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A Wonderful Site About the History of Food

August 27, 2009

The Food Timeline!

A Facebook friend posted a link to this fascinating site. Beware, my food loving friends – it is quite the time sink. Along the timeline, you’ll find the approximate date that different food items evolved, were invented, or began to be used by humans. The site provides links to short articles from myriad references on everything from ice to sandwiches to kool-aid pickles. And of course, it includes my favorite, kale.

Some interesting highlights:

On Challah: “It was the Eastern European immigrants who put challah on the gastronomical map in the country. In biblical times…Sabbath bread was probably more like our present-day pita. Through the ages and as Jews moved to different lands the loaves varied. But only in America could Jews eat challah…every day of the week…Elsewhere a round challah at Rosh Hashanah became a symbol of life. Usually the Rosh Hashanah bread is formed in a circle, to signify the desire for a long life. At this point, local traditions diverge. Some people add saffron and raisins to make the bread just a little bit more special than a typical Friday-night loaf. In certain towns of Russia, the round challah was imprinted with the shape of a ladder on top, to symbolize the ascent to God on high…Many challot traditions were lost as a result of the Holocaust or because of Soviet religious suppression.”

An early American coconut recipe: “Cocoa Nut Puffs. Take a Cocoa Nut and dry it well before the fire, then grate it and add to it a good spoonfull of Butter, sugar to your tast, six Eggs with half the whites and 2 spoonfulls of rose water. Mix them all together and they must be well beat before they are put in the Oven.”

On the mass-marketing of banana bread: “Banana recipes began showing up in popular American Cookbooks in the 1880s. It is apparent that trendy Americans cooks were eager to include this new fruit in their meals. Most of the banana concoctions were simple adaptions of existing recipes. Mrs. Rorer’s New Cook Book, Sarah Tyson Rorer [1902] contains isntructions for fried bananas, baked bananas, sliced bananas, banana pudding and banana cake in a special section titled “Hawaiian Recipes.” Other cookbooks contain recipes for banana ice cream, bananas en surprise (mashed bananas with strawberries), fruit salads with bananas and, of course, Jell-O molds with bananas inside. The banana split was invented in 1904.

Banana nut bread eventually became a mainstream staple item [ie included in many popular American cookbooks] by the 1920s. This coincided somewhat with the mass marketing of baking powder/soda, ingredients used to create “quick breads” [breads that did not require yeast]. Food companies flooded the American consumer market with recipes [we have one from this Pillsbury’s Balanced Recipes [1933] to promote the use of their flour and baking soda products. Eventually these companies manufactured boxed mixes [instant cake mix was introduced in the late 1940s] for banana nut bread. You can still buy these today.”

Go and check it out for yourself! What a wonderful way to learn about the history of our cuisine – and our species.


Pickling Season

August 24, 2009


To some, late summer is heralded by back-to-school shopping, the smell of new notebooks and pens and fall clothing. For others, it’s canning tomatoes, or stirring steaming pots of thick blackberry jam. For me, it’s making pickles.

I started making my own lacto-fermented pickles several years ago after I read Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, Wild Fermentation. If you’re at all interested in making your own fermented foods, I highly recommend this book. Sandor demystifies the process of making everything from sauerkraut to sourdough bread to cheese, and reading his easy instructions will make you feel confident in experimenting with your own fermented goods.

Real lacto-fermented foods – rather than foods preserved in vinegar or heat-processed (like canned sauerkraut) – offer an amazing variety of health benefits. “Lacto” refers to the bacteria responsible for the fermentation (and the sour flavor), lactobacillus. Fermented foods are natural probiotics, so eating them will improve your digestion and the population of bacteria in your intestines. The majority of our immune system is located in our digestive tracts, so maintaining a healthy population of microbes there is essential. Most of us in the modern world, with our fast-paced lives and less-than-ideal diets, could use a little help in that regard. Lacto-fermented foods can help restore balance after a round of antibiotics, treat yeast infections, and revive sluggish digestion. Since they are commonly very salty, they should be used as condiments rather than main dishes. Try eating a little bit of lacto-fermented food with your evening meal every night – you might be surprised at how positively it affects your digestion, even if you don’t think you have digestive problems.

I certainly can’t improve on Sandor’s wonderful work, but I’ll share with you this incredibly easy method for pickling cucumbers. Once you taste the delicious pickles, maybe they’ll become a harvest season tradition for you, too.

A word about equipment. Some people use beautiful ceramic crocks designed especially for pickling, which is a wonderful – but very expensive – option. Some people use glass jars, but I prefer a container with a wider mouth that gives me more elbow room. Personally, I pickle in plastic. There are people out there who would never ferment in plastic containers, and I understand that, but I live in the city, by a busy road, where I grow vegetables and herbs and fruit in the wake of car exhaust – synthetic toxins are a part of my existence. I believe that the benefits of fermented foods are greater than the negative effects of any trace chemicals you may consume by fermenting in plastic.

However, there are a few ways to minimize your exposure to these chemicals. The first is to make sure that you use food-grade plastic. Buckets designed for cleaning fluids or animal food are not appropriate for fermenting – food-grade plastic is designed to leach fewer chemicals. The second is to use containers that haven’t been heated to a high temperature (as in dishwasher cleaning) – plastic begins to break down and leach greater amounts of chemicals after it’s been heated to high temperatures. I clean my buckets with mildly soapy, only lukewarm water, and keep them out of the dishwasher.

My favorite container is this 12-quart food storage bucket I got from a restaurant supply store. It’s wide and shallow, and can accommodate a large dinner plate to hold down the cucumbers in the brine. The  snap-on lid acts as a weight to press the plate down. I drilled holes in the lid with a cordless drill, so air (and thus the beneficial bacteria) has a way to circulate.


When you’re making pickles, make a lot. Time and invisible bacteria do most of the work for you. Pickles made now will last you into the winter, but if weeks pass and you find you have extra, give some to a friend. Pickles are for sharing.

Spicy Cucumber Pickles

10 lbs. small pickling cucumbers, such as Kirby or Gherkin
3 or 4 large handfuls of fresh grape or oak leaves (these help keep the pickles crunchy)
A lot of dill – big armfuls, if you can get it, including the flowers
7 ripe cayenne peppers, cut into rounds
4 heads worth of garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole allspice

Brine strength: 3/4 cup salt per 2 gallons water

1. If the cucumbers were picked more than a day ago, refresh them in a cold water bath for several hours.

2. Layer the ingredients in your pickling vessel as follows: grape or oak leaves, dill, garlic cloves and pepper slices, and spices. Arrange the cucumbers on top of the other ingredients.

3. Mix your brine and pour it over the cucumbers. Everything will start floating. Don’t panic! Place a dinner plate on top of the cucumbers to weigh them down. If some spices float to the surface, it’s okay. Weight the plate with a jar filled with water, a clean rock, or the object of your choice, or use the method I described above. If you haven’t used a lid, cover the vessel with a clean cloth.

4. Place the vessel in a cooler part of your house and check every few days. Skim any mold that collects on the surface (the pickles are still safe to eat!) After a week or so, start tasting the pickles. When they are as you like them, pack them into jars with some of the brine and spices, and store in the refrigerator.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins

August 21, 2009

zucchini muffin

I’ve never been much of a baker. Oh, I enjoy baking, and can do it proficiently, but I’m not one to make up recipes for baked goods from scratch or play around much with flours and baking powder. I’m intimidated by the science of it, by the methodical attitude needed to produce a decent result – there’s no dash of this, pinch of that, a little taste, a little more of something, which is my usual cooking style. The perfectionist in me is horrified by the faith required to put a batch of something in the oven with the possibility that it might come out unfixable.

Going gluten-free has changed all that. Recipes abound for gluten-free baked goods, but most of them are low in fiber and whole grains, or use multitudes of eggs, which I don’t like to do for a variety of reasons. So I’m learning to experiment, to creat tasty gluten-free treats that meet my desire for a higher nutritional content. The fear of failure (and of wasting all that expensive gluten-free flour!) must be set aside.

These muffins were my first attempt, and go a long way towards mitigating my baking anxiety. They’re dense and moist, mildly sweet, with a classic zucchini bread flavor and the irresistible umami of dark chocolate chips. And they’re absolutely filled with fiber and good nutrients from the teff flour, coconut flour, flaxseed, and zucchini. They will – dare I say it? – keep you regular.

They’re not the prettiest muffins ever to grace the earth. But I will say this: I may or may not have eaten three of them for breakfast this morning. If you’re looking for a sweet, seasonal, but pretty darn healthy gluten-free breakfast (or lunch or dinner or dessert) treat, go ahead and give these a try.

Chocolate Chip Zucchini Muffins
Makes 18 muffins

Dry mix:
1 cup teff flour
1 cup coconut flour
1 cup rice flour mix (plain brown rice flour would probably work fine too)
1 tablespoon Ener-G egg replacer
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1.5 teaspoons xanthan gum
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda

Wet mix:
1 cup melted coconut oil or other vegetable oil
2 cups milk of your choice (I used almond)
1 and 1/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons ground flaxseed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups grated zucchini
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat your oven to 375 and line a muffin tin with paper liners.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine dry mix ingredients and whisk to distribute evenly.

3. In a smaller bowl, whisk together wet mix ingredients. Let stand for a few minutes so the flaxseeds can absorb some of the liquid.

4. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet ingredients into it. Stir well. There is no need to worry about overmixing – regular muffins need to be mixed gently so as not to overdevelop gluten strands and make them tough, but obviously, we don’t have to worry about that problem here!

5. The batter will be quite thick. Spoon into prepared muffin tins – overfill the cups a little bit. Bake until a toothpick or knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool on racks. The muffins will keep in a sealed container for several days.

Peach Pie to Die For

August 12, 2009


I’m really not so much as giving you a recipe as telling you to make this pie.

Back in June I bought a copy of Gourmet magazine to read on a plane, and I was enchanted the minute I read the cover: “Honey Caramel Peach Pie,” it said. Honey? Caramel? Peach? Pie? I set the magazine aside, to wait for peach season.

Peach season is here; it’s been here for a while, and I’ve made this pie, and it’s all I hoped it would be. It was also my first gluten-free baking venture. I’ve been a little nervous about entering the world of gluten-free baking – it seemed so intimidating, what with its multitudes of flours and xanthan gum and extra-wet doughs. But Jill didn’t steer me wrong. I used this wonderful crust recipe of hers, and it was flaky and lovely, and nearly as easy to work with as traditional gluten-containing doughs. If you need to eat gluten-free, I absolutely recommend using it.

The recipe for the pie itself is here. The flavor of the honey caramel adds a subtle, buttery sweetness to the ripe fruit. If you didn’t know it was there, you might not guess – it simply tastes like the best peach pie you’ve ever had.

It’s raining tonight in Portland, and the first whiffs of fall are in the air, so I’m feeling the approaching shift in the season rather acutely tonight. We’ll have the fruits of summer with us for a little bit longer…let’s savor the next few weeks. Preferably with a slice of the best-ever peach pie in hand.

Peach pie

Crunchy Summer Coleslaw

August 1, 2009


If you’re looking for a simple, no-cook side dish for the veggie burgers I posted about the other day, might I suggest this one? The cabbage is tossed in a yogurt-based, not mayonnaise-based, dressing, retaining the creaminess you want from a good coleslaw without all the extra fat and calories. Save the mayo for the burgers!

I just love cabbage, don’t you? I love the crunch and that little hint of sweetness. Like all Brassicas, it’s high in vitamin C, K, and full of chemopreventive antioxidants  (say that five times fast!) Unlike many Brassicas, cabbage is delicious – and digestible – when raw,  so coleslaw is a great way to get in a few servings of raw vegetables. Though as you can tell I’m no raw foodist and don’t buy in to the raw food diet rhetoric, I do like to increase my intake of raw vegetables during the warm months of the year.

For a basic slaw, I like to use a combination of red cabbage, for the sky-high nutrient content, and Savoy cabbage, for its more delicate, slightly chewy texture. You can use any kind of cabbage you want here, but if you haven’t tasted the Savoy variety yet, give it a try.

Coleslaw with Yogurt Dressing

2 lbs. cabbage, cored and shredded
1.5 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, dill or parsley
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
The juice and zest of one lemon
2 teaspoons honey or agave nectar
Salt to taste

1. In a mixing bowl, toss shredded cabbage with a pinch of salt. This will allow the cabbage to soften just a bit, making it more pleasant to eat.

2. In another bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Toss the cabbage with the dressing and serve. This coleslaw will keep well in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

Veggie Burgers Worth Lighting the Grill For

July 27, 2009

Veggie burger blog

As my mother-in-law always says, there’s nothing like a good burger. Especially in late summertime, when the evenings are long and warm, and you can smell the charcoal smoke drifting through the neighborhood while you collect the burger fixings from the garden. Or even if you’re just slicing up a tomato you bought from the store. Perfection.

We vegetarians deserve wonderful burgers too – something better than the pre-made offerings in cardboard boxes that you can find in the freezer section of the grocery store. Something savory, meaty without imitating meat, and substantial enough to hold up on the grill and make a filling meal.

These are those burgers. I can’t take credit for the original recipe, which comes from the good, meticulous people at Cook’s Illustrated. My adaptation is a simpler (though no less tasty) version, and I’ve converted the recipe to vegan and gluten-free, as well as including a much more foolproof way to cook the burgers on the grill and not have them fall apart.

These burgers are nutritionally well-balanced and are high in protein and fiber. It’s worth noting that you can use this recipe template for veggie burgers made with other ingredients, too – a bean, a grain, aromatic vegetables like onions and mushrooms for flavor, a nut, and breadcrumbs, adjusting the amounts you use depending on the moisture content of the ingredients. I’ll offer some of the variations I’ve made on this theme in later posts.

Although this recipe is something of a time sink, and will have you washing more than a few dishes by the end, the burgers freeze perfectly, so you’ll have several quick and easy meals to show for your investment. Before the summer ends (it’s all too quick, isn’t it?) make these burgers, and enjoy.

Veggie Burgers

1 cup brown lentils
1 cup quinoa
¼ cup olive oil, divided
2 yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup raw hazelnuts, cashews, or walnuts
2 cups whole-grain breadcrumbs (I use Trader Joe’s brown rice bread)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. On a sheet pan, toast nuts until they are fragrant and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Once they have cooled, process them in a food processor until they are finely ground, but not so long that they become nut butter! Place the ground nuts in a large mixing bowl.

2. In a covered medium saucepan, bring lentils to a boil with 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Lower the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender, about 30 minutes. Drain any remaining water and add to the mixing bowl.

3. In another covered medium saucepan, bring quinoa to a boil with a scant 2 cups of water and a pinch of salt. Lower the heat and simmer until the quinoa is tender and all the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Add to the mixing bowl with the lentils.

4. In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the yellow onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté, stirring occasionally and lowering heat as needed to avoid scorching onions, until the onions are soft and a deep reddish brown. Add garlic and continue to cook until the garlic is softened. Add the onions and garlic to the mixing bowl.

5. Using the same skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms and a pinch of salt. Toss the mushrooms in the hot oil to coat and sauté, stirring occasionally. The mushrooms will release their moisture; allow the liquid to evaporate. When the mushrooms are dry and lightly browned, add them to the mixing bowl.

6. Mix all of the ingredients together well. Add mixture to the bowl of a food processor (in batches if your food processor is too small), and process until the mixture is coarsely and evenly ground; do not mix for so long that it becomes a completely undifferentiated paste. Return mixture to the mixing bowl.

7. Stir in breadcrumbs, and salt and pepper to taste. Make sure the breadcrumbs are evenly distributed (use your hands! It’s fun!) The mixture will be a little sticky but not wet. Shape into 10-12 patties depending on your size preference and cook according to one of the following methods.

Baking: Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush the burgers with olive oil on both sides and place on a sheet pan. Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 15 minutes, until the bottoms of the burgers are browned, and then flip. Bake for about 10 minutes more or until the second sides of the burgers is browned. Serve.

Grilling:  The secret to successful grilling of homemade veggie burgers is freezing the burgers beforehand. The burgers needn’t be totally frozen—about 40 minutes in the freezer should do it. If you have pre-frozen the burgers, take them out of the freezer for 15 minutes or so, just so they are not rock hard, before you grill them.

You’ll want one layer of hot briquettes on the bottom of the grill. Brush the burgers with olive oil and grill for a few minutes on each side, until you’ve got good grill marks and the burgers have browned a bit (one of the benefits of meatless burgers is that there is no worry about whether the burgers are cooked all the way through or not.) Serve with all the fixings!

Honey Nectarine Smoothie Pops

July 21, 2009

Smoothie pop

Before I proceed with the recipe, I’d like to apologize to my regular readers (all twelve of you) for my extended absence. A four-week intensive statistics class combined with searing heat sapped my will to cook and, even more so, my desire to test new recipes. What with all the math and the climbing temperatures it was all I could do not to subsist on a steady diet of pizza and ice cream.

The statistics over and done with but the heat still overwhelming, I present you with a recipe that requires no cooking whatsoever and takes only a few minutes to prepare. These smoothie pops have a nice balance between creamy and icy, tangy and sweet, and will provide you with a low-calorie, healthy treat that you can snack on throughout these summer days without feeling guilty.

You’ll need a blender (regular or immersion) and a freezer pop tray to make these smoothie pops. The recipe yields eight pops.

Honey Nectarine Smoothie Pops

4 ripe nectarines, cut into pieces
2 cups kefir
1-2 tablespoons honey, depending on the sweetness of your nectarines

1. Blend ingredients together until smooth.

2. Carefully pour the mixture into the freezer pop molds and replace the sticks. Freeze overnight or for 6-8 hours, until solid. To unmold, briefly run the molds under hot running water.