Eating Local in Phoenix

November 28, 2011, 12:04 am
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Graduate Invitation AppleIt is three days post-Thanksgiving. The tree is decorated, the lights are up, half the gifts are bought. Of all the things I accomplished this weekend, none of them involved ‘work’ work. But I did cook. And it was wonderful.

This weekend, I should have written my 15 page paper due in five days. I should have finished my half-written resume. I should have updated my website. I should have finished that CSS/HTML project I’ve been working on for too long.

I did none of these things. Fortunately, I don’t believe in ‘should.’ I do, however, believe in procrastination.

As I writer, I’m not great at transitions. I tend to jump topics without warning. I do the same thing off the page.

The problem isn’t the change. The problem is getting from one place to another without radically changing everything.

How to get from undergraduate degree to living in France for eight months? Spend a summer worrying and eating chocolate pudding for breakfast.

How to get from living abroad to moving home with no plans? Cry a lot.

How to get from a masters to what comes next? Procrastinate, apparently.

There are nine days until the end of classes, nineteen days until I graduate. It is time to transition. Once again, I am lost.

I will make jam. This is how I will transition. With jam. Lots of jam.


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


A Thanksgiving Bone to Pick
Heritage turkey

Courtesy American Livestock Breeds Conservancy

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and, if you haven’t heard it before, it’s the ideal locavore meal.  The original meal was created with local, seasonal food.  It’s one of the few meals that’s made with genuinely American ingredients.  Squash, fish, wild turkey (which may or may not have been at the first dinner – it is commonly thought that venison was there, however), corn, pumpkin and maybe cranberries all combined to make a meal in celebration of a successful harvest.  It’s easy to recreate the traditional – er, the new traditional – meal anywhere in the country thanks to grocery stores featuring foods driven in from the other end of the country and factory turkeys.  It is just as easy to create all local variety with foods growing in your area.  And if there is any meal where going local and celebrating the harvest is encouraged, it’s Thanksgiving.  This is the time of year to genuinely celebrate the harvest – whatever it consisted of – and make a meal that honors the hard work and love that went into the foods cultivated during the year.  If you didn’t raise any food, which I didn’t, it’s a great time to head to the farmers markets and honor them with patronage.  But enough with the waxing poetic over local ingredients.  Let’s get on to the bone picking.

Chef LaPrad's Thanksgiving dinner

Michael McNamara/The Arizona Republic


Last week, November 17th 2010, the Arizona Republic ran with this sentiment and published “Arizona locavore Thanksgiving feast.” Greg LaPrad, chef at Quiessence at the Farm at South Mountain in Phoenix crafted a gorgeous meal including a pork loin and goat cheese cheesecake.  I was genuinely excited to see the newspaper focusing on such a great cause, however, I was immediately disheartened when I read this sentence:

In a break from tradition, LaPrad stuffs a pork loin instead of a turkey because no birds are available locally.

I was bothered for two reasons. 1. There are turkeys available locally and 2. since I am a current journalism student, the author of the article should have taken the time to research this fact, instead of just taking the chef’s word for it.

If she had done a google search, she would’ve found this:


google search, turkey in phoenixSee that purple link there?  That’s one I visited 5 times over the past week, doing research on Thanksgiving options available in Phoenix.  It took you to the Downtown Phoenix Public Market site where the fresh and frozen local turkeys available were listed.  According to One Windmill Farm, they had 25 turkeys available and “returned to the farm” to “get some more birds” in order to meet the demand for local, heritage gobblers.  Now, 25+ birds will not feed a city of over 6 million, but they weren’t the only ones with the traditional main course.

Now, I admit, it’s a bit much to get worked up over 25+ local birds.  However, as the local movement continues to grow, it’s important that people know the resources available, even if there are only a handful of traditional birds.  This is not to say that I wasn’t thrilled that the article presented an alternative to turkey, especially given the limited quantity.  However, it’s important to highlight the birds that were available locally which could, with purchasing dollars in action, be more prominent next year.  Furthermore, supporting heritage turkey – through consumer power – means these birds may once again become a part of farm life.   Instead of the genetically modified, large-breasted birds that are physically unable to mate due to their food-driven physique, heritage birds are able to reproduce (without assistance), come from a rich ancestry and have a well-rounded flavor that trumps the generic, even bland, industrial Tom.

Ok, and I’m off my soapbox.

This Thanksgiving, I’m going all local.  We’re having roasted chicken (with only three diners, it just doesn’t make sense to cook three times the amount of food necessary), boiled carrots, apple-sausage stuffing, scalloped potatoes, salad with farmers cheese and either sweet potato or apple pie for dessert.

Whatever you make this holiday, I hope it is a wonderful day of thanks filled with family, friends and great food.

Bon Appetit!

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!