Friday, July 29, 2011

Sticker Shock for Dilly Green Beans

I wanted to make these green beans that I enjoyed at the Humble Feast last Monday. The Humble Feast is a monthly dinner event put on by Devra Gartenstein of the Patty Pan Grill, a long time food vendor at many Seattle markets.

The only problem with making these beans was I didn't want to wait until Saturday.

And I had to have them.

I usually get much of my produce from Rent's Due Ranch on Saturdays. And as you know, I'm trying to stay on food budget so I can't really buy impulsively, but I figured beans are beans, and even if organic they couldn't possibly cost more than organic green beans from Rent's Due Ranch.

So, I went to the market with $20 plus $5 in case I went over the projected amount, which by the way almost always happens when market shopping. Plus (whine alert) I'm already dipping into next week's allotment. I figured $4 a pound for beans, the price I paid on last Saturday at Rent's Due Ranch.

Imagine my jaw dropping when I saw the $5.99 price tag from the only vendor selling organic green beans at the market. What gives with the prices? I don't know.

When I ask, all I get is this is the cost to grow them. But how can one organic farm charge $4 and another in the same state charge $6? This is the highest price I've ever seen on regular organic green beans. I'm not mentioning the vendor, but if you saw them, you know who they are.

Sad to say, but I can see why many people choose grocery store since you can buy locally grown green beans for $2.50 a pound. (Not organic, but seriously, $6 a pound??) I should have waited and gone to the grocery store, but I forked over the money. Hence the whining.

My cooking assistant says "get over it."

He isn't impressed with green beans anyway.

I got new potatoes last Saturday from John Huschle of Nature's Last Stand who mentioned he'd been at the U-District market for 19 years. John was the farmer on the cover of my first book. Now he owns his own farm, is married and has two great children.

Here's the recipe I made based on Devra's fine recipe:

Dilly Green Beans and Potatoes

3/4 cup apple cider vinegar from Rockridge Orchards
1/4 cup water
1/2 head fresh garlic, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup fresh dill
1 pound fresh green beans, washed, trimmed and blanched
1 pound new potatoes, steamed until fork tender, then rinsed under cold water
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine vinegar, water, garlic and dill in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Strain and pour over green beans and potatoes in a serving bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Serve this dish warm or chill and serve later.

See what I mean about bean haters? This is a great dish to try if you want to convert anyone.

My Assistant stole one of these beans. He did it so quickly, the photo I snapped was blurred. He couldn't help himself. A secret I didn't have the courge to confess to Tom who enjoyed the beans without a clue.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Soup Project: 27 weeks of soup plus Mint-Infused Apricot Soup

Once in awhile I hit a flavor combination that slays me. Apricot, spearmint and a hint of lime was the cooling ticket this week.

But first, I wanted to recap the 27 soups I've served up so far this year from the first week in January to mid July. Seasonal produce defines the soups with kale being the most frequently used since the growing season is year-round. Potatoes run a close second. The only soup I changed since posting is Jamacian Red Bean Soup (see #9 below) which had a bit too much lime in the original recipe for me.

Peruse and enjoy the selections so far, then cool off (unless you live in the Pacific Northwest where it's raining again today). My hope is that like me, you'll fall in lust with this week's selection--Mint-Infused Apricot Soup with a Hint of Lime

The Soup Project (28 weeks of soup)

1. Sweet Potato and Kale Soup

3. Basic Soup Stock

4. Locro Guascho Argentino (white beans, sweet potatoes and hominy)

16. Red Velvet Soup (Creamy beet soup)

28. Mint-Infused Apricot Soup

Apricots were one of my big splurges this week. At $4 a pound, they make a pricey soup ingredient, but this soup is meant for dessert or just plain cooling off.

These apricots came from Grouse Mountain Farm. It was their first week back at the market.

My assistant recalls the good old days when apricots were $2.50 a pound. We could buy them by the box then and gorge ourselves without a thought about a food budget.

Leave the apricots out at room temperature when you bring them home. Apricots have more flavor at room temperature and ripe specimens were meant to be eaten soon after picking. Check them frequently because they can go from good to bad overnight.

I dreamed up this recipe while waiting to buy my apricots and spearmint at Grouse Mountain Farm. I wanted to see how lime could boost the sweet tart apricot tones. Technically it's not really mint-infused because the soup isn't heated, but I couldn't resist the title. And fyi--don't use lime juice from the plastic squeeze lime, it is not the same as the real fruit. And a piece of advice: if you really want to share this soup, why not double the recipe? That's how good it is.

Mint-Infused Apricot Soup With a Hint of Lime

1/2 cup raw cashews
1 cup apple cider
3 cups chopped apricots
Juice of 1/2 lime (1 tablespoon fresh lime)
1 ripe banana
Handful of mint, finely chopped
1/2 cup water
Pinch of sea salt
Ice cubes

1. Soak cashews in apple cider overnight.

2. Blend cashews, apricots, lime juice, banana, and mint, until smooth and creamy. Add water to thin to desired consistency. Sprinkle in a pinch of sea salt and add ice cubes for a cool and refreshing soup that will disappear quickly.

Friday, July 22, 2011

$100 a Week--budget breakers versus deals and steals

The 99 cents a pound for 3 pounds or more of organic squash deal at River Farm was so good last Saturday, it looks like another week that I'll be looking for summer squash. On Sunday we had patty pan squash omeletes, on Monday it was Zucchini Chowder, on Tuesday I served zucchini fries and Thursday I whipped up a zucchini quiche from an old Sunset Favorites recipe.

With such deals at hand, you might think my $100-a-week food budget for two is doing fine, but I hate to say, it's gotten sketchy this summer. I haven' gone too far over, but as a struggling food snob, let's just say, I'm not always able to meet my goal even though I also have the berry fund that I started earlier in the season and I purchased boxes of peaches last December for this summer, long before my so-called food budget started.

The problem now is that a greater variety of produce comes into the market each week, and when so many temptations are flaunted at my inner food snob, I can't resist all of them. I think I'm only about $20 over some weeks, so I added "splurge of the week" category. Meaning I'd give up movies, meals out etc. But each week I have to really think about it and choose only one or two items to splurge on.

My favorite porcini mushrooms were under $20 last year and have gone up to $30 a pound, making just a few for an omelet about an $8.00 purchase. I got them once not realizing how much just a few cost. Like pieces of gold.

And I love berries, especially the wild ones like black raspberries (black caps), but it's hard to justify buying flats of half pints of berries that cost as much as full pints of strawberries. (For two weeks I bought black caps--a big splurge.)

When cherries finally arrived at the market they were $6 a pound for organic cherries. I could swear they were $5.50 last year and the year before that $4.50. Everything on the farm goes up and so do food prices. (Stagnant wages can't keep up. It's a tighter squeeze for many people.)

I like cherries but I'm not a huge fan. However, I do love sour pie cherries, which were available from Mair Farm for $10 a pound. Last year they were $9.50. I resisted for a few weeks, but while waiting in line last week, a woman in front of me said she'd made a cherry pie and it was so good she ate the entire thing herself. How could I resist?

Food budget was as far from my mind as the word diet is to a cupcake addict.

Another impulse item I got was English peas. I made this soup with them a few weeks ago, and as I reached for them at the Rent's Due Ranch booth along with a number other eager pea lovers, we chatted about the price, but everyone agreed that peas were worth the price. We enable each other in our market addictions, but maybe peas are a good addiction.

Yesterday evening I did a presentation at the Lynnwood Library with Super Supplements on how to get more greens into your diet. Cherie Calbom, the Juice Lady was there and I've always wanted to meet her. Seven books, an incredibly busy speaking schedule and she oozes vitality. Cherie mentioned that you can juice pea pods along with other greens and vegetables. So if you have a juicer, use pea pods in the mix.

Tomatoes are another budget breaking item at the market. At home, the blossoms on my own tomatoes look as if they're frozen in time. I'm praying for sun so tomatoes appear before the cool fall comes to spoil our summer. I'll continue to buy locally grown and look for seconds--tomatoes that aren't quite perfect enough to command full price.

I save money on greens. Many people around here whine "where's the sun?" But the greens in my yard love all this cool rainy weather and are thriving. I love the spicy mustard greens and today I'm making kale chips with the kale grown from Wild Garden Seed.

Besides growing greens, I save money by
  • becoming familiar with the best ways to store produce so it lasts through the week and have the wisdom to know what doesn't
  • bringing a list to the market
  • sticking with basics--greens, carrots, beets, cabbage; unique varieties tend to command higher prices and these are splurge items for me
  • making an easy green soup the day I get home from the market

  • And buying zucchini. When gardeners and farmers grow them, they often get boatloads of them, driving the price down. The medium-size has the best texture and flavor, especially for grilling. Zucchini is too mild and tender as a baby. And it's too watery and seedy when old. I sliced zucchini like fries and roasted until soft as they cooked I drizzled organic canola oil over them and sprinkled with them sea salt when done. They were gone so fast, I didn't even snap a picture.

These patty pan squash were also in the 99 cent tub of squash. When something is different in this country many people rate it as less valuable. Americans like uniformity and shapes that repeat themselves, and are used to seeing all similar shapes of vegetables in the bin. In spite of our claims that we're all different, uniformity comforts people.

What if uniformity looked like this?

My Cooking Assistant doesn't care how they look. It's all about smell for him. He can't resist it. That photo session ended sooner than expected.

Homegrown berries is another way to save money.

That's what I thought until my Cooking Assistant discovered the berry patch. You can also check out what he discovers at Street Pickings, his new moonlighting gig.

Here's to the berry days of summer!

Who ate all the berries?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Soup Project: Zucchini Chowder with Fire-Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Basil

Three cheers for zucchini on Meatless Monday

As a child I found it hard to smile in the summer when Dad brought ripe summer squash in every evening from his tiny garden and said, "How bout some zucchini?" I remember on many occasions thinking "Are you kidding me?" and "Not again." But now that I'm older and wiser, I see value of zucchini as a budget extender, and just this weekend, I made a special trip to the market for the possibility of getting organic zucchini for 99 cents a pound.

Many people tire of this familiar summer squash quickly (perhaps because it's so common and cooked alone it can be bland) and they often pass it up for this week's darling like English peas or okra sold for up to ten dollars a pound. But for the budget couscous cook zucchini should be the go-to summer vegetable. When bumper crops of summer squash come in they're the best buy at the market, and the only problem is, there are never enough recipes and if you don't have abundant recipes eating zucchini gets boring fast.

River Farm was selling medium to large organic summer squash for 99 cents a pound if you bought three or more pounds. I didn't need three pounds but it would make the cost of meals lower for the week so I loaded up. As I stood in line with other summer squash enthusiasts we did a Forrest Gump banter about the many things you could do with bumper crops of summer squash. "You can barbecue, bake, broil and saute" . . . Also on the list was
  • lasagna, pizza and spaghetti sauce
  • grilled for zucchini steaks or stuffed into pita bread sandwiches
  • pickled and given away to friends
  • add it to quiche and omelets
  • Use it in chutney
  • Bread, cakes, muffins, pancakes
  • Make it into a creamy sauce (I did this in my book)
  • Roast it with peppers, eggplant, garlic and other summer vegetables
I secretly love it when I see huge, huge zucchinis, big as baseball bats. A friend once sliced one of those big zucchinis and made personal pizzas out of the slices. Creative minds come together over zucchini and once you get going, you can think of many uses for this underrated vegetable. I wouldn't be surprised if one of the local ice cream makers started churning it into ice cream--I could imagine it with chocolate or a vanilla-butter cream flavor.

I like to buy a combination of colors when it comes to summer squash. I don't think my Cooking Assistant is that picky.

Grilled zucchini with a smoky flavor is my very favorite way to eat it lately, but the weather hasn't been favorable for grilling lately, and on Saturday it was so cool, my thoughts turned to soup. Deborah Madison has a great Zucchini and Cilantro Soup with Chile and Mint in her book Local Flavors. And while the lime in Deborah's recipe sounds enticing, but I was thinking about tomatoes because the grey clouds made me crave more color.

Even if it's very hot where you live, this summer soup makes the best easy summer meal.

First, I caramelized the onions, which sweetens the Walla Walla onions. Then I added zucchini and blanched the carrot slices, broccoli stalks and potatoes so the soup wouldn't take long to cook, and because the vegetables have more texture if they aren't simmered for an hour.

I actually just put it together with what I had on hand--fire-roasted tomatoes, basil and mustard greens grown from Frank Morton's seeds in the garden.

Hope you enjoy this recipe:

Zucchini Chowder with Fire Roasted Tomatoes, Basil and Parmesan Cheese
(Serves 6 to 8)

4 small sweet onions, chopped, about 1 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon oil
4 cloves garlic
4 cups sliced zucchini, about 3 medium size zucchini (6 to 10 inches)
2 medium size (5 to 8 inch) carrots, sliced
1 or 2 broccoli stems, diced
1 medium white potato, diced
2 to 4 tablespoons hot salsa
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen
28 ounce can tomatoes
2 to 3 cups water
Large handful of basil, roughly chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained
4 cups chopped mustard greens
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

1. Saute onions in oil until lightly browned. Add garlic and zucchini. Stir and cook until zucchini softens. This takes about ten minutes. After zucchini softens stir in salsa. While vegetables cook, bring a medium-size sauce pan filled with water to a boil and add carrots, broccoli stems and potatoes. Cook until fork tender, about 4 minutes, then remove from heat and drain.

2. Place cooked vegetables and salsa, corn, tomatoes, 2 cups water and garbanzo beans in a pressure cooker or soup pot. If using a pressure cooker, bring up to pressure for 1 minute, then let pressure come down naturally. Stir in chopped mustard greens, season with salt and pepper.

3. Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Of course you'll want to serve this with some good crusty local artisan bread, unless you can't have wheat, and that's another story. Hope you this one as much as we did.

Next time I hope to have an archive of all the soup recipes so far this year.

For a nondairy version, garnish with toasted bread crumbs or croutons.

Finn isn't picky and he's pretty good at his prewash job.

But he's gone once the job is over and the empty soup bowl looks incredibly lonely.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Whispering Winds Farm: The First Annual Farm Dinner

It was pouring just an hour before I got to Whispering Winds Farm for the first annual farm-to-fork dinner. Char and Doug were buzzing around taking care of last minute details as the wind picked up and the weather seemed iffy at best. It wasn't just cold and rainy, the wind can really pick up speed in this valley.

I can't believe it's July and I had a winter coat beside me, just in case the weather really got ugly. It rained a little on my books before I could get them undercover. I set up a table and had a bit of time to snap a few farm photos before the guests arrived. It was a staggered arrival because people signed up to eat at 4, 5 or 6pm.

Cows make up much of the scenery around the farm because Whispering Winds is a row crop vegetable farm surrounded by traditional dairy farms in Skagit Valley.

I took a picture of this in the last post, but up close I noticed the two figures in the front seat. Flowers in the back are for the party.

This is the front of the truck parked just behind the farm stand where Char says they'll have a pay-as-you-go produce stand. It will be open in another month or so. I'm putting Whispering Winds Farm stand on my list of places to go this summer.

Char printed a farm map to go with a self-guided farm tour. And as if by magic the rainy clouds disappeared and the sun came out.

Though we whine (a lot lately) about the rainy weather around here during summer, I haven't yet heard anyone ever complain that it's too green here.

I love that people were excited to visit this farm. For me, the best part about this dinner was meeting all the great people who live in this community and came together to meet Char and Doug and enjoy dinner at a farm.

Sheila and Brad Zahnow who took pictures of Char and Doug's farm for my book were there. They introduced me to Char and Doug and ultimately made this whole dinner possible.

Kathy Gehrt who wrote Discover Cooking with Lavender came to the dinner too. One lucky person won a copy of Kathy's book as a door prize. Everyone who attended had a chance to win one of the prizes. I mentioned my donations in the last post.

Deva Gartenstein also offered a few copies of her new print edition of Cavemen, Monks and Slow Food as prizes. All those door prizes made me wish I had a paid for ticket with a stub to enter. Who doesn't like a chance to win something? Everyone also each got a $5 coupon for produce from the farm. This was the best bargain for a farm dinner I've ever attended.

The music was perfect.

Dinner was served in part of the heritage barn. You could look out to meadows and another farm off in the distance.

The main course was halibut cakes. Many people wanted seconds and asked how Devra made them, so she said she'd put the recipe on her blog. Check it out and see. It's baked halibut combined with potatoes and a few seasonings. The yogurt based sauce was also a big hit.

The side dishes, Carrots with Fennel and Hazelnuts and Broccoli and Cauliflower with Northwest Raspberry Vinegar, were based on easy recipes in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. I love the easy way Deva put it all together. A number of people stopped to buy the book. Dinner was simply perfect and it was great swapping ideas with other hungry home chefs.

Love the bi-colored carrots. Fennel and maple syrup were meant to be with carrots.

Who can't resist cupcakes for dessert? They were from this new cupcake business in Stanwood and they sourced the strawberries locally.

The wine from Pasek Cellars, a local winery near Mount Vernon. I love this ruby colored cranberry wine. Maybe I'll include it in my next gift basket.

The sunset was stunning and after all the good food, great company, cupcakes and wine, it was hard to say goodbye.

Char said next year the event will be in August and the menu will be open to accommodate unanticipated weather conditions. Why not put this event on your calendar now for next year?

Is this Larry, Curly or Moe?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Whispering Winds Farm

Sixty seven people signed up for the first annual farm-to-fork dinner tomorrow at Whispering Winds Farm in Stanwood. It's sold out, thanks in part to Cascade Harvest Coalition, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland and Sarah Jackson at the Everett Herald who helped get the word out.

I wrote about farmers Char and Doug Byde and Whispering Winds in this post and mentioned the fam dinner in this one. And the heritage barn is featured in my book and since I'm going to the dinner, I stopped by the farm yesterday to take a few pictures to share since this is planned as an annual event. How cool is that?

In the barn, when I noticed a few feathers floating down from the rafters. Char said a barn owl lives there. Every barn should have an owl.

I'm crazy about this barn's rustic character on this lush green landscape. I love vintage things, but I often don't think about what it takes to maintain them. It's a work in progress, Char told me.

I also noticed this old truck in front of the farm, and Char said it was their lawn ornament. I know this is a flood plain but is that a boat on the back of that truck?

Char is the main farmer at Whispering Winds Farm. Doug also has a full time job in Marysville. Char cultivates the crops, delivers the CSAs and still finds the time to blog. Char said she learned everything she knows about farming on the job as an adult. She didn't grow up on a farm, but helped out on a neighbor's farm and one thing she noticed is the kids who lived there weren't hungry and their food was pretty tasty. Char has grown vegetables and flowers all her adult life.

This farm is Char's dream job and her favorite part of farming? Meeting all the people who eat her produce and love what she and Doug are cultivating on this farm.

These beehives belong to a neighbor who brings the bees in to pollinate blossoms and collects honey. I wonder if bees know their hive by color, location or a combination of senses?

Even though the sun wasn't out (so typical Northwest), the flowers brightened the fields. Maybe that's why we love flowers so much here.

One of the tricks in farming is knowing exactly when the vegetables and fruits ripen, and with the variable weather each year, it's a gamble. Everything is late this year--about three weeks late. Even these onions that looked small but good to me, Char said were a few weeks out. The tops need to die back first.

Spring onions are green onions, picked before their time, but they're sweet and delicate like new potatoes.

The potatoes are also about three weeks away, says Char. Mother Nature doesn't like to be hurried.

Though the Northwest is a great growing region one of the challenges is the continual dampness and rain. Stone fruits like apricots and peaches are hard to grow on this damp side of the Cascades.

But cole crops like kale, mustard greens, collards, Brussels sprouts and broccoli love the cool climate and generally thrive here.

Until we have a few hot days, that is. With just a few hot sunny days these cool weather loving crops can suddenly shoot up and bolt (flower). Bolting turns leaves bitter, but some of the flowers are quite tasty. After a few hot sunny days, sample some lettuce leaves at the market before buying it because the flavor may be more bitter than you'd like. That's why California doesn't have lettuce as sweet as some of the lettuce varieties we grow here. So before you start to whine about the cool weather, think about the cole crops.

Another vegetable that grows well here are peas. One friend told me peas are so easy to grow, she could just toss seeds outside and they'll grow. I think she exaggerated, it's not that easy for me, but it is a crop I often hedge my bets on when I draw up my garden plans.

Every pea at Whispering Winds Farm is hand harvested by Char. Love English peas as you can guess with my last recipe.

I took a lot of pictures and I dropped off a couple of baskets for door prizes. My wrapping skills are not Martha Stewart inspired, but check out the Rockridge Orchards wine, Tahuya River Apiaries honey, and of course my cookbook in this basket. It's what's inside the wrapping that really counts. It's fun to give things away.

I'll be selling both of my books at the event.

My friend Kathy Gehrt is taking time out of her busy lavender festival schedule to go to the dinner, too. Devra Gartenstein of Patty Pan Grill is cooking the meal, and I'll be helping serve it.

I'll have more photos and a recipe for you in a few days. If we're lucky we'll see an eagle or two.

If you were lucky enough to get tickets to this event, I hope to see you there. In case you missed out, Char plans to host this dinner in August next year.

Chloe was waiting for me at home. She isn't as obvious as Finn with her disappointment over what I didn't bring home.

Finn doesn't conceal his disappointment when he realizes I didn't score any carrots for him.