Tuesday, July 28, 2009

French Green Beans at Richfield Farms

I stopped into Richfield Farms this morning, not really needing anything, but with a feeling that something good was waiting for me. I was right! The French green beans (haricots verts if you’re feeling fancy) are in. They were the highlight of the local growing season for me last year, and I served them constantly during the few weeks that they were available.

These are not just any string bean. They are tender, flavorful and organically grown. I am heading into the kitchen right this very minute to pop them into the steam oven, and then toss them with sliced shallots, good olive oil, a little vinegar, and some sweet and delicious tomatoes, also grown at the farm.

Richfield Farms is truly my favorite farm, and one of the only things I am going to miss about living in our Clifton neighborhood. Luckily, it will still be an easy drive from our new house, so I’ll continue to visit frequently. They have everything you need for your garden, including organic supplies and advice, awesome locally grown produce, really nice people, and some of the friendliest dogs you will ever meet, including a tireless border collie who would really, really, really like you to throw a stick for him to fetch. I love this place. I hope you will, too.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Preserves from the Edible Garden

This summer has been particularly enjoyable thanks to the opportunity to participate in The Edible Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. This Wednesday, July 29th, check out my blog post on Plant Talk, detailing my recent visit to the Garden’s Greenmarket, with a recipe for a deliciously different spiced tomato pickle.

I spent a gorgeous July morning at the Greenmarket, eating, talking to farmers, and visiting with some of the delightful people responsible for the Edible Garden exhibit. As I headed back from my trip, the river sparkled a beautiful blue-green, the usual New York City traffic was nowhere to be found, and I had some time to imagine the possibilities for the produce chilling in its refrigerated bag on the car seat beside me.

This preserve is one of those “one time only” products, born of late-night creativity and a little bit of the “why not?” sensibility that I feel is necessary for wonderful cooking. It features late-season blueberries, early-season Empire apples, and a memento of a happy family vacation from many years ago, an aged Barbardos rum with hints of vanilla, nutmeg, smoke and sunshine. I chose to add blackberries and a bit of organic applesauce because of their high pectin content – I wanted a good “jell”, but didn’t want to add powdered pectin to this beautiful, organic work of culinary art. Tasting as I went along, I decided that a little balsamic vinegar would not be amiss. I finished with a tiny grating of fresh nutmeg and just a pinch of cinnamon.

This recipe made three 12 oz. jars of finished preserves, plus a small bowlful that I put into the fridge so everyone could taste it. It’s amazing on toast, spread on pound cake, or perhaps just eaten from a spoon while standing in front of the refrigerator.

I’ll be back at the Edible Garden one more time this summer, on Saturday, August 8th. Our topic will be Home Canning, and I’ll be showing you how to preserve the bounty of your garden or local farmers’ market. I hope to see you there!

Blueberry and Empire Apple Preserves

2 pints blueberries, carefully washed and picked over
3 Empire apples, peeled and finely chopped
4 oz. blackberries
2 cups sugar
¼ cup aged Barbados rum
Juice of 2 lemons
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
¾ cup prepared applesauce
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
Bottled lemon juice, about 1 tablespoon per jar

Place blueberries, apples, blackberries, sugar, rum, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and applesauce in a heavy, non-reactive pot. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently, for 35 minutes. Add cinnamon and nutmeg, and cook for about 10 minutes more. You will know it’s done because it will be thick and delicious, and it will look like preserves. This recipe is high in natural pectin thanks to the apples, applesauce and blackberries, so it will jell a bit more upon standing.

Ladle into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 “ headspace. Top each jar with enough bottled lemon juice to leave ¼” headspace, about 1 tablespoon. Place lids on jars, and screw bands to “fingertip tightness”. Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.

This preserve will keep in a cool, dark cupboard for up to a year. Any leftover jam that doesn’t make it into a jar will keep, well-covered, in your refrigerator for 2 weeks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Survival Food

My mother has but two rules for a quick "comfort food" supper. It must be hot, and it must be brown. To this, I add that it must be nutritious, and should include a vegetable of some sort.

My sister and I were discussing food yesterday morning, as usual, while The Muffin ran wild playing with my grandfather (nothing is cuter, but I digress) - specifically, what to do with all of the chard in her CSA share. As I am in the middle of packing my entire life to move to a new home and have zero motivation left by the time I realize that we're starving and must eat NOW, I suggested lentils and rice, which is the official fast food of my household.

Lentils and rice can be made in many ways, with as few or as many ingredients as you like. My husband will eat it every day. It takes less than 45 minutes to cook, and will taste good no matter what you do to it. It is beyond inexpensive, and packed with nutrients, fiber and all kinds of other good things (particularly rich in B vitamins and iron, so my fellow veggies need to eat this once a week). Feel free to add more or less olive oil, fancy it up with carrots and celery, throw in cumin or chile flakes or oregano or fresh parsley, chervil, tarragon - whatever, really, and it will be good. And hot. And brown. Sometimes, that's all you need.

Lentils and Rice:

Make some rice. Or buy some from your local Chinese restaurant. Brown rice, white rice. It's all good. My sister, more virtuous than I, was planning to use quinoa, but went with Chinese food brown rice at the last minute. We had basmati.

Gather the following:
1/2 lb. lentils
olive oil
1 small onion
1 big, fat clove of garlic (more if you like)
a bay leaf
a branch or two of thyme (optional but yummy)
a splash of white wine, sherry or vermouth
4 cups vegetable stock (The kind in a box is fine. I won't tell.)
a bunch of chard. or spinach. or whatever greens you have lying about.
a little balsamic vinegar and lemon juice

Rinse and pick over lentils. Chop onion and garlic. Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Saute onion with a little pinch of salt until it softens; add garlic and saute another minute or two. Add lentils, stir, then add a splash of white wine or sherry. Add the vegetable stock all at once with thyme and bay leaf, and simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, slice chard into a thin chiffonade. Add chard to lentils, season with salt and pepper and a splash of balsamic vinegar, and cook until lentils are done (they will take 30-40 minutes from start to finish). Taste and adjust seasoning with lemon juice and more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot over rice.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

"These are the last of the North Jersey blueberries."

I hated hearing those words today at Richfield Farms (on Van Houten Ave in Clifton - go there and check it out!), where I purchased six quarts of the berries in question, as well at the earliest of their field-grown organic tomatoes, a cabbage, some sweet onions, and (confession) two quarts of California strawberries that I could not resist. The strawberry season was cut short before I could even begin to enjoy it, and now blueberries? If you love blueberries, I suggest that you go get some. Now.

I decided to drive to Richfield today, since my back was a bit achey from carrying The Muffin around all evening (the word of the day was "up!", and woe to she who does not immediately comply) and a long and solitary walk in the mid-day sun was not terribly appealing. I also wanted to stop by Ploch's Farm.

I can never find Ploch's Farm on the first try. You Clifton natives can draw me as many maps as you like, or use very small words while trying to explain it to me, but the way Grove Street and Broad Street twist around, merge and whatever else is happening there will never, ever make sense to me. The inevitable detour did allow for some really dramatic car-singing, though, and I was having a very good time with The Cure (embarassing but true; I really do need to get an ipod adapter for my car) until I pulled up at Plochs.

No one was there! The sign reading "fresh fruits and vegetables since 1867" was behind a closed gate. I did see a few veggies in a field, and I hope they're just closed for the holiday weekend. Their website is up and running, so I will try again during the week.

I'm going to spend this afternoon freezing and baking with blueberries, making big batches of vegetable soup for us and the grandparents, and hoping that the rest of our local crops fare better than the spring crop.

Note: South Jersey blueberries are still available at Richfield, Farms View, and other local farms!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Come see me at The Edible Garden!

This summer, stay local. The Edible Garden is the New York Botanical Garden’s summer-long celebration of growing and eating fresh, locally grown food. Learn to grow and prepare delicious garden produce, meet celebrity chefs and gardeners, and spend time with family and friends exploring our many summer exhibits all within the garden’s spectacular 250-acre landscape, just minutes from Manhattan, the boroughs, Bergen County and Westchester.

I’ll be appearing at the Edible Garden twice this summer, and I couldn’t be more excited about it. I had the pleasure of attending the opening of the exhibit last weekend. The gardens could not be lovelier. I particularly enjoyed our tour of the Family Garden, where education programs teach New York City children to grow, eat and enjoy their veggies, and families tend plots together. The staff is amazing and knowledgeable, and the setting is perfect for strolling, contemplating, and enjoying nature in all of its splendor.

On July 11th at 3pm, come to the Conservatory Kitchen for Summer Salads from the Grill. Using the freshest local produce, I’ll be demonstrating Roasted Tomato Gazpacho, Grilled Corn and Black-Eyed Pea Salad (featured in The Best of Vegan Cooking), and a fabulous Grilled Panzanella.

On August 8th, I’ll return to the Conservatory Kitchen at 1pm and 3pm for Home Canning. We’ll discuss methods for preserving the bounty of your garden or local farmers’ market, and I’ll show you how to make tomato sauce and fruit preserves.

For more information and discounted tickets, visit www.nybg.org/promo. Choose: Friends Ticket Buy 1 Adult get 1 half price, and enter code: EGDIG09.