Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens

Stretch is getting ready to go back to college in just a few weeks.  Last year she shared a furnished house with a bunch of other girls, but this year it’s an unfinished apartment.  So, as a foodie Mama sending her wheat allergy buddy off to her own kitchen, I did some ordering of essentials for her. This is when being a Consultant REALLY comes in handy!  I had her go through one of my Pampered Chef catalogs and pick out a few things she wanted, and then I ordered her a few of MY favorite things.

Image

Classic Batter Bowl – I use this for EVERYTHING.  I mix batters, eggs, vegetables and olive oil before roasting, if it needs combining, it goes in THIS.  I use this for making iced tea.  Fill it with water, add tea bags, and nuke for 8 minutes.  I have baked cakes in this thing, (it’s tempered glass!) and since it has a lid, I’ve also used it as storage in my fridge. The pouring spout is the best bonus ever.

Image  

Mix ‘N Chop – So you know those nights when you get home and you’re looking for something to cook, and you have nothing but frozen ground beef?  We’ve all been there, and we’ve all thrown it in the pan anyway.  With this little baby, you don’t have to worry about it, just throw it in and go to town!  It chops the meat up into little pieces, assisting thawing and ensuring uniformity in the finished product.  It is a lifesaver when making guacamole.  It’s nylon too, so it will not mess with any kind of nonstick pan, and being round it fits snugly against the side of any pot so it’s easy to incorporate every bit of whatever is being cooked.

Image

Cutting Board – It’s made of polypropylene, so it’s durable and can go into the dishwasher for sanitizing.  The rubber along the edges keep it in place on any counter top. The marks along the edge also allow for measuring that 3″ strip of bacon (HA! – blasphemy…use the WHOLE SLICE) or whatever you may need to measure.  The surface is also kind to knife blades and will not dull them the way slicing on the counter or (Heaven forbid) one of those glass cutting boards will.

Image

Stainless Steel Whisk – Ten inches long, perfectly balanced, this thing works better than my hand mixer.  I kid you not.  Eggs for omelets, cake batters, salad dressings, WHATEVER.  It’s not too light, it’s not too heavy, and it makes life so much easier. 

Image

Prep Bowls – They come in a set of six, each with its own lid.  Made of tempered glass, just like the batter bowl, they are 1 cup each.  Perfect for leftovers, I use them to bring my lunch to work.  I can heat in the microwave, or store in the fridge.  No worries.  They’re durable but not too heavy, and they stack beautifully for storage.  

Image

Stainless Mesh Colanders – Ok, so they’re a little pricier than a plastic colander, but they do so much more and there are THREE of them.  Berries get washed in the small one, or tuna drained (not at the same time!), or herbs…. the middle one is the most versatile colander you’ll ever own, and the large one holds pasta, potatoes, or a whole mess of whatever you’re cooking.  I use mine as steamer inserts too, they set beautifully inside my pans.  I cover with a lid (or even foil!) and I can steam whatever I want in any quantity I need to.

Image

Measure-All Cup – Liquids on one side, solids on the other.  Perfect for measuring peanut butter, mayo, or anything that usually sticks.  No need for a spatula, just a push empties your contents into the bowl.  I even use mine for stuffing.  I put the stuffing in the solid side, insert into the chicken, give a push and the stuffing is deposited neatly into the bird!

Image

Mini Serving Spatula – brownies, lasagna, cookies… use it to turn veggies roasting in the oven.  It’s small but mighty.  I have THREE.  Stretch now has one of her own.

Image

Garlic Peeler – file this under the “things I never knew I needed until I owned one”.  So this thing, you stick the garlic in the tube, put the tube on the counter and your hand on top of it.  Just roll it under your palm until you hear the crinkle inside the tube.  It strips the paper peel off the clove of garlic for you and you didn’t even have to get that garlic smell all over your hands!  Cool stuff.

Image

And because I love even numbers… The Mix ‘N Scraper – it’s a spatula/scraper and a spoon all at once!  They come in three sizes, I like the small and the mini version.  They get every last drop of chimichurri out of the food processor, or batter out of the bowl, or eggs out of the pan.  Completely irreplaceable, I’ll never go back to regular rubber spatulas again.

So there it is… ten of my favorite things that Stretch will be taking off to her kitchen come the Fall.  If there’s anything on this list that would find a good home in YOUR kitchen, let me know.  I’ll take good care of you.  Shameless plug over…for now 😉

Advertisements

My love affair


Maybe I should title this “50 Shades of Yummy” because I really do have quite the thing for this condiment. If you have never tried chimichurri, you are missing out on one of life’s great pleasures.

Think of chimichurri as the “South American Pesto” if you like, using parsley as the base rather than basil. It’s not as sweet as pesto, and the addition of red pepper flakes and a little jolt of red wine vinegar gives it a delicious “bite”. Chimichurri (at least the way I make it) is NOT hot. It is however, very flavorful and not a condiment content to sit in the background of food. I have come to believe that flank steak and London Broil (both beef cuts that absolutely NEED a marinade) cannot exist without this stuff. It is wonderful on beef, great on pork, may be the best friend of your boneless, skinless, chicken breasts, and as long as you’re not laying it on too thick, even works on seafood like shrimp, and scallops. I admit that I am not much of a fish eater, so I haven’t tried it on fish, and I refuse to season my crab with anything other than Old Bay, lemon, and beer, but that’s a blog post for another day.

Chimichurri started out in Argentina. If you’ve ever been to one of those Argentinian Steakhouses, (Think Fogo de Chao) then you’ve probably tasted meat using chimichurri as the marinade. If you’re jonesing for some and you don’t have the ingredients handy, the Latin food label Goya sells a jarred version. However it’s so danged easy to make, just whip up some of your own!

Start with a bunch of parsley, I use the Italian flat-leaf kind, but in a pinch ANY kind will do. You’re going to want to end up with about a cup of the leaves. Grab cilantro too, you’ll want about 1/4 to 1/2 the amount of cilantro to parsley. If your grocery is out of parsley or out of cilantro, you can also make this with just ONE of the herbs. Completely your choice. You’ll also need some fresh oregano. I have a boatload of it growing in my herb garden. I grab whichever kind (the Italian or Greek) is most ready to overtake it’s garden area. Again, about 1/4 cup of leaves is what you need.

You’ll also need 6-8 cloves of garlic, and a little bit of diced onion (red if you’ve got it!) – about 1-2 Tablespoons will do the trick. A pinch of red pepper flakes, some olive oil, red wine vinegar (about a quarter of a cup), some kosher salt, and the juice of a lime (optional).

Throw the garlic and the onion in the food processor and pulse until both are finely chopped. Then add the herbs, and again pulse until they are chopped a bit. Add a healthy pinch of red pepper (more if you want it hot, less if not), a healthy pinch of kosher salt, the red wine vinegar and pulse again. At this point, your herbs should be finely chopped, but not pounded into a puree. Now, pulsing gently, drizzle in the olive oil (about 3/4 of a cup) until it is all mixed in. Transfer the mixture to a bowl (get EVERY LAST BIT) and taste for seasonings. You can adjust here, adding more salt or red pepper if you want. If desired, squeeze in the juice of a lime. Stir, cover, and store in the fridge. It just gets better the longer it sits.

Now, I will use half as a marinade, and half as a sauce for whatever I’m grilling. The lime juice helps really bring the brightness of the herbs to the front, and the vinegar/red pepper cuts through the olive oil with enough bite to really wake up your taste buds. Try it with steak, or chicken, I’ve even had it slathered on potatoes, zucchini, and sweet corn that I have grilled. The recipe is quite flexible, if you like more oregano, add it, if you want less garlic (WHAT?) you can leave it out. Adjust to what makes your tongue go “Oh yeah… THAT’S the ticket!” It’s SO good, you may just end up having your own affair with this incredibly versatile condiment.

Just don’t say I didn’t warn you!

What a weekend!

It's a foodie's paradise.

It's a foodie's paradise.Sometimes I get so caught up playing with my food that I don’t get a chance to post. Such was the case yesterday and most of the day today!

On Friday, I made a trip to a magical place right within my own local community. Here in Southern Maryland we have a large community of Amish and Mennonites. They are AMAZING farmers. They all have produce stands throughout the county, and sell quality vegetables, fruit, and flowers. They manage to produce way more than they can sell at their stands, so three days a week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) there is a produce auction in Loveville Maryland. The Amish and Mennonite growers bring produce to the auction by the wagon load to be purchased by buyers from store owners, to produce stand owners, to people like me – foodies looking for a new adventure, and maybe some extra produce to preserve and save for the cold winter months when fresh summer food is a distant memory.

HOLY MOLY what an experience! I had never visited the auction before and I was absolutely blown away by the amount of food there. The auction starts promptly at 9 am, so I got a buyer’s number and settled in to watch. Wagon load after wagon load pulled through two drive in lanes where buyers bid on lots of watermelons, cantaloupes, squash, tomatoes, corn, peppers… if you can grow it, pick it, and cook it, it was there. It was fun to watch the auctioneer solicit bids for watermelons… most went for around $1-$2 a piece. The catch is, you are sometimes buying a lot of 100!

I had no need for 50 watermelons, or 100 cantaloupes, or six boxes of cucumbers (God forbid!), so I moseyed to the other end of the auction where the “small lots” were being sold. Small lots are much more manageable, and on this Friday…also more popular. Here I found flats of blackberries, heirloom tomatoes, bags of corn, half bushels of peaches and apples, and SINGLE watermelons! I got to bidding early and picked up 6 pints of beautiful multicolored cherry tomatoes for $ .60 each! Doing the calculations, I spent $3.60 and got six pints, where it usually costs me $4 for one! I also bought a flat of Roma tomatoes, a flat of blackberries, four bags of lima beans, and two huge baskets of mixed produce (cukes, squash, potatoes, an assortment of peppers, green beans, onions, eggplant, etc.)

My two mixed baskets. LOOK at how much stuff is in there. I paid under 7 bucks a piece!

I spent $50. Yeah, I had to make THREE trips from the car to the house to carry it all, and I spent $50!!

So I have used the last two days to prep and cook and package as much of that produce as I could. I made two huge squash and potato strata and then portioned them out into individual serving sizes using my FoodSaver. Into the freezer they went! I also made two massive pans of lasagna. Since Stretch and I can’t have wheat pasta, I sliced zucchini and eggplant, salted them well and allowed the salt to draw some of the water out, and then after wiping the salt free, used the vegetable planks as our “noodles”. After baking and letting the lasagnas cool, I portioned them out, wrapped them in plastic wrap, and then sealed them in Ziploc bags for the freezer. Those Roma tomatoes ended up being a huge pot of marinara sauce – thank you Alton Brown!

Cherry tomatoes! Don’t they look cheerful?

The cherry tomatoes met their ultimate scrumptious end in a number of ways…. I gave away two pints. I combined some tomatoes to cubed mozzarella and peeled garlic cloves with fresh oregano and basil, and covered them in a basil canola oil. Fast and yummy snackage for the week. I made a quick Greek style salad with tomatoes, and cucumber, and thinly sliced red onion, dressed simply with olive oil and lemon juice. I made a corn salsa with those tomatoes and some of the peppers, and I oven dried the rest like this recipe. The green beans and the lima beans were blanched and put in the freezer. I also put up some okra for later gumbos.

Ten pints of blackberries, and another ten pints of blueberries are frozen and put away. The blackberries were massive, glossy, and that combination of sweet and tart that is just perfect. The blueberries are huge, juicy, and taste like summertime.My big beautiful blueberries

I did get to make my chimichurri! So that will be seeing some quality time with beef later. I’ll probably make fajitas since I have many many peppers to deal with.

WHEW. That will have to wait until tomorrow.

By the way, if you ever get the opportunity to go to the Loveville Produce Auction, DO IT! Get some friends, go and buy some good stuff and then divide it up. You will save so much money, and even if you don’t purchase, it’s really really cool to see all the growers, and where all that food comes from. I’m including some photos of my visit, and if you want to read another writer’s account of their visit, just click here and enjoy.

Happy Bidding!

Like a stoplight of bell peppers

Boxes of beautifully colored bell peppers

Unbelievable flowers, in almost neon colors.

Aren't they just gorgeous?

These purple hull peas tempted me. OH did they tempt me. The pears too, I just wanted to poach them in something.It's a foodie's paradise.

Oh my okra recipes!

Crispy and delicious fried okra means SUMMERTIME

Now you’ve gone to the market and you bought okra. What are you going to do with it?

The quickest and easiest preparation for this vegetable is roasting. After washing, if you’ve got small pods, just cut the stem ends off. You don’t even have to slice them. Otherwise, cut them lengthwise (medium sized pods) or if all you’ve got is large pods, cut them in thirds. Throw them in a bowl and drizzle olive oil over them. Give them a quick toss to coat and pour them out onto a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper to taste, and roast in a 425 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Keep an eye on them, you want them roasted, not burned!

Okra lends itself well to stewing with tomatoes. Throw in a little bacon and onion and you’ve got Southern magic.

Here’s what you need:
4 slices bacon
1 onion, chopped
3 cups sliced okra
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

In the bottom of a heavy bottomed pot, cook the bacon and render until crisp. Remove from the pot and reserve. Throw in the onion and cook until tender. Add the okra and the tomatoes, including the juice. Season with salt and pepper, and then simmer 15 minutes or so until tender. As this is cooking I like to roast an ear of corn or two until it gets a nice char on it. I then strip the kernels from the cob. Just before serving I add the roasted corn to the tomatoes and okra, giving a stir to ensure everything is warmed through. I pour it in a bowl and crumble the bacon on top. This is delicious served over rice, or alone with a side of cornbread.

Fried okra is awesome, and is on the short list of veggies that my son will eat. I’m sure the ranch dressing he dips them in helps out a lot! I cut my okra (same rules as before, only cut across the pod if they are large) and soak in buttermilk for 10 minutes or so. Drain well in a colander. I then sprinkle the okra pieces in salt, and dredge in seasoned cornmeal. Old Bay seasoning is a terrific addition to your coating. Fry in about 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch vegetable oil until brown and crisp. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

Okra is the mainstay of gumbo, and while I’m not from Louisiana, I can certainly appreciate the flavors of the region. Gumbo is one of those dishes that is personal to the cook. Some contain chicken, some have andouille sausage, others have seafood or are completely vegetarian. I usually make mine with chicken and smoked sausage or jumbo shrimp. Here are some recipes to start with:

Chicken Gumbo
Shrimp Gumbo
Vegetable Gumbo
Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

Pickled okra is easy and delicious, and definitely a change from cucumber pickles! Pickle your okra with chiles, or garlic, or even other vegetables like baby carrots or little cauliflower florets. My main man Alton Brown has a sample recipe here.

Finally while doing a little research for this blog post, I came across a recipe for Okra Rellenos that I HAVE to try. Obviously I’ll have to modify the frying batter to use gluten-free flour, but I figure okra stuffed with cheese and deep fried HAS to be good.

I hope you’re inspired to pick up some okra on your weekly trip to the farmer’s market.

Farmer’s Market Friday – Okra!

Don’t be afraid, they’re delicious!

Just for my friend DeeJay who swears she doesn’t like okra… my attempt to redeem the poor maligned pods, and a few recipes too!

Okra is low in calories, high in fiber, and a good source of folates and vitamins A, C, and K. They’re the mainstay in gumbo and other stewed dishes, and the pods actually help thicken the stew broth. Pickled baby okra pods are popular as condiments in India and the Middle East.

A lot of people are turned off by okra because of the slime factor. It’s a shame because okra LOVES our climate, and is delicious fresh from the farm. Okra doesn’t mind heat, or drought, it just continues to grow and grow. You’ll find a TON of it at local markets right now, so get those pods while they’re in season. Also, cooks have help when it comes to dealing with the slime of okra.

The first is a good knife! The slime in okra is a defense, so cutting okra LENGTHWISE with a sharp knife will help reduce the slime of the pods. Picking small pods and slicing them lengthwise will still give perfect bite size pieces when breaded and fried.

There’s also a reason that okra is often seen stewed/cooked with tomatoes. Yes, the two ripen at the same time of year, and YES there’s the obvious YUM factor, but the primary reason is that southern cooks realized that the acid in tomatoes cuts down on the slimy texture of okra. So feel free to stew those delicious pods up in some tomatoes and add some roasted fresh corn. It’s a perfect meatless dinner. Or take a lesson from the acidic tomato and soak sliced okra in buttermilk before cooking. The lactic acid will draw off the extra slime, and you can then drain, dredge in seasoned cornmeal (I add Old Bay in mine) and fry in oil until golden brown. Make sure to salt the okra, AND the cornmeal mixture for the best flavor.

So there ya go… cut as FEW times as possible (smaller pods make this easiest) with a sharp knife, and use the natural acid in tomatoes or buttermilk to make the most of this fresh vegetable. Not a fan of stewed tomatoes? Soaking okra in a bowl of water to which you have added the juice of one lime AND the lime halves themselves does the same thing. It’s all about the acid. Drain and cook as desired. Yum!

Wow, y’all really love your meat!

No surprise, my “Sexy Meat” post was the most popular in the ten days I’ve been blogging. It says a lot about my friends, that’s for sure!

In keeping with my “we ❤ our meat" theme, I want to talk a little bit about grass-fed beef, pasture raised pork, and free range chickens.

I had been happily purchasing meat from the grocery store (steaks and pork on those Styrofoam trays, ground beef in shrink wrapped cylinders) like most of America. I shopped for bargains, I bemoaned the cost of bacon, and I grabbed boneless skinless chicken breasts every time they were on sale. Oh how foolish I was.

I looked for a way to detox my system, to rid it of all the wheat and other things that had been wreaking havoc with my digestive system and I came across the Whole 30 and Paleo Diet plans. Basically, both plans eliminate grains, legumes, sugar, processed foods, dairy, and encourage the consumption of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits as well as free range eggs, and pasture raised (grass fed) meats. You can read more about the Paleo diet here, or here or here.

In researching the Paleo diet, I read a LOT about the way our meat animals are raised in most commercial operations. The cows we eat may be pasture animals when they are young, but once they reach a minimum weight they are transferred to feedlots where they cannot roam around, and instead stand there being fed a diet high in grains. This diet causes stress to the animal’s liver, and producers have to administer antibiotics as a routine course of action to prevent illness. I remember seeing feedlot cattle when I drove across California’s Central Valley region, and I can tell you, those “happy cows come from California” commercials could NOT be filmed there. Wikipedia has an article about feedlots, or do your own research. It isn’t pretty.

The same kinds of practices are in place for pigs. In fact one of the cruelest practices in the food industry is the use of gestation crates for sows. Many big companies including McDonald’s and just today, MEGA GIANT wholesaler Sysco announced it is no longer going to purchase pork from pigs raised in gestation crates. This isn’t just a victory for the pigs, it’s a victory for us as well.

You can see where this is going. Industrializing doesn’t exactly work with animals. You take the animal out of it’s natural state, give it cheap, poor quality food it isn’t used to eating, put it under stress, and heavily dose it with mega antibiotics to keep it from falling deathly ill… how healthy do you think that animal is really? How healthy is the meat that comes from that animal? Why would you feed it to your family? The meat from stressed animals is high in Omega 6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are indeed essential but an overabundance of them, especially in proportion to the preferred Omega 3s can have serious negative impact on our health.

Plus, it just skeeves me out to think of eating a sick animal. Really.

So I discovered the wonderful world of grass-fed and pasture raised meat and poultry. It didn’t take long before I realized what I had been missing. I had beef that tasted like BEEF. No seasoning needed except a little salt and pepper. How did I not realize that the meat I had been eating was all but tasteless? I had been compensating with seasonings, rubs, marinades, sauces, and the meat itself was nearly flavorless. The grass-fed beef was amazing. A steak tasted like STEAK. My husband made hamburger patties and added just a teeny bit of Old Bay to the burger mixture… I could have died and gone to heaven. Bacon, nitrite free and coming from pasture raised pork tasted like all that is good and right. I said goodbye to bacon that was mainly fat, very little meat, and mostly tasted like salt and fake smoke flavoring. Instead, breakfast became an almost religious experience….and it was GOOD for me. ALL HAIL THE BACON!

AND EGGS! Let us not forget the eggs. An egg from a free range, cage free chicken who is given high quality feed, and allowed to eat grass, and scratch for bugs, and eat what a chicken would eat in the wild is something to behold. The white is clear and thick, and the yolk is so dark yellow it is nearly orange. The taste is fresh, rich, not at all sulfuric, and anything you make with that egg is going to taste so much better. The next time you eat a pale yellow scrambled egg, rest assured that chicken did not have a happy chicken life.

I urge you to do the research yourself. Read articles like this one and this one. Then, either seek out a source for grass-fed, pasture raised meat and TRY it. One of the best local sources I have found is Eat Wild where you can find local sources in nearly every corner of the US. If it’s convenience you want, I can personally vouch for US Wellness Meats and Fossil Farms. I can guarantee you, your relationship with meat will NEVER be the same.

Feel free to drop me a comment letting me know where you get YOUR meat. I believe in sharing the tasty love!

By the way, I haven’t forgotten, tomorrow is Farmer’s Market Friday, and I’m going to celebrate by going to the Loveville Produce Auction. I’m not looking for pallets of food, but definitely in the mode to start looking for what I’m going to fill my freezer with. I’d like to have enough frozen produce this winter to stay away from the grocery stores. I admit that I’ve gotten spoiled, we’ve got incredible farmers here in Southern Maryland, and for that I am eternally grateful. I think I’ll base tomorrow’s articles and recipes on what I score at the auction. Only one guarantee: It won’t be cucumbers.

And it just might be meat.

Sexy Meat

20120725-212614.jpg

How’s THAT title grab ya?

I woke up this morning thinking about… no REALLY thinking about chimichurri sauce. Now if you don’t know what this incredible condiment is, Just look here. Delicious, garlicky, herb-y, with a little bite to remind you that it’s there. Seriously, this stuff tastes good on everything. I’ve had it on chicken, shrimp, scallops, it’s divine on pork and it is my absolute favorite marinade and sauce for flank steak. So yeah, I’ve got a THING for chimichurri.

Problem is, the heat and drought has really devastated my parsley plants, so I didn’t have what I needed to make good chimichurri. The spouse had taken out some delicious pork chops (pasture raised and acorn finished) and they were screaming for something special. So, after the usual dressing of sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper, I pulled from the fridge some Dijon mustard, and 100% maple syrup. Grabbing a glass bowl I poured in a bit of each, and added some fresh thyme. I played with the mix until I had this really nice balance of sharp and sweet. Basting the chops, I let them rest for a bit while I pulled out the rest of dinner.

Roasted squash and onions got sealed into a foil pack with some organic vegetable broth, and my head of organic Romaine lettuce got split and drizzled with olive oil. I LOVE doing a grilled Caesar salad. Something about the outer leaves of the lettuce getting a little charred, and the inside leaves still staying crisp and green just speaks to me. Plus, I grate good Parmesan on the salad as soon as I pull it from the grill, so the warm leaves soften that salty cheese just a little bit. It’s so delicious that a simple dressing of some lemon juice and another drizzle of finishing oil does the trick.

The squash and onions were doing their thing getting re-warmed, the lettuce is being charred, and my chops are developing these gorgeous grill marks. I flip them, baste them with more maple-mustard sauce, and let them continue to cook. As I am standing there, I realize how absolutely beautiful this meal is looking. The lettuce is crisp and green with just a little char on it, and my meat is…well… sexy. Gorgeous grill marks, the sauce is a beautiful golden color and kind of glistens on the tender pork. Seriously, it’s a feast for the eyes and I am totally responsible for this.

I think what I love most about cooking (besides the inevitable satisfaction of eating) is that all of the senses are involved. You eat with not just your taste buds, but your eyes, your nose, your ears. Seeing the food beautifully arranged on a plate, smelling the aromas coming from the contact of that pork with the hot metal grates, hearing that sizzle…. it’s very sensual. Taking beautiful raw WHOLE food (not something in a box or a bag) and putting together a meal that smells and looks as good as it tastes makes me feel powerful, accomplished…dare I say it? Sexy.

Yeah. I’m a chick with a grill, and I’m pretty sexy too.

As long as it works for my spouse, it works for me! Oh, and dinner did indeed taste as good as it looked. I’m so going to be looking forward to those leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

And I’ve already set a reminder to stop by the store for fresh parsley. My desire for chimichurri will not be denied.

I hope YOU had a delicious (and sexy) Wednesday too!

20120725-212627.jpg