Sunday, June 23, 2013

Cool herbs for locavores

When you've restricted yourself to a locavore diet, there are just some things we take for granted in everyday life that are suddenly not an option anymore. Eating seasonally is fun because you're basically eating the freshest, best tasting produce out there. It also means there are some things that just aren't available year round, so I've started to put together a list of goodies that work as great replacements or substitues for other out of season or hard to grow items. Herbs are great as container plants and most of these are fairly easy to grow for novice gardeners. Check out your local garden center for some of these harder to find herbs. I love Freret Garden Center and Banting's Nursery as well as the plants/herb guy at CCFM, who always has a great selection of herbs.

Lemon and Limes. There's just no replacing lemon juice. its a winter citrus and just isnt available in the summer time. Limes on the other hand can sometimes be found year round. Key lime trees can grow well in nola and produce fruit most of the year, but unless you have a tree, they can still be hard to find. Cane vinegar or white wine are also acidic and can replace lemon juice in many recipes--they'll definitely add their own flavor, but in a pinch it can work.

Don't freeze citrus! It ruins the texture, but if you want to truly commit to the locavore diet, the freezer is your friend. Zest the lemons first, then you can squeeze them and freeze both the juice and zest in freezer friendly containers.

lemon verbena Lemon Verbena is a great substitute for lemon zest. The leaves can be tough, so mince them very finely. Alternately use a whole leaf to season a dish and remove it before serving. It can also be steeped in hot water for tea or in milk to create a flavored base for ice cream, sorbet, or pudding. Like many herbs you can bury a few leaves in a container of sugar and use to flavor cookies, doughs, or make a simple syrup. Add dried, crumbled leaves to rice just before serving for a little umph.

Pineapples. Actually will grow here, but only in containers. Their root system is shallow so they don't need a terribly large pot, but they absolutely can not handle freezing temperatures, so pots need to be brought indoors during harsh winter nights. New plants can take up to 2-3 years to produce fruit, so this is definitely a long term project. Mine is about a year old right now, so fingers crossed, maybe next June I'll get lucky. Here's some more info if you're interested, all it takes is cutting the top from a  mature, ripe pineapple.  

Pineapple Sage is a great herb that grows very easily here. Many folks use it as an ornamental plant, because its bushy and green most of the year and produces pretty red flowers when it blooms. It can be used very much like lemon verbena--with sugar, in a simple syrup, steeped in milk or water etc. As soon as you pick it you will be surprised how pineapple-y it smells, but the flavor is also very subtle, so use it in a dish where it can stand out and not be overwhelmed by other spices or herbs. I love it sauteed with shrimp and butter. Its simple and sweet and lets the tropical pineapple flavor stand out.

Vietnamese cilantro, unlike traditional cilantro will grow well in Nola year long. We're just too hot for traditional cilantro, which will do well in the spring and then go to seed during our hot summers. Vietnamese cilantro can be used in place of regular cilantro in most recipes. The leaves have the best flavor when they are young and the older the get, they become tough and leathery. The plant can be cut back down any time during the growing season to produce more fresh young leaves. If the plant seems slow to recover from a cutting, it may need to be repotted or divided. Its so much easier to grow than traditional cilantro, and great in a container that can be brought inside during the winter. 

Lavender mint, like many in the mint family are super easy to grow, and much much easier than lavender, which doesn't tolerate our hot humid climate very well. Mint is invasive though, and will spread easily if planted in the ground. Which makes it a good container plant or if you're looking for something that will provide ground cover. It has a wonderful lavender scent and can be used like Lemon Verbena and Pineapple Sage to flavor sugar, milk, etc.  

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Recipe: Salsa Verde

Tomatillos a re fantastic and I was so excited when I grabbed some from Inglewood Farm at the Locavore Market. I loved making this salsa verde because in a month without citrus, the tomatillos had a bright citrusy flavor that was a great companion to fish or shrimp. I also served it up as a dip for some sweet potato fries and it was great there too.

Salsa Verde
1 lb. tomatillos
1/2 chopped white onion
pecan oil
JalapeƱo peppers or other hot peppers, seeded and finely chopped
wine, cane vinegar, or lime juice if available
Salt to taste

Remove the papery husks of the tomatillos, as they are inedible. Rise the stickiness off the tomatillos and place in a baking pan. Place under the broiler for about 5-7 minutes to lightly blacken the skin. The tomatillos should look lighter and feel softer. 

Saute the onions in pecan oil in a small to medium sized sauce pan over medium heat. Once the onions are softer and more translucent, add the peppers and tomatillos. Use a blender or stick blender to puree. Add cilantro, wine/vinegar and salt to taste. (I used a dash of Pontchartrain Vineyards Ponchatrain Vineyards Roux St. Louis)


Thursday, June 6, 2013

Almost a week in and I'm loving it

One of the things I love about the challenge is the variety of items we see in June, especially this year. We have a longer strawberry season, while blueberries are just starting to peak and the first peaches are on the way. Later we'll hopefully get some watermelon and fig--and that just some of the fruits and berries. Once you start eating seasonally, you cherish those seasons and know you're getting the absolute best produce at the peak of its season. Savor it now!

So far I've had two of my three allotted cheat meals--one at City Park's Morning Call when the foraging class was canceled due to bad weather and the other at Pizza Delicious. That one was at least partially local. So far my ingredient or "vices" cheats are coffee, bread and dried spices. These probably won't change during the month. Here's what I've been eating the past few days:

Day 3 dinner: braised goat over rice.

Day 4 breakfast: no time for anything but a quick breakfast on the go. tomato with goat cheese and cane vinegar.

Day 4 dinner: a cheat meal or more correctly a 1/2 cheat meal at Pizza Delicious: Mezzi Rigatoni w/ Local Greens Pesto--broccolini, yellow squash, confit tomato, swiss chard. I was too busy inhaling it to take a pic, but this instagram user did:

Day 5 breakfast: carrot zucchini cornbread.

Day 5 lunch: summer salad and cornbread.

Day 5 dinner: baguette class at Gracious! I brought home my baguette from class and had it with a bit of goat cheese and strawberry jam...I'll definitely share more pix from class soon!

Day 6 breakfast: hashbrowns

Recipe: Braised Goat with tomatoes and coriander

 I grabbed some goat from Rouses local meats section and realized I had never cooked it before. So I did some googling and came across this recipe from The Oregonian's website for Braised Goat with tomatoes and coriander, which was perfect since I just snagged a bunch of coriander from my mom's garden. It took some editing since I didn't have a lot of the other ingredients, but the result was so yummy, its something I'll definitely add to my recipe bank outside of the challenge. I actually didn't have much broth on hand, just a bit of mushroom broth so use what you have or just use water--a good bit of the flavor will come from the wine anyway. I served it over rice because I already had some made and handy. I imagine it would go very well with some roasted potatoes and carrots. Overall it tastes like a condensed stew and the meat is very tender.

Braised Goat with Tomatoes and Coriander
adapted from The Oregonian
makes about 3 servings

1 to 1.5 pounds goat meat, cut into chunks
1 tablespoon pecan oil
1.5 cups onion, diced
1 tablespoons garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or other available hot pepper)
1 cups tomatoes, diced
1 cup white wine (I used Ponchatrain Vineyards Roux St. Louis)
1 cup broth, plus water as needed
1 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 375. Pat meat dry with paper towel and season the goat with salt. In a Dutch oven or cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, brown the meat on all sides; transfer to a plate.
2. Reduce the heat to medium and saute the onions. Cook until onions are tender and just beginning to brown. Stir in the garlic, & coriander cook for 1 minute more. Return the goat to the pot, then add the tomatoes and wine, broth and enough water as needed to barely cover the meat. Cover and bring to a gentle simmer on the stovetop then transfer the pot to the oven.
3. Braise in the oven, covered and adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. The goat is ready when the meat is tender and easily comes away from the bone, about 1.5 hours (more if there if you double the recipe or cut larger chunks of meat).
4. Stir the cilantro into the meat and sauce just before serving. Excellent served with rice and roasted root vegetables.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

But why?

It's the question that gets asked so often during ELC, usually when you say, "I can't eat that." Some people just don't get it. Why on earth would you want to limit yourself like that? I also get the, oh yeah, you did that last year. Cool experiment/learning experience...why are you doing it again?

One of the biggest reasons I do the eat local challenge every year is to remind myself to really think about the kind of food I'm eating. Where does it come from? Who grew it--what's their life like? Where did this animal come from--what's its life like? As a society we get so complacent and disconnected just picking stuff off the shelf without really thinking about what we are putting into our bodies. We are so wasteful without really thinking about the energy, resources and time that went into growing/producing food. I'm guilty of it too. And each year I do the challenge, I remember how much fun it is--but its also a lot of work. Why do we grab the crap off the shelf we know is bad for us? Convenience and cost. Even as someone who cringes at the thought of what that chicken's life was like, I still find myself at popeyes shamlessly craving that fried deliciousness. ELC is a chance to remind myself: you don't really want to do that.

It's also a time for me to appreciate the wonderful abundance we have in New Orleans. To really connect more with my community and its surroundings. Especially as far as big cities go, New Orleanians really take pride in their neighborhoods and sense of community and supporting local businesses. It's something you don't really see as much in places like Atlanta or Houston--especially not on the scale you do here. We all know, as a city, we have problems--lots of them. But that doesn't mean we can't appreciate what we do have. Its why we love where we live even despite the crime and the hurricanes and the oil spills and whatever disasters we face. ELC just really emphasizes to me  another reason why we're awesome.

I'm sure some of my facebook friends are already over my constant stream of food pix and posts. But its something I share in the hope that my posts inspire someone else to start asking the right questions about their food this little kid:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Eat Local Challenge, Year 3!

I feel like I've become an old pro at this now. Three years ago when I did the first Eat Local Challenge, all I could think about was what I was going to have to do with out--now all I'm just so excited about what new technique or food I'm going to master this year.

Is it hard? Of course. Doing with out all the yummy things we take for granted isn't easy, but I'm such a nerd so new discoveries are so much FUN! Last year, I made ketchup and mozzarella for the first time. This year I'm really excited about the classes and the number of restaurants participating this year!! Such a big change from the first year!

I'm doing the strict-ish level. I never use all of the meal cheats allotted, but some of the ingredients I'm pretty lenient with, especially spices. Coffee is definitely one of my cheats. Anyway, I'm still on the lookout for a few things (garlic & hot peppers!) and haven't quite stock piled the pantry as much as I'd like, but here's what I've been throwing together so far:

Day 1, breakfast: grits (hollygrove) & breakfast sausage (cleaver & co.)

Day 1, lunch/afternoon snack: rosemary coriander baked fries (hollygrove).

Day 1, dinner: lamb steak (two run farm), blanca isabel purple rice (rouses) and green beans (hollygrove).

Day 2, breakfast: strawberry yogurt (greek yogurt from hollygrove & homemade strawberry jam)

Day 2, lunch: mixed veg (hollygrove) & purple rice (rouses)

Day 2, dinner: frittata! purple rice, bell peppers, red onion, garlic chives, goat cheese, shiitake mushrooms, coriander and a little cane vinegar splashed on top.

Day 3, breakfast: peaches (hollygrove) and creole cream cheese (rouses) and a little drizzle of bernard's acadiana honey.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Recipe: Homemade Ketchup

I will never buy bottled ketchup again. This was relatively easy and came out so yummy, this is exactly why I love doing the Nola Locavore Eat Local Challenge: new food discoveries.

Would I have ever thought to make my own ketchup on my own? Maybe eventually, but now I did it because I needed to and I won't ever look back!

I looked at a handful of recipes and got the idea: spice tomatoes, sweetener and just ran with it. I'm super happy with the end result. If you're not as lazy as I am, you would have done it right and removed the skins and seeds and extra water. I didn't feel like doing it and thought it was yummy and not so tedious and time consuming. A hand mixer/immersion blender makes the process super easy. Please excuse the vague amounts of ingredients--I just put stuff in the pot and made adjustments as needed.

All-local Nola Creole Tomato Ketchup

1-2 garlic cloves, diced
pecan oil
couple lbs of creole tomatoes, chopped
spicy oregano
Steen's cane syrup
couple tablespoons of lemon juice

In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat and sautee the garlic for about 30 seconds or until golden brown. Add the oregano and tomatoes and use a stick blender to puree the mixture. Add salt and a couple tablespoons of cane syrup to taste. Add in lemon juice. Cook the mixture down, stirring often until it thickens (about 20 minutes or so depending on the amount of tomatoes). Make adjustments to taste as needed. I used the stick blender again at the end just to make sure to get a nice smooth consistency. The sauce will thicken more as it cools. Store in an air tight container in the refrigerator. The info I've read on the interwebs varies, but I'd guess it can last about 3 weeks in the fridge and obviously longer in the freezer.