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.


Cheesy Pork Shoulder and Potato Gratin with Caramelized Radish Salad

RadishesLast week, I crossed pomegranate tree off my garden wish list.  This week, I made some significant progress on the chicken front.  While I still don’t have actual chickens, I do have a rooster!  Well, I should say that my parents have a rooster since he lives in their backyard and not my studio apartment.  How we ended up with him is a long story but, suffice it to say, we decided to keep the young vagabond and let him roam free in the yard.  Sadly, after much deliberation, we decided against getting hens to go with Wily (it’s a very descriptive name, let me tell you).  So for now I have to be content with the little guy who – despite his best, and hilarious, efforts – is still too young to crow.

In honor of Wily, and thanks to my neighbor’s generous gift of a dozen eggs, this week I decided to celebrate chickens … by cooking eggs (and not chicken).  After some debate about what type of egg dish to create, I ended up choosing gratin.  I had initially hoped to create a leek and pork shoulder version – with the leeks individually wrapped in a slice of pork shoulder – however the leeks I found at the market this week left something to be desired.  The potato version is just as good and is a great dish to make at the end of winter when you only have small quantities of staples left on hand. Not that this is the end of winter – or even winter – mind you.

GroceriesI made two trips to the market this week.  The first trip was punctuated by attempting to interview farmers for a homework assignment (let’s just say it didn’t go well) and then rushing off without any purchases in hand.  I once again tried to make it to the open air market at the Tempe market but just missed it.  The good news, however, was that, except for leeks, the store had all the ingredients I needed.

Gratin is an amazingly easy dish to create, surprisingly adaptable and just as easy as making scrambled eggs.  This is a perfect lunch or dinner dish and especially wonderful as the weather turns colder.  This version, made straight out of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, turned out more eggy than those I remember eating in France – but just as good.  Served with a slightly bitter salad (but not too bitter, hence the caramelized radishes) and sparkling wine from New Mexico, it absolutely sings.  My only caution is to make lots of it – three hungry people easily devoured a serving for four.

Gratin of Shredded Potatoes with Ham, Cheese and Onion

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

Serves 4

Gratin, salad, champageIngredients:

1/2 onion, minced

2 Tbsp olive oil

4 Tbsp butter

3 slices pork shoulder or ham

4 eggs

1/2 clove crushed garlic

2 Tbsp chives, minced

2/3 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated

4 Tbsp half and half

1/4 tsp salt


3 medium sized potatoes

1/2 Tbsp butter in pea sized pieces

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large skillet, combine 2 Tbsp butter with the olive oil over medium heat.  Once hot, cook the onions slowly until softened but not browned.  Raise the heat slightly, stir in the pork shoulder, and cook until heated through.  Set aside.

Beat the eggs, garlic, herbs, cheese, half and half and seasoning in a large mixing bowl.  Add in the ham and onions.

Peel the potatoes and grate them using the large holes of the grater.  Take 1/3 of the potatoes at a time and, using paper towels, squeeze out the water.  Add the potatoes to the egg mixture.  Adjust seasoning as necessary.

In the same skillet from earlier, melt 2 Tbsp butter until foaming.  If your skillet isn’t oven proof, use an 11 – 12 inch baking dish or medium sized casserole dish and pour in the foaming butter.  Pour the egg mixture into the dish.  Dot with the pea-sized butter pieces and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until top is nicely browned.

While the gratin bakes, prepare the salad.

Caramelized Radish Salad

Serves 4


1 head lettuce, preferable arugula or other bitter salad mix

3 medium radishes

1 tbsp butter

pinch sugar

1 portion Basic Vinaigrette Dressing (found on recipe page)

Slice the radishes into match sticks.  In a small skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and once hot, add the radishes.  Give them a good stir after about a minute and add in a pinch of sugar.  Let set for another minute, and stir again.  Keep them on the heat until they begin to blister with brown spots.  When done, remove and add to the salad.  Toss with dressing right before serving.

Bon Appetit!

Garden Quiche with Pear Side Salad
September 28, 2010, 12:21 am
Filed under: challenge, dinner, local, phoenix, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The inspiration for this week’s all local meal came from the cyclic problem of scarcity and abundance.  Though this problem is, apparently, deeply rooted in the human condition – mine was not-so-deeply rooted in my refrigerator.  

You see, I had 10 beautiful eggs left over from the neighbor’s chickens.  And, the best recipe I know for a large quantity of eggs is, hands down, a quiche (which, by the way, real men do eat).  My egg heavy recipe uses 8 – 10 eggs for a 10 inch quiche.  Perfect, recipe problem solved.

The trip to the market this week was significantly less chaotic than last week’s frantic mad dash and was, by all accounts, very enjoyable.  The only hold up was in the bacon department.  I originally learned how to make quiche during the eight months that I lived in Orléans, France and relied on lardons to fill the meat requirement.  Unfortunately, lardons aren’t widely available in the U.S. however, bacon serves as an acceptable substitute.  Except, the bacon at the market this week was processed in New Jersey.  Luckily for me, they had some beautiful sliced, smoked, cured pork loin from the Meat Shop which uses all local meat in its products.  As it turns out, the pork loin was absolutely perfect and far superior to bacon (I know what you’re thinking – nothing can be better than bacon, but I assure you, this pork loin was better than bacon).

The major challenge this week was the issue of the crust.  In France, quiche crust, typically Pâte Brisée, is sold in a pre-made roll that is the exact size and shape of a quiche or pie pan.  While this fabulous product is not only unavailable in the U.S., were it available, I can guarantee it wouldn’t be made of local ingredients.  Which lead me on, what will now be referred to as, the Great Arizona Search for Local Flour– where was I going to find the local flour necessary for my quiche crust? After 2 hours of research I had yet to discover a working flour mill in Arizona.  I did, however, discover that mesquite flour is made in Tucson, which as lovely as it sounds, wouldn’t be quite right for a quiche crust.  The closest, widely available flour that I was able to find came from the Lehi Roller Mill in Lehi, Utah.  In the end I ended up using organic spelt flour from Texas.  Not exactly local, but organic and in the same general region as Arizona.

The total cost of ingredients this week was $12.75 and included bell peppers, a tomato, a bunch of green onions, a regular onion, two pears, goat cheese, the aforementioned pork loin, sour cream and butter (not pictured).  Quiche is a very affordable dish to make and can be filled with any ingredient.  I like to choose my filling based on color and texture and fill them as full as possible.

For the quiche, you will need a quiche pan.  If you don’t have one of the fluted ones, you can substitute a flan ring, false-bottomed cake pan, or straight-sided cake pan.  This quiche recipe is highly forgiving and will even bake in miniature form in ramekins.

This recipe may look complicated, but in reality it is very simple and, with the exception of the crust, can be made from start to finish in about 45 minutes.

Garden Quiche with Pear Side Salad

Inspired by Julia Child and Jennifer Smith

Serves 4 – 6

Ingredients for the Quiche:

1 pre-cooked Pâte Brisée crust (instructions below)

4 ounces goat cheese

6 slices fully cooked pork loin (or bacon)

1 small tomato, diced

2 small bell peppers, diced

1 medium onion, diced

8 – 10 small to medium eggs

3/4 cup sour cream

5 leaves Fresh basil (optional)

salt and pepper to taste

For the Pâte Brisée crust (modified from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp sugar

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) chilled butter cut into 3/8 inch pieces

4 tbsp chilled shortening

1/2 cup iced vodka, plus droplets more as needed

In a food processor, combine all ingredients except vodka.  Pulse the machine four  or five times to blend the ingredients.  Then, with the machine on, pour in the vodka.  Immediately pulse the mixture several times – the dough should begin to mass on the blade.  If not add droplets more water and pulse until the dough masses on itself.

Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and, with the heel of one hand rapidly press the pastry by two spoonful bits down the board and away from you in a firm, quick smear of about 6 inches.  Gently gather the dough into a mass, knead briefly into a fairly smooth round ball.  Sprinkle lightly with flour, wrap it and refrigerate for 1 hour until firm.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the dough on a lightly floured board.  If too hard, beat it with a rolling pin to soften.  Knead briefly into a fairly flat circle. Lightly flour the top of the dough and roll it out into a 1/8 inch thick circle that is 2 inches larger than the quiche pan.  Gently transfer the dough to a buttered quiche pan, either by reversing it onto the rolling pin or by folding it into quarters, laying it in the pan and unfolding it.  Press the dough into the pan and trim off the excess.

Line the inside of the crust with tin foil and fill with pie weights, beans or rice.  Bake for 8 to 9 minutes.  Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork and return to the oven for 2 – 3 minutes.

For the quiche:

While the crust is baking, dice the bell peppers, tomato, onion and pork loin, mix the ingredients together and set aside.  I like to flavor the goat cheese with the basil, to do so chiffonade the basil (which means to slice it into thin, long strips) and mix it along with salt and pepper into the goat cheese.  Once the ingredients are ready, make the egg mixture.

Crack 8 eggs into a metal bowl, add the sour cream and whisk.  The mixture should change color and thicken.  If you think you’ll need more egg filling add in the additional two eggs and a spoonful of sour cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Once the crust is done, lower the temperature of the oven to 375, add the mixture of diced ingredients to the crust and dot the goat cheese on top.  Gently pour the egg mixture over the ingredients, being careful not to let the mixture run over the crust edge (if your crust is like mine, it always seems to shrink).  Place the quiche into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.  The quiche is done when the middle no longer wiggles.

Pear Side Salad


1 serving basic vinaigrette (instructions on recipes page)

1 head lettuce, torn into bite size pieces

3 sprigs green onion, diced

1 pear, thinly sliced

Toss the lettuce, green onions and sliced pears together.  Top with vinaigrette dressing just before serving.

The quiche is best served warm although is delicious cold or reheated.

Bon appetit!