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Archive for July, 2009

My Korean tutor took me to the asian market one day to go shopping. While shopping we picked up a package of croaker – three whole, salted fish. They are smaller fish, but we noted that they were a lot bigger than the tiny little fishies we got in Korean restaurant. Hmmph. Anyway, I was told to rinse the fish, heat some oil in the pan and fry the fish straight up as is. Sounds easy enough, especially considering I’d never worked with a whole fish in my life.

I pulled the fish out of their saran wrap prison and rinsed them as directed. The fish were firm feeling, which may be from the fact that they were salted. I looked at the hot oil in the pan and back at the fish in my hand. Just throw it in? That’s all you do? Suspiciously, I eyed the fish. No knife marks on its belly. Was this fish…fully intact?

Just follow instructions, I told myself, and added the fish to the pan. I set the timer for three minutes and stared at it. I felt kind of mean, with the fish staring at me and everything. I flipped it and set the timer again. It was starting to resemble the pan fried fish I’d eaten and enjoyed at the Korean restaurant. Two points for me. Then…the belly kind of swelled and split and…I could see the innards.

That was it. Apparently I’d screwed it up somehow but I was not about to eat it then, after seeing it’s intestines in the pan. I felt bad as I dumped it, since the fish died for nothing.

chinese croaker1I turned back to the other two croakers and decided I was going to gut them. Having never gut a fish before, of course I dove right in without instruction or research. I actually did a decent job on the first one even though it was a little creepy. Meanwhile, Bill did an internet search on fish cleaning and came back with a few tips for the last one. With two gutted fish ready to go, into the hot oil they went.

Flipping a whole fish is a bit of a challenge. I was trying to use tongs and it worked ok, but if I do this again I’m going to want a more efficient tool. Something that will hold the fish together better. But amazingly enough, I managed to get both fish cooked and onto plates.

I was a little nervous. I looked at the fish. He looked back, almost like he was irritated. You’re an idiot, he had to be thinking. What did I do to end up in your house?

Tentatively, Bill and I each took a bite. That’s good, we agreed. Really good. Mmmm. I ended up devouring the whole fish with a fork and my fingers like I was starving, then looking around to see if Bill was going to eat all of his. He did. Dangit.

Traumatic? Yes. Educational? Of couse. Turning something simple into something complicated? Most definately. Worth it? Yeah, baby. That’s some tasty croaker!

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Veggies!

Veggies!

Ok, so only true food geeks like me and my mom would be excited for weeks in advance about going to a farmers market. But, since we are, we were anxiously awaiting my trip to Iowa so we could hit the infamous DesMoines farmers market. After three days of sitting in my work-related seminar (three days with an ex-IRS agent and more code section than you can shake a tax return at) I was ready to camp out waiting for the big event. I’m such a freak.

Organic Beatz Jazz band!

Organic Beatz Jazz band!

Anyway, last Saturday my mom and I dragged my step dad, my brother and his wife (also very interested in the market but probably wondering who these freaks are that she’s related to) to the market bright and early. It was HUGE. I’m telling you, the place was like a fair. There were food vendors, musicians, a guy in a Jesus shirt preaching the gospel, dogs and babies…and oh yeah…farmers!

 

Me and my Iowa pop corn!

Me and my Iowa pop corn!

I saw fruits, vegetables, plants, wines, cheeses, breads and pastries, mushrooms, pasta, rocks with oil lamps in them, wood working goods, bags made from recycled materials, sewn goods…I can go on but I’ll spare you. HOWEVER…I quickly noted as I asked questions that not all these folks are coming off the farm with their wares. Some of it’s not even local.

"Know Your Vendor" sign at Dancing Lady Gardens. I thought that was cool.

"Know Your Vendor" sign at Dancing Lady Gardens. I thought that was cool.

Exhibit A: A woman had fresh ginger root for sale. I had a feeling that ginger does not grow in Iowa. So my mom asked her where it comes from. “I order it from a company in Chicago. I don’t know where it comes from before that. But I’ve never had any problems with it!” Hmmmm. Exhibit B: A tent with a wide variety of interesting pastas was busy doing business. So I asked the girl behind the boxes of linguini if she made it. Not only did she not make it, but it was shipped in from Denver. Exhibit C: A food vendor with catfish caught my eye. (Love me some catfish.) After talking with her, I learned that her fried catfish is ordered frozen…and pre-breaded. No thanks.

Shrooms

Shrooms

While that was a bit of a disappointment, the real local goods were fantastic! I had no idea kohlrabi grew so prevalently in Iowa. The tomatoes and peppers looked amazing. I met a guy who grew these different colored oyster mushrooms – I so wished I was staying longer so I could have tried some of those!

 

 

Chatting with the COMIDA guy

Chatting with the COMIDA guy. Note the stylish handbag.

In an environment like that, I was bound to find some kindred spirits. I chatted up a guy with a small table who was with a group called County of Marshall Investing in Diversified Agriculture (COMIDA). As far as I can tell this small organization is working to support and grow a local food culture in their county. He told me that Iowa imports 95% of its food. All that farmland, all those farms…and everyone is eating from somewhere else. That made me very sad. But with groups like that settling in maybe that’s a trend that can be turned around!

Checking out the cheese!

Checking out the cheese!

I also picked up a flyer for Buy Local, Buy Fresh which listed all kinds of farmers markets in the state, farms and grocers where local food is available and a little pledge in the corner to spend 5% of weekly food dollars with their partners. There are chapters for this organization in a number of states across the country. I haven’t investigated this group in depth but it appears that they are doing a good job promoting local food systems.

I went to my local farmer’s market today before picking up my meat CSA delivery for this month then sprinting off to the chiropractor. Sure, it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of the DM farmers market. No jazz musicians or people making fresh sesame balls before your very eyes. But it’s mine, and the connection to the local farmers is something that I’ll always treasure! (Sure wish there was someone there with mushrooms, though…that was awesome.)

My mom investigates the pastries.

My mom investigates the pastries.

 

 

Hot coffee - imported beans but locally roasting. I got the "Kicking Horse" coffee. Apparently the "Kicking Ass" coffee didn't go over well.

Hot coffee - imported beans but locally roasting. I got the "Kicking Horse" coffee. Apparently the "Kicking Ass" coffee didn't go over well.

I'm innocent!!
Guilty of being a hardened local foodie.
After the market, Mom and I pose with the famous giant cows outside of Anderson Erickson.

After the market, Mom and I pose with the famous giant cows outside of Anderson Erickson.

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A while back I discovered a recipe for tomato basil soup, I can’t even remember where. It was supposed to be a copycat recipe for the one at La Madeline restaurant. Since I haven’t had the one there I don’t know how close it is, or even how much I’ve changed it since then, but it’s a soup I’ve made over and over again, loving it each time.

I’ve always used canned tomatoes for this soup, but now that tomatoes are coming in from my CSA I am going to give it a shot with fresh ‘maters soon. Mmmm. Tomatoes.

Roasted vegetable stock, simmering

Roasted vegetable stock, simmering

Anyway, it’s a really simple recipe, although for the first time I made vegetable stock to use with it. Using the roasted vegetable stock recipe from How to Cook Everything, I made a stock using carrots, onions, celery, potatoes, garlic, shiitake mushrooms, fresh parsley from the back deck, peppercorns and salt. It was a simple process, just took a while to make – mostly unattended.

To a quart of my fresh stock, I added three cans of diced tomatoes and simmered them together for twenty minutes or so. I let it cool a bit, then processed the heck of out of it in my food processor along with a handful of fresh basil. It went back into the pot with a stick of butter. Once that’s melted in, I added about 3/4 of a cup of half and half. (It’s better with heavy cream, but half and half is what I had on hand.) Heat through and you’re done!

Kung Fu Cup o' Soup

Kung Fu Cup o' Soup

I had some gruyere left hanging out in the fridge so I shredded it and toasted some home made bread for a little cheese toast. Ahhh. Heavenly.

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Usually the 4th of July holiday finds Bill and I at home, chilling out, having some wine and watching random fireworks from our back deck. This year, however, we ventured out to a friend’s house to celebrate our nation’s birthday together.

4th wine1When you’re wine snobs like us but don’t have the budget for Caymus as a daily drinker, you have to carefully choose your wine to balance cost and quality. Here’s the two we brought to share, Ergot tempranillo (Spain) and Gascon Malbec (Argentina). These two run about $10.99 a bottle at our local wine store, making them a budget-friendly vino, and are very impressive for the price.

We had an appetizer of a chevre goat cheese from Cole’s Lake Dairy (local Georgia dairy) I got in my CSA box. I don’t have a picture of it because it was gone in a matter of moments. Um, it was super yum…trust me.

4th salad1Our salad was a tasty mixture of lettuce leaves, cucumber and red bell pepper (provided by our gracious host) and green peppers and cherry tomatoes from my CSA box. I made a dressing of equal parts honey (local), balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Our host used his croutons to soak up the rest of the dressing in his salad bowl so I think he liked it 🙂 Nothing better than easy and tasty.

The main event centered around a 3.2 lb. pastured chicken from Nature’s Harmony Farm. Using a combination of a few recipes from this website I brined the bird for about four hours, then dried it off and headed to our host’s house. Using the rub recipe they recommend for chicken, we drizzled the bird with olive oil and saturated it with the rub. I felt kind of like I was molesting the bird by rubbing my fingers all over its naked skin, but Bill didn’t seem upset so I guess it’s ok. The rubbed bird went onto the smoker/grill for about two hours with applewood smoker chips smoldering over the coals.

4th chicken done1We were suprised that it finished that quickly, but the thermometer in the breast read 167 degrees so we pulled it. However, even though it looked fantastic we discovered that parts of the thigh were not done and had to go back on the grill for a few minutes. We think the temperature probe maybe wasn’t properly placed. None of us had smoked a whole chicken before so it was a learning experience! Outside of the thigh under-doneness the bird was fantastic. Super moist and delicious (I’ve never had a chicken breast that moist EVER), but I have to say the rub was the big winner of the day. All three of us raved about it and can’t wait to use it on something else. Rub recipe is here. 

4th veg kabobs1We also made veggie kabobs for the grill with baby bella mushrooms, sweet onion, some funky greenish-yellow pepper (CSA box), cherry tomatoes (CSA box), and patty pan squash (CSA store). Everything was good, but that squash was the bomb diggity. Raw or grilled it was fantastic.

We also steamed my CSA green beans in a foil packet on the grill. Just a little butter, salt and pepper and they were heavenly. Real food doesn’t need to be messed with too much. Simple is good!

4th plate done1We enjoyed our meal with a glass of wine, some of my bread that I made yesterday and some good laughs. I’m so thankful for the abundance of food we have at our disposal, the ability to make food choices (local and imported) and the right to fight to keep our choices. God bless America!

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Blueberry goodness

Blueberry goodness

After Sunday’s muffin disaster, I was bound and determined to conquer the blueberry muffin. I used the same recipe from How to Cook Everything, but made some changes to my technique. First, I got some baking powder that was NOT EXPIRED (recommended). Second, I made sure I did less stirring. Third, I did all regular sized muffins and ditched the paper baking cups because I was afraid the paper was sucking too much moisture out of the muffins.

 

Blueberry goodness x 11

Blueberry goodness x 11

I’m pleased to say that this time around the batch turned out MUCH better. You actually want to eat these ones. Immediately after tasting the new ones I tossed the old #&@* muffins into the trash. Even though I count this as a success, I feel like there’s still work to be done to make truely spectacular blueberry muffins. I may try a different recipe next time. However, I feel like I did right by the fresh blueberries I got today in my CSA box!

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