Friday, August 6, 2010

Take those tomatoes and stuff 'em!

The inspiration for this dish came to me as I was thinking  about tomatoes and various things people use to stuff them. I have a deep appreciation for both crab and scallops, so decided to use both for this really easy to make meal.

I picked up the tomatoes, lettuce, celery, and goat cheese from my local farmers market, and I used Monterey Jack cheese as well as the scallops and crab meat.

First, I cut the tops off the tomatoes and set them aside. Well, that's not completely true. I set some aside and ate the rest with a bit of salt on them. :-) While munching tomato tops, I scooped out the tomatoes then chopped up some celery which I had decided to add for both color and crunch. A dish like this definitely needed some texture, and celery came to the rescue nicely. I then shredded the Jack cheese and crumbled the chevre (goat cheese), then set both aside.

That done, I sautéed the scallops in butter with a touch of olive oil (olive oil helps the lycopenes in tomato become soluble and thus more easily absorbed into the body) and just a dash of white wine. Once done, I tossed in the crab, celery, and Jack cheese and mixed them together just long enough to warm the crab and slightly melt the cheese.

Next step was stuffing the tomatoes, which was easy. I added the chevre to two of the tomatoes just before popping it into the oven. Chevre is a creamy cheese that melts easily, so I didn't want to add it too soon and have it become too watery. I covered two of the tomatoes in shredded Monterey Jack and covered the two with chevre with slices of the Jack cheese simply so I could tell them apart since my son doesn't like chevre. I placed all four tomatoes on a stone pizza sheet and put them in the oven at 250 for about ten minutes... just long and hot enough to melt the cheese without softening the tomatoes too much. I cut the tops I hadn't eaten in half for garnish and served them on a bed of lettuce.

This slightly indulgent dinner was quick and tasty. I'm looking forward to making it again, though I'm considering other meats with which to stuff the tomatoes, perhaps ground beef with cheddar cheese and a little onion and green pepper? We'll see!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Grilled pizza!

One of my goals every summer is to turn on my oven as little as possible. It heats up the house, which is the last thing I want in the middle of a Colorado summer. As a result, I spend as much of my summer as I can putting things on the grill. I'd heard about grilled pizza, so I figured, why not?

The recipes I found all involved making the crust from scratch, which normally I'd be all over, but by the time I decided I wanted to grill my pizza, I was way too hungry to wait. I decided instead to use a pre-made crust from Rustic Crust. It's a healthy, tasty crust, and it isn't all that pricey; a definite good thing. After that, it's pretty easy: first, start up the grill. While the grill is warming up, prepare your pizza. I started out with pizza sauce from Eden Foods. I like Eden Foods particularly since their cans are BP-A free (the only company with BP-A free cans).

After that came pepperoni from Applegate Farms, cheese from Organic Valley, onion from my local farmers' market, and some fresh pineapple. At this point, the grill was ready.

One thing to definitely keep in mind when you put the pizza on the grill is to not put it directly over the heat source. If you have a gas grill, turn off one burner and put the pizza over that burner. If you're using a charcoal grill, move the charcoal off to the side. You definitely don't want to burn the crust...burned pizza crust just sucks. Once the grill is ready, just put the pizza on the grill, close the cover, and let it cook for about 8-10 minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese and heat up the toppings.

The pizza itself ends up with a nice, crispy bottom and a smoky flavor you just can't get from popping it in the oven. It's quick, easy, and a recipe I plan to repeat.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Smoked ribs and tomatoes

Sundays are the days I tend to get the most creative when it comes to cooking. There's something about not having to run around like a madman trying to accomplish 100 things in a day that gets my creative cooking juices flowing.

Today's dinner was smoked ribs covered in a wasabi lime marinade from O'Hara's Jams and Jellies in Durango, CO. I boiled up the ribs for a while to tenderize them, then put them in my smoker with chunks of hickory for a while to get them all nice and smoky. Halfway through I covered them in the marinade to let it soak in and glaze itself onto the ribs.

While waiting for the meat, I mixed organic basil with olive oil and brushed the tomatoes with the mixture. I sliced mozzarella cheese, put them on a pizza stone, and popped them in the oven at 250 for about five minutes; just long enough for the cheese to melt but not long enough to actually cook the tomatoes.

The meal wasn't super difficult to make: a few simple ingredients, but I often find that simple meals are often the ones I enjoy the most. There's something to be said for keeping meals simple. I think that could well be one of the reasons most people tend to avoid cooking: "it's too complicated." It doesn't have to be at all. Just a few simple things and you end up with a super tasty meal.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Thoughts, comments and reflections on Michael Pollan's "Food Rules"

Food Rules

I recently posted a review of Michael Pollan's outstanding book, Food Rules, on Elephant Journal, and I thought I'd take the time to delve a bit more into the book and specifically address some of the points and "rules" laid out in the book. The book itself is a quick and interesting read, with some humorous touches tossed in here and there, keeping it from getting overly dry as well. Of the 64 rules presented in the text, there are some that definitely stand out for me.

Rule 11: Avoid foods you see advertised on television. This is one that comes back to my brain with every television advertisement I see about food... and there are A LOT of them. I notice them more now that I tend to adhere to this rule. Do I get tempted? Definitely. Some of those ads make the "edible foodlike substances," as Pollan calls them, look pretty tasty, but then, that is exactly what they are designed to do. As he points out, "more than two-thirds of food advertising is spent promoting processed foods..., so if you avoid products with big ad budgets, you'll automatically be avoiding edible foodlike substances." (25) Quite frankly, I've noticed that the more money a company has to spend on advertising, the less money they are spending on quality ingredients. No thanks.

Rule 12: Shop the peripheries of the supermarkets and stay out of the middle. The few times I do go to the supermarket (see rule 15 below), I try to follow this as much as I can... it's amazing how much crap doesn't end up in the shopping cart when I do this.

Rule 15: Get out of the supermarket whenever you can. This one is my hands down favorite, and is the one I follow the most closely. Thanks to the bounty of the Boulder Farmers Market and various other farmers and locations (see my links to the right), the vast VAST majority of my food comes directly from the source. There are still a few things I pick up from Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage (a Colorado-based grocery store), but by and large, my produce, meats, and most of my dairy are delivered directly to me via a farmers market, farm stand, or some other similar arrangement.

I've had it remarked that this makes my food more expensive... it does, but it doesn't. According to statistics, the average meal travels something like 1,500 miles from farm to plate. Along the way, valuable nutrients are lost (assuming it's not overly processed, yet another way to lose those nutrients), and as a result, not only is the food system itself unsustainable (WAY too much oil being used that way), but it's also less nutritious, so my body will often crave more of it, so I end up eating more. Locally grown foods are highly nutrient dense, so while I may pay more per pound, in reality I end up saving money because I'm eating less of it. Not only that, but I'm supporting a local business (big thing for me) versus a large corporate agribusiness, and my food just simply tastes better.  Which brings me to...

Rule 44: Pay more, eat less. This rule addresses the quantity versus quality rule. The old axiom of "you get what you pay for" definitely applies to food, and it puzzles me why people are willing to avoid spending money on what is probably one of the most important expenditures of their lives (literally) but then will throw money at the next thing that comes along that they really don't need but have to have thanks to the consumer culture they have bought into so heavily. According to Pollan, "Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is a literal shame, but most of us can: Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, less than the citizens of any other nation. As the cost of food in America has declined..., we have been eating much more (and spending more on health care." (99-100) It's no secret that we spend more on health care in this country than the vast majority of citizens in other countries. The correlation seems pretty obvious to me.

In general, this is one of the better books on food out there. Short, simple, and straightforward, this is a book that I tend to recommend to just about everybody when I get in discussions about food (which is pretty often, really). If you haven't read it, do so. It'll give you quite a bit to chew on. (Pun intended.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

First food post: bacon +chicken = yum!

Not too long ago, I found myself falling into a rut; a bit of my creativity around cooking had faded, and I found myself getting bored with cooking. This happens from time to time, and it's not altogether a bad thing, especially since it often leads to some fun experimentation on my part. Most of the time these little experiments turn out pretty nifty. Tonight was one of them.

I had picked up some pepper bacon, and I almost always have a chicken breast in the freezer; it's one of the most versatile meats out there... you can really do almost anything with it. Today I decided to combine the two to see what would happen. I wrapped the chicken in two slices of bacon and held the bacon in place with a couple of toothpicks. After that, the delicious little package was introduced to my grill.

The side was equally fun and experimental. I cut a red pepper in half, roasted it on the grill, then stuffed it with some steamed cauliflower. Once ready, both the meat and veggies got a little kiss of cheese sauce.

Between the bacon, the cheese, and the cream in the cheese sauce, it's probably pretty close to a heart attack on a plate, but it was all sorts of tasty. The spicy sweetness of the pepper complimented the earthiness of the cauliflower nicely, and the pepper-bacon and chicken made for a nice pairing as well. The creamy sharp cheddar cheese sauce added just the right finish to the whole thing. Definitely one for the books.

Okay, so why a food blog?

A quick search on Google will show you that food blogs are plentiful, maybe too plentiful. So why am I writing one? Well, quite frankly, I figured, why not? I have a blog for my thoughts and reflections on teaching and other topics, but I also like to write about food. In fact, I like to write about it enough that it probably actually does warrant it's own blog. So here it is.

Where do I begin when it comes to food? Well, I guess I'll start out with talking about how I eat and why I eat that way. I'd pretty much always eaten healthily while growing up. My mother was a nurse, so was aware of the importance of a proper diet (and exercise), and my grandparents had their own garden, so fresh produce was a summer staple, and my grandmother did her own canning and preserving of food. I grew up in farm country, so farm stands and local food was generally a given for me. That being said, I also grew up eating fast food from time to time. I remember when McDonald's first arrived in my hometown, and trips to A&W were an special treat for us as well. When I became a parent, I made sure my kids ate balanced meals, but from time to time, we did find ourselves at one fast food place or another. All of that changed in 2001. That was when Eric Schlosser's  Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal hit the bookshelves. I picked it up and read it... and decided that fast food was most definitely not for me or my family. I began cooking at home almost all of the time, and started reading labels even more closely than I had been.

As time passed, I began to read more and more and more about food: what goes into it, what happens to it, and so forth. The more I read, the more I became both shocked, disgusted, and quite frankly appalled by what not only the fast food industry but agribusiness in general has done and is doing to our food supply. A few years ago I began shopping regularly at my local farmers market and I began to preserve my own food.  Thanks to Catherine Friend's The Compassionate Carnivore, I avoid factory farmed meat as much as I can.  I also try to keep most of my diet within 100 miles of home or at least within the state lines of Colorado... with certain exceptions: coffee, bananas, chocolate, oranges and the like simply don't grow here, and being a landlocked state, there's no local seafood to be had. But even then, there are local companies that I can choose to purchase what I need: spices from Savory Spice Shop, coffee from Silver Canyon, and so forth. My first choice is always independent and local, then Colorado-based (e.g., Noodles & Co., Chipotle, etc.) before expanding beyond into the "other" category.

The choices I've made have meant there are some things I do without; some foods that I've taken off my diet I  truly miss, and I can't say I don't get tempted. I no longer eat shrimp after finding out that for every pound of shrimp harvested, 20 pounds of fish are discarded. To me, that is completely unacceptable. It's disrespectful, not compassionate, and it's downright wasteful. I love shrimp, but I just don't eat them. I see commercials on television, and I'll admit that the food looks downright tasty, but remembering Michael Pollan's admonition to never eat food advertised on television, I choose to pass or make my own version of whatever has tempted me. My life as a locavore is not without its challenges, I've written about it on Elephant, but I've yet to truly regret my decision.

So what will I be writing about? Lots of things, all food related, of course. The impact of my food choices, the places I get my food, the food I cook... all sorts of things. Stay tuned, come back, and let's have some fun!