Friday, June 25, 2010

Five More New Foods I Found Eating Local

1. Garlic Scapes. This crazy, curly stalk grows up from the garlic bulb. It’s removed to allow the bulb to continue to grow. The flavor is somewhere near garlic cloves, a scallion’s greens and chive. I love using these in place of regular garlic for a lighter hit of this strong aromatic.

2. Long Beans and Mystery greens. What’s the best thing at the farmers market that you’ve never tried? It just might be the things that have no name in English. At my favorite market there is a Thai family who grows and sells a lot of their native varieties of basil, eggplant, chilies and greens. When I inquire what certain new leafy items are, the youngest daughter smiles, shrugs and just explains there is no name in English, or “It goes well with fish.” She’s always a bit surprised when I nod my head and buy each new item. This edible culture lesson has its rewards. The “fish greens” were sweet and earthy and paired fantastic with grilled halibut. Other “new” greens that folks have been eating for centuries include sweet potato leaves (NOT potato leaves which are toxic), and amaranth. Long beans are a type of Asian green bean, about 10 inches long, with a delicate flavor.

3. Purple Hull Peas. If you’ve only had canned or dried beans, you’ll find the texture and flavor of the fresh variety well worth shelling yourself. If you shell them into a pot and there happens to be a ham hock and some fresh herbs in there, all the better.

4. Pea Shoots. Eats shoots and leaves. And enjoys it. I’ll confess that I never loved canned peas as a kid. Far from it. I figured out that peas, fresh shelled, actually taste good. The pea shoots with delicate leaves and curling tendrils are even better. They work great as a salad green for early spring.

5. Love the lovage? I’d never even tried it until last season. Same goes for chervil, borage, lemon verbena, and a lot of others. There’s just not a whole lot of rack space in that little herb section at the grocery store. Plus at two dollars a package, it costs less to just buy the plant and grow as much as you need, when you need it. Try mixing herbs in with salad greens. Borage can be a bit prickly, but when chopped fine, the flavor — like a tart, tangy cucumber — is perfect with greens and goat cheese.

For more unique produce that you can only find local, you can read this post at Eat Local Challenge. Or, of course, you could just head to your local farmers market and try a few for yourself.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Know Your Farmer, Know Your Congressmen

Dear Pat Roberts,

I realize you have a history of demeaning small farmers and fully support Big Ag interests, some of the world's wealthiest companies in the world right alongside Big Oil.

But to protest the USDA's spend of $65 million on the "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food" program when Big Ag gets a $5 billion handout in subsidies in two year period, and crop insurance gets another $7 billion in that period?

Basically, that's not even one half of one percent of Big Ag's share to help promote small farms and local agriculture. I find this disappointing. Frankly, I find this anti-Kansas. Remember Kansas? The state that elects you?

You see, if consumers spend just $10 per week of their food budget on local food, their state could grow up to $100 million per year for the local economy. Which means more jobs. And we could use those right now. That's just for one state, too, not fifty. Not a bad investment for that one half of one percent.

Not to mention that $10 a week would be buying fruits and vegetables, not processed foods. Healthier foods make healthier people who spend less on medical care. Also a huge concern right now.

So, Pat Roberts, do you remember Kansas? Because we sure will remember you and all of this come election time.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Dinner for a Friend

A few weeks ago — where does the time go to? — a good friend and I were trying to figure out a dinner place for girls' night. It had been a long time since we'd had time to just sit and talk over a glass of wine. Unfortunately, every restaurant in her college town home would be packed for graduation day. Plan B was a Romanian pot luck dinner, but the recipes links to choose from were a bit, uh, challenging. Brains in jelly? Breaded udder?

We went with Plan C. As in "see you at your house with a bottle of wine and I will cook." I like Plan C. My friend was overjoyed and confessed, "I haven't had a home-cooked meal since 2009."

Wow. So, what could I prep ahead, make in a flash in a friend's kitchen? This fit the bill. Sorrel is a perennial herb with a lemony tart flavor. Added to basil, it makes a light, delicious spring pesto.

Asparagus, Proscuitto and Wild Mushrooms with Sorrel Pesto
1 lb. asparagus, cleaned and chopped to 1/4 inch pieces
6 oz. wild mushrooms, your choice
1/4 lb. proscuitto, cut in small cubes
1 tbs. olive oil

1 lb. pasta

Sorrel Pesto
1/3 cup sorrel leaves
1/3 cup basil
1/2 cup grated parmesan
1/4 cup pine nuts
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste

Bring water to boil and start pasta. Heat the olive oil. Add the proscuitto and saute until just browned. Add the asparagus and mushrooms and saute for another 5-7 minutes. Drain the pasta when al dente, toss with the pesto. Gently toss with the asparagus mixture. Shave a bit of parmesan on top if desired.

Enjoy with a good friend.

Bleu Potato Salad

I wanted to do this salad with the actual blue potatoes, but no luck finding those. It works great with any small new potato. Of course bleu cheese and sour cream taste great just licked off the mixing spoon, potatoes or not.

Bleu Cheese Potato Salad
2 lbs. small new potatoes, washed
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup canola mayo
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 tbs. chopped sorrel
6 oz. bleu cheese crumbles
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Boil the potatoes until fork tender. Cut them to bite-sized chunks. Mix the remaining ingredients together for dressing. Fold the dressing and potatoes together. Chill at least four hours before serving.

This upscale twist on a class goes great with the North Carolina-style pulled pork and slaw.