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Saturday, March 24, 2012

Recap: Green Your Eats

On March 11th, we teamed up with Boston Green Drinks for our first non-swap sustainable food event.  Some of our favorite food swappers gathered with the folks at BGD at Rafiki Bistro in Cambridge for sustainable snacks and education.

The afternoon's panel discussions started with Dawn Laidley from Northeast Family Farms.  She explained how her organization was designed to create a sustainable distribution system for small, local, and sustainable farms producing meats and other farm-fresh foods.

Next up was Dave Madan from the Move. He talked about farm-volunteer work programs designed to connect city slickers to their nearest farmers.  We were bummed to find out that we had missed their farm share fair on March 8th, but now we know to check their event calendar moving forward for other great events!

Finally, Jack Kutner, co-owner of Rafiki Bistro and Clear Conscience Cafe talked to us about some ways to identify sustainable practices in restaurants and coffee shops.  He even shared with us cups of a new blend by Jim's Organic Coffee (inspiration alert - coffee based swap items are bound to be a hit)!

After the speaking portion, attendees asked questions of the panel, snacked on Northeast Family Farms sliders, vegan mushroom bruschetta, and sipped cocktails made with organic liquor.

We'd like to thank everyone who participated in the event.  We hope that the afternoon inspired you to find new source ingredients for your swap items and seek out the most sustainable businesses to support even when you aren't swapping.  For more info on sustainable restaurants, check out the Boston Green Drinks Green Your Eats - inspired blog post.  For all of the event photos, check out our Facebook Page.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Recipe: Maria's Speck's Wheat Berry Fools with Grand Marnier Figs

On Monday evening, Tara and I hopped the B line to our alma mater for a lecture through BU's gastronomy program. Ancient Grains for the Modern Meal with Maria Speck showcased the deliciously diverse textures and flavors of whole grains like quinoa, wheat berries, and oats. Speck's zeal for the topic was obvious as she shared stories from her childhood in Greece and Germany and offered tips on storing and preparing grains.

To our amazement (though perhaps not Lyn's, since she has a grain share), Speck revealed that she keeps 20-30 different grains and flours in her kitchen at any given time. A true connoisseur! Still, Speck admitted to being a "lazy chef" who just wants a quick fix on weekdays, so she suggested short cuts like cooking grains on the weekend and refrigerating or freezing them for later. She also assured us that rinsing grains is usually unecessary.

The quartet of samples at each seat made us practically drool with anticipation, but the wheat berry fools with grand marnier figs was most definitely the pièce de résistance. Speck and her publisher were kind enough to let us reproduce the swoon-worthy recipe below from her book Ancient Grains for Modern Meals. Enjoy!

Wheat Berry Fools with Grand Marnier Figs

Serves 6 to 8

3/4 cup finely chopped dried figs, preferably Turkish or Greek
3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or other good-quality orange-flavored liqueur
1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest (about 2 oranges)
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup cooked soft whole wheat berries
1 cup heavy whipping cream, chilled
  1. Combine the figs and the liqueur in a small bowl and set aside to plump for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice, while you prep the ingredients.
  2. Meanwhile, beat the yogurt with 2 tablespoons of the honey, 1 tablespoon of the orange zest, and the cinnamon in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the wheat berries. Using a hand mixer at medium speed, whip the cream in a medium bowl until foamy. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons honey and continue whipping until soft peaks form.
  3. Drain the figs, reserving their juices. Combine 2 tablespoons of the figs with the remaining 1 teaspoon zest in a small bowl and set aside for garnish. Stir the remaining figs into the bowl with the yogurt mixture. Scrape one-third of the whipped cream on top and fold in using a spatula. Fold in the remaining whipped cream in 2 additions until just incorporated. Divide among serving bowls, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for 2 hours. To serve, top each bowl with a bit of the reserved figs and their juices.
To get a head start: The dessert can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead. Add a dash more liqueur to the figs reserved for the garnish, if necessary.

To lighten it up: You can use lowfat plain Greek yogurt, if you like.

Reprinted with permission from Ancient Grains for Modern Meals by Maria Speck, copyright © 2011. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2011

Monday, March 19, 2012

Maple Sugaring Tour at Mass. Audubon

A few weekends ago, the three of us piled into Lyn's Suzuki bound for a maple sugaring tour at the Mass. Audubon Sanctuary in Ipswich. Because of our unseasonably warm winter, several other maple syrup shacks were not collecting sap this year, but the guides at Audubon told us they'd had a good season despite the low sugar content. They'd managed to collect quite a bit of sap, which is a very good thing considering that most sap is about 98-99% water, so you need gallons and gallons of sap to produce each container of syrup. (Below you'll see the metal cover that prevents animals or debris from falling into the collection bucket.)

True to my city girl tendencies, I wore ballet flats. Not the type of footwear that you want for traipsing around a muddy wildlife sanctuary, so fortunately, another member of our tour group leant me a spare pair of boots. (We also did not get the memo about wearing corduroy pants, but I was plenty warm in my down jacket.)

Fashion faux pas aside, our guide offered a thorough explanation of how sap is tapped and turned into maple syrup, how to identify maple trees, and more. The kids in the group especially enjoyed the hands-on demonstration about the symmetry of maple trees and how they're tapped.

Last stop on the tour was the sugar shack, where they carefully boil the sap to ensure the correct sugar content. The sweet aroma of warm maple syrup permeating that tiny structure made us giddy to try the finished product (see above and below).

And, of course, we bought maple syrup and stopped at Depot Diner for pancakes on the way home. I used to be perfectly happy eating French toast with sugar-free "maple syrup" from the grocery store but after tasting the real thing on this excursion, it would be hard to go back.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Inside Formaggio Kitchen's Cheese Cave

When fellow foodie and swapper Marissa Lowman invited me on a tour of the cheese cave at Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, I assumed it wasn't literally a cave. Rhode Island isn’t actually an island, after all.

Au contraire, my cheese-loving friends.

As manager and cheese buyer Ihsan Gurdal leads us down the stairs and into the basement, I curse myself for wearing ballet flats instead of waterproof boots. In this simulation of a mountain cave, puddles dot the concrete floors to help keep the cheese moist (97 percent humidity, in fact).

Formaggio Kitchen moves thousands of kilos of European artisanal cheeses, and each year the staff visits Europe to meet the shepherds (they buy direct from the shepherds instead of through cheese collectors) and choose the inventory for the year. Shelves lining the tiny dark "cave" hold wheels of Stilton and Pecorino, which Gurdal pierces with a cheese corer. We sniff each one before sampling, comparing the nutty or smoky or fruity notes of each selection.

Gurdal tells us that because of strict import/expert laws between the French and United States some of the cheeses have been secured through a barter rather than exchange of money.

Later, he guides us upstairs to the kitchen where we sample a quartet of four other cheeses, bread, two types of honey, and a subtly sweet wine from H&M Hofer. (Formaggio Kitchen also carries a variety of organic and biodynamic wines, we learn.)

I'd recommend taking the cave tour yourself so you can experience the tastes and aromas first-hand, but this video of Ihsan is the next best thing.

NOTE: Marissa invited me to attend this complimentary tour, which she'd won at an event last year. You can read her account of the cheese tour on Boston.com.

Photos courtesy of Melissa Pocek