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Winter Greens/Fresh Produce

 Greenhouse garden

Greenhouse garden

So... we have gotten a bit of snow.  Mountain peaks are sprinkled with white and skiers are happier.  And despite the snow and cold, there are some green things growing.  Eager gardeners have already started cold-weather crops in greenhouses and cold frames.  I have been planting lettuces, spinach, chard, kale, collard greens, arugula, cabbages and more in planter boxes by my kitchen door.  Little plants are poking through-- and some very hardy ones have survived outdoors in protected pots and beds, occasionally dusted with snow.

 Snow on my chard

Snow on my chard

I have a little chard and kale that survived the winter, so far. I was wondering if it would be possible to find local greens for sale somewhere nearby (It seems like forever until the Downtown Growers' Market will open again). Well, guess what?  I somehow missed the fact that the village of Los Ranchos has a market which goes through the winter-- they are open on the second Saturday of each month. They are on Rio Grande Blvd, at the parking lot near the tennis courts, which is really not that far away at all.

The March Grower's Market happened on the 9th-- one of those late winter New Mexico days when the weather was changing so fast you couldn't keep up.  It snowed, it blew, it was dark and grey and then it was sunny.  The Sandias were covered with snow in the distance-- and then they were not even visible because of a giant storm cloud.  But the Market was on, no matter what-- most of the vendors snugly sheltered inside the big barn-like structure there. A three-person band played Irish music and there were greens and root vegetables everywhere-- a sight for sore eyes!

 Old seed packet

Old seed packet

 Late winter harvest, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Growers Market

Late winter harvest, Los Ranchos de Albuquerque Growers Market

 Chard in March from Mananica Farm

Chard in March from Mananica Farm

 March weather in Albuquerque

March weather in Albuquerque

I got to meet some farmers whom I had not met before... Barbara and John from Mananica Farm in Algodones had lamb and wool yarn and also beautiful golden beets and greens including chard, lettuces and kale. Some really nice girls from Stray Dog Farms in the North Valley sold me carrots bundled up with a ribbon, and I met "Farmer Ric" from Sol Harvest Farm, who also sold me some pretty fine looking spinach.  These last two farms are now offering "CSA" (community supported agriculture) harvest boxes to those who wish to become members-- check their websites for more information.  This is a great way to enjoy fresh seasonal produce from local providers for much of the year, and to get it even when you can't make it to the Market.

 Baby spinach

Baby spinach

Then on Monday, I traveled down to the far South Valley to visit Richard Moore at Moore Family Farms.  I went with Gina, who runs Fresh Produce-- a company that works to connect many local growers in our area to restaurants here that want to use fresh local produce.  Gina told me that she sells about 30% of what Richard grows, and he sells the rest at the Downtown Growers' Market and by word-of-mouth.  Richard showed us what he has started inside his hoop house-- a simple curved greenhouse wrapped in plastic.  Baby plants were everywhere, and half the space was filled with greens-- mustard, spinach, kale, chard and more.  He was getting ready to start moving them out into the fields, where he will also direct-sow even more lettuces, arugula and such.  Next fall, Richard plans to build more hoop houses, out in the fields, where he will grow greens year-round.  This makes me happy, because I hope to be buying them from him!

 Moore Family Farms

Moore Family Farms

 Baby greens inside hoop house

Baby greens inside hoop house

 Hoop house

Hoop house

 Chicken in charge

Chicken in charge

 Farm fresh eggs

Farm fresh eggs

The Growers' Market begins on May 18-- two months away, still.  There is plenty of time for Richard to coax his baby plants into big bunches of healthy, hearty spring greens. Look for his produce and farm fresh eggs there all season. And by then, Hartford Square should be open-- and we will be featuring fresh produce from farmers like Richard in our weekly menus at the restaurant.  Can't wait!

Here is a simple and quick way to use some of those delicious greens and fresh eggs in the same recipe-- just whip up a Frittata w/Hearty Greens for breakfast, brunch or a simple supper. You'll need two eggs per person, a big bunch of chopped chard or kale, olive oil, salt, pepper, 1/2 cup grated cheese per person (your choice-- experiment!), one or two finely chopped garlic cloves and about half an onion, chopped.  Oh, and by the way-- did I mention how GOOD FOR YOU dark green leafy vegetables are?  Probably better than almost anything else you could eat-- full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber and phytonutrients and low in calories and carbs. What more could you want? I know-- stuff that tastes good-- so how about this: 1) Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 10" (adjust size depending on how many servings you are preparing) skillet (that can go in the oven) over medium heat, and add garlic-- cook until fragrant, for a couple of minutes, then add chopped onion & cook until soft, but not brown. 2) Add chopped dark green leafy vegetable of choice, and cook until liquid releases and cooks off, stirring frequently. 3) In the meantime, whisk desired number of eggs in a small bowl-- when greens have begun to dry up, pour eggs over them to cover.  Cook until set on bottom. 4) Grate cheese and sprinkle it over top of eggs. 5) Turn on broiler in oven and set rack about 6" below broiler.  Place skillet under broller and broil until cheese is bubbly and eggs are set on top. 6) Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes. Slice into desired number of servings and place on plates.

 Winter rainbow chard

Winter rainbow chard

Gluten-Free Skiing & Granola

 Granola ingredients

Granola ingredients

Lately, everyone and his brother seems to be jumping on the "gluten-free" bandwagon.  Even paper plates announce that they are "gluten-free"-- just in case we decide to take a bite out of them.  So what is all the fuss about?  Well, many people DO actually have issues with the gluten found in some foods.  Gluten is made of proteins which not all people can digest well, and which may damage their small intestine OR cause various allergic reactions.  There is a fair amount of confusion out there about these different aspects of the gluten issue.  There is also confusion about which foods contain gluten.  

 Nutty Winter Granola

Nutty Winter Granola

Whatever their reasons might be, people who want/need to avoid gluten have to carefully pay attention to what goes into their food.  I have several friends who cannot eat gluten,  so I have been trying to learn as much as I can about it.  Sometimes I make sure to deliberately bake or cook without gluten-- but also I have realized that a lot of what I cook does not happen to have any gluten in it anyway.  Often it is also really easy to make a substitution for an ingredient in a recipe which makes the gluten go away entirely without anyone even noticing it.

 Oatmeal Chip Cookies

Oatmeal Chip Cookies

One such ingredient is oats. Oats, all by themselves, do not contain gluten, but oats are usually grown and processed where wheat is also grown and processed, and there is cross-contamination.  It used to be difficult to find truly gluten-free oats, but not anymore. Last week I even found them at the local Trader Joe's in a 32 oz bag.  Yay!  No more mail order (as long as they keep carrying it).  Oats-- in case you didn't know-- are really, really good for you.  Good for reducing cholesterol, good for fiber, good for a lot of things (read more).  And really good when made into cozy wintery foods-- the kind you might want to eat on a ski trip...

 Taos Valley ski slope

Taos Valley ski slope

I got to go skiing in Taos this past weekend with some of my friends, and it was pretty awesome.  There was some real snow up there-- something we have been missing in Albuquerque this winter.  Taos usually gets over 300 inches of snow in a season.  It has always been my favorite place to ski, since long before I moved to New Mexico. (Taos Ski Valley was founded by Ernie Blake the same year that I was born.) One especially nice thing about ski trips is that you have to eat a LOT of food to keep up your energy.  So for our breakfasts I made some Nutty Winter Granola to bring. Then I thought we would probably also need to have plenty of Oatmeal Chip Cookies, in case we ran out of calories.  Since two of my friends can't eat gluten, I used gluten-free oats in both.   There was not a lot of complaining and we definitely did not bring back any cookies! It is hard work just walking around at high elevations, you know, and Taos Ski Valley is over 9,000 feet above sea level.  You need extra cookies to make it down those tree runs, too!

 A perfect "10" -- best fall of the day!

A perfect "10" -- best fall of the day!

My favorite granola recipe is the one my friend Kristin gave me-- I just keep changing it around, to suit the season.  For winter I like it to add extra nuts and coconut, and the only fruit I put in it is dates. And then I bake it long enough to make it extra toasty.  For this Nutty Winter Granola you will need: 4 cups rolled oats, 1 cup sliced almonds, 1 cup skinned hazelnuts, 1 cup pecan pieces, 1 cup flaked coconut, 1 cup local honey, 2/3 cup canola oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon vanilla and one cup chopped dates.  1) mix oats, nuts, coconut, salt, honey & vanilla.  2) Spread mixture evenly over a large sheet cake or jelly roll pan.  3) Bake at 325 degrees, mixing every ten minutes until desired toastiness is achieved.  4) Allow to cool slightly, and the break up the big clumps as you mix in the dates.  Store in an airtight container.  Serve with yogurt, milk or fresh fruit OR just eat it by the handful-- it makes a great trail mix, too.

 Winter morning breakfast

Winter morning breakfast

For the Oatmeal Chip Cookies, you need 1/4 cup butter, 3/4 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 2 eggs, 1 teaspoon vanilla, 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda, 1 cup smooth peanut butter, 3 cups rolled oats, 3/4 cup chocolate chips, 3/4 cup butterscotch chips, 1/2 cup sunflower seeds and 1/2 cup walnuts.  (I adapted this recipe from the one on the back of the bag of oats--I was a little skeptical, but they rose beautifully.) 1) Cream the butter and sugars until smooth.  2) Mix in eggs, vanilla, soda-- then add peanut butter.  3) Mix in remaining ingredients-- batter will be very stiff.  4) Form 2" balls and flatten them slightly on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving 2" between cookies. 5) Bake for about 20 minutes at 350 degrees, or until puffed and golden. Cool completely and store in airtight container.

 Taos Ski Valley

Taos Ski Valley

Luminarias/Farolitos & Chocolate

 Votive candles for luminarias

Votive candles for luminarias

In New Mexico, there is a long-standing holiday tradition on Christmas Eve of lighting votive candles and placing them in brown paper bags filled with enough sand to keep them stable-- one candle to a bag.  They are set along pathways and rooftops as decorations.  This tradition dates back several hundred years, to a time when the lights were thought to help the Christ child find his way into people's homes on Christmas Eve. Originally these lights were tiny bonfires made of pinon sticks.  In the more northern parts of New Mexico, the lights are known as farolitas (little lanterns)-- while in Albuquerque and most other places they are called luminarias (festival lights).

When my children were little, we used to make our own.  It was a lot of folding and filling.  One year, Sam and his friends even made a business of it-- hauling them around the neighborhood in a little red wagon.  I think that pretty much wore them out-- now we usually order them from the Albuquerque Youth Symphony, which supports a great cause and also relieves us from all the folding.  Depending on how many a family or neighborhood decides to put out, just setting them up can take a big part of the day!

 Lining pathways on Christmas Eve

Lining pathways on Christmas Eve

There are some neighborhoods In Albuquerque that are especially known for their luminaria displays-- to the point where hundreds of people tour them by foot, bus, car and bicycle each Christmas Eve.  My family is going to a Christmas Eve open-house in one of those neighborhoods.  The three girls and I have been baking all kinds of cookies for the past week-- Toffee Bars, Cranberry-Nut Rugelach, Chocolate Espresso Shortbread, Black Forest Cookies, Hazelnut Thumbprints, and quite a few more.  Their brother is going to arrive just in time to help eat them all!  We also made some Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles, which went to school with Libby as gifts for her friends-- and are also going on the big cookie trays that we are bringing to the party...

 Welcome

Welcome

 Truffle ingredients

Truffle ingredients

This is how you make them:  There are so few ingredients, no one will believe you when you tell them how easy they were to make.  They probably won't even believe you made them at all-- so maybe just keep it a secret.  You'll need heavy cream, unsalted butter, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, peppermint extract and crushed peppermint sticks (you can smash them up yourself or buy the sprinkling kind-- already finely smashed).  And also some mini-cupcake papers.

 Truffle ingredients

Truffle ingredients

1) chop up 16 oz of chocolate and place in heatproof bowl.  2) Bring 1 c heavy cream and 4 tablespoons butter barely to a boil over medium heat and then pour over the chocolate in bowl.  Whisk until blended and smooth.  3) Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract.  4) Refrigerate truffle mixture until firm, which can take a few hours.  5) Once set, the mixture can be scooped into small (about 1" round) balls and rolled with your hands.  As you roll them, the surface warms up, so it can get messy.  You want to immediately roll them in the crushed peppermint, so the whole surface is covered.  6) place each one in a mini-cupcake paper.  Store in an air-tight container in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  They will keep for up to two weeks.

Of course, you might be too busy right now to want to stop and make your own truffles. If you are looking for delicious local chocolates to give as gifts (or to yourself) there are several excellent sources to explore. Last March, Abby and I and some friends visited the 2nd annual Southwest Chocolate & Coffee Festival, and discovered that there is some pretty wonderful chocolate to be had right here.  We tried a lot of chocolates, and two of our favorite companies were Kakawa House in Santa Fe and Choco Canyon in Albuquerque, who we also see at the Downtown Growers Market all summer long.  So put that Festival on your list of things to do in 2013!  It's coming up from March 23-24, at the fairgrounds.  And Happy New Year!

 Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

Dark Chocolate Peppermint Truffles

Pumpkins

It is almost Thanksgiving, and Thanksgiving is the best excuse ever to cook and eat like crazy!  And to go out and find local ingredients, like pumpkins, that we can incorporate into our Thanksgiving dinner.  We are excited, because all four kids will be home for the long weekend-- back from Boston and northern California and all staying here. Last year only the ones who live here got to be in New Mexico for Thanksgiving, so this is going to be great!  We have BIG plans.  First, some mother-daughter Turkey Trek 5-K action in the morning, to work up an extra big appetite. Then some apple cider cinnamon doughnuts and pumpkin pie scones with maybe some fancy coffee drinks to keep us going.  We are going to need a lot of fortification.

 Pumpkin harvest

Pumpkin harvest

Then we will get to work-- cooking in two kitchens, one block apart.  We will wear funny aprons and test holiday cocktails and whip up one huge yummy dinner. And run back and forth all day, until it is time to eat.  We are planning to start with a roasted butternut squash soup, followed by a local fresh roasted turkey, cranberry sauce, corn relish, herb and onion bread stuffing, gravy, mashed potatoes, baked sweet potatoes with maple syrup, and brussels sprouts with pancetta.  Then we might need to go for a walk around the block and watch a little football, or something. Once we rest our tummies and try to find that space reserved for dessert, we will tackle a classic pecan pie, some tiny pumpkin tartlets, and some cranberry chocolate tarts with rum-infused pastry cream.  A lot of cooks showing off around here!

 Cranberry Chocolate Rum Tarts

Cranberry Chocolate Rum Tarts

Here are two of those Thanksgiving holiday cocktails, mentioned above. There is a winery in nearby Placitas called Anasazi Fields.  One of their offerings is an American Cranberry, made completely from cranberries.  For a perfect pre-dinner Thanksgiving beverage, we pair it with another local favorite, a sparkling Gruet white.  Fill champagne flutes halfway with the Anasazi American Cranberry, and then carefully top off with an equal portion of Gruet's Extra Dry.  And then toast  the cooks!  Our other favorite Thanksgiving cocktail idea involves some cider from Alary Farms (which we visited in our previous blog post).  For a Thanksgiving Apple Cinnamon Martini, fill a cocktail shaker with crushed ice.  Add one oz good quality vodka, one oz Calvados apple brandy, and two oz apple cider.  Shake well.  Prepare martini glass by rubbing rim with a cut apple.  Dip in sanding sugar mixed with cinnamon.  Add ice cubes, and pour apple cider martini over the ice.  Garnish w/a cinnamon stick.  And now toast the guests!

 Tiny Pumpkin Tartlets

Tiny Pumpkin Tartlets

Earlier this week we were thrilled to have an opportunity to visit one of our favorite farms, Chispas, in the South Valley.  They were offering customers a chance to come by to pick up a few Thanksgiving supplies at their farm-- and they had produce from Amyo Farms-- who we also love-- there as well.  We went on Tuesday, so we could get a head start on our prep work.  It was a pretty mild day, and we spent some time walking around the farm... the chickens were busy out in one corner, and a couple of farm workers looked just as busy in another corner.  We picked out quite a few butternut squashes, and also could not resist the little tiny green and orange pumpkins... we thought they would make very cool table decorations.  There were also some little apples to try, and some of Chispas' delicious garlic.  You can never have too much garlic, you know.  We love it that there can be a farm like this right in Albuquerque, and are grateful that they let us visit.  I already really miss the every Saturday Downtown Growers Market.  It will be a long time until May!

 Pumpkin Pie Scone & Coffee

Pumpkin Pie Scone & Coffee

In the meantime, we are hunkering down with all these pumpkins and squashes, which will keep us busy for a pretty long time.  There are so many amazingly delicious things to cook with them-- like winter squash soup, butternut lasagne, butternut & sage risotto, baked acorn squash halves filled with quinoa or roasted with butter & syrup-- 

and then pumpkin pies and scones and doughnuts and muffins and bread and pumpkin spice muffins with maple syrup frosting..... I am so lucky to have good friends and family to share all this with, and am looking forward to celebrating this holiday season with all of them.  Happy Thanksgiving!

 New Mexico sunflower in fall

New Mexico sunflower in fall