Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Have an Hour...Have Dessert

The weekend had been a busy one with no time to drop by the market. I had exactly four eggs safely tucked into the fridge and was pondering what to make for dessert at our Grandparents Sunday dinner. I had quite a bit of time to ponder as I was mopping 2000 feet of hardwood floors. I was settling on a cake as I wandered back into the kitchen to wring out the mop and was overtaken by the wonderful smell of poached eggs. Poached eggs? There goes the cake...you can't make any sort of acceptable Southern cake without eggs. Time was closing in. I pulled out more cookbooks. I was falling flat. There was no way I could arrive with something store bought- this is just not done for Sunday dinner around here. As it most always happens, the family cookbook came to the rescue. In 2007, my sister in law had painstakingly put together a published book gathering all of our family recipes. We all joke that it may very well be the last cookbook anyone could ever need. Betty Lou's Berry Cobbler was the point of inspiration. I had an hour and a couple of apples. This could work.
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Peel and dice two apples (about 2 cups)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cloves
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 stick melted butter
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
pinch salt
3/4 cup milk
Combine the white and brown sugars in a small bowl and set 1 cup aside.
Mix the apples in a glass bowl with the one cup of the mixed sugars and cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and vanilla. Let marinade.
Using an 8 by 8 baking dish, mix flour, the remaining 1/2 cup of mixed sugars, baking powder, salt, and milk to form a batter. Spread evenly in bottom of pan.
Pour melted butter over batter in baking dish. DO NOT STIR!
Spoon marinated apples over batter. DO NOT STIR!
Bake for 45 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown.
Serve warm in deep dish bowls with a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.
Needless to say I walked into dinner an hour later with this amazing spiced apple scent wafting everywhere. Granny had made Southern fried chicken, mashed potatoes, a squash casserole, biscuits, fresh corn on the cob, green beans from her garden, mixed fresh fruits, and a huge pitcher of iced tea. Someone else had brought an enormous layer cake. The weather that Sunday was glorious for the beginning of August. Breezy and cool and most people took their dinners to the long porch on Granny's house. Everyone was talking about gardens. We were stuffed to the gills. And then someone mentioned dessert. The cobbler was incredible, and when I went back for seconds...well, it was gone. Definitely a new family favorite, and we promptly sat at the kitchen bar and put notes in the margin of Granny's family cookbook too!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

How Clean is Your Cow?

What we're talking about here is whether or not your cow that provides you with milk, cheese, yogurt, and a host of other products has been dosed with Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, also known as rBGH or rBST. This is a genetically engineered hormone injected into cows to increase milk production by a mere 8-17 percent. The Monsanto Corporation manufactures the product, which is sold under the trade name Posilac. While 8 to 17 percent in increased production may not seem like a lot, for dairy producers this equals big profit increases. The big question is- what is it costing you, the consumer? The FDA approved rBGH in 1993 but scientists all along had questions how a bovine hormone could affect humans consuming products made by animals injected with it. The concerns were great enough that the European Union, Japan, Canada, and Australia all have banned the use of the hormone in their homelands. If that's not enough to raise your eyebrows, consider this. Codex Alimentarius, the U.N. body that sets food safety standards, has refused to approve the safety of rBGH three times.

Scientists are concerned because rBGH causes certain harm to livestock injected with it. Logically, if it harms the cows, it is likely it can harm us too. Injections of rBGH increase another hormone, called IGF-1, in the cow and the cow’s milk. Studies indicate that IGF-1 survives digestion. Over production of IGF-1 in humans is linked with increased rates of colon, breast, and prostate cancer. What is not clear is if rBGH given to cows significantly increases
IGF-1 in humans.
There is great evidence that rBGH makes for not a happy cow. Use of rBGH on dairy cows increases the rate of mastitis, a bacterial udder infection, by 25%. If you have ever been a nursing mother with this condition you know the pain a mastitis can cause all too well. We'll spare you the details of the photographs showing this condition, but suffice it to say, infectious pus has no place in your milk. And dairy farmers milk right through the infection while shooting yet more drugs into the cows in the form of antibiotics.

What is important to realize is that not every dairy farmer uses rBGH. About 54% of large herds consisting of 500 animals or more, 32% of medium herds, and only 8% of small herds are known to use the hormone. Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream makers in Vermont has long been opposed to rBGH refusing to use dairy products produced in this manner. They have this to say. “We think its use is a step in the wrong direction toward a synthetic, chemically-intensive, factory-produced food supply.” So yes, you really can eat your Cherry Garcia guilt free. The people of the State of Maine had such an adverse opinion of the practice of using rBGH that the state hardly sells any dairy products produced this way.

So what's a milk lover to do?
Purchase dairy products that are labeled “rBGH-free,” “rBST-free,” or “organic.” Tell your local supermarket, favorite dairy brand, and school district that you want dairy products that were not made with rBGH. Children, infants, and pregnant women should be especially careful when eating dairy products to be sure their dairy is hormone free. Little bodies are more susceptible to hormones as they are developing. Kids and milk, ice cream, and American Cheese go together hand in hand- just make certain their cow is clean.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Origins of the Special Brew


Even then, no evidence exists verifying the knowledge of roasting beans until well into the fifteenth century. It is supposed that until then, the coffee bean was treated like a possibly toxic food source, inducing strong stimulating hallucinations. This didn't stop mountain side goats from eating them, or animals of the high plains, which is possibly how man first recognized the bean as edible. For the true coffee aficionado, this concept seems difficult to grasp. For many, a morning without the fragrant aroma of brewing coffee beans would be a sad morning indeed. A true coffee lover drinks coffee for the taste of the bean, not the kick of the caffeine.

The Kingdom of Kaffa in Ethiopia is where the coffee plant originated. Its name there is "bunn" or "bunna". A quick look at a world map with the areas of coffee production highlighted reveals a curious fact- all the regions of coffee cultivation occur close to or very near the Equator. Once the Ethiopian treasure was discovered, coffee production quickly spread to all areas where the climate was suitable for growing. These first growers included Arabs, Indians, and European peoples.

It is the Italians, however, that really brought forth coffee into the world as we know it. They first coined the word "caffe" in the late sixteenth century, and in the last century, the zealous businessman Howard Schultz copied the concept of the Italian Barista giving the United States a Starbucks on every available corner. Love them or hate them, Starbucks has millions of coffee drinking clients. Back to the word origins of coffee, the Turkish word "kahve", from the Arabic "qahwa", a modified form of "qahhwat al-bun" or wine of the bean is where it all started. Islam religion does not favor the use of alcohol as a beverage and coffee became a suitable alternative to wine.

Venice being the source of new ideas that it is really helped to introduce coffee to the rest of Europe in the seventeenth century when it began importing vast quantities from North Africa, Egypt, and the rest of the East. The coffee bean finally made its way into America when France colonized the West Indies. The French were responsible for creating many of the enormous coffee plantations in the islands still found today. Sadly, much of the labor in these plantations were done by the hands and strong backs of slaves.

Today it is nearly impossible to get really freshly roasted coffee unless you do one of three things. You can roast the green beans yourself, have newly roasted beans overnighted, or, if you are lucky, walk into a nearby roaster and procure today's batch. It is said that many people do not know the true flavor of coffee because so many of us are forced to make our morning brew with stale beans. Not to mention that so many of us like our coffees flavored to the point of obliterating all actual taste of the bean itself. So here's a challenge for you. Find a local roaster and obtain some newly roasted coffee- nothing added. What you will discover is something akin to eating very good chocolate. A succession of flavors, some of which are very suttle, will awaken your tastebuds. And you will have a true appreciation for this little bean of wonder.
Note: Like the above print of the girl holding a mug? We do. It can be found by calling (250) 564-6103 or email info@oliverray.ca.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Is It That Time Already?

It hardly seems possible, but here we are just weeks before some children will be venturing back to the classroom. While some parents may be grateful for the break and glad to hear those school bells ring, others know the casual schedule that means summertime is winding down. Let's face it, mornings before school can be hair raising. We worry about being late, having all the children's things in order, and breakfast on the table- or at least in their hands as they run out the door. Breakfast is so important to young minds, all minds as a matter of fact, but for school children who must maintain concentration until lunchtime it is imperative that good nutrition start first thing in the morning. With this in mind, we want to share with you one of our favorite breakfast treats. This recipe packs a whopping 470 calories per serving with only 2.5 grams of saturated fat out 22 grams total fat. This means your young ones will have energy to burn during the class sessions which helps kids concentrate better. Ten grams of protein and 57 grams of carbohydrates (7 grams dietary fiber and 16 grams sugar) further fuel the brain with no cholesterol. There's 200 milligrams of salt which is on par with a regular bowl of cereal.
Almond Nutmeg Granola
Six Servings

Any dried fruit can be used in this delicious recipe. Dried apricots, cranberries, or raisins are especially good choices as are blueberries and apples. It is equally good eaten out of hand as a snack as it is covered in cold milk in a bowl.
Here's what you'll need:
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3 tablespoons oat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup slivered blanched almonds
1/2 cup pure maple syrup or honey
1/3 cup high oleic sunflower oil or canola oil
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
Preheat your oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together the oats, flour, and almonds in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together maple syrup or honey, oil, almond extract, nutmeg, and salt. Add to the oat mixture stirring well to coat.
Spread the mixture on a large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for one hour, stirring occasionally to break up clumps. Allow granola to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Everyone in your house will love this morning treat and you can feel great knowing they won't feel hungry before lunchtime.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Two Barrels Double the Fun


Fairly easy to make, and excessively inexpensive, this double barrel rolling smoker was created in just a few hours of time. The barrels were on hand, as was the cast off rolling cart, and everything else was found at a wood stove shop. Quite a bit of welding is necessary, as is a little creative imagination, but what a conversation piece this little smoker is. The first barrel is welded to the cart, and each barrel is connected via the two short stovepipes that deliver smoke into the upper chamber. A single stovepipe with a cap releases the smoke at the top. We cut a simple door in the side of the bottom barrel through which sweet smelling hardwood can be loaded. The barrel plug is left in place in order to control the amount of air entering the fire chamber below- simply pull it off to increase airflow and therefore create a more intense fire. Watch your temperature gauge that has been neatly welded in place on the top barrel, and replace the plug when your heat is correct. We were amazed at how much control we had over the heat in this smoker, and how consistent the temperature remained. A large door was cut into the top barrel and a handle welded in place. We used heavy duty industrial grate flooring as our grill tray and welded pins in place to hold it steady. A nice hardwood shelf sits below the door to hold all the necessary supplies and provide a work surface for important tasks- like cutting cheese to sit atop newly smoked sausages coming off the grill. It is extremely important to use wood stove paint to finish off your smoker because the heat generated inside is substantial. Two dampers sit inside the connecting stovepipes to give us that precise heat control we mentioned earlier. If you click on the top photo and enlarge the image you can see their black decorative handles.

Our first run on this little smoker
cooked up sausages, barbecue chicken, and barbecue ribs. It was a veritable feast. We also roasted ears of sweet corn that had been soaked in water still in their husks. Brown sugar maple syrup baked beans with thick slices of bacon finished it all off, followed by new cantaloupes and watermelon from the garden.
Cleaning time is a snap. All the fats from cooking drip to the bottom of the barrel, as do the bits from scrubbing the grate with a wire brush, and can be neatly swept out. While all this was going on, one of our guests hopped atop our old Ford tractor attached to a mower and groomed nearly all the grass surrounding the house. That, my friends, you can't beat with a stick.

Guest Blogger Kristin Smith lives on an eleven acre farm in the Ohio River Valley and looks forward to Chef Greg Shapiro coming into town every year for the Country Living Fair.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Your Local Harvest

Local Harvest at Localharvest.org is just one of the tools Tastebuds really
believes in. When we need a locally raised free range hog for our barbecue, finding one is just a click away. Anyone in the United States may log on to their website, enter their zip code, and pull up local farmers who are registered with Local Harvest. Easy to decipher color coding tells you what the farm's main focus is, whether it be a general farm, farmer's market, restaurant, or grocery. It's a great resource for traveling too, as you can plug in your destination, and within seconds find those places you wish to visit to buy local foods, flowers, and even livestock. Reviews are included on the site, but as with anything on the web, keep an open mind as anyone with a keyboard can post their opinions.

In Local Harvest's own words, they say "The best organic food is what's grown closest to you. Use our website to find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies." There have been numerous recent studies that suggest that buying local may in fact be even more important to the environment than buying organic if that food has had to be shipped from a long distance. The benefit of organic can be overshadowed by the carbon footprint of shipping the produce to your local retailer. Compound that with the lack of enforcing certain organic standards outside of the United States and it is easy to see why trusting your local grower may be the way to go. The site also offers up links to harvest Blogs which can be a very good source of information, not to mention a glimpse into a very uplifting way of life that so many farmers have managed to create on their farms.

Local Harvest has this to say about buying from your local producer.
"People worldwide are rediscovering the benefits of buying local food. It is fresher than anything in the supermarket and that means it is tastier and more nutritious. It is also good for your local economy--buying directly from family farmers helps them stay in business." Truer words were perhaps never spoken. In a world of mass wholesalers, it is becoming increasing more difficult for small farms to survive. They cannot afford a large advertising budget, and without sites such as Local Harvest, you may never even be given the opportunity to know that they exist. There have been numerous times that I have logged on to the site looking for something specific only to find that a farm was less than a twenty minute drive away.

Holidays are wonderful times to discover your local farm. From farm raised organic pumpkins to a free range turkey for Thanksgiving, a special outing to your local acres can be an exciting family adventure. You may discover new varieties of vegetables or rare breeds of animals because a lot of these farms are much more interested in quality crops and flocks than they are interested in quantity and economy of price.

Nearly two million farms are in production in the United Sates. Roughly eighty percent of these are small farms, and a great number of these are family owned. More and more of these farmers are now selling their products directly to the public as they see the price on larger markets continue to fall. They accomplish this direct selling through CSA programs, Farmers' Markets, Food Coops, U-picks, farm stands, and other direct marketing channels. Little argument can be made that large scale conventional agriculture is harming our soils and our water, and therefore not a good thing for our communities. By buying direct from a family farm you can help put a stop to this unhealthy trend.
If more of us would buy organic produce from our local farmers, it would go a long way towards working to maintain a healthy environment, a colorful community, and a strong and sustainable local economy for ourselves and our children to thrive in.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Not By Rice Alone

We had been unusually busy with the business of life. So hard pressed for time were we that we were sneaking into one of our favorite chain restaurants and eating at the bar or quickly pulling in for take out. It was never that we were too tired to cook...it was the clean up we just could not seem to muster the energy for. And then there were those lobsters. How on Earth was it that a mid price chain restaurant was turning out those succulent white and fluffy lobster tails? No matter how many times we went and stuffed ourselves to the gills, each time they were perfection. Better than the Market Price lobster on the menu at both the most expensive steak house in town and the highest rate hotel. It was mind boggling. We implored our waitress on several occasions for their secret. Nothing concrete. Was it, in fact, a secret? Or was it that our waitress was simply a plate carrier and really didn't know. Finally, I could stand it no more. I faked getting lost going to the restroom and casually strolled by the kitchen. I'll be...they were taking the steaming lobster tails out of- a rice cooker. I was confounded. I'd had one at home the whole time. Our Cuisinart was certainly a well chosen wedding registry item- but I had no idea at the time how much I would come to love this little appliance. Appliance. I really have an aversion to the word. Takes up too much space, seldom used, too complicated. I got over my feelings for my rice cooker pretty quickly once I learned it could turn out perfect lobster. And then the magic began to happen. Sure, it cooks rice. It cooks rice perfect each time, too, and leaves behind no messy pan to wrangle with afterward. I started experimenting with this little rice cooker, and lo and behold, I began having a tough time finding something it couldn't do. Mind that I have the most basic of cookers- an eight cup two setting simple affair. Warm and cook are my only options. I cannot imagine what the fuzzy logic and induction cookers are capable of. It's that panel of many buttons that has kept me from upgrading. Both fuzzy logic and induction make a rice cooker capable of changing cooking time and temperature depending upon what is happening inside the pot. They literally act like a cook peering inside and make adjustments accordingly. Truly scary- but truly cool. Induction just takes it a step further with all over heating coils that surround the pan, rather than simple underneath cooking. A good eight cup rice cooker can be had from Cuisinart for eighty dollars. It may turn out to be worth its weight in gold. From scented rice to steamed vegetables to seafood- and the ability to add multiple ingredients just like a crock pot, the rice cooker can be a busy cook's best friend. I almost never steam with water preferring instead to use vegetable, chicken, or beef stock to impart all manner of flavor into the dish. An exception is when you are using a riser in the bottom of your pot for true steaming. Water is best because it will literally steam away into nothing- all that moisture going into the food. If you have trouble getting your family to the table (who doesn't?) in those busy moments before dinner, your little cooker keeps everything nice and warm. I should add it does so for hours, making a midnight raid on the night's meal all that more easy. One last praise is the benefit of taste. Boiling seems to suck the living breath from a lot of vegetables. Steaming preserves the flavor of everything you put into the cooker, and maintains the color quite wonderfully. There is perhaps nothing more depressing than putting a brilliantly green vegetable into a pot of boiling water and seeing the color drain right out of it. The cooker helps to keep your foods vibrant. I give a lot of these little wizards as gifts, accompanied by a basket of various foods that can be made using the cooker. Organic and pretty boxes of cous cous, orzo, and quinoa along with beautiful hardwood spatulas make a wonderful addition to any one's kitchen. Tuck in some spices and beautiful hand thrown rice or pasta bowls and the gift basket will rival all others. As a matter of fact, set your own basket full of tonight's dinner ingredients on the counter next to your cooker and the dinner time rush may just disappear.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

An Egg of Your Own

If you keep chickens, or just like chickens, you know the name because, well, when it comes to chickens, they are the go to hatchery. McMurray's have made Bantams and rare breeds almost a household name. Just take a wild guess where Martha gets her chicks sent from? You guessed correctly- McMurrays. Earlier this year Murray McMurray had a rare problem in the business world of today. He couldn't produce chicks fast enough. In fact, he had a six week back order for hens. There is good reason for this delay. Every one from your neighbor to your local farmer is buying chicks this year. Victory Gardens are not the only thing on the rise in self sufficiency- backyard chickens are gaining hefty speed. A lot of urban cities allow four chickens, which is more than enough to keep a household in good supply. There are different rules for every city but in general the chickens have to be kept a certain distance from the nearest neighbor, kept clean, and many do not allow roosters. Take it from one who lives near farms a plenty, roosters like to crow all day every day- not just at 6am. Luckily for us, roosters are not required to make a hen lay her eggs, and without those eggs getting fertilized, there's no more roosters to hatch in your group of four sisters. This is good for the squeamish, like me, who might have a problem ringing their cute little necks. Conjur up the scene of Ruby on Ida's front porch in Cold Mountain and you'll get the picture mighty quick. Hens lay about one egg per day, and whether your hen lays a white or brown egg, the inside is the same.

Pretty little Bantams lay smaller eggs than their larger cousins. Rare breeds and Bantams can lay eggs in shades of blue and green which are truly beautiful to behold. Aracuanas are a good choice for their colored blue eggs. There are also increasing numbers of backyard ducks and geese, and quail, guinea, and pheasant. The reasons are the same. Those fresh eggs just cannot be beat, no pun intended. It only takes a glance at the difference in price of battery raised eggs and free range organic eggs to see why. The latter can be three times the price. A lot of people have the image of battery chickens in their mind and this is not an easy image to shake loose while crackling open your little morsel of goodness. So keeping your own layers seems like a good idea. They require daily care. Clean coops, feed and water, and a good place to scratch in the dirt, whether this be on a run attached to their house or a free for all in your garden beds. You'll also need to grab those eggs daily because once you have a broody hen she can be difficult to dissuade.

Hen houses have come full circle and have taken on a cottage industry trade in their own right. They are handmade to look like little houses, painted in cheerful colors, planted with flower boxes, and sometimes literally made the center of backyard attention. Or, for the poor souls where no chickens are allowed, they may be able to house their flock incognito in hen houses made to look like nothing but harmless garbage cans. See neighbor, that fence might just be there for a reason. Chickens have loads of personality and often run right out to greet their owners. Many chicken enthusiasts tell me they can spend hours just watching their feathered friends frolic about together. Some will even snuggle into a warm lap. Fresh eggs in the morning, always handy for baking, and coupled with a snuggle...I ask you, what is not to love?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

When Less is More

I've been thinking about the beauty of walking out to the garden with a basket to gather up whatever has come into readiness that day, versus the sometimes overwhelming feeling of wandering about the grocers with endless choices of foods. What is available in the garden often dictates which direction dinner will flow that day. If it is not gardening season, I really have to have a plan. Meals can be a real stress factor for the person in a family doing the cooking. I often think that the decision of what to make- or how to do it- can turn someone who would make a great cook into someone who just dreads the whole kitchen setting. I am probably speaking from more experience on this topic than I would ever care to admit. With that being confessed, here's how I turned it around. When I began cooking for my family, I knew very little. I had gathered up some cookbooks, but these may have even detracted me further. There just wasn't all that much that seemed to be inspiring. What I was going to discover over the next two decades was that having four or five cookbooks you really love would do more than an entire library full. The trick was to find your cooking soul mates. I then decided to learn to make the things I really loved eating out. I also made a rule that I wouldn't try to educate myself during the stresses of the work week. I wanted to enjoy the experience so I made myself wait till the weekend, or even a Friday night, when I could be more relaxed. Being more relaxed means a few things. I never follow a recipe exactly. For one, it's not practical. You are almost certain to not have an ingredient, or some piece of equipment. But more important, if you just learn to copy a chef, you'll never really be a great cook. The trials and errors in cooking are where the real learning takes place. You learn different avenues of technique and you learn how different ingredients do, or do not, combine. Once I learned to master about five dishes I made the same things a lot. I broke down the ingredients into a list and downloaded a copy on my computer. I keep one of these printed out on my kitchen counter where I just simply circle it if I am running low or fresh out. These dishes change a bit to keep things interesting. For example, a homemade spaghetti dinner may graduate into a lemon and herb pasta dish during the summer. Some things become a ritual- like hand tossed pizzas every Friday night. But even the pizza turns into a Calzone if we're feeling the slightest bit tired of pizza. You don't even have to change the dough recipe. Since I make most everything from scratch, it is easy to experiment with ingredients and it makes cooking fun. I have found nearly without exception that cooking with whole foods is almost always preferred. Everything tastes better, and this is no lie- it fills you up faster. I think the reason is that fresh and whole foods are more nutritious. If you have ever grown your own peas, you know the true, clean, crisp taste of a newly shucked pea. Added to salads and pastas they bring the garden straight onto the table. Our new peas never hit a pot of boiling water- ever. Farmers Markets can be your best friends when learning to cook. They give you good reasons to try new types of produce. Last summer one of our farmers grew tiny purple potatoes that made an incredible color story with little red skinned potatoes. Nothing more than a quick boil with parsley and a pinch of salt was necessary for this dish. There have been very few times that I wasn't able to swap out a plain ingredient with a rarer, and much more interesting, cousin. Rarer cousins tend to have more flavor and need less seasoning and butter, or cream and sugar, as the case may be. The most important thing about mealtime is that it should be relaxing. At best, it should also involve the entire family. If you can teach your family to make certain parts of your daily meals at your side it can make a real difference as to how you view mealtimes. If I could change one aspect of every family's mealtimes it would be to banish the electronics. I would rather have my family eating straight out of the pots and pans around the kitchen island than around the television. Nothing is more of a conversation or taste buzz kill. So if you are feeling stressed about mealtimes, let's recap. Choose a few great cookbooks that you love and learn them slowly and learn them well. Make a master grocery list and keep it handy. Have a recipe but take a relaxed approach to learning it. Involve those you love and let them learn and appreciate your meals at your side. I'll be sharing some of our weekly favorites with all of you over the next weeks. What do you want to learn to make? We'll be glad to share everything we know.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Summer Heat

and makes me want to be wildly unfaithful to all the others. Martha Hall Foose has created such a cookbook with Screen Doors and Sweet Tea. Martha's credentials are impressive. She is the executive chef of the Viking Cooking School. She is a student of the famed pastry school Ecole Lenotre in France. She opened both the Bottletree Bakery and the Mockingbird Bakery in Mississippi. She was, in fact, born and raised in the Mississippi Delta. Martha Hall Foose, it can be safely said, has Southern cooking running in her blood, and she has brilliantly poured her knowledge into 248 pages of cooking bliss. When Martha spins a tale of how her Southern neighbors gather along the roadside for "mailbox happy hour" I knew I was in the company of someone special. What you find in Martha is The Real Deal- a woman comfortable enough in her Southern heritage to flip the mailbox lid down, set a pitcher of Mint Juleps on it, pass out the cups, and let the day fall where it may. Her recipes are annotated with local history and family heritage in a manner that makes you think you've pulled up a stool at her kitchen counter and you're hearing it from your Mother, or Granny, or Great Granny. The first thing I made from the cookbook was Martha's recipe for Sweet Tea. I couldn't help myself, as finding a source for authentic Sweet Tea can be like looking for the Holy Grail. Don't believe me? Try hers, and then you will understand that all Sweet Teas are not made equal.
As you flip through the book you will see titles like "Blackberry Limeade Amethyst Elixir". You will wonder if Mrs. Foose is on a quest to make you try everything in the cookbook without coming up for air. How can one resist an Amethyst Elixir? Just imagine Watermelon Salsa alongside chunky Guacamole the next time you're diving into a bag of tortilla chips. You find yourself saying the recipe titles out loud with a sense of wonder. Take, for example, Apricot Rice Salad. Apricots and rice are two ingredients that you just know will be amazing together and you wonder why you've never tasted this before. You'll still be marveling at this as you are running to the store for the ingredients to make it. You'll also be mulling about in your head the picture of the Tomato Soup, unlike any that you have seen before. One half of the bowl is chunky red, the other half chunky yellow-green. You think to yourself, I have been missing out. And you have. What this cookbook does above all else is make you think about your foods differently. It blends ingredients that you may not put together on your own, but once you learn of their compatibility, it feels like second nature. We were even a bit stunned to see the recipe for Curried Sweet Potato Soup. This is a place our Curry has not yet ventured and we cannot wait to go there. The education in Southern cooking gained from Screen Doors and Sweet Tea is difficult to measure. Take the recipe for Barq's Root Beer- Glazed Ham Amber Encasement. Sounds divine, but what you learn is this...root beer is a blend of sassafras roots and bark, dandelion, wild cherry, burdock, spruce, wintergreen, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and anise. A smokey ham encased in any one of these ingredients sounds incredible but together the ham is off the charts. Would a person ever think to make a root beer glaze for their ham? You will now. Foose has a variation of our Summer Squash Pancake we recently wrote about and like us, this recipe was developed after they had exhausted the squashes many other uses. We could go on and on about the merits of this cook book, but my copy just fell open to page 222. It reads, "Darkness on the Delta Cool Bittersweet Dessert" which Martha describes as a deep, dark-as-night fudgy dessert with bittersweet chocolate and Bourbon. So if you'll excuse me, I must go to the store NOW. It says it serves eight, but we'll just have to see about that.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Organics in a Downturn Economy


We all know that a lot of households in the world are struggling to make ends meet. This should come as no surprise to learn that many of us are cutting costs in the grocer's aisle. What you may find surprising is how quickly the odds are stacking up against many organic farmers. The past two decades have seen enormous growth in the switch from conventional farming to organic farming. Partly brought on by farmers who were disturbed by the vast amount of chemicals their crops and animals were requiring to compete in the conventional farming market, and also encouraged by the higher prices organics were bringing on the market, many farms began the process of attaining organic certification. It's a slow and difficult change for many farms, complicated for large farms to implement, and costly for small farms that may not have the capital to make the change swiftly. Just as a lot of the organic farms were beginning to turn good profits the bottom is falling out in the economy. Organics still bring a premium price in some products, but a quick glance at your local grocery tells the story of how conventional products are not necessarily cheaper than the organic version. This is especially true in canned goods and fresh fruits and vegetables. The fact that these prices are falling is excellent for the consumer but it is having an impact on the growers bottom line. Organic certification costs the grower quite a bit of cold hard cash to become certified- and this certification must be maintained each and every year to receive the distinction. Many growers simply cannot pay for their certification this year. This is in part due to lower prices being paid for their goods, but it is also a factor of the consumer not being able to afford the organic products they once bought with regularity. Organic milk producers are falling out of production like flies, either reverting back to conventional milking practices or closing up shop all together. Prices for organic meats are still holding strong as are grains used in baking, but demand in these sectors is falling due to the cash crunch we are experiencing in our households. This may be the first year we see an overall decline in the sales of organic products, and this is troubling in an industry that has had such healthy growth the past two decades. All is not doom and gloom for organic growers, however. Small farms are seeing some surprising trends. Even though purse strings are tight, there are still vast numbers of people just finding out the benefits of eating organic vegetables, fruits, and meats. This growth is taking up some of the other economic slack, and for small ventures with less overhead this is making a huge difference to their bottom line. The question on every one's lips, however, is how long can this growth continue as the economic stress seems to be bearing down indefinitely on the average household. Die hard organic consumers will continue to buy and make cuts everywhere else they can manage, but the periphery organic consumer may be the one holding the future of organic growing in the palm of their hand. They are the real wild card in this issue. So what can the average person do? Now more than ever, the way we spend our money is one of the ways we vote. If your local grocer sells more conventional apples than organic, you may find your organic apples gone entirely or greatly reduced in quantity. The same is true for brands of organics. Stores have such specialized retail systems that track sales of brand skus that it is much easier to discern slow sellers and cut them from inventory lines. The bottom line is that each and every one of us has a food budget of sorts. How we shop in the coming months is going to greatly affect what the stores have to offer this time next year. While we may not be able to add thirty percent to our food budget to buy organics, we can look at some ways to make our money go further. Growing organic vegetables at home may mean you all of a sudden have the extra money to buy organic flour. Brewing a large pot of organic coffee and putting a pitcher of it in the fridge may mean you have ice coffee for two or three days during the dog days of summer and you are using a third of the coffee you once did. All of a sudden the organic brew doesn't seem so expensive when it is lasting three times as long. Really monitor what you throw away. If you find fresh vegetables and fruits in the compost heap you may be better off buying organic frozen varieties and using them as needed. Nothing beats fresh, but if it's ending up in the garbage we're not doing ourselves any favors. There was a time that we may have spent $5 on a cup of coffee once or twice a day. Imagine taking just twenty dollars and breezing through your local farmers market once a week. A twenty at the farmers stand can go a long way, both for you and the farmer. If your family eats meat every day, think about cutting this to three times a week and opting for free range chicken and grass fed beef. You may be surprised how different the taste and texture of organic meats really are making those meals very special. We'll be revisiting this topic again over the next months as there is so much ground to cover regarding food and organic farming. Please be sure and give us your questions and thoughts on this topic and we'll incorporate them into our essays. Times are tough but together we can ensure that our farmers weather this economic storm and continue to provide us with good choices at the grocery.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Here...You Look Hungry

There are plants that seem to be freaks of nature...you know the ones, they produce more vegetables than any one household could ever hope to eat. If you have run into me on the street the last few weeks, you are just as likely to be given about a dozen beautiful radishes as you are likely to get a "Hello". Take your pick, traditional round red or white blushing into pink French radishes as long as your fingers. Most years, however, it is the yellow Summer squash that I am up to my eyebrows in abundance. While last year's crop was wiped out due to squash borer, and no organic solution in sight, this years crop is coming along beautifully. Summer squash looks so festive all stacked up in its basket on the counter. I deliver the other filled baskets to whomever will take them, because, I confess, there is only so much to be done with yellow squash. This year, all those pollinated flowers were making me ancy and I was on the hunt for the perfect squash dish. I found an inspiring, if not complete, recipe- but the basic idea was sound and thus I ran with it. So if you have Summer squash abundance in your house, or a neighboring friend presenting you with a basket, have no fear. You are going to love this recipe. And if you do not even like squash, this dish may cause you to rethink your Tastebuds.

Here's what you will need:
3 Cups grated yellow Summer squash
(work around the larger seeds and discard- use skins as they add color)
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon fresh Parsley or 1 Teaspoon dried
1/2 Teaspoon salt
Dash of fresh ground pepper
3/4 Cup grated or shredded Parmesan cheese
1 large egg, beaten
1 Cup biscuit mix (even Bisquick works)
1/4 Cup milk, approximately
Combine all these ingredients into a large mixing bowl and stir by hand until the batter is the consistency of cake batter. Heat up a griddle or skillet with a shallow layer of vegetable oil in the bottom, about 1/8 inch deep. No olive oil here folks, only high temperature oils will do. Drop a tiny amount of batter into the oil and see if it is sizzling hot. If it is, drop about a 1/2 cup of batter at a time into the hot pan and cook until lightly browned on both sides. Using a spatula to round the sides while the batter is initially cooking is helpful and it takes a few minutes cooking on each side to achieve the golden hue. Start with one to get the hang of the cooking, and about half way through the batch you should be able to do two or more at a time depending on the size of your pan. Cool the cakes on a plate lined with paper toweling to absorb most of the oil. Lightly salt and eat these Summer squash pancakes warm. They are unvelievably tasty and make a great dish at all three meals of the day. These pancakes would be even more colorful with a splash of small diced tomatoes added to the batter, and as soon as they are ready for harvest, they'll be making an appearance in this recipe too. If you are a really nice produce sharing friend, when you pass along your squash baskets, you'll share this recipe too. Summer squash is one of those tricky vegetables to figure out, but armed with this recipe, it will be greatly enjoyed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Spices of Life...Curry

Red Pepper
White Pepper
and Nutmeg...
It is no wonder that Curry is so difficult to contain within the senses. It is mysterious, hypnotic, and has so many secrets to its formula that it has always held a nearly spiritual place in the kitchen. Curry is actually a generic word. The English word "Kari" which is Tamil in origin means "gravy" or "sauce"- not "spice" as we all seem to think of it. In Southern India Curry is referred to as a side dish, and Curry made with buttermilk and chickpea flour is found in Northern India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. The lure of Curry is subtle in many ways, difficult to ascertain whether it is more the scent or the flavor which entwines its enjoyer. Curry releases endorphins which cause your taste palate to actually crave more, sometimes even in higher intensity. To the seasoned Curry consumer, walking anywhere near a traditional Indian restaurant with its heavenly scent wafting about will cause the person to make a detour inside for a meal no matter the previous plans. Once bitten, it is just not to be helped.
Curries can contain up to twenty
different spices and range in shades from yellows, to reds, to browns. Turmeric, however, is the ingredient which gives Curry its base flavor. Equally at home cooked with meats such as chicken, beef, and fish, it is also wonderful on any number of vegetables. A little Curry added to rice gives the grain incredible depth of flavor, especially when added to a scented rice such as Himalayan Basmati. In countries where Curry is part of the local heritage, recipes are passed down from family member to family member throughout the generations. Each is unique, almost like a family fingerprint. The English took Curry into their own kitchens after the general public became aware of the "Coronation Chicken", a dish made to commemorate the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. Luckily for us, we do not have to come up with our own recipe for Curry, although it might be a fun thing to try. Widely available as a powdered spice in most grocers, all it takes is a little experimentation in our own kitchens. Morton and Basset makes an organic Curry powder, a classic blend containing turmeric, fenugreek, coriander, mustard flour, cumin, ginger root, black pepper, allspice, cayenne and fennel. Just a teaspoon added to your next Indian inspired dish will transport you to Curry magic.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer Baby Showers

Tastebuds recently catered a very special Baby Shower for the birth of a second child. The location for the shower on a balmy Naples afternoon was the incredibly beautiful Chardonnay Restaurant. The restaurant provided a very intimate setting for a small group of women to come together and celebrate the upcoming birth of a beautiful baby boy.

Handmade flower bouquets graced each table and set off the bright array of colors of the meal.

Fresh fruit Kabobs set amongst wheat grass were almost too pretty to eat, but the women managed the task well!

We served beef tenderloin sliders on yeast rolls with Boursin Cheese. These are so dainty and yet they pack an incredible taste into a small package. The tropical salad featured a homemade dressing and was a virtual summer color palette.

Deep orange afternoon Mimosas went with the fruit beautifully. Always such a wonderful occasion, a new baby is the best reason to gather friends and family and celebrate the sweetness of life. Congratulations to all the family of this new little one!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

What's For Dinner?

to want
to save
this one.
It's the old time worn question...
What's for dinner? We have an answer...
Chicken Parm Greg's Way.

Here's what you'll need:

Free range/air chilled boneless chicken breasts x 2
1 small bunch of organic Broccoli Rabe
small container of fresh mozzarella
1 35oz can of the best plum tomatoes you can buy (important in sauce quality)
Fresh hydro/organic Basil 4 leaves
1 cup bread crumbs seasoned
1 cup all purpose organic flour seasoned with salt & pepper
2 organic eggs whisked
1 organic carrot diced small
1 stalk organic celery diced small
1/2 white onion diced small
2 cloves garlic minced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
1/2 lb organic pasta

To make sauce:

Heat a small sauce pot with 2 Tbsp of Olive Oil over medium heat. Add Carrot, Onion and Celery and saute until soft. Add Plum Tomatoes and Garlic. Heat through. With an immersion stick blender blend sauce to a desired consistency. Add salt and pepper to taste. Continue to cook on low while preparing other items.

Fill a large pot to the half way point with water and place over HIGH heat. Salt water with Kosher salt. Cover with lid. This will be used to blanch the Broccoli Rabe.

To make chicken:
Fillet or pound out chicken breasts so they will cook evenly. Set up three dishes that will accommodate the size of your chicken breasts. Add the flour to the first dish, eggs to the next and bread crumbs to the third. You can make your own bread crumbs by first toasting slices of quality bread and running them through a food processor on HIGH until you have a fine consistency. Place the dishes in order of dredging (flour,eggs,bread crumbs). Place large cast iron skillet, or other large fry pan that is oven proof, over medium heat and add three Tbsp of Olive Oil to pan. Heat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center position. Dredge chicken in flour, then eggs, then bread crumbs and fry in hot oil. After about 3-4 minutes flip to other side. While second side is browning blanch Broccoli Rabe in salted water for 1 minute. Remove Broccoli Rabe from water and drain off excess water. Turn off heat to chicken and place Broccoli Rabe on top of each piece of chicken. Cover with tomato sauce reserving some sauce for pasta. Sprinkle Romano cheese over chicken. Slice Mozzarella and cover both chicken breasts. Season with Kosher salt and pepper. Place in oven at 400 degrees for 15 minutes.

While chicken is in oven drop pasta into water and cook al dente. Drain thoroughly but do not rinse!

Toss the cooked pasta with the remaining tomato sauce and arrange on either side of the cooked chicken. Presenting this meal in the iron skillet works well as the black sets off the colors of this dish beautifully. Be sure to place the hot dish on a thick cutting board wherever you choose to serve it from. Serve Chicken Parma Greg's Way with a crusty bread and glass of Tuscan Chianti and you have a dinner you'll be sure to repeat frequently. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Under Our Hat...Errr..Toque

Some things
are just too
good to keep
under our hat!
We were sent some samples last week from Eco Products, a company
specializing in Green disposable products. We have all felt the guilt of dropping a once used paper cup from our morning coffee into the trash, and we know first hand the amount of garbage generated from a food festival. This is the stuff nightmares are made of and the trash issue has been weighing heavily on our minds. One of the problems we wanted to solve was how to participate in a large event like the Country Living Fair while at the same time reducing our footprint on the planet. These little gems that arrived in the mail are just the ticket.

Not only do the paper cups look nice, they are made from recycled paper using soy based inks.
They are fully compostable which is important in the end result of how a product reenters the landfill. Recycled is only half the picture because if the product cannot break down properly then we start all over again with the waste issue. Eco Products tells us that these cups are "Lined with Ingeo™ plant-based plastic, these cups look and feel like conventional hot cups, but their lining is made from domestic plants, not oil." This makes my morning cup of To Go coffee look a whole lot more welcoming. And what about the lid?
"Crystallized PLA" says Eco Products. Crystallized PLA has a heat tolerance of over 200 degrees, making it ideal to handle your cup of steaming java. With this lid made from plants, Eco-Products now has the first complete compostable hot cup system in the market - Cup, Lid, and Sleeve. We say that is pretty impressive.
There is a whole range of containers that we just cannot wait to get our food into at this year's events. It is important to us that we feel good about our impact on the planet. Long gone are the days when a person could show up at their favorite watering and chow line with their own plate and cup- today's world of liabilities just will not allow that kind of good sense. But being able to serve a meal in responsibly created products is a great alternative.

Did you know that less than two percent of trash bags ever get recycled? We all know that it takes forever for one to degrade- just look at how many have been used to underline flower beds and that gives a god hint at their longevity. Eco Products has a solution for this too in the form of trash bags that can be used at home or in event bins. All in all, we think the use of these products in our future is good for your future too!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Here Comes the Weekend!

If we had
a nickel for
every time
we heard the
words "TGIF"
the past few
well, we
would be
filthy rich!
There is no denying times are tough out there. Listening to media news offers little consolation. There is an enormous increase in the number of people who are using Facebook and Blogs as a form of keeping connected with events in the lives of people we care about. A common theme we are seeing is a return to the ways our grandparents and great grandparents lived. Now if you ask me, this isn't all bad. Actually, it's pretty all good. Families are returning to the home garden, the home table gathered up with friends and family, and rediscovering the things that used to make life in the mid 20Th century quite heartwarming. Board games, classic books, picnics, and nature are having strong pulls on the American heart. With this in mind, there is no time like the present to bring back a family tradition of Sunday brunch. We recently made a mouth watering quiche that would be a perfect main course. Now don't panic- you're going to make the crust from scratch- and you won't believe how it will open up worlds of possibilities in your baking.
Start with a glass or metal bowl. You can use an old fashioned pastry mixer or your standard blender if you have a pastry attachment. If all else fails, you can do this even with a long tined fork! Take 1 1/4 cups flour and blend it with a 1/4 teaspoon of salt. Add to this 1/3 cup of shortening. Blend these together with your mixer or fork until the shortening resembles little peas in the flour. Add 1 tablespoon of cold water and lightly blend with a fork until the area is moist, doing this with 5 tablespoons total and moistening the entire mixture. Roll lightly into a ball and pat it somewhat flat onto a lightly floured board or counter top. Roll until the dough is about 12 inches in diameter. Don't worry if it is flaky and somewhat difficult to roll out. If possible roll the dough onto your roller and place it into a 9 inch round pie pan. Work the dough up the sides and use any overlap to fix bare areas at the rim. Line your dough with foil and bake at 450 degrees for 8 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 5 to 6 minutes until the crust is lightly browned. While the crust is baking you can prepare the filling. On a paper towel lined plate, place 6 slices uncooked bacon and about a half cup of diced onion. Lay another paper towel over the bacon and onion and place in a microwave for about 2 minutes. Check for tenderness in the onion and browning of the bacon. You can cook this for 1 more minute if the bacon appears not quite cooked. What you want is brown but not crisp- and most of the oils should catch in the toweling. Tear the bacon into small bits and set the mixture aside. In a glass bowl, lightly beat 8 eggs. Add to the eggs 1/2 cup of sour cream and 1/2 cup of milk. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of salt, 1/8 teaspoon of pepper, and 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg. Lightly mix in about 2 to 3 cups cooked spinach. The organic frozen spinach packages work perfectly for this as long as it is thawed. At this point, if you have a mixer out, lightly froth this mixture because it helps to incorporate the eggs thoroughly into everything else. Finally, add 2/3 cup of cheese of your choice like a mozzarella or light cheddar and 1/2 cup shredded Swiss cheese. Blend carefully and pour this filling into your cooling crust. Bake at 325 degrees for 45 to 55 minutes until a knife inserted at center comes out clean. The quiche has the best texture if it can stand for about 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Use this time to dole out bowls of fresh fruit and cups of steaming hot coffee to accompany your quiche. Mouths will be watering from the aromas wafting from the oven and seconds are a sure thing. Count your blessings and know that you have served a breakfast that would make your grand parents proud!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Tastebud Reader

There are
days in the
which are
so hot and
humid that
there is
nothing to
be done
except lay prostrate in a hammock with a good read.
Always a sucker for a beautiful cover photo and catchy title, Gary Paul Nabhan's Songbirds, Truffles, and Wolves: An American Naturalist in Italy practically leaps off of the shelf into one's hands. From the title alone a promise of Italian countryside, rare foods, and nature lures the reader into its pages. Gary Nabhan is an ethnobotanist who embarks on a journey from Florence to Assisi covering the footsteps of Saint Francis along a two hundred mile route. The story that emerges from Nabhan's thoughts and walk gives the reader much to ponder. One theme in the book is that of a food's Mother Country. Nabhan, because of his vocation, knows much more than the average person about the origins of foods and the food lines into other countries as the result of migration from place to place in human history. He is struck by the Old World and its assumption that certain foods have been there always. The world, for example, readily links tomatoes with Italians but it is a native of Peru. The fruit spent a few hundred years being cultivated and cooked to perfection in Europe, and even though it is a New World contribution, this fact has been largely forgotten. Nabhan takes us on a walk of change, change in the environment, change in food thought, and change within himself. His "stories within a story" stay with the reader for quite some time as he relates how United States immigrants take big risks to smuggle in seeds from their homeland, sometimes sewn within their hemlines. Nabhan tells of the dangers of eating unknown foods with trials of growing fava beans and the perils preparing corn maize when it first landed in Europe. As with many things that transfer from culture to culture, the Indian method of preparing maize did not accompany the seeds. The book allows a very personal entry into Nabhan's emotional and social make-up during his stay in Italy and it allows the reader to slip easily into his thoughts and movements along the trail. Don't be surprised if you find yourself having cravings for pasta and truffle oil or gazing at the Italian wine section a little longer than what was once your norm. This book teaches the reader to think about food in a whole new light.