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Pantry Raid!

I was in sunny Florida last week guzzling fresh orange juice, eating red snapper and corn on the cob, and watching tropical sunsets (all local and in season). I do not generally make my husband grocery shop when I’m out of town.

Currently, our kitchen has two apples and two onions for fresh produce and I’m not going to the store and fight with all the people who are trying to purchase mass amounts of bread and milk in preparation for a possible snow storm. Solution?

A pantry raid, of course!

Carolina-Style Pasta e Fagioli:

Olive oil

 1 small onion, diced

1 oz. country ham, diced (I like A.B. Vannoy’s ham immensely)

1 pint canned tomatoes

2 cups chicken broth

1 teaspoon dried basil (or frozen pesto if you have it)

½ teaspoon oregano

1 cup dry ditalini pasta

1 can of cannellini beans

Salt and pepper, to taste

Parmesan cheese, grated (optional)

 Heat up olive oil in a soup pan.  Add the small onion and ham and let cook until onions are translucent.  While the onions and ham are cooking, chop up the tomatoes (if they are whole).  Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, and dried herbs to the pan.  Bring all ingredients to a boil.  Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.   Drain the beans while the pasta is cooking.   When the pasta is al dente, add the beans to the pan (this will stop the pasta from cooking any longer).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Top with parmesan cheese, to taste.

It’s been five months with no posts.  I have to say that I’m feeling a bit guilty about this because my “rez” last year was to be a locavore last year – and blog about it. 

Blog fail.

In all fairness, September and October became very busy and for a while I didn’t have a lot to say about eating locally in the Triangle – which is funny because even in winter there are a lot of tasty, fresh, and healthy local foods to be purchased around here (which is further proof of how utterly lucky I am to live in the Triangle). 

So, enough with the excuses; it is time to plow forth into the new-ish year and start up this blog again – better late than never, right?

2009 in Review:

  • We didn’t quite make the 85% of total grocery expenditure goal, but we DID buy most of our food from local sources – and, without sounding too didactic, if we all did that our farmers would feel very loved indeed.
  • Consequently, we didn’t make a 100% locally sourced meal every week (my morning serving of scrambled eggs does not count). But, we did make a lot of entrees from completely locally sourced ingredients, and we were extremely proud when we did.
  • One success is that I did learn A LOT about food preservation techniques and am happily benefitting from that knowledge every week.
  • Whenever I eat out, I try very hard to eat at places that source locally.  This would be very simple if I ate at the same four or five restaurants every time, but we don’t, so it was quite a challenge.

 I realize that this sounds like FAIL! FAIL! FAIL! – but, I just refuse to see it that way.  I spent a lot of time volunteering at my local farmers’ market, talking to friends about the benefits of buying locally-produced foods, and well, just eating a whole lot of really fantastic grub.  How can that be failure?

That leaves us with what to do in 2010…here are a few of the items that are already planned:

  • The blog posts will change a bit from last year – I’ll still be talking about buying a good percentage of foods from local sources, but the blogs themselves will concentrate on buying strategies and making the transition to a more “locavore” diet.
  • Advanced food preservation techniques.
  • Container gardening for apartments.
  • Searching for a garden plot of one’s own.
  • Weeknight friendly recipes.

Seriously, I am neither a wheeler, nor a dealer.  So, my friends find it comical that I was working so hard at striking a deal with the tomato vendors at the Durham Farmer’s Market.  I was on a mission to can tomatoes, and not just 4 jars, either – I was going for the gusto and working towards a tomato stock that would last an Italian grandmother well into the next tomato season.

While to some this might be akin to climbing Mt. Everest, I found the actual steps to prepare and process canning tomatoes to be relatively enjoyable and easy.  But, canning does require time and patience (of which I am in short supply) – and a whole heck of a lot of tomatoes.  For instance, the first 20 lbs. of tomatoes netted me about twelve pints once I had skinned and seeded them.   Oh, Mama mia…. 

But, that next Saturday, I headed out to the Durham Farmer’s Market and laid down enough cash to put away another 2 dozen pints of tasty redness.   I also had to visit two hardware stores to find the requisite jars (no one store seemed to have them in abundance that morning).

Here is the final breakdown:

-  20 lbs. of romas bought at the North Raleigh Farmer’s Market for $20.

-  25 lbs. of romas at the Durham Farmer’s Market for $30. This ended up yeilding far more jars because I saved more of the liquid from the tomatoes than I had in my first attempt.

- 3 flats of Ball pint jars for $33

- 1 large bottle of red wine vinegar for $3

- 6 hours of my time for free

Total Expenditure: $86

Price per pint: $2.39

Price per ounce: 15 cents

That equates to about $4 for the 28 oz. cans that we would normally purchase.   I will admit that the price is higher, but after tasting my first jar, I think it’s worth it.

And next year, I doubling production.  I may even add another worker.

Locavore Shopping for last week: squash

Locavore Shopping for the previous week:  Tomatoes (50 lbs.), peppers, eggplant, lamb, purple heart peas, more peppers, eggs

Percentage of Total Grocery Expenditure (both weeks):  85%

Locavore Dish (One dish composed of 100% locally-sourced ingredients):  Pappa Al Pomodoro

Locavore Recipe:

I am always talking about how hard it is to eat a healthy dinner, at home, when 20,000 things are going on…until now.  I have canned tomatoes, frozen pesto, and there is always a portion of a loaf of bread in the freezer. 

Mario Batali’s recipe for Pappa Al Pomodoro

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/mario-batali/tomato-bread-soup-pappa-al-pomodoro-recipe/index.html

If anyone reading this blog was in April McGregor’s  A Jar of Summer: Preserving the Bounty of the Harvest class at A Southern Season yesterday, I was the lady in the front row trying to figure out a way to properly identify botulism toxins in jars of canned tomatoes. 

Ms. McGregor, the proprietress of The Farmer’s Daughter in Carrboro, led us through the proper way to can fresh tomatoes; roasted tomato sauces; and candied figs using a dose of extra acid and the standard water bath method.  I prefer to can using the water bath method because it doesn’t require a lot of expensive equipment that I do not have and I don’t have to worry about exploding pots in a rental unit.  However, most of my experience using this method has been with the “safe” foods like jams and jellies.

I have been doing a lot of research on canning tomatoes and apples, but have thus far been stymied by the danger of improperly processing relatively low-acid fruits in such a way as to sicken either myself or those I love dearly.  My family doesn’t take well to being poisoned, an example of which can be found rooted deeply in my childhood where an improperly cooked turkey gave us all a nasty round of food poisoning.  This event, in turn, lead to ten subsequent Thanksgiving turkeys where my father fondly recalled the day that all of us got “botched” by my mother.  Living in a household where botulism has acquired verb tense status can cause a great amount of trepidation when engaging in new, potentially bacterial, pursuits.

But, Ms. McGregor has assuaged my original concerns and, with the proper dose of acid and a much longer processing time than I had originally assumed, I can have tomatoes (and figs!) at the ready any time during the year.

Locavore Shopping for last week:  Goat cheese, poblano peppers, anaheim peppers, sweet peppers, crunchy red peppers, green peppers that turned red in my bag, eggplant, tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, Gughlhupf bread of all sorts, yogurt, bison.

Percentage of Total Grocery Expenditure (Goal 85%):  90%

Locavore Dish (One dish composed of 100% locally-sourced ingredients):  Bison and Goat Cheese Chile Rellenos with fresh tomato salsa

Locavore Recipe:

I visited the Durham Farmer’s Market last weekend and found a place that sells bison.  Then I walked a little way down the square and found some beautiful poblanos (I bought them all).  That gave me an excuse to buy some more goat cheese and go home and make a healthy version of one of my favorite Mexican foods.

Bison and Goat Cheese “Chile Rellenos”

9 small/medium poblanos or 4 large ones

1 lb. ground bison

½ cup “sofrito” (see recipe below)

2 fresh tomatoes

1 handful of fresh cilantro (do not use if you don’t like cilantro)

1 Tbls. fresh oregano

Salt/pepper to taste

1 log goat cheese (or a mix of goat cheese and other pungent cheeses)

 

Turn oven onto broil.  Place all of the poblanos on the top baking rack and broil the peppers until they are black and blistery on the outside.  Turn the pepper over and continue roasting until the entire pepper is burnt and blistered on the outside.  Using tongs (or some other device other than your fingers), place the peppers into a bowl and cover with foil.  Let them steam for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, brown the bison in a skillet (you will need a little oil to do so).  Move the bison to the side of the pan.  Add the sofrito to the other side and let cook for 30 seconds.  Then add the fresh tomatoes and mix everything together.  Cook the mixture until the bison is done and the mixture looks like taco meat.  Add in the fresh cilantro and oregano and set aside to cool.

Next take your bowl of pepper to the sink and skin the pepper by peeling the tough, blackened outside skin off with your fingers.  Cut a slit in the side of the pepper and clean the seeds out (I do this while holding the pepper under running water to make sure that all the seeds are gone).   What you should have after you are done is a whole pepper with a little pocket in which to store the bison filling.  Dry off the peppers.

Turn oven to 350 degrees.  Using your clean hands or a spoon, stuff the peppers with the bison mixture and place open-side up in an oiled or foil-lined casserole dish.  Open the pepper opening up a little more and stuff and cover the top with a hearty pile of goat cheese.  When all of the peppers have been stuffed and cheesed, place in the oven to bake for half an hour.  The peppers will be hot and gooey when done.

Put on a plate and serve with a side of fresh tomato salsa, sour cream or Mexican crèma, or rice and beans.

 

My Sofrito

When I lived in Florida, I ate at so many different Latin American restaurants I could hardly keep track.  There is a whole lot to love about Latin-inspired dishes, but my absolute favorite were the Puerto Rican places that served rice dishes containing a little or a lot of sofrito – a spicy pungent garlic and pepper seasoning that is extremely easy to make and store.  Just make a bunch of it ahead of time and freeze it in little freezer bags or in “ice cube form.”

2 green bell peppers, seeded and chopped

2 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped

3 medium tomatoes, chopped

2 onions, cut into large chunks

3 medium heads garlic, peeled

20 cilantro leaves with stems

20 culantro leaves (use more cilantro, if you can’t find)

1 tablespoon salt

1 tablespoon black pepper

 

Place everything in a food processor and process until the consistency of a somewhat smooth salsa.  Use immediately, or freeze for later.

 I have been in love with the notion of making my own cheese for years.

 And that love was strengthened when Ms. Kingsolver mentioned that it was – gasp! – super easy and so tasty in her book “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.”

Could I…?

Me?

Really?

I hesitated.

What if it wasn’t good? (I mean, I was horrible, horrible at chemistry….)

What if I made myself…sick?

What if I made others sick?!

Ms. Kingsolver assured me that I could do it (through her literature, of course).

Still, I hesitated.

Then, I noticed that a ball of my favorite buttery, creamy mozzarella costs about $10 at the local farmer’s market.  

Eek!

So, I went online and bought the “30 Minute Ricotta and Mozzarella Kit” from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company.

60 balls of home made mozzarella (“mootz” if you’re my husband from New Jersey) for $60 plus the price of milk.

(Exhibit 1 here: http://www.cheesemaking.com/starterspecialkit.html)

I watched the DVD.

I read the first few chapters of the book.

I bought a gallon of Maple View Farms’ milk.

I was ready.

I lovingly warmed the milk.

Dissolved the acid and rennet.

Mixed everything together.

Waited (lovingly).

Cut the curd.  (Chuckled at my lame-o “cut the cheese” joke.)

Drained and stretched and heated it.  (And repeated it.  Twice.  Three times.)

Shaped it into a ball.

Cooled it.

Sliced it. (Again, with the lame joke! When will I learn?)

Tasted it.

It was flavorless!

Insipid.  (Not enough salt.)

The texture was like soft tofu.

At least there is some smoked farmer’s cheese in the fridge.

I will persever.

Next time you’re mine, Mootz….

One Month Later….

It’s been a over a month since my last post – I would like to say that I’ve been so busy putting away food that I haven’t had time to write.  But, I’ve been busy at work – and have been eating too much junk food along the way because I’m either too hungry or too tired to cook. 

The previous weekend, I did nothing – the most I could muster was taking all the unused produce from the week and stuffing them into freezer bags for winter stockpiling.  This took all of 15 minutes – leaving the rest of the weekend for literary pursuits (i.e., sitting on the couch reading a book).  So, two lessons learned here:

- Eating better will allow me to avoid weekends spent on the couch recuperating from a busy schedule.

- Freezing foods for later is quick and easy.

This past weekend, I froze corn; peaches; chopped tomatoes; and green beans.  That took an hour.  Then I signed up for the Canning Class at a Southern Season because my little apartment freezer is getting pretty full….

On Sunday, I bartered freezer space in a friend’s chest freezer for a generous share of all those wild blackberries I picked earlier this summer.

Locavore Shopping for last week:  Goat cheese, grits, peaches, hot peppers, green beans, corn, honey, eggs, beef, pork, bread, eggplant, tomatoes, potatoes, milk…a whole lot of stuff over the past month.

Percentage of Total Grocery Expenditure (Goal 85%):  83% over the past month.

Locavore Dish (One dish composed of 100% locally-sourced ingredients):  Egg and goat cheese omelet with multigrain toast and butter.

Locavore Recipe:

Summertime is too hot and wanton for exactitudes – or for roasting things in the oven over a long period.  So, this recipe uses almost no measurement tools,but it is worth firing up one’s broiler for a couple minutes when the result is so satisfyingly wonderful. 

5 minute “Roasted” Peach and Cream

- Two peaches, cut in half and pitted.

- One handful of local granola (make your own, or use, Little Red Wagon’s Crunchy Monkey or La Farm’s)

- Local honey (pick one, but I like tulip poplar or sourwood the best)

- Yogurt , ricotta, or whipped cream

Place peaches open-faced in a baking dish.  Drizzle peaches with honey.  Place under the broiler until the honey is absorbed into the peaches – two to three minutes.  Sprinkle granola over the peaches and drizzle with more honey (this is the parfait part).  Place under the broiler until the honey begins to caramelize on the granola – just a minute or two.  Top with yogurt, ricotta, or whipped cream.  Drizzle with honey.

P.S.: If you ever get to make the salted caramel ice cream from this month’s Gourmet magazine, you should eat it over these peaches!

One of my coworkers asked me about using flour if I’m a locavore.  I told her that I buy it, but that’s why my goal is to buy 85% percent locally produced food – so I can have spending room for those delightful things that I can’t readily get locally.  Umm…like King Arthur’s Flour and chocolate.  I elaborated by saying, while I love my community, I’m not interested in being “colonial.”  Enough said.

Two days later, the blackberries appeared all throughout my neighborhood.  Well, slap a bonnet on me because I’m heading out with my basket and picking until the sun goes down, just like my ancestors used to do.

Wild blackberries aren’t just cheap (free!), but they taste better than even those organic berries that we get at the farmers’ markets.  It seems people love those big lush looking berries that are full of juice.  What they don’t know is that the little wild ones carry the same amount of flavor as the big ones, so you get more overall blackberry flavor in your dish.

Wild Blackberry on the left, cultivated on the right...size does matter.

Wild Blackberry on the left, cultivated on the right...size does matter.

Locavore Shopping for last week:  Green beans, wax beans, ricotta, yogurt, goat cheese, potatoes, squash, strawberries, tomatoes, garlic, lettuce, bell peppers, onions, blueberries

Percentage of Total Grocery Expenditure (Goal 85%):  100%

Locavore Dish (One dish composed of 100% locally-sourced ingredients):  Sautéed Vegetables over Goat Cheese Grits and Strawberry Ice Cream with fresh blueberries.

Locavore Recipe:

This is from one of my tattered copies of Gourmet magazine.  It’s the recipe I go to for those summertime desserts that make me nostalgic for being a kid.  My mother made cobblers all summer long with mixtures of berries, peaches, and cherries and served them with milk or ice cream on top –so heavenly.

Blackberry Peach Cobbler

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups plus 1 teaspoon sugar

1 1/4 lb blackberries (5 cups)

2 lb peaches (6 medium), peeled, pitted, and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 cup plus 3 tablespoons whole milk

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 425°F. Butter a 13- by 9- by 2-inch glass or ceramic baking dish (3-quart capacity).

Whisk together cornstarch and 1 1/2 cups sugar in a large bowl, then add blackberries and peaches and toss to combine well. Transfer to baking dish and bake until just bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes.

While fruit bakes, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt in another large bowl, then blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk and stir just until a dough forms.

Drop dough onto hot fruit mixture in 12 mounds (about 1/3 cup each), then sprinkle dough with remaining teaspoon sugar. Bake cobbler until top is golden, 25 to 35 minutes. Serve warm.

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