Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cedar Park Farms 2 Market - Great Meat Selection

Our Facebook friend Tracy Frech gives a shout out to Cedar Park Farm to Market Saturday.
Incredible Meat selection at CPF2M this Saturday (lakeline mall parking lot 9am-1pm) Country Side Farm (new) will bring us wild hog, rabbit, duck & guineas. Full Quiver brings us Beef & Pork. Pleasant Hill brings beef & summer sausage. Smith & Smith will have fresh chicken and lamb. Texas Yak with, duh, Yak, and Winters Family Beef brings beef and cabrito (goat) ...come and get it!

The more I know about meat that comes from factory farms, which is about all you'll find at Central Texas supermarkets, the more I want to know who is raising it, what it was fed and how it was slaughtered.

More to come on this topic.

Come Saturday Morning

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="297" caption="Photo courtesy of Austin American Statesman"]Mike Sutter's Farmer's Market Breakfast[/caption]

 

Mike Sutter, the Statesman restaurant critic, assembles breakfast al fresco from vendors at the Downtown Farmer's Market at Republic Square. This is what makes the weekend so special.
The Saturday morning commotion in Republic Square Park included the flash and jingle of a children's parade and lots of laughing babies, cool dads and scrap-hunting dogs. The line for peaches stretched 15 people deep. And that's when I knew assembling a farmers' market breakfast was going to require battalion-style planning: Map out the booths, assess the lines and make sure the hot stuff stays hot and the cool stuff doesn't evaporate in the sun.

A farmers' market breakfast: Laughing babies, hungry dogs, grass-fed popsicles and a BLT as big as the outdoors

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grilled Sweet Onion - Corn Relish

What would warm weather be without corn in season? Here's a fresh take on corn on the grill and off the cob. 4 generous servings. 

Grilled Sweet Onion - Corn Relish



Ingredients

2 -3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, peeled and sliced 1/2 in. thick
4 shucked corn ears
1/2 red pepper, large dice
1/2 yellow pepper, large dice
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
2 or 3 tbsp fresh thyme
Juice of one lemon
Salt & pepper to taste
Preparation

1. Heat grill to medium high.
2. Dice onion and pepper into 1/2 inch pieces; thread on skewers, alternating onion and pepper. (If skewers are wood, soak them first.)
3. Brush corn and vegetables lightly with olive oil.
4. Lay vegetables on hot grill, turning as needed to sear with grill marks and cook until tender.
4. When tender and cool enough to handle, cut corn from cobs and chop onion and pepper.
5. Mix onion, pepper, corn, lemon juice, thyme, salt & pepper in a bowl.
6. Toss gently with tomatoes.

Garnish with crumbled feta, fresh thyme. Serve with grilled fish, hamburgers or on its own.

~Adapted from Sunset Magazine.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tomatoes At Their Peak

Photo courtesy of Boggy Creek Farm



Boggy Creek Farm is a 5-acre urban organic vegetable farm two miles from downtown Austin. Check the website for weekly updates of produce that will be available for Wednesday and Saturday on-the-farm market.

The News of the Farm is posted weekly on the website. It's worth subscribing to Carole Ann's newsletters. They are so much fun. Never a dull moment at Boggy Creek Farm.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Farmer's Market Etiquette

Skinned & Chopped Tomatoes

Photo courtesy of Stuart Spates



I was shocked yesterday at Barton Creek Farmer's Market when a woman chided me for smelling a tomato.

"I sure wouldn't want that tomato," she said in passing.

"Why? Don't you like tomatoes?"

"After you smelled it!"

Well ex-cuuu-use me, to borrow an old line from Steve Martin.

I put down the tomato and walked off wondering if I inadvertently violated some unwritten rules of shopping at Farmer's Market. Is it really gauche to smell tomatoes and other fruit?

In a few minutes, the farmer selling them found me and offered me a bag of plum tomatoes.

"I thought what the woman said to you was rude. I want you to have these."

How nice!

Still the incident set me to thinking. I'm not the etiquette police, but I try to be a civil, courteous person. What is the etiquette for shopping farmer's markets? Here are a few things I can think of.

1. Honestly, I think sniffing fruit and vegetables from the stem is okay. A strawberry, tomato or melon without fragrance isn't ripe and won't taste very good.

2. It's okay to pick up something, but don't squeeze, poke or prod vegetables or fruit to judge their ripeness. This creates a bruise which makes the item less market-able.

3. If you want to taste something before you buy, ask for a sample.  Sometimes local laws prohibit sampling, so don't be put off if you can't. (Likewise to farmers, sampling is the absolute best way to sell your wares.)

4. Vendors love to talk about their processes and goods, so feel free to ask questions. If the booth is crowded, stow the chit-chat for another time.

5. Have your money and shopping bags at the ready; farmer's have a limited time to sell. As the market gets busy, they'll want to handle each sale efficiently. You can help.

6. Keep dogs and children on a short leash for their sake and for the sake of other shoppers. And parents, please ask before you let your children pet a dog who does not know you.

7. Watch where you park yourself; try not to stop or stand in the middle of a traffic pattern.

I'm off to enjoy the fruits of yesterday's embarrassment - tomato and black bean salsa using those plum tomatoes. What unwritten rules of farmer's market shopping do you observe?

 

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer Tomato Adventures

And you thought we were done with summer tomatoes. Fat chance.

Slow-Roasted tomatoes

 

We slow roasted the second 10 pounds of tomatoes purchased from Johnson's Backyard Garden. There are a gazillion recipes for this, so I will leave the google up to you. Word to the wise: they won't last long.  About half the first batch I preserved in olive oil went into this lovely recipe for slow-roasted tomato hummus at Andrea Meyers. The balance are safely stashed in the freezer where they remain handy for any dish that needs the intense taste of summer tomatoes after the season has passed.

 

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="432" caption="Slow-Roasted Tomato Hummus - Andrea Meyers"]Andrea's Recipes - Slow Roasted Tomato Hummus[/caption]

 

And so the summer tomato adventures continue!

 

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Transparency in Meat Processing - food.curated

 



CADE (Part 2): The Good Slaughter: A Proud Meat Cutter Shares His Processing Floor from SkeeterNYC on Vimeo.

Liza de Guia, film maker and publisher of food.curated spent two days in upstate New York to tell the story of transparency in the meat industry.
Truth be told, I was very, very anxious going into this shoot. The night before, I tossed and turned in my bed, restless for hours. I just wasn’t sure if I was ready to see the whole process, to film what I’d been shy to film for years. But, I had to do it. It’s a story I wanted to tell, a good story about a proud butcher open to teaching his trade, and a story I felt compelled to share with many others, like me, who didn’t want to be disconnected to their food any longer.

Larry Althiser, the owner and head meat cutter for Larry’s Custom Meats in Hartwick, NY, a small farming community in the Northern Catskills shows us what clean, fair, ethical food processing looks like.

Larry has been butchering and processing animals for over 30 years, learning through hard work his philosophy on the right way to slaughter animals so we can eat.

 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Eggs: Our Right to Clean, Safe, Fair Food

Consumers have a right to know where our food comes from, how it is raised and processed. Cattle, pigs, chicken or something as seemingly innocuous as eggs, whistle-blowers or hidden cameras are often the only way to identify which companies talk the talk, but fail to walk the walk. Deceptive practices and black-box operations put our food supply and our family's health at risk. So why do state legislators want to make undercover investigations of factory farms a crime?


The answer is simple - they don't want consumers to know the conditions our food animals suffer because we will think twice before buying this product.

Consider the incredible edible egg.

Factory-farmed Eggs

Not all it's cracked up to be

Cal-Maine Foods is one of the largest egg producing companies in America and coincidentally prominent in the recall of nearly 300 million eggs in 2010. Eggs from Cal-Maine Foods are sold at H.E.B., Randalls and Fiesta supermarkes throughout Austin and Texas under various brand names as well as the stores' private-label stock.

[caption id="attachment_1035" align="aligncenter" width="270" caption="Battery cages confine egg-laying hens"]Hens in battery cages.[/caption]

 

For 28 days concluding in early November [2010], a Humane Society of the United States investigator was employed under cover at Cal- Maine's Waelder, Texas facility," said Paul Shapiro, who's the senior director for The Humane Society. "And what he documented was nothing short of severe animal abuse and food safety threats."

Birds laying eggs on top of rotting corpses of other hens were discovered. The Humane Society's investigation team also documented eggs covered in feces and blood as well as birds confined in cages so small, they were unable to spread their wings.

"You can have salmonella not only on the outside of the egg, but also laid inside of the egg," said Shapiro. "That's one of the reasons why last August about a thousand Americans came down violently ill that resulted in a half a billion egg recall from these factory farms."

When I complained to H-E-B about what I believe to be deceptive advertising on Cal-Maine "Farmhouse Jumbo Eggs," the Texas-based supermarket chain ducked under the protective wing of "industry standards" enforced by UEP - United Egg Producers.

No self regulation

United Egg Producers, an industry trade association developed a "certification" program for egg producers after the outcry of poor animal husbandry practices and dirty processing conditions.



 

Like the "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval," their certification logo on egg cartons promised more humane conditions for egg-laying hens. In a small percentage of farms, hens were released from punishingly small battery cages to a "cage-free" environment.

But did the industry that promised to regulate itself deliver?

A short film produced in a Mercy for Animals investigation reveals starving and injured hens raised under an industry label promising humane treatment. See the truth behind the logo.



This is the same UEP implicated in a price-fixing scheme with the major egg producers including Cal-Maine that forced the price of eggs up 40% last year.

Litigation is pending.

Eggs!

Our right to know

Whether or not we care about the contentment of egg-laying hens or food animals that are raised for slaughter, the fact remains that poor husbandry practices and unsanitary processing conditions affect the quality of the food we put on a plate for our children, other loved ones and ourselves.

Our factory-farmed food kills.

Rather than clean up these conditions, CAFO operators are trying to sneak through a law that would ban taking pictures of their operations.

So-called "ag gag" bills have been proposed in various states nationwide. Many of them have been squelched by strong opposition. Others are still under consideration.

I understand that many people will continue to buy and eat supermarket food because it is convenient and affordable. I respect this choice.

I ask you to respect my choice as well and to protect the only means which seems to keep factory-farm operators half-way honest.
Please sign the Slow Food USA petition to withdraw the legislation that would make taking pictures or video of farms or food production facilities illegal. Consumers have a right to know and a right to see how their food is produced. Farms that produce good, clean and fair food have nothing to hide.

And while you're at it,  give H-E-B a piece of your mind too. As it stands, only Whole Foods and Wal-Mart carry genuinely cage-free eggs.
The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard rates companies that market name-brand and private-label eggs based on 22 different criteria, including legal and legitimate outdoor access and adherence to organic principles such as farm diversity and nutrient cycling. It is based on a years research into the organic egg industry.

We have a right to know what goes on in these operations. Then we can assure clean, safe, fair food with our pocketbooks.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Austin Pesto Company - Fields of Green

How does artisan-crafted food grow out of fields of green? Ryan Broesche shares how his commitment to organic farming laid the groundwork for a brand-new enterprise and three flavors of organic, artisan-crafted pesto every fresh chef will love.






Find Texas traditional, jalapeno and Thai pesto by the Austin Pesto Company at Barton Creek Farmer's Market every Saturday. Pesto is made with pecans. Thai pesto is made with peanuts. Containers are biodegradable.


Be There: Luling Watermelon Thump

The Luling Watermelon Thump on tap for the last full weekend in June is fun for the whole family.

Luling first hosted the Watermelon Thump in 1954, when Hermon Allen, a school prinicipal, proposed the idea of a celebration to honor the growers and promote the Luling watermelon market. A contest was held to name the event and honor was won by a student, Mr. Carol Ferguson. From that time, the Thump has been held the last full weekend in June.

Be there from Thursday, June 23 to Sunday, June 27, the Luling Watermelon Thump is a four-day festival with plenty for everyone - music, watermelon judging, watermelon eating, watermelon seed-spitting, dancing, food, drink and good times.

I attended the very first Luling Watermelon Thump with my family on a visit with an aunt and uncle who owned a woman's dress shop in town and also raised cattle and watermelon on a local farm.

Three things stand out: Texas is so hot in June that the tarmac melts under your sandals. Careful where you step near the stock tank; there are snakes. The watermelon thump is a whole lot of fun.

The price of admission varies. For details, go to: Luling Watermelon Thump



Sunday, June 19, 2011

Summer Tomato Simplifies Food Shopping

Wondering how to find real food at the supermarket? Summer Tomato makes it easy.


[caption id="attachment_998" align="aligncenter" width="293" caption="Courtesy of Summer Tomato"]Real Food Flowchart[/caption]

Friday, June 17, 2011

Watch: Saving the Land That Sustains Us

Support Your Favorite Farmer's Market

It's on! American Farmland Trust has opened online voting for America's Favorite Farmer's Markets. Cedar Park Farms to Market and Barton Creek Farmer's Market were among 2010 winners. Will there be a repeat? It's in your hands.


 

AFT_FavFMLogo-CMYK1.gif

 

American Farmland Trust is once again inviting fans of farmer's markets to cast their votes for America’s Favorite Farmers Markets™. This national contest raises awareness of the importance of buying fresh food from local farms and saving the farmland where it's grown.

Managers of farmer's markets across America are challenged to rally friends of the market to show their love by voting online.

Market shoppers vote to support their favorite farmer's market starting June 1 at 12:00 PM until midnight on August 31, 2011. You can vote for as many participating farmer's markets as you choose, but only once for each market.

At the end of the contest, one small, medium, large and boutique farmer's market wins the title of “America’s Favorite Farmers Market” for 2011. The reward for the winning market in each category includes No Farms No Food® totebags, a feature article on the award winning foodsite Epicurious.com and other prizes from the contest's partners and sponsors.

In 2010, more than 60,000 votes were cast online in support of nearly 1,300 participating farmer's markets. Two Austin area farmer's markets were among the winners - Cedar Park Farms to Market and Barton Creek Farmer's Market.

Can they do it again? It's up to you! Vote today.

6 Reasons to Shop Your Local Farmer's Market

Editor's Note: Thanks to Maria Rainier, freelance writer and blog junkie, for this contribution to Austin Fresh.

If you truly care about the environment and your local community, then realistically you should not only be visiting the nearest Farmer’s Market on a regular basis, but also be encouraging your friends and family to do the same.


In case you aren’t already aware of the numerous benefits of purchasing food and various other items at these markets, here are six reasons as to why you should do your grocery shopping at your local Farmer’s Market instead of at a commercial grocery store:

1. The food is always fresh

Whenever you buy fresh fruit, vegetables or even meat and dairy products at a grocery store, the produce is usually two to three weeks old because of the amount of time it takes to ship the items from the farm to the store.

Not only that, some items at grocery stores are usually loaded with preservatives and chemicals in order for them to stay fresh for longer periods of time.

Produce and food at a Farmer’s Market, however, is always fresh; in fact, most of the produce has been picked ripe that day, which makes it not only more fresh but tastier as well.

2. You’re supporting the local community

This point may seem fairly obvious if you like to head to the Farmer’s Market on a regular basis, but it can’t be stressed enough.

With the current state of the economy the need has never been so great to financially support those in your local community, and farmers have especially been hit hard with the economy and deserve compensation for their hard work.  By purchasing locally-grown produce it not only shows how much you care about your local community, but it also helps to encourage regional farming as well.

3. You can learn from the best

If you’ve been wondering how you can grow vegetables and fruit in your own garden, or even if you’ve been hoping to experiment with different recipes using fresh produce, then why not ask some of the farmers who are selling the produce at the market?

You can speak to the farmers one-on-one and ask them about recipe ideas, cooking strategies or even farming techniques so you can learn a thing or two about the farming process as well. You could also ask them more about the produce, such as where it was picked, how it was grown and much more.

4. It’s a great way to spend quality time with your family

Sure going to a mall or a grocery store with your kids is a great way to spend quality time together, but given the fact that it is the summer season what better way to enjoy the sunshine with your kids by strolling around your local Farmer’s Market?

This way you could help educate your children on how important it is to support the local community, and you could even help them learn more about fresh fruit and vegetables as well.

5. It offers variety

Not just limited to fresh fruit and vegetables, there are numerous other items you could purchase at a Farmer’s Market, like flowers, herbs, plants, spices, seasonings and much more. Some vendors even sell toys, pottery, clothes and paintings for an extremely cheap cost as well.

6. It supports sustainable agriculture

One of the best ways to help the environment is to support those who care about the environment as much as you do too. Buying locally-grown produce means that it helps save the amount of fuel and additional costs that it takes to ship produce from a farm to a grocery store that could be in another city or even another state away. Thus by purchasing local, fresh food is not only healthier for you and your family, but for the environment as well.

If you’re unsure as to where the nearest Farmer’s Market is, you can find out by looking in your local newspaper, at health food stores or even at garden centers for more information.

There are also various websites that list both certified as well as uncertified farmer’s markets. (local.farmersmarket.com is one great resource along with localharvest.org and farmersmarketonline.com).

Bio: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education where recently she’s written on sociology degree programs along with a piece on family therapist jobs. In her spare time, she enjoys yoga, playing piano, and working with origami.

 

 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Congress Scuttles Organic Farmers Website

Honest disclosure of the conditions of growing, producing and crafting fresh, organic, natural, ethical, local and sustainable food is the only true consumer protection. Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food gives us the power to choose. So why does the GOP want to cut funding for it?


Wednesday afternoon, before driving to set up his booth at the Carrboro Farmers Market, Peregrine farmer, Alex Hitt planned to call two members of Congress to voice his opposition to a short piece of legislation that might kill the little-known website "Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food."

One of those members is U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk, who has filed an amendment to the 2012 agriculture spending bill. In fewer than 30 words, the amendment would ban any U.S. Department of Agriculture funding from being spent on the Know Your Farmer website.

Foxx's amendment is one of many being put forward by Republican lawmakers chipping away at agriculture programs in their efforts to cut the federal budget. A vote on her proposal is expected today.

Read more: http://www.newsobserver.com/2011/06/16/1277220/farmers-fight-for-a-website.html#ixzz1PSFpBeHm

 

 

Fresh In.gredients - Hold the Packaging!

The best of all worlds - buy fresh ingredients in bulk, hold the packaging, make a difference.


Almost $1 out of every $11 you spend on food at pays for packaging. Doesn't sound like much, but add it up and multiply it across all the food dollars spent in the US? Whoa.

What's more, when all packaging is accounted for, it makes up about one-third of all the trash that's thrown away in the United States.

What's in this waste?

  • Clean Air Council reports that the United States generates enough trash to fill 63,000 garbage trucks each day. 63,000 25-ton trucks. It’s estimated that we dump nearly 700,000 tons of trash into landfills via municipal waste streams every day.

  • Packaging makes up about 40 percent of all solid waste in those municipal waste streams – materials we don’t even want, including cardboard boxes, plastics, and foam. After some math, we learned that the packaging we throw away annually totals nearly 39 million tons of paper/paperboard, 13.7 million tons of plastics, and 10.9 million tons of glass.

  • The total amount of packaging waste from 2005 to 2010 grew 1.8 percent annually.


To counter the cost and waste for fresh consumers with an environmental conscience, the Brothers Lane team will open the first package-free, zero-waste grocery store in the U.S.
in.gredients will allow customers to bring their own reusable containers to fill with local and organic groceries ranging from dry bulk and dairy to wine and household cleaners.

Launching their brand with the rallying cry: "Don't just recycle, precycle," the company aims to fund its operations by crowd-sourcing investors.

More information on the company's website and @in.gredients on Twitter.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cage Free Eggs? Not.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="450" caption=""]Hens housed in battery cages misrepresented as cage free.[/caption]

Over the last few years, I have moved away from eating meat. My companion is vegetarian so economy and efficiency have inspired me to prepare more meals that we both enjoy. Now I am a less meat-etarian, as Mark Bittman calls it. Meat, pork, chicken have moved from the center of the plate to the side.

After watching the movie, "Food, Inc.," I have lost my taste for chicken. I cook a pork tenderloin once in a while and eat lamb once in a blue moon. I still love a juicy hamburger once a month.

Today was the first day I simply could not buy hamburger from H-E-B. Where did this beef come from? How was it processed? I know too much about the deplorable conditions these factory-farmed animals endure and the malignant quality of the meat that it produces.

Could.Not.Buy.It.

Oh well. There are always eggs. Eggs are a staple of our diet.

*sigh*

After reading this report on "cage-free" eggs at H-E-B, I wonder when I'll stop shopping supermarkets altogether.
Research indicates that the vast majority of organic eggs for private label brands are produced on industrial farms that house hundreds of thousands of birds and do not grant the birds meaningful outdoor access.

So, what can you do to ensure that your eggs come from an ethical organic and/or free-range farm?The Cornucopia Institute’s Organic Egg Scorecard rates companies that market name-brand and private-label eggs based on 22 different criteria, including legal and legitimate outdoor access and adherence to organic principles such as farm diversity and nutrient cycling. It is based on a years research into the organic egg industry.

Now there's one more resource to support ethical food decisions before hitting the grocery aisle.

Whole Foods Parking Lot

Did somebody say that eating fresh, natural, organic was elitist? Nooooo.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Monday, June 13, 2011

Who Taught You to Cook?



We all come to our passion for cooking with fresh, natural, organic, local and sustainable ingredients via different routes. But before there was a connection with food, there was a connection with someone we loved who loved to cook.

Mark Bittman found purpose and confidence in the kitchen before he became a food writer for the New York Times. It's how he took care of his family.

I grew up in South Louisiana, child of a blue-collar family that didn't have a lot of money but ate like aristocrats.

Food was fun - an occasion for friends and family to gather around a table, talk, laugh, take pleasure together. Food was love - a way to show one's care and to nurture others.

Mother was an indifferent cook. She did it. She wasn't into it. But Daddy. Man, my daddy could put on a spread.

Mouth-watering barbecue with a sauce that lit up every taste bud. Eye-watering chili. Soulful gumbo. Fried chicken. Fried catfish. Hush-puppies so light they melted in your mouth. Biscuits and gravy. Pancakes drizzled with maple syrup. Pies. O.M.G. Chess pie. Pecan pie. Lemon meringue. Chicken pot-pie. You died and went to heaven when you ate Daddy's pie.

As a little girl, I spent many a Saturday in the kitchen with Daddy, chopping onions for barbecue sauce or soaking up the good vibrations from so much love being poured into measuring cups, sauce pans and skillets.

As a teenager, I asked my Daddy to teach me to cook. He would not accommodate my request.

"If you can read, you can learn to cook."

I was crushed. But from then on there was never a Christmas that passed without the gift of a new cookbook from my father.

Daddy's been gone for 18 years so I hate to disagree with him. It's true that if you can read, you can learn to cook. But you get your feel for it from someone you love.

Who taught you to cook?

Friday, June 10, 2011

How We Ruined the Tomato - Salon



I hope that you have enjoyed tomato week on Austin Fresh and that you are inspired to source fresh, organic, sustainably-farmed tomatoes from local growers or to plant your own.

Tomatoes in season are the epitome of color, texture and flavor that has made this delightful fruit the second most popular produce item we eat. They taste great and they are great for your health. You simply cannot do better. You can do measurably worse.
...if you’re looking for the poster child for everything that’s wrong with modern industrial agriculture, you can’t get any better than a supermarket tomato. Supermarket tomatoes are generally tasteless and grown at a tremendous cost to the workforce.

In his new book "Tomatoland: How Modern Industrial Agriculture Destroyed Our Most Alluring Fruit," journalist Barry Estabrook writes the biography of the modern tomato, revealing the environmental and human costs of big agribusiness

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Salt & Time Nitrite-free Smoked Hot Dog

Want some meat with those tomatoes?

All beef nitrite-free smoked hot dogs from Salt & Time

Salt & Time Salume announces its All-Beef nitrite-free smoked hot dog made with beef from Windy Bar ranch.

Find Salt & Time at Barton Creek Farmers Market on Saturday from 9a to 1p and HOPE Farmer's Market in East Austin on Sunday 11a to 3pm.

Artisan crafted quantity is limited. So email Ben Runkle to reserve your order today!

 

Tomato Week: How to Pick, Peel, Store & Cook Tomatoes

Tomatoes

Now that your mouth is watering for farm-fresh, organic tomatoes from local sources like Johnson's Backyard Garden Bulk Tomato Sale, let's talk about how to get the most out of them while they're in season.

Have a look at a few tips for picking, peeling, storing and using fresh tomatoes.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Tomato Week: Summer Salad, Basil, Feta

Sometimes the most basic ingredients lovingly prepared make the best meals. Like this yummy summer salad with garden-fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, basil and sheep's milk feta. Serves 8.





Ingredients

4 medium slicing tomatoes
4 small sliced cucumbers
1/2 cup finely sliced red onion
1/4 cup minced basil
1 tsp thyme
1/2 cup Sheep's Milk Feta
Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Layer cucumbers, onions, tomatoes. We used relatively more tomatoes than cucumbers because that's what we have on hand.

2. Lightly season the vegetables between layers, including the basil.

3. Crumble feta on top.

4. Toss with your favorite Italian dressing.

Dressing



Any vinaigrette dressing of your choice. Mine is Ken's Northern Italian Dressing with Basil & Romano. (Yeah, I know. Bottled dressing. Oh well.)

Variations

Like all old-fashioned recipes, there are as many variations to this as there are families. Try oregano instead of thyme. Spice it with creole seasoning. Add kalamata, black or green olives. Toss it with lettuce. Add a layer of zucchini slices. Variety is only limited by your imagination. And daring.

Bon appetit!

Tomato Week: Nutritional Powerhouse

Picture courtesy of Stuart Spates - A Clear Image Fine Photography

Color, flavor, texture - the properties of tomatoes all lend themselves to great eating pleasure. Happily, eating tomatoes also benefits our health.
Lycopene, a carotenoid pigment found in tomatoes and other red fruits and vegetables, is thought to have potent antioxidant properties. The European Commission is backing a five-year research project called Lycocard, a research consortium studying the role of lycopene in the prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer and osteoporosis, diseases that may result in part from oxidative stress.
Mmmm- mmmmm good and good for you. Lovely. For an in-depth nutritional profile click here: Tomato.





Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tomato Week: Black Bean, Tomato, Quinoa Salad


Vine-ripened tomatoes and farm-fresh vegetables meet and marry super-food quinoa for a powerhouse of delicious nutrition. Serves 8.

Black Bean, Tomato and Quinoa Salad



Ingredients

3/4 cup black quinoa
1-1/2 cup H2O
1 14-ounce can black beans
1 cup diced tomatoes, preferably Roma
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup finely diced red pepper
1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons chipotle in ancho chili sauce
1/2 cup minced cilantro

1. Toast quinoa until it becomes fragrant and starts to crackle. Rinse until the water is clear. Then cook quinoa according to package directions: 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa. Bring to boil. Let simmer 15 – 20 minutes until all the water is absorbed and seed is tender.

2. Let quinoa cool slightly, then add other vegetables in this order - onion, peppers, beans, cilantro and tomatoes; toss between each addition. (Soft veggies go in last to retain firmness.)

5. Add dressing, toss and cool 30 minutes before serving.

Spicy Lime-Cilantro Vinaigrette

1 clove minced garlic
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

1. Puree garlic with Tony's seasoning

2. Add other ingredients and mix well.

3. Add salt & pepper to taste.

Chef's Note: I've already extolled the virtues of quinoa, so I won't belabor the point. This recipe proves that it's nearly endlessly useful. Think pilaf. In this case, we combined a recipe for black bean and tomato salsa from Eating Well with black quinoa to get a chill and spicy Southwestern salad.

Tomato Week: Reviled to Relished



Historical accounts are unclear precisely when the tomato was transformed from reviled poison to relished staple. Personally, I'd put money on its reputation as a love potion. Other historians suggest that it was considered peasant food, avoided by aristocrats because of its corrosive effect on metal and silver platters on which they ate but safe in wooden bowls.

In the New World, Thomas Jefferson championed the tomato as food, cultivating it in 1781. A French refugee from Santo Domingo supposedly introduced the tomato to Philadelphia  in 1789 but it was not widely accepted until later. An Italian painter brought the tomato to Salem, Massachusetts in 1802, but was challenged to get it onto anyone's table.

It was 1839 before evidence of broader acceptance is conclusive. Ippolito Cavalcanti, Duke of Buonvicino touted 'vermicelli co le pommodoro' in an early collection of recipes. A mere thirty years later, tomatoes dominated the pages of La Cuciniera Genovese in recipes for purées, soups, distinctly different sauces for meats, chicken, veal and pasta.

Tomatoes had arrived.

Today there are over 4,000 varieties of the tomato. They come in many colors and range in size from grape to apple. The tomato could be the world's most popular summer fruit. Indeed, one is hard-pressed to think of many meals that are not enlivened by the lowly, lovely tomato.

Or do you say to-mah-to?



Monday, June 6, 2011

Tomato Week: Spicy Gazpacho With Avocado

Warm weather tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and peppers spice up this cold summer soup. Serves 6.




Ingredients

3 large, peeled tomatoes (32 oz canned tomatoes)
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup seedless cucumber, chunked
1/4 red onion, chunked
1 serrano or jalapeno pepper, seeded
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and chunked
1 rib celery, chunked
1 medium avocado, cubed
A palm full of cilantro
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Wedges of fresh lemon or lime for garnish

Preparation

Combine all ingredients except the avocado and cilantro in a food processor and pulse until a thick, smooth soup results. Stir in the avocado. Squeeze in a bit of lime or lemon for brightness. Season to taste. Chill until ready to serve.

Garnish with cilantro and fresh lime or lemon slices.

Chef's Note: Gazpacho originated among the shepherds and goat herders of Spain and Andalusia. It's often referred to as salad in a cup. We processed the cilantro as an ingredient rather than a garnish. This deepens the flavor and the color. The addition of avocado chunks gives it texture and staying power in your digestive system. You won't feel hungry 15 minutes after eating. Serve as a light lunch or cold supper rather than an appetizer.

~Adapted from Rachel Ray Veggie Meals: Gazpacho with Gusto

Tomato Week: A Tale of Lust and Fear



The tomato is the fruit of the plant Lycopersicon lycopersicum - a member of the Solanaceae or Nightshade family. Technically it is a fruit but has long been served and sauced as a vegetable.

A native of South America, the tomato was transplanted to Europe by Spanish explorers. Some say Cortez stole it from the Aztecs. Others attribute its entree into Old World culture to Columbus. However the plant seeds made their transit, Spain's exploration and subsequent colonization of Central and South America, the Caribbean as well as the Philippines is credited with the spread of tomato horticulture around the world.

For centuries thereafter, the tomato inspired lust and fear. A hint of this history is evident in its many names.

The Aztec Empire knew it as Xitomatl, a ‘plump thing with a navel’.

The Spanish explorers and missionaries who transported its seeds to the Old World first categorized the tomato as an apple, calling it manzana.

The secondary name in Spanish circles for the tomato - el Pome dei Moro, the Moor’s Apple - blackened its reputation as poison. This was wise, but not fully accurate. The leaves of the tomato plant do contain toxic alkaloids, but not its fruit.




In 1544, Pietro Andrea Mattioli, an Italian physician and botanist named it pomo d’oro, or "golden apple,"  referencing the golden glow of these first transplants.

Italians first grew the tomato about 1550 and apparently were the first Europeans to eat it. About 25 years later it was grown in English, Spanish and mid-European gardens as an ornamental with little or no interest as food.

The French gave it the name pomme d'amour due to its botanical relationship to the mandrake, or "love plant," noted in the Bible for its supposed aphrodisiac qualities. The French appellation may also have been a translation error between similar but different Romance languages.

You know how history gets written: never let the facts stand in the way of a good story. Regardless of its precise etymology, this is where  tomato history gets juicy.

So hot was the belief that tomato as an aphrodisiac, the Church of Rome banned it as "the devil's fruit" and a sinful indulgence. (This sealing its popularity with Catholics and others around the world.)

Fruit? Vegetable? Ornamental? Edible? Poison? Love potion? Was ever a plant so maligned and misunderstood?

In fact, misunderstanding of the tomato's properties caused dread in some cultures. For instance, in German folk tales, tomatoes were used by witches to transform humans into werewolves. Oh, those German fairy tales.

Linnaeus, the man who created the current scientific naming system of binomial nomenclature, recalled this legend and gave the tomato the name Lycopersicon esculentum.

How the tomato became a staple in every kitchen is a story for another day.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Tomato Week: Stewed Tomatoes


Warm-weather tomatoes, garlic, onions, peppers and herbs slow cook into a simple reduction that is basic to hundreds of delicious meals. Makes about 4 cups - equal to 2 cans - stewed tomatoes.

Ingredients for Stewed Tomatoes


Ingredients

8 whole tomatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium diced onion
1/2 diced red or green bell pepper
4 cloves minced garlic
3 ribs chopped celery
1 bay leaf
2 tbsp minced basil
2 tbsp minced parsley
1 tsp iodized salt
1 tsp cane sugar

Preparation

1. Saute' onions and garlic in olive oil until starting to caramelize.

2. Add bell pepper and celery. Saute until softened.

3. Combine all ingredients in slow cooker and simmer on low for 8 hours (high for 4 hours.)

4. Remove bay leaves.

5. Apportion in storage bags and freeze. Keeps six months.

Chef's Note: Like gardening, we take to cooking by watching someone we love. So there are as many variations of this recipe as their are mammas, daddies and grandparents. And of course there are canned versions processed by giant food companies. In my mind, nothing beats the goodness of food you cook for yourself. If you're cooking for health, freezing or canning stewed tomatoes is the way to go. You are using the freshest, natural, local ingredients with the least processing, i.e., sodium, salt and preservatives. In fact, you can omit both salt and sugar in this stage if you wish. Cooking the tomatoes another 15 minutes at low heat before you use them will reduce the acidity (the purpose of sugar.) Salt, pepper and spices to taste jazz up the flavor when you use it. Easy peasy.

Tomato Week


Picture courtesy of Stuart Spates - A Clear Image Fine Photography

~Home-grown tomatoes. Home-grown tomatoes. Nothing in the world like home-grown tomatoes.~

Modern, industrialized, mechanized and worldwide food production assures that we have tomatoes year round. But to real fans, they bear little in common with the first fruits of summer - in-season, vine-ripened, farm-fresh tomatoes.

When you talk about having a connection with food, I can't think of many others that are so indelibly imprinted on my taste buds and in my soul.



Yes, c'est moi. Bare-foot, berry-brown and dwarfed by tomato vines in my Daddy's South Louisiana backyard garden.

Simply, tomatoes mean summer.

Thanks to Johnson's Backyard Garden Bulk Tomato Sale, we'll be slicing, dicing, chopping and stewing 10 pounds of beautiful slicing-tomatoes in the week ahead. We'll be discussing their many health benefits. And, of course, we'll be sharing our favorite recipes and testing our culinary skills in new ones.

Are you ready for this?

Laid-Back Tuna Nicoise Salad

Locally-grown Bibb lettuce and warm-weather potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers say "bon jour" to a traditional French composed salad. Serves 6.



Ingredients

1/2 head Bibb lettuce
6 small new potatoes
1 medium tomato
1/4 cup marinated artichoke hearts
1/3 lb haricots vert1/4 cup pitted calamatta olives
1 small cucumber
1 tsp capers
12 ounces tuna
1/3 cup lemon vinaigrette dressing

Preparation

1. Wash and dry lettuce. Tear into bite-sized pieces and arrange as a bed for the other ingredients.

2. Scrub and boil potatoes until tender when pierced with a fork. Quarter when cool.

3. Steam green beans until al dente - tender to the bite but not crunchy. Cut in half on the diagonal when cool.

4. Quarter cucumbers and tomatoes.

5. Arrange all ingredients on the lettuce, sprinkle with capers and drizzle with salad dressing.

6. Sea salt & fresh-ground pepper to taste

The classic salade nicoise contains grilled tuna, anchovies, boiled eggs, lots of fresh herbs and anchovy dressing. Alas, the farmer's market was fresh out of anchovies and long on Bibb lettuce, new potatoes, tomatoes and cucumbers today.  Everything else was on hand in my pantry. Voila' - a laid back version of a French classic. Lovely for lunch or a cold supper. And heart healthy!



Saturday, June 4, 2011

Benefit for Bees Features Fresh Chef, Local Honey

Tickets are still available to benefit honey bees at Springdale Farm tomorrow night. Awesome menu.
Edible Austin and Chef Will Packwood present a honey tasting and honey-themed five-course, sit-down supper at Springdale Farm Sunday, June 5, 6:00 to 9:00 p.m. to help raise awareness for the plight of bees and to celebrate Texas honeys. Wendy and John Rohan from Rohan Meadery will sample their honey wines and discuss mead making.

They spend their lives making things sweet for us. The least we can do is give back! Bee there or bee square.


Seasonal Goodness at Farmers' Markets


It's a bonanza of seasonal goodness at local farmers' markets today.



Sweet onions. Okra. Garlic. New potatoes. Beans. Peppers. Squash. Eggplant. Tomatoes. Cucumber. Cantaloupe. Watermelon. Blackberries. Strawberries. Peaches.

There's also a good supply of kale, bibb lettuce, chard and other greens.

Markets open at 9AM at The Triangle, Sunset Valley, Republic Square, Barton Creek, Cedar Park and in Bastrop.

Great people. Farm-fresh goodness. Artisan crafted foods. Music. Great day to grab your sweetie, treat yourself to a cup of fresh-brewed artisan roasted coffee, croissant or empanada and enjoy local, natural, organic, sustainable foods!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Johnson's Backyard Garden Bulk Tomato Sale



Homegrown tomatoes are my absolute favorite seasonal fruit. And nobody does this better than Johnson's Backyard Garden, now hosting its annual bulk tomato sale!

 
Farm-Fresh Tomatoes

Photo Courtesy of Stuart Spates


 

Fruit from over 15,000 tomato plants offer a wide assortment of heirlooms, large red slicer tomatoes (perfect for a BLT or hamburger), Italian heirloom sauce tomatoes (San Marzano), small Juliet miniature plum tomatoes and super sweet Sun Gold cherry tomatoes.

Prices are 10 lbs for $28; 20 lbs for $50.

You really can't have too many home-grown tomatoes, so when we fetch ours, we'll share ways to keep that farm-fresh taste far past this too-short season.

Farm to Trailer: A Documentary

Farm To Trailer: A Documentary from Christian Remde on Vimeo.



Thanks to Christian Remde for submitting this handsome, entertaining documentary. It features Bryce Gilmore, fresh chef in the Odd Duck Trailer (and now Barley Swine) as he talks about why fresh, natural, local, seasonal, sustainably grown ingredients are the heart and soul of his menu. Kristi Willis and Kris Olsen of Milagro Farms also contribute.

Great job, dude!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Johnson's Backyard Garden Launches Wholesale to Fresh Chefs

Johnson's Backyard Garden

Brent Johnson, prop. of Johnson's Backyard Garden, says "tell your favorite fresh chef about wholesale sales and delivery of our Certified Organic vegetables."

Delivery Monday-Friday. No charge. Get weekly availability and price list by email farm / @ / jbgorganic.com

Wooo-eee. Fresh infusion on its way. Tell 'em Austin Fresh sent you!

Grilled Summer Vegetable Quinoa Salad - Lemon Vinaigrette

Warm-weather zucchini, bell pepper and spring onions spark up quinoa in this chill summer salad. Serves 6.


Ingredients

3/4 cup quinoa
1-1/2 cups H2O
2 tbsp EVOO
2 medium zucchini
1/2 red bell pepper
4 small spring onions
1/3 cup lemon vinaigrette
Salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions: 2 parts water to 1 part quinoa. Bring to boil. Let simmer 15 - 20 minutes until all the water is absorbed and the grain is translucent. Set aside to cool.

2. Slice zucchini, pepper and onions into 3/8 inch slabs. Mist lightly on both sides with olive oil. Grill over medium-hot coals 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Set aside to cool.

3. Chop cool vegetables into bite-sized chunks.

4. Toss vegetables with quinoa and with salad dressing.

5. Season to taste.

6. Chill 30 minutes up to 4 hours.

This salad lends itself to many variations depending on vegetables in season. In winter, you can roast vegetables in the oven. Just remember that each vegetable cooks at a different rate. Zucchini quickly turns to mush. Onions not so much. So grill in batches by themselves and test with a fork for done-ness.

Chef's notes: Cooking quinoa is easy; however, it is prudent for people prone to allergies to rinse it well before cooking. This washes off saponin, a natural coating which protects the seed from pests. Some experts advise to store quinoa in a glass container in the refrigerator because of its high oil content.

~Adapted from Grilled Summer Vegetables and Bulgar Salad on Fete and Feast. Thanks Natayana.