Tag Archives: recipes

Three Ways Recipes Make you a Better Locavore

24 Sep

Can you follow a recipe and still be a locavore? My (blog editor, Rachel’s) answer? Yes.  An even better answer? The right recipe can make your locavore experience better!  Here are three ways I think recipes and locavorism go together.

A recipe is a guide, always, to creating an edible, flavorful food.  Some of us follow that guide more strictly than others, for any number of reasons.  Normally I take the approach of reading recipes and then totally doing whatever I want based on the ingredients I have at hand.  This works really well for me because I have a pantry stocked to the hilt with local staples, plus keep a supply of specialties and exotics.  I’ve been cooking for myself, family and friends for well over a decade, and shopping for ingredients is fun for me.  If I happen upon something that I’ve read about being really great for a particular cuisine or style of dish, or a local version of something I don’t often see (such as apple cider molasses, a recent happy acquisition) I’ll usually bring some of that home with me.  So, I’m already at an advantage (or several) because I make food into a hobby and a lifestyle.  I can’t make that a tip for anyone, but I admit that it helps.

Tip/Technique 1:  Start in the back of the cookbook/at the search function on the food blog.  Search for the ingredient you know you’re about to get from your CSA, or that caught your attention at the farmers’ market, or that you over-bought at the roadside stand.  The fresh foods I have on hand absolutely dictate what I make.  Sometimes I use a recipe all the way through, sometimes not.  If a recipe seems to rely too heavily on something out of season, I won’t make it, but I might see a cooking technique I like for the ingredient I do have.  Over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for which foods swap in and out well.  I’ve also found out what flavor combinations tend to show up together in certain cuisines, or even over all foods (cooking fat+onion+garlic seems to be part of human DNA).  In other words, I’m not going to the grocery store to buy lots of out-of-season components just to make a recipe, but I’ve honed my ability, just by simple reading and research, to have a running list of options of cooking techniques and flavor combinations (so THAT’S what to do with all that oregano…add it to the zucchini!)

TIp/Technique 2:  Baking recipes and fruit desserts can generally be done with local ingredients.  Again, if you have been shopping with a local-foods radar, you may have started making local grain, flour, honey, maple, eggs, dairy and butter part of your pantry.  If you have local cornmeal, you’ve expanded your options, and any seasonal local fruit means you can make a locavore dessert.  I want to share a very local cornbread recipe (pictured a few weeks back).  This is a recipe that’s not seasonal, just reliant on local pantry ingredients.  I need a recipe to make it…the chemistry of baking isn’t improvised; the local ingredients may or may not enhance the flavor, but it’s important to me to use local ingredients because of the positive impact it has on my community and economy.

Evolved cornbread, based off a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.

1/4 c/ 2oz/1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. honey
2 eggs
1c/245g plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 c/125g flour
1 c/145g cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
salt

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees, use a dab of butter (not from the amount above) to grease a 9×9″ or 7×11″ baking dish (or I’ve used my 10-inch cast iron numerous times, with a bottom layer of sauteed onions and peppers).

2. Beat together the butter and honey until uniform and lightly colored.  Add in eggs and beat until uniform.  Add in the yogurt and make it uniform again.  If you’re so inclined, this would be the point to add in up to 3/4 cup of finely chopped or shredded vegetables (try shredded, salted and drained and dried zucchini or cooked onions and peppers or a little amount of finely minced jalapeno peppers).

3. Combine the dry ingredients together, whisk so they’re evenly mixed.

4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones (the butter-honey-egg-yogurt mixture) and mix up until well combined (again, it should look uniform in texture, no flour streaks).  Pour or scrape out into your baking dish and bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown.  Cool a bit before cutting and serving.

Tip/Technique 3: The right recipe should be followed, when it focuses on a local and seasonal ingredient.  The conditions of “the right recipe” are laid out above.  Following a great recipe will make you a better cook, even if you only make the recipe exactly that way one time.  Even though you might know how to combine the ingredients in the dish, even if you don’t think bringing out the measuring devices for such a simple list of ingredients would be necessary, this is your chance to really learn from someone, right off the pages of a cookbook.  And this is how you will learn how to maximize in-season foods to their real, great potential.  That particular ratio of ingredient x to spice y, cooked in that particular order, will make a flavor different.  It’s the physics, chemistry and alchemy of recipes that naturally came into existence–these great recipes were born from co-availability of the best of ingredients, not some random combination of foods from far away places.  A few enhancements make it in, a result of trade and awareness, but a really great recipe highlights that locally-available food in a special way.

This became clear to me a few weeks ago over something called salsa de dedo.  I’d picked up some tomatillos.  I had just a pint, and I knew I wanted to make a sauce.  It just seemed right for the end of summer, and I recalled making a green sauce with pepitas and orange juice from a favorite cookbook.  I really was hoping for something new to try out from my gigantic Latin America cookbook, and maybe not relying on those out-of-location ingredients.  Since a lot of Latin cuisines (but not all, not by a long shot) were born out of a tropical climate, I was thinking I’d be following tip #1 above: just look for the technique to feature the tomatillos.  Then I saw a curious listing under tomatillo, “salsa de dedo,” which translates to “finger sauce.”  Knowing that more than one cuisine has a condiment or snack that is named because you have to lick your fingers after eating it, I thought this could be very interesting to read about.  My curiosity was beyond rewarded when I realized salsa de dedo could be so very locavore.  Tomatillos, dried chiles (I did substitute the type I had dried from last summer for what was called for in the recipe), white onion, garlic, vinegar, cilantro, dried oregano, and tomatoes. Just cumin and salt were non-local at this time of year.  Going back to my previous point, I wouldn’t look at this recipe in february and think I should run to the grocery to buy all the produce (though it is that good).  I’d hope I’d frozen or canned some, but that’s another story.  I really really love this sauce.  This is what tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and cilantro were supposed to do with each other.  With all credit to cookbook author and chef Maricel E. Presilla (her tome Gran Cocina Latina is worth it, even to this vegetarian who must pick up techniques between pork and chicken recipes), here is the gist of her recipe for Salsa de Dedo:

Roast a little over a pound of plum tomatoes (like Romas or sauce-making tomatoes) in a hot, dry skillet, turning occasionally.  I used my broiler because I needed the stovetop space.  Roast until the skin is blistered and the tomatoes are cooked-about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a pound of tomatillos in water to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.  Also simmer a few dried hot peppers (she calls for up to 7 dried chile de arbol, but I used 1 dried serrano I knew to be fairly hot in a half recipe) for 10-12 minutes until softened.  Drain the boiled veggies, cool everything while chopping a white onion and 3 cloves of garlic.  Blend/process first until smooth and paste-like: the chiles, the white onion and garlic cloves; then add the roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, 1/4 cup vinegar (local cider vinegar works for me), 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or about 1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves, which you’re likely to find in your garden, at market, or from a friend), 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Blend/process until the veggies are broken down but still chunky (this is why you did the onions and garlic separately, first).  Taste, then lick your fingers.  It’s great on cornbread.

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Reach Out: Your #Locavore Friends are Waiting!

8 Sep

As we begin week 2 of the Locavore challenge, we’re thinking of the ways that food brings us together.  Most shared meals have this effect, but consider how eating locally offers the chance to make friendships, build new bonds, and keep your community and environment a place to live well.  Perhaps you don’t count farmers as regular dinner guests (but invite them, they may really appreciate someone cooking for them after a day of harvesting winter squash), but going out to a farmers market, buying their food, then treating it with interest and eating it with appreciation all go into building community with local food.  Imagine if nobody did that–what would happen to the farmer, the farmland, and your surroundings?  Now, imagine a brighter future.  What would happen if everyone who went to the farmers market convinced ONE friend, co-worker, or acquaintance to meet them at the farmers market.  How many more farmers would be supported?  How much more food would be available?  How much stronger would the local economy be?  (If you’re interested in some studies on the impact of small local farms, including how they tend to purchase more of their inputs from local sources, check out studies from the Dyson School of Agriculture Economics and Marketing at Cornell and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems).

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

So, what happened in week one?  We saw a big uptick in blog visitors, some action on Facebook and Twitter.  One Twitter user, Amy Reinink, tweeted us photos her yogurt-in-progress.

She even strained it to make it Greek-style and posted about the challenge on her blog!  Way to go, Amy!

Our summer intern Maddy (you’ll read a post from her in a few weeks) has been working to engage community and bringing them to action through Think Local Geneseo.  Here some reasons those people gave why they’re taking the Locavore Challenge:

“I care about local farmers and their families”

“It tastes better”

“Factory farming is wasteful”

“I trust local produce”

“It makes sense”

See all the great reasons on their Facebook photo album.

Many locavores spent a few days last week sharing in traditional foods and activities of Rosh Hashanah.  They were brought into community through shared symbols, faith and for those who saw the connection, through local food-sharing.  It was indeed possible to have a very sweet Locavore Rosh Hashanah, with local apples and honey representing the sweetness anticipated for the new year.  We loved reading blogger Leah’s latest post at Noshing Confessions.  What inspiration, as usual, on good food and making the most of the seasonal bounty in the context of age-old traditions.

Some of us have families that give us instant community, and we can share the locavore challenge with them.  Sarah Raymond, Membership and Development Coordinator, is going through her first Locavore Challenge with NOFA-NY.  Here’s how her first week went:

“This September, as part of my Locavore Challenge, I plan to bring more dialogue into and emphasis on our food activities as a family.  As the month rolls on, I will help my kids keep their own Locavore journals, full of drawings, photographs, recipes we used together, stickers, stories, and most likely, a few smudged food marks. I think it can turn out to be a nice little family tradition every September. We began this week by going to our local farmer’s market. The kids picked out some peaches and blueberries to savor and share while exploring the market. Sure enough, not long after the first few bites, a group of kids had congregated together, each investigating and sharing each other’s food, with their parent’s approval of course. That’s one of the great things about food, it brings people together. For my kids, I want them to know that sharing healthy food is a way to show others their love and respect for them. In toddler terms, we like to give people healthy foods to eat because we care about them and want them be healthy so they can have fun.”

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Others among staff were impressed that a few words spoken to some fairly new friends (“I’m eating local foods as much as possible this month”) had a noticeable impact on those friends’ food-buying habits.  At a recent Labor Day dinner, the hosts were very excited to tell Rachel, Beginning Farmer Coordinator, that the tomatoes were from HER farmer (one she’d pointed out to them upon a chance encounter at the Brighton Farmer’s Market).  Everyone at the party agreed they were some of the meatiest, most delicious tomatoes they’d ever tasted.  True, when someone hears you’re trying to eat mostly local foods this month, you may have to convince them why you think it’s important (it may not be an instant sell).  But if you talk about the challenge in the right way, you can indeed effect change.   More on that later this week! Wednesday’s worksheet will help you come up with a Locavore Sales Pitch, so start thinking about why you are taking the challenge so you can tell others about it.

Let’s end this rumination turning the locavore challenge into a community-builer with some kitchen ideas that take a spin on one of our classic locavore activities.  That activity, appropriate to Grandparent’s Day (today), is to interview a relative about a food tradition.  That’s always a fun one, as some of our past blog posts show.  Decades ago, locavore eating was the only eating, and our grandparents (or great-great-grandparents) might not think of this challenge as anything but normal.  That’s where traditional foods and regional cuisine comes from–what used to be the best things to eat in that place and time.  If you’re low on inspiration from traditions, culture or passed-down recipes, try to make some new ones to repeat.  First think, “What are my local foods?  What’s available (farm-fresh) to cook with today?”  Work backwards to find a recipe that uses that food.  We have plenty of ideas collected on Pinterest.

One more crazy idea (and if you e-mail us a picture, we might just post it here next week) to share with friends and family.  Pick one ingredient.  A fruit or vegetable will be easiest.  Obtain a lot of it (perhaps in various varieties, from different farmers).  Then make a feast out of it.  Don’t just cook one dish with it.  See how many different ways you can play with that one ingredient.  Chances are that next year, whomever you invited to your Broccoli Brunch, your Carrot Circus, your Pepper Potluck Party, your Eggplant Eating Extravaganza, your Tomato Tournament or your Zucchini Zone will want to join in the fun again!  Voila! A Locavore tradition!  Try a variety of dishes, some cold, some hot, some raw, some not, to marvel over that one ingredient’s flavor and texture in all its forms.

lots of kinds of zucchini to test out!

Zucchini "Carpaccio"

raw zucchini salad (Martha Stewart)

2009_08_14-TomatoSalad.jpg

grilled zucchini and tomato salad (the kitchn)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

ugly and therefore tasty zucchini chips

zucchini parmesan chips (smitten kitchen)

Pickle Recipe

quick zucchini pickle on toast with cheese (101 cookbooks)

zucchini ice cream (flavor of italy)

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.

 

Regional, Local and Traditional

22 Sep

Rachel here!  Recently we sent our loyal Locavore Challenge registrants (still time–click here to say, “I’m a Locavore, too!”) a tip of the day that encouraged them to interview friends and family about their food traditions.  While I didn’t do that on the particular day, and I’m late in writing this essay (which is what it’s turned into), I DO think traditional food is so interesting. I’ve written about my grandfather’s insistence on simple but classic food.  He was the one that once, in the manner that a drug pusher might, opened up the fridge and pulled out a mysterious jar of dark goo.  He said it was the darkest maple syrup, the really good stuff.  We kept Aunt Jemima on the table for my grandmother, but some of us dared to spoon (no, SCOOP) some dark, probably-meant-as-cooking-grade syrup onto our own pancakes.  He knew real food.  My dear mother (who reads these posts faithfully, and thinks I write them all–mom, hi, this one IS me) fed her two young athletic vegetarian children lots of pasta with sauce and alternated it with chips and cheese and rice and beans and veggies piled in the middle.  We had to try everything we were given, and I don’t remember refusing veggies except for salad.  Obviously that changed.  I somehow became addicted to veggies and to cooking elaborate food and she patiently (maybe eventually gratefully) stepped aside to let me run the kitchen–messes and delayed dinner times included.  The first week of September I was able to cook many meals for her using Maine-grown produce while we were on vacation there.  We ate lots of corn (still in season up there) and cole slaw and seafood and pies and treats of all sorts.  Not all local ingredients, but strongly rooted in tradition.  Cole slaw, for instance.  It COULD have all been local, and probably started out as a regional food in the Northeast because cabbage is such a champion grower, eggs for mayonnaise could be easily found, and because it’s such a great flavor pair for fish.  I think that’s the point of this post as I set out to write it.

Regional Downeast Maine food–lobster, mussels, cole slaw, corn, cornbread, potato salad. All local-able and in this case, likely it was actually locally sourced down to the veggies.

When thinking about a food that’s tied to a place by people, local ingredients are an obvious choice–a lot to do with convenience, a lot to do with flavor, a lot to do with knowing the farmer, and a lot to do with nothing else being available at a good quality or price, until recent strange product-chain “developments” changed that.  The recipes remain, and it’s up to the cook or chef to find the ingredient–we, as locavores, can seek out the local foods that make those recipes what they used to be!  I remember some fancy NY Italian restaurant getting a lot of press for not importing Italian ingredients.  The chefs put it plainly that REAL Italian food uses mostly what’s local because it tastes the best.  Things like olive oil and particular spices and ingredients were still imported.

That’s why I (and so many of us) love traveling–the first thing I do, often before I even reach my destination, is look for a farm stand or market, regardless of country or county.  (New York, by the way, is a minefield.  My work trips usually end up with a backseat full of produce rolling around.  It’s not that different from my Rochester produce, but I love to find the early crops in the Hudson Valley or the late ones up north.)  To learn about other food traditions when I can’t travel, I spend a LOT of time reading cookbooks as if they were textbooks.  I’m not talking about the cookbooks that don’t seem to feel uncomfortable putting a mid-winter storage crop with a tender summer herb, page after page.  I’m talking about cookbooks that generally call out a country or region of the US, or region of the world, and then use that “regional” descriptor.  We’re in a great age when a lot of these reference materials (cookbooks, if you must) are available to us.  My public library is full of gems.  The best ones have long descriptions of the region’s climate, and recipes that make you nod your head thinking, oh I could get most of those ingredients at one time.  Many recipes seem stupid-simple, but they’re included because that’s the traditional way.  There are nuances in the techniques that tie that list of ingredients to that tradition.  A basket of green peppers, tomatoes, onions and carrots means something to different cooks in different cultures.   A hard thing for me, personally, is to stick to recipes that seem to simple.  To actually measure things.  I know the traditional cooks don’t do that, but clearly someone studied what a grandma or grandpa did and tried to record it for all time, and for a reason…so I try to follow a recipe closely when I’m world-eating.

I happened to be working my way through a Turkish regional cookbook recently.  Turkey must be amping its tourism efforts lately as everyone but me seems to be going there.  When I go, I’ll be ready to find all those interesting ingredients and foods I’ve read about.  Reading this book, I kept nodding my head to the ingredient lists and simple recipes.  Everything seemed to fit with seasons in New York (except lentils, which need a long dry summer that NY just doesn’t guarantee).  I wondered, is Turkey like New York, growing-conditions wise?  I am a plant scientist, after all.  So then I looked up this map of world climates:

Seems like if you eliminate the fact that New York is a “snow” region, we aren’t too far different from the climate around the Black Sea.  While I love to learn about food traditions around the world and sometimes get lucky with a recipe that uses co-seasonal ingredients (I made that term up), I don’t anticipate such an exact match up.  I didn’t realize that this cuisine, regardless of region within the country, would be so vegetable-grain-legume heavy.  I could source and cook these recipes with the greatest of ease!  Turkey, where had you been all my life?  Right there, I suppose, changing your name from Constantinople to Istanbul…but still.  It was cool to find out that the Black Sea region is heavily cornmeal-focused, even down to their standard bread.  Now, as a Pennsylvania girl, I can get behind corn and cornmeal!  Great that we also have several organic NY grain corn (not sweet corn…which also is amazing) growers and millers.  I learned that many of the soups from that region, including those that use now-abundant chard and leafy greens, have this added step of toasting cornmeal in a dry skillet and adding the nutty thickener to the soup right at the end.  I tried this right away-definitely a new trick for my arsenal.  A cool thing about New York is that we have all four seasons.  In winter, we can learn about Russian food traditions and get into beet-y borschts.  In summer, we can use our plates to travel to South America and Asia, with a few spices thrown in, thanks to Marco Polo rules of Locavorism.

United Noshes is a great blog for this sort of experiment, as is Global Table Adventure.  These blogs are starting points and interesting, but I think cookbooks do more thorough work due to the nature of the medium.  Perennial Plate does some very honest and captivating work, and they toured through New York last year!

Sweetness (part 2): Challenges in Sugar-Free Baking

8 Sep

[From Rachel]

You might remember how I have pledged to experiment with using no cane sugar in a few recipes this month.  Now, I love to research and I really like when things work out as I had anticipated.  Thus far, with local-only sweetened baked goods, I’m having less of the perfection I anticipated for someone who has been reading up on baking with honey, fruit juice, fruit puree and maple syrup.

My first idea, on 9/1 was a peach upside-down cake.  Originally I thought of something like an applesauce cake that would just be sweetened by the peach puree.  However, the peaches didn’t really sauce down as I had hoped, but by then I had changed the plan to use peach JUICE as a sweetener.  You can find some recipes that call for fruit juice concentrate (i.e. the stuff that comes from a factory and is made from who-knows-what-country’s grapes or apples).  This peach juice was pretty sweet, so I crossed my fingers.  Rustic cakes like this are pretty forgiving.  I decided I was nervous to convert a recipe from white sugar to fruit juice, though I’ve read that you can substitute 3/4 cup juice concentrate for 1 cup of sugar in regular recipes and reduce the amount of liquid by 3 tablespoons. I found a recipe that simply called for juice anyways.  I also used butter since the sunflower oil taste is pretty strong.  I spread the cooked-down peaches below the batter, then sprinkled more on top.  While it was in the oven, it smelled like I’d been making belgian waffles.  And it actually tasted pretty good, but not super-sweet.  It seemed like a great breakfast cake/quickbread, that could even be spread with some nut butter (nuts are one of my “cheat” foods, and Once Again is the only nut butter I’ll use…September or otherwise).  I was pleased enough to have this in my evenings, and my taste tester seemed to enjoy it, though agreed it wasn’t very sweet (his portion, however, disappeared within a day).  The bigger upset was not that the cake was less dessert-y, but that (duh!) a cake with no cane sugar in it is thus not “preserved” in the same way.  In other words, the last 1/3 of the cake molded within a few days at room temp.  OOPS!  Here’s the recipe, aptly titled.

Peach Upside-Down Breakfast Treat

  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter, melted/OR 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 tablespoons yogurt
  • 1/2 c. Unsweetened fruit juice (I obtained peach juice while cooking down peaches into a compote)
  • 1 1/2 c. flour–find local if you can!
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Cooked-down fruit (start with about 4-5 peaches, slice, cook over low heat for a while, ladling out juice until you have about a cup)
1.  Combine the egg, butter, yogurt and fruit juice.
2.  Combine the flour, baking powder, soda, salt (and any spices if they fit within your challenge rules)
3.  Add in the liquid to the dry and stir just to combine–don’t overmix!
4.  Place 1/2 the cooked peaches in the bottom of a round or square pan that has been oiled or greased
5.  Spread the batter on top.
6.  Strew the rest of the cooked fruit over the batter.
7.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool and serve–it holds up well, a very moist cake.  However, it should be kept in the refrigerator after a day.
On 9/6, I moved on to a cookie recipe.  Another charming character trait of mine is starting with very complicated things (I started with things like home-made chocolate eclairs from scratch when teaching myself about pastry, etc.).  So I’m sure there are simpler cookie recipes that use honey (my selected sweetener for this experiment), but I wanted to make a zucchini cookie today.  I found an abundance of zucchini-oatmeal recipes online–they were generally dubbed as healthy but that’s not the point of a cookie, and 1 cup of processed cane sugar and 1/2 cup of butter don’t equal healthy in my mind.  Given that I had a big bag of beautiful freshly rolled oats from Pennsylvania Yankee Mercantile, this sort of recipe seemed perfect.  I settled on an oil-based recipe since organic butter is a bit costly for a first attempt with unknown probability of success.  I used the basic honey-substitution principles I had learned: for every cup of sugar, use 2/3 to 3/4 cup honey.  Yeah, it’s a lot of honey (but that’s also a LOT of cane sugar, we just can get it for way too cheap these days).  I go to the local foods co-op and get my New York State honey in bulk–I just chill out next to the honey tap while a gorgeous golden river of honey flows into my mason jar.  This reminds me of a locavore tip, by the way, if you aren’t used to purchasing all these foods that you’re being challenged to eat this month.  They can be really inexpensive if you find a co-operative grocery store or natural foods store with a bulk section.  Call ahead, learn what their bring-your-own vessels policy is (you may need to have them weighed upon entry to the store, etc.), then set on your adventure for some bulk beans, grains, honey and maple syrup.  Anyways, the recipe seemed conducive to the conversion.  I knew I’d need to reduce liquid by a few tablespoons, but since the only other liquid in this recipe was oil, I figured I’d just go light on that.  Fast-forward to what ended up like a cake batter.  ANOTHER cake.  However, I really love zucchini bread (which is cake, don’t kid yourself there), so I’m not that disappointed.  It does have quite a sunflower flavor, which again, I don’t mind.  I’m just grateful that we have local sunflower oil so I don’t have to use so much expensive local organic dairy when doing these experiments.  So I guess I’m still on the quest for a local-sweetener recipe for actual cookies.  I can’t well dunk slices of my zucchini-oatmeal-honey cake into a glass of my (homemade) soy milk.  It’s sweet enough that it may count as cake, which I don’t feel I had achieved in the peach cake experiment.  With this pattern, the next thing I try to make won’t be a cookie, but will turn out like one, right?  Here’s the recipe, because it is good.  Make your choice on the oil vs. butter issue again, and if you get the ratios of ingredients right to make proper cookies, PLEASE post your comment.  I’m sure it’s just about paying more attention to the liquid and dry ingredient ratios.  The moisture content of the zucchini probably didn’t help matters…Like I said, I start with complicated stuff.

  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup corn oil sunflower oil, less a small amount to reduce liquid
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar  2/3 c. honey (222g) for 1c. total sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour farmer-ground wheat flour, increased by a few tablespoons in an unsuccessful shot at making a cookie dough, not a cake batter
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 1/3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup finely grated zucchini
  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees (less 25 degrees for honey–> 325). Beat together the egg, oil and both sugars until well blended.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir the flour mixture into the egg mixture. Add the oatmeal and zucchini and mix well.
  3. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet, placing them about 2 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes or until golden brown. Makes about 2 dozen.  Scratch head, sigh because you have a perfect cake/quick bread batter that smells like sunflower seeds.  Pull out a rectangular pan and make cake that you can cut into squares instead.  Bake for about 40 minutes, or until risen and golden.
A few resources on honey and bees in our region:
Rochester Honey/Standard of Identity
2007 New Yorker Article Highlighting NYC Beekeeper David Graves
Queen of the Sun (Movie) Information Site
American Honey Producers Association
Cooking with Honey
As you can see from some of the recent media attention (perhaps there has not been enough), it is important to learn about the source of your honey.  Since honey is a product artfully collected and marketed across our state, there is less of a challenge of finding local honey, and honey you can feel confident is not contaminated.  However, many some producers not only keep their own bees and bottle different varieties (from bees collecting nectar from different flowers, or a mix of them), but also source quality honey from other parts of the country, due to those locations’ particular plants (orange blossoms in Florida, for example).  If you want to be sure that not only the honey business but the actual honey is local, you may need to ask for clarification.  This is your great opportunity to get to know beekeepers–a very well-informed and talkative bunch, I’ve found!  Next time you are at a market with a honey vendor, make sure you engage (politely) with the vendor about the different sources of their honeys.  If the vendor doesn’t carry a local product, you could explain that you are challenging yourself to think more about the mileage behind your food this month, and that you would love to purchase locally-sourced honey from them in the future.  Your conversations and commitment to the Locavore Challenge could be the tipping point for that vendor!

Sweetness (Intro to Rachel’s personal Locavore challenge)

23 Aug

Sweetness! (Rachel looks into sweeteners as part of her personal Locavore Challenge: Introduction)

Rachel’s Locavore challenge: Investigating how some of our luxury/cheat items are produced and make it to our stores and plates, and seeing what alternatives we might choose for everyday use. I love to make things the “old-fashioned” way, and I love to research the path of foods to our plates, so this seems like a great personal challenge for me. The 250-mile diet challenge is less of the issue for me this month, though I’ll be working on that as much as I can. It’s less of a stretch, however, for someone who attempts that year-round. For me, the challenge is about highlighting what is available around me, and forgiving myself for not being able to be perfect at it, while simultaneously figuring out what steps I can take to have a positive impact on my local food/farm economy. My major cheats, I already know, will be nuts/seeds/exotic dried fruits and probably tea, some spices (though I’m going to use less since we have such fantastic local herbs and seasonings right now) and coffee.

When I have a local-ingredient question, I grab the oldest cookbook I can find. Usually that will give me a hint about what might be substituted for an expensive or exotic ingredient when it’s not a special occasion that necessitates use of such an ingredient. In my Rochester apartment, it’s a very quirky Mennonite cookbook (see here: Mennonite Community Cookbook) that seems really old, but which was apparently published in 1992.  It includes recipes from the Mennonite (and Amish, I believe) communities in the Eastern United States—Pennsylvania and Ohio especially.  [A bit of personal history: my family history is centered in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. My childhood long weekends were spent in the midst of some of the East’s most fertile farm land, waving at horse-drawn buggies clip-clopping down the highway in front of my Aunt Barbara’s house (an Amish family lived across the street), buying baked goods, cheeses and jams from the Mennonite, Amish and “Other” farmers at the Lancaster Central Market on weekends, eating my grandfather’s simple, elegant home-cooked foods. My grandfather grew up as a foster child on a farm in the Great Depression; even as a self-built wealthier man, his food never seemed to stray too far from these roots (which he’d pronounce “ruts”). There was always something from a jar on the table, even if it accompanied store-bought foods and shrimp cocktail.]

I feel that I can trust that whatever is in this cookbook is based in a tradition of non-excess, values similar to my own, and a locavore/eat-from-your-land mentality. Then there are strange convenience foods thrown into the mix, but I’ll overlook that since those are mostly dinner/casserole dishes that I wouldn’t use from this cookbook. The recipe proportions are generally off, and rely on the fact that you should know what looks and feels right, even with chemistry-based baking!  Basically, I treat this cookbook as cultural reference/interesting reading, though there are some winning cookie/cake recipes once I learned to trust my instinct on measurements.  On the question of sugar, it seems these traditional-esque recipes (the recipes are generations-back-passed-down sorts of recipes) still call for things that are luxury imports (spices, sugar). Sometimes molasses is used, which I’m learning could be made by farmers melting down sugar from their beets…but probably isn’t what was used even a few decades ago when this was published. Sometimes it’s honey or maple syrup, but generally it’s white and brown sugar, even corn syrup (though I have heard that this was considered the cheapest and least-quality sweetener, and you could base poverty on “not even being able to afford Karo syrup”). Obviously, this cookbook doesn’t go far enough back to a time when sugar was extremely limited, but my investigations are not even close to done!

Sugar is an interesting character on our pantry shelves: it’s a non-local luxury, but we treat it as a very necessary ingredient and accept its usage in our homes and in the foods we buy in restaurants and from store shelves. It’s in every jam, jelly and fruit-canning recipe I’ve ever seen (though with some pectins you can substitute honey or use much less sugar). In terms of the Locavore Challenge, we can at least start by trying to limit our consumption of sugar-using sweet treats, and we can certainly eliminate sweets (and even savory foods) from packages that use more refined/processed sweeteners. That’s usually my modus operandi, anyway.

In September, I’m challenging myself to at least look into this sugar question, see what the options are for alternatives (specifically for baked goods, as I find it’s pretty simple to do a tablespoon of honey or maple syrup in otherwise savory dishes), and of course reward myself with some baking. The experimental subjects will be: a cake, a cookie, granola and a confection/candy type thing. I have some lucky or unlucky friends and coworkers. Too bad my cat is too picky for any horrible results. Stay tuned for results of this and other installments of Rachel’s Highly (un-) Scientific Ingredient Experiments throughout September!

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