Sunday, September 13, 2009

Black Beans and Rice, Not a Side Dish

I grew up eating the typically Cuban meal of pork, black beans and rice on a regular basis. My mom learned from my grandmother (...I think) and passed down the tradition to me. However, it wasn't until a recent edition of Real Simple that I realized the black beans and rice didn't need to be relegated to a side dish...that it could take center stage.

This is good news!

Eating local requires that Adam and I reduce the amount of meat we eat primarily because it is more expensive. There aren't any local, cheap CAFOs in New England that I am aware of (thank goodness!). In general, I don't mind the expense because the meat is usually from grass-fed, free range sources that have a healthier balance of fats and tend to be leaner than their CAFO counterparts; but when trying to eat local on a budget, I am thrilled when I find a meatless meal that satisfies our entire family.

Trader Joe's supplied some of the meal components including the rice (imported), kalamata olives (definitely imported) and the black beans. The lettuce came from the Harvest Coop in Cambridge, the tomatoes and green peppers were from local farms. I guess this meal still has a way to go before being considered "local."Hey, I never said this would be easy...

Perna-Cuban Black Beans
1 Tbl olive oil
1 medium green pepper (diced)
1 small-medium onion (diced)
1-2 heads of fresh garlic (chopped)
1 can black beans
1/2 tsp cumin (...a personal addition to the family recipe)
Fresh cracked pepper to taste

  1. Heat a saucepan over medium-high heat. 
  2. Add the olive oil, green pepper and onion. Saute vegetables until tender (5-7 minutes). Lower the heat if necessary.
  3. Add the garlic and saute 2-3 minutes. Be sure not to burn it!
  4. Add the can of black beans (undrained), cumin, and cracked pepper. Stir to combine all ingredients. Simmer over medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Taste and add more salt/pepper, if needed.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Chicken Salad for Any Night of the Week

A "basic" chicken salad made with local heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers from our Maine vacation, and Iggy's bread. Using chicken tenders (rather than breasts) makes this meal finish even faster!

It's difficult to find a more convenient weeknight meal than a giant salad. Only one ingredient (well, two if you include the toasted Iggy's bread I added tonight) require cooking. The rest of the ingredients are just chopped, diced and tossed together. In about 10 minutes (plus an overnight chicken defrosting; a microwave works just as well) you can have a plentiful meal for as many as you need!

In my first week taking classes in Cambridge (I feel like it is such a privilege to be taught across the river at the real Harvard) I discovered the Central Square Farmer's Market. I was shopping at the Harvest Coop when a friend from school passed by with a reusable bag full of veggies. I was picking up tomatoes, trying to figure out where they were from. All she said was, "The good ones are out there." Out there? Out where?? Well in the Harvest Coop parking lot, of course!

The prices in the farmer's market are by all standards affordable and the selection was incredible. The other veggie-seeking customers sifting through produce at the Harvest Coop on Mondays are clearly unaware (as I was) about the treasure trove of goodies right out back!

Here are the details:
Central Square Farmer's Market
Bishop Allen Dr. and Norfolk St. (Parking Lot behind the Harvest Coop)
Monday, 11:30am-6:00pm
June 1 - November 23

"Basic" Chicken Salad Meal Cost (for 2)
Chicken (4 frozen tenders from TJ) ~ $3.00
Iggy's Bread ~ $2.75
Lettuce (1 head of romaine) ~ $1.50
Tomato (1 large) ~ $0.50
Cucumbers (1 medium) ~ $0.50
Red pepper (1/2 large) ~ $0.50
EVOO and Balsamic Vinegar ~ $0.25

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Great Farms From Mass to Maine

I have really enjoyed "discovering" farms and farm stands across New England. The photo below was taken during our Maine vacation (the spot we spotted on our bike ride home one day) and provided incredibly delicious corn for dinner at Long Lake the following day and some excellent cucumbers and potatoes.

 With some sample goods at the farm stand in Old Orchard Beach, ME

The farm stand we purchased from in Old Orchard Beach was located in Dayton, Maine. I never did get the name of the farm, and there are quite a few located there (Harris Farm, Cole Farm Dairy, Pumpkin Valley Farm). Nonetheless, it was an excellent stop and provided food for not only Mack and I, but our friends the next evening.

While eating local (i.e. eating at locally-owned, small business) is great to discuss as I did in my previous post, it really does matter where the ingredients come from. Indeed, it matters even more where the ingredients come from that I use in my own home!

My next few posts will chronicle some tasty concoctions that I have made with local ingredients, including produce from our friends' community garden to Allandale Farm.  Allandale Farm is conveniently located in Jamaica Plain, MA (part of Boston proper) and amazing produce at affordable prices.

Vegetables never tasted so good.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Maine Adventure: Our Local Stops

Posing by a "Local is Best" sign outside a Farm Stand in Old Orchard Beach off Rt. 5 while biking back from Kennebunkport, ME

Maine was probably one of the best possible places we could have traveled to on a local diet. Calling what I ate this past week a "diet" is probably misleading, because the word diet suggests sacrifice, pain, and overall displeasure and what I ate was anything but.

While not everything we ate in Maine was grown or caught there, a lot of it was! We stuck to the basics: seafood, lobster, fish, seafood...did I mention seafood? It may not have been the most healthful vacation meals (our seafood was routinely bathed in butter or some other fat of choice), but we contributed to the local economy by staying, shopping, and dining at small business locations (with one divergence that I would rather not talk about) and overall I would say that my eating local vacation was a success.

A few of our local stops worth mentioning:
  • Fancy that... A bakery and sandwich shop in Ogunquit, Maine that serves Maine made ice cream and decent sandwiches. Not all the ingredients are local, indeed their brochure boasts of "Fresh imported meats, cheeses, roasted vegetables" (I assume the roasted vegetables are not imported...though I may be mistaken). Full disclosure: my sandwich was made with Boursin (a spreadable French cheese), but we ate Cape Cod chips to cancel that out and boost the local factor. If I would come here again it would be to get a nice cup of iced coffee and a freshly baked cookie. Click here to read my full review on Yelp.
  • Huot's Seafood Restaurant This restaurant, located in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, was recommended to us by the owner of the B&B for the best fried seafood in the area. After dining here and seeing an old menu I can tell you that prices have risen in the past 4 years. What used to be a $10 baked haddock meal is now $16, and comes with 2 sides of your choice. The seafood is caught locally by fisherman in the area. I would hands-down, no reservations, whole heartedly recommend the Shrimp Scampi baked dish served over rice pilaf to ANYONE who comes here. It was unforgettable. Genuinely local (even down to the off the menu side of fresh red beets). Click here to read my full review on Yelp.
  • Port Lobster This is basically a lobster pound that serves excellent, fresh seafood and the most delicious (and affordable-ish) lobster rolls in Kennebunkport. At least that's what the woman who was selling her horse and buggy service to passerbys told us. (Note to self: always ask the locals the best place to eat local...). For $10 you can buy a lobster roll, which is a bunch of cleaned, lobster, cut into chunks tossed with just a touch of mayonnaise, salt and pepper and served in a hot dog bun (we had ours toasted...a very good idea). One bite of the lobster roll and I told Adam I think I might be in heaven. It was that good. I can't imagine eating anything else out of a hot dog bun ever again ( that will be hard...). I posted a picture of my heavenly experience below. To order Port Lobster seafood online visit the Port Lobster website.

Eating local was surprisingly convenient on this vacation. There were no large mega-restaurants tempting us, the ones that seem to hit every major city and suburb in sight, and there were only a handful of franchises (e.g. Subway, Dunkin Donuts) that were located such that they were easy enough to avoid. Their slightly lower prices gave them some competitive advantage, but all in all it was just a few cents difference and I think most people went their for familiarity's sake.

As for affordability, it was a bit more difficult to calculate. We never felt like we were spending too much on what we were eating. Though finding a lobster roll for under $10 posed quite a challenge given we were biking through Kennebunkport (relatively more expensive that Old Orchard Beach, in my opinion). Asking locals about affordable eats, limiting meat consumption, and enjoying the free offerings at the B&B made for a reasonably priced vacation.

The eating local challenge continues...back home.