Week 4 Market Menu: Better Late Than Never!

This week at the Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market and Artists’ Alley:

Seasonal: More greens, BEETS, more vegetable plants for your gardens! Arugula, Asparagus, Carrots, Chard, Collards, Kale, Mint, Potatoes, Radishes, Rhubarb, Spinach, Turnips, and more! And some STRAWBERRIES at Olive Berry Acres!

All Summer: Eggs, chicken, beef, oats, wheat, cornmeal, pork, cheese, honey, baked goods, lavender, mushrooms, popcorn, and much more. See the complete list of vendors at this year’s market for more information about produce and products.

This week and weekend got away from me in epic fashion, but as I get ready to prep some meals for the week, I’m pretty encouraged by what I see in my fridge:  arugula, turnips, carrots, chicken, eggs (including a duck egg from Above Normal!), lots of bok choy, bread from Pekara/Central IL Bakehouse, bacon from Huelskoetter Farms, some chevre, and a pretty good array of staples. Sounds like bacon and eggs for a couple of breakfasts (oatmeal for the rest), salads for lunches (with chicken or hard-boiled egg, and maybe some strawberries), egg salad with radish, a chicken stir-fry with the bok choy, and the carrot-feta salad I posted about in week 1.

 

Nothing fancy! Nothing too time-intensive, or that requires long hours in the kitchen over a hot stove.

Here are some additional notes/explanations/recipes:

  1. When it’s strawberry season, I love them on salads, but only with this poppyseed dressing. Arugula or other greens, strawberries, chopped carrot, maybe a little red onion, and that’s it. Add chicken if you want protein on the salad. A bit of chevre (soft goat cheese) wouldn’t hurt at all.
  2. Grain salads are very forgiving, and will happily accept your fridge full of fresh veg. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of turnips, but I’m working on it. This farro and turnip salad, which uses the greens from the turnips as well, is one I’m looking forward to trying this week.
  3. We posted about roasting your bok choy last week, but I always enjoy it in a stir fry (which doesn’t have to take a long time on the stove!). This recipe from the NYT has you steam before adding them. It’s a pretty simple recipe, though: chicken broth, sherry, soy sauce, cornstarch, oil, garlic and ginger, sugar and sesame seeds.
  4. I’d like to try this radish and egg salad recipe this week (hold the sprouts).

In case anyone is wondering what to do with those whole oats at the market, I’ve been experimenting with different ways of cooking them. I like the nutty bit of a bite to them, but I also like a creamy sort of porridge. For me, that requires a short trip in the food processor or slightly longer time with the stick blender, to break open some of the berries. They don’t all have to be chopped, though. Just enough to let some starch out. Super tasty!

THAT BEET DIP recipe (as promised)

OK, so from what I can tell, Amy got this recipe from another friend, Laurel. So they both get credit. Yay for sharing recipes with friends and neighbors far and wide!  Thanks to both for sharing.

Here’s the recipe I was telling you about in the last post (the one that makes nice people throw elbows to get to the snack table at a party).

Beet Walnut Dip

Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
Ready In: 45 minutes

Ingredients 
1 pound beets (4 smallish beets), scrubbed
1 cup walnuts
1 clove garlic, smashed and peeled
3 teaspoons sherry vinegar or lemon juice
a few fresh herb leaves, such as marjoram or thyme (optional) 
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt) 
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup Greek yogurt

Directions

1. In a small pot of water, covered, over high heat, bring the beets to a boil, then turn the heat down and simmer them until they’re tender, 20-45 minutes, depending on their size. I stick a tiny knife in and call them done when I feel no resistance. Drain the beets in a colander, run cold water over them, then relieve them of their stems and skins, which should slip right off now. 
2. Meanwhile, toast the walnuts (a toaster oven is perfect for this) at 350ºF for five or so minutes until they smell toasty. Let them cool and, if you like, rub them in a dishtowel to remove more of their skins, which can be bitter. Or don’t bother if you don’t mind the flavor. 
3. In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, whir together the beets, walnuts, garlic, sherry vinegar, optional herbs, and salt, stopping to scraped down the side of the bowl every now and then, until the mixture looks like a coarse puree. 
4. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the olive oil, then whir in the yogurt. 
5. Taste the mixture for salt and tang, adding more salt or vinegar as needed, then mound in a bowl and serve with crackers, veggies, or pita chips. 

*Ingredient Tips
The sherry vinegar gives the dip a hauntingly deep flavor — a perfect echo of the walnuts — but lemon juice is a good substitute; it makes a fresher-tasting and sharper dip. Brace yourself for how stunning this is. 

Enjoy!

— J.S.

A quick post about BEETS!

Oh, boy.

Beets are a pretty contentious vegetable; people usually either love them or hate them. They are marvelously good for you, though, and I’d love to tempt some of the beet-skeptics into trying them.  I have a plan…

I’m about to step away from the computer for the holiday weekend and my parents are coming to visit. This is incredibly good timing, because my mom is NUTS about beets.  What luck! There will be beets at the market on Saturday. (One of my favorite things to do is to bring guests and family from out of town to the market on Saturdays. I am so darned proud of our market!)  Mom is already excited about the fresh beets we’ll be adding to our dinner table this weekend.

So this quick post is to give you three levels of beet-commitment to consider.  Here goes.

Level One: The Beet Lover

Profile: You love beets in any form. You’ll even eat them plain. (I am not one of these people.)

Preparing beets for these eaters is easy. My mom is one of these admirably unfussy people; once cooked, she simply peels and slices them and adds a pat or two of butter with a bit of salt and pepper.  Directions:

  1. Cut off the tops (save for another use) and wash the beets under cold water.
  2. Place them in a large pot and cover with water; bring the water to a boil and simmer the beets until they are soft, to taste. My mom likes them very soft; some prefer their beets a little bit hard.  Use a fork to test for the amount of softness that you prefer.
  3. Drain and cool so that you are able to handle them; gently remove skin with your hands (like I said, make sure they are cool enough to handle).
  4. Add a bit of butter, salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, warm, or cold (but Mom likes them hot).

Level Two: Your Beets Need Friends

Profile: Beets are a bit…strong for you, but are much more appealing with contrasting flavors and textures.  Fruit, nuts, cheese (especially goat or feta), greens and (try this one!) sliced avocado are great options. The key is having a good dressing; I like to make sure that the dressing is either on the sweet side or the tangy side and a favorite one for me is citrus-based. This one would be great.

A beet salad is a great way to pair boiled or roasted beets with multiple, contrasting flavors. I adore beets with bitter or spicy greens like arugula, but any green will do, including lettuce or spinach.  I also love beets with feta – a Greek salad at one of many Coney Islands (that’s a type of restaurant, by the way) in my hometown of Detroit is always served with beets.

Oranges are probably my favorite beet comrades; citrus complements that bossy beet flavor nicely. Many fruits are flexibly beet-adjacent. A quick internet search will give you lots of ideas. Here is a NY Times Food recipe (don’t forget that this app/site is free, just create an account) that combines a lot of these elements. In these kinds of salads, you can be creative with whatever you’ve got in the fridge, on the counter or in the pantry.

Level Three: Beet Boss

Profile: You’re going to show up at that party with a dip no one can resist and its going to be healthy too.

My friend Amy often brings a dip like this * with her to gatherings, which makes her already-surging popularity (really, she is the best) go through the roof. By that I mean to say that the dip goes quickly and that otherwise gentle people with longstanding friendships suddenly find themselves elbowing each other rather aggressively to get to the food table. Trust me: make this dip.

*I realized when I googled this recipe that there, not surprisingly, many variations on this type of dip, so I picked the one with the best looking web site! But I’ll see if I can track down the exact one she uses, because it’s awesome. Serve with those gourmet pretzel chips from the grocery store.

How’s that for some beet love? I dare you beet skeptics to try it. Tell me what you think.

Enjoy! – J.S.

 

 

 

 

What to Do With All Those Springtime Herbs

If I had to choose one thing that has really changed my cooking, it’s using fresh herbs. Tossing some chopped parsley, chive or cilantro on a dish is an easy, healthy and time-saving shortcut to robust flavor.

I grew up in family that is typically planning the next meal with gusto as we are eating the current one (you, too?). Since the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree (brace yourself for endless bad food puns in my posts…sorry), once I was on my own in the world I would work through ambitious food projects because, well, I wanted to eat them. Make your own chicken stock?* You bet. Find the most authentic way to make a timpano?** It’s ON. Binge-watch the Sopranos and then make Italian-American meals that you saw on Carmela’s dinner table? Maybe I did. Fuggedabboutit.

But as my life got busier and busier (sound familiar?) I had to find cooking shortcuts. It dawned on me that sometimes I just shouldn’t bother cooking things; the veggies from the market and my CSA were so flavorful that, in most cases, I loved them raw. Talk about a time-saver. Duh.

I digress (is my middle name). Fresh herbs are an immediate way to punch up the flavor of any meal and are perfect when served chopped and totally raw (especially if, like me, you sometimes forget to follow the recipe and the dish is done and all that’s left to fix things is salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Yay for parsley!). Because they are delicate, you almost always add fresh herbs at the end of your cooking to have that burst of flavor alongside the ones that you simmered, roasted or grilled.

But sometimes herbs are actually the star of the show, and springtime brings with it an explosion of flavor in tiny little bundles.  When you’re perusing the offering at the market, it’s going to be hard to resist those adorable clusters of herb joy – so don’t do it. Buy a bunch and when you get home and panic and think, what the heck do I do with all of this? you can check the blog and we’ll help you out.  No problem.

An herb sauce that is endlessly useful on meat or on veggies is chimichurri (which is also a great way to use your green garlic). There are many variations on this Argentinian staple (feel free to make up your own) and it works on just about anything savory, though traditionally it’s used as an accompaniment to grilled beef. (Try the leftovers on eggs!) For plant-based eaters, it’s lovely on grilled portobello mushrooms. Check out other options here and here.

Another great use for herbs is tabbouleh, served on its own as a salad and frequently as an accompaniment to hummous and with other mezze. I love a variation on tabbouleh that includes wheat berries, which are grown locally at Ackerman Farms and are sold at Common Ground in Bloomington.

Are you a salmon lover? (We are utterly devoted to our Sitka Salmon CSA share – did you know you can get sustainably-fished salmon and seafood from small, operator-owned fisheries in Sitka, Alaska delivered right to your door?) This recipe also calls for scallions (spring/green onions), another item that is plentiful in the early months of the summer market.  (I also love this NYT feature on parsley. The NYT Cooking section and app is excellent and FREE.)

I don’t want to leave anyone out, so how about some love for mint, cilantro, tarragon, and dill, while we’re at it.  That last link might send you down a rabbit hole, because Smitten Kitchen is about the best food blogger out there and it’s very likely that you’ll want her to be your best friend (I do!). But don’t forget that the thesis of this post is that all you have to do to enjoy herbs is chop them up and throw them on whatever you are eating. Done.

Happy spring! — J.S.

*Surprise! That link is actually to a hands-off recipe for homemade chicken stock! Not complicated at all.

**And you know that Stanley Tucci’s Big Night is the best movie ever, right? Full disclosure: have not yet made the timpano.