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.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Savory Muffins

After last week's cold weather, I was about to say that summer is winding down, but here it is, another 90 degree day. I'm sure in three months I'll be complaining that my toes are freezing off, but at this moment I'd like to be able to go outside without getting heat stroke.

Although I bought my ingredients yesterday at the Grand Army Plaza market, I made my dish today. I would have cooked yesterday afternoon, but I actually took the boat over to Governor's Island around noon yesterday. The island was hosting a 1920's Jazz-Age party where people dressed up, did the Charleston, and played croquet, as the sun set on another New York August. This doesn't have much to do with a farmers market food blog, but I thought I'd mention the cocktails that were being served. St.-Germain (the elderflower liquor) was one of the sponsors of the event, and the cocktails they were serving were so refreshing during the hot summer day, that I thought I should post the recipe in the blog.

St.-Germaine Signature Cocktail:
2 parts sparkling wine
1 1/2 parts St.-Germaine
2 parts sparkling water or club soda
Lemon twist garnish

They say to serve it in a tom collins glass. I had it in a plastic cup, and that was just fine by me.

Now, on to today's farmers market recipe. I stopped at the market on my way back from my morning run. All the money I had on me was the $12 I had in my little running pouch so I had to stick to a budget. I had decided when I first woke up that I wanted to make muffins, but I wanted savory muffins. I love sweet muffins, but I must admit that I don't have the sweet tooth that many others have. There's nothing better to me than taking fresh vegetables and baking them into a savory snack. Today, I looked through my trusty muffin and cupcake book (500 Cupcakes by Fergal Connolly), and picked out a zucchini muffin recipe with feta. I wanted to add a slight punch of color and taste so I decided to add a little bit of tomato to the recipe as well.

The market was thoroughly packed, and I almost got knocked down by a woman buying plants at the vendor on the corner, but I managed to get what I needed and get out in about 10 minutes. No dilly dallying this day. I grabbed 3 small zucchini and a plum tomato for about $4, then I headed to the egg stand and picked up a half dozen for $2. I perused my first cheese stand which only had harder cheeses, and was just about to give up on the feta, when I spied a goat cheese stand on the other side that had one container of crumbled goat feta for $6. I grabbed that, and headed home to get ready for the 1920's garden party.

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:
3 small zucchini
1 plum tomato
1 package (about 1 cup) of crumbled goat feta
Half dozen farm fresh eggs

At the supermarket:
1 lemon

Supplementary ingredients I had at home:
Baking powder
Olive Oil

Recipe: Zucchini & Feta Muffins

2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
Pinch of salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups of shredded zucchini
1 cup of crumbled feta
1 1/2 tbsp. of lemon zest
1 plum tomato, diced

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and grease a muffin tin. The recipe says it makes 6, but I got 10 out of the batter with a standard size muffin tin.

Sift the dry ingredients together in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and the oil with an electric mixer until smooth.

Shred the zucchini with a box shredder. If you don't have one of these, you can pick one up in your local supermarket for about $2, which is what I did when I realized that I couldn't find mine. Dice the tomato into small pieces. Stir the zucchini, feta, tomato, and lemon zest into the egg and oil mixture.

Add the dry ingredients, and mix until just combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove pan from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Remove the muffins and cool on a rack.

You can store these in an airtight container for up to 2 days, or freeze them for 3 months.

I think these are perfect for breakfast with eggs, or in a bread basket at dinner. They're a little on the salty side since feta tends to be a salty cheese, but I thought the salty flavor was a nice contrast to the blander zucchini. Next time I might try adding a little cayenne or chopped up jalapeno to add a little spice to them.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Asian Spiced Burgers with a Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce

Another rainy day at the Carroll Gardens farmers market yesterday. Somehow it always seems to rain when I'm heading to that side of the borough. Luckily, a little rain doesn't stop the vendors from coming out. I was coming off of another long day of shooting, and despite the plethora of meat I was surrounded by all week, I was craving a burger. But not just any ordinary burger. I have to admit up front that I stole the idea of this Asian influenced burger from one of the chefs on the show I'm producing. He used a pork sausage removed from the case, but I wanted something lighter and leaner, so I thought I'd go with ground poultry.

When I arrived at the farmers market, I spotted a large meat stand right away. The sight of this almost made me change my mind and get beef, but then I saw a small table giving samples of pan fried turkey burgers. I rarely order turkey burgers because often I find the meat is dried out, and over cooked, but this cooked up so lovely that I knew that is what I was going to go with. I bought a pound for about $7, which is a little pricey for ground meat, but not too bad when you realize you get 4 burgers out of it.

Now this recipe is more of a meat loaf style burger in the sense that I mix a few ingredients into the meat rather than putting lots of ingredients on top. The "marinade," and I use that word loosely since most of the ingredients in this are dry, consists of shiitake mushrooms, garlic, and shallots. When I got to the mushroom table the woman was almost completely out of shiitakes, but there were just enough there for the burgers. I bought the rest that she had, a little under a half pound, for a pricey $7, and continued on down to the fruits and veggies.

I bought an almost too ripe tomato for $4/lb, and a shallot for practically nothing. Then I picked up a couple of rolls and some mescalin greens to go with the burgers, and some scallions for the dipping sauce. On my way out of the market I spotted some blackberries sitting on the end of a table. I couldn't find a place for them in this dish, but they're one of my favorite fruits so I picked up a pint to snack on as I cooked. I'm so glad blackberry season is here!

Today I purchased:

At the farmers market:
1 lb of ground turkey meat
Just shy of a half pound of shiitake mushrooms
1 shallot
2 bulky rolls
small bag of mescalin greens
1 bunch of scallions
1 ripe tomato
1 pint of blackberries

Supplementary ingredients I had at home:
Soy Sauce
Chinese 5 spice (can buy at most higher end markets or any Asian market)
Chinese rice wine vinegar
Mirin (also can buy at most higher end markets or any Asian market)
1 Lime
Fresh Ginger
Agave sweetener
Sesame oil
Wok oil

Recipe: Chinese 5 Spice Burgers with a Ginger Soy Dipping Sauce

(for the burger)
1 lb of ground turkey
3 oz of shiitake mushrooms, finely minced
2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced
1 large shallot, finely minced
2 Tablespoons of soy sauce
1 Tablespoon of mirin
1 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon of Wok oil

(for the sauce)
1/4 cup of soy sauce
A little less than a 1/4 cup of Chinese rice wine vinegar
1 squeeze of lime juice
1 tablespoon of minced fresh ginger
1 large clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of Agave nectar
1 scallion, green part
1 teaspoon of sesame oil
2 squirts of sriracha

mescalin greens

Finely mince the mushrooms (about 8-10 small to medium shiitakes), shallots and garlic. Put the tablespoon of wok oil (or vegetable oil if you don't have wok oil) in a medium saute pan and heat to medium heat. When warm, throw in the mushrooms, shallots, and garlic. Saute a couple of minutes until they begin to soften. Add a little salt and pepper to taste, the 1 tablespoon of soy and mirin, and 1/2 teaspoon of the Chinese 5 spice. Cook until the liquid has burned off. Turn off the heat and cool the mixture before mixing it with the burgers.

Put the ground turkey meat in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, and the other 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5 spice. Mix together. Next, add the cooled mushroom mixture to the meat and blend in. I do this with my hands. It's a little messy, but it's the best way to integrate the mixture throughout all of the meat. Lastly, I add the other tablespoon of soy sauce to the turkey and mix it in until it's well incorporated. Put the turkey in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Now that the turkey is marinating, it the perfect time to prepare the dipping sauce. Finely chop the garlic and ginger and slice 1 scallion into little pieces. In a small metal bowl, mix all of the ingredients (the soy sauce, Chinese rice wine vinegar, a squeeze of lime, 1 tablespoon of agave nectar (you can use honey if you want here too, but I find the agave easier to work with), the garlic, ginger, and scallion, 1 teaspoon of sesame oil, and 2 squirts of the sriracha depending on how spicy you want the sauce.) Mix with a small whisk or fork, then refrigerate while you're waiting to cook the burgers.

Once the meat has marinated for about an hour, heat your grill pan to high, or an outdoor grill to high direct heat. Remember to oil your grill so the burgers don't stick. I separated the meat into 4 patties, about 1/4 lb. each. I cooked the turkey burgers a little longer than I would regular burgers, which amounted to about 6 minutes on each side. This produced a perfectly juicy, but cooked through burger.

My buns were a bit too big for the burger size, so consider how big you want to make your burgers when you buy your buns. I placed each burger on a bun then drizzled the dipping sauce on top. I sliced the tomato and put a piece on top of the burger, then some of the mescalin greens on top of that.

This recipe came out very well. The turkey had just the right mix of sweet, salty, and spice, and the dipping sauce was tangy without being too strong. You could also put some Chinese spicy mustard on these to give them a slightly different flavor. Enjoy the rainy week!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peach and Honey Crostini

I've been working all week on a BBQ show for the Food Network, so today I wanted to shy away from heavy proteins. I thought I'd branch out and try a new farmers market in Manhattan. There are only three on Thursday in the borough, and two are south of Chambers street, so I thought I'd head to the one in Battery Park. Tucked away in a cul de sac right off of the Hudson river, the Battery Park farmers market is small, but quaint. It only had three small vegetable vendors, a cheese vendor, a bread vendor, and a flower shop, but I loved the fact that there was a table solely devoted to lavender.

I know I talked about how I liked edible flowers in a post a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn't about to try to integrate dried lavender into my dish today, so instead, I purchased a jar of lavender honey. As the summer winds down, I thought that I would take advantage of all the great peaches while I could. There were both white and yellow as well as donut peaches and apricots, but I decided to with the yellow for $2.50/lb. At this point, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, so I also purchased a cato randsom blue cheese from the cheese vendor, hoping something would come to me.

All of a sudden I saw some crusty bread in the corner and decided to grill the peaches, and make a sweet and savory crostini.

Today I purchased:

At the Farmers Market
2 yellow peaches
1 jar of lavender honey
french bread
Blue cheese

At a Specialty Market

Ingredients I had at Home
Basil (from last farmers market)
Coarse sea salt
Olive Oil
Aged balsamic vinegar

Recipe: Grilled Peach Crostini with Lavender Honey and Sea Salt


1 peach, cut in quarters and de-pitted
2 strips of prosciutto
8 slices of crusty french bread
Lavender honey
3-4 basil leaves
Crumbled blue cheese
Olive Oil
Coarse sea salt to taste
Balsamic vinegar

You can make this recipe on the grill outside, but I don't have any outside space, so I made it on my grill pan. First, slice the french bread into 1/4 - 1/2 inch pieces. Brush with olive oil. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits. Then slice into quarters. Grease the grill or grill pan with olive oil and heat to medium-high. Once the pan is hot, grill the bread for a couple of minutes on each side until grill marks appear, and they are toasted, but not burnt. Drizzle the honey over the cut part of the peaches, and place the peaches on the grill cut side down. Grill for about two minutes, and then flip. Grill for another two minutes, then remove peaches and put on a plate.

Now it's just as easy as assembling the crostini. I cut each peach quarter into two or three pieces, depending on the size of the peach. Place two pieces of the peach on the grilled french bread. Drizzle a little bit of honey on top of the peach. Take the sea salt and sprinkle a little over the peaches as well. I couldn't make up my mind what I wanted to do to finish the crostini, so I decided to finish them in two different ways.

Way 1: Prosciutto and basil
I took a basil leaf and tore it into small pieces. You could also cut it chiffonade style like I did with the pasta post earlier in the week. Next I took a strip of the prosciutto, tore a couple little pieces off, and put that on top as well. I finished with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

Way 2: Blue Cheese
I cut off a chunk of the blue cheese and crumbled it into little pieces. Then I took 3 or 4 pieces and placed them on top of the peaches. I finished this one as well with a drizzle of aged balsamic vinegar.

I personally preferred the Prosciutto and basil crostini. The saltiness was perfect with the sweetness of the peach, but didn't overpower the delicate flavor of the fruit. Grilled fruit is one of my favorite things to do in the summer. Depending on what you pair it with, the fruit can easily be used in a savory main course, or as part of a dessert. Next time, try serving the grilled peaches with vanilla ice cream, fresh raspberry sauce and a little mint. I think that's what I'll do with my leftovers.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Pasta

As we hit mid-August, I realized that I have yet to do a proper pasta dish. I had made one last week at my parents' place in Massachusetts, but my hard drive crashing kept me from taking pictures while cooking. Now that I have my computer back with a brand new hard drive, I thought I'd do pasta proud. I'd been thinking about the dish I made at my parents' place all week, and how I never really got to enjoy it, so I thought I'd make it again now that I'm back in NYC.

Today I thought I'd stick close to home and go to the Grand Army Plaza market. I perused the selection on my way home from my morning run in Prospect Park. There was a great bread vendor with beautiful looking french loaves, and another selling pickles that I hadn't noticed before. But since I planned to make the pasta, I was most interested in the tomato selection.


Truth be told, the tomato variety looked a little scarce compared to the tomatoes at the farm last week, but I'm in the middle of New York City, not on a farm in rural Massachusetts, so I really shouldn't complain. I searched for San Marzano plum tomatoes to use in my pasta sauce. I only found a bucket that declared themselves "Italian plum tomatoes" which I could only imagine were San Marzanos, so I went with those. They did not have the deep red color of last week's tomatoes, but still looked good so I bought a half dozen at $2.00/lb. You can see the difference in the tomatoes below. The ones on the left are the tomatoes that I purchased at the farmers market today, and the tomatoes on the right are the San Marzanos that I bought last week at the farm in Massachusetts. They had a wonderful sweet and earthy flavor that couldn't be beat.

I like to make this dish with a variety of vegetables depending on what's in season. I've been making some variation of this quick tomato based pasta since college, and often use just the tomato sauce, minus the veggies, as a base for other dishes like lasagna and eggplant parm. It tastes like you've been stewing the sauce for hours, but in a quarter of the time. Today I decided to go with a zucchini and a light purple eggplant. Both were only $1.00/pound. I'd just like to point out here that I went into Dean and Deluca later in the day and saw the same eggplants listed at $4.00/pound. If you hadn't seen the reason before for shopping at the farmers market instead of a traditional market, this should provide you with one.

I also grabbed a bunch of fresh basil for $2.50/bunch before heading back to my apartment. It wasn't the cheapest bunch there, but it looked better than some of the others. Basil can easily wilt if it sits out too long. I picked a bunch with nice crisp leaves, and was on my way.

Today I purchased:

At the Farmers Market:
6 "Italian plum tomatoes"
1 zucchini
1 light purple eggplant
1 bunch of basil

At a Supermarket:
1 box of Barilla Rotini
1 ball of locally made buffalo mozzarella (unfortunately no mozzarella at the farmers market)

Supplementary Ingredients I Already Had:
Shallots (my friend had given me a few of these from her trip to the farmers market in McCarren Park earlier in the week)
Red cooking wine
Grated Parmesan
Dried basil
Olive oil

Recipe: Summer Vegetable Pasta with Quick Tomato Sauce

6 plum tomatoes sliced and slices halved
1 zucchini sliced 1/4 inch thick, and slices halved
1 eggplant sliced 1/4 inch thick, and slices quartered
15 large basil leaves
1 large shallot, minced
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp of dried basil
2 Tbsps of red wine
2 thin slices of mozzarella
Salt, Pepper, and Sugar to taste
Grated Parmesan to taste
1/2 box of rotini pasta
1 Tbsp of olive oil

I always think it's a good idea to get all of your ingredients ready before you start to cook, that way you're not chopping frantically while your eggplant is burning.

Once everything is ready, turn the water for the pasta on, and add the olive oil to a large saute pan on medium heat. When the oil is hot saute the garlic and shallots for about a minute. Add zucchini and eggplant and continue to cook for about 3-5 minutes until the zucchini starts to lightly brown and the eggplant begins to soften and turn translucent.

Once this begins to happen add the tomatoes to the pan. Add a little salt and pepper and let continue to cook while stirring. Cook until the juices in the tomatoes begin to seep out, and the there is a bit of liquid in the pan. This took a bit longer for me this week than last because just as suspected, the tomatoes were not quite as juicy as the batch from last weekend. If this is taking more than a couple of minutes, cover the pan for a minute. Once the juices begin to release add the red wine to the pan. I just used a red cooking wine, but I suggest a Cabernet if you have it. I just did a turn around the pan, but I estimate that at about 2 tablespoons.

At this point there should be enough liquid in the pan that it seems saucy. Turn the heat down to medium-low. (You should probably add the pasta to the boiling water about now too.) This is where you build the flavor. If I was slow simmering a sauce over hours, I would add a bay leaf or two, but since this is a quick sauce, I just added some dried basil. You could use dried oregano as well. Next I added the sugar and salt. This is really to taste, so I don't have an exact amount of either, but I'd venture to say that I ended up adding 3-4 teaspoons of salt, and 2-3 tablespoons of sugar. I didn't add either ingredient all at once. I alternated, adding a little sugar, then a little salt until I got the flavor that I wanted. I would suggest starting with a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar, then tasting it. Trust your instincts here, if it's too salty add a little bit more sugar, if too sweet, a little more salt. Just don't overwhelm it with either...go slowly.

Once you get the flavor you want, turn off the heat. You may notice in the pictures that I added shrimp to this dish. I had some that were about to spoil so I thought I'd add it to the dish, but I don't feel like they added anything, which is why I didn't include them in the recipe. If you did want to add shrimp, instead of turning off the heat I'd throw the shrimp in, cover the pan, and let it cook for a minute and a half before turning off the heat.

Once the pasta is done (cook until al dente) add it to the pan with the sauce. My saute pan was a bit small so I combined the sauce and the pasta in the larger pasta pot. Turn the heat on low and add the mozzarella to the pan. I had cut two thin slices off of the ball and then broken each slice up into little pieces before adding them. I seasoned with a bit more freshly ground pepper and then mixed the dish until the sauce and the pasta were well blended, and the mozzarella began to melt, about 30 seconds to a minute. Then I turned the heat off, and mixed in the basil.

As you can see in the photos, I cut the basil chiffonade style. This means that it was cut in long thin ribbons. To do this, I placed all of the leaves on top of each other, and then rolled them up into a tight roll. I then sliced the basil in thin strips.

To serve the pasta I topped it with some grated Parmesan and a few pieces of the basil. Despite the tomatoes being less juicy than last week, they still produced a really nice flavor. I love this dish, it's really very easy, and is a hearty, yet light summer meal.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Heirloom Tomato Guide

I ended up going to visit my parents this weekend in Massachusetts. So although I couldn't make it to the regular farmers market, I did visit a farm stand in Concord, Ma. I actually mentioned this place in my blue cheese burger post while talking about heirloom tomatoes. It's called Verrill Farm (, and has been around since 1995, though the family had been running a dairy in the town since 1918.

I did cook tonight, but I had a large scale, un-food related disaster occur while making the dish. My computer decided to explode while I was backing it up, and erase most of my backup drive, so I may be out of the internet world for a week or two once I'm back in NYC. Luckily, I had already planned to do an heirloom tomato primer. There are so many different varieties of the late summer fruit that I thought I'd fill you in on what's what, when to take a big bite of one, and when to leave one for cooking. This isn't every heirloom tomato variety, just what was at the farm today.

Amana Orange: Large orange tomatoes originally from the Amana colonies in Iowa.

Arkansas Traveler:
Have a creamy, mild flavor. Originally from the Ozark Mountains.

Big, impressive beefsteak variety. Old fashioned, big tomato taste.

Big Beef: Hybrid that is good to grow in the home garden.

Big Rainbow: Large, bi-colored tomato.

Black Truffle: A Japanese pear shaped variety. Flavor is deep, chocolatey, smokey, and rich.

Brandy Boy: Hybrid of brandywine

Carbon: Among the darkest of the black tomatoes. Exceptionally rich and sweet flavor.

Small fruit, great flavor.

Delicious: A very large red beefstake that produces 1 - 2 lb meaty, solid fruits. Great on hamburgers.

Medium, globe shaped. Smooth and firm.

Fabulous: Ideal blend of sweet and tangy, and soft and firm.

Garden Peach:
Light yellow fruits that have a fuzzy texture and resemble mini-peaches.

Green Pineapple: Small beefsteak. Unique, fruity aroma that is released when you cut into the fruit. Slightly spicy

Green Zebra: Green with light green/yellow stripes. Very full bodied flavor, good in salads.

Health kick: This is a hybrid. It has 50% more lycopene than other varieties, an antioxidant that is supposed to help with cancer. Great in salads and cooking.

Jetstar: Superior, very pleasant taste. Firm, meaty fruits full of cracks. Not recommended for canning.

Legend: Introduced at Oregon State University. Nice blend of sugar and acid.

Mountain Fresh: I couldn't find much about this one.

Mountain Fresh Plus: Developed by NC State. Easily grown by a home gardener.

Mr. Stripy: Red and yellow striped fruit that is low in acid. Great raw!

Mule Team: Medium sized red fruits. Bright red, all purpose tomato

Orange Russian:
Bi-color Oxheart. Heart shaped with smooth golden flesh. Marbled inside with streaks of red. Sweet and fruity and flavor with few seeds.

Paul Robeson:
A great black, with great sweet, yet tangy flavor.

Persimmon: One of the best flavors of all the orange tomatoes. Meaty with few seed.

Red Brandywine: An Amish variety with great flavor

Rose: Smooth, round fruit with no blemishes. Thin skin and juicy, sweet flavor with a bit of zing.

San Marzano: A great paste tomato. Good crushed in a tomato sauce.

Striped German: Marbled interior looks beautiful sliced. Complex, fruity flavor and smooth texture.

Supersteak: Rich and full of flavor; improved beefsteak tomato. Superior disease resistance.

Very sweet and flavorful.

White Queen:
Large, white, beefsteak tomatoes. One of the whitest of the lighter varieties. Smooth except for ribbed shoulders. Juicy and sweet with a well balanced flavor.