Friday, September 14, 2007

What's Fresh Now: [Mostly] Local Meals

As I've mentioned before, September is this year's official Eat Local Challenge month. The organizers of this event, which is now in its 3rd year, are an incredibly encouraging bunch. If what you need is a good rational reason why eating locally produced food matters, they'll give you ten. Tips and guiding principles? Here are a nice even seven. Testimonials? Loads of them. Help with sourcing ingredients? Well, the Bay Area is this movement's spiritual home, but you might find a link to closer compadres here. Enough already and you'd like to sign up? Suit yourself.

While I hesitate to call th'usband and me full-fledged participants--on account of the fact that we haven't done anything in September so far that we didn't already have underway in June, July, or August--the good news is that simply by trying to make frugal use of our CSA produce, we've enjoyed one or more [mostly] local meals each week. I'll give you a few examples.
  1. The Red Meal: Th'usband and I are both going to start new jobs on the 24th. Cooking is going to have to get a lot more programmed without someone at home to run last-minute errands or speed-thaw something from the freezer, so we've cracked out the crockpot again. I had a roommate once who used one to make split pea soup, and th'usband is justifiably proud of his own slow-cooked barbeque chicken, but all I really know how to make it in so far is corned beef. Fortunately, I like corned beef a lot. This meal started out with a red onion, a bunch of red carrots, and some juicy red beets from our CSA layered under the corned beef and nice little red potatoes. Four or five hours later, after the meat was cooked, I took it out to make room for a red cabbage, cut into wedges. Nothing could be easier--and while it seems like wintery fare, when you use a crock pot, you don't even heat up the kitchen.
  2. Roast chicken and applesauce: Our friend A. was having a bad day. After we walked the dogs, I suggested that he come over for dinner and homebrew. That's the great thing about roasting a whole chicken--you can just spontaneously ask folks over, and there will be plenty to go around. I got our chicken from Dines Farms, of course, and brined it for a couple of hours in a mixture of salt, sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, and maybe a few other things like red pepper flakes, but don't quote me on it. After drying it thoroughly and hitting it with salt, I crammed whatever fresh herbs I had on hand--thyme, I think, and some basil--under the skin and popped it into a 450 degree oven for about an hour. In the meantime, I peeled some apples recently procured from my uncle's tree and sliced them into a pot along with a pinch of salt, a shake of hibiscus sugar that an acquaintance in Minneapolis makes (and that I imported to the state on my person when I moved here), a twist of lemon to keep everything from getting too brown, and some of that world-famous Brooklyn tap water. Covered and simmered for a half hour or so, this turned into applesauce, and freed me up to steam and saute veggie sides--a mess of green beans and some more of those red potatoes--courtesy of our very own Farmer Bill.
  3. Mmmm. Montauk: I really wish I'd taken a picture of this one, but our hunger got the best of us. Th'usband and I like to pick out fish when we go food shopping, and look forward to a fast, healthy meal just as soon as we get the other groceries put away. This week, we wound up with yellowfin tuna steaks, fresh caught on Montauk. As soon as we got home, I started heating up a half-inch or so of (non-local) canola oil in a cast iron skillet, and sliced six or eight medallions of (non-local) polenta to fry in it. After that was sizzling away, I turned to cleaning green beans and peeling and slicing some gorgeous little carrots that I had to clear out of the fridge to make way for this week's batch. I steamed the beans, but softened the carrots in butter while I made up a little marinade/sauce in another skillet. It's a favorite of ours ever since we came home from Vermont last fall with a very large and yummy jug of maple syrup. I start by melting a little bit of butter, then adding equal parts (non-local) soy sauce and syrup. When all was blended, I brushed a goodly amount onto the tuna steaks and popped them under the broiler. The rest of the sauce went into the carrots, and I smacked a lid down on top of them so as not to lose the moisture. Five minutes later, everything was done and so beautiful that I pulled out my favorite rectangular, terra cotta rimmed plates. I laid down a grid of 4 crispy polenta medallions on each plate, then topped this with a tuna steak. I heaped the carrots on top of the steaks, letting the sauce flow freely down, and finally, filled out each place with a great green swath of beans. I ain't even saying, I'm just saying: heerlijk!

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