"America’s Night Out for Gulf Seafood" is on December 1st

Artwork credit: DineAmerica2010.com
Next Wednesday, December 1st, is America’s Night Out for Gulf Seafood. What is that, you ask?
It’s a national chef-led event to promote Gulf Seafood. More than 200 chefs from around the country will feature Gulf Seafood in their offerings next Wednesday as a way to recognize and promote those who make a living harvesting Gulf Seafood, an industry that is still suffering the aftershocks of the Deepwater Horizon disaster earlier this year.
The seafood from the Gulf of Mexico, by the way, is perfectly safe to eat. That’s what this event is all about.
If you’re lucky enough to have a restaurant in your area that is participating in “America’s Night Out for Gulf Seafood”, by all means, go patronize them next Wednesday night. Or you could do like me, (since the nearest one to me is 4 hours away) cook along at home, then blog about it. Or if you don’t have a blog, just go to your local seafood supplier or even the grocery store and plan a meal and enjoy it. Check out this entry (way at the bottom, sorry) for the caveat about shopping for shrimp and a recipe for seafood chowder you might want to try. It was delish, BTW.
In case you didn’t scroll through the whole entry, let me sum it up for you. Consult the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch when buying seafood or ordering it on a menu. Not all seafood is created equal, for a whole host of reasons, the most concerning of which are mercury contamination and sustainability issues. There is a handy iPhone app that I use religiously when out shopping for seafood.

You might be wondering how to find Gulf Seafood at the grocery store. That is a tricky task in land-locked West Virginia where the most practical food shopping choices for many of us are either Krogers or Super Wal-Mart. Unless you have an inside track to a fisherman (and if that’s the case, please share! please share!), Gulf Seafood here is pretty much limited to frozen shrimp. I did call Joe’s Fish Market on Quarrier Street, and they don’t have any Gulf Seafood right now. (Que sad music… “whap, whap whaaa.”) All seafood is required have the country of origin on the label, so at the grocery store, just make sure your packages says “U.S. wild caught”. Two thirds of the shrimp consumed in the U.S. comes from the Gulf, and chances are high that what is sold at supermarkets is from there. Or China. Which is why you have to look for the country of origin. Gulf shrimp are classified as “Good Alternative” by the Seafood Watch, because of sustainable harvesting practices.

Now, the fun part… deciding what to make.

Trust Your Mother

Last spring, my mom and I went to California Wine Country. It was an amazing trip. We rented a car and spent a few days touring wineries, drinking delicious wine,eating wonderful food, and seeing the sights of “No Cal”.

Healdsburg Square
Not long before I went, I read about Rancho Gordo beans on one of the blogs from the Dark Days Challenge last spring. I figured “what the heck? I’ll be in Napa, so I should see if I could find it.”
What is Rancho Gordo, you ask? Try this novel concept: a store totally devoted to heirloom dried beans. This guy is passionate about beans, let me tell ya! It was such a charming store! We walked in and found several tables full of packages of all sorts of dried beans. Most of the varieties, I’d never heard of. And they were so varied and colorful. A lady walked up and asked us what she could help with and made suggestions. And, the owner, Steve Sando, was sitting right there at the counter on the phone talking about–you guessed it, Beans! We decided the best way to go would be to buy a gift box. It was 4 or 5 packages of your choice of beans, the cookbook, and a canvas tote. We shipped it back for a flat-rate $8. Also, the day before, we had taken an organized tour through Platypus Tours (I totally recommend them, too, BTW. If Karl is still a tour guide, see if you can book him) of wineries in Napa, and our tour included a picnic lunch. One of the picnic items was a quinoa salad. My mom was OBSESSED with this particular quinoa salad. It didn’t stand out too much to me. She spotted some red quinoa and she told the lady about it this salad. The lady was even nice enough to find the recipe for the exact salad we had Platypus’s website, print it off, and put it in the gift box with our order. (By the way, Mom has made the salad a few times and I think her’s is better than the tour’s. Here’s the link, and it’s called “Birthday Quinoa Salad”–third one down.)
So, this weekend, I was debating what to make for dinner tonight. I decided those three packages of beans have sat in my pantry for way too long, and soaked some of the Good Mother Stallard Beans.  I love little more than a crockpot of any kind of beans ready for dinner when I get home from work, and cornbread made in my iron skillet. Satisfying, healthy and most importantly, delish! 
photo credit: Rancho Gordo
They are certainly interesting looking. About the size of pintos, but bright red mottled with white swirls. Once you soak them, the color becomes a little more muted. Once you cook them… Katie bar the door!
My mom has the cookbook at her house, so I didn’t make a recipe out of it. However, the package says they are best with some humble aromatic vegetables. So, that’s just what I did.
A cup and a half of dried beans, one cup of vegetable broth, half a leek, one-forth an onion and a carrot, all chopped fine, two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and 4 pieces of bacon. Fill up the rest of the crockpot with water. DE-LICIOUS!
The taste is richer than pintos. Actually, like pintos, but only better. Creamy comfort food. It contrasts nicely with the crunchy and coarse cornbread. I use local stone-ground cornmeal, and I put my iron skillet in the oven with about 1 tablespoon of canola oil while I am mixing up the cornbread to get hot. When you pour the batter in, it hisses.
I am so looking forward to lunch and dinner tomorrow, as beans are one of those things that get better the longer they’re left over. And, I know I’ve got two more packages left to make. Yum.

Pure Genius!

A couple months ago, I was renewing my Martha Stewart Living subscription, and was offered a discounted rate for Whole Living Magazine (formerly Body+Soul Magazine). Eh, what the heck? I’ll give it a try.

Last week, I received the November and the December issues. I have to say that they are considerably thinner than MSL, (I read one in it’s entirety on the eliptical machine in 40 minutes) but they do seem to have some decent articles in them.

However, the November issue just paid for the whole subscription, albeit discounted.

You see, I’m not a very good composter. I have a compost bin out back that I put yard clippings in. But I rarely take kitchen scraps out to it. I always have good intentions of doing so. When I cook, I bag them up as I am preparing dinner, but always seem to make it into the trash can as opposed to the composter after they’ve sat on the counter a day or so. Gnats have been so bad at my house this fall. And the composter is WAAAAY out back. And, I’d have to find some shoes to slip on. Ugh. It’s not worth it.

Until I saw a little blip in the magazine about this:

photo credit: re-nest.com
It’s a freezer compost bin. Keeps the flies away! It’s such a freakin’ simple concept, why didn’t I think of this?!? And, it’s evidently manufactured in California. You can check out the product review on re-nest, too. BTW, the author recommends it.
I, however, did not go out and drop $24.95, or whatever they are selling these things for. I grabbed a used gallon-size zip-lock bag out of my kitchen drawer and went to town. Yes, I reuse those. I used to be so appalled that my mother washed out ours and reused them when I was growing up. But, dangit, they are expensive. And, I’m keeping one out of a landfill.
Now, I can put all my kitchen scraps in my compost bin about as often as I was before, as the bag seems to hold about 2 or 3 weeks-worth. (I do put what is usable after peeling/cutting veg in a similar bag in the freezer for vegetable stock. So, I wasn’t throwing away all my scraps before, just what couldn’t be used. I.e. what is rotten, plus egg shells and coffee grounds.)

And, since “putting up” season has pretty much all but ended for the year (except deer meat). I thought I would include a couple photos of my larder as it looks right now.

Lots of apple sauce, probably not enough tomatoes and probably too many jars of pickles and various jams. I added two more bigger pumpkins yesterday, too. Jeremy’s dad gave them to me. They were sitting with their fodder shock by the front steps. My in-laws don’t like pumpkin enough to roast it and freeze it, and they were going to throw them away. I told them I could make good use of it.

It’s the 4th Annual Dark Days Challenge!

artwork credit: (not so) Urban Hennery
Yay! It’s the 4th Annual Dark Days Challenge!
I can attest, it was SO much fun last year.
The concept? Well, cook 1 meal a week that is “SOLE” (sustainable, organic, local, ethical). Then blog about it. Send your links to The (not so) Urban Hennery for a bi-weekly round-up.
It might sound daunting, but it’s really not. Before I joined the challenge last year, I was pretty much doing it anyway. I just didn’t realize it.
And, I don’t know about you, but I really get a thrill of seeing my blog on that round up. Don’t deny it. Everyone likes to see their name in print. 
Last year, I got countless ideas for meals through the challenge. My wrapping-paper-tube-pasta-drying-rack-trick? Courtesy of Hippie Chick. Not to mention, I “met” some really fantastic food bloggers through the Challenge.
Let’s face it. Eating locally and sustainably is the “vogue” thing to do these days. Besides, it’s a cause that we can all pitch in on. Everybody eats, right?
Sign up before midnight, November 21st at (not so) Urban Hennery. The challenge begins December 1st.

Yinz better get sim Pierogies n’at.

In case you didn’t understand the title, go here.

This site cracks me up. Only because I’ve heard people talk like that. I went to school in Morgantown for 7 years. Granted, that’s not Pittsburgh, but it’s a very short 60-ish miles up I-79. The Pittsburghese effect radiates that far.

In fact, the first time I ever had pierogies was in the dining hall in Arnold Hall, my freshman year. I think that might have been the last place I had the, too, come to think of it. At any rate, a few weeks ago, I made some baked potato skins. I had to scoop out some of the insides. I had about 1 1/2 cups of baked potato insides, and I just didn’t want to throw it away. So, I froze them and decided down the road to make some pierogies sometime. I couldn’t think of anything else to use it for. Next step was finding a pierogie recipe.

In case you’re wondering, pierogies are similar to ravioli. Traditionally, they are round with filling made from potatoes and cheese. But the origins are impossible to trace. They have ties to several Eastern European cultures, most notably Poland. In the United States, Pittsburgh is the epicenter of “pierogie-ness.”

Fast forward to this week. Pierogies found their way to the rotation.

Here’s the recipe I settled on. It’s from about.com. But I skipped the dough part. I had made fettucini the day before, and had some pasta dough left over. This recipe probably would have yielded a better dough for pierogies, but mine were still tasty.

Pittsburgh Pierogies

2 cups flour, plus more for kneading and rolling dough
1/2 tsp salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup sour cream, plus extra for serving
1/4 cup butter, softened and cut into small pieces
butter and onions, sliced thinly for serving

Mix the flour and salt. Beat the egg, then add all at once to the flour mixture. Add the 1/2 cup sour cream and softened butter, and work until the dough loses most of its stickiness (about 5 to 7 minutes). You can use a food processor or dough hook for this, but be careful not to overbeat. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate 20 to 30 minutes or overnight (the dough can be kept in the fridge for up to 2 days). Each batch makes about 12 to 15 pierogies.

For the filling:

5 large potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
6 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
salt and pepper

Boil the potatoes until tender. While the potatoes are boiling, saute the onion in butter until soft and translucent. Mash the potatoes with the sauted onions and the cheese. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can also add fresh parsley, bacon bits, chives, etc. Let the potato mixture cool and form into 1-inch balls.

Roll the pierogie dough on a floured board or countertop until 1/8″ thick. Cut circles of dough (2″ for small and 3 1/2″ for large pierogies) with a cookie cutter or drinking glass. Place a small ball of the filing on each dough round and fold the dough over, forming a semi-circle. Press the edges together with the tines of a fork.

Put the pierogies in a large pot of boiling water, a few at a time. They are done with they float to the top (about 5 minutes). Rinse in cool water and let dry.

Saute sliced onions in butter in a large skillet until soft. Add the pierogies and pan-fry until lightly golden and crispy. Serve with a side of sour cream.

Yinz don’t hafta go dahntahn ta git deese pierogies!