Author Archives: penelopedia

Challenge update

Submitted by Penny Hillemann.

Okay, so my family, maybe like yours, is busy and somewhat scattered and the kids (well, we mainly just have one at home these days) don’t like many of the foods the adults like. So I have to admit I leave my son’s diet out of the Eat Local Challenge calculations. He gets local dairy products, some local breads, some Malt-O-Meal brand cereals, and most of the time that’s as far as it goes. (I don’t think they make local ketchup or chicken nuggets yet…) But I will make pizza using last summer’s rainbow tomato sauce before the week is out, so that’ll be something.

I really haven’t been doing much to change the way I normally eat this week — which is good, because it means I’m aiming for a sizable proportion of local foods most weeks of the year. This week I made a large pasta bake with last summer’s frozen tomato sauce and some Callister Farms chicken, and some local Sno-Pac frozen broccoli, and we’ve been working our way through that. Breakfast every day includes toasted Just Bread with peanut butter, a little OJ and local milk in my tea, so that’s close to 50% local. I’ve had a couple of delicious nacho lunches with Whole Grain Milling Co. tortilla chips, Salsa Lisa and local cheese, so those have been 100% local. Meeting treats at work are always from one of our local bakeries or coffee houses, so even the guilty pleasures are legit from that perspective!

So, I’m not the best person to model careful menu planning habits on, but it’s become a habit just the same to buy local options each week, not just because they’re local, but also because they’re just plain good. Good luck for the rest of Eat Local Challenge week!

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Local food products I love

Submitted by Penny Hillemann (penelopedia)

slice of bread and labelOver the past two or three years I’ve tried to add more local foods to my regular grocery shopping. What I didn’t anticipate is that I would love these foods so much. Not only are they locally produced, but they’re great by any standards. Some of my favorites include:

  • Whole Grain Milling Co. tortilla chips – These are the heartiest, corn-iest, fullest-flavored tortilla chips I’ve ever had. Once you’ve eaten these, there’s just no going back to the standard brands. I’ve hooked some of my colleagues on these, too. I try to limit myself to the occasional bag of these so I don’t OD.
  • Sno-Pac frozen berries and vegetables – Convenience meets local and organic meets tasty-as-can-be. The corn kernels are the sweetest I’ve encountered in a frozen corn. (Do you get the impression I like corn? I do!) For eating local in winter, how could it be easier than this?
  • Salsa Lisa salsa – This has been my favorite salsa since before I started thinking about local foods. If you like big chunks of peppers and onion in your salsa, this is not the salsa for you. If you like a fresh-tasting, tomatoey, juicy, garlicky salsa of an even consistency– small chunks, not big hunks – this might be the best salsa you’ve ever tried.
  • Dairy products and beef from local, grass-fed cattle – Cedar Summit milk; Pastureland butter; Thousand Hills Cattle Company beef… these are all fantastic. The more we learn about the benefits of pastured dairy and beef cattle, the more it makes sense to invest in these products that are not only exceptionally good-tasting but contain a healthier balance of fats than conventional dairy products and beef.
  • Just Bread – the multigrain bread made for Just Food Co-op by our local Brick  Oven Bakery. This is the best bread ever, in my book, and when, eventually and inevitably, I suppose, they stop making it – hopefully years and years from now – I don’t know what I’ll do. Their other breads are also very, very good.

For the Winter Eat Local Challenge, I plan to supplement all of the above, plus other local dairy products, eggs and perhaps some chicken, with some tomato sauce I made last summer, as well as some Sun Gold cherry tomatoes I oven-dried and froze.

I’ll probably do less gardening this year because we’re splitting a CSA share with another family, but I can’t imagine not growing my own tomatoes. So I’m hoping to have plenty to eat fresh as well as enough extra to do some freezing or canning to add to next winter’s pantry.

Rainbow Tomato Sauce

Posted by Penny Hillemann (Penelopedia).

I was pleased to see that Patrick had written a couple of days ago about preserving food from our gardens or our local growers so we can enjoy delicious local food during the cold season. I tried my hand at making tomato sauce today. A food mill would have been helpful for easily removing skins and seeds and providing a smooth texture, but my process worked well enough for me.

I had so many ripe tomatoes, and had already consigned so many overripe ones to the compost pile, that I was determined to make some tomato sauce today. None of my tomatoes are the traditional sauce type, typically Romas, which are meaty and less juicy than slicers, but I figured I could still make a passable sauce.

Here are maybe two-thirds of the tomatoes after being dunked in boiling water to loosen their skins.

When full, this bowl holds 24 cups. It got full. Here are most of the peeled and coarsely chopped tomatoes before going into the stock pot. It almost looks like a fruit salad. I really wasn’t sure what color the sauce would end up being with so much yellow and some green tomato in the mix, though I knew it wasn’t going to be a rich, dark red.

Here’s a glimpse into the tall pot while the sauce was cooking; you can see that the sauce was a reddish orange with chunks of distinct red and yellow tomatoes and green and dark purple flecks of basil. I first sauteed a large yellow onion, finely chopped, and several cloves’ worth of garlic paste in some olive oil. Then I added the tomatoes and several tablespoons of chopped basil (three kinds) and lemon thyme from my garden and some dried oregano, bay leaves, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper. Later I decided to add a small can of tomato paste to help it thicken up. The sauce simmered all afternoon, making Dave comment that the house smelled like his (Italian) Aunt Frances’s house did in his youth — high praise. I tried smashing all the chunks of tomato with my potato masher, but that wasn’t as effective as I wanted it to be, so I later resorted to the blender to even out the texture somewhat. I pureed several batches of the sauce in the blender and returned them to the pot, thus making a thin but chunky sauce into a somewhat thicker and less chunky (but still kind of chunky) sauce. I was careful to search for and remove the large bay leaves before running the blender so shredded pieces of the tough but aromatic leaves wouldn’t catch in anyone’s throat.

Here was the result – more than a gallon of sauce to eat on pasta with meatballs tonight and to put away in the freezer for several more meals. Nice!

Summer’s Bounty

Submitted by Penny Hillemann (penelopedia)

We’re halfway through the summer Eat Local Challenge, so in abbreviated form let me comment on some of my pleasures of the season:

  • A batch of “dilly beans” marinating in my fridge right now, made from string beans our backyard neighbor gave us from his garden, and dill from our own. I don’t make enough to can these, but I follow Jane Brody’s recipe for a batch big enough to enjoy as a side dish for several days.
  • Dinner last night:  local, grass-fed Thousand Hills Cattle hamburgers on bakery buns with slices of the first ripe slicing tomato from our garden, plus sweet, buttery corn on the cob from Grism’s stand on Water Street
  • A dozen or so new Sun Gold cherry tomatoes ripen every day or so in the garden – extremely prolific, early to ripen, and utterly delicious
  • Enough zucchini from my two plants over the past two or three weeks that we have made zucchini-cheese bake, zucchini muffins, chocolate zucchini cake and oven-roasted zucchini “fries” (melt-in-your-mouth wonderful)
  • The ever-wonderful local tortilla chips (both yellow and blue corn varieties) from Whole Grain Milling Company in Welcome, Minn. A terrific addition to practically any occasion.
  • A mind-bogglingly enormous cabbage from a recent farmers’ market made a nice big batch of Asian coleslaw, and we’ve still got some cabbage left over
  • Potato salad from local farmers’ market potatoes
  • Cucumbers from my colleague’s garden, plus some more of my own. I eat them many ways, but one favorite way is to chop them up and put them on top of a quesadilla that’s first topped with good salsa, either homemade or Salsa Lisa (made in Minneapolis)

Things I still look forward to this summer: ripe cantaloupe (there’s plenty around; I just haven’t bought any yet); enough big ripe tomatoes to pile up on my kitchen counter and make lavish tomato sandwiches and fresh salsa with lime and cilantro; perhaps a blueberry-picking outing to the lovely Rush River Produce at Maiden Rock, Wisconsin, overlooking Lake Pepin (their website says that their midseason Nelson crop has failed, but they expect good picking from the Elliots in late August).

What are you enjoying eating this summer?

Eat-Local Anniversary Dinner

Submitted by Penny Hillemann (Penelopedia)

This delicious and colorful mixture of summer vegetables with shrimp, served over pasta, made up our mostly-local dinner last night. It was our wedding anniversary – one year ago Dave and I were married on the deck of our dear friends Sarah and Bob’s house in the nearby countryside. Tonight I made a recipe from a book called Serving Up the Harvest, by Andrea Chesman, which I bought in Duluth while we were on our honeymoon, so that seems fitting. It’s a sautée of zucchini and yellow squash (from my garden and the farmer’s market), yellow and red tomatoes (from the co-op and farmer’s market), a yellow Hungarian pepper (from the garden), white wine, saffron, garlic, and fresh basil (from the garden). Oh, and yes, some shrimp out of the back of the freezer, slightly freezer-burned. (My approach to Eat Local challenges is always: if it’s in my house already, it counts as local!) Fresher shrimp would certainly have been better, but this was really good anyway! The photo shows the final view in the skillet before the sauce was tossed with pasta shells.

Summer bounty in a skillet

Summer skillet dinner

Submitted by Penny Hillemann (penelopedia)

A beautiful piece of salmon from the co-op made an easy, delicious meal last night, combined with squash, baby new potatoes and green beans from the farmer’s market. This recipe is from The New York Times New Natural Foods Cookbook, by Jean Hewitt (1982), and I have made it with pleasure a number of times over the years.

  • 6 small new potatoes, scrubbed (I used more because these were tiny)
  • 1/3 cup butter (I used about half that in my non-stick pan – suit yourself, but be sure to use some, for essential flavor and moisture!)
  • 1 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1 medium yellow squash, sliced
  • 1 pound fish fillets, thawed if frozen (the original recipe calls for flounder, sole, fluke, or perch – I have used a variety of types of fish over the years. Just make sure if it is a thicker fillet to cut it into 2 or more pieces so it will cook quickly enough.)
  • salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1 T. snipped fresh dill weed
  • 1 large tomato, chopped (or several cherry tomatoes, halved)

Cook the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender. Drain.

Melt the butter in a large skillet that has a lid. Add the zucchini and squash to the pan. Top with the fish fillets and arrange the potatoes around the sides.

Sprinkle with the salt, pepper, and dill. Cover the skillet and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until the fish flakes easily. Add the tomato, cover, and cook for a minute longer. That’s it!

Yield: 4 servings.

This is so good – the fish and vegetables steam in their own juices and the butter. I cooked some green beans separately and served them on the side to take advantage of all the wonderful summer produce I had on hand. The dill came out of my garden and was picked minutes before going into the skillet.

My Real excellent party food

Posted by Penny Hillemann (Penelopedia)

This weekend I had a Significant Birthday and celebrated it with family and good friends. Dinner featured hamburgers (Thousand Hills Cattle Co. grass-fed beef, as well as veggie burgers) and whole-grain buns; home-made potato salad with Yukon gold potatoes, celery, and the freshest-looking bunch of green onions I’ve seen in a year; olives; Bubbies pickles; Whole Grain Milling local tortilla chips with Green Mountain Gringo salsa (just tried for the first time this week; excellent!); my favorite Kettle brand black pepper and salt potato chips; veggies with French onion dip made with local sour cream; and organic strawberries from California served with whipped cream made from one of Cedar Summit Farms’ adorable little glass bottles of cream from grass-fed cows. Okay, there were a few other things as well, but everything mentioned above came from the co-op and close to half of it was locally grown or produced. I got rave reviews on the burgers, chips, strawberries and cream, and I felt really good about everything I served. Sure, some of it was a bit indulgent, but what’s a birthday for?

I’ve recently been reading Real Food: What to Eat and Why by Nina Planck. It’s an apparently well-researched book that turns conventional late-20th-century American thinking about fats, eggs and meats, in particular, on its head. We have been trained for so long to consider almost all fats, with perhaps the exceptions of olive and canola oils and fatty fish, just plain evil that it feels difficult to accept, but Plank makes the persuasive case that the milk and meat fats from pastured cows and cattle, eggs from hens that eat a naturally varied outdoor diet, and even (gasp!) lard from traditionally omnivorous pigs are not only not bad for us but are actually beneficial. Plank, who has a long history with the modern farmers’ market movement, also extols her farm childhood habits of eating copious amounts of vegetables, and considers fish virtually essential for optimal brain development.

It’s an interesting read, and should make a lot more people comfortable with at least moderate indulgence in Real butter, Real eggs, and — perhaps on a Significant Birthday — Real whipped cream on red, ripe strawberries. Enjoy.