Tag Archives: agora farms

Why cook anything else?

Standard

Photography by Sam Armocido

I blame bacon. Amish bacon.

You see, until last week, I was living in a beautiful fantasy world where people came to my Eastern Market demos each week to taste new, farm-fresh, seasonal ingredients. We were learning new foods, new recipes and new techniques together. But it was all a lie.

One of my farmers, Dan, picked up four pounds of bacon during his weekly run into Lancaster County, PA. “Fry it up at the end of your demo,” he asked, so he and his staff could eat it for lunch between slices of bread with fresh baby arugula. I got more attention and more questions during 20 minutes of frying bacon then I had throughout three hours of strawberry soup, spinach salad and fiddlehead ferns. Most of them were, “Is that bacon?”

But, Mom and Dad didn’t raise a quitter. So sorry folks, you’re just going to have to suffer through asparagus soup with mushroom spaetzle this week. As my Dad used to tell me, “People in hell want ice water.” And, apparently, bacon.

Spinach With Spicy Bacon Vinaigrette

This is not the salad to use baby spinach for. The hot vinaigrette will wilt it right down into soup. Buy grown-up spinach with good substance to the leaves. Yum! No Cabernet Sauvignon jam in the fridge, bust out just about any jam with this salad from tart beach plum or cherry to acidic orange marmalade.

Photography by Sam Armocido

Photography by Sam Armocido

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 4 thick slices bacon, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 red onion cut in thin slices
  • 1/4 cup Cabernet Sauvignon or other tart jam
  • 1 tsp grainy mustard
  • 1/4 cup Sherry or Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
  • Ground Habañero chile or cayenne pepper
  • 1 orange, sectioned
  • 1 pound grown-up Spinach, de-ribbed

*You can find Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar at Washington, DC’s Sapore Oil and Vinegar. Stop by or order online. I love it and easily go through a bottle a month.

Directions:

  • Warm oil in a 10” skillet over medium-high heat. Brown bacon and remove with a slotted spoon, leaving behind rendered fat.
  • Add diced onion, reduce heat to medium and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes.
  • Add Cabernet Sauvignon jam and mustard and cook, stirring, until jam liquifies and liquid reduces by half.
  • Add vinegar and whisk until vinaigrette comes together and thickens.
  • Season vinaigrette to taste with salt, pepper and Habañero or other hot chile powder.
  • Toss spinach, sliced onion and oranges with vinaigrette and serve. If you want this to look extra special for guests, dress the onions and orange sections in a separate bowl and plate on top of the dressed spinach.

 

Advertisements

Rule 1: No one cooks better than Mom.

Standard

Our weeknight dinners are built around turning the bags of farm-fresh produce we carry home each weekend into new recipes for Saturday morning demos at Washington, DC’s Eastern Market. Recently, our friend Sam has joined us for Thursday night’s six-hour marathon sessions where we finalize Saturday’s menu.

Last week, eying a bag of Agora Farms black-red sweet cherries, he said” My Mom used to make a sweet and sour sauce with cherries and peaches. It started with a can each…”

I know. You’ve got a mental image of a loud record scratch accompanying this look of horror on my face. But you’re wrong. No one cooks better than your Mom. No one. At that goes for each and every one of you.

However, since Sam thought it would be fun to go home for a visit sometime and show Mom a new upscale version of her sweet and sour, cherry-peach chicken, we started experimenting. Sweet and sour dishes hang on the balance of sweet, acidic and salty. We began with shallot and fresh cherries, added brown sugar for sweetness and depth, and rosemary for a savory bite. Peach infused vinegar replaced the canned peaches and orange zest add citrusy brightness. The cherries we had were so sweet, and the the peach vinegar mildly acidic, that we added a splash of sharper vinegar to finish the thick, jammy, sweet and sour cherry chutney. Then we served it over wild boar sausages.

I’m still willing to bet that Sam’s Mom’s is better. After all, Mom’s who cook are nigh invincible in the kitchen. But we had a pretty darn-good meal.

Sweet and Sour Cherry Chutney

Sweet and sour is all about the balance of sugar, salt and vinegar. Taste often as you finish the sauce.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs grape seed or vegetable oil
  • 2 large shallots, diced
  • 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted and quartered
  • 3 tbs brown sugar
  • 1 tbs minced rosemary
  • 1/2 tsp grated orange zest
  •  Peach Vinegar*
  • Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry Vinegar*
*More wonderful vinegars from Sapore Oil and Vinegar on Capitol Hill. You can substitute with any fruit vinegar, just make sure you get enough acidity. We used about 1/4 cup Peach vinegar and reduced it down slightly as the chutney finished cooking. A splash of the Roasted Red Pepper Blackberry vinegar gave us the extra acidity that we needed. Sherry or cider vinegar would be a good substitute.
Directions:
  • In a small sauté pan, warm oil and cook shallots over medium heat until soft, without browning.
  • Increase heat to medium high and add cherries. Sauté 5 minutes until cherries start to soften and liquid begins to evaporate.
  • Reduce heat back down to medium. Add sugar and cook another 5 minutes until chutney starts to become jammy.
  • Add rosemary and orange zest and cook another 5-10 minutes until chutney is thick.
  • Season to taste with salt and vinegar. This sauce is all about balance, so taste after each addition of salt or vinegar. If your fruit vinegar is not acidic enough, add a splash of something a bit sharper. Add more sugar if needed.

Without exception.

Standard

Absolutes are rare in cooking. Once you learn the basics of technique and flavor you can experiment freely – recognizing you’re going to bomb every once in a while and that every truly great dish has been practiced and refined over time. While researching broccoli rabe last week, I discovered an exception to this rule. Every single recipe I read began with blanching and included garlic and red pepper flakes.

Now, I’m sure there’s an exception out there somewhere, but once I spent some time getting to know broccoli rabe, it all made sense. Though it looks like broccoli, broccoli rate is closer in relation to the turnip, another member of the brassica family, which includes cauliflower, cabbage, mustard and kale. It has a sharp bitterness to it which is abated by blanching. The heat of the pepper flakes and richness of lightly browned garlic reveal subtler flavors in the rabe.

While there is no sauce in this pasta, I used a common Italian technique of adding the pasta cooking liquid to the sauté pan, along with slightly undercooked pasta, and letting the dish come together while the liquid is absorbed or evaporates. This leaves the pasta almost as flavorful as the greens.

Broccoli Rabe with Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 2 bunches broccoli rabe, stems cleaned and peeled, and damaged leaves removed*
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbs red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbs chopped oregano
  • More olive oil – the good stuff!
  • 1 pound dried penne or farfalle
  • Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
*Chop off the bottom 1/2″ of the stems, then peel them. If your rabe is very leafy, remove the leaves, blanch them separately, and add them about 2 minutes after adding the stems so that they do not become over-cooked.

Directions:

  • Blanch broccoli rabe for 1 minute in salted, boiling water and remove to ice bath. When cool, drain.
  • Chop broccoli rabe into 1” pieces.
  • Boil water and start cooking pasta.
  • Heat oil in large sauté pan over medium low heat. Add garlic and cook until starting to light brown. Be careful not to burn.
  • Add pepper flakes, cook for 30 sec.
  • Add broccoli rabe and cook 2-3 minutes until crisp tender.
  • When pasta is almost ready, drain, reserving two cups of liquid.
  • Add pasta and liquid to broccoli rabe. Cook until liquid reduces to coat pasta.
  • Toss with oregano, additional olive oil, cheese, pepper and salt.

Really good, farm-fresh butter.

Standard

If you’ve watched me cook at Eastern Market, or ventured into my home for a meal, you’ve probably heard “the butter story.” It goes like this:

Four years ago I started using farm-fresh butter in an effort to cook with the best ingredients I could find. My husband, upon discovering that  fabulous, farm-fresh butter can cost twice as much as grocery store butter, started giving me a good ribbing. “Local, farm-fresh butter can’t possibly taste twice as good as grocery store, stick butter.”

At the time I was reading Jennifer McLagan’s cookbook, Fat. Extolling the virtues of good butter, she recommended doing a tasting. So off we marched, Jason and I, into the kitchen, with a block of local, farm-fresh butter in one hand and a stick of grocery store butter in the other. One at a time, we cut a small sliver of each and let them melt on our tongues.

The first thing you notice about farm-fresh butter is the rich taste of cream. Then you notice the season and diet of the cows. In spring the butter is herbal and floral, light and perfect against grassy spring vegetables – asparagus, spring onions, fiddleheads and radishes. In summer the butter turns grassy, pairing perfectly with zucchini and tomatoes. In fall and winter when the cows switch to a feed diet, the flavor is rich and mellow, perfect for pumpkin, beets and holiday baking.

The grocery store butter was nearly flavorless. Softening on your tongue it gave the feel of greasy fat with the taste of cardboard.

When cooking from scratch you’ve got six, maybe ten, ingredients in a dish (that’s if you count salt and pepper). You can’t afford to have one of those tasting like cardboard, and not pulling its weight.

That’s the butter story. Every word of it is real and true. Every week I bring home a block of butter from Dan at Agora Farms from his stand at Eastern Market. I finish soups with a tablespoon or two for added richness. I’ll whisk a tablespoon into the deglazed pan juices of a sautéed chicken breast or bone-in pork chop to make a quick sauce.

This coming weekend, as part of my weekly cooking demo, I’m making Hollandaise. It has four ingredients – water, egg yolks, clarified butter and lemon juice (plus salt and white pepper). Strawberries and rhubarb are in season and I’ll make a pie next weekend as well. The dough contains flour, water, a pinch each of salt and sugar, and butter. In each case the butter is on stage, exposed, and it had better be good.

Good butter – good ingredients – matter. And they matter greatly. They also cost more.

A friend of mine passed around a blog entry listing five lessons learned from an evening with farmer, Joel Salatin. In one of those lessons, he challenges, “Do you have a cell phone? Do you have cable? Drink beer on the weekends? I bet you do. If you can afford those things, you can afford to eat good food, real food. And if you tell me you still can’t afford it, I will tell you the issue isn’t with money. It’s with priorities.”

Prioritize good food. Cut out something small this week and treat yourself to a pound of incredible, farm-fresh, Amish butter this weekend. Or local asparagus, really exceptional olive oil, or strawberries that will travel less than 50 miles from the field to your shortcakes. Good food is worth it. And so are you, your friends and your family.

Kale is nobody’s favorite food.

Standard

Greens get a bad rap.

People say they are tough and bitter, the leaves big and thick, ruffly and ribbed. Those of us not blessed with a southern upbringing look slightly cross-eyed at slow-cooked, grayish collards and kale, smoky with slab bacon and sharp with vinegar. (They are a taste well worth acquiring.) With today’s busy schedules, cooking greens for hours is, at best, relegated to a Sunday supper.

That’s why I love sautéing them, cooking them quickly. Cut into thin ribbons, they no longer have the mouthfeel of a new-mown lawn. Sweet dried fruit, plumped up in concentrated balsamic vinegar cuts the greens’ bitterness and brightens the flavor – as does a healthy pinch of salt and sugar with each batch you add to the pan.

If you hate kale, or have never tried it; if you’ve read about how healthy it is and thought, “so is tee-totalling, but I’m not about to start that,” this is the time to dig in. Enjoy!

Sautéed Kale With Dried Blueberries

You can substitute dried cherries or cranberries, and any good, aged balsamic vinegar will do, but the combination of dried blueberries from Agora Farms and the richly-flavored blackberry balsamic vinegar from Sapore, is magic.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried blueberries*
  • 1/4 cup Blackberry balsamic vinegar*
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 pound kale, cut in thin ribbons
  • 2 tsp sugar

*Though not the time to use your 25-year aged, you can substitute any other balsamic vinegar on your shelf. Other dried fruits like cherries and cranberries are great with this recipe.

Directions:
  • Warm vinegar and blueberries in a small saucepan over medium heat, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
  • Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté until softened 2-3 minutes.
  • Turn heat to medium high and add kale in batches. Sprinkle each batch with a pinch of sugar and a pinch of salt. Add more when the previous batch has started to wilt.
  • Toss with blueberries and season to taste with salt, pepper, and additional Blackberry balsamic vinegar.