A Weekend at Tendergrass Farms

29 Jun

Last month, I wrote about how I wanted to take my blog in a new direction by visiting and writing about food producers around the world, in order to better understand how the food we eat gets onto our plates. Off the bat, I knew that one of my first destinations needed to be where the whole “food” thing starts. At a farm.

Choosing a farm to visit was easy. Last summer I met David Maren, founding farmer and general manager of Tendergrass Farms, and we quickly became friends through our mutual love of languages and our mutual disdain for our country’s rampant, negligent farming practices. We’ve also been working together over this past year; he sends me samples of food to cook and eat, and I take pictures of that same food for his website. It’s a pretty sweet deal for both parties, hearkening back to humanity’s bartering days: he gets free photography and my family gets free food.

David’s small farm is located near Floyd, VA (about 4 hours from us), so we made the drive down a couple weekends ago to check out and talk about his company. Here is what I found out.

Continue reading

Chicken Kiev

24 Jun


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Chicken Kiev is a Ukrainian dish, possibly influenced by the French roulade (I’m a big fan of roulades – check out my German Rouladen recipe). This dish is characterized by rolling herbed butter into chicken cutlets. To me, this is an ideal meal; chicken breasts tend to be bland without some added fat or spices, and Chicken Kiev has both in spades. To make the butter easier to roll, my recipe calls for freezing the butter for 30 minutes before rolling – it makes a huge difference.

As a Russian linguist and teacher in my day job, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the spelling of the word “Kiev” in my recipe. The Ukrainian government officially changed the romanized spelling of their capital city’s name to Kyiv in 1995, mostly due to the fact that Kiev is the Russian pronunciation of the word. But in truth, Kiev is the original, Old East Slavic pronunciation of the city (technically it’d be spelled Kyev today). I think it’ll be interesting to see how the world spells and pronounces the word for this important city in the future – especially given the amount of attention this corner of the world has received recently. Personally, I like Kiev, but not as a slight to the Ukrainian people or government; I’m just a fan of Old East Slavic.

Continue reading

Ham and Pea Soup

17 Jun


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

PNW friends! I’ll be appearing in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver BC next month, signing books with Sarah Ballantyne and Mickey Trescott! More info on my events page.

Peas are an ancient food, eaten seasonally during the Paleolithic era. They were also one of the first cultivated plants, first grown in Western Asia about 8,000 years ago, and spreading to nearly every major culture from there. Today, there are many reasons to enjoy peas. They are very economical, and frozen sweet peas are one of the cleanest vegetables even when raised conventionally. They’re also very practical, since grabbing a handful of frozen peas from the freezer couldn’t be simpler. This soup is a great example of how convenient the little green guys are; start to finish, you can be enjoying this delicious and deeply flavorful meal in 25 minutes.

The word pea has an interesting origin; it was originally written as pease in English (taken from the ancient Greek pisum), which referred to both the singular and plural forms of peas. People confused the word pease with peas, incorrectly thinking it was plural, and later formed the singular word pea, which eventually became the norm around the 1650s. Pease still exists in some contexts, such as in pease pudding, or the children’s song “Pease Porridge Hot”.

Referring to thick fog as “pea soup” has been around for about 200 years, first used to describe the fog in London.

There is some controversy as to whether peas are “Paleo” since they are legumes. Like green beans, peas are the result of cultivation, and were selectively bred to reduce their toxicity, to the point where they can be eaten (and enjoyed) in their raw state. Theoretically legumes should be avoided, but I’m not one to follow food rules based solely on theory (see: my support of one of those pesky “grain” things, white rice). Personally, until the science definitively proves otherwise, my personal take is that they’re fine. Obviously, if you react poorly to them (or any other food, for that matter), you may want to rethink this approach.

Continue reading

Kare Kare (Philippine Oxtail and Tripe Stew)

10 Jun


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Let me tell you a quick story. I first visited Singapore about 10 years ago, flying solo to the city-state for a work trip. I loved this tiny country from the very start, most especially their melting pot of cultures and languages (the country has four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil). I also happened to be visiting during Chinese New Year, and the whole downtown area was filled with celebrations and fireworks – quite a welcoming sight for this young and starry-eyed traveler.

My first morning in the city I awoke starving (and a little hungover), and decided to scout out some local restaurants for a late breakfast. I quickly learned an important lesson: during the daytime, Singapore basically shuts down for Chinese New Year. After miles of walking, I finally found a shopping center that was open, and headed for the first restaurant I could find, a small, cramped Filipino restaurant.

The menu was written in Tagalog, and I was too hungry and grumpy to ask for an English menu, so I just worked my way through the list of dishes on my own. I settled on Kare Kare, mostly because it sounded like “curry”, and based on its description I figured the word karne meant meat (I was right). Meat curry sounded like a perfect fit for my empty stomach. I couldn’t translate the rest of the dish’s description but I figured I was good to go.

The dish that arrived held little similarity to curry, and was more like a thick, mild stew that tasted like peanuts. I also found little in the way of meat in the dish, mostly attached to weird-looking bones (oxtails) or some strange looking chewy substance (tripe). But you know what? It was delicious, and I ate every bit of it, even if I had no idea what it was.

I’m pretty sure that this meal is what started drawing me towards adventurous eating, and so I wanted to share the recipe for the dish with you this week. As you might have figured out, Kare Kare is a Philippine oxtail stew, often served with tripe and pig or cow feet. There’s a bit of variation to this dish, but it is typically includes eggplant, green beans, and Chinese cabbage. The name Kare Kare may have been introduced by Indian immigrants who settled to the east of Manila, while others believe that the dish came from the Pampanga region to the northwest of the Philippine capitol city.

Continue reading

Easy Roasted Chicken (Recipe from The Ancestral Table)

3 Jun


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

It’s hard to believe, but my cookbook, The Ancestral Table, has been out for nearly four months. I keep finding myself surprised whenever someone tells me they have and enjoy my book; for some reason I keep assuming that only our little family regularly uses it as a reference. So I thought it would be fun to take a week off from my regular recipes and share one from The Ancestral Table, as a gentle reminder to myself that there are other people out there who could use these recipes.

Deciding on a dish to share was really easy; we make this roasted chicken recipe at least once every two weeks. Simply put, it’s one of the easiest chicken recipes you’ll find, and it’s deliciously crispy and juicy. Cooking the bird directly in a skillet also makes it a cinch to whip the drippings into a flavorful gravy. Finally, we like to throw the bones and carcass into our electric pressure cooker for a couple hours to make some tasty and calcium-rich broth.

I’m also giving away a copy of my book this week, signed by me and Paul Jaminet (who wrote the foreword of my book). There are only a few copies like this one, so be sure to enter to win (instructions at the bottom of this post).

Continue reading

Quick and Easy Gluten-Free Seafood Pasta

27 May


Many years ago, pasta cooked with seafood was my solution when I wanted something that tasted great without spending much time in the kitchen. Pasta cooks quickly and is delicious; seafood cooks even more quickly and is even more delicious. It’s almost like cheating in the way that you can have a memorable meal in a manner of minutes.

While pasta is rarely on our dinner table these days, we still miss the convenience of a quick Italian-style dinner. So from time to time I’ll whip something up with zucchini noodles or rice-based pasta. When we’re looking for a special treat, we’ll use Cappello’s grain-free fettuccine, which is made using just five ingredients: almond flour, cage-free eggs, tapioca flour, xanthan gum, and sea salt. Although this recipe in particular was made with Cappello’s pasta, directions for all three pasta types are provided below.

Continue reading

Sambal Terung (Malaysian Roasted Eggplant with Chili Sauce)

22 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

My second recipe of the week also comes from Southeast Asia, this time from Malaysia. Sambal Terung is a roasted eggplant dish, covered in sambal (a spicy chili-based condiment). Like Tuesday’s recipe, this is a dish that comes together easily and would allow me to focus on the main dish of the night (in this case, I was going to make Beef Rendang). I personally like this dish because it carries a deep, exotic flavor with minimal hands-on time; you’ll mostly spend your time soaking and roasting the eggplants.

Sambal has its origins on Java island in Indonesia, traditionally made with 75-90% chiles and a few other ingredients (shrimp paste, salt) added for depth of flavor. The sauce spread to other countries, most notably Malaysia and the rest of Southeast Asia (I have a theory that Sriracha is a product of sambal influence, but it’s hard to say for sure); it also made its way into Europe due to the Dutch colonization of Indonesia in the 17th century and beyond.

Eggplant was first grown in the Indian subcontinent, and spread both East and West from there. It reached China around 500AD, and was wildly popular in the Mediterranean starting in the Middle Ages and continuing today. It wasn’t accepted in Europe until later, around the 17th century, as it was originally considered by Europeans to be poisonous. Because of its widespread use in early history, the words for eggplant itself are all over the place, with no one single root spreading to each language (unlike something like “tomato”, whose origin is easier to trace). This is why you’ll see a myriad of names for eggplant; even English has several words for the vegetable (aubergine being the British variant, borrowed from Arabic, and the Caribbean often refers to eggplant as melongene, also of Arabic influence).

Continue reading

Sayur Bening Bayam (Indonesian Spinach, Carrot, and Tomato Soup)

20 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Over this past weekend, I was scheduled to appear at the latest Perfect Health Retreat in Wilmington, North Carolina as a guest chef. I had a whole day’s worth of recipes planned for the 20+ attendees and staff members, most of them based on traditional Indonesian or Malaysian dishes. I was very excited, and had even devoted the previous weekend to practicing and tweaking the recipes to get everything perfect. And then life struck. My son Oliver started feeling very sick last weekend, likely a gift from one of his pre-school classmates, and by Tuesday I was feeling the full brunt of some relentless flu symptoms.

So I spent last week and this past weekend drifting in and out of a feverish state, catching up on several seasons’ worth of Archer and Portlandia episodes, and trying to find new ways of incorporating bone broth into my diet (hint: developing recipes while under the influence of flu medicine is never a good idea). I’m happy to report that Oliver and I are both on the mend, but unfortunately I missed out on my opportunity to cook at the retreat. So that these recipes don’t disappear from memory, I wanted to share two of them with you this week.

The first recipe is Sayur Bening Bayam, a clear Indonesian soup made with a variety of vegetables, but always includes spinach (and often corn – see my note below the recipe). I chose this soup as one of my dishes because it’s dead simple to make and serves as an appetizer in the most literal sense – its simple tastes both satisfy and whet the appetite for a main course.

Continue reading

Roasted Leg of Lamb

13 May


Gluten-Free, Paleo, Perfect Health Diet

Spring has totally sprung here in Maryland. The temperatures are nice and warm most days, and we’re getting daily rain showers – perfect for new grass but not so great for taking our new dog for a walk. Oh yeah, we got a new dog. I’m not sure why we didn’t earlier; having a dog around has basically doubled my time outside, guaranteeing that I go on daily walks and hiking on the weekends.

Roasting a leg of lamb is a spring tradition in many cultures, particularly surrounding Easter and Passover. While roasting a leg of lamb may sound intimidating, it’s one of the easiest roasts to get right. The meat is naturally tender, so no marinating is required – in fact, marinating is often discouraged since adding acid would denature the tender meat.

As my friend Chef Schneller (who I met while touring the Culinary Institute of America last year) points out, the term “spring lamb” refers to a lamb born in the spring and eaten in the summer. Lambs sold in the early spring are typically from a particular breed (English Dorset) that are born in the fall, milk-fed through the winter, and feed on young grass before slaughter. Generally, a lamb is around six months old when slaughtered, although any sheep under a year old is classified as lamb.

Continue reading

My Day with Tessemae’s

8 May

Salad dressings are an important part of many cuisines. Leafy greens were eaten in prehistory, and despite common misconceptions that early agriculture was entirely focused on grains, many of the first gardeners grew spring greens. The Ancient Greeks often mixed salads with oil, herbs, and seasonings (the word salad comes from the Latin salata, meaning “something salted”). Green salads were especially popular in Medieval Europe, and lettuce seeds were brought to the New World colonies, where salads were eventually redefined; the 20th century saw the advent of French, Russian, Thousand Island, Green Goddess, and even the mighty Ranch – all in the dressing-obsessed United States.

Today, the salad dressing aisle of every supermarket in America is downright embarrassing. Every dressing promises health, high quality and natural ingredients, and not a single one makes good on its promise. I dare you to try and find a dressing that is free of sugar, corn, soy, wheat, seed/grain oils, or chemically-extracted ingredients (hint: you won’t). It’s infuriating, especially coming from a product whose sole existence is to make salads more palatable and nutritious (adding oil increases the bioavailability of the fat-soluble Vitamins A, D, E, and K found in leafy greens). Salads have always been associated with health, but modern dressings have made it more difficult for us to make that connection. The salad dressing industry is so untrustworthy that after first switching my diet I resolved to just eat my salads with olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper.

Enter Tessemae’s All Natural. Our family has been enjoying their salad dressings since 2011; their dressings were first sold in the Annapolis Whole Foods (one of our local markets), so we’ve been riding on the Tessemae’s bandwagon from nearly the start. In fact, last year I used their Lemonette dressing to help secure my win in a bacon competition.

It’s relatively easy, albeit unglamorous and time consuming, to develop your own salad dressings. But I’m a man of simple truths, and the simple truth is that Tessemae’s dressings are so tasty, and contain such high quality ingredients, that I haven’t felt a need to make my own. Essentially, this is the basic principle of supply and demand; thanks to their supply, we carry no demand. Honestly, as a consumer I’d much rather depend on the convenience and reliability of a quality product than figure my own out. There is honor in creating one product, and doing it well – very rarely today do we find true craftsmen and artisans. This is something that Tessemae’s does unequivocally with their dressings and sauces.

I had the pleasure of visiting their Baltimore-based headquarters (lovingly called “the Treefort”) twice over the past few weeks. Here is what I learned.

Continue reading

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 48,364 other followers

%d bloggers like this: