Sunday, September 26, 2010

Day-Old Bread Salad

Yesterday, the Montavilla Farmers Market hosted a community forum to discuss food access and equity issues. Thanks to a donation from Grand Central Baking Co. we had a beautiful pile of rolls and whole grain bread loaves left over at the end of the day. I love bread and can't seem to keep a loaf around long enough to use in recipes that call for day-old bread. Bread pudding, croutons, bread crumbs, french toast. So many uses for something that some people would consider past its prime, but for me is just aging to perfection. This unexpected windfall came at just the right moment.

Today after the market, the board is throwing a thank you potluck party for our volunteers and vendors. I decided to use the bread in a bread and tomato salad. The close runner up was an Apple Cardamom Bread Pudding from the same cookbook, but the unexpected bounty of tomatoes from my garden helped make the decision.

Crouton Salad
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
8 oz crusty bread (a few days old is best)
1/4 c olive oil
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar or lemon juice
2 ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
salt and fresh ground black pepper
1/4 c roughly chopped basil or parsley
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the bread into large cubes and spread on baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden and toasty. Let cool.
In another bowl, mix oil, vinegar, tomatoes, onion, garlic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss to mix everything well. Add the toasted bread and basil or parsley.

Another twist on this recipe is tossing the bread salad with any kind of greens (kale, chard, spinach) that have been sauteed with onion, red pepper flakes. Toss in a handful of currants or raisins and toasted pine nuts. Sounds like something that would be good for later in the season when tomatoes have faded to a memory.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Confessions of a Cookbook Addict

By Luby

I admit it – I’m addicted to food magazines and cookbooks. Recently I was asked if I have a favorite. That’s like asking a doting mother who is her favorite child.

After many years (and bookshelves) of buying, reading and collecting dozens of cookbooks on pastry, ethnic cuisine and, of course, chocolate (Death by Chocolate) about 5 years ago, my husband and I agreed to a moratorium on our compulsive passion. This act of self discipline, however, did not keep us from feeding our cookbook Jones with weekly sojourns to the downtown library - loading up on every imaginable culinary text, rushing home to test new recipes, and flopping down on the futon to dive into the next treasure chest. But I digress…

One of the last cookbooks I actually bought (on the bargain table at Powell’s, no less) is a real gem! Clearly Delicious, An Illustrated Guide to Preserving, Pickling & Bottling written by award-winning author, Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz (Herbs, Spices & Flavorings) and Judy Ridgway is one of the most beautiful "cookbooks" I have yet to see or own! This is a completely illustrated guide to some of the most delicious recipes I have ever found all in one book. When I’m shopping at the Farmers’ Market, I’m dialing in on recipes from Clearly Delicious. And at home, when I’m thumbing through Clearly Delicious, I’m making mental notes about products I’ll find at the Farmers Market next Sunday.

This is not your grandmother’s version of canning. The writers clearly possess a robust appreciation of the marriage of our seasons on earth and the heady craving of palate pleasing flavor. This collection is chock full of simple step-by-step sequential demonstrations that transform seasonal picked-in-their-prime fruits and veggies into pickles, conserves, jams, jellies, curds, marmalades, syrups, flavored vinegars & liqueurs, chutneys and more! Each chapter begins with a one page summary on the basics – how to make, seal and store and maybe even more importantly (especially to a canning phobic as I) – what can go wrong and why. Thankfully the writers stress the value of careful (a.k.a. safe) preparation as a vital component of successful and delicious results (thanks Grandma). A fantastic chapter on herbs & spices transports the reader around the globe in delightful and dizzying fashion.

The last chapter, Finishing Touches is well… just intriguing. In my opinion, the collection’s ‘cherry on top.’ Who would think a jar of tomato sauce could look so good? Idea packed 7 pages inspires even the artistically challenged to create unique, imaginative gifts that are very high on the WOW meter.

I’ve seen a few copies on line (Amazon, etc.). But be sure to get the edition with the gorgeous canned pears on the cover. Check out Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz’s other cookbooks, especially The Book of Latin American Cooking lauded by James Beard, and The New Complete Book on Mexican Cooking.

My favorite recipes from Clearly Delicious:

Cassis – what else to do with the 3 quarts of black currants exploding with flavor and bending every branch on the bush!

Apple and Ginger Jam – (Hint: use fresh ginger and less sugar)

Pickled Cauliflower with Sweet Bell Peppers

Spiced Apples with Rosemary – no sugar, all honey, very yummy!

Rhubarb Chutney – a perennial favorite (but I tell ya, next month when the almighty beets are sweet and in full swing, I’m trying out the Beet Chutney!)

Perfumed Thai Chili Oil – this is absolutely fabulous to grill tofu, tempeh or veggies or to scent steamed rice.

Blueberry Herbed Vinegar – gorgeous in a thin bottle with a bit of raffia around the neck

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How to Peel a Peach (or Tomato)

Staring at a large box of peaches, having already made a few batches of jam and a galette, knowing that with each passing hour the peaches were ripening, I decided to simply peel the rest of the lot and freeze the slices, buying me time to enjoy the sweetness of the fruit at a later maybe December when fresh, local fruit is but a memory.
I put a pot of water on the stove, filled another big bowl with ice water and got to work.

Peeling delicate produce like peaches and tomatoes is really quite simple and quick. The same principles apply to both. Make a "X" in the bottom of the fruit with a paring knife, drop it in a pot of boiling water for one minute (sometimes longer if the fruit is super-sized). Transfer the fruit to a bowl of ice water. When the fruit is a comfortable temperature to handle, gently slip the skin off of the fruit. Just be careful to keep your hands clean and goop-free as you work through the batch because the fruit and knife can end up a bit slick and juicy. It's easy to send a slippery ball richocheting around the kitchen if you lose your grip.
From here, your options are many. Canning, jamming (or saucing for tomatoes), freezing. Chutneys, preserves, relishes. Breakfast, dinner or dessert. Or maybe all of the above. With as many peaches as I just peeled, why limit myself?

New Vendor Profile: Little Gnome Farm

The Montavilla Farmers Market recently welcomed a few new vendors into the fold mid-season. One of them, Little Gnome Farm hails from Ridgefield, Washington - just a bit north of Vancouver.
Little Gnome Farm has a blog full of information, so check it out and learn a bit more about them before you visit their stand. You can learn about what it takes to start a new, small-scale farm that avoids the use of heavy machinery. You can also stay on top of what produce you can expect to find at the market in addition to their chicken and duck eggs.
If you are curious about duck eggs but not sure how to use them, there are a number of good web resources that talk about how to cook with them. I found one web site that said that duck egg whites have more protein than chicken eggs and thus will whip up higher and lighter. The yolks, too, have more fat that chicken eggs and thus a richer flavor. The most common advice was just to scramble or fry it up like you would a chicken egg and appreciate the rich, eggy flavor.
Welcome, Little Gnome!

From Little Gnome:
1) What types of products do you specialize in?
Heirloom variety vegetables that are organically grown; Chicken and duck eggs.

2) What are your biggest challenges in operating a farm? And what makes it all worth it?

Challenges –
As a first year farm (start-up company)
1. Capital for investment – need three years before eligible for $ assistance
2. utilizing low energy inputs, i.e. not using a tractor
3. working solo –unable to afford extra labor
Worth it –
1. having healthy food
2. meeting great customers who love what we are doing
3. knowing I am offering something people value

3) What food policy issues do you think are critical to the future of agriculture in Oregon?
Land availibility – because housing market increased land value beyond what is sustainable through on- farm income.
Financial assistance to beginning farmers (3 years of records needed before you can qualify)
Farmer’s market fees the same whether you are a small farm with little income or a large farm with large income. Barrier to new farmers.

4) What is your favorite food blog/web resource?
Oakhillorganics. Com
Oregon Tilth

5) What food/agriculture related book, magazine or movie would you recommend?
Anything by Steve Solomon—Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades & Gardening When It Counts
Sharon Astyk, Depletion and Abundance

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day is no joke when you are a farmer

I would harbor a guess that very few people are aware of the origin of the Labor Day holiday (in 1882) and some might find irony in the fact that we celebrate it by taking a day off of work (those that are lucky) and squeezing in a last camping trip or backyard BBQ before the kids head back to school. But if you are a farmer or anyone who gardens with any seriousness, this is hardly the time of year in which one can think about leisure activities. Vegetable plants are bending over heavy with fruit. The trees are heavy with apples, pears, peaches. This is the time when canning and preserving fill the kitchen with billowy clouds of steam.

Even though I've been a slacker with my cooking this summer, I've still carried a torch for anything that can fit in a Mason jar. The knowledge that the window of opportunity is only so wide has compelled me to buy whole boxes of fruit to turn into jams and applesauce. This past weekend I picked up 25 lbs of Gravenstein apples that are good for pie-making and saucing. And I couldn't pass up the 20 lb box of Red Haven freestone peaches for peach jam and more pie.

Applesauce is one of those things that is so simple and quick to make that I can't really bring myself to buy it at the grocery store. I use a apple slicer to core and section the apples, leaving the skin on, throw 6 lbs in a big soup pot with a cup of water, let it simmer for 25 minutes and run the soft, mushy result through a food mill and that's it - done. So easy it doesn't even need a recipe. Maybe I'll add a little sugar or cinnamon or nutmeg. The jars that I process to store in the basement I leave plain so it can be used for applesauce cake or as a replacement for oil in low-fat muffins.
So as you pull that last beer out of the cooler, offer a toast to the farmers that were hard at work today, harvesting the bounty that will keep our pantries stocked this winter. Prost!