Too, Too, Too, Tuna

I don’t know about you, Gentle Reader, but after enjoying this recent festive holiday season, I am feeling both penniless and puffy.

So, what’s a girl to do?

I cut back, both in calories and costs.  But protein is really important health wise (the ancestors of humans came down out of the trees and started making shoes and reading Mad magazine once they began eating protein). 

One of my life-long favorite foods is also a cheap protein that’s really good for you.

It’s canned tuna.

But first, I am Italian, and as a descendant of the boot, I have very strict notions about food.  And one of those beliefs is that cheese and fish do not belong together; except in a filet o’ fish, which is technically neither.  So, don’t come at me about tuna melt.  It’s an abomination.

Nope.

But back to the fish.

You can eat tuna on just about anything that will hold it—from a fork, to a freshly baked fancy French croissant (Petey’s choice).

A few ideas:When I’m feeling especially off track, and in need of nutrition but very limited calories, I opt for a roll-up.  You can use zucchini, cucumber, carrot, sliced into thin strips, but I just love Boston bib lettuce.  I’m not actually fond of the lettuce with anything but tuna, somehow the astringent flavor of the lettuce works well with the rich, fecund tuna and its additions.When I’ve made a special trip to Whole Foods or La Farm Bakery Cafe for some of Chef Lionel’s Vatinet’s fresh, delicious, bracing sourdough miche, I have a sandwich on it.  There are few breads that even come close to Chef Lionel’s.  Frankly, it’s tough to find anything that comes close to the flavor and quality of the product they make and serve at La Farm.

And, when I was a child the stable we belonged to Lazy R, had a snack bar, and they served it on a buttered, toasted bun.  I still love it that way.And, when I’m feeling a little more laissez-faire health-wise, a special treat for the entire Matthews family is to eat tuna with a big old stack of scoop-shaped corn chips.  Fritos sells scoops, but the dollar store usually sells a generic brand that’s just as good as the name brand, and about two or three dollars cheaper.

Avocado can be a delicious partner for tuna.  Put it in the hole of a halved, seeded veg.  You can dice it up and mix it in the tuna, along with a splash of citrus juice to reduce oxidation, which causes browning.  Or, and stay with me now, mash up the avocado, and use in the place of mayo. Just try it.

Mix-ins.  I have a confession.  It doesn’t matter how puffy I’m feeling, I love mayonnaise on my tuna most of all.  But, I don’t drown it (unlike a Petey and a Kid that shall go nameless).  I leave the meat in chunks, and toss it with enough mayo to barely coat it.

Then I add interesting, tasty, and nutritious ingredients that ups the flavor and the healthy.Not always, but occasionally I add hard-cooked egg.  It’s great for stretching both egg and tuna.  It also changes the flavor completely, but in a really good way.  It’s like a disguise.

I always start with a big shake of toasted sesame seed.  It’s fiber, vitamins, and minerals in an almost unnoticeable way.  White onion, for me is non-negotiable, I love the crunch and that pop of onion funk. Image result for sesame sunflower seedsThen lately, I’ve started using sunflower seeds.  The texture it adds is addictive.  I’d miss it if I left it out. Petey’s not a fan, but The Kid’s a true convert.

What this new addition tells me is that to keep riffing on tuna.  That it’s never too late to teach an old tuna eater some new mix-ins. Thanks for your time.

Life May Not Be Fair, But October Certainly Is

I am full of the milk of human kindness. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn a related note, I’m also full of about 27 pounds of fair food.

Today was the 2017 North Carolina State Fair media luncheon.  Each year the Ag Department holds this event to give the press all the information we need to cover the fair.

And this is where vendors show off the edible inventions that will have their debut this year.

Everybody that visits the fair every year (and if you don’t; shame on you, and get yourself to the fair this year) has their favorites.

Today I had a couple items that may become an annual must.Lamb burgers NeomondeNeomonde Bakery and Deli has a tent every year for baked goods and demos near the chapel.  But they also serve hot food at a spot near Dorton Arena.  And that’s where you can get their lamb burger.  It has fresh mixed greens, caramelized onions, and a harissa yogurt sauce all on their freshly baked brioche bun.  It’s pretty darn tasty.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis year La Farm introduced a hand pie.  This particular hand pie might remind you of a particular rectangular pastry tart from your youth that comes from the grocery store.  My mom never bought them, so I never developed a taste for them, but Petey was raised on them, and still occasionally indulges.Hand Pies La FarmMy very own grown-up kid may never eat those mass market, cardboard things again.  He loved Chef Lionel’s pies filled with fresh strawberries and Nutella.  The chocolate/rye pastry was perfect.  It was flaky and delicious, drizzled with chocolate ganache and sprinkled with big sugar crystals.

The award for craziest treat that probably shouldn’t have tasted so good came from Chef’s D’lites.  They had one of those deep-fried sweets that are usually stunt foods.  But the deep fried key lime bites worked.  The crispy/creamy/bright/citrusy combination was irresistible.  It’s probably a good thing they’re only available once a year.Steve Troxler and new food winner Arepa LocaAfter downing all this crazy fair grub, we get to vote on the best new food at the fair.  The winner this year, Steve Troxler, Agriculture Commissioner informed us, won by a landslide.

It was the arepas from Arepa Loca.  Arepas are little Columbian savory cakes made of masa, split and filled with meats and veggies.  They’re a popular street food found in many Latin American cultures.  You may know them as gorditas or pupusas.

I asked the owner to fill it the way he likes it.  He stuffed it with beef, veggies and topped it with some guacamole.  They were fresh cakes with fresh, bright fillings and were the favorite of everybody at my table.  I just hope that their newfound fame doesn’t make the lines too long so I can get some more at the fair.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA2017 is the 150th NC State Fair, and if you go on Thursday (10/12), you can get in for $1.50.  Food vendors will be selling $1.50 portions, and state fair staff will be handing out free rides and other prizes to attendees wearing commemorative buttons handed out to the first 15,000 folks through the gates when they open at 3:00PM that day.

If this column sounds a little like I’m drunk, I’m really not.  I am flat out giddy.  I love the fair.  It is one of the highlights of my year.  If you need to get up with me for the next couple weeks, I’ll meet you in front of the waterfall at Dorton Arena.  If I’m not there, I’ll be home sleeping it off, getting ready to do it all over again in the morning.150th cakesThanks for your time.

La Farm Formidable

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALionel Vatinet is the devil.

And a magician.

Up until very recently, La Farm had one location in a strip mall on Cary Parkway.  In this small space, Chef Vatinet and staff turned out bread, pastries, candies, and other treats for their own retail sales and cafe.   They also made items for five local Whole Foods, farmer’s markets, and their own, delicious food truck.

How they pulled off this miraculous feat of legerdemain is well beyond my imaginings.

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The Kid’s favorite at La Farm.

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…and, mine.

This week I spent some time at their new production facility for La Farm.  It’s in the old Sorrel building in downtown Cary, built in 1958.

In this airy, roomy space both the bread bakers and the pastry folks have tons elbow room.  But, in this building there is also space to play and experiment.  To do things like making their own graham crackers for a s’mores tart.

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After stuffing us full of bread and sandwiches, this is the dessert spread they put out.  The s’mores tarts are the little meringue stars.  And aren’t those the prettiest macarons you ever saw?

But they didn’t just unlock the doors, move in equipment and get to work.  Chef Lionel and team looked at things that very few of us would even think of.

Like the air.  The retail space needs to be comfortable for customers 365 days a year.  The bread area needs to a little warm and humid, to rise dough without drying it out.  The pastry room needs to be cooler.  The air can’t blast down because it can make dough form a skin which will inhibit the fermentation.

Chef had an innovative air conditioning and venting system from Europe installed.

I spent some time speaking with his head pastry chef, Jim. I asked Chef Jim about the bags of orange butter cookies at the register.  When applying to cook at an establishment, a common practice is for the applicant to actually cook.  Jim baked his delicious little orange confections and got the job.

I have a recipe that is an homage to pastry Chef Jim and his citrus treat with a nod to a blueberry cookie from Trader Joes.  They’re a lemon-scented shortbread studded with dried blueberries.

Blueberry Lemon Shortbread Cookiesblueberry lemon shortbread1 & 1/3 cups butter, softened

2/3 cup sugar

Zest of 1 lemon

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

3 & 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dried blueberries, coarsely chopped

DIRECTIONS

Line two cookies sheets with parchment paper.

Put sugar and lemon zest into food processor and pulse until the sugar is very fine, and the zest has disappeared into the sugar.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add salt and lemon juice.  Beat to combine. Stir blueberries into flour and add mixture, 1 cup at a time, beating on low speed until just combined.Pour dough onto surface and knead just until it comes together.  Divide dough in half, and roll each half into a log about 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour.

To bake: Heat oven to 275.  Slice logs into 1/2-inch thick rounds.  Place on sheet pans and bake for 60-75 minutes or cookies are very light golden and barely browned around the edges.

When done, slide parchment and cookies onto cooking rack.  Let them cool completely before removing from paper.

Makes approximately 36 cookies.La Farm can make a bread loving girl lose her head.  I could spend a full paycheck on and eat my body weight in those gorgeous, aromatic, delicious wares.

In addition to bread, cookies, and treats, Chef Lionel Vatinet serves up fresh temptations daily.Thanks for your time.

All’s Fair

Other than chocolate-covered raisins, I don’t like chocolate and fruit together.  And don’ bother me with raspberries—I hate those things.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAExcept.

Today I had a whoopie pie from La Farm.  A whoopie pie is a sandwich made of two cakes, usually chocolate with some sort of filling.  Thiers was vanilla raspberry.

And I loved it.

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From the cake decorating competition at the fair.

In the calendar in my mind there’s a hierarchy of special days.  First is Christmas-we get my mother’s cookies.  Next is my birthday for the Dewey’s birthday cake I score.

Then in the fall, when the summer fades, and there is that heavenly, oh so welcome nip in the air is my third favorite day.

It’s the red-letter, always awesome, day we visit the North Carolina State Fair.But this year is even redder and awesomer than ever before.  I was invited to attend the media preview day.

This annual event is held to allow the press to observe fair preparations and interview fair officials.

But best and most important of all (to me, anyway), was the unveiling of new foods that will be featured this year.  And believe it or not, there was a lot of seafood, and not everything was fried.

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The dip is in the center of the tray.  This is only half of my intake…

The winner of the best new food was the warm creamy, cheesy fresh crab dip from Captain Nell’s.  Also give their ingenious fried crab claws a try.  The meat is fried, and then they leave on the claw to use as a handle.

Among the others were two kinds of ice cream, a Low Country boil with perfectly steamed shrimp, and Cuban sandwiches made into egg rolls.   But three of the concessionaires greatly intrigued me.

Woody’s Wings had my favorite bite of the day. Bacon pimento cheeseburger egg rolls sound scary, but are almost sort of light, because the wrappers are crispy and they’re well fried. Woody likes to try out new creations at the fair. If it does sell, its put it on the restaurant menus. I think this one’s a keeper.Neomonde, who also has a restaurant/bakery in Raleigh, had Phoenician fish and chips.  The fish was Pollock, and very tasty.  The fries were tossed in za’atar; a spice mixture of thyme, sesame seeds, oregano, salt, and sumac.  I have some of the herb mixture at home and use it on all kinds of things.

Za’atar potato salad

2 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, cooked tender, peeled, and cubed

2 shallots, sliced into rings, and slowly cooked in 1 tablespoon butter until amber colored

Dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise

¼ cup olive oil + 2 tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ teaspoon za’atar spice

Juice of 1 ½ lemons

Salt and pepper to taste

zaatar-potato-salad

Whisk together dressing ingredients.

Place spuds and shallots into bowl while still warm, drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil, and juice of ½ lemon.  Season.  Gently toss.

Stir in dressing until potatoes are well-coated.  Cover and leave at room temp until service,  but no more than 1 hour.

Right before service, stir in last tablespoon olive oil, and check for seasoning.  Serves 4-6, or me all by myself.

They had three kinds of dipping sauce: harissa, herb tzatziki, and a lemon tahini that was so good I plan on trying to duplicate it very soon.  Like the za’atar, it would be good on an old shoe.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd that brings us back to La Farm.

I love those guys.  The Kid and I usually eat La Farm when we attend the Got To Be NC festival, in the spring.  This year, they have a couple new breads.  A spider bread, which is Italian dough made into the shape of a spider.

The belle of the ball though, was a new bread made with rice.rice-bread-1They make a rice porridge from Carolina Gold, an heirloom variety and mix it sourdough bread.  This is similar to Colonial era breads made by cooks with far less varieties of grain at their disposal.  The result is chewy moist sourdough that I can’t wait to get a loaf of.

So, I guess I am technically a raspberry lover.  But I’m not a complete convert.  I will now indulge in raspberries.  But only in whoopie pies, and only from La Farm.

Our state fair is truly a great state fair.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Thanks for your time.