Friday, April 30, 2010

I Love My Orb!

One of the few things that wouldn't be in my apartment was ice.  I have a small studio apartment and a small studio apartment kitchen with small studio apartment appliances (maybe after cleaning it today, I will post a picture or two).  I even have my prettier stone cookware stashed on bookshelves for lack of space.  Putting an ice tray in my freezer always seemed to take up too much space and I always keep my Brita pitcher in the fridge, so I never had ice (usually to Catlyn's dismay).

Well those days are long gone because I now have the IceOrb by Fusion Brands.

This container is both the ice tray & ice storage.  There are so many things I love about my Orb:
  • The whole thing is a sealed/covered ice making/storage system.  This is great cause the ice does not pick up food smells/tastes, no spillage if something else in the freezer hits it (or if you are like me and you had an issue walking from the sink to the freezer without leaving a number of puddles).
  • It has a very small footprint.  It barely takes up more room than a pint of ice cream.  And because of the cover, you can even stack things like your pint of ice cream right on top unlike traditional ice trays.
  • It is multi-functional.  While it is a ice tray & storage system, the inner container used for ice storage perfectly fits both wine & champagne bottles to chill.  The container can also be used to hold foods that you want to keep chilled - just keep in mind when transporting, the lid isn't super secure so make sure you take precautions.
  • It just looks plain old cool.
It does take a little getting use to.  When you are popping the container out you have to have patience& work slowly pushing from the bottom while pulling the overlapping lip gently after you give it a couple squeezes around the container to break the ice between the outer chamber and the inner container.  The only people I would not suggest this to are people who have strength issues with their hands like arthritis or those with very small hands - you have to be able to push on the bottom while pulling back the lip at the top.  I am 5'4" and have proportional hands and I have no issue.

I have one lil suggestion to those interested in getting their own Orb - fill it below the fill line.  I found that filling it below the fill line that left a little unfilled room in the bottom row of ice chambers fills it just perfect without any spillage when popping back in the blue inner container.  The top row of ice chambers will appear to have unfilled room, but once the water expands when it freezes, it will fill (or almost) in that last chamber.

Just to be clear about this review.  I bought my own IceOrb on Amazon (initially feeling silly for spending that for an ice tray, but now think it was totally worth it!) and was not and have not ever been in touch with Fusion Brands (or Brita for that matter).  They do have some other interesting (and very coolly designed) products I am interested in.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The most important 90 minutes you can spend in the next 24 hours

If there is one thing I believe in when it comes to food, it is know what you are eating. Talk to the people at your local farmer's market, ask the butcher questions, read labels.  Can you identify the items listed in the food you eat?  Could you eat each of those ingredients on their own?  Lately I have been on a mission to make most of my food from as base ingredients as I can.  I find great joy in handling and inspecting the quality of each individual ingredient going into my final product.  I strongly believe in eating locally grow foods and farmed animals.  I am far from achieving a completely "whole food" existence, but every small step is important (in my eyes... and stomach) to me.

Anyone who knows me knows I am not nor will ever be a vegetarian or vegan... I like meat and feel strongly that I could & would take down a cow with my bare hands should it ever come to that (here's to hoping it never comes to that - but if it does, as long as I could find a chicken I can make a mean beef tartare).  This movie, Food, Inc. is not about preaching or making anyone stop eating anything that is out there.  It is about educating.  It is about letting you, the consumer, what choices are out there.  And most importantly, it is about educating the consumer about their own power in this market place & how to exercise it.  Even when covering the ugly side of food production, it is not overly gut wrenching - it is just simply the truth about where your food comes from (it does not magically appear wrapped up neatly in plastic).

Please take 90 minutes to watch this now by clicking this link.  Thank you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Monday, April 19, 2010

A Day on the Farm

I've been a member of Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA for a couple years and this summer I am a volunteer working with them.  CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture.  When you become a member in a CSA you are essentially buying a share of the farm.  By paying for your share of the season's harvest up front, local smaller farmers have a cash flow that allows them to concentrate on the land.  It also connects you to your local small farmer in a way that goes well beyond what you get even at a Farmer's Market.  You get to know your farmers and follow their harvest.  Their successes and their failures - and a stronger understanding what the real people impact those failures have.  I remember one year I didn't see one green pepper in all season because an entire field of them was wiped out in less than one day by a hail storm.

Those not familiar with CSA, the way most work is that the farm deliver boxes of produce to select pick-up points each week where members come and pick up their goodies.  Some CSAs have pick ups right at the farms for those it is convenient for and I have seen those kinds of CSAs also have pick-you-own for those members who want to get their hands dirty.  I would love to take advantage of one of those one day, but I a tried & true city dweller - I haven't even owned a car in over ten years (which is why mom drove me out the 2 hours to our destination).

This year I will be helping man one of those pick-up locations in Philadelphia.  A bonus for volunteering my time is that I got to go out to Lancaster, tour the warehouse, & meet some of the farmers who provide the organic and delicious produce.  I believe the farmers we met, Aaron & Levi, are Mennonite (although may be Amish - I am not so well versed in differences).  Being that I grew up & now live not far from "Amish Country" and shop regularly at the Reading Terminal Market (where a number of Amish have farm and food stands), I am somewhat ashamed that I know so little about the culture and have had almost no interaction with individuals of either faith.  I remember going to Dutch Wonderland with my parents and seeing the Amish children playing just like my brother and me, just dressed very differently.  I really enjoyed meeting the farmers.  I don't know why I was surprised that they were personable and gregarious.  They and the land they worked gave off a relaxed happiness... everything just seemed to be in its place - the people, the animals, the crops - all creating a symbiotic harmony.  One really cool characteristic of both Aaron & Levi is that while they live & work in ways steeped in tradition, they are both very innovative while still honoring and staying true to their traditions.  Both have created ways to improve on harvesting, cleaning, and packing on their farms.

Mom & I had noticed a number of bbq's setting up on our way to the warehouse.  Seems Lancaster a number of oranizations run Saturday bbq's as fundraisers.  On our way home we stopped at a local fire company to pick up some freshly bbq'ed chicken.  The smell was wafting across the streets we were driving and we just couldn't resist.  We pulled up and they even brought the chicken right to our car.  When I got home I couldn't wait to tuck into it.  The meat just came right off the bones, the skin was crisp and tasty.  This chicken may even be worth the hour and half drive from the city.

That night must have been one of the noisiest nights in a long time.  The guy downstairs was having a birthday celebration (which he gave me a heads up about, but once it hit 3:30am I had to txt him a request to bring it down) and the kids in the dorm across the way were just going more insane than normal.  I couldn't help but wish for the calm of the country.  I actually looked up rent for the area... seems I could get a large 2-3 bedroom with a yard for what I am paying now in rent.  Of course I'd need a car and I wouldn't be in the city, but at that moment I was ready to go.  I even looked up synagogues in the area and to my surprise there is both a reform & conservative synagogue.  I don't know if I could handle living out in the country, but I could have the chickens and goats I've always wanted.  Maybe one day.

Here are some great resources to help you eat local in the Philly area.  If you live outside Philly, just Google the following for your area: CSA, Community Supported Agriculture, buying clubs, and farmers market.

Farm to City
Farm to Philly
Food Trust

If you have any questions about being involved with a CSA or anything else about eating local, please feel free to post your questions here or email me.  Even if I don't have the answers, I will try to point you in the right direction.  Eating local is something I really believe in.  Knowing where your food is coming from and who is producing it is important to me.  I rather eat food produced on a small farm where I can ask the farmer at the market how the food is grown or the animals raised than food produced on a huge "factory" farm with a generic "organic" label on it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Passover is Over Pizza Party

To celebrate the end of Passover, I invited over some other Members of the Tribe to indulge in lots of bready goodness.

I made pizza, hummus, bruschetta, spicy tequila popcorn, and sweet noodle kugel with dried fruits & nuts.  I had planned on making the bread, but Metropolitan does such a great job and their baguettes so reasonably priced how could I resist?  Since I never buy beer (don't like it), Dan brought the beer - Dan always brings the beer.  Ilya brought fresh strawberries & soft chocolate chop cookies.  After the savory was enjoyed I washed and cut the strawberries and put them out with some warmed Nutella.  Even with homemade pizza proceeding it, the 30 second nuked Nutella and strawberries stole the show.  There was also lots of great wine brought by guests.  All was good, but the Genesis brought by Greg & Annie was a stand out.

The pizza was a pretty big hit.  I was very happy with the way it came out.  I like plain cheese pizza so there were no fancy toppings - the pizza itself was the star and need not fancy dressing to shine (in my no so humble opinion).  The recipe I use for the dough is the result of trail and error of many tries combining a number of different recipes & techniques to give me the results I wanted.  Greg & Annie were asking about it because they had made pizza, but apparently their crust was so tough it was difficult to bite thru.  Discussing methods we quickly figured out the biggest difference was the kneading of the dough - I don't knead the dough.  I am not an expert on the science between how kneading releases the gluten in the dough, but I do know that too much kneading will make your end product tough and breads won't rise as nicely.  So this is my recipe for my pizza dough.  There is one caveat - you have to plan ahead at least one day.

Pizza Dough
Toss the following into the food processor work bowl:
  • 1 3/4c all-purpose flour
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2-2tsp kosher salt
  • 2 1/4tsp yeast (one package)
Before you start mixing, set up the following:
  • a bowl with 1c of flour
  • 3/4c of really really warm water - tap is fine, let it run and get almost HOT - should be around 120-130F (49-55C) if you have a thermometer
  • add 1 tbsp of olive oil to the water
Turn on the food processor, let the dry ingredients mix for a second or two and then pour in the water/oil.  If the dough seems sticky or not forming into a ball within 20-30 seconds, slowly add more flour until it does.  You won't use all the flour, so don't try.  Use some of the left over to flour your counter top.  Turn the dough out.  Knead gently a couple of times.  Does it stick to your fingers?  Difficult to work with?  Add a bit more flour - slowly & a little at a time.  Knead the flour in gently and form into a ball.  It will be a bit sticky, but should form a pretty smooth ball.

Now toss it into a ziplock bag and pop it in the fridge for at least 24 hours.  I am not sure what it is, maybe the slow rise keeps it tender, but this makes the best thin crust pizza dough.  This dough will keep up to a week in the fridge.  It will actually develop even better flavor the longer it is around.  You can just pull out what you need.  As long as you let it set in the fridge for the first 24 hours, you can also freeze the dough for a couple months - let it thaw in the fridge.  But honestly, there is very little chance you'd have any left at the end of the week to worry about freezing for later. 

Now you are ready to make your pizza...

Monday, April 5, 2010

as promised... the ugly.

This is a macaron

Catlyn made this macaron.  Her first batch & first attempt.  It is what a macaron should look & taste like.  The smooth doomed cookie and tasty filling.  And they have feet!  See that lil ruffled edge of the cookie?  That is what makes this a proper macaron.  You get this by letting the meringue & almond meal cookie set out and get a skin before baking.

As you can see I am well versed in the concept of macarons.

Unfortunately knowing the concept of macarons does not translate into the ability to make macarons.  The following are picture from my first TWO failed batched of macarons.  The first of which looked amazingly like peacock poop, just lighter in color.  I know this because I worked a season at The Philadelphia Zoo and the place is lousy with free wandering peacocks.

We will never speak of this again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Seder at Zahav

Before I get to the review of our (Catlyn & me - ain't she purdy!) Passover dinner, I really like Zahav and will definitely eat there again. Unfortunately the Passover dinner this year was a disappointment. I think mostly because I have eaten there in the past and know what they are capable of, and this fell short in my eyes (or mouth).

I'll start with the good:
  • On the starter salads that you get there is a salt roasted beets with tahini & toasted walnuts... one word AMAZING! I think it's the tehini, which I found out is made in house (impressive), that gives it this unique creaminess that is simply wonderful. All the salads were tasty. I am not normally a tabouli fan, but enjoyed theirs.
  • The grilled asparagus with soft boiled egg was fabulous. Two of my favorite things paired.
  • The leek fritters with charoset was delish! I could have been very happy with a basket of those fritters and a bowl of the charoset.
  • The dessert of matzoh brei (not really, but good none the less) and wine spiced ice cream was a great ending.
The bad:
  • I hate hate hate to say this... the hummus was bland. Needed either more lemon or garlic (maybe both).
  • They put a spice mix in the matzoh balls that includes cinnamon & nutmeg. They served them in a black broth with garlic. The overly salty savory broth (tasted kinda beefy - would have been good with less salt) did not combine well with the somewhat sweet spices in the matzoh balls. I LOVE matzoh balls - my father and I have had full out knock down races to the kitchen when it is announced "one matzoh ball left" at Seders (usually ending with him pulling rank) - but I couldn't even eat these. This is just my opinion, maybe because they are such a strong part of my tradition.  Catlyn seemed to enjoy both our bowls of soup & matzoh balls, still noting that it was pretty salty.
  • The fish was good, but over powered by the beet & horseradish mixture served with it. It also needed more horseradish - it was barely detectable & with freshly grated that is a hell of a feat! While the white tuna was lovely, a more substantial fish was needed for the dish or a different condiment all together.
  • The coffee braised brisket while good, was a pale comparison of the one from last year that still holds a special place in my heart a year later (this entire night out was because we had the brisket last year and fell in love with it).
It was let down from last year, but I know that on the whole it is a great restaurant and this is just a blip in my experience there.