Friday, December 30, 2011
Since right now black-eyed peas become the momentary coin of the realm, some people think you have to eat 365 of them on New Year's Day to insure chances for prosperity all year long. That's why many folks whip up a big batch. Lucky peas are served with collard greens, which not surprisingly represent money bills, that green folding stuff, so nobody is stingy with this either. And it all goes down with cornbread, whose gold color is unmistakeable. Thus setting the New Year table with black-eyed peas, collard greens and cornbread is "hint hint" to the universe to send a little "lettuce" your way.
The most traditional lucky peas recipes represent not only great nutrition but cheap chic, easily meeting the latest Slow Food challenge: healthy food for less than $5 a person. A leftover ham hock or stray pieces of ham or bits of bacon are used to flavor onions and the peas, perhaps even the collard greens. The only extras for this frugal dish are chili peppers or sauce, garlic and rice. But what a bang for the buck in this nutritional pile up!
A 1 lb bag of black-eyed peas goes a long way. The vegetarian version I just made for a New Year's potluck looks like it will feed at least 15, even if nobody brings anything else. So one of the ways something like "hoppin' John" is "lucky" is that it doesn't break the bank, even if you have to feed a multitude.
This is comfort food every which way you think about it, because it's even easy to prepare. I soaked a lb bag of peas overnight in cold water and drained them. I sauteed two very large chopped onions and six minced garlic cloves and a chopped roasted Poblano pepper in corn oil imbued with 2 tsp. chipotle chili powder and 1 tsp smoked Spanish paprika(trying for the smokiness of ham), plus 1/2 tsp ground cayenne for heat. Once the onions were translucent, I added 3 very finely chopped celery stalks, 2 tsp ground black pepper and the peas, blending everything in the pot. I poured in 4 cups of vegetable broth and 5 cups of water, added a tbsp salt, and brought everything to a boil. Then I put the burner on simmer, covered the pot, and went onto other things.
I came back in about 45 minutes and chopped a bunch of collard greens into small pieces. I threw them into the pot along with maybe 3 cups of rice (I didn't measure), stirred everything up, covered the pot again, left it on simmer and went about my business. Again, I came back in 45 minutes and there was "hoppin' John." I adjusted the seasonings to my taste, which is peppery and salty, and got ready for the potluck.
I have to confess though, I kept interrupting myself to go back to the kitchen, for another and yet another spoonful. Those lucky peas were addictive. America, I'm doing my bit for prosperity. Et tu?
A DELICIOUS AND NUTRITIOUS NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE
Sunday, December 25, 2011
Here's that dirty dozen in the order of toxicity:
Note how most of these items are the highly touted must-eats for a strong body with good health, foods we tend to eat every day. So if you are shoveling in supermarket fruits and greens, you may be piling up pesticides inside your body. Going to your local farm or farmers market should be a New Year's resolution, for it could be a life-saver in the years that follow.
A delicious and nutritious 2012 to all.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
New York state has the most winter markets, followed not surprisingly by California where winter in many regions is the equivalent of early fall or late spring everywhere else. Massachusetts is 8th on the USDA list leading newcomers Virginia and Michigan.
The great indoors often gives winter markets a merrier atmosphere than summer versions, a shopping party with music and hot cocoa or coffee. They can be even more colorful too as fruits of the land are replaced by fruits of the hand: knitted hats and scarves, candles, lotions and potions, pottery, leather goods, quilts, potholders, stuffed animals and all sorts of joyful craft are there for the harvesting.
And the eat goes on. It's no surprise that winter markets are the best source of farm fresh eggs, milk, yogurt, cheeses and meats. Or that you can find handmade breads, smoked fish, jams and pickles, pies, maple syrup, honey and winter squashes. What is amazing and getting ever more so is how the farmers bring from the cold a variety of fresh greens, herbs, and sometimes even root vegetables.
In other words, winter markets are all the rage because they really are super markets.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Tasty croutons--butter, garlic, herbs, oiled--can last a long time in a tin and be an uplifting gift to most winter salads or soups. And they don't necessarily have to be those perfect squares that come processed and packaged at a high price. Fine, if you want to cut precise squares out of your bread, no problem. But you can, say, also thickly slice a day old baguette and once it's baked, break it in half. Or you can cut bread sticks.
For croutons, if you want buttery, melt 1 1/2 tbsp for each loaf of bread. If you want buttery and garlicky, mince three medium cloves to the butter. If you want peppery, blend in some freshly ground black pepper. And finally add a pinch of salt. Now brush this mix all over the bread pieces on all sides and put the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 275 degrees until the croutons are uniformly crisp and hard, anywhere from 40-60 minutes. Cool and pack in tins. (My measurements are approximate.)
If you prefer olive oil and herb croutons, or olive oil and garlic, put 2 tbsp olive oil in a shallow bowl. Blend in 1 tsp dried thyme, 1/4 tsp celery seeds, 1/8 tsp ground coriander. If you want to add garlic with or without herbs, mince up 2 cloves and stir them in. Put the bread pieces in the bowl to coat them with this marinade. Then spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees until uniformly crisp and golden. Cool and pack in tins. (Measurements are approximate.)
To make crackers for cheese, you will need a baguette. Cut this in slices as thin as you dare. Then brush the front and back of each with olive oil. Once the bread is moist, you can if you like flavor the cracker. Sprinkle on one side a pinch of poppy seed, or a pinch of Fleur du sel, or a pinch of cracked black pepper. You can even brush on fresh lemon juice with the olive oil for a different taste. Or for a truly olive taste, you can blend about 1/4 tsp black olive paste into the olive oil before brushing it on. Place the prepared crackers on a baking sheet and bake at 275 degrees until they are uniformly toasted: crunchy and golden brown. Leave no soft spots please. Pack in a tin.
To make what we used to call "crunchy bread" growing up because my grandparents liked to eat it, you need a rectangular loaf of white bread thinly sliced. All you have to do is put each slice on the baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for an hour or two until the bread is hard and lightly brown. This is the original melba toast or Zweiback, which means "double baked bread." It makes a magically delicious breakfast slathered with fresh farm butter sprinkled with coarse salt, or cream cheese with a light coating of quince paste or apricot jam. It's also good for someone ailing to dip into tea, for teething tots, and for travelers.
To make Christmas canapés, get a rectangular loaf of sliced bread and get out your Christmas tree cookie cutter. By cutting one up and one upside down, you should get two "trees" out of each slice. Bake them in a single layer on a baking sheet for 30 minutes or until they feel firm to the touch. Now you have the base for a green Christmas tree canapé that can be made several ways. One is to cover the "tree" with a thin layer of fresh pesto and then to decorate it with garlands made of those thin little pieces of pimento that come in the very small glass jar. Another is to make a paté from maybe 1/3 cup creamed or soft ricotta cheese, a minced garlic clove, freshly ground black pepper and 2/3-1 cup of minced fresh parsley or cilantro--enough herb to turn the paté green. Decorate this "tree" with slices of olive hung like balls. Serve these immediately.
And finally, here's a shout out for a really great gift to us all: Jim Gerritsen of Aroostook County, Maine.
This farmer, who grows potatoes, corn and wheat, is president of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association, a national organization that encourages resistance to big agriculture’s control of seeds for farming. He went from Aroostook to Zuccotti Park to Occupy Wall Street as part of Food Democracy Now. “I have not spoken to one farmer who doesn’t understand the message of Occupy Wall Street," he told a New York Times reporter, "that message that so many people keep saying is nebulous. It’s actually very clear. Because of business and corporate participation in agriculture, farmers are losing their livelihoods.... Metal prices are high, so we’re paying higher prices for farm equipment — like $200,000 for a tractor,” he said. “And the price of food in supermarkets is higher than it’s ever been. So, while farmers are hanging on by their fingertips, consumers are paying through the nose. The money that gets made in between is going to companies, and the government isn’t doing anything about it. We have fifth- and sixth-generation farmers up where I live being pushed out of business, when all they want to do is grow good food. And if it goes on like this, all we’re going to have to eat in this country is unregulated, imported, genetically modified produce. That’s not a healthy food system.”
Give your local farmer the gift of a living this holiday season.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Those packages are the soul satisfying triumph of shopping well done. And my friends get it that I am sharing the love: the love farmers have for their work and the love I have for their food. You just can't overdo caring in today's world. So give homemade food gifts if you can. At this dark time of year, the deep fruit flavor of honest jam, the pungent zing of blueberry chutney, the heat of chili or cinnamon spice brighten a body and soul. And look it this way too: you can frustrate yourself squeezing into crowded parking areas and mobbed malls trying to buy something probably made in China that you imagine somebody here really needs or you can stay home and have some family fun in the kitchen making something you know will be eaten with appreciation--for your thoughtful effort if nothing else.
I like to throw in a small non edible gift from time to time, usually something found at the markets' handicraft stalls--a clever potholder, a handwoven basket, a unique dried flower arrangement. One year it was sheepskin hats. This year, I've been diverted because I couldn't help myself. My gotta have gift is the shoulder strap tote bag for sale at the Museum Shop of the Maine Historical Society on Congress Street in Portland. This perfect shopping bag is emblazoned with the U.S. Food Administration's 1917 (read that: during World War I) words to the wise:
1-buy it with thought
2-cook it with care
3-use less wheat & meat
4-buy local foods
5-serve just enough
6-use what's left
DON'T WASTE IT
A big thank you to whoever preserved those guidelines! Don't they make the timeliest gift now, nearly 100 years after they were issued?
My cookies, by the way, are ginger filled, because cinnamon, cloves and ginger are the spices known to raise the temperature of the body--a favor in these chilly times. That's why they show up in mulled cider and so many holiday baked goods. If perchance you found cornmeal at a farmers' market and still have some, consider making a cornmeal pound cake or cornmeal, lemon butter cookies. These are delicious without being cloying sweet. Italian baking books can guide you.
If friends are coming over, gift them with a festive, elegant but easy to prepare feast of warm smoked chicken (now at markets) with wild rice. Add pecans and cranberries (dried or fresh) to the rice, and add butternut squash mashed with cardamom and a bit of coconut cream to the plate. Or try making a smoked chicken salad (celery, scallions, currants, cranberries, tarragon) and serving it in a warm, colorful bowl: a hollowed acorn squash that was basted with maple syrup before it was baked. If you're thinking turkey again, remember the heritage ones, the real deal turkeys available at winter markets. Narragansett is the original, and the most popular now. You might also find Bourbon Red, Spanish black or Standard Bronze.
Ben Franklin lobbied for the wild turkey to be America's national bird, finding it more appropriate than the bald eagle. The eagle, Franklin wrote to his daughter, "is a bird of bad moral character. He does not get his living honestly.... He watches the labor of the fishing hawk (ospreys to us); and when that diligent bird has at length taken a fish, and is bearing it to his nest for the support of his mate and young one, the bald eagle pursues him, and takes it from him." But the turkey, Franklin went on, shared its food, and "though a little vain and silly, is a bird of courage, and would not hesitate to attack a grenadier of the British guards who should presume to invade his farmyard with a red coat on."
And if you haven't had enough apple crisp or pie or even crisp apples, hurry to the winter markets. There's where you'll find the tastiest apples available, and for good reason. A recent article in The New Yorker (November 21, 2012) confirms that when big ag supersizes the harvest to maximize profits, it focuses exclusively on apples that don't bruise when mechanically harvested, sorted and shipped; picks apples long before they ripen to keep a continual supply flowing to supermarkets and despite the damage to taste components, breed for mutations of shiny red because that's how they think we all think of apples. Green or yellow won't tempt us. And quality is not allowed to interfere with quantity in the supply chain. That's why the University of Minnesota wanted to protect its newly patented consumer hit, the SweeTango apple. "When you sell the apples at your farm stand," the head of its fruit breeding program explained: " people know who grew them. But when you sell them to a grocery store, you the grower are anonymous, as far as the consumer is concerned, and that's where quality issues creep in."
Who wants to get quality issues for Christmas?
Monday, November 28, 2011
Be especially grateful this year for honey. You don't want to buy it anywhere else right now--if you want real, honest-to-bees honey. The mainstream media doesn't dare pick up and publish the sour news that food safety experts have just found that more than 76% of all honey sold in this country is not exactly honey. It's "ultrafiltered golden Chinese sludge." The translation of that is, as one exposé writer called it: honey laundering. Possibly polluted crap from China with a lot of water added.
This is one of the sadder results of the ironically much publicized demise of our honey bees. Honey, by the FDA's definition, must contain real pollen, which is to say, real traces of real bee activity. So few bees, not so much honey. But you'd never know that from all those cutsey plastic bears glowing gold and selling cheap. The food safety folks found absolutely no pollen in any of the big box discount store honey (think Walmart, Cosco...), or in most of the big supermarket chain honeys either.
The food safety tests did discover that 100% of farmers' market honey is in fact the real pollen inflected deal. No ultrafiltered Chinese sludge, just the pride of working local, locavore bees. How sweet is that!?!
And what a gift to give this holiday season. Real honey from real bees has real antibiotic qualities so it's great for that inevitably sore winter throat. No sweetener comes close to its glory in a cup of hot tea or its flavor in stewed dried fruits, which are a delicious and nutritious way to start a winter day. Stir a tablespoon into fresh yogurt, add a drop of real vanilla extract, a pinch of cardamom or nutmeg or cinnamon--your choice, and dig in to something memorably tasty and insanely healthy. Combine it with soy sauce and ketchup to make a quick, yummy sauce for basting spare ribs. Drizzle it over pound cake or bananas. You can't go wrong with this most perfect sweet.
Friday, November 18, 2011
The big breasted supermarket turkey is an industrial marvel that no amount of industrious kitchen effort can turn into good homecooked food. If you have to get yours from a chain store, at least think small. It works out much better to have, say, two 10-12 lb specimens than one 22 lb big bird. For one thing, you get more drumsticks to go around. The white meat will definitely be juicier. And you won't have to stay up all night baking and basting. Small turkeys are good to carve in just under four hours. I always used to put mine in the ovens just as Santa made his way into Herald Square, closing Macy's big parade and turned the ovens off just as guests were piling in between 4 and 5.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of two turkeys is two tastes. You can make each one a different way, which will jazz up the meal by eliminating those foregone conclusions that make it so boring. Two turkeys means two different stuffings too. I used to alternate between three. The one for the traditional parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme turkey was braised vegetables (onion, leek, eggplant, green pepper, mushrooms, spinach or chard, parsley and peas) mixed with pine nuts and Jasmine rice cooked in chicken broth. This is the perfect leftover: eat it as a side dish, a main dish (think risotto) or pour on chicken broth and turn it into soup. The stuffing for the curried turkey was roasted pecans and pistachios with dried fruits (prunes, apricots, cranberries, currants, figs, cherries) stewed with cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and orange zest. This turkey got a maple syrup glaze at the end (paint maple syrup on it when you take it out of the oven and it will shine). Both of these turkeys need to be basted with chicken or turkey broth.
The surprise big hit, the one everybody started to ask for every year, was the cornbread stuffing with onions, roasted poblano pepper, kidney and black beans (from the can), corn kernels, pimentos, pepitas and chili powder. This is because it was inside my barbeque turkey. I got so bored with tradition and so frustrated by the eh quality of my efforts, that one year I said: what the hell, and slathered the turkey in my own barbeque sauce. The night before, I smeared that under some of the breast skin, in both cavities and all over the bird. I smeared on more when I put the turkey in the oven at 475 degrees to get it sizzling, lowered the heat to 400 for two hours and basted alternately with chicken broth and more barbeque sauce, then lowered the heat to 300 until that turkey almost dissolved into pulled turkey. It was so finger licking luscious, people still ask me how to make it. ?? I always improvised that sauce, but its basics were garlic, fresh minced ginger root, maple syrup, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, Balsamic vinegar, a dab of Asian chili sauce (the bottle with the rooster on it will do), a spritz of Tamari, chili powder, Chinese black bean garlic sauce (a key ingredient and it comes in a jar), salt and oregano.
I also had a friend who made a memorably delicious turkey by stuffing it with baby vegetables including potatoes and leaving it covered on the actual barbeque grill for several hours. If I did that, I'd probably baste it with a mix of soy sauce (or Tamari) and olive oil.
Heritage turkeys will be much smaller and the white meat not exactly white. The folks who produce these game birds like to say you only need to baste with a combination of butter and maple syrup or just one of them. Also you don't have to cook them as long or at forced high heat to kill off the bacteria and germs endemic to those pitiful industrial turkeys. If you sense they're going to taste "gamey", I'd suggest squirting fresh lime juice on them the night before. Lime juice is a key ingredient in chicken tandoori cooking and brighter than lemon.
Leftovers are of course the best part of Thanksgiving dinner, and the worst kept secret in America is that all your guests have already cooked their own turkey because while everybody complains about the Thanksgiving Day meal, nobody wants to miss out on the weekend of leftovers. So they won't be taking your bird home. It's all yours. Don't leave any stuffing in it overnight. Freeze what meat you will, and don't forget on Sunday to put the carcass in a stockpot with an onion, clove, celery and water to get yourself the underpinnings of good turkey noodle soup. You can freeze that too and give thanks in January that you made all this effort now.
Saturday, November 12, 2011
The third commandment, perpetually violated with impunity, is: Thanksgiving is a tribute to our farms and gardens, not our supermarket supply chain. Remember, it began as a harvest holiday, a "thank God" celebration that there was food to eat in this north-American land. So now is the time to show off the local bounty, by which I mean what farmers' markets can bring to the table--including the turkey descended from the wild ones the aboriginals showed the Colonists how to eat. It is the ripe moment to fetch from the shelves the pickles and preserves made in the heat of summer, to bring in from the stoop the pumpkins and squash before the harsh cold of winter rots them, to retrieve from the root cellar or refrigerator bin the sprouts and roots mounded in the markets of October, and the time to explore the new winter markets for fresh salad greens, cheeses, eggs and heirloom turkeys.
It's easy to put together a delicious, delightful and appropriate banquet from this gleaning. Here's a hint:
While everybody is gathering and milling around and fussing with their contributed dish, serve nibbles like
Local cheeses with local breads
Dilly beans or pickled asparagus or both
Chinese tea eggs (Think of all those New Englanders sailing in the China trade)
Toasted, spiced pumpkin seeds
In the center of the table put Cranberry Conserve and Blueberry Apple chutney with the salt and pepper.
Once everyone's seated, serve a simple salad of fresh mixed greens with Jerusalem artichoke croutons or toasted pecans. You can gussy it up with pomegranate arils (those bright red "seeds" inside the duller red skin).
Then bring on the turkey (about which more next week) and the whole cavalcade of side dishes that celebrate the soil and characterize Thanksgiving. I suggest these easy recipes from my book, How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market because they'll add taste, texture and a vivid array of color:
Rutabaga Timbales (orange color)
Brussels Sprouts with Prunes and Cranberries (light green, black and burgundy)
Celeriac Puree (ivory color)
Nepalese style Bitter Greens (a way to braise mustard or collard greens, broccoli rabe or even kale)
If you want to go overboard add the potato tart. Add pickled beets.
Everybody will claim they have no room for dessert but of course they expect an army of them. Again, from my book, I recommend:
Pumpkin mousse (lighter than pie)
Caramel pears, or poached pears if you prefer something more sophisticated
Sour cream blueberry cake (use the blueberries you froze in early August)
a peach or plum crisp if you tucked one into the freezer early in September
and a fresh apple tart or pie.
With the tea and decaf coffee, bring on those gorgeous chocolates from the local candymaker. This is the day to hold nothing back. It continues a human tradition more than 5,000 years old, hospitality, defined several decades ago by the Moroccan food authority Paula Wolfert this way: "No guest must go home hungry. And although this idea is often carried to the point of absurdity...after being served course after course...the guest will achieve shaban, total satisfaction, and know his host has held back nothing that would give him pleasure."
Sunday, November 6, 2011
Now is also the time to get your hands on as many as you can at farmers' markets because they are where you will find great varieties that never appear on supermarket shelving. Industrial agriculture and its partner, big box supermarkets, only offer the same half dozen apples--Red Delicious, Yellow Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Braeburn, and sometimes even Macintosh--and crossbred varieties of them. They're only raison d'etre in this spotlight is not taste or texture, but simply that they can withstand mechanical harvesting, conveyor belt handling, long distance rumbling and photography, which is to say that after all that, they make a flawless appearance. Frankly, there is nothing else to recommend that mushy, four-bump travesty, the so-called "delicious" apple.
At farmers' markets, you find dozens of tasty alternatives, although some might not be "lookers." For starters, if you are lucky because they are becoming a rarer and rarer treasure, you''ll come upon the Mercedes of eating apples: the tangy, crunchy, sweet tart Winesap. Frankly, if the Wicked Witch had held one out to me, I'd have taken a bite faster than Snow White. Northern Spies are the original New England pie apple, and if you don't want to make that pie until after Thanksgiving, they'll still be good. Mutsu apples are a tastier, crunchier spin-off of Yellow Delicious that will keep a lot longer for the lunchbox. Macouns are Macs on steroids, Baldwins are a very old fashioned, long lived, sweet eating apple, and Cortlands are famous because they're the one apple that doesn't immediately turn brown when its flesh is exposed to air.
Apples are right up there with strawberries and bananas as America'a favorite fruit, but they got to the top with much more publicity. We brag about its nutritional boost by insisting: "An apple a day keeps the Doctor away." We reveal its allure when we offer an apple for the teacher, or call someone an "apple polisher." In The Bible, human civilization starts with the bite of an apple and in fairy tales, Snow White's sexual awakening does too.
Fruit has always been the perfect metaphor for our human desires because it comes to us literally ripe for the taking-- we don't have to do anything but enjoy it, and the apple has become our culture's prime symbol.
This may partly have come to pass because the apple was one of the few fruits that could be grown in England. (It is native to the Caucasus, not Great Britain.) Thus the Victorian botanists and plant hunters who fanned out over the planet in the 19th Century were all too myopically apt to name strange fruits after their beloved and familiar apple: the southeast Asian rose apple and custard apple, the Bengali fruit they called "wood apple", the tropical Pacific island fruit they called "pineapple." It's doubtful that what Eve supposedly tempted Adam with was what we call an apple, because these are not hot weather, Mediterranean fruits; betting is on a pomegranate or perhaps a quince.
We all know about being as American as apple pie--which was actually brought here by British colonists, and about Johnny Appleseed planting all those trees. But as others have revealed, he wasn't thinking of pie. Earlier Americans who wanted some sweetness in their hardscrabble lives wanted apples with their high sugar content not to eat but to ferment into vinegar and drinking alcohol: hard cider and apple brandy. The large glossy picture perfect eating apple is the product of modern manufacture.
Still, a good apple pie is a great dessert. It can be made with cranberries or raisins thrown in, even chopped walnuts too. It can be made open faced like a charlotte or open upside down like a tarte tatin. It can be made now and frozen for February.
Another great dessert, or even breakfast, is the baked apple: if you can find the large, round Rome or Empire or Cortland, grab a few, core and stuff them with a mix of raisins, cranberries, chopped nuts, cinnamon, freshly grated ginger, lemon zest and maple syrup. Put them in a baking pan and pour about 1/2 cup apple cider and 1 tbsp lemon juice over them, cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 about an hour or until the apples are fork tender. Serve plain warm or later with ice cream, whipped cream or thick yogurt. This is as nutritious as it is delicious, a great way to wean kids from cakes.
Try chopping two tart apples like Macoun or Northern Spy into the batter of Indian pudding just before you bake it. This can gussy the traditional dish up for Thanksgiving dinner. Or be really old-fashioned and cook a dozen apples in some apple cider and lemon juice with a cinnamon stick thrown in, until they're soft and mushy. Then push them through a food mill or strainer into apple sauce, which you can either eat right away or freeze to enjoy in March. When I was a kid I was always dazzled that my great aunt's great apple sauce had the charming blush of pink. Years later I found out her secret was simply to leave the skins on during cooking and when she put the apples into her Foley food mill.
If you are not vegetarian, you can chop up a tart apple or two, combine it with cranberries and prunes and roast a pork loin in the mix. It will be juicy. But, of course, all of this cooking depends on not eating up all the apples just as they are in their glorious natural state.
Friday, October 28, 2011
If you've still got a few of those juicy heirloom tomatoes on hand, or the green ones you put in paper to ripen are good to go, now is prime time to turn them into a heart and rib warming main or side dish. They're perfect coarsely chopped and quickly sautéed to release their juices, salted and tossed into penne or rigatoni or ditalini with pesto. The dish can be surprisingly colorful if you happen to have both red, orange and yellow, even those darker black or purple tomatoes.
I've been tossing the last tomatoes with cracked black pepper into a sauté pan after I've softened a bit of sweet onion and a hint of fresh garlic in olive oil, and simmering them over low heat to release their juices. Simultaneously, I've been boiling up farro, that ancient Mediterranean grain, although not exactly according to package instructions. I've been toasting it first for a minute or two in a pan lightly coated with olive oil before tossing the water in. The farro needs about 15 minutes to cook, the tomatoes only 5 so in truth I start the farro first. When it's tender, I drain it and toss it into the sauté pan with the tomatoes, add a lovely pinch of Fleur de sel (salt) and a handful of chopped whatever green herb I have around: flat leaf parsley, basil, cilantro. A half tomato and 1/4 cup of farro per person does it.
This turns out to be great soupy as a main dish with a green salad, bread and cheese; or drier as a side dish with the meat of the moment. Either way, it's been a hale farewell.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Those of Polish and Russian heritage have been taking picnic baskets into parks and forests, staking a spot, and making a day of foraging and toasting their gains. Others are simply taking newly acquired books out to their back 40 and coming back to the kitchen with black trumpets, boletes, chanterelles and shiitakes, among other wild wonders prized by gourmets. Under my junipers according to a local expert mycologist were lowly slippery jacks, sullius americanus and granulatus.
So of course plenty of fungi have been on sale at farmers' markets lucky enough to have a mushroom vendor. And the variety is richer than ever, all of it already vetted as not poisonous. How easy is that? So now is the time, probably the last time until spring, to taste fresh, wild (i.e. organic as you can get) mushrooms.
What to do? If you're lucky enough to have chanterelles or black trumpets or real boletes (porcini), just saute them in a bit of butter to put slight crunch on them, sprinkle a pinch of good quality salt, and enjoy. Or share them with pasta and parsley.
Shiitake is Japanese for oak fungus, so this beloved edible is stellar in Japanese type preparations. Serve them with soba noodles, sesame oil, Tamari sauce and toasted sesame seeds. Or cook them with carrots, burdock root (gobo) in season now, and tofu in miso broth for a lovely soup. (You can even toss in a handful of chopped seaweed.)
For something more substantial, make a mushroom risotto using rice or farro or even pearl barley. Put diced celery, leek, fresh sage, a pinch of dried rosemary and thyme, and diced bell pepper of any color. (Hint: for a really rich dish use mushroom broth instead of water to cook the grain.) If you've got portobello mushrooms, the ones large as saucers, remove the stem and treat the underside of the cap as pizza dough: lightly oil the mushroom on both sides with olive oil, salt it, and pile on your favorite topping. Then bake at 450 for 15 minutes and serve a gluten free pizza.
To preserve mushrooms, you can dry them or pickle them or cook them into a soup or tart that will freeze.
And btw, since mushrooms push up out of the earth, they bring us minerals and vitamins we don't get from high flying plants.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
This future of individual independence makes the case for farmers' markets. And in this case, the future is here now. We can see and taste it. We can feel it in the joy we get from shopping at one--a joy never replicated in a big box store. Why is that?
Shopping at a so-called "supermarket" submits us to the self-serving machinations of the corporations who own the real estate and stock the shelves. What's on them for us to eat is what they want to be there. And what they want to be there was formulated and processed not for our benefit, but for their bottom line. How much free choice do we really get in that dictatorship? Think about it. Does grabbing your groceries there feel like duty, like jury duty? Or do you just love it, can't wait to go back?
Now think about going to a local farmers' market or two. You pick and choose among many lettuce offerings; you get the truth of provenance and other vital information about the food that's about to enter your body--is it genetically modified, irradiated, poisoned by pesticides?--so you decide. You even participate at times in the pricing. And you process the produce your way. Sometimes, if you make jam or pickles or preserves out of it, you spread it around on your own social network, just the way Rifkin figures energy will be transmitted and Jobs figured ideas would move. Crisscrossing power lines.
In other words, you are more in charge, more in the center of your own life. You are more part of a social network that starts with the face of the farmer who grew the food about to have a very intimate relationship with you, and ends with you serving up or giving away what you have made of it.
Even better, as Jeremy Rifkin pointed out in discussing the future of energy, we will get back in touch with the reality of Nature--and thus our own nature. Rifkin explained that collecting solar energy makes a person pay attention to where and how the sun is, just like wind energy makes one more cognizant of a calm day. So too does the very real seasonality of farm produce. It forcefully reminds us that autumn is not spring, that summertime is the moment of abundance and winter requires advance preparation to survive it. It reminds us that we are not supposed to be eating tomatoes during the snowstorms of January. If we are, they were flown in from who knows where and grown who knows how to trick us into thinking we can have it all all the time--no problem, no worries, no harm. True or false?
Farmers markets are truly places to practice vital feng shui for our body, to harmonize ourselves with Nature the way ancient religions teach us to. After all, like it or not we are a part of it, children of Mother Nature and Father Time. Shopping at farmers markets prompts us in spring to eat fresh greens--dandelion, fiddlehead, asparagus, spinach, chard--which are a tonic that cleans the sludge from sluggish winter blood. It reminds us to rev our body up for the exertion of outdoor summer fun with the extraordinarily nutritious cruciferous cold weather vegetables--cabbage, broccoli, radishes, kohlrabi; and the iron in newly sprouted mushrooms. Then when the heat of summer strikes, the available produce tells us to stuff ourselves with the juicy vitamins of berries, watery tomatoes and cucumbers and melons that will keep us hydrated when we sweat. It signals us to get our protein from corn and beans (in combo), fresh yogurt and cheeses. It teaches us to greet the shorter cooler days of fall with vibrantly colored root vegetables, thick stick-to-the-ribs winter squashes, and the crispness of an apple, the tang of that last berry, the cranberry. You can't mistake this and go wrong.
To feel yourself in time in place is to feel yourself truly alive. What beats that for a joyous high? Three cans of hearts of palm on sale at Piggly Wiggly or the not so Safeway?
Saturday, October 1, 2011
The eye-popping color chart goes from black to magenta and purple through oranges to bright white. The nutrition is off the charts. Plants that actually grow down and dirty tend to absorb minerals in the surrounding soil as they swell, so many of these roots are rich in iron and have significant traces of hard to come-by potassium. They cover the whole vitamin alphabet from A to K, and are full of fiber. Salsify has protein. Bright orange roots--carrots, sweet potatoes, rutabaga, yams--are loaded with beta-carotene, a splendid anti-oxidant.
Almost all of them are magical medicinal chests. Burdock, taproot of the thistle plant, is traditionally eaten in China and Japan as a blood cleanser. Sweet potatoes and Jerusalem artichokes (root of the sunflower) are thought to regulate insulin in diabetics. All that smelly sulfur in onions and garlic becomes an antibiotic and decongestant for the lungs. Scallions are an anti-coagulant, turmeric an antibiotic, and ginger fights nausea.
Best of all, none of these roots are complicated to cook. Roast, boil or microwave yams until soft, and mash the flesh with a pinch of ground cardamom and a tbsp or two of coconut milk. Peel and chop a celeriac bulb, boil it in chicken or vegetable broth until soft and mash it with a tbsp or two of creme fraiche, sour cream or thick yogurt. Cook salsify until tender, then peel and mash with a tsp of vinegar. (Because this root has a lot of rubbery sap in it, it's easier to cook first and then peel.) Peel and chop burdock into a vegetable soup or a miso broth along with tofu and mushrooms.
Make a heart-warming Alpine gratin by slicing a large rutabaga, a red onion and a few red potatoes into thin disks. Lightly oil the bottom of a medium sized baking pan and lay the sliced vegetables out in two sets of alternating layers, seasoning each with salt and pepper and the rutabaga layers with a pinch of ground cloves. Sprinkle grated Gruyere cheese over each layer too. Then pour heavy cream lightly laced with nutmeg--maybe 1 1/2 -2 cups--all over, top with grated cheese and bake at 350 for about 35 minutes or until the vegetables are soft and the sauce is firm.
Make a slaw of carrots, celeriac and daikon. I make and store in the fridge the Himalayan multipurpose flavoring: 1 peeled head of garlic cloves mashed with 2" fresh, peeled ginger root in a small food processor. This is great seasoning for braised greens, especially broccoli rabe, all meats, and my favorite autumn offering: root vegetable stew. A little olive oil in the bottom of a heavy gauge casserole, a hit of that root flavoring, a hit of ground coriander and turmeric to boot, some ground cumin and ground chili powder, and in go chunks of onions, leeks, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, celeriac, turnips, rutabaga, daikon, Jerusalem artichokes and enough broth--vegetable, beef or chicken--to cover them. Cover the pot and stew for 20-30 minutes until the roots are tender to a fork. Stir in salt, pepper and a few tbsp of tomato paste to thicken the broth. Simmer a few minutes, garnish with freshly chopped cilantro and serve. For instance, fried chicken and yellow rice, or polenta and cheese, or roasted pork loin, with your roots showing by their side.
Saturday, September 24, 2011
These volley ball sized pumpkins coming off the vine right now are actually squash, so you can cook them like a vegetable, if you don't want to bother making mousse or pie. You can chunk and braise the 'meat' with South Asian spices: cumin and fenugreek seeds, fresh ginger root, turmeric, cinnamon, coriander, and chili for a hearty side dish. You can grate the flesh and combine about 4 cups of it with a cup of soft ricotta, 2 eggs, a bunch of chopped dill, a diced onion, a cup of flour and a pinch of cayenne to make the most delicious pancakes. (If you're gluten averse, you can use chickpea or corn flour.)
Most easily, you can stick the whole pumpkin in the oven and bake/roast it at 350 until it collapses. Then you scoop out the flesh and puree it with a 2 or 3 tbsp coconut cream or creme fraiche or thick yogurt into mashed pumpkin you can spice up with nutmeg, allspice and a pinch of clove--or just cardamom, if you prefer. You can cook it any way you would cook a butternut squash.
You can clean out the seed cavity and stuff it with, say, the kale mushroom stuffing in How to Fix a Leek and Other Food from your Farmers' Market, baking the pumpkin until it's soft enough to slice. Or stuff it Thai style, with a coconut milk pudding that you steam by placing the filled pumpkin in the steamer and cooking until it softens and the pudding firms up. You can even pre-soften in in the microwave or oven, hollow it out and stuff the cavity with a butter, cheesy polenta and finish cooking in the oven until the pumpkin's soft enough to cut in wedges. This is really colorful, especially garnished with lots of chopped cilantro.
Best of all, you can clean and dry all those pumpkin seeds you took out of the cavity and turn them into a profoundly nutritious snack. Nothing could be easier--once they're cleaned and dried. Combine 2 cups of them with 1 tbsp corn oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp arbol chili powder, 1 tsp chipotle chili powder, 1/4 tsp ground cumin, 1/8 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp ground allspice and a pinch of nutmeg. Mix everything together really well and spread the seeds out on a cookie sheet. Bake them at 300 degrees about 30 minutes, until they start to turn color. They should snap and crackle as they cool. You can store these in tins and/or give as gifts. They're great scarfed up alone or lightly sprinkled on a green salad or an avocado, added to chicken salad, sprinkled on whipped cream atop your pumpkin pie, tossed into your oatmeal. Remember, seeds are where the source of life is stored, so they're very rich in vital nutrients. And they come free with the pumpkin.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
That, of course, stopped the kids in their tracks. But more unexpectedly, the sight of that leek stopped almost every passerby, and I was treated to a continual counterpoint of: "Oh, I love leeks!" and "I've never eaten one of those." As with the current political system, there was nobody in the middle. Nobody who maybe just a little bit liked leeks or had just tasted maybe a little once. I've never encountered that with any other vegetable but then, twenty years ago, as I was picking up a leek from the supermarket's grocery collection in Bath, Maine, an elderly woman stopped in her tracks, screwed up her nose and said bluntly: "My God, what is that nasty thing?"
Mellow is more the word I'd use. Leeks are cousins in the onion family, the ones without the pungent bite and with textural softness. They're too polite to overpower, say, expensive mushrooms so they're perfect to sauté in butter with that precious fungus, as I did last week when I found black trumpets and hen of the woods at the farmers' market. And they're very sweet with ham and eggs, in an omelet or frittata.
Now that they're plentiful, I use leeks to make risotto--with mushrooms, of course, or perhaps with those other autumn wonders, Brussels sprouts and Jerusalem artichokes, which are not from Jerusalem and not artichokes but the tuber from which our sunflower grows. I've also chopped them up and sautéed them in olive oil with celery, bits of smoked ham or bacon, and a pile of minced flat leaf parsley, stirred in some soft ricotta cheese to hold everything together and spread the mixture on the underside of a portabello mushroom to bake as a yummy no gluten/no bread pizza.
Venerable is another word for the leek. "Eat leeks in March and ramps in May, And all the year after the physicians may play," is an old English proverb. The stalk has always been prized for its medicinal magic. Hippocrates, the so called father of Western medicine, supposedly prescribed it for nosebleeds. During medieval times, it was thought to cure a sore throat, to be an antidote for certain poisons, and a diagnostic tool.
The hardscrabble people of the British Isles actually revered the leek. It's not only still the national symbol of Wales, key ingredient in the infamous Scottish cockaleekie soup. It's given names to many an English town. Leighton, Leyton, Laughton, Leckhampton, Loughrigg and Lawkland all mean something like "land of the leek." It's also endowed that far more pungent bulb with the name we English speakers recognize: garlic--as gar-leek.
Aristocratic is another good description, since the leek stands tall and elegantly straight above ground. Then too, it is not so coarse and smelly as the onion or garlic down under. The moneyed Romans ate leeks many ways while the hoi polloi had to make due with onions. Nowadays at fancy supermarkets, they cost three to four times more than onions. But right now while they're in the harvest spotlight, leeks are value priced.
And right now while the weather vacillates from chilly to sweaty is the perfect time to make the famed French vichyssoise: leek and potato soup with cream. You can serve either hot or cold. There really is a lot of magic in that wand.
P.S. If you want to read more about the leek in history, try the newly published Words to Eat By, written by Ina Lipkowitz.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Kale is a gift to people in cold climates: a seriously nutritious green that thrives in chill. So it comes early to farmers' markets and stays late. For centuries, kale's been a mainstay of European diets from Ireland where it's the whole point of colcannan down through Germany and Portugal where it's commonly stewed into a soup with sausage and potatoes. Recently I've come upon farmers who've either sun or oven dried it into a crisp, profoundly healthy snack, one of them with chilies included for an unusual bite.
There are actually several kinds of kale: the curly leaf just called kale, the long, slender bluish green leaf sometimes known as Lacinto or Tuscan kale, and a slightly curly purplish split leaf sometimes called Russian kale. They are all sturdy greens whose toughness makes them ideal for deep frying. Wash, carefully dry (no water should be on them when they hit the hot oil) and drop in for a minute or two. The kale will come out black and crunchy and wholly in tact. You just have to be sure to get the excess oil off the curly leaves before serving them up with a pinch of salt.
No matter which type of kale you use, you'll probably have to remove the leaf from its stubbornly tough stalk. that's the part that doesn't soften so easily and becomes stringy and tough to the teeth. Its best uses are pickling, or mincing and throwing into long cooking soups/stews, or compost. You can however chop the leaves and the stems and saute the whole mess in olive oil, garlic and red onion. After five minutes you add a bit of broth, cover and braised until the kale is soft--maybe 5-7 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar to serve.
Lately, I've been cutting up the bluish Tuscan kale to add to yellow split peas flavored with cinnamon, ginger and cardamom--the recipe is in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking. By first sautéeing it in oil and then finishing it in the soupy split peas, it gets tender yet keeps that gorgeous blue-green hue. With those golden peas all around it, this becomes a colorful eyeful that invites the stomach to dig in.
You can finely chop curly kale leaves into a raw kale salad right now with dried cranberries, toasted pine nuts and lemon peel--great beside grilled chicken or a bowl of polenta. If you feel lazy and want a quick, nourishing vegetarian supper, you can loosely chop and throw them into the pot with pasta you boil and then dress the combo with lots of fresh lemon juice, fruity olive oil, fresh black pepper, salt and grated cheese. It will be rich. If you feel more energetic, you can saute up some onions, garlic and pine nuts in olive oil, chop up the kale leaves and toss them in with fresh black pepper and the juice of half a lemon and braise until they're tender. Then put freshly cooked pasta into that, add cheese and enjoy.
Kale cooked with potatoes is a common German combination, and sausage can be added. A great autumn supper!
Sunday, September 4, 2011
I so badly lose control when I see them at $1 each, I grab at least six, sometimes even a dozen. I've been making that red pepper sauce recipe in How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market for years now and know how perfectly it will freeze and later brighten a winter meal. Make it healthier too because this is just packed solid with vitamin C, something you can really use in wintertime.
And it has so many wonderful uses right now. I can put it on cavatelli or ditalini or any small pasta with fresh shell beans as a vibrant, vivid sauce. Nothing beats it on steaks including flank steak or hamburgers: forget ketchup. Forget the butter for your baked potato too and slather this on. Ditto corn on the cob. It's great with scrambled eggs and vegetable omelets, and is a perfect mate for cornmeal pancakes. And how it makes even tofu tasty!
The other joy of red peppers right now is that you can roast at high heat (475) or grill them about 15 minutes until they char and soften. Pop them in a brown paper bag, close it and wait another 10-15 minutes. This will help you peel off that colorless outer skin very easily. When the peppers are cool enough, you can cut them in halves or thirds or quarters, depending on their size, seed them, salt them and lay them out on a plate. If you like the daisy petal pattern, go for it. At this point, you can do whatever you want: put a dollop of soft cheese (fromage blanc, goat cheese, ricotta salada) on each one, smear a thin coat of black olive paste or just sprinkle a bit of olive oil over them and serve. Or you can smear on soft cheese, lay on a small thin strip of salami and roll them up to serve with a toothpick. You can also do the same with a thin coating of egg salad on them.
Another option is to just lay one on top of egg, tuna or chicken salad in your sandwich. Put it inside grilled cheese, or as I sometimes do, lay one on top of an open faced toasted cheese sandwich for a great breakfast.
But whatever you want to do for this healthy and picturesque vegetable, hurry up. Red peppers are the end of summer: frost will take them away and you'll be back to paying dearly for them in the supermarket.
Monday, August 29, 2011
Immense thanks to Meredith Goad, food writer at the Portland Press Herald, for having the skill to discover this embarrassing omission. The book is also in the process of getting a larger, more professional publisher, so hopefully these proof reading humiliations will go away.
Again, profound apologies. One cup maple syrup for those maple syrup muffins!
Thank you for understanding that despite the best of intentions, oops happens.
Sunday, August 28, 2011
When somebody tells you about a meal that's fast and easy, you have to consider the source because this is a relative judgment. Something a little less complicated than a four-star restaurant plate may seem fast and easy to a professional chef but certainly not to you or me. There is of course no getting around the fact that food preparation does need a few minutes here, a few minutes there. But if your shopping prep has been done right, it really can be just a few minutes.
And there's no need to feel guilty about "fast" food. Some of the best eating in the world comes quickly: gobbling fresh raspberries right off the vine or biting into an apple pulled from a tree or dipping a spoon into thick, creamy yogurt. How about shaving a piece of fresh cheese onto fresh bread? Speed is not the issue.
Here to prove that point are some bad Iphone photos of produce that was for sale at the farmers' market in the morning and on my table in the evening, last night to be exact.
The photo on the left shows French or breakfast radishes ready to dip into softened butter and roll in coarse salt for a truly taste bite. Salty, sweet, crunchy, pungent all at once. I carefully chose a bunch of small, uniform sized ones and left a bit of the stem on for picking them up. These were out at cocktail time with a bowl of fresh high bush blueberries, a dish of roasted almonds and two hard cheeses to be eaten in chunks without bread.
The photo on the right was the undressed phase of a crunchy refreshing salad I concocted to complement a shellfish main dish. All I had to do was chop half a bunch of celery, two small carrots, half a small kohlrabi and about a third of a fennel bulb. I sliced some baby radishes too small to serve in the preparation discussed above and threw them in for color. I minced half a bunch of flat leaf parsley in my mini processor, tossed that in and dressing that all colorful crunch with the juice of a lemon and a few tablespoons of olive oil. Salt and pepper and it was good to go. A picture of good health and great taste. Every one of my guests remarked how perfect it was.
And finally, because they really are too precious and perfect to ignore right now, I cut some really juicy, ripe heirloom tomatoes into mouth watering chunks, piled them on an oblong platter and seasoned them with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of sea salt. I minced a handful of basil leaves in my mini processor and sprinkled them all over. With a splash of olive oil, this simple but luscious dish was ready to serve.
There it was, dinner for six. Yes it took some time- about an hour with just me doing all. But it was easy and pretty fast for all that followed: French breakfast radishes with fresh butter and coarse salt, high bush blueberries, local artisan cheese, local mussels and scallops with Sardinian fregola, crunchy salad, fresh tomatoes with basil and for dessert, that blackberry clafoutis so simple and delicious I actually got a reluctant 15-year old boy to make his own this week.
So, here's to fast food and fine friends.
Monday, August 22, 2011
"You know how to eat," he said.
When a farmer hands over something as purely perfect in its natural state as a juicy thin skinned tomato or a plump ear of old fashioned corn or a green pint box of high bush blueberries, it's no-brainer easy. You just celebrate your good fortune in making such a catch by honoring the honest flavor of that food. Serve those height of summer blueberries in a bowl as you would cocktail nuts or a raisin snack. You cannot do this in January so it practically screams July and the special joys of summertime. It puts you in time and place; feng shui for the stomach.
Serve the gloriously succulent tomatoes ripening now simply sliced and seasoned with pinches of salt and pepper and a sprinkle of basil or parsley or cilantro and a smattering of salty feta cheese. That's the Mediterranean way that's been pleasing people for millenniums, so why mess with it.
Actually, now when the produce tide is running so high, there's not much to mess with. Just serve straight up. Celebrate the heat seeking plants in bloom with a traditional Greek salad, farmer's salad it's called: chunks of freshly picked tomatoes with slices of cucumber (pickling or Persian work best as they are closer to the original in the recipe), strips of crisp green pepper, chunks of salty sheep milk feta and a handful of fat black olives. Dress with fresh lemon juice and olive oil (2 tsp oil to 1 tsp lemon juice ), season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and enjoy the sensation of summer. Save lettuce salads for the colder times: it's a cold weather crop.
I've had a lot of company at my table this week and I've been pleasing everyone with a vibrant array of produce from the market. I boiled a bunch of beets with their greens, peeled and thinly sliced those beets into a serving bowl and added the rings of two very thinly sliced new red/purple onions that were no more than an inch in diameter. I dressed the combination with balsamic vinegar and a splash of not so fruity olive oil (which means you can't really distinguish the taste of olives in it)--3 parts vinegar to 1 part oil, seasoned it with salt and pepper and chopped a quarter of a bunch of fresh dill onto the finished product. I put out a platter of bright red tomatoes laying on a bed of fresh basil leaves along with the Moroccan carrots in my book How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers Market, as well as fresh yogurt from a local farm turned lickety split into tsatziki by the addition of salt, a pickling cucumber, two cloves of garlic and a handful of mint leaves all chopped together in my mini processor.
Magenta, crimson, orange and white touched with brilliant green: what a colorful feast for the eye! Served with fresh local crab meat adulterated only with a squirt of lemon juice, a teaspoon of capers and 1/2 cup chopped fresh chives--and served on a bed of the celery leaves cut from stalks the farmer had just harvested. Finally a wooden board of artisan cheeses, goat and cow, from my local markets and olive bread from the local bakery. Farmer's market watermelon and cookies for dessert. No muss, no fuss and not too many calories to burden the body in the heat.
For another meal, I served up those beets along with my beloved Greek farmer's salad and a big bowl of spicy new potatoes that had been parboiled and then quickly stir fried til crisp in corn oil with chilies, garlic, salt and other spices. I cooked up ears of corn, broke them in half and served in a bowl doused with fresh cilantro pesto. And finally, I diced those celery stalks into their own salad with diced radishes, fennel, pitted black olives and those sweet tokyo turnips. All of it with some smoked chicken I found.
For tonight's guests, the main dish is going to be penne with summer squash (yellow), basil, a red bell pepper and new red onions sauteed in olive oil with pine nuts, red pepper flakes, and pepperoni. Coming with it will be sliced tomatoes with chunks of fresh goat cheese and the remains of that celery salad. For dessert, blackberry clafouti, one of the easiest recipes in my book.
Right now feeding people boils down to perusing and picking luscious products at the local markets. If it's good to go, you don't have to go to much trouble to serve it up.
P.S. You may have noticed these height of summer meals do not much feature meat. That is deliberate, part of knowing how to eat. I've learned to save the heavy meat eating for cooler weather, when the body heat generated by the burning of those meaty calories is more useful and thus welcome. I start with stews in early autumn, mixing meat with the bevy of root vegetables, and move on into winter with more substantial servings. But that said, I am not thoroughly carnivorous. I am managing three to four days a week now without the help of meat/fish/chicken, and with the help of cornmeal pancakes, pasta, eggs, dairy and all sorts of beans.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
I'm also thrilled to report I never saw anyone at any farmers' market looking sad or mopey. How could they be? Food is life, so the abundance of vegetables, fruits, meats, coffee, pastries and cheese assaulting the eye at every turn makes farmers' markets founts of joy. Lots of people bring their kids and lots of kids walk away eating a freshly baked raspberry bar or with grandma wiping blueberry smush off their face. My favorite was a tow headed four-year old waving a bunch of baby carrots like a carousel ring. Hopefully it gets to be a habit.
The organic vegetable stands get as mobbed as the gluten free bakeries. People are hungry for real sun ripened tomatoes (you can tell by the cracks around the stem) heirloom or not, and good old-fashioned, non-genetically engineered corn. Interestingly, while there has been plenty of corn available in the southern tier, the difference in climate and latitude has kept it from ripening yet for northern markets. Over and over yesterday I kept hearing: "No we don't have any corn...yet." But I have been getting it 2 ears for $1 for weeks now.
Closer to sophisticated enclaves, farmers manage to show up with artichokes, microgreens and leeks. One farmers has dozens of different lettuces all started for you to grow in your yard so you can pick your own just in time for dinner. I watched one farmer sell out of green tomatoes. One woman who stopped to talk to me told me how much she loved Tokyo/salad turnips, adding that she hated regular turnips and especially "those orange Thanksgiving ones. But these little white turnips are so sweet I just eat 'em up!" Three people asked me what to do with kale.
Raspberries are gone, blackberries are moving in. Early apples are on tap. The blueberry people all sell out. Everybody is fascinated by my blueberry apple chutney; they want to rush home to make it and save it for Thanksgiving dinner.
At one market I counted five families walking away with quarts of fresh goat milk. At another they were scoring raw milk and thick freshly made yogurt--super stuff you don't find in any super market. Every Saturday people stand patiently in a long line to get extraordinary, prize winning cow milk cheeses from a local farm "where the cheese stands alone" because this is the only outlet. Yesterday people kept coming to the baker set up next to me asking for his pretzels. He sold out the first hour, disappointing not just lots of passersby but half a dozen folks who said they'd driven all the way there just to get one. "Guess I gotta come early," I heard over and over.
There were distinctly dressed Amish farmers at one market. There have been grandmothers behind stands of traditional cucumbers, potatoes and zucchini. There are always now twenty something young couples purveying snappy looking organic herbs, roots and greens. A retired schoolteacher has taken up cheese making and offers delicious fromage blanc marinated in herb infused oil. A now middle aged couple has made a smashing success of a flower farm whose stand is consistently festooned with all sorts of bouquets and colorful plants. One nurseryman drives three hours each way to sell his perennials and hanging baskets.
And then there are the Somalis...at three different markets every week. They come from Fresh Start Farm, a miraculous social integration scheme figured out by an NGO called The New American Sustainable Agriculture Project. Its program Cultivating Community provides these refugees with farm plots for which they are totally responsible. They choose what to raise and how; they figure out how to market it. Most now go to farmers' markets where they meet and mingle with the surrounding community. At one market, I stopped to ask them if they had fava beans and if they made a traditional fava bean dish of the region: ful mudammas. No, they weren't growing the beans but yes, the smiles on their faces grew large talking about ful. Talking about food, anywhere in the world, always becomes instant integration. Eating is what we all share.
At one book signing this week, I was stationed right next to another group of Somalis and watched as almost everybody who came to that market came to their stand. Many sported such big smiles and gave such friendly hellos to the couple sitting behind the carrots and cabbages, I thought they were old friends, then rationalized maybe just steady customers. But most were neither. They were just trying to be polite, decent folks. Several gray haired men stopped to talk because they'd somehow been involved in the region and had memories. The teenager was sprawled on the back seat of the truck sound asleep but as his parents chatted away, their piles of produce sinking down to nothing, the planet seemed suddenly civilized and glorious.
And even though some who stopped to talk to me told me their troubles, which were considerable, they were at that precious moment so happy to talk about turnips or making an apricot tart or eating the dandelion greens grandmother pulled and served. So at this time when the world is laid very very low, farmers markets are a real high because there's nothing like the taste of joie de vivre.
Sunday, August 7, 2011
Tokyo turnips are usually sold with their greens attached. The greens are where most of the nutrition is; they are in fact a healthful powerhouse. But the greens need to be cooked so it's best to separate them immediately from the turnips, which you can eat raw. Rinse just before using and pat dry. Last week I chopped the greens up with all the greens from a bunch of beets that I normally would have thrown out. I sauteed the mess of greens in olive oil, black pepper and garlic with a pinch of ground coriander. I served this beside roasted chicken and, frankly, there was something spiritually satisfying about knowing my body was absorbing super food for good health. Cheap food too. And to be honest, food that a year ago I would've trashed as useless. This is the joy of cooking: new discovery of old wisdom.
As for the turnips themselves, a fine source of vitamin C, so few people have ever experienced them that I've had to pass out small chunks to encourage them to taste. One bite hooks them. After all, what can be easier than just slicing something up and serving it? If the turnips are young and fresh, you don't even have to bother to peel them, unless they've sprouted root hairs. That's fast food! And a grail for those who want to join the raw craze.
These little turnips do not have pungency; like kohlabi, they are meek and mild. Normally I just slice a few turnips into my green salads, where they contribute crunch and white color. Sometimes I peel off thin slices with a peeler and combine them with thin strips of carrot and daikon, for an unusual slaw I season with salt, pepper, dill seeds and apple cider vinegar with just a splash of olive oil. This past week when a friend came for lunch, I sliced four turnips into thin disks and combined them in a bowl with fresh, crisp snow peas, also from the farmers' market. With salt and pepper, I added toasted sesame seeds and dressed the crunchy salad with just a splash of pure sesame oil. My friend loved it so much, she took home all the turnips I had left.
Two days later I did the same thing, only first I quickly stir fried the turnips and snow peas with a minced garlic clove in a bit of corn oil. This made a colorful side dish for fish. Other friends are coming soon and I'm going to make the recipe in my book, How to Fix a Leek and Other Food from Your Farmers' Market. that combines the greens with the turnips in a pretty presentation. It's really fun to turn people on to something good to eat, especially when it's cheap, fast and extremely healthy food. I'm so glad I was adventurous enough to try these turnips when I first spotted them two years ago.
Sunday, July 31, 2011
I went to a party last night carrying a big bowl of farro salad and it turned out to be such a hit, three women asked me if the recipe was in my book How to Fix a Leek and Other Food From Your Farmers' Market. They were very disappointed it wasn't. But how could it have been? Farro, the wheat berry of ancient Rome, is not a local farmers' market product; it mostly comes from northern Italy, places like Umbria and the Abruzzo. Also I was inventing that salad as I went along, ad libbing to get something very colorful and flavorful, appealing to the eye and stomach. I also wanted it to be very healthy.
But I don't like to disappoint. So here's essentially what I did. I cooked up a package of Umbrian farro found at a high end supermarket: in boiling heavily salted water for 15 minutes, just like pasta. In this case though, I flavored that water with peppercorns and celery seed so the already nutty farro would have even more distinct taste.
While the farro was cooking, I roasted a small head of cauliflower--broken into florets, and a red bell pepper, both doused lightly in olive oil, for 15 minutes at 450 degrees. And in a food processor, I chopped a bunch of flat leaf parsley, a bunch of arugula, a bunch of young purple onions in the fat scallion stage and three garlic cloves. By hand, I diced a large, juicy tomato, and then the roasted red pepper. I cut the cauliflower florets into tiny bite-size pieces. All those greens and vegetables had been purchased two hours earlier from my local farmers' market.
Once the farro was drained and cool, I put it in my large serving bowl and tossed in the dark green contents of the food processor and the chopped vegetables, red and white. The effect was confetti, which is to say delightful. I heavily salted and peppered. I had in front of me a picture of perfect health: grains and greens with Vitamin A and C loaded vegetables.
Then I whisked together a tsp of capers, the juice of 1/2 lemon, 2 tsp zest of that lemon, 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup very fruity olive oil. Something like that because I don't really measure. I wanted a salty, slightly tangy vinegar taste to brighten the nutty farro.
And somehow that large bowl of a vivid and vivacious salad came together in a half hour, perfect for a summer night. I ate the little leftover for lunch today with some Kalamata olives and a side of homemade tzatsiki flavored with mint instead of dill. It's all gone now but it's definitely a keeper.
Monday, July 25, 2011
I did a cooking demonstration and book signing this past weekend and the most mentioned and queried product included in my book was kohlrabi. It’s that outlandish looking light green or purple balloon now appearing regularly at farmers’ markets, with or without its leaves. Some people remembered eating it with immigrant relatives, others wondered what it is.
It is crisp like an apple or water chestnut and bittersweet, although its flavor could best be described as meek and mild. We use its German name, which literally means cabbage turnip, and indeed it is a cross between the two. It’s not however an underground bulb like its turnip ancestor. It grows above ground like a cabbage but throws up turnip-like leaves that make it look like a hot air balloon.
Frankly, I knew little about kohlrabi myself until a German friend came to visit me and immediately scooped up a few at our farmers’ market. She sliced one raw into salad to add delectable crunch. She diced another and sautéed it with onions and potatoes for a very tasty side dish with fish one night and chicken another. She grated it with carrots into slaw. I was hooked.
Kohlrabi is an ancient vegetable known to Pliny the Elder and Apicius, who in imperial Rome wrote our oldest known Western world cookbook. Charlemagne, who when crowned Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 800 AD ordered kohlrabi to be grown in all lands under his reign. It eventually made its way into Northern India with the English Raj and more recently into the cuisines of Israel and China.
Kohlrabi was actually king of kitchens from India to Sweden, for peers and peasants alike, until Columbus discovered America and its potatoes. It’s fallen in stature but it’s still beloved from South Asia (especially in Kashmir) to the North Sea and in parts of Africa. And why not? It’s full of vitamin C, potassium, calcium and dietary fiber, but not calories. And it lasts uncut in the refrigerator up to a month while you figure out how you want to serve it.
Kohlrabi can be treated like potatoes: fried, mashed, stuffed and baked. It can be prepared like cabbage: grated, as I said, into slaw. I use the large slicing side of a stand up grater or a strong peeler to make fat curly-cue strips, do the same with a few carrots and a daikon, and dress the slaw with cider vinegar with a splash of oil and dill seeds. Salt and pepper of course. It’s a no brainer, low cost preparation surprisingly refreshing on a hot day or beside a burger.
Kohlrabi is best when small and purple ones are said to be sweeter than the green. But there is a caveat: like asparagus, cabbages and even potatoes, they have a juicy white chemical, oxalate, that can induce swelling in the human body. The week I spent kitchen testing kohlrabi recipes for my book and ate about ten of them, my left index finger swelled miserably and ached, so I can attest to this.
Those with arthritis or gout may want to avoid it. Those who don’t suffer like that should just not fall too far in love with this modestly amazing vegetable and gorge on too many.
Monday, July 18, 2011
In this light, look at the strategic brilliance of pesto. Its name derives from the pestle, the heavy implement that grinds ingredients in a mortar--for medicine or food or actually both since historically they have always been one and the same. Although we see it as deceivingly simple and ordinary, pesto is a concoction of fresh vitamin packed greens (basil), protein packed nuts (pine nuts), antibiotic garlic, salty protein filled cheese (usually Reggiano Parmesano or Pecorino) and lots of lubricating olive oil. Everything the body needs on a steamy day.
Here's a great way to benefit from it. Get a pound of fresh peas from the farmers' market and shell them. Put the pods in the water you boil for the pasta and when it's rapidly boiling, pull them out. They will have flavored that water. Cook up a mess of small pasta like ditalini or rotini or those small squiggles now available from Puglia. Three minutes before it's ready throw in the peas. Drain and rinse and combine the peas and pasta with fresh black pepper, cooked Maine shrimp or a roasted white fish and fresh pesto. Mound on fresh lettuce from the market and enjoy your lunch.
So now is also the time to braise, say, a pound of green beans in 1/2 cup olive oil with lots of garlic, onions, tomatoes, parsley and dill until they're soft. Chill and serve--perhaps with real feta (which should be slightly salty) and olives and a mound of fresh crabmeat blended with capers, parsley and lemon juice.
Or look up recipes for plaki or the Turkish classic cold and oily eggplant dish: imam bayildi. Or simply slice zucchini, eggplant and bell peppers into long strips and lavishly brush them with olive oil. Sprinkle salt over them and grill until soft. Then brush again with olive oil and serve garnished with chopped olives.
Or try roasting/baking a fresh caught halibut or cod or even flounder Greek or Yucatan style in a baking dish coated with olive oil. Put chopped tomatoes, pitted black or green olives, parsley, ground black pepper and capers on top and bake at 350 degrees until the fish is flaky. Serve with roasted or grilled new potatoes.
Cucumbers are here and to be cool as one of them, finely chop a few picklers into some thick yogurt. Toss in a minced garlic clove, salt and a chopped fresh mint. Serve as a salad.
In other words, you don't have to sweat it--even in the kitchen.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
Take those small potatoes showing up now at markets. I collect the bite-sized ones, line the toaster oven tray with foil, turn up the bake temperature to 450 and pile them on. I lightly salt and sprinkle olive oil over them, since oil will conduct heat into their core. Sometimes I toss a pinch of dried rosemary over them too. Ten minutes at 450 puts a smoky grill-like crunch in the skin and makes the potato itself melt in your mouth. Serve hot in a bowl with freshly ground black pepper and a pinch of good salt like Fleur de Sel. Sprinkle on chopped chives or parsley as eye catching garnish if you like.
Better yet, mix up the baby potatoes with baby onions and cloves of garlic.
Or don't just serve them plain. Serve them as an hors d'oeuvre with toothpicks, surrounded by a colorful array of dips: sourcream/onion, pesto, smoked salmon with dill and capers blended into whipped cream cheese, chili sauce, yogurt with cucumbers and garlic and mint, red pepper relish, black olive paste thinned with pureed cooked white beans.
You can give asparagus, shallots, red bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini and pattypan squash the same 450 oven roast "grill thrill" for 10 minutes too. Cut the peppers into thick strips, the eggplant into thin slices, zucchini into 1/4" thick slices.
One of the easiest, tastiest treats I know is to slice a yam (or sweet potato) or two on the diagonal into 1/8" thick disks, brush each on one side with a half olive oil and half soy sauce mix and roast the same way for 10-12 minutes until tender to a fork. You can treat eggplant this way too. This healthy preparation makes a great patio/porch hors d'oeuvre.
Great food with great taste doesn't get easier--or more delightful. About six years ago now, I told a friend's daughter to roast vegetables this way so she could impress the guy she'd decided was a keeper. Instead of going out to dinner on the third date, she volunteered to cook and produced roast leg of lamb with roasted vegetables. When four months later I actually met her chosen at the engagement party, the very first thing he exclaimed was: "Did you know she is an amazing cook ?!?!"