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Two new obsessions: One Seasonal, One Not

Three things today for all of you guys:

1) First of all, I have only recently discovered the joy of the sunchoke, or jerusalem artichoke.  These little tubers are delightful.  Roasted plain, they are delicious.  They are like an artichoke heart, but better.  I cannot believe that it’s taken me this long to discover these little guys at the farmer’s market.

Get yourself some and try them for yourself.  They are delicious.  Just cut them in half and roast them up with some oil, salt, and pepper.

2) Num Pang.  12th St. and University.  Get there.

The place opened up last year in March, but somehow escaped my realm of cognizance.  But not any more.  They have a few sandwiches, but I can only speak to the pork and skirt steak sandwiches.  They arrive with some cucumber, carrots, and cilantro, on a toasted piece of bread with a spicy mayo.  A few squirts of sriracha, and we were good to go.  The pork is fatty and smoky, and as the picture above illustrates, it’s as tender as can be.  The softness of the meat is offset by the toasty crunch of the bun.  Just load up on napkins, it’s juicy.

There’s another shot.  Just because.

On another occasion, I had the skirt steak.  It’s more or less the same, but features some freshly griddled skirt steak.  It takes a little longer than the pork, which is already prepared, so be ready for a little bit of a wait.  The steak showed up with a lovely crust on the outside, but was just a little too medium for my taste.  I actually prefer my skirt steak cooked all the way through, especially when it’s been marinated, but this was still pretty good.  I still prefer the pork, but the steak was pretty good, too.  They have some other stuff, too, and I think they will soon be tried.

3) Monsanto gets named Forbes company of the year.  Quite a recovery from all of the negative press and the slamming in Food, Inc.  I haven’t read the article yet, but it definitely piqued BB’s interest.

mmm, silky.

It’s been too long, I know.  Based on all of y’all who end up on my site after searching for “silky (or any variant of spelling) chicken,” I figured it was time at long last to cook the darn thing.

As you will recall, I bought some chickens from bo bo chicken farm, based out of upstate New York.  They are not organic, as mentioned, but raised locally, so that’s still better than nothing.  I roasted that regular young chicken ’till he was GB&D (golden brown and delicious), to steal from Ming Tsai (what’s that guy up to, anyway?).

Now, it was time for his silkier cousin to get cooked up.  There are a lot of choices for chicken, but I knew that black chicken would be a special case.  When I was sold the chicken, they tried to push some baggie of sticks and stuff that was the base for a soup.  Silky chicken tonic soup, they call it (here).  At the time, I wanted to roast the thing, just to see what it tastes like by itself.  But when I pulled the little guy out of the freezer, I didn’t think that was such a great idea.

There were other braising recipes, like one from Patricia Yeo, but again, the ingredient list consisted of too many items that I would have to travel to get and/or require some sort of special translation.  I decided to make something up.  The only thing I knew I wanted to include was star anise.  That was pretty much my only requirement.

So I pulled a few items out of the spice cabinet.

I was making this thing up, so I figured I could use as many ingredients as I wanted.  The basics were: star anise, cinnamon, lemongrass, soy sauce, sesame oil, hoisin sauce, brown sugar, juniper berries, pink peppercorns, red wine, vegetable oil, rice wine vinegar, and these wasabi sesame seeds that my stepmom gave to me (re-gift from her bro).  I also had diced carrots and onions.  I wanted it all in there.

I started out by butchering the chicken.  I realized one thing about the silky chicken: not a lot of meat.  As in, REALLY not a lot of meat.  Practically none.  It’s just a mass of grey flesh and grey bones and purple skin.  Maybe the one I got in particular was particularly devoid of breast meat, but there was nothin.  Tiny little breasts and decently sized thighs, although nothing to write home about.  I also couldn’t figure out where everything was, it was all just a little bit different from a normal bird.

Anyway, I probably mutilated the thing, but it’s all good.  This was all in the name of science.

After that, I went about my way with pretty standard braising steps.  Browned the chicken.

Now, if you will notice, when the breast is cooked, it still turns white.  This is because it has less myoglobin, which apparently is what makes meat dark or light when cooked.  More myoglobin= darker when cooked (also means that it was a slow-twitch muscle, like legs, shoulders, etc).  Anyway, this was kind of disappointing, since I wanted the flesh to be grey, even when cooked.  Also, in case you were wondering, the blood is still red, too.  Can you say “disappointment?”

After browning it up, I took the chicken out and sautéed the veg in the fat (there wasn’t much) and then threw all of that stuff into the pot after deglazing with a combination of rice wine vinegar and red wine.  Everybody went into the pool.  Then, I cooked it down for about 45 minutes or so.  That was it!  Roasted some fingerlings on the side, and cooked up some baby bok choi in butter and sesame oil, and Bob’s your uncle!

As you can see, it looks kinda like chicken.  And, sorry to disappoint, but it also tastes… like chicken.  It really didn’t taste much different than the other Bo Bo chicken.  Which isn’t a bad thing, but I was hoping it would taste like, well, something else.  Anyway, enjoy, and try to get one if you can.  Buy local!

Speaking of local, I got some Milk Thistle farm chocolate milk.  Quite tasty.  Ronny has competition.

Also speaking of local again, got some R-brook Vanilla ice cream.  And I put chestnut purée on it.  That was delightlful.  See if you can get some of that stuff, too.  The purée is from France, but I’ll allow it.

Can college students live eating only local sustainable food?

Four UVA students are determined to see if they can, keeping a blog of their experiences.  Then, James McWilliams over at The Atlantic picked up the story and wrote a nice summation of what’s going on.

The big text call-out in the Atlantic article is “As these refreshingly candid blog entries strongly suggest, a sustainable diet will never go mainstream if costs do not compete with cheap cafeteria crap.”  If you read nothing else, take that point in.  When you talk to anyone about eating locally, the cost is always the first thing to come out of his or her mouth.  Until there are some ways to bring the cost down, whether it’s through new innovations in the space or (dare I say) some help from the government, I don’t see a real change happening any time soon.  As I’ve mentioned before, people are willing to pay more for locally-grown food, but until those that CAN’T pay more can afford to eat locally, we are going to be stuck.

In any case, enjoy the blog and the article.

You can help make a difference.

And all it takes is a Facebook account.  This is too easy to not do.

Rather than re-invent the wheel, I’ll just paste in the latest email from Chefs Collaborative:

We are excited to announce a new partnership with Muir Glen organic tomatoes, a company with a demonstrated commitment to organic and sustainable practices.

Muir Glen is raising up to $40,000 for Chefs Collaborative through a viral campaign on Facebook.  So far over $17,000 has been raised!  You can support this campaign in two ways:

  1. Become a “fan” or “friend” of Muir Glen on Facebook.  For each new “friend” or “fan” acquired now through March 31, 2010, Muir Glen will donate $1 to Chefs Collaborative. If you have a Facebook account, simply search for Muir Glen (in the upper right corner of the screen), then click the button to Become a Fan.

  2. Purchase the 2009 Muir Glen Reserve kit which includes vintage varieties of fresh, hand-picked tomatoes from California’s Yolo Valley.  For each $7 kit sold online now through March 31, 2010, Muir Glen will donate $2 to Chefs Collaborative.

Please feel free to pass along this email to friends and family and help us reach our goal of $40,000!

Thank you for helping us spread the word and for all you do to promote a more sustainable food supply!


Chefs Collaborative”

It ain't easy being green… WaPo Reports

Great article from the Washington Post highlighting the challenges of sustainability in restaurants, even if the intentions are good.  The article focuses on two case restos in the DC area: Founding Fathers, a 263-seat restaurant promoting a commitment to fresh and local ingredients, and Equinox, a 90-seat (expensive) restaurant basically doing the same thing.

While the challenges are the same for both, the lesser-expensive Founding Fathers often has troubles truly sourcing its local ingredients, citing lack of clear reporting and cost.  And that makes sense; think about three turns in a night, that’s almost 800 meals, and that’s just one daypart.

Talking with restaurateurs around in NYC, this is definitely an issue.  As with most purchase decisions, cost is a/the major factor in choosing one product over another.  Unfortunately, “long term assets” do not include anything about the environment or health concerns (until Google decides that they have a computer algorithm that can model this).  When the rubber hits the road, how can a “good idea” also be a “profitable idea”?  It is clearly a major concern for any business, and the food business is no exception.  Quite simply, it is expensive to source local ingredients, and in the winter months, as any farmer’s market regular will attest, it is difficult to get ingredients that would compose an entire meal.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel.  A survey sourced from Zagat says that 61% of people are willing to pay more for “green” or “sustainable” food.  A key question that is left out is of course, “how much more,” but let’s hold that thought for a moment.  If this 61% is willing (and able) to shell out a few extra bucks to support farmers truly farming/raising sustainably, then this provides the much-needed money to invest in infrastructure and other needs, which then addresses some of the volume and distribution issues that are the problems in the first place.  Take, for example, the Milk Thistle Farm, a local New York dairy farm in Ghent, NY.  They recently started selling bonds to invest in a new bottle facility on-site.  This will help with their distribution footprint, and will hopefully expand their market share.  And it will bring their costs down (I hope).

This is why I continue to see immense value in partnering with the big food companies in order to effect any real change.  At the same time, those big companies need to learn to partner with the little guys instead of buying them out and changing the rules.  During a meeting in the Lehigh Valley last week, the President talked about the importance of innovation and its longer-term effects on the job market in this country.  If we think about the food industry in the same way, there is plenty of room for innovation, and its benefits go much farther than job creation.

In any case, give the article a read.  And if you’ve got an extra grand, get a Milk Thistle Farm bond.

Dear Ronnybrook: You have a rival.

But they are only in LA, so I guess you’re not really going to be competing for share.  And they are not organic or hormone-free, so again, not really competition.

Anyway, while out in LA over the past week, I had the pleasure of trying Broguiere’s milk.  It’s the last old-school, glass-bottled dairy left in the LA area.  It’s located in Montebello, but widely available in various grocery stores all over.

When I first saw the product, I was at the grocery store with burgermom, and I noticed the glass bottles in the dairy aisle.  “Hmm, this looks just like Ronnybrook bottles.”  My mom then told me that they were featured on an episode of California Gold, a local PBS show featuring Huell Howser (an incredibly cheesy show highlighting local events and places in California).  Not really wanting to buy milk or the egg nog, since I was only in town for a couple of days, we passed on it and finished our shopping.

The next night, after watching the Newshour (my mom does not have cable, so TV options are limited), California Gold was on, and was featuring, what do you know, Broguiere’s Dairy!  My mom and I watched the show, and watched them make their famous chocolate milk, which is still hand-made in big steel tanks by adding one part chocolate syrup to 10 parts whole milk.

Huell downed a sip, and made it out to be incredible.  It looked pretty good.  Interest scale: 5.5 out of 10.

Then, being around the holidays, they had an additional featurette on the eggnog.  Again, it is mixed by hand, in the same steel tanks, but contains a decadently golden custard base and additional heavy cream.  Huell again exclaimed his praises, and said it was the best thing out there since the Broguiere’s chocolate milk.  Interest scale: 10 out of 10.

So burgermom and I headed out to the local How’s at about 9 o’clock.  My mom doesn’t keep anything sweet in the house, so this was going to be our dessert after a lovely skirt steak with roasted fingerling potatoes and brussels sprouts.

We got back from the store and got our glasswares ready.  The chocolate milk went first, since the nog would probably kill anything remaining on the palate.  The chocolate milk was very good.  I would still say that the Ronnybrook chocolate milk is a bit better.  You can tell with Broguiere’s that they’re not using the best chocolate syrup out there, so the quality is really buoyed by the freshness of the whole milk they are using.  This didn’t stop my mom from downing about three-fourths of the bottle, but I was not resoundingly singing its praises.

Then came the eggnog.  The nog features Huell’s face on it, and it has done so for about the last nine years, since the story originally came out on California Gold.  The nog has just started hitting the shelves, and I must say that I was glad I was there to experience it.  I am going to go out on a limb and say it is the best eggnog I have ever had.  There, I said it.  It’s thick, it’s rich, it’s heavily spiced, it is Christmas in a glass.  It has that slight heat from the nutmeg and spices that gives it depth, and the copious amounts of egg and heavy cream give it a whole lot of body.  This, I must say, is better than the eggnog produced by Ronnybrook.  It hurts to type it, but it’s the truth.  If you are ever in LA over the holidays, do yourself a huge favor and get some.

But wait, there’s more!

When drinking/eating this eggnog, I thought that it would be tremendous if put into an ice cream maker.  Since Thanksgiving dinner was coming up, what better occasion to try it out.  I took to the interweb to see if others have done it, since I was surely not the first person to have this revelation.  Alas, others had.  Many complained that the finished product was not creamy enough, instead coming together as a spongey, almost stringy product.  A delicious one, but not exactly ice cream like, either.  I decided to then cut it with some lean milk (to balance out what I am guessing is the coagulant-like qualities of the egg yolks giving the nog its golden hue) and some bourbon (to prevent the ice cream from getting too icy).

I mixed everything together in a bowl (one and one-half cup nog, one cup 2% milk, and a couple of tablespoons of bourbon) pulled out the ice cream maker at burgerdad’s house.  At first, the product looked like any other ice cream being freshly made.

Pretty uneventful for a few minutes.  I was hoping that my own thoughtfully prepared mixture would beat LA Chowhounders whose recipes couldn’t cut the custard (what a pun!).  After about ten minutes or so in the maker, though, the signs started pointing towards ice cream land.

Things seemed to be working out alright.  It looked a little icy, possibly from the skim milk addition, but it still seemed to be working out.  A quick taste still confirmed that it had that same richness, and the bourbon didn’t hurt, either.

Here’s how it was another five minutes or so later.  You can see that there there is some slight ice build-up on the cutter, but on the bottom right-hand corner, you can see that some of creaminess was still coming through, and the taste was still great.

At that stage, it was done.  Took it out, and it was still creamy, some of that initial icy-ness was gone.  I was quite pleased with the finished product.  However, after a couple of hours in the freezer, it unfortunately lost some of its initial creaminess and was a bit icy, almost like a blend of a sorbet and an ice cream.  While this was nice accompanied with a fresh slice of pumpkin pie and whipped cream, it was not ideal if served alone.

Not deterred, I am writing down some notes that I had in terms of the mix:

– Continue to cut the eggnog with milk, but use whole milk instead.  While the skim milk was a good idea in theory, in practice it was not really the best.

– Transfer the ice cream out of its maker when done, and put into something that will not remain quite as cold (such as a plastic container).  I think this would have prevented a little bit of the change in consistency.

– Use more bourbon.  Just because.  And maybe for its low freeze point.  But mostly just because.

Yet another reason to get this nog.  If only I had an ice cream maker here in NYC…