Category Archives: Buy Local

Asparagus Leek Soup

It began with asparagus season this year. I had learned that you can, in fact, freeze asparagus without blanching it, if you’re going to use it in something for which texture doesn’t matter. Like soup! So I spent most of June freezing bags of asparagus and decided, after eating many meals of fresh asparagus, I’d better try out a soup recipe to make sure I like it. I’ll be making plenty of asparagus soup later in the fall and winter with what I’ve got stored in the freezer.

My recipe was inspired by Jim LaPerriere’s Asparagus and Spring Garlic Vichyssoise. Jim is a local chef who participates in the Chef Series each summer at the Holland Farmers Market. I picked up this recipe from him three years ago.

Since I had missed the window for spring garlic, I decided to substitute sweet candy onion. I also used olive oil instead of butter and homemade chicken stock instead of water. (But this would make a nice vegetarian soup if water were used for the base.) Plus, I skipped the potato. And, I opted for raw milk (with fat skimmed off) rather than heavy cream.

Here’s the recipe:

Asparagus Leek Soup

2 T. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 small leeks, chopped
1 lb. asparagus, chopped into 1/2″ pieces
4 cups chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup lowfat milk

Rinse the asparagus and snap off the bottoms. (Jim’s recipe, as well as several others I found online, suggest saving the tips and blanching them to use as garnish when serving. Me, I’m too lazy to add another step!)

In a large saucepan, saute the onion and leeks in olive oil until tender, about six minutes.

Add the chopped asparagus and saute for one minute.

Pour the chicken stock into the saucepan and bring to a boil.

Cover pan with a lid, reduce heat, and simmer soup for about ten minutes.

Puree in batches. Season with salt and pepper, then add milk.

It’s best to make this soup a day ahead for the flavors to blend. My chicken stock was made from a Spatchcock Chicken so it was full of fresh herb flavor. You may want to consider adding a little parsley or thyme to this soup as it simmers on the stove.

I think this is a delicious summer soup because it’s so light that it doesn’t make you warm and sleepy. Although it’s not an authentic vichyssoise recipe, you could try serving this soup cold. The leeks and asparagus nicely complement each other.


How to Camp Like a Locavore

Fresh eggs from Good Harbor Farm

When I go camping at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore with my friend Sandy, we often have a theme that drives our meal decisions as well as the activities we do. This year we decided to wing it, bringing few staples from home and relying on the local food choices we could find in Leelanau County, Michigan.

Okay, so I’m not a purely authentic locavore. That would mean I would only eat food that is locally produced, excluding olive oil, coffee, chocolate, and lemons, to name a few of my favorite ingredients. But I try my best to eat in season as much as possible and support our local economy here in Michigan. So what are staples for Sandy and me on a camping trip? Popcorn, olive oil, and coffee.

The first step to camping like a locavore is heading to the local winery (or grocery store) to get some sparkling wine. One of our favorites is Moonstruck from Good Harbor Vineyards. After picking up some provisions, such as eggs and asparagus at Good Harbor Farm, we headed back to our campsite to pitch the tent. But first we popped the cork on the Moonstruck.

Moonstruck sparkling wine from Good Harbor Winery

Then we had some cherry pie that we picked up at The Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan, on our way to the campground.

Moonstruck and cherry pie

Then we put the tarp down.

Camping step two: Put down tarp

And finally, the tent went up.

Camping step three: Put up tent

The first night we went out for dinner at Good Harbor Grill, which is not our normal practice. But the Cherry Pecan Whitefish on the menu was enticing. (What’s with all the Good Harbor this and Good Harbor that? D.H. Day Campground, a rustic campground within Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, resides along Good Harbor Bay, one of the most beautiful harbors in Lake Michigan—with no marinas. It’s a nature lover’s paradise.) After dinner we made popcorn over the campfire.

The next day, we headed to the beach at—you guessed it—Good Harbor Bay to make breakfast, which was an Asparagus Frittata and pressed coffee (and leftover Moonstruck).

Frittata ingredients

Red onion and fresh asparagus for frittata

Asparagus frittata and Moonstruck at Good Harbor Bay

Moonstruck sparkling wine from Good Harbor Winery

Good Harbor Bay, Leelanau County, Michigan

After relaxing at the beach, we toured some wineries, including one of our favorites (L. Mawby), where we shared a flight of sparkling wine with whitefish pate.

Sparkling wine flight at L. Mawby

Then we headed back to camp for some R&R. I had brought a few ingredients from home to make Lavash Pizza Over a Fire. The base for the pizza was Stinging Nettles Pesto that I had made a few weeks earlier and froze. The tomatoes for one pizza were from the Holland Farmers Market and the goat cheese came from Dancing Goat Creamery. We put Manchego sheep’s cheese and parsley from my garden on the other.

Lavash Pizza Over a Fire

And in the morning? Fried egg sandwich paninis with Stinging Nettles Pesto!

Fried egg and pesto panini

The challenge is always to find ways to use up the ingredients that you find locally and bring from home. The only leftovers we had were pieces of cherry pie. But that was easy. They were nicely accompanied by cups of coffee from Gemma’s Coffee House at the beach in Empire, Michigan, on the way home.

What Wine to Buy? Go Taste It!

One of my favorite ways to spend a vacation is wine tasting, so I have made a point to visit three major wine producing areas of the U.S.: Sonoma, California; the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York; and Northern Lower Michigan (both Leelanau Peninsula and Old Mission Peninsula). No matter what region I buy wine from, I tend to gravitate toward the wines I know because I’ve tasted them.

Living in Michigan, it’s easy to buy Michigan wines. I love supporting our local producers and Michigan’s economy. Some of my favorites from Leelanau are Good Harbor Red and L. Mawby Blanc de Blancs. Our closest vineyard, Fenn Valley, makes a Capriccio that serves as one of our favorite red table wines. During my birthday weekend in Traverse City last fall, Bill and I enjoyed a yummy bottle of Pinot Noir that really suited our palates from Brys Estate on Old Mission Peninsula.

When I stand in the Michigan Wines section of our local wine retailers I find I’m always grabbing the same bottles, when there are many more to choose from. That’s partly because I had never been to the wineries in Southwest Michigan, along the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail. Bill and I finally had the chance to go this weekend.

We started at Contessa Wine Cellars because it was close to the Chocolate Garden, a truffle shop I had heard about for years. (It reminds me of growing up in New Jersey and never going to the Statue of Liberty until I moved to Michigan—so close, yet so far.) I really enjoyed both the Tre Tenores and Lago Rosso. The latter was also an ingredient in the truffles I bought at the Chocolate Garden. And, the winery has a spacious deck with a beautiful view of the vineyard.

Contessa Wine Cellars

The Chocolate Garden

From there we zipped down to Tabor Hill, since the winery also has a restaurant on the premises and we were already hungry for lunch.

Tabor Hill Winery

Tabor Hill Winery

We each started off our meal with a glass of Blanc de Blanc sparkling wine. Blanc de Blanc at Tabor Hill

After a light lunch overlooking the vineyards, we tasted several reds and I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed the Syrah, since it’s not one of my usual varietals.

Next on the itinerary was Round Barn Winery, which I knew I just had to see because it’s in a round barn. Not only did we love the wines there, but they also distill spirits and brew beer. Bill and I found another Pinot Noir that we really enjoyed, plus a Nouveau Noir—made in steel barrels. It was also surprisingly tasty. Round Barn is hip and fun, and a unique setting. I hope to go back for some winery events this summer.

Round Barn Winery

The next closest stop was Domaine Berrien Cellars. Don’t let their modest tasting room fool you. We really enjoyed their Cabernet Franc as well as the Vignoles, a sweet white that is pretty tasty in summertime weather.

Domaine Berrien Cellars

There are 14 wineries on the Lake Michigan Shore Wine Trail and we only made it to four in one day. That means I’ll need to plan another outing soon to try the others, but at least now I’ve expanded my list of Michigan wines to know what to buy from local retailers.

Oh, and if you’re a beer drinker, you must visit our state. Grand Rapids was chosen as this year’s Beer City USA. Craft breweries abound in Michigan!

Asparagus Frittata

Asparagus Frittata Recipe

Memorial Day is the traditional segue to summer. And in the Great Lakes, it’s the start of weekend gatherings–at home, at the cottage, and at the campsite. What’s a quick and easy way to enjoy breakfast together? A simple frittata with seasonal vegetables. And right now, it’s asparagus season.

Most people in Michigan can’t wait for the first asparagus to show up at farmers markets and roadside stands. I’m one of them. As soon as the Holland Farmers Market opened in May, I was there with my basket, loading up on this spring vegetable that can be prepared so many ways. Putting it in a frittata is one of my favorites. In addition to the asparagus, I buy the rest of the ingredients from our local farmers at the Holland Farmers Market: pastured eggs from Grassfields, red onions from Visser Farms, and goat cheese from Country Winds Creamery. (Another reason why I love this recipe? You can cook it over a campfire, too!)

Asparagus Frittata

Serves 4.

3 T. olive oil

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 lb. fresh asparagus, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces

8 eggs, beaten

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/4 cup Pecorino cheese,  or dollops of goat cheese

Optional: chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or parsley

Put 1 tablespoon of olive oil and vegetables into a large oven-proof skillet. Saute onions with asparagus on medium heat until nearly tender, about three minutes. With a slotted spoon, remove vegetables from pan. (Note: You can also leave the veggies in and pour the eggs right over them but I remove them and do the next steps first so the frittata doesn’t stick to the pan.)

Add salt and pepper to eggs, then stir. (If using herbs, add them now.) Heat remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil in skillet on medium-high heat until bubbly. When oil is very hot, pour egg mixture into pan. As edges cook, lift up with a spatula and tilt pan so uncooked egg mixture runs underneath. Continue until eggs are no longer runny. (It will still be slightly soft.)

Preheat broiler on high. Spoon vegetables evenly over egg. Sprinkle cheese or place dollops over entire pan. Put pan in oven under broiler flame and immediately reduce to low. Broil about 3 minutes, checking occasionally. Frittata is done when the edges are brown and the cheese is bubbly (or soft for goat cheese).

Remove from oven and let set about a minute. Cut into eight slices and serve.

Asparagus Frittata Recipe

Cooking over a campfire? Just place foil on over the pan to cook the top of the frittata.

Spring Lavash Pizza

Spring Lavash Pizza Recipe

I call it Spring Lavash Pizza because the recipe was inspired by one main ingredient that’s harvested in the spring: stinging nettles. Which I turned into Stinging Nettles Pesto. (Wow, is that ever good!) My batch yielded about two cups so I froze some of it and then wondered what I would use the rest for.

As it turns out, the local greenhouse tomatoes were ripe at the Holland Farmers Market last Saturday (and I’ve been dying for fresh tomatoes since last November!). So I opted for an easy lavash pizza, which is made with a Bill-friendly lavash (flatbread) base from Sami’s Bakery.

Spring Nettles Pesto and Greenhouse Tomato

After toasting the bottom of the lavash on a griddle, I smeared the pesto on the lavash, then added sliced tomatoes and kalamata olives.

Spring Lavash Pizza recipe

I sprinkled the pizza with salt and pepper, added some grated Pecorino cheese, drizzled it with olive oil and broiled it for about three minutes on low.

Spring Lavash Pizza recipe

This makes a wonderful light dinner or a small plate to share. And it’s full of superfood antioxidants from the nettles!

Stinging Nettles Pesto

Stinging Nettles Pesto Recipe

The first time I came across stinging nettles I was in a friend’s back yard and he said to stay away from them or I’ll be very uncomfortable when they sting and burn my skin. Then I heard an herbalist talk about how she forages for them all around Grand Rapids, Michigan. To many people, they’re a weed and a bad memory. Others use nettles for medicinal purposes. Some even consider them a superfood. When I heard the herbalist talk about her passion for cooking nettles, I thought I’d try them sometime.

Photo via Wikipedia

Photo via Wikipedia

Recently, they were on the spring menu at Salt of the Earth, one of my favorite local restaurants. I had them as a side dish–like sautéed greens–with pork. They tasted a lot like spinach! When my CSA farmer at Mud Lake Farm emailed me that she was offering nettles in our delivery last week, I knew I had to give them a try at home. They were delivered in a plastic bag along with the order of greens Bill and I usually get.

Stinging Nettles from Mud Lake Farm

I stuck them in the fridge for a day or two until I found a recipe that sounded good. Ultimately, I settled on a pesto, inspired by two bloggers who had posted their recipes online: Jess Thomson and Michael Ruhlman.

With about 3/4 of a pound of nettles, I wasn’t sure exactly how to vary the quantities in their recipes, but I listed my approximate measurements below. (I hate measuring!) The main differences in the recipes were that I used pine nuts like Jess did, but Pecorino like Michael did (since Bill can eat sheep’s cheese but not pasteurized cow’s cheese.) It was so easy to make.

The key is NOT to touch the nettles until they are cooked. These are the tools I recommend using: rubber gloves, scissors, and tongs.

Rubber glove, scissors, and tongs for handling stinging nettles

I put a large pot of salted water on the stove with the flame on high. When it was boiling rapidly, I donned the rubber gloves as a precaution, then used the scissors to cut the bag open. I also used the scissors to trim the woody stems from the nettles. Then I took the tongs and put the nettles into the pot.

Stinging nettles recipe

After boiling for three minutes to remove the chemical that makes them sting, I put them in an ice bath, as Michael suggests on his blog. This cools them quickly so you can keep moving with your recipe.

Stinging nettles in ice bath

Then I put them in a colander, cut off more of the thicker stems, and chopped them coarsely.

Stinging Nettles recipe

Then came the fun part. All of the following ingredients went into a food processor along with the nettles:

5 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped

Juice from half a lemon

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/3 cup Pecorino cheese, grated

1/2 tsp. salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Stinging Nettles Pesto recipe

I processed the mixture for a couple of minutes until well blended. And what I got was pesto. Just like basil pesto or spinach pesto, with lots of antioxidants. My recipe yielded about two cups…..plenty to freeze for later! Watch what I use the pesto for in my next blog post.

Stinging Nettles Pesto Recipe

The Perennial Plate: Episode 82

Warning: This video is graphic. It’s about a halal slaughterhouse in Queens, New York, that sources many of its chickens from small farms and is run by a guy who believes in the humane treatment of the animals he buys for food. And many people in the neighborhood prefer to come here and pay a premium for natural, free-range, organic, or pastured chickens rather than paying cheap prices at the grocery store down the street because of the way the chickens are slaughtered and processed.