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Breaking down a Local, Organic Chicken

26 Sep

Stephanie Backer-Bertsch, NOFA-NY Registration Coordinator, gives us a very real look at her way of celebrating local, organic poultry.  She learned how to butcher a chicken to be able to take full advantage of this well-raised and high-value food.  Note: pictures of raw chicken and meat are part of this post.  They are not bloody or particularly graphic, and show the animal being used in the most celebratory and respectful way possible.  However, we understand not everyone eats meat, and some may choose not to read on.  For those who do eat meat, learning to work with direct-from-farmer meats couldn’t be more in line with the Locavore Challenge.  Thus we present Stephanie’s adventure with the images.

Hello Locavores! In celebration of Locavore month, I decided to document breaking down a whole chicken for you all. I recently took a knife skills class at the New York Wine and Culinary Center in Canandaigua, NY and thought this would be a great opportunity to showcase what I had learned—and see whether or not I was paying attention.

It started with a bird. Not just any bird, mind you, but a gorgeous 4lb local AND organic chicken from Lakestone Family Farm located in Shortsville, NY. My plan was to break the chicken down into 8 pieces. I wasn’t sure yet what I wanted to do with the bird but the goal was to put the entire chicken to use. Since this was my first stint at this I thought it best to find an environment free of feline distraction—my parents’ house! I also secretly hoped my dad would act as a poultry advisor of some sort. The man has handled a chicken or two and is a culinary wizard in my book. Everything was coming together nicely.

Dad and me, blurry but appropriately fashioned for our chicken party.

Dad and me, blurry but appropriately fashioned for our chicken party. 

[Editor’s two cents: remember how the right tools and a special outfit make your locavore cooking adventures a bit more fun? Looks like Stephanie and her dad are on to that technique, too].

It’s important to have a good, sharp knife.  A chef’s knife is all you need, in fact.

Celebrating a beautiful bird!

Pausing in celebration of a beautiful bird!

First, I eyed the gams. I pulled the right drumstick away from the body to stretch the skin taught. There was a line of fat and I followed my knife along that keeping the incision shallow and only cutting through the skin.




Next, I twisted the leg in a downward motion away from the body to pop the ball joint out of the socket. I cut through the exposed joint with my sharp chef’s knife and, voila! I had the leg consisting of the drumstick and thigh! I repeated this on the other side.


Next, I removed the backside of the bird, or the spine, by positioning the chicken vertically with the butt up. I ran the knife through the skin and cartilage between the breasts and the backside of the chicken. Cutting through the ribs proved to be a bit tricky but if you have a good sharp knife and brute strength (which it seems I do), it’s no biggie. In the spirit of not wasting, and thus capitalizing on each way the bird could feed me, I saved the backbone and made a nice stock for some homemade chicken soup down the road.  If I weren’t butchering the bird myself, think of what deliciousness I’d be missing out on!


Splitting the breast was up next. I separated the breasts by cutting through the center and cracking the sternum with my knife. Now I had 4 very handsome cuts before me.  Amid the chicken mess (albeit an organic and local chicken mess) that was now taking over the kitchen and my electronics, I was really enjoying myself!


To separate the chicken and thigh, I found the ball joint and cut through it for two pieces of bird yielding dark meat (my favorite!)


I separated the wings from the breast next. Again, cutting through a joint was involved but I was so in the zone at this point I’m not sure I remember the details! The process became very intuitive as I became more intimate with the chicken’s anatomy.


While I fixated on my butchering process my dad whisked away the chicken’s heart and liver for his breakfast the following day. He also decided we would make Chicken Fricassee featuring all the broken down parts—a favorite of my childhood. Yum! [Try this very locavore-adaptable version of a Chicken Fricassee, if you’re game.]

My dad browning the meat that had been seasoned and lightly dusted with flour!

My dad browning the meat that had been seasoned and lightly dusted with flour!

The final result:


Holy deliciousness!

Holy deliciousness!

In the end, I felt very accomplished to have tackled my chicken butchering goal and very grateful my Locavore challenge resulted in a fantastic meal with my family.


I did it all on my own!

I did it all on my own!

Thanks so much for sharing, Stephanie!  For a few more meat-prep how-to’s, we recommend the following books:

Good Meat by Deborah Krasner

Long Way on a Little and Grassfed Gourmet by Shannon Hayes


Three Ways Recipes Make you a Better Locavore

24 Sep

Can you follow a recipe and still be a locavore? My (blog editor, Rachel’s) answer? Yes.  An even better answer? The right recipe can make your locavore experience better!  Here are three ways I think recipes and locavorism go together.

A recipe is a guide, always, to creating an edible, flavorful food.  Some of us follow that guide more strictly than others, for any number of reasons.  Normally I take the approach of reading recipes and then totally doing whatever I want based on the ingredients I have at hand.  This works really well for me because I have a pantry stocked to the hilt with local staples, plus keep a supply of specialties and exotics.  I’ve been cooking for myself, family and friends for well over a decade, and shopping for ingredients is fun for me.  If I happen upon something that I’ve read about being really great for a particular cuisine or style of dish, or a local version of something I don’t often see (such as apple cider molasses, a recent happy acquisition) I’ll usually bring some of that home with me.  So, I’m already at an advantage (or several) because I make food into a hobby and a lifestyle.  I can’t make that a tip for anyone, but I admit that it helps.

Tip/Technique 1:  Start in the back of the cookbook/at the search function on the food blog.  Search for the ingredient you know you’re about to get from your CSA, or that caught your attention at the farmers’ market, or that you over-bought at the roadside stand.  The fresh foods I have on hand absolutely dictate what I make.  Sometimes I use a recipe all the way through, sometimes not.  If a recipe seems to rely too heavily on something out of season, I won’t make it, but I might see a cooking technique I like for the ingredient I do have.  Over the years, I’ve gotten a sense for which foods swap in and out well.  I’ve also found out what flavor combinations tend to show up together in certain cuisines, or even over all foods (cooking fat+onion+garlic seems to be part of human DNA).  In other words, I’m not going to the grocery store to buy lots of out-of-season components just to make a recipe, but I’ve honed my ability, just by simple reading and research, to have a running list of options of cooking techniques and flavor combinations (so THAT’S what to do with all that oregano…add it to the zucchini!)

TIp/Technique 2:  Baking recipes and fruit desserts can generally be done with local ingredients.  Again, if you have been shopping with a local-foods radar, you may have started making local grain, flour, honey, maple, eggs, dairy and butter part of your pantry.  If you have local cornmeal, you’ve expanded your options, and any seasonal local fruit means you can make a locavore dessert.  I want to share a very local cornbread recipe (pictured a few weeks back).  This is a recipe that’s not seasonal, just reliant on local pantry ingredients.  I need a recipe to make it…the chemistry of baking isn’t improvised; the local ingredients may or may not enhance the flavor, but it’s important to me to use local ingredients because of the positive impact it has on my community and economy.

Evolved cornbread, based off a recipe in Moosewood Restaurant New Classics.

1/4 c/ 2oz/1/2 stick butter
1/4 c. honey
2 eggs
1c/245g plain yogurt or buttermilk
1 c/125g flour
1 c/145g cornmeal
2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda

1. Set the oven to 400 degrees, use a dab of butter (not from the amount above) to grease a 9×9″ or 7×11″ baking dish (or I’ve used my 10-inch cast iron numerous times, with a bottom layer of sauteed onions and peppers).

2. Beat together the butter and honey until uniform and lightly colored.  Add in eggs and beat until uniform.  Add in the yogurt and make it uniform again.  If you’re so inclined, this would be the point to add in up to 3/4 cup of finely chopped or shredded vegetables (try shredded, salted and drained and dried zucchini or cooked onions and peppers or a little amount of finely minced jalapeno peppers).

3. Combine the dry ingredients together, whisk so they’re evenly mixed.

4. Stir the dry ingredients into the wet ones (the butter-honey-egg-yogurt mixture) and mix up until well combined (again, it should look uniform in texture, no flour streaks).  Pour or scrape out into your baking dish and bake 25-35 minutes until golden brown.  Cool a bit before cutting and serving.

Tip/Technique 3: The right recipe should be followed, when it focuses on a local and seasonal ingredient.  The conditions of “the right recipe” are laid out above.  Following a great recipe will make you a better cook, even if you only make the recipe exactly that way one time.  Even though you might know how to combine the ingredients in the dish, even if you don’t think bringing out the measuring devices for such a simple list of ingredients would be necessary, this is your chance to really learn from someone, right off the pages of a cookbook.  And this is how you will learn how to maximize in-season foods to their real, great potential.  That particular ratio of ingredient x to spice y, cooked in that particular order, will make a flavor different.  It’s the physics, chemistry and alchemy of recipes that naturally came into existence–these great recipes were born from co-availability of the best of ingredients, not some random combination of foods from far away places.  A few enhancements make it in, a result of trade and awareness, but a really great recipe highlights that locally-available food in a special way.

This became clear to me a few weeks ago over something called salsa de dedo.  I’d picked up some tomatillos.  I had just a pint, and I knew I wanted to make a sauce.  It just seemed right for the end of summer, and I recalled making a green sauce with pepitas and orange juice from a favorite cookbook.  I really was hoping for something new to try out from my gigantic Latin America cookbook, and maybe not relying on those out-of-location ingredients.  Since a lot of Latin cuisines (but not all, not by a long shot) were born out of a tropical climate, I was thinking I’d be following tip #1 above: just look for the technique to feature the tomatillos.  Then I saw a curious listing under tomatillo, “salsa de dedo,” which translates to “finger sauce.”  Knowing that more than one cuisine has a condiment or snack that is named because you have to lick your fingers after eating it, I thought this could be very interesting to read about.  My curiosity was beyond rewarded when I realized salsa de dedo could be so very locavore.  Tomatillos, dried chiles (I did substitute the type I had dried from last summer for what was called for in the recipe), white onion, garlic, vinegar, cilantro, dried oregano, and tomatoes. Just cumin and salt were non-local at this time of year.  Going back to my previous point, I wouldn’t look at this recipe in february and think I should run to the grocery to buy all the produce (though it is that good).  I’d hope I’d frozen or canned some, but that’s another story.  I really really love this sauce.  This is what tomatoes, tomatillos, onion and cilantro were supposed to do with each other.  With all credit to cookbook author and chef Maricel E. Presilla (her tome Gran Cocina Latina is worth it, even to this vegetarian who must pick up techniques between pork and chicken recipes), here is the gist of her recipe for Salsa de Dedo:

Roast a little over a pound of plum tomatoes (like Romas or sauce-making tomatoes) in a hot, dry skillet, turning occasionally.  I used my broiler because I needed the stovetop space.  Roast until the skin is blistered and the tomatoes are cooked-about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, bring a pound of tomatillos in water to a boil, then simmer for 5 minutes.  Also simmer a few dried hot peppers (she calls for up to 7 dried chile de arbol, but I used 1 dried serrano I knew to be fairly hot in a half recipe) for 10-12 minutes until softened.  Drain the boiled veggies, cool everything while chopping a white onion and 3 cloves of garlic.  Blend/process first until smooth and paste-like: the chiles, the white onion and garlic cloves; then add the roasted tomatoes and tomatillos, 1/4 cup vinegar (local cider vinegar works for me), 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro, 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano (or about 1 teaspoon roughly chopped fresh oregano leaves, which you’re likely to find in your garden, at market, or from a friend), 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.  Blend/process until the veggies are broken down but still chunky (this is why you did the onions and garlic separately, first).  Taste, then lick your fingers.  It’s great on cornbread.

Reach Out: Your #Locavore Friends are Waiting!

8 Sep

As we begin week 2 of the Locavore challenge, we’re thinking of the ways that food brings us together.  Most shared meals have this effect, but consider how eating locally offers the chance to make friendships, build new bonds, and keep your community and environment a place to live well.  Perhaps you don’t count farmers as regular dinner guests (but invite them, they may really appreciate someone cooking for them after a day of harvesting winter squash), but going out to a farmers market, buying their food, then treating it with interest and eating it with appreciation all go into building community with local food.  Imagine if nobody did that–what would happen to the farmer, the farmland, and your surroundings?  Now, imagine a brighter future.  What would happen if everyone who went to the farmers market convinced ONE friend, co-worker, or acquaintance to meet them at the farmers market.  How many more farmers would be supported?  How much more food would be available?  How much stronger would the local economy be?  (If you’re interested in some studies on the impact of small local farms, including how they tend to purchase more of their inputs from local sources, check out studies from the Dyson School of Agriculture Economics and Marketing at Cornell and the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems).

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

local-ingredient cornbread (made with honey and butter, not sugar and oil) and garden-to-table vegetable soup

So, what happened in week one?  We saw a big uptick in blog visitors, some action on Facebook and Twitter.  One Twitter user, Amy Reinink, tweeted us photos her yogurt-in-progress.

She even strained it to make it Greek-style and posted about the challenge on her blog!  Way to go, Amy!

Our summer intern Maddy (you’ll read a post from her in a few weeks) has been working to engage community and bringing them to action through Think Local Geneseo.  Here some reasons those people gave why they’re taking the Locavore Challenge:

“I care about local farmers and their families”

“It tastes better”

“Factory farming is wasteful”

“I trust local produce”

“It makes sense”

See all the great reasons on their Facebook photo album.

Many locavores spent a few days last week sharing in traditional foods and activities of Rosh Hashanah.  They were brought into community through shared symbols, faith and for those who saw the connection, through local food-sharing.  It was indeed possible to have a very sweet Locavore Rosh Hashanah, with local apples and honey representing the sweetness anticipated for the new year.  We loved reading blogger Leah’s latest post at Noshing Confessions.  What inspiration, as usual, on good food and making the most of the seasonal bounty in the context of age-old traditions.

Some of us have families that give us instant community, and we can share the locavore challenge with them.  Sarah Raymond, Membership and Development Coordinator, is going through her first Locavore Challenge with NOFA-NY.  Here’s how her first week went:

“This September, as part of my Locavore Challenge, I plan to bring more dialogue into and emphasis on our food activities as a family.  As the month rolls on, I will help my kids keep their own Locavore journals, full of drawings, photographs, recipes we used together, stickers, stories, and most likely, a few smudged food marks. I think it can turn out to be a nice little family tradition every September. We began this week by going to our local farmer’s market. The kids picked out some peaches and blueberries to savor and share while exploring the market. Sure enough, not long after the first few bites, a group of kids had congregated together, each investigating and sharing each other’s food, with their parent’s approval of course. That’s one of the great things about food, it brings people together. For my kids, I want them to know that sharing healthy food is a way to show others their love and respect for them. In toddler terms, we like to give people healthy foods to eat because we care about them and want them be healthy so they can have fun.”



Others among staff were impressed that a few words spoken to some fairly new friends (“I’m eating local foods as much as possible this month”) had a noticeable impact on those friends’ food-buying habits.  At a recent Labor Day dinner, the hosts were very excited to tell Rachel, Beginning Farmer Coordinator, that the tomatoes were from HER farmer (one she’d pointed out to them upon a chance encounter at the Brighton Farmer’s Market).  Everyone at the party agreed they were some of the meatiest, most delicious tomatoes they’d ever tasted.  True, when someone hears you’re trying to eat mostly local foods this month, you may have to convince them why you think it’s important (it may not be an instant sell).  But if you talk about the challenge in the right way, you can indeed effect change.   More on that later this week! Wednesday’s worksheet will help you come up with a Locavore Sales Pitch, so start thinking about why you are taking the challenge so you can tell others about it.

Let’s end this rumination turning the locavore challenge into a community-builer with some kitchen ideas that take a spin on one of our classic locavore activities.  That activity, appropriate to Grandparent’s Day (today), is to interview a relative about a food tradition.  That’s always a fun one, as some of our past blog posts show.  Decades ago, locavore eating was the only eating, and our grandparents (or great-great-grandparents) might not think of this challenge as anything but normal.  That’s where traditional foods and regional cuisine comes from–what used to be the best things to eat in that place and time.  If you’re low on inspiration from traditions, culture or passed-down recipes, try to make some new ones to repeat.  First think, “What are my local foods?  What’s available (farm-fresh) to cook with today?”  Work backwards to find a recipe that uses that food.  We have plenty of ideas collected on Pinterest.

One more crazy idea (and if you e-mail us a picture, we might just post it here next week) to share with friends and family.  Pick one ingredient.  A fruit or vegetable will be easiest.  Obtain a lot of it (perhaps in various varieties, from different farmers).  Then make a feast out of it.  Don’t just cook one dish with it.  See how many different ways you can play with that one ingredient.  Chances are that next year, whomever you invited to your Broccoli Brunch, your Carrot Circus, your Pepper Potluck Party, your Eggplant Eating Extravaganza, your Tomato Tournament or your Zucchini Zone will want to join in the fun again!  Voila! A Locavore tradition!  Try a variety of dishes, some cold, some hot, some raw, some not, to marvel over that one ingredient’s flavor and texture in all its forms.

lots of kinds of zucchini to test out!

Zucchini "Carpaccio"

raw zucchini salad (Martha Stewart)


grilled zucchini and tomato salad (the kitchn)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

zucchini ricotta galette (smitten kitchen)

ugly and therefore tasty zucchini chips

zucchini parmesan chips (smitten kitchen)

Pickle Recipe

quick zucchini pickle on toast with cheese (101 cookbooks)

zucchini ice cream (flavor of italy)

Local Organic Passover and Easter

24 Mar

Feast days are great days to show your friends and family how simply you can incorporate local, seasonal and organic foods into your routine (and not-so-routine) eating.  If you aren’t so confident, especially in these winter-into-spring days, here’s some inspiration for your Passover and Holy Week gatherings.

Eggs and certain meats play heavily into a lot of these celebrations.  Luckily for you and your farmer, eggs are often available (thanks to the hens) year round, and provide some valuable income for those farmers who don’t have an abundance of vegetable and fruit crops.  For this and plenty of other reasons (note: we can’t verify how scientific the linked studies are, but seem to be well-accepted; we do notice a real taste and quality difference at the table, though), we urge you to buy your eggs from a farmer!  With eggs, you can make food for your suddenly-vegetarian cousin, nephew, whomever.  These dishes help stretch out your food dollar as well.  Try your hand at a frittata, a quiche, a savory bread pudding, or a Spanish tortilla filled with NY cheese, herbs, onion, any spring greens you’re fortunate to find locally-grown, and of course our workhorse, the potato.  And as for the meat (and dairy if you’re using it this holiday), we urge you to research how hormones and pesticides accumulate in animal tissues.  When making something like schmaltz, do you want to be concentrating untold contaminants into this rendered fat?  Besides, that chicken probably cost you a bit more than the supermarket chicken, don’t let the extra bits go to waste, make that schmaltz! The simple recipe for rendered chicken fat (schmaltz) from an NPR article tells you all you need to know.  How proud would you be if your schmaltz was local and organic schmaltz?

Spring means still-chilly weather and a feeling like we need to take a little of the heaviness out of our diet.  Perfect for broth-y spring soups that could care less that the long-stored veggies look a little less pristine and plump these days.  The classic Matzoh ball soup is locavore makeover-ready.  Find as many of the ingredients local and organic, (chicken, garlic, herbs, carrots, perhaps some other veggies too) and you’ve done a great thing without overriding your traditions.  If you’re not tied to a particular holiday soup, work with any local vegetables you can find, add plenty of chopped or crushed herbs for brightness, and you’re mostly there!  Dice up that last butternut squash or bag of potatoes and add them into the soup pot for a dainty treatment of these hefty winter staple vegetables.

Fresh recipes aside, did you preserve anything this summer or fall?  If spring holidays aren’t the right time to open those jars, is there any hope for this world?  Even I, stingy and apocalypse-ready, will be opening some jars preserves and pickles at this time of year, and cooking down the last of the frozen strawberries into something heavenly.

Honey also plays into a lot of our recipes this time of year.  While it’s definitely too cold for any new honey, there’s often a farmer or beekeeper who still has some honey from the last year.  Just like eggs, this is a crucial economic helper for the farmer in this season of transition from storage foods to fresh growth.  Of course, there are plenty of food-safety and -quality issues that would also drive you to find local honey (not to mention eggs and meats).  Can you make your charoset with local apples and honey?  We bet you can!

If you’re more flexible on your celebration dishes, may we suggest:

Carrot and beet salad with honey dressing–more beautiful than easter eggs!

Roasted carrots (instead of baby carrots in the linked recipe, just cut down regular carrots into uniform sticks or spears); find some local butter and herbs to enhance!

Dilled potato gratin (ok, the opposite of the spring broth soup idea, but filling for a crowd!)

Egg bread can use local flour and eggs (I just realized it may seem strange that I’m used to eating a Jewish traditional celebration bread for celebrations during the time of year when my Jewish friends can’t eat flour…sorry guys!)

NY wines!  Don’t forget (if you don’t need Kosher for Passover wine) to drink local if you drink with your celebrations.

Organic Matzoh? Easter chocolate/candy?  Probably can’t get these locally, but you KNOW there are fair-trade, organic options that are mighty tasty, right?  Check a natural foods store for that sort of thing.


Regional, Local and Traditional

22 Sep

Rachel here!  Recently we sent our loyal Locavore Challenge registrants (still time–click here to say, “I’m a Locavore, too!”) a tip of the day that encouraged them to interview friends and family about their food traditions.  While I didn’t do that on the particular day, and I’m late in writing this essay (which is what it’s turned into), I DO think traditional food is so interesting. I’ve written about my grandfather’s insistence on simple but classic food.  He was the one that once, in the manner that a drug pusher might, opened up the fridge and pulled out a mysterious jar of dark goo.  He said it was the darkest maple syrup, the really good stuff.  We kept Aunt Jemima on the table for my grandmother, but some of us dared to spoon (no, SCOOP) some dark, probably-meant-as-cooking-grade syrup onto our own pancakes.  He knew real food.  My dear mother (who reads these posts faithfully, and thinks I write them all–mom, hi, this one IS me) fed her two young athletic vegetarian children lots of pasta with sauce and alternated it with chips and cheese and rice and beans and veggies piled in the middle.  We had to try everything we were given, and I don’t remember refusing veggies except for salad.  Obviously that changed.  I somehow became addicted to veggies and to cooking elaborate food and she patiently (maybe eventually gratefully) stepped aside to let me run the kitchen–messes and delayed dinner times included.  The first week of September I was able to cook many meals for her using Maine-grown produce while we were on vacation there.  We ate lots of corn (still in season up there) and cole slaw and seafood and pies and treats of all sorts.  Not all local ingredients, but strongly rooted in tradition.  Cole slaw, for instance.  It COULD have all been local, and probably started out as a regional food in the Northeast because cabbage is such a champion grower, eggs for mayonnaise could be easily found, and because it’s such a great flavor pair for fish.  I think that’s the point of this post as I set out to write it.

Regional Downeast Maine food–lobster, mussels, cole slaw, corn, cornbread, potato salad. All local-able and in this case, likely it was actually locally sourced down to the veggies.

When thinking about a food that’s tied to a place by people, local ingredients are an obvious choice–a lot to do with convenience, a lot to do with flavor, a lot to do with knowing the farmer, and a lot to do with nothing else being available at a good quality or price, until recent strange product-chain “developments” changed that.  The recipes remain, and it’s up to the cook or chef to find the ingredient–we, as locavores, can seek out the local foods that make those recipes what they used to be!  I remember some fancy NY Italian restaurant getting a lot of press for not importing Italian ingredients.  The chefs put it plainly that REAL Italian food uses mostly what’s local because it tastes the best.  Things like olive oil and particular spices and ingredients were still imported.

That’s why I (and so many of us) love traveling–the first thing I do, often before I even reach my destination, is look for a farm stand or market, regardless of country or county.  (New York, by the way, is a minefield.  My work trips usually end up with a backseat full of produce rolling around.  It’s not that different from my Rochester produce, but I love to find the early crops in the Hudson Valley or the late ones up north.)  To learn about other food traditions when I can’t travel, I spend a LOT of time reading cookbooks as if they were textbooks.  I’m not talking about the cookbooks that don’t seem to feel uncomfortable putting a mid-winter storage crop with a tender summer herb, page after page.  I’m talking about cookbooks that generally call out a country or region of the US, or region of the world, and then use that “regional” descriptor.  We’re in a great age when a lot of these reference materials (cookbooks, if you must) are available to us.  My public library is full of gems.  The best ones have long descriptions of the region’s climate, and recipes that make you nod your head thinking, oh I could get most of those ingredients at one time.  Many recipes seem stupid-simple, but they’re included because that’s the traditional way.  There are nuances in the techniques that tie that list of ingredients to that tradition.  A basket of green peppers, tomatoes, onions and carrots means something to different cooks in different cultures.   A hard thing for me, personally, is to stick to recipes that seem to simple.  To actually measure things.  I know the traditional cooks don’t do that, but clearly someone studied what a grandma or grandpa did and tried to record it for all time, and for a reason…so I try to follow a recipe closely when I’m world-eating.

I happened to be working my way through a Turkish regional cookbook recently.  Turkey must be amping its tourism efforts lately as everyone but me seems to be going there.  When I go, I’ll be ready to find all those interesting ingredients and foods I’ve read about.  Reading this book, I kept nodding my head to the ingredient lists and simple recipes.  Everything seemed to fit with seasons in New York (except lentils, which need a long dry summer that NY just doesn’t guarantee).  I wondered, is Turkey like New York, growing-conditions wise?  I am a plant scientist, after all.  So then I looked up this map of world climates:

Seems like if you eliminate the fact that New York is a “snow” region, we aren’t too far different from the climate around the Black Sea.  While I love to learn about food traditions around the world and sometimes get lucky with a recipe that uses co-seasonal ingredients (I made that term up), I don’t anticipate such an exact match up.  I didn’t realize that this cuisine, regardless of region within the country, would be so vegetable-grain-legume heavy.  I could source and cook these recipes with the greatest of ease!  Turkey, where had you been all my life?  Right there, I suppose, changing your name from Constantinople to Istanbul…but still.  It was cool to find out that the Black Sea region is heavily cornmeal-focused, even down to their standard bread.  Now, as a Pennsylvania girl, I can get behind corn and cornmeal!  Great that we also have several organic NY grain corn (not sweet corn…which also is amazing) growers and millers.  I learned that many of the soups from that region, including those that use now-abundant chard and leafy greens, have this added step of toasting cornmeal in a dry skillet and adding the nutty thickener to the soup right at the end.  I tried this right away-definitely a new trick for my arsenal.  A cool thing about New York is that we have all four seasons.  In winter, we can learn about Russian food traditions and get into beet-y borschts.  In summer, we can use our plates to travel to South America and Asia, with a few spices thrown in, thanks to Marco Polo rules of Locavorism.

United Noshes is a great blog for this sort of experiment, as is Global Table Adventure.  These blogs are starting points and interesting, but I think cookbooks do more thorough work due to the nature of the medium.  Perennial Plate does some very honest and captivating work, and they toured through New York last year!

Honey, you’re so versatile.

18 Sep

Here at NOFA-NY HQ, we’ve discovered the joys of maple and honey in more than traditional oatmeal-sweetening or cookie-enhancing applications.  Last year, Rachel posted a bit about the ways to convert recipes to use just these local sweeteners.  Today, in honor of Rosh Hashana (and all that honey you might have left over from celebrations) and our food of the day (along with maple syrup) being honey, we wanted to pass along our secrets for honey and maple syrup.

First off, use honey (and maple) as more than replacements for sugar–use them as a recipe “wow” factors.  It’s true, honey goes with vegetables.  Stephanie, our Admin Assistant, is known at staff potlucks for her eggplant fritters drizzled with honey.  Rachel, Beginning Farmer Program Coordinator, loves to add some honey into tomato sauces and soups.  The stronger the honey (go for buckwheat or a dark fall flower varietal, with their robust undertones).  Salad dressings and mustardy sandwich spreads are certainly enhanced by lighter honeys.  Honey and pungent herbs are also fantastic teamed up as a root vegetable glaze.  Try this: chop thick chunks of carrots and beets, then add them to enough simmering water to cover the bottom of a saucepan.  Steam/simmer the veggies until about halfway softened, then add in sprigs of thyme, rosemary or sage and a spoon or two of honey.  Stir to dissolve the honey and heat on low for a bit until the water and honey have created a glaze over the vegetables.  Remove the herbs before serving, and dish up hot, room temp or chilled!

Buckwheat, the nectar of which creates some really potent honey, thanks to bees.

Since we can’t totally leave out a maple syrup secret, we’ll remind you of the virtue of a maple-dairy-bitter/salty combination.  Here are two: a maple cafe au lait or salty maple morning cereal.  For the coffee, just add a teaspoon of good local 100% pure maple syrup into a 3/4-full cup of hot coffee, add warmed milk and stir up for a decadent treat.  If you think salted caramel is just fantastic, apply the sweet-salt principle with maple.  Drizzle some syrup over ice cream with a pinch of sea or flake salt.  OR do what Rachel does: add extra salt to your morning hot cereal and stir in some maple syrup and plain yogurt–homemade if you’re into that sort of thing.  For anyone who exercises regularly and doesn’t get enough salt, this is a great way to help with that electrolyte balance.  The salty-sweet creamy porridge seems like dessert, though it’s actually a high-fiber, whole-grain and highly filling breakfast.  The thing to remember with maple syrup is that a little goes a long way–so you may end up consuming fewer grams of sugar for a bigger flavor/sweet payout.

Maple sugaring taps. It’s a long journey from tree to coffee, but there just is no shortcut or substitute for the amber-colored perfection.

Dehydrate some veggies TODAY for winter stews and smiles.

9 Sep

This draft had been saved in our blog queue from last December.  It’s definitely more relevant or useful as inspiration now, when you have the moment to save those summer flavors.  So I’ll finally publish this reminder of how those little touches of preserved foods from the summer (and fall!) can make a big impact long after the Locavore challenge is over.  –Rachel

[December 2011]:  I had been traveling (not abnormal!) and sick (very abnormal!) and was bound and determined to make last Friday’s dinner-with-special-friend something that would take both our minds off the fact that I was a zombie, unfit for human interaction.  I was not contagious any more, but I felt like I’d been in a fight for the past week…in a way I had, just with some strong virus.  Times like this, I know I must do whatever it takes to return to what is the most comforting to me, and that happens to be a simple, nutritious and flavorful meal.  I used some hearty pinto beans from Cayuga Pure Organics for a stew.  Super helpful hint to cooking dry beans, besides the obvious soak-ahead stuff, is to add a piece of kombu or kelp (I really like these guys for sustainability and East Coast location) in the liquid.  In the interest of taking something off the shelf to make use of my stored foods, as I had committed to doing for Dark Days, I broke off a piece of the tomato sauce/stew base that I had dehydrated for this very purpose and added it into the beans as they finished cooking.  I wasn’t sure if there would be any flavor impact, but BAM there it was.  It tasted like August again–I can’t remember what I had put in the veggie puree before dehydrating it, but I could taste the tomato (obviously), herbs, bell pepper and maybe some celery and carrot?  Wow!  Not about to let beans upstage the veggies, I stewed local kale, Haukeri turnip tops and buttercup squash (definitely on my top 3 favorites list of the ugly squashes with pretty names) till they were soft and unctuous.  Leftover fair-trade quinoa from Thanksgiving also showed up at some point (was frozen in the interim), but really at that point my eyes were already popping out–from the flavor awakening, not the zombie virus symptoms.

Note: there are a lot of Youtube videos and resources for dehydrating foods, particularly tomatoes, out there.  I skew away from chefs and people drying tomatoes on a single sheet pan since that’s not really my experience.  The more serious “survivalist” or “homesteading” youtube videos are actually more credible in my opinion, since they’re not talking about a pretty little jar of partially-dried tomatoes in olive oil.  They’re talking year-long storage of many many tomatoes, no risk of spoilage.  So it’s worth looking around.  Extension websites are helpful too, though they’re going to be to the extreme on food safety (and that’s not a bad thing) and may recommend some things like sulfur dioxide for color/”freshness” retention.  I’ve never bothered with that, I just use my hygienic practices and ensure that my foods past the doneness tests, and I’m doing just fine.  The websites of companies selling dehydrators and homesteading gear are a good place to start for tips, even if you’re not interested in the gear.  For example, I found this on the Excalibur dehydrator website:

Liking Salad

5 Sep

No, the Locavore Challenge isn’t a conspiracy to force you or your loved ones to eat vegetables or become a plant-based eater (formerly known as vegetarian or vegan).  However, vegetables and fruits are some of the most dynamic and dramatic local foods, with such obvious peak seasons and a “height of readiness” that is hard to stall (hence we can, dry, freeze and over-consume these when they are abundant and cheap, as Leda Meredith has helpfully reminded us).  And you can get REALLY into these foods and make great salads.  Or you can make terrible salads.  As NOFA-NY’s resident salad addict (um, I have a Tumblr on the topic) I decided I’d quickly run down some of my favorite “corrections” for common salad-averse individuals and the resources that taught me to improve my game with salad.  Tomorrow’s “food of the day” is greens, so of course I wanted to post this a day in advance to get you really craving some vitamin-packed leafy greatness.  HAVE FUN AND EAT YUMMY! –Rachel

My top two authority reference materials for building a salad: The Enchanted Broccoli Forest by Mollie Katzen (see page 36–I’m probably accidentally copying her, word for word, since I used this book so much when learning to cook) and Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison (pp. 134 and up).  I hate to reneg on my earlier point about accidental or subliminal vegetarian indoctrination, but the vegetarians do have the salad-making instructions down pat.  Many vegetarian cookbooks take time to explain these tips in the beginning of their salad chapter.  Or maybe it’s that I just own a whole mess of vegetarian cookbooks and don’t much bother with full-spectrum ones, being a lifelong vegetarian.  In any case, look at the beginning of a salad chapter in any big cookbook, and there are bound to be pointers.

Common issue  #1: “It’s just not fun to eat a salad.”

  • Translation: you’ve got a texture issue and you’re chewing something that makes you feel a little too much like a cow or a rabbit.  Learn the art of the massaged salad.  With tough greens and leaves like kale and cabbage, sprinkle some salt over your shredded/finely chopped leaves and massage it in for a few minutes.  Then leave those leaves (yikes) in a colander or strainer for 20 minutes (chop the rest of your salad), rinse them and drain them and dry them and then add to your marvelous creation.  Update for 2013: kale salad got big this year.  We’ve all learned that you can make this the star of your salad, and I’ll stand by the technique, despite whatever else is out there, that you should finely chop the leaves, massage in salt, pepper, oil and acid components, and let it sit for a while, unless you like a jaw workout. Then continue.
  • For tender greens, lettuce and baby mixes, dress them separately before you add anything else.  Add a tiny amount of oil (sunflower and squash seed are both great dressing options) and salt and pepper and gently mix with your hands, two wooden spoons or salad tongs.  Then splash on some of your finished dressing (this is the ideal extra-fussy step…at least oil and salt separately)
  • With hard vegetables, it’s important to get them broken down a bit by changing their physical structure.  Adding too-large chunks of carrot or cucumber to a nice bowl of lettuce would be like trying to lie on a bed with incorrect sized sheets and odd pillows.  Right elements, wrong sizes and shapes to be effective.  Use a vegetable peeler to make fine ribbons of almost anything: carrots, zucchini (yep, eat it raw when it’s a young one), kohlrabi; invest in a nice shredder (mine cost just $20 and I rarely waste food by creating a mass of raw slaw about once a week and eating through that for my lunches), it makes quick work of cabbage (use the flat blade, not the grater), beets, radishes, anything!
  • Combine the greens and prepared veggies in a ratio that doesn’t weigh down the greens so much.  You might have leftovers (use them in tomorrow’s salad!).
  • Only toss in watery vegetables like tomatoes at the last second, after you’ve dressed and mixed the rest of your salad.  Salt, pepper and dress your tomato wedges or slices separately and then lay them on top your salad.  Whole cherry tomatoes are fine to toss.
  • Cook some of those veggies!  If you+raw____ does not = love, don’t sweat it.  I love to add odds and ends of cooked sweet potatoes, leftover stir-fry and steamed vegetables to my mixtures.  It’s all salad if you ask me.
  • Mix in some non-vegetable matter, plant-based or otherwise for a creamy or crunchy texture.  Tip #3 will give some ideas.

Common issue #2: Strong mustard/earthy/bitter flavor from the raw veggies

  • Beets are a common bitterness culprit here, as are over-ripe cucumbers.  On the earthy/mustardy complaint: that’s your brassica family, namely raw broccoli, cauliflower, full-grown kale and cabbage.  Chopping small, pre-cooking, salting all help out with the strong flavors.
  • Add in something sweet and fresh like thinly-sliced sweet apple, melon or even berries and grapes.  Also, learn the balance of a good salad dressing.
  • My frequent mistakes/corrections: forgetting to add sweet (have you ever added honey to a dressing over bitter vegetables? such a game-changer), needing to brighten up with fresh herbs or citrus juice (but that’s not local! try tomato juice for some acid).
  • Here’s a favorite not-too-simple salad dressing recipe, but if you have a cookbook, you likely have a recipe.  Focus on ingredient ratios and substitute what you have in terms of local oils, acids and herbs/spices.  Nut butter and yogurt can really correct all manner of evils in salad dressing, as would a dab of mustard or a drop of soy sauce.  Don’t forget to add salt and pepper, no matter what you do!

Common issue #3: A salad just doesn’t “do it.”

Ok, add some protein and/or grains.  Here are some awesome favorites you may or may not have in your Locavore pantry:

  • Cooked grains (wheat berries, farro)
  • Corn cut from the cob (and if you’ve never tried extra-fresh corn raw, DO)
  • Cooked beans
  • Leftover meats
  • Tofu–cooked or raw (teach yourself to make baked tofu and never have a boring salad again!)
  • Hard-boiled egg, or leftover omelette or scrambled eggs
  • Shaved hard cheese, shredded or cubed softer cheeses, smears of very soft (like goat) cheese
  • Sprouts
  • Any leftovers, actually.  Next time you roast or grill veggies, try your hardest to keep some to the side for tomorrow’s salad.  A good idea is to further chop these down once cooled.
  • Dried fruit
  • Granola (or home-made granola from local grains)
  • Chopped pickles or other brined/fermented food

Is your salad boring still?  Add chopped herbs: parsley, chives, cilantro, basil, lovage, tarragon, thyme.  Go easy at first, but if you’re blessed to have a bunch of herbs lying around, they can be really fantastic additions.

Yes, salads of this sort take longer to put together, but undressed (i.e. chopped but not salted or oiled/vinegared) vegetables will keep several days, so you can prep once and keep trying different combinations and dressing throughout the week.  Kale salad, minus tender greens, gets better overnight.

Chopped red pepper, raw broccoli, arugula, massaged slaw of cabbage, carrot and beets. Drizzled some squash seed oil and spicy cider vinegar on top, and to complete the meal ate some homemade bread with nut butter and jam.

More salad/raw foods eye candy (no Locavore promises here…but it will get you hungry):

NY Times Health: Summer Salads

Food 52 salad category

101Cookbooks salad category

Splendid Table Salads

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