Eating Local in Phoenix

September 26, 2011, 12:21 am
Filed under: dinner, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.


August 22, 2011, 12:40 am
Filed under: asides, garden | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Published April 18, 2011
Wily, the chickenMy chicken roosts in my neighbor’s orange tree. She digs in my garden, transplanting most of my potatoes while looking for worms. She ate what were to become my pole beans. She flies over the wall, squawking, if you come within 15 feet.

And, she lays perfect, small, cream-colored eggs in my neighbor’s coop.

Dysfunctional wouldn’t even begin to describe our relationship.

I held her once, shortly after she took up residence in my parent’s yard. She smelled like saw dust and feathers. Clucking softly, she was scared and warm. I loved her immediately.

We didn’t plan to be chicken owners. She just showed up one day, unannounced. It took us two weeks to realize that the rustling noise coming from the jungle of lantana and ivy draped over dead trees in the depth of the yard wasn’t a cat. We thought she was a rooster. We almost gave her away.

Wily's eggsNow the whole house comes to a standstill to watch her scratch around the yard. When it rains, she stands under the small, blooming peach tree, angry. She wades through the irrigation flood to eat bugs. She chases pigeons around the yard. She stands on the wall, staring at you with one eye, before hollering and launching herself into the orange tree for the night.

A social bird, she spends most of her time in the neighbor’s yard trying to befriend their three hens. She patiently waits her turn to lay an egg once a day in their coop. Smaller and faster than the other hens, she never shares the worms she digs up. She is an outcast.

Even though she barely belongs to us – let’s be honest, she shows up for the food and to dig in my unprotected garden – our neighbors continue to call her our chicken. Their 9-year-old son diligently brings a half dozen of her eggs to us every weekend. Feeling bad, we always send him back with something. This week it was homemade blackberry jam, last week, coupons for free french fries at McDonald’s.

Egg YolksHer eggs are tiny. Often speckled, never perfectly white. The shells are tough, the yolks deep yellow. The ultimate cycle, we eat the bugs and beans and fallen oranges she’s scavenged from our yard. Eating them is to be home.

Seeing her is to be home.

It’s a funny thing to have a chicken.

August 22, 2011, 12:30 am
Filed under: challenge, recipe | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Published February 6, 2011
CitrusThere’s something so undeniably tangeable about citrus. The way its weight feels in the hand, the skin-like texture of the peel, the cellular interior all of which yield to a sticky, pungent juice. It’s a combination I find irresistible.

Like so many other fruits, however, their peak is short lived. Come mid-May these fruits are a mealy, flavorless disappointment, which makes it easy to spend two hours turning them into a treat that will last throughout the year.

Marmalades are notorious for their difficultly, often requiring several days to transform the bitter fruits into the famously bittersweet spread. It’s an unfortunate reputation. Orange MarmaladeTurning fresh-from-the-tree fruit into a canned treat takes no more than three hours. Skip the canning, and in under two hours you have five pints worth of gold.

Truth be told, however, I wasn’t the biggest fan of marmalades. Somewhere between the back of the tongue bitter and whoosh of sickening sugar, the mixture has always left something to be desired. That is, until I made my own. I said last week that oranges are the bearers of sunshine in winter – marmalade, it turns out, is like sunshine in jar.

And after a batch or two, I’ve discovered a few tricks that take this jam from scary (like when I made apple jelly and caramelized the glass stove top) to relatively painless.

Seville Orange or Grapefruit Marmalade

For this recipe you can use the “decorative” oranges you find all around Phoenix, as long as the skin has not been sprayed with any chemicals. If you don’t have any citrus – the Phoenix Public Market is teeming with the fruits. Just make sure the peel is untreated and pesticide-free.

This recipe is easiest using a mandolin. While highly effective, this is a very dangerous kitchen tool. It is amazingly easy to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. It is imperative to use the hand guard every time you use this tool. If you do not feel comfortable with a mandolin, you can achieve the same results with a knife – just slice the fruit as finely as possible.

And, finally, as tempting as it may be to double this recipe – don’t do it, it won’t set.

Grapefruit MarmaladeIngredients:
1 3/4 pounds oranges or grapefruits (4-5 medium oranges, 3 medium grapefruits)
12 cups water
1 lemon, zest and juice
3 pounds 12 ounces sugar
5 clean pint jars
2 Tbsp Orange flavored liquor (optional)

Scrub the fruit clean and put in the freezer for 10 minutes. Using a mandolin, slice the fruit into 1/8 inch slices and then, using a knife, cut into quarters. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in a large, non-reactive stockpot. While the water is heating, place the fruit into a strainer set over a bowl and press down to release any juices. Once the water is boiling, add in the peel and pulp, reserving the juice. Boil the fruit, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, add the zest and juice of one lemon into the reserved juice.

After 5 minutes, strain the peel and pulp. Add back into the pot with the reserved juice and remaining 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to an aggressive simmer. Cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The liquid should greatly reduce. After 40 minutes check the peel for softness – yes, you have to eat it – it should be soft with just a little bit of resistance. If the peel isn’t soft enough, add in 1 cup additional water and cook for 20 more minutes.

Once the peel is soft, place a small plate in the freezer. Bring the mixture back to a boil and add in the sugar. It is critical at this point to stir constantly until the mixture sets (about 220F degrees if using a candy thermometer). To test the marmalade, place a small amount on the plate that has been chilling in the freezer. Return the plate to the freezer and check after 1 minute. If the mixture has jelled slightly and wrinkles when nudged it’s done. If not, continue to cook until it sets. The process takes anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

Remove the mixture from heat, add in the optional orange liquor and ladle into clean jars.
You can store these in the refrigerator without processing them, however if you plan to can them (which will make them last for a year) you can learn more about the process here.