Sunday, May 5, 2013
Light floods into morning windows earlier and stronger creating spaciously longer days turning into brilliant evenings of crickets and outdoor possibilities. It seems like May came around awfully quick this year probably due to a mild winter but definitely not having anything to do with my mind being a year older. A month perched on the edge of renewal and mischievousness, May heralds temperatures unarguably the best of the year hovering around 75 to 80 giving us plenty of time to get acclimated for the impending summer spike in mercury. Winter restlessness is cured by puritanical longings to get stuff growing. Some could say motive is food, fresh and home grown, produced with our own hands and backs, tenderly harvested daily and sensuously enjoyed in our amazing climate. Others may cite action itself; exercise meshed with accomplishment is motivation enough to get that garden going. Regardless of philosophy, satisfaction ensues on a daily basis, “gardens, the gifts that keep on giving”. Tomato plants, tendrils reaching longingly toward impending summer sun, eagerly await May evenings to set luscious fruits. Squash seeds poke green life through rich soil heralding the beginning of a never ending crop swap to last through the summer. Cucumbers crawl stealthily, developing little yellow flowers seemingly overnight promising that burp less experience in your salad. Time is perfect for getting all those little seedlings as well as seeds into the earth for a continuing year round garden. Enrich soils with organic compost, manures, worm casings, whatever your choice, lots is much superior to nothing in crop production. They say most summer vegetables want warmth in overnight soil temperature of minimum 53 to 55 degrees. We may be pushing that but most of us are planting pretty stabilized plants and not tiny seedlings so you need to play that one by ear. Best rule is amend, amend, amend that soil! Growing can be orderly furrows lovingly dug in the back of the yard, planted with seeds spaced an inch apart and deep or as contemporary as gigantic clay pots arranged decorously, on a nice west facing deck sporting tomato plants climbing up a trellis. Marriage between abstract splotches of color and orderly patches create a conceptual whole of the urban garden at its best in the cities and suburbs acknowledging inspired food production without a traditional farm. Local cherries are coming into the farmers markets at full speed. Early varieties are sweet and juicy this year and the crop is expected to be plentiful with a long, purposeful season. Hot house tomatoes, grown in local greenhouses, are bending market tables, brilliant in color and not too bad on the palate either. Strawberries are back, released from winter hoop growing, tasting sweetly mysterious, purposely provoking salivary glands to rule the wallet as you saunter by their table. Winter greens are still at their peak literally throwing off nutrition as you touch not to mention the effect on bodies once ingested. Fava beans are at their peak with a pretty short season not to be missed if possible. Don’t be thwarted by imaginary hardships of preparation of these sexy spring stunners. Take the whole beans, toss them in olive oil and cracked sea salt and lay on a really hot grill. The edible chartreuse gems inside the pod will steam right out as the outside, thick shells grill and turn into this amazingly tender, completely edible treat. Eat the whole thing. Purists will still want to go through the three step process of shelling, blanching and shelling to get to that tasty nugget to sauté or add to pasta, risotto, scrambled eggs, and sautéed vegetables or just to sprinkle with salt and eat as is. Spring peas perch prettily in little bags, all shucked and ready to be sautéed with a little olive oil, green garlic and mint searing spring into the mind blowing seasonality data of the mouth, ramping up taste anticipation for crops to follow. Excitement starts to get as steamy and the air outside as creative visualizations and ramped up preparations for late spring and summer grilling of asparagus and local wild salmon fight for space with rosemary and lemon stuffed whole chickens roasting on the grill alongside ruby red new onions and potatoes. It is now more important than ever to be sure to buy produce certified organic, especially strawberries and root vegetables as they retain the most chemicals as they are applied to the plants and earth being low to or under soil. With the passage of the Monsanto Protection Act, (boo!!) you can be assured that whatever you buy that is not certified organic is grown with and contains in their DNA massive amounts of pesticides and herbicides. I prefer to not eat raid and round up so if you feel the same, stick to organic as at this point they still are not allowed, by law to be genetically modified for pest and weed resistance. You will not be able to read on a label if it is GMO or not any time soon. When in doubt about what you are feeding yourself or your family best rule of thumb is go organic. Almost stepped on a rattlesnake today on the Lafayette Ridge Trail in Briones! So exciting and pretty early to boot but we are ever grateful to share the trail with the local animals, flora and fauna. Hiking and wildflowers are at a season peak, best time and temperatures of the season to walk mode so get out there and experience our hills to their fullest and you, your butt and your waistline will not regret it. Sautéed Fava Beans 2 cups cleaned fava beans, released from both shells 2 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic or green garlic 1 teaspoon good extra virgin olive oil 1 lemon, zested Salt and pepper to taste Heat olive oil on a sauté pan and add the garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and add fava’s and lemon peel. Season w/ salt and pepper. Serves 4. Spring Greens w/ Strawberries, Almonds and Basil 1 pound assorted spring greens 6 leaves of basil, chopped one half cup of chopped, raw almonds one cup sliced fresh strawberries zest from 1 lemon juice of 1 lemon one quarter of a cup of balsamic vinegar one quarter of a cup of extra virgin olive oil 3 T grated dry jack cheese kosher salt to taste Toss lettuces, basil, almonds and strawberries in a large salad bowl. Add zest and juice of lemon and sprinkle the oil and vinegar on and toss well. Season with salt and garnish with cheese. Serves 4.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
Lengthening daylight paired with rising mercury conjures virtuously exciting images of eye popping flowers along with visions of consuming warmer weather local produce, along with some not so virtuous images as the sharper colors and scintillating scents of spring converge around us. Farmers markets are flush with seasonal fare spilling off tables beckoning salaciously to shoppers. Spring time officially arrived last month ensuring us that along with the promise of anticipated late spring fruits our beloved asparagus is here for a nice long visit to the Bay Area. Long, smooth, thin or fat, stalks in differing shades of green with tight purplish tips, asparagus will not disappoint those eagerly awaiting the seasonal debut. As we see more and more friends and neighbors yards coming alive with chickens it reminds me of my favorite way to welcome asparagus to my palate at firs showing. Sauté small slices of asparagus in olive oil and green garlic to just opaque. Beg, borrow, steal or purchase some of those amazingly rich local eggs with the obscenely perky yolks and softly scramble into sautéed asparagus with a nice grate of Manchego and a few slices of snipped baby chives to start a perfect spring morning and send anyone smiling out the door. Simply steaming in chicken stock, draining and slathering in butter can be nirvana. Alternately getting fancy with heavenly indulgent hollandaise sauce is always viscerally memorable. Asparagus lends itself well to the grill by just lubing up with a bit of olive oil and a few cracks of salt lovingly placed onto sizzling hot grills to caramelize green sugars happily transforming an entire day. Drizzle grilled asparagus with balsamic glaze and eat with your fingers. Wrap fat stalks with good prosciutto, roasting until the prosciutto gets soft and supple, ready to begin the awe inspiring release of characteristically rich, salty juices mingled into softening asparagus spears. Serve drizzled with lemon oil and shaved spring pecorino and hold on to the table as you veer close to an intensely sensual swoon. Roast succulent pieces of asparagus until just soft and serve in a spring greens salad with sliced oranges and toasted local almonds, dressing with good olive oil and rice vinegar. Sauté copious amounts of sliced asparagus, green garlic and fresh shitake in olive oil, stir into creamy risotto, garnishing with reggiano and spring herbs. Roast asparagus in a hot oven tossing with lemon oil, salt and pepper. Shave feathery puffs of dry aged Gouda on top sprinkling with chopped fresh oregano and a squeeze of lemon juice. Slice into small pieces sautéing with green garlic, white wine and parsley. Toss into hot pasta creaming the dish with thrilling dollops of chevre folded in. Asparagus soup is as easy as sautéing baby onions and a few pieces of sliced up green garlic in olive oil and adding cut up asparagus. Sauté for a few minutes and add some white wine and chicken stock. Simmer a little bit and embellish with a few drops of half and half. Puree and garnish with several small spring peas sautéed with finely chopped mint creating astounding shades of greens found nowhere on a color wheel for a pivotal food moment. Eaten steamed out of the pot, with a crack of sea salt, a luscious squeeze of Meyer lemon and a glass of local sparkling wine is the epitome of early spring. We are indeed fortunate to reap the bounty of local Brentwood and Stockton asparagus. Mangia! This recipe is a favorite among the students when we cook on the quad!! Asparagus Quinoa w/ Green Garlic and Cremini Mushrooms 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 pound cooked quinoa 1 cup vegetable or chicken stock, heated 1 pound asparagus, sliced in ½ inch pieces 4 stalks of green garlic, cleaned and sliced 1 cups sliced cremini mushrooms 6 ounces of Reggiano parmesan cheese 3 tablespoons chopped parsley Kosher salt and freshly grated pepper Heat olive oil in a deep sauté pan. Add green garlic and sauté for about 3 minutes until it begins to caramelize. Add the mushrooms and asparagus and sauté for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add a cup of stock and let it come to a boil. Simmer for a few minutes until asparagus turns bright green. Add quinoa and heat through. Season w/ salt and pepper and toss in parsley. Garnish w/ shaved parmesan. Serves 4.
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
After the dry spell called February, it looks like oodles of baby buds have formed on local spring and summer fruit trees. Hopefully all will be well with gentle spring rains and we will reap amazing fruits down the road a bit. As we participate in the fine but diminishing art of taste anticipation regarding upcoming cherries and apricots our late winter slash early spring gardens abound in glorious shoots of velvety sweet green love more commonly referred to as spring onion and garlic to be enjoyed presently. Slender lush hued stalks taper down to white bulbs with as yet pretty unformed baby bumps of onions and garlic. In their sublime immaturity these cousins have yet to develop much heat and are so sweet and nutty they can be easily eaten raw in salad as well as sliced thinly and caramelized in sweet butter to lavish on just about anything you can imagine consuming. Subtle differences divide the chicks from the hens in the alliums’ world. Green onions, available year round are not to be confused with Spring onions available only in spring. Nature’s sweet previews of summer bounty are simply immature onions. Farmers specifically plant fields of onions for pulling young alongside fields of old timers destined for golden drying rays of summer sun. Along with bad behavior, immaturity also brings eggshell white bulbs, shaded with purple striping reaching for elongated sweet shafts of tender green tops of which it is mandated you use in their entirety. Marinate perfect cremini mushrooms in pureed spring onion sloshed with fresh lemon juice, awesome olive oil and chopped oregano. Spring onions create amazing music tossed in olive oil and sea salt, grilled whole alongside an organic rosemary scented chicken blistering on a hot wood fire. Dice fine to mix with local white wine vinegar and coarse ground black pepper for mignonette to pack up with special bubbly for tripping up the coast in pursuit of briny local oysters. Spring garlic, aka green garlic is just as wonderful as the spring onion and can be easily interchangeable in any recipe. I have a great friend, Kristie Knoll who along with her husband Rick, grow acres of green garlic in Brentwood to sell at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market as well as to lots of local restaurants. Her preferred method of using the green garlic is to chop it very fine, green and whites alike, and toss copious handfuls of the jewels into Cow Girl Creamery Fromage Blanc, mixing it in well. We sample this daring yet simple concoction on slices of Acme bread to the masses and no one has ever guessed that it is simply a boatload of fresh chopped garlic and cheese. Breathtaking. Both are extremely easy to grow and if not already there, should become a staple of your next winter garde. Also on the late winter slash early spring garden slate are Snow Peas and spring peas. Winter crops that twine their vines among summer vegetable trellis’ all winter, peas are a true garden wonder. Sweeter than imaginable, most peas never make it into the house after being picked. We grow tons of these at the College Park garden and pick them for the cafeteria for the kids to eat in French fry boats minus the fried potato product. I honestly must admit that our peas at CP are slow this year but they are coming along nicely and we should start the supply chain from farm to table sooner than later. We have been enjoying lots of fresh cauliflower and broccoli and our next big project will be coleslaw with our lovely heads of cabbage, fresh dug carrots, chopped garlic and chopped onions all from the CP garden. If you are not growing your own luscious winter vegetables do not despair! Just get down to a local farmers market or to Pleasant Hill Produce Market and ask Nate or Matt to steer you to the local winter stuff. Spoiler Alert!! Wild flowers have been spotted by yours truly popping up all over the high, open ridges of our own Briones and they are AMAZING!! Get up there and see for yourself while enjoying amazing views from the peaks. Side Effects: Strong, healthy quadriceps, lungs and hearts, looser jeans and a healthier sex life!! Sautéed Sugar Snap Peas w/ Green Garlic and Mint 1 pound of sugar snap peas, destringed 2 bulbs of green garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons of olive oil 2 tablespoons of chicken or vegetable stock 2 tablespoons chopped mint, Kosher salt Heat oil in a large sauté pan on medium heat and add garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes. Add the peas and sauté for 2 minutes until they start to green up. Add the stock and cover for 2 minutes. Season with kosher salt and add the chopped mint. Serves 4. Peas and Pea Shoot Pesto Crostini w/ Citrus and Chevre 1 pound fresh English peas, shelled ½ bunch pea shoots or tops, chopped ½ bunch chopped fresh Italian parsley 2 cloves fresh chopped garlic Juice and peel from 1 lemon, Peel from 1 orange ¼ to a ½ cup good fruity olive oil ¼ cup chevre, Croutons Salt and pepper Place peas, pea tops, parsley, garlic and citrus juice and peel in bowl of food processor or blender. Pulse to chop fine. Add oil in a steady stream to desired consistency and season with salt and pepper. Place a small amount on a crouton w/ a dollop of chevre. Makes 2 cups.
Wednesday, November 28, 2012
Well it is another year and another Farmers Market Lovers Calendar is on the scene. This year’s calendar contains even more amazing watercolors from Dave and colorful prose from me for an exciting new season of local eating and recipes. Once again available starting around November 16 at www.lesleystilesfoods.com, Pleasant Hill Produce Market, Step It Up Studios, Mrs. Dalloway’s in Berkeley, Orinda Books, Orchard Nursery, Ace in Moraga and at a few farmers markets. Always easy to be had with an e-mail to me firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll meet you almost anywhere to get you one and avoid all the postage and handling nonsense on the website! I have not been able to technically get a preview onto my blog yet but it is all over my website for a peek. Great gift idea for chefs, gardeners and lovers of art in your realm. As the mercury starts to dip my mind goes to bubbling, hot vats of creamy stuff. Polenta in the morning with neat melting squares of organic butter and maple syrup can change your life for the better of all humans coming into your sphere of influence. Evening time regrouping at a family table cantered around a baked crock of polenta with roasted vegetables, tomato sauce and melted aged Gouda can stop arguments and bring peace on earth. Butternut squash soup sipped piping hot with dollops of breathtaking crème fraiche floating topside or mashed cauliflowers with lemon oil add their swag jumping on the bandwagon to join all manner of warm, delicious offerings to feed body and soul. Winter gardens, precious even in decay, are slowing down with the short days but cruciferous veggies as well as lettuce, arugula, carrots, radish, beets, greens of all kinds and more are on their way to being picked soon. Peas grow well in cold weather too given a reason to climb, they will. Most winter crops will experience a drag as our climate cohabitates with frost but don’t give up hope for any of them. Love and care, mulch and compost and keeping moist during freezing nocturnes will keep your ground producing. There are a few farmers markets open year round to assist with you cooking groove. Todos Santos Park Tuesdays from 10 to 2, Pleasant Hill BART Wednesdays from 11 to 6, Diablo Valley at Kaiser Shadelands Saturday from 9 to 1, Martinez Sunday Downtown from 10 to 2 to name a few. There is no shortage of sumptuous offerings adorning heavy tables waiting to be tenderly concocted into heart fluttering and body warming delights. Nothing like a good vegetable soup as temperatures plummets to keep energy and imagination flowing enough to motive after early dark like a fast moving storm. As Holiday hustle exerts it’s anxious pull of soul crunching ambition to have the best party of the season, be the skinniest, get the most creative and unusual gifts, keep exercising, entertain in laws and out laws, walk the dog, feed the fish, work at school and job, force the amaryllis, decorate the house, find the perfect flipping tree…it can feel like a spiral of quinoa pulling you down but alas…there is hope and strategy to cope with it all. Number one is to re-evaluate the whole shebang. Do less. What can be adapted to create an easier schedule? Personally I tend to step back a foot or two from any kind of senseless consuming and make a whole bunch of something to give everyone including family, friends, teachers etc. I will do a jam day or spice mixture or bath salts, anything to keep me from spending everything I earned all year and having to get involved with a bunch of low blood sugar rampaging shoppers hell bent on the best deal of some imported nonsense. People like it when you make them something. It gives value to yourself as well as your recipient. Always take a walk and remember to eat breakfast and lunch with lots of fruits and vegetables exercising your jaw in a positive manner. Dinner can be a simpler affair but the first two shape your life and moods as well as the best pumpkin latte. Bring something healthy that you can eat to every party you attend and watch the alcohol levels coursing through stressed bloodstreams. Most of all breath and do it deeply a lot throughout the month. It will all be over sooner than later and it is a very magical time of year. Happy Holidays! This is a kitchen sink kind of stew. There are no rules. Use whatever you find at the market and have on hand. If you are feeling frisky add some crumbled feta on the top If kinky is more apt a mood top it all off w/ chopped Greek olives and drizzled lemon oil. Guaranteed to cure what ails you and even what don’t. Winter Vegetable Stew w/ Cous Cous or Quinoa 1 red onion, chopped or ½ bunch baby onions, sliced up the greens 4 cloves garlic, chopped 2 carrots, split and chopped 1 turnip, cubed 2 large Yukon gold potato, cubed ½ butternut squash, cubed 1 large parsnip, sliced 1/2 head of Gai lan, sliced (Chinese broccoli) ½ bunch rainbow Swiss chard, sliced 1 ½ cups cooked garbanzo beans 1 cup tomato sauce 1 cup vegetable stock 2 tablespoons olive oil ½ cup chopped fresh mixed herbs such as parsley, oregano, thyme, mint Salt and pepper 4 cups cooked cous cous or Quinoa In a large, heavy bottomed pot heat olive oil and sauté onions and garlic until slightly browned. Add the potato, butternut squash, parsnips, turnip and carrots. Sauté for 10 minutes until caramelized. Add garbo’s, tomato sauce and stock. Let simmer 20 more minutes and add gai lan and chard. Let simmer for 5 minutes until greens are bright colored. Add herbs and season w/ salt and pepper. Serve over cous cous or quinoa. Serves 8.
Friday, November 9, 2012
Election Day holds hope in minds of voters registered or not, conscious or not. Renewal, good or bad is always exciting. At our college park organic garden this week, on Election Day, while digging deep holes, pulling weeds and raking soil in preparations of planting spring blooming flowers with our special day students, I brought up the election. Apparently they had been sort of warned about talking politics but I stepped right into it and totally encouraged a conversation. It seems the older one gets the more significance Election Day holds along with more longing to share with younger generations the urgency to strongly encourage them to take control of their futures and changing times, one way done well with a good vote. Complete and total repeat and mimic of remarks and rhetoric that they have heard in their respective homes begins tumbling seamlessly from innocent mouths. "Someone really stupid did not do what they were supposed to do and now they are going to really mess everything up!" falls out of a sweet young man’s mouth. "Yeah but what about the right to have an abortion and women's rights and Social Security" remarks a beautiful young woman? “This is fantastic”, I say, conversation with respect to each other’s opinions is totally moving in directions to negotiate compromise”. “We are all entitled to our views and we can share them with each other on this great day of privilege”, I tell them. Blank stares from teenagers. Arguments start to set in and I think that maybe I may have screwed up but just as quickly as tempers flared that fizzle and these two particular opposing students, who are very much alike and have true respect and affection for each other start to compromise before our eyes. As the teacher that told them not to discuss it in the first place was getting ready to brain me realizes what is happening she joins in and makes a few amazing points of her own. Discourse is good no matter the age. This must be what the mediators of political debates that go well must feel like. I felt great. I felt hopeful for our future on that Election Day. I wonder if they realize that we live in a country where we get to actually voice our opinions out loud without hanging or decapitations. Our job is to make sure they know, but more importantly that they understand and comprehend this incredible and not always universal deed we are allowed to perform every once in awhile to keep things somewhat on track in our social and economic lives. What if we had enough money in the schools at middle and high level to really teach all students the importance of this knowledge and deed. In theory this is already in place in Gov, History and Econ classes but with the overcrowding and over worked teachers I opine that this just aint happening and when you factor in the brain of most teens and where their thoughts are most of the time I truly believe it an unfortunate truth that all this hard taught knowledge and efforts on the parts of parents and teachers just aint gonna play out until the twenties hit. Hopefully that coincides with a 4 year cycle.
Thursday, September 13, 2012
Every year for four years, Cindy Gershen’s Walnut Creek Wellness Challenge has held the Healthy Mayors cook off at a farmers market somewhere in Contra Costa County. All the County Mayors are invited to get their favorite chef and compete for a really big, heavy cup and the title as winner of the cook off. Cindy always strives for a very healthy bent to the cook off adhering to her organizations’ philosophy of eating better and exercising more. This year’s theme was all about following the USDA healthy school lunch guidelines for kid’s lunches. When the Mayor of Pleasant Hill asked me to represent the City as the chef to compete in the Mayors Healthy cook off with him a couple days before the event, I thought, sure why not, sounds like fun. When I got to Todos Santos Park where the event was held during the Thursday evening farmers market it was packed. Aside from the market and the cook off, the band was the Journey tribute band, Evolution, and there were a lot of fans there to see them. I thought I was arriving a little early but I was wrong. Armed with my little butane burner and some pots and pans I gazed around at the chefs and restaurants represented in the cook off with their battery of 8 burner, propane fueled Wolf ranges and gas powered grills and had a fleeting thought that I may possibly be out of my comfort zone. Chocolate quickly came to mind but that thought was quelled by the nausea arising through my core as a tiny flicker of fear flame set in. I pasted a huge smile on my face as I unloaded my van and found our station. John Hanecak, the Mayor of Pleasant Hill, was ready to rock and roll as soon as I told him what to do. We also had our secret weapon, a student from the Serendipity Hospitality and Restaurant Program at Mt. Diablo High School by the name of Nancy. We quickly moved toward the table with our little “chopped” box full of our ingredients that we were able to use in the competition and my brain went into prep mode. We had ground turkey, quinoa, a lot of veggies including Dino kale and okra, and a lot of fruits. I blindly grabbed any of the “pantry extras” that were offered, vinegar, a lemon, whatever I could get my hands on. Our goal was to fix a nice, tasty lunch for students fitting into the guidelines set forth by our all knowing government. We had an hour and a half to do it. We had okra and kale for the kids. We needed to have a presentation on a little form fitted lunch tray, a nice platter presentation of our dishes and ten plates for the judges to taste and judge us by. We also had to have a good story about our town and what we were doing to enhance the health of the townsfolk in P. Hill. Quickly I set John and Nancy to chopping staples, peppers, onions..Nancy made a delightful salsa and John was a great chopper. I figured we could sauté the cooked quinoa with okra and garlic and add seasonings. You were allowed to bring your own and I did. One of my secret weapons is Bragg’s amino acids and I doused the quinoa in that. Growing up we always had rice and my Dad was a freak for soy sauce on his rice so it only stands to reason that we all were. Quinoa and Braggs is my new, improved healthy version of that combo. I sautéed the turkey with onions and garlic and a lot of summer squash until it was browned and caramelly luscious and added some to the quinoa and decided at that moment that we were having stuffed peppers. We cut red bells in half and scooped out the seeds and pith and mounded in the turkey mixture and steamed them in a pot on top of our sweet little burner in an ala minute broth of water and herbs and of course, Braggs. As we were madly chopping and dicing the judges were roaming around. Five were school aged kids and five were food professionals from our communities. I asked the kids if they like kale and got no response. What about raw kale I asked. Again dead stares….mmmm “You all just come back in a few and we will have you not only eating it but loving it” I boldly exclaimed. We chopped the raw kale and tossed it with halved cherries, diced white nectarines and halved cherry tomatoes and tossed it in balsamic vinaigrette. Meanwhile we had our cooked peppers and we topped them with Nancy’s salsa and a quick little drizzle of chimi churri sauce made my way out of parsley, basil and tarragon mixed with a lot of lemon and olive oil and of course, drum roll… Braggs. We were actually done a bit ahead and we scooped melon balls out of an incredibly sweet orange fleshed melon and tossed them with plums and strawberries for a very simple fruit salad. Kids love melon balls but if you have the same melon just sliced, they may not be so inclined. Just saying. I own one, a kid that is and have the insider scoop on that kind of info. As the judges inched their way down the tables toward ours, tasting and talking while scratching notes as to how well the contestants stuck to the guidelines, our crew, the three of us, were madly plating up their sample plates and basically hoping for the best. I did feel a bit of a responsibility and hoped that we would come out ok. After making their way through each City’s offerings the judges sat in a circle and spoke amongst themselves. Meanwhile the band is screaming about lights going out in the city and the crowd is singing along at full volume. Farmers are trading cash for their goods and energy is sizzling along with the temperatures while we wait for results. My mom and dad were about to leave, enough Journey already, as my sister told them that the announcements were being made about who won. We all got herded up onto the big stage and John and I never expected to place at all so we are working the crowd on the stage setting up meetings and talking shop. All of the sudden the announcer is down to first place and Anna Fisher is telling me that I really need to listen to this, I mean really listen to this. At first I felt admonished for whispering but then a little chill went up my spine at about the same time as we heard them announce Pleasant Hill as the first place winning city. John and I looked at each other in disbelief and just started laughing. What a thrill it was to win that competition. As we exited the stage we had a whole passel of new friends and lunch dates. My mom started crying and my Dad is pumping my hand and John’s and telling us “not bad guys”. So our claim to fame, we won first prize at the 4th Annual Healthy Mayors cook off and the really big, really heavy cup sits proudly at Pleasant Hill City Hall for the next year until the next cook off and the next winner but until then….We Won!! Red Bell Peppers Stuffed w/ Quinoa and Ground Turkey w/ fresh salsa and chimi churri sauce (Recipe from the Mayors cook off 2012) 1 pound ground turkey 4 green onions, sliced 2 summer squash, cubed ½ red bell, diced 4 cloves garlic, chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper to taste Sauté garlic, onions and turkey until turkey is browned. Add vegetables and sauté for 10 minutes until semi soft. 3 cups cooked quinoa 3 cloves garlic, chopped 4 okra, sliced ½ red bell, diced 1 carrot, diced 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 tablespoon Bragg’s liquid amino acids or salt to taste Heat a sauté pan and put olive oil in and heat oil. Sauté vegetables for a few minutes and add quinoa. Season w/ Bragg’s or salt Mix turkey and quinoa mixtures together. Cut off tops and level out bottoms of 8 red bells. Clean out center of seeds and pith. Fill with turkey and quinoa mixture. Place in a deep soup pot and fill up to about one third of the water up the peppers with water. Add 2 sliced green onions and 2 tablespoons Bragg’s amino acids to the water. Simmer about 15 minutes until peppers are soft to touch and filling is heated through. Garnish with salsa and chimi churri sauce. Serves 8 generously. Salsa ½ red onion, chopped fine 1 clove garlic, chopped 2 tomatoes, chopped 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro ½ jalapeño, chopped Juice and zest of 1 or 2 lemons 2 tablespoons rice vinegar Salt to taste Chimi churri Sauce 1 bunch parsley, rough chop 1 bunch cilantro, rough chop 2 cloves garlic, peeled 2 whole lemons, ends cut off and cut into 8th’s 3 tablespoons rice vinegar 2 tablespoons olive oil Salt to taste Place all ingredients into blender and puree until liquefied. Season w/ salt and adjust acids to taste. Makes about 2 cups. Put into squeeze bottle and refrigerate. Will last at least a week in fridge.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
We’ve all had a pivotal food moment right? Even those who care nothing about the taste of what they eat, consume calories purely to stay alive, have had a moment that stopped them for a second. Sometimes it is when you’re a kid and grandma is visiting or you are visiting her and she gives you something out of the ordinary family fare you get used to at home. Maybe as a young adult you hit a new restaurant and previously unknown intensity is pulled up from your startled gut. Perhaps dining out with a foodie friend finds you at a “real” restaurant that serves food that someone actually picked and cooked for you. At the time, a sudden taste rolls onto your tongue setting off a chain of events. Your breath is quieted or momentarily stopped. Your eyes close, and for a moment you lose touch with where you are and your surroundings. All sounds stop and taste takes over queuing the brain center to ask, what the fuck is that flavor? Slowly breath is released and if you are even the least bit in touch with yourself, you realize that you just had a pivotal food moment or as some call it, a foodgasm. Indeed the excitement recedes being tucked away into the far corners of your food center until something comes by to trip it and you remember and if you are anything close to me, you absolutely must recreate the flavor. I’ve had many experiences with flavor that I loved and noted. My Mom’s Satsuma plums, canned off the tree. Her rhubarb stewed with sugar and draped over ice cream. A and W root beer floats from the actual A and W on Contra Costa across from the drive in. Salisbury steak at Grandmas and divinity she brought to our house at Christmas time. Awesome food memories all, but not pivotal moments. My first hard core pivotal moment came when I was 15 and for some inexplicable reason, my parents took me, with my aunt and uncle but none of my other siblings, to hotel Mac in Point Richmond. Having been granted permission to order anything I wanted, alone unbelievable, Filet Mignon with Béarnaise caught my eye. Prawn cocktails with sweet, plump beer steamed shrimp resplendent in spicy ketchup and horseradish sauce commenced the meal. Huge, crisp salads, drowning in blue cheese dressing, cheesy garlic bread, crusty, crunching in your mouth as it melted, deliciously followed. I was already stuffed. As the formally clad waiter started dropping entrées in front of us, my nose caught an unidentifiable scent causing my mind to reel and my blood to start pumping. We had a lot of kids in my family and filet mignon did not ever, not once, start on any menu in our home growing up and I had no idea what to expect. With an underwater quality my knife poetically slid through the beef, slipping into the puddle of Béarnaise and I was curiously mesmerized. As the perfectly medium rare bite glanced my tongue followed milliseconds later by the smooth, thick sauce I became sensuously overloaded. My heart stopped and my head filled with nothing but taste. All portions of my tongue were alive and excited. Unconsciously I started to hum, almost turning into song. Slowly chewing the buttery piece of meat I realized that something incredibly special had over taken me and there was absolutely no thought of going back. Tarragon became my favorite herb. Even now as a devoutly non red meat eating food freak, I can taste that meal and tarragon is always growing in my garden. I recreate the flavor as often as I can, using crazy combinations that totally delineate from filet mignon with béarnaise but always raise the same kind of excitement with similar flavor combinations and mouth feel. Pivotal food moments are just about equal to a splendid sexual moment. Foodgasm. Is that crude or realistic? I choose real as they or so basically connected in my everyday life and I believe the everyday lives of everyone that chooses to feel the food feelings. I have just this moment finished making Satsuma plum jam and canned a mess of plums from my plum tree that I had to purchase as soon as I bought my house to recreate splendid childhood memories of my Mom’s fabulous foods. Tops are popping, each time causing excitement in my tummy as I hear it. It means it worked and I did it right. Of course it becomes anomalous, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick along with crudely refined turbinado sugar to give it a caramel kind of taste and lots of lemon in the jam to give it a sweet tart tongue experience. One of my favorite candies to this day is sour gummy worms. Pivotal food moments. We all have them and they all must contain an element of delusion to create ultimate excitement but are real enough to create impact. It is how we and what we do with them that differentiates us. Summer time is probably the best time of year to faithfully fulfill childhood memories and longings due to sheer volume of seasonal foods. Go with it. Be a kid, be true to that precious moment and close your eyes and feel. Satsuma Plum Jam 8 cups chopped Satsuma plums 3 tablespoons fruit pectin 2 cups turbinado sugar 1 tablespoon vanilla extract Peel and juice of 1 big, juicy lemon Heat plums in a deep, heavy pan that won’t scorch. Mix ½ cup sugar with the pectin and stir into plums. Bring to a complete rolling boil that you can’t stir down and add the rest of the sugar, lemon juice and vanilla. Bring back to a rolling boil that you can’t stir down. When you reach that point, set your timer for 2 minutes and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off heat and place into sterilized half pint jars. Close lids tightly. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Makes 8 half pints.