Monday, February 28, 2011

Recipes Part 1: Butternut Squash Soup

One thing that really stumped me when I first started along this path to eating more locally and seasonally is how to cook local produce that is in season. Luckily, I have a computer and some great cooks in my phone book and have been able to find interesting and delicious ways to prepare local ingredients that you may not usually pick up from the produce isle.

When working with late Winter produce, my general rule is “bake at 350 for 40 minutes then serve with butter, salt and pepper” (try this with the turnips that are in right now and you won’t be disappointed). This is the easiest way to deal with the vegetables that are common this time of year but there are many other things you can do with these gems. I have put one recipe below (one of my favorites) and will add more weekly.

Disclaimer: I am not a chef nor do I claim to be one. I am, however, very lucky to have grown up with a mother that cooked from scratch each night as well as a best friend who might as well open her own restaurant. I draw on their ideas and suggestions as well as some key books (see later posts!) for my ideas and try to keep my recipes as simple as possible.

Butternut Squash Soup (V)
I love this recipe because it fits perfectly into my evenings and is incredibly nutritious. The initial steps are far apart in time so you can do other chores, work out, or just read a book while the squash cooks, cools, and simmers. Though this looks like a lot of steps, it is very easy and once you’ve made the recipe once, you will never need to look at it again. The other good thing about this one is that you can use vegetable or chicken stock or broth; I have tried all of the above in different combinations and it just doesn’t matter. You can get the butternut squash from Houston Farms at the Atherton Market or at any supermarket. These gems are in season from early Fall through Winter. Nova's Bakery's whole wheat bread is a perfect side for this soup because it is a little bitter and thus compliments the sweetness of the squash.

1 whole butternut squash (cut in half lengthwise and seeds removed)
4 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup shallots, leeks or onions (or any combination thereof)
1 teaspoon ginger (optional)
6-8 cups vegetable or chicken broth or stock
Salt to taste
  1. Smear 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet then place the squash halves flat side down on the sheet
  2. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 30 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the skin
  3. Remove the squash and turn over to cool
  4. In a large pot, heat the oil and then add the shallots, onions and/or leeks and ginger. Heat until soft
  5. Scoop out the squash and add to the pot along with approximately half of the broth or stock
  6. Allow to simmer for 20 minutes, pulling the squash apart with a fork
  7. Using a hand mixer with a single chopping head, mix the soup until smooth
  8. Add the rest of the broth and heat until at desired temperature, salting to taste
Note: The seeds of butternut squash are completely edible. You need to remove all the squash innards, rinse them then spread on a cookie sheet and cook for 20 minutes at 350˚. Sprinkle a small handful on a bowl of the soup for a little crunch.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Where do I get local food?

Charlotte is the nation’s 18th largest metropolitan area with over 1.2 million people living or working here.  Though we are a big city, we are lucky to have farm land just miles outside the city center making eating locally easy. There are several local markets, some seasonal and some year round. I have visited some already and will trek to the others as the larger harvest season begins in the Spring. 

The closest year round market to me (and I think the best in the area) is the Atherton Market in South End.  Lynne S. Caldwell operates this market which showcases  locally grown or made produce and though the market itself is still growing, I already have vendors that I patronize each week.  I cannot say enough good things about Lynne’s efforts or the quality of produce at the Atherton Market.

I have listed some vendors below as well as the market’s hours and address. It seems like every week I go, I find another vendor doing something unique that I love so check back for updates on new and exciting vendors.

Windy Hill Farms has amazing proteins including chicken, pork, beef and lamb. They also sell eggs by the dozen which are excellent. Pretty much any recipe with meat that I post on this site will have Windy Hill Farms' products.
Landis Gourmet Mushrooms sells exactly what their name implies: mushrooms and lots of them. They grow these beauties in an old barn and use organic fertilizers.
Houston Farms is your traditional farmers market vendor selling local produce almost exclusively. This is your source for cabbage, butternut squash, turnips, pie pumpkins and more. They also typically have jams and jellies as well as basil plants for sale.
Beverly's Gourmet Foods sells Beverly McLaughlin's (who is a private caterer in the Charlotte area) casseroles, mac and cheese and other great pre-made items that are almost all vegetarian or vegan.  I recently sampled her chicken pot pie and it was incredible.
Cloister Honey is a local honey that comes in many unique varieties. I buy their original honey for tea and cooking but they also have infused honeys in many flavors. 
Pickleville Pickles (yes, you read that right, there is a pickle guy) brings his own pickled vegetables each week. Don't like pickles? Don't worry, he has so much more: he makes his own salsas, pico de gallo and pre-made beans and rice packets.  I would recommend anything he sells.

Market hours:
Tuesdays from 3pm to 7pm
Wednesdays from 9am to 1pm
Saturdays from 9am to 2pm

2104 South Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28203

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Welcome to my blog!

Welcome to my blog!

As a local government employee and a sufferer of a common stomach ailment, it is increasingly important for me to know both what is in my food and where that food comes from. This blog will hopefully capture my attempts at eating locally, seasonally and sustainably while also working and living in one of the US's largest metropolitan areas.  Though my experiences mainly take place in the Charlotte area, our local food resources and opportunities are not unique to this region and can be found all over America. 

Join me on this adventure as I explore the Charlotte area's local, organic and sustainable food options, their benefits to our physical and communal health and other exciting ways to live locally in the twenty-first century!