Tag Archives: tomato

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.

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)

In the moment

13 Sep

Do you not drink the local milk in your fridge because “that’s for yogurt”?

Do you look at a beautiful basket of CSA tomatoes and sigh because “canning gets so stressful”?

Essentially, do you forget to enjoy the now-ness of seasonal, local eating because you’ve been at it so long that you’ve formed (admittedly well-intentioned) food preservation habits that override the spirit of Locavorism?

If so, you might be me.

That’s why I love being on NOFA-NY staff during the Locavore Challenge.  It’s a lot of work, on our end, to be present at events, publish daily e-mails, remember to post sponsor information on the website, mail out calendars and materials to our generous (and patient) regional partners and helpers.  But it’s so fun to get to see all the new people discovering delicious local foods.  It’s like they’ve been let into a secret club (though obviously our goal is to make it a very un-secret club).  It’s a club I’ve been in a long time, and the newbies remind me about my first bite of a fresh farm tomato.

Have I ever told that story?  If you follow this blog, you’d assume I was always queen of the tomato-eaters.  I was only crowned such about 5 years ago.  I was working on my friend’s farm and I thought I didn’t like tomatoes.  I was 22.  My dad had grown tomatoes (his thing was the yellow pear tomatoes) in our garden, as I’m sure my grandfather had as well.  Yet I never liked them fresh (cooked, sure).  But something about that first-adult-tomato-still-warm-from-the-sun combined with a heck of a lot of not-wanting-to-offend-my-friend-and-employer had me hooked.  I LOVE tomatoes.  Even after picking them in hot plastic high tunnels til I turned yellow-green with sap…I loved them since that summer.

So why am I lately more stressed than happy over an abundance of tomatoes (no offense to my CSA farmers, who are totally rocking it this year)?  It’s because I have, on occasion, forgotten to actually just eat them.  Not eat whatever’s left over from canning.  Not eat because they’ll go bad (they will).  Just eat because I now love tomatoes.  A lot of this is my personality–I tend to want to postpone my enjoyment or finishing something until just the right time.  I don’t want the season, happiness, etc. to end.  Generally, I like this policy.  I eat divine local food year-round (though less during certain months).  But that survival mentality can be problematic if I don’t keep it in check.  I ought not worry so much if I have one less jar of preserved tomatoes this winter, or if I don’t buy extra greens to freeze.  I’m still an okay person doing my best to eat local!  It’s not as if I’ve abandoned eating local by putting a little less food away…I doubt I’ll be relying on fast food or anything like THAT this winter.

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My furry friend says, “No canning tonight, Rachel! Stay out of this pantry and go enjoy life!”

Some people might say “carpe diem.”  We locavores might say “carpe solanum lycopersicum.”  A favorite poet of mine would say “you only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”  In any case, this is my thank you for giving new-to-you local, seasonal foods a try and showing your enthusiasm for the Locavore Challenge.  This afternoon I barely bought anything at the farmer’s market–I just went to say hi and get a few salad-bound items.  I love the market because it’s full of newbies and old hands with local eating.  We all come there and form this funky community through a common desire to know our farmers and eat the freshest food we can (and that wasn’t intended to be clever, but I guess I do mean eating the freshest food possible, tonight; but also, preserving the fresh food through canning and eating it later).  I tasted some heirloom tomatoes from a friend/farmer’s table and grinned at the guy tasting next to me, who was trying very hard to remember which sample corresponded to which tomato, testing them all multiple times to decide which he’d buy.  My guess is he’d only buy one or two tomatoes, but take them home and truly savor them.  He might try to get a spouse or child to taste one, and he might be successful.  But in that moment, he was enjoying what seemed a new thing for him, all those colors of glittery goodness on the end of toothpicks. He inspired me.  Instead of feeling like a loser for not buying a bulk quantity of something to put away for winter, I made a different play: I indulged in locally-made ice cream with my food dollars, and saved the rest of that for another day’s canning, pickling or drying adventures.  Today was about today.  I enjoyed every luscious lick of that ice cream, it was truly the perfect mid-fall hot afternoon treat. Tonight I’m canning nothing, but I’ll be drinking an ice-cold glass of tomato juice from what I have here at home–not enough to make sauce or salsa, but just right for juice.  Or I might make gazpacho.  It doesn’t matter, it’s going to be simple, it’s going to rock my world and there won’t be anything but a memory come January!

Dehydrate some veggies TODAY for winter stews and smiles.

9 Sep

This draft had been saved in our blog queue from last December.  It’s definitely more relevant or useful as inspiration now, when you have the moment to save those summer flavors.  So I’ll finally publish this reminder of how those little touches of preserved foods from the summer (and fall!) can make a big impact long after the Locavore challenge is over.  –Rachel

[December 2011]:  I had been traveling (not abnormal!) and sick (very abnormal!) and was bound and determined to make last Friday’s dinner-with-special-friend something that would take both our minds off the fact that I was a zombie, unfit for human interaction.  I was not contagious any more, but I felt like I’d been in a fight for the past week…in a way I had, just with some strong virus.  Times like this, I know I must do whatever it takes to return to what is the most comforting to me, and that happens to be a simple, nutritious and flavorful meal.  I used some hearty pinto beans from Cayuga Pure Organics for a stew.  Super helpful hint to cooking dry beans, besides the obvious soak-ahead stuff, is to add a piece of kombu or kelp (I really like these guys for sustainability and East Coast location) in the liquid.  In the interest of taking something off the shelf to make use of my stored foods, as I had committed to doing for Dark Days, I broke off a piece of the tomato sauce/stew base that I had dehydrated for this very purpose and added it into the beans as they finished cooking.  I wasn’t sure if there would be any flavor impact, but BAM there it was.  It tasted like August again–I can’t remember what I had put in the veggie puree before dehydrating it, but I could taste the tomato (obviously), herbs, bell pepper and maybe some celery and carrot?  Wow!  Not about to let beans upstage the veggies, I stewed local kale, Haukeri turnip tops and buttercup squash (definitely on my top 3 favorites list of the ugly squashes with pretty names) till they were soft and unctuous.  Leftover fair-trade quinoa from Thanksgiving also showed up at some point (was frozen in the interim), but really at that point my eyes were already popping out–from the flavor awakening, not the zombie virus symptoms.

Note: there are a lot of Youtube videos and resources for dehydrating foods, particularly tomatoes, out there.  I skew away from chefs and people drying tomatoes on a single sheet pan since that’s not really my experience.  The more serious “survivalist” or “homesteading” youtube videos are actually more credible in my opinion, since they’re not talking about a pretty little jar of partially-dried tomatoes in olive oil.  They’re talking year-long storage of many many tomatoes, no risk of spoilage.  So it’s worth looking around.  Extension websites are helpful too, though they’re going to be to the extreme on food safety (and that’s not a bad thing) and may recommend some things like sulfur dioxide for color/”freshness” retention.  I’ve never bothered with that, I just use my hygienic practices and ensure that my foods past the doneness tests, and I’m doing just fine.  The websites of companies selling dehydrators and homesteading gear are a good place to start for tips, even if you’re not interested in the gear.  For example, I found this on the Excalibur dehydrator website:

A “Live with the Parents” Locavore Musing

29 Sep

A guest blog post by our intern Kim:

I’m not extraordinarily proud of it, but like many college graduates these days (or so I tell myself), I have moved back home with my parents. Moving home certainly wasn’t my first choice, but after obtaining an unpaid internship at the NOFA-NY headquarters near my Rochester-suburb hometown of Honeoye Falls, moving home seemed like a good option. And, come to think of it, the only real downfall has been the reentrance of sister-clothes-sharing-related problems into my life.

The upsides to living at home are many. Most notably, free food. And, since the beginning of this month, a definite upside has been sharing the Locavore experience with my family. I’d say we’ve always been about middle of the road when it comes to family meals- we eat together several nights a week, but certainly don’t stick around for a family game night. However, the combination of locavore month and my guilt about living parasitically off of my family without pitching in financially has led me to help out by taking the reins when it comes to cooking dinner.

I never cooked much before college, or even thought about food much for that matter. But when I began to learn about the food system in various courses, anything relating to food, organics, health, and agriculture really began to catch my attention. And, I met some great people in college who could really cook. Like most people, I could always make a few simple things, but I never really got to experiment with cooking until I moved back home this summer.

Having more local ingredients in the house and ingredients from our garden has basically led to a large increase in the number of fresh vegetables we have laying around at any time. This has changed the way I cook because it has allowed me to tryout dishes that I would never have thought of cooking from scratch before. For example, one of my favorite comfort foods is grilled cheese and tomato soup. I’ve always used the typical canned Campbell’s tomato soup for this. However, when I was craving it last week, we were basically drowning in tomatoes from our garden, so I decided to make home-made tomato soup- which I really had no idea how to make, but it ended up being delicious!! I added ingredients that I liked, and some things from our garden- like green peppers and chives- and a lot more onion than the recipe called for. The difference from a can of Campbell’s soup was extraordinary. I liked my soup because it was unique!

I have four sisters, and it is definitely nice to be known now as ‘the one who can cook.’ And, I love the feeling of cooking for my family- especially when they enjoy it, which they most often do!

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