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Farmers Market

Fresh Pickings

By Lori Grossman

If you love fresh fruit and vegetables, this is your time of year. Farmers markets – the big ones in urban areas, and the small stands on country roads (my favorite) – are brimming with fresh-off-the-farm produce. Once you bite into a succulent Texas peach or tomato, you'll never settle for store-bought again.

The big city farmers markets have a larger selection. Some have dealers who sell produce from other parts of the country. The Dallas Farmers Market is one of the largest public markets of its type in the country, and offers prepared foods, spices, coffees and teas, plus grass-fed chicken, meat, pork, lamb, eggs, cheese, and honey. You can take cooking classes from renowned local chefs there, too.

There are at least two Internet sources for farmers markets in Texas. Those certified by the Texas Department of Agriculture can be located at http://www.picktexas.com/farm_market/farmers_market2.htm. Those certified by the Texas Farmers Markets Association at http://www.texascertifiedfarmersmarkets.com/ where you can find locations as well as produce availability. Many farmers markets in Texas have their own websites, such as the Austin Farmers Market at http://www.austinfarmersmarket.org. A Google search on "farmers markets texas" will result in a list of markets in a number of Texas cities and towns.

Once you locate farm-fresh produce, keep these tips in mind:

  • Come early in the day for the best selection. For the best deals, try late in the day.
  • Bring your own bag, preferably a sturdy reusable cloth bag. It helps keep ripe fruit from bruising.
  • Examine all fruit and vegetables in a basket to make sure you’re getting what you’re paying for.
  • Sellers often have bruised or overripe vegetables and fruit that they will sell at a discount. They can be used in pies, cobblers, sauces, or jams.
  • Bring a cooler to keep your produce fresh.

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Grilled Chicken Fajita Salad
Fire up the grill!
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons hot paprika
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • Coarse (kosher) salt, to taste
  • 2 whole, boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1-1/2 pounds)
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 red bell pepper, halved, stemmed, and seeded
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, halved, stemmed, and seeded
  • 1 green bell pepper, halved, stemmed, and seeded
  • 1 or 2 large Spanish onions, peeled, halved, and sliced into thin crescents (2 cups sliced)
  • 3 large ripe plum tomatoes, cut lengthwise into thin slices
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Juice of 1 large lime
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Preheat the grill to medium-high.

Toss the cumin, thyme, pepper, paprika, chili powder, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a small jar or bowl.

Rinse the chicken, pat dry, and trim off any excess fat. Place the chicken in a baking dish and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the spice mixture. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil and toss to coat evenly. Brush the bell peppers with a bit of the remaining oil.

When ready to cook, oil the grill rack. Grill the chicken until it is a bit charred around the edges and just cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes per side. Grill the bell peppers until they have softened and the skins are nicely charred, about 3 to 5 minutes per side.

Cut the chicken and bell peppers into 1/4-inch-wide diagonal strips and toss in a large bowl. Add the remaining spice mixture, the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and the onion, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, and red wine vinegar. Toss, and season with additional salt as needed. Serve warm, or prepare a day or two in advance and store, covered, in the refrigerator. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: You can serve the fajita salad with wedges of warm flour tortillas, if desired. This salad is even better when made a day or two ahead so the flavors can blend.

Sun-Cooked Peach Preserves
Let the summer heat do most of the cooking.

  • 6 cups peeled, sliced peaches (about 6 large, ripe, but still slightly firm peaches)
  • 4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Place peach slices, sugar, and lemon juice into a 2-quart stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Stir to combine. Let mixture rest for 30 minutes so the juices will have time to seep out of the peaches and the sugar seems to dissolve.

Turn heat on medium-high and, while stirring, bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and let simmer for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.

Transfer peach mixture to a clean 2-quart glass casserole dish with glass lid or a glass bowl that you can cover with a clean glass plate. Cover dish with the lid or plate and place on a table outdoors for at least 6 hours of full sun daily. Stir once or twice each day.

At the end of each day, bring peaches inside and refrigerate. Cover securely with a fitted lid or with a sheet of plastic wrap. Depending on the amount of liquid in the peaches and the intensity of the sun, the preserves should come together in 2 to 3 days.

The peach slices should look translucent and the juices should be thickened, although not as thick as commercial peach preserves. Pack into 4 or 5 sterilized half-pint jars, leaving a 1/4-inch space. Sterilize lids and rims and secure. Refrigerate. Preserves will keep unopened for 2 to 3 months in the refrigerator. Opened, they will keep for 2 to 3 weeks. Makes 4 to 5 half-pint (8-ounce) jars.

Peach and Blackberry Shortcakes
If you want to use strawberries, check out Patricia Mitchell's excellent article, Genuine Strawberry Shortcake.

Nutmeg Cream Sauce

  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cake flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons milk
  • 4 large ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and sliced
  • 1 pint fresh blackberries
To make the cream sauce, combine the butter, sugar, and cream in a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan. Over low heat, slowly bring the cream mixture to a boil and let it boil up to the top of the saucepan, about 15 minutes. Whisk the cream down, then let it come to a simmer. Continue simmering for about 2 or 3 minutes, or until it coats the back of a spoon. Stir in the nutmeg. You can make the sauce several hours ahead of time. Cover and chill it, then gently warm over very low heat to serve.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Butter a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper and set aside. To make the shortcakes, sift both flours, baking powder, salt, and sugar into a small mixing bowl. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, two knives, or your fingertips until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. With a fork, beat the egg with the milk in a small bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the egg mixture in. Using a circular motion, blend with a fork just enough to make a moist dough.

Drop about 2 tablespoons of the dough at a time onto the prepared baking sheet to make 8 shortcakes. Bake until risen and browned (about 12 to 15 minutes).

To assemble the shortcakes, cut them in half horizontally. Place each bottom half on a dessert plate or in a shallow bowl. Arrange several sliced peaches on the shortcake and top with the upper shortcake half. Pour about 1/4 cup of warm sauce over each shortcake, then scatter more peach slices and the blackberries in the pool of sauce around the shortcake. Serve warm. Makes 8 servings.

So don't waste any more time. This is the season; summer crops of all kinds are ripening. Get yourself to a farmers market and discover the difference that truly fresh produce makes in your cooking.

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