Ultimate Crispy Salmon

I missed you, farmers’ market!

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When my husband and I first moved to California, our weekends revolved around farmer’s markets.  If we couldn’t make it to the Foothill Farmers’ Market in Auburn on Saturday, we made sure to go to the Certified California-Grown Farmers’ Market in Sacramento on Sunday.  For the most part, we knew what produce was in season, and what we were planning on getting.  We made friends with the vendors, and were greeted with a hearty hello each visit.  It was fulfilling to be part of a community of growers who cared about their animals and land, the quality of food they produced, and the customers they were providing for.

Over time though, we weren’t able to dedicate as much time to farmers’ markets.  And since moving to Sacramento just a half-year ago, we’ve only made it out a handful of times.  However, my husband and I just moved to the Southside Park area of Sacramento late last month.  We are now only a few short blocks away from the Sunday Farmers’ Market, and we could not be more excited!  Our passion for shopping the local markets has been renewed!

After completing our move two weekends ago, we planned to head to the farmers market the very next weekend.  So, with much anticipation, and our canvas bags in tow, we headed out bright and early this past Sunday.  We were tickled pink to be able to walk there.  At first, I thought it was just me, but my husband commented how excited he was too.  We couldn’t wait to see what secret gems we would find – after all, it is fruit season!

We headed straight for The Little Fish Company and picked up some great looking fresh salmon, smoked salmon, and marinated poke.  We knew we wanted some peaches and nectarines from Twin Peaks Orchards, and blackberries from Hooverville Orchards, and after “window shopping” a bit, we also wound up with heirlooms tomatoes, summer squash, English peas, and cherry plums (super sweet, and equally as tart!!)

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With the salmon and peas, I knew exactly what was on the menu for dinner: Tyler Florence’s Ultimate Crispy Salmon.  We picked up some supplemental ingredients from Whole Foods (fresh herbs, lemon, watercress, Greek Gods yogurt in place of crème fraiche, and fresh assorted pearl onions – why not continue the “fresh” trend?), and I headed straight for the kitchen.

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After shelling the peas, I blanched them in boiling water for a minute or two, and then shocked them in an ice bath to stop them from cooking further.  This is essentially the process that manufacturers follow before they freeze and package produce.  I did the same with the pearl onions to help loosen their skins for removal.  (FYI, go with frozen pearl onions.  Fresh is not really worth the hassle here!)

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As for the salmon, I saw Jaime Oliver grill salmon skin once, and have been eating it ever since.  So I usually cook the salmon skin-side-down first until the skin is nice and crispy.  Then I flip the salmon over to cook the other side, and remove the skin.  Once the salmon is done, I put the salmon skin back on the pan to get it even crispier. Yum!

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With those small substitutions, I pretty much followed the recipe in the link I provided earlier.  Here’s my version of Tyler Florence’s Salt and Pepper Salmon, Smashed Potatoes, Peas, and Pearl Onions, and Dill Crème Fraiche.

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Enjoy!

– Christine R.

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Dog Beach, Dog Cake and Walks

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Our rescue greyhound Duncan turned five last Friday June 14th; he’s also dying. On May 28th we found out that he has bone cancer and will only make it another 1 to 2 months.

We first noticed something was amiss when we got back from Florida and saw him limping around. Our nanny (who is also a dog owner) agreed to watch Mocha and Duncan for us while we were away. We knew she’d taken both dogs to our local dog park while we were gone, so we figured his limp was from a tweak he’d suffered horsing around.

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When the third week was going by and the limp was anything but better, we decided it was time to take him in. My wife was hoping it wasn’t bone cancer, knowing that large breeds including greyhounds are susceptible to it. I figured it wasn’t cancer because Duncan is so young and the vet assumed the same when we dropped him off in the morning. Unfortunately by the end of the day with the results in hand our vet had to tell my wife over the phone that despite the very high percentages going in that this would not be cancer were the opposite for our boy.

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That same week we took him for a second opinion that confirmed the first. The second vet (like our own) also recommended against aggressive treatments like amputation. So we are giving Duncan 12 pain pills a day and 1 anti inflammatory. When his quality of life deteriorates to the point where he can’t get around even with pain pills we will put him down.

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All of the above is sad and unfortunate of course, but we are so thankful that Duncan managed to be one of the lucky greyhounds that makes it off the track still alive. As soon as these dogs stop winning races, their owners stop feeding them. Then they either perish, get shipped to Mexico for a second even sadder racing career, or are lucky enough to be picked up by one of multiple rescue organizations throughout the country. Our great big horse dog Duncan was in the latter camp!

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You would think the first picture in this post is of Duncan today with bone cancer, but it’s not. It was taken on the day we formally became his new owners. He’d been trucked from his track in Arizona (now closed for good) to Napa California. After a few weeks on a farm to readjust with other rescues, he went off to a foster home. This is where we picked him up. By this time he’d already gained a few pounds since he had left the track. In the photo he is 80.5 pounds, today he is 92!

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The rest of the pictures in this post are Duncan today. Despite the cancer I think he’s a very fortunate dog to have avoided Mexico or an earlier death and gotten to spend the past three years with us. When we first heard about his cancer we immediately wished we’d walked him every single day like we are supposed to. You have to live in the moment though so after briefly dwelling on this we went out and bought him some In N Out Burger. He loved it. He’s also been eating ground beef with rice regularly since his prognosis and even enjoyed his fifth birthday with some homemade doggy cake with peanut butter frosting (thanks grandma!).

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The weekend after his bad news we rented a mid size SUV so that we could take him and our expanded family to the dog beach in Santa Cruz. Duncan was there once before and it was his favorite bar none. He didn’t disappoint us on his return visit. Our gimpy couch potato ran up and down the beach chasing waves, birds and other dogs for a full 30 minutes; about 25 minutes longer than he runs at the normal dog park when he’s feeling great! He limped around a bit more the day after, but I don’t think he would have wished for anything different. Thanks for being part of our family Duncan. I’m glad Lolo got to meet you even though this picture is the only way she’ll be able to remember you.

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Lolo’s Dad

Blackberry Jam

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Last weekend I made blackberry jam and canned it! I had a blast and the jam is delicious. For me it was worth making despite the sugar because it reminds me of summers in Michigan at my Grandmother’s cottage. We traveled back almost every year when I was growing up and I loved walking through the woods out into the field with my Grandmother to help her collect wild dewberries (closely related to blackberries).

Back then that was the extent of my involvement in the jam making process. After returning to her cottage, I rushed back out to swim in the lake while my Grandmother spent time in the kitchen making batch after batch of jam. At the end of our visits she always gifted us a few jars of fresh Michigan jam to carry back with us to California.

Ever since I did a little reading about food preservation (motivated by our interview with Smokey Ridge Charcuterie), I knew I wanted to try canning. Since then I read the canning section in The Encyclopedia of Country Living, while at the same time bugging my wife to let me get some canning equipment. For Father’s Day she “surprised” me with twelve 8oz Ball canning jars and this Ball Jar Canning Utensil Set.

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I’m having fun making my way through Carla Emery’s book, but I’d recommend a simpler more focused book like the Joy of Cooking All About Canning & Preserving which I picked up at our library along with the Grapes of Wrath and a cookbook by Chez Panisse Cafe. And with all of that said the actual recipe I followed is from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (after all my Grandmother never put ‘tart green apples’ in her berry jam, and I’m pretty sure apples and berries aren’t in season at the same time!)

Side Note: Jam is pretty much the easiest and safest canning you can do. The key with any canning is to make sure your recipe is reputable (you can check recipes out here) and that you don’t deviate from it. For example, the sugar in jam recipes is the preserver. If you skimp on the sugar you weaken the shelf life and increase chances for spoilage. Finally low acidic foods (not the case with jam) require a pressure canner and are much more dangerous if canned incorrectly (botulism can kill you). Canning is safe if you follow the recipes.

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Ingredients

  • 4 cups blackberries
  • 3 cups sugar (this is a ratio of 1.33, the USDA’s jam is a ratio of 1.5, but in the Fannie Farmer recipe the berry liquid is reduced before the sugar is added. By all means follow the USDA recipe linked above if you’d rather)
  • 4 8 oz Ball Jelly Jars with new lids (it’s OK to reuse rings)

Directions

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Sanitize your clean rings and jars (DO NOT BOIL THE LIDS) by boiling them for 10 mins in a large pot of water. Turn off the burner under the pot when the 10 mins are up, but leave everything in the hot water until it’s time to fill the jars. The pot should have a wire rack at the bottom to keep the jars from touching the very bottom of the pot (I tried to use an upside down cake tin with mixed results). The pot should be deep enough so that you have room for at least 1 inch of water above the tops of the jars when they are sitting on the rack (my 5 gallon pot for making homebrew beer was deep enough).

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Prepare your lids by letting them soak in a bowl of warm to hot tap water (very hot or boiling water ruins the seal).

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Wash and clean your berries. Discard any berries that don’t look fresh. Add your berries to a large pot (not your canning pot) and mash them with a potato masher. Simmer the berry mash for 15 minutes. Add your sugar and bring to a boil while stirring constantly. Boil the berry and sugar mixture until it gets to 214°F on a candy thermometer. The thermometer is optional, but it’s also only $10 and will last a lifetime so I recommend taking the guess work out of it. Turn off the stove and skim off the foam from the top of the mixture.

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Using canning tongs (or regular tongs) remove the sanitized jars from the canning pot and set them on your counter. Insert your wide mouth canning funnel and pour the hot jam into your jars until the jam is 1/4″ from the very top of the jar. (The Ball Jar Canning Utensil Set has a nifty tool for measuring the head space for any canning recipe). Place a lid on top of the jar. Screw a ring on until it is comfortably snug but not overly tight, which prevents it from sealing. Set the jar aside and repeat using the rest of your jars, lids and rings until the mixture is all used up.

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Any left over partially filled jar (more than 1/4″ head space) should be placed in the fridge and used within a couple of months. The rest of the filled jars should be returned to the canning pot. Bring the pot back to a boil (add water if needed to get more than 1″ above the lids) and boil everything for another 10 minutes.

That’s all it takes. The next morning make yourself a piece of toast, butter it and spread on your homemade blackberry jam!

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Lolo’s Dad

Foraging Class from Slow Foods Sacramento

If you are interested in learning how to supplement your diet by foraging for edible plants throughout our local region, then you may be interested in this upcoming event from Slow Foods Sacramento. Heather Pier will spend the morning of Friday July 12th with 15 individuals showing the tricks of the trade. Tickets are limited and only $16 so sign up early. Says Heather “We believe humans can SUPPLEMENT their diet with some wild foraged foods – but should never be greedy since wild foods are first and foremost for the critters and wildlife – we simply nibble a bit and sustainably harvest wild foods in our local terroir.” You can register here.

Also last weekend was the Placer County fair, did anyone attend?

Brown Bag Monday: Seed Saving

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It used to be common no less than a one hundred and fifty years ago for farmers to still save and replant seeds from their most productive plants, their tastiest plants, their prettiest plants and so on. This technique had been passed on from generation to generation since agriculture was invented over 10,000 years ago; and it lead to the creation of over 7000 apple varieties alone by the 1800s.

Since that period the United States has gone from not having a commercial seed industry, to having the largest. In the process most farmers and home gardeners have lost the impetus, means, or skills to carry on the agricultural history of saving seeds.

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While the seed industry was getting larger other agricultural changes were occurring as well. Starting around the 1930s and rapidly increasing after World War II, farming and the food distribution system became more and more industrialized. With larger fields, abundant fertilizer, combine harvesters, trucks and factories; planting, growing, harvesting, transporting, packaging, distribution, and resale became faster, cheaper and easier. For the first time plant varieties were reduced to eliminate the hassle of different shapes and sizes and to select the varieties that held up best to travel. Fast forward several decades and we are at a point where “experts estimate that we have lost more than half of the world’s food varieties over the past century.

Today the global seed industry is dominated by just 6 main companies and a single one, Monsanto, rules the roost. Monsanto is famous for creating genetically modified organisms (GMOs) for corn, soy, cotton, sugar beet, and canola; that are all (among other things) immune to the herbicide glyphosate (aka Roundup to Monsanto). Their marketing was clear, buy their seeds, spray their roundup, fertilize like normal, and you’re crop yields will be through the roof. And the marketing worked: “90% of maize, soybean, cotton, sugar beet, and canola planted in the United States are glyphosate-resistant“. What about the crop yields? Well the research is coming in and we are finding “that plant communities with many different species are nearly 1.5 times more productive than those with only one species (such as a cornfield or carefully tended lawn).

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Regardless of the safety of consuming the end products of GMO seeds (here’s the most pro Monsanto/GMO health article you’re likely to find these days), the lack of diversity and ongoing loss of plant varieties in itself is a major concern. Pinning the vast majority of the worlds calorie supply onto the hopes of fewer and fewer plant varieties means today’s food supply is at a greater risk to the effects of a single plant pandemic than ever before. Monsanto may know how to make insect resistant corn for today, but can they predict and be ahead of the corn earworm, corn borer, corn sap beetle, or corn root aphid mutations of tomorrow? And what about corn loving bacteria and fungi?

History may hold a few answers. The Irish potato famine is well known and lasted between 1845 and 1852. During it’s course nearly 1 million would lose their lives. The culprit, potato blight – a type of fungus, recently had its strain positively identified as HERB-1. Later in the same century European wine grapes started dying off from phylloera (an aphid like pest) accidentally brought back on American grape vines (which are resistant to the critters). “In France alone, total wine production fell from 84.5 million hectolitres in 1875 to only 23.4 million hectolitres in 1889.” The European wine grape industry was saved by grafting varietals onto a common phylloera resistant root stock. Even more recently a new strain of puccinia graminis (a wheat fungus that causes root rot) showed up in Uganda in 1999. UG99, as the strain is referred to, has now spread to many other African countries. UG99 causes up to 100% crop lost and could seriously jeopardize world wide wheat production if it spreads further.

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Seed saving organizations are trying to alleviate the risk we have placed on our global food supply by racing to save local varietals across the globe. One such organization in the United States is Seed Savers Exchange. Each year Seed Savers Exchange posts a seed exchange catalog to promote participatory conversation by getting saved seeds into the hands of gardeners and farmers across the country. In addition on  their farm outside of Decorah Iowa they grow and preserve the seeds of thousands of heirlooms that have been donated to them.

In their own words:

The strategies and tactics being employed by the agricultural biotechnology industry are diametrically opposed to our efforts to protect and share our garden heritage, and to increase the genetic diversity available to gardeners and farmers growing healthy food for their families. Seed Savers Exchange was one of the original signers of the Safe Seed Pledge in 1999:

“Agriculture and seeds provide the basis upon which our lives depend. We must protect this foundation as a safe and genetically stable source for future generations. For the benefit of all farmers, gardeners and consumers who want an alternative, we pledge that we do not knowingly buy or sell genetically engineered seeds or plants. The mechanical transfer of genetic material outside of natural reproductive methods and between genera, families or kingdoms, poses great biological risks as well as economic, political and cultural threats. We feel that genetically engineered varieties have been insufficiently tested prior to public release. More research and testing are necessary to further assess the potential risks of genetically engineered seeds.”

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Hopefully we will only need heirloom fruits and vegetables to alleviate our boredom from the tasteless, colorless varietals offered up by industrialized agriculture. Still, it’s reassuring to know that if we ever need them for more serious reasons then there are folks doing all they can to help make sure it remains a possibility.

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Lolo’s Dad

Chicken Liver with “Melted” Apricots

What’s Inside Your Chicken?

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In general, I prefer buying whole chickens over chicken parts. Per pound, they are less expensive than their choice part alternatives (i.e. chicken breasts), which can be useful in offsetting the cost of organic free-range birds. Separating a chicken yourself can save added convenience fees that a vendor might charge, and cooking it whole (read: in “bulk”) might leave leftovers for another day. To really get the most out of a bird though, think offal and stock.

Most whole chickens come with a package of offal inside the body cavity. This package, often referred to as “giblets”, contains the chicken neck, heart, gizzard, kidneys, and liver. Most people throw this package away, not knowing what else to do with it.  However, it’s a gold mind of vitamin-rich protein that comes virtually for free. With a little TLC, it could become a lovely meal or two.

I often save the giblets, as well other random parts (skin, wing tips, backs), until I have enough to make a meal. Since I had already accumulated several freezer bags full, I figured it was about time to make chicken stock (future post), chicken liver, and chicken chicharones.

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I had planned to make the classic liver and onions, but since my husband forgot to bring home onions from the store, I had to improvise. A good friend of mine had just gifted me a ton of freshly picked apricots from her family farm, Saeed Farms, in Yuba City. I figured they would pair well with the liver. Since liver can be bitter, a bit of sweetness would help to offset this.

I prepared the liver simply, seasoning it with salt and pepper, giving it a light dredge in flour, and a quick sauté in butter and grape seed oil. The apricots were sautéed in a little butter for just a few minutes until “melted”. If they are left on the heat too long, they will break down too much, leaving you with apricot sauce instead. I rounded out the meal with some steamed broccoli and a side salad.

To use up some chicken parts, I also decided to make chicken chicharones (crackling).  I threw some chicken skin in a skillet and let it render its fat on low heat until the skin was crisp, then threw some sea salt on it to finish.

Now, I will admit, I’m not the biggest fan of liver, but this meal was really tasty! The textures were fun as the creaminess of the liver melded into the soft apricots, contrasting the crunchiness of the chicharones. And the flavors were spot on too; the bitterness of the liver played off of the sweetness of the apricots, and the saltiness of the chicharones.

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Pretty good for an offal meal!

Chicken Liver with “Melted” Apricots

Ingredients

  • 1 lb chicken livers
  • ½ cup of flour
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 1 Tbs olive oil
  • 6 fresh apricots, seeded and halved
  • 2 tsp butter

Directions

Rinse the chicken livers, trim off excess fat, and cut into bite size pieces. Pat the pieces with paper towel to remove excess moisture. Season with salt and pepper. Melt the butter on medium heat, add the oil, and heat until just shimmering. (The butter will add flavor to the dish, and the oil will increase the smoking point so the butter doesn’t burn as easily.)  Dredge (lightly coat) the liver in flour, shaking off the excess, and sauté in butter and oil mixture for 2 minutes per side, until slightly pink in the center. Cooking too long will make the liver chalky in texture.

Melt the 2 teaspoons of butter on med-low heat. When the foam from the butter subsides, saute the apricots cut side down for 2 minutes. Flip to warm the other side, but do not leave on for too long as the fruit will break down.

Serve, eat, and enjoy!

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– Christine R.

New Farm Online Foodstand and DigIn!

Remember Dan from Humble Roots CSA? Check out the new project he helped create with other local Sacramento farmers called the “New Farm Online Foodstand“. Every Monday at noon the farmers in this group post their produce, meat or other goods that is ready and fresh that day. You have until Tuesday at noon to select the items you wish to purchase for that week. Then on Thursday you go and pick up your order from one of their three locations in Sacramento or West Sacramento!

Last night I purchased 2 loin chops, boysenberries, and a dozen eggs. I’m excited to pick them up this Thursday, maybe I’ll even get a chance to say ‘hi’ to Dan!

In other local happenings, check out the first DigIn! Dinner at the West Sacramento Farmers Market. Local chefs are going to join local celebrities (I almost put that in quotes) to host 100 guests to dinners made from local ingredients procured right from the Farmers Market. This is apparently going to recur the first Thursday of every month. Tickets run 40 dollars and they help fund local non-profits. The first dinner is this Thursday, June 6th. Hopefully there are still tickets left if you are interested.

Lolo’s Dad