Mung Bean Pasta

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I have been trying to use my cookbooks more often. My effort has paid off with a lot of new knowledge about ingredients and some great go-to recipes that I never knew I always had, sitting right there on the bookcase in my kitchen. One thing that I was surprised to learn was how healthy mung beans are for you. Featured in my new favorite recipe for Pad Thai from Terry Walters’ Clean Food cookbook, mung bean sprouts are surprisingly nutritious. So when I saw Mung Bean Fettuccine in the grocery store, I had to give it a try.

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The package boasts an extremely high protein and fiber content as well as a high iron content, and states that the pasta is a great gluten-free alternative to wheat pasta. I am not gluten-free. In fact I think gluten is one of my favorite foods, however I am always looking for tasty protein sources so I had to check it out. Mung beans, which are low in cholesterol and high in soluble dietary fibers, can also help lower LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Until recently, mung beans had only entered our household to fill Kyle’s iron palm training bag for Wing Chun (Kung Fu), so it was a pretty big deal to start tossing mung bean sprouts in salads and stir-fry dishes. Experimenting with the fresh, crunchy sprouts was fun, but those beady green beans were a little scary, so it took us awhile to take the next step. Opening this bag of wavy green noodles was intimidating, but we were willing to give it a go in the name of science.

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After cooking and rinsing the noodles, I tasted them plain, and they weren’t too bad. I have to be honest though, they do taste a little… grassy? Because they are naturally chewier than regular pasta, it was pretty easy to get them al dente. However, I thought they really needed some flavor (besides “health food” flavor), so I mixed them with sauteed asparagus and baby bok choy, a soy dressing, and toasted sesame seeds. A drizzle of chili sauce made the meal complete.

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I thought this salad would work well either hot or cold, but I definitely preferred it hot. The noodles were so chewy after being chilled that I had a hard time getting through half of a serving before feeling full. I guess that could be a good thing? It felt weird to me, so I reheated them with a few minutes in the microwave and a generous portion of sambal. Kyle enjoyed the dish both hot and cold, so I guess you will have to decide for yourself!

The flavor combination was very fresh and springy, and versatile enough to work with any type of grain, so I recommend that you try it out even if you substitute a different kind of pasta or rice for the mung bean fettuccine. We are now firmly in the spring season, so break out that bright green asparagus and your favorite set of chopsticks and chow down!

Sesame Mung Bean Fettuccine with Spring Vegetables

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Ingredients:

  • 7 oz. dry mung bean fettuccine
  • 3 Tbsp sesame oil, divided (2+1)
  • 1 bunch asparagus
  • 2 baby bok choy
  • 4 green onions
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup liquid aminos or low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp chili sauce (sriracha or similar)
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, rinse and set aside.
  2. Chop asparagus into 1-inch pieces and roughly chop baby bok choy, discarding the ends. Thinly slice the green onions.
  3. Heat 2 Tbsp sesame oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook for 1 minute. Add bok choy and asparagus and saute until tender and bright green, about 3 minutes.
  4. To the vegetables, add garlic and saute for another minute.
  5. In a small bowl, combine the liquid aminos (or soy sauce), brown sugar, rice wine vinegar, 1 Tbsp sesame oil, and chili sauce.
  6. Add pasta and sauce to the pan with the vegetables and stir to combine. Cook until heated throughout. Add toasted sesame seeds and serve while hot.
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Do your goal setting skills need a tune up?

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It’s a new year, and with new beginnings come resolutions and goals. The local gyms are packed with ambitious resolution-makers, home organization paraphernalia is on sale at Target, savings accounts start to grow again, and the grocery store is sold out of all my favorite health food. I think rebooting at the beginning of the year is a very positive thing, and I always take this time to set some goals for myself for the coming year.

However, we all know that resolutions and goals usually fade after a month or two. This is evident when I no longer have to wait in line for a cardio machine at the gym, or have to visit three grocery stores in order to find fresh kale. I don’t always follow through with my resolutions either, but I have learned a few things about setting and meeting goals, which I think may be helpful knowledge for you, especially at the beginning of a new year.

I recently learned a lot about goals while recovering from my bike accident last October. Almost immediately after being discharged from the hospital, I wanted to know when I could do my favorite things again. I actually tried to convince Kyle that I may be up for a hike later that week. Yes, both my arms were in casts, I likely had a few broken ribs, I was on a hefty dose of painkillers, and I had two surgeries on the horizon. When it all sunk in, I realized that I would not be able to live an active lifestyle that week, or for the next several weeks, until I had met some recovery goals.

I have always been a very goal-oriented and determined person, so I visualized the things I wanted to be able to do after recovering from my injuries, and I focused on those things to get me through the first few weeks. Cooking a meal unassisted was at the top of that list. I couldn’t even hold a fork for the first few days, and my family had to take turns making my food, feeding me, and doing self-care tasks like brushing my teeth. Because I am a very independent person, this was pretty tough for me to handle. I was pretty helpless, and a home cooked meal felt very far away.

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I started physical therapy one week after my surgeries, and the therapist asked me what hobbies, aside from daily activities and work, I wanted to be able to do after recovery. Yoga and riding a bicycle were right below cooking on that list. The slightest touch to my wrist sent pain shooting up and down my arm, but I wanted to be able to hold a downward dog when this was all over.

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For a week or two, these goals gave me hope and inspired me to work hard on the simple therapy homework I was given. Then these ambitious goals made me frustrated. I spent a lot of time thinking about how long it would take for me to achieve them, and it made my situation feel hopeless. When I expressed this to one of my good friends, she told me that I should simply make smaller goals for progress, instead of getting hung up on the big goals that were so far away.

This immediately made a lot of sense to me. After all, I didn’t run a half marathon earlier that year by setting out to run 13.1 miles in the first week. For three weeks, the longest distance I ever ran was 3 or 4 miles. I knew I would get to 13.1 eventually, but I set a goal for each run in my training plan and I focused only on that accomplishment for the day.

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For me, the first few mini-goals were things that most people with two functioning arms would take for granted. Brush my own teeth. Take a shower without help. Pick up a cup of coffee and drink it. I dropped the toothbrush, spilled the coffee, and took a 90 minute shower the first time I met each of these goals, but I achieved them nonetheless, and celebrating my progress made me feel that I was one step closer to that downward facing dog.

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Six weeks after the accident, I was cleared for limited cardio, and only on the stationary bike. My doctor was worried I might fall doing anything else, including using the treadmill. It was a big moment when I jumped back in the saddle and started to pedal, and an even bigger one when I successfully completed 30 minutes on the bike. I re-entered society soon after, showing up to classes at Boho Cycle Studio here in Richmond and feeling inspired by the tough workouts and energetic, hyper-motivational instructors.

Another mini-goal was being able to chop vegetables, and although I did not have full range of motion or much strength at all yet, I chopped a head of cauliflower in week 7. You can see in the picture below that the form is horrible, as I couldn’t fully grip things yet, but being able to finally contribute to dinner preparation again meant a lot to me. In the same week, I was cleared to drive a little too, which gave me a great sense of independence and a boost to my self-esteem.

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I had an ambitious goal in mind around mid-November, and that was to help prepare some of Christmas dinner. I ended up helping out a lot in the kitchen on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I had not completely achieved my goal of cooking on my own yet, but this felt like a big step in the right direction.

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And now I am thrilled to announce that after nine weeks since my surgery, I have finally prepared a dinner by myself, start to finish, with no assistance from my husband or anyone else. This weekend, I made a Mediterranean-inspired spinach and artichoke pasta dish and it was really good! Simple, but good! Progress!

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Goals are achieved one day at a time. When you have really big goals and dreams, it is good to keep them in mind for motivation, but sometimes it can get overwhelming and frustrating to think about the long road ahead. If you struggle with this like I do, you should set smaller milestones for yourself, and celebrate progress along the way.

If your goal is to lose weight this year, make a promise to yourself that today you will spend 30 minutes at the gym, or today you will pack a healthy lunch for work tomorrow. After a week of good days, reward yourself with a fresh juice and celebrate your progress. If you are setting out to be more organized, don’t bury yourself under a pile of home organization systems and tackle the whole house at once. Instead, set a goal for today to organize just the bills, or just the kitchen utensil drawer, or to pick up and put away twenty things before you go to bed.

With a long-term plan in place, and a series of small goals accomplished day by day, you will eventually reach your big goals at the end of the road, and be much happier and motivated along the way. Good luck, and happy 2014!

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Spinach & Artichoke Pesto Pasta

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz. fresh or dried pasta (I used Bombolini pasta shells)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 14 oz. can of quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 10 oz. package frozen spinach, thawed and drained
  • 1/4 cup basil pesto (my favorite recipe here)
  • 1/4 tsp lemon pepper seasoning
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • 2 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Preparation:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions and drain.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pan over medium heat.
  3. Add garlic to pan and saute 1-2 minutes.
  4. Add artichoke hearts and olives to pan. Saute for 3 minutes or until warm.
  5. Add tomato, spinach, and pesto to pan and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. If spinach and tomato are dry, add a half cup of water to pan.
  6. Add cooked pasta to the pan and season with lemon pepper, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until warmed.
  7. Top with a drizzle of olive oil if needed and serve with crumbled feta on top.

Chickpea Noodle Soup

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I can’t explain this midsummer soup that I made at the end of a July heat wave, except by saying, “sometimes you just need comfort food.”

It was the end of a long, stressful day and I needed a quick late night dinner. Although it had been 90 degrees that day, I really wanted soup. So I scoured the pantry and fridge and came up with almost all of the ingredients for chicken noodle soup, except for chicken. No problem, I thought. I had chickpeas.

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Don’t worry. I haven’t lost my mind (yet). I am aware that chickpeas are nothing like chicken, and I know that just because an ingredient sounds like another, that does not mean they taste the same. However, I needed some protein and chickpea noodle soup just sounded so right that it couldn’t be wrong.

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I used a vegetable soup base blend that I had picked up from the frozen vegetables section, and I think the okra in this blend really helped to thicken the soup. I also added some texture by tossing a third of the chickpeas into the food processor before adding them to the soup. The noodles and legumes were very filling, and the veggies made me feel like I had made a semi-healthy meal choice.

If you just can’t bear the thought of hot soup in July, or you think it’s a waste to use canned and frozen ingredients in the middle of the best season for fresh produce, I get it. Really I do. I’ve eaten a fresh tomato sandwich for dinner the last two nights in a row so you know I appreciate what’s coming out of the dirt over what’s coming out of the can right now. But at least toss some fresh green beans and okra in the freezer now and bookmark this recipe, because if you aren’t ready today, I think this is just what you’ll be looking for in January.

Chickpea Noodle Soup

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Ingredients:

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 1 lb frozen vegetables (I used a vegetable soup blend that included carrots, potatoes, corn, green beans, lima beans, okra, peas, celery and onions)
  • 1- 15 oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 quart low sodium vegetable broth
  • 4 oz. egg noodles
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian herb blend (optional)
  • 1 pinch cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.
  2. Add garlic and onion to pot and sauté until onion is translucent.
  3. Add vegetables to pot, and cook while stirring for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Divide chickpeas into three equal portions. Add one third of the chickpeas to a food processor, and pulse until finely chopped.
  5. Add whole and chopped chickpeas, broth, and 1 cup water to pot. Bring to a boil.
  6. Add noodles and the rest of the ingredients, return to a boil, then cover and cook over medium heat for 15-20 minutes.

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.

Holy Fractal, Batman! Broccoli Romanesco!

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Those of you who follow me on Twitter got a sneak preview this weekend of the latest weird vegetable to cross the threshold of my kitchen. Kyle couldn’t resist picking up this amazing broccoli Romanesco from Walnut Hill Farm Produce at the farmers’ market on Saturday. This fascinating vegetable features a Fibonacci number of spiraled cones on each floret, and its texture approximates a natural fractal. It looks like cauliflower, is technically considered broccoli, and tastes somewhere in between the two. In a good way, promise.

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Since this variety originated in Italy, I knew I wanted to do a pasta dish. When I did a little research online and tasted the vegetable raw, I discovered that it did not need a lot of seasoning in order to shine, so I opted for a very simple dinner.

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How crazy does this thing look?! I broke down this huge head of broccoli into florets, then steamed it for 5-7 minutes. Meanwhile, I cooked some farfalle (bow tie pasta) in boiling water for 10 minutes, then drained it and reserved the cooking water in a separate bowl.

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When the broccoli was steamed, I added a couple of thinly sliced cloves of garlic and olive oil. After cooking over medium heat for a few minutes, I added a big bowl of freshly grated Parmesan cheese to the pot, along with the juice of one lemon, freshly ground black pepper, a few dashes of Italian herb and spice blend, and a cup of reserved pasta water. After a few minutes, I added the farfalle to the pot, gave it a thorough stir, then added a few teaspoons of capers and salt and pepper to taste. If you don’t want to ruin a good thing, then I recommend that you do nothing else at all to this dish. Except for maybe a sprinkle of crushed red pepper.

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Just enjoy heaping bowls of the steaming hot pasta and you’re all set. Bonus points for a roaring fire, a warm fuzzy blanket, or an oversize glass of wine.

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!