Thursday, March 19, 2009

We Recommend: Scanwiches

If you haven't heard of this already...

Great website featuring scanned sandwiches... aptly named "Scanwiches."

Could this be a revolution? I hope so!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

We Were Right All Along

As Liza Shore pointed out in a post on this blog (and on her blog "Cooking Silently") Whoopie Pies were the next "in" baked good. While perhaps they're not going to replace the litany of cupcake "boutiques" that have sprouted across the United States, we can expect to see the continued rise in popularity of these awesome treats. The NY Times has corroborated the epic ascendence of the Whoopie Pie but keep in mind, you heard it from Liza first!

Czech it out:

Whoopie! Cookie, Pie or Cake, It's Having Its Moment

Monday, March 16, 2009

Make Cheese, Not War

OK so I've been on a bit of a hiatus recently due to Midterms followed by a Spring Break trip. This has unfortunately resulted in gross neglect with regards to writing and posting articles here. This doesn't mean that I've forgotten about the site, bla bla bla etc. A few new developments, though. I will soon be writing a weekly column on food and sustainability - mostly with regards to the St. Louis metro area - for a new publication called What's Up Magazine. What's Up is a print and online publication that supports the areas homeless through advocacy and activism. I will be posting my articles and links to them as they appear on the magazine's website and will be also continue to contribute to this website.

While I have sat on an article on an "new" pizza joint The Good Pie (photos and interview pending), I wanted to briefly bring attention to something rather awesome that I have been meaning to post:

Clearly Merryl Winstein is a well known cult figure in St. Louis but I thought it prudent to highlight her as an example of urban (or in this case suburban) agriculture. Ms. Winstein sells her milk and eggs to a small number of local customers and is willing to share her expertise and knowledge with individuals who would like to raise their own goats and chickens. As Community Supported Agriculture takes root, in light of the current economic situation, we can expect an ever larger number of individuals to turn to some forms of self-subsistence agriculture in order to mitigate living expenses and to also augment salaries.

Ms. Winstein will be teaching a class on cheese-making this Sunday, March 22 at her home.

Further information can be found on her page at the Local Harvest:

If I do find the time to attend, I'll post pictures and provide any other additional info!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Let them eat dirt!

Along the lines of last week's (I think) post on worm and dirt consumption of the nation's youth, the NY Times ran an op-ed piece today on the consumption of various unsavory bits and pieces in seemingly innocuous foodstuffs. The author, a creative writing professor at the University of Missouri, Columbia, points out that, according to FDA guidelines that limit the maximum amount of allowed "defects" (including mildew, animal hair, feces, maggots, and insects), the average human consumes about one to two pounds of "objectionable" matter per year.

While this is certainly alarming, if you think about any food being produced on an industrial scale, there will be a modicum of nastiness that gets thrown into the mix. That one bad apple isn't going to ruin the apple cider (pasteurized or not). Take, for example, an organic vegetable garden planted in an average backyard: fruits and vegetables are grown using "natural fertilizers" (aka dung) and will certainly be covered in microscopic insects and filth. (So that's why my arugula tastes so good and spicy!!) The adaptive nature of our immune systems make this food consumption perfectly harmless. Personally, I'd be more worried about the mishandling of food as well as poisoning from E. Coli, Salmonella, or Hepatitis A at substantially filthier eateries (think fast-food).

Still... it does put things into perspective.

Read the opinion piece HERE.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Event: Support Community Radio AND Eat Pancakes

In a very anti-Denny's move, Black Bear Bakery is hosting a fund-raising event for KDHX 88.1 radio station. KDHX is a fundamental St. Louis institution and can always use any extra support to keep its programming on the air.

Black Bear, perhaps the only explicitly anarchist bakery that I've either seen or heard of, will host an all-you-can-eat brunch from 9am to 1pm on Saturday, Feb. 14. Come out and support your local radio station!

The bakery is located at 2639 Cherokee and with it's large anarchist flag flying, you can't miss it. It's supposed to be a nice day on Saturday - please consider public transportation, walking, or cycling!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Event: Wheels of Glory II

While this post is unrelated to food it is related to good causes and St. Louis so... why not!

Wednesday night (February 11) I plan on participating in Wheels of Glory II at the Atomic Cowboy on Manchester Rd. For those who don't know, this is an indoor virtual cycling race with bikes hooked up to projector screens in the bar. Cyclists (or wannabees) will line up for one-on-one races in order to win unannounced prizes. While it does cost $5 to race, I have no clue what the prizes could possibly be, and I'm definitely out of shape at the moment, it's not going to stop me from looking great in reflective spandex!

The event is being put on by the local group Will Cycle for Charity. Unfortunately there is no clear indication of what charity the proceeds will be donated to (or how much of the proceeds will be donated). For all I know the money can be going towards purchasing new bicycles for the members of Will Cycle for Charity (but hopefully not)!

Be there or be square. Registration starts at 7, races at 8.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Recipe: Khinkali (or how I learned to love the Caucasus)

During my last trip abroad I spent a significant amount of time immersed in the culture of "the heavy." Heavy is hard to define by simply using words and is best described by example. Briefly, it is a phenomenon that is most purely displayed outside of the boundaries of Western culture. The realm of the heavy is one that encompasses taxi drivers, drunkenly consuming offal at odd hours of the night, tacky, anachronistic pop music, creative swears, Ladas, street food, mustaches, hairy chests, gold chains, and poor english. Eastern Europe, The Balkans, and Turkey are decidedly heavy. North Africa is heavy. The Caucasus, Iran, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan are all very very heavy. I suppose that the closest that America can offer is the stereotypic uneducated southerner or rural dwellers of remote Appalachia but heaviness in the context mentioned above goes far beyond trailer parks, relying instead on the weight of thousands of years of historical narrative.

Definitely heavy.

I realized my vacation would be heavy as soon as I arrived at our apartment in Thessaloniki, Greece. As the front door swung open, six foot tall "Tzenni" from Tibilisi embraced me and kissed me brusquely on both cheeks, welcoming me into her home. Already feeling a degree of culture shock, I felt further alienated as I was baptized into Georgian cuisine and culture by way of Tzenni's home-made vodka, which would later be consumed on a daily basis. I quickly warmed up to the heavy stories of the bright days of Georgia under Communist rule and even sang the Soviet song Katyusha together over shots of vodka. But in most cultures alcohol can never be served alone or without company...

While I was lucky enough to eat a number of Georgian delicacies, I was treated twice to one of the favorite Georgian specialities, Khinkali. Khinkali are rather similar to Beijing soup dumplings but differ in that they are boiled and that there is less soup content than in their Chinese counterparts. A few times I commented on the relationship between soup dumplings and khinkali but my musings were immediately put down as impossibilities - this was GEORGIAN food. However, with Georgia's position between Europe and Asia it would not be inconceivable that the dish was introduced by travelers plying their wares and importing spices between the two continents. As an aside it would be fascinating to explore dumplings around the world and to look at their similarities and differences.

In any case, this brings us to the actual production of khinkali (you didn't think that I would eat these things and not learn how to make them??).

I will write the recipe using the proportions that were used by Tzenni. WARNING: these quantities need to be cut down. I have converted to non-metric units but Tzenni does not know how to cook for less than 10 people. The yield should be somewhere around 50 or 60 of these things in the quantity I list. A hungry individual without being pressed by a large, imposing Georgian woman will eat maybe 10. Of course, the last time I wolfed these down I'm convinced that I ate 20 but now that doesn't seem quite possible. I think it was the Chacha talking and the raucous lunch that I had in my apartment. A normal person would be happy with around 6.

1 pound ground beef/ground pork mixture (you can use lamb or any ground meat of your liking, really)
1 large bunch of parsley
2 medium sized onions (red onions are good)
1 fresh hot pepper (addition is optional and type of pepper added should be based on your tolerance of spice)

In a food processor chop the onions, parsley, and hot pepper finely. There should be plenty of liquid from the parsley and onion which should be kept. Add to the meat in a large mixing bowl. Add about 2 tbsp of salt and mix by hand. Since the dumplings should be juicy and soupy inside there needs to be enough water in the filling. Add approx. half a cup of water to the meat to ensure juicy-ness. Let filling stand for 2 hours in orders to marinate fully.

Meat Slurry: better than it looks!

[note: the quantity of dough used below is more than enough than for the quantity of filling above. you'd probably want to cut the amount used in half]
4 pounds white flour
1 whole egg
4 tbsp salt
cold water

I don't have a fancy kitchen-aid mixer so I am not sure how you make things like pasta dough in one of those contraptions but if you have one you probably can figure out how to make the above dough...
Mix in the cold water slowly (by hand) with the flour, egg, and salt. This will take a lot of muscle but keep adding the water just until the point that the dough is not sticky. You can add a little extra flour if you over-do it. Knead the dough for about 20 minutes until it's stiff.

This still needed about 5 more minutes work but it was STIFF!

Roll out the dough to a thickness of approx. 1/2 - 1 inch and cut approximately 2 inch diameter "holes" out of the dough (see photo below).

You can use an average size glass to punch the "rounds" (or your fists if you're talented).

Roll these cut out pieces into equally sized rounds with consistent thickness (1/8 inch approx). Think tortilla thickness.

Roll out the rounds - using an empty bottle of vodka or wine will impress your guests.

Add the filling (about a spoonful).

Note the finished dumpling to the other works in progress.

Now comes the tricky part: you will need to fold the khinkali such that the edges of the "pasta" fold over each-other and can be sealed shut by creating a little stem on top (think of a pumpkin's stem). Making the dumplings is NOT easy and will take a bit of practice. Be patient and you will eventually get it. The point is for the Khinkali not to explode or open while boiling so the little stem needs to be pinched tightly. Again - see below photos for a better illustration.

This will not be easy.


Boil the khinkali in salted water upside down until they are tender and float (should take about 8-10 minutes). When removing from the pot, pour cold water on top to keep the khinkali from getting sticky. Once you've got a lot of practice you are encouraged to remove the khinkali from the boiling water with your bare hands (if Tzenni's grandmother who lived to 105 did it so can you!).

Khinkali are eaten by hand immediately as they are removed from the pot and garnished simply with black pepper. They are also great lightly fried in oil until brown the next day. Drink copious amounts of Georgian brandy, wine, and Chacha to complete the total effect! (Of course, if you can't get Georgian booze - which is very likely - moonshine of most types will do).

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Worms: are our nation's children getting enough?

Apparently, according to yesterday's New York Times Health section, our children are consuming neither enough dirt nor enough worms. The consumption of dirt by young children and infants programs and trains the new immune systems to respond to various bacterial and viral vectors. Introduction of microscopic (and not so microscopic) worms to the human body has also worked in a similar way to foster a healthy digestive tract. The physicians and researchers mentioned in the article obviously did not mention tape, ring, round, or other kinds of worms detrimental to one's health. Nor do they mention the unbridled consumption of filth/dirt (a psychological disorder called allotriophagy). Hopefully this isn't a carte blanche for parents to allow their children to start eating animal droppings but at least it reinforces the fact that the United States should, as a society, ween itself off of anti-bacterial soaps.

Monday, January 26, 2009

St. Louis Style Pizza: Tradition, Religion, Ethos

This is not the first time that I've mentioned St. Louis Style Pizza (nor the last time that I will mention it). I came across a nice little video put on by the local PBS station here about our very own style of pie. It's not that extensive BUT it's a nice introduction for those who have never experienced the local delicacy! BEHOLD the power of processed Provel cheese!

More on Pizza in St. Louis this week!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Private Chefs: Cooking for 900

As it turns out, the Obamas are not currently planning on introducing a celebrity chef into the White House kitchen... at least for now. Clearly the introduction of a celebrity chef would underscore excesses that at this point in the economic history of the United States should be repudiated (at least where public servants are concerned). I'm sure White House Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford's salary (between 80,000 and 100,000 in 2005) comes in at a bargain compared to hiring someone like Mario Batali whose net worth I'm sure is most likely $everal hundred million. (The Mario Batali scenario is only an extreme example).

Read the full NY Times article HERE.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Deep Culture: Ivo Furman: Tasseography or the art of speaking the unspeakable

Anyone who has been to Balkans or Near Eastern restaurant has probably tried that little cup of caffeine often presented as Turkish, Greek, Byzantine, Serbian or Armenian coffee. The nationalistic associations aside, coffee functions as the main catalyst of conversation in the former territories of the Ottoman Empire. In these areas, coffee can be consumed at any hour and social circumstance, it functions as a soft drink or a beer would in western societies. In doing so, the coffee itself is subject to numerous traditions and ceremonies generated for centuries in these societies. Amongst these ceremonies, I would like to examine today the act of tasseography, or as it is more commonly known, the act of coffee fortune telling.

Usually coffee is consumed in a social context with more than two people present. When the coffee is completely consumed, the remnants of the brewed coffee remain at the bottom of the cup. This is often called the "mud" or the "clay" at the bottom of the mug. The act of fortune telling often begins with one person taking the role of the fortune teller and the other of the listener. These roles are mutually assumed and are performed within the enchanter/enchanted dichotomy, the "real" power relations inherit between the fortune teller and the listener are discarded under the contract of mutual fortune telling. This contract is implicit and is never mentioned, however the application of the contract often begins with the enchanter uttering something similar to "so let us take a look your kismet." From this point onwards, the ceremony of fortune telling has begun.

The enchanted performs an act (slightly different in every locality) of "enchanting" the coffee cup with a series of pre-defined motor functions and then sets the coffee to rest upside down on a saucer in front of the fortune teller. After a few minutes, the "kismet" of the enchanted is ready, the coffee cup is removed from the saucer and the fortune is revealed. What is said as fortune is very interesting, as usually taboo conversation subjects such as sexuality, relations and monetary affairs can be "discussed" under the guise of fortune telling. The private sphere of the individual can be discussed as the social power structures are cast aside in the act of tasseography. Quite often, the unspeakable is spoken in guise, for example if the fortune teller has some sort of sexual or emotional ambitions towards the enchanted, these can be uttered through phrases such as "I see someone in your near future" or "Someone in your near future will make you very happy." Or if the enchanter wants to warn the enchanter about a third party, this can also be done through this ceremony. So basically, the tasseography functions as a social contract through which both parties can comment on the private affairs of each other.

Naive sounding as it is, fortune telling still plays a huge role in both rural and urban environments. It provides a medium through which social taboos can be sidestepped through a play acting sequence. So next time someone offers to read your fortune, listen carefully to what they say. As we say in Turkish, "one cup of coffee keeps a good memory of 40 years."

Friday, January 2, 2009

Travel Tips: Istanbul

If you ever have the chance to visit Istanbul you will certainly be bombarded with an infinite array of choices regarding where and what to eat. It would take a month of eating out 3 times a day to even begin to scratch the surface of what there is to offer. Luckily not all of the gems are hidden.

Güllüoglu makes the best backlava around - from pistachio to their hallmark chocolate the backlava is unbeatable.

Apparently they have also opened a branch in New York - so it looks like you don't have to travel 6000 miles to try this. I'll have to try it next time I'm there in the spring.