effect on local agriculture.

Agriculture Minister Giancarlo Galan condemned Monday's raid, likening it to attacks carried out by Fascist thugs.

"I hope police will identify those who took part in it because they are a group of violent and intolerant thugs of the worst sort," he said, stressing that officials had been working with local authorities to analyse the crops.

Fidenato, who heads the pro-biotech Federated Farmers (AF) association, claims he acted lawfully in planting the seeds and likened GMO critics to Nazis "with their irrational fears of biological-racial contamination of the plant species".

Although there is no outright ban on the cultivation of GM crops in Italy, a long-running legal tangle effectively prevents farmers from doing so.

Farmers are technically allowed to grow GM crops provided they first obtain permission under procedures to be drafted by the agriculture ministry.

However, these procedures have never been finalized.

After months of foot dragging, a 2006 ministry circular eventually halted the drafting process entirely until regional governments agreed on local measures to prevent cross-contamination between GM and traditional crops.

But four years on, regional governments have still not agreed on definitive coexistence measures and, despite a January court ruling ordering the ministry to finalize the authorization procedures anyway, it has not yet done so.

Fidenato started lobbying local officials to allow him to plant GM crops in 2007 but received no reply.

"At this point, since they haven't said no, I take it I can go ahead," he said, shortly after announcing he had planted the GM maize earlier this year.

The issue of GM crops is particularly explosive in Italy.

As the second-largest producer of organic crops in Europe and the fourth largest in the world, there is widespread fear of the potential damage resulting from accidental GM contamination.

Coldiretti has issued several reports suggesting that widespread public hostility to GM crops would not only damage the domestic market for farm produce but would also result in a 60% drop in exports.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Off topic but - I'm voting for the guy from The Real Food Party


A two-party system? Lee County can claim 38
27 have 20 or fewer members
1:10 A.M. — The Prohibition Party has two members in Lee County.
The Real Food Party - the state chairman of which, Jimmy Carter, once ran for president - has one Lee County member, a surprise to the man who shares the same name as our nation's actual 39th president.
"As far as I know, I was the only one in the party," said Carter, who owns a goat and water buffalo dairy near Live Oak, in Suwannee County.
The Surfers Party of America has five local members, down from six last month. That decrease can possibly be traced to 64-year-old Keith Branstetter, who has moved from Sanibel to Okoboji, Iowa.
Sure, Lee County has Republicans and Democrats, who have a combined total of more than 250,000 members out of about 342,000 registered voters.
But the big two are not alone. Of the 38 parties listed on the Lee County Supervisor of Elections rolls, 27 have 20 or fewer voting members.
The Prohibition Party, with two people, has twice as many local members as the Real Food Party. Lee County may be a relative hotbed for Prohibition activity. Florida has more counties - 67 - than Prohibition Party members.
"The last count I had was 51," said William Bledsoe, the party's state chairman.
Prohibition is just one of 23 principles of its conservative platform, Bledsoe said.
"Our party has always been a social-issue party," Bledsoe said. "We, like most conservatives, believe in less taxes, smaller government."
So many choices. The American Poor People Party and the American Party of Florida each claims two voters in Lee County.
Faith and Patience has three voters. The Christian Party has one member.
The Christian Party's state chairwoman is Arcadia resident Nancy Grant, who founded the party in 2000. She said it has 1,200 Florida members. Its philosophy is simple.
"It's the Ten Commandments," Grant said.
The small parties range across the political spectrum.
The Veterans Party has 20 members in Lee, and it seeks greater respect and benefits for veterans.
"It is a national shame that our president, courts, Congress and Senate are publicly against benefits for veterans and those still on active duty," the website claims.
The Southern Party of Florida has four Lee members. Google the party name and one is directed to The Florida Patriot, which claims it is the "official news agency of the Floridians by Floridians!"
The site goes on to note that the Patriot's ultimate goal "is to become a viable daily print publication that will run competitively against the tainted Yankee transplant yellow rags."
America's Independent Party has six Lee members and bills itself as America's new home of conservatism. It shares many beliefs with the tea party but has some differences, according to Tom Hoefling, its chairman.
"We're focused on electing people to office," Hoefling said. "The tea party is primarily a protest movement, one that is certainly needed. But in the end, policy is set by people in office."
On the other side of the spectrum are the Socialist Party of Florida and the Florida Socialists Party. The Florida Socialists hold an 11-6 lead in Lee registration over the Socialists Party of Florida, which may have the best name for a chapter.
The Southeast Florida chapter calls itself the Bolshevik Beach Bums.
At the other end of the peninsula is Carter of the Real Food Party.
"We're more interested in agriculture and the right to eat food that doesn't kill us," Carter said.
He doesn't plan another presidential run.
"I think I could get more done as a congressman than as president," Carter said. "A third party could not possibly win a presidential race anyway because of the Electoral College."
For Branstetter, joining the Surfers Party wasn't part of a statement of political philosophy.
"I don't know anything about the party," Branstetter said.
He liked the name because it reminded him of his surfing days.
It's highly unlikely anybody from any of these parties will win a significant race, but that isn't the point, according to the Prohibition Party's Bledsoe.
"We want to give people a choice," Bledsoe said.
He is well aware his will not place a candidate in high office.
"We believe that we vote our head and our heart," Bledsoe said. "We vote our conscience."

Sunday, June 27, 2010

So, what's driving the downfall of the local grocery?


Kansas a Food Desert? Absence of Local Groceries Troubling

Saturday, June 26, 2010 :: Staff infoZine
K-State Center, Research to Help Communities Make Food Accessible
Manhattan, KS -

Forgot the hamburger buns? While there was a time when a quick trip to a local grocery could make it easy to complete the meal, in many Kansas communities, the grocery store has closed.

Since 2006, 82 of 213 grocery stores serving Kansas communities with populations of 2,500 or less, have closed, said David Procter, director of the Center for Engagement and Community Development at Kansas State University, which organized and hosted a Rural Grocery Store Summit (at K-State) recently.

The closing of local grocery stores is not unique to Kansas, said Procter, who noted that the summit attracted nearly 200 participants representing 13 states.

The absence of a grocery or other store selling essential food items within a 10-mile radius is termed a "severe food desert," he said.

Such designations dot Kansas' landscape in both urban and rural areas, said Procter, who described the goals for the conference to be initiating dialog, identifying challenges and opportunities, charting a research agenda and networking to overcome the challenges and build on the opportunities.

The local grocery has traditionally fulfilled a key role in the community, Procter said.

In addition to the obvious -- making wholesome food accessible -- grocery stores have typically anchored community businesses and the community.

And, as an employer, the local grocery store has generated full and part-time employment opportunities, often with better benefits than larger employers, and revenue from sales taxes to support education, economic development and community improvements.

So, what's driving the downfall of the local grocery?

The lure of the big-box stores offering lower prices is a factor, but the value of the savings is eroded when travel time and money are factored into the equation.

Driving 10, 15 or 20 miles (each way) to a retail center takes time -- and it costs money. Conference presenter Doug Cunningham (from Norfolk, Neb., representing Affiliated Foods) noted that the American Automobile Association reports the current cost of driving a car is 56 cents a mile. That means the minimal cost for a 20-mile round trip is $11.20.

What often is overlooked, however, is the value of doing business locally, said Leah Tsoodle, K-State Research and Extension agricultural economist and researcher of grocery shopping preferences in Kansas communities.

For every $100 spent within a community, $45 stays within the community and may be circulated within the community as many as seven times, Tsoodle said. For every $100 spent outside the community, only about $15 is likely to return to the community.

"Small businesses drive local economies, yet given the combined loss in sales volume, consolidation of wholesalers, increase in minimum orders for delivery, and rising cost of transportation, smaller retailers face increasing challenges that may mean closing their doors," Procter said.

"Once the grocery store is gone, the closing (or consolidation) of the school often is not far behind," he said. And, without a grocery store and a school, a community will typically have trouble attracting new residents, and that means property values also will decline.

So, what's a community to do?

If Morland, Kan., a Graham County community of 150, is an example, the answer is "plenty."

According to Chris Petty, K-State Research and Extension agricultural agent in the county, the local grocery (Bean's Country Market) closed in 2006, when the owners retired.

The longtime store building needed updating, and the Morland Community Foundation looked into grant and other funds to help fund the renovation, but learned they were not eligible for the funding because the store was located in the flood plain, Petty said.

While some might have backed away from the project, this community of go-getters pooled resources to hire a civil engineer to evaluate existing zoning.

The business district hasn't been flooded since the early 1950s (more than 50 years ago), Petty said, so, after studying the landscape, the engineer updated the map to include a more accurate definition of the flood plain. Updating the zoning is expected to reduce insurance premiums for homeowners in the former flood plain and make building a garage or deck possible, he said.

Re-establishing the local grocery also could increase property values, said Petty, who noted that Morland has a bank, grain elevator, popular restaurant, hair salon and newly opened photography studio.

The local grocery and the restaurant (Prairie Junction) are expected to support each other, and that, too, will make the community stronger, said Petty, who explained that they expect to draw grocery customers from St. Peter, which is located 12 miles south; from Studley, six miles west; and Penokee, six miles east. The combined population of the potential customer service base is 350 people, he said.

Community organizers also have done their homework in working with Tsoodle and Paul Clark, a former K-State ag economist, to develop and conduct a customer survey to learn more about the products and services prospective customers want.

In developing the survey (funded by K-State's Center for Engagement and Community Development), ag economists focused on respondents' preferences in the grocery shopping experience with a follow-up section asking the respondents to rate how their current shopping experiences are meeting their expectations.

With a 30 percent response rate for such surveys considered excellent, the more than 40 percent response rate to the Morland survey reflected strong interest in the question of re-establishing the local grocery, Tsoodle said.

Overall, the responses were positive and encouraging to the Morland community organizers, she said. Eighty percent of the respondents identified quality of food as a reason for choosing to shop at a grocery store; 77 percent cited cleanliness of the store and store personnel, and 57 percent noted customer service as reason to shop at a grocery store.

Results from the survey also indicated that 95 percent of the respondents would likely purchase locally grown foods, the ag economist said.

The community has received verbal approval on the change in zoning, but is waiting for formal (written) approval to move forward, said Faye Minium, president of the Citizens State Bank and member of the Morland Community Foundation.

The foundation has applied for and received a commitment in stimulus funds to cover the majority of the renovations, but the money cannot be awarded until the zoning process is complete, Minium said.

We're ready to move forward, and hope to be open later this year, said Petty, who said the local store is initially expected to employ a manager and one-to-two assistant managers.

"The grocery store is an essential part of a community," Minium said. For now, however, it's not unusual for neighbors to loan a cup of flour, sugar, or, recently, an onion …

Related link
Rural Grocery Store Initiative and Summit - www.ruralgrocery.org

Monday, May 24, 2010

The United States faces challenges to ensuring food safety.


The Honorable Brad Miller
Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight
Committee on Science and Technology
House of Representatives
Subject: Food Safety: FDA Has Begun to Take Action to Address Weaknesses in
Food Safety Research, but Gaps Remain
Dear Mr. Chairman:
The United States faces challenges to ensuring food safety. First, imported food
makes up a substantial and growing portion of the U.S. food supply, with 60 percent
of fresh fruits and vegetables and 80 percent of seafood coming from across our
borders. In recent years, there has been an increase in reported outbreaks of
foodborne illness associated with both domestic and imported produce. Second, we
are increasingly eating foods that are consumed raw and that have often been
associated with foodborne illness outbreaks, including leafy greens such as spinach.
Finally, shifting demographics means that more of the U.S. population is, and
increasingly will be, susceptible to foodborne illnesses. The risk of severe and lifethreatening
conditions caused by foodborne illnesses is higher for older adults, young
children, pregnant women, and immune-compromised individuals. In January 2007
GAO designated federal oversight of food safety as a high-risk area needing urgent
attention and transformation because of the federal government’s fragmented
oversight of food safety.1

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Who knew? Florida - the world's largest producer of watercress.


May 5, 2010
Watercress, as Fresh as a Gurgling Spring

WATERCRESS does not incite the kind of frenzy generated by ramps, those spindly wild onions that nobody bothered to pick until a few chefs began trumpeting their arrival as a major springtime event. But it is starting to show up in farmers’ markets, too, and those who know it, love it.

In a salad, as a garnish or in a sandwich, the first tender watercress of the season puts to shame the fat, often woody, rubber-banded bunches that supermarkets sell year round.

Rick Bishop, of Mountain Sweet Berry Farm in the Catskills, picks his wild right at the source of a spring on his land. Dave Harris, of Max Creek Hatchery just beyond the Catskills, finds his in the overflow of a spring. Because supplies are limited, chefs and home cooks often reserve watercress from these farmers week to week in the season, which can last into September.

Other farmers cultivate cress, like Two Guys in Woodbridge, Conn., hydroponic growers of delicious upland cress, which has a similar flavor but is not related to watercress and grows on land, not in water.

My personal watercress epiphany happened some 35 years ago. I had been visiting Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey on a warm spring day. The ground was very moist near the Delaware River, and I noticed a carpet of small round leaves. Could it be watercress? Like Alice, I tasted a leaf or two, and it delivered a bright freshness unlike any I had ever had.

Those were the pre-arugula days, when watercress was usually called upon to add a little verve to a salad. After sampling the wild cress, I found it hard to go back to the everyday kind.

But according to Andy Brown, a partner at B & W Quality Growers, which is based in central Florida and is the world’s largest producer, I was lucky. Eating wild watercress can be as risky as nibbling a foraged mushroom.

It’s not the watercress, he said; it’s the environment. To be safe, the plants, which actually grow in water, must be right at the source of a spring before it can be contaminated by parasites carried by tiny snails or livestock or other animals. In some areas, wild cress may also have high levels of heavy metals, like copper. The British post warnings about wild watercress along some streams, according to the Web site wildaboutbritain

.co.uk. The watercress sold in stores should not pose a risk.

Jeff Aldana, a sales representative for Baldor Specialty Foods, a wholesale distributor in the Bronx, said that chefs today tend to use arugula because the cultivated watercress that he sells, from Florida, is twice as expensive.

Still, there are chefs and cooks who adore it. “I love the texture and the heat,” said Sharon Pachter, of the Grocery in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, who was shopping at the Union Square Greenmarket in mid-April. “It’s great sautéed or in a salad.”

Watercress can be quickly blanched and puréed, often with the addition of some spinach in classic recipes, and be turned into a soup, a sauce or the basis of a savory soufflé or custard. And it’s a stir-fry staple. For these uses, the heavy stems may be left on.

The Chinese account for about 60 percent of the market, Mr. Brown said, and they prefer the bigger, woody bunches, stems and all, for dishes like beef with watercress or watercress soup.

“They regard it as a cooling ingredient and a healthful antioxidant,” he said.

In short, watercress is yin. Like other dark leafy green vegetables, it is packed with nutrients. But it’s the flavor that attracts chefs. Like tatsoi, baby mustard and radish sprouts, it is a cruciferous vegetable related to broccoli, standing ready to impart a nice feisty note.

Craig Koketsu pairs it with halibut and a pea purée at Quality Meats in Midtown. At Print, at 11th Avenue and 48th Street, Charles Rodriguez uses it to tie together the flavors of scallops, a red wine onion purée and mushrooms.

Marcus Jernmark, the executive chef at Aquavit in Midtown, folds the purée into a risotto-style dish made with barley, which he calls barlotto. He is partial to its tanginess. “It’s my palate,” he said. “I would use horseradish all the time if I could, but watercress gives a similar effect.”

Supermarket watercress often looks wilted as its shelf life diminishes rapidly. But you can refresh it by untying the bunch and dropping it into a large bowl of cold water. It will perk up. Dry it gently, and you can use it in a salad like the one with Gorgonzola and pears at Frankies Spuntino on the Lower East Side and in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.

Mr. Brown also said that it is easy to grow at home. Put a bunch in a large bowl of water with some clean gravel in the bottom, and it will begin to put forth roots and grow. Soon it will be ready for a tender harvest, on demand.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Better for them, better for us, better for the environment

Two Florida Farmers Opt Out of Animal Rights Battles
By Gail Shepherd, Tuesday, Apr. 13 2010 @ 12:12PM
Comments (4)
Categories: Environment, Florida, Health, Man and Beast

This week's feature story details the escalating battle between Big Agriculture and the Humane Society, the organization behind a nationwide campaign to legislate the safety and comfort of farm animals. The Humane Society helped push through Florida's "pregnant pigs" constitutional amendment in 2002 -- its first such victory in the nation. It's now illegal for Florida pigs to be kept in "gestation crates" too small to allow them to turn around for the 16 or so weeks before they give birth.

After the amendment passed, the only two large pig farms in Florida went out of business, at least in part because of plummeting pork prices. And no new large-scale pig farms have set up in Florida. But with the recent emphasis on the local and sustainable and on humane, free-range methods of animal husbandry, smaller operators in Florida are making a go of farming.

The Humane Society's Paul Shapiro contends that the Florida amendment may have "helped provide an environment in which family farms can flourish."

Take Matt Thomas, who runs Little Pig Farm in Homosassa, Florida. He says he started the farm five years ago because he and his wife "wanted to know where our food came from."

Thomas was a city boy from Tampa with no farming background. But he started raising Berkshire pigs, a black heritage breed with dark, heavily marbled meat, beloved of chefs for its high-quality flavor. The pigs are raised naturally, without hormones or antibiotics

Thomas has a boar and three breeding sows, and he's raising four more. The sows produce six to 12 piglets per litter that Thomas raises to adulthood. When they reach 250 to 300 pounds, he sells whole pigs for $650 direct to consumers and chefs.

The sows are treated humanely and range freely during gestation. "We used to keep our pigs in 16-by-16-foot pens," he says, "but honestly it was more trouble than just letting them run free. You'd have to come home from work and muck out the pens. This way we're all happier."

Another rancher who has switched from commodity farming to humane methods is David Strawn, whose family owns the 700-acre Deep Creek Ranch in De Leon Springs. Strawn says they're happier too now that they've turned to free-range and grass-fed ranching.

The Strawn family has been cattle ranchers since 1883: The remnants of the original slaughterhouse still stand on their property. Until five years ago, they were commodity ranchers.

But as the price of petroleum went up in the second half of the 20th Century, David says, it became harder and harder to make a living at large-scale ranching -- shipping cattle across the country to feedlots was sapping profits. So the Strawns turned to producing free-range, grass-fed beef and lamb that they now sell to consumers and to chefs like Zach Bell, who oversees the kitchen at the posh Café Boulud in Palm Beach and to Dean Max at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. Their grass-fed Angus and South Poll beef has an added benefit: Studies have shown it's higher in omega 3s and lower in cholesterol than commodity corn-fed beef.

Deep Creek is already so successful that Strawn says the USDA recently alerted the Strawns to an operation selling bogus Deep Creek beef. "They found somebody was buying commodity beef in the supermarket and slapping a Deep Creek label on it," Strawn says. Then they were peddling it around at farmer's markets. We heard about it and we said, here's a sign that we've finally really made it big. Somebody is counterfeiting us!"

Thomas and the Strawns have never felt any pressure from the Humane Society. "They love farms like us!" Thomas says. These farms prove it's possible to raise animals using humane husbandry. But here's the kicker: Smaller farms like Deep Creek and Little Pig are never going to feed a mass market.

As Humane Society-backed legislation puts pressure on farmers to use more expensive methods, meat may become more precious, a luxury for the kind of people who dine at Café Boulud or who can pay $325 for half a free-range Berkshire pig. Some commodity farmers may be able to weather the changes. Others who can't stand the heat, like the Basford family in Florida, may have to get out of the business

Sunday, April 11, 2010

You had to know this was coming...

There's no way I'd get a new stove and NOT make pizza.
Our new favorite, prosciutto on the left, pancetta and portobello on the right,

Saturday, April 10, 2010

The politics behind our bland-tasting tomatoes

Review | 'Ripe': The politics behind our bland-tasting tomatoes
A former AP reporter delves into farmers' risks, the need for profits and the effect on the American diet.


Arthur Allen, a former Associated Press writer, focuses on the tomato industry, and he's somewhat more sympathetic to corporate farms and big business than trendsetter Michael Pollan and others writing on similar topics. The first part of Ripe includes a number of derisive comments about members of the ``crunchy left,'' who want cheap, locally grown, organic tomatoes year-round. Allen notes, rightly, that that's almost impossible to provide, given the climate in most of the country.

He visits Mexico, where the American entrepreneurs who run Del Cabo Farms are trying to help local farmers make a living by growing new hybrids to be shipped to U.S. markets. The question, Allen notes, is whether their tasty tomatoes will hold their flavor and form during the long journey north. That musing leads into an examination of U.S. tomato breeding that has created ever firmer, but increasingly bland, fruit. As labor problems and costs grew in California's tomato industry, farmers growing tomatoes for ketchup, sauce and other products turned to mechanical harvesting. Mechanical harvesters require tomatoes that fall off the vine when shaken -- but not before -- and can withstand sorting. Allen recounts how researchers at the University of California, Davis, helped develop these.

In Florida, farmers growing tomatoes for direct sale needed fruit that ripened slowly and wouldn't spoil during shipping. They eventually developed a method of picking tomatoes while they were green and then exposing them to ethylene gas to turn them red when they reached their destination.

But while Allen is understanding of the risks farmers face and their need to make a profit, he becomes increasingly critical of the effect of business interests on the U.S. diet as Ripe progresses. Americans eat tomatoes that fit the needs of Heinz, McDonald's and a few other corporate giants because those companies provide the bulk of farmers' sales. McDonald's and other fast-food companies need firm tomatoes that hold up when sliced thin and look nice on a hamburger bun. Taste, Allen insists, is not a priority.

Allen also delves into labor and trade issues, writing critically about the treatment of farmworkers in California and Florida.

While each chapter is focused, the book as a whole has a meandering feel as Allen jumps from plant breeding to international trade to labor organization. Parts are also heavy with science and Latin plant names. But readers with a strong interest in understanding the politics of food will probably find it enlightening.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new

Now, all I need is time to try it out.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Not food but - we can't live or cook without it...

Aral Sea in Central Asia dries up,
April 5, 2010 by tangledwing

Aral Sea Almost DRIED UP: UN Chief Calls It ‘Shocking Disaster’

Once the world’s fourth-largest lake, the sea has shrunk by 90 percent since the rivers that feed it were largely diverted in a Soviet project to boost cotton production in the arid region.

The shrunken sea has ruined the once-robust fishing economy and left fishing trawlers stranded in sandy wastelands, leaning over as if they dropped from the air. The sea’s evaporation has left layers of highly salted sand, which winds can carry as far away as Scandinavia and Japan, and which plague local people with health troubles.

A much lower level problems, but Florida has had a problem with lakes drying out because of the pressure to provide water to a state that has become over populated in the last two decades. They rely largely on a fresh water underground aquifer for drinking water and agricultural needs – in addition to having more golf courses than any other state. In the western U.S. the Colorado River with dams on the river itself and many of its tributaries, is a water life line for millions of people who live hundreds of miles away. Water rights are still a contentious issue. In 2007 the states of Georgia, Alabama and Florida got into a feud over water rights and as much of Atlanta’s water supply simply dried up. There is a photo here that compares the Aral Lake in 1989 to 2008. In the U.S. we file law suits and get a little angry thus far. Those that depended on the Aral are now susceptible to militant political ideologies since there always seems to be people ready to exploit such tragedies for their own purposes. Most of the residents around the lake live in poverty and are subjects of repressive governments. Millions of people around the world do not have access to clean water a situation likely to worsen as we head from a current world population of 6 billion to probably leveling off in the next decade at 10 billion. If we cannot manage our water resources now it does not bode well for the future.

Friday, April 2, 2010

We still eat - I just haven't had time to write about it

Shredded chicken nachos
Coq au Vin, egg noodles roasted asparagus

Lamb and porcini Bolognese with salad of baby lettuces

Greek beef Kebabs, rice pilaf and pita bread

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Florida, from sea to plate, just is not the seafood buffet it once was

In Florida, the Seafood Becomes Less Local
Published: March 30, 2010

ISLAMORADA, Fla. — The postcard Florida experience: sun, fun and plenty of local seafood. It was the latter that brought Gary and Vicki Haller from Kansas to Wahoo’s here last week, with its waterfront views, toucan colors and promise of fresh food “from our docks.”

But the fish in his “belly buster” sandwich actually traveled farther than he did. It was Pangasius, a freshwater catfish from Vietnam. The grouper and tuna were also imports, according to Wahoo’s managers. And the “local” label on the menu? It still applied, they insisted, because their distributor was down the road.

Florida, from sea to plate, just is not the seafood buffet it once was. Reeling from a record, fish-killing cold snap and tougher federal limits on what can be caught, commercial fishermen and charter-boat captains are struggling. Distributors and restaurants are relying more and more on imported seafood — some of it clearly labeled, a lot of it not.

Federal fisheries managers say that a law reauthorized by Congress in 2006 now requires them to take more aggressive action against overfishing. They cut back the legal catch for some kinds of snapper last year, and 11 species of grouper are now off limits from January through April on the Atlantic coast. It is the longest ban on record for grouper and the first to include both commercial and recreational fleets.

In a state that bills itself as “the fishing capital of the world” — with a commercial industry worth $5.2 billion and a recreational one worth $4.4 billion — thousands of anglers are angry.

“For a fisherman that works 12 months a year, you’ve just taken a third of his livelihood,” said Tom Hill, whose family has owned Key Largo Fisheries since 1972. “You’ve also taken away the ability of someone who comes here to enjoy a local piece of fish.”

Last month, several thousand fishermen from all over the country held a “sea party” protest in Washington to demand that federal fishing limits be loosened.

They were especially concerned about a series of proposals that would continue a ban on catching red snapper in federal waters, as well as close off an area from North Carolina through the Florida Keys to bottom fishing for all 73 species of fish in the “snapper grouper complex.”

The proposed area for closing has since been shrunk by the South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council, but fishermen who depend on the 6,161-square-mile area of water from Savannah, Ga., to Melbourne, Fla., remain fearful of bankruptcy.

Robert Johnson, the owner of Jodie Lynn Charters in St. Augustine, Fla., estimated that if the closing plans are approved this spring, at least 600 boats and 1,800 fishing jobs would be lost — more if bait shops, marinas and dockside bars are included.

“They’re not just saying you can’t catch red snapper; if that was it, we might survive,” Mr. Johnson said. “But when you come in and say you can’t even fish where they live because you might catch one, we can’t.”

Fishermen also argue that the science driving the fisheries’ decisions comes from limited models that exaggerate declines in fish stocks and the role fishing plays.

Jerald S. Ault, a marine biologist at the University of Miami and an expert in statistical assessment of underwater populations, acknowledged that scientists were still struggling to assess the damage from coastal condominiums and houses, which have destroyed many of the mangroves where fish develop.

But he said that peer-reviewed statistical models showed clear reason for concern. Populations of most of the snapper and grouper species once so common in Florida waters are down 30 percent or more from their historic highs, according to recent estimates.

Keeping hooks and nets out of the water is simply the clearest path to improvement, Mr. Ault said. He noted that while the state’s commercial fleet had declined by 11 percent since the 1960s, to about 24,000 registered vessels, the number of recreational fishing vessels had soared to 944,000 in 2009, up from 128,000, in 1964.

“Unfortunately,” he said of today’s fishermen, “certain people have to pay a price for other people not paying attention to the resource.”

The result — and the disconnect between marketing materials and reality — is evident not just on restaurant menus, but at fish houses like Mr. Hill’s.

Sitting on the edge of a marina, it is an open warehouse with melting ice on concrete floors, brochures bragging about Florida fish and very little actual fish from Florida. Workers in white coats were busy on a recent morning cutting snapper flown in from Mexico, and on the blue sign for shoppers, nearly everything came from far away.

Mr. Hill, 59, a serious-sounding man in a flowered shirt, ran down the list. The salmon was from Norway. The yellowfin tuna? Frozen, from Ecuador. And the dolphin, or mahi mahi? Ecuador as well, Mr. Hill said, adding that in about a month, it could be caught locally.

It was a similar scene in the coolers at Independent Seafood in West Palm Beach, where the salmon came from Scotland and the largest crates stamped Florida held frogs’ legs and alligator meat. The food from Independent Seafood will end up on white tablecloths at some of the area’s fanciest restaurants, from South Beach to Palm Beach. But most of it will have come from abroad.

“We’re sourcing stuff all over the world,” said Mike Molina, a co-owner. “If you have product that’s not readily available all the time, the restaurants don’t put them on the menu.”

Does it matter? Some say no. “It’s still good fish,” said Luis Garcia, the owner of Garcia’s, a seafood restaurant on the Miami River that buys its grouper from Mexico.

But others, like Doug Gregory, a marine biologist with the University of Florida, say that overall quality has decreased because of looser regulations in other countries and longer shipping times — if you can even believe what the menu says.

Since 2006, grouper prices have climbed, and it has become one of the most commonly misrepresented food items on Florida menus, with 241 complaints investigated by state inspectors. Even the Eatz Capital Cafe a floor below the Florida Department of Agriculture was found in 2007 to have been selling a “catch of the day” that was supposedly grouper. In fact, it was catfish.

Mr. Gregory said he had almost stopped eating seafood because of the problems. Others, like the Hallers from Kansas, may feel differently. When told of his fish sandwich’s provenance, at first Mr. Haller was appalled.

“Well that’s not good,” he said. Then he took a bite.

“It’s pretty good fish,” he added. And at least he was still in Florida.