‘Foster’-ing Community

I was recently invited to enjoy a dinner courtesy of Foster Farms, a chicken company.

I am not much of a chicken eater. When I was sent the information before the event, including the history of the farm it came from and the farmer, I was reminded of this skit from Portlandia:

I was apprehensive of the dinner beforehand, as I am of most any sponsored meal. The idea was to promote how local they are, but as a friend pointed out, McDonald’s also has a campaign about being local.

Still, I arrived at the dinner with an open mind, ready to have my mind blown by chicken–whatever that could involve.

Instead, my mind was blown by the community a chicken company had brought together. In 2008, I wrote in my Thoughts on Eating Locally:

When I say I eat locally, I want it to mean I support my community. Whether this means that my greens are grown in Carnation or it means that I’m supporting the immigrant couple that run the Ethiopian store down the street, I know that my money is staying here in Seattle. Maybe my lentils aren’t grown nearby, but the money I’m paying for them is paying for my neighborhood to remain diverse. Perhaps my bok choy comes from California, but the money I pay for it is going to pay to raise children here in Seattle. I may not know where my mango comes from, but I know that by eating locally that no company in Minnesota or Boston is hording my milk money.

Susan Neel and Which Came FirstFor me, this dinner was full of my community. A community of food lovers, starting with this woman, Susan Neel of McCrea Cellars, who hosted the dinner. A cheerier, friendlier face you rarely did see. She cooked us five courses of chicken–the dessert is shown here: “Which came first?” These are pavlovas with lemon curd, a little trump l’oeil, made to look like an egg. She play the consummate dinner party chef, rushing into the kitchen, making sure everyone was happy and well fed, while her husband kept wine glasses filled.

The meal ended (many hours and glasses of wine later) with a discussion of food, recipes, why we cook. Susan shared with us a treasured recipe from a Vietnamese shopkeeper, which had been scrawled on the back of a piece of a Pall Mall cigarette box. Recipe on Pall Mall box
So at the end of this dinner, where I sat at a table with friends I had spoken to only online, a woman who made me cry the first time I spoke with her, and complete strangers who had invited me in their home, I knew that I wanted to support a company that supported this community.

Yes, I do want to know more about their farms before I tell anyone to rush out and buy their chicken. Yes, I’d like to do a farm tour a la the one Shepherd’s Grain took me on before I say too much in favor of their company and its practices. Yes, I’d rather I know my chicken was named Colin and he had nice friends (watch the clip above if you don’t get this). But they’ve started the process of getting me on board.

Save the Cheese! Help Estrella Family Creamery

There are very few brands I am passionate enough about to devote a blog post to, and even fewer that, upon receiving an email about saving, I will hop out of bed and compose a blog post about at 6:45 in the morning. The cheese from Estrella Family, however, does inspire such things. Estrella Family Creamery makes my favorite cheese(s) in the world.

As many of you know, the FDA is working hard to shut Estrella Family Creamery down and they have been unable to sell their cheese for quite some time. This is tragic, not only because I have to live without the incomparable Caldwell Crik Chevrette, but because it is indicative of what government agencies are attempting to do to great cheese-makers around the country. Washington has already lost too many great cheeses to ridiculous regulations, and I refuse to let the best cheese I’ve ever had go down to government regulations to. So people, I implore you, please help me and help Estrella to SAVE THE CHEESE!

How? Well, funny you should ask. First and most, attend their Small Farms: Saving our National Treasures event on February 26th, from 11-4, in Woodinville. For more info, click here. This is a free event, with raffles and auctions to support the farm, as well as speakers leading a discussion in the hopes to solve the issues plaguing Estrella and so many other farms.

If you aren’t local, I still hope that at some point you’ve been able to taste Estrella’s magical cheese, and if so (or not) and you’d like to help, Donations to aid the Estrella family can be made at Pledgie.com. Donations are not tax-deductible for federal or state tax purposes.

If you’d like more information about Estrella and what has happened with them, see this blog, set up by a friend of theirs.

 

Alterna-Thanksgiving: Peking Turkey

Somehow, somewhere I got the idea that I needed to make a Peking Turkey for Thanksgiving this year. It was extravagant, cross-cultural, a project. It was perfect. Most people just looked at me sideways as I excitedly described my plan. I even found evidence that someone had done it before and was able to use their recipe to guide me. My parents left town for Thanksgiving, and left to my own devices, I took over their kitchen (nicer than mine–and there’s a dishwasher), and created a feast with my friends.

Peking Turkey

Photo by Valentina Vitols

I was also lucky enough to have the amazing Valentina at Thanksgiving dinner, so she is responsible for the incredible photos of the meal. We set the turkey on a bed of sliced radishes and scallions, and sliced it in traditional Peking duck style, with the skin separated from the meat. Coming from a girl not really enthralled by traditional roast turkey, this was my personal favorite preparation of turkey. It took a little bit of work, but not much more than a brined bird–about 20 minutes the day before and two hours plus prep and resting time on the day of.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Photo by Valentina Vitols

This is my sweet potato gnocchi, from an old recipe, sauteed with sage. I’m a sucker for dough-based items, so this was a great alternative to traditional mashed or baked sweet potatoes.

Roast beef roll ups

Photo by Valentina Vitols

K and T brought these super easy and quick appetizers. So easy that since the kitchen was in such heavy use, K was able to prepare these while sitting on the floor with a cookie sheet! Just unroll a sheet of Pilsbury crescent dough, spread with cream cheese, top with a a layer of roast beef and a little arugula. Roll up, slice and bake. Not my usual route, but they were delicious and I could definitely see doing riffs on this with herbs and horseradish for extra zing. They were a huge hit.

Arepitas with avocado sauce

Photo (& food!) by Valentina Vitols

“These would be even better, if only we had a little bacon” Someone said. Perhaps it was R, Valentina’s husband, as she crafted these little arepitas, mini Venezuelan corn pockets. Bacon was procured (We had to add it to butter for the oyster stuffing, if I’m honest). Arepitas were stuffed–Beecher’s cheese curds and bacon–and then consumed. I’m impressed that Valentina managed to snap a photo, but she’s good like that.

It wasn’t a traditional Thanksgiving by any means, but it was a delicious one, with good friends, good wine and great food.

 

The Best Bread: Shepherd’s Grain Flour

Subtitle: In which I go all wheat-geek on you guys

So I went on a wheat farm tour, thanks to Shepherd’s Grain Flour. SG is a local, no-till (more on that later) wheat cooperative, and the tour was awesome. I was geeking out learning all about wheat farming, but I know that as exciting as it was to see in person, it wouldn’t translate well to a blog. Then I tasted the different wheat kernels and was fascinated by all the various flavors that were perceptible and began to compose a post in my head. I was ready to invite the world over to taste these various wheat kernels. Then I baked with the flour.

I’m hoping the sunlight when I took this photo adequately conjures up the sounds of angels singing as the clouds part. I used the flour from Shepherd’s Grain to make the same bread I always make. The same recipe (from Mark Bittman’s ‘How to Cook Everything) that I’ve made so many times I could do it with my eyes closed. The loaf of bread I removed from the oven, though? It was not the same as all those others. Seriously, this was an amazing loaf of bread. This flour, it is great flour. Sure, it could have been the day, the alignment of the moon or any number of other variables, but the obvious one is that this flour was far more amazing than I could have imagined.

Prior to realizing that the flour was going to be so good for baking, I was already excited about it, after learning about the no-till method that the farmers use–essentially a sustainable method that is gentler on the land than conventional methods. I know a lot of the food-nerdy things I found fascinating when hearing about them from the farmers aren’t that interesting on your screen, but I will say that these men were passionate about the wheat they grow and the land that it grows on. One displayed to us the charter his great-grandfather got for the land that he still farms. Another encouraged us to pick up the soil and smell it, then showed us the difference between that and conventional (tilled) soil.  While all of the farmers inherited their land from family and then converted it to no-till, three of the four farmers who spoke to us were going to pass on their farm to someone outside of the family.

Each of the farmers was surprisingly blunt about their use of chemical weed killers, which, to someone long imbued with the ‘organic’ mind set, I found disorienting. The upshot, they said, was this method permits a healthier soil, in terms of long term sustainability, versus tilling and being able to use fewer chemicals.

At one of the four farms that we visited, the farmer spoke to us about four of the varieties of wheat they grow, and we were given a chance to taste the kernels. The soft white, used to make pastry flour was, indeed, soft and white. The hard red winter wheat was, well, harder, and just a little bitter. The dark northern spring wheat, however, was the one that really amazed me. Each kernel I popped into my mouth, like snack food or popcorn was full of flavor, just a little bit nutty, and really quite complex. So it made sense that these flavorful flours made such delicious bread.

Overall the tour was an amazing education experience, touring the farms, drinking local beer (great beer!) from a local brewery in Reardan, WA, eating pizza, muffins and cupcakes made with the flour from farms that we went to, hearing the story of how Shepherd’s Grain convinced a large national wheat mill to separate and isolate these special grains. Thank you to everyone at and involved with Shepherd’s Grain!

If you’re looking to get this flour for yourself, look for Stone-Buhr, they currently package it for consumer retail, but you can find lots of local companies using the flour, including, but not limited to Pink’s, Cupcake Royal and Molly Moon.

Mushroom Festival and a $75 Giveaway Contest–about Mushrooms

The prize for this giveaway is kindly sponsored by the folks at CSN, who run a number of websites where you can find everything a good eater needs from a dining table to cookware. Details about the contest are at the bottom of this post.

Ever since I started mushroom hunting about two years ago, I’ve been inundated with people wanting to know where I go, how I do it. My only answer is to try to explain just how much work it was. Hours of classes, studying, walking around in the damp, drizzly local woods, driving around, hoping that this would be the right spot. I wish I had a better answer. I wish it were like crabbing or razor clamming, where a few dollars and some time will virtually guarantee you at least a modicum of success. Unfortunately, it isn’t. If you averaged out the number of edible mushrooms I’ve gotten over the number of hours I’ve put in to learning how to identify and locate them, you’re looking at about one mushroom every ten hours.

But it is worth it. And I’d never for a second discourage anyone else from trying to learn. Which is why, when I received a press release about a mushroom festival that was a) Cheap–just $20! b) involved some of the best parts of foraging–that would be the eating of warm, delicious, hearty, mushroom based foods upon return and c) involved going to a beautiful part of the state–Lake Quinault, I felt strongly about passing it on. It is October 15-17th, and to spare those who aren’t interested, I’m just going to attach the detailed info here: Mushroom Festival and the full schedule here: Mushroom Agenda. If you’ve ever (and you know who you are) asked me about mushrooms and hunting, this is such a great opportunity.

Finally, what you’ve all been waiting for: the contest. The prize is a $75 gift certificate to any of the CSN sites, which as I mentioned above, cover any number of categories, most notably for me, cookware. If you read my blog, there are a few mushroom recipes: Lobster Mushroom Bisque, Chanterelles with pasta, but I’d love to have more options. So, tell me the most delicious thing you can imagine cooking with foraged mushrooms. I’d love a recipe too, but I can always improvise, I’m just looking for ideas. Leave your idea in the comments here, and be sure to put your email address in–it won’t display, I just need it to contact you. Contest runs through October 18th, so you’ve got ten days!

An Event, A Thought on Cheese, A Product and A Recipe

There is a back log of things I want to post on and I’m just going to let them all go right here, for your enjoyment: a fun event this weekend, murmurs of what is being called a ‘burrata crawl’, a new product I love and the recipe for a dish that I’ve eaten for 4 straight meals.

Farm to Table Food for Thought

The Kitsap public library was kind enough to invite me out for this ‘gourmet picnic’ and I’m actually really excited about it. In addition to talks by a number of local food writers (Molly of Orangette, Shauna aka Gluten-Free Girl and Lorna Yee of Cookbook Chronicles), there will be food provided by Monica Downen of Monica’s Waterfront Bakery and Cafe, local wineries and breweries and Kitsap food chain information. Tickets are $50 from here. We are going to walk onto the Southworth ferry with our little puppy because this is a dog friendly event! Oh, hey, did I mention I got a puppy?

A Thought-a on Burrata

I love burrata and have loved this creamy, delicious cheese since I first tried it at Cowgirl Creamery in San Francisco. I used to bring it back with me, unable to find it here. It has since become available all over the place, though only Delancy serves the brand that I like from California. Metropolitan Market carries some expensive Italian stuff, and it just is not fresh enough. Calf and Kid (which I love!) carries a kind that I find doesn’t mix the outer mozzarella portion with the inner mascarpone part, meaning it seems to have a skin.

In the last few weeks I’ve heard that Lark is making their own burrata and that Marjorie also has burrata on the menu. Where else carries it? I’m hoping to organize a taste test of all of them so I can establish a regular source around here! Leave me any burrata knowledge in the comments.

Korean Pancakes EVERYDAY!

I recently have discovered a product called, fittingly “Korean Pancake mix”. I had to put a picture up so you can see, that is really its only name in English. I got it at Uwajimaya and this stuff is awesome. You just mix with water and it really tastes like the Korean pancakes you get in restaurants. I’ve mixed all kinds of things in: squid, shrimp, chives, chard, kimchi, asparagus, you name it. I love a quick easy meal that can have meat, veg or be adaptable and ready in minutes, I’ve eaten these savory pancakes for breakfast, lunch or dinner. I know this little tidbit is ridiculous, but I’m really excited about the product. I swear they aren’t paying me or giving me product or anything. Seriously, this stuff is good.

Chili Crab Recipe

Speaking of things I’ve eaten for breakfast, lunch and dinner, we caught a full limit each (6 a piece) of red rock crabs on Sunday and I made a crab each into chili crab. We were only able to eat half a crab each because they were so big and rich! I then proceeded to eat leftover chili crab for all three meals yesterday, including as chili crab fried rice (in the wok with rice and egg). I did not get any pictures, but I thought I’d share the recipe in case you have a hankering! Or so I can go back and look after I next go crabbing.

There are no amounts, but it is a very forgiving recipe, so don’t worry about it!

You’ll need:

Garlic
Ginger
Hot peppers of some type (I used dried local cayenne, because it was what I had)
Soy Sauce
Chicken or other stock
Chili black bean paste
Sesame oil
Tapioca flour (or cornstarch if you prefer)

Steam the crabs for about 5 minutes, so they are almost entirely cooked, then break them down: pull off the top, let all the juices and innards run into a bowl. You can save the top for presentation, or throw it away. Pull off the dull grey gills from the body and discard. Cut the body in half and set aside. Do this for however many crabs you have.

Heat a bit of sesame oil in a wok and add the minced garlic and ginger and thinly sliced peppers, letting them get fragrant and release their flavors before adding the chili black bean paste–which you can get at any Asian market. I had a Sichuan kind that had about two tablespoons left in the jar, so I used that much. Another minute or so on the heat and add about half the stock (I used a can, it’s not super important here), bringing it to a slight boil. Add back in both the crabs and the reserved crab liquid and innards. Also add just a dolop of soy sauce–it’s only there for some salt content. Add the rest of the chicken stock, but you only need enough to cover the crabs. Let this simmer for two minutes or so, getting the flavor into the crabs. Sift about a quarter cup of tapioca flour or cornstarch over so the sauce thickens and sticks to the crab, then serve!

A note on tapioca flour: It is very important to sift it in, if you don’t it will congeal and form balls and instead of crab sauce you will have crab bubble tea!

Burning Beast 2010 in Photos and Taste Buds

Burning BeastThe eponymous beast, above, burns. This is your warning for next year–the event sells out and it is awesome. Having attended in 2009 after reading about the awesomeness of the 2008 event, I again had slept through the event selling out. Luckily thanks to a few well placed friends and the kindness of the organizers I was given a pass to this year’s Burning Beast.

Organized by Tamara Murphy, formerly of Brasa, currently of Elliott Bay Cafe and future of Terra Plata, Burning Beast is a fundraiser for arts organization Smoke Farm. That means she some how convinces most of Seattle’s great chefs to spend their precious evening off standing in an open field, cooking in a difficult setting with large hunks of beasts under the hot summer sun.

Let me rephrase that. Burning Beast is your opportunity to taste dishes from all of your favorite chefs from around the city while participating in a party in a giant open field, with a river to swim in and hunks of succulent meat fragrantly cooking over open fire. It is no surprise this thing sells out. Along with Sunset Supper, it is one of the best food events this city has each year.

This fine specimen greeted people as they drove in.

But I think this was the one that caught most people by surprise. I found two of the three moose meat dishes to be average and one to be excellent. I had not, to my knowledge, eaten moose before and I was pleased to have the chance.

Chefs Cameo McRoberts and Lesa Sullivan were hard at work at the vegetable grills, so I wanted to make sure that every knew it wasn’t just meat!

But let’s be honest–as shown by Chef Murphy and her chickens on their ingenious recycled bike parts rotating spit

and as you can see by Chef Seth of Emmer & Rye’s Rabbit stuffed rabbit wrapped in caul fat (assisted by the lovely Robin Leventhal, she of Top Chef fame)

Or Chef Jonathan Sundstrom’s large pieces of cow (later served on bruschetta), one of my favorite bites of the evening, this event was about only one thing:Seriously though, everyone comes out for the delicious food served in the field but the event has a lot of amazing attributes that make it unique. I love that it is affordable–$75 might seem like a lot, but you get to bring your own beverages and spend the entire day there–camp too, if you are so inclined, and you will eat more food than you can imagine. There is live music and of course the show of the burning beast–this year’s had firecrackers coming out its butt! My advice? Act fast when tickets go on sale next year, I’ll see you there.