Two slices of whole grain bread, plenty of mayo, a tomato fresh from our friends’ garden, sliced thick and doused with salt and pepper. That’s all, folks.
It’s strawberry season in Hampton Roads, and that is major. We love our strawberries around here. Every city in the region that has farms has pick-your-own strawberry fields and it’s a tradition for kids and adults alike to pick strawberries on field trips or on Mother’s Day or Memorial Day weekend when Virginia Beach hosts the Strawberry Festival.
Last week I got an email from a farm saying that they had so many berries in their field that they were going to be offering pick your own berries for $1.25/lb. That is unheard of. You would never ever find berries that cheap in the grocery store. So after sharing it with the Buy Fresh Buy Local Facebook fans, I got in the car and headed to the farm, which thankfully, is only about 10 minutes from my house. Yeah, it was a week day. Yeah, I had a lot of work to do, but sometimes you just have to get up and go pick strawberries. All that work will be there for you when you get back, I promise.
If you’ve never picked strawberries, it’s very easy – they are literally low hanging fruit. When they’re ripe, they get so heavy they just sort of dangle below the leaves and pretty white flowers of their plant. And they pop right off their stems and get tossed right into your strawberry carrying device. The only issue is that if you have a bad back like I do, you may be in a bit of pain the next day (like I was), but that’s why you bring your kids – to do the hard work of bending over and finding the ripest strawberries. When picking, look for deep, red berries. Before plucking them off the plant, lift them up and make sure the underside isn’t white or green (unripe) or that it hasn’t been noshed on by any bugs.
So what to do with 10 lbs of berries once you get them home? Most people I know make strawberry bread, pie, muffins, etc etc. We all know how I feel about baking, so I do one of (or all of) three different thing:
1. Eat them. Duh.
2. Freeze them. Rinse and dry the berries, cut off the caps and then halve each berry and lay in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place the sheet in the freezer for several hours, then put the berries into a freezer ziploc bag. Pull out what you need, when you need it. I freeze pounds and pounds of berries like this every year to use in my smoothies all year long.
3. Dry them. Dried berries are sort of like craisins – tart, but still a little sweet. Perfect in salads, on yogurt or oatmeal, granola, etc. Wash and dry the berries, cut off the caps and halve each berry. Lay in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake at 210 degrees for 3 hours. Let them cool completely, then store in an airtight container in the fridge OR you could freeze these also and just thaw them as you need them. I’m not sure exactly how long they’ll keep in the fridge….you’ve probably got about a week?
Strawberries are pretty amazing little fruits. One cup of berries has only 49 calories and almost 150% of your daily Vitamin C. They also have fiber and protein and good amounts of folates and potassium as well as manganese.
So get out there and pick some today. Or, make your kids do it. Also, can I borrow your kids for an afternoon?
A few weeks ago I saw an interesting item come up on my online local food co-op, Coastal Farms. Jen Vaughan, of Vaughan Farms Produce, had posted that she had some extra kefir grains, and was selling them, along with a mason jar and some instructions on what to do with them. I was intrigued, so I did a little research and it turns out that kefir grains are not actually grains, but rather a symbiotic culture of yeast and bacteria. Yummy! When brewed, they ferment (just like beer or wine) and create an active probiotic culture (just like yogurt). Kefir is probably most well known as a yogurt type of product or kefir milk, but it turns out you can also brew kefir into “kefir water” which is sort of a sparkling-like fermented beverage. The fizziness of it comes from the fermentation and can be adjusted based on how much air is allowed in during the process. The whole process and product is very similar to Kombucha, which is probably a little more well recognized.
I ordered my first batch and got to brewing! Jen had a few great suggestions for recipes to give the water flavor. Plain kefir water isn’t exactly delicious, so it’s recommended that you mix it with flavorings, which can range from green tea to juice to vanilla extract, depending on how you want it to taste. For my first batch I did a green tea flavoring, then I followed that with a cream soda style flavor and now I am on to a citrusy grapefruit juice. The process is simple:
1. Dissolve 1/4 cup of raw, brown sugar (I’m using raw demerara sugar) in 1 quart of distilled water (or spring or mineral water, according to the interwebs) in a container with a lid (I used the 1 quart mason jar Jen provided). Make sure the water is room temp and not hot – that will kill the grains. Drop in a raisin or two (they will be your ‘tell’) and a lemon slice if you have one (helps with the Ph). Put in three tablespoons of kefir grains. Put the container with the lid just set on top – not screwed on, in a warm place out of direct sunlight. For me, this was on top of my fridge.
2. When the raisins have floated to the top of the water, usually 2-3 days, the water is done “brewing.” Remove the lemon slice and raisins, then strain the water through a fine sieve. Here’s the trick – kefir doesn’t like metal – you have to use glass or plastic or in my case, I just put a paper towel on my metal sieve and strain it that way. Cheesecloth would also work, if I could find it anywhere, ever. Put your kefir grains back into your mason jar or container and start again with 1 quart of water and 1/4 cup of sugar, raisins, lemon, etc – the grains can pretty much be brewed indefinitely.
3. Take your strained kefir water and add your preferred flavorings. Here is what I’ve tried:
- 1 part very strongly brewed green tea to 1 part kefir water.
- 1 tbs vanilla extract and an extra 1/4 cup raw sugar (creates a cream soda style water)
- 1 part grapefruit juice to 1 part kefir water, one sliced lemon, one sliced lime
Once you’ve added your flavors, put it through a second fermentation – so put it back in another container with a lid just resting on top in a warm place out of sunlight for about 2 more days. At this point, if you’ve added things (like lemon and lime slices) strain it again and then bottle it up and put it in the fridge. The water will last as long as whatever you’ve brewed it with would. So however long you’d leave a pitcher of brewed tea in your fridge is how long you can leave the kefir water brew in there and it will be fine. Keep repeating the process with your other fermenting batch and you can have indefinite kefir water!
There are innumerable ways to prepare and brew your kefir water and also tons of sites online where you can purchase the grains. I found this site particularly helpful: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/water-kefir-frequently-asked-questions-faq
I have noticed that since I’ve been drinking the water every day, my stomach issues have decreased some. It’s like I’m drinking my probiotic pills (which I also continue to take) and it certainly can’t hurt to get as much good bacteria going as possible. If you suffer from any kind of intestinal issues, or even if you don’t – I would really recommend giving this a try. The fizziness is nice without being too much (I hate soda and carbonated beverages, but this is the perfect amount of fizz for me), and the flexibility of flavorings is really nice. And because the grains basically feed on the sugar in the brewing process, the overall sugar content of kefir water is much, much lower than you would imagine based on how much you put in at the beginning. According to CulturesforHealth.com “approximately 20% of the sugar you start with will remain following a 48- hour culturing process and almost all that sugar will have been converted to fructose from its original glucose-fructose state. Therefore if you use our recommend ratio of 1/4 cup sugar to 1 quart water, the finished kefir will contain approximately 1.4% fructose.” That’s pretty low – much lower than fruit juice, juice cocktails and certainly less than soda.
So give something different a try! Love the good bacteria!
I know I’ve been out of blogging mode for awhile, but we’ve been working on getting our house on the market – it will be for sale this week, just in time for us to fly to Seattle for a week. It’s been hectic. So, in light of that, I figure it’s time for a drink. And since my mint came up like crazy with the heat this week, I figured it’s mojito time.
Not a lot of locals know that we have a rum and vodka distillery right here in Hampton Roads- Chesapeake Bay Distillery. I was “blessed” with a bottle of their small-batch rum a few months ago when I went to visit the Distillery. So between my backyard mint and this “Chick’s Beach” rum, this really is a local imbibe worth sharing.
local yokel mojito
Snip several stems of fresh mint and muddle in the bottom of a large glass with a spoonful of raw, organic sugar and the juice of half a lime. Fill the glass with ice, then fill the glass 1/3 full with rum, then a jigger of sweetened lime juice, the juice of the other half of the lime and fill the rest of the glass with club soda. Stir well and enjoy.
Bulgur sounds gross, and I get that. But it’s really not. Bulgur is parboiled cracked wheat berries. It’s a super whole grain with a wonderful nutty taste. It also has a great texture that I can only describe as “toothsome.” It isn’t hard, but even after being soaked, it has tooth – like very good al dente pasta. Just one cup of bulgur has over 25 grams of fiber and over 17 grams of protein. And incidentally, I had a huge bag of it in my cabinet that I needed to start working on getting rid of.
Bulgar, like quinoa, is a great base for salads. This bugar salad recipe came from Everyday Food, and it’s really light and delicious and keeps well. Make it at the beginning of the week, measure it out into individual containers and then grab them for a healthy lunch on the go. This recipe makes a lot – like most grains, just one cup, once cooked, makes a huge amount of food and because it is high in fiber and protein, you don’t need to eat much to get full. I made this salad for dinner with a yummy marinated salmon and still had enough left over for lunch several days that week. This salad also incorporates chick peas (or Garbanzo beans – whichever name you prefer). Chick peas are also full of protein, so you really can’t go wrong here. Leave out the feta for a (still delicious) Vegan side dish.
Bulgur and Chick Pea Salad
- 1 cup bulgur
- 2 cups boiling water
- 1 can (15.5 ounces) chickpeas
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 2 tablespoons juice
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta (2 ounces)
- Salt and pepper
- In a large bowl, combine bulgur with boiling water. Cover and let stand 20 minutes; drain and return to bowl. Rinse and drain chickpeas, then add to bowl with lemon zest and juice, olive oil, dill, and feta; season with salt and pepper.
For the salmon, I combined a little olive oil, a dash of white wine vinegar, the juice of half of a lemon, some dill, salt and pepper and put the salmon into some tin foil, made a pouch, poured the marinade over the salmon, wrapped it up really good and baked at 375 for about 15 minutes. It was perfect together and it would be a crime to eat this meal without a glass of good Chardonnay. So don’t let the name throw you off, replace that pasta side dish with a healthier bulgur alternative.
The possibilities here are endless – Greek bulgar salad with grilled chicken, feta, cucumbers, tomatoes and kalamata olives; bulgar and lentil salad with grapefruit vinaigrette, breakfast bulgar with maple syrup and baked apples . . . OK, I’m starting to sound like a bulgur growing Bubba from Forrest Gump. You get the picture.
I’m a little bit obsessed with Alton Brown and his show, Good Eats. I have the first two volumes of his Good Eats cookbooks, some DVDs and have seen almost every episode of the show. It’s kind of weird because in many ways, we are completely different cooks. Besides the fact that he is a famous chef and genius….he’s very precise and particular about the way his recipes are made and I’m . . . not. But something about his knowledge base and educational and visual illustrations of how cooking actually works is fascinating to me. After watching a show about cookies you feel like you just finished a course at Le Cordon Bleu….in a good way.
Anyways, he has a recipe for his own chili powder and “cowboy style” chili. This is the kind of chili that was really made out on the range – without beans or corn or potatoes or a lot of fluff. Just meat, stewed with chilies and tomatoes. I made this recipe for the first time a year or so ago, and because I wanted to make my own chili powder, like he does for his, I purchased two different kinds of dried chilies. Not the kind he suggested, because I couldn’t find them, and I’m not a perfectionist like him, but they were similar enough. The problem is, these bags of dried chilies (found in the “International” aisle of your grocery store) are HUGE. You only need about 9-12 chilies to make your powder, which leaves you with about 300 chilies. So, I decided I just needed to make this chili or at least my own chili powder, more often. The truth is, chili powder that is pre-bottled at the grocery store doesn’t really taste like much. It’s usually not very spicy and even if it is, it can lose its flavor quickly. This chili powder is pretty easy to make, and is incredibly flavorful and can be as spicy as you want it, depending on the chilies you use.
AB’s Chili Powder
Yield: approximately 3/4 cup
- 3 ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
- 3 cascabel chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
- 3 dried arbol chiles, stemmed, seeded and sliced
- 2 tablespoons whole cumin seeds
- 2 tablespoons garlic powder
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- Place all of the chiles and the cumin into a medium nonstick saute pan or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Cook, moving the pan around constantly, until you begin to smell the cumin toasting, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Set aside and cool completely.
- Once cool, place the chiles and cumin into the carafe of a blender along with the garlic powder, oregano, and paprika. Process until a fine powder is formed. Allow the powder to settle for at least a minute before removing the lid of the carafe. Store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.
I used six Guajillo chilies and three Japones. Usually the bags rate the chilies in spiciness on a 5 chili scale, so you can just purchase whatever heat intensity you prefer.
Once you have your chili powder made, you’re read to make the actual chili. His original recipe calls for a pressure cooker, but you can use a Dutch Oven, it will just take a bit longer. The instructions below are for using a large, cast iron Dutch oven.
AB’s Cowboy Chili
- 3 pounds stew meat (beef, pork, and/or lamb)
- 2 teaspoons peanut oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 (12-ounce) bottle of beer, preferably a medium ale
- 1 (16-ounce) container salsa
- 30 tortilla chips
- 2 chipotle peppers canned in adobo sauce, chopped
- 1 tablespoon adobo sauce (from the chipotle peppers in adobo)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- Place the meat in a large mixing bowl and toss with the peanut oil and salt. Set aside.
- Heat a large, cast iron Dutch Oven over high heat until hot. Add the meat in 3 or 4 batches and brown on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per batch. Once each batch is browned, place the meat in a clean large bowl.
- Once all of the meat is browned, add the beer to the pot to deglaze the pot.
- Scrape the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add the meat back in along with the salsa, tortilla chips, chipotle peppers, adobo sauce, tomato paste, chili powder, and ground cumin and stir to combine. Put the lid on top and put into a 375 degree oven for two hours, stirring every thirty minutes. Serve with preferred toppings.
This recipe helped me use up a few things in my cabinet: the chilies for the chili powder, some left-over taco shells, which I crushed and used in place of the tortilla chips, a batch of homemade salsa that had been in the freezer since the summer and some chipotle peppers/adobo I had saved in the freezer. I need these more often than you’d think, but I always only need one or two at a time and usually one small can has about 5 or 6 and cost like $3. No point in wasting them – just freeze the remainder of the can and use at will. I also used local, grass-fed beef from Windhaven Farms which, of course, was delicious. Their “stew beef” pack was the perfect type of beef for this.
This chili is serious. It’s not your average American beans and corn and relatively mild type of thing. And don’t get me wrong – I love those kinds of chilis also, but if you want something really hearty and really filling and really classic, this is the way to go. I topped mine with plain, nonfat Greek yogurt (in place of sour cream), sliced green onions and cilantro. Chopped onions would also be nice, or a wedge of lime, or cheese if you want to go all out, although AB swears the only acceptable toppings are onions and cilantro. But again, I’m no perfectionist . . .
One of the things that had created an abundance of random odds and ends in my cabinets was the detox diet I did back in the late summer/early fall. My diet was extremely restricted and so I purchased a lot of things that were on the “OK” list that I would otherwise not eat like raw nuts, strange beans and wild rice. I had two boxes of wild rice and a can of Aduki beans that I just had no idea what to do with, but I found a recipe for wild rice and aduki bean stuffed acorn squash on Pinterest. Seriously, if you look long and hard enough, you will find the exact recipe you need. The recipe was from a vegan site, so I made a few changes to it to fit with what I had on hand, and it turned out pretty good. With a side of raw kale salad marinated in a home-made vinaigrette, this little vegetarian meal packed a serious healthy punch. Plus, it’s so protein packed, I could only eat half of it.
Wild Rice and Aduki Bean Stuffed Acorn Squash
- 2 acorn squash, sliced lengthwise, seeds scooped out
- Olive Oil
- Wild Rice
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 can Aduki beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 tbs Soy Sauce
- 2 tbs honey (or Agave)
- Pepper and Salt to taste
- Cranberry sauce (canned or homemade)
- Rub the acorn squash down, inside and out, with olive oil, season with salt and pepper. Place an a baking sheet and cover with foil. Bake at 375 degrees for an hour, or until tender.
- Meanwhile, cook the wild rice according to its directions, enough to make two cups.
- Heat the oil over medium heat in a large skillet. Add onions and sautee until soft. Add in Aduki beans, soy sauce, honey and season with salt and pepper. Combine and keep warm over medium low heat.
- Remove squash from oven when done, and scoop out the squash, leaving about 1/2” of squash in the shell. Chop the squash and mix it into the bean mixture and add the rice. Combine well over low heat until warmed through.
- Load each squash half with the mixture and top with cranberry sauce. Serve immediately.
I still have one box of wild rice left that I’m not sure what to do with, but at least those beans aren’t staring at me anymore.
What random item do you have in your cabinet that you’re just not sure what to do with?
Sunday mornings require eggs. If you’re like us, they also require bacon and sometimes grits. But definitely eggs. But it’s Sunday, you’re tired (or hung over if you’re five years younger and at least five times more fun than me), you may be trying to get out the door to church or to get grocery shopping done or maybe after a long week you just don’t feel like standing over a stove scrambling eggs.
The easiest Sunday morning egg recipe ever. Here’s how it works:
1. Grease a ramekin or small oven-proof dish
2. Drop in an egg (or two), without breaking the yolks
3. Drop in your additions. I used a handful of chopped sun dried tomatoes, fresh grated Parmesan, a little palm full of pancetta, and some fresh chopped herbs – rosemary, sage, thyme. Use whatever you have on hand – spinach would be great, some roasted garlic, roasted potatoes, tomatoes, cheddar, ham – whatever!
4. Bake for 10-15 minutes (depending on how runny you like your yolks – I like mine just barely warmed) at 375. Place Ramekin on a heat safe plate and eat.
And the beauty of using the personal sized ramekin is that everyone can make theirs like they like it. And bake it as long as they like it.
You’re welcome. Happy Sunday.
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.
Rustic Smoked Sausage and Cabbage
- 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
- On a large sheet pan, arrange your smoked sausage
- 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.
- Roast at 475 for 18-20 minutes or until sausage is done through and cabbage and turnips are tender.
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.
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 Women. The 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.
- 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
- 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.
- Add kale and cook, stirring occasionally, until kale is wilted and tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.
- 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.
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!