Archive for the ‘kitchen staples’ Category

Southwest Cassoulet


There is an odd mystique about cassoulet. There are online butchers who will sell you the ingredients to make authentic cassoulet for eight people for 85 dollars. To me, this is bemusing. It’s a peasant dish, and like most such, its original intent was to nourish people well with minimal labor and cost. The magic combination is a lot of legumes with a small amount of very flavorful meat, plus seasonings. Nearly every society has some equivalent, from split pea soup to the red beans and rice that was eaten by the quart in Louisiana when I was growing up. So at first I thought of calling this post “Bean Pot,” but then I decided that it was time to demystify cassoulet and make it clear that this is a great dish for times when weather is cold, dollars may be short, and a meal that feeds abundantly and warms from the inside is called for. Let’s make this dish our own and adapt it to our needs.
For a great big dishful, you will need a pound of dried beans, two large onions or three small ones, 4-5 cloves of garlic, some olive oil, 2 cups of good rich stock or broth, a large carrot, a small bunch of thyme, a cup or two of homemade bread crumbs or small chunks of bread if you want to gratinee the top, and about a pound and a half of very flavorful meat. A combination of types is preferable. Some possibilities are duck confit, good sausage, ham, fatty cuts of pork already cooked for some other purpose, smoked hocks (no more than one,) or whatever your taste dictates. If you have any marrow from a ham bone, it’s a great addition. If I have a couple of pork ribs left over from experiments with my smoker, I’m apt to include them. I would not use anything with strong distinctive seasoning that will stand apart and not amalgamate itself; chorizo is a good example, as much as I love it. Don’t use anything very lean; there is little meat in comparison to the amount of beans, and it needs to lend some unction to the beans. Small raw sausages can be cooked whole in the beans, but anything large and raw should be cut in chunks or precooked, such as panfrying a thick raw sausage until nearly done before including it. If you do this, remember to save the fat to add to the beans. If you insist on using a ham hock, it will add a wonderful flavor and texture but does need to be slowly simmered for a couple of hours in the stock before use, which is a drag. Ham shanks are easier in that they are more tender and can be put directly in the dish.
First, catch your beans. I used a local New Mexico product, bollita beans, but I would happily use pinto beans, cannelini beans, or any other bean that cooks up soft and plump without falling apart. I started with a pound of beans and cooked them in my solar cooker the day before I wanted to make the dish. You can cook them any way you like. There’s a lot of mystique about cooking beans, too. Here at 5000 feet above sea level with very hard water, I do presoak and then cook in filtered water, and I don’t salt them until they are almost done, and then I salt generously. In Louisiana, with very soft water and an altitude just a smidgeon above sea level, beans cooked to perfection in a few hours with no special considerations. Know your conditions, and cook accordingly. If you aren’t cooking them a day ahead, they need to be ready at least 90 minutes before you want to eat. Make sure they are salted to your taste!

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. While the beans soften to perfection, or reheat if cooked the day before, chop the onions and garlic finely. I do all the cooking in the big La Chamba clay casserole in which I will finish the dish, largely because it’s a thing of beauty and I love to handle it. You can use a skillet if your casserole won’t take direct heat. Heat the olive oil over medium heat, saute the onions until they are becoming transparent, add the garlic, and saute until thoroughly cooked and maybe coloring a little (I like the richness of flavor this adds, but don’t burn them.) Drain the beans, saving the broth for something else, and mix with the onions and garlic. Add the chopped thyme and 1.5 to 2 teaspoons of freshly ground black pepper (very important to the final flavor.) Taste the beans and make sure they are salted to the level that you want. Now stick the meat into the beans. If you are using raw sausage or any raw pork, keep it near the top. I used some sections of smoked spareribs and stuck them well down into the pot. I always plop a leg of duck confit on the top. If you’re using duck make sure the skin is a little above the beans to that it can get nice and crisp. Pour a cup and a half of rich hot stock over all, and save the rest of the stock in case you need it later. Stick the dish into the preheated oven for an hour, then carefully haul it out and poke around a little. Since everything was hot when you started, any sausage or pieces of raw pork should be cooked at this point, but if not, keep them on top where you can fish them out for extra cooking if needed. Make sure there is some fluid near the bottom, and add more stock if the beans seem too dry. If you want a gratineed top, as I always do, cover the top with breadcrumbs or little pieces of bread, making sure not to cover the duck skin if you’re using it. Stir the bready stuff lightly into any fat that has appeared on the surface so that it gets deliciously golden and crisp rather than hard. If there is no surface fat, dot the bread generously with butter or drizzle it with olive oil. Bake another half hour. Take it out again, and check the sausage to make sure it got cooked. If the top hasn’t gotten crisp and gold, run it under the broiler until it is, but make sure not to burn it. Serve, making sure that everyone gets some of the crisp bready bits on top, and a fragment of the duck skin if they want it. The taste of the dish is simple and pure, and can waken ancestral memories of the farmhouse table. A green salad on the side is nice, but fussy vegetables are just not needed.
This makes a lot of hearty food. My clay casserole is about 11 inches long, nine inches wide, and four inches deep, and this fills it to the brim. Leftovers are likely, and welcome.

The Winter Kitchen, with notes on making duck confit



We have had a splendid holiday season here in New Mexico, from attending Los Posados, our traditional candlelit Christmas procession, in mid-December to ringing in the New Year joyously and quietly with my visiting parents. In the mornings we feasted on our own backyard eggs (due to the huge amount of greens that my hens eat, the yolks are a fiery orange-red, always the mark of a good egg) and Purple Peruvian hash browns, along with thick slabs of smoked bacon (not yet home-grown, but in the future, who knows?) We ate my own meat chickens cooked a dozen different ways; in the out-of-focus shot below, you see them grilling on my new firepit grill.

Usually I can take a little time off around the holidays, and so that’s when I do some yearly kitchen chores, like making duck confit. This is a large undertaking and isn’t for everyone. If you just want to quick-grill a leg here and there, buying your duck confit is probably perfectly reasonable. But if you want not just the meat, but the lovely flavorful fat it was cooked in, then make it yourself.
Be prepared to spend some time looking for your materials. I order them on the Internet. To confit six large duck legs, you need two pounds of extra duck fat. I pay less than $15 for the fat, but I have seen duck fat sold in 7oz quantities for almost that price. You can use lard or olive oil instead if you insist, but in my view that isn’t proper duck confit. I should add that I don’t use pink salt, curing salt containing nitrates, for confit and so mine has to be refrigerated or, for storage over a few weeks, frozen. If you want to cure with pink salt, get the excellent book Charcuterie and follow the directions. I always confit twelve duck legs with four pounds of fat so I have some to give to foodie friends, but that’s probably overkill for most people.
Having secured six large duck legs with thighs attached and two pounds of duck fat, you are ready to start. First, salt the legs very generously, using two tablespoons of salt for the whole job. Grind black pepper generously over the legs, chop a small handful of thyme leaves and strew them about, and put in a bowl or plastic bag with 10 peeled smashed cloves of garlic and 10 bay leaves interspersed with the legs. Be sure to get Turkish bay leaves; the commonly found ones from California have a mentholated quality that you will not enjoy in the finished product. Set in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, heat your oven to 300 degrees. Lay the duck legs out on a baking sheet with the bay leaves and garlic underneath them, and make sure the pepper and thyme leaves make it onto the tray. If doubling this recipe, use two trays. Don’t crowd them, because you need room for them to release their fat. Bake slowly until the legs are golden brown, usually about an hour.

Remove from the oven and place the legs in a pot large enough to hold them with room left over. Transfer the bay, garlic, etc. to the pot as well. Add the extra duck fat, and bring to a simmer. Use a flame-tamer if your burners run hot. Let the pot simmer comfortably until the duck meat is very willing to fall off the bone. This usually takes five or six hours for me.
Let cool just until no longer warm to the touch, but the fat is still liquid. Portion out as you like; I put two whole legs in a plastic container to go in the refrigerator, and ladle in enough fat to cover them. Then I use my Foodsaver to package the rest into bags containing two legs each, with enough fat to fill just the bottom of the bag, and vacuum-seal for the freezer. You will have a quart or two of pure fat left over, and this can be frozen in quart plastic containers for the next time you confit.
Now that you have a lot of duck confit, what do you do with it? For starters, you can make a quick rich meal by putting legs, heated and drained of their fat, in a very hot oven or under the broiler, then serving them on a bed of lentils or with herbed spaetzle, drained well and fried in a little of the duck fat until it has lovely crisp brown spots. You can set a leg or two on top of any cassoulet-type bean dish, nestling them into the beans a little so that as the whole splendid amalgam cooks, the duck fat plumps and sweetens the beans and the duck skin gets very crisp.

You can use fat and chopped confit to coat roast potatoes, letting the little bits of duck get crispy as the potatoes brown.

You can use a bit of chopped confit meat and duck fat to dress winter vegetables like carrots or parsnips, with a sprinkle of parsley to lighten the effect. Frozen green peas, given a brief boil, drained, and tossed in a hot pan for several minutes with a dash of heavy cream, a tablespoon or two of chopped confit meat and fat, and some soaked, chopped slices of dried porcini mushrooms, are elevated above their usual station in life. In the winter, duck confit adds subtle richness to everything it touches. On very cold evenings, you may even enjoy plain garlic toasts popped under the broiler with some chopped confit on top. Whenever you take some out of the container, gently warm it so that some fat liquifies and covers the meat to protect it from the air. Keep it in the refrigerator; it will not store safely at room temperature. Then when the hot weather comes, you will no longer be interested in confit at all. So enjoy it in its season.

The Very Composed Salad, and notes on vinaigrette


For the most part I make simple salads when I make salads at all, relying on top-quality greens and a well-made vinaigrette for effect. But the salade composee, or composed salad, will always be dear to me because I can remember when Salade Nicoise was the very height of Manhattan foodie chic and Nocoise olives were hard to find. The urge to make a greater spectacle of my salads comes over me in midwinter, when short days and long nights give me more time to fiddle. In my opinion, this salad is one worth fiddling with.
For two people, I started with a small red onion, half a head of purple cauliflower (probably 5-6 ounces, or a heaping cup of trimmed florets) , a very firm red-skinned pear, and a small head of castelfranco raddicchio from the garden. A small head of round or Treviso raddicchio from the store would work just as well. I had on hand a third of a cup or so of red-wine-vinegar vinaigrette (see notes below) and a bottle of truly superb olive oil.
First, heat 1.5 cups of water to boiling, adding a tablespoon of salt and the juice of half a lemon. The lemon juice is essential to keep the red/purple veggies from turning an awful muddy grey. Trim the cauliflower florets neatly, slicing the stems where needed so that all pieces are about the same size. Drop them in the boiling acidulated water, cover tightly and turn the heat down to medium, and poach at a fast simmer for eight minutes. While it cooks,slice half of the onion very finely (save the other half for something else) and put them in a bowl. After eight minutes, drain the cauliflower, pouring its poaching liquid into the bowl with the onion slices. Run cold water over the cauliflower pieces to chill them, and set them aside to drain thoroughly. Stir the onions around a little, then let sit for half an hour. Drain the onion, press out excess moisture but don’t rinse, squeeze on a few more drops of fresh lemon juice, work them through the soft onion strands with your fingers, and set aside. Wash the radicchio thoroughly and spin it dry or whirl it around in a kitchen towel (outdoors, please) until reasonably dry. Put it back in the refrigerator. Rinse the lemon juice off the onion slices and squeeze them dry in a towel. You can do all this up to two hours before dinner. Everything should be at room temperature except the radicchio, which is used cold from the refrigerator.

When ready to eat, use a very sharp knife to cut thin slices off the pear. Choose your salad plates, preferably red ones, but black looks equally good and very dramatic. White will do. Arrange some torn radicchio leaves artistically on two plates. Toss the thin pear slices around over them. Pile half the cauliflower florets on each plate, keeping them toward the center so that the radicchio and pear show clearly. Place some onion slices (which will now be soft and magenta in color) over and around the salad. Drizzle with a tablespoon or two of the vinaigrette, and then drizzle lightly with your very best olive oil, taking care to get some gleaming golden drops on the pear slices. Grind just a touch of pepper over the top. Serve.
Purple cauliflower is widely available in this season. Check your favorite food co-op if it has a good produce section, or try Whole Foods. If you can’t find any, the yellow Cheddar cauliflower will give a different but still nice effect. A light scattering of toasted pine nuts or walnuts would be a great addition to this very autumnal salad. Don’t be tempted to throw in any cheese, no matter how fine a cheese it is. The pure flavors will get muddy, and the result will be undistinguished. Half the art of the composed salad is being able to stop before you ruin it with over-elaboration.

I have strong, even violent, opinions about vinaigrette. Each vinaigrette has to be made to suit the materials it is meant to enhance. In my opinion, this is the right one for this salad. Nothing that came premixed in a bottle is going to work. I have noted the steps that I consider especially important.

Opinionated Red Wine Vinaigrette

Start with really good olive oil and the best red wine vinegar you can lay hands on. I make my own wine vinegar, so I can’t help you with brands, but it’s essential that it be aged in oak and have a full flavor. The steps fit into general kitchen preparation, so you can do lots of other things while marinating the alliums.
Chop allium: 1 clove garlic chopped very finely, or one small shallot sliced finely, or half a small onion sliced finely. Put the prepared allium of your choice in a small bowl and add half a teaspoon of salt and 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar. Stir around, and let sit at least 15 minutes. The “sit” is essential to get the right flavor. After this brief curing, add a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves chopped and half a mashed anchovy fillet or a dash of colatura (my preference.) If you are vegan, or an irredeemable anchovy hater, you can substitute one or two pitted oil-cured olives thoroughly mashed in a mortar and pestle to give the meaty-umami undertone that helps tame bitter leaves like radicchio. Grind in fresh pepper, about 6 turns of the mill, and stir in half a cup of really good olive oil and a tablespoon of roasted walnut or roasted hazelnut oil. Taste and check for salt (remember, it should be on the salty side to season the veggies properly) That’s all there is to it. For other uses you may want to add a little Dijon mustard, vary the herb(s), use lemon juice instead of vinegar, or any of a million other variations, but this is the basic. The worst offenses that I taste in vinaigrettes are mediocre olive oil, bad wine vinegar, and a general excess in seasoning. No amount of herbs will make up for poor basic ingredients. I also dislike drippy, overdressed salads. As I see it, if you can’t taste the leaves and florets, why have them on the plate?
Since young adulthood I’ve cherished a story someone told me about seeing Alice Waters dining out in San Francisco; the eager voyeur insisted that she ate a large salad with her fingers, and then licked them. I have no idea whether it’s true, but if it is, more power to her. I’ll bet that was a good vinaigrette.

Goat milk in the morning, and a great goaty book


My goat does Magnolia and Cocoa are out being bred right now, and the back of my property is depressingly silent, with none of the constant cross-talk that occurs as they stand on the roof of their goathouse observing the antics of the rest of us. It makes me realize how much they’ve become part of our daily lives. In their absence, I’ll talk about some things that I do with goat milk.
Of course I make cheese, mostly soft cheese and halloumi. I plan to discuss cheesemaking in some later post, but for now let’s get on to the fresh milk. You will hear it said that goat milk tastes just like cows’ milk, to which I say “Not so fast.” On day 1, goat milk tastes much like cows’ milk but even when impeccably fresh it has a tangier flavor profile. However, it contains lipase that works on the lipids and changes the flavor. On day 2, it’s good but you will know that you’re drinking goat’s milk. On day 3 it’s quite strong and only good for making stronger cheeses, and on day 4, as far as I’m concerned, it’s chicken food (they love it, by the way.) So the goal is to use it up by the end of day 2.

I’m always looking for nutritious, tasty, and interesting things to eat for breakfast. They have to be very quick, because getting to work in the morning is not optional. And they have to hold me for hours so that I’m not tempted to snack.
One of my favorite breakfasts is a sort of warm pudding of goat’s milk and rice. The flavors are based on an Indian drink of warm milk sweetened and flavored with saffron that I read about in my early twenties. I recommend cooking this in an unglazed clay pot for the ineffable earthiness it confers, but do use a flame-tamer device or a simmer burner, because scorched milk adheres to clay like stucco. You can make several days’ worth at once and it will keep in a good cold refrigerator for up to a week.
Start with eight cups of fresh goat milk. Add half a cup of unwashed uncooked basmati rice or jasmine rice. Start the burner on low, and as your clay pot warms up, increase the heat gradually to medium. Add half a cup of agave nectar (important for its low glycemic index), a half teaspoon of salt, a teaspoon of saffron crumbled between your fingers, and a half teaspoon of cardamom crushed finely in a mortar and pestle (please don’t use the preground stuff.) For the first half hour you will need to stir frequently, scraping the bottom of the pot well all over with a wooden spoon so that the grains of rice don’t stick and scorch. Once the milk comes to a good simmer, turn the burner down as low as possible and add the flame-tamer under the pot. Add a large handful of raw shelled pistachios or slivered almonds. Let simmer, uncovered, for 4-5 hours. Stir occasionally. When a milk-skin forms on the top, stir it in. The rice will swell and the milk will cook down. You are aiming for something about the consistency of half-and-half, although naturally it will be lumpy with softened rice grains. It will thicken as it cools. Eventually you will have what looks like a cream-soup of a beautiful creamy-gold color. Turn off the burner and let it cool. Taste when cool, and add a little more sweetening if needed, but keep in mind that this is a breakfast, not a dessert. Store in a container in the refrigerator and ladle out into pretty little bowls, heat gently in the microwave (I use two minutes at the defrost setting for two bowls) and eat. I like to pour a tablespoon or so of extra fresh milk across the top for extra gleam and “juice.” It turns breakfast into a little ten-minute island of luxury, and the boost from my own chemical-free hormone-free alfalfa-fed goat milk is considerable.

Goats are compact, hardy, and economical, and the amount of milk they produce relative to body size is prodigious. It’s no surprise that they were among the earliest domesticated animals (although well after dogs) and that they still help people eke out a living in marginal circumstances all over the world. They are the ideal dairy/meat animal for small properties. And yet, rarely are the meat or milk seen in American cookbooks. This book changes all that, with scores of carefully composed recipes for the meat, milk, and cheese that goats produce. Buy it if you have goats or access to goat products. If you don’t, it’s still a great read, full of stories about the authors’ interactions with these highly interactive animals.
Also, checl out Mark and Bruce’s marvelous blog about making and eating real food, Real Food Has Curves.

Our Local Mushrooms


Recently I was asked to do a blog for our local newspaper weekly for a month (you can see the first post here) which has left limited time for my own usual blogging. But I did want to throw out a quick reminder of some of our best local delicacies. Among my favorites are the lovely pearly oyster mushrooms from Exotic Edibles of Edgewood, available at the downtown growers’ market and at both Albuquerque branches of La Montanita Co-op.They are delicious roasted and served over polenta.

First make polenta by your favorite method.I like to put one cup of good organic polenta (not any other type of cornmeal) in an unglazed clay cookpot with 3.5 cups of water ad a teaspoon or so of salt. I set the clay pot over medium-low heat, covered, and after ten minutes or so I increase the heat a little, to medium. At some point 15-20 minutes later when the pot is simmering, I stir well and turn the heat to very low; you may need a flame-tamer device if your stove runs hot. It now simmers slowly, covered, for a couple of hours while I do other things. I don’t stir. It’s very like the well-known oven method but relies on the kindly heat of clay. When ready, either stir in some grated Parmesan or pour it into a pan to solidify. You can then cut thick slices to grill and use as “landings” for all kinds of food.

I buy oyster mushrooms by the pound, and a pound is the minimum amount that you need to serve 4 people. Personally, if four hearty eaters were expected at my table, I would get two pounds of mushrooms and double the seasoning ingredients. Pick them over and cut off the tough stem end. I don’t wash them, since I have seen the operation and have no concerns that anything unwholesome is on the mushrooms, but suit yourself. Toss in a large bowl with 3 large or 5 small chopped cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, a tablespoon of soy sauce, and a little chopped celery leaf if you have it. The soy does not add an Asian taste, it just gives a rich meaty savor. Spread the mushrooms on a baking sheet in one layer and roast in a 425 degree oven until they are cooked, somewhat browned, and have exuded juices. Put the mushrooms in a bowl, and if there’s half a cup or less of pan juices, pour it over the mushrooms and serve over hot polenta with shavings of good Parmesan. If you washed your mushrooms, there may be a lot of juice, in which case boil it down in a little saucepan until reduced to half a cup, then proceed as above. A thick pat of very good butter on top of each serving adds a wonderful touch of richness and flavor. If you want to add herbal notes, you can garnish with some finely chopped celery, or you can add a couple of teaspoons of fresh thyme leaves to the raw mushrooms with the other seasonings. Any way you choose to proceed, it’s a wonderful dish for fall, and the main ingredient comes form one of our most interesting and waterwise farm operations. Scott and Gael, the mushroom people, have to truck in all their water, and they don’t waste a drop. For more about their operation, see my website.

The Weed You Need: Edible Wild Plants in Your Garden


Lambs-quarters seedlings
Here in New Mexico we have a trio of useful weeds that make delicious greens during the summer heat. In fact, I suspect that most pieces of the continent that aren’t actually submerged have these three. Lambs-quarters, amaranth, and purslane are ultra-nutritious, mild and pleasant in flavor, and take nearly any sort of abuse. They come along in that order; right now lambs-quarters in my yard is nearly ready to harvest, amaranth seedlings are about an inch high, and purslane seedlings are a fine mist on the ground. The reason to learn to recognize them now is so you don’t weed them out. They are shown here in seedling stages, but never rely on one source to identify a wild plant unfamiliar to you, at least not if you intend to eat it. Get a good foraging book (anything by Samuel Thayer or John Kallas will have the info that you need) and double-check yourself. Then, harvest and eat. These three are easy to use. Lambs-quarters is my favorite, but I’d hate to be without any of the three. I generally blanch them for two minutes in boiling salted water in an open pot, drain and press out all moisture, and chop, then proceed in any of dozens of ways or freeze them in vacuum-sealed bags for winter. Lambs-quarters and amaranth can be eaten by themselves with great pleasure, but personally I find purslane a little slimy by itself and prefer it as no more than 25% of a greens mixture. It’s full of omega-3 fatty acids, though, so don’t neglect it. Click the “greens” category on my sidebar and scroll through some ideas to get you going. Be careful not to let them overwhelm your garden plants. Amaranth and Lambs-quarters can grow six feet high and three across in good garden soil, and they can crowd out nearly any other plant that you might be trying to grow. Leave one of each to go to seed, and pull the others before they take over. I can’t think of anything nicer that most people could do for their health than eat more leafy greens. If you have chickens, be sure to give them all the nutritious weeds that they can eat. My dogs love cooked greens too, although of course they are given only limited quantities.
I can cut the tender tips several times per plant, but these are wild annuals and they do what wild annuals do, which is make huge quantities of seed before winter. When the days shorten, they will go to seed. I’ve tried planting seed in late summer to extend the harvest, and the new plants went to seed before they were six inches tall. ¬†They haven’t been bred for our purposes, and I say thank goodness something hasn’t. Their season is a long and generous one, so enjoy it. Spread some seedheads in any neglected areas that you aren’t using, and you’ll benefit next year.

Amaranth seedling

Purslane seedling

Kitchen Staples: notes on staples and specialty ingredients


I’ve been in the habit of referring readers to my website for more information on the seasonings that I use and the ingredients that I don’t grow at home, but at this point it seems to make more sense to make the blog more independent. Therefore, here are some random jottings on what I keep in my kitchen and why.

Vegetables: Veggies are a primary and prime staple! During the growing season, I cook with what’s ready, but often I’m tired out by dinner and don’t want to spend more time picking, so I try to harvest and prep vegetables in the morning so that they’re ready in the refrigerator and can be prepared with little trouble. When I buy vegetables, I try to wash and trim them right away so that they’re near-instant gratification at dinnertime. Salad greens are soaked clean, rinsed twice, and stored in a large salad spinner-crisper. I try to think of vegetables first, meat or grain second, when planning meals. When I know that something is ripening, for example the first of eight broccoli heads is nearly ready to pick, I brush up on interesting recipes then, not a week later an hour before dinner when I’ve got three heads of broccoli in the refrigerator.

Meat: here in Albuquerque, I get most of my beef, fish, and lamb from the Fishhuggers, an energetic local couple who sell their family’s grassfed beef and lamb and the Alaskan salmon that Kenny catches every summer. Their meat is 100% grassfed, and unlike many grassfed operations, their meat is not overly lean and tough. Cooking grassfed meat is different, and I recommend getting some advice from them. Generally it cooks a lot faster than grain-fed meat and you have to get it off the grill promptly to keep it rare and tender. I get all my chicken from the Pollo Real people at the Santa Fe Farmers’ Market. Their chicken is fed some grain but is raised on pasture. It’s healthier for the chickens and for you, and also it tastes like real chicken. I don’t know of a reliable local source for pasture-raised pork, so I get mine from the James Ranch people in Durango. Again, with regard to sustainability and health benefits, you can use the sources of info mentioned in “butter and Dairy” above. Most of the meat mentioned above comes frozen. If you want to buy fresh, be aware that “grass-fed” is not a legally controlled designation and there is a lot of meat in the meat cases around town labelled “grass-fed” that isn’t. One producer even told me that his meat was grass-fed “but I just finish them on grain for a month. That’s still grass-fed.” That isn’t grass-fed, and a well-designed study has indicated that the Omega3 content falls very rapidly during even a brief period of grain-finishing, eliminating the health benefits that you are paying for as well as the environmental benefits. I would only buy from a farmer that I knew personally and trusted. If in doubt, ask to visit the farm.

Butter and cheese: for the sake of the planet and the cows, I eat only pastured butter. The very best that I know of is from Pasturelands in MInnesota, and is 100% grass-fed, no grain supplementation, which makes it unique in the market. It comes frozen in styrofoam shippers, and they include a prepaid label so that you can send the empty shipping carton back and have it reused. I keep it in the freezer for up to a few months. They also offer 100% grass-fed cheeses. I especially like their mild Cheddar for snacking, and then they have complex cave-aged cheeses for special occasions. Why does 100% grass-fed matter? For quick info you can check out the Eat Wild site, or you can take more time and read The Omnivore’s Dilemma, still the best book on ethical eating that I know of and far above later books on the subject (including, unfortunately, Pollan’s own later books.) I wish that there were a local producer of 100% grassfed dairy products, but until there is, I’ll buy by mail.

Parmesan: I am giving this imported cheese its own heading because there is no worthy substitute for the genuine Italian article. It’s worth buying the best that you can find. Discount stores like Trader Joe’s or Sam’s Club carry imported Italian Parmesan, but the quality is quite poor compared to really good Parmesan, and most domestic and Argentinian imitations that I’ve tasted have been appalling. Nobody will be more thrilled than me if American producers come up with a truly great Parmesan, but I would argue that it hasn’t happened yet. If you buy the good stuff, your pastas will benefit, and because the flavor is so pronounced you can use it the way the Italians do, ie sparingly. Pastas in America are too often oversauced and overcheesed. You’re supposed to be able to taste the pasta.

Capers: There is no question about salt-cured capers being the best. I’ve seldom met a caper I didn’t like, but my favorites are the “Wild Mountain Capers” that I get at The Spanish Table in Santa Fe. They are fearfully expensive but they have a wonderful herbaceous flavor and are less salty than other kinds. I buy them in 1 pound jars. When you are ready to use them, rinse off the surface salt and soak in cold water to cover for an hour, then drain and squeeze dry. In the summer I use capers so much during the summer that I often soak some when I’m working in the kitchen, squeeze dry, and pack them tightly in little plastic containers to use on the spur of the moment. They will keep 2-3 days this way, and they keep indefinitely in their salted state.

Anchovies: There is no better seasoning than anchovy for giving a meaty complexity and richness with minimal use of actual flesh. One or two fillets can give a complex undertone that can’t be identified as “fish” but which greatly improves the dish. I use tiny amounts in a wide variety of dishes. Salt-cured are the best if they are the lovely meaty specimens that you find in Italy, and in a very few specialty food stores in this country. Food “experts” frequently recommend the 1KG cans of salted anchovies that are readily available in the US, which makes me think that they themselves have never opened such a can to find the scads of teensy fish with no fillets to speak of that they contain. My experiments with those cans have been very disappointing, and I now use anchovy fillets packed in olive oil instead. Another product that I would never be without is colatura, an Italian “anchovy essence” of the highest quality. It is something like Asian fish sauce but darker, more complex, and richer in flavor. Zingerman’s has it. I don’t know of a local source.

Wine: all I will emphasize here is that if you cook with wine, it has to be good wine. If you wouldn’t drink it or serve it, don’t cook with it.

Eggs: I have my own laying flock now, but there are several people at the various local farmers’ markets who have real free-range eggs, not the ersatz kind that come from large producers. Be sure to save your egg cartons and take them back to the people who sell eggs. The growers are always glad to get them back, because they aren’t cheap, and reuse always beats recycling.

Olive oil: I’m sometimes shocked at how much of it I use in a couple of months. It loses flavor slowly but steadily in the bottle, so don’t buy more than you can use up in a few months, store it in a dark place, and buy from good sources where it isn’t displayed in a light hot place. Find a few kinds that you like. The easiest way to find out what you like is to taste a lot of them, and the most convenient way to get started is to go to The Spanish Table in Santa Fe, where knowledgable employees will offer you samples of oils that you are interested in. Or just let them surprise you. I try to keep a couple of very flavorful oils on hand for salads, and some less intense but much less costly oil for cooking.

Charcuterie: The excellent products of La Quercia last a long time when wrapped properly and refrigerated, and they are scrupulous about using humanely raised pigs. The prosciutto rosso is superb. I have not tasted any Italian prosciutto that was better, and no domestic product has been anywhere near as good. They also have a less expensive grade called Americano, and it’s very good, although it lacks the subtlety and finesse of the rosso. Their guancialle is a good staple to have around, and has been the start of about a zillion delicious pasta sauces in my home. For Spanish cooking I keep some Spanish chorizo around. This is a dry cured sausage, nothing like the fresh uncased chorizo found in Mexican groceries.

Herbs: I strongly recommend growing your own, even if you don’t grow anything else. The presence of fresh organic thyme, winter savory, sage, rosemary, basil, and parsley will inspire you to cook. They are easy to grow, and in our sun-drenched area will survive in partial shade if necessary. Having big pots of them around invites frequent use. I advise getting the culinary classic Simple French Food by Richard Olney and reading his notes on use of herbs. These are very strong flavors, and using them at random invites a muddled result. Once you have used them for a while, it’s second nature to create a balanced taste.

Grains: I like to have coarse bulgur, size 2, on hand because it cooks up with a more interesting texture than the finer grades that “gourmet” groceries tend to sell. Local readers here in Albuquerque can get it at Cafe’ Istanbul. Elsewhere, check your local Middle Eastern food source. I keep organic jasmine rice on hand at all times for Thai-influenced meals. I have never been able to take to brown rice, so I use white. I do love to use forbidden rice (black rice) on occasion. As you see above, it makes a dramatic deep-purple backdrop for bright green vegetables. I keep yellow, blue, and purple cornmeal. For baking, I always have coconut flour on hand to supplement white-flour products with a dose of fiber that doesn’t ruin the flavor. It’s tricky to work with at first, but as you learn its quirks it becomes easy to add fiber to your baked goods to improve the glycemic index. Coconut flour doesn’t ruin the color the way grain brans do.

Legumes: I cook these in my solar cooker and freeze them in containers. But if inspiration strikes shortly before dinner, a frozen block is daunting to approach, so I keep a few cans of beans and chickpeas on hand for the last-minute ideas.