Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Bought of Inspiration

I just finished reading the book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingslover (published in 2007; I know, I know, I just now read it!). What an amazing story. Like Barbara, I grew up in a rural area. I have lived most of my life at the base of the Sierra Nevadas, appreciating and adoring wide open spaces and small town life. I too grew up eating from a large family garden. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is the story of Barbara Kingsolver’s (and her family) journey to eat almost all of their food from local sources for one whole year, with most of their food coming from their own garden. They even raise chickens and turkeys for meat and eggs. If anyone of you out there is interested in eating local, this book is for you.

Though this book is quite interesting, I didn’t read it because I thought I would learn something knew; I know and understand our conventional food system, which is why I stay away from it. It is why I became a vegetarian (I will not eat meat from CAFOs, but home raised and organic is a different story). I read this book because I knew it would tug hard at my soul; and it did! This book spoke to me in ways many books can’t. Since I was a young child, running down rows of green beans, hiding in tall rows of corn, and picking off tomato worms to give to chickens, I knew I wanted to garden, and to garden on a large scale. I read this book to remind myself of my future goals and aspirations; to homestead with my husband and daughter, and to live a simple, productive life (and to hopefully write cookbooks and teach culinary arts).

When I first moved away from home at age 17, I lived in a little house in Morro Bay with a tiny yard. I set to work growing snow peas, broccoli, and lettuce, and eventually potatoes and garlic. My first attempts were not so good; I had picked a low sun area of the yard, not to mention the unreasonable amounts of fog. But since then I have made a habit of always having a garden. Even now, surrounded by concrete, I keep quite a few wine barrels where I grow zucchini, tomatoes, three kinds of beans, cucumbers, mint, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, chives, winter savory, oregano, Thai basil, lemon basil, and Greek basil. I just got another barrel yesterday to start my lettuce, carrots, and broccoli. Point is, even in small concrete covered areas, fresh homegrown produce is possible. Along with the terrific and productive Central Coast farmers markets, about 80% of my family’s food comes from local sources. My husband and I have been this way for over 6 years now, and anyone can do it. We have been planning for a while now to hopefully move back to the Sierra Nevadas and start our homestead. We want our daughter to not only grow up knowing where her food comes from, but to actually know how to grow it herself. Most people do not know where it is their food comes from, and how much work is involved, nor do they have the common sense to even care. And why should they? Our culture places no value on knowing these things. A tomato is a tomato, right? Why should I care about where it comes from?

I worry about our food security and food supply, with GE ingredients constantly threatening diversity. I want my daughter to have the practical sense and know how to grow her own food, to have that security. I also feel a civic duty to protect heirloom seeds and to hopefully raise heritage breeds of farm animals. This has always been a goal of mine, and the above mentioned book just furthered my inspiration. I am someone who truly loves to dig in the soil, so why not put that love to use and help to protect our future food shed in the process?

We are going to visit family for Fourth of July, and I am hoping to meet with a woman who makes fresh goat cheese from her very own goat’s milk. She is a friend of my moms, and has offered to show and teach me. These are our first steps toward self sufficiency, though it will be awhile before we even move, but the plans are in the works. The pictures connected to this post are of my gorgeous little daughter Ellissa playing with our first harvest of Yellow Romano beans and zucchini from our garden. She already loves to dig in the dirt, and I think she will be all the better for it.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fava Bean-Basil Pesto

Here is a terrific puree to use on crostinis, in a sandwich, as a dip, of even as a pasta sauce. In the picture, I slathered my Fava Beans-Basil Pesto on garlic rubbed crostinis and topped it off with thick slabs of sheep milk feta and sliced Early Girl tomatoes. We ate plate fulls of these for dinner! To learn how to use fava beans, see the recipe Sauteed Zucchini and Fava Beans with Mint and Taragon.
Fava Bean-Basil Puree
Makes 1 ½ cups
Late Spring, Early Summer

-2 pounds fava beans in pods (1 ¼ cups shelled and peeled)
-1 ½ cups packed basil leaves
-1 ½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- ½ small yellow onion, diced
-2 tablespoons vegetable stock or water
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste

Shell and cook the fava beans until tender according to the instructions in the Sauteed Zucchini and Fava Beans with Mint and Tarragon recipe.Peel the fava beans and set aside. You should have roughly 1 ¼ cups peeled beans.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Dunk the basil leaves into the boiling water for about 30 seconds. Remove and immediately shock under cold running water. Squeeze out any extra liquid and set aside.

Heat ½ tablespoon of the extra virgin olive oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the diced onion. Cook the onion until it begins to soften, about 2-3 minutes. Add in the 2 tablespoons of liquid and cook until the onions are tender and the liquid as evaporated. Set the onions aside.

Set up a food processor fitted with an S-blade. Add in the fava beans, basil leaves, sautéed onion, and the remaining 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil. Process until smooth. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground white pepper.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Zucchini Fritters with Greek Yogurt, Tomatoes, and Oregano

I am just going to post a recipe today featuring the great zucchini that has been at the market. This can be made with green zucchini, golden zucchini, or a mixture of both. Use a really good full fat Greek style yogurt for this, it is delicious!

Zucchini Fritters with Greek Yogurt, Tomatoes, and Oregano
Makes 12 appetizer size fritters
 Summer

-4 small zucchini or 2 large (about 10 ounces)
-¼ of a yellow onion
-1 tablespoon chopped oregano
-1 egg
-2 tablespoons whole wheat pastry flour
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-9-10 grape sized tomatoes, quartered
-4 tablespoons Greek yogurt
-Oregano leaves for garnish

Shred the zucchini and onion using either a food processor fitted with a shredding blade, or by running them over the large holes of a cheese grater. Combine and place into a bowl, sprinkle with a good pinch of salt, and let sit for about 10 minutes to draw out the zucchini and onion’s water. By the handful, squeeze out any extra water and place the dry zucchini and onions into another bowl. Discard the water or save to add to vegetable stock (remember, it’s salted).

Combine the zucchini-onion mixture with the chopped oregano, egg, flour, and fresh ground white pepper. Mix well with a fork to form a thick paste (this paste should be mostly zucchini and not too much batter).

Heat the two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Fry a small bit of the fritter paste to taste for seasoning. Adjust seasoning with salt and fresh ground white pepper as necessary. Drop 1 tablespoon sized balls of the paste into the hot oil, flattening each one a bit as you go to form small 1 ½ inch cakes. Do no more than 4-5 at a time. Brown well on one side, flip over, and brown the other side. If the fritters are browning or burning very quickly, turn your heat down a bit. If they are taking a very long time and seem to be soaking up a lot of the oil, turn your heat up. Each batch should take about 5 minutes total. Remove from the oil onto a plate with paper towels to drain. Top each fritter with 3 pieces of tomato, a small dollop of the Greek yogurt, and a little oregano leaf. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Whole Foods Chef Certificate, Cuesta College

For anyone living in the San Luis Obispo area, Cuesta College will be offering whole and natural foods based culinary classes starting Fall semester. Yours truly will be teaching all six classes. Each class is two nights a week, three weeks each, and the classes include:

-Whole Grains Cookery
-Seasonal Cuisine
-Healthful Ethnic Cuisine
-Raw and Living Foods
-Alternative Baking (whole grain flours, natural sweeteners...)
-Advanced Vegetarian Cuisine

Not many community colleges offer these types of classes as part of their culinary arts program. I wrote the curriculum for these classes last year while I was pregnant, and teaching them this coming fall is going to be my first time back to work since my daughter has been born! I am really looking forward to it. Hope to see some of you there. Just click here to go straight to cuesta's online catalog. Scroll down to page 28 for culinary classes.

Chilled Carrot Coconut Soup with Lime Pickled Red Carrots, Cilantro, and Sesame Seeds

The carrots at the market have been amazing the last couple of weeks. Esters's Farm sells beautiful bunches of rainbow carrots, which consist of the colors yellow, orange, white, and red. Though these carrots are beautiful to look at, I prefer the flavor of the regular orange carrots available right now. The rainbow ones are great to add a little color in garnishes. For the red carrots, do not peel them, or you lose the color. Also, they turn a dark, rusty brown when roasted, which is also gorgeous, but not red.

I am not usually a fan of chilled soups, but I love this one. I think it's the coconut milk. This soup becomes silky smooth from the coconut fat. A little of this soup goes a long way, it is rich! I like to serve it in little bowls or cups as an appetizer. The flavor of the carrots is of utmost importance here, so only use the best. I use the red carrots for the lime pickled carrots to give a little color contrast. The sweet and sour red carrots go wonderfully with the fatty coconut in the soup.

Carrot Coconut Soup with Lime Pickled Red Carrots, Cilantro, and Sesame Seeds
Serves 2-4 as a small serving appetizer
Spring, Summer, Autumn

Pickled Carrots
-2 red carrots, sliced into
paper thin rounds
-Juice of ½ lime
-1 ½ - 2 teaspoons agave nectar
-1-2 teaspoons umeboshi plum vinegar
-touch of chili paste
-1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Carrot Coconut Soup
- ½ small yellow onion, sliced
- ¾ pounds carrots, sliced
- ¼ hot jalapeno, or ½ of a mild one, sliced
- ½ tablespoon minced ginger
-1 clove garlic, smashed
-2 cups vegetable stock
-1 cup coconut milk, plus extra for drizzling
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper

Soup Garnish
-chopped cilantro leaves
- ½ tablespoon toasted sesame seeds

For the Pickled Carrots: Combine the paper thin carrot slices with the lime juice, agave nectar, plum vinegar, chili paste, and sesame oil. Toss to combine and set aside.

For the Carrot Coconut Soup: Combine the sliced onions, sliced carrots, jalapeno, ginger, garlic, and vegetable stock in a 2 ½ - 3 quart soup pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are very tender. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches if necessary, until completely smooth. Add in the coconut milk and blend again. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground white pepper. Pour the soup into a shallow bowl and place into the refrigerator. Chill until quite cool.
Pull out the soup and ladle into small bowls or cups. Top with a helping of the pickled carrots, chopped cilantro leaves, toasted sesame seeds, and a light drizzling of extra coconut milk.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Early Summer Vegetable and Kamut Berry Salad

This whole grain salad was made spur of the moment, and was delicious. The farmers market was just beautiful on Saturday, and this salad showcases some of the most recent new comers to the market. Kamut Berries (as well as spelt) are an ancient type of wheat, easily digestible, and hypoallergenic. Many people with wheat sensitivities find they can consume Kamut berries. Quick note about cooking Kamut, or any type of wheat berry; they are very chewy. It can be hard to tell when wheat berries are done. They will be tender, non chalky, very chewy, and void of any raw flavor.

Early Summer Vegetable and Kamut Berry Salad
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as a light lunch

-1 golden beet
- ½ cup kamut berries
- ¼ pound green beans, stemmed
-7-10 grape or cherry tomatoes, quartered
- ¼ cup minced red onion
-Handful chopped and toasted hazelnuts
-1 tablespoon chopped mint leaves
-1/2 tablespoon chopped tarragon
-1 tablespoon chopped parsley
-3-4 tablespoons Sherry Vinaigrette
-Salt and fresh ground white pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 350̊F.

Wash and trim the golden beet. Wrap in foil and place in the oven. Bake the beet, letting it steam in the foil, until tender, about 45-60 minutes. Un-wrap the foil and let cool. Peel and dice the beet into small cubes. Set aside.

In a small sauce pan, place the kamut berries and cover with 2 ½ cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender but still chewy, about 45-60 minutes depending on the age of the berries. Drain, cool, and set aside.
Cut the green beans into thirds. Steam or blanch until tender but still slightly crisp, about 4 minutes. Shock under cold running water and set aside.

Combined the diced beet, kamut berries, green beans, tomatoes, red onion, hazelnuts, mint, tarragon, parsley, and 3 tablespoons of the sherry vinaigrette in a large bowl. Mix well and taste for seasoning. If the salad seems dry, add a little more vinaigrette. Remember, you can always add more, but never take away. Adjust seasoning to taste with salt and fresh ground white pepper.