Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Food in History and in literature.


“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” —Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

Throughout our history food has played a vital part of our lives … obviously right?  Hello, we cannot live without nourishment.  Looking into some of the great works in literature I have found many references to food and what I found beautiful was these writers, these artists of word found the same thing that those who truly love to dine find …. Food is the beauty; it is color of life.   

 My point is that we cannot truly LIVE without a love for food.  It is embedded in our culture for so many reasons they cannot be counted.  Thanksgiving, Easter Feast, gatherings of friends and so on.  Even the denial of food is historical … fasting!  We go to dinner to ask our for our love’s heart and future.  We celebrate festivals for whatever and the food is a vital part.  We eat for nourishment certainly, but we dine for pleasure and it is that beauty in food and what comes from time spent in that manner that is important.  And since the time that humans began writing stories they talked about food and what I find really groovy is the way they describe food and eating.  Take this quote from Chaucer ….

Well loved he garleek, oynons, and eek lekes. And for to drinken strong wyn, reed as blood”, Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales. 

I believe we are two people; some of us never figure this out or let it matter and they are unfortunate. The first is one who eats purely to rejuvenate their body; the second nourishes to rejuvenate their lives. Obviously I am of the later mindset.  I do not believe in fast food unless completely necessary.  I do not think we should rush through a meal in 30 minutes and while I sometimes find myself eating quickly in my kitchen it is the meals I enjoy with time that make my life better.  That’s right!  Make my life wonderful, create situations for great conversations, allow us to try things we would not normally try and   now for ourselves what we like and why.  Anyway, just found it ironic that many of our great writers over time have mentioned food in a way that signifies it is more than just a meal or to nourish our bodies.  I do not think you need to be an artist, or "left brained" to enjoy the power of food in our lives.  You just need to slow down, take a moment and realize that the moment you are in, the table setting and the meal before you is a time for rejoicing life, your life and hopefully with those who bring you joy.

How about the healing powers of food?  Do we not symbolize this it not a good gesture to bring a friend a bowl of soup when they are fighting an illness? We give a meal when someone dies; everyone brings something for the wake ... why?  Because food makes thing better, it unites us, brings forth a better time.  And yes, it was written many years ago in great literature and this quote makes that point.

“And Tom brought him chicken soup until he wanted to kill him. The lore has not died out of the world, and you will still find people who believe that soup will cure any hurt or illness and is no bad thing to have for the funeral either.” 
John Steinbeck, East of Eden.

In the end we all have a choice … to dine or to eat!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Great Spanish love story .... Sofrito

Sofrito means "gently fried." The sofrito is a mixture of sautéed ingredients—onions, garlic, peppers, tomatoes -that gives depth of  flavor to many dishes in Spanish cooking, from paella to stew, vegetables to pasta. Sofrito is the first step in many recipes. It’s a procedure, a technique and a sauce.

While a sofrito can be prepared in any pan, it's traditionally made in a cazuela, an earthenware casserole. A cazuela takes longer than a metal pan to come up to temperature, but then it maintains a steady, even heat. Ingredients such as chopped onions can be browned on a high heat or they can be "poached" in oil on a low fire until nearly melted.

Often the sofrito serves as a cook-in sauce, added to foods, usually with additional liquid such as wine, to continue cooking until done. In the case of shellfish, this is a matter of minutes, whereas stewing beef or lamb might take an hour or more and require additional liquid. Herbs and spices are added, depending on what is being cooked in the sofrito.

The essential ingredient in sofrito is olive oil. The basic procedure is to heat olive oil in a cazuela or frying pan and sauté chopped onion until it is lightly golden. Sometimes chopped green peppers are added as well. Once the onions are softened, peeled and chopped tomato is added and allowed to “fry” on a high heat for a few minutes.

Seasoned with salt and pepper, the sofrito simmers until the tomato is somewhat reduced. It's now ready to be added to the main food. For example, in preparing menestra (a vegetable medley), green broad beans, peas and artichokes are first blanched, then finish cooking in a sofrito of onions, mushrooms, tomatoes and bits of ham.

If a larger quantity of tomatoes is used, the sofrito becomes a basic tomato sauce. It can be left chunky or sieved to make a smooth sauce. Chicken, pork or bonito that have been first browned in oil are added to it to finish cooking. Or the sofrito sauce can be served over cooked pasta, for example.

A sofrito of onions, peppers and tomatoes may be the starting point for lamb stew, fish soup or chicken in sauce. And, according to Valencia experts, the secret to good paella is the sofrito. The paella ingredients are fried very slowly to develop their flavor. First, olive oil in a wide steel paella pan on a grate over hot coals. Pieces of chicken or rabbit are added to the pan and allowed to brown very slowly. No rushing. Next, some chopped garlic and grated tomato pulp go in, followed by wide flat green beans and fat lima beans. Once the meat is nicely browned and almost cooked, liquid is added and a golden mixture of saffron. Once the liquid boils, the rice is stirred in. As the rice cooks, it absorbs all the flavors of the sofrito.

Batard Bread

YIELD: 12 loaves

For Poolish:
      8                                  cups     Warm Water
      8                                  cups     Hi Gluten Flour
      2                                  Tbs      Yeast
For Dough
      All                                     Poolish
      8    cups                             Warm water
      4    Tbs                              Yeast
      1    cup                              honey
      1    cup                              Olive oil
      4    cup                              Semolina
      24  cup                              Flour(approx)
      4    Tbs                              Salt

1.   One day before mix poolish ingredients, cover and let sit out overnight.
2.   Next day, mix poolish, oil, honey, yeast,  and water in mixer with hook.
3.   Add semolina and mix, add flour 4 cups at a time, mixing well after each addition.
4.   After 16 cups of flour have been incorporated, sprinkle with salt and let rest for 10 mins.
5.   Mix in remaining flour as needed.
6.   Knead on floured board, place on greased pan covered with plastic.

7.   Knock down once, let rise again, knock down again then form into 12 loaves.
8.   You can retard these loaves over night in the cooler or proof and bake immediately