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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

chard with golden raisins and toasted almonds


know your farmer, know your food.

When we sit down to eat, we usually talk about the source of the raw ingredients for our meal. Who grew these veggies? And do we know them? My four-year-old, Meredith, loves to guess the farmer responsible for the plants on her plate. And mostly she does know the people who grew her food! 

Maybe some of the plants are from her dad’s small vegetable patch! We don’t grow vegetables that take a lot of space, because our garden is small. (It’s well fortified, though! Surrounded by an eight-foot tall fence of wooden posts and welded wire, it does keep the moose out.) If we’re eating lettuce, chard, or kale, there’s a good chance her dad grew it. Especially if there are traces of chickweed in the lettuce leaves (isn’t that terribly fashionable in fancy restaurants these days?), and the leaves have lacey patterns in them… (But we try not to talk too much about the slugs. We just wash our lettuce very very carefully.)

If we didn’t grow it, maybe the farmer is Arthur Keyes at A&M Farms with his Tiger Brand Produce zucchinis, eggplants, tomatoes and strawberries. Or Mr. VanderWeele and his daughter Michelle of VanderWeele Farms, with their mountains of broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbages, and the best prices in the state… Or Carol Kenley, of Kenley’s Alaskan Vegetables, and her daughter Rachel, whose steer won grand champion at the Alaska State Fair! It could easily be Mr. Rempel (“and,” Meredith always adds, “his son Ben!”), from Rempel Family Farms, who taught us how to make sauerkraut. Maybe it’s Mr. Stockwell, from Stockwell Farms, who sometimes has fennel for us, and grows beautiful greens and startlingly purple potatoes. Or it could be Mr. Windell, from Three Bears Farm, who grows great collards (they must grow especially well for him because of his Southern accent).

I love that Meredith knows the farmers who grow her food. Yeah, maybe her father and I could work a little harder to keep the chickweed and slugs at bay in our own small vegetable patch. We might then reap a better and more bountiful harvest. But this way we get to do both—garden haphazardly and support our local farmers!


chard with golden raisins and toasted almonds

This recipe is based on one from a back issue of Cook’s Illustrated. I love the sweet golden raisins with the slightly salty & spicy greens, topped with rich toasted almonds.

When you’re toasting the almonds, you might as well toast a whole tray-full of them. They make such great snacks and toppings for salads and other vegetable dishes!

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, minced
2 pounds fresh Swiss chard, cleaned and stemmed (do not dry)
sea salt or kosher salt
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
½ cup golden raisins
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest, from 1 lemon
¼ cup almonds, toasted in a 350 degree oven for 15-20 minutes

1. Wash the chard and cut the stems off each leaf. Holding the stems in a bundle, cut them into ½-inch slices. If the leaves are large, slice them into 1-inch wide ribbons, but if they are small, you can leave them whole. Drain the leaves, but don’t dry them.
2. Heat oil in a large sauté pan. Add onion and ½ teaspoon of salt, sauté for a minute or two until starting to soften, then add the chard stems. Cook until stems are tender and onion is cooked. How long this takes will depend on the age of the chard. If the pan is drying out before the stems are tender, just add a bit of water to steam them and finish cooking them.
3. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic, and when garlic is fragrant (after a minute or two), add raisins and wet greens. Cover and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until greens completely wilt, but are still bright green, about 5 minutes. Uncover, season to taste with salt and add lemon zest. Cook over high heat until some of the liquid evaporates, and greens are completely tender. Top with almonds and serve.


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Saturday, September 06, 2008

spicy roasted cauliflower with red peppers and cumin


On Saturdays in the summer and fall, I sell my whole-grain Rise & Shine Bakery sourdough bread from 9am-2pm at the South Anchorage Farmers’ Market. I can’t really eat while I’m giving out samples and selling bread. I’ve tried, let me tell you. This is what happens: I wait until there are no customers in line, and then look carefully around the entire market for a familiar bread-buyer. Recognizing no one, I take a big bite and start to chew. Immediately, three or four of my best customers materialize in front of my stand, full of questions about the bread, and wanting to talk. Then I wave my hands around and mumble idiotically while trying to swallow and talk around my monstrous mouthful.  It’s just easier to wait on lunch until I get home. 

So by the time I get home around 3pm, I’m pretty ravenous. Usually I try and fix something the night before, after the bake is over, but last night I didn’t get around to it. So when I got home today, I had to scramble a bit. Luckily I had just bought a couple of HUGE cauliflowers at the market (one weighed in at almost four pounds), and I had three red peppers in the ‘fridge. This recipe doesn’t take long—if you aren’t too spaced out and starving, you can do most of the veggie prep and make the sauce while the oven heats to its 450 degrees! And I promise, it’s worth the wait—even if you’re really hungry!

spicy roasted cauliflower with red peppers and cumin

This fabulous recipe is based on one in Peter Berley’s first cookbook: The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen. Although it has Indian spices in it, it’s so delicious that I find excuses to make it as an appetizer no matter what kind of dinner I’m serving. Or, like today, I just make a couple of huge trays of it and eat it for lunch. You’ll be amazed how much cauliflower you can plow through, with this recipe!

3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ teaspoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon whole cumin seeds
½ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 large or 2 medium cauliflower heads (about 2 pounds), cored and separated into florets
2 or 3 large red or yellow bell peppers, halved, seeded, and sliced into ½” strips

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, combine the lemon juice, oil, salt, ground cumin, coriander, cumin seeds, and red pepper flakes. Whisk to combine.
3. Add the cauliflower and bell peppers and toss well.
4. Coat 2 baking sheets with non-stick spray or oil. (This makes clean-up a lot easier.) Spread the vegetables out on them in a single layer. Don’t overload the baking sheets—do this in two separate batches if you want to make a double batch, since the veggies will steam instead of roast if you crowd them on the sheets.
5. Roast the vegetables for 15-20 minutes or more, until they are starting to get dark brown in spots and they are nice and tender when poked with a paring knife. Stir after 10 minutes to ensure even browning.
6. Transfer the veggies to a serving dish. They are great hot or at room temperature, and make great leftovers.

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