Escarole and White Beans

My family’s CSA weekly pick up started last week! So far we have had lots and lots of greens, meaning we have been busy trying out new recipes. I decided to make this beautiful and enormous bunch of escarole into a side dish. Escarole is a rather bitter green, so I think it’s best when cooked into a dish like this.

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This recipe took about ten minutes to make, but it looks very complex and impressive so I got much more credit for it than I deserved. (Always a nice bonus!) Thanks to grandparents.com for the recipe that I adapted!


You will need:

3 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

1 bunch of escarole (it looks like a lot but remember that greens wilt as you sauté them)

1 cup of vegetable broth

1 cup of white beans

1/2 a cup of tomato sauce

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

optional additions if you like spiciness: 1/8 teaspoon of garlic powder and 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper

Directions:

1. In a large pan over medium heat, sauté the garlic in the olive oil until fragrant. (Make sure you have the escarole ready to add because the garlic burns very quickly)

2. Gradually add in escarole leaves and stir them around until the oil is evenly distributed. Add all of the remaining ingredients and toss thoroughly to combine. Reduce heat to medium low, and cook – stirring occasionally – until the escarole is wilted.

And there you have it! Simple, tasty and seasonal. I put the dish over some bulgar, but it would also taste good over some crunchy bread or pasta.

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Rhubarb Punch

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My family drank this punch so fast that by the time I remembered to take a photo, there was barely any left!

Having a lemonade stand? Why not try serving rhubarb punch, too! It’s a tangy and refreshing drink…that is so in season right now.

When I was looking for rhubarb punch recipes, I found that a lot of them had ingredients that made the drink more complicated and less healthy. Rhubarb punch doesn’t need things like ginger ale and strawberry jello mix!

These are the ingredients I used to make rhubarb punch: rhubarb, water, pineapple juice, orange juice, and sugar.

Boil four cups of water in a pan, and add two cups of chopped rhubarb. Then bring the mixture down to a simmer. Let it sit like that for 10 to 12 minutes so that the rhubarb juices can soak into the water. Then pour the contents of the pan through a strainer into a bowl filled with ice. Then you can add sugar, pineapple juice, orange juice, and more water at your leisure to get the exact taste that you want. The less you add, the stronger the rhubarb taste will be.

“Big Food” at the Yale Peabody Museum

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“Big Food” is an exhibit at the Yale Peabody Museum in New Haven about the complexity of American eating habits. It looks at how a person’s environment can affect his or her food choices, explaining things like food deserts, food swamps, and portion sizes. 

The most amazing thing about Big Food, I think, is that it exists. Who ever would have thought that a museum would market an exhibit on the evolution of food? It shows how much more important food choice has become to people, and how much people are willing to think about it. 

The exhibit’s target audience is families and kids.  I appreciate the notion of getting younger kids to think about which snacks are healthy and where their food is coming from. The chosen wording was perfect – understandable and relatable. On industrial farming, it read, “Did you know that it takes more than 14 pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef? Or, put another way, the wheat used to produce one large hamburger can make five loaves of bread.”

The exhibit shows the shift from living in rural to urban areas, and how this change has affected eating habits. It reads, “Rates of obesity are far higher among city-dwellers, particularly in developing countries, as people shift from producing their own food to purchasing processed foods.” The exhibit also introduces the terms “food desert” – places where at least 20% of people live at or below the poverty line and without a supermarket within a one-mile radius, and “food swamp” – neighborhoods filled with fast food restaurants and stores that sell unhealthy foods. The exhibit expertly delivers hard-hitting facts, including, “There are now five fast food restaurants for every one supermarket in the United States.” 

Under the heading “Community Collaboration,” there are explanations of what we can do to improve our eating habits. Guess what? Buying local is featured! There is a chart showing foods grown in Connecticut on a month-by-month basis.

If the best part of the Big Food exhibit is that it exists, then the second-best part of is that it hosts events. Tonight there was a (sold out) event that featured Claire Criscuolo of Claire’s Corner Copia, Jason Sobocinski of Caseus Fromagerie & Bistro, and Tagen Engel, Chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council. They were answering questions and giving samples! Big Food is running until December 2, and there are tons of more events to come. To see a listing, click here.

In the back corner of the exhibit, there is a darkly lit wall that reads a quote from Alice Waters. “If we are what we eat, then Americans are cheap, fast and easy.” The display of the quote gives an ominous tone, different than the rest of the exhibit. The contrast, I think, works beautifully, providing a sense of urgency to take the knowledge the exhibit has to offer and use it to make a change.

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Beet Cake

The Beets, remember them? Probably not, actually, because I am likely one of the few high school aged bloggers in this realm of the blogosphere – solitary member of the Doug generation. Doug, star of the animated show, had a favorite band called The Beets (a joke on The Beatles). As I made this beet cake, inspired by this post on In Her Chuck’s blog and an abundance of fresh beets, I could not get this song by The Beets out of my head.

Here is the recipe I used to make the cake, borrowed from Food.com.

  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 3 cups shredded fresh beets (grating them works fine)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

  1. Heat oven to 350 °, grease and flour 13×9 baking pan.
  2. Beat eggs, sugar and oil until light and fluffy.
  3. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon.
  4. Add to egg mixture and mix well.
  5. Add vanilla, beets and walnuts.
  6. Beat for 1 minute on medium speed.
  7. Pour into pan, bake for 45 minutes, or until a pick comes out clean.

It was a very simple recipe, although grating the beets was rather time consuming. I just powdered the top with confectioner’s sugar, but cream cheese frosting is also popular.

If you are willing to go the extra mile, I would go with a more complex recipe. This one certainly gets the job done – the cake was easy to make and very tastey – but a more elaborate attempt would have a better payoff.

Here’s the weirdest thing about this cake: the batter was pink but the cake was not. Anyone know why? Because I am baffled.

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Spinach Grilled Cheese


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This being Connecticut, my CSA membership does not start for a few more weeks – not a ton is in season right now. In addition, I did not wake up early enough this morning to go to the farmer’s market near my house. So when I decided to make a local meal today, I knew I would have to get creative when finding my ingredients.

I decided to go to Mrs. Green’s, a small, specialized grocery store that only sells organic produce, grass-fed beef, herbal teas – you get the idea. I thought, Mrs. Green’s is so big on organic produce, they must have something grown locally, right? Wrong. I was so naive. Walking around the store, I saw that most of the produce was grown in Mexico. I asked the manager if he had anything local. He looked slightly pensive, slightly confused, and then responded no. He said it wasn’t really the season for local produce yet – try back in a few weeks. Okay, Mrs. Green’s, I know that you can’t sell tomatoes or peppers or strawberries grown locally right now, but I know you could find some greens, like spinach or kale. Just ask Jamie Oliver, world-renowned chef who cooks seasonally in the UK, which has a climate similar to that of Connecticut.

My experience at Mrs. Green’s showed me that the local and organic movements are not always on the same page. When it comes to sustainability, local is clearly the better choice – the food miles speak for themselves. And since sustainability is my priority, I will vote local over organic any time. Other people – Mrs. Green’s shoppers, for instance – see freedom from chemicals as the most important factor, and will choose organic. I don’t think either view is wrong, both health and sustainability are important priorities and it’s hard to declare one more valuable than the other.

Anyway, on a Sunday afternoon in Fairfield County, there aren’t many options for local ingredients. I had to go to Whole Foods. It breaks my heart a little bit go to Whole Foods, because I think they are overpriced and not as good-hearted as they like to sound. Their definition of local, for example, is anything that travels less than 7 hours to get to the store. I’d say that’s a bit farther than Elm City Market (AKA heaven) qualifies as local. By these standards, though, I found local spinach and cheese, as well as bread baked right here in Fairfield. And I have to say, New Jersey is a lot closer than Mexico.

I decided to make spinach grilled cheese, which is easy to make, looks extremely fancy, and tastes delectable. Here’s how: First I cut up the spinach and sautéed it with olive oil and sea salt. I also took some tomatoes (organic, but unfortunately not local), sliced them up, and let them sit in the pan for about 30 seconds on each side. Once the spinach was wilted and the tomatoes were warm, I put them aside on a plate. Next I took two slices of bread, buttered one side of each piece, and placed them (buttered-side down) on the pan. Then I put a slice of cheese on top of one slice of bread. Once the cheese melted a little, I placed the spinach and the tomato on top of the cheese. I placed the other slice of bread on top of the pile, and voila, a sophisticated grilled cheese.

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Miya’s Sushi

“because man cannot live on rice alone”

The menu at Miya’s Sushi in New Haven is more like a novel. Each item on the menu has a paragraph beneath explaining where the ingredients came from. There are pages expressing the philosophy of the restaurant, which is to bond people and culture with sustainability in mind.

In working towards this goal, Miya’s Sushi is not your average sushi. There are rolls with cheese, chutney, nuts, white pine needles, and peanut butter. The weirdest thing about this sushi is that it works. As for fish, Miya’s does not use typical sushi components. Over one third of all caught fish is used as food for aquaculture. Miya’s, therefore, offers many herbivorous fish that are much more environmentally sustainable. You will see tilapia, catfish, carp, bluegill sunfish – fish that not only are used less often in sushi but are also caught locally. Check out fishchoice.com to see how to find sustainable seafood in Connecticut. Miya’s also has a whole section of the menu devoted to sushi made from invasive species. Every time they make those sushis they’re helping ecosystems rebuild themselves appropriately.

Over half of Miya’s menu is centered around local, organic vegetables. Miya’s is the largest buyer from the Yale Sustainable Food Project. The menu reads, “Fortunately, the most delicious ingredients tend to be the most sustainable too!”

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It All Comes Down To Taste

When I did some research on Alice Waters, I found both articles of extreme praise and subtle condescension. Some people love her through and through, attempting to emulate everything she stands for. Others, though, while complimenting her talent and intentions, quietly allude to her hard and fast philosophies as elitist; they say her lifestyle is not one that the average American can live up to.

I say you can hate on Alice Waters if you want, but you have to admit that people respect her first and foremost because her food is legendarily delicious.

A quick review: Alice Waters opened her restaurant, Chez Panisse, in Berkeley, California, in 1971. Today it is one of the most highly regarded restaurants not only in the United States, but in the world.  Chez Panisse was one of the first restaurants to use local, organic ingredients and hormone-free meats. Waters’ choice for fresh and local food was initially just because she knew that these ingredients gave her food the best flavor. Now, though, people know Alice Waters as a local and organic food activist, crusader for the Slow Food movement, and mother of The Edible Schoolyard. Slow Food USA works to globally promote “good, clean, and fair” food and the “from plate to planet” ideology. Slow Food emphasizes that food is a universal right, and highlights the link between the food we eat and the health of the earth. The Edible Schoolyard sets up farming programs in schools, where children learn to organically grow and cook produce.

No one would listen to Alice Waters or travel thousands of miles to eat at Chez Panisse if her food didn’t taste good. And that’s what initially drove her search for organic ingredients – taste.  In a 1996 interview, Waters was asked why she prefers organic produce and she responded, “Taste, for sure.” She then continued with her other reasons, “And I’m interested in it because I know I need to support the people who are taking care of the land and thinking of the future, people who are thinking about how communities come together. It’s my feeling that that can happen when the person growing the food is connected with the person who is eating it.”

I think that many Americans have the same line of thinking – taste is the initial draw to local and organic ingredients, and the environmental benefits are an added appeal. The environmental impact may gain importance for some, but I’ve found that most people were originally attracted by taste.

I talked to my class’s Head Adviser, Ben Taylor, who also happens to be a food enthusiast, and he said the same thing. Mr. Taylor is a dedicated cook; a subscriber to Cook’s Illustrated, he said that cooking is the center of gravity for his friendship circle. “It would be lying to say that the environment is my primary motivation,” he said. “The best taste is my priority.”

Mr. Taylor’s high standards for ingredients, though, go hand in hand with the local food movement – he referred to tomatoes that hail from afar as “phlegm balls.”

Often times the terms local and organic are clumped together, but I saw organic strawberries at the super market grown in Mexico, and there’s a farm in the town next to mine that uses pesticides. One does not necessarily mean the other. “Local means more to me than organic,” Mr. Taylor said. “From an environmental standpoint it can be superior. You could have an organic product that has created a gigantic carbon footprint to get to your supermarket.”

And, to those Alice Waters critics out there, you can shop local without breaking the bank. You don’t have to spend your whole paycheck at Whole Foods to find local food. There’s Elm City Market, for one thing, which I wrote about in a previous post. Mr. Taylor recommends Big Y. He said that when the grocery store near his house turned to Big Y, he was initially disappointed. A lot of the imported ingredients he liked weren’t there. But then he noticed a lot more local produce. And it’s true – in the name of local economies, the earth, and health, Big Y is working to promote local ingredients.

The subtle criticism of Alice Waters that I have encountered suggest that she is unrealistic with her expectations that everyone will soon enough live as she does. These same articles, though, always mention the delectable flavor of her food and the beauty of the ingredients. So no, we can’t all live like her, buying solely from farmers’ markets and cooking with fireplaces in our kitchens. But if we follow our taste buds, we will be on the right track.