Friday, April 24, 2009

Food, Inc.

While it has the potential to veer into Michael Moore territory, this documentary about the food industry looks genuinely promising. Watch the trailer.

Food, Inc.

This film gives me hope that it may bring significant changes in the way people think about food, and thus have some effect on the local and organic movements nationally.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Almost Summer Best: Burgers and Fries

It's that time of year when the lingering hours of daylight draw us outside in the evening to enjoy the warmth and, in my area, see and be seen.

What could better welcome summer temperatures than burgers and fries, done at home, better than the restaurant?

As with all recipes that are simple in preparation, burgers must begin with high quality beef.

If you're lucky like me, you'll win a giveaway from this super-awesome company La Cense beef. They are advocates for grass fed beef and are a part of this great web community that you should join, the Grass Fed Party.

We did these burgers inside on a cast iron griddle (this one) but it would be best outside over charcoal of course.

Get your pan nice and hot. Salt the burger on one side and flop that side down into the pan. Cook it there until half of it is done (or is as done as you want), flip it over, cook the other half with cheese on top if you want it, and toss into the microwave until your buns are toasted, which we do in the same pan.

Now for the fries. I don't have a frier and don't fry very often, but I've learned how to do french fries really well. The secret is to do two rounds of frying.

Get your oil warming up while you slice up the taters. I use a mandoline, because it's awesomely fast and scary. (This one was cheap, too, not more than $15)

Keep the slices in cold water until you have them all cut up.

Once you've got all the potatoes sliced up (we use around one potato per person) place them on a kitchen towel to dry. Getting them dry is very very important. Water+frying oil=pain.

First, preheat your oil (we use canola) to 350 F. Use an electric fryer, or a thick pan with a heavy bottom. I'm using my french oven. (I'm cheap and do this in as little oil as possible. It's really better to give them lots of room.)

Fry the potatoes for 2-3 minutes. They should be floppy, opaque, and soft.

Do in small batches, being careful not to crowd the pan and cool the oil too much. I layer paper towels on sheet pans, and put a cooling rack on top. This lets the fries drip the oil pretty freely and is easy to clean up.

After you've precooked all the fries, crank your oil up to 375 F. Again drop the potatoes in in small batches. They should really bubble up.

Take these out and set them on the same cooling rack, replacing the paper towels if needed.

Salt immediately. I have found that surprisingly for me regular table salt does a better job at seasoning french fries than kosher salt, which is what I prefer for most of my cooking. Salting as soon as they're pulled out of the oil is extremely important, and I've found the small grain of iodized salt adheres better.

Et voila.

I like to serve these with a chili lime aioli. I just crush up some garlic cloves and salt using my chef's knife (I'd really prefer a big mortar a pestle, but, well, soon.) add this to my favorite store mayo, Veganaise, and stir in a few shakes of chili powder and a big squeeze of lime juice.

I have made this again since these photos and it turned out even better the second time. I actually cooked some of the fries once and then put them in the refrigerator and finished them the next day with no apparent compromise in quality.

Have this with a beer. (good, better, best)

Making burgers and fries this way is so much better than going to a restaurant, and it's quite easy once you get the hang of it.

Now get out there and enjoy!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Baby Food

Dear readers, since I spoke to you last, a big change has taken place in my family. We have taken on an added responsibility that promises to occupy more of our time in the future, but we couldn't be more excited about the experience. Things are a little touchy since it's early, but we're cautiously optimistic that the endeavor will bring us closer.

You guessed it.....

I'm a plant mommy!

Look at these little guys!

(get it, baby food)

Member those seeds a little while ago? Now they're baby plants!

Things aren't totally rosy just yet. The radishes are a do-over I think, which isn't too bad since they come up very quickly.

The well-behaved children still living include kale-

Some maters (the gz is for green zeebra)

And red and yellow onions. (these are supposed to be good keepers.)

I've been trying to take good care of them by watering a couple times a day, 16 hours of sun, a little miracle grow, and lots of love.

We shall see if they survive.

Now how about some food?

You might not know it, but I am a heck of a bread baker. (Ok if you read this maybe you do.) I was assigned a minor role in this year's Easter production: rolls. I grabbed a basic recipe and cranked out a batch in no time. It occured to me that the hard part of making bread isn't really the mixing of the ingredients, but more the stuff that comes after, dealing with the dough. So I thought I'd give you a brief rundown of how to go from a puffy bowl-full of good to round smooth little pillows.

Start with your dough. This is after a doubling in size, after you've initially mixed and kneaded it.

Flop it on to the counter.

Cut it into a few pieces with one of these

Now take that little piece and find the biggest flat spot.

Pull back on that flat part like you're stretching the cover of a drum.

Keep pulling it back on itself and bunching it up onto itself.

Now comes the strange part. Take this ball, put it on the counter, and cup it with your palm. Then, rotate your hand while cupped in a circular motion. The bottom of the ball should stick to the surface and start to turn on itself.

This should give you a smoother bottom.

Put it on a pan, let it proof for a little while, bake it, and voila. Rolls!

Hey look, eggs with grandma! :)

I am enjoying all the green around. Happy Spring!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Urban Homesteaders Need Your Support!

I love my town. I love being within walking distance of almost everything I need, including my job. I am so appreciative of being able to have enough land to grow decent amounts of food within a decidedly urban environment.

One of the only drawbacks of this combination is my city's current ban on livestock of any kind within city limits. Fortunately, many other cities are starting to get into this idea and allow families to raise chickens in a well-regulated manner. (Heck, they're GIVING chicks away in Atlanta!)

Why is urban chicken raising a good idea?
Here's some great info from

Local source of protein
We can grow fruits and veggies, but not protein!

Better Quality

Eggs from happy chickens taste better, and you get to put a face to your food.

Source of fertilizer
Chickens make poop, poop makes compost, and compost makes great gardens! (and it's FREE!)

Natural pest control

That's right, chickens eat bugs! The nasty ones that you don't want in your garden!

It's fun!
Chickens are friendly and make good pets. At the very least they're not jerks.

You can be a part of the local food movement!

In fact, you can help your friends and neighbors do so, too!

Ok, have I convinced you yet? If so, check out this website and see if your city has an ordinance against chickens.

If you live in Iowa City, PLEASE sign this.

I had always expected that I'd need to leave this city eventually, but being able to keep chickens would really extend my time here. It would improve the general quality of life and strengthen our community. See if you can do the same.

Any experience raising chickens? If you're looking for a cute story about the relationship between children and the chickens they raise, check out Barbara Kingsolver's book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.
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