March 2011


Hey Guys. Have you met Iain?

This is Iain. He lives in Pennsylvania. He likes to bake. What kind of things does he like to bake? Boy, I’m so glad you asked. Iain likes to bake muffins. Iain likes to bake just about anything, but one of the reasons why I like Iain so much is because he likes to bake pizza.

Iain is known in the blogging community as “The Muffin Man”. Some people call him the Sufjan Stevens of baking. If you’re really wondering why he’s called the Muffin Man, and if the apron isn’t a dead giveaway, maybe this will help:

Mmmmmmmuffins

This is a batch of Iain’s apple streusel muffins. Really, who doesn’t like muffins? Don’t they look great?

Well, that’s not why I’m writing about Iain. Muffins are one thing, but back to Sufjan Stevens. In an endeavor that can only be described as Herculean, Iain has taken it upon himself to create and execute something that every man has dreamed of, but few ever attempt. Even fewer, I might add, document it on the internet for the world to see. What is it, you ask?

Here’s how it works: According to the Muffin Man himself, the 50 State Pizza Project, hatched out of a lengthy latenight Facebook conversation with friends and family, is “An exploration of the American food identity, and my attempt to create a pizza for each state, in the shape of that state, using ingredients native to or associated with that state.”

What a great idea. As a fellow blogger, and a mostly food-oriented blogger at that, I fully support this idea. Pizza number one is from his current state, Pennsylvania.

For the purpose of authenticity, he used a map of the state, with its unique east/west geographical culinary divide, for the mold. To the east, representing the City of Brotherly Love, Rocky Balboa, and all things that fill us with a swell of pride whenever we hear the word “Liberty”, an homage to Cheesesteak. To the west, an ode to the legendary Pittsburgh institution, the Primanti Brothers Sandwich- Steak, Coleslaw, and French Fries. Ladies and gentlemen, you are what you eat. I give you the State of Pennsylvania:

Up next is Washington State, where I hung my hat for two years. It is the land of beautiful waters, pristine seafood, and apples as far as the eye can see. What does the future hold for the 50 State Pizza Project? Check out the link on my blogroll (on the right hand menu bar and down), or find all the excitement at http://muffin-man-blog.tumblr.com/.

I’ve offered my services to assist with Wisconsin at some point in the near future, but I don’t yet know how ramps, cranberries and bratwurst will all fit on the same pie. We shall see. Indeed we will.

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In my own little world for the past few weeks, I’ve thought that I could just get to writing whenever I felt like it. Unfortunately, that has left most people who inquire about this blog wondering and (hopefully) wanting some more from my brain. Sadly, I just haven’t had it. I haven’t been on my critical thinking tack for a while now.

In the meantime, I’ve been working diligently at making high quality meats and recipes to share with harried customers in need of a quick meal at my meat shop. Sometimes, it’s a little tedious, but I had a nice discussion with a woman the other day about how her kids are quite adventurous with what they eat.

“They’ll eat anything. My husband and I took them down to Chinatown for dinner one night, and my eight year old was the one who ordered and finished a plate of jellyfish.”

Kids WILL eat these.

More power to you, mom. There’s a strange idea that kids won’t eat stuff, so many parents feed their kids boring, bland flavors that come out of a box until they’re ready to make their own decisions about their food and how they like it. Here’s my bit of information regarding that: If you feed them bland food, when the time comes to decide what they want to eat, whether it be from the first moment they can pick up a saute pan or when they head off to college, it’s going to be the same garbage.

When I was working at Pike Place Market, I gave a mother some creative ideas about how to hide vegetables in meals, so that her kids would eat it. Taking a trick from one of my aunts, I suggested that she should either puree or chop her vegetables, and tuck them safely away where her young kids could not process what they were eating as something they didn’t like.

“Oh, that’s not a problem for my kids,” she responded. “Two don’t eat vegetables, and the third, my oldest, loves them.”

How interesting. When pressed to figure out why the younger kids wouldn’t eat them, I was given a simple response:

“If it’s a pile of peas, carrots, or brussels sprouts, I tell the kids that they’re off-limits. Vegetables are for adults only. I still give them healthy, nutritious things, and they eat salads, but by the time they’re ready to make their own decisions regarding food, they’re practically begging to find out what they’re missing with the green mass on the adults’ plates.”

Good thinking. You can dress up the vegetables, hide them, or do whatever you want to them to make sure the kids will eat them, or you can simply say that your kids aren’t ready for them. In the meantime, they see you eat them, enjoy them, and they wait, patiently at first, but then more and more anxious as they yearn to find out what all the fuss is about.

Back to the mom the other day at the store. In our discussion, she revealed that she, unlike her husband, grew up with a less adventurous palate. Box dinners, burgers, potatoes, basically bland food. Now, as her kids are getting older and seeing her eating habits stacked up versus those of her more adventurous other half, they wonder as they make the decisions that will shape the way they approach eating for the rest of their lives- If mommy doesn’t eat this, why should I?”

Why should you, indeed? With friends out there who have newborns, I imagine that bad habits from years without children start to take a backseat to raising a young one properly. Drinking, smoking, swearing, and all the other things that peppered their pre-baby existence all start to fade away. One thing, however, and this is important, is that as kids internalize things like shouting as commonplace, so too do they interpret the eating habits of their parents. Even though I am not a parent myself, my advice from a culinary standpoint is to eat smart, eat healthy, and enjoy what you make and order at restaurants, because your kids are watching.

And if I have to hear one more person ask for the frozen corn on the cob or a box of croutons in the company of their seven year old, I’m going to be very put out.

There’s nothing wrong with either one of these things. I’m glad you’re eating vegetables, and I’m even more glad that you’re hopefully putting croutons on your salad, because hey, more vegetables, right?

Still, everyone has a heel of bread left in their fridge, and most of us throw it out. What to do, what to do?

I’ll tell you. Here’s a quick recipe for croutons that you can make in fifteen minutes, furthering your culinary expertise, making your dinners new and different, and utilizing bits of things in your fridge that you may think you have no use for.

 

Croutons

Ingredients:

Bread

Olive oil

Salt

Pepper

Garlic Salt

Rosemary or Thyme

I usually get a baguette at work if we’re having something with sauce, or something that necessitates the addition of a crust of something for mopping or dipping. However, most baguettes don’t last longer than two days. It’s hard to extend the shelf life of a bread whose only ingredients are flour, water, and salt.

We’ll usually go through half a baguette in a meal. Here’s where the fun begins:

Preheat your oven to 375. Slice the leftover bread into thin slices, about 1/2″. Toss in a bowl with olive oil. Lay slices flat on a baking pan, and sprinkle with fresh chopped herbs, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Most everyone has garlic powder, but if you have leftover garlic cloves that are beginning to sprout, slice them in half and give each piece of bread a good rubdown.

When your croutons are seasoned up, throw them in the oven for about ten minutes. The underside will brown before the topside, so check them out and see if they need flipping. If they do, flip them, and let them go for a few minutes more.

When you pull them out of the oven, they should have a crisp outer layer with an inside that maintains a relatively chewy consistency. Put them in a ziploc bag and store them for a week or so in your cupboard.

Note: If you just have regular bread, cube it. Toss with the olive oil and all the herbs, as that will give the croutons a more even coating, and a more even degree of crisp.

Congratulations! You’ve just saved yourself at least three dollars. Don’t you feel French? Pour yourself a glass of wine to celebrate.