Tag Archives: local

Until next year.

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Gardeners, cooks and farmers share a unique awareness of the changing of the seasons. Crocus and radishes give way to irises and asparagus. Early summers pinks, blues, English peas and sweet cherries change to late summer yellows and oranges, summer squash, sweet corn and tomatoes.

The seasons are changing right now. Farmers at the Market admonish us to enjoy the spring’s last rhubarb and asparagus, while filling the gap with the year’s first tomatoes and squash, helped along with early season cover. They taste richly of the soil they’re grown in, but not yet sweet from the summer sun.

Seasons of eating start with hunger, built over months of waiting. That first spear of asparagus or first ripe tomato is wonderful eaten raw and fresh. Over a six to eight week season your recipes progress from old favorites to new experiments. Finally, when you think you can’t eat another zucchini or ear of corn, they are gone until next year.

Here, then is a celebration of the passing of asparagus. It’s been a wonderful spring for it, although May’s heat led many farmers to end their harvest earlier than usual. Enjoy this salad, simple and fresh, elegant enough for fine dining, quick enough for a Tuesday supper. Until next year.

Asparagus Mimosa Salad

The name of this salad refers to the similarity in appearance between the grated egg and the foamy yellow/white flowers of the Mimosa tree.

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs, hardboiled
  • 1 pound asparagus
  • 2-3 radishes, cut in matchsticks
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1/4 cup Champagne Mimosa vinegar*
  • 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup Olive oil – the good stuff!
*Another treat from Sapore Oil and Vinegar in DC. You can substitute champagne or a tarragon,white wine vinegar.
Directions:
  • Begin vinaigrette: whisk together shallot, vinegar,mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.
  • Peel and finely grate the hardboiled eggs. Set aside. You won’t be able to get the entire egg grated. Pop the larger, leftover pieces in your mouth.
  • For a special presentation, line up your asparagus spears and cut them to fit the plates you will be serving this salad on.
  • Blanch asparagus in a large boiling pot of salted water for approximately 3 minutes, until crisp tender. Shock in an ice bath.
  • Complete vinaigrette by whisking in olive oil in a thin stream. Taste vinaigrette with an asparagus stalk and season to taste with additional salt pepper, oil or vinegar.
  • Place asparagus stalks on individual plates, drizzle with vinaigrette, top with radish and egg.

*Thomas Keller takes the tender ends of the asparagus, left over when you trim the spears to the size of your salad plates, and blanches them for about five minutes. Shock them in an ice bath, then puree them in a blender with a few tablespoons of the cooking liquid, salt, pepper and a drizzle of olive oil. That’s the green sauce you see on the bottom in the photograph.

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How do I come up with recipes?

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I am often asked how I come up with the recipes I cook at Eastern Market and publish in this blog. They all start with inspiration – or desperation – figuring out how to feature a seasonal ingredient or use a new product from one of the great shops I work with.

Sometimes it’s easy. I’ll pull a recipe out of my head that I’ve cooked many times, like asparagus soup or zucchini pancakes. Along the way, these recipes get tweaked with new ingredients and new ideas I’ve learned elsewhere.

Other times an idea pops into my head, like last week’s Indian style peas and corn. I’ll flip through cookbooks and search the web to understand the range of ingredients, seasonings and techniques that other people have used, then pull together the ideas that sound the best and start testing the recipe, making changes until I’ve got something I’m proud to serve.

The hardest recipes, and some of my greatest satisfaction, come when I’m stumped. This past week I wanted to work with summer squash. The Saturday before I had sautéed it, tossed with a compound butter. Rather then another variation on sautéed and tossed with herbs, I wanted something really new. I began flipping through cookbooks waiting for a recipe to excite me. I found a squash goulash, 70’s style with ground beef, green peppers and sweet paprika. I removed the beef so the squash could take center stage. Red peppers kept some bitterness without the bite. Red miso and tomato paste added depth, while Spanish paprika or pimentón, brought a bit of heat. Some fresh vegetable stock gave the sauce another layer and I was ready to serve this week’s Summer Squash Goulash. My sincere thanks to Too Many Tomatoes, and my Mom who raised us on its recipes, for the inspiration.

Summer Squash Goulash

Makes 3-4 main course servings unless you eat it at 10:30 at night, in which case two of you will be fighting over the last bowl. 

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 cups thinly sliced crimini mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 tbs sweet paprika
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 2 tbs red miso paste
  • 2 tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1.5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 cups summer squash thinly sliced in half rounds
  • 1/4 cup chopped basil
  • Sherry Vinegar

Directions:

  • In a sauté pan over medium heat, cook onion in olive oil until softened. Add garlic and cook 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add mushrooms and cook until lightly browned on edges.
  • Add pepper, paprika, tomato paste and miso. Cook 1-2 minutes until paprika is fragrant.
  • Stir in tomatoes and cook until softened and water begins to evaporate. Add stock and scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.
  • Add squash, basil. Cover and cook until squash is softened but still firm.
  • Uncover and let thicken to desired consistency. Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar.

Really good, farm-fresh butter.

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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.

In season.

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Growing up, spareribs and artichokes was a special family meal (this explains a lot, I know). You knew it was a what was in store when extra napkins appeared on the table with no silverware for an evening of finger food. Our teeth scraped the flesh off each artichoke leaf in an effort to reach the center, when Dad would ceremoniously scrape the choke from the base, cut it into an even number of pieces, and toss it into the remaining butter and cider vinegar in the dipping bowl. The meal ended with wonderful piles of bones, sucked clean, and spent artichoke leave. It was a feast.

This meal was so special, such an event in our home, that I always wanted it served on my birthday, which is in August. Each year, Mom would remind me that artichokes were only available in spring, and I would be stuck with some less exotic treat like fresh corn on the cob, or the first of Mom’s dill beans (how I suffered).

Growing up, produce was seasonal. Asparagus in spring, strawberries for a few short weeks in June, corn appeared in early August.

In my teens that started to change. These treats were available year round. Suddenly you could serve asparagus on New Year’s Day and eat “fresh” tomatoes in February. By the time I started cooking seriously, in my early twenties, there were only a few vegetables left, like fiddleheads, to truly mark the arrival of each season.

At 30, I moved to Washington, DC and began shopping at Eastern Market, and after a few months realized that my cooking had found a new rhythm. Asparagus appeared in spring with magical, uneven spears, tinged heavily with purple. Six weeks later we enjoyed the last few spears of the season, significantly less tender and sweet, in soup or baked in phyllo with sharp Gruyère. Strawberries came and went quickly. Sour cherries were only available for a week or two – much to the delight of my husband, who lamented pitting them by the pint for pies and sauces. Summer continued with tomatoes and zucchini, the first squash and apples in fall, and late season brassicas: cauliflower, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.

While perpetual abundance is perfect when you desperately need an asparagus fix in the dead of winter, it disrupts the circadian rhythm of our dining table. I have discovered a new joy in waiting for spring’s first scant produce – two to three weeks of spring onions, arugula and radishes. We celebrate the last bowl of asparagus soup on a warm night in May. I marvel each fall when Bob’s vegetable peeler makes short work of the thick skin on a butternut squash.

Happy spring! Celebrate the food on your plate. I’ll see you at the Market.

Homemade is better. Part II

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Chicken stock is cheap and easy.

Okay. Go ahead. Get the jokes out of your system. I like my coffee black too*. Ready to move on?

Stock is the perfect weekend project. Hit the market in the morning for your ingredients – or pick them up on your way home Friday night. Saturday or Sunday you are going to be home for a few hours: working in the garden, cleaning house, or sitting on the couch watching an America’s Next Top Model marathon while recovering from Friday night happy hour, right? So, dump your ingredients in a pot, set it to a low simmer, and kick your feet up on the couch. Tell everyone not to bother you. You’re cooking.

*I’ll buy you a cup of coffee if you got the joke.

Homemade white chicken stock

“White” here refers to the fact that your ingredients go right into the pot without browning them first.

Ingredients:

  • 6 lbs chicken parts (see notes)
  • 1 large carrot (2″ diameter and 8″ long)
  • 2 ribs celery
  • 1 large onion (about the size of a baseball)
  • 1 leek, white parts only (optional)
  • 8-10 black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6-8 parsley stems
  • 4-6 sprigs thyme
Directions:
  • Cut the chicken into 3 inch pieces. Better yet, have your butcher do it. Place them in an 8 quart stock pot and add water to cover the chicken by 2 inches.
  • Meanwhile, roughly chop the vegetables. This is not the time for fine knife skills.
  • Bring the pot to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat and hold at a slow simmer – just a few bubbles per second.
  • Cook the chicken for 15-20 minutes. Skim off the grey/brown foam that gathers on the surface, and discard.
  • Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to simmer for three hours.
  • At the end of three hours, remove and discard the solids.
  • Strain your stock through a fine mesh sieve lined with cheese cloth or a coffee filter.
  • Remove the fat from the stock. the easiest way to do this is to cool the stock to room temperature and cool it in the fridge overnight. The fat will congeal on the surface and is easily removed. If you need the stock right away, let the stock rest for 15-20 minutes. It will float to the surface of your stock. You can remove the liquid fat with a spoon.
  • If the stock is too thin, or bland, reduce your stock down to 8 cups over a gentle boil.
Notes:
  • Most grocery stores have their chicken delivered pre-butchered. Buy cheap meat with plenty of bones, like thighs and wings. You could also chop up an entire chicken. If your market or specialty grocery breaks down whole chickens into parts, ask them for chicken backs and have them cut them into 3″ pieces for you. You will pay about $.98 a pound.
  • Letting the chicken cook for 20 minutes first makes it easier to skim off the foam. Otherwise you are fighting with the veggies floating on the top of your pot.
  • Don’t let the stock boil until the end, after you have removed the solids and the fat. Otherwise your stock will get cloudy
  • You can test the level of flavor by putting a little in a small dish and adding a pinch of salt. Taste it. If it tastes to watery, reduce the stock further.

These are not pictures of arugula walnut pesto.

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The pictures shown here are of a wonderful sage, brown butter sauce served over penne with sharp asiago and rich, earthy walnuts. However, I don’t have any pictures to go with this delicious pesto recipe so they’ll have to do. Thank you for your understanding…

Marvin Ogburn from Long Meadow Farm emailed me one Friday morning. “I have A LOT of arugula this week. What can you do with it?” We headed to the kitchen that night and worked on an arugula pesto. Out of several variations we learned that blanching the leaves first removes too much of the arugula flavor, chopping the walnuts before lightly toasting them eliminates the raws taste without burning the outsides, and salt carefully – the cheese already adds a lot. We tested the recipe over pasta, but it was wonderful the next morning, at Eastern Market, over boiled and sliced fingerling potatoes.

*Did you have a copy of Free Stuff for Kids when you were young? It was a list of free things you could send away for. Often they required so many boxtops or SASE’s that no one but a bored child would ever actually send away for them. I remember at least one or two required some small change, usually a couple quarters, to pay for printing of the edifying pamphlet describing banana spiders or the geography of Arkansas that you would receive in return. The instructions always admonished that the coins needed to be securely taped to your request letter. I assumed that not doing so would shame my elders.

While this comment seems totally random, I am going somewhere with it. I really think you should try this recipe in a mortar and pestle. It’s a little more work, but the texture and control over the final product is well worth it. As an incentive, if you give it a try, send me an email at jonathan.bardzik@gmail.com. I will send you a letter of congratulations and two quarters. I’ll make sure they are securely taped.

Arugula and Walnut Pesto

Ingredients:

  • 1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
  • Salt
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3/4 cups freshly grated parmesan cheese*
  • 2 cups arugula (not packed)
  • Black pepper
  • Olive oil – the good stuff

* Grate the parmesan on the middle side of a box grater. This gives you a nice bite of cheese and doesn’t get too gummy when pounded.

Directions:

This can be made either by hand in a mortar and pestle, or in a food processor.

By hand:

  • Add garlic and a pinch of salt to the mortar. Pound garlic into a paste.
  • Toast walnuts over low heat in a small fry pan. Watch carefully, nuts burn quickly. they are ready when golden and lightly fragrant.
  • Add walnuts to garlic paste and pound until it looks like thick, chunky peanut butter.
  • Add the parmesan cheese and pound until incorporated.
  • Add the arugula a handful at a time and pound away. Add more when you have room in your mortar.
  • Add cracked pepper to taste. Start with 5-6 grinds and go from there.
  • Add olive oil to thin and bind. Start with a table spoon. You shouldn’t need more than two.

Note: If your paste gets too thick during pounding, you can add a little olive oil to thin it out.

In a food processor:

  • Add garlic, walnuts and cheese to a food processor. Pulse until chopped together. About 4-6 times.
  • Add arugula and process until coarsely blended. Keep it rustic as opposed to pureed.
  • Remove pesto to a bowl. Stir in pepper, salt and olive oil.

Beets aren’t poisonous.

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My Dad doesn’t like beets. Or mushrooms. Every time I serve them to our family he jokes, “They are poisonous and we really shouldn’t eat them.” Now my beet-hating husband backs my Dad up in these arguments. Thank God for my mom.

Admittedly, this recipe has not made Dad a convert, but it does continuously get rave reviews and a visitor to @Eastern Market yesterday morning walked up to my cooking demonstration with a bag full of beets and said, “those are the best beets I’ve ever had and I’m making them at home tonight.”

All due credit goes to chef Deborah Madison for this amazing combination. It sounds bizarre, but it’s awesome! Finely dicing your beets into a 1/4″ dice really speeds up the cooking. You can have this done in 20 minutes without any oven roasting involved. Score one for the beets.

Beets with Crème Fraîche and Mustard
Ingredients:
  • 2 large beets, peeled and diced into 1/4 inch cubes*
  • 2 tbs butter
  • 1 tbs chopped thyme
  • 2 tbs crème fraîche
  • 1 tbs dijon or grainy mustard
  • Sherry vinegar
* There’s a trade off here: more knife work means less cooking time. If the idea of cutting beets into 1/4″ cubes sounds to you like one of the lower planes of hell, please feel free to cut them into larger cubes and increase your cooking time.
Directions:
  • Melt butter in a 10″ sauté pan over medium heat. Add beets and thyme.
  • Stirring every few minutes, cook beets until softened, about 20 minutes. I like mine pretty firm, but cook yours the way you like them – it’s your kitchen!
  • When cooked, remove from heat and stir through crème fraîche and mustard.
  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and a splash of sherry vinegar. The vinegar brightens the rich, fatty flavor of the butter and the earthiness of the beets.