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I published this post forgetting to add any explanatory text. What kind of blogger am I?

Here you see the exterior of El Mercado Central de Abastos in Jerez. It stands on at the commercial center of the city on Calla Doña Blanca. Inside this covered market you'll find more than 100 vendors, the majority of them selling fish and seafood in the center. Surrounding the fish market are fruit and vegetable vendors as well as a few miscellaneous stands.

The view along one side of the fish market. Although Jerez is a landlocked city, it is only about thirty minutes from the ocean. According to the city's website, the fish comes from either Sanlúcar de Barremeda or El Puerto de Santa María. These two cities, combined with Jerez, also happen to form what's known as the sherry triangle.

According to the reliable Internets, marrajo is a type of shark.

These fish look like they were just pulled from the water.

 

Let's see. Some more marrajo, some tuna, swordfish (pez espada), calamar (squid, as you probably guessed). As for the creepy looking galeras, I'm not sure.

Cazon, or dogfish.

Prawns and more!

The vegetable and fruit vendors are located just outside the fish market. I bought a medio kilo of grapes for less then two euros. Sorry for the blurry shot.

Dried peppers hanging

I couldn't ignore the olives guy in the corner. He let me try the brightly lit variety in the background-verdiales dulces, if I recall. They taste like your typical green olive-a little bitter, a little savory. The ones in the foreground are more bitter, almost medicinal. I bought a quarto of the dulces for a euro. A bargain!

I asked if I could take a photo, and he said, "Yeah, I'm so handsome, right?"

 

 

 

I found myself craving meat the other day. 
As is often the case, I turned to ideas for a one-pot dish. 

I bought this book during my last trip to San Francisco. 
It's slim and modest, offering nothing but braises and stews. 
But this is certainly the first cookbook I have ever used and not left
simply to be ogled on the coffee table. 

I have made the recipe on page twenty five before, but this time, I improvised, having neither short ribs nor carrots.

I began by browning some stewing beef over fairly high heat.

Out went the beef, and in went the cipollini onions.  I tossed these around in the pan for a few minutes, lowering the heat to a medium.

Then I added equal parts soy sauce and orange juice, along with a generous sprinkling of dried chili pepper.  I used more liquid than is pictured here, adding just enough to cover the meat and onions.

 I turned the heat down to a low simmer and let the pot go for about two hours. 

Eventually the fat rose to the top, as evident here.  After letting the contents cool, I placed the pot in the fridge overnight then skimmed off the hardened fat the next day.  I then reheated the beef, adding some couscous before serving.

Note: This braise is best eaten as soon as possible.  After a day or so, the soy sauce flavor becomes too salty to endure, even for a salt fiend like me.

Up Next: Thanksgiving!

Happy Food Day!  Do you know the six principles behind Food Day? 

One thing missing from this list is community.  Why not celebrate Food Day by sharing food and dialogue?  Sharing as in a two-way exchange-offering our experiences as much as receiving other people's experiences into our lives.  Every day, I see people talking at each other, each person silencing the other with a new thought.  Where is the listening?  Listening isn't a mere nod of the head, it's empathy and the potential to be changed.

The brightest moment of my weekend was talking to my mom on the phone and receiving unsolicited food advice.  Concerned when I said I rarely made it downtown for Korean food, she gave me what is her version of Korean fast food.  Cook thin slices of steak, and dip it in a mixture of salt, pepper, and sesame oil.  Top with samjang.  Wrap it in lettuce.  Eat wth banchan from the Korean grocery store.  Maybe some gaenyip, or anything, really.  That's it!  You don't have to make it yourself.  Don't cook every little thing like American food!  This is love. 

I am also celebrating Food Day with actual food.  Hopefully, I will be posting recipes during most of this upcoming week.  For today, I leave you with beef back ribs, baked in the oven.  I've never made ribs before, so I didn't quite know what I was doing going in to this.  But success!  Next time, I'll quadruple the quantity of ribs. 

Happy Food Day, and happy sharing.

Oven Beef Back Ribs

One small note: This recipe is based on some online research on how to make ribs in an oven, since I lack a grill.  The spice rub is a mix of various spices in my pantry.  I bought a mere pound of beef back ribs because, having never cooked ribs before, I wanted to start small.  If you are actually planning to make this into a meal, you'll probably want to at least double the quantity of ribs.


Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Combine a teaspoon each of coriander, cumin, chili powder, plus a few tablespoons each of brown sugar and kosher salt, and a dash of cayenne pepper.


Rub the mixture into the ribs, and rub it in like an I-told-you-so (sorry, couldn't resist the awful pun).  Double wrap the ribs in aluminum foil and place in an oven-safe dish.  Bake for 2-3 hours.

I didn't realize how much the ribs would shrink from the bone, but it makes sense.  Tasty.

I've always been drawn to being behind the scenes.  Take college: Two or three people behind stage frantically trying to help a dancer change from one costume to the next in less than thirty seconds.  Or pulling last minute all-nighters to sew pieces for a fashion show.  Lots of coffee.  Sometimes Rockstar.

So when I read via Susan Park's Twitter* that she and her chef husband Farid Zadi were launching a soft open of their first restaurant, Eat. Good. Clean. Food., I was very excited to check out the space in progress and, of course, to try the food.

The words Eat. Good. Clean. Food. are hard to miss from busy Venice Boulevard.  Mike and I walked inside the unassuming building and were immediately greeted by Susan.  She welcomed us with the ease of someone who spends her days juggling responsibilities and meeting people.  Chef Zadi soon emerged and gave us a tour.  The entire operation was a delightful work in progress--the best part is that people like me can walk in and witness the transformation.

I don't intend to give you an explicit textual tour, so in a nutshell: This is a multipurpose space.  There will be a seating area for casual dining or take out, a store selling specialty food items, an area dedicated to butchery, and a patio for special or private events.  A second kitchen will play host to a new location for the couple's established cooking school, Ecole de Cuisine (needless to say, they are busy).  As of last week, the space was bare, leaving you to imagine what it will look like when finished.

Asked why the name Eat. Good. Clean. Food., Susan cited Chef Zadi's international experience and repertoire.  People assume that because he is a French Algerian, he only cooks North African cuisine, she said, without knowing that he also happens to make a very good pasta.  As for Clean and Good, these are two adjectives people frequently use to describe Chef Zadi's food. 

Indeed, every dish we tried was delicious, and the flavors came through clearly (not muddled).  We sampled a trio of tagines: chicken, spicy beef cheek, and seafood (pictured).  Chef Zadi also brought out a merguez, a soft and flavorful beef and lamb sausage that we ate with harissa.  The menu will change, we were told, as the restaurant settles in.  I can't wait to return and see this place in a few months.  Until then, if you are interested in stopping by, you can follow this link and make a reservation by email.  

* In fact, my first time meeting Susan was last weekend, since I first learned about her via Twitter.  Just goes to show that you can't ignore social media.  And this is coming from the person who still uses SMS to use Twitter (the humor of which someone had to explain for me to understand).

I attended part of the Good Food Festival and Conference in Santa Monica this past weekend.  What began as general curiosity quickly turned into an intense interest in the invigorating discussion that arose.  The Conference was divided into several parts, and they clearly spoke to different audiences.  The focused talks of Friday’s Food Policy and Public Health Summit, for example, stood in stark contrast to the food demonstrations and generalized discussions about topics like Media and Food on Saturday.  I noted the range of speakers present at the event: Policymakers, consumer advocacy groups, farmers, distributors, journalists, chefs, school food service directors, and more.  In two days, I met bloggers, a farmer, a Slow Food organizer, a fish market vendor, an attorney, people working in PR and media, just to name a few.

Conferences like these have a tendency to inspire and inflate without much substance.  But I found the Friday talks informative and in depth.  Of course, the food movement-the term is woefully simplistic-has its fair share of cheerleaders.  But my main takeaway was that food issues are pervasive and layered.  There are so many interrelated factors: Agriculture, resource conservation, public health, socioeconomics, cultural values, pleasure, politics, economics, ethics, and more. 

Here were some highlights of the conference:

  • Learning about initiatives like CA FreshWorks fund and the CA Healthy Food Financing Initiative  (AB 2720), both efforts to bring healthy food retailers to underserved communities
  • Mud Baron, seated at a panel of researchers and policy types, bluntly eschewing the need for more policy papers and calling for more action.  He also claimed he was fired as Policy Director of the Los Angeles Unified School District because of his engagement with Jamie Oliver.
  • Steve Ells, CEO of Chipotle, explaining how Chipotle expanded from a single store into a national chain, saying that there is about a 1:1 ratio of stores to small farms supported.  Note that Chipotle was also a sponsor of the event. 
  • Listening to Judith Bell of PolicyLink talk about food access and say there is a pent-up demand for healthy food among poor communities.
  • Andrew Gunther of Animal Welfare Approved describing Walmart and similar corporations as being necessary distribution channels to keep sustainable food from becoming niche 
  • Mary Lee of PolicyLink describing the food system as falling into two tiers, the latter tier being the food insecure.  She described food as being a function of race, class, and place (i.e. your zip code).
  • Community Health Council talking about a year-long pilot focusing on revitalizing four food retailers in South Los Angeles, an area described both as a food desert and a food swamp (too many fast food retailers). 
  •  Watching Evan Kleiman and Sang Yoon (of Father’s Office) conduct a cooking demo.  Yum.  Evan made a tomato pie (in a tiny oven that looked like my toaster oven).  Sang made a delicious Malaysian rempah that involved a billion spices and patience.
  • In a talk titled Can Local and Organic Feed the World?, (Asian) farmer Molly Gean said, “Our plants are smaller, our yields are lower, our prices our higher. But it tastes WAY better.”
  • A Media and Food Panel moderated by Evan Kleiman and bringing together Jonathan Gold, Gustavo Arellano, Tom Philpott, Kerry Trueman, and Russ Parsons.

-       Gustavo  Arellano, on a double standard: “Mexicans go to their cousin's house to slaughter a pig, and people call the health deparatment.  Hipsters do it, and it's a movement.”

-       Kerry Trueman, quoting her husband as saying, “If you eat ethnically, you can’t eat ethically.”  Whoa. That is a loaded generalization.

-       Evan Kleiman describing there being two worlds in the food community: (1) blogosphere/photographers covering the pleasures of food; and (2) politics of food.  Jonathan Gold following up on the point to say food is inherently political, and that people form themselves into tribes.

-       Mr. Gold also talked about Chipotle, praising the company’s implantation of sustainable practices.  Russ Parsons asked, “What does that mean?”  He noted that calling food “organic” obviates other problems, and that one must look at the entire food system.

-       Tom Philpott, while conceding that changing practices of behemoths like Walmart is necessary, contended it is not sufficient.  He argued for the need to create new institutions that create wealth within communities (citing Growing Power).

-      An audience member challenged the term “food security,” asking why the term “hunger” doesn’t work.  In response, well, there was no direct response. Jonathan Gold said hunger is a sensation, whereas food security is not knowing where your next meal is coming.  Evan Kleiman said food security is a term that’s about access.  But is that it?  Consider these varied definitions of food (in)security:

-       Wikipedia: “Food security refers to the availability of food and one's access to it. A household is considered food-secure when its occupants do not live in hunger or fear of starvation.”

-       UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) cites the World Food Summit of 1996: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”  The FAO says food insecurity hinges on four prongs: availability, access, utilization, and stability.

-       US AID: “Food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger.”

-       World Health Organization also cites the World Food Summit: “The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as existing ‘when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life’. Commonly, the concept of food security is defined as including both physical and economic access to food that meets people's dietary needs as well as their food preferences.”  The WHO goes on to say the food security involves availability, access, and use.

-       USDA: “Food security for a household means access by all members at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” The USDA defines food insecurity as “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways,” such ways meaning ways other than stealing, scavenging, or reliance on emergency supplies.

 

About a month ago, Slow Food USA embarked on a campaign to "take back the 'Value Meal'" (quoting Josh Viertel, president of Slow Food USA).  Part of the campaign was the $5 Challenge, which took place yesterday.  The challenge was exactly what it sounds like: Create a meal costing a total of $5 or less.  The broader goal was to encourage healthier, more conscious eating and to promote dialogue on what a sustainable, delicious food system should look like.

You may already be familiar with Slow Food.  Their mantra is to "[make] it easier to access real food that is good for us, good for those who produce it and good for the planet."

I've been thinking a lot about sustainable food and its challenges.  I'm particularly concerned by the stark divide between "local, sustainable" and hunger/food access.  Despite the criticism Slow Food attracts for being elitist, I do think that it plays a valuable role in starting dialogues, getting issues raised.  With that said, I don't think it's enough to simply talk and "vote with your fork."  My hope is that people will travel outside their comfort zone of like-minded, similarly situated people and find ways to improve food access for all.  But even for me, that's a slow, evolving journey.

Taking this $5 challenge was easy for me, since I've already come to find that most of my home-cooked meals cost less than a McDonald's meal. 

I wanted to make something that reflected what I might actually make for dinner on a busy weekday night.  In other words, quick, easy, simple.  Nothing fancy, nothing complicated.  I even used premade mole, after meeting the people behind it at this weekend's Good Food Festival (more on that later).

The truth is that most people are busy, and the average American is not thinking up the next complicated recipe he or she wants to try.  This is especially true when that person has a family to feed. 

There are many times when I embark on a DIY food project: jam, preserved lemons, barbecue sauce.  Not this weekend, though.

I just grabbed a half pound of chicken thighs from Whole Foods, simmered them in some water for about 25 minutes, then used some of that cooking liquid to mix into the mole sauce.  Meanwhile, I sauteed some onion and pepper, then added some brown rice I had cooked the day before.  Almost brainless.

Here's the final breakdown:

  • Organic, free-range chicken thighs: $3.71 total, 4 meals ($0.92/person)
  • Pepper (not sure what kind this is): ~$0.25 (~$0.13/person)
  • Yellow Onion: About 1/2 = ~$0.45 ($0.23/person)
  • San Angel Red Mole: $7.00 total, used 1/4 jar, 4 meals ($0.44/person)
  • Brown rice: About 2 cups cooked: ~ $0.50/person
  • Olive oil, kosher salt: Hard to guess, but I estimate a few cents at most
  • Water: $0.00

Grand Total: Less than $2.50 per person

Yes, you read correctly.  Somehow, my Korean cousin and I managed to get ourselves signed up for a food photography workshop slash competition today.  Us and 68 other people.  I have butterflies in my chest, especially after learning rather late in the game that we are required to bring photo-worthy dishes and our own props.  

Instead of going for fancy, we are sticking with simple but hopefully delectable dishes.  A chocolate tart topped with fresh berries (see yesterday's post) and japchae, i.e. clear Korean noodle salad.  Photos will be coming shortly!  Wish us luck.

Three reasons why I love Whole Foods unconditionally:

1. I love walking in and seeing a giant smorgasbord of colorful produce.  Playground for adults.

2. I don't worry that my meat is tainted with things that will make me sick.

3. The employees are always trying to give me recommendations!  Thanks, French man who not only pointed me to the berry liqueurs but also offered a suggestion to make fruit vodka in my own kitchen, just as they do in France.  Thanks, butcher, for slicing and carving all our meat and carefully wrapping it in paper.  And thanks, beer man who not only pointed me to his favorite beer but thirty minutes later gave me the biggest smile and a thumbs up when he saw it in our cart. 

Holy smokes, this stuff is delicious, delicious, delicious.
Super refreshing, you just want to keep sipping it over and over again.  Not that I know anything about beer, but of the Belgian (or Belgian style) ales I've tried of late, this is one of my favorites.  The orange citrus flavor comes through quietly, and its effervescence makes me want to dance.

Look around your kitchen.  Now, open your cabinets. 
Are there plates collecting dust, appliances you use but once a year? 

In an effort to make use of what I have, I pulled open all the cabinets in my kitchen and found tools that were long neglected.  Take this food processor.  It was only this year that I realized it could do much, much more than pesto.  I have always been aware of its presence, but I continued to ignore it, due to my irrational fear of technology.  I won't forget the time Mike bought me the first shiny iPhone-there were long queues and visions of a new world order.  I made him return it, ranting something about frivolity and distraction. 

I am still a fan of paper and pen, but time constraints are forcing me to change my ways.  I now use the dishwasher to actually wash, not dry, dishes.  I type notes to myself, instead of jotting them down by hand.  Last night, I had a silent epiphany while using the Kitchenaid mixer to make a batch of cookie dough.  I don't miss the old painstaking methods much.  You could almost call me a technology convert.  (Just don't tell Mike.)

Back to the food processor.  I threw in two cups of cilantro, a couple cloves of garlic, the juice of a lime, some kosher salt, a scallion, and some olive oil.  A few quick pulses, and I had cilantro scallion sauce.  It tasted too acidic, so I drizzled in a tiny bit of sesame oil.  Delicious, and ready to be eaten on toast, with chicken, in soup, tossed with pasta, or over salad.

Making the most of what you have is not always simple.  It requires some thought as well as initial effort, the goal being to eventually fall into a rhythmic, almost thoughtless routine.  One day, I will be pulling this processor out by blind habit, but until then, I am trying recipes one by one, hoping to make this machine my elbow friend.

Looking for a quick dinner that requires only a handful of ingredients?  Look no further. [Fine, I burned it slightly.  M would not approve.  But it still tasted great.]

I've been keeping track of my diet recently-not for any insidious objective like calorie restriction-and noticed that in the course of a month, I eat very little fish or fruit.  Fruit I understand.  My body has rejected fruits by way of inflammatory response over the last five years.  But fish?  I don't love fish the way M does, but I can eat it without having to go to the hospital.  Still, I had this uneasy feeling that preparing fish was smelly and difficult.

But secretly, I wanted to learn how to cook fish, and The Kitchn came to my aid with this salmon recipe.  I tweaked it based on the ingredients I had, and it proved at least one of my fears wrong.  This salmon is very, very good. 

I used farm-raised salmon, even though M said he prefers wild.  According to M, wild salmon is less oily than farm-raised, but I wasn't ready to fork over nearly $30/lb.  Oh Whole Foods.  Sometimes you gouge my heart.

The fish is, of course, flavorful, but for me, it's the vinaigrette that makes this meal.  The scallion brings a piquant kick, the lemon juice the acid, and the cilantro an integral brightness.  [If you're one of those people who hates cilantro (maybe it's not your fault), you can leave it out.  But for me, the more cilantro, the merrier.

Finally, I substituted polenta for couscous, and I think I prefer this thick, creamy base.  It soaks up the vinaigrette and lends a pleasant enveloping texture to the flaky salmon.

The Kitchn blogger sums it up nicely: "[I]t's something I'd order in a restaurant, and at a fraction of the price."

* Now there is a lingering fish smell in my entire apartment.  How do I get rid of it?  Opening the doors and windows hasn't entirely helped.  I've already taken out the trash.


Salmon with Scallion and Cilantro Vinaigrette


Serves 2-3

Ingredients:

1 medium to large salmon fillet, skin removed
1 cup dry polenta
Paprika
Salt and pepper
A few tablespoons olive oil
1/4-1/2 cup cilantro
1-2 scallions, thinly sliced
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice

How To:

  1. POLENTA | Start here, since polenta takes a while to cook.  Add 1 cup polenta to 3 cups boiling water and cook until it has absorbed the water, about 25 minutes.  Add 1-2 tbsp. butter toward the end, if you wish.

  2. FISH | Season your salmon with salt, pepper, and paprika.  Heat a small amount of olive oil over medium high heat in a pan.  Cook your salmon about 3-4 minutes on each side.  

    [Avoid excess oil, since the fish is already somewhat oily.  Using a nonstick pan helps, but I used stainless steel, which gave the fish a nice crust but, then again, almost burned it.]

  3. VINAIGRETTE | While your fish is cooking, mix the sliced scallions, cilantro, lemon juice, and olive oil together in a bowl.  You can chop the cilantro if you want, but I left it whole.  Add salt and pepper to taste. 

    [The Kitchn calls for equal parts lemon juice and olive oil, but I prefer more acid, so my lemon:oil ratio was probably 2:1.

  4. SERVE | Plate polenta on a large plate.  Add your salmon fillet.  Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top, and serve.

 

Two hours, three grocery stores.  Something is not right with this picture.  A special meal in the making?  No, just my average groceries run.  Meat from Whole Foods, coffee from Albertsons, bread from Trader Joe's.  And some random snacks and sundries.

My logic is that the stores are relatively close, and this same trip in San Francisco-sans car-might have taken me twice as long.

On a related note, I've been making many more trips to the grocery store, now that my homemade meal:dining out ratio has increased.

In the kitchen today: Spring soup with asparagus and pancetta, bolognese sauce.

Photo: Our cooking instructor in Chiang Mai, Thailand. 
She is holding two small but potent peppers.

The Internet tells me Spring is still three days away, but already I am planning ways to celebrate its arrival.  Unlike New Years, which pitches me into deep contemplations about humanity and my life path, Spring is a much more manageable transition.  For the same reason, it is also more joyful.  No high expectations to live up to, no austere, self-imposed rules to live by.  Just a few pleasurable moments punctuating long spells of Microsoft Word.

This year, I'm thinking-with the exception of work-small goals, low expectations, and immediate gratification.  I don't mean clothing or exotic trips.  I mean food.  Here's the list I brainstormed this morning.  My stomach is now grumbling.  Off to the market!

COOK/BAKE

  • Something Sweet | How does someone with a slight aversion to sugary treats have such a penchant for baking?  I don't know.  Maybe I like predictable results and precision-the measured cups, the nested bowls, the precisely timed bake.  So what to make?  I tire of cookies.  Maybe a pie?  Ah, but who will eat it?  You're looking at the person who took a week to finish a Ritter's chocolate bar.

 

  • Preserved Lemons | I've heard whispers of these lemons from friends and food blogs.  Now, thanks to NYT's easy DIY method, I feel it is doable.

 

  • Asparagus | I'm trying to think of a spring-worthy dish.  Asparagus would be the perfect vegetable, and risotto is the first dish that comes to mind.  But what else?

 

  • Salmon Cakes | My old roommate introduced me to these cakes.  Seafood isn't something I exactly crave, so I was unfamiliar with the seafood counter at Whole Foods.  But these cakes are addicting*.  And now, thanks to a boyfriend who loves seafood so much he has regular dreams about fishing, I do stop by the seafood counter.  Out of habit.
    * My only gripe is that the recipe calls for canned salmon, and I have some misgivings about canned foods (despite the fact that I still use canned products).

 

PLANT

  • Tomatoes | I don't relish tomatoes straight up the way some people do, and the last word you will hear from my mouth is "heirloom."  But I remember a sauce cooking class from several years back, and how much I like bolognese, and how tomatoes can be worked into so many dishes, and...yeah, I like tomatoes.

 

  • Prik khi nu (Thai chili pepper) | My first attempt at growing these failed, but lucky for me, there is an entire packet of seeds left.  These small peppers are not readily available at your neighborhood grocery store, but their intense spiciness is essential to many a Thai curry or sauce. 

 

If food could be labeled "kitsch," then this is it: A homogenized derivative of the art of fried food.  Never mind that the South, Asia, and maybe Mexico have been preserved for all time in multicolored tubs, or that hand-rendered hues of crisp have been perfected to Golden Tan #5601.  No other flavor-enhanced food makes you recall Piano Lessons.  Hook them early, hook them forever.

Memories or no memories, some days all you want - or all you can manage - is fried chicken strips from your neighborhood franchise.

 

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