Archive for Snacks and Thoughts

Shrimp and the Future

The BP oil spill has been spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico for about a month now, with no end in sight. As oil and chemicals drift towards the Louisiana coast, it’s easy to imagine the destruction being inflicted on these fishing grounds and the people who make their livings from them. This article from the New York Times addresses the issues straight-on, explaining how the majority of our domestic seafood comes from either Louisiana or Alaska, and how this spill will likely cause seafood shortages from the Gulf. It makes me wonder, between E-coli laced meat and toxic seafood, what will be left for us to eat?

One of the many reasons why I feel so sad about the BP situation is because in the past few years, I had recently renewed my love for shrimp. It all started with my first trip to Disneyworld as a child—whenever I think about it, I don’t remember the exhilarating curves and dips of Space Mountain or the sentimental sweetness of the It’s a Small World ride. No, my most vivid memory is of sitting at a white-clothed table with my parents and younger sister in front of a tall, narrow glass filled with my first shrimp cocktail. After my initial bites of those cold boiled shrimp dipped in their deliciously zesty tarter sauce, I couldn’t get enough, and I think I had a shrimp cocktail every night for the rest of that week. Mickey Mouse and Goofy just couldn’t compete.

But something changed in my early twenties, and for a long while I couldn’t stand the sight of shrimp. It had something to do with the texture, and I didn’t touch them for years. But in an effort to partake of their health benefits, I started eating and enjoying them again a few years ago. Their mild flavor works well in a variety of recipes, from Italian to Asian and everything else in between.

Currently my favorite shrimp dish is this recipe from the New York Times, published over a year ago. From the moment it appeared, these roasted, lemon-infused shrimp and smoky, cumin- and coriander-accented broccoli took the blogging world by storm, and with good reason. Served with brown or white rice, they form an easy and healthy meal, packed with a unique and addictive combination of flavors. I’ve been making it at least once a month for the past year, and I haven’t tired of it yet.

Jim and I recently tried a Thai-inspired recipe from Food & Wine as well, an intriguing mix of grilled shrimp, garlic, cilantro, shallots, red pepper, and soba noodles, mixed with various Asian seasonings. Jim loved the spicy combination of flavors with the buckwheat noodles, and I expect this recipe to enter our regular dinner rotation as well. We slurped up every bite in one sitting.

I don’t mean to minimize the oil spill in the Gulf with petty talk about my favorite shrimp recipes; there are so many huge ramifications of this catastrophic event that it depresses me just to read about them. But talking about the impact of this spill on my daily life in Brooklyn, miles away from where it is actually happening, reminds me that I’m really not so distant from it at all. These disasters, both natural and man-made, impact us all in one way or another. Shrimp dinners are just the beginning.

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Lunches by Melissa

There are many reasons why I admire my younger sister Melissa. Whenever she enters a room, her infectious laughter immediately brightens the mood. Extremely ambitious and capable, she has succeeded in her dream of working in the fashion business. She is intensely loyal and loving, and has always supported me in every endeavor I’ve pursued.

There’s one more seemingly small but very important reason why I am in awe of Melissa: No matter how busy or tired she is, she makes homemade lunches for herself and her husband Nedim to bring to work every day. Sometimes it’s leftover pasta, sometimes just a simple green salad. She’s also been known to cook a whole second meal after dinner for their lunches, just so she and Nedim don’t have to waste money on food during the workday.

What, you might say? Does packing lunch every day really deserve such admiration and praise? Absolutely, especially on afternoons when I’ve endured another mediocre serving of pad thai or overcooked pasta from a nondescript restaurant near my Midtown Manhattan office. For some reason, I cannot get my act together to bring my lunch to work on a consistent basis. And when I think about the waste of money and unnecessary plastic packaging involved with buying my lunch every day, I feel very upset and guilty about the food I am putting into my body. Plus, whatever I buy rarely tastes very good, and I know that I could make something ten times better at home.

Some weeks are certainly better than others; like Melissa, I’ll pour some extra pasta into the pot when I’m cooking dinner and bring the leftovers to the office the following day. On another night I’ll add an extra half-cup of brown rice to our dinner, transforming the leftovers into a mean and healthy salad. But rarely do I have the energy to make myself a separate meal for the following day’s lunch. That lovely pearl barley salad up there, filled with crunchy apples and electric pomegranate seeds, was an anomaly, a rare instance when I prepared a healthy meal specifically for my lunch. I need a system. Or maybe I just need my sister to make me lunch every day.

So for the second time in a week, I turn to you again, readers. Do you bring your lunch to work? What are your favorite, easy-to-prepare, lunch dishes?

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Thoughts on “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution”

By now you may have heard about the new reality show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” on ABC. In this engrossing program, my favorite celebrity chef leaves Great Britain behind to incite a food revolution in America. Starting with the town of Huntington, West Virginia—recently named the unhealthiest city in America—Oliver is determined to turn its residents (especially its children) away from the dietary dangers of processed food. Obesity and obesity-related diseases have been on the rise in our country for some time, and Oliver’s investigation into our school diets and eating habits leaves little doubt as to why. Fortunately, even after viewing his dramatic demonstrations involving chicken fat, garbage bags full of chocolate milk, and the burial of a deep fryer, I found a few glimmers of hope by the end of the second episode.

Photo: ABC

The first two episodes show Oliver facing the same problems as when he revamped Great Britain’s school lunch program: skepticism from the lunch ladies who have been trained to simply reheat frozen, processed foods filled with sodium and artificial preservatives; kids who spit out fresh pasta and vegetables in favor of chicken nuggets (and turkey twizzlers in England); and administrators wary of the extra costs healthy food requires. But by the end of the second episode, Oliver has convinced the elementary school students to give his home-cooked meals a try, and has made significant progress with the obese Edwards family, teaching them about healthy eating and cooking, and using graphic scare tactics to direct them towards a whole foods diet.

While making these small steps, Oliver openly criticizes our government for our nation’s health issues, especially where school lunches are concerned. He blames the government for allowing processed junk into our schools in the first place, and for not providing funds for meals based on fresh fruit and vegetables. Children are being fed garbage for the sake of a manageable bottom line, and it’s helping to create the first generation of kids who will not live longer than their parents. Oliver forces the Edwards family to get check-ups (something they don’t do with regularity), and signs of impending diabetes are recognized in twelve-year-old Justin. While stating that he doesn’t understand what’s going on with our healthcare system, Oliver finds it “shocking, scary, and strange” that he had to be the one to take this family to the hospital. In just two hours of TV, he made many powerful and refreshing points about our general health and lifestyle.

Photo: ABC

While Oliver hands out a lot of criticism regarding fast food and government bureaucracy, the main point of his program is change. Turning away from processed foods is the first step towards claiming a healthy lifestyle. Step two is cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables so that you actually have a connection to your food, and step three is making this lifestyle accessible to everyone. I agree with Oliver that our government can and should help with these ideas, whether by example or through direct action. Some important seeds have already been planted, as with the recent passage of healthcare reform. Hopefully more families like the Edwards’s will visit their doctors and receive dietary advice in order to avoid illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. And in contrast to other recent administrations, Michelle Obama has focused her energies on ending child obesity. Her first step was planting an organic vegetable garden on White House property just last year, and now her Let’s Move program directly tackles childhood obesity at home and in schools. These efforts, combined with the increase in farmers’ markets, CSA’s, and programs such as Alice Water’s Edible Schoolyard will perhaps give Oliver less to complain about in the future.

Oliver’s show is fascinating, and I believe he truly cares about changing the eating habits of kids all around the world (even if he is trying to create compelling television at the same time). Watching him teach Justin Edwards how to cook chicken with noodles and fresh vegetables, while telling him how his self-esteem and health would change as soon as the weight started dropping off, brought tears to my eyes. The feelings it inspired relate to why I started this blog in the first place. Jamie Oliver understands that food is more about filling our stomachs. It’s a crucial key to our health and happiness. This is one revolution I can get behind.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution airs on Fridays at 9 pm on ABC. This week Jamie Oliver heads to the kitchen at Huntington High School.

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My Quest for La Quercia

Last week after our lovely lunch at Mimi’s Hummus, Rachel and I ducked into Market, the gourmet food shop next door. I walked slowly around the store, perusing the jars of local pickles and Middle Eastern spices, purposefully restraining myself from making any unnecessary (yet likely delicious) purchases. In fact, I probably would have left empty-handed had I not taken a closer look at the refrigerated case of cured meats, olives, and cheeses. That’s when I saw the yellow- and green-accented packaging of La Quercia Prosciutto Americano.

La Quercia is the only American producer of high-quality prosciutto, and its products have been lauded by Americans, Italians, and all nationalities in between. I had read about this unique Iowa-based company last year, and had recently tried its prosciutto at Danny Meyer’s new restaurant, Maialino. My dining partners and I were astonished by the meat’s authentic, natural flavor, and how it more than held its own against the Italian offerings on the cured meat platter we shared as an antipasto. But it was only after I found this pre-sliced, handy package of La Quercia’s cured pork at Market that I reviewed the company’s inspiring background again.

Herb and Kathy Eckhouse lived in Parma, Italy, for three and a half years, and fell in love with the idea of making Italian dry-cured meats in their home state of Iowa. After years of experimentation with this centuries-old tradition, the Eckhouses founded La Quercia (“oak” in Italian) in 2000. Not content to simply create an Italian facsimile of prosciutto, La Quercia produces cured meats that celebrate Iowa’s natural bounty without using artificial ingredients or preservatives. All of the pigs for its various cured products—in addition to different variations of prosciutto, La Quercia makes speck, coppa, pancetta, and guanciale—come from within 200 miles of the prosciuttificio, and are raised on vegetarian, grain-based diets, without antibiotics. These are pig products we can all feel good about.

I took the simple route with my package of Prosciutto Americano, draping its thin slices over squares of cantaloupe and eating it for lunch. Each buttery, supple slice was a revelation. The chewy, slightly fatty meat, falling in elastic sheets over the fresh fruit, was less salty yet somehow creamier than other Italian prosciutto I have tried, and I found myself eating slice after slice without pause. Later in the week, Jim and I sandwiched the remaining pieces in between some turkey cutlets for this recipe, adding a more intense layer of flavor to a simple meal. No matter what dish it appeared in, La Quercia’s prosciutto was the star. And we have Iowa and the Eckhouses to thank for it.

La Quercia’s prosciutto and other artisanal cured meats can be found at specialty food and grocery stores such as Whole Foods and the Red Hook Fairway. Check out their website for more store and ordering information.

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Conundrum

chokes

OK, readers, I need some help. What am I supposed to do with this massive can of artichokes that Jim brought home for me as a surprise? I don’t know if you can get a sense of its size from the photo, but there are at least 4 cans worth of artichokes and their stems in there.

What do you think? Risotto? Pasta? Can I freeze any leftovers once they are taken out of the can? How long do canned goods last? (I know this can has been around for a while, but there isn’t an expiration date on it, and I am a little nervous about it.) Normally I’d rather cook with fresh produce, but come on, people, we can’t let all these artichokes go to waste!

Also, I need to get this can off my kitchen counter. It is taking up way too much space. Help me, please.

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Vote for the King!

GetAttachment.aspxAttention all doughnut lovers! We’re taking a detour from our regularly-scheduled programming at Artichoke Heart to let you know about a fun contest over at Dunkin’ Donuts. You can help create the company’s next new doughnut, simply by clicking for your favorite design from 12 finalists. And we’re also here to shamelessly plug our favorite, called “The King.” It’s the brainchild of James Smith, the husband of one of my oldest friends. His dream doughnut is a Bananas Foster-filled treat topped with peanut butter icing and chopped peanuts. Yum! You can vote once a day until May 27, just by clicking here. Best of luck, Jim! Make sure you send us a free dozen when you win!

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Artichoke Heart Hits It Big…But No One Knows It

Wednesday morning started like any other day. I arrived at work, struggling to balance my massive purse with my leaking cups of coffee and steel-cut oats. I settled into my desk, turned to my computer screen, and opened my RSS reader so that I could catch up on my favorite food blogs while eating breakfast.

I clicked on this New York Daily News link about five New York City Greenmarkets set to open this weekend. Oh good, I thought. Maybe the Carroll Gardens one will start soon. I can’t wait. I scrolled through the list, and there it was, right at the bottom: The Carroll Gardens Greenmarket would indeed begin this weekend.

But as I took a closer look at the short paragraph about the market, my eyes widened. Déjà vu. The blurb talked about how the market had recently expanded. Hmm. I once wrote about how the market had recently expanded. The article also mentioned several very familiar details: 

  1. A chocolate croissant from Amy’s Bread
  2. Spicy Angus sausages from Grazin’ Angus Acres
  3. Pasture-raised eggs
  4. The occasional local honey stand

Double hmm. It read suspiciously like my post about the Carroll Gardens Farmers’ market that I wrote back in November. As I pulled up my post and compared the two links, I had little personal doubt. The specific details listed above mirrored my market experience and were even presented in the same order that I had written them. Even more interesting, the Daily News offered little additional information besides these familiar observations.

There seem to be two camps on this: Some people say I should be flattered, while others insist that I should be upset. I am just unsure and confused. Readers, what do you think?

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