Farmers Markets, Home, Lifestyle

Tomatomania

August 23, 2016

Each week I fight the urge to buy more than I need at the farmers’ market. Summer seems to be the most difficult season to curb this impulse. The array of colors, varieties and abundance are all too attractive to resist.

Farmers Market Peppers

Colorful Peppers at Front Porch Farm

I avoid buying tomatoes about 7 months of the year, but when July arrives and farmers’ stalls are brimming with juicy colorful tomatoes, I look for ways to not only enjoy them everyday but to preserve them without the laborious and time-consuming canning method.

This week I purchased a 20lb box of dry-farmed early girl tomatoes from Tomatero Farm. The box cost $42.00 or $2.10/lb. Most vendors that grow tomatoes will sell you a box without pre-order. If you think that you’ll be buying a box that day, I recommend getting to the market as early as possible. However, it never hurts to place an order prior to your visit for larger quantities. If you shop weekly then speak to a farmer about picking up a box the following week. Or, many of the farms have websites with contact information.

Tomatoes

Dry-Farmed Early Girl Tomatoes from Tomatero Farm

Five ways to preserve tomatoes without canning 

Tomato Sauce

I keep it simple. This VERY basic sauce allows you to customize it later when you pull it from the freezer.

Wash, dry and remove the green stem if still attached. Cut out the “eye” (where the stem connects to the tomato) of each tomato. Being a home cook I’m not concerned with seeds and skins. Most is pulverized by my blender and I have to assume that the skins have benefits.

In a large pot pour one tablespoon of olive oil and toss in 6 (or more if you like) cloves of garlic set on medium low heat.

After about two minutes add 10lbs of whole tomatoes. Don’t have that much? You can make it with just few pounds, you might consider using less garlic.

Once the tomatoes start to break down and release their juices (about 10 minutes) turn burner to the lowest possible flame and simmer for 4-6 hours.

Allow to cool and process in small batches in a Vitamix or blender. Portion out into zip lock bags (you can find BPA-free bags at Target) or in glass containers. As much as I like using glass, zip lock bags certainly have their advantages when it comes to storage. Bags filled with tomato sauce lay flat, on top of one another and stack nicely in the freezer.

When it’s time to defrost, add onions, peppers and/or spices for a simple sauce. Or use this tomato base to make enchilada sauce, bolognese, lasagne, or one of my favorite last minute meals Shakshuka. I first found this lovely recipe in 1998 and soon learned that it’s called Shakshuka or Shakshouka (pronounced “shahk-SHOO-kah”) meaning “a mixture”, in this case it’s poached eggs in a tomato sauce with vegetables and spices.  What I love about this dish is that in the summer when bell peppers are in season I use those and in the winter I use jarred roasted red bell peppers. This dish can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch or dinner and is relatively quick. It’s a go-to meal when I arrive home late and have no plan for dinner.

Although I don’t use a formal recipe I usually start with onion, shallots or leeks. I then add the peppers.  Here are a few recipes that sound great and will show you how easy it is to make.

This recipe does not use peppers but it’s a basic “how to” that will get you started.

Melissa Clark’s NYT recipe breaks it down into 3 easy steps and has a video. If you’re not a fan of feta then use goat cheese.

You’ll love the photos in this post for Shakshuka, a feast for the eyes.

Okay, so you get the idea. This morning I made our Shakshuka with baby leeks, red and yellow peppers and red onions. I made it in a 10-inch cast iron skillet served family style.

Shakshuka

Shakshuka

On occasion I’ll serve Shakshuka in individual skillets. It starts in a larger skillet, then portioned into the smaller skillets, and finally the eggs are added then finished off in the oven.

With grilled bread for breakfast and sautéed spinach or a salad at lunch and dinner!

Sun-dried

I recently fulfilled a kitchen gadget dream and purchased a dehydrator. Making dried tomatoes is super easy using a dehydrator: cut tomatoes into thirds or halves depending on size, place on racks,  and set the timer referring to your owners manual. But what if you don’t have a dehydrator? You could ask a neighbor or friend to borrow theirs or you can dry them, using these other methods. This blog post is great, scroll down to number 3 for drying heirloom tomatoes in the oven.

Freeze them whole

Yep, that’s right! You can freeze whole tomatoes and you’ll be happy you did. Read all about this method here. Wash and dry your tomatoes then place on a rimmed cookie sheet leaving space between each fruit and put in the freezer. Once frozen place in a zip lock bag or vacuum sealed bag in a single layer and place in the freezer. A bag of frozen tomatoes allows you to pull out one or a dozen at at time. Simply remove from freezer when ready to use and the skin will peel off, if not immediately then let rest a few minutes.

Juice

Fresh tomato juice is light and crisp, not as thick and viscous as canned. I made a batch in my juicer but if you don’t have a juicer try this way.  If you plan to freeze, fill a glass container leaving a bit of a gap at the top to allow for expansion.

Make soup

Heirloom tomatoes get all the hype and for good reason. They are visually appealing, taste fantastic and are nutrient dense. This heirloom tomato soup is simple to make and freezes well to boot! In the rainy cold months ahead having a steaming bowl of this soup with a gooey grilled cheese is going to taste so good! Make sure you double the recipe.

Tip-Always date and label anything you put in the freezer. It’s best to enjoy them within 6-9 months. I use Ball Canning jars for the most part. They are inexpensive, durable, can be found at hardware stores and Target and have a multitude of uses beyond canning.

 

Five ways to enjoy tomatoes right now!

I loooooooooooove gazpacho! Pronounced “gaz-pa-cho” and originating in Southern Spain, I find that there are strong opinions whether it is served chunky or smooth. I’m a chunky person myself. Here is a take of the classic summertime cold soup- Gazpacho Panzanella .

I stood at the refrigerator and ate this Cherry Tomato Confit by the spoonful. It’s probably best served her way though.

Host a tomato tasting party. This centerpiece of fresh herbs that guests can snip and add is darling. Ask guests to bring tomatoes from their garden or gather at your local farmers market. If you can, label the tomatoes. Small bowls of salts such as smoked, black and Maldon-this trio will get you started– as well as olive oils and vinegars are nice additions. A platter of bread, pre-cooked bacon, mayonnaise and lettuce makes it a meal.

I’m definitely making this Caprese Tart with Roasted Tomatoes after I buy more tomatoes!

I make this salsa weekly in the summer months. I find it’s best to divide the ingredients onto two half sheet pans. The tomatoes on one pan and remaining ingredients on the second pan. In my experience the vegetables cook at different rates and the juice from the tomatoes can steam the other ingredients not allowing them to get charred. There is also a video in the link above with step-by-step instructions. I prefer to char my tomatoes more than shown and I use two jalapeños rather than the three listed.

Happy Summer!

 

Home, Lifestyle

The SLOW Report Vol. 2

June 21, 2016

berries, berries and more berries,

Fruit is at its peak of ripeness, this means that the berries you bought when they first arrived at the market a month or two ago could last several days. Now, however they are too juicy to last as long. Peak season berries contain a lot of moisture, its very worst enemy because it creates mold. I find the only way to avoid losing berries to mold is to purchase less more often. Or, you could try this method.

Remember those amazing golden raspberries I posted a while back? Well, there is a new kid in town, black raspberries. I ate an entire pint looking for the perfect description, I need another pint.

Gather Weekly

Black Raspberries

Although some look as if they have mold, they do not. It’s the natural fuzz of the fruit. They taste like candy, but not super sweet.  The nutritional value of these fruits is off the charts, trust me. The season of golden and black raspberries is a bit shorter than that of the red variety. If you’re lucky to find them, buy them, eat them, freeze them, enjoy them.

After you read this excellent article on the nutritional benefits of raspberries you’ll not only put them on your grocery list but most likely they’ll be organic.

Boysenberries, red raspberries, golden raspberries and blackberries are available and will be for some time. This gold raspberries jam looks delicious.  On a hot summer day a scoop of golden raspberry and white peach sorbet will certainly cool you off.

 

Stone Fruit……

 

Gather Weekly

Stone Fruit

 

So many choices! Pluots ranging from green to purple and nectarines or peaches with white or yellow flesh flood the market.

Strawberries

Strawberries continue to delight. This Berry Polenta Cake is on my mind. And I can think of no other way to enjoy two the of seasons best, strawberries and peaches than this Rainbow Salad.  The colors are amazing and I can only imagine the contrast in tastes. Don’t forget to freeze a few pints of strawberries  to enjoy in the winter. Simply wash the berries, dry well, cut the tops off and place on a tray, single layer, in the freezer. Once frozen, about 24 hours,  place in a resealable container.

 

Goddess Melons…..

The first melon arrived to the market last Thursday, it’s called Goddess Melon and it’s superb!

Gather Weekly

Godess Melon

The fragrance of the melons permeated the Full Belly Farm area and I snatched up two. Notice the color difference between the two melons on the left compared to the rest? As these ripen they turn orange. So if you’re looking for a ripe melon to eat immediately then choose those. If you plan to enjoy a melon a few days later, then choose ones from the right that are more green.  I purchased one of each, one to eat that day and the other a few days later.  It was enjoyed simply by cutting into wedges and chunks to eat just as is or on top of yogurt. I still have the other melon.  This Melon Sa Malamig, a Filipino Melon Drink, would be a refreshing way to use it.

Today, several more melon varieties are available. I didn’t have time to ask about the many varieties but knowing that more are appearing means melons will be available for many more weeks, if not months.

 

eat your vegetables!

We all know how important it is to eat vegetables. By buying seasonal produce you are purchasing the best for your body in terms of nutrients. And buying vegetables that are fully ripe and fresh means better tasting food and supporting family farms. What can be better than that?  This 10 Reasons To Support Farmers Markets is spot on.

Gather Weekly

Easter Egg Radish, Broccolini and Beets from Tomatero Farm

Bargins at the Farmers Market?

At Tomatero Farm bunches of beets, kale, broccolini, mustard greens and swiss chard are 3 bunches for $5! I guarantee that you can’t find a better deal in your local supermarket. A bunch of beautiful multi-colored Easter Egg Radishes and carrots are only $1.50 each.

Most seasonal markets are up and running now. Search for your local market on-line to see if it’s open. If you’re traveling this summer take the time to research markets on the road. You’ll eat fresh and it’s fun to explore new markets that offer local delicacies and see what is grown in that area.

Home, Lifestyle

The SLOW Report Vol. 1

June 8, 2016

What is The SLOW Report? As a faithful farmers market shopper I was eager to read Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Revolution in 2006. While the book lacks the salacious page-turning material of a summer poolside read, it does detail the history of how the SLOW FOOD movement was born. I’ve embraced the slow food way of life and have put my own spin on what SLOW food means to me, Seasonal, Local Organic Weekly, here is this weeks report.

 

Ahhhhhhhhh, Summer!

It’s feeling like a whole lotta summer here in Northern California. The market is alive with people and the offerings are diverse and plentiful. The first tomatoes, corn and figs were mostly gone by 11 AM. If you are looking to grab the first taste of summer get to your local market early!

In California, produce arrives earlier than other parts of the country. If you live outside of California, chances are you’ll be finding the same soon. Asparagus and artichokes are on their way out so enjoy them while you can. Here is what I’m finding at the market now.

At The Farmers Market

Aprils, Plums and Lemon Verbena (such an amazing fragrance!) from Full Belly Farm, Albion Strawberries from Tomatero Farm and Berries (boysenberries blackberries, red and golden raspberries) from Ortiz Farm

 

Farmers Market Vegetables

Squash Blossoms from Peach Farm, Eggplant from Star Route Farms and Bell Beans (aka fava beans) from Marin Root Farms

 

Gather Weekly

Andrew filling a bin of Blenheim Apricots from Full Belly Farm, Tomatoes from Peach Farm and Assorted Squash from Say Hay Farms

 

Gather Weekly

Green Figs and Pluots from Peach Farm and Corn (yay!!) from G&S Farms

 

Farmers Market Fruits

Strawberries, Mulberries and Queen Anne Peaches from Full Belly Farm. Blueberries from Triple Delight. Donut Peaches and Pluots. from Peach Farm. Boysenberries, Red Raspberries and Golden Raspberries (these are highly perishable, delicate in taste almost tropical) from Ortiz Farm and Regina Cherries.

 

Gather Weekly

Assorted Eggplant and Fresh Ginger as big as my hand! Delicate Squash Blossoms from Say Hay Farms, they cut them with a long stem so that frying them is easy to do by holding the stem with your fingers.

 Oh how I love figs!

Did you know that fig trees produce two crops? According to wikipedia, the first or breba crop develops in the spring on last year’s shoot growth. In contrast, the main fig crop develops on the current year’s shoot growth and ripens in the late summer or fall. The main crop is generally superior in both quantity and quality to the breba crop. However, some cultivars produce good breba crops (e.g. ‘Black Mission’, ‘Croisic’, and ‘Ventura’).

With over 100 varieties, there is surely one to please all palates. In California, the first crop is typically available beginning of June and the main crop August.

One of my favorite ways to eat them are grilled. Cut lengthwise in half, you can skewer them or just brush them with olive oil and place on grill, cut side down. Cook for a 2-3 minutes until carmelized. Serve with goat cheese and a drizzle of honey alone, or on top of grilled bread. I have several pins on my pinterest page devoted to figs  and I love this cookbook all about figs.

This article has several ways to use figs but my favorite is the Chicken Breasts Stuffed With Figs & Goat Cheese. 

With such short availability and the very nature of this delicate fruit I look for ways to preserve these exotic edibles. These Roasted Figs have shelf life and can be used several ways.

Fresh Fig Ice Cream-ah, yes please!

This is a compelling list of simple ways to use fresh figs.

 

You’re a peach!

Remember Andrew from the picture above filling a bin of apricots? I asked him about the two peach varieties selling at Full Belly. One is Spring Fling and the other is Brittany Lane. I was not familiar with the ladder and when asked, was told that it wasn’t “a great commercial variety” meaning, because of it’s sensitive nature, delivering to commercial markets (i.e, grocery stores) isn’t an option. Once ripe, they are ready to eat and not a moment later. Grocers cannot take on the risk of selling these delicate fruits that are far too perishable. Andrew says that this variety can go from crisp to ripe within a day. He said, “my kids like them crunchy, and I’m like, if you’re not eating a peach like this (insert picture of a person eating a peach leaning over a sink) then you’re killing me!” I agree!

Peaches fall into two camps, freestone and clingstone (or cling). The difference is simple. With a freestone peach you can cut in half, turn the half over and the pit will easily fall out. A Clingstone pit “clings” to the fruit and is more difficult to remove. If you plan to can or freeze a lot of peaches at one time, then freestone is the way to go as it will be easier to process them.

This recipe for Heirloom Tomato Salad with Peaches combines the best of the season!

Emily Luchetti is a well-known pastry chef in San Francisco. Having worked at the wildly famous Stars in the 80’s and Farallon in the 90’s. She is also the author of the popular cookbook The Fearless Baker. These recipes from Emily that feature peaches are sure to please!

Apricots

While people rejoice in the hot weather, farmers are concerned with something called pit scald. Pit scald is when the pit becomes a thermal mass from the high temperature. When it cools down at night, the pit is still warm and literally cooks the fruit on the inside. I hadn’t mentioned this to my family so when my daughter, who when eating an apricot, mentioned that it looked different inside I knew that she was referring to the change in color from exterior to interior. These apricots are completely edible and delicious only the core showing a slightly darker appearance, a result of pit scald. Don’t let this stop you from enjoying these freshly plucked fruits.

Start off a meal with apricot-spinach salad , make apricot salsa as an accompinant to grilled pork or chicken. Finish your meal with this drool-worthy apricot clafoutis.

Farmers Markets are a great way to try new varieties, most are available for purchase by the pound.  This way you can buy the quantity that you want at the stage of ripeness that suits you. Visit a market this weekend-you’ll be happy you did!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home, Lifestyle, Shoppers & Chefs

Market to Mouth-Follow a Shopper

May 26, 2016

I have always been interested in why people do the things they do. What they have in their junk drawers and medicine cabinets were an early fascination. So it’s no surprise that I want to know why people shop the way to do or why they buy the things they buy at the farmers market. And beyond that, what ends up happening to those vibrant micro greens and juicy mulberries in their carts?

This is Gather Weekly’s first shopper profile. Her name is Jennifer, come along and follow us through the market.

Jennifer

Meet Jennifer

I’ve known Jennifer for eight years but have only recently had the chance to know her more over our mutual love of the farmers market and our commitment to local, seasonal and organic produce. We meet almost every week for coffee with a few other farmers market enthusiasts. All of us talk about what we’ve bought so far, which vendor has the best cherries that day or what farmer has the first crop of asparagus. We exchange recipes and ideas for how we will use the succulent strawberries and spicy mustard greens that are too beautiful to pass up.

Jennifer is the queen with a capitol Q of the Thursday market. Although I’ve been going to the market since ’97 I don’t have nearly the relationships Jennifer does with vendors. She talks to everyone! Knows so much. And is truly adventurous in both her shopping and execution of meals.

Jennifer

Jennifer smelling, tasting and buying

 

Jennifer and her median

She pulls her collapsible wagon filled with canvas shopping bags, cooler bags, mesh produce bags and empty bottles waiting to be filled with this weeks offerings. She moves fluidly through the market, pausing at her favorite vendors to chat and fill her bags with delicious vegetables and fruits. Her wagon sits in the middle of the aisles and has earned the name “the median” as it creates a center divide.

Jennifer's Cart

Jennifer’s cart waiting to be filled

Jennifer gets caught up with farmers and vendors all the while finding out how to best use the Tokyo turnips and garlic scapes that grab her attention. She asks questions. And then she asks even more. She is polite. She is inquisitive. She wants to savor and enjoy the farmers’ products in the best possible way. I listen to her think out loud about how she will enjoy their product at her lunch table just an hour from then, sautéed with this, that and the other and most likely topped with an egg.

Jen & Kitty

Jennifer shopping for eggs talks with Kitty from Dolcini Farm

 

Why do they grow it? How do they grow it? How do they make it?  How do THEY serve it?  What do THEY do with it? She asks about their travels and their families. Her enthusiasm is palpable. She is interested not only in the products she buys from the vendor but in the vendor themselves.

 

Jennifer shops the market

Jennifer shops the market

After the market, I spent the afternoon with her in the kitchen. I asked questions while she makes us a lovely lunch.

Gather Weekly (GW): I know that the Thursday Marin Farmers Market in San Rafael, CA is your primary market. Are there others that you visit?

Jennifer: Yes, (not as religiously) I shop at the Wednesday market at Town Center Mall (Corte Madera, CA), the Saturday Marin Mart market (in Larkspur, Ca), the size is small and manageable while still offering a great variety and I love the fish market! Occasionally I shop at the Sunday Marin Farmers Market (also in San Rafael, CA).

GW: Where do you find recipe inspiration?

Jennifer:  I read the SF Chronicle Food & Home section every Sunday. Edible Marin, Edible San Francisco and Sunset Magazines. I visit the Delfina website, they post their menus so I’ll look at those for ideas. We eat out about 15% of our meals so I try to recreate a lot of what I see on menus at home. Cookbooks, of course. Lastly, my head really-I make up meals by using the ingredients from my market shopping.

GW: Do you take a list to the farmers market?

Jennifer: Rarely. If I need something specific I will or if I’m going away for the weekend and have planned all meals so that I don’t forget anything.

GW: How long have you shopped at Farmers Markets?

Jennifer: Since I was 21 and was living in Spain. I lived there for 10 months and markets were everywhere. After that I lived in Greece for the summer and traveled to Turkey were there were lots of local markets. Then I moved to San Francisco. I first shopped at the Tuesday market near my office. Soon after, a friend introduced me to the Green Street market and I found that I could shop weekly at markets. I moved once again, to Washington D.C. It took me a few months shopping exclusively at Whole Foods but I found year-round weekend markets at DuPont Circle and Adams Morgan. The seasons for produce were much shorter and variety wasn’t as abundant as in California. Three years later I was back in the Bay Area and happy to be reunited with the glorious markets here.

Mulberries, cart and Front Porch Farm

Mulberries, cart and Front Porch Farm

GW: How much of your weekly household food comes from the farmers market?

 Jennifer: I’d say about 90%. I bake a lot so I do shop elsewhere for items such as sugar, flour, oils etc. I shop at Good Earth and Woodlands Market (both local independent grocers in her area) Whole Foods and Trader Joes.

GW: How important is organic to you?

Jennifer: Very

GW: Why?

Jennifer: I don’t want pesticides and other harmful things in my body or that of my family. I’m also concerned about the effect these cause on the environment; the quality of soil declining, the effects on birds and wildlife and run off into our water system.

GW: What advice or tips could you give to someone shopping at farmers markets for the first time?

Jennifer: Taste, taste, taste! Ask questions. If they don’t know what something is or how to prepare it, ask a farmer what they do with it.

GW: Do you make a lap around the market before the start of shopping?

Jennifer: In an ideal world I would. It makes sense to compare prices and taste all that is out there before buying but no, I don’t.

GW: Do you have a favorite season for the farmers market?

Jennifer: Summer. Everything is sooooo good!

GW: Are you a self-taught cook or did someone teach you?

Jennifer: It was an evolution. My mom and grandma for sure. I worked at a restaurant during college in the summers. I was a picky eater before working at the restaurant and by being there, if forced me to try new things. Living abroad introduced me to so many cuisines. In my 20’s I started cooking a lot, by trial and error.

GW: Is there a dish you could make blindfolded?

Jennifer: Pasta with cream sauce and sautéd greens.

GW: Favorite cuisine

Jennifer: Italian

GW: Sweet or Savory?

Jennifer: Savory

GW: Who are your favorite farmers at the market?

Jennifer: Full Belly Farm for fruits and vegetables, Star Route Farms for carrots and greens, Dolcini Farm for eggs, Straus Family Creamery for all dairy, Shelly for micro greens, Emi at Lakshmi Lassi & Chai, Della Fattoria for bread, frequently Marin Root Farm, Triple T Ranch and Toscano Farms at different times of the year, and seasonal vendors such as Peach Farm for fruit and tomatoes and Kashiwashi for stone fruit.

Bread from Della Fattoria

Della Fattoria

For lunch, Jennifer made “morels on toast” and a salad of mixed micro greens with a vinaigrette of heirloom tomato vinegar from Front Porch Farm and earthy olive oil from Full Belly Farm. The recipe for the morels is from the Chez Panisse Cookbook.

Farmers Market

Vinegar, Morels and Micro Greens

She served it two ways, on toast and on polenta. We both agreed that Alice was right, morels on toast are best served on toast!

Jennifer Making Lunch

Jennifer Making Lunch

 

 

 

 

 

Home, Lifestyle

10 Berry Good Strawberry Recipes

May 15, 2016

 

It’s a berry good time of the year. Walking down the aisles of the farmers market, you will see strawberries everywhere this time of year. So how do you choose which ones to buy? Many vendors have samples readily available at the front of their stalls. But what if they don’t? Ask. I find that most will happily offer a sample.

From time to time I buy baskets from a few vendors, take them home and have a taste test with my family. Here in the Bay Area we have several microclimates that affect the flavor and ripeness. Be sure to taste each week as flavor can change.

Swanton Strawberries

Chandler Strawberries at Swanton Berry Farm

Where are the best berries grown? According to the California Strawberry Commission, “California’s northern strawberry growing region is south of San Francisco and includes Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties and some acreage in Santa Clara and San Benito counties. Watsonville and Salinas account for almost half of the state’s strawberry acreage. Shipments from northern areas begin in April, peak in May or June, and continue through November.”

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