Friday, August 28, 2009

For all you berry lovers out there.

Here's a strange little article found by Matt about heat-treating berries. Apparently, it prevents that rapid spoiling that's the hallmark of truly ripe strawberries and raspberries. Who knew?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Raw Milk Adventure!

For Matt and I, a week that we've skipped the farmer's market is a week that we feel vaguely off-kilter. It's really become a major part of the pattern of our lives, and the location of the bulk of our food shopping.

It's been a crazy time since our move, though, and we've slipped into a more sort of "normal" life, buying a lot of food and produce at the regular grocery store (and WalMart!) and not cooking nearly as much. Wondering what we'll have for dinner because there's nothing in the house we feel like eating, rather than wondering what to eat because there's so damned much that looks delicious and we can't choose.

Last week we went out to visit Matt's family (and drop his daughter off for a week with Grandma), and missed the farmer's market. This means no local meat and no local milk, though we did at least stop at a farmstand and get some produce. But it still left this week pretty blah, food-wise, until tonight.

That's when Matt remembered that Ballston Spa has a farmer's market. He hadn't remembered it being particularly good, but we thought it'd be better than no market at all (he has to make a return trip to his mom's this weekend, so no market then, either). And what a surprise! It was bigger than he'd remembered, but better than that, there were some folks up from Willow Marsh Farm.

You might recall me blogging about raw milk a while back. When I searched on the Campaign for Real Milk website, Willow Marsh was the closest farm it pulled up that sells raw milk. I kept it in mind for something to check out "sometime," and hadn't gotten to it yet.

What hadn't occurred to me, for some reason, was that they might have something other than milk to sell. At their table at the farmer's market, they had the only tomatoes I saw there today ("late blight" has come early this year, ruining tomato crops all over the region), plus corn, squash, beef, and veal. I asked the woman running the stand whether she had any of their raw milk there, but due to regulations, she can only sell at the site of the farm. She did say, though, to go over to the farm store, that it was open right now. "It's open all the time," she kept telling people.

I had no idea what she meant until we actually got there. It probably really is open all the time - the whole place is unmanned. Everything is labelled with its cost and there's a giant calculator sitting there for anyone that needs help with the math. A notebook sits waiting for you to mark down what you bought; sort of a receipt in reverse.

Inside they have all the produce that they carry to the market, but also two chest freezers and a standing refrigerator of meats and dairy products. Eggs in three sizes (and two colors!), varying cuts of beef and veal, and also pork from Locust Grove Farm. There were cheeses alongside the raw milk, and then other items like hand made goat's milk soap and Avon products.

Matt and I picked up some pork chops ($5 for two hefty ones), some ground beef ($4/lb., a bargain for grass-fed), and a half-gallon of milk (at $2.50, it's the same price we pay for a half-gallon from Battenkill).

Unfortunately, we promptly dropped the milk right onto the floor. It was a plastic container, but it sprung a leak. Matt was drafted to carry it upside down on the car ride home. There we poured it into an iced tea pitcher for safekeeping, and I sipped the last few drops to get a taste. Matt laughed at me as I shook the thing around trying to get more out. That's when I remembered that, as a human being, I had the technology of the drinking glass to come to my aid here. I'll tell you what, that stuff is even more delicious out of the glass.

Even better, our lives feel a little more on-kilter now. And, when we miss the farmer's market, we'll always know where we can go to get some great local meat and milk. It's not too far away, and after all, "it's open all the time."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How Do You Use It Up? Zucchini Edition

So even at this late date, I'm seeing zucchini out the ears at every farmstand. This is one of the big ones that people struggle to use up because it seems that if zucchini grow at all, they grow in great big piles of plant matter. They can be frozen (great instructions on general freezing of vegetables here), but for some reason this isn't commonly done. Perhaps people are so tired of them by summer's end that they just don't care to eat it in the wintertime; or maybe, the fact that it's available fresh at a fairly reasonable price year-round is the culprit. The latter won't work for you if you're a locavore, though.

At any rate, as a result of zucchini's abundance, there are a vast, vast array of recipes to use it up. From Allrecipes, in terms of sweets, we have:

Zucchini Bread
Blueberry Zucchini Bread
Zucchini Cake (good heavens, that looks wonderful)
Zucchini Spice Cake
Lemon Zucchini Drops
Streuseled Zucchini Bundt Cake
Zucchini Lemon Sorbet (!)
Zucchini Brownies (many vegetables can be hidden in brownies or other chocolate desserts; I heard of someone making chocolate cake with beets when their CSA share grew overabundant in them)
Zucchini Cobbler
Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes (see?)
Zucchini Chocolate Orange Cake
Zucchini Pie

...and many, many more. In short, there doesn't seem to be a dessert you can name that you can't squeeze a zucch into somehow.

But that only partially solves the problem. You can't eat that much dessert! Zucchini season also happens to be bikini season, after all. And you can only pawn so many desserts off on other people.

So it's good to be armed with a large number of main and side dish ideas for your zucchs, as well; personally, I use them this way far more often than in sweets (I haven't made a single zucchini bread this year!).

Zucchini are great as main dishes for a vegetarian meal. As a flexitarian, I've gotten more and more comfortable with the idea over time. Some great possibilities include stuffing them, which you can do with any variety of other vegetables, breading, meats, or cheeses; baking them into a frittata or quiche; or baking them into a casserole. One of my favorites is to bury them with onions and peppers in a spaghetti sauce and then topping them with mozzarella and other Italian cheeses. This is also good with pieces of chicken breast in it.

Under main dishes (not all vegetarian) on Allrecipes:

Farmer's Market Vegetarian Quesadillas Zucchini Dutch Cheese Casserole
Connie's Zucchini 'Crab' Cakes (I have made these, and really enjoyed them)
Ratatouille (how could I have left that off the list?)
Pasta Primavera with Italian Turkey Sausage
Zucchini Alfredo (I like this idea, but would prefer to make my own alfredo sauce - I'll post the recipe below)
Cheesy Sausage-Zucchini Casserole
Marrakesh Vegetable Curry (ooooh!)
Lemon Orzo Primavera
Zucchini Parmesan (look! That's what I make!)
Italian Sausage and Zucchini
Vegetarian Moussaka
No-Cream Pasta Primavera
Summer Zucchini Casserole

Many of these recipes call for processed foods - cream soups, processed cheese, stuffing mix. But a cook who wants to avoid these things can find their ways, with homemade cream sauces, actual cheese, and bread crumbs they add seasoning to (just peek at stuffing recipes to get an idea, or add a mess of poultry seasoning to it).

There are about a half a ton of ways to make it as a side dish, too. My favorites are roasting them with olive oil, a little salt, and Parmesan or Romano cheese (this works for baby squash, too - if you harvest them when they're small, you get less!), or breading and frying them. My mother used to bread yellow squash when I was a little girl and, if I remember correctly, it's the first way I found zucchini edible.

In terms of side dishes, Allrecipes offers:

Crispy Zucchini or Pumpkin Blossoms (if you eat the flowers, you get way less, too!)
Cheddar Zucchini Wedges
Cheesy Zucchini Medley
Corn and Zucchini Melody
Japanese Zucchini and Onions
Grilled Zucchini
Sesame Parmesan Zucchini
Tomato Zucchini Casserole
Zucchini and Potato Bake
Summerly Squash
Zucchini Saute
Easy Cajun Grilled Veggies
Zucchini Casserole
Moroccan Couscous
Zucchini Pancakes
Zucchini in Sour Cream Sauce
Cheesy Zucchini Casserole

To try something a little bit more adventurous, check out these:

Tabakh Rohoo ("an Arabic vegetable stew")
South Indian Lentil Kootu
Mexican Zucchini Cheese Soup

And now I'll post my alfredo recipe. I originally found it in Woman's Day, and found it had exactly the flavor I crave for that sort of thing. I used to buy it in the jar every time I wanted alfredo, but now I just make it from scratch. You can even use whole wheat flour in it without making the texture gross.

Alfredo from Scratch

1 Tbsp. butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp. flour (I find that this makes the sauce two thick - but try it out for yourself; you can always add extra milk)
2 cups fat free half-and-half (I just use regular milk; FF 1/2 & 1/2 is a processed food)
1/4 tsp. each salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg (the nutmeg is the secret to just the right flavor)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add garlic; cook over low heat 1 minute, or until fragrant. Whisk in flour, then slowly whisk in half and half until well combined. Whisk in salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and bring to a boil, whisking frequently.

Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes or until thickened. Remove from heat and stir in cheese until melted.

ETA: Upon posting this link to Facebook, my mother replied: "You can freeze zucchini but it doesn't hold up well. There is so much water in the veggie that the water crystals make the veggie break down into a mushy mess when defrosted. Same thing happens with summer squash. You can freeze zucchini bread or other things with zucchini in it, like soup, but as far as the veggie itself, the results aren't worth the work. This is the old farm wife speaking from experience."

So I asked then, how do they get seemingly decent zucchini into those frozen stir fry mixes and whatnot? And she replied, "Veggie processors have equipment that can flash freeze veggies that otherwise can't be done at home. Even so, the zucchini , if you taste it separated from the rest of the stuff and sauce and frying, tastes pretty bland. Bon appetit.;-D"

I'm not claiming complete accuracy, but I'm too lazy to look it up. So that's my answer for why not to freeze zucchini.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

How Do You Use Them Up?: Blueberries

So it's time to start talking about ways to use up the stuff that's overflowing at the farmer's markets right now. First step, blueberries, for two reasons: that's what GeeWhizMcGee specifically mentioned and she's the only one that commented (for shame!), and that's what J and Fawn have taking over in their kitchens right now due to J's small blueberry farm out back.

Now, as already mentioned, my primary way pf using up blueberries is dessert. I know, I know. Believe me, I know - I probably gained at least five pounds in the process! So any suggestions for a more healthy way are more than welcome.

So, desserts. We begin:

Pancakes - a classic use for blueberries. My two favorite recipes are Clark Gable Pancakes and Good Old Fashioned Pancakes. Whole grains tend to make these too heavy for my taste, so instead I add wheat bran if I want more fiber. It delivers the fiber of whole grain without weighing it down; I replace ¼ or less of the flour with it. Also key when making pancakes from scratch: get non-aluminum baking powder. Argo makes a version that you can find in most grocery stores, or you can make your own at home - add two parts cream of tartar to one part each baking soda and cornstarch.

Matt also likes to add blueberries directly to his cereal or oatmeal. Since I don't personally like them raw, and don't like oatmeal either, this is lost on me.

Of course if you make your own yogurt - I haven't done in a while, but I'm about to start back up - you can add them there, too. Either cook them with a bit of sugar for something closer to the store yogurt, or just pop them in raw with some honey.

Now for some recipes that I haven't personally tested. But again, these are from, and each have four stars or more. For more recipes over there, just search the word "blueberry." A ridiculous quantity of them will pull up.

My preferred method for using up a ton of berries at the moment, though, is freezing them for later. Blueberries are really simple to freeze - clean them up and freeze them, done! But I found more elaborate instructions for the process here for those who are annoyed by, say, the blueberries getting frozen together in a lump. I'm kind of laid back about that sort of thing in my kitchen. But I also enjoyed the instructor's "voice" here, especially when talking about how he/she likes to use glass containers but they have their pitfalls: "If you use glass, do not attempt to thaw contents by placing the container in hot or boiling water. Glass does not appreciate such treatment, and may break and harm you in retribution." (emphasis mine). LOL.

Last of all, I'm going to try drying them. I really want to incorporate these berries into this year's Christmas giving, but I don't want to just hand out baked goods. I usually try to avoid that because people receive so much of that kind of thing during the holiday season that it can become a burden. So it seemed to me that dehydrating would be the way to go. Then I could whip up some homemade pancake mix to give away.

Of course there's always canning - but blueberries aren't nearly acidic enough for straight canning, so they need to be either made into preserves or pressure-canned. Either of these are beyond the scope of this blog at the moment.

ETA: Fawn pointed out the New England Blueberry Coffee Cake as an option, too.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cream Soup Substitute, Take One

So for my birthday, Matt's daughter and ex-wife were kind enough to pick me up a copy of Simply in Season at the farmer's market. I'm not often very excited by birthday presents - I'm afraid I'm terribly finicky and difficult to shop for - but this was a very good gift.

Among the recipes in it - which so far I haven't had a moment to try, but it's bound to come up eventually - was what they called a "Cream Soup Substitute." Which is a fantastic idea! How many times have I wanted to make a childhood comfort food but run up against the canned cream soup as an ingredient? (Countless!) I hate them. God knows where the original ingredients come from, and they are loaded with additives and enough sodium to choke a horse.

Simply in Season's version, though, called for dry milk and bouillon powder. There was a time when I used a great deal of both those items in my kitchen, but I'm trying to move away from them now; they're both just too processed for my taste.

So today, I whipped up my own version, and to tell you the truth - it wasn't bad. I used onion powder to give the flavor a little body, and whole wheat flour as a thickener because that's my preference. If you'd prefer to avoid the added fat of the butter, though, you can always thicken with cornstarch instead. Just skip the butter-melting, flour-adding stage and heat cornstarch - half as much as the flour - directly into the milk until it thickens.

Cream Soup Substitute

¼ cup butter
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon paprika
1½ cups milk

Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat; stir in flour and spices until blended together. Add milk and heat until thickened.

This came out slightly thinner than my target. In the future, I might add an extra tablespoon or two of flour. But otherwise, it came out just about right for my tastes. Certainly not as salty as the commercial stuff, but it definitely tasted more like actual food. Since the recipe for today called for cream of mushroom soup, I actually added in about ¼ cup of sliced mushrooms while it thickened, too.

Not local today: Every danged thing except the mushrooms. Sigh. Sometimes you've just got to use things up.

Eat Local Challenge

Surprisingly, much of the information I'd expected to pull together related to Honest Weight's Eat Local Challenge turned out to be a bit of a bust. They have disappointingly little on their own website, the Times Union blog is interesting but has the dates for the challenge stated incorrectly in the linked post, and they've listed the national website wrong on the co-op's own Eat Local Challenge pamphlet! I shouldn't be surprised; when I called the co-op for information (because we don't make it down to Albany very often), the person who answered knew remarkably little about it.

So okay. Organization may not be their strongest suit. I don't care; I still love them, they still have the best natural food store I've seen to date, and the Eat Local Challenge is still a great thing to join. You can sign up in their store, those of you who are local, and receive periodic emails with recipes and ideas.

At any rate, Google is my friend, I always say, and I found the Eat Local America site fairly easily, for those who are intrigued but not geographically close to me.

The guidelines to Honest Weight's challenge are intentionally vague, however, and you're encouraged to set your own goals. There's good reason for this - eating is a very personal thing, and even in the height of summer, eating local is quite an adjustment. When you're just starting out, sometimes small steps and a relaxed attitude are the order of the day. Perfectionism will kill your motivation before you even get started.

Some suggested goals, recommended by Honest Weight's pamphlet:

- Spend at least 10% of my weekly food budget on local foods.

- Make 5 meals each week from locally grown and produced foods.

- Buy directly from a local farm or farmer's market as often as possible.

- Choose local foods whenever possible and request local where I shop and dine.

- Patronize local grocers, retailers, and restaurants that feature local food.

- Preserve fresh seasonal foods to enjoy later in the year (freeze, can, dehydrate).

Matt and I are both signed up at the co-op, so hopefully we'll start receiving their emails soon. If anything interesting comes up in them, I'll be sure to share.

...Aaaaaaand we're back!!!

All right now. We are entirely moved into our new place and have it almost set up to our specifications! Now I should be able to blog more regularly, and good thing, too! There's so much to talk about:

- It's really time to follow up on my "How Do You Use It Up?" thought. I didn't get the response I'd hoped for, so I'm going to break it down item by item with my own ideas. Jump in anytime!

- The co-op is holding an Eat Local Challenge from August 6th through September 27th. Matt and I found out about it reading the Metroland at a restaurant for my birthday. Needless to say, this led to a ton of other information; a nation-wide local eating challenge, a local eating blog at the Times Union. It may be several blogs unto itself.

- I've started putting up food for the winter. I haven't had time to learn how to can this summer, so for me, this means freezing. Soon I'll be getting a chest freezer off of Craigslist - the new place has plenty of room for one right in the kitchen. I can't wait! Meanwhile, I've been filling the freezer I do have with tomatoes and blueberries.

- Matt and I went to see Food, Inc. yesterday. It was very good, though there were both parts I liked and parts I didn't. Lots of material for discussion there.

- I bought a food dehydrator today! I've been wracking my brain trying to come up with some way to use this overabundance of blueberries at J's house come Christmastime, and I think dried blueberries are it. Unfortunately, I couldn't find dehydrator in any stores nearby and had to order online - it may not come till after the blueberries are gone. There will certainly be plenty of other things to dry, though, so I ordered it anyway.

So, stick around and catch up with me! And throw your thoughts out there any ol' time.