If it looks like a duck (egg), quacks like a duck (egg)…

Then it must be a duck (egg)! My adopted Flyover home Indiana produces more ducks than any other state (as of 2010), something I never knew. I always associated duck farming with Long Island, but the quackers have largely left the island. Today, the US commercial duck industry is centered on Indiana, Pennsylvania, and California. A migration from Long Island to the Hoosier state makes sense, as Long Island real estate has become too expensive for farming operations.

Which brings me to the topic of today’s post—duck eggs. I’d always cooked and baked with chicken eggs, transitioning from the supermarket eggs (which come from battery chickens) to the more flavorful pastured1varieties, usually buying them at the farmers market. One day I saw duck eggs at my seller’s (Abbott Garlic and Poultry Farm) stand and I asked about them. Shelli Abbott feels they are richer, so I was inspired to buy a dozen and go from there. I don’t recall seeing them at my local co-op when I lived in Delaware and I never saw them for sale at the Amish stands I’d occasionally shop at back then. Now, I’m learning to cook (with) duck eggs!

So, how do duck eggs differ from chicken eggs? Well, they are spelled differently. And they have different shells, meaning that duck eggs are encased in thicker, stronger shells, compared to chicken eggs. They are typically larger, although, like chickens and chicken eggs, ducks and duck eggs come in different sizes. But even accounting for size, duck eggs have more fat (on a per gram basis) and more protein as well.

Duck_ChickenEgg

Duck egg on the left, chicken egg on the right. The striations on the duck egg are natural. Both eggs came from Abbott Garlic and Poultry Farm in Albany, Indiana.
I like both kinds of eggs, (bad pun alert!)—you could call me an egg-ficianado!

If you manage to get your hand on a dozen Flyover duck eggs, you might be asking yourself what to do with them. In my next posts, I’ll discuss my method for hard-cooked duck eggs and I’ll share a recipe for easy Garlic-Chive Duck Egg Mayonnaise.

1Pastured eggs are eggs from chickens that are permitted to roam (i.e. wander about pastures) as opposed to being confined to cages. Pastured chickens have a more varied diet (and better life!) than chickens crammed in battery cages, the norm for your supermarket eggs. I find pastured eggs to be much tastier, too!

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About Asparagus

When I think of asparagus, I think of spring. I also think of California. Not necessarily in that order. Okay, it is one of the first produce crops to appear after the winter and for folks thinking seasonally, those green (or purple) stalks are a welcome sight at markets. Indeed, supermarkets often promote asparagus (perhaps as a loss leader) in springtime sales flyers. But in the Flyover States, those supermarket spears often originate from California (or Washington State). Or so I thought. Did you know that Michigan is actually the third largest producer of asparagus in the United States? I didn’t know either. Why Michigan? Well, growing asparagus requires soils that drain well, so the sandy soils of Michigan certainly meet that requirement. Think about Michigan’s location: It’s not THE Great Lakes State for nothing! Michigan shares boundaries with four of the Great Lakes: Huron, Superior, Erie, and, of course, Michigan. Sorry, Ontario!

Michigan2

The Great Lakes are a remnant of the last glaciation and retreat, forming when the Laurentide ice sheet retreated. And the soils of Michigan reflect the materials carried by the glacier and left behind when it receded–silts and sands and stuff, oh my! Also, the soils should freeze occasionally, so again, Michigan fits the bill. But here’s a question–is my supermarket asparagus from my neighbor to the north (given that I’m in Indiana, that neighbor would be Michigan). So, I took a trip to my local supermarket to see from where the asparagus they proffer for sale actually originates. Turns out, my local Marsh supermarket stocks asparagus from California. At least it isn’t China (the world’s largest producer) or Peru (number two in production). Fortunately for me, I’ve got access to wonderful local asparagus!

Asparagus is native to Europe, Africa (North), and parts of Asia. It didn’t really appear in the United States until the mid-19th century. Asparagus has been considered both a food and a medicine, as well as an aphrodisiac, no doubt owing to its rather phallic appearance.

In much of Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Belgium, etc.), asparagus is eaten as a white vegetable, renowned for its tenderness and flavor. I recall the excitement of Spargelzeit (asparagus time) in Germany, where it was served with hollandaise sauce. Americans typically eat the plant green. Interestingly, both white and green asparagus are cultivated from the same plant—to keep asparagus white, shoots are kept covered to prevent exposure to the sun (and thus keeping the process of photosynthesis from occurring).

I love asparagus, especially roasted or grilled! On my first trip to the farmers market of the outdoor season, I stumbled across—not literally—local PURPLE asparagus.
PurpleAsparagus2
The grower told me that other customers found the purple variety (and it is a different variety) a bit sweeter. Ever the foodie, I bought a bunch and roasted them (recipe in the next post). The verdict? Yes, sweeter and full of flavor. And I love the color!

Asparagus tips

  • Asparagus is often sold in bunches affixed by a rubber band. Remove the band toward the bottom (where the stalks have been cut off) or simply snip the band with a pair of scissors to avoid damaging the asparagus tips.
  • To keep your asparagus fresh if not using immediately, place the stalks in a jar or glass with some water, then put the glass/jar in the refrigerator.
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Farmers Market Produce Recipe—Roasted Asparagus!!!

Quick, easy, simple—a delicious way of cooking that welcome sign of spring is roasting asparagus. But be warned—it is addictive. I’ve been known to eat an entire bunch of roasted vegetables. At. A. Single. Sitting.

Equipment Needed

  • large, shallow baking pan or cookie sheet, preferably with a lip to corral errant spears
  • tongs
  • silicone baking sheet or foil (optional)

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch green or purple asparagus, washed, dried, and trimmed of woody ends if necessary
  • Olive oil
  • salt and pepper

How to roast the asparagus

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F (~176°C)
  2. Place asparagus spears onto baking sheet; use a silicone sheet or foil if you wish—I do, because it makes cleanup easier
  3. Drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Rotate the spears to make sure that the oil, salt, and pepper is on all sides.
  4. PurpleAsparagusPrepped1

    All prepped up and ready to go (into the oven!)
  5. When the oven is hot enough, place the sheet of asparagus inside
  6. Roast for 6-7 minutes
  7. Remove sheet from oven, turn spears over, and return to oven to roast for another 5-10 minutes—the time will depend on the thickness of the spears. You may wish to check after 5-6 minutes and remove the ones that appear done, which you’ll note by some the crispy tips and possibly brownness on the tips as well.
  8. Eat! These are good warm or at room temperature. Or the next day, straight from the fridge, directly in one’s mouth. I mean in theory. I certainly wouldn’t know firsthand how delicious eating several spears while preparing a breakfast can be.
  • Don’t throw your asparagus trimmings (or most any non-brassica vegetable1 trimmings) away! They can be used to make a delicious asparagus-flavored stock, handy to have on hand for soups, risottos, even egg poaching liquid! Just save your trimmings in a freezer bag (in the freezer, of course) until you have enough for stock. No need to thaw–just throw in to the water during your Stock-a-thon!

1The brassica family includes some rather aromatic vegetables, such as cauliflower and cabbage.

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Buying Local–Farmers Markets, Part 1

One of the best places to find local producers selling local foods—whether basic (fruits, vegetables, meats) or “value added: (jams, breads, cakes)—is a nearby farmers markets. A trip to my community farmers market is usually part of my weekend, and I love seeing what’s unusual, seasonal, and available. I get to talk to producers and pick up some locally grown flowers to brighten up the house (at least some location where the cat won’t find them and chew them) along with some food. As in other parts of the country, farmers markets have been increasing in Flyover Country. New ones seem to spring up regularly. That said, not all farmers markets are producer only.

Okay, I’m in Indiana. If I go to the market in May and someone is trying to sell me tomatoes or peaches, I know they haven’t been locally grown! You would do well to ask your seller about their products! Many markets place limits on what can be sold—some markets are producer-only. Others permit them to sell a small percentage of goods that someone else has produced (clearly marked); one could, for example, sell some of the neighbor’s eggs along with one’s own beets and lettuces. At my local market, one seller in particular sells apples that they’ve purchased at an Amish produce auction along with their own bounty. Do I buy those apples? Yes, I do—they are from Indiana and, more importantly to me, they are unusual varieties, the sort that I’ll NEVER see in a supermarket or even a store like Whole Foods. I’m talking about varieties largely meant for cider, like interesting russeted varieties (don’t think I’ve even seen Roxbury or Golden Russets anywhere but the market and they are actually my favorites!) Really, a supermarket sells the same old Red or Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Fujis, Braeburns, Honeycrisps, etc.

Which means that it’s Definition Time. There are farmers markets and there are public markets. A farmers market, by definition, is, in part or whole, comprised of sellers who have produced their own goods for sale directly to the public at large. A public market is a (usually) centrally located market bringing together buyers and sellers. Some of the merchants may be farmers selling directly, but this is not a requirement. Often, their purpose is to provide benefits for a community and they have stated goals. For example, some residents may find it difficult to source fresh fruits and vegetables, in which case a public market serves a very critical need (even if the produce is initially purchased from a wholesaler). Historically, public markets were owned by the municipality in which they were located.

Public markets serve a purpose and there exist some well known ones in the Flyover States—the Grand Rapids Downtown Market (Michigan), Cleveland’s West Side Market (Ohio) and the Milwaukee Public Market (Wisconsin) are but three examples. A public market may be an excellent source for local produce—just because it’s not labeled a “farmers market” doesn’t mean you won’t find any nearby farmers there!

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Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sliders–The Recipe!

These thin-pounded pork medallions, soaked in a seasoned buttermilk mixture, then breaded and fried, are served on a bun with an array of the requisite condiments: lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion, ketchup, mustard. Practice safe tenderloining—use condiments!


This recipe makes approximately 8 sliders

To make these babies (and boy, would they be welcome appetizers at a party!), you’ll need the following:

  • sturdy pan, Dutch oven or skillet (for frying)
  • bowls and plates (for dipping and dredging)
  • cutting board
  • sharp knife
  • meat mallet or some other pounding tool
  • a good appetite!


Ingredients

  • 1 pork tenderloin, trimmed of the silverskin (1 to 1.5 lbs or so—DO NOT use the preseasoned ones sold at many supermarkets; get the naked ones instead, since you’ll be clothing them with crumbs anyway)–if your tenderloin is on the larger side, you will need more buttermilk and spices
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1/4 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper (freshly ground is best!)
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-1/2 cups plain, dry breadcrumbs (can also use cracker crumbs)
  • extra salt and pepper for the breading step
  • vegetable oil for frying (neutral-flavored, please–this is not the time for your extra-virgin, cold-pressed oil from Tuscany or your estate-pressed walnut oil)
  • 8 slider buns1 (or soft, white hamburger buns cut into slider-sized portions)


Making the Sliders

  1. Before you do anything, read through the recipe!
  2. First, cut off the tapered end and then slice the tenderloin into 6-8 pieces, no more than 1-inch (2.54 cm) thick.
  3. Next, use your mallet to pound the tenderloin pieces to a thickness of approximately 1/4 inch (~6.5 mm). You may wish to do this between pieces of plastic wrap.
  4. In a bowl, mix the buttermilk with the garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cayenne, salt, and pepper.
  5. Coat the bottom of a shallow pan large enough to hold all pieces of pork (like a lasagne or baking pan) with some of the buttermilk mixture. Then place the pork pieces into the pan. Cover with the rest of the buttermilk mixture. The pieces should be covered.
  6. BPTMarinating

  7. Place pan in refrigerator and marinate for 2-6 hours.
  8. Remove your pork from the refrigerator.
  9. Mise en place! Prep an area for dredging and breading. Set up a plate with the flour (feel free to season the flour with extra salt and pepper). Then crack the eggs into a shallow bowl and beat them so that the whites and yolks are well mingled. Set up a plate with the bread crumbs, which you can also season with salt and pepper.
  10. BPTBreading

  11. Set up another plate with paper towels. You’ll need this to drain the sliders.
  12. Add about 1/2 inch (1.25 cm) of oil in your pan or Dutch oven. Heat over medium-high (not high) until hot (350°F/177°C). FYI, I don’t measure temperature–I just judge it.
  13. Take a piece of the pork and dredge it in the flour. Shake off the excess, then coat it with the egg, letting any excess drip back into the bowl. Then, dredge in the bread crumb mixture.
  14. Add the pork to the hot oil. Repeat for another piece of pork, adding them to the pan without crowding. You will probably have to cook these in batches.
  15. BPTFrying

  16. Cook the pork tenderloin medallions until browned (but not burned!) for approximately 2 minutes, then flip and cook until the other side is browned, another minute or two.
  17. Remove from pan and drain on paper towel-lined plate.
  18. BPTDraining

  19. Assemble the BPT Sliders–place a piece of pork on a bun, add your condiments (lettuce, pickle, onion, tomato, mustard),
    BPTCondiments
    and, if necessary, secure with a toothpick. Enjoy!

BPTSliders_Plan

BPTSliders_Profile
1I could not find slider buns at my local supermarkets, but I did have this contraption that I got at Williams-Sonoma or Sur La Table that allows me to cut a regular bun into a slider-sized one. I imagine a biscuit cutter works just as well. Alternatively, you can use dinner rolls or, if you’re really ambitious, bake your own.

BPTSlider_Contraption2

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