Archives for posts with tag: seasonal cooking
Painting of ingredients for improvised gumbo -- Davis pepper spray incident in background.

Mumbo Jumbo Gumbo. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

Yesterday in the farm box from Riverdog Farm I got four green peppers. Green peppers are not my favorite peppers by a long shot — I love red, yellow, orange and even purple peppers, but green ones? I think someone made a mistake….

The only way I can think of to get excited about green peppers is to cook Cajun food. In Cajun country, they call green peppers, onions and celery the holy trinity (capitalizing it would be blasphemous) and put them in everything except dessert. Mom expressed a wish to have a little more room in the freezer before Thanksgiving so we decided to have a look at what was in there. Don’t you hate it when you read that someone has whipping cream and brandy lying around? Not around here: I found the shrimp shells that I had been saving for stock, along with one small piece of cooked fish for future bouillabaise. The only other meat in there was sausage. O.K. We’d have sausage gumbo.

First up I roasted the last three small tomatoes sitting on the counter. The farm had a frost this week so there will not be anymore fresh tomatoes unless my Sun Golds ripen on the vine before it rains or freezes here. Tomatoes were late this year and have compensated by lasting into mid-November. Goodbye fresh tomatoes. See you next June or July.

As the tomatoes roasted in the oven where I was baking Krista and Jess’ gingerbread baked oatmeal, I diced

2 green peppers

2 small onions

2 stalks of celery and

1 bulb of fennel (just because I had it)

Before I sauteed the vegetables I chopped

fennel stalks and leaves

and put them in a big pot of water with

shrimp shells and leftover fish fillet.

Then I sauteed the vegetables in olive oil. When they began to brown I added most of

1 small can tomato paste (also a refugee from the freezer) and

1 pint frozen chicken stock.

I strained the shrimp and fennel stock into the vegetables, tomatoes and chicken stock and considered Cajun seasoning. While I thought about it I added

1 Tbsp hot paprika

dried thyme (I stripped several branches)

a few grinds of black pepper,

Then I set to making a roux:

I cut 3 sausages into coins and browned them in the former stock pot, before adding them to the gumbo. To the sausage drippings, I added

1/2 cup flour

3-4  Tbsp olive oil

I patiently cooked the roux to the color of peanut butter, adding some water, liquid from the gumbo, or chicken stock when it stuck, scraping the pan as best I could. I probably added another 3 Tbsp of chicken stock all told.I added the roasted tomatoes to the gumbo and squeezed the juice from half a lemon. I let the roux cook in the gumbo for a few minutes while I started rice — white rice because it was almost lunch time. My picky brother Bryan came through the kitchen about then and said, “Do I smell lasagna?” I said, “Gumbo, but it has a lot of the same ingredients as lasagna” (sausage, onion, tomato).

When the rice was done I got Bryan a tiny bowl of gumbo to try.

He said, “It tastes kind of like beef stew.”

Huh. Well, it has onions, celery and a touch of tomato paste, I guess. Anyway, he ate it and we ate it and it is good.

This gumbo is a fine example of how I cook most of the time, inspired by an ingredient I don’t like much to create a dish from a cuisine I do like. Green peppers compel me to cook Cajun food. What was in the freezer (shrimp shells, chicken stock, leftover cooked fish, tomato paste  and sausage), in the refrigerator (fennel and celery) and on the counter (tomatoes and onions, half a lemon) provided the other ingredients. Karen of Carolina Locavore recently referred to this as “vegetable triage.” I didn’t use a recipe except to check the oil and flour ratio for the roux (which I then did not follow: it said 1:1 for flour and oil). I let my memory guide me in terms of what goes into gumbo: many fancy cooks make gumbo, but the people I worked with at Berkeley Rec would make gumbo with turkey backs and neck bones if that is what they had — a lot of gumbo comes about because you are using this and that. You can’t go wrong with a fish or chicken stock, a good dark roux and the holy trinity.

Food notes: If I had had a can of clams in the pantry that would have gone into the gumbo. If I had had shrimp in the freezer, or chicken, it would have made it into the pot, too. I drew the line at cooked bacon — Mom said I would have to taste it and I decided to pass. I didn’t add bay leaf or Tabasco (but I could have if I weren’t too lazy to go pick a bay leaf from the backyard). Gumbo gets hotter as it sits, so I kept the spicing moderate — if you like it hotter, go for it, use andouille sausage, or pass the Tabasco at the table.

Political Note: Like many other people I watched the videos of Officer Pike using pepper spray on demonstrators at U.C. Davis. The spray was a fierce orange-red, fired at point-blank range on nonviolent people. I was shocked to see this. I commend officers who did not engage in or condone such behavior and the protesters who remained nonviolent. Save the peppers for Tabasco, which should only be eaten voluntarily, not sprayed down people’s throats as they participate in peaceful assembly.

Photo note: If any of you artistic types out there know how to square up a photo of a painting, I’d surely appreciate some tips.

The Kale Chronicles’ Food Manifesto: Ideas I Try to Live By

painting of foods for four seasons

Seasonal Food 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

1)   Eat fresh, locally-grown food in season.

Fresh food tastes good. It has more vitamins and minerals in it than preserved food. If you can grow your own food, go for it. If you can’t, seek out farmers’ markets or a community-supported agricultural program. Familiarize yourself with what grows in your area when.

2)   Adapt recipes to use local resources.

For instance, pesto recipes often call for pine nuts. Here in the Bay Area of Northern California, pine nuts are currently selling for thirty or forty dollars a pound. I make my pesto with walnuts, which grow in California and can be found at my local farmers’ market in bulk. If you live in an area that produces almonds, hazelnuts, black walnuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, substitute them for pine nuts. Eat pine nuts when you go to Italy or visit New Mexico.

3)   Use what you have on hand.

Instead of running out to get ingredients, practice cooking with what you have on hand. Develop a regular routine for food shopping and stick to it. You will save time and money if you are not always running to the store and you will develop your creative cooking muscles. Mom shops for groceries once a week at a variety of places (Safeway, Grocery Outlet, Food Maxx or Country Cheese). I pick up a box of vegetables in Berkeley on Wednesday afternoons and often go to the Saturday Farmers’ Market.

4)   Do not waste food.

We spend money for food and then we throw it away when it is less than perfect or past the pull date. Many people frequently throw away food that can be eaten. A routine throw-away is sour milk (or half and half, or cream), or, worse, milk that has just passed its pull date. Sour milk, cream, etc. can be substituted for buttermilk in recipes that involve cooking or baking. Sour milk can also be “sweetened” with baking soda and then used in cooked or baked recipes meant for fresh milk.

painting shows dehydrated and canned food for winter

Food for Winter 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

5)   Find simple ways to preserve foods for winter.

I bought a dehydrator a year and a half ago. Now I make my own dried tomatoes which I use during the winter in soups, pastas and salads. I have also dried apples and pears and I’m just getting started. With trepidation I learned how to put up dilly beans, a baby step into home canning. When I make pestos or curry pastes, I put part of the yield in the freezer for later.

6)   Develop a personal pantry based on what you like to eat and ingredients you use frequently.

For example, I am a baker as well as a cook, so I stock a baking pantry with flours, sugars, molasses, honey, maple syrup, vegetable shortening, oils, nuts, coconut, dried fruit, yeast, and leavening agents. I cook Chinese food so I keep soy sauce, peanut oil and chili paste with garlic, fresh ginger. I cook Thai food so I keep fish sauce. A pantry rich in canned tuna and white beans would do me no good because I am not going to cook with those ingredients, or canola oil, which tastes like fish to me, but I do keep lots of pasta, polenta, rolled oats, dried tomatoes, kalamata olives.

7)   Stock your pantry when you find good deals on things you use often.

We are infamous for buying canned sour pie cherries by the case. We like cherry pie. Sour cherries make the best pies. Canned cherries keep. So when Grocery Outlet features canned cherries we buy a case at a time. We keep them in the garage. We have learned the hard way that inexpensive pie cherries are hard to find, so when we see them we buy them. We also stock up on sugar, flour, butter, pastas, and miscellaneous canned goods when they are on sale.

painting shows stock pot, skillet and ingredients.

Making Stock 6″ x 6″ gouache and watercolor pencil . Sharyn Dimmick.

8)   Learn to make stocks.

You don’t have to go to cooking school for this. You don’t have to roast bones (although roasted bone stock is supposed to be good). The Greens Cookbook has wonderful recipes for vegetable stocks, which I recommend. But any old person can plunk a chicken or turkey carcass into a pot of water with some vegetables or vegetable trimmings (the ends of carrots, tough ends of celery, celery leaves, cilantro roots and stems, the skin of roasted winter squash), simmer it, strain it, skim of the fat and, voila, a base for soups, sauces, chicken pot pie, Chinese stir fries. For me, chicken stock is indispensable. We keep it in pint containers in the freezer.

9   Develop your cooking resources.

I learned to cook by cooking with my mother and asking questions about what she did, but I also learned by tasting lots of foods, watching cooking shows on PBS, reading cookbooks and having conversations with others about food, especially people whose cooking I liked. We keep an old Betty Crocker picture cookbook as our cooking Bible. I have bought the cookbooks of several of my favorite restaurants: Ajanta, Henry Chung’s Hunan, Greens, and Chez Panisse (I really like the Chez Panisse Desserts cookbook, which taught me how to make fruit caramel and variations on fruit curds and has a good section on seasonal fruit in California). I keep a large binder of recipes from the food sections of two newspapers, organized by main ingredient or type of food: Carrots, Chocolate, Cookies, Corn, Fennel, Fish, Lemons, Pancakes, Pasta, Peppers, Pumpkin, Soup, etc. I browse through it when I’m trying to remember what I cook with savoy cabbage or looking for that fabulous Polenta Pancakes recipe from Mark Bittman. I also search online when I need more ideas and subscribe to more than a couple of food blogs.

10) Don’t be afraid.

Remember, cooking is fun. It is a sensual experience standing in front of a cutting board with the smell of fresh basil wafting through the air, hearing the snap of green beans as you trim them, seeing the colors of eggplant, peppers and peaches sitting on the counter. If you are not sure how to do something, you can always consult a cookbook, watch a video online or call another cook on the phone. If you tackle a technique or dish you have never attempted you might want to follow instructions carefully the first time around, but once you learn some cooking principles and the rules of substitution you will be freer to cook what you have and turn it into what you like.