Fall 2014 Vegetarian Beer Dinner

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It’s that time again! Sixteen foodies and beer lovers gathered last weekend at our house for the fifth potluck Vegetarian Beer Dinner. I know I say this every time, but I think this was the best one yet!

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This was our first October beer dinner and there was a great summer-into-fall theme. October is my favorite month, so naturally I feel that there is a lot to about this season to celebrate. Kyle and I were married two Octobers ago and while I was setting up chalkboard signs and table linens last weekend, I definitely felt like I was preparing our wedding venue all over again. The weather was beautiful and the leaves on the trees in our neighborhood were just starting to turn colors. We were so lucky with the weather that with a few patio heaters, we were able to host the dinner outside in our backyard.

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We tried out a new game this time to greet guests while they arrived. We wrapped three bottles of brown ale in Halloween themed craft tape to cover the labels. Each guest had three numbers to correspond with the numbered bottles, and there were three jars with the names of the beers we were blind tasting: Legend Brown Ale, Smuttynose Old Brown Dog Ale, and Rogue Hazelnut Brown Ale. Taking turns, we tasted all three beers and then tried to guess which beer was in each bottle. Guests voted by placing their numbers in the jars that they thought matched their beers. We didn’t track individual answers so there were no winners or losers, but by counting the numbers in each jar we could tell that most of the crowd correctly guessed the Rogue ale, and most of the crowd mixed up the Legend and Smuttynose beers.

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We provided eight ounce jars for tasting throughout the dinner and I wrote each guest’s name on a chalk label on each jar. The graduated ounce marks on the glassware helped for measuring tasting portions for those of us who were trying to stay relatively sober through the whole dinner!

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Guests were paired up and each group explained their food and beer pairing. All dishes were vegetarian and beers were seasonal. We had several vegan and gluten-free dishes so that there was a little something for everyone. The more competitive groups campaigned for their dishes to be voted the best dish of the night during after-dinner discussion. I couldn’t choose a favorite. They were all so different and delicious.

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The lineup is as follows, and I will link up to recipes as I get them.

Vegan Meatballs in a Sweet and Spicy Mole Sauce, with Xocoveza Mocha Stout, paired by Lauren and Kyle

Tomato & Mozzarella Caprese Skewers, with Bison Honey Basil Ale, paired by Carissa, Mike and Jess

Watermelon Radishes with Burrata, with Anderson Valley The Kimmie, The Yink & The Holy Gose, paired by Paul and Leah

Channa Masala, with Hardywood RVA IPA, paired by Liz (I Heart Vegetables) and Alex

Vegetarian Pigs in a Blanket with Gourmet Mustard, paired with Lost Rhino Rhino Chasers Pilsner, paired by Lindsay (Neat As You Please) and AJ

Roasted Corn Salad from Terry Walters’ Clean Start, paired with Sierra Nevada Flipside Red IPA, paired by Adrienne (Sit Pretty Design) and Al

Apple Crisp (recipe coming soon to the EBF Blog), paired with Lickinghole Creek Brewery Virginia Black Bear Russian Imperial Stout, paired by Brittany (Eating Bird Food) and Isaac

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I can’t choose a favorite pairing for this one because everyone brought their A game and it was a truly wonderful dinner. Much thanks to Alyssa, Morgan and Isaac for bringing additional beers to share. Thanks to Jess for helping me set up the dreamy fall patio décor. And thank you, of course, to Kyle, who consistently puts up with my bite-off-more-than-I-can-chew syndrome when it comes to entertaining. But who else would bring you a seven course vegetarian beer dinner, outdoors, at the end of October, but the type of person who bites off more than she can chew?

If seven courses weren’t enough, there were s’mores waiting at the fire pit after dinner. Which brings me to one more thank you – thanks Al for sharing your amazing fire-building skills with us once again!

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Thanks to a combination of designated drivers, self control, and Uber ridesharing service (for those who lacked both), everyone got home safely, full, and happy.

Did you miss the recaps of the first four vegetarian beer dinners? Check them out here:

Vegetarian Beer Dinner I – August 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner II – December 2012

Vegetarian Beer Dinner III – April 2013

Vegetarian Beer Dinner IV – September 2013

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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?

How to Compose a Seasonal Salad, Featuring Fresh Arugula with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

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A commitment to seasonal cooking often requires a certain degree of improvisation. If you want to be the type of cook who can wander through a farmers’ market, purchase the best that the season has to offer, and then plan meals around your market haul later, it helps to have a few generic meal recipes in your back pocket that lend themselves to seasonal substitutions. I have thrown together a salad like the one pictured above dozens of times in many configurations, by substituting what I have on hand for the basic components and then pulling all the flavors together with a dressing. This version featured local arugula, spicy roasted chickpeas and tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and a lemon herb vinaigrette.

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If you have been eating fresh tomatoes all season, I recommend that you try roasting them to deepen and sweeten the flavors. These roasted tomatoes were like candy, offering the sweet component of my salad.

My basic formula for a seasonal salad is this:

  • Greens – tender greens like arugula, spinach, and spring mix are my favorites, but I occasionally change it up with romaine, kale, or cabbage
  • Something sweet – dried or fresh fruit, tomatoes, and carrots are good choices
  • Something crunchy – fresh vegetables work well, as do nuts and seeds
  • Something fatty – creamy ingredients like cheese and cream-based dressings are good; so are oily ingredients like olives and marinated artichokes, and avocado is always a welcome addition
  • Something acidic – vinegar and citrus based dressings are great for cutting through the fatty ingredient
  • Protein (optional) – to make my salad a complete a meal, I add a protein component like legumes, tofu, tempeh, or quinoa
  • Something salty or spicy (optional) – salt and spice are great for balancing a sweet component and these flavors are usually covered in the protein component, fatty component, or dressing.

One component can deliver a lot of these flavors and textures. For example in this salad, the chickpeas offer the protein, crunch, and spice, while the feta offers the fat and salty flavors. As summer turns to fall, it’s fun to experiment with different ingredients and preparations to modify the final product. My guess is that the deep, hearty flavors of the spicy roasted chickpeas will start to take over, as cucumbers and fresh tomatoes become a distant memory.

Scroll below the recipe to find another one of my tricks for preparing meals with local, seasonal ingredients, even when life gets hectic.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or sub chili powder)
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 4 ounces fresh feta in water, drained and crumbled
  • Salad dressing to taste (try this Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the sliced tomatoes in 1 Tbsp olive oil, then spread out the slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the cumin, paprika, cayenne, and salt into the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add chickpeas and toss to coat. Pour chickpeas out into a single layer on the same baking sheet as the tomatoes.
  4. Bake tomatoes and chickpeas at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, combine arugula, feta, and dressing. Add roasted tomatoes and chickpeas and gently toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Another one of my keys to quick seasonal food preparation is to pick up all my local ingredients in one place by using Relay Foods online grocery shopping, now available in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. If you have never used Relay Foods before, please enjoy $30 off your $50+ order by clicking the coupon on the left side of this page. Then please let me know how you liked it!

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.

Strawberry Apple Rhubarb Muffins (Vegan!)

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Do you ever have those moments when you finally realize something that should have been obvious to you for a long time, and you say to yourself, “I can’t believe I’ve never thought of this before?”

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That is exactly how I feel about strawberries, green apples, and rhubarb. In this in-between season, why not bring the best of the fall and the best of the spring together, in one delicious “tweasonal” snack? One day it’s fifty degrees and the next day it’s eighty – why not embrace the seasonal identity crisis in your kitchen as well? Strawberry and rhubarb is a tried and true pairing, but apple and rhubarb? That is a little less common. However I feel that the vibrant green stalk of the rhubarb has been trying to tell me something for years.

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Plays well with others. . . particularly with strawberries and Granny Smith apples. Because cramming three flavors into one muffin wasn’t enough of a challenge, I opted to make these vegan as well. I have made vegan cookies and breads before, but I believe these are my first vegan muffins. Non-dairy milk and a flax egg work wonders.

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If you have never made a flax egg before, do not be intimidated.

First, grind whole flax seeds into a fine powder. I use my coffee grinder for this step. The oils in flax are very temperamental and ground flax meal can go rancid quickly, so I always keep the seeds whole then grind them immediately before using in a recipe.

Second, mix 1 part flax seed meal to 3 parts water. Stir with a fork or whisk to combine. This recipe calls for two flax eggs (2 Tbsp flax + 6 Tbsp water).

Third, refrigerate for 15 minutes to achieve the consistency displayed below. This ingredient is a binder, so it needs to stick. When it has set up enough, you can turn a container of flax eggs on its side and the contents don’t spill out.

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Another unexpected part of these delicious muffins is the whole strawberry hiding in the middle of each one. I folded chopped apples and rhubarb into the muffin batter, then I sliced the tops off of twelve strawberries.

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After filling the muffin tins halfway, I shoved a whole strawberry into the middle of each tin, then topped off with some batter. As the muffins bake, the strawberry juice starts to leak out into the muffins, and when you bite into one, the whole strawberry center is like a fresh jam filling. I really should try this with peanut butter muffins, right?

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Some of the strawberries couldn’t stay hidden, and they chose to leak sweet strawberry lava out of the tops of the muffins. They look exactly how they are: irresistibly delicious.

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Vegan Strawberry Apple Rhubarb Muffins

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh ground flax meal
  • 3 ounces water
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup non-dairy milk (I used soy milk)
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup of peeled, chopped apple (I used Granny Smith)
  • 1/2 cup chopped rhubarb
  • 12 small strawberries, tops removed

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Combine flax meal and water, refrigerate for 15 minutes. The result is a “flax egg.”
  3. In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients: flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Stir until thoroughly mixed.
  4. In a smaller bowl, combine wet ingredients: flax egg, oil, applesauce, vanilla, non-dairy milk, and vinegar. Stir until mixed.
  5. Add wet ingredients to large bowl and stir to combine with dry ingredients, until just moistened. Make sure all flour is incorporated.
  6. Fold in apple and rhubarb.
  7. Grease or line a muffin tin with paper liners. Fill each cavity halfway with batter. Place one strawberry inside each cavity, then top with more batter until filled.
  8. Bake muffins in preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the largest muffin comes out clean.

Note: if vegan isn’t your thing, you may substitute 2 eggs, beaten, for the flax eggs, and 1 cup buttermilk for the non-dairy milk and vinegar.

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Is it Spring time yet?!

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 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.