17 June 2008

Chef Aja T. Marsh News - June Newsletter

Hello Friends!

Summer is finally here and it actually feels like it up here in New York, and everyone seems happier and smiley, which is contagious! The Greenmarket is getting very colorful with the first of the harvest: strawberries, sugar snap peas, herbs and greens of all kinds, tomatoes, rhubarb, and new potatoes! I personally, am really looking forward to doing some canning and pickling this summer. I've never done it before, and I'm super excited about the adventure-- stay tuned to Stem+Leaf for those developments! (If you are an experienced, or aspiring, canner-- I'd love to hear from you!)

Canning and pickling are a just a couple of ways to stretch today's dollars into meals for the weeks and months to come. In the wake of the steady rise of food, fuel, and utilities prices, there is no better time to look into other ways to cut and reduce overall costs...

Shop at your local Farmers' Market
With exception to prepared and baked goods, I haven't noticed a big increase in food prices at the farmers' markets. Sure, prices often seem higher than at the grocery store, but they more accurately reflect the cost of growing food and help to pay farmers' a living wage. Market prices are reasonable, and you know what you're getting is super-fresh, and didn't have to be shipped across the country, or around the world, to get to your plate. Most markets can provide you with most of the produce you need as well as meats, breads, cheeses, milk, eggs, and condiments-- usually at a superior quality to what you find at the grocery store.
Don't know if you have a Farmers' Market near you? Check here.

Buy in Bulk
While prices in basic commodities like grains and beans may have gone up, it is still cheaper to buy in bulk than it is to buy individually packaged items. Most health food stores have a self- or assisted-serve bulk section where you can load up on basic pantry items, cereals, cooking oils, and sweeteners. Many stores also have a bulk beauty section, with cut-your-own soap, bath salts, and other body products. One-up it, and bring in your own re-usable containers (or re-use your plastic bags from the last time) when you fill up-- this will save you a step when you get home!

Re-use Your Bags
Plastic bags are produced with petroleum products, which we all know are in short (and expensive) supply. By re-using the plastic bags you've already accumulated, and/or using fabric bags to carry your goods to and from the market, grocery store, big box shop, or just for lugging things to and fro, you will help to decrease the demand for the plastic bags! And many stores even give you money back for each bag you re-use! For city-life, I love totes that have a strap long enough to hang from my shoulder-- makes schlepping around town with my groceries a breeze!
Check the right hand side of this page for links to retailers who sell reusable bags!

Carpool, Walk, Bike, and Use Public Transportation
Gas is now over $4/gallon in most parts of the country. I'm still pretty young and I remember when it was 99 cents. Driving less is one thing, but there is probably more you can do to reduce your use of gasoline-- which will help both your wallet, and the air you breathe! Look into neighborhood carpools, or take turns carpooling to the grocery store, etc. with friends and family. Plan your errands to be done in one outing to maximize your time. See if you can 'Park and Ride' to city destinations, parking near a bus route, and taking the bus most of the way. Walk or bike as much as you can, when you can. Instead of having to fit a work-out into your day, make your commute the workout by jogging to or from work or your carpool.

I'm Running the Half-Marathon!
That's 13.1 miles! Continuing with my running streak, I'm competing in the Nike NYC Half-Marathon next month for charity.

I'm on The Fresh Air Fund's team and am looking for sponsorship-- anything you can give will help to send 10,000 low-income NYC kids on summer vacations in the country. This is a super-cool organization, and I'm excited to be involved.

I'm hoping to raise $1,310. Or, $100 per mile!
Though I think it would be great to raise a bit more- $1,600, which is the cost of sending one child on a great summer vacation. I would be really grateful for absolutely any contributions you are able to make-- every little bit can and does make a difference

You can donate online!
My donations page is: http://freshair.kintera.org/ajamarsh
(There are also instructions there for how to donate by mail)

Now More Recipes: Keep an eye out here on the blog-- I'm gearing up to post a bunch of recipes, that will carry on throughout the next few months at least. Now that I'm moved and settling in, and the Greenmarket is so inspiring, I anticipate a lot more on-the-fly recipes to share.

Guest Blogger Opportunities: I am always looking for interested individuals to write guest blogs for Stem+Leaf about green and healthy-lifestyle related subjects, or maybe you have a great summer recipe to share, from your own perspective. No need to be an experienced writer-- just enthusiastic with something to say! Please contact me for more information.

Breathe in the sunshine and be grateful for the day!

12 June 2008

"putting meat in its place" and a few other read-worthy articles

Usually I post recent read-worthy articles and timely websites on the right hand side of this page, but I wanted to more specifically highlight these few.

Most notably, Mark Bittman's "Putting Meat Back in Its Place," which ran in yesterday's New York Times, very simply and practically breaks down how to eat less meat. This article is the real reason for this post-- read it!!

Banking on Gardening: More and more people are turning to gardening as a way to save money in the wake of rising food and fuel prices, and a bumpy economy. While the impetus for many is to stave off financial struggle over food, the knowledge that more people are growing their own food brings me great joy inside! I only wish that this were more feasible for me in my dark yardless Brooklyn apartment. I keep those yearnings at bay with very frequent farmers' market visits, and I'm planning to can this year (the excitement builds)!

If you're like me and only just heard about the tomato issues plaguing the country right now (what? I've been out of the loop for a couple of days), here's a Times Topic: Tomatoes page to help catch you up on the most recent developments, what you should be concerned with, and what's being done about it.

11 June 2008

recipe: roasted greenmarket potato salad

I made this the other night, while packing my bags for a flight the next morning. Knowing I'd be out of town for a week, I stopped acquiring groceries, but I still had a few things sitting in the fridge, most prominently, a bag of little potatoes I picked up a week or two before at the farmers' market.

I was just going to roast them up with olive oil, salt and pepper and call it a day, but then I thought, "hmm, let's make a potato salad." So I did. And now you can too.

Recipe: Roasted Greenmarket Potato Salad
1 lb. small local potatoes, rinsed, skin-on
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon vegan mayonnaise or extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons lemon juice (probably 1 lemon)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 teaspoon fresh)
salt and pepper to taste

Add-ins to Salad:
1 hardboiled Happy Chicken Farm egg, diced (optional)
1/2 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 small to medium shallot, sliced thin (could substitute chives, scallions or ramps)

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F.
2. In a bowl, toss together the potatoes, olive oil, garlic, and salt and pepper. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Roast for about 20 minutes or until brown. Remove and set aside to cool, try not to eat too many.
3. Meanwhile, mix the dressing ingredients until emulsified. Adjust for seasonings.
4. Once the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in half and mix in with the dressing until coated. Stir in the add-ins. Adjust for seasoning.
5. Allow to sit for a few minutes so the potatoes soak up some of the dressing, or cover and chill until you're ready to eat it. Will last a few days in the refrigerator and is tasty room temperature or cold.

This is a great dish to take to a potluck or picnic, and is super-easy to boot!

03 June 2008

recipe: pad thai with tofu

Maybe I should be embarrassed to admit this.. but until a couple of days ago, I had never. Made. Pad Thai. Weird right?! I mean, I've eaten it countless times, and I enjoy it, and I generally like to try to make things that I like that much, but somehow I always felt like it was always going to better when I go out to eat it. Even though some places really do it up with too much oil in the sauce, I generally enjoy pad Thai every time I eat it and never mustered up enough motivation to make it at home.

However, I had a client request it for dinner and before experimenting with it on their dime, I decided to test drive it at home. I checked out a few recipes online, and combined the elements that I liked into what you see below you.

The amount of steps may seem a little intimidating, but actually, it's very quick to make. Only took me about 30 to 35 minutes, and it's enough to feed 5 people.

Recipe: Pad Thai
Makes 5-6 Servings

1 lb. tofu, drained
2 tablespoons shoyu
1 tablespoon canola oil

8 oz. wide rice noodles
1/4 cup fish sauce*, or 1/3-1/2 cup shoyu (naturally brewed soy sauce) or tamari
3 tablespoons tamarind puree*
1 to 2 tablespoons shoyu (omit if substituting shoyu for the fish sauce)
2 tablespoons sugar or agave
Asian chili paste, sliced jalepenos, or dried red peppers, to taste (optional)
2 tablespoons canola or peanut oil
4 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
2 shallots, thinly sliced (optional)
1 or 2 eggs, beaten
1-2 cups thinly sliced vegetables (optional): broccoli, bell peppers, carrots, etc.
1 cup bean sprouts
3 scallions, thinly sliced on the bias
1/2 cup coarsely chopped peanuts
1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro
lime wedges cut from 2 limes

Could also add in: 3/4 lb 1-inch pieces of chicken, 3/4 lb of medium sized shrimp

1. Cut the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and toss in the shoyu and canola oil. Set aside.

2. Soak the noodles in a large bowl of warm water until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain well and set aside.

3. Make the sauce mixture by combining the fish sauce, tamarind puree, shoyu, and agave. Adjust for saltiness, tartness, and sweetness. If you wanted a spicy sauce, add the chili paste or peppers to this mixture.

4. Heat 1 tablespoon of the canola oil in a wok or large sautee pan over high heat until hot, and fry the tofu for about 6-10 minutes until golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.

5. Heat a teaspoon of oil in the pan and pour in the beaten eggs, quickly stirring to break them up, until cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.

6. In the same pan, heat another tablespoon of the oil, over medium high heat until hot, add sautee shallots for 2 minutes, then add in the garlic. Cook together for a few minutes, being careful not to burn them, until golden.

7. Reduce heat to medium and add the drained noodles and sauce, stirring to combine (may be helpful to use 2 spatulas). Continue to turn the noodles until the sauce is evenly mixed, add in the tofu, half of the bean sprouts, and any additional vegetables. Add a bit more water and/or soy sauce if the pan is beginning to get dry or the noodles aren’t tender enough.

8. Once the noodles are tender, stir in the eggs and sprinkle with a few scallions and cilantro.

9. Transfer to a shallow serving dish and garnish with the remaining bean sprouts, peanuts, scallions, and cilantro. Serve with lime wedges and additional chili paste.

*Fish sauce can be found at Asian markets or any store with a decently stocked Asian foods section. Yes, it has a strong smell, and it is very salty, but it really adds a distinctive flavor to pad Thai that you will miss if it's not there. However, if you'd rather not use fish sauce or can't get your hands on any, you can substitute shoyu or tamari, though I would do it to taste. As far as the tamarind goes, you can also find this in Asian or Indian markets, though they also often have it at Whole Foods.

Because I was testing this for a client, I didn't add any spicy elements or garlic, as my client is allergic, and it still tasted great. I added thinly sliced red bell peppers and carrots for some vegetable action.

This was so easy to make I've already planned to make it again. And aside from the fresh and protein ingredients go, most of this stuff can sit in your pantry for months be, so you won't have to run out to the store every time you want to make it. And all for the cost of one or two portions of pad Thai take out, without all the gnarly grease!

01 June 2008

cute bags!

I came across a couple of websites recently with really cute tote or otherwise reusable bags, and wanted to share! Take a look if you're still shopping around for a cute bag to take to the market with you.

Whimsy Press - Mostly they sell stationery but they have adorable recycled cotton totes! Use as a shopping bag or as a purse!

Bag Green - Makes reusable cotton drawstring produce bags with vintage images screen-printed on them. They are super affordable, barely weigh a thing, and are the perfect substitute to plastic bags in the produce aisles or farmer's market.

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