Monday, December 27, 2010

Dark Days Challenge Week 3: Bitokes a la Russe and roasted potatoes

I've made these and blogged about them before. They are a quick and tasty way to use deer burger.

The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbooks, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, by Julia Child. And it's just a fancy French way of sayin' "a beef dish kinda like Salisbury steak." That's what it translates to, I swear...

I should clarify, though. These aren't actually Bitokes a la Russebut a variation of the recipe. That's one of the things I like about that cookbook. There are usually a handful of variations on a master recipe, I just can't remember what this variation was called. It has a fancy French name, too. We'll just say it's the "something-like-salisbury-steak-but-with-deer-meat" dish. 
The deer burger was from one of the several deer the hubs killed last winter. We really need to use up the last couple packages of last year's deer burger. I don't like to keep it in the freezer longer than a year. That, and he just loaded up the freezer again this month. There is also an egg (Breezy Knoll Farm via Monroe Farm Market), flour and minced onions mixed in the meat. The onions are organic yellow onions from Kroger. I also added about 2 tablespoons of bacon grease I keep in the fridge from my Sandy Creek Farms bacon. The gravy on the meat was made from turkey stock from my Thanksgiving turkey bought from Almost Heaven Farm (Monroe Farm Market) in Monroe County. Butter is Land O' Lakes (booo!!! not local). And the flour in the gravy is from Reed's Mill Flours in Monroe County. The potatoes are from my father-in-law's garden and the rosemary is from a generous co-worker's herb garden. I really need to plant some of my own...

Please disregard the baked beans. They were leftover from a potluck dinner I attended last Monday. No one wanted the baked beans. So I brought them home. I like baked beans, and I couldn't bear to see them thrown out. They were most certainly NOT local. Or even SOLE. They were good, though. And I don't like to waste food.

Deer burger is tricky. It is wonderful in that it is so lean. You can substitute it for hamburger in a lot of recipes to make them healthier. But, it also has a distinct wild taste. Some people don't mind the taste. But I usually try to use it in heavily seasoned or spicy dishes that will mask the taste a bit. This recipe is an exception. You taste the deer/wild taste a little, but it's not off-putting. Could be that bacon grease... Bacon grease seems to make everything better.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Dark Days Challenge: Week 2. Steak and potatoes

Last Friday, we had a heat wave here in Charleston. It hit 37 degrees. This weather is ridiculous.

I took advantage of the warmer temperatures to throw some steaks on the grill. The Monroe Farm Market started selling beef again a few weeks ago, and I bought some New York strip steaks. This is quickly becoming my favorite cut of steak. I marinated the steaks in a little bit of extra virgin olive oil, red wine and garlic. The red wine, sadly wasn't local--which is a shame since there are some really great wines made within an hour or two from me, but a Chilean Syrah was what I had in the kitchen. The garlic was, local though.

What goes better with steaks than potatoes? My favorite way to make them with steaks is to grill them. It's so easy. Boil whole potatoes for about 15 minutes until they begin to get tender when poked with a fork. Slice them in half long-ways and brush all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Throw them on the grill with the steaks until they have a golden crust. Immediately after taking them off the grill, sprinkle cheese on them and let it melt slightly. Blue cheese crumbles are the absolute best on these potatoes, but I used local goat cheese, which was pretty darn good also.

The steaks were from Swift Level Farm. The potatoes were kennebec white from Spangler's Greenhouse. The goat cheese was Walker Mountain Goat Cheese. All bought from the Monroe Farm Market.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

4th Annual Dark Days Challenge: Week 1

It's officially winter here. Well, not officially. But still. We got an inch of snow today. That counts in my book.

I'm participating in the 4th Annual Dark Days Challenge, and today was my first offering.

I guess I should explain what it is first. For roughly four and a half months, I must eat "SOLE" (sustainable, organic, local or ethical) meal once a week. It doesn't sound too daunting, but don't be fooled. Eating local in the winter in the Mid-Atlantic is a challenge because you have to rely almost exclusively on what you've put up. Or someone else put up.

In the Eat Local Challenge, most consider any food from within 100 miles to be local. I stretch it a bit further, so I can have milk. The closest dairy is in Wirtz, Virginia, approximately 221 miles from me. Homestead Creamery supplies dairy products to my local Kroger's. So, I play by the rule of within 250 miles. It's a good thing, too. I get a huge amount of my food from the Monroe Farm Market. Although, it makes deliveries to Charleston every two weeks, it's just over 100 miles away. Additionally, spices, oils and things like coffee are generally exceptions to the local aspect of the meal.

Every so often, we like to have what we call "Bar Food Night" at the Jones's. Today was that dinner. After taking in college football for the biggest part of the day, it seemed appropriate.

Today's dinner didn't disappoint. Wings and loaded potato skins. Mmm. I should have been drinking Mountaineer Brewing Company beer, or perhaps Yuengling or Starr Hill, which would have all been within 250 miles, but the hubs ran out for some beer and brought back Guiness Extra Stout. It seemed like a good day for it.

Anyway, I am beyond thrilled that I found a local port producer that sells pork products from pigs allowed to roam a bit. Bacon is one of those things that is hard to get around when it comes to cooking. You really can't leave it out and you really can't substitute something else more sustainable (than conventional pork). Late in the summer, I started ordering from Sandy Creek Farms in Ravenswood, WV. The are such nice people and they even met me at my office with my delivery. They have so many products, not just pork, either. I've been beyond pleased with everything I've tried so far. Yay, bacon!

So, tonight, we had wings from Almost Heaven Farm in Monroe County. The potato skins were made from potatoes from Spangler's Greenhouse in Monroe County, with diced bacon (Sandy Creek Farms), organic non-local red onion and garlic, and non-local, non-organic cheddar cheese, sour cream and cilantro. I will say that the sour cream is truly all natural, though. Half of the potato skins had cheddar cheese and half had goat cheese on them. I bought the goat cheese from the Monroe Farm Market, and it was made by Walker Mountain Goat Cheese, an amish dairy just across the Virginia border. I wasn't sure about the flavor combination on the potato skins with the goat cheese, so I did half with cheddar cheese. I should have done them all with the goat cheese, because they were DELICIOUS.
Here's the tag from the wings. Buffalo wings are one of the few foods that I actually hate, so I always make mine Asian. A couple years ago, there was a wing recipe in the food section of the local Sunday paper that I've been using ever since.

5-Spice Asian Wing Sauce from the Sunday Gazette-Mail

1/2 cup hoisin sauce
2 Tb rice wine vinegar
1 Tb sesame oil
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp Chinese 5-spice powder
1 Tb orange zest
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
sesame seeds (optional)
2 lbs chicken wings

Prehead oven to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients except sesame seeds in a small bowl. Bake wings without sauce on a cookie sheet lined with foil for 30 minutes. Turn and bake additional 15 to 20 mintues. Remove wings from the oven and toss in sauce while hot. Garnish with sesame seeds if desired.
So, now that we're underway, I am realizing that I am a little rusty at this. I will have to put some more thought into the meals to make sure they are more local.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"America's Night Out for Gulf Seafood" is on December 1st

Artwork credit:

Next Wednesday, December 1st, is America's Night Out for Gulf Seafood. What is that, you ask?

It's a national chef-led event to promote Gulf Seafood. More than 200 chefs from around the country will feature Gulf Seafood in their offerings next Wednesday as a way to recognize and promote those who make a living harvesting Gulf Seafood, an industry that is still suffering the aftershocks of the Deepwater Horizon disaster earlier this year.

The seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, by the way, is perfectly safe to eat. That's what this event is all about.

If you're lucky enough to have a restaurant in your area that is participating in "America's Night Out for Gulf Seafood", by all means, go patronize them next Wednesday night. Or you could do like me, (since the nearest one to me is 4 hours away) cook along at home, then blog about it. Or if you don't have a blog, just go to your local seafood supplier or even the grocery store and plan a meal and enjoy it. Check out this entry (way at the bottom, sorry) for the caveat about shopping for shrimp and a recipe for seafood chowder you might want to try. It was delish, BTW.

In case you didn't scroll through the whole entry, let me sum it up for you. Consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch when buying seafood or ordering it on a menu. Not all seafood is created equal, for a whole host of reasons, the most concerning of which are mercury contamination and sustainability issues. There is a handy iPhone app that I use religiously when out shopping for seafood.

You might be wondering how to find Gulf Seafood at the grocery store. That is a tricky task in land-locked West Virginia where the most practical food shopping choices for many of us are either Krogers or Super Wal-Mart. Unless you have an inside track to a fisherman (and if that's the case, please share! please share!), Gulf Seafood here is pretty much limited to frozen shrimp. I did call Joe's Fish Market on Quarrier Street, and they don't have any Gulf Seafood right now. (Que sad music... "whap, whap whaaa.") All seafood is required have the country of origin on the label, so at the grocery store, just make sure your packages says "U.S. wild caught". Two thirds of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. comes from the Gulf, and chances are high that what is sold at supermarkets is from there. Or China. Which is why you have to look for the country of origin. Gulf shrimp are classified as "Good Alternative" by the Seafood Watch, because of sustainable harvesting practices.
Now, the fun part... deciding what to make.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Trust Your Mother

Last spring, my mom and I went to California Wine Country. It was an amazing trip. We rented a car and spent a few days touring wineries, drinking delicious wine,eating wonderful food, and seeing the sights of "No Cal".
Healdsburg Square

Not long before I went, I read about Rancho Gordo beans on one of the blogs from the Dark Days Challenge last spring. I figured "what the heck? I'll be in Napa, so I should see if I could find it."

What is Rancho Gordo, you ask? Try this novel concept: a store totally devoted to heirloom dried beans. This guy is passionate about beans, let me tell ya! It was such a charming store! We walked in and found several tables full of packages of all sorts of dried beans. Most of the varieties, I'd never heard of. And they were so varied and colorful. A lady walked up and asked us what she could help with and made suggestions. And, the owner, Steve Sando, was sitting right there at the counter on the phone talking about--you guessed it, Beans! We decided the best way to go would be to buy a gift box. It was 4 or 5 packages of your choice of beans, the cookbook, and a canvas tote. We shipped it back for a flat-rate $8. Also, the day before, we had taken an organized tour through Platypus Tours (I totally recommend them, too, BTW. If Karl is still a tour guide, see if you can book him) of wineries in Napa, and our tour included a picnic lunch. One of the picnic items was a quinoa salad. My mom was OBSESSED with this particular quinoa salad. It didn't stand out too much to me. She spotted some red quinoa and she told the lady about it this salad. The lady was even nice enough to find the recipe for the exact salad we had Platypus's website, print it off, and put it in the gift box with our order. (By the way, Mom has made the salad a few times and I think her's is better than the tour's. Here's the link, and it's called "Birthday Quinoa Salad"--third one down.)

So, this weekend, I was debating what to make for dinner tonight. I decided those three packages of beans have sat in my pantry for way too long, and soaked some of the Good Mother Stallard Beans.  I love little more than a crockpot of any kind of beans ready for dinner when I get home from work, and cornbread made in my iron skillet. Satisfying, healthy and most importantly, delish! 

photo credit: Rancho Gordo

They are certainly interesting looking. About the size of pintos, but bright red mottled with white swirls. Once you soak them, the color becomes a little more muted. Once you cook them... Katie bar the door!

My mom has the cookbook at her house, so I didn't make a recipe out of it. However, the package says they are best with some humble aromatic vegetables. So, that's just what I did.

A cup and a half of dried beans, one cup of vegetable broth, half a leek, one-forth an onion and a carrot, all chopped fine, two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and 4 pieces of bacon. Fill up the rest of the crockpot with water. DE-LICIOUS!

The taste is richer than pintos. Actually, like pintos, but only better. Creamy comfort food. It contrasts nicely with the crunchy and coarse cornbread. I use local stone-ground cornmeal, and I put my iron skillet in the oven with about 1 tablespoon of canola oil while I am mixing up the cornbread to get hot. When you pour the batter in, it hisses.

I am so looking forward to lunch and dinner tomorrow, as beans are one of those things that get better the longer they're left over. And, I know I've got two more packages left to make. Yum.

Pure Genius!

A couple months ago, I was renewing my Martha Stewart Living subscription, and was offered a discounted rate for Whole Living Magazine (formerly Body+Soul Magazine). Eh, what the heck? I'll give it a try.

Last week, I received the November and the December issues. I have to say that they are considerably thinner than MSL, (I read one in it's entirety on the eliptical machine in 40 minutes) but they do seem to have some decent articles in them.

However, the November issue just paid for the whole subscription, albeit discounted.

You see, I'm not a very good composter. I have a compost bin out back that I put yard clippings in. But I rarely take kitchen scraps out to it. I always have good intentions of doing so. When I cook, I bag them up as I am preparing dinner, but always seem to make it into the trash can as opposed to the composter after they've sat on the counter a day or so. Gnats have been so bad at my house this fall. And the composter is WAAAAY out back. And, I'd have to find some shoes to slip on. Ugh. It's not worth it.

Until I saw a little blip in the magazine about this:

photo credit:

It's a freezer compost bin. Keeps the flies away! It's such a freakin' simple concept, why didn't I think of this?!? And, it's evidently manufactured in California. You can check out the product review on re-nest, too. BTW, the author recommends it.

I, however, did not go out and drop $24.95, or whatever they are selling these things for. I grabbed a used gallon-size zip-lock bag out of my kitchen drawer and went to town. Yes, I reuse those. I used to be so appalled that my mother washed out ours and reused them when I was growing up. But, dangit, they are expensive. And, I'm keeping one out of a landfill.

Now, I can put all my kitchen scraps in my compost bin about as often as I was before, as the bag seems to hold about 2 or 3 weeks-worth. (I do put what is usable after peeling/cutting veg in a similar bag in the freezer for vegetable stock. So, I wasn't throwing away all my scraps before, just what couldn't be used. I.e. what is rotten, plus egg shells and coffee grounds.)

And, since "putting up" season has pretty much all but ended for the year (except deer meat). I thought I would include a couple photos of my larder as it looks right now.

Lots of apple sauce, probably not enough tomatoes and probably too many jars of pickles and various jams. I added two more bigger pumpkins yesterday, too. Jeremy's dad gave them to me. They were sitting with their fodder shock by the front steps. My in-laws don't like pumpkin enough to roast it and freeze it, and they were going to throw them away. I told them I could make good use of it.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's the 4th Annual Dark Days Challenge!

artwork credit: (not so) Urban Hennery

I can attest, it was SO much fun last year.

The concept? Well, cook 1 meal a week that is "SOLE" (sustainable, organic, local, ethical). Then blog about it. Send your links to The (not so) Urban Hennery for a bi-weekly round-up.

It might sound daunting, but it's really not. Before I joined the challenge last year, I was pretty much doing it anyway. I just didn't realize it.

And, I don't know about you, but I really get a thrill of seeing my blog on that round up. Don't deny it. Everyone likes to see their name in print. 

Last year, I got countless ideas for meals through the challenge. My wrapping-paper-tube-pasta-drying-rack-trick? Courtesy of Hippie Chick. Not to mention, I "met" some really fantastic food bloggers through the Challenge.

Let's face it. Eating locally and sustainably is the "vogue" thing to do these days. Besides, it's a cause that we can all pitch in on. Everybody eats, right?

Sign up before midnight, November 21st at (not so) Urban Hennery. The challenge begins December 1st.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Yinz better get sim Pierogies n'at.

In case you didn't understand the title, go here.

This site cracks me up. Only because I've heard people talk like that. I went to school in Morgantown for 7 years. Granted, that's not Pittsburgh, but it's a very short 60-ish miles up I-79. The Pittsburghese effect radiates that far.

In fact, the first time I ever had pierogies was in the dining hall in Arnold Hall, my freshman year. I think that might have been the last place I had the, too, come to think of it. At any rate, a few weeks ago, I made some baked potato skins. I had to scoop out some of the insides. I had about 1 1/2 cups of baked potato insides, and I just didn't want to throw it away. So, I froze them and decided down the road to make some pierogies sometime. I couldn't think of anything else to use it for. Next step was finding a pierogie recipe.

In case you're wondering, pierogies are similar to ravioli. Traditionally, they are round with filling made from potatoes and cheese. But the origins are impossible to trace. They have ties to several Eastern European cultures, most notably Poland. In the United States, Pittsburgh is the epicenter of "pierogie-ness."

Fast forward to this week. Pierogies found their way to the rotation.

Here's the recipe I settled on. It's from But I skipped the dough part. I had made fettucini the day before, and had some pasta dough left over. This recipe probably would have yielded a better dough for pierogies, but mine were still tasty.

Pittsburgh Pierogies

2 cups flour, plus more for kneading and rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces
butter and onions, sliced thinly for serving

Mix the flour and salt. Beat the egg, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Add the 1/2 cup sour cream and softened butter, and work until the dough loses most of its stickiness (about 5 to 7 minutes). You can use a food processor or dough hook for this, but be careful not to overbeat. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes or overnight (the dough can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days). Each batch makes about 12 to 15 pierogies.

For the filling:

5 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes until tender. While the potatoes are boiling, saute the onion in butter until soft and translucent. Mash the potatoes with the sauted onions and the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add fresh parsley, bacon bits, chives, etc. Let the potato mixture cool and form into 1-inch balls.

Roll the pierogie dough on a floured board or countertop until 1/8" thick. Cut circles of dough (2" for small and 3 1/2" for large pierogies) with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a small ball of the filing on each dough round and fold the dough over, forming a semi-circle. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork.

Put the pierogies in a large pot of boiling water, a few at a time. They are done with they float to the top (about 5 minutes). Rinse in cool water and let dry.

Saute sliced onions in butter in a large skillet until soft. Add the pierogies and pan-fry until lightly golden and crispy. Serve with a side of sour cream.

Yinz don't hafta go dahntahn ta git deese pierogies!

Monday, October 4, 2010

A good day for the garden turns into a hearty autumn meal.

Last week, I was on vacation. I worried (not too much, though...) that the fall crops I'd planted were withering away all last week. Luckily, we got some rain and some cooler temps, which was perfect for the beets, raddishes, chard and carrots I planted. Neat little rows of sprouts were coming up when I got back. Yay!

Yesterday, I went out to see what else was in the garden and how the new sprouts were doing up close. I found a cucumber! I thought I pulled up the whole vine when I planted the fall crops. And, there were also 3 more little cukes on the end of the stub of vine I left. Amazing. I might get them before it gets too cold, as they generally grow fast. I also picked a ripe tomato from one of the pots on the porch. It was a Pink Ponderosa. There's another green one, too that will hopefully ripen in the next week or so. I also pulled up some of my carrots out of the cold frame. All in all, I am pretty pleased with the carrot crop this year. In the cold frame, I made a mix of sand, potting soil and compost, since carrots like really fine soil. This worked much better than last year, when I planted them in my garden. Last year, though, I did get the Short N Sweet variety, which are specifically for heavier soil, but they still were gnarly little knots of carrots. This year, I grew Danver's Half Long. The only change I am going to make for next year, is I am going to move my cold frame down beside my garden. Right now, it's beside my house. I thought that would be a good place, as it will stay warmer during the winter months, but it was shaded for half a day by the house. The carrots should have been ready a long time ago, but because of the limited amount of sun, they are short and late to the party. They were still beautiful, though...

The weather yesterday was cold and misty, and perfect for braised short ribs. I'd never made braised short ribs before, but somehow, I ended up with three packages in the freezer from the Monroe Farm Market. Everything I've read about making them raves about the delicious results you get from minimal effort. Sold. Now, I can attest that is true. I looked at several recipes, and settled on this one from Epicurious.

So. Freakin'. Good.

Putting the short ribs in my dutch oven with veg, stout and stock.

Delicious and ridiculously easy. Basically, marinate meat. Brown meat. Add vegetables, broth and stout. Bake for 2-ish hours until meat is falling off bone. Serve with buttered egg noodles. If you are a lazy cook and you want to invite peeps over for dinner and impress them, this is your recipe. I am soooo glad I have two more packages of grass-fed beef short ribs in the freezer. These will be even tastier the colder it gets outside.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Last Act.

Dinner tonight. It feels like summer is ending. (although, not because of any nice crisp autumn air... It's been in the 90s). I was cleaning out the fridge. Grilled corn, grilled zucchini, caprese and grilled polenta with a chopped banana pepper in it. It was delicious.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Breaking news ... the USDA is clueless.

Websites I stumbled on today that are worth noting here: 2. Websites I stumbled on today that are worth noting here and are actually helpful: 1.

First, here's the "Good" one. Pun intended.

Have you ever been shopping for, say, shampoo, and can't remember all those pesky chemicals EWG (Environmental Working Group) says you should avoid in beauty products? Happens to me all the time. That's when you consult not only this website, but whip out your iphone and use their handy FREE barcode scanner app. Their info is not as exhaustive the EWG website, but it's super user-friendly and also gives information on the social responsiblity of the companies, in addition to health and environmental concerns. And, it has over 50,000 products in its database. All kinds of stuff like food, cleaners, health and beauty products. I've already downloaded the app, and I can't wait to use it next time I'm at the store. I've still got EWG bookmarked, but this will help when you are out and about and don't have the patience or 3G coverage to pull up the EWG website on your phone.

Surprisingly disappointing website I found today:

I Googled "evaluate my diet" because I was thinking I would like to get a kick in the pants some specific suggestions for what I need to be doing to keep the wings on the backs of my arms from getting any bigger. Aside from working out more, I mean...

Sweet. The USDA has a website that you can input your food intake and activity level in, and they'll tell you where you can improve. It's like having a virtual trainer, no? No. Here's why I'm disappointed. About a third of the foods I ate today aren't in the database. I couldn't even find ubiquitous Fat Free Non-Dairy Creamer I'm so fond of. At all. I searched "non-dairy creamer", "Coffee Mate", "coffee", "creamer" and "cream." Seriously. And, big surprise ... the USDA has no entries for grass-fed beef or farm eggs. They do have a different nutrient profile than conventional eggs and beef. Like higher omega-3's. At least those two things make sense that they're not in the database. I know they aren't yet considered "mainstream" and the USDA is all about Big Ag, not these "trendy" new grass-fed producers. Whatever.

So, I spent another 20 mintues searching the FAQs and looking for a "Contact Us" link, so I could politiely suggested they at the very least add non-dairy creamer. No bones either. I have a fairly short attention span (I am a gemini, after all.), so after that, I decided I was done. Moving on...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All-time favorite lists: favorite foods

It's the third and final installment of my all-time favorite lists posts. I started last week to help Epicurious celebrate it's 15th Anniversary. They have a whole section of "Best of Epicurious" with lists of best tv food personalities, most influential chefs, and I read a new one yesterday that was very intriguing... Top Cookbooks. All those lists got me thinking about my all-time favorites, so I thought I would round up a few on the ol' blog.

So. Okay. Let's play deserted island. You know, the game where you go around the group and pick one thing you'd take with you if you were stranded on a deserted island? How about this one. You're stranded on a deserted island... What four foods would you take with you? Never thought about it? Well, I have. I think about food like 75% of my waking time. And, sometimes I even dream about it. Now's your chance to think about it. If you could only have 4 foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?

In no particular order.

1. Raw Oysters on the Half Shell
Love them. I mean LOVE them. I think it's because I rarely eat them. It's like a forbidden fruit or something. I only get them like twice a year. If I had it my way, I'd eat them every day. Like Jimmy Buffett said, "Gimme oysters and beer for dinner every day of the year, and I'll feel fine..." When I travel to places where they are local, I ALWAYS make a point to try them. Last summer, I was in Boston for a week, and I think I really did eat them every day I was there. Earlier this spring, when I was in California wine country, I had some west coast oysters. (Sadly, it wasn't at the Hog Island Oyster Company. I can't believe I was right there and didn't go to it.) They really do taste different. If you like seafood, and haven't tried oysters on the shell, you must try them. You can take baby steps and try them steamed first, but I think the raw ones are far superior. I know a lot of people are grossed out by them, but seriously, get over it, and try some. I don't eat mine with mignonette. Just squeeze a little lemon juice over them and slurp them up. Salty, briney, lemony, seafoody, yumminess.

Hello, sexy... Hog Island Oysters

2. Smoked Salmon
Do you remember the Tanqueray commerical with the shrimp cocktail? No?

One of my faves. Well, that logic probably goes for smoked salmon, too. Trust me, I know. You'll feel ill for a couple hours. But, the fact that I did get two plates of nova lox at the breakfast buffet at the Flamingo should say that I like me some smoked salmon. I really like salmon in any form, but when you smoke it, it just takes it to another whole level. Plus, I am fascinated with smoking and curing meat. If you leave meat out, it goes bad a a few hours, right? Well, not if it's either smoked or cured. Amazing. That's how it stays good in your fridge for like 3 weeks, too.

Feeding my fishy habit is tricky, I've learned. There are a couple of issues with salmon. Like, have you heard of the recent "frankenfish" debate? It seems farmed salmon are pretty hard to breed. Captivity makes the pesky little boogers not want to get it on--or whatever fish do. So, some scientists came up with a female breed that will reproduce without any males. Yep, they figured out how to get two female genes to make a new baby salmon. I'm serious. I'll not go into the details, but it sounds like something right out of science fiction. Now, they want to get it approved so they can start breeding these all-female lines of salmon for food. I don't know about you, but I'm not eatin' no stinking frankenfish. Also, for years, we've been debating whether wild-caught or farmed salmon is better. On one hand, because the supply of wild fish is declining globally, farming started out as a means to give them a break and still give consumers a source for lean heart-healthy protien. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish two times a week, afterall. So farmed fish are good because they help maintain wild fish species, right? Well... Not exactly. Fish farming, like other forms of industrial agriculture, employs the use of antibiotics and other chemicals to keep the fish in close capitivity healthy. Because salmon are a high-fat fish, meaning high in good omega 3 fats, many of the toxins build up in their fat, and are passed on to the unknowing eater of the fish. So, what do you do if you have a smoked salmon monkey on your back? Well, I try to not eat a plate as big as my head full of salmon anymore. And, I've mentioned here before that I try to live and die at the grocery store seafood counter by the the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. According to the site, Oregon and north wild-caught and U.S. farmed in tank systems are best choices. Avoid imported farmed and south of Oregon wild-caught salmon. And, like vegetables at the farmers market, different species of salmon are "in season" at different times of year.

3. Blue cheese
Y'all knew cheese would be on my list, didn't ya? I've loved blue cheese since I was a kid. And the addiction started out the natural way for a kid with some thick, creamy, tangy blue cheese dressing. It wasn't long before I discovered that it was even better plain, i.e. not in dressing. This is something else that I find a lot of people are grossed out by. "You mean you eat molded cheese?!?" Well, it's not molded per se, and all cheese is a little funky, because that's how cheese is made, by letting milk sit out a while, essentially. As a matter of fact, when the hubs and I first started dating, I might as well have been an alien with little green antennae the first time I put a glob of blue cheese dressing on my salad in front of him. I tease him that without me, he would be missing out on a whole lot. Blue cheese. Red wine. Oysters. Corona. At any rate, now he's a convert. I mostly get balsalmic vinegar on my salad these days for calories sake, but I still love to buy a big 'ol honkin' wedge of blue cheese from the wine and cheese shop at the Capitol Market and get out some crackers and a nice big red like a spicy syrah, or blue cheese is even surprising good with the right kind of beer. My favorites I've tried as of recent? Stilton, of course. And one variety from Rogue Creamery called Crater Lake Blue. I found it at the Capitol Market, so it must be distributed nationally. Find it. BTW, I'll spare you a pic of blue cheese. I couldn't find any that really looked appetizing.

4. Guacamole
I cook first and foremost because I love to eat. I'm not one to sit back either and wait for something, I'm gonna go out and get it. And, I'm talking about guacamole, people. So, I love guacamole, right? Well, not all guac is created equal. What is at the grocery store in the cheese case is hit or miss. Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's pretty bland. And either way, it goes for about $4.99 for about 8 oz. So, I figured out how to make it myself for a fraction of the cost, and it's always really good. I use a Tyler Florence recipe from his cookbook, Eat This Book. It's especially good with homemade tortilla chips hot and salted right out of the oil. I've written about it before here and how I got my three-year old niece on the guacamole bandwagon. I don't know if she's had it since, but that kid did a number of guacamole that day. While grocery store guac is so-so, I always eat it at Mexican restaurants. They know what's up when it comes to making guacamole. It's worth the extra charge for a side of it, trust me. I once ran across a recipe for low-fat guacamole made by substituting some plain yogart in place of some of the avocado, but I quickly dismissed the proposition. Avocados are full of good fat, the same kind in nuts and fish. And, while I wouldn't want to eat it three meals a day every day, (okay, maybe I could) a little good guacamole is okay ... like Tony St. Clair says, "in moderation."

So there you have it. My four favorite foods. Strange? Maybe. But I'd die happy with a plate of each in front of me.

Monday, September 20, 2010

All-time favorite lists: My top 5 cooking ingredients.

Okay, so last week, I rounded up my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets in honor of Epicurious's 15th Anniversary. And, I might have mentioned how I love lists, in passing.

How about my all-time favorite cooking ingredients? I'm going to give stuff like salt, extra virgin olive oil and butter a pass on this one because they're no-brainers. Everybody knows how awesome stuff is when you put butter in it. Duh. Those are things that most people use, anyway. This is stuff that kicks things up a notch, as Emeril would say.

1.  Sesame Oil
I've only been onto sesame oil for a few years, but once I tasted it, I knew I loved it. Nutty, roasted goodness. Mmm. Its a staple for Asian cuisine, but that shouldn't limit you in its uses. I love a few dashes on salad. Or in a dish I make with sauted chicken breast and pasta. I was eating some soup at an Asian restaurant a couple years ago. It was a lobster hot and sour soup, but it was more like lobster bisque. Not hot or sour at all, but it had this deep, roasted nutty flavor to it Yep, sesame oil.

2.  Goat Cheese
I love goat cheese. I love it plain, in salads, in pasta, in quesadillas, on pizza ... I'm starting to sound like green eggs and ham. "Not on a boat, not on a goat, ..." Put it in a omlet instead of feta. Basically, you can put it in anything you would feta and it will be better. I'm not sayin' I don't like feta. We're talkin' cheese, people! It's just better than feta. It is even good on toast with jam. No lie.

3.  Cilantro
I'm not a big "you must use fresh herbs!" kinda cook. I like 'em when I have 'em, but I'm not above whipping out a little jar of dried basil if need be. Don't get me wrong. Fresh tastes better, but if you're making something like lasagna, is it going to be a big deal if you use dried instead of fresh? Well, I've never tried dried cilantro. Never looked for it at the grocery store. Do they even make it? Don't know. Because cilantro is one of those things that you can taste in food. Even if it's something like enchiladas. It's used in Latin dishes a lot, but that doesn't matter. Hmm, what if I made an omlet with goat cheese in it and sesame oil, and chopped up some cilantro to mix in the egg mixture? Hmmm.

4. Shrimp stock
I always buy shrimp with the shell on. It's a pain in the ass to peel them when you're cooking them, but I use the discarded shells to make stock. And I freeze it in my muffin tin in 1/3 cup portions and keep it in a ziplock bag pretty much all the time. It's so easy, and you'll never have to buy clam juice or anything at the store for some obscure recipe, because you can substitute this. I most use it to make jambalaya. I cook the rice in shrimp stock for extra flavor. But I've used it to make wonton soup by subbing some of the chicken stock (but not all of it) for shrimp stock. It gave it a little different flavor. As a matter of fact, you can mix it in anything you might be needing chicken or beef stock for to give stuff a little different taste. In a good way.

5. Heavy Cream
Okay, so this borders on the basics like extra-virgin olive oil and butter, but I include it on the list for one reason. Approximately, 98% of the time a recipe calls for heavy cream DO NOT try to substitute milk, even worse, skim milk, for the sake of saving calories, or because you think there's no need to drop 4.99 on a quart of cream when you only need 1/2 a cup.  They're not interchangeable. That being said, one time I made a pumpkin chowder that called for 5 cups of heavy cream, and it was just too rich. Next time, I'll likely sub maybe 1 1/2 cups of chicken stock. If you do want to cut calories in a recipe, you can in some cases sub half and half for cream, or even for part of the cream. However, most of the time, recipes only call for a small amount of cream, because it is so rich. And, as long as you don't eat it every since day, a little bit won't hurt ya.

5 day detox: no processed foods!

I woke up this morning feeling kinda puffy.

Maybe it was the Chinese takeout I had for dinner Saturday and breakfast Sunday. Maybe it was all the  beer tailgating I did over the weekend. At any rate, I felt yucky, and I decided to do something about it. That, and the fact I didn't get around to going to the grocery store yesterday.

I am going to try not to eat any processed food for 5 days. I am destined to fail, but I'm not looking at it from an all-or-nothing stance. It's like in school when you didn't have to get a 100% to get an A, you could get a 93%. Maybe I'll do this thing 93%.

I'm not going cold turkey for a number of reasons. Mainly it's that I can't quit my coffee habit. More specifically, I can't quit my coffee CREAMER habit. Granted I've weaned myself considerably. My drug of choice here is Fat Free Original Creamer. Doesn't matter if it's name brand or generic. I kicked the flavored creamer habit a while back and have stepped down to 1 tablespoon of this stuff per cup.

The second reason for not going cold turkey is that I have a lunch planned this week. But we are going to a place that has a salad bar, so it shouldn't be a total loss for that meal. I just don't know what the salad dressing situation will be. And, I'm going out for drinks with a friend for her birthday.

And thirdly, because I know that if I try to go cold turkey, I won't do it. It's a mental thing. So much pressure to not fail, and you end up failing. If you go into it knowing you've got a little leeway, it seems a little more manageable.

So, the rules are simple. No processed food. Five days. For the record, I'm considering processed food to be anything that has ingredients that I don't recognize or are unnecessary such as artificial color, flavor, etc. I'm not going to ban cheese, in other words.

Something like this...

Yikes. That's the Kroger Fat Free Original Creamer I put in my coffee this morning.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

All-time favorite lists: Top Kitchen Gadgets

This morning, when I opened my email, I found an email about Epicurious's 15th Anniversary. I'll admit, I'm new to the site, as a matter of fact, I probably only discovered it less than a year ago. I suspect I was late to the game, but if you don't know this website, by all means, go there right now through the link above. Yep, it's awesome.

At any rate, to commemorate their 15th Anniversary, they have all sorts of "Best of Epicurious" lists. Most influential chefs, biggest tv foodies, etc. As I was clicking through the "10 Most Important Kitchen Gadgets" list, I was thinking about how many of the things they mentioned that I own. So, I decided to make my own "Top Kitchen Gadgets" list.

I'll just point out from the get-go, that I love kitchen gadgets. But my love for kitchen gadgets is balanced by the voice of my mom in the back of my head saying "Now, how often would you really use that???" Because she's from the school of "my kitchen just isn't big enough to be cluttered up by all this stuff I never use." And, truth be told, mine probably isn't. So, here's the list of my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets that I actually use.

KitchenAid KPRA Pasta Roller Attachment for Stand MixersMy set didn't come with all 3. Just the roller and the fettucini cutter. I wanted it for a long time before I bought it, but wasn't it would be worth the price. But I got it for half-price on KitchenAid's website. And I use it. A lot. I haven't bought store bought lasagna or long noodles since I bought it. It took a couple tries to get the dough just how I like it, but I could do it with my eyes closed now. And the dough freezes nicely. So, I make a big batch of dough and freeze it in 1//4 pound or 1/2 pound portions. A quarter pound is the perfect amount for two people without leftover pasta.

Chicago Cutlery Forum 8-Piece Knife Set with BlockI put these on my wedding registry, for two reasons. First, and stupidly, because they have metal handles instead of wood, they wouldn't get all split and dried out by the dishwasher. Secondly, because they have the sharpening stick included. I won't tell you how long I used the sharpening stick backwards and complained that it just wasn't working, before I saw Guy Fieri do it on Guy's Big Bite and realized I was doing it wrong. Just for the record, hold stick perpendicular to the counter, turn knife upside down, and run it down the stick at a 20 degree angle. Do this to both sides. Now, I have sharp knives all the time. And as a good friend pointed out, most people cut themselves with knives because they are too dull. And also for the record, I DON'T put these in the dishwasher.

3. Onieda mini box grater

Progressive International Jumbo Tower GraterOkay, this isn't the exact one I have, but it's similar. I have a bigger box grater that I bought after I got the smaller one, because the small one is a little too small to grate a large volume of whatever. But I still use the small one the most. It's perfect for cheese when you want to add a little to the top of a dish. I guess that's what I grate a lot of. And it has three grating surfaces, depending on how finely you want your cheese food grated. I don't have a microplane grater, but it's something I've been wanting for a while... I'm waiting until I see one on sale.
4. Faberware kitchen scissors
J.A. Henckels International Kitchen ShearsAgain, this is not the BRAND I have. Mine are like this, but these are nicer. Maybe I should buy these. I am constantly having to dig mine out of the dishwasher to wash them because I need them again. And yes, I do put mine in the dishwasher. I need two pair. That's how much I use them. Just last night, I cut open a package of hamburger, cut open a package of fresh mozzarella, and cut the stems off cilantro. I washed them well after the hamburger, too, BTW.

Bosch : SHE55P02UC 24in Evolution 500 Series Full Console Dishwasher - WhiteAn appliance counts as a gadget, right? Well, it's my list, and on my list it does. I HATE doing dishes. Maybe it's because it was one of my chores growing up. And we had a dishwasher. But, I later realized we had a TERRIBLE dishwasher. I thought my mom was crazy at the time, but she insisted I wash all the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. What's the point in having a dishwasher?!?! But our dishwasher wouldn't do the job if you left food on the dishes. Booo! This is the cadillac of dishwashers. The lady we bought the house from had it installed before she listed the house and it was BRAND-R-NEW when we closed. I, well, our home inspector, was the first person to run it. At closing, she said, "Enjoy that dishwasher." We thought she was a little looney, but I'm on the  Bosch bandwagon now. I like that it is renowed for beging one of the best dishwashers at completely sanitizing dishes. And that there's no heating element in the bottom, meaning you don't have to live by the "Top Rack Only" rules. I assume it sanitzes by steam or something... or maybe it's just dishwasher magic. I don't know, and I don't care. It definitely gets the job done, and I don't have to wash the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.

Cuisinart Chef's Classic Enameled Cast Iron 7-Quart Round Covered Casserole, Cardinal RedI wanted the Le Creuset version for a long time, but damn, they are expensive. I "settled" for the cuisinart version, and haven't looked back since. I'm convinced (and I've never actually used the Le Creuset version) that this is one of those things that you are paying for the brand name. I couldn't be happier with the Cuisinart one. It's a little heavy and unwieldy for everyday use, but just make one batch of french onion soup in it, and tell me it's not wortht he hefty price tag. And, it will literally last forever. Like, I'll probably hand it down to my grandkids or something. I use mine quite a bit, actually, since I have a set of non-stick cookware. Sometimes, that's not the best thing for every recipe. That's where this jewel comes in. I wanted one, because I didn't have anything that you could take from the stovetop to the oven. Before, I had to pour whatever I was making from a cooker into a baking dish, and that was too many pots to clean. I'm going to make Coq Au Vin in mine tonight, actually.

Ball Home Canning KitI got this last year for Christmas, and although I've only been canning a year-ish, I'm a full-on convert. Times I bought canned diced tomatoes since last year: 0. Times I've bought jam since last year: 0. Not to mention the best applesauce I've ever eaten was some I canned last year. Plus, all kinds of other stuff. The Ball Blue Book that is included here is awesome. Say, you have a bunch of peppers someone gave you. Look in the index, and there are 17 different ways you can can peppers. The sky's the limit, folks. And while canning is super-easy, make sure you consult a trusted source for technique and recipes, like the Ball Blue Book or the National Center for Home Food Preservation, just so you don't make anyone sick.

NewLine Space Saver Digital Glass Kitchen ScaleDo not--I repeat--do not try to guess at weights of food if the only reference you have is a rarely-used 2 lb. handweight. It doesn't work. Trust me, I tried to make gnocchi once and didn't use enough potatoes. I don't know what happened, but it was kinda like potato pudding. It was gross. I mentioned something about my gnocchi flop, maybe here on this blog, and my girl Susan over at She's Becoming Doughmesstic recommended this one. It folds flat and is super easy to use. Just pull it out, turn it on, and go to measuring. It also has a feature that allows you to put a bowl or something on it if you need to measure out flour or something and have it start at zero with the bowl. You'll need this when you start canning with #7, because many of the recipes call for, say,  6 pounds of tomatoes. If you don't know how much that is, you could end up blanching, seeding, and dicing way too many tomatoes, and who wants to do that.

Oxo Good Grips Dough BlenderMeet the ultimate multi-tasker. Need a pie crust? Bingo. How about mashed potatoes? Check. Guacamole? You betcha! As a matter of fact, I use this for guacamole more than I do for pie crusts. It doesn't take up much space and is fairly cheap. Even if you don't make pie crusts or guacamole, you should own one. Unless you don't cook at all. That would be silly. But I'm sure you could come up with something to use this for. My pie crust recipe says to use a pastry cutter, but if you don't have one, it says you can use two butter knives and cut the butter into the flour in crisscross fashion. I tried that once and it sucked. That's why I got one of these.

10. A FoodSaver
FoodSaver V2040 Vacuum-Packaging System
I'll admit that I used this a lot more before I started making a concious effort to eat sustainably. Why? Well, I could buy a ton of pork chops at Sam's and bring them home and freeze them in 2-chop packages. Well, I don't buy meat at Sam's anymore, but I still use it a good bit. I was pretty bad about shelling out for a high-dollar ingredient for a specific recipe and letting half of it go to waste. Now, I just freeze it. Cheese comes to mind... This thing is good for sealing stuff up even if you aren't going to freeze it. It can make stuff last longer in the fridge just by getting all the air out. Mine also came with 3 canisters and an attachment to seal the lids. I keep brown sugar and coconut in them. The brown sugar doesn't get hard like it does when you just leave it stored in the bag closed with a twisty tie. But it's kind of a pain to get out and find counterspace to use, so I package a whole bunch of stuff at once, and only store baking ingredients in the canisters that I don't use that often.

So, there's my all-time favorite kitchen gadgets that I actually use. I could definitely have included some of the things on Epicurious's list that I have like the salad spinner and tongs with rubber tips. Two more gadgets I couldn't live without. But I didn't want to duplicate.

At any rate, holla back with your top 10 or just favorite kitchen gadget and why you like it.