Eating Local in Phoenix

October 3, 2011, 1:23 am
Filed under: asides, dinner, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I lived in a city where the flowers magically changed every two weeks. There were palm trees and willow trees, pansies and roses. For months, I marveled at the power of the seasons, then I discovered the midnight workers who brought the plants in and out by the truck load. Brightly colored flowers in fall, low-lying ground cover in winter, whispy trees in spring. Even after the magic was gone, the city surprised me.

There was a green equestrian monument in the town square, a cathedral with mass only in the summer, weekly strikes.

It was in this city that I learned about cold, about determination, about friendship and about love. I learned how to stand on my own two feet, how to fight for myself, how to be poor but happy.

It was by the river that I discovered that no matter how far from home you go, it stays with you. When you leave, it never leaves you.

I only lived in Orléans, France for eight months. It seemed like a lifetime and a dream all at once. Every day was a challenge, nothing was easy. Days were weeks, weeks were months, months were years. I fought losing battles, celebrated victories, and kissed windows in moments of joy.

And I grew up.

Two years ago today I set foot in a classroom as a teacher for the first time. I was unprepared. My lesson consisted of answering questions and talking too fast. I wrote in my blog that I wasn’t nervous. I lied.

Two years ago today I came home hungry and cold. Even though I lived next to a supermarché, I had been eating sandwiches, backpacking food, spaghetti with butter – anything cheap. I was happy beyond belief but I was also terrified.

I called home.

I’m pretty sure I cried. And from my mom, who was worried, I inherited the recipe for scalloped potatoes. It was a turning point.

I cooked myself a real dinner for the first time in two weeks. I ate the whole pan of bubbling potatoes. And finally, I felt strong. This experience – all the ups and downs – wasn’t just happening to me, I was living it.

And I was happy.

Scalloped Potatoes

This is an easy dish to make local no matter where you are. The trick here is to make a roux first. This isn’t a particularly French preparation but, for me, this is France.

1 batch roux (2 tbsp butter and flour, add milk slowly until the sauce is thick yet smooth)
6 potatoes
3 big handfuls emmental cheese, or any mild white cheese
2 slices ham, diced
1 small onion, diced

Preheat the oven to 375. Begin my making the roux. Melt the butter, once bubbling add the flour and whisk for 1 minute. Slowly add in the milk, one splash at a time – whisking continuously. The sauce will thicken into a paste. Keeping slowly adding the milk until it begins to resemble a thick cream sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Microwave the peeled potatoes for 5 minutes on high. While the potatoes cook, dice the onion and ham.

Once the potatoes are cool to touch, slice them thinly. It’s important to keep the slices even in thickness.

In a casserole dish, spread a little sauce in the bottom, then layer the potato slices in the pan – don’t overlap them. Add enough cheese to loosely cover the potatoes, then sprinkle on a third of the ham and onions. Keep building layers with roux, cheese, ham and onions until you run out of potatoes. For the top layer, pour on the remaining roux and sprinkle generously with cheese.

Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes or until a knife can be inserted with little resistance.


September 26, 2011, 12:21 am
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Fall orange against a summer sunsetTonight it is cool outside. Things are changing: the sidewalks are no longer blistering to bare feet, the sun no longer holds the same intensity, pumpkins have appeared at grocery stores and I suddenly crave rich foods.

This is the beginning of a new season.

I have a tendency to measure the seasons by my orange tree. As the green orbs begin to gain color I know the cooler weather is coming. They aren’t quite there yet – but I’ve decided to pretend they are. I have to. I’m out of summer recipe ideas.

Fall is a decidedly melancholy season. A season of settling down, of putting the land to rest (but not in Phoenix), an expectation of cooler weather. But more than anything, it’s a season of waiting. Waiting for the cold, waiting for the winter, waiting for the holidays and, this year, waiting for graduation.

This is a fall I’ve looked forward to. This is a fall for celebrating.

So, to start it off, I’m bringing back my stuffed pumpkin recipe – a favorite from last fall and one perfect for celebrations.

Stuffed Pumpkin

This year, I’m not making the same mistake and will be stocking up on any and all local orange beauties so I can enjoy this dish more than once.

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table
Serves 6 (this will vary based on pumpkin size, the following is for a 6 pound pumpkin)


1 pumpkin, about 6 pounds
1/2 pound nine grain bread, sliced thinly and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 pound cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 pound Monterey Jack cheese, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
6 small slices ham, cooked and chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
2 Tbsp fresh chives, chopped
2 Tbsp mild onions or scallions, chopped
1 Tbsp thyme
2/3 cup heavy cream
pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or you can use a dutch oven or casserole dish.  The pumpkin will retain its shape regardless of what you cook in it, however if you plan to serve it in slices it’s best to use the baking sheet.

Cut a cap out of the top of the pumpkin and clean out the guts.  Generously pepper the inside of the pumpkin and set in on the baking sheet or dish.

Toss the bread, cheese, ham, garlic and herbs together in a large bowl.   Add the nutmeg and some salt and pepper to the cream (go easy on the salt, however, as the cheese and ham are quite salty).  Pour the cream mixture over the combined ingredients and toss well.  You want the bread to be moist, but not swimming in cream.

Using your hands – or a spoon – stuff the ingredients into the pumpkin.  You may have too much or too little – every pumpkin is different – adjust as necessary.  Place the cap on back on the pumpkin and bake for 2 hours.  Check the pumpkin after 1 1/2 hours.  For the last twenty minutes of cooking time remove the cap so the ingredients can brown and any residual liquid bakes off.  The pumpkin is done when the ingredients are bubbling and the flesh of the pumpkin can be easily pierced with a knife.

You can serve this in slices or, if you prefer, scrape the pumpkin meat away from the sides and mix in with the stuffing.

Victory Parsley and Garlic Pasta
September 12, 2011, 12:01 am
Filed under: challenge, dinner, garden, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday five-thirty p.m., I am freshly showered, no shoes, in the garden. This is supposed to be a quick stop – I don’t want to deal with the weeds or the now-weed-like-plants taking over. I just want parsley.

I know where the parsley should be; remember where I planted it in the spring. I know it, tall and leafy, leaning over all the shorter herbs clustered together in the small dirt space. I know it, and yet I can’t see it.

What I can see are the reaching runners of spreading grasses, the pink blooming plants that make you hesitate for a second between the weed/not-a-weed line, the thorny squat leaf clumps that leave the hands stinging.

There is parsley in there. There has to be.

So I move aside some blooming grasses, curious if I can skirt by for another week just pushing aside the gargantuan plants that I’m pretty confident I didn’t plant in the first place.

And there, under a particularly large clump of grass, I find the herb – half dead, a quarter of its original height. Wilted, choked by the out-of-control vine that’s overtaken most of the garden. It is a sorry sight.

Something snaps. Out by the roots go the grasses and the thorny clumps. The vines are ripped out, a dozen strands at a time. The towering pink-flowered plants resist before eventually releasing from the soft ground, leaving a webbed network of roots behind.

Twenty-minutes later, I can see where plants begin and end. The dead cucumber remains tied to the stake, but the sweet potatoes are mostly free of the competing grasses and vines. The herb patch is once again visible and the oregano is thriving. The tomatoes are on their last legs, but the bell pepper has two new fruits clinging to a ridiculously crooked plant.

Finally, after months of neglect, there it is – my garden – worse for the wear but still surviving. And here I am, arms cut up, hands stinging, feet dirty. My just washed hair is stuck to my face, which is now smeared with dirt.

Dirty or not, this feels like a victory.

Victory Parsley and Garlic Pasta

This is a simple pasta. It takes 20 minutes from start to finish and is perfect for the warm days and cooler nights. This is an endlessly adaptable dish. The basics are, 2 cloves of garlic per person and a small handful of any fresh herb.

This is for the parsley that somehow survived.

8 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1/4 cup parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 pkg spaghetti or linguine
salt and pepper to taste
a sprinkle freshly grated parmesan

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water cooks, slice the garlic cloves and chop the parsley.

Once boiling, salt the water and cook the pasta according to the directions on the package.

With three minutes left on the pasta cooking time, heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Once hot, add in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds to 1 minute. Once you can smell the garlic, toss in the parsley and cook about 45 seconds, or until the parsley just begins to wilt.

Immediately add the pasta straight into the garlic, herb and olive oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss until the pasta is coated. If the mixture seems too dry, add in some of the cooking water.

Grilled Pizza
August 28, 2011, 11:57 pm
Filed under: dinner, garden, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Fresh tomatoes and basilThere comes a point every summer where the heat just becomes too much. It comes every August. That moment where saying the word “hot” just doesn’t justify the pressure from the sun.

These are the weeks when cooking becomes impossible. Turning on the oven or a burner runs the dangerous risk of bringing the inside temperature nearer to that of the outside. Every year I contemplate if I can subsist on ice cream alone.

Despite my best efforts to eat only cold or frozen things, I slowly dissolve into a hungry baby bird – opening and closing the refrigerator, wondering if something lies inside that will keep my stomach from rumbling.

Something I can cook without bursting into flames.

Something to celebrate the season of ripe tomatoes, green basil.

Something easy that will keep the kitchen cold.

Kneading the pizza doughAnd then, over the waves of roaring hunger came Bobby Flay with his grilled pizza. It was, and is, the perfect solution to the shimmering heat. Cook outside, over a fire, away from the house.

It turns out grilled pizza crust is the ideal vehicle for garden leftovers and stunning local Italian sausage. I added Crow’s Dairy goat cheese, a perennial favorite – but the star was The Meat Shop‘s Sweet Italian Sausage. Hell, you could even skip the pizza and just eat the sausage with a side of tomato salad – but I digress.

Grilled Pizza

This is a classic cracker crust pizza – add what you want, as long as it isn’t too wet, which will take the crust from crackery to mushy in a heartbeat.

Adapted from Bobby Flay
Serves 4 – 6

Grilled pizzaIngredients:
1 recipe pizza crust (make your own with a favorite recipe or use a pre-made crust)
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup olive oil
3 Sweet Italian Sausages, grilled and sliced
4 oz goat cheese
4 oz mozzarella or monterey jack cheese, grated
4 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 sprigs fresh basil, chopped

Heat the grill to 400 F.

While the grill warms, roll out the pizza crust as thin as possible. Flour one side and brush the other side with olive oil.

Once the grill is hot, coat the grates with olive oil.

Flip the pizza, oil side down, onto the hot grill. Immediately brush the other side with the oil. Leave the lid open and let the crust cook for 7 minutes or until the crust has a nice golden hue. Flip the pizza crust and let cook for another 5-7 minutes.

When the crust is golden on both sides, place on a cookie sheet. Top with the cheese, sausage, tomatoes and basil. Place the pizza – on the cookie sheet – back on the grill. Close the lid and let cook until the cheese melts, about 3 minutes.

Roast Chicken
August 22, 2011, 12:39 am
Filed under: dinner, recipe | Tags: , , , , ,

Published April 4, 2011
Green beansSeveral years ago, I was watching a cooking competition TV show where the contestants had been tasked to create a last meal for 5 or 6 famous chefs. In an instant, without hesitation or concern, I knew what my last meal would be, should I ever have to request it: roast chicken with sweet potatoes, carrots smothered in butter and green beans.

No matter how much I think about it, I can’t fully explain my choice.

There are so many meals that I love, so many tastes that remind me of adventures, home, favorite memories. Rainbow carrotsThere’s my mom’s spaghetti, my French love, pain au chocolate, or my favorite childhood meal, green chile chicken enchiladas.

And yet, my choice is roast chicken. It is soothing, simple, rustic. I instantly think of bare feet, dirty from picking herbs in the garden, walking on my parent’s wood floors. The dirt is crunching, there’s a slight feeling of guilt for tracking mud, and everything smells like chicken.

Browning the chickenBut my nostalgia is out of place. I’ve lived in a city my whole life and, until recently, chicken has always come wrapped in plastic sans innards from the grocery store. (it still comes wrapped in plastic, except now there are guts and farmers)

As it turns out, the nostalgia comes from a previous generation. My mom grew up with chickens – bred specifically for dinner. Upon sighting a 9-pound bird at the Meat Shop, just like the ones they raised, her eyes lit up and the afternoon was filled with excited stories of “our chickens growing up.”

I may have inherited my nostalgia for roast chicken, but the love is all my own.

Roast Chicken

Adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

If you don’t have a 9-pound chicken, use the following times for cooking: 3-pounds, 1 hour and 10 to 20 minutes; 4-pounds, 1 hour and 15 to 30 minutes; 4 1/2 pounds, 1 hour and 25 to 40 minutes; 5 1/4 pounds, 1 hour and 30 to 45 minutes; 9-pounds, 3 hours.

IngredientsRoast Chicken
9-pound chicken
3/4 tsp salt (in 1/4 tsp increments)
5 Tbsp softened butter
1 lemon
1 large onion, quartered
1 carrot, cut into large pieces
A couple sprigs thyme
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1/2 Tbsp shallot or onion
1 cup chicken stock
2 Tbsp softened butter
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Clean the chicken and pat the outside dry with paper towels. In a 12 inch skillet, melt 1 Tbsp butter. Once hot, begin to brown the chicken, turning the bird once every 3-5 minutes until all sides have a nice, light brown coloring.

Sprinkle the inside of the bird with salt, smear in 1 Tbsp butter and add the onion quarters, carrot pieces, thyme sprigs and lemon into the cavity. Truss the chicken. Rub the skin with the 1 Tbsp butter.

Place the chicken breast up in the roasting pan (it’s easiest to set in a V-shaped roasting rack inside the pan). In a small sauce pan, combine 2 Tbsp butter and 1 Tbsp oil, cook until just melted.

Allow the chicken to continue browning for 15 minutes, turning it every 5 minutes and basting after each turn, finish with the chicken resting on one side. Reduce oven to 350 degrees. Leave the chicken on its side and baste every 10 minutes, using any fat collected in the roasting pan if you run out of the butter and oil mixture.

Halfway through the cooking time, salt the chicken with 1/4 tsp salt and turn on its other side.

Fifteen minutes before the end of the estimated cooking time, salt with 1/4 tsp salt and turn the chicken breast up.

Using a thermometer, check for doneness. The breast should read 170 degrees and the thigh should be at 180. Let the chicken rest for 10 – 15 minutes under tented foil before carving.

For the sauce, use the roasting pan. Remove all but 2 tbsp chicken fat. Add in the shallots or onion and cook slowly. Add in the chicken stock and boil rapidly, scraping up any fond. Season with salt and pepper and, if desired, add in 1 tbsp butter.

Serve with roast carrots, green beans and sweet potatoes or potatoes.

Butterflied Greek Chicken
August 22, 2011, 12:32 am
Filed under: challenge, dinner, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Published February 13, 2011
TomatoesThere are some meals where all you do is introduce the raw ingredients to fire, using the cooking process to draw out the natural flavor, complementing them ever-so-slightly with salt and pepper. A meal where the whole is better than the parts, but each component stands alone. This is one of those meals. And it’s really simple.

I’m often hesitant to cook with local chicken – not for reasons of cost or availability – but instead worried that whatever I create won’t stand up to a chicken that actually tastes like, well, chicken. Somehow cooking with a chicken that has a depth of flavor leaves me baffled. How do you draw it out, show it off, accentuate it? I want to do this chicken justice. And until this meal, I’ve resorted to roast chicken, confident that the tried and true method is the best display for real chicken.

OlivesI now realize the error of my ways.

It turns out that these birds are strong enough in flavor profile to outshine even the most acidic of complements. In fact, the bird becomes an even bigger star. While the lemons from a friend’s tree, olives from Queen Creek Olive Mill (which are unbelievable) and locally made feta give the chicken a run for her money – she stands alone in her excellence.

And for a meal that could easily be made on weeknight, well, the bird steals the show.

Butterflied Greek Chicken

Adapted, ever so slightly, from Bobby Flay

Serves 4

Butterflied greek chicken1 3-pound chicken, butterflied (step by step instructions here)
Salt and pepper
Canola Oil
6 plum tomatoes, halved
3 lemons, halved
1 red onion, skin on, cut into 1/2-inch thick rounds
1/4 red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
2 – 3 Tbsp chopped oregano leaves
1/2 olives, pitted
6 ounces feta, crumbled
1/4 cup basil leaves, chiffonade
1/4 cup greek yogurt (or, since unable to find locally, sour cream with a squeeze of lemon juice)

Preheat grill to medium, leave 1 side or section of the grill off. Season chicken on both sides with salt and pepper and coat well with canola oil. Place the chicken, skin side down, on the grill over direct heat. Cook until golden brown and slightly charred. Once the skin is charred and blistered, flip over and move to the indirect heat. Continue cooking until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the chicken reads 170 F for the thigh meat – about 14 – 17 minutes. Remove from grill and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

While the chicken is on the grill, brush the tomatoes, lemon and onion with oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill lemons, cut side down, until golden brown – about 8 to 9 minutes. Grill the tomatoes, cut side down, and onion for 5 – 7 minutes until softened and slightly charred.

Meanwhile, make the vinaigrette by combining the vinegar, mustard and olive oil in well sealed jar. Shake, rather violently, for 30 seconds until combined. Add in the oregano and season with salt and pepper.

To serve, carve the chicken into 8 pieces and arrange on a plate or shallow bowl with the tomatoes, onions and all but one of the lemon halves. Evenly scatter the olives and feta cheese and drizzle with vinaigrette. Add the basil leaves. If using sour cream, add a half squeeze of a half of the cooked lemon and mix well. Dollop the yogurt or sour cream mixture in the center of the platter. Squeeze the remainder of the lemon half over the platter.

Eating Local in Ireland – Champ

Kerr's Pink PotatoesWhen thinking of Ireland, a few things always come to mind: pints of Guinness, sheep, fields of green and, inevitably, potatoes. But visiting Ireland for me isn’t so much of a tourist thing – I do, typically, manage a few famous sites – but instead, it’s all about enjoying the daily rhythms of life in beautiful N. Ireland.  There’s the multiple mugs of black tea, servings of toast and, without fail, a wonderful dinner complete with potatoes.

Potatoes are an integral component of the diet here, and they are served with almost every meal. From chips (that’s French Fries for us Americans) at lunch to heaping helpings of mashed potatoes at dinner, I can count on one hand the number of non-breakfast meals that I’ve eaten during the last three weeks without potatoes (and I cooked two of them). Breakfast  typically consists of toast and cereal but, when given the chance, out comes potato bread and various other potato filled dishes.

PotatoesIt should come as little surprise, then, that there are – according to Darina Allen in her wonderful cookbook Irish Traditional Cooking seven “favourite varieties of potato” to be found on the emerald isle. These include Home Guard, British Queens, Golden Wonders, Aran Banners, Records, Champions and, the current seasonal choice, Kerr’s Pink. Unlike the Yukon Gold’s of America, Kerr’s Pink come with a gentle crust of dirt and an earthy smell.  Their texture is less wax and more dry, with a cream-colored flesh and somewhat mealy interior which fluffs up nicely with a bit of mashing.

Kerr's Pink Old PotatoesOf the myriad ways of cooking them – from basic mash to fried – my favorite Irish potato dish remains Champ. A mash of hot potatoes, boiling milk, green onions and a blob of melting butter, its simplicity is the secret. Darina Allen tells us that Ulster (the northern part of Ireland) is a “particularly rich source of recipes” for Champ and I have to agree. Whether with added peas or chives, Champ seems to make a weekly appearance … and I’m glad it does.


recipe from Caroline Collins

Serves 4


15 potatoes, preferably “old potatoes”

4-5 sprigs scallions (green onions), finely chopped

1 cup milk (cream can be substituted for special occasions)

1 oz butter, plus more for mashing

salt and white pepper to taste

Peel the potatoes and boil until cooked through. While the potatoes cook, in a small sauce pan, add the scallions and cover with cold milk and 1 oz butter. Bring the mixture slowly to a boil, simmer for 3 – 4 minutes then remove from heat and leave to infuse.

Once the potatoes have finished cooking, mash the hot potatoes with the milk mixture and small pieces of butter to taste. Season with salt and white pepper (which mixes better with the potatoes than black pepper) and serve with a slice of butter melting in the center.

Bon Appetit