Monday, July 29, 2013

Documentary Review: Boom Varietal

The best chefs in the world are those who commit their lives to always be a student of food and accepting that they won't know everything.  Chef's take this endless education on as a challenge and use every opportunity as a tool for learning something new.  In the wine industry, this similar type of thought is helpful, but it is applied to a much more fickle subject: the grape.

To begin to know and understand wine, often the submersion technique is recommended, highly regarded for its participation element.  But the isles in the wine shops and the array of names can overwhelm even the more savvy of wine drinkers and so often the submersion process can create a wine-rut for people who stop trying new wines, after finally finding one they like.

But here's what wine neophytes are rarely told: the secret charm to wine is its story.  All wine has a romantic, war-like story of survival that speaks, not only of the grape, but of the maker.  As is the case of Argentinean Malbec.   

Malbec grapes are originally from France and are one of the six grapes allowed in Bordeaux.  In the 19th century Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, an Argentinean statesman had Frenchman and agronomist Miguel Pouget bring a variety of grapevines from France to Argentina.  One of the vines brought back was Malbec and it thrived in the Argentinean weather as it is especially susceptible to grape diseases and sensitive to frost.

Argentina was a large wine-producing area, but in the 80's the international demand for wine exploded leaving Argentina behind in quality.  For the next 15 years, Argentina made great strides to increase their quality and the world increased their consumption of international wines.  In 2002 when the peso was devalued by 75% and Argentina was in an economical crisis, an odd thing happened.

At this time, Shiraz was the much sought after wine, but due to its popularity (or 'boom') it was being mass produced, which affected the quality.  So people started looking around for better quality.  They found it in the less expensive, hand bottled Malbec wines of Mendoza, Argentina.

Sky Pinnick's documentary Boom Varietal takes a 360-look at Malbec wine, where it came from and how it has gained the momentum in popularity over the last ten years.  Boom Varietal goes into the wineries of Mendoza and shares the generations of Argentinean wine makers who share their beautiful stories on how they created a champion out of an underdog and how Malbec, in-turn, saved Argentina.

Pinnick's beautiful shots of Argentina's landscape and the amazing soundtrack propel the viewer into the warm climate and daily gamble that is, the wine business and how at any point in time-the 'boom' could cease.

Complete with nay-sayers and those who have lost-it-all trying to ride Malbec's coattails, Boom Varietal gives you all the dirt and romance of a war-story played out over the years in Argentina.  For those looking to expand their knowledge of wine or add a vacation destination to their passport-Boom Varietal gives the viewer a brief look inside the world that is, Argentinean Malbec.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday's Fridge Photo

I've been wanting to do something fun for my Friday posts, but I have been failing to come up with a decent idea.  So, for a time-I'm going to try something new and something I haven't seen done.  Every Friday Im going to take a photo of the inside of my fridge.  Why?  Because so many people view food-enthusiasts to be this pretentious group that would never use anything generic or cheap because of its poor quality or what-have-you.  I want anyone who reads this to understand one very important detail of me: I am not a food snob.  I buy generic, I eat McDonald's sometimes and I buy store-bought mayonnaise.  So, with that in mind, please don't judge me:

Not Pictured: the door of condiments, cilantro, shredded cheese, cucumbers, iceberg lettuce and 1/2 of a yellow onion

Levi and I don't go out to eat very often. We try to cook at home in an effort to eat healthier, save money and because we don't live in a very food-savvy area (unfortunately).  Our lunches are fairly boring, I eat at work and he comes home and eats leftovers or a simple salad.

This week, we were rather busy and I didn't cook much, but here is a run-down of our dinners:
Sunday: Zucchini Pancakes
Monday: Whole wheat linguini with jarred tomato vodka sauce, garlic bread and chicken sausage stuffed with basil and asiago cheese.
Tuesday: leftover pasta and zucchini bread
Wednesday: Bacon and onion quiche
Thursday: Destihl Brewery had an open house that night, so we snacked there

Yes, I buy pre-made pie crust, judge away!  Quiche is my 'lazy' meal I prepare using whatever is leftover in the fridge.  Plus, Levi loves it (thank goodness!).  I would like to make more pie crust, but I have yet to perfect my recipe...

Anyway, there you have it!  Enjoy!

*This photo was not sponsored by Meijer-even though it looks that way!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Book Review: The Butler Speaks: A Guide to Stylish Entertaining, Etiquette and the Art of Good Housekeeping By: Charles MacPherson

In a time where people boast they are 'too busy' to be bothered with etiquette, manners and, in some cases, common decency, Charles MacPherson has penned, The Butler Speaks, from his full career as a butler.  The timing is just right, in this writer's opinion, because of the movement pushing more and more people back into their kitchens and homes for sources of entertainment.

 The Butler Speaks, is not giving you the inside secrets on the wealthy (although there are some personal tales), but does give a brief history of manners, etiquette and why we still should honor them today.

I found Mr. MacPherson's book to be an excellent resource for those looking to elevate their hosting skills by understanding the different nuances that go into setting a table, making a bed properly or hosting a party-complete with food pairings and how to eat <blank>.  In addition, all tips and information has been modified from the formal tradition to today's culture.

Mr. MacPherson also includes his tips on cleaning an entire house quickly, effectively and in a way that encourages regular easy maintenance.

For those who are interested in food, but still a food-neophyte, The Butler Speaks, is a great beginners guide.  Understanding how food is presented, is a great way to understand food basics and gives the opportunity to build on that knowledge.

While it only took me a few hours to read, Mr. MacPherson's book is not meant to be devoured all at once.  It is a reference tool that belongs in all homes of those who entertain and are looking to hold their homes to a higher standard.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Many Faces of Zucchini

I'm not always a dinner person.  I like to eat a small breakfast, a big lunch and then sometimes I skip dinner entirely.  This isn't a diet thing, its a 'I'm not going to eat when I'm not hungry' thing.  Unfortunately, Levi doesn't work that way.  He eats 3 fairly balanced meals a day and I know I push his limits sometimes when I finally give-in to cooking lunch at 2 and dinner at 8 on the weekends.

Last night was a night I wasn't particularly hungry, but of course Levi was-so I went to the kitchen, which was fairly sparse-as we need to go grocery shopping-so I 'channeled' my mother.  My mother is fantastic at
whipping stuff up out of nothing-so I grabbed some eggs, flour, panko,  a medium zucchini (from our garden), Tony Chachere's and a grater and went to town.

I grated down an entire zucchini into a bowl, seasoned it with some Tony's, threw in 2 eggs and panko and mixed with my hand.  Then I started adding flour until I had a nice pancake batter consistency.  In the
meantime I asked Levi to take a small skillet and heat some olive oil on the stove.

When the skillet was hot, I added a large dollop of batter, let it cook for about 30 seconds before flipping it (it flipped very easily), pressing it flat with a spatula and letting it cook through for a minute or two longer.   

When finished, I sprinkled them with a little shredded cheese and served them.  Levi opted to add some maple syrup to compliment the sweetness of the zucchini.  The panko give the exterior a wonderful crunch and the high heat of the oil browned the exterior beautifully. 

Zucchini is a great veggie to add to breads, cakes, homemade doughnuts, frittatas, etc.  It has a subtle flavor and adds a lot of moisture!

Book Review: Back of the House: The Secret Life of a Restaurant By: Scoot Haas

One of the things I love about reading is how it expands your world by way of perspective.  Its a way of traveling without checking luggage and can create some self-reflection and personal growth. I pride myself on finishing over 20 books since January 2013 and how in some cases-they were not easy to finish.

So when I picked up Scott Haas' Back of the House, I was looking to burn through it 2-3 days max and expecting something airing on the side of Bill Buford.  After a month, I gave up-I was 100 pages in and I couldn't read it any longer.  If you have read any of my book reviews, you'll see that I'm not an overly critical person-I enjoy reading about food and have found some wonderful new authors, this year especially, and am probably a more forgiving critic than the NYT. 

In Back of the House, Psychologist Scott Haas comes into Craigie on Main-the legendary Tony Maws' restaurant and (while I can only vouch for the first 100 pages) puts it through his own psychological assessment-making assumptions about the kitchen staff and seemingly butting-in to elements of the restaurant (tattling on a manager at one point) that are not his place.  I couldn't figure out what Haas was doing there and it was clear he just thought he was some VIP chasing around a famous chef-going on about all of Maws' achievements and how stressful the staff and business can be on Maws.  His writing was more of a daily log of what people were doing and didn't share much of a story or many personal elements of those who worked there.  He didn't talk about the kitchen staff as though they were people, but more as subservient workers and it disgusted me.  

As someone who has spent almost their entire professional life in a restaurant-I was amazed to find that when you let a guest into the kitchen and see behind the curtain, they still think of you as a second-class citizen.  The 100 pages I read, were a horrible struggle-so I recommend saving yourself the time and moving on to something else.

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Minier, IL Dairy Barn is on Fire!

Photo via Facebook
Twitter and Facebook are both reporting that the Dairy Barn in Minier, IL is on fire and currently being controlled by the Minier Fire Department. It is reported that the Lutheran Church next door bought the Dairy Barn and are turning it into a parking lot...doesn't that remind you of a song?

The Dairy Barn has been in business for over 20 years.  I worked there when the Gilhouse's owned it for a summer (1998) and loved the family atmosphere and delicious ice cream!  This local landmark with be missed as it's seasonal schedule was anticipated my many each year. 

Thank you for the good times and sweet treats Ol' Dairy Barn! You will be missed!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Bastille Day, Cassoulet and Kiddos

This weekend Levi and I decided to retreat to Champaign and spend the weekend with one of my long-time girlfriends.  Saturday night we caught a burlesque show, had a few delicious Edel-Weiss beers and danced a little to Brandon T. Washington at Memphis on Main!  I suppose, when its time to do something different-we did everything different!

The next day had been planned for a month or so-Lisa and I were going to make dinner for Bastille Day or La FĂȘte Nationale!  We had cassoulet planned for dinner, because why not make a hearty stew in the July heat!

Lisa started the day prior to our arrival by roasting the beets (my favorite), then we decided to pan fry them in some olive oil to caramelize and finished them with a pistachio dressing and some goat cheese.
Lisa procured white truffle sea salt while in the DC area a few weeks ago for our duck-fat fries!
Soaking the freshly cut fries in ice water so they don't get all grey and sad-looking!

Baby Selene fresh out of the pool and apparently already an expert at the iphone as she knew exactly which button to push!
Big sister, Arbella self-entertaining on the big comfy chair!
Dinner is served! Cassoulet, duck-fat fries, garlic-cilantro aoli, pan roasted beets!
Levi and Arbella, aka: Double-Trouble

Happy Bastille Day!

Monday, July 8, 2013

My Ideal Bookshelf: A Book Inspiring Books

Walking through the library yesterday I came across My Ideal Bookshelf on the 'New Releases' bookcase.  I was immediately drawn to the featured names on the cover: Malcom Gladwell, Thomas Keller and Alice Waters.  Taking the copy home with me-I flip through this coffee-table book and look through the composite collections of writers and artists I love.  Looking at their collections to see how the books played a role in the total sum of who the person has become.  Edited by Thessaly La Force and art done by Jane Mount-this beautifully constructed book takes an incredibly personal look at our bookshelves-that do, tell the story of us.

I was inspired to make my own...

I'm guilty of what I call 'mood-reading'.  I'm sure I am not alone in this process, but so often when I read by instinct-I find some really wonderful, soul-touching books.  Of course, in high school I read Salinger, because everyone told me not to-and I found solace in Holden's frustrations and angst.  I devoted all my email addresses to Poe and wore berets because I thought it made me seem deep, but also-I did gravitate toward the rhythm of Poe's work and words and could vividly imagine the places and feelings of each piece.
Kitchen Confidential helped me breathe in a time I thought the restaurant business had consumed all my spirit.  To some people Bourdain is wonderful because of his attitude and crude sense of humor.  To me, he represents those who struggle to put on the 'sh*t-eating-grin' and go to work.  He gave me pride when I most needed it and allowed me to continue on in a business I really do love when all I wanted to do was throw my hands up and walk away. 

The Art of Happiness saved me thousands of dollars in therapy sessions at a time my life was in drastic transition and I thought (as we all do from time-to-time) that I was the only one who has ever been: perpetually cheated on, lost an amazing person to death and left a steady income to try to propel their education and make something of themselves-only to become incredibly broke, but try to hide it with a smile and reassurance that I was doing the right thing.  It took a year before I truly believed this change was good, but The Art of Happiness gave me such a broader perspective-while I was broke and alone, I learned to still be happy and value what I had and those few around me.  It taught me to live a communal life and how a selfish life is a lonely life.

All of the books on this shelf have touched me in a way-either by their story, how I came across the book or who the book always reminds me of.  And as this shelf may change over time-it is a current and accurate snapshot of me, now.

Please feel free to share your bookshelves on Foodigen's Facebook page!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Book Review: Recipes for Disaster: A Memoir By: Tess Rafferty

'Never judge a book by its cover'-that's what all parents should be teaching their children, right?  I saw the cover and I'm sorry to say-I judged.  A cute brunette with rollers in her hair and an exaggerated surprised look on her face as she sips a martini-made me think they used Chelsea Handler's stylist.  I had reservations even picking up the book because I was afraid as to what I would see: would I read overly grotesque descriptions of a party tramp?  I never watched The Soup and I don't care for women who use trashy comedy for cheap laughs-so yes, I judged.  I judged heavily upon opening this book.

The first few pages of Ms Rafferty's book gave adequate build up-clever humor paired with honest humility.  I appreciated not reading about her sexual conquests, although shes not shy about discussing her dating life-to a respectful degree.

As we move to L.A. with Ms Rafferty and 'The Boyfriend'-one learns about the less drug-laden side of the comedic scene.  Ms Rafferty doesn't subject us to the same experience someone, say Sam Kinison, may have had.  Instead we learn how difficult and uncertain careers are to obtain-through the entire book there is an underlying tone of perseverance you dont expect.

The largest element of the book are the dinner parties Ms Rafferty hosts.  The stresses, successes, relationship testers and uncertainty that personalities will meld at each affair.  Ms Rafferty walks us through each dinner party discussing what went right or wrong, what would need to change for the next party and regales us with some rather entertaining events that can occur when you combine people, alcohol and their idiosyncrasies.

In addition, Ms Rafferty includes some recipes throughout the book, but while in many cases-the reader is inclined to skip the 'directions' portion-I recommend reading hers.  The directions contain pointers for cooking, parties and some fun story tidbits you wont want to miss out on.

I found Ms Rafferty's book a funny, light-hearted manual for the beginning hostess.  I will definitely be picking up a few copies for my girlfriends and as housewarming gifts.  I also will be keeping an eye out for any future publishing's by Ms Rafferty-as they are sure to entertain!   

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Recipe: Ernestine Finger's Gooseberry Pie

*Recipe reprinted with permission from the Waynesville United Methodist Church from their Women's Cookbook*
Fresh Gooseberries

One of my goals for Foodigen was to avoid being a recipe dominant blog.  There are so many wonderful bloggers tailoring their recipes to post, and doing them so well-why compete?  In addition, I'm not a recipe-cook.  I started out as a bartender for years before I ever started focusing any attention toward my kitchen-much of my cooking is taking a recipe, cutting corners and adding things to taste.  Needless to say, I don't take notes on what I do either.  

One of my primary sources of information (kitchen and otherwise) is my mom.  I grew up in the kitchen watching her cook, as she zipped around from the spice cabinet to the counter to the stove.  Occasionally, there was a recipe on hand and sometimes she (as dad would tease) would 'experiment'.  My job was less to help and more to keep her company, sitting across the counter at the breakfast bar on my 'princess chair' as we shared stories and ideas.  The kitchen at my parent's house will always be my mother's kitchen and I will always feel as though my place is talking to her from across the counter (which is where she usually wants me anyway).  

This past weekend, as I was settled into my 'princess chair', watching my mother cook an apple pie-sneaking apple slices occasionally, she produced 3 pints of berries: red raspberries, black raspberries and gooseberries she had picked earlier that day.  Gooseberries are not terribly common around here-more indigenous in Europe as they enjoy cooler temperatures and rough terrain, but my mother (of course) got the bush to grow and thrive-although I'm sure the cooler spring has helped.  I've had gooseberries before, they look like tiny, transparent watermelons with little seeds inside and are the size of a small grape-with similar texture and consistency, but they are incredibly tart!  Not something you would be likely to snack on mid-day.  

As my mother was putting the apple pie in the oven, she was fussing at me to stop eating the red raspberries (my favorite) and started talking about what she could do with the gooseberries.  Fairly quickly she produced a very old cookbook that her church put out-I'm guessing in the early 80's.  From the looks of the book with the stains, missing cover and pieces of paper wedged between the pages-this is a favorite resource of hers.  As she was carefully flipping through it-she was talking about how people used to rave about the gooseberry pie Ernestine Finger used to make for events, but mom never had the opportunity to try.  After finding the simple recipe, and mixing together the few ingredients, my mother put the pie together and into the oven to cook.

Gooseberry Pie-construction
After the gooseberry pie was pulled from the oven and cooled, we all dug in-eager and curious.  The tart berries had burst in the oven, leaving a layered flavor to the dessert.  The sour cream was almost undetectable but aided greatly in the creamy texture.  This was a food experience, I beg for: new and amazing.  
Gooseberry Pie-fresh out of the oven

Ms Finger was the grandmother of a classmate of mine and beloved in the community for her gentle nature.  In our little town, so easily forgotten with our city-focused mentality and shortage of amenities, we still take pride in the food of our area and the people who created them.  The legacy of many women in my little town, are their beloved recipes-as so long ago-we didn't travel as far for our entertainment or food and relied on each other to help 'cater' the festivities.  This church cookbook is full of community pride and is as closely tied to the history as a family bloodline.

Ernestine Finger's Gooseberry Pie

1 pt. Fresh or Frozen Gooseberries
1 c. sour cream
1 1/2 c. sugar
1 heaping Tbsp. Flour

Mix sour cream, sugar and flour and pour over raw gooseberries in unbaked 9 in. pie shell.  Bake at 450 degrees (F) for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 20 minutes longer.  Cool completely before serving.