Our family of 12 headed for Hatteras Island for our annual family vacation. But this year….we loaded the car with fresh fruits and vegetables from the Pitt County Farmers Market…our new beach staple. What local foods we could not bring we would buy locally on Hatteras. Not everyone in our extended family eats vegetables, but sometimes it is easier to try a new way of eating away from home. On our week-long excursion, I set out to see if I could get the die-hard fast food group to eat some home cooking.
Picking out the Vegetables and Fruits to Take
I did not have any recipes in mind when I visited the Farmers Market the morning we left. I just looked at the selection, picked my favorites and imagined a simple way to prepare them. If you don’t know how to cook something, just ask the farmer. He or she will have some helpful suggestions that are easy to do.
Two Meals at the Beach
Here is a sample of what we had to eat that week! Our first night dinner was a grilled hamburger cook-out. We made hamburgers with locally grown ground beef that I had already frozen into patties last March. I just took the package from the freezer and tucked it into the cooler right before we left. By the time we arrived and were fixing dinner, the burgers were perfectly formed and thawed, ready for the grill. The burgers were just a small part of the meal…the highlights were the vegetables and fruits from the Farmers Market! We enjoyed sweet corn on the cob, homemade creamy new potato salad with chopped zucchini, peppers, yellow squash, and onions, thick slices of homegrown tomatoes, cucumber and tomato salad, and homemade refrigerator dill pickles. Luscious Haddock’s peeled and sliced peaches mixed with Ayden- grown blueberries caused the kids to ask for seconds on dessert.
The next night we baked local flounder we bought in Hatteras for $7.00 a pound. I covered the fish with fresh lemon and sweet onion slices, topped it with chopped fresh dill I had bought at the Farmers Market and baked it on a lightly buttered cookie sheet just until it flaked but was still moist. The sweet corn had been so delicious that the leftovers were warmed and finished it with the fish! Again our vegetables were the jewels of the meal. Fried okra, sliced tomatoes, and baked sweet potatoes also decorated our plates. Dessert was sliced watermelon and cantaloupe.
Beverages: at the beach we drink lots of water. To kick up the flavor, I added a lemon slice and few slices of a peeled, sweet, ripe peach. I put the water with fruits in the refrigerator on our way to the beach so it would be flavorful when we returned in a couple of hours. The water keeps all day and makes a good beverage choice for dinner too.
The Cook’s Imagination: from Farm to Fork
Fresh Corn on the Cob: 26 ears for $6.00 Silver Queen fresh and sweet
Storage: unhusked corn placed in large plastic bag filled with ice chips in plastic tub.
Preparation: Bring large stock pot of water (one that holds 15 ears of corn) with 1 tablespoon salt to full boil. Husk, silk and trim off worms (yum…no pesticides here!!). (Get kids to do this out on the deck…it is fun! And make them clean up too!) Drop in boiling water for 3 minutes. Lift out, try eating it plain, my favorite way to taste the pure corn flavor. If you want seasoning then lightly roll in unsalted butter and sprinkle with pepper or dried herbs. Be daring and brush with virgin olive oil or sprinkle with Texas Pete!
Okra: 3 pounds for $6.00
Storage: plastic bag unwashed. Best used in 5 days.
Preparation: Wash in cold water. Trim off stem ends. Slice into ½ inch pieces. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in large cast iron fry pan. Beat 1 egg with 2 tbs warm water in medium bowl until frothy, stir in ½ tsp of Crazy Jane’s seasoned salt, ¼ tsp ground pepper, and ¼ tsp cayenne pepper. Add 1/3 cup fine ground stone cornmeal. Beat together until thick. Add 4 cups trimmed okra and stir until lightly coated. When oil is piping hot, slowly drop spoonfuls of okra mixture into the oil until 2/3 of pan is covered. Turn gently cooking on all sides til brown. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Repeat until all okra is fried. Serve hot.
OK! Most of my family eats fried okra like popcorn…they love it! They also will eat it in stews, stir fried with tomato, and baked Egyptian style with tomatoes and garlic packed under and on top of meatloaf in a casserole dish. But at the beach, this fried okra seemed to fit and was an instant hit with everyone.
If you don’t fry okra…..here is alternative recipe…key to good okra is to cook on high heat and not to stir the pan until the okra begins to look stringy… Heat 1 tbs olive oil in fry pan. Add 2 cups sliced fresh okra. Wait until okra looks stringy. Add 1 large, fresh tomato, chopped (remove skin if you want), 1-3 cloves of garlic to taste, sprinkle with Crazy Jane salt (a little goes a long way), fresh pepper, cayenne pepper, or Texas Pete. Stir quickly for 2 minutes and serve hot. Variation: add sweet corn sliced off the cob during the last minute of stir frying.
Tomatoes: 10 lbs, average cost 1.25 per pound
We ate so many tomatoes! I took 5 pounds with us and paid $1.00 a pound for them. Then, at Hatteras (we ran out!) we got some more local tomatoes at $1.50 a pound…about 5 pounds!
Preparation and service: I bought yellow and red large slicing tomatoes. We had them chopped on tacos, sliced and layered with thin sliced sweet Mattamuskett onions and lemons and fresh basil leaves from my garden. For lunch we often enjoyed a fresh tomato sandwich on whole wheat bread from the Farmers Market: Put a thick slice of a large tomato between 2 slices of bread, sprinkle with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Nothing beats a fresh NC grown tomato out of the garden!
Potatoes: Red new potatoes, 10 lbs at .50 cents a pound, $5.00 total.
Storage: Do not wash until ready to eat. Keeps well in a recycled grocery bag in cool cupboard.
Preparation: Simple potato salad was a staple for lunch and dinner.
Wash 2 - 3 pounds of potatoes and cut in pieces about 1 inch square. Bring a 6 quart (large) pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tsp salt (water will boil harder for a minute). Add potatoes and cook for 10 minutes at a boil…just until fork tender, do not overcook. Drain in a colander. While they cool a little, mix the dressing: put ¼ cup apple cider or other vinegar, 1 small clove chopped garlic, ½ tsp pepper, and ½ cup virgin olive oil, or canola oil in a clean glass jar and put the lid on tightly. Shake hard until it is blended together. Place warm potatoes in a large bowl and sprinkle on the dressing. Add fresh herbs to taste, dill, oregano, basil, thyme…or dried herbs. Cover and cool in the refrigerator. Serve when cool. ½ cup serving size per person is recommended.
Variations: This salad can be served plain, or you can make variations by adding any fresh chopped vegetables in season (from broccoli in the spring to cucumbers in June to red peppers and zucchini in August). You can make a creamy salad by adding 1 cup of low-fat sour cream or non-fat yogurt blended with ¼ cup low fat mayonnaise. Seafood, like boiled shrimp, left over ham cubes, or cooked firm fish flakes can be added to the creamy version for a fun salad. And hard-boiled eggs, cut in quarters are an old stand-by for potato salad. Use your imagination. A friend of mine adds peanuts, raisins, and frozen green peas! Sometimes I use chopped cold pickled beets with the sour cream dressing while leaving out the mayonnaise. Add anything your family likes to eat to the salad and watch it disappear.
Our family loves dessert, but no one wanted to bake at the beach. We served sliced peaches and blueberries on several nights after dinner for dessert. We also had fresh watermelon slices on the porch. Another night we ate cantaloupe cubes mixed with fresh lime juice. Finally I baked the last of the very ripe peaches into a simple cobbler.
Simple Cobbler: Place 4 cups sliced peaches sprinkled with 2 tbs of dark brown sugar and ½ tsp nutmeg into a 9 inch pie or cake pan. Mix a biscuit dough and drop by spoonfuls on top of the fruit, Bake at 400 degrees F until biscuits are brown and peaches bubbly. Cool and serve with plain non-fat yogurt, sweetened with honey, jam, or sugar to taste.
Variation: Bake peaches without biscuits. When bubbly, sprinkle with granola and bake 2- 3 minutes more. This adds more fiber and may reduce fat, depending on what kind of granola you choose.
The best thing about this cobbler and the beach was that my niece’s husband (the father of a 2 year old and a local police officer) asked me to teach him how to bake a cobbler because he wanted to have healthier desserts for his son. He ate the cobbler with his son and vowed to bake it himself at home! And the 2 year old loved it too.
By the end of the week, the whole family crew enjoyed their meals and vegetables. Eating local and cooking simply catches on fast!