Midweek Options: Bella Bean Organics

My favorite place to be on Saturday morning: a farmers market. I have some favorites, but honestly, I enjoy visiting different markets each month. The variety that my community offers when it comes to seasonal, locally-grown produce and pasture-raised meats is what makes living in central North Carolina so great. From fresh ginger and shitake mushrooms to peaches and heirloom tomatoes—the abundance of produce here is immense.   I can find farm-fresh eggs or pasture-raised pork, lamb, goat, and chicken. Everything I need to create delicious meals can be found at my local farmers markets on Saturday morning. There is, however, a downside to my farmers-market-centered world: I can only buy enough for a few days. By Wednesday, I have usually exhausted all of my supply of fresh local ingredients. I do my best to avoid food waste, so I try to control my impulse buying and only get what I know I can prepare while it’s still fresh.

The solution to this problem was recently revealed to me when I tried Bella Bean Organics for the first time. I ordered by 5:00PM on Friday, and the following Wednesday a box of beautiful produce, herbs, eggs, and pasture-raised meats from Coon Rock Farm was delivered to my doorstep. No weekly menu in my home would be complete without ingredients from local artisans, so I also ordered cheeses from Hillsborough Cheese Company and rice from Anson Mills. The variety of products and produce was not only impressive, but also allowed me the convenience of avoiding the grocery store as my only mid-week option. I came away from my ordering experience thinking, “If this is what they offer in the winter, I cannot wait to see the spring/summer options!” I always feel a sense of victory when I can get the majority of my ingredients from local sources. Bella Bean Organics offers both local and non-local items as well as certified organic options.

Bella Bean Organics is not your typical farm-to-doorstep business. Owners Jamie DeMent and Richard Holcomb also own Coon Rock Farm in Hillsborough, NC and Piedmont Restaurant in Durham, NC. Their passion for sustainable local agriculture and their vantage point as farmers makes them the perfect curators of an online farmers market. A large percentage of the produce, eggs, herbs, and pasture-raised meats offered through Bella Bean Organics are grown and raised on their farm. Because it is farmer-owned and operated, ordering from Bella Bean Organics is much like visiting a farm stand. The great thing about ordering is that you can do it from the comfort of your home and have it delivered to your front door for a small fee. Convenience, variety, sustainable choices, and southern artisanal products—who could ask for more?

If your goal, like mine, is to use as many locally and regionally grown, raised, caught, and made products in your weekly menu, then check out what Bella Bean Organics has to offer.   Here are some recipes to get you inspired to use the last of the winter abundance, too. I promise spring, with its sugary peas, tender lettuce, and ripe delicious strawberries, will be here soon!

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Winter Market Stir Fry

  • 3 medium carrots, julienned
  • 2 small heads of cabbage, thinly sliced *
  • 2 small turnips, peeled and diced *
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ cup Shitake mushrooms, stems removed & sliced *
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tbs. local honey *
  • ¼ cup chopped green onion (white and green parts) *
  • 3 bundles Rice Vermicelli Noodles
  • Sesame Oil
  • Canola Oil
  1. Prepare noodles according to package. Once drained, toss with 2 tbs. sesame oil and set aside.
  1. In a bowl, combine: soy sauce, honey, garlic, and green onion. Set aside.
  1. Heat 2 tbs. canola oil and 1 tbs. sesame oil in a wok on medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 2-3 minutes.
  1. Add cabbage and sauté for 3 more minutes or until cabbage starts to wilt.
  1. Add the carrots and continue sautéing for 3-4 more minutes or until carrots begin to soften.
  1. Reduce the heat to low and add the noodles to the wok. Pour the soy sauce mixture over the noodles and vegetables, tossing to coat.
  1. Remove from the heat and serve.

* indicates items from Bella Bean Organics

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Breakfast Dates

  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  1. Place the dates in a small oven-safe baking dish and drizzle with the honey.
  1. Bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes until dates are caramelized and soft
  1. Place caramelized dates in a shallow bowl and top with the lebna
  1. Sprinkle with pecans (and a dash of cinnamon or nutmeg if you desire!), drizzle with additional honey, and enjoy.

Note: To make this dish completely local, use seasonal fruit such as peaches or figs!

* indicates items from Bella Bean Organics

Thanksgiving Dessert: Gluten Free Spiced Acorn Squash Bars

It is tough to eat locally in the winter.  Squash, greens, root vegetables, and sweet potatoes–that about sums up the winter harvest that starts in November and takes us into early March. It’s a long time to eat the same thing over and over again.  Being creative is the key to embracing the limited choices at the winter farmers markets. So, let’s talk squash.

Acorn squash has a similar taste, texture, and sweetness to pumpkin, so why not use it for desserts? It will be around long after the pumpkins are gone from the market tables.  If the urge hits you to bake more pumpkin bread in January, you don’t have to turn to the canned stuff.  You can use acorn squash or butternut, too.  As for for the gluten, I am not a gluten-free eater.  I love bread.  I love pastries.  I love pasta.  I am thankful that I can eat these things without issue. I know many people who cannot.  Eating gluten is harmful to them.  Gluten-free is more than a fad or a choice.  For many people, it is a health issue.  I have had some amazing gluten-free pastries and cookies.  I am still learning how to adapt recipes to make them without wheat flour.  I have found that almond meal or almond flour works well for more dense cakes like these bars.

My family had no idea these were gluten-free when they devoured the first batch.  I’d call that a success!

Gluten Free Spiced Acorn Squash Bars with Mascarpone Cream

  • ½ c. acorn squash puree
  • ½ c, brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup almond flour or meal
  • ¼ c. arrowroot powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. ground cloves
  • ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F
  2. Place dry ingredients: almond flour, arrowroot, baking soda, salt, and spices in a bowl. Using a whisk, combine thoroughly.
  3. In another bowl, combine squash puree, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla.
  4. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir to incorporate.
  5. Line an 8×8-baking pan with parchment paper. Pour batter into the pan and spread evenly.
  6. Bake for 20-25 minutes until springs back when lightly touched.
  7. Cool on a rack.  When completely cooled, cut into squares.

For the Mascarpone Cream:

  • 1 cup mascarpone cheese
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • 3-4 tbs. powdered sugar
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract

Place ingredients in a chilled mixing bowl and whip until stiff peaks form. Spoon into a piping bag with a star tip.  Pipe on to each bar.  Grate a little nutmeg or sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon over the top and serve!

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Thanksgiving is all about family, friends and delicious food. Luckily, the food blogging community is all about these things as well. To celebrate the holiday, Meghan from Cake ‘n’ Knife and Susannah from Feast + West are hosting Blogsgiving Dinner. There are 20 awesome blogs sharing 52 recipes

The idea is based on the old-fashioned progressive dinner party, in which you’d eat each course at a different guest’s home. Each blogger is bringing one or more dishes to the party on Monday, Wednesday and Friday of this week, so be sure to stop by each one and get some ideas for your own Thanksgiving meal.  Today’s bloggers have recipes for dessert and after-dinner drinks, as well as ideas for eating leftovers.

We’ll be posting to social media with the hashtag #blogsgivingdinner. Hope you can join us!

Blogsgiving Progressive Dinner Menu

Friday, Nov. 14

Dessert

Grandma’s Pecan Pie from The Wetherills Say I Do

Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Pumpkin Cream Cheese Frosting from My Cooking Spot

Gluten-Free Apple Berry Crumble from Twin Stripe

Paleo Pumpkin Pudding from Wit Wisdom Food

Cranberry Almond Coconut Bars from Love & Flour

Torched Marshmallow Pumpkin Pie with Olive & Sinclair Chocolate from The Local Forkful

Poached Pears with Salted Maple Caramel Syrup from Home at Six

Sweet Potato Pie from Think Fruitful

Nutella Pumpkin S’mores Tart from bethcakes

Gluten-Free Acorn Squash Spice Bars from I Cook. I Eat. It’s Life.

Drunken Pecan Pie Bars from The Speckled Palate

After-Dinner Drinks

Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider from A Savory Feast

Cranberry Bourbon Granita from Feast + West

Leftovers

Cheesy Potato Croquettes from Hello Little Home

Leftover Stuffed Egg Rolls with Cranberry Dipping Sauce from Cake ‘n’ Knife

Freezer-Friendly Turkey and Rice Casserole from Betty Becca

Turkey and Cranberry Quesadilla from Glamour Girl Gourmet

Stuffed Crescents with Thanksgiving Leftovers from My Cooking Spot

PepperFest: The Amazing Pepper Festival

Do you love peppers? I mean, really love them? Then put PepperFest on your 2015 calendar—you won’t want to miss this event. Early fall brings the end of the pepper harvest, and to celebrate this event, Abundance NC, the Briar Chapel community, and countless local chefs and food purveyors come together for PepperFest. This event has grown over the last seven years to become a destination for foodies, those who support sustainable living, and anyone who loves a creative dish made with peppers. PepperFest is located inside the Briar Chapel community of Chapel Hill. This community is a sanctuary for people who want sustainable, green living. Newland Communities has created a neighborhood that offers its residents amenities like nature trails, open spaces, community gardens, and a lifestyle that supports green living. Abundance NC, an organization with a mission to support “a North Carolina where people increasingly meet their needs locally and sustainably,” is the perfect partner for PepperFest.

Peppers for this event are harvested by local growers and supplied to chefs, breweries, coffee roasters, and more. These talented individuals create a recipe with their peppers, and festival-goers walk through sampling these delicious treats. Spicy peppers and sweet peppers made their way in to everything from beer and hot chocolate to soups and desserts.   PepperFest showcases chefs and restaurants that support farm-to-fork cuisine from around North Carolina.

Sustainability and green living were the themes woven throughout the festival. From Larry’s Beans Veggie bus (a mobile coffee shop run on used vegetable oil) to the compostable cups and plates, it was evident that PepperFest planners wanted to stay true to their mission. We were given one wooden spork at check-in and asked to use it more than once. I proudly surrendered mine to one of the many recycling bins at the end of the day. I like the thought of reducing waste through this small gesture, and I love that everyone participated.

PepperFest was a delicious way to celebrate the end of summer harvest. I will be back for more next year. I hope to see you there!

Spicy peppers were in abundance at PepperFest.

Spicy peppers were in abundance at PepperFest.

Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House Restaurant, looking cool in his shades, was serving up a delicious creation of Italian sausage, peppers, with a cornbread crouton.

Chef Colin Bedford from Fearrington House Restaurant, looking cool in his shades, was serving up a delicious creation of Italian sausage, peppers, with a cornbread crouton.

Always great to see Art (a.k.a. @RUWandering)!

Always great to see Art (a.k.a. @RUWandering)!

Craig from Crude Bitters and Sodas sharing his Evil Zerbert in addition to his amazing bitters and shrubs.

Craig from Crude Bitters and Sodas sharing his Evil Zerbert in addition to his amazing bitters and shrubs.

Vimala from Vimala's Curryblossom Cafe was all smiles.  Her pepper pickle was SPICY!

Vimala from Vimala’s Curryblossom Cafe was all smiles. Her pepper pickle was SPICY!

Chef Regan Stachler from Little Hen in Holly Springs and his staff.

Chef Regan Stachler from Little Hen in Holly Springs and his staff.

This is what is it all about! #EatLocal

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association was there.  This is what is it all about! #EatLocal

Chef Jay Piere from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen sampled out an amazing soup with smoked pumpkin.  Spicy goodness!

Chef Jay Pierce from Lucky 32 Southern Kitchen sampled out an amazing soup with smoked pumpkin. Spicy goodness!

Last Call Before Fall

Fresh tomatoes simply do not happen in my house during the winter.  I just cannot bring myself to purchase those tasteless, mealy tomatoes they offer in the grocery stores in the off season.  Blech!  Often, I am tempted.  In the past, when I have caved, the disappointment is painful.  I turn to canned tomatoes once the fresh ones disappear from the farmers market tables.  This year, I had high hopes of canning my own tomatoes.  Then, work, life, and a million other things got in the way.  Here we are–at the end of the season–and I have not canned a single tomato. So, to the Internet I went.  Search terms: freezing fresh tomatoes.  There is an enormous amount of information about freezing tomatoes on the web.  After reading 10 different articles that provided 10 different opinions, I decided to just do it.  Worst case scenario: tasteless red liquid.  I figured it could still have some culinary use.  With field tomatoes at about $.99 per pound, it was worth a try.

The differing opinions in the articles I read mostly focused on peeling or not peeling, whole or pureed, and fresh versus cooked.   I opted for pureed, with the skins on, and to simmer the puree slowly to reduce it a bit before freezing.  I have a Vitamix, so leaving the skins on was not an issue. This machine will completely obliterate the skins, which have a lot of the nutrients.  One necessary item: my skimmer.  I love this culinary tool (purchased at Whisk, of course).  I used it to remove the tomatoey foam that is produced when the tomatoes are processed in the Vitamix.  Five pounds of tomatoes later, I have several containers of frozen tomato puree that I will be using in soups and sauces this winter.

The mornings are foggy, damp, and cool.  The nights give us a little shiver.   It’s the last call for tomatoes.  Fall is upon us–bring on the pumpkins!

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Final Fruits: North Carolina Apples

I have enjoyed every bite of sun-ripened tomato, juicy peach, sweet buttery corn, and spicy pepper from the summer harvest. I will miss these delicacies in a few short weeks. The stockpile of frozen summer produce that fills my freezer won’t last long—it never does. It’s okay, though. Fall brings special treats, too.

The first sign that fall is approaching? Apples! They are such a versatile fruit. I add apples to butternut squash soup for sweetness and acidity. They pair perfectly with pork, so I use them when roasting a pork loin or braising a pork belly. And, of course…apples are perfect for dessert. Apple pie, apple crisp, apples and caramel, apple gallette, and apple dumplings are just a few of my favorites. Apples are the final fruits of the year here in North Carolina. They are celebrated in the mountains and savored for as long as possible. It will be quite a while before we’ll see any fruit at our farmers markets once they are gone.

Recently, I visited Six Forks Cheese in Raleigh. If you like cheese, and you haven’t been there yet, please make plans to go. You can thank me later. It is a cheese-lover’s paradise. They generously let me taste any cheese I was curious about. I bought some amazingly mild blue cheese from Denmark that was the perfect pairing for the North Carolina Honey Crisp apples I had purchased the day prior. This afternoon snack had me dreaming of other apple and cheese combinations. My favorite go-to cheese is chèvre. Apples and goat cheese…perfect snack or—wait, what about an appetizer? A crostini is simple and will let the flavors shine. Let’s do this!

First, I toasted baguette slices by brushing them with olive oil and letting them get golden in a 350 degree F oven. Once they were cooled, I spread each one with Goat Lady Dairy chèvre. Let the chèvre sit out of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to soften it and make it more spreadable. I diced up a North Carolina grown Honey Crisp apple and placed it atop the cheese. A little drizzle of local honey, some chopped toasted North Carolina pecans, and a sprinkling of dried thyme completed my masterpiece. Well, okay—maybe not a masterpiece, but it was delicious.

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Peaches and Tomatoes: Summer’s Last Gasp

Soon, we’ll be eating our fair share of sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and kale. As we enjoy these fall favorites, we’ll also be reminiscing about the tomatoes, peaches, peppers, and other summer abundance. It always amazes me how the first taste of a season can be wonderful, but by the end of the season, we often tire of those same wonderful flavors. It happens to the best of us. Creativity is the key to eating seasonally!

During my weekly visit to LL Urban Farms, I loaded up on tomatoes and peaches. I knew the peaches would be disappearing from the market soon. We still have some time for the tomatoes, but with temperatures falling into the 50’s at night next week—they won’t be around long.   So, how do I savor these delicacies one more time before they are gone?

When we lived in southern California, one of our favorite spots was San Diego.   In San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood, there is a restaurant called La Villa. If you visit San Diego, you must go there. Farm-to-fork is their mission, and they do it well. Their simple Italian recipes will make you weak in the knees. One of my favorite salads there was an heirloom tomato and stone fruit salad with burrata and micro greens. Many of my dishes are an attempt at recreating an amazing dining out experience. I had been thinking about this salad for years!

Using this for inspiration, I threw together some peaches, cherry tomatoes, burrata, and basil from my garden. A little drizzle of balsamic, and the dish was complete. Not exactly the same, yet satisfying. It’s the perfect use of the “last gasp of summer”—which is a phrase my friend, Chana (a.k.a @raleighwhatsup), used to describe the recent hot weather. I couldn’t have said it better. I suppose this last gasp of summer weather and summer bounty will give way to chilly nights and crisp autumn air soon enough. Fall is my favorite season, so I am eagerly awaiting this change. Until then, I plan to get my fill of corn, tomatoes, peppers, and peaches because it’s going to be a long time until we see them at the farmers markets again.

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Wine + Dessert

I love a wine paired with an amazing meal. I also enjoy using wine in my cooking. It is a diverse indulgence and the perfect ingredient. When it comes to wine and food—well, they just go together in perfect harmony. So naturally, a dessert with wine in it peaks my interest.

After the fruit sherbets earlier in the summer, I decided to lighten things up with a sorbet. Sorbet has a palate-cleansing characteristic that makes it the perfect end to a summer meal. It’s not too sweet and has a refreshing tang that gives your taste buds a wake up call. With the abundance of summer fruits and access to a variety of wines, it is fun to create delectable pairings. Blackberries and Zinfandel?   Yes, please! Peaches and Reisling? That could work! The possibilities are endless.

The bounty of blackberries at the farmers markets right now, made it easy to focus in on the first recipe. We often hear bold red wines described with notes of blackberry, plum, and cherry. These notes provide a wonderful hint as to which wines to pair with which fruits. The same is true for the white wines with their citrus and pear notes. A little fruit, some sugar, some wine…and you have an amazing dessert that will have you sneaking back to the freezer for more!

Blackberry Zinfandel Sorbet

  • 4 cups fresh blackberries
  • ½ to ¾ cup sugar
  • ½ cup Zinfandel wine
  1. Puree the blackberries with the sugar in a food processor or blender.
  2. Pour mixture into a saucepan and heat over medium until it begins to simmer. Remove from heat promptly.
  3. Strain mixture by pushing it through a sieve. This should yield about 2-3 cups of syrup.
  4. Stir in the Zinfandel and chill for 4-5 hours.
  5. Process mixture in an ice cream maker until soft serve consistency. Place in a container and freeze.

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