Thursday, January 7, 2010

Root Vegetables

It's not snowing now, but it did snow a few weeks ago! Right as I was packing to go home for Christmas, the sky just opened and dumped about four inches of snow on Greensboro. Though I was hoping for the twelve inches that the Weather Channel had promised me, having a white-almost-christmas was great. My dad came up on the train to help me drive back (really, I Think he just wanted to ride the train), and we had a nice time in the snow.
When I did get home, I had a nice Christmas, and finally got around to reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Mineral. This book chronicles the year that Kingsolver's family decided to go totally locavore on their farm in Virginia. Let's underscore that part - they did have a farm, and both Kingsolver and her husband and co-author of the book, Steven Hopp, are biologists by training. They both knew what they were doing in terms of farming. I certainly don't think this would work if you are say, a 24 year old English teacher with a small apartment and no yard.
However, she writes beautifully, includes great information about farm life, and makes some very convincing arguments against factory farming, eating vegetables out of season, and even (gasp!) vegetarianism! (Though with caveats, of course).
I thought I was doing pretty good at cutting out meat (mostly), and getting a free range turkey. I knew that eating local vegetables was better, but I didn't know how much better. I also didn't realize that buying from small farmers (small in terms of the farm and organization, not stature) was also a way of sticking it to the man. And there is nothing I love more than sticking it to the man.
So I headed over to Deep Roots (because I came back a day too late for farmer's market Sunday, my fave day of the week), and stocked up on vegetables. Since it's winter and snowy (at times), most of these vegetables are root vegetables. In honor of that, I thought I'd put up some recipes for two side dishes that I whipped up (one of them, literally) for dinner last night.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes
2 lbs Sweet Potatoes
1/2 Cup Milk (Whole or Low fat- I used low fat)
2 tbsp Maple syrup
2 tsp cinnamon

1. Place sweet potatoes in a large stockpot. Cover with 1 inch of water. Sprinkle with salt.
2. Bring to a boil, and then let simmer for fifteen minutes.
3. Pour into colander, and let sit till all the water drains
4. Mash with 1/2 cup milk, maple syrup, and cinnamon. I used my kitchaid, but you could rice the potatoes and then mix in the other ingredients, no problem. Serve immediately.

Baked Turnips
1 Lb Turnips
1 Onion
Herbs aux Provence
Salt, Pepper
Olive Oil
(I served these over collards, if you do this, you need a bunch of collards and 4 cloves of garlic)

1. Slice turnips about the size of french fries ("jullienne" if we want to get fancy about it). Put in a medium sized mixing bowl
2. Quarter and slice onions. Add to the mixing bowl
3. Drizzle with 4 tbsp olive oil, 2 tsp herbs aux provence, salt, and pepper.
4. Spread onto a baking sheet and cook at 325 for about 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, if you are so inclined, saute collards with garlic for about ten minutes, then mix with turnip greens.

My news years resolution: to be better about this thing. Not that anyone reads this but my mom. Hi mom!

Friday, December 4, 2009

A Very Martha Thanksgiving

I have never been responsible for a Thanksgiving turkey before. Last year, that was Andrew's job (I made the pumpkin cheesecake, the green bean casserole, and the crescent rolls).
This year, I was feeling ambitious. It started with the turkey. I ordered a turkey from Deep Roots, one of my favorite local co-ops. It wasn't organic or local, but it was a free range turkey, which was very important to me. It came in about a week before the big day, and I let it sit in the freezer until 50+ hours before I would prepare it. It was a small turkey, 11 pounds, so this should have been sufficient.
Foolish me. At about midday Thanksgiving, I removed the turkey from the bag. The outside was soft, however, when I went to remove the neck, it wouldn't come out. I ran the turkey under cold water for a little while, but still nothing. I called Andrew. Maybe it's deformed, he said. He came over, worked on it, and we came to the conclusion that it was not deformed, just deeply, deeply frozen. Though initially panicked, we got it under control. The outside of the turkey was ok, so we rinsed the cavity for about fifteen minutes. Finally, Andrew was able to wrestle out the neck and all the innards.
So, after all that (about an hour and a half, at least), we glazed the turkey with orange and paprika (Martha said Aleppo pepper, but alas, couldn't find that old syrian spice anywhere, though I suspect if I had gone just a little farther down High Point Rd., something would have turned up). I set it in the oven and let it cook for about two hours (like I said, small bird), basting it with butter and orange juice every 30 minutes.
Fortunately, I had already made many of the other dishes (all from Martha's thanksgiving issue): marinated cauliflower salad, white beans in tomato and rosemary sauce, sweet potato casserole with sage butter, and the pie crust. This left me with: the wild rice pilaf, the sister schubert rolls to stick in the oven, the dressing, and the pie construction.
The pie was by far the most ornate pastry I've ever constructed. The pate brisee crust, though properly chilled, was very difficult to work with. (It, in fact, was the crust Martha labeled as "advanced"). The most difficult thing about it, however, was that it required a latticework not of the traditional strips, but rather one made from leaves.
Once I tracked down a maple leaf cookie cutter at Sur La Table though, it wasn't too hard. I cut out about 20 leafs, laid those in a spiral on the pie (apple blueberry), and then set it with an egg wash.
It would have been perfect, had I not had to set it on the top rack in the oven. The top was a little overly browned. Also, I have learned an important lesson. When Martha says to use parchment paper, use parchment paper! I did not, and the blueberry juice glued the pie to the cookie sheet underneath it. Otherwise, it was lovely.
All in all, Thankgiving was very nice. Andrew and Zac and I feasted late into the evening (on these dishes as well as Zac's very nice cornbread and creamed onions), and then Andrew and Zac went to Target (at 4 30 AM!) to get a big screen TV (last picture in the list is the line outside Target).

Monday, September 7, 2009

Old Mill of Guilford and Goat!

Ok, I have a whole host of pictures that I have finally loaded (thanks mom, for the digital camera).
These first pictures are actually from one my favorite places, The Old Mill of Guilford. If I were serious about being a total locavore, which I am not, my job would have been made a whole lot easier by this place. Yes, it is actually a working mill, and yes, it is stone ground. They make every type of flour that you could imagine, running the gamut from regular white all-purpose to wheat germ to buckwheat to corn meal, and they even make mixes. Andrew and I would heartily recommend the pancake mix, as well as the blueberry muffin and the oatmeal cookie mixes. If you are having people over and you want to act like you've actually cooked whatever it is, the mixes are rustic enough to actually pass for "from scratch."
About two months ago, I drove out to pick Andrew up from the airport. Because the old mill is about a mile away, I went over to take pictures. Unfortunately, it seemed like a high school had also chosen to have senior pictures made there on this day, so I was a little bit limited by my angles. While I was there, I bought pancake mix and grits. The lady at the registered recommended boiling blueberries or peaches for a fruit sauce, and though I haven't done this yet, it may be something I try this weekend.
Ok, next things next:
Goat! About a month ago, I accidentally bought frozen ground goat from the Cane Creek Farm. (Who, by the way, have the best sausage in the triad area). I had no idea what to do with the goat, but couldn't stand for it to go to waste, either by spoiling before I had a chance to use it or in a bad recipe.
So, after a bit of research, I returned to a recipe for Indian Ground Beef and Potatoes from The Joy of Cooking. Now, I am no expert on Indian food or Indian culture, however, I do know that beef isn't exactly a traditional Indian meal. So, I decided that this might be the best way to use my ground goat.
It was actually very good. I served it with brown basmati rice and raita (cucumber and yogurt salad). I have attached the recipe, which is easy, and which, I promise, doesn't taste like whatever you might expect goat to taste like.
3 Tbs Vegetable Oil
6 green onions, chopped
1 lb ground goat
1/2 cup canned diced tomato (no salt added)
2 tsp minced garlic
2 tsp minced ginger
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp red pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cubed

1. Heat vegetable oil in heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add green onions.
2. Once green onions begin to brown, add spices.
3. Stir for about a minute, and then add goat, tomatoes, and salt. Break the ground goat with the back of your spoon, and let brown, stirring occasionally.
4. Once meat is browned and the liquid evaporated (about 15 minutes), add potatoes and one cup of water. Turn the heat down slightly, and let sit until the potatoes are soft and the water evaporated, for about 15-20 minutes.
Serve over brown basmati rice.
Immediately soak the pan in water, or you will have a turmeric stained mess (bright yellow - pretty, but a mess)

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
2/3 cup yogurt
2 tbsp mint, minced
Add all the ingredients and stir, modifying salt based on taste and yogurt saltiness. (Some yogurts, particularly those with live cultures, are already salty tasting)
Serve immediately, and definitely no more than a few hours after the fact.

Alright, how's that for making up for lost time?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

To Eat at Subway or to Not Eat at Subway: My Chain Restaurant Guilt

The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked at the now-defunct Mediterranean Cafe in Columbus, GA. I sort of *really* hated it - the working, I mean, not the food. I still loved to sit down after work with either a Margherita pizza or a plate of the pasta with blush sauce. I even enjoyed the gyros, though neither I nor anyone who worked there could quite agree on the pronunciation.
That summer, another thing had happened: the Olive Garden had arrived in Columbus! The Olive Garden, with their Never-Ending Salad and their overpriced cocktails put a chokehold on our little business, and I don't think it really ever recovered.
I don't know why.
I hate The Olive Garden. I hate their breadsticks, I hate how the entree clearly came from something freeze dried, I hate their happy family commercials, I hate it. Their salads are ok, but that is it.
What I hate the most about the Olive Garden is that they bastardized a tradition that actually started as the epitome of home-cooked and original. As I learned from The Food of a Younger Land, Italian immigrants to more rural areas in the US actually would rent out their dining room, food and all, to visitors for an evening. Can't get more slow food than that!
This leads to my conundrum: I sometimes eat Subway for lunch. I eat subway for lunch because it is low calorie, and cheap, and I am both health and money conscious. Did the bread that I am eating travel way too many miles to get to me? Probably. Did the vegetables on my sub probably come from another country? I'm sure. Did the turkey that I am ingesting probably come from a cage where it was abused? Of course. Does Subway need my help to stay afloat as much as the Jibaro restaurant next door (which serves exponentially better food)? Absolutely not.
The plan: no more chains. This shouldn't be that hard. Well ok, I had to almost physically restrain myself from pulling into chick-fil-a today. But really, it shouldn't be that hard.
We'll see.
Meanwhile: 2 Italian restaurants in Greensboro that are far better both in atmosphere and cuisine than the terrible and horrible Olive Garden.
This restaurant actually scores the triple crown of being delicious AND wonderful AND also, they use local farms. All of their salad dressings are house made, and they serve cannoli (a rarity in the triad). My family and I went here a few months ago, and no one was disappointed with their meal, not even my little brother, who is easily disappointed. It is located in downtown greensboro.
In fact, I think I might be going there this weekend, come to think of it.
Talk about bang for the buck - Bianca's definitely, definitely serves up enough food for what you've paid.
All for the whopping price of 8-15 bucks, depending on your entree, you get:
an appetizer.
pasta (if your entree is not a pasta entree. I always get the eggplant rollatini)
Also, each time you go, they give you a coupon for a carafe of wine. So, it is quite possible to have a big meal for two for under thirty bucks, with wine!
There is always a lot of it, and it's always good. Be sure to make a reservation. We made that mistake once on a Saturday night and got a scary look from the manager, but we got seated, anyway.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Pit

Last Friday, Andrew and I went to Raleigh to pick up Jamey from the airport (Jamey is going to be working as John Irving's literary assistant this year, true story). Before we picked her up, we drove to Raleigh for lunch and to visit the NC Museum of Art.
The NC Museum of Art was ok. There were some Andrew Wyeths and a Georgia O'Keefe, but much of what I wanted to see (the Egyptian collection and the ancient Greek collection) were closed for renovation.
The highlight of the day (other than seeing Jamey!) was going to The Pit in downtown Raleigh. Located in the warehouse district, this restaurant serves the downscale cuisine of Eastern Carolina Barbeque in an upscale setting. (Fortunately, the prices at lunch were not upscale- the entree prices ranged from $7-11). We arrived at 12 to a line that would become longer throughout the next hour. We gave them our cell phone number, and spent only about fifteen minutes walking around the warehouse district before a table opened up. 
While the restaurant was crowded, it was also huge, taking up about three big rooms. They had decorated with local artwork and track lighting, which made it seem a little more yuppie than you would expect for a barbeque place. The crowd wasn't too yuppie though - very diverse. 
I ordered the chopped eastern style barbeque plate, while Andrew got the plate that had both chopped barbeque and fried chicken. For my sides, I got green bean casserole and sweet potato fries. Andrew got macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes and gravy. We both got biscuits and hushpuppies.
Our meats were amazing - the barbeque was moist but not soggy, and not drenched in vinegar, though there was the option of using vinegar based barbeque sauce (we both preferred the darker, sweeter sauce). Andrew said that his fried chicken was great, which almost made me wish I'd gotten that instead, except that well, the barbeque was damn good. 
The sides were good, but the meat was definitely the highlight. The green beans were definitely fresh, though they could have been cooked a little longer, I think. The sweet potato fries were good too, though I wonder if they could have used a little more cinnamon and a little less brown sugar as a topping. The biscuits were good but not buttermilk, and the hush puppies were wonderful, though Andrew thought they were too greasy. 
What I also liked about the restaurant was that they get their meat from local free range farms. As such, they do use less meat on the plates. Neither of us left feeling less than painfully full though, so unless you are a competitive strength eater, you should be fine.
Definitely worth the trip. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Need to know where to go to pick blueberries or any other vegetable that might be in season? This website is an incredible resource for picking your own fruits and vegetables. Not only will it give you info on local websites for self harvest operations, but it will also tell you what is in season in your area, where you can find local farms, or even how to can what you've picked.
My mom and I went blueberry picking in Opelika, Alabama a few weeks ago. We picked four quarts of blueberries, and made several pints and half pint jars of jam from this. I would highly recommend the recipe on this website as opposed to the one found in the Joy of Cooking. Usually, I stand firmly behind Joy. In this instance, however, it called for no pectin and too much sugar, making the jam much more runnier than we would have liked. The instructions on the pick your own website are easier than they look, and you can produce a whole lot of jam from this.
Picking your own fruits and veggies is really a great way to get good, cheap produce, and get some exercise in the process. It's a great group outing, and I would also recommend it as an activity for kids. My mom took us berry picking a lot when we were little, and we always had a lot of fun. I also think it's good for kids to know where their food is coming from, so I think farm visits make great field trips, too. 
Also, my mom took that picture. So, I'm giving her credit for it. Thanks, mom. 
Note: If you are in the Opelika area and would like to visit the place where my mom and I picked our blueberries, here is the info:
Billy Allen - Blueberrries
3046 Lee Rd 391, Opelika, AL 36804. Phone: (334) 745-7686. Directions: I-85 exit 60, go south, take 1st left on Old Columbus Road, go to 4-way stop, go straight, farm approx. 1 mile on left. Open: June 1-August 10, 7 am until dark, 7 days a week.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Of Cats and Men

This week, my family had to say goodbye to a very dear friend. We had Cleo (bottom picture) in our lives for almost 13 years, to the day. While not a particularly sweet cat, she was loyal and a good companion. It's been a very difficult week, and I keep trying to remind myself that cats  live this long (short, I think) because they truly are companions.
Cats have been used as companions (and mousers!) since the ancient Egyptians. My cat, Loretta (top picture), was adopted for this very reason. I love old houses. I also love cats. It seems that these two loves come hand in hand. In the first old house that I rented, I had a mouse problem. Though I have recently upgraded to a nicer apartment, I realized (to my chagrin) that I still have a mouse problem. Loretta, my cat, has been on hot pursuit, and my hope is that she will scare the mouse away. 
I got the cat because I don't like the ethics of mousetraps or poison. Don't get me wrong, I have purchased and used mousetraps, and I'd rather have a dead mouse than a mouse running rampant. Preferably, I'd like to have a terrified mouse that isn't coming back into my house. I see the use of a cat, however, as being a little more natural. Also, because I adopted my cat from the animal shelter, it meant one less cat would face euthanasia. So the moral of that is: adopting pets is good. Spaying and neutering is good, too. 
This also reflects my beliefs about food and factory farming. I eat meat. I love barbeque. Sausage biscuits are probably the greatest breakfast foods possible. What I do not love, though, is the way that we abuse animals so that we can overproduce them. We simply do not need as much meat as we are consuming, and what's more, that same high amount of meat is detrimental for our health. So, the moral of that is: buy meat from ethical, free range, non-antibiotic using farms. This is more expensive, yes. So, buy less of it! Supplement your diet with meat substitutes, nuts, beans, and tofu for your protein. This is a good way to cut down on your cholesterol and also increase your fiber consumption. 
The previous recipe for possum also is a reflection of this belief, albeit not quite a serious one. Well actually, I am sure people have used that recipe seriously - that recipe is based on several from cookbooks, particularly those dating back to the early and mid twentieth century. In those days, particularly before the baby boom, Americans didn't depend on factory farming. (Check out this book for more information.)
 So, what this blog aims to do is to explore ethical farming and the delicious cooking that can come from the products of ethical farming.