A Farmtastic Weekend

IMG_3046

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!

IMG_3049

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.

IMG_3051

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.

IMG_3053

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.

IMG_3072

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.

IMG_3074

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.

IMG_3082

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!

IMG_3077

Advertisements

SOJ Chef Demo 09.22.12

Resampled_2012-09-22_10-10-19_218

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.

Resampled_2012-09-22_09-01-20_122

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.

Resampled_2012-09-22_09-24-11_925

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.

Resampled_2012-09-22_09-18-39_856

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.

Resampled_2012-09-22_08-35-46_102

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

Resampled_2012-09-22_08-56-32_606

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!”

Resampled_2012-09-22_09-27-34_961

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.

Resampled_2012-09-22_09-23-44_305

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.

Resampled_2012-09-22_10-04-04_864

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.

2012-09-22_10-10-47_249

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.

2012-09-22_10-33-34_882

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.

SOJ Chef Demo 08.11.12

Resampled_2012-08-11_08-24-22_112

This week at the South of the James Farmers’ Market cooking demo, Chef Sam Baker cooked fresh seafood, fruits and vegetables as the morning went from damp and dreary to warm and bright. With grey puddles underfoot, Chef Sam shopped the market and found some cool fish and shrimp as well as some vibrant tomatoes and large mushrooms. He quickly got to work on the tilefish from Barham Seafood.

Resampled_2012-08-11_09-07-03_492

The spicy seasoning on the fish helped heat things up as the rain clouds teased us with an off-and-on light drizzle. The Chef explained that tilefish is a rare treat, as he seasoned it with tarragon, cayenne pepper, curry powder and sea salt. As the fish cooked in a pan, Chef Sam cozied up to some mushrooms from Haas Shrooms.

Resampled_2012-08-11_09-02-35_229

After sautéing the mushrooms with some red onion, a splash of water and a bit of salt, Chef Sam stuffed them with Goats R Us dill chevre and pan seared tilefish, then topped them with pan roasted tomatoes and a sliver of fresh Asian pear.

Resampled_2012-08-11_09-16-58_175

The stuffed mushrooms paired well with the weather, as the market had a certain damp earthiness that morning.

Resampled_2012-08-11_09-22-35_836

After the Chef completed a couple of demonstrations, the clouds parted and the sun came out.

Resampled_2012-08-11_10-37-29_595

Shoppers with dogs on leashes and children in strollers showed up. Iced coffee sales spiked for the morning. As the market steamed up, Chef Sam decided it was time to put the shrimp on.

Resampled_2012-08-11_10-42-22_734

For his next act, Chef Sam made zucchini and yellow squash boats, complete with shrimp “passengers.” He made a barbecue sauce for the shrimp by reducing a pot of tomatoes and peaches with a splash of water to a thick sauce, then adding some Empress Farm habanero blackberry jam. I tasted the sauce and it was out of this world! It had a great balance of sweet and spicy. After bathing in the sauce, the shrimp hopped aboard zucchini and yellow squash boats stuffed with sautéed zucchini and red onions.

Resampled_2012-08-11_10-47-01_467

The shrimp were a big hit, and it was cool to see that I wasn’t the only one who thought it was picture worthy!

Resampled_2012-08-11_10-49-28_329

For the final demonstration, Chef Sam made a vegetarian pasta dish that was bursting with fruit ingredients. He used Bombolini Pasta’s herb ditalini as a base. Over the pasta, the Chef layered some seared Asian pears with ground black pepper. These were incredible. If I had been left unattended I would have eaten the whole plate before the Chef could assemble the dish. I was so happy that Kyle had picked up a bag of these pears while shopping that morning! I had plans for a pear pizza and watching this come together got me in the right mindset to pull it off.

2012-08-11_11-31-45_898

In addition to pears, the pasta dish featured sautéed zucchini, fresh tomatoes, and a tomato peach marinara sauce. This fantastic sauce included tomatoes, peaches, red onion and basil. Some of the plates were topped with a dollop of dill chevre to mix in.

Resampled_2012-08-11_11-42-48_392

Whether it was stuffing mushrooms, filling zucchini halves, or packing flavor into a sauce, Chef Sam made sure that every dish was full of flavor and fresh produce. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, summer is the best season for packing in a lot of flavor with little effort. I’m looking forward to seeing what Chef Sam creates for the rest of this season, and what he has up his sleeve for the Fall. Come find out for yourself at the South of the James Market, every Saturday, eight to noon.

Thank you to Barham Seafood, Bombolini Pasta, Drumheller Orchard, Empress Farm, Goats R Us, Haas Shrooms, Norma’s Produce, Rocking F Farms, Saunders Brothers Orchard, Victory Farms, Walnut Hill Farm, and all of the other featured market vendors for providing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients!