Farmer’s Market Etiquette

Farm to Fork,Farmers,Tips

After working at the Mill City Farmer’s Market for 7 years, I have learned a bit about how to navigate the crowd, and keep the flow going for all in the mix.

Here are some tips:

  • Do come with cash in hand, preferably small bills. At some markets, like the Mill City Farmers Market, you can buy tokens in $5 increments, and the vendor will give you cash as change. Easy if you forget cash, and easy for them too!
  • Have a shopping list. Of course, it is all about what looks great, what’s in season, but have a basic game plan.
  • Sign up for market emails! They will let you know what produce is available, and any other fun events you can take in as well!
  • Bring a sturdy bag
  • Be patient! (see note below)
  • Be a proper line maker! Let’s be honest, there is a bit of MN passive-aggressiveness that does not work well for wonky market lines. When you get up front, have your decision made (mostly), but chat kindly with your vendor, make your purchase, and leave happily with your loot. Please, do not budge.
  • I may get in trouble with this one, but SUV strollers and dogs are not a happy combo in a bustling market crowd.  Kids should be involved, and have them eat their veggies right from the bag! But keep your furry friends out of the crowd.
  • Most of all, be a bit flexible! You want broccoli, but only see kale…roll with it! Want romaine lettuce, but see spinach, yeah it can be a challenge, but make it work.

We are so lucky to have so many wonderful Farmer’s Markets, do your grocery shopping there, and be happy you are supporting local farmers and the idea of keeping it local. I mean really, when you know you are supporting Farmer Mike, or Singing Hills Goat Dairy…you made the right choice!

Lost and Found

Recipes,Tips

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Spring cleaning is more than rummaging through closets and raking last year’s layer from the yard.  Apply this notion to the mind, to the body. Without realization, in our kitchen, we reach into the cupboard and find a can of beans, a near-empty bag of barley, some rice and discover that this little hodgepodge of bits is exactly what we want to eat.  Add broth, some carrot and miscellaneous vegetables from the fridge.  Suddenly soup.  And a clean and nourishing one at that.  Today, we have a lonely can of chickpeas in the rear of the cabinet.  I know I have an onion somewhere, and carrots toward the end of their joy to use up, and well, I did buy a perfect fist-sized fennel bulb.  This is all so completely springtime.  What’s lost is found, and with its discovery, we find it is just what we need.

 

RESTORATIVE CHICKPEA, LEEK AND FENNEL SOUP

Serves 6-8

1 pound dried chickpeas (soaked overnight and rinsed); Pinch of dried chili; Extra-virgin olive oil; 2 shallots, minced; 2 leeks, finely chopped and rinsed well in a colander; 2 small fennel bulbs, finely chopped; Salt and pepper; Cream, optional; Dijon or red wine vinegar, optional

Cover the chickpeas well with cold water in a tall saucepan and bring them to a boil.  Simmer the chickpeas until they are cooked, 20-30 minutes.  Set them aside in their broth.

In the meantime, in a heavy-based pan or pot heat a little olive oil and sweat the shallot, leek and fennel until soft.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the chickpeas and add enough chickpea stock to cover them and the vegetables and simmer for a few minutes.

Remove 1 cup of the soup and blend either in a blender or food processor and add it back into the soup.  If you like you can add a bit of cream, or a bit more stock if you like it thin, to give the soup a new twist or leave as is.  As well, add a touch of dijon mustard or a splash of red wine vinegar to punctuate flavor if you like. Taste for salt and pepper and drizzle a bit of olive oil on the top.

 

Bananas In-Between

Recipes,Tips

I tend to fall on the ubiquitous banana in-between seasons, such as now when the stone fruits and melons are coming to a bland close. I’ve eaten a local apple or two but I’m still not ready to commit to the fruits of fall. I’ll be eating bushels of them soon enough. This leads me to the banana.

Such a reliable character in the produce section. I have not one person in my life who speaks badly about the banana. Melon, my husband won’t touch. Raw berries still sometimes pack a too tart of a punch for me. Rarely does an apricot surprise us with incredible deliciousness.   The banana waits beside these fruits all year long on the sloped wooden shelf. I forget to look.

We’ve developed a small pile of brown bananas in our kitchen counter fruit bowl. The fruit flies swarm in celebration, and again I forget to look. Until yesterday, I haphazardly baked them into oat and buttermilk muffins and even crunched some pecan streusel on top for good measure. But beyond muffins, they would be very happy in a smoothie or tossed quickly into a raita, that refreshing yogurt-based condiment to spiced Indian foods.   Better, highlight them in a (rather simple) upside down tart. If none of the above sounds fair, you could do what most folks do, simply peel and bite down.

Caramelized Fruit Skillet Tart

Serves 8

3 ounces (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter

½ cup packed dark brown sugar

3 cups fruit (chopped into 1/2 inch cubes) such as pineapple,

apple, pear, nectarine, mango, banana or any berries

¾ cup all-purpose flour

¾ cup whole wheat flour (or additional all-purpose flour)

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

¾ cup white sugar

1 large egg

¾ cup plain, whole-milk yogurt (or buttermilk)

 

Turn on the oven to 375 degrees and position a rack in the middle. Melt the butter in a large (10-inch) skillet, with an ovenproof handle, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Swirl the butter in the skillet until it turns nut-brown, then pour it into a medium-large bowl. Without wiping out the skillet, sprinkle the brown sugar evenly over the bottom. Top with the fruit in an even layer.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add the white sugar to the browned butter and whisk until thoroughly combined. Whisk in the egg, then yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl with the dry ones and stir only to combine.

Pour the batter evenly over the fruit in the skillet. Slide the skillet into the oven and bake about 35 minutes, until the tart is golden brown and springy to the touch at the center. Remove and let cool 10 minutes.

Invert a plate over the skillet, then, holding the plate and skillet firmly together with towels or pot holders, invert the two in one swift movement. Remove the skillet, and the tart is ready to serve.

Stripping Down

Tips

A piece of writing in a mainstream food publication struck me as truthful this week.  It asks the question, are we losing our appreciation for subtle, delicate flavors in the current sea of flavors that are bright and bold?  We are inundated with spicy, salty, sweet condiments but more than that, there is such competition to arouse our palates by food manufacturers for instance, and restaurant chefs.  We’re growing accustomed to flair and rely on being impressed by variety that it is getting more difficult to appreciate naturally delicate, or pure and or old-fashioned flavors.  A stalk of spring-grown asparagus grilled or blanched without dressings or a slice of just-picked cucumber or melon can resonate on the tongue and remind us just how delicious unadulterated food can be.  (The more I dwell on this subject I find that this doesn’t just pertain to food, but to many aspects of life…)

Spring is the right season to consider this since it is the season for stripping down food to its essentials, for simplifying, and moving away from the multi-layered and rich flavors of winter.  Lightly dress an arugula and cress salad, poach a chicken breast, make a clean and brothy pea and ham soup or a hard-boiled egg just dusted with black pepper.  This is the way to approach spring eating, but even outside of spring it’s a good exercise in simplifying and noticing.  Seasonal foods are wonderful at giving us this opportunity since they are already at their peak in flavor (and nutrition) and need little or no dressing up.  In spring we look for greens of all kinds, asparagus, ramps and green garlic and spring onions and chives, and radishes for instance; look for those in your local market and see how they qualify as fast-food, in the best possible way.

Butter Me Up

Reviews,Tips

Sometimes I feel bad for those who were raised on real milk, garden vegetables, homemade this and that.  Over the years I have envied that upbringing since I was a bit of a hard-knocks kid, and in the realm of eating, I was brought up on most of the foods of industry, including depths of take-out and fast food.   But I wonder if a result of years of those meals has given me a more discerning palate.  This leads me to butter.

I’ve been thinking a lot about butter lately, buying new blocks every other week, noticing distinct shades and flavors, reading labels completely, taking butter for granted really.  More butter, my daughter says every time she sees me smearing it on her toast.

I was raised on always-creamy margarine from a large plastic tub; my grandma, who mostly fed me, called it olio.  I can recall that silvery, sweet, tangy sting from that spreadable stuff and know distinctly that it’s nothing like its unadulterated cousin: real butter.  Real butter, that is traditional butter made from pastured (or grass-fed) cows and their milk.  Real butter, like real milk, is a highly nutritious food, full of vitamins, omega-3 fats, antioxidants, beta-carotene and high in the beneficial fat CLA.

In Real Food by Nina Planck, a book I think is fabulous at laying out for you the beauty, history and health of whole foods, writes this recipe for margarine: Begin with a polyunsaturated, liquid vegetable oil rancid from extraction under high heat.  Any oil will do, but about 85 percent of hydrogenated oils are soybean.  Mix with tiny metal particles, usually nickel oxide.  In a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor, shoot hydrogen atoms at the unsaturated carbon bonds.  Add soaplike emulsifiers and starch to make it soft and creamy.  Steam it yellow, and add artificial flavors.

Here are a few (local) butters worth checking out, all of which fall into most of the categories of traditional butter: Rochdale Farms hand-rolled butter, Hope Creamery Butter, and my newest favorite Organic Valley Pasture Butter (a limited edition butter made from milk pastured last May-September).

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