Friday, July 26, 2013

Farmers Market Finds

Peachtree Road Farmers Market in Atlanta 

Shopping at your local farmers market is more popular than ever.

Farmers meet consumers one-on-one to sell their just-picked crops and suggest the best ways to cook them.
Friends and neighbors, often with their kids and dogs in tow, chat about the weekend and compare purchases.
Where are the fresh baked dog biscuits? 

Crazy colored heirloom tomatoes! Purple potatoes! 

Don't know how to cook a Japanese eggplant? As the farmer!

Candy-striped beets! Sweet corn, peaches, okra and onions. Locally made goat cheese and honey! Asiago cheese bread!

The taste benefits drive shoppers to farmers’ markets but the health benefits of enjoying freshly picked fruits and vegetables are a big attraction, too. Add to that the good feeling of supporting local farmers and food producers with your purchases and farmers’ markets are a great place to shop.
Have lunch at the Famers Market too!

But, how do you choose the best peaches? The ripest tomatoes? And what do you do with that strange looking squash?

Farmers Market Secrets   Watch CBS Better Mornings Video Here! 

Farmers Market Shopping List of Tips:

-Try to get there early! Look on line for list of farmers and food producers who attend each Farmers’ Market to help plan ahead. I go to the Peachtree Road Farmers Market on Saturdays. 

I get everything from ears of corn to cute earrings from the artisans there. 

Chili Ristas and Turquoise Jewelry at Santa Fe Farmers Market

-Jump into the season: what’s seasonal now? If it is in season it will taste best and cost less
Chef Charles Dale power shops for tonight's menu at the Santa Fe Farmers Market

-Talk to the farmers, if they grew it, they are happy to tell you how to cook it. Don’t be shy! Hey farmers are the new celebrities!!!

-Buy some ripe, and buy some not so ripe!!! That way the harder peaches or greener tomatoes will ripen up during the week so if you buy on Saturday, they'll be just right on Wednesday. Actually, produce is so often so fresh at the market, it'll stay fresh for a week. Then it's time to go back!

-Imperfections can taste best, the “ugliest” tomato is likely to be an heirloom variety with more tomato flavor. Try varieties or vegetables you’ve never tasted before.

-Bring your own reusable bags to be earth friendly - but please folks - make sure they're clean!!! Did you know that dirty bags can contaminate your perfect produce? 
Goodies for dining and decor at the Santa Fe Farmers Market, nice hat.

- Have small bills in cash. It will be easier and faster to make transactions with the farmers and producers. Credit cards are a pain and they cost the farmer money. Be a friend to the farmer! 

-Look for perishable foods such as cheeses, yogurts and sausages displayed on ICE!  Food safety is important.  And have a cooler with ice in the car to place perishable purchases.
Chef Demos teach kids ( uh, and all of us ) how great fresh foods taste!

-Create a Farmers’ Market Ready Pantry at home with staples such as whole-wheat flour, granola cereals, canola oil, olive oils, and spices to turn those fresh finds into fabulous dishes. 

I like to bake peaches and top with Sunbelt Bakery Granola to make a Peach Granola Crunch.      
Baked Peach Granola Crunch with Sunbelt Bakery Granola

Happy and Healthy Shopping at the Farmers Market of your choice, folks!

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Food & Fitness Escape to Mexico

Under the Tecate Sun

Although my first choice for a vacation usually would not include all the flaxseed you can eat and dinner without a wine list, my week at a health spa in Mexico was an escape to a place dedicated to the joys of fitness and relaxation. 

My pretty little casita. I was told Robert Redford stayed here! 


After...just kidding. This is me in the middle of a morning hike up the mountain.

Founded in 1940, Rancho la Puerta Fitness Resort and Spa is south of San Diego in the border town Tecate.

Set on 32 acres of lush gardens with hummingbirds flitting among the flowers, 

Literally on the wagon....there is no alcohol served with meals at the Ranch...but stay tuned...

the resort attracts visitors interested in improving their well-being through sunrise hikes on mountain trails 
Ssssstrrrreeeeccchhhh...after the uphill, then downhill hike then race everyone to breakfast.

and days filled with yoga teachings, Pilates lessons, fitness classes, spa treatments and — welcome in the desert heat — swimming pools and water exercise workouts. 

The quiet villa pool where I spend solitary afternoons listening to birds.

From body sculpting with weights to actual sculpting with clay, there are classes to stretch body and mind.

Sculptor in residence, Jose Ignacio Castaneda, helps turn clay into creations. 

I was just walking by one afternoon and Jose invited me to join the class. Next thing I knew
.....I was a sculptor too.

The beauty and bold flavors of Rancho La Puerta Spa Cuisine

Salads are a thing of beauty

Bold flavors of Mexico highlight the menu

All of the physical activity certainly helps work up an appetite, so it’s rare to see anyone late for a meal in the dining hall.

Just in case you're so hungry you lose your way.....

The four-course dinner the first night started with leek potato spinach soup with caramelized carrots and an heirloom tomato salad with smoked cheese, baby greens and basil dressing. 

Fresh shrimp from the Baja California on the menu at Rancho La Puerta

It’s a principally vegetarian menu here, with many dinner meals featuring fish dishes such as citrus garlic tilapia with red mashed potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a roasted red bell pepper sauce. There’s no sugar in sight. Beverages and desserts including a dark chocolate tiramisu with mango sauce are sweetened with agave nectar.

The beautifully presented plates are prepared with produce plucked daily from the ranch’s organic farm where there’s a cooking school called La Cocina que Canta (the kitchen that sings). 

Virginia Willis, far right, as guest chef at the cooking school. My recipe pal is Lorren Negrin of  Seattle.

Atlanta cookbook author Virginia Willis was the guest chef during my vacation week. Her hands-on cooking classes featured a spa-style Southern menu. “Saying that Southern food is only fried chicken is like saying Chinese food is only egg rolls,” says Willis, author of “Bon Appetit, Y’All!”
Lorren (a registered dietitian like me) and I were asked to create a dish from seasonal vegetables picked just moments before.
The pink things are lightly sautéed radishes! 

Cook healthy, eat healthy
Laura White and Becky Jackson, guests from Atlanta, learned Willis’ recipe for bread-and-butter pickles using the organic garden’s cucumbers. Jackson said, “I’m making these at home. Most people think making pickles is hard, but in 20 minutes, we’re done!”
Don't worry, you get dessert too. Virginia Willis' recipe for strawberry shortcake was light and luscious!
Her secret- no sugar in the whipped cream and canola oil with butter in the pastry. 

Also on the menu: asparagus salad, cornbread-crusted halibut, and stone-ground grits with fresh greens.
“I didn't know about stone-ground grits before,” said Lorren Negrin, a registered dietitian from Seattle. “Now I can tell my patients who are originally from the South they should try these, because they’re healthier than refined grits and they taste better.”
Guests get to keep a beautiful embroidered apron.

Deborah Szekely, 91, who founded Rancho la Puerta and still presents inspirational lectures to guests, says, “Your body makes new cells all the time, so every day you wake up a little younger. Take care of your body so it can take care of you.”

Alex's tree, a focal point at Rancho La Puerta seen with a full moon still hanging above the mountain at 6am. 

I gave my guy a beret. I couldn't figure out how to make the hair.

 Lessons learned at the Ranch

> Try to limit meat. Plant foods are the stars of the meal here with small but satisfying servings of fish or shrimp. The typical American plate is dominated by large servings of meat.

> Try something new. Gina Christman, of Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles Magazine tried acidopholus milk (good for digestion) at Ranch La Puerta, "I've taken this habit home. It tastes like buttermilk."
  I tried flaxseeds sprinkled on cereal (good source of healthy omega 3 fats) because I heard it's good for shiny hair and healthy skin! 
Gina Christman and I successfully reach Alex's Tree on a morning hike. Yes, it's already really hot!

> Try less sugar (and alcohol). A vacation away from favorite indulgences is an adventure, too. I drank water and hibiscus tea instead of wine this week. —- think of the calorie savings!

OK, we did find a wine lounge with Baja wines!

The wine lounge in a cute little casita is a new addition at The Ranch.

Guests can taste Baja whites, reds and roses in the afternoon before dinner, or after dinner.
My definition of health and happiness! 
> Try mindfulness. Appreciate the colors, textures and tastes of each component in a meal. It slows you down a bit and gives your body and mind time to appreciate a meal.

Tasting the variety of produce at the Ranch's organic farm will help you appreciate dinner even more!

> Try keeping track. Guests wear pedometers at the Ranch to measure how many steps taken each day. Aim for 10,000 steps a day as a fitness goal. Wow, that morning hike got me half way there even before breakfast!

Don't worry there's plenty to eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner and look how much I piled on my tray for lunch. 

Yes, that's a cookie with a chocolate kiss in the middle. Friday treat of the week.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Summer Grills & Thrills in Aspen

Don't you just love sweet and juicy July watermelons? 
I do, especially with Patron Tequila and a little jalapeño.

Welcome to the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.
Did I mention wine?
And in fact wines from all over the world ready to be discovered.
Let's start with a party celebrating Wines of Spain.
Now let's start eating.....

I know it's out of focus. I was getting kind of excited.

........and eat some more.

What I learned from the pros in Aspen.
Fire up the grill and prep the fresh produce - it's summer time!!!

Summer meals with a bounty of salads, just picked vegetables, fruit based desserts, seafood and lean meats serve up the delicious and nutritious win-win of taste and health.  Many recipes are as easy as sliced tomatoes topped with basil, a swirl of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. 

But, food fans gathered to acquire savvy secrets from celebrity chefs at the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen learned that what can look like a no-brainer actually takes some thought.

Rub, Season or Marinade?
A steak recipe or menu description may include the word ‘rub’ to describe the coating of herbs and spices added to meats but, Texas chef Tim Love warned the crowd at his cooking class, “Don’t rub it in!”  

Love, executive chef and owner of the Lonesome Dove Western Bistro in Fort Worth, explained that rubbing a mixture of spices, salt and often sugar into the meat can create an undesirable crust, “They tell us rub it so we rub it. But we want to leave the pores open. Rubbing will close the pores of the meat. Then the meat won’t taste like the crusted seasonings because it stays on the outside.”  So, a rub isn’t really a rub, it’s a seasoning to spread on lightly.  
Chef Tim Love with fans at the 2013 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen

 For leaner cuts of beef, such as a flank steak, Love recommends a soy sauce based marinade to help tenderize, “It breaks down the connective tissue.” But, he advised against using it on expensive cuts of beef, “They’re already tender and the soy sauce will actually take away the velvetiness of high dollar steaks.”

Food and Wine Classic in Aspen goes from dawn to dusk and into the night.

Veggie Master
There’s something mesmerizing about watching a skilled athlete or musician perform with ease. 
Claudine and Jacques Pepin share secrets and sips with their foodie fans

The same thing can be said of witnessing cookbook author and TV food personality Jacques Pepin slice an onion or peel as asparagus spear. “We’re in awe,” I overheard a fan exclaim while attending Jacques Pepin’s cooking class with daughter Claudine called Techniques to Create a Great Meal.  “He makes it look so easy, “ says daughter Claudine who adds, “He is the food whisperer.”  In less that forty five minutes the elder Pepin slices, dices, chops, stirs, whips, and whirs his way through a dozen different techniques and ends up with a roasted chicken, quick cured herbed salmon, a mayonnaise, a grapefruit segment salad and a tomato rose.  All while drinking Champagne.  (Well actually Gruet sparkling wine from New Mexico.) 
Watch the hands of the maestro, Jacques Pepin season raw salmon for a fast cure. 

“It’s a question of practice,” says Pepin who’s been a headliner for the Food & Wine Classic for many of its 31 years in Aspen. “A sharp knife is important of course but did you know that when you slice an onion with a sharp knife there are less fumes?” Another veggie prep tip- lay asparagus flat on a cutting board and use a vegetable peeler to trim off the tough exterior flesh at the end of the spears. And don’t toss vegetable trimmings. Pepin keeps an empty milk carton in the freezer and adds bits and pieces, “Keep pressing it down, adding more, pressing it down and when it’s full you can make a wonderful vegetable stock.” Cooking class in your own kitchen: Jacques Pepin’s cookbook, “Essential Pepin” includes a DVD demonstration of culinary techniques.
Lexus dressed for Aspen chic

Basil on the Grill?
 Tim Love’s meat centric cooking class on best ways to season for the grill, did allow for a little dinner time diversity when he tossed in a shrimp recipe, “Eating seafood in Texas is like being a vegetarian! But, shrimp of all seafood does love a rub.” He even grilled some fresh basil to finish the dish. “Charred basil is fantastic. So is asparagus. Yes, I’m going to talk about vegetables. I don’t want to shock people.”
Another kitchen tip from Love, think of onions as another way to add heat to a dish.
And use your grill pan to create a mélange of vegetables. Slice potatoes so they grill as quickly as other veggies on the fire.  Love’s cooking demo drink of choice? Tequila shots at 10am. And all that after he ran the Food & Wine Classic 5K run, “Check with me at 5pm today and I’ll either be a hero or a zero!”
We say hero, Tim. And in your cute words, “Damn Skippy!”

OK Foodie Fan Time!

Guess which celebrity chef these gals are excited to see?

And my friend Liz McDermott, wanted to show her son Ford just how cool she is by posing with Ford's favorite chef Andrew Zimmern.

And look a Thomas Keller sighting! He is as gracious as he is talented.

Ok the camera was shaking a bit. I think he's actually taking photos of his dish, a creation of raw seafood.
No not Rocky Mountain Oysters in Aspen, this time.

As long as we're having some fun. How about a musician in the tasting tents? 
Guitarist from Train

Woody Creek potato vodka is new this year, distilled just outside of Aspen near, you guessed it,
Woody Creek.  How about a sample? Gondola ride sized. 

New eatery in Aspen, Above the Salt.

New foods, new flavors, new wine adventures and new friends at the 31st Food & WIne Classic in Aspen.
Lindsay Feitlinger, Liz Moore McDermott, Carolyn O'Neil, Bridget Daley McDermott and
I don't know who that guy is.

Congratulations Food & Wine Magazine for another great June weekend in Aspen.
Publisher of Food & Wine, Chris Grdovic Baltz salutes Devin Padgett, special events producer
for the annual party for 5000 food and wine lovers.