Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Summer Part 2

So, yesterday I talked about my realization that I already was a locavore in the summer without even trying.  Today I want to talk about why I haven't been posting as much as I thought I would.  I think the excuse that it's summer and I don't want to sit in front of my computer and type is pretty self explanatory.   It's either nice out, and I want to be outside, or it's hot out, and I don't want to sit in front of a computer that is giving off more heat.  Kind of self explanatory.

What I really wanted to explain was my statement that, in the summer, I don't want to cook fancy food.  Don't get me wrong, I have not fallen off of the locavore wagon at all.  In fact, I suspect the past four or five meals I've prepared were 100% local with the exception of olive oil, salt, and pepper.  But, there is something about summer that makes me hungry for very simple food.

I've said it before, but during the winter in WI there isn't much fresh.  This is a good time to experiment with strong flavors and spices, because the food itself doesn't have that much flavor on its own.  But in the summer - and especially right now when the produce is really just starting to come - I want to do as little with it as possible.  I don't even want a tomato mozzarella salad, even though that is probably one of my favorite foods in the world, I just want to eat the tomato.  I don't want to make coq a vin (another one of my favorite foods), I just want to throw the chicken on the grill and let the flavor of the chicken really shine.

One thing I'm really starting to notice is that there really is a difference in the flavor of chicken.  Purchase a local chicken from your farmer's market - one that has been butchered the day before and has never been frozen - and grill it up.  The first thing you will notice as compared to grocery store chicken is the texture.  The meat is firmer and moister - an effect of not being processed and not having anything added to it.  The next time you are in the grocery store, take a look at what you are buying and what percent of it is "added solution."  This is basically water.  They are selling you meat by weight, and adding water to it.  Most chicken at the grocery store has a label on it that shows it is 8-12% added solution by weight.  If you buy a 4 lb bird at $2 a pound, almost a dollar is going to water.

But if you start to get fresh chickens regularly, you will also start to notice the difference in the flavor of these chickens.  A chicken that lived and was butchered in the spring tastes different than one from the summer, or one from the fall or winter.  The saying "you are what you eat" is very true when it comes to food, and if you think about it, you can taste what the chicken has been eating - whether that's chicken feed or fresh grass and clovers.  It's a subtle flavor and, in the end, it all still tastes like chicken, but I don't want to cover that up.

In a week or two, I will have so many tomatoes and so many zucchini that I will be sick of them in the same way I am now sick of rhubarb, and will be looking for any way to get rid of them.  But for now, I want to enjoy them in their purist form.

This, in my mind, is the perfect summer meal, followed by the perfect summer leftover meal:

Yup.  We were eating outside.  It got dark.
Grilled Chicken with Summer Herbs
(serves two with leftovers)
  • 1 chicken (3 to 4 lbs) cut into serving pieces and patted dry (L)
  •  2 tbsp Olive Oil
  • 1 tbsp kosher or sea salt
  • 1 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped (L*)
  • 1 tbsp fresh chives, finely chopped (L*)
  • 1 tbsp fresh garlic scapes, finely chopped (L)
  • 1 tsp thyme, finely chopped (L*)
  • 1/4 tsp rosemary, finely chopped (L*)
Combine all ingredients except chicken, then massage into chicken skin.  Allow to sit about 15-25 minutes.  Grill over medium/medium high heat about 20 minutes or until cooked through.

Grilled Zucchini
(recipe is per person)
  • 1 small zucchini (L*)
  • 1 tbsp olive oil 
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper.
Cut ends off of zucchini, then quarter length wise. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and grill just briefly (about 3-5 minutes each side depending on how thick they are) until the pieces are warm all the way through but are still basically raw on the inside.

Grilled Corn 
 (Don't tell my orthodontist!)

Throw corn on grill still in husks.  Grill for about 10 minutes, rotating for 2-3 minutes, until husk is well charred.  I usually do this before cooking anything else, and then move the corn to the top grill rack away from direct heat and let them sit there while everything else cooks.  If you want to do the corn all at once, it will probably need 15 to 20 minutes total over direct heat to be done.

Tomatoes and Cucumbers.

Slice.  Season with salt.  Eat.

The other half of not wanting to do too much cooking wise in the summer is that it does take time, and I there is always so much to do.  So, it's also important to use whatever I have in the best way possible.  So, I thought I could start giving you some of my leftover recipes as well.  I'm sure I've said it before, but not wasting food is the best way to keep your food budget low.  I know that I personally don't want to eat the same thing two days in a row, so if I can make something that involves a little bit of work the day before, and then use it to make something involving almost no work the next day, I'm not only able to use up all the food and save money, but I also get to be lazy on day two.  The official name for this recipe is "Cottage Breakfast," because it's what my family eats for breakfast when we're at our cottage.  It's basically an egg scramble of whatever you had for dinner the day before.  It doesn't have to be for breakfast, though.  I do love eggs for dinner.  This recipe is basically a road map.  Anything can be substituted for anything else...  Except the eggs.

Leftover Egg Scramble/Cottage Breakfast
(2 big servings)
Total time: 20 minutes
Clockwise from top: Tomatoes, chives, sage, chicken, mozz,
  • 5 eggs, lightly whisked (L)
  • 1 medium potato (L)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup water, vegetable, or chicken stock (I used water... so... L?)
  • 2 tbsp butter, divided (L)
  • 1/2 cup cooked meat - in this case chicken - chopped or shredded into bite size pieces (L)
  • 1/4 cup vegetables - in this case tomatoes.  I would have used the zucchini too, but we ate it all the night before (L)
  • 1/4 cup cheese, in this case mozzarella (L)
  • Fresh herbs if you want.  I used chives, sage, and oregano.
  • Salt and pepper
These potatoes are boiling too hard.
 Cut potato into bite sized cubes.  Place in a large, shallow frying pan over medium heat, and pour in 1/4 cup water or stock.  Bring to a simmer, and allow to cook.  Do not cover.  The liquid should evaporate as the potatoes cook, and they should be fork tender and ready to eat at the same time that there is no more liquid in the pan.  If the liquid is evaporating too quickly and the potatoes are not cooked through, add more liquid a tablespoon or two at a time.  Once the liquid is completely evaporated, add 1 tbsp butter and saute potatoes until they are lightly browned and crisp on all sides. 

Add remaining tbsp of butter, and all additional ingredients, stirring to combine and to scramble eggs.  Turn heat to medium.  Cook, stirring constantly, until eggs are cooked through and cheese starts to melt. 

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