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Archive for the ‘Local Food’ Category

Rock the Pot Luck

I won’t be doing much cooking this weekend. For the first time in years, we’re going away for Labor Day. The friends who so graciously invited us to their mountain house also provided a very specific shopping list to each invitee (my list included: “6 baking potatoes, beer, apples/peaches, salsa and milk”), which I think is pretty awesome. No thinking required on my part. I love being officially off-duty as party planner, chef, and cleaning crew, although of course I can’t show up just with the things on the list. My additional contributions, in addition to all the ingredients for frozen grapefruit martinis, will be two killer items I would suggest making and bringing to any BBQ, pot-luck, or weekend in the mountains — especially if you definitely want to be invited back.

  • Tangy Peach and Roasted Tomato Salsa

If you went a little overboard with the peach purchasing (or if you have a generous friend with a peach tree in her yard) and you’ve already made the fab peach recipes I recommended a couple weeks ago, here’s another peachy idea that is deliciously summery and super fresh tasting. This “crude” salsa can be eaten with chips or as a side salad. It also tastes great on grilled chicken, fajitas, and fish tacos.

When you start with this, pretty much anything you make is going to be amazing, right?

Ingredients:

  • 3-4 lbs. fresh peaches (blanched in boiling water for 1 min. then peeled)
  • 1 ear of corn
  • 2-3 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 Anaheim or other green chili pepper
  • 1/4 onion finely diced
  • small bunch of cilantro
  • lime juice
  • pinch of salt

Give the peaches a quick ice bath after blanching them, so they stop cooking.

In a pot of water, boil the corn (I usually cook several ears while I’m doing this) with a few drops of milk in the pot. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Quarter the tomatoes and place in a small roasting pan, skin side down. Put green chili in the pan, too. Drizzle with a little olive oil and salt. Roast about 15 minutes. While it’s still hot, put the roasted chili pepper in a plastic bag to “sweat.” While the tomatoes are roasting, dice the peaches and onion. Cut the corn from the cob with a serrated knife. Chop the cilantro leaves a bit but don’t worry too much about how big they are. When the tomatoes are cool enough to touch, chop them, too. Remove the pepper from the plastic bag and peel it, then finely dice it. Dump everything into a large bowl, add a pinch of salt and a few drops of lime juice, and gently combine with a spoon. If you want more heat, I suggest a couple drops of your favorite habanero hot sauce (try Marie Sharp’s).

Just about everything that comes off the grill tastes better with this. Plus, it will impress your friends.

Best. Guac. Ever.
(a.k.a. “avotadi,” which is what my son named it when he was just learning to talk; funny how those things kind of stick…)

I don’t usually brag, but I really do think I’ve found the secret to perfect guacamole. It’s simple: Less is more. In addition to showcasing the creamy deliciousness of perfectly ripe avocados, this guac requires no chopping, so it can be whipped up in a minute. I promise it’s divine.

Everything you need for guacamole. Really.

Ingredients

  • 2 avocados
  • pinch chili powder (I use ancho chili powder from the Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Company in Tumacacori, AZ, which by the way, also sells an amazing green hot sauce.)
  • pinch garlic powder
  • pinch of salt
  • a few drops lemon juice
  • a few drops of hot sauce (see above)

Cut avocados and scoop from skins with a spoon (this is a very fun task for 5-year-olds, by the way). In a bowl, combine all ingredients and smash together with a fork. Adjust seasoning to taste (who knows, you might like more than a “pinch” or a “few drops” of something). Try to keep fingers out. Yeah, good luck with that.

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After a long, hot summer and plenty of bad fruit (Seriously, is there anything as disappointing as a mealy peach?), it’s finally peach season in Colorado. Our really, truly delicious, worth-the-wait peaches come from the western slopes of the Rockies near Colorado’s peach capitol, Palisade. And I think they are some of the best anywhere. (If I have any Georgian readers out there, don’t get feisty; I did say, “some of the best.”)

Anyway, although the farmer’s market stalls are piled high with local peaches, I usually get them from the church down the street from my house, which sells them as a fundraiser for its preschool. When my bushel(s) arrive, I get very excited. And overwhelmed. Like any other luscious ripe fruit, fresh peaches don’t keep very long, so I get creative and find ways to work them into every meal. In addition to tossing them into my family’s cereal, yogurt, smoothies, lemonade, (homemade peach) ice cream, and salsa, I grill them with meat and also freeze a bunch. After doing that the wrong way for years (i.e. slice a pile of peaches and throw in freezer bags, all really fast so they don’t get brown), I finally learned the right way: Here it is.

I know there are zillions of peach recipes on the internet and at least one cookbook devoted entirely to cooking with peaches, so I will just toss out a few of may favorite peach ideas.

  • Chicken and Peach Orzo Salad. A perfect summer meal. Start with some grilled or rotisserie chicken (2 large breasts or more) and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add sliced peaches (2 or 3 depending on how big). Mix with seeded, chopped cucumbers, finely diced red onion, and whatever other veggies you have on hand (red pepper or celery for instance), then add crumbled feta or goat cheese. Toss with 1 lb. cooked orzo and dressing. For the dressing, combine in a bowl: 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1 tbs. lemon juice, 1/3-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (or parsley would be good, too), a pinch of sugar, and salt & pepper.
  • Green salad with peaches. In case it never occurred to you, you can throw sliced peaches into just about any green salad. For instance, last night I made a spinach salad with walnuts and sliced peaches, and it was fantastic. Toss with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Berry Peach Topping. Combine peeled, sliced peaches with fresh raspberries and/or strawberries in a small pan. Add some (okay, a lot of) sugar and a couple drops of good balsamic vinegar, and cook on low to medium heat, stirring frequently, until it becomes sauce-like. Use as a topping for (homemade peach) ice cream or pancakes. To make a more savory sauce for meat or fish, omit the sugar and add soy sauce and jalapeños (with their juice, from a jar).
  • Easy Peach Crisp. Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, my roommate and I “invented” this beyond-easy and delicious desert. It’s kind of like a cobbler but requires almost no baking skills. We called it “That Peach Thing,” and here’s the recipe:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter, sliced
7 medium peaches, peeled
In a bowl combine oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Add butter and mix (you can use your hands) until it’s crumbly. Slice the peaches and put into a baking dish. Sprinkle oat mixture on top and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Serve with fresh cream or ice cream. I cannot overstate how scrumptious this is.

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They live on a volcanic island just outside the Arctic Circle, but Icelanders as a group are some of the happiest (despite some long, dark winter months and the pesky economic collapse their country recently experienced) and healthiest (they have an average lifespan of 81, one of the longest anywhere) people on earth. I’m sure part of this can be attributed to living in a singularly beautiful place, year-round swimming in geothermal-heated hot springs, and having some really cute guys (and girls) to go out with. But that can’t really be it. I think it’s the food.

Because of its isolated location and strict government guidelines (Example: When my flight landed in Reykjavik, I had to toss my brand new, unopened bottle of Fiji water that I had just bought inside security at JFK; nothing so impure as water purchased in the grimy US of A can be brought into Iceland.), Iceland produces some of the purest food anywhere. Most Icelanders, therefore, eat a diet that is local, clean, and packed with nutrients like beta carotene (milk and cheese from grass-fed cows) and omega-3 fatty acids (wild salmon from glacier-fed rivers). Plus, the country of Iceland is home to exactly zero McDonald’s. Imagine.

Happy and well fed in stunning Iceland.

Dairy cows around here have it pretty good.

I visited Iceland last summer and got to eat like an Icelander for a week. Probably not long enough to experience any lasting health or happiness benefits. But I can tell you the food was a huge surprise. I had expected something like the meals described in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” i.e. lots of pickled vegetables, salty fish, and rye bread. Unlike what they apparently eat in Sweden, the food in Iceland is fresh and delicious — and that even includes the lamb hot dogs we sampled in Reykjavik on Jonas’s famous free tour.

It’s not really in the spirit of eating locally to recommend a diet of Icelandic imports, but I think there’s a valuable takeaway here anyway. While we in the U.S. may not be able to eat exactly what Erlingur and the rest of the 317,000 people in Iceland eat, we can learn from the way they produce food and keep it in mind when deciding whether or not to ingest that gorgeous pink (it’s dyed) farm-raised Atlantic salmon — which is probably contaminated with PCBs (aka toxic industrial compounds), by the way.

Clean streams mean healthy fish.

  • Fish

In Iceland, I was told many times by many people (including our guide, whose name was Erlingur), the water is so pure, you can drink from the streams. So I did. And I wasn’t even especially thirsty. The Icelandic government banned fishing for (endangered) North Atlantic salmon (in the ocean), but fishermen do pull lots of fat, naturally pink wild salmon out of the rivers there (with fishing rods); and they do still catch (again, with rods) the abundant herring, cod, and arctic char that fill the oceans surrounding the country. Probably the most popular fish, arctic char was on almost every menu I saw in Iceland. It reminded me of trout, only a little fattier and it is delicious sautéed in butter (what isn’t, right?). Icelandic fish, especially char, which is packed with omega-3s, is now available in the U.S.

This is Erlingur, a typical Icelander. He looks pretty good for 97, doesn't he?

  • Fruits and Veggies

As my group drove along Iceland’s southern coast toward the national park we were visiting, we passed several huge greenhouses. In addition to the free and clean heating and outdoor swimming pools Icelanders get via virtually unlimited geothermal, apparently they also enjoy locally grown bananas. And lettuces, strawberries, melons, you name it.

  • Lamb

No question, the lamb in Iceland was the best I’ve ever tasted. The restaurant in the odd, dingy hotel we stayed at near the national park offered a menu item called “Lamb Fantasy” or maybe it was “Lamb Festival,” but most of my group ordered it, and it really was a festival and a fantasy. The lamb was extremely tender, not fatty, and had an especially divine but not overwhelming lambiness. Lambs in Iceland may not have a long life, but they have a happy one. They graze freely in bright-green pastures during the country’s 24-hours-of-sunlight summers — so they get to eat a lot in a short time and don’t ever need to be fattened up with grain or fillers. This lamb is almost as high in omega-3s as salmon. Apparently it is exported in very limited quantities.

These are the guys who round up the lamb.

  • Dairy Products

The French have their terroir — some say they can tell you exactly which vineyard produced the grapes in a specific bottle of wine. Icelanders claim to be able to do this with their dairy products, which, due to strict import and environmental regulations, are locally produced on small family farms. Just about every farm’s cheese is unique. And the beta-carotene–rich butter is varying shades of yellow, depending on which local grasses the cows have been eating.

My favorite Icelandic dairy product is skyr, a yogurt-like cheese that Icelanders have been eating since at least the 9th century. To make skyr, you skim the cream off milk (to make butter of course), and then strain the whey from the remaining skimmed milk. What’s left is a thick and creamy cheese that is similar in consistency to Greek yogurt but with no fat. At 16 grams per 6 oz., Skyr has more than twice the amount of protein as typical American yogurt. It’s the most popular fast food (and snack food) in Iceland; hey, maybe that alone is the secret to the population’s general good health?

In Iceland this is considered fast food.

The best news? Icelandic Skyr is making its way across the U.S. Last summer after I returned from Iceland, I looked for it and could only find the Siggi’s brand, which is made in New York state; it’s good but not quite the same as the addictive stuff they’ve been making in Iceland for 11 centuries. I even emailed the (Icelandic) Skyr manufacturer and was told they were starting to import to the U.S. beginning with the northeast (Boston, New York) and gradually heading west and south. Well, guess what I found at my local Whole Foods a couple months ago? It should be all the way to California by now. All I can say is, try it.

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Basket Case

My first trip to the farmer’s market this spring was, ahem, somewhat fruitless. I bought a few Roma tomatoes and saw (but skipped) some sad-looking bok choy, but it’s generally still too early for local fruits and vegetables in the Rockies. So, this time of year, our farmer’s market is more like a gourmet food and crafts festival, which is still pretty fun. Everything is basically local, even if it’s not necessarily fresh. For my Colorado-based readers, here’s a sampling of what you can get at the farmer’s market this week—and I assume you have some version of this stuff at any similar venue across the country—so it’s definitely worth checking out and supporting whatever local producers do show up this time of year.

Here’s what’s in the bag:

  • The aforementioned organic Roma tomatoes.
  • One jar of Grandma Rose’s Gourmet Caponata. Delicious and vegetarian, it’s more of a relish than a sauce. I don’t know if Grandma Rose jars it herself, but there is a picture of her on the label and she looks a little worn out.
  • One package Chicken & Spinach Bratwurst from Bavarian Sausage Express. They are fully cooked (frozen) and contain no nitrates or other fillers. If you order enough, Herbert might even bring the sausages to your house; we had them for a party once and he showed up in his lederhosen with a cooler of brats.
  • One hunk of Fresh Semi Soft Lemon Pepper Garlic goat cheese from Mini Moos, a goat dairy in Cañon City. Crumbly, tangy, and excellent in salads.
  • Duck breast prosciuttinni and French dry (sec) salami from Il Mondo Vecchio — handmade, artisanal, and crazy-good cured meats that aren’t full of nitrates.
  • A bag of roasted Hatch green chiles, which are not really local since they come from New Mexico—but man, they turn scrambled eggs into heaven on a plate and fall into the category of “worth it” in terms of a few extra food miles.
  • One baguette, which my kids gnawed on all the way home. I love French bread and especially like the way baguettes look sticking out of the market basket, et vous?

So, worth a morning, no? I love the idea of an al fresco antipasto-style supper, and think I now have a good start on the ingredients for it. Although the wind here might blow away my salami…

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