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Archive for the ‘Farmer’s Market’ Category

It’s one of those “dark, leafy greens” we’re supposed to be eating like 10 times a day. And you may have eaten it before and wondered why someone was serving you stringy weeds that taste bitter get stuck in your teeth. But I promise Swiss chard can be really tasty. Delicious in fact. The first few times I got chard in my organic box, I sighed, chopped up the chard, tossed it in a pan with some olive oil (which seems to work pretty well for most vegetables), and hoped for the best. But what I ended up with was undercooked, tree-like stalks and mushy, tasteless leaves. I decided chard was best for shredding into salads or, even better, as a garnish. Its leaves look beautiful under a wheel of goat cheese…

But the problem with that thinking is that chard is really, really good for you. Thanks to its combination of minerals, nutrients, and fiber, chard is like an anti-cancer pill. Plus, it’s an excellent source of vitamins A, K, C, E, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and iron — all things we want and probably don’t get enough of. And chard does seem to come in my box a lot. So, I did some more experimenting until I finally discovered this method of cooking chard. I guess it seems obvious, but the secret to cooking something with a tough stalk is to start cooking the stalks first, give them some time to soften up and mellow out, and then toss in the leaves.

This recipe makes a great and very quick side dish. Shallots enhance the chard’s flavor, which, in this dish at least, is nutty and savory and not at all bitter. My husband, who has always told me he “despises” chard, loved this. While I wouldn’t use the word “love,” the kids ate it happily, which is about all I can hope for when I’m serving something that slightly resembles the things poking out of the playground asphalt at their school.

Rainbow Chard with Shallots

Ingredients
1 bunch Swiss chard (doesn’t have to be the “rainbow” version, but it does look pretty)
1 small shallot
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Red chili flakes (optional)
Salt & pepper

Give the chard a bath in a sink full of cold water and rinse. You may have to do this twice to get all the dirt and grit off. Dry on towels. Using a large cutting board, cut the chard’s leaves from the stalks by running a knife down either side of each stalk. You can also do this by hand by tearing the leaves off the stalks, but I found the knife method faster. Chop the stalks into one-inch pieces. Thinly slice the shallot. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chard stalks then the shallots and saute until the stalks soften and the shallots start to caramelize, about 10 minutes.

Slice the chard leaves into ribbons and add them to the pan. It will seem like a lot of chard at this point, but the leaves really cook down (like spinach). Add a few drops of vinegar and the red chili flakes; season with salt & pepper to taste. Continue cooking until the leaves are wilted, about 2-3 minutes. Serve immediately.

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A few weeks ago I started making a list of all my favorite things to eat. I was doing this partly because I had thought of including it on the “about me” page on my new website (which is coming very soon, yay!) and partly because I love making lists, especially food-related lists. And partly because I was probably hungry. But instead of throwing the whole list up on a page where it would languish uselessly, I decided to blog about my food loves instead. So consider this post about strawberries the first in a series. Each post will sing the praises of some food I happen to love (or am loving that week) and include at least one recipe for said food.

Of course my Foods-I-Love list is a seasonal one. While I love cassoulet and creamy potato-leek soup, I don’t think about them much this time of year. Right now I love strawberries. The big, fat, perfectly sweet-tart berries you can only get in the summer. I love strawberries because they’re delicious but also because they really make me feel great. In addition to 100 g. of vitamin C per cup, which is almost as mush as in OJ, strawberries are high in fiber, calcium, magnesium, folate, and potassium — all good things, especially in hot weather. Recent studies have linked eating strawberries to improved memory function and reduced risk of heart attack and cancer. All that, at about 50 calories per cup.

During both my pregnancies I craved strawberries. I bought them in bulk at the farmer’s market (Both my kids were born in the fall, so I had perfect strawberries to offset the fact that I was carrying around 40 extra pounds during 100-degree weather.), and I got very creative with them, as only a pregnant woman can. I would stack strawberries on my toast, use slices of them for mini Parmesan sandwiches or in wraps with cream cheese and turkey, eat them by the handful as a snack with almonds, and of course plop them in my drinks (they were something to look forward to at the bottom of yet another glass of mineral water or iced herbal tea). During that time, I came up with several strawberry recipes that have withstood the test of (less-hormonal) times. While I don’t make too many turkey-strawberry wraps anymore, I do still occasionally make strawberry-pecan pancakes on weekends, and my strawberry salad has become a family favorite.

There are plenty of versions of strawberry salad out there, but I think mine is different enough to be worth trying. This recipe is on the menu of my husband’s and my fantasy restaurant — a place that would serve all the favorite meals we make at home just the way we like them, without messing up our kitchen. Like with all great dishes, the fresh ingredients each speak for themselves and also blend together perfectly. It’s simple to make and easy to adapt to your family’s tastes (Don’t like spinach? It’s also delicious with romaine or green leaf lettuce. I use spinach because it’s also in season and so awesome right now. Goat cheese would be a nice change, too.) Oh, and this salad is also easy to disassemble for kids who don’t like their foods to touch. I should know.

One last note: I can’t write about strawberries without a reminder that strawberries are one of the “Dirty Dozen,” in fact I just checked and they are currently ranked #3 on the list of conventional produce that is the most contaminated by pesticides. As if that weren’t bad enough, the state of California (where about 90% of U.S. strawberries are grown) just approved the use of methyl iodide, which has been called “one of the most toxic chemicals on earth,” as a fumigant in strawberry fields. Whether or not the methyl iodide seeps into the berries themselves seems to be up for debate, but I don’t like the sound of it. Buy organic strawberries. Please. As much as I love them, I’d rather go without strawberries than eat conventional ones. This time of year, organic strawberries are plentiful and are really no more expensive than the pesticide-soaked ones.

Summer Strawberry Salad
1 large bunch fresh spinach (I know the bagged spinach is convenient, but I don’t think it tastes nearly as good. Buy a bunch of organic spinach — #5 on the Dirty Dozen, btw — fill your sink with cold water, give the spinach a good bath and rinse under running water, then put in salad spinner.)
1 pint organic strawberries, hulled and sliced
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup shaved hard cheese, such as Dutch Parrano

Red Wine Vinaigrette
3 tbs. red wine vinegar
2 tbs. fresh lemon juice
1 tbs. honey
3 tbs. olive oil
Salt & freshly ground pepper

To make the vinaigrette, put all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake well. Assemble the salad and toss with the dressing. If you want to get fancy, you can toast the pine nuts on the stove: Put in a skillet on medium-low heat and cook until they start to smell toasty; this only takes a few minutes so don’t take your eyes off them or they’ll burn.

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After a long, hot summer and plenty of bad fruit (Seriously, is there anything as disappointing as a mealy peach?), it’s finally peach season in Colorado. Our really, truly delicious, worth-the-wait peaches come from the western slopes of the Rockies near Colorado’s peach capitol, Palisade. And I think they are some of the best anywhere. (If I have any Georgian readers out there, don’t get feisty; I did say, “some of the best.”)

Anyway, although the farmer’s market stalls are piled high with local peaches, I usually get them from the church down the street from my house, which sells them as a fundraiser for its preschool. When my bushel(s) arrive, I get very excited. And overwhelmed. Like any other luscious ripe fruit, fresh peaches don’t keep very long, so I get creative and find ways to work them into every meal. In addition to tossing them into my family’s cereal, yogurt, smoothies, lemonade, (homemade peach) ice cream, and salsa, I grill them with meat and also freeze a bunch. After doing that the wrong way for years (i.e. slice a pile of peaches and throw in freezer bags, all really fast so they don’t get brown), I finally learned the right way: Here it is.

I know there are zillions of peach recipes on the internet and at least one cookbook devoted entirely to cooking with peaches, so I will just toss out a few of may favorite peach ideas.

  • Chicken and Peach Orzo Salad. A perfect summer meal. Start with some grilled or rotisserie chicken (2 large breasts or more) and cut it into bite-sized pieces. Add sliced peaches (2 or 3 depending on how big). Mix with seeded, chopped cucumbers, finely diced red onion, and whatever other veggies you have on hand (red pepper or celery for instance), then add crumbled feta or goat cheese. Toss with 1 lb. cooked orzo and dressing. For the dressing, combine in a bowl: 1/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1 tbs. lemon juice, 1/3-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint (or parsley would be good, too), a pinch of sugar, and salt & pepper.
  • Green salad with peaches. In case it never occurred to you, you can throw sliced peaches into just about any green salad. For instance, last night I made a spinach salad with walnuts and sliced peaches, and it was fantastic. Toss with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Berry Peach Topping. Combine peeled, sliced peaches with fresh raspberries and/or strawberries in a small pan. Add some (okay, a lot of) sugar and a couple drops of good balsamic vinegar, and cook on low to medium heat, stirring frequently, until it becomes sauce-like. Use as a topping for (homemade peach) ice cream or pancakes. To make a more savory sauce for meat or fish, omit the sugar and add soy sauce and jalapeños (with their juice, from a jar).
  • Easy Peach Crisp. Years ago, when I lived in San Francisco, my roommate and I “invented” this beyond-easy and delicious desert. It’s kind of like a cobbler but requires almost no baking skills. We called it “That Peach Thing,” and here’s the recipe:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tsp. cinnamon (optional)
1 stick unsalted butter, sliced
7 medium peaches, peeled
In a bowl combine oats, brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Add butter and mix (you can use your hands) until it’s crumbly. Slice the peaches and put into a baking dish. Sprinkle oat mixture on top and bake at 350 degrees for about 40 minutes. Serve with fresh cream or ice cream. I cannot overstate how scrumptious this is.

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To me, summer feels like it’s really, finally here when the market is overflowing with tomatoes that actually look like tomatoes — instead of those artificially shiny orange balls we seem to get all winter. When the tomatoes are plump and gorgeous like they are now, I know it’s time to make my all-time favorite Summer Tomato Sauce.

Full disclosure: I actually don’t like plain, raw tomatoes and rarely eat them. Some people might think it’s strange, then, that this time of year I seriously crave this sauce and even eat it straight. Maybe it’s just me, but I think raw tomatoes and cooked tomatoes are completely different things. I wish I liked them raw; it would save me lots of hassles in sandwich ordering.

Anyway, I discovered this sauce on my honeymoon, when my husband and I biked through Provence. One of the things I remember most (besides the fact that every medieval French village was inconveniently built on the top of a very steep hill) is the fresh tomato sauce they put on just about everything from pasta to eggplant to rabbit. This sauce to me is the epitome of Mediterranean cooking —  seasonal, simple, healthy, and of course delicious. It took me quite a few attempts to recreate it (part of that is due to ingredients; I really think that with very few exceptions, the groceries in Europe are better than they are here), but this is it! Whenever I make it, I feel like I can taste summer and southern France — and who wouldn’t want that?

The sauce is what foodies call “crude” — it’s chunky. It’s very easy to make, out of a few simple, healthy ingredients (see picture below; that’s basically it), which puts it in the “perfect food” category if you ask me. It’s heaven on grilled eggplant and zucchini as well as pasta. I’ve tried it on halibut before, and it was excellent. It’s even good cold. I’m not a wine expert, but it goes perfectly with Rhône style wines like they make in Provence. But it’s plenty tasty with a chardonnay or cold beer, too. It keeps in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and then you can freeze it and have some in mid-winter to alleviate symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

If the ingredients are beautiful, simple, and delicious, the finished product will be, too.

Since this recipe is one of my best attempts at French cooking, we might as well call it by its French name, non?

Coulis de Tomates d’été

  • In a very large skillet or Dutch oven, heat 5 tbs. extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Cook 3/4 cup diced onion (about 1/2 tp 3/4 of a large onion) and 5 large garlic cloves (finely chopped) for about 5 minutes. Don’t let the garlic burn.
  • Stir in 5 lbs. unpeeled, chopped tomatoes (I buy the ones on the vine and sometimes mix in a few dark-colored heirlooms if they have them), 1 tsp. sugar, 1 tsp. salt, some ground black pepper, and 1 cup fresh basil leaves (I cut the basil with kitchen scissors but not too finely). Cook over high heat for 30 mins. and stir occasionally.
  • Depending on how juicy the tomatoes are, the sauce will be very thick to soupy. If it’s too thin, simple simmer a while longer. You can add another tsp. or so of olive oil if it’s too thick. If it needs more sugar or salt, add a bit, but it probably won’t.

Tastes like summer. In France.

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Basket Case

My first trip to the farmer’s market this spring was, ahem, somewhat fruitless. I bought a few Roma tomatoes and saw (but skipped) some sad-looking bok choy, but it’s generally still too early for local fruits and vegetables in the Rockies. So, this time of year, our farmer’s market is more like a gourmet food and crafts festival, which is still pretty fun. Everything is basically local, even if it’s not necessarily fresh. For my Colorado-based readers, here’s a sampling of what you can get at the farmer’s market this week—and I assume you have some version of this stuff at any similar venue across the country—so it’s definitely worth checking out and supporting whatever local producers do show up this time of year.

Here’s what’s in the bag:

  • The aforementioned organic Roma tomatoes.
  • One jar of Grandma Rose’s Gourmet Caponata. Delicious and vegetarian, it’s more of a relish than a sauce. I don’t know if Grandma Rose jars it herself, but there is a picture of her on the label and she looks a little worn out.
  • One package Chicken & Spinach Bratwurst from Bavarian Sausage Express. They are fully cooked (frozen) and contain no nitrates or other fillers. If you order enough, Herbert might even bring the sausages to your house; we had them for a party once and he showed up in his lederhosen with a cooler of brats.
  • One hunk of Fresh Semi Soft Lemon Pepper Garlic goat cheese from Mini Moos, a goat dairy in Cañon City. Crumbly, tangy, and excellent in salads.
  • Duck breast prosciuttinni and French dry (sec) salami from Il Mondo Vecchio — handmade, artisanal, and crazy-good cured meats that aren’t full of nitrates.
  • A bag of roasted Hatch green chiles, which are not really local since they come from New Mexico—but man, they turn scrambled eggs into heaven on a plate and fall into the category of “worth it” in terms of a few extra food miles.
  • One baguette, which my kids gnawed on all the way home. I love French bread and especially like the way baguettes look sticking out of the market basket, et vous?

So, worth a morning, no? I love the idea of an al fresco antipasto-style supper, and think I now have a good start on the ingredients for it. Although the wind here might blow away my salami…

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