Monday, September 28, 2009

Braised Chicken Legs / Purple Ruffle Basil Pesto

By some inexplicable caprice of the Powers That Be, we don't have any new ConLaw reading this week, so helloooo updation!

It's really important to me that I keep this blog simple, because simple is an accurate reflection of how I, sticking only with local produce at hand, really eat. I also want to avoid any culinary pyrotechnics because one of the most common refrains I hear from people my age is that they don't have time to cook/wonder how I have time to cook. There's not really a pat answer for that. Surely, I am busy, just like all of my classmates. But nourishing myself, taking an active role in fueling this body, is really important to me. It isn't all philosophical, though---it's also super fun. I love volunteering at the market, meeting cool people, and being part of a much bigger movement. It's not just, as Barbara Kingsolver wrote in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, about poking the fork in my mouth. It's about being active in its creation, and all that entails.

Plus, one of the best things about cooking locally (as opposed to cooking Kroger) is the variety! I totally fall for green zebra tomatoes, white sweet potatoes, purple cauliflower, duck eggs, and endless kinds of lettuce. They keep my sense of wonder alive.

In the vein of those dual thoughts, here's a simple dish and a fun dish.

Braised Chicken Legs
Adapted from the Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters (I swear, I don't work for her)

5 chicken legs (West Wind Farms)
olive oil
a sprig of rosemary and a bay leaf
1 medium onion, diced
several medium tomatoes (Heirlooms from the U of M garden)
4 garlic cloves, chopped (my own German Extra Hardy)
1 cup chicken stock
olive oil, salt, pepper

Season your chicken legs with salt and pepper the day before. Bring to room temperature before cooking

Pour several tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. When hot, put in the chicken, skin side down, and leave it there for 12 minutes (essential for getting a good crust!). Then turn and cook 4 minutes on the other side. Remove to a plate.

Toss your onion into the pan and cook until translucent. Season to taste with salt. Throw in your rosemary and bay leaf and cook some more

Throw in the tomato and garlic, cook for a bit until tomatoes release their juices, then put the chicken back in, skin side down. Pour in the chicken stock (should come halfway up the sides of the chicken) and bring to a boil. Turn down to a bare simmer, cover, and cook 45 minutes.

Serve over brown rice. I got 2 yummy dinners and a lunch out of this.

Purple Ruffle Basil Pesto
subtitled: well, what would YOU do with purple basil?

This was so easy. Thanks to Mark for suggesting it as I stood pondering in the U of M edible garden. You win a frozen pesto cube prize!

Wash and cut up a large bunch of basil, purple or otherwise.

Toast your nuts--I used almonds here, but any kind will do.

Throw the basil, nuts, some parmesan cheese, and olive oil in your blender or food processor. Blend away.

Not super-purply, but still tasty, with shells, some of my Beam's Yellow Pear tomatoes, and tomatoberry tomatoes from the school garden.

That's it, guys. It's not hard.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Chard Frittata

Well, that was the hiatus to end all hiatii.  Turns out, this job won't find itself, but I know people have been reading and I wanted to put up something new to give them an incentive to come back (and bookmark me?  Pass me on to your friends?  Ooh, get me sponsored?  In case the whole law thing doesn't work out).  So, faithful readers, you're gettin' what I'm cookin', which is...

another frittata.

Very anticlimactic, I know.  This recipe is worth sharing for its technique, though.  Usually, when I make frittatas, I simply leave the cooked fillings in the skillet and pour beaten eggs on top, letting the eggs then set.  Here, the recipe calls for the fillings to be cooked, then mixed in with the eggs, then the whole mess is poured into the skillet.  It results in a completely different frittata:  one much denser in veggies, with just a little egg to hold it together.  It was delicious.

My chard is from the U of M garden, and the onion is from Bennett Burke Farms.  If you're headed to the farmers market this weekend, chard will probably be back, along with other cold-weather crops like bok choy.  Myself, I've been stocking up on apples, sweet potatoes, and sausage and feeling very comfort food-ey.

Chard Frittata
From the Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

1 bunch chard
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thin
6 eggs
olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
Salt, pepper
A pinch of cayenne pepper

Wash and separate the stems from the chard.  Cut the stems into 1/4 inch slices.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a heavy pan over medium heat and add the onion.  Cook for 5 minutes, add the chard stems and season with salt.  

Cook for 4 minutes and add the leaves.  Cook until the leaves are tender, adding a splash of water if the pan dries out.  Turn the pan onto a plate.

Crack the eggs into a large bowl and add salt, pepper, the garlic, cayenne, and two teaspoons of olive oil.  Beat lightly.  Gently squeeze the chard with your hands, wringing out most, but not all, of the liquid (note: this step seemed a little precious to me, so I skipped it.  Feel free to do the same).  Stir the chard into the beaten eggs.  

Thoroughly preheat a 10-inch heavy or nonstick pan over medium-low heat.  Pour in two tablespoons of olive oil.  After a few minutes, pour in the egg mixture.  As the eggs set on the bottom, lift the edges to allow the uncooked egg to flow underneath.  Continue to cook until mostly set.  You can either try to flip the frittata by sliding it on a plate and inverting the plate over the pan, but I like to finish mine in the oven.  10 minutes in a 350 degree oven will do the trick.

Serve warm or at room temperature with a scone, some coffee, and procedural due process.

Bonus cute kitten feature:

Research cat

Does not care about transfer on death deeds but would chase one around the room if you balled it up and threw it.

Going to the Carrie Rodriguez show at the Overton Park Shell tonight... I hope it doesn't rain!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Upcoming Local-Food Festivals

While I am interviewing for jobs for next summer, posts will probably continue to be sporadic, but I wanted to let everyone know about two upcoming celebrations of local produce:

The first is the Whitton Farms OctoberFeast, which will be held October 11th up at Jill and Keith Forrester's farm in Tyronza, Arkansas.  I went to their Feastival this past July and it was fantastic---great live music, delicious food, and a chance to see their farm in action.  They are incredibly nice people, they throw a great party and it looks like the food this time around will be just as amazing.  Plus, the TV show The Endless Feast will be on hand to film the festivities (so you know the food will be good!)  More information can be found here: and click on "Events"

Second, our own Memphis Farmers Market is gearing up for its Fourth Annual Harvest Celebration, due to take place on November 8th, downtown at Central Station.  There will be a silent auction, a chance to mingle with MFM vendors, and, of course, a tasty meal (I think an open bar as well, but don't quote me on it).  You can find more information and buy tickets here:  Tickets are discounted until October 31st---$45 per person, or $80 per couple, which is a great price.  

Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Swiss Chard Gratin

Attention U of M students:  Did you know that there is an edible garden on campus?!  Admittedly, I am late to learn the secret, but learnt it I have---the fresh produce growing there is free for all students to pick, and the selection is pretty amazing:  tomatoes, swiss chard, all kinds of peppers, squash, okra, corn, watermelons, sage, all kinds of basil, rosemary, parsley, lemon balm, oregano, thyme...

I just discovered this little gem yesterday, but to whomever is producing this bumper crop of organic biomass: thank you for your incredible generosity!  This is such an important resource for students, told by popular lore that Ramen is the answer to impecuniousness, to have.

Especially exciting was the swiss chard.  It's a strong-tasting, vigorous-growing green and was my favorite new vegetable discovery of 2008:  a green that adapts well to lasagnas and salads, but tastes most wonderful sauteed with butter and parmesan cheese.  It's not always available at the MFM, but it is literally all over the place at the U of M garden.  Today and yesterday I hauled home a bagful to make this delicious gratin.  Try it, ye who balk at eating your greens.  It is life-changing.  (And chard does better in cool weather, so I bet as the seasons change it will make a re-appearance at your local market).

The only change I made to the recipe was tossing a handful of parmesan cheese (from Fino's) on top before putting it in the oven.  What doesn't taste better with the addition of cheese?  The answer is, not much.

Swiss Chard Gratin
From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

1 1/2 bunches of chard
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (I used my blender to pulverize some Cafe Eclectic sourdough bread)
2 teaspoons melted butter
1 onion, diced (Bennett-Burke Farms)
2 teaspoons flour
1/2 cup milk
a little grated nutmeg

Wash and stem the chard and chop roughly.  Save half the stems and slice them thin.  

Bring 2 quarts of salted water to a boil and cook the sliced stems for 2 minutes.  

Add the chard leaves and cook until tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain and cool.  Gently squeeze out the excess liquid from the stems and leaves.

Toss together the breadcrumbs and the melted butter.  Toast on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven, stirring now and then, until lightly brown, about 10 minutes.

Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a heavy-bottomed pan.  Add the diced onion and cook over medium heat until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the chard and some salt to taste.  Cook for 3 minutes.  Sprinkle with the flour, stir well, and add the milk and nutmeg.

Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add more milk if the mixture gets too thick.  The chard should be moist, but not floating in liquid.  Taste and add salt if needed. 

Butter a baking dish.  Spread the chard mixture evenly in the dish and dot with 2 teaspoons butter.  

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs (and cheese!) evenly over the top.  

Bake in a 350 degree oven until the gratin is golden and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

So good!  I had this with some garlic-rubbed toast topped with a bruschetta of community garden tomatoes and banana peppers and some yellow pear tomatoes and basil I have growing in my backyard.