Archive | January, 2011

Potato Onion Pierogi – Pittsburgh Super Bowl Recipes

Pierogies

(Yup. Another re-post. But really, how can one celebrate Pittsburgh without bringing pierogies to the party?)

Out of all of the dumplings that can be found in the world, none bring me back to my childhood like the Eastern European Pierogi. When I was in elementary school, every Friday we were allowed to head the local Ukrainian Church and purchase homemade pierogi that the Woman’s council had made. Here I was, barely 9 years old, indulging in Potato dumplings smothered in garlic butter and onions.

Life was pretty darn good.

For those of you not living in the Northeast, and not living in an area of the country that had Polish, Slavic or Ukrainian immigrants, there is but one simple fact: Homemade pierogi is worlds better than the frozen kind. It’s a lesson that’s well learned.

Being dumplings, they can be filled with any number of ingredients, including sauerkraut, cheese, mashed potatoes, cabbage, onions or any combination thereof. These are a basic potato/onion filling.

Special bonus tip: Sour Cream makes the perfect topping.

Dumpling

  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/8 cup warm water

Filling

  • 4 Tablespoons Butter
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Cup Mashed Potatoes
  • 2 egg whites

For the Dumpling

Pour the flour and salt into a food processor. Pulse together. Add the egg yolk, and blend. While blending, slowly pour the water into the flour. Mix until the dough combines into a ball and rolls within the processor. If more water is needed, add 1 teaspoon at a time.

Remove the ball of dough from the processor and place on a floured surface. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to set for 1 hour.

After one hour, knead the dough into a ball. Roll the ball into 1/16th of an inch thick sheet. Cut the dough into 2-3 inch circles or squares, it matters not. Combine any excess dough together and repeat the kneading/rolling process. You should get approximately 25 dumplings out of this.

NOTE: Rolling the dough is a bit of a task, and my arms are still sore from doing this. Be prepared, or have someone with really strong fore arms ready for action.

For the Filling

Place a large skillet over medium heat, and place 2 tablespoons of butter in the pan. When the butter has melted, add the onions. Add Salt to help the onions sweat a bit, and pepper for flavor. Add the garlic, cover and cook until the onions are juuust starting to turn brown.

In a mixing bowl, combine the mashed poratoes with the onions and mix well.

Combining the two

Place the empty dumpling shell on a floured surface.

From the mixing bowl, take 1 teaspoon of the potato/onion mixture (or 1 1/2 if you really want to push it), and place it in the center of the dumpling. Take a brush and dip it into the egg whites, and the brush the edges. Fold in half and seal with the tines of a fork. Set aside. Repeat until all the dumplings are filled.

To cook, place the dumplings in boiling water. Cook until they float for approximately a minute or so. Top with butter and serve.

Serves 4-6

Technorati Tags: Recipes, Potatoes, Pierogi, Food


BBQ Chipped Chop Ham Sandwiches – A Pittsburgh Super Bowl Recipe

(To celebrate the Steelers getting back to the Super Bowl, I’m re-running some of the recipes I posted the last time the Steelers made it to the big game. As before, these recipes will make a great addition to your Super Bowl party.

Today, I start with Chip Chopped Ham Sandwiches.)

It’s only 13 days until kickoff, and already I’ve annoyed Tara with my talk of food and football. She’s countering every point I make, and making sure to keep me honest when discussing this touchy subject.

You see, when it comes to feeding and eating on Football days, I am a traditionalist (some would say classist). Come kickoff time, I don’t want to hear about Portugese-Style Salt Cod Fritters or Barcelona Style rice. I want the day to be about who and what’s on the field, and not about who cooked the food. So the food should be good, simple and accessible.

Since Pittsbugh is in the Super Bowl, I’ve got several recipes lined up that will win people over and provide a Pittsurgh Style celebration.

This recipe is unsophisticated, but tried and true. This is the point. I’ve updated it a bit after playing around with the recipe.

  • 2 lbs Chip Chopped Ham (shaved ham if this cut is unavailable in your area)
  • 3 cups of your favorite BBQ Sauce
  • 1 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 green peppers, diced
  • 8 Kaiser rolls
  • Shredded Cheddar Cheese

Place all except the rolls and cheddar cheese into a slow cooker. Heat for four hours.

Scoop onto rolls and top with cheese before placing the top of bun on the sandwich.

Serves 8


Consider the Taco – My Schadenfreude of Taco Bell

Taco

Oh it’s so difficult not to laugh at Taco Bell today, what with the lawsuit that the meat mixture sold in Taco Bell restaurants had been tested and were found to contain less than 35 per cent beef, with the remainder of the product made up of fillers, binders and extenders.

Of course Taco Bell has denied it, stating in a release the lawyers who filed the lawsuit got their facts wrong and that they take plan to take legal action against those making the allegations.

For the record, the ingredients in their beef mixture are as follows:

Beef, Water, Seasoning: (Isolated Oat Product, Salt, Chili Pepper, Onion Powder, Tomato Powder, Oats (Wheat), Soy Lecithin, Sugar, Spices, Maltodextrin, Soybean Oil,, (Anti-Dusting Agent), Garlic Powder, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Citric Acid, Caramel Color, Cocoa Powder (Processed with Alkei), Silicon Dioxide (Anti-Caking Agent), Natural Flavors, Yeast, Modified Corn Starch, Natural Smoke Flavor), Salt, Sodium Phosphate, Less than 2% of Beef Broth, Potassium Pohosphate, Potassium Lactate

It seems to me that the legal argument is going to come down to at what point in the making of the taco meat does beef become something else? To shape the argument another way, is Beef Chili not really beef, because it’s made with beans, chili spices, onions, and other similar ingredients? It’s easy to take pot shots at Taco Bell, because, let’s face it, their food is crap. But there is a legal question here. Muddying the waters with ledes such as “Yo Quiero Taco Bell: Not if Taco Bell is tainted with fillers?” does no one any good.

Really? “Tainted”? With oat filler? Someone’s getting a tad bit carried away. If Taco Bell meat was chock full of botulism, or was using the meat of infants, then we can throw out the “tainted” word. Until then, settle down and let’s try not to get hysterical, shall we?. Honestly, what surprises me is not that they’re adding oat filler, but that they’re not using corn meal, the more traditional filler that is/can be used in creating taco meat. Using oats sounds less Mexican and more Scottish, quite frankly.

But really, this isn’t the point of this post.

What is funny to me is the response of some of the news feeds that have said something along the lines of “Yeah, so? It’s fast food! Of course it’s made with poor ingredients”, the most egregious example coming from ABC News, with a news report entitled “Do We Expect Too Much From Fast Food?” (WARNING: Media heavy web site.)

Um, people? Tacos are fast food. Not just in the commercial sense, but in the very real, traditional, historical sense. While they have been around for hundreds of years, the Mexican food has evolved into the streetiest of street foods. Its name “taco” is derived from a Spanish word meaning “light snack”. It’s not as if Tacos sit in some hallowed area of food cuisine. Taco Bell, even with their shitty take on tacos, fits squarely in that tradition.

Karen Hursh Graber, in her article Wrap It Up: A Guide to Mexican Street Tacos says the following on tacos in Mexico:

Many foreigners come to Mexico with the idea that they can get tacos any time, but this is not generally true. Looking for tacos around midday, perhaps at the time of the gringo lunch, will not normally be a successful pursuit. Tacos are either a morning treat or a nighttime snack, pretty much disappearing between the hours of noon and six p.m. This is because the main meal in Mexico is eaten in the afternoon. Not to worry: by about six the smell of meat begins to permeate the air and the taquerías are back in business. . .

From noon until about six there are almost no tacos available; morning vendors are closed until the next day. Right around dusk, however, there is a perceptible change in the atmosphere of the street following the afternoon lull. Permanent puestos, stalls and storefront taquerías begin opening, and ambulatory taco carts roll into place, usually connecting the wires from their naked light bulbs into overhead lines. . . The most compelling signal of “taco time”, however, is the aroma. Of all the street food in Mexico, the taco is King of the Night, attracting clients with the appetizing scent of grilled, fried or steamed meat. Since the big meal of the day is eaten in the afternoon, many people opt for a late supper, or cena, and taquerías usually stay open until about midnight, and later in big cities. On weekends, taquerías near discos and clubs stay open until the wee hours of the morning, when they provide welcome sustenance to hungry partygoers.

For those of you who’ve been around a Taco Bell at 2am, know that you’re part of a storied Mexican tradition, albeit with an American bent.

And tacos aren’t like hamburgers, where you have your 99 cent cheeseburger at McDonalds, and the next step up is the 5 dollar cheese
at your local diner. Tacos are cheap by design. Those delicious looking Tacos al Pastor in the picture above? $2.75 at Tacos Guaymas (WARNING: Unnecessary Flash use ahead). Granted, $2.75 is quite a markup from 99 cents, but it’s still in the range of “Good lord, that’s cheap food.”

Do I expect too much from fast food? If you mean, do I expect it to have some measure of quality, even at low prices, then the answer is an emphatic “No!”. It’s one of, no, scratch that, it’s the reason I don’t eat at Taco Bell. I’m lucky enough to live in a city where I can find cheap tacos that are much better than those under scrutiny today.


The Allure of Venice

Have I written about Venice since visiting two months ago? I don’t think so. Even if I did, the city is worth revisiting, at least in thought.

Rare is there a city in the Western world that truly vexes me. After a fair bit of traveling, I can start finding patterns that tie certain cities together. Whether they are the huge metropolises of New York or London, or port towns of San Francisco or Genoa, there’s usually an aspect of a city which I can relate.

Venice is no such city.

Part of this is due to its unique nature of course. As we all know, it is a man-made island city, chock full of canals and gondolas, and nary a car, truck, or scooter to be seen. It makes for an interesting adventure in this aspect alone.

Then there’s the romantic aspect to it. Regardless of whether one is looking for love, God, art, or an amazing view, there are many aspects to Venice which can satisfy.

While I appreciate a great view out the window, or a fine piece of artwork as much as the next person, what drew me to Venice was its past – a past that is quite well hidden nowadays.

Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of world history knows of Venice’s history in the pepper trade. But the extent in which they prospered under this trade is just short of amazing. Venice was the New York and London of its day. It was, quite literally, one of the richest places on earth, certainly the second richest city in Europe, possibly the first, depending upon where the papacy was at in its history during the time of Venice’s zenith. There weren’t many rulers in Europe who could tell the papacy to piss off, pre-Reformation. The doges who ran Venice could, and (albeit very rarely) did.

Ah yes, the Doges. One of the few regions of Europe during the middle ages that didn’t have a monarchy. The business class elected their leader. Granted they elected him to a lifetime appointment. It was the doges who directed the city for wealth gathering, and looked to exploit trade routes and the various markets of pepper, ginger, and sugar, which is why I was interested in the city.

The Venetian era I am interested in is from the ninth century AD until roughly the time of Columbus. Once the Portuguese found a way to circumvent the trade routes monopolized by Venice by sailing around Africa, the Venetian empire was done. Here’s the interesting bit – the Venetians knew it was over when word of Portugal’s successful voyage made it back to their ears. There’s evidence of a meeting that took place during this time in which all of the merchants and political leaders got to say (and I’m paraphrasing here), “Oh shit! Now what do we do?”

What they did is re-invent themselves. It took a few generations, but the leaders of Venice essentially made the city a destination for the elite.

Before this massive change, the city wasn’t the city of romance we see today. It was a city of commerce. Imagine an island nation of accountants and seafarers, and you’ll get a good idea of what they city was comprised of. Sea merchants lived a life that was comprised of 90% waiting (waiting for financing, waiting for the commodities to arrive from the caravans, waiting for the merchants to sell) and 10% of adventure mixed with terror (traveling on the seas was not for the timid, what with the dangers of weather, ships with limited range and weight capacities, and the ever present threat of pirates and other nation-states looking for a quick buck).

So when in ports (and let’s face it, Venice’s was one of the premier destination for sea-merchants), there was a fair amount of both free time and opportunity for stress relief. All of this in a city in which the Catholic church had less of an influence as they had in other cities.

You can see aspects of this city around the Rialto, the central area of Venice where the iconic bridge is located. Specifically you can see it in the many-times rebuilt warehouses that are close to the Mercarto Rialto, the open air market that serves the community in that area. Alas, most of the original buildings are gone. Some are gone due to a fire in the beginning of the sixteenth century, others have been demolished or refurbished to reflect Venice’s current approach to viewing the world.

Here’s the one thing to take away from my ramblings. Imagine Venice in your mind, whether you’ve been there or not. Now take that image and toss it aside. It used to be far different. Where most cities sort of evolve into the metropolis they are today, Venice intentionally re-invented themselves…in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. I find that fact amazing.


More Food Porn: Knoblauchwurst

Knoblauchwurst

Garlic Sausage, direct from the hills of Switzerland. It’s guaranteed to leave a better taste in your mouth after one talks about Cargill.


Hannah Vs. Anthony Bourdain Vs. Cargill

There’s an interesting back and forth going on between Hannah Hayes and Anthony Bourdain regarding the agri-business giant Cargill.

The issue started off in Anthony Bourdains book Medium Raw, where he takes the executives of Cargill to task for their approach to managing a large portion of the nation’s and the world’s beef supply. How he takes them to task is done in the standard Bourdain modus operandi, by suggesting that Cargill’s executives should have their nuts wired to a car battery while they’re fed the sweepings from the bottom of a monkey cage. I’m paraphrasing here, but only just a bit.

Ms. Hayes, who happens to food blog at Kitchen Oddity, also happens to be the daughter of one a Cargill executive. She was none to pleased with Mr. Bourdain’s suggestion, and said so in a piece at VOX.

I’m a daughter of Cargill’s top management. My father is in charge of global operations for the “evil empire” of food.
I’m sure when you were writing this chapter, “Meat,” you didn’t picture the families of any of the people you want, let me get this right, “indicted, convicted and packed off to jail” for “criminal mediocrity.” Even if you did, you probably pictured my parents closer resembling Richard and Kathy Hilton than Clark and Ellen Griswold. So if I may, I’d like to take this chance to tell you all of the other things about my family you probably didn’t think about before you wrote such downright ornery things about my daddy…

What follow’s is a day in the life of Ms. Hayes, explaining why her Dad is one super, A-Plus, fellow. She then sums up her piece with the following:

he thing you forgot to mention in your book, but my father never does, is that there are more than 6 billion people on this planet who need to be fed. Many of those people are working class families with very little to spend on food.

There’s so much here to discuss, that it’s difficult for me to pull out just one. Foremost is this idea that Ms. Haye’s Dad represents Cargill, when in fact he’s merely a part of it (albeit it, likely an important one). It’s easy to believe that an Institution such as Cargill is a collection of individuals, but in fact corporations, and the products they create are much, much larger than the work of one man., regardless of how super-swell he might be. I realize that it’s obvious, but I need to say it anyways – Corporations are institutions, and Institutions are not a collection of individuals. That, by definition, would be an oxymoron.

So what kind of company does Ms. Haye’s dad work for? Let’s take a look at their Vision Statement.

Our purpose is to be the global leader in nourishing people.
Our mission is to create distinctive value.
Our approach is to be trustworthy, creative and enterprising
Our measures are engaged employees, satisfied customers, enriched communities and profitable growth.

Note that value and profit are guiding factors here. Sure, they want to feed the world. They want to do so by making as much money as they can. There’s nothing wrong with this, as this is the nature of business. But know that when profit and growth are the means by which one measures success, certain approaches to feeding the world will, by definition, have to be considered in the name of money and expansion.

So while Ms. Hayes talks of her dad and “many of his coworkers … thinking about the effects of antibiotics on livestock, making anaerobic digesters so their plants can be sustainable, and how to use animals as humanely as possible,” what she fails to add to the discussion is the following clause – “…while trying to increase their profit margin.”

Without that clause, she makes her dad and his compatriots sound noble and just. When in reality, they are also trying to make sure that their corporation continues to make (and improve upon) their $2.5 billion in net income.

Let’s make the discussion here, not about Ms. Hayes’ dad trying to “feed the world.” In reality, he’s “trying to feed the world and make a shit-ton of money for the institution he works for.” To argue otherwise is disingenuous.

This brings us to the second aspect, for when a company wants a larger profit margin, they will cut costs in certain areas of production. The ultimate goal for a profit-motivated corporation is to meet the threshold of requirements, but only just. To add any more value would add to cost, and cost means less profit.

What examples do we have of Cargill doing this? For one, they require their meat producers to have their products go through an ammonia treatment in order to do away with E-Coli. It’s cheap, effective, and likely safe. Unfortunately, it also alters the taste of the beef, and leaves us to deal with a certain amount of ammonia as a waste product. But that’s somebody else’s problem, right?

Let’s see here – we have Cargill being sued for sourcing cocoa beans for chocolate from slave labor plantations in Africa. This case was dismissed in 2010, not because the defendants were innocent, but because the charges were brought under the wrong Act, essentially a legal technicality.

Then there’s this – The European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) has filed complaints in the UK against Cargill Cotton and ICT Cotton, calling for an investigation into whether the companies “have contributed substantially to maintaining the use of child and forced labour in the Uzbek cotton production”. Isn’t once a misunderstanding, but twice is a pattern?

I could go on here, but quite frankly won’t because this is the sort of news which makes me depressed and angry, two states I would prefer not to be in. My point here is that Cargill and their subsidiaries have been accused of being, and in some cases, have been proven to be, mixed up in some pretty nasty stuff.

Is her father responsible for all of this? Of course not, but where does the buck stop? What won’t Cargill do in order to squeeze out an extra penny or two of profit? And more vexing – who’s ultimately responsible for answering that question?

(For the record, Mr. Bourdain has responded to Hannah’s post with far more diplomacy than one might have thought possible. Give it a read, as he mentions the ammonia processing explicitly.)


Sugar – Does It Cause Obesity?

The answer isn’t really that complicated.

If you eat an abundance of sugar, then yes, you will gain weight. The same can be said if you ate an abundance of carrots, or an abundance of whole-grain bread.

The miscommunication here is that many of us are under the mistaken belief that a calorie represents a unit of nutrition. Technically, that’s not true. Calories are a unit of energy, and are a component (a subset, if you will) of a nutrient. The definition is nuanced here, certainly, but the difference is important. Calling a calorie a nutrient is akin to calling a spark plug a car.

For the record, nutrients are classified as carbohydrates, dietary fiber, fats, minerals, protein, vitamins, and water.

Sugar has calories, and in the long term, all calories are equal. The difference between 100 calories of sugar and 100 calories of carrots is that the carrots have far more nutritional value when consumed, as they contain more fiber, vitamins, minerals, etc. The carrots, therefore, bring more to the table. Sugar, on the other hand, does not have such added value. As your body works better with Vitamin A and other nutrients than without, two options are available to the person who chooses to eat 100 calories of sugar – either eat the carrots and get the necessary vitamin A and deal with the additional calories consumed, or go without the carrots , and deal with the ramifications of not getting Vitamin A. As we, as a country, have ready access to a full bounty of food, we often opt for the former.

One Side note here – only tangentially related. Did you know that there’s technically no such thing as baby carrots? The nubs you find in the grocery store are actually fully grown carrots that have been whittled down. Oh the things I learn.