Archive for March, 2009

Georgia has not seen sunlight since Tuesday. I am so thankful for the rain. I really am. But after four days I really needed a bright spot! So I put together an early spring salad for lunch:

Early Spring Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Early Spring Salad with Honey Balsamic Vinaigrette

Using almost exclusively items from my last CSA box, I prepared this beautiful work of edible art. I made a balsamic vinaigrette from the recipe from the weekly CSA newsletter using equal parts olive oil, balsamic vinegar and honey. Suuuper yummy, and just what I needed on a stormy Saturday 🙂 Local ingredients: spinach, green onions, cucumber, carrots, salad burnet herb, edible flowers, honey. Only things not local: olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

Also, for desert I had some delicious Florida organic strawberries, also courtesy of the CSA! Weee!

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Some of you out there who are familiar with how I feel about meat may be suprised, no shocked, to learn that I made rib eye steaks tonight. And ate one of them. For you, please see my…uh…testimony…at the end of this blog.

My plans for dinner tonight didn’t start out with the idea that I was going to make a southern style dinner. I don’t even know for sure how authentically southern it was, but it’s closer than anything else I’ve made! I pulled some steaks up from the freezer (courtesy of my brother, whose neighbor raised the cow, about fifteen miles from my house). So I knew we were having steaks. My friendly neighborhood CSA recently provided some Carolina gold rice grits and Sea Island red peas along with a recipe for preparing them, so I thought hey, no time like the present. I found this recipe at the About.com site for Southern Cooking and voila – a southern marinade.

Earlier today I got the marinade going. It was super easy. (Is there a hard marinade?) When dinner time rolled around I got to work creating the red pea gravy and grits according to the instructions from the Farmers Fresh CSA newsletter. I was careful to follow instructions since I was dealing with two ingredients I’d never cooked before – dried peas and grits. The only thing I changed was that I didn’t use chicken/smoked ham stock. I subbed vegetable stock and added some liquid smoke to make up the difference.

The grits turned out really well. They were like rice, but almost fluffier, fuller. Tastier, too. I’m still not sure why they had to be “dried” in the oven after cooking, though. I don’t think it made a whole lot of difference. Maybe I’m wrong, after all I am a first timer! For the red pea gravy, by the time I got done cooking them it seemed like it had way too much liquid. But I continued as per the instructions and took a stick blender to the concoction (which smelled fabulous by the way). It didn’t thicken. It was totally soupy. I’m thinking that I didn’t use the right amount of peas because I measured them after soaking instead of before. So I ended up adding a good amount of cornstarch to thicken things up. Worked like a charm!

I was so busy worrying about the grits and gravy that I didn’t pay close enough attention to the steaks. I first seared them in my cast iron pan, about two minutes per side (second side was too long, closer to three minutes – dang distractions) then stuck them in the oven to finish. I should have left them in the oven half as long. They were more like medium well than medium rare. So sue me. I haven’t cooked a steak in two or three years. All that aside, the marinade was a big winner. Even with somewhat overcooked meat, the marinade saved the day. Garlicky, savory…mmm. And since the meat was real meat, it didn’t get too tough.

Southern steak, grits and pea gravy

Southern steak, grits and pea gravy

I have a confession to make about the photo. And not about how sloppy it looks (food strewn on the plate like it came from a mess hall for crying out loud). Um…I didn’t make broccoli with this. I plated up the steak and the grits and thought, man, that looks…brown. It needed some green. So I took some leftover brocco out of the fridge and dressed up the plate for the picture. Kind of like how rooms are staged when you’re trying to sell a house. Anyway, I feel better now that I’ve confessed.

All in all, it was a fair amount of work but it did turn out really well. Test subject Bill was pleased, went back for seconds on the grits and gravy and didn’t even complain about the doneness of the steaks. (Honestly, I was concerned about how he would react to grits so I cooked up some baked potatoes in case they were rejected. I guess we’ll eat the spuds tomorrow…with leftover gravy!)

As promised (and if you care), here is my meat testimony which I wrote on January 30, 2009:

I haven’t eaten meat in almost two years.

This can be a shocking statement coming from someone who was raised on a farm in Iowa. How could a girl stray so far from her roots?

The simple answer is information. The more I read and learned about factory farms and the horrors inflicted upon the animals who “lived” there, the more disgusted I became. It was a bastardization of everything I experienced on our family farm. My mom and dad respected the animals and treated them with care. We took care of them, and they took care of us. Our animals had room to roam. Our cows ate grass all day long, except for the bit of grain they got to lure them into the barn for milking time. At varying times we had hogs and chickens, too, both of which saw sunlight and got to be who they were…pigs and chickens.

Not so on the feed lots or in the poultry houses. Animals are fed an unnatural diet, kept confined, wallowing in their own feces. Because of the unsanitary conditions they are jacked up with every antibiotic possible. Unnatural hormones are administered indiscriminately. Pigs have their tails “docked” (cut off) and chickens have their beaks severed. In the day and age of mad cow disease, feedlot cattle are STILL fed beef tallow. Revolting. The resulting “meat” is nutritionally deficient, higher in the bad stuff and lower in the good stuff. When it comes time for slaughter, do you think they are cleaned up? Where do you think e-coli and salmonella come from? Yes, folks. There’s a little bit of poop in your hamburger. Your chicken has been bathed in chlorine. And I haven’t even gotten to the disastrous environmental effects of these operations.

After learning about all of this, I was horrified. I felt betrayed. Guilty. It was a slap in the face to the natural order of life. An atrocity. Defying God. I was contributing to that every time I had a taco or a chicken salad. So I gave it up. I gave it all up. For about four months I was total vegetarian, then began eating fish again. (I guessed it was harder to abuse fish, maybe?) I felt that I had no choice. I thought there were no other options.

I was wrong.

Real meat is available. Yes, it’s harder to find. Yes, it’s more expensive. But you can get locally raised and ethically raised beef, pork, chicken, etc. And you can have a clean conscience about it. Better than that, you can contribute to sustainable agriculture, your local economy and your friendly neighborhood farmers. Real farmers. From farms like the one I grew up on. Not the abusive, unhealthy, polluting feedlots.

And that’s why I am going to become a vegetarian who eats meat.

I will still reject supermarket chicken. I will refuse to eat feedlot beef. If I don’t know that it came from a “real food” source, I will assume that it did not. Misery meat is not for me. I have options. You have options. You just need to seek them out. And that’s a choice that your body, your local economy and the environment will thank you for.

Recommended resources:

The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
Real Food by Nina Planck

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When it comes to canned fish, I’m picky. There’s only one brand of canned tuna that I like (Bumble Bee). I recently ate a higher-quality sardine and it was acceptable. Recently I discovered this canned salmon at Costco that is actually quite good. I was really suprised at how good it is and therefore wanted to find new ways to use it other than in pasta salad or mixed with mayo (tuna salad-esque). I found this recipe calling for canned salmon and decided to give it a shot.

The recipe itself is so simple it’s ridiculous. Fish, breadcrumbs, an egg and some onion. I added some Old Bay seasoning half way through actually making the cakes and I think I like it better with the little added kick. A reviewer on the Allrecipes site said they had made a sauce out of sour cream, lemon juice and dill. Since these are all my favorites, I was in. I threw it together, made some patties and threw them in the frying pan.

I discovered that salmon patties such as these probably need two eggs instead of one. They didn’t want to hold together very well. Also, patties formed on the curve of your hand that already don’t want to stick REALLY don’t want to stay in one piece once they hit a flat pan. So I started forming the patties against the flat surface of a plate and that seemed to help somewhat.

Salmon Patty

Salmon Patty

I did get one patty to come out really nice. The sour cream sauce was THE BOMB on these. Totally made them. So, is it Irish? Doubtful, but since the holiday’s coming up and I made PATTIES and there was some green (dill!), that was good enough for me. Cheers!

As a side note, I also created home made pickled ginger yesterday. More on this later.

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