Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Christmas Fillet Loin Lives Happily Ever After

Wow. I need some fiber, STAT. I feel like I've been at a Roman feast for a week. In the grand tradition of my family, Christmas dinner was divine (largely because we didn't have company--when we have scads of people, the meal is never perfect).

I had a solid twenty-four hours of utter panic before Christmas Day. We had talked my father into an Italian Christmas dinner for one whole day before he changed his mind (just long enough for my sister and I to make a meal plan and collect recipes. I even got a super-secret recipe for the most divine tiramisu EVER). Anyway, we re-planned for a traditional Christmas dinner. My father went out and purchased a beautiful beef fillet loin that cost more on its own than all the ingredients for entire dinner parties I've thrown. And it was up to me to cook it without ruining it. Picture me, hair standing on end, frantically paging through cookbooks and magazines, trying to decide what to do.

Thanks to the gods, I found salvation in a magazine I'd picked up the day before I came to my parents' house. Years ago, when I was a poor(er) college undergrad, I had taken to getting my father a big bag of cheap books as a Christmas gift. I still go, every year, to Half Price Books, and get him a bag full of $1-2 paperback novels because it's a holiday tradition by now. This year, I included my mother in the fun, and I picked up a few back issues of Cook's Illustrated because it's my favorite cooking magazine. Lo and behold, one of the issues had an entire spread on how to perfectly cook a fillet loin!!!
Cook's Illustrated, March/April 2009, Number 97, pages 6-7. Note the ethereal sunlight streaming in over it, like the true Christmas miracle it was. ; )
According to Charles Kelsey, the author of the article who cooked over 25 fillet loins (about $1200 worth) to figure out the most successful method, the best way to get a good crust on a fillet without getting that unattractive gray ring around the edges when it's cut into is to cook it at a low heat (300 degrees) for 40-50 minutes (or until your meat thermometer reads 125 degrees for medium rare or 135 degrees for medium) and then to take the loin from the oven and sear in a pan of very hot oil to get a good sear. He explains that it takes too long to heat cold, raw meat to the searing point, which results in overcooking the external layer of meat. However, searing a loin already hot from the oven takes much less time and prevents this overcooking. The man is a genius, and he saved my a#@ this year.

I wanted to try the garlic horseradish crust I mentioned several posts ago, however. So, I took about 30 cloves of garlic. (BTW, did you know that you can get a 1/3 lb bag of already peeled garlic at Sam's for about $5? This time of year, or when you have a very garlic-y project to undertake, I would highly recommend this beautiful bag o' easy garlic.) I tossed my garlic in a generous amount of olive oil, put it in a roasting pan with a tight foil cover, and roasted it at 350 degrees for about half an hour until it was soft. When it cooled, I combined the garlic, oil, salt, pepper, and a small jar of creamy horse radish into a small food processor and made a paste. Smear!
I had to cut my loin, as it was too long for any of the baking dishes I had. I cut one plump end off so that I would have two pieces, each one of consistent thickness throughout. I trimmed as much fat and silver skin off as possible, liberally salted and peppered both pieces, smeared them with my paste, and returned them the the fridge to hang out for about four hours before cooking.

Obviously, I couldn't sear this in a hot pan when it came out of the oven. When it was registering 125 degrees in the meat thermometer, I jacked up the broiler to about 475 degrees and waited for the paste to crust. A note here: DON'T LEAVE YOUR POST WHILE THE BROILER IS ON, or your lovely piece of meat may incinerate. Do NOT go to the bathroom, go smoke a cigarette, or go in search of something to fill up your red solo cup. I turned on the oven light and sat on the floor in front of the oven, hot pads in hand.
Success! I think I could have let it gone longer under the broiler to get a crunchier crust, but sheer panic won out in the end. It was like butter. With horseradish and garlic. Thanks, Mr. Kelsey.

I also made another, life-changing discovery: cooking turkey at about 300 degrees is the way to go. At Thanksgiving, we had a 25 lb turkey that was okay but not great, even with our tried-and-true Rosemary Orange recipe. Generally, we cook a turkey at about 375 degrees until the skin browns, cover it with foil, and then cook it at 325-ish until it's done. However, due to lack of oven space, the turkey, once it was browned, had to hang out in the 300 degree oven with the fillet. We just did a breast, and it was AH-MAZING. The moral of the story is thus: Don't cook a huge turkey. Bigger is not better. By the time the middle is cooked, the top of the breast is overdone. Cook a couple of smaller turkeys or breasts. And, after the initial browning, cook it at a lower heat.
And yes, that is my red solo cup in the background.

My mother did her usual fantastic job at the Asparagus Casserole. My sister, the potato queen, made both mashed and scalloped potatoes that melted in the mouth. I made the Black Friday dressing and a Steamed Cranberry pudding.

How was your holiday? What did you make? What did you eat? Is there photographic evidence?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

For my Christmas Procrastinators...Links, Gift Ideas, and a Side Dish Recipe

Well, I'm afraid I may be on the naughty list again, despite my best intentions. Christmas is in two days (we're big Christmas eve lovers), and I haven't finished my shopping, planning my contributions to the meal, or my grading that is due tomorrow night. Clearly, I am not the goddess of all things professional and domestic that I am in my rich fantasy life.

Gift Ideas:
  • I'm going to start with a crazy gift suggestion (read: fantasy cook's gift) from Sur La Table. The QOOQ is a tablet for cooks, preloaded with videos, lessons, and recipes. It's splatter proof. I haven't laid hands on one, but it looks AMAZING. If Sur La Table would like to send me one to review for my tens of readers, I'm all for it. ; )
  • If you are a new cook or have an aspiring cook to shop for, I suggest the Betty Crocker Cookbook. The recipes are simple and a good starting place. For example, I made five batches of pumpkin bread from various recipes (several from Pinterest). A few were good, a couple were like bricks, and none were stellar. It finally dawned on me to go back to basics. I used the basic quick bread recipe, added some additional spice, and voila! Perfect pumpkin bread. You can take these recipes and add your own flavors/spins, but it's a great reference book. It has handy tables for metric conversion and interior temperatures of meats at various levels of doneness. There's a reason our mothers and aunties frequently give this one as a bridal shower gift.
  • I love, love, love my immersion blender. You can get a less expensive, basic version that looks like these, or there are larger boxed sets that come with a mixer attachment and a little blender base. I use mine the most for soups (you can just stick it down in the pot and not dirty your whole blender or food processor) and sauces. I love the blender attachment for pesto and herbed salad dressing. 
  • Silicon baking mats are a must for the home cook. You can make cookies on them, roast meat, whatever you want without destroying all your cookie sheets. (Maybe you're less destructive bakers and roasters than I am.)

  • Booze. My favorite, favorite thing for the holidays is Smirnoff Cinnamon-Sugar Twist Vodka. Splashed in coffee is my favorite way to drink it. It's very smooth and flavorful, and it doesn't taste like alcohol much at all. 

  • A recipe for linzer torte from Smitten Kitchen. This is a versatile dessert that looks fancy! 
  • The ladies of Big Girls, Small Kitchen have an excellent-looking recipe for Butternut Squash Latkes. YUM!
  • This Spiced Hot Cocoa recipe with ancho chili powder and homemade cinnamon marshmallows looks fab. You could even add a splash of bourbon or Cinnamon Twist Vodka for Santa's.
  • These White Chocolate Cranberry Cinnamon Rolls look festive and delicious for Christmas morning. 
  • If you want to impress everyone, try this super-easy, fool-proof recipe for cheese souffle. Read the cute story about the French newlywed who stumbled upon a simplified souffle method. I've tried this one, and it came out beautifully. It's even better with a little cheddar or some bacon bits mixed in. 
Decadent Asparagus Casserole. 
One of the staples of our holiday table is Asparagus Casserole. My mother has made it for years, and it's wonderful. I snapped some shots of her making it at Thanksgiving. It's a fairly simple dish: layers of white sauce, cheddar cheese, asparagus, and sliced boiled eggs. However, if you make creamy white sauce, medium-boil the eggs, and get some good asparagus, it's worth every single calorie.
Mom likes her eggs good and boiled, but I think this would be even more decadent with a soft to medium boil on the eggs.
The key ingredient to this dish is really the white sauce. A good white sauce is rich and creamy, only slightly salty, and doesn't have a floury taste or mouth feel.
For this recipe, begin by cleaning the asparagus (about two bundles worth), getting rid of any woody bits. Chop it into relatively uniform, bite-size sticks. Either blanch or lightly saute with garlic, salt, and pepper. Boil your eggs (6-8 should be more than enough). Let cool and slice into 1/4 inch thick slices.

For the white sauce, combine butter and flour in a pot to make a roux. Let the roux cook a bit on a low-ish heat. You want the flour taste to cook out, but you don't want to really brown or burn it or you'll have to begin again. Add milk to the roux, a bit at a time, whisking all the time to get a thick sauce. Add a few tablespoons of cream and salt and pepper (black and white) to taste. I like to add just a sprinkle of garlic salt to mine. No too much so the garlic doesn't overwhelm the sauce.

Start with a layer of white sauce in the bottom of a baking dish. Add a layer of eggs, evenly spaced. Add half of the chopped asparagus and a thin layer of grated cheddar cheese (we usually grate one standard-sized block from the store and use it all). Do this again and end with another layer of white sauce.

Bake at 325 degrees until the asparagus is almost cooked, about 25 minutes. Towards the end, add another sprinkle of cheese on top to melt. This dish is excellent made the day before and heated just before the meal. I will ask my mom for her white sauce recipe this weekend, but until then, this one will work. Use the variation for thick sauce.

Have wonderful happy holidays!!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

OhFeelYa's Easy...Dinners--Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup AND Easy Bread

Part two of the previous Economical Kitchen post: I'm not going to lie. I had a pile of veggies sitting in the crisper about to liquefy. I mean, really, I couldn't even take a picture of the sweet potato, it was so terrible looking. Now, I'm not advocating that you cook with rotten food. All cooks know that the fresher and better quality of your raw foods, the better your end product will be. However, I work for a living, I have several hobbies, a kiddo to get through fifth-grade math, and five of the silliest animals on God's earth to care for, so sometimes I don't get things cooked in their prime. Now, if something is smelling at all off, please discard it. What I'm talking about are items like my sweet potato, which was still firm and sweet-smelling. It just had a few spots that needed to be trimmed away due to discoloration. 

I had these neat multi-colored carrots, so I peeled and sliced them. I also chopped up half a yellow onion and two cloves of garlic. I let the onion and garlic sweat in 2T canola oil for about 8 minutes, and then added in half the carrots and sweet potato, stirring frequently. About 15 minutes in, I added about 3 cups of chicken broth (enough to cover the veggies), salt, pepper, about 1 t. tumeric, 1/2 t. smoked paprika, and a pinch of ground dried coriander (the seed from the plant cilantro comes from--Europeans call cilantro coriander instead). When the veggies were all soft, I ran my immersion blender through the mix. I let this simmer very gently while my other veggies roasted. A nice, long simmer is the key to a flavorful soup.

In the meanwhile, I put the other half of my potatoes and carrots in the oven to roast after tossing them with oil, salt, and pepper. I wanted them to get a bit browned and stay whole to add another layer of flavor and texture to my soup. I have to stop here and say that the Reynold's non-stick foil is pretty much God's gift to roasting veggies. Nothing sticks. No clean up. I love it.
When my veggies were tender, I added them into the pot with about 2 T of cream. I tasted it and adjusted seasonings, and let it simmer a bit longer to incorporate the roasted flavor. I really loved how this soup turned out! Remember, you can make soup a vehicle for almost anything in your veggie drawer.
Teacup of soup on top of the bread recipe I decided to try from Flinn's book.  
I was reading Kathleen Flinn's Kitchen Counter Cooking School, and there's a great chapter on no-knead bread that I was dying to try. The recipe is quite simple. Take 3 cups lukewarm water (100 degrees), 1 1/2 T. yeast, and 1 T. salt and mix them in a bowl. Dump in 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and any herbs you may want to add for flavor (I added sage, but you could add anything you like) and mix into a sticky ball.  
Let it sit, partially covered for two hours. When time is up, flour your hands and separate it into four balls (I halved the recipe and made two balls). Pull bits from the top over and around the bottom and lay it on a cornmeal-covered cutting board for another hour and a half. 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. When you turn it on, put your baking stone or skillet in the oven along with a metal container. When the oven has been on for 20 minutes, put your bread on your hot stone or skillet and water in the container. 
I let mine bake for 20 minutes, and it was great! Rich carrot soup and fresh bread=winning combination. It's not very pretty, I'll give you that, but it was tasty. I'll keep working on it until I get pretty AND tasty. Next on my list is to make a sourdough starter. That's my current goal in life. I want to be a glorious bread baker, though this is my first bread success that is not entirely to the credit of my bread machine.

Soup recipe follows...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Economical Kitchen--Don't Throw Anything Away!!

The grading. My goodness, the grading. I can't even talk about it right now. Anyway, a little over a week ago, I received a fantastic Bountiful Basket. Amazing. I had added the $10 tropical fruit pack as well. I came home with three grocery bags full of produce for $28. Bananas, pumelos, apples, lemons, three colors of carrots, broccoli, etc...came in the regular part, and I got two vanilla beans, six mangoes, several small key limes, a pineapple, kiwis, a coconut, ginger, and a bunch of mint in the tropical add-on.

Of course, as soon as I got this fabulous bounty, my life at work went nuts and most of this languished in the crisper. I've been pretty guilt ridden but loving the kiwi and mango at least during the week. Anyway, today I got some free time, so I decided it was time to use up as much of this as I could before it went bad. Nothing aggravates me as much as pitching food in the trash. I never feel as crappy about being a middle-class American as when I throw away food because it went bad. Anyway, so I just did lots of little odds and ends with things to preserve as much as I could today. Now, none of this is revolutionary, but I think it's handy to have in one place, especially if any of you haven't thought about preservation this way.

The sad bananas were peeled, bagged, and frozen for future banana bread and smoothies. (I KNOW there's a Vitamix under the tree. I'm willing it to be so by stocking fruit for smoothies in the freezer.)

Next, I had this bag of lovely mint. My little one and I love, love mint in our hot tea. You don't understand about the significance of beverages in my family. My husband has often said that he could never lose me, my mother, or my sister because all he needs to do is follow the trail of cups. At any given time, each of us has about three cups of something going. My sister sent me a snapshot of her desk at work the other day, and I swear there were about eight cups/mugs pictured. My daughter is following in this fine tradition, and she especially loves minty hot tea when she's feeling under the weather.
So I got out an airtight container and just layered sugar and mint leaves (that I had slightly bruised in my hands) several times over until I had enough.
Mint-infused sugar. 
Now we'll have minty sugar for the foreseeable future. This can go in jams, jellies, desserts, drinks, anything! But I still had a lot of mint left.
Mint Extract
So, I decided to make some mint extract. I sterilized a jar, popped in a stick of peppermint candy and bruised mint leaves, covered it all with vodka, and hurray! After a few weeks in the pantry, I'll have gorgeous mint extract. Then I decided to do the same thing with my vanilla beans. I really wanted to cook with them, but it just wasn't happening. I go through a lot of vanilla extract though, so I decided to make some. I slit the vanilla beans down the middle and covered them with vodka. We'll see how this is in about five weeks. If I get more, I'll cover them with rum and see how the two compare.
Vanilla extract.
I had SO MUCH FRUIT! When I got my basket home, I had broken down the pineapple and stored it. One day last week, I had made kiwi-apple juice for jelly and frozen it when I ran out of time to finish. About eight days later, it was do or die for the pineapple and mango. Jellies and jams are really not very hard to make, and they're a great vehicle for fruits that don't do well in the freezer. If you don't want to go to the trouble of sterilizing jars and processing them in a water bath, you can buy Ball brand jars meant especially for freezer jam and go that route. I don't have the freezer space, and I like having a stock of interesting treats handy for gifts and special occasions.
So here's the stove top: top right is Five-Spice Pineapple jam simmering away, bottom right is the kiwi-apple juice reducing, bottom left is mango-lime jam, and top left is boiling water to sterilize jars.
Start of Five-Spice Pineapple Jam. It's stupid easy. 
About a month ago, I made a simple syrup and combined it with shredded cranberries and vodka (are you seeing a pattern here?) to distill into cranberry liquor. It was ready, so I strained out the cranberry bits and bottled the liquor. The cranberry bits went into a sauce pot with sugar to cook off the booze. It's now a really tasty cranberry relish.
Here's the end result of my jams, jelly, and holiday hooch. I feel good that I didn't let food go to waste, and now I have some fun, special things to share with friends and family for Christmas next week!

I also still had three bell peppers and four tomatoes about to crap out. So I chopped them into large pieces, drizzled them with oil, and roasted them under the broiler until they blackened. When they cooled, I put them in freezer bags and froze them. I can use them in any number of tomato-based sauces coming soon!

The moral of the story? Always have vodka on hand.

I also raided the veggie drawer and made soup from carrots, sweet potato, onion, and garlic. Soups are the best vehicle for veggies destined to become mush otherwise.  I'll post about it soon!

What do you do when the contents of your fridge are about to go bad?

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Links and Champagne-Saffron Scallops!

I'm fascinated to know what your holiday food traditions are.
Stockings that represent us: My daughter has a Pottery Barn ballerina stocking that I have blinged out with crystals, my husband has a Batman stocking, and mine says "All I want for Christmas is Mr. Darcy." 
Here's how it goes down for us: We all go to my parents' lake house, of course (it's the only place big enough for the whole clan and all of our fur-family). Christmas Eve is really our "big deal," as my dad calls it. We spend the day finishing up wrapping presents while my daughter waits for it to get dark. Around lunch time, we have a birthday party for my mother, whose Christmas birthday was often lost in the shuffle (or at least felt that way to a child).

When we were kids, my parents told us that we couldn't open presents until it was too dark to see the back fence. Cue my sister and I plastered to the glass on the back door, waiting for the moment. We always had music and champagne on Christmas Eve.

Now that we're grown and appreciate food beyond the realm of corn dogs and chicken strips, my father makes a fabulous Christmas Eve spread. I really learned to love cooking from my father, who started experimenting with Bon Appetite recipes in the late '80s (and still has the issues with his favorite recipes). Every year, he makes a seafood extravaganza. Giant, spicy boiled shrimp with lemon butter, corn-meal battered fried shrimp, crab cakes, and everyone's favorite, lobster tail and scallops with Champagne-Saffron Sauce. (See the end of this post for the sauce recipe.)

After dinner, my daughter plays Santa, handing out presents, and we all take a turn opening one at a time, oohing and ahhhing over each gift. We put out milk and cookies, and Santa comes to visit my daughter overnight and leaves stockings for everyone. Hurray!! Christmas dinner is often a sort of recap of Thanksgiving favorites we want more of but with a turkey breast instead of a whole turkey and sometimes a bourbon-glazed crown roast instead of ham. I've often wanted to do an Italian or Mexican-inspired Christmas dinner, but I've yet to convince my father of the merit of this plan.

Champagne Saffron Sauce (From a Bon Appetite Magazine--I will find it when I visit the family)
  • Large sea scallops (you decide how many you need--we usually do about 20 for the six-ish people)
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 cup dry champagne (not sweet)
  • 1/2 t. saffron threads
  • 1 cup whipping cream 
  • fresh lemon juice
  • minced fresh parsley
Melt butter. Add scallops and saute at a high heat to get a good sear on them. Remove the second they're cooked through so they don't get rubbery. Add champagne and saffron to the butter-scallop sauce in the pan, and boil until reduced by 1/2 cup, about seven minutes. Add cream and gently boil until reduced to a sauce-like consistency, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Return scallops (and chunks of cooked lobster tail, if you like) to the sauce and heat until just warmed through. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Holy cow.

I'd love to hear from some of you! What are your favorite holiday recipes? 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Two-Soup Icepocalypse! ('Cause, Baby, It's Cold Outside')

Wow, is it cold in Dallas this weekend. As a native Texan, I'm much more prepared for 60+ days of triple-digit weather than I am anything below about 50 degrees. And yes, I've seen all the memes about how Texans overreact to severe weather. They're funny. I would like to state for the record that I did not run to the store and clean them out of milk and bread. I got kale for the rabbits, a whole bunch of flour and sugar to make cookies with, and a Jesus candle that struck my fancy.
So during day two of being shut in, I ran out of anything interesting to eat. And my toes WOULD NOT get warm. I'd been flipping through some back issues of Cooks Illustrated, and came across a recipe for chicken and dumplings. Yum. I love chicken and dumplings, though my expertise rests on eating rather than cooking this dish. But I thought, why not? However, I didn't have any chicken thighs, wings, or breasts. All I had was some ground chicken, so I mixed it with salt, pepper, thyme, an egg, and some Italian-seasoned breadcrumbs to make meat balls. So really, I made meatballs and dumplings. I browned them very well in a non-stick skillet and deglazed (what little there was) with sherry. While my dumplings were browning, I had finely chopped a half of a large onion and one garlic clove, which were sweating in olive oil in a pot. When they were translucent, I added the sherry from the skillet until my onions were a lovely, sweet-sherry, soft mass of bits.

Then I added my meatballs to the pot, along with a bit more sherry, about four cups of water, and chicken Better than Bullion to make faux stock/broth. I let that warm together, tasted for seasoning, added some more Bullion, salt and pepper, and brought it to a low simmer.
In the meanwhile, I had mixed up buttermilk, butter, an egg, salt, four, sugar, and baking soda into dumpling dough. Let me tell you a secret: I never have buttermilk. I don't buy it because I'll never use it beyond what I need for a recipe. So let me tell you what my mom advised me to do many years ago. Measure out the milk you need. Add a teaspoon of vinegar per cup of milk. Stir, let it sit for a few minutes, and you have a pretty decent buttermilk equivalent. I'm sure finer chefs would be horrified, but it's worked out for me so far. 
When the dough was ready and my pot was simmering, I started dropping my dumplings in. Remember to spray your spoon with cooking spray so the batter will slide off. 
Plop, plop, plop. Cover, let simmer for about 15 minutes, and there they were! Dumplings! I was very excited. 
My friend Carolina says this looks like matzo ball soup. I was hoping to see how it fared into the next day, but that night, my husband ate the ENTIRE POT.

The next day, due to the continued ice and decided dearth of dumpling leftovers, I decided it was time for potato soup. I had a bag of potatoes from my Bountiful Basket that looked about one day away from the trash, so I decided to make a pot of potato soup that even my honey couldn't get through in one day.

Easy-peasy. I peeled and chopped five large Yukon Gold potatoes and one enormous onion and threw them in a pot with water and salt to simmer away.

When the potatoes were soft enough to pierce with a fork, I drained the whole thing and dumped the veggies back into the pot. To this, I added about 1/3 cup cream, 1 1/2 T butter, about 1 t. of chicken Better than Bullion, salt, pepper, and boiling water in 1/2 cup increments until I got the consistency I wanted. Using the immersion blender, I blended this up until it was a silky-smooth, potato-ey dream. Fortunately, it was great on its own, because we were out of bacon and cheddar cheese for toppings due to the movie-fest, slumber party fueled by grilled bacon and cheese sandwiches the night before. Did I mention we're not having a low-cal icepocolypse?

Normally, I would thin it out more, but it's cold, so our soup was pretty thick. Rest assured, I did make the troops eat the rest of the apples left in the crisper as well. Right before we made s'mores. Stay warm, y'all!

Recipes after the break...

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Eat Well, Live Well

On the same Saturday that I picked up my Bountiful Basket, I decided to go in search of truly local food. I want to do a series of blog posts on the wealth of local, sustainable food that is available in our area. Or maybe I just want an excuse to take foodie field trips every weekend. Whatever.

 I'd been reading about the White Rock Local Market, and thought I'd check it out. It was a super-cold, drizzly day, so several vendors didn't show. In spite of that, there was plenty to keep me occupied. I can't imagine this market when the vendors are out in full force! I met the lovely founder and coordinator, who showed me around a bit and explained some systems to me, like the money tokens. All the vendors take cash, but only some take credit/debit cards. So you can run your card at the money tent for whatever amount you want, they give you wooden tokens in $5 increments, and you go get the goods! All the vendors take the tokens.
The first view of White Rock Local Market from the parking lot. There was quite a lot tucked back behind here. 
What I found at the market:

Local Honey!
This is the gentleman who was out representing a local beekeeper, The Texas Honeybee Guild. They have great products, like whipped, fruit-infused honeys, honey balm, the comb in or out of honey, and zip code specific honey for allergies. I bought some comb submerged in honey, regular honey, and some mini honey bears for my dad's stocking (he swears by local honey as an allergy treatment). It was gorgeous, rich and flavorful. This is not your local grocery store's honey in the bear.
Nicest honey guy ever.
I used my honey in Black Milk Tea and Honey Pound Cake bread with my Honeysuckle Pomegranate Jelly, homemade whipped cream, and honey comb garnish. It was pretty amazing. Thanks, beekeepers!
Black Milk Tea Poundcake with Honeysuckle Pomegranate Jelly, whipped cream, and honeycomb.
Meat and Eggs! (Hormone, pesticide, and antibiotic free)
Meet the lovely ladies from the JuHa Ranch! They had a fantastic bounty of fresh eggs, lamb, beef, pork, rabbit, and sausage with them to sell. You can pre-order with them to make sure they have exactly what you want. I found that they were very friendly, helpful, and had plenty of selection on hand. Their website is is really wonderful in that the commitment to sustainable, chemical-free farming is evident. I want a turkey from them next year!
After some deliberation, I bought some pork belly, much to my husband's delight. I made him a bourbon-glazed pork belly over a potato-turnip puree (he loves the bitterness of turnip).
Sadly, I have no photographic evidence of that lovely meal because he ran away with the plate. Silly husband.

I almost don't have words to describe the product from Latte Da Dairy. This sweet woman was more than willing to share samples, and she even held one to the last bowl of mango-ginger goat cheese for me while I ran to get another token. That mango-ginger goat cheese is an orgasm on a plate. I kid you not.

I wish I had a gorgeous picture of a dish with the goat cheese, but to be honest, I've mostly been eating it with a spoon every time I walk by the fridge.

I got a dozen pork tamales for my other half from The Tamale Company. They had lots of flavors available, and the best part is that the tamales are uncooked and frozen so you make them whenever you wish. They cook beautifully!
Alas, I got too cold before I could spend quality time with the pie lady, though her wares were quite seductive.

Fruit and Veggies Galore!
There were at least five vendors out with their locally grown produce. Here's one example from Demases Farm. The prices were great, and the produce was really beautiful.

He doesn't mean to look surly; it was just really cold. : )
The vibe at the White Rock Local Market was great. People were friendly, happy, knew the vendors, and were walking dogs (who the vendors had treats and water for) all over. Even in the freezing weather, folks were having a good time. Everything I bought was great.

So head to the website listed above for dates/locations/times. They have a food-only market on the first and third Saturdays, and a bigger craft/art/food market on the second and fourth Saturdays (these are at two different locations, so check out the addresses!)

On December 7th, they're having the fifth annual Local Holiday Extravaganza from 8-4 at 9150 Garland Road, Dallas, Texas that is evidently going to be a blowout of artisan food and crafts for the holidays with live music and raffles. Support local industry, and come check it out. I betcha I'll be there!

Lucky Layla's farm store off of Jupiter Road.
Just so you know I'm not being paid off to give glowing reviews, here's a lukewarm one for local food:
Right down the street from me is a lovely little dairy farm where I occasionally go to get butter, cheese, yogurt, and sometimes milk (we're rice and almond milk lovers around here, for the most part). Lucky Layla's is wholesome and local. I'm deeply sad they discontinued their yogurt cheese (really, really good with turbinado sugar on top and strawberries to dip or mixed with salt and spicy curry, slathered on chicken or fish, and put under a hot broiler).

While I love the idea of going to the farm to get my dairy straight from the source, I find that they're often out of what I want, and moreover, the woman who works in the farm store is unfailingly unpleasant to deal with. In this instance, I'm willing to go to Central Market and pay the middle man for Lucky Layla's products so I can get what I want without enduring the apathetic service. So great product review, but lousy stock and service review. Downer.

This coming weekend, I signed up for another Bountiful Basket (let's see if it's that good two visits in a row) and I added on a special fruit order that will hopefully come with vanilla beans. Wish me luck going to get it, as my graduation party is the night before, and the weather is supposed to be dreadful again. I'll try to squeeze in another field trip too! What lovely foodie things are you doing this weekend?

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Economical Kitchen-Bountiful Baskets Edition

Yesterday, a friend of mine shared a link to an article that identified ten American foods that other countries have prohibited because much of our food, as we know, is total junk. Of course, everything we read on the Internet has to be taken with a grain of salt; however, we all know that the food situation in America is problematic on a myriad of levels. I've been thinking on the issue of sustainability, environmental responsibility, and most importantly, the health of friends and family due to food we eat.
The scene of the crime in a local elementary school parking lot.
So glory be! I finally got online at the right time to buy a Bountiful Basket! I tried a couple of times before my dissertation ate my life to get one, but the attempts were halfhearted at best. What's a bountiful basket? This is a co-op run by volunteers. Baskets cost $15 ($25 for organic) and you can add on other options from the website (40 lbs of honey crisp apples, anyone?). You will also pay a one-time fee of $3.00 for your first basket, and a small processing fee ($1.50-$3.50 ) each time (this may vary depending on what part of the country you're in). The fees are so that every penny of your $15 can go towards food. The point is Bountiful Baskets is three-fold: 1) To give people an opportunity to buy wholesale fruit and veggies, allowing folks to eat healthier for less money, 2) To include local and thus more environmentally responsible produce as the bulk of the food offering, and 3) To foster a sense of community and understanding where our food comes from.
It's a terribly dreary day (which I love), so I'm sorry the pictures aren't cheerier.
It's a pretty cool deal. You can go to their website (see the above link) to get the scoop, but basically, they offer baskets on Saturdays on a rotating basis. There are A groups and B groups that flip-flop every weekend (this weekend I'm going to an A group. I could do that every two weeks, or I could do a B group the weekend after if I wanted a basket every week). Check the website for locations (this co-op is all over the nation, btw, so check it out even if you're not in the Dallas area). I'm lucky enough that there is a pick-up site about five minutes from my front door. Basket buying begins on Mondays at noon. Some of the sites sell out quickly, which is why I missed getting a basket in the past.

This week, however, I was determined. So there I was at work, frantically grading papers with the BB website up on my laptop. I had my alarm set for 11:58 so I wouldn't miss the opening, but I also had a conference call to dial into at noon. Oh, THE PRESSURE. Anyway, it was fine. The leader for the call was five minutes late and the baskets did not sell out in the thirty seconds it took my to get my s@#$ together.

I was so excited to get my baskets (they sort everyone's produce into laundry baskets, but you have to bring your own baskets/bags to take things home in). And look at my treasures!
I think this is a great deal for $15! Six apples, 7 bananas, a cantaloupe, a big bag of grapes, 3 small potatoes, one large bag of Yukon potatoes, 3 huge onions, 3 cucumbers, one bunch lettuce, one big bundle of celery, a bag of carrots, and two giant sweet potatoes. It's kind of an adventure because you don't know what you're going to get.

I know right off that I wouldn't eat the cantaloupe before it went bad, so I found a recipe for Vanilla Cantaloupe Jam. Vanilla and cantaloupe together are a revelation! Who knew?
My little bountiful basket cantaloupe became a lovely pot of jam, which became this:
There was a bit more, but in all honesty, I ate it. With gusto. 
My sweet potatoes became the Rosemary Sweet Potato Gratin I linked to a few weeks ago. It was wonderful.

So here's my review: the people were really nice and I got a ton of produce that was in excellent condition. I like not having to pay the grocery store for being a middle man or taking home more plastic sacks. I did not love standing around for 25 minutes in the freezing cold waiting to get my basket, but I thought that overall, this is a worthwhile effort, particularly if your family is on a tight grocery budget but you really want to eat more fruits and veggies.