Tuesday, December 23, 2008

This just in from the LocalHarvest.org folks. Sign up to get their e-mails and to help the cause

LocalHarvest.org
Local Harvest Newsletter, December 23, 2008
Welcome back to the Local Harvest newsletter.
It's nearly Christmas, but instead of sugar plums, I have numbers dancing in my head. Membership and site traffic numbers, year-end and pricing survey numbers. I'm a words-over-formulas kind of girl, so believe me, this is a rare day. Still, these are interesting statistics. Some we feel proud of, some we are humbled by.
Here's a few that please us: LocalHarvest welcomed 3,675 new member listings so far in 2008. That's ten new members every day! Of these, 2,583 were farmers, 590 were farmers markets, and the remainder were restaurants, co-ops, and the like. The LocalHarvest database now offers information on nearly 18,000 farms and farmers markets (etc.) nationwide. As always, our marketing budget for 2008 was exactly $0, so we have all of you to thank for helping us spread the word about LocalHarvest. Mil gracias!
Over 3.8 million people found local food with LocalHarvest's help this year, a million more than in 2007. Our monthly newsletter goes out to 54,000 people like yourself, and 75,000 people get our weekly Keep Me Posted updates. Over 16,200 people bought products through our catalog this year. Numbers on two new LH projects look like this: to date, 831 farmers have Ark of Taste products to their LocalHarvest listings since we launched our partnership with Slow Food in April. In the last two months, nearly 300 farms have started blogging with us, posting stories about life on the farm, recipes, photos, and videos.
We had really hoped to give you the results of our first LocalHarvest pricing project: "How Does Local Compare?" but, unfortunately, we don't have those numbers yet. This is the 'humbling' part I mentioned up top. It turns out that crunching the data in a meaningful way is an exceptionally complex proposition. We've been at it on and off for a week and are still slogging through the fine points. I promise we will keep at it, and I will have the results for you in our January newsletter.
As we approach the end of 2008 we would like to thank all of you for supporting your local farmers and LocalHarvest. In these uncertain economic times, it feels particularly important to spend our food dollars on fresh, nutritious food grown by people whose chosen work is to feed our communities. Real food for the people!
As always, take good care, and eat well.
See you in '09,
Erin BarnettDirector, LocalHarvest
From the LocalHarvest Store:

Hopefully you've finished your holiday shopping, wrapped everything, and delivered all the packages that needed to go somewhere. Should you have one or two people left on your list, though, you might want to consider a LocalHarvest gift certificate. Available in any amount, and applicable to any of our catalog's 5,576 farm products.
Your loved one might very well choose some citrus. Matter of fact, you might yourself. Plenty of other people are, every day. And every day our friendly citrus growers are picking more. We've got all kinds - grapefruit, tangerines, oranges, Meyer lemons and Bearss limes.
FoodDemocracyNow.org

If you would like to encourage President-elect Obama to choose sustainably minded Under Secretaries in the new USDA, please sign their grassroots petition. This one is time sensitive, so act now!
Wonderful Winter Squash

With holiday goodies laid out everywhere you go, nutrition may not be foremost on your mind this time of year. But let's take a few minutes to think about feeding our bodies well, even over the holidays. Luckily, winter squash is in season. It IS a most wonderful time of year! Winter squash is a nutrient dense food with many health benefits. In this short article, I'll focus on its protective effect against cancer.(Read on...)
Recipe Corner: Risotto with Butternut Squash and Sage By Lorna Sass

During New York winters, I count on the bright orange flesh of butternut squash to cheer me up. I make lots of squash soups-either curried or flecked with fresh herbs-and I pull out my trusty pressure cooker to make a winter squash risotto. (Recipes and More...)
You can unsubscribe from this monthly newsletter from LocalHarvest here.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The following article from the New York Times should be of interest. Alice Waters and others speak out on examples that the First Family and the White House can set regarding sustainability agriculture and healthy cooking. To read the article click this link:
Alice Waters and Obama’s ‘Kitchen’ Cabinet - Well Blog - NYTimes.com

Monday, December 08, 2008




















My minister's sermon last Sunday focused on finding our inner Divine child and he mentioned the sense of wonder that our earliest memories of Christmas conjure up.

For me the smell and glow of a Christmas tree early on Christmas morning is a heavenly image without equal.

As readers of this blog already know, I like to buy from local agricultural producers. The products are fresher, I invest my money locally by buying locally, the energy costs of delivering the product are substantially lower, and often the cost to me is competitive and/or cheaper. I like that.

With all that in mind, I can not bear to pay some corporate giant for a Christmas tree that has been trucked in across several states (at least) and has had plenty of time to dry out. Whether here in Florida or near my wife's hometown in western New York state, we like to go to a Christmas tree farm and cut our own.

This is where Bill Dubois comes in. Bill and his wife own a you-cut Christmas tree farm west of Gainesville. They sell sand pines (our preference), red cedars, Leland Cypress, and a few Carolina Sapphires. They also have potted trees for those who want to replant their tree after Christmas. Bill's operation is a sustainable farming operation and new trees are planted each year to replace those that are harvested.

Directions: Farm located at 7818 NW SR45, High Springs, FL 32643, west of Gainesville at intersection of SR 41/27 and CR 232, midway between Newberry and High Springs.
Our suggested route is to take Millhopper Road (Rte. 232) west to Rte. 241. Turn north on 241 and go a mile or so. Turn left onto 232 and follow it to the intersection with Hwy. 41/27. Bill Dubois's farm is on the northwest corner of the intersection. This route is one of the most beautiful roads in north Florida and I highly recommend you follow my directions to Bill's farm.

One note, be sure to put your tree in water immediately on getting home so that the fresh cut will allow transfer of water from your bucket or tree stand. Otherwise, the sap will coagulate and you will need to trim the bottom again to hydrate your tree.
Open:The day after Thanksgiving to December 24, daily, 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 352-628-5383.










Saturday, November 29, 2008

Gift Recommendations for Christmas: Seasonal Florida - A Taste of Life in North Florida

If I were going to pick a single cook book about North Florida cooking to recommend as a Christmas present to a discerning loved one, Seasonal Florida would be my hands-down first choice.

The cook book's encapsulates the collective culinary gems of five generations of a northeast Florida family residing in Duval and St. Johns counties. The book had its genesis when the book's author, Jo Manning, and her five sisters purchased the Stuart Knox Gillis Home in DeFuniak Springs. The house, built in 1901, had essentially been vacant for years and the family bought it in 1989 with an eye towards ultimately restoring it as a bed and breakfast.

As many other people learn quickly when such dreams run into the wall of reality, the costs and difficulties of restoration were way too costly and overwhelming for them to continue without finding ways ease the financial crunch of their dream restoration. This cookbook was one of their fundraising tools for their bed and breakfast-to-be.

Northeast Florida cuisine has a number of excellent cookbooks, most of them focusing on St. Johns county and St. Augustine in particular. Seasonal Florida stretches further in-land than the others and better encapsulates the community recipes that make up a long revered cuisine valued by generations of Floridians. Local families, many of whom can trace their ancestry to early settlers, quietly point to this book as the one to own if you love the culture and food of the is part of Florida.

The book touches on the many recipes that have been honed by area residents who have benefited from the bountious truck farms inland from St. Augustine in towns like Hastings, Spuds, etc. Nearly every part of the culinary lore is explored and the fundemental and best recipes for those areas are included here.

From Perlo (their spelling) to fried shrimp, to grits, to many area vegetable recipes, to Minorcan Clam Chowder, they have all the angles covered. The recipe for datil pepper sauce (made from a pepper said to grow only in St. Johns county) is worth the price of admission. "Bottled Hell" is a must-make for any self respecting Floridian.

Local restaurant favorites are also included including Gypsy Chicken from the famous Gypsy Cab Company along with their recipe for Tamari Salad.

This cook book is not easy to find and I bought my copy at my local libary's semi-annual book sale. I have supplied a link for it in My Favorites section on the left side of this blog . If you love northeast Florida and its cuisine, you simply must own this book.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cranberry-Orange Sauce: try this for a sure hit on Thanksgiving

In the mid-90's, my friend, Gail Carr, prepared Cranberry-Orange Sauce at an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner at the Carr farm in Micanopy. Frankly, it stopped me in my tracks and I have prepared it for every Thanksgiving since then to consistent applause. If you do not try this dish, you will "need to have your head examined." This recipe is abundantly easy.


CRANBERRY-ORANGE SAUCE

Ingredients:

1 large orange or 2 tangerines
1 bag of cranberries, 12 oz.
1 package of frozen raspberries in syrup [NOTE: I have been having trouble getting the raspberries in syrup. They were once common, but in Gainesville, now impossible to locate. I suggest you consider using 3/4 cup of sugar or maybe even 1 cup.]
1/2 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons, fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons, orange flavored liquer such as Triple Sec

1. From the citrus fruit, zest 1 teaspoon of peel and squeeze 1/2 cup of juice

2. In saucepan, heat all ingredients (except the liqueur) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook uncovered until most of the cranberries pop and the mixture thickens slightly. Stir as needed.

3. Remove the saucepan from heat and stir in the liqueur.

4. Stir into serving bowl and refrigerate for three hours before serving.

Friday, October 31, 2008

CLEMSON BLUE CHEESE: MEASURED BY EYE, CUT BY HAND


Somewhere in my reading, I came across mention of Clemson Blue Cheese, a artisanal blue cheese manufactured by Clemson University students and professors. I made a mental note to procure some when stopping to visit my friends Carol and Paul in Walhalla, SC. This September, I was finally successful in bringing some home in a cooler and was pleasantly surprised in the taste and quality of the cheese.


For me, blue cheese is tasty but a bit on the sharp, salty, and bitter side for me to have often. Clemson Blue Cheese, on the other hand, is smooth as silk, tangy and is the obverse of most blue cheeses that have left me less than satisfied.


In the early 40's, an imaginative agriculture professor at Clemson came up with an idea to use a railroad tunnel under Stumphouse Mountain to cure cheese. The tunnel had been started and stopped before the Civil War as a means of connecting Charleston ports with the markets of the mid-West. The tunnel, naturally moist from infusions of warm surface air into the cool confines of the tunnel was ideal for curing blue cheese.


Agricultural researchers began small-lot manufacture to experiment with the concept of using milk from Brown Swiss and Holstein Clemson dairy herds to produce and cure blue cheese. Later, after their techniques were perfected, all manufacture was done on campus and curing was moved on-campus into air-conditioned rooms that mimiced the cool, moist air of the tunnel.


This "roquefort-style" blue cheese is tangy and smooth and an absolute delight. It is produced in 288 gallon vats making batches of 240 pounds each which are then salted, waxed and aged for over 6 months. The cheese is then "measured by eye and cut by hand" so that each wheel will vary slightly in weight and size. Because it is an artisanal cheese made in small batches, each lot of cheese may vary slightly in color and taste.


I highly recommend that you try this cheese. Their production is understandably limited so the availability in that part of South Carolina will vary, but Clemson Blue Cheese can be found served on campus and in a number of local restaurants. The cheese is also available on-line at http://www.clemsonbluecheese.com/. It is not cheap, but it is hand-made, hand-cut, and delicious to anyone's palatte. Order some. You won't regret it.


Bon appetit, ya'll.


Wednesday, October 08, 2008

ARTICLE IN TODAY'S NEW YORK TIMES ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF LOCAL FARMER COOPERATION AND PRODUCTS IN SMALL RURAL AREA

Am very busy with local and national political campaigning in my area. I will be brief.

I thought you all might be interested in the following article from today's New York Times on local development of agriculture products in a small Vermont community. As energy prices rise, pocketbooks shrink, and need for healthy foods is maintained, I think these activities should be expanded around our country. Many lessons can be learned from these innovative Vermonters.

I intend to urge my own local political party organization to play a greater role in advocating sustainable local agriculture that is low or pesticide free. Advocacy for these types of business activities is something that both political parties should encourage and foster.

Give it a read and think it over.

Uniting Around Food to Save an Ailing Town - NYTimes.com

Friday, September 26, 2008

Roll Tide Cheese Grits Casserole

Carol, a superb cook and friend of family in Tuscaloosa (Roll Tide), Alabama, shared her recipe for a cheese grits casserole with me several years ago. I loved it then and filed it away in our "keeper" file. A lock box might have been more appropriate. I returned to it recently when feeding some 20-something types in town doing volunteer work and it worked like a charm. Keep this one as an ace-in-the-hole recipe.

Along with this cheese grits casserole I served my take on smoked brisket that I had smoked and slow cooked for over 14 hours. More on that later.

Carol's recipe calls for white 'quick grits' which produces a remarkable result. I am known to break the rules on occasion, however, and I call for yellow stone-ground grits instead. The food science literature agrees that: the less you do to a grain, the higher the fiber content and attendant health benefits. I try to take the healthy route, but I must say that it also tastes better and has more texture. Plus, I like yellow.

Parts of this recipe will raise a "tsk,tsk" from some of my foodie friends. My advice is to relax, follow the recipe and enjoy some good old Southern comfort food that will melt in your mouth.

ROLL TIDE CHEESE GRITS CASSEROLE

Put 4 cups of water on to boil. Liberally salt it with a three finger pinch and a half of salt. Throw in a hit of cajun seasoning. After it comes to a boil, gradually stir in 1 cup of yellow stone-grond grits. Cook according to package directions stirring occasionally to stop clumping. When grits lose their soupy quality and begin to coalesce add the following:

1/2 stick of butter or margarine (trans-fat free)
3/4 cup of sharp cheddar, broken into pieces
1/2 of 1-pound package of Velveeta (you may use the fat reduced version), in chunks

Add 1/2 cup of milk and 2 eggs, separately (not mixed together)

Cook until the grits thicken.

Pour into an 8 x 8 casserole dish and cook in a pre-heated oven at 325 degrees until the surface becomes golden to early brown. Remove and let it sit for five minutes. Serve with Crystal Hot Sauce.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

RUBY'S RESTAURANT IS THE GEM OF GAINESVILLE RESTAURANTS



























Ruby's Restaurant located at 308 NW 5th Avenue (378-0490)is flat out my favorite restaurant in Gainesville and I recommend that you rush over and support this local business. I guarantee you will love their food. The first time I visited Ruby's I felt like Columbus when he first eyeballed the New World through his hand telescope. I was on to something very important. I felt like I had struck gold.

Once in a very, very rare while, I taste a dish in a restaurant that is so good on return visits I am incapable of ordering anything else on the menu. That experience has happened not once, not twice, but three times at Ruby's. Three of Ruby's signature dishes (there are more I have not tried yet) are Dirty Rice w/ Shrimp, Blueberry De-Lite, and their Gator Burgers. "Mercy," and a shake of the head is always my reaction after the first bite of each.

The Dirty Rice with Shrimp is a Louisiana inspired plate of rice and meat with beautiful seared and seasoned shrimp on top. I may never get past this dish when presented the menu. It is tasty and no one else in town has undertaken it. I will go back again and again for this spicy rice dish.

I am not really a dessert person but a taste of the Blueberry De-Lite is as fine a dessert as there is on the planet. New Orleans' Commander's Palace's bread souffle with whisky sauce has a challenger. The De-Lite has a crunch crust on the bottom with layers of pudding, cream cheese, blueberries, whipped cream and nuts. I try not to lead you into sin, but dive in on this one.

The Gator Burger is a show stopper. I was expecting your basic good small restaurant burger. Instead I saw them put the one pound patty on the grill. It looked like a frisbee. The burger came out perfectly cooked on Texas toast. I immediately knew that it was beyond my capacity so I cut it in half and saved the other half for a buddy at the office who loves fine burgers. I can not even imagine what the Double Gator Burger must look like.

Ruby's is owned by Ruby and Johnny Moore. Both come from families of fine cooks. If I were to label Ruby's, I would call it progressive home cooking. The Moores have put together a menu that pulls from African-American cooking traditions (the motherlode of Southern foodways) and takes that cuisine to the next level with unique twists and turns that make their dishes always tasty and often intriguing. Imagination and love are clearly at work at Ruby's. Their son, Johnny Jr., works in the restaurant and charms each customer with his enthusiasm for his parent's cooking. Give Ruby's a try. You will not be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Democratic Convention delegate's video blog

A friend of mine, Susan Bottcher, is a delegate to the Democratic Convention and, after persistent pestering from yours truly and others, has initiated a video blog that she will update daily from the convention. The following link should take you to Susan's blog that will serve to interpret the happenings in Denver:
http://bucknakedpolitics.typepad.com/buck_naked_politics/2008/08/conventional-ex.html

Saturday, August 16, 2008

PURE HOMEMADE SIN PASSES 2000 HITS

I want to thank my readers and hope that you will bring some more into the fold. I have a number of ideas in the works for this blog and, after campaign season ends, will be posting at a faster clip than my current weekly renderings.

Thanks again.


Jim

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Publix: buy more produce locally


My local supermarket around the corner from my house, Publix, is a fine grocery chain with a fatal flaw.

Publix buys very little local produce and other perishable products and, more often than not, ships all these goods to my store in Gainesville, Florida from points in the US as far away as California. As I have mentioned before, I am amazed to regularly see California produce in my Publix that was shipped across country at enormous expense in fuel and to my modest financial resources.

Seeing California citrus in my Publix's produce section during prime Florida citrus season really sets me off. It is an astonishing waste of fuel and an insult to Floridians by a homegrown, Florida-based company. It is not enough for Publix to be a homegrown Florida company. they need to buy locally too.

The August 6, 2008 edition of the New York Times has an article entitled, Supermarket Chains Narrow Their Sights by Marian Burros (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/06/dining/06local.html?pagewanted=2&_r=1&ref=dining. I highly recommend Burros' article and hope that higher ups at Publix will take heed to the message that Burros delivers.

Ms.Burros writes about national and regional chains that are waking up to the benefits of buying closer to home to reduce fuel consumption, provide a fresher product, support local farmers, and meet the rising demand from consumers for locally produced agricultural goods.

Grocery chains like New York state's Wegman's (the finest grocery store in the USA in my book, www.wegmans.com) have developed long-term relations with New York and regional farmers to provide produce that, in their stores, takes my breath away with freshness and variety. According to Burros, Wal-Mart (of all chains) has decided to spend $400 million dollars to provide more local produce in their many stores across the country.

Both of these food sellers have opted out of the insane cycle of shipping produce across country on a chronically regular basis. Burros points out that "in some cases, the cost of freight is more than the cost of the goods themselves."

I buy from local farmers via farmers'markets and a superb Gainesville owned grocery, Wards. Wards is committed to providing fresh goods sold to them by companies and farmers who share a similar zip code to Gainesville.

I urge Publix to go with the flow and change its wasteful habit. Publix needs to rise to the standard of New York's Wegman's or Gainesville's Ward's. Publix is too fine of a chain to allow this business flaw to continue.

I am a regular Publix shopper, but folks at Publix can do better. I hope and trust that they will. Publix: Be a better neighbor to Floridians and we will reward you for it.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

New Steve Cropper/Felix Cavaliere album cooks big-time

I highly recommend the new album, Nudge It Up a Notch, by Steve Cropper and Felix Cavaliere. Cropper, of course, is the guitarist for Booker T and the MG's and co-author of many hits including Midnight Hour and Knock On Wood. Cavaliere was the lead singer and monster writer for the Rascals, one of my favorite bands of all-time.

Needless to say, these guys have mega-watt credentials and this collaboration is very satisfying. The production is a live-in-the-studio feel with a fabulous rhythm section and back up vocalists. Almost like Al Green's band meets Booker T and the Rascals. Gas up the Olds (better yet, take the bus or ride your bike) and buy this one.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New York Times article, "The Return of the Lost Tomato," is a must-read

The New York Times on Wednesday has a separate section, Dining Out, that is a must-read for any follower of food. Today's issue touched on a subject dear to my heart, New Jersey tomatoes. I grew up in the summers on the Jersey shore in Ocean City, NJ and came to love the tomatoes grown in that area.

Today's article (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/23/dining/23toma.html?_r=1&ref=dining&oref=slogin) by Julia Moskin is a feast to a tomato lover's eyes and I highly recommend you read it. The article deals with a hybrid developed at Rutgers, the Ramapo, that had nearly disappeared but is being returned to use there.

The article reinforces what I have been writing about in this blog about the benefits of growing produce locally. The writer points out that tomatoes in recent decades have been bred for shipping with "thick skins and tough walls." Mr. Gary Ibsen of California when interviewed by the writer stated that "...now that shipping is so expensive, I think everything is going to change again. You're going to see a lot more local tomatoes everywhere."

The article points out that it costs $10,000 to ship tomatoes across country. Can you imagine what it costs to ship citrus from California to Florida? Are you listening Publix?

For the record, New Jersey needs to know there is competition out there. Anyone who has tasted an Alabama Sand Mountain tomato has had their own occasion to taste divinity in the same league with Jersey tomatoes.

I recommend you read the New York Times every Wednesday. The Dining Out section is a treasure.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Alachua County Farmers' Market Busy This Morning

video

With increased awareness to buying locally, our farmers' markets are busy, busy, busy. The farmers' market up by the Highway Patrol station was just that. This morning, I arrived about 10:45 and the parking lot was full and vendor's supplies were beginning to run thin. One vendor had been selling greens, but was sold out. I saw lots of tomatoes, okra, local eggplant, acorn squash, butternut squash, and ample offerings of plants. The opportunities to buy low priced, high quality produce are many.

Certainly, buying locally allows the consumer to purchase a fresher product with less energy being expended it to bring it to the customer. A paraphrasing of a line from John Hartford's music says it well. "It's good for the country, good for the nation, ain't nothing like that sweet sensation"... of buying home-grown Florida produce.

To magnify why buying locally is a smart way to shop, take a look at products sold in the produce sections of many conventional grocery chains. Try to get a sense of how far those items were shipped before it reached your hands. You will be shocked particularly when there are ample supplies closer to the store that would put money into the local economy, use less energy to deliver to the customer, and be of higher quality and taste.

My pet peeve is when Publix ships California citrus across the country to sell in Florida, a leading citrus producer. Give me a break.........

Sunday, July 06, 2008

RECIPE: WALHALLA PIMENTO CHEESE

WALHALLA SC PIMENTO CHEESE

My friend, Paul, is an aficionado of Southern cooking and resides with his wife, Carol, in Walhalla, SC. When the county decided to place road signs on the driveway roads abutting the county's paved road, they were asked to submit their choice of a name for their drive. Paul's nomination was Psycho Path, but his choice was vetoed by Carol.

A renaissance man, Paul’s recipe for pimento cheese is a sure thing if you are planning on feeding Yankee guests who need remedial guidance in the ways of Southern cooking.

Soon after Paul and Carol sent the recipe, they prepared for a “pig pickin’” to honor 5 retiring Home Extension agents. The party menu included barbecue pork, slaw, beans, hand cranked ice cream, watermelon, and cantaloupe with pimento cheese sandwiches as appetizers. Paul wrote that “This will be a knowledgeable crowd, but we won’t lose any sleep worrying that the pimento cheese won’t stand up to close scrutiny.”

I bet.

Ingredients:

2 parts sharp yellow cheddar
1 part sharp white cheddar
drained pimentos, chopped
mayonnaise, Duke’s or Hellman’s
freshly ground black pepper, coarse


Preparation:

In his note to me with this recipe, he wrote the following instructions:

“If the cheese is well-chilled, a food processor will do a good job of grating the cheese. Turn the cheese into a large bowl and add the chopped pimentos. The size of the particles is still being debated and may never be decided.
Add mayo and pepper and begin to blend, adding more mayo and pepper as needed, which is also a matter of some debate.
Sometimes (if my wife isn’t looking) I add a bit of French’s mustard, sometimes a dash of Tabasco, never both.
Cover and chill overnight.”

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Southern Foodways Alliance: a god-send for revering and preserving Southern food-ways

I would be remiss to not urge you, even nag you, to become familiar with the Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), a subset of the University of Mississippi's Institute for Southern Culture (http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/south/). Both organizations have produced projects, films, and books of merit about southern culture and, in particular, its cuisines. The Encyclopedia of Southern Culture was my first foray into their organizations and I regularly use the SFA web site, http://www.southernfoodways.com/. Also, check out the four volumes of Cornbread Nation, http://southernfoodways.com/cornbread_nation.shtml,

John T. Edge and John Edgerton have long been leaders of the alliance and any of their publications are also highly recommended.

Good reading to you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

J.M. Smucker Co., new owners of White Lily respond to my constructively critical e-mail

With a tradition of excellence that spans our more than 110 years of heritage, we take seriously our role as stewards of our high-quality brands. We acquired the White Lily brand in 2006 from C.H. Guenther & Sons, Inc. Guenther retained ownership of the Knoxville milling facility in addition to their other U.S. milling locations.
Throughout its history the ownership of the White Lily brand has changed hands numerous times. Since we acquired the White Lily brand our primary goal has been to restore and return the brand's historic standard of excellence. As part of these efforts we recently moved production of White Lily to a premier milling operation. This fifth generation family milling operation has served as a secondary miller of White Lily for generations. We took great care to maintain White Lily's unique recipe and production processes, including the use of only the same soft red winter wheat which was primarily sourced from Ohio, Michigan and Indiana throughout the history of the brand. In fact, the current milling operation is located in the heart of soft red winter wheat country which means the wheat will move from field to milling more quickly than when it was produced in Tennessee.
Further, there have been no changes to the product specifications or milling process and our experience and testing demonstrates the product consistently delivers the high quality performance consumers demand of White Lily products.
We are proud to include White Lily in our family of brands and you have our commitment that we will continue to be guided by our respect for White Lily's historic standard of excellence and the deep loyalty of its consumers. You can continue to trust in the uniqueness of White Lily flour and depend on it to help you create cherished meals.
Sincerely,Debbie SparrowConsumer Relations Representative
Ref # 8009069

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Check out site dedicated to buying local, Florida seafood


I happened upon an ad on television from the seafood marketing folks in the Florida ag department. I highly recommend that you check out their web site, http://www.fl-seafood.com./
The site seeks to educate and stimulate Florida consumers to buy locally just as you all are doing with local produced vegetables at local farmers' markets. To patronize the local seafood industry is good for our economy and insures your fish has not been shipped inordinate distances reducing its freshness. International dumping of seafood from overseas has raised serious concerns about the safety of those seafoods. Eleviate those concerns by being sure you know where your seafood was swimming last night.
Make use of this site to find vendors and restaurants that serve Florida seafood. Check out the recipes and other information that will help you bring home the safest, tastiest, and freshest product. You may be pleasantly surprised that a government site can be this valuable.
This summer, my recommendation is to: GO NATIVE and go to http://www.fl-seafood.com/.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

COMPANY MESSES WITH A HALLOWED FLOUR

Not since Coca-Cola devised a new recipe thinking that they knew what was best for their loyal customers has a company failed as a steward of a fine product. Today's New York Times article on the closing of the Knoxville mill that produces White Lily flour is a must read for any serious baker.

Take heed and let them know what you think of the closing and the errosive effect on the quality of this product that has been cherished by generations of Southern bakers.

To read the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/18/dining/18flour.html?_r=1&ref=dining&oref=slogin

Monday, June 16, 2008

ALL MY ROADS LEAD TO NEW ORLEANS




As far as I am concerned all of my culinary roads lead to New Orleans' cuisines.




I heartily recommend that you read the dining column in the New Orleans Times-Picayune located at www.nola.com/dining. Judy Walker, the food editor, and Marcelle Bienvenu (pictured above respectively) have long written rich articles on their local cuisines and their works printed in the local paper always amaze me and remind why I love the cooking of Louisiana.

As New Orleans reconstructs its infrastructure its library of recipes is also being remembered and re-collected by hook or crook. Many recipes were lost in the flood and, through the efforts of Walker and Bienvenu, people around the country have tapped into their files, notes, and shoeboxes to provide those missing links to New Orleans that could have been lost forever.

I have just subscribed to their weekly e-mail newsletter and I am relieved that I will not lose touch with their efforts and take on Louisiana cuisine.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Captain Yogi's Fish Shanty/ Canandaigua Lake, NY



video



My wife and I first visited Captain Yogi's Fish Shanty, on the road running along the eastern shore of Canandaigua Lake in western NY state, during the Thanksgiving holiday, 1999. To say we were immediately smitten is an understatement.


Captain Yogi's, then owned by the good Captain and his wife, Admiral Lois, served marvelous fish fries to neighbors enjoying summers on the lake, a reprieve from western New York's long, cold winters. At first sighting, the shanty could be a beach-side Jimmy Buffet place, but you will find no traces of Southern accents here, just tasty New England-style seafood. Their restaurant is a 33 year tradition for lake dwellers and they claim to have served 2 1/2 million clam strip dinners since June 5, 1975. OK, the Captain probably never liked math in school.


The Captain, a jolly big man wins over his customers with his delicious food and kindly manner. His becurled wife, Lois, is a "piece of work" who is full of personality, a fine manager of the business, and has some sort of special aura that I can not define for you. For many years, she and her husband have made their dedicated customers feel at home and relaxed by greeting each one like a long-lost relative. Fun is the name of the game in Captain Yogi's and tasty food is the main product.


The torch has been passed to new owners, Nancy and Jeff, so the Captain and Lois can take life easy from the long hours that the restaurant business requires. When we there last week, Lois had dropped in and we were very, very happy to see her. The Captain was not there as he was "probably playing cards." I would bet he is the kindliest card shark on Canandaigua Lake.


I have surveyed the many dishes coming out of the kitchen ranging from clam baskets, to New England clam chowder, broiled scallops, baked flounder, crab cakes, scallop asiago, hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches, and......yes......peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.


To be honest, I have tasted none of the above. I always order the fried haddock and fries with the goodie bar (a very diverse salad bar). Further, I informed the new owners that I do not expect to advance past that dish. It is perfectly prepared and I fully intend to order the same thing everytime I visit Captain Yogi's. If they remove the fish fry from the menu, they should prepare themselves for a renactment of the Civil War within their restaurant.


The main chef is still in place. He cooks with clean, fresh, hot oil and the fried items come out golden, crisp, without a hint of grease. This guy knows exactly what he is doing and the proof is in the tasty dishes he turns out. Also, Captain Yogi's has the friendliest waitresses who greet everyone as if they were bringing you into their own homes.


The chef and the waitresses have worked for the Captain and Lois for years, a good sign that suggests stability and quality in this business. Everything is prepared to order and there is no fast food here. Be prepared to stay awhile and enjoy delicious food and a fun atmosphere.


Yankees have a thing about sitting outdoors. Most smart Floridians do not sit outside in the summer. The weather in western NY is usually suitable for outdoor dining, but I prefer to sit inside when I can. Now that we have a dog, however, those days are over. They were very nice to bring a water bowl and allowed us to dine in their outside court yard. My pup approved.


Lastly to the good Captain and his Admiral, Lois: your customers love you and your food. You can leave the business, but you will never leave our hearts. To the new owners, Nancy and Jeff, we wish you good luck and smooth sailing.


One last note: the county is dry so adult beverage drinking is not allowed.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

New Postings to Go Up Next Week

I am on the road in western New York state and can not upload photos from my digital cam. They tell me it is too old. I bought it in 1999. Nine years does not seem that long to me, but it does to photo shops.

I will start uploading information, recipes, video, and photos when I return home early in the week.

Pardon the interruption.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Be Sure to Check Out My Favorite Links

One benefit of the several blogs I read (over and above their content) are the links that they recommend. I have found many new surprises that I return to over and again.

Check out my Favorite Links to see if there is anything there that you might enjoy.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

WHITE'S MILL: STONE-GRINDING CORN

In our travels, we keep an eye out for grist mills so that we may purchase fresh stone-ground grits. The flavor and nutrition is too good to pass up and our efforts are always well rewarded.

Recently, we visited White's Mill near Abingdon Va where we were shown through the mill by George Price, the president of the White's Mill Foundation and Jennifer Kling, chair of the operations committe for the mill.

Price and Kling are in the process of preserving and restoring the mill through their non-profit foundation and are deep into the process of procuring and administering state and federal grants for that purpose.

The mill dates from about 1790 and the earliest mill at the site was built by John Lewark, a Welshman who was originally a shipwright and later a millwright. He came to this country prior to the 1812 and was shipwrecked on the coast of North Carolina, near Kittyhawk. He served in the War of 1812 and lived to be ninety-six years of age.

Contact information for the mill is: http://www.whitesmill.org/; White's Mill Foundation, P.O. Box 63, Abingdon, VA 24212, 276-628-2960. They are open Wednesday-Saturday from 10-6 and are closed for January and February.

The videos accompanying this posting show an overview of the mill and what it looks like. The second video shows Kling providing a demonstration of the grinding process for grits and corn meal.
video

video

SOURCES: George Price/Jennifer Kling, The White's Mill Foundation; Highland Mills by Clarence Baker Kearfott (B & I Printing, 1970)

A Yankee's Guide to Grits: Chapter 1, What Is Grits?

First, a little housekeeping......grits is a singular noun in spite of ending with the letter "s." It takes some adjustment and feels awkward, but I will try to use the word properly.

What is grits?

Grits is made from dried corn kernels known as flint corn. Most grits comes from white corn though yellow corn is also used. Grits was traditionally ground at grist mills powered by adjacent running water from streams or rivers. The force of the water turned huge water wheels to power two giant mill stones or burrs for grinding the corn.

Screens sift the ground corn yielding a chaff, the most coarse of the grinds, that is fed to farm animals. The remaining two products from grinding the corn are grits and corn meal. Grits is more coarse than corn meal.

Grits is customarily boiled in a liquid until it congeals until it becomes thick. Corn meal is used in baking and can also be boiled like grits for a dish called polenta (common in Italian cooking).

Stone-ground grits is a very nutritional product and has better taste than commercially produced varieties due to its being a ground whole-grain. Because the oil from the germ remains after grinding, grits is perishable and should be refrigerated or frozen.

The health benefits of whole-grains are well documented and grits is an excellent and tasty way to consume whole fiber.


In the supermarket, I see several types of grits. How do they differ?

You will likely encounter instant grits and quick grits. Stone-ground grits is not as common, but are clearly my preference in eating grits.

Instant grits is "made by cooking grits and then taking out the water so that they can be reconstituted quickly with boiling water." (Neal and Perry). To me, instant grits is the least preferable variety.

Quick grits differ from stone-ground grits (sometimes called old-fashioned grits) because the germ is removed and the "starchy endosperm is ground." Quick grits is ground more finely than the old-fashioned, stone-ground variety. This style of grits can produce a fine serving of grits and is very tasty.

SOURCE: GOOD OLD GRITS COOKBOOK, Bill Neal and David Perry. Workman Publishing, New York, 1991.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

I AM A DYED-IN-THE-WOOL CUSTOMER OF STUART'S SPICES IN ROCHESTER NY






video



You may be wondering why someone writing a food blog from "deep in the heart of Florida" is writing about a spice company located just south of the Canadian border.



The answer is easy (albeit with background info added).



Nearly three years ago, I married my wife, Sue, who is originally from Rochester, New York. We often head north to her house that she owns there. The region's landscape, architecture, ethnic cuisines, and fabulous music scene are jewels for joy even in summer or winter.



The Rochester Public Market is the crown jewel. The market is a smorgasboard of fresh fruits and vegetables, seafood, etc. and is a first stop for me when I hit town. I walk the long aisles in complete amazement at the variety and quality of produce sold there.



While first shopping at the market, I had the good fortune to come across Stuart's Spices located in a stall near the entrance to the market area. Stuart and his wife are the finest of people. They are religiously faithful, ethical, perfectionists, and hard-working. They take great pride in their small business that sells hand-produced spices and extracts and, in my opinion, are the type of business people that has made our country great.



Quality drives their business and their spices are always fresh and pungent. I rarely buy any other spices and pick mine up when in Rochester or over the internet (http://www.stuartsspices.com/).



Fine cooking must have fresh ingredients of the highest quality. You will get nothing but that when you buy their products. I guarantee it.



Click the arrow on the two videos with this post to see Stuart's Spices and views of the market.







video

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

RECIPE: Rabbit a la Carr




RABBIT A LA CARR

In the forties and fifties, my parents lived on NW 6th Place in Gainesville, Florida where my father was early in his career as an English professor. Their neighbors across a sandy back alleyway were Archie and Margie Carr. Archie would soon be recognized throughout the world for his research into sea turtles as well as his vivid writings about his field work in Costa Rica and other parts of Central America. Margie, later known by the more formal Marjorie, had a similar impact on Florida environmental affairs and, singlehandedly, marshaled support to stop the boondoggle Cross Florida Barge Canal.

My memories of them are dear and precious and I particularly remember many evenings over fine food and spirits listening to the Carrs and my parents carry on with maximum hilarity and intelligence. Enveloped by the drone of crickets and summer frogs in pre-air-conditioning days, life could not have been richer.

My father told me that often he would hear Archie shooting in the woods for squirrels and rabbits to feed his enlarging brood of fine children. Now those woods have been developed and shooting would be an imprisonable offense. I suspect this recipe came from those earlier days.

If you are timid about rabbit, try this recipe with chicken.

Ingredients:

One cut up rabbit, washed with vinegar and water solution
1 cup, flour
Salt and pepper to your taste
1/2 cup, peanut oil

Preparation:

Heat oil in a Dutch oven, preferably cast-iron
Pre-heat oven to 250 degrees
Place flour, salt, and pepper in plastic zippered bag
Shake until meat is coated
Remove from bag, shaking off excess flour mixture
Add to skillet and brown to a crusty golden color on all sides
Add ½ cup of water and 5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
Cover and place in oven for two hours
After one hour, add ½ cup of port and one pound of mushrooms browned in butter in a separate skillet

Friday, May 09, 2008

I Have Drawers and Cabinets Overflowing with Spice Bottles

With some purchases for the home, it is better to start out right, buy high quality, and avoid choosing the "cheap" alternative. In my case, I have owned many cheap flashlights or shovels that end up breaking or bending in the first year. It took me decades to learn the folly of my ways. Buy right at the git-go and never buy again.

In my kitchen, up until now, I have not found a satisfactory way to store spices. I tried every available alternative and none easily and conveniently store the wide range of spices that I own. I buy and discard spice storage systems in the same way that I bought and discarded flashlights and shovels.

My kitchen drawers have been overloaded with spice jars and cabinets with lazy susans crammed full too, making it impossible to see what I had on hand. Plus, leaving spices in this "lost and found" state virtually guaranteed that they would age past any potential for potency and flavor. Some developed an aroma more like black dirt than pungent spices.

The spice storage systems that I located in local stores were not large enough for my needs. Usually, they held only a paltry amount of spices and were useless for this adventurous home cook.

As I had learned with flashlights and shovels, I decided to drop a few extra bucks, get the right product, and keep it for decades. I think I have found the way out of my morass.

The Kamenstein canisters fit that bill and are solving my spice storage problems. I first saw them on the Food Network (as I was surfing for ideas for the redesign of our kitchen) and I have purchased a test set of six of the canisters.

I have not bought the strip yet, but the canisters, filled with my fundemental spices, are all in a row on the side of my microwave. Slap 'em on and they stay. I am very pleased. So far, so good.

Using this storage system, I can now buy spices in bulk at the amount that I will likely use and not be stuck with aging spices in jars with embarassing expiration dates (one friend had some in her cabinet older than her 23 year old son). Plus, I will no longer bear the costs of packaging and, through the better vendors, my spices will likely be fresher at the time of purchase.

Hopefully, my search for the proper spice storage system is over. I am pleased with the result.

If you are looking for a spice source, my recommendation is http://www.stuartsspices.com/ located in a suburb of Rochester, NY. I buy from them at the Public Market in Rochester or you may find their products at their store, on-line, or by phone.

Oh by the way. I now buy Sears top-of-the-line shovels and, for flashlights, only Mag-Lites.





Kamenstein® 5 canister magnetic strip rack w/spices from Pfaltzgraff.com

Thursday, May 08, 2008

THURSDAY DOWNTOWN FARMERS MARKET IN GAINESVILLE WAS BUSY. PLAN AHEAD TO AVOID PARKING PROBLEMS

video

I had errands downtown and was able to get to the farmers' market on the town square early, shortly after 4. There were lots of customers early for the market that is open from 4-7. Based on earlier trips there, I would recommend shopping early as some vendors sell out of their prime produce before closing.
The variety at this market is greater than the farmers' market held on Saturdays near the Highway Patrol station. Sweetwater Coffee was selling coffee and assorted "hippie" crafts (soaps, incense, etc) abounded. Produce seemed in full flourish with lots of lettuces, zukes, yellow squash, herbs, cucumbers, tomatoes on hand. One truck was selling milk and grass fed beef. A fair amount of plants were on sale for herbal gardeners. I saw a limited amount of small citrus and other fruit trees available too.
The parking options are challenging and I used the parking garage. Carpooling might be a good idea or taking the bus which has stops right at the courthouse square area where the market holds court. With some planning, access to the market will be easier.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Jim 'n Nicks Bar-B-Q: You Can Smell Our Butts for Miles




Tell the truth. Is Jim 'n Nicks slogan now in your top five of barbecue restaurant slogans? I would bet number one, hands down.

After eating at Jim 'n Nick's, the food and service will most certainly be on the top of your list. We stopped in the Prattville, Alabama store on our way south from Tuscaloosa, AL to our home in Gainesville, FL. Bear in mind, we had enjoyed the finest ribs in the world the day before from my favorite barbecue joint, Archibald's, in Tuscaloosa. I had been to the fountain of sauce, smoke, and flavor. There was no way but down after Archibald's, but Jim 'n Nicks passed my barbecue joint tests with flying colors.
When I saw the sign for Jim 'n Nick's, I crossed over two lanes and pulled off onto the exit by the skin of my teeth. Why? because they are members and a sponsor of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization that seeks to foster and celebrate the best of Southern cuisine. The tastes of that organization are impeccable. When SFA is associated with food, I pay close attention.
We were not disappointed. We chose to sit outside with the best of piped-in contemporary Southern blues bathing us along with the rich aroma of barbecue slowly cooking out back. Normally, I prefer lower levels of recorded music, but their taste in music was excellent. Their taste in food is better.
Our waitress, Brittaney, arrived at the table. If one ever owns a restaurant, Brittaney is the standard that every restaurant proprietor dreams of having represent his/her food to customers. She was expert in every aspect of the restaurant from knowing the numbers of locations, methods of preparing dishes, tastes of each dish, and the magic methods for preparing their "Q." She is from Opp, AL and knows her products perfectly. I would follow Brittaney into a wall of barbecue smoke.
Jim 'n Nicks serves pulled pork, ribs, and brisket of the highest order. Also, they have steaks (fresh cut daily in the kitchen), chicken, and smoked turkey that looked marvelous. I could not get past the combo plate and ordered one with brisket and pulled pork. Both tasted succulent, tender to the touch, with a crunchy crust on the edges. i knew after the first bite, I was in the presence of experts.
At Jim 'n Nick's they smoke their ribs, beef, and pork for twelve hours (does their staff get any sleep?) and the diligence is evidenced in the fruits of their labors. The sides were just as good and we tried the creamed spinach, the greens (marianated in hot sauce), and their potato salad. All were sides to die for.
As our meal came to an end, our praises came to resemble the Hallelujah Chorus, and our questions became unending. We were trying not to make total fools of ourselves by dancing in place.
The fine service that Brittney was rendering was culminated by the appearance of the chef himself at our table. Jason Wright is a young man from Charleston, SC who clearly knows the business and Southern food inside and out. He was a staunch advocate for the SFA, procuring fresh goods from local farmers, and taking every step possible to take Jim 'n Nicks food to the highest level possible. Jason was an articulate expert of the stove and it should be no wonder that this restaurant makes about $100,000 a week.
Jim 'n Nicks has succeeded by cutting no corners, using the freshest ingredients, and sparing no efforts in finding, keeping, and training their staff in the mission of the restaurant and its food.
I am not sure which is better, the food or the staff. They, of course, go hand in hand.
If the owners of this 20 restaurant chain are listening, you are well served and your product has maintained its quality as your restaurant has grown from the home location in Birmingham to a small chain with more restaurants on the drawing board.
It ain't Archibald's, but (excuse my French) Jim 'n Nicks is damn good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

MY FLAGS ARE AT HALF STAFF FOR JIM COLEMAN AND BOBBY WEBBER


My good friend since elementary school in Alabama, Jim Coleman, died last week. Jim was a stellar guitarist, devout Christian, and fabulous musician My thoughts and prayers are with his mother, sister, brother, daughter, and family.

I learned the next day that my old band-mate, Bobby Webber, died in Virginia Beach. Bobby was the most gifted musician I have ever known and made magic with the keyboards and his writing. Admittedly, a wild and crazy man, Bobby lived for the joys of rock and roll. He gave more joy than he received.

I am grateful and fortunate to have had them both as close friends and musical commiserators.

Sadly,

Jim Conner

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Take Your Pick of Local Farmers' Markets

I tend to forget which Farmers' Market is open on which day. You may want to keep this available as a guide for shopping for local produce. Listing is from the link on this blog site to a list put together by the Alachua County Health Department.


Alachua County Farmer’s Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmersWhen: Year round Saturday 8:30am to 1pm; reopen seasonally April 11 Thursday 8:30 to noon. Where: HWY 441 & NW 34th Street. More Information: (352) 371-8236
Butler Plaza Satellite Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Reopen April 2nd, November through July; Tuesday 2pm to dusk.Where: Next to Goody’s & Pet Smart (3700 SW Archer Road). More Information: (352) 371-8236
Haile Plantation Farmers’ Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: October 15 through July 31, Saturday 8:30 to Noon.Where: 5300 SE 91st Terrace (Village Center). More Information: (352) 331-1804
High Springs Farmers’ Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Thursday 4 to 7pm, Winter hours Thursday 2pm to duskWhere: Downtown on Railroad Ave, between Main Street and SW First Street & 110 NW 1st Ave in downtown historic High Springs (behind City Hall). More Information: (386) 454-3954
Mell’s Produce
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-7pm. Where: 3 miles north of Archer on HWY 241, 8710 SW 170th Street, Archer. More Information:
Shortland Traveling Farmer’s Market Co-op
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Monday to Friday 10am-4pm. Where: The shortstop, 2610 NE 39th Avenue, Gainesville.
Union Street Farmers’ Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Year round Wednesday 4-7 pm. Where: 20 SE 2nd Place (Sun Center). More Information: (386) 462-3192

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A SECRET WEAPON: CANNED ROTEL


OK, I can hear a few of my friends from here: Jimmy is losing his mind.....food out of a can.......from a snooty made-from-scratch-is-the-only-way kind of home cook?

Be brave and believe it. Rotel is a god-send in the kitchen. Stock up and keep it on hand.

I came to be a fan of Rotel by a circuitous route.

While in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a funeral of Jim Kinkead, the father of an old friend and friend in his own right, I encountered a platoon of Methodist church ladies who had descended on the Kinkead family home after the funeral to help Flo, Jim's wife, in a time of sorrow and need.

Funeral food in the South is a culinary culture all to itself. Food comes out of nowhere in abundance and of the highest quality, taste, and, calories. Nurturance is the order of the hour and teams of ladies take over to take the burden of hosting friends visiting to comfort the bereaved and themselves. I saw the best of the South that day.

The church ladies swiftly invaded en masse and set up camp in the home kitchen with distinct perimeter boundaries immediately established and defended. One lady (who I am sure was born with a battle axe in her hands) was posted by the doorway of the kitchen to repel any intruders who could not produce proper credentials for entry. Checkpoint Charlie would have been easier to pass through.

I made the mistake of buying a six-pack of beer and putting it in the fridg, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say, I knew I was deep in the Bible Belt.

The food was heavenly and one friend of Flo's, Carol, stood out from the rest as a supreme local cook. Her views about the fine points of Southern cooking were well thought-out and practiced. She knew exactly what she was talking about when discussing various recipes and had firm and well-practiced opinions on how to concoct many of the dishes that appeared.

As the day ended, she was kind to offer to give me a copy of the cookbook that her Methodist church had put together. The next day, when she presented me with the cook book (with correcting annotations), I felt like I had been handed my own personal copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those recipes have been protected ever since.

Besides providing the formulas for concocting the crown jewels of Tuscaloosa cuisine, I noticed a small sampling of recipes with an ingredient only shown as "one can of Rotel." At first, I dismissed it and had no earthly idea what it was. I realized that these cooks do not serve anything that does not sing on the plate and I decided to investigate Rotel.

When we returned to Florida, I went to my Publix and found a few cans of different varieties of Rotel products, some hotter than others. Lo and behold, the can contents were a tasty, vibrant salsa-like concoctions that rivaled fresh ones that I had revered from St. Augustine. I found that after adulterating the contents a bit, I ended up with salsa that rivaled many made from freshly chopped ingredients.

Since then, I continue to expand my explorations on ways to use Rotel. One simple use is to dump a can into rice as it is cooking, stir and simmer. Nothing fancy, but it sure tastes good.

I suggest you give this recipe for my Rotel dip a try. The first time I made it, a friend's teen age son took a few tastes of the dip, grabbed the bowl and retired to another room to eat the whole thing. He cleaned the plate. That just may be the ultimate compliment for a home cook.

For information on Rotel and more recipes try this site: www.texmex.net/Rotel/main.htm.



DIPPING WITH ROTEL


Ingredients:

1 can of Rotel, Original or one of the hotter varieties depending on your tastes, drained
Diced tomatoes, ½ large can, drained
Crystal Hot Sauce, two full squirts
2 tablespoons, garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Jalapeno pepper, 3 slices. Remove seeds to soften heat if you are sensitive
½ cup cilantro (preferred) or Italian parsley. Add basil or chives; chopped. Experiment to determine which herbs or combinations suit your tastes.
Juice of ½ lemon or 1/3 tangerine
2 squirts soy sauce

Preparation:

· Combine all ingredients
· Place in food processors and pulse several times without turning into a slush. Keep it chunky.
· Chill for a few hours and serve.

EQUIPMENT YOU WILL NEED:

Large bowl
Food processor

Monday, April 07, 2008


VIVA VOLTACO’S SPRING SALAD

Italian angels can cook, and they work at Voltaco’s in Ocean City, NJ, a seasonal Italian sub shop on West Avenue six blocks off the ocean and the boardwalk. In spite of being off the beaten path in this popular family beach resort, Voltaco’s is jammed with locals and tourists alike. They come for the fabulous food first and the angels second.

Aromas of freshly baked breads, pungent chopped herbs, and onions fill the small shop during lunch hour. A Voltaco's sub is wrapped in butcher’s paper, doused with Italian dressing and passed to eagerly awaiting customers. Each one is a blessing from heaven.


Owners Vicky and Joe Tacarrino are open during the summer months and make enough from their seasonal business to close up during the winter months. Next summer, if you are anywhere east of the Mississippi during the summer, go to Ocean City NJ and savor their wares. They are open for supper as well and sell freshly prepared and home made dishes ready to take home after a long day at the shore.

This salad is something we tried by accident when my wife decided not to have a sub. I tasted it and loved it every bit as much as their subs. We left determined to make our own version at home and our recipe follows. Here is our take on their salad.

Viva Voltaco’s.

Ingredients:

One bag of spring mix greens
2 pared and sliced fresh pears
a handful of walnuts
crumbled blue cheese
Voltaco balsamic dressing (balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, honey, mustard)
Balsamic vinegar. 3/8’s of a cup
1 teaspoon, lemon juice
salt, a pinch
black pepper, a pinch
Creole seasoning, a pinch
Honey, 2 tablespoons
Naples Valley Hot Mustard (or your favorite hot honey mustard)

To make the dressing:

In a food processor: To the balsamic vinegar add the lemon juice, salt, black pepper, Creole seasoning, honey, and Naples Valley Hot Mustard. Pulse several times. Through the tube of the processor, drizzle 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil while continuously running the processor until all oil is emulsified with the dressing.
Chill for an hour.

To assemble the salad:

Rinse the greens and either spin-dry them or wrap them in paper towels to soak up all of the water. The water will dilute the rich flavors. Place in a large salad bowl.
Add dressing and toss to coat the leaves.
Peel the pears, core, and slice. Arrange attractively on top of the greens.
Take a four finger pinch of walnut halves or broken walnuts and sprinkle over the salad in a circular motion.
Do the same with the blue cheese.
Serve from the serving bowl into smaller bowls with two serving spoons or forks making sure to top each serving with representative quantities of the pears, walnuts, and cheese.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Green Plantains Restaurant


Today after church, my wife and I tried Green Plantains, a newly-opened restaurant in Gainesville and found a fusion cuisine that was just as tasty as it was well-conceived. Billing the restaurant as "Nuevo Chino Latino cuisine" I must admit their description made my head swim with fears of over-revved globalization, too many styles in one place.

We were very, very pleased with our Sunday lunch meals. My wife had their Grilled Churrasco Special Combo with yellow rice and a salad with white balsamic vingarette. Her skirt steak was very tender, more so than the ones I make (darn it) and perfectly seasoned. Her entree portion was generous with two moderately sized steak pieces served on a square Asian-style dish. The yellow rice was home-made and rich in flavor, not like the bagged yellow stuff available in many grocery stores.

I ordered the Mojito Chicken Special Combo. I must admit that this style of cooking chicken may be my very favorite, a recipe I first had at a Latin restaurant chain in Orlando, El Pollo Loco. The chicken is marinaded with spices and garlic and lime juice before being grilled. I will not sleep until I master a recipe for this Mojito chicken.

My sides included a mini Mofongo, which appeared to be a espanada with seafood inside. The salad and vinegarette was average, but lent a refreshing balance to the meal. A serving of Hispanic red beans and rice was served beside a a seafood patty made with lobster, shrimp, and crab meat. Very flavorful and not overwhelming. My meal was served in an Asian box type of plate that I have seen in local Korean restaurants.

The restaurant is casual in a new shopping center on 34th St. just north of the Williston Road. One orders at the front counter before seating yourself in an attractive room decorated with Miami art deco colors and sophisticated lighting.

Green Plantains serves lunch specials from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Priced at $4.95, they should prove popular and tasty. Dishes such as Ropa Vieja, Mojito Chicken, and Bourbon Boneless Ribs are served with a side of rice and beans. Nearby student apartment dwellers and Oak Hammock residents will want to frequent GP's at least once a week.

Green Plantains restaurant is a gem in a sea of chain restaurants. They serve a fusion of three world cuisines effortlessly with meals both tasty and affordable. Give them a shot, you won't be disappointed.

For more information, check out their web site at http://www.greenplantains.com/.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Fresh is Best: Buying From Local Farmers Makes Economic Sense

A recent article in the Gainesville (FL) Sun, "Area restaurants fighting inflation" cast a new light on reasons why shopping at Farmers' Markets is a smart buy.

Area restauranteurs are fighting spiraling commodity prices that are pushing up their costs of doing business and alarming customers who forego their optional dining budget in favor of putting gasoline in their cars.

Chef Bert Gill of Gainesville has long advocated patronage of local food vendors. In the Sun article, he pointed out as he has many times that, by buying locally, he saves money on shipping, uses foods with a longer shelf life, and has better, fresher foods to serve in his restaurants.

These same reasons, along with avoiding loss of vitamin power due to long-distance shipping and the benefits of keeping food dollars in the community, make purchases from local farmers a sensible and cost-effective decision. In these times of high fuel prices, shopping locally makes abundant economic sense for local restaurants and individual consumers who want high quality foods at lower cost. In short, fresh is best.

Alachua County has a number of farmers markets within reach where you may easily patronize area farmers. A listing may be found at www.florida-agriculture.com/consumers/farmers_markets.htm. Many of the listed markets have their own web sites and they are listed there. Patronize one of these markets and support local agriculture.

Blog Archive