Market Finds

Market Finds
Farmer's Market Bounty

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Rancho La Puerta

Grapevines in the shadow of Mt. Kuchumaa
As I gaze out the window on this snowy day in Atlanta, I am longing for the crystal blue skies and warn sunshine of Mexico.  Fortunately, I brought home with me many beautiful photographs and fond memories of my week long experience at Rancho La Puerta.  I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to this magical place as Nancy Waldeck's Sous-Chef.  Not only did we get to enjoy all of the amenities offered at the ranch, we were able to pick vegetables from the organic garden and cook in their top notch cooking school, La Cocina Que Canta.

La Cocina Que Canta, or "the kitchen that sings", in English, is truly a chef's dream.  A floor to ceiling picture window sheds natural light into the brightly hued teaching kitchen and dining room.  Birds really do sing outside the window and Chef Denise Roa's staff hums along with clock-like precision.  Adding to this idyllic setting is the incredible organic garden, which is headed up by the ebullient head gardener Salvador.  Ninety percent of the vegetables used in our cooking class came from this garden.  Beets, carrots, kale, rainbow chard, herbs and lettuces all picked moments before they were cooked and all tasting like the best version of their particular variety.  I now truly know the definition of "fresh" and will be a bit nostalgic for this garden when I return home and do my first grocery run at my local supermarket.
Head gardener Salvador showing off the fruits of his labor
There may never be a more beautiful beet than this one!
Chef Nancy Waldeck, Executive Chef Denise Roa and yours truly

The students did an impressive job preparing and styling their dishes.

In addition to working in the cooking school, we had plenty of time to take advantage of all of the amenities at the ranch as well.  The days were filled with morning hikes, yoga and stretch classes, sunbathing, spa treatments, meditation, lectures and sound healing.  There was an activity every hour on the hour from 6am until 8pm.  It was quite impressive how much I was able to squeeze into a day and still be sound asleep before nine o'clock every night.  Rest, relaxation and unplugging from the outside world for a few days really does wonders for the body and spirit.  

Rancho La Puerta truly was a life changing experience for me and it is easy to see why many of the people I met at the ranch were repeat visitors.  So, until my next visit south of the border, I plan on channeling this warm, healthy feeling in my day to day life.  Stay tuned for some ranch inspired recipes in the weeks to come and remember to make every plate something to be passionate about.
Love this outside chalkboard.  Each day brought a new,  inspiring quote.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Who's Your Crawdaddy?

Last Monday, I finally had the occasion to take my ten year old son Zach, to the Buford Highway Farmer's Market. He came willingly, with the promise of ramen noodles, Japanese "Sprite", and a big fish that we would take home to cook for dinner. The trip did not go exactly as planned however, but it was still quite an adventure.

We began cruising the produce department, Zach's eyes wide, taking in the array of exotic fruits and vegetables. He wondered if we should buy an enormous jack fruit to put in his sister's lunchbox as a joke. We opted for a dragon fruit instead. We picked up some baby bokchoy and wasabi peas before heading to the seafood counter to source our dinner. We walked slowly down the length of the counter, looking at all of the beautiful whole fish and other seafood. Zach even struck up a conversation with a fishmonger and inquired about the snails and octopus. I loved watching his genuine curiosity and lack of shyness. I loved the fact that he is interested in food and cooking. I loved the fact that were were going to have a fresh fish to prepare for dinner that night. Or were we?

My dreams of a fish dinner came to a screeching halt when we happened upon the very last section of the seafood department. "Crawdads!", Zach yelled. He has been having a bit of an obsession with crawfish ever since the Super Bowl in New Orleans, earlier in the month. We had wanted to have a crawfish boil that day, but had not found any live ones for our pot and ended up with red beans and rice instead. So, after his month long wait, he was finally going to get his crawfish boil. I let him pick out some to take home with us. He took his time picking out the "best" ones with the tongs and carefully placing them in the bag of ice. I should have known we had a problem, when the child inquired if the crustaceans could breathe in the bag.
We finished our exploring and checked out with our multitude of exotic goodies. As we were loading the grocery bags into the trunk, Zach asked if he could hold the bag of crawfish on his lap. On the way home, I watched my child peek into the bag every so often to see if the crawfish were still alive. I could tell, that not only were we not having fish for dinner, we were not having a crawfish boil either. I was told matter of factly that we could not kill these crawdads. Zach spent the rest of the ride home, googling what crawfish eat and how to take care of them. Lucky for these little fellas, we had a brand new aquarium at home, that was in need of inhabitants. So now, over a week later, that bag full of crawfish, originally destined for my stockpot, are now living a life of luxury in a twenty gallon aquarium, in my basement.

Turns out Zach is a great "craw daddy" himself. His brood gets plenty of shrimp pellets and decaying lettuce and are doing quite well, despite the fact that one of them had his claws ripped off by one of his tank mates. I'm not sure how long these "pets" will be around, but I know for certain, they will be well taken care of while they are in Zach's care.

Of course, I could not write a recipe for a crawfish boil, or pasta or dip after this crazy, yet heartwarming story. So, a vegetarian dip, inspired by all the goodness of a Cajun crawfish dip is what is on the menu for today.

Cajun Crawdaddy-less Dip:

2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 celery rib, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/3 cup dice red onion
1/2 cup sliced scallions, green and white parts
3 garlic cloves, grated on microplane
1 cup of thawed yellow corn
1 8oz block neufchâtel cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese
8 oz sharp white cheddar cheese, grated (divided)
1 teaspoon creole seasoning
1 teaspoon old bay
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Chopped parsleyfor garnish

Step One:
Heat Olive oil in a skillet over medium- high heat and add the celery, pepper, red onion and scallions. Allow vegetables to soften, while stirring occasionally, for about five minutes. Add, garlic, corn and seasonings. Stir to combine and cook two more minutes.

Step Two:
Place Neufchâtel, parmesan and 4oz of cheddar in a medium bowl along with vegetables. Stir to combine.

Step Three:
Place ingredients into a medium sized baking dish that has been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes until bubbly and beginning to brown slightly on top. Garnish with chopped parsley if desired and serve with crudités or a crusty baguette.

I loved the fact that this dip is vegetarian, but still subtly reminds my tastebuds of the flavors of a seafood boil.  Keep it passionate people!  Cheers!

Top O' The Mornin' To Ya!

Going back to the archives today for a little taste of Ireland. This recipe was inspired by a trip to and Irish pub at Downtown Disney in Orlando,FL.  This year I will not be in   Florida for St.Patty's Day, but gathering with some neighbors for a pint and an Irish dinner. 

I leave you with a cute quote about one of my favorite beverages...

"Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat."

-Alex Levine

Inspiration for new recipe ideas and blogs come from many different places.  I am always on the lookout for a new story to tell and a new dish to create.  Some weeks, this comes easier than others.  The past few days for me have been filled with Cheerleading, Disney World and long hours in the car.  As you can imagine, none of these events, as fun as they were, really got my culinary creative juices flowing.  I was beginning to think I was going to have to fashion some quinoa and kale into a Mickey silhouette.  As luck would have it, my idea came to fruition on our last evening in Orlando.

We had dinner at the Raglan Road Irish Pub in Downtown Disney.  Our group was weary from the weekend's activities and were happy to sit down to a meal that was not being carried to the table on a plastic tray. Truly, I was at the point of wondering whether or not I still knew how to use a knife and a fork.

Our drinks arrived along with a beautiful loaf of hearty, still warm, bread.  The bread was accompanied by what appeared to be a saucer of olive oil and balsamic for dipping. As it turns out, this was no ordinary oil and vinegar dipping sauce.  It was in fact, according to our waitress, a reduction of Guinness and brown sugar that was floating on top of the oil.  Unfortunately for my table mates, they got to spend the next thirty minutes listening to me talk about how great the bread and the dipping sauce were.  I savored each taste of the oil and Guinness concoction as if it were a fine wine.  I loved the sweetness of the brown sugar and the underlying tang of the beer.  The whole time I kept thinking of how great this syrupy mixture would taste on a stack of pancakes or french toast.  My friend Emily, suggested that I recreate this for my blog.  Great idea!  So much better than a Mickey shaped quinoa burger and certainly appropriate for the upcoming St. Patrick's Day holiday this weekend. 

So, instead of pancakes or french toast, I opted for a more hearty and stick to your ribs kind of dish.  I chose steel cut oatmeal as the perfect vehicle for this intoxicating elixir.  Okay, and who am I kidding, if you are embarking on a days of St. Paddy's Day shenanigans, a nice bowl of oatmeal in the tummy provides a lovely base/sponge for the festivities ahead.

Top O' The Mornin' Elixir:

1 bottle of Guinness stout, less one sip for the cook
3/4 cup of dark brown sugar
1 cup of steel cut oats
3 cups water
pinch of salt

Step One:
Place Guinness and brown sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat.  Lower heat to medium-high and reduce the liquid by half.  This will take about 20 minutes and you will end up with approximately 1/2 cup of syrup.

Step Two:
In a separate saucepan, bring the three cups of water to a boil and slowly stir in the oats and add the pinch of salt.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 25-30 minutes. This mixture will need to be stirred frequently to prevent burning on the bottom.  This recipe will yield 2 generous portions of oatmeal or 4 smaller ones.

 Since there is alot of stirring and cooking over a 30 minute period of time, I suggest you tuck into a nice hot cup of coffee.  Feel free to add whatever type of "fortification" you desire to you mug.

Once the liquid has sufficiently reduced, it will lightly coat the back of a spoon.  The mixture may still appear a bit thin to you at this point, but will continue to set up and thicken as it cools.

Step Three:
When oatmeal is cooked to your liking, place in a bowl and drizzle with the Guinness syrup.

Have a safe and happy St. Patrick's Day and remember to make every plate something to be passionate about!

Farro Out!

My recipe this week was inspired by the box of farro that has been sitting patiently on my shelf for the past couple of weeks, waiting to be put to good use.  Farro (pronounced FAHR-ro), is a ancient grain that dates back thousands of years.  It is part of the wheat family and has been popular in Italy for centuries, and more recently, gaining popularity in the United States. Despite its bland appearance, farro has a wonderfully nutty flavor and a toothsome texture.  Combine that with the throaty rolling rrrrrrrrrr's of its Italian pronunciation and you truly have something to be passionate about.

As it is the week before Easter Sunday, I had the intention of using my box of farro in a spring salad side dish, perfect for the holiday table. I stuck to my original idea, even though the weather in Atlanta this week was far from spring-like.  I was able to pull this recipe together using ingredients that I had on hand.
Radishes, Parsley, Dill, Lemon, Frozen Peas, Toasted Pecans and Parmesan Cheese for the Farro Salad

If you have not yet had the opportunity to give farro a try yet, I highly recommend this versatile grain.  It is perfect for cold or room temperature salads, as well as served hot as a substitute for rice or quinoa.  I hope you enjoy my version of this light farro salad and enjoy your spring holiday.  Here's to warm weather, lots of sunshine and a plate to be passionate about!

Farro Primavera:
Serves 6-8 as a side dish

1 1/2 cups of pearled farro*
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
5 radishes, very thinly sliced (a vegetable peeler makes quick work of this technique)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup shaved parmesan (use the vegetable peeler for this too)
juice and zest of 2 lemons
3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Step One:
Place farro, water and salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer, cover and continue cooking for 20 minutes, until tender.  Drain any excess water.

Step Two:
Once farro is cooked and drained, place into a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Step Three:
Place salad in serving bowl or platter and garnish with additional cheese, herbs and nuts if desired.

*Pearled farro does not need to be soaked prior to cooking.  If you have regular farro, you will need to soak for at least one hour or up to overnight, drain, and the proceed with cooking as directed above. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Southern (Italian) Accent:

Sicilian Inspired Shrimp Pasta
It is a rare occasion when I get to spend time with just my parents and sister.  No spouses or kids, just our original Zachary foursome.  We joke that the only time this happens is for funerals, so when we are able to spend some quality time together for a happy occasion, we cherish it.  As it happens, we had such a gathering in Charlotte earlier this month.  My father had won a wine tasting in a silent auction at the International House gala.  The prize had been donated by Sara Guterbock of the Mutual Wine Distributing Company.

A tour of southern Italian wines was to be the theme of the evening, so without hesitation, I immediately wanted to figure out what we were going to eat on this epic journey through southern Italy.  Since my own travels had not taken me to the tip of the Italian boot, I had to do a bit of research before deciding on a menu.  I knew that seafood was a must and was pleased to discover that sardines and anchovies were popular choices in the region.  Sadly, no one else shared my enthusiasm for these fishy delicacies, so I opted for the ever popular shrimp instead.  Of course, I did sneak some anchovies into the pasta dish for kicks and giggles, as you will see in the recipe below.  Another interesting discovery about Sicilian food was that instead of using cheese as a garnish for seafood pasta, they instead opt for crushed toasted almonds and/or toasted bread crumbs.  To round out the buffet table, the guests contributed an assortment of Italian cured meats and cheeses, arancini, caponata, olives, grissini, and canoli for dessert.

The wine tasting consisted of two whites and six reds.  Sara led us on a magical journey through Basilicata, Calabria, Puglia, Sicilia, Sardegna, and Campania.  The history of the various wineries, grapes and geographical regions was fascinating and I was once again bombarded with the enormity and complexity of the wine world.  My favorite white of the evening was the Alovini 2012 Greco from Basilicata and if I had to pick a favorite red,  I would go with the Cantale 2012 Primitivo from Puglia.
Our tour of southern Italy
Sara Guterbock, CS, CSW, ISS, DWS
Sommelier and Wine Educator,  Mutual Distributing Company, N.C.
Now THIS is my kind of potluck!

Of course the best wines are those that are shared with friends, and this evening was filled with them both.  In the future, when I make my Sicilian inspired shrimp pasta, I will fondly remember my virtual tour to southern Italy and the people, food and wine that made this an evening to be passionate about.

Sicilian Inspired Shrimp Pasta:
 Serves: 4-6

1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/4 cup ground almonds
1/4 cup Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
16 oz of short pasta, such as gemelli or campanelle
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 anchovy fillets, drained and chopped
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic, grated on micro plane, about four cloves
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1/4 cup shrimp stock
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped parsley


1) Peel and devein shrimp, reserve shrimp and prepare Quick Shrimp Stock.  Reserve shelled shrimp. Follow instructions below:
Quick Shrimp Stock:
1) Place shells is a medium saucepan, lightly coated with olive oil .
2) Cook over medium-high heat until shells are bright pink in color
3) Add 2 1/2-3 cups water, enough to just cover shells, a halved lemon and about four garlic cloves and simmer for 30-40 minutes
4) Strain shells from liquid (You will end up with about 1 cup of stock)

2) Heat a small, non-stick sauté pan over medium heat.  Add ground almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant and toasty.  About 3-4 minutes.  Remove almonds from pan, set aside. Repeat process with the breadcrumbs.  Combine almonds and panko and set aside.

3) Cook pasta according to package directions

4) While pasta is cooking,  heat olive oil over medium-high heat in a large, high-sided skillet.  Add the anchovies and cook, pressing down with the back of a wooden spoon, until anchovies are almost completely dissolved.  Stir in red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for one more minute.

5) Add lemon zest, juice, wine and stock.  Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer sauce for 5 minutes, the whisk in the butter and parsley.

6) Add reserved shrimp to sauce, stirring to coat with the sauce.  Cook until shrimp is just cooked through, about 3-4 minutes. 

7) Combine cooked and drained pasta to sauce and toss to combine.  Place pasta in individual serving dishes and top with the almond-panko mixture.

Sauce is ready for the pasta