Recipes and Me

Friday, May 25, 2012

Get Your Basket Ready – It’s Time For a Little Shopping!

                   **bought this beautiful swiss chard from the Creek Side Produce table 

Farmers Markets seem to be uber trendy these days so the advantage in that is that they’re very accessible now to so many people, not just the people living in the biggest of cities.  Every vendor with something special to offer is getting in on the game.  Especially now with the Farm to Table movement and similar restaurant offerings which have taken off with such success, us diners are looking for fresh ingredients grown in season near our own town without the need for a ton of chemical preservatives sprayed all over to ensure ingredients survive a journey half way across the country.  We’re just looking for simple quality, and local farm grown veggies and produce is where it’s at!

* vibrant zucchini and yellow squash and perfect little oval radishes from Westmoreland Produce

I’m lucky to live right outside of DC where markets are scattered pretty much everywhere with a large variety of vendors competing to be household names known for their quality selection.  And this only seems to drive the quality up, good for us home shoppers and chefs looking to experiment with their seasonal menus!  So these days it’s easy to visit a market on Wednesday, another one on Thursday, and easily Saturday and Sunday if you like.  It doesn’t get much more convenient.  I frequent a market right near my home on Sunday mornings.  There are vendors selling bright red tomatoes, vibrant zucchini and yellow squash, fresh made pastas with herbs, a rainbow of swiss chard, as well as sweet strawberries and pastries to tempt the most devout dieter.  There are often samples of the tomatoes, apples, pickles, etc. put out for you to taste so you know exactly the kind of quality you’re buying.  The proof is in the pudding right? For those of you that say "I get perfectly good ingredients from the store, I have no need to go to a hip local market" you are partly right.  Yep, I'm a food enthusiast and I just said that, which I know seems like a complete contradiction to this article but let me explain. 

             **I always end up buying strawberries, this time delicious ones from Creek Side Produce 

 The store offers endless aisles packed with items to meet every need you might have, that is true.  But here, to show you why I think markets have such a valid place in our weekly routine, I ask you to enact the tomato test.  You heard right, the tomato test.  It's one of my favorite ways to show friends who don't believe me that there's any difference between a garden or farm grown tomato and a store bought one.  Let me just say this, I've yet to feed a friend that wasn't convinced.  Ok on to the test.  So go to your regular grocery store and buy whatever you need for the week plus one nice red tomato.  Then go to a local farmer's market and also buy a nice looking red tomato from one of the vendors there.  Cautionary note: DO NOT put your tomatoes in the fridge.  They do not like it, in fact they hate it.  Putting them in the fridge makes what I'll call "I hate you" compounds react in the tomato and it literally changes the way they taste...and it makes them mealy (eewww).  Now, take both tomatoes you bought, the one from the store, and the one from the market.  Rinse them off and then slice off a nice hearty piece from each tomato.  Take a bite of the store bought tomato, think about what you like and what you taste while eating it.  Now take a bite of the tomato from the market and analyze in the same way.  I'm willing to bet you that you'll notice a pretty big difference between the taste of the two, favoring the market tomato.  

Tomatoes sold in stores are often picked when they're still green and not yet very flavorful; they're put in a ripening room so to speak where they turn red and then they are sprayed with whatever preservatives and stored at cool temperatures for shipping so that they will survive the journey to stores.  So you're pretty much getting a tomato that was picked before it tasted like it was supposed to, made to look like it tastes fantastic (aka very red), and stored at a cool temperature, even further hurting the flavor.  And that's all before it's even made it into your hands.  But at a market you're getting a tomato that was picked at full ripeness and only had to make the short journey to the market.  A whole lot simpler isn't it?  So it's not that store bought tomatoes are bad, they just never got a chance to develop the flavor they're supposed to in nature.  And therein lies my reasoning behind keeping markets in your weekly errands list.  It may not be a reasonable expectation or even intention to do your full grocery shopping at a local market but tomatoes are a good example because they demonstrate the actual logic behind and advantage of shopping at local markets.  It's not just a "hip" thing to do.  You are quite literally getting more (quality) for your money. 

      **Bonaparte Breads have unique loaves like this rosemary lemon round sitting proudly on top

So today I’m just sharing with you my love of these local markets and all the charm they bring to a neighborhood, the way they bring communities together, the way they help us eat better, and the way they support local farmers and local businesses.  Get your basket ready and show some support!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Who’s Ready for a Cocktail?

Oh good cocktail, the love affair you and I have.  But not just any cocktail will do.  Yes, even cocktails have seasonal personalities.  When spring and summer come around and daydreams of what vacations might be taken start to enter the mind, a great cocktail provides easy access to a mini-vacation of sorts.  Who cares if you’re only lounging on your own patio, hearing those two or three police cars whiz by on the neighboring street, sirens blaring? With a refreshing cocktail in hand and perhaps a friend or two nearby to clink glasses with, it becomes much easier to drown out all that background noise.  And let’s be honest, we’re all desperately in need of a little less background noise in our lives right?

This cocktail is fruity and downright fabulous.  It’s inspired by a cocktail I have sometimes at The Mandarin Oriental when I go to lounge with friends and listen to some great musicians (at a hotel, who knew right?). 

Peach & Pear Pomegrantini
2 martinis

2 shots (3 oz.) peach rum
2 shots (3 oz.) pomegranate juice
¾ cup (6 oz.) pear nectar 
Martini shaker (chilled)
2 small nontoxic flowers (optional)

Pour all 3 liquids into a chilled martini shaker.  Add a nice handful of ice, close the shaker, and shake like you mean it (aka until mixed well).  Pour into two martini glasses and garnish with a couple of small flowers for looks (and that vacationing feeling).

Friday, May 11, 2012

I’ve Got the Strawberries, You Bring the Rhubarb…

Strawberries and rhubarb make fantastic companions. It’s a shame they’re both only in season for a fairly short period each year.  And for me, that’s the perfect excuse to take advantage of their wonderful peak period and make strawberry rhubarb tartlets on a sunny spring or early summer afternoon.  The kitchen will smell amazing and your friends, not to mention your own tummy, will thank you.  I love to pair these beautiful little tartlets with fresh whipped cream or, open mind please, ginger ice cream.  That’s right, ginger ice cream.  If you’ve never had it, try it!

People often have misconceptions about making dough, thinking it must be difficult or cumbersome.  But it isn’t! Or at least it doesn’t have to be.  For this dough I use a quick recipe that won’t take more than 5-10 minutes to pull together.  AND you probably already have all of the ingredients for it.  So turn up some music (suggested favorites include a little Camera Obscura, Maudlin era perhaps, and Arcade Fire), get in the kitchen, and give it a shot.

Strawberry Rhubarb Tartlets
 4 tartlets

            1 ¼ cup flour
            1 ½ teaspoon granulated sugar
            ½ teaspoon salt
            ½ cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
3 tablespoons ice cold water

            ¼ cup flour
            1 cup sugar
            2 cups sliced rhubarb (approx. 2 long stalks)
            1 ½ cups sliced strawberries

Start with the pastry crust.  In a food processor add the flour, salt, sugar and pulse a couple of times until combined. Add the chilled butter cubes and process until the crust looks like coarse crumbles.  Pour the ice water into the processor and mix briefly until the dough just comes together (this should only take a few seconds, don’t overmix). 

**If you are without a food processor, that is okay.  I find this dough can be made without it, and instead in a large bowl with a pastry cutter or two knives, though a food processor helps the ingredients incorporate evenly and helps the dough come together quicker.

Sprinkle a little flour onto a work surface.  Turn the dough out onto the surface and work it just briefly into a loose ball.  Divide it into 2 halves and also work those halves into balls.  Flatten each halve into a disc like shape and wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill the dough in the fridge for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Combine all of the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl and set aside.  Once the dough has chilled bring it out onto the work surface.  Divide each disc of dough in half so that you have 4 equal portions.  Roll each quarter lightly into a ball, sprinkle some flour on a rolling pin, and the surface area again if needed, and roll each quarter out to a circle, about 7 inches in diameter.  Working one at a time on the parchment lined baking sheet, spoon some of the strawberry rhubarb mixture into the center of each circle of dough, the filling should come to about 1 ½ inch from the edge of each pastry circle.  Fold the edges of each pastry circle up, leaving the very center open, and press the edges together while working in a circle.  This is where rustic is your friend, don't get carried away trying to make these perfect.  Bake the 4 tartlets for approximately 27-30 minutes.  Let them cool slightly before topping with some fresh whipped cream or ginger ice cream and serving.  Enjoy!