Thursday, October 24, 2013

The End is Here. Get out the lentils.

It's been a good run into October without a killing frost but produce is getting scarcer at the farmers' markets. It's root time and squash time for sure but there's still plenty of time to enjoy those vegetables: a whole winter. If you want to enjoy the last gasp of other vegetables when winter comes, this is the moment to marry them to lentils in a tasty, nourishing and very healthy soup.

I do mean lentils, the tiny, thin dhal in French green, brown or black beluga, because these cook very quickly without tending. You can have soup in under 45 minutes if you insist.  All you need besides a cup of lentils are two carrots, two stalks of celery, a small onion, 2 garlic cloves, any leftover green or red pepper you may have--no problem if you don't, and flat leaf parsley. If you chop and saute all of them in olive oil until they're soft, all you have to do is add lentils and broth or water.  If you want to go one step further, in the final minutes you can throw in shredded spinach, arugula, even broccoli rabe. You can even toss in small pieces of diced potato.

Of course you're going to need spices, salt and pepper, so spice away to your taste. Mine includes clove, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, chili powder, ginger, oregano and turmeric. (Indians and Nepalis always put a pinch of turmeric in with their lentils and beans because it destroys the gas they can release.)  Your could be thyme, lots of sage, oregano, and a pinch of smoked paprika. Or just cloves, black pepper and orange zest. Once the lentils are soft, you have two choices: ladle yourself a big bowl or let the soup cool and freeze it in plastic containers for the future. It's going to be comfort food in February.

This is the best way to eat protein rich, wall flower ugly lentils.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Don't play Chicken with your life

Now is the time to only by chicken from your local farmer. The CDC has released its report on  that widespread September salmonella outbreak traced to three Fosters Farms processing plants in California. The stain is antibiotic resistant. Forty-two percent of the infected had to be hospitalized after the usual medicines failed. 

Again, this is a direct result of factory farms feeding antibiotics to their animals, giving us so much of them in our sandwiches and suppers, they have no more anti affect.  So you really are playing chicken if you don't buy local. Live safe.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Red Alert

This is the moment I get giddy foolish about all those red bell peppers piled up at farmers' markets and selling for pittance a pound. This is mostly because imported ones in the supermarkets all year long are ridiculously expensive and overgrown. They look much too picture perfect. It's also because red peppers are a terrifically tasty source of Vitamin C and with less and less sunlight, we need more and more vitamins from our food. I'm foolish for red peppers because they can so quickly be turned into so many seemingly gourmet dishes that are embarrassingly easy to make.

My favorite, because you can make a big batch and freeze it to enjoy all winter, is the red pepper coulis (that's sauce) in How to Fix a Leek.... Essentially red peppers sauteed in olive oil with spices until they're soft and smushy, at which point they get doused with vinegar, fresh herbs and salt, heated and pureed. I use this instead of ketchup because it takes steak and burgers off the charts. I use this instead of tomato sauce on pasta. I use it for omelets, on top of polenta and black bean chili. I slather it on baked potatoes and imagine it would perk tofu to the max.

Even easier and just perfect for right now are roasted peppers, indulging in lots of them while they're cheap. All you have to do is roast or grill the peppers until they soften. If you don't have a grill, you can put them on a gas burner set on low and turn them with tongs to get them lightly charred. You can put them in the oven or toaster oven at 450ยบ if you don't have too many and not too big one for about 15 minutes. You can do a combination of gas stove grilling and oven roasting. It all works.

You pop the hot peppers into a brown paper bag, roll down the top to close and let them steam for 20 or so minutes. This step makes peeling their thin skin a cinch; the roasting and bagging will blister it so you can grab hold and pull it off.

Now all you have to do is cut the peppers into the size serving portion you want: half. quarter, strips--removing the stem and seeds (rinse) and arrange them on a serving plate. Lightly dress them with a splash of balsamic vinegar and a double splash of really fruity olive oil. Season with a pinch of dried oregano,  freshly ground black pepper and your best sea salt.

That's the basics. From there you can improvise away. I made two batches this week for two different dinner parties and threw capers on both. I minced a raw shallot and sprinkled it over one batch; I chopped a small amount of cilantro and strew it over the other. I used a little bit of fresh chopped flat leaf parsley to color the peppers with those shallots.

Finally, I rained down tiny bits of cheese on the platter: one time soft goat cheese, one time shredded Parmesan because that's what I had. It didn't seem to matter. Both times the plates were emptied lickety split.  I had been planning to put some of those peppers on an olive roll with fresh goat cheese for next day's lunch. They'd also have been sensational on that roll with salami and fontina cheese.

You can toss plain roasted peppers with cauliflower and pitted black olives for a great vegetable dish right now. You can serve strips of them with grilled sausages or chop them into lentil soup you can freeze for later.

There's just so much you can do in a snap, you should grab red bell peppers before it's too late and you have to wait another whole year.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The government shut down means only eat local farm food

Here courtesy of Buzzfeed, if you didn't see it, and Mark Bittman who referenced it, are food items the FDA is telling Americans to avoid, well, like the plague because they may very well be deadly. These are all coming from abroad, notably from countries that have yet to clean up their acts.

Large shrimp.  Go for the small cold water northern shrimp that can't be farmed.
Any tilapia or any unnamed fish in some fishstick or unidentified fish with chips.
Chilean farmed salmon. Go wild. Go local or go eat something else.
Shellfish. Most of it is coming from China. Enough said. Get it from your local New England fishmonger.

And finally, since the FDA is not inspecting imported vegetables either these days, they are advising people to be extremely cautious about eating these vegetables raw. They suggest soaking them in a vinegar/water solution before you dare. Here they are:
tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, avocados, melons, papaya and mangoes.

The best way to be extremely cautious is to get your tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and melons from your local farmer. Or else realize this is October and buy yourself winter squash, Brussels sprouts, local potatoes and New England cranberries.

And by all means, now that all inspections are off and chicken is coming from China too, only eat chicken purchased at your local farmers' market or equivalent.  Winter markets do have them.