Thursday, July 28, 2011

Elizabeth Avenue Farmers Market

The great thing about writing about local food is that people start sending you local food ideas, links and information on other markets. Two weeks ago a friend sent me a message about a newly established small farmers market in the Elizabeth neighborhood just east of Uptown Charlotte. Since I love trying out new markets, I headed out on Saturday to the brand new Elizabeth Avenue Farmers Market.

This market is still small with only about five tents set up when I got there at 8:45am. Vendors right now include flowers, a caterer that sells fresh bread, two traditional farmers’ stands with primarily vegetables, local honey, one meat and one fisher vendor. Not being a huge fish eater myself, I have never sampled the fish seller at Atherton Market but when I got to the Elizabeth market, I decided to take the plunge and get some fish. I spoke to the fisherman, Mr. Stone, for some time about his fish and what made them local. Interestingly, all of the fish he sells are caught by bait and line right off the North Carolina coast (with the exception of his giant scallops and shrimp which are net-caught but still off of NC coast). As fish goes, that’s about as local as you’re going to get in Charlotte. I got some of his beautiful shrimp which I sautéed in lemon, garlic from the Lomax Farm and butter from Simply Local for a nice appetizer later in the day.

Produce highlights include a plethora of tomato varieties at the Herron family tent where I purchased the okra and cucumbers for the Lunch post earlier this week.  Mr. Herron’s wife also grows herbs and does small flower arrangements. The tomatoes have been great by themselves (the cherry variety), on sandwiches (heirloom), and the Roma in a mystery recipe I’m excited to share with you in a week or two.

The market is small for now but will grow with demand.  If you know anyone who lives in east Charlotte, Plaza-Midwood, Eastover or Elizabeth, tell them to check out the Elizabeth Avenue Farmers Market on Saturdays!

Elizabeth Avenue Farmers Market
1521 Elizabeth Ave.
Saturdays 8am – 12pm

Note: Due to a new job that will be taking a lot more of my “free” time, I will have to reduce my posts to once per week for a couple weeks. You can always follow me on Twitter (@CLTLocalEats) to see what I’m doing with local food every day.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Summer Lunch for All

This weekend I volunteered to host a meeting of my triathlon group’s mentor committee which includes about six women who are all very health-conscious. This wouldn’t have been hard had it been dinner but we decided on lunch instead. For some reason, planning a large mid-day meal really stumped me at first because I was worried about cooking a lot of food for healthy people so no huge plates of meats or carbs. So what’s a girl to do?

The answer is head to the Atherton Market whose vendors’ stalls are literally overflowing with color and beautiful ingredients right now. Any reader of this blog knows I’m enamored of the beautiful tomatoes that are in great abundance but there is also okra, peaches, and melons now appearing at the market as well. I also decided to take another stab at mayonnaise which I failed at horribly the first time around. With the help of some great readers’ comments on my previous post, I was able to make amazing olive oil mayo from scratch the day before the lunch which was amazing in the different salads!

Here is the menu I came up with:

  • “Fried” Okra
  • Tomatoes and cucumbers with balsalmic vinegar
  • Egg salad on Nova’s bread
  • Chicken salad on Nova’s bread

Below are the recipes for the egg and chicken salads which were excellent because my guests could choose whether to eat them on bread or by themselves. For both, just chop the protein to your desired size then add the rest of the ingredients and chill for at least one hour. For the okra, just toss chopped okra in beaten eggs then in flour mixture including chili powder, salt and pepper. Then sauté the okra in a frying pan, covered, until brown on all sides.

Egg Salad (v)
6 hard boiled eggs
1 teaspoon mustard
½ cup onion, minced
¼ cup mayo
1 dash curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

Chicken Salad
2 large chicken breast, cooked
¼ cup mayo
¼ cup onions, minced

The eggs and chicken were from Windy Hill Farm, mustard from Simply Local,  and the onions from the Lomax Incubator Farm.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Recipes Part 17: Local Nachos

Regular readers know how I am constantly trying to replace “junk” food with fresh, healthier, local alternatives. We all crave comfort food sometimes and it’s just too easy to go out to Burger King instead of putting together a healthy meal. Luckily, with the diversification of farmers markets and the availability this time of year of some really great produce as well as proteins, making healthy junk food alternatives is only getting easier.

The nachos recipe below is one I threw together one night when craving Mexican food. Since there are only two people in my household, you might want to double the recipe for a bigger group or use this as an appetizer. I started with one pound of ground pork from Windy Hill Farm but you could use any ground meat available at your local market. The onions were from Houston Farms, the tomato from Muddy Boots Farm, cheese from Simply Local’s supplier in Ashe County, NC, and the peppers from the Lomax Incubator Farm. Unfortunately, no one in this area is making tortilla chips yet but one day…

Local Nachos (LPO)
½ lb ground pork
1-2 small sweet onions, diced
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup fresh tomato, diced
2-3 tablespoons diced jalapeños
15-20 large tortilla chips

     1.  Spread chips on a cookie sheet or baking stone
     2.  Sprinkle with cooked ground pork
     3.  Cover with tomatoes, then onions, then cheese and finally jalapenos

     4.  Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until the cheese is melted

Monday, July 11, 2011

Recipes Part 16: Peppers!

If you’re like me, you always thought hot peppers only grew in the southwest or in other countries. I was proved oh so wrong this season by the plethora of peppers at Atherton MarketFork In It (Bell's Best Berries), the Lomax Incubator Farm and Houston Farm have all had them the last couple weeks and they are beautiful. But what do you do with these seasonal gems? Here are two recipes that were suggested to me and were instant hits with guests at a party I threw on Saturday. I bought a combination of poblano peppers from Fork In It and jalapenos from Houston Farms.

Russell's Salsa (V)
Add this to your list of items you will never buy in a jar from the grocery store again because you can make and freeze it easily. The ingredients are easy to find – almost all of it I got at the market this weekend. The tomatoes I got from Houston Farms, onions from the Lomax Incubator Farm, and the corn and cilantro are from Fork In It.

4 medium tomatoes
1 jalapeno pepper
3 small onions
1 ear cooked corn
1 bunch cilantro
1 teaspoon hot sauce (ie Tabasco)
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Using a food processor, blend: 3 tomatoes, pepper, 2 onions and cilantro.
  2. Chop coarsely: remaining tomato, onion and corn.
  3. Combine all and add hot sauce, salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Chill until ready to eat.

Stuffed Peppers (v)
When I first saw peppers crop up at Houston Farms a week or two ago, the farmer suggested that I cut them in half, fill them with cream cheese then bake them. That sounds pretty good but I wanted to make them even more local and hopefully a little healthier. I got Greek-style yogurt from New Terra Farms; goat cheese, pepper jack and extra sharp cheddar from Simply Local; and tomatoes from Houston Farms. I used the different peppers because that’s what was available this week but the great thing is that they range in hotness. I served this as an appetizer and the guests could chose if they wanted a hot or medium pepper. I also used a combination of pepper jack and cheddar cheese because, again, that’s what was available but the variation also meant a range of spice in the dish.

9 peppers of your choice

1 tomato, diced

1 cup Greek-style yogurt
3 tablespoons goat cheese
1 cup shredded cheese of your choice
Cut peppers length-wise and remove seeds and stems. Lay them in a baking dish hollow side up.

     1.  Combine goat cheese and yogurt in a bowl.
     2.  Fill each pepper with 1-2 teaspoons of cheese-yogurt mixture.
     3.  Surround with diced tomatoes.
     4.  Cover with shredded cheese.
     5.  Bake for 20 minutes at 350 or until peppers are easily pierced with a fork

Side story: I can’t cut hot peppers because the juices, and especially the seeds, really irritate my skin. I can eat them just fine but they make my hands feel like they are on fire. I suggest either getting some latex gloves or having someone else cut them if you’re oversensitive!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Quantity versus Quality

I read yesterday that 30% of Americans in nine states are now obese. Not just overweight but obese. This and other facts about how and what we eat really make me think about serving sizes and the quality of food the average person eats. Just take a walk down the grocery store aisle (especially those inner aisles filled with processed foods) and you’ll see what I mean: not only are they filled with calories but the amount of food you buy in each package can be simply ridiculous. The way I see it, we have a two-prong problem: we buy too much food because of the way it’s packaged and the food we buy in bulk is low in quality.

In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t have children and live with just my boyfriend who travels a lot so, on average, I only cook for 1.5 people every day. This means that I have little need for stores like Sam’s Club where you can buy a gallon of peanut butter. But consider for a moment what those stores are telling us: here is a gallon of peanut butter which you should be able to consume before the expiration date. In a way, these stores and the food packaging industry dictate our serving sizes by implying how much of something you should use within a certain amount of time. I think many nutritionists would agree with me that the “servings” that so many foods are sold in are not healthy for the average eater.

Some stores are combating the serving size issue. Whole Foods provides recyclable containers where you can buy certain items by volume instead of by unit and a new company in Austin, TX, In.gredients, is attempting to go completely packaging-free. Then there are those courageous consumers that are attempting to go without plastic packaging altogether all on their own. These efforts are aimed at reducing waste in addition to modifying the amount of food we buy.

So what about the quality of that food? Peanut butter is a great example of a food that is easily bought in bulk but the brands and types you buy in large amounts tend to be very high in calories and artificial ingredients because these ingredients are far cheaper than, well, peanuts. However, you can buy real peanut butter from Simply Local at Atherton Market that has far fewer ingredients and is, crazy I realize, pretty much just peanuts. Tomatoes are my favorite example. Right now tomatoes are in high supply at the farmers markets which means you have plenty of opportunity to turn these into sauce instead of buying jars of Prego or Ragu (each containing large amounts of sugar or high fructose corn syrup). By making your own sauce or buying local peanut butter, you can know exactly what is going into your food.

In addition to eliminating the packaging of our food, buying at a farmers market or growing your own food also naturally limits the quantity you buy and thus consume. If you don’t have to buy a gallon of peanut butter but only a cup or two of it, you’re not going to eat as much peanut butter. Couple this with the fact that, on average, local food will be slightly more expensive than that from a grocery store and you have an easy way to reduce the food that you buy, the food that you waste and the unused byproducts of what you consume. And, of course, that food will be much better for you and fill you up more than artificial foods.

So, as always, my conclusion is that buying from a local farmers market or growing your own food provides you with higher quality food but also naturally lowers the amount you buy. As if we all needed more reasons to get to our local markets!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Starrlight Mead

Since nothing seems to say patriotism like alcohol, yesterday I ventured to Pittsboro, NC, to sample some local honey wines.  The destination was Starrlight Mead, a "meadery" located in the old Village at Chatham Hills and owned by award winning mead makers Ben and Becky Starr. While Starrlight may have opened just ten months ago, word has spread quickly, and it was with several recommendations that I set off to Pittsboro for the Fourth.

So what makes mead, which evokes visions of medieval castles and lords, a local NC product? First, Starrlight uses only honey from NC bees. Ben recounted a story of how, while presenting his meads at a Renaissance Festival, a state alcoholic bureau employee came up to him and offered honey from his own bees kept in Wake Forest, NC. 
Caps from the honey plates
In addition to the local ingredients (which consist mostly of honey, water and yeast), the meadery also uses corks from Zebulon, NC, and, of course, is a registered small business in Chatham County. Like the numerous wineries and vineyards in NC, Starrlight showcases the greatness of North Carolina ingredients and the ingenuity of NC entrepreneurs.
All Starrlight Mead honey comes from NC cities, indicated on the map with bees
But what about the mead itself? If you like native NC wines like muscadine and scuppernong varieties, mead is the drink for you. The traditional flavor and its variations are about a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being very dry and 10 being very sweet. Their Traditional Mead, Meadjito (that’s right, a mead mojito with lemon and mint which was my personal favorite), and Blackberry mead all fall into the semi-sweet category and are excellent served cold.  Their off-dry Traditional and Blackberry are much less sweet, closer to middle-of-the-road white wines. In the mood for a sweeter drink? Both their Sweet Peach and Spiced Apple mead are on the sweeter side showcasing the delicious fermentation of their ingredients and the unique-ness of honey-made wine.
Tastings are only $5 and include 7 mead varieties
If any of this makes your mouth water, check out their website for details on the Mead Day Festival which will feature activities and tastings for the whole family on August 6th!