Free Range on Food: Farmers markets, Virginia cheese, preserving and more.

Jun 22, 2016

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions. Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! We've got farmers and markets on the brain today, and a ton of coverage to match: Tim Carman's piece on how some farmers are seeing lower produce sales at markets (and why); Domenica Marchetti's profile of a Virginia cheesemaker with some awfully cute goats; Phaedra Hise's look at why local food costs more, told through the strawberry; Becky Krystal's look at why the same produce may cost more at farmers markets in the city than those outside; Cathy Barrow's advice for all those preserving fiends who want to shop at the market; Tamar Haspel's analysis of the pros and cons of indoor, vertical farming; our collection of 14 things we love to buy at farmers markets; and more.

We have some special guests today: Cara Mangini, the "vegetable butcher" who is the subject of my Weeknight Vegetarian column this week and has a great new book of the same name; Cathy "Mrs. Wheel-" Barrow, who is an absolute expert in putting up all manner of produce; and Domenica Marchetti, who is also a preserving queen (with a new book, "Preserving Italy"). Phaedra Hise and Tamar Haspel are on the road, but Phaedra can handle some questions by email.

Make them good, cause we'll have some great giveaway books today: SIGNED COPIES of Carla and Domenica's books; and "The Farmette Cookbook" by Imen McDonnell, source of some of the farmers market recipes we offered this week.

Now, for you PostPoints members, here's today's code: FR8304 . Remember, you'll want to record and enter it into the PostPoints site under Claim My Points to earn points. The code expires at midnight, so be sure to enter the code by 11:59 p.m. on Wednesday to get credit for participating.

OK, let's do this!

I found Tim Carman's story about farmers' markets very interesting. I've been involved in local farmers' markets (and still am) since the days when vendors would go to the wholesale warehouses, pick from the same loads of fruits and veggies going to the supermarkets, and sell them at a market. I think producer-only markets have been wonderful boon to both farmers and consumers, but I wonder if there isn't something of a correction going on? I think the early foodie movement created a somewhat unnatural cooking "bubble," where the Michael Pollans and the Slow Foods of the world kind of guilt-tripped the populace into believing that if you weren't whipping up your own risotto and drizzling organic oil olive on your organic goat cheese salad after work each day, you were somehow failing your family, the planet, and civilization in general. Cooking with sustainable ag ingredients became sort of a status symbol. Millennials weren't really in the kitchen during Pollan's heyday about five to ten years ago (you may disagree that Pollan is past his heyday, but I think he is), and their relationship to cooking is very similar to mine at their age, which was 30 years ago. My friends and I didn't cook--that came later with families and changing worldviews. So I'm heartened than younger folks are having regular exposure to great farmers' markets, even if they aren't picking up leeks for a tasty quiche. I think many of them will come to that in time. And, frankly, I still don't really cook much during the week. Cooking, and planning to cook, takes time and work---that's why Lady Grantham had Mrs. Patmore do it.

Thanks for your insights on the story. I do think there is a cultural shift, and I think it's too easy to point a finger at youth. The cultural shifts are technological and economic as well. We work longer, we make less, we spend way too much time on electronic devices (or maybe I'm speaking for myself on that one). It takes away time for cooking. Or even learning to cook.

 

One point that didn't get included in the article: Mike Koch, the executive director with FreshFarm Markets, is starting to push the prepared meal vendors to use more local ingredients. It's a rule with FreshFarm, but it hasn't always been enforced. He's going to push harder on it.

ARTICLE: For some growers, farmers markets just aren't what they used to be

To pickle new things with leftover pickle juice, do I bring the liquid to a boil? With or without the cukes, radishes, cauliflower I want to pickle? How long should it all sit to get pickled? (Why does "get pickled" also mean get drunk?) Thanks.

To use your pickle juice for brining fresh vegetables, bring the brine to a boil and pour it over the cut up veg. Refrigerate and taste after a day, after two day. Some vegetables pickle quickly (sliced onions) while others take longer (cauliflower).

How does one decide which farmers' stalls at the market are offering the best quality produce? Are there some things to look for?

For me, buying organic is important so I look for organic certification first. Otherwise, shop with your eyes and stop where the produce jumps out at you. It seems obvious but avoid stands with fruits and vegetables that are discolored, limp, overly soft, dry, or shriveling. And, please, don't be afraid of fresh-looking but irregularly shaped vegetables. Talk to the farmer or farm representative and ask when the produce was picked and if they can tell you about their growing practices. (They should be able to share this information, and you can decide if their answers jive with your own food philosophy.) I think it's important to develop a relationship with your farmers—it's the best way to decide where you want to spend your money.

Greetings...I have started pickling over the past year and have really enjoyed experimenting with the various vegetables and vinegars. I have a really hard time finding pickling cucumbers. Any recommendations on markets, vendors, or farms that may be a good source for pickling cukes? Next year I will have to get some plants in the ground early in the season. Thanks in advance.

This year, the first crop of pickling cucumbers were drowned in our rainstorms, so they've been harder to find locally. The second crop is just coming in, so watch the markets this week and going forward. 

One place that always (year round) has pickling cucumbers is H-Mart.

RECIPE: "Hamburger" Dill Pickle Chips

I have a block of mozzarella in my fridge to use up. I don't like tomatoes, so caprese is out! So far I can only think of pesto pizzadillas for something creative to make. Do you have any exciting ideas beyond throwing it on pizza? Thanks!

What about pairing the mozzarella with silky roasted peppers? You can char the peppers in the broiler, then peel and discard the skins, seeds, etc. Cut them into strips and season them with salt, olive oil, garlic, and basil or parsley. They go beautifully with mozz. Or if you want to take a short cut, buy good-quality bottled roasted peppers and punch those up a bit with good olive oil and fresh herbs.

Today's article about the price of produce, especially strawberries, was in my opinion a hatchet job. Only until the final paragraphs did the author mention that local strawberries usually have a better taste than those from California. I thought taste was a major reason to select and eat produce and not price, which I don't find all higher than the supermarket. Our local market takes SNAP and other assistance programs so I know there are more customers than the so-called "well-heeled" at the market. Since customers can talk to the growers, they can also find out what pesticides, if any, have been used. Local produce generally stays fresher meaning that there is less waste. There is also something to be said for eating food in season; I do this for strawberries, tomatoes, etc. I avoid produce shipped in from outside the United States.

Well, I would disagree with the idea of a hatchet job. (What was being hatcheted?) Phaedra took one FAQ and dug deeply into it -- and very ably, I might add. But here's how Phaedra responds:

It's clear you did a careful read of the piece, and I appreciate that. Yes, flavor is a big deal, but what I found in my research is that many farmer's market shoppers don't even realize they are paying more for local produce - much less give thought to why that may be. And the fact is that locally grown berries in California are better tasting AND cheaper, so it's a bit more complicated than just paying more for flavor. And while our local market takes SNAP also, those shoppers are still getting half the value of those SNAP coupons than they would get at the grocery, which I imagine would be a budget challenge. Definitely a complicated issue! 

ARTICLE: Why does a strawberry grown down the road cost more than one grown in California?


Thanks for the article on farmers markets. This resonates from the standpoint of this buyer who likes to cook and mourns the loss of produce sellers. Columbia Heights has two bread stands, eggs, meat, coffee, flowers, pottery, crafts, a taco stand, and usually a band playing, and, sure, that's fine. (I could do without the pottery and crafts, but I have farmers market tacos every Saturday!) My issue is that there are only three stands that sell actual fruits and vegetables, and two of them seem to mostly have apples. The third stand sells just vegetables and has a pretty good selection, but the lines are massive because it's the only option. And even then, the selection is pretty run of the mill--zucchini, greens, onions, tomatoes, cucumbers. Where's the interesting, often new to me produce? Purslane, gooseberries, different shapes and colors of summer squash? Heck, at the very least, where are a second or third stand offering the run-of-the-mill produce so that I can compare quality or at least not have to wait in the sun for 15 minutes to buy my zucchini? And while I love apples, if something like cherries or raspberries show up, you'd better be there before they run out at 10. I used to find all that at Dupont, but moved further away and dislike crowds (and waking up early) too much to return.

You've hit upon a point that several sources mentioned to me: the inconvenience of farmers markets. They're often crowded. They're usually open just one day a week, and only for a few hours. Parking can be tricky, if you need to drive.

 

It's so much easier, they pointed out, for shoppers to go to Whole Foods, which sometimes has local, organic produce available. Or join a CSA. Or use Washington's Green Grocer to deliver produce right to your door.

I want to make regular old iced tea. Any recommendations or recipes? Things like type of tea bags, simple syrup vs. sugar etc.

I used to like making sun tea when I was a kid. That's where you put the tea bags into a bottle with cold water and let it sit out in the sun until the water is infsued. Then, of course, you have to refrigerate it so it takes longer than other methods might, but I always enjoyed it. For simple syrup, just combine equal parts water and sugar in a saucepan and heat until dissolved. I like to infuse simple syrup with fresh mint leaves and then add that to the iced tea.

My parents have some unopened bottles of alcohol that they have been gifted over the years, as many as 20 years or so. There is some gin, Chivas Regal, and some others, do you think they are still ok to drink? I can't remember what else is in there are there some that go bad that we should avoid if found? Thanks!

If you're talking about all bottles of hard alcohol, they'll mostly be totally fine (the gin, Chivas, etc.) Now and then I find that some liqueurs lose their pep and brightness after a long time on the shelf, and if you have some of those in the bunch, you may find they're not as good. But unless there are signs of trouble (a rotted cork or something) it'll usually be a matter of decreased quality rather than actual danger. If it smells off, don't drink it!

What is an underrated vegetable that you love to cook with, and why?

It's getting harder to come up with underrated vegetables. Cauliflower used to be one of them but it has become an "it" vegetable. Same with hearty greens like kale and chard. What's left? Maybe turnips and rutabaga, both of which I love. I especially like to roast rutabaga: peel the bulbs and cut them into thick rounds. Brush with a mix of butter and honey or maple syrup and roast until tender. The assertive flavor of the rutabaga goes great with the sweet glaze.

I love okra! I think it has a bad reputation for the slightly slimy consistency produced by its seeds (which works like magic to thicken stews). Buy okra in season (freshness is key) and choose a dry cooking method to control its slickness. I love to grill whole pods to give them a smoky, crisp texture. Marinate them in lime juice and zest, olive oil, smoked paprika, and crushed garlic cloves. Season with salt and pepper. Throw them into a grill basket or skewer them. Grill until browned and lightly charred all over, 4 to 6 minutes, turning halfway through cooking. This way, okra turns into candy, truly.

Tim's article brings to mind the King St market in Alexandria, where it's hard to get to the three stands selling produce, meat and cheese through the art, pottery, candles, and voter registration tables (not that I'm opposed to voting, and I may be exaggerating a bit). It strikes me that the article did not answer the fundamental question - maybe there is no answer - is it in fact possible to farm sustainably, organically and also profitably over the long-term? The article speaks to the need for farmers to diversify, but even those attempts have limited success.

That's a tough question to answer for deadline journalists. It sounds like a task for academics and researchers: Can sustainable farming be profitable in the long run?

 

It strikes me that, if it can't, we're all in trouble, not just the farmers.

When i see a food truck at a farmers market i know it's not a "market" but a food court. So i don't go.

I think your assessment is harsh.

 

Just because food trucks are parked on the streets around a farmers market -- which they legally can do -- doesn't mean  the market is unworthy of a visit. Running a food truck is not an easy business either, just like farming. The truck operators are clearly  trying to capitalize on the crowds. You can't blame them for that.

 

And there's no reason to penalize the hard-working farmers just because there are prepared meals at a market.

I always have trouble creating a consistently tasty soffritto. Since it's a base for most sauces and soups, I am eager to know which tips I should heed to create a great and consistent soffritto.

Are you referring to Italian soffritto? That's the one I'm most familiar with ~ a mix of finely chopped onion, carrot, and celery that makes up the base for many Italian sauces and soups. For extra flavor I add minced garlic and minced fresh flat-leaf parsley. You can also add heartier herbs such as rosemary. I dice the vegetables finely rather than blitzing them in the food processor. For some reason, the tiny cubes seem to yield a better result. It takes a little more knife work but seems worth it to me. Another optional addition is minced pancetta, which really enriches the soffritto.

I over bought some heavy cream and now have a pint left and don't know what to do with it. Any thoughts? I tend to prefer sweet to savory. Thank you!

When I have leftover cream, I make butter! Just put the cream in your mixer, cover with a towel (to avoid the splash) and let 'er rip at the highest speed. In about 10 minutes, you'll have butter and buttermilk. Rinse the butter under cold water to remove any vestiges of buttermilk (it will speed spoilage). Now that you have buttermilk and butter, you're ready to make biscuits or pancakes.

Whip it and dollop it on all the fresh berries that are coming into season!

I already have a good kimchi recipe that I constantly use so now and Im looking for other alternatives and recipes for fermenting vegetables and fruits. Any suggestions?

Have you tried kimchi with different vegetables? I'm crazy for brussel sprout kimchi (with apples!) There's always sauerkraut, or sauerrueben (with turnips and cabbage) if you haven't  tried your hand at that yet. And don't miss sour pickles! Sandor Katz' seminal book WILD FERMENTATION is a great resource.

Yes, only 3 produce stands, but as the season continues, 3 Springs and 78 Acres add variety. (Pleitez is from further south and has green houses, so she always has stuff sooner.) You might also try coming up to Petworth (also on Saturday mornings). It's a smaller market, but has a nice variety of produce, including some oddities. Also, SNAP - many markets participate in a program that doubles SNAP dollars.

I appreciated the article on pricing at farmers' markets, as I get incredibly frustrated with money-saving articles that include "shop locally at farmers' markets" as a tip. I WANT to shop locally! I would always prefer to support a local grower than a corporation. But I can't afford to feed my family on only farmers' market produce. It's a luxury, not a hidden thrift secret.

Phaedra Hise responds:

 

Indeed - I face this same issue myself, which is why I wanted to write this article. I really want to buy local produce, but my budget doesn't always allow it. I feel like I'm now able to make more informed choices, and know what I'm paying for. So I can now shop for some of the more price-equitable items locally, and then honestly I just have to go to the grocery for the pricier items. Or, plant a garden! Which I did this spring. 

I used to see box mixes for blondies all the time. Now that my son has decided he no longer likes chocolate (yeah, there was a debate on whether or not to keep him j/k) I can't find blondie box mix any where. Do you guys have a good brownie (without the chocolate) recipe that's easy enough for a 7 year old to help make?

This seems like a good time to admit that I used to make my sister bake me chocolate chip cookies without the chocolate chips. (Which I still insist were are better than sugar cookies because they use brown sugar rather than white.)

I'd try one of these recipes and substitute white chocolate or butterscotch chips as needed:

Macadamia Butterscotch Bars

RECIPE: Macadamia Butterscotch Bars

RECIPE: Coconut Blondies

Or maybe another type of bar cookie would be more to his liking. Again, substitute another chip for the chocolate.

The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares)

RECIPE: The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares)

RECIPE: Chewy Peanut-Caramel Bars

RECIPE: Cheerios Cereal Bars

When shopping at a Farmer's Market, is there any way to gauge if a farmer is being truthful when he/she says that they are not certified organic, but practice organic farming methods? Are there any other questions that I should be asking, rather than just simply whether or not they are certified organic?

If their left eye twitches, they're lying!

 

KIDDING!

 

It's never easy to know when people are lying. Well, some people. But this is when you can turn to the organizer/manager of the market for information. Look for their table and ask them the tough questions: Do they vet and inspect each vendor? Do they require that every vendor grow their own fruits and vegetables? Are there rules for marketing the produce at market?

What is your number one tip for a quick, time saving but healthy vegetable based meal?

I like vegetable main dishes that you can make ahead and freeze, and then pop into the oven. Stuffed peppers or zucchini (using a mix of bread crumbs and cheese as a stuffing base); or shells stuffed with spinach and ricotta are two of my favorites. Otherwise, if I'm cooking on the fly, I'll buy whatever's fresh at the farmers' market (lots coming right now, like summer squash) and saute with olive oil and garlic and toss with cooked pasta.

In the summer, choose whatever vegetables get your attention and throw them on the grill. I think a good mix is key—perhaps zucchini, eggplant, peppers, cherry tomatoes, corn. Serve with couscous, farro, or rice and top with a herbaceous salsa verde or chimichurri, a nutty pesto, or tangy garlic and yogurt sauce.

What are the best summer produce to preserve during the summer?

Whatever you like to eat during the summer will bring happy delicious memories in the winter months. Over here, my husband and I eat raspberries, cherries and nectarines like they're going out of style, so those are my go-to preserves. Tomatoes (of course) and chile peppers, too.

What is a good dish or finger food to take for an office baby shower?

A big platter of crostini is often my go-to finger food dish. You can top the slices of toasted baguette with mozzarella or fresh goat cheese and top with halved cherry tomatoes marinated in olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or roasted peppers. Other good toppings are prosciutto or salami and some diced pickled vegetables (such as giardiniera); thinly sliced radishes; sauteed mushrooms. The sky's the limit, really.

The yoga panted couple with their yoga mats and double-wide stroller drinking their kale-yogurt-beet-melon proteinpowershotted smoothie just walking around like the world revolves around them.

I have a feeling that I know who sent this comment!

Please don't judge an entire generation. I cook and bake more (and better) than my parents. I'm in the kitchen or thinking about food constantly and I'm a 31-year-old accountant. I've also been to many farmer's markets and any food event around the city I can get my hands on (and spend extra money to support local businesses). Come on now. :)

Exactly.

 

I also don't think buying a prepared meal and buying good local produce are mutually exclusive. I've been known to do both!

How are pickling cucumbers different than regular cucumbers, besides being smaller? Are they also good raw in salad?

Pickling cucumbers have a bumpy skin, fewer seeds, and are firmer so they hold up to the brine, retaining their crunch. They can certainly be eaten in a salad, but I like salad cukes better!

If there are a sufficient number of stands selling actual produce, go the the one with the second-longest line. the one with the longest line is probably a little better OR has friendlier/prettier sellers, but the one with the second longest line will be very nearly as good.

Or just wait for your favorite vendor, if you have time.

Fascinating! Honestly, I think the best way to find quality is through experience. Sample what you can, try lots of things, and go back to the places you like best!

What would you recommend as a substitute for goat cheese in a dessert? It's a little too pungent for me, but the rest of the dessert has other great flavors I'd like to try. Mascarpone? Ricotta?

Without knowing the dessert I would go with fresh ricotta (not the grainy mass-produced supermarket stuff). If it's watery, just let it drain for awhile before using. Mascarpone is wonderful but its texture is different than goat cheese so it would depend on the recipe, and if whatever you are making requires baking, mascarpone has a tendency to separate.

I always buy seedless watermelons. The last couple of times I have bought them from my regular grocery store it has been disappointing to find small white seeds in them. Is there an easy way to clean it up? The seeds do not get totally 'crushed' when making a 'smoothie' or another water melon drink. I am aware that the seeds are not harmful for consumption. But seedless should be seedless!

Too funny. These are the coatings of seeds that haven't matured. But I'm surprised that your blender can't puree these -- you need something more powerful, because they're pretty soft...

The other thing is, seedless watermelons, I'm sorry, just in general don't have nearly as much flavor as those with seeds. I'd say buy the ones with seeds, and just get used to picking them out!

ARTICLE: Watermelons: What happened to the seeds?

I'm determined to use my basil before it gets all janky this year. Any good things to put it in that doesn't include pesto? I know about salsas and pizza sauce, but I was looking for a few other things hopefully! Thanks!

I like to shred basil and stir it into vegetable soups or pasta e fagioli right before serving. I also tuck whole basil leaves into zucchini blossoms along with an anchovy and then fry the stuffed flowers in batter. Also, try any number of variations on classic basil pesto by adding a handful of mint leaves or another herb, or different nuts (I like pistachios, walnuts, or almonds).

I love to add basil to peach jam, thinly slivered in fruit salads, and muddled in cocktails!

Don't forget salads! Just tear it up and toss it with the other greens. Here's a good place to start:

RECIPE: Tender Green Salad With Strawberries, Cucumber, Pistachios and Basil

Basil is also fantastic in salad dressings. My favorite use for such is to puree a cup of basil leaves with a block of silken tofu, olive oil, citrus juice or vinegar, for a vegan take on green goddess. Use the following recipe but swap the basil in for cilantro. I've done both, many many times.

RECIPE: Cilantro Goddess Dressing

Basil vinaigrette. 1/2 cup packed basil leaves, 1/4 cup vinegar of your choice, 2 tablespoons honey, salt and pepper, 1 cup olive oil. You will make it all summer and put it on everything—try grilled veggies, green salads, and grain salads.

Here's an oddly specific question: planning for an upcoming dinner party, I was hooked by a recipe for esquites, and decided to make a cumin-y flank steak as the main. What other side should I make? One guest doesn't eat green veggies, and I'm not a fan of beans and rice--though I could put up with them. I was thinking of baked chiles rellenos, but most of the ones I find are stuffed with corn. Could I stuff them with a tomato-pepper-cheese mix? Any other ideas? Thanks!

One of my favorite side dishes to serve with grilled Mexican flavored meats is potatoes rajas. Boil or steam new potatoes until tender, add roasted sliced poblano peppers and enough cream to douse. Heat everything up, add salt and pepper. A little spicy and totally delicious.

Try this relleno recipe: No corn in sight! Lots of vegetables -- so many, in fact, that if you have any vegetarians coming this would be a great main course for them. And a great side for everyone else.

RECIPE: Roasted Chiles Rellenos With Avocado Sauce

I'm so glad that tomatoes are starting to show up at farmers markets. I'm really looking forward to this season's crop of heirloom, sungold and other varieties. Do you have any recommendations for wines that pair well with tomatoes, both white and red? I'm making a pasta dish this weekend with roasted tomatoes, kale and onion, and would love something good to serve with it. Thanks.

Dave McIntyre says:

 

The acidity in tomatoes favors acidity in wine, so think crisp whites and rosés. Try a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley (Sancerre or Touraine) or New Zealand, a Grillo from Sicily -  or any of the Italian white wines I've featured in recent weeks. Grüner Veltliner would also be a good choice. Txakoli from Spain, or Apremont from the Savoy region of France. Your choices are as plentiful as summer tomatoes! 

Hello hello... I have some prepackaged, sliced deli meat (vacuum sealed) that I was wondering if I could freeze. We're going on vacation for three weeks (and it will be past it's due date, if one believes in those) and I don't want to throw it out. TIA!

I don't have any experience with freezing deli meats, but there's a forum over at Serious Eats on this very subject. Some of the replies sound informed to me.

I've got three friends coming over for dinner Saturday. They eat everything, I love to cook, and I have the whole day to prepare. Rather than asking for recipe suggestions, my question is actually this: When you have NO constraints--no vegetarians, no celiacs, no bland palates--how on earth do you decide what to cook? When you pick a unique entree, do you feel the need to also make the appetizers and dessert to go with the theme? For instance, I think I may serve a delicious looking Thai steak salad. Can I serve hummus and cheese and crackers beforehand and a strawberry shortcake afterward, or is that too discordant? Is a starter of Thai peanuts and satay too matchy-matchy? Aside from considering produce seasonality, what approach do you take to planning a dinner party menu?

When I'm planning a dinner party, I like to stick with one cuisine in order to stay focused. Otherwise, my enthusiasm means I make too much food. While hummus before your steak salad would be delicious, the satay sounds perfect. Or maybe spring rolls or shrimp toasts? 

When it comes to dessert, there are no rules. It's strawberry season - go for it.

I'm eager to try Joe's recipe but have a couple of questions. I noticed that the recipe doesn't call for first letting the slices sit for awhile in salt to release excess water and any bitterness, as I usual prepare eggplant. Should I forego this step? Second question is size. My market right now only has very small eggplants. How will they work for this recipe?

You do not need to salt the eggplant for this recipe. (Actually, I never bother with salting eggplant. Fresh eggplant is the key to its bitterness problem. Eggplant becomes more bitter with age so buy eggplant in its prime and try to use it as soon as possible. Cooked eggplant should be sweet and nutty.) Regarding the size, eggplants around 6-inches or longer work best to produce the ideal skin to flesh ratio, but 4- to 5-inches should work, too. You may just want to make more!

RECIPE: Eggplant Steaks With Salsa Verde

One of the few bottled dressings I like is Oka's Miso. I ordinarily read labels but didn't on this until recently and had assumed it was vegan, but it's not. Anyone have recipes for a creamy, vegan dressing like Oka's?

I haven't had Oka's, but try the dressings in either of these recipes. 

Barley, Tofu and Spinach Salad With Miso Dressing

RECIPE: Barley, Tofu and Spinach Salad With Miso Dressing

Blackened Green Beans With Garlic, Sesame and Ginger

RECIPE: Blackened Green Beans With Garlic, Sesame and Ginger

Probably a long shot, but with the great Cathy Barrow in the house, I have to ask - are there any preserving recipes that could be used on lettuce? We've got an abundance and my husband is about to start boycotting salads...

Lettuce is too full of water to make a good preserve. An abundance sounds so wonderful to me. If you have a sharp flavored or sturdy lettuce, like arugula, you can add it to frittatas. Romaine and radicchio can be grilled. Or, if all else fails, your office mates or neighbors will be delighted.

 

Hi Rangers: At the farmers market last weekend, I couldn’t resist some beautiful little squash blossoms, which I’d never prepared. Going online produced a bunch of deep-fried/frittery things, which sound delish, but I don’t deepfry (fear of grease fire, kitchen mess, waste of oil, calories), so I converted a sweet honey-goat cheese recipe into a savory goat cheese/herb stuffing, then egg wash, roll in panko, and bake. They were very tasty but quite time-consuming to stuff—perhaps the operative word here is ‘little’: a small teaspoon was too big, a chopstick too awkward. I wound up putting the goat cheese into a ziplock snack bag, snipping a corner, and piping into the stem end of the blossom, but it was hard to work it toward the blossom opening. Any simpler ways to prepare squash blossoms? they are so elegant, and I felt like I was man-handling them. But they were tasty. Maybe I should just buy bigger blossoms next time.

I usually saute them in a little butter and season lightly with salt and pepper. They only take a few minutes to wilt, and the actual squash flavor comes through. A chiffonade of basil on top when you're serving would be a nice (and pretty!) touch too. If you want some contrast in texture, you could brown some fresh bread crumbs in butter and sprinkle those over top.

Squash blossoms are delicious in a frittata. Saute them lightly in olive oil or butter and then pour the beaten eggs (seasoned wtih salt, pepper, and herbs) over them. Cook until set on bottom, then flip and cook the other side, or if you don't want to flip, set the pan under the broil to brown the top and finish cooking.

I love em in quesadillas! Then you have an excuse to call them flor de calabaza, too!

Another idea:

RECIPE: Giant Spelt Pancake With Squash Blossoms

Can I use Persian or Armenian cucumbers in place of pickling cucumbers? They are quite firm and my eating cucumber of preference. Thanks.

Yes, either of those cucumbers will work for pickling.

Produce at the local farmers markets at this time of year is typically limited because of the weather. Strawberries had a short season because of the miserable weather we had in the spring. One major vendor had 75% of his peach crop hit by frost in the spring. The quantity of produce grows as the summer growing season grows and vendors have more to bring. The key is local--vendors have to have locally produced items--no bananas, for example.

This is true. Peak season has not hit yet at farmers markets. Sales will rise as we move later into summer and corn and field tomatoes start to flood the stands.

 

It's also true that spring has been hard on farmers. Many lost a lot of their crops due to a warm winter, which lead to early buds, and then a late spring freeze. A terrible combination that will hurt farmers.

I loved the article on why more people are not going to the market and I agree that sometimes that comes with getting older and wanting to be more healthy. I take the time every weekend to go to the market when it first opens in Silver Spring to pick out what I want to cook for the week. I like having first pick of the flowers I keep on my dining room table for the week. I get such joy out of talking to the farmers who now all know me well and trying new things and enjoying the tried and true. I looked at an article today in the Post and have already highlighted some new things I want to try this weekend at the SS Market and DuPont Circle. DuPont will have to wait until next week because I plan to do the AFI Documentaries this weekend but will be there bright and early next week for DuPont especially for the dried beans (so excited about that). After I shop on these beautiful summer days I can socialize at the market with friends I run into and just sit on the bench and enjoy the ambiance for a while. Also, love the idea of a vegetable butcher - so needed! Hopefully more stores will hire people who do this. And then Wednesday rolls around and I am eagerly anticipating the food section and chatting with you guys.

Thanks!

Drink it. Best sports drink ever. I'm particularly a fan of bread and butter pickle brine. My great grandma's recipe includes tumeric, so I'm also getting some anti inflammatory stuff going, right?

Local pickle producer Gordy's is now selling their pickle brine in cans. YES!

SHOPPING CART: Gordy's Fine Brine

I also have too much basil. I added some to my green smoothie last week. It was delicious! I usually blend up a frozen banana, a handful of spinach, a little water, and a pinch of ginger. The addition of a few large basil leaves made it quite refreshing.

Yum.

I've had chocolate ice cream that was made with basil-infused cream, and it was AMAZING. The basil flavor was barely there and not recognizable until the person who made it told me what it was. (I tried to recreate it on my own but failed miserably. One of these days...)

I was surprised that it was presented as some sort of revelation that prices are higher in Dupont Circle than elsewhere. Isn't that the case with most things in the affluent heart of a big city? Parking, restaurants, retail, hair salons, etc. I'd imagine it's easier for a farmer driving in on a Saturday morning to get to my less chic suburb just off the beltway than to fight traffic into the city.

Yes, it's economics 101. Farmers will charge what the market will bear. And at Dupont, the customers are willing to spend more. 

 

But non-incorporated farmers in DC also have to pay the District nearly a 10 percent tax on gross sales. That leads to higher prices, too.

I've never cooked with rhubarb before, and I think I'll pick some up and give it a go. What are your favorite recipes that don't require strawberries (can't afford them at the farmer's market) (topical!) or making dough?

Roast rhubarb (chop, sprinkle with sugar, roast 425 degrees for 10-12 minutes until saucy) and serve over ice cream or even over planks of baked puff pastry (from the grocery store freezer section!) topped with a little mascarpone.

I LOVE a rhubarb pie -- straight rhubarb, no strawberries. Rhubarb, sugar, and an egg  to help bind.

RECIPE: Vintage Rhubarb Pie

And some more ideas:

RECIPE: Rhubarb Betty

RECIPE: Roasted Rhubarb and Asparagus Pasta Salad

RECIPE: Rhubarb Cake

 

LOVED that story. Making goat cheese is my retirement fantasy, and it's great to hear it worked out for the 'recovering chef.' Maybe she'd take an intern...

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it. And, actually, Caromont Farm does use interns...

ARTICLE: Her goat-cuddling event went viral. But most days, it's all about the cheese.

I just made an iced tea with Earl Grey in place of Lipton's (mom's favorite, and it does have a soft spot on my palate). The Earl Grey was a welcome change.

Yep, Earl Grey is my favorite tea. Green tea would also be a nice change from Lipton's.

I made a blueberry galette over the past weekend with blueberries, sugar, and cornstarch as the filling. I would like to use blackberries in the future, but am worried that they would be too juicy to work. Would it be a matter of simply increasing the cornstarch? Or should I just make a cobbler and call it a day?

One of my favorite galette recipes comes from my friend Cheryl Sternman Rule, author of Ripe. Her galette has an almond frangipane filling that helps to absorb the fruit juices: 1/2 cup almond meal, 1/4 cup sugar, 4 T room temp butter, 1 egg yolk, 1/2 tsp almond extract, and a pinch of salt. Beat in a mixing bowl until smooth and spread over the rolled out dough, leaving a border. Then pile fruit on top. (BTW, the reserved egg white is brushed on top of the pastry border before baking so there's no waste.)

(imo of course) is to brew on the kitchen counter, not in the sun. Put tea bags in a container with cold water and let set about 2 hours (or a little longer depending on your taste). I did this accidentally several years ago when I became distracted and didn't set the container out in the sun.

Darn, I forgot to mention I also put a persian cucumber in the smoothie.

Now I would be tempted to take out the banana and add ice. And gin. 

one Market I never see mentioned is the West End Market in Ben Brenman Par in Alexandria (out Duke) on Sunday mornings. There is tons of parking, and you can go for brunch afterwards at London Curry House. (no, I don't run it, I am just a resident near by and want people to come so it continues!). There is lots of produce, as well as bread, coffee, meat, eggs, cheese, and some prepared foods. Worth a visit. It runs 8:30-1 http://www.westendfarmersmarket.org/index.html

A quick comment about prices - while the produce can be more expensive than, say, Giant, I often find I can spend less for the week because I'm not tempted by everything else that somehow ends up in my cart at the store (granola bars, crackers, chocolate... things I don't "need" but always end up buying anyway). So there's that to consider!

Phaedra Hise says:

 

Well, fair point. And for me the cost at the market can keep me from buying things I don't need. Like, "Those rutabagas are cute, but do I really NEED rutabagas this week?" Although I have to admit sometimes I buy farmer's market food just because it's so beautiful in the display. I mean, farmers really know how to merchandise their stuff. 

Can I find the best ricotta and buffalo mozzarella? Please share your hidden gems. :)

Well, the Cilento area of Campania (south of Naples) has the best buffalo mozzarella I've ever tasted and I've never had anything that approaches it here. There is a man who sells buffalo mozzarella at the Old Town Alexandria market on Saturdays. I haven't had it in awhile though, so I'm not sure how it stacks up. As for ricotta, I've bought good fresh cow's milk ricotta at Balducci, in Old Town (I think it comes from NJ).

I really like the ricotta and mozzarella from Blue Ridge Dairy, which sells at area farmers markets, including Dupont on Sundays. (Their mozz isn't from buffalo milk, though.)

I have been drinking mounds of Moroccan Mint iced tea. I got Stash Tea Moroccan Mint Loose Leaf Tea and it's got some lemongrass in it too. Such a refreshing summer drink.

is to get on their e-mail lists. I get information about what will be available on Saturday, how much they are picking, sometimes even information about when they pick for which market. It isn't perfect - people can exaggerate or even lie on the internet just like they can in real life, but I appreciate knowing that last week's weather means that there will be less/more of product Y this week. Or that the season for something is almost over. Or about to begin, but not this week. Or whatever.

Good advice!

What about other options, like "pick your own" farms. Do farms still do that? My daughter (age 8) is interested in farming and cooking, so I'd love to take her to a pick your own type place where she could actually see the farm, pick out some veggies, and then have the experience of cooking what we choose that evening. Thanks!

There are dozens of PYO (pick your own) farms in the area. Here's a link: http://www.pickyourown.org/

I found Tim's article interesting (a little befuddling, but that's the content not the writer:). It also is reminiscent of several articles published recently about the Whole Foods 365 concept, the competition Whole Foods is getting from Aldi and Trader Joe's (sibling companies), etc. (One of the articles is here ) And yet, for all of that, no one can explain to me why why why why people feel compelled to bring their dogs to a crowded farmer's market so that I can trip over them or have them nip at me. I just want to buy fresh vegetables and plants and maybe learn something from a farmer if he isn't too buy selling and making a living. Translation: I am officially middle aged.

I hear you. The reason people bring their dogs is because they're trying to multi-task, but at a crowded market, it's just not cool, no. And I say that as a dog owner. Dupont doesn't allow dogs. Now, can we talk about strollers? Also a problem at a crowded market.

Could you address the preservation of olives? Where to buy, how to brine, etc? May be the subject for aother day?

Hi, there is a whole section on brining and salt-curing olives in my new book, Preserving Italy. Since I live nowhere near an olive orchard, I order fresh olives online from California. There are different ways to brine them, but I use a water and salt brine, which I change weekly over a period of weeks/months, until the olives have lost their bitterness. The salt-curing method, which produces those crinkly black olives, involves layering ripe olives with salt (I use sea salt) and letting them cure for weeks.

What products are the basic tools needed to prep veggies easily? Can you name maybe five tools i should have in my kitchen to successfully work my purchases from the farmers' market?

1. An 8-inch chef's knife. It should be comfortable to hold and work with. (I also enjoy working with a Japanese vegetable cleaver but it is not essential.)

2. A large cutting board. Get rid of small, cramped boards! You want plenty of room to work. A wood cutting board is my top choice. It makes cutting any vegetable a joy and won't dull your knife as fast as other materials. Avoid acrylic and glass boards.

3. A mandoline will allow you to break down vegetables quickly and also make pretty, even cuts.

4. I like a Y-shaped vegetable peeler as well as one with a julienne blade for peeling vegetables like carrots and zucchini into thin strips.

5. A food processor is so help in making vegetable purees, sauces, and pesto. Also, a processor fitted with a shredding attachment will quickly break down firm fleshed vegetables into thin shreds—helpful when shredding full heads of cabbage and multiple potatoes, sweet potatoes, and celery roots—ideal for slaws and fritters.

It is also important to have an extra large bowl on hand to wash produce. Fill the bowl with cold water, dunk your vegetables, shake your vegetables, lift, rinse, and repeat.

One of the great things about farmer's markets is that they're showing people we've been sold a pup in the supermarkets. We put of with flavorful fruit and veg as normal as producers have focused on looks and size. Yes, transportation has it's difficulties because shipping strawberries is not easy but why do we want to eat everything all year, especially if it's somewhat flavorless? Framer's markets have led us to demand good flavor and texture in our fruit and veg - and given us back the adventure of looking forward to and enjoying something in season.

Ew, no, not together! TO the rhubarb questioner: Make the strawberry-rhubarb sherbet--easy and awesome! And thanks for the additional squash blossom ideas; another box is in my future...

Thanks -- but the rhubarb poster specifically requested NO strawberries, I'm afraid!

You could make lettuce soup - that will use a lot of lettuce. Saute onions in olive oil, add lettuce and maybe spinach and/or herbs, stock to cover, simmer for just a bit to wilt down the lettuce, puree the whole thing, add salt and pepper, add a little yogurt or cream if you want.

Yes! Was thinking the same, but just too busy to get to that one. Braising lettuce is a great way to go, too. Check out this one, which I love:

RECIPE: Braised Peas and Lettuce With Barley

Anyone ever tried it with success? Beyond just drizzling it on the finished product, that is (I did cut out the parmesan pound cake recipe and it looks delicious). I've found, especially with the flavored balsamics, that the flavor is lost when I try to bake with it. *tear

Is there a specific reason you want to bake with it, or recipe you have in mind? Good balsamic vinegar is pretty expensive and it seems to me that its special qualities would be lost in baking (as you mention).

Hey guys, you listed Penn Quarter Market as being open on Tuesdays but their web site says Thursdays. Which one is it? I want the orange cardamom bread.

Yes, I see we listed the Penn Quarter market as open on Tuesdays in today's staff pick for orange cardamom bread. We'll fix that. Thanks for pointing it out!

 

Just for clarification: The Penn Quarter FreshFarm market is open on Thursday afternoons and early evenings

 

And a reminder: We also have a VERY accurate interactive farmers market map.

 

 

Very harsh. There is one prepared-food vendor with a truck at my local farmer's market, compared to a good dozen local produce farm booths. Personally I would rather see fewer artists (ceramics etc.) and no music at farmer's markets. That would probably decrease the socializing-vs-buying aspect.

I'm 100 percent pro-music. At markets. At home. In the car.

 

It makes life richer.

Have you had a really young one - it's got a very light, subtle taste and a lovely texture. There's a cheese purveyor at the Dupont Circle Farmer's Market (I think it's firefly) that have an amazing really young goad cheese. There - I brought two threads together, I'm ridiculously proud of myself.

Yes, this is a good point. No doubt the flavor of the cheese varies depending on the season, what the goats are grazing on, and also what breed of goat. Thanks for the tip on the Dupont Circle purveyor.

Who pays for the farmer's markets to operate? Do the vendors pay a fixed price to be there or a percent of the sales? If the farmers are seeing the sales decrease 50%, then the cost to be there seems to increase. Either their vendor fee is a larger expense or the business running the market has less money to manage the market and advertise. I suppose that could be why they expand beyond just foods to crafts and music at the markets. I might make it to a farmer's market 2 or 3 times a year. I work full time, so the weekday markets are out of the question and the weekend morning aren't exactly a time when I care to run out shopping. Also, if I know I won't be eating at home much during the week, there is less need for a bunch of fresh foods. I would rather see corner markets that have more regular hours including weekday evenings.

The customer ultimately pays for the markets to operate, I guess, unless the market managers also apply for grants.

 

Fees vary depending on the market. But I know vendors at FreshFarm markets pay a set fee and also have to fork over a percentage of gross sales: typically 6 percent for farmers and 10 percent for prepared foods.

I have found that most hard alcohol keeps just fine. But vermouth - be it red or white - is a wine, and therefore can turn, sometimes rather quickly, and make that Manhattan or Martini decidedly awful. My solution is to buy the small 375ml bottles rather than the large ones, and refrigerate them once opened. They will keep fresh a good deal longer, but you should still monitor them for off-odors and taste.

So glad to read about people who share my love of baby goats! Maybe now people will stop looking at me like I'm weird when I say baby goats are my favorite animal playmates.

They are beyond adorable. The ones at Caromont were super-friendly and cuddly. I have been staring out at my backyard, wondering whether I could keep a few myself...

Awesome! Cara, you are my hero, haha. Vegetables can be so delicious, but once you taste a bad one (thanks, Mom, for making me think boiled cauliflower was the only preparation for it), most people don't try again. Where did all of your ideas come from and what is your favorite recipe, please? Thank you!

Thank you! You are not alone. I had the same experience— overly steamed zucchini (until just mushy) and microwaved peas and carrots that ruined me for a long time. My inspiration comes from the season and the ingredients our hard-working farmers and nature provide. I can't choose a favorite recipe, it usually involves whatever vegetable I am anticipating the loss of (asparagus right now), and the one that is just coming onto the scene (English peas, garlic scapes, scallions, and lacinato kale). So recently I have been making a risotto with asparagus, creamed garlic scapes and peas (there's a version of this in the book). At my restaurant Little Eater, I am loving a shredded lacinato kale salad with avocado-scallion dressing, jalapeño-pickled raisins, crushed corn nuts, and a local sheep's milk cheese.

I use a lot of lemons and limes in drinks and food, and have metal painted juice squeezers in various sizes and colors. Inevitably, however, I get a white residue, despite my washing after every use by hand with a brush or the dishwasher. Any suggestions? Maybe Carrie encounters this, too, with her cocktails.

I do, but sadly I haven't solved it. I get the weird dark oils left over from limes. Best solution I've found is hot water and scrubbing.

To the comment regarding food trucks at farmers markets. Many food trucks, such as Culinary Nomad, show up early to markets to feed the FARMERS. As a vendor, I've spend years settling for sugary pastries and other crap, but now I get a Hot Mess made with ingredients from my fellow farmers.

See, there's another good reason for trucks to be there!

 

Thanks for chiming in!

I think we also have to be honest about the impact that CSA's have on availability. We have seen a steady drop off of veg vendors at our markets (Fauquier County) because farmers are converting their entire production to their CSA customers. I get it from the farmer perspective - guarenteed income across the entire season regardless of production - but it continues to eliminate options for the market consumer.

That's interesting.

 

I know farmers, in general, get less for their produce with CSAs. But perhaps it's worth it for the guaranteed sales and for fewer hassles than selling at city farmers markets.

I like to choose when and where I listen to music, and what kind. I also don't like extraneous noise when I'm shopping.

I understand. Sometimes I find music distracting too.

 

I also think life is richer with music!

Oh my goodness, yes. I always thought I hated asparagus because the only kind we ever ate was out of a can. So gross! One day as an adult I ate some sauteed fresh asparagus and it changed my life. Wow!

I'm certainly willing to try a young one to see if that helps. Guess I'll be hitting the Dupont market. Hats off!

I got some fresh asparagus from a coworker and would love some suggestions for something light to do with it. It's just a handful, enough for the two of us. My dad used to cook asparagus in cream and butter until it was mush and I'd like to get away from that. Far, far away.

A few ideas!

Asparagus With Romesco Blanco and Fried Eggs

 

Stewed Morels, Asparagus, Ramps and Creme Fraiche Over Grits

(sub in scallions for the ramps and another mushroom for the morels)

Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto

 

I'm actually a baby-boomer who loves millennials. I work with a number of them and find them fabulous. I do though think that many under-30 people tend to grow into cooking unless they were inspired or felt called to do it an early age--like you may have. As for cooking more than your parents--if you make eggs on Sunday, you cook more than my parents did. In fact, I come from a long line of people who hated to cook, so my family finds my interest in food quaint.

This is true. I grew up in the convenience foods era. Cooking was not valued. I came to it late in the game, during my 30s.

One thing I've always wanted to do was talk to local growers about selling imperfect-looking produce. I've read a lot about how people won't buy it, so they don't try to sell it, and I do see that reflected even in my local market. But I don't know how to tell if something is imperfect but perfectly good to eat, or not good! How do I go about becoming educated on that?

Vegetables are perfectly imperfect and as long as they appear fresh and brightly colored, not limp, overly soft, dry, or shriveling, they should be delicious.

I second the opinions about the inconvenience and high prices at farmers markets. My local farmers market is Sunday mornings and they close up around noon much of the time. Most of the time, there is not enough time for me before or after church to make a run. I find that the prices are often are higher and the quality lower than I can get at the "international" supermarkets where I usually buy produce,. (Global Foods and HMart are my go to places.) In late summer when the peaches and tomatoes are at peak, the farmer's market is the place for tasty and local varieties but the prices seem high. Cost is important to me as I am an underemployed baby boomer stuck in NoVa .

All solid points.

At the risk of sounding stupid, how do you puree corn? Thanks.

Food processor or blender!

I love that term! I used to live in Turkey, and I could go to the outdoor market to the guy selling pumpkins who would peel and cube them (he also asked if it was for a meal or dessert so he gave you the right kind). So much better than wrestling with a pumpkin at home.

Lucky you! I love Turkey and love that you experienced this there! I think we can all benefit from someone offering us tips, tricks, the right techniques, and maybe a shortcut when it comes to vegetables.

Well, you've cooled us to room temperature, covered and refrigerated us until well chilled, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's, and thanks to Cara, Cathy, Domenica, Phaedra and Dave for help with the a's. And now for the giveaway books: The chatter who asked about tools for vegetable cooking will get "The Vegetable Butcher" by Cara Mangini. The one who asked about preserving olives will get -- duh -- Domenica Marchetti's "Preserving Italy." And the one who asked about cooking with rhubarb will get "The Farmette Cookbook." Send your mailing info to Kara.Elder@washpost.com, and she'll see that you get your book.

Until next time, happy cooking, eating, reading -- and market shopping!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is the Food and Dining editor of The Post and the author of "Eat Your Vegetables: Bold Recipes for the Single Cook." He writes the Weeknight Vegetarian column.
Carrie Allan
M. Carrie Allan is The Post's Spirits columnist.
Cathy Barrow
Cathy Barrow's first cookbook is "Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving" (W.W. Norton). She blogs at www.mrswheelbarrow.com.
Tim Carman
Tim Carman is a food staff writer at The Post. He writes the weekly $20 Diner column.
Tamar Haspel
Tamar Haspel, who farms oysters on Cape Cod and writes about food and science, is author of the monthly Unearthed column, winner of a James Beard Award.
Jim Shahin
Jim Shahin writes the monthly Smoke Signals column on barbecue.
Kara Elder
Kara Elder is the Food section editorial aide.
Cara Mangini
Cara Mangini is the author of "The Vegetable Butcher: How to Select, Prep, Slice, Dice, and Masterfully Cook Vegetables From Artichokes to Zucchini," (Workman, 2016).
Domenica Marchetti
Domenica Marchetti wrote this week's article on Virginia cheesemaking.
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