Monday, September 28, 2009

Pho of Known Origin

At the beginning of this calendar year, I made a commitment to try to eat only Meat of Known Origin. I've done pretty well with this, although I have occasionally strayed, especially when traveling.

One of the things I've missed the most this year, and that I've broken my vows for once or twice, has been the Vietnamese noodle soup called phở. It most typically consists of a delicious, strongly-flavored beef broth; rice noodles; various and sundry pieces of cow, including tripe, tendon, brisket, rare fillet, sometimes meatballs, and so on; and garnishes such as lime, thinly-sliced onion, Thai basil, bean sprouts, and jalapeño slices. (I usually skip the bean sprouts, because they cool off the soup too quickly.) Making phở is somewhat involved. And your phở can only be as good as the beef stock you start with. If your "stock" comes from a can or a cardboard box, it's not going to be worth the trouble.

I had come across this phở recipe on Epicurious a while ago, and had made a note to myself to try it. Finding myself with a good supply of beef stock of my own making, and a pound of good steak, both of known origin, I decided that the time had come.

Below is the recipe, as modified to start from beef stock rather than bones, to make 3 servings instead of 6, to suit the ingredients I had on hand, and so on.

It turned out delicious. The broth had a great flavor, nice and beefy because of the concentrated stock I used, perhaps a little heavier on the anise and clove than what I've had at restaurants but by no means over-spiced. The bok choy and mushrooms were great additions, even if they weren't traditional. A thoroughly satisfying meal!

(Having said all of that, if anyone out there in blog-land knows of Vietnamese restaurants using sustainably-sourced meat, please comment!)

Recipe: Phở of Known Origin

  • 3 quarts beef stock of known origin
  • 1 3-inch piece ginger, cut in half lengthwise and lightly bruised with the flat side of a knife, lightly charred (see Note, below)
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and charred (see Note, below)
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons sugar
  • 5 whole star anise, lightly toasted in a dry pan
  • 3 whole cloves, lightly toasted in a dry pan
  • 1.5 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 dried hot peppers 
  • 1/2 pound steak, cut into moderately thin strips
  • hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (optional), cut to approximately match the meat

  • 1/2 pound dried 1/16-inch-wide rice sticks, very slightly undercooked, drained
  • 1/2 pound steak, slightly frozen, then sliced paper-thin across the grain, squirted with a little lime juice
  • 15 leaves of baby bok choy

  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced paper-thin
  • 1 scallion, cut into thin rings
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 pound bean sprouts
  • a few sprigs Asian basil
  • some shiso leaves, chiffonade cut (optional)
  • jalapeños, sliced
  • 1/2 lime, cut into thin wedges
  • Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat the stock. Add the charred ginger and onions, fish sauce and sugar. Add the star anise, cloves, and hot peppers. Let infuse until the broth is fragrant, at least 30 minutes. Taste the broth. If it is not spicy enough, crush the hot peppers against the side of the saucepan so that they release more spice. Add salt. When the flavor is good, strain and return to heat and cover. (The broth will taste salty but will be balanced once the noodles and accompaniments are added.)

2. Make sure the noodles and garnishes are ready before proceeding.

3. Add the first 1/2 pound of steak and the mushrooms to the stock. Cook for a few minutes. Strain out the meat and mushrooms with a slotted spoon when the meat is almost done.

4. To serve, place the cooked noodles in preheated bowls. (If the noodles are not hot, dip them briefly in boiling water to prevent them from cooling down the soup.) Place the bok choy, some cooked beef, and some raw beef on the noodles. Ladle hot soup into each bowl. Garnish with yellow onions, scallions and cilantro. Serve immediately, inviting guests to garnish the bowls with bean sprouts, herbs, chilies, lime juice and black pepper. (Alternatively, serve raw beef on the side with lime wedges, and allow guests to squirt it with lime, dunk it in the soup, and cook it as desired, or eat it raw!) Provide guests with soup spoons, chop sticks, chili sauce, and plum sauce.

Note: How to Char Ginger and Onions

To char ginger, hold the piece with tongs directly over an open flame. While turning, char until the edges are slightly blackened and the ginger is fragrant, about 3 to 4 minutes. Char the onions in the same way. Peel and discard the blackened skins of the ginger and onions.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Reflections On My First Pickling and Preserving Class

Going into my first cooking class as an instructor, I was nervous. The curriculum and some of the recipes were untested. I didn't know exactly how many people would be in the class, where they would be coming from, or how much experience they would have. I also didn't know whether or not I would have any assistants, or even what I would do if I had them!

As it turned out, there were 13 enrolled students; 1 school intern; 1 photographer; and 5 (!) assistants. Everyone in the class was a pleasure to work with, and had great kitchen skills. And the assistants were able and tireless; they increased everyone's enjoyment of the class (mine not least of all!).

We started with a discussion of food preserving. I talked about why it is important for us to be able to preserve food. Then I discussed food safety, and the various factors we can control to prevent food spoilage. This led to a discussion of some of the different methods of food preservation, including freezing, refrigerating, lactofermentation, vinegaring, canning, and drying, with a separate discussion of preserving dairy. Lactofermentation is my favorite preserving method, because it is easy, healthy, safe, and tasty. For more discussion of lactofermentation, check my previous blog post here.

I shared a few thoughts about kitchen organization, including one of my favorite techniques, which is labeling and dating everything that goes into the fridge! My refrigerator houses many mason jars containing homemade things. If I didn't label and date them, I would lose control of my fridge pretty quickly. I date things I buy, too, so that I know when I opened them, and when it might be time to get rid of them.

After that, I did a brief knife technique demo, illustrating the benefits of having a large knife, especially when working with large vegetables like cabbage. I also demonstrated methods for cutting up green peppers, onions, and apples.

After the discussion and demonstration, we moved into the kitchen to work with food. Everyone made some sauerkraut (of course!), then various people made yogurt, kimchi, pickles, other lactofermented vegetables (including parsnips), lactofermented lemons and plums, kombucha, and corned beef; we also made (non-fermented) applesauce and canned it, using the method from the Ball Blue Book. At the end of class, everyone took home their sauerkraut and other lactoferments, to babysit them during the week.

In the second class, a week later, everyone brought back their various krauts, and we admired their diversity and rainbow colors. After a brief strategy session, we divided into teams, and made dishes using all of our preserved foods from the week before. These dishes included yogurt-cucumber salad; lactofermented coleslaw; mayonnaise and Russian dressing; different kinds of canapés and sandwiches involving raw and cooked corned beef, sauerkraut, kimchi, coleslaw, pickles, etc.; kombucha and salty-sweet preserved fruit and drinks; broiled chicken with preserved lemon; choucroute garnie, "the king of sauerkraut dishes"; and a delicious baked ricotta dish with pine nuts, honey, and dried fruit.

I will definitely be teaching the class again. Watch this space for dates and times. And if you have suggestions, requests, comments, or questions regarding the class, please add them in the "comments" section of this blog post, below.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I'm Doing Free Sauerkraut Demos, Oct 3, 12:30PM-1:00PM

What: Sauerkraut-making demo!
When: October 3, at 12:30PM, 12:45PM, and 1:00PM
Where: Dewey Square, diagonally across the street from South Station, in Boston, MA.

On the afternoon of October 3, I will be doing a sauerkraut-making demo at Dewey Square as part of the Try Something New festival on the Rose Kennedy Greenway.

Dewey Square is the site of the biweekly farmer's market (Tuesdays and Thursdays) run by the Boston Public Market Assocation, on whose board I serve.

The Greenway is a mile-long park stretching through downtown Boston, encompassing gardens, plazas, and promenades. It is located where the elevated portion of I-93 used to be, before the Big Dig. It is lovely.

Come out to support me, enjoy the festival, get to know the Greenway, and learn how to make sauerkraut!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

New Book From Frances Moore Lappé: Liberation Ecology (limited release)

Frances Moore Lappé's 1971 book, Diet for a Small Planet, was an opening shot in the modern food sustainability movement. Since then, she has written 15 more books. She is a bona fide social critic and justice crusader, an intellectual and an activist.

She is doing a limited release of her new book, Liberation Ecology, for public comment. She will rewrite the book next summer, based on the feedback she receives, and do a full launch when she's done.

The parts that I've read so far are, not surprisingly, up to the high standard she has set in her previous books.

If you are interested in participating, click here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

How To Make Sauerkraut (video)

An instructional video of me making sauerkraut (expertly filmed and edited by how2heroes!)

(Click here if the video does not appear below.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

SIGG Bottles Contained BPA Until Aug 2008

This just in (well, a couple of weeks ago): SIGG bottles made before August 2008 contained bisphenol-A (BPA), a compound suspected of being hazardous to humans since the 1930s. (Source.)

Here's the whole story:

You can't make drinking bottles out of untreated aluminum, because it is reactive and toxic, so the shiny, trendy, multi-colored SIGG bottles have always required a liner of some sort. SIGG was never straightforward about the make-up of the liner, saying merely that it was "proprietary" and "non-leaching".

It turns out that until recently the liner contained BPA, which is a plastic of the sort that everyone was trying to avoid by buying metal drinking bottles.

In August 2008 SIGG quietly changed the formula for their liner so that it would not contain BPA. There was no press release. (Imagine: "SIGG: Now with non-toxic liner!")

SIGG's business had benefited massively from a buying public who made a conscious decision to avoid plastic water bottles (whether one-time or reusable, like Nalgene) in favor of (what appeared to be) healthier, more environmentally friendly metal bottles. Folks weren't aware of the fact that SIGG bottles used BPA, because this information was not available.

SIGG made a decision in June 2006 to reformulate their liner so that it would be BPA-free, did the necessary R&D, and in August 2008 stopped selling bottles using the old, BPA-containing lining.

SIGG, to their credit (although under duress, faced with the threat of consumer outrage), has just announced an exchange program through which old bottles can be exchanged for new, BPA-free bottles at no charge.

What are we to think? Should we pile all our old SIGG bottles in the town square, and light them on fire? (Wait, we can't do that because of the pesky BPA lining!)

In their shoes, would you have:
  1. Gotten on the ball and started work on a new liner before 2006? 
  2. Announced what they were doing, and why, when they started work on their new liner?
The business impact of their decision remains to be seen. It is clear, though, that they will lose the faith of a lot of their customers.

Personally, will I buy bottles from SIGG in the future?

No. I prefer Klean Kanteen bottles anyway. Stainless steel is non-reactive and doesn't require a lining. End of story. Makes much more sense to me than making a bottle out of something reactive and toxic like aluminum, and then going to great lengths to figure out how to line it so that it won't be toxic.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Cans Across America Canvolution Cantacular Hits Somerville

Cans Across America touched ground in Union Square, Somerville last Sunday, like a tornado of tastiness.

We spent the day canning, fermenting, then some more canning, then some pressure canning, then…you get the picture!

The fabulous event was masterminded by Linsey Herman. For the story, check her blog.