Monthly Archives: June 2012

Green City Market – 6/23 Visit

Per my Saturday morning routine, I set my alarm for 8 AM, showered and headed out in the hot summer weather to Green City Market.  As I talked about last week, Green City Market is a organic/no-spray/eco-friendly market that I absolutely love.  The produce is great for the environment, great for your body and great for your stomachs!  As far as I am concerned, the farmers at this market offer the best tasting produce and the possibilities of what you can do with it are endless.

This week, I came with an empty stomach so that I could enjoy a crepe from Abby’s Crepes. 

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Every week, Abby’s Crepes gets to the market early, buys its produces from the local farmers and crafts a menu for the morning.  As far as I can tell, they usually offer two savory crepes – one with meat and one without, one sweet crepe, and then plain and maple flavored crepes.  Last week, they offered the followings options:

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I opted to go with the Swiss Chard with currant and butterkase cheese.  When I come with Tommy or Kate, we usually end up getting two crepes and splitting them.  I was almost glad they weren’t here on this particular Saturday, because I am not sure that I would have happily given up the other half of this crepe!  It was absolutely delicious and totally unique.  I wasn’t sure what to expect with the “currant” in this crepe, but that is what put it over the top – but the cheese and swiss chard didn’t hurt anything either.

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The BLT crepe also looked awesome.  I am a sucker for anything with arugula.

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Once I had my crepe cut and in tow, I went to the stand next door to get a natural sparkling soda from Season’s Soda out of Chicago.

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I was told that these guys also purchase their fruits from the farmers at Green City to turn them into a wonderfully fresh, no sugar-added soda.  I opted for the Raspberry Soda and it did not disappoint.

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Slight effervesce and a wonderfully potent raspberry flavor.  Along side my crepe I was one happy person.

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As I mentioned above, I think the currant sauce really put this crepe over the top.  It was unexpectedly tart which cut the bitterness of the greens and the creaminess of the cheese perfectly!  The only problem (and it really is a good problem to have) with Abby’s Crepes is that you can’t count on getting the same crepe twice, because everything is created based on what is freshest at the market.  All I can hope for is that I can re-create this flavor combination at some point in the future – maybe it will be by making my own crepe or by adapting these ingredients and creating a whole new dish.  Stay tuned for that recipe.

After I finished my crepe and soda, I did my produce shopping for the week.  As tempted as I was to just repeat my trip from last week, I decided to choose some new goodies as well.  Two of the things I was most excited for were the first pick blueberries and peaches!

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I have been incorporating these fruits into my breakfasts all week long and enjoying them as a midafternoon snack as well.

I also thought that the basil, asparagus and squash looked fresh and fantastic so picked these items up as well.

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All together, I purchased:

  • Eggs (to make scrambled eggs all week long);
  • Asparugus (for grilling on Sunday night);
  • Peaches, Raspberries and Blueberries (for snacks and breakfasts);
  • Mushrooms medley including porcini, shitake, and oyster mushrooms (a topping for pizza);
  • Squash, tomatoes and basil (for a family staple pasta dish);
  • English Peas (for snacking on all week long – so good raw and popped right into your mouth).

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Everything, as was expected, was fresh, flavorful and served as inspiration for many of my weekly meals!

Panzanella Salad with Tri-Colored Pepper Pasta

I think it is fun to go out to dinner with friends during a weeknight.  While it still feels like you are getting out, you don’t have to deal with the crowds that you would otherwise encounter on a Friday or Saturday night.  Also, it’s a great treat in the middle of the week to get out and enjoy the company of your friends.

One thing I rarely do however is host dinner at my place on a weeknight.  I guess that I think that it would be too much work or that I wouldn’t have enough time to make something “special.”  So when my sister invited her friend Carrie over for dinner last Tuesday night, I got a little panicked thinking that all there was on the menu was a quick and easy pasta dish served with a garbage panzanella salad. 

Luckily, Carrie is a good friend of my family’s and would be happy to eat anything, but having her over for a casual meal also made me realize that weeknight dinners with friends are better when they are casual.  We all sat around talking while I made dinner and then served everything family style at the table.  It was relaxed and I had more fun than I otherwise would have had I been slaving away in the kitchen (not to mention it was 95 degrees that day!).

Panzanella Salad with Tri-colored Pasta (Serves 4 –6):

Panzanella salad, as I alluded to above, is really just a glorified garbage salad.  This is to say that you can throw in anything you have in the fridge into this salad.  I used tomatoes, stale bread (both staples in panzanella salad), cucumbers, bell peppers, basil, red onion, avocado and feta cheese.  Not all of these ingredients are traditional to a panzanella salad, but I thought they all worked really well.

After you polish off the salad, it is time to move on to the Tri-colored Pasta.  This is a staple dish in my family.  My mom has been making it for as long as I can remember and every time I eat it, it reminds me of her.  My mom makes this dish with a combo of red, yellow and green peppers, but I opt to use an orange bell pepper instead of the green because green peppers don’t have nearly the same amount of nutritional value as red, yellow or orange.  Obviously, you could also use just one kind of pepper, but I just love the way the various colors look together.

Panzanella Salad

  • 1 large tomato, seeded and chopped into large pieces
  • 1/2 bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1/2 english cucumber, sliced
  • 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 avocado, chopped
  • 1 –2 slices of bread, cubed and toasted
  • 1/3 cup basil, sliced using chiffonade method
  • Tomato juice from tomato
  • 2 TBs EVOO (extra virgin olive oil – it’s important because it will get a rich fruity flavor to the dressing)
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • S+P to taste

Tri-colored Pasta

  • 1 lb fusilli or gemelli pasta
  • 3 bell peppers (1 red, 1 orange, 1 yellow), thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes or more to taste
  • S+P to taste
  • Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  While the water is boiling, you can prep all the other ingredients.

Start by slicing your tomato in half:

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See all that juiciness in the tomato?  You want to remove that and use it as part of the dressing for the salad.  In order to do that, turn your tomato halve upside down over a large bowl (the one you plan to serve it in will reduce clean up!) and squeeze gently.  You don’t want to crush the tomato, but you do want to apply enough pressure so the water gets out.  You can also stick your fingers in the holes and remove the water and seeds that way.  Once you have done this, your tomato will look like this:

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The tomatoes that are available at the farmers market are paticularly juicy right now.  I am not sure if this is just a product of early season tomatoes, or we can expect this all summer long, but this tomato gave off quite a bit of liquid:

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 Chop tomato along with any other veggies you are using.  I also cubed up some slightly stale and hard bread I had, threw it in the oven to give it a slight crunch, and added it to my salad.  I used a whole grain seed bread from Whole Foods called Seeduction (get it?) and it worked out great.  I also added some leftover feta I had in the fridge, but a creamy goat cheese would work well here too.

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Once you have everything chopped, it is time to make the dressing.  Add the vinegar, EVOO and salt and pepper to tomato juice.  Whisk together and taste.  If you like your dressings less tart, more salty, etc., feel free to add more of your desired flavoring.

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I then added the cubed bread first and saturated it with the dressing.  Given that the bread is toasted, you want to give it a little time in the dressing along to make sure it gets covered enough.  The point is not to have croutons in your salad, but instead, slightly crunchy big chunks of bread.

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Once the bread is covered, add all the other ingredients and sprinkle with fresh basil.

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Coat all ingredients in dressing and let sit for 5-10 minutes prior to serving.

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While the salad is marinating, you can start making the pasta, which shouldn’t take more than 10-12 minutes once the water is at a boil.  Once at a boil, salt water and drop pasta.  Cook according to directions on the box and drain reserving 1/4 cup pasta water.

While the pasta is cooking, heat olive oil in a large skillet and add garlic and hot pepper flakes.  Cook for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is soft but not burnt.

Slice the peppers and add to pan with oil, garlic and red pepper flakes.

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Cook for 5-10 minutes until the peppers have cooked down but still have some crunch to them.  Add peppers and oil mixture to pasta with 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water.

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Stir to combine and add parmesan cheese.

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Bring to the table and enjoy a casual night with your family or friends!

Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Fresh Tomato Sauce

When I saw squash blossoms at the farmers’ market on Saturday, I got very excited.  Even though these flowers bloom whenever you harvest zucchini or squash, I don’t find these all that often at the farmers’ market.  Perhaps the farmers are hoarding them all for themselves (which I don’t blame them for!) because you would think you would see them all summer long given that zucchini and squash always seem to be in abundance.  I don’t want to even consider the notion that they would throw them out, because that would be an absolute travesty!

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Squash blossoms themselves don’t have a ton of flavor or texture.  Essentially, they have a slight squash flavor and sort of fall apart if you were to eat them raw.  However, squash blossoms are the absolute perfect vessel for stuffing with cheese and are best eaten lightly fried.

I was first introduced to squash blossoms that were stuffed with cheese and fried over ten years ago when I made a visit to Forte dei Marmi, Italy.  fortedeimarmi

(photo source)

Forte is a gorgeous place that offers beautiful beaches to enjoy in the day and wonderful food and nightlife after the sun goes down.  While I had wonderful food the entire trip, the thing that I remember all these years later is the fried squash blossoms.  While I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to find squash blossoms, I was certain that I could recreate the flavors if I had the chance.  As far as I can remember, the ones that I enjoyed all those years ago were stuffed with a ricotta cheese mixture, coated in a light batter that resulted in the perfect amount of crispness when fried and were served alongside a simple but flavorful tomato sauce.  My recreation brought me back to the warm night in Italy when I first enjoyed this dish.  Serve with a glass of Italian wine and a green salad and you have the perfect dinner.

Ricotta Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Fresh Tomato Sauce – Serves 2 as a main course or 4-6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

Fresh Tomato Sauce:

  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 1 tsp dried parsley or 2 tbs fresh parsley
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • S+P to taste

Squash Blossoms:

  • 15-20 squash blossoms
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2/3 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1/3 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 3/4 cup soda or seltzer water
  • S+P to taste
  • Vegetable oil for frying

Directions

Heat sauce pan over medium heat with olive oil.  Chop garlic and add to sauce pan.  Add parsley and red pepper flakes.  Sauté for 2 minutes, stirring, until garlic is lightly softened.

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While garlic, parsley and red pepper flakes are cooking, chop tomatoes.

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 I had one and a half fresh tomatoes and also some grape tomatoes that needed to be used up.  This amounted to approximately two full tomatoes.  Add to sauce pan.

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Coat tomatoes in oil and cook for 10-15 minutes until tomatoes are broken down.

While tomatoes cook, it is time to start making the filling for the squash blossoms.

Add ricotta, egg yolk (save the white and use it for an omelet for the next morning!), chopped basil, ricotta, 1/3 cup of parmesan and salt and pepper (I used approximately 1 teaspoon of each) into a large mixing bowl.

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Mix all ingredients together.

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In order to stuff the squash blossoms, it is necessary to first remove the stamen inside each blossom.  The stamen is located at the bottom of each blossom and can be removed by gently pulling.

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Stuff each blossom with approximately 1 tablespoon of the ricotta mixture and tie the top of each blossom to ensure the mixture stays inside while cooking.

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All of the stuffed blossoms together:

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I removed about 3/4 of the stem because you don’t eat it and it would just take up room in the pan.

After the blossoms are stuffed, it is time to make the batter.  Combine the soda water (I would not use regular water here, the bubbles in soda or seltzer are what make the finished product light and crispy), flour, 1/3 parmesan cheese, salt and pepper.  Mix until all lumps are gone and let batter sit for 5-10 minutes.

While batter is sitting, pour the tomato sauce into a blender and mix until smooth.  If you prefer a chunkier tomato sauce, you can skip this step.

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Pour tomato sauce back into sauce pan, cook and reduce for 5-10 minutes.  Adjust seasonings if necessary.

Now that everything is ready to go, all we need to do is dredge the blossoms in the batter and get them frying.  Heat vegetable oil (approximately 2 cups) in a large non-stick skillet (non-stick is key so that the blossoms don’t stick to the bottom of the skillet) and heat until the temperature reaches approximately 350 degrees.  Once oil is heated, dredge the blossoms lightly and drop directly into oil.

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Fry the blossoms in batches (3-4 per batch) for approximately two minutes until crispy and flip.  Cook for another two minutes on the other side until crispy all around.

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Remove blossoms from the oil and place on a plate with paper towel to absorb any excess oil.  Sprinkle with salt. 

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Place the fried squash blossoms in a 250 degree oven to keep warm while you complete the other batches.

When you get ready to serve, place the tomato sauce on a large plate.

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Place squash blossoms in concentric circles starting on the inside and placing them outward.  Place basil leaves around the squash blossoms.

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Kate and I couldn’t put these lightly fried, ricotta stuff blossoms down.  I would put a couple on my plate with a bit of tomato sauce and the next thing you knew they were gone!

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If you don’t see squash blossoms at your farmers’ market but you do find zucchini or squash, ask the farmer! Sometimes they don’t want to schlep the product into the city if they aren’t sure it will sell.  When I have asked before, farmers have made deals that they will bring them specifically for me the next time they set up shop.

These are fast, easy and will hopefully make you feel like you are enjoying dinner at a wonderful Italian restaurant on the Mediterranean coast!

Wild Mushroom, English Pea and Beet Greens over Pappardelle Pasta in a Truffle Butter Sauce

After my epic shopping trip to the farmers market on Saturday, I had a lot of produce on my hands that I wanted to incorporate into as many meals as I could.  The first meal on the menu was for Sunday dinner with Kate, Sarah and Ben and included a fresh caprese salad (made this exact recipe but used fresh tomatoes instead) with a wild mushroom, english pea and beet green pasta dish.

Just because my recipe includes various wild mushrooms, fresh english peas and beet greens doesn’t mean that you couldn’t make something very similar with different ingredients.  First off, I used shitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms in my pasta, but you could substitute anything you liked – white button mushrooms, portabellas, or even dried mushrooms.  Also, you could use kale, swiss chard or spinach (all available in frozen varieties these days as well) instead of the beet greens.  Finally, using fresh english peas is definitely not an option all year round.  Frozen is an excellent option and would taste great.  In fact, had the peas I found not been pre-shelled, I likely would have passed on them.  I just find that shelling peas is so tedious given their small size.

I choose to use an egg pappardelle pasta for this dish.  I think that it does a better job of soaking in the truffle butter sauce than a regular semolina pasta would.  Sometimes with regular pasta, I find the sauce slips off the pasta and doesn’t do a great job of sticking, even with the addition of the starchy pasta water.  For this reason, when you are making a sauce for pasta that is based in butter, I think that fresh or egg noodles are the way to go.

The last thing I will say about this is that I made my own truffle butter sauce by combining butter and truffle oil.  In the past, I have also used the truffle butter that you find in the grocery store which tastes fabulous and is a great bargain. I would have used it here, but forgot to pick it up at the grocery store and knew that I could improvise using butter and truffle oil.

Wild Mushroom, English Pea and Beet Greens over Pappardelle Pasta in a Truffle Butter Sauce – Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 2 8.8 ounce packages of egg pappardelle pasta
  • 6 cups mushrooms of choice, sliced
  • 1.5 cups fresh or frozen peas
  • 2 cups beet greens, sliced
  • 1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick) total – added gradually before each stage of cooking
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 2 TBs cup white truffle oil
  • S + P to taste

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.

While water is coming to a boil, clean mushrooms.  As these mushrooms were fresh from the ground, they had some surface dirt on them.  I removed this by taking a damp paper towel and rubbing the mushrooms gently. You don’t want to run these under water because the mushrooms can absorb the water and get soggy when cooking.

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Slice mushrooms.  If using different varieties, keep them separate after you slice them.  This is important because you are going to cook them in stages in order to prevent overcrowding in the pan and the mushrooms might have slightly different cooking times depending on the variety.  I cooked mine in three stages in a heated pan with melted butter.

Stage 1 – Cremini:

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Stage 2 – Shitake:

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Stage 3 – Oyster:

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I cooked the mushrooms in stages, adding butter before each batch, so that I could crisp them slightly instead of steaming them.  Overcrowding can result in steaming which makes the mushrooms soggy not tender.  The other thing that can tend to make the mushrooms soggy is if you add salt too soon to the cooking process. I like to season them towards the end with salt and pepper, so they tasted seasoned, but not salty, which could happen if you salted after the cooking process was complete. 

Once the mushrooms are cooked, they reduce a lot in size, you will likely end up with approximately half of what you started with.

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After the mushrooms have cooked, it is time to slice the beet greens.  I cut the beet greens the same way I did the basil in this post – by chiffonading them.

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Once the beet greens were sliced, I added them to the same pan I cooked the mushrooms in with a little bit more melted butter.

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 Once the greens are in the pan you can add salt and pepper to taste.

At this point, the pasta water is likely boiling.  Drop the pasta and cook according to package instructions (mine took 7 minutes).  I found this pasta in the regular grocery store along with all the regular semolina and wheat varieties.

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While the pasta is cooking, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and heat.  Add the cooked mushrooms, beet greens and english peas along with a bit more salt and pepper.

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Drain pasta and add to a large bowl, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.  Add mushrooms, beet greens and pea mixture to the bowl along with truffle oil.  Toss well.  If the mixture seems dry, add the reserved pasta water as necessary.

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As I mentioned above, I served this pasta with a fresh caprese salad to make it a true Italian style night.

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Here is my portion of pasta, topped with some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

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The addition of the meaty mushrooms in this dish made it extremely filling.  Ben, the carnivore, always likes to have some meat with his pasta.  We added cooked and crumbled bacon to his dish that he thought worked well, so feel free to add that or a cooked Italian sausage to add some protein to the mix.

This served all four of us with large portions plus we had enough for Kate and I to have for lunch the next day.  The pasta held up well and the truffle flavors only continued to intensify overnight.  This was a perfect mixture of pasta comfort food with farm fresh produce and I recommend it highly!

Green City Market – 6/16 Visit

One of my favorite parts of summer time is the abundance of farmers’ markets in Chicago.  You can find a local farmers market almost every single day of the week full of farmers who bring their produce in from Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and southern Illinois.

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Fresh Butter Lettuce

While I like to visit a few different markets, my absolute favorite is one located on Lincoln and Clark street called Green City Market.  Green City Market is unique because of its emphasis on sustainability and organic produce. 

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Red, Pink and French Breakfast Radishes

I love that I don’t have to search for vendors that utilize no spray or organic practices because this is requirement for being part of Green City.

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Red and Purple Beats

I also find the prices to be so reasonable for local (as local as you can get!) and organic produce. 

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As the label says – Fresh Michigan Strawberries

In addition to seasonal produce, there are many vendors who offer pastries, cheese, meat, eggs, fish and flowers.

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Peonies that were $5 dollar a flower. As much as I wanted them, I couldn’t justify it!

One of my favorite stands incorporates produce that they have purchased that day into made-to-order crepes – another post on that!

I have been known to go way overboard at the farmers’ market.  Sometimes there are just too many amazing looking goodies not to buy a little of everything.  That definitely happened during my trip this weekend after a two week hiatus from visiting.  In addition to the pictures I have included above, some of the other highlights included:

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Tomatoes – $4 a pound, but well worth it

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White, Orange, Purple and Red Beets

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Oyster Mushrooms

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Raspberries, Sweet and Tart Cherries

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Squash Blossoms

These were among the various beautiful offerings from the farmers.  I was very excited to incorporate many of them into my meals for the following week.  The whole spread I purchased looked like this:

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In total I purchased:

  • Yellow beets (these were enormous and had a huge bunch of beet greens attached to them which is such an added bonus – all for $3.  You can use beet greens like you would any dark leafy green.);
  • Colored beets;
  • Pink radishes (if you have only tried the red ones, try and venture out to the pink ones, I think they have a little bit more spiciness to them);
  • Squash blossoms;
  • Tomatoes;
  • Basil;
  • Red swiss chard;
  • Cheese curds;
  • Red and green head lettuce;
  • Raspberries;
  • Strawberries;
  • Tart cherries;
  • Mixed mushrooms – oyster, shitake and porcini;
  • Pre-shelled English peas.

While I wanted to incorporate all of this produce into breakfast, snacks, lunches and dinners, I also wanted to systematically meal plan so that these would be the basis for my dinners in the following weeks.

Here is what I came up with:

1. Pappardelle pasta with mushrooms, English peas and beet greens in a truffle butter sauce served with caprese salad to start;

2. Ricotta stuffed fried squash blossoms with fresh tomato sauce;

3. Fish, sweet potatoes and sautéed swiss chard;

4. Salad with roasted beets and goat cheese served with sautéed pepper pasta;

Although I was excited to make all these dinners, I also wanted to get started cooking with my new food goodies.  I decided to incorporate the cheese curds, mushrooms, beet greens and basil into an omelet for my Saturday morning breakfast.

Wild Mushrooms, Beet Greens and Cheese Curd stuffed Basil Flavored Omelet – Serves 2

I made one giant omelet for Kate and me.  It was a great Saturday morning brunch item.  I used some full eggs and some egg whites only.  Don’t worry if the omelet doesn’t fold perfectly – mine hardly ever do – you can always turn this into a scramble.  Even if it doesn’t look as pretty, it will taste just as delicious.

Ingredients

  • 3 egg whites and 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup basil, sliced
  • 1 cup beet greens, sliced
  • 6-8 mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/3 cup cheese of choice, shredded or chopped
  • S + P to taste

Directions

Heat a nonstick pan, sprayed with cooking oil, over medium heat.  Add mushrooms and cook for 5-6 minutes.  Add salt and pepper towards end of cooking process.  Salt can tend to make mushrooms spongy if added too early in the cooking process.

Remove mushrooms from pan.  Spray with cooking oil again and added sliced beet greens.  Cook for 2-3 minutes until green are slightly wilted.  Remove from pan and add to plate with pre-cooked mushrooms.  Chop or shred cheese and add to plate as well.

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Re-heat pan and spray with cooking spray.  While pan heats, crack eggs into large bowl, add salt and pepper and whisk for one to two minutes to add volume to eggs.  Add chopped basil.

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Add eggs mixture to pan and move eggs around for 1 minute.

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Cover pan with lid and cook on low heat for 5-6 minutes until the bottom is set and the top of eggs are just barely runny.  Add beet greens, mushrooms and cheese to one half of the omelet.

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Flip the other side of the omelet onto the ingredients and cook for 2 minutes until cheese is melted.  Slide omelet onto plate or cutting board.

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Cut omelet into two and serve with toast, fresh fruit and some iced coffee.

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This was the perfect summer breakfast and was consumed in short order because I couldn’t seem to get enough of all the fresh produce tastes.

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