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I’ve been quite remiss at getting this particular blog written and posted. I promised our nephew a week or more ago that this post was imminent. And yet, the camera couldn’t be found, I needed more than one dish for pictures, excuses, excuses.

When our nephew, Espen, visited a few weeks ago, he convinced Kyle to buy me a food processor. I had broken the small one that Kyle had several years before and while I continued to use the chopping blade, it really wasn’t big enough for the dishes I wanted to make with it (like big batches of hummus or baba ganoush). I found myself processing in batches while getting splatters all over the kitchen. I like to research so I had a vague idea what I wanted but was still trying to convince myself that I would use one of these monsters enough to justify the cost. After all, the little one probably only came out once a month and I’ve never been a big fan of using a food processor to slice things – I can do it with a sharp knife almost as fast and there’s a lot less to clean.

We went to lunch at one of our favorite stores in Columbia – The Gourmet Shop and before I knew it, Espen was telling me that I should get a food processor and while I hemmed and haahed and confirmed that it was on my list of “someday” things to buy and “yes” my research says that it is probably one of these. I really don’t remember for sure. I’ll look it up on the Internet and we can come back. While I was going through all of this, Kyle and Espen decided that this must be the right food processor for me and soon Kyle was off to the register with a big box in his arms and reassurances that if this REALLY wasn’t right, I could bring it back.

We got it home and I buried my head in the manual trying to understand the directions. When I looked up to review all of the pieces, Espen had already gotten it together. Now, of course, we needed to make something! The first attempt to shred cheese made me too nervous since cheese was how I’d broken my last food processor so we switched to something more simple – an amazing Watermelon Sorbet inspired by an episode of Alton Brown’s Good Eats that we had all watched together. It was DELICIOUS – so delicious, that Kyle has stated he could almost give up ice cream if I kept homemade watermelon sorbet in the house instead.

After a few weeks with this food processor, I LOVE it! Since that first evening, I’ve made more melon sorbet, bread dough (turned out OK), pie crust dough (best pie crust dough I’ve ever made!), pesto, peanut butter, and sliced squash and cucumbers for side dishes just to try out the slicer.

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Ripening figs

Ripening figs

Fig kabobs

Fig kabobs

Figs and Brie

Figs and Brie

About a week ago, Kyle pulled the first ripe fig of the season off of our tree. Fig season is so fleeting. We relish the sweetness of these figs every year. Figs are best perfectly ripe just off the tree. They don’t last very long once picked. This week, I’ve actually done some cooking with them. Usually, we eat them straight out of the bowl before I ever get a chance to do anything interesting with them! First, I made kabobs. They were supposed to be grilled but I couldn’t get the grill started and Kyle wasn’t home yet so I roasted them instead. The kabobs were made of alternating whole figs and chunks of halloumi cheese on rosemary skewers. I served them over a platter of arugula. Last night, I cooked the figs with some brown sugar and almonds, then placed them on a chunk of brie and baked it for fifteen minutes. That recipe came from here: Figs and Toasted Almonds Brie I’m a little ashamed to admit that while we did use a smaller chunk of brie, we ate it all in one sitting.

(I apologize for the picture quality – the camera flash has started going off when I don’t want it to go off and I need to sit down with the manual and figure out why!)

Ben and Kristen hosted an amazing potluck at the farm last weekend. I’ve never seen so much great, local, vegetarian food in one spot! The meat dishes were the minority and everyone had a full plate. I reallywanted to try a little bit of everything..but even allowing myself only one spoonful per dish, I still couldn’t fit it all on my plate. I even tried the layering strategy – just piling complementary dishes on top of each other once I ran out of room. Just so you know – I and several others who tried this all agreed it was counter-productive. Next time we’ll just go back for seconds.

Seeds of Deception

Seeds of Deception

Does anyone remember the ruckus that was raised back in the 1990’s when genetically modified foods were introduced to the consumer? I remember. I remember signing petitions and getting really worked up about the fact that big corporations thought they should be able to use me as a guinea pig by placing foods into supermarkets that weren’t labeled and hadn’t been well-tested on humans.  I also remember a big newspaper article discussing the possible problems of GMO’s (genetically Modified organisms) and that these same corporations had agreed to pull back on the distribution of these foods until further testing had been done to show they were safe for human consumption.

It is now the year 2009. How many of you have ever eaten a GM food? If you live in the United States, you have. Some of the tactics that Monsanto and other large agri-business companies have used to push these foods onto an unsuspecting public are horrifying. A month ago I read the book “Seeds of  Deception” by Jeffrey Smith. In this easily readable book, Mr. Smith outlines many of the lies told to an unsuspecting public. He interviews scientists and journalists who were fired for trying to expose the problems they were finding. In the first case discussed, this was a scientist who was behind GMO food science…until he started testing it for safety.  Eyewitness report after eyewitness report demonstrates that wildlife will leave a GM crop alone while eating the non-GM crop beside it. What do the cows know that we don’t? For anyone who is remotely interested in the safety of the food we are eating, I highly recommend this book.

I originally intended for this post to be nothing more than a book review. However; on May 19, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called for an immediate moratorium on GM food stating that “GM foods pose a serious health risk”. How many of you read about this in the paper? I’m betting that none of you did. The position paper is fairly technical. If you want a good overview of the problem, why genetic modification causes problems, specific examples of studies that have shown those problems AND you want to be able to read it using common english words – try “Seeds of Deception“.
Press Release: http://www.aaemonline.org/pressrelease.html
Position Paper: http://www.aaemonline.org/gmopost.html

If you want to start avoiding GM foods now, here are some basics on how to do so.
The primary commercialized GM crops are:

  • Soy
  • Cotton
  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Hawaiian papaya
  • Some squash and zucchini

The obvious way to avoid the GM versions of these foods is to buy organic versions. Organic crops must be non-GMO.
It gets harder when you realize that almost every processed food includes some additive derived from corn. So – minimize processed foods.
For me – this also includes many of the previous soy-based frozen grill treats that I used to keep stashed in the freezer. You know – fake burgers and hot dogs and the like. There are certainly not as many choices now that I require any processed foods I buy to be 100% organic or state on the label that no GM ingredients were used.

Another thing to watch for is dairy products from cows treated with rbGH. Again, I now buy only organic dairy products (including cheese) or products that are labeled that they do not contain rbGH. Kraft has recently started labeling some of their cheeses as coming from cows not treated with rbGH which means you may not even have to go to a specialty store to buy cheese. By the way – labeling is something the big agri-business companies are against.  They do not want us to be able to choose what we eat.

Here’s a link to a shopping guide that you can use to educate yourself on where GM ingredients are likely to lurk.

Educate yourself. Educate yourself on all sides of this issue. In the 90’s, I stopped worrying. I assumed that since consumers had spoken and said they didn’t want these foods and big business had agreed to pull back for further testing that I didn’t need to stay up-to-date anymore. I was wrong. I might also be wrong to be getting so worked up about this again. I’ll admit that I am not a scientist. I do have a very curious, analytical mind though and I’ve been reading a lot about both sides of this issue.  Most corporate studies find that GM food is substantially equivalent to non-GM food and is safe for human consumption.  Most independant studies disagree.  Somebody isn’t telling the truth.  Anyone remember the tobacco companies claiming that smoking is not harmful to your health?  I see some big parallels with potentially far more serious consequences for our health, our environment, and the ultimate safety of our food supply.  I’m personally convinced that GM food has more negatives than positives and I do not want to be forced to eat it, nor do I want it grown in open fields where natural pollination can cause GM crops to cross-breed and contaminate non-GM crops.   You may not agree…but at the very least educate yourself and then stand up for the right to be able to choose what you and your families eat.NoGMO

Baked tofu and sauteed snap peas

Baked tofu and sauteed snap peas

Even though I’m a vegetarian, I haven’t done a lot of cooking with tofu. Recently, I’ve been experimenting with some baked tofu recipes and I think there’s a lot of potential for some good, easy, main dishes.  That picture almost looks too good to be baked tofu, doesn’t it?  I’m getting better at “cooking on the fly”.   I don’t know what made me think about stuffing tofu but this was my brainstorm a few nights ago. I marinated the tofu in a really good smoky tomato sauce.  Right before baking, I sauteed a tomato, sweet red pepper, and sweet onion from the farmer’s market with some basil from my garden. I then stuffed the tofu with the mixture through a slit I’d cut in the center prior to marinating. Then, I baked it for an hour.  Right before serving, I sauteed some sugar snap peas from our CSA with butter and mint.  Excellent!!

Stir-fry

Stir-fry

I used to think that stir-fries required a big trip to the grocery store and involved a huge basket of varied ingredients which wouldn’t all get used and then got lost in the back of the refrigerator.  The recipe was usually fairly complicated, too.  No longer.  One of the many lessons I’ve learned from belonging to a CSA, is that stir-fries are one of the best, quick meals possible that allows you to use whatever you have in a way that tastes good even if if you’d never think the ingredients go together, let alone in a stir fry. Tonight’s dinner was a great example. I made sure that Kyle had eaten some of it and liked it before I told him what was in it. What follows is my psuedo-recipe because I didn’t measure anything.

I started by sauteeing some fresh ginger and garlic in a sesame oil. I then added: an entire bunch of quartered japanese turnips, carrots, two sliced radishes, green onions, sugar snap peas, turnip greens, and a small  handful of lemon balm.  Then I stirred in (about a half-cup dried) the cooked rice,and threw some leftover orange-ginger marinade on top. After mixing it all together, I served it in a bowl topped with fresh basil. It was REALLY good. If I wrote this up as a formal recipe, it would be really intimidating.  I’d never make it! This is the beauty of fresh produce from a CSA box, leftovers, and stir-fries.

If you are interested, the orange-ginger marinade included the following ingredients:

1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup canola oil
4 teaspoons dark sesame oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 green onions, cut into 1-inch strips
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

The marinade was originally intended for baked tofu and the full recipe can be found at AllRecipes.com. Obviously, I didn’t use all of it because we’d had marinated tofu a few nights ago. This was left-over and I just tossed some of it into the stir-fry at the end.
http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/Orange-Ginger-Tofu-Triangles/Detail.aspx

Recently, I’ve been making my husband  salads to take to work for lunch.  He has been finding that when I make then heartier than normal by throwing on a handful of toasted nuts and some hardboiled egg (or avocado and fresh cheese)  that they keep him from getting hungry later in the day.  Today’s salad was a little more challenging because after it was made, I realized we didn’t have any salad dressing.  I’ve been making dressings from scratch off and on recently and  Better Homes and Gardens has an especially good one in the April 2009 issue:

Ingredients

  • Finely shredded peel and juice from 2 medium lemons
  • 3 gloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. dijon-style mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper.

Combine all of the ingredients except the oil and sour cream. Then whisk the oil and sour cream in until thickened.  Easy and delicious.  The zest (or finely shredded lemon peel)  gives the dressing a REALLY lemony flavor. I used a variation of this with Kyle’s salad this morning. I reduced the recipe by roughly two-thirds and instead of lemon, I used half of a valencia orange (with peel)  and about half the amount of sour cream as oil.  I think I might like the variation more than the original!  Kyle’s salad contained spinach, toasted almonds, carrots, and orange wedges so the dressing should go especially well with it.

Perhaps tomorrow, I’ll try to come up with a basil dressing for him.

A new spring season is here and I picked up our first box of produce from Five Leaves Farm on Wednesday. I’m even more excited than usual this year for two reasons. First, I have volunteered for a working share at the farm and hope that some of Ben’s green thumb will rub off on me. Second, a good friend in Greenville (and one of her good friends) have joined a CSA for the first time and we look forward to sharing recipes and good food throughout the season! This week’s box included arugula, spinach, beet greens, radishes,  green onions, sugar snap peas, and mint. The first dish of the season was an unbelievable arugula and snap pea risotto that I made up as I went along. I’ll give you the general idea here and will try to formalize the recipe for a posting later this week. (I guess that means we will have to eat it again…oh, the sacrifice!)

I used general techniques for risotto which included a simmering pot of hot vegetable broth beside the risotto pot. I first sauteed about half of a large onion in two tablespoons of butter. I then added a cup of brown rice (pre-boiled for about 8 minutes) and stirred until well-coated with the butter and shiny – probably about two minutes.  Throw in about a half cup of good white wine and stir until absorbed/evaporated. Then start adding the broth a half cup or so at a time, stirring frequently until absorbed and the risotto is the right texture. It should still have a bit of chew to it similar to good al dente pasta. This will probably take 20-30 minutes and about 3 cups of broth. I then added a grind or two of pepper and a big handful of fresh, shredded parmesan cheese along with another half tablespoon of butter. Once that was fully mixed up and melted,  I tossed in the pre-blanched snap peas and 2-3 cups of fresh arugula torn into bite-size pieces.  (It was about half of the CSA bag for those who are reading.)  Beautiful, rich flavors were the result!

Risotto can be a time-consuming, high maintenance dish. I especially enjoy making it when I have friends in the kitchen with me.  I start the stirring with a half cup of wine for the dish, a cup for me, and a cup for my friend.  The work is made lighter with an extra arm and good conversation. The result is a reasonably healthy, decadent dish that is great for sharing with friends.

Grits I finally got around to making a dish that had been simmering in my mind for awhile. Anson Mills is a local company that has been written up in many fine magazines for their products made from organic heirloom grains. Tonight for dinner, I cooked up some of their Blue grits and served them up topped with sauteed spinach and portobella mushrooms! How’s that for an easy gourmet dish! Kyle was overheard saying something like, “Those are grits??! Really? These are good! More people would like grits if they had grits like this!”  I concur!

Easy dish:

Buy some Anson Mills grits. Put 1 cup of blue grits in your slow cooker with 1 cup of veggie broth and two cups of water.  Stir quickly. Let them settle for a minute and skim off any chaff that comes to the top. Turn the cooker on high and let ’em go for about 2 hours and 10 minutes. Stir once or twice in between.

About 15 minutes before you are ready to eat, saute 2 cloves of garlic,and 2-3 sliced portobella mushroom caps in a tablespoon or two of olive oil. Sprinkle with a dash of salt and pepper. When the mushroom are ready, toss in 2-3 cups of baby spinach and toss until wilted.

Just before serving, stir about a half cup of shredded parmesan cheese into the grits along with a dash of salt and some fresh ground pepper. Dish up the grits and serve the sauteed veggies on top. Delicious!

Kyle and I went to a great dinner and presentation a few nights ago hosted by the local chapter of Slow Food USA. The owners of Five Leaves Farm (our CSA) gave a presentation on their trip to Terra Madre, a worldwide gathering of farmers and food producers dedicated to sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and high quality food. The dinner was potluck. The assignment was to bring a seasonal dish made with as many local ingredients as possible. Cool – how fun, I thought! It turned out that for someone like me, who is really only peripherally involved in trying to eat local, seasonal foods, this was a much tougher task than expected! The local market that carries lots of local produce in the summer had many products labeled “Made in USA”, but not, “Made in South Carolina”, let alone within a county or two of Richland.  I went home to re-group and take inventory. I have long beans from the CSA in the freezer. I have blueberries in the freezer that we picked this summer. I know that I can get local eggs and I know that I can get local grits. I want to make more of a main dish than a side or dessert because I don’t know how many vegetarian options will be available.  I’ve never made grits. (Obviously, I need to change that.) That leaves eggs. I decided to make deviled eggs seasoned with some of the dried red pepper from the Sweet Briar Community Garden that I was given for Christmas. Not local to South Carolina but certainly within the spirit of the task. 

Making deviled eggs is not as easy as I thought it would be, either! My eggs were too new. I couldn’t get them peeled without gouging out portions of the white.  Now what? I can’t serve eggs that look like this!  Inspiration strikes and the whites get chopped up and mixed with the deviled egg filling. I’ll call it deviled egg salad. A quick stop at the store for organic crackers and we’re off to the dinner.

The presentation was great and the variety of food was unbelievable. Five Leaves Farm had slaughtered a lamb for a lamb stew. Someone else had successfully made deviled eggs.  Another farm brought a blackberry cobbler using preserves they had made from their berries and nuts from the farm. There was an excellent red bean dish with our local grits. I would never have thought to put beans and grits together like that and can’t wait to try it! Someone had come up with potatoes from a local farm and made a big bowl of mashed potatoes. And there was so much more….. This is food! This is community! This is what we are losing…..

I am learning more and more that food is not just about food and progress is not necessarily progress.  I went to the grocery store with my 84-year old aunt recently and she was happily picking out frozen mashed potatoes, frozen macaroni and cheese, and pre-chopped fresh broccoli. Look how lucky you are that you don’t have to slave in the kitchen all day to get good food, she said. We went home and she made me some of her special mashed potatoes… microwaved with the fresh broccoli, and some pre-shredded cheese and garlic sprinkled on top. Yes – it tasted good. It was also loaded with sodium, and bad fats, and ingredients whose names are pronounceable only by scientists. I am conflicted. I suppose I am thankful that she has that choice. I suppose I am thankful that I should have that choice if I really needed it.  I am certainly thankful that for this assignment I could go one mile down the road to pick up mayonnaise and eggs and that I did not have to be completely dependent on what we had grown ourselves and put away this summer.  I am thankful that I have the time to make more things from scratch and that Ben and Kristen are willing to grow good food for me. I am thankful for these choices.  Not everyone has these choices though and if we are not careful, we may lose the ability to make these choices as well.  That is a topic for another time.

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