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

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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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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Peaches: Summer Fruit (…and Fritters!)

My love of farmers markets runs deep. As a child, I remember visiting the City Market in Kansas City, Missouri with my dad. It was a feast for the eyes—brightly colored vegetables piled high on tables, stacks of perfectly shaped eggs in cartons, golden bottles of honey lined up like soldiers. It was always a treat to go to the farmers market. My dad navigated the stalls like a pro with me trailing behind in an awkward stumble as I tried to take it all in. These cherished visits left an indelible mark on me.

I get that same childhood thrill when I step out of the car for my Saturday morning market visit. I want to state for the record that I do not have a favorite market. People often ask me this question. I love different markets for different reasons. I have lived in North Carolina most of my adult life, thus the bounty of the seasons here is familiar and comfortable. I have visited markets in New York City and throughout California, too. Each market has it’s own personality and vibe.

One market I visit often is the Western Wake Farmers Market. I love the variety of produce and products that they offer so close to home. The abundance of pastured meats, local artisan cheese, local produce, coffee, pasta—and much more—keeps me coming back! Western Wake Farmers Market also hosts special events to celebrate the produce of the season. Summer is the celebration of the peach. North Carolina peach growers provide us with some sweet, juicy fruit that has me thinking of cobbler, ice cream, and preserves with each luscious bite. To applaud this local summertime treat, Western Wake Farmers Market is hosting their annual Peach Day on Saturday, July 12th from 8:00 a.m. to noon. In addition to the regular market fare, they will have samples, recipes, and chef demonstrations. Check out the details below!

– Chef John Childers of Herons at The Umstead Hotel and Spa will perform cooking demos using fresh local peaches
– Hillsborough Cheese Co. will have peach chèvre for sale
– Fun activities for children
– Locals Seafood will have a recipe for shrimp and peach kabobs
– Angelina’s kitchen will have a recipe for Greek-style peaches using Greek yogurt and honey

Well, I know where I will be Saturday morning—at Western Wake Farmers Market getting more peaches to make my peach fritters, and maybe a cobbler…or two. I hope to see you there!

Peach Fritters

  • 2 cups self-rising flour
  • 3 tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp. grated nutmeg
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • 1 ½ cup diced fresh peaches
  • Oil for frying (I use The Solio Family Canola Oil)

For the glaze:

  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup buttermilk
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. In a bowl, mix together the flour, brown sugar, and spices.
2. Add the eggs and buttermilk. Stir until mixture forms a wet batter.
3. Add the diced peaches and mix to combine thoroughly.
4. In a large saucepan or small Dutch oven, heat the oil to 375°F.
5. Using a medium sized cookie scoop, place batter into the oil. Do not put more than 4 in the oil at a time to ensure even cooking.
6. Allow fritter to fry for about 1-2 minutes. Using a spatula, gently press down on the top of the fritter to flatten slightly. This helps the inside of the fritter cook more evenly. Turn the fritter and continue to fry for another 3-5 minutes.
7. Once fritter is golden brown on both sides, remove to a cooling rack.
8. Prepare the glaze by sifting the powdered sugar into a bowl and adding the buttermilk and vanilla extract. Mix to combine ingredients.
9. Once fritters have cooled slightly, spoon 1-2 tbs. of the glaze over each fritter.

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Market Abundance – Green Beans

It seems that the theme for my culinary life during the summer is: What to do with all this abundance? I am speaking of farmer’s market abundance, of course. Some items are short-lived in the spring, and we almost cry when they disappear from the market tables: strawberries, tender lettuce, peas, scapes, and asparagus to name a few. We just cannot get enough, and then…they are gone. Soon, the tomatoes make an entrance, mounds of green beans appear, and the peppers are piled high.   I start to get excited about all of those Caprese salads I will be inhaling—fresh mozzarella, homegrown basil, olive oil from Olive Wagon—I feel giddy! What about the green beans and peppers? A girl cannot live on Caprese salad alone. Or could she?

Let’s talk green beans—so plentiful, so green, so basic—they beg to be with the tomatoes. Green beans are somewhat alkaline so they do well with the acidity of a tomato or a little vinaigrette. Green beans are forgiving, too. They can be eaten blanched and sautéed (still crisp) or stewed until they are delicately tender. If you are accustomed to the green beans you pour into a saucepan out of the can, I urge you to put down the can and get some fresh beans at your local farmer’s market.   Try this recipe and see if you ever go back to canned beans again. I doubt it.

Stewed Green Beans and Tomatoes

  • 1 pound green beans – trimmed & cut in half
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes OR 4 Roma tomatoes
  • 1 medium red onion – halved and sliced thin
  • 3 cloves garlic – chopped
  • 3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 tsp. honey
  • ½ tsp. crushed red pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground cinnamon
  • salt & pepper
  1. Prep your green beans, onion, and garlic. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (or chop the Roma tomatoes).
  2. In a heavy cast iron pot with a lid, heat the olive oil on medium heat.
  3. Add the onion and sauté for about 4-5 minutes until translucent and softened.
  4. Add the garlic and continue to sauté for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, honey, and red pepper. Stir to combine ingredients. Continue to cook for about 1 minute.
  6. Add the green beans and continue to cook for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add the wine. Stir to incorporate the ingredients and turn the heat down to Low. Place the lid on the pot and let simmer for about 40-45 minutes.
  8. Stir in the cinnamon, salt, and pepper.

* If you don’t have a heavy cast iron pot, use a sauté pan or stockpot with a lid.

** I serve this as a main dish with roasted garlic cheese breadImageImageImageImage

Roasted Garlic Cheese Bread

  • 8 slices of artisan bread (please get good bread—it makes all of the difference here!)
  • 3 tbs. softened butter
  • 3 cloves roasted garlic
  • a pinch of sea salt
  • Asiago, Parmesan, Fontina, or Havarti cheese
  1. Chop or puree the roasted garlic cloves. Thoroughly combine the garlic, butter and salt.
  2. Grate or slice the cheese of your choice.
  3. Spread the mixture on the bread slices and top with the cheese. Place under a broiler for a few minutes until cheese is bubbly.

Frittata: Create Something Great!

I love a frittata. Add a salad and some bread, and you have a perfect brunch, lunch, or dinner. Frittatas are easy to make and can be personalized to suit your taste. There is an abundance of farm fresh eggs at the local farmers market in the spring when the chickens come out of their winter slump. Grab a dozen eggs and some spring market finds like asparagus, spinach, and parsley. Cheese makes a frittata a bit more luscious, but isn’t necessary if you want to leave it out. There are plenty of amazing goat dairies here in the Triangle, so if you are going to add cheese—make it goat cheese!

A frittata is as Italian as it sounds. It is much like an omelet except that it is intended to by eaten by the slice. The Spanish tortilla is similar to the frittata, but notably it contains only potatoes and is “inverted” using a plate to enable the cooking of both sides in the frying pan. My brother-in-law is from Madrid. He has attempted to teach me this necessary move in tortilla making, but alas…I still have much to learn.

The next time you don’t know what to make for dinner or you decide to invite friends over for Sunday brunch, make a frittata. Here is a recipe to get you started, but don’t stop there; creating your own take on the frittata is what it’s all about!

Caramelized Onion, Spinach, & Goat Cheese Frittata

Caramelized Onion, Spinach, and Goat Cheese Frittata

  • 10 eggs (pasture-raised, farm-fresh if possible)
  • 2 tbs. water
  • ½ tsp. Italian herb seasoning
  • 1/8 tsp. pepper
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2-3 tbs. olive oil
  • 1 ½ c. onion – quartered and sliced thin
  • 2 c. chopped spinach
  • ½ c. goat cheese
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
  2. To the eggs, add: water, salt, pepper, and Italian herb seasonings. Whisk to incorporate and set aside.
  3. Sauté the onions in the olive oil over medium heat for 7-10 minutes or until they begin to caramelize.
  4. Add spinach and continue to sauté for about 1 minute until spinach is wilted. Add salt to taste.
  5. Distribute the spinach and onion mixture evenly in the pan. Whisk the eggs to re-incorporate the mixture and pour evenly over the spinach/onion mixture in the pan.
  6. Crumble or dollop the goat cheese evenly throughout the pan. Push the cheese into the mixture slightly.
  7. Place the pan in the oven on the middle rack and bake for 7-10 minutes
  8. Turn oven to broil for 2 minutes until top of frittata is set and golden.
  9. Remove from oven and allow the pan to cool for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large serving platter.

Zucchini, Onion, Tomato, and Goat Cheese Frittata

 

 

Not Your Mama’s Brussels Sprouts

Brussels sprouts.  Okay, you read it…now what comes to mind after?  Childhood memories of gagging down this much-hated vegetable?   Images of little cabbages that make you turn up your nose in disgust?  If this was your first thought, you wouldn’t be alone.  Many people wrinkle their noses and give the “Eww” face when Brussels sprouts are mentioned.

This little veggie is making an appearance on many restaurant menus these days.  You might even call Brussels sprouts “trendy”.  Trendy or not—this ingredient has become one of my family’s favorites.  We roast them.  We sauté them.  We shave them into a quinoa salad.  We are always looking for new ideas and recipes that include Brussels sprouts. 

I recently had a Brussels sprouts appetizer that had me reminiscing of my mom’s spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette.  Tazza Kitchen roasts Brussels sprouts then adds egg crumbles, bacon, and maple vinaigrette.  It was actually better than the spinach salads of my youth, but don’t tell my mom.  Roasting these little veggies seems to bring out a depth of flavor that I never knew they had as a kid.  My favorite way to prepare them is a little olive oil, lard, or bacon drippings—add a little onion—and boom!  You will be professing your love of Brussels sprouts in the first bite.

As spring approaches and our farmer’s markets fill with leafy greens and the bounty of spring, I urge you to find some Brussels sprouts and try them again.  You might be surprised at how much you like them.  And…here is a recipe to get you started with your Brussels sprouts love affair:

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  • 1 lb. Brussels sprouts
  • 2-3 tbs. olive oil
  • ½ c. red grapes
  • ½ c. coarsely chopped toasted pecans
  • 2-3 tsp. aged Balsamic vinegar
  • 1/8 tsp. black pepper
  • ¼ tsp. dried thyme
  • Salt – to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F
  2. Cut Brussel sprouts into halves or quarters depending on size.  Place in a bowl with the grapes, drizzle with the olive oil, and add black pepper and thyme.  Stir to coat.
  3. Roast on a sheet pan for 20 minutes until Brussels sprouts are fork tender
  4. While Brussels sprouts are in the oven, toast pecans in a skillet over medium heat.
  5. In a serving bowl, combine roasted Brussels sprouts/grape mixture and the pecans.  Add salt to taste and drizzle with the balsamic vinegar. 

            **if grapes are small, roast Brussels sprouts for 10 minutes, then add the grapes and stir to incorporate.  Continue roasting for the remaining time.