Friday, September 28, 2012

A Feast for the Eyes at the Farmers Market

My mom called yesterday and asked if I wanted to go to the Capitol Market with her. I love going to the market just to look around, even if I don't need anything, like yesterday. The market is starting to wind down for the season. Some of the produce stands have packed up and moved out for the summer. The remaing stands will transition over to more pumpkins, foddershocks and ornamental gounds and squashes for decoration. (One huge pet peeve I have are the folks who buy those funky looking winter squashes to decorate their porches and yards and then throw them away. If you take care of them, particularly if they're under some sort of covered porch, you can eat those after its time to take down the decorations!)

I almost always end up buying something because it just looks so beautiful and tasty, but I had to hold myself back yesterday. I knew I didn't have time to do anything with all the beautiful produce I wanted to buy. I'm definitely going to go back next week, when I have some time to can apples and chop up veggies to put in the freezer. I figured if I wanted to enjoy all those beautiful vegetables, the next best thing to buying them would be to take pictures.

While the usual offerings of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and corn are fine, I was pleasantly surprised to see THREE varieties of eggplant for sale! I would have like to buy one of all three and prepare them together to highlight the subtle differences. Beautiful!

Check out these gorgeous October beans with pale yellow pods mottled with hot pink. So pretty!

It's also apple season, and most of the remaining vendors had tables overflowing with beautiful apples. I wanted to buy one to eat right there so badly (but then I rememberd pesticide!). The Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia has quite an apple industry. All of the apples for sale at the Capitol Market are from farms in the Martinsburg, WV area. Virtually none are organic. This is one of those tough situations where you have to weigh what's more important: organic apples, since apples are one of the Dirty Dozen, or supporting a local economy. It's a tough call. I've bought these apples for the past few years, but I always wash them, and I never eat the skins. I mostly make them into applesauce or pie filling and can them. Once I asked our Deputy Agriculture Commissioner, who is from the Eastern Panhandle, why none of the apple farms are organic, and he said organic apples are one of the hardest crops to grow because worms and pests are so hard to control in a commercial orchard.

Speaking of canning, yesterday I canned eight pints of Italian peppers. I call them Italian peppers because they're canned in a tomato sauce mixture. Actually it's ketchup, sugar, oil and vinegar. Not exactly healthy with the sugar and ketchup, but they are delicious on bread, pizza or pepperoni rolls. And I might even try putting them in chili. I mostly used sweet Key Largo peppers, but I mixed in a few hot banana peppers for a little kick. I bought a half bushel of mixed peppers earlier in the week at the Capitol Market for twelve dollars. You can't beat that deal! I used almost half of the box on the Italian peppers, and I use what's left making hot pepper jelly and freezing some chopped peppers.

My mom bought a box of apples to can this weekend and some mums. Next week, I'll get my own box of apples to can, and probably some beets, tomatoes, corn and beans before it's all gone for the year. All of the produce vendors will be gone by the end of October to make room for the Christmas tree vendors to move in for the following two months. Then, the stalls will be empty again until next spring.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Why Wagyu?

I mentioned in my last post that the Hubs and I took our (what's becomming) annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas earlier this month. Oh, how I love that place. I know everyone says that, but really. I do. People have asked me on more than a few occassions, "What do you guys do in Vegas?" For a while, we were kind of embarrassed to fess up, but now we bravely tell people that we go to Vegas to eat.

There is no where else on Earth where you can eat at one of the finest chefs' restaurants every night for over two weeks without repeating. Because we only go for a few days at a time, the planning begins long in advance. As soon as the airfare and hotel are booked, I begin thinking about where I'd like to eat while I'm there. Then I make a list. Then I narrow it down and narrow it down. I'm not joking. It gets quite involved.

Steakhouses have been on our list of places since went there way back for our honeymoon. There are just so darn many of them. Vegas has its share of old school steakhouses, which I love, but this time, I wanted to be "wowed."

"Wowed" I was.

I picked Tom Coliccho's Craftsteak in the MGM Grand. I started out my search for a steakhouse looking for a place that served grass-fed steak. I love grass-fed steaks first and foremost because of the beefy beef flavor, and secondly because I believe in how these cows are raised. Sadly, most places serve grain-fed steak and are proud of it. I found this amazing website that someone who takes steak very seriously put together. It breaks down the science behind steaks: wet aged, dry aged, wagyu, kobe, certified angus beef. Knowing that I'm a grass-fed flavor fan, I opted for a steakhouse serving dry aged steaks. Craftsteak was the website favorite overall. After also consulting Yelp, the call was made and we had our selves a date with some fine red meat.

I've never had the opportunity to try Wagyu beef before. So, I dove right in. I ordered the domestic wagyu skirt steak. Jeremy ordered a strip steak from their regular beef menu, which was Certified Angus Beef (C.A.B.), so we could compare the two side by side. But we were surprised to learn it was like comparing apples and oranges.

Let me explain. Wagyu refers to a breed of cattle native to Japan. This breed is known for its high marbling--or the distribution of fat throughout the muscle. Actually, domestic Wagyu is a crossbreed between full-bred Japanese Wagyu cow and an angus cow. A ranch in Colorado is pretty much the exclusive supplier of domestic Wagyu. Traditionally, these cows are amazingly well-cared for. They are fed a diet of alfalfa, barley, corn, wheat straw, and beer. And they are massaged. Beer and massages sound like a pretty nice life for people, let alone cows! Because of the even and broad distribution of flecks of fat throughout the muscle, steaks from Wagyu cattle are much more tender and juicy. Which is exactly why I was able to order "skirt" steak as a grilled steak entree. The cut that is skirt steak is a generally more lean and tough cut because the fat content is lower than other cuts. But because of the even marbling of Wagyu, it works. This steak was so tender, I laid my knife on the steak, sharp side down, and the weight of the knife itself cut the steak. I'm not even kidding.

Wagyu skirt steak with stewed onions and demi glace.
The Wagyu skirt steak was 14 ounces, which is a larger portion than I would usually haveliked, but I wanted to share it with Jeremy. And it was so good, we ate every last bite. It came cut into strips, which I thought was weird, with stewed onions and demi glace. We shared an order of grilled corn, which one Yelper dubbed "crack" corn. I can understand why. I don't know what it had in it besides a little salt, butter and cilantro, but damn, it was good.

Jeremy's C.A.B. strip steak and "crack" corn.
The C.A.B. strip steak was wonderful; one of the best I've ever tried. But you couldn't even compare it to the Wagyu. It was completely different. We enjoyed a roll from the complimentary bread that was brought to the table in a small cast iron casserole, but we didn't want to fill up too much before we got to the "meat of our meal." Speaking of filling up before we got our entrees, I wanted to take the Wagyu experience to the next level, so I ordered the Wagyu steak tartare as an appetizer. I've never tried steak tartare before, so I figured why not go all out. Unfortunately, I'm probably ruined now. The next time I order steak tartare, it most likely won't be Wagyu, and I'll be dissappointed with it. Steak tartare is a dish of finely chopped raw marinated steak, usually served with toasted bread and a raw egg yolk on top. Ours was the classic version with a quail egg yolk. It. Was. Amazing. We practically licked the bowl.

Our waiter was great and a wealth of food knowledge. I had about a dozen questions about Wagyu beef, seeing as how I am a food nerd. We ordered our steaks medium rare, and after I'd gotten the Wagyu steak, I was asking him about what it's like when it's cooked medium well, given the high and even fat content. It seemed to me that it could be really dry and would burn easily, once all that fat started to render out from the cooking. He said that that they do serve them medium well, and that it actually only takes a few minutes to get to that doneness. He said they will grill them quickly and finish them in the oven so as to not burn them or dry them out.

Craftsteak offers a few different menu options, including a couple tasting menus, which you get to sample most of the menu, including several different types of steak. Since it was the two of us, we figured there was no way we could eat all that food. But if we would have been in a group of four or six, this is definitely the way to go. It's probably cheaper and a good way to get to try a little bit of all the amazing offerings. Even just with a couple rolls, an appetizer, a shared side dish and a steak each, we left feeling stuffed to the gills but in a state of total steak bliss!

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Whew! I'm back.. with a Reverse Meatless Monday recap

It's been a couple weeks, but I'm back. I had to take a little break. Things just got too crazy, and I couldn't find the time to fit in this long overdue update to Reverse Meatless Monday.

First, the Hubs and I went on our annual pilgrimage to Vegas. Then, when we got home, I had to hit the ground running at work. This has happened three times this summer, and I vow I'll never do it again--be out of the office for more than a couple days and the first day back have interim meetings all day for the next three days.

But let's get down to business, shall we?

This is what I ate the last few days of Reverse Meatless Monday:

 Clockwise starting at top: chick pea and quinoa stuffed peppers from the Meat Lover's Meatless Cookbook, sauted brussel sprouts (without bacon grease--who knew?!?); fried green tomatoes and graniteed broccoli; Bridge Brew Works Moxxee Stout at Pies and Pints; and pizza with tomatoes, carmelized onions and mozzarella, and "The Mothership" tomato salad from Jamie At Home.

The quinoa and chick pea stuffed peppers were amazing and surprisingly filling. We love quinoa, and when I see a recipe for it, my curiosity is always piqued, especially when it also has goat cheese in it. I also, had both brussel sprouts and fried green tomatoes using without bacon grease. And it was good! More vegetables without bacon grease might be in my future! One night of the last week of the project, we went out to eat at one of our favorite local haunts, Pies and Pints. They serve great draft beers (naturally) and Bridge Brew Works is a Fayetteville outfit turning out some fantastic beers. I am a dark beer lover, and I couldn't resist their offering that uses coffee from a local coffee shop. Delicious! About half of the specialty pizzas on Pies and Pints's menu are meatless, so it's a great option for vegetarians. Those pizzas will even satisfy meat eaters. Finally, I made pizza at home from some dough I had in the freezer. I really need a pizza stone. I vow to not make homemade pizza again until I get one. My pizza crust has been getting progressively worse each time I make it. But caprese on the side of sad pizza cheered me right up.

I intended to do a final recap of my Reverse Meatless Monday project, which was us not eating meat except for one day a week, for the entire month of August. Here's what I learned:

The project was more difficult than I expected! But it was a "challenge," so I didn't want it to be a walk in the park. I wanted to take something away from it and learn something from it. And I did, so mission accomplished.

The project's difficulty surprised me for a number of reasons. First, I did not realize how little some restaurants offer by way of meatless choices. Sometimes it's a real challenge to find something on the menu besides a side salad. Who wants to go out to eat and get a bowl of iceberg lettuce and mealy tomatoes and shredded cheddar cheese? I have a new appreciation for vegetarians who are stuck with these places and have to be a little creative when it comes to ordering.

Another reason, and perhaps the biggest surprise, was how sensitve my body really is to what I'm eating. At the start of the challenge, I figured we could just have fresh green beans out of the garden and grilled squash for dinner, or whatever happened to be in the garden, every evening. But about a week and half into the challenge, I noticed how much of profound difference this was making to my energy level. I needed to be going to the gym after work, but instead, I felt like I could barely put one foot in front of the other to make it to my car from my office. How is this supposed to be making me healthier if I don't have the energy to work out? Being a vegetarian takes thought and planning, I learned. I needed to seek out alternative sources of protein to fill the void that meat had left. The day this really hit home was when we were heading out for wings and beer on our "meat" day to celebrate Jeremy being home from travelling for work. I came home and took a nap because I was so tired, then we headed out to get wings, and I noticed handfuls of hair on my shoulders!!! Sure enough, not getting enough protein can cause your hair to fall out. After that day, I made an effort to find some other sources of protein to work into the meals. Which means researching what foods are high in protein, and planning and more time spent trying to figure out what to make for dinner. Add to the challenge of all that, that Jeremy doesn't really like beans. Only likes eggs fried. Is iffy on tofu. Seitan is out of the question for him. So, that doesn't leave me many choices. We ate a lot of quinoa and cheese.

We would have spent less on food for the month, but I felt like since we weren't eating meat, it freed up money to spend on better quality food that we were buying. I bought the "good" cheese and lots and lots of beautiful vegetables and fancy things I wouldn't normally buy. We definitely ate better quality food during the month.

I like the concept of Meatless Monday. There's no doubt it will impact your food budget and waistline in a positive way. And it's been well documented how it is the single-most significant change we can make to reduce our carbon footprint. I do plan to keep up Meatless Monday. However, so I appreciated that steak the first time I had it in September.