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 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.