A Legit Local Thanksgiving

 

Late November often finds us slogging through cold, damp and dark days – hardly the kind of weather that says “bountiful vegetables.”

already thinking about morning-after-thanksgiving fry-ups.

AND YET, thanks to our farmers, the onset of cold weather hasn’t dimmed the wide variety of fresh veggies available to us in central Illinois.  You’ll find greens, lettuces, carrots, potatoes and tons of other root veggies, Brussels sprouts, squashes, fresh herbs – and every year, a couple of vendors work some kind of voodoo and bring along some tomatoes that were picked green and slowly ripened on a window sill or something (get there early for those. You’re already pining for fresh tomatoes, aren’t you? Me too).

 

Beyond fresh produce, you’ll always find plenty of eggs, meat (even turkeys!), cheeses, dried peppers, dried herbs, breads, cakes and pies.

Basically, the market has everything you need for a great Thanksgiving meal – all fresh, local, and grown just for you! The Thanksgiving Market’s Facebook event page has a list of this year’s vendors.

Plenty of must-make Thanksgiving dishes are really quite simple – mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, piles of veggies. But fresh, local veggies are going to elevate any dish you serve.

In the Legit Local spirit, Steph and I wanted to bring you some ideas for helping keep Thanksgiving simple so you can enjoy yourself and, of course, eat well.

 

rosemary and thyme frozen mid-summer, to be thawed for compound butter. 

Prep Ahead, Hands-Off Cooking

 

How to juggle all those dishes? I can personally vouch for this approach to make-ahead mashed potatoes. Serious Eats also has some helpful ideas.

Also, if you’re making a traditional mashed potato, be sure to select a variety that is suited for that preparation. The most popular variety of mashing potato in the U.S. is the russet, but keep your eye out for types like Purple Viking. It’s purple on the outside but bright white inside, and it’s delicious. A strategy for freeing up stove and oven space is to cook stuffing in the slow cooker.

 

No Tofurky Needed 

The farmers at the market will give you wonderful options for sides that double as hearty meals for meatless eaters. Martha has a bunch of creative dishes that are vegetarian- friendly – I’m really into this roasted squash with shallots, grapes and sage.

Simple veggie sides can round out your meal without being too terribly complicated. Roast some carrots with balsamic vinegar. Parmesan-roasted cauliflower will introduce some adventure onto the table but won’t scare the in-laws.

People swear up and down that they dislike Brussels sprouts – until they have them roasted with balsamic vinegar (I never bother with the pancetta/bacon and it’s still great) or tossed in a quick sauté with (I KID YOU NOT) chopped pistachios – I promise, this is another dish that I often I bring, people look at suspiciously, try it, and then devour.

Feeling Fancy? I am eyeing up this butternut squash and leek bread pudding because… bread pudding.

Family Favorites

A Thanksgiving without sweet potatoes? In many households, that is unthinkable, so here are a few ideas:

Sweet Potato Casserole

Healthier Sweet Potato Casserole Options

Yes, Make the Salad!

I know what you’re saying: no one goes to Thanksgiving dinner to eat salad. Except me. (And I love ALL the Thanksgiving trimmings!) But most of the meal is typically so rich that I always crave something to balance it out – especially a fresh, raw salad. One that I’ve made and served for years is a roasted beet, orange, and arugula salad. And, yes – beets. Every year I bring or serve some version of this signature salad to dinner (because I’m selfish – I want to eat it!) and there are never, ever leftovers.

What’s more traditional for Thanksgiving than pumpkin pie? Here is how to instantly up your pie game: use fresh pumpkin. (Well, not instantly…it takes a bit more work, but it will be worth it.)

You’ll find local grains at the market, too – cornbread muffins, anyone? (I am thinking of leftover muffins with coffee on Friday morning, schmeared with jam.) Plenty of you out there make cornbread stuffing, too (there’s two links there – one for a “healthy” stuffing and the other…somewhat less so!).

Outside of the market itself, Common Ground Grocery and Green Top Grocery have what you need to complete meal prep, including additional groceries, spices, and local grains. Baking? Check out Decorator’s Grocery on Linden Street.

leeks!

Buy some veggies for later… 

OK…so here are some thoughts for the weekend AFTER Thanksgiving, when you’re going to be on a roll with great food, but maybe you need to counter the richness of that meal with a few days of simple and delicious options. How about:

Turnip, leek and potato soup

Spinach salad with seared shiitake mushrooms

Green salad with orange and avocado

Red leaf lettuce with roasted sweet potatoes

 

Got leftover turkey? Pair it with some wonderful root veggies in this turkey soup with root vegetables.

Whatever your cooking plans, we at Legit Local wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving filled with local vegetables and other products from our local food producers. See you at the Market!

 

 

 

 

The LAST Market Menu of the (outdoor) season!

Welcome back, friends!

Fall is definitely here, and so is the end of a fantastic outdoor market season. (The indoor market season continues once every month at the Coliseum.)

The good news is: you get to start planning for the Thanksgiving Market! The first indoor market of the season is Saturday, November 18 – doors open at 10am at the Bloomington (Grossinger Motors) Coliseum.  It’s a wonderful way to kick off the holiday season, just in time to shop for Thanksgiving Day meals. Also, we’ll be putting out a special Market Menu just for Thanksgiving.

But for now, let’s make some plans on how you’re going to use the fantastic local veggies you’ll find at THIS week’s market. The colder weather has us thinking of comfort foods to take away the chill, and easy and/or hands-off recipes that let you maximize your time away from the kitchen this week.

I’ve been doing a lot of shopping in the bulk isle, especially for beans, lentils, and other hearty proteins. Green Top Grocery and Common Grounds Natural Foods both have well-stocked bulk aisles – it’s a great place to experiment with new-to-you proteins and grains. Last night I needed a quick dinner that wouldn’t involve takeout and spied a jar of dried yellow split peas in my pantry. Pea soup! I sautéed what I had on hand in the pressure cooker pot: some onions, celery, and a couple of carrots, all diced. I added two diced potatoes and two cups of yellow split peas along with 8 cups of water and broth. I had some roasted tomatoes from the summer in the freezer (a can of tomatoes of any type would also work), so I added those along with a bay leaf. Put the top on, locked it, brought it to pressure and cooked for 30 minutes. Once the pressure released I opened the lid to see a velvety soup – that was dinner! We loved it.

My point is: it doesn’t take much to make a great, hearty soup – some beans, lentils, or split peas, some version of mirepoix, choose a spice profile, and add in whatever other veggies you’ve got on the counter (chunks of potato or diced squash) or in the fridge (add spinach, kale, or collard greens at the end, right before serving).

The following recipes can all be made in a slow cooker, instant pot/pressure cooker, or on the stove top. If you’re accustomed to dried green split peas, you might give yellow ones a try – they’ve got a milder, somewhat sweeter flavor and I think they cook just a bit faster. If you have a pressure cooker, they cook in 30 minutes or less. Like any bean or lentil, there are a gazillion flavor profiles you can choose from for a hearty, delicious soup:

Turkish split pea soup

French Canadian split pea soup

Moroccan split pea soup with Za’atar

Vegan split pea soup (slow cooker) 

Not a split pea fan? Plenty of options for your final outdoor farmer’s market meals.

Vegetarian chili with butternut squash and avocado

Pork carnitas (this would do just fine in a slow cooker)

Corn, chicken and poblano chowder (in the pressure cooker/instant pot)

Pumpkin chicken curry (in the slow cooker!)

And SQUASHES! We wait all year for these. Have you tried…

Stuffed butternut squash (meatless)

Stuffed butternut squash with sausage

Here are a plethora of spaghetti squash ideas…

Roasted delicata squash with pomegranate and arugula

Late fall salads are also on my radar. You’ll find lots of wonderful greens at the market this week – and try thinking outside the “greens salad” box (though I never get tired of a great greens salad!):

Shaved cauliflower salad

Radicchio and fennel panzanella

Za’atar sweet potatoes and kale

Fennel celery salad with walnuts (and blue cheese, or sub feta, etc.)

Kohlrabi Caesar

Spiced pumpkin, lentil and goat cheese salad

Collard greens and radishes with crispy shallots

Classic spinach salad

Arugula salad with apples and pecans

Did you really think you’d get past this last post of the outdoor season without a kale salad recipe?

I skipped ahead…these are great recipes for lunches or dinners. What about breakfast?

It’s hot cereal season! (Think add-ins: nuts and seeds from the bulk aisle; fresh local apples from the market.) Also:

STILL MY FAVORITE MUFFINS

A pumpkin muffin for you pumpkin spice lovers out there..

From both of us at Legit Local, we thank you for spending this outdoor farmer’s market season with us. See you at the market! — Steph and Jenn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Market Menu: September 30 – The EAT LOCAL Challenge!

Throughout September, the central Illinois chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local is hosting the Eat Local challenge.  The challenge is to spend $20 a week on locally grown food during the month of September.

A week of meals based on $20 of local food? We’ve got this!

Five Days of Breakfast:

Carrot and apple smoothie – from Oprah.com
Market items: carrots, apples

Local oats (or wheat berries!) with your favorite toppings – from Epicurious. Oats are inexpensive and store easily, and it just might be chilly enough this weekend for a hot breakfast. The next time I make oatmeal, I’m going to try adding in some of my homemade applesauce — which is basically just chopped up apples left in a crock pot until they’re soft.
Market items: Oats! 

Crispy egg on toast – from Smitten Kitchen
Market items: eggs, bread

Scrambled tofu with greens – from Yup it’s Vegan. This is a great way to incorporate vegetables in your breakfast, if that’s a thing you want to do. You can also add in leftover roasted vegetables – sweet potatoes are delicious in a breakfast scramble, too.
Market items: greens!

Freezer-friendly breakfast burritos – from The Kitchn
Market items: eggs, potatoes, peppers, bacon or sausage

 

Five days of Lunches

Carrot Salad – This is a fantastic grated carrot salad with parsley and lemon, from Once Upon a Chef. While not a meal on its own, it would go well with some cheese and fruit and/or another assortment of things.  I’d put money on this going well with feta cheese, in particular. 
Market items: 
carrots, parsley, cheese, apples

The Peppers and Sausages below make great leftovers, if you chop up the sausages before packing into individual serving containers. Add some rice or bread for a hearty lunch.

My favorite and most reliable lunch these days is chicken and sweet potatoes and applesauce. We’re in the heart of sweet potato season now, so I suggest that you stock up. I like to peel and cut my sweet potatoes into large chunks and boil them (and then mash), or else cut in small-medium (1/2″) cubes and roast. I’ll bake the chicken with a glug of italian dressing and foil over the baking dish, and then retain some of the liquid that remains after cooking (otherwise the chicken can get dry). If you’re going to chop the chicken up after cooking, be sure to let it rest first — otherwise, you’ll definitely have dry chicken.

 

Five days of Dinners

Spicy Stuffed Cabbage Rolls – filled with rice, spicy pork, and fresh napa cabbage. Made by the Serious Eats folks, in their “Cook the Book” series, from Faith Durand’s Not Your Mother’s Casseroles. As the Serious Eats staff note, the filling can easily be customized for your family’s tastes:  less or more spicy, different vegetables, substituting ground beef for pork, etc.
Market items: Ground pork

Peppers and Sausages – done in the slow cooker, to serve in a bun or over rice.

The recipe is dead simple, and takes only 10 minutes in the morning.  Slice the peppers and onion (I’d probably do this the night before, and wrap gently – who wants to go to work with onion hands? not I!). Then you add whole-grain mustard and beer, and put the whole sausages on top, and let it cook for the day.

Not only has the weather turned perfectly just in time for hot dinners, but this has been an AMAZING season for peppers! Just check out these beauties at the market!!
Market items: Peppers, onions, sausages

 

 

Sheet Pan Chicken Thighs and Cabbage – from Food52. This calls for a head of green cabbage, and chicken thighs or drumsticks, and a simple quick marinade of sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sriracha and salt and pepper. The cabbage goes in later – this is the key with sheet pan dinners, is getting the timing right. If you haven’t roasted cabbage or brussels sprouts before, you’re in for a treat. If it were me, I’d make some mashed potatoes to go along with this hearty dinner.
Market items: cabbage, chicken, potatoes

Roasted Root Vegetables and Hummus – if you’ve ever felt like making a dinner of appetizers, then this is your recipe. A combination of roasted vegetable chips and three different hummus recipes, to which I’d add some cooked quinoa and roasted broccoli, and maybe a hard-boiled egg. Some crusty bread, maybe.
Market items: beets, turnips, radishes, broccoli, eggs, bread

Vegetable Mulligatawny Soup – I adore this recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. I’m not a vegetarian, but I make this at least once every fall, with an array of local vegetables. It calls for a long list of vegetables, but a small quantity of each: potatoes, carrots, turnips, basil, garlic, onion, plus fennel, cumin, coriander and peppercorns that you dry-roast in a pan and then grind fresh. It calls for vegetable stock, but chicken would be just fine if you eat chicken.
Market items: potatoes, carrots, turnips, basil, garlic, onion

The Eat Local Challenge: Eating Well at the Market, On a Budget

Throughout September, the central Illinois chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local is hosting the Eat Local challenge.  The challenge is to spend $20 a week on locally grown food during the month of September. When Buy Fresh Buy Local asked us to collaborate on the Eat Local Challenge, Steph and I jumped at the chance to share some resources and ideas for eating well at the market without breaking the bank.

Deals at the Market: Buying in Bulk

September is an amazing time to get deals at the market. Vegetables like summer squashes, peppers, and tomatoes are nearing the end of their season but are still producing at a prolific rate. Traffic at the market also sometimes slows down, so farmers find themselves with a lot of produce that they are willing to sell in bulk, which is a boon to shoppers.

Keep your eyes peeled for signs that offer “two for one” bunches and “bulk” anything! The key is knowing which veggies are “bulk-ready” and using those items in your meal planning.

Prices on vegetables at the market can also change over time. According to Katie Bishop of PrairiErth Farm, when a crop first comes into season, there isn’t much of it but there is a lot of demand – think of those shoppers lined up for first-of-the summer tomatoes. Farmers may leverage this demand (that is, charge a little more). After a few weeks, they will drop the price because the supply is so much greater and they need to sell it. Tomatoes that were $4 per pound in July are now $3.25 in September – and they are probably available for far less if you’re buying in bulk. (Click here and here for ideas on preserving bulk tomatoes for later use.)

Potatoes also tend to cost less as the season goes on. “New” potatoes must be hand-dug and washed, says Katie Bishop. It takes a lot of hands-on labor to get those beautiful spuds out of the ground. But potatoes in October are mechanically harvested and machined washed. There is less work for the farm, so they can drop the price. (And who doesn’t love potatoes?!)

Ask For Seconds

Most farmers put only their most beautiful products out at the market – but they’ve probably got a few bins in the truck that hold less-than-perfect but still perfectly edible items. Farmers would far prefer to sell those items than to compost them (especially if they don’t have to haul it back to the farm). Ask your favorite farmer if they can offer any deep discounts on these veggies. With a few extra minutes of prep (to cut off bad spots, for instance), you’ve saved a lot of money but still ended up with great food.

One great item to ask about is carrots. “Juice carrots” might not look beautiful but can be pureed, juiced, peeled, shredded, etc. – and the taste is just as good as the cosmetically perfect carrots. Peppers are another item that can be incredibly cheap in bulk and as seconds (try cutting them up and freezing them in small amounts to use later in soups, a stir fry, or chili).  Peppers can also be roasted and frozen for a range of uses later.

Resources for Eating Locally On a Budget

Our blog focuses on easy meal preparation that features great, fresh, local food. For that reason, we love Lee Ann Brown’s Good and Cheap – a cookbook designed for families utilizing SNAP benefits (formerly known as good stamps). Shoppers can use the Illinois Link card to purchase items at The Downtown Bloomington Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Good and Cheap is available at no cost here. Brown’s website is also fantastic, featuring an extensive recipe index and other great tips. Her recipes are for everyone who likes tasty food with easy prep!

Buy Pantry Staples in Bulk, Too! Other good things to buy (and cook/prep/freeze) in bulk include:

Both Green Top Grocery and Common Ground Natural Grocery in Bloomington have extensive bulk selections. (Green Top is a cooperative grocery, and is owned by members – and anyone can shop there, no membership needed.) We’ve got some great ideas on prepping and freezing in earlier blog posts, too. (More tips on buying in bulk here.)

Recipes for the Eat Local Challenge

You might be surprised how far you can make $20 go at the market. We are also happy to feature a number of recipes from Good and Cheap below.

Five Days of Breakfast:

Lunches and Dinners:

Did you accept the Eat Local Challenge? We would love to hear from you.

Have a great week, and see you at the market!

 

 

 

Market Menu: September 8

Do you remember September?

Wait, it’s only early September…still PLENTY of veggies pouring into the market every week. (By the way, this song plays in my head every year, basically all September long. Now it’s your ear-worm. I am sorry. It’s groovy, though! Dance with your veggies…) Look, it’s been a long week (you, too?) and I offered to help Steph with the Market Menu this week and I might be a little goofy-punchy today.

But that’s because the confluence of school getting into full swing, days getting shorter, and the air getting cooler means I’m totally energized by the beautiful veggies that are available this time of year. It’s pretty amazing, because you have the tail-end of (still truly fresh and delicious) summer veggies like peppers and tomatoes, the return of more delicate greens and lettuces, and NEW potatoes, squashes, and various root vegetables. To me, that spells menu inspiration.

Steph and I were chatting about what we love to make and eat this time of year – and we both landed on soups and salads. It’s really a perfect match for that summer-into-fall mood. Maybe we’re not ready to let go of summer’s bounty, but (admit it) we’re kind of excited to see fall colors and maybe even shift our energy level to a different space. The recipes below play off the idea of combining those seasonal vegetables in straightforward, fresh ways. Serve with bread and you’ve got a great lunch or light dinner.

Summer-into-fall minestrone and roasted beet salad with goat cheese

Yukon potato soup (optional add-in: bacon) and vegetarian Italian chopped salad (any sturdy lettuce will work here; salami or other cured meat optional)

Moroccan red lentil harira soup and cucumber pepper salad

Tortilla soup and Mexican cabbage salad

Roasted Thai-inspired carrot soup and cucumber melon salad with mint

What’s that, you say? Pressed for time? Right there with you. How about some hands-off, slow-cooker recipes for weeknights?

Red and Green Chili (great for those market sweet and spicy peppers) and roasted carrot salad

Sweet Potato Soup and arugula and watermelon salad

Vegetarian Black Bean Tacos with Fresh Cabbage Slaw

Got just a bit more time on your hands? Here are some things I love to make when the temperatures start to dip just a bit:

Sauteed Delicata Squash with Parmesean

Roasted vegetable lasagna (you can do it without noodles too)

Spicy green bean stir fry (you could use any protein here)

Arugula and tomato salad

We hope your fall is getting underway beautifully – and see you at the market!

 

 

 

 

Freezer Chronicles: Meal Components and Leftovers

You may have noticed that Steph and I are both posting a lot about meal prep. Now that the semester is in full swing, we’re both focused on ways to keep up healthy eating habits without being overwhelmed in the kitchen.

I’m a weekend kitchen warrior. The only cooking I want to do during the week involves a microwave or an oven and something already made.

Freezer-based prep and planning developed over time for me as way of coping with long days during the week, and now it’s a habit. It takes a bit of planning and organization so that you don’t end up with a freezer full of stuff you won’t eat.

My tips on making freezer prep work:

1) LABEL EVERYTHING with a date and description. (Trust me, you won’t recognize that container of shredded chicken in a month. You think you will, but you won’t.)

and

2) Make a list of prepped items you put in the freezer with the dates they were frozen.  Keep it wherever you do meal planning. (Hang it on the fridge, even.)

Both of these steps will help you remember what is in there (even if you have to dig for them!) and use them in a timely way.

Pantry Staples are Meal-Builders

A huge time-saver for me is to make staple items in bulk, then freeze them in amounts that match how I like to use them. An example of that is brown rice (or any kind of rice). If I am going to cook during the week, it’s going to be a quick stir fry, a salad, or something that accompanies the fish or chicken my husband can throw on the grill when he gets home.

I prefer brown rice to white; it is a whole grain and has more nutrients. However, it doesn’t cook very quickly, so having it already prepped is a real time-saver.  (Yes, you can buy prepackaged frozen rice – but it’s so cheap to buy in bulk, cook in bulk, and freeze it yourself!) I use Alton Brown’s recipe for baked brown rice so often that I really don’t need to check the recipe anymore. I double or even triple or quadruple the amount in the recipe so that I have plenty to stock for later.

Other grains that freeze incredibly well include polenta (grits) and even cooked potatoes.

Cooked beans are also great freezer staples. I am definitely a fan of canned beans as a time-and-sanity saver, but cooking dried beans from scratch yields a tastier meal, I think. My most-used cooking tools are the slow cooker and the pressure cooker (I don’t have an Instant Pot, but that’s the same idea), and beans do great in both. The Kitchn has great tips for pressure cooking beans and here’s a link to walk you through beans made in an Instant Pot. If you’re a slow cooker devotee, here’s info from the Kitchn on beans in your crock pot.

We also cook proteins (meat or vegetable) and freeze them for later use. Some favorites are slow-cooked shredded chicken and pork (you can make plain or mildly seasoned shredded pork the same way, plain, so we can adapt it to recipes later).  There are plenty of slow-cooker recipes for pulled pork, too. Make more than you need and put half away for later.

Make More, Freeze Leftovers

Basically, always cook a bit more than you need and freeze it for later. Not everyone loves to eat leftovers all week (my household is kind of weird that way). So freezing even just one or two servings will give you options during a busy week. There’s no reason to limit this approach to meat-based meals; plant-based prep-freeze/leftover-freezing is an option. Check out this list of bulk cooking ideas from The Minimalist Vegan. Vegetarian lentil, bean and pureed veggie soups form the basis of our winter meals, and I always have a container of soup in the freezer.

How to Thaw

My favorite way to thaw frozen food is overnight in the fridge. Because we do most meal prep on Sunday, I’ll take out a prepared meal (soup that we’ll eat with a quick salad and crusty bread) on Friday or Satuday…usually with a sigh of relief that at least one or two after-work dinners for the week  are, essentially, already made.

However, there are ways around that overnight thawing approach – check out the Kitchn’s tips on thawing.

Wishing you a great week. Enjoy!

 

 

 

Saving Summer: Roasted Red Peppers

peppers 4

School has started, and the weather lately has been decidedly fall-like. But don’t let the cool breezes fool you: this is prime time for peppers and other height-of-summer vegetables. You’ll find piles of sweet bell peppers at the market right now.

No one ever minds eating them raw (plain, or with hummus or yogurt dip, etc.) but if you’ve got an hour or so you can char them in the oven, slip off the peels, and stack them in freezer-safe containers to brighten the grey winter days.

In the last few years, I’ve scaled back some of the cooking and preserving that I do every summer. One thing that I never miss, though, is restocking my freezer with roasted sweet peppers. Like my parents did when I was growing up, I make pots of sauce for pasta all year round. We always freeze a container or two from each batch for later. My mom, my dad, and I have each developed our own individual stamps on the sauce we make. My dad favors a heavier dose of dried oregano. My mom often makes meatballs, but neither of them put meat in the sauce. I always use crushed fennel seed and a chunk of the roasted red peppers from the freezer.

You can roast peppers very easily in the oven or even on the grill. (I am partial to the oven method myself.) I lay the peppers out on a cookie sheet – plain, no oil, just clean peppers – and turn the broiler on. Periodically (say, every 5 minutes) I peek to see if they are getting charred, and using a set of oven-safe tongs I turn the peppers over so that all sides get roasted and the skins start to bubble up.

Once all of the peppers are roasted, use tongs to put them into a bowl and cover it with a large plate to steam for a few minutes. Remove the plate. Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, you can slip the skins off and pull the stem out (if needed). I usually do that and pile them on the cutting board, where I can portion them into containers for the freezer.

There is plenty of advice out there for roasting peppers, so check out your options.

What can you do with your roasted peppers? Here are some ideas:

Red Pepper Hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Sauce

Tomato and Pepper Soup

(Lots of soup ideas out there)

Or…add to your favorite pasta sauce!

Enjoy.

 

peppers 3

 

 

Saving Summer: Aronia Berries

It’s late, late August…so I might be getting a wee bit nostalgic already for summer foods. I know they’ll soon be gone.

This photo is a snapshot of a berry syrup I made. It’s also sitting in front of bowls containing two other ephemeral pleasures: fresh peaches and tomatoes.

Aronia

I have come to appreciate the joy that comes from “seasonal mindfulness” (I made that up…it means enjoying those summer treasures in the moment, without obsessing over saving them for later). But sometimes on a cold, grey day, you just want to be reminded of the best of summer foods. Because canning is time consuming, I have never really tried it. I usually stick to things I can freeze (roasted tomatoes or peppers) that things that will keep in the fridge for a few weeks, like quick pickles, sauces, etc.

Last Saturday I was (easily) talked into buying two cups of local aronia berries, which I’ve had in jam form before (made by a local farmer and sold at the Thanksgiving Market). But I decided the quickest thing I could make with this amount was a sauce on the stove.

Aronia berries are really tart, and I had a handful of blueberries in the fridge that were about to go bad, so I tossed those in the saucepan, too. The recipe I used also calls for lemon, but I only had lime – it turned out great!

It only made a small amount but it’s really lovely – not overly sweet, and the touch of ginger and vanilla adds depth. I’m interested in the medicinal qualities of ginger, plus I like the taste, but you could easily leave it out. I also strained the sauce, but you could keep it chunky.

I’ve been spreading this on toast this week, but you could also put it on plain yogurt, on pancakes, waffles, or French toast.

I’ll be looking for more aronia berries at the market next week!

Local Food Travels: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

We spend time in far northern Michigan every summer. Much of upper Michigan is a wild and remote place; small towns are separated by forests, lakes, and incredible stretches of natural beauty. The regional culture is one of resilience, creativity, and intense local pride. Not surprisingly, local foods are also a special part of the region.

“Local” isn’t anything new in the U.P. – those who live through the long winters and brilliant, brief summers have always turned to native plants, fish, and wildlife to sustain themselves.

Upper Michigan has a wealth of natural resources, including mineral deposits; native American tribes mined copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula between 5000 BCE and 1200 BCE.  Mining has long defined this region; in the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial mining brought immigrants from all over Europe to find copper for a rapidly-industrializing American economy. Some of those immigrants were from Cornwall, and they brought with them the Cornish meat pie – the pasty. U.P. pasties traditionally have minced meat and root vegetables (usually rutabaga), and in a restaurant you’ll be asked if you want gravy or ketchup with your meal. (Note: Gravy is for tourists.) Today, locals and tourists alike enjoy pasties with an impressive array of craft beer produced in local microbreweries.

Lake Superior is the deepest of the Great Lakes, and it is better understood for what it is: an inland, freshwater sea. Local fish is prized for its abundance and clean flavor. Lake Superior whitefish can be found on nearly every menu. I loved the ubiquitous fish taco when I was visiting Southern California, but modern Yooper cooks have mastered the Lake Superior whitefish taco:

IMG_0299

Tourists come to the U.P., and to Copper Harbor, in particular, to hike, kayak, hunt, ski, and snowmobile. Recently, the U.P. has become well-known for world-class mountain bike trails (initially, this was our reason for visiting). We go back to Copper Harbor every summer because we can’t get enough of this quiet town on the very northern point of the Keweenaw Penninsula.

We also truly appreciate the unaffected attitude towards local foods, too. In summertime, thimbleberries are prolific in the woods and fields all around town, and you will find jams for sale at the shops – be sure to pick up some thimbleberry jam. (If you’re really into jam, a visit to The Jampot is utterly necessary.)  In Copper Harbor, Jamson’s Bakery makes exceptional fruit turnovers and muffins with these local berries early every morning for mountain bikers and trekkers waiting to board the ferry to Isle Royale.

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Until next year, Copper Harbor.

 

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The rocky shoreline.

Unloved Veggies: Fennel

wild fennel in western washington

Raw, natural fennel must look pretty weird to a lot of market shoppers. Fennel bulbs don’t enjoy the broad recognition of other summer favorites like tomatoes and peppers. Also, having a reputation for “tasting like black licorice” is probably a turn off when you’re looking for dinner items. I’m here to tell you that this goofy-looking vegetable is truly a gem – and it really doesn’t taste like old-fashioned candy (not that there’s anything wrong with that!).

A good source of vitamin C and potassium, fennel bulb and fennel seed are recognized for having medicinal qualities; try having a few slices of raw fennel after a meal as a digestive. It is also an ingredient in absinthe. Raw fennel does have a licorice-like flavor, but it’s quite subtle. If you roast or cook it, that flavor recedes even further into the background.

Distinct, contrasting flavors compliment fennel’s unique flavor. It shines in raw salads – try it in Mediterranean-style dishes that include citrus, olive oil, and fresh herbs. I simply slice it and add it to whatever lettuce salad I’m making.

mandoline for thin slices

Perhaps because fennel is hard and crunchy, using a sharp knife or a mandoline to shave it is a great way to ensure that you get the right ratio of fennel to other salad ingredients. Here are some ideas for raw fennel salads:

Not into raw? Roasted fennel is also great paired with your veggie favorites, such as potatoes and carrots. Chicken and pork are good partners. This roasted, curried fennel would be a great meatless side. So would this one for roasted fennel, chickpeas, peppers and grapes.

thin-sliced fennel

Feeling a little adventurous? Try pickling it – this recipe has that classic pairing with citrus; you can make it spicy and sweet or tangy.

Fennel is in season here in central Illinois from July to September, though usually you can find fresh fennel at the Thanksgiving Market (my family requests it every year!). That’s a good thing, because once you try it, you’re going to want more!