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.

Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings

I wonder how many of you are making turkey soup today? One of my favorite reasons to roast a turkey is to end up with the carcass and bits and pieces of turkey that I can make into a rich broth.

Since it’s a Sunday I was off to the Farmers’ Market early. The market was pretty quiet this morning with some of the farmers enjoying a holiday and some of the customers waiting until it was warmer out. It was a nippy 36° when I headed out around 8:30. On my shopping list, leeks & carrots for the soup. Not on the list but looked too good to pass up; onions, crimini mushrooms and a nice little head of broccoli to stir-fry later in the week. Also picked up some Sickle pears and Fuji apples.

Here’s the Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings recipe I came up with today: You’ll need a couple quarts of broth (if you don’t have enough turkey, supplement it with chicken) and a couple of cups shredded turkey meat.  In large pan sauté 2 sliced leeks (about 1lb, white part only), 2 stalks celery and 2 carrots that have been rinsed trimmed and diced in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook covered, for about 5 minutes, add the stock and a few fresh sage leaves; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the turkey or you can do like I did and add it just before serving the soup. If you don’t have turkey you can make this with chicken and chicken broth.

For the dumplings: while the soup is cooking mix 1 cup flour, ½ cup cornmeal, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves in a large bowl. In another small bowl mix together 1/3 cup milk, 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten lightly together to blend and 1 tablespoons melted butter. Lightly stir the liquid mixture into the dry mix until it is just combined. Drop dumpling batter in 12 to 14 heaping tablespoon portions on the surface of the simmering soup. Cover pan and simmer over medium-low heat (do not allow the soup to boil) until a knife inserted into the center of a dumpling comes out clean, about 10 minutes.  Makes 6 – 8 servings. I really liked the dumplings. The texture and flavor were great. I’ll definitely try them again. The soup as always was good and will be even better when I reheat it for a meal later this week. I separated out the dumplings into a container of their own when I put away the leftovers. I’ll probably try steaming them or heating them in the microwave to reheat them.

If you’re not sure how to make turkey stock here is Aunt Maymie’s turkey stock recipe: 1 turkey carcass (broken into pieces so it will fit in the pot) and whatever bits and pieces are left of the turkey. If there’s dressing still stuck on the carcass I just leave it.  If you didn’t use the giblets for gravy now is the perfect time to use them, except the liver. I think the flavor of liver is too strong so I never use it, I give it to the cats. One likes it raw the other likes it cooked. Anyway, once you have the carcass in a stock pot add one whole onion stuck with two whole cloves, a couple of carrots cut into large chunks, a couple stalks of celery (leave the leaves on if the stalks have some), a few sprigs of fresh parsley, fresh thyme sprigs and a few leaves of fresh sage. Next I cover the carcass with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until the carcass is falling apart (an hour, sometimes a couple of hours). Let the stock cool down then strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth that has been placed over a large bowl. You may have to ladle the stock a little at a time depending on how big the sieve is. You can use the stock right away or freeze it for future use. It’s hard to say how much broth you’ll end up with. The final amount will depend on how big your turkey was.

Fresh at the Market in April:

Here’s a list of what you might find at your Northern California Farmers’ Market in April.  Be sure to check out the veggies that are just becoming available and watch for first of the season cherries.

*These vegetables should be available for the first time this month.

Artichokes

Arugula

Asian greens

Asparagus

Avocados

Beans

Bok Choy

Broccoli

Cabbage

Carrots

Cauliflower

Celery*

Chard

Collards

Dandelion/Chicor

Endive

Fava Beans*

Garlic

Green garlic*

Kale

Kohlrabi*

Leeks

Lettuces

Mushrooms

Onions

Parsnips

Peas*

Potatoes

Purslane*

Radicchio*

Radish

Rhubarb*

Rutabaga

Scallions

Spinach

Turnips

*This fruit should be available for the first time this month.

Cherries*

Dried Fruit

Grapefruit

Guavas

Kumquats

Lemons

Limes

Mandarins

Oranges

Pomelos

Strawberries

Tangerines

My “Magic Three” Saved The Day Again.

There are three ingredients I can almost always count on having on hand in my kitchen, fresh carrots and celery and onions. This handy trio is the basis for many of the recipes I throw together, especially when there isn’t anything else in my veggie bin. Today was one of those days so, I started thinking about what I wanted to throw together using the “magic three”.  I decided to make a peasant-style risotto, which is a favorite that I haven’t made in quite a while.

This recipe is great because it’s so basic it can be easily modified. You can add little bits of veggies you might have left over from earlier in the week. Things like a couple pieces of asparagus, a little broccoli, green peas or mushrooms would all work. You can also add just about any kind of cooked meat or sausage. Spicy sausages really taste great in this.

I had a couple of chicken thighs that needed to be cooked so I coated them with some olive oil and grilled them. I love grilling. It’s quick and doesn’t take an extra pan. I cubed the grilled thighs and set them aside.

Next I chopped one medium carrot, one stalk of celery and one small onion. I also added about 12 chopped crimini  mushrooms since I had them and they needed to be used. The rule of thumb I try to  to keep in mind regarding the “magic three” is that the individual amounts should about the same. You could also add some fresh chopped thyme or sage at this point. Next, measure about 3 cups of chicken or vegetable broth into a glass measuring cup and heat in microwave until hot but not yet simmering. Keep warm.

Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large Dutch oven over medium heat on the stove top. Add the “magic three” ingredients any other veggies you have, and the chopped herbs if you decide to include some and saute gently until the onion is golden, about 3 minutes.

Add 1 cup Arborio rice (or I use California short grain white rice) and stir with a wooden spoon for a couple of minutes or until the rice is well coated with oil.

Next, increase the heat to medium-high and add 1 cup of the hot broth, stirring constantly. When the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, add another 1 cup broth and continue stirring. Repeat as necessary for approximately 16 – 20 minutes, or until the rice is al dente, or firm to the bite, or softer if you’re like me and prefer it that way. Yes, this does take a lot of stirring, but if you pour yourself a nice glass of wine and put on some great tunes to sing along to the time just flies by.

When you have the rice just like you like it remove the risotto from the heat and stir in a tablespoon of butter and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and any cooked meat you might want to add. In my case this is where I added the chopped grilled chicken. Serve the Risotto immediately.

What to buy at the Farmers’ Market:

Carrots

Celery

Onions

Go Green

We read about it everywhere. We hear about it on the radio and on TV.  “Go green”, become environmentally-responsible. Drive a hybrid car. Install solar panels. Sure those are good ways to “go green”, but not all of us can afford to take those steps. Especially right now. But, there are some simple things you can do right now. Tomorrow, when you head to the Farmers’ Market or to your local grocery store, maybe you could carpool with a neighbor, or ride your bike, or take transit. If you are lucky enough to live close by, you could just walk. You could bring your own reusable produce bags and a basket, canvas bag, or even a wagon to carry your purchases. All of these are  steps toward environmental responsibility that you can do immediately.

In celebration of our movement towards “going green” I offer this wonderful recipe, from Cooking Light, for Winter Potage which incorporates six “green” vegetables; leeks, celery, broccoli, spinach, edamame and green peas. I love this recipe. First it uses lots of fresh veggies. Second, it’s easy to make and last, it tastes great. Add a loaf of fresh Artisan bread from the Farmers’ Market and you’ve got the perfect light dinner for a wintry evening. Enjoy!

WINTER POTAGE

4 servings (serving size: 1 ½ cups)

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 teaspoon butter

1 cup thinly sliced leek (about 1 large)

½ cup sliced celery

1 garlic cloves, minced

1 cups chopped broccoli florets

1 cups baby spinach leaves

1 cup shelled edamame

1 cup petite green peas (I used frozen)

1 tablespoon rice

1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper

3 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1 ½ cups water

1 ½ teaspoons fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil and butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add leek and celery; sauté 4 minutes or until tender. Stir in garlic; cook 1 minute. Add broccoli, spinach, edamame, peas, rice, and red pepper. Stir in broth and water; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are soft.

Place one-third of vegetable mixture in a food processor or blender; process until smooth. Pour pureed mixture into a large bowl; repeat procedure with remaining vegetable mixture. Stir in juice, salt, and black pepper.

Note: If you are not familiar with edamame, it is a preparation of baby soybeans in the pod.  The pods are boiled in water together with condiments such as salt, and served whole. You can also buy them already shelled at many markets. They can be found in the refrigerated produce section. You might also find them in the freezer section.

What to buy at the Farmers’ Market:

Leeks

Celery

Broccoli

Garlic

Spinach

Lemons