Hope on the horizon

Posted by Anita on 11.30.09 5:16 PM

(c)2009 AEC **all rights reserved**We’re in the initial planning stages of Menu for Hope, the annual food bloggers’ charity raffle that benefits the World Food Programme. If you’re a blogger, check out Pim’s page on how to get in on the fun.

But whether or not you have your own blog, I could use your help: What kind of prize would you like to see offered here on Married …with dinner?

In the past, our prizes have covered a lot of bases, from “Best of the Ferry Building” local food baskets, a set of Drink of the Week cocktail notecards, and even a custom mixology service.

The food baskets have been the most popular, year to year, but they’re a pain to shop for, and a hassle to ship. And relative to the prizes from other blogs, they’ve never done all that well. I’m game to do the goody basket again, if that’s what you all really love, but I can’t help but wonder what other treats might entice you to open your wallet for a good cause. Books? Gift cards? Something creative? Something homemade?

Tell me.

giving back, Menu for Hope, other blogs


Dark Days, big feast

Posted by Anita on 11.30.09 9:46 AM


With all the hullabaloo about 100-mile Thanksgiving, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this is possibly the easiest Dark Days Challenge week of the year. Maybe it’s because we’ve done this for three years now, and our holiday menu rarely changes much. Maybe it’s because nobody thinks it’s odd to plan this particular meal far in advance, including ordering the main course well before the first leaves turn colors. Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving is one of the few times each year when Americans eat with the seasons, whether they’re aware of it or not. But to me, planning a locavore Thanksgiving celebration isn’t just fun, it’s also pretty simple.

My mom, sister, and brother-in-law joined us this year, and our family feast included a big pasture-raised bird from Bill Niman’s BN Ranch, with all the traditional sides: Shredded brussels sprouts sauteed with bacon, mashed potatoes and gravy, Grandma Anne’s stuffing, and a new-to-us recipe for sweet potatoes that kicks the usual sickly-sweet toppings to the curb with thyme and a dash of red pepper. And it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without a big slice of pumpkin pie to round out the food coma. (I don’t like pumpkin, but I’ll boldly claim once again this pie will win over even the most vehement squash haters.) Our only non-local dishes were two bowls of cranberry sauce — one plain, one fancy — but since our friend Jeanne bought the berries direct from the Cape Cod farmer who grew them and toted them home in her carry-on bag, I’m not going to lose a lot of sleep over this little lapse.

Some in our family would say that the best part of Thanksgiving is actually the leftovers, including turkey/pork-sausage hash with poached eggs, a riff on Chuck’s holiday turkey gumbo (made with local Dungeness crabs in place of shrimp), and of course good-old turkey sandwiches on delicious homemade bread.

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Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

BN Ranch, Bolinas: Heritage turkey
Mariquita Farm
, Watsonville: russet potatoes, sweet potatoes
Balakian Farms
, Reedley: pumpkin
Dirty Girl Produce, Santa Cruz: shallot
Catalán Family Farm, Hollister: onions
Fatted Calf, Napa: bacon
Spring Hill Cheese Company
, Petaluma: butter
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: flour (pie crust, stuffing bread)
Clover Organic, Petaluma: cream
Vella Cheese, Sonoma: dry Jack cheese
Iacopi, Half Moon Bay: brussels sprouts, garlic
G&S Farms, Brentwood: corn (stripped and frozen in August)
Bariani, Sacramento: Olive oil
Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: pastured eggs
Hamada Farms, Kingsburg: clementines
Fleur, Napa and Mackenzie, Sebastopol: wine
…and our own homegrown sage, parsley, celery, and thyme

Exemptions: Salt, pepper, sugar, yeast, nutmeg, cinnamon, cranberries (hand-carried from Massachusetts by Jeanne)

Dark Days challenge, Eat Local Challenge, holidays & occasions, locavore


My edible heritage

Posted by Anita on 11.24.09 9:22 AM

(c)2009 AEC **All Rights Reserved**We’ve always called it “Grandma Anne’s stuffing”, but one year I discovered the recipe for our favorite Thanksgiving side-dish is much older than we knew.

When my grandfather passed away, I inherited his mammoth recipe box. Buried amid a slew of tortured 1970s-era gourmet recipes were a small, weathered stack of old recipe cards, written in a puzzling mixture of English and Italian (sometimes combined in one dazzling portmanteau, like  “saurcraoti”). Most of the recipes were neatly lettered in a spidery convent hand on old ledger cards, but a few were obviously cut from the bottom of longer letters from my great-grandmother, Annunciata, to my grandmother, Anne; the back sides of the recipes offer snippets of a longer, advice-laden conversations at the very beginning of her marriage to my grandfather.

One such card, titled Impieno per Gallina (hen stuffing) is dated “1939 NY”, and bears an incredibly strong resemblance to our family’s traditional Thanksgiving stuffing. The quantities are smaller — even a big chicken wouldn’t need the giant bowl of filling that a turkey requires — but the ingredients are unmistakable: onion, celery, Parmesan, sage, and a pinch of nutmeg.

Now, I realize that it’s impossibly foolish to offer you my family’s stuffing recipe, heirloom or not, because everyone I’ve ever met is fiercely loyal to their own traditional ideas of Thanksgiving fare. And while you may be able to get away with adjustments to the turkey, or to any number of other side dishes, most people would rather fight than switch when it comes to the dressing. But just in case you’re game for starting a new tradition, feel free to borrow ours.

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Great-Grandma Ciata’s Turkey Stuffing
1/4 to 1/2 pound bacon, diced fine
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups finely chopped celery
1/4 cup chopped parsley
bread from 1-1/2 loaves, cubed and dried (4 to 5 quarts)
2 cups chicken stock or turkey broth
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan or other dry cheese
2T fresh sage, minced
dash of nutmeg

In a cold frying pan, place the bacon, onion, garlic, celery, and parsley. Saute over low heat, being careful not to brown. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile in a large bowl, moisten the bread cubes with the stock/broth. Add the cheese, sage, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste. Combine with the bacon mixture, then bake in the bird, in a foil-covered casserole, or in a slow cooker.

family, holidays & occasions, recipes


Dark Days, bright colors

Posted by Anita on 11.22.09 11:31 AM

(c)2009 AEC - All Rights ReservedPossibly the only thing I love more than food is travel. I just don’t feel right unless there’s at least one trip on the horizon, preferably two. We’ve been lucky enough lately to spend three of the last four weekends on the road — on a spontaneous trip to Los Angeles, then back down to Long Beach for Matt’s photography class, and then up to Sea Ranch to celebrate Sean’s 40th birthday.

But all this gallivanting around — especially over the weekends, when our biggest and best farmers markets are held — makes it rough to eat local. We’re lucky enough to have a shop or two in San Francisco that really pays attention to the issues of local eating, but when summer comes to an end, even their 100-mile offerings can make it hard to shop on a whim.

Our chicken-and-egg CSA keeps us stocked with a relatively painless source of fallback protein, and we’re pretty good at freezing, canning, and otherwise putting up food for just these sorts of circumstances. In a regular post-travel week, we’d probably have pasta bolognese one night, chili or sloppy joes for another dinner, and maybe chicken soup for a third. But this week marks the start of the 3rd Annual Dark Days Eat Local Challenge, so I wanted to have a photo- and post-worthy recipe to share.

We’re still pulling carrots and a small handful of beans out of our garden, so our first side-dish was a simple combination of quick-braised vegetables. And since we’ve got local sources for rice, not being able to get to the farmers market for local potatoes or other starches was no hardship. I knew we had some chicken in the freezer from our last CSA delivery, so I just had to find a new way to prepare it. (After four years of blogging and three years in this particular challenge, I’ve pretty much used up my stash of tried-and-true recipes!)

Because we’ve been up to our ears in tomatoes from the garden, I wanted to avoid most of the Italian-style recipes that would take us back in a tomato-y direction. And since it’s finally feeling like autumn around here, I craved a recipe with a heartier presence, one that would give us a good dose of internal warmth for the cool evening. This traditional Alsatian dish fit the bill quite nicely: Simple enough to whip together on a weeknight from easily-sourced local ingredients, but pretty and delicious enough to share with you. A simple snack of baguette, cheese, and radishes from our garden kept us happy while the chicken braised, and dinner was on the table in just about an hour.

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Poulet au Riesling
- adapted from Jean-Georges Vongerichten in Food & Wine

5T unsalted butter, at room temperature
a 3-1/2-pound chicken, quartered
1 large shallot, minced
2T brandy
1 cup dry Riesling or other spicy/fruity dry wine
6 ounces white or brown mushrooms, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1T flour
1/3 cup cream

Rinse and dry the chicken parts, and season with salt and pepper. Melt 2T of the butter in a large skillet; add the chicken and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, turning to brown all sides.

Add the shallot to the pan and saute for 1 minute. Add the brandy — flambé it for added flavor, if you like — then add the wine. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the chicken breasts are just cooked through. Transfer the breasts to a plate and cover. Continue to simmer the legs about 10 minutes longer, then remove them to the same plate with the breasts.

While the chicken simmers, melt 2T of the butter in a second skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook over low heat until the liquid evaporates. Season with salt and pepper, then increase the heat to medium and saute until browned.

Make beurre manié with the remaining butter and the flour. Stir the cream into the skillet with the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Gradually whisk the beurre manié into the cooking liquid and simmer while whisking, at least 3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and adjust seasoning to taste. Return the chicken to the skillet and briefly reheat. Serve with rice or noodles.

Farmers and food artisans who created the ingredients for this week’s meal:

Soul Food Farm, Vacaville: chicken
Dirty Girl Produce
, Santa Cruz: shallot
Spring Hill Cheese Company
, Petaluma: butter
, Geyserville: brandy
Handley Cellars, Philo: Gewürztraminer
Far West Fungi, Moss Landing: cremini mushrooms
Guisto’s Vita-Grain, South San Francisco: flour
Clover Organic, Petaluma: cream
Massa Organics, Hamilton City: rice
Semifreddi’s, Alameda: sweet baguette
Andante Dairy, Petaluma: Picolo triple-cream cheese
…and our own homegrown radishes, carrots, and beans

Dark Days challenge, locavore, meat, recipes


My stylin’ weekend

Posted by Anita on 11.19.09 8:53 AM

(c)2009 AEC All Rights ReservedI’m pretty proud of most of the photography on our blog. I’ve won an award or two, and I’ve even taught people how to shoot better cocktail photos.  But even though I’d gotten pretty handy behind the lens, for the life of me I could not shoot a beautiful sandwich. (If you don’t believe me, check out some of my older posts.)

This competence gap of mine had gotten so bad, I’d basically scratched sandwiches off the blog to-do list. I even participated in Michael Ruhlman’s Grow-Your-Own BLT Challenge this summer, but the end result was so photographically uninspiring — so utterly unworthy of all the effort we put into growing,  butchering, curing, smoking, kneading, and whisking every last ingredient we used — that I never wrote about it here. (Though I did recap, briefly, here.)

All that changed last weekend, when I took the class that will forever change the way I think about photographing food in a studio setting.

For years, I’d drooled over other blogger‘s accounts of the food-styling workshops led by Food Fanatics Denise Vivaldo and Cindie Flannigan, but had never taken the plunge and signed up myself. But when I heard they’d teamed up with food photographer (and MattBites blogger extraordinaire) Matt Armendariz to host a special two-day workshop just for food bloggers, I knew the time had come.

During Saturday’s session, Denise and Cindie walked our small group through a number of food-styling tasks, first demonstrating techniques, then setting up stations in Matt’s studio kitchen for us to practice ourselves. Although Cindie demonstrated a handful of non-edible styling tricks (like using petroleum jelly to add a juicy glow, or propping up a stack of pancakes with makeup sponges) she always demonstrated edible alternatives (like freezing syrup to keep it viscous, or using a kitchen torch to get a hamburger deliciously browned). All through the class, Denise kept us laughing with snippets of industry gossip and a rolling patter of hilarious quips to illustrate key lessons. (My favorite: “The longer you cook a piece of meat, the more it looks like George Hamilton!” So true.)

On Sunday, each student chose a project to put real-world skills to the test. As we prepped our dishes for their moment in the spotlight, Cindie and Denise stepped in to offer suggestions and share tricks. The kitchen hummed with a gaggle of bloggers hand-arranging strands of pasta in a bowl, selecting only the reddest pomegranate arils to garnish a salad (and then arranging them with tweezers!), melting pizza cheese with a heat gun, and bulking up the bottom of a bowl of curry to keep the prettier ingredients from sinking to the bottom.

For my own project, I knew I was in a safe place to tackle my sandwich fears. Denise showed me three different ways to cook bacon so that the edges stayed curly and appetizing, taught me to cook toast to a perfect golden-brown glow, and stood by as I sorted through a pile of lettuce to find the freshest, prettiest leaves. After stacking and restacking the ingredients in various combinations, I was able to create a BLT that actually looked as good as I knew it would taste.

I chose a relatively simple setting for my “hero” sandwich, and waited for my turn at one of the two shooting stations Matt had positioned in the abundant natural light of the studio’s roll-up doors.  One of the most enjoyable parts of the day was watching my classmates set up their projects, place their props, adjust their tripod positions, and fiddle with the details. Blogging is such a solitary activity; it was a real treat to watch other people’s creative processes up close. Matt worked with each of us to find the best angle for our shots, adjust lighting, suggest changes to props, and generally hold hands and help us feel confident about our own abilities.

The class wasn’t cheap — $695 for two days of combined demos and hands-on workshop — but even as an experienced photographer, I felt it was worth the expense. There are precious few opportunities to learn food styling from reputable stylists at the top of their game, fewer still to work one-on-one with one of the country’s top food photographers. Having all three of these experts together in a single, collaborative workshop was invaluable, and getting to play in a professional food-photography studio was the icing on the cake.

The biggest and most pleasant surprise of the weekend was just how much everyone in the class collaborated, helping each other choose our project subjects, select appropriate props from Matt’s amazing inventory, set up our cameras to capture the best shots, and make adjustments to food on the set. Though we all were working at different levels — some were more experienced at styling but needed help with their cameras, and vice-versa — we all helped each other get great results.

At the moment, Food Fanatics doesn’t have any additional styling-plus-photography classes like this one scheduled, but that’s due to change soon: A repeat of the blogger-specific class is slated for late spring/early summer 2010. (Watch the Food Fanatics blog for details.) If you’re just interested in the styling aspect, Denise and Cindie will be teaching two classes in January: a 3-day food-styling workshop in Long Beach, and a 2-day hands-on food styling class in San Francisco at the The Art Institute.

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Food Fanatics
Professional site: Food Fanatics
Food styling classes: Culinary Entrepreneurship
Blog: Food Fanatics Unwashed
Twitter: @FoodFanatics

Matt Armendariz
Professional site: Matt Armendariz Photography
Food & photo blog: MattBites
Twitter: @MattArmendariz

classes, other blogs