Rocking the raspberries

Stop. Berry time.
My raspberry canes achieved critical mass last weekend, and I was ready to attempt the 2011 vintage Peterson raspberry jam.  I was no fool, oh, no; I wouldn’t be attempting the same no-pectin recipe again that foiled me two years in a row. This time, I was making a raspberry jam recipe with liquid pectin. 
At this point, the jam-making process seems pretty simple to me.  The project took less than two hours on a weekend morning. 

I opened the inaugural jar a couple of days later at work – holding it sideways, the jam kept its shape. So far, so good.

Slathered all over a buttery croissant from St. Paul’s Trung Nam bakery, the jam was amazing.  It was more loosely set than jams I’d made using powdered pectin, but I thought the consistency was just perfect.

Finally, I’d gotten it right on the first try.  I practically burst from happiness and pride. Immediately this song popped into my head.

Right about now, funk soul brother, check it out now, I’d rocked those raspberries.  Awww, yeah.

***

After that excitement subsided, I still had about a million raspberries left to eat.  That’s after the million that I’d frozen.

So, first I made raspberry custard cups, a recipe which my friend Kelli had suggested on my Green Your Plate Facebook page. I didn’t quite achieve a creme brulee crust on the custard, but it was still silky and rich.

Then I topped my morning oatmeal with fresh raspberries, along with some chopped pecans.  

I threw frozen berries into lemonade and shouted, “smiles, everyone, smiles!”  

(Actually, I was on the deck outside my office at work grandly gesticulating with my glasses of raspberry lemonade and my colleague standing on the driveway below asked if I’d started drinking.  LOL, right, like I can do that and still scrutinize spreadsheets?? ;-) Best to save the vodka for another time.)

The raspberries did look pretty in the lemonade, though I’d suggest smashing the berries against the side of the glass to release the flavor; or better yet, smash the berries outside the glass, strain the juice and add it back to the lemonade.

Then I ate more fresh berries, accompanied by vanilla almond granola and Greek yogurt.

Even with all of this, there were still more berries to pick at home.  Can’t…eat…more…berries…
Finally, I started giving them away to neighbors.  
Smiles, everyone, smiles!
***
Raspberry Jam
(Adapted from the Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving.  Makes 7-8 half pints. )
Ingredients:
1 quart crushed red raspberries (from about 8 cups fresh raspberries)
6 1/2 cups sugar
1 pouch liquid pectin
Instructions:
Crush raspberries and mix them with the sugar in a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves; then add the liquid pectin.  Bring to a rolling boil and boil hard for 1 minute. 
Remove from heat, skim foam, and ladle the hot jam into hot jars.  Add the lids and return to the canner.  Replace the canner lid, bring the water to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and let the jars sit in the water for five minutes, then take them out of the water to cool completely.  

IN SEASON: Swiss chard

Swiss chard is a highly perishable green which I’ve usually only found in the organic department of grocery stores or at farmers markets.  The flavor is best when it’s freshly picked. 
Peak season for Swiss chard is from June through August, but you can often find it at local farmers markets into the fall as well.

Like other greens, Swiss chard is packed with beneficial nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E and K, calcium, iron, manganese, potassium and beta carotein.  The younger baby leaves can be eaten raw, but Swiss chard is most often cooked.

Swiss chard comes from the same plant family as beets and spinach.  The leaves are darker and thicker textured than spinach, with veining and stalks colored red, orange, yellow or white, depending on the variety.  Multi-colored bundles are called rainbow chard.  Most people just eat the leaves and discard the stems, but the stalks are edible.   The stalk takes longer to cook than the leaves and is cooked separately.

Swiss chard’s flavor is slightly more bitter than spinach, but mellows with cooking; this green can often be substituted for spinach or kale in recipes.  Often you will see instructions to blanch the greens before sauteeing them, to release the bitterness in this green.

The stems can be sauteed, steamed and braised.  Like other greens, Swiss chard can be served on its own or easily incorporated into soups, stews, egg dishes, and gratins.

Besides the braised greens tacos that I featured on this blog earlier this summer, here are some other recipe ideas for Swiss chard:

Sauteed Swiss chard (Simply Recipes)
Creamed chard and spring onions (Smitten Kitchen)
Chard with white beans and fresh herbs (Kate in the Kitchen)
Swiss chard with caramelized onions, pine nuts and sultanas (A Good Appetite)
Swiss chard quiche and sweet potato hash (Cafe Cyan)
Curried red lentil stew with Swiss chard (Jen and Co.)
Crepes with crispy potatoes, greens and creme fraiche (Fresh Tart)
Farfalle with golden beets, greens, goat cheese and pine nuts (Green Your Plate)
Swiss chard and chickpea minestrone (New York Times)
Baked Swiss chard stems with olive oil and parmesan (Kalyn’s Kitchen)
Chard stems with sesame-yogurt sauce and black sesame seeds (Deborah Madison via Culinate)

Do you cook with Swiss chard?  What do you like to do with it?

A midseason market check in

Confession: we haven’t been cooking from scratch much in our house lately.  A shift in my summer work hours threw our dinner times into a tailspin, and combined with all of my weekend jam projects + camping + special summer events + the heat wave, it seemed like I hadn’t cooked a real meal nor been to a farmers market in weeks.  
That was, until this weekend.  I hit three local farmers markets – the Minneapolis Farmers Market, the Mill City Farmers Market and the Kingfield Market  - to see what’s in season now and to chow.  
***
I feel for local farmers, farmers markets and food trucks here in Minnesota this season; the schizophrenic weather has dealt one blow after another.  First, we had a long, unseasonably cool, wet spring, with rainy days inevitably falling on the weekends – the prime time for farmers markets.  Then there have been brief spikes of massive heat waves with temps hovering around 100 degrees, interspersed with severe thunderstorms, high winds and unpredictable weather shifts from hour to hour.  
This weather has made farming challenging, and bad weather on the weekends leads to fewer shoppers showing up at the markets.  Then the vendors have to weather the elements themselves during the long market days.  It’s got to be frustrating for them.  
This weekend was no different.  Just as I pulled in to the Minneapolis Farmers Market early Saturday morning, the skies darkened and the winds kicked up.  Air whooshed through the market, causing vendors to scramble to secure their tablecloths and the foods on display. It started pouring rain and the light grew dim, causing the overhead lights to kick on.  
But the show must go on.  The vendors seemed unfazed and kept on selling their foods. Since I was last at the market, cool season crops like spinach have disappeared and the more familiar summer vegetables are now available – zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, potatoes, beets, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, cucumbers, etc., along with local raspberries.  
There were also numerous greens including Swiss chard, kale, collards, bok choy and Asian mustard greens, though some of them were looking a bit ragged. A vendor told me that her Swiss chard had been torn up by the hail we experienced during yet another severe thunderstorm earlier in the week.  
I debated about picking up some greens or beets, two items I’m still working on liking.  But I wasn’t up for a cooking challenge this week so I picked up the old standards.  It’s so nice to have ingredients that you don’t have to puzzle over how to use.  And when produce is at its peak, there’s little you need to do to make it shine. Time for dinner cruise control.  

 

I picked up green beans, zucchini, squash, new potatoes, carrots, radishes, lettuces, garlic, chives, and a slew of meats from Bar 5 – flank steak for fajitas, beef bacon, whole cut-up chicken for grilled BBQ chicken, ground pork for Szechuan pork noodles and pork chops.  We’ve been really happy with the quality of meat from Bar 5, and that’s why I keep going back to them.

***
I decided to swing by the Mill City Farmers Market in downtown Minneapolis since it was so close by and Chef Shack plus Sunshine Harvest Farm were calling my name.  My jaw dropped when I arrived to find the plaza almost empty – most of the vendors had packed up and left. Just because of the rain?, I wondered.
Then I heard about what had happened. Thirty minutes prior, as the storm rolled through, the winds suddenly whipped up.  Some plaza stall canopies were blown off, tent poles were sent flying, produce was swept off display tables (and some tables were overturned), items were knocked to the ground and shattered.  Scary stuff.  Fortunately nobody was hurt, but most plaza vendors left for the day after that happened.  
But Chef Shack stuck it out, the shed vendors carried on, and wouldn’t you know it, within an hour or so, the sunshine was blazing bright and hot again.  Go figure.
***
I had wanted to check whether Sunshine Harvest Farm carried a particular item and I knew they were at the Kingfield Farmers Market in south Minneapolis on Sundays so I headed down there the next morning with my kids in tow. It was a brilliant sunny day, the kind that you wish every summer day could be.  

My fridge was already stuffed to the gills with farmers market produce from the previous day, so we were more at the market for something good to eat.  I’d never visited this market before, but I liked what I saw.

I couldn’t resist this pastry when I saw it at the Bogart Loves Bakery stand.

Once I had my pre-meal dessert, it was time for something healthier – a sandwich from Sun Street Breads fit the bill. Stuffed full of fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, basil and feta cheese on a crusty baguette, it was the perfect thing to karmically cancel out my doughnut.

The kids chose a very balanced lunch for themselves from the Crema Cafe stand – organic mango sorbet [fruit] for my daughter, and frozen hot chocolate ice cream [dairy] for my son. I guess you could argue that the sugar cone contributed nutritionally too [grain].
 
That night, we finally had a real meal, sourced from the farmers market haul.  
Good eats this weekend!

Did you visit a farmers market this past weekend?  What did you pick up, and what will you cook?

Upcoming local sustainable food events

As Minnesotans emerge from their air-conditioned bunkers this week, we scratch our heads and wonder, where has this summer gone?  Or at least I’m wondering that.  Because our warm season is so short, I love to pack things in and do all that I can. But when I see these flowers bloom in my yard, it’s a sign that summer is past the midpoint.

What to do to make the most of the remaining time we have?

Besides the upcoming Eat Local Challenge in August, the next four weeks are brimming with special food-related events for people living in the Twin Cities metro area.  These events run the gamut, with appeal for farm lovers, local, sustainable foods supporters and foodies alike.

Eat Local Farm TourSaturday, July 30th, assorted times and locations outside the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, MN - Sponsored by Twin Cities area co-ops, this is your chance to do self-guided farm tours in four different circuits and learn more about where your food comes from.  Eleven local farms are participating in this farm tour, including Cedar Summit Farm, Riverbend Farm,  Gardens of Eagan, Shepherd’s Way Farms and Thousand Hills Cattle Co.  Cost is free.

Kickapoo Country FairSaturday, July 30th, 10:00 am – 10:00 pm, La Farge, WI – Billed as the Midwest’s largest organic food and sustainability festival, this family-friendly Organic Valley sponsored event features keynote speakers Will Allen of Growing Power and Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods, plus tours of Organic Valley Farms, cooking demonstrations, theater, live music, kids activities and more.  Cost is only $5 for adults, $2 for kids age 6-12 and free for kids five and under.

Good Food Fundraiser  - Sunday, July 31st, 6:00 – 9:00 pm, Alexis Bailly Vineyard, Hastings, MN – a fundraiser to benefit Restoring the Countryside and the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota, this event includes sustainable foods from Twin Cities restaurants 128 Cafe, Birchwood Cafe, Nosh, and Green Ox Foods; wine from Alexis Bailly, beer from Harriet Brewing and local soda from Spring Grove Soda Pop; plus live music. Attend as a Supporter at $50, or a Sustainer at $100.

Bike and BiteSaturday, August 13th, 10:00 am – 2:00 pm, So. Minneapolis, MN -  a local, sustainable food event coordinated by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP), this “go at your own pace” bike route features stops at Birchwood Cafe, Bread & Pickle, Common Roots Cafe, Midtown Farmers Market and Crema Cafe among others, and culminates in a gathering overlooking IATP’s vegetable garden.  Cost is $10 for bike ride only, $20 for ride+t-shirt, $25 for ride+tshirt+IATP donation.  Today is the last day that you can register and be guaranteed a t-shirt.

Celebrity Chef Tour / Tour de FarmSunday, August 21st, 4:00 pm, Star Prairie Trout Farm, Star Prairie, WI – a farm dinner / James Beard Foundation benefit on-site at local fishery Star Prairie Trout Farm with a stellar chef line-up that includes sustainable seafood guru Barton Seaver; Tim McKee from La Belle Vie; and Scott Pampuch from Tour de Farm; plus Dara Moskowitz-Grumdahl as sommelier and Andrew Zimmern as special guest. This is the first time that the Beard Foundation is coming to a farm.  Cost is $175 all inclusive, or $125 all-inclusive if you’re a VISA Signature cardholder.

Wow, so many great things happening! I guess I can wait to sleep until September.

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Raspberry riot

My raspberry canes just keep on keeping on; this heat wave we’re enduring here in Minneapolis doesn’t faze them one bit.   I share the story behind the raspberry canes and my raspberry wrestling over on the Eat Local America site today.
With a heat index of 118 degrees yesterday and a dew point of 84, I couldn’t stand the thought of making more jam.  Or cooking anything, really.  It took all my energy to don my breathing apparatus and swim through the air to pick the quickly ripening berries.  
Fresh, ripe raspberries are highly perishable, and it’s recommended to use them within 1-2 days of picking.  So, these babies are destined for the freezer.  I feel like climbing in along with them.


For the experienced jam-makers out there:  Is there any flavor difference between jam made with fresh berries and jam made with frozen berries?  

For the rest of you:  What do you make with frozen raspberries besides jam and smoothies?
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