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Strawberry Picking at Rowand Farms

In an effort to switch things up a little, today I have a post of pictures and no (or at least, not very many) words. These are from a recent trip to pick strawberries at Rowand’s Farm in Glassboro, NJ. The strawberries and sweet cherries are now done for the season, but if you’re in the area, I hear they’ll have sour cherries through the weekend.

Rowand Farm Market
strawberries
upick boxes
strawberry boxes
rows of strawberries
strawberry fields
hidden strawberries
berries at the farm market
nine pounds of strawberries

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A Giant Potato Pancake for Eat, Write, Retreat’s Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge

after the oven

Last year, I went to a bunch of food writer/blogger conferences in order to see beloved people, make some new friends, and help promote my book. In contrast, 2013 has shaped up to be a quieter year (which is fine by me). I’m skipping the bulk of the gatherings in order to spend a little more time at home and save my pennies for next summer’s book push. In fact, the only conference I’m participating in is Eat, Write, Retreat, which is landing in Philly in just a couple of weekends.

two russet potatoes

Part of the fun of Eat, Write, Retreat is that organizers start building the conference community well before everyone arrives at the DoubleTree. One of the ways that they’ve done this is by inviting everyone who registered before April 15 to participate in the Amazing Apps Culinary Challenge. Now, I’m not typically someone who gets excited about challenges and contests, but this one is a little different.

peeled

While there are prizes to be awarded at the conference, I actually felt like I won the moment the box arrived, thanks to all the OXO goodies (as well as a gorgeous assortment of potatoes) that it contained. Potatoes, graters, and ricers, oh my! What’s more, I’ve been needing something to shift me out of the cooking rut I’ve been in recently. Inventing an appetizing little dish featuring potatoes and using some of those new tools was just the boost I needed.

grated

I grabbed the two large, russet potatoes from the basket (approximately 1 3/4 pounds) and got to work. I peeled then and shredded them on the coarse OXO grater that was in the box.

Any time I’m shredding just a pound or two of potatoes, I opt for a hand or box grater. It’s so much easier to clean than my food processor. Then, I bundled up the shreds in a tea towel and squeezed as much water out of them as possible. If you’ve ever made a latke, you know the drill.

on the stove top

Then I whisked together two eggs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, two tablespoons minced green onions, one tablespoon chopped dill, and several turns of a pepper grinder. While whisking, I also heated three tablespoons of olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet and heated my oven to 425 degrees F.

I added the potatoes to the batter and stirred until they were well combined. Then I spread the potato batter out in the hot skillet. It was quite thick, so I used my spatula to tease it out into an even layer. Do take care not to make a perfectly smooth surface, as it will brown better with a few crags and nooks.

closer potato disk

Once in the skillet, I cooked it over high heat on the stove top for about five minutes, until a peek at the bottom of the pancake told me it was just starting to brown. Then slide the skillet into the oven.

The trick with a giant potato pancake like this one is that you want to bake it first, until the interior is cooked, and then you turn on the broiler to get a really nice, crunchy top. Mine took approximately ten minutes of baking and another four of broiling before I was satisfied with the color and texture.

with toppings

Now comes the appetizer part. This potato pancake can actually go a couple of different ways in that department. For a cocktail party, you could slice it into slivers and top it with a number of delicious tidbits. The potato pancake is just as good at room temperature as it is hot, so works quite nicely on a table of finger foods.

In the picture, I’ve dolloped each wedge with a little bit of mascarpone cheese and then added something tasty on top (from top to bottom, you have last summer’s apricot jam, a grape tomato half, and a sprig of dill). Little strips of smoked salmon or trout would also be fantastic.

under eggs and mache

For a more perfectly plated appetizer, here’s another serving option. Cut the potato pancake into quarters. Top with some baby greens (I used mache) and a perfectly fried egg. The texture of the crunchy potato layer with the delicate leaves and runny egg is seriously great (I ate that plate right up as soon as I was finished with the photos).

It’s a good starter for fancy brunches or a farm to table-style dinner. It’s high in Vitamin C. And it’s also great for those folks who can’t manage a pasta course, due to wheat or gluten allergies. For those who have a jar in their pantry, a dab of tomato jam would not go amiss here.

How would you turn a giant potato pancake into an appetizer?

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Drink Week, Day Three: No-Cook Sour Cherry Syrup

sour cherries

It’s day three of Drink Week! Today’s topic is the no-cook fruit syrup. Because sometimes, it’s just too darn hot to turn on the stove for even a minute. This sour cherry version is ideal with a little spritz, so make sure to click over and enter the Sodastream giveaway. Make sure to check out the previous two Drink Week posts, Black Raspberry Syrup and Cherry Bounce and Other Boozy Infusions.

no-cook sour cherry syrup

If you search this website, you will see that my obsession with sour cherries is well-documented. There are at least two different jam recipes here, and recently, I’ve been tempted to post a third, since lately I’ve been making a whole sour cherry preserve that would knock your socks off. But this isn’t about cherry preserves. This about a revelation I had recently. It’s the no-cook, whole fruit syrup.

spoon a few dollops (cherries and all)

In essence, you put a some fruit in a jar (in this case, two cups of pitted sour cherries). Pour half as much sugar in (one cup of organic cane sugar) and then smash the heck out of the fruit with a wooden spoon, tiny potato masher or the end of a rolling pin (I used a little muddler that looks like a tiny baseball bat). After you’ve taken out your aggressions, just park the jar in the fridge overnight and forget about it.

pour on the fizz

The next day, check on your jar of sugared and smashed fruit. In some cases, the sugar will be entirely dissolved, but not always. If not, give the jar a good shake (make sure you’ve got a tight-fitting lid on there or you’ll be covered in sticky juice) and put it back. After a day or so of chilling and shaking, you should be left with a jar full of fruit and syrup, ready to be used.

enjoy

Once it’s gotten nice and juicy, you have two choices. You can either strain the fruit from the syrup, discard it and proceed to use the syrup as you’d like. Or you can do what I do, and add those tender bits of sour cherry to your glass. I like it with some sparkling water and, on occasion, two or three drops of bourbon (for a very mild, faux, fizzy Manhattan). You can also use it to make instant sangria. Just add a few spoonfuls of the sour cherries and their syrup to a glass of red wine, ice cubes and sparkling water. Stir and quaff.

This technique also works with plums, apricots and plums. Try it. I think you’ll be sold.

Oh, and if all this talk of sparkling water has you parched, don’t forget to enter the Sodastream giveaway!

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Buying Feta in Bulk From Di Bruno Bros.

jar of feta cheese

Yesterday afternoon, while in the midst of making a giant bowl of this quinoa salad to take to a potluck, I realized that I had forgotten to buy feta cheese. In most cases I am entirely satisfied to substitute one ingredient for another, but not in that moment. I wanted the creamy tang of feta and I had nothing else in the fridge that would do.

I put my chopping aside, grabbed a pint jar and dashed down the street to Di Bruno Bros. (I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to live a block and a half away from such a terrific gourmet/cheese market). The reason for the pint jar was that I hate the idea of using a disposable plastic tub for all of ten minutes in order to get the cheese from store to salad. They sell their feta cheese from giant, brine-filled crocks, so a container of some sort is necessary.

This was the first time I’d taken a reusable container to Di Bruno Bros. so I wasn’t sure how they’d respond. However, I swallowed my minor embarrassment at making an unusual request and asked if I could buy half a pound of feta and have it packed in my jar. They said yes and proceeded to weight the cheese on a sheet of parchment paper before putting in the jar.

I kept a plastic container out of the recycling/trash system and the sticky label peeled off easily to boot. All in all, a successful jar experience!

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CSA Love + Spring Onion Greens Kimchi

spring onions

I am a big believer in the concept of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs. If you’re new to the idea, the gist is that you support a local farmer by giving them a lump sum of cash to help them through the lean months. That investment bears fruit during the growing season in the form of weekly or bi-weekly boxes of produce for you to take home and enjoy.

I’ve been a member of several different CSAs over the years and sadly, they always left me feeling like something was missing. Ideally, a CSA should be more than just an opportunity to streamline your grocery shopping, it should give you a sense of connection and appreciation for where your food is coming from. And it’s a bonus if they happen to know your name.

Happily, I can report that I am beyond delighted by my CSA this year. The farm is Down to Earth Harvest and it’s located in Kennett Square (one of my very favorite Philadelphia-region towns). The pick-up site is my local Saturday farmers’ market at Rittenhouse Square and the farm crew is totally friendly (hi Robert, Phil and Shanna!).

spring onion greens kimchi

A few weeks back, before the official start of the CSA season, I made my way to their table at the market and introduced myself. We got to talking and Robert asked me what I suggested they do with the glut of spring onions that were soon to be ready for picking. I offered a few ideas and they filled my arms with onions so that I could do a bit of testing. I tried pickling the white stems whole, but then turned bitter and woody (I now think they’d be better suited to a sliced pickle – live and learn).

My preserving mojo wasn’t entirely off though. I used this ramp greens kimchi recipe and turned the spring onion greens into some of the best, most flavorful, most interesting kimchi I’ve ever eaten. I took a jar over to the Down to Earth crew this last Saturday to try and once I assured them that they weren’t going to be painfully spicy, they were taken aback by how tasty those onion greens gotten (and here they’d been sending them into the compost bin).

I’m not going to re-write the recipe here, because other than switch one green for another, I really didn’t do anything different from what the Tigress did. I highly recommend this treatment if you’ve got a bunch of onion greens to use. I’ve started planning meals around this kimchi and I’m hoping to make another batch before the season is over.

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Chive Blossom Vinegar

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I use a lot of vinegar in my day to day cooking. Between quick vinaigrettes, a splash to add balance to different dishes and the array of pickles I regularly make, it’s a favorite item. I typically have between 5-7 varieties including apple cider, white wine, cheap balsamic, a spendier balsamic, rice wine and basic distilled white vinegar. I’m also working my way through a jar of blackberry vinegar I made last summer by steeping spent blackberry seeds in a basic vinegar.

plucked chive blossoms

Many months ago, I spotting mention of chive blossom vinegar somewhere out there on the wide, vast internet (sadly, I’m not sure where it was, so I can’t give credit for this brilliant idea). It planted itself into my brain and though I can lay no claim on any chives myself, I hoped again hope that I might be able to lay my hands on some blossoms this spring in order to make a batch.

Last week, a friend mentioned on Twitter that in the course of her work as a gardener, she composts so many herb cuttings that she should start an herb CSA. While the comment was off-hand and mostly kidding, I mentioned that I was always happy to adopt any herbs in need of a home. As luck would have it, she had access to wide swaths of chives and their blossoms. I’d get to make my vinegar after all.

making chive vinegar

Chive blossoms smell ever so gently of onion and when steeped for a week or two, they give both that fragrance and their light purple color over to the vinegar. The actual process is so easy that you don’t need an actual recipe.

Pick a generous number of chive blossoms. Soak them in cool water to remove any dirt or bugs that might have taken refuge inside the blossoms. Dry them well (salad spinners are great for this) and stuff them into a jar so that it is between 1/2 and 2/3 filled with blossoms (I used a half gallon jar). Fill the jar with white vinegar. Because I’m cheap, I used a basic distilled vinegar. If you’re fancier than I am, try white wine vinegar.

Let the blossoms steep in the vinegar for two weeks in a cool, dark place. When the time has elapsed, strain the vinegar and pour it into any jar you’d like. Use anywhere you think it would taste good.

How is springtime treating the rest of you? I’ve been enjoying the rhubarb and asparagus and am looking forward to the coming abundance of strawberries.

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