Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pork Loin with Curried Fingerlings

Oh, yeah, and a sweet & sour white onion peach sauce. Mmmm.

This is what happens when I have a) time, b) inclination, and c) a reasonably large grocery budget. You'll notice the nice crust on both the pork and the potatoes there. I sure did.

The sauce might need some tightening if I want to make it again. I have thoughts of additional vinegar to bring out the sour. And perhaps a 1/4 cup of cream or butter in the blending stage to add a bit more velvet to it all. Maybe reducing it once it's been blended. We'll see. It was definitely good enough to do again.

First things first. Get a pork loin roast, salt and pepper, a roasting pan, and an oven at 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients until the pork registers 145 degrees internal temperature.

Then go get this:

  • 2 lbs fingerling potatoes, sliced 1/6" thick
  • 2 cups sliced mushrooms (shitake would be grand)
  • 1 1/2 T curry powder
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • oil, salt, pepper
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, divided
  • 5 medium peaches
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • three scallions
  • 2 T apple cider vinegar
  • oil, salt, and pepper

Parboil your potatoes until half cooked (just 2 or three minutes once the water simmers, they're sliced pretty thin y'all). Remove from the heat and drain. In batches, saute them in olive oil until the edges are crispy. Remove from pan. Saute mushrooms and 1/4 of the onion in oil with salt and pepper. When the onion sweats, add the curry powder and the chicken stock. Add the potatoes back in and heat through.

While that's all going on, saute the onion, garlic, scallion, and peach over high heat, breaking up the peaches. When the onion is totally softened, add the apple cider vinegar and combine. Remove from the heat and cool, then add to a food processor and completely pulse it smooth.

Slice that loin. Bed of potatoes and shrooms down. Loin on top. Sauce it up. Garnish with the green stuff (I had parsley here).

I could add a little curry to the sauce next time too if I'm doing a pure repeat, but you don't need to. The sauce and the pork, the sauce and the potatoes, and the potatoes and the pork all matched up well as pairs, and all three together on a plate were fantastic. Ask the Sam's crew, they demolished a 9x13 tray of it in 3.28509 seconds. And that includes time for Belcher to get seconds.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Updates and Plans

I've received a great deal of feedback to last week's post on creating institutional community support for local agriculture in West Virginia. Some here on the blog, some through Facebook, and several private conversations. I think there's a great deal of excitement about this conversation and I'm energized to keep it going. Thanks for all your input and feedback.

More on local foods soon/now...

Good news from Putnam County about a potential new farmers' market. While I'm very excited to read stories like this, I hope the local producers have enough product and people to cover. Several of the producers at The Capitol Market are from Putnam County, so I hope there's enough for both markets to thrive.
The Putnam County Exension Service is having a meeting Thursday to discuss the project. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. on the second floor of the former Winfield Courthouse.

For more information, you can call (304) 586-0217.

Also, I'm gettin' my rear back in the kitchen tonight. Promised the co-workers at Tricky Fish that I'd cook for them sometime, and I better get on that horse. So they get fed tonight. And the Sam's crew gets fed tonight. Not sure what the marinate/stuffing will be yet. We'll see what's at the market. Likely some roast spuds to accompany the porcine goodness of mr. loin. Basil and golden raisins anyone?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Better West Virginia Challenge: Food Files

Here's a deviation from the recipes and most of the snark. A Better West Virginia is promoting its second annual West Virginia Day Challenge. There will undoubtedly be articles about our roads, our schools, our mountains (or what's left of them). I'll spend my time on food, as I'm wont to do most days.

You all have heard me talk local in the past. I believe there is a lack of institutional community support for local agriculture economies in West Virginia. I also believe that on the whole, locally produced food and/or organically produced food are healthier than mass-produced, mass-transported food. So I'll take a stab at starting to define WHY local food is better food and at figuring out how local communities in West Virginia can create and sustain local food economies to encourage and support local agriculture.

There Are People Who Don't Like Local/Organic?

Some folks actually want to tell you that organic and locally produced foods are BAD for you. Damn those pesky policy-makers for trying to get children to eat their vegetables by giving them vegetables that taste like...vegetables! Fortunately for us all, The Daily Show got a hold of them and put a correspondent on the case. This'll be fun (emphasis mine)...
Bee interviewed Jeffrey Stier, associate director of the council, who referred to the Obamas as “organic limousine liberals.”

“I think the Obama garden should come with a warning label. It’s irresponsible to tell people that you should have to eat organic and locally grown food. Not everyone can afford that. That’s a serious public health concern.”

“People are going to eat fewer fruits and vegetables. Cancer rates will go up. Obesity rates will go up. I think if we decide to eat only locally grown food, we’re going to have a lot of starvation.”
What? You think organic food will lead to obesity, starvation, and CANCER?

There are folks here in WV who agree with Stier: "She (Obama) has set her sights on the good folks in conventional agriculture by planting an organic garden. Organic gardening is just another activity promoted by the latte sipping limosene (sic) liberals that have never put in a hard days work spraying weed killer on their Miracle Grow."

If you're going to attack someone for wanting children to have healthier food with higher nutritional value, I'm not sure I can get through to you. And to say that people who grow organic gardens are 'setting their sights' on conventional agriculture in some devious plot is a tin-hat-wearing-esq...just a bit. Remember, 'organic' farming was 'conventional' for about 20,000 years around these parts before synthetic pesticides came along.

I Have to Prove Local/Organic is Healthier?

We'll start with this:
"When you buy locally grown, you're getting the produce at its peak form," says Darlene Price, senior nutrition resource educator at Orange County Cornell Cooperative Extension.


How long a bunch of romaine lettuce has been sitting around, it turns out, has a direct impact on just how good that romaine really is for you. That's because food starts to change as soon as it's plucked from the earth and tender vitamins such as C, E, A and thiamine begin to deteriorate.

"Over time, vitamin stability decreases," says Erika Ichinose, program coordinator for the Farmers Market Nutrition Program at Cornell University Cooperative Extension in New York City. Temperature changes, exposure to air and artificial light all wreak havoc, she says, robbing fruits and vegetables of nutrients.
Local means less transportation which means less nutrient loss in the foods. Check

And if an Ivy League/Public School partnership is too 'latte liberal' for you, let's consider Men's Health magazine:
What's more, studies show that wild fish is less contaminated by pollutants than farmed fish; grass-fed beef contains more omega-3 fatty acids than meat from grain-fed "industrial" cattle; and produce bought close to the source is more nutrient dense than fare from far away. Below, Colicchio explains how to always find the freshest ingredients and shows you how to put them together.

Local produce from small purveyors is generally fresher. Research from Iowa State University shows that while a local Iowa apple travels only 61 miles, a conventional supermarket apple travels 1,726 miles. "Farmer's markets are becoming one-stop shops for good local fish, meat, and dairy products, too," adds Colicchio. (Find one near you at ams.usda.gov/farmersmarkets.)
Non-factory-produced foods have has more of the good nutrients you need. Check.

STILL not good enough? Fah, here's the American Medical Association:
The AMA’s new Sustainable Food policy builds on a report from its Council on Science and Public Health, which indicates that locally produced and organic foods “reduce the use of fuel, decrease the need for packaging and resultant waste disposal, preserve farmland … [and] the related reduced fuel emissions contribute to cleaner air and in turn, lower the incidence of asthma attacks and other respiratory problems.”
And from one of the AMA members:
"Physicians now recognize that one cannot easily separate the health of food from how healthfully that food is produced," said Dr. David Wallinga, an attendee at the meeting, the Wm. T. Grant Foundation Distinguished Fellow in Food Systems and Public Health at the University of Minnesota, and a member of Health Care Without Harm. "The profligate use of antibiotics and fossil fuels in today's food system, for example, is directly linked to climate change and to the epidemic of antibiotic resistant infections, in hospitals and in communities. "
The most respected medical organization in the United States believes the health of food is related to how healthfully that food was produced (i.e. pesticides bad, local and organic good). Check.

I think you can see the relatively strong case to be made for increasing your consumption of local and/or organically grown foods.

And to be clear, organic and local are DIFFERENT and each is a good source of food. But neither are my sole source. Both local and organic production result in healthier food (and I think tastier). I think grass-fed beef is better than corn-fed beef because cows are designed by God to eat grass and not corn but I don't stop eating any beef that wasn't massaged by 23 virgins before slaughter. If I'm on a road-trip and need food I haven't prepped 20-pounds of homemade granola (but I have made my own before and it tastes better); I stop at a fast-food place for convenience. And if there's a farmer up the road who sprays his orchards a couple times, I'm not going to stick my nose up in the air, I'm likely to see if I can pick a bushel to take home (I'm just going to wash them when I get there).

There's practicality involved in everyone's life, people. My concern is that the scales are shifted so far away from food products we know to be better for our bodies and our sustainability.

What's Going On In West Virginia?

I think most West Virginians have at least some belief, at a macro level, that locally grown food is good food. You've gone to the neighbors to trade a can of half-runner beans put away last winter for a jar of preserves canned with your mother when the raspberries threatened to weigh the fence-posts down and bring them crashing into the road. Or you know the cousin in Monroe County who'll have either one of those jars if you need one.

And we have farmer's markets here in West Virginia, sure. There are 24 members of The West Virginia Farmer's Market Association (One ommission I noted from their list is the Capitol Market here in Charleston). According to the WVU Cooperative Extension Service, there are farmers' markets in 32 counties.

But creating a culture that invests in its local agriculture and reaps the benefits of its productivity will require more than 1 market for every 1.7-2.2 counties in the State. And I think if the Department of Agriculture, the WVU Extension Service, and the West Virginia Farmers' Market Association all have different information about how many markets exist in the state, that coordination is the key to getting this problem solved.

According to Local Harvest, there are only five Community Supported Agriculture operations in the State of West Virginia. If you head over to Wilson College's Robyn Van En Center, and search for WV, they'll tell you there are nine CSAs here. I don't know of a single community garden in my immediate area where I could go and plant a row or two of beans and peppers for my own use. So there consumers can't easily get small batches of local produce easily. You may be able to, but there's not a visible, viable network people can easily find from the outside.

There is The West Virginia Grown Program at the Department of Agriculture:
Participants in the West Virginia Grown program have met criteria that designate them as an official state-produced or in-state value-added producer that is headquartered in the state and contributes to the West Virginia economy through its employment, manufacturing, packaging, purchasing, marketing and the conducting of its business within the state.
There's a set of links in different categories inlcuding bakeries, meat & poultry, and wineries on the page. But you'll need to contact the folks at Ag to find out more. There doesn't appear to be a longer program description or application form on the website.

There is WVFarm2U, and I think they may end up being a perfect fit for what needs to happen here. But I don't think they've broken through into the mainstream enough yet. I'd love to help that happen. They:
Our Collaborative for the 21st Century Appalachia is a grassroots organization concerned with preserving the small farm, the environment, and a more traditional way of life. We believe in sustaining the small farm, the rural community, and the planet through earth-friendly agricultural practices and a buy-local emphasis.
But you don't get to them through the Ag site, or through generic local ag google searches, but good grief they look on the surface like they have the mojo to get it done.

What's Going On in Other Places?

So there are a few references creeping into the public about about the support for local agriculture and one gem that could be a huge part of the answer. But what else is out there? Are there models of engaging local agriculture and creating self-sustaining networks that exist elsewhere to which we can gaze for inspiration? Probably so...

In Virginia, you have options. You can head to the Piedmont Environental Council's Buy Local Virginia site to see what CSAs are offering in your area, search for producers and CSAs within a specific geographic area, and join local chapters to get involved yourself. You can also take a look at all the Farmer's markets in the Commonwealth, and find out what grocers carry local produce, at the Virginia Department of Agriculture's Virginia Grown website.

In Maryland, there are farmer's markets in all 24 Counties (23 Counties and Baltimore City, which Maryland State government treats like a county). Baltimore City has nine markets alone! The Maryland Department of Ag goes so far as to provide a list of markets (and producers in those markets) who accept WIC and Senior Citizen Farmer's Market Nutrition Coupons.

New York has the Farmers' Market Federation:
The Farmers' Market Federation of New York is a grassroots, membership organization of farmers' market managers, market sponsors, farmers and market supporters. Together, we have developed a spectrum of services to increase the number and capacity of farmers' markets in the state, develop the scope of professionalism in farmers' market management and improve the ability of markets to serve their farmers, their consumers and their host communities.
There is certainly nothing like THIS in West Virginia.
...at P.S. 6 on New York’s Upper East Side,...one-third of its roof will be planted with vegetables and herbs next spring for the cafeteria. The school is using about $950,000 in city funds that it has put aside, and parents and alumni are providing almost a half-million dollars more.

“For the children, it’s exciting when you grow something edible,” said the school’s principal, Lauren Fontana.
Can you imagine if our schools cut costs and added learning and nutrition programs by growing their own food? And for most of our schools you wouldn't even have to get people's mind wrapped around putting the gardens on the roof. We have LAND here.

Another quick search on the Google for "local agriculture" sends you to Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, a Western Massachusetts outfit with a board of directors and staff. CISA has programming to teach farmer's sustainable practices, connect food producers with institutional purchasers of food like schools and hospitals, and build community infrastructure to make local agriculture a part of the local economy.

So there are examples of other states with more central repositories of information on locally-support agricultural economies. And several of the examples I found were locally driven efforts to create economies and market them to consumers. There were non-profit community-based solutions; State governments acting as the central clearinghouse for local agricultural markets, a federation of markets creating their own network and programming; and alternative growing models for more urban areas. A pretty broad batch of options.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

And that brings me back to West Virginia, and our apparently disparate networks and patchworks of local agriculture. The prize, institutional community support for small-market agriculture, is probably closer than we think. Take a gander at Tom Philpott's August 2006 article in Grist.

Philpott concludes that the missing link isn't farms (which we have here), or markets (again, we have several), or even a desire to eat locally produced foods (which West Virginians appreciate instinctively). Paraphrasing the Bubba-in-Chief, "It's the infrastructure, stupid."
The problem facing local food production isn't lack of demand; it's lack of infrastructure...In the area where I farm, western North Carolina's High Country, every small-scale farm operation I know of, including my own, encounters bottlenecks every day caused by infrastructural gaps. If a corporate buyer appeared with a big order, it's hard to imagine how our area's farmers, or the buyer, would walk away happy.
That makes sense here. We have farms, we have producers, we have consumers who appreciate and value local foods.

And there's a light at the end of Philpott's tunnel. A natural course of action that calls for strategically thinking and deploying resources. He also has a simple and obvious call to the individual consumer too.
The farmers who supply the nation's farmers' markets and CSAs, despite brutal economics, represent a huge asset. Communities, and the nation as a whole, should figure out ways to collectively leverage the passion of these growers. Not through direct payments -- as with the current $14.5 billion per year subsidy boondoggle -- but rather through strategic investments in food-production infrastructure.

As for individuals, the way forward is clear: seek out farmers' markets, CSAs, and restaurants that procure locally. And stifle your sticker shock. That two-dollar tomato will likely deliver an experience that can't be bought at any price at a supermarket.
Getting from Here to There

Translating Philpott's language into West Virginia creates four conversations I think we all need to have. Four steps that are the first pieces in creating A Better West Virginia. I think several of these conversations are happening around dinner tables when farmers get together, between farmers' market producers and the chefs that have started to utilize them, and probably even in small town halls when mayors and local leaders are trying to figure out some way to leverage the local agriculture for local economic benefit. I think they need to happen all over the state, and include community leaders who will continue the conversation within and among the local agriculture economies in West Virginia.
  1. Who Buys Food? - Find out what the different types of people who buy food need. Grocery stores buy food from farmers and from large distribution networks; hospitals have clear needs for nutritious and varied menus; schools buy food and have volume and nutritional requirements; families buy food and have cost and nutritional needs; restaurants buy food and look for partnerships that can enhance their ability to sell their product.

    Find out what restaurateurs around the State have already successfully integrated local agriculture into their supply chain. Talk to restaurateurs and you can learn what they are willing to do to engage local farmers for sourcing. You can start with Melody and Tim Urbanic at Cafe Cimino in Sutton and John & Keeley Steele at Bluegrass Kitchen in Charleston.

    The local farmer's markets that exist today are a likely host to this conversation. In Charleston, the Capitol Market reaching out with the Charleston Area Alliance to farmers, business leaders, restaurateurs, and local elected officials would work. Here in Charleston, a big table under the market roof with Kent Carper and his colleagues here and from Putnam County, Danny Jones, Ron Duerring and the Putnam superintendent of schools, Matt Ballard from The Charleston Area Alliance, the CEOs of the CAMC hospitals and Thomas/St. Francis, Capitol Market staff, the County Extension agents for Kanawha and Putnam, and reps from the farms that provide produce to the market around a table with restaurant chefs/owners trying to figure out how to get more local food on restaurant menus and in hospitals and schools? That doesn't seem like a stretch to me.

  2. Who Produces and Sells Food? - Find out to whom the producers are selling now. How many farmers are selling to local grocers, schools, restaurants. Find out where there are communities who have already begun to encourage local agriculture with markets and co-ops.

    What are barriers to production that small farmers see now? I guarantee they can identify barriers faster than you can. Talk to a farm in Pocahontas County about beef, pork, and lamb and find out the capacity of the butchers in their region limits them severely.

    I think this is a great place for us to engage traditional agricultural institutions. The Farm Bureau has the capacity, and I think the incentive, to reach out to its members (and non-member producers) to survey the State's agricultural community about those barriers. I don't think the survey should include any non-agricultural issues, about constitutional amendments, or about other policy areas on which the Bureau takes positions on behalf of its members. Find out local infrastructure barriers farmers have to maximizing their ability to sell locally. Find out what production limitations exist and what resources are needed to alleviate those limitations.

  3. How Are Statewide Institutions Involved? - Find out how much the Department of Agriculture, the WVU Extension Service, the Development Office, and other State actors are talking to each other. Is there already a forum for information sharing and a repository of best practices that exists in State government? If someone wants to start a new farmer's market and has six farms, two restaurants, and a local park board ready, willing, and able, what can the State do to encourage and facilitate getting it done?

    Is the West Virginia Grown program something to which these efforts at creation and support for local agricultural economies can attach themselves? Are there micro-grant programs that we can use here in West Virginia modeled on economic aid to other countries? Strong accountability, small capital outlay, MANY new entrepreneurs selling local food products.

    Please don't create a State task force. I've staffed them before. They produce great reports. But this is not a sexy policy area, and there's no public perception of a crisis; so the report wouldn't ever be put into effect. These agencies and actors need to be engaged by the local leaders creating the local economies. And the statewide actors need to recognize it is their responsibility to provide the technical and logistical support needed to foster innovation and further the creation of robust local economies in the State. Knowing some of the staff at Agriculture and having an up-close and personal past relationship with Extension, I have every confidence there are people there who would be thrilled to work hard on this project.

    It appears as though WVFarm2U could be the actor that pulls it all together. They have buy-in from schools and State Ag folks (but no links on the Ag site?). They have a collection of producers and products in a handy spot. But I have to admit I forgot they were out there when I first drafted the post, and didn't come across them in any of my specific research for this post.

  4. Putting Pieces Together to Create Local Infrastructure and Statewide Networks - Once those conversations have happened, once there are multiple local communities focusing on the creation of community-supported agriculture economies; the local folks who created the structures need to come together in a Statewide network to formulate best practices, form partnerships to expand and replicate to new communities, and plan outreach for that expansion effort.

    Make sure the folks running the show in the local communities are the farmers, the grocers, the restaurateurs, the farmer's market executive directors, and the small-town mayors and County Commissioners. Make sure the statewide network of communities has support from statewide actors; that you can see the forest for the trees, and that you can also take a peak at a particular tree to find out why it's growin' so good and use that elsewhere.

    That's important because I think you're creating TWO networks here. First is the network between the direct agricultural producers and their immediate communities. The second network is the meta-network created by each of those community-supported agricultural economies communicating with each other.

    The larger actors (State Agencies, Farm Bureau, Extension Service, WV Association of Counties) are critical in each place because they have 1) the capacity to facilitate local network creation by serving as a clearinghouse of information and 2) the capacity to facilitate the meta-network because their scope is Statewide and they can help bring the local communities together. Their job in this is to make sure there is a public presence for these efforts so one quick search will get a consumer all the information they need about the local agriculture in their area.
Wrapping it Up (in bacon?) and Tying it In A Bow

So there you have it. There's a problem. Locally produced OR organically produced food is healthier for you than food trucked at you from across the country. There is an imbalance in West Virginians' ability to produce and purchase enough local food products to swing the balance back. It's simply not as easy to get locally produced food in West Virginia as it should be.

Here is one blogger's set of steps to start overcoming that obstacle. There's a comment feature...go ahead and use it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Two New WV Food Blogs

That's right, the foodie-revolution is underway in Wild, Wonderful West Virginia.

You can read the adventures of culinary student (and already all-around superstar cook) E over at Urban Dive. When E and I talked about her blogging and then when I saw the writing I was psyched for a couple reasons. One, she makes damn good food and thinks about what it takes to make good food, well, good. And two, she's incorporating her LEARNING into her WRITING. We'll all get mad skillz from reading about delicious! Get on the train y'all!


More surprising was reading through my Facebook feed this morning and finding Ms. S on the Webs. You know One Single Cook as the provider of my enchilada sauce for my chilaquiles with baked egg. Now you'll get to know her for her complete creations.

Having talked food with both of these ladies for quite a while, I'm very excited about their leap into the interwebs. I hope you'll all follow along with E and S and their foodie-ventures.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sunday Cooking - Skillet Poached Eggs and Braised Pork with Dijon Lime

Yeah, I stayed in all day today. So you got my tweet this morning about breakfast, right? The skillet poached eggs and potatoes that may be one of my more clever (and completely unintentional) one-pot meals.

Skillet Poached Eggs and Potatoes with Bacon Gravy

Four strips of thick-cut bacon
1 medium Russet potato
1/2 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup chicken stock
2 eggs
1 scallion

1. Cook off four strips of bacon. Remove from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Reserve 2T bacon grease in the skillet
2. Dice the potatoes into medium cubes. Dice the onion similarly. Throw them in a pan on medium heat with the bacon grease. Salt and pepper to taste and to get the onions sweating.
2a. Eat one piece of bacon.
3. Add in 1/2 the chicken stock and deglaze the pan. Stir through and cover. Cook for 10 minutes.
4. Add the remainder of the chicken stock and stir through. Form two small wells in the pan and crack the eggs into the wells. Cover and continue cooking until the whites of the eggs are opaque.
4a. Eat another piece of bacon. Crumble the other two so you have some left for the garnish.
5. With a spatula, scoop out the eggs and surround with the potatoes. Scatter crumbled bacon and scallions over the dish.

Where's the gravy? Yeah, that's the remaining thick sauce formed by the chicken stock, the bacon grease, and the starch from the potatoes as they break down during cooking. With 1/2 cup total chicken stock, you end up having the gravy covering every inch of potato and surrounding your poached eggs. If the pan starts looking dry at any point, just add in a few more tablespoons of chicken stock.

Braised Pork Shoulder with Dijon/Lime Sauce

Then there was dinner. Pulled some pork shoulder out of the freezer yesterday with the intention of cooking it. Lucky for you and my belly that my laziness gene kept me home today and that it also stopped short of "oh, I can just nuke something today."

Had some limes in the fridge that needed to get used. Randomly picked up some Dijon on my last trip to the store. Ended up being useful. I knew I wanted the limes. You remember citrus and pork, yeah?

2lbs pork shoulder on the bone
1 1/2 yellow onions, sliced in half moons
5 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
Juice from three limes, separated
salt and pepper to taste
2T olive oil
2T dijon mustard
1T cider vinegar

1. Salt and pepper the pork and brown it on all sides in the oil. Remove it from the pan.
2. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.
3. Saute the onions and garlic over medium heat until the onions just start to wilt. 4. Add the juice of two limes.
5. Add the pork back on top of the onions. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil.
6. Cover and place in the oven for 90 minutes. If the meat is pulling away from the bone you're ready. If not, back in the oven and check it after 20 minutes.
7. Remove the pork from the pan to a cutting board.
8. Add the dijon, cider vinegar, and juice from the remaining lime to the pan and place it over medium heat. Stir everything through and reduce the heat to low. Simmer until the sauce thickens.

I served the pork over a toasted English muffin 'cause I didn't feel like making rice and there wasn't anything else to put it over. You could just put it on a plate and sop it with Wonderbread if you wanted. 'Course it'd taste better for you and me both if I'd had the inclination to make some bread today.

All in all a good day. Shopping and more green stuff tomorrow. Any suggestions? I have thoughts of local zucchini gratins.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Little Bit About Knitting

My friend LeAnna's husband Brent just walloped me over the head. Not in a bad way on the walloping, and I only describe him that way 'cause we haven't gotten around to meeting in person yet.

Brent and LeAnna raise two kiddies. LeAnna blogs about that here.

They also write a regular column at Grit: Rural American Know-How. You can catch up on gardening, homemade butter, living without Target, and a healthy dose of Ella and Mabel too.

This is from Brent's most recent post entitled The Manly Art of Knitting:
My wife, LeAnna and I have been thinking a lot lately about work. We’ve been wondering if perhaps we’ve been mis-educated to believe that avoidance of manual labor is the pinnacle of education and evolution – that to prove that we’ve arrived in the world, we should work with our heads and not our hands. What we’re wondering is whether that system has steered us wrong, disconnecting us not even so much from our heritage, but from some essential part of who we are as people. That as people, we were made to create. That on some level people were meant to work for their food. And that, similarly, part of our care not just for ourselves but for each other involves a physical act of creating. In my Eastern European family, that often involves cooking food for each other – and, of course, applying a liberal dose of guilt until the person eats it.

And there you have it. It's the act of creating. Such a simple statement, and so viscerally true to me.

You all know my snark, and that vanity is, at least in some part, responsible for the pictures and the posting (come on, see what I did...).

But behind all that is certainly a sense that in a world where I am working almost exclusively with my head, the hobby to which I gravitate involves using my hands, and my nose, and my tastebuds, and my eyes, and even my ears (no more sizzle in the pan, your veg has lost all its moisture). Moreover, it becomes something to which I devote a great deal of energy because I truly feel like I get something out of it. Not monetary or even complimentary.

I honestly feel better and feel better about myself if I get to spend time with my knife, pots/pans, pantry, and cookbooks...with a healthy dose of my friends and family before, during, and after the cooking.

So I'll go home and cook something for dinner tonight and be a tad sad that Chez has an evening gig tonight, Ms. Bethie has an already-rescheduled-once dinner date with some other pals, and Ms. KristaK has to pack for her well-deserved and needed vacation this weekend.

If a small amount of snark is permitted again, this just means that Greco and Pearl will eat very well tonight since I'll have no reason to stay at home and every intention of making a 9x13 8-egg version instead of the 8x8 4-egg small apartment size.

I don't knit, Brent; but I like the way you think.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Stuffed Peppers

I had peppers. I had beef. I had bacon, rice, diced tomatoes, cilantro, scallions, cheddar cheese, broccoli, salt, pepper, garlic, cumin, chicken broth and oil. I had pots and pans and a rice cooker. And lordy, lordy, did I have a need to get in my kitchen to do some geeking so some food could get in MY BELLY. This, dear readers, means you will get a mostly-recipe post here today.

Smoky Stuffed Red Peppers

1 cup rice
1 1/4 plus 1/3 cups chicken broth or stock
3 cloves of garlic
2 slices bacon
2 course chopped medium yellow onions
1 cup broccoli florets and stem, partially steamed
1 T cumin
1 1/4 ground beef
1 can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
8 large red peppers, tops removed and chopped
2 T cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, finely chopped (green and white)

1. Cook the rice in chicken broth with the garlic smashed but whole. When the rice is done, remove the garlic cloves and place the rice in a large mixing bowl.

2. Steam the broccoli for two minutes until it is partially cooked. I peel and chop the stem of the broccoli too, especially in a recipe like this where it will add texture in the stuffing. Remove the broccoli to a bowl.

3. Remove the tops from the peppers, discard the stem, seeds, and membrane. Chop the tops of the peppers and reserve. Place the peppers in the pan you used to steam the broccoli and cover. Let the peppers steam for about 2-3 minutes. This lets them soften enough to stand on their own when stuffed. Makes for easier baking and a better texture to the finished product.

4. Saute the bacon until rendered and slightly crisp. Add the onion, ground beef, salt, pepper, and cumin. Cook until the beef is browned. Add the tomatoes and chopped pepper. Cook to blend for about 2 minutes, then add the broccoli to heat through.

5. Pour the beef mixture into the bowl with the rice, add 1 cup of the cheese, and stir through.

6. Place a small pinch of cheese in the bottom of each pepper and then spoon the stuffing in. Pack in as much stuffing as you can, pressing down to completely fill it. The walls of the pepper are pliable, remember? You can press quite a bit in.

7. Place in a deep-walled baking dish (I used a loaf pan with three peppers in it) and add 1/3 cup chicken broth. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

8. Remove the foil, add the rest of the shredded cheddar to the tops of the peppers, and return to the oven until the cheese is completely melted.

9. Garnish with cilantro and scallions.


You'll note from my picture I cut the peppers in half before serving. If you do this, don't make all eight peppers, you'll want to reserve some stuffing to scoop onto the pepper once you've sliced it.

I added peas into the stuffing I had left over the next day and made a meal of it. I should have added peas to the original.

You can make this in endless variations. Check out the recipes for stuffed peppers at Epicurious, Food Network, Google searching "recipe stuffed pepper", and AllRecipes.com.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Free Rainbow Sprinkles

Free Rainbow Sprinkles
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
That's right, food and fun in Charleston today with the Pride Parade and free rainbow sprinkles at Ellen's on Capitol Street!

Eggs Herbert

Eggs Herbert
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
You know I love this place. Even more so when shared with friends. Today I present to you, Herbert...not working on a Sunday for once.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pan Roast Cod

So after asking for your help, and getting my geek back on, I actually went shopping last night for multiple meals. There were some pantry staples: cumin, bay leaves, onions, stock, dry pasta. There was some freshness: Cod filet, split chicken breasts, red peppers, jahrlsburg, limes. There was some list-drift: Klondike bars because we had talked about them at the Red Carpet the night before, fish sauce so I have it, Stouffer's French bread pizzas because they're awesome.

And no, I really didn't know what I was having for dinner last night when I went shopping. I didn't have a list (but don't always worry about that now since I like the "what looks good philosophy"). I didn't even have an ethnic desire.

But I saw cod that looked good. And I hadn't cooked angel hair pasta in a while, and damn if they didn't have red bell peppers at $1/each. Little garlic, little oil, little salt, little pepper. Water, one pasta pot, one 12" all-clad skillet, one bowl, one plate.

There was a lady behind me in line who only had a few items. She looked over my monstrosity of a grocery cart and said something to the effect of "So nice to see a man who knows how to shop." Small talk ensued and she asked what I was making tonight. "I'll probably put some of that cod with some of that angel hair and a couple of those peppers."

"Oh, those peppers look nice."

"I know, and they're on special for only $1 each!"

At that point I think she would have married me off to her daughter if she had one. I might have gone along with it. I was feelin' good about myself and my kitchen-time.

A few red lights later, I was home and STUFFING my fridge and freezer with the bounty of my trip and getting into full geek mentality.

I will not tell you how to cook pasta. Just remember to salt the water. Please.

Saute the peppers until just beginning to wilt and transfer to a bowl for a bit. Oil, salt, and pepper here folks.

A dash more oil, and in goes the cod over medium-high heat. DON'T MOVE IT. Let it go. Three minutes or so. When the bottom begins to become opaque. Another tablespoon of oil (trust me), three cloves of minced garlic (the extra oil keeps if from burning in the oven), into a 350 degree oven until it reaches 135 degrees.

You do have an instant read, electronic thermometer, right? No? Geez. Okay, in the oven for about 12 minutes until the top is just beginning to flake.

Remove from the oven, place the cod on a bed of the pasta on your plate. Put the peppers back in the pan.

Please remember to use an oven mit or towel on the 'still at 350 degrees pan.'

Saute the peppers again in the oil and now roast garlic until it's warmed through again.

Chop up your scallions; or parsley; or even cilantro, dill, or mint. Garnish and Gnosh.

The fish was fantastic. Flaked apart into meaty little chunks of goodness. The sweet peppers and mellow quick-roast garlic were a great compliment and the bite of the scallion mingled with the chew of angel hair.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Lola's Daily Special

Lola's Daily Special
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
Ground beef, fresh tomato, jalapeno, white cheddar, and sriracha sauce on the side!

The Food from Cafe Cimino

I couldn't wait to post. I had e-mailed Melody at Cafe Cimino to get the menu from Sunday's fundraiser and then the typing bug hit me and I posted anyway.So, you get two posts. And this one's the food.

(Almost) Every word from here out is from Melody, since she, Tim, and Eli really are the best folks to talk about the food.

What can I tell you about Tim's food that he prepared?
1. Cimino Salad with his homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing;
2. Our house made Ciabatta and Foccaccia and Jeff's Breads (of Lewisburg) Filone, Whole Grain, and Peppered Parmesan;
3. Awesome assortment of Tim's favorite Italian and Greek Olives, which he gets at the Strip District in Pittsburgh (then does the "grandma Cimino magic" on them with the marinade!)
4. The "cheese platter to die for" included again, his favorite assorted cheeses (Asiago, an artisan blue cheese made with goat cheese from internationally acclaimed Firefly Farms, Fontinella, and...

The and Melody was searching for was CHEADDAR, and it was rich, creamy, and GONE off my plate very quickly.

5. The hot foods were good ole' Cimino Family Sausage and Peppers, Three Cheese Penne Rigate Baked Pasta, his awesome Seafood in Bowtie Pasta (shrimp and scallops in a yummy cream sauce), Pork Loin with Apples, and our house Yukon Gold Potatoes with roasted garlic and fresh rosemary

When our gardens get up and running, we use our family farm's and 3 friends and neighbor's farms to provide the vegetables and the fruits. Right now, our Shittakes are from the Cimino Farm (they might have been in some of the dishes yesterday, but i'm not sure, but they are on the menu in the evening when they are flushing). We grow our own herbs, we get our fresh eggs from a local farm, too. Our honey is local, we do pan seared polenta a lot here all year round and use a local cornmeal from heirloom "bloody butcher" corn.
Tim likes to use what we can from as close as we can, buying from 22 different "artisan", mom and pop, family food producers, then he goes to the Strip for all of his ethnic ingredients that he just MUST have!
hope this helps and so glad you had a good time! Melody
(Maggie May says thanks for her pics!)

No Melody, thank you! And Tim, Eli, and the rest of the staff for making everyone so welcome and so well-fed.

It's About Food...

It's About Food...
Originally uploaded by kitchen geeking
....because I will eat after a ride up to Wheeling in this!

[UPDATE]The food was good, but not great. More time and we would have hit DiCarlo's in Elm Grove. More thought and I would have taken MP to Coleman's fish market for a fried fish sandwich to instill pride in any Catholic.

But we hit the River City Aleworks. I like the place, and have eaten there a few times over the past few years. MP was initially skeptical, but his tuna steak sammy with wasabi mayo on artisan ciabatta won him over. My photo skills were not skillz, and so you don't get to see it.

I went Steak Salad after being warned off the pit beef by my server. Good for her. I thought it sounded good. She let me know it was going off menu soon and was not the same recipe it had been. Kudos.

She did not tell me their tea was powder mix, or appeared to be. Eh, c'est la vie. It was wet.

Salad was hefty on the salad and decent on the steak and fries. Yeah, I ordered a salad that had steak and fries on it. Pbbbbbbbbbt!

I kept the dressing on the side and dipped, you health-Nazis! (I mean, I'm not paranoid or anything...just sayin' here). I ate MOST of the salad...

The pub's a nice spot, bar area, restaurant, private rooms, seafood specials for the crab-lover in you. It's a big open space with nice hardwood in the restaurant. The menu's standard-fare pub grub and 'nice' pub-grub.

Since it wasn't my first trip you know I'd go again. Need to get some of the beer next time and do a proper review. But for the only meal I've eaten today, it did pretty well.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Hartwood in the Hills

This one’s a little about the food yesterday (which was amazing) and a lot about the people and the place yesterday. It's not kitchen geeking snark, it's a wistful and wonderful tale of a day when the food and the rest of it all blended together so well you almost couldn't tell it all apart.

Sometimes it works out that way. Sometimes I can turn my apartment into a little bistro if you shut your eyes to the place and focus on the food and people. Sometimes you can transform people by putting them in a certain place. Yesterday was a question of the people and the place transforming the food into so much more than a fundraiser buffet.

It was all for Hartwood in the Hills and was held at Café Cimino.

I know Cimino is a magical place. Sutton's 103 year old P. J. Berry Estate at the end of town. A bend in the river and a turn out of time. The food there has always been incredible. Local produce, seasonal foods, expertly trained chefs. Fine dining in a small town with just over 1,000 people.

Sitting on the banks of the Elk River as it rolls down to Charleston to join the Kanawha on their march from the hills of West Virginia to the Ohio and the Mississippi.

I now have an inkling that Hartwood is just as magical. Here’s part of what they have to say about themselves:

Heartwood embodies the ideal that the arts belong to everyone and the artistic gifts in each person deserve nurturing. Heartwood’s mission is to ensure that everyone has access to Heartwood’s programs regardless of their ability to pay. Heartwood’s Board of Directors and faculty are dedicated to keeping class fees low, ranging from $3.00 to $5.00 per class. Full and partial scholarships are available to all students. The Board and faculty are committed to providing scholarships to any student based solely on need.

Heartwood offers a warm, welcoming environment to people of different abilities and backgrounds. Students have included physically and mentally challenged children, foster children from dysfunctional families, and juvenile offenders on probation. Theater projects build community, teamwork skills, self-esteem, and self-respect. They give children an appreciation of their role in the course of historical events. The atmosphere at the school is encouraging and noncompetitive. Every student gets an equal opportunity to shine.

The Hartwood folks brought masks and props, costumes and billboards, laughter and dancing. You didn’t need to have a talk about Hartwood, they showed you what it was.

While there to celebrate Hartwood, we wandered the grounds of Cimino, lounged by the goldfish pond and drank wine, read books on the patio at the bar, sat on the veranda watching puffy-white cumulus clouds meander across the sky, and generally enjoyed the beauty of the day and place.

Chefs Tim and Eli Urbanic fed us right too, with fresh breads, cheeses, and salads, gorgeous sausage and peppers, ziti, garlic/rosemary mashed potatoes, roast pork loin with apples and sauce. It was simple, rustic, comforting food and it put even larger smiles on everyone’s face.

Melody was moving quickly and gracefully between the pockets of people spread around the grounds. First and foremost, she was introducing them all to Maggie Mae, the trained therapy-dog who proudly displayed her certification on her vest! It was likely the first time I consciously approved of pet-ware.

I thought and said out loud that yesterday was my favorite day of the year so far. Someone may cynically remind me of other wonderful days this year, and there have been several. January 19th was particularly moving for me and for millions of others. It was a sweep of history, grand-scale day. Yesterday was a sweep of the heart, focus on the very small and very important things day.

You all know the feeling I had as the sun beat down on my face and I took a long, cool swig of Pinot Grigio and drifted between conversations about art and learning, Chef instructing someone on how to prepare a simple pasta dinner, and the rush of the Elk behind me.

On the drive back home I watched dusk settle over the mountains. The wisps of clouds replaced by the purple haze of a late spring night in central West Virginia. There were still folks celebrating Hartwood behind me. I expect there were still people celebrating when I arrived home an hour after leaving the party. Food and wine; friends and strangers; and a flowing river with a smiling staff were all part of day in Sutton. And they all fed us in equal parts.

You can see a lot more of the day here.