Mitzi Ayala is convinced that the men and women who grow any crop are best qualified as to how to cook it. By the time she, herself, had cooked and collected about 4,000 recipes for rice, she decided to admit that she is somewhat of an expert on the subject.
She has had plenty of opportunities to cook rice dishes because she lives on a rice farm.She decided, also that other growers and their wives must have equally good recipe collections for the vegetables and fruits they grow.
Mitzi manages a 2,000-acre farm in southern California, writes a farm column, and has a farm television show. But her interests in cooking and in farming is by no means limited to rice.
From friends, neighbors, and other American farmers across the country, she has collected recipes as well as stories and good ideas on what to look for when buying and how to handle, store and prepare fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, dairy foods, and meat and poultry.
They are all in The Farmer's Cookbook, written in collaboration with Carol Rodman with illustrations by Yoshi Kyhos (San Francisco: Harbor Publishers. $15 ).
A tomato grower, for example, tells why tomatoes should never be refrigerated - because the tissues will deteriorate rapidly at 50 degrees F.
Sherry Mehl, the wife of a strawberry farmer, explains that strawberries shouldn't be washed until just before they're eaten because washing dissolves the berry's natural waxy coating and allows water to enter it as it would a sponge.
Cecilia Mello tells why she hasn't had a vacation in 32 years as she explains what it's like to have a dairy herd. She gives some of her favorite recipes, including a breakfast milk drink and a clam chowder with zucchini in it.
Janet Wolter, a hog rancher's wife, tells about the new, leaner pork and explains that many cookbooks are out of date on the subject.
Since today's farmers don't have all day to cook, the recipes emphasize short preparation and the use of fresh, unprocessed foods generally available in neighborhood supermarkets. Each chapter highlights a specific food, and menus are built around generous use of each one. Here are some of the recipes.
Party Cheese Ball 1/2 cup (4 ounces) Roquefort cheese 1 cup (8 ounces) cream cheese 1/4 teaspoon garlic salt 1 tablespoon pimento, chopped 1 tablespoon green pepper, chopped 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted Crackers
Blend Roquefort and cream cheese. Stir in garlic salt, pimento, and green pepper. Chill until firm. Shape into a ball. Roll ball in toasted walnuts. Chill until serving time. Serve with crackers.
Sweet and Sour Chicken Tidbits 1 pound chicken wings 1/2 cup white wine vinegar 1/2 cup pineapple juice 1/4 cup ketchup 1/4 cup sugar 2 tablespoons soy sauce 1 tablespoon cornstarch 3 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds 1/2 teaspoon salt
Cut off wing tips and cut each wing in half at main joint. Place in baking dish. In saucepan, combine vinegar, pineapple, ketchup, sugar, soy sauce, and cornstarch.
Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Pour sauce over chicken. Marinate at room temperature for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Bake chicken for 45 minutes, turning occasionally. Combine sesame seeds and salt in a shallow dish. Roll each chicken wing in sesame seeds and serve.
Savory Rice, Broccoli, and Cheese Bake 1 cup medium-grain rice 11/2 cups water 1 tablespoon butter 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 cup butter 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped 1 clove garlic, minced 11/2 pounds broccoli, cooked and chopped 1/2 cup Monterey Jack, or other mild cheese 4 eggs 1/2 cup milk 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste 1/4 teaspoon pepper 11/4 teaspoons thyme 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese, grated
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In saucepan, combine rice, water, 1 tablespoon butter, and salt. Bring to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 12 to 15 minutes.
Remove from heat (do not stir rice) and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in a pan. Add onion and garlic and saute until tender. Combine rice, onion mixture, broccoli, and Monterey Jack cheese; mix well.
In bowl, combine eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and thyme; mix well. Stir into rice mixture. Turn into buttered 8-inch-square baking dish. Sprinkle with Cheddar cheese. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until set.
Paella Salad 6 ounces shrimp, cooked 2 cups (6 ounces) rice, cooked and cooled 1 cup (8 ounces) chicken, cooked and diced 1 cup (6 ounces) celery, sliced 1 cup (6 ounces) peas, cooked 1/3 cup (2 ounces) green pepper, diced 1/4 cup (11/2-ounces) green onions, sliced 2/3 cup (6 ounces) mayonnaise 2 tablespoons cream 1/4 teaspoon salt Pinch garlic powder 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 2 tomatoes, cut in wedges
Combine shrimp, rice, chicken, celery, peas, green pepper, and onions. In small bowl, blend mayonnaise with cream, salt, garlic powder, and pepper. Pour dressing over shrimp mixture and toss lightly. Chill at least 1 hour and garnish with tomatoes.
Dutch Almond Cookies 3/4 cup butter 1/2 cup sugar 11/2 cups all-purpose flour 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/4 teapoon salt 1 egg, beaten 1/2 cup almonds, slivered
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar. Add flour, baking soda , and salt and mix well. On floured board, roll out dough into a 12-inch square.
Cut dough into 2-inch squares. Brush with egg and sprinkle with almonds. Place on baking sheet and bake cookies about 8 minutes, or until light brown.