Improvise

Sometimes you’re making dinner and you realize you don’t really have a side dish and you just have to improvise. Farm fresh tomatoes and cucumbers sliced up with artichokes, parsley and drizzled with lemon juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar and salt and pepper.

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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??

Sweet Meat

I promised I wasn’t a vegetarian and I’m here to deliver. Also, my friend Robyn threatened to stop reading the blog unless I posted a meat recipe she could make for her seriously carnivorous husband. Fine.

But before we get into that, I want to talk a little bit about meat, the consumption and environmental effects of it, and healthy options and portions. Wait….where are you going? No, really – it’s important! Fine, I won’t TALK about it, I’ll just show you this:

Get the point? Meat should be a SMALL percentage of your daily food intake. It should be used as a side dish, not a main course, and should be chosen wisely. I can’t say that this particular recipe was the “wisest” one, but it did serve up about 8 small servings over the course of three days, so it had that going for it.

This recipe was adapted from one I found via Pinterest, and was originally posted here. I changed it up a little, but all in all it’s pretty similar.

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Loin

Ingredients:
1 (2 pound) boneless pork tenderloin (or regular pork loin)
1 bunch of fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
3 clove garlic, crushed
1 small onion, sliced
1/2 cup water
Glaze
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
Directions:
Rub roast with salt, pepper and granulated garlic. Place in slow cooker with 1/2 cup water, sage, crushed garlic and onion slices. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About 1 hour before roast is done, combine ingredients for glaze in small sauce pan. Heat and stir until mixture thickens. Brush roast with glaze 2 or 3 times during the last hour of cooking. Serve with remaining glaze on the side.
I sort of sliced, sort of shredded the pork loin when it came out of the pot, removing the fat as I cut. I used a regular pork loin, not a tenderloin, so there’s some different meat textures going on in there. Once I had sliced/shredded it onto a platter, I drizzled the glaze over top of it.

I served it with a squash and corn casserole and a light tomato and cucumber salad. You’ll notice the portions here look similar to the diagram at the beginning of the post:

The meat only takes up 1/4 of the plate.

So, see – I DO eat meat. I just think we have to start thinking about it and preparing it and eating it a little different. Meat can be a great source of protein, but it can also be a great source of saturated fats, unnecessary hormones and antibiotics. Not to even mention or get into the kind of cruelty that goes in to most mass-bred cattle, pork and chicken. Under normal circumstances I purchase all of our meat through local farms who use ethical animal raising and slaughtering methods. This was a rare exception, although the meat is still technically local (Smithfield, VA).  Yes, locally raised meats are more expensive, but when you eat less of it, the cost works itself out. Not to mention the long-term health benefits of eating less meat and more sustainable meat are a huge cost savings (would you rather spend money on healthier food or on blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes medications and treatments?). Pasture raised meats have less saturated fats, are generally not fed antibiotics (because they are outside eating grass, not shoved in a cage with 1,000 heads, chowing on grain which inherently makes cows sick), and are leaner because of the natural exercise they get. The same is true of pigs and chickens. If you’d like to learn more about the environmental and health effects that meat has in America, I would encourage you to read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. This is the book that the documentary, Food Inc. was based on, but if you’re like me and can’t stomach movies like that, try the book instead. He traces the steps of three meals from beginning to end: a fast food meal, a “locally sourced” meal, and a meal that was 100% hunted and gathered by him. It’s fascinating and you will never look at the food the same way again, I promise.

Ok, so I ended up talking about it anyways. I’ll get off my meat soapbox now. Honestly, I do love it and I do eat it, and when the summer ends and we get into fall and winter, you will see me use it as an ingredient in a lot more dishes.

What is your favorite meat? Where do you get your meat from and what is important to you when purchasing it? What kind of questions do you ask your farmer, butcher or grocer when purchasing meat?

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? 

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?