Monday, June 8, 2009

Market Cooking for a Crowd: Early Summer

Hello!  After hauling my tired body out of bed at 5:15 am (!) last Saturday to volunteer at the MFM, I have a fresh new perspective on this Kitchn post on strategically planning your market visit.  Not that a little wandering, poking, tasting and general meandering aren't excellent ways to spend a Saturday morning.  But having seen the astounding array of produce available at 7 am that was long gone by 10 (purple cauliflower!  red carrots!  squash blossoms!  chiogga beets!), tip #1 (Go Early) is even more sage.  And tip #2 (Visit the Same Vendors) is smart in more ways than one--aside from the touchy-feely aspect of bonding with your farmers (I sound cynical, but I am really such a softy on this one; I look forward to chatting with Van Cheeseman every weekend), the farmers who know you are loyal to their produce will often give you a small discount.  It's nice to have the appreciation go around.

And a note on tip #5 (essentially, don't buy resale):  the MFM is all actual farmers and craftspeople.  There are no resale vendors.  Everyone you meet was involved in caring for your food!

Saturday night was my turn to cook for a crowd.  Some friends and I have an informal supper club (more like a "Hey!  we're all in grad school/have jobs/don't get to see each other much, so let's eat and play games!" club) once a week, and my number came up.  Admittedly, this is a food-related area of my life where ethics sometimes cede to practicality:  attendance at weekend dinners can range anywhere from 3-8, and though I would love to serve my friends grass-fed, free-range, organic chicken, the student budget doesn't really permit it.  So I compromise; I do what I can.  I try to plan meals that showcase local vegetables instead of meat, because, although I am not a vegetarian, I wholeheartedly think meat on the table should be a treat, not a given.  

This weekend, I was pretty pleased with the menu I came up with:  a thyme, goat cheese, onion and shiitake mushroom frittata (which Je Mange La Ville does better than I ever could here) over a green salad with a light vinaigrette, sausage and sweet potato salad and some fluffy cream biscuits.  Oh yeah, and somebody else brought the dessert :)

No pictures of the whole thing.  Well, what would YOU do if, right before a dinner party, someone shrieked "Nobody eats til I take a picture!"

Sausage and Sweet Potato Salad
Very loosely adapted from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver and This Organic Life by Joan Dye Gussow (both fabulous, hunger-inducing reads)

As many sweet potatoes as necessary (3 large ones fed 3 hungry people) (Dodson Farms seems to have sweets year-round; check them out!)
As much sausage as necessary (I had 1 link of West Wind Farm's delicious pork sage sausage)
olive oil
red wine vinegar
salt, pepper, and dried basil

Peel and cut up the sweet potatoes into uniform chunks.  

Place on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Roast in a 400 degree oven until they brown (about 20 minutes).

In the meantime, cook your sausage and cut it up into small pieces

Combine the roasted sweet potatoes with a little more olive oil and red wine vinegar (a 3-1 ratio is usually safe).  Salt, pepper and basil 'em to taste, then mix in the sausage.  I made this beforehand and reheated it before dinner, which worked well.

Cream Biscuits
From The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

No pictures of the process, but I wanted to share the recipe because it's super easy and the biscuits are incredibly light and fluffy.  I ate the leftover ones split and toasted, with butter and Jones Orchard jam, for breakfast.  They would also be good as biscuits-and-gravy or topped with soft, juicy, cut-up fruit.

1 1/2 cups AP flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 tsp sugar (optional)
2 tsp baking powder
6 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup heavy cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Stir together the first four ingredients, then cut in the butter.  Work the butter and dry ingredients together with your fingers until they are the size of small peas.  Lightly stir in the cream with a fork until the mixture just comes together.  Without overworking it, lightly knead the dough a couple of times in the bowl, turn it out onto a lightly floured board, and roll out about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut into circles with a drinking glass.

Place the biscuits on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (I didn't have any and mine were a little, um, crispy on the bottom) and lightly brush the tops with a little more cream.  Bake for 17 minutes or until cooked through and golden.

Finally, I want to plug my friend Jessica's blog.  Aside from being one of the coolest, most with-it, and generally smarty-pantsiest gals I know, Jessica is a hugely engaging writer who is currently blogging (among other things) about her internship this summer working with the federal government on irradiated food studies.  It's pretty interesting stuff, and probably an area of mystery to many (including myself), so check her out!

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