Summer Squash Tart

Small Market Offerings Sign Although farmers markets have been open in the DC area for months now, until recently most of them were still the same size as the Winter markets.  As the weather warms up, however, more and more markets have started expanding in size, offering a wider variety of produce.  One such example of this is the Bloomingdale Farmers Market.  I headed over there on opening day back in May and was a little disappointed to see only a handful of vendors and not a lot of variety.  I returned last Sunday after hearing Garner’s Produce would be selling both English peas and squash blossoms, two things I’ve been dying to get my greedy little hands on this Spring.  Because my previous attempts to get English peas were thwarted, I got up early to ensure I was at Bloomingdale right when the market bell rang.  We arrived at the market about ten minutes before opening, so I decided to roam around and take some pictures before the rush of shoppers hit.  I was quite happy to see a few more stands, giving the market a larger feel. 

While Bloomingdale isn’t as large as Dupont Circle (truthfully, few markets in the DC area are), it has grown since last season.  The market has added several new vendors this season, including Stefano’s wonderful jams and pastas at The Copper Pot.  Bloomingdale has also partnered this year with Common Good City Farm, formerly the 7th Street Garden, a non-profit urban garden that provides fresh produce to low income DC residents and an opportunity for urbanites to flex their gardening muscle (in the spirit of full disclosure, I guess I should mention I recently started volunteering for Common Good City Farm).  Not only does Common Good City Farm sell their produce, herbs and plants at Bloomingdale (with proceeds going towards their workshops and programs), they are also going to be performing cooking demonstrations throughout the market season.  I was also very happy to see that Truck Patch had also been added to the Bloomingdale line up.  This gives Bloomingdale another meat vendor (they sell a variety of beef and pork products) and another purveyor of produce (they sell a variety of greens, among other things).  Truck Patch also sells at both the Mount Pleasant and 14th & U farmers markets on Saturdays.  They have quickly become one of my favorite stops for my salad greens and grilling meats (oh yes, Drew isn’t the only one around here fond of a grill). 

Small Strawberries and Plants While it was nice to see some familiar faces from other markets, I was excited to see a vendor completely new to me – SnowBear Farm.  SnowBear Farm is located in Round Hill, Virginia and is fairly new to the DC farmers market scene.  SnowBear is a small, certified naturally grown vegetable farm that uses no pesticides or chemicals on their crops.  I hadn’t heard the term “certified naturally grown” before but learned it’s a certification very similar to being certified naturally organic by the federal government.  Because of the high costs associated with becoming certified naturally organic, more and more smaller farms are getting certification through the certified naturally grown organization.  Certified Naturally Grown holds its farmers to the same organic farming method standards as the federal government and performs the same stringent farm visits and tests to ensure all certified farms are adhering to the guidelines.  This gives smaller farms the ability to assure its customers of their farming practices without placing undue financial hardship on them.  Certified Naturally Grown is a non-profit organization that depends heavily on volunteers and donations to keep their operation running and it’s been very successful thus far.  SnowBear Farm, run by the Dunlap family, had a nice selection of different greens, spring onions, scallions and radishes to name just a few of their offerings.  They also had plantings for herbs and tomatoes, for those still thinking about a garden for the Spring. 

Small Squash Blossoms I had never been to Bloomingdale at the opening of the market, so I was surprised to hear a booming voice at 10 am sharp announcing the start of the market.  Something of a town crier, the gentleman proudly announced the addition of Truck Patch to Bloomingdale and let shoppers know of produce new to the market that week.  I should have listened more carefully, but I was dead seat on getting my peas and squash blossoms.  So I hightailed it straight over to Garner’s Produce only to find that my boyfriend had already gotten a container of the peas and squash blossoms for me.  Delighted, I turned my eye to the mound of mini Summer squashes on display at Garner’s.  I got a bag and started throwing in mini squashes, zucchinis, patty pans and whatever else I could get my hands on.  While waiting in line to pay, I saw some lovely stalks of asparagus that were begging to be bought.  I added them to our pile, thinking I could do an asparagus and pea salad for a light side dish.  At the front of the line, I was greeted with a pyramid of rainbow chard, beets and spring onions.  I was tempted to pick up a bunch of the rainbow chard, but surprisingly exercised restraint (considering I already was weighted down with vegetables, I figured I should stop myself).

Small Bovre So I had squash blossoms but I had no idea what I was going to do with them.  I had recently watched a certain celebrity chef on the Food Network stuff them and deep fry them but I didn’t like the stuffing she used.  While looking over the cheeses at Keswick, it hit me that one of them would probably work in the squash blossoms.  Since I wasn’t sure which one to use, I asked Sandy Miller which cheese she would recommend for the squash blossoms.  She immediately pointed out the herbes de provence Bovre cheese, a soft cheese, similar to a goat cheese, infused with (as the name suggests) fresh herbs.  She told me the cheese would work well stuffed into the blossoms and lightly fried.  I ended up talking a bit with Sandy and that’s when I learned she used to be a food writer for the L.A. Times (can we say “Stephanie’s dream job”) and a chef in California.  Frustrated with having to hunt down quality produce and meats, she decided to take up farming herself.  The result is the Painted Hand Farm, which raises veal and goat in a humane fashion.  Sandy mans both the Keswick stand and her own Painted Hand Farm stand, which sells a variety of veal and goat products, along with free range eggs.  Before bidding Sandy adieu, I picked up a half pound of Keswick’s lovely whole milk ricotta. 

Small Radishes Just as I was about to leave the market, I ran into Robin Shuster, the Bloomingdale market manager.  She was quite excited to tell me about the new market ATM program at Bloomingdale.  Located right at the entrance of the market, the ATM program allows shoppers to swipe their ATM cards and receive a $5 wooden token that can be used at any time during the market season.  Although a small fee is assessed, that fee is used to help fund the Bloomingdale farmers market EBT program (a program that makes fresh, quality produce available to all DC residents, regardless of their income level).  So instead of the ATM fee going to the bank, it goes to help bring nutritious meal options to those who may otherwise not be able to afford it.  I had read about the program in the Washington Post, but didn’t realize it was being implemented at Bloomingdale as well.  Weighed down with produce and information, I headed home to tackle the Summer squash tart I was mulling over all week.

New produce seen around the markets:

•    Hakurei Turnips
•    Bok Choi
•    Cherries (first seen on Thursday at Penn Quarter)
•    Green tomatoes (I’m from the South, so I had to mention them)

In case you’re wondering what Hakurei turnips are, don’t fret!  I will have more information about them next week and a recipe to boot (unless my fanciful recipe idea is a huge failure). 

Small Summer Squash Tart Summer Squash Tart

3 cups Summer squash (feel free to mix in different varieties), sliced
1 package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1/2 pound whole milk ricotta
2 tablespoons Bovre (or a similar herbed soft cheese)
1 eg
2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg, lightly beaten with a tablespoon of water for an egg wash

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly grease a removable bottom round tart pan.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat.  Add the squash and salt and pepper it to your liking.  Sauté the squash until soft, about 7 to 10 minutes.  Remove the squash from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Roll out the puff pastry until it’s the width of a pie crust shell.  Place it over the tart pan and mold it to the bottom and sides of the pan.  Trim off the excess puff pastry.  Brush the pastry with the egg wash and set it aside.

In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, Bovre, egg and parmesan cheese.  Depending on the flavor of the herbed soft cheese you use, you can either add salt and pepper to taste or not.  Because the Bovre is such a flavorful cheese, I did not add any additional salt and pepper.  Evenly spread this mixture over the puff pastry.  Top the cheese mixture with the squash, evenly placing the vegetables over the cheese.  Place the pastry pan on a larger baking sheet and bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool to room temperature before slicing up the tart and serving it.

The Bloomingdale Farmers Market is located on 1st and R Street NW in DC and is held on Sundays from 10 am to 2 pm.

Foggy Bottom Farmers Market

Fresh Farm Market Sign On Wednesday, I hopped on the metro after work and headed over to the Foggy Bottom Farmers Market.  I had heard both good and bad things about this particular market, with some people saying their prices were very reasonable while others said the vendors were rude and standoffish.  I had also read one of my favorite vendors, Cavanna Pasta, sold at Foggy Bottom and I needed a fix of their porcini mushroom ragu.  The market is located directly at the metro station, beyond the quaint wrought iron gates that flank the atrium.  As I walked closer to the market, I could tell it was one of the smaller FreshFarm markets.  I could only see about a half dozen or so tents, one of which was the familiar Atwater's bread display (seriously, are these guys everywhere????).  I also noticed there wasn't an ATM near the market, which annoyed me just a little.  I have a theory about a good farmers market location:  it's near an ATM (because who carries cash around anymore).  I had to walk around Foggy Bottom until I finally hit upon a Bank of America and then head back to the farmers market. 

I glanced over at the Atwater's tent, but didn't linger since we already had a loaf of multi-grain bread from Panorama.  Instead, I headed straight for a table overflowing it seemed with asparagus, spring onions, tomatoes, new potatoes (some of the first I have seen at the markets this year) and strawberries.  There were three employees standing behind the table, conversing with each other but ignoring the customers milling about.  I didn't see a sign indicating the name of the farm nor any information about their farming practices.  I was about to ask one of the employees a question when two of them walked away from the table (I assumed to go back to their truck).  The remaining employee was helping another woman, so I headed in that direction.  While waiting to ask about their farm, I noticed they had beets and radishes.  These were some of the first rather large stalks of beets I'd seen for the season.  Their stalk greens were large and vibrant while the beets were a Radishes perfect size for slicing.  I was just about to pick up a bunch when I overheard the employee rather rudely tell the lady in front of me "Well do you want these or not" in an exasperated tone.  When she still seemed to be deciding, he threw down the bag of tomatoes and walked away.  She looked dumbfounded by his behavior, as was I.  Admittedly I hadn't been paying attention to the conversation before that scene, but his response was brusque to say the least.  When another person tried to ask how much the asparagus was (there wasn't a sign), the employee snapped and said "There's a sign over there", pointing to a sign nowhere near the asparagus.  He gruffly rung up another customer, throwing her strawberries in a bag without any care and then turned his back away from the table.  Even though I was more than hesitant to speak with him, I still wanted to know the name of the vendor and at least if they used chemicals in their farming practices.  I went over to where he stood and said "Hello", trying to get his attention.  Nothing.  I repeated my greeting, adding "Can I ask a question please?".  Nothing.  I tried one more time only to be greeted by him walking to the other side of the table to move around some of the radish bunches.  I'm not sure if the employee was overwhelmed or just having a bad day, but his behavior left a bad taste in my mouth.  Although I wanted to get some beets and strawberries (both of which looked beautiful), I opted against it and kept on. 

Meat Vendor Sign I needed some eggs, so I was happy to see a small table with cartons of them lining the front.  I stopped by and the lady manning the tent said "Hello".  Considering my previous experience, I was quite happy to respond enthusiastically to her greeting.  I learned the vendor, Haskins Family Farm, was new to Foggy Bottom and they were based in Middletown, Virginia. They specialize in poultry, heritage turkeys and some pork products.  Their animals are raised humanely and are not given antibiotics, hormones or specialized (read engineered for growth enhancement) feeds.   Like more and more smaller farms in the Mid-Atlantic region, Haskins Family Farm isn't certified organic but uses organic and sustainable methods in their farming practices.  She said they also have a small orchard and sometimes sell the fruits from that as well.  They sold both whole young chickens, as well as the various parts one expects to be able to buy (although I wasn't aware chicken necks were so popular).  She also had a good selection of pork products, including sausages (hot, sweet and breakfast), ground pork and bacon.  Since I was planning on picking up most of my meats from Red Apron at Penn Quarter the next day, I decided not to get anything but the eggs from Haskins.  She told me I could bring back the carton next time I came to the market since they encourage their customers to reuse them.  A line was starting to form behind me, so I thanked her for talking with me and left with my eggs. 

Cavana Biscotti Cavanna Pasta was right next to Haskins, so I stopped to see what they had.  The lady at the stand immediately remembered me from my trips to the Arlington Farmers Market.  "You're the camera girl", she said smiling.  I nodded, lifting up my camera to show her she was right.  I told her I knew I wanted three containers of their fettuccine but I wasn't sure what else I might want.  She told me to take my time perusing the list of products on the table.  This is when I also noticed a rather colorfully decorated box of baked goods on the table.  Apparently Cavanna makes biscotti...who knew.  She offered me a taste and although I'm not really a fan of biscotti, it was pretty good.  The mocha biscotti had a bit of a crunch to it, but I assume that's perfect for dunking into coffee.  I asked her for a tub of their porcini ragu and she shook her head.  "They don't let me bring that here," she responded.  Because the porcinis used in the ragu are imported from Italy and not from a local vendor, FreshFarm doesn't allow Cavanna to sell it at their markets.  She assured me the porcinis they use are grown without pesticides or chemicals; they just prefer the richer taste of the Italian porcinis for their ragus.  Since I have been lucky enough to cook with Italian import porcinis, I completely understood Cavanna's preference for them.  They have a deeper, stronger earthiness than any other porcini I have ever tasted and I now understood why I so loved Cavanna's sauce.  She told me to come out to Arlington and stock up on the porcini because it freezes and reheats nicely.  I decided to pick up one of their raviolis as well, asking her for a recommendation.  She pulled out their Pansoti ravioli, filled with ricotta, parmesan and spinach, telling me it was a simple but delicious pasta.  "It works with any sauce, but it also tastes just as good with a sprinkling of parmesan over it," she told me.  I added that to my fettuccine purchase, thanked her and headed on.

Tomatoes I saw other familiar faces, including Chris's Marketplace and Quaker Valley Farm but the market was rather small.  This was definitely a neighborhood market, meant for quick pick ups of fresh produce, meats and bread for mid-week needs. Except for the first vendor (whose name I'm still not 100% sure of and I don't want to speculate and get it wrong), everyone else at the market was friendly.  I did notice that the prices at that first vendor seemed a little higher than at other markets (more in line with Dupont Circle prices), but the other vendors' prices were the same as at other markets.  I left having only picked up a few items, knowing I could pick up whatever else I needed at Penn Quarter the next day.  I ended up getting some lovely beets and salad greens, which I combined with some Cherry Glen Monocacy Silver goat cheese and walnuts I picked up from 14th & U farmers market to create a great seasonal salad. 

Because this is the beginning of the Spring and Summer big harvests, I thought it would help to let everyone know what's new around the markets.  Each week I'll end the posts with a list of new items I've seen in the last week or so.  I have decided to cleverly call it:

New produce seen around the markets:  

  • Red potatoes
  • Mini Summer Squashes (including Patty Pan, Zucchini and Yellow Squashes)
  • Squash Blossoms
  • Peas (both English and Snow)
  • Garlic Scapes (first ones spotted at Penn Quarter last week)

In the coming weeks, I will have recipe ideas for the Summer squashes and their blossoms!

Beet, Goat Cheese and Candied Walnut Salad
(adapted from Allrecipes)

4 medium beets
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 pound mixed baby salad greens
2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Beet, Goat Cheese and Candied Walnut SaladRemove the beet bulbs from their stalk (save the greens - they make an excellent pesto), trim them and scrub them.  Cut them in half and place them in a medium sized pot.  Fill the pot with enough water to cover the beets and bring them to a boil.  Cook them for 25 to 35 minutes or until they are tender.  Drain and allow them to cool.  Once cool, slice them (not too thin but not too thick either) and set aside.

Put parchment paper over a large plate.  Place a small skillet over medium heat and add the walnuts.  Continually shaking the skillet over the heat, toast the walnuts for about 4 minutes.  Add the syrup and using a spatula, coat the walnuts.  Quickly pour the walnuts out onto the parchment paper, spreading them out.  It's important not to allow walnuts to clump together or they will dry like that.  Allow to cool.

Rinse off the salad greens and divide them among four plates.  Top with the the sliced beets, goat cheese and walnuts. 

You can top the salad with a simple vinaigrette, but I simply reduced down the liquid from the beets and drizzled this on top of the salad.  This salad goes great with the aforementioned pesto, which I would have photographed had my boyfriend not devoured it.

The Foggy Bottom Farmers Market is located on I Street between New Hampshire and 24th Street in Northwest DC and is open every Wednesday from 2:30 to 7 pm.

The Perpetual Grill: Leg of lamb, charred garlic and onions, and berry cobbler

Image019 Monday was Memorial Day, the official start of the grilling season, blah, blah, blah. Naturally, food writers across the land responded in kind. You couldn't open a newspaper, thumb through a magazine, or log onto a food-related Website last week without learning how to grill a hamburger or skewer zucchini.

Well, here at D.C. Foodies, we know that grilling isn't a seasonal pursuit. That's why we bring you the grilling knowledge all year long.

As long as we have fire, we will grill.

The warmer weather did, however, give me the opportunity to break in my new backyard. The missus and I certainly enjoyed living on Capitol Hill, but our tiny apartment wasn't much for entertaining (though that never stopped us). I was lucky enough to have a small patio for my charcoal grill, but now I have land for my gas and charcoal equipment to roam. Hell yeah.

For my inaugural backyard soirée, I went big: leg of lamb on a spit, charred scallions and young garlic, homemade tzatziki, and mixed berry cobbler on the grill. To drink, I picked up a few six packs of Duck-Rabbit, one of North Carolina's many great breweries finally making their way into our area.

I was particularly excited about the lamb. It's one of my favorite meats and perfect for grilling. Consequently, it graced the grates of my old Weber many, many times, many, many ways: chops, steaks, kabobs and butterflied leg. Thanks to my new gas grill, I can now add rotisserie to the list.

Honestly, I don't know if there's a prettier sight than five pounds boneless leg of lamb slowly turning and sweating on a grill. (Decadent tip: Rather than loose all that luscious lamb fat, stick a pan of potatoes underneath the meat. Roasted potatoes in lamb fat -- come on people, what more can I do for you?)
As for the vegetables, I snagged a couple bunches of young garlic. They're in season and tasted great when I grilled them with the smoked pork chops a couple weeks back. I also grabbed few bundles of green onions.

By the way, if you're not grilling green onions, start. The heat cools the onion's bite, leaving you with a mild, sweet treat. Add a little salt, chunky black pepper and olive oil, and your day is going right. I find an excuse to throw on a few scallions nearly every time I light the grill.

The dessert, a berry cobbler, is a classic outdoor dish, as it can be done on a grill or campfire. Peaches also work here, but I'm not a fan and berries are in season. Just to be fancy (and because it's good), I finished the dessert with crème fraîche ice cream, and a drizzle of honey and balsamic vinegar.

And then there was the beer. I was pretty psyched when I heard Duck-Rabbit found its way up here. I used to live in Chapel Hill and am a big fan of the North Carolina brewing scene. Duck-Rabbit is certainly one of the better beers produced in the Tar Heel state, but there are many more and a few better ones. Hopefully, breweries like Big Boss, French Broad and Carolina Brewing will follow Duck-RImage043abbit north. 

For those of you going to Savor this week, swing by the Foothills table. You'll be glad you did  (especially if they bring their Seeing Double IPA). The Winston-Salem brewery might be producing the best beer in North Carolina and some of the best brews in the country. And if you want to check out a couple other North Carolina beers, you can find Highland and Carolina Beer Company at Total Wine, and occasionally in Greg Jasgur's always surprising beer lineup at Birreria Paradiso. If you're looking for Duck-Rabbit, I found it on tap at Rustico and RFD, and in the bottle at Whole Foods and Galaxy Hut.

So as your friends and neighbors are getting the rust off their grills and grilling skills to burn a few hot dogs, bust out a fat lamb leg and show them that for a few of us, the grilling season never ends.

Rotisserie lamb, grilled garlic and onions, and berry cobbler
(Makes 8 servings)

For the lamb and vegetablesImage025
1 5 lb. lamb leg, butterflied and tied
2 bundles of spring onions (about 8 onions a bundle)
2 bundles of young garlic (about 8 garlic stalks a bundle)
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup of fresh rosemary
1/4 cup of tarragon
3 tbs. oregano
1 clove of garlic, minced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

For the tzatziki
1 16 oz container of Greek yogurt, plain
1/2 English cucumber, seeded and diced
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tbs. of dill
1 garlic clove, minced finely
Kosher salt to taste

For the berry cobbler
4 pints of blueberries
2 pints of raspberries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 tbs. lemon juice
3 biscotti cookies (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
Pinch of salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch pieces

The night before, marinate the lamb and prepare the tzatziki. For the lamb, coat the meat in olive oil and cover with the tarragon, three quarters of the rosemary, and the pepper. Because salt will draw moisture out of the meat, don't add any until you put the lamb on the grill. Cover with plastic wrap and stick it in the refrigerator. For the tzatziki, combine the ingredients in a bowl and taste. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.

Image010 When you're ready to start grilling, pull the lamb out of the refrigerator so it can lose some of the chill and generously sprinkle with salt. Light the grill and skewer the lamb. Once the lamb has had 30 minutes to warm up, place the spit on the grill, start the rotisserie and close the lid. If you like your lamb rare, it'll need an hour and a half with the rotisserie burner set to about medium heat. For more well done, shoot for two hours and an internal temperature of about 170 degrees.

In a bowl, combine the remaining oil and rosemary with the garlic, oregano and pepper. Baste the lamb leg with this sauce every 15 minutes.

As the lamb cooks, prepare the cobbler. Place the berries in a large mixing bowl and add the sugar, flour, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Gently toss, making sure not to crush the berries. Carefully move the mixture into a cast iron pan -- or a baking pan you're comfortable using on the grill -- that's been oiled

For the topping, combine the biscotti, flour, brown sugar in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it's reduced to a coarse powder. Add in the butter and the salt, and pulse again. Spoon this mixture on top of the berries.

Image051 If you're using the same grill the lamb is cooking on, you'll have to bake the cobbler while the lamb leg rests. If you have a couple grills at your disposal, go ahead and throw the cobbler on. Whether you're using gas or charcoal, you'll want to cook the cobbler with the lid down for 40 minutes using indirect heat.

When the lamb is done, remove it from the grill, but not the spit, and let it rest for 20 to 30 minutes under a piece of aluminum foil. As it rests, brush the garlic and onions with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss on the grill for about four minutes per side, or until they pick up a nice char. You can also toss on a couple pieces of flat bread to warm up.

Image031 After the lamb has finished resting, remove the spit, carve it up and break out the tzatziki.

When the cobbler is ready, the crumbly crust should be golden brown with the fruit bubbling through. Try to let it cool off -- trust me, it's hot -- before dishing it up with your favorite ice cream.

Crystal City Farmers Market

Crystal City Sign Arlington County welcomed its sixth farmers market on Tuesday with the addition of the Crystal City Farmers Market.  The new market, located steps from the Crystal City metro station, is the brainchild of the Crystal City Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership established in April 2006 to provide a “higher level of service to visitors, workers and residents in Crystal City”.  Last year Crystal City BID began a Community Supported Agriculture program with Great Country Farms for residents and employees of Crystal City.  The overwhelming success of this program highlighted the demand for fresh produce, meats and dairy within Crystal City, leading to the creation of its first farmers market.  My friend James, a resident of Crystal City, first told me of the new market back in April, so I was looking forward to opening day.  To add to my excitement, I saw on their website that both Red Apron and Meat Crafters (two vendors I’ve been dying to try) were participating in the new market.  As I reviewed the expected list of vendors on their site, I was impressed that a brand new market was able to get such a diverse list of vendors.  The list included four bread/pastry vendors (including one of my favorites, Atwater’s Bakery), four meat producers (with everything from pork to lamb) and a wealth of fruit and vegetable farms.  Even more interesting, I noticed a loose leaf tea vendor (and we all know by now how much I love my loose teas) and a seller of salsas and pico de gallos made from locally grown ingredients (for a full list of vendors, go to the Crystal City Farmers Market website).  To say I was excited would be an understatement (and let’s not point out how sad it may seem that I get this excited about farmers markets).  So on Tuesday, I headed over to Crystal City with my reusable shopping bag in tow.

Togio Farms Tomatoes When I got off the metro, I was a little disoriented, as I’m not familiar with Crystal City.  I took a guess and walked down the hill, hoping I was going in the right direction.  When I saw the white tents on Crystal Drive, I figured I had either stumbled upon the farmers market or some sort of tent revival.  The market stretches from 18th to 20th street, lining both sides of the sidewalk with vendors.  The first vendor I saw was a familiar one, Toigo Orchards.  Sprawled out along the table were an intricate mass of tomatoes still clinging to their bright green vines.  These were the first vibrant tomatoes I’ve seen this Spring at any farmers markets.  I had promised myself I would try my hand at making and canning my own tomato sauces this year, so they were quite tempting.  But I opted to wait until tomato season was in full swing before making my own sauces.  Togio also had their collection of tomato sauces and apple products prominently displayed next to the tomato shrine.  People were lining up for the sample of apples out and animatedly asking about the various products for sale on the tables.  I usually pick up a jar of their tomato sauce but since I still had some of Chef Stefano’s smoky bacon and Parmesan pasta sauce from The Copper Pot, I decided to move along to the other vendors.

Tea Company Teas Jars of loose teas populated the next table, signaling that I’d found the new loose tea vendor TeaCo.  Myra Ceasar, one of the people behind TeaCo, was explaining the various blends to an eager young lady, unlocking the jars for her to smell.  She had the black teas separated from the other teas, allowing customers to see the various lines offered.  Myra admitted she’d brought a limited supply of teas since it was their first time at the new market.  As with many loose tea purveyors, TeaCo offers a variety of  blends of tea leaves that fall into one of six categories:  black teas, green/white teas, oolong teas, herbal teas, rooibos teas and medicinal herb teas.  They work with tea growers around the world in an attempt to get high quality leaves for their tea.  While she had the more familiar blends like Earl Grey and English Breakfast, she also had some unique blends that caught my eye.  The Persian Rose blend was already in a cute glass jar container, perched at the front of the table.  The blend has a strong, earthy aroma, mixing the smells of rose with a hint of cardamom and bergamot.  I love a good rose tea and I also love cardamom, so I was anxious to see how the two would work together in one cup.  Myra offered other blends to smell, each having its own signature fragrance.  I asked about the coconut creme blend listed on the sign.  Myra laughed and said unfortunately, she hadn’t brought that blend to market.  However, several people had already asked her about that very blend.  She said she would probably bring more varieties of tea next week, including the coconut creme.  She mentioned that they also sell their teas at Eastern Market during the weekends, bringing a larger selection of their blends to that market.  I bought the jar of Persian Rose and thanked her for bringing loose teas to more markets in the DC area.

Arugula Plants Displays of colorful hanging baskets of flowers dotted the Four Seasons Nursery tent.  Although I’m not one to buy plants (mostly because I am the equivalent of the plant Grim Reaper), the vibrant colors drew my eye to the stand.  The gentleman manning the tent was giving an older lady advice about low maintenance, but pretty plants for her condo.  Apparently she also had problems keeping plants alive for very long.  Four Seasons also had several herb plantings, including bushy basils and arugula plants that looked ready to eat.  But Four Seasons wasn’t the only stand with plants and flowers.  Beautiful orchids (one of my favorite flowers, mind you) lined the Orchid Station while LynnVale Studios had an assortment of different flowers in rich, lively tones.  Even though it wasn’t all that sunny, the array of flowers at the market certainly reminded us of Spring’s arrival.  Considering my long metro ride home, I opted against getting any plants or flowers from the market that day.

I was pleased to see one of my new favorite vendors Cherry Glen Goat Cheese at the market.  However, I was a little disappointed to find Cherry Glen was the only cheese or dairy vendor at Crystal City.  I was consoled, however, by the fact that Cherry Glen had samples of their goat cheeses out to try.  I still had a bit of the Monocacy Gold left from my purchases at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, so I didn’t pick up any more.  But I did learn they also offer fresh ricotta cheese. 

Bigg Riggs Ramp Vinegar As I continued along, I caught sight of the sign for Bigg Riggs Farms, a vendor I have read about numerous times from my fellow DC Foodies writer, Ramona Padovano.  I had never seen them at other markets I frequent, so I was curious to see what they had to offer.  One side of their tent was a table filled with salad greens fresh picked that day.  The mixes were voluminous, spilling out of their baskets and onto the table.  It looked like an explosion at a salad bar with green and deep purple leaves everywhere.  Before buying a bag of them, I looked around the rest of the tent and saw an interesting glass bottle sitting atop wooden crates.  Upon closer inspection, I found a ramp suspended in clear liquid, labeled ramp vinegar.  I have seen my fair share of ramps this season at the markets, but this was the first time I saw a ramp product at the market.  Although I was tempted to buy a bottle, my lack of affection for vinegars in general kept me from doing so.  Bigg Riggs also had a nice selection of jams, sauces, apple butters and hot pepper jellies for sale, all stacked strategically around the tent.   I bought a heaping bag of the salad greens and promised myself I’d get the ramp vinaigrette if it was available next time.

Atwater’s familiar display case of breads was a welcome sight, but so were the other bread vendors at the market.  Great Harvest Bread Company was giving out samples of their bread, so James (my frequent farmers market companion) decided to try their cheddar garlic bread.  Unlike some vendors who only give small samples, the man standing guard at Great Harvest cut off a healthy chunk of the bread for James to taste.  As we both sampled the hunk, we were told all the bread was made from fresh ingredients using no preservatives.  The taste of garlic permeated every inch of the bread, but the addition of molasses kept it from overpowering it.  James bought a loaf of their jalapeno cheddar bread while I mulled over the selection of cookies.  In the end, I decided not to get any because a lovely container of strawberries caught my eye. 

Westmoreland Strawberries The strawberries in question lined the front table at Westmoreland Produce.  Their sign promised fresh produce free of any pesticides or chemicals, but I didn’t see any other information about the farm.  The table was fairly crowded with people looking over their selection of salad greens, spring onions, strawberries and container plants and flowers.  The strawberries were a bright red and plump – in other words, irresistible.  A large container of strawberries was only $5, so I snapped up some with the intent to make a shortcake with them.  As I was paying for the strawberries, I chatted briefly with one of the ladies at the stand.  She said they were surprised at the turnout for the new market but happy to be busy.  And they were busy – as I finished paying, she ran off to help another lady looking at the various plants available. 

I will be honest; I was really scanning the market for the Red Apron sign.  I glanced here and there at the other vendors, but my eyes were always on the hunt for the red sign marking Nathan Anda’s charcuterie.  His hot dogs and cured meats have set the DC foodie community buzzing, with entire threads posted about them on and other DC centric food blogs.  While his meats are currently available for sale at Planet Wine in Alexandria, I don’t make it out to the less than metro friendly Alexandria that often.  So you can only imagine my disappointment when I didn’t see the elusive meat vendor at Crystal City.  Market manager Sara Abramson informed me logistical issues kept Red Apron and Meat Crafters from joining the market on its opening day.  The next day at Penn Quarter I finally met up with Nathan and his hot dogs and learned red tape with Arlington County was holding up their start at the Crystal City Farmers Market.  They do, however, hope to have everything resolved shortly and to start selling at Crystal City soon. 

Strawberry Shortcake 2 Strawberry Shortcake with Black Pepper Biscuits

For the biscuits:
2 cups all purpose, unbleached flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
7 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into squares
1 1/2 cups Buttermilk
1 egg and a teaspoon of water, for the egg wash

For the strawberries:
1 quart strawberries, hulled and sliced
2 tablespoons quality, aged balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar

For the whipped cream:
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the bowl and whisk attachment of a stand mixer in the freezer.
In a bowl, combine the strawberries, balsamic vinegar and sugar.  Place in the refrigerator for at least three hours to allow the berries to marinate. 
Sift together the flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, pepper and baking soda. In a food processor, combine the sifted dry ingredients and the butter, evenly distributing the cubes of butter amongst the flour mixture. Pulse the ingredients repeatedly until they form a dry crumble consistency. Slowly pour the buttermilk into the food processor and resume pulsing until a soft, wet dough is formed. Gently scrape out the dough onto a floured surface.  Knead the dough until it is smooth and then roll it out to 1 inch thick.  Using a biscuit cutter, cut eight circles and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Whisk together the egg and water and brush the wash over each biscuit.  Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. 

While the biscuits are cooling, take out the whisk and bowl for the stand mixer.  Place the heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in the bowl and whip on medium speed until soft peaks are formed and no liquid remains.  Be careful not to overwhip, as this will cause the cream to curdle and become a mess.
Allow the biscuits to cool to room temperature.  Split one of the biscuits in half and place a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Spoon some of the strawberry mixture onto the cream.  Place the biscuit top slightly askew of the cream and berries.  If you’d like, top the biscuit with some more cream and a bit more of the berries (this is totally optional and depends on your level of decadence).  Repeat this procedure for the remaining biscuits and serve.

The Crystal City Farmers Market is located on Crystal Drive between 18th and 20th Street from 3 pm to 7 pm every Tuesday. 

Farmer's Market Menu: Juniper Smoked Chops with Young Garlic and Asparagus

Image055 This is not a Stephanie Willis post, but I understand any confusion.

Until recently, I lived on Capitol Hill. Eastern Market and its array of butchers, bakers and produce stalls was a mere five minute walk. I've always enjoyed Stephanie's write ups of area farmers' markets, but it was academic. Check out the Tacoma Park market! You have to see the vendors at the Falls Church market! Yes, yes, Ms. Willis, but why should I wade through the masses at the Dupont Circle market when I have everything I need in my proverbial backyard?
Well, I've moved. While Eastern Market still isn't too much of a hike, it's no longer a pleasant stroll away. All of the sudden, Stephanie's farmer's market posts have a new found importance. And to no surprise, Stephanie has covered my new local farmer's market, FARMFRESH's H Street market.

Shopping at farmer's markets is a no brainer for grilling. The meat and veg is (or should be) as fresh as possible, the quality is higher and you can often find things Safeway and Harris Teeter just don't carry. And when you're cooking hot and fast on a grill, you want high quality products because there's not much Image017 between you and the natural flavor of the product - or at least there shouldn't be (i.e., go easy on the marinades).

With no recipe in mind, I headed out to the H St. market in search of inspiration. What I came away with was smoked pork chops. Smoked Tamworth pork chops, in fact. David Ober from Cedarbrook Farm is the  H St. market's pork guy. His white board product menu is a Gray's Anatomy of the pig. Ober's smoked pork chops - a cross between ham and pork loin - was the item that stopped me. I've certainly had my fair share of ham (the smoked meat of the back leg), but smoked loin (the tender meat from the back of the pig) was a new one for me.

The H St. market might be one of the smallest markets I've visited in a while, but the few vendors that showed up brought quality products. To go with the chops, I grabbed bunches of fresh asImage014paragus, young garlic and arugula flowers, the pale green and purple ends of our president's favorite leafy vegetable.

Before heading out, I made a final stop at Robb Duncan's Dolcezza Gelato. With flavors like mojito, strawberry tequila and Meyer lemon vodka, I wasn't sure if Duncan was going to card me, but I'd happily submit to a blood test for a sample of his desserts.

Image059 As long as I'm trying new things, I picked up one of the latest offerings from Brooklyn Brewery: Local 2. Like its predecessor, Local 1, the beer is a Belgian style strong ale sold in a large 750 ml bottle. Unlike its processor, Local 2 is brewed with honey and orange peel, creating a gently sweet ale that works great with the pork (and the juniper crust I added).
Last weekend was the first market of the season. Next weekend, the vendors' ranks grow with the addition of an Amish butcher. I'll be interested to see what he brings - provided I'm not checking out another Stephanie Willis recommendation.

Juniper Smoked Chops with Young Garlic and Asparagus
(makes two servings)

Image030 2 smoked pork chops
1 bunch asparagus (about 12 pieces)
1 bunch young garlic (about 8 stalks)
1 bunch arugula flowers
2 tbs. juniper berries
2 tsp. black pepper corns
2 tsp. tarragon leaves
1/2 lemon
Olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, crush the juniper berries and peppercorns. Dice the tarragon and mix in the with juniper and peppercorns. Rub the mixture into the meat of the chops, making sure to cover both sides. (Note, I did not add any salt to the chops. The smoked pork was already salted and didn't need any more.)

Drizzle the asparagus and garlic with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Because the chops are smoked, they're basically cooked. So you only need to put them on the grill long enough to form a crust on the exterior.

Image035 When the grill is ready, place the chops directly over the hottest spot and the vegetables off to the side. After three minutes, turn the chops and move them to a cooler spot. Turn the garlic and asparagus, and move to the hot spot to char. Cook for another three minutes and pull everything off the grill. Trim most of the green off the garlic, which is edible, but on the tough side.

Plate the chops and grilled vegetables, and finish with fresh lemon juice and spicy arugula flowers overtop.

Mount Pleasant Farmers Market Opening Day

Market sign  I recently moved to the Columbia Heights neighborhood, so I was itching to explore the markets in the area.  You can just imagine my gleeful joy to find out there was not one but TWO farmers markets within a short distance of my new digs that I've never visited.  And as luck would have it, both markets had their opening days this past weekend.  So on Saturday morning, my foodie friend Brian and I ventured out in the rainy weather to check out opening day at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market.  Located in Lamont Park, the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is a producer only market in its sixth year.  Growing from a very small neighborhood market, the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market welcomes four new vendors this year:  Atwater's Bread, Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company, Painted Hand Farm (a veal and goat meat vendor) and Groff's Content Farm (a purveyor of lamb, beef, pork and some poultry upon order). 

Bike Clinic Before joining up with Brian, I quietly walked around the outside of the market taking pictures and observing.  This was definitely a neighborhood market.  People were catching up with friends, talking about the latest news in Mount Pleasant and chatting amicably with the vendors.  Unlike some other markets in the DC area, there was no rushing around or vendors hurrying up customers to get to the next person.  Market coordinators were on hand to answer questions and point out new vendors.  I also noticed a bunch of people with bikes on the bandstand in the park.  Curious, I learned the market was now offering a free bike clinic to its customers.  The clinic not only provides bike repairs, it also provides tips to keep your bike running smoothly in the city.  

Italian Heirloom Tomato Plants My first stop was at a familiar favorite, Keswick Creamery.  As usual, Keswick had a variety of their cheeses available to sample.  Their vermeer variety is one of my favorite cheeses, not only because of its flavor but also because it melts smoothly. I picked up a small block of the vermeer and moved along down the market.  There were several vendors with plantings for the garden, including both herbs and tomato plants.  I have been toying with the idea of creating my own container garden of herbs on my new balcony, so I have been price comparing herb plantings at the various markets.  Tree and Leaf Farm, Audia's Farm and Richfield Farm had herb, flower and vegetable starts available at prices ranging from $3 per herb plant to $6 for a four pack of tomato plants.  At Audia's Farm, I overheard Kathy Audia giving suggestions on the best mix of herbs to use for container gardens.  My ears perked up because of my own container garden aspirations.  I tucked away Kathy's tips and decided I would come back to her for advice when I was ready to start my own herb garden. 

Lovely Asparagus We moved along noticing the abundance of asparagus around the market.  The mini heat wave a few weeks ago apparently were a boon for the asparagus crop, bringing forth a huge amount of one of my favorite vegetables.  Both Truck Patch Farm and Richfield Farm had buckets full of asparagus, both green and purple.  Every year I practically gorge myself on asparagus when it's in season, so I happily picked up several bunches from Truck Patch.  Truck Patch also had free range eggs at $5 a dozen.  I noticed the eggs were in commercial containers, so I asked if the eggs were their own.  I was assured the eggs were in fact from their own farm, but to save costs and reduce waste, they used commercial containers recycled from consumers and other farms.  I was also told in the next few weeks, I could bring my own containers for eggs.  The idea of reusing my egg containers appealed to me greatly, so I made a mental note to bring my own next time. 

Rhubarb for Sale! I also picked up some of the first rhubarb of the season from Richfield Farm.  The rhubarb was vibrantly red and sturdy, unlike the rhubarb I have seen lately in the grocery stores.  I normally only use rhubarb in conjunction with strawberries, but I have been dying to try my hand at a rhubarb pie.  With that in mind, I asked the young lady at the Richfield Farm stand how much I would need to make a pie.  She admitted she wasn't that much of a baker, but ventured a guess that I would need two bunches to make a nice pie.  Richfield also had spinach and scallions, as well as some lovely hanging baskets of flowers.  The baskets were bursting with color and I was tempted to pick up one or two for my balcony.  But considering my less than stellar history of taking care of flowers, I opted against it. 

Atwater's Bread! I was quite happy to see that Atwater's, one of my favorite vendors, was now available within walking distance.  Although it was their first day at the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market, there was still a good variety of their breads and baked goods.  Brian picked up a large loaf of their Country White with the intent to toast it with some of the cheese he picked up at Keswick.  As usual, I picked up my morning treat of Atwater's Fruit and Nut granola (I often enjoy it with Blue Ridge Dairy's Greek Yogurt lightly sweetened with local honey).  I also asked about pizza dough, having read in the Mount Pleasant Farmers Market newsletter that Atwater's offered it.  My intent was to make a delicious pizza of asparagus, apple-wood smoked mozzarella and ramps.  But I was told there was a misunderstanding; Atwater's didn't sell pizza dough.  Apparently the previous bread vendor at Mount Pleasant sold pizza dough and that assumption carried over to Atwater's.  I guess my disappointment was visable, as the young lady at the counter apologized for the mix up. I quickly had to restructure my meal plan in my head but was still happy to see that Atwater's was expanding to other markets in the DC area.

Cherry Glen Sign  Before leaving the market, Brian and I stopped by another new vendor, Cherry Glen Goat Cheese Company.  Using the goat milk from their Cherry Glen Goat Farm, Diane Kirsch & Wayne Cullen create artisanal goat cheeses of numerous varieties.  When we approached the table, David Rifkin, a Cherry Glen Goat Cheese seller, happily began talking to us about the difference between goat cheeses bought in the store and what Cherry Glen offers.   According to David, goat cheese has a limited shelf life and often times the cheeses available in the store are at the end of their cycle.  Because of this, store bought goat cheese has a much tangier flavor and more grainy texture than a fresher, carefully crafted goat cheese.  I sampled the Monocacy Gold variety and fell in love.  Unlike the goat cheese I have bought from grocery stores, this cheese had a smooth quality with an almost nutty aftertaste.  There was a richness in the depth of its flavor, without the sharp tang I often associated with goat cheese.  I could have easily spread this cheese on a loaf of bread topped with balsamic vinegar infused caramelized onions.  When David said they were running a special on the Monocacy Gold ($4 each), I happily snapped up two packages of it.  I knew immediately I was going to make a tart using the Monocacy Gold and carmelized onions. 

I wanted to add some ramps to the tart, but couldn't find any at the market.  Ramps, also known as wild leeks, have a short season at the beginning of the Spring.  A treasure among foodies, ramps are one of my favorite crops to experiment with during their season.  I had been looking for them since the beginning of April to no avail.  I was told New Morning Farm was selling them at Dupont Circle on Sundays, so I figured I'd need to make a trip there on Sunday to get the ramps for my tart. 

My shopping bag was loaded down, but I still had plenty of cash in my wallet.  Surprisingly, the prices at Mount Pleasant are much more reasonable than most of the markets in the area.  Although the market isn't as big as Dupont or the Falls Church Farmers Markets, I was able to get everything I needed for the week with a little extra green leftover.  I headed home with my purchases...only to make room for a trip to the 14th and U Street Farmers Market, also opening on the same day.  More, however, on that trip next time.

Finished Tart Goat Cheese, Caramelized Onion and Ramp Tart

2 bunches of ramps, green leaves chopped
2 pounds onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons butter
2 ounces goat cheese, slice
1 package puff pastry (I use Dufour Puff Pastry), thawed

For the egg wash:  one egg and a tablespoon of water whisked together

Preheat oven to 375 and fit two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat.  Add the onions and stir consistently to prevent the onions from sticking to the pan.  Continue to cook the onions until they begin to brown and soften, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Add the chopped green leaves of the ramps (reserve the stalk of the ramps for later use) to the onions and continue cooking until the ramps begin to wilt.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Roll out the puff pastry until it's a large rectangle and is 1/4 inch thick.  Using a pizza cutter, cut the pastry into six rectangles.  Place one to three small slices of the goat cheese (depending on how cheesy you like your tarts to be) in the center of each rectangle.  Using a tablespoon, top the cheese with the cooled caramelized onion and ramp mixture.  Fold the ends of the pastry over the mixture and then fold the sides over.  Place the tart on the baking sheet and repeat the steps until you have made all the tarts.  Brush each tart with the egg wash and bake them for 20 to 25 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch.  Allow to cool before serving.

The Mount Pleasant Farmers Market is open on Saturdays from 9 am to 1 pm at Lamont Park (between Park and Lamont Streets). 

Spring Menu: Grilled Scallops with Egg

Scallop16 Oh, thank God spring is here.

I'm over the cold weather. I'm over having to schlep around a coat. I'm over my pasty white legs. (On the other hand, the NFL draft got me ready for fall. Go figure.)

With the change in temperatures comes a change in eating habits. The heavy comfort foods of winter are replaced with lighter fair. And in this case, that means seafood.

I eat seafood all year long, but I definitely peak in the warmer months. Maybe it's from growing up in Florida, maybe it's the humidity and the desire for something less dense, but I associate seafood with warm weather. I don't crave grouper in February any more than I crave braised lamb shank in August. So when temperatures finally climbed about 70 degrees, I hustled out the door like Pavlov's dog and bought a few of the fattest scallops I could find. (I'm not suggesting Pavlov's dog liked scallops, though there's nothing wrong with the mutt if he did.)

I don't know where the idea for the poached egg came from, but the thought of grilled scallops mingling with the warm yellow yolk sounded pretty good. Besides, the egg is symbolic of spring, right?

Now it's all well and good that a menu like this is on the lighter side, particularly if you pair it with a frise salad of tomatoes and vinaigrette, but I don't care about your paunch or your swimsuit. Grilled scallops and poached eggs make an excellent duo.

Abita7 I will, however, continue to beat the springtime metaphor to talk about the beers I paired with the meal. The Louisiana brewery Abita released a couple of new high-alcohol beers this year, Abbey Ale and Andygator. Abbey Ale is an amber-colored Belgian-style dubbel that clocks in at 8% ABV. The Andygator is an 8% helles doppelbock. Both come in 22 oz. bombers, also a first for the brewery. Although the Andygator is a decent run at the traditional German lager, Abita did a far better job on the Abbey Ale, which, incidentally, worked with the sweetness of the scallops and richness of the poached egg yolk.

Beer, scallops and sunshine, what a great time of year.

Grilled scallops with egg
(Makes two servings)

4 large sea scallops
2 large eggs
2 cups water
1 tbs. white vinegar
1 tbs. olive oil
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste
Edible flowers, optional

Prepare an ice bath and begin boiling two cups of salted water and a tablespoon of vinegar on the stove. When the water begins to boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and gently drop in the eggs, being careful not to break the yolk. Poach the eggs for two minutes, gently remove and place in the ice bath to stop the cooking. Turn off the heat, but leave the pan of hot water on the stove.

Scallop9 Remove the scallops from the refrigerator and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Light your gas grill or prepare your charcoal. When the grill is ready, oil the grates and place the scallops directly over the hottest spot. Grill the scallops uncovered for about three minutes or until a brown crust begins to form. Flip the scallops and cook for another two minutes. Close the lid and cook for another minute. Remove the scallops and set aside.

If the water on the stove is still hot, transfer the eggs from the ice bath to the pan. Otherwise, bring the water back up to a simmer. Warm the eggs back up for about a minute. Any longer and you'll begin to cook the eggs and harden the yolks. When the eggs are warm, plate them along side the scallops. For a touch of color (or if you're taking pictures for a foodie Web site), garnish the dish with a few edible flowers.

Beef and Mushroom Stew

Wide Market ShotLast Saturday I made my way to the Arlington Farmers Market, intent on finding some indication that Spring was around the corner.  However, the chill in the air and the sparse amount of produce were a huge reminder that although Spring may have arrived on the calendars, it's still not evident in DC.  There were the now familiar bins of tubers (sweet, Yukon and new), the onions (both yellow and red) and of course the many, many apples that are staples of Winter.  This, I thought to myself, was not turning out to be a successful Spring rejuvenation market trip.  I resigned myself to this fact and instead decided to make a good hearty beef roast (and hopefully for the last time this season) for the upcoming (and what turned out to be rainy) week. 

Crimini Mushrooms My first stop was the Mother Earth Organic Mushroom stand, where there was a sea of criminis, portabellas, shiitakes and white button mushrooms all competing for my attention.  I will freely admit I adore mushrooms:  their earthy taste, their woodsy smell and their almost meaty texture.  I shamelessly add mushrooms to dishes that usually don't call for them (I even made a mushroom gelato once before...we won't discuss the end result).  But I knew the flavors of crimini mushrooms would complement the beef for my roast, so I picked up a container.  While I was at the stand, I asked when morels would start showing up at the market and I was told within the next few weeks.  The lady at the stand laughed and said I was the tenth person that had asked her about morels this morning.  "I think we're all just anxiously awaiting the Spring crops," I said.  Her response? "Forget the crops, I want the Spring weather.  You try standing out in the cold for four and five hours at a time!"  I laughed and thanked her for my mushrooms and kept going. 

Lovely Rosemary I continued down the parking lot, in search of other ingredients for my roast.  I happened along a small stand with no sign on it.  Curious, I walked over to see what they were selling and was pleasantly surprised to find a small selection of herbs.  A young couple was operating the stand, while trying to stay warm with giant cups of coffee.  I asked them about their farming methods and was told during the Winter months, they grow their herbs in a greenhouse using a chemical free method.  Although not certified organic, they strictly adhere to organic farming practices but have yet to take the steps to become certified.  I picked up a sleeve of rosemary and the herb's lush aroma instantly hit my nose.  I happily paid for the rosemary, caught up in the haze of sniffing the fragrant leaves.  So much so, I forgot to ask the vendor's names. 

I figured I needed some vegetables to round out the beef roast, so I headed over to the Potomac Vegetable Farms stand to root through the bins.  As I was selecting my onions, an older couple came up to the potato bin beside me.  "So how many potatoes will we need," the older woman asked as she picked through the pile.  "Well, I think we'll need at least three pounds to make a decent potato salad," he responded, shaking his head.  "I'm still not sure why they're insisting on having a cook out; it's too cold to be standing outside cooking meat."  I laughed quietly to myself and the lady turned to me and said "It's his kin and he's asking why they're crazy enough to be eating outside when it's cold."  That pretty much sums up all of DC's mood right now: ready for Spring, even if Mother Nature isn't.  I got two large onions and four parsnips for the stew, adament that I would not be using potatoes for yet another week. 

My final stop for the day was, of course, for beef at Eco Friendly Foods.  In case you haven't been to Eco Friendly Foods lately, I feel it is my civic duty to inform you they now sells bacon...and it's delicious.  The bacon is straight from their humanely raised pigs and cured at a neighboring farm (the curing method involves only salt, brown sugar and water and absolutely no nitrates).  The difference between store bought bacon and Eco Friendly Foods' bacon is astounding to say the least.  Not only does the bacon cook up crispier than store bought, the flavors are uncluttered and pure pork goodness.  The hint of brown sugar adds a smoky depth to the bacon without leaving a sweet taste in your mouth.  It's quite frankly a bacon lover's dream.  I happily snapped up a package of their bacon along with a lovely chuck roast for my beef roast.

Finished Dish Mushroom and Beef Roast
3 to 4 pound boneless chuck roast
2 cups beef stock or broth
1 cup dry red wine
1-6 ounce can tomato paste
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon hone
2 teaspoons Hungarian paprika
3 teaspoons allspice
2 large sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
3 medium sized parsnips, coarsely chopped
1 large onion, sliced
1 small container crimini mushrooms, sliced
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Sprinkle the chuck roast with salt and pepper.  In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Add the beef, allowing it to brown on each side before removing it from the pot.  Add the onions and carrots, allowing them to cook for about four minutes.  Make sure to scrape the brown bits from the bottom of the pot and stir them into the onions.  Add the wine and allow it to come to a boil.  Add the beef stock, tomato paste, vinegar and honey and allow the liquids to boil together for about 30 seconds.  Add the mushrooms and the spices and then return the beef to the pot.  Allow the mixture to come to a boil and then remove it from the heat.  Cover with the lid and place the Dutch oven in the stove.  Roast the beef for 3 hours, turning it halfway through the cooking time. 

Slow Cooker Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork Sandwich I am from the South (Georgia to be exact) and in the South, we take our barbecue very seriously.  Each region within the South has their own take on barbecue and family feuds have begun on the simple premise of whose barbecue is better.  In North Carolina alone there are two main varieties of barbecue:  the Eastern Carolina vinegar based barbecue and the more ketchup based barbecue in the Western parts of the state.  I grew up on the ketchup based barbecue popular in Southern Georgia and could never really grow to like the Eastern Carolina style of barbecue I encountered when I lived in North Carolina.  The one thing all Southern barbecue has in common, however, is the slow roasting technique.   To get that tender, fall off the bone barbecue, the meat must cook for a long time over a low heat.  I have done this an endless amount of times in a smoker, in the oven and even on the stove in a Dutch oven.  However, it never occurred to me to use my crock pot to make any kind of barbecue…until now. 

When a fellow foodie friend of mine mentioned he had made slow cooked pork in his crock pot, I was struck.  Why hadn’t I ever thought of that before?  The crock pot was invented for slow cooking and barbecue was the epitome of slow cooking.  It was easy enough to figure out the cooking time for a six pound pork shoulder, but I had a harder time deciding how exactly to cook it.  I was used to making a homemade ketchup based barbecue sauce and allowing the pork to cook in it for hours.  But while I was talking to a friend back home in Georgia, she told me to use a simple spice rub on the pork shoulder, let it sit overnight and then cook the pork in the crock pot.  She even assured me there would be no need for barbecue sauce if I cooked the pork as she suggested.  Uhmmm, what???? No need for barbecue sauce on BARBECUE?  I almost hung the phone up because of such blasphemy.  But my curiosity got the best of me and I jotted down the spices she rattled off for the rub. 

On Saturday, I headed out to the Falls Church farmers market with the idea for the pulled pork in the back of my head.  Since it was such a lovely day out, there were quite a few people were milling about the market.  Unlike my first visit, during one of the coldest days in January, I wasn’t in a rush to get back to the warmth of the car.  So I was able to meander around and visit just about every stand.  Sunnyside Farms had some lovely baby spinach heaped in big silver tubs and a mound of russet potatoes, both of which I needed for my lunch and dinner options for the week.  As I was picking up my now weekly container of Greek style yogurt from Blue Ridge Dairy, the vendor began talking about the market during the Spring and Summer seasons.  He mentioned that the Spring and Summer vendors start showing up around the first of April, pushing the market from one end of the parking lot to the other.  He also mentioned that a few of the prepared foods vendors left the market during the Spring and Summer, to be replaced by more produce vendors.  Although not as big as Dupont Circle’s farmers market, I thought the Falls Church farmers market was a nice sized market, especially considering the time of year.  To hear that the market grew even larger during the growing season only made me want April to come faster.  Feeling experimental, I picked up a container of Blue Ridge Dairy’s famous applewood smoked mozzarella for a flatbread pizza I had in mind. 

Pork Boston Butt @ Market I had previously bought a lovely pork butt from Valentine's Country Bakery and Meats, so it was only natural for me to get the pork shoulder from them as well.  I randomly picked an ice chest to open and right on the top was an almost 6 pound pork shoulder roast, patiently waiting for me to pick it up.  I also grabbed a slab of their bacon, curious to see if fresh bacon tasted any different than the natural stuff I buy from Whole Foods.  I finished up the rest of my weekly grocery shopping with some fruit and nut granola bars from Atwater’s, some fresh tagliatelle and pesto from Cavana Pasta, a gallon of milk from J. Wens Farms & Dairy and some crimini mushrooms from Mother Earth Organics.  And the cherry on top?  I completed my entire week’s grocery shopping at the farmers market and spent less than $80. 

Before I went to bed on Saturday (and right after I moved my clocks up an hour – thanks Spring for stealing that lovely hour away), I threw together the spice rub, slathered it over the pork shoulder and placed it in a large Ziploc bag.  I placed the now clay red pork shoulder in the refrigerator still a bit wary of my friend’s claims.  Doubts aside, on Sunday morning, I dutifully placed the pork in my crock pot and set it on low.  My doubts came back in full force when I checked on the pork after an hour.  The shoulder appeared to be cooking too fast and the meat wasn’t even in the same time zone as tender.  Great, I’ve ruined a beautiful cut of meat on an experiment, I thought to myself as I poked the meat in desperation.  I rotated the meat around a little and placed the lid back on the crock pot.  I repeated this process (panicked thoughts and all) about an hour later, still finding the shoulder to be a bit tough. 

But by hour four, the meat started to soften and a nice looking sauce started forming at the bottom of the crock pot from a combination of the spices and the small amount of water and fat from the pork.  By hour six the meat was so tender, it started falling apart on its own.  I didn’t even have to really shred the pork at all.  I stirred the shredded meat around in the lovely sauce and realized my friend had been absolutely right:  there was absolutely no need for barbecue sauce in this dish.  The spices were permanently imbedded in each shred of the pork, rendering the need for another sauce irrelevant.  When I called to tell my friend how well the pork turned out, I asked her where she got the recipe for the spice rub.  At first she tried to claim it was a family recipe, but considering the fact that I have had her mother’s cooking (and it’s scary to say the least), I wasn’t buying it.  She finally confessed she’d gotten it from Cook’s Illustrated, which considering we were Southern girls, seems almost wrong.

Crock Pot Pulled Pork

1-6 to 8 lb. pork shoulder
1/4 cup water (optional – depends on how much sauce you want to form)

For the spice rub (from Cook’s Illustrated):
1 tablespoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon ground white pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper (or up to 2 tsp if you like it spicy)
2 tablespoons ground cumin
4 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon white sugar
2 tablespoons salt

Mix together the spice rub in a large Ziploc bag, shaking it to combine the spices thoroughly.  Add the pork shoulder and vigorously shake the bag until the pork is fully covered in the spice rub.  Place the bag with the pork shoulder in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours (the longer the pork is allowed to marinate, the stronger the flavor will be). 

On cooking day, remove the pork shoulder from the Ziploc bag and place it in the crock pot.  Add the ¼ cup of water, if desired, and place the pot on low.  Cover the pot with the lid and allow to cook for an hour.  Turn the pork shoulder over after an hour and continue to cook for another hour.  Turn the pork shoulder over one more time and let it continue to cook for another four hours.  After six hours, check to see if the pork is starting to tenderize.  If it is, shred the pork using a fork (or tongs) and stir the shredded meat around in the sauce created during the slow roasting.  Cook for another 30 minutes to an hour (depending on your crock pot).  You can serve the pulled pork by itself or with a barbecue sauce (but honestly, it's not necessary).

The Falls Church Farmers Market is open year round with Winter (January 3 through April 25) hours running from 9 am to noon.  The farmers market is located in the city hall parking lot at 300 Park Avenue.

Swiss Chard, Roasted Baby Beet and Caramelized Onion Tart

Finished Tart Right before Snowmageddon 2009 on Sunday, I headed out to the Dupont Circle Farmers Market for my weekly provisions.  Mind you, snow was already falling and it was quite chilly out, but food doesn’t buy itself and come right to your door (well, at least not quality, locally grown and raised food).  Unlike most market days where I let the market offerings decide my menu for the week, I had a mission in mind this Sunday:  a vegetable tart using a pate brisee dough.  I wasn’t sure which vegetables I wanted to use, but I had a general idea that I wanted something green included in this dish. 

Perhaps naively, I thought the snow would keep some market goers away.  So imagine my surprise when there were just as many shoppers milling about the market.  My first stop was Everona Dairy for one of their cheeses to top my tart.  As usual, Pat Elliott (who happens to be a doctor with a thriving practice on top of her cheese making) was handing out samples of their sheep’s milk cheeses.  I have truly come to enjoy my chats with Pat because she herself is quite the cook and she always has great recipe suggestions.  She was giving out samples of a Rapidan spread made with the their signature Piedmont cheese.  She was giving out the samples on a thin yet hearty cracker that (it turns out) she made herself.  She offered to send me the recipe if I emailed her during the week.  As I was plowing my way through trying a few samples, Pat told me this was Everona’s last time at the market until the end of April.  I stopped mid chew and looked at her as if she’d told me she was Mrs. Claus.  Sure April is right around the corner, but I’ve grown to love the cheeses from Everona.  They work well in a variety of dishes, from sweet to savory and melt remarkably well.  She assured me they would be back in late April as I scurried to buy up as much cheese as I could afford.  It’s entirely possible she reiterated their return date because I was stocking up as if they would never return.  With my market bag loaded with cheese, I thanked Pat and headed off to find my vegetables.

Rainbow Chard  Walking along the market, my eyes caught sight of a beautiful bunch of baby beets stacked on a table at the Farm at Sunnyside stand, one of my favorite vegetable vendors.  The baby beets were a stark contrast to the white turnips propped up beside it.  Their green leaves were also a welcome sight amidst the cold and drab Winter day.  I picked up a bunch, thinking they would work wonderfully on the tart roasted and sliced.  I briefly toyed with the idea of using the beet greens on the tart as well, but that went away the minute I stumbled upon a lovely bunch of Swiss chard at Next Step Produce.  The contrast of the deep red of the beets against the shocking green of the chard would make a beautiful tart, or at least it did in my head.  As I was looking through the other bins at Next Step, I came across some beautiful red onions and decided to add them to the tart as well.  With all of my vegetables in hand, I headed home to throw together what I hoped would make for a great lunch for the week.

Swiss Chard, Roasted Baby Beet and Caramelized Onion Tart

For the Pate Brisee Dough:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cold and cubed
¼ to ½ cup cold water

Combine the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor.  Add the cubes of cold butter and pulse until the mixture is coarse in texture.  Slowly add the cold water through the food processor tube while the machine is running.  Add only enough water to make the dough come together without being too sticky.  Divide the dough into two balls and flatten each one into a disc.  Wrap the discs in plastic and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.  You will only need one of the discs for this tart, so the other disc can be frozen for use later.

For the Vegetable Tart:

2 medium red onions, sliced
3 tablespoons butter
1 large bunch of baby beets, stems removed and peeled
4 tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 bunch Swiss chard, coarsely chopped
4 to 6 ounces shredded cheese (any good melting cheese will work)

1 egg whisked together with a tablespoon of water for an egg wash

Grease a 14 by 4 inch rectangular tart pan (preferably with a removable bottom).

While the dough is chilling, get started on the toppings.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a square baking dish with foil and place the peeled beets in the dish.  Toss with two tablespoons of the olive oil, salt and pepper and roast for 35 to 40 minutes or until the beets are tender.  Set the beets aside and allow to cool.  Once the beets are cooled, cut the beets into circular slices.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a skillet and sauté the Swiss chard for only 2-3 minutes.  Remove the Swiss chard from the skillet and add the butter to the pan.  Add the red onion slices and stir.  Continue to consistently stir the onions, cooking until caramelized, about 15 to 25 minutes.  Allow both the chard and the onions to cool completely.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll it out to a rectangular shape that will fit into the bottom of the tart pan.  Place the dough into the tart pan, removing any excessive that may come up the sides of the pan.  You only want the dough to cover the bottom of the pan.  Chill it for another 30 minutes in the refrigerator.  Once chilled, prick the dough with a fork, brush it with the egg wash and bake for about 20 minutes (or until golden brown).  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before topping.  Top with the shredded cheese first, then the carmelized onions, the Swiss chard and finally the beet slices.  Return to the oven, baking for another 15 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before slicing up the tart and serving.