New Work: recipe videos.

I’ve just launched a cool new collaboration with the creative team from Curiosity Advertising and their client, The Christ Hospital. We’re working to develop friendly, approachable stories and videos that encourage people in the Greater Cincinnati area to cook healthfully, love local food and pursue their wellness goals.

First up: a video demonstrating how to make an easy recipe for roasted fall vegetables. Click the image below to see the video!

easy-roasted-vegetables

 

Food and cooking trends for 2013.

As a writer who covers food and cooking, I’m always scouting other food websites, chatting with local farmers, interviewing chefs and producers, and generally scoping out the food scene. Like design (the other much-loved subject of my freelance writing career), food is constantly changing. Here’s what I’m most looking forward to in the coming months (and years):

foodie trends for 2013

farm to table

Maybe this prediction is premature, but I think that, increasingly, farm-to-table isn’t a thing anymore — it just is. Chefs are sourcing good ingredients (as are home cooks); they just aren’t squawking about ‘Blah Blah Farm heirloom vine-ripened just-picked baby tomatoes’ on their menus. Instead, they’re simply serving high-quality goods without fuss. And home cooks have embraced the explosion in the number of farmers’ markets in the U.S. (up from about 3,100 in 2002 to more than 7,800 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture).

the evolving food economy

I think we’re midway along a continuum:

industrial > organic > local/regional > healthy/sustainable

In other words, we’re evolving from a food system that’s dominated by big brands and national scale, past the organic movement (which has its benefits, to be sure, but isn’t the final solution for our mass-produced-over-processed-long-haul-trucked food economy) to the locavore trend … to, I hope, a point where we’re talking about how healthy a food is and how sustainably it’s produced, and not just its source. Health-conscious, food-loving consumers are in Phase 3 of the continuum, and they’re starting to drag more mainstream eaters in that direction.

heirloom foods

We’ve encountered heirloom varieties of vegetables in seed catalogs and restaurant menus for some time now. Next up: dried heirloom beans. California grower/producer Rancho Gordo really started this trend, and now I’m seeing it locally, as dried beans have just recently appeared in my neighborhood farmers’ market. These heirloom varieties can be challenging to grow (and they’re likely a pain in the neck to pick and process), but they’re deeply flavored and wonderful in all kinds of cooking.

old-fashioned cooking methods

Similar to the trend in heirloom vegetables, restaurant chefs and home cooks alike are returning to time-tested methods, including fermenting, canning and wood-fire cooking. A recent interview with chef Michael Paley of Cincinnati’s highly anticipated Metropole restaurant, confirmed this 2013 food trend for me. Paley cooks on a custom-built wood-burning hearth — not because it’s cute or trendy, but because he loves the challenge of creating top-quality dishes that truly leave an impression on diners. Likewise, I can’t see culinary trends like canning, preserving and fermenting tapering off any time soon.

vintage recipes

Not only are we cooking in old-fashioned ways, we’re embracing old-fashioned recipes. My own Clara Project here is a personal example of this interest in vintage recipes; Paley’s resurrection of generations-old German sausage recipes for Metropole’s charcuterie program is another. Comments I’ve received on The Clara Project seem to indicate that fellow home cooks are returning to much-loved family recipes.

the new homemade trend: yogurt

Last year, I ran across so many posts and recipes about making simple homemade cheese like mozzarella and ricotta. The DIY dairy product trend for 2013? I’m betting on homemade yogurt. I’ve done it; it’s beyond easy and super delicious. Here’s my recipe for homemade yogurt.

simplicity

For this new restaurant trend, we’ve gone past molecular gastronomy, with its foamy, freeze-dried laboratory experimentation, back to foods that taste like what they’re made of. When you’re sourcing great ingredients, the best preparation method is to cook simply and get out of the way. Of course, simple is harder than it looks, particularly in a restaurant. As chef Paley told me: “What keeps me up at night is that this stuff is way too simple. You don’t want fall on your face doing something super simple.”

I’ll take the challenge of keeping food simple, welcome the continuation of retro cooking methods and embrace a food movement that goes beyond local.

Here’s to a healthy and delicious 2013!

 

My best recipes from 2012.

My food and recipe blog, writes4food.com, began as a creative outlet and has become a sort of second (or third or fourth) job. During 2012, I added 140+ posts, most of them recipes, many of them part of The Clara Project, my series of vintage recipes that I’ve updated for modern cooks.

Here are my Favorite Recipes from 2012 (in no particular order):

best recipes of 2012

Hot Fudge Pudding Cake—cake meets pudding, and they have a chocolate baby. This old-fashioned recipe from The Clara Project is beyond easy and magically delicious.

Pasta with Kale, Bacon and Fontina—Sure, I jumped on the kale bandwagon. Kale chips truly do rock. But really, kale isn’t some weirdo vegetable that health-food junkies turn into sludgy smoothies. Kale really likes bacon. And cheese. And this pasta recipe is divine.

Spaghetti Squash with Swiss Chard and Ricotta Cream—At just 45 calories per serving, spaghetti squash is a smart substitute for pasta. But forget the calories: It just tastes fantastic, especially topped with this mix of sautéed Swiss chard and walnutty ricotta cream. Here’s the very best way to cook spaghetti squash.

French Picnic Salad in a Jar—Seriously, how cute is this? And it’s perfect for toting to a picnic or, less romantically, to the office for lunch. Put the dressing on the bottom of the jar, and it won’t wilt your greens.

Mac and Cheese with Zucchini, Spinach and Peas—If you have fussy kid eaters at home, this is a smooth way to sneak veggies into their diets. If you don’t, this healthy mac and cheese is still a great way to get your veggies. And it rocks.

Grilled 3-Cheese and Arugula Sandwich—That beautiful pile of fresh baby arugula on your grilled cheese sandwich will make you feel just a teeny bit virtuous.

Simple Chocolate Red Wine Cake—You know how well red wine and good chocolate go together … and here they are in the simplest of cakes.

Ultimate Build-Your Own Party Snack Mix—I do love me some classic Chex mix; my mom makes the best. But I wanted to hack this old recipe and add my own favorite ingredients, like cheddar goldfish and sesame sticks. You can add whatever YOU like.

Fabulous Chicken and Wild Rice Salad—With a creamy basil dressing, roasted chicken and hearty wild rice, this make-ahead salad is a great workweek lunch option or easy dinner.

Summer Salad with Creamy Avocado Dressing and Biscuit Croutons—That’s right: biscuit croutons. ‘Nuf said.

Better than store-bought—I love homemade versions of grocery staples; they’re so much tastier, and healthier, too (you can control the amount of salt, sugar, fat and skip all the artificial ingredients. Here are a few of my favorite “better than store-boughts” this year: homemade yogurt, homemade chicken stock, homemade frozen dog treats (because EVERYONE deserves healthy food).

Here’s wishing you a happy, healthy and delicious 2013!

Introducing The Clara Project.

In late summer, on a chance visit to an antique store in Milford, Ohio, I spotted a stack of vintage recipe cards, with a tag that read, Recipe cards $3.95.

How could I not?

Bundle of Vintage Recipe Cards

These vintage recipe cards are beautiful: 4-by-6 index cards, with a bit of golden foxing on the edges. The recipes are written in blue ink (probably using a fountain pen). Tucked into the stack are meticulously clipped recipes from magazines, newspapers and manufacturer’s recipe books. There are a few recipes from other women, but most of the cards are signed by Clara Shenefelt. Some are labeled ‘class’—which makes me think Clara copied the recipes from a cooking class or maybe Home Ec. Many of the recipe cards are dated 1934.

I’ve begun doing a bit of informal research on American home cooking during the 1930s. It was an interesting time: just a few years removed from the hardship, scarcity and food rationing of World War I (1914–1918) and the Great Depression (1929–1933). By the 1930s, refrigerators and electric stoves were common in American kitchens, and appliance manufacturers began publishing recipes to help homemakers make use of these conveniences. Big food companies were becoming household names during this time—Nabisco, General Mills, Kelloggs, Hershey—and these manufacturers also distributed recipes on packaging and in advertising. The Joy of Cooking was first published in 1931.

Clara Shenefelt’s recipe collection gives a peek into American cuisine at the time. She had comparably few recipes for what we would consider entrees or main dishes, and they are fancy, special-occasion recipes like Beef en Casserole ‘Parisian Style’ and Swiss Steak. She had typed out instructions for basic cooking techniques like broiling and roasting; my hunch is that typical American dinners at the time consisted of roasted or broiled meat with several side dishes and dessert.

It’s the latter two categories that dominate this vintage recipe collection. The 1930s housewife probably expressed her culinary creativity with her salads and sweets. I was surprised by the number of recipes for molded dishes: aspics, gelatins and puddings, both sweet and savory, prepared in large or individual decorative molds. Turns out, congealed salads and desserts were quite in vogue during the 1930s, inspired by flavored Jell-O (including the newly introduced lime flavor).

For about 10 seconds, I contemplated a “Julie and Julia” kind of project where I would cook my way through the entire stack (my discovery of a recipe for Smoked Tongue and Kidney Bean Salad put the kibosh on that idea). Still, I knew that something cool must be done with these old recipes, and readers of my food blog, writes4food, agreed.

So, beginning this week will commence The Clara Project—named after Clara Shenefelt, who penned (or typed) these recipes originally.

Once a week, I’ll draw one recipe card from the deck, prepare the dish, photograph it (and the recipe card), and share it on writes4food. Where it’s appropriate, I’ll also include notes on how to modernize the recipe. I’ll talk about what works—and what flops. This exploration will run through the end of the year, unless we have the momentum to keep going.

Part of the fun will be the randomness of the draw, though I reserve the right to a couple of mulligans if I pick something icky (I’ll let you know when I pass on a recipe), and to ingredient substitutions if the recipe calls for cauliflower or brussels sprouts (which are banned in our house, sorry) or items that aren’t readily available as they were in the 1930s (like salt cod or smoked tongue).

I hope you’ll join me in this weekly hop into the culinary Wayback Machine, when we’ll experience what it was like to cook and eat 75 or so years ago. And that you’ll share your own family recipes if anything you see here prompts a memory.

You’re in this with me, right?

Vintage 1930s recipe cards

 

Teach kids to cook.

A recent article in our city newspaper encouraged parents who’d run out of summer activities to seize the opportunity to teach their kids to cook.

Brilliant.

Of course, it’s easy for me to say, because I love to cook. Always have. But I understand that not everyone knows how, and not everyone finds it fun. (My husband comes from a decidedly non-cooking family; nonetheless, he came to learn and enjoy cooking early in our life together.)

Aside from the health benefits of preparing a meal from scratch with whole ingredients, there are other reasons why cooking is a worthwhile life skill. Cooking is a gift we can give others. It can establish a separation from our workday. It’s a creative act, one that lets us experiment, explore and get our hands dirty.

Teach your kids, neighbors or grandchildren to cook, and you’ll help them get through college or their early out-of-the-nest years without starving or gobbling fast food. You’ll teach them to value good food, to respect what it takes to put a meal on the table. You’ll give them the tools to eat healthfully and well. And their future partners or spouses will thank you.

photo by qwrrty, used under Creative Commons license

Convinced? Then here are a few simple dishes and techniques that would be appropriate for passing along:

For younger kids

Have them help with basic preparation: stirring, whisking, scooping cookie dough onto the baking sheet. Turn grocery shopping into a learning experience by talking about healthy foods and having them help you count the items in your cart. Ask them to help make their own after-school snacks or build their own pita-bread pizza for dinner.

For middle-school kids

Involve them in menu planning. When you’re confident in their ability to safely handle a knife or work at the stove, teach them basic skills and ask them to help with ingredient preparation. Let them make a batch of cookies for the school bake sale. Talk about your family’s food traditions, and work together to make recipes that your parents made.

For high-school kids

Have each member of the family plan and prepare a special dinner once a month. Let your kids host their friends for dinner parties. Teach them these basics, and they won’t starve in their first apartment:

  • how to sauté vegetables
  • how to sauté a chicken breast
  • how to make an omelet
  • how to cook pasta and make a basic tomato-garlic sauce
  • how to make a decent salad
  • how to cook a hamburger

Part of my volunteer work at a neighborhood social agency—indeed, part of my goal for my food blog, writes4food.com—is to help people learn to cook simply and well.

How about you? Have you taught young people to cook? Please share your experiences by commenting here.