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Archive for the ‘Farmers' Market Cooking’ Category

The noble pig, supplier of some of humankind’s most delicious foods, bacon, pork loin, barbecued ribs, ham, sausages, etc. Oh and yes, that all important unguent, lard.

Some of the best pie crust I’ve ever had is made with lard. No it doesn’t taste piggy, not if you use the right lard, rendered properly. Have you ever had bitter greens like arugula, wilted in pork dripping, or bacon fat? It really turns a salad into a main dish, especially if you add some pancetta and a poached egg on top. On a recent trip to Budapest, instead of butter for my bread, I was served a mound of fluffy lard rendered from one of Hungary’s famed Mangalitsa pigs and flavored with paprika. It was heavenly.

I know a lot of people are worried about their health, but lard is really no worse for you than butter. In fact, it actually contains less saturated fat than butter. Butter is approximately 50% saturated fat, 30% monounsaturated fat, and 4% polyunsaturated fat. Lard consists of 39% saturated fat, 45% monounsaturated fat and 11% polyunsaturated fat. And it turns out that saturated fat may not even be as bad for us as we have been led to believe. A recent meta-analysis of over 300,000 subjects published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that “there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of CHD [Coronary Heart Disease] or CVD [Cardio Vascular Disease].”

But doesn’t fat make you fat? Well, actually, no. Eating more calories than you expend is what makes a person gain weight. Fat and the flavor that it brings to food, are what make you feel satiated. If we take the fat out of our food, we keep eating past the point where we are actually full, in search of satisfaction that will never come. The explosion of “no-fat” and “low-fat” processed foods, along with meat bearing animals that have been bred leaner and leaner over the past 30 years have paradoxically contributed to the current obesity epidemic.

Take that wilted arugula salad I mentioned above, if you make it with a bottled “no-fat” dressing and bacon bits (which, by the way, are usually made of soy, not bacon), you’ll be hungry half and hour later and digging into the emergency Oreos stash in your desk drawer. If you make it with pork fat and pancetta, you’ll hardly be able to eat too much of it, especially if you make a smaller portion to begin with and concentrate on eating slowly and savoring the luscious flavor. On this point I agree with Jennifer McLagan, author of Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes. Eat fat, lose weight.

If you’d like to try using some lard at home, start with something simple, like wilted greens with a vinaigrette made with bacon fat instead of olive oil. Or take some lard and melt it with salt and a couple of sprigs of a fresh green herb like thyme or rosemary. Let it cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, then pluck out the herb stalks, let the lard cool to room temperature, and chill it in the fridge. At serving time, bring it to room temperature, beat it a bit with a wooden spoon to make it fluffy and serve it as a spread for bread with some additional chopped fresh herbs to sprinkle on top. Any where you use olive oil, vegetable oil, or butter, you can try lard instead.

I recommend buying lard from a trusted source at a farmers’ market or a good butcher. It may be already rendered, or you can easily do it yourself at home (see below). Free range, sustainably raised pigs make better tasting fat, so ask about where and how the pig was raised. Heritage breeds such as Tamworth or Gloucestershire Old Spot, have more and better fat, than modern ones which have been bred to be “the other white meat.” Stay away from the lard sold in supermarkets. It has been industrially processed using bleaching and deodorizing chemicals and it is usually hydrogenated to make it shelf stable which really does make it bad for you.

There are several kinds pork fat, each being good for different types of cooking. Back Fat or Fatback comes from the back, shoulder and rump of the pig. It is the fat just under the skin and it is often sold with the skin still attached (great for making Chicharrón). If you remove the skin and render the fat, the resulting lard is very good for sautéeing and frying.

Leaf lard is the fat from around the pig’s kidneys. This is the purest and most neutral tasting lard and it’s special crystalline structure is what makes your pie crust the best in the world. You can also use it for frying.

To Render Lard

Adapted from Jennifer McLagan

Leaf Lard or Fatback, very cold or partially frozen
Water

Preheat oven to 250F

If rendering fatback remove the skin, if using leaf lard pull away any papery membranes. Cut the fat into 1-inch pieces. Put it in a dutch oven or ovenproof casserole. Add 1/3 cup of water for each pound of fat you have. This prevents the fat from burning during the rendering process.

Put the pan in the oven, uncovered. Check on its progress and stir it twice during the first 45 minutes, then check and stir once per hour. Render the fat until it starts to color. This will take 4-8 hours depending on the amount of fat you start with. As soon as you see any pieces with color, remove the fat from the oven and strain it through a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth. Any pieces that remain in the strainer can be returned to the pan to render further if you wish.

Let the rendered lard cool completely before covering it and storing in the refrigerator where it will keep for about 2 months. If frozen it will keep for a year.

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The other day I was in my local grocery store, reading labels like the food geek I am, when I wandered past the apple sauce shelf. I was shocked to discover that most of the jars contained not only apples, water, and some ascorbic acid (to keep the sauce from turning brown), but they also had High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) in them. Each brand seemed to have one version that was unsweetened, usually labeled “natural” or “original.” But if you wanted chunky apple sauce or apple sauce with cinnamon, then you had no choice but to also accept HFCS. There were a couple of organic brands which did not have ascorbic acid in them (maybe organic lemon juice is expensive?). They also had sweetened and non-sweetened versions but used sugar instead of HFCS. Does anyone make organic HFCS? There’s an ironic food product for you.

Why would anyone put sweetener in apple sauce? I mean sure, if you’re using older apples that have been in storage all winter then they might need a bit of a boost, but come on, apples are one of the sweetest foods in existence. Heck, a lot of “hippy” products are sweetened with apple juice instead of sugar. Oh, and even worse, the small 4 ounce cups of apple sauce meant to go in kids’ lunch boxes were all sweetened. I’m sure someone makes a “natural” lunch box apple sauce, but my store didn’t have any that day.

When I got home from the grocery store, I was standing in the kitchen shaking my head over America’s apparent addiction to sugar, when I saw a bowl of apples on the counter. About half an hour later, I filled most of a quart-sized jar with homemade pink apple sauce spiced with star anise, cardamom, and cloves, no sweeteners here thanks. I used 6 apples and I wound up with about 3 cups of sauce. Apple sauce is one of the easiest things to make yourself and it’s fun to experiment with wild spice combinations, I think next time I’ll try some fresh ginger.

Normally, I’m not a big kitchen gadget lover. I live in a small New York City apartment and gadgets must earn the right to live in my kitchen by proving they are truly useful at multiple tasks. One of the few gadgets granted this honor is my food mill. In summer I use it for making jams and jellies, it helps a lot in making really smooth cold soups like vichyssoise, and it’s really good for making apple sauce. If you have a food mill there is no need to core and/or peel your apples, just chop them into eight pieces each and that’s it. Once the apple sauce is cooked, you let it cool and then run it through the food mill which purees the cooked apples and removes the skin, seeds and spices. Leaving the skin on the apples makes the sauce turn pink, which I think is particularly attractive. I also think the skin and seeds impart more flavor to the final sauce.

Apple sauce is a great staple to have around the house. I love stirring it into oatmeal in the morning, it’s a great side dish with pork, and you can use it for a quick dessert like apple sauce cake.

Homemade Apple Sauce

Makes about 3 cups

6-8 apples, any variety you like
water
2 star anise pods
2 cardamom pods
4 whole cloves

Cut your apples into 8 pieces each and put them in a sauce pan with just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan which will keep them from sticking. If you do not have a food mill peel and core your apples before putting them in the pan.

Add the spices. Cover and cook over low heat for about 15-20 minutes or until the apples are very soft. Take the pot off the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Pour the cooked apples into the food mill. Discard any water than strains through the food mill, then puree your sauce. If you don’t have a food mill, remove the spices from the cooled apples and mash them with a potato masher. If the sauce is too watery, pour it through a fine mesh strainer. Store, covered, in the refrigerator.

Variations:

Use more than one apple variety for more complexity and depth of flavor.

Try any spice combinations that sound interesting to you. Here are some suggestions: cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, fresh ginger, cloves, star anise, and cardamom. Whole spices are always better if you have them; for nutmeg, grate it into the pot.

If your apples are old, you might add a tablespoon or 2 of sugar. Old apples also benefit from 2 tablespoons of butter for extra smoothness. Stir the butter into the finished sauce while it is still warm.

For an adult apple sauce, use brandy or Calvados (French apple brandy) instead of water.

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I used to think of Thanksgiving as an invisible border when it came to the farmers’ market. The purveyors saved up a good amount of their best produce for the official holiday of gluttony, after which things slowly slid downhill until all that was left in the freezing depths of February were turnips and rutabagas.

Actually, it’s not that bad. We are without a fish monger for most of the winter (I wouldn’t want to go out fishing in that weather either!), but our meat sellers stick around, and there is always bread, milk, cheese, eggs, root vegetables and some hearty winter greens.

Quite a few NYC farmers’ markets are open all year round. Go for a visit, you might be surprised at what’s available. In the meantime, here are some photos of the Grand Army Plaza Farmers’ Market in Brooklyn on a rainy saturday after Thanksgiving:

Carrots and Beets


Baby Hakurei Turnips


Pinecones for Sale at the Christmas Tree Stand


A Very Orange Pumpkin


Beautiful Spinach Wet with Rain


This Houseplant Gives Us Splash of Color on a Gray Day


An Apple A Day. . . Especially if it's Raining

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“Is Slow Food Really Slow?” is a series here on Comestibles in which we explore the hypothesis that some of the processes many modern home cooks have declared too time consuming are a lot easier than the admen would have us believe.

Everybody panic! It’s the great pumpkin shortage of 2009! I, for one, am deeply suspicious that Nestlé/Libby is making it all up to increase sales. I can report that my local grocery stores have plenty of canned pumpkin on the shelves as I write (the Sunday before Thanksgiving) and my mother, who is providing pie — which is of course the best in the universe — for our gathering, has not called to tell me that she will have to make apple instead this year. We had terrible rain during the growing season here in the northeast, and yet, yesterday at the Farmers’ Market, they had lovely pie pumpkins for sale at $1/pound. How are pumpkin supplies in your area?

If you can’t find pumpkin canned or fresh, I would recommend substituting sweet potato or butternut squash, I’ve heard that it’s difficult to tell the difference once the sugar, spices, eggs and cream are added.

When a friend of mine recently gave me a sugar pumpkin from her garden, I got excited because I’ve been wanting to try making pie from fresh pumpkin for years and the best type to use is the sugar pumpkin (sometimes called pie pumpkin). If you try this at home, don’t use a Halloween Jack ‘O Lantern type pumpkin. They are not sweet enough and they’re also quite a bit more fibrous.

I think we can safely say that it will take longer to make a pumpkin pie this way since opening a can only takes about 30 seconds and roasting a pumpkin takes about an hour and a half. However, as with home baked bread, the active time required is a lot shorter than you might think: about 23 minutes. I timed it thus (I have colored the active parts green, for the rest you can be out of the kitchen):

Chop in half and clean out the pumpkin: 15 min.
Bake pumpkin: 90 min.
Cool pumpkin: 15 min.
Scoop flesh out of pumpkin: 5 min.
Puree pumpkin flesh in food processor: 3 min.

So we’ve established that while yes, technically it is slower than opening a can, it’s not as horribly time consuming as you might think. But does the pie taste better? I did not go so far as to make two pies side by side for comparison (I’ll have enough weight to lose after the holidays as it is, okay?), but going on the memory of the many pies I have eaten which were made with canned pumpkin, I can say that I really didn’t detect any particular difference in flavor. It was delicious! However, I found it very satisfying to make a pie the way my great-grandmother would have, and I didn’t have to add another can to the recycling bin.

One thing I did notice is that after roasting, when I pureed the pumpkin it was a very bright orange, not that dull brownish color you find in canned pumpkin. I’m no nutritionist, but I’m guessing there was a lot more beta carotene and other “good for you” compounds in the fresh pumpkin.

So get thee to a Farmers’ Market and buy some sugar pumpkins. The one I used made the perfect amount of puree for pie (you need about 2 cups of puree for a 9 inch pie). I didn’t measure it but it looked to be about an average size based on what I’ve seen for sale. Ask your farmer, I’m sure she can tell you which size to get. Or better yet, buy two and make pumpkin muffins, or pumpkin bread with the extra. The puree also freezes very well, so don’t worry if you have too much.

Fresh Pumpkin Puree

Makes about 2 cups of pumpkin puree

1 medium sized sugar pumpkin (also called a pie pumpkin)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise and remove the stem. Scoop out the “guts,” saving the seeds if you wish for roasting later. Place the pumpkin halves on a lightly oiled baking sheet, cut side up, and bake until the pumpkin begins to collapse in on itself and the flesh is tender (about 90 minutes).

Allow the pumpkin to stand until it is cool enough to handle easily (about 15 minutes). Then scoop the flesh out of the skin and puree in a food processor until smooth. If your puree seems a little watery (mine wasn’t at all, but pumpkins can vary), line a strainer with cheese cloth and set it over a bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it to drain overnight in the fridge. The final puree will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days and freezes very well.

If you need a pie recipe, try this one from Simply Recipes, it turned out very well and I especially liked the addition of cardamom to the spice mixture.

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Photo by Flickr user midiman

Ah yes, the traditional Thanksgiving menu; let’s assemble the parade of protein and starch shall we? Turkey (of course!) with some kind of stuffing usually involving bread; mashed potatoes, or a creamy, cheesy, potato gratin; sweet potatoes, (no, they are not yams!) with or without marshmallows, as you like; maybe some preparation of turnips or squash; cranberry sauce, wobbly or not; and some luscious pumpkin pie. See what I mean? Not too much in the way of green vegetables.

To prevent holiday scurvy in our house we try to provide at least one green vegetable every year. One big hit from the past, which I may make again this year, is a Warm Salad of Autumn Greens with Plum Vinaigrette from Fine Cooking Issue Number 29, November 1998 (yes, I am a long time subscriber). It combines slightly wilted spinach, swiss chard (or kale) and frisée (or escarole) with toasted hazelnuts and a dressing made from plum preserves and Champagne vinegar. Besides being good for you (your digestion will thank you in the morning), the greens and the fruity, sharp vinaigrette make a nice palate cleanser between helpings of those heavier dishes. Hey look, here’s the recipe on the Fine Cooking website.

Another wonderful green option is brussels sprouts. I know some people claim not to like them, but try out the recipe below and see if they still protest. I was recently shopping at my local farmers’ market with a friend and saw sprouts still on the stalk, looking like some kind of weird modern art. In the finest market tradition, my friend rattled off this ridiculously simple recipe which I tried that very night. My husband, who is agnostic, but wary, when it comes to brussels sprouts, loved them; I swear we ate a pound between us.

Their little tiny leaves get a bit charred and crunchy, giving them some sweetness which balances perfectly with the balsamic vinegar. Trust me, those sprout haters will be asking for this recipe as you send them out into the night full of protein, starch, and a few green veggies.

Brussels Sprouts for People Who Think They Don’t Like Them

If you can’t find brussels sprouts still on the stalk, look for firm, dark green ones with no yellow leaves.

Serves 4

1 pound brussels sprouts
olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven 350 F.

Pour a liberal amount of olive oil into a large sheet pan or baking dish. Slice your sprouts in half and put them cut face down in one layer in the pan. Moisten the tops of the sprouts with a little more oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and roast for about 45 minutes or until they’re starting to turn a little black (really!). Put them in a serving dish and toss with some good balsamic vinegar.

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friday

I was going to title this article “Friday Night Cleaning Out the Fridge Dinner.” But somehow the image of cleaning out the fridge leads to unfortunate thoughts of fruits and vegetables past their time and even mold. Not very appetizing really. So I started thinking like a restaurateur or a marketer. Friday Night Pre-Market Dinner sounds a lot more appealing; almost like a special prix fixe dinner menu.

We’re lucky to live near a very robust, weekly farmers’ market that includes milk, meat, eggs, vegetables, fish, and even mushrooms. We try very hard to buy most of our food there every week, only supplementing with staples like flour, olive oil, and chocolate from the supermarket. In winter of course this becomes more difficult, but you’d be surprised the things you can do with turnips and rutabagas (that’s swedes to those reading from across the pond).

Since the market is on Saturday, in our house it makes sense to use things up by Friday, making room for all the new things we are invariably tempted by at the market. This week, I had the following ingredients to work with on Friday evening: some slightly sad sweet potatoes, regular potatoes, and a lovely bunch of rainbow chard that looked as crisp and fresh as the day we bought it. I feel this is one of the advantages of buying local food. It’s a lot fresher when you buy it and it lasts a lot longer.

I tossed the potatoes (both kinds) in olive oil and some herbs de provence and put them in the oven to roast. These are my go to herbs when I’m in a hurry, or not sure what to use. They go with everything!

Somehow, in my mind, chard is associated with raisins, so I put some in a small dish and poured sherry over them, leaving them to soak. I had some lovely farro in the pantry from Cayuga Pure Organics, so I put that on to simmer in a pot with some homemade chicken stock I grabbed out of the freezer. Speaking of the freezer, did you know that it is the best place to store your pine nuts? They keep for a long time and don’t go rancid. I pulled them out as well and toasted a nice big handful in a dry skillet.

While the farro bubbled away, I cut the big stems and veins out of the chard and tore the leaves into bite sized pieces. Once the veggies were basically roasted and the farro was almost cooked (about 30 to 40 minutes) I threw the chard in with the farro which still had a tiny bit of liquid left and stirred it about until the greens were nicely wilted. Along the way I also drained and tossed in the sherry soaked raisins. Overall, I think it was quite successful, the chewy farro made a nice hearty base for the dish and each bite was full of little surprises, especially those sherry-soaked raisins.

What are your favorite “pre-market” recipes?

Roasted Autumn Vegetables with Farro and Rainbow Chard

Serves 2

1½ tablespoon of golden raisins
dry sherry
2 potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
olive oil
1 tablespoon herbs de provence
1 cup farro
1½ cups homemade chicken stock or low sodium canned stock
salt
freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons pine nuts

Put the golden raisins in a small dish and cover with sherry.

Peel and cube both kinds of potatoes. Put them in a baking dish and toss with olive oil and the herbs de provence, then sprinkle liberally with salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the vegetables in a 350F oven for 30-40 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, bring the chicken stock to a boil in a saucepan and add the farro. Simmer partially covered until almost done (about 30 minutes).

While the farro is cooking, toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet until fragrant and slightly brown. Pay careful attention as they can burn very easily.

If necessary, cut the big stems and veins out of your chard and tear it into bite sized pieces. Once the farro is done, drain the golden raisins and add them to the pot. Next, add the chard and stir until wilted (about 5-7 minutes). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To serve, make a bed of the farro, chard and raisins on the plate, put the roasted veggies on top and sprinkle with toasted pine nuts. A drizzle of olive oil completes the look.

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