Eating With the Farmer’s Market #3

A trip to the Chestertown Farmers’ Market last week was an exercise in denial for Kevin.  There is just such an enormous selection of produce in prime condition and freshness and variety, it is impossible to draw the line.  He just wants to get everything!   This is where we shop for the K-B Market on a weekly basis, for both the Market Menu and for Dining Events, where we can get all the produce we need, from the mundane (never!) onion to the exotic Chinese long beans.  It is a wonderful resource.  It is just that sometimes it is hard to say “no, we don’t need that this week”, when you know so much is so very fleeting.

Typically we start at Redman’s Stand.

We always stop at Colchester, if only to say hey to Theresa, although generally Kevin is going get something from her beautiful vegetables.  Here’s how things were looking in late July:

Arnold is right up there in our top five vendors, especially for their tomatoes and corn and peppers and…just about everything!  I always want a bunch of sunflowers too.

Mr Jim at Anchor has the fortune – or misfortune as it may be – to be in the stall next to Carl’s Bakehouse.  Often the line for bread obscures Anchor’s offerings, but last week the customers did the right thing and lined up perpendicular rather than horizontal, and saved Anchor’s view for those interested.  So what was on the table?

Unity is a relative newcomer to the Farmers Market stage, and Kevin has  been very pleased with their organic offerings, particularly their colorful selection of tomatoes, which have been very nicely paired with crab recently.

Our Kennedyville neighbors – the ones with those wonderful eggs – are also new to the C’town Market.  They sell their famous BackYard Eggs there, plus a wide variety of certified naturally grown produce.  Kevin particularly likes their cherry tomatoes, little flavor bombs that they are.

Of course you know it’s July when Mr. Harlan’s peaches come to town.  White March Orchards, near Centreville, is always worth a visit for pick-your-own, if you miss him at the market:

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And this is just the tip of the VegiBurg,  there’s much more – you can find wine and beer, aronia berries and honey, Lapp pies and Carl’s bread, White House Farm figs and Chesapeake Greenhouse lettuce, soap and dog treats.  It’s all there on Saturday in the Park.  It’s only a matter of how much you can eat.  Or put up!  Sometimes painful decisions must be made…

And then there are all the other FarmStands around, if you can’t make the Market on Saturday.  Right about now, things do not get a whole lot better in the Farm-to-Table world of local produce.  It is peak.  And it is impossible to decide what to get, what to eat.  Yesterday we stopped at Redman’s FarmStand/Wagon and got some of the freshest, youngest, tastiest corn we have had this summer.  Tomatoes from Arnold Farm stand in Kingstown – their heirlooms in particular – cannot be eaten fast enough.  Peppers of all colors and levels of heat, new potatoes, summer squash in a myriad of shapes and hues, melons and cucumbers, onions and blackberries.  It’s all here now.  And it begs the question – what do we do with all of this bounty?

Here are two ideas:

For the zucchini boat on the left – take one of those super huge zucchinis that have gotten out of control in your garden.  Or one of the ones your neighbor will leave on your porch later this month.  Scoop out the inside, leaving a strong shell, which should be baked in a hot oven until it has softened.  Kevin seasoned the shell with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Meanwhile,   saute some diced eggplant, then add a little onion and celery.  Dice up the zucchini you’ve reserved and add that, with seasoning of your choice.  Cook it all together, then add a little breadcrumb to absorb any excess liquid.  Take it off the heat and add some freshly chopped tomato and grated cheese of your choice.  When this mixture is cooled,  pack it into the cooled shell.  At this point you can simply top it with a cheese/breadcrumb mixture and bake in the oven until nice and hot – at 400 degrees this will take about 15 minutes, depending on the size of your squash.  To fancy it up a bit, do what Kevin did in the picture: top it with sliced scallops and a sauce of mayonnaise, sour cream and something zippy to spice it,  and bake the same way.  Put it on the center of the table and have at it!

For the tomato/crab, even easier!  Take a crabcake – you can make your own, of course, or purchase a couple from your friendly neighborhood market – and slice a tomato into fat slices.  Take a slice of tomato, season it with salt, pepper and maybe a little bit of balsamic vinegar.  Put the crabcake on top and bake it in the oven for 15 or 20 minutes, until the crabcake is done and hot.  Meanwhile, put an equal number of slices onto a baking sheet, top them with some seasoned breadcrumbs (or not) and bake them for 5 or 10 minutes or so.  Pull everything out of the oven, carefully lift the bottom with the crabcake onto your serving plate, top with the other slice of tomato and serve with tartar sauce, or, if you are very lucky, some lemon butter sauce.  This is quintessentially summer.

And of course, for the rest of this short but sweet season, you can always have an ear of Mexican inspired corn, tomatoes sliced with basil and fresh mozzarella, pickled beets, fire roasted onions and carrots, poblano peppers stuffed with cheese, sauteed patty-pan squash, a wedge of watermelon with a squeeze of lime, some steamed green beans drizzled with sesame oil, a bowl of succotash – there were limas at Redman’s Wagon yesterday! – and a few peaches, blackberries and slices of cantaloupe for good measure.  Meat is optional this time of year!

Crabs are not:

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Thank goodness summer is only half over…

See you at the Market!

Ayden Can Cook and Other Stories

Ayden is in town again this summer, visiting the Grands.  They dropped him off to spend a little time in the kitchen with Kevin and the two fellows decided to make some pasta.  Here’s the proof:

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Getting started

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Ayden pays strict attention

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Kevin is a great teacher

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Rolling out the pasta

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Sprinkling it with flour

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I missed the making of the squid ink ravioli, but Ayden is getting ready to dig in to his work.

 

What a great kid!  He is so polite and poised, particularly for an 11 (12?) year old!  We look forward to his visit next year!

Next, a look at our pizza oven set-up on the patio:

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This is definitely one of my favorite Patio Meals.

We are having a busy week this week, with a LOT of Market orders going out plus three private events.  Today, among many other things, Kevin made three Peach Frangipane tarts and four quiches:

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That’s a lot of pie shells to roll out!

Lastly, take a look at Kevin’s sponge generating energy:

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We need to harness that gas!

Enjoy the heat of the summer, and just remember, if you get too hot, January is going to be here soon enough!

This and That

It’s mid-year.  Almost July.  The Fourth of July weekend is on deck and summer is decidedly here.   Is there much better than life here in the land of Pleasant Living?  I didn’t think so.  A few random thoughts have been bouncing around…

  • Our favorite Kennedyville BackYard eggs are now available at the Chestertown Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.  Look for the Snyder/Malone table over by the Fountain and especially look for their blue cooler, where you can reconnect with the best eggs in Kent County money can buy.
  • So, how’s that 5:2 diet going?  We’re still on it and still fairly successful.  Kevin has dropped almost 20 pounds and I’m down a solid 6. I know, I know,  big difference.  I think maybe if I stopped dipping into the candy drawer I’d see more progress (ya think??) but I’m still not unhappy.  And this last two pounds I want to lose have been with me for at least 25 years, so they are very reluctant to go.  I’m not giving up.  And I also haven’t had to give up fruit pie! It’s getting much more pleasant with the abundance of fresh vegetables and fruit we can add to the plate.  And while I sort of can’t wait for the maintenance days to begin, it really has been the most painless diet I have ever been on.  (Well, at least 5 days a week it is painless!) Here are a couple pictures of the last two fast-day meals we had:
  • We have not been doing much to support the local restaurant industry lately, I am reluctant to say.  Too busy, too nice out.  Last Thursday we had solid plans to visit Barbara’s Deck on the Bay, got home, poured a pre-dinner glass of wine (first mistake), sat down on the patio (second mistake), looked at each other and said “Do we have anything here to eat?” and that was the end of the going out plans.  That being said, we’ve managed lunch at a couple new neighborhood joints that are worth mentioning, both reincarnations of previous venues.
  • First is Las Marias, which took over the space Monica’s Country Kitchen held in Galena.  Yes, this is the Mexican restaurant you have been looking for.  We went on a Sunday for our inaugural visit and our only mistake was that we were starving.  Since we couldn’t decide what to get, we just got everything!  We had way too much to eat, but oh! it was all good, better than any local Mexican-American we’ve had in for ever.  And very, very nice people both in the front and the back.  This is going to put Galena on the map, for those of us craving cilantro and carnitas!
  • Second is the “new” Molly’s, in the Mason complex outside of our hometown of Kennedyville, formerly known to the world as “Vonnies”.  Having a lunch place just down the road from the office is obviously quite appealing, especially here in Center City Kent County, but close is no substitute for good.  The first Molly was fine, if uninspiring.  The second Molly completely missed the mark of the market they were supposed to be targeting (the market that would actually be supporting them) by a mile, a country mile, so to speak.  Even though the food was “creative”, it had to get past the local audience which was vital to its survival.  And to do that it had to be more than “creative”.  Good bye.  The third was okay if you wanted a grilled cheese sandwich and didn’t mind some of the worst service ever.  Now the fourth.  Word on the street is that it is being run by the fellows who own 1861 in Middletown.  Atmosphere is only slightly different, menu also tweaked, with a Southern food subtitle.  We had the crab bisque, a side salad ranch and two sandwiches – their twist on a Cuban and a BLT.  The cons – was that cheese in the crab bisque?  The pros – everything else.  (Except maybe the AC blasting down on me, but that happens to me everywhere I go this time of year…)  We left thinking we would most likely be happy to return, since it was close and close to good.
  • Summer in Kent County means crabs, and in particular, soft shells.  Here are the six we got last week, fried up in Bertha, just the right size for a sandwich. (disclaimer – I used these pictures all over our social media accounts, so bear with the repetition; there is no such thing as too many soft shells!)
  • Yes, that soft crab sandwich is on a split-top roll, made by our resident chef.  Last week he made multiple loaves of bread in the oven within a dutch oven, which come out looking like this:

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  • One of our favorite occupations in the summer months is to take the Ruby for a swim on Still Pond Creek and maybe, on the way or on the round-about-way back, we’ll come across a Farm Stand, selling just picked produce that you can see growing in the garden or plot or field just over the wagon.  I mean, I know we can always succeed with Redman’s wagon on Route 20, or hit Arnold Farms stand at KingsTown Tractor or the newest one at Los Jarochos in the Austin Complex on 213, but I’m talking small, like the one you might have set up at the end of your lane when you were a kid.  That is the inspiration for our new summer menu item – FarmStand Salad.  Made up of a melange of whatever is looking good at the FarmStand, be it the one we like to go to outside of Kenton or the one down the road from Ruby’s favorite swimming spot.  This week we couldn’t say no to “candy” onions, the just-picked green beans, summer squash, new potatoes, freshly dug radishes or the local Arnold corn. So it all goes in. With a light dressing of Kevin’made mayo and fresh backyard tarragon, it is the essence of summer.  And of course, with someone else doing all that chopping and dicing, blanching and roasting, what’s not to like?  This is the salad you will see on our Market Menu all summer long, with variations on that FarmStand theme prevailing.
  • And pie!  This week I am making six.  Five blueberry and one cherry.  Four of the blueberry are 9 inchers, made for Fourth of July carry-outs.  I’ve got the shells all rolled out, the crumb topping made and tomorrow I will bake three of the blueberry; Saturday will put the rest in the oven.  Hopefully there will be something left over for Sunday breakfast…

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  • In closing, I leave you with a little smiling sunflower for one more seasonal dose of summer.  Let’s toast to a beautiful Eastern Shore Fourth of July holiday weekend, with all the food that goes with it!

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Cheers!

Cherries are Here!

Aside from watermelon, I think cherries are my favorite fruit of summer.  I love Bing cherries, just for eating out of hand, but pie cherries are like gold.  Most years we manage to get hold of a quart or two, and if our tree is producing we pick as many as we can use.  This year our tree held nothing but disappointment and it would have been quite depressing if we hadn’t been able to get on the Godfrey List.  They have cherries!  We got a flat of the the sour and several pounds of sweet this week, and have been busy putting them to good use.

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I am a champion cherry pitter.  I can pit two quarts an hour with my handy hairpin, a kitchen tool I prefer for this job because it causes less damage to the cherry.  If I am going to chop them up, say for jam, it doesn’t matter, but for pickle or preserves, it’s nice to see the whole cherry in the finished product.  These cherries from Godfrey’s were beautiful, just at the peak of ripeness and without stems, which made the pitting process much easier.

First on the list of “things to do with cherries” is cherry pickle.  We love this stuff, on duck or pork or right out of the jar.  And while they take time to mellow before you get gratification, it is worth the wait.

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Start with your pitted cherries – and btw, you can also make these with sweet cherries – 2 pounds, or about 7 cups.  Split them between two quart (clean/sterile) jars and cover them with vinegar.  You can use distilled white for this, or white wine vinegar.  I wouldn’t use cider vinegar, as the cherry flavor is a little too delicate for that apple flavor.  It will take about 3 cups of vinegar.  Let the cherries stand in the vinegar for three days.  That is what the picture above depicts.

On the fourth day, strain the cherries out of the vinegar.  Save that vinegar!  You can either start another batch of cherries in it, or use it in salad dressings and the like.  You will find it to be one of the best by-products ever!  Take the drained cherries and layer them back in the jars with sugar – about 2 cups in each jar.  Cherries sugar cherries sugar.  Set your jars in a cool place where you will remember to give them a gentle shake now and then, completely inverting the jars to get the sugar that will invariably settle at the bottom to join its peers in becoming syrup.  Eventually all the sugar will dissolve and your vinegared cherries will be marinating in a sweet sugar syrup.  Let them do this for nine days.  After nine days you can transfer them to new clean sterile jars and lids, and process them for about 10 minutes in a boiling water bath for preservation.  Wait about a month before you try them, for best results.  You will love them.  And the syrup is great added to club soda for a most refreshing shrub, another unexpected by-product of your hard labor.

We also tried something new this year.  Rather than jam I made cherry preserves.  I have an old canning book – “The Complete Book of Home Preserving” by Ann Seranne – from 1955 that has some wonderful recipes in it.  It contains, among other treasures, my go-to hot sauce recipe. (And listen, I know I just said it’s an old canning book born in 1955, but at least I corrected it from “very” old to just “old”.)  Since our cherries were so pretty and fresh, I just didn’t want to chop them all up, and this method of preserves was so easy, it was worth a try.

Take your pitted cherries and mix with 3/4 to one pound of sugar for each pound of fruit.  Let them sit overnight.  The next day heat them to the boiling point and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes until the cherries get very tender but don’t break down completely.  Take them off the heat, and let them stand in their syrup until they are cold.  Strain off the liquid and set the cherries aside while you continue to boil the syrup until it gets as thick as you like – or until it reaches 224 degrees.  When it is nice and thickish, pack the cherries in hot sterile jars, pour the syrup over them and process with clean sterile lids for about 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Haven’t tried ours yet but I am pretty sure this is going to be a real treat come December, introduced to vanilla ice cream perhaps.

And then of course there is cherry pie!

Also on the shelf we have Cherry ‘Shine – from the previously mentioned book “Saving the Season”.  This is where you take your (washed but not pitted) sweet cherries, clip the stem to about 1/4th inch, pack them in a clean quart jar and cover them with good quality vodka.  In about a month you are supposed to be rewarded with some super electrifying Bing cherries and some delightful cherry moonshine to go with it.  We’ll see – our month is just about up!  And in the same vein, we took about a half pound of the pitted sour cherries and covered them with Luxardo – a maraschino liqueur – to make a version of maraschino cherries for your occasional Manhattan.

Cherries!  The possibilities are endless.

In closing, just because, here’s something that has nothing to do with cherries.  Dinner on the fire-pit this past Thursday night – Thumann dogs and Kevin’s homemade buns, sugar snap peas from the garden and Anchor’s new potatoes roasting in the coals.  Plain and fancy!

Summer.  Gotta live it!

Eating with the Farmers Market #2

This morning the Chestertown Farmers Market was busy busy busy!  Check out this line for Carl’s Bread:

It stretched all the way to the end of the park!  See Terry waving?  He’s pretty much where it ends.  And you know it’s worth it if people are willing to wait for those scones and cornmeal rolls and cranberry nut loaves.  Carl’s BakeHouse.  Yes please.

His line crossed directly in front of Anchor Nursery’s stall this morning, which may have impeded your progress to their offerings if you weren’t aware of their presence, but that would have been too bad because then you would have missed the new potatoes!  Is there anything better than that first batch of spring spuds?  Hotly roasted with olive oil, salt, pepper and your favorite herb, eaten just like that, right out of the oven?  Not too much, I’d say.  And of course that picture of Anchor’s potatoes was the one that came out blurry, but you can get the idea:

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Anchor also featured some really beautiful spinach, which we could not resist, plus strawberries, rhubarb and asparagus, all looking so fresh and delectable it was hard to say no.

As we managed to creep past Carl’s hordes of hungry carb seekers, we got to Colchester, where Theresa was manning the station with her customary good humor and beautiful smile.  She had a type of potato called “satina“, a yellow variety which looked quite intriguing, but since we’d picked up a few quarts of potatoes already we had to take a pass…until next week maybe.  But there was also some beautiful sugar snap peas to be had, and garlic scapes and early broccoli and so much more.  Sugar snap peas are the lazy person’s choice for spring peas, eaten pod and all, with more pea than snow peas.  Kevin is actually growing some of these at home!

So, what the heck do you do with all those garlic scapes? (“Scapes” are basically the flower stalk of a garlic plant, which will not produce a flower but rather seed garlic cloves.  If you don’t cut them off you risk weakening the remaining garlic plant and diminishing your future crop of garlic heads).  I took the liberty of googling this for you and the best site I found was at Serious Eats, which had several great ideas, including making pesto with them or grilling them like asparagus spears.  Kevin likes to pickle them, and also will give them a small dice and then sauté them with mushrooms.

Further down the line we stopped to say hello to Bill, who was a little frustrated because the Redman Truck, coming from the farm on Baker’s Lane, had not arrived yet with his supply of asparagus and strawberries for their stand at the Market.  He did have some peas though, and they were quite handsome:

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I’m not sure there is another early spring vegetable to rival the appeal of fresh sweet peas.  And goodness knows there is no more satisfying, if time consuming, job than sitting on the porch on a late spring evening shelling them for supper.

King Mushroom is a stand Kevin cannot often resist, and he ended up with some King Trumpets for our dinner tomorrow night.  He thinks that is their house mushroom…

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Meanwhile, the basil at Chesapeake Greenhouse was as big as spinach!

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Dolce la Vita Farm (which I am not sure is quite the right name, but something like that) had a stall situated basically across from Colchester, with some especially nice looking greens, plus these rosy radishes, just begging to be roasted:

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Nothing says spring like a big crop of radishes!

Our Kennedyville neighbors, Dean and Jane, had their maiden voyage at the C’town Market today, and their table of tasty offerings was a picture of good eats.  They also were offering their BackYard eggs for sale, which we all know are the best in Kent County, at least the best that we have access too!

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That is green garlic in the center, and of course if you grow a lot of garlic you’ve got more garlic scapes.

We have something growing in our garden that I bet you do too:

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Lambs quarter!  This year I’ve been harvesting the entire young plant, snipping off the root end and sautéing them up with garlic, or adding them at the last minute to the pasta water for a brief boil and tossing the spaghetti with the greens and lots of Parmesan cheese.  Delicious, and easy to grow!  Cheap too!  And the bonus is you are getting your weeding done at the same time you are picking the vegetable for dinner…

Saving the Season

Saving the Season” is not only a good thing to do, it is also a very good cookbook by Kevin West, published in 2013 and available at your local library (once I return it).  The recipes inside this hefty volume range from your basic strawberry jam to Scottish scones (makes sense, something to put that jam on!) to a Gibson, for which you need the recipe for cocktail onions.  Beginning with Spring strawberries and ending with Winter kumquats, the recipes and ideas are interspersed with prose and poems that continue the theme of appreciating seasonal foodstuffs in their season.  Recipe ideas like “Slow cooked strawberry jam with rosé wine” (page 57), “Cherry olives” (page 117) and “Curried cauliflower pickle” (page 405) are enough to sell me.  It’s a great book and I don’t know why I haven’t come across it before…

As most of you know, preserving is not new to us – we’ve been “putting up” our own jams and pickles for a long time with fairly good results.  Last year we made the giant step of going from commercial pectin based jam to the old fashioned  natural pectin style, with hugely satisfying positive results, from which we have not looked back.   Without the commercial pectin there is a bit more time at the stove, but there is also a lot more flavor in the jar without using nearly as much sugar.  (Mr. West notes the fact that making jam inherently involves using a lot of “white death”, but, he argues, a half pint of home-made jam contains as much sugar as a single 12 oz soft drink.  Since no one is going to eat an entire jar of jam in one sitting, just sayin’…)

We returned from Godfrey’s on Monday with yet another flat of their so-delicious strawberries, plus some huge stalks of rhubarb, with visions of strawberry-rhubarb jam floating in our head.  (Is it just me, or are strawberries particularly good this year?) Yesterday we got to work, taking some guidance from the aforementioned cookbook.

(And yet another aside – Kevin has discovered the best way to keep those fragile berries at their peak: store them (unwashed) in the walk-in within a Styrofoam cooler.  He already does that with tomatoes and figured, why not strawberries?  It works amazingly well – berries we might get on Monday or Tuesday are still perfect for a party on Friday night.  Not that most people have room for a Styrofoam cooler in their home refrigerator…but, maybe a small one?)

On thing Mr. West does which I have not seen or done before is to sometimes macerate his fruit in the sugar for a time before starting the cooking process.  Makes sense.  For the strawberry-rhubarb he recommends a 30 minute maceration time, other recipes call for as long as overnight (such as for Apricot jam, page 184).

Here is his recipe for “Basic Strawberry Jam” (page 53), which is pretty much his blueprint for any berry jam, adjusting sugar to taste, depending on the sweetness of the fruit.  Words enclosed in [] are my two cents comments.

  1. Rinse well two pounds of [the tastiest] strawberries [you can find] and remove their caps.  Combine with 2.5 cups of sugar and 1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lemon juice.  Add a bit of lemon zest if you wish.  Crush the mixture with a potato masher or your hands.
  2. Turn this mixture into a [wide, relatively deep] preserving pan [or rondeau].  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring regularly.  Reduce the heat a bit when the fruit comes to a full rolling boil, [which is a boil you cannot stir down], and stir constantly.  Boil to the gel point, 8 to 10 minutes, or until the jam falls from the spoon in “sheets” rather than drops, and will coat the back of a cold spoon.  [Temperature wise, gel set is 8 degrees above boiling for your altitude, which here in flat-land is 212 degrees, making gel set 220 degrees.]
  3. When gel set has been reached, remove the pan from the heat, skim if necessary [rarely need to] and ladle into four prepared half-pint jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.  Seal and process in a ten minute boiling-water bath.  [Or ladle into a similarly prepared quart mason jar and store in the fridge for immediate consumption!]

How hard is that?!?  Just be sure to stir stir stir all the while – especially as it gets thick – and you will easily have some very tasty summer-in-a-jar to spread on the breakfast toast all year long.

Here’s a quick slide show of our recent adventures in jam-making:

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The next recipe I plan to make out of this book is for “Cherry ‘Shine” (page 115)!  And then…

StrawBerry ShortCake!

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This is what the start of summer eating looks like to me.  I love asparagus but send me down the path to strawberry shortcake, the biscuit kind, thank you very much, and I am good.  It was always Mom’s birthday cake, and if my b’day was in May or June, I’d hop on board that train in a heartbeat.  At work, we’ve been making this iconic dessert professionally for *about* 31 years.  It is very popular.  How often do you see real strawberry shortcake on a restaurant dessert menu?  With local strawberries and freshly whipped cream?  It is one of those desserts that you can’t say no to, you will only have this one chance and you’ve got to grab it.  Go for it!

One of my favorite stories regarding SBSC restaurant style was one Memorial Day weekend probably about 30 years ago when we had a new cook start at the Ironstone.  That weekend – his first in our kitchen, on the cold station, which included setting up the dessert orders – found Eugene Bethel in charge of the shortcakes.  And, being what they are, this was a very very popular item…  Eugene pumped them out, all night long, Friday and Saturday – you know, they are put together to order: biscuits are split, heated up in the oven, spread with soft butter, layered with sweetened strawberries, topped with whipped cream.  It wasn’t just slice and plate.  At the end of that weekend I will never forget Eugene’s face, when it was all over, and we laughed and laughed – ha ha – about how hard he had to work on his first weekend with us.  I guess it wasn’t too bad, since he stayed with us our whole tenure, but in hindsight, it must have been a real eyeopener as to what he was getting into.

I don’t make too many of the desserts here at KBM – fruit pies and the occasional cookie are about the extent of my contributions any more.  But I am in charge of the shortcakes, for some unknown reason.  Not that I mind – it means I get to eat one.  My recipe for the biscuit is pretty much directly taken from the Joy of Cooking, with a few adjustments made over time.  It’s basically a sweet baking powder biscuit – hence the addition of sugar – but it is adapted from a savory recipe, so you can revert back to that by leaving out the sugar and switching the butter up for lard or shortening.  Buttermilk can always be substituted for regular milk, in either case.  The recipe makes about 24 individual biscuits, which are fine to freeze, or two nine inch cakes.

Short cakes – biscuits style

Put 6 cups AP flour, sifted after measuring, into a large bowl.  Resift the flour with: 7.5 tsp. baking powder, 1 T. salt and 3 T. sugar.

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Next, cut in 6 ounces of cold butter.  I generally start this process with a pastry cutter and finish with my fingertips.  Like pie dough, you want to keep the butter from getting too warm to increase the flaky-factor.  Cut the butter into the dry ingredients until it is sort of the texture of rough cornmeal.

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After you have the butter thoroughly worked in, add 2.25 cups of cold whole milk (or you can use buttermilk) all at once.  Make a little well in the flour and just pour the milk on in.

Take a large fork and gently begin to bring the outside dry toward the wet middle, sort of folding things together with your fork.  Stir it this way until you think you will be able to shape the dough into a ball, with all the dry incorporated, from this:

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…to this:

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Manipulate the dough until it comes together in a ball and then dump it onto a lightly floured board.  It should not require very much flour on your board, because it is not supposed to be a sticky dough.  On the board, the dough should be kneaded for about 30 seconds, until it becomes a nice, smooth ball.

Admire your work and let the ball rest for a minute or two while you fetch your rolling pin and put some parchment paper on a baking sheet.  The oven should be pre-heating to 375 degrees.

Now the fun part!  You have several choices here.  You can pat the dough into the bottom of a 9 inch cake pan or two and bake it as a whole cake – pretty dramatic and great for a Mom’s birthday party.  Or you can take a biscuit cutter and cut the rolled dough into rounds, re-working the scraps as needed to cut more.  But what I do, lazy cook that I am, is roll the dough into a rough squarish round, about 3/4 inch thick, and cut it, with a knife, into approximately equal sized squares.  Or rounded triangles, as the case sometimes is.  I have found that not only is this a lot easier and faster, it saves on waste – sometimes those reworked biscuits are not the ones you want to serve to your mother-in-law, who could detect a bit of toughness in a biscuit made from previously rolled dough.  So, squares are my way to go.

Put your biscuits into the 375 degree oven for about 15 to 18 minutes, depending on your oven temper-mentality.  If you bake a whole cake, it will take a bit longer.

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Done!  Now all you need is some nice soft butter, a pile of sugared strawberries and some softly whipped cream in order to make the ultimate sacrifice to your diet:

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A parade of strawberry shortcakes (circa June 2016)

It’s not summer without three things – soft-shelled crabs, rosé wine and strawberry shortcake!  Bon appetit!

Sausage Making

Kevin has been making sausage for several years now.  He’s always had an interest in charcuterie, but it was at Brooks that his questions finally found answers.  Nowadays there is usually something curing in the walk-in and almost always sausage on the menu.  He has met with a fair amount of success, perhaps with the Italian style most of all.

He starts with shoulder of pork, often Langenfelder pork purchased through Sudlersville Meat Locker.  He cubes the meat into large chunks and seasons it over night with salt.  Next he prepares his seasonings – typically for Italian it is fennel, garlic, anise, pepper and salt, with the addition of hot pepper flakes for a little bite.

He grinds the cubes of meat once, through the blade that he likes best for whatever type of sausage he’s making.  The ground meat is then carefully blended with the seasonings, mixing it thoroughly until the meat becomes “sticky”.  The salt will be drawing the moisture off the meat, creating juices that will become the binder that holds the sausage together, preventing “crumbly” results.

The pork casings he uses come from Butcher and Packer, an online sausage making supply house out of Michigan, or from the Meat Locker. Pork casings are his preferred size; lamb casing are smaller and more for use in “hotdogs”.  Synthetic casings are often used for cured sausages.  The casings are soaked to soften them up prior to stuffing.

He uses his handy-dandy sausage-stuffer to fill the casings, which he forms into links and hangs to dry in the walk-in overnight.

Here is a slide show of the whole procedure:

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Eating with the Farmers Markets

Many of us have been following the local, seasonal approach to meal planning long before doing so was the media darling it is today, especially if you grew up in a rural area like the Eastern Shore.  You ate strawberries when the patch out in the garden was bearing fruit, radishes were always the first spring vegetable on the table, and the green beans and beets and concord grapes were served fresh from the plant unless they were canned or frozen or made into jam for storage in the pantry.  Tomatoes are probably the epitome of seasonality we recall fondly from back in the “good old days”, before the idea of cross-country shipping created the tasteless orb that passes for one during this age of year round availability.  Peaches came into being in August, apples were picked in due course, and the sweet corn was usually Country Gentleman shoepeg, planted by the acre for the local processor.   If you didn’t grow it yourself, there was bound to be a roadside produce stand nearby to fill in the gaps. For protein, the fish man had shad in the early spring, rock fish a little later and oysters when the weather turned cold.  Your beef was local – barnyard local – and the chickens that chased you down the lane laid the fried eggs you ate for breakfast.  It was not headline news, it was life in the 50’s and 60’s.

Now it is so very trendy, the sustainable-local-seasonal mantra.  We even saw an ad recently for a dog food that was “inspired” by the Farm to Table movement.  Dog Food!  Ha!  as if our dog would care, the way she wolfs down her kibble each day!  But, even as I ridicule the idea that all this is supposed to be novel somehow, I do realize that the recent growth of the seasonal food movement has done us a great service during the last 10 or 20 years. With the spread of this behavior influencing grocery stores and restaurants across the country, it has become the right business model to put “local” on shelves and menus.  No waiter needs to tell you they source their food locally because you just assume they do.  Doesn’t everyone?  We appreciate better than ever that the more we keep our shopping habits within our own community, the more we will be supporting the livelihoods of the  small farmers and producers who are our neighbors.

Farmers Markets make it easy.  Whether you plant a vegetable garden in your own back yard or come across a roadside table loaded with tasty tomatoes and fresh picked sweet corn, it remains undeniably pleasurable to have a variety of stalls of fresh produce at your fingertips on a regular basis in a town near you.  And right now the prospect of fresh equals local is really heating up.

The start of asparagus season in Kent County was one of the first things you noticed at the recent Farmers Market in Chestertown.  (This helps to explain why three out of our nine menu items for the week feature everyone’s favorite first local veg!)  While there is nothing better than having an asparagus bed of your own, the convenience factor of picking up a pound or three without the hassle of digging trenches and waiting three years cannot be overemphasized.  Prices hovered around $4 a pound.

I was frankly more excited to see the rhubarb last week.  I love rhubarb and it is very hard to find locally.  While it takes an awful lot of sugar to make it palatable, it is so worth it.  Stewed until tender, there is nothing better over vanilla ice cream or panna cotta.  To prep it you must cut off the leafy end and trim the root end, then peel away any stringy outer skin – which is a very satisfying job in itself – before you cut it into inch long segments and cook it down with sugar.  Start with about a half cup of sugar per pound of rhubarb and add more if you think it is too tart – I like it pretty tart.  Plus rhubarb freezes great – just do your prep and pack it in freezer bags.  You can put it frozen right into your saucepan and stew it just like that.   The classic pairing for rhubarb is strawberries, perhaps because the timing is right, but strawberry-rhubarb crisp is easier than pie and just as tasty.

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Combine 2 cups of flour, 4 cups of rolled (old-fashioned) oatmeal, 2 cups of brown sugar, 1 T. of cinnamon, 1 tsp. of salt and 1 tsp. of vanilla.  Work in 10 to 11 ounces of cold butter until the mixture is crumbly. Using a combination of rhubarb and strawberries to suit your tastes, add 1/2 cup of sugar for every four cups of rhubarb you include.  (The strawberries need no added sugar.)  To keep things a little less juicy, toss all the fruit with about 1/3 cup of tapioca flour before placing all in the bottom of a 9X13 baking pan.  Spread your oatmeal mixture evenly on top and bake in a 350 degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until bubbling hot.

Colchester has some nicely stored root vegetables, including potatoes and turnips, but their fresh carrots and greens are what stood out for Kevin last week.  He braised the carrots with a little water and butter for about 10 or 15 minutes and served them just like that, with the little stem signaling their superior freshness.

Lockbrier’s stall was clearly the winner when it came to asparagus, rivaling Godfrey’s production I would contend.  While they had the usual supply of wintered vegetables to chose from, they also offered things like cucumbers and spaghetti squash, which, if we presume all the produce at the market is grown by the purveyor, you sort of have to wonder how they managed to get cucumbers of that size ready for the early spring market?

One way to get the most from asparagus, especially if you’ve been snapping it in preparation of roasting or steaming, is to make soup.

Roasted Asparagus Soup

Everyone knows how to roast asparagus, right?  Toss the prepared spears in a little olive oil, salt and pepper and bake on a sheet pan in a 400 degree oven for about 10 minutes or until just done.  Eat some, set some aside.  Take the ends that you saved when you snapped the spears and put them in a pot with enough water to cover by about an inch or two, and simmer gently for 30 or so minutes.  Strain it and set it aside, discarding the now spent ends.  Meanwhile, cut the tips off of your asparagus spears and reserve them for garnish for your soup.  Chop the remaining stems into half inch pieces, and set aside.  Sweat some onion in butter for about 5 minutes, then add your strained stock.  Peel and slice some potato (more or less depending on how much asparagus you started with), adding that to the simmering onion/stock mixture and gently cook until the potatoes are done.  Add the asparagus stems and puree the whole thing in a blender or food processor until it is as smooth as you like.  At this point you can add cream if you so desire and season with as much salt and pepper as you like.  Garnish with your reserved asparagus tips.  This soup is good hot or cold, which makes it a perfect party food.

Eat. Drink. Relax. Cook!

Dieting in the Land of Food

This post marks a new direction for the K-B Market Blog.  The main theme will still be Food, with a capital F, but moving out of the K-B Market and heading into other edible directions.  I’d like to explore ideas ranging from food politics to diet and nutrition.  We’re going to start with the latter, since that is what is currently on my mind…

Obviously, food is central to all of our lives; we have to eat to live.  But some of us also live to eat.  Within the Silcox/McKinney family – immediate and extended – food is just as often something to celebrate, to share, to talk and read about, as well as to simply enjoy on the plate.  It is not unusual for Kevin and I to get up on Monday morning and start a conversation about what we are going to eat on our next weekend.  If we are going camping, it will be about what we want to cook at the campsite.  If we are going away it will be about what restaurants we want to try.  If we are staying home it will be about what we want to cook over the fire-pit in the back yard.  Being married to a Chef has several serious consequences, one being that food is usually on the front burner.

The problem with this sort of behavior is, of course, you still have to watch what you eat, calorie and nutrition wise, especially when you are in the restaurant business and food is all around you, all the time.  One question we have had to answer regularly over the years is “How do you keep your weight down, with all this food around you?”

Well, the immediate answer to that question is, of course, we don’t get to eat “all this food” because we are making it to sell, not to eat ourselves.  If we ate everything we made we’d not only be really fat, we’d have a problem with our bank account.  We don’t eat crabcakes unless they have reached their sell-by date; the cake we eat is the last slice of the one that was made last week; the leftovers we eat are not because they are our first choice but because we have leftovers that must be eaten before we cook anything else.  It is not really glamorous and never has been.

And the second answer to that question is we do watch what we eat.  I tell people I have been dieting since I was in high-school, sometimes successfully, sometimes not so much.  If I tried to satisfy every craving, I’d certainly gain weight, just like everyone else.  I love potato chips but do I sit down and eat a bag of Utz every week?  No.  Just half a bag…  I have learned that there are some foods better avoided if there is going to be another choice on the menu that I won’t want to resist, especially if it is a seasonal favorite.  In other words, if I think there is the possibility of  strawberry shortcake, I better not have a baked potato in the same meal.  Mostly it’s common sense.

Since we left our full-time, 80 hour a week restaurant jobs in 2014, Kevin and I have both noticed a bit more of a “creep” in our weight than ever before.  Eating too many of those leftovers was taking its toll and we realized it was time we did something about it before it got to be too much to lose.

Enter the 5:2 diet.

I have never been good at “dieting”.  I just do not have the strength of will to completely give up any particular food group in order to lose weight.  I have to have my potato chips occasionally, I want to be able to enjoy some triple cream cheese when it appears before me, or a serious slice of blueberry pie.  And of course I want my wine.  So, while I have been a “dieter” all my life, I have never found a weight-loss diet that I could stick with for any length of time with any successful progress in the down direction.  When I heard about the 5:2 I was intrigued – you didn’t have to “diet” all the time, just two days a week!  What a concept!  The rest of the time was your own choice.  If you want to really lose weight, of course you have to be careful the remainder of the week but you still can have what you normally eat, nothing is off limits.  This seemed to be the kind of diet I could follow.

Getting Kevin on board was easier than I thought.  And since we’ve been following the regimen – from early February with breaks for vacation and such – Kevin has lost almost ten pounds and I have lost three.  We are not discouraged with the slow going – even I am not since those three pounds are gone gone gone, for sure – because we have gained more than we have lost.

For one thing, it has taught us to be more “mindful eaters”.  Number one – when you only have 500 calories in the pantry for meals over the course of a whole (long) day, you are careful what you eat and how you spread those calories out.  And number two – the rest of the week, since you are much more conscious of the number of calories in your food, you might start to think twice about putting that extra pat of (36 calorie) butter on your bread or reach for that second piece of (246 calorie) fried chicken leg.  Being mindful about what you consume is good in all facets of life, but food is one area where it is wise to do it daily.

So, what do we eat on our ‘diet’ days?  Eggs.  Oranges.  Spinach. Asparagus. Grapefruit. Celery. Raw nuts. The usual suspects.  It’s not too bad.  As long as you don’t mind being hungry, which usually a big glass of water or cup of coffee takes care of…

And after a day on, a day off, another day on, you feel so freaking virtuous!

This would be our main meal on a typical diet day – poached egg with some kind of steamed or roasted vegetable, which right now is asparagus.  One time Kevin put in a little olive oil, but that ended when we realized it also added at least 50 calories to our daily allowance!  I’d rather have a clementine!

Eventually we hope to just do a “maintenance” course of 6:1, but until we get to our personal goal weights, we are all in.

Next time, eating with the seasons.