Chat Leftovers: Farm Market Meat Shopping, Afternoon Tea Party

Philly: My daughter wants to bake cookies to send to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Do you know how to do this? I don't mean how to pack the cookies but where to send them?

Philly, it’s my understanding that for security reasons, you must send overseas care packages to a specific individual rather than to a general catch-all address. If no one in your immediate family is currently serving, reach out to neighbors to find out if they’ve got loved ones overseas who might like a sweet treat. For some great insight on baking for the troops, read my recent q&a with AMA reader Louise Skinner, who’s been sending cookies to troops for the past three years.

Bethesda Mom: Congrats on 10 great years!! As someone who's followed the chat from the beginning, I can't believe it's been so long!

Here’s my question: I'm planning an afternoon tea to thank friends who cooked dinners for me and my family when I had an operation. I'm planning on three types of savory finger sandwiches (curried egg, cucumber, salmon) and several types of baked goods -- I've already made some scones, and want to have at least one fruit/veg bread, probably pumpkin, and two or three types of cookies.

I'll also be serving hot tea and champagne, and will have a bowl of strawberries or grapes, but no other food, and the event is 2-5 p.m.

How should I judge quantities?

Mom, think of this as a heavy hors d’oeuvre event, meaning 6-8 bites per person, total. For the sandwiches, I’d make enough so that every guest has an opportunity to nibble two of each kind. This is a good average, as some guests will have just one each and others will load up on sandwiches. As for pumpkin bread, I’d make two loaves, and for cookies, I’d do one batch of each type (which usually yields about three dozen). You may have leftovers, but cookies typically freeze well. Alternatively, you could package them up as party favors at the end of the soiree. For a mid-afternoon event, your guests will be well sated and may not even need supper that night. Have fun!


Arlington, Va.: I was inspired after reading "The Omnivore's Dilemma" by Michael Pollan and I want to try to eat more locally produced food. Obviously with produce it is a little bit harder this time of year but I went to the Courthouse market Saturday to see what kinds of meat and dairy options were available. It was a little bit overwhelming. Any tips/suggestions on how to start buying more meat from the market? What kinds of questions should I ask? Do the products still have to meet any government standards? Thanks for any help you can offer.

Arlington, congratulations for venturing out and feeding your curiosity. I agree, getting schooled on humanely and locally raised meat and dairy can be overwhelming. Your instincts to head to the local farm market are good, even in the dead of winter, when the market pickins are slim.

At Courthouse market, there are a few meat vendors: Eco-friendly Foods, Smithfresh Meats (tell Forrest I sent ya) and Cibola Farms, if I’m not mistaken. Each farmer specializes in different animals; for example, Cibola offers bison and Smithfresh offers a slew of sausages, whole chickens (and turkeys during the holidays), eggs and goat, for starters. Last time I checked, Eco-friendly offered rabbit as part of its lineup. Although their products aren’t sold in conventional stores, these farmers must adhere to strict government standards if they want to stay in business.

And ask the farmers if you don’t believe me! They want to hear what’s on your mind and are happy to answer any and all of your burning questions; the more they can educate interested sustainable food shoppers such as yourself, the better it is for their bottom line. Unlike a giant industrial factory farm, a small, independent farmer will tell you as much as you want to know -- what the animals eat, how they’re raised, the life of a farmer -- you name it. In fact, many farms are open to the public, so be sure to ask about paying a visit.

Your question reminds me of a new title that recently landed on my desk: “Eat Where You Live” by Lou Bendrick. This is a small, hand-held guide filled with practical tips on navigating the world of sustainable eating. I think this would serve you well as you find your way at the market. Keep me posted of your adventures; I’m excited to hear what’s next!


The Last Word

Washington, D.C.: I know this is too late for the Jan. 6 chat, but just read the transcript and wanted to weigh in on the butternut squash. I (1) - save seeds for my garden, and have had several wonderful crops over the last few years without buying anything (2) compost the peels and (3) scatter the seeds that I don't save for wild animals to eat (birds, squirrels, etc). Nothing wasted!

/From an anonymous reader: This is a question for "Centre of Nowhere" -- any chance you can please post Olive Guy's recipe for vodka sauce? I always love having it out but have never been successful in my attempts to recreate it at home.

This week’s What’s Cooking transcript in entirety.

By Kim ODonnel |  January 7, 2009; 7:00 AM ET Chat Leftovers
Previous: An Early Taste of 2009 | Next: Breaking (Banana) Bread

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Good Morning, Anonymous - here's OliveGuy's recipe for Vodka Sauce. I'm sorry, but I do not have a date for when it originally posted.

Vodka Sauce
by OliveGuy

16 oz. can whole plum tomatoes, drained
1/2 chopped onion
1/2 cup vodka (plus 1-2 oz. for the chef)
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tbsp. red pepper flakes (up to 1 tbsp.)
1/2 cup cream
salt and pepper

1. Over medium heat, sautee onion and garlic in olive oil until soft and transluscent, about 5 minutes.

2. Add tomatoes, crushing them with the back of a wooden spoon.

3. Add vodka and red pepper and simmer for 20 minutes.

4. Add cream and cook 5 minutes more to thicken. Taste, and add salt and pepper to taste.


It's very easy. I've sometimes put it through a food mill to smooth it out (if you aren't a fan of tomato chunks in your sauce). I have also doubled the recipe to freeze sauce for later. Enjoy!

-Centre

P.S. I have a small request: who is the State College, PA poster from yesterday? By my handle, I can tell you that I'm nearby! We should meet up for a MA Cook-In...maybe a future curry adventure?

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | January 7, 2009 8:38 AM

I didn't get a chance to post my recipes for Banana Bread for the person asking for them yesterday.
One thing I do with my bananas when I don't have time to make bread is freeze them whole peel and all and then when its time to make bread I'll take them out let them defrost a bit then use as normal.

I really like both of these recipies.


Coconut Banana Bread

2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup coconut milk (I've used regular milk in the past if I didn't have coconut milk on hand)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup shredded coconut (I used sweetened shredded coconut)

Preheat oven 350F and lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamonIn a large bowl, whisk together sugar and eggs until well combined, then whisk in the mashed banana, coconut milk, butter and vanilla extract. Pour dry ingredients into wet ingredients and stir until just combined, making sure no streaks of flour remain. Stir in shredded coconut and pour batter out into prepared baking pan. Bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, or with only a few moist crumbs attached. Turn loaf out onto a wire rack to cool completely before slicing.
Makes 1 loaf.

Whole-Wheat Banana Nut Bread
from Williams-Sonoma
Makes two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaves

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (4 large bananas)
4 eggs
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans. In a bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In another bowl, beat together the butter and sugar until blended. Beat in the banana and then beat in the eggs until completely mixed; don't worry if the mixture looks lumpy and curdled. Stir in the nuts. Fold in the combined dry ingredients until just incorporated.

Divide the batter equally among the prepared pans. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.

Allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Posted by: Librasmoon | January 7, 2009 9:10 AM

Unfortunately I didn't get this into the chat yesterday, but I was hoping someone might have some ideas for me. I bought rutabaga on a whim the other day, but now I can't decide what to do with it. Any vegetarian suggestions?

Posted by: mimsi | January 7, 2009 10:04 AM

Kim -

What happened to your monthly review of food magazines? I really enjoyed that and often bought them according to your recommendation!

Posted by: Elyse315 | January 7, 2009 11:03 AM

On the theme of using the seeds from squash, they're also a great way to flavor a broth. If you don't need them immediately, stick them in a plastic bag and freeze them.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 7, 2009 11:46 AM

Centre of nowhere, how funny, when I saw your username I wondered if you were in my area. Let's talk! you can email me at "fsu2vt2umd@yahoo.com"!

Posted by: chrishpl | January 7, 2009 11:54 AM

To the commenter from yesterday who roasts butternut squash, how long do you do it for and at what temp? Also, covered or uncovered? I can't seem to master roasting these.

Posted by: Jeanne923 | January 7, 2009 12:06 PM

will do!
(thanks, Kim!)

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | January 7, 2009 12:48 PM

Jeanne923, I roast whole or halved at 400 degrees for 45 mins to an hour, depending on size. There is no magic--and they are very forgiving. Just check when they are soft, and pull out of the oven then.

Posted by: egengle | January 7, 2009 3:41 PM

This is a response to a question from yesterday's chat, I was not able to post yesterday. For the user who wants to know where to find agar-agar: Agar agar is commonly found in almost every Indian Store, it goes by the name "China Grass" in India (dunno why).

Posted by: OpinionatedLiving | January 7, 2009 4:56 PM

I didn't comment yesterday, but love roasted butternut squash. I generally peel the squash, cut into large chunks, toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, and toss in a 350 degree oven. About 30 - 45 minutes should do it, depending on the size of the pieces. A toothpick is a good way to check doneness.

BB

Posted by: FairlingtonBlade | January 9, 2009 2:57 PM

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