Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Organic doesn't have to be a bad thing.

100% organic. Without many tools, I keep it simple and
decorate with melted chocolate.
I was recently asked to make a birthday cake for a friend's party. I baked a three layer butter cake with chocolate butter cream icing and decorated with melted chocolate. It wasn't anything fancy, but it was a labor of love. At the party, the cake came up in discussion, along with the facts that it was 100% organic, all-natural, and made from scratch. It was only after the cake had been served that I realized that some people might have been apprehensive about what that meant. One guest said that when she heard ‘organic' she wasn't sure, but that this was GOOD. This set me thinking about other statements I have heard along this line, and about a comment I read on an online forum where someone complained that a recipe wasn't organic (Several people explained that you make a recipe organic or not according to the ingredients that you use.). I am reminded of a the following dialog from the movie "The Princess Bride":

Inigo Montoya: "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

How did ‘organic' and ‘all-natural' become dirty words? and how did the concept of organic food become so muddled?

Simply put, organic food is food that is produced without the aid of synthetic chemicals. If the food is cooked or baked, it has to be prepared using predominantly organic ingredients (95% in the US). In my experience organic ingredients often tastes better and are of higher quality than conventional ingredients, and I don't have any trouble using them to create dishes that we enjoy. There is no reason that using organic ingredients has to mean that a plate of food is bland and unappealing.

Yet the idea that organic food is bad had to come from somewhere. After much thought, I do remember when I used to buy prepackaged food. On several occasions I bought some organic cookie, or snack, and I remember thinking that the cardboard box probably tasted better than the contents. Even though the ingredients list didn't include sawdust, I would have sworn that it was in there. I can only conclude that:

1. The manufacturers are preparing packaged food while trying to apply some other ideas of healthy (no fat, no sugar, etc.), or they are having issues packaging food for extended shelf life.

2. The people that were apprehensive about an organic birthday cake had probably eaten some boxed and sealed version of ‘organic' in the past.

The truth is that food really is what you make it. If you bring high-quality ingredients to the pot, cook them with attention, love & know-how (either your own or by following a recipe), you stand a very good chance of creating a meal that surpasses what a restaurant would proudly place in front of you. Over time you learn how to alter recipes to suit your own palate, and you will find that you want to experiment with new combinations. I tend to use less salt than many people prefer, but that is easy to remedy. I also use a lot of onion, which makes some people (like my hubby) cheer, while others may not be doing cartwheels. I encourage you not to feel like a recipe is set in stone. When I blend spices, I use my sense of smell to tell me if I am headed in the right direction, but that doesn't mean that my way is true north. I have invited you along to read about my journey in the kitchen, but you may find that what I post sends you down a different path. If so, don't forget to write and 'have fun storming the castle'.* ;)


* "The Princess Bride" Miracle Max: "Have fun stormin' da castle." 


Showing on this day 2010: Acorn Squash Cookies

Monday, October 10, 2011

Don't be chicken, it's just an onion soup.

I have been wanting to make onion soup for a while, but I know that it is traditionally made with beef stock, and I rarely get the chance to make that. Sometimes I forget that rules are made to be broken when it comes to cooking from the heart (with the obvious exception of some basic rules that apply to cooking with yeast & baking- consider these as fundamental as gravity). When I finally realized that no onion soup police would break down my door for not using the RIGHT stock, I planned out my onion soup based on chicken stock. With a bit of modification, I suspect that you could use any hearty broth that you have on hand to make a soup sure to warm the chill of Autumn right out of your toes. I served this with a Swiss & Parmesan cheese variation of a focaccia bread, and the leftover soup kept well in the fridge. The most time consuming part was definitely the onions, which I caramelized in three separate batches (it takes patience to get a really good caramelization that is not burnt- I pulled up a stool and kept them moving in a heavy pan on medium heat). In this case patience has its own reward.

3 large onions-finely sliced, chopped & caramelized
2 qts of hearty stock
¼ cup of white wine
salt to taste
1 tsp basil
1 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf

Add the onions to the stock with the wine and herbs and allow to simmer, covered and on low. I cooked it until the soup had a lovely deep brown color and the onions were tender (while most of the work happens when you make the original stock or caramelize the onions, you still need to give the ingredients some time to blend). Add salt to taste towards the end. While this is simmering you can be making a bread; I like a bread of substance with soup, so focaccia is often my go-to. I found that I didn't have the right bowls to make a picture of this soup, so I will keep my eyes open in the clearance sections, and try to get a picture for you next time.

Showing this day 2010: Acorn Squash Cookies