Sunday, December 27, 2009

Wish You Were Here!

I'm going on vacation and I'll be back next week as soon as the next CSA shipment arrives. Have a Happy New Year!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Wishing everyone a joyous, healthy, delicious, tropical Christmas!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Christmas Eve

I've been sick and busy getting ready for Christmas this week, so it hasn't been a good week for writing about local food.

When I get sick I don't like to eat or think about food, but I get really thirsty. Luckily we had a gigantic grapefruit in our CSA box last week, so I got some much needed, Vitamin C packed juice from it.

As this is cold and flu season, I feel very lucky to live in Florida, where all the citrus is in season. I can't get enough of it and it's really making me feel better. This year, for the first time that I've seen, local Cara Cara oranges are in all the stores. Cara Caras are a mutant variety of navel oranges from Venezuela and they are pink! We've already been through how much I love pink food, so I won't gush about the color too much. Cara Caras are not to be mistaken for blood oranges though. They're quite different. Blood oranges are wine colored with an almost bitter flavor, whereas Cara Caras are light pink inside like a grapefruit, with the usual orange rind outside. They taste orangey with a hint of rose petal. I love them. They make a pretty pink juice.

The other thing I like to eat when I'm sick like this is Thai coconut soup. It contains chicken, coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and hot peppers. When I eat it, my sinuses clear and I feel instantly better. Of course, it's easy to make and all the ingredients grow in our climate. However, when I'm sick the last thing I want to do is scout ingredients or cook, so I cheat and get takeout. There are also a few mixes that you can buy at the grocery store.

Once Christmas is done and I'm feeling better, I'll be back with a more extensive post on the Cara Caras.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

CSA This Week

I have been ridiculously busy this week. It's a combination of finals week at two schools, plus general holiday madness. I did want to update you on what I've been doing with my CSA delivery from last Saturday. This was a lucky week. When I opened my box I literally went "OOOHHH!" in delight. I got more of my favorite green beans, an eggplant, basil, cherry tomatoes, a cucumber, a pepper, chard and some betel leaf. Everything that I love and one weird thing. Perfect.

First I made a stir fry and included last week's bok choy and the pepper.

Yesterday I made eggplant parmesan, using the eggplant and basil and some leftover, wilted tomatoes I had from before. One eggplant made a large pan and it wasn't even a bit acidic or bitter. I did salt and rinse the slices beforehand though, so maybe that helped, or maybe these were just really good eggplants. I now have so much eggplant parm that I'm giving it away and last night, as I breaded and fried individual discs of eggplant, I realized exactly why I haven't made eggplant parm in seven years. It makes a mess in the kitchen and takes forever.

Once the eggplant was finished baking, I steamed the green beans. I find that steamed green beans are a lighter and healthier accompaniment than pasta and go well with anything tomato-y. Now I have a big container of leftovers to snack on all week when I don't have time to cook.

I love to eat steamed green beans cold. When I was little, I had a friend whose mom made them for us as a snack with curry dip and my friend and I would just eat bunches and bunches of cold green beans because we loved the dip so much. I still make the dip as an adult and plan to make some for myself tonight. It's very simple and you really don't need to measure. Just mix plain, greek yogurt with curry powder to taste, a little grated ginger, a squirt of honey or agave, a little zing of lemon juice and if you want it spicy, you can add some hot sauce. It would also be good with minced garlic, a little sesame oil or even some chutney stirred in. Then just dip cold, steamed green beans (or any veggie you like) in it 'til your heart's content.

This evening, I think I'll sautee my chard in my simple, go-to greens recipe (olive oil, salt, garlic and red peppers). I could eat chard endlessly. I guarantee you, I will eat the entire bunch alone in one sitting. I may make some brown rice to go with it. After last night's breaded, fried extravaganza, I think I need to detox.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Salad

I'm glad that lettuce grows well down here otherwise I'd probably move. Last weekend I got two heads of romaine in my CSA box and I was overjoyed. They really made up for the whole dandelion green mess. I know I'm boring. We've established that already, but romaine lettuce is good and you just can't argue with that. As soon as I got the lettuce home, I cleaned it well (produce from the farm is way dirtier than the grocery store, factory kind) and then rolled it up in a bag. Now, the CSA newsletter said not to do this, but I am rebellious and did it anyway. I find that because my schedule is so hectic, that I will actually eat and use my produce if I take the time to clean it, cut it all up and store it nicely. If I don't do this, I will often let it go bad and then feel like a horrible, wasteful person and the guilt will almost kill me. The newsletter said that veggies don't keep as well if you wash and cut them in advance and that you should only wash and cut them right when you're going to use them. I haven't had any issues and having the already ready lettuce in a bag in my fridge made my week a whole lot easier. In fact, it pretty much made my week because this was a pretty crappy week for me.

The high point of my week was "The Salad." All week I've been enjoying the salad and today I finally remembered to take a picture of it. My sister and I invented this salad last summer and it's addictive. We just call it "The Salad" and I could pretty much eat it every day. The recipe is flexible. Modify as you please. You just use lettuce, feta cheese, roasted peppers, some kind of nut, dried fruit, tomato, avocado if you have some, any leftover meat (optional obviously), cucumber, beans if you've got some, hearts of palm if you have those, fresh herbs if you have some lying around, salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil with a splash of vinegar. It's so easy and you can get pretty much all of the ingredients locally, even the feta. I cheat with the nuts. I've been using walnuts. I haven't had a lot of luck finding locally grown nuts around here, but I'm researching. Back when we went to Possum Trot, we learned that macadamias love it here, but the squirrels steal them all. Anyway,as I said, the recipe is extremely flexible. Add in something else, leave a few things out, whatever. It's going to be good. How can it be bad? I had to leave the avocado out. In the background of the picture you can see my scaly looking Monroe avocado. It isn't ripe yet. It still needs a couple days. Today I used my last leaves of romaine, so I hope this Saturday there's more.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Speaking of Bitter and Horrible

This week in our CSA box we received a bunch of red stemmed dandelion greens. I've never had such a thing, although as a child I frequently added dandelions picked in the yard to my mud soups. I found they imparted a lovely yellow hue. Those dandelions aren't the same though. This kind of dandelion green is very popular in Italy so I went to my Italian friend for help. We chopped them up, blanched them and cooked them in sauteed onions and garlic with lots of olive oil, salt and crushed red pepper. I find this a winning combo with most veggies (I usually leave out the onion part though). You can pretty much make any green vegetable taste really good by sauteeing it in olive oil, crushed red pepper, salt and garlic. I'm sad to report that the dandelion greens were one of the most horrible things that I have ever eaten in my entire life. Admittedly, sometimes I have the palate of a toddler and would rather eat macaroni and cheese over pretty much anything else, but still. I eat arugula. I eat collards and callaloo without incident. I've been known to take a nibble of broccoli rabe here and there, but this was out of the question. Dandelion greens are really bitter. In a very bad way.

I decided to pawn them off on my dad. He loves bitter food. I asked him how he liked them.

"Umm. They are on the strong side," he replied.

So there. If my dad thought it was strong, it was strong.

Bleck. At least I can say I tried them. Alas, I took no pictures, but cooked down, greens aren't so pretty.

Next time, the dandelion greens are going in the extras box.

If you like dandelion greens, here are some creative and varied recipes for them.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More Precious Than Rubies

This morning I had the most exquisite breakfast - my first ruby red grapefruit of the season. Maybe it's because I haven't had grapefruit in ages or maybe it's because I was really hungry, but this grapefruit was the best I have ever eaten. Purchased at Whole Foods and certified both local and organically grown, this grapefruit was ugly on the outside. It was mottled with black freckles; a bit shriveled. I didn't expect a tremendous amount from it, but my, was I fooled. I didn't even know I liked grapefruit this much. Now I can't wait to get my hands on several more.

Its brazen redness shocked me. This was a very, deep red grapefruit, maybe only a blush or two away from a blood orange, and it was fragrant. Slicing through the zest released a fiesta of perfumed oils and I just love the smell of citrus. It's so bright and uplifting. So is the flavor.

Each time I take my first taste of a grapefruit I cringe a little inside, in anticipation of some imagined, awful bitterness I think it might possess. This is a leftover reflex from my childhood. I remember my grandfather, lover of all bitter, horrible foods from black licorice to mince pie, being a huge fan of white grapefruits. He always tried to get me to eat them and my mouth automatically puckers and stings thinking about how they tasted - hard, sour and bitter as cough medicine. I couldn't stand them even with a snowdrift of white sugar on top. As I grew up I came to like (with a lingering apprehension) the occasional pink grapefruit. The pink varieties are sweeter and honestly, I just like things that are pink. How can you not like pink food? Pink is pretty.

Today's grapefruit was not so much pink as ruby. It was sweet and rich, perfumed and with a hint of bitterness at the end which was pleasant instead of medicinal. Think arugula. Bitter for amateurs. Enough to add balance and depth but not enough to overpower the other flavors.

I loved this grapefruit. It was so perfect, so seasonal, so right here and now. While I ate it, I was glad to be right where I am, here in Florida at the beginning of December, the start of citrus season. I loved its simplicity. Who needs a $45.00 brunch with Belgian waffles and omelet stations when you can have a fruit, pulled off a tree and sliced in half?

Run to the store and take advantage of our beautiful Florida citrus. Be careful if you're on medication though. There are several medications that specify that you must not eat grapefruit while on them. Grapefruit has something mysterious in it that interacts dangerously with some medicines.

Here is a list of some lovely, sophisticated recipes using grapefruit. I notice that many of them pair grapefruit and avocado and I find this intriguing. I can see how they would go perfectly together. How do you like to eat grapefruit?