Polenta: The Answer to Starch Fatigue

mushroom polentaOne of the first lessons that any new cook learns is that you can cook pretty much anything and put it on rice and it tastes okay. Ditto with pasta. Hell, you can even use a piece of toast if you’re in a pinch.

But what to do when these old standbys start tasting a little tired? Here’s what: polenta. It’s a thick, savory corn porridge, and the exact same rice-or-pasta rules apply. If I have some roasted root vegetables rapidly approaching their life expectancy in the fridge, I heat them up in a skillet and throw them on top of polenta and it’s a whole new meal. If I have some chunky tomato-y thing that I originally made for pasta, it’s bound to taste great on top of polenta with some Parmesan cheese.

And polenta isn’t just for leftovers. Here’s a yummy mushroom number that I dreamed up in a hurry last night.

Polenta with Mushrooms and Goat Cheese Continue reading

Drink Local Ohio: Yellow Springs

My father, who fits in remarkably well in Yellow Springs

My father, whose long white hair is a kind of camouflage in Yellow Springs, Ohio

Spring has finally arrived in Ohio. I’m sitting in my bookstore with the door and windows open wide. Aretha plays on the stereo. Tiny white petals float in on the breeze and polka-dot the welcome mat. I can hear the voices of under-dressed Ohioans who walk down the street and fan themselves in the 60-degree heatwave. All this scene needs is a cold Ohio beer in my hand!

Recently I’ve decided to apply my big talk about buying local to my beer drinking and to take this hobby of mine more seriously. Time to really explore craft beers in my area. My little heart-shaped state is tiny, but Ohio has at least 109 craft breweries, which ought to keep me busy for a while.

On a recent brilliant blue day I drove down to Yellow Springs, Ohio, which is where Antioch College is, which is code for Warning: high hippy concentration (any way you read it). This blue dot in Ohio’s sea of red is packed with little shops — clothing, jewelry, and every form of currently trending anachronistic media (which is, of course, where I spent most of my time). All the stores had cats.

In the air is the smell of locally grown everything wafting from the cozy restaurants, freshly bloomed spring flowers, and patchouli. Creative, empowering graffiti covers any surface not painted in murals or pasted over with creative, empowering bumper stickers. Continue reading

Los Sabores de México Puzzle

cinco de mayoAdmit it: your understanding of Cinco de Mayo history is a little hazy. (No, it is not just the day to get a free biscuit taco at Taco Bell. Nor is it Mexican Independence Day.) Even though I’ve heard the story a few times, I still get a little fuzzy on the details of the Battle of Puebla. I know it involved the French army and some unanticipated ass-kicking by the ill-equipped Mexicans. It’s also somehow mixed up with the story of Maximilian, everyone’s favorite Prussian puppet Emperor of Mexico. If you want a more expert take on this whole thing, check out this podcast about Maximilian, which touches on the historical context of Cinco de Mayo.

But while you’re brushing up on the finer points, you can at least make sure you’re ready for the holiday on the food front. Can you match each of the delicious Mexican foods in this list with its description? (Warning: if you have ever ingested a biscuit taco or even know what one is, this puzzle might be harder than you think.) Viva México!

  1. Huarache
  2. Menudo
  3. Elote
  4. Chapulines
  5. Tejate
  6. Cecina
  7. Pozole
  8. Taquito
  9. Rajas con crema
  10. Papadzules


A. Thinly sliced sheets of meat, marinated and dried in the sun
B. Corn tortillas dipped in a sauce made of pumpkin seeds and filled with hard-boiled egg
C. A soup made with tripe and red chili pepper, often topped with lime, onion and cilantro
D. A non-alcoholic beverage made of corn and fermented cacao beans
E. A small tortilla filled with cheese or meat, then rolled and deep-fried
F. An oblong, fried masa cake, with a variety of toppings including salsa, onions, potato, cilantro and some type of protein (such as ground beef or tongue), finished with queso fresco cheese
G. Roasted peppers, thinly sliced and sautéed with onion, then simmered in cream
H. Toasted grasshoppers, seasoned with garlic, lime and salt
I. Corn on the cob, often eaten on a stick with cheese, mayonnaise, lime juice, salt, etc.
J. A hominy stew, usually involving some kind of meat and chili peppers

Don’t scroll down or click Continue until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

Gustatory Oddities from the Animal Kingdom

aye aye

We spend a lot of time here at PitchKnives thinking about the peculiar feeding habits of one particular species, but what about all the other eaters out there? This was the question that came to me when Jason sent me this pretty awesome video about aye ayes. Aye ayes are a kind of lemur with a wicked-looking middle finger/ultimate grub-hunting tool. Seriously, just watch the video.


Mom! We’re hungry!

But this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of some of the weird animal noshing that’s happening out there. Take the caecilian, for instance, a wormy-looking amphibian that lives in South America and Africa. Since the mother caecilians don’t want to leave their young to look for food, the young just strip the skin off their mom with special fangs and subsist on it. And then she regenerates it so they can do it again. So happy almost-Mothers Day, you lucky ladies out there! At least your babies (probably) did not repeatedly flay you and feast on the remains.

Or what about the male nursery web spider who meticulously gift-wraps a tasty insect in his silk in order to present it to a potential mate? It’s kind of like one of those Japanese gift melons that costs thousands of dollars. The really desperate male spiders (i.e. jerks) will even wrap up pebbles to try to fool the female spiders into mating. The female nursery web spider’s favorite song is the TLC song “No Scrubs.” Continue reading

It’s Just Beer(!)

#whatimdrinkingnow #whatdoyoumeanyoudontcare

#whatimdrinkingnow #whatdoyoumeanyoudontcare

I’ve always had a difficult time mustering up a sufficient amount of care for my own hobbies, which is what I call my beer drinking, because hobbyist sounds better than drinker. I don’t spend time posting in beer chat forums, I don’t post #whatimdrinkingnow pics anymore (I bored myself), I rarely drink out of proper glassware, and I don’t spend a lot of money on it. Because after all, it’s just beer.

But I’m a total beer snob. This is the paradox in which we beer appreciators are stuck.

Beer is a beverage celebrated and sold for its relaxing properties. It’s the drink you have when you get home from the office or from the factory; it’s the drink with which you celebrate both special occasions and your slow days off from work. It’s the everyman drink; the drink to chill out with. When some of us turn up our noses at certain beers, pay $18 for a bomber, or go so far as to call beer our hobby, we risk running contrary to the beer drinking ethos.

For me, this is beer, exclamation point

This is beer(!)

Once you admit that, yes, beer is a hobby — you know a lot about it, you spend time and money on it, you really, really look forward to that seasonal releasing today — you are effectively rendering null the it’s just beer sentiment. Obviously beer is more than just alcohol to you. It’s beer, exclamation point! When you take it a step further and start caring about hop aroma and mouthfeel and shit — well, then you’re the kind of snob that drinking beer is supposed to keep you from becoming. Continue reading

Tofu Shawarma with Garlic Red Cabbage & Roasted Tomatoes

New York, like all great cosmTofu Shawarmaopolitan cities, I suppose, is a city of street meats.  In all sorts of parts of town (but especially those in which office dwellers in their daily dry-cleanables must descend by elevator onto swarming lunchtime streets that will one day give me a heart attack), men of assorted non-Western European ethnicities grill up all kinds of marinated beast on gas-powered metal carts.  I don’t eat grilled beast, of course, but damn if the smell doesn’t always make my mouth water.  The lines at these carts are often positively absurd, I have a friend who insists on going to a particular chicken-and-rice cart every time he visits, and I have no doubt that serious meatys coming from elsewhere in the country would have their minds blown to spend a few meals eating this stuff while leaning against some wall or fire hydrant.

So I get jealous.

And low and behold a shawarma spice mix called to me from the shelves at Sahhadi’s.  If you don’t know, shawarma (which Wikipedia defines as “a Levantine Arab meat preparation” but which is, etymologically, derived from a Turkish word for rotation) is one of those giant meat sticks you see turning next to a flame or heating lamp.  It’s like a gyro, basically, and I once saw someone shave meat from the spit using a circular saw, which was fairly cool.  And I figured I could do something veggie with this.

So boom: Tofu Shawarma with Garlic Red Cabbage and Roasted Tomatoes

  • 1 block of tofu sliced into 1/4″-thick pieces
  • shawarma spice mix
  • 1 1/2 cups of red cabbage sliced 1/4″-wide
  • 3 onions sliced
  • 1/3 of a pint of cherry tomatoes
  • olive oil and butter
  • 8 cloves of garlic
  • 3 tbs cumin seeds
  • 4 ounces plain yogurt
  • 1 lemon Continue reading

Jumble o’ Seeds Puzzle

Tucked in an section of freezer where I dare not interfere are tucked sundry packets of seeds, patiently wintering until Jason gets around to planting them each spring. Sometimes I wonder about the disastrous confusion that would ensue if these somehow got mixed up or mislabeled. Are you prepared for such an eventuality? Test yourself with this seed identification puzzle. And don’t be too tough on yourself; give yourself partial credit if you manage to name a vegetable in the same family as the answer I’ve given.

seeds1 seeds2 seeds3 seeds4 seeds5 seeds6 seeds7 seeds8 seeds9

Don’t click continue or scroll down until you’re ready for the answers! Continue reading

Craft Beer Defined (No, Your Other Six-Pack)


US states by their biggest “craft” brewery

The elusive definition of craft beer is not exactly the meaning of life, but you’d think it was given all the attention it gets in craft beer forums (definition: an online symposium of slightly to highly intoxicated enthusiasts of commodified tastes). Guys with chat names like DuffMan23 and BeerPirateRockstar argue about yearly barrel output and shareholder standings.

Your basic Wikipedia definition of craft beer is that it’s created in small batches, which finally solves the mystery of what microbrew means. There is no USDA of craft brewing, and hence the definition remains in the hands of the defined. Realistically, anyone could slap craft on their label without legal repercussions, although the legions of drunk, self-righteous craft beer drinkers might give one pause before doing so. The Brewers Association (BA), a brewers’ trade organization, has a more in-depth definition, stating that craft breweries must be small, independent, and traditional.

Dogfish-Head-logoBy small, they mean producing six million barrels or less per year which, at 252 pints per barrel, comes to 1.512 billion servings. This is, like, a river of beer that makes my weekly consumption seem way more reasonable. It may be nothing to the big guys, but that’s a lot of beer! Sam Adams, who is frequently under fire for being “too big” to be craft, makes just 2.5 million barrels a year. Dogfish Head makes 175,000 barrels a year, which to me seems a more accurate limit, if we’re drawing arbitrary lines. Continue reading

Earliest Spring Vegetables: Let’s Get Excited

The first day of spring brought a few inches of snow to the Big Apple, and the real apples at the farmer’s market this weekend were looking a little tired. But take heart, ye well-wintered and weary-hearted: yesterday I noticed the first new buds on a tree. Spring is coming. Taking its own sweet time to get here, maybe, but it’s coming. So in celebration, let’s take a look at the first few superstar vegetables that should be hitting your local markets any day now, along with some ideas about how to use them. Those with green thumbs should also think about getting these same plants in the ground as soon as you think you’ve weathered the last frost. (And to inspire you gardeners, I’m using images from the Hudson Valley Seed Library, a favorite of ours, as well as one from Everwilde Farms.)

hudson arugula Arugula: Honestly, it took me a while to warm to arugula. It still seems to me an adult taste, like sitting through an opera or reading a Henry James novel. But warm to it I did, and at no time is it better than in the early spring, when the leaves taste perky rather than too bitter or spicy. Try them in a salad with a nice mustardy dressing (olive oil, mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper), or use them in a sandwich to give it a little more kick than regular lettuce.

everwilde rhubarbRhubarb: I’m not sure I realized that you could make something with rhubarb and without strawberries until I was fully grown. But particularly if you like sour tastes like citrus (and I do), rhubarb is a natural choice. Stew it with some sugar and a little water, and you’ve got one heck of a topping for pancakes. And yes, strawberries or any other kind of berries you can get your hands on are great thrown in, as well. Continue reading

A Cauldron of Southwestern Black Bean & Mustard Squash Soup

I’ve been into beans this winter.  I like pouring something that could substitute for buckshot into a cauldron of water and ending up with soft, succulent morsels of food.  And I cannot overemphasize the appeal of the cauldron component; to make yummy beans from scratch, I have to take the biggest pot we have, a cast-iron thing of uncertain origin in the home, and fill it with all sorts of whatever’s-on-hand to make delicious what would otherwise be bland bean flesh.  I mean, eye of newt is surely not tasty to most palettes and Macbeth’s witches weren’t making dinner, so this is perhaps not the best comparison, but I like pouring and scraping and shaking whatever cool things I can find into a simmering pot and getting a little magic out of it when all is said and done.

Looking at this picture, I remember that we sprinkled some cheese on top, too.

Looking at this picture, I remember that we sprinkled some cheese on top, too.

So the other day I decided to riff on the rough idea of a Southwestern-themed bean soup I had burbling around in my brain.  We had a butternut squash on hand, not Shannon’s favorite vegetable, and I’m always trying to come up with ways to make yummy things folks don’t typically like.  Note that you don’t have to include all of these ingredients in your version.  You shouldn’t make a special trip to the store just for a lime or whatever, and the soup will be tasty even if you don’t get the mustard going.

Southwestern Black Bean & Mustard Squash Soup Continue reading