Monthly Archives: August 2008

Slow Food Questions

This weekend, there is a HUGE Slow Food event going on in San Francisco. Apparently, it is all the rage. I’m sure it is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful. I’m sure it causes foodies to have visions of sugar plums dance in their heads. There are several offerings at the festival of which I would love to partake. But, I have a few questions:

1. How is food transported into San Francisco from all over the state considered local?

2. Why can I (generally) only purchase food grown from 2 Big Name farms located about 6 miles from my house only at fancy smancy restaurants or the Ferry Building Farmers’ Market 60 miles away?

3. Why do people eat out so much for their basic week day meals when cooking at home is so simple and pleasing?

4. Why do families purposely make their lives too fast by succumbing to the pressure to have your child in organized activity after organized activity buffered only by a drive through meal at Micky D’s in between athletics?

I’ve come to realize that our family consciously decided to live the “Slow” life back when our kids were toddlers. We cook at home, eat together, and won’t let the kids partake in more than one activity at a time. Some weekends we have something planned, but we also purposely plan empty days and weekends so the kids can figure out how to entertain themselves. This has not always been easy in the midst of others who have chosen a different lifestyle, and we sure have questioned ourselves numerous times. But, it felt right. We chose the Slow Food lifestyle long ago, but just never had a festival to commemorate it.

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Glorious Grilled Cheesy Garlic Bread

Oh, the beauty of simplicity. This was a match made in heaven: fontina cheese in my fridge from the grilled pizza night, local garlic from Tachella Family Farms, an heirloom tomato from Lon’s Organic, and my own craving for carbs. Mmmmmmmm, that all adds up to cheesy garlic bread with tomato. I just grabbed a nice, fresh loaf of french bread on the way home and tossed together this perfect snack.

Note: all measurements are estimates here, as this was one of those “a bit of this and a handful of that” kinds of deals.

Ingredients:

1/2 cup fontina cheese, grated

2 cloves garlic

1 TBS flat leaf parsley

1 heirloom tomato, sliced (optional)

4 slices french bread

olive oil

Directions:

1. Heat grill to about 350 degrees.

2. Put cheese, garlic, and parsley in a mini food processor and pulse about 5 times, until the garlic pieces are incorporated.

3. Lightly brush olive oil on one side of the french bread and place olive oil side up on the grill for one to two minutes. You want the bread to start crisping on the bottom without the crusts getting dark.

4. Flip the bread over and top each slice with a quarter of the cheese mixture. Leave on the grill for about 2 to 3 minutes, until the cheese is melting.

5. Remove the cheesy garlic bread from the grill. Top each with a tomato slice or two, if desired.

Grilled Pizza

Success! With the help from a few friends, I was able to successfully grill a beginner style pizza! For years now, I’ve seen Bobby Flay grill pizza on TV and read articles on grilling pizza. So simple they all say. Unfortunately for me, I have dough – a – phobia in the kitchen. My fears of anything requiring the mixing of dough certainly creates enough bad karma in the house to turn any dough I make into an instant train wreck. My friends D & J whipped up a white pizza on for the grill and pronounced it divine, but they are just successful like that. And, just to be completely up front here, I did make pizza dough from scratch once and toss it on the grill for that elusive rustic pizza. Once. Need I say more?

The help from my friends came from two people I feel that I know well, although we’ve never met. Michael Baur, the SF Chronicle food critic, has been on a bit of a pizza bender lately, blogging about a different restaurant / store front with pizza every Friday for awhile. In a wrap up article in the paper, he quotes Ed Levine, author of Pizza: A Slice of Heaven, “How bad can melted cheese on warm bread be?” Mmmmmmm. melted cheese on warm bread, I can do that!

The other friend I’ve never met is Sandra Lee on the Food Network. While I’ve never actually used one of her recipes, I do enjoy learning from her techniques. So, on one episode she’s doing a BBQ at the beach, I think. Anyways, she shows this nifty perforated disposable cooking sheet. Bingo! This item looks like an aluminum jelly roll pan with circular holes in the bottom. She shows how to lay out the store bought pizza dough onto the pan and how it fits perfectly. Oh, yes … I can do that!

The pizza that I made is inspired by these two ideas: melted cheese on warm bread, and grilling store bought dough on the perforated pan. I will certainly make this again, but will add some garlic for a little extra punch.

Note: my appologies for the lame photos. I know they don’t make your mouth water, but I went with the “lame photos are better than no photos” idea. I’m rethinking that idea. To see a REAL tomato photo, check out MattBites.

Another note: Why are there tomatoes on only half of this pizza? The adults in the family appreciate the high art of heirloom tomato pizza while the clearly stubborn teens do not.

Ingredients:

store bought pizza dough (it comes in a can, just like crescent rolls and biscuits)

fontina cheese, grated

thinly sliced tomatoes

basil leaves

olive oil

Directions:

1. Heat grill to about 400 degrees

2. Coat perforated pan with cooking oil spray.

3. Spread out pizza dough on the pan, put on the cooler side of the grill, cook 2 minutes or until the bottom just starts to get a crust.

4. Remove pizza from grill, flip over dough and return to the pan.

5. Lightly drizzle olive oil on the pizza, coat fairly lightly with fontina cheese, add tomatoes and basil. Use a light hand here, as this is not meant to be one of those hefty Chicago style pizzas.

6. Return to grill for about 5 minutes, or until cheese is nice and melted.

7. Slide pizza onto a cutting board, slice, and enjoy.

Potato Skins with Tomato and Corn Salsa

Perfect summer dinner meal here! We’re trying to do the eating local thing at our house as much as possible for oh, so many reasons. At this time of year, even with the asparagus and strawberry fields preparing for next year, the bounty of delicious food in our area is simply divine. I wonder how this optimism will hold up during carrot and onion season. *grin*

This recipe is from The Vegetarian Cookbook (the practical guide to preparing and cooking delicious vegetarian meals) edited by Nicola Graimes. I’ve used this cookbook several times and like it for the beautiful pictures and clear directions. So often you have to choose between the quality of those two, but this book has been dependable in both. I selected this recipe for 2 very clear reasons: Potatoes (oh yeah, I am a potato ho!), and “salsa.” Tomato salsa, veggie salsa, pepper salsa, fruit salsa …. everything is better with salsa!!!

While I don’t usually turn on the oven at this time of year, the outside temperature was down to the 80’s this evening, so I did go for the broiler for just a few minutes. Also, the original recipe calls for baked potatoes, and while the skins on baked potatoes are clearly more yumm-a-licious than those from the microwave, there was just no chance that the oven was going to be on in this house for that long!

Ingredients:

4 red potatoes

corn kernels from one grilled cob

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 shallots, finely sliced

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

1 red jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped

3 TBS cilantro

olive oil

1 TBS lime juice

cheddar cheese, grated

salt and pepper

lime wedges for garnish

Directions:

1. Bake or microwave potatoes, slice in half, scoop out most of the flesh. (Sure, you can snack on this while making the dish!)

2. Combine corn, tomatoes, shallots, red bell pepper, chili, cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper in a bowl. Mix together well.

3. Preheat the broiler.

4. Brush the insides of the potato skins with olive oil and put under the broiler for 3 minutes.

5. Spoon salsa into the potato skins and sprinkle with just a bit of cheese over the top. Return the filled potato skins to the broiler and cook until the cheese has melted, about 2 minutes.

6. Squeeze a little lime juice on top of each potato skin, and serve with an extra wedge of lime.

Side note: for those of you who like to play “What’s different in these 2 pictures?” in the Sunday comics, you may note a missing item in the background of this picture. What is missing?

Oh, Honey!

Lately I’ve noticed several farm stands selling their own honey. Wow! As an avid follower of Sunset’s One Block Diet blog, I have a new appreciation for honey. If you’re new to their tale, the staff at Sunset Magazine is taking the locavore concept to the extreme in creating a meal with items raised on their own block. As the project branched out, they created teams. As in Team Garden, Team Olive, Team Chicken, Team Bee and so on.

While Team Garden had some fairly predictable types of challenges, it was Team Chicken that had me hooked for quite some time. Talk about a learning curve! Through them I learned about chicken coops, the different colored eggs proudly laid by “the girls”, sweet Honey (the chicken), dangerous Carmelita, chicken massage, and that teen age girls have nothing on chickens when it comes to unbelievable bullying.  Note to self:  don’t even try raising chickens.

All seemed to be settling in nicely for the Sunset crew, then they decided to raise their own bees. After some field trips and general learning, they were up and running. The bees? No problem. Ants and mites? Big problem. Read for yourself how these bright people went head to head with these pesky critters. They are getting some honey along with the obvious benefits of having bees working in their garden, but boy has this been a rough road!  Note to self:  don’t even try raising bees.

Back to the start here … I’ve noticed honey at Lon’s, Smith Family Farms, and TK’s Best. With such small, local, production, the prices vary greatly. In my indecision, I went with the honey from TK’s Best, which is actually a blend of honeys from the three towns with the farm stands mentioned in this blog. This was my first ever purchase of local honey (that cute little bear had been the mainstay in our household for years), and boy was I thrilled! Sweet, sticky, and with a flavor of flowers! Yes!

And why did I need the honey? To make some more of that lovely Chilled Golden Tomato Bisque. Oh yeah.

Grilled Corn and Black Bean Salad

Do you have a “go to” recipe or two that you can just pull out of your hat at any time? This little ditty is one of my “go to” recipes. I do cringe a bit at even calling it a recipe as it is really more of a gentle guide. For me, these items are always at the ready in the fridge and pantry, making it all the easier to whip together quickly. I hesitate to label this as a salad, and it is probably more often served as a chunky dip with corn tortilla chips, and has even been used as a side dish. My friend J has been asking me to post this one ever since our families devoured a bowl of it on her back deck recently. So, here you go!

First, the guidelines to match the preparation in the photo, then I’ll give you the inside scoop on the easy variations and how to avoid going overboard.

One key here is the grilled corn. While there are several methods for grilling corn – smoky grill or gas, husks on or off, high heat or low – for this dish, I always go for the grilled on a gas grill, husks off, high heat, about 3 minutes between turns of the corn. It does make some of the corn a bit charred, but it is really good that way. And I know that you can butter your corn, fold the husks back up, tie it with a bit of twine and toss it on the grill, but butter is not what you are looking for here. At this time of year I tend to grill up an extra cob or 2 when I’m cooking dinner, as I find it any extras a perfect snack the next day. Also, with the temperatures here over 100 the past few days, our stove and oven are totally off limits for cooking!

Ingredients:

1 can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cobs grilled corn, kernels cut from the cob

1 large or 2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1 avocado, cubed

juice of 1 lime

olive oil (optional)

salt

pepper

Directions:

1. Toss the beans and corn into a bowl. Top with tomatoes and add salt and pepper to taste. This dish is best with a little salt on the tomatoes, but I’m not a fan of salted black beans, hence the order of added ingredients. Mix.

2. Add avocado, lime juice, and just a bit of olive oil (if desired). Mix gently.

3. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Variations:

Always use 1 can of black beans to 2 cobs of grilled corn.

From that point, select any 2 (just 2, really, I’ve tried more and the basic flavors get lost and you will end up more with an odd succotash kind of thing)

  • 1 large tomato
  • 1 avocado
  • handful of chopped cilantro
  • 3 or so sliced green onions, including greens

My favorite? black beans, grilled corn, avocado, and cilantro, munched down with tortilla chips. Yum!

Thai Beef and Grape Tomato Salad

Tomatoes abound at this time of year, and I’ve become addicted to the low-acid types lately. Just wash, slice, and slurp them up. Yum! The current edition of Cooking Light has a whole section dedicated to heirloom tomatoes, and I may just be cooking right through them all. For starters, I gravitated to this recipe because 1) dinner salads are perfect during this week of scorching heat, and 2) it uses fish sauce which I love. OK, if you’re new to fish sauce, this may not make sense, but really, you’ve gotta give it a try. During the summer, it is great in a marinade and then in the winter adding a bit to a savory soup adds a perfect layer of flavor. You just use the smallest of amounts, but it adds essential flavors. Even loving the stuff, I only go through about one bottle per year, but it makes me feel so experimental. (Yes, millions of people in the world keep this as a pantry staple, but let me hold on to my little day dream here.)

In adapting the recipe, I substituted another type of cherry or grape tomato for the requested green grape tomatoes. Why? Stopping by Lon’s on the way home, I just took what they had. With those tomatoes having been picked just that day, I figured that more than makes up for the ingredient substitution. Also, I added some baby bok choy as that is just been my habit this summer. It has both the deep green leaves and the sweet / crunchy textures that I love in salads. And while the original recipe calls for romaine lettuce, I honestly took this opportunity to use up the last bits of about 3 heads of different types of lettuce in the fridge.

Marinade:

6 TBS brown sugar

2 TBS ginger, finely minced

2 TBS low-sodium soy sauce

2 TBS Thai fish sauce

4 garlic cloves, minced

Dressing:

1 TBS brown sugar

2 TBS fresh line juice

2 TBS low-sodium soy sauce

2 TBS peanut oil

2 tsp chile paste with garlic

2 tsp grated fresh ginger

2 tsp Thai fish sauce

Salad:

1 1/2 pound flank steak

3 cups romaine lettuce, chopped

1 baby bok choy, chopped

2 3/4 cups halved grape tomatoes

3/4 cup radishes, thinly sliced

1/2 cup cucumber, thinly sliced

1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced

2 TBS basil, chopped

2 TBS cilantro, chopped

Directions:

1. In the morning, put all of the marinade ingredients in a large zip lock bag, squish them around, then add the flank steak. Pop it in the fridge for the day.

2. In the evening, grill the steak on for about 4 minutes on each side, remove from the grill and let rest for 10 minutes, then slice thinly across the grain.

3. Combine dressing ingredients and set aside.

4. Toss the veggies and herbs in a bowl, add the dressing, and mix gently.

5. Top with those delicious flank steak slices and serve.