Nello’s Sauce

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Neal McTighe of Nello’s Sauce shared his experience developing a local, food-based business!

The area where I live in central North Carolina is teeming with men and women who are dedicated to bringing people fresh, high quality, locally produced food and improving access to healthy foods. This desire to connect people to good, healthy food has spawned a myriad of small businesses, and I’ll be taking some time to interview them and share what I find about why they do what they do and how they do it.

The first person I met with is Neal “Nello” McTighe, founder of Nello’s Sauce. Nello’s Sauce is based in Raleigh, and is rapidly becoming available at grocery stores across North Carolina. If enthusiasm is a contributing factor to entrepreneurial success, Nello’s Sauce is on its way to greatness.

Inspiration
The journey to Nello’s Sauce began with a college study abroad in Italy that inspired McTighe to help others learn about Italy and Italian culture. Over successive trips to Italy and by studying his own family history, McTighe absorbed everything he could about Italian history and culture. While working a regular 9-5 job, he began (as many of us do) to share his passion for Italy through a blog about Italian culture and cooking. Eventually, he found a wonderful opportunity to teach Italian at a local college. Fortuitously, this new career also gave him the flexibility to begin a new, Italy-focused business.

A Sauce is Born
As McTighe continued exploring Italian cuisine, he developed a reputation among his friends as a most righteous pizza maker. Hmmm…could pizza be his calling? He did some initial feasibility studies, and found that the complexity of making, freezing, delivering and selling frozen pizzas did not bode well for a young startup business. Focusing on one component of that dish–the sauce–had better possibilities and fewer supply chain issues. McTighe began testing and experimenting with the sauces he already loved to make, and Nello’s Sauce was born!

Learning Curves
Every new journey begins with a great deal of learning, and starting a food-based business is no exception. Nello’s Sauce started in McTighe’s kitchen, where he hand-crafted and canned batches of his tomato sauce. He stressed to me the importance of thinking through every detail–How much will ingredients cost per ounce or per unit? What kind of jar is best? What size will the package be? What will the label say? Where will the ingredients come from? What kind of insurance do you need? What requirements do grocery stores, farmers markets, etc have for selling your product? Where will you make your product and how?

The last question is one with big implications. While Neal started creating and canning his sauces in his own kitchen, that quickly became impractical. I mean, could you fit a pallet of canning jars in your kitchen? I know I couldn’t! Leasing commercial kitchen space from a restaurant can be frustrating, inconvenient and expensive. Fortunately, Neal found a commercial kitchen in a nearby town that leases space to small, food-based entrepreneurs. The Piedmont Food and Ag Processing Center provides training, regular, convenient access to a large commercial kitchen facility plus storage for pallets of jars and lots and lots of tomatoes.

Also, understand where your ingredients will come from and how they will be cleaned and processed. If you are purchasing vegetables from local farmers, how sustainable is that if your business doubles? Triples? Blanching and peeling tomatoes for 10 quarts of sauce may be okay, but what about for 100 quarts of sauce? In the case of tomatoes, only a few big processing facilities to clean and peel tomatoes exist in the entire country, and guess what? None of them are in North Carolina. Or even in our part of the country. For McTighe, the only way to continue making his sauce locally is to purchase cleaned and peeled tomatoes from one of these large facilities (buying and shipping NC tomatoes to California for processing and sending them back to NC is only do-able if customers are willing to pay something like $20.00 per jar–in other words, NOT do-able). While his sauce is a local product from a local company, North Carolina sadly does not have the infrastructure in place to use local tomatoes. As a business owner, it’s good to have this knowledge in your back pocket, so when your business expands, you are ready.

Giving Back
Neal would be the first to admit that he has learned a tremendous amount in the past few years–some of it through personal connections and research, and some of it the hard way. One thing he understands is that more people need to be involved in healthy, sustainable food production. And while it’s fabulous that Whole Foods is carrying Nello’s Sauce, Neal also realizes that not everyone has access to healthy food. Rather than shrugging and walking away, he came up with a plan to help.

Our Hearts Beat Hunger is a two-pronged initiative to encourage young entrepreneurs and get Nello’s healthy sauce into low-income homes. Started through crowd sourcing, Our Hearts Beat Hunger raised funds to provide a mentorship opportunity for one young dreamer and donate jars of sauce to local food banks. The hope is that as the business expands, so will the philanthropy. For Nello’s, it’s not just about being a business–it’s about being part of a larger community. That spirit is what makes some of our local, food-based businesses so amazing.

Thinking about starting your own business? Here are some tips from Nello!

Some Tips from Nello

  1. Start with what you love. You’re going to spend a LOT of time doing it, so you should have a passion from the beginning.
  2. Start small and get LOTS of feedback on your product. Ask your family. Ask your friends. Ask strangers. And then listen!
  3. Find a unique aspect to your product and go with that. Be able to communicate what separates your product from others on the market.
  4. Research every aspect of your product and process–identify supply chain issues early.
  5. Identify how you might expand your business without losing quality. You probably won’t be cooking in your own kitchen for long, so what’s next?
  6. Understand state and federal guidelines and requirements for food production, storage and labeling (most of this is available online). Requirements vary depending on the type of food and the number of units sold. Having this information upfront will help prevent unpleasant (and potentially expensive) surprises later.
  7. Grow slowly and thoughtfully, and enjoy the journey along the way.

Thanks to Neal McTighe for sharing time with me to talk about Nello’s Sauce and local, food-based businesses! Click HERE for more information about Nello’s Sauce!

Want to see what I did with my Nello’s Sauce? Click HERE for our Aubergine and Lavender Pasta recipe!

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Skinny Chicken Taco Casserole

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This casserole is a wonderful combination of a beefy casserole I saw on Pinterest by Skinny Mom (www.skinnymom.com) and a crock pot chicken taco filling I’ve seen so many times on Pinterest that I have no idea who to cite as the creator. I thought both looked good, so I combined them into a delicious taco pasta casserole that stretches one pack of chicken over several meals and made good use of the corn, sweet peppers, hot peppers, tomatoes, onion and garlic from our local farmers. Even the goat cheese (Hillsborough Cheese Company) and hoop cheese were locally produced!

The next time, I might add some chipotle peppers in adobo sauce to make it even more spicy, but if you have little ones or sensitive taste buds, this should not be too spicy. You could certainly substitute whatever fresh vegetables you have handy! Enjoy!

Chicken Taco Casserole (makes 10-12 servings)

  • 1 lb. organic, boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 6 ounces homemade tomato salsa
  • 2 packets taco seasoning
  • 1 lb. whole wheat penne pasta
  • 2 medium, sweet organic onions, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves organic garlic, peeled and minced
  • 3 sweet bell peppers, washed and chopped
  • 2 jalapeños, seeded and chopped
  • 1 pint organic cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed
  • Fresh organic corn from 3 ears
  • 8 ounces jalapeño goat cheese
  • 3 cups grated hoop cheese or Mexican style blend
  1. In the bowl of a slow cooker, add chicken breasts, salsa and one packet of taco seasoning. Cover and cook on low for 6 hours or on high for 4 hours. Use 2 forks to pull chicken apart. Alternately, you can bake the chicken, salsa and spices for one hour, covered, at 350 degrees.
  2. While chicken is cooking, sauté onion, garlic, and peppers until soft, about 10 minutes.
  3. Add the jalapeños, tomatoes corn and remaining taco seasoning and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Set aside.
  4. In a large stock pot, bring water to boil for pasta. Cook pasta according to directions and drain.
  5. Add pasta, pulled chicken and vegetable mix to the stock pot and combine well. Add goat cheese and 2 cups of hoop cheese, and stir until cheese is melted and creamy.
  6. Pour pasta mix into an 11 x 13 casserole dish. Top with remaining cup of cheese.
  7. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Week 35 Budget and Menu

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One of the great aspects of working in a downtown area is our Wednesday downtown farmer’s market. Not only can I walk down the street to do my shopping, but I can get lunch, too! I am completely in love with this Korean mixed rice bowl offered by Kim Bap (see photo above)–I may very well be addicted to the chili sauce. The whole bowl is filled with warm rice, brisket, kimchi, and vegetables (today it was cucumber). Yum!!!

Well this week’s produce at the market was beautiful, but I can definitely see that the seasons are starting to change. The berries are gone and tomatoes and peaches are on their way out. For the first time this year, I saw muscadine and scuppernog grapes and many of our vendors have early apples. Sigh. I’m still not finished with summer, but it is clearly coming to an end.

This week’s menu for Labor Day weekend features some wonderful, late summer produce like corn, bell peppers, butter beans and figs. I tried a fig and almond cake that was wonderful, but ugly. I’m going to try again and hope that the next version is more photogenic!

Budget [$90.32]

  • The Produce Box (peaches, sprite melons, gala apples, sweet corn, bell peppers, heirloom tomatoes, squash, zucchini, lettuce, onions, butter beans): $36.00
  • Hilltop Organic Farm (cherry tomatoes): $4.00
  • Homestead Harvest Farm (eggs): $5.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (steak): $14.00
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (goat cheese, figs): $9.00
  • Trader Joes (pie crust, frozen fruit): $12.32

Menu

  • Wednesday–Tomato sandwiches (Girl Scout night!)
  • Thursday–Skinny taco casserole, salad
  • Friday–Leftover casserole, salad
  • Saturday–Fig and goat cheese pizza with caramelized onions, peach cobbler
  • Sunday–Roasted red pepper tart
  • Monday–Grilled steak, butter beans, stewed okra and tomatoes
  • Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Sticky Fig Jam

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Figs are one of those fruits that fascinate me. Outside of a fig newton, I had never tasted figs until I was in college, and even then it was out of desperation. Putting myself through college, my work life involved many carefully thought out random part-time jobs that, pieced together, allowed me to live in a cute apartment with a good friend and eat mostly Cheerios and Ramen Noodles. Yes, I was living the high life. One of my jobs was giving tours at a local open air museum, and occasionally I was assigned to work a ticket booth that was labeled The Dead Zone because no one (and I mean NO ONE) ever used that entrance. While it was a failure at generating ticket revenue, I actually loved working in that little ticket booth because I could take a good book and read for hours uninterrupted. Well, mostly uninterrupted.

You see, the ticket booth in question was near a very large fig tree whose canopy extended over the museum fence and shaded the city sidewalk on the other side (this was Florida, fig trees grow BIG). Did I know this was a fig tree? Uh, no. Did I know I could pick figs and eat them? Uh, no. My suburban upbringing left me woefully unprepared to forage for my own survival. Katniss Everdeen would have kicked my a**.

And then, I met two little boys. One day, these boys came by my ticket booth carrying plastic grocery bags and asked me if they could pick the figs on the other side of the fence. Their mom had sent them up the street with an assignment and she must have been paying them, because they were all kinds of serious. I told them to go ahead and pick what they wanted. What did I care? I was getting paid to read Edith Wharton. Then I got curious. Figs? As in FOOD? I watched the boys pick the figs and eat some. I tried one. I was hooked. The boys came back several times over the summer and I always enjoyed hearing their conversations from across the fence. Sometimes they would ask me questions about the museum, but mostly they were all business. And so was I. I think I ate my weight in figs that summer.

And thus began my love of figs, which were not only delicious (and free–thank you Florida taxpayers), but they were probably the only fresh fruit I ate all summer. If it weren’t for some ginormous, multicolored tree dinosaurs grasshoppers that scared years off my life when I saw them, I probably would have picked the tree clean.

Had I known how to cook, I probably could have made better use of those figs. If I had known about THIS recipe from my friend Heather at Sugar Dish Me, I would have totally made that (and I will as soon as I get me some more figs!). Figs are just coming into season here in central NC and I plan to sock away as many as I can. I found this recipe for sticky fig jam in “Put ‘Em Up” (LOVE this book) and it is absolutely delicious. The blend of figs and balsamic vinegar is pretty amazing. It’s great on toast, but we have enjoyed it on pork tenderloin, on pizza, over cream cheese as a dip and on grilled cheese sandwiches as well. Figs are also one of those great fruits that can be frozen whole for up to 6 months, so if you can’t decide what to do with them, just pop them in the freezer!

Last year, a friend gave me a fig tree cutting and our little tree is growing nicely. We even harvested one fig this summer! I need to talk with Tom about planting another fig tree…and finding me a ticket booth…I miss Edith Wharton…

Sticky Fig Jam

  • 2 lbs. figs, washed, stemmed and cut into halves or quarters
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c. bottled lemon juice
  1. Add figs and water to a non-reactive stock pot and heat over medium for about 5 minutes, until the figs begin to soften.
  2. Use a potato masher to mash the figs.
  3. Add the sugar, vinegar and lemon juice and stir well. Simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the mixture is thick and sticky. Test for gel by putting a spoonful of the jam on a plate. If you run your finger through the jam, it should stay separated.
  4. You can put the mixture into jars and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks or can into half-pint or 4 oz. jars using a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Let jars sit in the canning pot for an additional 5 minutes with the heat off and the lid removed.
  5. Remove jars from the bath and let sit for 24 hours. Test seals and store for up to 1 year.

Almond Butter Stuffed Banana Muffins

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While working on the post for preserving nuts (see here), I made a lot of chocolate almond butter. I mean, really, a LOT. So I started looking for creative ways to use some of it in recipes (stuffed pancakes, anyone?). Earlier in the summer, we posted a recipe for Whole Wheat Linzer Muffins (almond muffins stuffed with raspberry jam) and that got me thinking–would using almond butter as stuffing work? Turns out, the answer is a delicious YES!

These muffins are satisfying and filling. I used a regular banana muffin recipe and filled the muffin cups with a tablespoon of batter. I topped that bit of batter with a small ball of chocolate almond butter, then filled the muffin cups the rest of the way. Very easy and, if you have a small helper with you, they could make the little balls of almond butter for you and get some real world application for their budding play dough skills!

Almond Butter Stuffed Banana Muffins (makes 12 muffins)

  • 1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
  • 3/4 cup organic coconut sugar (or organic cane sugar)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
  • 1/2 cup chocolate almond butter
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Line the cups of a muffin pan with paper liners or oil. Set aside.
  3. Make 12-1″ balls from the almond butter and set aside.
  4. In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Mix well.
  5. In a larger bowl, wisk together the bananas, sugar, egg and butter. Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold in the dry ingredients and mix just until all the flour is moistened.
  6. Drop a tablespoon or so of batter into each muffin cup. Place one ball of almond butter into each muffin cup.
  7. Fill the cups with batter and bake for 15-18 minutes. Check for doneness using a toothpick. Tops should be browned and the toothpick should come out clean.
  8. Let cool in muffin cups for 10 minutes. Remove muffins to a cooling rack and let cool completely.
  9. Muffins can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week or frozen in individual freezer bags for up to 6 months.

Summer Vegetable Tian

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I first saw the idea for a vegetable tian in an issue of Martha Stewart magazine many years ago. It looked hard. And fussy. I didn’t have a food processor, but I did have a little baby, and the thought of slicing all those vegetables seemed out of the question–who had the time? But things change, right? A few weeks ago, I saw another recipe on Pinterest and thought I’d give it a try. I have a trusty food processor now, making all that slicing easy. And that little baby is 13, so I can use sharp cutting tools without too much worry. Perfect timing!

A vegetable tian is basically thinly sliced vegetables that are stacked, seasoned and roasted until tender. Then topped with some cheese and baked until melty. This is a reasonably healthy, tasty and pretty dish–perfect for a dinner party or holiday dinner since it looks so fancy. Although we had this as a side dish, it would make a terrific vegetarian entree if you subbed the Parmesan cheese for soy cheese!

For our tian, I used late summer vegetables that I had handy–zucchini, purple potatoes and Roma tomatoes. I would have used yellow squash, but we had eaten it all. Ditto for the eggplant. The next time I make this, I’ll probably add some yellow squash and onion slices for some added flavor. And I may leave out the tomatoes since I am the only tomato fanatic in the house. You could make this with any vegetables you have handy as long as they can be sliced thin (sorry, broccoli, you’re on the sidelines for this one).

Looking ahead (although I am still not finished with summer), a fall version with sweet potatoes and squash would be pretty phenomenal–maybe drizzled with maple syrup!

While my “little one” isn’t so little anymore, I wonder if smaller children would love to see the animated movie Ratatouille, followed by helping to make the vegetable stacks for the pan. Maybe that would increase interest in eating vegetables??? This is one dish that involves some fun and creativity in the prep work!

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Summer Vegetable Tian (makes 8 servings)

  • 2 zucchini, washed and trimmed
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, washed and trimmed
  • 1 quart purple potatoes, scrubbed and trimmed
  • Kosher or sea salt, to taste
  • Ground, black pepper, to taste
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Coat a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray or oil.
  3. Slice all vegetables to equal thickness (ours were on the thinnest setting of the food processor).
  4. Arrange vegetables in stacks within the baking dish–I used a little pattern, but you could be random–whatever works for you.
  5. When all your vegetables are safely tucked in, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cover and roast for about 30-40 minutes. Vegetables should be soft.
  6. Uncover, top with cheese and bake for another 15 minutes.
  7. Serve immediately.

Aubergine and Lavender Pasta

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Lavender. In pasta. You heard me! This pasta features some fresh, local vegetables and a locally produced pasta sauce with lavender. Game on, fellow foodies.

I recently had the pleasure of meeting Neal “Nello” McTighe, owner of Raleigh-based Nello’s Sauce (a post about Nello’s is coming up later this week!). You know, we don’t purchase much in the way of processed or prepared foods, but I was very interested in talking to the folks at Nello’s about starting a small, local business. And, I like food, right?

During a recent blogy interview, Neal introduced me to Nello’s newest creation, their Provencal Pomodoro Sauce. Yes, Provencal–as in Provence, France–home of lovely fields of lavender! The amazing ingredient in this particular sauce is organic lavender. Now, I’ve had lavender in pound cake and cookies and in Herbes de Provence, but it never occurred to me to use it in a tomato sauce. Nope. Not even once. Shame on me, right?

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Since we have loads and loads of fresh, ripe eggplant at our farmer’s markets right now, I decided to take this sauce out for a spin with a roasted eggplant, chicken and artichoke heart pasta, created on the fly using what I found at the market. I used some locally produced fresh mozzarella, which melted oh so deliciously into the sauce. This recipe is a keeper, for sure. It was definitely on the hearty end of the food spectrum, although it is very modest in calories and super low in fat. You could easily skip the chicken, increase the eggplant and Voila! Meatless Monday!

I should disclose that the sauce was given to me, although without expectation that I would blog about it. Although it was a gift, I would not blog about it if it weren’t exceptional–I have too many pieces to write as it is, so I’m not going to write about something that isn’t good. Ain’t no blogger got time for that.

A note about the sauce. If you have picky eaters and are worried about lavender in the pasta sauce, here is my suggestion–don’t tell them.The lavender in the sauce adds a lovely, floral flavor that doesn’t overwhelm you (you won’t feel like you are eating potpourri), and your family probably won’t be able to place the wonderful flavor. It is really a winning combination!

Nello’s Sauce is available at central NC Whole Foods stores or HERE. Neal is running a contest this week for recipes using his sauce–you can find information on the Nello’s website HERE.

Aubergine and Lavender Pasta (makes 6-8 servings)

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (raw) cut into small cubes (about 1/2″)
  • 2 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
  • 3 smallish aubergine eggplants, peeled and cubed
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 10-12 frozen artichoke hearts, defrosted (do not use marinaded artichoke hearts)
  • 1 jar Nello’s Provencal Pomodoro Sauce
  • 4-6 fresh basil leaves
  • 10 ounces thin spaghetti noodles
  • Fresh mozzarella cheese, to taste
  • Grated parmesan cheese, to taste
  • Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Put a stock pot of water on to boil for the pasta.
  3. Line two rimmed baking sheets with foil.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the cubed, raw chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, pinch of salt, pepper and the Herbes de Provence. Toss well and add to one rimmed baking sheet. Put in the oven and roast for 35-40 minutes.
  5. In another bowl, combine cubed eggplant and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, and toss well to coat the eggplant. Add to the second baking sheet and roast eggplant for 30 minutes or until soft (I added the second baking sheet about 10 minutes after the chicken, so they finished at the same time).
  6. In a 12″ skillet, heat the remaining olive oil over medium heat and saute the onions until they are soft and begin to caramelize, about 8 minutes. Don’t let them burn. Add the garlic and artichoke hearts and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the pasta sauce and reduce heat to medium low.
  7. Put the pasta in the boiling, salted pasta water and cook according to directions.
  8. While pasta is cooking, add the cooked chicken and eggplant to the sauce. Stir well. Cut up the basil leaves and add to the sauce.
  9. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water to thicken the sauce, if necessary.
  10. Add the drained, cooked pasta to the skillet with the sauce. Turn the heat off, and use tongs to combine the pasta and sauce.
  11. Serve the hot pasta with chunks of fresh mozzarella and Parmesan cheese, if you like (and I do!).
  12. Serve immediately.

Week 34 Budget and Menu

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I am not letting go of summer yet, no way!

Summer used to yawn out in front of me like a vast, open stretch of beach sand–lazy days, melty ice cream, the smell of cocoa butter and pool chlorine, and sweaty games of kick-the-can until late in the evening. And even a bit of boredom. This hazy, melty kind of summer stopped a long time ago for me. At some point it was replaced by status meetings, family schedules and concerns about skin cancer. What the whaaaaaat???

Now that I’m approaching 50, I definitely have a sense that time is speeding up. Months and years are whipping by and I find myself asking things like “How could summer be over…AGAIN?” Seriously. Where in the world did summer go? I can’t find my favorite sun screen at Target anymore, but I could go on Pinterest today and download 50 recipes for pumpkin. It is August. That is wrong, people. I want my summer back.

So I am making a stand. I refuse to let summer go, and will live in denial until I have had my fill of popsicles, grilled hamburgers, days by the pool and hot pink nail polish. I will not wear boots, no matter how cute they are and I will keep my flip flops by the door as a reminder not to give in. And no…I repeat NO…pumpkin bread, pumpkin pie, pumpkin protein bars, pumpkin oatmeal or pumpkin ice cream until late September. Ok, maybe pumpkin ice cream… Still.

Summer, I am not done with you yet. I have 4,264 summer recipes left to try, and about 600 canning jars still to fill. I need to ride my bike. And paddle my kayak. And make s’mores. And eat tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. So here is my menu of summer goodness to celebrate summer, even though Target probably has Halloween costumes crowding out the school supplies. And if anyone knows of a way to filter out “pumpkin” from Pinterest, I’ll be glad to know it.

Budget [$107.13]

  • The Produce Box (peaches, watermelon, tomatoes, potatoes, zucchini, squash, okra, pink eye peas): $31.00
  • Locals Seafood (crab cakes): $20.00
  • La Farm Bakery (sandwich bread): $4.50
  • Hillsborough Cheese Company (jalapeno goat cheese, figs): $9.00
  • Rare Earth Farm (ground beef): $8.00
  • Mae Farm (bacon): $6.00
  • Trader Joes (organic chicken, burger buns, cream cheese, frozen fruit, yogurt): $28.63

Menu

Wednesday–Pasta with chicken, eggplant and Nello’s lavender tomato sauce, green salad
Thursday–NC crab cakes, summer vegetable tian; watermelon
Friday–Egg salad sandwiches, homemade pickled beets, more watermelon
Saturday–BLT sandwiches, sweet potato fries, peach cobbler
Sunday–Grilled bison burgers w/caramelized onions and local hoop cheese, field peas, stewed okra and tomatoes, more peach cobbler
Monday –Crock pot chicken tacos
Tuesday–Chicken taco pizza with roasted peppers

Tutorial Tuesday #7–Storing and Preserving Nuts

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If you are lucky enough to live in a region of the country (or world) that produces tree and ground nuts, you have cause to celebrate! Nuts are high in protein, fiber and nutrients and while some may pack a wallop of fat, that fat is typically good for you and your body (as long as you are not allergic!). Some nuts, like pine nuts, pecans and walnuts can go rancid quickly when stored, especially in warmer climates. So how do you make the most of your local nut harvest and save your harvest for the future? Here are some great ways to make the most of locally and/or sustainably produced nuts.

Freeze ‘Em!

Did you know you can freeze nuts for about a year? Put shelled nuts into freezer bags, label them with the date and tuck them into your freezer for later! No need to blanch them or do anything special–just pop them into bags! I do this with our local pecans all the time. Freezing them prevents that “off” taste when they’ve been sitting too long, and the ease of freezing them encourages me to stock up with new crop pecans when they are available at my farmer’s market.

Make Nut Butter

If you are fortunate to end up with, say, 10 pounds of local almonds (I WISH!), one way to keep them at the ready is to make your own nut butter. When I was a child, peanut butter was the only nut butter around, but now you can easily find cashew butter, almond butter, sunflower butter and more. Some are even flavored. Did you know it takes about 30 minutes to make your own healthy nut butter at home?

Here is how to do it:

Put 1-2 cups of nuts (I use raw nuts, but roasted will work, too) in a food processor. Process at high speed, giving your food processor a break every minute or two, for anywhere from 15 to 25 minutes or until the nuts release their oils and you have something that is spreadable. This will vary widely depending on the type of nut and how much oil it has in it. you will end up with something amazing. And healthy. And delicious. Add some nut oil to hazelnuts (they can be a bit dry) and salt, if you like. Sometimes I add a bit of coconut oil to nut butters that end up on the dry side. Nut butters are very forgiving–if you add too much of a flavoring, just add more nuts. Need more flavoring? Add more and blend again. Easy!

I don’t refrigerate my nut butters–they are gone quickly, and I find refrigerating them makes them difficult to spread. However, you can refrigerate or freeze most nut butters. You will probably eat them up long before they go bad, but refrigerated nut butters will keep for several months. Frozen nut butters for at least a year. The oil may separate during thawing, but just mix it all up and you’re good to go!

Need some inspiration? Here are some ideas I’ve seen (and several I have tried):

  • Choco-peanut butter (peanuts + raw cacao + touch of honey + pinch of salt)
  • Cinnamon Almond Butter (almonds + cinnamon)
  • Almond Joy (almonds + non-sulfured coconut + raw cacao)
  • Heathier Nutella (hazelnuts + touch of hazelnut oil + raw cacao + touch of maple syrup)
  • Maple Almond Butter (almonds + touch of maple syrup + bit of vanilla)
  • Smoked pecan butter [my creation] (pecans + smoked paprika + touch of salt)

So go out there and harvest those nuts! Then squirrel them away for the future 🙂

For more great nut butters and yummy ideas for using them, see www.mywholefoodlife.com. Another blogger with some awesome, healthy recipes!

PLT Salad (Prosciutto, Lettuce and Tomato)

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I don’t know who came up with the BLT sandwich, but they are geniuses. I love a great BLT, especially when heirloom tomatoes are fresh and ripe and we have great, fresh bread handy. Yum! In the absence of bread (or if you are trying to avoid bread), a BLT salad makes a delicious meal.

This salad started off as a BLT salad, with bacon, lettuce and tomato. Unfortunately, the “bacon” I received in my produce box last week was actually a cured side meat known here as “streak o’ lean”– meaning mostly fat, with a little streak of lean meat running through it. Now side meat is awesome for seasoning kale, collards, beans and lots of things, but it is not a replacement for bacon–especially in a salad. Had I known what I was getting, I would have stopped by Mae Farm and picked up some of their incredibly awesome bacon. Instead I lightly fried some prosciutto we already had and used that. I think I actually like the prosciutto better on a salad–it is light and very crunchy and has tons of flavor without all the fat of bacon. Score!

PLT Salad (serves 4)

  • 1 head organic butter lettuce
  • 1 large, organic heirloom tomato (we used German Johnson, which are quite large) or several small
  • 1 organic cucumber
  • 1 organic bell pepper
  • 4 fresh farm eggs
  • 4 slices prosciutto
  • Dressing of your choice
  1. Put eggs in a small pot and fill the pot with water to cover eggs by 1″. Cover and heat eggs over high heat until water boils.
  2. When water comes to a boil, shut off heat and let eggs sit for 12 minutes.
  3. While eggs cook, heat a small frying pan over medium heat. Add prosciutto slices and cook until crispy, about 4 minutes per side. Remove to a paper towel to cool and drain.
  4. Wash, trim and chop the lettuce into bite sized pieces. Put in a large salad bowl.
  5. Wash, trim and chop the tomato, cucumber, and bell pepper and add to the bowl.
  6. When eggs are done, drain them in a strainer and run cold water over the shells. When they are cool enough to handle, knock each egg lightly all over (I do this on the counter) to create small cracks all over the shell. Hold each egg under a stream of cool, running water and carefully peel the eggs. Set aside.
  7. Break the prosciutto into pieces and sprinkle them over the salad. Cut each egg in half and arrange around the salad.
  8. Serve immediately with dressing of your choice!
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