Cheese producers at the organic market in San Miguel, Mexico.
The Locavore Way Goes South
Join me in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico for the rest of the month…
Quesadillas with Cilantro Pesto
It’s morning in our little apartment, sweater weather, and I’ve woken up late for me, 9 am. The sound track is soft, but persistent — humming refrigerator , crowing roosters, barking pups.
I’m sanitizing green garbanzos in their husks in a sink full of water. Later I’ll pile them high, tossed in fresh lime juice with a touch of hot sauce as a New Year’s appetizer. (See picture)
There’s no serious colander, no grater, no big pots and pans here, but I want to cook something with a local flavor, of course, to bring to the pot luck we’ve been invited to by fellow New Englanders here in San Miguel.
The market cilantro is vigorous and dependable here, never anemic, so I’ll start with cilantro pesto. Shiny poblano chilies capture my eye, so I’ll add them. Wrap the pesto in a tortilla, hot off the press and still fragrant with corn, sprinkle with fresh Oaxacan cheese and maybe a little Mexican manchego. Sprinkle with roasted poblanos for both kick and flavor. Then fold and toast: Voilà, another simple market creation is born.
Blend a big handful of chopped pecans with a small bunch of cilantro and a clove (or two) of garlic in just enough olive oil to make a chunky mix. Roast a poblano chili (or two) over a gas flame, broiler or grill until charred.
Cover with a kitchen towel until cool, then rub off off the skin. Dice the flesh.
To assemble, you can be easy going about quantities but don’t overstuff.
Spread a big dollop of cilantro pesto on half of a corn tortilla. Sprinkle with the diced poblano chili (scallion greens if you like) and grated local cheese of your choice. Fold in half. (If you are using an American corn tortilla, use tongs or tough hands, heating it over a flame for a few seconds on each side to soften, using wet hands if it is stale) Optional: Add diced avocado if you like.
To cook, heat a skillet with a tiny bit oil and saute on both sides, over medium high heat until crisp on the outside, melty in the side. (Or cook them in a very hot over on a well oiled pan, turning once.) Cut into halves or thirds and serve as appetizers with a wedge of lime.
Chopped Mexican Market Salad
Our cobblestone street is lined ochre and pink homes, each spread with brightly colored bougenvilla vines. We arrived on Christmas day when most of San Miguel was shut tight. It’s quiet and empty, reminding me of when I first came here in the 80′s, before NAFTA brought an influx of cars.
Happily, I find a few produce stands open, so I buy what’s around. On a street of mostly closed shops, I spot my favorite chicken place with a line forming. And so I wait, watching the racks of chicken rotate through the flame. It’s a greasy operation, and I’m always careful not to look too carefully at the walls, which are covered with generations of chicken fat. Still the smell, the seasoning on the chickens, the wooden block where they hack up the birds, and the memory of their succulent flavor reels me in. Little birds they are, 2 pounds perhaps. Great to dismantle and serve rolled into fresh tortillas with tomatillo salsa, which I’ll make when I’m rested from our trip.
To prepare: Dice avocado, red pepper, sweet onion, seeded tomatoes, rotisserie chicken (if you are meat eater). Toss with chopped iceberg lettuce (yes!) and a large handful of cilantro leaves. Dress with garlic, salt, chopped jalapanos, olive oil and lime juice. Pile high. Accompany with a large slice of papaya with a squeeze of lime juice.
Next Day Tortilla Soup
My daughter Emma arrives on Christmas day, the first day of our one month stay here. It’s cold at night here and she’s chilled, even with the little gas heater running full blast. And so left-overs from the salad the night before (see above) turn into soup. Pretty, satisfying.
Boil the bones from the rotisserie chicken in water to cover for 2 hours. Strain and chill. Skim fat. Heat. Drop in chopped tomatoes, avocado, onion, jalapeno, cilantro leaves, chicken if you’re a meat eater. Optional: grated cheese, crisp tortilla chips.
Who knew a pineapple would have so much depth of flavor?
Breakfast was oatmeal with local Mexican fruit…
Mexican lunch. Crusty whole wheat baguette filled with savory roasted chicken from the market, arugula from Via Organic’s and the tomatillo salsa
I made yesterday. All on our sweet little balcony…
My dad, Gordon Cotler at about 16.
Years ago, as my great uncle Joe lay dying, his wife and my dad’s favorite Aunt, Ida, told me that, for the Jews, our afterlife lies in the memory of those left behind.
And so my dad’s afterlife seems to be those many pleasures he introduced me to where he will always resonate.
These are seminal pleasures that “they can’t take away from you,” he taught me.
I didn’t know who “they” were.
But felt completely confident that HE did.
And now that I’ve grown up, I know too. (and so do you)
My dad and I savored culinary pleasures high and low. Sucking down clams on the half shell accompanied by crinkle-cut fries in a cup at Nathan’s.
We sat on the Sieto counter in New York City, witnessing the tempura “master” batter and fry thin slices of sweet potato.
We evaluated ice creams by their butterfat content — the higher the better he claimed. (We argued that point then, and still do Dad.)
He taught me that food was also about memory. The canned chow mien he ordered at a highway diner brought back his boyhood Chinese food in the Bronx.
Those lousy December tomatoes harken back to the fat beefsteaks he grew in his garden before the shade encroached.
So, while we munched on lox and bagels at my sister Joanna’s coffee table after his funeral, my Dad will was there, cooking up my sukiyaki birthday dinner on a habachi atop that SAME table, surrounded by admiring friends. (I was so proud.)
Just as those birthday dinners brought him back to all things Japanese, those lox and bagels brought me back to him.
My Dad’s pleasure in food remained when all else was gone. The chocolate ice cream I brought him during his last days was wolfed down as if by a small boy. His last words, my sister tells me, where “ice cream.”
I have missed him for a while — for his dark, sharp, often nasty humor that was unbeatable.
His deep intelligence and power of observation.
His ability to find the hole in the plot of any mystery movie, but still enjoy a downright awful comedy because he’d “gotten a few good laughs.”
I thank him for my two strong independent sisters and those pleasures, his afterlife. That no one can take away.
Good Food News
National Kudos to Local Artisanal Baker
USDA Launches Biobased Product Label
(See below for these stories)
(Going, going, almost gone. One classic coffee cake, nutty and moist with apples.)
Connie, my pal Eileen’s mom, may be gone, but her recipe is not. What better way to conjure her to join our intimate celebration than to bake her fabulous apple cake?
Plenty of local ingredients can be used here — apples, eggs, butter, yogurt, and if you are in the south, pecans. Connie’s delicious cake used the classic combo of walnuts and 2 teaspoons cinnamon, but feel free to improvise with ingredients for equally tasty results. I did, using walnuts for pecans and playing with the spices. Next try? A fall cake with roasted almonds, almond extract and local pears.
Spiced Nut Mix
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried ginger
1/2 teaspoon cardamom
¼ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups sifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plain yogurt, whole milk or low fat
2 large tart apples, peeled and sliced thinly
1- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Combine the ingredients in the Spiced Nut Mix. Generously grease a 9 inch angel food cake pan with a removable bottom.
2- Beat butter until creamy, gradually add sugar while beating until light and fluffy, scraping the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs one at a time and then the vanilla extract.
3-Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Beat into butter and egg mixture alternately with the yogurt until blended.
4-Spread 1/2 the batter in the pan and layer with the apples. Sprinkle with half the Spiced Nut Mix. Top with the rest of the batter and sprinkle on the remaining Spiced Nut Mix.
5-Bake 40 minutes, then let the cake rest for 30 minutes. Run a knife or spatula around the sides of the cake. Remove the tube with the cake attached and let it cool completely before you remove it from the tube with two knives or spatulas.
Good Food News
A Very Local Cake (my house)
I’d love to hear about your celebration dishes using local foods. Mine? Local author and illustrator, Eileen and Marc Rosenthal, shared an intimate launch of their new children’s book, I Must Have Bo Bo, with Connie’s Apple Coffee Cake.
Kudos to Local Artisanal Baker
Over the 30 years, regional artisanal food producers, especially cheese makers and bakers, have transformed our culinary landscape. One such exceptional producer lives right near me, and has just been recognized by Bon Appetit as one of the top 10 bakeries in the country. Go Richard Bourdon, the master baker and bread philosopher at Berkshire Mountain Bakery! See a terrific slide show on The Berkshire Food Journal.
USDA Launches Biobased Product Label
This USDA label will clearly identify biobased products made from renewable resources, and will promote their increased sale and use. Biobased products are those composed wholly or significantly of biological ingredients — renewable plant, animal, marine or forestry materials.
Winter Locavore Way Cooking Class in Manhattan on January 22, Register here!
My oldest pal, Judy, came up from the city for a perfect 24 hours, complete with book talk and a giggle over the personal ads in London Review of Books, which are witty as hell.
We even improvised a curried vegetable soup. Judy wanted to post it. But, I insisted it wasn’t a real recipe, just a throw-together that tasted delish. She countered that its easygoing nature — simmer vegetables, then blend and curry them — made it an ideal blog post. She won. Serves about 6
Large butternut squash
About 3 leeks, whites only, chopped
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 tablespoon butter, optional
2 baking potatoes, pealed and cut into 1/8th
1 can of unsweetened coconut milk
About 1 quart chicken or vegetable broth
1/4-1/2 cup spices*
Salt to taste
A scant handful of chopped cilantro, optional
1-Prepare the butternut. You can roast it whole or peel it and cook it raw. (Roasting is favorite approach, because It concentrates the flavor and peels effortlessly.) To roast and puree: Roast butternut squash in a 375 degree oven until very soft, about 1 hour. Split lengthwise, scrape out and discard the seeds and fiber.Remove the peel or scoop out the flesh with a spoon. Reserve. To peel and cook raw: Remove the stem. Peal the butternut, split it in half lengthwise. Scrape out the fiber and seeds and discard. Cut each butternut half into 8ths. (To save and roast the seeds, see below**).
2-Sauté the leeks and garlic in the oil over low heat, in a medium to large pot, stirring ocassionally. If you are using it, drop in the butter. Add the potatoes and raw or roasted butternut. Barely cover with broth. Simmer, covered, for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are very soft.
3-Puree the soup in a food processor until smooth and add back to the pot. Stir in almost all of the can of coconut milk with enough broth to make a thick soup.
4-Dry toast the spices in a skillet over medium heat, stirring continuously, just until fragrant but not browned, less than a minute. (*You can use curry powder, in which case 1/4 cup is plenty, but I prefer to combine plenty of cumin, coriander and turmeric, along with a touch of fenugreek, mustard, fennel and ginger. Pound seeds in a mortar and pestle or use ground spices.) Stir in the toasted spices to taste, more or less, depending if you like your soup well-spiced or subtle. (You can freeze any remaining spices for future use.) Salt to taste.
5-Heat the soup gently without boiling it for 15-20 minutes to marry the flavors, stirring in extra broth or water if it thickens too much. Serve piping hot. Garnish with the cilantro, a splash of hot sauce and the last drizzle of coconut milk from the can. (I threw on a few toasted seeds**, but Judy and I decided they are better eaten separately.)
As written, this soup works well, but feel free to use onions or shallots instead of leeks along with the recipe’s potatoes, spices, broth and coconut milk. Then deviate from there, ditching the butternut and throwing in any seasonal vegetables that are around, such as parsnips, carrots, turnips or celery root. Don’t worry too much about quantity, because you can always add more or less broth to reach the desired texture, that of a thick soup. Just have fun and celebrate the season’s crops.
**Toasted squash seeds: Remove the fiber from the seeds, but don’t worry about getting it all. Rinse and dry the seeds, then toss with just enough oil to barely coat them. Lay out in a single layer on parchment paper on a baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes or until they are very crisp. Salt to taste.
Where? I got my butternut from Taft Farms in Great Barrington and the leeks at nameless farm stand, but they’re readily available almost everywhere right now, as are potatoes.
You don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy these honeys, which use local apples, parsnips, onions, sour cream and potatoes, if you can find them. (I had trouble, but don’t get me started.)
The parsnip adds a touch of earthy sweetness to the traditional flavor, and underestimated fresh apple sauce is always heaven sent. I use thick sour cream from Hudson Valley that is shockingly rich, but just a touch is all that’s needed.
Potato pancakes are best served hot from the skillet by a grandmother who runs back and forth to the table, but they may be kept warm in the oven, then served at once. Makes about 24
fresh lemon juice
4 medium russet (baking) potatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1 small parsnip, peeled and grated
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Generous pepper, freshly ground
sour cream or creme fraiche
1. Quarter the apples. Simmer, with just a splash of water, covered, stirring ocassionally, until they are very soft. Put through a food mill. If you don’t have a mill,peel and core them before you simmer, then puree in a food processor or with a masher. Add lemon juice to taste and sugar, if needed. Set aside.
2. Grate* the potatoes into a colander. Let sit. After they have turned a brownish-pink, about 15 minutes, rinse them thoroughly. Press down in the colander to remove any excess water. Lay potatoes in one layer on a kitchen cloth. Roll and squeeze out any remaining liquid. Repeat if still wet.
3. Combine the potatoes with the onion, eggs, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
4. Coat the bottom of a large skillet, preferably non-stick, generously with vegetable oil until hot but not smoking. Carefully spoon about 1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) of the batter into the pan. If you like, spread each a little thinner with a fork.
5. Cook over medium heat, until crispy brown, turn carefully with a spatula, then brown the other side, about 6 minutes total. Work in batches, adding oil to the pan if needed.
6. Serve immediately or remove to a newspaper on a large baking sheet, held in a 200 degree oven. Accompany with a bowl of sour cream and apple sauce. Or, using two spoons (or a finger and a spoon), top each with a little bit of apple sauce and sour cream.
*Of course you can use a food processor, but when you grate them by hand they’re better. They just are, but watch those knuckles.
Interested in local food? Check out the NYC Sustainable Food Charter, which sets forth the values and principles essential to a just, vibrant, and sustainable food system, and to spur the creation of such a food system for all New Yorkers. Even if you don’t live in NYC, it’s a great model…..
Michelle Miller and her crew at Bola Granola
(picture by Scott Barrow)
Nothing says happy holidays like edible local gifts! (Link to article.)
What does a chocolate maker, granola roaster and a sugar house have in common? They all produce holiday gifts that excite the palate while boosting the local economy. Check out my article on holiday giving — the locavore way — in the Berkshire Magazine‘s 4th issue.
And if you don’t live near me in the Berkshires, use these article ideas to forage for gifts close to home.
Doria, making her terrific truffles.
(picture by Scott Barrow)
Making caramel apples at Ioka Valley Farm
(picture by Scott Barrow)
After all, how often can you savor great food and do the right thing simultaneously?
Are you avoiding the shopping frenzy, sitting around watching old movies and unbuttoning your pants, wondering why you are still hungry? You can buy a holiday gift on-line that’s locavore-friendly without leaving the pleasure of your couch…..
January 22, The Winter Locavore Cooking Class, 6-10pm
In this class I will share secrets of winter cooking The Locavore Way using easy recipes that feature only the best seasonal ingredients. On the menu: Asian Shrimp Dumplings; Winter Salad with Roasted Shiitake Mushrooms, Goat Cheese and Balsamic Vinegar; Beef Ragout; Moscow Borscht; Local Apple Galette, Cranberry-Apple Kuchen; and Dark Chocolate Truffles with Highlawn Farm Cream. Each student will receive a copy of my latest book, The Locavore Way: Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food. $115 per student. In Manhattan at the Institute of Culinary Education on 23rd Street.
Link to sign up!
Chicks rule! Three generations of my family pose after our Thanksgiving meal. From left to right: me, Ellen, my sister; my mom, also called Nonna; Emma, my daughter; Sadie, my niece and Joanna, my sister, who was the hostess. The minority male members of the clan are missing from the shot — my husband, Tommy, who took the picture, and Joanna’s husband, Mark, who had to work.
(From my last book, The Locavore Way:Discover and Enjoy the Pleasures of Locally Grown Food, Storey, 2009)
Try a real turkey this holiday, or anytime at all. Farm fresh turkeys are a different bird entirely from the standard factory farmed frozen turkeys, which are raised as quickly as possible in tight living quarters. They’re raised for their white meat and are often injected with a solution to make them juicier and more flavorful.
Conventionally raised large birds can be moist and tender, but they can also be mushy or off-flavor. Breeds are chosen for commercial reasons only. The producers don’t have the time or food necessary to develop great bird flavor.
Alternatively, farm fresh turkeys bring with them a real story of your regional farm and can have a distinctive flavor as well. They’re more expensive, but they are well worth it. You’ll find two tiers on the expense ladder.
On the less-expensive tier are regional turkeys that are fresh, not frozen. These may or may not be organic, and you should check with your farm about whether they use additives, antibiotics,or growth hormones. I’ve bought and enjoyed plenty of these.
Up the dollar ladder substantially are heritage turkeys, with breeds like Bourbon Reds (see picture) that descended from the first turkeys in America. Heritage breeds (and sometimes conventional breeds) are allowed to roam freely and forage for some or all of their food. They have a deeper flavor and a firmer texture. And no additives, growth hormones,or antibiotics are added.
Note that organic birds, heritage breeds or not, are even more expensive,but some say they are well worth the outlay. Organic growers abide by a specific set of USDA rules. The turkeys have to be free of pesticides, growth hormones, antibiotics, and certain unnatural substances and processing techniques. They also have to be fed only organic feed. Having said that, if Ihave to choose, I generally choose local over organic.
Sadly, like so many, both of my local turkey farms went out of the turkey raising business, but they still buy fresh birds from regional farms. Buying from these farms keeps them alive. I like to buy a big bird, because you can’t beat the leftovers. In fact, we do a big turkey dinner several times a year, in part because I love to play with the leftovers and the flavorful turkey stock made from simmering the carcass. That stock cures any winter cold.