Thursday, September 24, 2009

Yeah yeah. i'm about to get all locavore-y on your ass. But just mildly locavore-y.

Every once in a while, I’ll swing by Nell’s Produce Stand , which is located in the parking lot on the corner of Old Alabama and Nesbit Ferry Roads, across from Mt Pisgah school in Alpharetta. I’d been going to them about once a week all summer, as they carried the best peaches from South Georgia, for cheap too. Looky here:

Look how big this sucker was, and it was full of flavor too! You’d think a piece of fruit this big would be bland and unsatisfactory, but no.

It’s no longer peach season, but I swung by there today anyway as I remember seeing some juicy figs there a couple of weeks ago. However, I was disappointed to discover that fig season is no longer. According to the guy hosting the stand today (I forgot to ask his name), Georgia had a wee small window of fig season, a bit less than a month it seems like. By the time I gathered all the fig recipes I wanted to use (such as the fig preserves from last month’s Food and Wine magazine), the figs were gone. I am sad.

They did have these little babies though.

These are Scupperdine grapes. According to the guy at the stand, they’re cousins to the Muscadine, which I’ve heard of because those type of grapes make a mighty tasty French wine (Muscadet). According to a tiny bit of Google research (ok, I did about 10 seconds worth), American Scupperdine is a cross between Scuppernong and Muscadine grapes, for what that’s worth to you.

So what are they like?

Well, for starters, I always inevitably open up the bag the minute I get back in the car, and I’m hit in the face with an intense grapiness, for lack of a better word. You know what grocery store grapes smell like? Intensify that by 200%. So then you pop one in your mouth, and it’s not at all what you expect. A hard skin easy to break through with your teeth, with a soft milder interior, they’re very much like candy and reminiscent of a grape flavored Now and Later. It’s been probably 25 years since I last had a grape-flavored Now and Later, and there I was experiencing it again – except this stuff isn’t fake AND it’s good for you. The skin gives the fruit an almost sour side, but you soon forget it as your mouth becomes engulfed in an extreme grapiness. I ate about 5 on my way home (and I live less than a mile away), spitting the seeds out of the car window as I drove along. Very classy, I know.

I also bought these skinny Japanese eggplant, provided by a farmer in Rincon GA (Rincon is right close to Savannah). I’ve never seen Japanese eggplant that slender, even at the Super H. I foresee myself cutting these in half lengthwise and grilling them, sprinkling with salt and pepper and drizzling with a bit of olive oil.

Nell’s Produce also has some non-local stuff, but I only buy Georgia-grown there. Why not? Support your local farmer.

Off soapox now.

Definition of locavore can be found here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

comfort food in a not so comforting moment

The Atlanta area got hit with some major ridiculous weather the past couple of days, which has left roads blocked, damaged, flooded, people stranded and sadly, worse. I myself didn’t go in to work – they evacuated my building yesterday mid afternoon anyway, as it was losing power. I can work just as well from home, and in fact get a lot more work done without constant interruptions from the riff raff at the office.

The boy hasn’t been so lucky, as he’s had to go in to work. I knew that after a long day with a commute from hell that he’d want something warm and comforting for dinner, something that once he walked in the door and smelled the aroma in the air, would make it worth coming home to. So I roasted a chicken.

I’ve mentioned before that roasted chicken is one of my favorite comfort foods, and fortunately it doesn’t take a long time to prepare. i’ve been using this recipe for years, but even I will admit that sometimes I don’t feel like messing with the chicken every 20 minutes, flipping it around and whatnot. You can just throw it in the oven for an hour and 10 minutes and it’s pretty much done.

If you’ve got a v-rack, like the one pictured above, use that. A lot of roasting pans these days come with one. I have an adjustable one, but a stationary one is just fine. If you don’t have a v-rack, you could use one of those grid-like cooling racks used for baked goods and put that on top of a lipped sheet pan, or make a bed of celery stalks/carrots/potatoes, and place your chicken on top of that. I prefer to have the chicken elevated off of the roasting pan because if I don’t, the bottom part of the chicken against the pan will sit in it’s own melted fat; while this is not necessarily bad at all, it makes for a kind of whitish area and flabby skin – unappealing really.

I do a couple of things to the chicken before tossing it onto the rack. Earlier in the day, or even the night before, take a stick (or half a stick – depends on personal preference) of butter out of the fridge and let come to smooshable room temperature. Preheat your oven to 375 F. Put the room temperature butter in a bowl and add things to it, things like dried herbs, herbes de Provence, lemon zest, fresh herbs – it’s really up to you. There are no measurements for this, just add what you have that sounds good. I would watch how much dried herb you put in though, because too much dried herbs can really be too much. Then, mush all this together with your (very clean) hands, or with a fork if you’re squeamish about that stuff. Set aside while you prep your chicken.

Get a small bowl of kosher salt and have that handy, as well as some canola or vegetable oil – you want these separate from their original containers so as to not contaminate them with raw chicken. Remove store packaging from the chicken (the supermarket chickens I get are around 3.5 to 4.5 lbs. in case you’re wondering), reach into the cavities (both ends) to fish out any parts that might be shoved in there – discard parts if you’d like, or save them for another use. Rinse the chicken under cold water then pat dry with paper towels. Set the chicken on a plastic cutting board.

You’ll want to do something about those pesky chicken wings that are sticking straight up in the breeze. I usually bend these back out of the way, like so:

It might need some coaxing, but it’s doable. Get over your squeamishness now – this is not the time for wilting violets.

Next, take a small handful of the compound butter you made earlier and very carefully push it under the breast skin trying not to rip the skin. Put as much of it under there as you’d like on both sides. Shove whatever butter is left into the cavity. You can also shove any number of things in the cavity, such as the lemon used earlier for zest (cut in half), a bulb of garlic cut in half or even just a few cloves, a handful of parsley, etc.

Now, douse the entire chicken all over with the canola or vegetable oil. Make sure all exposed surfaces are coated. Liberally coat all over with the kosher salt.

Put the rack onto a roasting pan. Using spray oil or even just a paper towel folded up and coated with canola oil, grease up the rack you’re using. Place chicken on top of the rack. Dump about a half cup of water into the bottom of the rack. This will prevent flare ups when the chicken fat starts dripping down into the bottom of the pan. Put chicken in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Check the temperature of the breast, it should be 160 F. I usually cook my chickens anywhere between 1 hour and 10 mn to 1 hour and 20 mn and it’s done. Remove chicken from the oven and let rest to the side. You can wait a few minutes and remove the chicken from the rack onto a carving board (remove from rack using clean kitchen towel or an old pair of oven mitts) and tent with foil.

As an accompaniment to the chicken, I also roasted some onions on the side. You could roast these after the chicken comes out of the oven (or even do it earlier in the day – this dish can be served room temperature). You could do it at the same time but adjust your cooking time, as the original recipe calls for them to be roasted at a higher temperature than the chicken. I will admit that I totally snagged this recipe from The Barefoot Contessa at Home, slightly modified. I absolutely love roasted onions. This recipe makes enough for two to three people as a side.

2 red onions
fresh thyme sprigs
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1.5 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut onions in half root to sprout end, then peel each half, keeping root intact. Cut wedges of onion through theroot, that way the wedges stay intact. Put onion wedges in a bowl.

Make vinaigrette by mixing lemon juice, Dijon mustard, garlic, salt, and pepper in a bowl then drizzling in the olive oil all while mixing with a fork or small whisk. Toss vinaigrette with the onions. With a slotted spoon or by hand, move the onions to a baking sheet, and save the bowl with the vinaigrette in it. Put baking sheet in oven and bake for 20 minutes. Remove pan from oven and toss the onions or flip them with a spatula. Replace pan in oven for another 15 to 20 minutes until onions are browned and soft. Remove from oven, drizzle with the remaining vinaigrette, top with fresh parsley, and serve warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

detox food

So it’s been a crazy couple of weeks. Camping during Labor Day weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway was a blast – although the infield has turned into quite the zoo. It’s always been a circus, as you never know what is going to happen. I don’t talk politics on this blog (and I will never talk politics on this blog) but just to prove to you what kind of circus we are dealing with, let me present to you Exhibit A:

We were intrigued, to say the least. Like, What the fuck does that mean? So the boy went over to knock on the door of this guy’s camper, and who should emerge but a slack-jawed yokel with about 4 teeth in the whole entirety of his head. What came out of his mouth is not something I am comfortable with repeating on this blog. I’d like to say that the South has come a long way, but then sometimes you just have to shake your head at the few people left who are like that.

So I did mention we were camping in the infield at Atlanta Motor Speedway, right? Key word: camping.

This is my friend Erica. I made her pose for this just so that I could capture what was going on behind her and cherish this moment forever. These are two female campers in the infield bathroom at AMS. No matter that it was a humid sweatbox in the bathrooms, these chicks were straightening their hair and putting on a full face of makeup come hell or high water! You just never know who you might meet at AMS, possibly catch yerself a future husband, who knows! You gotta be prepared and bring the entire contents of your bathroom! God I love the South.

Erica introduced me to her favorite adult beverage, which she calls Freds. Freds are vodka and Fresca. I became very good friends with Fred on Saturday, probably too good. Picture me in a denim miniskirt and cowboy hat standing atop our friend Ken’s Ford F-150. Not the bed of the truck, atop. I was hooty hooing with the best of them. And then I fell backwards off the truck (what is that, a 5 foot drop?). I remember when it happened, and the only thought that popped into my pea brain was, “Gee, I hope I don’t spill my drink”. I remember the look on a friend’s face as I tipped backwards, and all the people standing on top of the converted school bus camped next to us whose mouths formed Os and eyes got wide. And I fell… and bounced on my ass, and got right back up. Had I been sober, I probably would have tried to break my fall by reaching behind me, therefore breaking my wrist or my arm. However, had I been sober, I wouldn’t have been standing on top of an F-150 in a friggin miniskirt screaming “WOOOOOOOOO!”

I did end up spilling my drink after all.

The rest of Saturday was spent drinking Red Bull while trying to sober up and apologizing to everyone and no one in particular about how sorry I was that I was drunk.

I spent about an hour walking around the pits people-watching. The people-watching in the pits is vastly different than what goes on in the infield. For one, it’s much cleaner and not as dusty as the infield. Secondly, the caliber of women changes dramatically. The pits are full of women wearing ridiculously expensive eyewear all blinged out to hell, and a ton of makeup. The infield is full of women wearing name brand knockoffs, not much in the way of clothing, and a ton of makeup. I didn’t get to see anyone famous there, but it was fun nevertheless.

We ate well (we always do). Steaks, stuffed and grilled jalapenos, smoked pork butt, Cuban burgers, more breakfast than anyone could eat. Billy Ray was handing out cigars, so I smoked one of those. I do love me a good cigar every once in a while.

Last weekend a friend of mine got married. A while back I had volunteered to make her wedding cakes, so I spent the three days before the wedding making 125 cupcakes (in 5 different flavors), the groom’s cake, and another small cake to put on top of the cupcake tree (all while juggling work). The wedding was beautiful, the bride was gorgeous, and everyone was pleased with my work.

But now it’s time to detox. I’ve been overindulging in a bit of everything, plus with all those evenings spent baking, the last thing I wanted to do was cook so we ordered out a lot; pizza, Chinese, whatever. My body started to rebel by feeling sluggish and not cooperating with me. I hate that feeling.

As a reward to myself for a cake job well done, I went and got a professional manicure and pedicure. When they’re done tarting you up, you get ushered to sit at a table that has built in fans under the tabletop for you to place your hands and feet that way the polish dries faster. I kind of hate this part because I am not a particularly patient person when it comes to nail polish drying. i want to get up and go and do something. So I’m sitting there, bored, flipping through a bunch of magazines I would normally never flip through, things like People and Women’s Health, and it was while on the last pages of what I think was Women’s Health that I came across a couple of pages of recipes. They weren’t even written like a normal recipe, just a few lines of text accompanied by a photo. The theme was Summer Recipes, so therefore light fare, and when I ran across this one particular list of ingredients I just knew that this would be the perfect way to start my detox week. i very carefully pulled my iPhone out of my bag so that I could gingerly type notes into it.

This makes an excellent portable lunch. You could dress the seafood in the morning while packing it up if you wanted to, but I kept both the dressing and seafood in separate Lock & Lock containers and dressed it at the last minute. Don’t dump all the dressing in, because you’ll probably only need about half of it; you can always add more but can’t subtract. In these photos I used halibut because it’s what I had on hand at that time, but I’ve since also made it with shrimp and it’s really just as good.

Couple of pinches of 5 spice powder
2 tablespoons soy
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 to 2 teaspoons grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
½ minced jalapeno or one of those spicy thai chilis
1 to 2 tablespoons minced bell pepper
1 to 2 minced scallions
2 cups cooked lobster, crab, shrimp, or other white fish that could stand up to this kind of dressing (I used halibut, which I’d broiled)
Salt and pepper

Mix all ingredients except seafood together. Add to cooked seafood and toss together.

The magazine suggested serving this on rolls or rice cakes. Personally I think rice cakes suck a bunch of ass, but I bought some for this purpose. And I will say I was totally surprised that plain rice cakes turned out to be the perfect vessel for this. The dressing is already rather strong flavored, so you don’t want something competing with it; and besides if you’re on The Great Detox Plan Which I’m Sure To Give Up On Pretty Soon, rice cakes are the way to go. You can always slather peanut butter on them and call it Snack if you’re not sure what to do with the extra.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Suck it, Trebek.

So I get teased a lot. People sometimes don’t know what to make of me because I grew up in France yet I’m into NASCAR. The two don’t go hand in hand, they say. You don’t seem like the type who likes NASCAR, they say. But you’re not a redneck!, they say. It’s kind of like Chuck Klosterman and his love for Pamela Anderson; you’d never think a guy like him would be into a “girl” like her. But there it is. I like NASCAR and I’m proud to be a fan. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you know that this wasn’t an overnight dealio. It grew gradually, and culminated in a race weekend last October at the Atlanta Motor Speedway.

My mother already thinks that living in the South has warped my brain; she’ll not know what to think once she finds out I watch this crap. Although I need not worry, because she’s probably never heard of NASCAR. Formula 1, yes. Stock car racing? Mais, c’est pour les ploucs**, she’d say.

Tomorrow at 2 pm EST the gates to the infield at Atlanta Motor Speedway will open to campers, and I will be there in Sammy the Ford Escape following the boy and Ken who are towing the 1970s camper which will be our home until Monday. A month or so ago when I called AMS to buy our infield tickets, the lady on the other end of the line told me, in a surprised and pleased tone of voice, that the infield campsites were all sold out – unheard of. This is very exciting news. This means that me and a couple thousand other drunks will be hooty-hooing from our camp spots, and a fun time will be had by all.

Contrary to popular belief, the entire weekend is not just devoted to drunky-pantsing it (although drinking heavily is one of the fun factors, if drinking is your sort of thing). We also eat pretty damn well. This takes some pre-planning, as this year our communal campsites will probably host 25ish people (give or take a few). I’ve had people poke fun at me because I make massive Google docs filled with lists: packing lists, grocery lists, menus, etc... and all I have to say is: SUCK IT. I am a born planner. Camping with that amount of people without some sort of plan stinks. Once I am somewhere, I do not want to budge. I don’t plan on leaving the infield this weekend because I happened to forget something, which will force me to run to the closest Wal Mart. Don’t get me wrong - of course there are times where unplanning is fun, like when two of you are on vacation in the Bahamas or something, and you just want to let life unfold and roll with it. I am a huge fan of surprises. But when one has been unofficially designated the Project Manager for 25ish people camping in the infield, some order and preparation is necessary and vital for my sanity and the sanity of others.

Most of our friends are arriving Saturday, so Friday night will be grilled steaks for the three of us. Saturday is Wingapalooza – wings all day. The boy has been prepping chicken wings for a week or so now, cutting off the wing tips, freezing the wing parts in Foodsaver bags, preparing his spice mixture. All of this is necessary because there is nothing worse than having to butcher wings on a makeshift cutting board while camping, as the boy knows firsthand. The main focus of Sunday’s dinner will be Bobby Flay’s Cuban burgers, which we've made there before and are a huge success. I already have the aioli ready to go. I delegated several people to shop, so that one person wasn’t stuck with the astronomical grocery bill. Everyone is responsible for their own booze.

So here’s to you, whether you’re a NASCAR fan or not, or whether you’re one of those who poops on my planning (therefore not invited to join us, sucks to be you doesn’t it – YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) . I hope you all have a great Labor Day weekend.

Go #14!

** But that's for hicks!