Scenes from the farmers market

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but I hadn’t been to the local farmers market, The Capitol Market, all season long.

It’s just that I have had lots of veggies come my way from my father-in-law’s garden, and I sometimes order from the Monroe Farm Market, which delivers to Charleston.

I think late summer and early fall are the absolute best times to visit the Capitol Market, though. The market is absolutely bursting with vegetables from the peak of the season, plants, flowers and farm products. I stopped by on my way home from work to check the selection and price a few things I plan on getting in the next few weeks–winter squash for storing, a box of apples to make into apple sauce and can, and some plants.

I found a true feast for the eyes. Beautiful late day light, so many colors and textures, and some really great people to talk to.

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Garlic from one of my favorite producers. I’ve never bought their garlic before, but they have fabulous hydroponic tomatoes that are available before any other fresh tomatoes–key when you are longing for that first ripe tomato in May, and the field tomatoes won’t be ready until the end of June.

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The booths were all fully stocked with fall farm products; Indian corn, winter squash and pumpkins. A lot of people seem to buy this stuff to decorate their porches with it. I buy the winter squash and pumpkins to store. Last year, I had a Long Island Cheese squash in my garage until February. They are supposedly some of the best for storing.

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I chuckled because I knew a lot of these varieties. I think it’s because I’m a seed catalog nerd. I pour over those in January and February when the snow is flying. Guatemalan Banana squash, blue hubbard, cushaw, turk’s turban (not in this pic). But there was one I didn’t recognize.

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This big bright orange boy in the middle. It was like the color was fake or something it was so bright. Gorgeous!

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Of course, fall produce and products aren’t the only things left. There were still tons of tomatoes, peppers, beets, zucchini, green beans, eggplants and the like. August and September are prime months for the full summer bounty.

Look at these beautiful October beans! So pretty!

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I walked back to my car through the inside. It’s open year-round. There are so many neat things for sale inside. There are permanent booths selling a variety of things; a meat shop, a seafood supplier, a wine and cheese shop, a local choclatier, and a produce supplier that carries lots of neat dried beans, pastas, olive oils, dried goods and other goodies.

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It’s hard not to be in love with this place. At the end of October, the produce booths outside will clear out to make way for Christmas tree farms to bring in Christmas trees and other evergreen products. Then, the outside booths will be empty until spring flowers are ready about April. I’ll be back next week to pick up a box of apples to can and probably a rosemary plant to put in the ground.

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It’s Greens Season.

One of the many things I love about this time of year is that greens are back. A lot of greens don’t like hot weather, so shorter cooler days mean greens are growing again. Kale is my favorite, but I’ve gotten some interesting varieties from the Monroe Farm Market that I would not have picked up otherwise. A couple years ago, I bought kohlrabi greens from the market, and I didn’t even know people ate them. They turned out fantastic in a stir-fry.

Recently, the market had broccoli greens. Again, I didn’t realize you could eat those, but I love that these farmers are using everything from the plant. Nothing gets wasted. If I was the person growing the broccoli, of course, I’d compost the roots and use the tough stalks in vegetable stock, too.

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I had a big bunch of broccoli greens, and I wasn’t really sure what to do with them. I added about half to some pasta with ricotta cheese , caramelized onions and white wine.

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They have a little bit of the bitter bite like broccoli, but mellowed out some when I wilted them down with the white wine. The ricotta and caramelized onions were a nice sweet note against the broccoli greens’ bite.

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I think I’ll use the other half of the bunch for a stir fry. Bitter is great for Asian flavors. You get that umami thing going.

Now that it’s fall (technically today), you’ll start seeing some of these cool weather veggies. Don’t be afraid to try the broccoli greens. You won’t be sorry!

Slow Cooker Ratatouille

Two super amazing things mashed up are really just one big super awesome amazing thing, right? Yessir!

Take the slow cooker, which is pretty much a must-have no matter if you cook or not. Like, even if you live in the tiniest New York City apartment and can’t even cook a peanut butter sandwich, you MUST have a slow cooker. I don’t use mine as much as I could. As a matter of fact, every time I have it out, I say to myself “I need to make more things in my slow cooker.” It takes like a nanokilowatt or something to run it all day long. And, seriously, you throw some stuff in it and turn it on, and a mere few hours later, it’s hot, ready and smells amazing.

That’s what I did with this ratatouille. Ratatouille is another amazing thing in my book. It’s old-timey French peasant food. Peasants in every culture have had the best kept secrets in the kitchen. It’s probably because they had to be creative and industrious and make every morsel of food count to feed large families on a few scraps. Ratatouille is a stew-ish dish with a ton of veggies and some herbs. That’s pretty much it. It’s amazing how something can be so fabulously simple and delicious. Actually, I find that sometimes the most simple dishes are the sleepers–the one’s that knock your socks off. This is no exception.

So, I did not cook this in the classic manner. And that pains me for a hot second because Joel Robuchon is quoted right there on the wikipedia page saying that the secret to a good ratatouille is to cook the vegetables separately. But only for a hot second, because this ratatouille, while not cooked in the classical manner is delicious AND easy. If you’re looking for the traditional preparation of the dish, you’re on the wrong page. If you’re looking for a hearty vegetable-based stew recipe that makes a ton, is really delicious, and that you could practically make blindfolded, look no further.

One time I was watching The Next Foodnetwork Star, I believe, and one of the contestants said the way she remembered how to make ratatouille is “EZ POT.” Eggplants, zucchini, peppers, onions and tomatoes. That’s apparently the order you add the vegetables, but it’s also great to remember what goes in it. That always has stuck with me. This is definitely an “easy pot” of lunch or dinner. Or both.

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Slow Cooker Ratatouille

  • 3 cups diced eggplant
  • 2 cups sliced zucchini (you can sub yellow squash–I did)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large sweet peppers, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 8 large tomatoes
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of dried oregano
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 tsp dried basil
  • 1 cup dry red wine

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the eggplant and zucchini in a baking dish. Pour about 4 tablespoons of olive oil over them, season with salt and pepper and the oregano. Stir well. Bake about 30 minutes until soft, stirring once in the middle of the baking. Once softened, add the eggplant and zucchini to your slow cooker. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and prepare an ice bath. Core the tomatoes and cut an X in the bottom of each. In batches, drop them into the boiling water and leave for 30 seconds or a minute–until you see the skins crack along the cuts. Remove and put into the ice bath for a few minutes. The skins should slip right off. Add the skinned tomatoes whole to the slow cooker. Add everything else to the slow cooker and stir well. Cook on low for 8 hours. You may need to break up the tomatoes with a spoon once the cooking is done, but they will probably just fall right apart. Makes 6 large servings (or 8 probably normal servings). Serve with warm crusty bread and a little shredded parmesan cheese over the top.

The first time I ever made ratatouille (or even heard of it, really) was when I moved into my first apartment after I finished school. I subscribed to Martha Stewart Living, and a recipe for it was in the first issue I received. The vegetable-appreciator that I am exclaimed “where has this been all my life?!?” Since then, I make it about once or twice a year when I end up with a pile of vegetables I need to get out of the fridge. This time, it was eggplant that had some bad spots in it. I just cut around it, and you’d never know. I’ve been enjoying this for lunch all week. What a great way to end summer!

Duck Eggs!

Last week, the Hubs came home from work with a surprise for me. He was helping a landowner who had chickens and ducks. They got to chatting about fresh eggs, and she gave him six duck eggs to try. We’ve never had duck eggs, and I couldn’t wait to try them.

One was cracked, so I figured it would be best to scramble it. That is what I love about this time of year. Putting fresh veggies in scrambled eggs. I just used what I had in the fridge. I had some poblano peppers, goat cheese, onions, garlic and cilantro. Throw in some potatoes, and you’ve got a pretty fancy hash, if I do say so myself.

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These suckers are huge. I thought the yolks would be more yellow than store-bought chicken eggs, but it depends on what they eat, I think. At least that’s the case with chickens. Chickens that are free range lay eggs with deep yellow yolks because they eat lots of bugs and grubs rather than only feed. I don’t know what these ducks had been eating. The yolks weren’t super rich, but they were double the size of a chicken egg yolk.

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Honestly, I couldn’t tell much difference in taste with chicken eggs. The good thing is that two eggs go a lot farther when it’s duck eggs. This hash is super easy and full of flavor. You can use chicken eggs just like I did with duck eggs.

Poblano and Cheese Breakfast Scramble (serves 2)

  • 1 tb extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 and onion, diced
  • 2 poblano peppers, seeded and diced
  • 3 medium potatoes, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 large (chicken) eggs
  • pinch of baking powder
  • 2 tb whole milk
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (I changed my mind once I started cooking)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • sour cream and cilantro for serving

In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot. Add potatoes, season with salt and pepper, and stir well. Turn heat to medium and put a tight fitting lid on the skillet. Check every few minutes to make sure they aren’t sticking, and stir. When the potatoes are tender and have a bit of brown crust on them (about 10 minutes), add the onion and pepper. You might have to add a little more oil. Stir well, and cook for a few minutes until the onion and peppers begin to soften. Add the garlic and cumin. Crack the eggs into a small bowl and whisk a few times to break the yolks. Add the baking powder and whisk vigorously until it’s completely incorporated. Add the milk and whisk to mix thoroughly. Add the eggs to the potato mixture. Wait a few seconds, then move the potato mixture around with a spatula. You’ll have to keep turning it over and over to get it browned and done. When it looks like the eggs are set, add the cheese and stir well. Serve hot with a scoop of sour cream and chopped cilantro.

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This is so yummy. It’s just the right amount of heat and bite from the peppers–not too overpowering. The eggs and cheese make it rich, and the potatoes have a bit of crunchy bits on some of them. If you’re not a fan of sweet stuff for breakfast, this is right in your wheelhouse. And actually, I wouldn’t have even realized I was eating duck eggs if I didn’t know.

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You could use what ever veggies you have on hand to make this. It would be great with sweet peppers, tomatoes, even throw in some spinach if you have some. I might even go as far as kale. Hmm, I might need to try that with the goat cheese next weekend. I have four more duck eggs after all.

I Did a Diet Detox

I did a diet detox last week. It was awful and great at the same time. I wonder if that is what everyone says?

I had a crazy August. I was home something like three nights out of 18 days. I missed my bed. And I ate out just about every meal for almost three weeks. Even the days I was home, there was hardly any food at my house, and I didn’t want to go to the store and then leave home again for a few days. When I was eating out, it wasn’t healthy stuff. It was greasy and caloric and wonderful. And there was lots of boozing.

So, by the time last week rolled around, I knew I had to do something, I felt icky.

While I was travelling, I ran across a story in Prevention Magazine about a diet detox. It actually was kinda funny because it was called “Could your relationship survive a diet detox?” I guess the couple was pretty much at each others’ throats. No sugar, alcohol, caffeine, refined grains or dairy. Wow. It was just the kind of challenge that I like to do.

Of course, giving up sugar, caffeine and alcohol for a detox is a no brainer. Sugar is seriously toxic. And in my own personal observation, it messes with your brain. Last year, when I read Salt, Sugar Fat, It was an eye opener. It’s okay to treat yourself occasionally, but if you want to do a detox, sugar is something you definitely have to get rid of to get your body back on the right track. Caffeine has both positive and negative effects, but too much is definitely not a good thing. Just like with alcohol, a very small amount can affect your sleep. And, alcohol is basically empty calories. I’ve tried to give up dairy before for short periods of time. It makes your body produce mucus, and I was trying to get some allergy relief when I gave it up before. Dairy and grains are also difficult for our bodies to digest

So, off I went last week. I had my dinner menus planned. Fish or chicken each night and lots of vegetables. Salads for lunch. Non-dairy smoothies for breakfast. I was ready. On Tuesday morning, I felt fine until about 10 a.m. Then, the lack of caffeine kicked in, and it only got worse. I had to take a 15 minute power nap at lunch just to get through the day. And when I came home from work, I napped again. I. Couldn’t. Function. I wasn’t really cranky, and I only had a very mild headache (nothing like the migraine I expected), but I was so sleepy, I could have laid down and slept at any point after mid-morning. Of course, I had just come off a weekend trip to Atlanta, so I wondered how much was the caffeine withdrawal, and how much was just the weekend finally catching up to me. The migraine finally did set in about 8:30 p.m., and I just went to bed.

Wednesday was just like Tuesday, except I had to travel for work. I could have gone back to sleep at any point after mid-morning. And I fell asleep again (accidentally) in the car while I was carpooling with others. How embarrassing. Another nap when I got home from work. It was starting to become clear how I get through my days. But on Wednesday, no headache, so that was an improvement.

Overall, I mostly felt like crap for the first two days. But it was because I was just so sleepy. It wasn’t until Friday morning, when I woke up, that I actually felt amazing. The couple in the Prevention magazine story did their cleanse for four weeks, and I almost wished I would have gone a little longer since I only started to feel the positive effects of the detox on the last day. I woke up without any sniffles and stuffiness, and everyone else I know was miserable on Friday. So, I think it was the no dairy for four days that really helped. Before, when I have cut out dairy, I haven’t noticed much difference. But this time I really did.

Not having any alcohol was also helping my sleep, too. The older I get, the more I get what I call the “Bud Light Big Eye” where you are wide awake three hours after you go to bed after you have only a little bit, like two glasses of wine. It’s the worst. Well. Maybe not as bad as actually being hung over, but at least when you drink that much, you sleep all night long.

I will say, by the afternoon on Friday, I was fantasizing about how delicious that coffee would be first thing Saturday morning.

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It was just as amazing as I imagined.

Now that I’m done, what’s the takeaway? Detoxing isn’t for everyone. I asked myself a few times why I was doing this. Mostly, I just wanted to prove to myself that I could, I think. It gets easier the longer you go. And it’s a good way to cut back on everything that makes you feel a little off when you go back to normal. I still haven’t had any sweets. I am eating cheese like a fool and taking allergy pills, though.

PROJECT RECIPE: Thug Kitchen Summer Rolls

You guys know how much I love the Thug Kitchen website. I’ve gushed about it on here before. The recipes are easy, tasty and mostly vegetarian. And they seem so fancy.

I love spring rolls, so a while back, when I saw the recipe for summer rolls, I was on board.

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PROJECT RECIPE verdict: Keeper. These were a little daunting since I’ve never worked with rice papers before. It took me a couple rolls to get the hang of it, but once I did, it was easy. Rice paper wrappers are surprisingly durable. They didn’t rip easily like I thought they would. You can even tug and stretch them a bit.

These were delicious! I reserved some of the peanut marinade for dipping sauce, which was key. Otherwise, I think they would have been missing something. Besides, when you order these at a Vietnamese place, they always give you peanut dipping sauce. The recipe says to just use whatever vegetables you have, and I used swiss chard, sweet peppers, carrots and cilantro.

How I changed the recipe: I didn’t have tempeh, but I did have tofu. So, I switched that in. No problema.

Seriously, if you are afraid of making spring rolls, I can tell you it’s no sweat. Since the package of spring roll wrappers has like a hundred in it, I’ll definitely be making these again very soon. They’re the perfect way to use up some veggies from the garden when you are getting tired of all your usual ways of making them.

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Oh, by the way, Thug Kitchen has published a cookbook, which will be released this fall. You can preorder it on Amazon, and you should check on it. I did.

The legal jargon: I did not receive any cold hard cash, swag, or anything else from Thug Kitchen for this post. I just think they’re pretty freakin’ awesome.

 

The Chipotle Cultivate Food Fest

When I was in Minneapolis a couple weeks back, I wanted to visit a park near my hotel in the morning before my flight back home. Imagine my elation when I got to the park and saw that it was hosting a free food festival sponsored by Chipotle.

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Chipotle Cultivate was going on in Loring Park, featuring chef demos, live music, and of course, amazing food. Cultivate celebrates a better food system, with sustainably-raised fresh food, talented chefs who embrace the philosophy, and some great local artisans and vendors. All set to a fantastic live soundtrack.

In the last few years, Chipotle has been ahead of the fast food game, proving that you can have fresh and healthy affordable fast food relying mostly on small local producers. You might recall that they made waves with their short cartoon about our industrialized food system. Their policies on factory-farmed meat and organic produce have won them a place in my heart. Plus, the food is pretty freakin’ good. Cultivate is an extension of that concept.

The festival was free and open to the public. As you walked through the gates, a tent was set up for local artisans. I sampled some locally-made feta cheese that was to-die-for, and some locally produced flavored honey. I’ve never even heard of anything like the chili honey I tried, but it was sweet and hot, rich honey spiked with red pepper. It would be amazing as a glaze for ribs or grilled chicken (or any meat, really).

Because I had a very small window of time to spend in the festival, I hit all the Chipotle Experience exhibits first. There were five interactive educational exhibits set up throughout the festival, and if you participated in four, you got a coupon for a free burrito, tacos, or burrito bowl. The exhibits were: processed food vs fresh food, factory farming, a fresh guacamole demo, GMOs, and a short film. I follow many of these issues closely anyway, so the information was not new to me, but I was curious how it was received by the other attendees. Those around me seemed to be very engaged and genuinely interested (maybe more interested in a free burrito, but nonetheless interested). The fresh guacamole exhibit was awesome, as Chipotle employees took the participants step-by-step through their recipe. I don’t know if people realize how amazingly simple fresh guacamole is to make, and how much better it tastes that pre-made from the grocery store. The proof was in the pudding–er, guac, since we got a free sample at the end.

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A blurry action shot of the fresh guacamole demo

After I collected my coupon for a free burrito, I headed over to the chef tent, because the first demo was starting. Incidentally, the first chef up was, Jack Riebel, the chef from The Butcher and the Boar, which I had eaten at the night before. For a chef who’s menu is so meat-centric, I was delighted that he chose a summer squash rollatini stuffed with herbed fromage blanc. That sounds really fancy, but it was simply a thinly sliced yellow squash or zucchini rolled up and stuffed with a little raw milk cheese spiked with shallots and fresh herbs. It sounded so easy as he went through the demo, but his finished plate was the difference why he is a James Beard finalist and I am not. He tore apart some fresh basil, sprinkled it over the dish and drizzled it with some gorgeous pale green olive oil. It looked so elegant and fancy.

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Unfortunately, I couldn’t stay long. Later in the day, Amanda Frietag was doing a chef demo, followed by Minneapolis’s resident celebrity chef, Andrew Zimmern. I would have loved to have seen those.

At any rate, it was such a happy accident that I stumbled on this, but it was an hour well-spent. I love Chipotle’s philosophy on food, and it was so nice to see them engaged in the community by featuring local chefs and artisans, and then inviting the public to celebrate with them.

*The fine print: I didn’t receive any consideration from Chipotle for my glowing endorsement of their food or Cultivate. I just really like their food and what they stand for.