Finding the best ingredients…

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Rory O’Connell demonstrating in 2013 at Ballymaloe Cookery School

 

Rory O’Connell, author of Master it says  “My approach to cooking is quite simple and not new.  Use the best ingredients you can find, get organized and follow the recipe.”

Shop well – Eat Well…sounds easy enough.

Over the last couple of years it has taken me a fair amount of time to locate producers for local seasonal ingredients, meats, fish and poultry.  Before embarking upon a culinary career most everything I purchased came from my nearby grocery store.  Please make a note that just a simple act of changing your shopping habits can be a challenge in the beginning.  However, building relationships with local farmers, speciality shops and butchers, if those are not already in place, is so worth the effort in the long term.

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Plastic billboard signage repurposed for siding on the chicken coups at Blue Yonder Organic Farm

One of my favorite finds this year has been Blue Yonder Organic Farm and it’s owner Vet. Sara Creech.  While in search for a fresh duck to roast, Sara’s name was suggested as a resource. I called Sara, placed my order and scheduled a pickup for the next day when the ducks would be ready.  The farm is located in North Salem about a 45 minute drive and I had never driven or heard of North Salem before needing to do this pickup.  It turned out to be a beautiful morning drive and the duck did not disappoint!  They were beautiful, obviously super fresh and so clean it was effortless getting them ready for roasting.

During my practicals at Ballymaloe Cookery School, Duck with orange sauce was my go to dish!

Sara has now become a wonderful resource for the best ingredients and she has become a friend.  She has even attending my cooking classes.

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Enjoying brunch at Milktooth with Sara Creech

Blue Yonder Organic Farm has hen, duck and even turkey eggs.  They make me think of  Rory’s Chocolate and caramel mouse or his Spinach and herb tart.  Their salad greens are amazing and store well.  Am in great anticipation for the spinach and purchasing a huge variety of fruit from her orchard to make jams, fruit fools, sugared peaches with blueberries, fruit tarts and the list could just go on much much longer.

Blue Yonder is even growing shiitake mushrooms, perfect for making Rory O’Connell’s recipe, Wild mushroom and tarragon tart, that was one of the first recipes demonstrated during my cooking classes!

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Shiitake Mushrooms

Checkout Sara’s website to learn her story and more about the farm. http://www.blueyonderorganicfarm.com

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Wild mushroom and tarragon tart

Another lesson I’ve learned while hunting for the best ingredients is they may need to be special ordered from your sources.  Like mackerel, caul fat, bone in cuts of meat or a really nice piece of pork belly.

Maybe what you need is just out of season.  I couldn’t find pomegranates during March for an Autumn salad of organic leaves with pomegranate and walnuts. Autumn should have been a clue!   Even now pomegranates are about $8.00 as they become available.  Which then brings  you to making a decision about finding and using the best ingredients…do you break the budget, make a substitution or just change the meal plan!  Must confess that I have done all three.

Making a meal plan and then a shopping list have become extremely helpful, truly priceless when preparing for my cooking classes.  It is also another way to stay within your food budget.

Rory say  in his cookbook Master it, “Seasonal ingredients taste better, are easier to cook and are the best value for money”  I am becoming a believer of this statement, but that was not always the case.  I truly wasn’t mindful during my weekly treks to the grocery about what was seasonal.  Going to local farmers markets was mostly social, ok it still is social but now I do have a plan on what to look for and purchase.  Becoming a volunteer at my local farmers’ market was a wonderful way for me to meet the vendors and other like-minded shoppers.  However, having a weekly meal plan has helped me even more.  The list keeps me focused and it just makes being at the farmers market more fun!  The added value is that I am learning and becoming  more aware of what is seasonally.  In a few weeks there will be strawberries at the farmers market, even my Shih Zhu gets excited about the availability of STRAWBERRIES!   But when they are gone they are gone! So get out there before that happens!  Here in Indiana we all love our Indiana Corn on a cob and know exactly when it will become available!  Just watch for the long lines of people behind a flat bed truck picking up their weekend supply.

Much is happening here in Indiana with our smaller farmers.  We are seeing and hearing about many ways that fresh produce can be delivered right to our doors!  Like…  http://www.greenbean.com,   http://www.peapod.com,    http://www.farmersmarket.com,               http://www.tynerpondfarm.com.     There are now many local CSA’s to support and enjoy.   We are super lucky in this area to have a dairy, where the brown jerseys are grass feed… More about them at http://Www.traderspointcreamery.com.

There is an annual event called  http://www.digindiana.org that I really look forward to attending in August down  at White River Park because it showcases Indiana Artisans, restaurants that source locally and Food Trucks.

Many of Indiana’s smaller farmers are being encouraged to grow more produce on their farms and then allow other businesses get the produce to the market place.  Indiana is far from being a sustainable state when it comes to producing enough smaller crops and this new development is going to really benefit our consumers and restaurants.  The grocery stores are even getting into making better ingredients available such as Market District, Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market and the list is getting larger.   All of these efforts by other individuals and businesses are helping me find the best ingredients for myself, family and cooking classes.  You can quote me for as many times as I have said “I don’t want to be a Farmer, but I want what the Farmer is producing!”  So I do not have my own garden, but think they are a wonderful, many restaurants are tending gardens!  I have just started a kitchen herb garden where flowers used to be planted.

Searching for resources, building relationships and making a meal plan has all been helpful ways of finding the best ingredients and an important part of achieving my goal of  Mastering, Master it!

Hope you come along on my journey… never know where Mastering,  Master it will take us but I do know I will be eating really well!

Cheers

 

 

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