Sunday, October 21, 2007

King Corn

On Tuesday night, I attended a screening of the movie "King Corn" at St. Paul University. A really fun movie about two friends who travel to their ancestors town of Greene, Iowa, to learn all the ins and outs of growing corn. The movie starts with an isotope test of their hair follicles. Everything you consume apparently leaves a marker in your hair. Surprisingly, we are told the major carbon input in their bodies is corn. We are essentially walking corn cobs. At first this seems odd, but the journey is afoot and the revelations are flooring.
In Greene, our two friends rent a one acre plot of land from a farmer to grow corn. It is said right from the onset that if these two are trying to turn a profit from growing corn, forget it. If it weren't for the Government funding their venture, it would be a loss. And that wasn't just for these two, but for all farmers growing corn. That revelation was disturbing when you consider how much corn is grown across America.
A great moment occurs in the movie, when the filmakers sit down to try out the fruits of their labour......It's inedible. The spit it out thinking it tastes like chalk. The corn they and oh so many other farmers are growing is just not suitable to eat. Ironic isn't it? So much farming going on and the farmers loose money planting a seed they will never be able to eat. Our filmakers try to follow their corn into the food system. Their corn is likely destined for feed, ethanol or high fructose corn syrup. The last of these surely a major contributor to obesity in America right now.
After harvesting our filmakers are left with a $17.00 deficit. Thanks to Government funding though they turn a small profit. Funny though that farmers are producing such a crappy product, no one can eat it. Cows get sick being fattened on it. And we come up with ways of turning our surplus into a product that is slowly killing us.
This movie is made in a real tongue and cheek way, that is sure to make you laugh. But really I hope it makes you think. And sadly those who should see this movie the most, will probably not have it playing anywhere near them. And it surely won't play in a theatre that tries to get you to drink the 32oz soft drink.
On the option bar to the right there is a fun video that was played just before the main movie.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How Ya Like Them Apples?

What to do with all these apples. Well, into the kitchen I went and came out with some comforting food for an ugly afternoon.
Lately cooking at home, I try to include the kids as much as possible. And seeing as they picked most of the apples, they should be encouraged to make some stuff with them. We settled on a nice Curried Apple and Parsnip soup, as well as an easy apple crisp that my 5-year-old made with me.

Curried Apple Parsnip Soup

8 cooking apples (again we had a glut of empires) Peeled cored and chopped reserving 2 cut into wedges.
4 lg parsnips peeled and chopped
1 sweet onion sliced
1 celery stalk chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1" ginger sliced
3 tbsp hot curry powder
3 kaffir lime leaves
1 cup cream 35%
salt pepper

For serving
2 apples that were wedged (above)
3 tbsp brown sugar

In a pan sautee the apple wedges on med heat until just beginning to color. Add the brown sugar and continue to cook until well caramelized, but still retaining their shape. Reserve.

Cook onions and celery until just translucent (not browned).Add garlic and ginger cook 1 minute. Add parsnip and continue to cook 5 mintues. Add apples and cook until just starting to get soft. Then add curry powder to coat all ingredients. Splash with white wine and cover with water by about 1 inch. (Most of my soups do not contain meat based broths, so as to remain both vegetarian and pure of taste). Add kaffir lime leaves and cook for about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and puree soup.
return to the heat and check for seasoning. Remove kaffir leaves. Add cream to get a nice velvety texture.

Serve with a nice mound of caramelized apples as garnish. Use remaing caramel in the pan to drizzle around the soup.

The sweetness and the heat from the curry is very pleasing.The parsnip adding a taste that is both clean and elusive. A wonderful soup for a crappy autumn days lunch. Enjoy.

Apple Crisp

Rum rasins with cranberry

1 cup golden raisins
1 cup cranberries
1 cup spiced rum

In a small saucepan add all ingredients and cook over med low heat for 5 minutes. Ignite the rum and allow to burn out. Set aside.

Apple Crisp Topping

3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
pinch of salt

Melt butter and add to other ingrediants in a med bowl. Mix with your hands till crumbly and not too combined. Set aside.


10 med to large apples. Cooking apples. Today we had Empires and Royal Gala. Cored, peeled and cut into 1" pieces.
1 lemon juiced Half used in water to hold cut apples and half for filling
1 1/2 tbsp flour
1 tbsp cinnamon
pinch of salt

Mix flour, salt and cinnamon in a lrage bowl. Add apples and reserved lemon juice. Add raisin and cranberries. Pour mix into a 9x13 baking pan with 1"+ sides. Cover with topping mixture and bake @ 350 degrees for 45-55 minutes. TIll nice and golden.
Allow to cool a bit and portion out. Serve with good rum raisin ice cream or whipped cream.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Apple picking day

It seemed like the perfect day to pick some apples. So we bundled up the baby, loaded up the other two and off to pick some apples we went. Today was the first time we visited Orleans Fruit Farm. We were more than pleasantly surprised. Right in the middle of suburbia is a great stand of apple trees. they have some 3000+ trees with plenty of variety to choose from. Today was near the end of the season and we had Empire, Macintosh, and Cortlands to choose from. Most of the picking occured in the Empire orchard. It was most enjoyable and we have a horde of apples to make some delicious treats from. More to come on these fall wonders.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Pork Belly "a la vaca frita"

I love pork in all it's forms. Is there anything better than pork? I think not. I decided today to make some braised pork belly. I am preparing as I prepare vaca frita which is basically twice cooked beef. This dish has a very South American preparation with decidedly asian flavors. Pork belly is essentially bacon that has not been cured/smoked. For this application we are going to give the pork a dry rub and allow it to sit overnight in the fridge. Followed by a long braise. After the braise it is shredded and mixed with some more aromatics and then fried till crisp. This application produces a taste that really has to be tried (even if it takes a couple of days to produce properly).

Obtain a 1kg peice of pork belly from your butcher.

Dry rub
1/4 cup coriander seeds
1/4 cup star anise (whole)
2 tbsp sancho peppers
2 tbsp dried tabgerine peel
10 indenosian long peppers
4 tbsp smoked salt ( I had smoked salt on hand, regular coarse salt would be fine).
Grind all ingredients in a grinder or mortar and pestle.

Slash the fat side of pork in a crosshatch pattern. Not so deep as to go to the meat. Rub with seasoning well all over. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight in fridge. There is not alot of salt in the mix as the braise will be slightly salty and no sense in overdoing it right at the beginning.
The next day remove from frigde and allow to come to room temp. In an oven proof pot large enough to hold in one peice, sear meat fat side down on med heat. This allows for some of the fat to render and build flavor for the next compoinents. Make sure to brown nicely on all sides. Remove from pan to a large plate. Pour off all but 2 tbsp of fat from pan.

3 carrots rough chop
1 celery rough chop
1 onion rough chop
2 cloves garlic smashed
1 1/2" peice of ginger sliced
2 tbsp coriander seeds
5 star anise
2 tbsp red miso
1 cup sake
1/2 cup mirin
4 tbsp honey
1 qt chicken stock

Preheat oven to 300 degrees

Add first five ingredients to pot and sautee till golden (med low heat) When nicely colored add aromatics including miso and continue to cook for another 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with sake and raise heat to medium and reduce by half. Add mirin and honey, cook for 2 minutes. Add chicken stock and pork. Make sure it is covered by 2 inches. Use water for remaining liquid. Bring to the boil on the stove skimming of any foam. Transfer to preheated oven and cook for 3-4 hours. Checking for doneness after 3 hours. It is done when a knife point has no resistance going into the meat.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly in the braising liquid.
When it is cool enough to handle remove from liquid and and shred removing as much fat as possible.
Braisinf liquid should be returned to stove top and reduced to a syrupy glaze. Test for saltyness as you go and adjust with honey if needed. Strain liquid and reserve.
The shredded meat should be mixed with 1 red onion very thinly sliced. Juice of one lime, 3 green onions sliced on an extreme bias (as thinly as possible), and one small bunch cilantro chopped finley.
Allow the flavors to develop for at least 4 hours and preferably overnight.
When ready for serving get a non stick pan very hot (smoking)
Add enough oil to almost cover the bottom of a large pan. About 2 1/2 tbsp.
Put pork into pan like a pancake pressing down slightly. Sear on this side for about 1-2 minutes. With a steady hand flip the pancake over and sear other side as well. At this point I use two tongs to tear the pork back into nice crispy peices and add my sauce to the pan coating all the pork evenly.
At this point it is ready to plate. For our application we are using a sushi rice prepared risotto style, and some sauteed chanterelle mushrooms. Some of the sauce was reserved and painted onto the plate between the two elements.