Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cardamom Bread

This time of year always gets me thinking about culture, traditions and naturally, religion. Between my husband and I, our ancestry represents more than a few nationalities and ethnicities. Me: Dutch, Polish, Hungarian and Romanian, all Jewish. Him: African, Cherokee, Mic Mac, Irish and Swedish. And, we practice two religions in our home, Judaism, and Ifa, the traditional religion of the Yoruba people (Nigeria) and we celebrate Xmas with our extended families. All of this to say that there is a lot going on in our home in December, and while we make sense of it, it involves a lot of different traditions and foods. 

The first year I went to celebrate Xmas with my Husband's many aunts, where the predominant cultural influence is Swedish, I was overjoyed by the abundance of cookies. Seriously, there were endless tins of cookies, and not your usual American varieties. Their family is spread out around the country, so we don't get to have many cookie filled Christmases with them (sad!). Last year we joined some of his family in Brooklyn and tried to recreate a little Swedish joy, hence the lovely cardamom bread above.

As a Jewish girl, I have never wanted to have a Christmas tree in my home, or celebrate the holiday in my home. However, I did grow up celebrating Christmas at my father's house where my step mother is Christian,  and the holiday was an entirely secular event. I felt fortunate as an American kid to be able to celebrate the holiday, it was magical and amazing, but I never did feel that it was my own. Now as a parent, I struggle to communicate this to my own children. They are grounded and find joy in Judaism and the Yoruba tradition, but when Xmas rolls around it is hard to understand why we don't celebrate it in our home, but do go to visit some of their grandparents to celebrate with them. I enjoy helping to make the holiday special with our extended family, and of course helping with the cooking is my easiest entry point. As for the baking, it doesn't hurt that I happen to LOVE cardamom as well, and it is a staple in Swedish sweets.
Cardamom bread is a wonderful Swedish breakfast treat, and while this bread looks complicated, it is really very easy to make. Once again, I modified my basic Challah recipe to make another baked good, so maybe this is really a little bit of a Jewish bread too (Ha!).

Swedish Cardamom Bread

1 1/3 cups warm water (or milk for a richer bread)
2 tablespoons yeast
1 cup sugar, honey or agave
3/4 cup oil or melted butter
5 eggs
1 tablespoon salt
5-6 cups flour (part whole wheat or whole spelt is fine)
2 teaspoons cardamom ground, (black seeds ground, or whole green pods ground and sifted to equal 2 teaspoons) 

sugar, jam, or almond paste for filling
1 egg beaten for brushing the bread
2 tablespoons sugar for topping the bread
  1. Pour warm water or milk into a large bowl. Add sugar or other sweetener and yeast, mix and let sit for 1 minute or until the yeast foams up. 
  2. Stir in 2 cups of flour, the eggs, oil/butter and cardamom. Mix to combine. If using a stand mixer, knead this mixture with the dough hook attachment, adding the rest of the flour a cup at a time, and the salt towards the end of the flour. If mixing by hand, use a spoon to mix as long as you are able, and then turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead until the dough is smooth and no longer sticky. Your finished dough should be very smooth, and only slightly tacky, but not sticky. Set the dough in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with a cloth and put it in a warm place to rise, until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours.
  3. Gently turn the dough out onto a floured work surface. Poke the dough down with your finger tips and then give it a few kneads. Let the dough rest for 2 minutes. Roll the dough into a large rectangle using a rolling pin till it is 1-inch thick and about the size of a cookie sheet, 11"x15".
  4. Place the dough onto a lined sheet pan with the short end facing you. Spread sugar laced with orange zest or vanilla down the center 1/3 of the dough. You can also use almond paste or jam. Cut 1-inch diagonal slits down both sides of the filling as shown. Starting at the end of the dough that is furthest from you fold one piece from each side in to the center, alternating left and right. Press each strip firmly together in the center to secure it. Cover the bread with a towel and let rise again until doubled in size. Preheat oven to 350. Brush the finished bread with a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar. Bake until golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped, about 40-50 minutes.

Enjoy, and have a wonderful holiday season whatever traditions you may or may not be celebrating. Life is not always so simple, but bread is, and it just happens to taste good too. 
Please share any thoughts below!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Apple Crisp with Cider, Spices and Prunes

If you have a sweet tooth like me, or are just around tons of holiday cookies and candies at this time of year, you might be looking for a sweet treat right about now that doesn't leave you feeling comatose or like you've got high fructose corn syrup coursing through your veins. This fruit crisp uses lots of seasonal fruit and only a small amount of added sweetener. I have been making apple crisps for years, and we eat them for dessert with cream, breakfast with yogurt, or straight up for a snack. This crisp turned out better than any I'd made before and the two key elements that I think made it so good are cider and prunes (think dried plums not your grandma's source of fiber); and the apple cider, which is the only sweetener on the fruit, making and the prunes plump during cooking and adding a richness and note of complexity to the apples.

Apple Crisp with Cider, Spices and Prunes
Apples about 10 apples, or enough to fill a 9x13 baking dish
1 1/2  Cups Prunes, whole pitted
2 Cinnamon sticks (or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon)
5 Cardamom pods (or 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom)
1 1/2 Cups apple cider
2 Tablespoons butter (optional)

Crisp Topping:
4 Cups oats (I used 3 cups quick oats and 1 cup rolled oats)
1 Cup brown sugar (or honey, maple syrup, agave, molasses or fruit juice concentrate)
3/4 Cups oil
1/3 Cup apple cider
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
  1. Peel and cut apples into 1 inch cubes or 1/2 inch thick slices. Put apples, prunes, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods and cider in a 9x13inch baking dish. dot with butter if you are using it.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine all of the ingredients for the crisp topping. Pile the mixture on top of the fruit and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven until the cider is bubbling rapidly, the fruit is very tender and the crisp topping is nicely browned. If your topping gets too dark but the fruit needs to cook more, drape a piece of foil over the top until it is done.
Note: If you are trying to limit the fat in your diet, you can replace some of the oil with cider. Once you get the hang of it, you can make this type of topping without measuring; use whatever sweetener you like and combine the ingredients and to taste, making adjustments until you have a moist delicious mixture that looks like this:

The cider cooks into the fruit sweetening the apples and plumping the prunes.

This crisp is wonderful alone or paired with a drizzle of milk or cream, yogurt or ice cream. We ate this for dessert, breakfast and snack (not all on the same day) and it was a nice way to satisfy our cravings for sweets without too much sugar.

Do you have a great fruit based recipe? 
Feel free to share ideas by leaving a comment below.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Tagan's Kitchen Turns One!

As I was plowing my way through Thanksgiving and glancing at photographs of food from last year, it dawned on me that it was exactly one year ago that I started this blog. It is exciting to think that in these digital "pages" there is an entire year of food, thoughts, creativity, cooking and activism. It has been a very full year with some major accomplishments and a lot of hard work.  There are links below to many of the exciting events of the year; I traveled to the White House for Michelle Obama's launch of Chefs Move to Schools, I now chair the New Haven Food Policy Council where we are working on many policy issues that affect our local food system, New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven was published and is now being distributed for free to low income families and individuals in the city, Tagan's Kitchen is featured in the New Haven Register's Community Media lab, I created a new sustainable food menu for a local cafe, and I get to work with and go to lots of meetings with great community folks trying to start urban farms, improve kid's exposure to food and agriculture, and improve access to good fresh food by creating a new food coop.  It is almost comical to think of doing all of this and being an engaged and caring spouse and parent of two kids. Modern life is challenging to say the least. This year has been a thrilling and sometimes rough ride, but the food movement is surging ahead and I am trying to ride the wave and find a little balance along the way.

I started Tagan's Kitchen - the blog so that I could have a public place to express my own ideas and thoughts on food. For me it is more like an art project or journal than a media venue. When I say that my life revolves around food, I truly mean it; so, having a place to post photos and thoughts about food is more of a gift for me than work. While it is a challenge sometimes to find the time to put a blog post together, the joy I feel in completing a post and then sharing it with all of you is enormous! Thank you all for your heartfelt comments and support both on the blog, on facebook, by email and in person. I am so happy that you take pleasure in reading and cooking from this blog. Please continue to share your thoughts and comments, by doing so you are helping to create a community centered around food, and it is delicious!

To support Tagan's Kitchen, please post your comments or thoughts at the end of blog posts and share the blog with friends and colleagues. Many thanks!!! 

Here are a few highlights from the first year of Tagan's Kitchen:

Cookbook published: 
New Haven Cooks - cookbook published and on sale! February 2010
New Haven Cooks/Cocina New Haven is available online at CitySeed.org or in person at the CitySeed Farmers' Markets.

Burgers with Sneaky Greens
Spiced Curry Rice
Rosemary Brown Sugar Chicken or Tofu
Red Lentil Soup with Greens
Latkes (potato pancakes)
Buttermilk Muffins
Peach Raspberry Pie
Blueberry Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Thoughts on Food:
Candy - the enticement of sweets and old-time candies
Food Activism  - the busy life
Strawberry picking - Pick Your Own
Creating a new sustainable food menu for a local cafe - Blue State Coffee
Peanut butter balls and a family sweet tooth
 The Dirty Dozen - pesticides on produce

Visit to the White House - Chefs Move to Schools
Amsterdam - a trip back in time with my Oma (grandmother) for a Holocaust memorial
Brooklyn playground and Atlantic ave
Dance Camp - where I first started cooking, many many years ago

Gardens and Farms
Building Raised Garden Beds - a detailed explanation 
A reality check from Farmer Dan - a farmer with a great farm and great humor
The Massaro Community Farm - a cool new farm, and judging a condiment contest
A Farm in the City - Common Ground High School
Cooking from the Backyard Garden - quick pickle

Thank you all for your enthusiasm and support this year! 
I hope you will continue to join me on the 
adventures in food that lie ahead! 
Many Thanks and Happy Cooking! -Tagan

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Turkey

Earlier this week I got an email from a friend and former co-worker that put a huge smile on my face and filled me with an overwhelming sense of thankfulness. A year or so ago she contacted me saying that she was interested in starting a farm on a little bit of land around her house in Guilford, CT. She wanted to raise some animals to then sell for meat. I encouraged her and tried to help out with a few ideas and contacts, but then things got busy and haven't been able to check in much. So, when I received an email informing me that she had raised her first full flock of Turkeys for this Thanksgiving and offering me one as a gift for my help (as small as it was), I was incredibly touched and happy.

The Farm is called Stonewell Homestead and Elysa and Bill Bryant are the farmers. Elysa still has her day job at Yale, but Bill tends the animals full-time and Elysa is part of a women's farming group where she learns about holistic land use and sustainable farming and animal rearing practices. The group is supported by a USDA grant through Holistic Management International, a group that draws it's teachings from the natural environment.

On the Monday before Thanksgiving Bill drove the turkeys to a USDA certified slaughter house in New Hampshire that is known for having the most humane animal handling and slaughter practices (there is no USDA certified slaughter house in CT). Elysa has learned how to slaughter chickens herself, which is not an easy thing to do. But, handling a large turkey is even harder, and she didn't feel ready to take on that large a task in their first year.

I know for some people using the words "humane" and "slaughter" in the same sentence is an oxymoron, but for those of us who chose to eat meat, it is a reality. What I hope and strive for is that the animals that I eat and that I feed to others have had a good life; that they have seen the sky on a regular basis and eaten the diet that nature intended them to; and then when it is time for them to die that it is done quickly and without unnecessary trauma. The true story of Thanksgiving is one of life and one of death, and it is just as important that we remember or even re-learn the history of our holidays as it is that we learn where our food really comes from. In this case, our holiday bird came from a few miles away in a friend's backyard, which is virtually 1,000 miles from a commercial feed lot, and for that we were all thankful.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thinking About Thanksgiving

A few days shy of a year ago I started exploring the world of food blogging. The very first blog posts I wrote was about Thanksgiving, a holiday that has always filled me with conflict. On the one hand I think about our country's terrible history and the criminal treatment of native peoples, and on the other the fabulous food, the gathering of family and friends and a time to reflect and be thankful.

A lot has happened since the blog post of Thanksgiving 2009. I recently was asked to submit some Thanksgiving recipes to the new Elm City Market website, (a new food coop that is going to open). It prompted me to go back and look at what I cooked last year. Since I only had about 20 readers when I posted these recipes last year, I figured it couldn't hurt to take another look at it, and that you all might want to check it out too: Thanksgiving 2009 Menu. There are some fun recipes in that post, and I made the bold move of cutting up my bird and searing and cooking the turkey in pieces, it was delicious.

I'm still trying to figure out what the menu is for this year, still tossing ideas around. So far, I know we'll have turkey (from my friends new farm, very exciting!), flageolet beans with roasted mushrooms for the vegetarian protein, and, a fabulous salad and a butter-free apple and nut tart from my mom. The rest is yet to be determined.

When I am planning a meal I find inspiration in a lot of places. I jot down flavors, dishes or ingredients that seem appealing. I check out what produce is in the markets or from local farms. Then I flip through some cookbooks, look at a few websites such as Saveur or Epicurious for additional ideas. I might see a great idea for a pie or a new side dish, or I might be reminded of a spice or an ingredient I haven't used for a while. In my line up for inspirations for this year so far are:

Brussel Sprout Salad - shaved raw brussel sprouts tossed with lemon, nuts and pecorino, not sure I'll do this combination, but I love the shaved raw brussels with lemon and ......?
Beets - red or golden if I can still find some at the market. I love them roasted or steamed, then sliced with some good vinegar and tarragon.
Corn Pudding - I'm testing out a few recipes to find a good one, since I never documented the one from last year. When I refine one I'll share, but for an idea of what I'm talking about click here.
Canadian Butter Tarts - a great recipe I have been making for years. kind of like individual pecan pies but with raisins rather than pecans, and delicious!
Pomegranate Molasses and East or North African spices - I love pomegranate molasses and haven't used it in a while, a friend and reader is using it in her cranberry sauce this year, which reminded me to consider it, and I was thinking about using some complex dried spice combinations such as those found in Moroccan or Egyptian cooking, also reminded of this by a friend, an Egyptian neighbor who pulled out an impressive folder of Thanksgiving recipes from years past.

I seem to struggle every year with which delicious starches to cook: biscuits? Candied yams? Mashed potatoes? Stuffing? Corn pudding? Gougeres? We can't possibly eat all of that, especially, since we have 3 gluten free folks at the table. The one thing I am certain of is that before we dig in, we all hold hands and give thanks for the good things in our lives, family, friends, food, a home, the earth and farmers that grew our food, the animals that gave their lives, and anything else that comes to mind. It always feels important to take a moment to be thankful for the goodness in our lives, no matter how small.
So, good luck to all of you setting out to cook Thanksgiving dinner! Please feel free to comment here with questions, thoughts or inspirations!  Happy cooking and eating!
To read the Thanksgiving 2009 post, click here

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rosemary Brown Sugar Chicken

Ok, so I know that adding sugar and salt to food is exactly what us health-touting chefs are not supposed to endorse, but the combination of rosemary and brown sugar in this dish is irresistible, and perfectly healthy if you balance it out with some good veggies. When I worked as a private chef in Boston and NYC a number of years back, Rosemary Brown Sugar Chicken was one of my favorite standby dishes. I usually tossed it with seared apples and asparagus which was fabulous, but for a more seasonal meal, on this night I used a quick saute/roast of potatoes, carrots and squash with a little spinach on the side. A number of years ago, I was at the Union Sq. Cafe in NYC and they had a house-made rosemary brown sugar nut mix at the bar. I was tickled that they had come up with the same delicious combo as I had. My ego got a little culinary boost that day.

My Husband doesn't eat meat, so I made a roasted tofu and onion version of the dish for him. (That tofu looks good right!) A far cry from the mushy flavorless stuff some people imagine. If you need or want to change the sweetener in this dish, honey or maple syrup works well, and agave is also fine for folks watching their blood sugar levels.

Rosemary Brown Sugar Chicken (or tofu)

1 pound boneless chicken breast or thigh meat, cut into 1/2 inch strips
3 to 4 Tablespoons brown sugar (or honey, maple syrup or agave)
4 sprigs fresh rosemary, picked and finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
pinch black pepper

Vegetarian option: substitute 1 pound of tofu for the chicken, skip to #5 for instructions.
  1.  In a medium sized bowl, toss chicken with all the other ingredients until well combined.
  2. Place a frying pan over medium-high heat and let it get very hot, but not smoking. Add a drizzle of oil, about a tablespoon, and then spread some of the chicken onto the pan in a single layer with space between the pieces. This is important so that the chicken sears and browns but does not steam. 
  3. When the chicken is well browned on the bottom and you can see the meat cooking half way up the sides turn the pieces over. Cook for a minute more unitl cooked through. Give a quick stir around the pan to collect the caramelized sugars and rosemary and quickly remove the first batch of chicken to a shallow dish. Repeat the process with the second batch of chicken, and a third if you need to. You may need to lower the heat slightly after the first batch, but not too much, you want the meat to sear quickly. 
  4. When the last batch of chicken has cooked, quickly toss all the chicken into the pan including any juices that may have dripped onto the dish. Sauté for 10 seconds to deglaze the pan and get the dark caramelized bits onto the chicken, not left behind in the pan. 
  5. To cook the tofu: toss the tofu with all the other ingredients and enough oil to thinly coat it, about 3 Tablespoons. Place tofu topped with all seasonings on a lined baking sheet in a single layer and roast in a 400 degree oven, until browned, about 30 minutes.  I cooked my onions in the caramelized bits in the frying pan from the chicken. If you want to make them vegetarian, slice 1 or 2 large onions, toss with a touch of oil and salt and pepper and roast on a lined baking sheet in the oven at the same time as the tofu. Toss together and enjoy with rice or roasted root vegetables.  
Note: if you want to add sautéed apples to this dish, slice 2 firm apples into 1/4-inch wedges.  Toss with a tablespoon of olive oil, 2 teaspoons brown sugar(optional), a finely chopped sprig of rosemary and salt and pepper. Sear in a frying pan using the same method described above. Cook before the chicken and set aside. Once the chicken is cooked toss in the apples.  Chop and steam a bunch of asparagus or broccoli and toss with the chicken and apples for a delicious meal.

This poultry dish got me starting to think about Thanksgiving. 
What are you planning?  Please leave comments below!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fall Fun on the Massaro Farm

It was an exceptionally beautiful day on the Massaro Farm in Woodbridge, CT. The sun was shining, lots of people were tromping over the uneven ground, building scarecrows, painting pumpkins, bidding on gift baskets, tasting and voting in the condiment contest, and taking tours of the new/old farm with cool farmer Steve. It was the second annual Massaro Farm - Family Fun Day. 

Farmer Steve is just wrapping up the first season of the farm's new CSA (community supported agriculture) season. The Farm belonged to the Massaro Family for many years, but in recent years it had fallen into disuse. A group of community members got together to re-establish the farm and created a non-profit to get it going. Check out their website to learn a bit about what they've been up to. One enormous accomplishment is that they have a mission to donate food to local charitable organizations, and this year they have thousands of pounds of food already. They also raised money to rebuild the barn and the farm house.

I was invited to the Family Fun Day on the farm as their celebrity chef (ha ha!) to judge the condiment contest. This was a bit of a challenge considering I had to pit applesauce against, hot pepper jelly against salsa. Next year hopefully there will be tons submissions and a number of different categories. I ran through the row of condiments, judging for taste and consideration of ingredients used. Condiments featuring ingredients from the farm or people's gardens won extra points.
There were a number of good submissions. I settled on 3 I liked that all had local ingredients in them. I tasted each at least 10 times, unsure of how to make the choice between 3 extremely different options. The applesauce was pretty exceptional, but it seemed so basic in comparison to the more complex options of hot pepper jelly or tomatillo salsa. I do hope there will be an applesauce category next year, and I'll bet this one will be a strong contender for 1st place (nice job Jason!). 
The hot pepper jelly was a great fresh version of the thai style sweet hot pepper sauce. It was delicious and beautiful, tangy and sweet. 

The tomatillo salsa ultimately won my vote. Most of the ingredients were from the cook's personal garden, the jalapeños were roasted and peeled and the garlic was roasted as well. The depth of that natural smokiness was wonderful but not overpowering, and the crisp tartness of the tomatillos was lovely. the salsa was well seasoned and balanced, so as a whole it stood out to me as the winner. The community vote went to the artichoke bruchetta topping. It was delicious, but since the main ingredient came from a bottle and probably flew over on an airplane, I gave it a back seat for this local farm focused competition.

Here, Farmer Steve is giving a tour of the land. He is explaining the types of cover crops he has planted which will enhance the land in specific ways to enrich the soil, prevent erosion, and provide compostable organic matter (green manure) when the crops are tilled into the soil in the spring or summer.  Rye, peas, vetch, and some other crops are planted here. One field is a variation on a three sisters garden, a complex traditional Native American agricultural technique where varieties of corn, beans and squash are planted together to grow in an extremely efficient and bio-diverse manner. Each plant gives and takes complimentary nutrients from the soil, the corn provides a pole for the beans to climb, the squash leaves shade the earth preventing weed growth and keeping soil shaded and moist.

Hardy varieties of lettuce and other greens were planted to extend the growing season.

As the fall seems to instantly be turning to winter (yes there was snow on the ground this morning), please share some fleeting moments of your fall adventures, farm based or otherwise! 
You can leave a comment below.

Saturday, October 30, 2010


When I was a kid, a picture like this would have made me drool with envy. The sight of all this candy oozing gooey fillings and bright sugary centers would have been more than I could contain in a single day. The image would implant itself in my brain and I would recall it so often that I could almost taste it. Such is the path of a kid with an apparently genetic sweet-tooth, but a childhood in a health food conscious home. I had seen pictures of some of these candies, the "Big Cherry" "Cherry Mash" and "Idaho Spud" off and on over the years. These fabulous names for candies from a bygone era inspired a wild imagination about ripe fruit crushed with sugar, coated in a chocolate shell just waiting to burst with deliciousness. These old fashioned candies have always held some special sense of delight for me, like something out of a movie, precious and near perfection. So, after years of anticipation, when I finally found these candies in a store when I was out west, I jumped on the chance to get my hands on them. As it turns out, every single one of these candies was absolutely, positively and completely, gross.

None the less, the candy shrapnel on display above was totally and completely fun. It is the day before Halloween, and I'm trying to get enough real food into my kids to balance out the sweets and treats they will be eating at the endless Halloween festivities this year with the holiday falling on a Sunday.

 The big thing I noticed when tasting these candies compared to their contemporary counterparts is that the quality of the ingredients is just not good. And this is coming from a woman who doesn't even consider the list of words on modern candy labels to be real ingredients or food. Most of these candies were made starting in the early 1900's, the cherry ones especially, and I don't think that the recipes have changed at all. The chocolate is oily and waxy, the cherry flavor exceedingly artificial, and the filling overly sweet.
from left: Twin Bing, Big Cherry, Cherry Mash, this is the real color!!

A while back I read up on the three chocolate, cherry, peanut candies, wondering why that combination was so popular. Peanuts were a huge crop in the middle and western parts of the country, but why cherries and chocolate? I wonder if cherries were particularly popular for some reason? Someone must know, but I couldn't find much info online. Each of these candies is from a specific region of the USA, and two of them, the Twin Bing and the Cherry Mash were made by produce companies that went into the candy making business to make more money, and then ended up shuttering the fresh fruit business in favor of the candy business. A clear indication of where our national food system was headed: highly processed, empty calories replacing fresh, healthy foods.   
The Valomilk cream cup was the candy I was the most excited to try, but the cream center had a metallic taste that was disappointing. I thought it would be more like the Mallow Cup I remember from my youth. Honestly, that might be gross now too, I haven't tried it as an adult, so you never know.
 The "Original Cream Center" bragged about on the label was dried out and hard, definitely not creamy.
The Idaho Spud was the most intriguing, with a molasses flavored marshmallow covered in chocolate and shredded coconut. The texture of the marshmallow however was unappealing, there was too much gelatin and the grayish color off putting to our modern sensibilities. 

So, I'm glad I got to try these candies, it was fun, and now I can let go of the fantasy. I'll save my sweet eating treats for some good chocolate, some delicious fruit or something that actually tastes good. I do wonder as I watched my kids actually enjoy tasting these if there is something different about kid's taste buds that lets them like these things. One of my fondest Halloween candy memories was of these small candies from the mid 80's called skull crushers. A small white chocolate skull filled with strawberry cream. You squished it with your finger to make it look like blood oozing out. My sister and I used to buy them at the pharmacy on the corner, and I haven't tried them since. They still hold that mystique, but they are nowhere to be found in this country anymore. I wonder if I crushed one of those buggers today, would I still like it?

Do you have any great candy memories or experiences? 
Please share by clicking the comment button below.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Food Activism on the Move

I don't know if I can even begin to write down all of the work I have been doing lately. Amidst the new menu I finally got launched for Blue State Coffee (blog post coming soon), New Haven Food Policy Council work, a feast from the fields fundraiser for Common Ground School on their urban organic farm, (post also coming soon) a community meeting for the coming Elm City Market - food coop, parenting, and the first colds of the season, there has been more than too much to do, and an incredible amount of great local food activism going on. I don't have many good pictures from all of this since I have been far too busy being involved in it all, but wanted to share a little about this part of my food life, none the less. The sustainable food movement has been evolving and becoming more visible recently, so I thought I'd try and lay out some of the concrete ways this work happens on the grassroots level. 

a new food coop coming to New Haven, CT in the 360 State St building.

Photo credit: Thomas MacMillan, New Haven Independent 
community member Tambira Armmand speaking her mind at the community meeting

I had been hearing rumors of a new grocery store coming into the ground floor of this new high rise in downtown New Haven for much of this past year, but it wasn't until a few months ago that I knew anything concrete. I was invited along with a few dozen other community members, food folks, and community leaders to be part of a "core leadership team", a group of community members whose purpose is to help bring the community of New Haven into this new food coop, so that the store can be a resource to a wide cross section of New Haven and help to fill the needs of people of different cultural and economic backgrounds. I will do a whole post on this in a while, but if you want to check out some newspaper articles on the recent community meeting about the Market, check out the NH Register or the NH Independent.  There was  a great turnout at this meeting, and a fair amount of enthusiasm and healthy skepticism. Over all, my take is that it will be great to have a full service grocery store in New Haven and not have to drive to get to it, and I hope that a broad and diverse group of New Haven residents will shop there and become member/owners. If you care about food in New Haven, please get involved, and make this market ours. To become a member/owner of this new market/coop click here. There are a variety of ways to join, and it will help get the market open!

Mark Winne - national food and food policy activist

Mark Winne started the first Food Policy Council in the country in Hartford, CT. He ran the Hartford Food Systems organization, and now runs the Community Food Security Coalition, and consults nationally with food policy councils and similar groups.

Mark was in town as part of a panel on grocery stores hosted by the Yale Sustainable Food Project. The New Haven Food Policy Council also hosted an event at the main branch of the Public Library for the launch of his new book (pictured at right). We had a good turn out, and it was great to hear someone with as much experience over time as Mark has talk about our food system and it's successes and failures.

Mark also made time during the day to meet directly with the members of the New Haven Food Policy Council which I now chair. It was a very inspiring meeting, and we all came away from it with a lot of good ideas and inspiration about making the work we do more affective and visible. Thank you Mark!

CT Local Food Summit
Billings Forge & Wholesome Wave
Guest Speaker: Shira J. Gans, Manhattan Borough Presidents office

Following right on the heals of Mark Winne's talk, I headed up to Hartford the next morning for the CT local food summit hosted by Billings Forge and Wholesome Wave. It was a great gathering of about 50 of the key players in sustainable food in the state. Some good conversations and inspirational talks. It was great to make connections with people doing similar work in various parts of the state to share ideas and strategies. Hopefully some larger networks and change will come from it.

Shira Gans from the Manhattan Borough President's office was the keynote speaker, and hearing about all the forward thinking work they are doing and the huge staff they have was incredible. We are doing so much of the same work here, some of it inspired by NYC or other cities, and some of it emerging right from the roots of our own community. What is going on in NYC is pretty exceptional right now though, the leadership of the city is really pushing a good food agenda for all people.

Feast From the Fields
Common Ground School - dinner, fund raiser and auction

A wonderful fund-raising event at one of the most special places in town. For those of you who read this blog often, you have heard me gush about Common Ground School before: An urban charter school with an organic farm and tons of great community events and programs. Many Chefs came out to make the night a success. I had the honor of cooking the main meal together with Jason from Caseus and Rhonda from the Common Ground kitchen, using lots of produce from their garden. It was a thoroughly delicious night with a huge number of fabulous teens from the school who volunteered to work the whole party! And, we helped them raise $40,000. A blog post detailing the event coming soon.

Chefs Move to School and Health Heroes - TODAY - October, 20, 2010
A great event happening today, Wednesday Oct 20th. The launch of these two programs in New Haven will shepard in some great new energy into the schools to get kids (and teachers and parents) to eat healthier foods, get exposure to fresh veggies, gardens, and other healthy and delicious activities. I will be joining Chef Tim Cipriano for the local launch of the Obama's Chefs Move to Schools initiative in New Haven. For the simultaneous launch of Health Heroes in 4 New Haven public schools, we will be giving out 1,500 of the New Haven Cooks cookbook I developed with CitySeed to low income children and families as an incentive to enroll in the healthy living and eating program. If you are a chef, come down to the Barnard School Garden Wednesday morning at 10am, and wear your chef coat!  I'll follow up with a blog post soon...

Stay tuned for more on my crazy (but exciting) life in food. 

note: blogspot is messing up the post date and won't let me change it. This was posted on Wednesday morning October 20th. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

If You Have Pumpkins, Make Pumkin Pie

For me, living with a two year old and a six year old means that everyday I am negotiating between my wants and needs, and those of two wild creatures whose desires have no correlation to my exhaustion level or ability to actually fulfill them. It is the joy and challenge of parenting, especially as a working parent. This food project was one such event. A few weeks ago I took the kids on an after-school excursion to a little farm stand that had mums and pumpkins. I had just launched my new menu at work, and was in need of a recreational minute. The kids each picked out a pumpkin and my 6 year old (who has spent enough time with me in the kitchen to know that everything we do, some how comes back to food) instantly said, "mommy, can we make pumpkin pie?!" so a sugar pumpkin was purchased for a few bucks, and we headed home, illusions of fresh pumpkin pie fueling our ride back.

Now, I can't tell you exactly how many days it took me to actually turn this pumpkin into a pie, but let's just say, that by the time we made it, my boy had stopped asking, "mommy, when are we going to make the pumpkin pie". Life is busy, and as much as I'd love to just stop everything and make pumpkin pie, well, you know, it just isn't that simple.

So, finally, over the weekend we cut open the pumpkin, and brought it outside for the kids to clean out. I roasted it in the oven and scooped out the soft flesh. A few days later I managed to make some pie dough and put it in the fridge, and the next day, we actually got the pie in the oven. It was devoured for breakfast, dinner and dessert and gone in about 1 1/2  days. The fresh sweet pumpkin made a delectable custardy pie, very unlike the dense grocery store bought cousins or the pumpkin from a can versions. All in all, the effort of making a fresh pumpkin pie, spread out over a bunch of afternoons was actually totally worth it.

Fresh Sugar Pumpkin Pie
One 9-inch pie
Pie Dough
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (1 cup white flour plus 1/4 cup or more whole wheat flour or wheat germ)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup ice water
1/4 teaspoon vinegar (white or cider)

1 small sugar pumpkin (about 7 inches in diameter) equaling: 2 cups pumpkin puree
3/4 cup heavy cream, milk or soy milk
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice or clove
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

   1. Make the pie dough: Cut butter into 1-inch pieces and place in the freezer for 15 minutes. measure and sift all of the dry ingredients. In a mixer, food processor or using two forks,  cut the butter into the dough until it is the size of larger peas. Some larger sized piece of butter are good, just pinch them flat. Add the ice water and vinegar and mix dough till combined, dough should be tacky. If dough is too dry, add spoonful more water. It is better for the dough to be a little too wet, than too dry. gently form the dough into a disc, wrap with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for one hour or longer until well chilled.

   2. Preheat the oven to 375°. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough to an 11-inch round about 1/8 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a 9-inch pie dish and trim the overhang to 3/4 inch; fold the overhang under itself and crimp decoratively. Prick the bottom of the pie shell all over and refrigerate until firm.

   3. Line the shell with foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until lightly golden around the edge. Remove the foil and the weights and bake for about 12 minutes longer, or until the pie shell is golden brown and cooked on the bottom. Cover the rim of the pie shell with foil when it starts to brown. Leave the oven on.

   4. Make pie filling: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pumpkin in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Rub with a few drops of oil and place cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment. Pour 1/2 cup of water on the pan to help it steam a bit while it roasts. Bake for 45 minutes or longer until the flesh is very tender. Mash with a fork, a ricer until smooth. If you want a very smooth filling you can prepare the rest of this recipe in a blender or food processor, for a more textured filling mix by hand. Scoop 2 cups of the pumpkin flesh into a bowl and let cool, reserve the rest for another purpose (like soup). Whisk in the cream, brown sugar, eggs, butter, vanilla, salt, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and scrape into the prepared pie shell.

   5. Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 375°. Turn the oven down to 350° and continue to bake for about 40 minutes longer, or until the filling is set. If the crust edge starts to brown too much, cover with the edge with foil. Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature with yogurt or whipped cream.

Note: If you like sweet potato pie, you can use this same recipe and substitute, 3 pounds of baked, mashed sweet potatoes for the pumpkin.

To make ahead
The unbaked pie shell can be frozen for up to 1 week. The pumpkin can be baked and refrigerated for two days.
 please share any great pie recipes you have!