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The Counter

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At the Columbia Whole Foods. Diner not in the classic sense, but still a place with really interesting and satisfying diner food.

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Fries anyone? How about chickpea fries with truffle salt?

We were lucky enough last night to attend a media event that kicked off the new menu at the Counter, the instore diner at our local Whole Foods. For me, finding places that aren’t chains, that showcase local, seasonal, organic and/or sustainable ingredients is a priority. Having this counter as a choice now when I’m in Columbia and need a quick delicious meal is exciting.

The thing I do like most about this diner option is the juxtaposition of healthier choices with some favorite comfort foods, and standbys that will tempt the omnivore, vegetarian, paleo, vegan, or gluten free person who may be looking to eat out together without compromising.

Like Southern food?

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Chicken with a biscuit and sausage gravy. This was one of my favorite dishes last night. Good for breakfast or lunch.

Nodding to a love of kielbasa, and making a breakfast sandwich my husband really liked.

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Their breakfast menu has all sorts of options. A scramble that uses tofu. Wheatless pancakes.

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We got to sample many of the items from both menus last night. My favorites were the chicken and gravy, and the burger made with a short rib blend, the cacioepepe, and that kielbasa sandwich. I have to admit there were two that weren’t my cup of tea, so to speak. The curry dish just a tad too spicy. The avocado taco. It was OK but just a bit bland to me. Weird, how my tastes are somewhere in the range of spicy but not too spicy.

I have to stop in and try some things that look good but we didn’t sample. Like the falafelsammie and the crabcake (not the vegan “crab” cake). As a Baltimore born and raised lover of crabs, I have to see how this version stacks up to my all time favorites.

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Thanks to Chef Michael and his team for putting out great tasting fresh food. Thanks too to Mia the marketing team leader who put together this event.

As one of the local bloggers whose focus is on small businesses, local foods, organic foods and eating seasonally, I am pleased to see how Whole Foods is becoming integrated into our community. Many of the farms where I purchase cheeses, meats, produce and a few of the small specialty businesses are featured here at Whole Foods.

Check out their Maryland food vendor page for a list of those who supply the Columbia store. Many of them are on my local resources list, and I am discovering new ones all the time like Koinonia and Homestead.

So, try out the Counter someday. Like maybe a Sunday where another local blogger, Bill Santos, has a weekly get together for coffee and conversation. One of those biscuits would be great while discussing the latest goings on in Columbia.

Maple Lawn Turkeys

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Now available for pick up at Whole Foods Columbia.

I have blogged many times about the locally raised turkeys that we order every year for Thanksgiving. From Maple Lawn Farm in Fulton MD.

Last night we had a tasting menu event at the new Whole Foods in Columbia. They announced that they have arranged to sell for in store pick up the same local turkeys we can get at the farm. This adds Whole Foods to the list that includes Boarmans and Roots in our local area.

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In fact, Whole Foods has all sorts of options from uncooked to oven ready to fully prepared feasts.

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Let’s just say we didn’t have to cook dinner last night.

I think my favorite of the evening though, was the dessert. I will probably be getting one of these to take to my family’s Thanksgiving. Pumpkin pie on the bottom. Pumpkin mousse on top.

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From soup to nuts, and including some packages that are already cooked. For those who are pressed for time, or cooking area, or are wary of roasting a whole turkey themselves, Whole Foods joins other area restaurants and food stores in offering a complete meal, ready for reheating and serving.

This was our first time attending one of the Whole Foods tastings. I liked quite a few of the dishes, particularly the cream of mushroom soup, the cranberry orange relish, and of course, that pie.

For those living in the area, a new option to make Thanksgiving a little easier.

But, for those who know me, I will be cooking that Maple Lawn farm turkey with my favorite sausage dressing (thanks to Boarmans for their sausage). I will be using Whole Foods for their stuffing cubes, brining kit and nuts from their bulk selections.

Thanks to Mia, Katie and Chef Patrick for hosting the Howard County Food Bloggers yesterday.

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Real Value

This week’s CSA share.

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As I looked at the selection, I decided it was time to do another comparison of the value of this half share. It cost me $19 a week for the summer, and again this fall, the same, since we signed up early for both seasons.

Most weeks I know this half share would have cost me more in the organic aisles of the local grocery stores. Here, proof again that it is true.

I used Wegmans on line shopping tool, for our local store. They have some of the best prices in the area for organic. The smaller stores, like Roots and MOMs can be even more expensive.

We had nine items this week. I did swap the red kale for some potatoes. I used the cost of the kale in my comparison because that is what we were sent.

Most expensive to buy. Organic cauliflower and broccoli. $4.49 for cauliflower. $3.49 for broccoli. Spaghetti squash (theirs wasn’t organic) $1.49/lb. Mine weighs almost two pounds.

Organic red kale was $2.69 each. Red leaf lettuce $2.29 each. Butterhead lettuce, not organic, $1.99. Hot peppers, not organic, $3.99 a pound. I had almost a pound of them. The only radishes at Wegmans on line were regular. Not the French Breakfast radishes we got. They were $1.99 a bunch. Organic baby beets, $2.99 a bunch.

All told. A smidge less than $27 to buy.

As for our fruit share this week.

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Seven organic honey crisp apples. At Wegmans these go for $3.49 a pound. Mine weighed slightly over 3 pounds. The kiwiberries. Who knows what they cost. They are rarely seen around here. Conservatively $4, maybe $5, if you can find them. Value, somewhere between $14 and $15. My fruit share costs $10 a week. Really worth it for those fruit varieties that are extremely hard to find without possibilities of pesticides.

This week I didn’t photograph my chicken share. It was boneless skinless chicken breast, and a couple of whole chicken legs. So, I will leave us with the photograph of a recent dinner with the Lancaster Farm Fresh chicken.

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The chicken breasts are usually parboiled first. I then make them into whatever suits my taste over the next few days. Maybe Caesar salad. Maybe chicken salad sandwiches. This time, I used some white wine, olive oil, some mixed herbs and quickly heated them in a moderate oven. The wine keeps them moist.

I also made some mushroom gravy using the Whole Foods brand of condensed mushroom soup. I now know that I prefer the Pacific brand, as this was a little thinner. I added some of the cremini mushrooms too. Spooned over the chicken. Served with some brown Jasmine rice.

And, those great zucchini fritters I have made many times. That Smitten Kitchen recipe is now a staple in my recipe file.

Whole Foods

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Opened in Howard County ten days ago. Now, I suppose we are complete as a upscale grocery store containing county. We have the Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Wegmans trilogy.

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Everyone knows that I support small local businesses, mostly family owned, but still, there is something about stepping into one of these specialty grocers that brings the “foodie” side to the forefront. We headed off Monday morning to have an early lunch and see if Whole Foods had a few items I can’t find at other stores.

First of all, you can’t beat the view from the “dining” area.

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Second, where else in a food store do you find flowers on the tables?

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I think they did an excellent job of transforming the former Rouse Building into something exciting, open and interesting. I also have to give them credit for using local purveyors and acknowledging it.

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We tried a link of each of the two homemade lamb sausages, one Greek and one Moroccan. The verdict, liked the Merguez, and tossed the Lukanika. It had way too funky of a smell to it. Not a good fit.

I also got caught up in trying the handmade gnocchi. The spinach one.

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Made it for dinner, with meatballs. Used some of my freshly made sage butter for the pasta.

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All in all, it will be a place we use to find bulk items, like spices, rice, grains, nuts. They have a very large selection. The seafood also looks good. Right now, I head to Wegmans for seafood, but Whole Foods is closer.

And, Friday morning at 9:30, it was easy to pop in and grab a few hard rolls for an egg salad lunch, and some pita for my eggplant dip. I do like their bakery items.

First impressions. Favorable.

Refrigerator Pickles

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I had many jars of pickles ready to take to Saturday’s program. I have discovered the fun of pickling vegetables so you don’t have to spend large amounts of money at the local stores to buy those items so loved on antipasto trays.

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I’ve been all over the map in terms of the ratios I use to make refrigerator pickles. I’ve also used crocks in the past to make pickles. These I did put in the hot water bath in order to have them stay fresh longer, but I keep them in the refrigerator no matter how I make them. Thankfully we have a small beverage refrigerator under a counter in the laundry room. Lots of stuff gets stored there.

I like my pickles garlicky and sour. I use very little sugar, if at all. Sometimes I do buy pickling spices, but mostly I just throw in whatever is still in the spice rack. I use garlic (or once I used scapes). I use garlic powder. I use salt, pepper, mustard seeds, dill (fresh or dried, whatever is here). Sometimes allspice, whole.

I use a heavy vinegar mix. Two parts vinegar to one part water. Some people like one to one ratio. Figure on four to five ounces of mix for every pint jar. I boil it all together, and sterilize the jars in the dishwasher. A small pot sterilized my lids and seals. For refrigerator pickles, meant to be eaten in a few months, and never left out of the fridge, I don’t use the hot water bath for processing.

The jars above hold some of my shallots. Some sweet peppers. Dill pickles. I have also processed swiss chard stems. Zucchini. Beets in a mix that does include candied ginger and a cinnamon stick.

Be creative. Next I am doing another mix of yellow and red peppers.

Today though, we checked out the Whole Foods Market pickling “bar”.

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My husband picked out some of them to try. Caper berries? Green beans. How about carrots? All sorts of ideas.