Friday, August 30, 2013

Seasonal Cook :: Tomatoes

Courtesy of The Land Connection

Tomato Quartet

Tomato Medley"A world without tomatoes is like a string quartet without violins," according to the writer Laurie Colwin. Of course she was talking about backyard garden and farmers' market tomatoes--all those luscious local tomatoes that provide a bright symphony of flavors. And now is the time to seek out every theme and variation on tomatoes: hybrids, heirlooms, cherry, pear, plum, even the diminutive currant tomatoes. The rainbow names of the heirlooms are enough to set your mouth watering: Sun Gold, Green Zebra, Pink Accordion, Prudens' Purple, Striped Roman, Purple Calabash, Orange Oxheart, Black Trifele, Great White, and the ever-popular Brandywines (pink, red, and yellow),to name just a few.

An Orchestra of Flavors

Tangy, bright, and explosively ripe, an in-season tomato is any cook's dream. You can do almost anything, or almost nothing, and either way, the result will be mind-blowingly delicious. To celebrate the season, we propose a tomato trio, starting with a garden-fresh bloody mary, moving on to a big herbed heirloom tomato salad, and ending with a pizza (or bread) topped with oven-roasted tomatoes.

The Melody of Summer Year Round

And after you slice 'em, dice 'em, sauce 'em, salad 'em, and slurp 'em down shamelessly, be sure and put some up for winter. Tomatoes are one of the few vegetables that you can simply wash, cut into chunks, and slip into a zip-lock freezer bag. Nothing could be easier, or more rewarding come winter.

Garden-Fresh Bloody Mary Mix

6 large, ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 teaspoons hot sauce, optional
2 teaspoons minced fresh horseradish
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
Herbs for garnish (we love lovage), nasturtium and other
Blend the tomatoes, lemon and lime juices, Worcestershire, garlic, hot sauce, horseradish, salt, celery seed and pepper until smooth. Cover and chill until needed. This recipe makes 6 to 7 cups, depending on the size of the tomatoes; the mix will keep for 1 week.

Herbed Heirloom Tomato Salad

Tomatoes this good deserve your best extra-virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and even some highfalutin salt because each of this salad's few ingredients defines the final flavor. Of course, the most important element is ripe, beauteous tomatoes, so hunt some down at your local farmers market.
  1. Gather up 2 pounds of the most beautiful heirloom tomatoes you can find, choosing a variety of colors, shapes and sizes. Cut them into wedges or thick slices. If you have cherry tomatoes, leave them whole. Arrange them on a chilled plate and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  2. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and your favorite vinegar. Top with a sprinkling of fresh, torn herbs like tarragon, basil, chives, and/or Italian parsley. Serve immediately.

Fresh-Roasted Tomato Pizza

Pre-roasting the tomatoes for an hour or more in a slow oven (about 275 evaporates the water and concentrates the flavor, making powerful little flavor packets.
makes 1 pizza or 3-4 pizza-breads
For roasted tomatoes
6 to 10 tomatoes (any size or color)
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh oregano, thyme, or parsley
For pizza
1 pizza dough (or 3-4 toasted slices of bread)
2 Tbs melted butter or olive oil
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or other hard cheese
2 Tbs chopped fresh oregano, basil, or other herbs to garnish the pizza after it comes out of the oven

Preheat oven to 275 degrees.

Cut small tomatoes in half, and larger ones into wedges. Mix tomatoes in a bowl with olive oil, salt, and herbs. Place in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and slow roast in the oven for an hour or more.
Stretch the pizza dough and put on a pizza stone or cookie sheet. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees) 3-5 minutes until dough has started to crisp slightly. Remove crust and use a fork to pierce any air bubbles.

Use a brush to spread the melted butter or olive oil on the crust. Scatter the roasted tomato pieces on top, and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake 8-10 minutes, or until crust is crisp. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with fresh herbs. Enjoy!

When tomato season is in full swing, fill your oven with baking sheets full of tomatoes, and use them on any pasta or toasted bread of your choice. You can freeze any extra for winter

The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers' market or CSA nearest you, visit
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

CSA Week #10

Week #10 boxes. Link to the CSA Newsletter Week #1. A little sneak peak at packing the boxes...

 Layer one, packing up the boxes...broccoli, Beacon apples, heirloom snap bean mix, carrots, yellow and green cucumbers, beets, sweet green bell peppers...

CSA Box Week #10 ~ Layer 1 ~ Aug. 27, 2013
...then add basil, heirloom tomato mix, sweet corn, Red Russian kale, ground cherries, and (not pictured) watermelon. Members either received Moon & Stars (dark green rind, pink fleshed) or Creme de Saskatchewan (light & dark green striped rind, white flesh).

A view in the packing shed--boxes all over the place! Lots of tomatoes :)

Boxes are packed and cooling pre-delivery in the walk-in cooler with the watermelons.

Happy eating!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

CSA Week #9

With the Week #9 boxes delivered we are officially half way through the CSA season. My how time flies when you are having fun!

In the box: Swiss chard, bunching onions, zucchini, basil, green bell pepper, carrots, parsley, broccoli, yellow and red onions, heirloom snap bean mix, green and white cucumbers, potatoes, jalapenos, apples, tomatoes and kohlrabi.

Link to the CSA Newsletter

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Seasonal Cook :: Beauty and the Beets

Courtesy of The Land Connection

Beauty and the Beets

Persian BeetsAround the beginning of August, there is a literal red-shift at farmers markets, as brightly colored tomatoes, apples, and beets roll in. The deeply colored fruits and vegetables are beautiful to behold and delicious to eat . . . but that's not all!

Not Just a Pretty Face

The pigments that delight our eyes with dark greens, brilliant oranges and yellows, and deep reds and purples, also delight the other cells of our body with carotenoids and anthocyanidins--powerful antioxidants that protect against cancer and other chronic diseases.

The red and yellow hues in corn, carrots, and tomatoes come from the carotenoids. The jewel-tones of strawberries, cherries, blueberries, red cabbage, and beets come from the anthocyanidins, health-promoting molecules of red, blue, and purple pigments.

A Rainbow of Options

At your local farmers market, you'll see beets of all sizes, shapes, and colors. Here are a few of the most popular varieties:

Classic Red- Big, beautiful red beets for beet salads, beet soups, and all manner of beet dishes
Forma Nova- This beet has a 'new shape,' roughly that of a cylinder, which makes it perfect if you want to make a dish with uniform discs or half-moons.
Golden- This is a mild beet, whose main claim to fame, in restaurants anyway, is that it does not bleed onto the plate.
Chioggia- This heirloom from Chioggia, near Venice is rosy-orange-red on the outside with alternating rings of white and bright pink on the inside when raw. Cooked, the interior is a golden yellow, with a slight blush. It is exceptionally sweet and tender. Avoid overcooking to retain the delicate flavor. Or, try coarsely grating them on top of a salad for an unusual garnish.

Locally-grown beets almost always come with the tops attached, so you get two vegetables for the price of one. The greens can be cooked as you would spinach or chard, and the Chioggia's greens are fabulous, with the flavor and texture of fine, young, Swiss chard.

Persian Beets

This combination of beets, yogurt, cream, and fresh mint is irresistible!


1 1/2 lbs small beets
2 shallots or small onions, sliced or minced
1 cup plain yogurt
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 Tb strong chicken or vegetable stock
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, whole or coarsely chopped


  1. Place the beets in a saucepan; cover with cold unsalted water. Heat slowly to boiling and reduce the heat. Simmer until barely tender, then drain under cold water. Remove the skins.
  2. Leave beets whole if they are small, or cut into wedges if they are larger. Pat dry and place in a serving dish. Sprinkle with the shallots or onions.
  3. Beat the yogurt and cream in a small bowl. Beat in the stock until smooth, adding salt to taste. Spoon the sauce over the beets and decorate with mint leaves.

Seasonal Cook's Notes:

Serves 4 as a side dish, or 2 as a main course.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation
The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers' market or CSA nearest you,
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.

CSA Week #8

What a week! Week #8 boxes delivered Tuesday, and Wednesday night we had a Walk-and-Talk Field  Day with the University of Minnesota Extension/Rural Advantage with a group of 25 people. Cool beans. The first melons went in the boxes this week! The tomatoes are really kicking it up a notch, with all varieties now producing--Yellow Pear, Reisentraube (cherry), Valencia (yellow), Black Krim (black), Mountain Princess, Costoluto Genovese and Gilbertie (roma).

CSA Box Week #8 • August 13, 2013
In the boxes this week: Nicola potatoes, Lodi apples, tomatoes--Mountain Princess and Valencia, beets, Creme de Saskatchewan watermelon (some boxes/white flesh), baby cabbage, cucumbers--Boothby's Blonde and Double Yield, zucchini (some boxes), kohlrabi--white and purple vienna, Red Baron onions, beans--Dragon's Tongue wax or Rattlesnake snap, bunching onions, broccoli, parsley and oregano.

Link to the Week #8 CSA Newsletter

From the newsletter, Italian Three-Bean Salad--yum!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Photo Update 8.11.13

When the season starts racing along it's hard to keep up the photo updates every week, but here's the latest peek at some items in the garden at the beginning of August. The tomatoes are really starting to go this week, the peppers are looking like, and the corn is starting to fill in ears. Can't wait for fresh melon!.

Purple and white kohlrabi, both with a crisp white flesh.

King Richard leeks. Leeks can be used any way you would use onions, they have a nice, mild onion flavor.

The next crop of broccoli, with nice heads forming! Garden-fresh broccoli is amazing.

One of our sweet peppers, Alma Paprika.

Acorn squash, Thelma Sanders, very prolific this year!

Calendula, just one of the flowers we are growing in the field this year.

Valencia tomatoes, yellow, with low acidity. Just one of the varieties that is loaded with green fruit.

One of our watermelon varieties, Cream de Saskatchewan, with sweet white flesh.

In the pumpkin patch, Winter Luxury pie pumpkin.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

CSA Week #7

Hooray, tomato season has begun! Apple season has begun! Our Week #7 boxes have been delivered and they boasted some great treats making their first appearance this season. Check our recipes for your apples, beets and roots vegetables in the newsletter. Link for CSA Week #7 Newsletter

In the boxes: leeks, basil, rosemary, red cabbage (half shares), broccoli, dragon's tongue (light green) wax beans OR rattlesnake snap beans (bright green), carrots, kale, beets, onions, potatoes, Mountain Princess tomatoes, kohlrabi (purple/white), Lodi apples, green bell pepper and a zinnia.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Seasonal Cook :: Cucumbers

Courtesy of The Land Connection

Cool Cucumbers for Hot Days

Asian Cucumber SaladWhen I go out on hot summer days, I often trade my bottle of water for a cool cucumber--or two, or three. The clean flavor and crunch make cucumbers much more satisfying and thirst quenching, not to mention more nutritious, than plain old water--or even newfangled vitamin water.

A Tall, Cold...Cucumber?

Because cucumbers are mostly water, they are refreshing and cooling. Once thought to be largely devoid of nutrients, food scientists have found that cucumbers do in fact have significant amounts of nutrients, especially in their skins. For starters, they contain vitamins C and A, folic acid, iron, potassium, manganese, and silica. Silica works synergistically with calcium and vitamin D to increase collagen production, promoting healthy skin and connective tissue--so go ahead and put those cucumber slices on your eyes like they did in the old movies!

Healthy Inside and Out

In addition, cucumbers are a good source of molybdenum--which is not only fun to say, but is vital for many brain functions, including memory. Finally, cucumbers are one of the very few vegetables that contain the amino acid tryptophan, which can convert into the neurotransmitter serotonin, and may function as a natural mood-lifter and appetite-curb.
Cucumber skin contains large amounts of caffeic acid, an antioxidant that mops up free radicals and prevents cell damage. The skin also contains high amounts of fiber, potassium, magnesium and silica.

Quick and Easy to Prepare

Local farmers often grow heirloom cucumbers, bred for flavor, not for travelling long distances or staying on store shelves for weeks. These varieties have thin skins, and are super-easy to prepare. Try slicing them for sandwiches or salads, or eating them on their own, like an apple or carrot. Here are a few quick serving ideas:
  • Make a cold gazpacho soup by putting cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers (sweet and/or hot) and onions in a food processor. Then add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add diced cucumber to tuna fish or chicken salad
  • Slice thinly, and make a cucumber salad with a few thin slices of sweet onion, a few splashes of rice vinegar, a few drops of sesame oil, and a little salt and pepper
And, yes, water makes up 90 percent of a cucumber's weight, which makes them low in calories and good for making sure you're hydrated. So instead of toting a bottle of water this summer, carry a crunchy cucumber from your local farmer!

Asian Cucumber Salad


1 tablespoon sesame seeds
1 pound cucumbers
1/2 teaspoon salt1/3 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon instant Dashi granules (optional; available in many grocery stores)
1 teaspoon sesame oil, or to taste


  1. In a dry heavy skillet, toast sesame seeds over moderate heat, shaking skillet, until golden. Let cool.
  2. Cut cucumbers into very thin slices. Sprinkle with salt and drain in a colander 10 minutes.
  3. In a bowl stir together vinegar and dashi granules until granules are dissolved. Add cucumber and oil, tossing to coat.
  4. Serve at room temperature or chilled, sprinkled with sesame seeds.
Seasonal Cook's Notes: You can use any variety of cucumber for this salad, but the long, thin Japanese or English cucumbers have thin skins, and fewer seeds.

Creative Commons LicenseThe Land Connection Foundation
The best way to enjoy healthy, seasonal produce is to buy it from your local community farmer. To locate the farmers' market or CSA nearest you, visit
Farm Fresh Now! is a project of The Land Connection, an educational nonprofit that preserves farmland, trains new farmers, and connects people with great locally-grown foods. This series is made possible with generous support from the Illinois Department of Agriculture.