Monday, August 27, 2012

Corn and Tomato Salad

Any salad that looks like confetti is a win.

I have read many, many books on food in my thirty short years. There were my vegetarian/flirting-with-veganism years where I couldn't get enough of John Robbins and Erik Marcus. There was my weird fascination with formal diet plans, like the South Beach Diet and The Zone and all the whos/whats/whys/hows behind them. I've read books about the lives of famous chefs and books by journalists playing chef for the thrill of it. Most recently, I've devoured the locavore food bibles by the likes of Michael Pollan, Mark Bittman and Barbara Kingsolver, and through the years, there has been a steady stream of cookbooks rotating through my kitchen, my coffee table, and yes, my bedside table.

But in all those years, I can honestly say no food book has so eloquently, so perfectly stated the very essence of why I cook the way I cook than Tamar Adler's An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace.  All these local veggies and eggs, all this wild game and eating the hearts and livers, all this compost and boiling of pheasant bones, all this digging in the back of the fridge and using each ingredient to the fullest - what's the point?  The answer is there.

Some favorite passages:

"(This book) doesn't contain "perfect" or "professional" ways to do anything, because we don't need to be professionals to cook well, any more than we need to be doctors to treat bruises and scrapes.... We're so often told cooking is an obstacle that we miss this. When we cook things, we transform them. And any small acts of transformation are among the most human things we do."

"The bones and shells and peels of things are where a lot of their goodness resides.... The skins from onions, green tops from leeks, stems from herbs must all be swept directly into a pot instead of into the garbage. Along with the bones from a chicken, they are what it takes to make chicken stock, which you need never buy, once you decide to keep its ingredients instead of throwing them away." 

"Good meat only seems so expensive because we eat meat like children taking bites out of the middles of sandwiches and throwing the rest away. There's not yet a cow with an eternal supply of steaks, a pig that's all loin, or a chicken that is all boneless white meat. Most meat on cows and pigs and chickens is bound in hardworking muscles, and we tend to avoid it because it needs to be coerced into tenderness. Luckily, those hardworking cuts are more delicious than the idle ones."

"We must treat what we love kindly. We must make the most of it. The more we do, the closer we come to the old terms of meat eating, a noble exchange of good life for good life." 

Economy is grace. There is inherent beauty in resourcefulness. In our modern world of wealth and luxury and weekly garbage pick-ups, we forget the importance of balance and rhythm in the kitchen. Instead of a bag of frozen chicken breasts, we can choose to purchase a whole chicken from a farmer and roast it on Sunday (with a chicken liver paté appetizer), which then becomes Monday's chicken sandwiches, and then shapes the base of Tuesday's chicken noodle soup.  The leftover juices from Sunday's chicken add flavor and depth to another dish later in the week. The ends and bits of the roasted vegetables that didn't make it in the pan enrich the broth of Tuesday's soup. The bread baked to accompany Sunday's chicken evolves into croutons for the salad that accompanies Tuesday's soup, and maybe toasted breadcrumbs for Wednesday's pasta. A piece from one meal falls into the other, which falls into the other. The leftovers of one meal creates the base of the next. It takes time and practice to develop grace in the kitchen, and it's something I continue to work towards, but the reward is endless. An everlasting meal. Imagine that.

Which brings me to this salad. I went for a jog on Saturday and noticed my neighbor had a wheelbarrow full of corn with a "Free" sign next to it. I happily grabbed six ears, a small portion of the cornicopious mountain sitting there. As I was cutting kernels off the boiled corn cobs, my dad stopped by with a quart of cherry tomatoes. I also had a small container of pesto left, made from some basil a friend gave me. Add in a chunk of feta, some olive oil and vinegar, and a good crack of pepper, and a summer salad is born. It's not professional. It's not gourmand. But it's yet another step in the journey to develop my own sense of grace.

Corn and Tomato Salad
This is the type of recipe my mom hates.  Where are the 1/4 teaspoon measurements? Where's the precision?  Unfortunately for her, I'm going to write it exactly like I made it.  Let your own palate and resourcefulness be your guide. 

6 ears of corn, shucked
A generous pint of cherry tomatoes (mine were tiny, so left them whole, but feel free to halve)
A generous spoonful of pesto
A generous 1/2 cup crumbled feta
Chopped scallions (I didn't have them, but wish I did - they would've added another punch of flavor)
Olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper to taste

Boil the corn for 5-10 mins or until tender. When cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the ears into a large bowl. Once the corn has cooled, add the rest of the ingredients, seasoning to taste.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Amazing Walleye Pasta

As you can see from the photo, Kent already dug into his plate while I was shooting a couple pics of mine. Since he usually makes some sort of noise of appreciation after the first bite ("Mmm." "This is good." "Good stuff, love."), I found it odd that this time, he had eaten a couple bites and hadn't said anything. I glanced up from my camera and gave him a questioning look. "Is it ok?" He looked up from his plate and said the following: "You're going to wet your pants."

That man of mine. He's a sweet talker. But allow me to translate (*ahem*): he really liked it, and thought I would enjoy it as well. Indeed, I did find the dish to be delicious. (end translation)

If you don't have walleye, any white-fleshed fish would do. Even tuna or shrimp would be amazing. One little tip - if you are using fillets, don't stir it a lot. Try to keep the fish somewhat intact. So with that, grab those fresh garden tomatoes, some decent olives, and dig in! And, if you take my husband's advice, you may want a fresh pair of underpants nearby. Just in case.

The Amazing Walleye Pasta
Click here for the original recipe. 

3 Tbls. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
12 Kalamata (or other oil-cured) olives, depitted and chopped
1 lb. walleye or other white fish fillets, cut into chunks if you prefer
1 Tbls. capers
1/2 c. dry white wine
4 tomatoes, roughly chopped
12 oz. pasta
2 Tbls. parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic for one minute, then add fish. Once fish is slightly browned, add salt, pepper, and wine, then turn the heat up to medium-high. Stir once or twice carefully until wine is nearly evaporated.

Meanwhile, heat a pot of salted water for the pasta. Cook pasta until al dente.

When wine is evaporated, reduce heat, add tomatoes and cook for 10 mins. Add capers and olives, stirring carefully if necessary until the tomato juice is released and the sauce is thickening. Turn off heat, add parsley. Plate up the pasta, top with fish sauce and serve.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Summer Peach Cake

A perfect peach, like laughter, sex, and a long hot shower, makes my short list of one of the most pure, simple pleasures in life.  The season is so fleeting that when peach time comes, you can't help but savor it, bite into the fruit and let the juice drip down your chin, losing yourself in the peach experience, the very essence of peachness, and thinking about nothing else until you find yourself licking your sticky fingers afterwards. 

Although I appreciate and often prefer fruit in its unadulterated form, this peach cake was a slice (or four) of summer bliss. I pulled the cake out of the oven around 7:00 pm, letting it cool as we meandered down to the river. We came back, set ourselves down in the backyard with two forks, and although I commented that it was slightly undercooked (I love a little crispy crunchy crust to my desserts while Kent prefers the soft chewiness of slightly undercooked sweets), we proceeded to sample it...and then devour nearly the entire thing in one sitting. Just the two of us, plus a lovely chunk right out of the middle by our charming son. I finally caught a photo midway. We saved two hunks for breakfast, and as of 7:45 am the next day, the lovely peach cake is now just a fond memory. 

Here's hoping you are making some fond memories this summer.

Summer Peach Cake
From Food52 - what can I say? I'm on a kick. Although it immediately looked simple and delicious, I wanted to make this because I had the ingredients on hand, including some buttermilk and almond meal I wanted to use up. I'm not much for nutmeg, so this modified version cuts back on that. Feel free to review the original recipe here

3 ripe peaches, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup sugar
6 Tbls. softened butter
1 egg
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 c. flour
1/2 c. almond flour, almond meal, or finely ground almonds
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9" cake pan. Toss the peaches with nutmeg and 2 Tbls. sugar. Set aside. 

Cream together butter and remaining sugar. Add egg, buttermilk, and extracts, stirring to combine. 

Combine dry ingredients. Add dry mixture to butter mixture, mix until smooth (some lumps may remain). Spread into pan. 

Press peaches into the top of the cake. Bake for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, then reduce heat to 325 degrees and bake for an addition 45-55 minutes or until toothpick in center comes out clean.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fireflour Pizza

I've been telling everyone - EVERYONE - in Bismarck-Mandan to try Fireflour Pizza. Kenny and Kendra, originally from North Dakota, moved to San Francisco, started working on their pizza craft there, then came back home, picking up a wood-fired oven along the way and started making great, simple, real Neapolitan style pizzas.

Fireflour's Peppy pizza

Fireflour purchases top-quality pancetta and prosciutto from an artisan butcher in Iowa, hand-pulls their mozzarella, uses real herbs, and tops their pies with things like calabrian chili oil. I love their devotion to quality and flavor, but for me, my Fireflour Pizza love is all about the crust. All natural, all organic, slowly raised so the dough takes on a flavor of its own. It's pulled thin, topped, then baked for 90 seconds in a 900 degree oven, coming out perfectly crusty on the outside, but with some soft give when you bite into it, and tasty little toasty bits scattered around. My mouth is seriously watering just thinking about it.

Fireflour's Shroom pizza

I wrote an article all about Fireflour - you can read it here - but I can't tell you how exciting it's been to see their orange canopy at fairs and events all summer and notice the people lined up for their product; to hear that they SOLD OUT of pizza last Friday; to know that they are generating some excitement and maybe, just maybe, will be able to fulfill their dream of their own brick-and-mortar pizzeria.

No one asked me to write this. I just love a good food story, and this is one way I can try to help keep the good news going.

Fireflour will be set up in downtown Bismarck this Thursday for Urban Harvest, then Friday on Main in Mandan. Follow Fireflour Pizza on Facebook for updated dates and locations.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Spaghetti with Kale and Bread Crumbs

Talking food with a friend one day - a friend that calls Diet Coke and coffee a balanced breakfast - he asked me if I really feel like buying a CSA share makes any difference, if all these local food groupies were just delusional to think that its really all that much better for our families and our communities, if buying a share from a farmer is just a way to stave off some sort of existential guilt we all have that we're disconnected from the earth, that we're not all farmers growing our own veg and slaughtering our own meat, so instead we shrug our shoulders, line up at Sam's Club, and chow down while watching Dancing with the Stars.

My friend, clearly, has a pessimistic side, and I couldn't help but smirk as I thought to myself in my best internal Jay-Z voice, 'haters gonna hate,' but in response, all I have to do is point to the fantastic things happening right here in my own town: the fact that my CSA Riverbound Farm sold out of shares this year; the line-ups for farm eggs, farm milk, and homegrown chickens around town; the soon-to-come food co-op; the fact that farmers are coming back into public consciousness talking about growing vegetables in the newspaper and raising beef on TV news; the enthusiasm that is growing in my little hamlet of Bismarck-Mandan for fresh, local, real good food, and I say yes, absolutely, my CSA share is making a difference. It's a tangible example of the shift happening in how we approach our food. Every meal reflects a choice, and although I don't feel locked down to 100% local, 100% of the time, I love knowing that my meals are making a difference in my health and my community, contributing directly to a farm family's agrarian lifestyle and feeding my family fresh fresh real good food at the same time. Win-win.

Another CSA bonus: I love kale, and since my share is a bounty of greens, I eat plenty of it. Sauteed kale, Japanese-soup kale, kale chips, kale in eggs, kale with potatoes - heck, I even juice it. And of course, kale with pasta.

This would be a perfect autumn dish - it's pretty hearty for a summer dinner - but I love me a big bowl of pasta any time of year. Definitely try this with the breadcrumbs as the recipe indicates - crispy, toasty, olive-oily goodness - and try whole-wheat pasta and some toasted chopped walnuts for some extra oomph.

Spaghetti with Kale
Adapted from Food52. If you want a spicy kick, keep some hot pepper flakes on the table. 

About 8 oz. spaghetti
One bunch of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped
2 slices of whole wheat bread, spun in a blender to make bread crumbs
1/4 cup olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Handful of walnuts, chopped and toasted (optional)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add spaghetti and cook to al dente.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a pot over medium heat and add the bread crumbs and garlic, until bread crumbs are slightly toasted and golden brown.  Remove bread crumbs from pot; keep pot on the stove and add in kale with a little pasta water. Saute until wilted.

Drain the pasta and toss with the kale, toasted bread crumbs, walnuts and Parmesan; drizzle with a little extra olive oil if desired.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Zucchini Pancakes

The zucchini wonderment continues! Zucchini pancakes. If it weirds you out calling something savory a "pancake", call it a latke. Or a fritter. Zucchini fritters, that works.

I think I'll plant zucchini next year. I've been without zucchini in my own garden for a couple years and, to be honest, I kind of miss it. Zucchini is like the Dennis the Menace of vegetables: always around, maybe a little troublesome, but well-intentioned, and it feels a little too quiet in the neighborhood when not nearby. So I'll enjoy this last little bit of zucchini, knowing that next year, if I dare put those seeds in the ground, I'll be seeking out plenty more zucchini recipes.

You can use olive oil for these, but I highly recommend butter for the flavor punch alone. I'd grab some thick yogurt to go along with these - the hot crispiness of the savory pancake plus cool creamy tang of the yogurt is the very definition of lovely.

Zucchini Pancakes
From Food52

2 cups grated zucchini
1/2 cup grated potato
1 egg
1 Tbls. chopped parsley
1 tsp. lemon zest
1-2 Tbls. butter
Sour cream or plain greek yogurt for serving (optional)

Grate zucchini and potato, sprinkle with approx. 1 tsp. salt, and let drain in a colander for at least 30 minutes, squeezing out extra moisture.

In a bowl, beat egg, parslet, and lemon zest. Combine zucchini mixture with egg mixture. Stir well to coat.

Over medium high heat, melt 1 Tbls. butter in a skillet. When foam subsides, drop spoonful of mixture in and pat with spatula to flatten. Cook until golden brown on each side, serve immediately with sour cream or yogurt.