Market Update: Dandelions with pancetta

10 May 2012 § 6 Comments

I love this time of year. Each week the Farmers’ Market is slightly more colorful than the previous week. The choice of fresh produce seems to grow slightly each visit until it then explodes around mid June into a cornucopia of colorful fruit and vegetables.

Right now though green is most definitely in. It is so refreshing after the winter’s abundance of root vegetables. Last weekend there were fresh dandelions, herbs and asparagus aplenty. « Read the rest of this entry »

Pumpkin shortage

20 September 2011 § 1 Comment

Did you hear that the Northeast might be facing a pumpkin shortage?

Last weekend at the Farmers’ Market in New Jersey I was struck by the sight of pumpkins. In my mind on a sunny late summer Saturday it seemed too early. I realized it is mid-September so I really should not be surprised by their appearance.

This morning I heard on the radio that a high number of pumpkin patches were destroyed in New York and Vermont by Hurricane Irene. Pumpkin farmers were having a hard time already this year as heavy rain in spring meant the planting had to be delayed a few weeks, and now those young pumpkins are at risk if we have a cold snap. Also they have on store shelves pronto. It is a bit like Cinderella leaving the ball at midnight – the pumpkins have to be in the stores end September and sold by Halloween otherwise they are only good for composting.

« Read the rest of this entry »

Sweetcorn salad with tomato, lime and mint

7 September 2011 § 12 Comments

My Welsh sun-deprived childhood means I am programmed to lap up every last ray of sunshine. I can’t help it, it’s in my genes. That is why this post is about corn. I may be late to the party, but that late summer corn tastes the best it has all year. The corn we bought from the Farmers’ Market was so sweet and juicy. It was good enough to eat raw.

Try as I might to kid myself that summer won’t end the reality is the sunflowers of the previous week have been replaced by the rich hues of chrysanthemums. « Read the rest of this entry »

Summer beauties

20 August 2011 § 6 Comments

I wanted to go to the Montclair Farmers’ Market early for once, but made it just before everyone started packing up. I love leisurely weekends, but we really take it to the extreme.

Then my camera battery lost power so I only got a few pictures.

The summer colors were splendifierous – blood red tomatoes, orange colored peaches, the pastel yellows and greens of the summer squash. The first apples of the year were there, hinting that the summer bounty will soon be gone. In the mean time I will continue to enjoy the tomatoes: tomatoes were plentiful – cherry, campari, plum, mis-shaped heirloom tomatoes the size of melons.

I bought plenty of tomatoes and some beets, how could I not? So next week we will be enjoying cold soups: gazpacho and borscht (not at the same time though). The Russian soup is to go with the caviar and vodka King Marv brought home from Moscow. I feel that just caviar and vodka is just a tad too decadent, we need something healthy to go with it. Check back next week for those soup recipes.

Grilled baby artichokes

1 August 2011 § 4 Comments

Last week I bought some baby artichokes from the Hoboken Farmers’ Market. I’ll admit I was bullied into buying them by one of The Ladies™. Artichokes are not really a bad thing to be bullied into buying. I mean it’s not like they bullied me into buying them cans of soda and party-size bags of candy.

So Saturday came around and off we went to the Montclair Farmers’ Market to find something for lunch to serve with the artichokes.

The sun shone and it was a riot of colors with all the candy colored summer fruit and flowers. The Ladies did their usual rounds – which involved getting their fix of kielbasy, honey sticks and pickles which makes me wonder why they don’t ever get indigestion. They certainly did not complain about tummy aches as they ran from one market stand to another. Another thought – why do four-year olds find it so hard to walk – why do they have to run everywhere?

I ended up buying kielbasy as it is a winner with The Ladies™.  Then back home I decided to grill  it with the artichokes.

A lot of my friends are afraid of artichokes. They look intimidating with all those pointy thorn-like petals but they are actually easy to prepare and cook.

With baby artichokes you can eat the whole thing as they are a lot more tender that the full-size version. There is no need to remove the choke. Cooking them on the grill in a foil parcel is a really easy way and as they are effectively steamed they end up being very flavorful and tender.

Grilled Artichokes

Ingredients

  • Baby artichokes
  • A few sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Chopped garlic
  • Some olive oil
  • Lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper

First of all wash the artichoke under cold, running water. Pull off the outer petals until you get to the paler, softer ones. Cut off about 1/2 an inch of the top of the artichoke.. Trim the stalk back. Then wash the artichoke.

Squirt lemon juice over them to stop discoloring. Finely chop some garlic and place in among the artichoke petals

Pour a little olive oil over the artichokes and season. Then wrap with the thyme in some foil.

Bake on your grill for about 15-20 minutes until soft.

So both of The Ladies™ did try the artichokes, but neither liked them. They were very interested though which I took as a good sign. To be fair to them I don’t think I ate it until I was at least twenty years old.

If you’re still nervous about preparing them, here’s a good website I found with more information about preparing them.

The Full Farmers’ Market Returns!

4 June 2011 § 2 Comments

Today was the official Summer opening of the Montclair Farmers’ Market. The NJ Transit Walnut St. parking lot was transformed from gray tarmac into a glorious Technicolor feast for the eyes with vibrant plants, cut flowers and fresh produce to herald the first hint of summer.

The overall mood was one of back-to-school buzz. Old friends were welcomed and new ones made. All my old favorites were there – Sally from the Montclair Bread Company; Vacchiano Farms (who of course, deserve a medal for braving out over the long, cold winter) and Ginger from Tree-Licious Orchards.

Sally, baker and artist, from the Montclair Bread Company

Ginger from Tree-Licious Orchards

There were a few newbies there such as Lulada (delicioso-looking empanadas that I will try next time round) and The Everlasting Garden who brought with them a blaze of fresh-cut flowers grown in NJ – including some glorious peonies.

Jean-Claude Tassot from Tassot Apiaries, purveyor of all things honey

As usual, The Ladies™ snacked their way around: honey sticks from Tassot Apiaries, pickles on sticks from Pickle-Licious and Kielbasy on sticks from Stefan & Sons. To add some variety, Matazzaro Farms dispensed with the notion of serving their sugar snap peas on sticks. Stick or no stick, they were eaten just as heartily.

Another debutante was a woman promoting laying chickens. It was great to get some decent information on how to raise these wonderful little egg machines in the suburbs. The chickens hypnotized The Ladies™ for a good while so I could get some shopping done and dream up a way to convince King Marv that having hens would be a good idea.

Next up was Shore Catch from whom I bought scallops, clams and shark. To accompany our fish fest I bought some eggplant, and garlic scapes from Farmer John (the organic grower). Obviously, there’s not very much local fruit around yet – it is still a bit early, but I did find some beautiful little strawberries at Matazzaro Farms.  Now what to do with those garlic scapes – any suggestions please? Pesto maybe – but almond or walnut?

The recipes to accompany this haul will follow later this week — the shark and the scallops are on the grill as I write.

In the meantime, I’ll be working on my campaign to convince King Marv about keeping hens…

The Montclair Farmers Market is at the NJ Transit Walnut St. parking lot every Saturday from 8am to 2pm.

New at the market yesterday….sunshine!

22 May 2011 § 4 Comments

After what feels like an eternity of soggy, gray days, the sun managed to haul its sorry self out for a sunny morning at the Montclair Farmers Market yesterday. The number of vendors had crept up to four – Vacchiano Farms,  Shore Catch, Picklelicious and Stefan & Sons.

We bought some Polish Kielbasy from Stefan & Sons. It was really good to see Mario and Lisa back there. The Ladies™ had really missed them, well actually they had missed their sizzling samples of Kielbasy.

Mario and Lisa from Stefan & Sons

Little by little the selection of fresh produce at Vacchiano Farms is growing, they had radish, lettuce, asparagus, rhubarb as well as a good herb selection. I had time to browse their fresh produce, while my mother supervised The Ladies’ sampling of all the pickles and olives at Picklelicious. They agreed the half sour pickles were their favorite, followed closely by the Kosher dill.

As my parents are visiting we stocked up on chicken, eggs, NY strip steak and English style sausages. King Marv requested we buy sausages as he has decided to cook dinner – a major event in our house as it happens so rarely. He is cooking an English speciality – the bizarrely named Toad in the Hole – a combination of two of his favorite foods – Yorkshire Pudding and bangers, basically a popover with sausages. It looks nothing like a toad, more like worms in sand. And based on that tempting description, I bet you can’t wait for that post.

And today’s specials are

30 April 2011 § 1 Comment

Spring has sprung slowly this year, but we can view the arrival of asparagus as a good sign! Today at the Montclair Farmers’ Market, Vacchiano Farms had plenty of asparagus, escarole, arugula as well as apples, parsnips and cabbage. You could definitely cook a few good meals by shopping solely at their stand – they have a good protein selection of meat, eggs and home-made mozzarella and ricotta cheese. It is really good that they are year-rounders here.

Next door to Vacchiano Farms, I took the opportunity to speak with Jimmy LaPrete, owner of Shore Catch who brings Jersey fresh seafood to our local farmers’ markets.  Jimmy works with the local fisherman to bring the freshest to us landlubbers. He told me how the fishermen are really trying to fish sustainably, holding off when certain species are running low to allow them to replenish. Today he had a good choice of cod, clams, scallops and tile fish. With Cinco de Mayo on the horizon, I feel a fish taco recipe coming on. Watch this space.

Jimmy Laprete, owner of Shore Catch

The Montclair Farmers’ Market is at the Walnut Street Station every Saturday from 8am to noon.

Apple, pecan and date muffins

23 March 2011 § 1 Comment

We are still in Farmers’ Market limbo. It is too early for new crops, so there were the usual few vendors at the Montclair Farmer’s Market on Saturday: Vacchiano Farms selling their meat and delicious potpies, Pickle-icious (bet you can’t guess what they sell) and Tree-Licious Orchards with their apples, amazing apple doughnuts, carrots and a few other winter vegetables.

The lovely Tree-Licious people are taking a well-deserved break before all the spring produce starts coming in April. So I ended up taking home a huge box of apples as they were going cheap, and I love a bargain.

To use some of the apples we made delicious apple, pecan and date muffins, a healthy snack for both kids and grown ups. The Ladies™ and a school friend helped me make them, I use help in a very loose sense of the word, actually it just involved them licking the bowl, but at least they took an interest in my cooking, even if they did have an ulterior motive.

Apple, pecan and date muffins – makes 1 dozen

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softenened
  • ½ cup superfine sugar (that’s caster sugar for you Brits)
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 2 eggs
  • ¾ cup unsweetened apple sauce (I chopped apples, added a bit of water and simmered for about 10 mins then mashed with a potato masher)
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ cup chopped pecan
  • ½ cup chopped dates
  • 1 small red apple, thinly sliced
  • Sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put the cupcake wrappers in a 12-cup muffin pan.

Place the butter, sugar, flour and egg into a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until smooth and pale, about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the applesauce, cinnamon, pecans and dates.

Spoon the batter into the cups. Lay the apple slices on top and sprinkle with some sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes. Remove pan from oven and cool for 5 minutes. Then remove cupcakes and cool on a rack.

So please email me if you have any good apple recipes. Merci Tante MoMo for the apple and almond tart recipe, will try that soon! Even though I have given away a few dozen apples the box does not seem to be going down much.

Sunday Roast

21 February 2011 § 7 Comments

The number of vendors at the Montclair Farmers’ Market on Saturday had mushroomed to three – a sign that spring had to be on its way, although it did not feel like it with plastic bags dancing off in the strong gusts.

Braving the whirling chilly winds were Vacchiano Farms selling their wide range of meat, home-baked pies and sauces, Shore Catch – with a small but good selection of fresh fish and Tree-Licious with their usual wide choice of fresh apples and baked goods. We bought free-range chicken, bacon, Cameo apples, onions and cider doughnuts.

Anthony Vacchiano and his daughter braving the elements

This winter I’ve started roasting a chicken on Sunday evenings. It is the one day of the week when we are all guaranteed to be in the same place at the same time, so we always eat with The Ladies™, in an attempt to civilize our little savages. They do look positively Neanderthal each gnawing on a chicken leg (“chicken bones” as they call them), so we still have a way to go with the civilization. Luckily I predict many more Sunday roast dinners.

Even though it takes a bit of cooking time, it is good to have the oven on for a few hours filling the house with that delicious smell of roast chicken and vegetables. If I buy a big enough bird then sometimes we have enough for sandwiches on Monday, and I usually get a soup out of the carcass the next day, with the simple addition of some onion, garlic and a handful of vegetables and herbs.

Roast Chicken with Winter Vegetables recipe

1 chicken

About 2 oz of butter

2 cloves of garlic

3-4 carrots

3-4 parsnips

1 big turnip (or a few small ones)

4 large potatoes – peeled and chopped into thirds

A few sprigs of thyme

Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Wash the chicken and dry with paper towels, take out any of the innards and put them aside for the gravy. Season the chicken and rub the butter over the chicken. Put the whole garlic cloves and some of the onion inside the chicken.

In a large roasting pan, roast for about 20 minutes at 425°F – you won’t notice it yet but this is what gets the skin nice and crispy and golden brown later. In stages, you’re going to add the vegetables to the roasting pan, so after that initial 20 minutes at 425°F, reduce the heat of the oven to 375°F and add the chopped potatoes. Baste the chicken with the melted butter and the juice from the bottom of the pan. After another 30 minutes add the rest of the vegetables, stir them so they get coated in the buttery juice, season and cook for another hour (the chicken, depending on size should take about another hour from when you add the vegetables – you should allow about 20 minutes for every lb of weight).

During this hour or so cooking, baste the chicken and turn the vegetables and potatoes every 20 minutes or so. Check for doneness by puncturing at the top of the leg with a knife and if the juices run clear the chicken is done. Take the chicken out of the oven and let it rest for about 10 minutes before carving.

Chicken Gravy recipe

½ onion chopped

1 clove garlic crushed

1 carrot finely chopped

1 stick celery chopped

2 cups chicken stock

Chicken “bits” (neck, liver – whatever has been shoved inside)

While the chicken is cooking, fry the innards with the onion,  garlic, carrots and celery until nicely golden brown. Deglaze with some wine (whatever is on hand) then add the chicken stock, bring to the boil. Once the gravy is boiling, turn down the heat, simmer and reduce the liquid. Let it simmer for a long time, as long as you are cooking the chicken if you like. If you are serving boiled or steamed vegetables with your meal, reserve the cooking liquid and add to your gravy. When the chicken and vegetables are done, take everything out of the roasting pan then put the pan on the stove top under a medium heat, add a tablespoon of flour and make a roux with the crispy juicy bits, then add the sauce that has been simmering, whisk and when it has thickened slightly sieve into a sauce pan. Then heat again and skim off any fat that rises to the surface.

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