Friday, August 31, 2012

Food Friday: Va. aqua-farmers satisfy catfish cravings

(Photo by Kathy Dixon, Virginia Farm Bureau)

I love to support Virginia farmers in any way that I can. And it’s even better when supporting them means eating something that I’ve been craving.
I wrote an article several years ago about a newly formed group called the Virginia Aqua-Farmers Network LLC. VAN is a cooperative that was created to increase the buying and selling power of Virginia aquaculture producers.
Specifically, the group helps aqua-farmers who are raising catfish, rainbow trout, hybrid striped bass and freshwater prawns.
Two weeks ago I received notification that VAN chairman Dr. Lynn Blackwood would be at my local farmers’ market with catfish, rainbow trout and freshwater prawns for sale. So that Saturday, I hopped on my bike, pedaled to the market and bought a couple of pounds of farm-raised catfish.
August just happens to be National Catfish Month, so I thought I’d celebrate with a catfish dinner. It was delicious, and I suggest you do the same!
I dredge the fish in buttermilk seasoned with a couple of drops of hot sauce and then coat them with a mixture of blackened seasoning, flour and crushed Ritz crackers before pan-frying them. You might want to try one of these recipes from the Virginia Natural Fish Co., the name under which VAN products are marketed.

Classic Fried Catfish
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
¼ cup flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
4 catfish fillets
vegetable oil
Combine the first five ingredients. Coat the catfish with the dry mixture, shaking off any excess. Fill a deep pot or 12" skillet half-full with vegetable oil, and heat the oil to 350°. Add the catfish in a single layer and fry until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes, depending on size. Remove and drain on paper towels. Makes 4 servings.

Baked Lemon Catfish
2 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons lemon juice
¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
¾ teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning
½ teaspoon seasoned salt
¼ teaspoon dried dill
4 catfish fillets
Preheat oven to 350°. In a pie plate, combine butter and lemon juice; set aside. In another pie plate, combine the next four ingredients. Wash the fillets and pat dry with paper towels. Dip each fillet in the butter mixture, then in the breadcrumb mixture. Place in an ungreased 12"x8"x2" baking dish. Pour the remaining butter mixture over the fillets and sprinkle lightly with paprika. Bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until fish begins to flake when tested with a fork. Makes 4 servings.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Okra entree works for tonight's supper, tomorrow's lunch

Okra Tomato Rice Skillet (Photos by Pam Wiley, Virginia Farm Bureau)

You know those summer dishes you just crave in the middle of winter—in the league with fresh tomato sandwiches and peach cobber? At the peak of summer I’ve been known to prepare this once a week. And if I play my cards right I get one supper for two hungry adults and then two lunch servings left over.

But cooking anything with homegrown okra is partly a labor of love and partly a survival tactic, because when the plants hit 5 or 6 feet in height, you’re picking okra every day.

Okra’s absolutely delicious when sliced, battered and deep-fried, don’t get me wrong, but at some point you’ve got to pursue a healthier option.

This recipe is one that my husband and I have made for several years and modified so much that it barely resembles the original, except that it’s still got okra, rice and garden-fresh tomatoes. This year we got inspired and added a half-pound a peeled shrimp in the last five minutes it was cooking. A guest looked at his plate and exclaimed, “This is redneck paella!”

To which I replied, “You’re welcome!"

Okra Tomato Rice Skillet

1 pound audouille sausage, halved lengthwise and sliced into ¼” half-rounds
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup ¼” slices of fresh okra (or more if it’s piling up in your kitchen)
1 cup uncooked long-grain rice
¾ cup water
2 large tomatoes, diced
1¼  teaspoons salt
teaspoon pepper
dash (or more) hot sauce
1 tablespoon ribbon-cut fresh basil
Optional: ½ pound fresh shrimp, peeled and heads removed

In a large skillet, brown the sausage, using a little olive oil if needed, and remove sausage from pan.

In the reserved sausage drippings, sauté onion and okra until okra is tender. Stir in rice, and allow it to brown slightly before adding water, tomatoes and seasonings and returning sausage to mixture.

Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat. Simmer 20 minutes or until rice is tender. If desired, stir in shrimp and simmer a few more minutes until they turn pink.

Top with ribbon-cut basil and serve with additional hot sauce.

Serves 4

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Trying to find my green thumb: Part 3

Over the past three weeks, the plants have started producing tiny, light-green tomatoes; long, green peppers, and several pickling cucumbers.

Take a look:

(A jalapeno pepper!)

(A banana pepper!) 

(Tiny tomatoes starting to form.)

(One of several pickling cucumbers!)

We even harvested a couple of peppers and cucumbers last week:

The cucumber plants are still growing wild!

We decided we should put them in their own box next year.

We’ve enjoyed watching the plants grow and look forward to having more produce soon.

How has your garden grown this summer? Has the lack of rain made an impact? Share your gardening adventure in the comment section below, and post photos of your garden on our Facebook page.

Happy gardening!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Food Friday: Zucchini Bread

Fresh zucchini can be found all over the state during the summer months. I constantly find myself buying zucchini to grill or bake, or my co-workers and neighbors give me giant zucchinis to take home. When I have too many on hand, or I’m afraid I won’t be able to use the zucchini before it goes bad, I make zucchini bread.

I’ve tried many zucchini bread recipes over the years and they’ve all tasted wonderful. Can you really go wrong with zucchini bread, no matter how you make it?

Enjoy this zucchini bread recipe from the Country Treasures from Virginia Farm Bureau cookbook.

(The zucchini bread above was made using whole wheat flour.)

Zucchini Bread

1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
2 cups grated zucchini
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup raisins
3 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350º, and grease two loaf pans.
Beat together oil and sugar. Add eggs, zucchini, nuts, raisins and vanilla. Sift dry ingredients together and add to egg mixture. Pour into greased pans, and bake at for 1 hour.
Note: One 8-ounce can of pineapple, drained, can be substituted for the raisins.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Food Friday: Melons sporting a Technicolor twist on tradition

(Photo by Kathy Dixon)

I bought a seedless melon at a farmers’ market recently. It looked like a regular watermelon with a green, striped rind.
But when I got it home and rinsed and cut it, imagine my surprise at the canary yellow flesh hidden inside. I called for my husband to come take a look.
He said it was weird, but after tasting it we declared it better than a red melon. The taste was very similar (If I was blindfolded I don’t think I could have told you what color the melon was), but it was very sweet and seedless and fun.
Watermelons used to be green on the outside, red or pink on the inside and full of black seeds. But today different varieties of melonsfrom seedless to colorfulare all the rage.
One of the farmers’ market stand staff told me orange watermelons would be arriving soon! And I read that scientists in California have developed a multi-colored melon whose flesh resembles a tie-dyed T-shirt.
No matter what color the melon, they are all chock-full of vitamin C and potassium, low-calorie and fat- and cholesterol-free.
So go on, indulge in the rainbow of watermelon colors and enjoy the best fruit summer has to offer.
To find a ripe watermelon, look for a spot where the melon rested on the soil. If the spot is greenish or white, then the melon isn’t ripe. As the melon ripens, the spot will turn a cream or yellowish color.
For a refreshing salad, try the following recipe from Whole Foods Market:

Watermelon and Arugula Salad


6 cups diced seedless watermelon
half a small red onion, thinly sliced
1 cup feta cheese crumbles
½ cup toasted sunflower seeds
6 tablespoons prepared balsamic dressing
5 cups lightly packed baby arugula
cracked black pepper to taste


In a large bowl, combine watermelon, onion, feta and sunflower seeds. Drizzle with dressing, and toss to coat. Add arugula, and toss again. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Protect private property: Vote yes on Question 1

Virginia Farm Bureau board member Thomas Graves shows his support for Question 1. (Photo by Kathy Dixon)

     With all the recent political ads, you may wish the election was already over. But hang in there, because we still have a couple of months to go.
     While you’re deciding the big issues, like who to back for president of the United States, I want to help make at least one voting decision easier for you.
     When you go to the polls Nov. 6, vote “Yes” on the referendum called Question 1.
     Why? If you and enough other people vote “Yes,” it will amend the state’s constitution to ensure that private property cannot be taken using eminent domain and then given to another private owner.
Legislation was signed by Gov. Bob McDonnell on July 16 to place the proposed constitutional amendment on this fall’s ballot. The amendment specifies that eminent domain cannot be used unless it is for a true public use and further ensures just compensation for the landowner, including the opportunity for lost access and lost profits to be considered as part of that compensation.
The language in the amendment also clarifies what is a true “public use” and specifies that no more land than is necessary can be taken.
How can anyone oppose that?
It’s like one of my coworkers said: “Whatever property you own or rent, if this passes, you can rest assured that your private property rights will be forever enshrined in the constitution.”
Let’s make our forefathers proud by voting “yes” on Question 1.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Food Friday: The many shades of squash

Summer is not my favorite season. It’s hot and sticky, and I prefer the fall because of the cooler temperatures and watching the leaves change color.

But one thing summer has going for it is the plethora of fresh produce that’s available.

I usually go to a farmers’ market once a week during the summer to stock up on fresh cucumbers, melons, squash and tomatoes.

Last weekend, I stumbled across an orange variety of squash.

I was excited to try this new variety, along with my favorites—yellow squash and zucchini.

During the summer, we use our grill to cook most of our meals, and lately we’ve really enjoyed grilling squash. Here’s a quick and easy recipe.

Yellow summer squash or zucchini, any variety
olive oil for drizzling

Slice the squash; I prefer to slice them thin, but if you slice them thicker, they won’t burn as easily.

Put slices in a bowl, drizzle with enough olive oil to coat them, and stir.

Add salt and pepper to your liking; I prefer more pepper and less salt.

Stir to incorporate, and then place the squash on aluminum foil.

Wrap the squash in the foil and put on the grill (If you have a grill basket for cooking vegetables, feel free to use that instead and skip these steps). Flip the foil packet over every few minutes until your squash is at the desired crispness.

My husband is our primary griller, and he said once he hears the zucchini start to sizzle, he knows it is ready. The orange squash tasted very similar to zucchini.

Happy grilling!