Monday, April 28, 2014

Mixed Plate: Locavore and Loving It

It's become such an easy catchphrase: "Eat Local." It's a food movement with great momentum and there's beneficial reasons to strive towards sourcing ingredients as locally as possible, like supporting small businesses as well as getting the freshest flavors. But how often do we really make this happen? Is it something that can be done without breaking the bank and not feeling like an outtake from the "Is it local?" skit from Portlandia? It's indeed possible, and sometimes it's as easy as just walking down the Main Street of your city. Let's be locavoracious for ingredients close to home!

Beautiful breads from Rustic Pie Company in our very own Duvall - Photo by Wasabi Prime

The story about the yoga mat bread from Subway and basically every mass-produced bread out there was still poppin'-fresh in my head when I was in need of a good loaf of bread. If you're unfamiliar with yoga mat bread, just Google "azodicarbonamide" and you'll hear all about this additive that's in most commercial breads. It's probably no worse than any other preservative that we've been eating for years, it was just off-putting to hear that it's the same chemical used in making yoga mats. And no, it's not some chemical interpretation of inner-peace or zen. Apparently it makes bread spongey. Which I thought was the whole purpose of gluten in flour, but what the hell do I know? Dammit, Jim, I'm a blogger, not a chemist!  

We were planning on making Reuben sandwiches, which made me giddy, since buying a whole loaf of bread is such a rare treat for us. I wanted to get the bread as fresh as possible, with the added benefit of saying no yoga mats were harmed in the making of this loaf. We're lucky to have an absolutely wonderful little bakery right in Duvall, on Main Street - Rustic Pie Company. Yes, they're so small, they don't even have a full website, just a Facebook page, but you don't experience a bakery virtually, just head on over and check out the goods for yourself, they're open four days a week. The "pie" in the name comes from making pizzas, but they do breakfast pastries like cinnamon buns and muffins, as well as their specialty, hand-formed bread loaves. Sure, not everyone has a little bakery in town, but I'd be willing to guess there's an independent bakery somewhere close to where you live. And it's not just about eating local -- whether you buy from a bakery or make it from scratch, you can't deny how good a fresh-baked piece of bread is.

Rustic Pie Company goods - great local stuff, including coffee from Anchorhead! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We were already in the process of brining a big chunk of beef, using Michael Ruhlman's corned beef recipe. One look at the pickling spice ingredients and you'll see that it's not particularly Irish, what with all that ginger, but it's a lovely, fragrant way to season meat. And a damn fine way to whittle down the supply of random whole spices you've been staring at in your cupboard. I left out the sodium nitrite, but the pickling spice was spot-on. We also went off-book and used the sous vide monstro-machine to cook the beef. Yes, it takes over 36 hours at 200F, but it's worth it. The meat was tender and easy to slice. And yes, the beef was local -- we've gotten into the habit of buying shares of a cow, as well as a pig. You need to be able to store the meat in a large freezer, but the bulk purchase reduces the overall cost, and you won't have to worry about growing a third boob from any questionable hormone-injected meats. Regardless of how much fuss you want to put into a Reuben sandwich, I need to emphasize the discovery of having it open-faced is a much easier way to enjoy this marvelous sandwich. 

Reuben sandwiches (open faced) made from the ground-up - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Let me just say, God bless the day-old bread/pastry basket. I have no qualms buying day-olds because they're just that, bread that wasn't baked that day, but honestly, they're still more fresh than the bagged stuff of pre-sliced polka-dot packaged stuff you'll get in a store. I knew we would be using it pretty quick and I chose one of their beautiful sourdough boules, which have a thick crust, but tender, moist interior crumb. Not a traditional Reuben sandwich bread, but how could anyone refuse that beautiful boule? I also got a loaf of their honey wheat, just because the day-old discount priced each loaf at $3, so for the price of a fancy Venti-sized Starbucks coffee drink, I got two whole loaves of locally-made, no yoga mat bread. Who says you have to shop at a fancy, overpriced boutique store to get quality food?

Local bread and homemade fancy pimento cheese - all the good stuff - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Since we had an extra loaf of bread, my thoughts immediately turned to grilled cheese sandwiches. I used this as an opportunity to dabble in the world of Pimento Cheese. It's a comfort food that's associated with the South, but I would argue it's an Americanized version of the French fromage fort, which is to say: Cheese Spam. It's different leftover cheeses blended together with white wine and herbs, to make a dip. The Americanized pimento cheese is usually cheddar or processed cheese, blended with mayonnaise, pickles and Worcestershire sauce, used as a spread on the perennial Ritz Cracker. My version of pimento cheese was somewhere between the two, and all UnRecipe -- a cup of chevre, some leftover pieces of cheddar, a can of artichoke hearts, the last of a jar of pimento-stuffed olives, a little mayonnaise to get the spreadable consistency, and paprika for color. The food processor does all the work and you just blend/taste until it's something that you think tastes like fancy pimento cheese. A cheese spread of any sort is ideal for grilled cheese sandwiches, since it's already so broken down, it doesn't take much time for it to get melty as the bread toasts up.

Bread and pimento cheese - a grand meal, to be sure! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
The grilled pimento cheese sandwich party only lasted for a couple of days, since the already day-old bread was only getting days older. But no cause for alarm, the bread was simply evolving into bread pudding stage. The remainder of the bread was cubed and soaked in a custard made with eggs, milk, the leftover pimento cheese, and tossed with caramelized onions for a pretty delicious savory cheese and onion bread pudding. Delicious on its own, a great breakfast/brunch dish, topped with a fried egg.

Nothing wasted - savory pimento cheese bread pudding - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Was every single thing sourced locally? No. But we made strides to include quality-sourced items for starring-role ingredients, and nothing broke the bank. Indulgence foods like grilled cheese and Reuben sandwiches are a treat, so it's even more of a reason to gather and prepare the best components to fully celebrate the meal.

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