Sunday, October 24, 2010

Eat, Drink, Cook: Apple Salsa

“I feel the ladder sway as the boughs bend./And I keep hearing from the cellar bin/The rumbling sound/Of load on load of apples coming in…”

— From the poem After Apple-Picking by Robert Frost

Last night I roasted what will likely be the season’s last homegrown tomato. The forecast is calling for a freeze this week. The long and prodigious growing season is ending. But a salve for this is that apples are still in abundance. Lately I’ve started thinking about substituting apples for tomatoes in a salsa. It can be done by mixing two tart cubed apples, 4 T. lime juice, 1 Jalapeno pepper, 1 Anaheim pepper, ½ medium onion (finely chopped), 2 T. cilantro, ½ c. chopped walnuts (lightly toasted), a dash of fresh ginger and ¼ tsp. salt.

 I can see scattering this over a dollop of sour cream in a bowl of butternut squash or pumpkin soup. Or served with make-your-own chips. (Brush tortillas lightly with water and sprinkle them with a combination of one quarter cup sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, then cut them into wedges and bake them in a 400-degree over for 6 to 8 minutes until lightly browned.)

That idea reminds me of the baked pita chips personal chef Hethyr Pletsch suggested back in January to go along with her Curried Pumpkin-Chicken Chowder. As it turns out, Hethyr will be teaching a free holiday cooking class on Nov. 13 at Ranch Foods Direct. Her approach to the holidays is to mix tradition with a few new twists, simple surprises like a salsa made out of apples or a soup made out of carrots, something that celebrates what’s in season.

It’s not surprising that apples have often been the subject of books and poems. In Gary Paul Nabhan’s Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov’s Quest to End Famine, he describes visiting the forests of wild apples in Kazakhstan, where domesticated apples likely originated, rich with the unusual fragrance of so much ripe fruit. He recounts that the famous Russian botanist Vavilov found the apple forests evocative of the mythical Garden of Paradise. There, the diversity of apple-bearing trees and shrubs is unmatched, with at least 56 native variations. But even in that remote area of Central Asia, food production is being replaced by urbanization. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Cow-pooling: a "primal tribal-fire thing"

The food revolution — from farm to table — is really a story about seeding and savoring communities.

That’s the premise of last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, a feast of articles assembled around the centerpiece theme of “eating together.” Among the topics covered: the exploding phenomenon of on-line food reviewing; how a combo design studio and community cafĂ© called PieLab revived an impoverished Alabama town; and a humorous column by a grumpy CSA member explaining how his vague annoyance at righteous locavores was overcome by good will, good vegetables and healing food advice.

Food writer Kim Severson’s contribution is on “the Cow-munity,” the unusual grouping that forms when casual acquaintances get together to share a steer. “Like any social circle, the cast of characters in this cow community has changed since the first animal was split in 2007,” Severson writes. “People have drifted in and out like subletters, taking over shares for those who walked away.” She goes on to profile the current members of one New Mexico-based cow confab and their challenges and satisfactions as they divide up the carcass. One woman describes her desire to share an animal with other local town folk as “that primal tribal-fire thing.”

Learning to eat the whole cow is a lot like learning to eat food in season. It expands both your kitchen creativity and your palate while offering abundant nutritional diversity. is a website intent on rounding up those interested in joining the trend. Would-be cooperators can go there to get matched up with others who want to split some cow shares (and there’s no requirement that they ever meet in person.) If you visit the site you’ll find that at least in Colorado, the featured provider is none other than Ranch Foods Direct. This is a concept that takes the store’s popular beef bundles (which offer a volume discount) to a whole new level.

One benefit of cow-pooling is knowing where your meat comes from, as a 2009 article published by TIME magazine explains. But as the New York Times proposes, it’s also about being part of a “cow-munity.” And it re-introduces the notion of responsible use of resources, or food frugality. Ranchers have been harvesting whole animals for the family food supply — filling the freezer lock-stock-and-barrel versus buying supplies in town on a piecemeal basis — for generations. It’s a rustic, practical tradition taking on new life in the age of the Internet.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eat, Drink, Cook: Squash-stuffing weather

This is when

The last sun-ripened tomatoes

Overlap with an abundance of

Winter squashes —

Seasons mingle

In the air, on the tongue.

Reluctantly it seems, the lingering summer is transitioning into fall, with air crisp as a cider apple and sufficiently chilly for stuffing winter squashes, in my case, a delicata from Venetucci Farm, with creamy mild flesh, tender and very edible skin (I never remove skins unless absolutely necessary: they contain fiber, nutrients and often flavor… plus, I’m lazy that way), festive yellow striping and made-for-two manageable size. To fill one squash, I cooked and crumbled a half pound of bulk ground beef from Ranch Foods Direct, also adding chopped onions and minced shallots, chunks of apple from a tree down the block, even a few crabapples (what can I say: it was an amazing fruit year and even the crabapples turned out plump and sweet.) After cooking the meat and transferring it to a mixing bowl, I added grated sharp cheddar, also from Ranch Foods Direct, along with hunks of a good Swiss, and seasoned it with chopped sage and rosemary along with the salt and pepper, then placed it in the cavity of the halved delicata to bake for about 30 minutes. (I baked the squash in an inch of water in the oven for about 40 minutes before assembling.) What pleasure to experience the smell and flavor of this all-in-one dish that allows you to use what you have on hand and what you especially like. (Another variation for right now: slow roasted tomatoes and the last of the season’s basil with spaghetti squash.)

This is the season of abundance, and urgency. The temperature suddenly dives, and it’s a reminder that ripeness peaks, the days of the year are numbered, darkness is gathering in each day’s corners.

There’s an antidote to seasonal angst: Preserve It! — a big, gorgeous book that describes how to use natural preservatives like salt, sugar, olive oil, vinegar and alcohol to extend the useful life of fruits, vegetables and even meats. I prefer not to stand over a heavy steaming water bath for hours (especially when it’s possible to get good quality frozen and even canned produce) but lazy cook that I am, I can still find intriguing options in these pages, for example, a red onion marmalade, oven-dried tomatoes or apple rings, basil ice cubes or candied fruit peel. It covers a broad spectrum of possibilities, from home brewing to making sausage or sauerkraut.

If nothing else, I love looking at these bright glossy pictures, imagining today’s treasures preserved like jewels and then rediscovered and celebrated while the earth is still cold and bland. Apparently, I’m not alone. During last week’s The Splendid Table radio program, host Lynne Rossetto Kasper examined the national phenomenon of group canning sessions and the emergence of “Canning Across America,” an organized effort to “revive the long lost art of putting up food.” If you are so inclined, both websites offer additional ideas, reference books and recipes.

Speaking of abundance mixed with urgency, this is the final week for the Colorado Farm and Art Market, which ends for the season on Saturday, Oct. 16. Gather together some colorful heirloom tomatoes and winter squashes and celebrate with a harvest table.