Friday, May 29, 2009

Farmers' Market Finds - May 29th

Today is my daughter's 18 month birthday and we didn't get off to a good start. It was rainy and dreary outside, but baby girl was itching to go around 8am. Of course, she wanted to walk rather than ride in her stroller, which might have been a possibility except that it was pouring outside. I was also bummed thinking the market might be rained out and all the tasty things I wanted to find wouldn't be there. Thankfully, just as I had wrangled baby girl into the stroller and pulled the rain cover over her, the rain stopped and we made our merry way to the market where, as it turns out, the rain hadn't prevented my darling farmers from setting up their stands.

This time of year is the best in my opinion because winter is truly behind us - a cold day means 60 not 30 degrees - and every week at the market is a new discovery. This week, the herbs were out in full force, all flowery and green. Baby girl immediately grabbed a bunch of chives, she flashed our friends from Bradley Farm the cutest smile and scored us a free bunch. I also picked up some thyme and sage (pictured above) and I had to pin my own arms behind my back to avoid getting bunches of mint and peppermint and basil and on and on.

Also at the market were asparagus, strawberries, baby bok choy, hot house tomatoes, spinach and loads of lettuce. As you may have gathered from last week's post, I'm obsessed with my new salmon recipe. I have some creme fraiche in the fridge so there's tonight's meal, but what am I going to do with the big beautiful bunches of thyme and sage? Any suggestions?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

I Got Nothin'

I usually post recipes today, but I just returned to NYC after a weekend of travel with my mom. The pickins were slim in the country as far as food and antiques go so I was uninspired and found nothing to feature. Tonight, I'm cooking a tasty meal for baby girl and my husband so stay tuned tomorrow for the the results... I'm thinking lamb and goat cheese inspired by a restaurant my parents and I use to frequent in Philly!

In the meantime, I came across this great article in the LA Times food section. It's by Russ Parsons, author of How to Read a French Fry and How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor From Farm to Table. Anyhoo, check out this article on how to cook with all the amazing produce that's just starting the flood the market. A demain!

Friday, May 22, 2009

Farmers' Market Finds - May 22nd

Today, I am training it down to the place I was born and raised: Old Town, Alexandria outside of DC. Tomorrow, my mother and I will drive out to a country auction in Western PA. Here's hoping we find some tasty food along the way as well as some fun antiques to add to my mother's staggering collection. My husband, saint that he is, is taking baby girl to see her other grandmother in Connecticut for the weekend. I can't wait to be child-free for a few days even though I know I'll be thinking of her nonstop. Uh, yeah right.

Since I am traveling today, baby girl and I had to improvise and visit the Columbia University market yesterday. I wasn't expecting much so I was truly ecstatic when, at the first stand we visited, rows and rows of the season's first strawberries greeted us. Upon seeing baby girl's hand reach out and grab for a container, the farmer smiled and gave her a berry. While she usually prefers blueberries, upon tasting the sweet sweet goodness of strawberries that are red on the inside too, she screamed 'mah!' He wasn't about to give away any more freebies so Lily and I hoofed down to the ATM and back just to get her Mah! Later that morning, on the way to the playground, she surprised the heck out of me by reaching her little hand out of the carriage and actually saying, 'strawberry.' Hmmm, maybe fresh, local food is good for the vocabulary too.

Also at the market yesterday was plenty of asparagus, spinach and rhubarb for those of you who are adventurous enough to figure out what to do with it. While I love a good rhubarb crumble, I haven't yet ventured forth into the realm of actually cooking with it. Here's to my first CSA package having a big batch of the red stuff so I can tackle my good friend's crumble recipe. Stay tuned!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Formerly Know As...

Hi to everyone who use to read Alice Waters: Abridged! This is the same blog, but by a different name. I hope it smells as sweet. Thank you for reading!

I posted an explanation on AWA, but in a nutshell this blog is about more than just Alice Waters. While I love and adore the amazing things she's done for the slowfood movement - ie. CREATING IT! - I don't want to feel like I have to mention her every week or that my title and my writing aren't speaking to each other. So, I hope you enjoy Almost Slowfood...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two Faces of Creme Fraiche

I consider myself an adventurous cook, but, for some reason, my escapades never lead me to creme fraiche... Until this week when I came across Molly Wizenberg's column in the June issue of Bon Appetit where she describes a very simple way to roast salmon by slathering it with creme fraiche and then popping it in the oven for a few minutes. (Sidecar - I discovered Molly's blog, Orangette, a few months ago, became thoroughly hooked and then devoured her recent book, A Homemade Life. Not only are her recipes easy to follow and delicious, but she's nearly as crazy as I am about banana bread. OK, back to the story.)

I thought the whole creme fraiche approach sounded a little strange until I remembered back to an impromtu dinner party at our good friends' apartment almost 10 years ago - yikes! I can't believe there's 10 years of my adult life to consider. My friends covered salmon in mayonnaise and then baked it. Not only was the salmon moist, but it had just the teensiest hint of tang. Molly promised that tang as well so I added some of the fresh chives I professed my love for on Friday and a squeeze of lemon to the mix and, um, it was delicious. It was so good that after we finished dinner and my husband and daughter had left the kitchen, I turned back to the baking dish like a kid to brownie batter and started gobbling up the leftover creme fraiche and chive sauce, salmon bits and all. I couldn't stop myself so I decided I better nix the roast chicken for Sunday night and make a baked chicken with, you guessed it, creme fraiche and chives. Get a load of Molly's recipe with a couple tweaks and my new and seriously addictive baked chicken recipe. Enjoy!

Roast Salmon with Creme Fraiche and Chives
(Adapted from Molly Wizenberg's Roasted Salmon with Creme Fraiche from Bon Appetit)

Preheat the oven to 425 and line a cookie sheet or roasting pan with foil. Wash and pat dry two quarter pound fillets of wild salmon (or more depending how many you're cooking for, but plan on a quarter pound of fish per person) and place them in the pan skin side down. Sprinkle the fillets with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a separate bowl, mix together a small container of creme fraiche, a big handful of fresh chopped scallions and generous squeeze of lemon. With a spatula slather the salmon with about a quarter of the creme fraiche mixture (you'll have plenty left over to make the chicken recipe below) and pop it in the oven for 12-15 minutes. You'll know it's done when the salmon is firm yet slightly springy to the touch.

To accompany the salmon, I decided to stay on track with chives. I steamed some red skinned potatoes, drained them and popped them right back in the pot with a big pat of butter, salt, pepper and a healthy handful of chopped chives. I put the lid back on and shook it all about until the butter was melted and the potatoes and chives had a buttery smashed look to them. This is a delicious way to eat potatoes with any kind of fresh herb.

Last but not least, I sprinkled some lovely baby lettuces with a dressing of equal parts lemon and olive oil, mixed it up and then topped the greens with lovely lilac chive flowers. Look how beautiful these flowers are.

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $28.00
• W/o Wine - $13.00 at $4.30 for each of us
• Leftovers – Nada! Baby girl ate so much salmon, next time I'm getting her her own piece.

Chicken with Creme Fraiche, Chives, Asparagus & Mushrooms
Inspired by Wizenberg's salmon, I invented this symphony of all things Spring with the leftover cream fraiche and chive mixture. Honestly, I can't tell you which recipe I prefer. They both turned out so dang good.

Preheat the oven to 400. Buy a chicken that's been cut into pieces or, if you have the stomach, butcher it down to its breasts, thighs and legs. Keep a freezer bag on hand so you can freeze the backbone and wings for making stock another time. Set the chicken aside and place a large frying pan over a medium high heat. Add a splash of olive oil to the pan and add a chopped medium onion. Then clean a bunch of asparagus, snap off their woody ends and cut the stems into 2 inch long pieces. Add them to the pan and stir around. Finally, clean about a pound of baby portobello mushrooms (I wash them with water, so uncheflike), break off their stumps and chop up the caps. Add them to the asparagus onion mixture. Cook until the veggies have shed their water and are firm edging toward soft - steer clear of mushy. Season with a bit of salt and pepper.

On another burner, place a dutch oven or even a roasting pan (something that can be moved from burner to oven) over a high heat, sprinkle the chicken pieces with salt and pepper and add them to the dutch oven skin side down. Cook until the skin is brown and crispy and the fat has been rendered. Remove the chicken from the pan and pour out most of the chicken fat. Return the chicken to the dutch oven and scatter the cooked vegetables over and around the chicken. Finally, get out that leftover creme fraiche mixture from the day before or make a new batch if you're not having a weekend of obsessive CF gluttony and pour evenly over the chicken and vegetables. Spread it with a spatula and pop the whole thing uncovered into the oven for about 30 minutes or until a thermometer inserted in a breast reads 180 (some people go as low as 165, but I'm an avid devotee of my digital thermometer which says poultry should be 180).

True to my dearly beloved chives, I served the same steamed potatoes and baby lettuces and I even scattered some chive flowers on the chicken for a fresh burst of chivey goodness. Bon Appetit!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $28.00
• W/o Wine - $15.00
• Leftovers – At 6 servings, that’s just $2.50 each!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Why CSAs Rock

So, I am happy to announce that I've just been accepted to the... West Harlem CSA! It was a brutal application process complete with letters of recommendation and a personal essay. Nah, just kidding, but I did nearly miss out entirely. Most devoted CSAers know to sign up in February when fresh fruits and veggies are a mere memory of summers past. Of course, this year, like last year, I only thought, hmm CSA, when asparagus popped up at the market a few weeks ago. I was wait-listed at two others until I found my future Alma CSA at Just Food's website.

What is a CSA, you might ask? It's basically a food coop where members buy a share in a farm's yearly harvest. Windflower farm, my CSA's farm, will be growing fruits and veggies and harvesting pasture-raised eggs this year and I will be getting my equal share. Here's a rundown of why I've joined and maybe you'll be inspired to find one in your neighborhood for this season, or, if you're too late, punch a reminder into your calendar for next year.

Reasons I Joined a CSA:
  1. For fresh, local and usually organic fruits and vegetables grown just for me.
  2. As if you need to hear it again, eating local and organic is good for the environment. When food travels thousands of miles, not only are natural resources being wasted, but added pollution is being pumped into the air all so we can have strawberries in January.
  3. Eating local and organic is good for you. The farther produce travels the fewer nutrients it retains upon reaching your mouth.
  4. Accountability - yeah, that's a big one for me. While you might be buying organic raspberries from Chile, who from the FDA is actually overseeing the farming? Who is protecting our interests as consumers? When you buy from local farms that are a short drive from you, you can go visit and see for yourself where the food is coming from and how it's being raised.
  5. It's cheaper. Huh? Yes it is, by a lot. My weekly produce bill comes in at well over $50 a week if not $70. Provided this year's crop is a good one (and that's always the risk, you do as well as the farmer does), then I won't have to supplement my weekly CSA goody basket with outside produce. I will be spending $40 a week for fruits, veggies and a dozen eggs from June through November which means I'm cutting my shopping bill in half!
I'll still be going to the market every week to see if there's anything I can't live without and to pick up meat, milk, cheese and bread, so keep tuning in on Fridays for my Farmer's Market Finds column. And, starting on Tuesdays, I'll be filling you in on what I'm getting from my CSA and how much. Will one week be nothing but kale? I hope not, but if so, I'll give you the good and the not so good and the how to cook all this stuff anyway every Tuesday.

This is my first experience with a CSA. I've never been a get psyched kinda gal probably because I am still traumatized by my years of forced participation in an all girl's convent school. But I am psyched and I'm excited to enter a world of community support where we will enable our local farmers rather than our corporations. Maybe, come next winter, you'll be signing up for a CSA too.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Farmers' Market Finds - May 15th

'Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to great places! You're off and away!' Currently, my daughter is obsessed with Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss. I read that dang thing cover to cover at least 4 times a day. Some times, once I'm finished, she'll just look up at me and say 'mah!' which means 'more!' in baby language.

This morning, however, had a very Dr. Seussian feel to it: a balmy wind was blowing, the sun was out and then back in the clouds and out again. I had a feeling, as I buckled baby girl into her stroller and set off for the farmers' market, that we were bound to find great things today. And we did. Today was the first day since last fall that the market seemed alive with produce rather than filled with jars of honey and applesauce. While I love preserves of all kinds, I need some fresh veggies in my life.

Along with the asparagus and spinach I've previously written about, baby girl and I found the most beautiful chives with their flowers still attached. Seriously, they're in a vase right now begging for me to keep staring at at them and fantasizing over all the things I'm going to do to them in the kitchen this weekend. We also got some lovely scallions and a pound of just-cut-this-morning baby lettuces. They are so delicate and soft - the more handfuls I took, the more I wanted to keep taking. They felt that good. My farmer friends from Bradley Farm in New Paltz, New York suggested I sprinkle the chive flowers over a nice salad - I think I'll do just that.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Easy, Breezy, Beautiful...

My husband leads the life of a lawyer who works and works and then works some more. Not surprisingly, he rarely makes it home for dinner. I used to go out with friends or order delivery, saving my cooking adventures for the weekend when I'd have someone beside myself to cook for. But everything changed last summer when my daughter started eating solid foods. I became a practical cook rather than just a fun times cook – you know, the girl you marry versus, well...

Due to my harried writing schedule, I’m not around to feed my baby girl dinner or lunch several times a week, but I am still dedicated to providing local, sustainable and unprocessed foods at each and every meal. How do I do it? Our nanny is a gourmet chef. Nope, but she is truly amazing with our daughter. Every Sunday, I cook a big meal with enough leftovers to last us a few days and supplement them with fresh fruits and veggies. By Wednesday evening, I turn to the goodies stored in the freezer like homemade bean and ham soup, pot roast, turkey meatballs and Lebanese Kibbe (don’t worry, I’ll post each and every one of these recipes in the future). Before I know it, it’s Friday when my husband returns home to join us for a nice dinner of something original and fun to cleanse the palate of the week’s leftovers (a word on the much derided left over meal – if you make delicious food, you will have delicious leftovers).

One night, when my daughter was almost nine months old, my husband fed her strained peaches or some such puree while I served up a dish of sauteed spinach and chicken sausage over farro pasta. Once baby girl saw our food was different from hers, she started reaching and screeching for a taste. Well, we hadn’t really moved beyond pureed veggies and fruits, but we indulged her and she loved it. She ended up eating nearly everything on my plate.
With its salty anchovies, savory sausage, sweet raisins and earthy spinach, this dish is killer for adults and apparently for babies too. After that night, I stopped with the homemade specialty purees and, to this day, she eats what we eat.

Spinach with Sauteed Chicken Sausage and Farro Noodles

I originally found this recipe in Body+Soul magazine, but I’ve adapted it so many times, consider what you see as based on the original. It is one of my go-to Sunday meals because it’s so tasty, so simple to make, so easy on the wallet, so healthy and it always yields a few nights of leftovers. To make this dish even tastier, buy some fresh spinach from the farmers’ market – in season right now!

Bring a pot of water to a boil and add two cups of farro pasta. If you can’t find farro, any kind of delicate egg noodle or even pasta shells will work nicely.

For the main event, heat a large pan over medium heat and add a healthy splash of olive oil. Throw in 4-5 pressed garlic cloves and a strong squeeze of anchovy paste (or about 5 anchovy fillets). Mix it together and cook until garlic is translucent. Before the garlic goes all brown and crusty, add a pound of uncooked chicken-apple sausages with the casings removed; break it up, mixing it well with the anchovy-garlic mixture.

When the sausage is cooked through and broken up into smaller chunks, squeeze half a lemon and then toss in about a cup of raisins. Cook for a minute or two until the raisins plump up and add two pounds of spinach. (If you took my advice and bought fresh spinach, wash it well and then trim of the stems. Don’t cut or break up the leaves – just toss them in whole and you will have glorious splashes of vibrant green throughout the entire dish.) Add the spinach in batches and carefully mix it throughout with tongs to help it cook evenly. Once the spinach is cooked down and wilted, but still green, add another squeeze of lemon and turn off the heat.

To serve, strain the noodles and spread on a platter, top them with the spinach and chicken sausage saute. I like to mix it all around and eat it with a spoon; baby girl like to eat the sausage, then the noodles and finally the spinach. My husband? Well he's just normal and eats it properly with a fork off a plate. Enjoy!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• W/Wine - $25.75
• W/o Wine - $13.75
• Leftovers – At 8 servings, that’s a mere $1.72 per meal!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Farmers' Market Finds

Just returned from the 97th street farmers' market and scored some beautiful spinach! While the pickings are still mainly potatoes and onions, spinach season is here on the East coast and what a relief. Over the winter months, much of the spinach I buy, while organic, comes from California. Sadly, it's probably been frozen and sapped of its nutrients. Fresh-picked, local spinach is loaded with vitamins K and A, manganese and folate; it's is one of the world's healthiest foods! Check out more on spinach at The World's Healthiest Foods, one of my favorite resources.

Other delicious gets from today's trip were a raw milk Gouda for grilled cheese and fresh pasture-raised eggs. Oh what a Mother's Day brunch we'll have. Hope all you mom's out there have a fabulous Sunday!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Was Blind, But Now...

Every day last week, every time I opened my fridge, there they were, two and a half pounds of once fresh and beautiful spring asparagus deteriorating before my very eyes. Whether I was reaching for milk or for other, less qualified vegetables, I always threw a guilty glance at the long green stems as they stood up, erect and proud, in the shallow dish of water I had so conscientiously placed them in.

I'd had the best intentions. Really, I had. The Sunday I bought them I was hosting a small dinner party; the menu included spring lamb shoulder, homemade olive tapenade, lentils and asparagus. They were to be steamed and served with a lovely red wine and shallot vinaigrette. It was going to be grand...

But then I got it into my head to make a Greek salad and I thought I could do both. I was convinced, but alas, I couldn't and the asparagus suffered. So, here I was this past Saturday afternoon wondering what to do with this sorry lot of greenery. I was about to throw them all away when my husband suggested I make a soup. I argued with him as I usually do when he makes a suggestion, especially a good one. I shooed him and our baby girl out the door to the playground so I could make dinner and then I got to thinking, 'hmmm, maybe he's onto something.'

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of chatting with Nach Waxman, owner of Kitchen Arts and Letters on the Upper East Side. It's a fabulous store dedicated to books on food and cooking. He said the difference between Europeans and Americans is the Euros think to themselves, what do I have to coook with tonight whereas we think what do I want to make for dinner. Aha! I realize now my Massachussetts-raised hubby is more Euro than me, American mutt that I am. Not only that, but he's definitely more Eco and budget conscious and way more Alice Waters worthy. Who in their right mind would've thought to waste the first bounty of spring after such a cold winter?

Asparagus Soup

Nach Waxman also said that a good cook never follows a recipe to a T. She flips through a few books, gets an idea, puts the books back on the shelf and starts cooking. Well, that's exactly what I did. I got the gist for what goes into a tasty asparagus soup and then found my own path of righteousness.

Preheat the oven to 400, then grab, say, 2.5 lbs. of asparagus, 4-5 large shallots, 3 garlic cloves, a few sprigs of thyme, some salt, some pepper and a bottle of olive oil.

Wash the asparagus and snap off the dry ends by holding a stalk of asparagus at each end and bending - AW says it will break at the perfect spot. Slice up the shallots and press the garlic. Throw them into a roasting pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper and splash a healthy dose of olive oil over the whole thing. Toss it all together - make sure everything is nicely coated with oil - and pop in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Once the asparagus are nicely roasted, cut them in half and throw the entire mixture into a food processor. Add a good amount of chicken stock to the processor and pulse until it's nicely pureed. Move it all to a pot, turn on the heat and add a bit more stock for texture, a squeeze of fresh lemon and some salt and pepper if you need it.

To serve, ladle a helping into a soup bowl, then sprinkle a bit of Parmesan cheese and add a few strands of fresh lemon zest. My baby girl was lapping it up like it was ice cream. Enjoy!

Approximate Dinner Cost
• Well, this wasn't exactly a meal, but we ate it for lunch with grilled cheese for four days straight so eight bowls of soup came to about $2.25 per bowl. Not bad considering the asparagus soup at our local gourmet grocer is $8 for 2 servings.

*Author's Request - I just have to ask for a pat on the back for finally figuring out how to take a decent picture with my Sony Cybershot. However, I'm still trying to master getting one of my motion-filled 17 month old!


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