Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

A Farmer's Market Dinner Experiment

In the spirit of brainstorming new content for the blog, and probably more than influenced by the current season of Food Network Star (geaux Jay!), I decided to challenge myself. The task?

Create a meal based primarily on farmer's market finds.



So... how did I do?



Planning

One of  the main aspects about farmer's market shopping is sticking with seasonal ingredients. Do some research ahead of time to see what ingredients are in season when, and plan your shopping trip and meal around that. I knew that peaches are sold in June, and tomatoes are tres plentiful, so I could start to plan my ideas around that.

Trip to Market

Around 9:00 on a hot, sunny Saturday morning, my fiance and I headed out to the Farmers and Artisans Market at the Horse Farm. I loaded up with a cloth shopping bag and a few cloth produce bags. We walked around to see what each vendor was selling that morning, and to compare prices.

There were lots of cucumbers and tomatoes to choose from, along with eggplant. Definitely a gorgeous shopping trip!




 

There may have also been a sweet treat or two. This raspberry crisp served as breakfast both Saturday and Sunday!


Items Found

I ended up choosing a basket of cherry tomatoes (red and gold combination), one massive cucumber, one eggplant, three sweet peppers, a handful of okra (just enough for one person because someone in this household won't eat okra), and some peach jelly. Oh and that raspberry crisp.

The fiance got a blueberry muffin from Windfield Farms Bakery, ghost pepper salsa from Linda Jo's Salsa and sweet treat from Treets of Life.





Costs

I decided my budget would be $30, knowing that there's often a selection of meat at the market. I brought cash, just to make it easier and quicker. Many vendors do accept credit cards these days, but you never know if one of them does not.

Cucumber, eggplant and okra | Helping Hands Farm | $4
Tomatoes and sweet peppers | Inglewood Farm | $4
Peach jelly | Ruston Peaches | $5
Raspberry crisp | Windfield Farm Bakery | $3
TOTAL | $16

I wasn't feeling the meat options available that morning, especially since I didn't see my favorite ground beef vendor, so I walked away without a meat for my dish. But, count this as one time I came in this far under budget!


Recipe Plan


I added some homegrown yellow squash donated by a coworker to my basket, and worked on what I would fix for dinner.

I decided to make use of some chicken breasts in the freezer, and settled on baking them with a peach jelly reduction and sliced sweet peppers. I decided to roast the okra and squash. I paired all of it with a summery cucumber and tomato salad.

In the meantime, because I was already hungry, I sliced a third of the cucumber and whipped up some roasted red pepper hummus. Hummus is truly one of the easiest healthy snacks to make, and you will not regret adding roasted red pepper. The hummus was not part of the farmers market dinner project, but it was damn good!



Cooking

Although I have an all French heritage, I enjoy the Italian influence of dranking wine while cooking. So my first step was to pour a nice glass of red to sit alongside my ingredients.

So it could chill and marinate a bit, I started with the cucumber and tomato salad. The remaining cucumber was sliced and quartered, and the tomatoes were halved. I added pepper, a little salt, and a lot of Tony Chachere's. I added a splash of red wine vinegar for flavor. But if you add too much, you run the risk of the whole thing being soggy and slightly pickled.



Once that was in the refrigerator, I grabbed the peach jelly and balsamic vinegar. I added about three tablespoons of jelly and a generous splash of vinegar to a small saucepan and heated it on low until the consistency was a bit thinner.


Once the sauce was almost ready, I put the chicken breasts in a covered casserole dish, along with one large sliced sweet pepper and seasoned with some salt, pepper and Tony Chachere's. The sauce covered all of the chicken, but it could have used even more. 

Roasted veggies time! I ended up not using the eggplant, and saved it for roasting in Italian seasoning the next day. Back to the squash and okra. The squash was simply sliced, and the okra was left whole, except for cutting the ends off. Call it my attempt to look classier than okra bites. (I'm now hungry for fried okra.) Both the squash and okra are seasoned with a little olive oil, dried red pepper and salt.

Everything into the oven at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes...aka until it looks done.

 


Final Product

By the time I was finished, I think I was just ready to be done, so my plating leaves a lot to be desired. I also topped the chicken with a bit more of the peach honey, and apparently ate it before I could photograph it.

The chicken was really good. The balsamic peach glaze worked really well, and the sweet peppers added some texture. I'm a big fan of roasted okra, and it did not disappoint, nor did the squash. The cucumber and tomato salad was super flavorful, which is thanks to being locally grown and harvested. Grocery store produce just isn't as fresh and flavorful! I probably should have sliced the cucumbers a bit thicker though.


In terms of waste created by this dinner, I did pretty well. The raspberry crisp bar was wrapped in paper and placed in a paper bag. I recycled the bag and tossed the wrapper, since it was stained with raspberry. I had some cucumber, okra and squash scraps that would be great for a compost pile, if I had one. The chicken packaging had to be thrown away. The peach jelly jar will be reused at home. I cut down a lot of waste by bringing produce bags and a shopping bag. Not quite zero waste, but working toward it!

In all honesty, I would probably give this project a B. I wanted it to just be a little bit better than it actually was. Each element was good and the produce was delicious, but overall, it was more meh than I was hoping for. And I know I can create something better. If I made a list of my past knockout dinners, this would not be on it.

So I chalked it up to an experiment, and decided I will do it seasonally! Practice makes perfect, and it'll be fun to create farmer's market dinners with each season's crop! And now I've got a few months to brainstorm and plan for my fall market dinner. I can't wait!

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