The passing of Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. And though that means that most of us will have to wait until 2015 for our next day at the beach, picnic in the park, or weekend away at the lake, the news is not all bad. The farmers markets are still filled with summer fruits and vegetables, and it only takes a knife and a blender to turn tomatillos into salsa and cantaloupe into juice. With flavors and colors like those, summer isn’t over yet!
A couple of years ago I learned that 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten — more than 20 pounds per person every month. According to the NRDC, reducing that waste by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year, no small feat when one in six Americans is unsure of where their next meal is coming from.
With that in mind, I have challenged myself to eat what I may previously have tossed in the trash or composting buckets. Beet greens now get sautéed, mushroom stems get turned into soup stock, and squash seeds get dried and toasted.
A few weeks ago, as I was enjoying the first watermelon of the season, I recalled eating watermelon rind pickles as a child. They came from the grocery store in tall, skinny glass bottles and, because they were expensive, they were a once or twice a year treat. I loved them.
This resurrected memory prompted me to ask myself why I was throwing out the rind. Why wasn’t I turning it into the beloved pickles of my childhood? After trying a recipe sent to me by a friend, I know I’ll never make that mistake again. Eating “garbage” can be indescribably delicious!
Compared to much of the rest of the world, most Americans eat a fairly limited variety of breakfast foods. Cold cereal or a bagel on weekdays, and eggs and bacon on the weekends, seem to be typical breakfast menus for most of us — if, that is, we bother to eat breakfast at all.
We recently found ourselves breaking our own breakfast rut by expanding our repertoire to include earthy truffled pecorino cheese, spicy capicola cured meat, and cured tomatoes, all from our friends Jody and Luisa Somers of Dancing Ewe Farm in upstate New York. It was absolutely delicious, and we weren’t hungry again until dinner.
Of course, we kept the coffee on the menu. It’s irreplaceable.
*Okay, that’s not entirely true. The pizza was brought to me by all of those wonderful farms with all of those wonderful farmers. You didn’t actually get any. Sorry. But now you have the shopping list, so you can make it yourself. Just add yeast.
Cooking isn’t a game, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Of course, if you’re too concerned about getting perfect results every time, you won’t always enjoy yourself. But if you keep working at it, and learn from your mistakes, I’ll be surprised if you don’t have a great time and find yourself feeling like a winner.
“Waste not, want not,” my Gramps told me, as he scraped the last of the jam from the jar, filled the jar with tap water, and shook it up.
“What are you going to do with that?” I asked him, wide-eyed and spellbound.
“It’s jam juice!” he declared before pouring half the vaguely pinkish water into a small glass for me, and drinking the rest down straight from the jar.
I followed his lead, noting that the liquid no longer tasted exactly like water, nor did it taste anything like juice. In fact, I wasn’t really sure I liked it. But I smiled widely and drank it all anyway, because I loved my Gramps, and that was good enough for me.
As instructed, I chopped and blanched the kale stems, along with a few cloves of garlic, before adding it all to my food processor with olive oil, lemon zest, parsley, red pepper flakes, sea salt, freshly cracked black pepper, and a big handful of organic walnuts — a gift from a dear friend with a walnut ranch in California. I tossed the pesto together with fresh, homemade spaghetti and some spicy chicken sausage made on a local farm, then I topped it all off with grated Romano cheese from Tonjes Farm Dairy. It was sublime.
I doubt that I’ll ever throw my kale stems into the compost pile again.
If kale salad isn’t your thing, perhaps you’re a fan of kale chips. These addicting, crispy little snacks are a great way to get even the most finicky eater — child or adult — to eat green vegetables. You can, of course, spend a small fortune purchasing them in plastic containers at your local health food store. Or you can save yourself a lot of money and make them at home in almost no time at all.
Simply remove the leaves from the stems, wash and dry them thoroughly, toss them in a little olive oil (rubbing each leaf to make sure it’s very lightly coated), and sprinkle with sea salt (kosher salt will work, too) and, if you like, pepper. Then spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan or two (or three), and place them in a 350 degree oven for about 12 to 18 minutes, turning the trays around after about 6 or 7 minutes. You’ll know they’re done when they’re translucent but haven’t yet begun to turn black.
Try it, and I suspect you’ll discover that the hardest part about making kale chips is not eating them before they have a chance to cool.
One Saturday, we asked our dairy farmers if they had any veal for sale. “No, I’m afraid not,” was the reply, “It’ll be a month or so before we have veal again. But our son got a deer this week, and we have more venison than we can eat.” A few weeks later, we were presented with a small venison roast. The young hunter, who was there that weekend, proudly displayed a photo of his kill on his smart phone. His father worried that the photo might be off-putting, but I reassured him that it’s always a good thing to be reminded about where our food comes from.
The venison roast was absolutely delicious, better than any roast beef I can recall eating. A single, clean rifle shot and proper field dressing resulted in a sweet, tender piece of meat, and we relished every bite. As we always do, we acknowledged both the deer and the hunter as we enjoyed our meal, and we wished aloud that everyone had the opportunity to fully understand — and appreciate — the sacrifice and skill that goes into their food long before it ever reaches a fork.
Rabbit seems to be one of those foods that so many Americans refuse to eat, looking shocked at the very suggestion. Why people who willingly eat beef, pork, and lamb feel more emotionally attached to rabbits is a mystery to me, and, in my opinion, those who have never tried rabbit are missing out on a real treat. Rabbit is delicious, best described, I think, as having a texture and look similar to chicken but with a flavor somewhat closer to pork. I am lucky to be able to purchase whole rabbit at my farmers market from Violet Hill Farm, break it down into its primal parts myself, braise it in lager beer, and incorporate the liver into the sauce. A bit of celery root, a few kinds of mushrooms, and some German butterball potatoes make the one-pot meal complete. If you’re ever invited to Chez Ks for braised rabbit, I hope you’ll come with an open mind and leave with a full belly.
When I was recently given a photography assignment to photograph layers, I thought about the many places that layers appear in our lives. There are layers in the atmosphere and in the soil. Our skin has layers, and we dress in layers. There are often layers of meaning in conversations, novels, and art. In the food world, there are layers of onions, layers of fat, and layers in a lasagna. But my favorite layers are the layers of Mutsu apples in a homemade cranberry apple pie.
Hating Brussels sprouts seems to be one of those fashions that never go out of style. Perhaps it’s a testament to my general lack of fashion sense that I’ve always loved Brussels sprouts, even when I was a child. One of my favorite ways to eat them, though, didn’t reveal itself until just a few years ago, when I decided to pair them with sweet potatoes, apples, walnuts, and bacon in a Brussels sprout hash. Whether you sauté the ingredients together in a large cast iron pan, or roast each component separately before tossing them all together, the results are always delicious. And, if enough people agree, maybe it’ll become fashionable.
The first pumpkin holiday has already come and gone, but we still have Thanksgiving and Chrismukkah ahead of us, and that means many more pumpkins will be crossing our threshold before year’s end. Not only will those pumpkins bring us soup, pies, and pancakes, but they’ll produce countless seeds, all of which will be tossed in olive and salt, and slowly roasted in a low-temperature oven. Some of the roasted pumpkin seeds will then find themselves tossed into dinner salads, but most will simply end up briefly in the palms of our hands on their way to our impatient mouths.
Tim and Mary Tonjes, the hard-working and talented farmers who own Tonjes Farm in the Hudson Valley, produce and sell indescribably delicious milk, yogurt, buttermilk, kefir, ricotta, fromage blanc, mozzarella and other cheeses. They also produce sustainably-raised veal products, including these succulent cross-cut shanks. For those of you who have stopped eating osso buco and other veal cuts because of unconscionable industrial production practices, stop by any of the Tonjes Farm stands and learn more about their responsible farming methods. Then take home a few dairy and veal products and learn firsthand why we never let a week go by without bringing home a big bag filled with their delectable goods.
Now that the weather is cooling and I no longer mind turning the oven up to 500 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to think about making pizza dough again. Or rather, it’s time for me to think about Kay making the pizza dough. That’s her job. She generally follows the recipe in The Silver Spoon cookbook, which calls for fresh cake yeast rather than the more standard instant dried. She typically makes several at once and puts them in the freezer for me to grab when needed. On many a Sunday evening, once the sun starts setting earlier than we’d like, we turn our attention away from the cold, darkening skies and into the kitchen where the yeasty smell of the rising dough fills us with anticipation for the fresh pizza that will warm our stomachs within a few hours.