I am thrilled to be celebrating Food Day 2014 along with other bloggers for the First Food Day Coordinated Blogging Event.
This blog has always been about real food, and predominantly about fresh food that can be found in season at the Farmers Market. It started as a recount of my experience cooking with fairly limiting restrictions while following a low FODMAP diet, and how I used my weekly purchases of produce at the Farmers Market. Since then I have re-introduced many foods, but my dedication to eating what is fresh and in season as much as possible, and my commitment to exploring and eating a variety of foods, remain my way of life. Indeed, it is through eating a balanced and a diverse range of foods that health is most often that not, best achieved.
I was born and grew up in France, where food is an integral part of culture, and throughout my life, have always been lucky to have access to local greengrocers, fresh food vendors, and farmers markets. I was also lucky to grow up with a family who loved to cook and share food, and even grow it beautifully for some. I have lovely memories of trips to farmers markets. I also recall the stoic faces of members of my family while they ate my first cooking experiments (let's just say the first one was very vinegary...). From those unhinged and encouraged early experiments grew a passion to cook and an understanding that through good food, and sound home cooking choices, most days, comes good health. And that life must also be lived so please pass me the butter (and chocolate!) will you? My personal experience is that there is no magic bullet, no fancy diet that replaces that approach, though some foods may be better tolerated than others and that must of course be taken into account. That may mean eliminating grains for some, or nuts for others.
And finally, committing to fresh, local, real, as organic as possible and diverse foods lets one connect better with food and food sources. As a result, one can go back very naturally to basics that are better for the environment, other species, and a fairer food system. This will be true, whether one is vegan, vegetarian or includes animal proteins in one’s daily choices because sustainable and humane practices can be supported through this commitment in most cases.
While I am lucky and privileged to have access to sustainably and organically grown produce, variety and freshness in abundance, I never treat this as an entitlement and strive to maintain that quality of life for myself and my family. However, I know there are many who cannot enjoy this, whether through lack of availability of fresh food sources or lack of education. Forgetting about farmers market for a second, a startling 23.5 million Americans do not have access to a supermarket within one mile of their home.
The repercussions of the lack of adequate nutrition, fresh food sources or poor food choices can be disastrous, as seen with younger generations: more than 1/3 of American children and adolescents aged 6 to 19 are overweight or obese. Education starts young and I experience this with my own family. So it is important to encourage food education and home cooking at an early age. A number of organizations have been pushing for greater school education, and some of them, like the Edible Schoolyard pioneered by Alice Waters, for some time (see this non exhaustive list provided by FoodDay.org). But at home, there is much one can do too.
Yet, home cooking is sometimes halted by the thought that it costs more and it takes time. Home cooking from fresh food is more often than not the most economical way to eat, and there are some good tips to keep in mind when cooking on a budget. Also, I personally enjoy learning culinary techniques and it certainly helps to have a bit of training, but not having any should not stop anyone: one does not have to use a myriad of ingredients, or have an impeccable technique to obtain something utterly delicious in a relatively short amount of time. So it can remain a timely affair (3 minutes is all it takes for a soft-boiled egg to cook!) and the old adage of practice makes best is true here.
Hence, to celebrate Food Day, I have prepared a set of dishes, which highlight some of those points. Two of these dishes are part of the Food Day Recipe Guide. And all three come from some of the best chefs in the country who represent a commitment to real food through their work and cuisine. Yet as much as these dishes are delicious, they truly did not require a great deal of time, effort, know how, preparation or ingredients. I was able to cook them mostly with organic foods from the Farmers Market, and to adjust the recipes to keep things simple or when I realized I did not have an ingredient. And those dishes enabled me to kill two birds with one stone when I prepared them: celebrate Food Day 2014 and Meatless Monday!
The first dish is Mario Batali’s butternut squash and mushroom salad. It requires two main ingredients: a butternut squash and shiitake or crimini mushrooms, or both if you have them. In my case, I did not find the criminis at the market which had already sold out, so I just skipped them (no flavor sacrificed I assure you). The dish is very simple: cut the veggies, add some shallots, season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and roast under the broiler. I cannot tell you how good the kitchen smelled during the roasting period. At the end, I simplified some of the steps by not making a vinaigrette but throwing in some rosemary and a little balsamic vinegar. Truly divine. The organic butternut and shiitakes came to about $6 total at the Market, and with the seasonings this dish cost no more than $7.5. It could yield about 3 to 4 portions depending on size, so you could eat it with some pasta and a little grated cheese and call it a meal for less than $4 (a little more if you buy fresh pasta).
The second dish was Marc Bittman’s baked pumpkin and orange custard. Actually, it was sans orange for me, since I did not have any and that was fine by me. I did however have pomegranates which are abundant at the Market at this time of year and I used a tablespoon pomegranate seeds to finish the dish. I love desserts and this one is protein rich so a good way to create a balanced meal (any excuse for dessert ;)). It uses silken tofu, one small pie pumpkin, 2 eggs, butter (or oil) and a few spices. I used coconut sugar and maple syrup, which I often prefer, as you do not need as much, and they add depth of flavor along with a naturally lower glycemic index. The organic pie pumpkin was $2.5 at the Market, the (organic, non-GMO) silken tofu a little over $2 too at the supermarket. The 2 eggs were from pasture-raised hens and one can find a dozen of such eggs for between $4 and $9 depending on the Market and city. So they are a bit more costly but to me, giving hens a better life is priceless. Again, I am lucky to be able to adhere to that, but look for cage-free eggs if possible. This truly more-ish dish easily serves 8-10 good portions (you may eat more than 2 yourself :)), so each serving will be $1 or less with the costs I mentioned.
To add a bit of bulk, I also made a radicchio risotto. I had a beautiful radicchio that I had forgotten in the fridge, so not prime for a salad, but still perfectly fine to cook. Given that food waste is another major problem to tackle, paradoxically (and more on that another time), I was not going to throw it away. The risotto was a good way to use it and have a seasonal, comforting dish. As I was searching the interwebs to see who had made radicchio risotto before, I came across Davidl Lebovitz’s version which I de-meatized for Meatless Monday, and simplified, for time and cost. My version of his risotto used: 1 small radicchio (no more than $2 at the market), risotto rice (you can get some high quality Arborio or Carnaroli rice if cost is not a problem but check bulk sections, coops, stores such as Trader Joe's or replace with whatever rice you have in the worst case, for cost effectiveness), olive oil, a bit of cooking wine (cheap wine works fine for cooking), shallots and thyme from the market ($1.5 for a bunch that will last quite a while), salt and pepper. I finished the dish with smoked sea salt, which makes any dish sing (and added a smoky touch in the absence of bacon), and some pecan bits quickly toasted on a frying pan at medium heat. The whole dish was probably the most consuming in terms of constant presence, since it required me to stir frequently, but the upfront prep’time was minor. Overall, this entire meal was quick to make. Granted I cook fast, and use appliances, but if you are very pressed with time, you can make only one or 2 of these dishes, and you will still have some nice real food to eat.
The plate that came out of making these dishes was just simply really delicious. The flavors combined beautifully, and individually the dishes were incredible too. I hope they inspire you to go get some fresh, real food, get into the kitchen, and cook (don't forget to involve kiddos too!). Happy Food Day 2014!
By the way:
Just noticed that font sizes got mixed up as I am about to post! Will fix soon!
Going to the Farmers Market helps being part of and supporting the local community. More on that in another post.
All dishes were gluten-free, and the risotto is low in FODMAPs. They are also, or can be made, dairy-free. Conversely, if you do not like tofu or cannot it it, I suggest you replace the silken tofu with 1 & 1/2 cup heavy cream.
I am delighted to join a great list of bloggers today and to find out more about their Food Day Celebration, you can check the links to their posts below:
Waste Not, Want Not: How Ordinary Home Cooks Can Help Prevent World Hunger; Autumn’s Harvest and Food Day; Waste Not, Want Not Quick Health Saver Tip; Waste Not, Want Not: Quick Dessert Idea; Waste Not, Want Not: Reflections; Waste Not, Want Not Recipe: Ginger Cardamom Green Beans; Waste Not, Want Not: 5 Tricks for Cooking Not Tossing Bitter Foods by Mary Collette Rogers posted on Everyday Good Eating