A Farmtastic Weekend

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It has been really cold in Richmond for the last week, and I have gladly stayed bundled up indoors at work for a few days. I broke out my fleece-lined tights for the first time this winter, and I wore scarves in my office every day. Towards the end of the week, it started to warm up (a little bit), and a peek at the forecast revealed that we were expecting a sunny, chilly weekend, followed by a few days of icy rain. Early Saturday morning, I decided to seize the day and take full advantage of the sun while it lasted. First stop: South of the James Farmers Market!

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I wrote about my history with Haas Mushrooms last week, and writing that post made me realize how much I missed visiting the market every weekend. The stark difference between the cold weather outside and my warm and toasty bed inside has prevented me from making the trek to Forest Hill Park for several weeks. However, I used to make it to the market by 7:30 every Saturday, rain or shine, so this week I decided there was no room for excuses! It was below freezing while I picked out my mushrooms this week, but they were totally worth it.

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How cool is this funny looking guy? This is a lion’s mane mushroom (Hericium erinaceus), also known as a sheep’s head, hedgehog, or pom pom mushroom. I picked up a mixed bag from Haas and researched this odd looking mushroom that I found in my bag when I got home. Like many mushrooms, it has remarkable anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties. This type of mushroom contains 20 percent protein and is specifically well known for its unique nerve regenerative properties. One article that I found particularly interesting was this one from Paul Stamets for the Huffington Post blog: “Lion’s Mane: A Mushroom that Improves your Memory and Mood?” The healing properties of food never cease to amaze me. I am so looking forward to experimenting with cooking this cool find.

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In other weird food news, it’s Romanesco Season! I could not resist picking up this gorgeous head of romanesco from Walnut Hill Farm Produce at the market this weekend. It was so cold out there that this thing had tiny icicles hanging from its florets.

After returning home and thawing out, I packed up my car, picked up a friend, and headed west to Powhatan State Park for a hike. It was only in the thirties, but the cloudless sky provided plenty of sunshine, which made me feel a little warmer on my trek through this fairly new state park.

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This park is about a 45-minute drive from Richmond and it offers hiking and mountain biking trails, campsites, playgrounds, canoe launches, and beautiful views of the James River. Established in 2003 and still under construction, the park’s facilities are in great shape. I paid $4 to enter the park and there were very few cars in the trailhead parking lots. My friend and I only saw one other hiker and one cyclist while we were there. We took the Turkey Trail and River Trail to a few gorgeous views next to the icy river.

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As the sun started to fall closer to the horizon, we headed out of the park and drove about 15 miles to Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery for their release of the Vanilla Virginia Black Bear Russian Imperial Stout.

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The brewery is located on a beautiful farm surrounded by rolling hills. We made it there in time for the sunset, and the enormous fire pit was our favorite amenity, especially as the sun faded away and the temperature started to drop. I have wanted to visit the brewery ever since they opened but had not made it out to Goochland to check it out yet. The farm and the brewhouse were beautiful and the beer was delicious. The owners and the other beer nerds in attendance were very friendly and the whole release party had a very laid back vibe.

I think I’ll really enjoy visiting the farm again when the weather warms up in the spring. I believe their next big beer release is in March. Now that I’ve had my fill of the great outdoors, and the forecast promises icy rain for the next two days, I’ll be drinking my stout indoors, in fuzzy bear slippers, until next weekend rolls around again. Cheers!

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Eggplant Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Chevre

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I love summer fruits and vegetables, so I am ecstatic that I am now cleared by my doctor to carry heavy bags of produce from the farmers’ market to my house. I made a trip last weekend to the South of the James market and I went a little overboard with vegetable purchases. Everything wonderful is in season right now!

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The haul:

  • Goats R Us roasted red pepper chèvre (so flavorful!)
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Jalapenos
  • Green bell peppers
  • White peaches
  • Zucchini
  • Yellow crookneck squash
  • Tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant
  • Cucumbers

I made a ton of great seasonal meals last week, and doing a lot of meal prep (washing, chopping, blanching, etc.) on Sunday helped me out so I could get healthy home cooked meals on the table around a busy schedule. The roasted red pepper chèvre and eggplant inspired me to throw together a quick and easy appetizer on Sunday afternoon.

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This is a flavorful, summery dish that you can put together in about fifteen minutes, which is great for those impromptu summer porch sitting sessions. You know what I’m talking about. When a conversation with friends that starts with “What are you doing tonight?” and “I don’t know, what are you doing?” ends with two friends and a bottle of wine on your patio.

I used oval-shaped eggplant slices in place of baguette slices to make this summer “bruschetta” a bit lighter (and gluten-free, if you’re into that kind of thing). I guess technically that makes it not bruschetta, but I don’t bother with technicalities on sunny summer weekends. If you’re unlike me and you’re getting hung up on the semantics, have another glass of wine and throw some quotation marks around the word “bruschetta.”

Eggplant Bruschetta with Heirloom Tomatoes and Fresh Chèvre

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Ingredients:

  • 1 Chinese eggplant
  • 2 small heirloom tomatoes (I used Green Zebra and a red-green variety I couldn’t identify)
  • 1 oz. fresh chèvre goat cheese (I used roasted red pepper)
  • 1 small handful of fresh basil
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Slice the eggplant on a diagonal to make oval-shaped slices, about a 1/4 inch thick.
  2. Heat a grill pan, indoor counter top grill, or outdoor grill. Brush eggplant slices with olive oil, then grill for a few minutes on each side, until eggplant is tender and grill marks appear. Do not overcook or eggplant will get mushy; you want the slices to still be firm enough to hold the toppings.
  3. While eggplant is cooking, slice tomatoes. Stack and roll basil leaves, then slice into a chiffonade.
  4. Remove eggplant slices from grill and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  5. Spread each eggplant slice with chèvre, then top with a tomato slice and basil. Season with sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

So are you curious what we made with all of the rest of that produce? Here is last week’s meal plan. At the end of the week, when there is still produce left over, I chop it all and throw it in a stir-fry or on homemade pizza.

Breakfast: Blanchard’s Dark As Dark iced coffee, Peach Oatmeal Bars

Lunch: Mediterranean salad with baby greens, cucumber, tomato, olive, and hummus

Dinner:

Noodleless Zucchini Lasagna and baby greens salad

BBQ Tempeh, Green Beans Almondine, and Herb Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Tomatillo Gazpacho with Fresh Corn Salad (recipe coming soon!) and Black Bean Quesadillas

Yukon Gold White Bean Basil Burgers and Roasted Yellow Summer Squash with Sage Pecan Pesto

 

What tasty seasonal recipes are on your meal plan for this week?

Hello Spring! Salad

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This time of year, when the air is thick with pollen and my cloudy sinuses make me feel like I’m in a permanent fog, there are just a few things that are enticing enough to get me out of the house and into nature. One of those things is the South of the James farmers’ market, which I visited last weekend. The market tables are covered in green, with bright pops of red, pink and orange, during the spring season. The stars of the show are the strawberries, asparagus, and fresh herbs, with fresh greens rounding out the strong ensemble. Last week, I also picked up turnips, radishes, sugar snap peas, goat cheese, and fresh pasta.

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If you get there early enough, you can get local farm fresh eggs, which are a real treat. Lately we have enjoyed eggs and greens, fried in the same skillet, for an easy weeknight meal. I prepare them by wilting the greens in olive oil and garlic, cracking a few eggs into the pan, and then covering it and simmering for 3-4 minutes. Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper top it off, with some grated Parmesan if we’re feeling extra indulgent. So quick and easy, nutrient-packed and delicious, it’s no wonder we have had this dish once a week for the last month.

I have been staring at the Israeli (pearl) couscous on my pantry shelf since the last snow, waiting for inspiration to strike. A bunch of fresh dill and asparagus turned a craving for Israeli couscous into a full-fledged spring recipe idea, and I have made this easy salad a few times since. I look forward to trying it with some Bombolini pasta herb shells in place of the couscous later this week. Likewise, you could substitute whatever fresh herbs you have on hand for the dill; I think tarragon or parsley would be great. The lemon and asparagus complement each other, and the peas lend a sweetness to the dish that balances the tartness of the lemon. This refreshing salad is perfect for dining on the patio, if you can brave the pollen and get out of the house to enjoy some warm spring sunshine.

Pearl Couscous Salad with Roasted Asparagus, Peas, Lemon and Dill

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Ingredients:

  • 4 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 bunch asparagus, trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths
  • 1-1/3 cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
  • 2 cups sweet peas, blanched
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
  • 6 green onions (scallions), chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss asparagus with 1 Tbsp olive oil, and light salt and pepper.
  2. On a rimmed baking sheet, roast asparagus for 15 minutes at 400 degrees F, or until bright green and tender-crisp.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in medium pan over medium-high heat. Add couscous to pan, and toast 5 minutes, while stirring.
  4. Add 1-3/4 cups water to the pan, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cover. Simmer couscous for 10 minutes.
  5. To a large bowl, add peas, dill, and green onions.
  6. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbsp olive oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and lemon zest. Stir thoroughly to combine.
  7. When asparagus and couscous are done cooking, add both to the large bowl and stir to combine. Add dressing and toss to coat evenly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  8. Serve warm, or refrigerate a few hours or overnight to let flavors develop and serve chilled.
  9. Extra credit: serve with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc. Mmm.

SOJ Chef Demo 11.24.12

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Chef Sam sporting his No Shave November look.

At this week’s South of the James farmers’ market cooking demo, Chef Sam Baker transformed local, seasonal ingredients into a delicious dish for market shoppers. It was a cold and windy morning, so I was grateful that we had an abundance of fall vegetables at our disposal. Fall and winter veggies have a way of warming you to your core, don’t they?

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Chef Sam gathered collard greens, butternut squash, and apples to incorporate into a pasta dish featuring Cavanna Pasta pumpkin ravioli.

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Chef Sam knew he needed an additional ingredient to tie together the dish, and he found the answer in two types of goat cheese.

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For the first time this season, Goats R Us brought some aged goat cheese to market. The Chef counted on the sharp tangy-ness of this hard goat cheese to elevate the flavors in his dish.

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The second type of goat cheese used was Night Sky Farm’s semi-soft chevre, from which Chef Sam made a creamy sauce for the pumpkin ravioli.

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The Chef demonstrated how to chop the greens into ribbons by first stacking and rolling the leaves into a log, then chopping thin strips from end to end. Chef Sam also showed market shoppers how to quickly peel and seed a butternut squash. In important lesson for safety and efficiency was to make cuts that allow you to lay the squash flat, so that it does not roll around while you are chopping it. After cutting the squash into cubes, the Chef steamed the butternut squash for several minutes.

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After steaming the butternut squash, Chef Sam added the apples and greens to the sauté pan. Meanwhile, the Chef cooked the pumpkin ravioli in a large pot of boiling water, and heated the chevre with a bit of the pasta water to create a goat cheese sauce. Chef Sam then seasoned the vegetables and sauce with salt, pepper, and an herb and spice blend from The Village Garden.

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Chef Sam then layered the squash, apples and greens over the ravioli, and topped them with the goat cheese sauce. Then he grated the aged goat cheese over top of the dish. Everyone agreed that the cheese sauce tied all of the ingredients together. The Chef recommended that this dish be made with pears instead for a different flavor. I thought the apples worked really well. Upon tasting the pasta dish from the sample boat, one bystander commented, “finally we can build a positive association with those paper hot dog boats!”

We have just one week left for the South of the James farmers’ market in Forest Hill Park. Stop by to see us next Saturday, December 1st, between 8:00 AM and noon, for our final demo of the season. On the following Saturday, the market moves to the Patrick Henry charter school for the winter.

Thank you to Cavanna Pasta, Drumheller Orchard, Goats R Us, Night Sky Farm, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

SOJ Chef Demo 11.03.12

The post is a week late, but the ingredients are still in season, so read on!

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Last week at the South of the James farmers’ market, Chef Sam Baker got inspired by local seasonal ingredients to create healthy and delicious snacks for market shoppers. I had missed a few demonstrations due to wedding festivities and vacation, so I was really pumped to get back in the demo tent for a behind-the-scenes look at the Chef’s creations that day. Chef Sam found inspiration in a stack of large collard leaves from Walnut Hill Farm and a pack of Bombolini Pasta lasagna sheets.

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The Chef planned to stuff the collard leaves and pasta with a mixture of fresh ingredients found at the market. He sautéed a medley of turnips, onion, kale, Brussels sprouts, and apple in oil, and seasoned the filling with salt and pepper. This mixture would go into dumplings that Chef Sam sampled to the crowd.

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Then Chef Sam created a creamy dressing with Night Sky Farm basil and sunflower chevre, oil, vinegar and parsley. He explained that he would normally use a food processor, but given the limited resources at the market he had to quickly whisk the ingredients together to make the emulsion.

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In addition to giving out tips on how to make your own salad dressing, Chef Sam entertained the audience with his original carved root vegetables. The crowd learned a few quick and easy recipes for homemade dressing that beats what you find in the bottle every time.

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Before stuffing the dumplings, the Chef dropped the pasta sheets, one at a time, into boiling water, then removed them after just a few minutes once they were pliable.

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He did the same with the collard leaves. The blanched collard leaves were used in place of pasta to offer some gluten-free dumplings. Chef Sam also used Empress Farm turkey cutlets to make some meat dumplings, and he included just the vegetable filling for a vegan option. There were several versions of dumplings for all kinds of market-goers.

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After filling and wrapping the dumplings, Chef Sam placed them in a pan with oil and cooked them until brown and slightly crispy on both sides, flipping once halfway through cooking.

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The dumplings were warm and soft on the inside while crispy on the outside. Steam escaped from the inside of each pocket when it was sliced open, and the hearty fall vegetables along with the creamy cheese sauce helped shoppers warm up on a very chilly day.

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I never would have thought to use fresh lasagna sheets, cut to size, as dumpling wrappers, but this seemed to work really well. Every time I visit the demo tent I learn something new, and I can tell that I think about dinner differently since starting to document Sam’s adventures six months ago. Besides embracing seasonal ingredients even more than I did before, I think more creatively about how to put them together to put a meal on the table every night. If you have time to stop by on Saturday mornings, it is definitely worth the trip to the South of the James market to see Chef Sam Baker in action.

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Thank you to Bombolini Pasta, Drumheller’s Orchard, Empress Farm, Night Sky Farms, Norma’s Produce, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

SOJ Chef Demo 09.29.12

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In this week’s South of the James Chef’s Demonstration, we saw a lot of dark greens for Fall. Much of the summer produce is still hanging around, but it is waning, and winter squashes and greens are starting to take its place. It was another semi-rainy market. It seems like we always have a lot of mushrooms during the cooler, damper cooking demos, which is fitting I suppose.

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Haas Mushrooms’ roasted mushroom vinaigrette livened up a savory kale and arugula salad. I love a short ingredient list, and this bottled dressing has a shorter, more pronounceable list of ingredients than most of the dressings on grocery store shelves.

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Speaking of sauces, Chef Sam made an extremely flavorful chimichurri sauce to serve on top of herbed pan seared mahi-mahi from Barham seafood. He served the fish alongside a salad of kale, arugula, tomatoes, onion and Goats R Us feta. The second round of salads incorporated Night Sky Farm’s 6 months aged Flora Danica goat cheese. The greens themselves are often overlooked in a salad, but I have to mention that the fresh arugula from Crumptown Farm was very tender, peppery and delicious. I took a break from the demo table to buy some arugula to bring home, just based on the fantastic smell of it, before I even tried any.

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The final dish was a goat cheese and vegetable hors d’oeuvres that incorporated both the florets and the stalks of a head of broccoli. Chef Sam pan toasted some sliced French bread from Tater Dave’s. Pan toasted bread always looks so good at these cooking demonstrations. I think I should stop putting it in the oven and start doing it this way instead.

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After toasting the sliced bread, the Chef grated some broccoli stalks to make a slaw. He told us that he made his first broccoli slaw in the early nineties, when an ingredient order mistake caused his restaurant to have dozens of cases of broccoli (I may be exaggerating now) that overran his kitchen. As time ticked by, Sam had to use up the broccoli as quickly as possible while it was still fresh, so as not to waste anything. And his first broccoli slaw was born. The one he made on Saturday included shredded broccoli, basil, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, black sesame seeds and salt.

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The Chef steamed some broccoli, sliced tomatoes, and constructed an appetizer of vegetables with goat cheese, olive oil, and spices atop toasted bread. He used a spice blend from the Village Garden that was really tasty and spicier than I expected. I never would have thought to put broccoli on bread, but these flavors worked well together and the fresh bite was satisfying and delicious.

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Thank you to Barham Seafood, Crumptown Farm, Goats R Us, Haas Mushrooms, Night Sky Farms, Norma’s Produce, Pleitez Produce, Tater Dave’s, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for producing this week’s fresh and delicious ingredients!

We are off next week, but will return to the South of the James Farmers’ Market on October 13th. That’s just one week before my wedding – do you think I could convince Chef Sam to do special occasion food to celebrate? Romantic food? Dishes for entertaining? Who knows!

SOJ Chef Demo 09.22.12

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This week at the South of the James farmers’ market cooking demo, Chef Sam got creative with a mixture of summer and fall ingredients. Norma’s Produce had a variety of colorful melons that inspired a fresh melon vinaigrette.

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The Chef grated a canary melon, then whisked it together with red wine vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, black pepper, fresh basil and tarragon. The melon vinaigrette was sweet and tangy. Drizzled over mixed greens, it made a refreshing salad to start the day.

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The Chef used fresh tomato and cucumber to round out the dish for sampling. Reflecting on the dish, I wonder if this melon vinaigrette will make it onto the brunch menu at the Hermitage Grill soon.

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This was the first week I saw brussels sprouts at the farmers’ market, and I was anxious to see how people would react. I of course jumped at the chance to snag some of these beautiful sprouts from Pleitez Produce. These are always a hit at my house, but I usually roast them, so I was interested to see how Chef Sam would prepare them without an oven.

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Sam and I were both so excited to see brussels sprouts available that we decided to make them the Veg of the Week!

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I was anxious to see how people would respond, because brussels sprouts are notorious for making people turn their noses up. I knew I loved them, but I felt like most people would need some convincing. Boy, was I wrong! All morning long, shoppers came up to our table to ask where they could buy their own. I lost track of how many times I heard “oooh, I love brussels sprouts!”

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The one person who did need convincing this week was me. Chef Sam picked up some “chicken of the woods” mushrooms from Haas Shrooms. These highly sought after mushrooms are foraged in the wild and they are known to be a real treat. I have always had an issue with mushrooms and only recently have I even allowed them to touch my plate. Something about fungus just seems inedible to me. I know that is irrational, but I have had a hard time tricking my mind into allowing me to enjoy mushrooms.

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Chef Sam said “they taste just like chicken,” so I considered taking a bite, then changed my mind. He threw them in a pan with some oil, salt and pepper, and they turned a brilliant orange color. They smelled fantastic while they cooked. After I heard the comments from samplers, praising Sam for his ingenious preparation of these odd little seashell shaped fungi, I decided to take a bite.

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Sam was right; they were awesome. That’s right folks, I ate mushrooms and liked them. If my Mom is reading this right now, I can guarantee you her jaw is on the floor. I have to tell you, it was a really cool experience. Over five months, I have watched Chef Sam convert non-adventurous eaters into believers in all kinds of produce. I’ve heard them say they couldn’t believe they were eating (insert odd local ingredient here), and I’ve seen them pick up a new type of produce to try at home per his recommendation. It was definitely strange to find myself in their shoes and have my mind changed about an ingredient.

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Chef Sam composed plates of salad with melon vinaigrette, pan roasted brussels sprouts, sautéed chicken of the woods, and beef hanging tender. I spared you the photos of the beef, because brown food never looks good in pictures. The brussels sprouts were sautéed with onion and garlic in oil, then seasoned with rice wine vinegar and smoked sea salt. The hanging tender was marinated in a mixture of apple cider vinegar, salt, cumin, coriander, garlic and other spices, then slow cooked in a pan over a bed of sautéed onions. Chef Sam explained that the onions keep the meat from sticking to the pan during the long cooking process. He topped the beef with a  dollop of Goats R Us Horsey Chevre, then handed the plates off to market shoppers.

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If anyone needed convincing before, after having a taste of this plate, he was a believer.

Thank you to Deer Run Farm, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Origins Farms (formerly Victory Farms), Pine Fork Farm, Goats R Us, Pleitez Produce, The Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of our featured vendors for making (and foraging for) this week’s tasty ingredients.