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Saturday, January 24, 2009

Life Without Corn

Our book group book this time around was The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Inspired by the first section of the book, I thought I should try to avoid corn by-products in today's menu. It really wasn't all that hard--just avoid processed foods and non-organic meat. It's a good thing no one in attendance had nut allergies, since three different nuts were featured in three dishes today.

Hazelnut-Crusted Wild Alaskan True Cod with Cranberry Jelly
Nutted Wild Rice with Blood Oranges
Roasted Green Beans

Wintertime Chocolate-Caramel Tart
Tillamook Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

The fish was easy. I mixed some ground hazelnuts with about the same amount of bread crumbs, stirred in a little olive oil and salt and pepper, and spread it on the fish.

The green beans were also a cinch. The beans I found were a bit on the less-photogenic side, slightly shriveled and not the slim and lovely ones I love to eat, blanched, in late summer. Cook's Illustrated a couple of years back had talked about roasting as an option for this caliber of bean, and it is genius. Just snap off stem ends and spread on a foil-lined pan (for both the fish and the beans I used the bottom of a broiler pan, since they are less likely than my cookie sheet to warp in the oven), drizzle with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and toss to coat.

Both the fish and the beans were set to cook at 450, so I was able to do them together, putting the fish in when the beans were ready for a stir after 10 minutes. The beans needed another 10 minutes to get spotty brown, and the fish a few minutes longer than that to get firm and just flaky. Delicious. I thought as I was putting it on the table that the fish could use some kind of sauce, so pulled out a jar of homemade cranberry jelly (from local cranberries, of course).

The salad is one I've been wanting to fix for book group for several years, since Grandpa Artsy-Fartsy fixed it on a visit. Perfect for citrus season. I made it pretty much straight, except with fewer raisins, I used blood oranges instead of navels, and I added the segments from about a half-dozen blood oranges (this last addition seemed like kind of a "duh" to me--how could you make a salad with an orange-juice-based dressing and not put any actual oranges in it?).

The dressing:

The segmented oranges (you slice off the peels with a serrated knife, then carefully cut alongside the membranes to release the good stuff):

The last bit (not a great photo, and in any case it tastes better than it looks):

The tart appeared in the paper last month. Nuts, caramel, chocolate, what else do you need? The only change I made was to use chocolate graham crackers instead of chocolate wafers for the crust. I think the wafers would have worked better.

The mixed-together crust:

Pressing the crust mix into the tart pan. I think I read the tip to use a stainless measuring cup in Cook's Illustrated. It really does an amazing job of preventing that blobby thick crust corner you can get if you use your fingers to press it into the pan.

The sugar and water, ready to make into caramel. The recipe says to stir it until the sugar is dissolved, but doesn't say to then stop stirring. But you should, because otherwise . . .

this happens. It ended up okay in the long run, but it would have been better had I not continued to stir.

The cream to stir into the melted sugar:

The egg and vanilla to fold into the cool-ish caramel:

The baked almond caramel in the chocolate tart shell:

Now, the recipe calls for heating cream on the stovetop and adding it to chopped chocolate to make the ganache. I always make my ganache in the microwave, with the cream and chocolate in the same bowl. Start out with a minute on high, then stir well, and zap in additional 30-second increments, stirring well in between (I think it did maybe two extra 30-second periods). It will start out looking like this:

Proceed to this:

And finally end up like this, smooth and glossy:

Here's what the cooked tart looked like. I thought it was pretty good, and the other members of the group RAVED. I thought the crust could have been better (I'll use the wafers next time), and the nuts didn't retain their roasted crunch. I don't know if that was because of how I stored it, or just a quirk of the recipe.

Now, I had originally planned to make homemade vanilla ice cream (I finally got around to making the custard today, with the Wizard's help), which would have been corn-free, but the Tillamook did unfortunately feature HFCS among its ingredients. There were also corn products in the graham crackers I used for the tart crust, and possibly in the bread crumbs I put on the fish (they weren't made from home-made bread). I guess technically the eggs probably also came from corn, but you can't really count that because chickens (unlike cows) are made to eat corn.

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Blogger MWR said...

I am unlikely to ever read this book due to the incredibly unappealing personality Pollan displayed in an interview I saw ("60 Mintues"?). Nevertheless, from one language pedant to another, can you tell me if the word "dilemma" is being used correctly in the title?

By the way, who cares whether cows were made to eat corn? We weren't made to eat cereals or dairy . . .

January 28, 2009 at 9:38 AM  
Blogger redheadsmommy said...

I loved this installment. I want to make the salad. I want to eat the tart, with someone else making it. I think the caramel is beyond my skills right now. Thanks for sharing!

January 28, 2009 at 10:28 PM  
Blogger janeannechovy said...

I'll have to get back to you on the "dilemma" issue, M. And you *should* care about whether cows eat corn, because it makes them sick. And furthermore, research is increasingly showing that it makes us sick, too.

January 28, 2009 at 10:33 PM  
Blogger janeannechovy said...

redheadsmommy (who are you?), you should totally try to make caramel. Just start out with making a caramel sauce, which would basically entail making the caramel filling in the tart recipe, but stopping before adding the almonds and egg. I could easily find you a recipe if you're interested.

The thing with making caramel is that if you screw up, no biggie. Sugar is cheap, and it's easy to clean up because it dissolves in water.

January 28, 2009 at 10:36 PM  

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