Field notes from California's North Central Valley

Archive for the category “Cooking”

Farm to fork: Almost-spring lamb

I’m a list-maker. Most of what ends up in my refrigerator and cupboards begins as a carefully constructed grocery list, often only slightly modified from the weeks before.

Perhaps because of that, I find it freeing, even luxurious, to go to the farmer’s market with no other plan than to find what looks most delicious and build a meal around it. Especially a Sunday meal that can be slowly, lovingly concocted and savored, with none of the get-er-done mentality of a weeknight dinner.

It didn’t take long for me to find a starting point at the Davis Farmers Market this past weekend. Esparto-based Chowdown Farms, from whom I regularly buy some great-tasting chicken, had just processed their lamb and were offering chops, ribs, shoulders and other cuts. I tend to think of lamb as a spring meal, but when it’s ready in February, I’ll take it. Although a slow-roasted shoulder would have been cheaper and likely still tasty, I was curious about the ribs, so I got a small package of them to give us a little taste.

A side accompaniment beckoned nearby, creating a rubbernecking situation at the Capay Organic booth: Broccoli Romanesco. The words “horny cauliflower” popped into my mind upon seeing them, lined up like armored broccoli. They look like they’d be more at home in a coral reef than in a field of soil. They are a striking-looking vegetable, and I’m a sucker for a pretty face.

Broccoli Romanesco

Romanesco in hand, I decided to make my go-to side of roasted vegetables, so I found some baby potatoes from Stockton-based Zuckerman’s Farm and some fresh Brussels sprouts (sorry to say, I didn’t catch the sprouts’ farm name, but at least I remembered to take a photo.)

Brussels sprouts

The classic accompaniment to lamb is mint jelly, which my husband and I don’t like, so we pulled out the ol’ iPhone and looked up “apple-pear chutney,” then bought a couple of Asian pears from grower Riffat Ahmad. Sadly, the pears are among the season’s last, but we’ll hold on until the end!

Our meal set, we took one last look to see what’s in season: purple cabbage, kale, leeks (note to self: make vichyssoise soon), citrus, fennel (note to self: figure out what the heck to do with fennel), chard, all manner of winter greens.

Red cabbageSprung a leekSwiss Chard

On Sunday, I set about making our fairly simple meal. When you start with really good ingredients, I think mussing them up with a lot of sauces, cheeses, spices and whatnots just covers up the good stuff.

Spring vegetables

So here’s how to do what  I did:

Season lamb with olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh rosemary. Let it rest while chopping veggies.

Lamb ribs

Chop Brussels sprouts in half and Romanesco into florets.

Blanch baby potatoes in boiling water about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. Cut potatoes in half and mix with the Brussels sprouts and Romanesco. Drizzle olive oil, herbs (I used herbs de provence), salt and pepper to season. Roast at 425 degrees for about 40 minutes.

Veggies for roasting

While vegetables cook, make the chutney. (Or don’t, it really didn’t turn out that well.)

Remove veggies from oven, and tent with foil while broiling lamb.

Place lamb about 4 inches below broiler. Broil for 3 minutes each side, turning once.

Then, by all means, eat!

Roasted lamb and spring vegetables with spicy apple chutney

Farmer’s market to mouth, #1: Winter comfort

With my husband laid up after minor surgery last weekend, a farm visit was out of the question. It seemed like a fine time to let the farmers come to us. Luckily, the Saturday morning Davis Farmers Market is open year-round, and true to reputation, it happens to be one of the best around. I went in search of winter comfort food.

I used to go to the farmer’s market because it made me feel good–to be outside, to “do the right thing” and support small farmers, to buy stuff in season. I still go for those reasons, but my driving force these days is becoming far more selfish: I come for the food. Maybe it’s my age; perhaps my palate is finally growing up. But every time I go to the farmer’s market lately, I have some surprising food moment. I bite into elevated versions of what I’ve had all my life: The pears are crisper, the carrots sweeter, the apple cider more substantial. It’s food, only better.

This weekend I wanted to cook an all-local meal that was easy to prepare, used just a few ingredients and featured some of my favorite standouts so far at the Davis Farmers Market.

Here’s what’s on the menu: Roasted chicken with carrots, golden beets and fingerling potatoes, all seasoned with salt, pepper and Yolo-pressed olive oil.

My first stop was Cache Creek Meat Co.’s vendor booth for a whole chicken. Cache Creek farmers Kristy Lyn Levings and Brian Douglass raise their happy, free-range birds on a small farm in Yolo County. I’d had their chicken before. I’m an average, by no means outstanding cook, so I could only attribute the juicy, tender, savory outcome I’d experienced before to the bird and its producers, not to my culinary abilities. Naturally, I came back for more. I lucked out and got the last one, a 4.5-pound lovely.

Next, I found some fingerling potatoes from Stockton-based Zuckerman’s Farm. I decided to roast them with some golden beets that caught my eye at the Rancho Cortez booth. I also chose some melon-colored carrots from local farm Fiddler’s Green. These guys grow tons of things, but they deserve a special mention for opening my eyes to the true potential of carrots. I first bought a bunch of their rainbow carrots–in purple, red, orange and yellow–a few weeks ago, and I was shocked they were so good. I felt like someone who has only ever eaten tomatoes from a grocery store in the winter must feel biting into a July brandywine.

So I took my little bundle home and laid them on the table to admire before chopping them to bits.

Lily “helped” with quality control.

I seasoned the chicken with melted butter, olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary, stuck half a lemon from our backyard tree in its cavity, and roasted it for about 1.5 hours (20 minutes per pound).

Mid-way, I added to the oven a pan of chopped beets, carrots and potatoes, which were tossed with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted that for about 45 minutes.

I made a little gravy with the pan drippings, some flour, chicken broth and sherry.

Dinner was served. We were happy. And there was plenty of chicken left over to make my man-on-the-mend some easy enchiladas the next day.

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