Sunday, January 29, 2012

Battle of the Brands

Would you make this for your family?

Peanut Brittle Smoked Ham Pie

Would you serve this to a guest to your home?

If you've been stuck in a media blackout bunker, trying to hide from the insanity that is the Republican primaries then you might have missed the ongoing bloody Battle of the Culinary Brands.

battle of the brands copy

This current battle really started last August when Tony Bourdain gave an interview to TV Guide. In that interview he slammed Food Network's shiniest stars, Rachel Ray, Sandra Lee, Guy Fieri and Paula Deen. Of Deen he said "the worst, most dangerous person in America … plus, her food sucks”. This is nothing new for Father Tony, he's been bitch slapping Food Network stars for years now but Paula decided to answer back with the tired, old, I'm one with the real people trope. "You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine,” she said. “My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills.” (...and yet I don't see Tony pimping a 3 piece furniture set for $3,600 or a cheapest single ticket to her seven day cruise for $1,500). Frank Bruni, the food critic for the NY Times shoved his way into the conversation, siding with Deen and calling Bourdain elitist which is pretty freaking funny considering the paper he works for and the town he works in. Things settled down for a bit until....

Flash forward to January 17th and Paula Deen is confirming on NBC's Today show that, yes, she has Type 2 Diabetes, yes, she's now the spokesperson for Novo Nordisk and their injectable diabetes drug, Victoza and yes, she's known and has been treating her diabetes for three years. Victoza, which costs something like $500 a month, is not exactly cheap for the common folk Ms. Deen so loudly claims to champion. Mr. Bourdain, looking a bit like a modern day prophet, lobbed this Twitter pie directly at Team Deen's face, "Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later." Bruni, suddenly smelling which way the butter burns, also checked in with NY's opinion on this national story, saying "She had waited three long, greasy years since her diagnosis to come out. During that period, she promoted the deep-fried life without acknowledging her firsthand experience of how a person can be burned by it". Thanks Frank.

Since then it's been a constant tsunami of quotes and public relations web spinning. Paula's longtime publicist left Paula in December over the current direction of Team Deen, thinking she still had a job with her sons. She was quickly released from their employment. Food Network, also sensing bad juju, released their statement that they had no idea whatsoever that Ms. Deen had diabetes. Paula weakly defended herself, blathering something about not being educated enough to reveal her condition. Apparently she also felt a bit hurt that none of her brother and sister celebrity chefs are running to her defense but can you blame them? Actually I'm guessing that the only person happier about this Deen/Diabetes brouhaha is Ina Garten who can now officially come off the Internet Outrage pedestal after having refused a child's Make a Wish request and had her brand ripped up one side and down another.


The most amusing aspect of this whole charade is that those who strongly support Paula Deen's culinary empire (Smithfield Ham, Philadelphia Cream Cheese/Kraft Food, Nebraska Furniture Mart, magazines, restaurant, cookbooks, dvds, cookware and television shows) now claim that her food, her culinary output is only meant to entertain the masses. That she's always preached moderation. That's she's not responsible for what food you choose to put in your mouth. To this we must call Shenanigans! If Paula Deen is only on TV for entertainment purposes I'm guessing companies like Smithfield and Kraft are going to want their advertising and sponsorship dollars back. They are certainly not advertising on her show or on the Food Network as some sort of charitable donation. Hell no, they want Paula's viewers and fans to buy and keep buying their many processed food products. They don't care if Americans get diabetes, they have product to push and now with Victoza, you can keep eating their products and her food and all will be well.

The one thing I agree with out of all this is that no one forces you to eat or cook like a tv chef, food blogger, or newspaper critic. You have to be responsible for your own health and decisions. But there's a reason why the tv show Jackass has huge blazing warnings not to try their stunts on your own....because idiots do. There are thousands and thousands of Paula Deen fans that cook and eat her food with regularity. They find justification in the buzz words used to describe her food: comfort, rib sticking, southern, traditional, country and uncomplicated. Pointing out the unhealthy aspects of her dishes is translated into attacking the emotional resonance that food represents to her devoted fans. C'mon y'all, you'll feel better if you make yourself a big ole pile of my Mac and Cheese and some wonderful fried chicken, just like grandma used to make. That's a pretty powerful pitch. Let's all just remember that above everything thing else it is a pitch. Paula's not your girlfriend and she's not going to invite you into her house to cook you food, Tony's not your buddy, Frank Bruni doesn't really care about your opinions. They all represent Brands that must be fed and cared for. They all have an agenda to push and empires to maintain and salaries to pay. The team you should be most concerned with is YOU and your family. Use the common sense that the good lord gave you and use fresh food in dishes you make yourself, recipes full of vegetables, fruit and whole grains. You can only help yourself build a strong foundation to a healthy lifestyle and in the process make your own wonderful food memories.

Monday, January 23, 2012

How Far Will It Go?


I have never tasted Atlantic bluefin tuna sushi or sashimi. Actually I don't think I've eaten that species of tuna in any form. I will probably never get the chance to. Not that it's not available, sadly it is. But this fish, a species that has fed the world for thousands of years is in danger of collapsing to unrecoverable levels due to overfishing. Now in years past, Americans would learn about such things by reading the National Geographic magazine. They would have spectacular action color photography of tuna underwater. They might have Jacques Cousteau explain the various migration and mating patterns of this apex predator. I'm sure there would even be a map and graph showing all the different species and habitats of the tunas of the world. Later, when television took off, National Geographic wildlife specials were fascinating and a bit scary. All the drama you could want was right there as you followed what ever creature or life form they were exploring. Little did we know those were the golden years of Nat Geo.

Nat Geo recently announced that they are to air "Wicked Tuna", an unscripted reality show featuring tuna fishermen of Gloucester, Massachusetts has they hunt the Atlantic Bluefin tuna. Now this is sad in just so many ways. First I learned that News Corp and Rupert Murdoch owns 67% of the National Geographic Channel which begins to explain Wicked Tuna. You see, the "fishing reality/competition" reality programs have been done to death. Deadliest Catch has been running on the Discovery Channel since 2005. Then we had Lobstermen but that lasted only one season. Determined to keep cashing in on Deadliest Catch's format for success, sword fishermen (and woman) were next to pop up on the Discovery Channel. But neither the Atlantic Bluefin tuna's precarious fishery levels nor the tired nature of watching men fish will keep Nat/News Corp from promoting and airing Wicked Tuna.

What can you do to help stop promoting the destruction of the Atlantic Bluefin Tuna? Well for one thing kill your cable television. I'm not joking. In April of last year I ditched pay tv and haven't looked back. No money will go to Murdoch, no eyes will see whatever advertisers pay for commercial time on Wicked Tuna. I was mad as hell and I didn't want to take it anymore. Isn't it about time for you to stop taking it too?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Putting Up, Not Shutting Up - Okra Pie

cut okra1

OK, I think I did it. Made an edible okra pie. Will it replace the classic apple pie, the sweet and gooey blueberry or the unending variety of cream pies? No. But if you want to try something completely different and you're an adventurous soul, here's what you do.

Okra pie

First, let's remember that it's the middle of January in the midwest so my access to fresh okra was difficult at first. However plenty of frozen to go around. Actually two kinds of frozen for our purposes. Precut and whole. When I first started out on this project, I thought the precut okra would work great. That was a big no go. Too much chewy okra texture and general bad mouth feel. So I switched to the whole okra and cut it to the size I thought would work best. Since I'm working a nine inch pie, I decided to use two one pound bags of whole okra. Two thirds of this I sliced really thin (while still mostly frozen, cuts better) and the remaining third I cut about a half inch thick.

cut okra 2

Why do this? Well the thin slices break down a little bit and make better pie filling and the larger pieces still give the filling the okra texture. So once you've cut up your okra we need to make it just a little less okrery. Put the thin sliced okra in a pan and add enough water to cover. Bring it to a boil. Once it has reached boiling, lower the heat to a simmer. Add the juice of one lemon and let simmer for a couple minutes. Now add 3/4 cup brown sugar and stir to mix. Taste the mixture. You may like it sweeter or more tart according to your taste. Now stir in the remaining thicker slices of okra. Remove from heat and set aside.
Toast 2 cups of pecans halves for 10 minutes in a 350 degree oven. Once toasted and cool enough to handle, roughly chop the nuts and add them to the okra mixture. Add the zest of one lemon and 2 tablespoons of cornstarch and mix well. Pour the mixture into the pie crust.

As I said in my original Facebook posting, I mentioned a cornmeal crust. None of my numerous pie cookbooks had a recipe I really liked so I resorted to Epicurious, my favorite go to site for fairly decent online recipes. They had just the pie crust I was looking for. They used it for a Apple Cranberry Pie and the only change I made was to leave out the pumpkin pie spice and use an entire top crust, not the leaf cutouts they prepared. Next time I might cut back on the salt. I will be making this crust again, it's almost like a cornmeal shortbread crust but very rustic. It would make a great crust for savory pie. I brushed the top of the pie with some buttermilk and sprinkled a little bit of very fine granulated sugar (caster sugar) on the top. Popped it into a 350 degree oven for 30 minutes with aluminum foil strips protecting the edges of the pie. Then another 15 minutes or so without the foil so the top crust can get nicely browned but not burned.

Okra Pie Slice

It's not a very pretty pie but I really kinda like the flavors none the less. Boiling away some of that strong okra flavor and then matching with what's left with the hard to beat combo of brown sugar and lemon is fun. What we haven't talked about is the slime, or the snot of the vegetable world as it's generally known. Virginia and I actually corresponded a little bit about developing this recipe and her suggestions on eliminating okra's slickness were valid but I wanted to bend it to my will, not make it disappear all together. By boiling the okra first, adding acidity (the lemon), and then binding the results (the cornstarch) I got a filling that holds together without being gummy or slimy. Earlier experiments involved many more spices to pair with the okra, namely a mild sweet curry however if there's one thing I've learned from watching many people cook food and developing my own cooking style, simple is better. The curry was one step too far. I'm much happier with the what finally developed.

So why do this? Why make a pie out of vegetable that a majority of people hate with a passion? Well there's the whole challenge of it. Think of it as a puzzle game, what fits best with what. Also knowing that you have the flexibility to create something from very little available. When I was doing the research for this project I read a very interesting passage from the Little House Cookbook. Barbara Walker wrote a wonderful book on the foods and cooking methods she believes were used during the frontier time period that was the setting of the Little House on the Prairie series. In the book, The Long Winter, Laura's mother makes a pie out of the only thing she currently had available , green pumpkin. Her ingenuity and cleverness provided a much welcomed treat when normal pie fillings were nowhere in sight. I like knowing that I can do that. The culinary sky's the limit if you can make a good tasting okra pie. You just never know where it will lead.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Putting Up - Okra Pie

Start with some research.

OP research


First try, fail.


Second try, edible but issues.

Thursday, January 12, 2012


I am so totally busted.

It was a simple question.
"Working on a project for summer and this 35° New England weather has me stymied. What's your favorite okra dish?"

Virginia Willis asked this on her Facebook page. It's a good question. I happen to love okra but there's not a whole lot of American recipes outside of deep fried and gumbo. And this is where my smart mouth (or keyboard in this case) got me into trouble. I typed in a response, thinking the saucy Ms. Willis would be too busy to notice my suggestion. But noooo, girlfriend jumped all over it. "Linda - can you pls shoot me the recipe for okra pie w cm crust? That sounds goooooood!"

That's right. Okra pie with cornmeal crust. I've never heard of it, never tasted it, let ALONE made one. Why did I say it? Say it outloud. Okra pie. It makes me laugh. (This alone should tell you why I'm not a stand up comedian). But now the lovely Southern chef and author of two fabulous books would like my recipe for Okra Pie with Cornmeal Crust. Do I put up or shut up? I'm thinking Put Up.

Do you doubt me? Think I lack passion or vision? Oh no, think back. Am I not the woman who gave you Peep Sushi?

Peep Sushi

Am I not the woman who gave you Crab Pot Pie?

Crab pot pie 9

Am I not the woman who put Tom Colicchio's head on the body of a rooster?

Tom rooster

(Why....because I could!)

I think I can handle Okra Pie. That's my challenge for the weekend. Make an edible okra pie. What do you think, savory? Sweet? Spices or flavorings? Can the slime be conquered? Watch for either yummy results or a total flaming failure that not even the dog will eat.