Sunday, July 19, 2009

This is Augustus Finch Gossett. He's very kissable. His mom and dad are Jen and Berkeley who work at Meadowlark. The A-man has been getting an education on farm life. He spends most of his days suspended on his mother's body. Lucky guy. Augustus doesn't eat with us yet but I swear he smells the food and will be moved by it as he ages. What shapes us. I like to think Aug is shaped by green growing things and the community of warmth that is Jenny and Jon's farm. It's a haven for neurotics like me. Like my rat terrier Xena, I've gone to ground. I hope that dirt and green growing things can offer the big A the same comfort. He looks pretty comfortable don't you think?

Fennel Friday

Cool and rainy weather hovered over us Friday. We had a really simple, but satisfying meal of De Cecco linguine tossed with steamed broccoli, carrots and garlic oil. I wanted to make garlic chips, but the garlic hadn't cured yet--the crew and volunteers just harvested it two days before--so it was really moist. Eli peeled and finely sliced mammoth garlic cloves from 6 heads of garlic on the mandoline finger-eating slicer. No blood.

For the chips I heat about 1/4 inch of olive oil in a deep pot to fry chips. This just turned to garlic mush, which was awfully tasty. I also made chile oil from dried red chiles. Heated the oil and dropped in the chiles. I tend to remove stems and seeds so there is less heat.

I tossed the just boiled pasta with lots of salt and the garlic oil, steamed broccoli and carrots. Since Eli prefers non-spicy hot food I left the oil on the side to spoon over the pasta. Any vegetable, grain or legume goes better with garlic and chile oils. And salt.

I also made my ubiquitous bean salad. I take this to potlucks and parties. I love it after it's had time to sit and marinate. Here's the recipe--you can make it with any legume but it's prettiest with white beans or chickpeas.

Nancy's Queen Bean Salad
It's GOOD for you.

2 cups dried beans like Great Northern or navy, washed and drained
1 large red onion, finely slivered
1/4 cup olive oil
3 to 4 tablespoons very good red wine vinegar (I favor the "live" Eden red wine vinegar available at health food stores)
1 bunch flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (I separate the stems and finely slice them if the parsley is fresh)
2 or more tablespoons chopped fresh oregano leaves (you can use dry, but use less)

Either quick soak beans with 1 tablespoon sea salt for 1 hour in boiled water or soak overnight with 1 tablespoon sea salt. (The salt will act as a bean tenderizer for those of us with hard water.) Drain and cover with cold water. Bring beans to boil, lower heat and simmer beans covered until tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Meanwhile sliver the onion: cut off the stem and root ends, set the onion on one flat side and cut through it in half. Peel and rinse onion. Lay it on your cutting board and slice perpendicular to cut edges, in other words, slice through an uncut edge.

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat and add the onion. Cook until tender and transluscent, about 5 minutes. No color. Add the vinegar and season with salt. The onions will turn a lovely violet red. Remove the onions from the heat.

Drain the cooked beans and pour into a mixing bowl. Scrape in the onions, parsley and oregano. Mix and taste, seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper and more oil or vinegar to get an attention getting sharp flavor.

For lunch I added just dug raw carrots and sugar snap peas, but this is great without any other adornments. You can add garlic to the just cooked onions if you like. I like to add loads of parsley--I think of Jenny's parsley as a green, not an herb. It wilts a bit when it hits the warm beans.

Oh, I almost forgot. There was a lot of fennel. Jenny's gotten so good at growing fennel. Last year I made a salad of it by finely slicing it on the finger-eater mandoline and tossing with lemon, olive oil and salt and pepper. So Eli and I decided to grill it this year. I sliced it in half, rubbed each half with olive oil and salt, then we grilled it over medium heat. I would have finished it in a 350F oven with a little white wine or broth (covered) because it was still a little tough, but I wanted to get lunch on the table. Eli was so great: he kept at me to cook it further so we steamed it. Softened it just enough for eating. The oven method tenderizes it so beautifully--you can cut it with a fork!

I think it was Dean Ornish who said the best way to lose weight is to stock up on vegetables, grains, beans and fruit.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Liz Och

This is Liz. Liz is full of enthusiasm and warmth. She is a joy to be around. Liz loves food and cooking. And Meadowlark. This is her second year with us.

Liz is a really bright young woman. She was valedictorian of her Leland High School senior class in 2006. She will be a senior at Northwestern University in the fall and is double-majoring in Environmental Sciences and Legal Studies. She plans to attend law school after completing her undergraduate work, and enter a career in environmental law.

Liz says, "I had to make a decision this summer whether to stay in Chicago and find an internship or come home and work at Meadowlark again. I decided to come back home mostly because of Meadowlark. After a year of living, working, and playing in the city, I crave the feeling of my hands in the dirt. I enjoy watching things grow, and the treat of eating fresh, local food. Beyond the tangibles, I appreciate the opportunity to have stimulating conversations with people in the Meadowlark community and to form friendships with people outside of my immediate age group."

By that I think she means us oldsters. Somehow around Liz I never feel old. Maybe Robert does though because he keeps an eye on her as if Liz were his baby chick. Can you see him in the background?

Saturday, July 11, 2009

July 9 Lunch

Our lunch today was simple. Maureen Suelzer and I made Chinese strange-flavored black beans, brown Basmati rice boiled with diced garlic scapes and topped with crispy fried shallots, and a vegetable stir-fry.

That's Jane Watts, Jon's mom who helps with the salad greens finally sitting down for some lunch...after we'd all eaten..

The sauce on the blackbeans consisted of finely chopped scapes and scallions and lots of fresh finely diced ginger cooked for a few minutes in a little oil. Then I added tahini, balsamic vinegar, rice vinegar, chile oil, sesame oil, soy sauce and broth from the black beans cooking. This went into the warm beans and sat for an hour to absorb the flavors. Finely chopped cilantro went in a little before serving.

The rice was a takeoff on m'jedderah, which is rice and lentils mixed with crispy onions...I love those shallots Jenny has stored from last year. I tossed a lot of chopped raw garlic scapes into the rice cooking water and just boiled them along with the rice. Wow, they were so SWEET. I finely sliced the shallots and fried them at high heat in oil until browned and crispy. They went into the cooked rice a few minutes before serving. Let the cooked rice cook and harden a bit before tossing with cooked shallots.

Garlic harvest is next Wednesday so we'll be swimming in garlic finally. I want to do some really garlicky sauces.

Last we made the vegetable stir-fry. Maureen and I both handled woks. Since the burners don't put out high BTU's we had to do small batches of carrots, broccoli and collards in our woks. We seasoned each batch with finely chopped ginger, scapes which I chopped in the food processor to a fine chop and soy sauce--and scraped it into a large bowl. We cooked chopped scallions for a minute at the end and tossed them into the bowl then seasoned everything.

Here's my textbook on stir-fry:

Wok Work Stir-Fry Tips

1. Choose.
Colorful and flavorful combinations (three to five foods).
Choose seasonings like chile or curry pastes, soy, fermented black beans, Szechuan peppercorns, and sherry.
Aromatic vegetables like garlic, onions, and ginger.
Or a prepared sauce like hoisin, plum or one of your own devising (with or without cornstarch).

2. Organize.
Prepare all food and seasonings by slicing, dicing and pre-cooking or pre-treating foods where necessary. Make food pretty, uniform and bite-sized. Expose as much surface area as possible so food cooks quickly. Foods should be dry.
Line up everything you need next to the cooking area, including utensils—BEFORE you begin cooking.
Prepare a condensed cheat sheet of procedure and hang it where you can easily see it as you cook.

3. Stir-fry.
Heat dry wok or a heavy skillet over the highest heat your burner can muster. The wok should be as close to the heat source as possible. If you have a round-bottomed wok, flip your gas burner over to form a cup. Avoid wok rings like the plague—they keep the wok too far from the heat source, but if you have a round-bottomed wok and cannot overturn your burner, use it to avoid catastrophe.

When wok is hot, dribble cold oil in around the edges, about 2 teaspoons for each batch. Swirl it around to coat wok sides. Choose a mild-flavored oil like refined peanut, canola or grapeseed that can maintain high temperature without smoking. A spray bottle filled with your favorite cooking oil will distribute oil lightly and evenly.

Quick infusion—Cook seasonings in the hot, almost smoking oil, briefly. You may start with garlic and ginger in hot oil but keep them whole and pull them out when they begin to color. Add minced garlic later, so that it doesn't burn.

Rapid searing— Add the meat or protein to the hot seasoned oil first (in batches to keep from overcrowding) and cook until done. Toss the ingredients in hot oil and keep them in contact with the hot metal of the wok for a minute or so until they color. Remove seared food to a plate to keep warm

Don't overfill wok. Fill your wok about one-third full--if it gets too full, you'll be stewing not stir-frying. Listen for the crackling-searing noise that means you've got a dry wok or skillet.

Regulate heat as you cook so food cooks evenly and at a reasonable pace without burning. This means that you use the knobs on the stove to turn heat higher and lower. Stand facing stove not your girlfriend. Stir-fried dishes are like babies, they need your constant attention. Don’t be guilty of neglect.

Steaming and Blossoming--Add liquid and/or seasonings, then cover to allow steam to finish the cooking process and the seasonings' flavor to "blossom". Good for hard, green vegetables like broccoli.

Final blending with sauce or seasonings—Return all ingredients back to wok and add toasted sesame oil, scallions, seasonings, or a cornstarch based glaze/sauce. For a sauce: Mix 1 teaspoon cornstarch or arrowroot with every 2 1/2 to 3 ounces or 1/3 cup of cold liquid and seasonings. Pour in slurry mixture and bring to a boil. Cook until sauce clears and thickens, stirring and tossing the stir-fry constantly. Over-cooking can cause sauce to break and become watery again.

Pile your stir-fry high onto a platter and bring to table immediately.

Ah, you there, don’t just leave the wok to crust over. Please take it while it's hot to the sink, rinse it out (no soap remember) and scrub with a fiber brush or paper toweling if necessary to get out stray bits hanging on. Dry wok and place it back on burner to dry thoroughly for a few minutes. Rub with oil again to re-season. Cool wok and towel off excess oil. Stack woks with paper toweling in between to prevent rust. Rust never sleeps you know.

©2000Nancy K. Allen, C.C.P.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Helio Conceicao

This is Helio
Helio is from Salvador Bahia, Brazil. He fell in love with Alita Townsend and moved to the chilly north from the sunny, southern weather. Love will do that to you! Now they have a baby. Love will do that for you too.

Helio has been in Northern Michigan for 3 years this August. He has worked at the farm most of that time. He always has a ready smile and winning ways. (He calls me Miss Nancy.) In the photo he is holding an instrument called a berimbau, he made from Brazilian wood and gourd. It has a very beautiful sound, haunting. He is showing it to all of us, Benny Bowmaster is just out of camera range. The metal string is from a car tire--you know, steel belted tires? I guess in Brazil necessity is the Mother of invention.

Today at lunch Helio was flashing his pearly whites telling stories. It was something about curing warts and old underwear but I'm not going there. There was much howling and wild laughter. Helio does that to you. He reminds me of a magical necromancer and laughing buddha like mystic, shaman and trickster all rolled into one. There is almost always something quiet, mysterious and exciting brewing around him.

Last week while I was sitting and eating I chanced to look at Helio and think of how beautiful was his face. I realized that it is quite symmetrical. Someone said that symmetrical faces are considered most handsome by those who objectively view them for tests. Helio would win in a beauty contest hands down, don't you think?

And he's always pulling something out of his hat to quietly wow the crowd. Lucky us.

musical broccoli

Doesn't this symphony of broccoli remind you of a musical score?

Friday before the 4th of July

The morning started out chilly and drizzly, but by lunchtime it had warmed and we had sunshine. I stopped alongside the road this morning and picked 70 wild grape leaves. I left the very small top and bottom ones and picked most of them from the largest middle leaves. I blanched them for a minute in boiling water. Later Maureen Suezler(spelling?) came and stuffed them. She appeared at just the right moment! Ella was helping the salad crew. They went from 40 to 50 pounds to 120 pounds of salad mix this week!

For the grape leaf stuffing I cooked brown basmati--3 1/2 cups water to 2 cups rice and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes. Let sit for another 15, adding a bit of water if necessary. In olive oil, I sautéed sliced shallots, white of scallions until tender and added pine nuts and currants and cooked until pine nuts started to color a bit. This I mixed with rice so there is a lot of the good stuff-see photo. Lots of chopped green of scallion, dill and a little parsley and lemon zest. Salt and pepper to taste. Maureen wedged the dolmas into a baking dish and I covered them with broth or tomato water. Baked for 45 minutes in 350 to 375 degree oven, covered. We served them with hommous sauce:
5 cups cooked chickpeas
1/2 to 3/4 cup tahini
juice of 3 to 4 lemons
1 tablespoon ground cumin
salt to taste
chickpea cooking water or water

Purée everything together and taste taste taste--should be very lemony. Serve this as a sauce with grape leaves.

I also made quinoa tabouli with lots of parsley, lemon juice, olive oil, diced and cooked garlic scapes, last year's frozen diced tomatoes and a cucumber.

Made za'atar bread too. Fun.
Pita bread with za’atar
Makes 8 to 10

1 package of yeast or a scant tablespoon
1/2 cup warm water
3 cups all purpose flour (half wholewheat and half white)
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar or honey
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons XVO

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until water is frothy. Combine flour and salt in large bowl.

Make a small depression in the middle of flour and pour yeast water in depression. Slowly add 1 cup of warm water, and stir with wooden spoon or rubber spatula until elastic.

PLace dough on floured surface and knead for 10-15 minutes. When the dough is no longer stick and is smooth and elastic, it has been successfully kneaded. Coat large bowl with 1 tablespoon oil. and place dough in bowl. Turn dough upside down so all of the dough is coated. Allow to sit in a warm place for about 1 to 2 hours, or until it has doubled in size.

Once doubled, with oiled hands, roll out in a rope, and slice off 10-12 small pieces. Place balls on oiled surface and coat them with oil. Let sit 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 deg F. and make sure rack is at the very bottom of oven. Set a heavy baking sheet on it to preheat.

Press each ball of dough into a round or oval. Each should be around 5-6 inches across and 1/4 inch thick. Sprinkle salt and za'atar mix on top. Transfer them to pre-heated baking sheet and place back on bottom of oven.

Bake pitas until bottom browns and they cook through, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove each pita with a spatula or tongs from baking sheet and place on remaining pitas and finish baking them. Serve immediately.

Storing Pita Bread

Pita bread can be stored for up to a week in pantry or bread box, and up to a month in freezer. Use freezer bags when storing in freezer.