A few posts ago, I lamented the end of a majority of the farmers markets in the DC metro area. I mentioned the names of markets I believed were still going to be open during the leaner Winter months. In response, someone told me about the Takoma Park Farmers Market. Honestly, I knew nothing about this market or its hours, so I did a bit of searching online. I found out it wasn't too far from Shaw and it was open on Sundays. So last Sunday, I headed out to take a look at what the market had to offer.
It was cold...not just a little cold but COLD. Vendors were huddled into their jackets, dressed up like Ralphie's little brother from A Christmas Story. Immediately when I walked into the market were several large tables filled with apples, carrots, potatoes, Winter squashes and various other fruits and vegetables. One of the people at the stand was explaining the "Seconds" boxes of carrots and onions to an older woman.
"These look a bit sad," she said, fingering the carrots.
"Well that's why they're called seconds. They're still good but they just look a little funny," he responded.
"Well, they're on sale, so I'll take 'em. Who cares what they look like when you cut 'em up and put 'em in a roast.”
These are the exchanges I love at markets. Not just the obviously odd comments about the aesthetic quality of the produce, but the exchange between farmer and consumer. Try asking the produce employee at Safeway about the quality of the carrots in their department. I picked up both yellow and orange carrots (not from the "seconds" bin mind you) and both a red and yellow onion and continued through the market.
I have been looking for a local farmer that sells milk straight from the farm for a while. Imagine my surprise to find one right there! J. Wens Farms and Dairy sells whole milk, heavy creams and various other flavored milks (including chocolate). They also usually sell eggs and cheeses but none were out during my visit. There was quite a crowd around their table the entire time I was at the market, so I wasn't able to get anything from them this trip. I do, however, plan on going back and buying some of their milk and heavy cream for my baking (I see more scones in my future).
As I was walking away from the J. Wens Farms and Dairy stand, I stumbled upon Smith Meadows Farm. I had always bought meat from the grocery store before I moved to DC (there are not a lot of farmers markets to choose from in Charlotte, NC). My very first experience with local raised meats was Cibola Farms from the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. Since then, I always try to get my meats straight from the farms.
Smith Meadows also had a great selection of poultry (including whole young chickens), beef, pork, eggs, lamb and veal. After speaking briefly with one of the employees at the stand, I learned they raise their animals in a free-range environment free of chemicals. Their small table sign summed up their philosophy best: "to raise animals in a healthy, environmentally sustainable manner." I had never cooked with lamb before, so I picked up a package of their ground lamb on a whim.
I was pleased as punch to see Keswick Dairy at the market. I was also quite surprised considering I also knew they had a stand at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sunday. According to the poor woman standing in the bristling cold at the stand, Keswick runs several stands on Sunday at various markets in the DC area. Keswick also sells some of their cheeses through local CSAs, including mine, Star Hollow Farm. As always, there was a nice selection of flavors of feta, so I opted for the Italian Herb one, not having a clue as to what I was going to do with it. In fact, it's still in my refrigerator waiting for me to decide its fate (and it's still just as fresh). I was also pleasantly surprised to see Atwater Bakery, one of my absolute favorite vendors at Dupont Circle, at Takoma Park. I am addicted to their 10 Grain Bread (so much so, I am feverishly trying to recreate it at home), so it's nice to know I have more than one location to get my fix.
A beautiful display of greenery caught my eye as I was heading down the aisles of the market. I sauntered over, with the intent of only looking and taking a few photographs. Chesapeake Greenhouse had a good variety of lettuces and green mixes, the most prominent being their Boston lettuce. Their sign proudly stated "locally grown, pesticide free", two of my favorite phrases in the world of farmers markets. I asked for a bag of the Mesculin mix, even though I was very tempted by the vibrant and crisp looking Boston lettuce.
Before heading home, I couldn't help but stop by a stand filled with all manner of baked goods. There were scones, croissants, huge pies, granolas and various strudels, ot name just a few of their items. Everything looked so good, but I wasn't sure if it was because they really were that tasty or if I was suffering from "hungry man eyes" (you know the phenomenon...everything looks as if Julia Child herself made it because you're starving). All of these goodies belonged to Takoma Kitchens, a bakery in Hyattsville. Their Rich Cream scones looked thick and flaky but still sturdy enough to endure multiple dunks in milk (if you're into that sort of thing) and their breads looked just as good as Atwaters. But what really caught my eye were their selection of empanadas (beef, chicken and vegetable). I am of Hispanic descent, so I know my empanadas…and love them dearly when done properly. That, however, is the key: when done properly. I was skeptical that a bakery could really make a flavorful empanada, but opted to give it a chance. I bought the beef empanada and was surprised to find that it was actually rather tasty (not as good as what my family could make, but still quite good). The dough was sturdy enough to handle all of the filling but still tender. And the beef was nicely seasoned, although not too spicy (some prefer their empanadas to cause their taste buds to melt off...I am not one of these people). Even better? Their beef came from their stand neighbors, Smith Meadows Farm!
I decided to use the lamb in a rustic pot pie I had formulating in my head that weekend. It was cold outside and I could think of nothing better to counter the weather than a hearty pie filled with meat and veggies. I opted to forgo a regular pie crust and to instead try phyllo dough. You can call it lazy but I will call it culinary innovation.
Lamb Pot Pie
1 lb ground lamb
3 large carrots, diced
1/2 lb potatoes, cubed into bite sized pieced
1 large onion, diced
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups chicken stock
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup all purpose flour
10 sheets phyllo dough
1 egg and 1 tablespoon of water for egg wash
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9 inch pie pan and set it aside.
Brown the ground lamb over medium high heat until cooked through. Drain it out and set it aside. In a clean pan, melt three tablespoons of the butter over medium heat and add the carrots and potatoes first. Cook for a few minutes before adding the onions and continue cooking until the vegetables have softened. Add the broth and the heavy cream and continue stirring. Slowly add in the flour and stir to ensure no lumps form. Continue to cook until the mixture thickens and then add salt and pepper to taste. Add in the cooked lamb and stir until it's evenly distributed throughout the vegetable mixture. Remove from the heat.
Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and with a pastry brush, thinly paint a sheet of the phyllo dough. Place another sheet over the buttered sheet and continue this process until five sheets are stacked together. Place this stack in the bottom of the pie pan. Cut off any excess that hangs too far over the pie pan. Repeat this process again with the remaining five sheets, forming the top crust. Spoon the lamb and vegetable mixture evenly onto the phyllo dough. Place the top crust over the mixture, tucking the dough into the mixture (so an indention is formed around the pie). Again, cut off any excess dough that hangs too far over the pan. Using the cleaned pastry brush, brush the top of the pie with the egg wash. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the pie is golden brown and puffed up.
The Takoma Park Farmers Market is located at the corner of Laurel and Carroll Avenue in Takoma Park, Maryland. The market is open every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm, year round.