Tuesday, July 20, 2010

When in Doubt, Alliterate

When I first started cooking I used to drive my mother crazy with my quirky experiments in flavor combinations.  I would try to see how many spices I could use, how much sweet could go with that bitter, or what crazy way I could twist a traditional dish.  It came partly from the trend that was happening, and still is, where "fusion" and experimentation are more hip and important than where the food actually comes from or preserving it's true taste.   But it also came from the simple fact that I was learning.  I had to experiment and really get to know what goes with what and why and how before I could actually make it work.  You just can't believe what other people say or write when you are fifteen years old; you have to do it your darn self.  You have to find the delicate edge between too much salt and not enough with your own tongue, not trust a recipe.   And if you get the wild idea that blueberries might be good with beets, the only way to find out is to try it.   I have come to respect the art of cooking simply and try with every meal to achieve a perfect fresh balance.  It's really, really hard to make each ingredients shine as bright as they should without muddying them up with spices or tricky sauces.  There is a very fine line between bland and fantastic and it is an art to draw out the personality of every vegetable, hunk of meat, and piece of fruit so that they not only stand alone but also mingle harmoniously with their bowl-mates, whoever that may be.   Only sometimes do I feel like I have achieved this and it is a wonderful feeling to do justice to the hard work the plants, animals and farmers put into each ingredient.  I won't pretend that I can do that well yet, I still stumble all over the place and over-flavor all the time.  Of course, it is impossible to cook well and simply without good food, and good food gives you such an advantage.   And every now and then I revert completely back to my wild and crazy days of basing meals on the first letter of the ingredient, or the color of the food (I made an all black meal once that really wasn't half bad....)  I believe that it is impossible to be a bad cook, you just have to lose all fear and listen to the food.   (and shop from your local farmers because they do the hardest part- growing stuff that tastes amazing all by itself)

Baked Beets with Blue Cheese, Blackberries and Blueberries

I've often made roasted beet and raspberry salad with feta or blue cheese.  There really isn't any difference here except that all ingredients start with "b".  

For four people:
  • 6-9 medium sized beets, sliced into wedges (skin on)
  • 1 cup blue cheese of your choice (mine was from undisclosed sources and very good, but Greenlife has a nice selection),  crumbled or diced
  • 3/4 cup blueberries
  • 3/4 cup blackberries
  • salt to taste
  • oil
Toss the beets in oil to coat and bake in a 350 degree oven til slightly withered and nice and soft (about 35 minutes).  Let cool slightly and toss with berries and cheese.  Taste for salt and toss with more oil, if desired.  Serve warmish.

Bratwurst and Brown Rice

  • 1 cup short or sweet (or combo) brown rice 
  •  2 cups water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 Link 41 brats, sliced
Cover rice with water and salt and bring to a boil.  Turn to a simmer and cook til done, about 45 minutes.  When water has been completely absorbed and rice is tender, turn off heat and let sit.  Fry sliced brats in cast iron skillet til browned and firm.  Toss with warm rice and taste for salt.  Serve warm, room temp, or even cold the next day.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sungolds, Sweat, and Pink-Eyed Peas

O I've been here.  I've been sushi rolling, cheese making, cheese sellin, chicken tending, weed pulling, bean pickin, blueberry eating, river swimming here.  I've also been cooking as well, I just haven't found the time to sit down and tell anyone about it.....

I would have said, back in my younger more naive days, that summer was my favorite season for food, if not just because of tomatoes.   Now that I am more mature I can tell you that although beets are wonderful, cabbage is delicious, and butternut squash is what angels must dine on, summertime food is the BEST.  I do love all the other seasons, nothing says late spring like the cool sweet crunch of a sugar snap pea or autumn like butternut tortellini.  But eggplant, tomatoes, basil, cucumbers, and pink eyed peas?   The Main Street Farmer's Market is dazzlingly dizzyingly full of these wonders.  It is begging me to get my glass jars down from the cabinets and get to "putting stuff away".  But right now I'm just eating it.   This is the easiest and most fun time of year to eat entirely seasonally and locally.  If I didn't work in a grocery store I wouldn't even remember what the inside of one looks like!

Sungolds and Pink-Eyed Peas
  for four people
  • 3 cups shelled fresh pink-eyed peas (buy as many as you can and freeze them, seriously)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, rough chopped
  • 2 cups Sungold cherry tomatoes, half of them halved and the other half left whole (how's that for a tongue twister?)
  • 1 bunch basil, chopped 
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, or less
  • Salt to taste
Cover the peas, onion, and garlic in water and bring to a boil.  Turn down to a simmer and let cook til done, about 15-20 minutes.  Salt to taste and let cool.  Remove peas, onions and garlic from liquid and toss with Sungolds, basil, and olive oil.  Serve chilled or at room temp.

Cumberland Cheese Grits
  •  1 cup Riverview Farms grits
  • 4 cups water (or 2 c water and 2 c beer)
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2-3/4 cup shredded  Sequatchie Cove Creamery's Cumberland cheese 
Bring water to a boil and then whisk in the grits and garlic.  Add a pinch of salt (the cheese will add salt flavor, so you can add more after you taste it with the cheese) and turn down to a simmer, stirring often.  Cook til thick and bubbly, about 20 minutes, and add the cheese.  Stir til melted and serve warm.

Chard and Beet Slaw

Normally I slice all the veggies by hand because I think it looks nicer.  Grating works just as well though, and it's a lot quicker. 
  •  1 bunch chard, or any other green thing you can find (what did I tell you about those greens?), thinly sliced
  • 1 large, or 2 small beets, grated
  • 1 small summer squash, grated
  • 2 small carrots, grated
  • Large drizzle of honey
  • Large pinch of salt (you want it to get everything good and soft)
  • Splash of vinegar
If you serve with the grits and peas, start this first.  Toss everything together and let sit while you finish everything else, at least 20 minutes.  I always like to add a little raw garlic to slaws, but that is up to you.