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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Good Food Nation

Good Food Nation

Much more so than Americans, Europeans are often well defined by the food they eat. This is especially true here in Valencia which has a cuisine rich with many dishes unique to this community as well as those adopted from the rest of the Spanish culinary repertoire. I have found that the food here helps to define the people in a manner which is almost as important as their language and history. Those aspects of culture are all interrelated and it is difficult to separate them or say where one begins and the other ends. A Spanish person’s sense of identity is closely related to the food they eat.

One of the questions that I have the hardest time answering is when Spanish people ask me what sort of food we eat in America. I wasn’t raised with a very well-defined menu. Like most Americans I think I have developed a sort of hodge-podge approach to food. I take bits and pieces from the national cuisines of countries far removed from each other. I cook lots of Mexican stuff, albeit with an American flavor; I have borrowed heavily from Asian rice and noodle dishes; Italian and French influences can be found in the meals that I prepare; but very little of what I cook could be defined as purely American. You could probably call my cooking American Ethnic.

This isn’t to say that we don’t have our own American cuisine; it’s just that I don’t really specialize in that sort of cooking. I think that it would be very beneficial to the American character if we were to lay out a uniquely American cuisine, once and for all, and inculcate our citizens in this menu. It should be taught in schools, these 50 or so menu items that all Americans would recognize as our national cuisine. Mothers could teach these dishes to their sons and fathers could teach their daughters.

Thanksgiving is the only culinary American holiday, rich with traditions shared by almost everyone in the country. People who haven’t cooked anything all year long will enter the kitchen on this day and attempt dishes of considerable complexity. If we could only get our fellow countrymen and women to adopt a few more feast days we would be well on our way in developing an American cooking tradition that would be a source of pride for all of us. Just imagine if another four times a year we all put forth the sort of effort that goes into pulling off a Thanksgiving Day feast.

I have decided to treat some Spanish people to a real American meal, the first for all of them as far as I know. None have been to the U.S. but they all admit to loving McDonald’s. Spanish people are not afraid to criticize your cooking, even when they are guests in your house. That is sort of a Spanish tradition and tends to keep people on their toes—it also makes people better cooks.

Parmesan Pork Chops

• 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
• 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon sage (I pick this out in the country on my bike rides)
• 1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated
• 2 large eggs
• 1/4 cup flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
• Pork chops, about 1 inch thick (I suggest finding a good butcher shop to buy your chops and have them cut to order. My butcher in the Ruzafa market is as good as it gets. Here in Spain if you buy the whole unit of whatever it is you are buying it comes out cheaper. I was making this dish for four people but ended up buying enough pork chops to feed my entire extended family. I can’t help myself.)
• 1/8-1/4 cup butter
• 2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 425F degrees.
2. Mix in bowl, bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, sage, grated lemon peel.
3. On a plate put flour seasoned with salt and pepper, coat chops with flour.
4. Dip in whisked egg.
5. Dip in bread crumb mixture.
6. Melt butter and olive oil in an oven-proof skillet.
7. Brown chops till golden.
8. Transfer to oven and bake till meat thermometer says 150 degrees, about 20 minutes.

Country Biscuits

• 2 cups flour (I used half whole wheat and half white flour)
• 1 tablespoon baking powder
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (or use salted and leave out the salt)
• 3/4 cup milk

1. Combine flour, baking powder& salt.
2. Cut the butter into the flour using 2 knives or a pastry blender, keep cutting until the mixture looks like coarse crumbs.
3. With a fork stir in the milk, very gently, until a soft dough forms.
4. Don't over mix.
5. Place the dough on a baking sheet (jelly roll pan) and with floured hands press it into a 9" x 9" square.
6. Use a spatula or the dull side of a knife and cut the dough into 12 biscuits without actually cutting them apart.
7. Bake in 400F oven for about 15-20 minutes or until they are golden.
8. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for about 10 minutes.

Green Beans Almandine

• 1 lb. fresh green beans, trimmed
• 1 Tbsp. butter
• 2 Tbsp. olive oil
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 1/4 cup sliced almonds, toasted if desired
• 1 tsp. lemon juice
• 1/4 tsp. salt
• 1/8 tsp. white pepper

1. Trim beans and rinse. In heavy saucepan, place green beans in cold water to cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until crisp tender. Drain well and set beans aside.
2. Melt butter in saucepan and add garlic and almonds. Cook, stirring constantly, until almonds begin to brown.
3. Add beans along with lemon juice, salt, and pepper and toss gently to coat.

Bon appetit!

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