Friday, July 18, 2008
I have never known apricots until I tasted them this season. I mean, *really* known them. This summer I have had a passionate love-affair with apricots straight from the Farmers' Market. Sometimes a few make it home. Their skin is soft and supple, easily dented, and sometimes barely holding in their succulent juice. You can tear them in half with no work at all, using your fingers! And to place that flesh in your mouth. . it simply melts. These fruits need no dressing up; they are a work of art in themselves. In the past, apricots have been a work-horse of dried fruits, similar to raisins, filling out trail mixes to give them some bulk, but mostly picked-over and definitely unappreciated. And then I tasted a real apricot!
When I went to the Farmers' Market this week, the guy at the apricot stand, who recognized me as a regular, informed me that this was the last week for apricots. So last night I made a special dinner for apricots, in their honor.
I braised a couple of lamb shoulder blades in chicken broth, with a few Tbs balsamic vinegar, and some red wine vinegar to round it out. And about 6 cloves of garlic, coursely chopped. With plenty of freshly ground pepper, and some sea salt. This took about 45 minutes. In an earthenware dish I roasted quartered apricots with just a pat of butter. Unbelievable. They didn't take long because they were already so soft and juicy. Roasting them gave them a gorgeous crust. To serve, I covered the lamb in a bit of the braising juice, and spread them with the apricots. Divine!
Thank you, apricots! Glad to finally know you.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Fresh-baked muffins make me all warmy inside. They feel like home and like family. To me, muffins are a breakfast comfort food equivalent to the dinnertime bowl of macaroni and cheese. They feel like someone who loves me wrapped me in a cozy soft blanket and a big hug. A muffin straight from the oven is like a little gift I get to open up and savour. With butter!
This morning I made myself muffins. I used the recipe that one of our dear teachers in the Bauman Natural Chef program shared with us years ago. These muffins ~ although delicate and light in texture ~ eat more like a meal than a snack. They are wholesome, nourishing, and grain-free. And unlike their sugar- and white flour-laden commercial counterparts, are actually a perfect solid start to a productive morning.
The recipe is quite versatile and open to add-ins. This is the way I made it today:
Lizette's Breakfast Muffins
Preheat the oven to 350.
1 cup raw almonds*, soaked overnight**, then chopped finely in a food processor or blender
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup yogurt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp sea salt
Mix all ingredients. Pour batter to fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake until golden.
Smear with more butter, and jam, as they're hot from the oven.
Additions, substitutions: you can use coconut oil in place of the butter, applesauce or ripe banana in place of the yogurt (though without the yogurt, I'm wondering if you'd need to add 1/2 tsp of baking powder. . ), and you can add just about anything you would to a normal muffin ~ chocolate or carob chips, frozen berries, a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg, dried coconut flakes. . yum!
*It is important to buy organic almonds. Since last year, all almonds ~ *except* for ones you buy directly from the farmer, at the farmers' market, for instance ~ must be either irradiated, fumigated, or pasteurized. Organic laws ensure that almonds will only be pasteurized (heated) instead of undergoing the other toxic manipulations. But organic almonds you buy in the store are no longer raw ~ as in, you couldn't plant them and grow a new plant, no matter what they say on the bin. (bummer!!)
**Almonds, like all seeds including nuts, grains, and beans, have their nutrients locked away so that they can be deposited in the ground and make new plants. In order to make their nutrients available to us, and to neutralize inhibitors that protect the seed and challenge our digestion and nutrition, we must mimic the germination process for these seeds. This means giving them a warmish, moist, slightly acidic environment like they would experience if they were placed in soil. It's easy to do, but takes a moment of pre-planning. For nuts ~ cover raw, organic nuts in filtered water with a little salt and let them sit out on the counter overnight. In the morning, you can either use them still soft like I did for this recipe, or dry them in a dehydrator or oven on a very low temp until crispy.
Tuesday, July 08, 2008
An ear of corn just hours away from harvest at Full Belly Farm.
Being an urban girl at the moment, the farmers' market is my connection with the country.
For some reason the Tuesday Berkeley farmers' market feels a tad more intimate than the others; perhaps it is the narrow corridor of a street that the booths are on, and the fact that I end up rubbing arms and shopping baskets with many other market-goers as I shop. I feel more up-close with the vendors, too. Under the shade of their awning for the afternoon, they are tan (the kind of tan you get from working outside, not the kind you get from lounging) and earthy. If they don't have soil under their fingernails, I at least imagine that they do. They seem grounded and in their bodies. Everytime I interact with them and their tables of produce, I fantasize that I am one of them ~ just in town for the afternoon.
As if you didn't know, going to the farmers' markets continues to be my favorite activity of the week. I love walking to the market with a general loose guide of what I want and need, then picking the produce that most urgently grabs my attention, and creating a menu out of it as I walk along. So far this season the fruit has stolen the spotlight as I walk down the line, getting lured in by each plump fragrant sample piece. But summertime vegetables (ok ~ we all know that some of what we call "vegetables" are technically fruit, but follow me here) are starting to nudge their way in. The show-stopper for me this week has been corn. Corn! I love corn ~ any way you fix it (even creamed corn from a can).
Here's a simple recipe I created from veggies that caught my attention today:
~ makes two heapin' helpings
olive oil and butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 a bunch rainbow chard ~ the stem sliced like celery, the leaves chopped or in a wide chiffonade*
3 ears of corn ~ kernels stripped off the ear
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
a small handful of basil leaves ~ cut into a chiffonade
In a large skillet, warm the butter and olive oil and saute' the garlic with the chard stems on medium low for a few minutes, stirring so as not to let the garlic brown. Add the chard leaves, still dripping with the water they were washed in, and turn the heat up higher as you put a lid on the skillet. Let those wilt and cook to your liking. At the very last few minutes, add the corn kernels and stir. You don't have to cook them long at all. Salt and pepper to taste. Add the basil after the dish is off the heat, or as a garnish to each individual plate. This dish can be served piping hot or cold. With a few vagrant cornsilks still in there, this dish feels like summer.
* to chiffonade: line the leaves up lengthwise, and roll them together like a big cigar. As you hold the "cigar" firmly on the cutting board with one hand, make decisive cuts to shred the lot cross-wise into strips. For greens like kale and chard, I'm liking to cut the strips about as wide as my finger. I think chiffonade is the best way to cut basil; it doesn't oxidize and turn brown as much as if you mince it. Shred basil into 1/4 inch strips.
(my photo doesn't give juicy still-hot-from-the-sun justice to corn. .. more like a textbook. .)