Monday, August 29, 2011

Dirty Food

A friend recently brought this article by Bill Phillips of Men’s Health to my attention about dirty foods and I found it so interesting I had to share it here. It’s no surprise to most locavores that chicken, ground beef and turkey can have high levels of bacteria; reports of less than appetizing conditions in slaughterhouses are certainly nothing new.  But what about eggs and lettuce - those should be pretty clean, right? And cantaloupe certainly shouldn’t be on the list of dirtiest food we eat because it has its own jacket to keep out bacteria. Not so, unfortunately.

Recent tests by the FDA show that the following are the ten dirtiest foods we eat on a regular basis when bought from a grocery store or restaurant:
  1. Chicken
  2. Ground beef
  3. Ground Turkey
  4. Oysters
  5. Eggs
  6. Cantaloupe
  7. Peaches
  8. Lettuce
  9. Cold cut meats
  10. Scallions
The good news is that the article does suggest some ways to avoid bacteria. Carefully selecting your meat at the grocery store by looking for free range and other indicators is their top tip but what about fruits and vegetables that are grown and harvested the same way by the majority of producers? The authors suggest using a dedicated fruit and veggie scrubber, warm water and soap before cutting into your produce.
As always, I thought of this article in the light of local food advantages and, of course, there are some. A lot of local farmers do their own processing for their animals meaning that your chicken breasts and ground beef didn’t go through a large industrial slaughterhouse (Michael Pollan talks about this advantage extensively in The Omnivore’s Dilemma). Similarly, most produce is touched by far fewer hands than what you find in the grocery store which means it has potentially much less bacteria. 

The endgame is this: always be careful to wash carefully and cook fully what you buy regardless of where you get it and common sense (and food authors) suggests that local food could be yet another way to avoid harmful bacteria.

One fun tip: Phillips recounts in the article that exposing deli meats to mustard actually killed off a significant source of bacteria. As if you needed another reason to buy some Lusty Monk Mustard from Simply Local!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fish Part II

So how do the observations and research in Paul Greenberg’s Four Fish apply to the summer beach goer who stops at a fish shack to pick up some “local” catch? While in Carolina Beach, NC, my friends and I decided to hit the local farmers market on the island and talk to some fishermen. We braved a very rainy morning to go out to the market, ready to chat up some local anglers but much to our surprise, there was no fish to be bought there.

As true Millenials, we pulled out our smart phones and quickly learned that there is only one place on the island to buy fish without having to drive half an hour into Wilmington. Even this one market on the island only had a couple pounds of shrimp though we were told she’d had flounder earlier in the day but not much and it had sold out quickly. Interestingly, the shrimp she had to sell wasn’t even from the southern coast of North Carolina but rather from the Outer Banks over 100 miles north. To be honest, we were shocked. There we were, 30 feet from the ocean and unable to buy anything that was caught there. The market clerk explained that shrimp from that area were very small and not commercially viable. But what about other fish? 

Later that day, we took a trip to the Kure Beach pier, one of two on the island that survived a nasty slate of hurricanes that hit the NC Coast in the late 1990’s. I remember walking the pier as a child and peeking in the coolers of all the casual fishermen which would be brimming with fish. This walk was much different; instead of overflowing coolers, there were disgruntled men and women, not to mention some skinny pelicans, lining the railings all fish-less and deflated.

This concept reminds me of what Greenberg writes in Four Fish about each generation having a base level of wildlife in their collective consciousness. We each believe that a certain number of birds, squirrels and, in this case, fish exist in the world based on our early experiences but this level of biodiversity is shrinking with each generation. In this case, as I saw quite vividly last weekend, it has taken far less than a generation for a huge decrease in perceived wildlife.

However, since I promised you a fish recipe, we went ahead and got a half pound of Outer Banks shrimp from the lovely Veggie Wagon in Carolina Beach and, below, is Corinne’s amazing shrimp taco recipe.

Shrimp Tacos for Two  by Corinne
Shrimp tacos are a great beach food. If you're in a rental, or even if you are lucky enough to own a beach house, you don't have a fully stocked pantry and all the gadgets you might at home. This can be prepared with a minimum of pantry staples and even the blender isn't totally necessary (just chop cilantro very finely, mix with yogurt and other ingredients, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours so the flavors meld).

Cilantro Yogurt sauce:
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Garlic powder

Assorted toppings (shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, etc.)
Warm tortillas
  1. Sauce: Put all ingredients except salt in a blender or food processor and puree. Sauce is done when it is a light green color and you can't see many whole cilantro leaves. Add salt to taste, and more lime juice if you like. Refrigerate until ready to use (at least 2 hours).
  2. Shrimp: Heat a small amount of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and season with salt and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Cook shrimp on one side 2 minutes and flip, cooking on the remaining side until shrimp are just opaque and cooked through. Remove from heat and keep warm.
  3. Put out your spread on the table, and enjoy! We adapted this for a non-fish eater and included chicken as well.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fish Part I

Fish is one of those foods that I just don’t get into very much. It takes a skilled hand to make some fish palatable, a hand that I don’t really have. Shrimp I can muddle through but others just aren’t my style. Thus, I hadn’t really delved into the world of local fish until recently. You may remember a couple weeks ago I covered the brand new Elizabeth Avenue Farmers Market. While there, I spent a lot of time discussing fish with the fisherman selling his catch. This really got me to wondering not only about how a fish can be local but about fishing in general and how sustainable it can be. I’ve heard lots about fish from environmentalists and how wild fish catching is not sustainable yet neither is fish farming  so I decided to do a little research.

A friend suggested I read Four Fish by Paul Greenberg. Conveniently, this coincided with a trip I took to the beach with college friends including Corinne Everett Belch, perhaps the biggest foodie of my friends. This and next week’s post are my take (and some of hers) on Greenberg’s book, what we decided to buy while at the beach and how we made it.

Greenberg is, in addition to a columnist for the New York Times and Vogue, a fisherman himself. Growing up in New England, he has witnessed firsthand the disappearance of wild fish species and his book centers on this phenomenon. He argues the fish that we eat today primarily fall into four groups instead of representing the fish native to the coast closest to where a consumer lives: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna. These fish have been hunted almost to extinction and genetically altered to live in large farms where they can be cheaply bred, fattened and consumed.

Greenberg outlines how fish today are raised in captivity as well as caught in the wild and what that means. He traveled to places far and wide including Alaska to see the effects of salmon over-fishing on native peoples there to Norway, the leader in aquaculture. What he found is that our fish stocks are not being carefully managed due to the international nature of fishing and countries not being willing or able to do so. Many advances have been made in this arena but for the most part, fishing continues only moderately overseen which is leading or population decreases in many parts of the world.

So what about fish that you can buy at a market or at the beach itself? Check in next week to see what we found about what Greenberg calls the last wild food.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Recipes Part 19: Burrito Box

Before we met, my boyfriend was quite the bachelor. He lived alone, subsisting on beans, rice and frosted shredded wheat which, admittedly, is better than many guys’ diets but still left something to be desired. We’ve been together for quite a while now but the one culinary part of his bachelor life that has survived besides the shredded wheat is the infamous Burrito Box.

The Burrito Box is just that – all the ingredients you would want in a burrito but combined in a plastic box, shaken and then eaten on tortillas. This is something we do when we know we won’t have time to cook throughout the week and just need something quick and healthy for a couple nights in a row. The original recipe pretty much calls for a can or bunch of everything but I have since modified it to include as many local ingredients as possible.

The ground pork came from Windy Hill Farm though you could substitute sautéed zucchini or more beans of your choice; the Lomax Incubator Farm had some very interesting and tasty shishito peppers I used in place of jalapenos; the Roma tomatoes were from the Elizabeth Avenue Market; onion and corn from the Lomax Farm; rice and cheddar from Simply Local; and Greek-style yogurt from New Terra Farms. It sounds like a lot of ingredients but the actual cooking part takes about 5 minutes. Just think about how many meals you get out of it!

Local Burrito Box (LPO)
1 pound ground meat of your choice
1 medium-large tomato, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1-2 cups rice, cooked
1 hot pepper of choice, minced
2 ears of corn, cooked and cut off ear
1 can black beans
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon taco seasoning
1 cup Greek-style yogurt
1/2 cup salsa (optional)
6-8 large tortillas

  1. Brown the ground meat. Add taco seasoning.
  2. Combine all ingredients except cheese and yogurt, if desired, in large plastic container with tight-fitting lid.  SHAKE WELL.
  3. Serve on lightly heated tortillas.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Recipes Part 18: Peach Pie

Peaches have been in for a couple weeks now but I’ve been super busy so I haven’t had time to try my hand at peach pie until now. Though North Carolina is by no means the leading producer of peaches in the South, there are some great orchards in the southwest of the state. The Atherton Market has a temporary vendor, Webb’s Orchard, that is selling peaches by the bag and by the bushel right now and the ones I’ve had have been amazing. I also used Simply Local’s salted butter which was an excellent addition.

Much like the mixed berry pie of several weeks ago, peach pies are super easy to make and incredibly delicious. The original recipe for this pie called for a cup of regular white sugar and it came out way too sweet. My suggestion for an adjustment to the pie is included which will lessen the sugary-sweetness and hopefully provide a better compliment to the peachiness. 

Peach Pie (v)
5 cups peaches
¾ cup brown sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter
2 pie crusts

     1. Pre-mix sugar, flour and cinnamon in a bowl then pour over peaches
     2. Turn peaches into bottom pie crust and dot with thin slices of butter

     3. Cover with pie crust
     4. Bake at 425 for 35-40 minutes or until golden brown
Couldn't even wait to take a picture!