Alabama Gazette - The people's voice of reason

Southern Cuisine for May

 


I made good use of some lovely Alabama spring weather to plant my garden. My wife planted her flowers; I planted my cherry tomatoes, mint, rosemary, and basil. My gardening philosophy is, “If you cannot eat it, do not plant it”. The sub-set to that philosophy is, “If you want beautiful, delicious, and non-labor intensive fruits and vegetables, go to the farmers market!” I planted cherry tomatoes because I have had luck with cherry tomatoes in my big planter pots. I can plant three tomato plants per pot. They sit on an old metal post office mail-sorting table, placed in the perfect part of my yard to catch the right amount of sun and close to a faucet and hose. I do not have to bend over to pick the tomatoes and I do not have to weed the pots. I can pick a handful every day and eat them as a snack or add them to whatever meal I have later that day. I still have a fig tree, two pear trees, an apple, and three peach trees. I do not need to water or weed the trees.

My freezer has frozen figs, peaches, and the Carolina Reapers, Ghost Peppers and the habaneros, that I grew last year. I can trade my jarred pepper jelly, peach preserve and my various renditions of fig preserves for fresh vegetables from my neighbor's gardens. Keeping the barter tradition alive.

A reader of this article (keep those cards and letters coming) asked what I thought of “meal kits”? I have not tried a meal kit and had no plans for doing so. As an advocate of farm to table, buy local, and know your source, I first thought not to recommend using these mail-order kits. Negatives for meal kits range from packaging waste, lack of inspiration, and cost. The produce in kits is packaged for two to four people. Less packaging is used at a grocery store or a farmers market to package the same item to feed a dozen. In addition, think of this, as you buy a pound of carrots at the farmers market, "Where does the meal kit company source their produce?" They may have to buy 75,000 pounds of carrots for all of their kits. From what commercial farm or even from what country are they getting their carrots? This may have been an argument against meal kits in the past. There are startup companies that are addressing the wasteful packaging of the kits. The list of meal kits companies is growing longer and they are addressing packaging waste, nutrition, sustainability, local sourcing, and cost. There is meal kit that will address almost all particular dietary needs.

Any list of meal kit companies will have Blue Apron on it and either on top or close to the top of the list. Blue Apron pretty much got the ball rolling for meal kits. If you what organic, Green Chef will fit your needs. At least 90% of their entire products are USDA certified organic. Sun Basket is concerned with organic, NON-GMO, sustainability, and responsibly raised. Two companies go for the simple and least expensive, being Every Plate and Dinnerly. They cut costs by keeping menu options low and no special diet offerings. Home Chef will let you double up on the protein without increasing the overall portions. If I were to try a meal kit service, it would be Peach Tree. Their menu items are sourced from local farms in the southeast and their menus options are from some of the top chefs in the country.

The only negative for Peach Tree is the service is pricier than most other services, but you do not have to sign up for a weekly subscription. You can pick one meal and have it shipped to you to try out. In addition, I believe you can keep doing this for as long as you want. However, it will cost more that way. There are many more services, even from Amazon. Do a browser search and you should be able to find a service that fits your culinary skills and tastes. I have never used a meal kit and this information about these meal kits came from reviews and from their websites.

My idea of a meal kit is to take a cardboard box to ALDI or WALMART, fill it with what is on your weekly menu and look at how much money you just saved! Better yet, is to go shopping, find the specials for the week, and when you get home develop a menu from your purchases. Since we live in a food desert, we freeze much of what we purchased and develop a menu from what we have in the freezer. Our last run to town was to purchase some fresh items. Spinach, and salad mixes were high on our list. With the fresh spinach and other items we had in the freezer, my wife, Anne came up with this meal entree. This entree and the following two recipes can be your own meal kit; entree, side, and dessert.

Next tip: If you place ½ of an apple or a piece of ginger root in a bag of potatoes, they will not sprout!

ROASTED TILAPIA with FETA, SPINACH, AND BEANS

INGREDIENTS

Four (6-ounce) thawed individual tilapia fillets, from my freezer

2-tablespoons olive oil divided

2-tablespoons butter

1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese, reserve some for garnish

½ cup white onion chopped, divided

One tablespoon finely chopped garlic, divided

2 teaspoons lemon juice

Zest of 1 large lemon, from my freezer

½-cup Kalamata olives, sliced

15 ounces fresh baby spinach, can used whole frozen

One 15.5 ounce can of cannelloni beans, drained

2 tablespoons Italian bread crumbs,

¼-teaspoon oregano

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Place tilapia fillet(s) in prepared dish and brush with olive oil. Evenly sprinkle breadcrumbs, feta cheese, and lemon zest on top.

3. Roast in the oven, uncovered, 8 to 10 minutes until opaque and just cooked through.

4. While the fish is cooking, in a large sauté pan or skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add half of the onion, the oregano, and the garlic, the olives, and the spinach. Heat while stirring, until the spinach has wilted. Stir in feta, lemon juice, and lemon zest. See note:

5. Heat small saucepan with 1-tablespoon oil, add rest of white onion and sauté until onion is soft. Add beans and heat thoroughly.

6. Add heated beans to the spinach mixture and stir lightly.

7. Divide cooked spinach among four serving plates. Top with tilapia fillet. Garnish with feta. Serve immediately.

Note. When sautéing onions and garlic together, cook the onions first, and to half of their cooking time. Then add the garlic to keep it from over cooking, and burning.

TIP: Fish is normally translucent, so when it turns opaque and a solid white, the fish is cooked. Cook fish at a relatively low temperature. Never cook fish above 350 degrees.

This next recipe involves buying a fresh vegetable and trying an other than usual method of preparation. Bell peppers are very popular and are incorporated into many different recipes, cut up for salads to stuffed and baked. This recipes is modified from a recipe on Kitchen Stories.com. Find the freshest and perfect shaped peppers for this recipe.

OVEN FRIED BELL PEPPERS with AIOLI

INGREDIENTS

1 green bell pepper

1 yellow bell pepper

2 ounces flour

1 egg beaten

1 cup panko breadcrumbs

½ tsp salt

1 tsp smoked paprika powder

¼ tsp ground ginger

¼ tsp ground allspice

1 clove garlic

2 ounces DUKES mayonnaise

¼ lemon

2 sprigs parsley (for garnish)

salt

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. Trim the ends of the bell peppers and remove the seeds.

3. Slice into rings approx. ¼ in. thick.

4. Add flour to a deep bowl, egg to second bowl and panko bread crumbs to a third bowl.

5. Mix salt, smoked paprika, ground ginger, and allspice into the panko breadcrumbs.

6. Dredge the bell peppers in the flour, then the egg, and lastly the panko breadcrumbs.

7. Place the bell pepper rings on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

8. Transfer to the oven and bake for approximately 15- 20 min. or until crispy and golden.

1. Meanwhile, to make the aioli, finely mince the garlic with a little salt until it forms a paste.

2. Add garlic past and mayonnaise to a bowl, squeeze in the lemon juice and mix well.

3. Serve crispy bell pepper rings with aioli and garnish with parsley.

Servings: 2

Now for your meal kit dessert. We made these for the dinner-on-the-grounds at our church for Easter Sunday. This recipe appeared in Southern Living.

CRUNCHY PECAN PIE BITES

INGREDIENTS

yield about 6 dozen

3 cups chopped pecans

3/4 cup sugar

3/4 cup dark corn syrup

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons melted butter

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

5 (2.1-oz.) packages frozen mini-phyllo pastry shells

INSTRUCTIONS:

1. Preheat oven to 350º. Bake pecans in a single layer in a shallow pan 8 to 10 minutes or until toasted and fragrant.

2. Stir together sugar and corn syrup in a medium bowl. Stir in pecans, eggs, and next 3 ingredients.

3. Spoon about 1 heaping teaspoonful pecan mixture into each pastry shell, and place on 2 large baking sheets.

4. Bake at 350º for 20 to 22 minutes or until set. A closing comment on meal kits; my daughter, in Lubbock, would first go online and search the menus for the week and the recipes from different meal kit companies. When she found recipes she liked, she would go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients. It is the opposite from going to the store to look at an item and then going online to purchase it. She has the final say on the ripest tomato or which brand of mayonnaise(DUKES) she buys. The ingredient list, how to prepare, and the kitchen tools needed for that recipe, and nutritional information are all available for each recipe.

A closing comment on meal kits; my daughter, in Lubbock, would first go online and search the menus for the week and the recipes from different meal kit companies. When she found recipes she liked, she would go to the grocery store and buy the ingredients. It is the opposite from going to the store to look at an item and then going online to purchase it. She has the final say on the ripest tomato or which brand of mayonnaise(DUKES) she buys. The ingredient list, how to prepare, and the kitchen tools needed for that recipe, and nutritional information are all available for each recipe.

 

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