Back with the Beets

Hey, so it’s been awhile. And I apologize. But I’m not going to pretend like it’s a new year and I’m going to be better about blogging and make resolutions or promises about this, because then we would both be disappointed. See, around May of 2014 I turned my freelance career into an actual business: The Content Chop Shop. And since then I have been overwhelmed and overjoyed by the amount of business I’ve had. Quite a bit of this business is blogging….for other companies. This leaves very little time for blogging….for myself.

But this past Christmas I was gifted a new kitchen appliance . . . one that, unlike the uninspired toaster or a microwave, has basically spawned a cult of loyal followers. That’s right – someone gave me a juicer.

Breville Brothers. AKA - the gateway between me and 90% of my food.

Breville Brothers. AKA – the gateway between me and 90% of my food.

Why Juice?

I’m not going to go into a long, scientific, Alton Brown-esque explanation here like I usually do, but here’s the gist of it:

It’s hard to eat a bunch of fruits and veggies. It’s much easier to just drink them and get the same nutrients in one glass of juice than five or six whole foods. 

Yes, ideally I would eat two apples, three carrots, a nub of ginger, half a kohlrabi, a pear and a handful of parsley, but I’m not going to, so instead I juiced them all and had that for lunch. Simple. I like simple.

I’ve only been juicing for a couple of weeks, but so far I love it! I have so much energy when I do and the juices are really so much more filling that you would think. I really did have that juice I just mentioned for lunch today and it kept me satiated until 5:30 when I had a handful of pistachios while getting dinner ready.

But as you can imagine, it didn’t take me long to incorporate my all-time favorite food into my new juicing obsession: beets.

Blood-Red Beet Juice Martini

beet juice

Ingredients:

  • 2 honeycrisp apples
  • one raw beet, scrubbed and trimmed
  • four medium carrots, scrubbed
  • handful of baby kale

Method:

  1. When/if possible, choose all organic ingredients listed above. Wash and trim any greens from carrots and beets
  2. Process all ingredients through your juicer
  3. Pour juice into a martini shaker full of ice and shake for several seconds
  4. pour into chilled martini glasses and enjoy!

So why the martini shaker? 

Because it’s cool. I mean, really – when juice comes out of a juicer it’s basically just room temperature, so if you like your juice a little chilled, shaking it in a martini shaker is actually a kind of brilliant way (if I do say so myself) to bring its temperature down without diluting it too much by pouring it over ice. This juice was just a bit sweet from the apples and beets with a nice earthiness from the carrots and kale. It was a really good balance and when sipped during dinner, kept my appetite at bay, meaning it kept me from over eating, which is a common problem for me . . .

So while I can’t commit to blogging on a regular basis, I can commit to juicing. Because it’s easy, it’s good for you, and the other people in my cult tell me it’s cool.

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Open Season

For locavores, June marks the beginning of open season. Markets open back up, farm stands are on every corner and fresh produce is back at last. This morning I woke up, threw some clothes on and told the husband to make my coffee to-go and hold off on frying the bacon. Half an hour later we were back home with new potatoes, kale, beets, green beans and fresh baked tomato basil rolls. And all for $15. But eating fresh and local? That’s priceless.

20140607-103632-38192149.jpg

Happy produce hunting, friends!!

Pimento Cheese

Only in the south would someone throw together shredded cheddar cheese, mayonnaise and some pimentos and call it fancy. But that is, in fact, what we have done. Southerners have a way of doing this – cutting up cucumbers, mixing some dill with some mayonnaise and putting them on white bread and suddenly everything is elevated.

A week ago I was headed to a committee meeting that I chair that is putting together an amazing local food event called Farm to Fork. I wanted to bring something for people to snack on, so I dropped into local gourmet retailer, Taste, and picked up the biggest container of their homemade pimento cheese they had. Upon arriving at the meeting location, I found out that our host had made her own homemade pimento cheese (of course!) and that mine was not necessary, so home with me it went.

Now, what to do with a giant, half-pound container of pimento cheese? Traditionally this delightfully spicy, rich treat is spread on crackers for hors d’oeuvres or on white bread for sandwiches that are perfect at the beach or for a picnic, but there’s only so much of that you can do before you’re over it, so I started brainstorming and the answer came to me that weekend as Jeremy and I put together our traditional Sunday breakfast of eggs, bacon, grits, toast, jam, coffee coffee coffee. PIMENTO CHEESE GRITS. Duh. I mean, seriously.

Oh the beauty of Sunday breakfast

Oh the beauty of Sunday breakfast

I’d like to think I invented this, however a brief googling of such shows that I am actually a little late to the game. But nonetheless, it was new to us and totally amazing.

All you do is make your grits as usual, then at the end, add in the amount of pimento cheese you like and add a little milk to cream it in. I like to serve my grits with a farm-fresh, over-easy egg on top, so that when you crack your egg open, this happens:

*drooooool*

*drooooool*

and you have to keep yourself from just sticking your face right into the bowl.

With a few crispy pieces of bacon, some whole wheat bread slathered with homemade jam from Jeremy’s Aunt Liz and all the coffee you can drink. I just…I can’t…it’s too much.

SO let’s say you don’t live near one of the six Taste locations (poor you, you should really move to Hampton Roads), and you want to make your own Pimento Cheese? Well, my friends, you’re in luck because it’s literally the easiest thing you’ll ever make:

Pimento Cheese

pimento cheese up close

Ingredients

  • 1 (8-ounce) package shredded sharp Cheddar
  • 1 (8-ounce) package shredded extra-sharp Cheddar
  • 1 (4-ounce) jar pimientos, with juice
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • Salt and pepper

Directions

  1. Mix the shredded cheeses together with the pimientos and their juice. Stir in the mayonnaise until well blended. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and stir. Keep covered in the refrigerator until ready to use. It is easier to spread if left on the counter for 30 minutes before serving. Great on bread, celery sticks, or crackers.

Recipe credit to the Food Network

Yes, this is a Paula Deen recipe. Look, for better or worse statements, love her or hate her, if anyone is going to tell you how to make Pimento Cheese, it’s that lady. Period. Because in the south, “fancy” is sometimes just a spoonful of mayonnaise (or a stick of butter) away.

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?

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??

Salmon: not just a horrible beach-house color

I try my hardest to eat salmon every week. Not because it’s my favorite fish, or because I think the Alaskan fishing industry needs my patronage (even though they do – do you hear me, Alaska? You NEED me!), but because it is super super super good for your brain. Alzheimer’s runs in my family, so we are all always looking for ways to prevent it. Recently, the link between omega-3 fatty acids and Alzheimer’s prevention has become clear. According to the Rush University Medical Center, people who eat fish one or more times a week are approximately 60 percent less likely to experience Alzheimer’s disease than those who rarely eat fish. The important thing about fish here being the omega-3’s, which salmon has a particularly high amount of. And omega-3’s in fish are of a particular kind called DHA and EPA, which appear to have the strongest health benefits. So what is it exactly that omega-3’s in fish oil are doing that are so beneficial besides making you smell like fish all the time? What, you don’t think of that as a benefit? Trust me, if you ever want to get out of a conversation, or need to rid yourself of a “close talker,” or are trying to attract stray cats, or just generally need the public to leave you alone, fish oil is a HUGE benefit. But in addition to that, these fatty acids reduce inflammation in the body. Inflammation is one of those things that can lead to myriad diseases including high blood pressure, heart disease, blood clots, stroke, dementia (Alzheimer’s), arthritis and much more. Another interesting potential benefit of omega-3’s? They may help fight depression. Although the studies are mixed, it is clear that in countries with higher levels of omega-3 in the typical diet have lower levels of depression. Eat fish; be happy.

Our bodies do not naturally produce omega-3’s – we must consume them through our diets. And while you can do this through a supplement, why wouldn’t you just do it through delicious food? Enter: salmon. Enter: my long speech about the right kind of salmon to buy at the fish counter. If you would like to skip this wild vs. farmed fish debate, skip to the last sentence of this paragraph. At just about any fish counter of any grocery store you will see 2-3 different varieties of Salmon. Some will say “wild caught” some will say “farmed” some will even say “organic”, but here are a few differences: farmed fish are raised in feedlots and at feedlots fish are doused with antibiotics and exposed to more concentrated pesticides than their wild kin. Additionally, farmed salmon are given a salmon-colored dye in their feed, without which, their flesh would be an unappetizing grey color. And regarding the all-important omega3’s? FDA statistics on the nutritional content (protein and fat-ratios) of farm versus wild salmon show that the fat content of farmed salmon is excessively high–30-35% by weight, wild salmon have a 20% higher protein content and a 20% lower fat content than farm-raised salmon, farm-raised fish contain much higher amounts of pro-inflammatory omega 6 fats than wild fish. IE – the opposite of what omega-3’s do for you. In studies by the FDA wild fish were not only much lower in overall fat content, but also were found to have 33% more omega-3 fatty acids than their farm-raised counterparts. Omega-3s accounted for 29% of the fats in wild coho versus 19% of the fats in cultivated coho. Bottom line: buy wild-caught fish.

I’m so sorry. Here are some pictures of food.


This was one of those recipes that came to me during this thing that happens in my mind where whatever fresh produce I picked up at the farmers market that week inserts itself into some recipe I’ve been drooling over on Pinterest. In this case, it was a tomato pasta recipe from Martha Stewart. But because I had zucchini and squash on hand and because I needed my weekly salmon, I mixed it up a little. I pan sauteed two small tomatoes, a small squash and small zucchini in olive oil with a teaspoon of minced garlic and some Italian seasoning. In the meantime, I rubbed the salmon down with lemon infused olive oil, salt, pepper and a little garlic. I heated some oil in a pan and laid several slices of lemon down into the oil, then placed the salmon on top, covered with a lid and let cook over medium-high heat while the pasta was boiling (about 8 minutes, or until it can be flaked with a fork). I have started using this Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti – it is much more palatable to me than whole wheat pasta and still better for you than regular pasta, but you can use any kind you’d like. (Disclaimer: I did not get paid to promote Ronzini brand “Garden Delights” vegetable spaghetti, but I totally would if they offered. That goes for you too, Pacific Salmon Fishers of America, Sunkist lemon farms, and the people who make the ridiculously expensive lemon infused olive oil I use. )

I saved about a half a cup of the pasta water and made a sauce from the vegetables with some additional olive oil, Parmesan cheese, some freshly chopped basil from my garden, and a bit of the starchy pasta water, then mixed the pasta into it and topped with the salmon, a sprinkle of cheese and basil and a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

feed your brain!

And before you go off thinking I’m Martha Stewart, or Barefoot Contessa or something (although I think we can all agree that Jeffrey would just ADORE this meal), let me quickly correct you. I’m more like Julia Child’s slow second cousin. If Julia was forever dropping chickens or spilling this or that in some hilariously charming way, all the while making the most delicious French food you’ve ever seen, I am the slow second cousin who is nearly cutting off a finger or giving herself third degree burns while she tries to make toast. Case in point:

I need adult supervision.

I don’t know how well it comes through in that picture – but my middle finger has a pretty significant burn/blister right under the knuckle. This is because, as it turns out, metal skillets that have just come out of 400 degree ovens are HOT! This is my primary mistake in the kitchen – forgetting that things are hot and grabbing them with my bare hands. Also, over-salting things. So, Food Network, if you are looking for a new cooking show that appeals to those S&M loving, 50 Shades of Grey reading freaks, I am your girl. Get in line behind Ronzini and those stinky fishermen.

Get to crackin’

Let’s talk crabs. Of the crustacean sort, of course.

Blue crabs fresh from the Currituck Sound

Blue crabs are a way of life here. They are how many people, my uncle included, have made a living on the local waters. Growing up around bays where blue crabs thrive means that you learn how to crack a crab claw open before you learn how to use a fork, and I’m not kidding. Which brings me to one of my food obsession: food that takes a lot of work for a little bit of food. Crabs, shrimp, oysters, even pistachios – I LOVE eating food that is a challenge. There’s a sense of accomplishment, for one thing. It also extends the meal itself. Ever eaten a bushel of crabs with a small group of people? Two hours later and you’re wondering why there is still half a bushel of crabs left.  It forces you to relax, take your time, enjoy the company, the food, and everything else that entails.  Which is good, because for nearly $100/bushel, you should really, really enjoy them.

These crabs were caught by my (2nd? once removed? who knows) cousin, Mason who learned to crab from my uncle Wayne – his grandfather. They were delicious (both times) and I never take for granted the amount of work, from the crab pot to plate, that this kind of meal requires. Of course, you can’t have crabs without beer . . .

Crab claws make great beer-tab openers

I can eat crabs all by themselves….without stopping….for days on end….but I did decide to make a little cucumber and tomato salad with some local produce I’d gotten at the farmers market. One cucumber, halved, seeded, and cut into half moons, with halved cherry tomatoes in a sauce of Greek yogurt, dill from my garden, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt and pepper.

Tomato and cucumber salad in Greek yogurt dressing

It’s a fun table to set: crabs, beer, fruit salad (local watermelon and peaches) and tomato and cucumber salad.

Crab dinner

And of course, we eat our crabs Carolina style – dipped in apple cider vinegar with salt and pepper. Another thing about growing up around here is learning to stomach, then appreciate apple cider vinegar. It goes on everything: BBQ, crabs, vegetables, collard greens – you name it. But did you know that it’s has some pretty serious health benefits? From WebMD.com “The effect of vinegar on blood sugar levels is perhaps the best-researched and the most promising of apple cider vinegar’s possible health benefits. Several studies have found that vinegar may help lower glucose levels. For instance, one 2007 study of 11 people with type 2 diabetes found that taking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar before bed lowered glucose levels in the morning by 4%-6%.” Blue crab meat is also a great source of protein and is low in fat. It’s also a pretty amazing source of vitamin B-12, zinc, calcium and other nutrients. It’s also a good local “Sensible Seafood” decision, according to the Virginia Aquarium’s Sensible Seafood guide. But it’s important to note that what is a “sensible seafood” can vary by region, so while it’s sustainable here, it may not be in other parts of the country or world. Check out the original Sensible Seafood program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Site.

What are your favorite foods that you have to work for?