Posts Tagged ‘olive oil’

Kitchen staples: the pantry (and freezer) of the low-carb home

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There are ingredients and seasonings that I have to have on hand at all times or I get nervous. With them, I’m ready to make a meal out of whatever foodstuff comes to hand. All such lists are intensely personal and idiosyncratic and I make no claims for universality, just usefulness. Due to my very low-carb eating, staples like pasta and flour aren’t on the list for me.

1. Really good fresh olive oil. Olive oil oxidizes fairly rapidly and, in my opinion, should not ever be used if more than a year old. Rather than take chances on freshness, I belong to the Fresh Pressed Olive Oil club; every three months they ship you three (or more if you choose) bottles of olive oil guaranteed to have been harvested and produced within the last 3 months; sourcing from the Southern Hemisphere as well as more traditional source areas makes this possible. I have belonged for years and hope they go on as long as I live and cook. A wide range of olive varieties and oil styles is represented. Pour it over cooked vegetables, dress salads, drizzle it on meat dishes, use as a base for a sauté of veggies. The Cretans and Ikarians thrive on it and so can we. I also keep oil-cured olives around at all times for their meaty umami belt in mixed greens.
2. Red Boat fish sauce. This is not only the best fish sauce available for Asian cooking, but pinch-hits very nicely for Italian colatura (garum.) A dash in vinaigrette gives a wonderful savor.
3. Dried mushrooms. I keep dried shitake, maitake, and porcini on hand at all times, and others at times as the mood takes me. With them, I am always prepared to add texture and flavor to cooked veggies, give a fitting garnish to a good piece of meat by soaking and sautéing them, or make a really good soup on short notice. I am ketogenic and don’t use flour, bread crumbs, or any other starch product, so I intend to try grinding them to powder and using them to “bread” and fry chicken, but that’s still on my to-do list.
4. Eggs. The best eggs I can get. Most of the time I have eggs from my own chickens, and in midwinter when my hens take a rest, I buy from a local co-op. Beyond the obvious omelet, frittata, and scramble, a fried egg is a wonderful way to make vegetables into a complete meal, and egg yolks are a wonderful velvety thickener for sauces.
5. Grass-fed butter. Grass-fed because it’s better for the cows and the planet as well as for me. Butter because there is nothing like it for improving flavor.
6. Coconut milk, which in my book is a joint pantry item with Hand brand Thai curry pastes. On days when I am short of time, energy, and verve, I can pick up some fresh fish or thaw a couple of pastured chicken thighs, soak and slice a few shiitakes, and pull together a healthy meal in under twenty minutes.
7. Freezer item: Wild-caught Alaskan salmon. I pay whatever I have to pay to get good fish, and I always buy Alaskan because their fisheries are well managed. The fillets are thin and thaw rapidly when I haven’t thought ahead about dinner. After a workday that ran later and harder than I expected, I’ve been known to take a frozen fillet still in its vacuum seal into the hot tub with me. Fifteen minutes later, I feel rejuvenated and the salmon is ready to cook.
8. Freezer item: homemade broth from grassfed beef and pastured chickens. I have written at length elsewhere about homemade broth. I really feel that nothing else will do as much to instill food thriftiness and improve your soups and sauces.
9. Nuts of various kinds. Almonds and Macadamias always, others here and there. Because they taste good and you can run for hours on a handful of them if you need to and they add flavor and crunch and specialness to all kinds of dishes.

10. Freezer item: blanched and chopped greens. Mine are a mixture of whatever was fresh and vibrant in the garden and field on any given day. If I had no garden and didn’t forage, I would use mixtures of spinach, chard, and Tuscan kale, and blanch and chop them and vacuum-seal before freezing. I find that I eat a lot more greens if I have them available in a handy form, and can make horta or whatever in a matter of  ten minutes rather than having a more prolonged process to go through.

11. Good red wine. Because life contains joy and is worth celebrating.

12. Very dark chocolate. Because see #11.
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Green Mayo

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Many of us who eat ketogenic diets refer to homemade mayonnaise as “ketonnaise.” It is one of the luxuries of our very-low-carb style of eating that we can have this beautiful stuff. This time of year, the garden is full of wonderful ways to flavor it, and one of my favorite things to do with it is put a luxurious dollop on top of grilled sockeye salmon, as you see above.
You will have to make your own decision about eating raw eggs. I use my own backyard eggs, and if I am expecting to feed others, I either pasteurize the eggs in my sous-vide cooker or let my visitors make their own choices with full disclosure. Don’t ever feed raw eggs to the elderly, children, immunocompromised people, or the unsuspecting in general.
In my opinion this is best made with a Mini-prep. It gets so thick that stick blenders can’t handle it.
The basic mayo is very simple. Have 1.5 cups of oil ready. I use a light-flavored olive oil or equal parts each of full-flavored olive oil and MCT oil (a fraction of coconut oil that’s liquid at room temp.) Put four egg yolks and a teaspoon of salt in your Mini-Prep food processor. You need a small one so that the mixture reaches the blades. Start the food processor running, and very slowly drizzle in the oil. The Cuisinart Mini-prep has a little runway and hole in the lid for exactly this purpose. You will start to hear the thickening mayonnaise slap against the sides of the bowl. Last thing, put in two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice. When it’s done, turn out into a colorful bowl and put in the refrigerator for now.
Now the fun starts. What do you want it to taste like? For standard use I love a handful of chopped parsley, some tarragon, cutting celery, and a little thyme, a handful of chopped chives, a few large arugula leaves chopped, and the white part of a good-sized stalk of green garlic chopped finely. I usually add a smashed anchovy filet too. A meal that leans Mexican might want lots of cilantro and a little epazote and garlic. Somewhat Southeast Asian? Consider a little green curry paste and a goodly amount of chopped rau ram and a chile, chopped. Add your chosen herbs and fold in well. Taste to correct seasoning. The large amount of oil blunts flavors, and you may need more herbs and salt than you think.
You can put it on broiled meat, chicken, and fish, spoon some on top of grilled shrimp, dip veggie sticks in it, or if you aren’t ketogenic it is superb smeared on chunks of baguette.
Eat happily. This is an occasion for high-class piggery, not portion control. It will last a day in the fridge but, in my view, not more than that. I have read one cook online insist that it will keep safely for over a week when chilled, but I wouldn’t chance it.
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Tarragon goes crazy in late spring so let’s make use of that tender growth.

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.

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.

Vegetable dinners: a roasted melange, and notes on gochujang


On frazzled days, one way to save time when making dinner is to put food in the oven and pretty much forget about it until it’s done. Many vegetables respond beautifully to this treatment, especially if flavored a little. I have a large clay Spanish cazuela about 14″ in diameter that I use for these impromptu roasts because I’m convinced that the clay improves the flavor, but you can use your standard 9X13 pan if you prefer. I am using a lot of sweet potatoes right now because I dug a lot of them recently, but I’ll include suggestions for substitutions. The idea is to use what you have and like.

You will need:
for the vegetables: 4 medium/large sweet potatoes cut in 1″ chunks (I scrub them well and leave the peel on), or a medium-sized winter squash peeled and cubed, or 6 large carrots scrubbed well and cut in 1/2″ chunks, or some combination of the above. I used sweet potatoes.
For the greens: 1 bunch of kale cleaned and cut in 1″ slices crosswise, or half a small green or red cabbage cut in thin slices, or 3/4 pound of sturdy leafy greens cleaned and cut in 1″ slices, to total about 3/4 pound. I used half Tuscan kale and half sliced green cabbage.
For the seasoning:
a handful of bacon, bacon ends, or pancetta, cut in little cubes. I used the tail end of a bacon slab.
3 large cloves garlic, chopped
3-4 tablespoons of olive oil
1 tablespoon of Korean gochujang paste (see below) or a teaspoon of Tabasco or other red chili sauce, or a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
about half a teaspoon of salt, or to taste
1/2 cup good stock or water

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Prepare the vegetables and toss them in the cazuela or pan. Mix the seasoning ingredients and pour over the vegetables, tossing with your hands to distribute. Try to end up with the chunky stuff mostly on top and the green stuff mostly on the bottom. Put the cazuela in the oven. Half an hour later turn the veggies with a spatula, and if the bottom seems dry and things are starting to stick, add a little more stock or water. Again, try to keep the greens mostly below the other stuff, where they won’t dry out. After an hour, check the vegetables for doneness. You don’t want them crisp for this dish; they need to be cooked through, a little soft, and well impregnated with the seasoning ingredients. When done, drizzle a tablespoon or so of your best olive oil over all, bring to the table in the cazuela, and eat with a crusty baguette or toasted whole-wheat bread, as you prefer. It couldn’t be easier or healthier.
You can leave out the bacon or pancetta and have a vegan/vegetarian meal. I don’t recommend it, because the pork has a wonderful alchemy with the sweet winter vegetables and the chili paste, and creates a whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

Now and then we find an ingredient that represents the Platonic ideal of its kind. For me, the Korean chili paste gochujang is the seventh heaven of the chile pepper. There is nothing quite like its deep, intense, fermented flavor, unctuous texture, and exquisite mahogany color, and it has a special affinity with pork and a thousand uses outside of traditional Korean cooking. These days the only gochujang that I will use is the one from Mother-in-law’s Kimchee, which does have some sugar in it but no high-fructose corn syrup and is properly fermented and deep and delicious. If it isn’t available in your area, you can order it online. I like the original one, called “concentrated” on the label.

I talk a lot about making dietary and lifestyle changes slowly and one at a time. This is a great time to start thinking about eating more green leafy vegetables. Salads are great, but cold weather is a perfect time to incorporate more cooked greens as main dishes, side dishes, or soups. If you garden, kale and cabbage will help get you through the winter. If you forage, dock, chicory, and dandelion greens are among the few wild foods available in winter in our area (plan to mix them with milder greens from the garden or store.) If you buy at the store, Tuscan kale is everywhere, and since there is no better leafy green, go for it. I do recommend sticking to organic greens wherever possible. If you always have garlic, olive oil, and a little good bacon or pancetta in the house you are always ready to make a lovely dish of saute’ed greens, and there are lots of variations. Check out my “greens” category on this blog for more recipes. I know I have said this before, but I’ll keep saying it: don’t undercook them. The thicker tougher greens like curly kale are acutely unpleasant to eat when undercooked and tough, so taste before sending to the table, and if chewing requires a ruminant level of effort, cook five minutes longer and taste again. Mark Bittman is now galaxy-famous as the author of many authoritative cookbooks, but few people are aware that his first effort was a little gem called “Leafy Greens.” You can still find it second-hand, and it’s worth tracking down. Read it and use it, and your family’s health will benefit.

Kitchen Staples: Ethical Chicken

Recently a friend came to visit me and I proudly led her to the back of the yard to see my six beautiful hens in their secure coop. Instead of admiring them, she was dismayed because “They’re so crowded.” I must admit that I was floored. I have six hens in a 4 foot by 7 foot coop, with lots of headroom and high perches, and I think my chickens have it good.   Upon questioning, it was clear that she buys her chickens and eggs from the grocery store and has no idea what conditions in a commercial chicken operation are like. So here are some images to ponder: In the best possible commercial set-up, laying hens would have a square foot per bird. That means 28 chickens in my coop instead of six. More likely, there would be 4 hens for every 3 square feet, or 36 birds in my coop. Up to 42 hens would be in it in some operations, and they would be in cages no more than a foot high, often less, so that the hens couldn’t even straighten out their necks, but stacking the cages would enable 5 layers of birds to be kept in my 28 square feet, or up to 210 birds total, since my coop is 5 feet high.  Broiler chickens are even more crowded, if you can imagine such a thing, and the stench is hellish. I refuse to discuss the slaughter practices, because I don’t care to remind myself. When I had my sheep farm , I lived near a broiler operation, and I didn’t eat chicken again for years. If you comfort yourself by buying “free range” chicken, think again; a 20′ X 20′ yard may be the “range” for a barn holding 20,000 to 30,000 chickens.  If you want to be realistic about commercial farming practices, I urge you to read Michael Pollan’s best book The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Be aware that, by the end, you will feel driven to change your habits if you haven’t already.

All too often, people refuse to think about where their meat comes from and how it’s killed for a simple reason; they would have to drastically change their eating habits if they let themselves acknowledge what goes on in standard CAFO operations. I don’t care to perpetuate such cruelties, and so I am starting my own laying flock and I get my meat chicken from Pollo Real at the Santa Fe farmers’ market. They are a pasture operation, which means that the chickens are kept on pasture in “yurts” which are moved frequently. They are fed grain and they eat plants, insects, and all the things that chicken should eat. They have plenty of room. They re slaughtered on the farm, quickly and humanely. They cost a lot more than supermarket chicken, and they should. They are better for you and yours, better for the chickens, and better for the planet. Paying more makes us realize that we have to pay to support humane farming practices, and that meat should be a pleasant addition to a meal rather than the center of it.

Better ethics and a better dinner; this is well worth an occasional trip to Santa Fe with a cooler, or look for Pollo Real chicken at La Montanita Co-op. Once you have some, there are a million ways to cook it, but here’s a simple favorite: just rub it with a paste made from a few clove of fresh garlic, a teaspoon of salt for every pound of chicken, a tablespoon of Spanish Pimenton de la Vera or smoked paprika, the juice of half a lemon, and enough olive oil to make  a paste. Grill it over a low fire until done to your taste, brushing with any leftover paste. Serve with lots of vegetables and whole grains. Sleep like a baby.

And, just for fun, here’s my own chicken flock.

More vegetable-centered meals

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This time of year, vegetables are abundant and make up the bulk of our diet. Recently I wanted to put together a meal cooked on the grill using only vegetables that can easily be found at the farmers’ market. The kitchen stays cool, and people who don’t have a garden aren’t left out. If you need to accomodate vegetarians and vegans at your table, this meal can have everyone at your table happily eating the same thing, with no need for special plates.

The only remotely exotic seasonings that you’ll need are Spanish smoked paprika, readily available as Pimenton de Vera at The Spanish Table and other specialty grocers, and some capers, preferably the kind preserved in salt.
Click here for the recipe Continue reading