Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Wordless Wednesday: Blog vs. Kansas, Round 2

Sauteed Corn with Cilantro and Avocado

Smoked Bacon and Mushroom Risotto

Black-Eyed Peas and Polenta

Sauteed Green Beans with Almonds and Balsamic Reduction

~Shopping Lists~
From Door-to-Door Organics: Local sweet corn, green beans, red onion, parsley, cilantro

From Whole Foods: Heirloom tomatoes, Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon, yellow lentils and black-eyed peas from a great bulk aisle, baby arugula, beautiful mushrooms

From Trader Joe's: Basmati rice, Trader Giotto's balsamic vinegar, sliced almonds

From Natural Grocers: Avocado, Bhutanese red rice, Imagine chicken and veggie broth, and assorted herbs and spices from a top-notch bulk spice selection.


Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Wild Rice with Leeks and Dandelion Greens

Found at Whole Foods: Local eggs from pastured hens at Campo Lindo Farms (for about half the price of the local pastured eggs we get in California...score another one for Kansas)*
Found at Natural Grocers: More leeks, beautiful local dandelion greens

A few judicious tweaks, and an old simple standby got a trendy new makeover:

1 medium-small leek, white and light green parts, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed
1 rounded cup wild rice
1 3/4 cups chicken broth
1 bunch dandelion greens, sliced crosswise into 1/4 inch strips
2-3 handfuls baby spinach
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs from pastured hens

Heat a glug of olive oil in a smallish pot over medium heat. Add half of the leek and 3 of the smashed garlic cloves and saute until they soften and the leek turns slightly translucent. Add the wild rice and stir to coat the grains, then pour in the chicken broth. Cover to bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes (if there's a little extra liquid at the end, you can uncover the pot and raise the heat back up to medium for a minute or two to let it evaporate).

Meanwhile, bring a second pot of water to a boil for the eggs, but wait to cook them until a few minutes before the rice is done (you can either poach them, if you're adventurous like that, or boil them for 7 minutes or until desired doneness...7 minutes will get you a medium-boiled egg with the white fully cooked and the yolk still runny on an average-sized egg).

When the rice is done or almost done, heat a wide saute pan over medium heat. Drizzle the pan with a little olive oil, then add the rest of the leeks and the remaining garlic clove. Saute until very soft, then add the dandelion greens and toss to coat. Saute, stirring occasionally, for a couple minutes until the greens wilt. Sprinkle with salt, stir, and cover to steam for a minute more. Uncover, add the spinach, and turn off the heat. Add the fully cooked rice, and fold everything together.

Serve in bowls. Top with an egg, sliced in half if you'd like, and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Serves 2.

*On the other hand, Whole Foods had only $6 dandelion greens imported from California...which cannot possibly be necessary for growing weeds...and Natural Grocers had nothing resembling pastured eggs. So our co-op still wins for convenience...

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The First Priority Herb Garden

One of our first priorities, upon settling into our new apartment, was to plant an herb garden.

Obviously, different people have different priorities when 75% of them move cross-country (or mid-country) with only 5% of their belongings. Some might think first of indoor furniture, like, say, a couch or a bed. Others might instantly shop for appliances and electronics, already missing their toaster and their television.


I'm not saying we don't have a toaster. I'm just noting that the first furniture we acquired may have been a pair of bright teal balcony chairs on which to sit while eating dinner, and that a balcony herb garden may have been at the top of the first page of our shopping list. And that technically, we don't yet have a couch.

Now, to plant an herb garden, one needs a few essentials. For example, herbs. Fortunately, with Family Tree Nursery only minutes away, we had easy access to Essential Herb Garden Ingredient #1. The problem came when we had to select which herbs we wanted. Because unlike our local nursery back in sleepytown California, which might carry four or five different types of basil and two different kinds of oregano—a selection that used to seem pretty fancy to us—Family Tree Nursery takes its herbs Seriously with a capital S.

There were, to be specific, eleven varieties of basil. If you wanted Thai basil in particular, you still had three options. There were at least eight types of rosemary, complete with notes on flavor profiles and optimal growing conditions. There was a full buffet of sages, oreganos, and thymes, and side tables full of mint, lavender, dill, tarragon, parsley, and lemon verbena. There were, in other words, choices to be made.

The reason that we had to make choices was because our careful calculations revealed that technically speaking, the entire variety of herbs would not fit into the interior dimensions of our car without violating some basic laws of physics and geometry. Also, we had just the one planter on just the one balcony, although if our car had been bigger, I'm not sure this would have stopped us (the neighbors don't seem to be using their balcony, after all, so surely they wouldn't mind if we climbed on over there and planted a flag...and thirty-five different herbs...on behalf of our expanding culinary kingdom).

But, because the husband irrationally refused to consider my entirely reasonable suggestion trade in our small hatchback for a nice, roomy SUV-herbobile, we had to carefully whittle down our selection to a mere eleven plants (including only three varieties of basil). I can only hope that we do not spend the next year regretting the glaring absence of Thai Siam queen basil and Tuscan blue rosemary from our lives, since all we have now is African blue basil, Thai magic basil, bush basil, and Lockwood de Forest rosemary (not to mention French thyme, flat leaf parsley, variegated oregano, garden sage, and some calibrachoa for color. Oh, and a fuchsia, just because).

Thusly and herbilly endowed, we made our way homewards, where we already had our planter and potting soil waiting for us (for any fellow aspiring balcony farmers out there, you may want to consider a self-watering planter, like the ones you can find here, which save you from having to douse your planters daily by continuously moistening the soil from a reservoir you refill once a week or so). Whereupon we planted ourselves a balcony herb garden.

Plus an auxilliary herb pot. Just in case.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Saffron Zucchini

Found at Whole Foods: Local golden and green zucchini
Found at Trader Joe's: Decently-priced saffron

Together, it turns out, they make the perfect side dish to pair with moujendra or chickpeas or a Spanish chicken recipe...or probably anything reminiscent of a dish you'd find near the Mediterranean Sea.

Olive oil
1 small shallot, halved and sliced
2-3 pinches saffron
2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and then sliced into cubes
2-3 pinches salt
1/4 cup broth

Saute the shallot in a little olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the saffron, stir once or twice, then add the zucchini and stir to coat. Add the salt and broth, stir, and cover the pot. Let simmer for 8-10 minutes or until desired tenderness, stirring once or twice in the middle. If the pot gets dry, add a slosh more broth.

Adjust salt to taste, and serve hot.

Serves 2-4.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Polenta with Tomatoes, Basil, and Balsamic Reduction

Found at Natural Grocers: gorgeous leeks; our favorite broth
Found at Whole Foods: local, ripe tomatoes
Found outside: beautiful weather for a lunchtime picnic on the balcony

The result? An easy, simple, delicious dish that pairs perfectly with a chilled glass of Torront├ęs (from World Market).

2 cups chicken or veggie broth
1 cup coarsely ground cornmeal (polenta)
Olive oil
2 inches of a medium leek (white and/or light green part), chopped
2 medium-large, local, fragrant tomatoes, cut into bite-size chunks and sprinkled with salt (to bring out the flavor as they sit)
12-20* leaves fresh sweet basil, cut crosswise into halves or thirds
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, reduced (simmer gently in a small pot until volume reduces by half)
A little Manchego or Parmesan cheese, for grating over the top
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring the broth and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small pot. Meanwhile, set a nonstick pan over medium-low heat and add a glug of olive oil. Saute the leeks for 3 minutes, or until they soften, then add the tomatoes and stir gently to combine. Turn off the heat (the tomatoes will warm through as you cook the polenta).

Adjust the heat under the small pot to medium, uncover, and slowly add the polenta, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Continue to stir, adjusting the heat if necessary to keep the polenta at a gentle simmer, for 3-5 minutes, until desired consistency (I like it when it just starts to pull away from the side of the pan as you stir). Cover and remove from heat.

Turn the heat back on under the pan of tomatoes for a minute if they're not yet as warm as you'd like them. (If they weren't super fragrant to begin with, you may want to cook them a minute more.) Add the basil and adjust salt to taste.

Serve in layers: polenta, then a little grated cheese, then the tomatoes. Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, and drizzle with balsamic reduction before serving.

Serves 2.

*Go with fewer if store-bought, more if home-grown...the supermarket variety is usually older and therefore sharper, whereas home-grown basil rarely overwhelms the dish.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Cook Food Mostly Plants Takes Kansas: Round 1

What can I say? I'm a sucker for a challenge. It's all well and good to cook food (mostly plants) while surrounded by the lush, local produce of California's Central Valley, but what about in a place with what were they called again...oh yes...what about in a place that has seasons? Say, for example, Kansas. What would I cook if I were plopped down in the center of the country, in what many would call one of the barbecue capitals of America, where there is an entire day each year dedicated to bacon, and where there is nary a co-op in sight?

What then?

Enchanted by this question, I picked up my spatula and set off for Kansas.

Okay, that's not quite what happened.

But I am in Kansas, and I do have a spatula. (What actually happened is that the husband got a fellowship in Kansas City for a year, and so 1.5 of us have moved to the midwest while the other .5 will remain in California. Barring the sudden development of a electron-like ability to superposition myself, the year will involve many plane flights).

I am therefore hereby officially setting out to Cook Kansas, Mostly Plants. With my Costco-sized gallon of olive oil in one arm and a massive bunch of dandelion greens in the other. And an electric stove. And steely determination. And a little basil plant named Basil.

You're invited.