Farmer’s Market Bounty

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If you ever wondered what $53 dollars could buy for you at the Fulton Street Farmer’s Market, here you go! I am terrible at remembering how much of something I got so you’ll just have to eyeball it, but I can certainly list it. The only thing I bought that wasn’t homegrown was some Gilroy, California shallots. Other than that, it is Pure Michigan. From Blandford–always my first stop–I got an enormous head of broccoli, some cauliflower, a celery leaf heavy bunch o’ celery, two bundles of Tuscan kale and some flat-leaf parsley. After that, it was a blur that included red-skinned potatoes, 3 pints of hot peppers (a mix of habanero and cherry bomb) for Roger, two beautiful heirloom tomatoes, tons of peppers to freeze (green, pimento and poblano, tons of apples to perfect my apple pie pizza–Honey Crisp, Zestar and Fuji–and Michigan pears.  This will easily feed the two of us for a week.  Love, love, love my home state!

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Comfort Food, Part 1

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I’ve been a bit obsessed with ground beef subs. Why? Because ground beef is such a big part of the typical American diet and so to have a ‘go-to’ whole foods substitute to use in traditional recipes is a big bonus with the crowd I work with–namely people who switch suddenly to a plant-based diet for health reasons. You have to be willing to swap out ingredients depending on whether your diner is gluten sensitive, has an allergy to mushrooms or nuts, or is avoiding soy due to an estrogenic cancer. At my plant-based comfort food class, I’ll be providing more specific recipes. But for the moment, I will tell you some of the components I use when concocting a substitute for ground beef that will hold its own when used in recipes like hamburger helper, chili, sloppy joes and spaghetti bolognese.

Nothing beats a half cup of raw soaked walnuts, ground up in your food processor. Add a half cup of dried shitake mushrooms (grind these up, too), 8 oz. of drained and briefly frozen and crumbled tofu, and a half cup of bulgur wheat. Of these, all but the walnuts will act like a sponge and soak up liquid. I like to rub my tofu in spices–because recognizing bits of tofu is a real buzzkill for picky eaters. I usually use something like a tablespoon of low-sodium soy sauce, a little beer or red wine, and maybe some coffee. To that, I might add smoked paprika, chili powder, ground fennel seed, freshly ground black pepper, oregano, cumin or blackening spices. Once the tofu is coated, you can mix in the other ingredients. Note that if you are using bulgur and dried mushrooms, you’ll need to add extra liquid to keep the recipe in balance. This could take the form of tomatoes or sauce when making chili or beer when making sloppy joes. In the hamburger helper above, I used a combination of chopped tomatoes, tomato sauce and red wine.

Here’s a quick guide to swapping out ingredients based on your sensitivities.

Can’t do nuts? Do bulgur wheat
Can’t do tofu? Do navy beans, baked at 250 for 30 minutes in the oven
Can’t do mushrooms? Do well-rinsed ground up jackfruit or thoroughly squeezed ground up Butler soy curls.

The point is that the ground beef subs in your grocery store freezer case are highly-processed and filled with weird ingredients–including animal ingredients like egg whites. They’re also expensive! You can mimic the texture of ground beef quite well all on your own. When you’ve found the perfect blend, make a bunch and freeze it. That way your happy helper will be just as quick as the irradiated stuff that comes in the box.

Garden Party

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Well, friends, it takes a little longer to wrap things up in the summertime. So much time taken up at the Farmer’s Market. We had a chance to chat with Jerry Adams (far left, above), West Michigan FarmLink co-founder, at our last get together. Thank you, Jerry! Please take some time to learn what FarmLink does and how it efficiently brings organizations, restaurants, chefs and others together with farmers, allowing farmers to spend more time in the field. We are so fortunate to live in this agriculturally rich area.

Next special guest will be Angela Topp of Tree Huggers, a plant-based grocery store that is package-free and zero waste. Customers bring reusable containers for purchasing from the bulk bins, such as Ball canning jars. Tree Huggers also recycles many items the city is not able to take. This seems like a great time to gratefully acknowledge the gift of ‘Every day ware’ from Suzie and Johnny MacKeigan’s 1969 wedding set. It is called ‘Market’ and was made in Norway. We love every bit of it, including the chips and cracks earned after years of loving service.

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FarmLink and Tree Huggers really symbolize the wonderful work we like to see here in west Michigan. Thank you two for all you do. In the meantime, we continue to be responsible consumers. So here’s how we make use of the wonderful food and the re-usable containers.

But first, my caveat. I wasn’t feeling that well, so I sat back and didn’t collect as much info or photos as I usually do. I am deeply grateful for all who helped out that evening. Wow. MVP award goes to Shandy Longcore who supervised clean-up and Tillie the sometimes wandering German shepherd. More thanks go to Nancy McQuate and Morgan Doane for taking photos. (So basically if I don’t talk enthusiastically about your dish it’s because I didn’t keep the card!)

Here’s Shandy, balancing it all with aplomb!

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Okay, let’s start with dessert. Morgan Doane kindly re-baked her blueberry cake after the first one fell to the bottom of the oven. And newbie Erin Brennan wowed everyone with the beet brownies with beet icing. I know the dish in-between was delicious, too.

Geoff Fields has been waiting try out his paella pan with the veganistas in mind. Home run, as usual.

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Beets were popular! Catherine Frerichs kindly contributed her beet salad recipe when asked (scroll to end of post).

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There was lovely sangria.

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Wonderful salads and dips

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and Shandy made a beautiful vegan lasagna.

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I tried my hand at jackfruit carnitas with avocado cream

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The garden is so lush this time of year and Roger does such a nice job setting it up for guests, but look how empty it is without people to enjoy it.

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Which is why you should all come on the third Wednesday of August (August 21st to be exact) and bring a nice friend.

Beet/Quinoa Salad: (adapted from an NYT recipe for a beet and bulghur salad)
6 servings
Ingredients:
1/2 lb. beets
1/3 c. plus 1 T. olive oil
1/4 t. salt, more as needed
black pepper as needed
1 c. quinoa
1/4 c. red wine vinegar
1 and 1/2 t. Dijon mustard
1/3 c. canola oil
3 T. fresh chopped tarragon or dill
3 T. fresh chopped parsley

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Place beets in a baking pan and drizzle with 1 T. olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of water, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper. Cover beets with foil and bake until tender when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes for medium-sized beets. Let beets cool, then peel and dice.
2. Cook quinoa–put 1 cup in two cups of water and cook for 10 minutes.
3. Place quinoa in large bowl. In a medium pot, combine 2 c. water with diced beets. Bring to a boil and simmer for 2 minutes. Strain beets, reserving liquid.
Measure out 1 and 1/4 c. liquid and season with 1/4 t. salt. Pour over quinoa. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let sit until liquid is absorbed, about 1 hr. (Pour off any excess liquid.)
4. Transfer beets to a blender. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, and large pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in remaining 1/3 c. olive oil and the canola oil. Add more salt and pepper if needed.
Pour dressing over beets and pulse until mixture forms a coarse puree. Add half to 3/4 of beet vinaigrette to quinoa and toss well. Toss in parsley and dill or tarragon and more salt and pepper if needed. (The remaining vinaigrette is wonderful on another salad.)
Serve at once or refrigerate up to two days.

What is a Plant-based Supper Club?

You’re curious. Your interest is piqued. How does a plant-based supper club differ from your run-of-the-mill potluck? Well, it doesn’t differ that much, really. Anyone is welcome to participate as long as they observe two rules: 1) All the dishes are plant-based–that means no meat, eggs or dairy, and 2) Everyone is nice–that means no one ever feels left out even if they don’t know anyone else. As far as the mechanics go, or what actually happens between this…

And this…

Well, let’s go through it.

We gather at 6 p.m. While we are waiting for everyone to arrive, we go outside or stand around the fire and have a drink. This can be either pomegranate green tea or red wine or whatever others have brought. If it is your first time, you don’t have to bring anything. Just come and eat! By the way, you don’t have to be a full-time, plant-based eater to participate. In fact, only two or three diners are.

About 6:30 or 6:45, after we’ve photographed the food, we gather at the table. Or should I say ‘groaning board.’

Time to dig in!

What exactly are we eating? Well, everything is marked, including any potential allergy information that would be helpful: corn, soy, mushrooms, nuts, gluten. Here’s what we had in August.

For starters: cashew-almond nut cheese with fresh vegetables, hummus, peppered banana chips, roasted tomatoes with macadamia nut cheese.

Main dishes included: brown rice and tofu salad with shiitake mushrooms, pesto Israeli couscous, raw cucumber avocado soup, vegan mock tuna salad sandwiches, chana masala and upma.

On the side, we had: roasted potatoes with Indian spices, chopped salad, cucumber cilantro salad, watermelon pistachio salad, maple-roasted brussel sprouts, garden salad with tarragon ranch dressing, roasted potatoes–onions–peppers, and garlic-infused beets.

For dessert, there was: Key lime and banana ‘cream’ pies, coconut-strawberry tarts, banana bread cake with peanut butter frosting and brown sugar blondies.

Here’s what it looked like.

Here’s what a plate looks like in the late summer sunlight… Of course we ate outside!

Now comes the hard part–eating and socializing at the same time. At this supper club, probably one quarter of the people who came were new, but everyone found pleasant dining companions. Even after we ran out of chairs!

Because it is so laid-back, there is usually time for contemplating your life in a glass of wine,

taking a tour of the house or the garden

Impromptu reunions–these crazy people rode their bikes from Grand Rapids to Chicago in 2011!

Or discussing the many culinary possibilities for say, puffball mushrooms.

Is the food good? Will you get enough to eat? Well, we aim to be a zero waste party, so that means we compost the food scraps and napkins. Honestly, we never have more than a pailful to compost.

There are always contingencies, of course, but everyone collaborates to get the job done. At this dinner, for example, Tillie the Terrible German shepherd ran away twice during the party. But Beth Leeson helped me look for her and Morgan Doane, Medha Kosalge and Sara Schneider took over my photographer duties. Thank you! And thank you to everyone who helps clean up!

So there you have it. If you live in the Grand Rapids area and you are interested in attending, simply email me at stirthepotgr@gmail.com. Participants, feel free to add your two cents. Here is your chance to vote for (and cajole) the makers of your favorite dishes.

July Supper Club

Despite the heat and the near-drought conditions, we gathered to celebrate summer, one another’s company and fabulous vegan fare. Heavily featured were slaws and grain salads and cold soups like vichyssoise and gazpacho. No one brought dessert! Who wants to turn on the oven at the moment? We didn’t mind. It was a lovely al fresco evening.

The big news, of course, is that our host is now bald! Here he is pictured with his lovely wife (yes, me of the farmer tan!); his bald mentor, Bob Hazen; and Austin Bunn.

But I digress. Let’s look at the food, with a BIG thank you to Morgan Doane for helping me photograph it.

Salads!

And more! Many of you turned to southern climes for inspiration–South America, India, Italy–for gazpachos, salsas, enchiladas, lasagnas, curries and daals.

If your dish isn’t photographed here, it’s because our photo didn’t make it look appetizing OR we have no photo! You are all welcome to photograph your dishes ahead of time (as I did with our black pea and cilantro dish and tabbouleh) and send me a jpeg to make sure they show well.

Recipe requests have been made for Shawn and Matt’s veggie enchiladas, Medha’s millet bread, Miles’ mango salsa, Josh’s ginger lemonade, Kathy’s lasagna, Beth’s gazpacho and Michele’s mango and avocado salad. Bring it on. I’ve already got the veggie enchiladas! They will be up after this post.

So, was it good? Here’s how I tell. The table… people are learning they can’t arrive late.

The fact that people are bringing friends and relatives. Suzanne brought Josh and Olive, Sandy brought Amy, Todd and Katie brought Gary, Austin and Bob brought Shawn and Matt, Miles brought Steve, Heidi brought Sarah, Kathy brought her brother-in-law and daughter, Cynthia brought herself (even though the people who’d invited her didn’t come!). This is most likely due to the fact that everyone is so nice. It’s our only rule–other than the food must be plant-based. You don’t have to be nice all the time, just for three or so hours. People can do it! Really. Here’s the proof.

Morgan and Mara rocking this season’s black and white theme…

Kathy and Jan…

Left to right: Greg, K.C., Gary, Todd, Katie

Who posed this assymetrical photo?? Left to right, top to bottom: Miles, Steve, Medha, Sarah, Heidi, Kathy, Chris

Amanda, far left, has promised me a few guest blog posts on her vegan journey. I have a good memory, Amanda! Shane blogs at http://livetogarden.blogspot.com/

We had visitors from as far away as San Francisco!

Sandy, pictured here with Beth, cannot have her photo taken without making a joke!

Mara and Dave leave us temporarily to spend a year in Minneapolis, where Mara will be completing her M.F.A. and Dave will be working on his sabbatical project. You may remember them as vegan gnocchi and tofu cheesecake. Back in 2013!
We are thrilled for Austin and Bob and their new adventures in Ithaca, New York. You may remember them as sweet potato curry and roasted beet ice cream. They will be dearly missed by all their supper club friends and most especially Sue and Roger.

Until next month. We meet again on the 22nd of August.

Vegan Dog Days at Knapp Farm

Wow, temps climbed into the 90s for our most recent supper club, but thousands of native plants, a stiff breeze and amazing food helped stimulate our appetites for the great veggie dog taste test (winners described below). Most talked about items included: Bob Hazen’s roasted beet ice cream, Medha Kosalge’s moong bean bread with peanut salad, and Geoff Fields’ Bibimbop with his specially-formulated ‘Axis of Evil’ sauce. We hope to post some of these recipes soon, but rely on the goodwill of the cooks! Since we were all scattered hither and yon, I don’t have complete information about anything, really. I know you will forgive me and enjoy the photos, courtesy of Bob Hazen and Roger Gilles. If you would like to attend a supper club, email me at stirthepotgr@gmail.com. You don’t have to know the first thing about cooking, but you do have to be nice.

We finished our gravel patio, with the help of Ryan Stailey! Thank you, Ryan. Guests Todd, Katie, Kevin, Geoff and Meribeth immediately gravitated to it (and said they felt like they were in Tuscany).

Though there were other equally charming locations to be found, from tents under the mulberries to old stone benches…rumor has it that’s where Leslie, Ann, Marge, Jan, Jamie, Anna and Shane were camping out. You’ll see Kathy, Chris, Miles and Amanda below.

Before dinner, we encouraged walks around the property. Below, Chris, Kathy, Sue and Trish swap smoothie recipes in the garden.

Tillie kept a watchful eye over all, performing regular perimeter checks for invaders, including chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits and bees.

We had a surplus of salads…

And delicious desserts. As you can see, Morgan’s bundt cake did not suffer the ill effects of the weather, though she was found in the kitchen doing a little ‘cake doctor’ after the trip over in a 90 plus degree car.

So, who won the contest and which dog should you be putting on your plant-based grill (or thrilling your vegetarian-vegan friends with)? First, let me point out just a couple of things about faux-meat products. 1) They are not all healthy! In fact, some have an ingredient list of unrecognizable chemicals that would rival the most processed product. So read the label. 2) They are not all vegan. If you want your veggie dog to be completely plant-based, you have to read the label. Morning Star, for example, almost always uses egg whites. For our test, we chose four completely vegan dogs. They were, clockwise from top-left: Yves Veggie Cuisine Good Dog, Tofurky Italian Sausage with Sun-dried tomatoes and basil, Light Life Jumbo Smart Dogs and Tofurky Beer Brats with Full Sail Ale.

3) So much of eating is experienced with the eye. Which one of these would you want to eat? Some veggie dogs look plastic and unappealing. Do not grill these and give the rest of them a bad name. 4) While all will tout their fitness to be grilled, it’s not true. Most often Roger will steam or microwave veggie dogs or brats, which helps to retain their moisture and helps to approximate the juiciness you want in a dog. Last night, following a 60 second twirl in the microwave in groups of four, Roger put them on the grill for just a few minutes of medium heat, turning them regularly. 5) Loading up the dogs with your favorite condiments will elicit comments like Ryan Stailey’s: If you hadn’t told me, I would have thought it was a brat.

And the winner is the one you would assume: Tofurky Italian sausage with sun-dried tomatoes and basil, which we purchased at Harvest Health for $5.19 for a pack of four.

The other winning thing we did was achieve our goal of a zero waste party by composting all the food and unbleached napkins. We always use real dishes, glasses and silverware and wash them the old-fashioned way. Thank you Marge and Ann for marshaling the forces!