Arugula, Lamb’s Quarters, and Goat Cheese Salad

Yesterday offered a sobering reminder of why gluttony is a sin. Fred and I joined a friend at our beloved  Federal to watch Butler and VCU in the Final Four. I found myself drinking barley wine, a deceptively named beer that even I, normally not a beer drinker, could enjoy. We dug into a plate of fries, then moved on to a pork belly sandwich (Fred ordered, I sampled). We downed a mountain of nachos. 

After seeing a plate of nachos with guacamole at a nearby table, however, and realizing that we had at least 30 more minutes of basketball remaining, I decide that additional nachos were needed. This was a serious error. The onslaught of more cheese, beans, sour cream, and chips–now with guacamole thrown in–proved devastating to internal systems already groaning under the weight of the garlic fries and the barley wine. The rest of the evening was lost to a food coma of monumental proportions. I’m still recovering.

The moral of the story? Greens are your friend. Greens will make up for a multitude of sins. Greens are what I will eat for the rest of this week. (Guacamole does not count as a green.)

Most importantly, greens are delicious, and the Durham Farmers’ Market has some beautiful examples right now, including some I’ve never tried. Recently, for instance, I picked up lamb’s quarters, pictured below. They may look like tree leaves, but they have a mild flavor–more like lettuce than a green–with a light peach-like fuzz that disappears after they’re washed.

I bought Russian kale as well. (Note the continuation of the tree leaf theme.) This is a mild kale, and the purple adds a nice bit of color.

Most people recommend lightly sauteing these greens before serving. I’ve found, however, that both lend themselves quite well to salad. The lamb’s quarters, in particular, offered the perfect balance for some sharpish arugula we picked up on the same day. The resulting salad was, according to a friend who came over for dinner, the best he’s ever had. Truth be told, it was even better than the nachos.

Arugula, Lamb’s Quarters, and Goat Cheese Salad

Serves 4

6 cups mixed lamb’s quarters and arugula, large stems removed from lamb’s quarters, all greens rinsed and dried
4 spring onions, all but 1″ of green part removed, halved lengthwise and sliced 1/4 cup crumbled goat cheese, or to taste

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large clove garlic, cut into six pieces
1 1/2 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. fine grain sea salt, or to taste (can substitute regular or kosher salt)
Fresh ground pepper to taste

Whisk all dressing ingredients together in small bowl. Let sit for 15 minutes or so. Place greens in large bowl. Remove garlic pieces from dressing. Whisk dressing again and pour over greens. Add additional salt and pepper to taste and toss. Add onions and goat cheese. Toss one more time before serving.

Other ingredients that work in this salad: Mushrooms, cubed Granny Smith or other sour apple, chicken, Parmesan cheese instead of the goat cheese.

CSF Saves Griller

The CSF previewed on this blog over the summer has arrived, and it is delivering great happiness to our home. Called Walking Fish and started by a group of Duke students at the Nicholas School, it is now delivering fish caught by North Carolina fishermen to members once a week. (Shares are sold out; watch the site for opportunities for next year.)

CSF stands for “community sponsored fishery.” It works much like a CSA (community sponsored agriculture), in which you purchase a “share” in advance and receive weekly deliveries. (We pick ours up at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.) The advantage for the fishery is that they are guaranteed a certain level of income. The advantage for us is fresh fish at a decent price. For $11.67 per week, Fred and I receive between 1 and 2 pounds of fish, or roughly $7.78 per pound.

Fred forgot to pick up the first week’s delivery, but I have begun to forgive him. After that disaster, however, we have so far received shrimp, yellow-bellied spot, and mullet

which we prepared like this

The side dishes are mashed potatoes with roasted squash, zuchhini, onion, and tomatoes. But those are unimportant. The important thing here is that the fish is GRILLED–deliciously, beautifully, wonderfully grilled.

My days of embarassingly inept grilling may be drawing to a close. Thanks to a Saturday spent watching my friend Bebe, an expert griller, prepare salmon, I quickly discovered a painfully obvious reason for my failures.

I was excited when Bebe invited me over for fish one Saturday, and even more excited when I realized I’d have a chance to watch someone who knew what she was doing work the grill. I had planned to watch her technique closely: how she laid out the fire, whether or not she covered it, how much she opened the vents once lid was put on.

I stood in her backyard, wine glass in hand, ready to take notes as she gathered her charcoal and implements.

“I’m really glad I have the chance to watch you do this,” I said. “I just can’t figure out why I can’t get my food to cook right on the grill.”

“Well, there’s nothing to it,” she said. (All grillers say that, but if there were nothing to it, poor Fred would not have suffered through multiple servings of simultaneously charred and raw steaks.)

“Maybe for you,” I said, and blathered on as I watched: “I wonder if I’m putting the lid on too soon? Oh–I see you’re opening those vents underneath. I do that too, but it doesn’t seem to matter. And you’re using self-lighting charcoal–well, we can’t do that with our grill because it has the option of using a propane tank to light the charcoal and if we ever want to do that we can’t use the self-lighting grill or we’ll blow ourselves and the entire neighborhood sky-high.”

Then she put a pile of charcoal on the grill. A big pile.

“You use THAT MUCH charcoal?”

“Yeah, you need to make a pretty big fire. And it needs to get hot–wait until the flames die down and all the embers are red.”


So for the mullet, I got me a big pile of charcoal–roughly three times what I’d been using before. I completely filled that damn starter and fired ‘er up. And the mullet was great.

Finally–Durham Farmers’ Market

It’s embarrassing to start two blog posts in a row with the phrase, “It’s a little embarassing . . .” So be it.

It’s a little embarrassing to have lived in Durham for over two years and never to have visited the Farmers’ Market. My early complaints about store produce were always met with tching from friends, who would scold, “You just need to go to the Farmers’ Market!” But their admonitions were also laden with various qualifications, “It’s small.” “You need to go early.” “It’s only on Saturday.”

Such comments had led me to expect a dozen or so ragtag booths, populated by earnest, tie-dye clad organic farmers, each with three or four tomatoes and some salad greens on display, all of which would have disappeared by 9:00 a.m. Why would I drag myself out of bed on the only day of the week I can truly sleep in for that?

Yesterday morning, though, I found myself in unusual circumstances. First, I was Fredless, since he was working a 24-hour shift at the hospital where he serves as a chaplain. Second, I was awake and about by 9:00. It was a gorgeous morning and I had nothing to lose, so I figured I’d stop by the Farmers’ Market and see what it had to offer.

Quite a bit, it turns out. First, there were these tiny heirloom tomatoes from Bluebird Meadow Farms. The orange ones could well be the sweetest, most perfect little tomatoes I have ever eaten.

I ate about half of them plain, then put the rest in this salad of olive oil with a dusting of sea salt. It turns out that plain was best–they were simply so perfect that the extra flavoring was wasted.

There were also these baby eggplant, though I can’t remember where they came from. They are coated in kosher salt, waiting to be broiled with olive oil and pepper as I type this.

Best of all, however, was this:

These are goat’s kidneys, from Meadow Lane Beef farm. Neither Fred nor I have ever tried kidneys, but they are soaking in milk and will be cooked for supper tonight. They are supposed to be quite tender and delicious. I will post results.
Durham Farmers’ Market, I am sorry I ever doubted you. I will be back!

The Cackalacky Mystery

The Newlyfeds is now embarking on quest to undercover the mystery of Cackalacky Sauce. Cackalacky is a sweet-potato based hot sauce, coming from our neighbors in Chapel Hill. It’s not the hottest, though it packs a respectable wallop. (Macho sauces that exist just to create sores in the mouth aren’t that interesting anyway.) Instead, Cackalacky’s sweet potato base rounds out the heat just a little while adding richness and depth. You can pour it directly onto meats or use it in cooking. I like eating it straight from a bowl as well.

We usually find it on the table at our weekly Federal run and will sometimes run through an entire bottle in one meal. Lately, though, Federal has run out on occasion. Apparently, the supplier shows up periodically and unpredictably. And that seems to be the case in the stores where Cackalacky is supposedly sold. I found a random bottle at Tom Robinson’s Seafood in Carrboro, but came up empty at Whole Foods, A Southern Season, and Parker and Otis.

I became a fan of Cackalacky on Facebook recently and am hoping this will begin to unravel the mystery. Cackalacky, are you just flirting with us, giving us occasional tastes of your delicious self and then not calling for weeks? Are you one of those lovers who can’t make a commitment, entering our pallid lives for a few brief, thrilling moments and then disappearing? Have you turned your eyes elsewhere, finding other loves in other states outside your home town? Is this a game you play with us to make us love you all the more?

Or do we just need to get a grip and order from the web site?

Scenes from the Sea: CSF and Tom Robinson’s Seafood

Unbeknownst to me, my recent quest for octopus started with a meeting at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. The event, sponsored by DukeFish, was a focus group on the possibility of starting a CSF (community sponsored fishery) in Durham. A CSF works much like a CSA (community sponsored agriculture), in which individuals purchase a “share” in a farm for a summer and in return get vegetables delivered every week. (Duke’s Mobile Farmers Market offers this option.) Think tuna and shrimp in your weekly box instead of squash and tomatoes.

I signed up for the focus group the second I heard about it and persuaded poor Fred to come along with me. Not realizing that the event had been organized by graduate students, I was lured by visions of free wine and product samples–crab dips with water crackers; sushi rolls; smoked salmon with capers, onions and heirloom tomatoes; seared tuna slices drizzled with organic olive oil and sea salt.

When we arrived, about five minutes late, the graduate students had already decimated the hummus, vegetable tray, ranch dressing, and pita bread to cobble together their pitiful suppers. Fred and I picked up some baby carrots and a few stray red pepper slices, scraped the remaining hummus from the tray, took our water bottles, and sat down.

Still, the group was interesting and the conversation productive–especially for me, since it led to the discovery of Tom Robinson’s Seafood in Carrboro.

As we discussed the possibilities of the CSF–the graduate students stuffed with pita bread, the rest of us trying to ignore the rumblings of our stomachs as they mulled over the carrot scraps– we agreed that it wasn’t easy to find fresh and reasonably priced seafood in Durham. “Except for Tom Robinson’s, of course,” said one participant, “which is the only place I can get sushi-grade fish. And it’s in Carrboro.”

Tom Robinson’s? Was it possible there was an alternative to $23/pound sea bass at Whole Foods and tired, mushy, dried-out supermarket offerings? I turned to Fred.

“I gotta talk to this guy after the meeting,” I whispered.

A desperate look came into his eyes. “Aren’t we going to get something to eat?” he croaked.

Fred often says he’s a simple man. He’s right. I knew exactly how to handle this one. “We can go get a pork sandwich at the Federal after this,” I wheedled.

The desperate look disappeared and was instantly replaced by hopeful anticipation. I knew I’d get however long I needed.

It turns out that the other participant was a writer for the wonderful blog Carpe Durham, and he lived in our neighborhood. Tom Robinson’s, he explained, was a little place, but the owner traveled to the coast once a week and brought in fresh seafood. There was usually a pretty good variety, and prices were reasonable.

Just a week or so later, the Octo-Pie project under way and no octopus to be found in Durham, I found myself giving them a call.

“Do you have octopus?” I asked.

“Yes,” said a Spanish-inflected voice on the other end. “But it’s frozen. Not fresh. Is that okay?”

You have the only octopus between here and somewhere in the mid-Atlantic and you’re asking me if it’s okay if it’s frozen, I thought. “That’s fine,” I said. “How do I get there?”

I drove down 15-501 from Durham, wended my way through Chapel Hill’s achingly slow and self-righteous traffic, smug in its care for pedestrians and conservation of our natural resources, and turned left on Roberson Street in Carrboro.

I would have missed the building had it not been for a small sign reading “Fresh Fish” stuck in the grass next to the street. Next to the sign was a small white cinder-block building, in a white gravel lot, looking very much like it had been lifted up from a little sea town in the Bahamas and plopped down in the middle of Carrboro.

Walking in to the building through the screened door, I saw just two medium-sized coolers and a stainless steel rack with a smattering of condiments. A Japanese family was pointing at the contents, speaking to each other in their native language, and apparently deciding what to order. The Japanese are very picky about their fish, and when they frequent a place, it’s a good sign.

I picked up four pounds of frozen octopus, a whole pink snapper (about a pound and a half), and a pound of whole shrimp (heads and all) all for around $50. The prices were slightly lower than at Whole Foods, and I was also able to keep the head and bones of the snapper for stock. On a later trip, I was even able to get some conch, pictured below. (It was fresh and had a wonderful flavor, but I botched the recipe I tried by not properly tenderizing the meat beforehand.)

My only reservations about Tom Robinson’s are 1) the place doesn’t exude the kind of cleanliness I like to see in a fish market, and 2) on a return trip, a little over a week after the first one, I saw a distinctive whole fish for sale that was very suspiciously like another from my previous visit. Still, the snapper we had was firm, fresh, and delicious, as were the shrimp, and the prices can’t be beat. Fred and I will be going back for more.

If you want to make a trip yourself, here’s the address. They don’t have a web site, so call them if you need more information.

Tom Robinson’s Seafood
207 Roberson St.
Carrboro, NC 27510-2349
(919) 942-1221‎

New Love

Last week we received the first delivery from our new CSA (Community Sponsored Agriculture)–Britt Farms in Mt. Olive, NC. They don’t have a web site, but you can read about them here. We were attracted to this farm by the fact that it’s been family owned for several generations and is less concerned with the niceties of being organic than with getting us some good produce. (And we have no idea what happened to Snow Creek Organics, our CSA from last year.)

And good produce it is. Today we received spinach, radishes (gone), strawberries (nearly gone), two different types of lettuce, asparagus, and delight of delights, O’Henry white sweet potatoes. The radishes and strawberries were revelations. With the bland varieties we get in the store, I’d forgotten that radishes can have a bite and that strawberries can have amazing undertones of lemon and wine. What a great reminder of the glorious variety we can get in our vegetables.

The white sweet potatoes led me to make this interesting and delicious Mexican-inspired soup. I used tomatoes my mom grew and canned, which helps, but a high-quality store-bought version should yield good results.

White Sweet Potato Soup with Chipotle

Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a first course

1 onion, halved and sliced thin
1 tbsp. olive oil
3 -4 cloves garlic, minced
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 large white sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes
1 1/2 – 2 cups good quality chicken stock
16 oz. high quality canned whole or crushed tomatoes, with juice
1 large dried chipotle pepper
1/2 tsp. coriander
Salt to taste
1/2 lb. elbow macaroni

Saute onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent, adding a little chicken broth if it begins to brown. Add garlic, celery, and a few tablespoons broth. Saute over medium heat until celery is tender, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ingredients except macaroni and stir. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer about 15 – 20 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Add macaroni and stir. Increase heat to high and bring to boil again, stirring occasionally. Cover and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer until macaroni is cooked, about 10 minutes more. Correct seasonings and serve.

Coming Soon: The Great Barbecue Taste-Off

Yesterday we joined our friend Paul for the beginning of a project we’ve been talking about for months–an authoritative, double-blind taste test to determine the best barbecue in Durham.

This stage of the project involved five restaurants (listed here in alphabetical order): the Backyard Barbecue Pit, Bullock’s, Dillard’s, Hog Heaven and the Q Shack.

Who won? Tune in later this week to find out, when I get time to write up the results. We’ll also feature cooking results from last week’s vegetable haul.

In the meantime, I turn to that last resort of writer-blocked, time-crunched bloggers everywhere: the cat photo. Today: a very rare shot of the adorable multi-colored toes of Catalina, our shy tortie. Don’t try doing this at home.

Cooking Extravaganza (Beef Burritos, Beef and Lentil Salad)

I’ll say this for Weight Watchers: I’ve been spending more time in the kitchen in an effort to create dishes that won’t be awful and that won’t leave us starving. And it’s been . . . oh damn and blast it all, I have to admit it. I’m having fun.

In what is surely the crowning irony of this whole weight loss experience, our fridge is now groaning with food. Most of the new residents are vegetables and herbs–squash, carrots, celery, mushrooms, watermelon, cilantro, parsley, plums, and so on. We’ve always eaten them, but not this much and not as fast. And we need them now like never before–they are our front line of defense against the battallions of cheese and chips that have been invading our waistlines over the years.

The vegetables also helped us use the leftover steak from Fred’s birthday. Leftover steak wasn’t a familiar concept to Fred in the past, but we’re in a crazy new world now.

They key to our leftover steak preparation were these little babies, picked up at Food World (401 E. Lakewood Ave., Durham.)

Unfortunately they were not labeled, and my search of The Chileman’s database did not produce results. They are tiny dried peppers, about 1/2″ long, with a wonderfully rich flavor–slightly smoky, but not like a chipotle, a good bit of depth, and heat in the same range as a jalapeno. (I’ll keep trying to find out what they are!)

On Saturday, we had these steak and vegetable burritos, which were far more beautiful and delicious than my limited photography skills can convey here.

Here is the recipe. I’m guessing each burrito would have 9 points, but they are a complete meal.

Steak and Vegetable Burritos (serves 2)

2 large flour tortillas
4 oz. cooked steak or beef, sliced into 3″ strips about 1/4″ wide
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thin
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 yellow squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 red pepper, chopped
1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1 – 2 tbsp. cumin
1/4 cup tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
6 – 8 of the tiny peppers pictured above, minced, or 1 tsp. crushed red pepper plus 1 minced chipotle (adjust spices to taste)
1/4 – 1/2 cup crated white cheddar cheese

Saute onions in olive oil over medium heat in large skillet until translucent. Add garlic and stir. Add squash, pepper, cilantro, 1/4 cup lime juice, cumin, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce and more lime juice as needed. Add beef and peppers. Cover and cook until vegetables are softened, about 5 more minutes. Remove lid and cook until liquid has evaporated, about 5 more minutes. Turn off heat. Put tortilla shells on top of skillet and let steam for 1 minute. Put tortilla shells on two large plates. Divide beef mix into shells, placing slightly to one side. Sprinkle with cheese, roll up, and serve.

Our second beefy delight came in the form of this lentil salad.

Beef, Lentil, and Cilantro Salad (2 huge meal-size servings, 9 – 10 points each)

2 cups cooked yellow lentils
8 oz. cooked steak or beef, sliced into 3″ strips about 1/4″ wide
1/2 large red onion (about 2 cups), sliced thin
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice (lime is great if you don’t spill your entire supply all over the floor as someone did this evening)
4 – 5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tbsp. olive oil
6 – 8 of the small unnamed peppers pictured above, or 1 tsp. crushed red pepper with 1 minced chipotle pepper

Mix together lemon/lime just, garlic, cilantro, olive oil, and peppers in a small bowl. Add remaining ingredients to large bowl and pour lemon mix over lemon. Let stand about 1 hour before serving.

And, to top things off, I roasted this chicken from Rainbow Meadow Farms. You may notice it lacks a wing, which saved us several dollars off the price. But it had the most spectacular skin I have ever eaten. I believe chicken skin, eaten by itself, has only a point or two, and so that was dessert.

The chicken preparations were of particular interest to Thelma.

At this point, however, she was asked to leave.

We Discover . . . Kroger

It’s embarassing to admit that I have lived in Durham for ten months now and had never visited the one store that could have put a quick stop to my grousing about food prices in the Triangle. No, Kroger cannot replace our beloved DeKalb Farmers Market in Atlanta. Nor does it offer a particularly strong meat and fish selection. But in terms of price and selection, the Kroger on Hillsborough Road is the best we’ve found so far for our needs. Among the items we found today at reasonable prices were:

Cento Hot Cherry Pepper Spread
La Croix fizzy water
Wild caught perch (ok, it was in plastic wrap, but it looked quite good and was only $5.99 a pound)
Muir Glen organic low-salt tomato sauce
DEET tick repellent (I have failed to describe our recent tick incidents on this blog, but suffice it to say that we have two decapitated tick bodies in our freezer, where they will remain until we are entirely certain that neither of us has Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, STARI, ehrlichiosis, or another tick-borne illness I did not encounter on the CDC web site)
Dust-free cat litter
Low-salt tomato juice
Organic yogurt
Coffee at under $10 a pound
Organic cottage cheese
Deli meats
Cheap Parmesan cheese (I am not above this)

And yet, in all fairness to my dear nemesis, Whole Foods: Their organic, free-range chicken is a better deal. But I can’t buy DEET tick repellent there.