Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Visit us at The Locavore Continuum

We have a new web site The Locavore Continuum - please visit us there.

Eat well and be well!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Report from Mike Tilley on Kitchen Reorganization

We finally had our first "field trip" with Anne-Marie to the Farmers Market and it so happened that Chef Reto Biaggi went with us at the same time! We got to meet him while going through the Market with Anne-Marie and it was a fun and learning experience to visit the local vegetable and meat vendors. We got to sample at some booths and if time was available, we got to hear a little about the operations they run. I can tell you that there is a common denominator among all of the vegetable and meat producers and it is one of pride and enjoyment in what they do. What I mean is that when something is put out for sale, it is done with the confidence that it looks good, tastes good and is produced locally with the "old-timey" methods that the big producers can't and could not do in mass. And let me tell you, it is worth a little extra price for what you come home with...I mean I was excited about what each item was going to taste like!

We ended up with some sausage, hamburger, apples, lettuce,cucumbers,onions, garlic, field peas and a few of the prettiest whole turnips I've ever seen ( they were complete with the turnip attached to the greens...large and shiney turnips and the greens were dark green ). I grew up not wanting to eat those but these were just beautiful and immediately appetizing! I think all of us brought some of those home.

After the visit to the Market, we all went back to our house so Reto could go through our kitchen equipment and then do a preparation of something for us. He was OK with most of our cookware and suggested we get rid of some items that take up space and are never or rarely used. We found that some of his main items in the kitchen he likes to use are: a 12" skillet,a sharp Chef's knife and a large enough bamboo cutting board. We have the knife but went out later to get the skillet to be equipped. We still need to get a larger cutting board ( bamboo of course).

Reto sharpened our knife and then showed us proper and safe cutting procedures on the turnips he was going to prepare for us. He peeled and cubed them, let us do some of the same and then put a small amount of water, sprinkle of sugar, pepper and salt on the cubes and placed them in a skillet on medium heat. While that was going, he cut and mashed some fresh garlic, diced onion and bacon and put them in the large cooking pot on medium heat. Those items sauteed for a while and when ready, the washed greens were placed in the pot to cook down. When these two dishes were done, we snacked on them and all loved it!! In fact the house smelled so good from that for a few hours to remind us of how good and fortunate it is for our family to be involved in this project.

Well, sorry for the long ramble, but it seems to me that our family is excited and aware more and more about eating better. In fact, when I laid down with Cameron for him to go to sleep Sunday night, I asked what his favorite thing of the weekend was and he said : "Saturday morning shopping and cooking with the chef". I said " He's a pretty fancy cooker" and then Cameron followed with "You got that right". I surely did.

As we like to say in this business: Eat Well and Be Well !!
Mike Tilley

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Kitchen Equipment with the Tilleys

Reto Biaggi, a personal chef and owner of Home Cuisine, one of our corporate sponsors has now gotten together with the Tilleys and spent time going through their kitchen equiment. We ended up with another clean-out session and some impromptu lessons in cookware and knife skills. Again, fun was had by all!

We started with a quick trip to the farmer's market just to get a feel for a quick lunch dish. We ended up sampling some great local meats and seeing that a fair amount of vegetables and apples are still available at the farmer's markets. There are fewer items in the winter months but they are not totally void and it is why we should learn to can and freeze summer produce for more winter variety.

I got some broccoli for us and then was shocked at how much Charlotte ate. Despite all my trying to be aloof about letting Charlotte eat what she wants and making some of the best foods available to her, I know that underneath it all she knows how badly I want her to try everything. When she doesn't taste things this is her exerting her own little measure of control. I get that, but as a mommy foodie it does drive me a little crazy. Mainly because my food is so delicious that I know she'd like it if she'd just try it. This last week she did try pomegranate and broccoli so I can't despair!

Anyhow, back to the Tilleys. We ended up getting some incredibly gorgeous turnips with the greens still attached and they were huge! Mike purchased a Belarus garlic bulb from the Cornerstone Garlic Farm out of Reidsville. Natalie Foster, the owner, gave us an incredible handout on how to plant garlic and grow your own. (Please visit her at the Greensboro Curb Market to get the handout as she says they are working on their web site and the handout will be up there later just not yet.) There is still time to plant some garlic. Planting now, depending on the variety will yield garlic from early/mid May on through June. So Mike is intending on getting outside and planting at least 2 - 4 cloves for the spring!

When we returned to the Tilley house, Reto got straight into digging through cabinets and work spaces. He reiterated the same thing to the Tilleys that he talked with the Richeys about, having clear workspaces and making sure everything that you use all the time is handy. He also noted that the revolving spice rack that seems handy and looks good on the counter is, in reality, not a good idea. Nothing destroys spice more than being exposed to UV light, so while this might look attractive, it's not the best option. I personally love any type of Lazy Susan, so if something like this would fit in a cabinet with a door then that really is the best place to keep it.

Speaking of spices, while I enjoy fresh herbs the most, I still have a plethora of dried spices and other seasonings on hand. I used to lament the lack of freshness dates on them because they don't last forever, but now those date markings are fairly common. Now being able to read them is a whole other story - get your reading glasses out. But pay attention because the more you cook the more you will only want to use the best. (I bought some organic Madagascar vanilla last night, but when I make my own ice cream you can really tell a difference between that vanilla and the inexpensive types.)

Tammy really wanted to reorganize her pots and pans so that is where the action took place next. Reto went through the Tilley's collection and pulled out about 3 peices that they admitted they never used and so these are now another set of Goodwill items. He talked about the sets of cookware we commonly buy and how we often end up with a few pieces of equipment we never use. His opinion is to buy separate pieces and buy great quality because they will be easier to use and hold up longer. It's like any sport - using top notch equipment can make the game more enjoyable and leads to better play - and cooking is no exception.

Brand-wise he extolled All-Clad and de Buyer. I prefer All-Clad myself, but I own a wide variety of things. I do appreciate cookware that can go from stove top to the oven as I do a fair amount of recipes that require this - like my frittatas, stews and other meat dishes including my Figgy Piggy Baked Chicken (name taken from a Gourmet magazine recipe that uses Cornish Hens, but my dish is a twist on the original.) I also enjoy my older cast iron skillets and so does Reto, but he lamented the fact that most don't have long enough handles for the weight of the pan.

Reto and I both agree that any good cook needs a 12-14 inch skillet with a lid, a 4-7 quart Dutch oven (depending on the volumes you cook) and lid, a 4-6 quart pot with a lid (if your Dutch oven is oval instead of more pot shaped) and at least one or two smaller 6-8 inch saute pans. We also talked about shopping at our locally owned and operated independent kitchen store The Extra Ingredient and buying things as they go on sale. I think Tammy was headed right out after our meeting to get an All-Clad skillet that was on sale.

After we went through the equipment we moved on to knives. Reto prefers Henckels or Victorinox but he really loves one of his Japanese knives that has a 15 degree sharpened edge, as opposed to most knives which have a 22 degree blade. Reto and I both agree that the most functional, must-have, knife is a good chef's knife of 8-10 inches and one extra paring knife for smaller jobs. A bread knife is another must have, but can be purchased later.

Reto went through the process of sharpening the knives with a stone versus using a standard kitchen tool for sharpening. Then we discussed using the steel to hone the edge daily. Sharpening needs to occur about every 3-6 months depending on usage. Never put knives in the dishwasher and never leave them to soak in dishwater. Use an appropriate cutting board, do not cut directly on the countertop. Always secure your cutting board with a couple of damp paper towels or a dish towel - this will keep your board from slipping around as it ages and gets less than flat. Move your cutting board to the edge of the counter to make cutting and scooping items off the board easier. Lastly, get a board that is at least 10 by 12 inches - a bigger board is easier to use than a small one, no matter what the job. Just make sure it isn't too big to clean easily.

When using a chef knife use a pincher grip with your thumb on one side and your fore finger on the other on the blade just above the handle. Curl your holding fingers under and into a claw position with thumb and pinky pulled back for safety. Please consult several of the online videos about knife skills or watch a professional to learn about proper positioning and cutting techniques. Once you learn to cut, chop and dice the right way, prep work becomes easier and more pleasureable. Always try to create a flat/stablizing side with your product first so that it won't slip and roll - safety first!

Lastly, Reto took that beautiful bunch of turnips and cut off the tops. Everyone pitched in (including Emma) and tore the leaves off into larger than bite size pieces. After we had a nice pile of greens Reto transferred them to the sink for a good washing off. Reto heated up the Tilleys' large enameled Dutch oven and then added about 4 slices of bacon that we had bought at the market. When the bacon was cooked almost crisp he added some minced garlic and then he dumped the washed greens in and they very quickly lost volume as the cells collapsed and water was realeased. They cooked for about 8 minutes until tender and delicious.

Reto also took the large turnips and let everyone practice their knife skills. First we cut off the root and top ends. Then, by gripping each side, we cut the turnip in half to create a flat surface. From there we cut the turnips into bite size chunks. Everyone tasted a raw piece of turnip. It was fun to see Cameron jump up off the sofa to grab a bite and remark how good he thought it was. Reto braised these turnips in butter, a touch of water and a touch of sugar, salt and pepper. After a nice low simmer for 12 minutes they were done and they could have been eaten as they were or they could have been mashed with some extra butter. Either way the taste was divine - fresh can't be compared to anything else.

Another great day at the market and in the kitchen.
Eat well and be well!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Kim's Report on the Kitchen Reorganization

Reto Biaggi, Anne-Marie, and Steve came by our house to take a look at our kitchen and how we store our food. Charlotte also came along to help keep our Miss Lily busy while we were busy in the dining room and kitchen. What resulted (in just a few hours): our large kitchen hutch was repainted (to preclude any exposure of old lead paint); all non-refrigerated food items were gone through and organized; our pantry & kitchen drawers were reorganized (and cleaned); and counter space was cleaned off and made available! The benefits of this have been innumerable so far: our kitchen looks more aesthetically pleasing (because it looks and is less cluttered); I have a kitchen hutch that I feel confident about storing food in & having Lily go into (no more worries about, “Is that peeling/chipping paint some of the old lead paint we were told about?”); and I can see what we have!

Allow me to expound on that last one a little more. Prior to the help of Reto, Anne-Marie, and Steve, we had a lot of food. Some of the food consisted of prepackaged snack items, while the rest consisted of baking/cooking staples. Well, we have lived in this house 4 ½ years & it is amazing what can collect on your food pantry shelves (and I don’t mean just the dust!) when you don’t do at least a yearly evaluation of what you have. For example, I threw out (recycling what I could) trash bags of food that were expired or we knew would no longer yield tasty items. For example, pastry flour is only good for a year (don’t ask how old mine was) as are other items like wheat flour and masa harina (Mike used it twice to make empanadas –they were good, but that was 5 years ago. We brought the masa with us when we moved from our old house. So, here’s a tip: When moving from one house to another, don’t wait another 4 years before reevaluating what you should have thrown out during the move!).

After doing that, Anne-Marie encouraged us to restock the hutch into an organized fashion: pastas/grains here, snacks over there, baking items on the bottom shelf, etc. We have done just that, which is a definite improvement from “just putting things where they’ll fit.” Now that things are less cluttered, I can see what I have. This is important in that, before, when looking to see if I had the ingredients I would need for a recipe, I’d have to pull down a small ladder to stand on and search through the pantry or pull things off the shelf to see behind the multitude of cans to see if I indeed, had one can of artichoke hearts. That process in and of itself is enough to make one call it quits when thinking about cooking something different! In addition, when you can see what you have, you know what you have, which means when you’re standing at the grocery store, you don’t buy extra cans of beans “just to be sure you have them.” Because you know what? When things are less cluttered, you’re more likely to notice that you already have 4 cans of black beans on the shelf.

Reto helped by helping my husband and me change how we view our kitchen and the logic behind how we store things. I think that my husband had already done a pretty good job of getting our kitchen organized when we moved in a few years ago, but Reto’s insight helped us change a few things. For example, he was able to convince me to move our microwave to another part of the kitchen to expand our counter space. Now, Mike had tried to convince me of that for the last few years, but I had always said no. Isn’t it interesting how advice from a non-spouse can help to motivate things a little?

Reto also brought to our attention that there were some kitchen items we just didn’t use and were just wasting space. So, to the Goodwill pile they went!

This is still a work in progress. Sometimes I have to ask Mike, “Where are we putting this now?” Or I discover that no, I wasn’t out of a certain snack food. It’s just they go there now, not here. All in all, we are pleased with what has been done & this inspires Mike & I to have more conversations about organization and cooking. Now, Anne-Marie, is there any way that we can do my attic and have it count as a part of the Locavore Makeover project?

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Kitchen Reorganization with the Richeys

Reto Biaggio, a personal chef and the owner of Home Cuisine (see blog post from Sept 28, 2009 for more on Reto and his business) , has become our second corporate sponsor!!

And recently he spent a morning with me at the Richeys and helped transform their kitchen and clean out some cabinets. What fun it was!

Somehow, kitchen reorganization is one of those things that we all mean to do and it oftens takes the actuality of moving some place new to make us do it. (Or it happens if a "helpful" relative comes in and does it for us, which seems to be more irritating than helpful as you usually aren't consulted!)

Anyhow, we'll wait to see Kim and Mike's report to see if we irritated or helped - ha ha! Again, I was happy to think we helped.

We started the morning with a trip through the farmer's market to get some general advice and insights from Reto. As a professional chef with an eye on freshness he has traversed many a market and sees things that the rest of us might miss. If you have ever known a designer or an architect and appreciated how they see things through the lens of a completed project where we just see an empty lot or a room full of mess, this is how a chef sees the market. It is a bounty of completed dishes and tempting treats.

So, off to the market we all went. Reto was in search of some kale and Kim wanted some flank steaks to cook for friends. I wanted my regular CSA bag and whatever else caught my eye.

Then back to the Richey's house for a kitchen clean-out. Reto quickly observed that their kitchen had a lack of good counter space related to placement of the microwave and some other miscellanous items. We all have a tendency to let things find their place over time and then we just live with it. But for efficiency we need to rethink our spaces.

Where is the most ideal work space? Do you have a space that provides natural light? Looking outside a window while working is one way of bringing the bounty of nature into the kitchen. How is the space situated to the oven/stovetop, sink and refrigerator? Ideally, you want to minimize steps in your kitchen so having the things you use most often close at hand is the best arrangement. Reto identified the same space that Mike likes to do prep work in but it was crowded with the microwave and extra utensils and dishes that were more accessories than standard work items. So, we decided right off to move the microwave and clear out that space.

And then Reto started cleaning out all of the surrounding spaces starting from that spot outward: cabinets, drawers, shelves and counter tops. He is a big fan of getting rid of things that you don't use often. Kim had a large assortment of sippy cups and baby items that is akin to my nightmare of a "Tupperware" cabinet.

I literally have a dark hole of a cabinet that becomes a catch all for all of my plastic storage ware. I dream nightly that the Tupperware fairy will visit me and arrange all that chaos and create lids for the lidless and bottoms for the variety of lids that don't fit anything. My Tupperware hole is listed in Websters right next to the word entropy - the state of going from order to disorder. So I am throwing no stones when I point out that the Richeys kitchen had a fair number of entropy holes also. But Reto gleefully started asking questions and sorting and rearranging - it was like watching an episode of "What Not To Wear" in the kitchen.

So while Reto was tackling cookware I headed to the assorted pantry areas. The Richeys have two main pantry storage spaces and one is a shelving unit in the kitchen, mainly used for canned items, and the other is an antique cabinet that housed a ton of dry goods, wine, baking items, chocolate and other things. So I pulled all of it out and sorted it by category and type of food. We threw out all the outdated items or things we knew were just too old. There really weren't many of these, but it is always funny to find these things. Again, not to cast stones I just dug out a bag of double zero flour I bought in Italy last fall and I could have kicked myself for not getting around to using it!

We then ended up having Steve paint the inside of the cabinet as it was sorely in need of a paint job and Kim suspected it of having lead paint on it originally. It made quite a difference in the appearance and I think it will make it brighter, on the outside at least. There are several foods that are best stored in the dark: flours, oils, wine and spices to name a few. UV light can destroy nutrients in food and accelerate the process of rancidity so it is best not to store foods in clear containers on the counter, no matter how attractive.

So, in the end we kept the canned goods on the open shelves and organized the items that were in the pantry cabinet so they could be tucked back in after the paint dried. There was a large pile of stuff to go into basement storage for the next yard sale or Goodwill trip and while I felt bad leaving the whole dining room table still covered in stuff for the cabinet, it felt like a cathartic and refreshing experience.

Reto got the kale dish that the Richeys were bringing to a party later that evening all prepped up and talked Mike through the recipe. He showed Mike how to flip the microplaner over to catch the lemon zest in it so you can see how much you have and all the greens were washed and made ready for cooking.

It's small tips like these that I think help facilitate and inspire all this change. Remember we are going for slow and steady change. This was a rare overnight transformative process.

Eat well and be well.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New Corporate Sponsor!! Sweet Tempatations...

Great news - the Locavore Makeover Project has its first corporate sponsor!! Sweet Temptations, a local baker who provides scratch made baked goods and caters events locally in the Triad has agreed we are a perfect fit. The owner, Jessie Podair, is a good friend of mine and we have taught each other a lot since we have known each other - in both the baking and technology worlds! I think the project may even have a new angle here as we can try to source a few more local ingredients for her, all without compromising her high standards of quality!

Visit the Sweet Temptations website for more information about Jessie and her company. I have worked with Jessie on numerous projects and our philospohies and tastes are deliciously in tune. It will be a true pleasure for The Locavore Makeover Project to be working for this great baker/cupcake maker - couldn't resist the rhyme!

This is just the best news! We are all so excited that we need to go cook something. Make mine pumpkin cookies! Wouldn't it be great if we lived in a world where fresh home made baked goods were what kids got as Halloween treats?

Eat well and be well.

Monday, October 26, 2009

BIG changes at the Locavore Makeover Project!

Well, as many of you know, it's been quiet on the blog this month. Some of it has been due to my travel and some of it related to everyone being booked out in October when we started in September, but there is another bit of work that interfered as well and I would like to explain about it futher.

As some of you know I teach at a public university and, as such, my proceeding with a project such as this fell under some regulations that I was unaware of. (I am not a researcher so I don't know all the rules - my bad!) After spending much of the last month not working on the project, but trying to comply with the institutional paperwork processes, I decided it would be easier to officially disband the project in its current form and rebuild it in the future after the kinks have been worked out. So I did that today. The original Locavore Makeover Project has just died.

But, have no fear, revival is in the air! The positive responses we have gotten via e-mail and in person from everyone who hears about what we are trying to accomplish has been overwhelming and will not be ignored. The offers of help and resources from farmers, producers, educators, dietitians and chefs has been truly inspiring. And then there was Alice Waters, who told me, not once, but twice how important this work was and to never give up on it. I keep the picture of us at breakfast in my calendar to remind me of the mission "Help others build better health through stronger local and organic food economies now!"

It is my personal mission to help as many people as I can to eat fresh local foods. I want to help our family farms stay intact, to thrive and to convert to more organic and sustainable agricultural methods. I want to use taste re-education as a method of showing everyone what a delicious revolution this is. Good food that is good for our health and the health of the planet - the time has come, we can't keep handing our well being and dollars over to the multinational corporations. The change may be slow and steady but we can make a difference.

Remember consumer demand drives the food industry - that's how we ended up with the "light, sugar-free, low-fat, high fiber, fake fat, whole grain enriched, pre-cooked, frozen, microwaveable, miniaturized, over processed, artificially flavored and neon colored" fake food we have now. We can demand something different once we know what to ask for. It starts with a committment and with education.

So I need your help envisioning and creating the next step. I now know how to better structure the project so that it becomes even more of a community education resource than I had originally planned. I will add more elements to the site and make it more dynamic and interactive. I am like the project - an organic process in the making - slow and steady. Stay with me...

But, most importantly, I will be looking for an outside sponsor for the project. As soon as I can identify who that is and work out a mutually beneficial relationship I can revamp the project and I will be back with all you great friends of food. We'll be locavoring again before you know it. Write to me at with any ideas about sponsorship and let's get a fresh start on the road to great food for all!

Eat well and be well!