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.


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!