In Season: What we’re doing with Escarole & Curly Endive

You’ve probably heard of Belgian endive, but what about curly endive? Both curly endive and escarole enjoy and thrive in chilly weather, so they have been doing exceptionally well this year. Both are members of the chicory family and have a slightly bitter taste.

We enjoy them as a lettuce replacement on chicken salad sandwiches or mixed with other greens for a dinner salad with pizzazz.

I made this salad with curly endive simply because it was gorgeous on the plate. Escarole would work just as well here.

Curly Endive Salad
*serves 2-4, depending on portion size

Ingredients:

  • 1 head curly endive (or escarole)
  • Bacon, 2 slices per salad
  • Thick slice rustic bread (I used roasted garlic sun-dried tomato)
  • Egg, 1 per salad
  • Olive oil

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Trim end off endive and wash leaves. Spin dry.
  3. Cook bacon in oven until crisp, about 20-25 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  4. Slice bread into chunks, approximately 1×1 inch. Toss with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Bake until just crisp, about 8-10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  5. Poach the eggs (https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/videos/techniques/how-poach-egg)
  6. Assemble salad as seen above. Drizzle with olive oil and top with cracked black pepper.

These greens also lend themselves to a quick pan saute and, surprisingly, are delicious in soup. I made this soup the other night and loved it. You can have dinner on the table in 20 minutes, easily. It was just as good about 12 hours later, but didn’t hold up as well beyond that. Eat it when it’s fresh. Next time I may replace the beans with brown rice for a variation or I might add sliced wonton wrappers and maybe add a swirl of egg.

Curly Endive & Escarole Bean Soup
*serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup sliced white and pale green part of scallion and walking onions (reserve tops to garnish soup)
  • 1 carrot, thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks lovage, thinly sliced (save leaves for another use – you can use celery if you can’t find lovage, but I highly recommend lovage)
  • 2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • olive oil
  • 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 15oz can white beans with juice
  • 1/2 curly endive, rough chopped
  • 1/2 escarole, rough chopped

Directions:

  1. Heat a stock pot over medium high heat. Add 2-3 Tablespoons olive oil and swirl to coat.
  2. Add onion and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add carrot and lovage. Saute for a couple minutes.
  4. Add garlic and thyme. Saute for 30 seconds.
  5. Stir in stock and bring to a simmer.
  6. Add beans with juice, endive, and escarole. Let simmer for about 5 minutes.
  7. Serve topped with chopped scallions.

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Breaking News: Size Doesn’t Matter

Size doesn’t matter, at least not when you’re talking about asparagus. Some people believe thin asparagus yields more tender, less woody asparagus. I used to believe that, too. That is until the asparagus we grow started thickening as the crowns aged and I was forced to try thick asparagus. Thin or thick…it doesn’t matter.

Thinner asparagus generally comes from young crowns or crowded crowns. Thicker asparagus comes from more mature crowns. Take this monster below. (!!!!!) We harvested this beauty near the end of the asparagus season last year from an asparagus plant that is probably 6-8 years old and has plenty of growing space.

The big question. Was it tender. Oh my goodness, it was unbelievably tender, including the outer purple skin. It was delicious!

Now, size is really your preference. When we roast asparagus, I prefer the thin ones because part of the stalk get almost crispy and they are like salty green french fries. However, if we are blanching and dousing them with Hollandaise, I prefer thicker asparagus.

Whatever you do, don’t discard the thick stalks of asparagus. Give them a try. You might be surprised.

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The Price of Perfection

Late May 2016, Matt and I flew to San Diego for a long weekend vacation with the Geraets clan. We rented an AirBnB in Pacific Beach just a couple minutes walk from the ocean, so close I could hear the waves from our bedroom. If you’ve never slept with the ocean as your sound machine, you should.

Some of you know I used to live in San Diego. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but it has been over 12 years since I moved back to Pierre.                  Sorry, I fell off my chair, but I’m back. My goodness, 12 years since I lived on the West Coast. It is everything you think it might be. Beachy, sunny most of the year, filled with surfers and beautiful people, and a lot of delicious Mexican food. It also has the obligatory big city raging traffic and expensive living costs. I don’t miss those aspects of living in SoCal.

Friday evenings, in my suburb of La Mesa, was our city’s farmers’ market. I went every week, gathering fresh flowers, clamshells of basil, bags of small avocados, and warm tamales. My love of farmers’ markets originated there, on that side street as the sun began to set over the Pacific.

When I moved back to Pierre, I yearned for that market. That market was a major factor in our helping start the Capital City Farmers’ Market 9 seasons ago. I miss being a customer, but I love being a vendor.

Back to San Diego. On Sunday, Matt and I went to the Hillcrest Farmers’ Market, which was started in 1997. We happened upon Sage Mountain Farm, an all organic farm, located in Anza, CA. One of the owners, Phil, was a friendly talkative guy. We thoroughly enjoyed sharing various stories about our vegetables and markets. More about Phil and the Hillcrest market in another post.

While at Phil’s stand, I spied several pints of strawberries. These were not the perfectly sized, strangely same red colored, huge strawberries we’re used to seeing in the grocery store. No, these strawberries reminded me of the berries I used to pick in my Grandma Bouchie’s garden. The strawberries that we used to hunt for and relish as their juices dripped down our chins. We bought a pint. In retrospect, we should have bought four.

strawberries

Left: Sage Mountain Farm organic strawberries (photo credit: Sage Mountain Farm)
Right: Conventional strawberries

These were some of the BEST strawberries I have ever eaten. I mean the best. Being organic, they were a little more than the store-bought variety, but you cannot put a price tag on flavor.

We sat them on the counter at our AirBnB. Matt’s dad made a comment that they looked a little emaciated. “Try them”, I said. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the look on his face when he bit into that first berry. He couldn’t believe the true strawberry flavor. Our nephew had a similar experience, eyeing the suspiciously. “Try them”, I said. After his first bite, he smiled so big and dove in again.

There’s an evil back and forth which has somehow taken over the conventional produce world. We are shopping for “perfection” and grocery stores are asking growers for “uniformity.” This back and forth of looking for perfectly uniform vegetables has left out something very important. Flavor.

It doesn’t matter how gorgeous that strawberry looks. If you bite into it and it doesn’t evoke a visceral reaction, it’s just a bite of food. There is a reason people don’t get excited about the food they eat. How depressing to look at something so beautiful, but not have it taste as beautiful as it looks.

What is beauty really? I look at the two photos above and I immediately think the strawberries from Sage Mountain are more beautiful than the conventional type, because I’ve tasted them. Their inner beauty is so amazingly beautiful I’m still thinking about them 9 months after I tasted them!

This is true not just with strawberries. Have you ever tasted a home grown new potato and compared it to a conventional potato. I have and you should. It’s amazing. Truly amazing. Simply boil and sprinkle with salt. That. Is. All.

The other issue with this idea of perfection in produce comes in the form of “waste”. My sweet little eggplant in the photo below wouldn’t have made it out of a conventional field and to the grocery store, because he doesn’t meet the “norm”. He would have gone in the trash or compost. One of our lucky CSA members snagged him up quickly last year.

eggplantcompare

Left: Our special little guy Right: The “norm”

This is the same for almost all the produce we grow. Carrots, corn, cabbage, broccoli, peppers. You name it. Take the green bell peppers below, for example. In the grocery store, they are always the same size, right? That is not how they grow. It’s just not. They vary in shape and size, at least a little bit. And, of course, growing different varieties means various sizes. There are always some fun oddballs out of the bunch and we love those the best. They make it interesting.

peppers_compare

Left: B&G Produce bell peppers Right: Conventional bell peppers

I like seeing this trend on the East and West coasts about chefs taking “garbage” vegetables and using them. Essentially, they are taking what we consider the “cool kids” and making delicious food out of them. I think it’s disheartening, though, that we’ve come to this as a society. Next time you walk through your local grocery store, check out the produce. It’s all the same (although more are starting to carry local produce). Not at our farm.

This is one of the elements I love most about being a produce vendor. We get to grow these awesome, unique, and tasty vegetables for you to take home and enjoy. I harvest a carrot with two “legs” and am excited because someone gets to take this one-of-a-kind carrot home and savor her.

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Knowing My Food

For the last two years, a local friend of ours has raised pigs. Last year, we bought and Matt butchered Big Brown. He was a delicious specimen. This year, we bought two. Matt butchered them in our garage which means I avoided our garage for a good couple weeks.

Here’s the thing. I can’t “know” my food. I just can’t. As an example, a few years ago we bought a bunch of baby black ducks to raise and butcher. As soon as those adorable little devils were let out of the cage, I knew there was no way I could eat them. Matt, with a deep sigh, also knew.  When we have discussed the possibility of raising chickens, or a cow, pig, or lamb to butcher and eat…it’s the same thing. I just can’t “know” them.

As a kid, I helped every spring when we butchered chickens. I would grab their legs and swiftly chop off their heads, allowing us to actually see the phrase “running around like a chicken with its head cut off.”

But now, I can’t even fathom the thought.

I fully appreciate our friends who are able to mentally separate pets from animals for food consumption. I’m very thankful for them because I want to eat local food and although we eat a heavy non-meat diet, we both enjoy meat. I just can’t be a part of it. It’s ridiculous, I know. And, I am gradually trying. BUT, I’m not there yet.

I met our pigs a couple times, when we dropped off buckets of apricots and apples. Man, they are messy creatures. I know these pigs lived happy and healthy lives up until the very end. They were loved during their lives and dispatched quickly. Yet, I avoided the carcasses suspended from our garage rafters.

I need to get there, though, because eating local is a target goal for us. Just like the vegetables we grow, we know what these pigs ate and we know they weren’t pumped full of antibiotics and who knows what else. They weren’t kept in tiny pens. They played in their water hole and soaked in the summer sun.

We don’t eat a large quantity of meat, but what we do eat has extraordinary flavor…a result of being raised locally on good food and love. These two furry beasts have filled our freezer as well as my parents’ freezer with so much food. We have pork chops, ribs, roasts, tenderloins, pork cheeks, bacon, ham, ground pork, brats, various sausages, and breakfast sausage.

This year, in an attempt to respect the life they gave and use as much of each animal as possible, we made lard. My Grandma Bouchie always used lard. Sometimes, maybe she shouldn’t have. When she fried up apple fritters, for example. That little background piggy flavor sort of detracted from the yummy fritters, made using apples from their orchard just down the road.

It was fun to render lard, though. And, it turned out so nicely. We’ve been using it for everything from frying eggs to sauteing vegetables. No apple fritters, though. I know better.

The process is really easy. Add a little water, 1/4 cup should work, to a crock pot. Fill with cold, ground pig fat. Turn on low, cover, and cook for an hour. Stir and then cook for another hour or so. At this point, the lard will have separated from the remaining pork bits. Strain through cheesecloth into clean jars and refrigerate. Don’t toss the leftover porky bits. Those tasty bits fried until crisp are excellent in tacos, on top of salads, or scrambled with eggs. Enjoy.

lard_start

Top: cold pig fat Bottom: after 1 hour on low

lard_03

Remaining pork bits after straining through cheesecloth.

Left: warm lard Right: cooled lard

Left: warm lard
Right: cooled lard

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The First Trip – Last Day in Malaga, Spain

Click here, if you’d like to read from the beginning of this trip.

When you get down to the last couple days, in this case day and a half, you want to squeeze everything in to the remaining time. We arrived back in Malaga for a short stay before flying back to the States. We loved El Riad so much, we reserved a room before we left the week prior.

Back in the, now familiar, city of Malaga we wandered to our favorite spots. A final stroll through the Mercado Central to pick up some marcona almonds and dried apricots to savor once back home. A walk to the base of Castillo de Gibralfaro. The hike back up would be reserved for a future visit. Wandering around the base, we saw some leisurely feral cats. They are loved by the locals and visitors alike, and fed by some of the more generous fishermen.

catonsteps

cats

An enjoyable lunch of beer, jamón, mahón cheese, and a superb dish of warm shrimp with fresh artichoke hearts. A standout amid a sea of remarkable food we devoured throughout the trip.

victoria_beer

victoria_jamon

victoria_artichokes

That evening, we visited El Tapeo de Cervantes again for dinner. Our selection for the evening included: 1) Melted provolone topped with tomato confit and arugula, 2) Flamenquin, 3) Grilled chipirones (squid) with sauteed spinach, 4) Carrillada (braised pork cheek), 5) Empanadas (these are damn delicious, every time), 6) Smoked salmon and cream cheese atop potato slices, and 7) Sliced sweet potatoes topped with blood sausage, quail eggs, and tomato relish. Amazing food.

Our last day ended up being decidedly lax, and we loved every moment. Most of the day focused around the beach. Dipping our toes in the cool water, searching for shells in the sand, sipping chilled cava while listening to the gently crashing waves, and watching the sun slowly set as we sat together near the shore.

Spain. We adore you. We’ll be back as soon as possible.

nightphotos

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The First Trip – Cadiz, Spain

Click here, if you’d like to read from the beginning of this trip.

From Sevilla we traveled by train to the beautiful coastal city of Cadiz. Some believe Cadiz to be the oldest European city, established by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC. We adore it not only for its history, but also because it has a laid back beachy vibe.

We checked into a top floor room of the Hotel Patagonia Sur. A bit more than we’d spent on other lodging, but very worth it for the lovely room, amazing shower AND full-size tub, large terrace, and wonderful view of the cathedral. (On our trip back to Cadiz in 2016, we rented an AirBnB and I would HIGHLY recommend that apartment to anyone going.)

cadiz_cathedralnight

Staying in the “old city” allowed us to walk everywhere we wanted. So, after watching the jaw dropping sunset, we meandered to Mesón Cumbres Mayores for dinner. While sitting at the marble bar sipping some local crianza, we gazed around the restaurant taking in the dozens of hanging jamón.

We enjoyed some classic Spanish tapas including Carrillada (braised pork cheeks…pictured below), Albondigas (meatballs) in a pepper sauce, Flamenquin (pork, jamón, & cheese wrapped together and fried…also pictured below), Iberico pork, and mini Chorizo.

cadiz_carrillada

cadiz_flamenquin

The next morning we woke up ready to explore the city and its food. First things first…coffee. We leisurely sipped our coffee at a table across from the cathedral while a tiny little dog watched over us from his terrace above.

cadiz_bazarcoffee

cadiz_bazardog

We strolled over to Mercado Central de Abastos, the popular open air market. This delightful spot is filled with meat, fish, and vegetable vendors and dotted with a few food vendors. (As a side note, we visited again in 2016 and the number of food vendors had increased exponentially. It is now the place to be on Saturday afternoon. Filled with people, amazing smells, and even better drink and food!)

cadiz_marketmatt

cadiz_marketfishcadiz_marketveg

We stopped for some cheese and wine at 360 Queso. Our two glasses of wine and cheese set us back a super reasonable 5,50 Euro.

cadiz_marketcheeseshop

cadiz_marketcheese

Our bellies happy for the moment, we sauntered toward the coast. The beach is empty during winter months, so us being there in January meant we had it entirely to ourselves. Too cold to swim, but ideal for scouring the sand for shells and sea glass while also taking in a little sand art. Christmas is a really important holiday in Spain, so sand art celebrating the season is fairly common. Each sand creation generally has a “tip” jar located near the front where you can toss in a euro or two.

cadiz_sandart

cadiz_beach

Ready for lunch, we headed back into the heart of the old city to La Nueva del Puerto. We didn’t know it at the time, but this meal would include two items we covet to this day. Along with our beer and complimentary olives, we ordered  shrimp and octopus ceviche and their daily feature, Carrillada con Garbanzos. It was a bright, old school bar of sorts. While we devoured the citrus soaked ceviche, we watched fishermen sell their daily catch to the bartender through a little pass-through window. The carrillada was incredible. Unbelievably tender pork cheeks stewed with garbanzo beans to create a thick, rich sauce. Out of this world. (Another side note…we went back in 2016. I was a little nervous, wondering if it could be as good as the first time. We’ll never know because in 2015 it was sold and reopened by another person. The food is still darn good, just different.)

cadiz_ceviche_carrillada

To get us through the day, we took a little siesta after lunch. By early evening we were ready for our last stroll along the ocean and final dinner in Cadiz.

cadiz_bay

Our last dinner in Cadiz was spent at Meson de Las Americas, a darkly lit space with brick walls and a large wooden bar. My favorite was the grilled provolone cheese, but we also enjoyed Mollejas (calf sweetbreads), duck, empanadas, hake salsa verde, and grilled squid. After a bottle of 2006 Ribera, we drifted slowly back to our hotel for a short night’s sleep before catching an early train back to Malaga. Don’t worry, Cadiz, we will be back.

cadiz_provolone

The First Trip – Last Day in Malaga, Spain

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In Season: What we’re doing with Beets

Beet

Beets. They’re like cilantro. You either love them or hate them. Matt loves them. Until fairly recently, probably 5 years ago, I was in the other category. The dish that changed my opinion was Matt’s beet salad, probably because it included one of my favorite things, goat cheese. I have personally witnessed a handful of people who have become beet converts because of this salad.

After that salad, I was on board. Beet and beet green risotto? Yes please. Raw beets in salads? Of course. Beet chips? Definitely!

Don’t just think beets have to be the dark red basic you grew up with. Golden beets are absolutely gorgeous and Chioggia beets are red and white striped! Also, play around with various sizes. Tiny beets mixed with chunks of larger beets add fun diversity.

And don’t you dare toss those greens! We would have used greens in the salad below, but we had already cooked them earlier this week with some Swiss chard and kale when we made a beef roast on Sunday.

RoastedBeets

Roasting beets is super easy. Simply wash and cut off the greens. Wrap large beets individually in foil. If you have tiny beets, they can share a foil packet. I add a few drops of water to allow them to steam a little bit. Put them in a 375 degree oven and start checking after 30-40 minutes. A knife should very easily slide into the beet. Let them cool completely and then, wearing gloves if you’d like, rub off the skin. Do this on Sunday and eat the beets throughout the week.

BeetSalad_Salmon

Beet & Goat Cheese Salad
* serves 2

Ingredients:

  • 3 large roasted beets and a handful of tiny roasted beets
  • 1 orange, segmented – membrane squeezed, reserve juice
  • 6 leaves escarole, chopped (you can use beet greens or spinach if you wish)
  • 2 handfuls toasted walnuts
  • 3 oz goat cheese
  • Salt & pepper
  • Olive oil
  • White wine vinegar

Directions:

  1. Place orange segments, orange juice, escarole, walnuts, and goat cheese in a bowl. Season with salt & pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and white wine vinegar. Taste and adjust to your liking.
  2. Stir in beets and serve. – We served our salad with pan-seared salmon and it was amazing!
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