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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Posted in Events, Fall, Farms, General, Tables | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

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



Posted in Dessert, Fall, Freezing & Canning, General, Preserves, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Second Harvest, Snack, Winter | Leave a comment

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


  • 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)


  • 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.
Posted in Fall, General, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Second Harvest, Sides, Spring, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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
Posted in Appetizer, Dehydrating, General, Gluten-Free, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Second Harvest, Summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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


  • 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


  • 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.


  • 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.
Posted in Appetizer, Drinks, Freezing & Canning, General, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Summer, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Corn Madeleines with Sorghum & Lime Peel

This recipe started life as a corn muffin recipe generated from a computer. I wanted to create a muffin that was a little different from any of my other three recipes to go with Chesapeake Crab Soup. I ran a few Google searches and came up empty-handed so I thought it might be a good opportunity to run another test recipe through the IBM Chef Watson application. The program spat out 100 results with the first set of ingredients and parameters I plugged in based on a single Bon Appetit recipe. And after a couple more changes to the requirements, it spat out another couple hundred unique recipes based on a different recipe from the Bon Appetit database. You can see how this could be an endless process for someone with an inquisitive mind?

I am not going to divulge how many recipes I actually read through. But finally found five that I thought might be useful for this project and maybe another in the fall. One that stood out for this project included an ingredient I had not planned to use originally. Fresh lime peel. I debated making the recipe at first because this key ingredient is not found locally, and you know I like local. There’s not a substitute that I can think of to replace it either. But I was able to use local ingredients for all of the other key elements, which was my secondary goal, so went ahead with a test batch.

Traditional Maryland Crab Soup, the way I learned to make it from my Grandmother, is spicy. It’s kind of similar to Mexican Tortilla Soup with a thin spicy base that includes many ingredients you’ll find at the market this time of year. It’s a summer soup that has you grabbing for a cold drink. It’s similar to Mexican dishes in that way. In the South, you’ll be served some lemon slices to compliment your seafood meal and then a side of creamy sweet coleslaw to contrast spicy dishes. With Mexican dishes, you’ll find fresh limes and something creamy like sour cream or avocado. The lime accentuates other ingredients and cuts through the spices with a tart note to the dish while the creamy fat found in both sour creme and avocado help cut through the heat of the spices.  In this case, I had already requested the program design a recipe with kefir to calm the spices in the soup. And I asked for fresh corn, cornmeal, sorghum and gluten-free adaptations.

The primary goal was to keep the flavor of the fresh picked corn right out there in front when you bit into the muffin. This season’s corn has been some of the best that I’ve eaten in many years. When I went to pick corn at Cohen farm one recent Sunday morning, Esta and I ended up  sitting on the porch of the log cabin and eating it raw with the chickens getting their fill of the leftover cobs. I tried baiting the chickens for some good pictures, but it’s quite a task to get in there with the corn and not spook the mother hens with their chicks in tow. I got a couple of fun shots.

chickens eating corn summer 2014 Cohen Farm NC

After adjusting some of the ingredients to incorporate local items, what resulted from my work was a rather thin batter that tasted pretty good but didn’t look thick enough to make a muffin. But, it did look a lot like the madeleine batters I have made before. So instead of worrying any further about correcting the recipe I rationalized. A madeleine is really just a fancy name for a baked hushpuppy, when you think about it. And it looks really cute when it comes right out of the pan in the form of a lovely little shell. Really, what could possibly be more appropriate for Crab Soup? So that’s what I made and they were really fun and tasty so I’d like to share this recipe with you.

Yes, I would make them again. The recipe is simple enough to have your kids help in the process. Nothing has to be perfect with this batter. It’s all about oiling your little pan well with butter or olive oil and then filling to just the right place. Nine minutes later, you have fancy little baked hushpuppies.




















Madeleines with Fresh Corn, Sorghum & Lime Peel


  • 1 T light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup sorghum
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 6 whole dried juniper berries, crushed/ground
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron (not saffron threads)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine Himalayan salt
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil
  • 1/3 cup kefir
  • 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh lime peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 whole large egg
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup fresh-cut corn


  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Sift yellow cornmeal, saffron, salt, baking powder together. Set aside.
  • Beat brown sugar, sorghum, honey together with melted butter or olive oil until creamy with whisk.
  • Add egg and kefir to liquid mixture, blend well with whisk.
  • Add ground juniper berries and lime peel to liquid mixture, blend well.
  • Stir dry cornmeal mixture into liquid mixture blend well with whisk. Mixture will seem very thin.
  • Stir in fresh corn with spatula.
  • Brush small madeleine pan with olive oil to avoid sticking.
  • Spoon or pour batter carefully into each depression, filling only 3/4. They will rise slightly during cooking process.
  • Bake until golden, but not browned, about 9 minutes. They should be firm when gently touched but not hard.
  • Cool a couple of minutes before popping out of pan with silicon spatula.
  • Serve warm.
  • Whipped butter with additional honey or sorghum optional.



Posted in General, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Sides, Summer | Leave a comment

Baked Summer Squash & Heirloom Tomatoes

As August rolls in, the heat is about to melt the best of us in the South. And there’s nothing I hate more than turning on the oven when temps are still in the high 80’s at the end of the evening. By this point, the squash bugs have normally taken their fill of thin-skinned summer squashes and it starts to become a little more scarce at the farmers’ markets. And the farmers are, quite frankly, tired of picking off the little buggers and squishing them with their fingers. I know, it’s gross, but just ask a number of them about squash bugs and it will surprise you how many secretly enjoy the process of disposing of the greedy creepy crawlers.

So pick up a few extra pounds this week and look for a semi-cloudy day when the temps are not going to blast you out of the kitchen. If you bake a couple of casseroles at one time you’ll have the option of some additional meals or freezing some of the leftovers. They are wonderful added to soups or poultry stocks through the winter for some extra flavor and body. They also make excellent second meals right away by combining them with pasta, putting them on grilled sandwiches, or adding them to breakfast omelettes.

One note on variety that’s important, I find that the patty pan squash holds up better in this recipe than the crookneck squash. It gives off less water, holds the shape better, and tends to have very few seeds comparatively. Opt for smaller green zucchini to avoid lots of seeds near the end of the season.  You’ll need a higher acid tomato for contrast in this dish, so try to find something like a Cherokee Purple. Size won’t matter here, but make sure to use a ripe tomato. A green or partially ripe one just won’t yield the flavor or texture for this dish. I selected a sweeter variety of onion from one of the farmers. You could use one of the sweet red varieties as well, but I prefer a sweet yellow in this recipe.

A couple of comments on the salt and pepper. I’ve listed Himalayan salt but there are several that work well with summer veggies. I know a lot of folks need to stay away from salt and this is actually how I got started on the strange discovery of so many salts and peppercorns. With a history of high-blood pressure in our family I was looking for ways to reduce salt and found that using better quality salts that actually accentuate the flavors of individual foods and cooking methods helped me reduce the quantity I was using. So in this recipe you could also use Murray River Pink Salt, or a Fler de Sel. Stay with something that is on the brighter side of the salts for this dish. On the peppercorns, I use the Four Corner Blend of peppercorns daily. I find the blend to be a little less pronounced in the dish than typical dark peppercorns on their own. The blend seems more mild, in my opinion, which allows for some flexibility. I use a grinder or mortal to get fresh ground pepper all of the time. On vacation, I’ve been known to use napkins and canned goods when neither is available and it works just fine.


Baked Summer Squash & Heirloom Tomatoes




















Baked Summer Squash & Heirloom Tomatoes


  • 2 cups sliced raw onions
  • 4 cups sliced patty pan squash 1/8-1/4″ thick
  • 4 cups sliced green zucchini 1/8-1/4″ thick
  • 2 cups sliced ripe tomato 1/4″ thick
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup cheese (Chapel Hill creamery Calvander or Hickory Grove)
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon Himalayan salt,
  • 1/4 teaspoon Four peppercorn blend
  • 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend


  • Find a round pie pan or casserole pan and wipe the inside with olive oil to avoid sticking.
  • Slice the onions thinly and cook on low heat with olive oil until they are soft and translucent; about 20 minutes. Place the cooked onions into the pie pan and spread out as the bottom layer of the casserole.
  • Slice the patty pan squash and zucchini about 1/8-1/4″ thick and place in a large bowl or on a large sheet pan with parchment paper.
  • Toss the squash and zucchini with enough olive oil to coat the vegetables and the Italian herbs (the dried herbs will help absorb a little of the liquid as the casserole bakes and a few turns of fresh ground pepper. Wait to salt until the end as it will draw out the water.
  • Then layer the squash, tomatoes and zucchini in rows or in a circular patter alternating tomatoes between squash & zucchini. Stack them tight so nothing dries out during baking & add a bit of salt as you go along.
  • After the layering is complete mix any fresh chopped herbs like thyme and rosemary into grated cheese and sprinkle on top.
  • Bake at 350 for 35-45 minutes until the squash and tomatoes are cooked through. They will look a little dry by that point and the cheese will be melted but not browned.
  • Serve immediately.


  • Freeze leftovers to use in stock soup base cream sauce
  • Chop leftovers and add to quiche with bacon and mild chopped greens
  • Chop or puree leftovers to use in vegetable or squash soup
  • Chop leftovers for omelettes along with fresh chives or arugula
  • Toss warmed leftovers with pasta and additional cheese and fresh or sauteed greens
  • Use leftovers whole in pressed pannini sandwiches with roasted eggplant or grilled mushrooms
Posted in Diabetic Friendly, Egg, Fall, Freezing & Canning, Gluten-Free, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Second Harvest, Soup, Summer, Vegetarian, Winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chef Watson’s Surprise Summer Punch

The highlight of last week was being accepted into the beta program for IBM’s Chef Watson. The program combines the Bon Appetit catalog of recipes along with a database of foods and their relative chemical properties to produce many iterations of a recipe based on parameters that the cook chooses in the 4-step process. Each time any parameter is changed, the application spawns an entirely new set of 100 recipes ideas. Results range from classic combinations and preparation techniques to more unique recipes with unusual pairings and more advanced requirements based on compounds found in the ingredient list. Kind of like a Spice Bible on steroids.

Being in beta, the program has some hiccups, but so far, I’ve found it to be pretty easy to navigate through the user interface and overcome some of the shortfalls in the ingredient list since I use a lot of preserved food. Over time the program will change as the database of information increases and the users give feedback on what is the most helpful for creating new recipes. Home cooks, chefs, and nutritionists should be able to adapt recipes to include seasonal and local foods or eliminate foods as necessary. This would be a great application for a school to use combined with a garden program. That’s my unabashed plug for funding more robust Home Economics & Science programs!

For the Homesteading Fair at Whole Foods, my choices for ingredients included seasonal organic items that the Chapel Hill store could provide along with some preserved items. In homesteading, the idea is to use preserved food out of season so I wanted to demonstrate how to use food that can be preserved in different ways. Another goal was to teach how to eliminate waste from meals. Reusing leftovers in secondary meals or storing it in a way that it can be used later, saves money by eliminating waste.

My ingredients for Saturday’s Fair included fruits that are currently in-season like watermelon, blueberries, blackberries, and peaches. Then I wanted some items like strawberries and apples to demonstrate using preserved items that were frozen, dehydrated or canned. I didn’t stray into the vegetable range, but after tasting a couple of different variations of this on Saturday, I’m pretty sure you could add beet stems (yes, they are sweet) or roasted beets – maybe staying on the yellow-orange side of beets since they are less strong in flavor. The other two herbs I would suggest based on my experience are Pineapple Sage (maybe 3-4 fresh leaves) or Lemon Verbena (maybe 4-8 leaves – they are typically small) if you prefer lemon to lime in the recipe.

Allowing Chef Watson a lot of range, I only added a couple of fruits and vegetables to my list of preferred ingredients and I eliminated dairy to keep the results in the vegan range.  I asked for a drink and the program found a “punch” from Bon Appetit that it used for the base recipe. The beauty of this recipe is that you really won’t have to measure accurately and you can update the recipe based on what has come into season for your location and what you might have on hand in preserved food. This is very flexible and makes it easy for both kids and adults to experiment.

The recipes that Chef Watson created included directions to let juices sit together for days to ‘marry’ into a robust punch. Since it was late Friday night when I started to play around with the program and I knew there would be plenty of kids at the event Saturday, I obviously didn’t go with that option. Several of the combinations included soda water combined with variations of watermelon, peach, blueberries and strawberries. All of these are cooling fruits and with our August heat, they all fit the bill for the Fair. But, instead of soda water for this demonstration, I decided to use coconut water as a healthy alternative and I used dehydrated peaches and dehydrated strawberries to help thicken the drink as they rehydrated in the liquid. Frozen blueberries or blackberries were good additions to the base of strawberry, peach and watermelon on the second run of the recipe. The lime juice in both test batches really brought out the flavor of the fruit. In my opinion, the honey for this recipe is optional. I added it but if you are eliminating sugars from your diet, this recipe will still work well without it.

This recipe will make enough for two and I believe it will freeze well as a popsicle or be a fun base to an alcoholic beverage. One of the other suggestions from Chef Watson was the use of coconut milk and based on that, this set of ingredients might work well as some sort of fruit sorbet or pudding with chia seeds as a thickening agent. I’ve also added some variations that use canned peach preserves, strawberry preserves and blackberry preserves. But please note that when I make ‘preserves’ they are more of a fruit reduction with some added honey, lemon and a few spices. I do not can them very often, but instead freeze them in very small quantities to use in applications like this drink. If you choose to use a sweeter version of preserved fruit, balance out the flavor with lime and possibly a pinch of salt.

Chef Watson Surprise Summer Punch


Chef Watson’s Summer Punch


  • 1 cup chopped watermelon without seeds (Yellow Doll or Red variety)
  • 1 cup chopped frozen strawberries (or 1/3 cup dehydrated strawberry slices)
  • 1 cup chopped frozen peaches (or 1/3 cup dehydrated peach slices)
  • 1 lime squeezed (up to 1/2 cup of lime juice maximum)
  • 1 cup plain coconut water (may need more if using dehydrated fruit)
  • 2-3 tablespoons honey (vary to your taste)
  • Optional – pinch of salt


  • Add coconut water, lime and honey to the bottom of the blender.
  • Followed by watermelon, dehydrated fruit or preserves and lastly, frozen fruit.
  • Pulse blend to combine.
  • Increase speed to high and blend until smooth.
  • Pour over chipped ice for a colder drink if most of the ingredients are room temperature or refrigerated.


  • Substitute lemon juice for lime juice
  • Add 3/4 – 1 cup blueberries or blackberries
  • Add 1/4 cup dried figs
  • Add 1/4 cup frozen or fresh raspberries & 1/2 cup of apple
  • Add 3-4 leaves of Pineapple Sage
  • Add 4-8 leaves of Lemon Verbena
  • Substitute coconut milk or kefir for coconut water
  • Consider adding 1/8-1/4 cup roasted golden beet or 4-6 fresh beet stems
  • Freeze coconut milk or water in ice-cube trays for colder drink
Posted in Dairy-Free, Drinks, General, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Second Harvest, Summer, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pumpkin Pie Smoothies at the Homesteading Fair

The thunderstorms from earlier in the week subsided on Saturday so it did get a tad warm even under the tents and canopy of the Whole Foods store in Chapel Hill as we all gathered for the first ‘Homesteading Fair’. This was one of a number of community events the store hopes to hold in the future. As inquisitive customers & kids went in and out of the store, they were treated to samples and discussions about preserving food, helping pollinators, water conservation and composting, along with managing back-yard chickens. There were plenty of samples to taste, herbs to plant and even a pop-up shop full of great cook books!

At the Tarheel Foodie tent I was welcoming bees that Marty Hanks had summoned just for the occasion. They were helping clean up after my honey spills and delighting the children that stopped by to sample smoothies. Marty had one of his bee keeping coveralls and head gear available for the kids to mess with, along with samples of honey from his own hives and some from the North Carolina Mountains. The most fascinating was the ‘cotton honey’ because the texture and flavor were close to ‘creamed honey’. But the flavor was quite different from creamed honey. It had a subtle sweetness and was less grainy on the tongue. Something worth trying if you get the opportunity. We used the #JustBeeApiary “Carrboro Hometown Honey” in the smoothies on Saturday but I encourage you to try all of the different honey that Marty produces, because each one has a different flavor and viscosity depending on the flowers and vegetables that the bees were harvesting pollen from in their area this year. And that changes year to year.

The Pumpkin Pie smoothie is a variation of one that I made with the HomeFries Cooking Class at the Durham Farmers Market a week ago. This is a smoothie that I drink a lot during the summer because it’s a great way to include more vegetables and fruit in my diet when the temperatures soar above 90 and it cleans out any leftover veggies from the prior year’s crop that I’ve saved. This recipe can be frozen into freezer pops using coconut milk as the liquid base. Coconut water tends to create more ice crystals in the popsicle so adjust the recipes with that in mind.

Since I use a standard size bar blender most days, these recipes are designed for two large servings. They will be more creamy if you use a higher powered blender, but they are designed to work in an everyday blender. If you’re using a little bullet-type blender, cut the ingredients to half so it fits into your container. All of the ingredients should be chopped to at least bite-size chunks. I find that chopping the winter squash and fruits well or blending them and then placing them in quart size freezer bags makes it very easy to break off chunks into the blender that mix well without taxing the blender motor as much. It’s a bit more difficult to get the fruit and veggies out if they are stored in round or square containers because they bind up together as they chill. The colder your veggies and fruit, the more frosty and thick your smoothie will turn out. And it’s possible to freeze the coconut water and coconut milk in ice-cube trays and then store the frozen cubes until you need them if you plan to use all fresh fruit or simply refrigerated veggies and fruit.

Pumpkin Pie Smoothie




















Pumpkin Pie Smoothie

  • 1 cup roasted chopped winter squash (butternut, acorn, pumpkin)
  • 3/4 cup chopped frozen or fresh cantaloupe
  • 3/4 cup chopped frozen or fresh peaches (or 1/4 cup dehydrated peaches)
  • 1/4 cup raw chopped carrot (1/3 cup roasted frozen carrot)
  • 1/4 cup apple (1/8 cup dehydrated apples)
  • 1/4 cup chopped raw pecans
  • 1-2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice (no sugar or salt)
  • 1/8- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract or vanilla powder
  • 2-3 teaspoons sorghum syrup or honey (or combination)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 cups coconut milk or kefir
  • Enough coconut water or other liquid to thin to your preference


  • In a standard bar blender, add the coconut milk or kefir first so the blades of the blender can turn.
  • Add the frozen melon and peaches next because they are less dense than the winter squash.
  • Add the raw carrots, nuts, spices and sorghum.
  • Add the frozen winter squash.
  • Pulse blend to incorporate the ingredients to a rough state. About a minute.
  • Bring the blender up to a higher power and blend until the smoothie is creamy.


  • Roasting the winter squash in olive oil with a bit of salt brings out the flavor more
  • Substitute roasted sweet potato for winter squash
  • Yellow Doll Watermelon can be substituted for cantaloupe
  • Use less kefir or coconut milk and more coconut water to make thinner version
  • In a pinch you can add a couple of tablespoons of your own sweet potato butter for more concentrated flavors, remembering that this will also raise the glycemic count significantly without as many trace minerals as the sorghum or honey.
Posted in Dairy-Free, Drinks, Fall, Freezing & Canning, General, Gluten-Free, Preserves, Recipes, Seasonal Eating, Second Harvest, Summer, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HomeFries Cooking Class at the Durham Farmers’ Market

Summer Peach & Melon Salad at the Durham Farmers' Market with the HomeFries Cooking Team. Photo & copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboonephotography.com

Summer Peach & Melon Salad at the Durham Farmers’ Market with the HomeFries Cooking Team. July 2014. Photo Copyright Casey Boone




Saturday’s HomeFries Class was all about staying cool using melons. Let’s face it, most people aren’t comfortable with the words “soup” and “chilled” pushed together as something to eat in the middle of a hot summer day. But if you mention “smoothie”, you’ll get an entirely different set of facial expressions when it’s above 90F. So teaching the “HomeFries” that chilled soups and smoothies are really only separated by a savory ingredient or two was a lot of fun. Even better was the knowledge that they could make these at home and go further making popsicles too. And, we had time to enjoy a seed spitting contest when we were finished!


Photography & Copyright:  Casey Boone www.caseyboonephoto.com

HomeFries Watermelon Seed Spitting at the Durham Farmers Market. July 2014. Photo Copyright: Casey Boone


The recipes for this class were simple because the main points we wanted to cover included:
1. how to think about & combine flavors
2. ratios of liquid to solid & frozen to fresh to get a smooth texture
3. swapping base liquids and melons for seasonal or regional availability

There were some hits to the class and some clear misses. The cucumber drink that I adore was a miss in my opinion, mainly because I could not find the lime that I thought was packed. It’s probably a science experiment somewhere at this point. The lime adds a bit of punch to cut through the cucumber and balances the honey and salt. This is one case where one ingredient does make a huge difference.


HomeFries Team cutting up the melon & peaches for Summer Salad & Skewers at the Durham Farmers' Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone: caseyboonephotograpy.com

HomeFries Team cutting up the melon & peaches for Summer Salad & Skewers at the Durham Farmers’ Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

All the kids of the Durham Farmers' Market HomeFries class were able to customize their salads with some additional mint, basil and goat cheese. Photo Copyright Casey Boone.

All the kids of the Durham Farmers’ Market HomeFries class were able to customize their salads with some additional mint, basil and goat cheese. Photo Copyright Casey Boone.


The HomeFries team members had the opportunity to cut up fresh fruit provided by the local farmers for a salad. And, we even had a nice woman stop by and offer us a few fresh peaches for the salad that she had just purchased from the market. The kids didn’t take long to get those cleaned up, cut, and added to the salad. They tried adding a little mint to their individual bowls with the fruit; and then a little basil to compare. The recipe calls for some tender baby greens like baby arugula or micro-greens, but we couldn’t find exactly what we needed, (there’s a micro-greens vendor at the Durham Saturday market), so we adapted the recipe for what was available from the farmers on Saturday.


Individual Fruit Skewers prepared by the HomeFries Team at the Durham Farmers' Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboonephotography.com

Individual Fruit Skewers prepared by the HomeFries Team at the Durham Farmers’ Market. Photo Copyright Casey Boone


The salad was a big hit and the kids took the extra pieces of melon and blueberries and made fruit skewers that would be ideal for a party or picnic. We had a chance to talk about ways to adapt the skewers for the season changes with strawberries earlier in the season and apples and pears later in the season. And they were able to taste a couple different herbs with the fruit and decide which flavors worked best for each of the fruits. The beauty of these two ‘recipes’ is that the kids are able to customize their salads from a base if the salad is set up with ‘toppings’ like herb leaves, goat cheese or nuts.





The first two recipes don’t require sweeteners, so the group spent time talking about honey, sorghum, and maple syrup as natural sweeteners for the next batch of recipes and how the season might influence the choice of sweeteners. We also talked a lot about substitutes for dairy like almond milk, coconut milk, coconut water, and kefir (which is nearly lactose-free). Each of these creates subtle changes to each recipe and the HomeFries played with a couple during class. Almond milk is thin, but adds a bit of sweetness like coconut water. Coconut milk and kefir are a bit heavier and provide a creamy texture that many chilled soups and smoothies require. Coconut milk, coconut water and almond milk can be frozen into ice cubes if the other components are fresh, eliminating the need for ice that would melt faster and diminish the flavor.

The HomeFries Team tested two versions of the Chilled Strawberry & Watermelon Soup. One with and one without the goat cheese. This recipe can be frozen into popsicles. Photo Copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboone.com

The HomeFries Team tested two versions of the Chilled Strawberry & Watermelon Soup. One with and one without the goat cheese. This recipe can be frozen into popsicles. Photo Copyright Casey Boone


The Strawberry Soup turned out to be a double-header hit. We decided as a team to make the recipe up without the goat cheese first and give it a try, and then add it on a second batch of soup for comparison. This turned out to be a great teaching opportunity to show the difference in a “smoothie” verses a savory “soup”. All of the kids loved the smoothie tasting of this recipe without the chèvre, even with a bit of raspberry vinegar (thanks to Olio2Go for that bottle!). And, as a bonus, all of the kids, except the young cook that didn’t like goat cheese, enjoyed the savory version with the fresh cheese blended in. We even had an opportunity to add a little additional cheese so they could taste what happens when the ratios are changed just a bit.



The other point to make on this recipe is that we used one of my “cooking hacks”. Each year I freeze quite a lot of fruit but there are times when I need a reduction of fruit for concentrated flavor in a recipe. The Strawberry Soup recipe offered a chance to show the kids that they could use some jam from the market or from home and add some raspberry vinegar to balance the sugar and come up with a quick smoothie even if they didn’t have all of the listed ingredients. Many of the farmers at the market make jam out of extra fruit that doesn’t get sold and there are a couple of vendors like Farmers Daughter and Fiddlehead Farm that make quite a bit of preserves if it’s not something you do in your home.

The HomeFries Team takes turns working with the blender to puree the fruit smoothie ingredients. Photo copyright Casey Boone: www.caseyboonephotography.com

The HomeFries Team takes turns working with the blender to puree the fruit smoothie ingredients. Photo copyright Casey Boone

The last smoothie we made was based on cantaloupe, Yellow Doll melon, peaches, and winter squash. The HomeFries Team made this recipe without the winter squash and pumpkin pie spices because there wasn’t any winter squash available yet at the market. We experimented with both coconut milk and fizzy water to make the smoothie rich and bubbly.


At home I roast quite a bit of winter squash with olive oil in the fall and use it frozen in this recipe along with sorghum syrup from the NC mountains, coconut milk or kefir and pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon to blend up a frozen smoothie that reminds me of Pumpkin or Sweet Potato Pie, but much less sweet.

Cantaloupe, Melon & Peach Smoothie with coconut milk & fresh herbs. Photo Copyright Casey Boone

Cantaloupe, Melon & Peach Smoothie with coconut milk & fresh herbs. Photo Copyright Casey Boone


Lastly, the HomeFries team took home a special “Pop Zipzicle” bag to make popsicles out of their own smoothie creations. The coconut milk makes up an especially creamy version of a popsicle where the coconut water makes for a more traditional fruit ice-popsicle. These are inexpensive fun products that kids of all ages can enjoy and it gives each ‘chef’ the opportunity to be really creative when loading in additional ingredients after the base is made like fresh herbs or bits of fruit for pops of color and flavor.

Here are the recipes. They are designed to feed just a couple of people and very flexible so you can change the ratios to make the smoothies more savory, sweet, thick or thin and the fruit salad can be adapted to the season. We had a couple of food allergies to work around on Saturday so you’ll see some optional changes below in the recipes that we worked with for the HomeFries class.


Cucumber Cooler

  • 1 – 1/2 cups chopped cucumber, partially peeled
  • ½ cup cold water (sparkling)
  • 3 cups ice cubes
  • ¼ cup Honey
  • ½ – 1 lime, juiced
  • Pinch of pink sea salt

Add everything into a blender with the liquid at the very bottom. Pulse at first to roughly combine all of the ingredients and then use a higher power to blend until the drink is completely smooth and frosty; free of ice chunks. Serve immediately. Makes enough for 2 people.


Watermelon & Strawberry Smoothie, Popsicles or Chilled Soup

  • 1 cup chopped frozen red watermelon (or combination of red & yellow with seeds removed)
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries (or 1.5 tablespoons strawberry preserves or fruit reduction)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk, almond milk, or coconut water (for smoothie or popsicle only)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh goat cheese (for soup only)
  • 2 large fresh leaves from Pineapple Sage plant
  • 1/2 teaspoon Raspberry vinegar
  • Pinch of salt (Murray River pink or Himalayan pink)
  • Optional – drizzle with blueberry, blackberry, or raspberry reduction
  • Optional – fresh mint or basil leaf for garnish

Add the liquid, fruit and vinegar into the blender with the liquid at the bottom. Pulse until the combination is well mixed. Then add in the herbs and blend on high until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the goat cheese and pulse just until blended and turns lighter red/pink color. Serve immediately, or freeze in molds. Makes enough for 2 people.


Chilled Cantaloupe & Peach Soup or Smoothie

  • 1 cup chopped frozen or chilled cantaloupe
  • 1 cup chopped frozen or chilled peaches (treated with lemon to avoid browning)
  • 1/2 cup liquid (kefir, coconut milk, almond milk or fizzy water)
  • 1/4 cup dried apple slices (substitute 1/2 of fresh sweet apple, skin removed)
  • Pinch of salt (Murray River pink or Himalayan pink)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (the kids liked more)
  • Optional – drizzle with Blueberry, Blackberry or Mulberry reduction
  • Optional – 1/4 – 1/2 cup raw pecans & almonds will thicken this up
  • Optional – herbs like fresh lemon verbena or pineapple sage leaves work well
  • Fresh mint or basil leaf for garnish

Add the liquid, salt, fruit, vanilla extract, and dried apple slices into a blender and pulse until well combined. If you add nuts, add those initially as well. Once the mixture is well combined, add in any additional herb leaves and blend on high until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Garnish with blueberry, blackberry or mulberry reduction syrup and fresh mint or basil. This recipe can be frozen into popsicles

  • Optional Fall Pumpkin Pie Smoothie: add 1 cup roasted butternut squash, pumpkin puree or roasted sweet potato puree (puree can be frozen into ice cubes for long term storage), 1/4 cup raw chopped carrot, 1/4 cup raw pecans, 1 teaspoon sorghum syrup or honey, 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract



Simple Melon & Greens Salad or Skewers

  • 1 cups fresh washed mild greens like baby arugula or 1/2 cup mixed micro-greens
  • 2 cups mixed melons (honeydew, watermelon, yellow doll, cantaloupe
  • 1 cup fresh blueberries or blackberries
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh chèvre (feta would be more pronounced for adult version)
  • Optional:  1/8 cup fresh red onion sliced thin
  • Optional:  1 teaspoon fresh chopped chives
  • Optional:  cubed paneer or feta  and basil or mint leaves for skewers

Wash off the outsides of the melons and gently rinse and dry the fresh berries. Cut up the melons, throwing away the seeds (or save them for a seed spitting contest). Mix all of the fruit together with any of the optional herbs, cheese and onions. Add the blueberries last and toss gently. Serve


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