Thursday, October 28, 2010

Italia

Italy has a been a revelation. The best food is fresh and seasonal - just the way I like it - but served very simply, without many spices or condiments. This allows the natural flavors of the ingredients to blend with each other, creating a more powerful taste than any spice or condiment could evoke.

My favorite so far? This simple, but luxurious, primi of artisan Bergamasque cornmeal with white truffle shaved over the top. The aroma was heavenly and the taste earthy - the entire dish was so satisfying that I was tempted to lick the plate - only thoughts of good manners and my mother's disapproval restrained me.





Now I have made polenta before, but the creamy texture and pure corn flavor put my efforts to shame. I don't know what it was, but I will try all the tricks I know - freshly ground cornmeal, slow even cooking for a long time and a wooden spoon for stirring.

As for the truffles - well, fresh truffles only have about a three day lifespan - so unless I decide to mortgage our house (second mortgage, that is) to fly one over from Alba, I will have to make do with a few meager slices of the jarred truffles in liquid I am bringing home. Oh well, my memory will be with me at least!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Got Cheese?

Text and photos by Erin Rauch, intern for Hogtown HomeGrown

With the help of master cheese makers, extensive research and community support, Florida now boasts three licensed artisan cheese dairies. In their new book, Summer of a Thousand Cheeses, Russ and Peg Hall describe artisan cheese as “produced primarily by hand, in small batches, with particular attention paid to the tradition of the cheesemaker’s art.”

Dairies across Florida are reintroducing the European artisan cheese tradition and expanding their presence in the local food market. “It was actually the more artisan cheeses that got us re-interested and made us think there was a story to be told,” Peg Hall said.

Russ and Peg Hall mention Winter Park Dairy, licensed in 2008 as the first raw milk cheese maker licensed in Florida, in their book. David Green, owner of Winter Park Dairy, learned how to make cheese at the University of Vermont. “Cheese is extremely complex,” Green said. “You need to learn the intricacies of making it.” Green makes Tomme and Bleu Cheese, both he described as uniquely natural rind cheeses. The rind is the outer shell of the cheese and is usually edible. He also said he hopes to make Gouda in the future.

Green said he likes the Bleu Cheese he makes because it’s alive and it has a lot of flavor. His Bleu Cheese, known as “Bleu Sunshine,” was the first raw milk cheese produced in Florida. “It is the freshest raw milk product that can be legally purchased,” according to their website, www.winterparkdairy.com.

Winter Park Dairy originated as a citrus farm. After a bad freeze, Green started the dairy. “Cheese isn’t seasonal and it’s not subject to plague or frost,” Green said. “It ages indefinitely, it just gets better.” Green milks eight cows, twice a day, with help from Leah Steele, an intern studying at the University of Central Florida, and he brings in milk from other dairies as well.

He sells his cheese at the Winter Park Farmers Market on Saturday mornings and at the Audubon Park Community Market on Monday nights. Green said the market for his cheese is only limited by the U.S. Postal Service. While he sells cheese as far away as Napa Valley, California, his commercial accounts include major hotel chains such as the Waldorf Astoria, Hyatt, Marriot and Hilton.

It was David Green and Winter Park Dairy that sparked John and Nancy Mims’ interest in artisan cheeses. The Mims have been in the dairy business for about 34 years. Their newest venture is Cypress Point Creamery, a cheese dairy on their farm, RexRun Farm in Hawthorne, Florida. John Mims built the cheese plant about a year ago in 2009.

“We were looking for something that added value, rather than just wholesaling all of our milk,” John Mims said. Cypress Point Creamery is a farmstead cheese manufacturer because they produce cheese using only the milk from their cows. With the help of hired workers, John Mims milks 160 cows, twice a day.



The Mims’ make cheese about once a week. They are currently making Gouda, Havarti and Tomme because people recognize their names and love their taste. By law, raw milk cheeses have to age for a minimum of 60 days in order to be sold for human consumption. Their first venture, Gouda, should be ready to sell soon. “It’s just a mild, white cheese,” John Mims said. “It melts well and has a good creamy texture.”



While they wait for their cheeses to age, they enjoy the fruits of their labor with almost every meal. After positive reactions from friends and neighbors, they said they are looking forward to selling their products at market soon.

Another Florida cheesemaker is Wainwright Dairy in Live Oak, Florida. They produce Grade A Pasteurized, non-homogenized milk and all-natural cheeses. The Wainwright family has been in the dairy business for over 30 years, according to their website, www.wainwrightdairy.com. They were the second licensed raw milk cheese maker in Florida.

Chris Campbell, manager at the dairy, said they just built a cheese plant and a bottling plant. They currently make cheese twice a week, according to their website, and it can be found for sale at local retailers. The different varieties they produce are Colby, Pepper Jack, Baby Swiss, Cheddar and fresh Cheddar curds.

It was Cheddar cheese that was the main part of Russ and Peg Hall’s family cheese roots since they grew up in New York. One of the Hall’s first experiences with artisan cheese was in Florida. As they wrote their book, Russ Hall said their biggest discovery was the new cheese makers in Florida.

The Halls describe the significance of the bond between cheese, cheese maker and customer in the book Summer of a Thousand Cheeses. “It’s kind of like a little partnership,” Russ Hall said. “You know the cheese is good, clean and fair because you know where it came from.”

Summer of a Thousand Cheeses shares the Hall’s adventurous discovery of the new American cheese and the book can be purchased online at www.lighthallbooks.com. The Halls “want to share the fun we had doing it,” Russ Hall said. “We want people to enjoy and learn things along the way.”

While there may be only three raw milk artisan cheese producers in Florida, the variety is amazing. “We are all doing different styles with different herds and techniques,” David Green, owner of Winter Park Dairy, said. “It’s a good thing.”

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Farmers Feast at Georgia Organics Conference 2010

A recent trip to the Georgia Organics Conference in Athens, Georgia was an eye-opening experience to a foodie culture that we did not know existed in semi-rurual Georgia. We went to attend workshops and hear Carlo Petrini - we left with a respect (and a little jealousy) for what Athens has been able to accomplish by promoting, serving and savoring local foods.

Our first night in Athens was spent dining at Last Resort Grill - a hard choice made from a list of Athens restaurants that serve local food. We had a fabulous meal and a wonderful experience.

On to the Conference - I attended workshops about family dinners, farm-to-school programs, youth-led activism in New Orleans and a Cafe Campesino and Cooperative Coffees workshop about free trade coffee cooperatives and roaster cooperatives.

After a quick lunch of local green salads, veggie chili and cornbread (I was scandalized - there was sugar in all the cornbread!), and a long walk through the expo with more than 100 vendors with everything from vegetables seeds to casseroles to cook those veggies in, we were looking forward to a chance to relax at the Farmers Feast.

Rumors of the feast circulated as the day went on — more than two dozen chefs, local wine, lots of desserts — it was a good thing lunch was light. The most bizarre rumor turned out to be true — while everyone received the same starter, there were four different menus! We entered the ballroom and quickly moved through the burlap-covered long farm tables, looking for a “menu match.” It was a very hard choice, since they all sounded wonderful and there were at least one vegan and four vegetarian choices on each seven item menu. While we got to know our table mates, the food parade began, with the chefs bringing out each table's seven dishes in family-service sized bowls and casseroles. We passed the food and wine, chatting with our neighbors about flavors and seasonings. Greens and root vegetable were heavily represented due to the time of year, but their presentations were flavorful and innovative.

Dessert cannot be described, but I did lovingly videotape the groaning dessert tables.
video

The dessert parade was even grander than the entree parade.
video

Each table was presented with a cake by a chef who described and served the heavenly creation.

I must admit, while our table was served a luscious-looking Coca-Cola cake, I knew that somewhere in the room was that delightful Southern specialty, Hummingbird Cake - spice layers with a pineapple-fruit-cream filling. (It was the last cake pictured in the parade of desserts video.) I boldly took my slice of Coca-Cola cake and went in search of a trade. Across the room, a kindred spirit's eye's went wide when I flashed my cake and offered a trade for hers. Oh, was it worth the effort!

The conference was wonderful, the workshops excellent and enlightening, the atmosphere in Athens was welcoming and inspiring! And Carlo Petrini signed my copy of one of his books -

If you want to read more about the conference look in the March 2010 Hogtown HomeGrown

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Up to my ears in pumpkins!

I've been busy getting ready for the Souper Fun Sunday fundraiser at St. Francis High School this Sunday, January 31st. It never occurred to me how much space and time five gallons of soup can take up! Using my recipe for Zen Pumpkin Soup and multiplying it to make 5 gallons, I need 40 cups of roasted pumpkin - yes, 40 cups.

Needless to say, I have been up to my ears in pumpkin! There are 6 Seminole pumpkins of various sizes sitting in my dining room ready to be roasted, pureed and placed in the freezer.

For those of you intimidated by the idea of splitting and roasting a large hard winter squash of any kind, here are simple instructions with pictures. Don't worry about having a strong knife or a large roasting pan - a knife with a 6 inch blade and a cookie sheet will do!

First, insert the knife near the stem and wiggle it into the center of the pumpkin. At this point you can rotate the pumpkin while bringing the blade around the curve toward the bottom.

Flip the pumpkin over and continue back up towards the stem on the other side. Don't try to cut through the stem - just remove the knife, wedge your fingers into the cut on the bottom of the pumpkin and pull - the pumpkin will split and the stem will end up on one half.

Take a large spoon and scoop out the fibers and seeds in the center. You can save the seeds to clean and roast or just toss them into the compost pile - your choice!

Place the pumpkin halves cut side down on a foil-lined cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees until your finger leaves a dent in the flesh and skin. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, this could take two hours.


Remove from oven and cool before handling. The skin will either peel off easily or the flesh can be scooped from the skin. At this point you can serve it or continue with a recipe.

Well, I'm off to make 5 gallons of soup - see you Sunday at the Souper Fun Sunday!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

January Menu Ideas

Holiday eating is over - the last fruitcake cookie is gone - no more pecan pie - time for some veggies and regular eating!

I picked up a CSA bag for a friend on Saturday - lots of greens! Then I restocked my pantry and took a freezer inventory - we have a lot of bread, blueberries, pesto and seafood! (When fish is on sale I usually buy one for that night and get one double-wrapped for the freezer.)

Here are my menu ideas to make use of seasonal produce, raid my pantry and to use up the bounty in the freezer - I love shopping in my own kitchen!

MAIN DISHES
BBQ Eggplant and Lentils
BBQ Tofu
Mjuddrah (lentils and rice with onions and olive oil)
Latkes with Sour Cream and Applesauce
Turnips, Sweet Potato, Apple, Pecans with Balsamic as side with Fish
Mashed Potato and Curly Kale as side with Fish
Split Pea Soup with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Veggie Salad with Garbanzo Beans or Tuna
Spaghetti and Sweet Basil Sauce as side with Fish
Spaghetti and Pesto as side with Fish
Linguine with Clam Sauce
Linguine with Pesto and Scallops
Penne with Cabernet Marinara as side with Fish
Penne with Shiitake Mushrooms and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce

SIDE DISHES
Roasted Turnips and Carrots with Meyer Lemon Marinade
Baked Sweet Potatoes
Kale with Ginger and Meyer Lemon
Turnip Greens with Sweet Smoked Paprika, Hot Peppers and Onions
Steamed Broccoli with Meyer Lemon Marinade
Green Salads
Veggie Salad with cucumber, tomato and carrot
Spinach Salad with Shiitake Mushrooms with Miso Ginger Dressing
Avocado Grapefruit Salad with Poppyseed Dressing
Spinach Salad with Strawberries and Balsamic

DESSERTS
Blueberry Bread Pudding
Sweet Potato Custard
Sweet Orange Compote

Take the time to inventory your pantry and freezer for your own menu ideas. Just think of all the money you'll save by shopping in your own kitchen!