Links I Love

I bet you think this post is going to be about sausage, don’t you?
Well, you’re wrong.
(It’s true that I’ve been eating sausage ever since I moved to Chicago and my husband arrived home from nine weeks in Germany, where sausage is a religious experience, but I try to lean toward a veggie-centered lifestyle.)

I’ve decided to take some time to post about my favorite food videos and blogs, partly because I don’t have any recipes or photos to post this week and partly because I know that I’m always interested in finding new cooking shows and blogs to view, so I thought I’d share my faves.

Let’s start with the obvious. I view Foodgawker and Tastespotting daily. I’ve been unsuccessful in publishing with them, but they are such great resources for recipes, and lovely, lovely food photos. Ever since Gourmet magazine went under in 2009, I’ve turned to Bon Appetit as my premier professional resource. My number two is Saveur even though I honestly don’t really like the design of their webpage.

I recently fell in love with The Perennial Plate, a foodblog/online documentary about sustainable eating. The videos are succinct and beautifully shot.

The Perennial Plate Episode 91: Southern Table from Daniel Klein on Vimeo.

I found “Working Class Foodies” videos through a random Youtube search and I immediately spent an afternoon watching all of the available videos. Great photography and affordable, healthy recipes, make this a great show for low income foodies.

Cooking with Dog has been a favorite of mine for a few years now. Authentic Japanese dishes narrated by a fluffy grey poodle. The videos are informative and adorable.

I was vegan in my early twenties, and I still eat vegan on a regular basis, so I can appreciate a little humor when it comes to the veggie lifestyle. Vegan Black Metal Chef is a hilarious series of meat-free recipes prepared in a very hardcore manner.

CHOW.com’s Channel on Youtube is another fantastic resource of how-to videos that I turn to for expert advice and cooking tips. One of my favorite vids is Gabrielle Hamilton preparing a Christmas Eve dinner.

IF your looking for an entertaining food program that combines history and humor, check out The Supersizers series. This BBC show takes a food critic and a comedian and drops them into different historical periods (mostly in Britain) to experience the cuisine and culture.

Lastly, for local eats and food happenings I turn to The Chicago Reader. Their food reviews are pretty solid and I’m keen on their “Key Ingredient” feature where they challenge a local chef to cook up a dish using exotic ingredients, like gold leaf, wood ash or cod milt.

What are some of your food centered links?

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Heart Healthy Flax Crackers

Valentine’s Day came and went, where did the time go? I really wanted to post this before the holiday, but life handed me a bunch of lemons and I had to go make preserved lemons instead (which, by the way, are doing pretty well, fermenting as we speak).

Honey for your Honey

So, here’s a belated Valentine for you. Heart healthy flax crackers sweetened with honey. I keep a big ol’ bag of flax meal in the freezer (the stuff goes rancid almost instantly when left at room temp). Usually, I’ll sprinkled a tablespoon over my oatmeal in the morning, to boost my Omega-3s. But I wanted to do something more interesting and I found what looked like the world’s easiest recipe for crackers: flax meal, water, salt.

The recipe called for two cups flax meal, one cup water and a pinch of salt. I thought I’d get a little crazy and add honey and sesame seeds.

This picture makes it look like I had the easiest time rolling out the dough, but unfortunately, the crackers really gave me a hard time. I wasn’t able to scrape the sticky dough from my work surface. Flax seeds get incredibly gooey, almost slimy, when mixed with water. My hands were caked in cement-like flax dough that would not rinse off and it could have quickly turned into a nightmare had I not added about a cup and a half of whole wheat flour. The flour helped keep the dough firm and in place while rolling.

Once I figured out that the flax meal alone wasn’t going to cut it, everything worked out nicely. Here’s the recipe I used with my alterations:

Honey Sesame Flax Crackers
2 cups flax meal
1- 1 1/2 whole wheat flour
3 Tblsp sesame seeds
1 Tblsp honey
1 tsp salt + salt for sprinkling on top of the crackers
1 cup water
1 tblsp olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 400.
In a bowl, mix the flax meal, sesame seeds, and honey. Slowly add the water until you have a firm dough.
Add flour until the dough is firm enough to roll on a board or table surface. I found that I needed to dust my board several times to keep the dough from sticking. Roll out your dough think (1/2 to 1/4 inch). Score with the back of a knife. Using a pastry brush, brush with olive oil and sprinkle salt and sesame seeds.
Bake for 15-20mins.


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These didn’t turn out quite as crisp as I would’ve liked. I think adding a tablespoon or two of oil to the dough would remedy that. Flavor-wise these crackers are quite tasty and nutty. Flax seeds are high in dietary fiber, micronutrients, and help keep cholesterol levels down. They’re a delicious way to protect your heart year-round.

Just don’t make the same mistake I did and pop your crackers in the oven without scoring them or else this will happen:

Oh well, they still taste great.


Pretty Little Things

Chicago has been experiencing a remarkably mild winter, the mildest in over seventy years, in fact. I’m not complaining, but it’s still quite chilly in the Midwest and with several months of cold weather on the horizon, I’m aching for Spring. I recently scored a bag of organic lemons and used several of them to bake up lemon squares. I didn’t photograph the lemon squares (although they were fantastic), however I did have a problem figuring out what to do with the seven leftover lemons.

A bit of internet research led me to tackle the art of preserving lemons. Yes, this is my very first try at home pickling. I’m not going to lie, next to yeast breads, canning and pickling terrify me. I just don’t have faith in my abilities to think that I can actually make pickles at home. But in actuality, pickling is ridiculously easy. Let me show you how it’s done.

Lemons, meet salt. Salt is your friend. Salt will keep any bad bugs away from your pickles and encourage nice, helpful bugs to flourish. This sets the ground work for lactic acid fermentation, the same kind of fermentation process as yogurt and sauerkraut.

Next, the lemons needs to be thoroughly scrubbed. I let mine soak in vinegar and water for a bit before scrubbing, to help loosen any waxes or resins. Next, quarter the lemons, making sure to keep them intact at the bottom so that they can be completely packed with salt. While it’s not necessary, I think it’s a good idea to go through the lemons with a sharp paring knife and remove as many seeds that you can find. Collect the juice as your de-seeding. Pack each lemon with salt. I used sea salt which is coarser and forms a thick paste as it mixes with the juice.

After that, simply pack the lemons tightly into a sterilized jar (boil the jar for a few minutes, remove and set on a clean towel). Top the jar with the juice of one or two lemons and pour in a few tablespoons of salt. Close the lid and shake to distribute the salt. You can set in a cool place for a few days and then refrigerate for a month or so until the peels are soft.

I cannot wait to start using these in soups and sauces. They look like little rays of sunshine.


Corn for the Poor

I recently discovered polenta.

Although largely vegetarian, I tend to steer clear of starchy vegetables and in particular, corn. I’ve been influenced by knowledge of the corrupt corn industry (for evidence of this, watch “King Corn”), along with knowing that corn has a presence in practically every processed food in America. The enormous subsidies on corn make it cheap and plentiful, and the yellow stuff has been pinpointed as playing a central role in America’s ongoing obesity crisis.

Beyond nutrition and politics, my problem also concerns flavor. I don’t really like the way corn tastes. Well, let me re-phrase that and say, I don’t like the way un-nixtamalized corn tastes. You see, corn has some good nutrients, like amino acids, but they’re bound up and indigestible unless processed with an alkali (typically in the form of lime or wood ash). The native peoples of the Americas learned to process the corn in order to make the amino acids available for digestion. This processing is known as nixtamalization. Nixtamalized corn foods like hominy, and masa (used in tortillas and tamales) have a nutty, savory flavor and provide the vital protein necessary to nutrition.

"Las Tortilleras": women making tortillas, 1836. Mexico Hand-colored lithograph. Source = Voyage pittoresque et archéologique dans la partie la plus intéressante du Mexique par C. Nebel, Architecte. 50 Planches Lithographiées avec texte

Now for a little history lesson:

The European colonists had no understanding of nixtamalization, as it wasn’t necessary for the dominant European staple grain, wheat. So they ate mostly un-nixtamalized corn, and distributed the corn throughout Europe and Africa. The widespread use of unprocessed corn eventually led to protein deficiency in poverty stricken nations. Italy was one of those unfortunate countries. Modeled on the classic gruels that fed the masses since before the reign of the Roman empire, corn polenta lacks the vital amino acid niacin. Niacin deficiency thus leads to protein deficiency diseases, such as pellagra. Polenta was a poor person’s food and it was typically eaten to the exclusion of more expensive foods, like meat.

Unfortunately, corn-based foods are still eaten by the poverty stricken resulting in malnourishment. In the U.S. corn is phenomenally cheaper than most other grains, and the lower cost leads to higher consumption levels. While most people in America consume meat and dairy in excess, which provides the niacin lacking in corn, the over-consumption of carbohydrate heavy corn still poses significant risks to poor families in the form of increased diabetes and obesity.

As part of a balanced diet, polenta can be a cheap, filling and relatively healthy meal option. My own tight budget has led me to find recipes with more bang for my buck and polenta is incredibly dynamic in this respect. Accompanying polenta with a protein (either meat, dairy or vegetable) solves the niacin deficiency problem, just make sure to eat it on occasion rather than relying on it as a major source of sustenance. You can enjoy polenta as a thick gruel or chill the polenta, cut and pan sear when ready to serve. It freezes well and one cup can easily feed four people.

Sundried Tomato Polenta
1 cup polenta
2 1/2 cups water, stock, milk or soy milk
1 tblsp olive oil or butter
1 shallot chopped
1-2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes sliced
1/4 cup scallions (green onions) chopped
1 Tblsp basil
2 Tblsp parmesan
salt and pepper to taste

In a four quart pot add oil/butter, garlic, and shallots and sweat until tender crisp (about 2-3mins). Add water. Bring water to a boil. Slowly pour in polenta while whisking to avoid clumps. The polenta will thicken pretty quickly. Add sundried tomatoes, scallions, basil, parmesan and salt and pepper. Continue stirring, and cook until desired consistency. 10-15mins. Remove. You can serve immediately or fill a grease lined pan, chill and cut and serve when needed.

I have to say, even if the nutritional profile isn’t so great, this polenta turned out amazingly good. There are endless possibilities for add-ins and cooking methods. Polenta can be oven baked, cooked with cream for a fattier meal or even sweetened for a dessert. It’s great for breakfast with marinara or with mushrooms, and it makes a fun appetizer or finger food at parties.

I consider myself on the lower end of the income spectrum, but it’s still possible to eat healthy, delicious meals.