Shopping at the Winter Farmer’s Market

Assumptions. I know better than to make them, yet I still do. Before we started eating local, the winter farmer’s market (in my mind) was a place of leftover collard greens, cabbage and sweet potatoes. Sad. Lonely. Bereft of good eats. I should just give up and head to the grocery store, right? Wrong!

Visiting our winter farmer’s markets always amazes me and disproves my assumptions. At least in NC, there are lots of great foods waiting for us at our local markets.

Not only is the State Farmer’s Market busy, but I am really amazed at the variety of fresh vegetables and fruit (apples) that were still available. Thanks to a very mild winter (at least in NC), farmers are still growing and harvesting white potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes (mostly locally grown hothouse), salad greens, turnips, kale, spinach, green peppers, apples, fresh beans, broccoli, collard greens, beets and more. And the prices were definitely lower than the grocery stores on just about everything.

I was glad to find Scott Smith of Heaven On Earthorganic farm at the market. He was awesome! He and his wife have a farm outside of Wilmington and they love organic farming. Farmer Scott let me taste test my way though his vegetable stand so I could discover the difference between dino kale and curly kale (dino kale is thicker and spicier), how turnip greens with a little bit of yellow (from frost) are sweeter than the bright green leaves (the frost brings the sugar to the tips of the leaves) and more.

In the end, I did buy vegetables, including the dino kale (the name alone makes it interesting). Scott suggested that the dino kale makes terrific kale chips, something I had heard of, but hadn’t tried before. OH. MY. GOODNESS. They were devoured by my family and my pre-teen daughter (who eats vegetables grudgingly) decided they were amazing. Light, crispy and salty, these are the perfect antitode to potato chips. The recipe is below.

  • 1 bunch fresh kale (we used dino kale, but any kind would work)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. vinegar (we used balsamic)
  • Kosher salt to taste (we used about 1 Tbsp.)
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Wash and dry the kale.
  3. Cut off the lower woody stems and compost.
  4. Cut the kale into pieces about the size of potato chips (2-4″ or so).
  5. In a bowl (or a plastic bag, if you don’t want your hands oily) put the chopped kale and add 1 Tbsp of the olive oil.
  6. Toss the greens with the oil until leaves are covered. (If you use the bag, massage the bag until the leaves are covered).
  7. Add the vinegar and toss again to coat.
  8. If needed, add the remaining Tbsp. olive oil (depending on the thickness of the leaves, you might not need this).
  9. Carefull place leaves on an oven safe baking rack or on a cookie sheet (I used a rack). Don’t overlap leaves.
  10. Sprinkle leaves with salt.
  11. Put rack/baking sheet in the oven and roast leaves for 20-30 minutes (this will depend on how thick your leaves are, so check on them after 20 min.)
  12. Remove from oven and enjoy immediately!

 

Peach Berry Bars

IMG_2009While part of me is gravitating toward all things pumpkin these days, the more rational part (the part that actually goes outside in the 89% humidity) realizes that summer is still going strong, and the pumpkin extravaganza can wait. No worries, friends, pumpkin recipes are coming. But for now, I still have peaches to eat. Here in North Carolina, we will have peaches and blueberries for just a precious few weeks more and then apples and pumpkins will rein again. So, I’m loading up on peaches–freezing them, making peach jam, baking peach cobbler and trying new recipes like these delicious peach and berry bars.

These bars have an almond crust and topping, with thick, sweet peaches and blueberries in between. Summer deliciousness! You could substitute apricots, raspberries or whatever is fresh at your farmers markets. I may try this again with a thin layer of lemon curd over the crust to give some zing to the sweetness. They are great for picnics and late summer tailgating, so try them before the Polar Vortex returns and peaches are just a lovely memory of summer.

This recipe is based on one from Eating Well. I’ve changed up a few things to cut down on the sugar, but if you want the original recipe, you can find it HERE.

Peach Berry Bars (makes 18 bars)

Crust (also topping)

  • 1 cup almond chopped raw almonds
  • 1.5 cups organic whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup organic coconut palm sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 4 Tbsp. cold, organic unsalted butter, diced
  • 1 large farm egg
  • 2 Tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp. almond extract
  • 1 Tbsp. organic coconut oil

Filling

  • 4 cups, chopped fresh peaches
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and stems removed
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1/4 cup quick cook tapioca
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Prepare the crust by combining 3/4 cups of the chopped almonds, flour, coconut sugar, salt and cinnamon in a food processor. Combine well.
  3. Add butter and pulse just until butter is incorporated (about 5-10 seconds).
  4. Combine oil, vanilla and almond extract in a bowl. With the food processor running on low, add the oil mixture and the egg. Blend until moist and crumbly. Reserve 1/2 cup of the crust to serve as the topping. Combine the reserved topping with the remaining chopped almonds and set aside.
  5. Coat a 9 x 13 pan lightly with coconut oil. Press the crust mixture evenly onto the bottom of the greased pan and set aside.
  6. In a saucepan, combine the fruit and orange juice and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes. Fruit should start to thicken. Add the tapioca and vanilla, stir well, and cook for another 4-5 minutes. Fruit should be very thick at this point.
  7. Pour the fruit mixture over the crust in the pan and spread evenly.
  8. Top the fruit with dollops of the reserved topping, pressing the topping into the fruit a bit.
  9. Bake for 15 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and cook for 20 minutes more.
  10. Let bars cool for about 15 minutes. Put cooled bars in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes more to cool.
  11. Cut cooled bars and store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-5 days.

Enjoy!

 

 

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragu

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Some of our wonderful, local farms have beef shanks available this winter. I have to say, I had never even considered buying beef shanks, let alone how to cook them. So, this was another learning experience in our journey–not only buying locally produced meat and vegetables, but also being open to new ways of cooking. As it turns out (and you may know this already), beef shanks are a braising cut. That is, they are a bit tough and need long, slow cooking to break down the meat and produce a tender result. Since this was one of our chilliest weekends, it was perfect timing for slow cooking.

I found a recipe that sounded promising on epicurious (LOVE this website and app) atwww.epicurious.com for a beef and sausage ragu. I tweaked it a bit and am including my version below. Mainly, I reduced the amount of meat, upped the level of vegetables in the ragu and reduced the overall liquids to make a thicker sauce for pasta and polenta. It is AMAZING. Not only did the final product taste delicious and tender, but my entire house smelled like I had Super Chef visiting. Yum, yum and YUM. I could actually eat this out of a bowl by itself.

So, if you’re in the mood to try something new and make the most out of a less expensive cut of beef (especially if it is locally produced and hormone/antibiotic free!), give this a try!

Beef Shank and Sausage Ragu (12 servings)

  • 3 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 3 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 lb. Mae Farm Italian sausage, casing removed
  • 3 1/2 lbs beef shanks with bone
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 3 cups of chopped organic carrots
  • 2 cups of organic mushrooms
  • 1 bunch of organic kale or other greens
  • 2 28 oz. cans organic whole tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small can organic tomato paste
  • 1/2 bottle dry, red wine
  • 6 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tsp. organic dried Italian spices
  • 1 tsp. dried crushed red pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  2. In a small skillet, toast fennel seeds over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until fragrant. Set aside.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp. of olive oil in an oven proof pot and add sausage. Brown in pot for about 10 minutes, breaking up chunks with the spoon. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pot and put aside in a large bowl.
  4. Add 1 Tbsp. oil to pot. Sprinkle beef shanks with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown at medium high heat for about 6 minutes on each side. Transfer to bowl with sausage.
  5. Add onions, garlic, carrots, mushrooms and greens to the pot and sautee until brown and tender, about 10 minutes.
  6. Return beef shanks and sausage to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Add tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, fennel seeds, spices to pot. Bring to simmer.
  7. Cover pot and put in oven. Braise 2 1/2 hours until beef is very tender and falling off the bone.
  8. Transfer shanks to a cutting board and remove meat and dice. Return diced meat to the pot and simmer on stove for about 10-15 minutes to thicken and reduce the sauce.
  9. Skim fat off the sauce (I actually cooled the sauce, put it in the fridge and skimmed the fat off the next day.)
  10. Season with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve over pasta, polenta or bread.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake with Praline Glaze

20121110-173653.jpgMy sweet T’s birthday cake!

For the record, cake is not health food. I get that. Really. But as we prepare for Thanksgiving (not even a month away!), I’m trying to include as many fresh, local ingredients into our Thanksgiving meal as possible. And for the record, that meal involves cake. And pie.

Don’t judge–you know you want cake, too. Or pie. Or maybe both.

Here in North Carolina, we produce sweet potatoes. A lot of them. Not only are sweet potatoes naturally sweeter than their other tuber cousins, they are packed with vitamins, fiber and antioxidants. After watching THIS video about sweet potatoes, we typically buy organic sweet potatoes because who wants a “bud nip” cake? Not me. Not even with ice cream.

This cake is my “go-to” cake for holiday parties, autumn pot lucks and any time I want to look super fabulous to my family. The sweet potatoes make for a very moist cake. The original recipe is from Southern Living, but I’ve tweaked it a bit over time. I do use whole wheat flour, so my cake doesn’t have a super fine crumb, but it is still tastes great! It is not health food, but it is far better for you than grocery store cakes, which substitute hydrogenated oils and lots of sugar for more expensive (and flavorful) ingredients. They hope you can’t tell the difference, but there is a reason those cakes all taste more or less the same.

You can make this cake without the praline glaze, but I highly recommend making the glaze. The cake itself is not very sweet, so the glaze adds a lot without making the cake too sugary.

Sweet Potato Pound Cake with Praline Glaze

Cake

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1.5 cups organic cane sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2 1/2 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes (2 large or 3 smaller potatoes)
  • 3 cups whole wheat all-purpose flour (I love King Arthur’s flour)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. ground cinnamon or ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease and flour a 12 cup Bundt cake pan.
  2. Using a standing mixer, beat cream cheese and butter together until creamy.
  3. Gradually add sugar and beat until light and fluffy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until just combined. Add sweet potatoes and vanilla and mix well.
  5. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix well.
  6. Gradually add the flour to the wet mixture, beating at low speed (unless you plan on wearing the flour) and mix just to combine.
  7. This batter will be very thick!
  8. Pour the batter into the greased and floured pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 70 to 75 minutes.
  9. Remove cake pan from oven and cool the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes.
  10. Remove the cake from the pan onto the wire rack and cool for 1 hour.
  11. When the cake is near the end of its cooling time, make the glaze.

Praline Glaze

  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp. milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup spiced pecans (you can make these, but I buy them already “spiced” at Trader Joes)
  1. Chop the spiced pecans into rough pieces, but not too small.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, combine brown sugar, butter and milk and bring to a boil over medium heat. Whisk constantly and boil for one minute.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Whisk in powdered sugar, a little at a time and mix with the whisk until smooth.
  4. Let sit for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until glaze begins to thicken.
  5. Pour over cooled cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake glaze with the spiced pecans.

Tip: “clean” the saucepan by dipping more pecans into the glaze clinging to the pan. Eat happily, considering this to be your baker’s reward :-)

Stocking Up for the Gap Season

Here in NC, we are rapidly approaching the Gap Season, where summer crops are tapped out or on the way out and fall crops haven’t yet started producing much. How could that be??? Didn’t summer just start, like, yesterday? I love summer–even with the mosquitoes. I’m feeling a little sad about the gap, really. I feel like I have so much unfinished food business. I have tomato and eggplant and zucchini recipes to try, more tomato sauce to freeze, and I’ve only had okra a few times this summer. Still not sure how that happened.

Fortunately, the summer season tapers off gradually and I have a couple of weeks to get my act together before the gap. I’ll be stocking up on what I can this week and next. Mostly peaches, green beans, okra, tomatoes, summer squash and zucchini…any other suggestions? While I finish canning and freezing our summer bounty, I am excited about one thing. Football.

Fall means football, which also means stews and chilis and braised short ribs. It also means sweet potatoes and pumpkin and collard greens. If there is one thing I have realized on our journey (and trust me, there is more than one), it is that when you eat local, you genuinely appreciate the sweetness of each growing season and the importance of paying attention to what is available to you at any given time. I will miss fresh, ripe peaches, but not enough to buy their tasteless, black-hearted cousins at the grocery store. I do, however, have 18 half pints of peach butter and 4 quarts of peach halves that I will ration out over the next year, and that will be enough to sustain me until peach season comes again.

 

Week 33 Budget and Menu

Where did the summer go? It is hard to believe that we are coming up on fall already! I haven’t had the time to can or freeze nearly what I wanted, but we have a few weeks left of summer produce, so I better get busy! On the horizon–peach salsa, roasted red pepper ketchup, roasted tomato sauce, and barbecue sauce. Yikes!

This week’s menu uses quite a bit of carry over food from last week, which helps the budget a lot! We ended up eating more sandwiches and random fruit last week, so some of the dishes on this week’s menu might look familiar. We’re starting to bridge over to fallish dishes, but we aren’t quite there yet for full-on autumn foods. Are you noticing a change in your farmers market finds?

Budget [$95.17]

The Produce Box (bibb lettuce, bacon, hoop cheese, butterbeans, purple splash tomatoes, peaches, watermelon, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions, zucchini, yellow squash, blueberries): $50.48

Trader Joes (yogurt, frozen fruit, Ezekiel bread, organic butter): $28.46

Mae Farm (smoked pork chops): $16.23

Menu

Wednesday–Crock pot barbecue chicken, tossed green salad
Thursday–Chipotle sweet potato pizza
Friday–BLT salad
Saturday–Healthy eggplant parmesan
Sunday–Butterbeans with bacon, squash & zucchini
Monday–Smoked maple pork chops over sweet potato grits
Tuesday–Leftover buffet

Week 19 Budget and Menu

Our little family is unbelievably busy this spring! Between softball, Girl Scouts and homework, our evenings are chock full of activity. Rather than drive myself to distraction trying to race home and cook a big supper, we are focusing on easy, healthy meals that are also quick to prepare.

We are right at our budget of $100.00 this week. While we aren’t spending a lot more at the farmer’s markets, staples that we buy at the grocery sure have gone up! Have you noticed this as well? Yikes!

Most of our budget for week 19 went to The Produce Box. I have to say, they pulled out the stops this week. I’ve never had local, fresh bamboo shoots! They take a bit of preparation, but it will be fun to try something new. We will also have fresh snap peas and local goat cheese from Hillsborough Cheese Company. Can’t wait!!!

Speaking of excitement, SOLE Food Kitchen now has a Facebook page! Click HERE to find us on Facebook and “like” us if you want to get more SOLE Food goodness!

Budget [$100.03]

  • The Produce Box (strawberries, spring onions, spring garlic, romaine lettuce, tomato, purple and green asparagus, bamboo shoots, snap peas and herbed goat cheese): $47.50
  • Trader Joes (roast beef, chicken thighs, prosciutto, rice, frozen fruit, yogurt, soymilk): $38.53
  • Mitchell Family Pantry (jam, salsa, pickles, roasted tomato sauce): $14.00

Menu

  • Wednesday–Scrambled farm egg burritos with homemade salsa
  • Thursday–Roast beef wraps with herbed goat cheese spread, strawberry/pineapple salad
  • Friday–Grilled cheese and jam sandwiches, green salad, strawberry cobbler
  • Saturday–Chicken and vegetable stir fry with organic rice, leftover cobbler
  • Sunday–Pasta with asparagus and prosciutto in a goat cheese sauce, Linzer muffins
  • Monday–Chicken salad sandwiches, homemade pickles
  • Tuesday–Asparagus soup, salad

Have a happy and healthy week ahead!

Week 9 Budget and Menu

So my week went like this: I experimented with cooking stinky buckwheat one night and the next day, my daughter wrote an essay extolling many wonderful aspects of our relationship. Except cooking. Her words were “I would like to send my mom to cooking school.” Well, ouch!

I hadn’t realized that in my zeal to try new, healthier recipes and foods, she had gotten lost in the transition. She missed having some of her old favorites–tacos, meatloaf and pasta without a thousand vegetables squished in. For me, our new recipes have been “fun” and “adventurous.” For her, some of them were “weird” and “gross”. Time for reflection.

This week’s menu represents some of our favorites–beef stew with lots of potatoes and carrots and breakfast-for-dinner night. I’m taking a half-step back and working on how we can make our old traditional meals more healthy without taking away the comfort. I can’t promise I won’t squeeze some veggie puree into meatloaf, but I’m trying to do better with slowly working our new foods into our weekly menus! We’re also going to make a more concerted effort to let her do some cooking (this is harder than it sounds with a teen’s busy schedule).

Our budget this week is just a bit under our maximum of $100.00, so yay! And we’re still having lots of locally produced, organic and sustainable foods. Hopefully, they are not “weird.” We’ll see.

Budget [$94.03]

  • Rare Earth Farms (stew beef, Maple View Farm buttermilk): 18.00
  • Mae Farm (pork tenderloin, maple sausage): $16.00
  • Misc. Farmer’s Market (sweet potatoes, white potatoes, broccoli, apples, carrots): $12.50
  • Trader Joes (red curry paste, barley, frozen fruit, organic soy milk, organic bananas): $27.53
  • Mitchell family pantry (fig preserves, strawberry jam, field peas): $9.00

Menu

  • Sunday–Red curry chicken and vegetables with organic rice
  • Monday–Pancake supper (whole wheat buttermilk pancakes, Mae Farm maple sausage, sauteed cinnamon apples)
  • Tuesday–Figgy pork tenderloin with sauteed garden greens and summer field peas
  • Wednesday–Leftover buffet
  • Thursday–Beef stew with root vegetables
  • Friday–out for girls night
  • Saturday–Leftover beef stew

Week 8 Budget and Menu

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Snow falling on collards!

Snow! We finally have a real snow here in central North Carolina! And the fact that it came on a weekend makes it even better. No missed work days. No stressful rush hours. Just relaxing and enjoying the snow, while planning for our spring garden! 

Our budget for this week does not include salmon purchased last week, but still in the freezer. That’s a carry over. And the collard greens and Swiss chard are from the garden. Still, we are doing fairly well at staying below our $100 limit. We are making some new recipes this week, many of them adapted from the magazine Clean Eating. Breakfasts this week include more oatmeal and some oat granola breakfast bars we’re trying this weekend. Will let you know what our favorites are!

Stay warm and start planning for spring gardening–it will be here before we know it!

Budget [$73.72]

  • Trader Joes (frozen fruit, organic soy milk, cheese, coconut milk, tortillas, lemon, lime): $36.22
  • Mae Farm (uncured ham steak, jowl bacon): $13.00
  • Farmers Market (broccoli, acorn squash, onions): $6.50
  • Rainbow Farm (chicken): $12.00
  • Mitchell Family Pantry (jam, summer corn): $6.00

Menu

  • Sunday–Poached salmon, collard greens, summer corn
  • Monday–Ham and swiss stuffed acorn squash
  • Tuesday–Tamari Honey Chicken, broccoli with almond butter sauce, turmeric rice
  • Wednesday–Thai tomato soup, leftover chicken
  • Thursday–Whole wheat pizza night
  • Friday–Spicy egg tortillas, black beans
  • Saturday–Pasta with roasted tomato sauce, sautéed greens

Week 5 Budget and Menu

English: Cucurbita pepo (butternut squash). Lo...

January is going out like a whirlwind here in central North Carolina. This week we are expecting days with freezing temperatures and days in the upper 60s. Hard to know how to dress, hard to know what to cook! My weekly trip to the farmer’s market was hampered by icy weather. I made it to the market, but none of the vendors were there! So, I shopped more at Trader Joes than usual. We’re using a lot of our frozen and canned food this week, which should be great! Can’t believe it’s almost time to make room for spring veggies. Our budget this week was $83.19–not too bad!

Budget

  • Locals Seafood (shrimp, fish): $18.00
  • Mae Farm (andouille sausage, ham steak): $18.00
  • Trader Joes (butternut squash, cheese, frozen fruit, soy milk, penne pasta, organic split peas, wine, green peppers): $47.19

Menu

  • Sunday–shrimp, fish and andouille jambalaya with organic basmati rice
  • Monday–grilled cheese and soup
  • Tuesday–split pea soup with ham
  • Wednesday–leftover jambalaya
  • Thursday–butternut squash macaroni and cheese (from THIS recipe)
  • Friday–leftover buffet
  • Saturday–late cookie booth; eating out
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