Archive for September, 2012

Like many industries, farming is struggling with succession plans – who will take over the family farm when Dad or Grandma says “No more”.  It can be heartbreaking when there is no one waiting in the wings who will continue to plant the garlic and weed the zucchini and milk the goats like it’s been done for the past 30 years.  There is some hope with the ever-growing interest in local food, but is it okay if the one who takes over for Dad isn’t part of the family?  IPR’s recent story “Farmer mentorships aim to help budding farmers” offers a solution that might “grow” more farmers to ensure our local farms continue to produce well into the future.

Basically, if you want to learn farming go work on a farm and see if you can hack it.  Seems like a great idea.  If you can deal with the back-breaking schedule and have a true passion for farming, then you have a mentor who can guide you along the way – a seasoned farmer who knows the ropes.  Speak to any industry icon – in real estate, computers, music, or medicine – and most will tell you they had a mentor who was instrumental in helping them meet their goals and truly succeed.

Unfortunately, fewer than half of those who participate in the farm mentorship program end up actually farming, but certainly they have a better understanding of local food and can be better advocates for the movement.  Maybe they don’t farm the land, but they write about it or they consume what is grown on it.  I think we are all a part of the equation if local food is to really take hold.

You can listen to other stories in Illinois Public Radio’s News Series, Farming:  A Growing Concern including:

Consumers have increased awareness of locally grown foods“, IPR, 9/28/12
High stakes for technological progress in agriculture“, IPR, 9/26/12
Immediate future of agriculture industry up in the air“, IPR, 9/25/12

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I Never Knew That …

I’m forever reciting a combination of “I didn’t know that” or “No one told me that” or “Where did you hear that”.  And it’s not just at school or at family gatherings or at neighborhood parties or at work or, or, or  … it’s all of those situations.  Thank God for the mom’s at school who reliably know EVERYTHING; for my own mother who can fill me on important family gossip; and neighbors who actually have met each other and know each other’s names.  Well, it’s my turn now.  I get to be the one “in the know”…maybe.  I know stuff.  I just don’t know that stuff.

I Never Knew That – Somewhat Relevant Tidbit #1
If a recipe calls for room temperature eggs and you only just realize it after you’ve begun mixing, you can cover eggs with hot tap water (not boiling) for five minutes and drain.  Your eggs will be room temp and ready to go!

Please don’t immediately comment with “You didn’t know that?!” … I will be crushed.  Just give it a day or two.

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Two gay New Yorkers (one a former drag queen) buy a 200-year-old historic home, the Beekman Mansion, in the back of beyond that comes with a barn, a crypt, a pond, and a caretaker.  I laughed out loud at this one – numerous times. Partly because Brent works for Martha Stewart and those bits are pretty entertaining.  And Josh (drag queen) has a biting sense of humor that I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of.  I don’t know why I don’t get tired of these stories.  I think because I am so amazed at what people do on a whim, a feeling, a hunch, a sign from the universe.  How come I don’t get signs from the universe?  Well, these guys do it right – commercialize.  They end up branding the house and everything in it and around it.  Go to their website at beekman1802.com and be amazed!  But don’t go there until you’ve read the book.  I think it will color your enjoyment.  I have to find their reality TV show on the Cooking Channel just for fun.  A quick, easy read to escape from most everything familiar.

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Uncle Bucks Sports Bar in Mahomet sponsored a BBQ Contest on September 8th and my brother and nephew, both avid cooks and adventurers, decided to enter. My brother is guest blogger and here is his account of the day.

We arrived at 6:30 am to get our Brisket on the smoker as it would take 7 1/2 hours for a 190 degree finishing temp. We entered all 4 categories; brisket, baby back ribs, chicken and the open category. For the open category we smoked a pork belly.  We used chicken thighs basted in a dijon mustard, maple syrup and rice wine vinegar sauce, which the judges did not like as they marked us down in the sauce points for the chicken….live and learn. We took 1st place with our brisket (this was dry rubbed the night before, smoked for 8 hours, sprayed with apple juice while smoking and presented to the judges with a homemade BBQ sauce). Our ribs took 2nd place (brined, dry rubbed and smoked for 3 hours, wrapped in foil with brown sugar, butter, agave and apple juice and then finished cooking for another 2 hours). Our chicken and pork belly bombed, though we did get good judge points, just not enough to take first place. We were just shy of the overall trophy for the day by 5 points!  We had a great time cooking, sharing our food and socializing with the great spectators for this event. We are hooked and will surely do this again!  Posted by Kevin “the smokin’ BBQ” man

Hey, how come there are no recipes!  Oh, they’re a secret now.  So I’ll post where you can get some brisket and ribs at the next Central Illinois BBQ contest.  If anyone knows of local contests, let me know!  They are ready to compete.

Additional Recipe Note posted 9/15/12:
Chicken was pretty easy……(6-8 chicken thighs)

3/4 cup Dijon mustard
1/4 cup REAL maple syrup
1 Tbsp of rice wine vinegar

Whisk together all ingredients.  Prepare the chicken by either leaving the skin on or removing it.  Salt and pepper and place in a glass baking dish.  Pour the mixture over the thighs, making sure you turn over the pieces to coat evenly, set for 30 min-1 hour to marinate. Either cook on a charcoal grill and baste with the marinade while cooking or put the whole dish in a 450 degree oven for approx 30-40 min.

That’s it!

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I’m a little late posting my Sunday morning project since it’s Thursday but whose keeping track!  My brother sent me this link to a great no-yeast cinnamon roll and come to find out it came from another blogger in Central Illinois.  It looked so easy and yummy, I had to give it a go.  They are best warm from the oven but can be reheated easily or slathered with butter.  I’m still eating them this morning so they keep well too!  Check out Sweet Pea’s Kitchen for the original recipe and much better photo than I could do.

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The food industry is all a-buzz since NPR released their story “Why Organic Food May Not Be Healthier For You” last week.  Based on studies already conducted (of which there are few) Stanford University concluded there are no significant, documented health benefits from eating organic.  From the inflammatory headline to the construction of the story, NPR reporters put all the hot “sound-bites” first lambasting organic and then at the end of the story explained that maybe this is a larger issue and gee, maybe we shouldn’t rush to conclusions.  Well, a little late, since the average listener has already made conclusions based on the first 4 minutes of the 5 minute story!

The Illinois Local and Sustainable Agriculture LinkedIn group posted an interesting response from Michael Pollan from a news blog that put things into perspective a bit less sensationally than the NPR piece.

Come on NPR, you are usually the last, great hope for good journalism!  This story should have been written as a scientific debate of the studies and the issues not a headline-grubbing, hits-busting, piece.

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Pasta Making 101

I’ve watched pasta making before and have even rolled dough and stuffed ravioli, but I’ve never done the whole shabang from scratch myself.  So I decided a short, inexpensive Adult Community Program at ICC would help build my confidence.  If you haven’t seen ICC’s North Campus and their culinary arts program set-up you should drop by Dogwood Hall.  There’s a massive professional kitchen and a demo kitchen with seating for probably 100 people – all newly renovated.  It’s a sleek and modern space with flat screen TVs airing Food Network and the Cooking Channel.

So pasta making … Chef Kate (shown above with her demo-dough) walked us through her batch of dough that we could touch and feel since so much of working with dough is really feel.  We each had our own workspace with all ingredients already measured out (and someone to clean up as we went along).  Gluten is the key here.  You need a flour with a high gluten content which makes the dough both strong and elastic.  Semolina flour is the traditional one used for pasta, but we used regular unbleached flour and then added some semolina after mixing.  Semolina is somewhere between regular flour and cornmeal in texture (and has that lovely yellow color).  Everyone worked at their own pace and chatted and compared notes.  The dough rests for about 30 minutes and we got a lesson on rolling and shaping – spaghetti, ravioli, farfalle (bow tie), tortelloni and pappardelle.  While our pasta dried we made a quick cream sauce.  Chef Kate had already made a Puttanesca Sauce for us that was pungent and salty and very tasty.  Some warm bread with roasted garlic was brought out and then we cooked our pasta.  It was a feast … and a lot of fun!  Here’s Chef Kate’s recipes.

Fresh Egg Pasta (recipe from Complete Italian Food Guide)
3 eggs
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 1/4 cup flour (may need more depending on dough)

Mix flour and salt in mixing bowl forming well in center.  Whisk eggs and oil together and pour into well.  Using your hands/fingers, begin to incorporate liquid into flour.  The flour is absorbing the liquid which takes a bit of mixing.  Note:  we added fresh herbs and semolina flour here.  You want a coarse paste that’s not too soft or sticky.  Make a dough ball and place on work surface lightly dusted with flour.  Knead dough for 10-15 minutes until smooth and elastic.  wrap in cling wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.  Lightly flour work surface and roll out dough to thickness of 2-3 mm turning and flipping the dough over as you work.  Cut your shapes, lightly flour your pasta to help it dry out before cooking or freezing.

Chef Kate’s Puttanesca Sauce
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 white or yellow onion chopped
2 cloves garlic
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 1/2 lbs plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
2 Tbsp minced anchovy fillets
1/2 tsp fresh basil
6 oz. black olives chopped
1/4 cup capers drained and rinsed
1 cup water as needed

Heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until soft.  Add garlic until aroma is released.  Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients and simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 20 minutes.  Adjust seasonings.  Toss with fresh pasta.

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