14 January 2009

Shared Local Meals - even when it's cold!

In the past I have discussed my desire to cook more with others. I love eating and cooking and realize the benefit of sharing this love with others. But I also crave solitude and quiet. In the new year, however, I am trying to find a balance of these two wants, and I think I am doing alright so far! Later in the month I will attend a sustainable foodie potluck in New York, and I hope to recreate the event in Philadelphia sometime in February. Not all local shared meals have to involve large-scale planning. Sometimes it is nice to just share a home cooked meal between two or three people.
Last night I had a dear friend and neighbor over for a festive meal to celebrate her birthday (happy birthday!). It was an excellent opportunity to use up some of my CSA goodies and make a local meal, despite the limited produce of winter. On the menu was tortilla espaƱola, a green salad, marinated beets and for dessert crepes with apple butter and lemon.

A tortilla is a great thing to make in the winter: eggs, potatoes, onions. (A lot of) olive oil and some salt go into this dish, which is not necessarily local (though I harvested sea salt from the Jersey shore this past summer!), but the rest is readily available in the winter and for this meal the ingredients came from my organic, local CSA share. It is easy, filling and delicious, if perhaps a little time intensive for all the chopping and slicing, and perfect for entertaining, because tortilla only gets better the longer it sits (and can be eaten, warm, cool or cold!). I recall picnics in Spain of cold tortilla on bread. The very first time I made my own tortilla I discovered that the left overs were even more delicious than the original meal. The salt and onion flavors settle with time.

Phylann, the Keystone farmer, has started growing lettuce in greenhouses, so I was able to offer a local green salad (in the winter!). I dressed it with a simple vinaigrette. The beets were from a previous share as well. I roasted them, chopped them into inch cubes and tossed them in a little olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

The entire meal was reminiscent of Spain with the tapas-like nature of the individual dishes. My friend contributed a carrot, coconut milk soup, made with carrots, onions and garlic from her CSA share (also Keystone Farm).

Dessert too was local! I get Pennsylvania flour from the Four Worlds Bakery, so I was able to make a totally local batter (minus pinch of salt): flour, egg, water, raw milk. The other day I made apple butter from my backlog of CSA apples. The crepes were delicious with a sprinkle of lemon juice and apple butter. I was always intimidated by crepes, but I've been shown the simplicity of the batter and I think I have mastered them! (No pictures of the crepes, but of the apple butter...)
While in California I fully embraced the local avocados (tears flood my eyes as I think of their ripe, green, luscious availability), fawned over the lemon trees lining the streets and marveled over the variety of local produce available in late December. The average Californian probably eats about 100% better than the average East-coaster. In retrospect, however, I realize that eating well is based totally on convenience and not on awareness or a desire to eat in tune with the environment and season. It would be wonderful if healthy, local ingredients were the norm everywhere, but they are not. I imagine that those who unknowingly consume better quality "eco" foods would eat the same non-seasonal, non-local foods that most other less fortunate eaters do were they to leave food paradise. Here in Philly (and beyond) there is a strong locavore and ecovore movement. People are making efforts to inform themselves about food origin and local food resources. Once the puzzle pieces fall into place, eating local is actually not that difficult.

That being said, being committed to local ingredients ALL year requires some dedication and innovation. It is exactly that dedication and innovation, however, that makes me truly appreciate a largely local diet in a place that does not benefit from the growing season of California or the south. With my CSA share I am faced with ingredients that I had never considered buying at a conventional grocery store. For example, I receive turnips ad nauseum. What on earth am I meant to do with turnips? Soups - check! Roasted root vegetables - check! Mashed turnips with roasted garlic - check! This last dish was a first for me. Never had I mashed a turnip or even roasted garlic. I love cooking new things. The apple butter too was a first. And boy is it good. I have extra too!! Making meals that compliment and respect the environment is incredibly rewarding for me, and I hope it could be for others as well.

Tortilla EspaƱola

5 small-medium potatoes (yukon gold or red ones) peeled and sliced thin (1/8 inch)
3 small-medium onions, diced
5 eggs
olive oil
pepper (optional)

While preparing potatoes and onions heat (medium-high) enough olive oil in a pan with high sides or pot so that the potatoes might be submerged totally. This is a lot of oil, (1 1/2 - 1 3/4 cup), but you drain it later and can reserve it for future tortillas. Sprinkle sliced potatoes with salt. Test heat of oil by dropping in one slice of potato, if it sizzles without browning, it is ready. Carefully drop sliced potatoes into oil. Stir occasionally with slotted spoon (try not to break potatoes). After about 8 minutes add the diced onion. Stir occasionally. Cook for another 7 minutes, until potatoes or cooked, but not burnt and onions glassy. Poor potatoes and onions into a colander over a bowl. Meanwhile gently beat 5 eggs and a pinch of salt. Add potatoes and onions to egg and mix together. It is OK if some potatoes break. Heat (medium high) 1 tbsp of the oil in a frying pan until very hot (I use 8 1/2 inch, I prefer a fat tortilla, use a larger pan for a thinner tortilla). Carefully pour egg/potato mix into pan and spread. Let cook for 1 minute at higher eat. You should see the sides set nearly immediately. Lower heat to medium low and cook until halfway set in the center (8-10 minutes). Make sure tortilla is not stuck to the sides (should jiggle freely in the pan; if not use a spatula or knife), and flip it. To do this take a flat plat, place it over the pan and (I do this over the sink) flip over onto plate. Then slide flipped tortilla back onto plate, tucking in sides. Cook another 5-6 minutes until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean without any uncooked egg on it. Flip back onto a plate and let cool at least 10 minutes. Trust me, this tortilla tastes better the longer it sets!

p.s. I have double posted this at Farm to Philly! Hope you don't mind!!

1 comment:

  1. everything you make always looks so delicious. before i looked at your blog just now i had ordered a pizza; i feel ashamed :(

    in other news, are loyola students still welcome to attend the conference even if their papers were not accepted/they did not even submit papers? a few of us had been planning a road trip to philly sometime this semester anyway...