Monday, September 27, 2010

Turkey Day

It's almost October and that means that if you don't already have your organic, free range, heritage turkey ordered through your local farmer, you may soon be out of luck. Keep in mind, they aren't cheap. Your average grocery turkey takes only 18 weeks to mature, where a heritage breed takes up to 30 weeks. Anywhere from $4-$8/lb is not unheard of. But what a treat! Consider it a gift to your Thanksgiving company. All of the hype you hear about the flavor difference is true.

Typically, you need to place your order well in advance and a deposit may be required. If you are already using a farmer for pastured chickens, check to see if they will have turkeys. Another option is to check with your CSA. I know my CSA offers turkeys to members on a lottery system. We order our turkeys from Farmer Nick at the Crystal Lake Farmer's market. He'll take a $10 deposit and let you pick the size range of your bird. Find other local sources here.

If you'd like a little overview on what exactly a hertiage turkey is, check out the Heritage Turkey Foundation's website.

Word of caution, pastured poultry cooks faster than your average factory farmed bird. This is true for chicken as well. And I mean A LOT faster. They are typically leaner and smaller than the grocery birds. No need to cover the breast with foil while roasting. You should cook your heritage breed turkey at 425-450 degrees until the internal temp (taken at the fatest part of the thigh, making sure your thermometer is NOT touching any bone) reaches 140 degrees and then take it out of the oven, cover and let it rest for 10 minutes. Also, if you plan to stuff the bird you will need to precook your stuffing because given the reduced cooking time, your stuffing will NOT be fully cooked if you don't precook it.

Here is a specific recipe you can try when cooking your heritage breed turkey, but it doesn't have to be complicated. I just cover in butter, add a little salt and pepper, and put in my roasting pan. No brine or anything. They always come out juicy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

One a Day Keeps the Doctor Away!

This weekend my family and I had a great time with friends conducting an apple taste taste. Kids and grownups sampled about 10 different apples and were surprised to learn just how different the textures and flavors of each can be. Despite the fact that the two youngest participants rated every apple a "5" (the highest rating available-they really like apples), the rest of us had very clear preferences. Crisp "meat" was good, thick skin was bad, dry aftertaste was bad, sweet was good, tart was only popular with a few. The most interesting discovery was that no one cared how the apple looked on the outside. The color or irregularities of the skin didn't effect us one way or another.

When I was a kid, I only remember ever eating one kind of apple, the Red Delicious (I think grocery stores also regularly carried Granny Smith as a cooking apple, and a few may have carried Golden Delicious just for pizazz). Ironically, in our taste test, Red Delicious didn't rank too high. Tough skin, flavorless, medium crisp--nothing about it was thrilling. But commercial growers and grocers love them! Why? The thick skin ships well over long distances, the shiny red exterior is attractive, and, well, it's not like you're going to taste test it in the flavor is irrelevant, especially if you don't even carry an eating apple alternative.

At least, until the stores starting carrying a wider variety of apples. Ever notice how during Honeycrisp season, people are willing to pay 3 or 4x as much for an apple that actually has flavor. Go figure!

If you want a real treat, expand your horizons and go apple picking in a local orchard. Not only will you have a fresher product, but the variety is wonderful. Even better is if you can get your hands on an heirloom variety.

Below is a list of a few local picking farms that you and your family might enjoy, although I've heard that crops are down this year, so make sure to check what is available before you pack up the family van:

All Seasons Orchard

Homestead Orchard

Lang's Orchard

More Than Delicious Orchard

Prairie Sky Orchard

Royal Oak Farm Orchard

Monday, September 13, 2010


Is "potlucking" a hobby? If so, I should add it to my profile. There is no single more efficient way to find and share the best tasting dishes. Instead of subjecting your family to thousands of untried recipes from cookbooks one at a time, a potluck gives you the chance to get your hands on a dozen great recipes in one meal. Potlucks also allow you to test a recipe with a group of unsuspecting guinea pigs. You either get asked for the recipe or find yourself heading home with a dish full of food.

And please, don't bring a dish to a potluck that is a secret family recipe you don't want to share--it's just cruel. It's unsaid potluck etiquette that all recipes are to be shared. In fact, I think all participants should tuck preprinted recipes under the dish in case you want to steal it for your own blog--or recipe box!

The downside to potlucks is that because everyone tries to "one up" their neighbor's recipe, generally any concern for nutritional value goes out the window. The recipe below is no different. Don't try to short cut it with healthy versions of the ingredients either. It won't be nearly as delectable. Just save it as a special occasion treat for when company comes. They'll think you slaved over the dough all day.

Oh, and the most local thing about this recipe is that it was stolen from a friend at my local parish, St. Thomas the Apostle. Local honey shouldn't be to difficult to come by either...

Sopapilla Cheesecake
Stolen from Amy and claimed as my own at many potlucks

2 packages of Pillsbury Crescent Rolls
2 bricks of cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 Tbsp cinnamon
1 stick butter, softened
1/4 cup honey

-Roll out one package of crescent rolls in a 9x13 pan sprayed with cooking spray
-In a medium bowl, beat the cream cheese and vanilla with 1 CUP SUGAR until really soft and fluffy (like 5 minutes or more on high)
-Spread cream cheese mixture onto the rolls
-Top with the other package of crescent rolls (rolled out, of course)
-Mix butter, cinnamon and 3/4 CUP SUGAR in a separate small bowl with a fork until well mixed
-Top second layer of crescent rolls with this butter mixture
-Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees
-Take out of oven and drizzle with honey
-Serve warm

This is the dreamiest, easiest, cinnamon rolly dessert you will come by. Don't believe me? Take it to the next potluck and see if you don't come back with an empty dish and a list of requests for the recipe.

Shopping Green

One of my favorite local events is coming up this Saturday!!! The Mothers and More group is featuring their fall children's resale on September 18th from 8am to Noon at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Crystal Lake. There is everything from baby gear, to clothes and shoes, to toys and books.

Here are just a few benefits of shopping this resale:

1. A portion of the proceeds go to local outreach programs and food pantries.

2. Did you ever consider that by purchasing preowned clothes and toys you are making the planet a little bit greener? Less new manufactured materials, less dependence on oil to transport goods, and less items in garbage dumps.

3. The prices are rock bottom, the sale is well organized, and the goods are in excellent condition. It's a joy to shop, and if you don't believe me, go to the church at 6am and see the line already forming out the door and around the parking lot.

4. I'll let you in on a secret insider's benefit that no everyone knows about. If you volunteer to help for a few hours with the resale, you get to shop the PRESALE on the Friday night before it's open to the public. You can also become a seller/consigner, but you need to volunteer at the sale a time or two before getting your name on the very popular seller's list. To register to volunteer, click HERE. Volunteering is also a great way to meet other moms in the community!

My kids love this resale because they know when I come home it's like Christmas morning at our house! I'm smiling because they're happy, I donated to local charities, made the earth a little greener, met a few new moms and kept my budget in one piece!

Choose Your Own Adventure: Salad or Sandwich?

When you have 8 kids, 3 of whom have special needs, I'm guessing you don't always have the time/energy to ensure that your bread box is stocked with ciabatta (of course, I only have 2 kids, so I always have ciabatta on hand -- NOT!). Thanks to this "failure", one of my dearest friends created the freshest, tastiest salad on earth.

However, feel free to use the same ingredients and pile them on ciabatta bread to make an equally scrumptous sandwich.

Remember the children's book series "choose your own adventure"? Yeah, it's kinda like that.

This is another one of those "a little bit of this and a handful of that" approximate recipes, but I have yet for the proportions to turn out anything other than DELISH!

Caprese Bacon Salad
by Maureen

Dressing (enough to fill one regular sized mayo jar):
5 cups fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
5 cloves pressed garlic
1 1/2 tsp hot sauce
2 1/2 cups mayo
1 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup olive oil

- In a blender, blend basil, lemon juice, garlic, hot sauce, and mayo until basil is chopped and the mixture is evenly green.
-Add balsamic vinegar and olive oil and blend until mixed.

The dressing should top a humongous salad of chopped romaine lettuce, tomatoes, small fresh mozzarella balls, and chopped, crispy-cooked bacon. The portions are up to your disretion.

This makes enough dressing to serve a huge crowd, so it's perfect for a party. Just remember not to top the salad (or sandwich) with the dressing too early, or you'll end up with mushy, wilted lettuce.

To maximize this recipe's full potential, use the freshest local ingredients you can find. It's amazing how beautiful this salad becomes when you make it with an array of different heirloom tomatoes. Hurry up and grab them before the season is over!!!!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Better Bittman Recipe: Potato Leek Soup

Fall is knocking at the door and I'm ready to let it in! Hearty soups, bountiful winter squash, apple picking, pumpkin carving...I love autumn!

As I was laying in bed feeling guilty over mentioning my lackluster experience with Mark Bittman's fried okra recipe, I was trying to recall a special Bittman inspired recipe to feature that uses some local fall ingredients. There are so many good ones to choose from.

Then I tried to narrow it down to a recipe that uses at least one major ingredient I am growing in my own backyard. Eureka! I still have an entire plot of potatoes from Seed Savers that will be ready to harvest this fall!

How about Potato Leek Soup?! My version tastes a little like clam chowder without the fish. I don't puree the potatoes and I add cream.

Potato Leek Soup
inspired by Mark Bittman's Potato and Leek Soup
makes 4 servings

2 Tbsp butter
3 leeks (or 1 leek and 1 large chopped onion), white and light green parts sliced thin
3 medium potatoes, diced
2 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1/2 cup heavy cream

-Saute the leeks (and onion, if applicable) and potatoes in butter for 5 minutes in a stock pot or dutch oven
-Add chicken broth and water and bring to a boil
-Once boiling, turn down to simmer, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until potatoes are cooked
-Add cream (this is also optional, but to me it makes a world of difference)

A word of caution, if you reheat this soup, please don't bring it to hard boil and burn the cream.

Unfortunately, I know my homegrown potatoes aren't quite ready to harvest yet, because the green plants growing out of the top are still green and strong. It is best to harvest potatoes after the top plant has turned brown or yellow and died back. Many people wait until after the first frost if they can.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Southern Fried Disappointment

Okra. I so badly wanted to sing the praises of this vegetable that, in my opinion, is one of the most attractive to grow in the home garden. (If you have no idea what I'm talking's a picture and instructions on how to grow). I've seen them in green or purple always with an eye catching blossom before the veggie itself emerges. They can be harvested from an inch to about 6 inches long and the more you harvest, the happier they are. They look exotic and yet not as intimidating as some of the other more unusual farmer's market offerings.

In fact, the only thing that freaks me out about them a little, is the slime that seeps out when they are cut. But this Labor Day, I pulled out my cast iron pan and made my first attempt at classic southern fried okra.

But alas, one a scale of 1 to 10, I rank it about a 3. I'm no okra cooking veteran, but I followed Mark Bittman's recipe to the letter, and the fried coins were perfectly golden with a crisp cornmeal coating and pleasantly textured inside. But they lacked any real flavor. I dipped them in ranch dressing...they just tasted like ranch. I dipped them in ketchup...tasted like ketchup. I added hot sauce...yep, you guessed it, just made them spicy. Mr. Bittman gave no other serving suggestions so I stuck the leftovers in the fridge hoping some flavoring miracle would happen overnight. This morning, I topped them with salt. They tasted like cold salt.

Perhaps there is some beauty in fried okra's simple flavor(lessness) that I'm missing here.

So onto the next cooking adventure! They can't all be perfect or what fun would that be?!

And by the way, I am not knocking Mr. Bittman's recipe. I adore Mr. Bittman's cooking and consider his cookbooks my secret kitchen weapons--especially How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Too much squash?

If you're like me, you've got more zucchini and summer squash than you know what to do with! This weekend, stop by your local farmers market (or your backyard garden) and pick up some eggs, onions and squash. I've got a great family-friendly recipe that will "hide" any kind of squash from your husb...I mean, kids ;) . I love it because you can serve it for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It also would be fine to bring to a brunch potluck. Serve it with some nitrate free bacon or breakfast sausage and you've got yourself a full meal in no time!

Summer Squash Egg Casserole
(adapted from Zucchini Pie by IMTHECOOKSTER at

3 cups diced summer squash (we've tried zucchini, yellow summer squash, and crookneck squash)
1 cup chopped onion
4 beaten eggs
1 cup Bisquick (we usually use "Heartsmart", but any kind will work)
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 tsp dried marjoram

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-Combine all ingredients in a large bowl
-Dump into a GREASED 9X12 baking dish
-Bake for 30 minutes

Yes, it's that simple. And it's pretty cheap.