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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love My Job

Reason #326 why I love my job.  Tuna trimmings from a fresh, high quality fish.  He was eaten raw with only soy sauce....Mmmmmmm

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sunday, June 8, 2014

My Imminent Return....Maybe.

Just a quick little note.

I haven't posted anything in over a year and I hope to change that very soon.  I am currently writing for West Georgia Living Magazine (which take way more time that one would thing), I work at my local country club, I have been making sculptures for a couple of years now, and I still do custom construction projects.  As you can tell, I'm a little jammed up when it comes to time.

However, I am making serious efforts to become a full time writer and perhaps even a podcaster and radio host...all of which will have food as a central subject.  To that end, you will be seeing more blog posts but they will probably be short blasts and pictures from my culinary adventures around West Georgia.  The more chances I get to eat, cook, meet chefs, and promote local foods means the more you will see.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

First Market Demo of the Year

First, sorry the Blog is late this week.  So many things, so little time, and writing isn't paying the bills yet so, unfortunately, it comes after all else.  Alas, maybe one day.......

So anyway, Jana has been on me since last year to come to her Farmers Market and do some cooking.  She had come to the Cotton Mill Farmers Market in Carrollton, GA to see me cook numerous times and had invited me more times than I can count.  Timing was always wrong and before we knew it, the season had wrapped up and I didn't get a chance to go to Bowdon, GA for her Market.  This year, she began emailing me in February to make double damn sure she could lock me down for her first Market of the year.

The day comes, plans are made, things are set...and it's raining cats and dogs.  I asked if she wanted to postpone until the next week since my Market has yet to open.  I was informed that "This thing is on rain or shine!".  The good news is Raul, the owner of Los Palomas Restaurant had given us the use of his front patio for cooking.  I can honestly say that I was the most comfortable person that day since I was out of the rain, the wind, and standing behind to traveling stoves to keep me warm...or at least warmer than most that day.

The last pertinent bit of information is that, as usual, I had no freakin' clue what I was about to cook upon my arrival.  It is my mission and my pride to show up to any Market, gather a few things, and create.  However, I quickly realized that it had been at least six months since I had to do this, I had taken great care of a large bottle of Pinot Noir the night before, and I was staring at a table full of ingredients with a giant blank spot in my brain.  Oh, wait.  There it is.......

Crispy Fried Pork with Fig Balsamic Reduction

1 Lb. Boston Butt or Pork Loin, sliced
1 cup All Purpose Flour
2 Tbsp Smoked Paprika
1 Tsp Granulated Garlic
1 Tsp. Granulated Onion
1 Tsp. Fresh Ground Pepper
Oil for Frying
Sea Salt and Pepper

Cut the pork into 1/2 inch slices and pound thin.  Both cuts of pork (Butt and Loin) are rather tough unless pounded thin or cooked for a long time.  Simply salt and pepper the meat, then mix all dry ingredients as a dredge.  Toss cutlets in dredge and let sit for a few minutes.  Fry in oil until golden brown.

1/4 cup Black Mission Fig Preserves
1/4 cup Caramelized Vidalia Onions
3 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
1 cup Pork Stock
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in one pot bring to a low boil, stirring very often.  When reduced by half or to a medium thick syrup, puree to a smooth consistency and adjust flavor with salt and pepper as needed.  Drizzle a tablespoon or so over each cutlet.

A simple little recipe that makes great finger food or a simple appetizer.

That's about it for right now.  There was another recipe that I pulled off but I will save that for later.  I know I usually have more to add but with some many project going on this year, time for writing has gotten thin.  However, I will have more to add as the season progresses.

As always,
Party Well, Eat Better
Rob





Sunday, March 17, 2013

Springing to Life

If you've followed this Blog at all, you know that I typically take the Winter off.  There isn't much creation going on, the Farmers Markets are slow, and it's just not the season for new and interesting things.  Also, I'm sorry that I didn't say "Have a Great Winter" or something like that but, let's face it, it's kind of hard to have a great winter when you live for Farm Fresh ingredients.  However, having said all of these things, I decided that it was time for a rare Sunday beer and more than about time I hammered out something for the people that just keep on reading me.  Oh, and just so you know, this post will be light on the recipes but I have somethings I've been tinkering with.  This post is really about setting the tone for this year.

Tops on my list of things to mention as I pick up the laptop again is a hearty Thank You to everyone that reads, forwards, comments, or otherwise follows this Blog and helps out my stats.  Over the Winter, I have had no less than 15 views per day...even if I wasn't creating new content.  That tells me that I'm writing good things and that you are coming back to The Blog and using it as a reference as I have encouraged.  Again, Thank You!  I can honestly say that I am looking forward to getting back to it and I politely ask for you to keep up the readership.

Next, there is a cookbook in the works.  Yeah, yeah, I've said that for some time but now I have the name, the recipes in line, and the attitude that I want to apply to it.  I am in need of a publisher.  If anyone has looked into this and know whether I should get a publisher or self publish, let me know.

OK, enough of that stuff.

This year proves to be very interesting, indeed.  I have been hired as the Events Coordinator for my local Farmers Market which puts me in charge of finding entertainment...and the Chefs that will be doing the demonstrations.  This is an opportunity to not only get to know more people from the food community (and Carrollton, GA has a huge food community) but also the chance to learn from some of the best people that work the best places in our area.  The Farmers Almanac for Summer 2013 puts our regions on the border between a hot, dry Summer and a cool, dry Summer.  Hopefully, the Almanac is wrong and out Local Farmers can produce a wide variety of bounty for myself and the other Demo Chefs to experiment with.  Even if not, it's still going to be a banner year.

This part I would ask you to pay very close attention to.  We/I talk about eating local over and over to the point of nausea but there really are good reasons for this beyond the Organic angle.  Our economy is still lagging behind where experts thought it should be and it is more important than ever to keep your local economy thriving and keeping your money local is a great way to do that.  Our local Farmers Market had even gone to the point that we now take Food Stamps to help encourage better eating among those that don't have a lot.  It's all about a better, healthier, vibrant community, fiscally sound community.

The other part of eating local includes something that I have been putting my head and heart into over the winter (not to mention, quite a bit of "On Site Research") is Drinking Local.  I have the benefit of knowing a few  certified Wine Snobs and listening to them discuss the finer points of French wines and all of the attributes of the various wine regions from all over the World.  I myself have quite a bit of experience with the Worlds wines and like to think I have a good handle on things.  However, the essence of Eating Local is to know your region and the foods that not are not only are produced there but thrive there.  Our area has the great benefit of local beef, pork, chicken, lamb, and that's on top of the produce.  If one expects to have any form of fine dining experience, doesn't it make sense that the wine should be local as well?  The essence of the soil and the climate mean that the traits you find in a batch of collards can and will be found in a Scuppernong or Muscadine wine.  When I am in Michigan, I try to visit the St. Julian winery store in Dundee as I come into and leave town.  They make dozens of great wines and products including Catherman's Port and Grey Heron Vodka (which is actually a brandy, but no matter) and they all have the same trait.  I can taste that essence of cherries in every product they make and that essence, even in the distilled products comes from the land.  It's all about the region, it's foods, and pairing those with your local spirits.  I can promise that they sausages from Frankenmuth, MI that are made with local pigs taste exceptional with Catherman's Port, the same as Dennis Farms Prime Beef  Burgers can't be beat when paired with Fruithurst Wineries Dry Muscadine, and so on.  If you claim to be a Locavore and live by the local nature of your food, try the wines.  You won't be disappointed and with the recent boom of wineries in the U.S., there is no doubt you'll be able to find one, or ten, in your region.

Well, that about sums up where my year begins and I hope to make it a great one.  As promised and as always, I do try to give you something to cook on til we meet again.

Remember Suicide Burgers with Komodo Sauce?  Well, as Winter bogged on, we got seriously tired of soups, beef, and chicken and needed something new to try. Since chicken is plentiful in my freezer, I had to work with that.  In the spirit of a Suicide Burger that is slightly better for you, I offer

Chicken Burgers

2 Boneless Chicken Breast
3 Boneless Chicken Thighs
1 small can Crushed Pineapple
1 Shallot, finely diced
1 clove Garlic, finely diced
1 tsp Cajun Seasoning

Cut chicken breasts and thighs into strips then into smaller strips, the cut across the strips until the chicken is diced.  Proceed to chop with a meat cleaver or heavy knife until the chicken is roughly chopped.

Next, saute the shallot and garlic in a bit of olive oil until slightly caramelized, let cool for a few minutes, and add to the chopped chicken with the Pineapple and Cajun seasoning.  Mix thoroughly and let stand for at least an hour, over night if possible.  I like to make REALLY big burgers and this recipe make three of those.  It will make 4-5 normal sized burgers.  Make sure to brown the outside nicely then turn down the heat for a slow ride to well done but still juicy.

Well, the first Post is in the books for this year.  I can't promise one every week but know I'm back on the job and you'll know all about it if I cook it!

As always Party Well, Eat Better!
Rob



Sunday, August 12, 2012

Frittering Away Some Time........

I'm just going to throw a quick post together this week.  I had some fun and came up with a great recipe on the fly and wanted to get it posted to satisfy the promise that I would.

Saturday morning arrives without much fanfare and the plan is to clean house all day, cook some stuff, and generally have a productive day.  The Blueberry Banana Pancakes had just gotten done, I had just placed a nice sausage patty on my plate, and was moments away from dumping local honey over the whole thing when the call came in.

A friend of mine was supposed to do a cooking demonstration for my local Farmers Market but had to bail do to the flu so, in need of a cook, Terra calls and asks if I can fill in.  Not wanting to leave my friends in a lurch, I packed up a bunch of stuff including my camp stoves and away I went.  Driving into town gave me plenty of time to think about what I could do on such short notice and without knowing what was in at the Market, I was really without ideas.  As is most often times the case, Gina provides a stunning bit of wisdom on my way out the door.  "You're pressed for time.  Just do something simple like Curried Squash or something".  It was a stroke of brilliance because I had spent the night before tinkering with Fritters of various forms and consistencies and before you have to ask, yes I do just go into the kitchen to tinker sometimes and since we had BBQ chicken, I wanted a spicy fritter to go with my dinner.  Which is where we begin today.

As close as I can tell, fritters come in two forms.  Either deep fried in oil or done as a small, thick pancake.  For all of the recipes that are listed below, either preparation will work just fine.  Deep frying is pretty self explanatory.  For the "Pancake" method, just make sure there's about 1/4" of oil in the pan.  Also, make sure you use an oil with a high smoke point (the point at which it begins to burn). Lastly, the base recipe is always the same for me.  It's how you adjust it and what you add to it that makes the difference.

Fritter Base Recipe

1 1/2 cups Pastry Flour
1 1/2 cups Fine, Yellow Corn Meal
**This is where the adjustment comes in.  Depending on the recipe and what other ingredients you're using, you may wish for a more fluffy fritter and you would want to add more flour and reduce the corn meal.  For something like Hush Puppies, which are fritters, you would reverse that.**
1 tsp Baking Power
1-1 1/2 cups milk
1 Egg, beaten
1/2 tsp Sea Salt or more to taste

Sift dry ingredients together and work egg in with a fork until combined.  Add milk to the desired consistency.  Deep fry heaping tablespoon sized balls in 350 degree oil or pan fry until golden brown.

With this base recipe and a few adjustments as you desire, some rather interesting creations can come up.  For what I worked on over the past few days, I'll list my adjustments to the base recipe and the additional ingredients.  One thing to take note of would be that thinner the batter, the more fluffy they will be.  The batter should be just tight enough to hold together but not be formed into a ball.  To little liquid will result in fritters that are fit only to throw at squirrels invading your bird feeder.


Standard Hush Puppies

Ok, before I go even one keystroke further:  This is by no means the "End All, Be All" of Hush Puppy recipes because everyone and their brother in the South will be thinking "You left this out!" or "My Momma never did that!"  Take this as a base recipe and adjust at will or with whatever you heard should be in there.  Use less milk and add beer, Use more of one thing and less of another.  Just don't tell me I got it wrong because there is, obviously, no "Right" way to make them!

Base Recipe from above with 2 cups Corn Meal and 1 cup Pastry Flour
1/4 cup Vidalia Onion, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped Green Onions
1/4 cup Crispy Bacon Bits

Make batter as directed above, add other ingredients, and deep fry to a deep brown.  True Hush Puppies have to be deep fried.  Anything else is just, well, wrong.


Friday Night's Fritters (Spicy & Sweet Fritters)

Base Recipe with 2 1/2 cups Pastry Flour and 1/2 cup Corn Meal
1/3 cup Vidalia Onion, finely diced
1/4 cup crispy Bacon Bit or Pieces
2 cloves Garlic, finely diced
2 tbsp Bacon Fat
2-3 Cayenne Peppers, finely diced
1/4 cup chopped Green Onions
3 tbsp Organic Cane Sugar
4 tbsp Seriously Hot Hot Sauce
Honey to drizzle over Fritters

Saute onions and garlic in bacon fat until slightly browned (some don't care for the taste of singed garlic.  I do).  Add this, including the remaining bacon fat, and the rest of the ingredients to the batter.  Deep fry in oil to delicious perfection.  Drizzle with Honey to finish

These didn't come out as hot as I really wanted and I will revisit this with hotter ingredients in the future.  On that, you can bet.

Farmers Market Surprise Fritters (Curried Pear and Pepper Fritters)

Base recipe from above with 2 cups Pastry Flour and 1 cup Corn Meal and add an extra Egg
1/4 cup Yellow Onion, finely diced
3 cloves Garlic, finely diced
1/4 cup Sweet Red Pepper, finely diced
2 cups Cooking Pears, cut into roughly 1/2" cubes
1 tbsp Curry Powder
1/2 tsp Sea Salt
Pepper to taste

Saute onions, garlic, and peppers in olive oil just briefly to give them a bit of a head start, then add the pears.  Cook until pears just begin to soften and add the curry powder.  Make sure everything is well coated with curry, remove from heat, and let stand for a few minutes for the curry flavor to come out.  When cooled a bit add to the batter and blend well.  let stand a few more minutes then pan fry in 1/4" oil at 350 degrees to a deep brown.  You'll know you have the batter right if they come out about 3" in diameter and about 3/4" thick.

Take the above recipes and tinker.  Add apples, seafood (I'm working on a Scallop Fritter), or whatever your heart desires.  Salt them when they come out of cover them in powdered sugar.  This is one of those great Blank Canvas things that you can personalize and make all your own.

I might also like to add that, for some reason, a Good Port seems to make any fritter taste better.  At least that's how it seemed Friday night.  As always.......

Party Well, Eat Better,
Rob


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Attack of the Killer Tomatoes

A Well Used Cauldron 
I've been waiting to use that title for a while now.  WKBD TV50 in Detroit used to play Godzilla movies every Saturday and as I got older I realized that the 50's was a decade of truly awful monster movies that had had redeeming value as being so absurd as to be comical.  And, to be perfectly honest, I think it was more the serious and operatic tone of the theme song which cannot be described.  You just have to hear it.  A story which really has nothing to do with this weeks installment except that I am taking full advantage of the Tomato Season while it's here and the title seems fitting as I have processed about 50 lbs. of tomatoes in the last 3 weeks.


I've explained that I've made about 2 gallons of Chili Sauce, and I am sorry but I will still not be letting that cat out of the bag.  Instead, I have two quick recipes and since I am cooking one of them as I write this and am a little pressed for time.


Before I forget, this is the last week of the West Georgia Locavore Challenge and Props go out to the Garry Farm for some seriously over ripe tomatoes that are perfect for what I'm writing about today as well as The Crager/Hager Farm for the Paste tomatoes, and Full Life Farms for some of the most beautiful and flavorful Roma Tomatoes I've ever tasted.


Tomato Paste and Conserva
Tomato Sauce
A Simple Meatball Recipe


Both of these recipes are from scratch so it would be well to explain the blanching of tomatoes, which is quite simple.  Set a large pot of water to boil with enough water to fully submerge your largest fruit and have a bowl full of ice water and an empty bowl large enough to hold all of the blanched tomatoes.  Simply submerge one or two tomatoes at a time in the boiling water until the skin begins to split, immediately dunk it in the ice bath to stop the cooking process, and place the cooled units in the extra bowl kept handy.  When ready, cut the top out and the rest of the meat should pop right out.  If not, it should be very easy to peel.  Also, boil the skins for a few in the juices from the bottom of the cold 'mater bowl.  That will dislodge any meat that might have clung to the inside of the skins.


To the seasoned cook, this may sound elementary but I know people that read this that may not have taken this route before and I always like to inform everyone of how to get the job done.


Tomato Paste and Conserva


A ton of recipes call for Tomato Paste and I always buy the stuff in the toothpaste style tube.  This year, I decided to make my own supply and, although I ended up with less than I thought, I still have a wonderful, flavorful Tomato Paste that beats the store bought stuff by far.


12 lbs. Very ripe Paste or Roma Tomatoes, blanched
2 bay leaves,
2 tsp coarse Sea Salt
5-7 hours of your life you're not going to get back


Place all tomatoes in a heavy bottom pot large enough to hold all of the tomatoes and crush them up with your hands.  Add salt and bay leaves and simmer, covered, for about 30-45 minutes.  At this point, you're going to want to use either a blender or a stick blender (my choice) and blend the mixture to break up the meat of the tomatoes.  If you're using  a stand blender, pulse it instead of turning it on Puree.  The point here it is break up the meat to get it through a medium sieve while leaving the seeds behind.  The seeds will eventually cook out or you could puree them in but they leave a bitter, metallic taste behind that it the sure sign of someone who was in a hurry with their tomatoes.  Of course, the long, drawn out explanation above can be shortened with a food mill that has a medium screen on it.  However, I am much closer to being an Impoverished Chef as opposed to a Pampered one, a food mill hasn't been in the cards.


Once the puree has been sieved, return to the pot and turn on a medium setting and begin to reduce, stirring very often.  As it begin to reduce down and get thicker, turn the heat down and stir just as often.  This is more of a project of love than it is something you can check back on.  This is not a nappy day project.


After a few hours, it will begin to thicken more until the point where it can longer be stirred and simply "piles up" around the spoon as you try.  12 lbs of tomatoes should have yield you about 2-2 1/2 cups of super tomato concentrate. When cooled, you can either can it, place it in zip top bags and freeze it (my method), or you can place it in a sterilized jar while very hot and cover it with about 3/4" of olive oil.  I've tried this method before with other things and it seems to work really well for preserving high acid foods for long periods of time in the fridge.


Tomato Conserva


This is a semi-simple method to take your paste just a little farther.  Simply spread the paste on a cookie sheet and place in an over at around 200 degrees or lower and let dry/concentrate for another 30-60 minutes, of course, while watching it closely.  When the edges start to caramelize and turn a dark brown you're about done.  Again, storage is up to you.


Tomato Sauce (Marinara) 


Just my simple little recipe for a knock out Marinara.


20-25 large, very ripe Tomatoes, blanched
1 cup Carrot, finely diced
1 1/2 cups Sweet Onions, finely diced
1 1/2 cups Celery, finely diced
1 1/2 cups Green Pepper, finely diced
5-6 cloves Garlic, finely diced
1 cup Dry Red Wine
1 tsp each, Oregano, Thyme, Basil
1/2 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
Sea Salt and Pepper to taste


Instead of breaking up the tomatoes with your hands, cut them in half and try to remove as much of the seeds and middle liquid as possible.  If a little bit of one or the other gets in the sauce, it's no biggie. Now you can break them up with your hands in the pot.  In a large skillet, saute all the aromatics (garlic, onions, pepper, and carrots) until translucent and the edges are just starting to turn brown.  Add this to the pot and simmer until thickened.  If your sauce doesn't really have that rich depth of tomato flavor, add about 2 tbsp of the paste that you just made.


This base recipe has a thousand and more variations.  Add browned ground beef, pork, or lamb (or all three) and simmer until the meat disappears and you have a simple Ragu.  Cook the base Marinara or the Ragu down until quite thick and you have a top notch pizza sauce.  One way or another, this little recipe can go far and if you make very large batches it will can or freeze well.


A Simple Meatball Recipe


I tinkered with meatballs for years and never could seem to get them right.  I either over handled them, didn't season them quite right, or they were dry, dry, dry.  However, by listening to a few people and repeated trial and error, and realizing that I could add fat (thereby adding moisture) into the recipe with Heavy Cream.  Tis is what I came up with.....


1 lb. Ground Beef
1 lb. Ground Pork
1/2 cup Italian Bread Crumbs
1/4 cup Heavy Cream
1/4 cup Sweet Onion, very finely diced
2 cloves Garlic, very finely diced
1 Egg (optional)
Sea Salt and Pepper to Taste


Start with .allowing the bread crumbs to soak in heavy cream until completely absorbed.  Saute the onions with salt and pepper until they just begin to brown and caramelize, remove from heat and allow to cool. Blend all the ingredients just until combined, being very careful not to over handle.  A


Form into 1 1/2" balls and brown in a frying pan, turning to brown as much of the meatball as possible.  Don't worry about cooking them all the way through.  You can either finish them in the over at about 325 degrees for 10-15 minutes, or do as I do and let them finish cooking in Marinara sauce.


To be honest, there have been some rather significant changes in my life this week and I have been very busy and lazy all at the same time.  Having said that, I really don't feel like going through the process of writing about homemade pasta.  I also don't feel like going through the motions of making homemade pasta, so I'll leave that for another post.


For now, I'm headed to the store to buy some pre-made pasta, eat some Italian for the night, and chill out.  Tomorrow comes a new day and there are many things to be done.  Watch out, Back Porch Spice is on the rise.  And always.........


Party Well, Eat Better,
Rob