Archive for July, 2009

The Joys of Summer: pizza on the grill

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About this time of year, we have some days when it’s too hot to plan dinner. All afternoon we’re listless and have no appetite, then the sun goes down, the air cools off, and we’re hungry. Nothing was planned ahead, but we still want a delicious and healthy meal. Pizza on the grill is custom-made for those times. july 2009 040

Made with beautiful ripe tomatoes and basil from the garden, this is a celebration of summer. This version is vegetarian.

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Food Inc.

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       Recently a follower of my site asked me if I ever receive pay or free goods for recommendations that I make about products. The answer is no, never. I prefer to be able to say whatever I think, and am careful not to accept gifts or samples for this reason. I don’t recommend a product unless I have eaten it, know how it’s produced, and think it’s a good thing. I also don’t recommend anything that I didn’t pay for, because forking over the cash myself is a good reality check about perceived quality/cost ratio.

       In this case, though, I’m going to recommend a movie that I have not seen and haven’t (yet) paid for a ticket to. The movie is Food Inc., and it opens in Albuquerque on July 31st. The filmmakers are people with solid credentials in the area of sustainability, and I think it will be good. Also, attendence at this film will be scrutinized to see if there is  broad support for more sustainability and safety in our food supply.
          Here’s a little more about why I think this film will be important: the picture above was taken last week when I visited old friends of mine in Los Lunas who have a small pig operation. Everything about their place respects the needs of pigs: these pigs have lots of room to stretch out and to socialize with other pigs, walls are sturdy to keep them safe, both sun and shade are available, they have both indoor and outdoor space, and no inhumane practices like tail-docking or farrowing crates are used. The pigs have plenty of water to make the muddy wallows where they cool off on hot days, as you see above. You will not see any of this in a large commercial pig operation.
        Sure, it takes extra effort to seek out meat from farmers like this instead of buying it in plastic at the grocery store. You may need to buy a quarter or half animal at once, and the cost will probably be higher than the factory-farm price.  You will probably need to eat less meat. That’s a good thing.

        The movie Food Inc. is likely to get more people to think about these issues. That’s a good thing, too. www.foodincmovie.com
And no, I won’t be getting any free passes.

The Joys of Summer: more grilled vegetables

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Here in New Mexico the hot weather has continued for a few weeks with no relief, and we’re doing more and more grilling to avoid heating up the kitchen. This has led to more and more experimenting with grilled vegetables, and so far we’ve loved them all. I also love having plates full of color, not just brown meat. If you want to reduce your meat consumption, eating more vegetables is a delicious way to approach that goal. To improve kitchen efficiency, I plan how to season each vegetable so that I can make the seasoning pastes in a sequence yet not have all the seasoning the same; this is explained in the recipe section. If you want more details on how to grill, I recommend the superb grilling cookbook by Francis Mallmann, Seven Fires. Grilling is an art, and can’t be taught in a blogpost. But it’s an art well worth aquiring.

The quality of your ingredients is paramount. I do not recommend any use of battery-raised commercial chicken, which is a disaster from the gastronomic as well as the environmental and humane standpoint. Commercially raised “free-range” chicken is only slightly better. Get some real chicken. I strongly recommend Pollo Real pasture-raised chicken; see the Delahantes’ website to see how they raise their birds. They sell at the Santa Fe farmers’ market, and it’s possible to arrange a pick-up in Albuquerque if you contact them ahead of time. Back when I had a farm and raised my own chickens, they tasted like Pollo Real chicken, by which I mean that they tasted like chicken, while American commercial chicken tastes strikingly like nothing at all. Battery farming of chickens pollutes the envoronment and spreads disease, as well as being a horrible life for the birds, so I avoid it. We need to support humane and sustainable farming, and the best way to support it is to seek out your local sustainable farmers like the Delehantes.

If you have a grill with a griddle section, you’re all set. Otherwise, a heavy cast-iron skillet could be used where a griddle is specified.
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The Joys of Summer: Tepache

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My husband and I love good wine and good beer, but we also love various fermented drinks that I make at home. In summer, tepache is my favorite. It’s a traditional Mexican drink which, as I make it, is light, barely sweet, and contains at most 0.5-1% alcohol, probably less. It’s great for drinking with grilled dinners on the patio. I treat myself to fresh pineapple regularly during the summer, and making tepache uses up the rind and scraps and prevents waste.

I have a great interest in natural fermentations, from sourdough bread to tepache. If you share my enthusiasm, you’ll want to read Sandor Katz’s weird and fascinating book Wild Fermentation. But you don’t need his book or any technical knowledge of fermentation to make this drink. Fermentation has been happening for millions of years, and it will happen in your fermenting jar without much input from you.

I love to use agave nectar as a sweetening agent. It’s available at La Montanita Co-op in Albuquerque, and it’s showing up in ordinary grocery stores everywhere. (Addendum 2019:  later evidence cause me to completely change my mind about agave nectar as a sweetening agent, and I know longer use it, but make up your own mind.)

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The Joys of Summer: Simple Lunches

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There are few things I love more than leisurely weekend lunches eaten on our back patio, with good food and sweet surroundings. I don’t like to fuss in the kitchen for these meals, though, and in this season there’s no reason to. With tomatoes and basil in the yard or at the farmers market, a bottle of olive oil, and a good loaf of sourdough bread, you’re set.

First, catch your tomatoes. Meaty beefsteak types are delicious here, but you can use any really flavorful tomato, including ripe sweet Sungold or Green Grape cherry tomatoes. If you have bland and blah tomatoes, do something else with them; this demands great tomato flavor. If you don’t bake your own bread, get a good loaf of crusty sourdough or a crusty baguette; in our area the baguettes from Sage Bakehouse are hard to beat. Make your basil into pesto according to your favorite recipe or use my own favorite below. During the summer, I usually have some pesto handy, and it will keep a day or two without much loss of flavor, making this truly fast food. It’s also good for a mixed group of omnivores, vegetarians, and vegans.

You’ll need (at a minimum) half a big beefsteak tomato or one regular tomato or at least a dozen cherry tomatoes per person. When you’re ready to eat, slice the tomatoes and spread them out on a plate. A lot of juice will probably run out on the cutting board. Make sure to pour it onto the plate. Juice is half the point here. Drizzle with pesto and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Drizzle on a little of your best olive oil. Slice the bread and toast or grill it. Bring the tomatoes and bread to the table on two separate plates, with a small plate for each person. The lucky eaters will need a spoon to scoop tomatoes and juice onto their crusty bread. They will also need to be sufficiently at ease to shamelessly rub their bread into the delicious juices on the tomato plate. Have plenty of napkins handy.
For more on pesto, click here! Continue reading

Fava Beans, and Oyster Mushrooms

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Fava beans are a chic ingredient these days, but they’re more versatile than people realize. I learned this when I came across the leaves being sold at the beautiful farmer’s market in San Francisco as a salad green. I bought some and loved them, so this year I set out to grow my own.

In February I planted eight seeds of Broad Windsor fava beans in one of my large containers, about six inches apart. All of them sprouted, and I let them grow unchecked until they were nearly a foot high. At that point, I cut two of the plants and used all their leaves for an early salad, along with some romaine lettuce. The leaves are very mild in flavor and have an appealing tender texture. They marry well with a wide variety of other salad ingredients, including the delicate ones like butter lettuce, mache, and pansy leaves. Vinaigrettes that aren’t too strong and contain a little nut oil or a light, flowery Provencal olive oil work well.

I let the remaining plants grow until they had bloomed and set small pods. At that point, I cut off 6-8 inches of the tops of those plants, above the pods, and used the leaves in salads, which did no discernible harm to the maturing pods. As soon as the pods were filled out and I could feel beans inside about half to three quarters of an inch across, I picked the pods. A traditional Italian way to eat them is by themselves, raw on the plate, with thin slivers of young pecorino. It’s very good, but I thought they were great in this mushroom pasta. It’s vegetarian but has a substantial, meaty quality, and the slight delicious bitterness of the raw young fava beans is just what’s needed to give dimension to the flavor.

During the winter I grew my own oyster mushrooms but while the farmers markets are open I get them from Exotic Edibles of Edgewood, which is a good deal easier. You can find Scott and Gail, our local mushroom mavens, at the Downtown growers’ market on Saturday mornings.
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The First Tomatoes

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A grill offers wonderful vegetable cooking options. It’s a pity that most people only cook meat on their grills, because grilled vegetables make wonderful and satisfying summer meals. If you are a grilling enthusiast, or would like to become one, I highly recommend the elegant cookbook by Francis Mallmann Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. My husband, the family grill-wallah, was intrigued by the directions for Burnt Tomatoes, and set out to make a great tomato sandwich. All the hot work stays outside, and your kitchen is spared. Of course you can buy tomatoes at the Farmers Market if you don’t grow them yourself, but if you plant a few around your house, you’re likely to realize why they were grown as an ornamental even back when they were thought to be poisonous.
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Click here for the recipe! Continue reading