Monday, June 2, 2014

Season Your Summertime with Fresh Food Ideas

Wendy Haught does a number of things behind the scenes here at True Restoration and every now and then I can prevail on her to write for us.  Today she shares some summer food tips.  Remember that the Restoration is for everything.  I hope you enjoy her piece.  -Ed.

Hello dear friends!

I gazed out the window today at the promise of a vibrantly-golden squash bloom in my kitchen garden and thought about what a serious job cooking is--serious and so far-reaching in its implications.  I mean food is love.  Food is comfort.  Food is health.  Food is community.  Food is poetry, romance, and. . . Oh, my goodness!  I am feeling overwhelmed!

Reeling myself back in, (a frequent task) I tamed my anxiety by brainstorming on how best to enjoy this upcoming summer season through food. Then I jotted down a few ideas that came to mind.   From this I developed the following categories:

Spices
Fruit
Raw Veggies
Chilled/Frozen 

So let's begin at the top, but please be patient if I hop around due to the overlapping nature of some of the categories and the general craziness of my thought processes.

SPICES  I did a quick Google search and found a list of "cooling" spices for hot weather that included:

Mint
Fennel seed
Cilantro
Coriander
Cardamom
Saffron
Dill
Cumin

Right off I noticed that spices that start with a "c" make up half the list!  Must be because "cooling" starts with a "c" too.  Yes, I am having fun, and my former anxiety has flown!  Onward and upward I say!

I resolved to look for recipes that featured these cooling spices and then experiment with creating dishes on my own with my exotic new summer-spice wardrobe and the help of The Flavor Bible.  A little tip:  A great way to try new spices without spending big bucks on a whole bottle is to shop at stores that make them available in bulk.  I love buying spices this way, not only to try new spices, but to refill my spice rack without having to add bottles to the landfill.  Many of my sample spice purchases have cost me less than fifty cents.   One was only 11 cents.  Honestly, I glowed with happiness when I set that one on the conveyor belt at the checkout.  Ok, so it was pride.  I admit it.

I did a quick review of my experience with the listed spices.   Grocery store fresh mint is an old friend.  But recently I purchased some fresh organic mint at the farmer's market, and I was shocked by how intoxicatingly fragrant it was.  Thinking only to to take a casual sniff, I found myself combating the urge to just smash the whole verdant "bouquet" right into my face and inhale it to my core.  Ahhhhh!   I described my reaction to my husband as he navigated us homeward.  He glanced at me, raised an eyebrow, smiled slightly, and chose to remain silent.  Such a smart man!   Love him!

Fennel seed I have no experience with, so that will be an adventure.  Fresh cilantro always makes me drool.  It's one of the main ingredients in Sofrito, a luscious puree of tomatoes, peppers, cilantro, onions, and garlic that makes a beautiful green sauce, perfect for this time of year.  A Puerto Rican friend shared her family recipe with my daughter, and we fell hopelessly in Latin love with it, using it as an ingredient and as a condiment.

I discovered last month how ground coriander and ground cumin, mixed with sea salt and some freshly-ground pepper create a refreshing and delectable blend for seasoning roasted chicken leg quarters. (I spoon it on kind of heavy. We like spicy here.)

Cardamom, however, will be added to the adventure list, as I have only used it in cookies.  Saffron I have so little experience with, I can't even remember it.   Dill?  I've used lots with fish but I am looking forward to expanding my repertoire.  I've got my eye on a recipe called "Cool Dill Dip", which would be ever so tasty with raw veggies, and overlap with that category on my list.  For dips and dressings, do try making your own mayo.  Once you get the hang of it, it is easy, and once you try it, you will never want to moisten your tongue with the store-bought chemicalized concoction again. The tricky part is incorporating the oil in a fine trickle.   I do this by using a meat thermometer to poke a hole in the bottom of a plastic cup.   Then I just hold the cup over the feeding tube of my food processor and dump in my oil.   I like using a combo of walnut oil and olive oil.  Homemade mayo is what makes my friends exclaim over my tunafish salad, which I always fancy up with raisins, chopped red delicious apples, walnuts, and celery.

FRUIT  First off, I think of peaches in the summer--peaches fresh, peaches in oatmeal with cream but mostly peaches in cobbler.  I'm thinking I could go exotic and incorporate more tropical fruits like pineapple and mango, coconut and banana into my menus by serving them chilled in a fruit salad or used in a smoothie or homemade ice cream.  If you don't have an ice cream maker, I have a super simple and tasty method for making banana "ice cream" that is simply frozen bananas zoomed up in the food processor until it's creamilicious.  For a taste of Southern goodness and simplicity, I recommend that you slap together some pineapple and mayo sandwiches and some banana and mayo sandwiches with cold fruit.  Options are crispy bacon with the pineapple and peanut butter instead of mayo with the banana.  Then there is the old standby, fresh whipped raw cream and fresh berries.  So simple, yet so satisfying.  Find raw milk here.

Using citrus is an easy way to add freshness and cooling to a dish.  I frequently use a combo of melted butter and freshly-squeezed lemon juice as a sauce for steamed broccoli.  It's important to eat your vegetables with fat so that you can get the nutrients from the fat-soluble vitamins.  Melted butter is the easiest and tastiest.  By the way, stock up on summer grass-fed butter now.  I buy Organic Valley brand.   Or Kerry Gold.  Vegetable stir-fries are also a good place to experiment with citrus. Recently I cut up carrots and squash and sautéed them in lemon juice, butter, coriander, and the fresh mint I mentioned earlier.  Delish!

If you have children, definitely visit a pick-your-own berry farm.   It's a wonderful family outing that just so happens to teach the important lesson that food does not magically appear in grocery stores. Of course, if you have your own garden, then they already know this.  Standing in the garden and grazing on the latest ripeness is another excellent way of capturing the essence of summer, be it tomatoes or sweet corn or cucumbers.   My children learned to love broccoli exactly in this manner. My own memories of standing in the garden and scarfing up Candy Stick corn are some of my most cherished.  Speaking of corn, I have the sweetest memories of making corn husk dolls with my children at our campsite as we roasted unshucked ears in the fire.  But back to eating in the garden, my 80-year-old mother still gets dreamy-eyed reminiscing about sinking her teeth deep into the succulent meatiness of a giant tomato, still warm from the Alabama sun.  Find out what options you have for buying directly from a farmer at the Local Harvest site.

In addition to eating food as you pick it, by all means take advantage of any outdoor cooking options you have. Grilling, smoking, open-fire cooking. Use the sun to dehydrate some fruit, another great project to do with your children. Then make some trail mix with it and go on a hike.

CHILLED/FROZEN  I covered this previously in the fruit section, but I am also planning to valiantly take the cold soup plunge.  I glanced through my old copy of Twelve Months of Monastery Soups and was heartened by its assertion that Chervil Soup, Cream of Cauliflower Soup, Carrot Soup a la Normande, Exotic Chinese Cucumber Soup, Spanish Cilantro Soup, and Chilled Carrot Soup--all in the "June" chapter--could be served cold.  Yes!

Well, that covers my list, but one last thought: As Catholics, we are more in touch with the seasons because of the Liturgical Year.  I hope these suggestions help you deepen that connection as well as improve your health and better express your love for your family and friends.

With all good wishes for a holy, healthy, and happy summer, I wish you Bon Appetit!