Saturday, January 2, 2010

Farmer's Market Finds and Tips

Based on the short life of this website, you may think that I live on whipped cream and chocolate. While I LOVE making dessert, finding creative and tasty ways to eat vegetables is at the core of my day-to-day cooking.

This is the haul I brought home from the Santa Monica Pico farmers' market today.
If one of your New Year's resolutions is to cook more at home, your local farmers' market is a great place to start. It will give you a good sense of what's in season, and put you in touch with really knowledgeable growers who will help you make the most of your ingredients (or "product", as they say in the chef world). For me it's also a great way to get inspiration for my meals for the week.

Where else can you find things like this?
It's a stalk of brussels sprouts, which stay fresh longer (and look amazing) in this form. If you think you hate brussels sprouts, please reconsider! I served them at a dinner party for 18 people who ate them right up. I promise, if seasoned and cooked properly, they are delicious.

Here are some thoughts on how to get the most out of your local markets:

1. Shop around. Not all farmers' markets are created equal. If you're an Angeleno, LA Farmer Net put together a very user-friendly list of all of the markets in the area, that you can search by day and by location. The market nearest you may not be at the best time during the week, so check out some others, even if you have to drive a bit. Also consider how you like to shop. Are you ok in big crowds, or do you want a market that's less populated? Do you want to go on a weekend morning, or during your lunch hour? Convenience is key, and you're more likely to go if your market works for you.

2. Be the early bird. This is a personal preference, but I recommend getting to the market within the first couple hours of it being open. The Santa Monica markets are packed by mid-day, and it can be hard to make a careful selection with lots of people trying to do the same thing. By the last hour, many stands will have sold out of their best product.

3. Do a lap. I like to take a quick walk around the market to check out what vendors are selling what, and where the best ingredients are. There's nothing more disappointing than buying 5 lbs of apples, then turning the corner and seeing better apples at a lower price.

4. Make a plan. Once you get home with your goods, make a plan for how you'll use everything. It doesn't have to be set in stone, but for produce that will only last a few days, knowing what dish you'll put it in will help prevent it from going bad in the bottom of your refrigerator. This can also help guide what pantry items you need to buy for the week.

5. Storage is key. Angelic Organics put together a great resource page for how to store vegetables. When you get home, take a moment to take things out of their bags and put them in their proper place in the kitchen. For room temperature items, store them in bowls on your counter so you see them and remember to use them. For items in the crisper drawer, a little post-it note with a list of the drawer's contents will help remind you to eat that gorgeous butter lettuce before it turns brown and soggy.

Happy shopping! Coming up is a broccoli soup recipe that will kick start that resolution to eat more vegetables in 2010...


  1. Amen... storage is KEY. Way too many delicious farmers' market items have died long, rotten deaths in the back of my refrigerator due to my simply forgetting I had them.

  2. I have been telling myself I'm going to do the Farmer's Market thing every week and then I never do it. I think I just discovered one of my New Year's resolutions! =)

  3. Brussel sprouts were the food of the year! Yum!

  4. If you become a regular at a farmer's market, another good tip is to establish a relationship with your favorite vendors just as you would a neighborhood butcher or a fishmonger. Not only is it beneficial on a community level, but it will pay off more times than not. They certainly appreciate your business and patronage, and in return, they might just keep the best tomatoes or a nicest basket of berries in the truck until you arrive. You'd be surprised !


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