Sunday, August 8, 2010
To some, this American Saturday was baseball and apple pie. My day consisted of the farmer’s market and Chili. I wasn’t expecting experiences that would tug at my shirt and remind me of our latest and greatest issues: the recession, immigration, and a retardation of cultural experiences. Seriously, I woke up at an ungodly hour to avoid the crowds on purpose...
The Farmer’s market held every Saturday, across from the UCI campus, has grown considerably in size in the past decade. At this modern farmer’s market, there are bargains, and then there are some examples of fashionable salesmanship. Grass feed beef, was marketed with the slogan “Cows were intended by God to eat grass, not grain” – or something like that. One steak cut was listed as $17 dollars a pound. I wonder if snake oil would be good for frying that beef… Let’s note that, first of all these cows were not explicitly marketed as free range, humanly killed, or hormone/antibiotic free, which is often cause for high prices. This being a wealthy Californian community, there is a market for people who are willing to spend more on ‘healthier,’ more humane meat. Second, we should know that most cattle ranchers raise their cattle on the prairie (among other types of open fields), which means they are grass fed most of their lives until sent to a feed lot to be fattened on grain to raise their USDA standard (which mainly relies on fat content). With that said, Trader Joes’s free range, hormone/antibiotic free, grass fed beef is 4 dollars a pound. I was surprised that this kind of tom foolery could go on during a recession, but then again, grass-fed meat just one of the latest money-making fads that are often fueled by their own pricey exclusivity. Not only do we think that money equals quality, but we also think we’re helping the environment, our health, and those adorable baby cows. Achieving those kinds of goals, unfortunately, requires more research and effort in general, than we think.
Moving on to the tomatoes.
The tomatoes were a bargain. For a dollar a pound, I had bought springy, beefsteak-sized tomatoes. Later that day, while buying chili pork at Ralph’s, they had a fantastic sale on tomatoes: 2 dollars a pound for produce half the size and a few days (or hours) from the garbage bin. Again, we would think, from their TV ad campaign, that Ralph’s had cut prices to help us, their loyal customers, during the depression-er-recession. I can only ask, what are your overheads? (If you would like an indie-comedy reference, check out this song by Flight of the Concords. ) Similar deals were to be had at the market on produce from Anaheim peppers ($1 per 1/2 pound) to massive Mac Arthur Avocados from Cal State Pomona (75 cents each). When we later googled Mac Arthur Avocados, they were listed as out of favor due to the quality of the meat. In spite of that, it’s still fun to try new varieties of fruit, knowing that a taste that others may think is ‘below par’ may actually become your new favorite. Even if these Mac Arthur’s do live up to their reputation, they’ll hopefully be fine for guacamole. Or cat food.
On a more serious note, I would have liked to think that UCI’s farmer’s market would have been the picturesque place were producers could tell their customers directly about their produce, how it was raised, and so on and so forth. Yet, that wasn’t quite the case. Many of the producers that I wanted to ask questions, burning questions, couldn’t speak or understand English well enough to have a conversation about the food. 7 minutes, and a series of 5 questions later I discerned that the peppers I was looking at, were in fact, Anaheim. At another vendor, I wanted to know the story behind a Japanese Concord grape. I was interested because, Concord grapes are a classic Native American grape from the area most of my family had originally settled. It would have been interesting to know if the Japanese had a native grape that was named for its similarity, or if they had cultivated the American species. The only answer I could get was an agitated “FROM JAPAN.” Knowing that English is one of the most difficult languages in the world, I couldn’t angrily assume that these folks should absolutely learn conversational English. Yet, it still bothers me that the potential for great conversation, education, and a sense of community was lost at an event whose ultimate value rests on those essential parts of a healthy society. I can’t think of a ‘right’ response to this at the moment, but I will continue to keep it in my thoughts.
And now for the tasty part: a simple, cheap, American recipe.
Chili has to be more American than apple pie, because, frankly, apple pie wasn’t originally American. Chili peppers, however, are uniquely from the Americas, a chili’s origin is as disputed as anything ‘American’ could be. In fact, some argue that Canary Islander’s invented Chili in San Antonio Texas. Tomatoes are also uniquely from the Americas. However, the most American thing about chili is how people fight over what constitutes ‘good’ chili, and how they bathe in the glory of winning a prize for painstakingly perfecting their recipes: the chili cook off. According to my source on chili, anything containing beans can be immediately labeled as NOT chili. It must be thick enough for a fork to stand up on its own in, with 5 alarm rating for spice. I didn’t achieve that today, since I was on a mission to taste chili without the canned taste of tomato paste (otherwise I would have had to reduce my tomatoes all day). The flavor (separate from the spice) was intense without the need to add any salt or black pepper, thanks to the fresh chilies and tomatoes. In fact, cooking just tomatoes, chilies, and garlic would make an excellent vegan/vegetarian version, although I would recommend adding much more meaty (no pun intended), mild peppers. The chili aficionado was bothered by the ‘fresh’ taste of the chili, as the tomatoes were cooked to medium consistency. Yet, to the untrained taster, the result was pretty darn good and as American as it gets:
Cost: about 2.50 a person
Ingredients (for 3 servings)
4 lbs. fresh, peeled tomatoes
2 lbs. pork sirloin, de-boned and cubed
Cayene pepper to taste (1 tsp for mild)
3 Anaheim peppers (large)
2 heaping tb spoons brown sugar
2 large cloves garlic, chopped
1 cube chicken bullion (no water added)
First, brown the pork on high heat, with no oil. Flip once the raw tops begin to turn white. It’s important to cook the pork thoroughly for health reasons, but not to overcook it to the point where it’s dry and tough. I checked mine once browned on both sides with a knife.
Once done, keep the pork in a separate bowl, since it will be added last minute (to prevent the liquid from leeching meat’s flavor.) Also, don’t snack on it like I did….
Next, brown the garlic thoroughly. It’s a sin to have raw garlic in chili, and the browning gives it a much better flavor than having it leech into the liquids. Place in bowl with pork.
Now we can start cooking the tomatoes in a large soup pot. They will release liquid, as they cook, on medium heat, so no need to worry about adding extra water. Once they have done this, you can add the chopped chilies. I removed the seeds and white veining from mine (the spicy parts of the fruit), because I wanted more control over the spice level. At this point, you can add the bullion cube, brown sugar, and cayenne.
Once you’ve reduced the tomatoes to your favorite thickness, add the meat/garlic and cook for about 5 more minutes. This helps spread the flavor of the garlic and adds some juice to the meat.
There you have it:
Your Faithful Servant
Posted by Your Faithful Servant at 1:24 AM