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GastroNerds

Food is science, geography, history and culture intersecting in your mouth!

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There is a Fungus Among Us

Emerging Mushrooms?

Emerging Mushrooms?

Yes,

The mad scientist in me can NOT resist trying new things.

That is why I have made my own wine, can bake bread, make sauerkraut and any number of useful easily otherwise purchasable endeavors.

So, as I contemplate a kitchen garden for the summer, I guess I decided to start early.  Kind of.

'Shrooms in the Box

'Shrooms in the Box

Really the inspiration came from American Science Surplus, which I headed off too earlier in the winter to collect items for girlie science fair projects.  I saw mushroom kits.  Nice and portable and in a cardboard box.  After contemplating the practicality of unleashing spores from hell into my admittedly messy household environment, I decided that it was really too good to be resisted.  So back I went to ASS and got me a box of mushroomy starting goodness.

It was really simple.  Open the bag of growth medium (I hesitate to call it soil.  I know what mushrooms need to grow.).  Mix the sporesy stuff in.  Mix in water.  Cover for a couple of weeks.  Re-open the box and the bag.  Cut the sides of the bag down to the edge of the box and keep the box covered with a newspaper and make sure the stuff stays damp.

Does it work?

Mushrooms Close Up

Mushrooms Close Up

You be the judge.

You know the problem with my experimentation is that it makes me want to try even more things.  And Kevin really doesn’t want me to have backyard chickens.

Gwyneth Must Be Stopped.

Gwyneth must be stoppedI have complained about this before… Ok. Maybe not here.

I have seen movies with her…. they were lovely.

She won an Oscar and I clapped.

I felt badly for her when she broke up Brad Pitt or maybe it was Ben Affleck.. who really knows at this point…and they had pictures of her goofing around in her backyard naked in the rain… What a violation of the privacy of our Hollywood Princess!

I thought it was sweet when she made the film Duets that was directed by her father.

And I felt sad for her when dad died.

I felt happy for her when she married Chris Martin…

I questioned when she named her kid Apple… but what the hell… I was further dumbfounded by Moses… oy.

But still… she was your typical, gorgeous, Hollywood elite, talented, Oscar winning, married to a rock star, eats strange macro-biotic shit, picture perfect actress.

And then it began…

First I saw the postings about her doing a PBS Food show with Mario Batali, Mark Bittman and Claudia Bassols… and I thought. “That’s insane. She doesn’t eat” But I figured it was a nice opportunity for dorks like Bittman and Batali to hang out with hot chicks… It struck me as a lark… and ignored it.

And then she did another season of it… and that was irritating…

And then I heard that she was planning to continue with Mario into France.

And then. GOOP? as an expression of nurturing yourself? Goop is crap that your baby barfs on you, bi-otch. If you need nourishing? Eat a fucking sandwich.

But now?

I am officially pissed off.

A cookbook? You must be fucking kidding me.

A discussion about how cooking for your family is an expression of your love for them? BITE ME. I was loving my family back in the day when it was considered stupid drudgery. If you want to honor your memory of your father as a great maker of pancakes USE HIS RECIPE. Don’t make it healthier…

And therein lies my Gwyneth problem these days. She has to do every. Better than anyone. Because.

Gwyeth Paltrow has officially jumped the shark. And she must be stopped.

Great Food Quote

What are Americans still buying? Big Macs, Campbell’s soup, Hershey’s chocolate and Spam — the four food groups of the apocalypse. — Frank Rich, The New York Times, February 1, 2009

Spam

Spam

Superbowl Food

I know that everyone has their own choices, but being from Lockport, NY there was always two options always available.

Wings and Weck.

If you aren’t from Western New York, you have only heard of one of them.

Buffalo Wings

You know that wings are from Buffalo. Allegedly at the Anchor Bar. The story was that Mama Theresa had to whip up something for her son who arrived late at the family bar with some of his friends… She took the wings that would usually be thrown into a pot for chicken stock (I personally prefer drumsticks if that is the way I am going, but whatever…) deep fat fried them, tossed them in some hot sauce and served them with some cut up carrots and celery (Mama’s always want their kids to eat their vegetables no matter how old they are) with some blue cheese dressing. Cute story, eh?

Honestly, I don’t know if it is true or not. I just know that it is impossible to find a place in the area that doesn’t make them. At this point, almost all parts of the country serve them.

But I will tell you there should be some rules about wings. Particularly, if you are so bold as to call them Buffalo wings.

First off, wings are not breaded in any way. If you deep fat fry them at a high enough temperature they will be sufficiently crispy. It is a crime against nature to bread them. Got it?

Next? The sauce has two ingredients. Hot sauce and butter. And the hotsauce should be Franks, Trappey’s or Louisiana. Capisce?

Alrighty, now for the food you don’t know. The weck.

Or more traditionally Beef on Weck. It is a hot roast beef sandwich in jus that is on a kummelweck roll. The weck roll is essentially a kaiser roll topped with salt and caraway seeds (kummel). For some reason you can only get these rolls in the Buffalo area. God knows that I have looked here in Chicago. According to Wikipedia, the word “weck” means roll in Southern German, Austrian and Swiss dialects. So perhaps, I should check with a Bavarian bakery…

Beef on Weck

Like with virtually any other roast beef sandwich the meat is sliced very thinly and like the Chicago beef you can order it wet or dry. I prefer its super juicy. In the Buffalo area, these sandwiches are served with horseradish which is as likely to be found on the table as ketchup or mustard. I skip the horseradish, but you can have it if you want….

So there you go. That is the traditional Buffalo Superbowl feast.

Enjoy! and may your team win.

Illinois Wine Consumers Organize for Change!

For Immediate Release: January 19, 2009


ILLINOIS WINE CONSUMERS ORGANIZE ADVOCACY GROUP

—Building a Consumer Voice and Removing Restrictions on Access to Wine Group’s First Priority—

(CHICAGO, IL)—Past legislative initiatives that have harmed Illinois consumers’ access to wine have spurred a group of Illinois wine and free trade lovers to announce the formation of the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition (IWCC). The Internet home of the IWCC can be found at http://www.illinoiswineconsumers.org.
The mission of the new consumer-advocacy group reads in part:
The Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition and its members provide a voice for Illinois wine consumers. Our foundational principle is that Illinois consumers should have full access to the wines of their choice from both Illinois and out-of-state wineries and retailers. A well-regulated and efficient wine market demands full access to all wines for adult Illinois consumers.

PASSAGE OF ANTI-CONSUMER WINE BILL SPURS GROUP’S CREATION

“Our goal is to educate Illinois consumers, Illinois media and Illinois lawmakers on the issue of consumer access to wine and the benefits of free trade,” said Gretchen Neuman, a member of the IWCC steering committee. “In addition, we will be working with other advocacy groups and growing our membership and our voice with the goal of giving Illinois consumers access to wines via direct shipping—access that was stripped from Illinois consumers with the implementation of HB 429 in 2008.

Illinois wine consumers were stripped of their right to purchase wine from out-of-state wine retailers in 2008. The passage of HB 429 removed this right after Illinoisans had enjoyed full access to the American wine market for 15 years. The fact that consumers were never taken into account during deliberations over HB 429 helped give impetus to the creation of the IWCC
“As a voice for Illinois consumers, we fully believe that wine sales should be well regulated and taxed,” said Neuman. “However, this can easily be accomplished while still providing Illinoisans with full access to the American wine market.”

WINE LOVERS ACROSS ILLINOIS INVITED TO ADD VOICES TO COALITION

“The recent restrictions on consumer access to wine in Illinois that resulted from HB 429 were clearly nothing more than payoff to the well-heeled Illinois alcohol distributors, the only group that benefits from restricting access to wine,” said Neuman. “In the past five years Illinois alcohol distributors have given more than $3.5 million dollars in political contributions in the past five years to help grease the wheel’s of anti-consumer wine legislation.”
Wine lovers and supporters of free trade across Illinois are invited to join the IWCC. As members they will get regular updates about the state of consumer access to wine in Illinois. In addition, the IWCC will encourage its membership to reach out to lawmakers, media and other wine consumers to assure they are very clear where Illinoisans stand when bills concerning wine and consumers are being considered in Springfield. Finally, the IWCC will be actively working to overturn the anti-consumer aspects of HB 429.
“Illinois wine consumers have been ignored and punished in the past and the principles of free trade shelved for the sake of special interests,” said Neuman. “That won’t happen again as long as the IWCC is watching and participating in the process.”
For more information on the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition visit http://www.illinoiswineconsumers.org .
# # #
Contact:
Gretchen Neuman, IWCC Board of Directors
312-618-1145


We gather together

Yummy Red Goodness

Yummy Red Goodness

Yes, I am talking about the cranberry.

Everybody knows that the cranberry is quintessentially American, right?

Well…. not exactly.

The American Cranberry.. ok, that one is safe.  And is authentic to the Thanksgiving story as it was introduced to the starting Pilgrims by the local Indian tribe because of the cranberries high nutritionally value.  So eat your holiday cranberries without thinking that I have stepped on your memory of the historical assistance.

But there are other cranberries out there…

For instance the ‘Common’ or ‘Northern’ Cranberry…. has a range all over the Northern Hemisphere.  And the small over large parts of Northern Europe.  And that isn’t even counting lingonberries which are related to the cranberry and also located in large parts of the areas inhabited by the common cranberry.

Red: Common Cranberry, Orange: Small Cranberry, Green: American Cranberry

Red: Common Cranberry, Orange: Small Cranberry, Green: American Cranberry

Now you might be wondering… How did I fix my cranberries this last week? 4oz. dried sour cherries, 1 cup of sugar, 1 1/5 cups of water cooked with a package and 1/2 of fresh cranberries cooked until boiling for several minutes…. then transferred to a storage container and put into the refrigerator. Before serving I mixed in two sectioned grapefruits.

Voilá!

Enjoy your cranberries.. remember people eat them ALL over the world!

Making ahead

You can still see the ingredients

You can still see the ingredients

With the economy in the crapper, I have decided that there is a certain logic to making stuff ahead myself.

This is the pesto that made and then froze in portions in a muffin tin.  At this point you can still see the pine nuts.

I am not sure what was the best part of making this.. the spectacular color, the intense aroma or Imelda getting excited that she would be making some spaghetti with pesto for her after school snack.

How easy it is is an important element too.  A handful of fresh basil, a handful of fresh parsley, some garlic and pine nuts, salt and pepper, swirled in my hand mixer with a drizzling of olive oil.  When I am going to be freezing my pesto, I don’t add any cheese to it.  I think that the cheese does not store as well..  So after it is defrosted (and sometimes I through the frozen pesto right on to hot drained pasta) I make sure that toss it with fresh grated Parmesan. Yum!

So, it is easy and tasty, what is not to like?  Additionally though I enjoy pesto because it in part answers my eternal question “What did they eat in Italy in 1491?” ENJOY!

Doesn't that color make you hungry?

Doesn't that color make you hungry?

I hate kitchen accidents

Sliced and diced

Sliced and diced

Yes, I might be a nerd on all accounts.See?  I am uncoordinated too.  This is what happens when girlies don’t properly clean the dishes and Mama has to scrub the dried gunk out of a bowl.  Naturally, the bowl took the worst of the hit as is it currently in the garbage.

This really put a crimp in my style and no longer hurts… and now

When at first you don’t succeed..

The first attempt

The first attempt

Have you ever had a project go awry?  You follow instructions but when push comes to shove something goes totally askew?

Oh ok… I guess it is just me.

And so it went when I tried to make sauerkraut.  I have heard my mother tell stories about my grandmother’s sauerkraut and how delicious it was.  I assumed that is was pickled in brine and was surprised to learn that it was just salted and allowed to ferment in its own juice.  And by fermentation, I don’t mean the kind that I am doing on VinoVerve… making alcohol and wine.  Sauerkraut is fermented through another process… Lactic acid fermentation.

Lactic acid fermentation is different from alcholic fermentation in that the the sugars that feed the process are converted into cellular energy (essentially cooking the cabbage) and fermental acid (pickling it).

Project Fail!

Project Fail!

For all of this complicated chemistry, the process for making sauerkraut is remarkably simple.  Five pounds of shredded cabbage is tossed with 3 tablespoons of salt.  Traditionally, people use pickling salt which has no iodine or anti-caking agents because they cause can cloud the brine and a smaller crystal to increase the speed in which it forms a solution.  I have been unable to find actual pickling salt, so I have been using a fine sea salt.  Sea salt is not a pure sodium chloride but I was confident that it would work as so many parts of the world have depended on it and used in pickling for millenia.

However the first time that I tried to make sauerkraut, it was an unmitigated disaster.  I mean nasty.  The salt is supposed to draw moisture out of the cabbage.  Within an hour or so the liquid extracted from the cabbage should submerge the cabbage.  But the problem was that it didn’t.  As instructed, I packed the salted cabbage, covered it with weighted plate and hoped for the best…

And there was no hope for this project.

However, I did try, try again..

Last week, I shredded up some cabbage and tried again.  First thing?  I shredded the cabbage using my mandolin.  Now, I know that a lot of people don’t like mandolins.. but I do.  Is it a dangerous piece of equipment?  Absolutely.  Should you exercise precautions? DUH!  But I go about it slightly differently.. I don’t use my mandolin’s guide.. because it doesn’t work efficiently.  But I do use a stainless steel glove.  And because I used the mandolin,  I managed to get uniformly thin slices of cabbage.  When these slices mixed with the salt they excreted liquid more readily… and managed to within an hour submerge themselves… YEAH!

Looks better already

Looks better already

Within an day or so, the cabbage began to bubble… YEAH!  Fermentation…

And within two weeks?  Well, we had some lovely, tasty sauerkraut.  It wasn’t as sour as some that I have tasted, in part because my recipe didn’t use as much salt as some others that I have seen…  Additionally, before cooking the kraut, I drained in rinsed the cabbage.  This washes excess sodium from the cabbage, as well as some of the sulfur that exists naturally in the cabbage (making it gassy).  Unfortunately, it also removes some of the vitamin C that exists within the vegetable.  But since excess sodium is a problem for members of my family with blood pressure issues, I find this an acceptable exchange.

Yummy!

Yummy!

It is possible that longer fermentation would create a stronger kraut flavor.  But I was THRILLED with the taste that I got in my sauerkraut.  Not overly salty or overly brined and this encourages me to make more.

Heck, even the overly sensitive palates of my children were pleased.  So I am planning to try again!

Because, if at first you don’t succeed?  Try, try again!

A Sack of Canaries

Malvasia grapes growing in volcanic pits

Malvasia grapes growing in volcanic pits

You know what happens when I start doing any research… The Nerd in me comes out.  And this time it has with a vengeance.

I was looking at wine quotations and found this:

But that which most doth take my muse and me,
Is a pure cup of rich canary wine,
Which is the Mermaid’ s now, but shall be mine:
Of which had Horace, or Anacreon tasted,
Their lives, as do their lines, till now had lasted.
–Ben Jonson

and it reminded me that while I have seen this description of wine before.. I had no idea what it meant.  I heard vague references in Elizabethan literature.  But couldn’t remember too many other references.

Canary wine?

At first I thought it might be an English word to describe a French wine called vin jaune.  But this turned out NOT to be the case.  Although I want to look at that a bit more too.

Canary Wine

Canary Wine

It turns out that Canary is a type of Sack wine. We only really hear the term anymore related to sherries… or Dry Sack.  But Sack was a fortified white wine that came from Spain.  The most prevalent locations for Sack production were:

Jerez
Malaga
Palma de Mallorca; and
Canary Island.

HA!  That is the stuff.  But in a phylloxeria world does this stuff still exist?

Well it turns out that it did get screwed up…

and the British normalizing relations with France hurt a bit too…and frankly the weather in the Canary Islands kind of stinks.. It is very dry and the soil is highly volcanic.  As a result the vines are planted in pits dug out of the soil in order to maximize the moisture and to protect the untrellised vines from the wind.

But the truth is, while to depth of wine making disappeared, the wine itself still exists… and is working to re-emerge.  As I have been doing research here at VinoVerve about wine history for a soon to be released calendar called, “This Day in Wine History”,  I have picked up all sorts of wild, wonderful, bizarre and old-fashioned wine facts and amongst those are that wines from the past may re-emerge to become wines of the future.   And I can’t wait to find out which will re-take their place in history.

Canary Wine

Canary Wine

Now begins my quest to find some in Chicago.  If any of you knows of a place to pick some up from, I would appreciate it.


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