Last year my wife and I went to Ithaca, New York to explore the Finger Lakes region figuring on seeing pretty landscapes and tasting local wines. We did see pretty landscapes, and tasted local wines, but the big surprise was the amazing food scene in the area. We had no idea that Ithaca is home to one of the best farmer’s markets either of us had ever been to. We had no idea there was such a love for heirloom vegetables and fruits there. We also had no idea there were several great eating establishments in the area. With all that, we knew we would return and explore some more this year.
This year it seemed like a good idea to skip Labor Day weekend and go to Ithaca the following weekend for a less crowded vacation. The weather was still quite nice with a couple of clear blue sky days with temperatures around 70 degrees. The farms were still putting out lots of amazing produce. We planned the trip so we could be there for the weekend farmer’s market by Cayuga Lake to get the most out of our trip. This market features several fruit and vegetable growers that show off their heirloom tomatoes that are both huge and beautiful as well as tasty. Most of the produce at the Ithaca farmer’s market is organic or “no-spray” which is a big selling point to me.
A short primer on heirlooms is in order here. Many people are new to the term “heirloom” as it applies to food. If I understand it correctly it is a type of vegetable, fruit or animal that was not mass produced and once planted changed, or adapted to a certain region were it grew year after year. Many years ago there were many varieties of foods than we see in our grocery stores today. If you were buying tomatoes you might have ten to twenty types to choose from.If you were buying apples you might have over one hundred to choose from. Pigs, sheep, cows, chickens and turkeys came in many varieties that were suited to the area and climate that they were raised, and all had their own unique flavor. Many of us foodies are just now realizing how limiting grocery store food is and are seeking out local farmers that are bringing back heirloom varieties on a small scale. The Ithaca farmer’s market opened a door to the heirloom treasure trove of food like I have never witnessed.
There is a fruit grower that had a cute little basket of plums containing four varieties with the smallest being the size of your average grape. They were handing out samples of this small plum that was bursting with sweet juicy plum flavor all its own.
There is the honey guy, the maple syrup guy, the apple cider stand, and more sweet stuff too.
There are a couple of bakery stands, crepes, breakfast foods, Cuban food, and Cambodian food to buy a great hot meal and eat on the nearby lakefront. The Cuban stand had some of the best black beans and rice I have ever tasted! They also serve a delicious baked chicken that goes great with the beans and rice. I ordered the chicken with beans and rice and let my wife and in-laws taste it. They all liked it so much they bought it for lunch also.
One of the smaller farm stands had two types of fresh corn on the cob that we bought and tasted last night. I just tossed it in boiling water for three minutes and wow was it good and sweet!
A short trip up either side of Cayuga Lake brought us to small farm stands selling pears, squash, green beans, Asian pears, onions garlic, and pumpkins. I bought Asian pears, Bartlett pears, and four kinds of apples from “One of a kind orchards” in Lansing, New York. This amazing farm advertises that they have over 200 varieties of heirloom apples, but the owner explained to me that she thought there were probably over 300!
It was there I bought four types of apples I have never had. I bought Freedom, Mother, Paula Red, and Padukah apples to make applesauce with. I’ve tried two of the varieties so far and it will be hard to put them in applesauce they taste so good. I now wish I had bought thirty pounds instead of fifteen.
We also stopped at Bellwether Hard Cider to taste several types of alcoholic cider made from local apples. Once upon a time cider was way more popular than it is now, but Bellwether and others are changing that by bringing cider back to compete with beer as the summer cool beverage of choice. You can find more info about Bellwether Cider at www.cidery.com as they can ship it to you in most states.
The restaurant scene is worthy of a whole post of its own, but I will mention Moosewood restaurant in Ithaca since they are celebrating their 40th year in business. They have won several James Beard awards for their cookbooks over the years, and are quite well known. This creative restaurant has taken vegetarian and vegan food to a whole new level and they have been doing it for years. They have a cookbook celebrating this important anniversary with 250 of their favorite recipes. I bought a copy of it and will start trying out some of the recipes and post the results for you all soon.
We had dinner there and even though it didn’t earn a score of 10 out of 10, I’d still give it an 8. The most amazing dish was the vegan chocolate cake. All of us agreed we couldn’t tell the difference between it and a cake made with butter and eggs from this vegan masterpiece. If you get a chance to go to Ithaca give Moosewood a try even if you are not vegan or vegetarian. They also serve fish on the menu daily for the meat eaters.
There might be a better place for a farm to table food scene, and if there is I want to go there. Next month I’m flying to Portland, Oregon to write a post on the food scene there, and also Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma County, California. I expect both will be full of great food and fun to report to you dear readers that like to travel as much as I do. Until then here is a recipe using ingredients purchased on the Ithaca area for you to try at home.
Oven Roasted Delicata Squash with Carrots and Golden Beets
This is a versatile dish that can be served as an appetizer, side dish or vegan main dish.
1 medium sized delicata squash
2 to 3 carrots
4-6 golden beets
1/4 cup sliced shallots
4 teaspoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Cut delicata squash length wise to expose seeds. Remove seeds and set aside. Cut squash length wise again so you have four wedges, then cut into about one inch pieces, and place on baking sheet pan.
Wash and cut carrots into one inch pieces, and place in pan with squash. If using organic carrots don’t peel them.
Wash and scrub beets. Trim top and bottom and cut off any other root like bits. Cut beets into almost one inch pieces by first cutting them in half length wise with the first cut and then into quarters with a second cut. Now cut beets into pieces a bit smaller than the carrots and squash(due to cooking time), and add to pan.
Peel and slice shallots and add to the pan. Mix all vegies then drizzle oil over them. Add salt and pepper then bake for 25-35 minutes at 350 degrees or until tender.
Serves six to eight as an appetizer, four as a side dish or two as a main dish.
Note: The trick to this dish is to get the vegies cut to the size that allows them to cook in the same amount of time at the same temperature. Don’t be too worried though as these vegies taste good a bit under or overcooked.
Cook squash seeds in same oven for about 15 minutes with a bit of salt and pepper. Remove sponge like substance from around seed first, and then bake. These are great on soups or salads, or by themselves.
I used purple heirloom carrots, but regular carrots will work well too.
Black Bean Tostadas With Cherry Tomatoes
I admit it. I love black beans! I eat them once or twice every week in one way or another. I cook up a batch in the crock pot overnight on Monday and have them available all week. Lately I have had an abundance of cherry tomatoes from two Sweet 100 plants in my garden. Tomatoes love these hot summer days in Baltimore and reward us with plenty of great produce for about three months.
This Sweet 100 is a new variety I decided to try this year from my favorite plant and vegie farmer at the Baltimore “under the bridge” farmer’s market. They started out slow but by June I could tell these were going to be big. Apparently the bushes get up to 7 feet tall! And boy are they sweet and delicious!
With all these cute tasty little tomatoes rolling about I have used them in new and fun ways every week since they started producing 10-15 tomatoes per day. Yesterday I wanted something to use my hot red habenero sauce on so I dug the corn tortillas out of the freezer and when they thawed out the fun began. Now I rarely fry anything, but I figure it’s no big deal to do up these corn tortillas in one and a half tablespoons of olive oil. Especially since about half of it remains in the pan after frying them. I’m sure the oil I use is better than the oil used in most restaurants the fry tortillas.
So fry I did, and in no time at all I was munching these colorful discs of tastiness and spice. These tostadas can be a starter, a lunch main dish, or party food. You can add green chiles, squash, corn, or even kale. You can make them hot, or not. Goat cheese, and fresh basil would work well with olives thrown in for a Greek flavor treat. Just let your creativeness flow on this one and have fun. Nothing like hot and spicy food on hot summer days.
Black Bean Tostadas with Cherry Tomatoes
4 corn tortillas
1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup cooked black beans
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, white or yellow
1/2 grilled bell pepper, red or green sliced thin
12 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 jalapeno sliced thin, optional
In a saute pan cook the tortillas one at a time in the oil on medium to medium high heat just until brown on the edges. This takes about 2 minutes on the first side and a little less time on the second side.
Drain on paper towels.
Drain oil out of the saute pan and heat the black beans for about 2 minutes. This is a good time to add some cumin or chili powder if you like. A 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon should be enough. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Now it’s time to build your tostadas. Put 1/4 beans on each, followed by cheese, tomatoes and jalapenos. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 4-6 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with a side of sliced avocado, shredded lettuce, salsa, black olives or any combination of these ingredients.
These can be cut in half or quarters for a nice party snack.
Pinto beans/refried beans would be good in place of black beans.
Canned beans can be used if you don’t want the bother of waiting for the crockpot beans.
Crockpot Black Beans
2 cups dry black beans
6 cups water
1/2 yellow onion chopped
1 clove garlic minced
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
Put all ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low for 7-9 hours.
You can shorten this time if you start out on high and reduce to low heat an hour later. This cuts about an hour off the total cook time.
I haven’t bought a can of black olives in a long time so when I received two free cans from the good folks at California Ripe Olives I wasn’t sure what to do with them. Well I popped open a can and munched one, and what do you know I do still like black olives! I’d been caught up in all the olive bar type olives for so long I forgot about my first love affair with olives. Yes I was just a tot when I became fond of black olives right out of the can. Then came black olives on pizza, and it was good. Then came black olives in iceberg lettuce type salads and that was good. Somewhere along the line I started eating stuffed green olives. kalamata olives, oil cured olives, jalapeno stuffed olives,etc. there was hardly a new olive that I didn’t like, but my first love sat neglected on the grocery store shelf for many years. What fun it is to explore the possibilities of black olives in my kitchen and blog about it. These tasty California black olives had a long trip to get to my home in Baltimore. I didn’t know that California produces 95% of the ripe olives in the US, with more than 1,000 multigenerational families taking part in the process. That’s a lot of homegrown expertise. For my entry into the black olive competition I wanted something original, and something using an ingredient from my garden. I love fresh herbs and thought that fresh oregano would be a fun choice for an olive appetizer on a toasted baguette slice. I wanted some color so from the fridge came the roasted red bell peppers I made last week. For the fat content I chose garlic infused olive oil to brush on the baguette slices. For the topping I grabbed some Parmigiano Reggiano to shred on top using my new Oxo Good Grips medium grater. It was a fun project and I tasted several of the treats. The only thing I might do different is put a slice of roasted garlic on each toast slice for a bit more oomph. I was happy that the olive flavor was not drowned out by the other ingredients and took the whole tray to my favorite Vet clinic to have them taste test it.Apparently they scarfed them down quickly indicating a good vote in the first round. With any luck I have a winner for the competition at the upcoming Eat, Write, Retreat food bloggers event in Philly. For all you you that might want to give this a try at home I include the recipe. I think you will find it fairly easy and tasty. Don’t forget your favorite white or red wine to go with it. I would recommend a good, crisp California Sauvignon Blanc. Please leave a comment on what you think of this recipe on my blog. Bon appetit!
California Ripe Black Olives on Toasted Baguette Rounds with Fresh Oregano
1 can of CaliforniaRipe Black Olives, drained and sliced in half lengthwise
1 baguette sliced into 1/2 inch thick rounds
2 tablespoons garlic infused olive oil
1 package of fresh oregano
2-3 ounces roasted red bell pepper, in 1 inch slices
2 ounces fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano chese
Brush baguette rounds with garlic infused oil on one side only and toast under broiler until lightly browned. Remove from oven and repeat broiling on other side. Let cool. Pluck the leaves of the oregano for placement on top of the baguette rounds when they are cool. Use just enough to cover about 1/3 of the surface of the rounds, reserving the rest to mince and sprinkle on top at the end. Put on slice of roasted red bell pepper on each round, and two pieces of black olives. Grate parmigiano reggiano over toast rounds. Put minced oregano on top and serve with a Sauvignon Blanc if you like white wines best, or a Zinfandel if red wine is your favorite.
There are many things I am so grateful for in my life. I was reminded of one of those simple pleasures Saturday while cooking for Phillip’s Mushrooms 2nd anniversary of their retail shop in Kennett Square, PA. One of the three appetizers I was cooking during the 4 hour event was my Maitake Mushroom Bruschetta topped with 5 year old Gouda on french bread. Lucky me that I am not gluten intolerant, because this recipe rocks! However out of the approximate 50 people that came through the kitchen to taste the appetizers about 5 couldn’t eat the bread. Twice when I cut the oh so crispy bruschetta to serving sizes I had someone hear that sound of a crusty bread being cut and lament that they could not eat it.
Bread is one on the oldest prepared foods known to human beings! Thousands of years ago it was one of the first things we clever humans mixed up and cooked. I suppose there were other things we mixed and cooked that didn’t pass the taste test, but bread is one of those that stuck with most cultures. I heard on National Public Radio’s Science Friday show several years ago that it is thought that bread is the oldest prepared and cooked item that we eat! Yet now we have a significant portion of our population that can’t eat it without adverse affects. I won’t go into the theories behind this problem, but wanted to point out to all of you out there that can eat bread that we are members in a lucky club indeed! Imagine life without a typical sandwich, toast in the morning, croutons on a salad, stuffing at Thanksgiving, and the list goes on. In celebration of this wonderful food I give you one of my favorite recipes that I made up just last month.
To try in this in your home you need just a few ingredients and about 20 minutes. For this recipe it helps to buy a very good quality loaf of french bread, and a good quality cheese. The mushrooms should be very fresh and if you have it, use fresh thyme added about one minute before sauteing is finished, instead of dried thyme. The result is a simple, wonderful combo of bread, mushrooms and cheese that cries out for a glass of your favorite wine, like a Pinot Gris, or Petit Sirah. This appetizer with a nice salad would work as a light meal on a warm spring day. That way you can celebrate spring and the fact that you can eat bread too. Welcome to the club.
Mushroom Bruschetta with Aged Gouda
1 pound maitake mushrooms chopped
1/2 cup sliced yellow onion
1-2 cloves fresh garlic minced
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
2 ounces shaved or grated aged gouda or good quality parmesan
1 loaf French Baguette split lengthwise and cut into 3 inch lengths
salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Saute onions and garlic in large saute pan with oil for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add mushrooms, and thyme and cook for about 10 minutes or until most of the liquid is cooked out of the mushrooms. Put bread in oven on a sheet pan for 3-5 minutes to toast it a bit. Remove bread from oven and top with mushroom mixture and then cheese.
Return to oven and heat for 5 minutes. Serve hot out of the oven.
Note: Works well with white button, oyster, crimini mushrooms or mix and match.
*Substitute aged gouda with Parmigano Regiano if you can’t find a good aged gouda.
Even though Phillip’s Mushrooms gifted me a couple of pounds of mushrooms to practice with for the cooking demo I would still have written about them as their mushrooms are the freshest I have ever bought, and the price is significantly less than grocery store mushrooms too!
Two 8 oz packages of cream cheese
Two pieces of smoked salmon(about 8 oz), skin removed
One small clove of fresh garlic minced
One jalapeno minced, plus one for garnish, both are optional
One to two tablespoons of plain yogurt, (thins it out a bit)
1/4 cup green onions sliced thin
Break up the salmon in a bowl and pick out any bones. Add room temp. cream cheese, garlic and jalapeno. Mix well. I use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer, but have done it with a hand held mixer also. Add the green onions last and mix just enough to incorporate. If you mix too much they break down and disappear. I like to garnish with sliced jalapenos before serving.
Hummus is a quick and healthy snack food that can also double as a mayonnaise substitute on a sandwich. I like it with more sriracha hot sauce than most people, but even if you don’t like foods hot try a little of the sriracha in this recipe.
1 15 oz can of garbanzo beans
2 Tablespoons of tahini
2-4 cloves of garlic, see note
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup water + 1 Tablespoon
1/4 teaspoon salt,optional
1-2 Tablespoons of Sriracha depending on how hot you want it
Drain liquid from canned garbanzos, and discard liquid.Blend all ingredients in a food processor for about 30 seconds, scrape well and blend another 30-45 seconds for a smooth consistency. Garnish with a drizzle of Sriracha sauce and serve with pita chips.
Note: I used my version of roasted garlic which is simply 1 cup of olive oil and 8-12 garlic cloves cooked on a stove top for 5-7 minutes on very low heat. I cool and store in the refrigerator until needed for garlic flavored oil or roasted garlic. If you use fresh uncooked garlic 1-2 cloves is plenty.