Posts Tagged ‘Cooking’
Father’s Day is a big grilling day; I guess there’s just something about it that appeals to our masculine instincts. I plan on staying around the house, spending time with the family and fire up my grill for some great local grass fed steaks. The variety of produce in the farmers markets is great right now also, in central Kentucky we are in a transitional period with both spring and early summer produce at the market.
This week I even found great tasting, local, heirloom tomatoes! Around here tomatoes don’t come in around here until July but Mr. Heirloom Tomato himself, Bill Best from Berea, KY is growing some varieties in a “high tunnel” this year, which is basically an unheated greenhouse where the plants are grown in the ground. He gets about a month jump on the season this way.
We also still have strawberries and asparagus which is really late for them but I’m thankful nonetheless, my boys will almost eat their weight in strawberries if allowed. There are also lots of lettuces, spring onions, greens of all description including one of my favorites Rainbow Swiss Chard.
Like any green you can braise chard really quickly and spike it with some vinegar, but what I like to do is make rice pilaf with it. You pull the leaves from the stems and use the stems as you would celery with spring onions and carrots cooking them in a little olive oil. Add you rice and stock and season, then just place the chopped chard leaves on top and let them steam as the rice cooks. When it is done, just stir in the leaves and enjoy. Those deep green leaves have lots of vitamins and a pilaf is a great way to incorporate them into something easy to make. Chard stems have a very mild flavor and you can use them in place of celery in lots of dishes, don’t throw them away!
Rainbow Chard Rice Pilaf
1 small bunch of rainbow chard, leaves and stems separated and chopped
2 small early onions, chopped
1 bunch small carrots, chopped
1 cup rice, regular or basmati
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
In a sauce pan place the olive oil, chard stems, onion and carrot and lightly sauté until the onions are clear.
Add the rice and stir to coat all the kernels with oil.
Add the water or stock, salt, stir well and bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat, add the chopped chard leaves, cover the pot and allow to simmer 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat, allow to stand 5 minutes, stir the chard leaves into the rice and enjoy
The most common mistake people make cooking rice is to stir it. After it comes to a boil and you get it covered and simmering, do not stir it again. It will take exactly 20 minutes to cook and be perfect if you let it be.
This is the time of year when the local farms are harvesting their first batch of chickens, and they are absolutely fabulous. They’ve been outside enjoying the spring weather just like us, and eating the really tender early grasses that are sweet, and the early tender bugs. While eating bugs doesn’t sound very appetizing to most, I’m guessing the chickens would disagree. It is a great source of protein for them and it helps to keep the bug population down too.
The way factory chickens are raised is really disgusting, and a major source of water pollution. Not only that, but eating the chckens can be dangerous too. I just read an article on how researchers in Arkansas found that they could greatly reduce E. coli, Listeria and Salmonella in chicken breast meat by infusing combinations of organic acids — acetic, citric, lactic, malic and tartaric — into the meat. It is coming down to a choice of the risk of food poisoning or having chemicals in your food with many things for sale at food retailers.
I would rather have local free range chicken, but a lot of people balk at the price of chickens in the farmers markets. They are more expensive compared to the commodity chickens but not compared to what they actually cost to raise and process for the farmers, they don’t make a lot of profit on them.
The key is making a chicken and your money go the farthest. Two people should be able to eat well at least four times from a chicken; a family of four could eat at least twice. I like to roast a whole chicken or put it on the rotisserie, then pull it apart and slice up the meat. If you serve it already sliced you will take less on your plate than just putting a whole piece on there. If you put a whole piece of chicken or a whole steak on my plate, I’m going to eat it all; I have no willpower for good food.
This is in keeping with the Michael Pollan mantra of “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”, and a little chicken with a lot of veggie side dishes on your plate is the way to go, it is very satisfying.
You may have enough left to have a second meal either as leftovers, a stir fry, chicken salad and then with the bones and scraps make a great chicken stock that can be the base for a great soup with tons of veggies. That is really making your local food dollar stretch.
In a stock pot place all the bones & skin of a leftover chicken and:
2 carrots and 2 celery rib cut into ½” sections
1 medium onion, roughly chopped
Cover with water and bring to a boil, skim off any foam then turn down to a simmer
½ cup white wine (optional)
1 bay leaf
A few whole peppercorns
Fresh herbs (stem and all) of your choice
Simmer for 2 hours and strain for use
I’m trying to fill in my herb garden, I lost a few plants due to the drought last year and the ice storm this winter we had here in Kentucky. There are a lot of herb plants for sale right now at the markets, an incredible variety too. Buying your plants from local growers makes sense beyond supporting local producers; the plants will already be acclimated to your climate and have a better start.
Herbs are one of the easiest plants to grow. They are basically cultivated weeds and will do well in almost any soil. Like weeds, they can thrive in harsh conditions and are very forgiving, just give them full sun and water when they need it. Herbs can really make the food you cook come alive and having an herb garden is one of the best ways to become a better cook. It is almost impossible to use too much when cooking, unlike using dried herbs where a little can go a long way. Homemade pesto from basil in your own garden can’t be beat.
I always have a “lemon-herb” section in my herb garden that includes Lemon Balm, Lemon Thyme, Lemon Verbena & Lemon Basil. I like to try various combinations of them or even all together on different things for the grill or my lemon-herb vinaigrette that uses all of them with plain olive oil and white vinegar. By using regular olive oil, not extra virgin, and white vinegar the base is very mild and that lets the flavors of the herbs really come through. It makes a great marinade, a salad dressing on its own or even a sauce for something else.
In a blender place:
¼ Cup white vinegar
½ Cup regular olive oil
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 Tablespoons roughly chopped onion
1 teaspoon kosher salt
A few grinds of black pepper
A handful of fresh herbs, all lemon scented or any you like ~1/2 a packed cup
Blend until smooth
You can also do herbs in pots and porch planters for those folks without a lot of yard space or in apartments. I saw several very nice herb planters already made up in one of our markets or you can buy the plants and put one together in any interesting container. I have seen planters made from old wheelbarrows, wash tubs, watering troughs, and of course here in Kentucky, used half whiskey barrels. Take a look around your house or town, you might find something really neat.
In our area in central Kentucky lettuces have been exceptional this year because of all the rain and cool temps. It seems like the spring onions and asparagus have been sweeter than normal too, and the strawberries are coming in slow they also seem to be sweeter this year also.
We are coming up on another holiday weekend and I know there will be lots of picnics and grilling going on. We are so lucky there is so much locally raised meat in our area, you can put together a fantastic picnic all from the farmers markets in the area. It’s more than just hamburgers and hotdogs, although I know a hamburger from some of our local beef producers can’t be beat. Just think about all the different grilling items you can get locally now, steaks of all kinds, pork chops, ribs, sausages, chickens both whole and cut up, lamb chops or what I’m planning a whole leg of lamb on my rotisserie!
A great way to have a grill out is to do a mixed grill. Get several different cuts of meat and several different sausages and marinate them however you choose. Grill them all up and then slice them and arrange attractively on a big platter. Letting everyone take a little of each is a lot of fun, everyone gets to taste everything.
But you know if you don’t feel like cooking this Memorial Day there is the Hamburger Hootenanny at Holly Hill Inn in Midway, KY. It is a great event, I’ve been several years now, great food and fun. Chef Ouita Michel and her husband Chris are incredible supporters of local food; about 80% of the menu at their restaurant comes from within 50 miles. They have established relationships with numerous farmers in the area that grow specifically for them and are now working on a project where they are buying whole beeves. For the Hamburger Hootenanny they will be grilling local hamburgers and sausages and offering an array of side dishes made with local vegetables. http://www.hollyhillinn.com/
I’m sure everyone has seen the advertisements for the upside down tomato tree. I’m sure it would work, somewhat, but why folks would spend money on it I’ll never know. Tomatoes are very easy to grow, any spot with full sun and a little support and you are on your way. I always buy all my transplants at the farmers markets. Since they are grown locally they are already adapted to our climate unlike the plants from the big stores grown in the Deep South, unless of course you live in the Deep South, but I still encourage you to buy them from local farms!
I guess the tomato tree is just another way someone is making money from the “eat local” movement. I saw the disturbing news last week that Lay’s potato chips are now going to call themselves a local product in the areas that grow the potatoes. Everything is local somewhere, but that really gets outside the intent of the “eat local” movement; it is so much more than just where the food is grown. It completely ignores the intent that it be grown by a local farm that is a part of the local community, not a factory farm that only grows one crop for the commodity market.
This is the latest and greatest example of “greenwashing” I’ve heard of and I’m sure there will be others to follow. Green washing attempts to make a product look green when it really isn’t and there is a lot of that going on today. Think about it, sodas could be local to the mid-west where they grow the corn to make high fructose corn syrup. The food industry is really co-opting the message of eat local and sustainability. I saw an interview with Michael Pollan last week and he updated his rules for buying from his book “In Defense of Food”. He suggested never buying anything you have seen advertised. He said the food that is really good for you just sits there quietly on the shelf. It is only the highly processed and commodity foods that have advertising budgets. I don’t know of any farmers around here that advertise, so it is safe to say that shopping at a farmers market is only going to get you food that is really good for you.
While the big farmers market in Lexington, KY has been open several weeks, now most of the smaller markets in the more rural settings are also open now. I encourage folks to get out and experience different ones, it is amazing the variety of foods they all have and the opportunity to try different meats and vegetables depending on the growers’ whims of winter when they plan their crops. This is much different than a grocery store where you can count on all the stores having pretty much the same thing, no matter what the name on the marquee is.
The cool wet spring this year is giving us exceptional lettuces and greens of all kinds, I’ve really been enjoying salads lately. I’m seeing more romaine at the markets than I ever have before, the heads are small and really easy to work with and not tough like what you get from the groceries. I have also seen a lot of growers with Bibb and butter lettuces around this year. I have to mention that Bibb lettuce was bred in Frankfort, KY back in the 1800’s, so it is like a double KY Proud product in our area!
And of course there is Obama’s favorite arugula. It is a very versatile green, with a rich and silky but peppery taste great on its own as a salad or with other lettuces. You can also give it a quick sauté, and it goes great on pizzas and tossed with pasta. Cook your pasta and drain it, immediately tossing it with a good quality olive oil, the arugula and a good cheese like parmesan or asiago, preferably local.
Strawberries are really starting to come in now, and nothing is easier than just giving them a quick rinse and eat them right out of hand. I’m always sorry to see them go out of season but that doesn’t mean you cannot enjoy them year-round. They are one of the easiest fruits to put by as they used to say, just give them a good rinse, cut off the tops, lay them out on a baking sheet and put them in the freezer. Once they are frozen put them into freezer bags and they are ready for use anytime.
Strawberries are also really great in salads. When you are putting a salad together think about different flavors and tastes that complement each other like spicy and sweet, cool and hot. One of my favorite combos is arugula, strawberries, goat cheese and balsamic vinegar. The goat cheese, smooth, creamy and a little salty against the peppery kick of the arugula, and the sweet strawberries against the tartness of the balsamic vinegar, when you put it all together it’s like a party in your mouth.
Mothers Day is coming up this Sunday and it is one of the biggest restaurant days of the year, places will be booked solid, there will be long lines at the buffets, parking will be difficult, kids will be cranky, you know, it doesn’t sound like much fun for anyone, especially the mothers! I can’t deny that it is a good business day for the restaurants but we usually spend it at home relaxing with really good food all day.
First make sure you have lots of spring flowers around the house, you should be able to find a good variety at the market, a little aroma therapy. A nice cup of locally roasted coffee to start the morning would also be nice and perhaps a very easy asparagus and cheese quiche.
I like mine a little eggy, just take 4 local eggs with 1 cup of whole milk or cream, locally if you have it, add a little salt and pepper and whisk it up. Take some fresh asparagus and local goat cheese, or any local cheese, and put in the bottom of a pie shell, pour the egg mix over it and bake it for about 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Asparagus is one of my favorite veggies; I will eat as much of it as I can while it is in season.
With all the cool temps and rain this spring, the salad greens are really good right now and a big salad for lunch would be perfect for Mothers Day. Just walk through the market and grab everything you can find to put in a salad, lettuces, spinach, radishes, green onions, cheeses, hard boiled eggs, more asparagus and a nice loaf of locally baked bread.
I really like Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette, made with local honey of course. In a blender put ½ cup of white vinegar, ½ cup of local honey, ¼ cup dijon mustard, ½ of a small onion coarsely chopped, 1 T kosher salt, 1 t black pepper and 1 cup of regular olive oil. The honey and mustard will emulsify the dressing and the blender makes it especially easy.
So we’ve made it through breakfast and lunch, now for dinner, break out the grill and get out of the kitchen. The choices are wide open here, chicken, beef, pork, lamb, sausages or a mixed grill of several of them. My best grilling tip is to season whatever you are going to grill with kosher salt and pepper and any herbs you like, then lightly coat it with olive oil. I will pour a little oil on a large plate and dredge the items to be grilled through it. The oil helps to evenly distribute the heat of the grill and keep things from sticking.
Do the same with veggies, take whatever you want to grill and lay it out in a roasting pan and season it the same way. Asparagus is really good lightly grilled this way and easy.
I hear there might be some strawberries starting to come in also here in central Kentucky, that’s about as easy as dessert gets. Southern (say that with a drawl) Shortcake is a great way to enjoy strawberries and an easy dessert. Slice your strawberries and toss them with a little sugar in the morning and put them in the fridge. Take freshly baked biscuits and split them. On the bottom half cover with some strawberries and a little freshly whipped cream. Place the top half on the biscuit on that and top with more whipped cream. Sprinkle all over with powdered sugar and enjoy.
If you are in a gardening mood there are also lots of plants for sale at the markets right now to get your own garden started.