Saturday, September 8, 2012

Comfort Food

What is comfort food?  Is it is something that is sentimental or nostalgic? Is it something that take us back to a time when we were young? Is is something that reminds us of someone? Or is it something that makes us feel good? It can be all of the above.

Is comfort food one kind of food or is it many kinds of food? I believe it depends on the person. I have several comfort foods and they all have different memories for me. Can I name one as my favorite? No I cannot, because they all hold something special and to name one as the favorite is impossible.

I do have some comfort foods that top my list though. Homemade macaroni and cheese and tuna casserole the way my grandmother made them.  My mother's fried chicken. Those are my top three. I have others, but these are my favorites. Why these three? I am not really sure other than the fact is that they are simple to make, are flavorful and downright tasty, and they all taste surprisingly well cold.

Tonight I made the simple yet flavorful tuna noodle casserole. I changed up the recipe than how my grandmother made it. Her recipe is so simple, a can of cream of mushroom soup, one cup of milk,a can of tuna, and a pound of egg noodles. That's it 4 simple ingredients before the must have salt and pepper. Nothing to it right? Nothing fancy, but for some reason I love it and so does my daughter. My husband doesn't understand our love of this meal and doesn't share it with it. That is fine since he's not home tonight to share in my new take of this classic.

What I did tonight is leave the can of cream of mushroom soup in the cupboard and make homemade cream of mushroom soup. Now this was easy. I sauteed shallots and chopped crimini mushrooms in butter and set aside. Then I made a bechamel sauce with butter, flour, and milk. I added salt, pepper, a teaspoon of chopped fresh thyme, a touch of cayenne, and a pinch of nutmeg to this. Tossed back in the mushroom mixture and let it blend together while the noodles boiled.

Once the noodles were done I drained them, added them to the sauce and combined all the ingredients together. I placed everything in a baking dish and topped with some panko bread crumbs and off into a 350° oven to bake for 30 minutes.  Let this sit a few minutes before you serve since this can be extremely hot and unless you have a mouth made out of asbestos you will burn yourself.

Even though I put my own spin on this dish tonight it was still very comforting. It reminds me of the time I spent with my grandmother making this when I was a kid. It is yet one of those recipes that don't need to be written down since the ingredients and preparation are so simple. My 12 year old daughter can make this and the macaroni and cheese on her own. She's even shown one of her grandmother's the we way this mac & cheese is made and loves that she can share this recipe I learned as a kid.

I think in the end comfort food reminds of us of home. It doesn't matter when we make it or if we put a spin on it. No matter how many years it has been for some reason it still tastes the same as when we had it all those years ago. Comfort food is something we share with those we love as it was shared with us and that makes it remind you of home.

Please share with me some of your favorite comfort foods in the comments. Thank you.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Farmers Market

James Beard once said, "Food is our common ground, a universal experience." and how true is that we all need it to survive and it serves as a representation as to who we are as a nation, where we live within that nation, and sometimes even down to the neighborhood. What you find in each and every one of those areas is the farmers market. 

For thousands of years farmers have taken their excess fruit, vegetables, and proteins to a central location to sell or trade their goods. As time has gone by governments began to regulate these public markets. Public markets were established to protect people from price gauging and their health. These markets then slowly turned into what we know as grocery stores. What the stores carried varied as transportation and refrigeration improved.

In California, farmers markets have had a resurgence that began in the 1970's and is really hitting its stride today. People are looking for a healthy and local alternative to what you find in the grocery stores. There are even restaurants that are based on local seasonal produce. Are we going back to a time where we ate only what was in season and locally grown? In Redlands, the answer is yes.

The first farmers market was established in 1988 and continues to run. It is a part of Redlands Market Night held every Thursday on State Street from 6-9. It is one of the most successful certified farmers markets in Southern California. From that success a second farmers market was born about four years ago. Held every Saturday morning this market brought in other farmers and vendors that did not sell at the Thursday night market.

This is when I started to religiously attend the market. At that time it was only open April to the end of September. I became a huge fan on Three Sisters Farm. Abby & Jason Harned grow some of the most beautiful and loved organic produce. I had fun getting their sampler basket that would give me an assortment of vegetable from what they had harvested that week. I was able to challenge myself and learn new ways to cook  these new vegetables.

About two years ago, Three Sisters Farm and a few other farmers splintered off from the Saturday market in downtown Redlands and began a new market held on the grounds of The Grove School. This market is held year-round, rain or shine.  At this certified farmers market a percentage of the farmers earnings goes to the school. The Grove school also has its own stall where they sell fresh eggs and vegetables that are grown at the school.

The Grove farmers market offers something the other market in Redlands doesn't offer, meat. Once a month New Frontier Family Farm come to the market and bring their free-range chicken. This chicken is fantastic as it is very fresh. They are now offering beer and lamb also. They also have different groups come in a make breakfast. You can shop and enjoy a great meal.

What I love about the farmers market is that you can be inspired by what is offered there. Try new things and find something you love. This weekend I spotted beautiful plums and knew I had to make something from them. Along with some chiles I purchased a spicy plum sauce was made for last nights dinner. I am not a plum eater, but I wanted to try something new and as I said I ended up finding something I love now and I will try plums in other ways.

 Please go out and support your local farmers markets. Take your kids and show them how wonderful fresh fruits and vegetables can be. It is a win win situation, you buy local, support your community, and you get something healthy and tasty in return.

Three Sisters Farm Facebook Page

New Frontier Family Farm website

The Grove School website and Facebook Page