New Jersey (meal #1): Farmers Market Salad

 

 

New Jerseyflag

Population: 8,899,339
Capital: Trenton
Admission to the Union: December 18, 1787
Source: Wikipedia

Oh my beloved home state! Obviously it was not hard for me to come up with many many things associated with New Jersey since it’s where I grew up, my boyfriend grew up and a place that I love. Now I could spend some time explaining to you that New Jersey is absolutely nothing like you see on Jersey Shore or the Real Housewives, but if I really need to tell you that, you’re an a**hole and I’d rather you not be reading my blog anyway.

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There were so many foods from my childhood that came to mind when I thought of a culinary homage to New Jersey. There was pizza and other Italian-American foods, diner grub, Jewish delis, sub shops, salt water taffy, fat sandwiches and so much more. And of course, there is our abundance of local produce.

I struggled to come up with one meal, when my brilliant boyfriend suggested I do multiple meals! Yes! (Of course he’s brills, he is from Jersey)

Here is something you might not know about Jersey if you’re not from the Northeast; agriculture is New Jersey’s third largest industry. New Jersey is a top producer of berries (especially blueberries), eggplant, herbs and many other fruits and veggies. Jersey tomatoes are generally considered the best in the country and, this time of year, every New Jersey kid craves Jersey sweet corn.

Though the farmers markets I go to in New York City do have vendors from Connecticut, Upstate New York and occasionally Pennsylvania; but the majority of stands are from New Jersey. So how could I not make a delicious Farmers Market Salad for my first Jersey meal?

Of course tomatoes and sweetcorn would need to be a part of the salad, but I was also delighted to find that baby Fairytale eggplants are in season. If you’ve never tried baby eggplant you must. They are so delicious and don’t have the bitterness or thick skin of mature eggplants. All you need to do is slice off the tops, slice them in half and saute them in olive oil until soft. Add a little salt and you’re in business.

PicMonkey Collage

I also picked up some mint at the market and knew I’d want some cheese to make this salad complete. Unsurprisingly I headed to a stand run by cheese makers from New Jersey. I opted for a piece of crottin which is a firm goat cheese with a similar texture to ricotta salata.

I threw this salad together for lunch on Friday and it was amazing. In fact I loved it so much that I ate the leftovers as my afternoon snack a couple of hours later.

New Jersey Farmers Market Salad

  • Baby fairytale eggplants; sliced in half and sauteed then allowed to cool to room temperature
  • Jersey sweetcorn; cooked, allow to cool to room temperature then remove kernels from cob
  • Heirloom tomato cut in to rough chunks
  • Fresh mint roughly chopped (or basil)
  • Crottin cheese chopped in to rough chunks (or fresh mozzarella or burratta)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Red wine vinegar to taste
  • Olive oil to taste

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In a large bowl toss eggplant, tomato and corn with salt, pepper, oil and vinegar.

Add cheese and mint and gently toss.

Enjoy the delicious taste of my home state!

Note: I actually liked this salad even more at snack time so I’m thinking that next time I might make this salad a couple of hours ahead if time to let the flavors come together.

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Virginia: Jeffersonian Ice Cream

Virginia

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Population: 8,260,405
Capital: Richmond
Admission to the Union: June 25, 1788
Source: Wikipedia

Wow Virginia, your unique culinary tradition astounds me! (Note sarcasm)

I’ve visited Virginia many times in my life. Most of those visits have been to Northern Virginia, either on visits to DC when I was younger or, more recently to visit Becky and Ben. I’ve also visited the Richmond area and Virginia Beach more than once, though. Still, I wracked my brain to think of anything that I ate there or saw on a menu that was particularly distinct and I came up blank. I’ve enjoyed plenty of good meals in Virginia, but none that seemed  unique to the state. It was time to call in the experts.

I started by asking Becky, a life long Virginian, who replied; “Honestly I can’t think of anything except ham.”

Hmmm, well heating up a pre-made ham wasn’t going to cut it for the 50 States Project so I decided to ask Chris, who earned his undergraduate degree at Virginia Tech. I asked him to really think about it. I even said that it could be something unique to the Virginia Tech campus, like a favorite dive restaurant where all the students ate some crazy concoction. Unfortunately, he too came up blank.

An internet search was equally unhelpful so it was back to the drawing board and time to dig deep. I decided to think of non-culinary related things that I associated with Virginia and as an American History nerd it didn’t take me long to come up with Thomas Jefferson who among many other accomplishments, was also America’s first foodie.

Full disclosure here: I am not a fan of Thomas Jefferson. While I appreciate his contributions to our nation, I think he was a giant hypocrite and a jerk. This is also partly due to the fact that I have a total fan girl crush on one Mr. John Adams (yes, you read that right and yes, I really am THAT nerdy). In fact Chris will happily tell you all about the time I had a little too much to drink and loudly proclaimed to our friends, “You know who the real architect of Independence was!? John motherf*ucking Admas! That’s who!” What can I say, I’m passionate.

Anyway, back to food. One thing I will give Jefferson is that he was fiercely committed to eating good quality food. He’s often associated with ice cream as he is one of the people that popularized it in this country. Light bulb: I should make ice cream to represent Virginia!… But I don’t have or even want an ice cream maker.

Of course a little Googling returned several methods for making ice cream without a machine. I chose the David Lebovitz method since I’m a big fan of his.

The magical internet also revealed to me Thomas Jefferson’s actual vanilla ice cream recipe! I adapted the recipe very slightly and significantly reduced the quantity as we certainly don’t need 4.5 pints of ice cream, but I stuck pretty close to the original recipe and it was great.

Almost Thomas Jefferson’s Vanilla Ice Cream

  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups good quality cream (go with the organic non-homogenized stuff if you can)
  • 1/2 cup whole milk (ditto)
  • 2 teaspoons good quality pure vanilla extract (I had meant to use half a vanilla bean, but forgot to buy one. However, the extract worked great and is a lot cheaper)

Place a metal bowl in the freezer.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar. Set aside.

Pour cream and milk in to a medium saucepan then stir the vanilla and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and temper eggs by slowly adding tablespoons one at a time to the egg and sugar mixture, stirring constantly and vigorously. After maybe 5 or 6 tablespoons pour the mixture back in to the pot with the remaining cream. Turn the heat to medium and stir constantly until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat.

Prepare an ice bath with a clean mixing bowl in the center. Pour the custard through a strainer in to the bowl and let sit until the mixture feels like it’s about at the temperature it would be if you’d just removed it from the refrigerator.

Once the mixture has cooled, pour it in to the bowl in the freezer and leave it alone for about 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes, check on it. Some freezing should be happening just around the edges. Scrape down those edges then grab your hand mixer and give it a good mix for maybe 30 seconds to a minute so you can break up the ice crystals this and keep your ice cream light and creamy.

First look after 45 minutes. Edges just starting to freeze.

First look after 45 minutes. Edges just starting to freeze.

Put the bowl back in to the freezer and leave it for 30 minutes. Again take the bowl out of the freezer, scrape down the frozen edges and beat it up.

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After a couple of hours.

 

Repeat this every 30 minutes until the ice cream has reached soft serve or slightly melty ice cream consistency*.

Cover the ice cream tightly and leave overnight**

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We have ice cream!

Enjoy!

Notes:

*David Lebovitz suggests this process takes about 2-3 hours, but it took me more like 5 hours. Luckily Chris and I had decided to stay in to clean and organize on Saturday.

**David Lebovitz also says nothing about leaving the ice cream overnight. In fact, we first ate the ice cream on Saturday night thinking that ice cream made this way stays at a soft serve consistency which was fine since it was delicious anyway, but when went in for leftovers on Sunday night the ice cream had hardened up and was the same texture as what you’d get when you open a pint of Häagen-Dazs which we liked even better.

All in all this was super delicious and fun!

Yum!

Yum!

Colorado: Bison Tacos (with green chilies, obv)

Colorado

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Population: 5,268,367
Capital: Denver
Admission to the Union: August 1, 1876
Source: Wikipedia

With my recent trip to Colorado fresh in my mind, is it any wonder that Colorado would be the next dish I made for the 50 States project?

Before I’d ever visited Colorado, this is what I knew about the food there; they, like their neighboring states of New Mexico and Arizona, put green chilies on everything. This is what I learned after visiting Colorado; tacos seem to be a religion there and Bison (aka American Buffalo) is featured on every menu. So it only made sense that my Colorado inspired meal would be Bison Tacos and of course they had to include green chilies which then begged the question, what are “green chilies”?

 I cook with chilies fairly often and can easily find Serranos and Jalapenos, Habeneros and Shishitos; but here in the Northeast I’ve never seen anything labeled just “green chili.” I needed to find out how I could procure the correct “green chili” from someone in the know so I text Dan who suggested I pick up a can of Hatch green chilies. According to Dan I could look for fresh long green chilies and roast them myself, but the canned ones work well in place of that. Luckily it was no problem finding Hatch green chilies at the supermarket.

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Next I needed to grab some ground bison meat, which is really easy to find here. In fact all of the ingredients I needed were easy to find except for one. Every single supermarket I went to was out of Cotija cheese! At Whole Foods I was told that they should have more next week. Chris was nice enough to try at another local supermarket known for their great cheese department and was told that they hadn’t gotten any Mexican cheeses in a month! I made due by using a combination of Feta and Asiago which makes a reasonable substitute for Cotija, but Chris and I have dubbed this incident, The Great Mexican Cheese Shortage of Summer 2014.

If you’ve never cooked with bison before, here’s what you should know; bison is very similar in flavor to beef, but it is a much leaner meat. Because of the lack of fat in bison, you want to make sure to have plenty of liquid when you’re using it in a recipe that requires it to be fully cooked. I decided that the liquid I would use would be a beer and of course it had to be a Colorado beer so I picked up a can of Dale’s Pale Ale. If you want to keep this recipe gluten free though, I think beef broth would work well.

Chris and I loved these and this will officially be my new go to taco recipe. I also think it would be just as good with beef or turkey so don’t worry if bison isn’t readily available near you.

Bison Tacos

For the taco meat:

  • Oil for cooking
  • 1/2 a medium onion finely minced
  • 1lb ground Bison
  • 1/2 cup beer or beef broth (recommended: Dale’s Pale Ale)
  • 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 Tablespoon Chili Powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground Cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried Oregano
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Smoked Spanish Paprika
  • 1 teaspoon Coriander
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • large pinch of Cayenne
  • Salt and Pepper

To serve:

  • Corn or wheat tortillas (we used corn)
  • 1 can Hatch green chilies
  • Chopped tomatoes
  • Chopped onion
  • Thinly sliced radishes
  • Shredded Romaine lettuce
  • Sliced avocado
  • Grated Cotija cheese
  • Cilanto
  • lime wedges

PicMonkey Collage

Heat a little oil a sauté pan, add onion and cook until the onion has begun to soften and turn translucent; about 3-54 minutes.

Add the bison, breaking it up as and cook until all the meat has begun to brown then pour most of the accumulated fat off and return the pan to the stove.

Add beer a stir. Allow to cook for about 4-5 minutes, until most of the liquid is gone.

Stir in the tomato paste and all remaining ingredients and cook for one more minute or just long enough for the tomato paste and spices to be incorporated in to the meat.

Assemble and enjoy!

Serves 4-6

I've got to toot my own horn on this one. So good!!

I’ve got to toot my own horn on this one. So good!!

West Virginia: The Ramp-eroni sandwich

West Virginia

760px-Flag_of_West_Virginia.svg

Population: 1,854,304
Capital: Charleston
Admission to the Union: June 20, 1863
Source: Wikipedia

I’ve visited West Virginia twice. The first time I was a kid and don’t remember much, but this past October I had the opportunity to visit again. My dear friend Mandy lives in Martin’s Ferry, Ohio; a town close to the Pennsylvania and West Virginia borders. In fact the closest city to Mandy’s Ohio home town in Wheeling, WV. So, when I visited her in the fall, of course that meant a visit to Wheeling.

Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

When asked what my impressions were of Wheeling, the word that most often comes to mind is heartbreaking.

As you can see from my photos, it’s quite pretty.

Wheeling, WV

Wheeling, WV

Oglebay Park, WV

Oglebay Park

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wheeling also has some of the most fantastic Victorian architecture you’ll see in this country and it’s filled with cute little shops like the bookstore and wine shop you see pictured below. Wheeling is a city that has a lot of character and the people there are really trying to revitalize their city, but, like so many places in America, there is a lack of good job opportunities. There is just so much potential there.

I had dinner with some friends this past weekend and we were discussing the precarious state of the Huy Fong Sriracha plant in California. My friend’s mentioned that Huy Fong should just close the California factory and move some place where jobs were desperately needed. My vote was the Wheeling, WV area so Huy Fong Sriracha owner, if you’re reading this (and of course you are!) you heard it hear first: go open a plant in West Virginia.

Quirky bookstore in Wheeling

Quirky bookstore in Wheeling

Wine shop insider a Victorian t row house in Wheeling

Wine shop inside a Victorian row house in Wheeling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, off the soapbox and on to the food.

Inspired by the fact that I had the most amazing margherita sandwich of my life at Avenue Eats, a farm to table restaurant in Wheeling, I really wanted to make a sandwich for my West Virginia recipe.

Also some of the best fries I've ever had

Also some of the best fries I’ve ever had

Two foods heavily associated with West Virginia are ramps and pepperoni rolls. Whereas NYC snobs like me eagerly await the arrival of one of the currently trendiest ingredients, ramps, at our farmer’s markets; ramps are so ubiquitous in WV that any and every Average Joe, go foraging for them and enjoy them in all kinds of recipes. Pepperoni rolls are a regional specialty that basically consists of a stick of pepperoni wrapped in dough. Hence the idea for The Ramp-eroni sandwich was born. I made it for Chris and I on Saturday and I gotta tell ya, it turned out kind of delicious.

Ramp-eroni Sandwich

  • Roasted ramps, leaves separated from bulbs to make it easier to stack on your sandwich*
  • Sliced pepperoni (preferred brand: Applegate Farms Organic Pepperoni)
  • Fontina cheese, sliced
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Olive oil for drizzling
  • Salt and pepper
  • Crusty rolls or bread, such as ciabatta, lightly toasted

PicMonkey Collage

The method here would be: Assemble! I mean really, if I have to tell you how to make a sandwich than you really shouldn’t be reading this blog. One tip, make sure that the ramp leaves get nice and crispy which will add some nice crunch to your sandwich.

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The finished, and kind of delish, product.

50 Nifty

I know, I know; I am the worst!

I promised to commit to blogging again and then, clearly, I didn’t. Do you hate me? I don’t blame you. In my defense it’s been a really fantastic, but really busy few months. Now I’m back though with brand new kitchen and a brand new project.

First up, the new kitchen. Well I’ve just moved in with my boyfriend so I’m still cooking for two, but now I’m cooking in new digs. His kitchen, I guess I should say “our” kitchen now, is bigger than my old one, but still tiny because that’s life in a New York City pre-war apartment. The thing that makes me happiest about the kitchen though is… wait for it… wait for it… I now have a dishwasher! Did you hear that people, I have a dishwasher. I just teared up a little thinking about that.

Ok on to the project. Introducing the 50 States project! If you can’t figure it out from the title, I’ll be cooking a recipe that represents each state in this glorious nation of ours.

This project will differ from the original 26 Dishes project in that I’m not striving for authenticity here. For the international recipes I really tried to only change things if I was allergic to an ingredient or it was impossible to get in this country. Sometimes I’ll make a recipe so synonymous with a state that I may try and make it authentic, but in many cases, the state recipes will be more interpretive. I have no timeline for this project either. It might take 2 years or 10; I’m in no rush.

I’ve enlisted some friends to suggest foods and dishes from their home states, but would love to hear from all of you out there. What foods/dishes are synonymous with your home state? Is there some kind of specialty at one of your area restaurants that’s a hit with locals? What are your great food memories in other states you’ve visited?

Who else remembers this song from elementary school?