Tag Archives: farmers markets

A Market Basket Cook-Off

What a phenomenal Saturday morning it was yesterday. It was such an honor to be asked to judge the Ready Set Go…Cook (friendly) competition at the University District Farmers Market, an annual affair that pits two Seattle chefs against each other using their pick of items from market vendors. My cohorts on the judging panel were Joe Gruber, Executive Director of the University District Food Bank and Joane McIntyre from Rents Due Ranch, a longtime market vendor. We were introduced by Mayor Greg Nickels who had moments earlier been part of a ceremony celebrating the city’s purchase of the University Heights building and property, under a banner that touted “celebrating community and supporting local farmers.” It’s a phenomenal step forward in helping ensure that at least one of our city’s neighborhood farmers markets has a permanent home to count on for years to come.

One proviso for the cook-off was that each dish–serving four–should come in at or below a $10 cost. An new this year was the added challenge to integrate pantry items provided by the nearby University District Food Bank, in an effort to show shoppers how well you can eat without having to bust your budget on expensive gourmet products.

The two contenders yesterday were Rachel Yang, chef/co-owner of Joule restaurant in Wallingford and Juli Guillemette, a just-recently-departed sous chef at BOKA downtown (she’s headed off on a road trip adventure back to Vermont where her family has a dairy farm–best wishes for that Juli!). Here’s how each provisioned their kitchens for the cook-off, best as I could note.

Rachel’s market products included fennel, small Asian eggplants, zucchini and yellow squash, hazelnuts, eggs, zucchini blossoms, purslane, honey, goat yogurt and (coolest product of all) zucchini stalks, which included crunchy stalks, tender tendrils and leaves. From the Food Bank pantry she used vinegar, cider, rice, mandarin oranges, and …. Spam!!

Juli’s choices from the market stalls included purslane, Walla Walla sweet onions, green beans, tomatoes, peaches, cucumbers, garlic, oregano, basil, and chicken livers. And from the Food Bank pantry she opted for flour, vinegar, tuna, oil, and maybe one or two other items I missed.

Oh, and each chef was allowed to bring a secret ingredient.

Juli presented her dishes first. She noted a love for meat and fruit combinations, pairing the chicken livers with peaches. The peach halves were lightly sugared and caramelized cut-side down in a cast iron pan (she’d have grilled them if that had been an option). Then cut in pieces, the peaches were partnered with chopped basil and sautéed Walla Walla sweets tocookoff3accompany the crispy pan-fried chicken livers. Her secret ingredient went to use here as a simple sauce: exquisite aged balsamic vinegar. I’m not, unfortunately, a fan of meat-meets-fruit, but do really like chicken livers. And I appreciated the creativity of this combination, particularly given the more savory basil and onion elements.

The second dish Juli served was a twist on salade niçoise, with the tuna, tomatoes, blanched green beans, cucumber and purslane, topped with a vinaigrette that included minced garlic and fresh oregano.  What’s not to love, great fresh bright flavors, quite summery, and nice to show how much you can dress up an inexpensive can of tuna.

Rachel followed with her first of two dishes. The halved baby eggplant and cookoff2pieces of fennel bulb had been marinated (honey-soy) and cooked in a grill pan, served with a salad of purslane and mandarin oranges, a sauce of yogurt and honey with chopped fennel fronds alongside. Delicious.

For me, the star dish of the day was Rachel’s second, a zucchini congee. Congee is, as Rachel simply put it, a rice porridge, typically savory. She noted that giving the time constraints of the competition, cooking the rice congee-style was a quicker option. The long grain rice soaked in cold water for maybe 20 minutes, then she whirled it in the blender with water for a bit, tossed it all in a saucepan to cook. Later she added grated zucchini, sliced zucchini stalks and zucchini leaves. For a finishing touch, she sautéed diced yellow squash and Spam to spoon over.

Rachel put her secret ingredient–soy sauce–to unique use, curing egg yolks from the beginning of the competition (about 1 hour before serving). A cured raw egg yolk was then added to the center of each bowl just before serving, which then oozed deliciously into the congee as you eat it. The lastcookoff1 of many flourishes in this dish was a small piece of lightly fried zucchini blossom on top, a lovely crisp contrast to the silky rich texture of the dish. Wow.

Both chefs did such a great job, really got into the spirit of the challenge and into the pleasure of sharing their favorite ingredients and techniques with the crowd. But Rachel prevailed to take away the coveted blue ribbon first prize for this year’s Ready Set, Go…Cook!

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Meet Your Friendly Farmer

Just around the corner, on August 23, is one of the best chef-farmer food events in town each year. This will be the 5th annual Incredible Feast, an outstanding chance to visit with  farmers you see at the weekly markets around Seattle, in a setting that’s not quite as frantic as a busy market day! Each of the 30 or so participating farmers showcases one or more of their signature ingredients, cooked up into a delicious treat by the chef they’ve been partnered with.

This year’s Feast will be held at the University District market site, at University Heights (corner of University Way and 50th). Among the participating farmers are Billy’s Organic, Rama Farm, Whistling Train, Foraged and Found Edibles, Rock Ridge Orchards and Loki Fish. And the chefs who’ll be cooking include John Sundstrom from Lark, Chris Keff from Flying Fish, Renee Erickson from Boat Street Café and Ethan Stowell from Union. More details hereUntitled-2.

Proceeds from the event support the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance, which oversees many of the city’s best markets. In fact, the University District just received major national recognition as one of the top 10 markets in the countryby Huffington Post (it ranked #3).

I’ll be there and hope you might consider joining for the fun, delicious Sunday afternoon of wonderful food, farm-fresh. You can get your tickets here.

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A Farmer Post-Script

I hadn’t yet opened this week’s issue of New York magazine before making yesterday’s post about the celebrity farmer (I do hope those of you in the Seattle area will try to make it to the Incredible Feast event in a couple weeks, “where the farmers are the stars”). A feature article in this issue celebrates “The Farmer as Cult Hero,” going ‘celebrity’ status a notch or two higher. Relating the trend in a similar fashion that I did, writer Susan Burton notes that “Just a few years ago, only a celebrity chef could have stirred up so much epicurean excitement.” The story highlights a few cult-status farmers in the New York area, including Ronnybrook Farm Dairy and Blooming Hill Farm (such lyrical names!).

Cult hero, huh? Makes me wonder who I’d put in that class around here. In my Seattle Magazine article, I’d featured George Page from Sea Breeze Farm, Brent Olsen from Olsen Farmsand Steve Hallstrom from Let Us Farm. Cult figures? I hadn’t thought of them in quite that light, but perhaps that’s just what they are. If you’re after unpasteurized milk, fresh-from-the-ground fingerling potatoes or exquisite uncommon lettuce, those are your guys (respectively). To the list I suppose I’d add Heath Putnam from Wooly Pigs (his mangalista pigs definitely have a following), Shelley and Mike Verdi at Whistling Train Farm (eggs sell out weekly but they sell loads of produce as well), Nash Huber from Nash’s Organic Farm (carrots made this farm famous). And others not immediately coming to mind.

Are you the devoted customer (perhaps event cult-like follower?) of any particular farmers in your neck of the woods? If so, I’d love to hear about them and what products of theirs that you crave.

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Sunchokes, Part Two

As promised in a post last week, I picked up some sunchokes at the Full Circle Farm stand at the West Seattle Farmers Market Sunday. It follows in the heels of an event I attended where Andrew Stout from Full Circle joked that everyone in the room needed to develop five new recipes for sunchokes (no joke to this recipe developer!) I didn’t have quite the energy or time yesterday to tackle more than one to have with our little Sunday night supper.


Chef Seth Caswell from Stumbling Goat had told me at that same event that he cooks sunchokes in many of the same ways he cooks potatoes. And he often finds himself reaching for the bottle of hazelnut oil as a complement to the tasty tubers. Sounded like a great idea to me, the rich nutty oil echoing the nuttiness of the sunchokes. I don’t happen to have hazelnut oil open right now, but (because I’m spoiled) I do have pistachio oil and walnut oil in the fridge. I got a slew of samples a few months ago from La Tourangelle, a partnership between one of France’s oldest artisan oil producers and a California oil sunchokesmanufacturer. Their line includes a dozen-plus oils, from avocado to pumpkin seed, a few of which are organic. If I had some pistachios on my shelf, I’d have used the pistachio oil yesterday. But I went with walnut instead.


First I scraped the skin from the sunchokes using a small spoon; it’s a thin papery skin much like that of ginger root. I find a regular peeler is overkill. Be sure to have a bowl of cold water handy to drop the peeled chokes in; they brown quickly. With the oven preheated to 400 degrees, I drained and coarsely chopped the sunchokes. Tossed them in some walnut oil, a sprinkle of salt and pepper, into the oven for about 40 minutes. I tossed in toasted walnuts just before serving.


The roasted sunchokes were an ideal pairing for the skirt steak, which I marinated for a few hours in balsamic vinegar, minced garlic and olive oil. I’d picked up a bag of hearty greens at the market as well; the farmer pointed out that they were tender enough to eat raw as a salad, but I chose to lightly Sunchokesbraise them instead. Another wonderful thing I happened to have in the fridge was some leftover pork belly from an amazing pasta dish at La Medusa on Friday night. I chopped that up, sliced some garlic and started by browning those two together in a skillet. Added a splash (maybe 1/2 cup) of good chicken broth, tossed in the greens and cooked until they were tender and most of the liquid had evaporated.


This worked out to be quite a nice Sunday dinner. It’s gotten to be one of my favorite meals of the week thanks to my neighborhood farmers market.

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