Buying Local


It has been a long time since I last posted an article. It is amazing how busy you can get in your everyday life. As time has passed, we have continued cooking ever so delicious meals, and have learned some new things.

However, the most important time in many cooks life is soon to be upon us. With the spring harvests beginning and producing wonderful ingredients to produce any dish you can imagine, soon we will be barreling into summer and fall harvest and canning and drying our hearts out, with the hope of preserving some of the fresh taste that makes spring and summer cooking so enjoyable.

With that being said, it is important to source your ingredients locally when possible. To me it makes perfect sense. Why buy corn that has been imported from another country, when most likely there is a farmer growing the best corn money can buy in your area.

As far as I am concerned, farmer’s markets are one of the best resources a good cook has. Few people can tell you more about a vegetable than the person who planted the seed, cared for it, and harvest it. Farmers are as passionate about the vegetables, as you should be about your food.

I have a hierarchy of sorts that determines where I spend my money. First and foremost is the farmer themselves. Anytime I can pay cash directly to a farmer, I’ll jump at the chance. Secondly, I will purchase things from a market that is supplied by local farmers, and only sell local, seasonal items. Last if necessary I will by from a retail grocery store, but still, will try to only buy seasonal when possible. I applaud the store Meijer for attempting to sell local when possible, so that is usually my choice. A lot of people ask me why I care, and if I really believe my ten dollars is going to save that farmers farm. This is out of context to me. See when you pay a farmer directly for produce; you are paying him for his time, labor, and skill. When you pay a grocery store, you are paying for salaries, transport, time, fuel, and overhead. The farmers sees very little of your money.

If you get a chance, talk to farmers in your area. Tracy and I have been able to tour one farm that we by from, and have petted the chickens that lay our eggs, seen the fields where out produce comes from. Another farmer recently told us where his farm is located and also told us how we can get produce from him outside of the posted times of the farmers market. We will later on this month, be touring yet another farm. The personal connection makes cooking much more pleasurable to me, and nothing beats the taste homegrown vegetables!

If you are looking for farmers markets in your area, you can check out this website http://www.local-farmers-markets.com. They have markets for large portions of the country.

So buy local, talk to farmers, preserve food for the winter, and most importantly, cook seasonal. You will not be disappointed.

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Bread….The reason God loves Bakers


Loaves of Fresh Baked Bread

Loaves of Fresh Baked Bread

     Bread can make or break a meal. It adds texture, flavor, color, and contrast. It can be used as a vehicle, to cool down a dish, as a  filler, a dessert or an entree. It has been around for hundreds of years, and the techniques may have changed, but the concepts have not.

     With that being said, if you have never tried to make bread at home, you can’t truly respect this formidable foe to the home cook. Bread can be extremely difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. A loaf of simple white sandwich bread can be knocked out with ingredients probably already in your your kitchen, and take just about 3 hours. Then again, I have seen recipes that require multiple days and tons of special equipment. It all depends on your recipe, and your technique. However, once you find a recipe that works for you, simple changes can turn your bread into the loaf of your dreams.

      Until today I have avoided bread, and really, any baking for that matter. I, like a lot of cooks, hit up a local bakery for my bread. When I met Tracy, she knew a little about baking bread, and often made rolls and loafs of wonderful fruit and nut bread. She avoided seriously any mention of making homemade sandwich bread, and I had to beg to get her to even consider a loaf.

      I recently read Guy Fieri’s book “Food: Cookin’ It, Livin’ It, Lovin’ It”. His section on Sandwiches will literally starve you to death as you read. And after reading all about this great sandwiches and seeing the mouth watering pictures, I asked Tracy if she would help me bake a loaf of fresh bread for sandwiches. Of course my loving wife giggled and said sure.

      Well today, I baked my first loaf of bread (left). Tomorrow, and every day after, I will be baking my own bread. Yes I was up to my elbows in flour, and their were stacks of dishes everywhere, but it is so worth it. The first piece, smothered in melted butter, is one of the most enjoyable things I have ever created. The flavor and texture profile are unmatched by any bread you can buy, and it was better than most bread I have purchased in bakeries.

     We also made a loaf of beer bread (right), which is an entirely different type of bread and process. I will be doing a write up on beer bread in the future, so be sure to check back for that update.

      We don’t have a bread recipe of our own, but here is the recipe that we used, which was given to us by a friend. Give it a try, I am sure you will be very happy with your results. If the first loaf doesn’t come out right, clean up your board and try again. Once your comfortable with sandwich bread, explore other kinds. Who knows, maybe I’ll be posting lots of bread related articles in the future!

Prep Time: 3 hours

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1-1/2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable shortening
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, approximately

Preparation:

  1. In large bowl, add the warm water. Slowly stir in dry yeast. Continue to stir until yeast is dissolved.
  2. Add salt, sugar, shortening, and milk to bowl. Stir.
  3. Mix in the first 2 cups of flour.
  4. If needed, begin adding more flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough chases the spoon around the bowl.
  5. You do not need to use up all the flour called for in this recipe, or you may need more flour than called for. The amounts vary depending on many factors, including weather, which is why most bread recipes only give an approximate amount of flour needed.
  6. Turn dough out onto floured board and knead, adding small spoonfuls of flour as needed, until the dough is soft and smooth, not sticky to the touch.
  7. Put dough in buttered bowl, turn dough over so that the top of dough is greased. Cover and let rise in warm spot for 1 hour.
  8. Punch down dough. Turn out onto floured board and knead.
  9. Preheat oven at 375 degrees F.
  10. Form dough into loaf place in buttered bread pan. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.
  11. Bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown.

 

A Simple Dessert To Not Feel Guilty About


Every once in a while you get the craving for something sweet. However, if you trying to stay on the healthy highway, that can be a task. One of our favorites is fruit pizza. Now, the pizza does have some things that you dietician will not endorse, but it does has a lot of healthy fruit, and that is better than a piece of German Chocolate Cake. So we are simply minimizing the evils.

 

Tracy is the dessert master, and the one who will be cooking this recipe for the article. She starts with a simple sugar cookie recipe, and forms a nice crust. She baked this is a spring form pan, so that she could use the bottom to build the pizza. This can also be done on a regular cookie sheet or cake round, you will just have to plate the pizza after its finished.

Sugar Cookie Crust

The filling or “sauce” is made from cream cheese and sugar. 4 oz of cream cheese 1 teaspoon of lemon juice, and 2 tablespoons of sugar works for us. However, you can use pineapple juice, crushed pineapple, flavored cream cheese, ect. You can really make this part you own. Spread the filling over the cooled crust and smooth it out to get ready for the fruit.

Spread the filling

 

The fruit can really be anything you can imagine. Today we used strawberries and blueberries with a little bit of dark chocolate. The dark chocolate adds calories, but are rich in antioxidants, and really go a long way with the flavor of the dish. Layer the fruit on and makes some pretty swirling patterns, or simply just make rings of fruit, It all tastes the same, the fancy stacking is just for looks. Some drizzles of the left over chocolate makes a nice effect.

Putting on the fruit

 

The entire pizza needs to hit the fridge to chill for at least 2 hours. Slice and enjoy. Remember its not completely free on any diet, but it is a dessert to not feel guilty about!

Finished Fruit Pizza

 

 

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip


Spinach Artichoke Dip is a dish that many cooks I know are very afraid of. Made incorrectly, it can be horrible, and every chef or cook seems to have their own version. However, in its simplest form, this can be a great, easy, and enjoyable dish to make.

The recipe that we use is for the most part very simple, and mimics the dip made by some of the most popular Italian restaurants. We make this from time to time for dinner and guests, but it’s also great to fix on a weekend to simply let everyone snack on. It can be made using fresh artichokes, but I personally have never attempted the task. We use canned artichoke hearts, and frozen chopped spinach.

INGREDIENTS:
8 ounce cream cheese (Room temp)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Mozzarella cheese
1 can (14 oz) artichoke hearts drained, chopped
1/2 cup spinach, frozen chopped, drained
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon dried basil

PREPARATION:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine together mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese, cream cheese, garlic, and basil. Mix well. Add the artichoke and spinach, combine. Place in baking dish and top with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until the top is browned. Serve with toasted bread or tortilla chips. You can also use various cheeses as the topping to help blend the dish with your other items. Cheddar works well, however mozz is traditional.

If you take a French baguette and slice it very thin, then brush with some garlic butter, and toast under a broiler just until crisp, you have a very nice vehicle for the dip. It can also be served with tortilla chips (Tracy’s favorite). Easy garlic butter for bread is to combine melted butter with garlic powder and salt to taste. Start slow, and add extra garlic to your liking. Also, a coating of fresh cracked black pepper over the dip can add an extra flavor profile.  The dip can also be used as a condiment for making some amazing sandwiches such as roasted chicken on wheat with tomato and fresh spinach.

Steve

Review: Buffalo Wild Wings Richmond, Ky


For the first restaurant review we wanted a place that we knew well. We have been eating at this restaurant pretty much since it opened. However, the review in question is about a visit on December 15, 2011.

We arrived just after 8pm and were greeted and sit immediately. The hostess was friendly and spot on with the specials and promotions. Our waitress “Patricia” was if anything too friendly, and provided great service throughout the entire service.

We ordered boneless wings in their honey barbecue sauce and a basket of potato wedges with cheese. The food arrived promptly and was well cooked. One of the best things that I have observed with BW3’s is that their cooks do not over use sauce. The wings are tossed with just enough sauce to cover, allowing the chicken to speak alone as well. The honey barbecue sauce is my favorite, though they are more known for their spicy sauces which are quite good as well. The potato wedges were cooked well, maintaining just enough texture to be a solid and not mushy. They arrived to the table with the cheese melted and bubbling, and were obviously saved off, to be the last dish plated. The dipping sauces chose, blue cheese and ranch, were also quite good and in generous quantities.

Having eaten at many “sports bar” style restaurants including multiple BW3’s, I would have to say that Richmond’s BW3’s is one of the better I have been to, and in my opinion have some of the best wings I have tried in the area. I give them a rating of 4 of 5.

 

Buffalo Wild Wings

2139 Lantern Ridge Dr #100  Richmond, KY 40475-6011

(859) 624-2437

Budget Friendly Storage Solutions


When creating all this yummy food, you must have great options to store leftovers. Picking a great set of containers out, can be hard and sometimes exhausting. With very few brands delivering on what they promise. Most kitchen inspired chefs use what ever is on hand. This could simply be reusing butter bowls, whip cream bowls, ect. Using this method you can loose large amounts of the flavor in your food and it almost always gets lost in the fridge.

One of my favorite thing to do is watch for sales. This is a great way to try out new storage containers without hurting your budget. Tonight while out shopping I noticed a great sale on name brand storage containers. Along with this sale I had coupons to make it even better. So after all was said and done I ended up scoring twenty five pieces of Snapware containers completely free.

I have never used this brand before, but I am really excited. It seems to be a great brand. After two hours of research I can wait to get in the kitchen and cook.  Snapware offers lifetime warranties, along with airtight and watertight seals. Even without a sale or coupons, Snapware seems pretty reasonably priced. Now I am stocked up on ways to store my food, I can not wait to get into the kitchen and create some new dishes and enjoy them over and over again.

Coupons is a great way to spend less money on buying accessories and spend more money on ingredients. However, don’t forgot to max out your savings by looking for sales, comparing prices and then adding the coupons in.

Tracy

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


From time to time you have to just settle for one thing or another. I love peanut butter cookies while Tracy loves chocolate chip. So one day while Tracy was making me some cookies for a potluck she decided to throw in some chocolate chips and viola! Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies were born.

By far being out favorite cookie these are often for pretty much any event we attend. These are fairly easy to make and freeze well. You can freeze either the pre-baked cookies, or the cookie dough. To freeze the cookies simply chill them on a cookie sheet and then separate in layers with wax paper and drop into the freezer. The cookie dough simply gets divided into 1 lb blocks, enough for about 24 cookies, wrapped in a couple of layers of plastic wrap and into the freezer. Thaw for a few hours in the fridge and then bake as normal.

One of the most important things to getting a good soft peanut butter cookie is the cooking time. If you pull the cookies out of the oven a few minutes before they finish cooking, and allow them to finish off on the cooling racks, you will get that soft texture everyone looks for. Whatever you decide to do, remember that experiments and trial runs are how all great food is made, so change it up, mix something new in, and make the recipes your own.
Basic Peanut Butter Cookies

1 stick of butter
1 cup of peanut butter

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1 egg

1 1/2 cups sifted flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Whisk butter until creamy, mix in peanut butter. Add sugars slowly and combine. Add vanilla and egg and stir well. Mix dry ingredients thoroughly. Combine with butter/sugar mixture. Chill dough for 3-6 hours .Shape into 1 inch balls and place about 2 inches apart on a baking sheet. Flatten with the tines of a fork dipped in granulated sugar. Bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 8 minutes. Move immediately to cooling rack to finish cooking.