Monday, December 28, 2009

A New Use For Chestnuts

Last night, I made dinner for my dear friends Matteo and Mary who were in NYC visiting. I decided to make braised short ribs (grass-fed, from Grazin' Angus Acres) to celebrate winter, Mary's birthday, and their visit. I had bought some dried chestnuts at the farmers market around Thanksgiving, but hadn't yet decided how to use them. Thinking that their starchy, nutty sweetness would pair well with the short ribs, I started to brainstorm.

To use dried chestnuts, they must first be reconstituted in simmering water. After about an 45 minutes, they were soft and delicious. I've seen mashed chestnuts on menus, so went at them with a potato masher. They didn't react as I expected. The chestnuts became lumpy and meal-like, almost like a very dry pasta dough. I then put them through the food processor and the effect was magnified. As polenta is a natural pairing with short ribs, I decided to go out on a limb and treat the meal like cornmeal polenta.

I decided take a mainly traditional approach (such as Mark Bittman's "Polenta Without Fear") with slightly less liquid, plus freshly ground nutmeg, black pepper, sea salt, and fresh thyme. It took a little longer to come together than polenta usually would, but once it did, the results were outstanding. Creamy, nutty, sweet, savory, and a perfect accompaniment to the slightly-spicy chipotle-spiked braising liquid sauce from the ribs. Didn't take pictures, unfortunately, but this was one of my best inventions to date.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Into the deep blue sea...

Into the deep blue sea...
Originally uploaded by Utter Brandomonium

I hadn't been to a truly industrial supermarket in a while.

Christmas Eve day, I ran to the A&P to get a few things, and was astounded by what I saw. The 'supermarket pastoral' so common in markets was more of an Alice-In-Wonderland-meets-7-11. Nothing in this store would have tricked anyone into thinking they were buying just-off-the-farm goodness. The density of packaged and artificial foods was overwhelming, and wholly terrifying. I found myself mesmerized by the walls-upon-walls of "N.F."

"N.F." = "Not Food." My fiance and I call anything artificial, pre-packaged, processed, or sometimes just out of season "N.F." I labeled all the butter-substitutes in my mother's fridge "Not Food!" with a thick black permanent marker, and then did the same in her pantry. Even though my parents generally source their food responsibly, needless to say I did a lot of labeling that day. I would have needed an army to label everything in the store.

I took out my iPhone, which serves as a fabulous spycam (and takes pretty good pictures for a phone) to document some of the most appalling parts of the store. I added these to my "Fresh Direct" series that I've been building on my Flickr page. This particular picture, from and endless "sea" of tuna fish cans, evoked an odd sense of drowning. It was like seeing an entire school of fish, caught in purse seine nets, canned on site and delivered right to the store. Nauseating thought. The rest of the pictures speak for themselves. They start here.

Even though it's December 27th, we still manage to go to the farmers market every Sunday, and avoid most of the garbage sold as "food" in supermarkets. This is the season for braising, making root vegetable soups, getting creative with kale and apples, and finding new uses for dried beans and legumes (I recently discovered the joys of French green lentils.) While not much is in "season" right now, it's still possible to eat locally and deliciously. The online behemoth Epicurious has a map that shows you what's in season in your area right now. Broccoli, carrots, cabbage and squash seems pretty limiting, but you'd be surprised how many things you can do with these.

Off to the farmers market...