Kids Cooking Classes at the Farmers’ Market

It’s baby goat season, but we’re not talking goats here! Kids love to learn to cook at the market! They love meeting the farmers and are adventuresome enough to try new foods and be willing to experiment with flavor combinations. So we want to give them more opportunities to learn this year.

We’ve grown up with a full generation or two of folks not cooking. Busy work schedules have many folks relying on restaurants and grocery store-bought finished foods to feed themselves with little regard for healthy or local options. Cooking classes at the market are short and sweet, and so are the recipes because they utilize whole foods that taste good and are really fresh.

I’ve enjoyed doing demonstrations and classes at local markets for more than three years now with other chefs in the area, and that’s why I’ve decided to help our local market managers put together more classes so we can all address the need in our community to feed the next generation with  the gift of  cooking knowledge. Knowing what’s in season and how to work with it will service them for a lifetime. And hopefully they will enjoy the kinds of experiences many of us had cooking with our grandmothers or gardening and fishing with our parents and grandparents.

To help establish some new cooking classes for kids at the markets in the Triangle area, I’ve decided to donate some large Japanese Maple trees that I have been growing organically as a hobby for the last dozen or so years to markets that either have established kids classes or are in the process of setting them up for this year. A couple of trees for each market doing these sorts of activities will help purchase equipment and food for the classes since most markets try to offer these as a public service for free or a nominal charge.

Each of the trees is between 6-8′ tall without the container and has been container grown for about a ten years. They normally grow about 1′ per year in the ground so you should see some real height within three years of settling them into your own garden. They are the Bloodgood Variety and will reach a height of 25′ over time with a spread of 15′. The original tree the seeds came from was well over 60 years old. They are long-lived trees with a spreading root system and they like well-drained sites that get water over the shallow feeding roots. They are $100 each, which is well below the wholesale value of these trees.  Your donation to an approved market (501C non-profit organization) that has contacted me with their information will be considered the “purchase”.  You will need to coordinate picking up your tree after your donation is complete.

Durham Farmers Market is participating in this program currently and other emails are out to market managers in the Triangle area regarding this support program.  If you have questions about the trees or how to get one, please email me at tarheelfoodie at gmail dot com. If you are a market manager and want to coordinate with me on this program, please send me a email.

Herb Roasted Parsnips & Rainbow Carrot Soup

Rainbow Carrots at the Farmers Market

It was warm and sunny yesterday. The perfect early spring day to work in the garden, clearing out weeds and overgrown plants; making room for new blueberry plants and additional herbs. It was time to see what survived one of our coldest winters, and what did not, namely all of the rosemary looks like toast. On a positive note, the raspberry patch seems to have thrived with the slow melting snow and ongoing rain. Which means there will be extra plants to share with local farmers and friends this year. The trash cans are filled with debris and ready for pick up this week. Today it’s chilly and rainy again with sleet expected by the early evening hours. Typical Southern weather. 70 one day, 20 the next. Ice tea with honeysuckle syrup for our afternoon break yesterday and warm sweet potato lattes this morning for breakfast dressed with local honey.

Here’s a simple winter soup recipe to make in your blender or food processor from roasted veggies you have put into your freezer. Or, if you choose, roast them for dinner tonight with some cabbage slices drizzled in olive oil and then puree them tomorrow into a rich deep orange-colored soup for lunch.  Two meals in the time it takes to make one. That’s my kind of deal!

Raw Unwashed Parsnips

 

I prefer to use the smallest parsnips and carrots I can get from local farms for this recipe. Being a tad lazy, and hating waste, I simply prefer scrub the veggies and do not bother to “skin” them. The smaller parsnips don’t have that inedible center core and the carrots are incredibly tender when they are little. The parsnips will be just a little spicy, but most importantly, they will caramelize really well from tip to root when they are small and still full of juice. Try to use a “grassy” olive oil to compliment the flavors of both veggies in the roasting process.

Herb Roasted Rainbow Carrots

 

Herb Roasted Parsnip & Rainbow Carrot Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 cups roasted carrots, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup roasted parsnips, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup sautéed celery
  • 1/2 cup sautéed onion
  • 1/2 cup dry orange lentils – cook in liquid prior to adding to other vegetables
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried shallots (1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaf (1 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk (whole or lite)
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan fine salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Chardonnay Oak Barrel Smoke Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh peppercorns – Mesquite & Apple Wood Smoked Peppercorns
  • up to 4 cups stock (vegetable, rabbit, or chicken)

Preparation

  • Scrub the parsnips and carrots well with cool water. Dry them. Cut off just the very top and any extensively long root bottom as it will simply burn. Cut any large carrots in half or quarters, leaving them long. Aim for the size of a young woman’s finger. There is no need to be exact.
  • On a sheet pan covered with parchment paper, drizzle olive oil on the parsnips and carrots. Add salt, pepper and a blend of herbs that you enjoy. Taste the vegetables raw to check the seasonings. The salt and pepper will intensify in the roasting process. I typically use thyme, rosemary, marjoram, oregano, celery leaves. These can be dried or fresh. The amounts listed in the recipe are for the soup, so you will need more for roasting the vegetables. Whatever you have will work fine if they are blended into the oil.
  • Roast at 400-425F until they are tender and lightly browned. If you are in the kitchen and can watch the oven, higher heat works well. If you can’t watch the vegetables, turn down the heat and allow yourself more flexibility in the cooking time.
  • Saute the finely chopped celery and onions in olive oil until they are translucent and soft. Local celery is more tender and flavorful than store-bought celery because the farmers harvest it earlier to preserve the beautiful topping of leaves and keep it from being eaten or burning in the fields. Heirloom onion varieties can be more sweet than store-bought onions and caramelize faster. Use butter if you prefer, but the recipe is written as dairy-free and diabetic friendly.
  • Cook the lentils in water or stock with the bay leaf, shallots, thyme, cumin and coriander.
  • Blend the carrots, parsnips, celery, onion, lentils, coconut milk and 2 cups of broth together. Check for seasoning and continue to add broth to the mix until the desired thickness is achieved. Adding additional coconut milk will dilute the spices and vegetable flavors more than broth. The soup will freeze with the coconut milk. It will not freeze with dairy milk.
  • Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds. Bacon works well too for those of you that enjoy it.

 

Farmers’ Markets & CSA’s

 

tulips from the farmers market

 

During the last couple of months, many farms have sent out newsletters or posted to Facebook about their 2014 seasonal offerings, most readily called a CSA for Community Supported Agriculture.  Some farmers only offer a CSA Weekly Box option which contains a variety of goods from their farm that are harvested that very week of delivery without much choice in the box for the consumer. For some consumers that works just fine but other find their families are too small, too large, or they just want a choice about what is packed in the box each week. Some folks want larger quantities some weeks to make jams, dehydrate or can veggies. Some people need to skip weeks for vacation or order extra for guests. So farmers are answering these requests with more flexible CSA programs and each is a little different from the next. This makes accounting for the farmer a lot more difficult on top of working long hours to plant, harvest, cover, uncover, build fences, mend green houses, and still cook and put up food for their own families and interns for the winter months. But they are all trying to work with consumers to fit the needs of many without expanding the requirement for additional help if it’s not necessary.

plants at the market

 

Even with these challenges, local sustainable farmers have managed to stay creative. They are choosing to plant  heirloom varieties that we haven’t seen in years and push all of us to try them out whether they are pretty or not! They are looking for the next cool thing to send to a local restaurant and figure out if an older variety of seed will grow better and be resistant in our changing climate. They will figure out how to take a fresh ingredient like summer peppers, dry them and sell them mixed with salt for a seasoning, or dry the summer flowers that haven’t sold in one week to make a wreath for the winter months, or teach you how to freeze eggs when they are plentiful in the fall so you have some during the holiday season for baking when the chickens are taking a break from laying. And they will work out the details of a delivery program that gets you the food you want, where you want it, when you want it. To that end, we have seen a number of delivery companies spring up in the marketplace to bring together food from several farms combined with local food finished products, even mixing in fish from the mountains to the sea. I can’t keep up with them all. Most are not farmers themselves although there are a couple in the Triangle area and in Western NC that farm as well as act as retail outlets for other farms and local food purveyors.

raw heirloom garlic

 

There are smaller vendors like Johnny’s in Carrboro, NoFo’s in Raleigh, LoMo Market in the Triangle, and Angelina’s in Pittsboro, who all have a place in the delivery system. (I’m sorry if I left your shop off the list.) They all offer the convenience to pick up local products (and they use local products themselves) when you can’t make it to a market with some of them even offering a small window of time that farmers can come make deliveries or speak with customers. All I’m saying is that if you are creative, and willing to work with the local farmers, you can have extremely fresh food every week in your home. It’s easier than you think. Every market has a market manager and many have assistants that can help identify the vendors that will fit your needs. Just ask. You can even email them with questions if you can’t make it to the market right away.

heirloom cherry tomatoes

 

Get on mailing lists at the market, look up the farms, talk to other folks in line at a vendor stall (they won’t mind, I promise!), but shop with local farms if you possibly can starting this week! You’ll find my Tarheel Foodie Facebook page has posts from farmers nearly every day. And the Tarheel Foodie Pinterest page has links to healthy recipes, both mine and others, that can incorporate locally raised food.

peppers & saltstea & lavenderyarn

Creamy Tomato, Cauliflower & Pesto Soup

Heirloom Tomatoes from the Farmers Market

 

As the sun rises this morning, it hits the brick on the house behind mine perfectly to turn the color of the brick to a lovely shade resembling a summer peach. Can you tell I’m ready for warmer temperatures? My blood has thinned in the thirty-five years since I moved from Maryland. A dear friend in Seattle invited me for a visit yesterday. She loves cold weather. She loved living in Minneapolis. She hated the hot humid summers here in Raleigh. A summer trip, after the snow melts and the flowers are blooming in her garden is the plan.

Today, our temperatures are expected to be moderate for the end of February. I’ve been out on the porch a couple of times this morning surveying the sunrise.  Soup is the plan for lunch. The fall weather seemed to be just perfect for cauliflower this past year so I have quite a lot in the freezer still. Roasted in olive oil with different peppercorns and a variety of salts, it’s great for so many recipes over the winter months. The yellow is my favorite for Indian dishes, mixed with dried peppers from Fiddlehead Farm (Pittsboro NC) this year. The deep purple is fun because it turns lavender when it’s blended into any dish. And then there is the simple ivory, the color of antique tablecloths with lightly browned smudges here and there. It  turns the most lovely golden brown color when roasted in olive oil.  Cooking the pieces a second time in a non-stick pan with a mix of farm butter and olive oil after you pull them out of the freezer enhances the browning. Those are the pieces that are perfect to decorate soup or as a topping on roasted cabbage with bacon pieces.

After I made the Cauliflower & Pesto Soup I got to thinking that it might be pretty tasty to add some roasted and dehydrated tomatoes to the mix.  Blending both into the other soup along with a few additional herbs turned out incredibly creamy and light without so much of the acid flavor you find in traditional tomato soup recipes. So make a larger batch of the previous soup, and plan on a second meal with just a few adjustments.  Add a grilled cheese sandwich made on bakery bread with cheese and greens and maybe bacon, ham or roasted chicken. Of course, all of it should come from the farmers’ market! It won’t take more than thirty minutes to pull a family meal or picnic together.

One other note I want to make about this soup is in regards to the onions and celery I used. For the last three years, many more farmers have begun to grow celery. The first crops that came out of the fields had stringy tough stems and were difficult to use in anything other than stock. But last year there was a real turning point in all of the crops with celery that completely rivaled anything in any store around town. In fact, I’m going to go out on a limb and tell you it was actually better than the stuff being shipped in from other states. The heads were full of magnificent leaves that could be made into the most wonderful raw salads and dehydrated for use in stock. The stems were broad and tender all the way from the tip to the root. Perfect for filling with goat cheese blended with fresh herbs and dehydrated tomatoes. I just can’t gush enough about our local farmers and the time they spend learning to grow new crops.

Onions were no exception either. For a couple of years now there has been a push to try heirloom varieties of onions and potatoes. This past year everything seemed to come up perfectly despite a really wet spring. While the onions had to be pulled early and sold quickly, they were amazing.  I think I have about a half-dozen varieties put up from different farms. Some browned more than others because the sugar content was greater, some of the reds turned out to make the most excellent sauces for meats I have ever tasted. But all in all, it has been exciting to use the different varieties to change the flavor of basic recipes. So I encourage you to talk with your local farmers and buy whatever they have decided to experiment growing in their fields. Give them feedback on how you used it and whether you liked it!

Creamy Tomato Cauliflower Pesto Soup

 

Creamy Tomato, Cauliflower & Pesto Soup

Ingredients

  • 16 – 20 oz broth (Rabbit, Chicken, Veggie)
  • 8-12 oz roasted cauliflower in olive oil (finished weight which is about 1/2 raw weight)
  • 16-20 oz roasted heirloom tomatoes (finished weight with juice which is about 1/2 raw weight)
  • 2 generous tablespoons pesto
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated sliced tomatoes, broken up or rough cut dehydrated cherry tomatoes
  • 1/8 cup roasted or sautéed onions
  • 1/4 cup sautéed celery
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon roasted garlic (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel pollen (optional)
  • 1 teaspoons dried Italian Herb Blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh chopped rosemary
  • Salt & Pepper to taste – will vary depending on stock and the way the cauliflower is roasted

Preparation

  • Roast the cauliflower by coating in olive oil, salt & pepper and any spices you like thyme, rosemary and garlic. Cook it at 400-425F until it is roughly half of its original size and nicely browned. Use parchment paper underneath to keep your sheet pans cleaner. (Freeze it after it is cooked if you want to use later in the year.) Basic Directions for Roasting Cauliflower
  • Roast the tomatoes in olive oil with green onions, fresh herbs, salt & pepper at 400-425F for about 20 minutes. (Freeze with the juice if you want to use these later in the year.) Basic Directions for Roasting Tomatoes
  • Basic Directions for Dehydrating Plum Tomatoes – same technique can be used for Cherry Tomatoes or Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes
  • Saute the celery and onions until they are translucent in olive oil. (Freeze the mixture in containers for use later in the year.)
  • Add the cauliflower, celery, onions, roasted and dehydrated tomatoes, along with the  fennel pollen to the broth and heat until it is simmering lightly. Cook about 10 minutes with a lid on just to soften up the vegetables a bit more, without loosing much of the broth to steam. You can  wait to add the pesto when you blend everything together.
  • Puree the batch of vegetables, stock and pesto in a blender, food processor or with an immersion stick until it is smooth. Add more broth (or water) if necessary to reach your desired consistency.
  • Adjust the seasonings.
  • Top with mild fresh herbs like chives, thyme, celery leaves, sliced dehydrated tomatoes, mushrooms or bacon.

Notes

  • The fresh and dried herbs will vary in amount depending on whether your tomatoes were dehydrated or roasted in herbs.
  • Different salts and peppercorns can change the flavor of the soup. Using mildly smoked salts like Chardonnay Oak Barrel Salt or Mesquite & Apple Wood Smoked Peppercorns can bring out more smokey flavors in the tomatoes. Brighter notes from the tomatoes can be accomplished by using Murray River Flake Salt or  Fumee de Sel  as a finishing salt.

 

 

 

 

 

Roasted Cauliflower & Pesto Soup

Raw Colored Cauliflower

 

I won’t lie, it’s been hard getting back to writing after taking so much time off to visit with family and friends through the holiday season. I’ve been slow to get started and frustrated with the limited exposure from Facebook when I post recipes or news now that the company has made so many changes to their posting algorithm. If I pay for advertising, then my posts go to random people, not to the folks that “liked” my page and somehow that seems incredibly stupid to me. I have written and tweeted the VP of Sales and Marketing offering up the suggestion of a subscription model that allows my followers to get all of my posts for an annual fee that I pay as a business. Not a huge annual fee, but something reasonable that a small business or non-profit can afford. There are so many of us on Facebook now. NO REPLY. After more than 20 years in sales and marketing myself, this just seems ridiculous. But enough whining. If they can’t reply and can’t put a program in place that works for a small business or non-profits that I work with and support, then I’m just going to make a few changes to my writing pattern to promote my website instead of theirs. Hopefully this change with the expansion to Pinterest and Twitter will work better to spread the word of farm to fork with sustainable local ingredients.

Some of the recipes this year are going to be terribly simple and the blog entries may border on very short when there’s a news feature. A day rarely passes that I don’t cook. Sometimes there are smoothies that only take five minutes, or sandwiches/pizza from leftovers that might take fifteen to assemble and warm. And, sometimes the meals are more elaborate, requiring up to three or four hours. But most of the time, meals are a combination of pre-cooked items from the freezer brought together into a simple recipe that takes a fraction of the time it normally would if you started all the way from raw ingredients. The hard work is done when the foods are harvested. Dehydrating, roasting, slow cooking, or lightly steaming bulk ingredients and putting them into containers with dates takes some time, I won’t lie about that. But when you are tired or want to teach your kids to cook, this method will give you options to pull together a nice meal pretty easily because the slicing and initial cooking is already complete. Once you get the hang of putting up a few key ingredients when they are in-season, you’ll see how easy it is to work in and out of season blending fresh market ingredients as they are harvested.

This is totally different from “throwing” things together from the fridge and pantry. This method takes a little planning to figure out what you normally eat and putting up your family’s basics so you can continue to enjoy the meals you like throughout the year, but with less effort when it counts. Cutting an hour or more off of your cook time during the week allows you to keep your meals healthy and satisfying. You will also have more time to try out new recipes. Entertaining becomes a breeze too. When the weather is not cooperating and there’s a shortage of one ingredient or another at the market, this strategy keeps great farm food on your table day after day. Please, feel free to send me emails or comment on the website if you need help with a recipe. That’s the only way I can learn what you would like to see or need to know.

On to the recipe for today. I started writing this on #MeatlessMonday, but I’ll confess that I have used rabbit broth in this recipe. I ran out of veggie broth a couple of weeks ago and I’m trying to use up some of the other stock in the freezer before I add more. At some point I have to defrost the freezers each year and the early spring when items dwindle a bit is a good time to shift food around and do the big defrost. To that end, I came some delicious pesto when I was consolidating two freezers.

But back to the pesto! This particular pesto was given to me by a client over the holiday. She remarked that it’s really hard to give a food gift to someone who cooks almost every day! But she picked out a couple of things that I don’t often make for myself, which was really lovely. One sweet and one savory. Of course the sweets did not last long. There’s a reason I don’t make a lot of sweet recipes. I have very little willpower when it comes to baked sweets. I am a kid in a bakery. They are my weakness. Handed down from my mother and father. I’ve probably talked about the bakery in Ellicott City called Leidig’s before. They are no longer in business, but I remember waiting in line on the weekends with my sisters to get special rolls for grilled hamburgers and a pastry to eat right away as a treat for behaving in the line. Today many would frown upon giving a child food as a reward, but it seemed to work just fine in our case. We each got one treat, no more, once a week. Both of my parents worked full-time so there we didn’t make a lot of sweet things at home. Although I will admit that my mother’s recipe for Apple Cake is still one of the very best I have ever eaten.

I love to taste new things and experiment putting items together, so the pesto presented an excellent opportunity to try a couple different recipes.  It’s been my experience that people either love or hate pesto. And there isn’t any rhyme or reason to it. I’ve made a few different types over the last couple of years for farmers’ market demonstrations including sorrel, arugula, broccoli and basil. Seasonally they are kind of fun to add to everything from chevre to swirls in a quiche. In my family, I’m the only one that likes pesto, unless it is hidden well in a dish. It can’t be the main show. Maybe it’s the color. They tend to all be a dull-brownish-green color with the broccoli pesto as an exception. It  is a lovely shade of bright green, in my opinion.

 

Roasted Cauliflower with fresh herbs and local cheese

 

A little research on the web brought up several recipes for roasted cauliflower and I love to roast it with herbs and top it with cheese when it’s fresh from the market. But I also found recipes for it roasted and topped with pesto sauce. Simple enough to make, especially if you already have the pesto on hand. Since cauliflower isn’t in-season at the moment, my frozen roasted stock from the fall came in handy. It isn’t as firm once it’s frozen, but the flavor is still lovely. Normally I would use it in an Indian curry dish or use it in  chickpea soup.  But this idea of simply blending the cauliflower and pesto together with a bit of broth took hold and that’s what I ran with last week.  Incredibly easy and creamy. Just perfect for the chilly weather we’ve been having lately.

I added my twist of flavor. There was a wonderful recipe for celery soup that I tested out and loved the week before last.  I thought that sautéed celery and slow roasted onions would enhance the base flavor of the soup and compliment the cauliflower. Since both ingredients were already cooked and stored in the freezer, it really didn’t take any time to add them to this soup. The sautéed celery and onions are combined with the roasted cauliflower in a pot with stock and cooked for around 10 minutes,  just to soften everything up a bit before it goes into the blender. The pesto gets added at the end and all of the ingredients are blended until smooth. Adjust the seasonings for salt & pepper and thin the soup as necessary with additional broth (whole milk or nut milk work too).   The first batch of soup turned out really well and adding some toasted nuts and additional roasted cauliflower to the top made it more presentable, but they are not required. The blended cauliflower has a silky texture similar to cream, without the extra calories. The cheese and nuts from the pesto add some protein and hold the body of the soup together without the use of flour or other thickening agents.

 

Roasted Cauliflower & Pesto Soup

 

Roasted Cauliflower & Pesto Soup

Ingredients

  • 16 – 20 oz broth (Rabbit, Chicken, Veggie)
  • 8-12 oz roasted cauliflower in olive oil (finished weight which is about 1/2 raw weight)
  • 2 generous tablespoons pesto
  • 1/8 cup roasted or sautéed onions
  • 1/4 cup sautéed celery
  • 1/2 teaspoon roasted garlic (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon fennel pollen (optional)
  • Salt & Pepper to taste – will vary depending on stock and the way the cauliflower is roasted

Preparation

  • Roast the cauliflower by coating in olive oil, salt & pepper and any spices you like thyme, rosemary and garlic. Cook it at 400-425F until it is roughly half of its original size and nicely browned. Use parchment paper underneath to keep your sheet pans cleaner.
  • Saute the celery and onions until they are translucent in olive oil.
  • Add the cauliflower, celery, onions, and fennel pollen to the broth and heat until it is simmering. Cook about 10 minutes with a lid on just to soften up the vegetables a bit more. You can add the pesto or wait and add it in when you blend everything together.
  • Puree the batch of vegetables, stock and pesto in a blender, food processor or with an immersion stick until it is smooth. Add more broth (or water) if necessary to reach your desired consistency.
  • Adjust the seasonings.
  • Top with mild fresh herbs like chives, thyme, celery leaves, and toasted nuts or roasted chickpeas for some crunch

 

 

 

Baked Polenta topped with Seasonal Vegetables

 

Baked Polenta with Roasted Vegetables

 

As it normally happens each year, I ran out of olive oil at the end of fall. I actually try to run out just around Thanksgiving so I’ll be ready to usher in the holiday cooking bonanza with freshly pressed olive oils from different regions. The wonderful staff at Olio2Go help me select oils throughout the year to test with different recipes for the best outcomes. In my last order, they put an extra package of imported Italian yellow polenta from Moretti Bramata.  In the past, I’ve worked with several brands of stone ground organic grits from NC and Virginia, but never an imported polenta, so I was excited to play with the bag of golden nuggets and decided to do a little research before starting.

While the package states this is  ”coarse ground” corn, it is quite finely ground and more uniform than stone ground grits that are available locally. The Moretti family has been growing corn since 1922. Their process includes drying the corn in open air barns and stone grinding it using a process called “reduction milling” where the corn is run through the mill several times. Each pass through the mill reduces the size of the grit and creates more uniform particles than what we find from our local mills. Cooking time appears to be reduced with the smaller size grits and the texture after it is cooked is more even so it’s easier to shape and cut.

During the course of my research, I came across Anson Mill’s website which had a great deal of information on corn. A couple of quick points that are worth mentioning. Polenta and grits are different in both in the variety of corn and in the milling techniques used in production. Polenta was initially used in Italy to feed the pigs. Most polenta from Italy is based on a variety of corn known as “flint” that came from the Caribbean around the 1500′s. Flint corn is harder to mill because the starch inside the corn is harder than “dent” corn, which is typically used for grits and corn meal here in the South.  It also has a different flavor profile than “dent” varieties that are typically grown in the South. Flint stores longer than dent corn once milled and holds the texture better once cooked, making it ideal for certain recipes that require cut shapes.

You can read more about the history and cultivation of both “flint” and “dent” corn varieties on the Anson Mills website.
Armed with some basic knowledge of corn you can talk to the local farmers at the market to find out what varieties they grow and how they decided on those seed selections.

For these recipes I cooked the polenta with a 4:1 ratio of liquid to polenta. I am fond of using 2 parts milk (whole or low-fat both work fine) and 2 parts filtered water in a heavy stainless pot. (For soft southern grits I use 5:1 ratio with 3 parts milk). It was pointed out to me recently during a demonstration that I stir my grits constantly, putting a lot of “love” into them. To be honest, I like the process of stirring them and I think it helps the corn cook evenly and avoids sticking on the bottom. If you are eating dairy-free, just use water and skip the milk. Once cooked,  you can choose to move forward with the recipe using warm polenta, or store it in the fridge to use in a day or two, allowing it time to come to room temperature before baking it so that it cooks evenly in the center. There are two choices on how to treat the bottom layer of polenta in this recipe.

First, for a heavy base that can be cut and pulled out with a spatula for serving, spread the polenta in a baking dish that has been well oiled with olive oil to help avoid sticking. Then top it with a couple of roasted veggies that are in season. Next top that with the cheese of your choice which will help to bind the mixture together as it bakes. Be careful not to add too much cheese as it will cover the other vegetable flavors. It’s also good to note many cheeses change flavors once heated, so in some cases you may want to add the cheese as you pull out the polenta and vegetables. Fresh goat cheese or fresh ricotta might be a couple of cheeses to consider adding at the end of baking. There should be some balance in each layer, especially if you have taken time to develop the flavors and textures in your roasted vegetables.

While testing this recipe, I found that using more than a couple of veggies at a time resulted in too many competing flavors in each bite and overpowered the underlying sweet corn flavor of the polenta. If you’re going to take the time to make good polenta and roast seasonal vegetables, then you should be able to taste all of that hard work in the resulting dish. So think about how much you want to put on top of your polenta base and which cheese will best compliment both the corn and veggies that you have chosen. The better choice might be to make several small dishes with different combinations to serve instead of one large dish with everything piled high.

You can create a lighter polenta base can by adding eggs and some additional milk to the cooked before re-baking dish with vegetables and cheese. The base becomes more like stiff spoon bread. With this technique, fewer vegetables and less cheese create a light and delicate side dish for any meal. More vegetables create something like a buckle where the veggies fall into the corn base.

All in all, there are several ways to make this dish throughout the year using both techniques and altering your choices on vegetables to fit the season and the weather. You can even make individual servings using small cast iron pans so everyone at the table has their favorite. And these can go out on the grill in cast iron pans if you are careful about the level of heat so you don’t burn the bottom. Using ramekins gives you more flexibility to prepare them ahead of time if you are having a party and create smaller portions with different toppings.

In my tests, roasted tomatoes were a natural pairing and their liquid seeped down into the polenta, blending nicely. Tomatoes paired with grilled or roasted eggplant, sautéed summer squash, or grilled mushrooms all worked well. The summer squash also paired well with slow cooked onions. Both have some liquid left in the cooking process that can be used with this recipe, being careful with the amount used. Mushrooms and eggplant paired well although this combination was a bit dry and might be better with a bit of cheese or tomato to moisten or bind them together. Peppers and onions paired well although peppers have a dominant flavor that I enjoy in soup with corn, but in this application, be sure not to use too many and let the corn and cheese offset the peppers. Baby spinach or young chard with onions or mushrooms was lovely but you have to enjoy your greens to enjoy this combination and choosing the lighter tasting green was important so it won’t overpower the sweet corn flavor.

For cheese selections I like to use fresh goat cheese paired with mushrooms, eggplant and peppers. I tend to move towards aged cow cheese like Chapel Hill Creamery Calvander for the tomatoes but I think their Farmers Cheese (or Smoked Farmers’ Cheese) might work really well with roasted peppers because it has a unique stringy quality when melted and the tang it offers as a compliment to the sweet Italian peppers.

Of course you can always add some meat or fish into this dish. There are so many varieties of local farm sausage made with everything from chicken to pork or venison along with bacon or seafood like shrimp. I think you could spend an entire season trying all sorts of combinations and never have the same dish twice.

I didn’t try eggs on the top of this dish. But here’s my take on that idea. I think if you poached or lightly fried an egg and left the yolk soft it would make a nice dish with the tomatoes, mushrooms or greens for brunch. Since I love eggs poached in roasted tomatoes or fresh greens, this combination seems natural to me and would easily round out this recipe.

Think about the polenta base as an alternative to pizza or a tart and you’ll get the hang of this recipe in no time at all. Have your kids or guests involved in making the combination choices and bake this in individual baking dishes for a personalized touch for the holiday season or a summer grilling party.

The recipe will easily make enough for four people as a side. You can make up all the separate ingredients a couple of days prior to the final dish so it’s great to use up leftovers in the fridge. Or use pre-cooked, frozen items that have been thawed if you want to eat a little out of season or cut down on your cooking time.

 

Roasted Vegetables

 

Baked Polenta with Seasonal Vegetables

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Polenta fine ground
  • 2 cups milk (low-fat or whole)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt – fine grind
  • 1 cup each of 2 roasted vegetables (peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, onions, fennel, squash, mushrooms, zucchini)
  • 2 cups large-shred hard cheese or 1 cup fresh chevre or ricotta (optional)
  • 3 eggs, separated (optional – see Bake Method 2 below)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk (optional – see Bake Method 2 below)

 

Preparation

  • Begin by bringing the water, milk, butter (or olive oil) and salt up to a slow simmer and gently stir in the polenta to the simmering liquid, adjusting the heat slightly as needed to keep the liquid gently bubbling.
  • Continue to stir the mixture as needed to avoid sticking or burning on the bottom and adjust the heat so it continues to simmer while it cooks. This should take about 30 minutes. All the “tooth” should be out of the grits and the texture should be smooth and creamy.

Bake Method 1:

  • Spread the grits into a well-oiled (EVOO) shallow baking dish, individual ramekins or oven-proof skillet while warm, pressing down enough to eliminate air pockets and top with roasted vegetables and cheese.
  • Bake at 350F for 20-30 minutes so the vegetables are warmed all the way through and any liquid from them has had time to incorporate into the polenta. The time will vary depending on the size and kind of baking dish you are using. Cast iron takes a bit longer to come up to temperature compared to individual ceramic ramekins.

Bake Method 2:

  • Separate the 3 eggs and mix the yolks with 1/3 cup of whole milk. Mix into the warm or room temperature grits until well blended.
  • Beat the egg whites until stiff and gently fold in thirds into the grits. Place this mixture into individual or large casserole being careful not to deflate the volume.
  • Gently top with roasted veggies and cheese.
  • Bake at 350F for 25-45 minutes depending on the size of the baking dish. It might be necessary to use parchment paper to keep the vegetables and cheese from burning as the grits cook a second time.

 

Preserving Farm Fresh Shiitake Mushrooms

shiitakes sliced rawAfter my trip last year to Western Maryland, I posted some notes about cooking the Oyster Mushrooms I brought back from Savage River Farm in Garrett County. Oyster Mushrooms are delicate when first picked and have a mild flavor so gently cooking them in olive oil and then freezing them is a simple method for keeping them around. You could also dehydrate them, but it’s not my preference unless I’m using them for stock or a soup where they are not a big feature.

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The process of cooking Shiitake Mushrooms is different from Oyster mushrooms. You are going to use a higher heat level and take them to a crispy state, almost like chips. Oysters would simply fall apart under the same conditions. The skin on the Shiitake will hold up to the heat, even young mushrooms. But the ones you are most likely to find at the local Farmers’ Market do not resemble what you will find at the store by any stretch of the imagination. They are generally clean, bright, and beautiful with stems that you can thoughtfully put into a stock to simmer all day with herbs.  That’s because local farmers generally pick the mushrooms just a day in advance and sometimes less if you go pick them up from the farm yourself. These mushrooms are a joy to work with because your knife will gently push through them and cut a lovely clean thin line. (This is where you can just look away from my cuts. As my eyesight has progressed down the scale of moderate to poor, so have my cutting skills!)

In the Triangle area markets there are several vendors that grow mushrooms.  Raleigh, Cary and Durham vendors include unusual and colorful mushrooms from Old Milburnie Farm and traditional Shiitakes from Kellam-Wyatt Farm, Edible Earthscapes, Maple Spring Gardens and Pinhole Farm. Woodfruit Mushroom Farm services local restaurants with almost a dozen different varieties and has by far the most expansive production in the area. Spain Farm sells both fresh and dried Shiitake throughout the year and SEEDs, a non-profit in Durham also has a selection of Shiitake that local students help grow. Many other small farms are adding mushrooms and if you are interested in growing your own, several classes pop up in the spring and fall for you to learn the process.

Another great thing about incredibly fresh mushrooms is they don’t oxidize in the few minutes they are sitting on the counter waiting for their turn for the pan. The flavor and texture are light and earthy, and they are very easy to clean when they are fresh. Trust me when I tell you it will be hard to buy mushrooms in the store again after you get them from your local farms. Just remember to store them in a paper bag which will absorb excess moisture and work with them within the first day or two to minimize loss.

shiitakes sliced saute

 

I prefer to use a heavy stainless wide skillet to cook mushrooms in bulk. It will hold up to high heat and can be cleaned with steel wool when you are finished. Once your pan is heated on medium high, pour your favorite olive oil into the pan and be generous. Coat the entire bottom of the pan. While we’re not exactly frying here, we are working with high heat. Cooking them fast and hot in a fair amount of olive oil with some Alder Wood Smoked Salt and Mesquite & Apple Wood Smoked Peppercorns (Savory Spice Shop has all of these) really brings out the meaty flavor of the mushrooms.

When the pan is hot, add the oil and allow it to heat up to a slight sizzle. Add enough mushrooms to cover the bottom, but only a single layer so they are not crowded in the pan. Make sure you maintain the high heat and turn up the heat as needed when you add the mushrooms so the oil continues to sizzle as you add the mushrooms. Sprinkle around 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and a few turns of your pepper mill once the mushrooms are in the pan. Toss the mushrooms around to coat them in the oil and seasoning well so they do not stick to the pan as they cook. It will be difficult to add oil at this point because it will reduce the temperature of your pan too much and the mushrooms will become soggy.

Cook the mushroom slices at this high temperature without tossing too much after the initial time and take care not to burn them by adjusting the heat level. They will release from the pan as the water evaporates from the mushrooms and then most of them will become crispy. It is not necessary to clean the pan between batches provided you do not burn a batch. At the end you will have some bits and pieces in the bottom of the pan. If you want to have some fun, slow cook a batch of onions, beef or chicken in the pan when you complete the mushrooms. The flavor of the mushrooms will transfer to the food. The onions are delightful in soup with the undertone of mushrooms or as a topping for a burger. I’ve also cooked a stir fry in the pan after the mushrooms to add more flavor to the dish.

 

shiitakes sliced cooked

 

Your Shiitake mushrooms will have a flavor similar to bacon with the Alder Wood Salt and Mesquite smoked peppercorns. I can see you shaking your heads thinking, “She’s lost her mind!”. But I haven’t. And, I’ve fooled quite a number of people by using these crispy mushrooms as a replacement for bacon in several vegetarian dishes. In fact, I’ve had people eat every slice of mushroom I can cook about as quickly as they come out of the pan. No kidding!

 

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Cooked up this way, the Shiitake mushrooms are amazing with asparagus in a Quiche during the early spring and combined with spinach or chard through late fall and winter. The smoky flavor and crisp texture of thinly sliced mushrooms easily replaces the bacon.  Add fresh green onions, parsley and thyme for more diversity in each bite.

 

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Consider using the sliced mushrooms on homemade pizza with smoked farmers cheese from Chapel Hill Creamery and your very own dehydrated cherry tomatoes. Top your pizza with winter greens like arugual or shredded Brussels sprouts and you will be amazed at the intense flavor they add.

 

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If you are looking for a way to improve winter soups, these mushrooms fit the bill. They are a leading ingredient for Beef & Broccoli Soup along with quinoa.

 

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Add them to Creamy Chicken & Roasted Vegetable Soup along with some wild rice or local brown rice..

 

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Pull together a complex meal with much less effort using the pre-cooked mushroom slices.  Consider an evening meal of Chicken, Mushrooms & Noodles served with grilled asparagus. Add a cream sauce to the entire dish or make a soup with homemade chicken stock.

 

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Creating a lovely winter side like Turnip & Mushroom Gratin is much simpler when the mushrooms are already prepared. This dish can be pulled together in less than thirty minutes.

Don’t be afraid to pick up a pound or two at a time. After cooking, your mushrooms will weigh roughly half the amount you started with because the cooking process gets rid of much of the liquid. Store them in small amounts because they thaw quickly and you’ll have some flexibility to pull just what you need for a recipe or two at a time. I prefer 4 or 8 oz containers depending on the recipe.

 

 

Setting an Updated Vintage Table

 

 

We all have them; passed on glasses, dishes, mismatched serving pieces, worn stainless, odds and ends of candy trays, pitchers and endless numbers of tiny coffee cups and saucers that don’t really fit our busy lifestyle or the colors we prefer to use. But given the alternative of purchasing new dishes for occasional use, I’ve decided it is just easier to work with what I’ve been given and modify the look of it by creating unusual combinations of old and new. If you keep an open mind, it is pretty easy to have a lot of fun with old dishes if you learn to mismatch them deliberately. You can extend a small set of china to accommodate a large party of people by pulling together patters with linens or a few choice pieces of glassware or serving plates.

This winter, use what you have and add a few small pieces here and there from thrift shops and local flea markets or consider trading plates and bowls or saucers and cups with friends to create casual, inexpensive, but beautiful table settings. Add new or vintage linens. Add velvet or silk ribbons to tie up napkins.  Remake old curtains into tablecloths or napkins for a second life. Pick up pine cones, cut magnolia leaves and blend them with fresh flowers to make your table unique. Plan on using those itsy bitsy coffee cups for a lovely rich dessert instead of coffee. If you don’t serve gravy, that boat will make a great low flower holder for camellias, mums or even some pansies or violets. You can even use low tumblers as candle holders. Whatever you do, take inspiration from those around you to use what you have and think outside the box for setting your table!

Recently I had the pleasure of working with some lovely china, silver and crystal from Hunt & Gather on Glenwood Avenue. The folks there were so good to set up a table for me in the front area where the sunlight filters through the windows. And then they went and pulled some beautiful cut crystal and sterling pieces that captured the light beautifully for me to use.  I spent the morning, perusing the individual shop areas in the store and the main floor area, pulling different pieces to mix and match for this post. There was so much to choose from! A couple of hours flew by in no time and I didn’t finish my work before the sun changed angles on me, so look for a couple more posts on this topic in the future from their location. There is plenty to choose from whether you want some casual pieces to fill in or you are hunting down a full set of pristine china, crystal or flatware. They have several lovely trays that I plan to try to photograph the next time as well. I will post some additional pictures from the store on Facebook to give you more ideas.

After Thanksgiving, I’m going to be borrowing some vintage china from friends in the area, so there will be another post before the New Year. You can also take a look at Pinterest to see additional boards with options for Table Settings, Textiles and Vintage  that I’ve collected from other boards and while you are there you can peruse the board for Farm Event Inspirations and Gifts from the Farm if you like to shop locally at the farmers’ markets. Hopefully, you’ll find something that you like on one of those boards and start to follow. Enjoy the pictures and let me know if there is something you would like to see in the future about table setting with vintage pieces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad as Winter Begins & Ends

Every farmers’ market I visited in the early spring had Brussels sprouts just as the weather was beginning to turn just a slight bit warm. This week for Thanksgiving the temperature has plummeted here in the South from sandal weather to long-john weather in a matter of two days. And that means Brussels Sprouts and other cabbage family foods are available at all of the local markets just in time for Thanksgiving.

These little baby cabbages are versatile to work with for many reasons. Like their large cabbage cousins, they can be eaten raw, cooked or prepared somewhere in-between. They hold their color and texture quite well and for this simple recipe you’ll need a couple of handfuls of Brussels sprouts and about a hand full of any other spring or fall vegetable that you like from your local farmers. I like to use cauliflower, carrots, chard and a small amount of green onion, all of which are harvested at the same time. If you happen to have green garlic, it works well in this recipe too along with quinoa, rice or protein like rabbit, chicken, duck or white fish .  For a twist on this dish, add some lightly cooked turnip noodles tossed with baby pea shoots and seasoned well with salt & pepper.

The other delightful thing about warm fall vegetable salads is that the olive oil harvest has just started to come in so the oil is quite fresh and this is the easiest time to taste the flavor of fresh oil blended with the vegetables. Oils taste different depending on the type of olive and region they are grown so try several types to find the single origin or blended olives that fit your style of cooking. These oils age throughout the year, but not in a positive sense like wine. The flavor can change dramatically from the  first six months to the last of the year. My preference is to never use oil more than a year old. Storage temperature, air and light are key to maintaining the best flavor be careful about checking the harvest date which is noted on the bottle and think about how quickly you use oil to decide what size of bottle fits your needs. Many oils are now being packaged in a dark purple bottle that offers even more UV protection than the green bottles and this should help preserve the harvest better in future years. The downside of this bottle, as I found out this week, is that it’s really hard to see how much is left!

Locally, Southern Season in Chapel Hill has an excellent selection of oils and particularly of organic oils. They offer individual appointments to taste several varieties with the help of one of their knowledgeable staff members and I recommend this service if you are just starting out. Be prepared to talk to the staff about how you plan to use the oil so they can make recommendations. Take notes because just like wine and vegetables, each year the harvest changes and over time, and you should be able to get a feel for a particular producer and the flavor of the oil they bottle. I also find the staff at Olio2Go in Virginia to be quite adept at finding small farms with unique flavor profiles that can add a lot to specific recipes depending on what you’re making and the cooking (or raw) technique. Wherever you shop, make sure the staff understands how you intend to use the oil so they can make good recommendations, and be sure to ask about the producer and their cultivation methods if sustainability or organic farming is important to you.

For this recipe, a good knife, shredding board or mandoline is helpful since all of the vegetables are going to benefit from a short time in the pan. The Brussels sprouts should be thinly sliced since it’s the easiest way to deal with the size of these cabbages. They will not cooked more than a couple of minutes, so the thinner the better. It’s actually nice if they are still a bit on the raw-crisp side in this salad.  You will also need to treat carrots and cauliflower the same way, thinly slicing them. The chard gets the main vein separated from the leaf for this dish. Chop it up into smaller pieces and cook it with the carrots and cauliflower or save it for a soup stock or another dish. Baby green chard is a bit less expensive than Brussels sprouts, so it’s a good veggie to use to add some bulk to this dish if you prefer a lot of greens in your salad. Another alternative is pointy head or savoy cabbage. All three are mild flavored and work well with the other vegetables.  The green onion can be added in small or larger sections, depending on your preference. The main thing to note about making this is that you want each item in the pan as little as possible in order to cook it and retain the color and crunch. It’s more of a warm salad than a stir-fry dish.

As an alternative, you can roast this salad, starting with the carrots, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and just blend in raw chard and green onions. Roasting gives you the opportunity to develop some sweeter flavors of the vegetables. It’s also possible to get everything prepped and hold the carrots and cauliflower mixed with olive oil in one container and the greens in another so cooking takes less time. Or cook the carrots and cauliflower and just warm them with the greens at the last-minute before serving or serve them with raw greens. You have endless possibilities with this recipe to suit your needs.

 

Warm Brussels Sprout Salad

Ingredients

  • 1.5 lbs of thinly sliced or large shredded Brussels Sprouts
  • 4-6 oz of carrots, clean (skin if you want to) and julienne or large shred
  • 4-6 oz of cauliflower, cleaned and thinly slice
  • 2 small green onions, slice however you prefer
  • 2-4 oz baby green chard, thinly sliced
  • 3-44 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon Himalayan salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground peppercorns
  • Optional additions – turnip (spiral noodles), brown rice, quinoa, fried egg

Preparation

  • Clean and dry all of the vegetables.
  • Slice or shred all of the vegetables. Mix the cauliflower, carrots and stems from the chard together. Toss lightly together with half of the olive oil, and all of the salt & pepper.
  • Mix the Brussels sprouts, chard and green onion together and toss with the remainder of olive oil.
  • Using a wide stainless steel frying pan, bring the heat up to high and add the carrots, cauliflower and chard stems and cook for about a minute. Turn the heat back to med/high and continue to cook, stirring to avoid sticking and promote a little browning. Cook about 3 minutes.
  • Add the greens and continue to cook for about 2 minutes. The Brussels sprouts should be just beginning to wilt and take on a little color. Adjust the seasoning and serve warm or blend with quinoa, rice or other protein.

 

A Trip Back to Maryland for the “Serve It Up Local” Celebration

 

Some of you might remember Hana Crouch from New Grass Gardens, an urban farm concept, here in Raleigh a couple of years back. For a while, she and her business partner managed a garden for Cafe Helios and for Bickett Market. Along with that they had regular CSA customers and helped the folks at  NoFo with the Five Points Farmers’ Market. Young and full of energy, she decided to head up to Appalachian State in Boone, NC to finish her degree and had the opportunity to be one of the first young farmers at the University’s new sustainable farm. The beginning farmers established vegetable beds, added a large hoop house to grow starter plants and winter crops, and prepared for the addition of livestock to the farm. You could say that she’s a bit of an entrepreneur when it comes farming and not afraid to try new concepts!

This summer she invited me to come up and see Savage River Farm in Garrett County, Maryland which she helped start with a couple of graduates from App State.  They have pigs, hens, turkeys, lots of field grown organic veggies, cultivated mushrooms and a bit of fruit. Climate is one of the challenges of being so far west in the Alleghenies (part of the Appalachian Mountain Range). With a short summer growing season and brutal winter often including early and late snows, selecting breeds of veggies and managing livestock is essential. Markets tend to be few and far between, so it’s critical to establish three types of customers. The regular CSA members that purchase throughout the year, the seasonal visitors coming into the county that want to eat sustainably grown fresh food, and restaurant/caterers that plan their menus around seasonal food all year.

 

 

Maryland is a lot like North Carolina in many respects.  It is pretty easy to get from the coast to the mountains in a matter of hours. It was colonized early and has a long history of immigration.  The food culture throughout the state is representative of changes to the population over time.  I grew up in the Baltimore area and we traveled all over the state during my childhood.  Both of my parents had their favorite spots for summer vacations ranging from the coast for my mother to the mountains for my father. I like both equally well!

My father grew up in Baltimore City and he loved to eat.  When we were young, he would take us to little places throughout the city and tell us the stories about how he discovered these places growing up. From Polish sausages to Italian pizza and clam bakes to bakery sweets, we were always out exploring food around the city. Our weekend ritual included getting up early to go down to the local German bakery in Ellicott City. A line formed before the doors opened on Saturday and Sunday. Leidigs, which was run by one of my father’s old buddies, had the most amazing soft sandwich buns that I have ever eaten. And their jam and custard filled doughnuts and pastries were known throughout the county. The entire store was sold out of everything on the weekends as people waited in line with paper numbers for their turn.

My mother was raised in the very small town of . Port Deposit Maryland with a population of under a thousand at last count. The Cecil County area dates back to the 1600′s with many homes still existing from the 1700 & 1800′s.  Her love of seafood and history is not surprising given her upbringing. Coming from a family of thirteen they raised their own chickens, eggs, vegetables and fruit. My grandmother was well-known for her fruit pies and to this day I have not mastered the blackberry pie, apple cake or fried chicken that my mother is able to make. There were no recipes, just show & tell, which is probably why I enjoy giving classes so much at the market and rarely follow recipes at home.

 

So the long story to short, is that my trip to Garrett County to see Savage River Farm was a trip down memory lane.  I had the opportunity to be one of three judges at the first “Serve It Up Local” event for the county. Executive Chef  & Restauranteur Spike Gjerde  of Woodberry Kitchen and Executive Chef Adam Murray of Pine Lodge Steakhouse were wonderful to work with for this competition. Both have far more training and experience in the commercial field of food than I do. And, they offered up ways to evaluate the individual creations on each plate we were served. Their knowledge of cooking techniques and specific regional  ingredients proved invaluable with so many competing chefs.

More than a dozen local chefs were assembled and local farms were encouraged to aid with food choices for the competition. In one day I saw as many ways to use food as an entire season at one of our local farmers’ markets. The chefs spent a tremendous amount of time coordinating with local farms and selecting seasonal ingredients. Each of the chefs had a chance to explain their dish and note the local food and farm they used to us as we went through the process.

 

 

The recipes ranged from simple to complex. The mountain season is just a couple of weeks behind ours in the summer and then it ends a bit more abruptly in the fall than ours with the first freeze and snow. The chefs ranged from self-taught to professionally educated.  We had sweet corn and fresh onion in a delightful chowder. And a ramp sorbet. Not something I would want to eat all of the time, but very creative and quite well-balanced. We also had some lovely tenderloin from a local farm that was expertly prepared. Here’s a list of the winners, many of which either do private catering or run a restaurant. I encourage you to try out their creations if you get a chance to be near Garrett County, Maryland.

It was encouraging to find some local restaurants already taking up the challenge of working with seasonal local food. I was fortunate enough to find a couple of restaurants in the area like Water Street Cafe using local eggs and veggies at breakfast along with an organic honey. Mountain State Brewing at Deep Creek Lake is using local sausage and goat cheese from FireFly Farms to make extraordinary pizzas. I really can’t say enough about the quality of the cheese at FireFly. You can find some of their products at Weaver Street Market.

Sourcing from multiple vendors who are growing different varieties of the same food and harvesting weeks apart takes a lot of work. Adapting these local ingredients that change with each harvest into a business plan when customers expect a hundred items on a menu each and every night is a huge task.  Riverside Hotel takes a simple approach and generally cooks two soups a night, along with a salad cut right from their back yard and a couple of desserts.

It seems like many of the chefs at the event enjoyed learning what was available seasonally and meeting the farmers. So the lesson to be learned here is it’s a push and pull strategy that works to incorporate locally grown farm food into the local food industry.  It takes both the home cook and the local chef to make farming work as a business today. Farmers are hard pressed to sell to one or the other. Everyone has to be smarter about what they grow, how they store and use it, and how to differentiate it for their business to succeed. But as consumers, we can help by understanding the seasons and adjusting our eating habits and taste buds to incorporate more local fresh food and by asking our local chefs to use locally grown sustainable foods.

Throughout the event there were classes taught by local chefs focused on using and storing local food. Here are some photos.  Near the end of the event I had the opportunity to teach a children’s class where we focused on a combination of raw and cooked foods. The highlight for the kids was using the spiral cutter to make fresh raw noodles from fresh picked zucchini. Everyone had a really great time taking turns, including parents, and then hand slicing other veggies to cook for the topping on the vegetable noodles. It took less than thirty minutes to pull together a delightful fresh snack of spaghetti, which they all gobbled up.

   

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At the end of the festival and competition and award ceremony there was a lovely catered “50 Mile Meal , serving up more local food, including pulled pig. And all of the judges received a wonderful basket of products to take home from the area. I also had the opportunity the day before to pick up a couple of items from the Frostburg Farmers’ Market.

As a part of the dinner celebration, Chef Spike Gjerde gave us a wonderful presentation about his coordination with farmers, fisheries, and dairies that service Woodberry Kitchen. It’s impressive to see the canning and preserving operation that sustains the restaurant all year, putting up more than 60,000 lbs of tomatoes. The preservation operation is moving to his new restaurant called Shoo-Fly where customers will be able to purchase some of the same ingredients he uses in his restaurant.  There is an article talking about his work over the past several years that I think is really worth reading if you have the time. Here’s the link:  http://eater.com/archives/2013/08/07/spike-gjerde-interview.php . And another article in the Baltimore Sun talking about a new food hub in Baltimore that is in the planning stages now.

Chef Gjerde is committed to understanding the history of Maryland cuisine and the challenges of local fisheries, farms and dairies. His desire to teach others about sustainable planning, preparation and eating food thoughtfully is rare among chefs, in my opinion. During the evening he spoke about the challenges of explaining to patrons the necessity of carefully choosing what fish and seafood to serve at his restaurant and why he chose to eliminate foods from his menu during different seasons or because they simply were having a bad year. Hopefully his passion will inspire other chefs and consumers to follow in his footsteps. Here’s a good article worth reading at the Washington Post.

The second opportunity I had at this dinner was to spend a little more time with the local chefs who participated in the competition. We spoke about their personal challenge to incorporate local food in a rural community that really had not embraced the “local food” movement yet. Most consumers shopping in a traditional grocery store don’t fully understand the concept of seasonal eating because our food is brought in from all over the world. Several commented that they intended to make some permanent changes in their own recipes to reflect seasonal foods and look at offering more classes as a way to educate their customers.  We stayed late  into a beautiful night and  I was quite tired when we finally left that evening.

The next day presented us with a bright sun and blue sky. We were invited to have brunch with everyone working at Savage River Farm.  I never miss an opportunity to eat a meal with Hana as she’s a wonderful cook. There was a large bucket of freshly gathered eggs next to the stove, bacon cooking in a cast iron pan and big stack of buckwheat pancakes on the counter right next to a large mason jar of maple syrup and a large block of farm butter.

We gathered up the food and carried it out to the picnic bench under the tree by the house. Brunch was relaxing and wonderful and filled with stories about the animal antics and the craziness of raising pigs. We discussed possible plans for renovating the barn to host farm activity days. And the very possible addition of more livestock and additional hoop houses to extend the seasons and provide for local restaurants. It will be interesting to see how “Crowd Funding” moves forward to enable small starting farmers a method for raising funds outside of large institutional loans and grants.

   Following a lovely meal, we toured the farm. Visiting the baby turkeys was pretty straight forward, but of course we all needed to pet the pigs, which are Hana’s obsession. They are fed daily with goat whey from the local goat cheese maker, Fire Fly.  Then we inspected a set of hoop houses with a special design from a local ag extension agent, that allows them to be shifted over time and give the ground beneath them some rest.  They have a solar dehydrator at the farm which is based on a design from a professor at App State. We also had the opportunity to pick a huge bag of oyster mushrooms in the barn that had taken off with the warm humid weather.  After talking a little more  it was time to  gather up  the eggs, fresh produce, and mushrooms for the long drive home.

   We took the parkway for much of the drive home since the weather was much improved and the highway trip was just about unbearable. There was time to stop and take pictures of lovely buildings and little towns and eat a few snacks along the way. It was a great trip and one I hope to repeat. The folks in Garrett County plan to hold the festival again next year because the turn-out was so good. I hope you have a chance to go visit and taste all the delights that county has to offer.

In the meantime, if you have an opportunity to pick up some oyster mushrooms at your local farmers’ market, I’ve put together a post outlining the method I use to cook and store these in bulk. It differs from the way I cook shiitake mushrooms because the oyster mushrooms are more delicate in texture and require much less cooking time to retain their beauty and flavor. Here’s the link to Cooking with Local Oyster Mushrooms.