April 8, 2013
Chia seeds are gaining a reputation as a superfood, joining the ranks of açaí, pomegranate, goji berry and the most recent favorite, quinoa (the United Nations dubbed this year the International Year of Quinoa.) But unlike its health food brethren, which few knew of before they became ubiquitous, the ingredient once enjoyed some unusual success outside the kitchen: it gave life to Chia Pets, ceramic turtles, cows, pigs and other creatures that sprouted plant-hair and sat atop living room tables across America in the 1990s.
Chia, a flowering plant in the mint family known as Salvia hispanica, is native to central and southern Mexico and Guatemala. Domesticated in 2,600 B.C., the seed is said to have been a staple of the Aztec and Mayan diet. The Tarahumara of Mexico, famous for their incredible endurance running, consume a blend of maize and chia seeds while pounding the desert sand.
At just 65 calories per tablespoon, chia seeds are rich in protein, fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. The seeds transform water into a gooey, gelatin-like mixture one can drink (slowly) straight out of the glass. Their unassuming mild, nutty flavor can disappear into countless different dishes, from pancakes and mashed potatoes to barbecue sauce and Jell-O. Here are five ways to cook with chia seeds that go beyond breading and salad garnishes.
Smoothies. Chia seeds can be ground down into a fine powder in a blender. Now a nearly invisible ingredient, chia powder can be swirled around with countless combinations of fruits, veggies and syrups. This recipe pulverizes the seeds with yogurt, blueberries, mangoes and vanilla extract for a tropical shake, while this one blends them with strawberries and apple juice for a quick breakfast beverage. For a brightly colored shake that tastes better than it looks, combine baby spinach leaves, chunks of kiwi, almond milk and a frozen banana and blend till smooth. Toss a few tablespoons of seeds with peanut butter, frozen bananas, chocolate-flavored coffee creamer, cocoa powder and milk to create a rich dessert smoothie. If the mix is too thick, add milk until it thins out.
Pudding. Some drink chia seeds straight with water, but if the gooeyness minus the flavor is too much for you, try pudding. Fold chia seeds into a mixture of cocoa powder, brown sugar, instant coffee and milk and stick them in the fridge for two hours to create decadent chocolate pudding. Combine the seeds with milk, sugar and vanilla extract and refrigerate overnight for a tapioca-like treat, sprinkling it with shredded coconut. For a breakfast pudding, toss water-soaked cashews with maple syrup, vanilla extract and chia seeds until smooth. Refrigerate eight hours or all night, and or top with dried or fresh fruit.
Breads. When chia seeds absorb water, they create a gelatinous mixture that can replace eggs, oil and butter in baking. In this recipe for pumpkin bread, chia gel takes on the role of butter and oil. Blend it with sugar, eggs and pumpkin puree. In another bowl, sift together flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir the pumpkin mixture in gradually, then fold in chopped walnuts for crunchiness. Spread the batter out into a pan and bake for an hour at 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Once it’s transformed into a spongy loaf and cooled, smear with a sweet glaze of cream cheese, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla extract. Swap pumpkin puree for bananas for classic banana bread.
Burgers. For an extra protein kick at the picnic table, use chia seeds in homemade burger patties as a binding agent. Stir them in water to create a thick gel-like mixture. Saute chopped onion with olive oil in a pan until it begins to caramelize, then add minced garlic. In a bowl, combine them with ground meat, grated carrots, seasonings and the chia seed mixture. Using a large spoon or glove hands, mold the mix into 4-inch patties that are about half an inch thick and freeze them for an hour. Then, toss them on the grill, letting them sizzle for three minutes on each side.
Soups. Water-laden chia seeds can help thicken soup for a hearty comfort meal. For creamy cauliflower soup, boil chopped onion, cauliflower and vegetable stock. Ladle out half of the broth and stir in ground chia seeds. Return the mix to the pot and continue cooking. Garnish the soup with chopped parsley and black pepper, and serve with a crunchy slice of bread.
September 14, 2012
The summer days are wasting away and there are roughly 15 weeks left until Christmas. It feels a little strange to already turn one’s attention to the winter months; however, as some of you may recall, I made a few food-themed New Year’s resolutions, and with my colleagues beginning to celebrate Rosh Hashanah this weekend (that’s Jewish New Year to my fellow goyim), it’s a perfect time to take stock of how I’ve done so far. Here’s the original post with all the self-imposed benchmarks. Now, let’s review.
Resolution 1: Add new meals to the repertoire. By and large I still stick to the same core meals that I’ve happily lived on for the past couple years. Tried a few that I need to make up again—a fab vegetarian artichoke and potato soup—and have put the Crock Pot through its paces with a couple new recipes. I’m also trying to be a little more resourceful, occasionally scrap the cookbook and try on the fly to figure out what foods will work together. Most recently, a few sauteed summer squash with tomatoes, fresh herbs, a little onion and garlic made a fine meal when paired with a bag of tortellini hiding in my freezer. All in all, I think I can do better on this resolution—and I’ve still time to do that.
Resolution 2: Bake more. 2012 was the year where I finally got a handle on making a solid pie. Crafting crust was always my Achilles heel, but America’s Test Kitchen’s foolproof recipe involving vodka allowed me to up my game. Four cherry pies later, I’m feeling very zen with the baking. I’ve also dived into bread making. Dad used to make beautiful, round loaves of pagnota—white, crusty Italian bread—and when you grow up around that, it’s difficult to subsist on the squishy store-bought loaves. While two loaves of homemade wheat bread require a fair investment of time—I have to make the starter and soaker the night before and the next day it’s two hour-long risings and about an hour to bake off—the results are worth it. Flavorful bread that doesn’t back any of the fillers or preservatives that I find on the store shelves. As god is my witness, I’ll never buy Wonder again. At least that might be my goal for 2013.
Resolution 3: Entertain more. Have I done a ton of entertaining in my home? No, but I started off with a fondue party with just a couple buds (see Resolution 4), which went off pretty darn well. Everyone seemed to enjoy the Swiss/avocado appetizer, the red wine-based braise for the meats course and a dessert of macerated oranges with zabione. (Why be predictable and do three courses of fondue?) I also recently hosted a board gaming night where the fare was simple—hummus for appetizer, rolled out a few pizzas, key lime pie (see Resolution 2), DIY orange sherbet for dessert, bourbon-laced sangria to wash it all down—but all in all it went off well. It was also the gathering that let me know that, at most, I can comfortably accommodate 5 people in a 530 square foot apartment with one air conditioning unit in the window. But the other plus of entertaining? I found that I plan for gatherings like the rest of my family: convince yourself you’ve nearly enough food, overdo it at the grocery store and then find yourself with gobs of leftovers. While it may have been a slog to do all the prep work, there are a few post-party days where I can coast and graze off what’s left in the fridge. I can totally make a meal off a veggie platter.
Resolution 4: Use the fondue pots. One of my pots was a family hand-me-down, the other was a Goodwill find. It’s a shame people seem so willing to part with their fondue sets—it’s a wonderfully social way to enjoy food. While waiting for one person to dunk a bite of food or waiting for said food to cook, the conversation flows freely. I’m not knocking the standard dinner plate, but with that presentation, people might be more inclined to sit down and shovel their meal. If you still have yours kicking around in the closet, I encourage you to crack it out. Of course, now that I’ve used them once, the trick is to make sure they remain in use.
All that said, how are you all doing on any resolutions you made this past January? Let’s celebrate (or commiserate) in the comments section below.
March 7, 2012
If you were to point to the most marvelous product kicking around in your pantry right now, would it be your loaf of bread? It is one of the most mundane staple foods, but as Aaron Bobrow-Strain shows in his book White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf, the lowly loaf is so much more than the sum of its simple parts. In American culture, bread is a status symbol, and the book provides a fascinating look at how store-bought white bread rose and fell in prominence. The book also answers the big question: Why do we have pre-sliced bread, and why it was the greatest thing to hit grocery store shelves?
To understand sliced bread, one must first understand the dramatic shift in bread making habits in America. In 1890, about 90 percent of bread was baked at home, but by 1930, factories usurped the home baker. Considering that bread making had been a part of domestic life for millennia, this is a fairly rapid change. In the early 20th century, Americans were highly concerned with the purity of their food supply. In the case of bread, hand-kneading was suddenly seen as a possible source of contamination, and yeast—those mystical, microscopic organisms that causes dough to rise—were viewed with suspicion. “Bread rises when infected with the yeast germ because millions of these little worms have been born and have died,” Eugene Christian wrote in his 1904 book Raw Foods and How to Use Them. “And from their dead and decaying bodies there rises a gas just as it does from the dead body of a hog of any other animal.” Images like this hardly make someone want to do business with the local baker.
Mass-produced bread, on the other hand, seemed safe. It was made in shining factories, mechanically mixed, government regulated. It was individually wrapped. It was a product of modern science that left nothing to chance. It was also convenient, sparing women hours in the kitchen to prepare a daily staple. Factory loaves also had an attractive, streamlined aesthetic, dispensing with the “unsightly” irregularities of homemade bread. Americans fed on factory bread because the bread companies were able to feed on consumer fear.
But factory breads were also incredibly soft. Buying pre-wrapped bread, consumers were forced to evaluate a product under sensory deprivation—it’s next to impossible to effectively see, touch and smell bread through a wrapper. “Softness,” Borrow-Strain writes, “had become customers’ proxy for freshness, and savvy bakery scientists turned their minds to engineering even more squeezable loaves. As a result of the drive toward softer bread, industry observers noted that modern loaves had become almost impossible to slice neatly at home.” The solution had to be mechanical slicing.
Factory-sliced bread was born on July 6, 1928 at Missouri’s Chillicothe Baking Company. While retailers would slice bread at the point of sale, the idea of pre-sliced bread was a novelty. “The housewife can well experience a thrill of pleasure when she first sees a loaf of this bread with each slice the exact counterpart of its fellows,” a reporter said of the sliced bread. “So neat and precise are the slices, and so definitely better than anyone could possibly slice by hand with a bread knife that one realizes instantly that here is a refinement that will receive a hearty and permanent welcome.” The bakery saw a 2,000 percent increase in sales, and mechanical slicing quickly swept the nation. With Americans all agog at the wonders of the mechanical age, sliced bread was a beacon of the amazing things the future might hold. At least that was the mindset. “Technology,” Bobrow-Strain says, “would usher in good society by conquering and taming the fickle nature of food provisioning.”
November 17, 2011
The December issue of Smithsonian magazine features a story about heirloom wheat and the people who grow and bake with it. Eli Rogosa, director of the Heritage Wheat Conservancy and an artisanal baker, talks about her work in the field and in the kitchen. At the end she shares her recipe for a heritage bread.
Q: Why did you decide to devote your time to heritage varieties of wheat?
A: The silent crisis of the loss of genetic diversity of one of the world’s staple food crops is very serious—and very exciting, because there are still a lot of varieties that are in gene banks.
Q: What is your most memorable experience baking?
A: I’m working with a species of grain called einkorn, which is getting a lot of publicity these days because it’s safe for those with gluten allergies. Einkorn was originally domesticated in the Tigris/Euphrates/ancient Mesopotamian region, which today is Iraq. So I went down to the local Iraqi bakery recently and I said, “Would you like to try this bread in your bakery?” They were really excited, so I brought them some einkorn flour and they baked traditional Iraqi flatbread. They just couldn’t believe it. They said, “This is real bread, this is what it’s supposed to taste like.” The traditional methods that they bake with were the ways that einkorn was baked with for millennia. Now I think there’s five halal stores in the city where I was, Portland Maine. They just want to buy einkorn, so it’s in all the stores.
Q: Are there differences between working with flour milled from heritage wheats and standard supermarket flour?
A: It’s a whole different ballgame to buy from a local wheat grower rather than to buy from the store. The modern wheats are completely uniform. If you buy something from the supermarket, you know exactly what to expect. But if you buy a local variety from a local grower, it’s going to reflect the fertility, the variety, the weather. That explains why breads from different countries are so different.
Q: Can you substitute flour made from heritage grains for supermarket flour?
A: You can substitute. You probably might need a little less water, a little more salt because it’s lower gluten. But I just bake bread normally. I bake bread in the morning for my husband. Instead of doing a lot of kneading, I make my dough the night before and just let it sit and it gets a little bit fermented, like a light sourdough. So I think time is a factor if you make your dough the night before and then bake it the next day. It’s really easy.
Q: How much experimentation does it take before you get a bread recipe just right?
A: I don’t use recipes. I’m a creative baker—it’s easy to bake. I’ve read all the books, but I didn’t learn baking from books; I learned it from illiterate grandmas in Third World countries. Baking is like a natural process. You feel when it works right and follow the dough, and it’s very liberating when you bake by feel and consistency of the dough and not measuring. You have to play around to feel comfortable and familiar with what works.
Q: What advice would you offer to someone interested in growing heritage wheats in his or her own back yard?
A: Find a local source for heritage wheat seeds, or contact me at growseed.org, and I’ll send you samples. It’s easy. Wheats are a grass. It’s the easiest crop I’ve grown on our farm. I grow only winter wheat, which means I plant it in September and harvest in July. I find that the winter wheats are better adapted, and in the spring they just shoot up and they compete with weeds, so your weeding pressure is really decreased.
Recipe for einkorn sprout bread, by Eli Gogosa
(Makes two loaves)
STEP 1: ADVANCE PREPARATION
Five days before baking, mix 1 tablespoon (T) non-chlorinated water (spring water, distilled water, well water or rain water, NOT tap water) with 1 T einkorn flour in a bowl. (Both einkorn flour and einkorn grain are available at natural foods stores or from growseed.org. Optional: Add 1 T cultured butter milk to encourage fermentation.) Cover but don’t refrigerate. Each following day, mix in another 1 T einkorn flour and 1 T non-chlorinated water. Keep the bowl at room temperature until the mixture has started to bubble. This is sourdough starter. Two days before baking, soak 1 cup einkorn grain in the non-chlorinated water overnight in a covered bowl. The next day pour off the water. Rinse daily and keep covered. The grains might start sprouting rootlets.
STEP 2: MAKING THE BREAD DOUGH
In a food processor, blender or hand-crank food mill, blend the soaked grains briefly so they are the consistency of chunky oatmeal. Mix the starter, 1 cup blended grain and 4 cups einkorn flour, 1 teaspoon (t) sea salt and 1 3/4 cups warm water. (If you are concerned that you may not have sufficient starter, add 1 t yeast. Optional: For sweeter, festive bread, add some chopped dates and walnuts to taste and 1/2 cup maple syrup in place of 1/2 cup water.) Add more flour if the dough is too sticky or more water if too dry. Knead the dough until it forms a ball that springs back when you poke it. Shape the dough into two loaves—flatbreads, boules or standard bread-pan loaves. Refrigerate overnight in bread pans or on a baking sheet greased with olive oil and dusted with einkorn flour.
STEP 3: BAKING
The next day, let the two loaves warm to room temperature for 1/2 hour. Dust the surfaces of the loaves with einkorn flour. Slash if desired. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Turn down the oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until the tops of the crusts are golden brown. Turn the oven off, but keep the loaves inside for another 1/2 hour before taking them out.
November 9, 2011
From guest blogger Dana Bate:
I knew exactly what the Salisbury Cathedral would look like before I ever stepped foot in Salisbury. In college, I studied under a charismatic professor of British art who lectured enthusiastically about John Constable and his romantic depictions of the English countryside, including several paintings of the Salisbury Cathedral. I knew the spire, completed in 1320, was the tallest in England. I knew the main body was completed in the mid-1200s and that the cathedral itself sat on a lovely slice of countryside in Wiltshire.
What I did not know is that, in addition to housing the world’s oldest working clock, the cathedral sits adjacent to one of England’s oldest working markets: the Salisbury Charter Market. Surrounded by streets with names like Oatmeal Row and Butchers Row, the open-air market began in the early 1200s, at a time when what we now call “farmers’ markets” were merely “markets” and “eating local” was merely “eating.”
Today, the Charter Market (named for its consecration under the city’s charter in 1227 by King Henry III) operates on Tuesdays and Saturdays from 8:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., selling everything from local honey to fresh doughnuts and farmhouse butter. Modern tents and food trucks have replaced the medieval food stalls, but most of the customers are still locals, picking up fresh meat, fish and veg as part of their weekly shopping routine. You’ll also find your share of tourists wandering through the market before or after exploring the cathedral.
Given the history of the surrounding area, the market would be a great place to pick up some food for a picnic before touring the cathedral, to get a taste of Salisbury’s medieval market culture. And, being a mere two-hour drive southwest of London, Salisbury is a fun day trip if you want to explore the English countryside. (It is not, however, the source of Salisbury steak.) If you find yourself in the area and plan on picnicking around the cathedral, here are some options sure to satisfy your cultural cravings.
Pritchetts: You’ll smell this stand before you see it. Owned by the 97-year-old butchery of the same name, this food truck is known for its hog roast: a sandwich of sliced roast pork, onion-sausage stuffing and applesauce, all served on a soft, floury roll known as a bap. The cook, Scott McDaniel, makes all the components from scratch, from the pork sausage in the stuffing to the applesauce. Wiltshire is known for its pork, and McDaniel hails from Austin, Texas, another city known for its pig products. It will come as no surprise, then, that he takes his pork very seriously. The stand sells other items like burgers and bacon butties, but the hog roast is what draws the crowds.
The Olive Bar: It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the many barrels of olives at The Olive Bar. There’s the Sorrento (basil, garlic, hot chili), the Black Maroc (herbs de Provence, orange peel, cardamom), and the Greek Mammoth (basil, garlic), all swimming in huge barrels of olive oil. There are dozens of other olives, too, not to mention the hunks of feta with herbs de Provence and vats of butter bean salad and hummus. Grab a loaf of their ciabatta or focaccia, and you’ll have a filling meal on your hands.
Long Crichel Bakery: Long Crichel is, first and foremost, a bread bakery. Their organic breads, made by hand from locally-sourced ingredients and baked in a wood-fired oven, have won several awards, and the bakery’s Five-Seed Sourdough remains one of the most popular. The stand at the Charter Market also sells pastries and savories, everything from quiche and sausage rolls to the award-winning treacle tart and flapjacks. The latter two would make excellent picnic desserts.
Fonthill Glebe Wines: English wine? You bet. This stand sells everything from Pinot Blanc to fruit wines made from elderflowers, gooseberries and apples. The adventurous among you might want to try the mead, the ancient alcoholic beverage made from fermented honey and water and said to be the ancestor of all modern fermented drinks. A word of advice, however: Steer clear of the booze if you plan to climb the cathedral’s 400-foot spire. The hike is a doozy.