Join Me At The 1st Annual Food Writer Day at the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market

Oh, the produce. Oh, the baked goods. Oh, the smoothies and crepes and all those other things I just couldn’t live without. Must be Saturday at the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market.

This Saturday I’m pleased to be among four writers taking part in a panel discussion at the market on food blogging and food writing, covering topics such as how to start a food blog, what it takes to be a food writer, and why anyone would want to write a food blog (that last one makes me smile!).

My esteemed co-panelists include:

  • Katie Parla, author of Parla Food and the travel app Katie Parla’s Rome
  • Pat Tanner, author of the Dine With Pat column that offers advice and restaurant recommendations to Central Jersey diners
  • Rachael Weston, the author of Gutsy Gourmet and In Season columns in The Star-Leder and

Join us at 10:00 am and then shop the market before heading home. I know I will be, and writing about it too!

The Market opens at 9:00 am and runs until 1:00 pm every Saturday through the Saturday before Thanksgiving. You can find it in the Vaughn Drive lot of the Princeton Junction train station in West Windsor, NJ.


My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms With Shallots And Thyme

We are lucky to live as close as we do to Kennett Square, PA, a lovely suburban community not far from Philadelphia that is also known as — wait for it — The Mushroom Capital Of The World. Lucky because purveyors from Kennett Square frequent local farmer’s markets — like the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market, a fantastic Saturday market just minutes from our home — with pint after pint of both common and exotic varieties throughout the year. We’re never far from fresh, flavorful mushrooms and the farmers who are excited to talk about the varieties they grow.

We’ve long been enjoying mushrooms from Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms — we last wrote about them in our Butternut Squash and Chicken Risotto with Sautéed Leeks and Mushrooms post — but were happy to see Princeton’s own Shibumi Mushroom Farm join the vendors at the farmer’s market this year. Mushroom junkies like me love to try new strains and species, and Shibumi focuses on cultivating proprietary fungi grown indoors on artificial logs that use no animal products or pesticides.

At the West Windsor Community Farmer's Market with Davidson's Exotic Mushrooms and Shibumi Mushroom Farm

At the West Windsor Community Farmer’s Market with Davidson’s Exotic Mushrooms and Shibumi Mushroom Farm

Since mushrooms are used in dishes around the world and have long been served at mealtimes on all contents, they seem like the perfect ingredient for this globally-inspired family. I’ve been on a bit of a mission to get The Stout Sprouts to try mushrooms under the presumption that trying may eventually lead to liking. Mushrooms, I’ve found, are one of those foods that improve with age…and by that I mean there is a direct correlation between age and likelihood to consume mushrooms, with the lowest correlation occurring at the youngest ages (some might even say there is a negative correlation during those early years, with mushrooms actually repelling the youngest eaters with a polarizing force akin to an atom splitter).

Sure, we could simmer the mushrooms in a kid-friendly cream sauce or mince them finely and hide them in a burger, but my husband and I want our daughters to experience mushrooms as mushrooms. To appreciate their rich umami taste and the flavor variations of different mushroom types. And, after having cooked up several batches of my favorite sautéed mushrooms with shallots and thyme already this year, we made another batch this weekend specifically for them to try.

A dish that is welcome on any table: sautéed mushrooms with shallots and thyme

A dish that is welcome on any table: sautéed mushrooms with shallots and thyme

You’ll want to try this recipe too! Keep reading for more on our farmer’s market visit and My Favorite Sautéed Mushrooms With Shallots and Thyme.

Risotto with Fresh Summer Corn and Herbs

I am a pressure-cooker risotto convert. Actually, advocate or evangelist might be a better description. Risotto wasn’t even in our regular menu rotation before I started cooking with a pressure cooker and now we make it several times a month, easily. I even packed the pressure cooker for our trip to the shore.

After all, what is not to like about risotto? Creamy, cheesy, and able to leap high buildings in a single bound (and by that I mean you can add just about any veggie or protein flavor combination with equally-stellar results), it’s a dinner-time super hero.

Jersey shore dinner of steamed clams, risotto and string beans

Jersey shore dinner of steamed clams, risotto and string beans

If you don’t have a pressure cooker, don’t be discouraged. There are several great — and easy — risotto recipes out there with techniques that prove you don’t need to constantly stir the rice pot to get good results. I recommend starting with the version for Basic Risotto on the Cook’s Illustrated web site if you have a subscription. As I’ve previously hinted, this is our go-to web site for reliable and proven recipes — the subscription is definitely worth it for a serious cook. Another great recipe for Laid-Back Risotto comes from Mark Bittman on the New York Times web site, translating a Mario Batali recipe that features spring asparagus.

Personally, it was the Cook’s Illustrated recipe for Pressure-Cooker Parmesan Risotto that started us down the pressure-cooker risotto path. The advantage to using the pressure cooker is that dinner can be on the table in 15 minutes, start to finish, and that is a lifesaver on a busy weeknight…or in our recent case, an evening at the shore where we didn’t want to spend too much time in the kitchen. It’s reliable and easy and, in our house, frequently requested as well.

Don’t be afraid to experiment. One of our favorite versions uses fresh (preferred) or frozen corn, but we have also used the techniques below to make:
– Butternut squash risotto (add cubes of butternut squash early, with the onions)
– Fresh baby spinach risotto (add baby spinach at the last moment)
– Ham and pea risotto
– Seared shrimp and scallop risotto (sear shrimp and/or sea scallops separately and incorporate at last moment)

Super hero indeed!

Fresh corn from the Ocean City farmer's market

Fresh corn from the Ocean City farmer’s market

A quick note about the white wine used to deglaze the pan and start the steaming process for the rice: use something dry that you’d normally drink. If you’re having wine with dinner, this is a great excuse to open the bottle early. But often enough I don’t feel like opening a full bottle of wine for this recipe alone, in which case I use the vermouth that is nearly always open in our liquor cabinet and doesn’t turn as easily as a regular bottle of wine. I prefer Noilly Prat Original Dry vermouth for this recipe. Vermouth is a fortified wine that incorporates other botanical flavors. The herbs and spices in Noilly Prat are mild and work well with risotto. There are some other wonderful vermouth’s out there that make a mean martini, but which I wouldn’t use for risotto because they are too full-flavored. Experiment a little to see what you like if you go this route.

Here is how we made this week’s batch, using Jersey Fresh produce we picked up at the farmer’s market:

Pressure-Cooker Risotto with Fresh Summer Corn and Herbs

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth
4 cups chicken broth (homemade if you have it)
Approximately 3 cups fresh corn kernels, cut from 3 ears of the freshest corn you can get (or use frozen corn…I do in the winter)
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated mild cheddar cheese
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon zest (optional…works well with some but not all flavor combos)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, basil, or sorrel, finely minced (or combination of herbs…a little thyme might be nice depending on what you’re adding)

Begin by heating the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter over medium-high heat in the pressure cooker (or pot on the stove top if you’re making a traditional version of risotto). Add the onion and sauté until softened. Add the rice and stir, allowing rice to sauté slightly for about 1 minute. The outer layer of the rice grains will take on a slightly translucent look – this is what you want. When all the rice gains looks uniformly translucent and ever so slightly browned, add the white wine or vermouth.

When the wine is nearly evaporated, add 3 cups of chicken stock and put the lid on the pressure cooker. Bring your pressure cooker to high pressure and cook risotto for 4 minutes before releasing the pressure. For a non-pressure cooker version, keep adding warmed chicken stock to your pot as needed until rice is cooked through.

Carefully remove the lid and stir the risotto, adding more chicken stock over medium heat as necessary until the rice is tender but al dente.

Add the corn, allow to cook for 1 minute, and remove from heat. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese (a non-traditional addition, but something my kids really like that rounds out the creaminess), the lemon zest if using, and the remaining 1 tablespoon unsalted butter.

Stir in the herbs — or sprinkle over the top — and serve.

Serves: 4 as a main course, 6 as appetizer or side-dish portions

Fresh corn risotto

Fresh corn risotto

Kid rating: five stars – sometimes four-and-a-half depending on the various things I add. This is a reliable staple on our dinner table that both girls enjoy and request.
Parent rating: four-and-a-half stars. We tend to like stronger flavors than the girls, and I’ve been known to dish their portions and then “spice up” our portions with some spicy sausage or some veggies that might not be on the good list on any given week (for instance, peas). But this version, with fresh corn and sometimes some added cooked chicken, is a favorite for everyone.

Steamed Jersey Clams with White Wine, Garlic and Butter

The Jersey shore is known for many things: busy beaches and boardwalk attractions, funnel cake, and Lucy the Elephant among them (I’m not even going to entertain the notoriety of a certain MTV show, ’cause that’s just not my Jersey). But few people walk in to one of the supermarkets located in a Jersey beach town and get bowled over by the quality and selection. Sorry Super Fresh. I love your convenience, but big chain distribution methods mean your corn has been off the stalk longer than Snookie’s been negotiating rights on a new cable program.

Which is why the Ocean City, NJ, farmer’s market is such a welcome surprise. Held every Wednesday morning from late June through the first week of September in the parking lot behind the Ocean City Tabernacle Church, the farmer’s market brings the freshest of Jersey Fresh to this seaside town. Table after table piled with peaches, plums, eggplant, cucumbers, zucchini, tomatoes, famous Jersey corn, cut flowers, fresh-baked pies and baked goods, fabulous pizzas and creamy mozzarella from Tony’s Farm Table, fresh-caught seafood…it’s all at the farmer’s market.

Jersey fresh produce at the Ocean City, NJ, farmer's market

Jersey fresh produce at the Ocean City, NJ, farmer’s market

Ocean City, NJ, farmer's market eggplants and cucumbers

Ocean City, NJ, farmer’s market eggplants and cucumbers

Picking produce at the Ocean City, NJ, farmer's market

Picking produce at the Ocean City, NJ, farmer’s market

The market was both a short walk from our beach house and a welcome diversion on a Wednesday morning that was looking just a little too overcast for the beach. I felt like a kid in a candy store. The kids felt like kids in a pastry store. We walked away with Danish pastries from Blue Dolfin Sweets, sticky buns, string beans, potatoes, corn, basil, apples, plums, a big pint of blackberries (which the girls SHARED – nicely! – on the walk home), and local clams. Oh – and two strawberry lemonades.

Danish pastries from Blue Dolfin Sweets in Marmora, NJ

Danish pastries from Blue Dolfin Sweets in Marmora, NJ

Blackberries - perfect treat for the walk home

Blackberries – perfect treat for the walk home

Fresh cheese and artisanal pizzas from Tony's Farm Table at the Ocean City farmer's market

Fresh cheese and artisanal pizzas from Tony’s Farm Table at the Ocean City farmer’s market

Randall’s Seafood of Pleasantville, NJ, is the fish monger at the market and provided the public service of posting this wonderfully uncomplicated recipe for steaming clams right on the cooler in his stand. I loved the kitsch of it all and of course had to make it and pass this recipe along. And if you go to the Ocean City farmer’s market, definitely stop by his stand early. He sold out of all his fresh fish within the first two hours, which was a good sign as far as I was concerned. Also, he added a couple of clams into my order of two dozen just in case some didn’t open. But they all did. Bonus! Love that kind of customer service.

Steamed local NJ clams: Simple recipe, great results (thanks Randall's Seafood!)

Steamed local NJ clams: Simple recipe, great results (thanks Randall’s Seafood!)

Two dozen fresh New Jersey clams, ready for dinner

Two dozen fresh New Jersey clams, ready for dinner

Steamed Clams with White Wine, Garlic and Butter

Plenty of butter
Plenty of garlic
Not too much dry white wine
Lotsa clams
Parsley, lemon
Beer to drink (Coronas preferred)

Melt butter over medium heat.

Add garlic, 2-3 minutes – don’t burn.

Add wine, increase heat to medium high simmering boil.

Add clams 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir them up.

Add parsley and throw in lemon wedges.

Great over linguine.

Serves: However many you planned to serve! Plan on 6 – 12 clams per person.

She calls them "clamies"

She calls them “clamies”

Jersey shore dinner of steamed clams, risotto and string beans

Jersey shore dinner of steamed clams, risotto and string beans

Kid rating: OK, these weren’t for the kids. These were purely for me. Daughter 1 passed on the clams. Daughter 2, however, ate half a dozen and gives them three and a half stars.
Parent rating: Five stars. Happy happy. Again, these were for me! My husband does not care for clams (and that is putting it nicely). I, however, love them. So I was in hog heaven with both the clams and this wonderful, fortuitous recipe. Go Jersey!