Quick… While There’s Still Snow On the Ground!

I almost forgot to make soup!
The days are getting longer and I almost let soup making season slip passed me with nary a bowl. I haven’t made a soup since I needed to get rid of that turkey carcass at Christmas time.

Winter is a great season for soup for a couple of reasons. Firstly, is there anything better than a hot bowl of soup on a cold winter day? Sure. But it’s not a poke in the eye with a sharp stick either. On a scale of good things to bad things it’s firmly high in the good things range. There are a lot of root vegetables that lend themselves to long cooking times available in the Winter. Lastly, you just don’t mind a long cooking soup sitting around simmering when the days are cold and the winds are howling outside your windows.

However, I’ve written about soup before. So I need a new hook…

CuisinArt Multi Cooker

This is the guy! Deceptively different from a crockpot.

Enter the CuisinArt Multicooker – a Surprisingly Great Gift
After Christmas dinner my family and friends were gathered in my den, unwrapping presents, watching the fire dance around the hearth, and for some reason Hitlers’ expansion into Western Europe on the History Channel (Thanks Dad!). There was a big box from Joanne for me and I was excited to unwrap it. What could it be?! I’ll have to admit that at first I was slightly disappointed. A slow cooker. I already have two – a large one and a small one. Joanne gave me a sort of knowing look and said that she hoped I liked it as much as she liked hers. Little did I know what an amazing gizmo this thing was!

Why is the Multicooker so great?
As I said at first glance it’s just another crockpot/slowcooker. However on closer examination the differences become clear. Besides slow cooking this thing steams, and more importantly BROWNS. That doesn’t seem like that big a change but it is! One of the issues I’ve had with every other slow cooker braising recipe is that the first step is always to brown the meats first. Then you transfer them into the slow cooker to finish. The problem with this is you end up with two things to clean and more importantly a LOT of the flavor remains in the first pan that you used for browning. With the Multicooker you can do it in one place and that makes all the difference. When it is time to clean up the pan section of the multicooker lifts out and can be cleaned in the sink or even the dishwasher. Brilliant! It’s just so much better.

So, armed with my new multicooker I went forth to make soup!

What did I buy for the soup?
I started this soup with no idea what would really be in it. I just knew I wanted a vegan vegetable soup –  no meat at all, even in the stock. I also wanted to use no pasta or rice. Why no pasta or rice? Because that always seems to screw up my soups. They turn into more of a stew than a soup. So, I scampered off to the market (a sight to behold) to gather whatever vegetables the season had to offer. As I expected I found some really good root vegetables – a winter staple. I didn’t get some things I could’ve. There were a lot of peppers. They often get bitter when cooked for a long time in a soup. I also didn’t feel like peeling them. The skins fall off in soups and aren’t a great texture. I also passed on broccoli, mushrooms, and asparagus which are better in a cream based soup.

I ended up getting:

  • Carrots – grabbed a bag of those little baby carrots. Usually I don’t mind the peeling process but they are very convenient.
  • Celery – a small bunch. Cut off the base and then use it leaves and all.
  • Onions – I chose sweet onions. How many? How much do you like onions? Keep in mind they reduce to almost nothing.
  • Leeks – clean these guys well! They can be sandy. Just split them down the middle lengthways and rinse them under cool running water rifling them like a deck of cards until you flush all of the sand out.
  • White Potatoes – a bargain! Five pounds for $2. I give them a good scrub and use them skins and all. They’ll break down a bit and thicken the soup.
  • Turnips – these you should peel. I love turnips!
  • Parsnips – also need peeling.
  • Cabbage – it’s right before Saint Patrick’s Day so cabbage is easy to come by. Wash it and core it.

Making soup is also a great time to get rid of stuff.

  • Time to clean out the vegetable bin.
    Making soup simplifies that sometimes unpleasant chore. Everything in the vegetable bin goes:
    – into the soup
    – or into the trash.
  • Also time to get rid of those partial bags of frozen vegetables lurking in the back of the freezer.
  • Additionally use any fresh or dried herbs you might have. Use what you what you like. Remember a couple of things. You can always add more which is also a good rule for salt. Although too little salt in soup is terrible! Herbs will fade if put in at the beginning so you might reserve some for near the end.
  • Sniffing around the pantry I find a bag of amazingly colored lentils – they’re bright orange! Oh, they’re going into the pot.
    (Sorry, Kato. I know, they’re pretty close to the dreaded beans, at least there’s no pork in this soup.)

Secret Ingredients?
I don’t know how secret they are but this soup will include:

  • Vegetable Stock – better than just starting with water although you could just use water.
  • V8 Juice – if I have a secret ingredient this is it. V8 juice just makes a great vegetable soup base.
  • Fresh Lemon – added at the very last minute. It makes a big difference!

If you’ve got any partial bottles of leftover wine you could dump them into the soup or yourself for that matter.

What’s the process?
Cooking vegetable soup is pretty easy and hard to mess up. I think it boils down* to three steps:

  • Step One: Prep the Vegetables
    Wash and peel everything that needs to be washed and peeled.
    Instead of just throwing all of those vegetable skins and  bits away put them into a small pot, add the vegetable stock, and simmer. It’ll squeeze a lot of favor and vitamins out of stuff that would otherwise end up in the trash. This is a restaurant trick for getting the most out of your produce.
    Chop the vegetables up!
    The trick here is to to try to get everything the same size so they cook at the same rate, small enough that they’ll fit on a spoon and you can easily eat them, but not so small they fall apart and just disappear into the stock.
  • Step Two: Brown Some of the Vegetables
    Brown the onions, celery, and carrots in a little vegetable oil.
    Salt and pepper to taste. Add any herbs you might have lying about. I’ve got some herbs de provence, a French herb blend, in a drawer somewhere. Scrap the bottom of the pan to get up any stuck bits. Turn the multi cooker on to “slow cook” or transfer to a crockpot. Add everything else EXCEPT the cabbage. Strain the vegetable stock into the pot and add the V8 juice.
  • Step Three: Let it cook!
    Cook it on low for a couple of hours periodically stirring it.
    Taste. Add salt and pepper. Ask somebody else to taste it. Ignore what they say and add salt and pepper as you like it. Let them make their own soup. As a vegetable soup it’s not going to need to cook as long as a meat based soup. In fact if you cook it too long the vegetables will just turn to mush. Add the cabbage after and hour or an hour and a half. Cabbage cooks pretty quickly, putting it in latter in the process will insure it still has some texture. Taste the soup again and adjust the seasoning as needed. Just before serving squeeze some fresh lemon juice into the soup to brighten up the flavors a bit. Give it a good stir and serve!

* (Ha! “boils down”, “soup”, I kill me!)

Soup. Good. Easy. Freezes well.
Vegetable soup is chock full of vitamins, also it’s low fat, and very satisfying. Serve along with a good bread or biscuits. It’s winter comfort food and good family fare. If you’ve got kids and you haven’t made them soup this winter you really should. Not only is it good for them and economical, it’s the sort of family meal that memories are built on. I have some great childhood memories of playing in the snow and coming home to my Mom and a steaming hot bowl of homemade soup!

Do you have a favorite winter soup recipe? Share it with me, I’ll give it a try and let you know what I think.

As always thanks for reading!

Bits and Pieces: A Warmup Blog

Howdy All!
I’m back after an extended hiatus that included Hurricane Sandy, followed by the house guests it generated, followed by the holidays, and classes stopping and starting. Lots happened but I need to get back to writing on a regular schedule. So we’ll see if I can post to this on a more often.

I think one of my issues has been that I need to learn how to write shorter blog posts. It seems I can’t write about a great egg recipe with out having to solve the age old “which came first” argument and give a history of the evolution of the chicken.

To that end heres a couple of short topics that have been running through my head for a while:

plulabels
TMWASJ Tip:

PLU Labels – Know What’s Stuck to Your Fruits & Vegetables
Have you ever bit into a sandwich, felt something odd in your mouth, and realized that you forgot to peal that little label off your tomato or onion? Well besides being annoying those little stickers actually mean something and, if you know how, they’re pretty easy to decipher.

They’re call PLU Labels or Produce Look Up Labels and besides letting the cashier know how to ring up your purchases they have a deeper meaning. Next time you’re at the market take a close look at your produce. If it has a:

  • Four digit code starting with a 3 or a 4:
    It’s a Conventionally grown fruit or vegetable.
  • Five digit code starting with a 9:
    It’s an Organically grown fruit or vegetable.
  • Five digit code starting with a 8:
    It’s a genetically modified fruit or vegetable.

That’s worth knowing! A lot of people are really concerned about both organically grown produce and genetically modified foods. I’m still looking into both issues. Given unlimited resources I’d only be eating organic non genetically modified foods. It think most people would. However the truth is that it’s expensive and if we had to rely solely on organic and non genetically modified farming most of the world would starve. However that being said the Monsanto Corporation still sucks.

I’ll write more  about those issues at a latter date. It won’t be a short article.

steakinbag
TMWASJ Tip:
The Plastic Bag Trick
Here’s a really good trick that will change how you cook and it’s very very easy.

Have you ever cooked a steak, chop, or even a piece of chicken and found it cooked, maybe even overcooked, on the outside and raw on the inside? Even if you followed the recipe? The number one reason this happens is that the food is too cold when you put it into the pan. The outside quickly cooks but the center of the meat is uncooked. A lot of sources will tell you to take it out of the fridge and let it come up to room temperature. That’s the right idea but leaving raw meat sitting out isn’t a good plan. There are all sorts of horrible airborne deseases and viruses that can latch themselves to your supper and they’re just lying in wait for you to slip up.

So try this. Put the meat into a ziplock plastic bag, force the air out, zip it closed, and submerge it into a bowl of warm water. Let it sit in there while you get other things done. The water should be warm but not hot. You’re not trying to cook the meat here just warm it up. If it’s a really large piece you might replace the water a couple of times. This warms up and relaxes the meat without exposure to nastiness floating around in the air. The meat will cook more evenly through. Give it a try! It’s an easy step that makes a big difference. You can even throw some spices or a marinade in the bag before you give it a bath.

shopping-carts
TMWASJ Moaning & Complaining:
Top Two Supermarket Complaints
I try not to be whiney in this blog and focus on bringing you information about great things but sometimes it’s hard not to complain about some of the behavior I observe at the market. I’ve boiled my complaints down to two major ones. If you fall into either of these categories so be it.

  • Complaint Number One: Treat Your Shopping Cart Like a Car – Pull Over!
    If you park your cart sideways across an aisle you are an idiot. How did you manage to drive yourself to the store? You shouldn’t just stop your cart anywhere you like and just leave it. Look around. See all those other people? You are not alone in the world and believe it or not you’re not the most important person that there is. The shopping cart is a solid object that people can not go over, under, or through. Have some consideration for others.
  • Complaint Number Two: I am Not Invisible – Don’t Pretend I Am!
    In fact I am large and opaque. If I am looking a shelf don’t just insert yourself between me and the shelf and just stand there. It’s rude. Additionally I am behind you trying to decide exactly how much force I would need to exert to ram my car keys through the back of your skull and if I could get away with it. To date I’ve always decided to do nothing. That could change. Why risk it?

TMWASJ Coming Attractions
Well that’s it for this week! I’ll be back soon with some new markets to visit, changes at some of my favorite places, great recipes, and insights into the best the season has to offer.

If you like the blog tell your friends and let me know. I need all of the positive reinforcement I can get!

Harvest Time is Soup Time

It’s Sunday and after a week of gray days the sun is pouring through my kitchen like honey. Later today I’m going to go for a walk. I can already hear the leaves crunching under my feet and smell wood smoke drifting through the air.

Fall has arrived.

My intention was to write about the harvest – what’s fresh and in season. The problem is that almost everything is fresh and in season. It’s the harvest! So instead I thought I’d make one of my fall favorites – vegetable soup.

I have whole books devoted to soup. Stacks of magazines that are full of soup recipes. I’m not going to use any of them. Instead, yesterday I went to the market and bought a huge pile of fresh vegetables with the plan to turn them all into soup.

What did I get? Well I got what was available but not everything that was available. This is going to be a long cooking soup and things like eggplant don’t hold up well. I focussed on root vegetables and vegetables that will hold up to long slow cooking.

Here’s the list of what is going in the soup:

  • Leeks
  • Onions
  • Potatoes
  • Rutabagas
  • Turnips
  • Beets
  • Green Beans
  • Cabbage
  • Parsnips
  • Peas

Now I have a theory about cooking a great vegetable soup. It’s all about the preparation of the vegetables and the order that you cook them. It doesn’t matter what goes in the soup. Don’t like beets? Don’t use them! The first trick is cutting the vegetables up to the same size so no one vegetable takes center stage and they all fit on your spoon. The second trick is knowing which vegetable to add at specific times during the cooking process. For me that is cooking the vegetables that are going to disappear into the soup first, followed by the longest cooking vegetables, followed by the shorter cooking time vegetables, and then finally the herbs. Seasoning happens at every step of the process.

Step One: Sweating the Leeks & Onions
This would seem like the wrong move. Both are going to just disappear into the soup. So why cook them first? Well it’s only at the beginning of the process that you have an opportunity to sweat the leeks and onions. Sweating is cooking them with a little oil until they’re translucent what with a little color to them. This allows them to release their sugars and caramelize a bit. Yes. You could do this in a separate pan at any stage of the cooking process but I want to keep this to a “one pot” meal.

I should take a moment to talk about leeks. Leeks look like huge mutant scallions and grow in sandy soil. This results in sand getting in between the layers. So the first step is to cut off the roots and most of the green parts, slice the leeks in half lengthwise, and fan them out under running cold water to wash out the sand. Don’t skip this step!

A little olive oil, low heat, salt, pepper, and a little time. Now you’re ready for step two:

Step Two: Add the Liquids
Now I’m going to add the liquid part of the soup. For this I’m going to use three things:

  • Big Container of V8 Juice – Think about it. It’s vegetable juice!
  • 1 “Box” Vegetable Stock – You can get this in the supermarket. Shop though. Many of these are just full of salt.
  • Water – Use good water. If you don’t like the taste of what’s coming out of your tap don’t use it. I filter mine through a Brita filter system.

How much? Use your best judgement. You can always add more water. Now on to step three!

Step Three: The Longest Cooking Vegetables
Now I’m cutting up the root vegetables, i.e. carrots, turnips, rutabagas, parsnips, potatoes, and beets. My buddy Jim at Wegmans was puzzled at the inclusion of beets in that it’ll make the soup red. Don’t care. I like beets! It all goes in the soup.

Now is also the point that you should declare the soup “rustic” meaning you don’t have to make every piece of vegetable an exact dice and the same size as every other piece. “Rustic” covers a multitude of sins. Just make sure it’ll all fit on a spoon.

Step Four: Simmer the Hell Out of It
Adjust the salt and pepper and simmer the pot stirring periodically. You want to reduce the soup and soften the vegetables. The best way to do this? Taste it often!

Step Five: The Medium Cooking Time Vegetables
Wait a couple of hours then add the green beans, peas, and finally the cabbage. Peas are the only frozen vegetable in this soup. Why? They have a remarkably short growing season and it’s in the spring. Frozen peas are flash frozen within hours or even minutes of being picked. So frozen are OK. You could just omit them but I like peas. Give peas a chance!

Step Six: More Simmering
Don’t assume the seasoning is correct. Taste it and add salt and pepper as needed. Simmer it some more tasting periodically. When all the vegetables are cooked through you’re almost done.

Step Seven: Finish it with Herbs & Lemon Juice
When it all comes together, and if you keep tasting you’ll know when this is, chop some herbs and add to the soup. I’m using fresh parsley and fresh thyme. Simmer a little more then squeeze in some fresh lemon juice. One or two lemons depending on their size. The lemon juice “brightens” the soup. Taste it before and after if you don’t know what I mean.

That’s it! Serve it up with some really good bread or biscuits. Homemade vegetable soup is very healthy and freezes well. It’s fall in a bowl!

The Haddonfield Farmer’s Market


http://haddonfieldfarmersmarket.org/

I feel I’ve got to start this with an apology.

I intended to get this post out a couple of weeks back but have been side tracked by other priorities. I feel bad about this because I told the good folks at the Haddonfield Farmer’s Market it would be up and I’m sure they’ve been wondering where it is. Worse still Kato has been asking about it. When she doesn’t see her name in print once in a while she gets all pouty and nobody wants that.

So without any further delay: The Haddonfield Farmer’s Market!

To the best of my recollection it was warm grayish Saturday morning when I hit the road to Haddonfield. For those of you who have never been to Haddonfield it’s a lovely little town just South of Cherry Hill. It’s a quiet, colonial town that dates back as far the Revolutionary War. Further even. Due to strick building codes the town still has the sort of colonial charm that draws crowds of people every weekend who wander through the small downtown area peering into quaint shops. It’s the sort of town that can support not one but two different violin stores.

I’ll give you a moment to think about that.

The farmer’s market is tucked into a walkway between the shops in the center of town. It’s not the biggest farmer’s market in the area but like everything in Haddonfield what it lacks in size it makes up for in quality.

Duffield’s Farm Market
280 Chapel Heights Road
Sewell, NJ 08080

856 589-7090
http://www.duffieldsfarm.com

Duffield’s has gone on my list of farms to visit. If your kids have no idea how the food on your table got there take them to a real farm and let them see what goes into getting those vegetables that they’re not eating onto their plate. Maybe they’ll wise up!

The Duffield family has been farming in South Jersey since the 1930s. These days they work 350 acres and have another 175 acres enrolled in farmland preservation so the next generations will be able to enjoy real quality fresh produce.

As the seasons change you can take the kids on a hayride to the pumpkin patch and let them pick out their own or pick some fresh apples right off of the trees. The Duffield family runs their own market, bakery, and deli at the same location.

I weep for those of you who can’t get fresh corn! Nothing sums up the season for me more than fresh corn on the cob. No matter if you steam it, boil it, or throw it on the grill corn is the prefect Summer food. One of the great things about farmer’s markets is getting vegetables that were in the field just hours earlier.

The corn was delicious!

Anarchy Apiaries

408 396-8357
http://www.anarchyapiaries.org

OK technically these people are from New York state but honey can travel and great honey is worth seeking out. I really learned something about honey from the people at Anarchy Apiaries. Did you ever wonder why some honey is just better tasting than other honey. I always assumed it was due to where the bees are gathering the nectar that they use to make the honey. That’s why you see clover honey, orange blossom honey, and other varieties. Well that’s a big factor but there’s more to it. A lot has to do with how the bees are treated. The big commercial honey manufacturers (think plastic bear) work their bees year round shipping the hives from one location to another. The result? The hives, which are supposed to have a dormant cycle, never get an off day. Their bees are exhausted! This makes for inferior honey. Anarchy lets their bees rest and live their normal life cycle. The result? Happy, well rested bees who are busy making great honey!

Old School Farm/Triple Oaks Nursery & Herb Garden
2359 Delsea Drive
Franklinville, NJ 08322

856-694-4272
http://www.tripleoaks.com/

I had a great conversation with these guys and I was impressed with their passion for what they do and the unusual selections that they had available.

They had me at “heirloom”! For those of you you aren’t familiar with the term you know how in the supermarket tomatos are all exactly the same color, size, and shape? You know how they taste? Maybe you don’t because they don’t taste like much of anything. Heirloom tomatos are grown from old school seeds before scientists bred the hell out of them so each tomato is identical to the next. The result is tomatos of uneven size, color, and shape. What good is that you ask? They taste like TOMATOS! If you’ve forgotten what that is like try to find some heirloom tomatos before they’re gone and remind yourself what a real tomato is supposed to taste like. It’s like summer on a plate!

When I go back I need to pick up some of these Chinese Long Beans. A staple in Asian cooking these crunchy guys are not quiet as sweet as a green bean but really can take the high heat of stir frying and stand up to agressive seasoning. I’ve only seen them at Asian markets before and who knows where they were grown. These where grown right here practically in my back yard. Just give them a quick blanche in boiling water then cut them up and throw them in a stir fry.

Notice how these cherry tomatos aren’t all the same size and color? What they do have is tremendous flavor. Forget the red ping pong balls. Get to a farmer’s market and pickup some heirloom varieties. You salads will thank you!

Responsive Catering & Bakery
924 North 8th Street
Camden, NJ 08102

856 583-2640
http://www.facebook.com/pages/Respond-IncResponsive-Catering/287972067882006

Being a diabetic bakeries make me a little sad. All I can do is stare and sigh wistfully to myself.

Both a school and a store this bake shop in Camden comes to Haddonfield every week to sell their wares. These young, talented chefs were obviously very proud of the items that they had for sale and rightly so. I did have a sample of one of the breads that they were featuring that day and it was excellent. Quality handcrafted bakery items are another thing that we’ve sort of lost track of.

While I stood there just longingly staring at the fresh baked goods stuff was just flying off of their table.

I was told that these are “Dream Cookies” because they’re so good you’ll dream about them (and I have).

Mitchell & Geno Specialty Sausage
912 Township Lane
Cherry Hill, NJ 08002

http://www.mitchellandgeno.com

The two brothers that run this stand, which is in Haddonfield on Saturdays and Haddon Heights on Sundays, named it after their Father and Uncle. The family used to have a market in the Tacony section of Phildelphia. So the recipes that they use to make their sausage have deep roots in the area.

The variety of sausages for sale varies from week to week. These include fresh Kielbasa, Hot Italian, Mexican-style Chorizo, an extra spicy variety called “El Diablo” and their pride and joy, “Sharp and Sweet” which has Pecorino Romano cheese and red bell peppers.

The list of ingredients is shorter then the list of varieties – they don’t use scraps, fillers, or preservatives. Only pork, water, salt, spices, the occasional vegetable, and cheeses. I got to the market late so they only had loose sausage meat that they were grilling up for samples. It was delicious! When I go back I’ve got to remember to bring a cooler and some ice packs so I can stock up.

Muth Farm Flowers
Williamstown, New Jersey 08094

856-629-2462 • 856-629-0878
http://www.muthfarmflowers.com

While I love flowers I can’t say that I often buy them. However, I was pleased to find this local farm specializing in flowers tucked in amongst the other vendors.

The thing that impressed me was that the woman running the stand at first wouldn’t allow me to take photos. Why did that impress me? Sounds more annoying than impressive. Well as I said it was late in their day when I got to the market. Her stock was almost depleted and she just wanted some time to be able present the flowers as they should be shown.

So ten minutes later, after some trimming and arranging, I came back to take a few photos. It was worth the wait! Even at the end of their day, even in humidity that was making the birds drop out of the trees, the flowers were just beautiful.

This was someone who obviously really cared about what they do. Maybe I should buy flowers more often. The colors and aromas – I can’t think of a better way to bring the Summer right onto your table. It’s like being able to buy a smile!

Haynicz’s Orchardview Farm
Corner of Buck and Elk Roads
Monroeville, NJ

856 881-1004
http://www.hayiczorchardviewfarm.com

Another great local family owned and operated farm producing terrific produce. With this sort of quality it’s a wonder that supermarkets can compete. Next time you’re at your local supermarket pick out an in season vegetable ask the produce guy where it was grown. I know my weekly supermarket produce guy can tell me of the top of his head. I think that’s not typical. Seek out places like farmer’s markets where you can know where your food is coming from.

Peppers and eggplant? Dinner is practically making itself!

Throw in some tomatos and supper is almost on the table. Make some ratatouille and show the kids that it isn’t made by cartoon rats.

Rosco
rossij220@msn.com
609 315-0596

At the far end of the market a lone man playing the guitar sat and sang the blues. I stood and watched as people walked by. Talking to him I found out that he wasn’t paid by the market. So why was he there? Why did he play for free? Because he was a musician and that’s what they they do. If you’re a musician you play. You play because you have to. You play because that’s what you are.

Rosco’s tallent was much larger than the tiny pavilion he was playing in. The music was sweet and true. It reminded me of a lyric by Joni Mitchell:

“I meant to go over and ask for a song 
Maybe put on a harmony
I heard his refrain
As the signal changed
He was playing real good for free”

So that’s the Haddonfield Farmer’s Market. They’re still open every weekend through the start of October. Take a quiet Saturday or Sunday morning, visit Haddonfield, look through the quaint shops, have a coffee at a local café, and visit the farmer’s market. You’ll be glad you did.

Held Over by Popular Demand: Fish Fest 2012

As I reported last weekend was Wegmans Fish Festival and a great event it was. Better still it was so successful that they’re extending it for a week. So take a look at what was available last weekend and if you didn’t get a chance to get there try to make it this weekend – August 17th through the 19th.

Look for the big fish welcoming you all to the event!


One of the best things about Wegmans Fish Fest is knowing where your fish comes from. I got a chance to meet Bill and in addition to really knowing his fish he’s a genuinely nice guy!


Rich is in charge of the seafood department at Wegmans. He’s the next step on the road for your fish, from Bill to Rich to you! If you’ve got questions about where the fish were caught or how they were caught Rich is the guy to ask.

I got one of those branzini and grilled it stuffed with lemon slices, garlic, and fresh basil!

A lot of the fish is locally caught. Here’s some fluke caught right off the coast of New Jersey.

I knew that one sign of really fresh fish is that they don’t smell of fish. However, something I didn’t know is that really fresh salmon smells like cucumber. Thank Bill Mason for that little insight.

Wahoo! It’s a giant Wahoo.


Beautiful golden tile fish.


Grouper! One of my favorite fish. I always get fresh grouper when I go down to the Florida Keys. These were as good-looking and fresh as anything I’d get down there.

If you’re worried about having to deal with a whole fish than Jim is the answer. Jim’s a friend of mine and I don’t have the slightest hesitation in calling him a master craftsman. He’s an artist with a knife. I had the fish I got butterflied with the head left on. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to do that but it’s damn hard. Jim makes it look easy!

Not a great shot of Jim because I was distracted by that tuna.

How do you cook it? Wegmans has that covered! Ralph, seen here on the left, can give you tips and recipes for any seafood you want to cook up.

When I was there Ralph was pan searing swordfish in olive oil and a little of Wegmans chipotle lime finishing butter. Delicious! Ralph always has a smile, a joke, and samples to give out to the crowd.

No time? Grab some store made salmon burgers, sliced fresh Jersey tomatoes, a little finishing butter, and a couple of freshly baked rolls from the bakery. You can have dinner together faster than you could have something delivered!

Hope I’ve got you excited about fish! I’ll be back this Saturday morning bright and early looking for what they have fresh this week. Maybe I’ll see you there!

The Fishes are Coming! The Fishes are Coming!

One of my favorite foods shrimp. But buyer beware! Know your shrimp and where they come from.

OK! This week I’m going to wreck something that you love, then I’m going make it all better, then tell you how to prevent the issue in the first place, and finally let you know about an exciting “foodie” event happening very soon. So hang on! It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

This is an Asian shrimp farm. It doesn’t make my mouth water – how about you?

I Love Shrimp, You Love Shrimp, All God’s Children Love Shrimp!
America loves shrimp – it’s a fact. Even many of those people whose religion has strict dietary laws make an exception when it comes to eating shrimp. I’m looking at you Kato.

The horrifying truth is that shrimp is one of the dirtiest foods that you can buy. Farm raised shrimp as well as other seafood doesn’t go through the same inspection procedures that beef, pork and chicken do. There’s no rating system for the quality of seafood. Think about it. If you can afford it you can buy “Prime” beef – the highest quality. With shrimp the only thing you’re told is how many of them there are per pound.

The problem is in some shrimp farms, primarily the ones on Asia, the standards just aren’t that high. Disease is a real problem for shrimp farmers so a lot of them pump their shrimp full of antibiotics. If that wasn’t bad enough imported farm raised shrimp are very high on the list of the dirtiest foods in the market. They usually include rat and mouse hairs, feces, as well as just plain dirt. Some of these farms try to solve this problem by washing or even soaking the shrimp in industrial chemicals such as detergent or dry cleaning fluid. I’ve given up on Asian farm raised tiger shrimp, the black and white striped variety that are commonly sold in supermarkets.

Consider this, in Asia they are quickly eating the world’s supply of any number of types of seafood. So why would they send us the any of the good stuff for cheap prices?

Want great fresh shrimp? Trust American fishermen like these from North Carolina.

This Just In – Wild Carolina Shrimp!
So, you are thinking, “Bob, we hate you. Why have you ruined something that everyone loves?”.

Well there is a solution: know where your shrimp comes from! This week, Wegmans where I get my fish, just started selling wild Carolina shrimp freshly caught by fishermen off of the coast of North Carolina. These are caught by Garland F Fulcher Seafood Company in Oriental Harbor, but these are not Asian tiger shrimp. These are wild pink shrimp plucked from the waters of the Atlantic ocean and rushed to you!

I imagine that Garland F Fulcher thinks that life is like a box of chocolates.

Using fresh rosemary sprigs as skewers adds great flavor to grilled shrimp!

Cooking Them Up: Grilled Shrimp
Cooking shrimp on a grill is simple, fast, and delicious. Here’s what you’ll need to make some great Rosemary Gilled Shrimp:

The Software:

  • The biggest, freshest shrimp that your budget allows
  • Fresh Rosemary sprigs
  • Canola or Vegetable Oil
  • Sea Salt
  • Freshly Ground Pepper

The Hardware:

  • Charcoal or Gas Grill
  • Pair of Tongs
  • Two Plates

The Procedure:
This is a real simple recipe and cooks really quickly. So make sure that you have everything else ready, all of your sides and such, before you put the shrimp on to cook. Depending on the number of people and shrimp you have this can either be an appetizer or an entrée.

  1. Get your grill going. You want a good hot fire for this.
  2. If they aren’t already clean, clean your shrimp. That “vein” running down their backs is actually their large intestine as is basically full of shrimp crap. A sharp knife and a little  effort on your part will allow you to get rid of the vein. Make a shallow slice along the length of their backs and pick the vein out. Either that or buy them cleaned (or just don’t care – shrimp eat algae it’s not like they’re chowing down on burritos).
  3. Use the rosemary sprigs as skewers and run them through the shrimp. The number that you’ll be able to fit on a sprig depends on the size of the rosemary springs and the size of the shrimp.
  4. Lay the skewers on a plate and drizzle with the oil. You can also use flavored oils to add another element to the dish.
  5. Salt and pepper the shrimp.
  6. Flip the shrimp skewer over and repeat steps 4 and 5.
  7. Put them over direct heat on the grill and watch them. They’ll cook really fast! Somewhere about 2 to 3 minutes should do it.
  8. Use the tongs to flip them over and cook them an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Don’t over cook them. Cook them too long and your expensive delicious fresh shrimp will be wrecked.
  9. Remove them from the grill with the tongs and put them on a clean plate.
  10. Ring the dinner bell. They’re done!

Wegmans is everything a market should be!

The Big Secret: Know Your Fish Guy!
How do I know exactly where my shrimp are from and who caught them? Easy! I know and trust my fish guys. You may have to shop around a bit but ask questions and keep your eyes open. Use all of your senses. Does the fish counter at your market smell like fish? Bad sign! Fresh fish doesn’t have a smell at all. Where was the fish or shellfish caught? When was it caught? How was it caught? Was it line caught or net caught? Is it a sustainable fish – that is a fish that isn’t in danger from over harvesting? Has it been treated in any way? Some places dye their salmon pink so it looks better in the case. Some places add all sorts of chemical preservatives. A lot of fish is farmed these days and there are good farms and some really bad farms. Since you can’t visit the farms yourself having someone who you can trust picking your fish out is really essential.

When I look for fresh fish I generally want to see a whole fish. I want to look at its eyes that should be clear and bright. I want to check its gills and make sure that they have a good color also. I also want to be able to give them a good sniff and check for any “fishy” smell.

I, however, have it REAL easy. As I said I buy my fish at the Wegmans market in Cherry Hill. There Rich, Jim, and the rest of the guys behind the fish counter can answer any question I can throw at them. They know when the fish was caught, where it was caught, how it was caught, and often the name of the guy who caught it. I absolutely trust them. If they asked I would lend them my car, and I don’t lend anyone my car. Much of what they sell is caught locally and I know that the farm raised products that they sell have been processed to an incredibly high standard. They’ll clean and prep the fish as I watch and can even suggest ways to cook it. They get fresh fish in daily and they’ll make suggestions based on what they know is freshest and best that day.

Knowing your fish guys has an added bonus. They’ll let you know when something really cool is in the works:

James and the Giant Fish: Jim Wilgus takes apart a huge yellow fin tuna.

Wegmans Fish Festival, August 10th, 11th, & 12th
Cherry Hill
This coming Friday, Saturday, and Sunday the Wegmans on Route 70 in Cherry Hill is having a Fish Festival and it promises to one of the premier food events in the area this summer.

The entire fish area of the store will be greatly expanded and all sorts of fish will be available for inspection and sale. Fresh black sea bass, grouper, flounder, sockeye salmon, snapper, huge scallops  and more will be laid out on beds of ice. There will be three different cutting stations to prep the fish as you like it. My friend Jim Wilgus will be cutting monstrous tunas and swordfish. That’s a show in itself! If you’ve never seen someone who really knows what they’re doing take one of those apart it’s a fascinating process.

There’s going to be cooking demos and tasting opportunities. At the front of the store they’ll be having a clam bake and serving it up for lunch. The produce department will even get in on the act suggesting parings of fish and fresh produce. They’ll even slice the vegetables for you if you want! And it’s a quick walk across the parking lot it the Wegmans wine store where they’ll be able to point you to just the right wine to pair with your fish.

On Friday some of the local fishermen will be in the house to answer questions about how the fish is caught and rushed to your plate.

So give the Festival a look-see. I’ll be there on Saturday hanging around or perhaps drawing in the coffee shop and maybe I’ll see you!

Sweet Home Carolina!

Those of you who have been paying attention know I recently got myself a new Weber grill. A classic charcoal burning monster! So I’ve been grilling up a storm. Mostly chicken because I both like chicken and can afford chicken.

However chicken can become boring pretty fast if you don’t change things up pretty quickly. So I’ve been lurking through various food Web sites looking for ideas, and I’ve been finding out some interesting things:

  • There are an amazing number of BBQ sites out there. I think it might be the new national pastime.
  • I can’t make “real” BBQ because while I have a grill it’s not a smoker. Oh, I can fudge it by using wood chips in a foil pouch set on the coals, but it’s not the same.
  • There are more types of BBQ then I knew there were.

It’s that last one that’s got me excited.


Carolina Style BBQ

Carolina is much more complex than I ever thought. There are several types of BBQ found in the Carolinas but down in South Carolina in the bottom of the state there’s unique type found, as far as I can tell, nowhere else. What’s different about it? It’s mustard and vinegar based, no tomato products in it at all.

According to the Internet and the South Carolina BBQ Association the mustard based sauce was developed by German immigrants to the region.

I think it was invented by this woman:

“I haven’t seen a dime from the recipe!”, states Mayberry matron.

What You’re Going to Need
I’ve made this a couple of times now and I’ve come to a few conclusions.

  • This is way better on the grill. Not nearly as good in the oven. Exposure to fire helps caramelize the mustard/brown sugar on the outside of the chicken.
  • You don’t need expensive mustard. Yellow mustard works fine. I use an organic mustard but it’s probably not necessary.
  • The original recipe calls for leaving the chicken in the marinade 10 minutes. Longer than that is better.
  • The sugar content of this means you need to keep an eye on it so it doesn’t burn.
  • This would be really good on pork. I’m trying that next!

Besides being delicious I like the efficiency of this sauce. One batch serves as the marinade, the “mop” (slathered on during cooking), and the finishing sauce. Very efficient! I would expect nothing less from the Germans.

The Software

  • 1/2 cup yellow mustard
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons mustard powder
  • 2 teaspoons hot sauce (use the one you like!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs (2 to 2 1/4 pounds)
  • Vegetable oil, for brushing

The Hardware

  • Big Bowl
  • Large Plastic Zip Lock Bag
  • Whisk
  • 1/2 cup measuring cup
  • 1/4 cup measuring cup
  • Tiny Mug or Ramikin
  • 1 Tablespoon Measuring Spoon
  • 1 Teaspoon Measuring Spoon
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Measuring Spoon
  • Grill
  • Wire Grill Brush
  • Brush
  • Instant Read Thermometer
  • Tongs

The Process

  1. In a big bowl whisk together the mustard, brown sugar, cider vinegar, mustard powder, salt, pepper, hot sauce, and Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Put the butter in the mug or ramikin and zap it in the microwave to melt it.
  3. Slowly pour the melted butter into the rest of the ingredients whisking the whole time. You’re making an emulsion here. The butter should incorporate into the sauce and the sauce becoming smooth.
  4. Put the chicken into the zip lock bag.
  5. Pour about 1/3 of the sauce into the bag, squish it around a bit so the chicken gets covered well, force most of the air out of the bag and then zip it closed.
  6. Put the bag in the fridge for at least 10 minutes up to a couple of hours.
  7. Put aside 1/3 of the sauce to baste the chicken with while it cooks.
  8. Put aside the final 1/3 of the sauce to pour over the chicken before serving.
  9. Get your grill going. If you’re using charcoal bank the coals to one side. If you’re using gas turn on one side of the burners only.
  10. Clean the grill and wipe it down with some vegetable oil.
  11. Start the chicken skin side down over the hot part of the grill.
  12. Cook it about 10 to 12 minutes moving it off of the direct heat if starts cooking to quickly (also known as burning).
  13. Baste it occasional with the sauce.
  14. Flip it over and cook for another 10 to 12 minutes. Baste it occasionally.
  15. Don’t trust the timing! Check it with the instant read thermometer. When it reaches 165 degrees it’s done!
  16. Take it off the heat and let it rest for 10 minutes.
  17. Serve with the last of the sauce poured on top of it. Traditional sides are sliced tomatoes and macaroni salad

That’s it! Delicious!
Give this recipe a try, it’s a real eye opener. A very good alternative to the traditional BBQ you’re used to!

Get well Kato. I hope you feel better! : D