summer reading

I’m in San Diego for a few days this week, vacationing. As I’m enjoying the weather and the relaxation, I’m also getting through some of my summer reading. So I thought I’d do a little book review of my latest summer read, as it is food related.

Title: A Economist Gets Lunch: New Rules for Everyday Foodies by Tyler Cowen

Possibly one of the most insightful foodie books I’ve read yet. If you liked Omnivore’s Dilemma (or rather if OD left you feeling depressed and disheartened about the American food system), you will really enjoy this book. It is pretty much what it sounds like, an economic view of global food systems. But it is a lot more than that.

It covers such topics as – what actually is American cuisine, the history of barbeque, why Mexican food tastes better in Mexico, how to eat your way to a green world, and my personal favorite, where to find the best food anywhere. Hint: economic supply and demand. It has a real historical and global perspective, something many foodie novels lack, while also being lighthearted and fun. In my opinion, a quote from the back cover really sums up this book well. It states, ” . . . Most of all, it’s encouraging-not a screed, despite its occasionally serious arguments-and brings the fun back to eating. Delicious!” – Stephen J. Dubner, coauthor of Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics

But if I can tell you anything, this book radically changed my views about a number of highly controversial topics. Namely, after reading this book I am pro-GMOs (genetically modified organisms), against consuming locally grown food and for that matter organic, may switch to using entirely to paper plates and plastic forks, and I’m not gonna sweat it if I forget my reusable bags when I go grocery shopping. And I’ll do all this in the name of a greener planet, and a healthier, well-nourished population. Has she totally lost her mind?! Guess you’ll have to read to find out!


balsamic reduction + raspberry yogurt dressing combo

Salads in the summer feel so right. When it’s too hot to cook, and the berries are plentiful, nothing sounds better to me than a handful of greens and a bunch of ripe berries. And the best way to tie it all together? A delicious dressing (or two!).

Yes, I do have a magic bullet. And yes it is perfect for making this dressing. So please excuse the unflattering magic bullet container on the right.

Now, these may sound scary. Balsamic reduction?! Raspberry dressing?! Fear not. These are wonderful, and work best as a team. I promise, even my Dad liked them. As you are finding out, he is the family member I most often ask for opinions on my cooking.

First up, the reduction.
Balsamic reduction:
1 cup balsamic vinegar (nothing too special or expensive, the cheap stuff will do).
optional: sugar/honey to sweeten (although it will sweeten during the cooking process)

Put 1 cup balsamic vinegar in a sauce pan and bring to a boil.
Reduce to a simmer until it thickens to desired consistency, whisking consistently. Easy easy.

So what is going on here? A reduction is just like what it sounds. It’s chemistry. When you bring your balsamic vinegar to a boil you are actually boiling off the water that is naturally found in the (cheap) balsamic vinegar. Water has a lower boiling point that balsamic vinegar (acetic acid), 212* F compared to 244*F. So when you boil the vinegar most of the water is evaporated, leaving behind the acetic acid and resulting in a thicker sauce. Although, the difference in the boiling points of water and acetic acid is not terribly large so you will lose some acetic acid in this process as well. Which is not all bad, as less acid means a slightly sweeter product.

For more food science fun, read this. I’m totally obsessed with this book.

Next, the raspberry dressing. Inspired by the grossly inferior store bought raspberry dressing sitting in our fridge, this dressing combines the creaminess of yogurt, with the sweetness of raspberries, and tang of vinegar. Consequently, it worked dreamily with the slightly sweet and acidic balsamic reduction.

Raspberry Yogurt Dressing:
1 handful fresh raspberries
1 cup non-fat plain Greek yogurt
2-3 T olive oil
1-2 T apple cider vinegar
1 t honey
salt + pepper to taste
optional: add a spice or herb of your choice (I threw in a dash of cardamon).

Method: combine everything in a blender/magic bullet/food processor and mix until smooth. Taste test and add more or less of any ingredient until desired taste is achieved.

All drizzled over a bowl of sweet peaches and raspberries, cucumbers, green onions, and sharp arugula. Heaven.


rosemary basil pork chops with grilled peaches + judging doneness of meat

Both Sundays and summers are for grilling in this household. So a Sunday in late July can only mean one thing. Serious father-daughter bonding over a flame.

Now, it’s a puzzle to me why when I suggest chicken pot pie for dinner, my Dad says “sounds great” and walks into the other room and continues watching football. But when I suggest we grill, he’s in the kitchen all hands on deck. In any event, Grill master Dad and I lit up the BBQ for a Sunday supper.

Charcoal grill.

Dinner is served.

Most of this recipe is going to focus on the meat. Now that I have all the men’s attention…

If you’ve cooked at all with meat, you’ll know that different cuts of meat have different cooking times, depending on fat content, type of muscle it is, bone in or out, weight of cut, etc. Things can get tricky and very specific very fast, so I won’t belabor the topic too much. But no matter how or what kind of meat you cook, probably the most important thing is knowing when it’s done. Overcooked meat can become tough while undercooked meat well…food poisoning anyone?

Judging meat doneness can be tricky if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s when the knives usually start coming out and then our beautiful steaks cut chopped to pieces, peaking inside for any trace of pink. Thankfully, there is a better option. Most professional cooks “feel” their meat with their finger and eye to evaluate the degree of doneness. However, learning how to “feel” when your meat is done is really not that complicated and is something everyone can easily learn how to do with a little practice.

Bleu meat: stage when cooked at surface, warmed but relatively uncooked on the inside. Feels relatively unchanged from it’s raw stage. It should feel like the muscle between your thumb and forefinger when relaxed.

Rare meat: stage when proteins are starting to solidify making the meat more resilient when poked. Feels like thumb-forefinger muscle when you stretch these two fingers apart.

Medium-done meat: stage when proteins have started to denature (change chemical properties) and coagulate (in this case, become firm). You should see red juice leaving the surface of the meat. It will be pale pink on the inside. Feels like the thumb-forefinger muscle when pressing your thumb and forefinger together. 

Well-done meat: stage when nearly all proteins have completely denatured and meat has become stiff. Both juice and interior are dull tan or grey. Should feel like the muscle just to the inside of the thumb when pressing the thumb and forefinger together.
Sources: Exploratorium – Science of Cooking and On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee

Here’s the recipe.

Pork chops:
3 pork chops ~1.5 pounds
For the marinade combine:
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup olive oil
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
4 leaves fresh basil
3 cloves fresh minced garlic
2 T apple cider vinegar
2 T honey
salt, pepper and paprika to taste
Pour marinade into zip lock bag with pork chops and marinate for 4-24 hours.
Grill on low-medium heat until you “feel” it’s done. Good thing you now know what that means!

Grilled peaches:
Cut peaches in half and remove pits. Lightly coat with olive oil. Grill for about 5 min, flipping half way through. Serve with plain Greek yogurt and a drizzle of honey alongside your pork chops.

Grill master Dad approved.