Archive for April, 2008
I live alone, which means I mostly cook for one. Sometimes that means making big batches of something-or-other, parceling it out into meal-sized containers and freezing it for later. Other times – say, when I succumb to an eyes-bigger-than-stomach moment at the farmers’ market – that means coming up with several ways to use the Big Bags of Stuff ™ I bring home before they go bad.
Last weekend it was spinach: A big bag of dark green, big-but-tender leaves that whispered “choose me, choose me!” when I passed by the Salad Farm stand. Never mind that I was still finishing off the mixed lettuces I’d bought the week before; this was spinach
, and I love fresh spinach with a passion equal to the loathing I had as a child for the slimy green variety that came out of a can.
I also brought home more nice brown eggs from Turpen Farm, and a package of thick-sliced, smoked bacon from Wood Family Farm. So right there I had the makings of two very different, but equally delicious meals: A traditional, Southern-style wilted-bacon and spinach salad, and a fantastic spinach-and-bacon quiche.
This might be the place to explain to new readers that, I am not a “health food” cook, nor am I even slightly interested in losing weight. If you’re looking for fat-free recipes, I fear you’ve come to the wrong place. I come by my middle-aged figure honestly, from a hearty appetite and the Kight family gene poole; old photos of my great-aunts show them built just as I am, in the shape that used to be called “matronly,” and they all lived well into their 90s. Those genes have also served me well in other ways: My blood pressure and cholesterol levels are low-normal, to my doctor’s occasional chagrin. So, yes, I eat bacon and eggs, butter and cream and full-fat yogurt – not daily, but when I feel like it – without the slightest food-guilt.
And while I do believe that fresh, local food is better for me than most of what I find in the supermarket, that’s not my main reason for eating it. Plain and simple: It tastes better.
But I digress. On to the recipes, with a minor caveat: These are things I make from memory. I eyeballed the measurements in the kitchen this evening. Fortunately, they aren’t critical – you can add a bit here, subtract a bit there, substitute as you like, and (except as noted) it won’t affect the outcome in any unpleasant ways.
Wilted Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Dressing
Ingredients (per serving):
- Fresh spinach, rinsed and torn in bite-sized pieces
- Crisp-fried bacon (2 slices per person) broken in pieces
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar OR
- 1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar plus 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon hot bacon grease (pour the rest off and keep it in the skillet in which you cooked the bacon)
- One egg, hardboiled and coarsely chopped
- A few shavings of aged parmesan or peccorino romano cheese
- Freshly ground pepper to taste (no need for salt; the bacon provides that)
Arrange the greens on a large plate. Scatter bacon pieces on top.Whisk the vinegar and sugar (if used) into the hot bacon grease in the skillet; while still hot, pour over the salad. Sprinkle hard-cooked egg and cheese on top, and season with a little pepper. Eat. Enjoy.
Spinach and Bacon Quiche
- Crust for one pie*
- 1/4 pound thick-sliced bacon, fried till just shy of crisp
- One leek, sliced into thin rounds and sauteed until just soft. Or mild onion, if you don’t have leeks.
- 1/2 cup aged Swiss cheese, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
- About two cups of raw spinach, rinsed, dried and coarsely chopped
- 3 whole eggs
- 2 cups of milk or cream.
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably freshly grated.
- Ground pepper to taste
I use cream, because it produces a silky, luxurious quiche. Feel free to use milk if cream is too rich for your tastes, but at least make it whole milk; low-fat milk results in a watery, unappetizing custard. You can also use half milk and half yogurt or sour cream, but use the real, nothing-but-cultured-milk variety that doesn’t contain gelatin or agar.
Preheat oven toi 375F. Line a pie plate with prepared crust (you’ll want something deeper than a standard aluminum pie pan for this; I use a deep pyrex plate handed down from my mother).
Arrange bacon, cheese and sauteed leeks in the bottom of the crust, reserving some bacon for the top. Top with spinach. Whisk together eggs, cream nutmeg and pepper until completely blended, then carefully pour over the fillings. Scatter some bacon and parmesan on top, and crimp the edges of the crust as you please.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the filling is set and the top is browned (to test the filling, give the edge of the pie plate a slight nudge; the custard should jiggle just slightly, but not in a liquid fashion.)
Remove the quiche from oven and let it cool for 5-10 minutes for ease of cutting, or chill and serve cold (I actually prefer cold quiche, and it makes fantastic second-day leftovers.) If I’m serving quiche to guests, I like to accompany it with good, fresh fruit; when no fruit is in season, home-made applesauce or barely sweetened stewed fruit makes a nice foil to the richness of the bacon-and-egg custard.
* While I’m perfectly capable of making a good pie crust, I tend to save them for guests and special occasions. The rest of the time I keep a package of frozen, pre-made pie crusts – the kind that come ready to unroll into your pie plate – in the freezer. They’re easy, less messy, time-saving and even store-brand versions produce perfectly acceptable results.
I managed to gobble up nearly half the big bag of lettuce I brought home from the market yesterday, dressed with nothing more than a splash of vinegar and a little salt – a clear sign that I haven’t been getting enough springtime in my diet.
Then my friend Kathy Walton, having noticed my other market purchases, pointed me to this wonderful and easy recipe for Salade Lyonnaise, a traditional French salad involving nothing more complicated than greens – and bacon, and a single poached egg.
At first glance that may sound a little odd to the American palate – but why not? Greens and bacon go beautifully together (think BLTs, or wilted-spinach and bacon salad, one of the canonical Salads Of My People), and hard-cooked egg is a standard topping for lots of composed salads.
Besides, it was an excuse for me to dig out the teeny lidded pan I somehow acquired ages ago and use it for its intended purpose: Poaching a single egg.
It wasn’t a perfect poached egg, appearance-wise; that takes practice, and I haven’t poached an egg in a dog’s age. But the white didn’t unravel as they sometimes do, and it was perfectly done, to my taste: the white firm all the way through, but the rich, orange-yellow farm egg yolk still oozy enough to melt down into the salad and become one with the dressing.
My adjustments: I didn’t have any shallots on hand, but I did have garlic from the market; I minced a clove and added it to the butter I used to toast the croutons. And I had chives from the supermarket, so I used some of those to top the egg.
Pretty,no? Pretty good eating, too!
… nor thunder (all of which we’ve had today) could deter the Albany Farmers’ Market from opening for the season. It was cold, it was wet, it was windy – and despite all that, a fair number of shoppers turned out to greet the typically small number of first-weekend vendors like long-lost friends.
Not a lot of produce yet, which was to be expected; our growing season is just beginning, and we won’t see much but early greens and the occasional hothouse/hydroponic crop till the middle of next month. But what was there was choice: Beautiful brown eggs from free-range chickens, big bags of tender mixed greens picked this morning, tempting cookies and breads from Kris’s Kitchen. Dan Wood and his youngsters were there from Wood Family Farm, with eggs and pork and some beautiful wool roving and hand-made soap. And Matt and Cyndi, of Matt-Cyn Farms, won’t have produce to sell for several weeks – but they came by to circulate a petition aimed at rescuing Extension 4-H from the budget cutters’ axe.
There were lots of plants, from vegetable starts to bedding plants and even small flowering trees, and buckets full of cut tulips in every imaginable hue brightening the grey day (and catching the eyes of motorists driving by on Ellsworth, several of whom I saw pull over to check out the market. Good advertising, flower growers!)
I wandered around, took a lot of pictures, talked up the Eat Local Challenge and stocked up on salad greens, eggs, and a handful of garlic. I resisted the cookies, but only because I have baking of my own to do this weekend (and therein may lie another blog entry tomorrow, with recipes). And then took my chilled nose and fingers off to run other errands, and came home and made myself a nice, big salad of nothing but greens, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a few shavings of parmesan. It was like a tonic.
Oregon’s oldest farmers’ market* is open for business. Now it feels like spring, no matter what the weatherman says.
* Or at least we like to think so – according to the Corvallis-Albany Farmers’ Markets, the Albany Market, now starting its 31st year, is believed to be “the oldest continuously operating outdoor farmers’ market in Oregon.”
Countdown: Eight days till the local market opens!
Talk about good timing: While browsing the Flickr photo group I started last year for the Albany-Corvallis Farmers’ Markets, I noticed that group member Katherine Rivera had posted a note about her new local foodblog: the Mid-Willamette Valley Eat Local Challenge.
Based on the national Eat Local movement, Katherine poses a simple challenge to mid-Valley cooks: Every week, from Memorial Day to Labor Day (May 26 to Sept 1), try to work local ingredients into your meals. How you do it is up to you. A meal a week using nothing but food grown in the valley? A little something local in every meal? It’s up to you. And she makes the challenge in a spirit of fun: Enjoy yourself, and if you miss a week, don’t sweat it, just try again the next week.
Heck, this is an easy challenge. I’ve been managing to eat locally grown food just about that often even through the winter, thanks to all the stuff I bought last season and dried or froze, plus an occasional trip to the indoor Winter Market. In fact, I’m down to about one good meal’s worth of last summer’s bounty (some dried chanterelles and herbs, a container of frozen oven-roasted tomatoes, a small stash of dried beans and one last package of lambchops from Wood Family Farms). If I get a chance in the coming busy week, I hope to make a meal out of that and clear thelarder for this year’s market.
Of course, the first few markets are more promise than anything. The growing season starts slowly here, and it’s been a cold spring so far. In April, we can expect spring lettuce, leeks and garlic, plus maybe a few hothouse vegetables. There will likely be baked goods, eggs from happy chickens and perhaps some of last summer’s honey from local bees. And a lot of plant starts, for those of us hoping to grow some of our own food this summer. It’ll be a few weeks, weather willing, before the early radishes and spring-tonic greens begin to show up. Bit by bit, the season will advance, the variety of wonderful things will increase, and by Memorial Day, it should be a snap to join the challenge.
If you’re reading from somewhere outside Oregon, check the “Eat Local Challenge” link in my sidebar – there might be a challenge group near you. Or start one. Or just take a personal challenge. Do it for your health, do it for the environment (food transport is a major consumer of fuel, do it for (my favorite reason) your taste-buds. There’s no more pleasing adventure than discovering wonderful things to eat in your own back yard, figuratively or (for you gardeners) literally.