Tuesday, July 29, 2008

On the Road Again

More Nothing to Come

Well, I could have something. New favorite Mado came through again (well everything but the farro), but old favorites Semeramis and Margie's failed us. My praise-o-meter that stalled on Marion Street Cheese's danishes needs to get working on the rare and precious heart-shaped baby tomatoes from Catalina Farms at the Oak Park Farmer's Market. I totally screwed up the Eli's thing. Last week was the engaging Stan Schutte. You can hear poultry guy, John Caveny this Thursday. I'm sure I could cook up more, but we leave soon for Wisconsin. I may or may not be able to post more until Friday.

All of these people mentioned in this post will provide good reading while I'm gone. Or see what Bruce's up to on his roof. Will she make you as jealous as she makes me?

The big eat local news around here remains the stellar performance by our cheese team. Whoo-hoo! Me, the team includes at least Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, so I share the boosterism of Indiana fer sure. For the cynics, here's a less chauvinistic report on the competition.

For those following the more personal side of the odyssey, we put away some more food, making it easier to eat local the coming winter. Of course, we buy too much anyways.

Don't wait for me, find a farmer's market close to you. There's only one guide to tell you what's in season now. Believe it or not, you can find local at Jewel these days, but it's a hell of a lot more fun to check up on the engaging [ed. and charismatic] Cassie and her Green Grocer. Find some time also for the marvelously updated and enhanced Marion Street Cheese store.

Talk to ya soon.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Eat Seasonal Food - Summer Squash Recipes

The Raw and the Mushed

At least two of the judges sneered when the Iron Chef-testants recently faced off with summer squash as their secret ingredient (the third judge, Chicago's own Louisa Chu defended the stuff). The detractors claimed no flavor to this overly available summer staple. Me thinks the problem lies not with limited flavor but in a wrong flavor. I've been racking my brain to get a way to describe summer squash flavor. It is not too bitter like say kale or other greens; it lacks the sulfurous limitations of cruciferes, but its taste is often not entirely pleasant, at all. Bland would be better. This bad or what I would call the standard summer squash taste emerges with certain cooking techniques.

The bad rap for summer squash comes, I believe, because the most used technique, or the one so many eaters most know, is the worst. That is the minimally cooked 1979 Nouvelle Cuisine versions found on catered plates across the universe. The summer squash in these incarnations is either lightly steamed or lightly sauteed. Of course a big problem with the yellow squash on the plate of your award's banquet plate is its out-of-season-ness, but the prep never helps. Barely cooked summer squashes in medium sized slabs just taste bad. The bad flavor.

Here are two ways to avoid bad summer squash flavor.

The Raw
When people ask me about my locavorism, they invariable ask, "do you eat bananas." I say yes. My family and I do buy bananas, especially during the long apple only season of eating local. What we do not buy, however, is slabs of tuna or other sea fish, and I miss raw fish, like a pounded seafood carpaccio. My carpaccio choices are further frustrated by the frozen state of all our meat. I found the next best thing (well not really, but it worked nonetheless): summer squash carpaccio. Salting the squash firms it up and gives a texture, with a good imagination, like carpaccio. A simple prep:

Shave several younger summer squash with a mandolin--you must slice thin.
Salt the squash generously and wait about 45 minutes.
Rinse the salt, dry well.
Array the squash on plates, shave (again) a cheese like Parmesan over
Drizzle a good olive oil.

The Mooshed
Do not fear long cooked vegetables. You can almost never go wrong in cooking your veg to death. Unless you are a Southerner or fan of Fergus Henderson you may never have realized that the path to good zucchini flavor comes from cooking time. Long cooking erases the flavors Steingarten detests (even if he does not realize it) and brings out the latent sweetness in the veg.

Slice 1 onion, season, let it sweat for a few minutes in olive oil
Slice you summer squash (or cube if using patty pans) and add, seasoning again
Cook for a few minutes on higher heat, high enough to get the squash going but not high enough to burn the onions.
Add about a cup of water--don't worry if you add too much call it pot likker
A bit of herb, especially basil will be nice here.
Cook to death, about 20 minutes; it won't be a paste but the squash will have broken down a lot.
Before serving adjust the seasoning and add some of the same herb you used earlier in the cooking process.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Eat Local Cheese

We're Number 1

My beloved Cubbies hold on the National League is getting more and more tenuous. Luckily, my local cheese team took home the trophy (again) in the annual American Cheese Society competition (pdf).

This was the year of Sid Cook domination. His Carr Valley Cheese took first and third in the best of show honors. The whole list of winners is dotted with Carr Valley cheeses. Many local cheeses won honors at the 2008 event, but from my casual eye, it seems like the local team did not clean up quite as much as expected. It's like when the US Olympians hit the stage, you expect a certain amount of medals but when you do not see them on top of the swimming or track podiums, you wonder what happened. Now, I do not know all the cheeses entered in the competitions, so I do not necessarily know who "lost". It did surprise me to see less of certain names.

Brunkow Cheeses, with the able assistance of Joe Burns, makes outstanding English farmhouse style cheeses. None of those won awards (although Brunkow did take high honors for their raw milk spread and Brun=uusto baked cheeses). Willi Lehner's BleuMont Dairy's name could be found but once on the list of winners. Is this considered an upset: Trader's Point Creamery Yogurt came in second? Our butters won but one of the several awards. Illinois's goat gal, Leslie Cooperband and her Prairie Fruit Farms one but won too. Another local goat lady, Capriole, also won but one. And my favorite, my favorite of nearby goat cheese woman, Wisconsin's Fantome Farm won but none. Did they compete?

Still, local cheesemakers can be be found through out the winners, even ones not named Carr Valley. Previous stars Uplands Cheese and Leelanau Creamery went head to head, taking second and third in a washed rind category. Brenda Jenson and her sheep did even better, taking several awards for her Hidden Springs Creamery. Where do you really want to see Wisconsin cheeses win, the cheddars right? Hoch Enterprises's Braun Suisse Kase [ed. ever hear of?] aced baby cheddar; Maple Leaf Cheese Co-op got adolescent and another Braun Suisse Kase cheese got the old timer (aged over 4 years). Wisconsin cheddars did not take first places in the adult cheddar (aged between 25 and 48 months) and the more prestigious bandaged cheddar categories. Classic Wisconsin names like Widmar, Roth Kase and Hooks can also be found in this year's awards.

One category that I found, perhaps, a bit surprising, was the Italian hard cheese style. The more commercial orientated BelGioioso Cheese took first and second and the more artsy, certainly more expensive, SarVecchio took third. In related cheese catagories, I see no local cheeses amongst the mozzarellas. I would guess that my guys just don't enter a thing like this. I wonder how the hand made stuff at Caputo's in Melrose Park would stack up against the winners.

At the end of the day, how many people will still associate Midwestern cheeses with orange blocks a step above Velveeta [ed., or even better, shaped like the state of Wisconsin and wrapped in red wax?]. How many shoppers will go looking for a "prestigious" cheese and head straight for the Red Hawk or Cyprus Grove labels? Me, I stick to local because it's my team. Luckily, it means some fine eating too. Eat some local cheese this week in honor of the champions.