Appalachian eatin’ – biscuits and deer meat

I took these pictures back in the winter when I was making biscuits and deer meat for dinner one evening. I kept meaning to write up a post about it, but sometimes these things just happen and you wind up with a sequence of pictures showing biscuit making and no post. I was looking at them again today, and figured why not just share them anyway?

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My favorite way to eat asparagus

This spring has been epic for asparagus.

I mentioned before that the Hubs works with a guy who’s family owns a farm that grows and sells it. It’s just been too easy. I tell the Hubs we’re almost out, he makes a call and then brings half a box home the next day. Not many people can claim personal asparagus delivery. The first few bunches we got were “on the house” but soon I figured out what was going on. He was just “chumming” us in with his tasty and convenient asparagus. Now that we’re hooked, he’s charging us. (I’m kidding… I fully expected to pay for this spring delicacy. The price is still hard to beat.)

Anyway, so I’ve eaten a TON of asparagus this spring. Fritattas, soups, grilled, roasted, steamed; you name it. I’m like the Bubba Gump of asparagus.

So far, my favorite way to eat it is steamed with a simple Asian sauce. I ran across a similar recipe in my San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook, and just modified it.

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Awesome Asian Asparagus (serves 2 as a side)

  • 1/2 lb of asparagus
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • a few dashes of red pepper flakes

Trim tough ends from asparagus spears (extra credit if you save them for vegetable stock). Cut asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Steam asparagus for 8 minutes or so, until fork tender. Don’t overdo it here. You don’t want mushy asparagus. It should still have a bit of crispness. In a medium bowl, toss the asparagus with the sesame oil, soy sauce and red pepper flakes. EAT.

This is embarrassingly easy to make. But good God, is it good.

I ate the bowl pictured above for dinner last night. By myself. Yeah, my pee smells funny now.

You might notice the Le Creuset steamer in the pic above. I am in love with it. I plant a big wet kiss on it every time I get it out of the cabinet. It makes steaming veggies (and shrimp–that’s all I’ve tried so far in it) so easy, there’s really no reason not to eat your veggies.

Actually, I was lucky enough to win this steamer last fall as a door prize at Mixed Con. If you’re in the Mid-Atlantic and looking for a food blogger conference to attend this coming November, go straight to the Mixed Con webpage and register. It was the berries and I cannot wait to go back. I learned a ton of stuff about blogging, met Duff Goldman, brought home a sweet bag o’ swag, met Duff Goldman, ate a bunch of really good food, met Duff Goldman, made some wonderful cyber blogger friends, met Duff Goldman, and won a fantastic door prize. Oh, yeah, I also met Duff Goldman.

The array of door prizes the hosts of the conference gave away was absolutely dizzying. I was stoked to win the Le Creuset Farm Fresh Steamer. I didn’t use it much until recently when asparagus came in season. I do plan on putting it to work throughout the summer for fresh veggies and fish, though.

Spring Salads

The Hubs and I eat A LOT of salad. Like, a lot. A lot lot. Everyday almost.

So, it’s a happy day when I can start buying fresh salad greens and fixins from the farmers market, after eating store-bought organic mix during the winter months.

And it’s a really, really happy day when I am finally harvesting everything to make a salad right from the backyard.

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So much arugula.

After a slow start, my spring veggies are coming in at full force now. The problem is that it’s time to put my summer veggies out, and I don’t have any place to put them yet. I don’t want to take out the spring vegetables until they run their course fully.

In the meantime, we’re eating really local when it comes to salads for lunch.

IMG_3099The greens and radishes are from the delicious potager and the green onions are from my father in law’s garden. I save the scraps and trimmings in my countertop composter, and empty it into my composter in the backyard when it gets fully or stinky. Then, after the compost is ready, I just put it back on my garden. The ultimate recycling.

What else do we put on these salads?

Goat or feta cheese crumbles. Now that it’s grilling season, we’ve enjoyed some leftover steak on them, too. I love steak, but in moderation. I cut my serving down to around six ounces, and save the rest for salad for lunch.

Now the tricky part–salad dressing. Store bought dressings are fraught with sodium, fat and nasty ingredients like artificial color and preservatives. I’ve discovered that everything you need to make homemade delicious dressing is stuff you can find in your pantry already.

With steak, I like balsamic vinaigrette.  It can be as simple as equal parts of balsamic vinegar and good-quality extra virgin olive oil. Or you can jazz it up, by adding chopped herbs or garlic.

One of the Hubs’s favorite is honey mustard. It’s super easy also. Combine in a jar, 1 tablespoon of honey, 1 teaspoon spicy brown mustard, 1 teaspoon of cider vinegar and a tiny pinch of salt if you prefer. Mix well with a fork until combined.

You can play around with vinaigrettes by using different vinegars and oils. I like cider vinegar with extra virgin olive oil, and tarragon and garlic. Use a little bit of tarragon, though, as the flavor is pretty strong.

And, when you buy a one-quart container of buttermilk for a recipe that calls for only half a cup, use what’s left for buttermilk ranch dressing. It’s easier than you think. Combine about 3/4 a cup of buttermilk with 1/2 cup of either mayonnaise, sour cream or plain yogurt. Then add chopped dill, garlic and salt and pepper.

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Not too shabby for a brown bag lunch.

Once you try homemade dressing and see 1) how much better it tastes, 2) how easy it is, and 3) how much cheaper it is, I guarantee you won’t miss store-bought at all. I don’t usually keep buttermilk on hand, but when I have some leftover, it makes my salad extra special.

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black seeded simpson lettuce and some mesclun mix

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arugula

The arugula is almost done. Some of the plants are beginning to bolt. I’ve planted arugula before, but never had a crop this successful. I’m not complaining though. It’s one of my favorite greens. So spicy!

I even thinned out more of my beets and kale, and added the thinned leaves I picked to the salad greens. No sense in wasting those tender baby greens.

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radishes and blue scotch curly kale

 

Salt Sugar Fat

I’m reading this book now, and I cannot put it down.

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(If you click the pic you can buy it for your Kindle–Image credit: Amazon).

It’s creating all sorts of buzz in the “food revolution” world. I first heard about it when I watched a video posted on some sight (can’t remember where or find it now) last week in which Michael Moss and Michael Pollan went to a grocery store to buy what they needed to make a healthy meal. In case you’ve been living under a rock, Michael Pollan is promoting his own new book, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation.

And, Wednesday night, Michael Moss was on The Splendid Table talking about his book. Here’s a link to the story.

It’s amazing stuff, I tell ya. Food conglomerates scrutinize every single purchase consumers make at the grocery store. It’s amazing to me that in an office building in America somewhere right now, a group of marketing experts and food technicians is thinking about ways to manipulate ME into buying their products.

For instance, you probably remember the ad campaign by Kellogg’s Frosted Mini Wheats “Keeps ’em full, keeps ’em focused”? In the earliest versions of the ad, a clinical study was cited that said a child’s attention and focus was improved 20% after eating a breakfast of Frosted Mini Wheats. Only problem was, it wasn’t exactly a “clinical” study, and the context in which the message was delivered was intentionally misleading. Well, the FTC got wind of the ad, but by the time the ad was pulled by Kellogg’s (after  the FTC stepped in), the damage was done and the ad was reaching the end of it’s run anyway. Parents surveyed after the ad was pulled said they really believed their child’s attention would improve 20% if they fed them Frosted Mini Wheats for breakfast.

The section on fat talks extensively about the history of cheese making in the United States, specifically mass production of cheese that is mostly what’s in the grocery store. I think of myself as a savvy shopper–I read nutrition facts and ingredients on labels of food that I buy. But after I read the chapter about fat and cheese, I was horrified to find “cheese food” in tiny letters on the label of the block of cheese I bought last time I was at the grocery store. Most of what’s sold is “cheese food” because it is legally processed cheese, and must be labeled as such–even if it is in teeny tiny font.

Make no mistake, food processing is a very scientific and technical endeavor. Products are vetted and studied and researched for months to make sure that consumers will clamor to buy them. And one of the most powerful siren songs that a product has is its formulation with salt, sugar and fat. Researchers have conducted brain scans that show parts of our brain “lighting up” when we eat sugar in the same ways that the brain of a drug addict lights up when drugs are taken. These products are specifically designed and manufactured to make us want more and more.

The book is part marketing, part science, neither of which I have a background in. But I’m finding it easy to follow along with. Moss does a good job of putting it all out in lay terms. It has definitely opened my eyes to the messages being conveyed on TV, and now through social media from food companies. It makes me sad and mad all at the same time that we have let the food industry get such a stranglehold on something that is such an intimate part of every person’s everyday life.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for a free market economy and allowing businesses to make money selling what consumers want. These food conglomerates are accountable to shareholders, and their mission is to make money. But somewhere along the way, the deck got stacked against the average consumer. It’s very difficult and tricky to discern a food label, and that’s by design. If consumers really knew what these products were made of, far fewer would buy them.

The book touches on our country’s obesity epidemic in more than passing terms, but it’s not the overall theme. A lot of critics of the kinds of ideas presented in the book like to use words like “nanny state” and point to the fact that it’s a free country and people should be able to eat whatever they damn well please. This is true, but the point that is missed is that WE are all literally paying for the poor diet decisions of millions of Americans. We pay taxes to support the Medicaid and Medicare programs, where BILLIONS are spent annually on obesity-related health care. And as patients, we pay higher premiums and higher costs for all care, as the costs associated with obesity are spread across the pool.

The food conglomerates have ignored the rally cry of public health officials that Americans need to reduce the amounts of salt, sugar and fat in their diets. But who can blame them? Have you ever tasted fat free cheese? Those products don’t sell well, and these companies are in the business of selling products.

Without pointing fingers too much, I think the take away from the book is that as consumers, we need to be more diligent and discriminating in what we feed ourselves and our families. Of course, this brings up another tangled mess–hunger in our country. Too many people in this country don’t know where their next meal will come from, and cannot afford to be picky eaters.

One thing is for sure, I am going to read cheese labels thoroughly before I buy any more cheese at the grocery store.

The first spring harvest from the Delicious Potager

This makes me so excited!

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I pulled these Scarlet Globe radishes Saturday. I planted them on March 30th.

After two straight days of rain, I pulled up another couple handfuls–Plum Purples and more Scarlet Globes. I also planted the Plum Purples on March 30th.

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The arugula is exploding.

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This picture was one morning last week. It is even bigger now with all the rain we’ve had. That is Red Russian kale I have planted in the background, which is also much bigger now, too. It’s big enough to harvest as “baby kale.” But I want to let it get a little bigger. I have Blue Curled Scotch kale planted with the radishes. I have lettuces in another raised bed, both Black Seeded Simpson and a Mesclun mix. The raised bed with the Scarlet Globe radishes has some sand mixed into the soil, because that is where I have planted carrots in the past. I have beets planted along the radishes in that bed now.

I was hoping to be finished with all the spring vegetables by Mother’s Day so I could put in peppers, tomatoes, summer squash and cucumbers, but it looks like the spring vegetables are just at the start of really coming in, so I’ll probably have to wait at least another week.

Vegetables aren’t the only things coming to life in the backyard.

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This year, my irises have been absolutely stunning.

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Most of the blooms opened just in time for the heavy rain we’ve had the past few days. Great for my vegetables, not ideal for delicate iris blooms. Last night, only one plant had fallen over, but most of the blooms were crushed a little by the rain. I planted these two years ago, and I probably have twice as many this year and I did last year. They were definitely enjoyed in their short season.

Asparagus Three Meals a Day

You practically have to eat it three meals a day when your husband brings home six pounds.

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One of his coworkers’ family owns a local farm that grows asparagus, strawberries and mushrooms, Ware Farm, in Lincoln County. And he hooked us up. Actually, he brought a whole box in for everyone in the office, and only a couple people took advantage. That’s okay. More for me.

I have been patiently waiting for asparagus this year. It’s the same every spring. After a winter that seems to go on forever, I am so giddy to get something green and fresh that it feels like Christmas morning. I have been enjoying salad greens, spring kale and radishes from the farmers market, but the first asparagus marks the big beginning for fresh vegetables here in Zone 5.

When I saw this pile of asparagus, I knew I wanted to make a recipe I’d made a few years back for asparagus soup from my Jamie Oliver Jamie At Home cookbook. It is delicious, but if you only get a little bit of asparagus for the year, I really hate to puree it up in soup, when it can be enjoyed grilled or broiled with some simple salt, olive oil and garlic. No problem here. I had plenty of asparagus to do both.

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Chop up a pound of asparagus. Reserve the tops to add to the soup whole.

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So, my father-in-law knows me well. He dug up these “wild leeks” on his brother’s property they’ve been clearing. He sent them to me by the Hubs and told him “She’ll know how to use these.” We weren’t even really sure what they were. They looked like leeks, smelled like leeks, but their taste was a little stronger. I always thought “wild leeks” was another name for ramps. But these were not ramps. Since my soup recipe called for leeks, I shrugged my shoulders and just chopped them up and added them.

I’ve been eating this soup for lunch all week. It’s been raining all week here, so it’s been perfect soup weather. I think I’ll still have some left at the end of the week, and I’m sure how well this soup will freeze. I hope it doesn’t ruin it. Some soups I’ve found get really runny and watery when you thaw them after they’ve been frozen.

Last night for dinner, I did get my simple broiled asparagus. I would have grilled it, but it was pouring down the rain. Just a little drizzle of olive oil, garlic powder and some smoked salt I bought at The Filing Station when I was in New York City last fall. I love that stuff. I put it on practically everything. I used the really skinny asparagus so they would cook faster and get to my mouth faster. Simple and absolutely delish!

I had some left over asparagus after dinner, and I was thinking about what I could do with it. Besides just house it right there standing by the stove. I knew I had some egg whites in the freezer, cheese and bacon, so why not a frittata?

Frittatas are a great way to use up leftovers. I went outside and grabbed a handful of arugula from my garden to add some more “green” to it. I threw it together in less than 20 minutes, and this morning just reheated a serving with a piece of toast for a quick breakfast as I was walking out the door.

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Even reheated, this frittata was amazing. The star of this dish truly is the asparagus. It’s slightly sweet, which is wonderful with the salty bacon and sharp cheddar. I may have to make another batch since I still have some asparagus left. I’ll at least share my recipe.

Spring Veg Frittata – Makes 4 servings

  • 2 large eggs
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/4 lb asparagus
  • 4 pieces bacon, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 cup shredded extra sharp cheddar
  • a handful of arugula or spring green of your choice

If your asparagus is raw, put it in an oven safe dish and drizzle it with a little bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil on high for 10 minutes, checking it a few times and shaking the pan so that it doesn’t burn. Pre-heat oven to 350. Brown the bacon in a skillet on medium heat, stirring occasionally. Remove the bacon from the skillet with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drain all of the bacon grease (save it for another recipe!)  out of the skillet except for about 1 tablespoon. Tear the arugula into bit size pieces and add it to the skillet. Turn of the heat and stir well to coat it with the grease. Let it sit about a minute in the hot skillet in the grease. While the bacon is browning, beat the eggs and egg whites in a large bowl until well mixed. Add the baking powder and stir well. Chop the asparagus into bite size pieces and add to the egg mixture. Add the browned bacon and shredded cheddar. Once the arugula has wilted a bit in the bacon grease, add it to the egg mixture. Mix everything well. Pour into a greased 8×8 pan. Bake 25 minutes, or until top is golden and puffy and center is set.

This is best straight out of the oven. It will deflate a little as it cools. Can be stored in the fridge up to 5 days, but I’ll bet it doesn’t last that long.

Grilled Pizza Crust Fail!

Yesterday, I was planning on making pho for dinner. I was driving home from work and thinking about how it was a gorgeous afternoon, perfect for the first dinner al fresco on the patio of the year. But I didn’t want to make hot bowls of soup to eat outside on the patio.

No, yesterday afternoon was screaming “Grill something!” I had to go to the grocery store anyway to grab some cilantro (for the pho I probably wouldn’t make) and I was thinking about what I would like to grill. I had some fresh mozzarella in the fridge I was planning to make pizza with, so why not make it a grilled pizza?

A few years back, I took some friends who were visiting from out of town for a wedding out for drinks and dinner. We went to a restaurant/bar here in town that was sadly short-lived. That evening the gas was out in their kitchen, so they were grilling everything. I ordered a white pizza, and it was the most heavenly thing ever. The grill made the crust crunchy on the bottom with some slight char marks that only added to the flavors of the roasted garlic cloves and ricotta cheese on top. I went back after that and tried to order a grilled pizza, but they wouldn’t do it. It was a one-time thing. Ever since then, I’ve been a huge fan of pizza on the grill–without much success at home.

Given my recent “hit and miss” record with pizza crust, I should have not tried to get fancy with this crust. But I decided to cut the recipe in half because it always makes enough for small pizzas, and one is enough for 2 people. And I decided to substitute 1/3 of the flour with whole wheat flour. I thought it would make it more “rustic” and healthier. I had to add a little bit of water because the dough seemed too dry. Then it was too wet. And it tore easily when I tried to put it on my grill pan. And oozed through the holes on the bottom. It was a mess. I probably need a special pan to make pizzas on the grill. At least that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

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Grilled pizza crust fail!

It wasn’t pretty. It stuck to the bottom of the pan (even though I greased it) probably because of the high heat, holes in the pan and weird texture of the dough. But it was oh-so-tasty! I picked up a package of prosciutto at the grocery store, to combine with my fresh mozzarella and some pesto I had frozen. Simple and perfect flavors that complement each other perfectly. The prosciutto got a little crispy on the grill and its saltiness paired perfectly with the creamy melted mozzarella and garlicky pesto. We ate every bite even though we had to use forks.

I had some mozzarella and prosciutto leftover from the pizza, so I made a quick side salad. I tore the prosciutto up into small pieces, added the bocconcini-sized mozzarella, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, balsamic glaze and a couple spoonfuls of giardiniera that I canned a couple years ago. It would have been fantastic had I left it to marinate a few hours so the flavors could soak in, but I threw it together in less than 10 minutes. It was still tasty.

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It was a perfect dinner al fresco on the patio. Delicious food, wine and perfect weather. I hope it’s the start of many good meals with good company on the patio this summer.