Summer Fizzy Drinks: Spirited Version

This post was largely inspired by the Briar Patch cocktail, and the blackberry-chile syrup that is responsible for the bulk of its flavor (101 Cookbooks). It is everything good about summer, to my mind: fresh, sweet (but not too sweet), hot (but not too too hot), fruity and fizzy, and as boozy (or not) as you want. The cocktail, which originally called for blackberry simple syrup, features bourbon, lemon juice, maple syrup and bitters (plus egg white if you like it shaken and foamy — I don’t, so I leave it out). It’s riff on a Maple Leaf, I suppose, with a smoky-hot twist!

 

This is just one of many cocktails that you can make using local berries and herbs; if you haven’t thought to make your own syrups or infusions before, we have some suggestions for getting started!

Some recent posts I’ve been admiring on this subject:

by Stacey Spensley (via Flickr)

From Food and Wine, the Garden Elixir features cilantro and celery in variation of the gin martini. They also add green Chartreuse, apple juice, and lime juice to bump up the green. Don’t worry if you don’t keep Chartreuse on hand; it’s very distinctive and certainly adds to this cocktail, but it’ll be delicious without it as well. I’d definitely go with a little fizz on this one, maybe using lime soda instead of the lime juice, but it’s up to you.

 

Pepino’s Revenge, also from Food and Wine (via Wolfgang Puck) uses cucumber and basil in a margarita-like tequila cocktail — SO refreshing on a hot day!

 

via Pexels.com

From The Spruce, try a blueberry martini!! Making the juice is as simple as blending the berries (no need to strain, unless you want the juice to be clear).

Or try their Garden Patch Smash, which combines tequila, blueberries, raspberry-lavender syrup, lime, and lavender soda.

And, we couldn’t leave out the tomatoes… and neither could Serious Eats. They have a wonderful fresh tomato martini that absolutely wouldn’t be the same without that perfect local tomato. The recipe calls for tomato and vodka blended together, and then strained gently but thoroughly to yield clear tomato-flavored vodka. To 3 oz of this, you add 1/2 t. dry vermouth, and 1/4 t. white wine vinegar. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. It’s a bit unusual, but so summery and delicious.

Why not experiment with your cocktail recipes, and include some local ingredients? Let us know if you have a favorite!

 

 

 

Market Menu: July 22!

What’s available this week at the Bloomington market?

EVERYTHING, EVERYTHING.

Tomatoes, jalapenos, cucumbers, beans, onions, potatoes…

This is the point in the year where the cooler-weather crops like greens begin to drop out for a while, the hens might stop laying for a bit, and the turnips get a nice spicy bite to them. HEAT!

I don’t know why, but I’ve started stir-frying everything I can get my hands on. Even kohlrabi, which I’ve only recently started enjoying. It’s fast and flexible, and if you add potatoes you can even skip the rice (and the second burner). So this week’s menu includes some easy stir-fry sauces and veg combos, along with a selection of cold salads and sandwich spreads. Enjoy all that local produce, and remember your farmers! Their workplace isn’t air-conditioned, and the rain has been hard to come by (though sweat is plentiful, in this weather!).

Sweet and Sour stir-fry sauce:

This is one I grew up with, and it’s so simple I’ve never forgotten.  1 part red or white wine vinegar, 1 part sugar. Mix and add to stir-fry when everything is just a little bit under-done. Stir to mix (and make sure that the sugar is dissolved). Separately, mix about 1 Tbs of cornstarch with about 1/2 c. COLD water. Bring your stir-fry up in temp so that the liquid is boiling (if it isn’t already), and add the cornstarch mixture. Stir and keep the heat on, until it thickens. Reduce heat to low and let stand (covered or uncovered) for about 10 minutes.

Thai Green Curry sauce:

This one makes use of green curry paste, which can be found at asian supermarkets and Meijers, and maybe soon at local groceries? I’ll keep an eye out, but let me know if you see it! This is the stuff in the small short can or small jar, not the large jars meant for simmering as-is. Again, once your mix of vegetables and protein are just under-done, mix about 2 Tbs curry paste and a can of coconut milk or about 1 c. yogurt, and add to the pan. If you’re using yogurt, it will break — but keep stirring, and it will start looking better (and it doesn’t affect the taste at all). Let simmer for 5-10 minutes on medium.

And, from Sweet Peas and Saffron, recipes for 7 sauces that you can make ahead, and even FREEZE!!

Pesky Veg?

Here are a few ideas for what to do with some of the less obvious seasonal vegetables:

Kohlrabi – you can eat them raw! Peel and cube, and keep in the fridge for snacks. Or blanch and freeze for later. I also hear you can sub or add them into any dish that calls for carrots or potatoes.

Eggplant – my favorite way to enjoy them is grilled or baked with lots of garlic. Slice them in half lengthwise, cut several slits in the skin and stuff a clove of garlic in, and roast at around 400F. When they’re soft inside (maybe 30 minutes?), remove from oven, let cool, scoop out the middle (including that garlic!) and puree in the blender or food processor with olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. Delicious. Or use this recipe from Smitten Kitchen 🙂

By the way, Smitten Kitchen,  101 Cookbooks and Food52 are pretty much my first go-to sites for recipe ideas. Especially the first two, when dealing w/ seasonal vegetables.  Check them out if you’re ever in a pinch!

Market Menu: July 15!

Can you believe it’s mid-July already? So many weeks of the market, it’s hard to keep track without having a calendar handy. So we’re switching to dates in the title instead of week numbers.

I visited the farmer’s market in the adorable town of Port Townsend, WA last weekend, and there were some noticeable differences in available produce: cooler-weather crops like fava beans and radishes (since it’s still in the 50s-70s there!), and a large variety of currants. Market day was a “hot” one, which meant upper 70s, possibly low 80s in the sun. Dry as can be, though, which was a nice contrast to our current weather of 90+ F and 90+ humidity! The currants were lovely, and I might have been tempted to grab some and make a quick pot of jam, except that I knew there were currants waiting in the Refuge Food Forest here in Normal!

 

Back in Bloomington-Normal, our extended heat through July-August means several things for your weekly local farm and garden haul:

  • chickens may slow down or stop laying for a bit when it’s this hot, so you may have to ration those eggs!
  • cilantro and basil in your gardens will likely bolt, sending out seed heads that you can save and replant, or let nature do its thing and replant them for you.
  • lettuces are going to bolt as well; without a hoop house to keep the temperatures low, farmers can’t grow lettuce in this kind of heat. Give it some time, and you can replant in the fall.
  • provided they get sufficient water, your tomatoes are going to be happy and ripe!
  • chile peppers of all varieties are going to start coming with a fury! they love the heat, and give it right back to you in flavor 🙂

In addition to the Saturday morning market, you can also find local produce at Common Ground in downtown Bloomington, and Green Top Grocery just east of downtown on Washington Street. And just this week, Browns’ Produce opened their farmstand on Brown Street just off of West Market — be sure to stop by!

This Week’s Menu:

I’m feeling like salads day and night right now, and other things that are FAST and require little tending on the stove. Here are a few of my favorites:

Slightly Savory Granola – an unusual granola recipe from the NY Times, made with olive oil! It’s a tad addictive, especially with yogurt. I used to buy Traderspoint Creamery yogurt in Indianapolis, but haven’t found a new local favorite yet — recommendations always welcome!

Lemony Zucchini Goat Cheese Pizza – From Smitten Kitchen, and a perfect way to use those ever-growing zucchini, and the amazing chevre from Prairie Fruits Farm

Beet Salad w/ Plums and Goat Cheese – From Bon Appetit. Peaches would be just as delicious, of course.

Summer Pasta with Olives, Roasted Peppers and Capers – Also from Bon Appetit. It’s a warm dish, but it honestly is just as good served cold as a pasta salad.

Eggy Polenta w/ Mushrooms – From The Kitchn, and a great way to incorporate local grain (corn — I know, not technically a grain) and mushrooms AND eggs! I’d be inclined to use those gorgeous duck eggs I’ve been seeing lately at the market… they’d be delicious!

Chicken Meatballs and Polenta – There are a number of different variations on this recipe; I like chicken instead of turkey, and kale makes a nice addition at the end to plate with the dish.

Spicy Coleslaw w/ Cumin-Lime Dressing – Bobby Flay’s NOT-creamy coleslaw is hot and delicious!

Cumin-Scented Black Rice and Quinoa – This recipe from Bon Appetit takes a little time to cook (the grains cook separately), but once made, it’s easy to reheat and enjoy through the week. You can add chunks of sweet potato, some greens and a little tahini dressing, and you’ve got a quick meal.

Is it gazpacho season yet? Are you drowning in tomatoes? If not yet, I’ll put this here for later. I generally make Mollie Katzen’s version, which is full of veg and herbs, but I’ve also posted the NY Times version above. Regardless of which recipe you use, make sure to let it rest in the fridge for a few hours before serving; the flavors take a little time to develop.

Putting Up, Putting Away, Saving for Later: Freezer Edition

Now that summer is REALLY here, you might start to feel a bit overwhelmed by all this fresh produce, and concerned about your ability to use it right away?

This post is all about freezing some of that harvest for later — whether that’s next week, next month, or mid-winter. Freezing is one of the easiest ways to save fresh produce, and requires the least amount of equipment.

I use my Food Saver vacuum/sealing machine quite often in late summer and fall, but you can effectively pack produce for the freezer without a machine. Simply buy the bags intended for sealing machines, use a tea towel and an iron to seal the bags (cotton setting), carefully pressing the extra air out first with your hand or a small pillow. Be sure to put the towel between the bag and your iron, or risk having the plastic stick to your iron!

 

What to Freeze?
Some things freeze well, others less so. In general, you have to plan for a loss of texture: vegetables will be less crisp (if at all), fruit will get a bit soft. But if you’re going to cook your items after freezing, you’ll hardly notice the difference. So consider freezing things that you’ll use later to make jam, pie, soup, or stir-fries.

How to Freeze?
Vegetables require blanching first, to slow breakdown. This chart provides a great overview of techniques and times. Make sure to get your fruit or veg dry before freezing, and arrange in a single layer on a cookie sheet or plate (once frozen, seal in bags or other containers). I’ve skimped on this single-layer step before, when I plan on making jam with berries within a few weeks — to no ill effect.

Fruits:

  • Berries freeze very well. Trim off stems, wash and sort through, picking out any that aren’t ripe or are rotted or otherwise not great. You can spread them on a tray in the freezer and bag later, or just bag. When ready to use, just put out on the counter for a few hours. If you’re making jam or pies, top the berries with the sugar you’ll be using in the recipe. It’ll soak in while the berries are thawing.
  • Peaches and Plums do well, but be sure to wash and trim off any bruised spots first, and cut in half and remove the pit.
  • Similarly with apples, clean and trim as necessary first. If you have one of those old-fashioned looking hand-crank peeler/corer/slicers, they’re excellent for getting apples ready for applesauce or pies later.

Vegetables:

  • If you like to make stock for soup, you can freeze the trimmings from your vegetables until you’re ready to make the stock. Just add to a plastic bag over time.
  • Onions, celery and peppers don’t freeze particularly well, but I’ve washed and chopped them up and frozen for use within a month or two. Drying is better for preserving their flavor, though.
  • Broccoli, green beans, and brussels sprouts can all be frozen after washing and trimming, and cutting to whatever size you’ll want to cook them in.

Fresh Herbs:

  • hardier/woodier herbs:  freeze in ice cubes (rosemary, thyme, tarragon)
  • more delicate herbs: freeze in olive oil as a paste (basil, cilantro, also garlic scapes!) Put in food processor with olive oil and garlic, salt & pepper — no cheese or nuts, though; add those after thawing, if desired. Put the paste into silicone ice cube trays and freeze, then remove and seal in freezer bag.

Prepping meals:

  • burritos – super-easy! Get all your ingredients together, make individual burritos, wrap with parchment and store in plastic bags.
  • breakfast burrito bowls – similar to above; scrambled eggs, cooked sausage, salsa, cheese, etc. all work well!
  • bread (sliced) – thaw on the counter or in the fridge for several hours before trying to use, unless toasting right away
  • quickbreads & muffins – thaw on the counter or in the fridge for several hours, or thaw and warm in the oven at low temp
  • soups (keep it EASY — saute or roast your favorite veggie, add aromatics, add broth, stick blend, freeze in freezer bags

Prepping Ingredients for Easier Meals Later:

  • Mirepoix (chopped carrots, celery, and onions) – you’ll lose the crunch, but it’s very handy for a stormy day when you don’t want to leave the house to stock up.
  • Eggs – did you know that you could freeze eggs, either whole or separately as whites and yolks?!  If you find yourself with extra whites after making a custard, or extra yolks after making macarons, follow the instructions from the American Egg Board for freezing. Just be sure to label the whites, if you’re freezing them individually. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled a small jar out of the freezer, thinking it was egg whites, and it turned out to be lemon juice!
  • Grains like wheat berries, farro and rice freeze quite well after cooking. They can be really useful to have on hand for cooking during a busy work week, if you cook and freeze in portions before hand.
  • Marinara – this is one of my favorite things about fall; make up a giant batch of marinara, freeze in 2 c. portions in freezer bags, and stock that freezer! You’ll never buy jarred marinara again!

What else have you frozen (and thawed) successfully? We’d love to hear from you!

 

For the Love of a Local Tomato

I’ve been known to slice up a tomato from my garden or the market, sprinkle with sugar, and eat them like the fruit they are (botanically speaking). Or, I might splash them with a little olive oil and balsamic, tear up a gob of mozzarella cheese, and maybe some basil if the garden is cooperating (that is, not sending the basil bolting into spikes of seed heads). Or if I have quite a quantity and fear that they’ll break down before we can finish them, I’ll toss them in the blender with a little vinegar and seasonings, and call it gazpacho. However you slice it, though, the local tomato is revered around my house.

Why is it that these tomatoes taste so completely different from the tomatoes at the grocery store? Even the ones sold as “vine-ripened” still don’t taste anything like these “real” tomatoes that come from a nearby garden or farm.

Well, you might be surprised to learn that they’re not really the same tomatoes at all. The dozens upon dozens of varieties of tomato plants grown in the U.S. commercially (commercially for eating fresh, that is, as opposed to processing) are all hybrids, selected and bred for the qualities that the commercial growers prize, such as yield and size and hardiness for transport, and meant to grow in that particular zone and soil. The varieties you have in your garden and at your farmer’s market may include some hybrids, but their proximity to the point of sale (you!) means they can also include heirloom (non-hybrid) varieties that have been handed down generation after generation, bred and maintained for flavor, rather than transport.

Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa is a non-profit dedicated to preserving heirloom seeds. You can order seeds from their website or catalog, just like from other seed companies, but it’s a small portion of all that they have saved and have available to their members. They have a charitable mission: to preserve, research, and share heirloom vegetable and plant seeds.

Did you know that you can save seeds from heirloom varieties of tomatoes (and many other vegetables), and plant those seeds in the spring? Starting plants from seed adds a fair bit of work to your garden planting process, but when you find a variety you treasure, you’ll appreciate being able to replant each year without buying more seed. Look for a post later this summer on how to harvest and save tomato and other seeds!

Back to those tomatoes.
Depending on where in the U.S. that you live, you could theoretically find “local” tomatoes any month of the year. Tomatoes are grown in California and Florida nearly year-round (taking a break only when the upper half of the country can grow their own). If you add in the hydroponic/greenhouse/factory production, you could literally find a “local” tomato anywhere, at any time. But this kind of “local” isn’t quite what we’re talking about here at Legit Local.

These are NOT aunt stephie’s tomatoes.

The small town in Michigan where I grew up is now producing tomatoes year-round in greenhouse complexes that are stunningly futuristic-looking.  But, to quote my young nephew, “these are NOT aunt stephie’s tomatoes.”

Why not?
(count the number of times they say “local” in that article above, by the way).

For starters, the company is not local to Michigan, or even the U.S.: they’re based in Canada, with greenhouses all over North America. While they’re providing local jobs and adding to the property tax base, they’re not a local business. The profits go to Canada, not back to the community. Corporate has no relationship with the land (since they’re not actually farming on it), and no reason to make their operation sustainable. If things don’t work out — if the labor force dries up, the taxes increase, the cost of treating the water increases — they simply pick up and move to another small town eager for a large employer to take on land that’s sitting idle.

 

More than that, the varieties are still being selected and grown for optimal transport and presentation in the supermarket, and flavor is sacrificed. I’ve tried these tomatoes, and honestly I don’t taste any difference between them and the other supermarket varieties of cherry tomato.

Farmscape, an LA-area urban farm group, recently measured the sugar content of various local (to them) and commercially-grown tomatoes. Using a refractometer, a small kaleidoscope-looking device (if you’re a beer brewer, you may have one of these in your kit; give it a try!), they found sugar content in the farmer’s market and garden tomatoes much higher than those in the grocery store: 5.0 – 9.0 Brix units, as opposed to 4.0, respectively. See this video for more info on sugar content. Or this piece from Scientific American on the science of delicious tomatoes.

True, farmer’s market tomatoes look like they’re more expensive than those in the grocery store. Around here, grocery store prices for tomatoes are around $1.50-$2.00/lb, where you’re likely to pay $3-4/lb from a local grower. But first, consider whether those grocery store tomatoes are certified organic. My local grocery is selling organic campari tomatoes for $2.69-$4/lb, so right away the gap between those prices shrinks to very little. Then, if you’re planning on doing any canning or sauce-making with your tomatoes, farmers will often sell you a box of “seconds,” the ones that don’t look quite as nice, or might have a bruise or other spot that you need to cut out, for a lower price per pound. On balance, it’s not that much of a difference in price — but a world of difference in flavor and in the value of knowing who’s growing your food.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Research on tomato varieties

Seed Savers’ Exchange – keeping heirloom varieties going for generations

Heirloom vs. (not) – what’s it all about?

Growing your own

Saving your own seed – heirloom-only

But what about the TASTE?

Types of tomatoes: Slicing or paste; determinate or indeterminate

 

 

Growing your own.

I don’t think I’d ever grown a vegetable until I got an apartment in Hamden, CT in 2003. Growing up, my grandmother kept a garden (my Gram, of Gram’s Freezer full of Strawberry Freezer Jam), and I think we kept a garden at home sometimes, but I don’t really remember growing anything. I’d tried to grow sunflowers outside the window of my courtyard apartment in Columbus, OH, but the squirrels dug ‘em all up, and that was utterly deflating. I moved to New Haven, CT in 2000, and got myself on the waiting list for a community garden plot. The gardeners there mostly planted flowers, I think, but I wanted to grow vegetables. I waited, and waited to get off the wait list. When I moved up the road to Hamden, my apartment had the cutest little corner balcony, and I got this idea in my head that I could grow some tomatoes out there. So I bought a big plastic pot, some potting soil, and a couple of cherry tomato plants. And waited. And they GREW! And made TOMATOES! The first time I tasted one right off the plant, I think my mouth puckered, it was so sweet and tart and fresh. Had I had fresh tomatoes right off the plant before? I don’t know, but this one I was going to remember. I moved to Urbana, Illinois just a couple of years later (right about the time my name came off the wait list for a plot in Connecticut!), and it only took a year to run into someone who was looking for another person to share her community garden plot. It was a huge plot, about 30’ square, and she was growing everything from arugula to zucchini. (see what I did there?). I had no idea then, but that meeting and the experience of growing food in that plot, caring for it and tasting it, getting sweaty bringing in compost and hauling out weeds, getting bitten by noseeums and stung by nettles, but knowing that you grew it?  All that is exactly what led me to where I am today.

 

 

Saving your own seed – heirloom-only

One of the best things about heirloom varieties of tomatoes (and most anything) is that you can save the seeds from the plants you like, and plant them again next year. Some types of vegetables are harder to save seeds from than others; carrots are a biennial, for instance, and it takes a whole year of letting greens grow and flowers form, to get seeds. You have to sacrifice the carrot to the earth, to get the seeds. But tomatoes! Tomatoes are so eager to get planted again that they’ll pop up in our garden plots completely of their own volition each spring. Those rogue tomatoes that fall off the vine (or get pulled off by squirrels) end up “donating” their seeds to the earth, and many of those end up germinating in the spring. But saving the seeds from your favorite heirloom tomatoes and keeping them indoors over the winter, to start the following spring, is pretty easy too, albeit somewhat messy.

 

First, find yourself a delicious tomato. A delicious HEIRLOOM tomato. It’s not that hybrid seeds won’t germinate; it’s that they don’t “breed true”. The tomato fruit may be like its parent (the seed), or it may be nothing like it. That’s one downside of hybrids. So find yourself that heirloom tomato. Now smoosh it. Seriously, smoosh it in a cup or a bowl. Probably smoosh a few of them. Now leave that cup or bowl of smooshed tomato somewhere outside for a while. Let it get super funky. It’ll get a sort of slimy skin on the top – that’s good. What you’re doing is letting the tomato break down the coating on the seed. If you don’t, it’ll never germinate in the spring. And from what I read, this is the best way, to just let the tomato and time do all the work. After about a week, the really messy part comes in: you need to get those seeds out, but only the seeds. A colander works pretty well for washing the seeds off, picking out the bits of tomato skin and gunk that remain. Once you just have the relatively clean seeds, spread them out on a screen or paper towel to dry. Once they’re completely dry, you can package them in a plastic baggie or (ideally) a wax/glassine envelope. It’s not that the plastic is bad, but if there’s any moisture in there, it’ll get sealed in, and your seeds will probably rot. If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, you’ll want to get them started indoors, and early. About 6(?) weeks before your last frost date (check the site). You can start them in little peat pots, or newspaper pots, or anything with rich, well-draining soil. You’ll need to keep the seeds and especially the little seedlings warm, and provide them with plenty of light. If you have a south-facing window where it isn’t too cold, that will be ideal. If not, you may need to invest in some lights. You’ll want the lights close to the seedlings when they’re small; if the light is too far away, the little seedling will stretch like crazy to reach the light, and you’ll end up with a leggy plant that can’t sustain itself. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had gorgeous little seedlings fail just as they get a few inches tall. If you’re going to plant the seeds in the ground (which you could do, if your summer is long enough), you’ll want to test the seeds first. Get a little piece of paper towel and wet it, place a few seeds on it, and put it in a small plastic baggie. Put it in a warm place (I like to put all the test baggies in a cake pan and put it on top of the cable box, but you do you. Wait a few weeks, and then open them up and see if there’s any growth. For what it’s worth, the tomato seeds I’ve saved by merely smooshing and smearing them on a paper towel have never germinated well for me. Letting them get slimy and then separating them is much more reliable.

I Can Grill That?

Last week I found out that one could grill green beans. My first thought was, “don’t they fall between the grates?” (HAHAHA.) (No, really, that really was my first thought.) It turns out that beans do very nicely with a bit of char – you can use a grill basket or heavy duty aluminum foil. But it made me wonder: what other vegetables can I grill? Here is a short list of recipes with veggies that you’re sure to see at the market this week.

Corn. (Corn!) Everyone’s favorite. If you make this, you can also make this. And this. (Trust me, elote is going to be your new obsession.) Grilled corn is beautiful with grilled sweet peppers, too.

So…PEPPERS. Are you a fan of jalapeño poppers? Well, here you go. (No need to go out for this anymore – make it at home with truly excellent, local peppers.) And if you’re a fan of spicy dishes, try a grilled jalapeño potato salad. 

Squashes and zucchini are a popular choice, and you can add any range of flavor profiles – even just a bit of sea salt. Here is one with basil (definitely in season!), and it’s also great with mint. Oh heck – here’s one more. It’s just all so good.

Eggplant is another veggie that loves the heat. This recipe might just make an eggplant lover out of a skeptic (I know you’re out there!). I love that this dish has an easy, flavorful yogurt sauce. Looks fancy; very easy.

Panzanella (bread and vegetable salad): another summer classic.

Fruit! Grilled peaches can pair with a main course as a side, shine in a salad, or as a super-easy dessert.

Lettuce! (Yes, lettuce!) Romaine lettuce, in particular, holds up just fine to a hot grill.  (At the market, you might try another variety – ask a farmer which varieties are sturdy like Romaine.) Lots of flavor options with this, too.

And while we are on the subject of lettuce, we should consider how salads don’t just come in the cold and raw variety (or even include lettuce, of course). Great salads often combine both hot and cold elements, cooked (or grilled) and raw ingredients, salty/sweet/crunchy, etc. It’s all about having a combination of flavors and textures – and using local, fresh veggies means that the flavor is going to be just that much better (and will need very little dressing up!). Check out this grilled corn and nectarine salad (you could easily sub peaches).

Lastly…BEER CAN CABBAGE. (Seriously!) Why let the chickens have all the fun? (And you can grill cabbage without a beer can, too.)

We are in the heyday of summer vegetables. I can’t stop smiling. You, too?

Happy summer, and enjoy.

Green Bean Celebration

This being July (!), we’re now seeing the incredible bounty of summer, especially the fresh version of our favorites that we wait for all year long. I HAVE IT ON GOOD WORD that green beans will arrive at this Saturday’s market just in time for your 4th of July celebrations.

Green beans have got to be one of our most familiar veggies – but if you’re feeling a little stuck for something new, they are also extremely versatile. Here are some ideas for new twists on this crowd-pleasing veggie:

Enjoy!

Week 9 Market Menu: Cookout Time!

It is the height(heat!) of summer, and the market is going to burst with produce this weekend!!!  Check out this list:

Seasonal: Basil, Beans, Beets, BLUEBERRIES (limited!), Broccoli, Cabbage, Carrots, Chard, Collards, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Green Beans, Greens, Kale, Kohlrabi, Lettuce, Mint, Onions, Oregano, PEACHES, PEPPERS, Potatoes, Radishes, Scallions, Spinach, Summer Squash, TOMATOES (limited!), Turnips, Zucchini!!  And lots of flowers, herbs, and other items!

 

 

This week, we have lots of suggestions for your barbecue, cookout, or staycation.  We’ve gathered recipes into four groups:  grilling, Side dishes, Condiments, and Desserts. Mix and Match, and have a happy and safe Fourth!

Grilling:

Brats – There are several local farms that have brats made from their pork, including Destiny Meats and Triple S Farms. You can find brats and other sausage at the market, Green Top Grocery, Common Ground and even perhaps at some other local groceries.  My tip for cooking brats:  Boil them first!  I like to use 1/2 water, 1/2 beer. This helps ensure that they cook evenly throughout, before you put them on the grill or in a pan. It also helps the casing to cook slowly as the brat swells, making them thin and snappy, rather than tough and chewy.  Enjoy with mustard, chopped onion, or even some homemade relish!

Burgers

If you like some heat, Bobby Flay has an awesome recipe for a green chili burger.  He also has a flavor-packed turkey burger recipe that I’m anxious to try soon!

Whatever you’re grilling, consider local farms when you select meats!!

 

Sides

Slow. Cooker. Baked. Beans. Right? Right. This is going in my crock pot first thing tomorrow morning.

Potato Salad, anyone? This list of 50 potato salad recipes should work!!

And coleslaw, of course. There’s no shortage of cabbage in my fridge right now, and coleslaw will do just the trick in helping me use it up.

 

Condiments

Why not make some relish to go with those hot dogs and hamburgers?

Homemade dill pickle relish sounds pretty great about now — and it’s simple! This one is a little bit more involved, and has a few more ingredients, but it’s still pretty easy.

For something a little different, why not try pickling some zucchini slices instead of cucumber? This recipe looks fantastic, and it’s always good to have things to do with zucchini this time of year.

For something a little more mustard-y, why not try a quick Piccalilli?

 

Desserts:

Slab Pie – a template for use with any fruit. Anything at all, they’re all delicious.

Grilled Peaches. Try with some vanilla ice cream. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake – a perfect application for those fresh berries up at the Food Forest!

For no fuss at all, try a cobbler. Amazing with peaches!

Crushed Ice / Granitas – another great application for those berries!!

Summer Fizzy Drinks: Non-Alcoholic Version

There’s almost nothing I like better on a hot summer day than a refreshing fizzy beverage. With only a little bit of work, you can make a variety of syrups to add to club soda for refreshing drinks all summer long!

 

Syrups

Ever tried making your own soda/pop/flavored fizzy water at home? Instead of buying syrups at the store, you can make them from just about any fruit you choose! Then, just add to club soda or water or iced tea, or the beverage of your choice. The post linked above uses a ratio of roughly 1 part fruit, 1 part water, 1 part sugar. There are variations of this, depending on the tartness or sweetness desired, but keep in mind that traditional simple syrup is 1 part sugar to 1 part water. You can simply squeeze & strain fruit and add to a simple syrup, or boil fruit down (strain if you want to remove seeds). With berries like blackberries, you’ll notice a change in flavor as the juice cooks down, but it’s worth trying it both ways to see what you like best.

The sky is the limit here, in terms of fruit:

Use what you love! It’s an excellent thing to do with fruit that you’re afraid will spoil before you have a chance to eat it all. Berries, peaches, plums, take your pick.

You don’t even have to use fruit! You can make your own flavored syrups for adding to coffee and other drinks, too. I’ve been making an almond rich simple for my iced coffee this summer, and it’s delicious. Saveur has ideas for everything from rose to thai spice. And as they note, you can use these syrups in club soda, in coffee or cocktails, or on ice cream, pancakes, and other dishes.

Shrubs

Shrubs are a drink that’s making a comeback! They’re a vinegar-based drink, making them the perfect thirst-quenching refreshment for hot midwestern summer days (not that we get any of those here). Historically, it’s been a non-alcoholic drink, thriving during the temperance movement in the U.S., but leave it to the college students to add liquor. Today, shrubs are making a comeback both as bar novelty and alternative to alcoholic drinks. But you can make your own, so easily! And by incorporating some of the bounty of the summer’s berry bushes into your shrub syrups, you can preserve local fruit and enjoy them, too!

Basic Proportions:

2 c. Fruit
2 c. Vinegar (anything with a 5% acidity content or more)
2 c. Sugar

Feel free to play around with the types of fruit, vinegar and sugars you choose; I’ve loved peach and honey with apple cider vinegar and a touch of vanilla;  strawberries with balsamic and white vinegar; blackberries with turbinado and red wine vinegar.

The best part, perhaps, is that you can use “seconds” from the market or field. Local farms will often sell #2 or seconds for preserving, where the fruit doesn’t have to look perfect. You don’t have to fuss over the trimming of your fruit when making shrub syrups; just clean and trim anything that doesn’t taste good. The only downside is that you have to wait about a month for them to hit peak deliciousness. The fruit stays in the vinegar during this time, infusing it with flavor.

The Ball Blue Book is full of vinegars — blueberry-basil, cranberry-orange, lemon-mint, loganberry, blackberry, and sweet cherry. They’re all canning recipes, so they’re shelf-stable!

 

Kombucha

If patience is a virtue you cherish, and you’re still with me on the sour drinks, then perhaps you’d like to move on to kombucha? As a fermented drink, kombucha takes some time to, well, ferment! Like when making sourdough bread, you’ll keep a starter (called a SCOBY, in kombucha-making) going from batch to batch.

For your first batch, you can get start from a friend who has been making kombucha long enough that their SCOBY has babies (they tend to separate into two over time), or you can actually purchase a dehydrated starter. Common Ground in downtown Bloomington carries dehydrated starter, shown at left, as well as starter for kefir (for another day!).

 

The kombucha-making process is relatively simple — very simple, if you’re used to making sourdough bread.

Each time you make kombucha, you’ll be keeping a small amount of your previous batch, along with the SCOBY, and you’ll feed it so that it continues growing.

Brew some tea, let it cool to room temperature, add sugar, vinegar, and the scoby. Wait 1-4 weeks, and bottle or otherwise transfer into a container for drinking — retaining a small amount of the finished kombucha and the SCOBY for the next batch.

So what are you waiting for?! Go get your fizzy drinks made before the next heat wave!

p.s. As always, be sure to follow a recipe if you plan to preserve these for shelf-stability. Or, freeze them (be sure to leave enough head space for expansion), and avoid the boiling water baths.

p.p.s. For the fizzy part, I highly recommend the SodaStream. It’s not cheap, but it’s more than paid for itself in savings on soda pop alone. Plus, I find that I drink more water when I have a fizzy option.I have the $99 base model, but I’m starting to see them on sale as people trade up for larger quantities, so keep your eyes open!

Week 8: Market Menu

Are we really two months into market season? It’s been a great one so far: beautiful spring greens are about to give way to the veggies that come with the heat of mid-summer. Are you ready? Yeah – we are, too!

So what’s new this week at the market? TOMATOES! We should start seeing early-season tomatoes coming, though getting some is probably going to require your showing up in time for the starting bell. I heard a rumor that, last week, one farmer brought a small number of her first tomatoes to the market and (thoughtfully) rationed them to one per customer to an eager line of tomato-lovers. That’s the kind of pent-up demand for “real” tomatoes you see in June at the market!

Here’s a question that farmers at the market get a lot: what makes a vegetable an “heirloom” variety?

Commercial tomatoes sold in most grocery stores have been grown from plants that were developed to withstand cross-country shipping and distribution. In short, they are bred for durability rather than taste. Heirloom tomatoes are often very delicate, come in a range of colors (even striped!) and have distinctive flavor profiles.

In season in June: Green beans, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, cucumber, spinach, squash, potatoes...

Breakfast Ideas:

Hot outside? A cucumber-pineapple smoothie is going to be a nice way to keep cool.

If you’re one of the lucky shoppers who got the prized early tomatoes, slice one up and enjoy it with a crispy egg and whole grain toast from one of our market bakers. (What? You’re not doing the crispy egg? My friend, we have to talk.)

Enjoy some berries from Normal’s amazing Refuge Food Forest over yogurt and homemade granola (way easier than you think!). (Feeling adventurous? Consider making your own yogurt – both Common Ground Grocery and Green Top Grocery carry Kilgus Farms dairy milk. It is way easier than you think!)

Lunch Ideas:

This is the time of year when I start to keep a bowl of cucumber salad in the fridge at all times. I keep making it, and we keep eating it. I usually don’t do much beyond slicing cucs, putting them in a bowl with enough water to cover, and add a bit of vinegar and sugar (a teaspoon or two each) until I like the balance (here is a recipe for something very similar). My grandmother made them this way, and also sometimes with sour cream. Like many salads, there are wonderful variations on this theme across a world of cuisines, which should keep you from getting bored of cucumbers for quite some time.

You might pair this with a healthy and hearty lentil salad or chick pea salad. In our household, we try to cook extra proteins over the weekend if we are grilling so we can add leftovers to salads, too.

Caprese salads have become a summer standby – grab some basil and fresh mozzarella to go with your farm fresh tomatoes and you’re in business.

Other salad ideas for lunch or dinner: broccoli salad (again, so many variations here). My version includes a slightly sweet dressing (yogurt, vinegar or lemon juice, a teaspoon of sugar) and sometimes raisins, apples, and/or carrots.

And I adore this lemon tahini kale salad from the Good Health Gourmet (gluten-free friends, check out this blog – wonderful recipes and gorgeous photos!).

Dinner Ideas:

Summer can mean that meals get a lot simpler. I’m always looking for shortcuts because I’m not eager to spend too much time on cooking (but I still want to eat well!). So…

Rotisserie chicken. Grilled hot dogs with chowchow, a southern condiment staple. We love our bratwurst in the midwest – how about some homemade sauerkraut? (Here is one thing I don’t mind spending time on: a good meatless burger. Impress your vegetarian friends this summer.)

Here’s a great tip: get some really great bread and grill it when it starts to get a little stale and you need to use it up.

I had some great local bread from Chad at The Garlic Press and it was a few days old. My parents were visiting and my mom sliced it, and grilled it in a pan with a bit of canola oil (olive oil is too delicate for this) and sprinkled sea salt. It was phenomenal. (Evidence is to your left.) We ate it with pasta and a salad and it might have been the best part of a fantastic meal.

Happy marketing and bon appetit! – J.S