Tag Archives: herbs

Local Organic Passover and Easter

24 Mar

Feast days are great days to show your friends and family how simply you can incorporate local, seasonal and organic foods into your routine (and not-so-routine) eating.  If you aren’t so confident, especially in these winter-into-spring days, here’s some inspiration for your Passover and Holy Week gatherings.

Eggs and certain meats play heavily into a lot of these celebrations.  Luckily for you and your farmer, eggs are often available (thanks to the hens) year round, and provide some valuable income for those farmers who don’t have an abundance of vegetable and fruit crops.  For this and plenty of other reasons (note: we can’t verify how scientific the linked studies are, but seem to be well-accepted; we do notice a real taste and quality difference at the table, though), we urge you to buy your eggs from a farmer!  With eggs, you can make food for your suddenly-vegetarian cousin, nephew, whomever.  These dishes help stretch out your food dollar as well.  Try your hand at a frittata, a quiche, a savory bread pudding, or a Spanish tortilla filled with NY cheese, herbs, onion, any spring greens you’re fortunate to find locally-grown, and of course our workhorse, the potato.  And as for the meat (and dairy if you’re using it this holiday), we urge you to research how hormones and pesticides accumulate in animal tissues.  When making something like schmaltz, do you want to be concentrating untold contaminants into this rendered fat?  Besides, that chicken probably cost you a bit more than the supermarket chicken, don’t let the extra bits go to waste, make that schmaltz! The simple recipe for rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) from an NPR article tells you all you need to know.  How proud would you be if your schmaltz was local and organic schmaltz?

Spring means still-chilly weather and a feeling like we need to take a little of the heaviness out of our diet.  Perfect for broth-y spring soups that could care less that the long-stored veggies look a little less pristine and plump these days.  The classic Matzoh ball soup is locavore makeover-ready.  Find as many of the ingredients local and organic, (chicken, garlic, herbs, carrots, perhaps some other veggies too) and you’ve done a great thing without overriding your traditions.  If you’re not tied to a particular holiday soup, work with any local vegetables you can find, add plenty of chopped or crushed herbs for brightness, and you’re mostly there!  Dice up that last butternut squash or bag of potatoes and add them into the soup pot for a dainty treatment of these hefty winter staple vegetables.

Fresh recipes aside, did you preserve anything this summer or fall?  If spring holidays aren’t the right time to open those jars, is there any hope for this world?  Even I, stingy and apocalypse-ready, will be opening some jars preserves and pickles at this time of year, and cooking down the last of the frozen strawberries into something heavenly.

Honey also plays into a lot of our recipes this time of year.  While it’s definitely too cold for any new honey, there’s often a farmer or beekeeper who still has some honey from the last year.  Just like eggs, this is a crucial economic helper for the farmer in this season of transition from storage foods to fresh growth.  Of course, there are plenty of food-safety and -quality issues that would also drive you to find local honey (not to mention eggs and meats).  Can you make your charoset with local apples and honey?  We bet you can!

If you’re more flexible on your celebration dishes, may we suggest:

Carrot and beet salad with honey dressing–more beautiful than easter eggs!

Roasted carrots (instead of baby carrots in the linked recipe, just cut down regular carrots into uniform sticks or spears); find some local butter and herbs to enhance!

Dilled potato gratin (ok, the opposite of the spring broth soup idea, but filling for a crowd!)

Egg bread can use local flour and eggs (I just realized it may seem strange that I’m used to eating a Jewish traditional celebration bread for celebrations during the time of year when my Jewish friends can’t eat flour…sorry guys!)

NY wines!  Don’t forget (if you don’t need Kosher for Passover wine) to drink local if you drink with your celebrations.

Organic Matzoh? Easter chocolate/candy?  Probably can’t get these locally, but you KNOW there are fair-trade, organic options that are mighty tasty, right?  Check a natural foods store for that sort of thing.



A word from Harris Seeds, Sponsor-of-the-Day for Sept. 11, 2012

11 Sep

Since today is the day for Planting an Herb or Window Garden, it’s only fitting that our sponsors are Harris Seeds.  NOFA-NY thanks Harris Seeds for their generous sponsorship and donation of a Worm Power fertilizer kit, which will be one of our raffled-off prizes at the Greentopia festival Ecofest event this weekend.

“Harris Seeds proudly sponsors “Challenge of the Day” this September 11, 2012. Today, participants across New York are challenged to plant an organic herb or window garden. Raising herbs indoors is a simple way to add aroma and flavor to wintertime cooking, and it’s a manageable project for beginner gardeners.

To get started, gardeners can find a wide selection of untreated herb seeds, organic herb seeds, and organic fertilizers at www.harrisseeds.com. Harris Seeds also offers organic vegetable seeds, untreated vegetable seeds, untreated cut flower seeds, organic vegetable and herb plugs, and OMRI listed supplies for organic growers and gardeners alike.”

Photo Credit: Joshua Levine, 2010

My Menagerie

24 Sep

[From Rachel]

This morning, as I was sipping coffee (yes, I’m back to coffee, but just locally-roasted good stuff) with the ice-cream-freezer-bowl scrapings of a sweet potato-maple ice cream stirred in, it occurred to me how I live a very luxurious life.  It’s not the sort of luxury that might appeal to everyone, but I am able to eat gourmet foods with locally-sourced organic ingredients because I’ve taught myself how to make them in a way that it doesn’t cause too much stress on my life.  At first, some of these things were very time-consuming and challenging to learn, but the rewards kept me going.  So I thought I’d give a little inventory of the things that could cost me a lot of money that now are locally made in my Rochester, NY kitchen.  These “basic luxuries” allow me to up the amount of locally-made products to add to the arsenal of ingredients and meals you all may be getting accustomed to having in your diet: produce, dairy, jams, grains and beans.

Sourdough:  No, my sourdough is not as good as other bakers’ sourdoughs.  And you should totally absolutely support your local artisan bakers (I do too! I’m a huge fan of the Small World Bakery to the point that I’ve considered apprenticing with them, if I had the hours in the day).  However, I’m extremely proud of my sourdough.  Last summer, when living in Vermont, I decided I wanted to make my own sourdough.  Like most things I do, the whim turned into part of my very long list of things I now can’t live without (running, eating local, making the following list of foods. ) I heard it wasn’t too hard to do something basic.  Once I did it, I did not look back.  It’s not the only bread I make, but it’s the one that always raises eyebrows.  To catch wild yeast, which is the basis of any sourdough, you just put out a bowl of water and flour in a bowl and cover it with a damp clean cloth.  That’s IT!  No joke!  Unless you live in an unnaturally sterilized environment, you will find that in a few days something has passed through the cloth’s pores and started to digest your flour, making a beautiful bubbly and malty-smelling mixture.  This is a sourdough “mother” (aka starter) at its most basic.  Professional bakers, and home bakers with more motivation than yours truly, throw in fruit peels and other organic items with natural fermenting powers to add distinctive complex flavors to their sourdough.

Yeast cells of the mother culture bubbling away in appreciation.

No sourdough starter is ever the same, because it’s totally local to where the yeast was trapped!  That’s why San Francisco is famous for their sourdough, which has distinctive qualities and flavors.  I personally adore my Pownal-Rochester sourdough mother.  When I make a pita or other simple bread, I feel she gets jealous.  I have to take care of her by removing some of the starter every week (ok or every few weeks…) and adding some new flour and warm water.  Without fail, she bubbles up in appreciation.  I really should say that “they” bubble up in appreciation, since it’s many many many microscopic cells digesting the flour and creating gases that would provide leavening in a baked good.  I don’t use any dry yeast or baking powder/soda when I make my basic bread.

I’ve also found that they make killer bagels, english muffins and dairy-free chocolate cake.  Sure, it’s a little work to make your own bread, especially a several-step process with sourdough.  But you get used to it.  Why not trap your own yeast and give this a shot?  It’s so local, so luxurious.  For a wealth of information, check out King Arthur Flour’s Sourdough Primer.  Just make sure you take it easy on yourself when working with the starter and dough, it DOES get more simple when you do it a few times.  You’ll soon turn into an addict like me, always trying to give away the mother you have to remove to refresh the starter (pouring it down the sink seems like murder!).  Oh yeah, people WILL comment when they see that jar of mother in your fridge.

Even Lea is afraid of my fridge. That chocolate sauce calls my name, but I've only given in to its siren sounds once this month. The sourdough mother is on the top shelf to the right of the Red Jacket Orchards Cider. Also pictured: grapes from my CSA, bag of locally-grown and -milled flour, local veggies, dairy, oats, and the normal assortment of packed-up leftovers.

Soy Milk:  For locavore month, I started making my own soy milk.  I know this might cause some uproar, but soy is for me a very important part of my diet.  I don’t need to get into why, but doctors have recommended it, and I eat many forms of it.  I’m happy that there are a few local tofu/soy products companies, but none make soy milk.  I’ve made it before, back in Bolivia when I actually made my own tofu–no easy task when you consider that all water used (and the process uses plenty of water) must be sterilized by boiling (chlorinating water will destroy the milk or tofu).  So I knew I could do it here too.  The process starts with New York soybeans, obviously.  Fantastic that I can find different colors too–I ended up with black soybeans which give me a funny purple milk.  Maybe they have extra anthocyanins (also found in blue and dark red fruits) which are really good for you?  It just happened to be what was available when I stocked up for the month.  You soak the beans, then grind them up in boiling water, then boil that mixture for a few minutes, then strain and squeeze out the milk from the soybean grounds.

Purple soy milk hangs out with other (mostly local) friends for breakfast.

You can eat the leftover grounds, known as okara, by cooking them up with strongly-flavored veggies and sauces (they’re pretty bland on their own, and they MUST be cooked).  Then you boil the soy milk to deactivate some of the things that make raw soy not so good (there’s science, I’m abbreviating).  Inevitably, I pay really good attention until this last step, and soy milk is a sneaky beast…always boils over at the point when I step away from the stove to tend to whatever else is going on (sourdough, dinner, cat, etc.).  I’ll probably continue to make my own soy milk after this month, it’s way more cost-effective (enough beans to make at least 4 3.5-cup batches of milk cost about $4.50 at the co-op; 1 4-cup carton of organic plain soy milk containing some stabilizers and salt and made from far-away beans costs around $2 at my co-op.  That’s about half price and free of additives, made with local ingredients!).  But I’ll probably buy some too…I don’t always have the time.  You can buy fancy machines to make the stuff, but I am appliance-averse beyond my trusty stand mixer, kitchen scale, dehydrator and immersion blender.  I use a recipe by Madhur Jaffrey in this book.

Herbs:  I have my herbs from the garden that I’m saving from impending doom.  I’m actually mid-process potting them up to write this blog entry.  I think they call this procrastination.  By the time I post, they’ll be potted up.  Last winter I also had some squash and cucumber plants that I started indoors that grew a little too fast.  I realized I take much better care of food houseplants than ornamentals, and they are really pretty!  I’ll be doing this again too.  What’s more of a luxury ingredient than squash blossoms or fresh herbs in the middle of the winter?  I’m glad I have a big window and light, but that darn cat of mine is a serious indoor-garden pest!  I spend some time each morning moving the plants from their nighttime home of the bathroom (warm, cat-free) to the windowsill in my bedroom (can be cat-free, great south-facing window).  They do okay, and I get to tend a garden all year this way.  I know this was a featured mini-challenge this past week, so this is me encouraging you to find some starts for herbs (in your own or a neighbor’s garden, or even at a local farmer’s market) and bring them home.  Fresh rosemary goes really nicely on those stored potatoes come February, and have you ever tried thyme-roasted carrots and beets?  Luxury on a shoestring, and local to boot!

Garden pest acts like an angel for this picture. Rosemary, oregano, parsley and thyme will be transplanted into that window box.

Sprouts:  One of those often-mocked foods that “hippies” eat, sprouts add some serious body and gourmet feel to salads.  Depending on your taste, there are a range of seeds to sprout up and try.  For me, there’s also that joy in watching them grow.  Just like my potted herbs and plants, it adds that feeling of life to my indoor environment.  You can grow them all year round, if you just have a jar, or a bag, and a porous material.  Check out multiple options and instructions here.  Make absolutely sure your seeds are for sprouting (check out those natural foods stores) or that they are NOT treated with any pesticide.  Unfortunately, many seeds destined for the garden are coated with a pesticide, though the package should be well-marked and the pesticide coating has been dyed as a warning.

Kombucha:  Okay, this is the one that really freaks people out.  If you are a fan of Kombucha, you’re not freaked out.  Most people aren’t really aware of this stuff, though it’s gaining popularity.  If you’re interested in making your own, check out (or don’t…it’s kind of a silly-looking site that might turn you off) Kombucha Kamp.  I realized I was developing an expensive habit buying $3.50 (and recently saw prices up to $5 in Brooklyn, NY) bottles of this fermented tea.  Yet I was swayed by the taste and supposed health benefits of this stuff.  I can’t speak for whether my already healthy self got healthier from drinking this, but I like the flavor and the effervescence of it, and it makes me feel better just by making me happy.  I obtained a culture from Kristina last winter, and immediately fell in love with another living thing in my kitchen.

Cue music from black-and-white mad scientist film...my Kombucha working away in the cabinet.

It definitely looks freaky, but I love to make it, and find it takes even less care (besides making sure it’s free of contaminants and that it has some liquid) than sprouts, herbs or sourdough.  People say this Kombucha is more mild than the store-bought, but “in a good way.”  One more creature in my menagerie, making it myself is fun,  not so challenging, and allows me a luxury that’s locally made (it’s made with tea and cane sugar, so it’s not really a local food, but at least it’s not being shipped to my stores from afar).  I like to mix it with all-natural fruit juices (such as Red Jacket Orchards Lemon-Apple juice).

I know I’m not the only one out there that has a zoo in their apartment or house.  Don’t be scared or grossed out having a little pet culture of some sort–there is definitely a lot to be gained from a hobby like this.  And if it comes from your own kitchen, it’s pretty local, right?

Corn Cob Stock and Corn Soup Recipe

6 Sep

[From Rachel]: I’d been hearing about boiling corn cobs down to make some soup, so I checked out a recipe for corn soup that would use a corn stock.  The one I found needed some locavore edits, and I’m pretty bad at following recipes anyways.  Here is the original ingredients list:

Yield: 6 servings

  • 3 large or 4 small ears fresh sweet corn
  • 1 small red or other thin-skinned potato
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water, plus 2 cups more water
  • 1 tsp. salt (1/2 tsp. if using canned broth)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 Tbs. butter
  • 1 leek
  • 1 onion
  • 1 stalk celery
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeds removed
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 tsp. dried
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine
  • Salt and white pepper
  • 1-2 tsp. dry white wine, or 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2-4 tablespoons heavy cream, to taste
  • 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro or finely slivered sweet basil leaves

I had or could obtain everything locally except cilantro, the bay leaf and the acid (wine or lemon juice).  I haven’t given up salt and pepper, so that stayed.  I’m not one to normally make creamy soups, but I guess you could keep in the cream…high-quality local organic dairy wouldn’t be hard for me to get around here, but I just don’t use that much cream.  Since I’m on a major thai-basil kick, I decided to sub in a few thai basil leaves in the corn-cob stock-making process.  So here’s how it went after:

Yield: 6 servings

  • 3 large or 4 small ears fresh sweet corn: used 5 ears because I figured more is better when you are a Pennsylvania native who is known to eat 6 ears of corn in a sitting
  • 1 small red or other thin-skinned potato: didn’t use it, but could have gotten a local potato
  • 2 cups chicken broth or water, plus 2 cups more water: corn stock instead
  • 1 tsp. salt (1/2 tsp. if using canned broth)
  • 1 bay leaf: 4 fresh thai basil leaves from my garden
  • 1 Tbs. butter: easy enough
  • 1 leek: local farm sold through my natural foods co-op
  • 1 onion: my CSA
  • 1 stalk celery: found one sitting in fridge, definitely from a local farm but who knows which, and i forgot to add it in anyways
  • 1 small jalapeño pepper, seeds removed: most of a thai chili pepper from a local farm
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1/2 tsp. dried: felt like parsley instead
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped fine: CSA
  • Salt and white pepper: cheats/givens
  • 1-2 tsp. dry white wine, or 1 tsp. lemon juice I’m sure acid would be nice, but not sweating this one
  • (2-4 tablespoons heavy cream, to taste)
  • 2 Tbs. chopped cilantro or finely slivered sweet basil leaves: my garden
  • Lots more basil and herbs: my garden
  • Green pepper

The stock was simple–I just cut off the kernels and threw the cobs in a pot with water to cover them by an inch or so.  I let that simmer for an hour.  Meanwhile, I chopped other veggies and managed to make a pesto with local sheep’s milk cheese, local oil, and not-local-but-maybe-one-day-would-be sunflower seeds.  The apartment smelled great.  You know what else I did?  While cleaning up from dinner, I figured I’d taste one of the boiled cobs too.  Yup, I slurped up a little warm broth straight out of that cob…nothing was going to waste.

Corn broth and sauteed local delights topped with almost-local pesto.

Anyways, I used my basic soup-making technique for this light and summery soup (this ALWAYS works).  I sautéed the aromatic veggies (onion, leek, garlic, pepper) till they started to brown, then added in the celebrity vegetable: corn (and it’s not really a vegetable either).  I actually realized that I had a lot of kernels, so I put some into the freezer.  Not enough for winter, but if I do that a few more times, I’ll really make some progress on being a locavore in the winter.  Once they started to cook and smell sweet, I ladled in the broth and some water.  I threw in the herbs, didn’t end up adding any salt or pepper.  I was hungry, so I let it cook for about 15 minutes.  I ended up with a very light and refreshing broth-with-veggies (I think to be a soup it would need to meld together longer), and I was pleased.  I topped it with some stir-fried SoyBoy tempeh and farmers’ market veggies…since corn is a grain, not a veggie, to me.  And some of that aspires-to-be-local pesto.

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