Eating Local in Phoenix

November 7, 2011, 12:13 am
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PomegranateThis weekend I was a grad student. I sat in front of three different computers and worked. For hours. Dreaming. Dreaming about what I would cook as soon as I got the chance. As soon as I got a break. As soon as I was hungry. And then it was 11 p.m. on Sunday.

This weekend, I made a sandwich. And some jello.

But I dreamed.

As I built websites I dreamed about my single pomegranate on that sprightly tree and wondered if the cold would hurt the fruit. Wondered if it would be sweet, wondered when, exactly, would it finally come ripe, wondered if it was ripe now.

Cauliflower GratinI built maps and thought about hot cauliflower gratin. I’ve wanted to make it for well over a year now, but I’ve never found local cauliflower. It would be bubbly and hot, the purple of the purple cape cauliflower dotted with golden spots of melted cheese. There would be pork loin from the meat shop and local cheese. And I would eat it for dinner with nothing else. Because, after floating around in my head for a year, I know it’s sustenance enough.

This weekend I read about food laws, wrote questionable story pitches, planned a video shoot. All the time thinking about ever-so-slightly-warm apple cake. I went apple picking in my mind, gathering up bushels of apples, all red and green and orangey-yellow. I came home and I made apple sauce and apple butter, apple pie and stuffed apples with nuts, brown sugar, butter. I even made apple jelly again, this time careful not to caramelize the stove. Then I gave all the apple jelly away because I still don’t like it.

In my real, tangible kitchen there is none of this. No cauliflower gratin, no apple anything, no pomegranate.

AppleBut I will do all of these things. I will find local cauliflower – I’ll take any color – and I will make a roux with pork loin and grate cheese and mix it all up before throwing it in the oven.

I will go apple picking. Maybe not this year. But I will go. And I will make something apple-y before Christmas and I will put it in jars and give it away as gifts (I hope, for my sake, it’s not apple jelly).

And I will pick that pomegranate before it rots. And no matter what the insides look like, it will be perfect.

And I will cook.


Thanksgiving – locavore style

A quick little note: I don’t believe in the “I’ve been super busy” excuse because everyone is busy … but things have been crazy around here lately. So, in an effort to get this post out (finally) there are no recipes with it.  Don’t worry, they’re coming, just not right now.  Once finals are done, I promise.

Thanksgiving tableYes, Thanksgiving was two weeks ago.  Yes, ideally, I should have posted this before Thanksgiving.  All that being said, however, this Thanksgiving was amazing.  It was the first time I’ve really jumped in and cooked – and it was a blast.  We had a pretty non-traditional meal, but, then again, we wouldn’t do it any other way.

In trying to adapt this traditional meal to one made with all local products, I was surprised by how few sacrifices needed to be made.  In fact, the only things cut from our traditional meal were the cranberry sauce (which doesn’t go with chicken anyway) and cherry pie (which we still had – it just wouldn’t be a holiday without a cherry pie).

We also didn’t have pumpkin pie -which we could have made from scratch – opting for sweet potato instead.  For those of you out there who absolutely love pumpkin, let me tell you, the sweet potato version was actually – gasp – better.  Now, before I get any hate mail, let me do some explaining.  This pie was both sweet and savory and had a wonderfully rich sweet potato flavor. Unlike pumpkin pie where one flavor is dominant, this recipe had a lot of depth and each bite was its own, unique flavor.  By the next day the flavors were so complex that each bite required a little bit of time to explore.  It will most likely become our Thanksgiving staple from now on.

Roast ChickenThis year, we cooked a chicken – which is something we’ve been doing for several years now – and it was our first sample of local, pasture raised chicken.  I’m not sure if there’s a better way to describe it, but it tasted like, well, chicken.  The meat had an actual flavor, which isn’t something you always get with the bland, dry grocery story variety.  We had our perennial favorites – stuffing and salad.  And instead of sweet potato casserole this year (made without marshmellows, thank you very much) we had scalloped potatoes.

Shopping for all these ingredients wasn’t nearly as challenging as I’d expected.  I’d started the week before with the local chicken, bread (the nine-grain bread from the stuffed pumpkin was so delicious that I had to repeat it), potatoes, onion and cheese.  The day before the big dinner, I stopped by the Wednesday market in Phoenix to pick up everything else I needed.

DatesWhile purchasing the sweet potatoes from Horny Toad Farms I was very eagerly talked into some local medjool dates.  The little guy selling them was really worried I’d balk at the price and did everything possible to prepare me for the “big cost.”  By the time he was ready to tell me the price, I was concerned that I’d fallen in love with $25 dates.  Turns out it was $7.50 for a carton – which, in my book, is a steal. In the end, I was so happy I bought them because they were perfect stuffed with Udder Delights cranberry farmers cheese and topped with pomegranate seeds.

Thanksgiving GroceriesI picked up the rest of my required produce and headed over to the Tempe Farmers market to get butter, some more cheese (because you can never have enough) and breakfast sausage for the stuffing.  All told, it took three trips to get everything – which really – isn’t any more than normal.

With the paired down menu and lack of a turkey, the cooking requirement was manageable.  My Mom cooked the pies in the morning, Dad started the chicken around 1:30 in the afternoon and with an hour of cooking time left I started assembling the stuffing – made with breakfast sausage from the Meat Shop – and scalloped potatoes. Yes, we all helped, but this was a Thanksgiving dinner that one person could have reasonably cooked in one day.

The best part of the day was experiencing some the traditional flavors in season, fresh and locally grown.  We had bread made by neighbors (they go around the neighborhood once a week selling fresh, homemade bread), eggs raised by friends and a bird that lived a normal life before being sacrificed for a special meal.

I’m not one to get overly sentimental … oh, who am I kidding, I cry at cheesy movies … but this meal was really special.  While the food may have tasted better thanks to its freshness, knowing it came from people who care about our and the land’s health made the meal all the better.  Sharing it with my wonderful parents and working together to get it on the table made it a truly wonderful holiday.  I look forward to more local Thanksgivings for years to come.

Happy Holidays and Bon Appetit!

Quick Note: Here’s the photos that will go with the recipes, you know, so you come back and read them …

Sweet Potato Pie

From America’s Test Kitchen

Sweet Potato Pie

Apple Sausage Stuffing

From America’s Test Kitchen

Apple Sausage Stuffing

Scalloped Potatoes

Scalloped Potatoes

Roast Chicken

From America’s Test Kitchen

Roast Chicken

Stuffed Dates

Stuffed Dates

Boiled Carrots


Stuffed Pumpkin, Sweet and Sour Swiss Chard and Apple Cake

With Thanksgiving right around the corner – or tomorrow, to be exact – I decided to cook some trial recipes and see how they turned out.  I’m a big fan of cooking new recipes (and do so almost every week) but there’s nothing worse than making a brand new recipe on Thanksgiving day only to have it turn out rotten.  I stumbled across an amazing recipe from Dorie Greenspan for stuffed pumpkin while searching Amazon for new cookbooks a few weeks ago and feverishly searched the market for pumpkins the following week.  Much to my dismay, I came up empty-handed both weeks and, figuring that I had missed the last of the pumpkins for the season, resigned myself to waiting until next year.

You can imagine my joy when I saw a cluster of bright orange beauties at one of my favorite stands, Horny Toad Farm, just waiting to be turned into dinner.  I picked up the roundest one I could find, at a hefty 6 pounds, and merrily changed my plans for the week from swiss chard enchiladas to stuffed pumpkin.  In retrospect, I should have purchased two of them – seeing as pumpkin always comes in handy at Thanksgiving – but my arms were already overloaded with two whole chickens, a large bag of apples and various other produce.  Fortunately, there’s a market on today, although I’m not sure if there’ll be any orange balls of joy waiting for me.

Following my pumpkin acquisition, I quickly picked up the remainder of ingredients required for dinner, somehow got talked into buying 1 pound of jalapenoes for $2 (I have, literally, no idea what to do with them – they might get pickled), and headed off to pick up some wine for dinner and Thanksgiving.  On the way, I stopped at the Tempe Farmers Market – they have a better cheese selection – I stumbled across their free expired bread and picked up a loaf for Wily.  By the time I made it home from my epic shopping trip – three and half hours later – I had ten different bags of goodies.  I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up with all that stuff, however I’m pretty prepared for Thanksgiving (kinda).

It turns out that stuffed pumpkin is a phenomenally easy dish to make.  I’m very disappointed that it won’t be gracing my Thanksgiving table, however with only one oven a chicken or two to cook there’s no way I can fit a pumpkin in as well.  However, it’s a fantastic substitute for a whole bird and could easily be adapted for a gorgeous vegetarian main course.  If takes about fifteen minutes to cobble the stuffing ingredients together and, depending on your pumpkin cleaning skills, about 10 minutes to get the inside clean.  After that it’s smooth sailing – it simply sits in the oven for two hours – no further cooking required.

The ease of the pumpkin meant that I had time to put another Dorie Greenspan recipe together – apple cake.  As someone who doesn’t like overly sweet dessert, I seek out French style desserts which highlight the fruit and not the sugar.  The only challenge here is the fact that the required rum and sugar cannot be sourced locally, however, I’m not willing to completely sacrifice the delicate flavor of this cake for, oh, one cup of ingredients.  I’m delighted to report that this apple cake is simple to put together and, with a dollop of whipped cream (not from a container) it’s a wonderfully light dessert.  And one that I will happily make again and again.

DinnerFinally, while the cake was sharing the oven with the pumpkin, I started in on the swiss chard dish.  The recipe comes from my newest cookbook acquisition, Simply in Season, and – with the exception of cranberries – is easily assembled from the ingredients I picked up at the market in the morning.  I’m not the biggest fan of swiss chard, however, it’s in season right now which means it’s time for me to learn to love it.  Initially, I was hesitant about the recipe, but after a few bites I was sold.  The cranberries (which are not from Arizona, but were organic) and sugar highlight the complexity of the chard and make it my current – and only – favorite chard dish.


Stuffed Pumpkin

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 1/1 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.

Sweet and Sour Swiss Chard

Adapted from Simply in Season

Serves 4


1 pound swiss chard

1 medium onion, diced

1/4 cup dried cranberries, raisins or currants

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 tsp olive oil

3 Tbsp vinegar

1 1/2 tsp sugar

salt and pepper to taste

Stack the chard leaves, roll them up and slice into 1 inch strips.

In a large skillet heat up the olive oil and saute onions until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add in 1/4 of the chard leaves along with the garlic, vinegar, sugar, cranberries and salt and pepper.  Cover and simmer for 5 – 8 minutes.  Place the remainder of the chopped leaves on top – do not stir in – cover and cook for 2 – 3 more minutes.  Stir the mixture around and let cook for another minute.

Apple Cake

Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Around my French Table

Serves 4


¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ tsp baking powder

Pinch of salt

6 small to medium apples

2 large eggs

¾ cup sugar

3 Tbsp dark rum

½ tsp bourbon vanilla extract

8 Tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously butter an 8 inch cake pan – preferably a spring form or false bottom pan.

Peel the apples and slice into 1 – 2 inch pieces.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until foamy. Add in the sugar and blend thoroughly.  Add in the rum and vanilla extract.  Whisk in half the flour mixture and once smooth add in half the butter and whisk until smooth.  Add in the remaining flour mixture, whisk and the remaining butter whisking until the batter is smooth and thick.  Using a rubber spatula, fold in the apple pieces until they are coated in batter.  Scrap the mixture into the pan and level it as much as possible.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.  Transfer to a cooling rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Gently run a butter knife around the edge of the cake, remove the sides of the cake pan and let cool until it is at room temperature.  If you want to remove the cake from the cake bottom, use a a long spatula or long knife and work it gently until the cake is loosened from the pan.  Place a large plate on top of the cake and gently flip the cake and pan bottom over, gently release the cake bottom from the cake.  Using a second plate, flip the cake back over so the golden brown side is facing up.  Serve with a dollop of whipped cream (the recipe follows, by popular request)

Almond flavored Whipped Cream

Makes enough for one cake


1 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

1 capful amaretto liquor

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl.  Beat with a hand mixer until soft, fluffy peaks form.  Adjust the sugar to taste.  If you don’t want to use the liquor, you can substitute a couple drops of almond extract.

Bon Appetit!