Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Favorite Local Organizations and Upcoming Iowa City Food Events, and Simple Lives Thursday

There are so many exciting local-foods related events and organizations in Iowa, especially  now that it's spring time.  While the Midwest is home to some of the worst of the worst when it comes to big agriculture and conventional farming, there are also some incredible people doing some very meaningful work within the state.  I believe those people deserve our attention and our support, so I thought today I'd share a few events and organizations that I'm involved in and support so you can hopefully find something you're interested in and want to be involved in.
As I've gotten older, I've had more free time and opportunities to become involved with organizations at the local and state level.  Working with these groups, whether it's simply through supporting them through my membership dues, attending conferences, or doing hands on advocacy and volunteering, has given me the privilege to explore my own priorities and beliefs about local foods as well as to see how non-profits work from the inside out.
I'd like to begin by talking about some organizations that are local to Iowa but deserve (and have) national and international support.  All the photos come from the websites of the respective organizations and the source is linked to the photo.

Seed Savers Exchange
Seed Savers Exchange is located in Decorah, IA.  In addition to keeping a glorious heritage garden,
SSE is a center for all things heirloom.  I'm hoping to attend the campout this summer, and they are the source for most of my seeds.
If you join before April 30th, your $40 membership includes a subscription to Organic Gardening Magazine!
Women, Food, and Agriculture Network

I've written about these women here before, and you should definitely consider becoming a member.  Denise O'Brien, their founder, is in Afghanistan doing great work for agriculture.  Read about why she wanted to go here, though the link for the Register article isn't working.

Iowa Valley Food Cooperative

The IVFC is a newly formed Cooperative opening in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area soon.  It's a direct farm to consumer buying group.  Tons of great vendors have joined so far, including yours truly!  Sign up now and I'll be keeping you updated here as we make decisions about the group.

Johnson County Local Foods Alliance
The Johnson County Local Foods Alliance is a great organization that is responsible for a lot of valuable programs in the area, including Field to Family, Buy Fresh Buy Local, and Farm to School.  I'm going to be listed in Johnson County's Buy Fresh Buy Local directory this year, and am working on the Farm to School committee to help with school gardens.  I've featured their Culinary Walk two times on this blog, and can't wait to go again this year.

Finally I'd like to tell you about two exciting food-related events that I'll be attending in Iowa City in the near future in the hopes that you'll consider coming to each of them, and maybe saying hi!

The first is this weekend, Saturday April 30th from 10a.m.-12p.m. and it's the Backyard Abundance annual plant sale.  Backyard Abundance is an Iowa City organization that focuses on making edible landscapes throughout the community.  They work in schools, businesses, and private homes.  The plant sale is an opportunity to learn some interesting stuff (there's even a Terry Wahls lecture at 9 a.m.!), buy some healthy local plants, and to bid on some items to support the organization.  I'll be there volunteering for the Master Gardeners, so stop by and say hello and ask me some questions about container gardening.  The event is at the Rec Center downtown.

Finally, I'd like to announce an event that's very close to my heart.  For months now I've been helping to plan an Eat-In to celebrate the first farmer's market of the season.  I wait a looooong winter for some fresh produce, so I think the first market is a reason enough to celebrate, but Bethany Bender, an Americorps Vista employee, had the idea to put together a potluck where we declare the importance of local foods, and gathering together as a community to support them.  The event is May 7th at 12, which is when the market ends.  Here is our Facebook event page.  The event is supported by Slow Food Iowa City, which is another organization worthy of your support.  Consider coming to the party, bringing your favorite dish, and sharing some food with your neighbors to celebrate our community and the return of fresh food!

It's also Simple Lives Thursday!  I apologize for getting it up so late, but there are still lots of great posts for your to read and you're still welcome to link up.  Check it out after the jump:

Monday, April 25, 2011

Meatless Bites: Three Open Faced Sandwiches to Savor or Share & the First Morels

I come from a family that some people might call high maintenance.  Both my immediate and extended families are very close and gather together often. The vast majority of the times we meet up, the day is at least partly centered on food.  I'm especially lucky because I come from a family of talented and creative cooks.  While there are certain dishes that are brought again and again to great anticipation (like my Aunt Donna's sausage tortellini soup) we enjoy taking gatherings as an opportunity to try new recipes and swap ideas.
Last fall, I remember my mother inviting us to yet another get together, to which I replied with a groan, complaining that I just wanted a weekend alone to myself for once.  She told me to quit complaining and remember that pretty soon we'd all be holed up in our houses, stuck inside and alone whether we liked it or not.  She was right.
Spring is here, the weather is warming, and we're starting to gather around food again.  With this post, I hope to encourage you to try some meatless dishes along to your next group event, and not just sides.
Today, I'm sharing three quick combinations for sandwiches or crostini that are sweet and savory, and great for a lunch at home but impressive enough for a gathering of friends.
Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Roasted Red Peppers
Ricotta with Almonds, Strawberry and Honey, 
and Quark Cheese with Peach Habanero Jam

I started with whole grain ciabatta rolls, but this will work with baguettes or any other crusty bread.  I toasted it in the oven, but it'd be excellent with grilled bread.
Fresh Mozzarella Salad with Roasted Red Peppers
I saw those little mozzarella pearls in the grocery store and just couldn't resist, so I decided to make a quick salad with them and stack that on the toasts with some freshly roasted red peppers.  Roasting peppers is fast and easy and they have tons of flavor.  
DSC01503I don't have a gas stove so I can't do this directly over the flame, so I just heat my oven up as high as it'll go (500) and roast my pepper on a sheet pan.  The skin will blister and blacken all over once it's ready, making the flesh inside soft and sweet.
Once the pepper is cooked, put it in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap or tin foil until it's cool enough to touch.  This will help the skin steam off and it'll be very easy to peel.
DSC01512While the pepper was cooling, I made a quick mozzarella salad with good balsamic vinegar and olive oil (2-3 tbsp. each) thinly sliced garlic and fresh chives from the yard, and a good dose of salt and black pepper.  Use whatever fresh herbs you have around, especially basil.
DSC01507Mix it all up and let it sit for a few minutes.  It's really best served at room temperature after it's had some time for all the flavors to mix together.
Ricotta with Almonds, Strawberry and Honey
I saw something like this in Everyday Food recently and loved the idea of combining rich ricotta with fresh fruit, nuts, and honey.  I decided to use strawberries (no they're not local, for shame.) and almonds. I went with whole milk ricotta, but you can always make your own.  Be sure to toast whatever nuts you use in a dry pan to bring out their flavor. 
These ingredients assembled tasted almost like strawberry cheesecake.  Delicious, but certainly not too sweet.

DSC01519Finally, my old standby
Quark Cheese with Peach Habanero Jam
Barb's Pantry is a local business that makes all kinds of unusual jams and jellies.  They have a few flavors that combine sweet and hot, and we finally decided to try her Fuzzy Inferno, made with peaches and habanero.  The peach flavor is definitely there, but it's also very hot.  If somebody in your family loves spicy food, they're going to like this jam.  I can imagine it'd be an excellent glaze for pork or chicken, too.
We combined it with my favorite quick cheese, quark, this one being from the local Milton Creamery.  The tart creamy cheese balances out the heat and is a nice savory complement to the jam.
DSC01522Each close up:


DSC01533These came together in minutes and were easy to share for a mix and match dinner.  I think they'd be a hit at your next party.CroppedFinally, while I normally try to get this post up before I head to work for the day, I'm thankful I didn't today because we stumbled upon a pretty exciting surprise this afternoon:

It wasn't much, but it got us more than excited for the start of the season.  These guys, along with hearing the baby's heartbeat and homemade pizza for dinner, have made for one excellent Monday.  
Happy Spring!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Growth Indoors and Out and Simple Lives Thursday

Greetings!  It's SPRING! Ok, I know it doesn't feel like it out there, especially here in Iowa, but I promise you it truly is.  I know it is, because green things are springing up everywhere.  To remind/reassure you and me that this is true, I'm posting pictures of all the things that are growing, in spite of the gray cold weather.
In the front yard we have a couple patches of peonies are up.  They look hairy and red right now, but by my wedding anniversary they'll be up and open.
The front yard is also home to our herb garden which will be expanding this year!  From last year all that's come back up is this sorrel.  If you've never tried sorrel, it's very bitter.  I tried making a sorrel soup with yogurt last year and just hated it.  I'd love to hear any recipes you have tried or heard of that make good use of this hearty herb.DSC01455The poor tulips have stayed clamped shut from the cold, but they're still up in reds and yellows all around the yard. 
DSC01457We have a few kinds of daffodils around and they're in full bloom this week.
DSC01460Another herb that has come back up is the big patch of chives in the planter.  We actually have two kinds of chives here and they'll stay growing all through late fall.  I hope to dry some this year.
DSC01461I'm not sure why I never noticed the bright yellow blooms of the forsythia before, but for some reason they have screamed at me this year from all around town.  They exploded a couple weeks ago, a welcome sign in the otherwise bleak landscape of last year's leaves and dead turf, and this week the blooms are dropping off and giving way to green buds.
DSC01462We've also got GARLIC coming up!  This is our first time growing garlic and I am happy that all the cloves we hastily shoved into the dirt last fall have sprouted up.  There's no way for us to grow enough garlic to actually satisfy our household consumption, but I'm excited to have seen the experiment worked.
DSC01466We tilled the back and side plots and few days ago and have since thrown in the first round of radishes and lettuce.  We'll do another round soon between plantings of summer/fall crops. 
DSC01468The raspberries are starting to green up!  (In the background is the tangle of grasses that desperately need to be trimmed back, but I just can't handle yard work when the temps are in the 40's.)
DSC01470That's it for what mother nature's got going on, but I've been brewing up some green things of my own indoors for the last month or so.  We have all the tomatoes in flats, which was way easier than doing small pots. 
DSC01473They're finally getting a few more leaves and have that tomato plant smell.  I actually stand here and sniff them to remind myself that it's really spring.  (If you've ever been around tomato plants you know what I'm talking about.) 
The kale seedlings are really starting to look like baby kale!
DSC01482"Healthy" peppers are thriving.
DSC01474Everybody is warm and happy under the lights.
DSC01484If you want to know exactly which seeds I ordered, check out this post. (There's a tasty stew in that post, too, if it's still cold where you are.)

It's time for Simple Lives Thursday this week, and that includes some excellent featured posts!  Check them out, look around at this week's contributions, and submit yours!  Remember we four host:
Annette at Sustainable Eats  
Featured Posts

1. I'm gonna bee... by Healthy Green Kitchen
Winnie explains how we owe 30% of our food supply to bees, unfortunately, due to colony collapse disorder bees are dying worldwide. As a steward of this Earth, Winnie embarks on bee keeping.

2. The Kitchen Garden by Sense of Home.
Beautiful pictorial on what one can grow in a small area and excellent advice on producing with limited space.
3. A closer look at glycerin & whether it's wise to be in toothpaste including a toothpaste recipe by Artistta.
A closer look at one of the ingredients in toothpaste, glycerin and a great homemade toothpaste recipe.

4.Keeping Ducks - A Few Facts by Healthy Homesteading.
A few facts on raising ducks that has some of us thinking about raising our own!
5. Recipe: Naturally Dyed Easter Eggs from Real Food Forager.
With Easter just a few days away, this author shares how to naturally dye Easter eggs. The colors and textures the natural dyes create are stunning!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Meatless Monday: Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage Sauce

One of the main complaints meat eaters have about meatless meals is the fact that they are too light, not filling enough.  
Today, I'm going to share a dish with you that's hearty and filling while being nuanced and flavorful.  The bonus of this dish is that it's thrifty and simple, too.  We'll make a meal for two with lots of leftovers using only what you see here:
DSC01368That's right, we're making gnocchi!
If you've never heard of gnocchi, you obviously don't watch much tv.  People on cooking shows constantly rave about these little pillows of flavor (and almost as often rant about them being poorly executed).  Today, I'm going to show you how I made the most basic and classic style of gnocchi, served with brown butter sauce with sage.
Gnocchi are very much like a homemade pasta.  When you make pasta, like I've done here, you use flour, (traditionally semolina) egg, and water to make the dough.  Gnocchi includes all of these but is built around potatoes.  This gives the gnocchi a more earthy and robust flavor than plain old pasta, and does amazing things when it comes time to brown later on.  I'm getting ahead of myself here, so let's start at the beginning.
Whenever I want to try a new dish, I have certain cooks whose advice I seek out.  For Southern food, it's Alton Brown.  For Italian, I trust Ms. Lidia Bastianich, nonna to the world.  I used this recipe as a guideline, along with a few others.  Most of the recipes, including Lidia's, start with boiled starchy potatoes.  Some baked them, but I thought boiled would make for flesh that was more moist, so that's what I went with.
This isn't so much a recipe as it is a tutorial, and can easily be multiplied.  I'll even show you what to do with leftovers, so you can double this and have some waiting in the freezer for a future weeknight.
1.5 lbs russet potatoes 
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. flour of your choice (I used white whole wheat)

Begin by boiling your potatoes.  You'll have to peel them later, so slice an X in the bottom.
DSC01374Boil in salted water.  These were taking too long and I got impatient so I cut them into quarters later.
DSC01377For this recipe you're going to need a ricer.  I haven't found any gnocchi recipes that don't use one.  I can vouch for the fact that they make the lightest, fluffiest potatoes ever, so one is well worth your $15.
DSC01384Don't overload the ricer, and be sure you have the skins totally removed.  Mash 'em through.  (Unlike traditional mashers, you will never get gummy potatoes from a ricer!)
DSC01388Squeeze them out onto a sheet pan so they cool quickly.
DSC01390Two potatoes worth.  Let this cool for 10-15 minutes so it doesn't cook the eggs and is easy to handle.
DSC01392Pour the beaten egg over the top.
DSC01394Sprinkle with the flour and some salt and pepper.
DSC01396Use your dough scraper to bring it all together.
DSC01397Knead the dough just enough to bring it together.
DSC01398Divide the dough into 4-8 pieces, depending on how much space you have, and roll into dowels around 1/2" thick on a floured surface.
DSC01400Use your dough scraper or a knife to slice into little pieces, around 1" each.  Dust the blade with flour so nothing sticks.  If you'd like to stop here, you can.  They will cook up nicely and taste just fine this way. But most people do a little trick to make ridges on the gnocchi so they hold their sauce better.  It's really easy, but entirely optional.
DSC01401Start with the back of your fork.
DSC01402Use one finger to press one side of each piece onto the back of your fork.
DSC01403Roll it toward you leaving an impression of your finger on the back as you pull the dough toward yourself.
DSC01406All rolled up.
DSC01411As this point, you can put any extra gnocchi onto a floured sheet pan and into the freezer.  Once they're frozen solid, you can throw them into a baggie or container and keep them frozen.
DSC01442If you're hungry now, boil those guys.  Give them lots of room (again in well salted water) so they don't stick together.
DSC01413Once they float to the top they're done.
DSC01417Meanwhile, make your sauce by browning up some butter over medium heat.

Brown Butter Sauce
1 stick butter (best at room temp.)
1 tbsp. rubbed sage (more if you want to use fresh)
the juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

After the butter melts, it'll start to foam and make noise.
DSC01415Once the pieces at the bottom begin to brown, remove the butter from heat and add the remaining ingredients.  Taste for seasoning.
DSC01425Finish the boiled gnocchi by frying them in a pan with oil or butter, generously browning on each side.  This is where the potatoes come into play.  Having all those sugars, the gnocchi will brown beautifully and get crispy on the outside while staying fluffy and airy on the inside.
Garnish with just a little of the sauce, since it's so rich and flavorful.  Gnocchi is excellent on its own or with a big crunchy salad.
DSC01437You could throw on some parmesan if you just have to.
DSC01438I sincerely hope you try gnocchi for a fun family dinner or even a party.  They are so addicting and satisfying that they'll keep any meat eater happy.  I think a mushroom sauce would be amazing with these.
Have you ever made gnocchi?  It turned out to be much easier than I thought it would.  Give it a try and tell me how it goes.
This week I have a friend photo to share with you (it makes me so stinkin proud when my friends make recipes from my blog and take pictures) and I'll update you on all things garden.  Soon.
Here's hoping it feels like spring where you are!
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