Monday, September 29, 2008

Spaghetti Squash & Marinara

I recently tried two of my resolutions in one dish, making marinara to serve over spaghetti squash. I would include a picture, but I am no food stylist and a pile of squash covered in sauce is not particularly photogenic. Anyway, spaghetti squash is very easy to make. When picking your squash, pick one that feels firm and heavy for its size--basically just like you do with a pumpkin. It should be ivory or pale yellow, though there are some varieties that tend to be more orange. This is okay.

To prepare, cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds (and ice cream scoop works very well for this task). Put the squash halves cut side down in a baking dish and pierce the skins all over with a fork. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until tender. The squash will be HOT so use a potholder or thick towel to hold the squash half cut side up (trust me, a paper towel will not be thick enough). Scrape the inside of the squash with a fork--you will be amazed at the almost shredded wheat texture of the squash as you scrape it out.

Marinara is also far easier than I expected. I took a few medium tomatoes (4-5), copped them into wedges, and sauteed them in a saucepan with some chopped garlic, Italian seasoning, and olive oil. The tomatoes essentially "melt" getting soft and watery, at which point you can grind them up in a food mill, food processor, or blender to get whatever consistency you like. I like mine fairly chunky so I just kept stirring with a spoon until I broke up the tomatoes a bit into smaller pieces, almost like diced tomatoes from a can. I added a small can of tomato paste for thickness, and threw some sauteed portobella mushrooms into the mix as well. It took awhile for the tomatoes to cook down properly, I think about 45 minutes. It was not thick marinara like you would get from a jar or at a restaurant, but it was definitely passable. Sprinkle or grate a little parmesan or asiago on the top, and you get an extremely healthy and tasty dish. I also like to grind a little black pepper over the top, but that may be just my own thing.

Spaghetti squash should be fresh from local farms for the next couple of months, and tomatoes seem to be at their peak right now. They are bursting out of bins at farmer's markets everywhere.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I Do Not Like Turnips

On Friday I went on a bit of a cooking frenzy. I'd decided to make roast chicken with mashed turnips, and tarte tatin and have a few of my brothers-in-law over for dinner (they live two blocks away). At the last minute, I changed the tarte tatin to plain old apple pie because the tatin recipe I had looked like it would take hours that I did not have. I also had the popovers to make (pictured above).

First, the popovers. Very easy to make, and they were delicious hot from the oven. I used Marion Cunningham's recipe from The Breakfast Book which suggested adding a dollop of orange marmalade to the muffin tins before adding the popover batter. I think I overdid it a bit with the marmalade, and therefore didn't get as much height for the popovers as I'd hoped. They are not good reheated, so I would only make them again if I was having people over for brunch.

I planned Friday's dinner using the turnips I'd picked up in East Aurora on Wednesday, and I also had about 2 pounds of ginger gold apples. I added peas and rolls (both pre-packaged) just to round everything out. I'd forgotten how easy it is to roast a chicken. I rubbed ground rosemary and minced garlic under the skin before throwing it in the over. Two hours later and we had tender, moist chicken that was nicely seasoned.

The pie was also very easy to put together. I have my own recipe for delicious apple pie filling, which I will be sharing in a future post. I haven't made pie in probably 4-5 years, but once I got my pastry blender and shortening out, it all started coming together (the biggest "secret" is to use water that is absolutely ice cold for the flakiest crust so I fill a measuring cup half full and then drop an ice cube in).

The turnips I diced and boiled, then mashed with milk, butter, salt, pepper, and a few strips of crumbled bacon (figuring that bacon pretty much makes everything better). All of the men (two of my brothers in law and my husband) loved the turnips and went back for seconds. I thought they tasted terrible. A very earthy, almost bitter taste. Of course, everyone in my husband's family loves brussel sprouts but I can't even stand the smell of them. I would be willing to try them again roasted, since that cooking method can change the flavor.

I have really been enjoying trying out the different foods and recipes from my food resolutions. I have been working to incorporate local foods into what I make, but also to get back to why I liked cooking in the first place.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Croissant Manquement

I don't know how bakers do it. Making croissants takes forever (about 11 hours with all the rolling and rising and butter-kneading and such). In my case, I didn't even have any delightfully buttery, flaky pastries at the end as a reward.

I made a huge mistake right from the beginning, when I clearly did not follow (read?) the directions for proofing the yeast properly and I used tepid water instead of the tepid milk the recipe called for. I figured it might still work out okay, and I didn't have another yeast packet so I forged ahead anyway.

I mixed the dough as directed and put it in the fridge to rest. Kneaded the butter with some flour. Folded the dough around the butter like I was wrapping a letter. Went through the 4-part (2 hour) rolling and folding process to incorporate the butter. Everything looked pretty good and the dough was exactly as it should have been based on the recipe.

I finally, after dinner time, take the dough out to roll into the croissant triangles. That was the most fun part of the process. Then I put the uncooked croissants aside for one final rise. Close to ten pm, when they were supposed to be risen, I pulled the covering off and realized that they looked pretty much exactly the same as they had when I'd set them aside two hours before. They had most definitely not doubled in size.

However, figuring that cooking is an adventure, I put them in the oven following the cooking directions. Well, apparently cooking French pastry is like watching a 2-year old--you turn your back for a minute and anything can happen. One minute the kitchen was filled with the warm and yeasty smell of fresh bread. I walked to the other end of my small house to put something in my office, and my husband starts yelling from the kitchen, "It's burning!" Yep. It was that fast.

My husband also pointed out, rather accurately, that the burnt croissants looked like little crabs laid out on the pans with their fat bodies and the way the sides curved in. There was one with a top still golden so I pinched of a piece and it did taste pretty flaky and buttery. Almost too buttery, actually. But they definitely would have been edible if I hadn't scorched them to my pans.

At least I went through the whole process and learned what really goes into croissants. Gives me a new appreciation for bakers and pastry chefs everywhere. I used the recipe from Rose Levy Beranbaum's The Pie and Pastry Bible.

Resolutions I am still working on this week: popovers, tarte tatin, roast chicken, and those turnips I bought on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

East Aurora Farmer's Market

Today I happened to be in East Aurora meeting a friend for lunch, and I noticed that they had a small farmer's market set up in a shopping plaza parking lot. I had a few minutes before lunch, so I popped in for a quick visit. What a charming little market!

There were about ten vendors, selling apples, peaches, pears, plums, mounds of peppers and tomatoes, root vegetables, even a few pints of raspberries. A few plants and herbs were for sale at one stand as well. Nice variety, both in terms of produce and vendors.

I spent $6.50 and walked away with a couple of pounds of Bartlett pears and probably 5 pounds of turnips. The turnip seller was a sweet-looking old lady who threw in an extra turnip and asked me how I was going to prepare them. I said I would probably mash them (I didn't want to admit I'd never eaten a turnip, they just looked too pretty to pass up) and she said I should make sure to use butter, salt, and a bit of pepper. Now I just need to figure out what goes well with mashed turnips.

The market is open on weekdays from 7-1 and I hear that it is quite crowded on Saturdays. If you live in the Southtowns, far from Bidwell's bounty, it is definitely worth a trip.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Resolution #1 - Clafoutis

So, ten days ago I posted a list of food resolutions. I thought I would tackle a few early on so I would feel more motivated moving forward. Today, Clafoutis. Tomorrow, Popovers.
Clafoutis is a French dessert that is essentially a custard with fruit that is baked and then served cold. It is definitely better cold, because then the custard is firmer and tastes more complete. I chose local peaches (Wegmans has had an outstanding selection of local peaches for weeks) as the fruit, and this was probably a miscalculation on my part. Traditionally, clafoutis is made with cherries, apricots, apples, or pears. As delicious as peaches are, clafoutis needs something with a more defined, possibly more tart, taste to balance out the delicate flavor of the custard.
I also mistakenly thought my springform pan would suffice as a tart pan. Disaster. The liquid that becomes custard once baked seeped out through the bottom of the pan, which created a huge, drippy mess in the oven before the burning smell made me run in from the living room. I had to think fast and grab a dish from the cabinet that had upright sides. This unfortunately meant that my layering of peach slices on the bottom and custard on top went completely awry.
Side tip: it makes it MUCH easier to clean drips up in the oven if you sprinkle a little salt on burny messes. Scrapes right out with a spatula when your oven is cold again.
As you can see from the picture, it did at least look pretty when it was done. Tasted okay, too, though I think I can do better. I used the clafoutis recipe in the French Farmhouse Cookbook by Susan Herrmann Loomis as my guideline, but clafoutis recipes can be found in practically any French cookbook.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Harvest Celebration

As you may know, Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo is a 501c3 non-profit organization that supports approximately fifty community gardens throughout the City of Buffalo. Most of the gardens are in low to moderate-income areas, primarily on the city’s East and West Sides. In a city with increasing amounts of open space due to demolition of vacant houses, these gardens are becoming increasingly important, due to their ability to create community, grow food and beautify the city.

There are many success stories that have sprung from our gardens, but the one that I would like to share with you is that of “Zeke’s Garden.” This community garden is named after our founder, Milton Zeckhauser, and is maintained by the Food Bank of Western New York. At this garden a diverse group of people receiving food aid—including many immigrant families, have the opportunity to grow ethnic and native food-producing plants of their choosing. It is truly a sight to see these different groups working together with their family members towards a common purpose. Zeke’s garden is an example of how community gardens empower the disenfranchised by enabling them to put food on the table through their own hard work.

Grassroots Gardens is working to build more gardens to give people in need the power to grow their own food and stay healthy. We are having our second annual fundraiser, the “Harvest Celebration” on Thursday October 16th from 5:30pm to 8:00pm at the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum at 453 Porter Ave. There will be hors d’oeuvres, beverages and raffles. Admission is $25.00 for members and $30.00 for non-members.

Each new garden costs approximately $2,500 to implement, check out the Grassroots Gardens of Buffalo website for more information at

Saturday, September 6, 2008

September Resolutions

All of us at Buffalo Locavore have been a little light with our posting for the last few weeks because this happens to be the absolute busiest work time of the year for all five of us, even though we have a variety of different jobs. Posting should become more frequent in the next few weeks, and we will get back to more of our editorial goals including interviews with local farmers, restaurant reviews, and experimenting with new or different local foods. With the change in the seasons, the change in available foods should be interesting blog fodder as well.

For me, September has always been a month about new beginnings. This is possibly the product of 13 years of public school K-12 and 4 years of college, but even though I have not had to think about "back to school" in 10 years, whenever Labor Day hits it feels more to me like time to re-evaluate and set goals for the upcoming months. Perhaps part of this is that September begins colder nights and that first tickling feeling that we are about to embark on yet another winter's long hibernation. Let other people have their January 1 resolutions when the calendar changes, I am sticking with September.

In the spirit of this blog, I have made a handful of food resolutions that I plan to keep within the next six months. Hopefully, knowing that I have made this promise publicly and plan on reporting back to our faithful readers on my progress will really help me stick to it. I welcome all suggestions and tips, including referrals to local suppliers.

My food resolutions are :

1. to learn to make the following from scratch:

cannoli (even the shells)
marinara sauce (hopefully from our backyard tomatoes)
mozzarella cheese
tarte tatin
pumpkin pie (from our backyard pumpkins)
one Indian dish (exactly what is undecided)

2. to re-learn how to make:

pie crust
yeast bread
roast chicken

3. to try the following vegetables at least once:

(Maybe all three at once using Whitney's root bake recipe from an earlier post?)
spaghetti squash

Keep checking in to see how far I get or if my resolutions fall by the wayside, as so many do. If you make any resolutions of your own, please share and we will cheer you on as you progress.

Happy September!

Monday, September 1, 2008

National Chicken Wing Festival

This weekend, as has happened every Labor Day weekend since 2002, Dunn Tire Park played host to the National Chicken Wing Festival. My husband and I have gone every year since 2002, and it is always a good time. I was skeptical about going the first year, because food-based fairs are usually a little weird. Maybe it is just me, but it is kind of weird to stand around watching thousands of other people walking around chewing.

It has been fun to watch the festival grow and adapt as ever-larger crowds (almost 80,000 this year) turn out to enjoy Buffalo's most identifiable local culinary delight. I think this year was the first where it seemed like most of the wing vendors were not actually Buffalo-based businesses. It would be great to see more Buffalo restaurants showing their stuff. My favorite wings almost every year are taco wings from Swings on Bailey, though this year they did not have quite the same taco kick. I usually get Danny's chicken wing soup, too, but there was no way I was eating soup in 85-degree heat.

I tackled 9 wings total, and all were good. I prefer barbecue-sauced wings to anything very spicy while my husband is more of a wing purist, and the festival always has decent variety for both of us. We overheard a number of people talking about coconut wings, but that just sounded too strange to both of us. Arooga's Almost Everything wings were my favorite this year. Arooga's is a grille and bar located in Harrisburg, PA.

You can visit the festival's official website here.