Posted on October 9, 2011
In the spring it is pretty easy to get a large variety of local produce at HEB (for those not familiar, South Texas has one grocery chain that dominates, with the exception of a Whole Foods, and a few Walmarts.) But the rest of the year, we are lucky to find anything other than cabbage, onions, mushrooms, and melon. Even at the fancy pants Central Market HEB, about 95% of their food is from California. I asked their cheese guy to show me any local cheeses in their huge cheese section, and he says “There just really arent a lot of local cheesemakers.” I don’t know what is worse, not having more than one local cheese on hand, or lying about why.
This problem is due to corporate food supply chains, not a lack of local producers. A visit to the Saturday farmers market becomes necessary. But that is the only market day in San Antonio, and by 10:30 a.m. selection has been substantially bought up. Some of us like to sleep in and walk dogs on Saturday mornings, then look through the fridge and cookbooks and decide what to cook before shopping, all of which can interfere with procurement of fresh local food.
A few years ago I checked out Greenlings, an online delivery service for natural foods. I never used it because it seemed too expensive for basic things I could easily get at the store for less (I was unemployed at the time), and I didn’t want to pay a premium for delivered food when I had plenty of time to shop. Some years have passed and I am now working like a dog at the school, and Greenlings seems to have improved quite a bit. The number of local foods has ballooned, and really made them a niche. It is like a CSA without the large joining fees and far flung pick up locations. Also, rather than getting a CSA with one farm, or a cooperative of farms in the same area, I can get produce, meat, and dairy from many different producers. Seven different cheese producers in fact, with over a dozen varieties.
I got my first local box this week, and now I am cooking it up. For about $65 plus a bin deposit I got a box of all local produce plus some meat and dairy I selected. The local box included a canteloupe, five or six cucumbers, a big bunch of sweet potato greens, half a dozen limes, five apples, two large asian pears, a bunch of okra, a head of bib lettuce, a bunch of chard, a bag full of assorted hot peppers, a mysterious hard squash I havent yet identified. I also got a pound of locally raised natural chicken, a pound of local grass-fed coarse ground beef, a hunk of locally made cheddar cheese, 16 oz of locally made goat milk yogurt, 16 oz of strawberry unsweetened yogurt, a half gallon of low-temperature pasteurized cows milk that was bottled less than three days ago from grass fed cows, one pound of fresh pinto beans, and a package of sweet potato and whole red wheat pancake mix.
Oh, and did I mention their delivery service uses less fossil fuels than if we all went to the store individually? There are definitely some pricey items, but the selection has improved so that they have a range of prices for the same kinds of products. You can search by filtering for local products only. They are locally owned and operated, and they have managed to improve their economies of scale and selection somehow by scoring a subcontracting gig with Whole Foods for their concierge grocery services in Austin and San Antonio. So rich people are basically subsidizing my access to all this great food, I love it.
The great thing about the local box of produce is you get to cook things you have never tried before, like sweet potato greens. I was skeptical, as they are the least attractive greens I have eaten– kind of dirty and wilted, and attached to long inedible stalks. So I cleaned them up, and they were actually quite green. I am not even going to call this a recipe– just make it! Heat some oil, add a clove of garlic chopped and some hot assorted peppers to it for about 30 seconds. Toss in the sweet potato greens, and using tongs, stir fry it mixing it quickly to keep the garlic from burning. Add a splash of soy sauce and chopped pecans or other nuts for sweetness. This was so delicious, I am gonna be planting some sweet potatos next year. They have a flavor like baby bok choy or a really tender fresh cut kale. Supposedly they are higher in protein than many other greens.
The next thing I cooked from my order was the chicken leg quarters. I had this really simple recipe that had 501 reviews on Epicurious with 96% saying they would make it again. There are very few recipes with so many reviews, and so few ingredients. This baked chicken is scrumptuous. I even made a sauce at the end, with a little white wine.
Even a monkey could make this chicken, it is so easy. I made it with 2 chicken leg quarters, but it is meant to be made with a whole chicken. To make it with quarters, reduce the the cooking time by 20 minutes.
Simple Roast Chicken
adapted from Bouchon by Thomas Keller
One 2-3 pound fresh chicken
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed from the stems, stems discarded
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons flour
1-2 tablespoon dijon mustard
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Rinse and dry the chicken very well. You dont want any water, because this creates steam, which stops the chicken from being crispy and brown on the outside. Rub salt and pepper all over the inside of the chicken. Truss the bird so that it cooks evenly and doesn’t dry out. Sprinkle salt over the outside of the chicken– use about 1 tablespoon for a whole chicken.
Place the chicken in an ovenproof saute pan (with a metal or other ovenproof handle). Put it in the oven. Do not baste it or do anything to it for 50-60 minutes. Take it out of the oven and set it on a stove burner. While the pan drippings are hot, remove the chicken to a cutting board to rest. Add the fresh thyme leaves (it will spit). Whisk in the white wine, butter, flour, and dijon. Turn the burner on lower after the wine starts to cool. Whisk until smooth. Cut up the chicken and plate pieces. Spoon the sauce over the servings. It will be much richer than traditional gravy, so a little goes a long way.
Stay tuned for my favorite holiday recipes over the next few weeks. Stuffed delicata squash, Roast Cauliflower, candied yams, Pennsylvania Dutch stuffing, pies.