Thursday, February 28, 2008

Repost: Take a Good Look at the Diet of Each Country

An interesting series of photos that appeared in a MySpace bulletin today:

Take a Good Look at the Diet of Each Country

Italy: The Manzo family of Sicily

Food expenditure for one week: 214.36 Euros or $260.11

Germany: The Melander family of Bargteheide

Food expenditure for one week: 375.39 Euros or $500.07

United States: The Revis family of North Carolina (I really hope most American
families eat more fresh fruits and vegetables and less junk food than this family.)

Food expenditure for one week $341.98

Mexico: The Casales family of Cuernavaca

Food expenditure for one week: 1,862.78 Mexican Pesos or $189.09

Poland: The Sobczynscy family of Konstancin-Jeziorna

Food expenditure for one week: 582.48 Zlotys or $151.27

Egypt: The Ahmed family of Cairo

Food expenditure for one week: 387.85 Egyptian Pounds or $68.53

Ecuador: The Ayme family of Tingo

Food expenditure for one week: $31.55

Bhutan: The Namgay family of Shingkhey Village

Food expenditure for one week: 224.93 ngultrum or $5.03

Chad: The Aboubakar family of Breidjing Camp

Food expenditure for one week: 685 CFA Francs or $1.23

"Society comprises two classes: those who have more food than appetite, and those who have more appetite than food." ~ S├ębastien-Roch Nicholas de Chamfort

The contrast between foods consumed by families in each country and the amount of money spent is certainly something to think about-- worth noting is how dominant processed foods are on the American table compared to others. I fear that this is not an exaggeration.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Leftover Crab, Part One: Crab Salad Sandwich

The closest thing to crab salad that I ever encountered before making it myself was the "Seafood Spread" sold in quart-size tubs at Costco, which I recall containing more "Krab" than anything else.

After spending a tedious half-hour or so painstakingly picking the crab from the main cavity and from just two of the legs, I added to the meat:
  • olive oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • dried oregano
  • dash cayenne
  • tiny bit of dijon
  • green onions (sliced on the bias)
The flavor of the extra virgin olive oil I used was a bit overpowering at first but I remedied that by adding a touch more vinegar. Tweaking is the key to cooking. I enjoyed my first-ever crab salad on burnt toast. I should probably invest in a toaster instead of using my below-the-oven broiler.

I used only about a third of the leftover crab I had for the salad-- the fate of the rest is coming up.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

My Parents, My CSA

For a grocery fanatic/addict/fiend, I don't actually buy groceries very often, I know.

This is why:If my parents didn't have such a prolific garden in their backyard and if my mother didn't insist on creating little care baskets like this for me whenever I visit, I'd be able to give Community Services Unlimited my business in addition to my volunteer hours.

In this basket:
  • green onions
  • a single Spanish onion
  • tiny, whole, dried chiles
  • homemade pickled greens
  • 2 100-Calorie "Snack Packs"
  • oranges
  • a Fuji apple
And leftovers from this meal:

Between the produce and the prepared food, it is difficult to justify purchasing anything other than a head of lettuce here, some bacon there, the odd tomato or avocado.

I have to admit, my entry-level-non-profit-administrative-employee budget appreciates this immensely despite any culinary limitations I end up facing by constantly making sure I use up these gifts.

Feed yourself (more information):
  • Watch Alton Brown talk about and disassemble Dungeness crabs
  • What's a CSA? A good thing.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shrimp Tacos & Messy Fingers

It all began with this recipe from the Pioneer Woman. She does a spicy broiled shrimp that is drowning in butter, hot sauce, pepper, and lemon. I happened to have limes and was inspired to eat the shrimp in tacos. (I've been eating mostly rice and pasta for weeks and a change of carbohydrate was in order. A diverse diet is a happy diet. A happy diet is a happy human. A happy human is a happy universe. A happy universe is happy.)

In the beginning, there were shrimp. De-veined with the shells on. I left the heads in the pan to add flavor to the final juices that I'd end up soaking up with tortillas. Crustacean brains are delicious.

In the pan:
  • 7 large shrimp
  • 1 tablespoon of butter, cubed (it might be just slightly more than 1-- use your best judgment)
  • Juice of 1.5 limes
  • kosher salt
  • many grinds of black pepper
I didn't have all of the components for a proper pico de gallo, but enough of them to fake it. It came close enough. I chopped:
  • 1/2 of a jalapeno
  • 1/2 of a plum tomato (had to conserve, only bought one!)
  • 1/4 of a small onion
I mixed these with the juice of another lime. Bless my parents for their prolific lime tree, for I am rarely without.

The shrimp were done after about 7 and 1/2 minutes under the broiler, a flip half-way through. Some were a bit more charred than the others and their shells had crisped enough to eat without peeling. Almost.

I got into a shrimp-peeling and taco-assembling groove and devoured it all in one sitting.

The consumption of this meal required only two or three paper towels. I am quite proud of myself for that.

To be honest, though, I am not a huge fan of shrimp tacos; the only seafood tacos I wholeheartedly, helplessly enjoy are the fish tacos from Los Cotijas on Euclid and Chapman in Garden Grove, California. That place has rendered me incapable of enjoying any other fish taco. Do not go to this place unless 1) you are visiting from way down south where "Ensenada Style" fish tacos are just called "fish tacos," or 2) you don't mind being disappointed by every fish taco you taste thereafter. Perhaps you will not be as blown away by them as I am -- it's your risk to take. Just don't come crying to me when Rubio's and Wahoo's tacos taste like bland mush afterward.

A guide for those who will venture there despite my warning (or because of it):

  1. Order only one fish taco, and the beverage of your choice. Do not order more than one at a time; these are at their absolute best when they are so hot that you can barely hold them. If you are still hungry after the first one, you can always go order another. Trust me on this, please.
  2. Be generous with the salsa from the squeeze bottle. I also like to squeeze more on each bite as I eat, but I'm a fiend.
  3. Once you pick the taco up, you've made a commitment. Putting the taco down will likely confuse and frustrate you as you attempt to pick it back up. Forget about using the taco hand again until you have consumed the entire taco.
  4. After consuming the taco, sit for a moment. Contemplate what you've just done, what you've just eaten, and whether you really want another. If you conclude that yes, you are still hungry, repeat steps 1 through 3.
  5. These tacos are great to-go, but you are doing a grievous disservice to yourself if you do not eat it for the first time fresh and hot inside the restaurant.
If you go, please take me with you.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Accidental Truffle

Disclaimer: This post by no means advocates the celebration of St. Valentine's Day through the conspicuous consumption of chocolate.

It does, however, present an excellent way to do it if you so choose.

Chocolate truffles are a decadent and satisfying dessert, and are also ridiculously easy to make. A homemade truffle may not match a confection from Jacques Torres (whose website background alone makes me salivate), but they will most certainly be a lusciously different experience than a mass-produced Lindor truffle.

I stumbled into making my first chocolate truffle by accident: I had made a sinful little pot of hot chocolate that I will now shamelessly admit was actually just slightly-thinned ganache. I drank part of the batch and, sated, stored the rest in the refrigerator. A few hours later, I discovered my chocolate libation had solidified. I took a tea spoon and dragged it through the surface of chocolate for a taste.

As the spoonful creamily melted and spread over my tongue, I knew that I had to make truffles, even if they would be too soft-- if I didn't, I ran the risk of consuming another entire mug-full of cold "hot chocolate" in one sitting. For the sake of my health and my dignity, I had to implement portion control.

I used the teaspoon and my hands to make approximately eight to ten small truffles, rolling them each gently in cocoa. They were rustic, misshapen, and absolutely wonderful.

I don't have a truffle recipe of my own to share since neither a bar of chocolate nor a pint of cream have ever again stuck around my kitchen together long enough for truffles to happen, but here are a few folks who do have recipes:
Photo credit: chocolate monster mel

Monday, February 11, 2008

Memory: With Our Fingers at Earth Cafe

I am reading Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, and Phoebe Nobles' essay "Asparagus Superhero" triggered an old gastronomic memory.

During my third year at UC Irvine, a couple of my food-enthusiast friends introduced me to the Earth Cafe, an independent shop tucked away in a strip mall next to Ralphs on University & Michelson. Its neighbors included a pho restaurant, an IHOP, and a Korean barbecue restaurant. The cafe served luscious fresh-fruit and yogurt smoothies as well as a variety of vegan baked goods. As a staunch omnivore, I wasn't sure that I'd be at all interested in a place that would deny me butter in my pastries--and I wasn't. I was won over by the tropical "Fatbuster" smoothie, made with fresh papaya, pineapple, honey, and lemon.

My friend Joanne was particularly fond of the place and went often enough to be acquainted with the owner, Alen. One lazy, warm afternoon, Alen came out of the kitchen and sat near our textbook-strewn table with a plate of steamed asparagus. Instead of studying, we talked with him; I can't remember what it was about, probably something relating to our futures and what we were planning to do with the rest of our lives after the glorious years of college were over. That's really irrelevant now. What I remember is Alen eating those fat, end-of-the-season asparagus stalks with lemon-pepper salt, and offering it to us.

We took the cold stalks, dipped them into the little pile of salt, ate them with our fingers. Alen would periodically dip his licked finger directly into the salt to deposit more in his mouth. Two things startled me: the fact that the asparagus was overcooked, and the intimacy of the insanitary double-dip we were sharing with Alen. Something loosened in me since then and I am less fussy when sharing food casually. I also learned that it's very hard to ruin an asparagus tip.

I called to see if the cafe is still there and was greeted by the ominous operator's I'm sorry, the number you have dialed has been disconnected.

Photo credit: Itsjustanalias

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Tip: PB & J Plus C

One of the realities of living on a tight budget is the simultaneous joy and sense of hopelessness that comes from sustaining oneself on the classic peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

A PB & J on its own is generally satisfying, but it's nice to take a hint from the "gourmet peanut butter" people like P.B. Loco and make things just a little bit more interesting:

  • Add a dash of cinnamon (or cayenne if you're feeling more adventurous).
  • Toast the bread on only one side: this adds some integrity to it, making it easier to spread on the PB, and it also creates more texture and flavor
Transportable, easily assembled, and cheap--armed with one of these during a trek through the city, I'm able to stave off the urge to spend money on a snack.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Shopping Report

Today I bought:

  • 1 avocado, 1 plum tomato, 1 jalapeno, and 3 dozen tortillas
  • Total: $3.20 (I have no idea what the breakdown is, I just trust the cashier at my bodega.)
I have to be careful about these little impulse buys for dinner-- they could add up and throw my budget out of whack. In a way, it was a necessary purchase... I had some shrimp in the refrigerator and I just couldn't imagine having them with rice or pasta per usual. Instead, I made this:

The recipe is forthcoming.

Feed yourself more (information):

Is Cheap Meat Worth It?

The following video is from the Human Society website and is extremely graphic. I strongly advise against watching it if you are weak of heart or stomach.

The footage captures dairy cows too sick to walk being shocked, beaten, and terribly abused at the Hallmark Meat Packing Company in Chino, California. The men are torturing them to get them to stand because US law prohibits the slaughter of cows that are too sick to stand or walk on their own: such cows heighten the risk of mad cow disease and E. Coli entering the food supply. "Downed" dairy cows are supposed to be humanely euthanized-- these cows are being taken to be slaughtered.

In one instance, a cow is being led to slaughter that "has been lying in manure for hours."

As if it weren't enough that these sick animals are being tortured or that they will be fed to people, but they are to be fed to children: this slaughterhouse provides meat to the second largest supplier of ground beef to the National School Lunch Program, Westland Meat Company.

A number of wider issues can be extracted from this appalling news:
  • In our hunger for affordable meat, what costs to our health are we incurring?
  • There is an obvious problem with the agribusiness industry: how can we change it to make sustainable and humane farming more profitable?
  • How can a school lunch program be effective if it provides such low-quality food?
  • We know which kids from which schools in which neighborhoods end up eating this food-- this is not only an animal rights issue but a social justice issue.
I have never seriously considered becoming a vegetarian and I'm not sure if I will ever reach that point. However, I do consider the origins of the meat I buy and seek alternatives whenever I can. This could be part of the reason why the bacon I bought last night was the first meat that I've purchased from a grocery store in weeks. I will not be a hypocrite and say that everyone should go out and buy only organic, grass-fed, free-range, sustainably-farmed everything-- that's just not fiscally feasible for many, many people, myself included-- but I do believe it is important to maintain a consciousness regarding these issues, even if we cannot always act upon them.

More information:

Shopping Report

Today I bought:

  • Bimbo-brand whole-wheat bread: $ 1.99
  • Ralphs 2% Milk: 1.89
  • Ralphs Thick Sliced Bacon: 4.39
  • Total: $ 8.27
As sparse as it may seem, this is actually a luxurious list for me. I could easily go weeks eating rice, noodles, and pasta, and bacon isn't a usual staple in my kitchen. Still, bacon-- ohhh, bacon-- is among my greatest gastronomic weaknesses. I've not had bacon at home for months now, and it was about time to treat myself to some homemade BLTs, if only to avoid succumbing to a moment of weakness and paying six dollars for one from a restaurant. I've been neglecting to buy milk lately, and having it again means that I'll be making creamy steel-cut oatmeal, soothing milky tea, and will have the proper accompaniment to a PB&J. I'll also be getting some more Vitamin D in me in case the sunny weather we've been having hasn't helped me synthesize enough.

Feed yourself more (information):

Friday, February 08, 2008

Pauper's Pumpkin Soup

After neglecting this blog for two years of insanity at university, I find that I once again have the time and energy to post my culinary antics again. I am now a college graduate who is two months into the terrible reality of repaying student loans. I'm reviving Grocery Fanatic in order to record the culinary creativity that comes from empty pockets and good-natured gastronomic desperation.


Since I'm trying to save as much money as possible, I've been forcing myself to really use up all of the odds and ends that my mom piles onto me when I visit instead of going out and buying lots of groceries-- I did, however, have to go to the market downstairs to fetch a couple of onions for my pantry.

Two weeks ago my mom gave me a tiny pumpkin from my aunt's garden. I think I was supposed to steam it with a chunk of palm sugar on top (which she also gave me), but instead I decided to make pumpkin soup.

So here's what what I had in my kitchen:

  • Diced and sauteed half of an onion in a tablespoon of butter, with a half-pinch of kosher salt until softened.
  • Added some diced ham to the pan and cooked over medium-low heat.
  • Laboriously split, seeded, and peeled the small pumpkin, chopped it into 3/4" chunks, and added it to the pot.
  • Allowed everything to cook together, stirring occasionally, for eight or ten minutes, added a tiny dash of cinnamon, a few grates of fresh nutmeg, a few grinds of black pepper, a half-pinch of red pepper flake.
  • Once the pumpkin was soft enough to partially mash with a spoon, I added a can of chicken broth + a 1/2 can of water.
  • Simmered everything over low heat for about thirty minutes while I ate rice with leftover roast pork. (Thank you, Lunar New Year feasting!)
  • Used a potato masher on the already-falling-apart pumpkin, then realized that pumpkin soup just has to be pureed, unless it's a component in one of the Asian soups my mom makes.
  • Pureed the hot soup in the blender, half at a time, holding the top with a cloth.
  • Tasted it, decided to add-- yes-- about 1/3 cup of condensed milk to the entire batch. Lovely. Trust me.
Ingredients break-down:
  • 1 small pumpkin (about 1.5-2 lbs)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1/3 c condensed milk
  • ~4 oz ham (will cut back on this next time)
  • 1 14-oz can chicken broth
  • 7 oz water
  • ground cinnamon
  • fresh nutmeg
  • red pepper flake
  • salt & pepper
I would break down the cost of this soup but it was virtually free considering I would have most of the ingredients around anyway. I did have to pick up onions, though, which came out to 70 cents.

Ah, soup-- cheap, delicious, (generally) nutritious, and perfect for the winter.