Tuesday, June 28, 2011
But with busy lives, how to find the time to do any cooking?
A friend complains when the kids want to know what's to eat, she throws up her hands and says, "Ok, let's go out." But on the 4th, it's more fun if the food is home cooked.
One solution is to use easy-to-make recipes so you're not stuck in the kitchen. And to give you ideas, take a walk around the farmers market and pick out fruit and vegetables that take no time at all to prepare.
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
After much hesitation, I finally took the plunge and you know what I discovered, making risotto is easy, requiring only a little more skill than making pasta.
In fact, think of risotto and pasta as two sisters. The key to both is what goes on top.
Just about everything you like with pasta will work with risotto. Most vegetables, meat, poultry, seafood, and fresh herbs if sauteed first can be added to risotto just the way you'd add them to cooked pasta. And both like a bit of freshly grated cheese on top.
This past Sunday at the Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market, I could have chosen any number of fresh vegetables to use for the risotto: corn, tomatoes, asparagus, peppers--red, yellow, orange, or green--carrots, onions, Italian parsley, kale, or spinach. I settled on squash blossoms with baby zucchini because one of my favorite farmers, John Sweredoski insisted that I had to get them, they were that fresh, that good.
He was right.
Risotto with Farmers' Market Fresh Squash Blossoms and Baby Zucchini
Yield 4 servings
Time 30 minutes
1 1/2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano rice
10 squash blossoms
6 baby zucchinis, washed, ends trimmed, cut into thin rounds
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
6 shiitake or brown mushrooms, washed, thinly sliced and roughly chopped
1/2 yellow onion, peeled, finely chopped
4 cups broth, vegetable, chicken, or beef, preferably home made
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon sweet butter
Sea salt and pepper
Slice open each squash blossom. Cut off the stem and pistil and discard. Flatten the blossoms on a cutting board and cut length-wise into thin strips. In a large saute pan, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil and saute all the vegetables until lightly browned. Remove and set aside.
In the same pan add the other tablespoon of olive oil. Season with sea salt and pepper. Add the risotto and saute on a medium flame, turning frequently, until the grains start to be translucent, about 5 minutes.
Add 1/2 cup of broth, deglazing the pan and stirring the grains with the liquid until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. Keep stirring.
After 10 minutes, add back the sauteed vegetables and mix together with the rice.
After another 5 minutes, add the butter and stir well, continuing to add 1/2 cup of broth at a time. Season with sea salt and pepper. From this point on, start tasting the rice.
When the risotto is done to your taste, Make sure you have enough liquid because a good risotto has a nice amount of gravy.
Serve immediately because the rice will continue to absorb the liquid even after you've taken the pan off the burner. Sprinkle freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese on top.
Add a roasted tomato, skin removed, roughly torn apart, with its juice
Saute the kernels from one ear of corn with the other vegetables
Saute 1/2 cup finely chopped Italian parsley with the other vegetables
Add 1/2 cup sauteed diced sausage pieces
Add 2 pounds fresh butter clams, cooked in 1/4 cup water for 5 minutes covered over high heat, add the opened clams and broth at the same time you return the sauteed vegetables to the pan
Sunday, July 12, 2009
With so many people suffering from diabetes, Americans have paid a high price for the convenience of fast food. When the First Lady digs up part of the White House lawn to plant a garden, you know we're either at war or there's a problem with what American's are eating.
Knowing that consumers want a reliable, healthy food supply, corporations use phrases like "Organic," "Farm Fresh," "Healthy Choice" and "100% Natural" as marketing tools to keep processed foods in our pantries.
Access to fresh, affordable produce is essential to good health. The big question is how to do that?
Those of us who live in communities with farmers' markets are lucky. In our area, we have two great farmers' markets: the Santa Monica Farmers' Market and the Sunday Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market.
In Southern California the full bounty of summer is apparent on the farmers' heavily laden tables.
Besides being a source of good food products, farmers' markets are good for one's mood. No matter what modern-living crisis we're dealing with, an unhurried walk around the market is calming and reviving.
Sampling the stone fruit and citrus from Arnett Farms, eating a plate of raw clams at Carlsbad Aquafarms, talking with John, the co-owner of Sweredoski Farms, and hearing his stories about being a Marine before he became a farmer, or literally stopping and smelling the roses at Bernie and Linda's Kendall Garden Roses stand. There is something very satisfying about knowing where your food came from and meeting the farmers who brought it to market.
Recently I interviewed master chef Albert Roux, famous for having revolutionized French cooking in England. In March he opened a restaurant outside of Houston, Texas. Since he trained Marco Pierre White and Hell's Kitchen's Gordon Ramsey, Chef Roux is an experienced cook who has seen it all.
What animated him the most during the interview was his joy at having access to American food products. He delighted in the high quality of Alaskan salmon, Maine scallops, and "happy," free range chickens. And what moved him the most was the dedication of the farmers who sold their wares at the local farmers' markets.
Even though, as he said, they knew they would never make a fortune from their farms, these farmers worked hard so that they could proudly deliver to the market the best produce they could.
Chef Roux called them "the army of believers".
But there aren't enough farmers' markets to solve the problems created by America's reliance on processed food.
If you're lucky enough to have one in your neighborhood, that's great. Even if you don't know how to cook it's easy enough to walk over to a farmer's table and buy pesticide-free fruit and vegetables so you can eat a fresh peach or make a salad.
But even if you don't have a farmers' market close to where you live, it's important to understand that learning to cook is important for your health. Supermarket chains and neighborhood mom and pop stores might not have the best produce, but some produce is better than none.
Access to fresh produce is one issue, the other is understanding that learning to cook is important for your health. The problem is many people have bought into the idea that prepared and convenience foods are just easier to deal with and take less time to prepare. But as Tom Laskawy recently pointed out, it's only a little more time-consuming to cook a meal than it is to microwave one.
There are many ways to promote good health, but certainly eating well is centrally important. In the long run, if you know how to shop for good ingredients and how to cook, you'll save money, have better tasting food, and stay healthier longer.
From the Palisades Farmers' Market today, we brought home a bag heavy with fresh ears of corn, ripe peaches and pluots, a tray of sweet red raspberries, just-caught fish, and fresh arugula, spinach, Italian parsley, and Persian cucumbers.
In my posts this week I'll describe what we cooked for our Sunday dinner: a risotto with squash blossoms and baby zucchini and ginger-soy poached black cod with sauteed garlic-spinach.
Both dishes took no more than 30 minutes to prepare, cook, and serve. Virtually all the ingredients came from our local farmers' markets.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
To prepare for the picnic, we shop at the local farmers' market, buying as many fresh vegetables and fruits as we can carry. On the 4th we spend the day cooking for the pot-luck picnic we organize with a dozen of our friends. So we'll have a good spot to watch the fireworks, we meet at 6:30pm at the park opposite the high school. We look forward to the picnic because we can catch up with our friends. Even though the picnic is pot-luck, we make extra just in case... Some of our friends who like to cook bring their specialties, like Lesli's mixed berries, while others make a run to Bay Cities or Gelson's and bring containers of deli treats and rich desserts.
By 9:00pm cars are double-parked on both sides of the street and people have crowded into the park, taking up every square inch of space. Everyone is ready for the fireworks to begin and yet...the sky is not yet completely, definitively dark. In the cool night air we bundle up and pull closer together. Only when all traces of the departing sun have been drained from the sky will the fireworks begin.
And when they do, they are a treat. From the first high-streaking skyrocket that bursts into a hundred points of light to the last crescendo of a dozen overlapping explosions, the crowd oohs and aahs. With the last firework dying in the sky, we get up slowly, feeling the dampness of the ground, hug and kiss our friends goodbye, and make our way back to our cars through the haze of gunpowder smoke still hanging in the air.
4th of July Picnic
In our experience salads work well at the picnic: beet salad, carrot salad, potato salad, egg salad, and corn salad. Finger food is good too: bread & butter pickles, salt-boiled corn on the cob and grilled artichokes. This year we'll also contribute a platter of deliciously salty and sweet Brown Sugar Ribs.
Brown Sugar Pork Ribs
1 rack of pork ribs
1 pound brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
6 ounces Italian tomato paste
1 small yellow onion (peeled, finely chopped)
2 garlic cloves (peeled, finely chopped)
Trim excess fat, the membrane, and flap from the ribs. (Caprial Pence the owner-chef of Caprial's Bistro in Portland, Oregon and a fellow contributor to Eat Drink or Die shows how to prep the ribs with easy-to-follow photographs.) Reserve the flap, trimmed of its membrane, to grill for tacos.
Spread a piece of plastic wrap on the counter 5” longer than the rack. Dust the meat side of the ribs with the cayenne. Mix together the brown sugar and kosher salt. Spread half the dry mix on the plastic wrap. Lay the ribs on top, then cover with the rest of the dry mix. Cover with a second piece of plastic wrap, seal, fold in half and place into a Ziploc or plastic bag. Refrigerate in a pan overnight.
In the morning remove the ribs. The dry mix will have transformed into a slurry. Very alchemical! In a sauce pan sauté the onions and garlic with olive oil until lightly browned, season with pepper. Remove the ribs from the plastic bag. Use a rubber spatula to remove most of the liquid from the ribs and plastic bag and transfer to the sauce pan. Add the tomato paste and simmer the sauce on a low flame for 20 minutes. Taste and adjust the flavor if necessary.
Line a large baking tray with tin foil. Place a wire rack on top of the baking tray, then lay the ribs on the rack. The ribs can either be cooked in a 350 degree oven or on the “cold” side of a covered grill with the heat on high. Cook the ribs 30 minutes on each side, then baste the ribs with the sauce another 30 minutes on each side or until done. Remove from the oven, cut apart the individual ribs, and serve.
Friday, June 6, 2008
We regularly shop at the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers' Market and the Pacific Palisades Farmers' Market on Sunday.
In today's Bitten I posted a description of the Palisades market: A Farmers' Market on the Edge of the Pacific.
If you have time, please take a look and come by the market on Sunday.