Eggs and Grits California Style

Breakfast is definitely one of my favorite meals. When I was a kid I can remember all of us kids (there were 7) snuggly sitting around the kitchen table (an oilcloth covered wood picnic table with benches) and mom serving a platter of fried mush. Mush, as I remember it, was corn meal cooked and then poured into a loaf pan to cool overnight. In the morning she would cut the cold mush into slices, dip each one in flour then fry them until they were golden and heated through. We would top our mush with butter (really it was margarine) and hot syrup. She made syrup each time we had fried mush, pancakes or waffles, which she always made from scratch, never using a recipe except the one she kept in her head. To make the syrup she dissolved sugar in boiling water, then added some Mapeline, which came in a little bottle like vanilla does.  The Mapeline, I later learned was, imitation flavoring.  It gave the sugar water it’s flavor and color. The syrup was never thick, like store bought syrup, but it was sweet and tasted good on the crispy surfaced mush.

Polenta and eggs

This morning I felt inspired to get creative with the leftover polenta that I had made for my last post. Taking my mom’s idea of frying leftover mush as the basis for the dish, I lightly browned slices of cold polenta in olive oil and butter (I didn’t dip the slices in flour.), sautéed fresh Spring spinach in the same, then fried a large egg over-easy and layered it on top. It was good. In fact, it was so good I fixed the same thing for breakfast the next day. Sometimes you just can’t get enough of a good thing.

Will have to try mom’s fried mush next time I have leftover polenta. But I think I’ll skip the margarine and Mapeline flavored syrup. I’m more of a sweet butter and Maple syrup kinda girl now.

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It Won’t Be Long Now

I’ll bet you think I’ve lost my mind. Well maybe I have but I was so excited this morning when I checked my Russian Heirloom cherry tomato to see that there are tiny tomatoes on it, that I couldn’t wait to shout it to the world. I have tomatoes! Well, I almost have some. It won’t be long now.

This year, I am trying a new variety called Koralik. I bought the plant in Sebastopol on a day my sis and I spent antiquing and nursery hopping. Definitely a great way to spend a Spring day. Anyway, I usually buy the cherry varieties since I grow them in a container. I did learn one thing after I had purchased and planted it that I wish I had known before. The little plastic tag that has the information on it said “Organic Russian Heirloom red cherry – Determinate plant: bears loads of cherry-sized fruit with great flavor. Wonderful for all locations. Only 60 days!” The thing I learned is what “determinate plant” means. Determinate are varieties that grow to a compact height. Determinates stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All the tomatoes from the plant ripen at approximately the same time (usually over period of 1- 2 weeks). They require a limited amount of staking for support and are perfectly suited for container planting.

So the good news is that the tomato won’t require staking and it is perfectly suited for container planting. The not so good news is that it sounds like all the fruit will ripen at about the same time so I’ll be overwhelmed with cherry tomatoes for a couple of weeks then I won’t have any. That wasn’t what I had planned on, but looks like what I’ve got. Such is life. Live and learn.

This is the vegetable container part of my little garden. The Koralik tomato is in the pot at the back, an Ichiban Japanese eggplant (Abundance, July 2010) is on the right and a container zucchini, Astia, planted from seeds from Renee’s Garden is in front. The zucchini is also a new selection I am trying this year.  An upgrade to my garden this year is the addition of the wheeled pot stands. They are fantastic. I can move the pots easily to change their location or just to rotate them so they grow more evenly. They even have little brakes you can set so the wheels can’t move. Definitely a luxury I should have given myself long ago.

Now that I have gotten that off my chest I think I’ll get back out there and check on what the snail population is munching on. And that is a whole other story.

(note: the sprinkler that is sticking up in the front pot is not how I’m watering the pots. They are on an automatic system that works off my in ground sprinkler system. I think I stuck that one in there so I wouldn’t misplace it. Good thing I took this picture cuz now I’ll remember where it is next time I go looking for it.)

Hungry Hollow Asparagus

Undoubtedly, asparagus is my favorite spring vegetable. At this time of year I always look for it at the Farmers’ Market. There was fresh asparagus at the market on Sunday but I didn’t buy it. Instead, I stopped at my neighborhood grocery store and  bought some. I didn’t buy it there because the price was better. It was actually about the same. I bought it because it was from Durst Organic Growers, local fourth generation farmers from the “Hungry Hollow” area at the mouth of the Capay Valley.

Capay Valley, about 45 miles from where I now live, is where I lived during my last two years of High School. We had a 40-acre Almond ranch there and the elementary and high School, in Esparto is where all the kids from up-the-valley and all the areas surrounding Esparto went. Some kids spent an hour on the bus getting to school and another getting home. The buses carried both elementary and high school (there was no middle or Jr. High) kids, so if you were from a large family like me, you rode to school on the same bus as your brothers and sisters.  The schools were very small by today’s standards, about a couple hundred of us at the high school and that’s probably being generous. My senior class had thirty-two. It was a wonderful place to live in those days, a little like Mayberry RFD. The Durst kids went to school with my younger sisters. Some of their cousins were in my class. In small towns everybody is somebody’s cousin, unless like me, you moved there.  So maybe it was nostalgia that brought me to buy their asparagus. But really, I don’t think nostalgia was the reason. Durst Organic Growers bring beautiful products to market so while nostalgia may have played some small part in my choice I was really just looking for the very best asparagus available. The only asparagus I’ve had that beat theirs was some wild asparagus I found growing in a meadow along a trail where I was walking. It was so beautiful, some of the spears had leafed out into their fern-like foliage and tucked below it were perfectly shaped spears, some  about 7 inches tall and no bigger around than a pencil. The temptation was too great. I had to to taste this perfection.  I broke off the spears and ate them, slowly, one by one, relishing their taste and texture. They were sheer heaven.  I don’t know what there is about foraging food but to me it always tastes much better than anything I can buy.

To celebrate my asparagus bounty I grilled some and added it to a penne pasta recipe I came across on one of my recent digs (through recipe clippings of which I have more than I probably need). This is not heavy, although with all that cream one would think it would be. I didn’t feel it over whelmed the vegetables. I could still taste their bright spring flavors.

Penne with Asparagus, Peas, Mushrooms & Cream

8 – 10 servings

1 lb thin asparagus

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for grilling

Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 medium shallots, minced

¾ pound shitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced

2 ¼ cups heavy cream

1 ½ lbs penne rigate

1 ½ cups fresh or frozen baby peas (if frozen thaw them before using)

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

3 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat a cast-iron grill pan. Brush the asparagus with olive oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the asparagus over high heat, turning until it is lightly charred and very tender, about 6 minutes. Cut the asparagus to 1-inch lengths. (I used my BBQ instead of the cast-iron grill pan)

2. In a very large, deep skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the shallots and cook, stirring once or twice until the mushrooms are golden and tender, about 8 minutes. Add the cream and bring to a boil. Simmer until slightly reduced, about 4 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving ¾ cup of the cooking water.

4. Add the pasta to the skillet along with the asparagus, peas and grated cheese and toss well. Add the reserved pasta water and simmer, tossing, until the pasta is nicely coated. Season the pasta with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley. Serve right away.

More asparagus ideas from Annie:

Grill’n Between Storms

Early Egyptians, Greeks and Romans Prized Asparagus. Me too.

Slow Post for a Quick Stir-Fry

California Rice

Snow geese over harvested rice field

When I drive to work in the morning I cross a three-mile bridge over a floodway. This floodway, or bypass, was created early in California’s history to carry water away from the Sacramento River during high flows and prevent the city of Sacramento from flooding and so far it has done its job. Within this floodway a wildlife area was created in 1997, the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area. It provides habitat to hundreds of thousands of waterfowl that visit each winter as they travel the Pacific Flyway from Alaska and Canada down into California’s central valley. There are also rice fields alongside the wetland habitats within the bypass. They also provide food and shelter for scores of wildlife species. In fact, California ricelands provide habitat to 230 wildlife species, including more than 30 that have been designated as special status. Ricelands provide more than half of the food needed by wintering waterfowl in the Sacramento Valley.

Rice production also benefits Californians in a big way, it puts more than a billion dollars into our economy, it supports local communities and premium California rice is found in every piece of sushi made in America. So if you eat sushi, you’re eating rice grown right here in my back yard. So, how did rice get to be such an important crop? It certainly isn’t native to our area.

Like so many things in California you could say it all started when Sutter found gold in “them thar hills”. The California gold rush brought thousands of fortune hunters to California. Immigrants from all over the world came, the largest group were Chinese workers hired by the mines and the railroad. Rice was an important part of the Chinese diet and it had to be imported from China or Japan. European and Asian miners who didn’t fair well in their search for gold turned to their previous profession, farming. Some saw rice as a potential crop.

But early attempts to cultivate long grain rice failed time and time again. It wasn’t until 1908 that a USDA soil specialist discovered that a Japanese medium grain variety, Kiushu, was better suited to northern California’s climate and soil. The first successful crop was grown at the Belfour-Guthrie Ranch in the community of Biggs just after the discovery and by 1912 the rice industry was established. Today California’s rice industry flourishes in the Sacramento Valley and a small portion of the San Joaquin Valley. About half of the rice produced in California stays in the US, the rest is exported to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the Middle East. Rice is also produced in two other principal areas of the United States: the Grand Prairie and Mississippi River Delta of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Missouri and the Gulf Coast of Florida, Louisiana and Texas.

One of the things I like to make with California short grain rice is risotto. I’ve been using it for years now and prefer it to the more traditional Arborio rice from Italy. To me Risotto is a comfort food, much like mac-n-cheese.

Farmhand Risotto

Tonight I put together a risotto hearty enough to satisfy a hungry farmhand or just a very hungry gal looking for some comfort food. It combines short grain rice, chicken stock and vegetables fresh from this morning’s Farmers’ Market, fresh carrots, crimini mushrooms, onions and tender spring spinach. I also used celery and country sage sausage, a touch of fresh thyme from my garden, a pat of sweet butter, some baked garlic cloves I had on hand, and a sprinkling of grated Asiago cheese just before serving. Served with a simple mixed green salad and a glass of wine it was the perfect dinner on this rainy spring evening.

Additional information and recipes for California rice can be found at California Rice Commission.

3/10/11 – Annie’s article  for step by step information on how to make risotto.

Astoria (Oregon) Sunday Market

Recently two of my sisters and I took advantage of low Southwest airfares and flew to Portland. When we left Sacramento it was raining and in the 50’s. We arrived in Portland to sunshine and 86 degrees. That was a rarity. It should have been the other way around. Eighty-six is pretty warm but we weren’t complaining.

First order of business was to head over to the car rental pick-up location and load up our rental with our luggage. Then it was off to one of my favorite farmers markets, the Portland market at Portland State University. Unfortunately, we arrived with less than an hour before closing and had just enough time to make a quick perusal of the possibilities for lunch. We sat under the beautiful big trees and ate our lunch as the vendors broke down their stalls and packed their trucks. Next time I’ll make sure I have a couple of hours of shopping time. Tummies full and anticipation high we headed back to the car for our leisurely drive from Portland to the coast, then north to Long Beach, WA and five days of a much needed vacation. If you’re ever in Portland on a Saturday between 8:30am and 2:00pm, check out the Portland Farmers Market at Portland State University. It’s open 8:30am – 2:00pm March 19 – December 17  and  9:oo am – 2:00 pm November and December. If the PSU market won’t fit into your visit there are markets happening in Portland everyday but Friday. You can find out more about locations, days and times here.

Sunday morning we decided to drive over to Astoria, a nice two-hour drive away and check out their Sunday Market. The Astoria market is easily the largest farmers market in the Columbia-Pacific region — and one the largest statewide, with up to 200 vendor spaces. In addition to its size it’s one of the few Oregon markets open on Sundays.  After a wonderful breakfast at Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe (They also have a booth at the market which sells yummy bakery items) we walked a couple of blocks to the market which was already very busy. The market is a mix of food (ready -to-eat and fresh), art & photography, handmade clothing, things for kids and pets, body care products, crafts and jewelry and plants and garden items. There is also a prepared food section where you can sit and eat and listen to some local music.  This isn’t one of those flea markets where products come from everywhere all products sold at the Astoria market are made or grown by the vendor, so you’re supporting local folks.

One of the most interesting things I found at the market was a young entrepreneur selling goat milk soaps. This bright young lady named  Mary told me her title was, Milkologist and Monster Master of Mary\’s Milk Monsters.  With a title like that and a smile like hers who wouldn’t take a few minutes to listen to what she had to say.  She told me she got into making soaps because her goats (her 4H project) give a lot of milk and she was looking for a new way “to make use of their hard work.” By adding her own hard work she has come up with a wonderful little business. You can find out more about how she makes her soaps and  meet some of her goats on her website. If you won’t be in Astoria anytime soon, you can buy her soap through her website. A very nice way to support a very engaging and energetic young entrepreneur.

After talking with Mary, and browsing, and shopping for non-food items for a couple of hours we finally got down to the business of buying food and bought chives, goat cheese, eggs, apples and some amazing goodies at the Blue Scorcher Bakery booth to take back to our little cabin in Long Beach.

If you are going to be up in the Northwest this summer take time to visit one of their Farmers Markets. You’ll meet some really nice folks, you’ll find fresh local foods and crafts and sometimes you’ll even meet someone you’ll never forget.

A Guide to North Coast Farmers Markets

Astoria – open 10am – 3pm, Sundays, from Mother’s Day through the second weekend in October
Commercial and 12th Street, Astoria, OR
astoriasundaymarket.com
 
Newport-open 9am – 1pm, Saturdays, May 7-Oct 29
US Highway 101 and Angle Street, Newport, OR
newportfarmersmarket.org
 
Lincon City – open 9am – 3pm, Sundays, May 1 – Oct 16
540 NE US Hwy 100, Lincoln City, OR
lincolncityfarmersmarket.org
 
Tillamook – open 9am – 2pm, Saturdays, June 11 – Sept 24
Laurel and 2nd Streets
tillamookfarmersmarket.com
 
Manzanita – open 5 – 8pm, Fridays, June 10 – Sept 23
Fifth and Laneda Avenue
manzanitafarmersmarket.com
 
Cannon Beach – open 2 – 5 pm, Tuesdays, June 14 – Sept 27
Midtown public parking lot
cannonbeachmarket.org
 
Seaside – open 1pm – 4pm, Saturdays, July 2 – Sept 24, except Aug 27
2315 N. Roosevelt Drive
no web address
 
Columbia-Pacific – open 3 – 7pm Fridays, May – September
Downtown, Long Beach, WA
longbeachwa.gov/farmersmarket
 
Scappoose – open 9am – 2pm, Saturdays, mid May – September
E 2nd Street entrance to City Hall parking lot on E Columbia Avenue
scappoosefarmermarket.com
 
Two Island’s Farm Market – open 3 – 6:30pm, Fridays, May – October
59 W Birnie Slough Road, Puget Island, WA
stockhousesfarm.com/farm.html
 
 
 
 

Mange-tout – Eat The Whole Thing

Sunday while at the Farmers’ Market I bought some Sugar Snap peas. The French call them mange-tout, or eat the whole thing and they area absolutely right, there’s no shelling involved. I love these crisp peas and often eat them raw like carrot sticks. In fact, I’ve had them twice this week in my lunch just that way. But when it comes to preparing them as a vegetable with my dinner I usually sauté them until just crisp-tender. Tonight I sautéed some sliced Crimini then tossed in Snap Peas than had been cut in half diagonally. When the peas were crisp-tender I added a touch of Sesame Oil and a splash of Tamari, quick, simple and delicious.

To make a one-pan meal of this add some cooked diced chicken or pork after you add the peas. You could substitute Snow peas for the recipe above if you can’t find the Sugar Snap.

Peas are a cool weather crop here in the Central Valley. May has a tendency to get much warmer than the peas like so we should be at the end of the season but it’s been cool and rainy so the peas are still happily producing and I’m still buying them and enjoying them.

Here are a couple of sites that I found while surfing around that I thought you might enjoy. The first one is from a blog called Vegetarians in Paradise. The article includes more history than you might ever want to know, but it’s interesting all the same. Included were sections on: Folklore and Oddities, Genetics, Cuisine, Growing, Nutritional benefits, Preparation and Recipes.

Next was Formula For Life, there you can find Nutritional information, Varieties, Selection, Storage, Preparation Information, Historical Information and Recipes.

Last was a very cool historical timeline of the pea (1650 – 2011) on Google. I love timelines so naturally I found this interesting. If you’re not enamored with them, you’ll probably want to skip this one.

Try some peas while they are still in season. You might find you love them too!

Slow Post For A Quick Stir-Fry

There is much talk these days about “slow food”, but this is about “slow posts”. I have been trying for over a week to get this posted. I didn’t have trouble getting to the Farmers’ Market to shop, that’s part of my Sunday routine. I bought the shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, scallions, and more green garlic so I could try a recipe I had found for Ginger Fried Rice. I made the recipe. It was delicious. I even got photos taken but what didn’t happen was finding the time to write and put the words and photos together. I’m sometimes amazed how long it takes.  Do you have weeks where it seems like you go from Monday to Friday in just one day instead of five?

Shiitake mushrooms are, in my opinion, simply the best. I love the flavor and the texture finding them even meatier than a Portabella. I guess the edge the Portabella has is its size. I’ve never seen a Shiitake that comes even close to the Portabella in size and I’ve never tasted a Portabella that comes close in flavor to the Shiitake.

Also known, as Chinese black mushroom and black forest mushroom, shiitake are the second most cultivated mushroom in the world. They also have an ancient history being recorded in Japan back to AD 199 and in China there are written records of them during the Sung Dynasty (AD 960-1127). During the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368-1644), they were prized not only as a food but also as a remedy for upper respiratory diseases, poor blood circulation, liver trouble, exhaustion and weakness, and to boost life energy and prevent premature aging. Today they are still touted for their curative properties and extracts from the mushroom and sometimes the whole dried mushroom, are used in herbal remedies.

Prior to 1972 it was thought by the USDA that the species was invasive so cultivation was not allowed in the United States. In 1982, Gary F. Leatham published an academic paper based on his research on the budding and growth of the Japan Islands variety; the work helped make commercial cultivation possible in United States.

Today,  mushrooms have become popular in many other countries as well. Russia produces and also consumes large amounts of them, mostly sold pickled, something I have never tried. There is a global industry in  production, with local farms in most western countries in addition to large-scale importation from China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere.  A lot of the imported mushrooms come to us dried. They have a very rich flavor but I prefer the texture of the fresh ones.

The fried rice recipe I made was a variation on one I found on epicurious.com.

Ginger Fried Rice with Shiittake Mushrooms and Asparagus

Makes 6 side-dish servings

2 tablespoons plus 1-teaspoon vegetable oil

2 large eggs, beaten with 2-tablespoons water

1 ½ tablespoons minced peeled fresh ginger (I recently read that you can freeze ginger root and just grate it into a recipe and that’s what I did this time and it works great. You don’t even need to fool around with peeling it)

3 scallions, white and green parts chopped separately

3 green garlic, white part and tender light green parts sliced thinly  (optional)

½ lb asparagus cut on the diagonal into 1” pieces

¾ teaspoons kosher salt

½ lb fresh shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded and caps thinly sliced (you could substitute dried shiitake that have been soaked and drained, or you could try crimini but the flavor and texture of either of these will be very different than the shiitake. I definitely wouldn’t recommend using the white mushrooms.)

3 cups cold cooked white rice (I use a short grain white which tends to stick together more than the long grain but it worked just fine.)

½ teaspoon Asian sesame oil

Toasted sesame seeds (not sure how many I added probably a tablespoon or two)

Heat a wok or a 12-inch nonstick skillet over moderate heat until hot. Then add ½ teaspoon vegetable oil and swirl around wok/pan. Add half of egg mixture and swirl pan to coat bottom with a thin layer about 5 inches in diameter. When egg crêpe is set, about 45 seconds, transfer with a wide metal spatula to a plate to cool. Make another egg crêpe with remaining egg mixture. Roll each crêpe into a cylinder, and cut crosswise into ¼ inch-wide strips, then unroll. (This was so simple to do and I loved the way it looked and tasted. If you don’t want to make the crêpes, scramble the egg and water mixture)

Heat remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil in wok over high heat until it begins to smoke. Add ginger, white part of scallions, garlic and salt and stir-fry until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add shiitakes and s and stir-fry until tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Crumble rice into wok add asparagus pieces and stir –fry until rice is lightly browned and asparagus is still crisp tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add scallion greens, egg strips, and sesame oil, tossing to combine.

I don’t see why you couldn’t substitute broccoli for the asparagus. Just keep the pieces cut into sizes that will cook uniformly, or steam the broccoli separately then add at the end with the scallion greens and egg strips. I think I would also like to try this with bok choy as the vegetable. This is an easy meal to prepare, as with most stir-fries the longest time will be spent in preparation.

If you give this one a try let me know how you liked it and what substitutions you made.