Shopping the Farmers Market: Why Blog

After years of frequenting the farmers markets in NYC, but only buying a few supplemental ingredients here or there, I decided to be experimental and work dishes around what is in season or looks particularly mouthwatering at the market that day. Green seems to be the buzz word these days from NYC to the White House, and the eat local movement is in full swing. My attempt here is to buy as many ingredients as possible from a the farmers market, and then occasionally supplement with locally produced ingredients from chain markets around the city. Most of the recipes I post (except for the baking recipes) are either things I created myself, or variations on recipes I've found elsewhere. I hope that you take the recipes and shopping tips here and they inspire you to do your own local cooking.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Spaghetti Without the Carbs

I want to apologize for not blogging for a while. Lately, trips to the farmers market have been pushed to the wayside in favor of long work hours, and time with my significant other.

When people think of eating during the holiday season, they often think of heavy, fatty foods, that lead to a New Years resolution to get back on that treadmill. When I was a child we'd spend Christmas Eve at my aunts' place in Long Island City. My aunt, who's Sicilian, would always cook an amazing meal that would go until 3 or 4 in the morning. Courses would include stuffed artichokes, smoked salmon Christmas trees, and at least a half dozen desserts. It was always my favorite meal of the year, but I'd always be rolling myself out the door by the time I left. Today, I thought what better time to post a lighter recipe then on Christmas Eve, when people are stuffing themselves with ham, turkey, or 7 types of fish depending on your family traditions.

During the winter months, produce is limited in the North East to gourds and winter greens. One of my favorite gourds to work with is the spaghetti squash. The yellow football shaped vegetable can easily be substituted for pasta, acting as a delicious, but no-carb substitute to the Italian specialty. Today I snagged a 2 1/2 lb one for about $2. I also picked up a variety of herbs which are also in season during the winter.

Today I Purchased:

At the Farmers Market:
2 1/2lb spaghetti squash
Flat Leaf Parsley

Supplementary Ingredients I Had at Home:
Salted Butter
Grated Parmesan

Recipe: Spaghetti Squash in an Herb Butter Sauce

1 Spaghetti Squash
3 Tablespoons of Salted Butter
3 Tablespoons of Chopped Herbs (Sage, Oregano, Thyme, Flat Leaf Parsley, Chives, or any soft herb you'd like to use)
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Grated Parmesan to Taste

There are a couple of different ways to cook a spaghetti squash. You can slice it first and roast it in halves, or you can roast it whole. I decided to cook it whole, then cut it afterward. If you decide to follow this method, poke some holes into the squash with your fork so it won't explode while you're cooking it.

Roast in a 375 degree oven for about an hour, until the outside of the squash is soft to the touch.

Pull out of the oven and let the squash cool for about 10 - 15 minutes. Slice it in half, then scoop the seeds and fibrous strands out of the center.

Once you've done this, take a fork and scrape it against the sides of the squash to pull the strands away from the peel. Place the strands of squash in a bowl and gently mix up until it looks a little more like spaghetti.

Mince the garlic, then chop all of the herbs up into a pile.

Heat the butter in a pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and saute for 30 seconds. Add the squash strands, herbs, salt, and pepper. Mix with tongs until the herbs and squash are blended and heated through.

Remove from the heat, and serve in a bowl with a sprig of parsley and Parmesan on top. It doesn't taste exactly like pasta, but it's a healthy and delicious substitute that will keep you on your New Year's diet.

Monday, November 29, 2010

It's Cranberry Season!

I hope everybody enjoyed their Thanksgiving. I'm sure there were lots of turkeys, enough stuffing to tide everyone over till Christmas, and pumpkin pies galore. I had made cranberry sauce from scratch for my company Thanksgiving party, but wanted to do something different when I was home in Massachusetts.

After all, Massachusetts is the home of the cranberry bog. The cranberry, along with the blueberry and the Concord grape is one of the three fruits indigenous to North America, and it grows in abundance in New England.

I was looking forward to making something with the berry when I was home, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do. I'm a big fan of fruit muffins. You've seen me make them once or twice on this blog, but since I was a kid, it was my breakfast (or really anytime) sweet of choice. Cranberry muffins are some of my favorite, but whenever I buy them at a bakery I feel like the fruit to muffin ratio is always off, and I'm longing for more berry. So when I make my own, I pack them with as many berries as possible. If you're the opposite and prefer the cakey part, feel free to add a few less berries to the recipe.

The recipe I'm going to make below is similar to the one I blogged about this summer titled Morning Muffins.

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:
2 cups of cranberries

At a supermarket:
1 orange

Supplemental ingredients I had at home:
Vanilla Extract
Sweet cream butter
Baking powder

Recipe: Cranberry Orange Muffins

1 cup of superfine sugar
1 TBSP grated orange zest
2 1/2 cups of all purpose flour
1 TBSP of baking powder
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 cup of milk
1 stick of butter (melted)
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups of cranberries
1/2 cup of orange juice

You can start this recipe by preparing the fruit. Put 1/2 cup of the sugar and the 1/2 cup of orange juice in a small pot. Turn to high and mix until the sugar has dissolved in the juice. Add the two cups of cranberries.

I like tarter cranberries, in fact the tarter the better, so I cooked the cranberries until they started to burst open, then I removed them from the heat. If you like sweeter berries, leave them simmering in the liquid on medium-low for about 8 minutes. If you've gone for the tarter variety, drain the liquid before adding the berries to the muffin batter. If you've opted for the sweeter berries and the mixture has boiled down to more of a compote, use 2 cups of the compote when adding the berries to the batter.

Now on to the batter. In a medium bowl, mix the flour, sugar, orange zest, and baking powder.

In a large bowl beat the eggs, butter, milk, and vanilla with an electric mixer for a minute on medium. Pour in the dry ingredients. Mix until all the flour is almost mixed in, but not quite.

Fold in the cranberries, or cranberry compote until it is just incorporated.

Preheat the oven to 400 and spray the muffin tin with non-stick spray. Spoon the batter into cups.

Bake for about 20 minutes until a tester inserted comes out clean. Let sit for 5 minutes after pulling them out of the oven, then move them to a cooling rack.

I found these to be a quick and easy way to utilize the cranberry, and a crowd pleaser in the morning...even when that morning is part of your first day back to work after a 4 day vacation. Enjoy!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Holiday Markets

No recipe today. I'm on a holiday hiatus for the next week. I know that the holidays are often the time for the most cooking, but all I ever seem to be doing during this time of the year is traveling. I may try to make a cranberry dish while up in Massachusetts since they're in season up there, and they're definitely my favorite late fall fruit.

I had the intention of cooking yesterday, but then I went for a 5 mile run yesterday morning, and for some reason, I was exhausted for the rest of the day. I did manage to stop by the Union Square farmers market, but I only picked up a spaghetti squash that I didn't get around to cooking this weekend. Perhaps tomorrow. There was a beautiful selection of squash there, as well as bushels of Bartlet Pears that had me thinking of a tart for a future occasion.

I was actually distracted from the farmers market by the holiday bazaar in Union Square. Every year vendors sell their wares as gifts for the holidays. It can be very crowded and touristy, but the variety of shops is quite interesting, and you never know what you might find. This year there seemed to be everything from candles and purses, to scarves and plush bathrobes. There was even a whole stand for alpaca hats! All you need is a bottle of vodka and you'll be ready to ring in the new year eastern block style.

Happy Thanksgiving, and I wish you all delicious holiday meals.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Stocking up for Winter

Since I'm still working on getting my new apartment where I want it to be, I spent a good portion of the day on home improvement projects: building a chair, putting up curtains, and waiting for my couch to come. I was so pre-occupied that when I headed out to the farmers market at 2:00, I still hadn't eaten.

I decided to treat myself to two of my favorite small take-out dishes in the East Village on my way to the Tompkins Square Park market. I made my first stop at Xi'an Famous Foods, the EV outpost of the Chinatown storefront. A co-worker turned me on to this place that makes rural Chinese noodle dishes, and I've been hooked ever since. As much as I love the noodles, I knew that if I wanted to make it to my second stop I'd have to go with the stewed pork burger. For $2.50, this warm Chinese-style bun with chopped pork is one of the best deals around.

Next, I headed to Luke's Lobster, which I think is the best lobster roll outside of Maine. I never ate the lobster roll as a kid, I figured, why waste good lobster on a bun, but as adult in NY I've come to appreciate the no-mayo roll. I decided on a crab roll instead for $10 which managed to fill me up.

Once I was fully sated I headed over a block to the farmers market. The Tompkins Square market is small, but I managed to find some decent produce there. I spotted some wonderful looking cauliflower that inspired me to make a soup. I love how rich and creamy it can be, creating the illusion of cream without the milk product. I picked up a head for $3.00, a potato for $1.00, and then grabbed a couple of leeks for $2.00. The soup I made today was pretty simple, so as soon as I grabbed these things I was off to cook.

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:

1 head of cauliflower
1 medium potato
2 leeks

At a supermarket:

2 containers of chicken stock (you can make this dish vegan by using vegetable stock instead)

Supplemental ingredients I had at home:
Basil (I had some late season basil saved that still looked good)
Canola oil
Olive Oil
Unsalted butter (can be left out to make it vegan)

Recipe: Cauliflower Potato Leek Soup with Basil Oil

For the Basil Oil
1 1/2 cups of densely packed basil
1/2 cup of olive oil

For the Soup
1 tsp. of canola oil
1 tsp. of unsalted butter
1 head of cauliflower
1 medium potato
2 leeks, the white part only
6 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, plus 1/2 cup
Flat leaf parsley for garnish

The basil oil can be made up to 3 days in advance so I'd suggest making this first. Blanch the basil leaves in boiling water for 10 seconds. Drain and run cold water over the leaves. Pat the basil down with paper towels to remove the excess water, then put the olive oil and basil in the blender. Blend until emulsified. Pour into a bowl and add salt and pepper.

For the soup, start by preparing the vegetables. Clean the leeks and chop up the white parts. Peel the potato and chop into cubes. Peel the leaves off of the cauliflower and break the head up into florets.

Put the butter and oil in a large saucepan. I use my Le Cruset dutch oven, but any pan large enough to hold all the veggies and 6 cups of liquid will do. Turn the heat to medium-low and throw in the leeks. Saute constantly stirring for 10 minutes. If they look like they're beginning to brown turn the heat down to low. They should remain green, but soft when you're done.

Add the cauliflower and potato as well as the 6 cups of stock. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, then cover and let simmer for 20 minutes.

When the vegetables are very soft, almost mushy, remove from the heat and let sit 10-15 minutes while the mixture cools. Next puree the soup in a blender or food processor. I used a blender, which worked just fine, but I needed to do it in 3 batches. Each time I pureed a batch I poured the soup into a clean sauce pan.

Turn the soup up to medium and simmer for a minute while you adjust the seasoning to taste. I found the soup a little too thick at this point so I thinned it with a little of the chicken stock. Once it's at the thickness you want turn off the heat and serve.

I drizzled the basil oil on top and added a parsley leaf for garnish. This soup is perfect for cold winter days. It's very warm and comforting with a bold flavor, yet so simple to make. Enjoy the continually chilling days.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Neighborhood Market

Today's post is going to be a little different than the usual post. Some of my family came into town this weekend leaving me very little time for a trip to the farmers market, yet plenty of time for playing horsey with my two-year old niece. Since I didn't make it out of the borough today, I thought I'd focus on something that I've been meaning to talk about since I moved to Queens - the local vegetable/fruit stand.

For those of you who never leave Manhattan, or didn't realize that the N/Q actually went into a third borough, Astoria is known for its fresh produce and old school mom and pop meat and fish shops. The food at the shops isn't necessarily local, but it is pretty high quality, and very cheap for what you get. I live near the 30th ave. strip which has a wide variety of markets. There are two great fruit and vegetable shops right by the subway.

I picked up some basic ingredients for an Asian noodle dish that I've made since I was a child: orange pepper, shallots, broccoli, zucchini, ginger and flat leaf parsley. I also grabbed some blackberries (my favorite), and a container of toasted pumpkin seeds (another favorite). In a lot of markets this amount of produce might run me $10 or $15, but here it was just over $7. Most things were just $.99/lb., with some things ringing in at $.29/lb.

They also have a wide variety of fruit if you're looking for something more unusual. I spotted carambola, otherwise known as star fruit, coconuts, and persimmons to name a few.

Another thing that Astoria has is a lot of fish shops. There are at least 3 on 30th Ave., but I usually frequent the one right off of the subway stop. I picked up a 1/2lb of uncooked small shrimp for $7.99/lb, but had the option to go with anything from squid, to octopus, or cod.

There's no real recipe today. The dish I made from the ingredients is just a basic stir fry with no exact measurements of anything. I minced some garlic, a shallot, and a little ginger. I also chopped up the broccoli, orange pepper, and zucchini.

You can use any type of noodle with this dish (udon, soba, etc.), but since I've been making this since I was a kid and lived in suburban Massachusetts, I make it with basic linguine. I love stir fries because they're so quick and easy and you can add any ingredient you want to them. Feel free to experiment with vegetables and proteins. You can easily tailor this dish to your own tastes.

While the pasta is cooking I saute the ginger, garlic, and shallot on medium heat in a wok with some oil.

Then I turn the heat up to medium high and throw in the vegetables. I add a little salt, pepper, and soy sauce and stir fry for a minute. Then I add a little bit of sesame oil and mirin and continue to cook until the veggies begin to soften but still have some crisp to them.

At this point I throw in the shrimp, add some oyster flavored sauce and a little fish sauce, and sriracha, and cook for a couple of minutes until the shrimp are cooked through.

Once the shrimp seem cooked (they're pink and just start to curl into a C shape), I add the pasta and mix it all together. Then I turn off the heat and add the flat leaf parsley, stirring to mix it in.

I love this dish. It may just be because it was the first dish I made for myself for dinner as a child, but I always find it very comforting.

Before I sign off for the week I'd like to call attention to the fact that I've added links to a couple of my friends' food blogs in the links list on the right. I know a few of you are vegan and are always looking for great meat/animal product free recipes. If so, or if you just want to try something different but still delicious, you should check out the newly launched Vegan Chronicles.