July 16, 2010

You Deserve Better than Store-Bought Salad Dressings

You and your family (and your organic and/or homegrown salad greens) deserve better than a bottled supermarket dressing. Sure they are convenient, but they're also expensive, and full of chemicals, soybean oil, and preservatives. I admit to using a store-bought dressing in a pinch, but there's really no reason to use them regularly when it's so easy and inexpensive to make your own. Plus, what you make yourself will be much more delicious than the store-bought varieties.

The basic formula is 1 part acid to 3 parts oil. You can vary the ingredients to suit your taste. Good oils to use are olive oil (obviously), walnut oil (not so obvious), toasted sesame oil, grapeseed oil, etc. For your acid, you can use any vinegar - balsamic, white wine, red wine, apple cider, or fruit-flavored vinegars. You could also use a citrus juice (like lemon) in place of, or in combination with the vinegar. This is really a basic formula. You may decide that you need to adjust the ratio of vinegar to oil slightly, depending on the combinations you choose. Always give it a taste as you go along!

Besides the oil and vinegar, all you really need is a dash of salt and pepper. Shake it up in a jelly jar, and you're good to go! If you want a dressing that is a little more exciting, you can add in other stuff. Fresh herbs, garlic, yogurt, sun-dried tomatoes, and olives all make flavorful additions. Mustard or honey are excellent additions, because they are not only delicious in a dressing, but they act as emulsifiers and keep your dressing from separating immediately after you shake it.

Today I made a Greek dressing with red wine vinegar, olive oil, fresh oregano (from my garden), chopped olives and a squirt of lemon juice. It was fabulous over my salad of  mixed greens, cucumbers, red onions, and goat cheese. Not to mention, it looked really lush in a glass cruet!

 Do you typically make your own dressings? What do you like to put in your dressing? Any good ideas for a dressing? Let me know!


July 15, 2010

Frosty Watermelon Limeade

The heat here in South Florida is overwhelming right now. When I say it's hot, I mean nearly enough to melt the soles of your shoes hot. Just going outside to get into the car, or to tend to my herb garden is a challenge. The air is thick with humidity, and it takes mere seconds for the sweat to start trickling down my neck. Needless to say, I have been craving cold drinks lately. A cold beverage is a basic necessity in heat this intense. 

The problem is, I do get into a beverage rut. I get a little tired of water, lemonade, iced tea, and such (refreshing though they are.) Sometimes, I just want something different. So last Saturday, with the help of my husband, I made a pitcher of watermelon limeade. You know, to my way of thinking, nothing says summer like a juicy, ripe watermelon anyway. With the addition of some lime and sugar, it makes a fantastic treat! 

This is easy to do. First cube some watermelon. It took me about 8 cups of cubed watermelon to make 1 quart of juice. Remove the big, black seeds first, but it's ok to leave in the little white ones. Puree the watermelon cubes in batches in a blender. Strain the pureed juice through a sieve into a large jar or a pitcher. Squeeze enough limes to make about 1 cup of lime juice and add it to the pitcher. Stir in 1 cup of sugar. The amounts are variable, so go ahead and adjust the lime and sugar to your taste. (I like it virgin for a cool summer drink, but you could also add a little vodka for a lovely cocktail, or blend in a bit of tequila and ice for a watermelon-lime margarita.)

Serve in a frosty, cold glass!


July 3, 2010

Local Food Angst

Eating locally.  The 100-mile Diet.  Terroir.  These are concepts that I totally embrace, at least in theory, if not always in practice. I try, really I do.  I like the idea of eating whatever food is available locally and seasonally. In every day life, however, I sometimes fall short.

The thing is, I am staying in South Florida for the summer, and I am a bit lost. I grew up in Pennsylvania, and then lived most of my adult years in Georgia, North Carolina and then (back to) Pennsylvania again. In these locales, the summer delivers an abundance of fresh, local produce, eggs, artisan cheese and local wines. The Fall brings apples and pumpkins, with Spring providing fresh greens and asparagus. In the Winter...well nothing grows in the Winter. In the winter we live on whatever we harvested and preserved in the fall.

In South Florida, as best as I can figure, things are backwards. You want a ripe tomato fresh off the vine? You wait until winter. Pumpkins? According a list  of seasonal vegetables (I found on the website of the local agricultural extension,) they don't grow at all in South Florida. Potatoes are available from April to July. I am just very, very confused.

Today I went to a farmers' market. Before I go on, I should mention that farmers' markets in Florida are not the same as what we have up in the mid-atlantic states. In a Florida market (or u-pick stand,) don't assume that what you find there is locally grown or produced. They often carry produce that is shipped in from the same places where the big grocery stores get their food. It is not uncommon to find Dole bananas, and Green Giant potatoes. Some of the produce may actually be local, but you don't really know for sure unless you ask

So, today I went to a farmers' market in Fort Lauderdale, and discovered there a whole host of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables. Enigmatic fruits and vegetables like longans, lychee and bitter melon. Starfruit, bread fruit, rambutan, yellow yams (see photo above,) and eddoes. As to when these fruits vegetables are in season, and which ones are grown locally, I haven't yet unraveled this mystery. There are others that I am familiar with, but aren't yet a part of my culinary repertoire. For example: Papaya.

I am vaguely familiar with papaya. I know it is very sweet, and I have had it in restaurants as a part of an entree, or in a commercially-prepared salsa from the supermarket. I just don't have even the inkling of an idea of what to do with one. These particular papayas were frugally priced today at the local farmers market for $1 a pound, but I couldn't bring myself to buy one. I figured I'd buy one, and it would sit in the fridge for days while I pondered what to do with it, until one day, I'd find it a festering mess hidden behind the butter, or a jug of milk.

Other finds today included a plethora of exotic peppers, chayote squash, durian (which I understand smells like dirty socks and garbage when ripe,) and jackfruit. Unfortunately, I did not bring home any of these today. I succumbed to my instincts as a creature of habit, and purchased tomatoes, peppers, bananas, limes, cucumbers and tomatillos (some or all of which may be non-local or non-seasonal - although the peppers look very homegrown to me.) Even tomatillos are a stretch for me. I do have one recipe, from the cookbook published by the famous Atlanta restaurant The Flying Biscuit Cafe, that uses tomatillos to make a fabulous salsa verde.

I guess the thing I feel guilty about, is that I don't really have the urge, at this particular point in time, to figure out how to use this exotic produce, to use these things that are readily available. I know that it would be the right thing to do, but I just don't want to do it. Instead, I want to cook with the fruits of the harvest from my beloved farmers' market in Pennsylvania. I want to cook with crisp heads of fresh broccoli, sweet and juicy cucumbers, and the first heirloom tomatoes of the summer. I want a ripe watermelon, a bunch of earthy carrots from the Amish farmer, and big bunch of kale. I am craving the comforts of all that is familiar to me.

Today, I felt lost in that farmers' market in Fort Lauderdale. Being at that market today felt like being in another country. A place where I am an outsider, and I don't speak the language (actually, there were many languages being spoken there.) Don't get me wrong, normally I would love this. I would love the novelty and the excitement of being in a multicultural environment. I would marvel at all of the new smells and sights of unfamiliar vegetables and fruits and herbs and spices. This year, though, I'm not feeling very into it. I guess I am feeling too homesick, in that way that happens when you've just been away from home way too long. I yearn for the things that are familiar to me. Not only the food, but the smell of the trees, the familiar climate, and the sound of the crickets and locusts at night - the sights, sounds, and smells of home.

For now, though, I will just suck it up and make due. I'm going to incorporate some of the foods that are available to me locally here in this time and place. I'll make some new recipes, and learn a new way of eating. I'll enjoy what this place provides me...for now...until I get back home again.

For now, here are a couple of photos of today's haul: