Eating as a locavore (a person who eats only locally grown food, as much as possible) almost always means cooking meals at home most of the time. The reason is simple - local food is fresh and raw, not processed or prepared.
An amazing number of people say they don't cook because they don't know how. If you're one of those people, I have good news: Cooking isn't rocket science. There are only a handful of cooking skills necessary to begin preparing tasty, healthy meals. These few simple techniques can be used across a wide variety of ingredients.
Non-cooks often use the cliché, "I can't even boil water!" Let's start there. You can actually cook quite a few things by just boiling water.
Take a saucepan and put water in it, enough to cover whatever you plan to cook. Set it on a burner on your stovetop. Turn up the burner to its highest heat setting. Wait.
This basic technique of boiling water can be used to cook foods in three ways. The only difference between the three ways is the water temperature. If you observe how the water behaves as it heats, you'll be able to tell when the temperature is right for adding food for each technique.
1. The first change you'll see as the water heats is small bubbles starting to form on the bottom and sides of the pan. When the bubbles cover the bottom and sides, the water is at the proper temperature for "poaching" food.
2. The next change you'll notice is that the surface of the water just begins to "roll." It looks like the water is getting agitated. The surface is moving gently up and down. Now the water is at the proper temperature for "simmering" food.
3. Finally, the water will be moving all over the place, perhaps even splashing a little outside the pan. Water won't get any hotter than this. This is what's called a "rolling boil." After this, more heat turns water into a gas instead of a liquid, and it evaporates.
Each of these temperatures is useful for cooking different kinds of food. Recipes, like the one below, will tell you which is required. When the water gets to the right temperature, you simply turn down the heat on the burner to a place where it will maintain that temperature. Then add your food to the pot.
For boiling, you leave the temperature on high. For simmering, you'll probably turn it down to medium. For poaching, it will be somewhere between low and medium. Experiment with your own burners to find what works for you. This is something you can practice with water alone - no food necessary.
Boiling is used to cook things like hard-boiled eggs, or firm vegetables like potatoes or carrots. It takes a lot of heat to soften root vegetables. Chop them into half-inch chunks while the water comes to a rolling boil, then put in the vegetables for about 10 minutes. Drain off the hot water, sprinkle salt and pepper, and eat. Nothing more required.
Simmering is used for slowly pulling the flavor out of vegetables or meats to make things like soups or stews. Crockpots offer an easy way to simmer. Put a pound of local grassfed stew beef into a crockpot and add about four potatoes and as many carrots cut into chunks. Peel an onion, chop it into chunks and sprinkle over everything. Add a shake or two of salt and pepper. Pour one cup of water over everything. Set the crockpot on low in the morning and come back 8 to 10 hours later to four fabulous servings of stew. Simple!
Poaching is used for things that need to be cooked gently, either because they are tender or because they cook quickly. Fish can be poached, for example. Fish cooks quickly compared to most proteins, so poaching allows you to cook it slowly (perhaps 10 minutes poached instead of 3 minutes fried) and it helps keep the fish moist. Put a tablespoon of local apple cider vinegar and a sprig of an herb like rosemary in the water, and the poached fish will be infused with flavor, too.
Tree fruits are also good poached. The low heat of poaching allows you to cook them slowly so you can determine when they are just soft enough to pierce with a fork, but not so soft that they begin to fall apart.
So, now you know how to boil water. You have no excuse not to prepare quick, healthy food! I challenge you to try this recipe, and let me know how it goes.
(Note: If you don't have pears, substitute apples instead.)
HONEY MINTED POACHED PEARS
1 quart water
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar (BelleWood Acres, Lynden)
1/3 cup raw honey (Backyard Bees, Custer)
2 teaspoons fresh mint, minced (home garden, Lummi Island)
4 Bosc pears (friend's orchard, Gooseberry Point)
Pinch of smoked cayenne pepper, finely minced (Rabbit Fields Farm, Everson)
Put the water, vinegar, honey and mint into a saucepan and put near your cutting board.
Peel and core the pears, and cut into quarters. Put the quarters into the saucepan as you go, so the cut pears don't turn brown from exposure to air.
When all of the pears are in the pan, place the pan on the stove over high heat. Watch the pan carefully. When it just begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium, or until the liquid barely continues to boil.
Poach pears for about 15 minutes or so, until soft enough that a sharp knife can easily pierce a pear slice.
Remove pears from the liquid.
If desired, you can turn up the heat again on the remaining liquid and boil until it is reduced by at least half, or until it reaches the desired consistency. This will make a nicely flavored sauce to drizzle over the pears. Alternatively, you could drizzle with a small amount of warmed honey.
Sprinkle pears with a little smoked pepper just before serving.
You'll find Whatcom County foods at these stores and farms. Many outlets have seasonal hours. We recommend you call or check websites for current hours.
Acme Farms + Kitchen, 1313 N State Street, Bellingham
Appel Farms Cheese Shoppe, 6605 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4996
Artisan Wine Gallery, 2072 Granger Way, Lummi Island; 360-758-2959
BelleWood Acres, 6140 Guide Meridian, Lynden; 360-318-7720
Bellingham Country Gardens (u-pick vegetables), 2838 East Kelly Road, Bellingham
Bellingham Farmers Market, Railroad at Chestnut; 360-647-2060
Boxx Berry Farm Store and u-pick, 6211 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-380-2699
Cloud Mountain Farm Nursery, 6906 Goodwin Road, Everson; 360-966-5859
Community Food Cooperative, 1220 N. Forest St. and 315 Westerly Road, Bellingham; 360-734-8158
Five Loaves Farm, 514 Liberty St., Lynden
Ferndale Public Market, Centennial Riverwalk, Ferndale; 360-410-7747
Grace Harbor Farms, 2347 Birch Bay Lynden Road, Custer; 360-366-4151
The Green Barn, 211 Birch Bay-Lynden Road, Lynden; 360-318-8869
Hopewell Farm, 3072 Massey Road, Everson; 360-927-8433
The Islander, 2106 S. Nugent Road, Lummi Island; 360-758-2190
Joe's Garden, 3110 Taylor Avenue, Bellingham, 360-671-7639
Lynden Farmers Market, Fourth and Front streets, Lynden
The Markets LLC, 1030 Lakeway, Bellingham; 8135 Birch Bay Square St., Blaine; 360-714-9797
Pleasant Valley Dairy, 6804 Kickerville Road, Ferndale; 360-366-5398
Red Barn Lavender Farm (egg CSA), 3106 Thornton Road, Ferndale; 360-393-7057
Small's Gardens, 6451 Northwest Road, Ferndale; 360-384-4637
Terra Organica, 1530 Cornwall Ave., Bellingham; 360-715-8020
Reach Whatcom Locavore columnist Nancy Ging at 360-758-2529 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To follow her day- to-day locavore activities, go to Whatcom Locavore on Facebook or @whatcomlocavore on Twitter. For locavore menus, recipes and more resources, go to whatcomlocavore.com.