Thursday, June 12, 2008

Asparagus, Sauce Mimosa

Eat Seasonal Food

The other day, I mentioned that I am an invariant collector of free publications. I am also a collector of herbs. A hobby that costs me a bit more, but not too much more. It's also a hobby that drives me a bit batty. Tomorrow night we have to have beans with dinner because savory is the bean herb. We have savory. We have lovage. Not borage. Lovage's primary claim to fame is it's membership in the 'age family of herbs. Who uses lovage? It looks like a disproportionate stalk of parsley and tastes, as adequately described somewhere on the web, as a cross between celery and anise. You don't miss lovage. In other words, when my wife said to me today, "I used lovage in the asparagus, sauce mimosa." I said, "I know."

Sauce Mimosa

2 hard boiled eggs (we like ours just barely set, about 8 minutes)

Juice of 1 lemon or key lime

1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar

Olive oil

Minced herbs, lovage if you got it

Separate the white from the yolk with the egg. Mince both. Mush the egg yolk in a small bowl with the lemon juice and sherry vinegar, drizzle in some oil to make a thick sauce. Add the chopped egg whites and minced herbs to the bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Spoon over cooked asparagus.

Soon to be Less Obscure Farmer's Markets of Illinois


Today's CTrib, at least my edition, features a nice big picture of my friend Robin "Winter" selling at the inaugural Maywood farmer's market last week. As the accompanying article notes, the market is helping fill the void in fresh produce in Maywood. Robin told me that she was successful in her first market foray, selling cheese, fish, and produce collected by the Illinois based Midwest Organic Food Coop. "They were there to buy", she said.

I had planned on visiting Maywood, but other committments kept me. I am anxious to visit their next market a week from Saturday. The farmtastic Maywood market runs on the first and third Saturdays through October at St. Eulalia Church 1851 S. 9th Avenue, Maywood.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Eat Local Meat

Cutting Instructions for 1/2 Hog

As I have mentioned before, the easiest and best way to ensure the eating of local meat is to purchase it in bulk, as whole, half or quarter animals. This web site can locate you farmers in Illinois for your whole hog, etc. You can find other sites on the Internet for sides of meat from Wisconsin, Michigan and Indiana. Although we have plenty of beef and lamb from our previous forays, we (mostly I) decided to supplement, nay add, with a 1/2 hog from Dennis and Emily Wettstein's organic farm.

A processed cow produces nothing if not a lot of hamburger, and when every last steak, roast, soup bone and bit of offal from our cow is eaten, we will still, have, I believe, hamburger. (Next cow we get, my wife insists we ask for stew meat too.) The lady at Eureka Locker, who is processing our pork, told me that pork is not so wasteful. There is trim, but it has to be used in a tidy way. At least she wanted it tidy. None of this, make a bit of brats, a bit of fresh sausage and the rest as ground pork. Trim needed to be proportioned evenly. Here's how we portioned our trim and divvied up the rest of the 1/2 hog, which is coming in at around 150 lbs:
  • Leg - boned, cured and smoked; after the smoking, they will cut two center ham steaks, leaving us two whole ham roasts. I plan on slicing at least one, maybe both of the ham roasts as lunch meats and re-packaging them in smaller baggies. Organic cure.
  • Hocks (2) - cured and smoked (organic)
  • Shoulder - One larger cut, 8-10 lb for a BBQ pulled pork; the rest of the shoulder cut into 5ish lb roasts
  • Belly - 1/2 cured and smoked (organic), 1/2 left fresh, packaged in one pound cuts
  • Spareribs - 3 or so lbs worth
  • Loin - One larger roast and the rest cut into chops 1.5 inches thick. I had wanted to get the chops cut in range of thicknesses, some thinner. The locker woman originally said she could do that, but as we talked it seemed easier to go with one size fits all. Because I asked for bone-in chops and roast, there is no baby back ribs
  • Offal - The nature of small America lockers does not allow for too much nose-to-tail eating. I am not quite sure all the reasons. We get the heart, liver and kidneys, that's it. See below for a bit of head talk. I wanted the feet for braises and the tail to use for beans or greens. Neither was available to us and forget about home made blood sausage or kishkes.
  • Fat - We have to render the lard ourselves, but we get all the fat, including the kidney fat for leaf lard. It will be cut in 1 lb chunks and packaged in five pound bags.
  • Trim - Italian sausage, bratwurst and packaged ground pork, which my wife did not so much approve she wanted more plain and less seasoned.

No one with a copy of a Fergus Henderson book could want a hog without its head, no? His latest tome, Beyond Nose to Tail Eating, has a stunningly, grossly attractive picture of a braised pig's head. Could I duplicate that? More likely, I am working on a trade with Rob at Mado. Anyways, I mentioned to Emily Wettstein the other day that I wanted the head. The head from a local hog can be had if requested. I requested. She forgot to mention that to the locker. Still, before I could get the least bit distressed, they realized their mistake and realized they were processing another hog next week. I could have that head. I asked the locker if they would split the head for me. They said no. If I wanted a hog head, I was getting a hog head. Smarty.

We pick up our 1/2 hog on July 5, 2008 at the Oak Park Farmer's Market. You know I'll have more to say. This year the Wettstein's will be at the market every week. If you cannot get the whole hog, you can buy your own parts, no head, each Saturday as well as organically raised lamb, chicken, beef and eggs.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Obscure Farmer's Markets of Illinois - An Ongoing Vital Information Feature

Hillside, LaGrange Park

I am an invariant picker-upper of free magazines, handouts, fliers, guides, directories, community newspapers and the what-not, as long as its (mostly) (almost always) free. My wife is forever now a believer in this practice after I grabbed a Jewish community paper once in LA and found an ad:
"To our Jewish Friends, Get 50% off admission to Universal Studios"
Or something like that. This free thing saved us nearly 100 bucks on a family outing. Some kinda local news thing introduced us to Danny's neck bones in Melrose Park and Danny's got us to Abruzzo's, and now we eat at Abruzzo's about once a week, and now my wife is picking stuff up too. The stuff she found yesterday, I cannot even remember what type of organ it was, some West Suburban version of Grit, had an ad for the Hillside Farmer's Market. And since our best attempts on Saturday and Sunday did not yield any strawberries, we decided to make the short trek from Oak Park to Hillside for the market.

Vital Information is here to report back this was not one of our area's better markets. There was one vendor. I actually know this operation, or I have seen it before at other desperate-ish suburban farmer's markets. I'm have not performed a very detailed background investigation, but there is some type enterprise that purports to sell produce from "Southern Illinois". I can recognize them by their signs. They have a range of produce that is not fully seasonal to our area, the stand in Hillside had both tomatoes and jalepenos today amongst other fruits and veg. The quality is such that it has the look of an actual, non-industrial outfit, but not the look of a farmer with a passion like Farmer Vicki of Genesis Growers. If this was not enough to scare me away, the prices were pretty high too. Want more, after all of that, they did not have strawberries either. The only selling point of this market, really, was the chance to buy food outdoors. To be nice, I did buy, a box of sugar snaps and a box of grape tomatoes, together for $5. I will not go back, but if you do want to see for yourself, the web info is here.

My wife and I were market un-sated, let alone bereft of strawberries. I grabbed the Blackberry and whipped to my handy-dandy every day a market guide. I had thought there was a market in LaGrange Park or LaGrange not too far from where we stood, and the Agrihappenings page confirmed--anyone know the qualitative difference between LaGrange and LaGrange Park? I expected a bigger market. LaGrange is an upscale, older community, kinda like Oak Park with a bit less enthusiasm for Obama. I expected a Nichol's. I did not expect a Skibbes. Or just a Skibbes. Still, if it was gonna be one farmer manning one stand, I'm glad it's Mr. Skibbe, one of my go-to guys at the Oak Park Farmer's Market. Truth be told, it was one woman manning one stand for Mr. Skibbe, but she had all of Mr. Skibbe's produce: several types of lettuces, green onions, rhubarb, asparagus and gosh darn yes, strawberries. (For the sake of completeness I will also note that they had clearly marked Kentucky tomatoes.) We purchased two quarts of strawberries.

If I was in need of Michigan fruit, as I happened to be today, and I was in LaGrange Park, as I happened to be today, I would stop by this market--location and other info here. Otherwise, there's a reason these places remain obscure.

Monday, June 09, 2008

How to Keep Your Food For the Week

So, You Wanna Eat Local

So, you wanna eat local. Most likely, your food came over the weekend when most farmer's markets operate, CSA boxes show up and Pollanesque Peapoders like Irv and Shelly's Fresh Picks make their deliveries. For most budding locavores, this will be your only shot at locally grown food for the week. Make it last. Last year, my friend Farmer Vicki of Genesis Grower's let me re-publish her insight into storing fresh vegetables. It's been my most popular post. I've expanded that post for this year--note, this post deals with storing the fruits and vegetables of the general farmer's market season; I will cover winter storage in another post later on this year.

First Things First

The goal is to make your store of food last until at least your next food arrives, to ensure that you have local food to eat all week. To do this, you need a food plan, an eating plan. It's not so much as laying out your menus for the week, but taking heed of which of your foods you need to eat first. Eat first the foods that will not last. Put better, eat the foods that need to be eaten first. These are foods that lose quality soon after harvest, and the quicker you can get them from ground to table, the happier you palate will be.

  • Asparagus
  • Corn
  • Peas in all forms, but especially shelling or English peas
  • Fava or broad beans
  • Strawberries
  • True "new potatoes", recognized by their peeling skins


Will you eat all your food this week? For one thing, let's hope your local-ism extends beyond the farm fresh season; for another thing, many CSA boxes are meant to give more produce than you can eat during the week, with the idea that you will store. I'm not gonna make a treatise now on food preservation. In the short term, remember that freezing is generally easy. Fruits can be frozen with no processing; vegetables need a short blanch before freezing. Also, coincidentally or not, the foods that need to be eaten then fastest are also the foods that freeze the best.

The Burden of Local

Get it and forget it is not the mantra of the localvore. Stuff must be done to a lot of local food after its purchase to ensure its vigor for the week. DO remove all leafy tops from root vegetables: carrots, radishes, turnips, beets, kohlrabi; DO NOT wash other fruits and vegetables if possible. Dirtier food will generally stay better. If you cannot produce your meals Rachael Ray style, you will at least be rewarded with better tasting food.

In or Out

Most but not all of your local food will go in your fridge. Do not refrigerator the following foods

  • Keeper onions a/k/a dry onions - Before storage, make sure that the onions are dry. Often in CSA boxes, the onions get wet inter-mingling with the other produce. If I find damp onions, I keep them on some old newspaper for a bit. Store these in as a cool and dry a spot as you can.
  • All potatoes except true new potatoes - Like onions, make sure the potatoes are dry before storage. Potatoes stay best in the dark as well as the cool.
  • Peaches and their variants such as nectarines*
  • Plums*
  • Apricots*
  • Winter squash
  • Tomatoes !!
*Put these in the fridge if they appear to be getting too ripe/mature

Berries including strawberries and cherries stay best in the refrigerator but taste best if served at room temperature.

Do refrigerate the following foods:

  • Spring onions, scallions, knob onions and the like
  • Sweet onions/summer onions - These are onions characterized by a flimsy and moist skin; these types of onions are often also sold with their stems attached.
  • New potatoes
  • Green garlic and other fresh garlics

Battle Your Fridge

Cold storage makes it possible for your food to last all week. Cold storage can also ruin your supply of local food. Here's a couple of tips to best use your fridge.

  • Bag your food - Little local food comes pre-bagged, and the smart market shopper refuses any bags from their vendors. Still, just because you got the food that way, does not mean you have to keep it that way. If you can put the food in your refrigerator's designated vegetable bins, it will generally be safe. For foods not in the bins, in my experience, the harshness of the refrigerator can be mitigated by keeping your food in bags or containers. For many items like root vegetables, the bags can be sealed to provide a bit of necessary moisture.
  • Hydrate your food - Space permitting, some foods benefit from being kept in water (standing in water, not submerged). These include asparagus, watercress and all herbs.
  • Know your cold zones. In most refrigerators, the top shelf will be the coldest, and the coldest part of the top shelf will be the back corner. Only put foods up there that can withstand the chill, maybe even some frost.

Eat Well, Eat Local

My parting thought is that regardless of how well you tend for you food, the great thing about local food is that it will last much longer than conventional food. My family's experience is that produce will stay viable and taste great for much longer than predicted in your typical cook book or produce guide. This is obviously, because food is arriving at the Bungalow so much sooner than it would arrive at most people's houses.