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Archive for the ‘seasonal’ Category

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The outdoor farmer’s market season started here two weeks ago. This is a big deal for some of us. We Chicagoans view the start of the outdoor market season as a beacon of hope that better, warmer, sunnier weather is coming. Though this past winter wasn’t too bad, we cling desperately to every little sign possible. It’s been a tough start; the first week was chilly and I was caught in a deluge, arriving at my car soaking wet. The second week was downright cold and I received several warnings not to plant the basil plants I had just purchased until it inched up over 55°F. Oh I know, I replied, I’ve been bitten in the ass by that before. We laughed knowingly as only those who have had to yank out frostbitten tender seedlings can. Looking around, I saw the usual suspects of a new market season: asparagus and rhubarb. Harbingers of spring and predictable or not, into my bag they went.

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Throwing springtime dinner parties, such as Easter dinner and sunny Sunday brunches, perplex me the most. The main dishes are typically set – Easter ham or Polish sausage for example, but filling out the side dishes always give me a pause for thought. Green, spring-y vegetables are a given, such as sugar snap peas and asparagus. Easy. A bright, vinegary cucumber salad is always welcome as is a fruit salad of some sort. But what else?

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Driving to a friends Wisconsin home a few weeks ago, we passed several farms on our way off the highway, many with big pumpkin displays covering the front lawns. Never one to pass something interesting, I stopped. Coming and going, I stopped. The first time, I bought a giant white pumpkin for 2 bucks and a half dozen delicata squash for 25 cents a piece. Score! On the way home a few days later, I stopped again and picked up a few additional squashes – red kuri, a fat pie pumpkin and some strange blue-grey variety who’s name I’ve long forgotten. I spent a total of $6 on both trips, happily stuffing my dollar bills in the honor box while the farm dogs sniffed my muddy boots. Of course I stopped twice, once in the rain. Wouldn’t you?

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All right. If you’ve been reading along the last few weeks, you know that my little garden plot has been rather prolific this summer on the tomato front. A steady 3-5 pounds have made their way home each week and I’ve been plugging along, making all kinds of things. This week I have a two-fer; two final tomato recipes for the season. Two recipes that are easy, delicious, perfectly do-able for a quick weeknight dinner and highlight what’s best about these late season tomatoes. So get in there while the going is still good and all these amazing tomatoes are still hanging around the markets. They’ll be gone before we know it.

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We’ve rounded the corner on summer when everything hits at once – the last holiday of the season, first days of school, work schedules pick up, garden produce is almost too much to handle and unfortunately, fall is in the air. I’ve been cooking quite a lot these last few weeks, making old favorites a few times over and searching recipes to deal with an overachieving garden. Nearly everything I’ve made has been from a published recipe, executed as written, and they’ve been good. Really good. Good enough that you might want to make some of these things too. So let’s chat.

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“Street Food” has been a big, hot food trend for the last few years with everyone and their brother doing some sort of riff. In the right circumstances, it can be a wondrous thing. On a late night in Bangkok, I had the best fried chicken of my life made in a wok perched on the back of a bicycle. The scenery was gorgeous, the cooking set-up was unbelievable and stunningly resourceful and the chicken is something I still dream about. If it hadn’t been 3am when I got back to my hotel, I would have gone back for more. I’ve eaten freshly fried samosas wrapped in newspaper from an Indian doorway, bite size water buffalo dumplings from a giant steamer set up in a Nepalese courtyard and countless tacos from beach peddlers. They were all spectacular. My best travel memories often involve food.

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Le Marché Nocturne. The summer night markets in French villages, specifically those in the Southwest or Gascon countryside, are something to behold. Next to endless fields of sunflowers, they are one of my favorite things and I try to cram as many into my few short weeks as possible. In fact, these are things I heavily consider in the timing of my visits each year. Nearly every summer evening in July and August, village squares transform into big parties with music, cheap but delicious wine and booths manned with the neighborhood producteurs selling the delicious local specialties. The offerings vary by village but could be platters of melon, local cheeses, bread, duck confit, oysters, big vats of snails, frites (always frites), pastries, grilled sausages and maybe one of my favorites, duck hearts and gizzards slowly cooked in duck fat. We are in duck country after all. The best strategy is to go with several friends so one can stake out a spot at the long tables, one can grab the wine and the rest of the group can scatter to the various booths to assemble a meal. Everyone meets back at the table for a most enjoyable night. It’s really fantastic and I highly recommend you seek them out.

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