Farmers Market Brunch

August 17, 2009

Sunday is always the best day to come over to our house.  It’s when the myriad of fresh fruits, veggies, and yes, even meats and cheeses, are on the table for hungry neighbors.  GrandLake Farmers MarketHere are some of the highlights from Saturdays Market and Sunday’s Brunch (for 5 adults and one sleeping 2-year-old.)

Sweet Potatoes. petite and packed with flavor.  $1/lb

Baby Carrots.  Happy Boy Farms.  also petite and packed with flavor.  $1/lb

Elefant Garlic and Shallots. Happy Boy Farms, $4/lb

Black Berries and Raspberries.  $7 for a 3-pack.  THE SWEETEST BLACKBERRIES AT THE MARKET.  And huge!

Figs.  $3/basket (generally the same pricing as berries).  The sign said “organic.”

Whiskey Maple Sage Sausages. Prather Ranch.  $7/12 oz pkg.

Peaches, Nectarines, Plums.  $1/lb.  (5 lbs, for drying in the dehydrator)


Breakfast is most certainly my favorite meal of the day.  However, I also like to sleep in on the weekends.  So how to I keep those two worlds together?  Brunch!  A beautiful tradition of breakfast food and nearly lunch time.  We invited our neighbors over to share the spread, here’s the menu:

Breakfast Sweet Potatoes
Dice about 5 small sweetpotatoes into small cubes, the smaller the better in my opinion, along with one shallot clove.  Saute in a frying pan with 2 tsp melted butter, add a little olive oil if it looks dry, and cover to steam for 10 minutes on a low flame.  This softens the potatoes.  Remove the lid, turn the heat up a little, and add 1/2 tsp. garlic salt, 1/2 tsp. paprika, 2 tsps brown sugar, and a sprinkling of crushed black pepper.  Saute for another 5 minutes, to brown the potatoes.  I did this before the guests arrived, so I put the oven on warm and transferred the potatoes to a baking dish in the oven to stay warm still we were ready.

Yellow Grits
Jimmy’s Cracked Corn from Ridgecut Gristmill
, purchased in May at the Grand Lake Farmers Market. Ridgecut Mills Farm Stand

We LOVE this lady and her cracked corn.  As two home grown Southerners (and I mean Dixie, people, not LA)  we KNOW our grits.  And these are some good grits.

My recipe:
Boil 1 cup chicken broth* (home made, “chicken broth” blog coming soon) and 3 cups boiling water.  Sprinkle with salt, add 1 cup of dry grits to the rapidly boiling water.  Stir as it boils for 3-5 minutes, then lower to a simmer.  They’ll begin to thicken.  Let cook on low for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Again, I did this a little ahead of time, so I turned the heat off after they were cooked.  5 minute before we were ready to serve, I turned the heat back on and added a 1/4 cup of milk, stirring, to soften them up (they get firm after sitting).  This is always too much, so cut it in half if you don’t want leftovers.
*Note, my chicken broth has a real deal layer of chicken fat on the top.  If you don’t have fatty broth, you’ll want to add some butter to the water.  It just seems to smooth everything over

Sun Valley Fresh Eggs, Trader Joes, Oakland.
Fried, to order.  I recommend runny, it mixes really well with the grits.
An egg concern:
We have, for several years now, purchased eggs from Traders Joes for two reasons:
1.  Always come in a compostable carton, “made from 100% reclaimed paper” says the packaging
2.  Usually $1.99 for a dozen jumbo eggs.
However, when I wrote this post, I attempted to find a link to the farm’s website so you could read about the source. is down.  The second Google search result links them to Cargill, a mega-huge argo-business that, at the very least, was featured less than favorably by Michael Pollan in An Omnivore’s Delima.  The carton may be sustainable, but the eggs are leaning towards-less-than-acceptable.  The lack of current information is most alarming.

Whiskey Maple Sage Sausage
Cut links in half long ways and fry, using a little bit of olive oil to grease the pan.  Cook 3-5 minutes on the flat side and 2-3 on the round.  Seriously good sausage from a very reliable meat source.

Brought by a guest, he purchased this very good bacon at the new Berkley Bowl.  It was from a Nor Cal ranch, though I’m not sure which.

Figs, Yogurt and HoneyBrunch5
Cut figs in half, spoon a small dollop of plain yogurt on top and drizzle with honey.
YogurtPavel’s Russian Yogart. Made in San Leandro, CA.  Purchased at Oakland Whole Foods.
HoneyEast Bay Wildflower by Marshall’s Farm, American Canyon, CA.  Purchased at Grand Lake Farmers Market.

Berries and Cream
Fresh blackberries with whipped cream.
Whipped CreamStraus Heavy Whipping Cream. Purchased from Oakland Wholefoods. Just pour some or all of the cream in a deep bowl, get out your electric whisk or hand  blender (or elbow grease) and whisk for approx 3 minutes or until the cream thickens.  I sprinkled in 2 tbsp granulated sugar while I was whisking.  This was a huge hit and a special way to end the meal.

BlueBottle, purchased from Cafe 504.  Roasted in Oakland, purchased from a cafe we walk to.  Really good stuff.  For 5 coffee drinkers, we did two french presses.

An awesome treat, courtesy the neighbors who brought champagne and orange juice.  Thanks, guys!

Local Tally:
I suspect only the eggs, OJ and Champagne were not produced locally, though they were most likely purchased on a nice walk to the grocery store and sported recyclable packaging.


Elegance with Eggs

August 13, 2009

Caught up in the buzz of Slow Food and the new move Julie and Julia (which I have not seen) I let my inner grandmother get the better of me. I spent an hour in my kitchen with Julia Child in black and white on my lap top. No wonder she makes it look so easy, did you see how many eggs she can hold in those bigger-than-life hands?!

Here’s my humble attempt at l’oeuf en cocotte:

les oeuvesI cracked four eggs in a baking dish that had about a table spoon of melted butter in it. (Not quite so cocotte, I know, but don’t have any ramekins, like Julia, so I had to use the smallest baking dish I own). I also don’t have a fancy electric stove, like Julia, so for stove-top-to-oven cooking with gas I use a cast iron skillet.

I put the baking container with the eggs in the skillet, which held about an inch of simmering water on the burner. It took my four eggs about 2 minutes to “set.” I wanted to-MAH-toe SAUCE eggs, like one of Julia’s displays, since I had some lovely home made to-MAH-toe SAUCE from the night before. So, I spooned up some of the sauce on the eggs and watched in horror as the thick sauce fell straight through the eggs! Wait, wait! Julia’s stayed on top like a glaze, not a filling! Ahh!

Well, can’t fix that. I stopped at the first spoon full and resigned to return when the eggs had firmed up again. Julia said “cook in the oven for 6 minutes at 375.” I set the timer at four minutes so I could come back to add the sauce, and added the skillet-water-baking dish-egg combo to an oven that at least said it was at 375.

beep, beep, beep, beep!!! Four minutes. Open the oven, pull out the tray, egg soup. Push the tray back, close the oven, set the timer for four more minutes.


Yep, still egg soup. However, after the 3rd visit, and 12 minutes, they were firm enough to add my sauce. Given how the time proportions were shaping up, I figured I’d better add another 4 minutes before removing it.

In the mean time, I sauteed some diced mushrooms in butter with a little diced scallion for a topping. After four minutes, I pulled out the concoction. My baking dish, as you can see, is a deep bowl…so I loosened the edges of the eggs from the side of the dish and sort of leaned the dish over and slid the eggs, which had a layer tomato sauce and thin clear layer of butter on top, into a plate. It broke a bit and I ended up with more or less three little tomato egg mounds.

I spooned the mushrooms over the mounds and added a side of black beans that had been cooking on the stove. Julia Child a la Julieta Nina, all I really needed was a tortilla! The eggs were fabulous! The yolk was soft, but not runny, the whites were like firm heavy cream. The sauce had plenty of flavor, but I think I could have had the eggs plain! Below is a video of the French Chef so you can see how it’s really done. But don’t be afraid to pull together what you have and try this very inexpensive dinner.

As Julia says, bon appetit!


Vodpod videos no longer available.

Les oeufs au champignon Local Tally:l'oeuf au champignon

les oeufs – Wholefoods Oakland, eggs from Petaluma, CA
les champignons – The mushroom man at Grand Lake Farmers Market
beurreClover Butter, purchased from Farmer Joes, a CA Dairy
toMAHto Sauce – Home made, see yesterday’s post
frijoles – dried black beans from Farmer Joes.  Not sure of their origin.  Shame on me.

Tomato Sauce is for Lovers

August 12, 2009

tomatoes“I’m trying to decide whether to come home straight home or go by the gym first,” said my husband on the phone as he left the office at 6:30.  “What are you thinking for dinner?”

“I was thinking of making tomato sauce,” I said.

“Then I’ll come straight home,” he decided, as if I had said, “I was thinking of taking a walk” and he wanted to join me.

You see, making tomato sauce involves a lot of standing around in the kitchen.  It’s something we’ve done together since our first summer in California, its when we remember that our lives are wonderful.  Our sauce is never the same twice, the texture runs the gammet from thin and chunky to thick and smooth, spiciness varies  depending on who’s watching the pot and the flavor is generally tomato.

Because is does involve time, we try to make enough for dinner plus an extra jar, which we consume later that week.  During heavy tomato season, we often use last week’s jar of tomato sauce as a base for next week’s jar, and so on until we have unexpected dinner guests and we make a big pot of spaghetti.

Here is our formula for Oakland tomato sauce:

5 medium size red tomatoes (not heirloom) or 12 Roma tomatoes. – Grand Lake Farmers Market, various vendors
(Romas are preferred as they are the meatiest, even though their small size adds more time to skinning.)

To prepare the tomatoes for skinning, remove the green stem and firm spot from the top of the tomato (use a knife).  Then make an incision in the skin the length of the tomato from top to bottom.  The idea is to sever the skin so after it simmers, the skin pulls right off.  Think of unzipping a jacket.

In large pot or stock pot, put about an inch of water.  Bring to a simmer on the stove top. Add the whole tomatoes to the simmering water. Don’t stack tomatoes, if they don’t all fit, just wait for a second round. You may have to turn them after two to three minutes.  Eventually, you’ll see that the skin is loose and can easily be removed with tongs.  Pull the skin off the tomatoes and discard (preferably in the compost).  If you couldn’t fit them all at once, add the remaining tomatoes and repeat.  The skinned tomatoes will begin to “melt” and cook down into the base for your sauce.

Once the tomatoes are skinned, you can use a potato masher to mash the whole tomatoes into mush.  My husband likes to take two knives to the pot and cut them up, but be careful you don’t scratch your pot. (I try not to watch).  It is common, after the tomatoes are completely cooked down (about an hour) to strain out the seeds by pouring the sauce through a sieve into a bowl and returning it to to the pot.  However, we have never found that step necessary, we don’t mind the seeds.

Now you have tomato sauce. It can be thickened by adding tomato paste (often tomato paste is sweet).

Vinegar, lemon juice or red wine balance the sweetness.  We add two to three table spoons of one of these.
Local sources:  Farmers Market for lemons, Trader Joes sells affordable California red wines, anybody got a good source for local vinegar?

Fresh basil, diced or whole, infuse wonderful flavor.  (I use my back porch herbs)

Dried oregano or Italian Seasoning Blend is a sauce staple. (Suggestions for local dried or fresh spices?)

The longer you cook it, the thicker it gets.  I like the consistency after 2 hours, but a light, 1/2 hour sauce is great over diced zuchini and bowtie pasta.

In a seperate skillet, sautee your “accent pieces.”  It’s not a requirement for vegetables, but putting the spices on the hot skillet opens the flavor and more deeply infuses the vegetables.  Sauteeing the meat first is a requirement.

Last night, we sauteed:
1/2 yellow Onion, diced (Happy Boy Farms, Grand Lake Farmers Market)
4 cloves garlic, diced (Happy Boy Farms, Grand Lake Farmers Market)
6 fresh mushrooms, diced, a mix of crimini and white (the only mushroom vendor at the Grand Lake Farmers Market, $4.50/brown paper bag)
3 diced basil leaves (back porch)
salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (local suggestions, anyone?)
in 2 tablespoons of olive oil (BigPaw, Grand Lake Farmers Market)

Ground beef, lamb or chicken would have been great (I recomend Prather Ranch from the Farmers Market) but we didn’t have any.

Add your sautteed goodies to the big pot-o-tomatoes and let simmer for 1/2 an hour.

Serve over pasta (the Farmers Market has fresh pasta vendors.  Anyone know a local dry pasta source?)

One day, I’ll make my own noodles, but that might require more than just a romantic evening with the hubby.

Wine can be tough to pair with freshly made tomato sauce because the acidity in the tomatoes is difficult to balance.  If you’ve stewed it good (ie, if you cooked your left over pasta sauce for another hour) then a Tuscan grape like Sangiovese is recommended.  If you’re enjoying it same day, I recommend a light, dry rose.  Here are my picks from my favorite wine source.  We travel to Monterey often, so its “local” for me since its on the way.  However, you can get them at specialty wine shops in the area, or choose a similar, Central Coast substitute at your nearest grocery store.

Ventana Vineyard Due Amici (Sangiovese/Cabernet) Monterey, CA
Ventana Vineyard Dry Rosado (Grenache/Syrah) Monterey, CA

Buon apetito!

Lunch is Good

August 10, 2009

Summer is for foodies.

Todays Oakland Local Lunch:

1 thick slice of Sourdough Bread, toasted – source – Merritt Bakery (Oakland) ($2.50/loaf)
1 healthy layer of fromage blanc – source – Cow Girl Creamery, (Petaluma, CA)  Grand Lake Farmers Market ($4.50/8oz tub)
1 big slice of heirloom tomato – source – Tomatero Farm, (Watsonville, CA) Grand Lake Farmers market ($3/pound)
2-3 fresh basil leaves – source – back porch herb garden
Salt and pepper to taste.

tomato lunch

Lunch is good.

The last stage of the life cycle of this meal, from vendor to table, is also petrol-free.   If you live in my neighborhood, then you can walk to acquire all of these ingredients.  

Heirloom Tomato
Vine-ripened heirlooms are like no grocery store tomato.  They are fragile, thin skinned, and incredibly juicy.  A bit watery for making tomato sauce, I find they are best savored fresh.  This one was sweet with strong acidity.  Ruby red the whole way through with dark green stripes on the skin.  The reason the tomato sandwich was invented.  

Used like cream cheese, fromage blanc is a staple of the French diet. Because Cowgirl Creamery Fromage Blanc is made with whole milk instead of cream, our fromage blanc contains 30% less fat than cream cheese and about 80% more flavor, making it a favorite with Bay Area restaurant chefs.  (From the Cowgirl Creamery Website)

Farm City

August 7, 2009

When I started this blog a few weeks ago I got distracted by a book…a really good book.  While filing through google images for a shot for the header (thank you, Katie , for saving me from iStock) my gardening girlfriend set me this link.  Unlikely Farmers Make a Homestead in the Hood

Key phrases from the NPR article:
………. initially drawn to their Oakland, Calif., apartment because of the ravaged empty lot that sat next door……….Carpenter started off by planting vegetables in that weedy lot, soon acquired honeybees, then chickens, turkeys and rabbits…..Carpenter’s prosciutto is about as hyperlocal, organic and sustainable as a ham can get [PROSCIUTTO!?!?]…Her book begins, “I have a farm on a dead-end street in the ghetto.”

ME TOO!!  Ok, not quite.  I’m helping start a farm in an old parking lot behind a community building on 15th.  Right now, we have exactly 12 chickens,  5 pounds of zucchini (a day) and 45 green tomatoes.  FunkTownFarm has its own blog, but lets just say, Farm City is a must read for any gardener in Oakland.  It’s also a must visit, check out her blog for currently schedule tours of the farm.

Needless to say I was at Walden Pond Books by 6pm that evening purchasing their only copy.

farm_city_200Farm City is witty, endearing, agriculturally accurate,culturally relevant and most amazingly, true.  Pushing the boundaries of slow food right here in Oakland, Carpenter takes the time tell a graceful yet comical story of engaging neighbors, dumpsters, animals and the occasional slaughter house in the production of good food.  When you finish it, do not let this one sit on your shelf.  Share the love.