Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recipes Part 15: Corinne's Local Cheeseburgers

Mmm, burgers. When I stopped eating red meat in high school, it was around that time mad-cow disease turned up in America at some factory farm and I decided a steak wasn't worth foaming at the mouth. (This was before I had any notion that you didn't have to get meat from a grocery store.) I didn't miss red meat too much, until I got to college and suddenly had inexplicable cravings for cheeseburgers. Around this time my best friend Jordan also started eating meat again in the form of burgers, and her explanation was: "It's the meat! And the cheese! In the bun!" There were some accompanying hand gestures but you probably don't need them- you already know, deep in your heart, what she was talking about. The magic of the cheeseburger.

Burgers are great for many reasons, clearly, but a big one is that local meat can be more expensive than what you find in your local grocery stores. Ground beef, however, is still relatively economical at your local farmer's market, ranging from $4-5 per pound. My ground beef comes from T-5 Farms ($5/lb) and I also used brie-style cheese from Hillsborough Cheese Co., Lusty Monk "Original Sin" mustard from Asheville and an onion from Lyon Farms. I use my home-made burger buns for basically every sandwich including this one; they're also from Smitten Kitchen. I make them once in a while, keep them in the freezer and pop them out when needed. But you can use any bun here, just make sure it's not one of those squishy ones. It will not stand up to this burger.

This way of cooking burgers was brought to my attention by Smitten Kitchen, via the New York Times. It's a way of cooking burgers indoors with the stovetop/oven, so they turn out perfectly every time. You can do this on a grill, just follow the basic recipe and move burgers to indirect head where the recipe says put them in the oven.

For One Best Cheeseburger Ever
1/2 lb ground beef 
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and Pepper
1+ tablespoon triple-creme Brie or Camembert 
1 tablespoon spicy, grainy mustard
1/4 onion, cut in thin slices
1 sturdy burger bun
Olive oil
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Cook onions in a glug of olive oil over medium heat, stirring until they start to soften. Turn the heat to low and cook another 10 minutes, stirring until the onions are golden in color. Remove from heat and set aside.
  3. Mix beef, Worcestershire, salt and pepper together gently with your hands. Do not overwork. Shape into a patty about 1 inch thick. Make an indent in the center with your thumb -- this keeps it from becoming a ball-shape once heated, an issue when eating the burger.
  4. Heat a cast-iron or other oven-safe pan on high heat on the stove-top. I like to use a cast-iron grill pan because it makes the pretty grill marks but any oven-safe pan will do.
  5. Cook your burger(s) in the grill pan on each side for 2 minutes, then immediately put the pan into the oven. Leave for 4 minutes. Remove for medium-rare (or cook for 2 more minutes for medium.)
  6. While burgers are in the oven, pop the buns in a toaster or oven to warm them, then spread the mustard on the lower half of the bun, and spread the brie on the top half. Put onions on top of the mustard, top with burger patty, and then with the top half of the bun.
  7. Multiply as needed.

Voila! You can, of course, do whatever you want to your burger but I find minimalism on the toppings keeps eating easy and not an epic mess. My husband ordered a burger with fried onions on it recently and the monster was a foot high. When he was finished eating it looked like he had been in a battle.

Happy 4th!

Corinne lives in Chapel Hill, NC, with her husband Jeremy and their two dogs. She loves to cook, and eat, and that's why she let Sarah talk her into training for a triathlon in October. Oh dear.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Recipes Part 14: Potato Salad

Continuing with my four recipes for the 4th of July, I had this big plan of making local coleslaw to go along with the barbeque recipe from last week. Alas, no one at Atherton Market had cabbage this weekend. Luckily, several farmers had early potatoes so I still got to try my hand at homemade mayo, use these great early potatoes, and make a great local side dish for the 4th of July.

Homemade Mayo (v, LPO)
Like most people, I’ve shied away from making mayo because a) I don’t eat a lot of it and b) it seems like you need an iron wrist to beat the eggs sufficiently to emulsify them. So I set out yesterday afternoon to try my hand at making mayo from scratch. Unfortunately, I failed big time. I’m either not a very good whisker, I put in too much lemon juice, or maybe olive oil just is not ideal, but my “mayonnaise” came out yellow, runny and way too lemony. Luckily I had some store-bought olive oil mayonnaise to substitute.

Below is the recipe I found for mayo so if you have any suggestions, please share.

2 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup oil (I used olive oil)
  1. Combine yolk, lemon and salt
  2. Add oil by whisking vigorously one drop at a time till fully blended
  3. After about half of the oil has been added, you can add more at a time, still mixing until fully emulsified

Potato Salad (v, LPO)
What I love about local cooking is that you use different breeds of produce than you’d usually get in the grocery store. Though the end result might not taste like you’d think it would, it can be even better. When your mom made potato salad growing up, she probably used giant Idaho spuds, cheap yellow mustard, and canned sweet pickle relish. In my version, I only (well, almost) used what was available locally which meant smaller potatoes in three different varieties, local mustard that has a real kick to it, sweet onions, and bread and butter pickles. The end result was recognizable as potato salad but had so much more flavor and character.

The potatoes came from Houston Farms, the Lomax Incubator Farm and Berry Busy Farm, eggs and onions from the Lomax Farm, I used Lusty Monk Mustard from Simply Local and pickles from Pickleville Pickles.

5 pounds or 3-4 cups potatoes cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 eggs
1/2 cup sweet chopped onions
3/4 cup chopped bread and butter pickles
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
2 tablespoons mustard
1/4 cup mayo

    1.  Boil potatoes until cooked but firm, about 15 minutes. Drain.

    2.  Hard boil eggs. Chop 2 of them and slice the other for garnish.
    3.  Mix all ingredients then put sliced eggs on top.
    4.  Chill overnight or as long as possible.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Recipes Part 13: Slow Cooker NC BBQ

The 4th of July wouldn’t be the same without a lot of meat. This recipe is great because it’s incredibly easy, incredibly delicious and makes a lot of barbeque. You just put the meat in the crock pot in the morning and leave it till dinner time and voila, you have 8 or so servings of local barbeque. Have friends with crock pots? Have them make the same recipe or alter it slightly and you'd have a TON of barbeque.

I got a Boston Butt from Windy Hill Farms and it weighed about 4 pounds which is on the small side but my crock pot is on the small side too. The original recipe calls for smoked paprika which is very expensive so, since I love spicy food anyway, I substituted more cayenne pepper for the paprika. I’ve also added my recipe for easy NC-style sauce but you could easily buy your own sauce from one of many local BBQ restaurants (I suggest Mac’s). Nova’s Bakery makes delicious dinner rolls that are perfect for this barbeque because they are just a little sour. Finally, Bell's Best Berries has a great selection of herbs so you can get fresh, local thyme.

Side note: Though I am no big fan of cooking shows, I do occasionally catch The Splendid Table on NPR on Sundays. Lynne Rossetto Kasper is so cute and just loves all things food. One suggestion she has for when you are using a lot of spices in a sauce or dish is to heat them before applying them which really brings out their flavors. Thus, I usually pre-mix the spices and stick them in the microwave for 30 seconds before applying to the meat or adding to the vinegar sauce.

NC Slow Cooker BBQ (LPO)
1 Boston Butt
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 1/4 cup fresh thyme, chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1 cup water (if you love vinegar like I do, make it ½ cup water and ½ cup white or apple cider vinegar)
  1. Place the meat in a slow cooker
  2. Add water then rub spices into the meat (half on one side then flip and add the other half)
  3. Cook on low for at least 6 hours, flipping once
  4. Remove the meat and separate with a fork, serve hot or room temperature
NC BBQ Sauce (V)
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup cider vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon hot sauce (ie Tabasco)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
  1. Mix everything together
  2. Refrigerate (overnight is best but the longer it sits the better)

I can’t eat red meat so check back next week for Corinne’s amazing local hamburgers!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Recipes Part 12: Mixed Berry Pie

The 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays because it combines two of my favorite things: food and hanging out with my family and friends. We typically have around 100 people at my parents’ farm for the holiday and festivities include launching the trebuchet parked in our horses' field, fireworks and amazing food brought by all our friends. So in honor of this holiday, the next four blog posts will be recipes for some July 4th classics that you can make with local, seasonal ingredients.

Because it’s fun, I’m going to start with dessert. Blueberries have been at the market for about a month but blackberries just showed up in the past week. Blackberries grow everywhere in North Carolina but prefer wet, boggy areas whereas blueberries are more of an orchard fruit. My dad routinely comes home from work this time of year, puts on his gross jeans and a bandana and heads out to his secret spots along the back roads near our farm.  During the three or four weeks when the berries are in, he will haul in gallons and gallons which we use on cereal, in pies and freeze for use later in the year. This is my mom's pie recipe which works with fresh blackberries or frozen ones that you’ve just pulled out of the freezer. Though I would usually pick my own, I haven’t had a chance this year and the Atherton Market has a couple vendors selling berries including Granjammers, Busy Berry Farm and Bell’s Best Berries.

Mixed Berry Pie (v, <5%)
2 quarts berries (any combination of blueberries and blackberries)
2 tablespoons corn starch or tapioca
½ cup sugar
1-2 tablespoons butter
2 pie crusts (one for the top, one for the bottom)
  1. Prepare crusts
  2. In a microwave safe bowl, combine berries, sugar and starch/tapioca
  3. Microwave for 6-8 minutes, stirring two or three times, or until starch and sugar are dissolved in berry juices
  4. Pour into bottom crust then place slices of butter over top of fruit
  5. Cover with second crust
  6. Bake at 400 for 20-25 minutes

Tip: Blueberries and blackberries are not in season for very long but luckily, they freeze very well so stock up on these gems now. Frozen berries make a great junk food alternative!

Friday, June 17, 2011

In Defense of Food

Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food is a follow up to his book The Omnivore's Dilemma in more than just chronology.  In Dilemma, Pollan discusses how food to gets to your plate, the nature of the food industry in 21st century America, and how changing your buying habits of food can make positive change in your health, your local economy and America itself. In Defense, Pollan looks at food in another way, focusing on what we eat specifically instead of where it comes from generally.  

Much of Defense is dedicated to a critical look at nutirionism, or the increasingly popular "science" of looking at foods as component parts and how those component parts are or are not healthy.  Nutrionism, Pollan contends, is unhelpful and potentialy dangerous to eaters because it focuses on nutrients (fat, carbohydrates, protein) that may or may not be good for us instead of looking at whole foods as healthy or unhealthy.  Scientists are increasingly breaking down traditional foods into their component part and making new "foods" that contain more or less of whatever nutrient is good or bad at the present time (think about the anti-carb craze of the late 1990's or the anti-saturated fat craze of, well, right now).

Unlike Dilemma, Pollan attempts in Defense to give readers more specific guidelines of what we should eat. In fact, his eating motto is proudly displayed on the cover of the book: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Simple enough, right? But think about some of the things we get from the grocery store (a habit, by the way, that he says we should all get out of). TV dinners are my favorite example because they're basically food-like chemicals and materials rearranged to look like food. Salisbury steak? There's nothing steak-like about a salisbury steak other than it's color. Mashed "potatoes"? How much actual potato material is actually in those things? Pollan says that the only real food left in grocery stores can be found on the outer rows (produce, meat, dairy) and even those areas are suspect because of the artificial additives, pesticides and other non-food ingredients we've started adding to these items (Go-Gurt is not yogurt!).

Back to his rules though: the second half of his book includes rules that food consumers should consider as they buy or order food. My favorite two are "if your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food, it's not food" and "mimic traditional diets like those of the French, Greek, Italian or Asian cultures". These rules are meant to make consumers more aware of the values of whole food regimens and the way we enjoy food as a way to eat healthier. They highlight that claims like "low fat," "low carb," and "whole wheat" have become misleading because they focus on nutrients instead of the wholistic benefits of whole foods.

So what does this mean for locavores like me (and probably you)? Every word of Pollan's book reinforces the value of going to your local farmers market or CSA and not only getting to know your food but getting to know your farmer. Only through a relationship with the man or woman who produced your food can us non-farmers truly get a complete understanding of what it takes to produce food and thus enjoy and appreciate that food more. Short of actually growing your food, shaking the hand that does grow it brings you closer to what you eat.

It doesn't hurt that one of his final pieces of advice is to drink a glass of wine with each meal. Look for an overview of local Charlotte wineries and vineyards in the coming weeks!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Recipes Part 11: Saffron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon

My friend Corinne is an amazing cook and inspiration for my own food and food choices. She is a veteran of the farmers markets in Carrboro and Chapel Hill and, if I’m lucky, will be doing a guest blog post in the coming months. The recipe below is one she pointed me to from Kalyn’s Kitchen, a fellow blogger who is dedicated to delicious and healthy recipes that anyone can do in their kitchen.

Kalyn’s recipe was a perfect fit for this blog because sweet onions (which I used in place of normal white onions) are just ending their season in the Charlotte area and I’ve been using them in everything recently. Herbs are also highlighted this time of year though they grow pretty well through the warm months in North Carolina. The chicken, as always, was from Windy Hill Farms, the onions from Houston Farms, I used my rendered pork drippings in place of the butter and oil, the parsley was from Fork In It and the rice from Simply Local (I used the purple rice that they had a couple weeks ago because it's fun). Come to think of it, if I had used chicken stock from a whole chicken, the only non-local ingredients would have been the lemon and the saffron!

Kalyn’s Safron Chicken with Parsley and Lemon
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (cut into 1 inch pieces)
4-5 small or 1-2 large sweet onions, cut in strips
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter (optional)
1 pinch Saffron (~1/4 teaspoon)
¾ cup chicken stock
4-5 teaspoons lemon juice
¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 cups made rice

  1. Heat oil and butter (or drippings) over medium-high heat in large skillet
  2. Add chicken and cook on all sides but not too long (chicken does not need to be cooked through at this point) and set aside
  3. Add onions to the oil/butter mixture, allow to brown (12-15 minutes) on very low heat
  4. Remove onions, put chicken back in the pan and cover with onion
  5. In separate saucepan, heat chicken stock and dissolve saffron
  6. Pour stock over chicken and onions
  7. Simmer on low heat, covered, 30-45 minutes
  8. Add parsley, lemon juice and some water if needed and simmer for 10-15 minutes more
  9. Serve over rice

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Recipes Part 10: Seasonal Vegetables Galore!

Spring and summer vegetables are some of my all-time favorites. They evoke memories of the garden that my mother, sister and I use to have on our farm where we would grow squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, melons and various peas. Since I don't have a garden now in uptown Charlotte, I have been buying up all the vegetables I can get my hands on at area farmers markets and, probably to my boyfriend’s chagrin, making lots of all-vegetable meals.

There are so many things you can do with Spring and Summer vegetables that I could literally start a whole separate blog about them. I have instead included a handful below of my favorite, easy ways to highlight the freshness and nutrition of these foods. Houston Farms, the Lomax Incubator Farm, Muddy Boots Farm, Bell's Best Berries, are all selling summer vegetables at the Atherton Market among others in the Charlotte area.

1: Pan “Fried” Summer Squash (V)
This side dish recipe I made even more local by using the rendered pork fat I’ve been gathering each time I use ground pork from Windy Hill Farm. This worked fantastically taste-wise but be careful – when the liquid gets hot, it tends to dance around in the pan and jump out at you when you flip the squash slices!

2-3 zucchinis or squashes, sliced long-ways, ½ inch thick
3 tablespoons olive oil (or rendered fat drippings)
Salt, pepper or your favorite Indian spices to taste
  1. Heat oil on high in large skillet
  2. Carefully place squash slices in oil and cook until the bottom edges are slightly brown (it helps to put a cover on the skillet to minimize oil splash and cook more evenly)
  3. Flip each piece and cook through
  4. Add seasoning and serve right from pan
Note: Even though I used ground pork drippings in place of oil in this recipe, I don’t think there was that much fat in the finished product. You could also argue (as I am) that the drippings were better because they are not complex fats like butter and some oils. Of course, another good reason is that the pork from which I got the fat was also local!
2: Sautéed Summer Squash (V)
The easiest way to showcase these vegetables is to simply heat olive oil, sauté garlic and onions and add the squash. However, I have been playing around with some seasonings to spice up this easy dish. Here is my new favorite way to eat these, inspired by half a leftover lime I found in our fridge.

2-3 zucchinis or squashes, sliced no more than ¼ inch thick
½ onion, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil (best to use olive oil for this one)
Juice from half a lime
1-2 teaspoons chili powder
  1. Heat oil on medium in large skillet
  2. Add all vegetables and garlic, sauté until soft
  3. Add lime juice and chili powder
  4. Simmer on low for 5 minutes to let juice soak in
Suggestion: serve in a bowl so that you retain the great oil-lime-chili liquid.

3: Tomato and Cucumber Salad (v, LPO)
Tomatoes have been amazing already this year. Many farmers grow them in the late Winter or early Spring in their greenhouses which means you get fewer blemishes while still being able to eat local and organic. Cucumbers have just come to the market in the past two weeks in both the large and small varieties. In addition to the veggies, I got amazing blue Chevre cheese from Simply Local which is incredible on any salad.

1 tomato, cut into ½ pieces
1 large cucumber, cut into ½ pieces
2-3 tablespoons blue Chevre cheese
3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  1. Combine tomato and cucumber, refrigerate for 30-45 minutes
  2. Just before serving, drizzle vinegar and add cheese
  3. Gently turn over entire mixture once, serve cold

Monday, June 6, 2011

Adventures in Local Eating in Dallas, TX

Hello to all of Sarah’s blog followers! My name is Liz and I’m a college friend of Sarah’s. I’m a Texas girl who loves food so I decided to take on the challenge of scoping out local food in my hometown. I buy organic foods whenever possible but eating local is an idea that seemed nice in theory but difficult in practice. Contrary to popular belief, Dallas is not just about Tex-Mex and red meat (although we do love a good enchilada). I feel incredibly lucky to live in this city that has such an amazing and varied restaurant scene so why not see what Dallas could offer me in terms of eating local? For this post I tried out a restaurant and two different markets each in a unique neighborhood in the Dallas area.

First was Company Cafe. When Sarah and Russell were in town over Memorial Day weekend I knew exactly where I wanted to take them for lunch. I had been dying for an excuse to try out this relatively new restaurant in Lower Greenville only a few minutes from my apartment. Sarah and I split the Deep Bowl, an amazing concoction of ground buffalo, sweet potato hash, and two eggs topped with avocado. I would have never thought to combine ground buffalo with sweet potato, but it was quite tasty. Russell had the Veggie RX which was a giant omelet topped with tons of seasonal vegetables. This wasn’t your ordinary omelet overstuffed with cheese and a few measly vegetables on top - you couldn’t even see the eggs because of all the veggies piled on! Needless to say, Company Cafe was a success (all 3 of us cleaned our plates) and I will definitely go back soon. The grass fed burger caught my eye so that will be next on the menu for me to try. 

My next stop was the Green Spot Market in Lakewood, an eclectic combination of gas station, cafe, store, and on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month the site for the White Rock Local Market ….talk about multitasking! On my last visit to the Green Spot I bought a carton of blue eggs from a local farm. They have regular brown eggs as well but I thought the blue eggs were unique and fun, plus they were delicious. On this visit I was on a mission to try their grass fed burger, but unfortunately they were out of meat. They only bring enough meat to cook for that day and once they’re out, they’re out. I did get the chicken tacos which are a simple combination of chicken, spinach, guacamole and queso blanco cooked fresh right in front of me. 

My last (and favorite) stop on my local eats adventure took me to the always hip Oak Cliff neighborhood to peruse Urban Acres. Urban Acres makes me incredibly happy because they are a farm store in the middle of the city that brings in local produce, dairy, and meat from farms in North Texas. Judging from the long check-out line that formed this Saturday when I was shopping it seems to be catching on with others as well. Members of Urban Acres's co-op can pick up fresh, seasonal, local produce every two weeks. The huge bins of produce reserved for the half and full share co-op members tempted me but I had to stick to the small section laid out for us non co-op members. I still managed to grab several fresh ears of corn that I cooked over at my parents’ house for a family Sunday lunch, and I must say the corn was the hit of the meal! I also bought local, organic milk from Texas Daily Harvest, pastured chicken from Windy Meadow Farms, and eggs from Busy B’s Market.  My favorite find however was the “zip code honey”.  This honey was made right in Dallas by local “urban bee wranglers” Brandon and Susan Pollard (Texas Honeybee Guild).  So not only did I find local food from farms outside of Dallas, but I found honey made from Dallas honeybees!

Dallas might not have the wealth of farmers markets that other parts of the county are lucky enough to have and, due to our geography, there are limitations as to the local produce available. Forunately,  with just a little research I was able to find quality local produce and support local farmers without leaving the city limits. Now that I know I can go to a store and get milk, eggs, poultry and even some produce from local North Texas farmers, it seems silly to buy the same items from a big name grocery store when I don't know where that food is coming from.

Liz works in banking in west Dallas and is an expert in cuisine in the Park Cities area.