Poached Pears with Vanilla

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Makes: 4 servings

Time: about 20 minutes, plus time to cool

Pears can be poached at any stage of ripeness, with sugar added to the cooking water making up for any lack of fully developed natural sugars. So even with an unripe pear, this becomes an impressive, light dessert. Other fruits you can use: apples, apricots, peaches, nectarines, kumquats, or pineapple. Recipe from How to Cook Everything.

2 1/2 cups sugar

1 /2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, or one 3-inch

cinnamon stick

4 pears

1. Combine the sugar and vanilla or cinnamon with 5 cups water in a medium saucepan (large enough to accommodate the pears) over high heat. Peel the pears, leaving their stems on. Core them by digging into the blossom end with a melon baller, spoon, or paring knife.

2. Lower the pears into the boiling water and adjust the heat so that it simmers gently. Cook, turning the pears every 5 minutes or so, until they meet little resistance when prodded with a thin-bladed knife, usually from 10 to 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow to cool in the liquid.

3. Transfer the pears to serving plates. (At this point, you may cover and refrigerate the pears for up to a day; bring to room temperature before serving.) Reduce the poaching liquid to a cup or less (this can also be stored for a day), then spoon a little over each pear before serving.

Poached Pears with Asian Spices. Add 3 star anise, 5 slices fresh ginger, and 2 cloves to the poaching mix.

Pears Poached in Red Wine. Substitute 1 1/2 cups water, 1 1/2 cups red wine, 3/4 cup sugar, one 3-inch cinnamon stick, and 1 lemon, sliced, for the poaching liquid.

 

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Root Vegetable Stir-Fry

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By Alaina Sullivan

Roots are the gemstones of the vegetable clan. Unearthed from the soil they appear knobby and inedible, but pare away the tough exterior and you’ll uncover valuable flesh.

Grating transforms the roots from dense to delicate and readies them for a quick skillet stir-fry. Celeriac flesh shreds easily; sweet potato takes a little more elbow grease. With the beets, I opted to thinly slice rather than shred them to change up the texture a bit. I worked in three batches so that every ingredient would have a cheek against the hot skillet. As the beets cooked to an al dente tender-crisp, the shredded potatoes and celeriac became browned and soft.

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Americans See a Food System that Needs Fixing

With the Farm Bill fast approaching, and the congressional Super Committee taking a hard look at which farm programs to cut and which to preserve, this is a good moment for Americans to let their feelings on these things be known. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has just released a compelling comparison of two brand new polls detailing Americans’ views of our current food system. One poll was commissioned by the conservation-minded David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the other by the U.S. Farmers and Ranchers Alliance, (USFRA) a well-funded group intent on advancing the interests and restoring the image of big agriculture.

While each poll skews slightly in the direction that you might expect, there’s a surprising alignment. Perhaps most notable in the USFRA poll is that 42 percent of respondents said the U.S. is “on the wrong track in the way we produce food,” as opposed to 39 percent who said it’s “heading in the right direction.” Acknowledging that we’re on the wrong track is the first step (and a crucial one). Getting political decision-makers to follow suit is next, and much more difficult.

Bug your Congressperson.

(This post originally appeared here.)

The Food Movement, One Meal at a Time

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This year, Slow Food USA, which defines “slow food” as good for its eaters, its producers and the environment — a definition anyone can get behind — set out to demonstrate that slow food can also be affordable, not only a better alternative to fast food but a less expensive one. The organization issued a $5 Challenge with the inspired rallying cry of “take back the ‘value meal’,” which in most fast food restaurants runs somewhere around five bucks.

Under the leadership of its president, Josh Viertel, Slow Food has moved from a group of rah-rah supporters of artisanal foods to become a determined booster of sustainability and of real food for everyone. Last month it called for people to cook pot luck and community dinners for no more than $5 per person. “We gave ourselves a month to launch the first big public day of action in what we hoped would become an ongoing challenge,” says Viertel. “In those four weeks we hoped to organize 500 people to host meals on Sept. 17. Our dream was to have 20,000 people participate.”

(Read the rest of this post here.)

Basted Potato Halves

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By Kerri Conan

Perfect for Yukon golds: Turn the oven to 400dg, using the convection roast setting if you’ve got one. Pour a thin film of olive oil into a rimmed baking sheet and sprinkle liberally with sea salt. Trim about 1 pound of potatoes, remove any icky spots, and cut them in half crosswise. Once the potatoes are in the pan, rub them all over in the oil, and put them cut side down. Roast, brushing with the salted oil every 15 minutes or so, until they release easily, 30 to 60 minutes, depending on their size.

 

Curried Chickpeas with Cauliflower (or Okra) and Chicken

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By Freya Bellin

Okra is an underdog of a vegetable, but I’m a full-fledged fan. It has a crunchy exterior, a tender center, and lots of texture from the seeds inside—which is why I chose to go with the okra variation of this recipe. Its season is short-lived here in New York, so I typically jump at the opportunity to cook with it. 

This dish cooks in phases (first chicken, then chickpeas, then veggies), but it still has all the benefits of a one-pot meal, as the flavors keep building. As the title of the recipe might lead you to believe, the curried chickpeas were a highlight. I couldn’t resist snacking on them once they were removed from the pan: browned, crispy, spicy, delicious. They make a great snack, with or without the rest of the recipe. The coconut, ginger, and curry seasonings add some classic Indian flavors, and the chiles just the right amount of heat. I don’t think this needs sugar (in fact, I seasoned with more salt at the end) but taste as you go. Recipe from The Food Matters Cookbook.

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Is Junk Food Cheaper than Real Food?

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THE “fact” that junk food is cheaper than real food has become a reflexive part of how we explain why so many Americans are overweight, particularly those with lower incomes. I frequently read confident statements like, “when a bag of chips is cheaper than a head of broccoli …” or “it’s more affordable to feed a family of four at McDonald’s than to cook a healthy meal for them at home.”

This is just plain wrong. In fact it isn’t cheaper to eat highly processed food: a typical order for a family of four — for example, two Big Macs, a cheeseburger, six chicken McNuggets, two medium and two small fries, and two medium and two small sodas — costs, at the McDonald’s a hundred steps from where I write, about $28. (Judicious ordering of “Happy Meals” can reduce that to about $23 — and you get a few apple slices in addition to the fries!)

(Read the rest of this post here.)