Wednesday, November 23, 2005

NYTimes Op-Eds Eating Good Food
(Registration Required)

This piece champions the middle-market farmer, too big to serve the farmer's markets, too committed to sell-out to mega-agriculture.

Organic and then some, this piece makes the same point I have made before. It aint just the organic label. The author notes how Big Ag is pinning for organic to include xanthan gum (an artificial thickener), ammonium bicarbonate (a synthetic leavening agent), and ethylene (a chemical to ripen tomatoes and other fruit). She also notes that organic does not equate with pastured/grass fed, which are much better indicators of quality in meat and milk. She leaves out mention of Whole Foods and the absurdity of brandishing a word like "organic" when the products are shipped off-season from New Zealand, Chile and South Africa, let alone trucked in long distances. Still, the writer points out the best bet for getting wholesome, real food, is to know your farmer.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Not the Best Week of Eatin'

Well, I dragged my Chuy's*/Bone Daddy lovin' team to Smoky Mo's one night last week on recommendation of an Austin resident from a foodie forum.

Now, I hate to say this, and perhaps it was just the location we visited (Cedar Park), but, well let me backtrack a second. One day for lunch, we were on our way to Serrano's. One of the team said he'd been to Serrano's before. Better than Chuy's I asked? He said no. I figured anyplace that could not even beat Chuy's was not worth goin' to. And my new standard for Austin Q, can it beat the Hooters of BBQ, Bone Daddy? (See below.) Sadly, Smoky Mo's could not.

I was put off upon entering when I saw there was no pit, only giant Southern Pride electric cookers with a bit of wood added. The wood in the oven did more to flavor the store's aroma than the meats. It showed. No visible smoke ring, no Texas flavor. Moreover, the brisket was tough. The ribs had some porcine flavor but were nothing special. The sauce was oddly bland, even the spicy version. Bone Daddy is objectionable in some (many) ways but at least you taste the pit.

The best meal of the week was a pre-Thanksgiving spread put out by the client. Second bet was Hoover's. I do find Hoovers a flawed restaurant. Some of the stuff was very well done, the smoked ribs, Elgin sausage, pork chops, jalepeno spinach, biscuits, but other stuff, chicken fried steak, mashed potates, green beans, seemed to be missing something. The buttermilk pie was sweet and delicious, the pecan pie flawed by a lack of carmelized crust. Catfish Parlor had some advantages, being inexpensive and highly efficient. I found the fish and shrimp, however, pretty cheap tasting. I did like the all you can eat sides, especially the hominey.

Being far up 183 makes it hard to try a lot of Austin. In addition, I'm on three Q places not opened at time of visit (Kreutz, Ben's and Jim Muellers). I am sure I could eat better given more control. So far, I have not got it.

Chuy's - 11680 Research Blvd (US 183) - Austin
Bone Daddy's - 11617 Research Blvd - Austin
Smoky Mo's - H.E.B. Center - 183 and TX 1431 - Cedar Park
Hoovers - 2002 Manor Road - Austin
Catfish Parlor - 11910 Research Blvd - Austin

*Standard example of why Tex-Mex gets a bad name.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Fall CSA
3rd Week

I was outta town last week, so I have not enjoyed the CSA as much as my family, and certainly not enough to blog about it. Once again, we turn to the the words of Farmer Vicki, bias as she may be (I think you'll get a great idea what your missing!):

Amazing! It is almost Thanksgiving and the first signs of winter are upon us. The winter winds are whipping and the corn stalks are flying across the fields. We lost two of our mini hoop houses over the hot peppers on Sunday and those varieties are now history. Things happen. We still have one up so we can still see how the peppers in that house do. The majority of the crops in the field are doing great, even though they are a bit wind whipped. But crops are strong and can withstand quite a bit. This cool weather is good for many of the fall crops as they get sweeter with the cool weather.

Today I visited a school in Chicago and talked to 1st graders about vegetables. We talked about roots, stems, leaves and fruits - the parts of plants that we eat. I had a Napa Cabbage with me and the last class, enthusiatic about veggies, asked if they could eat it. So, we tore it apart and they tore into it - and loved it. Most of them had never eaten a Napa Cabbage before and were amazed at how tasty it was. How awesome! These kids were so much fun.

Out in the field we are done taking up the irrigation for the winter. It was a smooth process with all the guys working hard. I had the best job - driving the truck while they pulled it up and loaded it into the back. This was our best year yet for field clean up. I really liked it because I did not have to do much of the actual labor. Men are much better at physical lobor than females. They have the body mass and braun to make it seem effortless. How thankful I am to be surrounded by hard working men who are dedicated to their jobs.

This week's share includes: a variety of greens. You may have recieved one of several varieites: chard (colorful stems), purple mustard (dark purple leaves), tatsoi (round rosette of glossy green leaves), boc choi (celerey like stems with broad top leaves). You also will receive a large variety of winter squash of your choosing. I am leaving several varieties for you to choose from. They include: Blue Hubbard (large oblong blue-grey), pink banana (long like a hotdog), cousa (crook neck with green and white stripes), black hubbard (dark green warty oblong with a crook neck), a lumina (white oblong pumpkin like), or a Rouge d etampes (squat round red pumpkin look).
They are large and perfect for a family dinner (Thanksgiving). Each variety has a unique character.
Hubbard, Blue or Black - heavy dense, some what dry, delicious, traditional New England squash
Pink Banana - sweet, tender, moist almost like a sweet potato
Cousa - light peach flash, flavor light, fresh and still squashy
Lumina - heavy dense, yet moist flesh
Rouge d Etampes - Very sweet, dark orange, most and tender.

I suggust cooking them whole for 20-30 minutes until tender enough to cut without the use of a chain saw. Then pull them from the oven, slice in half and scoop out the seeds. Then place back in the oven right side up to finish baking (time depends on the squash) until tender. For Thanksgiving, there are two way I like them best. 1) Fill with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup. Poke them with a fork a few times while cooking to ensure the flavors permeate the squash. I will often add cinnaman and or cloves for fun. Also, a nice addition is an apple, raison and but stuffing. I place these in the squash first before adding the brown sugar and maple syrup and butter. If you have left overs, this is a geat breakfast squash treat. Warm up left overs and sprinkle with granola, or add a dolop of yogurt before the granola. What a great way to start they day. For those who like a more savory dish, try stuffing your squash with a savbory dressing such as a wild rice dressing. Precook the rice and saute together onion and garlic and celery. Mix together with the cooked rice. Add seasonings to taste. I like black pepper and thyme. Stuff the partially cooked squash and place back into the oven to finish baking until tender. Both of these dishes make a beautiful dish placed on the table on a large platter. Leftovers can be frozen for latter reheating.

Another fun way to handle a large squash is to precook and cut out part of the top of the squash so it makes a bowl or turreen. Remove seeds and cut the squash off the "lid." Make a standard custard, add pumpkin pie spices and the squash cut off from the lid. I prefer using the food processor or blender to shred it before adding it to the custard mixture. Pour the mixture into the squash"bowl" and return to oven to bake until the custard is set and the squash is tender. What a beautiful Thanskgiving desert with pizazz! (Be sure to serve the custard with a scoop of the squash from the "bowl" so your guests are able to appreciate the combination of flavors.

If you have leftovers of sqaush, freeze in 1-2 cup containers for use later in a squash soup or for tasty squash muffins. In fact, if you want a real old fashioned fall treat, try squash muffins with pumpkin butter spread while still warm from the oven. (Thanks to Grandma West for the pumpkin butter. All I did was cook down the pumpkins into puree and she did all the rest.)
Your other addition is a bar of my pumpkin Goat Milk Soap. I though it might be fun to have your guests get reved up for all those fall treats by smelling all those fall spices when they tidy up.

The pic is of crops in the greenhouse. They are growing nicely. Hope you have a great Thanksgiving! Farmer Vicki