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As Seen at the Market: Pasta with Kale and Butternut Squash

 

Several weeks ago I was speaking to Keren Kurti-Alexander, the Manager at the Cityseed (link) Farmers market about our demos for the summer. I had all kinds of yummy surprises involving fun fruits and vegetables like blueberries, strawberries, and corn. But it was late May and the crops have been slow for his year, and she asked me the question I’ve been dreading ever since I started: “Could you do something with kale?”

 Picture of kale

Panicking, I punted and promised that I definitely would sometime during the season. I could push it off until late fall since it is such a hearty vegetable that always seems to be available and just hope that inspiration struck at some point in the interim. And of course Keren being a nice person said okay, I could do the fun stir fry and make great strawberry breakfast smoothies I was planning instead. But I could tell that in her heart of hearts she was hoping for some kale. I realized that it really was time to get over my kale fear. I’ve been cooking for longer than I can remember… surely I could find a way of making a dish that wasn’t bitter and didn’t look like putrid green slime.

 

Squash:  They're so cute, aren't they?

 

It happened that we had just made some vibrant roasted butternut squash with a bit of butter and sea salt, which made Gabrielle remember that her friend Mia had raved about a pasta she’d had with kale and butternut squash at a restaurant in New York. From there, everything else fell together – I could tell that the colors, textures and flavors of these ingredients would compliment each other perfectly, and I could already see that with a little inspiration and improvisation, we could create something really memorable. The recipe that follows is probably one of the healthiest, tastiest and certainly one of the most colorful pastas ever. Here are the steps:

 

First peel the squash, admittedly one of my least favorite jobs. The skin is tough on this curvaceous vegetable and it is difficult to peel. If you’re wise you’ll get somebody else to do it.

 

Peeling Squash: Seriously, avoid this if you can ;)

Be sure to get all the stringy stuff out of the middle (we use a tomato de-seeder to scrape out the seeds and pulp, but a ice cream scoop, a spoon or your fingers will work just fine)

 

Scooping out the squash

 

Some very silly textbooks would tell you to trim the squash so you have perfect squares and discard the rest.

 

I suppose it's wrong that we've stooped to eating squash that isn't perfectly square.... the horror ;)

 

But seriously, look at the waste. Just cut it up to be as square and uniform as you can and distribute the squash over two parchment lined cookie sheets. It may not be culinarily correct, but we’ll deal I think.

 

And can you even believe that these aren't perfect cubes?

 

Melt some butter, sprinkle some sea salt and pepper and roast the vegetables for about 30 minutes.

 

 salt and pepper squash!

 

Here is the finished product. (The recipe, by the way, calls for three squashes, about twice the amount you will actually need, but trust me you will want left over squash, the smell is so heavenly and it makes such a wonderful side dish to any meal.)

 

Seriously, squash is so yummy i feel like you could eat this instead of squash

 

In the meantime prepare the kale. Make sure you buy kale that is deep green and fresh. Don’t wait until it gets like this.

 

isn't it hauntingly beautiful?

 

Tear the leaves from the tough spine.

 

I feel like you could put this in a horror movie

 

Chop into bit size pieces, and set aside.

 

whatever you say about it, it is super cute and curly though

 

You will need two cups of chopped onions and/or scallions of any sort. We had plenty of spring onions left over from a cooking demo at Wooster Square from Sun One Farms in Bethlehem, so that’s what we used.

 

artsy!

 

Sautee the onion mixture until soft and glassy, about five minutes and add some garlic.

 

 

Add the kale and cook only until it is soft but still bright green. Add two cups of cherry tomatoes and continue cooking for about a minute, or until the tomatoes just begin to soften and are slightly warm but not mushy.

 

this stuff is not good yet, but we're going to fix it

 

In the meantime, boil a pound of dried fusilli or another favorite medium sized pasta, and cook according to instructions. Drain and add an 8 ounce container of mascarpone cheese. Stir well.

 

calories make everything taste good

 

Add the kale mixture to the pasta, and then the squash with the parmesan cheese.

 

omnomnomnomnom

 

Mix well and Serve. This dish is so hearty, it doesn’t really need any bread.

 

we did it! and so can you!

 

Click here to see the recipe on Food52.com. Enjoy!

Strawberry Flats Forever

One of the challenging things about cooking for large crowds is learning to order the right amount of food to feed, say, 300 people, a talent you’d certainly learn quickly in any restaurant kitchen or you’d go out of business.

 

There used to be a lot more where these came from... but my daughters ate them all.

 

But since my joy in life comes from teaching others to cook and I don’t own a restaurant (although I think about opening one all the time), I haven’t quite gotten that skill down. Even if I had it down, it’s really unlikely I would manage to order just the right amount. It’s in my genes to make too much food. It’s the Mediterranean in me – watch My Big Fat Greek Wedding and you’ll understand my views on feeding a crowd. The Romanians on my father’s side were just the same: there was never such thing as too much. If anyone left a family gathering growing up without being totally stuffed, that meant the mothers, aunts and grandmothers in the kitchen didn’t do their job. I’m the same way.

 

Try this at home.

 

So as per usual when I was planning for a cooking demonstration at New Haven’s Wooster Square Market last week, our hands-down favorite open air farmer’s market in our area, I ordered way too many organic strawberries to accompany the amazing vanilla-almond custard Gabrielle adeptly made before the crowd.

 

Strawberries in water - our accidental art piece. People tried very hard to steal these.

 

When the day was over, we had a flat and a half of extra just-picked, perfectly ripe, sweet, bright-red, wonderfully imperfect organic strawberries. Mark brought the girls down to the market to make an emergency extension cord run (long story) and stayed until we were done with our demo. And when I wondered out loud what we should with so many strawberries that wouldn’t last for days the way supermarket strawberries do, my husband just said two wonderful words: Strawberry Margaritas.

 

Perfect.  Mark never uses many words, but what he says always matters. And that was certainly true on Saturday.

 

I always tell the girls – and they’ve heard it so many times growing up it’s practically in their DNA – that most things in life worth experiencing – having children, a great career, friendships – require hard work and dedication. But on rare occasion that isn’t really true. Sometimes miniscule effort can bring pure joy in a ridiculously short period of time. Strawberry margaritas are like that. And the amazing thing is that you don’t have to buy Tezon Añejo to get that joy, unless of course you want to be beyond overjoyed in which case, go ahead, buy the top shelf stuff. But for us it was a warm lazy Saturday afternoon and I didn’t feel like buying great tequila, so I used what we had in the house, which was entry-level.

 

Jose Cuervo... cheap, but seriously sufficient.

 

I’ll give you the specific recipe, but it is really better to remember the simple ratio for margaritas. You’ll want to be able to do this at the drop of a hat. Think thirds: one third a cup each of tequila, triple sec, and lime juice* in the blender. It’s that simple.

 

 

This is almost everything that goes into them.

 

Add a tablespoon or two of sugar if you have a really sweet tooth (otherwise leave it out) and ½ cup of ice if you want them to be slightly less strong… so you don’t get too too lazy afterwards.

 

Just seconds away...

 

Blend well and add a cup or so of ice, and voila! the perfect, simple margarita.

 

So pretty... and it tastes so much better.

 

So sit back and relax. Enjoy the fruits of your minor labor the way Mark did on Father’s day as he sipped perfection in a glass. Cheers!

 

Colander of Strawberries

 

 

*It’s summer, a time to relax, so I won’t tell you why fresh lime juice is better. I’m sure you know. But if your choice in margarita-making is between the horrible mix that comes in a eerie green jug, or making fresh margaritas following this recipe using lime juice from a bottle instead of fresh-squeezed, we’ll look the other way because these margaritas will still be so much better than using ready-made brew and really not much more effort.  Don’t worry, we do it too.

 

Strawberry Margaritas

1/3 cup triple sec
1/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup lime juice
1 ½ cups fresh, preferably fresh picked organic strawberries
½ cup ice (optional)

Place all ingredients in a blender and mix on high for 30 seconds, or until thoroughly blended. Serve straight or on the rocks, depending on whether you added ice to the blender.  Feel free to double or triple the recipe depending on your thirst and size of the crowd!

Back to Basics, with Bénédict Beaugé

The culinary world is quite confused right now. Between the organic locavore movement and the liquid nitrogen movement, it’s hard to say where food is going. Who are the true innovators? That’s a question I’d been trying to answer for weeks, especially as more and more famous chefs combine the two. But, last Friday afternoon, by sheer, last minute luck, my friend Theresa barged into my room and informed me, “There’s a French man giving a speech on food at the Maison Française at four.” And that, somewhat indirectly, is how I found the answer.

The French man in question was renowned French food author Benedict Beaugé, who was on his way to speak at the James Beard Foundation (fancy, I know).  M. Beaugé has the thickest, most wonderful, most perfectly French accent I have ever heard. But while he might sound a bit, dare I say, like Inspector Jacques Clouseau, he actually has all the simple, sensible answers we need.

To understand innovation today we need to have a little history lesson. You see, the innovations today are directly connected to innovations of the past. And unsurprisingly, they all originated in France. This all began in 1651, with the publication of what Beaugé calls “the first book of French modern cuisine.” Le Cuisinier François was written by Pierre François La Varenne, as a way of departing from the “spectacular” cuisine of the Middle Ages. “People are not so fond of spices now and they try to find the real taste of the produce,” explains Beaugé of the Renaissance attitude. Food became fresher and tastier ­– they didn’t have to do weird things to it to make it taste edible – and so La Varenne called for chefs to highlight le goût naturel – the natural taste of the ingredients they used. Three years later, Nicolas de Bonnefons wrote Les Délices de la Campagne, a book with the same principle, meant not for the aristocracy but the bourgeoisie. “If it is cabbage soup, it must taste cabbage, when you have turnip soup, it must taste turnip, and that’s something really new,” says Beaugé. This is where the true innovation in cooking was then, and, at least as a starting point, where it is today.

While Molecular gastronomy has a place in the kitchen, it is destined to become another technique chefs use to express natural flavor. Molecular gastronomy itself is not particularly innovative. In fact, it’s really just backtracking. “it is quite similar with the cuisine of the Middle Ages or of antiquity, of the Romans, or something like that,” Beaugé says. “Really it’s much more the appearance which is important than the taste.”  “I don’t think molecular gastronomy is the future of cuisine,” he continues, “it’s something which will be integrated with cuisine in a general way, as every new technique is integrated into cuisine – those of 18th century, those of 19th century. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s going to cook with nitrogen.”

His message is helpful and optimistic. Chefs like René Redzepi and Ferran Adrià will be the most inventive, expressing goût naturel through molecular tools, but to a degree we all have an opportunity to be innovators here. With the rise of farmers markets, and the near constant availability of fresh produce, we can all highlight our weekly finds when we cook. I’ve included these pictures from the local farmers market as inspiration. These are the flavors we want to preserve. If we want to be innovative we are so lucky, because even as home chefs we have everything we need.

 

To Market To Market

As I started thinking about Cityseed’s fabulous farmer’s market in New Haven’s Wooster Square and as I looked through the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken in recent weeks, I was struck not only by the vibrant colors, the luscious fruits and vegetables, but the remarkably diverse and colorful people who come to this special place Saturday mornings.

We’ve met so many wonderful people at our booth who genuinely care about food and are meticulous about the quality of ingredients they use in their everyday lives. My hats off to them. For those of us who live in or near New Haven, we owe a lot to market manager Rachel Berg, and her tireless staff for running this market so perfectly week after week and making these local and organic foods accessible.

I will be posting a photo essay on the market seasonally since it is such an integral part any foodie’s life; here are some moments of this past glorious summer and just a hint of autumn.

One of the things I just love about the market is that it is one-stop-shopping; you can and should pick your menus for the week based on what the local Connecticut farmers are harvesting that week.

I fell in love with beets this summer since they were so plentiful and were offered in so many colors; orange, white and of course that beautiful dark purple that turns a gorgeous pinkish lavender color when pureed with a bit of cream. We ate them in chilled borschts, we caramelized them for salads with avocado and goat cheese, and sometimes we just ate them roasted with a just a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse pepper.

There is also no better place to buy so many other herbs, vegetables and fruits as well.

Or ingredients for a refreshing salad of arugula, lettuce, tomatoes and red onions.

You can also pick up gorgeous wild flowers, sunflowers and the most spectacular dahlias to decorate your table with too. And while you’re at it, don’t forget to pick up some of the finest baked goods in Connecticut at the Sono Bakery.

One of the reasons to go to the market, of course, is the people watching. It’s some of the best in New Haven.  The shopkeepers and the customers have a lot of pizzaz and personality.

People find many ways of transporting their goods home too; most, of course, are environmentally friendly; You see re-usable bags  and wheels of every kind.

Of course, pampered pets enjoy the morning at the market too. And why not?

I hope I’ve whet your appetite to visit the market, or one nearest your home. But I’m warning you; they’re addictive. Supermarket produce will never look the same again.

If you live nearby and plan to visit the Wooster market, please be sure to come by and say “Hi” to us next time you’re there. We’d love to see you. If you live far away, find your local market and get to know your local growers. They are wonderful people who care about the land and the food we eat.

For now, enjoy these last pictures of autumn’s beginning; I love all things apples and pumpkins, and I promise to have some recipes for you in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, get out there and pick some apples or pumpkins. It’s good for you.

I’m going back into the test kitchen right now so I can come up with some great pumpkin recipes. I’ll be back soon!

Check In

I did it! I finally arrived at college last Monday, I managed to set up my bedding on the top bunk, I connected to campus WiFi and, most importantly, I found a group of friends who are willing to make bruschetta with me tomorrow afternoon. In 18 years I have never once felt this proud of my accomplishments.

So even though I haven’t had much time to explore New York yet, I thought I’d just give a quick update on life in the big city! It’s scary how many opportunities there are to eat here. There’s a Pinkberry within walking distance of my dorm and a farmers’ market across the street from me (with 10 varieties of eggplant!). My room is also conveniently placed across from the community kitchenette, so I’m going to keep cooking. And the good news for you is that my new kitchen is equipped with nothing more than 4 electric burners (2 of which function) and a microwave. So if I can make something here, you can certainly make it at home. I also have many new friends who are kosher and/or vegetarian, so you’ll reap the benefits of my new culinary challenges.

What I can tell you after a week is that Tom’s Diner (the Seinfeld Diner) makes much better milkshakes and pancakes than one would expect from a tourist trap (Order the Broadway Shake. It’s made with chocolate and coffee ice cream, and it’s not on the menu. And if you were wondering, they will serve it at breakfast. Not that I would know…), and I can also tell you that little green plums are not quite as good as little purple plums, but that skinny cucumbers are much better than regular cucumbers, and that okra comes in red, and that fairytale eggplant is  adorable.

My new camera has yet to arrive, so the pictures will get better and more frequent. For now enjoy a few snapshots of the week, featuring the local farmer’s market and Yoko Ono’s Wishing Tree at the Museum of Modern Art. I can’t wait to start sharing restaurants and recipes!

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