Saturday, July 28, 2012

Farm Food and Flowers Nearby

the flower gardens at Small Farm
Recently, I've been reading quite a bit about the Farm to Table movement. Adherent believe you should plan meals around what is freshest and best, rather than first creating set menus and then searching for foods that fit. The Boston Globe wrote an article about farm to table meals, as did Smithsonian magazine. I knew that Nancy's Airfield Cafe used local foods whenever possible, but I thought she was the only nearby source.

Boy, was I wrong!  Through the two print articles, I learned that Verrill Farm in Concord offered a summertime meal they described as "from field to fork" (sold out at the time of this writing, according to their website).  I thought it sounded like a good idea and then promptly forgot about it for all of two days.

Then I stopped by Small Farm in Stow, where I often stop to schmooze with the owners, Barbara and Dwight Sipler,  and to enjoy their chemical-free produce and their glorious flowers. On this visit, they introduced me to a young friend and relative, Amanda, who is putting on a seasonal feast next week. She calls it Supper on Small Farm, and has scheduled it for 4 in the afternoon on August 5. The meal will feature not only Small Farm produce, but also local wine, beer, and cider.  In addition, guests can carry home a bouquet that they have picked themselves. For reservations and more details, call Amanda at 686-2033, area code 617.

Who knew that the food revolution had hit so close to home?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fit for a Queen

Last year, the Boston Globe presented a recipe for Coronation Chicken Salad. I had never heard of this before (Queen Elizabeth eats chicken salad?), so I did a bit of research. Turns out that the dish was created for Queen Elizabeth's coronation, but it was not totally original. It in turn was based on another dish that had been served at the King George V's Silver Jubilee.

I was intrigued by what a long history the dish had and how many backstories people could find. The dish is also called Chicken Elizabeth, Chicken Mayonnaise, and a host of other things, but in general it contains chicken, mayonnaise, a bit of curry, and other odds and ends. Early recipes were major productions. They began with a raw chicken and took ages to prepare.

The Globe's recipe is a bit simpler but still plenty complicated for me, because it calls for several ingredients, such as mango chutney, that I did not have on hand last year. The first time I make a recipe, I try to make it as written, so I assembled the various ingredients and went to town. I'm not a huge curry fan, or so I thought, but this salad was downright addictive. I ate it for days, always thinking I should give some to friends and family but then never giving away a forkful. Now, I keep the ingredients on hand.

It is now one of my favorite summer dishes. I made some today. I now am a bit more flexible about the ingredients, because experience has taught me which are crucial (the mango chutney, the curry, the grated ginger) and which can stand a substitution (today, for instance, I used chopped raisins instead of  currants and toasted almonds in place of  toasted pecans). Experience also taught me to invite a friend to join me at dinner. I know that I won't want to give any more away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Joy of Raspberries

Raspberries are one of those foods that I almost always photograph before eating. I can't help myself; their color, texture, and shape makes them great subjects. This time of year, farmers' markets and farm stands have bright displays of all types of berries, but raspberries are still my favorite.

They are plentiful right now and reasonably priced, so this would be a good time to stock up. One problem with these luscious fruits is that they spoil rapidly. To prevent this, do not wash raspberries until right before you eat them. One tip that I read recently suggests washing them in a dilute solution of vinegar (1 part vinegar to 10 parts water), swishing them around, draining, and then rinsing again. This is supposed to kill lingering mold spores. I haven't tried it yet, but I will.

I enjoy raspberries in three main ways. I eat them plain, doused with a bit of cream, or with yogurt. I make jam, usually combining them with a few blueberries for added oooomph. And I make peach melba, surely one of the most glorious summer desserts of all. My peach melba is a bit changeable. It always has the traditional ingredients: peaches, raspberry sauce, and vanilla ice cream. However, the methodology changes. Sometimes I use freshly sliced raw peaches; at other times, I poach the peaches in light syrup before assembly; this year, I'm going to try grilling peaches and then using them.

Although nothing beats the taste and texture of fresh raspberries, the fruit is also easy to freeze. Just pour dry berries onto a cookie sheet, separate, and then freeze until firm. Once frozen, pour into freezer bags and keep frozen. Once frozen, the fruit is fine for sauce and for jam but a bit mushy for eating plain.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Cow Corn and Sweet

Growing up, I never ate sweet corn.  Since our farm raised lots of cattle, we grew acres and acres of field corn, which is tougher than sweet corn and less sweet. My father always scoffed at sweet corn, saying it had little taste or texture. I would have felt disloyal disagreeing.

When the first corn of the season ripened, we sometimes ate an entire meal of corn. We simply boiled it and served it with butter. The butter was spread on chunks of bread, which were then rubbed over the hot kernels. Or, a stick of butter was placed on a flat plate and then we would take turns rotating our ear of corn into the surface of the butter.

Until I was in high school, I assumed everyone buttered their corn that way. What a shock to see that some people tried to butter their corn using knives, which seemed to me to be a losing proposition. The butter just slid off the knife. A few people owned little gadgets to spread their butter, but these  seemed a bit precious. Someone once gave me such a tool. It looked like a slightly flattened spoon with slots in it. You stuffed the butter into the spoon, and then rubbed the back of the implement over the hot kernels. The heat melted the butter, which then oozed out through the slots. It was a lot of work compared to the methods I was used to, and there was more clean-up.

Last night, I grilled corn for the first time. I tried Mark Bittman's method, which is to just place the husked ears on the grill and keep turning them. Although the corn was very tasty, it was slightly dry and chewy, very reminiscent of the cow corn of my youth. His sauce was tasty, but I guess I prefer my corn quickly boiled and then buttered.

However, I used my leftover grilled corn to make corn relish, and the dry, chewy kernels were wonderful in that dish. Basically, I cut the kernels off the cob and threw them into a bowl with all sorts of chopped vegetables: onion, green peppers, cucumbers, and cherry tomatoes. I had some leftover black beans, so I threw those in, too. Then I made a simple dressing with oil, vinegar, lime juice, chili powder, chipotle, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper. I let it sit for an hour or so in the refrigerator and then enjoyed it for lunch with corn chips and guacamole.

Friday, July 13, 2012


I'm not a huge radish fan except in summer. Then I like these bright red roots two main ways: either dipped in salt or chopped up with other veggies in a spring salad. I'm not sure if spring salad was an invention of my mother or not, but it was a warm-weather staple in my family's home. The recipe is simple: chopped crisp vegetables (cucumber, bell pepper, radishes, scallion) mixed into cottage cheese and a dab of sour cream. Just before serving, add chopped tomatoes, salt, and fresh ground pepper. Serve on a bed of lettuce.

In the last several years, I've read many references to radishes and butter. Some use fancy radishes, while others use herbed butter. I've tried a few, but I'm not impressed.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Basil is Bountiful Right Now

Pignoli nuts stay fresh for months in a freezer

Farm stands and markets are awash in basil right now. You can buy large bunches of squeaky fresh leaves for very little cash. I usually take this opportunity to make one or two batches of pesto, which I freeze in small quantities. Although many recipes say that cheese doesn't freeze well, I have not noticed that my thawed pesto (which includes cheese) is appreciably different from fresh. So I include all the ingredients before freezing.

I slather pesto on pizza dough before adding anything else; I also spread it on bread that I'm using for panini; and for a quick lunch, I smear some on French bread before topping it with thick slices of tomatoes.

Basil has a minty taste, and is also good served with certain fruits. I've used it in a watermelon salad
that is hearty enough to eat as a complete meal. I've also seen several recipes for basil ice cream, but I've never tried it. If you have, let me know.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Cherries and Chopsticks

one of several cherry-pitting methods

Cherry season is is in full swing. Most of the cherries that I eat, I just pop into my mouth and enjoy. Then I spit out the pit. However, there are times when I want attractive pieces of fruit to use in a dish. In the past, I have just pitted the cherries using a sharp knife, but this week I decided to go online and see how others did it. You Tube offers a quite a few videos on the subject.

Surprise! For those who do not own a dedicated cherry-pitter, a bent paper clip is one of the most popular tools for removing cherry pits. I didn't even bother to try this method, since I don't have great fine motor skills. I imagined an embarrassing accident that I would try to explain to an incredulous medical professional. One video  showed me how to bend the tines of a fork just so, but that also looked way too energetic and potentially dangerous. A few folks used sharp knives, but I already knew how to do that. One technique, though, really caught my attention: the chopstick method.

To my way of thinking, this had several virtues. It was simple; it required no sharp implements; it did not require a great deal of dexterity. But would it work? Yes, it did. I have many chopsticks and all but the really pointy ones worked well. In a few cases, there was a bit of wayward cherry juice, but all in all this was a pretty nifty solution.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Slurp Your Veggies!

the beginnings of gazpacho
By now you have probably figured out that I eat lots of vegetables not because they are good for me but because I really like them. Consequently, I go a little nuts in summer when local veggies pop up everywhere: supermarkets, farm stands, farmer's markets, friends' backyards.

My refrigerator is a bit of an embarrassment in summer, because it's chockablock full of washed vegetables, wrapped in dishtowels and placed inside plastic bags. Open the fridge and you are confronted by many anonymous white parcels. The whole thing looks a bit like the stoarge facility of some demented forensic pathologist.

Luckily, most of the mysterious packages can quickly be reduced to one large bowl of gazpacho.  Gazpacho is one of the three cold soups that I eat regularly in summer. The first time I made it, I followed the recipe in my 1963 McCalls cookbook. It was easy to make and delicious. Nowadays, I am more likely to make the Boston Globe recipe, which includes both corn and avocados. I can eat that for almost any meal, including breakfast, because it's not quite as tangy as many other gazpachos. It has an incredibly fresh taste and is almost addictive.

The other two soups that I eat in summer are Bulgarian cucumber soup and borscht. If a heat wave is forecast, I will usually have one of these chilling in the fridge. The cucumber soup is from an old Joy of Cooking. I serve borscht the way my parents did, with a hot boiled potato in the middle and a dollop of sour cream on top. I love yogurt, but it just isn't the same! (Summer borscht I buy in bottles; winter borscht—which often contains cabbage and beef—I make myself.)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Zucchini Isn't Just a Joke

Botanically a fruit

Jokes about zucchini abound:
  •  Don't leave your car unlocked in the summer, because someone might fill your back seat with zucchini.
  • Any number of zucchini plants above one is too many.
  • How can you tell if a person has no friends? The person has to buy zucchini. 
And those are just the clean ones! But zucchini  is only a joke among people who grow it. Those of us who eat it know that this food is tremendously versatile. When picked young, they can be cooked any number of ways: steamed, baked, grilled, sliced raw in salads, sauteed with a little oil and garlic. Larger sizes can be stuffed and baked.

Even the overgrown giants with the thick skin can be used. The trick is to grate them on the large holes of a grater, sprinkle them with salt, and let them stand in a colander for ten minutes. Then throw them into a clean dish towel and twist it tightly to drain off the liquid. The resulting shreds are a gorgeous shade of green and can be sauteed quickly either with butter and onion or with oil and garlic. It cooks into a fluffy green pile that can be served either as a stand-alone vegetable or as a base for a pasta sauce.

As an added bonus, zucchini are good for you. Not only are they high in fiber, but also in Vitamins A, C, B6, Thiamin, Niacin, and various minerals.  And they are low in calories.

So snigger if you must but take advantage of summer's fresh zucchini while you can.