Tomato soup and you know what.

It’s a tomato soup and grilled cheese kinda day here. What kind of (food) day is it where you are?

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Home made tomato soup with Gorgonzola, Gouda and Swiss grilled cheese on artisan roasted garlic bread.

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Slow Cooker BBQ

I’m from North Carolina so naturally I am a huge fan of Barbecue. And while you can’t beat hardwood smoked whole hog, for most of us that is not an option in our own kitchens (although I am still trying to convince Jeremy that there is room beside the hot tub in the backyard for a full-hog sized smoker).  But there is another option and it comes in the somewhat unexpected form of a slow cooker. Yea, there are some hard-core BBQ fans out there that will tell you that if it’s not cooked over a real hard wood fire then it’s not technically barbecue, and on some historical points I will agree with them, but for all intents and purposes this recipe gets the job done. But make no mistake – while you don’t have to cook a whole hog in a split metal garbage pail over a hickory fire, you do have to commit yourself to two days of cooking, although most of it is pretty hands-off. You also have to commit yourself to your house smelling like pork for two days. Something I do not mind at all, but which some of you may find displeasing.

Step 1: Purchase a pork shoulder. These are also often called pork picnics, or pork butts. I usually go for a 3-4 pounder because I’m not looking to cook for a huge crowd. Go bigger if you need to, just make sure it will still fit inside your slow cooker.

Step 2: The night before you want to eat the Q, put the shoulder into the crock pot with at least a liter of cola or as much as you need to just about cover it. You can use any kind of cola. I used Dr. Pepper, but I’ve also used R C Cola, Coke, Pepsi, whatever. Turn the cooker on low and let it sit overnight.

Step 3: In the morning, remove the pork from the cola, pour the cola out and wipe out your slow cooker crock. The pork will be falling apart, so make sure you get all the meat out before you toss the cola (IE- don’t throw the pork baby out with the bath water). Let the pork cool for a bit, then begin to remove as much of the fat as you can from the meat. This will require tearing the meat into large chunks. (See photo collage, upper right hand corner). Once you’ve gotten as much fat off as possible (and bones if you’ve purchased a bone-in shoulder), put the meat back into the crock pot and shred with two forks until you’ve reached the consistency and chunkiness you like. You can also chop the meat after it’s shredded if you like that texture better. Chopped vs. Pulled is a completely personal preference; the value of one over the other I will not weigh in on although many people have strong opinions here.

BBQ Collage

Step 4: Make your sauce. This is where personal preferences turn into regional BBQ wars. You are certainly welcome to go to the store, buy a pre-made jar of BBQ sauce and dump it onto your meat at this point. That is totally fine if you have a particular brand that you really enjoy. However, I have never ever ever purchased a sauce from the store that adequately represented real Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce, so I make my own. I cannot even begin to give you real measurements of anything, but I will tell you it includes a little to a lot of the following things: apple cider vinegar, molasses, red pepper, black pepper, hot sauce, salt, garlic and onion powder, ketchup, and (secret ingredient alert!) liquid smoke. Yup. If you can’t cook it over real smoke and enjoy that hard-charred meat bark, liquid smoke will at least give you a hint of that flavor. The sauce I make looks something like this when I’m done:

Eastern Carolina BBQ Sauce

Secret Sauce

Possibly not at all like the BBQ sauce you know and love. Again, this is very regional. If you love some KC Masterpiece, I’m not judging (yes I am), just use that instead and sauce it to your liking. It should look something like this, or like something completely different if you’re using a different kind of sauce:

NC Style BBQ

This is what Eastern NC sauced BBQ looks like.

Step 5: Leave the meat in the crock pot with the sauce on low during the day. When you’re ready for dinner, check the meat, see if it needs any more sauce, then serve how you like. Again, this could be a multitude of ways, but I see no reason why you wouldn’t want it on a soft bun with home made coleslaw and a good dose of hot sauce:

BBQ Sandwich

Heaven.

I’ve taken this BBQ to several events and never get less than a dozen compliments on it. Even though it takes a good 20 hours, it’s worth it, and really is very very easy when you break it down. And the more you make it, the better you’ll learn how you like your sauce, or you’ll come up with other fun combinations. I’ve seen a recipe done like this but instead of BBQ sauce, a Cuban marinade was used, then the pork was made into Cuban sandwiches with ham and pickles and oh jeez, that’s going to have to be another blog . . .

What is your favorite kind of BBQ? Tennessee? Texas? Arkansas? Western NC? Let’s fight about it!

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? 

Confessions, Exceptions, and Admissions

Eating locally can sometimes be a challenge. Especially depending on where you live. I’m really blessed to live in an area that makes an awful lot of amazing things, but I know that’s not everywhere. Then there are those brats who live in California where everything is available locally pretty much all the time and everyone gets it and does it and even the “fast food” joints serve local grass-fed beef. It’s really just infuriating. Or great. Or whatever – you know what I mean.

But being a “locavore” doesn’t mean that you have to give up everything that isn’t grown around you. It just means that whenever possible, you support your local food system. There are a few things I have accepted that I will never be able to acquire locally but that I will never, ever consider giving up. Here’s my short list:

  1. Coffee (duh)
  2. Olive oil (double duh – although, there is an olive farm in Georgia making some amazing oil, maybe that trend can move up to VA??)
  3. Lemons and Lime (I make a lot of mixed drinks and these are essential)
  4. last but not least – AVOCADOS  

Avocados are kind of an obsession for me….they are this perfect combination of fresh, creamy, protein-laden, good-for-you-fats that just makes me happy. There will probably never be an avocado farm in Virginia, but I continue to buy these California imports on a weekly basis. This morning I was feeling an avocado craving coming on and I had one of these flashes of food inspiration that I get sometimes and I saw this sandwich in my mind before I even made it. It was a snap and was (obviously) delicious. Also, huge. It was huge. I ate about 60% of it and gave up. Which is sad. I hate leaving good food behind . . . 

Avocado and Egg Sandwich

Ciabatta bread topped with mashed avocados, watercress, chopped hard-boiled eggs, salt & pepper.

The app I use for these collages, by the way, is called “Pic Frame” and is available FOR FREE in the app store. The latest update now allows you to add labels, which makes the app complete perfection. Notice my shout out to California in the background 😉

The watercress and egg are both local, so see – it’s possible to combine the two without being a total traitor. The watercress just gave the sandwich the right amount of crunch and fresh green needed between those two heavy layers of protein. I only used half of an avocado spread on both halves of the ciabatta roll, so there’s still another half in the fridge waiting to be something yummy. I hard boiled two eggs, but I really only needed one. And if you don’t know – this is the absolute perfect method for making hard boiled eggs with yolks that are still chewy and flavorful instead of dry and chalky:

  • Put your room temp eggs into a sauce pan and pour room temp water over them until they are submerged.
  • Put the sauce pan (covered) over high heat and bring the water up to a boil.
  • When the water has reached a rolling boil, remove the saucepan from the burner, leave the lid on the pan and let the eggs sit for 6 minutes.
  • Using the lid as a strainer, strain the hot water from the pan, dump a few handfuls of ice into the pan on top of the eggs and let sit for 2 minutes.
  • Remove the eggs from the ice, roll across the counter until the shell is cracked all over, then peel. Cut as you’d like.

Avocados are widely regarded as one of the healthiest foods you can eat and particularly some of the best fat you can eat as it is primarily mono and poly-unsaturated fat, which makes it a great protein and fat supplement for vegetarians and vegans or just people like me who try to reduce their meat consumption. And we all know that eggs are a great source of protein. But not all eggs are created equal. In fact, several studies show that farm-fresh pasture raised chickens (which you will pretty much only find from local sources) are nearly 5 times higher in Vitamin D, have 1/3 less cholesterol, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E and the list goes on. And anybody who’s ever eaten a locally raised egg will tell you that the taste is the biggest difference. Eggs that you buy from the grocery store are “factory raised” eggs and even though they may be labeled “organic” “free-range” or “vegetarian-fed” it doesn’t mean what you might think. Thanks to the blog “Simple Bites” for explaining this quickly and easily:

“In order for eggs to be labeled “free-range” a chicken needs to have access to the outdoors.  This usually means hundreds of chicken confined to an industrial chicken house with a small slab of concrete to walk outdoors if they’d like. Your “free-range egg” chickens are really spending their lives indoors in a ventilated area and will not have the nutrient levels as described above.  If you’re buying “vegetarian-fed eggs”, this is a sure sign that they do not have access to pasture as real chickens are not vegetarians.”

And that’s that. Locally raised eggs are available all over and while their natural season is spring, they are usually available year-round thanks to heating lamps and modern amenities. Find out where to get yours at http://www.localharvest.org or several of the other links on the right-hand side bar on my home page.

Getting back to the sandwich: it was delicious, it was easy, it melded my favorite import with some of my very favorite local ingredients and just one roll, half an avocado, two eggs and a few sprigs of watercress probably could have fed me and Jeremy for dinner.

What are some imported foods that you can’t live without? What is your favorite thing to do with avocados? Are you eating locally raised eggs and can you taste the difference?
Leave me a comment and let’s chat!

Lunch

This is lunch pretty much every day of the summer:

tomato sandwich

Tomato and watercress sandwich with vinegar cucumbers

I work from home, so I’m able to make stuff like this at lunch time….I think a packed tomato sandwich would probably get a bit soggy. Local tomatoes, watercress and a little mayo on whole wheat bread with oriental cucumbers sliced into some apple cider vinegar with salt and pepper. That is a certified southern summer staple, right there. What do you love for lunch in the summer?