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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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.

“What’s in the Fridge?” Salad.

Today is our second day of 100+ temperatures. Last week it was the 80s so we really haven’t had time to adjust to days in the 100s. Truth is, I never adjust to that kind of heat. The only good thing about hot days is the mornings. I love puttering in my garden or sometimes just enjoy sitting in my swing drinking coffee and watching the birds on their morning quest for seeds or nectar. It’s definitely my favorite time of day during the summer months.

My appetite and energy related to cooking takes a nosedive during the heat (I consider heat any temperature over 90). So today when I was hungry but didn’t want to heat up the kitchen by cooking I decided to make one of my “What’s in the fridge?” salads. I like this salad because it’s light, refreshing and uses up of all kinds of veggies. It’s also a good place to use leftover chicken or chunks of cheese. If I have leftover cooked bacon that’s a definite addition.  It’s literally what ever I have on hand in the fridge, hence the name.

Today’s mix included sliced Crimini mushrooms, shredded carrot and summer squash (from my garden), sugar snap peas, sliced at a diagonal into 1/2″ pieces, spinach, chard, radicchio leaves torn into bite size pieces  and a mix of baby lettuce leaves. I chop and shred the veggies, holding the leafy veggies and meat cheese, etc aside and place it all in a bowl. Then I toss the mix with a nice vinaigrette (I make my own using 6T olive oil, 3 T red wine vinegar, 1 t Dijon mustard and one crushed garlic clove), then add the chicken, bacon or cheese (today a very nice crumbly Gorgonzola) and toss again. I always add the leaf veggies last and toss the whole mixture just before serving. If you want to expand beyond the fridge for ingredients you might check your cupboards for croutons or toasted sunflower or pumpkin seeds. They are all nice additions. Be creative and just use what you have.

Annie’s Asian Slaw is another favorite hot weather meal of mine. You can find the recipe for that one here.

The forecast says the weather should start to cool down after tomorrow. I hope so! Meanwhile, I’ll be heading to the fridge for ice cold peppermint tea and salad ingredients.

A little of this, a little of that and you have the one-pot option.

Have you ever found you have just a few carrots, maybe a little spinach and just a handful of green beans in the refrigerator but there’s not enough of any one of them to feed two people much less three or four?  Here’s an easy solution; The one pan option, or as some might call it stir-fry.

I love stir-fry. I don’t always use it to solve the little of this, little of that problem. Sometimes I choose it because I can cook everything in one pan, which a lot of the time is a huge motivating factor. Whichever reason, I’ve been keeping track of some of the ways I made quick, tasty, easy to clean up meals over the last month and here are the results.

Version 1

A curried version using Crimini mushrooms, onion and garlic, zucchini, carrots and leftover chicken served over brown rice mixed with a little curry sauce.

Version II

An Asian version using Shitaki mushrooms, onion and garlic, snow peas, spinach, yellow summer squash served over brown rice flavored with a little oyster sauce.

Version III

This one I came up with after my experience with the fava beans. In this version I used Crimini mushrooms, onion and garlic, chard and feta cheese served over left over rice penne pasta.

Version IV

A celebration of the first green beans of the season was the occasion for this simple stir-fry of Shitaki mushrooms, onion and garlic, green beans all flavored with bacon bits and served over brown rice.

I start by sautéing the mushrooms, then add the onion and garlic, sometimes I remove those ingredients to a serving bowl then brown the longer cooking veggies like the squash, green beans or chard stems, then I’ll add back in the mushroom/onion mixture put what ever greens I’m going to use on top, add a little liquid (water, broth, wine) to create steam and cover until the greens just wilt and the thicker veggies are just right. If I really don’t want to clean another pan I will sometimes put the rice or cooked pasta in with the thicker veggies and the liquid, cover and let it all steam for a little while then add the greens to wilt them right before serving.

This is one of those things that you’ll want to play around with. There is no wrong way. Just think of the colors and textures of what you have on hand and what might taste good with them as a flavoring. I used curry sauce, oyster sauce, feta cheese, and bacon in these versions but  you might want to try soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or even a BBQ sauce. Herbs are also a good addition.  Nuts and seeds are good ways to add protein if your not adding cheese or leftover meats. And, don’t forget tofu. Tofu is really great in these stir-fry dishes. I usually don’t cook rice or pasta for this dish I usually have some leftovers that I use. If you do cook pasta especially for this, use some of the pasta water when you do the steaming.

I am using a wok style pan but a large fry pan can work too. Just make sure you have a lid that fits the pan you are going to use. For oil I use either olive oil or canola oil. The addition of a little sesame oil to an Asian style version is very nice.

Just use your imagination, the options are endless and now that we have a whole new selection of summer vegetables coming to market I’m sure I’ll be trying some new combinations. How about you? Let me know what you come up with. I love trying new ideas.

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