Jam Vinaigrette from the Redwood Valley Farmers Market Chef Demo

I’m pretty excited about this.

So, a couple weeks ago at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market, my friend Amanda from Fairall’s Farm Fresh Eggs & Produce did a chef demo using some of the wonderful items available at the farmers market that morning.  She set up a delicious taco bar with chipotle sausage hash, a zesty salmon taco filling, and a big veggie and egg scramble, which you can find the recipes for here. She also made a huge farmers market salad with a jam vinaigrette that was so damn good I knew I had to write about it here and try to convince everyone on the internet to make too.

I’d never actually bothered making salad dressing with jam before, and it was so tasty that I went home and promptly made huge batch.  I guess  that when I thought about jam for salads, it sounded like it would be too sweet and overpowering.  I still think if you were having a really delicate salad of baby lettuces and sliced radishes, it would be a questionable idea at best.  Amanda’s salad was killer, though, and it’s because she didn’t just use lettuce, but also incorporated sliced cabbage, raw kale and chard leaves, summer squash and salad turnips.   These big, hearty vegetables stood up so well to the flavor of the jam.

Floodgate Farms grew the salad mix used as a base for everything, which in itself was outstanding.  It has more fresh produce than I’ve ever seen in any salad mix, ever, with fresh mint leaves, onion blossoms, sprigs of dill, nasturtium blossoms, purslane leaves, and more.  I’m not always much of a salad girl- I usually would rather have a big bowl of vegetable stew, like a ratatouille or the braised kale and white beans, but this salad mix is so beautiful and full of flavors that…. well, it makes me want to go buy more from them, even though I have a huge garden with plenty of my own vegetables.

Jam Vinaigrette

Cook Time: lightning fast

Ingredients:

  • jam:  I really like the flavor of dark berry or plum jams with the kale and cabbage, especially if they happen to be tart or low-sugar jams, but really, anything you want to use up will be good.
  • oil: I used hazelnut oil when I made it at home,  but anything you have will work.
  • vinegar: apple cider, champagne, sherry– again, whatever ya got.

In a half pint jar, combine two parts jam with two parts oil and one part vinegar. Shake it up. Pour over your salad. Eat.

Amanda’s Farmers Market Salad

In a big bowl, combine as many good salad things as you can find:

  • Salad Mix: different kinds of lettuce, diced onion blossoms, sprigs of fresh dill fronds and dill flowers, edible flowers, roughly chopped mint leaves, cilantro, parsley…. and any other things you can think of.Dark Leafy Greens: like shredded green cabbage, roughly chopped kale leaves and roughly chopped swiss chard leaves.  The more the merrier.  The key to growing really nice greens is to keep them well picked, so go out to the garden and pick any random leaves you can find.
  • Chopped Vegetables: summer squash, salad turnips, and cucumbers, etc.

Dress with jam vinaigrette, top with crumbled chevre or feta to make it even better, and serve.  My little brother ate a huge plate of it and said: “this salad is awesome, and I hate salad.”  So, it’s that kind of recipe, where you get to eat a really good meal, but then you get the added bonus of laughing when your family members who claim to hate kale end up eating a whole bunch of it — and liking it.

Amanda, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful cooking with everyone.  It was delicious!

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Saucy Summer Vegetables

I meant to post this recipe a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t decide what it really is.  Is it a stew? A sauce? A soup? I still don’t know.

The reason I finally decided to share this:

If you have a vegetable garden, shop at the farmers market, or get  a CSA box, this combination of vegetables is bound to show up at some point, and this recipe is a really versatile way to put dinner (and then leftovers for lunch and other dinners) on the table with almost no planning at all. 
The flavor of this dish is kind of like a cross between a vodka sauce and a ratatouille.   Cook the veggies for a shorter time to leave it like a stew, and eat it with crusty bread and a salad.  Cook it for a long time, letting the moisture really reduce off, to make it into more of a pasta sauce.  Once it’s thick and saucy, you can  toss it with cooked penne, top with mozzarella cheese and bake it in the oven.  Or use it as the filling in a lasagna, alternating with layers of ricotta cheese.  I love this sauce served over a bowl of creamy polenta with mascarpone.  Fold it into some scrambled eggs and eat it for breakfast.   For something really luscious, make a batch of fettucini alfredo and then stir in some of this sauce — it’s so creamy and good, really divine.  You could even puree this and serve as if it were a plain red sauce if you’re trying to do things like trick haters into eating eggplant.

The point is, this combination of vegetables may not be all that much of a revelation. I realize lots of people know about ratatouille.  The thing is, I feel like any time you can effortlessly walk into your garden, pick some vegetables, and turn them into a dinner that everyone will love, it’s a major victory. When it’s a dish that can be transformed into several different meals and you end up using every last little scrap of it and wishing you’d made even more, it deserves to be on the internet.

Saucy Summer Vegetables 

You could absolutely add other vegetables, like green and yellow string beans, bell peppers, or a couple swiss chard leaves.  You could also substitute white wine for the vodka, other cheeses or cream for the chevre, or no dairy at all if you’d like to leave it vegan.

Cook Time: 20 minutes of active cooking, then 2 hours to simmer on the stove

Makes: a lot… but it really just depends how long you cook it

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 c. cubed eggplant (1 large Italian eggplant or several smaller Asian eggplants, either is fine)
  • 7 1/2 c. sliced summer squash (from a couple medium sized squash of different shapes and sizes, sliced into bite sized pieces)
  • 10 c. roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes, cores removed (about 5 really large tomatoes)
  • 1/2 c. roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1 c. vodka
  • 6 oz. plain chevre

  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste

 

In a big pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and the cubed eggplant. Give the eggplant a liberal seasoning with salt at this point. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant starts to brown nicely.  Add a little more olive oil if it starts to stick. Add the summer squash (and any other vegetables you’d like to throw in) and saute for another couple minutes.  Crank the heat up to high and get everything flaming hot for a couple seconds (purposely trying to get some slightly caramelized bits on the bottom of the pot) then quickly pour in the vodka to deglaze the pan.  Turn the heat to medium-low, and add the chopped tomatoes, basil, and chevre. If you want this to be a soup, you can add a couple cups of vegetable stock or water.  At this point, you just turn the heat to low and cook it until it’s the consistency that you want.  It will probably need to cook for at least an hour on low heat to get the flavors tasting really awesome.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve… over rice/noodles/polenta/in a bowl/whatever makes you happy.

A note about tomato skins: I never peel tomatoes.  I also don’t peel carrots, potatoes, or cucumbers.  I really think the skin on heirlooms is so delicate that it’s not worth the time it takes to get it off. If you hate skin, though, feel free to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then core them and dice them.

Shells with Roasted Summer Squash, Queso Fresco and Basil

I used to think that summer squash was gross and boring. I didn’t understand the point.  It’s not like a carrot, you know? Or a tomato.  They can kind of just be…. there, these bland tasting monstrous green things that you find hiding under huge leaves in the garden.

Over the years, though, I started discovering all these beautiful varieties of summer squash, and it completely changed my feelings about this bountiful summer vegetable.  Some of my favorites are the luminous, pale green Benning’s Green Tint Scallop from Baker Creek Seeds,  and the charming yellow and green Zephyr from Johnny’s Seeds.

My favorite squash recipe of the moment is this lightened up, summery mac and cheese.  It comes together incredibly quickly, and I really can’t get enough of this flavor combination- the nutty roasted squash, tangy queso fresco, and bright fresh basil are perfect for a hot summer night.  Of course, there’s plenty of room for playing around here; you could toss in a handful of kalamata olives, some diced heirloom tomatoes, a few leaves of kale, or some garbanzo beans.

… by the way, I end up never sharing my fresh recipes because come dinner time I don’t bother taking enough pictures to feel like it should go on the internet.   Maybe one day I’ll get around to taking a bunch of beautiful food-porny pictures of pasta and squash, but I didn’t want to wait until then to share this recipe with you.   It’s too good.

Shells with Roasted Summer Squash, Queso Fresco and Basil

Cook Time: 1 hr. (but only about 10 minutes of active cook time)

Serves: oh… 8-10?  The leftovers are great and will hold for several days in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • 10 small to medium sized summer squash, preferably an assortment of at least two varieties, but the more the merrier.
  • 1 large onion, cut in half and then sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. bag of small shell pasta
  • 24 oz. queso fresco*
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs – whatever kind you have on hand is fine
  • 1 c. fresh basil leaves – purple looks nice, if you can find that variety

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the squash into bite-sized pieces.  Put it in a 9×14″ glass casserole dish.  Combine with the sliced onion, minced garlic, olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about half an hour, or until the squash is cooked through and has nice spots of golden brown where it’s starting to caramelize.

Cook the bag of pasta. Drain, and stir into the roasted summer squash.  Crumble the queso fresco over the top of the pasta and squash.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of the cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil leaves.  You can leave them whole or slice them into thin strips.

*Queso Fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a wonderful light, tangy flavor that’s great for the hot summer months.  If you can’t find queso fresco, you could substitute any combination of mozzarella, ricotta, feta, or chevre.

Fermented Things

As you might remember, the May Cook It 2012 Project was to ferment something.  I made traditional napa cabbage kimchi, which was delicious and gone already (I need to fork over the big money for a crock, so I can make a huge batch!) So, before I post the recipe for these amazing canned brandied cherries that I can’t stop eating, I wanted to share these other projects from my fellow bloggers:

The Kitchen Ninja made these beautiful lacto-fermented dill pickles.  I’m so happy she made them since this is such a classic and delicious fermentation project.  The remoulade recipe included also looks pretty epic, and since I’m a fiend for a good po’boy I’m sure we’ll give this a try once the cucumbers come in.

There really is nothing quite as beautiful as a jar of pickles, right? (or a jar of canned apricots… or dilly beans.  Yes. Not only do I spend huge amounts of time photographing canned goods, I’m also actively aware of which canned goods I think are the most beautiful and interesting to photograph.)

Speaking of beautiful… that brings me to the lovely glowing bottles of fizzy homemade ginger beer from Homemade Trade. What a brilliant idea!

I basically read Aimee’s post and then ran to the store as fast as I could to buy a big huge piece of ginger so I could make the project myself.  Because, you know, one of the main things I’ve learned from the fermentation challenge was that it is so, so easy, so you might as well give it a try. There’s so little work involved, so few ingredients, and so little equipment.  Time is the only thing you really need…

(I really did go get ginger. My starter is just starting to fizz = so exciting I can barely deal with it)

Aimee and Ninj: always inspiring to read what you’re up to! such beautiful projects…

and to everyone else: Don’t forget, the June Cook it 2012 resolution is to make jam, so if you haven’t yet, go get yourself some fruit and get jamming.

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To be included in the jam round-up post, e-mail me a link to your post by July 15, 2012.  My e-mail is thejamgirl@gmail.com

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How To Preserve Radishes

I love spring salads with baby greens with thinly sliced radishes and mustard vinaigrette, and radishes are lovely roasted in the oven and tossed with brown butter.  Every spring, though, we always end up with a bit too much and I end up needing to preserve some for later to keep them from going in the compost.

Over the years, I’ve managed to find a few ways to preserve radishes, even though they’re not usually a vegetable that screams out for preservation.  Radishes are so delicate that one heat wave can ruin them – leave them in the garden a few days too long and they turn tough and spicy.  We try to pick them at their peak, when they’re small, crisp and sweet, and turn them into something tasty while they’re still perfect.  These preservation methods will help extend the season a little bit, so that you don’t have to figure out how to do crazy things like eat a whole bed of radishes in four days.

REFRIGERATOR PICKLES
Radishes make perfect pickles.  They’re so crunchy already, and when you put them in a brine in the fridge they’ll stay crisp for weeks.  Spiced with white wine, green garlic and fresh herbs from the spring garden, these pickles are savory and delicious.

PICKLED RADISHES

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 1 quart

Ingredients:

  • about 2 bunches of radishes
  • 1 c. pinot grigio
  • 1 c. white vinegar
  • 1 c. water
  • 3″ section of stem from green garlic  (or fresh garlic tops, or scapes would work too)
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 small sprig of fennel
  • 1 sprig marjoram
  • 1 sprig oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. whole black peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 tbs. kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tbs. sugar

In a nonreactive pot, combine all of the ingredients except the radishes.  Bring everything to a boil and then let it simmer for a five minutes to infuse the brine with the fresh herbs.  Turn off the heat and let cool until lukewarm.  Meanwhile, cut the radishes into smaller pieces.  Depending on the size and shape, you can cut them into halves, quarters, wedges or rounds (whatever makes you happy).  Pack the radishes into a clean quart jar.*  Remove the cooked herbs from the brine and discard.  Pour the brine over them.  Screw on the lid and store in the fridge for up to 1 month.  The radishes take about three days to taste properly pickled.As the radishes sit in the vinegar, the red from the outside of the roots will dye the whole thing a vibrant shade of hot pink.

NOTE: The fresh herbs that I used are entirely optional based on what I had in my garden. Feel free to switch things around based on what you have.

*Sterilize the jar to make the pickles last longer in the fridge.

RADISH BUTTER
This radish butter is so wonderful, such an elegant way to use ugly radishes that are split, cracked or were forgotten in the garden a few days too long.The technique is simple: Grate the radishes in a food processor and then mix them together with softened butter and fresh herbs.  The result is essentially the flavor of the whole spring garden in a compound butter, perfect for spreading on toasted sourdough bread.  This lasts for a week in the fridge, and we’ve had success freezing it for 1-2 months.

RADISH BUTTER

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Makes: 3 half pint jars

Ingredients:

  • about 16 radishes
  • 1 1/2 c. salted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tbs. chopped fresh marjoram
  • 1 tbs. thinly sliced garlic greens (from the growing tops of the garlic in the garden)
  • 2 tbs. chopped fennel fronds
  • fresh cracked black pepper

Grate the radishes in a food processor or on a manual grater.  Blot the mixture dry with a clean kitchen towel.  Add in the softened butter and the fresh herbs and mix until everything is thoroughly combined.  Season with fresh cracked black pepper to taste.

Paula Deen Would Be Proud Of Us

The time sure flies when you’re having fun…

So far, Cook it! 2012 has brought us all shapes and sizes of handmade pastas, a beautiful assortment of breads, and the most recent undertaking, fresh sweet butter.

Truly, nothing really says luxury like warm bread slathered with butter made from the best grass-fed cream.   I still haven’t found a local source for dairy other than the natural food store, but hopefully something will appear soon.

Or…

Maybe I need to get a cow?

Or a goat?

As usual, I loved reading the collection of everyone’s projects.  It is a constant inspiration to see the great things that other people are cooking.

Belated Bread and Butter, from Snowflake Kitchen: a touching post about making bread and butter as kitchen therapy during sad times.

Butter, and Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes with Garlic Shrimp, from Homemade Trade:  Aimee, you had me at mashed yukon gold potatoes with fresh buttermilk.  That should be a food group all to itself.

Buttermaking, from Oh Briggsy: green garlic compound butter sounds like something I could eat on pretty much everything.  More importantly, this post managed to find the theme song for the March challenge: C.R.E.A.M., from the Wu Tang Clan.  (In case you don’t have it on your iPod already, it stands for “Cash Rules Everything Around Me,” which is perfect since making good butter requires the best quality cream, which really does involve shelling out the big money.  Nice song choice, Briggsy…)

Calendula Butter, from Bunchberry Farm and Dogwood Designs:  Lots of nice ideas for using calendula in this post, including a charming calendula butter.   (Scones + calendula butter + jam =  sure sounds good to me)

Homemade Butter and Buttermilk Rum Pound Cake, from Adventures of the Kitchen Ninja: that pound cake looks divine, and that stoneware bundt pan that you scored for free at the dump? I’m jealous.

(On How Not To) Make Butter, from Grow and Resist: My favorite part of this post is that me and Meg’s four year old had the exact same thought process.  Shaking the cream in a jar = boring.  KitchenAid mixer = powerful superior technology.  You could have had the exact same shot of me dumping the jar of cream into the mixer….
And with that, we move on to the April project: cheese!

Happy cooking, everyone…

Cook it! 2012 April Resolution: Make Fresh Cheese

A lot of people already know how to do this.  A lot of people have also blogged about it too.  I don’t really care, though, because this is the very first time ever that I made this, and I bet there are a lot of people out there reading this that haven’t done this project either.

This month’s cook it 2012 project is fast, easy, and cheap, and aren’t those really the ideal qualities in a good cooking project? (I suppose they can also be the ideal qualities in several other situations, like dates and dentist appointments).

It really is exciting to do a project that only takes about fifteen minutes, costs under $5, turns out completely delicious and makes you feel like some kind of magical food wizard while you’re at it.  

APRIL COOK IT! 2012 RESOLUTION: MAKE FRESH CHEESE

So, I’m calling this fresh ricotta cheese, but that’s not quite accurate.  If I understand correctly, there are a whole family of cheeses that are made by heating up milk, adding acid to separate the curds and whey and then draining off the whey to leave behind the curds (the cheese!).  Technically, real ricotta isn’t made using milk, it’s made using whey.  I’ll be giving that process a try this month too, but since they don’t sell whey at the farmers market or the grocery store I had to start with this.  The cheese that this recipe makes can be used as cottage cheese, ricotta cheese, queso fresco, paneer, and probably some other ones that I don’t know about since I’m no cheese expert….  Whatever you want to call it, this cheese is wonderful used as ricotta in Italian dishes, served with sliced fruit and honey for breakfast, mixed with fresh herbs, pepper and fancy olive oil and eaten on crackers, and a whole realm of other sweet and savory applications.  All you need to get started is milk, cheesecloth and acid.  For the acid you can either use white vinegar, lemon juice or buttermilk.   I used lemon juice, which works great but does leave a lemony flavor behind, so I’ll probably use vinegar next time.  Use the best milk you can find/afford, making sure that it’s not ultra-pasteurized.  I tried a batch with goat milk and another batch with Strauss Organic cow milk.  Both batches turned out great, but I actually preferred the flavor of the goat milk version (because I am a major fiend for goat cheese). Goat milk is always a nice option for people who don’t do well with lactose, and  I’ve also heard that if you  consume goat milk from goats who have been eating poison oak leaves in their diet, it can improve your immune response to poison oak (note: you have to consume the goat products first, before you’re exposed, not after you’ve already gotten the rash).  To make the cheese, heat up the milk to 180 degrees.  Serious Eats has a recipe for five minute microwave ricotta, but I did it the old-school way on the stove.  If you have an instant read thermometer, it helps, but you’ll know it’s time to add the acid when the milk comes to a simmer and starts looking frothy.  Pour in a couple tablespoons of your acid, either lemon juice or vinegar, cook the milk for another minute or two and keep stirring, and you’ll see the curds and whey magically separate. At this point, you pour the separated milk through cheesecloth to strain out the curds.  Different recipes have different times for how long to leave everything draining, but it really depends on your preference and what you’re using it for.  I only left mine to drain for a couple minutes because I wanted it to stay fairly spreadable.  If you were making something like paneer, an Indian cheese used similarly to tofu in lots of different curries, you drain it longer and then press it so that it can be sliced into pieces.  (Can you imagine? Homemade paneer tikka masala? Oh my goodness…)Fresh Ricotta Cheese

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Makes: about a cup

Ingredients:

  • 1 quart of whole milk
  • about 2 tbs. lemon juice or white vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. sea salt

Heat up the milk in a pot on the stove.  Add the salt.  When the milk is simmering or reads 180 on a thermometer, stir in the lemon juice or vinegar.  (I didn’t really measure so much as pour a few splashes of lemon juice into the pot while the milk was simmering.  If you stir for a minute and let the milk keep simmering, the curds will separate.)  Pour into a colander lined with a couple layers of cheesecloth to drain.  I thought the cheese came out the best when I let it drain for about five minutes.  You can eat the cheese warm or chill it for later.  The cheese will firm up more in the fridge, where it can be stored for about two days.

I highly recommend mixing the warm cheese with the best olive oil you have, fresh herbs, sliced scallions, salt and pepper and eating it on crackers (especially if you’re tired after a long day of work and want to sit down, have a cocktail and a small bite to eat, then it’s really great).

If you don’t want to eat it right away, though, you can always do something crazy like make lasagna:I never use a recipe for lasagna since it’s more fun to raid the garden, the pantry and the freezer for whatever things you want to be in the layers.  Yesterday we happened to have some good looking spinach and spring onions in the garden…so that turned into one layer, and then I had a pack of ground veal from Owen Family Farms — humanely raised, pastured veal! — that was in the freezer, so I threw together a veal ragu for another layer.  I cooked the veal in some of the leftover whey along with red wine, canned tomatoes, onions, carrots, fresh oregano and parsley.  And then, this is a trick that j. taught me when I complained that I hate ricotta cheese long ago, you gotta fancy up that cheese a bit before it goes in the lasagna. I used the batch of cow milk ricotta for the lasagna, which was the yield from one half gallon of milk, and it was just enough to do a medium sized casserole dish.  If you want to have a big casserole or a really thick layer, you should definitely use a whole gallon of milk so you get more ricotta cheese.  To make your ricotta layer tasty and packed with flavor, throw the ricotta into the food processor with an egg or two, some garlic powder, chopped parsley or scallions and a pinch of salt and pepper.  It will be far superior to those bland lasagnas with a layer of mushy, flavorless grocery store ricotta cheese.

and then, you know, you just do the lasagna thing: and then pop that baby in the oven until it’s bubbly and delicious looking.

(Yeah, I know that I usually preach the gospel of fresh pasta with 100% local semolina flour, and those are obviously not fresh pasta noodles, but fresh pasta is not usually a project to do after you’ve already been up for many hours and worked the farmers market and your feet are so sore.  Gotta be realistic here).

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If you want to cook along, e-mail me, thejamgirl@gmail.com, a link to the url of your post by May 15, 2012 to be included in the round-up post.

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I can’t believe I made cheese and it was that easy.  I hope you give it a try too!