Quark Waffles, an accidental recipe from Chef Watson

Along the way of developing the Quark Pancake recipe for the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Cooking Class, an accident happened. The IBM Cognitive Cooking program, Chef Watson, doesn’t always specify ingredients in detail. It’s a beta program, so I expect  to work around the challenges and try things to see what works best. The case in point here is the flour needed to make pancakes. The program lists several types of flours, but I didn’t want to limit the results by requesting one flour over another initially, so I picked out a generic ingredient and let the computer doing the selections based on its resources. The cool thing about the most recent release of the program is that it allows me to go into any recipe and select alternatives for individual ingredients. Then it re-jiggers the recipe to fit my change, going back to cross-reference chemical compounds and other recipes. Pretty amazing. It’s incredibly easy to spend hours coming up with creative things to cook from the market with this app. Trust me, my recipe box is bulging, hanging around on the cloud, accessible from wherever I happened to be hanging out. And, did I mention you can share them with others on the web?

IBM Cognitive Cooking Recipe from Chef Watson with changes during test runs

IBM Cognitive Cooking Recipe from Chef Watson with changes during test runs

So, moving forward, the original recipes generated from the application just specified flour so I used all-purpose for the initial test. Mixed with the kefir and the baking powder, the batter just became a little more sticky than I wanted and didn’t have a nice texture once cooked. Kind of gummy bearish. But never wanting to waste ingredients, I decided to play with the first batch to see if it could be saved. We’ve all done this. It’s a risky game and you have to keep notes or risk hearing the peanut gallery of eaters in your home ask you that question we all dread: “Can you make it again, or is this a once in a lifetime event?”. Been there, done that. I now keep a recipe journal that records the tests. Big help.

 

Anyway, adding a bit of whole-fat milk and an additional egg with the white whipped stiffly, helped incorporate some additional air to help it rise better in the waffle iron. Amazingly, this recipe turned out to be a keeper on the first try and I remembered to take good notes! Creamy on the inside, with a nice golden brown crispy outside shell, this waffle might become my go-to recipe over the one I’ve used for more than thirty years. The added protein from the quark cheese does not make these heavy but reminds me of the kind of texture you enjoy when eating a light cheesecake. These are just delightful, even chilled. I’ve been enjoying the extras with fresh fruit or fresh jam squished inside them, folded up, cold from the fridge in the afternoon.

 

Separating the eggs. Photo copyright Casey Boone Photography. Please contact for permission to reproduce.

Separating the eggs. Photo copyright Casey Boone Photography. Please contact for permission to reproduce.

Add Chapel Hill Creamery Quark to the batter. Photo copyright Casey Boone Photography. Please contact for permission to reproduce.

Add Chapel Hill Creamery Quark to the batter. Photo copyright Casey Boone Photography. Please contact for permission to reproduce.

I tested one of the initial runs of this with the quark from Chapel Hill Creamery at the market a couple of weeks ago.  I used the staff at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market as guinea pigs. The ladies seemed to like it, or at least they were being quite nice to me after munching on them. Which is why you’re getting the recipe so quickly.

 

 

A couple of notes are worth talking about regarding the cheese. The quark moisture level can vary a bit, because it’s an artisan cheese. And sometimes you’ll be getting quark with salt, sometimes without. Neither of those issues is a problem for this recipe. If you’ve ever made ricotta or had fresh goat cheese, you know that there are going to be variations in how dry or wet the cheese can be that just depend on a number of factors in the process. Tartness and salt can also vary. Cheese makers keep a log of amounts and times to know which combinations prove to be the best but it’s not an exact science since they are dealing with live animal products. Some of them even note the moon phases. Such is the case with quark. One week it might be a little more loose than another week.  I had a chance to try this with three batches that were all slightly different and it turned out well each time, so I’m comfortable passing this on to you, with a word of caution; I also tried this with a low-fat organic version from the store. Not such good results. You need to find a full-fat version because the low-fat just has too many other ingredients holding the texture together in a cold application that don’t work well heated in this recipe. The results are adequate, but if you can possibly find a local dairy to get fresh cheese that isn’t highly heat processed to hold up to weeks upon weeks of shelf life, it’s worth the trouble, I promise. Plus, it actually has a distinct flavor that will vary from dairy to dairy. Honestly, that’s kind of the fun part. If you want to try it with a full fat dry yogurt like European or Greek style, let me know how that works out.

This recipe will make plenty for 2 people and probably enough if you have little kids. Not so much for teenagers. Sometimes you can slow them down by making them cook for you, but I would double the recipe if my kids were at the counter waiting.

Have fun and experiment with your toppings! I found that maple candied pecans were one of my favorites on these, more so than the fruit, probably because I like the crunch contrasted to the creamy flavor of the waffle.

 

Quark Waffles

Quark Waffles 

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons spring or early summer honey
  • 1 tablespoon melted and cooled salted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (or vanilla powder)
  • 3/4 cup kefir (low-fat or whole-milk)
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk
  • 1/4 cup whole-milk quark
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour (or 1/2 cup pastry & 1/2 cup AP)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder (without aluminum)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (Himalayan pink if possible)

Preparation

  • In two bowls, separate the egg yolks from the egg whites using the larger bowl for the egg yolks.
  • Lightly beat the egg yolks with the honey, melted cooled butter, vanilla extract (if using vanilla powder, add to the dry ingredients), kefir, milk, and quark until blended.
  • In a large sifter above the bowl of liquids, add the flour, baking powder, salt and sift into the wet ingredients.
  • Beat the dry and wet ingredients together until smooth, without lumps.
  • Start to heat the waffle iron. I use a setting between 2-3 if 5 is the longest and most burnt setting. If you are using an older waffle iron without settings, you will be watching to see when it starts to smoke from the prior oil burning.
  • Using a balloon whisk (preferably with an additional ball inside), beat the egg whites until they are stiff.
  • Gently fold the egg whites into the liquid yolk batter so they are not deflated.
  • When the waffle iron is ready, open it up and using a pastry brush, brush the top and bottom with coconut oil, butter or a very light type of virgin olive oil. Each oil will add a bit of flavor the waffle so choose what you prefer. Close the lid for just a minute to heat the oil (similar to oiling a cast iron pan in the oven before cooking corn bread).
  • Pour the batter into the iron until it is about 1/2-3/4 full and close the lid. This should be a sufficient amount to spread to the edges without spilling out. If it spills out, leave it to cook as it will eventually flake off during the process of cooking the entire batch.
  • Cook until the waffle iron signals it’s ready at your chosen setting or look for the waffle to push the lid upwards and begin to push away from the edges. You’ll have to look closely for this and use your nose to smell the oil as it will change scents when it starts to burn and smoke. You will get some amount of this naturally in the process throughout cooking regardless.
  • Remove gently from the iron and eat immediately with your choice of toppings.

Quark Pancakes with Honeysuckle Syrup & Fresh Fruit

 

Slicing fresh strawberries at the Carrboro Farmers' Market Cooking Class, May 2015. Photo by Casey Boone. Please contact for permission to reproduce. www.caseyboonephoto.com

Slicing fresh strawberries at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market Cooking Class, May 2015. Photo by Casey Boone. Please contact for permission to reproduce. www.caseyboonephoto.com

 

Spring seemed to play hide and seek this year. So after many weeks of waiting for the freeze warnings and rain to cease it was delightful to begin to smell honeysuckle vines blooming and get out and pick beautiful red strawberries. We were so fortunate to have fresh berries available at the market just in time for a cooking class along with freshly made honeysuckle syrup.

Trumpet Honeysuckle Blossoms in a jar. Add hot water and honey. Let sit overnight closed up in the fridge. Remove the flowers in the morning and store for 3 days in the fridge or freeze. photo copyright Susan Walter Sink.

Trumpet Honeysuckle Blossoms in a jar. Add hot water and honey. Let sit overnight closed up in the fridge. Remove the flowers in the morning and store for 3 days in the fridge or freeze. photo copyright Susan Walter Sink.

 

For those of you unfamiliar with honeysuckle syrup, it’s just what you imagine and more! This is one of my all-time favorite items in the freezer. If you are not up to making it and happen to be in Durham, I noticed a few quart containers for sale at Scratch when I visited their shop last week. It’s worth trying once in your tea, mixed in with strawberries or peaches and drizzled over ice cream, or blended with other fresh fruit reductions and mixed with soda water for a refreshing drink on a hot afternoon. Remember to buy some crushed ice for this last treat, or make snow cones from the winter’s frozen snow. Yes, it’s crazy, but I have snow in my freezer at home. It delights the neighbors’ children to no end to eat it in the middle of warm weather.

Photo taken by Casey Boone. Express permission required to reproduce. www.caseyboonephoto.com

The cooking group slicing fresh strawberries for the Honeysuckle Strawberry Topping. Photo taken by Casey Boone. Express permission required to reproduce. www.caseyboonephoto.com

 

Let me mention that Carrboro Farmers’ Market has a couple of new things going on this year for kids. First, there’s the small series of cooking classes, which filled up several weeks ago! And second, there’s a program called “The Market Bunch” that allows kids to earn Market Bucks to spend with vendors. They do this by just trying new foods and playing scavenger games at the market each week! It runs from June 6 through July 29th, so sign up the next time you are visiting to play along. And don’t forget to check out the wagon of cookbooks available to use for free. Bring some of your old ones to exchange while you’re there.

Photo taken by Casey Boone. Please contact for permission to reproduce at www.caseyboonephoto.com

Learning to slice berries carefully at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market. Photo taken by Casey Boone. Please contact for permission to reproduce at www.caseyboonephoto.com

 

One of the tools that I have been using this past year is a computer web application from IBM called Chef Watson, which you can sign in and use for free now too. When I began working on the recipes for this class, my goal was to incorporate the honeysuckle syrup into the recipe for strawberry and ricotta pancakes using local eggs and possibly something like hibiscus flowers for some fun color and tart flavor. After a brief chat with the folks at Chapel Hill Creamery during market one afternoon, they suggested I try out Quark to replace ricotta and promptly sent me home with a container. It did not disappoint in texture or flavor, and it has gone right to the top of my ‘favorites’ list. It’s perfect to use with either savory or sweet dishes, much like chevre, this cheese hails from Germany. I can imagine using it in raviolli or blended with honey next to a side of fresh fruit. It’s amazing and you can get it during the spring at either the Durham or Carrboro Farmers’ Markets, but check with the dairy to reserve it, as it sells out.

Photo copyright by Casey Boone @ www.caseyboonephoto.com

Learning to measure without the aid of a tool. Photo by Casey Boone. Contact for permission to reproduce  www.caseyboonephoto.com

 

It’s wonderful to have the kids in class experiment a little with both flavors and cooking techniques to find what best fits their taste. My grandmother never really measured anything properly, but taught me to measure dry ingredients in my hand or by approximating the volume in a bowl. This technique generally works for cooking savory dishes but sometimes baking or desserts require more exact measurements. Still, it’s fun to show the kids how to get close to the correct measurement in a pinch, like when you forget to pack the measuring spoons. It happens, but fortunately pancakes are forgiving.

Photo copyright Casey Boone @ www.caseyboonephoto.com

Mixing the batter and realizing the recipe needs to be adjusted. Photo taken by Casey Boone. Contact her at @ www.caseyboonephoto.com for permission to reproduce.

As we combined the ingredients, it was pretty obvious that I made a typing error when I was transferring the recipe for the market to print. Instead of 1 full cup of milk, I typed in 1/4 cup, which was the amount I used in the test batch. Big mistake, but easily corrected and a good teaching moment for the kids to see what a batter should and should not look like. Hopefully they will remember that when they start making up their own recipes.

Separating fresh eggs from a Carrboro Market vendor during the class. Photo taken by Casey Boone. Please contact for permission to reproduce at www.caseyboonephoto.com

Separating fresh eggs from a Carrboro Market vendor during the class. Photo taken by Casey Boone. Please contact for permission to reproduce at www.caseyboonephoto.com

 

Another fun opportunity and skill to learn is egg separation. This recipe and many other waffle and egg recipes call for beaten egg whites so the final result is lighter with the incorporation of extra air. One of the participants on Saturday was more experienced, so she demonstrated how to separate eggs just using her hands and delivered 2 beautifully separated eggs. She went on to use a “cage” whisk to beat the whites in just a matter of minutes to perfection. A cage whisk looks like a very large balloon whisk with an extra ball whisk stuck inside. It doubles the amount of air you can whip into the whites or cream in about half of the normal time. This single tool can make all the difference in the world in getting fast, reliable results when it counts.

Cooking an adaptation of the original recipe with some extra peach jam. Photo copyright Casey Boone @ www.caseyboonephoto.com

Cooking an adaptation of the original recipe with some extra peach jam. Photo copyright Casey Boone @ www.caseyboonephoto.com

 

Our class was small enough to allow plenty of time for everyone to enjoy each step of the process. From slicing and mixing to  working with hot cast iron pans and a  flames blowing out with the morning breeze. We had a great time and it passed too quickly.

The best part of class is tasting the group creations. Multiple flavors of Quark pancakes with Strawberries soaked in honeysuckle syrup. Photo taken by Casey Boone Photography. view more or contact her for permission to reproduce at www.caseyboonephoto.com

The best part of class is tasting the group creations. Multiple flavors of Quark pancakes with Strawberries soaked in honeysuckle syrup. Photo taken by Casey Boone Photography. Permission to reproduce photo: www.caseyboonephoto.com

The kids also took the opportunity to also add peach jam and blackberry jam to small portions of the batter. They were able to try combining different flavors and tasting the results. Peach, strawberry & honeysuckle were clear favorites of the group.  Hopefully they will be able to modify the recipe throughout the summer with all of the different fruits available. And of course, what would cooking be without the tasting part! Yes, everyone had a chance to try out every combination!

 

Quark Pancakes

Ingredients

  • 2-3 pints of fresh strawberries, cleaned and sliced
  • 1 cup honeysuckle syrup
  • 2 egg yolks (large chicken eggs or duck eggs)
  • 1 cup whole milk or cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons honey (spring or early summer pull of honey)
  • 1/2 cup Quark, full fat (Chapel Hill Creamery)
  • 2 teaspoons melted & cooled butter with salt
  • 2 egg whites, whipped until stiff
  • 1 cup pastry flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum-free)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preparation

  • In a bowl, combine the honeysuckle syrup and strawberries and let sit while you are making your pancakes. For a bit of variation, when you make the honeysuckle syrup, you can add a flower or two of dried hibiscus which will be a little tart like a cranberry.
  • In a second large bowl combine the egg yolks, milk, vanilla, honey, Quark and cooled butter. Stir until well blended.
  • Using a sifter or mesh strainer, sift the flour, baking powder and salt directly into the liquid egg yolk mixture.
  • Using a stiff whisk, blend the dry with the wet until it’s very smooth.
  • In a third smaller bowl, whisk the egg whites until they are stiff.
  • Gently fold the stiff egg whites into the liquid batter.
  • Heat a cast iron griddle or pan on medium low heat until it is fairly warm, not smoking hot.
  • Add a bit of coconut oil or butter to the pan and as soon as it finishes melting, add the pancake batter until it’s about the size of your palm and not too large to flip when it is half-finished cooking.
  • As the pancake begins to brown on the bottom side and bubbles appear on the top side of the pancake, flip the pancake to finish cooking the second side. Another minute and the pancake should be finished cooking through.
  • Serve with a topping of the fresh strawberries and honeysuckle syrup.

 

As a quick housekeeping note, our photographs were taken by Casey Boone, a local NC photographer. Check out her other work at www.caseyboone.com. She owns this work, and it is protected by copyright, so please ask first permission before reproducing the images.

Seminole Smoothie with Chai Spices & Juniper Berries

Seminole Pumpkin

 

Smoothies are so flexible that they have become a meal replacement for many of us. Varying from light and refreshing like a melon cooler for the hot days to something more substantial after exercising that includes more veggies and greens. The one I want to show you today is a variation on the Pumpkin Pie Smoothie from the Chapel Hill Whole Foods Homesteading Fair. I’ve been working with some new spice combinations more recently in an effort to present more seasonal alternatives for traditional favorites. I’m trying to use fresh spices, herbs and roots but I also want to have some options that you can use right out of your pantry and that’s where the folks at Savory Spice Shop have been really helpful.

Winter squash are excellent foundations for smoothies. There are so many types of heirloom winter squash grown all over the world that they make a wonderful starting point to try out new spice blends. For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been adding new ingredients to my old recipes to see what works in each season. Diakon radish, chai spice blends and local sorghum for the fall and winter months seem to be a natural combination. Melons and mint in the summer months work well to lighten the winter squash into refreshing drinks.

This recipe will make enough for two people but feel free to change some of the ingredients and make it thicker or thinner by adding more or less of the veggies and fruit or liquid ingredients. Just cut the ingredients in half if you are blending for one. I use a VitaMix blender for this recipe. If you use a typical bar blender, it may take a little longer to blend this up and require a little more liquid and some additional chopping of things like the juniper berries.

Chai Juniper Seminole SmoothieSeminole Smoothie

Ingredients

  • 1 cup frozen roasted Seminole Squash (with or without olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup frozen peach slices (with juice if you have it stored that way)
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated apple slices (I used Fuji) or 1/2 apple without the skin
  • 1/8 cup sorghum syrup
  • 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon Mt Baker Chai Spice Blend
  • 3-4 whole juniper berries
  • 1 Medjol date, chopped (remove seed)
  • 1/4 cup frozen shelled pecans
  • 1 cup coconut water
  • 1 cup coconut milk (homemade using WellnessMama recipe)

Preparation

Put everything into a high-speed blender and give it a whirl starting at lowest setting to get things chopped and working your way up to medium high or high to fully blend ingredients until smooth. This should take less than 2 minutes.

Variations

  • Use honey to replace sorghum
  • Use butternut or other pumpkin squash to replace Seminole squash
  • Steep hot (not boiling) coconut water in whole chai spices for 15 minutes and chill to replace ground spices
  • Add in 1/4 cup raw Daikon radish, chopped
  • Add in a tablespoon of raw pumpkin seeds
  • Freeze the mixture in ZipZicle bags to make popcicles

 

Farm Notes

 

Creamy Orange Soft-Serve Smoothie

It’s been raining off and on for four days now and the temperatures have not been exactly inspiring me to go outside or make cold drinks. But the sun came out early and burned off the remainder of the ugly weather so I was able to get out and hike a bit, working up an appetite for something healthy & colorful, I opted to fool around with some new smoothie recipes that I have been thinking about now that I’m getting better at using the new high-speed blender.

Orange is the color of the day. It’s warm on the color wheel, but we associate it with chilly temperatures and ‘winter’ squash varieties. Kind of an interesting contrast. Using the IBM Chef Watson application this week, I was able to ask for several different types of recipes that would produce creamy orange drinks combining common winter ingredients from the farmers’ market in unusual ways. One of the biggest issues I always face with this program is getting it to eliminate processed foods and those that are not local or in-season for me. I really try hard to make the most of what’s available seasonally or items that I have put up in the freezer earlier in the year.

Fortunately, many of the recipes that looked tasty to me this week also had components that I had on hand or could get easily at the market. There’s a bit of learning curve with this program, on both sides. The program learns from what we  create and the changes we make to its original instructions and recipes. There are some obvious errors that occur sometimes and have us all laughing; like the time a recipe of mine requested more than 20 pig feet! Ugh. No thank you.  But on the human side of the learning curve, we learn about new combinations that it is able to pull together from many more sources than we could ever view in our lifetime. For instance, I learned this week that I could ask for recipes in three different ways and each type of recipe I requested gave me more or less ability to ask for more or less number of ingredients without the program coughing and complaining. Ultimately, there were several recipes that balanced acidity and spices better than I could naturally.  The original recipe that inspired the smoothie was for Sweet Potato Cheesecake.

For the last couple of days, my test smoothies have focused on pairing daikon radishes with orange veggies like carrots, sweet potatoes & winter squash, along with chai spices  that the folks from Savory Spice Shop sent home with me on my last visit. I used coconut water and coconut milk as well as a blend of veggies with kefir and yogurt. I tried steeping hot coconut water in whole spices and chilling that overnight, which worked very well. Then I tried using ground chai spice with the raw veggies and liquids, which was much quicker and had great results too. But all of the initial recipes turned out a bit on the grainy side because the veggies were raw and the natural water in the raw veggies made them seem less potent than a juicing machine might create. Not bad and something I might enjoy on really hot summer days, but not something for cold rainy weather. So the next set of tests included part raw and part roasted to get the creamy texture that I love, along with more concentrated flavors since the water is essentially roasted out already.

And it worked! But here’s the thing. It tastes and looks more like dessert than a smoothie….. Some of you are probably thinking, what’s the problem with that? This is like a lovely soft-serve version of pumpkin ice-cream without all of the processed sugar. The fruit and sweet potato bring the sugar. Texture comes from the coconut milk and the roasted veggies which were roasted in olive oil and coconut oil (either will work for the orange winter squash varieties or just bake them plain and add the oil later if you need it). And the goat cheese adds that bit of tang. When you get it fresh from the dairy, it doesn’t have that strong flavor you associate with goat cheese from years past. You can stick a spoon in it and just eat it right from the container. It’s probably one of my most favorite foods when it comes in season. The good news is that it freezes and thaws incredibly well without loosing much of the texture or flavor.

So here’s the lesson for today: Don’t tell anyone what you put in this ‘smoothie’ when you make it. Dress it up with some chopped toasted pecans, maybe some ginger cookie crumbs and keep your mouth closed! Seriously. There’s radish and fresh raw turmeric, real baby carrots and a ruby sweet potato along with fresh goat cheese, cinnamon, peaches, raw ginger and a date. If you need to make it a little sweeter you can add 1-2 teaspoons  of sorghum, honey or maple syrup. I think you could even swap out the cinnamon for chai spices, but I’ll try that later in the weekend. And I want to try eliminating the goat cheese and heating it up for an alternative drink to the Sweet Potato Latte and Turmeric Tea recipes I love this time of year.

Here’s the version that is my favorite so far. I used my own ginger-infused maple syrup in my test run, but I’ve made some allowances in the directions for some other ways to get all that flavor in the drink. I hope you enjoy it along with your weekend shopping at your local farmers’ market!

Orange Smoothie

 

Orange Soft-Serve Smoothie

Ingredients for 2 servings

  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 – 3/4 cup plain coconut water (more if you want thinner drink version)
  • 1/4 cup fresh chèvre (eliminate if you can’t get it locally)
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped raw turmeric root
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground ceylon cinnamon (less for stronger variety)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh ginger (outside should be pink & white) ***
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup, sorghum, or honey
  • 1/2 cup chopped raw or roasted carrots
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh raw daikon radish
  • 3/4 – 1 cup roasted sweet potato (can be roasted with coconut or olive oil)
  • 1/4 cup frozen peaches, rough chopped
  • 1 medjol date, chopped (remove the pit inside)

Optional Ingredients To Add

  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground chai spice blend (will vary by maker)
  • Candied ginger can replace the fresh, but check sweetness levels
  • Ground ginger can replace fresh, use 1/4 of the amount to start
  • 1/4 cup of pecans can be blended into the smoothie, but balance with liquid
  • Roasted butternut squash or other winter squash can be substituted with a slightly different result in flavor.
  • *** Fresh ginger from the market is delicate and tender and much less fibrous than store-bought. The flavor is much brighter than the dried out root you get at the store.

Preparation
Put everything into a high-speed blender and pulse for about 15 seconds. Then move through blending on low to medium high until you have a thick almost frozen consistency. This should take between 1-2 minutes. Add more coconut water to thin the drink or cut back the sweet potato to 1/2 cup. Serve immediately.

 

Notes

Most commercial coconut milk contains gum-gar or some type of thickening agent and it’s processed at high temperature and put in cans that some of you might consider unhealthy. I have recently started making my coconut milk using a simple technique that I found on the internet on WellnessMama.com using shredded coconut. But there is another version using whole brown coconuts on NourishedKitchen.com that looks even more amazing, but a little more work. I used a bit of cheesecloth to really squeeze out my coconut and the remaining was very dry but great added to recipes like smoothies and soups. You’ll probably still have some leftover that you might add to granola or French Toast.

Berry, Beet & Radish Resolution Juice

Many of you know that I’ve been working as one of the beta testers for the IBM Chef Watson application. The program has come up with some lovely ideas in the past. There were two new drinks  from Chef Watson at the  Homesteading Fair at Chapel Hill’s Whole Foods; a Pumpkin Pie Smoothie & Watson’s Summer Surprise Punch. At the Durham Farmers’ Market HomeFries Saturday Cooking Class, we made a Watermelon & Strawberry Popsicle Drink along with a Cantaloupe & Peach Smoothie based on some ideas the program generated for the kids to use.

The developers at IBM rolled out a third version of the software just before the year ended and I have spent a few hours trolling around and saving a bunch of recipe ideas. I have a whole folder devoted just to drinks now. Some of the recipes call for almond milk or yogurt. Some use rainbow chard and fennel blended with strawberries. There are several more ideas I plan to try when the weather warms up again, and I’ll update this entry with notes if any of them turn out to be spectacular winners so keep checking back.

After a day of internet research and looking through recipe books here at home, I charted my plans for using carrots and turnips, maybe some greens, and balancing them with summer fruit in a smoothie as the temperature rose this week. Last year I added a high-speed blender to my kitchen equipment. My old bar blender was being used daily for smoothies or soup and it’s still going strong, but the Vitamix blender I picked up during a sale does a better job pureeing the raw foods and nuts into creamy dreamy drinks and soups, where the bar blender can produce more gritty textures because the blades are smaller and don’t run quite as fast.

Last Saturday while I was at Western Wake Farmers Market looking for some of the little white round salad turnips, I started talking to Patricia at In Good Heart Farm about my plans. I found out that the little salad turnips are not as cold hardy as radishes this time of year. That prompted me to make some quick changes to my drink plans. I  decided to pick up daikon radishes because I have enjoyed eating them combined with carrots, apples and greens in raw salad and slaw.

As luck would have it, radishes are quite good for the liver and kidney. They help restore balance to both organs and cleanse them of impurities that might be stored up from overeating or perhaps drinking too much of a good thing, if you catch my drift. Seems appropriately funny for ‘after the holiday’ New Years Resolution meal planning, doesn’t it?

There are a couple of different variations on this set of ingredients. While I used Daikon radishes this week, I enjoyed the combinations I tried well enough to try some of the beautiful rainbow colored radishes in the coming weeks to see if different varieties change the flavor of the drinks. Dried apples and red beets provide most of the sweetness in this recipe. In my opinion, the red beets are more mild than the purple ones, so plan accordingly if you have a beet hater in your house. And the red beets are not as sweet as the commercially grown beets that are made into sugar. But they do have more sugar than sweet potatoes, watermelon and corn! I used both types in my test runs this week and the color varied in the final drinks from bright purple to a lovely shade of deep pink.

The dehydrated apple slices that I make at home also contain more sugar than raw apples because it gets concentrated as the water evaporates from the fruit in the process. So if you have fresh apples, you can add about half of an apple to get the same amount of flavor. Fresh apples will make the resulting juice a bit thinner, but it shouldn’t be much different.

Raspberries and strawberries that were picked and frozen last year balance the flavor of the radish in a ratio of 4:1. I used the Sweet Charlie strawberries which tend to be a little on the small side but they are sweeter than some of the larger varieties you will find at the store or early in the season. After picking more than 20 lbs this past year, I’m really glad to have some new drink ideas to use them up! The raspberries come from my own yard. I started a patch with less than a half dozen plants from a mountain patch around fifteen years ago. Now I have enough to last a full year after harvesting each day before the birds get to them.

If you want to try out blueberries, blackberries or black raspberries, they should all work well. I’ve simply run out of them in the freezer so I couldn’t test them. I did test some steamed celery that I had in the freezer. I added about 1/4 cup and it was fine. Nothing good or bad about it. It added some fiber but not a lot of flavor. I think cucumber or one of the red sweet melons would work nicely in this recipe as well. Some of the suggested recipes called for cumin and mint, others called for changes from honey to maple syrup and changes in liquids from almond milk to yogurt & buttermilk. Here’s the IBM Chef Watson Strawberry Radish Dessert Recipe that was the inspiration for this Resolution Juice.

There’s another recipe coming that uses carrots and peaches with the radish along with some chai spice and coconut water. I wish I had put up some of the Yellow Doll Melon to add to that recipe. That will be a good test for 2016! Look for the other recipe in the next day or so after I get some pictures taken. In the meantime, enjoy this and order some popsicle bags or molds if you like the flavor well enough to have this in the summer when radishes and beets are out of season.

Berry Beet Radish Resolution Juice

 

Berry, Beet & Radish Resolution Juice
Ingredients for 1 serving

  • 1/4 cup raw daikon radish chopped
  • 1/2 cup frozen chopped strawberries (Sweet Charlie variety)
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/8 cup dehydrated apple (or 1/2 cup whole apple, chopped) (Fuji variety)
  • 1/4 cup frozen roasted red beets, chopped
  • 1 cup chilled plain coconut water
  • 1 – 2 teaspoons honey (with comb if possible)

Options

  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup coconut milk replacing coconut water
  • Freeze into popsicles for the summer. Add some whole fruit to the mix at the end to create a pretty molded popsicle

Preparation

Put everything into a high-speed blender and starting on the lowest setting and moving up, blend it until smooth. You will need a lot of speed to blend this up. It will take no more than 2 minutes to blend.

 

NC Farm Notes

  • Strawberries – Whitted Bowers Farm
  • Beets – Durham Farmers Market
  • Apples – Eastern Carolina Organics
  • Radishes – In Good Heart Farm
  • Honey – Ever Laughter Farm

A Proper Jail House Wedding in the NC Mountains

 

Proper Restaurant in Boone, NC. Adam Jennings Photography copyright

Proper Restaurant in Boone, NC. Adam Jennings Photography copyright

 

It’s every bride’s dream to have a proper wedding with clear weather and perfect temperatures for her special day. We’ve all been to one or two that came off without a hitch. Flowers that looked like they were just picked from a field. Every hair in place for every photograph. But the reality is that brides everywhere plan for surprise rain storms, early or late snow flurries, windy weather with acorns and leaves flying around in mini tornadoes and summer heat and humidity that conspires to wilt the entire wedding party and melt all of the guests into puddles of water on the pavement.

Locals around Boone will tell you if you don’t like the weather, either wait fifteen minutes or drive fifteen miles. A change in elevation makes all the difference in the world when you’re sitting high above sea level. All I have to say about having an October mountain wedding is be prepared for sandals or boots. It can be seventy-five and sunny or below freezing and snowing. The weather  can and will change dramatically in a matter of hours or minutes along the Appalachian Mountain Range and what happened yesterday may have no bearing on what happens today.

Fall colors by Adam Jennings Photography

Fall colors by Adam Jennings Photography

 

This is the tale of a perfect day for a family wedding in one of my most favorite towns in North Carolina. My son and his new wife both graduated from Appalachian State University. They drew upon their love of mountain trails, ever-changing weather, and the resourceful people they met in Boone to create a small intimate wedding at their favorite eatery, Proper.  In the process of  celebrating their new life together, they united two families with very different backgrounds in a community they consider their home away from home.

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Proper resides in the c.1889 jail house of Boone, NC. It is the third oldest building in downtown. Adam Jennings Photography

 

 

The town of Boone was incorporated in 1872. The area was founded by English, German and Scotch-Irish coming from the foothills after the Revolutionary War. Boone has grown from 850 original residents to more than 18,000 today with Appalachian State University located in the heart of downtown. During the flood of 1940, many of the older buildings along with the railway were destroyed. But the jail, which was built in 1889 on one of the higher hills, prevailed and now houses the restaurant Proper. It is the third oldest building in town, and provides a quirky setting with brick walls on the interior and a quaint front porch.

There’s a lovely shaded patio with an old tree in the front of the building. A beautiful small grass area flanks the front walk opposite the patio and looks like it was designed for a perfect picnic area with blooming bushes and flowers surrounding it. Huge stone steps and an old iron fence welcome visitors like no other building in town and set the scene for an idyllic wedding venue.

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Locally grown flowers & bouquet design by Shady Grove Gardens in Vilas, NC. Adam Jennings photography

 

 

As it turned out, the  weather in October was absolutely perfect. The bride was able to hide on the side of the building and use the stone walk through the patio area and waiting guests to arrive at the stone steps in the front. The groom waited patiently to see her in her dress as she rounded the corner of the patio, which worked out ideally. Family guests fit easily along the patio and front walkway, with great views of the wedding party and everyone could easily hear the ceremony. Had it been warmer, this area would have been used for cocktails or dessert with lights strung in the huge old tree flanking the area.

Local fiddler. Adam Jennings Photography

Music provided by Mark Freed, Cecil Gurganus & Trevor McKenzie. Adam Jennings Photography

 

 

The little grass area in the front yard provided the perfect location for the trio of local musicians, Mark FreedCecil Gurganus and Trevor McKenzie. Mark teaches at App State, which is where my son first met him. I was totally amused to find out that my son who majored in construction, took a class in ‘music appreciation’, and even passed it. The trio selected a mix of old and new tunes to play on fiddles, guitars, and a banjo before the wedding and during the reception. They really did an excellent job setting the atmosphere for a relaxed party, so I would highly recommend them if you are planning an event in the area.

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Shady Grove Gardens designed a special arrangement for the bridesmaid’s walker. Adam Jennings Photography

 

Shady Grove Gardens provided the flowers. They have a small farm located just outside of Boone and they sell at the local county farmers’ market each week during the main growing season. The bride adores fall colors so it was pretty easy for Susan, at Shady Grove, to figure out complimentary flowers using a mix of seasonal flowers, bulbs and greenery from her hoop houses.  She even created a special arrangement for one of the bridesmaids that uses a walker, which turned out quite lovely.

Shady Grove Gardens floral arrangements. Boone North Carolina. Photography copyright Susan Walter Sink

Shady Grove Gardens floral arrangements. Photography copyright Susan Walter Sink

Communities along the Blue Ridge Mountain range, have naturally short growing seasons which make it challenging to run a profitable agriculture business. Many farms rely on hoop houses and supplemental heat to extend seasons whether they are growing veggies or flowers. Interior row covers provide help in maintaining temperatures but add to the cost of production through increased labor. Contacting growers early is important, as they plan sometimes a year in advance for larger events. If you want any bulbs or plants forced or carried into a different season than is normal, they have to be able to purchase and hold those plants and bulbs for some period of time before forcing them, making it a little more complicated. But if you are willing to work with what is in season, your costs can be less and the quality is really unmatched when you consider that it will normally be picked just a day or two before you need it.

Table setting "bucket" flowers from Shady Grove Gardens and pumpkin gourds from the farmers market along with small pansy plants in mason jars. Adam Jennings Photography

Local flowers, gourds, leaves & tea candles create a casual meal. Adam Jennings Photography.

 

Shady Grove, will also supply you to with ‘buckets’ of flowers to arrange yourself and they coordinate those to the arrangements for your event. Since the weather was questionable and the finished table layout was still open due to weather changes, the bride ordered a couple of extra buckets of flowers. There were more than enough mixed flowers and greenery to put into mason jars on the table along with pansies plants from a local vendor and small gourds from the Raleigh Farmers’ Market.

Wreath made by    . Photograph copyright Susan Walter Sink

Wreath made by Sandi Henry from Boone, NC . Photograph copyright Susan Walter Sink

 

The wreath above the hearth was created by a local artist from the Watauga Farmers’ Market. Sandi, from Mountain Basketry, gathers natural items on her regular walks through the woods near the Blue Ridge Parkway and uses them on seasonal wreaths and in her mountain baskets. She made this wreath overnight, specifically to fit above the mantel at the restaurant, using colors that highlighted the floral arrangements.

Edible Winter Squash from _________ at the Watauga County Farmers' Market along with locally grown mums from the Raleigh Farmers' Market. Photography copyright Susan Walter Sink

Edible Winter Squash from Matt Cooper / Lively Up Farm along with locally grown mums from the Raleigh Farmers’ Market. Photograph copyright Susan Walter Sink

 

 

 

Heirloom winter squash from Matt Cooper of Lively Up Farm in Valle Crucis at the Watauga County Farmers’ Market adorned the outside steps, adding a little more color and texture. As an added benefit, all of the squash were able to be used later at the restaurant for food. The guys (RJ & Matt) that grow these squash up in the mountains are amazing. You can ask them about any one of the many varieties they have at the market and they will tell you about the flesh, color, flavor, and cooking attributes of each and every one and even make suggestions on how to use them in recipes. It’s quite an education to spend a little time with RJ or Matt.

Fresh greens from local farms at Proper Restaurant. Adam Jennings Photography

Fresh greens from local farms at Proper Restaurant. Adam Jennings Photography

 

And now to the food, which you know is my favorite topic!  The couple picked out their favorite items from the menu to serve to guests. Everyone came from out of town so it was important to have a good showing of southern food! The restaurant buys from several local farms. So we started the fabulous meal with some fresh fall greens that were lightly dressed.

Potato cakes with pimento cheese. Adam Jennings Photography

Potato cakes with pimento cheese. Adam Jennings Photography

 

From the fried chicken and meatloaf to potato cakes with pimento cheese, the food was excellent along with the service. We had traditional sweet tea along with fall cobbler and pecan pie. #SouthernFood ruled and it was all wonderful! Given the size of the jail, family-style service fit the bill. People were talking to each other as large bowls and platters of food were passed around the table. There’s nothing that says ‘family’ more than helping fill the plate of another person that you have just met over the weekend celebration, totally ignoring their suggestion of a ‘spoonful’, when you know they want more.

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So if a #JailHouseWedding is just your sort of thing, Proper is the place I’d recommend you go! They serve southern food with a twist using locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients and genuine southern hospitality from the planning stages through the execution of your event. There’s nothing fussy about this place and you’ll feel like you are right at home with the staff. The menu changes somewhat each week with specials highlighting what is grown or raised from local farmers. During good weather, there is a small shade covered patio for guests along with a glass porch that is ideal in chilly weather. You can still see the remnants of the old stairway inside the main building and years of wear on the floorboards and stone steps out front. Quaint & eclectic doesn’t begin to describe the magic that happens here with a devoted owner and staff.

I can’t say enough about the young photographer, Adam Jennings, who is also a graduate from App State. I’ve used a number of young photographers over the years and been rewarded with some amazing pictures and endearing relationships. As a professional artist, these folks depend on recommendations. If  you are located in North Carolina and need a photographer, take a look at his portfolio. He traveled to Boone early in the morning and spent the entire day photographing the bride & groom getting ready, going through the ceremony and having a family meal. I can’t say enough for the many hours he put in along with hours editing the hundreds of photographs he took.

Personally, 2014 was a wonderful year. I took some time off from cooking and a heavy demo schedule to get ready for this exciting life event. Please enjoy the places highlighted and continue to support the great small sustainable farms and vendors in your area that are the foundation for all of our communities around the state. Shop consciously. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Simple Apple Tarts Using Local Farm Ingredients

 

Apple Tarts with Candied Pecans

 

One of my favorite treats are simple handmade tarts because they give me an opportunity to test flavor combinations and don’t require much time to make. These sweet little apple tarts are an easy treat to make when friends come over at the last minute or the kids needs something fun after school. The trick to making them quickly is to have filling in your freezer.

Throughout the seasons, I normally put up between 15-30 lbs of any given fruit. This year I purchased Fuji apples from Eastern Carolina Organics. Sometimes, if I’m really lucky, they’ll have several varieties come in at one time and I am able to get a mix of some of the ‘seconds’ from each of the boxes. The year before last I was able to get local organically grown apples from different farmers’ markets. If you have an opportunity to mix several types, you’ll find that your apple butter, apple sauce and apple pie filling turn out more complex.

Generally, I like to cube the apples and cook them a little while in a sauté pan with some spices, butter, maple syrup and maple sugar as well as slice some for the dehydrator (to use in smoothies). The cooked apples are put into small containers and frozen but canning works just as well. The containers will thaw in just an hour so it’s something you can pull out quickly if you have unexpected guests. If you like canning, it’s even more simple to open a jar of filling.

The dough for these tarts can be store-bought or homemade. When I run out of my dough, I use a brand that doesn’t contain hydrogenated oils. Using rolled pie crust dough, I cut the rolled dough into about 5 pieces that are about 1.5″ long. It probably represents about 2 tablespoons of dough. Using the palm of my hand, I press the balls out into round disks on parchment paper until they are about 3-4″ in diameter. Then I sprinkle about a half teaspoon of pastry flour on each side of each disk. Use a rolling pin to continue to flatten the disks out to around 5-6″ in diameter. This is also the point where you can add dried spices, fresh herbs, grated cheese or bacon bits into the dough as you are rolling it out. Simply sprinkle your choice of additives over both sides of the dough when you get close to finishing and it will be incorporated into the outside layer of the dough. The flour helps dry out the dough so it doesn’t stick to your rolling pin and it will bake better once you apply the egg wash.

Once you have them rolled out on the parchment paper, you can mix your apples with a couple of other ingredients. For this batch I used a ratio of 1 cup of apples to tablespoon of apple butter from the farmers market. I placed enough filling on the disks  to form a layer about 1/2″ high and left 1″ rim without filling on the outside edge. Your filling should look moist but not be running to the edges at all.

When you’re finished filling, simply fold up the edges. You don’t have to press them. And then with a pastry brush, apply a thin layer of egg wash on the outside of the pastry avoiding drips at the bottom edges. If you remember, you can coat the inside of the pastry before filling it up, but I forget to do it as much as I remember. It helps seal the inside of the dough so it doesn’t absorb the filling liquid and get soggy before and after baking. It’s also possible to add some fresh herbs, grated cheese or sugar to the outside dough after you brush with the egg wash so it sticks to the dough. It will dress up the presentation a bit and provides an opportunity to test flavor combinations.

Slide your baking sheet under the parchment paper that contains the filled tarts. Cover the tarts with another sheet of parchment paper to avoid burning. Bake at 400-425F for around 15-20 minutes until they are golden brown.

When the tarts are finished, while they are warm, add some nuts, granola, or toasted seeds. In this case I added some Candied Pecans that I lightly cooked for about 3-4 minutes in a cast iron skillet with a little butter, salt and maple syrup and let cool on parchment paper. I also added some finely shopped Candied Ginger  that I made from fresh baby ginger root earlier in the season.  I have added granola and enjoy that combination as well. If you add these pre-cooked toppings earlier, they tend to dry out or burn.

 

Apples from Coon Rock Farm

 

 

Baby Turnip & Mushroom Stem Gratin

Do you hate that horrible dreaded chore of cleaning out the fridge? The time when you find things that you didn’t get around to eating, or the food that fell down behind something else, things in bags and containers you really meant to get to, but didn’t before they sprouted into new plants or other life forms with a new array of colors. We all have the odd leftover items that just get wasted. For me, one of those items is mushroom stems. Not just any old mushroom stems, but shiitake stems, the tough, woody ones. They sit in the container after I have processed pounds of mushroom caps, waiting for me to make stock, which takes a bit of time to produce properly. I have several large containers in the freezer right now and I don’t need more at the moment.

I bet most of you don’t know that the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations was founded on October 16th, 1945, built upon “its belief that the goal of freedom from want of food, suitable and adequate for the health and strength of all people can be achieved.” Celebrated around the world, World Food Day honors that day and our commitment to defeating hunger. And this year’s international theme is all about Family Farming, feeding the world and caring for the earth.

So when this week’s IBM Watson beta-group challenge was posted to cook something we normally waste for The United Nations World Food Day, I was all in with these mushroom stems and a few other crazy items like apple peels and beet stems, which we will get to in another entry.  Since I would normally just compost this bunch of stems, I wanted to try to use this underutilized, normally wasted, food in a different way to increase its value.

The stems are typically tough and fibrous, not something called for in most recipes. They remind me of clams for some reason. My thought was to cook them in smoked salt and smoked peppercorns and elicit a bacon-like flavor like I do the caps and that would allow me to add them to several dishes without having to worry about their chewy nature. I could probably add them to clam chowder at a that point too! To do this, I started by cutting off the dry end where they were harvested from the logs. Then I chopped them the into small bits that would be the size of bacon bits for a salad. Using a hot cast iron pan, I proceeded to sauté them on medium heat in olive oil with the Alder Wood Smoked Salt and &  Mesquite & Apple Wood smoked peppercorns from Savory Spice until they were slightly crunchy. This took about 10 minutes. As I was finishing the browning process I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of the concentrate Tamarind Paste and a little Chardonnay left in the fridge just to deglaze the pan and add some moisture back to the mushroom bits. The process took about half an hour start to finish. Once the mushrooms bits are finished they can be stored in the freezer or used within a few days in a new recipe.

This recipe is one of a couple that turned out well. It is a side dish that uses items frequently found in bulk at the farmers markets this time of year. Pairing the mushroom bits with arugula, baby white turnips & smoked farmers’ cheese creates a rich dish that can stand up well to a lovely piece of grilled meat or roast. Feel free to use baby turnip greens or any other tender baby greens you might have around your house for this recipe. I think that some green or red soft leaf lettuce or a fall baby braising mix might also work well with this set of ingredients. Paneer would be a great substitute for the smoked farmers cheese if you are not fond of the smokey flavor.

Using IBM’s Chef Watson program I plugged in a couple of different alternatives to produce recipes for gratins, risotto and soup. I picked through the results to find recipes that required ingredients I can find at the local markets, or items I have already put away. The program allows me to select ‘Yard to Table’ and ‘Earth Friendly’ as my primary style most of the time, which seems to sway the results to use more fresh food unless I override it by selecting some style that might not feature as much local produce and spices. And even then, I have found the recipes to be pretty flexible.

The program is getting better at listing out steps properly and better at measurements relative to the number of servings although a couple of the most current recipes called for an amazing amount of garlic. Watson is an application that is learning from us and our corrections and adjustments, just as we are learning new food combinations from the recipes. A couple of the recipes for this Gratin came out with some chili spices in them. I think this might be a fun way to change the recipe, especially if you substitute paneer for the farmers cheese.

I tried making this recipe on the stove top and in the oven, with and without the greens. I eliminated the bread which is traditional in a Gratin mainly because I already eat enough without additional encouragement. But certainly feel free to add some back in on the top if you have something extra special from the bakery. A rustic French style bread would work well with the Smoked Farmers Cheese and maybe some ground up naan if you choose to add chili spices and go with paneer.

Mushroom Stems & Turnips

 

 

Baby Turnips & Mushroom Stem Gratin

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup sweet onions (saute or roast until translucent)
  • 1/4 cup celery, finely chopped (locally grown celery is typically stronger & more fibrous than typical grocery store celery; adjust accordingly)
  • 3 cups of baby white turnips, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Italian Herb mix ( or 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped shiitake mushroom stems (sauté in olive oil on medium high heat with smoked salt & smoked peppercorns until well browned and a little crispy. If possible deglaze pan with white wine, water, or broth and store with mushroom bits)
  • 1/2  teaspoon Concentrate Tamarind Paste Liquid (Savory Spice) or substitute 3/4 – 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1/4-1/2 cup whole milk or cream (lightly warmed)
  • 1/4 cup Chardonnay
  • Olive oil
  • 4 oz Smoked Dairyland Farmers Cheese (Chapel Hill Creamery)
  • 4 cups loose packed baby arugula (or baby turnip greens, tender Bibb or Red lettuce, possibly baby Savoy cabbage)

Preparation

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400F
  • On the stove top, warm a large cast iron pan to medium high. When it’s up to temperature, add in 1 tablespoon olive oil and coat the bottom of the pan well.
  • Immediately add in the thinly sliced turnips and toss to coat with olive oil and herbs.
  • While the heat remains on medium high, add the celery and cook, turning only as the turnips brown on one side. Do not crown the pan. Work in two batches if necessary.
  • As the turnips and celery finish add the pre-cooked mushroom stems, tamarind concentrate and chardonnay to deglaze the pan and heat through.
  • Turn off the heat and add the milk. Most of the water will evaporate immediately but the turnips will absorb the rest. (if you are able to warm the milk or cream a bit, it helps eliminate the chance of curdling)
  • Remove everything to a bowl.
  • Layer the greens across the bottom of the pan and cover with the turnip mixture. Thinly slice the soft cheese randomly over the top of the turnips.
  • Bake for 10-15 minutes until the cheese is melted and just beginning to brown and the greens have wilted.
  • Serve while hot.

Chèvre Truffles with Dehydrated Summer Fruit

Tomatoes and goat cheese are just the most wonderful pair of foods together any time of year. We are right in the middle of chèvre season here in the South. Soon it will be too late to get fresh chèvre as the goats begin seasonal breeding. I like to enjoy as much of this mild delicacy as possible while it’s around so it goes in just about anything I can think of.

It’s amazing to me how different each farm’s cheese products can be and their changes year to year as the herds diversify. Flavors can change based on the type of goats in a herd, the pastures or grounds that the goats are set on, the way they are handled and last but not least, by the cheesemaker’s skills. From start to finish, every component has to be right to get a quality product.

I was fortunate enough this week to discover a producer at the Yancey County Farmers’ Market in Burnsville that I had not tried yet. OakMoon Farm & Creamery has been producing both fresh and aged goat cheeses for many years. They have a little over 80 goats of four varieties in their herd and offer classes both on animal husbandry and cheese-making several times a year in Bakersville. They have been cross breeding their herd to get a mix that they like for more than seventeen years with many of the babies being sold to other farms and going on to win show prizes.

At the same market there were several farms with beautiful heirloom tomatoes that were perfectly ripe. Technically tomatoes are a fruit. So why not pair them with other fruits in dishes? There are literally hundreds of varieties in so many sizes and shapes, it’s nearly impossible to track them all. For me, it’s all about trying some new varieties each year and seeing what recipes I can come up with that highlight their unique shape, color, flavor or texture.

This week while I was pulling some recipes for a chilled soup, I also pulled some recipes for tomato-based cobblers and tarts which provided some inspiration for this recipe. I ended up combining the ingredients from a couple of different recipes mainly because the ingredients and equipment that I had available to use this week was a bit limited.

If you’re into easy recipes, this one  is so simple to make that it’s ridiculous. The main ingredients are dehydrated from local farmers markets. For those of you that are unfamiliar with dehydrating, summer is a great time to try it out. From peaches, strawberries, and apples to tomatoes, zucchini, sweet potatoes and kale, there are a number of snacks you can make with dehydrated food and storage space takes a fraction of space required by canned or frozen goods.

Depending on the size of the little balls you roll ( I recommend 1 teaspoon per truffle) this recipe will make a half-dozen to a dozen little treats. I prefer them smaller so they are just one bite. Especially if you make one that is kid-friendly. You can add toothpicks to them or wrap them in fresh herb leaves or use them to top salads.

 

Chèvre Truffles with Dehydrated Summer Fruit

Ingredients

  • 1/2 teaspoon dehydrated Sun Gold tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dehydrated peach slices, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dehydrated strawberry slices, finely chopped
  • 1/16 teaspoon fresh lime peel or fresh mint, finely chopped
  • 2-3 teaspoons local wildflower honey
  • 4 – 6 oz fresh local chèvre, depending on moisture
  • pinch Himalayan salt, fine grind
  • 1-2 tablespoons toasted or raw pecans, finely chopped

Preparation

  • By hand, blend the finely chopped tomatoes, peaches, strawberries, lime or mint, and honey into the fresh chèvre. Any excess moisture from fresh wet chèvre will be absorbed by the dehydrated pieces of fruit.
  • Refrigerate for an hour or up to a day.
  • Measure teaspoon amounts and roll by hand into small balls. This works best with kitchen gloves.
  • Spread the finely chopped nuts or herbs on a plate and gently roll the chilled chèvre balls around to cover completely, pressing gently to set the cover in place.
  • Refrigerate until needed, up to a day and serve slightly chilled.

Notes

  • Ground pepper is not recommended in this recipe as it overpowers the fruit
  • Serve with fresh basil or mint leaves for additional color and flavor

Summer Soup with Tomatoes, Peaches & Strawberries

Sometimes I feel like I don’t get out much, except to visit farmers’ markets. But let’s face it, a Saturday morning spent chatting with friends, meeting new folks, discussing recipes, harvests, farm animals, pets, and family is like going out to an evening party in my mind. So you won’t hear me complaining about getting up early to go out and pick up my ‘groceries’ in most any kind of weather, wherever I happen to be.

Which brings me to beautiful Western North Carolina this week. I’m up around 4500 feet enjoying a little cooler weather and hiking with my dogs. We are almost able to touch the stars at night with the mountain peaks floating above the clouds each morning. What a way to enjoy a sunrise breakfast made with all the fresh food we have found at the local markets.

There’s been no shortage of beautiful organically grown food here! Which means, plenty of eating, especially with hikes every day up and down hundreds of feet for the most panoramic views of the mountain tops. Each time I visit the area I try to get to at least a couple of new markets.  Mountain farms typically have much shorter growing seasons and the farmers travel further to sell at smaller markets. It’s critical that they make enough sales during the summer months to sustain them all year long. Many are investing in hoop houses and learning how to produce finished products to sustain year-round sales, but their largest income is still during the summer, when visitors are in town for local fairs and mountain activities. So skip the grocery store and eat seasonally for the time you are visiting. You will not be disappointed and you’ll be investing in the local economy.

This year my visit coincided with the annual Mt. Mitchell Craft Fair in Burnsville, NC. This event has been held for more than fifty years. There were several local vendors under the Heritage Tent that had some unique talents for weaving, carving, soap making and animal tanning! One of the exhibitors shared a little about the local farms and cooking demos scheduled for the upcoming Yancey County Farmers’ Market. It was worth a trip down the mountain to get some great new recipes from the market managers for squash fritters & kale stir-fry as well as pick up some additional veggies, eggs and ‘firecracker’ goat cheese!

The market also prompted some ideas for a couple of recipes using beautiful cherry tomatoes. I’ve been interested in combining some of the more delicate flavors of the less acid yellow tomatoes with fruit since I had a dessert at  Zely & Ritz in Raleigh from Chef Sarig Agassi using cherry tomatoes, fresh cheese and honey a number of years ago at a Farm to Table Dinner.

If you happen to run a web engine query on tomatoes and fruit, you’ll get back plenty of examples of lovely salads combining the flavors of these two groups, which are brought together through herbs and honey. Basil, mint, thyme, and rosemary all work well with summer fruits. Hot peppers can add a little contrast too. Choose your favorite acid like aged balsamic, white balsamic, infused, or apple cider vinegar, and the combinations are endless. What’s even better is that many of these pairings go well with  coconut milk, coconut water, kefir, yoghurt, almond milk, whole nuts, and even cheese. This increases the possibilities of what you can make from the base recipe to include frozen pops, slushy drinks, smoothies, puddings or chilled soups when the weather turns really hot or you just want something fun and different.

As a part of the beta test group for the IBM & Bon Appetit Chef Watson application, I decided to try to create a chilled soup and an appetizer that would be great for summer and show off the fresh flavors of the local farmers markets. After a few hours reviewing hundreds of recipes to for compotes, cocktails and crumbles and tarts, I tested around  a half-dozen combination ideas and came up with a couple that I liked and want to share.

On Wednesday I was able to pick up some beautiful organic cherry tomatoes in all different colors and sizes at the Weaverville Tailgate Market along with local honey. On the trip, I brought along both frozen and dehydrated strawberries and peaches from home because I wasn’t sure if I could find some here at the markets. Fresh thyme, rosemary, basil and mint came from an organic community garden I visited this week. These were the ingredients I wanted to start with so that’s what I plugged into the requirements for Chef Watson. I had to run the application a couple of times to find a base that I thought might work for chilled soup. The three types of recipes that seemed to have the most common ingredients included a crumble, a compote, and a cocktail. Since I’m traveling, I don’t have the wide range of spices or equipment available so the recipe requirements for me included simplicity. Based on the food I found at the farmers markets and what I brought with me, I came up with a base compote mixture that could be thinned out for a soup base or just pureed for a drink or frozen pop.

Compotes are a lot like preserves. You can add them to things like fresh goat cheese to use on sandwiches like a spread, or top your pancakes with them instead of syrup. They mix them into cakes really well for texture and flavor changes, or you can puree them into velvety soups or puddings and thicken with chia seeds or mix them with sparkling water or cider for surprising drinks.

The first rendition of this compote was cooked and it turned out nice once I balanced the sweetness with a little balsamic vinegar. But the flavors were not as bright as the  original fresh fruit and reminded me more of fall than late summer. So tried again, this time, keeping everything fresh and changing out one hard cider for another and adding coconut water just to see what would happen. That version stayed light and bright with all of the flavors sharing the spotlight pretty well.

So I’ll start by giving you the recipe for the raw base compote that makes a chilled soup or a frozen popsicle. And then I’ll tell you how to cook this and change the flavor profile by using some alternative ingredients based on different recipes that Chef Watson suggested. This recipe serves 2 or 4 as ‘shooters’.

 

Chilled Summer Soup with Cherry Tomatoes, Strawberries, Peaches & Goat Cheese

 

Chilled Summer Soup with Cherry Tomatoes, Peaches & Strawberries

Ingredients

  • 1 cup yellow pear cherry tomatoes (or other yellow or orange cherry tomato)
  • 1/2 cup ripe peaches, roughly chopped (can be frozen)
  • 1 cup ripe strawberries, quartered (can be frozen)
  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/8- 1/4 teaspoon finely grated fresh lime peel
  • 1/4 cup coconut water or plain crisp hard apple cider
  • pinch of Himalayan salt
  • pinch of ground white or red peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon White balsamic vinegar (Cattani)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh goat cheese

Preparation

  • Quarter the tomatoes & strawberries and place in a bowl.
  • Slice and rough chop the peaches and place in the bowl with tomatoes & strawberries.
  • Add the honey, thyme, fresh lime peel, coconut water, salt, pepper and balsamic vinegar.
  • Let sit in refrigerator for up to a day.
  • Serve as chilled soup without blending, topping it with a bit of fresh goat cheese or fresh herbs.
  • Or, puree with chevre into blended soup and chill, serving it with some fresh basil leaves or grated lime peel.
  • Can be made up to a day in advance.

Notes

  • Frozen popsicles can be made with or without the chevre.
  • Hard apple cider should be clean and fresh tasting without additional flavors. I tried Crispin Apple Cider fermented with wine yeast and plain Crispin Apple Cider. Both worked, but I think the wine yeast was more complimentary with the base fruit and tomato flavors because it was not quite as sweet and allowed the true fruit flavors to stand out.
  • You can cook the ingredients for about 10 minutes on medium/high to reduce some of the liquid. Use a bit of coconut water to blend in 1 teaspoon of tapioca starch at the end and bring to light boil for a couple of minutes. The entire mixture will tighten up and be more of a compote. You can then refrigerate this and use it in a chilled soup or on top of waffles or as a sandwich spread.