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.
Farmer’s Market Italian Green Beans
Baltimore’s farmer’s markets are in full swing now that summer is here. I took full advantage of this on Sunday by buying all we could carry. We started out with fresh garlic and pole green beans then moved on to yellow squash and zucchini. Next stop I spied Italian Green Beans and had to have them. The mushroom folks had fresh chanterelle mushrooms so in the bag they went. We also bought two kinds of bread from the Breadery which grinds the wheat for their bread. The buying frenzy continued when I bought more garlic, this time heirloom garlic from my favorite organic farmer Rudy. The bags were getting heavy but I couldn’t pass up a ghost pepper plant for $2 and a couple of jalapeno plants too. Last but not least was fresh sweet corn on the cob to make a grilled corn salad with.
Now it is one thing to buy and carry all that good stuff, but the real work begins when you get it home! There is the cleaning, cutting, canning and cursing to be done. It does take a lot of work but once you taste the freshness of real food fresh from a farm it’s hard to pass it up.
My favorite buy of the day so far was the Italian Green Beans. I used to love the frozen version and would cook them in about a total of two ways. Today I made the version with tomato that is fast and furious and will have you eating these yummy beans in no time at all. Give this simple recipe a try with either Itaian or regular green beans soon.
Farmer’s Market Italian Green Beans Recipe
1 pound fresh Italian Green Beans, or regular green beans
1 can of diced tomatoes
1 teaspoon garlic infused olive oil, or olive oil and 1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh oregano minced, optional
Wash and trim the beans then cut in half. Saute onions in a saute pan with oil for 5-7 minutes on medium low heat. Add the green beans, tomatoes, and cook on medium low for 15 minutes covered stirring once, or twice. Continue cooking uncovered until desired doneness is achieved(about 5-8 minutes)and add fresh oregano if using 1-2 before serving .
You can use 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano in place of fresh by adding it in the beginning.
Chopped fresh parsley is a nice addition too. Add 1-2 minutes before the beans are done cooking.
For an extra healthy version omit the oil and saute onions in 1/4 inch of water.
If you are like me and most others, you hated beets when you were a child. Even if you didn’t hate them you probably didn’t ask mom or dad to have beets with lunch or dinner. You would have been thought of as just plain weird if you liked beets in my school. They were tops on most kids list as the vegie to hate. There was no cartoon hero like Popeye for spinach to pump up the image of beets so they languished for years. I didn’t start liking beets until I was in my 30’s working at restaurants that knew how to prepare them differently than pickled beets, or Harvard Beets. Why this beautiful vegie received so much scorn from children all over the US is beyond me! They have a great flavor with a nice touch of sweetness and are good for you too. I think there was a conspiracy from some other vegie group to discredit beets. How else can you explain beets reputation amongst children,and some adults? While beets are not as power packed as some other vegies they are low in calories and the greens are high in vitamin A. The greens have four grams of protein and fiber in one serving. The most important aspect of beets to me is the taste and color they bring to a salad, or side dish. They brighten up any plate in a big way. I love to have beets that have simply been boiled, peeled and sliced as part of a salad. They go great with goat cheese or toasted walnuts as a salad dish.
Since moving to Baltimore over four years ago we ended up with home in the burbs that has room for a vegie garden. This is my third year of vegie gardening here, and what a difference it is from the garden I had in Sterling, Alaska. Why I don’t even have to chase moose from the garden here. I do however get an occasional bunny or deer that wants to sample my garden. Lots of things grow well here that didn’t in Alaska. I grow tomatoes, carrots, peppers, eggplant, onions, okra, gobs of herbs, and beets. I get different results each year as to what grows well and what does not. Beets are the exception to that as they have done well each of the three years. Yesterday I picked my first batch of beets and brought them into the kitchen to test the goods.
They looked great, even if they had a couple of holes eaten out of them by some sort of bug. After washing the beets I was ready to have them all to my self, and cut off the greens for instant gratification.
In the fridge the beets went while their tops hit the saute pan with a bit of my garlic infused olive oil,http://www.fastandfuriouscook.com/garlic-infused-olive-oil-roasted-garlic. This side dish cooks quick!
After I added a bit of fresh grated parmesan cheese on top I was sitting at the table wolfing down the plate of greens all to myself in near bliss after just 5 minutes in the pan. With a bowl of Pinto Bean Soup it was a great lunch combo. Where ever you live in the US you should be seeing fresh beets, grown locally, now or in the near future. Give this greens recipe a try and let me know if you love beets and beet greens too. Beets are good food!
Sauteed Beet Greens
5 ounces or so of beet greens
1-1 1/2 teaspoons garlic infused olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
grated parmesan, optional
Wash the greens well, and trim most of the stem within about a half inch from the green part. Dry well and saute on medium heat for about five minutes. Sometimes I add a teaspoon of water halfway to speed up the cooking process. Add salt and pepper during the last minute of cooking. These merely need to be wilted, not cooked to a shriveled state where you don’t know what kind of green your eating. Grate fresh parmesan cheese over them and serve.
It’s hard to believe that the ball of fluff sleeping 5 feet from me is almost 10 weeks old already. Tucker the German Sheperd pup is fully acclimated to the kitchen, family room,and back yard after coming home from Denver with me on May 6th. It was quite a journey flying with the little guy who just barely fit under the seat in front of me in his crate.
I had never flown with a dog, or cat in the cabin of a commercial aircraft before and had visions of a crying pup bothering the passengers around us, but the little guy hardly let out a peep. It was only when we were climbing up to cruise altitude he got a bit noisy for 2 minutes and that was it. Five whole hours in a soft sided crate that would not hold him now, and he did great. Not that I’m in a hurry to do it again, but I can tell you it was a breeze looking back on the adventure. This three weeks with Tucker has been a blur of 11pm, 1 am and 4 am walks outside in the yard to do what puppies do often, pee and poo. Last night he broke his record and went from 10:30 to 6am without any problems. It won’t be long until he can go 8 hours or more overnight, and sleep outside of his crate. That will be great! However there is nothing like raising a large breed puppy. Especially when you get them as young as I got Tucker. Not that 7 weeks old is too young. My first German Sheperd went home with me at just over 5 weeks, but my room mates took his sister so that made it quite doable. I had forgotten what it’s like to be around a 7 week old pup. They bite and mouth just about anything they can get iahold of. When he’s in the kitchen with me it’s fun to see what scraps of vegies he likes that I toss on the floor. So far I think carrots and parsley are his favorite.
All in all he is a joy, and I am so grateful to have him. Even if my blogging has suffered a bit it’s worth it in the end. With any luck we will get 12 or more awesome years out of the little guy, and plenty of stories. He’s got big paws to fill though. My first GS was legendary for his favorite toy, a 16 pound bowling ball. My next GS was know for big sticks and being exceptionally trained. The last one was remembered for her ability to work with kids that were scared of dogs, and befriend the boys I mentored at a residential rehab facility in Timonium, Maryland. At some point they might all blend together into one dog when I’m sitting in the rocking chair at the old folks home, but for now they are all remembered clearly.
One of Tucker’s best days so far was yesterday while I filmed 5 recipes for my Youtube channel. The little guy hung out in the same area we were filming from and hardly let out a peep until the filming was done. I took him out back for 2 minutes to pee, and came back in to finish up the Youtube portion of the session, and that was that. I expect he will be the best trained dog I have ever had as with each one I become a better dog owner and trainer. They have all been great, but this is the first one to be on a youtube video at the end of my recipe shoot. Who knows? Maybe he will show up in other sessions with a chef hat and T-Bone in his mouth. As long as he doesn’t steal the show it’s ok with me for him to have a few seconds on youtube.
With yesterday’s shoot fresh in my mind here’s a good vegie recipe that can be used with spinach or Kale. Kale seems to be all the rage and I think it’s worthy of the attention. It’s healthy, tasty, and versatile. I bake it into Kale chips in the oven, stir fry it, put it into green salads, and I’m quite sure it would be good in vegie lasagne too. So give this one a try with some fresh Kale or spinach soon.
Sauteed Mushrooms and Spinach
2 cup fresh baby spinach
6 ounces, 2 cups sliced white button mushrooms
1/4 cup sliced green onions
1 teaspoon garlic infused olive oil, or plain olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
Saute mushrooms in oil for 5 minutes on medium heat. Add Green onions and cook for for two minutes stirring. Add spinach and cook until spinach is wilted, about 3-5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and serve.
If using plain olive oil you can add a minced garlic clove with the green onions.
Lawrey’s Seasoning salt is a good seasoning for this dish.
Kale can be substituted for spinach.
2 cups okra cut in 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup diced onions
1 cup diced tomatoes
1 1/4 cup water
salt and pepper to taste
optional, add 1/2 cup Sun Gold cherry tomatoes cut in half for a bit of sweetness.
Heat a 3-4 quart pot with 1/4 cup water until simmering and add onions. Cook for 5 minutes stirring often. Add tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes. Add rest of water and cook on medium low heat for 20-30 minutes covered or until okra is tender. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Note: add more water if needed, as it should be saucy not dry
1 cup water
3 cups vinegar
1/4 to 1/8 cup sugar depending on you taste
1 T salt
Bring to a boil
Have your jalapenos in the jars and add sliced carrots, garlic and dried oregano if you like. Use a canning funnel to pour the liquid in the jars. You don’t want anything to touch the top of the jar while loading. Best to use 16 oz size jars. Holds about 6-10 fresh jalapenos. To do this properly for long term storage the jars should be boiled after they are loaded and sealed. If you are going to eat them in the next couple of months this is a good enough and allows you to test the recipe before canning a batch you want to keep long term without having to boil the filled jars. Boiling the filled jars will give you a softer jalapeno.
I use Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar.
Jalapenos should be pierced with a knife cut longitudinally to allow the brining mix in.
Put in the refrigerator if you used the the quick method, and taste after one month of soaking. Wait just one week if you used the second method(boiling the filled jars) then eat em’ up.
2 14 1/2 oz cans of DelMonte Organic Diced tomatoes
1 clove garlic minced
1/4 yellow onion chopped
1 jalapeno seeded and minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro (optional)
In a food processor or blender puree one can of tomatoes. Add all ingredients, except cilantro to a heavy 2 quart pot and cook over medium to low heat for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cooking longer makes the salsa thicker.
When salsa has cooled to about 100 degrees add cilantro. Serve at room temperature.
Note: If you want hotter salsa add another jalapeno. Jalapenos vary greatly in hotness. The only way to tell how hot they are is to taste them before cooking.
2 cups chopped fresh mushrooms, 1/2 White Button and one half Crimini
1 clove garlic
1 slice of bread cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 1/2 TBSP olive oil
1/4 tsp dried oregano flakes
pinch of dried thyme
salt and ground white pepper to taste
1 acorn squash
Cut squash in half lengthwise and scrape seeds out.
Saute mushrooms in olive oil for about 7-10 minutes on medium low heat, add garlic, thyme and oregano and cook 3 more minutes. Remove from heat, add bread and mix well. Fill each half of squash until stuffing is about one inch above rim of squash. Spray with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil. Bake for 60-70 minutes at 350 degrees or until squash is tender. Great with chicken or pork.
1 cup carrots cut into 1 inch chunks
1 cup celery cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 medium yellow or white onion sliced
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups cauliflower florets or broccoli florets, or combine the two
Lawrey’s seasoning salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 small clove garlic sliced, optional
In a 9×9 inch baking dish spray oil before adding onion, carrots and celery. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake uncovered for 25 minutes, stirring once. Remove from oven, add florets and stir. Return to oven and bake about 8-10 minutes until desired doneness is reached. You can broil the last 3 minutes if you want a browned look to it.
Add red potato chunks that have been parboiled for 20-25 minutes just short of soft cooked. These are best added 12 minutes into the cooking process when stirring the onions, carrots and celery.
Add cut up whole chicken pieces that have been baked for 40 minutes at 350 degrees to the carrots, onion and celery.
1 acorn squash cut in half and seeded
2 cups fresh corn cut off the cob
2-3 jalapeno peppers seeded and diced
1 small clove garlic minced
10 cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
salt to taste, appx 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 T roasted pumpkin seeds for garnishing, optional
Place acorn squash cut side down in baking dish with 1/4 inch of water. Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 40-50 minutes. After squash has been in the oven for 25 minutes cook jalapenos in a saute pan with oil for 5 minutes on medium low heat. Add garlic and cook for one minute. Add corn and cook for 8 minutes stirring occasionally. Add tomatoes, and salt, and cook for 2 minutes. Remove squash and transfer to serving platter. Top with vegetable mix and add pumpkin seeds as topping.
Note: if serving as main dish keep halves as is to serve two people. If serving as a vegetable side dish cut in half after removing from oven so you have 4 quarters arranged on a platter, and scoop vegetable mix across the middle sections of the squash to serve four or more people.