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Archive for July, 2009

Our next eating local recipe is one of my own creation!  I am not a big fan of eggplant (too slimy!), so I wanted to come up with a creative way for me and T to enjoy these little gems.  We recently went to an Ethiopian restaurant in Bloomington after T had been to one out east on business, and were convinced we could duplicate the dishes we had in the restaurant at home.

We started out by fermenting our own injera!  It wasn’t a total disaster, but can definitely be improved upon. We discovered that we needed to make some niter kibbeh and berbere paste to make any and all Ethiopian recipes.  We made a lentil dish, and a beef dish (subbing local bison for the beef) and we had a lot of niter kibbeh and berbere paste left over.

IMG_0177

Baby oriental eggplants from the farmer's market!

Thus spawning the idea for the eggplant!  We had some leftover local pork sausage in the fridge, so not only was it superbly fresh and local, we didn’t let anything go to waste.  Oh, and the green onions were from my garden!

Ethiopian Spiced Baby Eggplant

Ethiopian Spiced Baby Eggplant

Ingredients:

12 baby oriental eggplants, roughly the same size, sliced symmetrically

½ pound ground pork

6 tablespoons berbere paste

4 tablespoons niter kibbeh, melted

¼ cup Greek yogurt

Thinly sliced green onions or chives for garnish

  1. After slicing the eggplants symmetrically, scoop out the seeded part in the globe of the eggplant. Discard scooping.
  2. Brush eggplant slices with niter kibbeh and place on grill to cook until lightly browned and softened. Remove from heat and set aside, tenting with foil to keep warm.
  3. While eggplant halves are cooking, brown ground pork with a tablespoon of niter kibbeh in a skillet.
  4. Add beriberi paste to cooked ground pork, stirring until incorporated and warmed.
  5. Stuff pork into spooned out eggplant and top with a dollop of Greek yogurt, a few drops of melted niter kibbeh, and a sprinkle of green onions or chives.
  6. Enjoy!

Niter kibbeh is an Ethiopian-spiced, clarified butter. For each pound of unsalted butter, add:

2 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons ginger root, finely chopped

½  teaspoon ground turmeric

½  teaspoon ground cardamom

1/8th teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/8th teaspoon ground fenugreek

½-inch cinnamon stick (half inch)

1 whole clove

Let butter and spices simmer very gently (do not let the butter brown or burn) for 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, strain butter through cheesecloth until clear, meaning no spices or butter solids remain. This will remain fresh for 3 months in the refrigerator in a sealed jar.

Berbere paste is a red pepper and spice paste indigenous to Ethiopia. It requires many ingredients, but is very easy to make. For a great recipe, visit PepperFool!

Before I scooped out any potential goopiness.

Before I scooped out any potential goopiness.

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Our first locally-procured item? Squash blossoms filled with local goat cheese, breaded with tempura batter and fried!

Today's Featured Items!

Today's Featured Items!

It’s as easy as it sounds to make. Here’s my method:

1. Make sure you open up the squash flowers to remove any bugs that may have crawled inside the flower to sleep! My vendor has a special way of picking the flowers to ensure freshness (closing the blossoms at night lightly with a rubber band–this also helps her to keep the purity of her squash lines), and brings them to market with the stems still attached.

2. Remove the little flower tendrils that come up the sides of the bloom from the base of the flower. You certainly don’t have to do this, but it makes it easier to batter and fry, as the tendrils have a tendency to pop back out. Perfectly edible, though, so it’s totally up to you!

3. Some people will tell you to remove the stamen from inside the blossom (the little pokey thing inside that is covered in pollen). I leave it in there, because I think it adds a buttery, warm flavor to the finished product.

4. Put some softened (ie, cool, but not fresh from the fridge) goat cheese into a plastic baggie, or a piping bag. If using the baggie, cut off the corner of the baggie (a bigger cut is better, but not too big!) and carefully pipe the goat cheese into the flower. Aim for the base of the flower, stopping the insertion of the cheese when the petals start to form into individual petals. I go for about a tablespoon of goat cheese per flower, but some flowers can handle more, or less, depending.

5. After piping, gently twist the petals to lightly close the flower to prevent cheese from oozing out.

6. Gently remove the long stem, leaving just enough to grasp with your fingers to hold onto when you will eventually eat these!

I'd murder you for these.

I'd murder you for these.

7. I prefer to bread the flowers in tempura, as the lightness of the batter compliments the delicate nature of the flower. Prepare the tempura batter according to the box instructions.

7. Dip the flowers into the tempura batter, and place the battered flowers into a hot skillet of canola oil. I use a large skillet with enough oil to just barely cover half of the flower while cooking. I flip the flowers after about a minute, or until one side is brown.

8. Drain briefly on paper towels or a cooling rack. Enjoy immediately (but don’t burn your mouth!)

And there you have it, tempura breaded, goat cheese stuffed, squash blossoms!  Since it seems everyone has an overabundance of zucchini this season (same as any), I’m hoping to enjoy these every Saturday for the rest of the summer!  No you can’t have any, get your own.

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At least in Bloomington, Indiana it is!  Almost everything is coming into season now in the Midwest, which means tough choices–what do I want to get, versus what do I need to get?  If I get this, can I eat it in time?  Will it go bad?  How do I capture the freshness of summer through the winter and spring months?

I brought $50 to the market this morning, planning on spending it all to demonstrate how easy it is (with a little planning and thought) to eat local and fresh year round.

Here’s what I got with my $50:

Okay, so it was more like $56, but deep fried squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese are my Achilles' Heel.

Okay, so it was more like $56, but deep fried squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese are my Achilles' Heel.

6 squash blossoms ($2)

One cantaloupe ($3)

One pint of oriental eggplant ($1.50)

One pint of yellow cherry tomatoes ($1.50)

One pound of pork burgers (4 burgers, $6)

6 ears of corn ($2.50)

One round of plain goat cheese ($8)

One pound of clover honey ($4.50)

One pound of fair trade, locally roasted coffee ($10)

2 pounds of peaches ($5)

2 bags of tender leaf lettuce ($5)

1 small bunch parsley ($1.50)

1 large bunch cilantro ($2.00)

1 pound whole wheat pastry flour ($4)

Three peacock feathers for cat toys ($0.30)

Two nice peacock feathers to make a hair fascinator ($2)

Not counting the feathers, I spent $56.50 (I had not planned on buying the pastry flour, but the Icelandic Sheep farmers who usually sell it hadn’t been to market in several weeks and I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to buy it while it was available!).  Keep in mind, too, that about half of what I bought was organic, too.

Granted, I bought several luxury items, like the squash blossoms and goat cheese, and the typical family of four on a budget probably would pass buy such items.  However, if I were feeding a family of four, a dinner consisting of 4 pork burgers, 4 ears of corn, and fresh salad would cost that family $11 total, or $2.75 a person (including adding fresh tomatoes to the salad, and using pantry items to make a fresh vinaigrette for the salad).

Now, let’s shop at Kroger.

1 pound ground sirloin  ($3.15)

2 bags Dole prepared salad ($5)

4 ears of corn ($1)

Total: $9.15

For a similar meal, it is cheaper to shop at Kroger, but just by cents.  The Kroger meal would cost about $2.30 per person.  With the economy in the crapper, adding up the savings on every meal, those cents do turn into dollars of savings.  If you were to use the prices I came up with for the two meals, do all the math, the savings between eating every meal local and every meal from Kroger adds up to about $40 a month.  Which can be the electric bill, or a cell phone bill, or the internet bill………..

HOWEVER, the excuse of local not being affordable is a bunch of hooey.  Most anything is affordable if you take the time to think about what you’re buying, how you can save something for later (buying a dozen ears of corn from the local market for $5 and freezing some, for example), and how your purchase fits into your overall budget and outlook on life.  Also, look at the quality and the rarity of some of the things I got today.  Hand made cheese?  Baby oriental eggplant?  Squash blossoms!?  I can’t get that at Kroger.  And there is something to be said about Bloomington honey, too.  It actually tastes like Bloomington.  As if you were to walk outside on a breezy day, and close your eyes, and take a deep breath, and then translate that to an edible good.  I would not want to bottle the taste of Kroger air, as that would be a startling mix of stale cigarette smoke, fish guts, and freshly baked bread.  But you see my point.

Just for fun, I’m going to post all week long about the dishes we’ll be creating from our market harvest, just to show you how far that food will go (I like coffee, but that pound will last us 2 weeks if we drink some every day–and the flour? That’ll last awhile too), and how delicious and fresh and wonderful everything will taste.

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Naan.  What a wonderful, versatile bread.  As it is intended, to sop up all the delicious flavors of an Indian stew, or as the basis for homemade pizza,  naan is delicious and wonderful and warm and buttery and tangy… and the easiest bread product you could ever make from scratch.

Ball of unbaked naan!

Ball of unbaked naan!

Homemade Naan: (Adapted from pattikay in LA on Recipezaar)

2 cups plain yogurt (I use low-fat)

4 cups flour (organic, unbleached white, whole wheat–all work and are delicious!)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1. Mix together the dry ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Add yogurt to the bowl, stirring with a spoon until the naan starts to come together.  When it starts to form into stringy bits/clumps, turn contents onto a floured surface and knead to combine.

3.  Continue kneading (about 5 minutes) until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.

4. Oil a large bowl and place naan doughball into the bowl, covering to keep moist. Let rest for at least an hour.  I’ve let it rest for several hours, and placed it in the fridge to bake off the next day without problem.

5.  Cut the rested dough into 10-12 equal pieces, flattening the ball into a little disk, and rolling out flat like you would sugar cookies!  Throw down a little flour onto your surface to prevent sticking.

6.  Place each round individually into an ungreased, non-stick skillet.  Brown on the first side until the dough starts to bubble (like a pancake, but the bubbles won’t pop).  Flip the naan over, to quickly brown the other side.

7.  Place the naan into a 400 degree oven.  Watch it poof up!  This is to finish cooking the naan all the way through, and give it an airy texture inside.  Once the naan poofs up (1-2 minutes) remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.

8.  Repeat with each of the other doughballs.  You really get into a rhythm (rolling dough while one is already in the skillet, while one is poofing in the oven), and the whole process should take about a half hour.

When freezing, place a small piece of parchment or wax paper between each naan to prevent sticking.  You can reheat these in the microwave in about two minutes (take care to wrap in paper towels so it won’t dry out!)

Naan bread pizza, with buffalo chicken sauce, chicken, and sharp cheddar cheese.  The possibilities are endless!!

Naan bread pizza, with buffalo chicken sauce, chicken, and sharp cheddar cheese. The possibilities are endless!!

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Sweet Grass Restaurant

Sweet Grass Restaurant

We have been looking forward to SweetGrass Restaurant opening for some time now.  There are three ways to get anywhere in Bloomington, and one of our most frequent routes has us driving by the “Sweet Grass Restaurant Coming Soon” sign at least twice a day.  And we checked, twice a day, for indications of the restaurant opening—lights being on inside, and then a few weeks after that, seeing the bar lit up with bottles of rum and vodka lining the walls, and then finally the sign of signs:

My new neighbor.

It just so happens that my new neighbor is quite friendly and came over to our house on her move in day to share in our joy of lighting sparklers on the 3rd.  After showing her our place, and she showing us hers (and sharing some disappointments in how the builder chose to finish both of our places), her boyfriend told us he was one of the chefs at SweetGrass, and told us it would be opening the following Tuesday, after the holiday!

We went opening night, knowing full well that, being a soft opening, there were going to be some kinks in the system.  However, service was fast, friendly and pleasant.  We were seated immediately, taking in the ambiance of the place as we were escorted to our (tiny) bistro table.  The restaurant was comfortably occupied, as more patrons coming in as we ate to fill the remaining tables.  We were seated in what turned out to be an awkward space–not really in the restaurant with everyone else, and not really in this strange nook area near the bar that had a black leather couch and two armchairs that also had tables for dining, and not really at the bar……close to the kitchen, but far away…. it was awkward enough that I can’t fully explain it, because it didn’t make much sense.

The tables were obviously new (ie, they weren’t sticky from years of previous use, and I felt comfortable grabbing the edge of the table and not fearing sticking my fingertips in 20 year old Bubba-licious), and the decor was minimal; a strange Tuscan theme, featuring curly, wrought-iron details scattered at random throughout the open-floor plan restaurant, and paintings/photographs that struck me instantly as something I would find in Olive Garden.

The best seat in the house.... which was beside us.

The best seat in the house.... which was beside us.

Don’t get me wrong, the decor was pleasant, but not the “Southern” theme I was expecting, as my new neighbor described the place as such.  When he described the menu, and recommended that we try the Shrimp Po Boy sandwich, and the Fried Green Tomatoes, I kind of expected some kind of modern Southern-American fusion restaurant, and I don’t think that’s where we ate. I think it needed a gay man’s touch.

Let’s start with the appetizers.  Averaging about $7 each, the appetizers included a smoked applewood bacon and shrimp pizza, stuffed portobello mushrooms with a roma tomato marinara, and fried green tomatoes.  Described as a “southern favorite,” the fried green tomatoes couldn’t have been any better!  They were heavily breaded with panko bread crumbs which stuck to the tomatoes by way of a thick layer of tart buttermilk.  When they were fried, the buttermilk made this almost cheesy layer between the crisp crust and the green tomato.  The dish was only made better by dipping the pieces into the buttermilk ranch sauce that accompanied the dish in a little stainless steel bucket.  The sauce was light on the ranch flavor, so light in fact, that I wouldn’t have described it as anything but thickened buttermilk, but good nonetheless. If you’ll notice in the photo below, there was a relish of some sort–corn, red tomato, and slivered green pepper–atop the fried tomato rounds that was distinctly tart with vinegar and salt.  This same relish was plopped on top of my appetizer, the Roasted Tomato Soup.

Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Ranch Sauce

Fried Green Tomatoes with Buttermilk Ranch Sauce

The Roasted Tomato Soup was a tough pick when considering the other options (a creamy potato with sharp cheddar and something called “potato grass” and the forgettable soup of the day–it’s forgettable because I can’t remember what it was to tell you about it!) However, I find it to be increasingly difficult to find a GOOD tomato soup–either its too salty, too creamy, or just bland.  This one reminded me of Goldilocks’ porridge–just right.  It was slightly sweet, with just a hint of spice, and the aforementioned relish glooped on top made the soup more like a raw veggie soup.  The menu said it would come with focaccia croutons, but I think I preferred the veggie relish over the croutons.  Offbeat, but good.  I’d have it again for $3 a cup.  It would be an excellent, healthy lunch option at $5 a bowl, too.

"Roasted Tomato Soup: Creamy tomato seasoned and served with focaccia croutons"   Veggie relish does not equal focaccia croutons.

"Roasted Tomato Soup: Creamy tomato seasoned and served with focaccia croutons" Veggie relish does not equal focaccia croutons.

As for entrees, I had a hard time finding something that I “had to have.”  Usually, when going to a new (to you or brand new) there’s something that you think, “Hm, if anything, I have to try THAT.”  I just wasn’t getting that feeling, mostly because I came in thinking there would be some kind of fried chicken.  A fried chicken sandwich, southern spiced chicken fingers, ANYTHING…. but alas, there was none.   I could have opted for a salad ($5-7) and added chicken, shrimp or salmon ($4-6), and tried a variety of house-made dressings (included a mango vinaigrette), or a variety of sandwiches. But, I settled for the salmon.

Sandwich offerings from Sweet Grass.

Sandwich offerings from Sweet Grass.

My date went with the shrimp po boy, and said it wasn’t the best sandwich ever, and that it wasn’t very memorable.  It wasn’t a sandwich that had him saying, “When I come back, this is what I’ll order.”  It came with a sauce on the side (which I appreciate, as I like to control the sauciness of my food), which turned out to be the same buttermilk-wanna-be-ranch dressing as the fried green tomatoes.  Looking at the sandwich section again, what in the world is “burger” about the “Pizza Burger” ???  There’s no mention of meat in the description.  Sounds like pizza bread to me.  Most of the entrees and sandwiches came with your choice of a side– mashed potatoes, house cut fries, asparagus, risotto, side Caesar salad, side salad, or three southern options—collard greens, carolina slaw, or a grit cake.  We’d never tried collard greens, citing wanting a professional to cook them for us, so we know how to cook them ourselves, but if that’s what collard greens taste like, I’ll pass.  Having never tried collard greens before, I’ll let this one slide.

Shrimp Po Boy: Fried shrimp, Carolina slaw, and breaded sweet peppers served on a hoagie ($12)

Shrimp Po Boy: Fried shrimp, Carolina slaw, and breaded sweet peppers served on a hoagie ($12)

The risotto that I ordered with my salmon was super-duper rich and creamy.  I like it a little lighter, less dense, and luckily I like asparagus, because it was in and on top of the risotto.  It was only after I finished my meal that I realized my plate was missing the a key ingredient: there was supposed to be a grit cake placed under the citrus (farmed) salmon, and that really would have made the dish.

Citrus Glazed Salmon: Pan seared citrus salmon served over a fried grit cake.  Add a side of your choice. ($16)---Notice the lack of grit cake.  Sadness.

Citrus Glazed Salmon: Pan seared citrus salmon served over a fried grit cake. Add a side of your choice. ($16)---Notice the lack of grit cake. Sadness.

Again, this is a soft opening, so maybe some ingredients didn’t come in, or the menu changed, things are forgotten–all understandable.  When I pointed out the error to the server, the host offered us dessert for free.

The deep fried Twinkie, one of two menued dessert options (the other being a variety of Stewarts Ice Cream Floats and the special was pecan pie), made me really excited, as I had heard of such delicious atrocities at carnivals, but had never tried one.

Deep fried Twinkie ala mode with strawberry sauce

Deep fried Twinkie ala mode with strawberry sauce

It was a Twinkie.  Deep-fried.  Not a lot of flavor.  But, that’s a Twinkie for you, right? We got it a-la mode, and the ice cream was good, but the staff had dished it into individual servings and placed it on the plate (kind of assembly line style), meaning the scoop had frozen all the way through and was hard as a rock.  The strawberry sauce on top was most likely homemade, but the strawberries were soft and had lost their tartness in the mess of sugar sauce.

The entrees were the same melange of indifference as the sandwiches— a brine roast pork tenderloin, roast chicken breast, vegetable ziti, a flat iron steak, and the only discernably southern item, which was shrimp and grits.  I’m not a vegetarian, but having catered several events while working for a campus catering company, “vegetable lasagna” was the instant go-to for the “veggie option” on the menu.  I also think Kid’s Menus are insulting to kids–if you want your kids to enjoy a variety of foods, have them try new things that AREN’T swamped with cheese! Any good restaurant should be able to size down a variety of entrees for a kid.  Kids SHOULD eat more than grilled cheese, cheese pizza, chicken fingers, or spaghetti and meatballs.  This kid’s menu was no different, and was completely uninspired.

The gist of what I’m trying to say:  The chef is young.  23, to be exact.  This menu was reminiscent of someone cooking straight out of culinary school–a flat palate, the basics, some with a southern twist, but I guarantee if you saw the whole menu, and I asked you for the “concept,” I don’t think southern would be first, or even fifth, on the list.  It was uninspired and if you are going to go

We’ll go back again for lunch, after the staff gets the kinks worked out, and try it again and see if the menu has changed and any adjustments made to reflect lessons learned during the first month of business.  Until then, I’m only going to give Sweet Grass an average rating, because of its potentially awesome concept that was not really followed through on the menu or in the restaurant, and for feelings of general discomfort while we were there (bad table placement, awkward division of space in eating area, having to stare directly at the kitchen as I ate a-la “Welcome to Moe’s!” style).

I’ll give it another try, and let you know how it goes.

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