Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Shop at the Palisades Farmers Market for Your Independence Day Feast

What's the 4th of July without great food and fireworks?
The easiest way for some people to throw a party is to order platters from a restaurant or a supermarket. For others, only home cooked food will do.

But with busy lives, how to find the time to do any cooking?

A friend complains when the kids want to know what's to eat, she throws up her hands and says, "Ok, let's go out." But on the 4th, it's more fun if the food is home cooked.

One solution is to use easy-to-make recipes so you're not stuck in the kitchen. And to give you ideas, take a walk around the farmers market and pick out fruit and vegetables that take no time at all to prepare.

A sangria style wine cooler or a fruit salad would be easy to make with the market's abundance of fresh cherries, blueberries, Fuji apples, pluots, white peaches, nectarines, and Valencia oranges. Yum.
Sweredowski Farms - John Sweredowski will offer friendly advice and a helping hand as you pick out leafy greens for a salad--he'll encourage you to think outside the box by showing you bunches of nettles, mustard greens and purslane. If you are an arugula fan, John has fat bunches with broad leaves. He also has peppery watercress and squash blossoms.
Yang Farms - the tomatoes, carrots and asparagus are always sweet. The finglerling and sweet potatoes are good for baking and grilling. Mr. Yang's Persian cucumbers make a crunchy salsa.
Underwood Family Farms - bi-color corn (yellow and white) is available again, along with leafy greens, radishes and beets, as well as green cabbage, perfect for cole slaw.
Givens Farm - pick up Italian parsley and leafy greens to make a tossed green salad.
Capay Organic - has early season heirloom tomatoes, pricey at 3 lbs for $10.00, but so colorful they would make an attractive centerpiece, sliced, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkled with fresh basil leaves.
Tropical Seafood - has a good selection of fish, including sole, salmon, swordfish and halibut for grilling, sauteing or baking. The large peeled and devined shrimp are especially nice wrapped in bacon, marinated in olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and pepper, skewered and grilled.
If you want to prepare a few dishes but not the whole meal, check out the ready-to-eat vendors at the market. Their home cooked food is the next-best-thing to making it yourself.
Gunnar & Jake's Gourmet Pickles - sample before you buy and buy you will after you've had a taste of Kristi Stefansky-Murray's pickled Hungarian peppers, green beans, dill cukes, jalapenos, beets and turnips. 
Sumako at Sweredowski Farms -  uses the farm's produce to make a summer time treat: squash blossoms stuffed with ricotta and roasted tomatoes.
The Heritage Kitchen - for appetizers and desserts, former food historian, Ekythe Preet sells a good selection of cheeses from small farms, homemade jams and savory chutneys, and an excellent selection of pastries, including Devonshire cream scones and gluten free amaretti meringue cookies with almonds, flourless chocolate mini-cakes, and organic brown rice crispy squares. Also gluten free are Ekythe's torts, one with orange and almonds (a Sephardic favorite), another made with polenta and almonds with a lemon flavor. Both are moist and delicious. 
Bountiful Bakery - for the holiday Denise Assad has baked lattice-topped cherry pies as well as her regular staple of apple pies, chocolate dipped macaroons, and a two-layer coconut cake with cream cheese frosting, to name a few of her treats. For a savory snack, she will have on hand freshly baked, flaky spinach and feta spanakopita that would look delicious on a dining room table or tucked away in a picnic basket. Given how labor intensive cherry pies are--can you imagine the effort it takes to pit hundreds of cherries--Denise could only pull off such an effort because Megan, her new assistant, has joined her in the kitchen. 

Have a great 4th of July!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Texas Baby Back Ribs for Father's Day

Sure it's a cliche, but one you can hang your hat on: most guys like meat.
On any other Sunday, you'd probably find dad in front of the grill, doing damage to burgers, dogs, shrimp and steak. With red hot mesquite or briquets supplying the fuel, dad happily flips his victims until he's got caramelization underway and char marks in all the right places.
But not this Sunday. Oh, no.  This is Father's Day when everyone else should be rolling up their sleeves and doing due diligence in pursuit of dad's favorite food.
What's special about this day is that dad can rest. Drinks and food will be laid on the table without any effort on his part.
As a dad, myself, I enjoy this day. My sons, Michael and Franklin, are very good cooks. They grill and saute with the best of them and, like their dad, they fill the table with lots of choices.
Recently I visited West Texas and enjoyed myself immensely at the Wildcatter Ranch, a delightfully rustic resort, about an hour and a half north-east of Abilene.

Chef Bob Bratcher, self-taught and a cowboy at heart, showed our group how to break down a beef tenderloin and cut ribeye steaks out of what he called the "stick".
For two days we feasted on chef Bob's creations, not the least of which was a magnificent 14 ounce, bone-in ribeye steak with a peppery crust on the outside and perfectly medium-rare, juicy inside.
One of the other memorable dishes he shared with us was his baby back pork ribs, coated with the Wildcatter Ranch dry rub he makes himself.

The ribs were tender and sweet. The bone side of the rib had a thick coating of chef Bob's dry rub. Unlike traditional powdery, dry rubs, his was thick with cracked black pepper and celery seed. That added a pleasing crunch as we gnawed on the bones.
Chef Bob was kind enough to share the recipe with us and it's perfect to make for Father's Day.
Wildcatter Ranch Dry Rub Baby Back Ribs
Cooking the ribs at low temperature for a long time is the secret. Slow roasting brings out the sweetness of the meat.
Serves: 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Marinating Time: overnight
Cooking Time: 3 hours
2lbs pork baby back ribs
¾ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 cups Rib Rub (recipe below)

Bob's Rib Rub
The rub can be made ahead but because the garlic is fresh, use within 24 hours of preparation.
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons coarse black pepper
1 cup dried oregano leaves
½ cup paprika
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon celery seed
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 ½ cups brown sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon (ground)
2 teaspoons dry minced garlic
2 teaspoons granulated garlic

Mix all ingredients together in bowl and store overnight in airtight container until ready to use.

Pull the silver skin off the backs of the ribs.  Season the racks liberally with fresh lime juice and the rub.  
If you have a barbecue grill or a smoker, get it hot on one side and place the ribs on a rack over an aluminum lined pan on the cold side of the grill.
If you're using the oven, heat until 250 degrees.
In either case, cook for 2 ½ hours. Fork-test the meat to confirm it is tender.
The ribs can be cooked ahead of time, even the day before.
30 minutes before serving, wrap the rack tightly in foil, and bake in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes.
Cut the ribs apart and serve on a platter.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Lots of Veggies and a Little Meat

I like meat. There, I said it. Give me a thick ribeye steak with sauteed onions and roasted fingerling potatoes, a simple arugula salad with a reduced balsamic vinaigrette and I'm a happy camper.

Sometimes I crave a big plate of veggies, but I still want some meat. In which case, a little meat goes a long way. A bit of sausage and chicken on the bone adds flavor and some comfort-food "stickiness" that is oh so very satisfying.

The simplest meal to prepare is a lot of sauteed vegetables added to a braise of chicken thighs, wings or legs. Some Italian sausage or something spicier like chorizo is frosting on the cake, as it were.

Get some help cleaning and peeling the veggies and it's 30-45 minutes start to finish. What a great meal it is.

Sauteed Vegetables and Chicken on the Bone

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes


8 chicken wings, washed
4 chicken thighs, washed
4 chicken legs, washed
4 carrots, washed, trimmed, peeled, cut into rounds
1 medium yellow onion, trimmed, peeled, washed, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
2 ears corn, kernels removed
1 medium sized broccoli crown, washed, end trimmed, stem peeled and julienned, florets quartered
2 Italian sausages, washed, grilled or roasted
1/2 cup Italian parsley, washed, leaves only, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and black pepper


Use two pans. In one put a tablespoon of olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Season the chicken with sea salt and pepper. Saute until lightly browned, turning frequently. Add 3 cups water and raise the flame to high. Lightly cover with a piece of aluminum foil but do not seal.

Cook for 15 minutes. Keep an eye on the liquid. If need be, add water, a 1/4 cup at a time.

At the same time, get the veggies going in the second pan. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil seasoned with sea salt and pepper. Add the veggies and saute for 10 minutes.

The braising liquid should be greatly reduced to about 1 cup. The chicken should be close to falling off the bone.  If not, cook another 5-10 minutes.

Using a silicone spatula, transfer the veggies and their liquid into the pan with the chicken. Add 3 cups of water for a second braise. Stir well.

Reduce the flame to medium. Lightly cover with a piece of aluminum foil and, again, do not seal.  Simmer 10 minutes, checking the broccoli and carrots, making sure they don't over cook.

Serve in large soup bowls because there will be sauce.


Add 1 tablespoon sweet butter to the second braise.

Omit the sausage.

Substitute chorizo or another sausage for the Italian sausage.

Substitute 3 pieces finely chopped bacon instead of the sausage.

Add 1/2 pound cooked pasta to the second braise.

Add 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes to the veggie saute for heat.

Add 3 cups washed, roughly chopped spinach to the second braise.

Add 6 shiitake mushrooms, washed, finely sliced to the veggie saute.