Sunday, April 29, 2012

Saturday Night Special

I'm pretty sure the general rule is don't drink and blog. Uh oh. I just broke it. How could I resist a blueberry mojito made from mint I purchased this morning at the farmers' market and blueberries I picked today at a farm owned by a friend of a friend?

A mojito calls for rum, but the only rum I had was Black Strap Cruzan, a very strong rum with a molasses smell. I kept looking through my seldom used liquor cabinet (I'm not a big drinker, honest). I found this fire water I won for making the best tortilla in Guatemala. Okay, not the entire country of Guatemala, but the best tortilla from among the mostly geriatric cruisers on my shore excursion in a tiny port town in Guatemala. It really wasn't that hard to do.

I crushed the blueberries slightly, then put in the mint, fire water, club soda and a liberal sprinkling of sugar. Top it off with ice cubes and I had a delicious dessert mojito.

I had one last pork shoulder roast left over from the pig I bought from my friend Angie. I decided to go whole hog (man, I am on fire tonight!) and slow-cook it using a recipe I made up. I didn't even google to get a base! I cut up an onion from my CSA share and added two diced gala apples (organic, natch). I placed the shoulder roast on top of them and poured a bottle of Angry Orchard Apple Ginger Hard Cider over the roast.  I salted the shoulder roast with some Hawaiian black sea salt and poured apple butter on top. The roast cooked on high heat in my slow-cooker for six hours. Craig said it was the best one I've made.

I was driving back from an appointment yesterday when I saw ducks in the nearby pond (and a Mother Goose, Father Gander and 6 super cute goslings, though Ryan was absent). That made me start thinking about alternatives to chicken eggs. Why not duck eggs? I didn't want to go through the hassle of stealing eggs from nests by that and other ponds in town, so I contacted my egg source yesterday and asked if he had duck eggs. He had one dozen available, and I picked them up at the farmers' market this morning. Duck eggs are heavier and more expensive than chicken eggs. The farmer told me to use them for baking as they have a strong, rich taste. My kids love corn muffins, so I made my gluten-free honey corn muffins using two duck eggs, local grass-fed milk and local raw honey. The duck eggs really did make for a richer taste. Or maybe it was the 1/2 cup of melted butter in the muffins rather than the 1/4 cup that the recipe called for. For whatever reason, the muffins were fantastic.

I sauteed Swiss chard that I grew in pots on my patio. I've been cutting off leaves here and there to put in scrambled eggs and the chard has grown back. But it's getting hot down here, so the season for chard may be coming to an end. I wanted the chard to go out in a blaze of glory, so I cut every leaf and sautéed them in extra virgin olive oil and salt. I also steamed the beans from the CSA share and some store bought broccoli for my picky eaters. At least they ate the pork, broccoli and corn muffins. Also the coconut rice I made, which is the farthest from local you can get. I think both the rice and coconut milk were from Thailand.

I made a salad from the CSA share  - a delicious dark leaf lettuce, purple and orange carrots and cucumbers. I have chives growing on my patio, so I snipped off some flowers and added them to the salad for a garlicky taste. I topped it off with my gas-station mustard salad dressing.

I went all out tonight and made chocolate chip cookies. I used almond flour and adapted the recipe from the back of the Honeyville almond flour bag. I substituted maple syrup instead of agave syrup and used melted butter instead of grape seed oil. How do you think they turned out? I'll give you a hint: I only needed a small container to store leftovers.

I'd love some ideas for topics. I will post why eating local and organic is important to me, but I know it's been done to death all over the blogosphere.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bloomin' Onions...

Actually, that should read onion blossoms or flowers. I saw these at the farmers' market this past Saturday and I could not resist! Here's a before picture.

Tonight was a grill night. I made aluminum foil packets for my veggies and roasted them at the same time as the chicken thighs. I put the blossom tops in a packet with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and smoked salt.  (The stems are edible, but take longer to soften up).

I also peeled and diced ribbon beets I got at the farmers' market two weeks ago but hadn't used yet. They are so pretty! Like candy cane beets, but not so minty! I prepared them the same way.

The onion flowers became so soft! The farmer, Trace, advised me to eat them like a roasted garlic bulb; eat the inside and discard the outside. The flavor was reminiscent of garlic, but much milder. I ate them straight, no bread needed. I would definitely buy them again.

The rest of the dinner included grilled chicken thighs with tzatziki sauce (I have got to figure out a different recipe for cucumbers, since I don't like them in salad,) sautéed kale from the farmers' market and roasted small potatoes. Sadly, I bought the potatoes at the supermarket. 

Also, I've decided that chicken thighs are so much more delicious than chicken breasts. (That makes me a leg-girl?) The taste is deeper and richer, especially when seasoned with smoked sea salt. 

The onion flowers are the top left. Unfortunately, the ribbon beets lost their shiny, pink luster when roasted although no taste disappeared. Tzatziki sauce tastes better after a day or two because the garlic has deepened and spread through the yogurt. 

Any cucumber suggestions? Maybe I'll make little sandwiches with cucumber as the bread and cream cheese and smoked salmon as the inside.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Farmers' Market Bounty

I have a hard time not going crazy at the local farmers' market. The produce is so luscious! This morning I bought local honey, brussels sprouts, onion flowers (a new one for me!), kale, spinach, green beans, blueberries, and eggs.

Nathan's holding the brussels sprouts we bought. It's almost as big as he is! Not only do we get the sprouts from the stem, but the leaves are also edible! I may try a collard style dish for them.

I chopped the brussels sprouts (after snapping them off the stalk) and used left over bacon grease to coast them, then roasted them at 400 until soft and brownish. Sprinkle some sea salt on them for a candy taste. Seriously, the can taste caramelized! My mom used to steam brussels sprouts until they were limp, soggy, grey and generally the grossest vegetable out there. The smell from steamed brussels sprouts used to linger in the house for hours afterwards. Blech. I had no idea that they actually tasted good! The secret is to roast them with either olive oil or lard and salt them. They become soft, but not soggy. Some leaves brown and crisp and have a satisfying, salty crunch. I also roasted sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt at the same time in the oven. The kids ate steamed green beans from the market, because they sure won't try anything new unless it's a dessert or grain based. Then they'll eat it up.

Tonight's main course was a slow roasted local grass-fed chuck roast. It's so easy to make them! Get out your cast iron pot, brown the meat with some butter, then put onions on the bottom of the pot. Put the roast on top, sprinkle salt and pepper on the meat. Add some water or beef broth and cook on 275 for hours and hours and hours (this cooked for about 5 hours). The meat was so soft! I sautéed some onion and crimini mushrooms to put on top of the steak.

Last on the dinner menu was a gluten free honey corn muffin. I try to bake as many gluten-free items as I can because I think my kids eat too much wheat. Wheat is in everything and it's a gut-irritant. I might as well give their digestive system a break if I bake things at home from scratch. I just substitute half white rice flour and half tapioca starch for whatever wheat is called for in the recipe . The milk, eggs and honey were local. I also love Bob's Red Mill Masa Harina as the corn meal base for the recipe. Masa Harina has been treated with pickling lime; too much untreated corn can lead to pellagra, a niacin deficiency.

I'm now making bone broth using the left over bones, fat, meat, drippings, carrots, celery, onions and a little apple cider vinaiger to help pull out the mineral from the bone. The broth will cook over night to keep pulling out as many nutrients tomorrow. My plan is to make french onion soup tomorrow night using the broth.

The lettuce and carrots are on there to make the plate look healthy. I ate them, but I seem to be the only one eating salad right now. Why is that? I guess I'll have salad for breakfast. I have a lot leftover.

I realize that the pictures are pretty awful. I'll have to work on better lighting and a better camera. Maybe a better plate, too?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Zucchini Season

Zucchini season has arrived in Florida. The Windsor Zucchini Festival is May 12 this year. Craig and I went years ago; it's a cute small town festival. Maybe we'll take the kids this year. They love zucchini. Haha. Not.

I got two kinds of zukes in my CSA share yesterday, the regular dark green kind and a bi-color yellow and light green color-blocked one. I'm planning on making grain-free chocolate chip zucchini muffins in the next couple of days with the dark green ones. Tonight I made zucchini noodles with the bi-color ones. Use a vegetable peeler and peel strips from the zucchini until you reach seeds.You can toss the seed part of it into the pan as a chunk. Heat up extra virgin olive oil and toss the noodles in the oil until soft. I seasoned them with Italian seasoning and garlic powder, no salt needed.

A huge bag of basil leaves was also included in the CSA bag. What do you do with basil, besides making mojitos? Pesto! Walnut pesto, to be exact. I ordered raw, organic walnuts through the local buying club, so I have some hanging out in the freezer.

My cooking and baking philosophy is to use recipes as jumping off points. I like to tinker with recipes I find online or in books. I found a basil walnut pesto online and followed it, but didn't measure. I just eyeballed and tasted until it was yummy. I had to use a Boar's Head parmigiano reggiano because that was the only p-r available at Publix! However, it was a raw cheese imported from Italy. If the ingredient list says milk instead of pasteurized milk, you're eating a raw cheese. Also, if there is a seal from the country of origin that looks "official", it most likely is a controlled name cheese. That means it is made in the traditional manner from unpasteurized milk.

 I served the pesto on baked chicken breasts and rice noodles.

I experimented for dessert. I baked a butternut squash yesterday and didn't use it. I whipped up a butternut squash soufflé for dessert. It...wasn't great. After putting the squash in the mixer, I added three eggs, maple syrup, heavy cream and cinnamon and baked it on 400.  The maple syrup as sweetener just wasn't enough.The texture was fine; the taste was a little flat. I sprinkled some succanat on top to sweeten it up. Meh. Maybe I'll fry some up tomorrow morning in coconut oil for breakfast and put an egg on it, just to use it up. I didn't bother to feed it to the kids. I knew they would turn their noses up at it. I almost did.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beige Dinner

Tonight's dinner is a perfect example of "good personality" cooking. Looking at the plate, I realize that it's pretty monochromatic. It's a beige dinner, with a bit of blue mixed in. But once I ate it, WOW! Taste sensation!

I roasted red, white and blue small potatoes with sliced garlic, onions and crimini mushrooms. Drizzle EVOO, liberally sprinkle smoked sea salt and roast until soft on 400. I learned about cleaning mushrooms from the original Iron Chef. "Give them a shower, not a baaaath." (Please read this in Chairman Kaga's voice.) I hope I remembered the instructions correctly.

Today's farm share included wax beans. I knew my super taster wouldn't even eat them steamed, so I decided to save them for DH and me. I sautéed them in EVOO, white wine and smoked sea salt until soft. I'm not sold on the white wine. I didn't enjoy the flavor, although DH liked them. Grilled chicken thighs purchased through the buying club marinated in EVOO and smoked sea salt rounded off the main meal.

The colorful part came from the entirely local salad. Two kinds of lettuce, tri-colored carrots, cucumber and carambola/star fruit. An extremely simple tangy vinaigrette contrasted nicely with the sweet star fruit. The vinaigrette is EVOO, white balsamic vinaiger and gas station mustard.

What is gas station mustard? Dijon mustard that costs .75 Euros purchased in a rest stop in France. My little sister lived for a year with a French family and her French mother swore by gas station mustard. It truly is the best mustard I've ever tasted. If you can't acquire that, use a sharp dijon and just imagine how much tangier it would be with gas station mustard.

Unusual Breakfasts

Breakfasts can be unusual in my house. My three year old cannot stand eggs. He refuses to touch them in any form except pudding. I cannot in good conscience feed him pudding for breakfast. Sometimes he'll deign to eat Greek Yogurt with a spoonful of chocolate syrup mixed in. (I like Santa Cruz Organics chocolate syrup). In desperation one day I asked him if he wanted meat sauce for breakfast. He said yes and ate the whole serving. Why can't we eat dinner for breakfast? The Chinese traditionally eat the same food at breakfast as they do other meals. My mother used to feed my younger sister generic meat ravioli cold from the can in the mornings. At least I warm up the meat sauce, Mom.

I take a pound of grassfed ground beef, fry it up and mix it with some tomato sauce. I can freeze it in small batches and can get about 8 meals from it. I heat it up in the microwave and we are good to go.

My six year old is another finicky one. He needs a lot of dense food including protein and fat to keep his blood sugar in check. I make an oatmeal custard for him. I prepare rolled oats like usual with water. Once the oatmeal is creamy I break some eggs into the pot and stir it until cooked. You can tell because it looks like a custard. If it isn't cooked it looks like slimy oatmeal. I finish it off with a dollop of extra virgin coconut oil and brown sugar. Oatmeal refrigerates very well. I make enough for about 3-4 days; when it's time to heat it up, throw it in the microwave for about 45 seconds, stir and sweeten.

My breakfast yesterday and today was leftover collard greens sautéed in bacon grease with a fried egg on top. I heated up the collards and used a ton of butter to fry the egg over easy, leaving a runny yolk to break over the collards.

Collard greens are plentiful this time of year. I got a ton in farm share last week and wasn't sure what to do with them since I'm the only one who eats them. (I think the boys inherited their food reticence from their dad. I ate a ton of varied food while pregnant and breastfeeding. You'd think they would eat everything!). While the bacon was cooking I folded each one over and laboriously cut the stems from about 30 leaves. The stems are edible but can be tough. I prefer to avoid them. Then I rolled up the leaves and cut them into strips, tossed them into the pot, poured a little water in there, covered and let them cook for a good ten minutes. I'm sure this isn't the traditional Southern recipe. I'm a carpetbagger; I've only been down here for 15 years. I just do what's easy and tastes good.

Do you have any unusual breakfast ideas you'd like to share? I'm always looking for grain free alternatives!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Welcome to Good Personality Cooking!

I love cooking. I especially love cooking using local and fresh ingredients. Strange, I know. Luckily, North Central Florida has a vibrant food community. We have a great growing season in the winter when you poor Northerners are subsisting on canned blueberries and withered tubers. I have decided to share my adventures in cooking using my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) share, bounty from the farmers' markets and various underground food sources, both literally and figuratively.

I call this Good Personality cooking because while the food may not be plated elegantly, it sure tastes good. I'm also not going to spend a ton of time arranging or lighting my food for photos. I got the "good personality" brand in my youth, so I'm not trying to bring up bad memories for people.
I know it's a tired trope. Is there any other kind?

I pick up my CSA share from an organic farm down the block about 2 miles on Wednesdays. I never know what I'm going to get. Will it be veggies I'm familiar with and cook all the time? Or will I have to figure out how to prepare something new? Saturdays I go to the farmers' market and find local chicken, eggs and produce. Mondays, I pick up an order from a friend who runs an organic buying club that includes local grass-fed meat for a pittance.

I try to cook everything from scratch. Sometimes I cheat and use jarred tomatoes. I also buy fruit leather from Target because I am not Superwoman, people. I do not own a dehydrator (yet). The fruit leather is organic, however. I have some standards. I also can't replicate cheddar bunnies for my kids. It's the original Annie's Organics or nothing.

Without further ado, here's tonight's dinner. Click on the picture below for a larger view.

Clockwise from top left: grilled bi-color summer squash, collard greens and bacon, grilled chicken with tzatziki sauce and sweet potatoes prepared on the grill. The squash, collards and cucumber in the tzatziki sauce were from the CSA. The bacon, chicken, yogurt and sweet potatoes came from the buying club.

I've never made homemade tzatzkiki sauce before. It is so easy and unbelievably delicious. I used full-fat Fage greek yogurt, which is impossible to find it in stores because people are too afraid of fat. Non-fat greek yogurt is so boring and flat. I peeled, deseeded and chopped fresh cucumbers, then mixed it into the yogurt along with crushed and chopped garlic. Fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, dill, salt and pepper finish it off. It was delicious fresh and even better the next day. I ate it over eggs this morning. YUM.

The sweet potatoes were super easy. Peel, chop into cubes, wrap in foil with extra virgin olive oil and salt. Put it on the grill until you can poke the cubes easily with a fork. They tasted like candy.

Lest you think my six and three year old boys have sophisticated palates and eat everything I whip up, I usually end up making a second meal for them. Every night the boys eat steamed broccoli or green beans. They will not touch any sort of tuber. The older only eats plain meat or chicken without sauce and the younger one only eats meat sauce or stew meat and refuses to touch chicken. I'm hoping they grow out of the bland phase. I can't even get them to eat a "polite bite." They gag like I'm forcing them to eat maggots.

I'll be back Wednesday with a list of CSA veggies. I'll take suggestions!