Thursday, September 25, 2008

51st post!

Apparently, my blog-odometer has clicked over to post number 51! That's not bad, I suppose. It averages out, I think, to 1 a week, but there have been several long dry spells of posting, so the average is deceiving.

It's been about a year, when I started writing about "brewing", which then transitioned to "brewing/beer and food, mixed with the occasional music post", which is where it stands right now.

On to the meat of the post:

Grilled chicken breasts are so common in restaurants, magazines, and backyards that they're almost a cliche. This is for good reason, since a grilled chicken breast is easy to do, tastes reasonably good, and goes with virtually everything. But even as useful as they are, they can get kind of boring after a while, and they've always had a sort of "lean cuisine" connotation to me (not that I eat much lean cuisine, as you can tell from my self portrait (but I swear, the double chin is only because of how I'm standing in the pic)). So, instead of grilling your chicken breast, let me suggest breading. Breading is as easy as grilling, you can add more flavor (by seasoning the breading), it's a change of pace, and it has a different feel to it than grilling.

Here's how I bread:

I take 3 bowls, and I put flour (which you can season with salt, pepper, cayenne, etc) in one, a beaten egg or two in the second, and in the third I put seasoned bread crumbs or panko.
Then I melt a combination of butter and olive oil (say 1 part butter to 2 parts olive oil) in a saute pan over med/med-hi heat.
Next I take my chicken breasts, which I've cut in half and pounded between saran wrap (or turkey cutlets, unpounded), and dip each in the flour, then the egg, then the breadcrumbs, with each piece ending up in the pan. Don't crowd the pan, though, so once things get full, don't add more chicken.
Then you just brown one side (3-4 minutes), and then the other (again, 3-4 minutes).

Once all the breast "cutlets" are done, serve them with pretty much anything. I'm partial to roasted potatoes (my go-to starch), and something like steamed (or roasted) asparagus, or some other green vegetable.

The good thing about something like breading is it gets you a little more involved with the cooking, and you can add more flavor by just adding flavor to the breading, like maybe adding some grated parmesan to the bread crumbs.

Anyway, happy 51st.

PS - picked up the Elliot Smith album Either/Or this morning. Very good stuff. I was looking thru my old posts today, since I'd told someone (hey, senea!) that I had a blog, and I wanted to make sure none of my posts were terrible or anything, and I noticed my comments about Neon Bible, by the Arcade Fire. I was wrong. It definitely is a great album. The muddy production I was hearing was due to my cheapo Toyota Matrix stereo, not the very fine music on the CD.

Coming up next, I'm thinking of taking all the spare chicken parts in my freezer and turning them into stock (I was inspired by in part by this post by Michael Ruhlman, whose blog, and writing overall, is vastly better than mine will ever be). Anyway, that's a long-winded way of saying, "stay tuned".

The Omnivore's Dilemma, cont'd

So, I've gotten further into The Omnivore's Dilemma, and I've finally gotten to the "hopeful" part of the book. After Pollan discussed "traditional" (industrial) organic food, he paid a visit to a farm in Virginia (called Polyface Farm) which practices an interesting brand of what I guess is organic, and at the same time actively promotes locavorism. (Is that even a word?)
Anyway, what it means is that the farm in question grows chickens, cows, pork, vegetables, etc, but what it really practices is pasture management. For example, the cows are solely grass-fed, and they get rotated over each pasture. When they graze, they contribute manure. After they get moved off a section of pasture, the chickens are brought in to scratch for grubs in the manure, which both controls flies and helps contribute nitrogen to the soil, which fertilizes the grass.
There other examples in the book, but what it boils down to is a more holistic form of farming, and apparently the food generated is great (at least according to the author).
I've been thinking about getting a CSA (community supported agriculture) subscription next year, and reading this section definitely provides added motivation.

The last section of the book concerns "foraging", and I'm kind of rushing through this part of the book. It's not that it's not interesting, but parts of this section were excerpted in the NY Times, and honestly, it's very relevant. I mean, I can eat locally. I can't really forage for my dinner, and other than maybe learning how to hunt mushrooms, I'm not all that interested in hunting.

Any way, it's a good "food book", and while it can be a little preachy at times about how bad Americans eat, it's enjoyable.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Omnivore's Dilemma

I picked up a copy of The Omnivore's Dilemma recently at my local library, and I must say it's a very eye-opening read. For those who don't know, The Omnivore's Dilemma is an examination of several of the paths taken by the food we eat; specifically the industrial path, the organic paths, and the foraging path. So far, I've gotten past the industrial section and am deep into the organic part.

The industrial section puts forth the thesis that pretty much all the processed food we eat (and in the book, "processed" extends to pretty much every conventional food item) derives from the massive quantities of corn that are grown by agribusiness every year. It goes into great detail about the governmental policies that have led to an oversupply of corn, and how the food industry goes about reducing that surplus. A review online had the comment "you'll never look at corn the same way", and I think I have to agree. Generally speaking, I subscribe to the shopping philosophy of "buy most of your stuff from the outer-rings of the market, and very little from the middle", so I don't buy a lot of what we usually think of as "processed" foods. Unfortunately, if the book makes you want to try and avoid corn in your food, you can't get away from it when you eat any kind of animal product, either. I don't know that "depressing" is the right word, but it does seem like something's a little out of whack with our conventional food supply.

Unfortunately, the organic section really doesn't do much to lift a reader's spirits. Apparently, a lot of the organic farms are very similar to conventional industrial farms in how they generate their product, and much of the marketing and labeling effort of organic foods goes into producing an aura of "feel-good"ism that probably isn't true. For example, the author talks about free-range chickens grown by a producer in California that only have access to "free-range" for a two week window of their (very short) seven week life span, and that most birds don't even range/forage at all. The feeling I get from the book is that if you're organic and want to make real money, you kind of have to buy into the conventional food industry model.
Pollan's description of "big organic" makes me wonder, though, about taste tests comparing organic to "processed" products (like tomatoes, or chickens), and how much selection bias plays into results where the organics win. I mean, from the book, the way an organic chicken lives sounds an awful lot like how the Perdue chickens my grandparents raised lived.

That's about as far as I've gotten. It's a good read, and it's compelling stuff. At the end of the day, I don't know what the answers are to the way we eat. Much like Fast Food Nation, the book gives you an overwhelming amount of information about how bad things are, but little (at least so far) in the way of solutions. Maybe the rest of the book gets more into that side of things, or maybe it's enough sometimes to describe a problem, and let others solve it. I don't know.
But I do recommend the book.