Wokin' Willies

Month: March, 2013

Energetic Food

by jwingwilson

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Our Jamaican friend, Phyllis, told a story about her friend, visiting from the Island, who looked at a chicken they had bought in the Bronx and said, “How can you eat that dead chicken?” Hopefully all chickens have passed on by the time we cook them, but what she meant was the mass-produced chicken was energetically dead; there was no life energy in it.

Her story has come home to us as we start our second year of a year-round, full-diet CSA that puts truly energetic food on our table every week. We have tried to eat “real food” (thank you, M. Pollan) for a while. Choosing organic over no name, frequenting the local farmers’ markets, and opting for fresh over processed whenever we can. It’s been more expensive, some times more hassle but our attempt to rid ourselves of chemicals and other unwanted shadows of our modern, mass-produced food without farming ourselves has been a bit of a quest. While it’s not always easy to tell and labeling is not what it ought to be, nonetheless we were trying to reduce energy waste and pollutants to others and ourselves.

But it wasn’t until we signed on with Rob Moutoux that we realized what we were missing. Rob runs his family farm in Purceville, VA, with his girl friend Mo and, until recently, the best two farm hands ever, Rochelle and Jessi. He also gets help from his folks, life-long small farmers in Northern Virginia. Rob is a bold and determined man. His vision is to provide nearly all the food that 70 people need, year round. His goal is to run, as close as he can, a chemical free, integrated farm that produces milk, eggs, meat, and veggies following the season, with help from hoop houses and lots of crop and animal rotations. Starting his third year, with a lot of hard work, it seems to be working. While he has had to train us all on how to preserve when there’s abundance and substitute when there’s not (did I ever imagine there were so many types of beets, or you can “massage” kale to make a great winter salad or that turnips can be flashed cooked and included in almost anything for a wonderful nutty flavor?). The weekly pickups become a foodie’s dream, as we chat about what weird vegetable has appeared and everyone’s’ favorite way to cook it, how to make instant kimchi, or what happens to mustard greens when you sauté them and add them to scrambled eggs.

Ok, I digress. What about the energy?

The weird and completely unexpected thing is that there is a quality to this food that makes everything we’ve ever eaten dead in comparison. I imagine if you turned out the lights, the food in his barn would glow in the dark, or maybe you could hear the veggies talking to each other about how excited they were to be added to the Willies’ stew or stir-fry in the next few days. So there are some weird things about this energetic, alive food. While even the best Whole Foods organic spring mix, or even greens from most of the local farmers’ markets, might last a few days, with luck a week with refrigeration, this stuff lasts two or three times as long. The garlic, which can also last for weeks, has a kick and flavor to it that no other I have ever tasted even comes close to. When the food is cooked, the colors are amazing (doesn’t hurt that there are several different color carrots, orange, white and purple ones, and some beets that are white with pin stripes all through them.) And I swear we eat less. We get just MORE from whatever we eat. Even the meats and chickens, while frozen to keep them after some Amish guy has butchered them, have a taste and texture that my Jamaican friends would admire. They are alive!!

So how come? Of course, the food is really fresh. Rob and his gang pick it minutes before our pick up and they store the root vegetables carefully. Also, they take great care with the milk and hand make yogurt and cheese when the cows are happily pumping out a good supply. And it’s definitely his hard work and diligently studied farming methods, which depend on little things like animals to fertilize and turn the soil, chickens to eat the bugs and careful rotation to keep the land healthy. Maybe it’s the proximity to the beautiful Shenandoah Mountains. I have to think, above all, it’s the love. They love the dirt, the weather, the little seeds that turn into beautiful vegetables and the joy on our faces as we haul away the bounty. I tell you the energy is tangible. It talks to me!IMG_0335

I don’t know if the energy is measurable, but we plan to go on eating whatever the Moutoux Orchard can produce. I just wonder how we can get energy back into more food for more people. Clearly they can still get “live” chickens in Jamaica, where the farms are close to the people and the chickens scratch in the dirt for bugs. Our Jamaican friends have continued to do something right and I aint talking about adding Jerk Sauce (although that can’t hurt!). Maybe, as the cost of fossil fuel rises and people start to see and taste real food again, we can put the right kind of energy on our tables and less into the sky. Eat one of Rob’s apples, spots and all, or a fresh carrot just yanked from that healthy soil and everyone would sign on to that renewable plan!

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Specials

by yessewilson

Very Wilson specials at my restaurant today: corned beef pierogies served with apple butter and a fried “tuna dog” slider with wasabi mayo, pickled daikon and carrot, lime teriyaki sauce, and shaved bonito and nori.

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Mushroom Saute

by yessewilson

Here is a great way to prepare everyone’s favorite freaky space vegetable: mushrooms! This was taught to me by the talented sous chef at my restaurant.

Ingredients:

Vegetable Oil

Mushrooms (any work but my favorites are crimini and oyster)

Chicken stock (no substitution for real stock but the Kitchen Basics brand is solid)

White Wine (optional)

Chopped garlic

Picked and chopped thyme

Picked and Chopped Parsley (optional)

Butter

MOP (Method of Preparation):

Cut off stems of mushrooms and quarter or half them depending on the size of the mushroom. The size of the pieces is not important so much as their uniformity.photo 1

Heat up an iron clad pan with the burner on as high as it will go. Wait til the pan is screaming hot then add the vegetable oil and let that heat up. [A good way to tell if oil is hot enough is to dip your fingers in water then flick it into the oil. If it sizzles and instantly evaporates you are good to go. ]

Add the mushrooms into the pan. Make sure not to crowd them. If the mushrooms are too close they will steam each other with the moisture that the hot pan causes them to release rather than giving you the delicious caramelization from the sautéing process.

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Once the mushrooms look to be about halfway cooked, add the garlic and herbs. These really only need to cook for a very short time. Add the chicken stock (and wine if possible) and deglaze the pan with a metal tool (a metal spatula is most efficient). After you have deglazed the pan add a healthy pat of butter and let it melt down and continue to cook the mushrooms until they are done.

This is a recipe that has to be done in batches but it goes pretty quick.

Bon appetit!

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Coveted Kitchen Secrets: Part Deux

by yessewilson

Back with more tips from the world of professional kitchens!

Blanching/Shocking: Blanching is the process of briefly submerging food in boiling water then removing it and dumping it in an ice bath so that it instantly stops the cooking process. Blanching is often done to prepare vegetables for freezing (or pickling). Enzymes and unwanted bacteria that cause vegetables to decompose even while frozen are destroyed by a quick blanch.  It’s also a great way to prepare green vegetables for eating right away. Blanched vegetables have the palatable taste of being cooked while at the same time retaining the crunch of their raw form. It also actually improves the green color of the vegetable. A chef friend of mine theorizes that this might be because the other pigments in the green vegetables such as carotene are destroyed by a quick boil while the bright green chlorophyll remains, the opposite of what happens when leaves turn orange in the fall. One of my go to sides is to blanch green beans or okra then saute onions with olive oil in a separate pan, then adding tomatoes til they break down a bit. Turn off the the heat and add the okra, some balsamic vinegar or lemon, salt and pepper and whatever other seasoning you want. Other vegetables to blanch include collards or asparagus.

Blended Oil: Everyone knows olive oil is great. It’s healthy, tastes great and can be used both to cook and in vinaigrettes for salad. However, it has one achilles heel: a very low smoke point. All oils have a smoke point, extra virgin olive oil (which isn’t really supposed to be for cooking generally) has a very low smoke point of 320 degrees fahrenheit, compared to something like peanut oil which is 450 degrees. Once a oil reaches its smoke point it starts to break down in flavor and imparts this on the food you’re cooking with it. If you are trying to saute a salmon filet, the oil is going to start smoking way before it is hot enough to effectively cook the salmon. Luckily, there is a workaround for this. When olive oil is combined with an oil with a higher smoking point (generally canola), it can be cooked with at a much higher temperature while retaining it’s flavor.  The oils are generally combined at a ratio of between 25-20% olive oil to 75%-80% of the hardier oil. You see jugs of this stuff all over kitchens but not as often in the grocery store (have noticed Pompeiian started making it though) but of course making your own would be very simple.

Salting Water: Salting water doesn’t actually make it boil faster (it actually raises the boiling point thus making it come to a boil slower) but it does make the food you cook it in taste a lot better. I like the water that I cook potatoes in to taste like seawater and a little less than that for pasta.

Tuna and Olives: Great Quick Dinner from the Pantry

by jwingwilson

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This is an old Famly Fav, that is easy to keep all the ingredients ready in the pantry and a delicious quick dinner for a crowd when you forgot to shop. I think I originally learned this from an old friend, Sammy Comazzi, but then added things as we played over the years. The ingredients are simple and the proportions are up to you, and you can always substitute fresh, but here’s how we usually do it:

2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 good size head of garlic (we love lots – it’s up to you)
3-4 medium onions (red or white)
2 cans tuna
1 can peeled tomatoes
1 can pitted black olives
Parsley
salt and pepper
1 lb spaghetti or linguine

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Easy, sauté onions and garlic in oil, add tuna and olives, crush and add tomatoes and finish with parsley and salt and pepper to taste (you could add a little red chili flakes now, if you want to heat it up a bit). Let that simmer. While that’s all happening, cook pasta. When done, add pasta to sauce and serve with proper beverage and maybe some nice bread. Takes about 20 minutes. Yum
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Coveted Kitchen Secrets!

by yessewilson

I’ve noticed a few things that go on in restaurant kitchens that are generally not done by the average cook. No, I’m not talking about amphetamines.

  1. Deglazing: Deglazing is a technique that requires an stainless steel pan. People avoid stainless steel pans because they find that food leaves a residue (caused by the Maillard Reaction if you want to get fancy) after it is cooked that can be tough to clean off. In reality, that golden brown residue is actually not a mess but a delicious asset. Deglazing is the technique of adding a liquid to a pan after that residue has been created and scraping it off with some kind of metal spatula or spoon. The residue is easily removed by the liquid (typically wine or stock but anything can be used) and combines with it to form a tasty sauce that can then be reduced, thickened with corn starch or flour or buttered (say yeah).
  2. Pan Saute/Oven Roast: This is another technique that is often missed out on by the home cook because of rubber handled non-stick pans which cannot go in the oven. Generally used for cooking meat, the idea is to sear the sides of the meat on a very hot pan and then pop the pan in the oven to finish cooking. The caramelization on the outside of meat (and food in general) is a huge reason for its deliciousness. However, searing requires high temperatures which can overcook the meat if left on. While you could just turn down the heat, the meat will still not cook evenly. The best steakhouses often skip the skillet or grill altogether and instead use incredibly hot salamanders (high powered broilers) which can cook a steak perfectly in less than thirty seconds.
  3. Paul Prudhomme’s Blackened Redfish Magic Seasoning: This is more of a New Orleans specific one. Every home cook in Louisiana knows Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning which is by all accounts awesome. Paul Prudhomme’s seasoning is much less known but ubiquitous in respectable New Orleans restaurants. While technically meant for seafood, this seasoning is great on everything, including in flour batter for frying. Paul Prudhomme is also responsible for the best cookbook cover ever:
  4. Mis en Place: Anthony Bourdain calls this technique, translated from french as “everything in place”, his religion. It basically means having all of your ingredients prepared and organized before you begin the actual cooking. When you start a recipe look over the entire ingredient list and method of preparation. If you see that you need to add minced garlic to your onion, carrot and celery that you have been sweating out, don’t try to mince the garlic as the other veggies are cooking. Have everything prepared and put in containers before you start cooking. It will save you a huge amount of time and stress and the food will come out better because you can be more focused on the actual cooking rather than running around playing catch up.
  5. Sharp Knives: I’m amazed by how many good home cooks I know that use terrible, dull, 5 dollar chef knives they got from the grocery store. The chef’s knife is easily the single most important piece of cooking equipment. The Vibrox Victorinox (http://amzn.to/ZZbTYT) is a consistently high rated entry level chef’s knife. In terms of sharpening, stones are the best option but require patience and learning a skill. Electric sharpeners and sliding sharpeners (like the Accu Sharps) are good, inexpensive and easy options but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend them for higher end knives.