One Pan Wonder

In our house there is a rule that I cook, and Jeremy cleans up afterwards. If it’s an especially messy meal, I will help him, but generally he does it on his own. So I really shouldn’t care how many dishes are left after I cook dinner, or how hard it is to clean it all up, but I love my husband, and it takes him an hour to wash a sink full of dishes, so I present you with this one-pan wonder dinner.

The sausage, cabbage and apples in this came from my Coastal Farms Co-op. I love this program -I pay a membership fee, and each weekend I can log in to a website where over 50 farms and producers have posted what they have available. There are vegetables, fruit, cheese, seafood, meat, bread, honey, pre-made meals – and it’s all local. I pick what I want and I pay online. Then on Thursday afternoons, they deliver it all to a pick up spot that is very close to my house and I just go there and pick it up between 3-6 pm. It’s like shopping for lazy people, so it’s right up my alley. The turnips came from my Great Uncle Joe’s garden. There is no website for that, you just have to be in-the-know and VIP. Also, right up my alley.

layer sausage, cabbage, turnips and apples

layer sausage, cabbage, turnips and apples

Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage

Ingredients: 

  • 1 lb of smoked sausage, (mine was a pinwheel, cut into link-sizes pieces)
  • 1/2 head of cabbage, sliced up (or a whole head if you’re serving more than 2 people)
  • 2 turnips, peeled and sliced into 1/2” rounds
  • 2 tbs. olive oil
  • 2 tsp carraway seeds
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and sliced into rings

Method:

  1. On a large sheet pan, arrange your smoked sausage
  2. In a large bowl, toss cabbage and turnips with olive oil, carraway seeds and salt and pepper to taste. Arrange on sheet pan with sausage. Top with slices of apples.
  3. Roast at 475 for 18-20 minutes or until sausage is done through and cabbage and turnips are tender.
Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage

Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage

This is definitely what I would call a “rustic” meal. Very basic, farm-fresh ingredients, nothing fancy about the preparation or presentation, but hearty and filling. Because I made this recipe up on the fly, it could use a few alterations were I to do it again. First, and unfortunately, I think I’d have to use two pans. The sausage was so strong and so smokey, that it really just made all the other ingredients taste like sausage. I think if I did it again, i’d roast half of the veggies on a separate pan to keep their flavor in tact. It’s also possible that linked store-bought sausage would not be nearly as strong (three days later, my house still smells like sausage – it was serious). And so you could do it all on one pan like the original recipe. I would also try to roast this for a little less time. I’d shoot for 15 minutes next time. Provided the sausage is done, it would be perfect – at 20 minutes the veggies were just a little more done than I like. Also, I might try tossing the cabbage and turnips with a little apple cider vinegar along with the olive oil before roasting, just to brighten it up.

This sheet pan method can work for a lot of things, though. Try chicken (skin on) and carrots and potatoes or Salmon with asparagus or any other combination of meats and sides that cook well together. Adjust your temperature and time (longer for chicken, less for salmon) and experiment with it. It really was such a breeze to clean up, super easy to make,  and it was done in less than half an hour.  Again, all things that are right up my alley.

pizza party

I want you all to put your thinking caps on, use your inside voices, and think back to that blue-industrial carpeted, windowless, cement walled room covered in bulletin boards with cut outs that generically represented whatever season it happened to be. It smells like kids and chalk and old books. You’re in third grade, and sentence conjugation and algebra are a bummer. What was the number one most exciting thing that could ever happen on a school day such as today (besides the school day being cancelled for snow)? What’s the one thing that would awake you from your ‘is-it-recess-yet-slumber’? That’s right: PIZZA PARTY! Usually pizza party day coincided with ‘watch a movie’ day, so basically as soon as you saw this:

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

ERMEGERD PERRRZEERR

And this:

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

ERMAGERD MERVEEERS

Your tiny 8 year old heart was about to explode with joy.

Well, maybe the rest of you have grown up a little more than me, but as far as I’m concerned, anytime I see pizza I still feel like eating it while laying on my stomach on the floor and watching a crummy edited VHS version of The Indian in the Cupboard. (true story). Nowadays, the pizza is the only thing that’s grown up. And the movies. Sometimes.

Making your own pizza at home is super easy, super cheap and super fast. You can seriously make a pizza at home, from scratch, in less time than it would take you to order a pizza and have it delivered by a high school kid who has hit every bump on the way to your house, causing the majority of your pizza toppings to remain firmly attached to the roof of the pizza box.

I started making this pizza crust years ago, and it’s so easy it’s absurd. Like, it’s actually insane to me that everyone doesn’t do this and that people still buy pre-made pizza crust. First, there are only FIVE ingredients (besides water), most of which you probably already have in your cabinets. Second, the crust is this delicious, chewy, wonderful thing when you’re done. Not too thick, not too thin. If you’re one of those people who likes pizza that is essentially a heavily topped cracker, this is not for you. And for those of you who like pizza that was baked in a cake pan and you have to eat with a fork, it’s so thick, this is not for you. But for everyone else – this is our pizza crust.

Homemade Pizza Crust

pizza party crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 packet of Fleischmann’s pizza crust active dry yeast (2 1/4 tsp)
    (find it in the baking aisle of your grocery store)
  • 3 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/2 cups AP flour

Method:

  1. Add the sugar and yeast into the water, stirring until dissolved 
  2. Stir in the olive oil and salt, then the flour, stirring until well combined
  3. Knead the dough very lightly just until a ball of dough forms. Let dough rest in the bowl for 10 minutes.
  4. Pat dough out onto pizza stone or pan into desired shape, 1/4” thick. Top with olive oil, garlic powder and herbs, if desired before topping with ingredients.
  5. Bake at 425 for 15-20 minutes or until done. Let rest five minutes before cutting and serving.
Top it up.

Top it up.

Your ingredients can be whatever you want, but I love a good Greek pizza, and usually just throw together whatever I have on hand at the house. In this case, I topped the dough with a little more olive oil, Italian seasoning and garlic powder, then I put down a sauce that I had frozen from some local tomatoes mixed with some tomato paste. You can just use store-bought pizza sauce – no big deal. Then I topped that with a thin layer of fresh grated Parmigiana Reggiano, low-fat mozzarella, kalamata olives, diced sundried tomatoes, sliced pepperoncini peppers, half an onion, thinly sliced, and most importantly – browned, ground, local, Italian sausage from Windhaven Farms. I used about 1/3 of a pound. Since I’ve got a lot going on there, I bake my pizza for a good 20 minutes. I don’t want the dough to be underdone in the center. Take it out of the oven and let it rest for a few minutes. This will be the hardest part, cause when it comes out it looks like this:

pizza party pizza

And your 8 year old self is going to just want to grab it and stuff it in your face before that greedy kid with the runny nose touches it.

What are your favorite pizza toppings?

the other green

I was reading a story in Edible Piedmont this morning about a kale recipe, which could also be made with collards. The author made this substitution because she said she knew how popular collards are in eastern North Carolina, so much so that the region has been referred to as “The Collard Belt.” I’ll take it. But I’ll also take kale. Any day of the week. I think it’s actually a bit more palatable to the general population than collards and is usually cooked in more various ways.

I know it’s sort of cliche to have a food blog and regale the benefits of kale. Everyone gets it, I know. Kale is great, it’s good for you, it’s a super food, put it in your smoothies, bake it into cookies, blah blah blah. But seriously. It’s great. So great that I highlighted one of my favorite kale recipes in my January column in Tidewater WomenThe column this month is about resolving to “Live Locally” and what that means, how it benefits not only you personally, but your community as a whole. I also put it in there to remind people that local food isn’t in hibernation during the winter months. It’s readily available, if you’re willing to look for it, and to try something you might not otherwise try (ie – kale. or chard. or other things that are green and look like dinosaur food.) Not wanting to be a hypocrite, I went out yesterday, tracked down some kale and made this recipe, which I share with you below. It really is a great recipe, especially for the new year, if (like me) you are trying to drop a few “party pounds” from the holidays….this meal is so packed with protein that after only half a bowl you’ll feel completely full. It’s also so lo-cal and healthy that even if you down all four servings in one night, there’s really nothing to feel guilty about. Except for the amount of flatulence you will inevitably plague your family with if you decide to do that. ANYWAYS.

I found this kale at a little roadside stand out in front of somebody’s house. These are my favorite places to shop because it’s fresh, you’re helping support someone’s backyard gardening habit, and the produce is usually dirt cheap. I got a pound of kale and a dozen fresh, free-range eggs for $4. I could also have scored 4 lbs of sweet potatoes for a dollar if I’d liked. Keep an eye out for these stands in your neighborhood or town. And don’t feel shy or weird about driving up to them. The people who set them out are usually so nice and happy to have a customer. The chicken came from a Crock Pot Chicken I’d made earlier in the week. This was one of three meals I got out of one five pound chicken. The only change I make in this recipe is that I use dried lentils that I cook and season myself. I’ve never been able to find canned lentils in my grocery stores, but if your store has them – more power to you. If you go this route, use half the bag (1/2 lb) – not two whole cups of dried beans, as they will expand as they cook. 1/2 lb will give you just over two cups once cooked.

Shredded Chicken with Kale and Lentils

kale cooking

CAST IRON LOVE.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 bunches kale, tough stems removed, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 cups lentils (from a 15.5-ounce can), drained and rinsed
  • 2 cups shredded cooked skinless chicken breasts
  • Lemon wedges, for serving

Method:

  1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onion and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon oil and lentils to skillet; season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until warmed through, about 20 seconds. Transfer to bowl with kale, toss to combine, and divide among four bowls. Top with chicken and squeeze lemon over top. Serves 4.
Shredded chicken with kale and lentils

Shredded chicken with kale and lentils

I agree with what you’re thinking – this looks like a recipe you see in those magazines all about getting fit with advertisements for muscle milk supplements. But honestly, it doesn’t taste like that. It tastes yummy AND healthy, which is possible, I promise. Jeremy even got seconds. Flatulence be damned!

 

The root of it all

I just gave myself an award for the most clever blog title ever.

i ❤ beets

It is a shame, I realized, that this blog’s namesake has never really been examined thoroughly. I think in my very first blog post I may have posted a picture of a beet dish I had done, but I’ve never really delved into this amazing little root that inspired me to make this blog. There are a few reasons that beets are the thing I happen to heart. They are available locally, they are available at several times throughout the year and many people don’t like them. Why is that a reason to make beets the central theme of a blog? Because I think I can change people’s minds. I think a lot of foods out there that deserve our attention but suffer general distaste have just been presented wrong all this time. Like the poor Brussels sprout, which I will post about later . . .

Take, for instance, my husband who insisted he hated beets. So I asked in what format he had experienced beets in the past and he said either canned, pickled or boiled to death. Well, no wonder. He also hated Brussels sprouts for similar reasons. But there is a simple answer to both of these food fears and it is this: roasting. Roasting, which uses dry, indirect and diffused heat (such as an oven) increases flavor by caramelization and the Maillard browning reaction. Essentially, roasting enhances the sugars in foods through a process called pyrolysis, which I will not get into, because I barely passed chemistry. But here is what I do know: it makes food delicious. Especially foods like beets, which already have a high natural sugar content, just waiting to be released.

Beets are also so nutritious. Here are some facts from Nutrition and You about beets:

  • Beets are a rich source of phytochemical compound, glycine betaine. Betaine has the  property of lowering homocysteine levels within the blood. Homocysteine, a highly toxic metabolite, promotes platelet clot as well as atherosclerotic-plaque formation, which, otherwise, can be harmful to blood vessels. High levels of homocysteine in the blood result in the development of coronary heart disease (CHD), stroke and peripheral vascular diseases.
  • They are also a rich source of B-complex vitamins such as niacin (B-3), pantothenic acid (B-5), pyridoxine (B-6) and minerals such as iron, manganese, copper, and magnesium.
  • The root has very good levels of potassium. 100 g fresh root has 325 mg of potassium or 7% of daily requirements. Potassium lowers heart rate and regulates metabolism inside the cells by countering detrimental effects of sodium.

And while us die-hard beet fans can eat a beet canned, pickled, boiled, grilled or anything else, for those skeptics out here, this is my GO-TO beet recipe. I’m not sure where it originated from…I think a friend may have suggested this method and I’ve just sort of made it my own over time, I’m not really sure. My hope is that you will love it enough to make it your own, adding, subtracting and substituting to your liking.

Roasted Beet Salad with Vinaigrette

Ingredients: Beets in vinaigrette

  • One bunch beets (as seen above)
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs vinegar of your choice (balsamiq, red wine, champagne, whatever you like)
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1 tbs dried herbs (Italian, Herbs de Provence, fresh or powdered garlic or whatever else you’d like)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Cut the beets off their stems and trim off the tops and the “tails” of each beet. Clean each beet so they are free of dirt. Wrap each beet in individually in tin foil and place in the pre-heated oven, directly on the center rack. Roast for 30-40 minutes, or until each beet is easily pierced with a knife. 
  2. While the beets are roasting, create your vinaigrette. The most important thing to remember here is the a vinaigrette dressing always 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar. You can use any combination or any measurement (tsp, tbs, cup, etc), as long as you keep that ratio the same. Pour your oil, vinegar, shallots, herbs, salt and pepper into a medium sized bowl and whisk until they are emulsified. Set aside until beets have finished roasting.
  3. When beets are easily pierced with a knife, unwrap from tinfoil and allow to cool. Take an old dishtowel and peel the beet’s skin off with the towel – if it’s roasted to completion, the skin should slide off easily. Do this with each beet.
  4. Cut each beet in half or in quarters, if large, and cut into thin slices. Re-whisk your vinaigrette so it is well blended, then add your beets to the bowl and toss to coat. Plate, then top each serving with a spoonful of feta cheese.
Trim and wash beets

Trim and wash beets

A well emulsified vinaigrette

A well emulsified vinaigrette

Beets

After roasting, remove skin with a dish towel

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

Served with Greek salad, crusty French bread a Pinot Grigio.

If you don’t like beets like this, then I grant you the right to dislike beets. But before you file them away in things that are gross and that you refuse to eat, please try this recipe. Please. Give beets a chance.

Note: these beets were purchased from Westside Produce and Provisions where they were sourced from New Earth Farms in the Pungo area of Virginia Beach, where they use sustainable and organic growing methods. 

Shop Locally

I write a monthly column for a local publication called Tidewater Women called “What’s in Season” (you can see all my other publications and press on my MORE BEETS page). The column usually just reviews whatever local produce is around that month, where you can get it and then a few recipes on what to do with it. But for December, I was inspired to write something more . . . well, inspired. More like my holiday mantra, if you will. The column is below, in it’s entirety and can be found in its original form on the Tidewater Women Website.

Shop Locally

The holidays are upon us, and there is no escaping them. As I contemplate what I love about the holidays, I must confess that shopping is not one of my favorite things. It isn’t that I hate giving people things or that I’m not generous. It’s just that the materialism of the whole thing really weighs me down. After my 15th trip to Target or my 5th Amazon order of the season, shopping just starts to feel meaningless. What is this stuff? Does the person I’m buying for need it? Where did my money just go? What multinational, billion-dollar corporation did I just stuff the pockets of?

I know I’m not the only person looking for a more meaningful way of giving, and so I offer up a solution: shop local. There are several reasons to shop local this season. The gifts are more likely to be unique or one-of-a-kind. Shopping local helps support your local economy. It helps support an artisan, farmer, producer, or craftsman, therefore ensuring that these members of our community have a better holiday season. Finally, the gifts will seem thoughtful and creative.

My 30+ person extended family does a Pollyanna-style gift exchange every Christmas, and last year the gift I contributed was a locally themed basket of goodies, which included goat’s milk soap, locally produced wine, jam, peanuts, and other items representative of Hampton Roads. My cousin Sara ended up getting the basket, and I told her if she didn’t like it, I would switch gifts with her. To my delight she loved it! She even texted me a few months later when her soap ran out, asking where she could buy more. She appreciated the thought, creativity, and uniqueness of the gift. She didn’t mind that it wasn’t the latest and greatest piece of technology or a gift card to her favorite store or that it didn’t hold the highest dollar value. The basket of locally sourced gifts meant way more than that because it represented a half a dozen family-owned companies or producers, all being supported by my local purchases.

Here are some great ways to shop local this season. Many farmers markets are holding special holiday markets including Old Beach Farmers Market on 19th street at the Oceanfront in the Croc’s parking lot, which will have a holiday market on December 15. Additionally the Portsmouth City Farmers Market will be open every Saturday through December 22, the Smithfield Farmers Market will be open for holiday markets on December 1 and 15, and the Virginia Beach Farmers Market on Dam Neck Road is open every day, year round.

Several retail outlets also carry locally produced items, such as Heritage Natural Market on Laskin Road, Westside Produce & Provisions on Colley Avenue, and any of Taste Unlimited’s six locations. You can also sign up for Coastal Farms Co-op, which sources products from over 50 area farms and producers and uses an online ordering system with weekly drop-offs all over Hampton Roads. A co-op membership or CSA subscription would also make a great gift for the person who has everything. And while there is not a lot of variety in fresh produce at the moment, there are still wonderful local food items that make great gifts—like fresh baked bread, homemade dried herb seasoning, jams and jellies, salsas, cheese, honey, peanuts, wine, and more.

So this holiday, skip the long lines at the store and start a shop-local revolution! The person on the receiving end of your gift is sure to be delightfully surprised and possibly inspired to support, shop, and give local themselves next year.
For more information on the markets and businesses listed above, visitwww.buylocalhamptonroads.org

Rachel Burns
 is the director of Buy Fresh Buy Local Hampton Roads. Visit 
www.buylocalhamptonroads.orgwww.facebook.com/buylocalhr, and www.twitter.com/buylocalhr.

The one day of the year that everyone does what I want them to do

Thanksgiving gets the shaft and we all know it. Here is how the second half of the year’s calendar works:

September – Labor Day, back to school
October – Halloween
November, December, Most of January – out of control consumerism in the guise of a religious holiday we all know as CHRISTMAS

It doesn’t leave much room for a little altruistic holiday like Thanksgiving that focuses on being grateful for what we have instead of insistent that we get all the things the TV told us we need. Which is why I try my best to be a Thanksgiving cheerleader. It is, after all, the one day of the year that everyone collectively does this thing that I am constantly trying to convince people to do: get into your kitchen, cook a meal for people you love that is inspired by seasonal produce, then sit down at a table together and eat it slowly. Then, of course, the next day is the one day of the year where everyone does the one thing that actually makes me want to not be a part of the human race. The contrast between Thanksgiving and Black Friday could have been the socioeconomic topics of one of  George Orwell’s books had he lived long enough to see the monstrosity that is the biggest retail holiday of the year. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a free-market capitalist as much as the next gun-toting Libertarian, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to support the economy and we all vote with our dollars whether we vote for massive corporations who export jobs and manufacturing to China or whether we vote for small, locally-owned companies whose owners create jobs and reinvest those dollars back into our community . . . . but I digress.

THANKSGIVING!!

An Edible Arrangement, indeed.

Whether or not the traditional Thanksgiving story is true, and whether or not the things we eat each year really represent a traditional early-American harvest, the bottom line is that the meal is still a celebration of bounty, inspired by the local, the seasonal, the gracious things in life. And I love it. My personal family traditions have changed over the years. As a kid, our entire 30+ person extended family would all come to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving, so it was always a really big deal. We would get up early in the morning to help my mom set the house up for the influx of people, and then as the sun went down, people would start pouring in, and the whole evening was just complete bliss for me. I love my family so much and even though most of us lived next door to each other on the same dirt road, it was somewhat rare that we are all in one place at one time, so for me, it was like this amazing Thanksgiving miracle. And everyone could cook so damn good. There were usually at least 20 dishes spread out around the kitchen, everything from corn pudding to collards to stewed tomatoes (this is the south, after all) and of course the traditional turkey, ham, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, etc.

As we’ve all grown up, the grandkids have gotten married and it’s harder to get everyone together at the same time, and so traditions have changed, and Jeremy and I usually spend every other Thanksgiving with his family in Ohio, which I also love and which includes a very different list of dishes like Galumpkis, Kielbasa and Pierogies (are you sensing that someone is Polish?) But the day itself and the meal is always the same: full of love and tradition and thankfulness and I am a complete sucker for that.

So in the spirit of Thanksgiving and with those big family dinners playing out in my mind, I share with you a recipe for genuine southern collard-greens (pronounced ‘collargreens’, no d, all one word). Please understand, though, that cooking up a mess of greens requires a tiny bit of know how and personal preference. This recipe is more of a guide. As you cook them more and more, you’ll figure out exactly how you like them.

Simply Southern Collard Greens

Serves 10, approximately

Ingredients:

  • 2 large bunch of collards, fresh and local if possible and cut directly at the base of the stem (pictures at right)

    If possible, get collards from the market or farm cut right at the base of the plant.

  • 1lb of bacon, fat back, ham, jowls, ham hock or any other kind of seasoning meat
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 c. apple cider vinegar, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • jalapenos (fresh or pickled) – *optional and to taste – no more than one whole jalapeno *
  • water, on hand

Method:

  1. Thoroughly rinse each individual leaf off the collard plant and then tear the thick rib/stem off each leaf.
  2. Roll leaves together like a cigar, then cut crosswise into strips. Do this with all the collard leaves.
  3. If you’re using any uncooked meat (such as bacon) but it in the bottom of a large, heavy stock pot and cook it over medium heat. Once it starts to release its fat, throw in the onions and garlic and saute it all together until cooked through
  4. Pour in the apple cider and use this to deglaze the bottom of your pot – scraping up the bacon and onion bits with a wooden spoon, let this reduce together for a few minutes
  5. Begin adding your strips of collards, one large handful at a time, to the vinegar/pork fat glaze (that sounds awesome, right?) and stir them in, letting them wilt before adding another handful
  6. Stir in the baking soda and pepper to taste (and jalapenos if you’ve chosen to do that) and begin adding water as needed (This is where the know-how and experience comes in. You don’t want them too soggy, but you don’t want them to burn. They’re just sort of stewing in the water bath, so add it as you need, but not too much). Really taste the collards before adding salt – the meat you’ve used generally makes them salty enough.
  7. At this point, you can continue to let them simmer and cook on low on the stove top, or you can transfer them to a crock pot and leave them on low for a few hours, or you could even just continue to cook the water down in small amounts in your pot , doing a braising method that would results in less “soggy” greens. It’s totally up to you, I’ve done it every which way, depending on what I want and how much time I have. If you’re braising them, just keep stirring in water every 10 minutes or so and stirring the greens until they are done to your liking (30 minutes or so?). Otherwise, simmer or slow cook for 3-4 hours on low, for very Southern style greens.
  8. Serve warm with more cider vinegar or pepper vinegar, salt and pepper.

Collardy Goodness

What are your favorite Thanksgiving dishes? What can you not live without eating on the big day?

Eggy Eggy Parm Parm

For you Tom Haverford fans out there . . .


ANYways. I’m a horrible blogger. Two weeks in between posts? Blogging suicide. But I have an excuse. The days/weeks/months have been FLYING by lately, have they not? I’m not sure if it’s because of the election and how much of the past several months I’ve had to just tune out and hum songs in my head while I consider moving out of a swing state to Texas before the next major election, or if it’s about daylight savings time and so the days just seem shorter, or if it’s just that ramp up to the holidays where we all sort of run around like chickens about to get their heads cut off, but in any case, the time between my blogs feels like hours. The last one was right before Halloween, which was like, yesterday, right?

In any case, I present to you: eggy eggy parm parm (aka Eggplant Parmesan):

Eggy Eggy Parm Parm

This is a super fun joke for you Parks and Rec fans. For everyone else I just sound a little spastic.

This meal came together in some fun ways. The sauce is my tomato sauce I’ve posted about twice, and now thrice, cause I’m obviously obsessed with it. And the eggplant came from Mattawoman Creek Farms on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Last weekend the organization that I direct, Buy Fresh Buy Local  Hampton Roads, helped organize a local food tour on the Eastern Shore. Several farms, restaurants and wineries participated and opened their doors to the public, gave free wine tastings and specials, etc. I’ve been up the shore a few times in my life, but never to spend any real, good quality time, so I was excited to spend the day up there. We took the dogs with us, and they even got a behind-the-scenes tour of Mattawoman Creek Farms, a beautiful and incredibly well run Organic Farm that produces what I think is probably world-famous lettuce, among lots of other things. They have an incredibly long season because they use green and hoop houses very efficiently. I’m really sorry I didn’t take any pictures there, but I was wrangling two dogs in a muddy field just a few days after hurricane Sandy blew through.

We also visited two wineries, Holly Grove Vineyard and Chatham Vineyard. They are both really great and we bought a bottle of Petit Verdot at Holly Grove and the Church Creek Chardonnay at Chatham. Also, they have winery dogs, so you can’t hate that:

Anyways, back to the parm. We didn’t get a chance to go grocery shopping yesterday, so when I went to put dinner together a box of spaghetti, an eggplant and my frozen tomato sauce just made sense. As per usual, I do not really have a recipe for this, but I can tell you my process.

First, I peel the eggplant and cut it into 1” thick rounds. This was a huge eggplant, so I took two of the rounds and diced those pretty small to add to the sauce.

I took the rounds and dredged them in egg, then a breadcrumb/flour mixture and put them on a baking sheet. They went into a 350 degree oven for 20 -30 minutes or until they were easily pierced with a fork. Tender, but not mushy. About 2 minutes before they were ready to come out, I topped them with shredded mozzarella.

The diced eggplant pieces went into olive oil in a large pot and were sauteed with garlic and Italian seasoning until they were tender. Then the thawed tomato sauce went into the pot, maybe two cups? But use however much you need for however many people are eating. To this I add tomato paste to thicken the sauce. Remember, the sauce I make is more like tomato sauce in a can than pasta sauce in a jar, it’s the base for sauces, so it needs to be thickened in some way before putting on pasta. I let this simmer while the eggplant baked.

Cook your pasta according to the directions, drain, then mix into the tomato sauce to keep warm while the eggplant finishes up. Serve the eggplant over the pasta, top with Parmesan and parsley or a little more mozzarella. Do not eat this without wine. Preferably a cab sav, shiraz or chianti.

Yes, those are Halloween napkins. See, I really think Halloween was just yesterday.

I know this is not the traditional way to make eggplant parm, where you bake it with the sauce and big slices of mozzarella right on top and then served without pasta, but I’m not Italian, so there ya go. I also know I have posted a lot of eggplant related dishes. I just love it. People are scared of it, I’ve realized lately. They think it needs to be salted and rinsed and fussed over and that if you don’t do it just right it’s bitter or tough. I have never found any of this to be true. I don’t salt or sweat mine, I peel it, roast, bake or saute it, and I’ve never had one that tasted anything but delicious. And because I like to eliminate meat where I can in our diet, eggplant is the perfect substitution for chicken in this dish, or for sausage or ground beef in the sauce. It just makes the meal heartier while also making it healthier. I also like to use my method above of peeling, cutting and then breading the eggplant slices, then I put them on a baking sheet and freeze them. Then you can take out individual slices of eggplant straight from the freezer to the oven and bake them whenever you want them throughout the winter. I use them in this dish, or baked and put on a sub roll with marinara and provolone in place of meatballs or just as eggplant “filets” topped with bruchetta, cheese, olive tapenade – whatever you want!

How do you like to prepare eggplant? Are you scared of cooking with eggplant? What eggplant myths have you been told?

Impulse Buy

For most people, an impulse buy at the grocery store is a pack of gum, or maybe if you’re feeling really wild, a Milky Way (tm?) or something. Or if you’re at the farmers market, maybe you grab a little pint of blueberries, because you just can’t pass them up. But not for me. Oh no. When I impulse buy, I go big.

Take, for example, this past week when I went by Stoney’s Produce in Virginia Beach to see if they had kale or cabbage for a soup I was making. They did not. But you know what they did have? 25 pound boxes of canning tomatoes. That’s right. Instead of buying one bunch of kale for a soup, I came home with a toddler sized box of tomatoes. And they were on their last leg, which is why they were being sold in bulk. 25 pounds of tomatoes, over-ripe, bruised and needing to be turned into SOMETHING within a day or two. It was like buying a ticking time bomb. For $12.

For the tomato novices, you cannot leave tomatoes, especially tomatoes in this state, in a box all stacked on top of each other. They need to be laid out, stem side down, on a flat surface to keep from bruising any more. So you can imagine what 25 pounds of tomatoes, laid out in single rows looks like in my tiny kitchen. Well, you don’t have to imagine, actually, because I made a collage of the tomato invasion:

OH GOD THEY’RE EVERYWHERE!!

(that is only about half of them). I knew I wanted to eat some of them fresh and preserve some of them, so here’s what I did:

 

1. Caprese Salad

Some friends of ours invited us over for dinner this week, so I cut several tomatoes up, mixed them with diced fresh mozzarella, olive oil and fresh basil, salt and pepper and had it alongside some delicious chicken kebabs they made. Caprese is one of my very favorite tomato dishes, because it lets their freshness shine and creamy, slightly salty mozzarella is the perfect foil for them.

2. Salsa

I had not made and preserved any salsa yet this year, so this was the perfect opportunity. Some of this we ate fresh, the rest I will freeze and then thaw as needed throughout the winter. Recipe is super simple:

6 small tomatoes, blanched, peeled, diced
1 onion, diced small
2 jalapenos, seeded and diced (or keep some seeds in if you like the spice)
1 red pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tbs lime juice
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all your ingredients and let sit overnight for flavors to meld. Serve fresh with tortilla chips or freeze in zip top bags or tupperware containers. When you’re ready to use, let thaw in the refrigerator overnight. When you’re ready to eat the salsa, throw in some chopped cilantro, but I wouldn’t put the cilantro in with the batch you’re freezing. I think that sort of destroys the real fresh, bright scent and taste of cilantro. If you’re not sure how to roast a pepper, there are two ways to do it depending on what you’ve got going on. If you have a gas stove, then put a small burner on low, and sit the pepper directly on the metal over the flame, rotating every minute or so until every side of the pepper is black or bubbly. If you don’t have a gas stove, place the pepper directly on your oven rack right below your broiler. Again, rotate every minute or so until each side is burnt and bubbly. Then take the pepper (regardless of roasting method) and place in a heat proof dish with a lid. Steam will build up inside the container and after 10 minutes or so, you should be able to remove the skin from the pepper with your hands – it should just slide right off. Then cut the pepper open and remove the seeds, stem and pith, then dice into salsa-sized chunks. Easy Peasy – no reason to buy roasted red peppers for like $9 a jar at the grocery store.

3. Tomato Sauce

I’ve given this recipe before on the blog, but when I made this sauce this summer, it lasted for all of about 2 weeks, so it was definitely time to make a double batch and freeze it up again.

I also froze 9 tomatoes whole. Seriously – you can take an entire tomato – skin on and everything – and just stick it inside a freezer bag and throw it in the chill chest. Then take them out individually as you need them to make sauces. This only works for applications where the tomato texture doesn’t matter much (like the sauce above). It wouldn’t be great for salsas and things like that. I just had several tomatoes that really could not even wait the one day it took me to do these recipes, so I went ahead and froze them straight away to save them.

I still have about 6-7 tomatoes left, just waiting….to be something. Any suggestions??

Local Beef Three Ways

I’m excited to share with you all three different ways to approach one ingredient: local, pasture-raised beef. This will be the first time I’ve featured beef on the blog, so hold on to your steak knives! Actually, don’t. I’m not going to be discussing steaks. Sorry, you’re on your own there. The beef used in all of these recipes came from Windhaven Farm in Windsor, VA. They raise “Natural, Angus Beef” and here is how they describe it (from their website):

“Natural beef is a healthy and safe choice of quality beef.  The cattle are birthed on our farm.  We do not receive feed stock from unknown sources.  Our farm does not mass produce cattle.  The cattle are antibiotic free and do not receive growth hormones. The cattle are fed 100% grass, hay, and grain.  Therefore the cattle are healthier and leaner resulting in lean, healthy beef. Natural means: No antibiotics, hormones, ionophores, or medicated feeds No feeding of animal by-products. Grass fed, grain finished – grain is used to help “finish” and marble the beef. All natural from birth. Parasiticides are not used within 30 days of slaughter date.”

You can also purchase completely grass-fed beef from them in 1/4, 1/2 or whole packages. Yes, that means 1/4, 1/2 or a WHOLE COW. I know lots of cross-fitters (paleo dieters) that go in on entire cows together, and it actually works out to be a great deal, if you have the room to store even a small portion of an entire cow. I do not. So I usually order their beef in completely reasonable increments, like you know, a pound of ground beef. Their beef is available for pick up at their farm, or through Coastal Farms Co-op and at a few retail stores in Hampton Roads like Heritage Natural Market.  They also do occasional deliveries around the area.

The weather is really cooling down around here and a lot of the farmers markets have stopped for the season and while there is still lots of produce to be found if you’re willing to look for it, it is definitely starting to feel like hearty-food weather. So here are three great options to satisfy your cool-weather cravings:

Beef and rice skillet with late-summer veggies

Meat Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed in a blender

Directions:

  1. In a large heavy pot, heat oil over high. Add meat and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it begins to brown, about 5 minutes. Add onion, carrots, and garlic and cook until meat is browned and onion is soft, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, add tomato puree, and bring to a rapid simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is slightly reduced, about 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Casserole:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan (1 oz)
  • 2 tbsp Olive Oil, divided
  • meat sauce (recipe above)
  • 1/2 cup long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 2 zucchini or yellow squash, very thinly sliced
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 475 (Fahrenheit). Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan and 1 tblsp olive oil.
  2. In a large cast-iron skillet, bring meat sauce to a rapid simmer over high. Stir in rice and remove from heat.
  3. Top with onion, then carefully arrange zucchini/squash in a single, slightly overlapping layer. Season with salt and pepper, drizzle with remaining tbs. olive oil and top with breadcrumb mixture. Return to heat and bring to simmer.
  4. Cover with foil and bake 10 minutes. Remove foil and bake until rice is cooked through and breadcrumbs are golden, about 10 minutes more. Let cool 5 minutes before serving.

*This recipe is adapted from Everyday Food

The meat sauce part of this recipe can be adapted and used for anything – on top of pasta, as sloppy-Joe filling, mixed with cheese and stuffed into pasta shells – whatever you want! This is a really perfect recipe for right now because squash and zucchini are still available locally, but it’s still hearty and warm and filling for fall.

Slow Cooker Beef Ragu

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced small
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 3 tbs chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 beef chuck roast (2-4 lbs is fine)
  • coarse salt and pepper
  • 1 tbs red-wine vinegar
  • 1 tbs balsamic vinegar

Directions:

  1. In a 5-6 quart slow cooker, combine onion, garlic, tomato paste, oregano, salt and pepper to taste. Season roast with salt and pepper and place on top of onion mixture.
  2. Add 2 cups of water, cover and cook on high until meat is tender and can easily be pulled apart with a fork, 4 1/2 hours (or 9 hours on low).
  3. Let cool 10 minutes, then shred meat in slow cooker with 2 forks and stir in vinegar to taste.

This recipe was also adapted from Everyday Food

You could serve the ragu over whatever you liked – rice, pasta, polenta, mashed potatoes. I had originally planned on serving it over spiced and grilled polenta, but then the grocery store by our house decided stocking polenta (and anything else I’m ever specifically looking for) is stupid. So for whatever reason I opted for no-yolk egg noodles instead. Big mistake. I’ve never liked these things and I still don’t. There’s not enough salt in the Dead Sea to make them taste like anything at all, and the texture is slippery and slimy. The ragu was great, but my suggestion is to go to a better grocery store than mine and find some good polenta, or make your own, or make some stiff grits or something besides egg noodles. Seriously, maybe even some wood shavings from the pet store might work better. Just go with your gut.

Taco Bowls

Ingredients:

  • Burrito-sized soft tortillas
  • Olive oil spray
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • Taco seasoning
  • Refried Beans
  • Taco toppings of choice

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425. Place a cooling rack inside a baking sheet and turn 4 ramekins upside down on the rack. Microwave your tortillas for 15 seconds to make them soft. spray each ramekin with olive oil. Mold tortillas over each ramekin, making them into the shape of a wide bowl. Spray outside of tortillas with additional olive oil.
  2. Place baking sheet with tortillas into the pre-heated oven very carefully (the ramekins will want to slide around on the rack). Bake for 10 minutes or until golden and crispy. Remove from oven and let cool on the ramekins. Wait until they have cooled to the touch to remove them from their molds. This will ensure they keep their shape.
  3. Meanwhile, brown your ground beef in a large skillet over medium heat. Drain off fat. Return meat to the burner and add 1/4 cup of water and taco seasoning to taste. Keep on low until tortillas are finished baking.
  4. In a small saucepan, warm your refried beans until smooth and heated through.
  5. Once the tortillas have cooled to touch, fill them with your taco accouterments: I like to make the base with refried beans, topped with the beef, then topped with shredded jack or cheddar cheese, taco sauce, diced tomatoes, lettuce, some mashed and seasoned avocado and a dollop of plain, nonfat Greek  yogurt (I use this in place of sour cream in everything. The taste is exactly the same, but without the fat and it’s easier on my stomach).

You can make more than 4 bowls at a time, if you need them. I just only needed four and conveniently I only have 4 ramekins. Jeremy and I each ate two bowls (they are smaller than the ones you get at Mexican restaurants, so put your judgey face away). And we had chips and salsa on the side. This is a fun update on taco night.

Taco salads are great until you decide to start eating the shell. The idea seems great and starts out totally civilized. Something like this:

Oh yes, I’ll just take this one little bite of the shell.

Then all of a sudden all hell breaks loose, a tornado sweeps through your taco salad and you’re left with this tragedy:

The horror! The horrooooorrr!

Which is fine, really – it all tastes the same anyways. But if aesthetics is your thing, then just eat the salad portion with tortilla chips or something and save your bowl for decoration or to hold your keys or a hat for a small child or large dog – your call.

So there you have it – local beef three ways. Certainly you could do all of these recipes with beef you buy at the grocery store, that came from a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), where cows are fed nothing but grain, which makes them sick, which requires them to take antibiotics, which remains in the meat, which over-dosed the entire population with antibiotics so that we all have reduced good bacteria in our bodies so that we are all more prone to sickness so that we all end up having to take more antibiotics like the poor cows before us, which in the long run makes us even more sick, needing more medication and so on and so forth. Again – your call.
Besides that, grass-fed beef has higher omega-3’s, is leaner, often has more protein, and is generally ethically raised. There’s no doubt red meat is not the most healthy thing we can all eat, but if you’re going to eat it (and we all are – the average American eats 110 lbs of red meat every year), then make it the healthiest, most environmentally friendly, ethical meat that you can eat. Cost? Please. Let’s not get into that – just eat your taco bowl and enjoy the grass-fed goodness.

Crock pot chicken

I am about to share with you one of my favorite recipes of all time. Why is it one of my favorites? There are a few reasons:

1. It is easy

2. It cooks in the crock pot

3. It uses lots of fresh, local ingredients

4. You do not have to remember to THAW the food in advance, which I am terrible at

5. It saves you MONEY

I can’t take credit for this recipe – it came from a local farmer who raises chickens and was interviewed in the local paper last year about how she likes to prepare her own local, pasture-raised poultry. This recipe is a very slight variation on her original, but I give all the credit to Alison Wilson of Full Quiver Farms. I knew I had to make this recipe when Julia Child’s 100th birthday came around a few weeks ago, and the infamous taping of her roasting a chicken was inescapable. She was a completely lovable spaz, and I feel certain, based on that footage, that she got salmonella more times than she could remember. But, despite all that, I wanted to make a chicken.

First, you SLAP the chicken!

This is a basic crock-pot chicken. But when done right, it is flavorful, can be used for several meals, and will provide you with nearly 10 cups of fresh, delicious chicken stock. Let’s get started.

As I mentioned above, you do not have to thaw your chicken first, which is possibly my favorite thing about this recipe. It’s so hard to remember to take something out of the freezer in the first place, and then when you get into the realm of poultry, trying to figure out how many hours it needs to thaw based on the pounds….well, that’s called Math, my friends, and I don’t ride that train. But because you can put the chicken into the pot frozen, it will take a full 8-10 hours to cook to completion, so keep that in mind – get up a little early to get this one in the pot, OR do it overnight and wake up to a house that smells like the inside of your grandmother’s kitchen on Sunday afternoon – both good options.

I used a 5lb pasture-raised chicken from G-square farms in Isle of Wight County, VA. I bought and received this chicken within a week of it being processed. It does come to me frozen, but it is still tender and delicious when cooked. I paid $16 for a 5lb chicken, which I realize is more expensive than a chicken from the grocery store, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to explain to you all at this point why it is better to pay a little more for a quality, ethically raised chicken. Plus, you’ll see how $16 is going to make 2-3 meals.

In the bottom of your pot, dump your mirepoix (a combination of sliced and diced celery, carrots and onions). I use one onion, two carrots and two stalks of celery. Cover the bottom with this mixture and season with salt/pepper and then toss in a few cloves of garlic (or if you’re me – an entire head of garlic), crushed.

On top of that mixture, place your frozen chicken. Make sure, if it has gizzards, that those are removed. Then, this is where my recipe varies – I top the chicken with as many fresh herbs as I have on hand from my garden. In this case, a tiny bit of oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and chives. I also season the chicken with poultry seasoning, more salt and pepper. Then cover the whole things with water. Ideally, you want the water to come up over the top of the chicken, but just put in as much as you can without overflowing. Finally, the secret ingredient – add 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. According to Wilson, the vinegar helps draw out the flavor and nutrients from the chicken bones.

Mirepoix, pasture-raised poultry, fresh herbs, crock pot chicken!

Then….walk away. Just walk away. 8-10 hours later you’ll have something that looks like this:

Your final product(s).

Remove the chicken from the pot carefully with tongs – it will fall apart a bit, so just go fishing for the drumstick, which inevitably is the first thing to go. Set the chicken out on a rimmed baking dish and let it cool. While it’s cooling you can deal with the broth, but for the sake of explaining this picture – once it’s cooled, debone the chicken (this is the most time consuming part of this recipe). I separate out the dark and white meat, but do whatever you like here. Then I take out what I need for whatever I’m making that night and refrigerate or freeze the rest. I only needed about one breast and a bit of dark meat for that evening, the rest went in to tupperware and supplied TWO more dinners!

When you’ve removed your chicken from the crock pot, you’ll have broth and a whole lot of bits and pieces left. To separate the broth from the solids, place a sieve over a large measuring cup or container and use a ladle to strain the broth:

Look at you with your homemade broth!

Once the broth has cooled, I store it in different sized containers. I feel like recipes are always calling for just a 1/4 cup or a few tablespoons of broth, so I freeze an ice cube tray of broth, which I then pop out and store in a zip lop bag once they are completely solid – each cube is about 1 oz of liquid, so just pull out a cube at a time as needed for recipes. I also freeze 1 cup servings and then a large 4 cup container. The broth is naturally pretty low fat since we didn’t add any oil and pasture-raised animals are pretty lean, but if you’d like you can use a fat separator OR just store the broth in the fridge for several hours and skim the fat off the top once it’s congealed.

SO, now you have 10 cups of broth and an entire deboned chicken (I had about 8 cups of meat, but that will depend on the size of your chicken). What to do next? Well, I’m sort of a sucker for chicken wings, but let’s face it those deep fried, smothered in sauce, then dipped in another sauce appetizers are not doing anyone any favors. So here is my health(ier) take on buffalo wings.

Take one breast and tender and 1/2 cup of your dark meat and chop it up or shred it. Place it in a bowl and add 1/4-1/2 cup of buffalo wing sauce (depending on how saucy you want it). I use the Texas Pete brand because I think it’s spicier than others, and I’m not playing around when I want buffalo, but you can buy a milder brand. Then add 1/2 packet of dry ranch dressing mix. Mix well. From here, you can do whatever you want with this – put it on sandwiches, make a salad, whatever. I did lettuce wraps with iceberg lettuce, home made ranch dressing, shredded carrots, diced celery and crumbled blue cheese.

Buffalo chicken and accouterments.

Served along side some local corn on the cob and home made potato chips made from local potatoes, oh and of course a Corona with lime . . . whoa.

There isn’t a bar in town with buffalo chicken this good.

This recipe used about 1/3 of the whole chicken and served two people for dinner and then two people for lunch the next day. Another 1/3 got used in a chicken pot pie, which three very hungry people consumed in one meal, and then the other 1/3 is in my freezer – just waiting to become something else delicious. I use the chicken stock in everything, and barely ever have to buy it from the grocery store because I make a crock pot chicken once or twice a month, keeping me stocked with . . . stock.

Recipes like this just make me happy – they are a breeze to do, they work on so many different levels, they give you two products for the price of one and will feed you for a week.

What are your favorite dual purpose recipes?