Saturday, May 14, 2011

Planning for Local - Quinoa with Grilled Vegetables, Tofu and Tempeh

Last week I caught a show on NPR with celebrated chef Dan Barber talking about eating local. He said that for him it has nothing to do with ethics. It is just about taste. Fresh food tastes better. True enough. But there is a bigger picture that cannot have escaped Dan Barber.

Whether he is weighing ethics into his choices or not, a complete disregard for where our food comes from is not sustainable. Eating food grown locally has many benefits. It uses much less energy to get to us if not to produce, it supports local economies AND the food tastes better and lasts longer. It turns out that fresher food is more nutritious as well. And what I liked the most about what he said is the idea that we can still have our bananas and Italian cheese, but we treat these far away items as a luxury and hence eat them in the proportions fitting a luxury, not everyday, all year long Basically, he's just putting it back into perspective. This is how our grandmothers regarded food. Remember the days that kids got an orange in their Christmas stockings. Oranges were a huge treat. Imagine getting back to a point where you could put a piece of fruit in your kids' stockings that they considered a special treat.

Now we just have to translate that into our own sensibility. For my family, we absolutely do not need plums in March flown on a jet plane from Chile (when they taste awful too). We can wait until we have local plums that taste delicious in July and August. If you absolutely cannot live without plums until they are in season (or any other fruit for that matter), consider getting a bushel at the height of freshness and preserving them.

On the other hand, we'll never have bananas grown within 100 miles, or 200 miles of New England. Therefore, when we want to have bananas, I bring my consiousness to the idea that this is a luxury that comes from far away. In our house, it is mangoes and avocados that are our biggest winter luxury food items. I stop buying them in the summer when there are so many other choices. When the salad choices start dwindling in October and the local apples and pears have all but disappeared in November, I put avocados and mangoes back on the grocery list. But we eat them in moderation interspersed with the applesauce I preserved and the berries I froze.

Now, if I could only apply this principle to chocolate . . .

This may seem like a conversation that is better suited to the fall, but to have preserved food available in the winter takes planning, beginning right now. Do you plant a garden? Think about what you may want to preserve and plant extra. You may be surprised by all that you can preserve. (I sauteed chard and beet greens with garlic last year and froze it in little baggies that I added to soups and stews all winter long. Delicious!!) Strawberries will be in season in just a few weeks. Simply cut off the greenies (as they are referred to in our house) and freeze in little ziplock bags. Some people like to par-freeze on cookie sheets and then put them in the baggies. This ensures that they won't stick together in the bag. The key to this is to pick clean berries. I don't pick right after a rain for two reasons: 1) the berries tend to be waterlogged and less tasty; and 2) the berries tend to be dirty. I don't like to wash berries that I'm going to freeze because they develop ice crystals. On a sunny morning, the berries are clean and tasty. Make friends with the farmers at farmers market and ask them about getting boxes of tomatoes, or a deal on several dozen corn. Whatever you can't live without all winter long, there is probably a way to preserve it.

The possibilities are endless. If you don't have a lot of freezer space, you may want to think about making an investment in a big freezer in the basement or barn. This was one of the best investments we ever made. Right now the freezer bounty is pretty sparse, as it should be in May. I'm trying to use those last bags of grated zucchini, corn cut off the cob and grilled veggies.

Which leads me to the very delicious meal I made last night. Quinoa salad with grilled vegetables with tofu and tempeh. We grill lots of veggies in the summer. Zucchini, summer squash, peppers, onions, fennel, eggplant. Whatever we don't finish, I pop into a ziplock and voila, February here we come. Or May as the case was last night. This is also my preferred way to cook tofu and tempeh which I am often asked about. So here it is.

Quinoa Salad with Grilled Vegetables, Tofu and Tempeh

For the Vegetables: Make your favorite marinade (one of mine follows). Summer choices include zucchini, summer squah, peppers, onions, whatever is ripe in the garden. Right now you could make this with asparagus, spring onions and shitake mushrooms, all available at farmers markets. Slice the vegetables and layer them in a long pyrex pan. Pour the marinade on top and cover with plastic. Once in a while, shake it, stir it, whatever you prefer to move the marinade around. Set the oven to 350. 20 minutes before you are ready to grill, put the veggies in the oven (take off the plastic). This gets them going and they don't need to spend as much time on the grill. Then grill until fork tender and each has a good char. Set aside.

For the Tofu and Tempeh:
Slice the tofu into 1/4 inch slices then cut in half to make squares. Slice the tempeh into 1/8 inch slices. Layout in one layer (as much as you can) in a pyrex dish.

Make your marinade: (this is one of my favorites, but is open to lots of interpretation)

1/4 maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
1 Tablespooon lime juice
1/2 cup vinegar (half balsamic, half red wine or any combination that you like)
1 Tablespoon tamari (soy sauce or shoyu are fine)
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
1/4 cup water

Whisk it all together. Pour over the tofu, tempeh reserving 1/2 cup.

Put tofu, tempeh in the oven at 350, uncovered for 30 minutes. Shake the dish a couple times to coat the tops of the tofu and tempeh. Sautee in olive oil on medium high until each piece has a bit of a char on both sides (this only takes a minute or two for the tempeh and a minute or two longer with the tofu). You can also grill them but you may want to leave the tofu larger.

For the Quinoa:

Combine the reserved marinade and 1 1/2 cups water in a pot. Bring to a boil. Add one cup quinoa and reduce to low. Cover and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed. About 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and let rest for 5-10 minutes.

At this point you can serve the components separately or you can cut up the veggies, the tofu and tempeh and mix into the quinoa and serve as a one bowl "salad" of sorts. I do it both ways, but find that I get more veggies into the kids if I combine the veggies and the quinoa.


Best Laid Plans and Stuffed Artichokes

This is the tale of best-laid plans. Once upon a time I had no kids and a huge vegetable garden. Then I had babies and thought about simplifying my life. I decided to plant the back half of the garden with perennials and grow less food. These were the days of stealing 10 minutes here, twenty minutes there; parking babies in the shade or wearing them on my back while I shoveled and giving them shovels and pails and setting them the task of finding worms, many worms. I was proud of the accomplishment of growing anything at that point, but it wasn't easy to negotiate what was needed to tend to the garden properly. Weeds were rampant, lettuce was bolting and tomatoes were flopping before I could get out there tie them up. It made perfect sense. Much of the back half was fallow anyway because it had been impossible to keep up, so this would solve all problems.

I started with about a fourth of the space the first year of the plan, thinking I would mosey along the next few years until the food part was manageable. I put in a lovely little square with a sand cherry and giant patch of yarrow. A beautiful yellow rose commemorating our Yarrow Rose's weaning and loads of plants gathered from my garden club's annual plant swap. Lovely.

Then everything changed.

Before the snow melted on year two, I had read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and would never eat the same way again. Or garden the same way again either. If you haven't read either of these missives, I highly recommend them. For me they were eye-openers and inspiration.

Now that square of flowers stands as an island sandwiched between the Bay of Tomatoes and the Strait of Peas and Zucchini with a shoreline of spinach and storage onions. I'm not fretting because flowers bring bees and butterflies and other pollinators (and are pretty), although I do have fantasies about digging it all up and making room for more food. I could have a rockin' corn crop over there. Or edamame. I love edamame. Or move the artichokes out of the greenhouse and into the field like my gardening hero Elliot Coleman up in Maine. He does that.

I am hugely fortunate that after having such an epiphany about the links between climate change and the food industry that I live in such a place and have the life where I can actually take action. And that I can do it by combining two things that I love - activism and gardening? So super cool.

I walk around blissed out these days of spring. My hands are in the dirt. When I'm seeking inspiration at dinnertime, I can take a walk out the door. Last night I combined our own carrots, spinach, leeks and asparagus with locally grown shitake mushrooms and some Vermont-made creme fraiche stirred into risotto. It was wonderful. But that's not the subject today. It's spring and in our house, that mean stuffed artichokes once a week until they aren't feeling totally special anymore, at which time, we bid them farewell until next spring. Except this year we're growing artichokes in the greenhouse so we should get an encore season in August or September, we hope. For everyone else who doesn't get the encore, hurry and make this fantastic recipe that I've adapted from Grandma Gerarda, Frank's paternal grandmother who let us garden the other half of her yard when we lived in the city. She died in 1994, but not before teaching me an awful lot about Italian cooking, gardening and sharing what you know!

Stuffed Artichokes

For the Artichokes:
Choose 4 Large Artichokes that are as free of dark spots as you can. Cut off stems, with a large knife or kitchen scissor, trim the tops of the leaves so you don't have the pointy parts and it is easier to stuff. Parboil in a big pot of water until you can pull a leaf out without great resistance, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from water and place in bowl to cool. Reserve water.

For the Filling:
4 large cloves garlic
1 large onion
6-8 button or crimini mushrooms
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup pecorino romano cheese, grated fine (or parmesan if you prefer)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Place garlic and onion in food processor and pulse 3-4 times, then add mushrooms and process until the veggies are minced. Heat oil in a frying pan and add minced veggies. Season with salt and pepper (not too much salt because the cheese is salty.) Saute on low until the mixture is very aromatic and soft. Turn the heat off and let cool. Once cool, preheat the oven to 350. Add breadcrumbs and cheese and mix thoroughly. One at a time, take each artichoke and put some filling into the spaces between the leaves. I generally stuff the bottom five or six rows, gently pulling each leaf away, dropping a generous pinch of filling in. Press the filling down into the leaves. Continue this process until you have used all your filling and the artichokes have become very fat. Place (squeeze) them in a pie plate or other pyrex baking dish. Ladle a couple scoops of the reserved water into the bottom of the baking dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 more minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.

You can melt some butter for dipping. And voila. Put a giant bowl for the discarded leaves in the middle of the table. If you've never eaten artichokes before, simply eat the filling off the leaf, the turn it upside down and scrape the fleshy part off with your teeth. For the leaves that don't have the filling, just the scraping will do. When you get down to the choke, take a knife and scrape away the hairs to reveal the best part: the heart. Dip that in butter and enjoy!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

I'm Back

I can't tell you how many times I've composed a post in my head and not made it to the computer because I felt like I needed to post some explanation of my absence before posting anything else. That idea posed enough of a roadblock that another insightful thought, delicious recipe, or long-winded rant fell by the wayside. And this has been going on for better than a year. Ugh, wasted time. Well, enough of that.

A year and better later and all I can say by way of explanation is that life happens. My son's lack of nap coupled with homeschooling my daughter after said son was in bed at night and a general lack of time, energy and organization and there ya go.

But I've missed posting and sharing our adventures in growing, preserving and eating. And for the same reason that I started this silly thing - that I've been asked a multitude of times for recipes and owe loads of people one thing or another - I'm in the same position again. Today it is my eggplant rollatini that I brought to Easter today at my sister-in-law's and brother-in-law's house. Too many steps for anyone to remember it all verbally and since I said I'd email, what a better excuse to get going again.

Before launching in, a few words about what's been happening around here. Since I didn't post last year, it is worth mentioning that our property, our gardening and the resultant preserving were WAY different last year after we built a 20' x 14' x 9' high stand-alone greenhouse. That would be the proverbial WE. Frank actually built it and did a superlative job. I supervised and did a lot of jumping for joy. I can remember the first day we came to look at the property in 1991. As we were fantasizing about what we could do with such a big and lovely piece of property, building a greenhouse was right up there on the list. It was in our 20th year that it became a reality, certainly testing the adage about patient waiters, or good things come to those who wait or whatever the sayings are.

So I couldn't be talking today about eggplant without the greenhouse. I doggedly tried growing this heat-seeker for the last 20 years with a modicum (and not much more) of success, but in the greenhouse it was like a different species. The plants were five feet tall and two feet in diameter with up to 10 fruits on a plant. And it was the same story for peppers and tomatoes. Being the scientific types that we are (NOT), we did a control study to make sure it wasn't just a great year for these crops and tried growing them outside. The tomatoes did great outside last year, but the eggplants and peppers produced almost nothing and certainly not prolific fire engine red peppers in early July.

The greenhouse wasn't finished until June 1 last year so what we didn't get was the advantage of a warm growing environment inside before it was available outside. We did extend our season last fall (picking the last peppers and tomatoes in December with the aid of a propane heater), but that's a whole other post. Let me focus on what is happening right now.

As of yesterday, April 23, we have 32 tomatoes, 4 cucumbers, 2 peppers and 11 artichokes planted in the greenhouse. That's just about a month before we'd be able to plant them in the garden. And those plants are all huge. Half again as big as anything you could buy in a nursery in May. I'll keep you posted on yields. The rest of the greenhouse has early spinach, chard and lettuce that I'll be transplanting outside as it gets too hot inside the greenhouse for these cool weather crops. The aisles are taken up by tray after tray after tray of potted plants we've grown from seed. Broccoli and its cousins, pumpkins and their cousins, tomatoes and their cousins, onions and their cousins. Family after family of veggies all just waiting for their turn to go into the garden.

For now, lets get back to the eggplants. So I started 24 plants last year thinking that we'd get 75% germination and then 75% of the plants would make it (any math whizzes out there to figure that out?) Okay, I'll do it. That would mean about 14 plants would be viable. Well, that's not exactly what happened. All 24 plants came through and we found room to plant them all. So I had about 20 of them in the greenhouse. You can imagine the bounty. We gave a good many to friends. But mostly, I got cooking. Mostly what I did was bread and BAKE slices (thanks to my friend Catherine for casually mentioning how much tastier her baked eggplant was early on) and then freeze them in giant ziplocks. The last two of these bags I used today, some seven months after picking and preserving them fresh. Let me tell you, they were still mighty tasty. The baked eggplant is so much lighter than fried. And you use a FRACTION of the oil. Not a bad thing for the pocketbook, the hips or the digestive system.

Here's the skinny:

For the Eggplant:
Olive Oil

I have not put amounts because it will be different depending on how much eggplant you are working with. (Just crack a couple of eggs and put a cup of breadcrumbs and keep adding as you need.) Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the eggplants long-ways, about 1/8 inch thick. I do not salt them or any of that nonsense. Wisk the eggs in a bowl. Put the breadcrumbs on a plate. Using a pastry brush, brush a light coating of olive oil on jelly roll pans (you know the cookie sheets with the lip). Now take your left hand and dip the eggplant into the eggs. Drop it onto the breadcrumbs, still using your left hand (but don't touch the crumbs). Now with your right hand, dredge the eggplant in the crumbs until covered. Then with your right hand, place it on pan. Repeat until all your eggplant has been breaded or all your pans are full whichever comes first. Bake for approximately 10 minutes per side (less or more to your taste and oven), adding a little more olive oil as needed either when you turn them over or with the next batch. Take them out and pile them on a plate. You don't need to drain them on paper towels since there is little oil involved. At this point, you can freeze them or go on to the rollatini phase.

For the Rollatini:

Marinara sauce (see my previous post on tomato sauce if making your own)
Fresh ricotta
mozzarella (fresh or packaged) grated
romano (or parmesan) cheese grated fine
pinch of nutmeg
sauteed chopped spinach (optional)

(For one small tub of ricotta, I use 1/2 cup grated mozzarella and 1/4 grated romano.) Combine all cheeses, nutmeg and spinach if you're using in a bowl. Mix well. In a large pyrex baking dish, spoon marinara sauce to cover the bottom of the dish. Layout several pieces of eggplant in a row on the counter. Spoon approximately 1Tbs of filling onto the wide end of the eggplant pieces. Then roll them and place them opening side down in dish. Repeat until all the eggplant has been filled. Spoon sauce over the top so the rollatini are covered. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for 1 hour.