Farmers Market Challenge: Week 9 Summer 2017

Apologies! A tech glitch caused this post to stay in the draft queue forever. Whooops! 

We eat a lot of chicken.

In fact, our grocery shopping is often dictated by the store that has the best price on boneless and skinless chicken breasts that week.

Until last week we had shunned Rockweld Farm chicken truck at the market. Too expensive we thought.

We are of no illusion about the chicken we consume. Sure, the food chains may promote their chicken as “grain-fed,” or “free-range,” but anyone who’s ever watched 60 Minutes or W5 knows those terms are often interpreted very loosely.

At Rockweld Farm we’re assured it’s the real deal.

But is it worth the premium price?

Two decent-sized frozen breasts cost us almost $19. Each was individually wrapped and they were placed in a zip-top plastic freezer bag.

When they thawed, the difference from grocery store chicken was immediately apparent; there was no pool of gross, slimy pink liquid pooled in the plate.

For comparison, we also decided to grill a chicken breast from the grocery store.

Each was prepared identically for our peasant’s dinner of chicken and grilled vegetables — a little olive oil, sea salt, garlic powder, sesame seeds and fresh rosemary.

On the plate, the difference between the Rockweld breasts and grocery store breast was still apparent; the Rockweld breasts looked just a little tighter. Cutting into the meat, the grocery store breast flopped around while the Rockweld chicken retained its shape.

But it’s when the chicken hit the mouth it would really count.

The Rockweld chicken had a bit more flavour, but the meat was also drier.

The latter could probably be remedied by adjusting the time on the grill. But, in our opinion, the former wasn’t significant enough to justify the bigger expense, especially considering how much chicken we eat.

I guess it comes down to what you value the most; if you want to know the farmer and have a level of assurance that the chicken you’re eating lived decent lives before they ended up on your plate, the premium price for Rockweld’s chicken is worth it. But in our household at least, we’re going to keep checking those grocery store flyers for the best deals.

A peasant-style meal featuring Rockweld Farm chicken, Ripple Creek German butter potatoes, and Fresh Quality Produce green and yellow beans leftover from last week.

Market Loot:

• Rockweld Farm:

– 2 large chicken breasts $18.35

• Zaklan Heritage Farm:

– 1 head specialty bred salanova green spiky lettuce $2.50

– 1 head purple coloured lettuce $2.50

• Ripple Creek Organic Farm:

– 2+ pounds German butter potatoes $5

– 1 cucumber $1

• Ossome Acres:

– 1 bunch of collard greens $3

• A Bread Affair:

– 1 butter croissant $3.50

• Fresh Quality Produce:

– 4 yellow zucchinis $3

My mom and my sister accompanied me to the last market. When my sister picked up a few green zucchinis and told me she was going to bake no-noodle lasagna with them, I decided to give it a go too.

But instead of green, I got yellow.

So much zucchini!

Jeff at Harvest Direct told me yellow was believed to be sweeter than green, but looked somewhat skeptical at the theory. After tasting the cooked zucchinis, I, too, fell on the skeptical side. To me, they seemed more bitter than the green zuchinnis I’d had of late.

The lasagna was a mess.

I had tracked down a recipe that had advised me to either grill or sweat the lasagna ahead of time due to its water content. I tried grilling a few batches of the thin slices, but they kept sticking to the pan or falling apart. So then I opted to sprinkle the remainder with salt and laid them flat over a colander for 20-30 minutes to try and suck as much of the water out as I could.

It didn’t work.

The lasagna was more a mish-mashed soup than a put-together, clean-looking meal. Albeit, a super tasty, mish-mashed soup though 🙂

My regrets with this meal was the timing. It’s not exactly soup season, nor is it a time to be turning the oven on – did you see the forecasted temperature for the week??? This was a meal suited more to winter than summer. But the problem is, we have all this super fresh zucchini, right. Well, why not slice it up, freeze it (according to this website, squash freezes well up to 10-12 months: http://www.stilltasty.com/fooditems/index/18393) and then a couple months down the road, throw it all together, and voila, a belly-warming soupish dish!

The delight of the shop, hands down, was the cucumber and the German butter potatoes. While the chicken, in my opinion, didn’t serve up enough flavour for the price point, the cucumbers and potatoes most certainly did.

The potatoes grilled were like butter in your mouth! They were caramelized crisp on the outside, and soft, flaky, warm on the inside. It was like eating French fries the way French fries were meant to be!

And the cucumber, my first bite was taken absentmindedly. I had been chopping up various vegetables for the dinner salad, and as is habit, I tasted each of them. When I took that first cucumber bite, the burst of flavour that filled my mouth, was incredible.

It didn’t taste like water, it had a firm texture along the skin, and every subsequent bite was super crisp.

The Ripple Creek cucumber cost $1. A long English cucumber at the local vegetable stand is $1.49, and I can tell you it does not have those same beautiful attributes.

Savings in price. Earnings in flavour. Win. Win.

In total, I spent $38.85 giving me a $1.15 extra to spend this week. The greens lasted 5 days (we eat a LOT of salads). We got two meals out of the potatoes. The collards gave us six individual wraps, that were used for both lunches and dinners. The chicken was one meal between the three of us. The cucumber lasted two days – it was that good! And the zucchinis gave our family about three meals, plus a couple of side dishes. There would have been more zucchini, but the grill catastrophe ate up one of them.

Scenes from the market

Farmers Market Challenge: Summer 2017 Week #8

It’s funny what a simple question will do for a conversation.

At the last market I asked Jeff at Fresh Quality Produce why yellow wax beans were called wax. I mean, if green beans are called green, why not call yellow beans, yellow? Honestly, I can’t remember his response, but I do remember him leading the conversation over to strawberries and raspberries and asking why each were called that. We know why blueberries and blackberries have their names, he said, but what about strawberries and raspberries?

Out came both of our phones. Seriously, how did we survive before Google?

According to Almanac.com, there are two explanations for strawberries: some apparently thought strawberries looked like straw (what???) while others believe the name comes from the Old English word strew because when the plant grows it looks like it’s growing scattered along the soil.

Raspberries were a bit more complicated. Their scientific name, Rubus idaeus, means “bramble bush of Ida” signifying the Greek island of Crete where they are believed to have originated. Funnily, according to Greek mythology, raspberries were white until Zeus’ nursemaid Ida (see latin name above) pricked her finger on a thorn and stained them red, thus making them a red berry.

If I were at a grocery store, would I be asking these questions? Would I know the first name of the farmer I was buying from? Would I know the farmer, period? Would the grocer spend a good five minutes laughing along with me trying to find the answers to my oddball questions? I am going to go out on a limb here, not a very far one, and say no.

I do not have a relationship with the big box grocers. But I do have a relationship with Jeff at Fresh Quality Produce, with Gemma at Zaklan Heritage Farm, Aaron and Noella at Ossome Acres, Ron at Wild Westcoast Seafood, Doug at Greendale Herb and Vine, Jasbir at Mandair Farms, Param at Harvest Direct Farms, and so many others that I have met and chatted with along the way.

It makes a difference.

Market Loot

Harvest Direct Farms

  • 1 basket apples $5
  • 1 basket apricots $5

Ossome Acres

  • 3 small pattypan squash (also called scallopini) $1.90
  • 4 pickling cucumbers $4.90 ($4/lb)
  • Ripple Creek Organic Farm
  • 1 bunch broccolini $2.40 ($4/lb)

Zaklan Heritage Farm

  • 1 head specialty bred salanova purple spiky lettuce $2.50
  • 1 bunch pizzo mustard greens $3
  • 1 bunch ruby streaks mustard greens $3
  • 2 heirloom tomatoes $1.50 ($4/lb)
  • 1 bunch rainbow carrots $3.50
  • 1 Spanish white onion $1.25

Fresh Quality Produce

  • 1 pint raspberries $4
  • 1 bag mix of yellow and green beans $3

Total spent: $40.95

Market-fresh dinner: chicken with apricot and basil salsa (used this recipe, switched the strawberries out for apricots: So good! I’ve also made it with plums) with roasted pattypan squash and green and wax beans.

With the contents of this week’s market purchases, I felt like I should be the envy of every shopper NOT going to the farmers’ market.

My salads, oh my goodness, so fresh, so tasty, didn’t need dressing, none. I had experienced this very same thing last year, where I was blown away by all the flavourings in just the greens alone. All winter I had been waiting for this again. And this week, it came.

Salad beauty: pizzo mustard greens, ruby streaks mustard greens, salanova greens

The purple, spiky lettuce is a specialty breed salanova, the seeds of which came from Bellingham, that produces beautifully spiked individual leaves even after the core’s been chopped. I remember falling in love with this lettuce last year, but had only seen it once at the market. Gemma from Zaklan Heritage Farm informed me it’s a regular feature in their salad mix bags.

Good to know 🙂

The greens are great on their own, but with the market so full of freshness, why not add a few berries, or sliced apricots, or slices of the season’s first apples. You could even grill up a few slices of pattypan squash to give it a nutty flare, or Spanish white onion for a savoury sweetness. There are so many options for your salads right now. You can spice them up. You can sweeten them up. You can make a rainbow of them. Even the most staunchest, anti-salad eater would have a hard time saying no to these beauties.

Salad art: pizzo mustard greens, ruby streaks mustard greens, salanova greens, raspberries, rainbow carrots

What kind of salads have you been making?

Farmers Market Challenge: Week 6 Summer 2017

When Jen Arbo, president of the New West Farmers Market, floated the idea of conducting a “Berry Showdown” “Berry Off” “Berry Battle” at the market a couple weeks ago, a little lightbulb went off in my head. We Bartels love our berries and cherries; why keep the friendly fisticuffs to the market only? Yes, folks, I brought the showdown home.

We had cherries. We had raspberries. We had strawberries. We did not have blueberries.

it was a berry-cherry showdown!

Strawberries had been going strong in the house for awhile. Pretty much, we had been buying two pints every day. With such a short season, made even shorter due to the ugly winter/spring, we did not want to miss out. Honestly, I’m surprised we weren’t peeing red the amount we were consuming. They were a strong contender, there is no doubt, especially after being told by Jeff at Fresh Quality Produce that that week’s strawberries were in their flavour prime compared to the raspberries and cherries, which were still early in their ripening season.

Had my husband had his way, it would have been strawberry fields forever. But my son and I, we are all raspberries all the way. Some may conclude we were strawberried out, others may say the newness of the raspberries won our vote. But nope, simply, in our house, raspberries rule.

And seriously, how could they not? They are crazy flavourful. On their own, in oatmeal, in smoothies, and you can stick them on your fingers (as my boy regularly does) and sing: Daddy finger, daddy finger, where are you, here I am, here I am, how do you do… and then plop them in your mouth and shout: Yum! Yum! In my tum!!! 🙂

So much fun!

That said, though, market goers were more in line with my husband. Strawberries clearly won bragging rights with 22 votes, followed up by raspberries at 9 votes, and cherries close behind with 7 votes.

Every person who voted was asked to write a comment as to why they chose the fruit they chose. My favourite of the bunch was: “Strawberry [because it’s] like heaven in my mouth.”

Some of the responses from market goers after participating in the Battle of the Berries and Cherries.

It would be interesting to see if the votes would change now with blueberries in the mix.

Market Loot:

• Harvest Direct Farms:

– 1 pint cherries $6

• Fresh Quality Produce:

– 1 pint raspberries $5

– 1 bag English snap peas $5

• Mandair Farms:

– 1 pint strawberries $5

• Ossome Acres

– 1 bunch collard greens $3

– 1 lb red potatoes $2.50

• Dagaraad

– 1 bomber-sized white $6.50

– 1 bomber-sized amber $6.50

• Gary’s Kettlecorn

– 1 bag kettle corn $2.50

Total spent: $42

I went a little over budget this week. I was somewhat distracted. We were going on holidays for a week a couple days after the market, and as such were limited with what we could purchase as I didn’t want to come home to a fridge potentially full of spoiled vegetables. Plus, my son was also pulling at my arm every two seconds wanting to play on the bridges, wanting a treat (see above), wanting his face painted, wanting to do a craft. My head was spinning! I thought I was only going $1 over budget, but it turns out it was $2 over.

Moral of the story: better to be focused than distracted!

Farmers Market Challenge Summer 2017: Week 5

Give us this day our daily strawberries.

Er, I mean…

No, wait, that’s exactly what I mean.

It is strawberry season, and every day we are running out buying two pints of strawberries. Every. Day. This season is short; we need to take advantage while we still can. So it was a given that come market day, strawberries would be number one on the list. Now, at $10 for the larger two-pint size, which both strawberry vendors were charging, it was about $2 more than I would have preferred spending. I almost opted for the smaller, one-pint container figuring I could get more out of my $40 budget that way. But the thing was I had my slightly impatient four-year-old under foot and no partner to help with the load; there was no time to overthink the $2.

While I may have been able to shave that $2 off at a nearby fruit store, I would not know exactly where the strawberries were coming from without asking the cashier for explicit details, of which they themselves may not know, and may require asking the store’s manager or owner. That information could very well get lost or mixed up in translation. Whereas, the strawberries I purchased at the market, I know the exact farm they were picked at, and I am certain they were picked that morning because that’s what the farm’s owner, and the first bite told me. Fresh does not lie.

Plus, they were Spiderman approved.

I could barely get the money into Tarin’s hand before my mini Spiderman (compliments of Tarin’s Facepainting) was popping them in his mouth!

Market Loot

• Mandair Farms

– 2 pint strawberries $10

• Harvest Direct Farms:

– 1 pint cherries $6

• Fresh Quality Produce:

– 1 pint raspberries $5

• Ossome Acres:

– 1 bunch swiss chard $3

• Zaklan Heritage Farm:

– 1 Napa cabbage $3.75

– 1 bunch Mizuno mustard greens $3

– 1 bunch Miz America mustard greens $3

• Tempea

– 300 g tempeh $7

Total spent: $40.75

Tempeh and Napa cabbage were the most outside-the-box purchases for me this week. I knew exactly what I wanted to do with the Napa cabbage, although it took me up until writing this post to actually get down to business doing it. I was recently gifted the book Home Fermentation, a Starter Guide by Katherine Green. After perusing the pages, I noted Napa Cabbage was required for several of the kimchi recipes. I have been wanting to try my hand at kimchi for a couple years now, but never had the confidence or know-how to do so. Well, after last week’s You Can Just Call Me Chef post, the confidence is in the bag, and with the starter guide, and the Napa cabbage in hand, hopefully the know-how is now there too. I’ll let you know how it turns out next week.

If you’re into Napa cabbage, take note this week’s market is the last week it will be available.

I had no clue about tempeh prior to last week’s market. Sure, I’d heard of it; my sister-in-law is full-on vegan. But I had never tried it, never really given it much thought. I chatted with the women at the Tempea booth and learned that it was a soy product. However, likely because I was somewhat scattered due to the solo parenting that evening, I didn’t realize until later in the week, that it is actually a fermented food, fermented with the Rhizopus mould.

It’s laughable, though, they way I learned tempeh was fermented. After seeing a taste-a-licious Instagram post from New West Farmers Market president Jen Arbo showing her rendition of Tempea’s fried tempeh hash, I was inspired to make my own. But with no potatoes on hand, I opted to make a breakfast tempeh “sausage” and egg sandwich instead – for lunch, of course.

When I opened the package, I thought it kind of looked odd with its white speckles all throughout, but I just cracked that up as a “vegan” kind of texture type thing. But then I smelled it and thought hmm, it smells a bit, odd. And that’s when I decided to read the friendly Tempea product information handout.

Fermented food! I like fermented foods! See kimchi above. I also have a chemistry lab in the bottom corner of my pantry growing a scoby for my ongoing kombucha consumption.

Savoury Tempeh Breakfast Sandwich. Click photo for the recipe.

By the way, this sandwich was to die for! I altered the recipe a bit adding a sunny side up egg because I love eggs and a slice of cheddar cheese because who can say no to melted cheese. Plus, I grilled a few slices of summer squash I had left over from last week’s market, and topped it with mustard greens. I left out the ketchup because I’m not about ketchup, but added in a few dollops of stone ground mustard. So, so, smoky good! I highly recommend giving it a shot the next time Tempea’s at the market on July 6.

What of your purchases was out of the box?

Farmers Market Challenge Summer 2017 Week # 4

I am not a cook. At least, not until recently.

Chicken with apples and sage, and roast potatoes with garlic scapes

I have long avoided the kitchen. I used to live off eggs and grilled cheese before my husband came along. I developed a brilliant backstory of not cooking due to fears of poisoning myself and others. Note, my avoidance is likely more due to laziness than lack of skill that’s kept me off the grill. Whenever my parents, who are brilliant chefs, cooked, the sink would be stacked high of dishes; I hate doing dishes. Whenever I tried my hand at cooking, it seemed to take hours of prep work, hours that I could have been doing something more enjoyable. And so, that’s what I did – anything but cook.

And yet, here I am, one year into this $40 challenge, and last week I cooked a meal not once, not twice, but three times – two meals back to back. That is unprecedented. One meal a week, even, is unprecedented. Seriously, minds were blown. And not only that, it wasn’t just my husband and son I was cooking for, I had my parents over one night as well. What on earth has gotten into me?

The farmers’ market.

Italian stuffed collard greens

The farmers’ market is both exciting and challenging. I love food, I love exploring the world of food, I love learning about foods, and sampling new-to-me foods. The only thing I didn’t enjoy, until recently, was preparing it.

And that’s where the challenge comes to play.

I am competitive as heck. I compete for faster times when running, I compete for the best grades when studying, I compete for optimal health, and when a journalist, I competed for the best-written articles.

What can I say, I love accolades.

The world of cooking is full of accolades.

When I am able to take a food and transform it into something that brings joy not only to my stomach but to others as well – whoa! The smiles it brings to their faces, the verbal amazement that I, the non-cook, could achieve such culinary excellence, the going back for second and third helpings, the sheer bliss of discovering a new food at my hands – it’s like running a marathon and having the loudest cheer crew on the sidelines enthusiastically championing your name.

It doesn’t always come out perfect, sometimes there are criticisms, sometimes they plain don’t like what you put before them, and that sucks. But those times when you present them with a vegetable that they otherwise wouldn’t eat, like say my husband and summer squash, and they wolf it down and start in on a second serving before you’ve even had a chance to swallow your first bite, that is a 10.0 gold medal victory!

Summer squash tian: a side-dish success.

I am not saying I am going to become a regular, every day chef, nope, that’s not in the cards for me. But, it seems, this farmers’ market thing is slowly turning me into a part-time cook.

Whoa. Mind blown.

Market Loot:

• Zaklan Heritage Farm:

– 2 bunches of collard greens $6

– 1 bunch pizzo mustard greens $3

• Ripple Creek Organic Farm:

– 2 basil plants $5

– 1 bunch garlic scapes $3

• Fresh Quality Produce:

– 1 bag English snap peas $5

• Mandair Farms

– 1 small container strawberries $5

– 1 summer squash $1

• Harvest Direct Farms

– 1 small container cherries $6

• Solecito Salsas

– 1 container mild (with a kick) salsa verde $6

Total spent: $40

The three meals this week included a quiche that featured the green garlic I had leftover from the previous week’s market, Italian stuffed collard greens that I discovered a couple weeks ago and had to share with my parents, along with a rhubarb crisp dessert using rhubarb from the previous week, and finally a chicken apple sage dish with roasted potatoes and garlic scapes. I also made Mexican sunny-side up eggs for lunch that featured the salsa verde (oh my gosh, so good) scapes and squash using a recipe that Solecito gave me at the market. Links for the recipes below.

Mexican Sunny-Side Up

Of note, garlic scapes have pretty much been featured in every meal for the past two weeks whether roasted, or fresh in a salad, or sauteed in butter. I love the garlic essence they ooze with every crunch. I never knew garlic scapes existed prior to being introduced to them at the New West Farmer’s Market last year.

Scape-a-licious!

Also noteworthy, the English snap peas. I had a choice between sugar snap peas or English snap peas. The difference was the flavour and the fact you could eat the pods with the sugar snap peas, but not the English. Given my self-proclaimed laziness you might be surprised at my opting for the English over the sugar, but funnily the thing I liked about the English snap peas is the time it took to open the pods. I was less likely to eat a whole bag in two minutes like I probably could with the sugar snap peas. Plus, opening those pods and having peas fly everywhere was both fun for me and my son, who, by the way, LOVES them. Veggie win!

English snap peas for the win

Links for this week’s recipes:

 Quiche (this is a go-to quiche recipe that I have altered many times depending on the ingredients I have on hand and it has never failed me.

 Italian Stuffed Collard Greens

• Chicken with Apples and Sage (This one was NOT rejoiced by my family)

 Vegetable Tian

• Rhubarb Crisp

• Mexican Sunny-Side Up Eggs

Farmers Market Challenge: The Produce is Back!

We made it a meal when it should have been an appetizer.

Last week’s market presented us with a bit of a conundrum. There were plenty of salad greens to be had, and normally that would be top of our shopping list, but because I still had greens leftover from the previous week, and had also acquired salad greens from two farms that I intern at, my fridge imposed a strict greens spending freeze.

My husband got to the market first, and right away he spotted market-newcomer Hibiscus Foods and their Jamaican patties. We had a busy week planned and he remarked it would be an easy meal. We could pair it with a healthy green salad, he suggested.

I was on the fence. I looked at the patties and right away I was jet set back to my Grade 9 year when all I ate were pizza pockets, so many that I vowed upon graduation of that year never to consume another such product. But Hibiscus Foods was a new vendor, and I was intrigued.

Upon sampling, I soon learned Jamaican patties are not the commercialized over-cheesed pizza pockets; they are savoury, meat-filled pastries with loads of heat. Hibiscus Foods had two varieties to sample: curry chicken and beef. I tried the chicken first; my mouth was on fire. I  tried the beef; it didn’t seem to have as much heat. My husband did the opposite and had the opposite effect.

“Jamaicans don’t know how to cook without spice,” laughed Brian Chin, who took over the family business three years ago and perfected his patties with scotch bonnet peppers to give them that authentic Jamaican flare.

I got a box of four and cooked all four for a dinner for two. It was TOO much. Way too much. We got through one each and packed the rest up to be a conversation piece for my husband’s coworkers.

They became an appetizer after all.

Jamaican Patties: Pre-heat oven at 350˚ and cook for 10-12 minutes

Market Loot:

• Hibiscus Foods:

– 4-pack Jamaican patties $15

• Greendale Herb and Vine:

– 4 garlic scapes $1

• Zaklan Heritage Farm:

– 1 bunch green garlic $3

– 4 kohlrabis $3

– 1 bunch Swiss chard $2.50**

• Fresh Quality Produce:

– Large container (2 lb) strawberries $10

– 2 zucchinis $1.50

– 1 bag potatoes ($1.99 lb) $1.60*

– 7 stalks rhubarb (1.99 lb) $3.10*

Total spent: $40

* Note the asterisks above: Each represent savings. Fresh Quality Produce was one of my last stops of the shop, and it was within one hour of closing. The vendor knew I had a hard budget to work with. The strawberries and zucchini were a priority at a fixed price. The potatoes and rhubarb were a luxury, and were priced by pound. My first attempt at the potatoes came under budget. I filled a little more and was 10 cents over budget. Rather than send me back to empty the bag, they gave it to me for $1.50. Same with the rhubarb. I initially went up with four stalks and was way under my $2.50 allowable expenditure. I was advised to grab three or four more; I came back with three and was 60 cents over budget. No questions, they gave them to me at the price I needed.

I love our market vendors!!!

Rhubarb and Kohlrabi: a first time challenge for the $40 challenge

** Savings of the day number 2 came from Zaklan Heritage Farm. Usually the farm sells Swiss chard for $3 a bunch, but last week it was the deal of the week at $2.50. That brings us to a total savings of $1.20 – score!

And what did I do with all that chard? Well, they were the feature of our market-fresh, market meal of the week: Shrimp and Chard Quinoa. So light. So tasty. So refreshingly summery.

Shrimp and Chard Quinoa: Click the picture for the recipe.

When I approached Greendale Herb and Vine, I saw a long list of suggestions for cooking with garlic scapes posted right next to the scapes. Right away I was interested; it took the guess work, and the how-to research out of the equation. Doug didn’t stop there. As soon as he recognized I was interested, he told me to check out his Facebook page where he had posted a how-to video on roasting scapes with asparagus, which we just so happened to have in our crisper.

Now, let me tell you, this video was not only informative, it was hilarious – scapes flying everywhere! I loved it. And the end result on my end were beautifully roasted, super garlic-tasting asparagus and potatoes. Yum. Yum.

Greendale Herb and Vine Facebook. Click the pic to check out a video.

I have yet to work with garlic onions, but am contemplating a quiche, and the rhubarb, which I will likely be featuring in a weekend dessert, possibly a crisp or upside down cake. I shall keep you all posted.

Happy Farmers Market Shopping!