Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Toasted Israeli couscous with vegetables

                                                                               January 22, 2013

     The office potluck theme for January 23 was Middle Eastern. "Jerusalem: A Cookbook" by Ottolenghi and Tamimi (and listening to the results of the Israeli elections) inspired thoughts of  the small round couscous featured in Israeli recipes. The cookbook's recipe for salad didn't seem quite right for an Anchorage winter day; I wanted something warmer, so adapted this [vegan] recipe  from one posted by Claire Robinson on the Food Network in 2010.

Roasted Israeli cous-cous 

2 cups Israeli cous-cous
2 1/4 cups water
2 Tablespoons olive or other mild oil
Salt and pepper to taste
2 12 to 3 cups roasted vegetables
Lemon slices, cilantro for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add cous-cous and stir for 7 - 9 minutes, until it begins to brown lightly. Add the water (careful of the hot steam), and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for ten minutes, or until the cous-cous is cooked through but still al dente.

I stirred in a cup of roasted cauliflower, about 1 cup of roasted zucchini, and about 3/4 cup of  roasted, diced red and yellow peppers, and seasoned with salt and pepper. Other vegetables would work equally well, as would chopped nuts or perhaps toasted pumpkin seeds.

This will spend the night in the refrigerator, and tomorrow, it can be served at room temperature.or heated through, with a garnish of cilantro and lemon slices.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The plains of Spain are mainly for the grains

                                                                                        January 8, 2013

Wheat along the margins of the Camino fields, September 5, 2012, between Fromista and Carrion de los Condes.

In September 2012, my husband, daughters and I spent a couple of weeks walking through wheat fields along the Camino Frances as part of our trek from Pamplona to Santiago. Before the Romans arrived around 100 B.C. E., the Celts walked west along this Camino Frances route to Finisterre, the end of the earth, the furthest west point that they knew. The Romans used the route for wheat fields, and to transport iron and gold east from the mountain mines to Rome itself. Around 450 or 500 C.E., the Visigoths came in and conquered the area, along with the rest of Spain, and ruled until the Muslims arrived in the early 700s C.E.  The Moors held most of Spain, including the Camino route, except for the northern sliver of Asturias that remained in the hands of the (by-then-Christian) Visigoths. In the early 900s, rulers in the north began to push the Arab conquerors south, and by 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella ruled all of Spain.

As we set one foot in front of the other along the dusty, rocky farm paths and country roads that now constitute most of the Camino, I wondered how it was that these fields had supported wheat crops for two thousand years. Or did they? My 4-H days in southwest Michigan taught me that without rotation and fertilizers, crops exhaust the soil. Did the Romans practice good agriculture routines? Did they even know about them?

The Camino Frances between Fromista and Carrion de los Condes, along harvested wheat fields, September 5, 2012.

It’s been difficult to find much information – they were the “Dark Ages” after all, and my Google searches have not always been the most brilliantly designed. The search query, “agriculture in northern Spain in the Early Middle Ages” has not been as productive as desired.

What I’ve been able to eke out so far suggests that once the Romans left, much of the area’s population did as well. The land devoted to wheat may have been used for smaller subsistence farms. At some point around the late 1400s, shepherds came in, and sheep laid waste to much of the land (Spain was noted for merino wool, and kept its monopoly until the mid-1800s by not allowing any sheep to leave the country). I always thought that shipbuilding for the Spanish Armada devastated the forests, but the sheep helped. Apparently, it’s only in the past 200 years at most that the Romans' fields have been planted to wheat again. Besides the wheat, in 2012 vineyards, corn and sunflowers competed for much of the land along the Camino.

Sheep between Fromista and Carrion de los Condes, on the Camino Frances, September 5, 2012.

As I get time to read more, I’ll come back to this topic, and share the news from the Early Middle Ages.

References: Empires of Food, by Evan D. G. Fraser and Andrew Rimas, 2010.  “Sheep and the Camino,” by E. O. Pederson, 2005, available online at

Roman road and bridge between Cirauqui and Lorca, about km 694 on the Camino Frances, August 28, 2012.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

What's up with wheat in 2013?

                                                                                                            January 5, 2013

Depends on who you ask, of course. Wheatavore checked out a few different sources, among them Huffington Post, Epicurious, and a couple of English web sites. HuffPost’s predictions for 2013 hedged their bets by tallying up forecasts from several other sites and showing those that made more than one list.

HuffPost highlighted “Artisanal Bread at restaurants,” based on its mention by Baum and Whiteman, and Bon Appetit. About time? I have a stack of artisanal bread cookbooks and guides waiting to be read, so it’s been around for a while. But more restaurants – not just bakeries like Tartine, and locavore specialists like Faviken in Sweden –  are beginning to feature their own sourdoughs. Huff Post directs the reader to Baum and Whiteman’s site which notes that restaurants aren’t just setting out the bread – in European style, they’re charging for it -- but also offering more distinctive choices.

Artisan breads in a Santiago, Spain bakery, September 28, 2012.

Bon Appetit notes that bread is being served in new ways – “sourdough fried in pork fat and served with house-made butter.”

Agreeing with HuffPost, Etai Baron, co-CEO/founder, Udi's Foods Local says that Northern European breads – of the sort popularized by Noma in Denmark, Faviken in Sweden, and Tartine in the U.S. – will be more prominent than the breads of the Mediterranean. The northern breads tend to be sourdoughs, and often use a wider variety of grains, mixed in with the wheat flours.

HuffPost also highlights another Bon Appetit trend, grind your own grains for those baking at home. Some stores sell bulk grains and have mills on-site. Hand or motor-driven mills are also available for home use. You can experiment with different blends of hard and soft wheats, colored wheats, or blends of grains. Or you can go locavore, growing your own wheat or finding a nearby source, and milling it yourself to get the freshest and most intimate terroir.

A web site devoted to fast food restaurants suggested that places like Wendy’s are beginning to serve sandwiches on more exotic breads, including flatbreads. “During its investor day in June, Gerard Lewis, Wendy's senior vice president of Culinary Development, said he wants to be the first to market flatbread. . . . Wendy's also is exploring other types of breads such as a cheddar/jalapeno bun and a pretzel roll.”

Epicurious offers its own set of predictions, some of which involve wheat. For example, we will be creating snacks at home, such as Vanilla Snack Cakes to make up for the loss of Twinkies [which I predict will be back on the market within the next twelve months, perhaps with a different name or a new manufacturer, but we aren’t likely to be deprived of our favorite non-food treat for long].

In England, Lost in Catering is big on food trucks (which some U. S. websites think are so 2012 or even 2011), and new ways to wrap foods: “. . . Meats are increasingly being wrapped with Turkish pizza or stuffed Naan to add flavour.” The food trucks experiment with Chinese bao (dumplings) filled with more Western meats, and fusion choice such as “roti rolls,” a mix of Turkish and Indian foods, the roti being an Indian flatbread. For seated dining, sourdough pizza rules. [I have to make a personal pitch here for Rocca, a Kensington pizza place that we ate at in November 2011 with dough made from a “naturally yeasted” wheat and spelt mix – full of flavor, but not sour.]

Another United Kingdom site suggests that American baked goods will give way to British traditions, especially regional baked goods – most of which I don’t recognize, but will have to research – “We're moving away from American-inspired bakes, such as whoopie pies, towards British ones. Maids of Honour, Bath buns, parkin, pikelets, Singing hinnies, Staffordshire oatcakes . . . there’s a rich national heritage to be explored.” Any national heritage that include Singing hinnies surely needs more attention. [Turns out that they are a kind of griddle cake, rather like a fried scone, made with flour,butter and/or lard, milk, sugar, and currants. They "sing" as they sizzle on the pan; "hinny" means honey -- affectionate slang for something sweet.]

Friday, January 4, 2013

314Pie food truck -- Aussie pies on wheels

                         January 3, 2013
Savory pies to go.

People have been selling food on the streets for as long as there were streets. Food trucks take it to the next logical level. Why hawk your wares on a corner when you can find another corner with no competition and bigger crowds?

It’s not quite so simple these days as harnessing the donkey to the cart and plodding off. There are health departments, and tax collectors, business licenses, and food suppliers to please and pay off. Not to mention letting your fans know which street corner you’re at today through FaceBook, Twitter, and blogs.

Last summer, Casey Cooper and Deke Kotrla got started on their Seattle version of Aussie pies with 314Pie in Seattle. By November of 2012, they were driving their brilliantly blue converted van (unmissable against Seattle’s too-often gray skies) and selling out their savory and sweet pies to hungry crowds.

The pies themselves belong to a tradition as ancient as food vendors. Call them pasties, Cornish pies, calzones, pierogies, dumplings, tiropitas, burritos, tamales, samosas, wraps – most cultures that have breads have figured out a way to wrap dough around something tasty to make a portable meal. Wheat flour lends itself especially well to encasing foods. The stretchy gluten networks formed by wheat when it meets water mean tender crusts that don’t overwhelm the fillings with dense or tough outer walls.

Deke and Casey have been experimenting with the pies favored by Aussies and New Zealanders. For the holidays, their goose, apple and walnut pie captured the season. In the new year, vegetarians get mac and cheese with peas, or black-eyed peas and greens based on Deke’s Southern heritage,. The black-eyed peas bring good luck for the New Year; carnivores can get them with the traditional ham hock. More 2013 pies include steak and onion or steak and mushroom pies that feature local grass-fed beef. Mac and cheese with pancetta show an Italian touch. Earlier in the year they had minestrone pie, vegetable curry, and pork and peach, and they continue to experiment with locally-sourced ingredients and different cuisines. The sweet offerings to start off the year include apple and caramel pie, walnut butterscotch, cinnamon fries, and chocolate chip cookies.

Check out their current menus, and their daily schedule, and try some soon.

314Pie at South Lake Union.