Jerseygator's Blog


Update to Paleo…I’m coming up to my one year anniversary!

Posted in Cooking,food politics,food pyramid,Primal by jerseygator on May 17, 2012
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If you and I haven’t talked lately, you may not know that I changed my dietary template last July, becoming a “cavewoman.”  Well, I’m not out hunting bison, but I am continuing to refine my version of the ancestral or “Paleo” diet.  First the basics…my diet consists mostly of the following:  grass-fed meat, wild-caught fish, limited pastured chicken/pork (just cause I’m not a fan), lots of vegies, fruits in season, and healthy fats (coconut oil/olive oil/ghee/nuts/seeds/avocados).  I don’t eat grains, legumes, or dairy (with the exception of ghee or grass-fed butter).

I think the key to a good diet is simple: does it make you look, feel and perform optimally?  Add to that your health indicators (blood tests, etc.) and I think you have something to go on.

From a physical aspect, I ended up losing 30 pounds, so am sitting at 125 pounds on a 5’2 frame.  My BMI, which is not a great measure but is what the government uses to measure obesity in America, went from 28.3 (overweight) to 22.9 (normal weight).  (A BMI of 30 is considered obese, so I was on my way.)  I lost 6 inches off my waist, going from a size 10 to a size 2.

How do I feel?  Man, I haven’t felt this good in decades.  Mental clarity and memory have been noticeably improved (and commented upon by coworkers). I went from sleeping 8+ hours per night to sleeping about 6-1/2 to 7 hours, waking up without an alarm clock every morning refreshed and ready to go.  My sleep is much deeper; I just don’t get sleepy as early as I used to.  My feeling is that a lot of this can be attributed to the addition of coconut oil to my diet.  (That is a post of it’s own.)  Interestingly, I have not had any illnesses since changing the diet with the exception of a UTI (that was my own fault…I let myself get dehydrated).  I have had NO allergy symptoms this year, and it’s been a tough year for allergies due to the warm winter.  Normally in the spring I’d be on Allegra, Flonase and Singulair.  I haven’t taken anything this year at all.  My skin problems (seborrheic dermatitis) have completely cleared up.  All gut issues are gone (no heartburn, or IBS symptoms).

Performance:  I certainly have more strength and endurance than before, but now that I have the diet dialed in I’m looking at adding some exercise.  I’m currently reading “Body by Science” by Dr. Doug McGuff and am intrigued.  I’m certainly leaner and have visible muscle definition in my abs.

Blood parameters have not been measured since my last post, but to repeat those:  Fasting blood sugar 67, total cholesterol 148, HDL 63, LDL 70, VLDL 15 and triglycerides 76.  My physician was thrilled with the numbers and encouraged me to “keep doing what I was doing.” I take no medications.

I get lots of questions regarding the diet, of course.  One is about macronutrients (carbs, fat and protein).  My current diet is about 60% fat (by caloric intake), 30% carbs and 20% protein.  This is not a high protein or low carb diet (although I certainly eat less carbs than someone eating a standard American diet).  Nor is it an “Adkins” type diet…paleo focuses on food quality…whole, real unprocessed foods.  Adkin’s is really all about processed foods lately, since they can sell that.  Adkin’s also focuses on ketosis (especially during the induction phase), which paleo does not.

A typical day of eating looks like this:

  • Breakfast:  “Bulletproof” Coffee (coffee made with grass-fed butter and coconut oil) or 3 pastured eggs scrambled in coconut oil, or a coconut milk smoothie (coconut milk, frozen berries and almond butter).
  • Lunch:  A big salad with nuts, dried cranberries/cherries, topped with a protein (chicken, salmon, tuna, strips of steak or other meat) and 2-3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or leftovers from dinner.
  • Dinner:  Protein (grass-fed beef, wild-caught fish) with 2-3 vegies in season.  Right now that means lots of asparagus and spinach.  We eat a cruciferous vegetable almost nightly (cauliflower “rice,” broccoli, cabbage).  We may add in-season fruit for desert.
  • Snacks:  I’m seldom hungry so don’t snack often.  Usually it will be a handful of raw almonds, perhaps with a couple squares of dark chocolate.
  • Alcohol:  very rarely.  An occasional glass of wine, and if I’m going off template I may have a beer.
  • I eat fermented foods daily in the form of kombucha tea, sauerkraut or other fermented products.  I think this has been key to the improvement in my digestion.  Without going into TMI territory, let’s just say everything runs very smoothly.

Another question I get is about saturated fats and cholesterol.  As a traditionally trained (Western medicine) pharmacist, I have been taught that eating cholesterol and saturated fats are harmful.  However, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and reviewing of clinical studies and can find no real evidence to support this hypothesis.  I can, however, find many to refute it.  Since eating more saturated fats and cholesterol, my blood lipids have improved.  If I didn’t tell my physician what I was eating, he would probably assumed I was drinking the low-fat/high carb Koolaide put out by government recommendations (mixed metaphor, but you know what I mean).  What I have discovered in all my research is that government recommendations are highly political.  What a shock, huh?  When dietary recommendations are put out by the same government agency that subsidizes the food it recommends (The USDA), what else would you expect?  I’ll stick with my sample size of 1 and keep doing what I’m doing.

Darrol has moved to Paleo more whole-heartedly as well.  I convinced him to go dairy-free in January and within 3 days all his sinus symptoms disappeared: no headaches, no congestion, no snoring.  This was, truly, a life-changing event for him and the rest of the family.  Of course, we all know when he “cheats.”  He can’t hide how the dairy makes him react!  Since embracing the diet more fully he has taken off over 25 pounds and is now going to go off his cholesterol medications.  He looks awesome and feels great.  He is key to our diet, as he does most of the cooking.  We have amazing meals at our house!

This post is a lot longer than I expected, and there’s still so much to talk about.  I promise I’ll try to keep posting, in between 2 full time jobs and being a wife, a mom and a Memaw.  Please let me know if you have questions…I have tons of resources, links to studies, recommended reading, websites and podcasts that I can share.

Good eating and good health!

The Pot: Hard Cooked Eggs in the rice cooker

Posted in Cooking,locavore,Rice cooker by jerseygator on June 12, 2011

We are lucky to get fresh farm eggs whenever we want from a local farmer, so we eat a lot of them.  I wanted to boil some eggs up to make deviled eggs to take to a friends house today, and figured the rice cooker would be easy and keep the kitchen cool.  Using Alton Brown’s steamer method (found in his book I’m Only Here For The Food), I figured it would be easy!  Our cheap rice cooker came with a steamer basket so I was set.

Fresh eggs in steamer basket

Fill the pot with a bit of water for steam (about 3/4 cup) and turn to cook.  After a few minutes lay eggs in the steamer basket and close lid.  (Do not adjust your set.  The eggs range from white to brown to blue, depending on the hen’s breed.)  Set timer for 12 minutes and walk away.  When timer goes off, remove eggs with tongs and place into ice bath for 5 minutes.  When cooled, crack on flat surface and peel for delicious hard cooked eggs.

I have to say that this is the way to cook eggs.  Kitchen stayed cool, I used very little water (took two batches of 6 eggs each with original water), and the eggs were perfect.  They also peeled really easily, which could be due to their freshness or the cooking method; I’m not sure but every one peeled in seconds with no gouged whites.  I had also laid the egg carton on its side to center the yolks…seemed to work.

Yet another win for “The Pot!”  I didn’t have to spend “forever” peeling the eggs, as mentioned in this classic infomercial for Eggies.  (www.geteggiestv.com)

Creamy hard-cooked eggs were a breeze

Moving Toward Meatless: The Pot

Posted in Cooking,vegetarian by jerseygator on June 3, 2011

No, not that kind of pot.

Those who know my know that I’m not the family cook.  I’m not the cook at all, actually.  Browse through the blog and you’ll notice that most of the cooking action shots involve Darrol.  But as I am working to make my diet healthier I am learning more techniques.  My latest adventure it a rice cooker.

I’ve always avoided rice cookers.  Seemed stupid.  With my chemistry background, I proudly proclaimed I could cook rice and boiled eggs…both require timing.  Why get a rice cooker?  Then I started following Roger Ebert on twitter, then facebook.  Prior to his cancer, Ebert lost around 100 pounds with diet and exercise change.  Subsequently, he had numerous surgeries that prevent his eating…he gets his nutrition via liquid nutrients only.  However, he continues to cook healthy meals for his wife and friends.  Ebert is a devout follower of “The Pot,” as he calls it.  After reading his tweeted recipes and facebook posts, I broke down and bought an inexpensive rice cooker ($16.99 at Target).

I bought The Pot three days ago and have made things in it: barley, grits (real southern grits and easier than anything), oatmeal, and basmati rice.  I’m hooked!  The rice cooker is fast, non-stick, doesn’t heat up the kitchen and is intuitive.  Plus, for a cook like me, it’s simple.  On and warm.  Plus it turns itself to warm when it’s done cooking, so I don’t even have to monitor it!  Lazy cooks dream.

Last night I cooked dinner (don’t faint…I even cleaned up) and made a dish using the pot that was a great hit.  I adapted it from a couple of Mark Bittman’s recipes.  I started by cooking couscous in the pot, and while it was cooking a sauteed some chopped onion, garlic and chopped roasted red pepper in a little olive oil.  When the couscous was done I added it to the vegetables with a little more olive oil (this one was basil infused, something my husband had made last month).  I topped this with a topping that Bittman featured on one of his minimalist recipes.  Not sure what it’s called, but basically pureed 1 Tbsp smoked paprika, 2 garlic cloves and about 1/4 cup olive oil in the food processor, then added a couple slices of pumpernickel bread (rye is also very good) to the processor and ground it into wet breadcrumbs.  This taste like chorizo sausage and is amazingly good and very pretty.  Bittman used it in a lamb recipe, but I just put this over the couscous and popped it under the broiler for a couple of minutes.  Everyone loved it, it’s vegan (although not low-fat!) and it looked pretty on the plate.

This morning I got up and cooked some oatmeal while getting ready for work.  This has become my morning ritual.  After I emptied the oatmeal out of the pot I put some barley in to cook to take to lunch.  I’ll have it with some white beans and dressing (olive oil, lemon juice, herbs) plus a slice of that leftover pumpernickel.  If you have a rice cooker, dust it off and do some experimenting.  If not, less than $20 may be a good investment for you.  Enjoy!

Moving toward meatless: Gardein products

Posted in Cooking,food politics,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 31, 2011

As we look toward more meatless dishes to serve our family, we are investigating some “meat substitute” products.  I had always felt that eating something fake, as in pretending to be something it’s not, was counter-intuitive to eating real, natural foods.  Most vegetarians I know don’t eat meat-like products; they simply don’t miss eating meat.  For my family of omnivores, however, that could present a problem, so a little experimentation was in order.

I recently read “The Conscious Cook” by Chef Tal Ronnen.  He cooks vegan meals which are beautiful and (presumably) tasty, and uses a product called “Gardein.”  This meat substitute gets its name by combining garden + protein.  It’s been shown that vegetarians get plenty of protein in their diets without any additional supplementation necessary, however many eaters like the taste/consistency of meat and these products are designed for them.  I was concerned I wouldn’t be able to find them, but they were in the frozen case at my local supermarket.

Gardein Chick'n Scallopini

We choose two products to try: the Chick’n Scallopini and the Beefless Tips.  For the first dinner, I made a “chicken” piccata using Chef Tal’s recipe from the book.  The Gardein product looks like chicken patties when removed from the bag, and, after dredging in flour, fried up just like any chicken pattie.  After cooking the chick’n, I made a sauce using lemon juice, white wine, veg stock, shallots, capers and garlic.  The chicken was placed back in the sauce for just a couple minutes then served.

Chick'n fillets

The finished dinner fooled my son, who loved it and couldn’t believe the meal was vegan.  The “meat” had a pretty good consistency; not stringy like chicken but toothsome.  My biggest complaint is that it tasted just like a chicken.  I’m just not a big fan of the bird.  However, everyone loved the meal and it will definitely be added to the menu list.

Chick'n Piccata

The next evening we tried the beefless tips.  I modified one of Chef Tal’s recipes and

Gardein Beefless tips and Earth Balance buttery spread

made a sauce from mushrooms, wine, veg stock, shallots, garlic and Earth Balance “butter.”  The chunks of Gardein went from freezer right to saute pan and cooked up within minutes.  Once combined with the sauce in the pan for just a couple more minutes, the dish was placed on a bed of rice.  Again, the meal was delicious.  The meat substitute tasted like meat and the consistency was close (not stringy like meat would be).

Gardein beefless tips sauteed right from the freezer and cooked in about 3 minutes

The sauce was amazing, and I went back for more rice with sauce drizzled on top.

I think Chef Tal nailed the secret to good vegan/vegetarian cooking: fat.  Too many vegetarian dishes are what he dismisses as “hippie food.”  There’s nothing wrong with brown rice and steamed vegies, but it’s not very satisfying over the long run.  By using butter or a butter substitute, you add flavor, unctuousness and satiety.  Using capers, mushrooms or other umami flavors adds richness.  It’s interesting, because many people feel vegetarian food is boring, yet most omnivores I know cook the same things over and over.  Yes, it’s comfort food, but it’s not much of a stretch. I’m excited to add more vegan/vegetarian dishes to our repertoire.

"beef" tips in a mushroom/wine sauce over rice

Links:

http://www.talronnen.com for more information on “The Conscious Cook” as well as recipes and videos demonstrating some of the recipes.

http://www.gardein.com for more information on the products, as well as the company philosophy and mission.

http://www.earthbalancenatural.com for more information on Earth Balance spreads, made from cold-pressed oils, no hydrogenated oils or trans-fats.  Plus, the “butter” spread really taste and cooks just like butter and is my new go-to for toast and cooking.

An Offal Party

Posted in Cooking,food politics,Friends,locavore,New Jersey by jerseygator on January 27, 2011

As part of our conscientious eating, we are working to eat the whole animal when we choose to eat meat.  Recently we invited our friends to an “offal” party, that is a dinner party serving organ meats.

When we purchased our meat last fall, we ordered 1/2 cow, a whole pig, 2 lambs and a goat.  We opted out of the scrapple, having ordered that last time and determining that, if you didn’t grow up with it, it was nigh inedible.  (When the butcher asked if we wanted it, I inquired what it was.  Her response?  “Just what it sounds like, sugar.”)  This time, we took the organs from the cow and goat: heart, liver, kidneys and one non-organ, the cow tongue.

Beef heart

Let me start by saying that, other than liver and onions, none of us had eaten cow or goat organ meats before.  Darrol and the kids do eat the chicken hearts, so had an idea of what that tasted like, and we’ve had pate’ made from goose livers.  Fortunately, Darrol is both an experimental eater and an experimental cook, so he was up for it.

He started by making some beef stock with bones from Mr. Cow, then prepped the different cuts.

The beef tongue, which wins for weirdest looking thing we've ever cooked.

The heart was huge and was examined for the valves and chambers out of curiosity.  It was a least 4-5 times larger than a human heart; Darrol cut it up into slices to stew with broth and vegetables.  The tongue was incredibly odd looking and really didn’t look edible at all.  It was placed into the pressure cooker with some water in order to cook the meat.  Once removed, the “tongue” part (what you’d see if you looked into a cow’s mouth) was removed, leaving a large piece of meat.  Taylor had eaten a tongue chimichanga at a little Mexican place near the Delaware border, so Darrol decided to make taco filling with the tongue meat.

Beef kidneys. Darrol separated them into lobes then chopped finely.

In looking for recipes for steak and kidney pie on the internet we were repeatedly warned that kidneys stink!  Watch out for the stink, here’s how to get rid of the stink, etc.  Well, I guess that happens if you buy kidneys from the grocery store (in England…can’t say I’ve ever seen them over here), but kidneys from a grass fed cow that is immediately processed and brought to your freezer evidently have no odor at all.  I even held one up to my nose trying to smell something bad.  They smelled faintly of meat.  Darrol chopped them up finely with some chuck and sauteed them; the pie filling was topped with phyllo dough and baked to a golden finish.

The last thing in was the liver and onions, as they cook quickly and should be eaten right away.

Liver in all it's bloody glory

This was a familiar smell to most of the older generation, as we had moms or grandmoms who used to cook up a batch.  The frying onions made the whole house smell wonderful.

Darrol managed to bring four diverse dishes to the table all at once, an amazing feat that was appreciated by all.  We had some local cheese from Philadelphia, courtesy of Tim, and some homemade latkes made by the amazing Lil.  Tim, incidentally, recently lost close to 100 pounds on the “primitive” diet, which is based on meat, veg, fruit and nuts with almost no refined grains of any type.  Lil had also brought some crackers made with nut meal, and some “primitive” brownies to add to the table.

Everyone sits down to try the offal stuff

Everyone sat down to give the fare a try.  I will say that the young men of the group ate heartily and seemed to enjoy pretty much every dish.  We had one participant who basically thought the concept was interesting in theory, but not in practice.  She stuck to latkes.  The overall impression was favorable, with the favorites being the liver & onions (2 votes) and the steak & kidney pie (2 votes).  The tongue tacos were my favorite, as I just don’t like the texture of organ meats, and tongue is basically just a meat from an unusual place.  The heart stew was good, but didn’t win any votes as favorite.  I wonder if we put some dumplings in there if it would have won over more people?

Steak & Kidney pie

Liver & onions

Heart and Veggie stew

Tracey tries a tongue taco

Moving toward meatless

Posted in Cooking,food politics,locavore,vegetarian by jerseygator on January 26, 2011
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Over the past few years we have had occasion to learn more about the food production in this country.  Some of the education is through national multi-media; books such as “The Omnivore’s Dilemna,” movies such as “Food, Inc.,” radio podcasts such as “Earth Eats,” and, of course, countless websites, such as the Ted talks.  Moving to New Jersey was also an education.  The farms, road stands, and overall food culture here in South Jersey is amazing.  Farmers are so willing to share what they’re doing (and how they’re doing it), as well as the struggles they have in providing good products.  It’s still difficult to find organic products at many of the road stands (though not impossible), but at least we’re eating a large portion of our food sourced locally.

With this education, however, comes a moral dilemna.  Can one continue to consume a product which doesn’t align with one’s own moral compass?  Obviously, many people do.  No one I know condones animal cruelty, yet most buy meat from the supermarket without a second thought, pushing the factory farm that the meat came from out of their minds.  Becoming a vegetarian is an option, but an option not chosen by many.  Being an omnivore is culturally excepted, and most people like the taste of meat.  There are still some who argue that we aren’t designed to be herbivores, an argument I consider specious.  We aren’t “designed” to use birth control, either, but I don’t see many people arguing against condoms, the pill, or the rhythm method.

So what is a conscientious person to do?  In my explorations I find too many people who try to convince their audience to their viewpoint using emotion.  Not being an overly emotional person, I just find that annoying.  Give me facts, figures, and, most importantly, a grounding in reality…the reality of raising a family and the time constraints, budgets and personalities that come with it.

As we struggle with it, here’s some of the decisions that I or we as a family have made:

  • Conscientious meat consumption.  We don’t want to support the CAFO’s so we are buying our beef, pork, lamb and goat from a local farmer.  We found her on eatwild.com, and are comfortable that she is raising the animals to have normal lives: pasture, sunlight, grass, antibiotics only if ill, access to mother/baby relationship.  Currently, we are getting chicken at the farmer’s market.  Free range, cage free chickens are EXPENSIVE, so chicken has become a much less consumed item.  (Full disclosure: occasionally Darrol will buy chicken from the supermarket, usually for stock, but is minimizing these purchases.  The chicken industry is truly horrible.)
  • Eggs are purchased from a local farmer.  We can actually see the chickens running around, eating bugs and vegetable scraps.  The eggs are amazing: firm orange yolks and wonderful flavor.  Again, the poultry industry is one of the worst offenders for animal husbandry standards.
  • Using the whole animal.  We recently had an “offal party” for our friends.  The menu included liver & onions, heart and veg stew, steak and kidney pie, and tongue tacos.  It seems more respectful to consume the entire animal if you’re going to make that choice.  I’ll be blogging about the party soon.
  • Moving toward meatless:  Although I doubt my husband or son will ever become vegetarians, I wouldn’t be surprised if I eventually went in that direction.  Currently I’m following Mark Bittman’s advice: vegan before 6pm.  I’ve replaced butter with EarthBalance (made with cold pressed oils, not hydrogentated) and milk with almond milk.  I started this because my LDL cholesterol moved up enough for my doctor to prescribe a low dose of a statin, and I’d really like to move away from taking medication.  I’ll blog about these food decisions as well.  (Funny, I found very few blogs via Google about moving toward meatless…most are already vegetarians or are make the move abruptly).
  • Continuing education:  I’ll continue reading and viewing food related media, keeping an open mind.
  • Political activism:  I’m not the type to stand on the roadway with a sandwich board, but I have been known to contact my senators and/or state representatives, so I’ll continue to do that on things that are important to me.  As with voting, if you don’t participate, you really don’t have the right to bitch.

I’d be interested to hear how others handle their choices.  Leave a comment and let’s start a discussion.

Oh, please, not hamburgers and hot dogs!

Posted in brewing,Cooking,Garden,locavore by jerseygator on September 7, 2010

Labor day, last day of summer, grill-fest in every backyard.  As we homeschool, tomorrow is not-back-to-school day and the weather is too perfect for the summer to be over.  And when it comes to grilling, I just couldn’t face hamburgers and hot dogs!

Darrol picked today to finally brew his cherry lambic, so there were two cooks in our space limited kitchen.  Not a problem, though, as I was planning on grilling.  As usual when I cook, it was around 4:00 that I started thinking about cooking dinner (this is why Darrol usually cooks).  I decided to go to my cooking guru, Mark Bittman, for inspiration.  Mr. Bittman pulled through and we had an eclectic and delicious dinner around 7pm.

We’re omnivores, so I wanted to have some sort of meat.  Too late to pull anything out of the freezer (despite the fact that it is full of Mr. Cow 2 and Mr. Pig, the sequel).  If we’re going to buy “grocery store” meat, it will at least be something that we don’t have tons of down in the basement, so I went with a flank steak.   This went into a plastic bag with soy sauce, garlic, smoked ginger, lemon juice and mirin (sweetened saki).

I had Darrol start the grill, as I always seem to lose the hair on my arms when I try. While the meat was marinating, I decided to try grilled cucumbers made into a 15 minute pickle.  I grilled thick slabs of freshly cut cucumber from the garden to char, then combined them with tarragon vinegar, salt and sugar and set them aside.  The marinated meat went on the grill for 3 minutes per side and was nicely charred when I took it off and tented it.  Sliced Italian bread rubbed with olive oil was toasted , and then some sliced apples.

Grill off and back into the crowded kitchen.  Darrol was adding the sour cherries we had picked and frozen back in the spring to his wort and the kitchen smelled yeasty and fruity.  To add some cool crunch to the dinner I made a quick arugula salad with baby arugula, toasted pine nuts, dried cherries, sliced bosc pear and grated parmesan, then topped with a lemon juice/olive oil dressing.  Darrol cooked up sweet corn and Jersey limas, as our end of summer meals almost always include succotash.

The dinner was plated simply: steak cut on the bias, pickles, arugula salad and succotash with grilled bread on one plate, and the grilled apples topped with a drizzle of greek yogurt, honey and a sprinkle of cardamon for desert.  The pickles were a surprise.  Tart and crunchy with a smoky undertone; we will definitely have those again.  The apple dessert was also a revelation.  The cardamon added a fall touch somehow, probably because it add it to oatmeal all winter.  Next time, I’ll try grilled pears with the yogurt/honey drizzle, as I imagine that will be just as wonderful.  There are only a few more weeks to grill, so we’ll have time to experiment.

It was fun discovering that the grill does more than just the usual burgers and dogs.  Hope your Labor Day holiday was spent with friends and family and that you enjoyed this “last day of summer!”

Friends, Food & Fun

Posted in brewing,Cooking,Garden,locavore,restaurants by jerseygator on August 14, 2010

Wow, it’s been a busy summer here in South Jersey.  Darrol’s been working at the Sweet Life Bakery, as well as his paying job.  Tracey’s been busy at the pharmacy & trying to pick up the slack from Darrol working too much.  The garden is growing despite the neglect & lack of rain.  And in the middle of it all, our good friends from Paris arrived in the States last week.

Tracey, Gour & Helen

It was wonderful to see Gour & Helen again.  When we saw them last, it was in Paris, in December 2009 and they had just treated us to dinner at Le Entrecote on the Champs-Elysees.  Needless to say, it was an incredible time with wonderful friends and great food & wine.  So when Gour & Helen came to the States (her roots are here in South Jersey), we took them to the BEST place we could think of to match the awesome cuisine of Paris; Blue Plate restaurant  in Mullica Hill and the amazing creations of Chef Jim!  If you’re ever in the Northeast USA and anywhere near Philly, it’s worth the short ride to Mullica Hill, NJ to get some of the best food you’ve ever tasted.  Chef Jim uses local produce whenever possible and it shows in the incredibly varied menu he provides; World famous Jersey Sweet corn & Jersey tomato’s just to name a few.  Of course, since Gour & Helen were our guests this time, Darrol provided the wine.  I make my own wine & we had both the Green-Apple Riesling and my Valpolicella to keep us company all night long.  And as an aside, Chef Jim had visited the Sweet Life Bakery just a few weeks before, so I brought him some of our goodies that he didn’t get during his last visit to the bakery, including our Multi-grain bread!

Chef Jim & Darrol w/treats from the Sweet Life Bakery

This included some croissants and danish that we hand-make at the bakery (all butter, if it needs to be said!).   We started out by getting appetizers, including a clam BLT that was excellent , a pear & goat cheese salad with balsamic dressing and a goat-cheese stuffed pear salad.  Chef Jim responded by providing a simply wonderful dish of cavatelli with fried goat cheese (my favorite!) and sweet pea tomatoes!  Wow, it was delicious and Gour & Helen loved it as much as Tracey & I did.  The entree’s were, of course, simple but amazing; Salmon with horseradish mash potatoes, Hanger steak with corn risotto, Gnocchi with Spicy Sausage and Strip steak with a Peach/Tarragon sauce that should be illegal but, thank goodness, isn’t!  Top that off with a Smore cupcake dessert smothered in chocolate and you you have perfect ending to a perfect dinner in the perfect place.   South Jersey is full of surprises, not only in the vegetables and fruits that this great state produces, but in the people and places that utilize the amazing tasting produce that is grown here.  Having been out of this country several times, I’m not sure that I’m a ‘World Traveler’ but I can state unequivocally that, I’ve tasted food from around the world and South Jersey is among the best I’ve ever had!

Living la vida local, or why we spent $60 for 3 chickens at the farmer’s market

Posted in Cooking,Garden,locavore by jerseygator on May 22, 2010

This morning Darrol and I traveled to the Collingswood Farmer’s Market in a nearby town.  CFM was voted best small farmer’s market in America last year and with good reason.  Plenty of locally grown fruit and veg, cooking demonstrations, baked goods, flowers and free-range meat being bought by folks with lots of strollers, leashed dogs and canvas bags milling about.  We love the atmosphere and community as well as the bargains we find.

This morning we walked around for a bit before stopping at a local meat purveyor.  The meat comes from Pennsylvania and Jersey, so within a 100 mile radius (the informal range given to locavorism).  As we already have our beef, pork, lamb, goat and turkey orders into our local Jersey farmer, we knew we didn’t need much.  We tried some of the raw cheeses then settled on buying 3 hens, ranging from 3-1/2 lbs to 7 lbs.  Our total bill was just shy of $60.

Now, I’m sure some people would think “boy, are you stupid.  You can go down to Shoprite and get 3 chickens for 20 bucks!”  True, true.  However, once we decided that we wanted to eat more mindfully, and we didn’t want to be vegetarians, we knew we had to align our practices with our moral compass.  Books such as “Righteous Porkchop,” “The Omnivore’s Dilemna,” and “Food Matters,” as well as movies like “Supersize Me” and “Food, Inc.” all point out the relationship between what you eat and how you live.  Once you know how animals are treated at factory farms (CAFO’s) can you simply ignore it and eat as before?  If so, there is a disconnect between your head and your heart.  Factory farmed chickens, in particular,  lead horrendous existences (I can’t even call them “lives”) and are often dispatched in cruel, inhumane fashion.  Chickens bred as layers, once they are no longer as productive, are often slaughtered by being tossed alive into grinders to make feed for other animals.  Can we as a species continue to condone that by turning a blind eye?

I’ve tried to teach my children that there are 2 ways to vote: with your feet and with your dollars.  If we continue to bemoan the practices, yet still buy “cheap” chicken, the practice won’t stop.  If instead we use our feet to propel us to farmer’s markets and farmers who treat other life forms with respect, their businesses will grow.  Although some people choose to simply not eat meat, an opinion I respect and admire, it didn’t work for us.  So, instead, we will choose to pay more.  We will meet the farmers, like the older couple from whom we buy eggs (you can see the chickens running around, and the yolks are an intense orange from the chickens’ varied diets), and the kids at the farm stands outside the orchards.  We will spend $20 for one chicken, and then eat every part of it over several meals: roasted, then as shredded meat on a burrito, with the bones making a stock.  We will honor the cost of the  meal, not in dollars, but in the life of the animal.  We aren’t perfect and we aren’t shrill (we’ll eat out  on occasion and have meat, etc.), but we do try to follow the 80/20 rule… 80% of what we eat is local and/or organic, grown ourselves when possible, and grown/harvested (slaughtered) respectfully.  Eventually that other 20% will start to shrink as well.

Hasenpfeffer

Posted in Cooking,Garden by jerseygator on May 21, 2010

Ever since we found the baby rabbits in the back yard (by the way, mama rabbit has relocated the babies), Taylor has been hankering for ‘Hasenpfeffer’.

Mr. Rabbit, cut up and ready for browning

So today, he and I went to the Amish market here in Mullica Hill and bought a fresh rabbit. Yes, it was already gutted & skinned but still had the heart, liver & kidneys.  Step one, cut up the rabbit. I cut up my own chickens and butcher beef all the time, that way I can save the scraps for making home-made stock. And while I remember gutting rabbits a long time ago when we used to hunt them in Indiana, I don’t think I’ve ever cut one up.  So Taylor simply went onto the ‘Net and downloaded a video on how to do it.  It was fairly straight forward with the exception of the tenderloin portion but I got the hang of ot right away.      A good quality chef’s knife is a key piece of hardware in any kitchen and remember to keep it sharp and hone the blade on a regular basis.  And, of course, I saved and froze the rabbit scraps to make stock later.  I figure that if we like the rabbit, I’ll have enough scraps after about 3 rabbits to make rabbit stock and if we don’t, I’ll just add this one to the chicken stock.

Rabbit and bacon browned and set aside

Next, I cut the meat into small bite-sized pieces and set them aside.  We started the hasenpfeffer by cutting up 1/2 pound of bacon and browning it in a large skillet.  I like to use my enamel stock-pot.  While the bacon was browning, we coated the rabbit with a mixture of flour (1/3 cup) and a little salt (1/2 teaspoon).  Once the bacon was done, we removed it from the skillet and took out all but about 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat.  This we used for the next stage.  We finely chopped 1/2 cup of shallots and one garlic clove and sauted both in the bacon fat until tender.  Next, we added 1 cup of red wine (Yes, I used my home-made Valpolicella for this!) and one cup of chicken stock (some chicken bouillon and a cup of warm water will do in a pinch).  We brought this to a boil and then added 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked peppercorns, one bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon each of fresh thyme and rosemary from our garden.   Next, we added the browned rabbit & bacon, a stalk of celery and a couple of carrots from the garden.  Once this began to boil, we covered the pot and lowered the heat to a simmer.  Let this continue to simmer for about a hour or so, until the rabbit is tender. After an hour, we removed the rabbit and vegetables to a platter to keep them warm while we prepared the gravy (Don’t forget to discard the bay leaf).  To this, we first added 1/2 of a fresh squeezed lemon.  Then we combined 2 tablespoons of flour with 3 tablespoons of water and whisked them together. We added this mixture to the liquid and stirred at a low heat until the gravy was the right consistency.  Finally, we stirred in about 1/4 teaspoon of thyme.  All that was left was to plate the rabbit and pour the gravy over the stew.  Wow, the taste was fit for a king (see Warner Brothers ‘Shish-Ka Bugs’; thanks Lee!).  To my surprise, McKenzie decided to have some.  While she didn’t rave about the flavor, she did finish her bowl.  I’m sure it’s not traditional but next time I’d serve it over brown rice or with a side of mashed potatoes.  All in all, it was a nice experience cooking with my 17 year old son.  Thanks Taylor, for suggesting Hasenpfeffer!

Plated Hasenpfeffer and a glass of home-made Valpolicella

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