The history - Tove
It’s hard to make bread. Especially if you’re going for something like sourdough, which can take up to a week to prepare from scratch. In the last decade, a lot of books have appeared that teach aspiring pioneers how to make bread, can garden-fresh produce, and other thrifty projects that take much longer than a trip to the grocery store. But in the face of all that homemade goodness, there’s another (easier and faster) type of bread that shouldn’t be forgotten. Matzah. And it hasn’t been just for Passover in decades.
For those of us who need a refresher, the story of matzah and Passover also involves people being in a hurry. When the Pharoah freed the Israelites they were in such a rush to get out that they couldn’t wait for their bread to rise. Who wants to wander through the desert without bread? So they made matzah—an unleavened bread (without yeast or other agents that cause dough to “rise”) made with only water and flour. If the two are mixed and left sitting for even 18 minutes, invading yeast bacteria in the air can’t settle down to begin the leavening process. And no one wants airborne bacteria in their matzah.
So every Passover, leavened bread has been forbidden and matzah made in its stead. Until the early 1800s, the flattened bread was made and rolled by hand. With leavened bread, the dough can be made in large quantities and simply sit out until the oven is ready for it but matzah has to get from dough to oven within a short period of time. So the Industrial Revolution came up with a few inventions to help.
And it didn’t take long for others to follow suit. By the mid 1900s, the unleavened bread could be found in most grocery stores and soon became popular with Americans in general. From the original ingredients of water and flour, companies now produce matzahs covered in chocolate, organic and gluten-free varieties, matzahs in various flavors, and more.
The recipe - Natasha
While the perks of Passover (red wine, macaroons, and matzoh-ball soup) outweigh the perils (no bread, no bread, and no bread), one of its low points may be waking up the next morning, tummy full of Manischewitz, and not being able to soak it all up with a delicious plate of challah French toast. But then, on the [insert number]th day, God made Matzoh Brei. The name, fancy as it sounds, literally translates to "fried matzo." (An aside: It makes you wonder why the inventors of french toast couldn't have been more upfront when they named the dish, as it really ought to be "French fried toast.") Eggs, matzoh, hot water, and oil. That's all it is. Top it off with sweet or savory accoutrements, like sugar and cinnamon, honey, jelly, maple syrup, salsa, bruschetta, or pretty much anything else.
-4 pieces of matzoh, broken up into two-inch bits
-1 quart of boiled water
-3 tablespoons of oil, for frying
-4 eggs -salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon to taste
1. Place matzoh pieces in a plastic strainer in the sink. Pour boiling water over the matzoh, letting the pieces soften.
2. In a large bowl, thoroughly beat four eggs. Add salt and pepper.
3. Add matzoh pieces to egg mixture. Stir and coat all of the pieces.
4. In a large, non-stick pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add in matzoh mixture.
5. Cook for three minutes on each side, until golden brown. (Note: Don't worry if you can't successfully flip it without breaking the perfect pancake shape. Odds are high that you'll end up breaking it into imperfect pieces later on anyway. Might as well get a head start.)
6. Serve hot, along with toppings of your choice.
The History - Tove
Many people return to comfort food in hard times. Some of us indulge in ice cream after breakups or make Mom’s Chicken Pot Pie when we’re a little homesick. But for European countries, comfort food is often the cuisine of the peasantry. It can be anything from a soup to salted fish or meats. In Southern Italy (and for many college students the world over) pizza and pasta Are the staples of the poor person's diet. For Italy’s Northerners, polenta was the main affair.
Though polenta today is made from cornmeal and has a look and texture similar to grits, many grains were used to make it in fifteenth century Northern Italy. According to * Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History* by Alberto Capatti and others, buckwheat was one of the original polenta grains. It made for a polenta with a “sharper taste and different color,” a polenta with as much nutritional value as possible.
But in the sixteenth century, the prices of meat in Italy began to rise. According to the Cambridge Histories of Food, under the Italian mezzadria or sharecropping system, the poverty of peasants made meat too expensive to include in their diets. They ate the polenta and almost nothing else.
Though delicious, cornmeal is not exactly a balanced diet. Without the B vitamin niacin, found mostly in animal proteins, 5-20% of the population died from a condition known as pellagra in some parts of Northern Italy. The symptoms are unpleasant and when left untreated can take up to four years to kill. Until the early 1900s, people believed pellagra was caused not by a diet consisting of solely cornmeal but of tainted maize. So the polenta craze continued.
Thankfully the people of Northern Italy have gained the ability and knowledge to branch out. The beauty of polenta resides in its versatility. It can be used in everything from bread to a porridge base—much like rice—to top with meats, sauces, or vegetables. Southern Italians sometimes mock Northerners for their overuse of the dish calling them polentoni or polenta eaters. In response, the Northerners called them mangia-maccheroni. (The Italians may need to work on their insults.)
Whether in a traditional recipe or used as a filler, polenta is a tasty and cheap base for any number of dishes.
The Recipe - Natasha
Say your room mate comes home from a long day of work -- it's her second day on the job -- and she's so famished and exhausted that you, in all your charitable glory, decide to make her dinner. Since it's an impromptu favor, you haven't the time or energy to go out and pick up a new bunch of ingredients. As you open the fridge, you're quickly confronted with items you seem to have forgotten about over any number of months. Expired milk, mealy tomatoes, and moldy hunks of cheese abound. You head to the cupboard in search of something--anything--that doesn't have a green layer of fur on it, only to find old jars of organic peanut butter that should have been refrigerated, dusty boxes of tea bags, old pancake mix and a container of popcorn kernels. A lone box of spaghetti holds 10 or 15 strands, which is not enough for one, let alone two. Just as you're ready to clasp your head between your hands, you remember something. Somewhere on the Internet, someone once told you to always, no matter what, have on hand a box of instant polenta, a jar of good tomato sauce, and some parmesan cheese. While you've never made a habit of listening to the Internet, this advice stuck.
And so, at the back of the highest shelf of your cupboard are the sacred ingredients for the quick, simple, pseudo-sophisticated meal that you and your pal will enjoy. After all, minuscule portions of saucy spaghetti (often found on the "kids menu") won't sound half as refined as polenta with parmesan and tomato sauce.Polenta with Parmesan and Tomato Sauce.
-Polenta (corn starch), slow-cooking or instant
-Parmesan cheese, fresh or from a jar
-A jar of good quality tomato sauce
-Salt, pepper, and butter to taste.
1. Follow cooking instructions on polenta box.
2. Follow cooking instructions on tomato sauce jar.
3. Mix cheese into cooked polenta, then add sauce, more cheese.
4. Add salt, pepper, and butter.
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Some call them Cajuns, and others, Creoles — even the name for native Louisianans is hard to pin down. Louisianans come from a mixed
background of African, French, Spanish, Native American and Anglo descent; it makes sense the labels get confused. But the Creoles
originally came from the more affluent European families who settled down in New Orleans. The Cajuns were Acadian settlers who moved out
into the marshes and swamps of Louisiana and dined on whatever they could get their hands on. While their foods once reflected their
social status and whether or not they had to work the land to survive, today they’ve blended their cuisines in a way that’s hard to break up.
Cajun cooking, while dominated by the influence of the French (they always seem to win the wars of cuisine), is a literal melting pot of the
different cultures that mixed down in the bayous of Louisiana. Traditionally, the main course of any Cajun meal would be made in a large black iron pot and spooned over a side of rice. Each ingredient — representing the different immigrant cultures — is mixed together into gumbos, jambalayas, etouffes and other dishes. New Orleans Cuisine, a book by Susan Tucker and Frederick Starr, is one of the most comprehensive resources on the complicated subject. Even the “Holy Trinity” of Cajun cooking — the three ingredients used in almost every dish — are different depending on who you talk to. Bell peppers and onions are almost always included in the triad, but the third part could be anything from garlic to celery to tomato.
Most Cajun dishes don’t have a clearcut history. Dishes don't have "inventors." They're fusions of the ethnic tastes of Louisiana settlers and the ingredients in season determined the rest. Meat (most of it preserved through smoking and other methods) was used but due to Louisiana’s location on the Gulf of Mexico, seafood is more plentiful in Cajun cooking. Maybe “going local” is trendy today but for the early settlers it was a fact
of life. In Louisiana this meant the love of a few main ingredients —the tomatoes, sassafras, okra — and finding the perfect way to mix them with the food grown nearby.
In the milder months, there are few meals I'd chose over the pairing of crawfish etouffee and a vodka lemonade. Between the warm creole spices and the citrusy kick of alcohol, I've got all I could want in an evening. Because crawfish is hard to come by on my budget, I've opted for shrimp in this recipe, and it works just as well.
Gooey, spicy stews are intimidating at first, but the only virtue that this kind of dish requires is patience. Just take it slow (as those in New Orleans often do), and keep an eye on the pan while its contents change size and texture. Ultimately, you'll want to end up with a full bowl of mushy--not runny--stew. Be sure not to muffle it with too much rice, but rather, treat rice as a garnish along with plenty of green onions.
Depending on how quickly you can chop vegetables, the prep and cooking time should take just under 2 hours.
-6 tablespoons of butter
-3 medium sized onions, chopped
-1 large green bell pepper, chopped
-2 gloves of minced garlic
-2 cups of celery, chopped
-1/2 cup of all-purpose flour
-2-3 lbs of shrimp
-2 cups of chicken or fish stock
-1/2 teaspoon of cayenne
-2 tablespoons of Emeril's Essence or Old Bay Seasoning
-2 bay leaves
-1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
-chopped parsley and green onions, for garnish
-white or brown rice (follow directions on package)
1. Heat butter in a deep saute pan or dutch oven over medium heat, then add flour. Stir together for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light brown and viscous.
2. Add celery, onions, peppers and garlic. Stir into a rue and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
3. Add in tomatoes, along with a tablespoon of Old Bay/Essence, cayenne, salt, and bay leaves. Cook for 3 minutes.
4. Whisk in chicken/fish stock.
5. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. Meanwhile, season the shrimp with a tablespoon of Old Bay/Essence.
7. Add shrimp, cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
8. Mix in parsley.
9. Serve immediately over rice, garnish with green onions.
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Ah, the English Breakfast—enemy of dieters the world over. The meal commonly known as the “Full English” consists of courses of toast, fruit, eggs, meat, and a number of other trimmings. It’s popular in touristy inns or traditional establishments throughout England. It’s even popular in New York restaurants either owned by the English or those trying for a bit of an accent. But most Brits eat like everyone else at breakfast—in a hurry.
Until the early seventeenth century, the average English breakfast contained items familiar to most modern college students after a late night out. Some bread was usually involved and some beer, ale, or wine. The best way to get a fresh start to your day was a trip to the local ale house or inn—forget about cereal and eggs.
Between that time and the start of the Victorian era, many changes came about in the way everyone was eating. It was during the reign of King Charles II in the 1600s that tea drinking became popular. His wife, Catherine of Braganza, brought the custom over from Portugal where it was already popular among nobility. Today, teatime may be considered traditionally English but even the French were drinking tea long before the Brits.
After the end of the Napoleonic Wars and just before the Victorian era, the French custom of serving meals in courses became popular throughout England. “English service” where the food was presented at once, banquet style on the table, fell out of favor. Though war had led Britain to become the most powerful country in Europe, the English chose to adopt the food customs of the losers.
The Victorian era in England was a time of peace leading to prosperity and excess; if you have a lot of money and no wars hogging the crown budget, you have to find some way to spend it all. While the wealthy always managed to eat well, a practice of large meals trickled down to the middle classes during the 1800s. Instead of bread and beer, respectable Englishmen were being served large meals consisting of multiple courses first thing in the morning. Each course of what we now know as a “traditional” English Breakfast is served one at a time: fruit, hot or cold cereal, eggs, a choice of fish or meat, and finally some toast with jam.
The middle and upper classes eating these English Breakfasts were not the ones doing hard labor. During the same period of time, those people in workhouses or sanatoriums were still being served tea, cold porridge, and bread. If you’ll recall, Charles Dicken’s dear Oliver Twist had no large feasts set before him.
Though only a “tradition” of the last few hundred years--and then only among the upper classes--the idea of a traditional English Breakfast lives on. Today, most people in England, like the rest of us, eat cereal and toast before rushing off to school or work. An English Breakfast, like most deeply ingrained traditions, shows up most frequently on special occasions or in inns and restaurants frequented by tourists who want to know what waking up the English way is like.
TRY AN ENGLISH BREAKFAST OUT FOR YOURSELF...
English breakfasts always transport me back to that dodgy diner in Ilford, a small suburban town northeast of London, where my English grandparents took me every time I visited. I was amazed, at first, at how many different things the restaurant crammed onto one plate. In America, I’d always eaten French Fries after noon. In Ilford, “chips” get served as early as 7:00 AM.
Nothing about an English breakfast serves to jump-start your day. If anything, it makes you want crawl straight back into bed and sleep until sunset. The beauty of this breakfast is that it’s a dense dinner in disguise. It takes your average eggs, bacon and sausage meal and glues it together with baked beans, grilled tomatoes and button mushrooms. You may not feel so hot once you've thrown in the napkin, but you’d be bloody stupid not to try it.
Ilford Breakfast (Serves 3)
-1 can of vegetarian baked beans
-6 medium sized tomatoes, halved
-a container of small button mushrooms
-3-6 eggs (or however many you’d like)
-1 package of frozen oven fries (follow directions on the package)
-6 slices of thick cut pork (or turkey) bacon
-3 thick breakfast sausages
1. Saute button mushrooms and halved tomatoes in extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat, until mushrooms are soft and golden and tomatoes are gooey throughout--about ten minutes.
2. Fry bacon and sausages on a grill pan to desired level of crispiness (two-four minutes on each side).
3. Fry or scramble eggs to your liking.
4. Heat baked beans over medium heat in a saucepan.
5. Serve the ingredients hot, all on one plate. Top with french fries.
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John Montagu (better known as the Earl of Sandwich) has been getting the credit for putting meat, veggies, and cheese between two slices of bread since the 1600s. The Greek pita, another type of sandwich, can be traced back to well before the 1700s. But sandwiches have been along far longer than this even if modern people would never mistake one for a giant sub.
Is it possible that what we know today as the Kraft singles and buttered-bread grilled cheese had humble beginnings before the first century? Sheep were among the first domesticated animals but their milk, while being tasty, spoiled very quickly without refrigeration (especially in Egyptian deserts). Before a time of freezers and temperature control, cheese was the ultimate way for people to preserve their dairy.
So while there is little direct evidence to support the “grilled cheese” as a century’s old recipe, it’s hard to believe that—having these two basic ingredients more frequently than other foods—ancient people would’ve never thought, “Hey, it’s a cold night. Why don’t we use this fire to melt some cheese over our pieces of bread?”
Though a humble beginning, the popularity of the modern grilled cheese really has more to do with war and industry than refrigeration methods.
In the early 1900s, bulk cheese (those round cheese wheels you’ll only see in specialty grocery stores or Europe) was under monopoly control like all the other product produced on a large scale While bulk cheese was practical in the early centuries of human history, it eventually dries out and is fairly unwieldy for apartment or city-living. (Try to imagine rolling a ten or fifteen pound wheel of cheese through the subway turnstiles on your way home from the store.)
Thankfully, there once lived a brilliant Canadian door-to-door cheese salesman named JL Kraft. Well-acquainted with the problems of bulk cheese, his invention of processed cheese in 1916 narrowly beat out others to receive the first patent. During World War I the United States ordered six million pounds of his tinned cheese to feed our soldiers abroad. The foil-wrapped Kraft cheeses stored well and were cheaper to produce than bulk. It was a winning combination all around.
Still, the grilled cheese didn’t truly take off until the best invention of the 20th century—sliced bread—which didn’t come along until 1928. Setting aside the convenience of both these products on their own, the joint efforts of heavy marketing from both Kraft and Chillicothe Baking Co. (who advertised their bread as “the greatest forward step in the baking industry since bread was wrapped,” giving way to today’s popular catchphrase) combined to make grilled cheese sandwiches one of the most popular meals both at home and in school cafeterias.
The origins of the usual North American accompaniment of Campbell’s Tomato Soup are also in convenience and marketing. Condensed soup takes out all most of the water making the product smaller packaging-wise and cheaper for the consumer. Campbell’s tomato was the first type of condensed soup in the company’s history—first made in 1897.
Back before the worries about sodium and cholesterol, tomato soup was just a good source of Vitamin C and grilled cheese not only served up two major food groups but was easy for Mom to make for the kids. How could anyone resist a grilled cheese sandwich and soup on a cold day?
TRY GRILLED CHEESE OUT FOR YOURSELF....
I don’t like to get fancy with grilled cheese. Sharp cheddar melted inside crispy bread hits the spot. But it leaves me wanting more. Grilled cheese, to me and many grown-ups, is more of a glorified snack than a meal. It’s what we crave at 1:00 am, or what we order when we’re just peckish. It's all because when we're children, we ate grilled cheeses alongside tomato soup ,and washed it all down with Juicy Juice. As adults, grilled cheeses are comforting, but only relics of what used to be enough to fill us up.
There comes a time, though, in our culinary lives when we trade in Spaghettios for spaghetti bolognese, Goldfish for Triscuits. I consider these welcome upgrades.
So, if you had to choose between enduring Kraft's grilled cheeses of old, or enjoying sandwiches seasoned with adult accoutrements, which would you prefer?
Grown-up Grilled Cheeses (Serves 2-3)
-2 pans (preferably cast iron), one small enough to fit inside the larger one
-6 slices of bread (Try 3 slices of whole wheat, and 3 of pumpernickle)
-3 different cheeses of your choice, all grated (I recommend gouda, gruyere, and sharp cheddar)
-6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
-1 tablespoon of butter
-1 sliced avocado
-1 thinly sliced green apple
-1 tomato, thinly sliced and gutted
-1 large, sweet onion, thinly sliced
-mustard, to taste
-brown sugar (for caramelized onions)
-Smart Balance (regular butter works, too)
You’re free to mix the above ingredients in any which way you please, but my favorite combinations are pictured below.
10 Easy Steps:
1. Place a lightly greased skillet on medium-high heat
2. Place two slices of bread before you. Spread condiment of your choice onto one slice of bread, then cover the slice with cheese, followed by desired toppings
3. Place the other slice of bread on top
4. Brush one side of the sandwich with ½ teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
5. Place the sandwich onto the hot skillet, oily side down
6. Place the smaller skillet on top of the sandwich, gently pressing the two slices together
7. Cook to desired level of doneness (crispy bread takes about two minutes per side)
8. When the cheese has melted and the bread is crisp, transfer to a plate
9. Cut diagonally
People joke about what else lies in many Food and Drug Administration approved foods, but I never completely realized that there can be trace amounts of insect, rodent excrement and mold in a number of the approved foods, like chocolate.
The FDA is able to establish levels of natural or “unavoidable” defects. The “food defect action levels” are the amounts of natural or unavoidable defects in foods that post no hazard to human health. The FDA website does claim that the levels do not “represent an average of the defects that occur in any of the products” and that the “averages are actually much lower.”
This is supposed to comfort me? This booklet should be renamed, “Reasons to Begin Shopping Locally, Where You Can Wash Off the Ladybugs.”
To spread this new enlightenment, here is a highlight of some popular foods that we like to eat and the hidden treasures found in them. The levels mentioned are the maximums that can be found before the FDA deems the food defective.
In frozen broccoli, the FDA allows an average of 60 aphids (plant lice), thirps (tiny, slender insects with wings) or mites per every 100 grams. This level is due to “pre-harvest insect infestation,” giving children another reason not to eat their greens.
Flavor of the Season:
In ground cinnamon, one of the most popular spices of the holiday season, the FDA allows an average of 400 insect fragments (wings, legs and heads) and an average of 11 rodent hairs per every 50 grams of cinnamon in pre-harvest and processing. That’s a little more than three tablespoons of cinnamon, meaning I’ve definitely eaten bugs and rodent hairs within the last month.
A Holiday Treat:
In my mind, the holidays are a good excuse to indulge in chocolate. Now, along with the chocolate goodness, I’ll enjoy an average of 60 insect fragments per 100 grams and an average of one or more rodent hairs per every 100 grams in six 100 gram sub-samples (smaller selections of the larger product).
The Not-So-Comforting Comfort Food:
Macaroni and other noodle products can have an average of 225 insect fragments and 4.5 rodent hairs per every 225 grams in six sub-samples, so now I have one new reason why it’s good to be gluten-free.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m heading out to buy more of my food locally and organically. In the meantime, enjoy your holiday dinner… if you can.
This strange squash doesn’t cost much either. A spaghetti squash cooked for one person weighs in around one pound, costing about a dollar.
Just like pasta noodles, throwing in a variety of other vegetables allows for versatility. Add marinara sauce for a traditional pasta dish or some feta cheese, tomatoes, garlic and basil. Meat-lovers can add anything from ground beef to barbecue chicken. This mildly spicy recipe includes sauteed peppers (green, yellow, and red) along with sliced onions (red and yellow).
1 spaghetti squash (1 lb is about 1 serving)
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 cup chopped red onion
2 cups of a chopped combination of red, green, and yellow bell peppers
1 tsp. of garlic
ground black pepper
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Cut the squash in half and scoop out the insides.
3. Place spaghetti squash face down in a baking dish filled with 1/4 inch of water. Or place it on a lightly sprayed baking sheet.
4. Bake for 30 minutes or until a sharp knife can be inserted with little resistance. Set aside to cool.
5. Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft. Add peppers and garlic and saute for two to three minutes.
6. Use a fork to dig the stringy “noodles” out from the squash and place in a medium bowl. Toss with the sauteed vegetables and black pepper. Serve warm.