For the past two years I have worked with a local nonprofit organization focused on promoting local food and supporting small, family farms. For the past twenty-ish years I have been obsessed with food. Not like the people you see on Discovery Health who have to be lifted via crane out of their living rooms, but like an eight year old girl with a subscription to Martha Stewart and a dream to be a food stylist before that was even a thing and there were horrible reality shows about it. The dream of Culinary School turned into an English degree, and then another English degree, and while food is my primary passion, I’ve learned that cooking it is better kept as a passion, rather than a job. This blog was just a matter of time.
I think it’s important that chefs (and cooks!) have a philosophy, or at least an end-goal in mind when they’re creating and cooking (besides ‘I’m hungry. I think this box of mac ‘n’ cheese will do it’). For me, it’s always local. I’ve learned through the years that local food is more nutritious, tastes better, supports small farms in my community and offers heirloom and heritage varieties that you can’t find in the grocery store. When I cook, I always like to look to the local ingredient first, and then build around that. This blog will be a glimpse into some of the dishes I create, try, maul, derange, re-try and finally share with you. They will not all be good, but we’ll learn some lessons, techniques and things you may not have known about the local food system. I encourage you to comment, make suggestions and share your own experiences with me. And most of all, I encourage you to seek out local food in your own area. Once you start to look for it, you will be amazed at what is out there.
To get us started and whet our appetite, I offer up my most recent “Friday Foodie Freestyling” – which is what I do on Friday nights when the husband and I stay in and I have nothing to do except open a bottle of wine, peruse my box of fresh produce, and create a three or four course meal made primarily from whatever I picked up from my Thursday afternoon co-op, Coastal Farms.
Our first course was zucchini poppers or zucchini hush puppies. I made them with shredded zucchini (local, of course) and mixed that with a local egg, hushpuppy mix from Wade’s Mill in Raphine, VA where they still stone grind their wheat, some home-made pesto from my garden and a bit of Parmesan. I fried them in my deep fryer (my best friend and worst enemy) and served them over a bed of string-cut cucumbers and with tzatziki dipping sauce which I made from Greek yogurt, local cucumbers, dill from my garden and lemon zest. They were OK. The Huz liked them more than I did, but despite my Southern roots, I’m not a huge hush puppy fan. I do love the tzatziki and consider anything that serves as a vehicle for it a bonus. (read: I can, and will, eat that stuff with a spoon and no shame).
Second course was golden beet (you know I ❤ them!) and white bean salad. My favorite method for cooking beets is to cut them off their stems, wash them, leave the skin on, wrap them individually in tin foil and then throw them in the oven – right on the rack – at 375 for about 45 mins. When they can be pierced all the way through easily with a knife, they are ready to roll. Take them out, let them cool a bit and then take a hand towel or paper towel and just rub the skin right off of them – it should slide off easily at this point. I diced the beets, mixed with the beans (canned) and heated it all up together along with an Italian vinaigrette, some fresh herbs from my garden then topped with VA made goat feta and cracked red and black peppercorns. This was yum and definitely worth repeating.
Finally the last course was tempura battered and fried fresh veggies. Tempura batter is literally one of the easiest things to make. There are four ingredients: flour, baking powder, water and egg. That’s it. Do NOT buy the pre-made tempura mixes at the grocery store for $4.50, it’s a total rip off. Once I made the batter, I dipped broccoli, snap beans and spring onion rings into it and then into the deep fryer (you see how I keep going back for more abuse…) and then out after a few minutes, served with ponzu dipping sauce (lighter and more citrusy than soy sauce – buy it pre-made in the International aisle at the grocery store). This is always good. I make tempura several times a year and it never disappoints.
So there you have it – that’s what I do and that’s how I do it. Keep checking back for more food pictures, recipes, tips and absurd failures. Thanks for reading!