Lovely Saturdays

I brought a visitor to market with me this weekend – my Mom! My parents were visiting and I showed my mom around downtown.  She loved it! It makes me really happy to share the places I love with the people I love. The weather was a little dreary but we still had a great time walking around.

I had a great Saturday last weekend as well… I have been feeling like this lately:

*letter pressed post card created by Moxie House and available at FIG Central.

Let me tell you about last weekend…

Last Saturday I went down to Central Market as usual. My intent was just to run down and get some veggies, make my way home and get some house work done. Instead I ended up spending all afternoon downtown enjoyably wasting the day.

The day started off pretty gloomy and rainy. By the time I was ready to leave the house it started clearing up so I decided to take my chances and walk downtown. It turned out to be a beautiful day! The sun came out – it felt so good! We have been having so many rainy days lately it was nice to be outside as the summer days are turning into fall.

I wandered in and out of a few shops along King and Queen Streets. I stopped in Fig central and Party Perfect, Zanzibar, Festoon and a few more places. I like to go in and out of the downtown shops from time to time just to see what’s new. I usually don’t end up buying much but it’s pretty fun to look at all of the odds and ends that are hidden inside.

Market was hustling and bustling. All the vegetables are starting to change. The bounty of summer is becoming the harvest of fall. Which is ok with me, it just means warm comfort foods will start being made in my kitchen. For a few short market days, you can get the last of the summer veggies and the first of the fall veggies at the same time.

I bought my last box of local multicolored cherry tomatoes last week, along with my last bunches of local basil with giant leaves. I didn’t find any of them at market this week. I am sad to say good-bye to some of my favorite ingredients but happy to start buying squashes again.

There is a pepper boom right now. Everyone has homegrown peppers. One thing that I love about the homegrown peppers around here is that they are always a mixture of colors. The yellow peppers are always yellow and green, the red and red and green, and the green are green and purple! Peppers are also really cheap right now (3 for $1!) so I bought a bunch and decided that I am going to make stuffed peppers this week.

I made a very welcomed discovery while inside market… there is a stand that carries local garlic! I can’t believe I haven’t noticed it until now. I always wanted a steady source of local garlic at central market. Occasionally, the Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative carries local garlic, but it sells out quickly and it’s not there all the time. I was really happy to find that Rafiki’s Deli had a special table dedicated to garlic from Promised Land Farms.

I chose to two varieties to try: Artichoke and Siberian. They are both really fragrant. I definitely notice a difference between the local garlic and the varieties imported from California and China. There is so much more flavor! One thing I can not understand is why we import garlic from so far away – It seems really silly when you think about how much it must cost to ship it that far.

I was meeting Janeen for lunch and I decided to wait outside for her since the sun was shining. I sat looking at market alley wishing that someone would put some tables out there…

They already block off the entrance so cars can’t drive down here. And what a prefect place for tables! You would be able to get food inside of market and sit outside, enjoying your lunch in the fresh air. It would be awesome! A restaurant could even take over that area. I would love to have a good lunch with a lunch-time beer outside.

We had lunch at Spring House Brewery’s TapRoom. Which is inside, but there are a lot of big windows so at least it was sunny and bright.

We tried the Mango IPA and Braaaiiins (pumpkin ale). The mango IPA was fruity but not too sweet. I thought it was going to be too flavored for me but it was delicious, a really nicely balanced fruit beer.

I always like a good pumpkin ale, so I was hoping Braaaiiins was a good one. Spring House’s version of pumpkin beer tasted like pumpkin pie, nice and spicy with a hint of nutmeg. Not my favorite pumpkin beer (more on that one at a later date), but I have to say, Braaaiiins is pretty solid. It will probably be my beer of choice whenever I go into the TapRoom this month.

This was my first time eating lunch at the TapRoom. I’ve had a few bar snacks there at night like the pulled pork quesadilla. I was never disappointed with the bar food so I assumed lunch would be pretty good. I had the split pea and ham soup and a garden salad. Both were good and the basil balsamic dressing on the salad was excellent.

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Visit The Brinery!

If you live in NYC or are visiting the Big Apple this week I think Bowery Whole Foods is the place to be tomorrow night (Thursday, Sept 13th, 2011). I totally read that wrong, it was tonight. Please excuse me, I work with middle school children all day, I am exhausted by night time.

Well… I would visit there anyway. I am most definitely going to check it out next time I go to NYC.

They are opening a new specialty department called The Brinery – a whole department dedicated to all things pickled! They are having tastings of pickles, cheese and beer at the opening event.

One of my favorite pickle vendors, McClure’s will be featured in the tastings. They make great garlic and dill and spicy pickles. They also make potato chips (which I have not tried yet but I have read awesome reviews) and my favorite Bloody Mary Mixer made with their spicy pickle brine.

Here’s one I mixed up… I put a pickle in it along with my celery for an extra salty garnish.

Here’s how I mix my Bloody Mary:

McClure’s Bloody Mary  Mixer

Lime juice (from half a large lime)

dash of Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp of horseradish

1 shot of good quality vodka (I like Rain Organics Vodka)

Put it all in a cocktail shaker, shake it up and pour over ice, garnish with a pickle and a stalk of celery.

I have been a little obsessed with pickling in the past few months… I have pickled all kind of vegetables this summer. I have tried making my own pickles out of several types of cucumbers, with success! Other veggies I have been successful with include: okra, carrots, yellow beans, green beans, onions, and asparagus! Look for a new blog post for a recipe and pictures of all my pickled veggie adventures.

Leftovers! Couscous

I asked Dan to take chicken out of the freezer during the day so it could defrost by the time I got home from work. I wanted to make barbecue chicken on the grill but that required a bunch of pieces of bone-in chicken thighs and legs. Dan only took out two small boneless skinless chicken thighs. Oops, I probably should have been more specific about the chicken…

So what was I going to make for dinner now?

I had about 1 1/2 cups of cooked couscous left over from my summer fish in a pouch.

I also had some nice big peppers from market. They are in season right now and they are really cheap! I decided to make stuffed peppers with chicken and couscous filling.

Here how to do it:

Couscous Stuffed Peppers

1 1/2 – 2 cups cooked couscous (I used my lemon parsley left over couscous but you could use any kind you have)

1 medium yellow squash

1/2 small red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup chicken stock

4 plum tomatoes, chopped

2 boneless skinless chicken thighs

handful of basil leaves, chopped

4 large peppers (any color)

Cut the tops off the peppers, remove the seeds and place them in a 9×9 inch baking dish.

Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper on both sides. Coat a deep saute pan with olive oil and saute the chicken thighs until a nice golden crust forms – don’t remove all of the excess fat from the thighs, you want a little bit to render in the pan to give it a deeper flavor.

Saute the onion and garlic with the chicken for about two minutes. Add 1/2 cup of chicken stock to the pan – the chicken stock will help you deglaze the pan – so scrape up all those good little brown bits, they have lots of flavor in them!

Add the tomatoes into the pan, season with salt and pepper and cover. Bring the mixture up to a bubble and cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Pull out the chicken thighs and shred them.

Small dice your yellow squash and mix it into the left over couscous. Make sure you break up the couscous because sometimes is gets clumped together in the refrigerator.

Mix the chicken, basil, and the tomato mixture into the couscous. divide the mixture and spoon it into each of the peppers. You may have to push down and mound it in the peppers. Use it all! It’s ok if the peppers are overflowing.

Pour the other 1/2 cup chicken stock into the bottom of the baking dish. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the tops of the mounds of couscous. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

The couscous filling won’t look that much different once it is baked, but the peppers will be soft and juicy. The chicken stock that we added to the bottom of the dish before baking keeps everything nice and moist.

This is a great all in one dinner, no sides needed… and you used your leftovers!

Summer Fish in a pouch

Sometimes I plan all my dinners for the week and sometimes I don’t. I usually don’t plan meals in the summer because I can run to market or to the grocery store whenever I want. Last week it was back to reality for me, back to school, and back to coming home later that I would like. I wanted to make a good dinner but I didn’t get any kind of protein this week at market or the grocery store, and I didn’t plan enough ahead to take something out of the freezer. So I stopped and picked up a piece of fish at Mr. Bill’s Seafood Tuesday night.

I chose flounder for dinner because it looked really fresh and it just came into the shop. The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch said it was a good alternative to other options I had that day.

The Monterey Bay Seafood Watch has an app that you can download onto your smart phone. It lists fish that are best choices (that are caught/raised in a sustainable way), good alternatives (not the best choice but better than others), and ones to avoid (caught/raised in ways that are not good for the environment). It is pretty convenient and it only takes a minute to look up your choices while you are standing at the seafood counter. I think a lot about the sources of my beef, pork, and chicken. I try to get them from places like Country Meadows Farms that has free range chicken and grass feed beef. The seafood app helps me make healthy choices when getting seafood too.

Now I had a start to planning dinner! I started with the fish and checked out what kind of veggies I had in the refrigerator at home.

Here’s the veggies I had stocked up on:

One tomatillo, a yellow squash, small red onions, a bunch of plum tomatoes, some yellow heirloom tomatoes, parsley and cilantro.

How will I combine these veggies with my fish to make an awesome dinner? I am going to build a pouch pocket of freshness and bake it in the oven. Then, I will serve it atop couscous!

Here’s how it’s done…

Summer Fish in a Pouch:

1 tomatillo, small diced

6 red plum tomatoes, small diced

2 yellow plum tomatoes, small diced

1 small red onion, sliced thin

a hand full of flat leaf parsley and cilantro, chopped

1 medium-sized yellow squash, sliced thin

3/4 lb flaky white fish (I used flounder, but you can use any flaky white fish)

You’ll need to heat your oven to 350 degrees, and take out a baking sheet and parchment paper.

Fold the parchment paper in half and then cut it into an elongated oval/heart shape that is about four inches larger than the piece of fish. You want to be able to stuff the parchment with the veggies and fish and then be able to fold over the edges and twist the ends to make a pouch. It helps to cut the ends a little longer so you can twist them closed. Make sure you check out your fish first so you don’t cut the parchment too short (like I did the first time!).

Layer half of the tomatoes, half of the tomatillo, half of the onion,and one-third of the herbs on the bottom on the parchment paper. Form the layer to the shape of your piece of fish and drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Season your fish on both sides with salt and pepper and rub with olive oil. Lay your piece of fish on top of the bed of tomatoes, onions and herbs.

Layer the rest of the tomatoes, tomatillos, onions, and another third of the herbs on top of the fish, season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil again.

Place the slices of squash on top of your tomato layer and season with salt and pepper. Cover the squash with the remaining herbs and drizzle a little more olive oil on top.

You are now ready to close your pouch. Fold the empty half of parchment over to cover your fish and veggies. Begin to fold and roll the two edges together, forming a pouch. Twist the ends together and tuck them under the pouch so that it doesn’t open up in the oven.

Bake your pouch in the oven (at 350 degrees) for 30 minutes. Cooked the fish to 155 degrees, it will come out moist and flaky. To check the temperature, just poke your kitchen thermometer right through the pouch and into the thickest part of the fish.

Here’s what it looks like when you pull it out of the oven. Be careful when opening the pouch! steam has built up inside the parchment and you could burn yourself.

The fish and all the veggies make really yummy juice so it is perfect to serve with couscous or rice.

Here’s how to make couscous that goes great with this dish…

Lemon Parsley Couscous

2 1/2 cups couscous

2 cups chicken stock

1 tbsp. butter

zest and juice of one lemon

hand full of parsley

salt and pepper

Bring the chicken stock to a boil, add in the butter and season it with salt and pepper. Add in the lemon zest and juice.  Pour in the couscous and parsley, cover with a lid and turn off the heat. Just a note* you may have to adjust the amount of liquid in this recipe depending on the brand of couscous you have.

Wait about 5 minutes and fluff the couscous with a fork. Serve the fish and veggies on top of a bowl full of couscous, spoon some of the juice over the whole thing.

A fresh, good-for-you dinner is served.

I had a lot of extra couscous… tomorrow I’ll post how to use the left overs!