FoodBuzz 24,24,24: Discovering a Hidden Gem - Dallas Farmer's Market

I think one of the most important things to remember in cooking is picking good quality ingredients--fresh produce, grass fed beef, wild-caught seafood, fresh pastas--the difference in flavors are unbelievable.  I started venturing to farmer's markets on a weekly basis when I lived in Tucson,AZ for a short period of time with my fiance.  Every weekend we'd go to different farmers' markets across town sampling products and produce as well as talking to the farmers who grow and sell them.  It was a nice change of scene from your usual florescent lit, mass warehouse grocery store where you have little information as to where your produce comes from, or how it's grown (and did I mention the difference in quality and taste is unbelievable?).  I believe it is nice to have a personal relationship with your food -- doesn't it put your heart more at ease when you can actually put a face to who is growing and producing the food you are putting into your body?  One must wonder where their food originates from.

When I read about FoodBuzz's 24,24,24 assignment, I thought it'd be a perfect opportunity to encourage big city residents to become exposed and take part in the wonderful hidden gem that is Dallas' Farmer's Market.  Living in Dallas, it is easy to venture to your local Wal-mart or Kroger to buy groceries but why not round up a group of friends and discover an open market where you can take your dogs along, sample fruits and vegetables, meet with local farmers and discover all the wonderful goods that Dallas has to offer.

So that is exactly what I did :) Yesterday afternoon, I took a group of my friends, whom many have not discovered the farmer's market before, and together we walked through looking and tasting all the beautiful spreads of fruits and vegetables -- along with baked goods, food stands, organic meats, homemade goods, the options were endless!

The farmer's market is divided into 3 sheds, shed 1 and 3 sell fresh fruits and vegetables along with miscellaneous baked and homemade goods and shed 2 (which is indoors) features seafood, meats, sausages, cheese, and other homemade goods.  Most all of the produce are from local Texas farmers and not only are you bringing top quality goods home but you are also supporting local farmers and their businesses.  We picked the freshest ingredients available and went back to my place and made a wonderful dinner all made from the beautiful seasonal treasures we found at the market.

We started our adventure in Shed 1 and the first stop we made was at this cookie stand (are you really surprised?) with the eccentric and hilarious Paul Wackym of Wackym's Kitchen.  His company bakes cookies and treats all created from original artisanal recipes using fresh, natural ingredients.  The flavor that stopped me in my footsteps as I was walking by was called "Salted Caramel".  Words cannot describe these tiny morsels of heaven -- each bite begins with a buttery caramelized goodness that melts in your mouth and ends with a delightful salty bite -- the perfect balance of salty and sweet.  I had no other choice but to buy a tin and tore into the box immediately.  They are SO GOOD in fact that I will be going back and buying them for Christmas gifts.  Margarita was also extremely good -- I was hesitant about this one at first but upon tasting the bright lime flavors combined with the sea salt, the combination was absolutely exquisite.  They also had various other flavors like:

  • Mocha Chocoalte Chip - double chocolate with espresso nibs
  • Lemon Butter - buttery with a fresh lemony burst
  • Oatmeal Walnut Raisin - rich with old-fashioned honey
  • Margarita - key lime and sea salt
  • Peanut Crunch - crunchy with whole peanuts and peanut butter
  • Chocolate Snicker-Doodle - crunchy with a sweet and spicy finish
  • Rosemary Cornmeal Shortbread - fresh rosemary and a buttery cookie

You can find Paul at Shed 1 on Saturdays and Sundays (He is easy to spot with his colorful hats) from 9am or until he sells out.  AND TRUST ME, he sells out fast.  These cookies are so good you honestly will be hesitant about sharing, you just want to hoard the entire box and savor the perfection by yourself.  Selfish? Maybe. But once you taste them, you wouldn't blame me.

I also purchased some marvelous oyster mushrooms from a local mushroom farmer (also in Shed 1).  He also sold fresh white button mushrooms, portabellos and even fresh shiitakes!  The farmer adjacent to him was selling fresh pecans both shucked and unshucked, and the nuts were full and flavorful. 

As we walked further along, I was captivated by this man in a bright yellow bee get-up.  Where did he find that awesome hat?  It turns out that this man, Brandon Pollard along with his wife Susan, are professional Urban Beewranglers.  That's right folks!  They raise their own bees, and I was instantly drawn to the fresh honeycomb he was selling from his stand.  I had never tasted honeycomb before but Brandon described it as one of the best things in the world -- he told me it was "nature's chewing gum".  They sold jars of raw honeycomb for an amazing price of $8/jar and the health benefits of raw honey is endless: high in antioxidants, it helps to  free radical buildup in the body, decrease aging, promotes a disease free healthier body and mind and reduces unwanted fat deposits.  He also had beautiful hand carved candles made from beeswax, impressive to say the least.  Happy bees = sweet luscious beautiful honey, I always enjoy placing a spoonful of honey in my tea in place of sugar or drizzle it on top of some fresh fruit :) Yummy!!  You can find Brandon in Shed 1 on Saturdays and Sundays from 9am-5pm.

Our last stop was at this wonderful little pasta shop called Pastabilities.  A beautiful little shop with a bright red door shared by owners Ed Greer of Pastabilities and Mike Koster of Koster Cattle Co.  The suppliers of Pastabilities,Pappardelle's Pasta Company,described as the "Michelangelo of Pasta", has been shaping colorful, flavorful pasta dough into edible art since 1984.  They offer a variety of gourmet frozen & dried pasta, pesto and sauces and other miscellaneous goods like jams and marinades.  All of their products are all natural and they use time-tested traditional methods like slow drying to ensure protein and vitamin integrity.  They have over 45 delicious dried pasta flavors ranging from Basil Tangerine to Porcini Mushroom, Spanish Saffron, and the one we purchased, Lemon Chive.  You can taste them by snapping off a dried piece of pasta and sampling the different spices and flavor combinations, it really is hard to just choose one.

Not only does Pastabilities sell a wide array of pastas but they also offer beautiful cuts of meat like filet mignon, ny-strip, sirloin, flat irons just to name a few from Koster Cattle Co.  Mike raises most of his Black Angus livestock on pastures near Ladonia, Commerce and Prosper and all cattle are natural grain and grassfed.  The quality of the steaks are impeccable, you really can taste the pastures that the cows graze on in every bite of meat, simply a mouth-gasm for all beef lovers.

The Dallas Farmer's Market has officially been around since 1939, but started in the late 1800s when farmers came to town to sell from wagons and set up in various locations.   It is one of the largest public markets of its type in the country, open seven days a week from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, 362 days a year.  Over the past six decades, the Dallas Farmer's Market has provided the organization and facilities that connect communities to local farmers, producers, artisans and other vendors and also provides wholesome family activities and educational programs.  You can find more information as to what produce is in season as well as the list of vendors on their official website.  Here are some helpful tips listed on the website:

 
Smart shoppers know how to get the most out of their visit to the Dallas Farmers Market, and here are some useful tips:

  • For the best selection, come to the Dallas Farmers Market early; for the best deals, come late in the day.
  • Bring your own bag, preferably a sturdy, cloth, reusable bag, which will help keep ripe produce from getting bruised. Examine all the vegetables or fruit in a basket to make sure you're getting what you want.
  • Plan to do a lot of shopping? Bring your own cart to carry everything.
  • Ask about bargains. Sellers often have bruised or overripe vegetables and fruit that they will discount and that are perfect for pies, cobblers, sauces, or jams.
  • Bring cash, particularly dollar bills, because many vendors have limited change.
  • If in doubt, ask if the produce is locally-grown or where it is from.
  • If the Market is one of several stops you'll be making in a day, bring a cooler for your purchases, to keep them fresh.

Here are the seasonal products from the Dallas Farmer's Market that I ended up selecting for our feast:

  • 1/2 lb of Lemon Chive Pasta
  • 2 large cuts of NY strip
  • 1/2 lb of fresh Oyster Mushrooms
  • Fresh Gulf Shrimp
  • Collard Greens
  • Turnips
  • Rutabagas
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Fresh Blueberries, Raspberries, and Blackberries

and from those ingredients I made

  • Cucumber Tomato Salad marinated with Aged Balsamic Vinegar
  • Lemon Chive Pasta Salad with Asian Pear, Goat Cheese, Asparagus and Toasted Pinenuts
  • Braised Collard Greens
  • Roasted Root Vegetables - Rutabagas, Turnips, Sweet Potatoes, Onions
  • Flank Steak in a White Wine Sauce with Oyster Mushroom and Fresh Oysters
  • Skillet Shrimp
  • Mixed Berry Cake Crumble

I will feature a couple of my favorite recipes, if any of you want any of the recipes I did not mention in this post, please feel free to contact me and I can send you the ingredients/recipes!

The Roasted Root Vegetables was the favorite for the night, it really showcased the peak flavors of these seasonal vegetables.  By roasting vegetables, you bring out the natural sweetness in flavor and the carmelization that happens from the natural sugars from the vegetables add a nice touch as well.  The rutabagas were probably my favorite, I have never had them before!

Ingredients for Roasted Root Vegetables:

(serves 6)

  • 2 medium sized rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
  • 4 medium sized turnips, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
  • 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 medium onion, pelled and cut into 1" cubes
  • 1 tablespoon herbs de provence
  • 1 tablespoons chevril
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 350F.

For the Roasted Root Vegetables, in a large pot boil water to blanch the vegetables (except for the onions).  Once the water is boiling, place the vegetables in the pot and cook for 5 minutes.  Quickly drain and shock with cold water, this will stop the cooking process.  Line a large roasting pan with foil and place the blanched vegetables inside along with the raw onions.  Using your hands or a large mixing spoon, mix the dried herbs, garlic and olive oil with the vegetables, making sure each piece is evenly coated.  Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40-45 minutes or until vegetables are softened and browned.  The last 15 minutes, bake the vegetables uncovered so they can be nice and browned around the edges.  Mix the vegetables and season with salt and pepper.   Serve immediately.

The next recipe was a nice simple pasta salad that was bright and refreshing from the lemon flavors of the pasta which paired well with the creamy goat cheese and bright and crunchy flavors from the Yali pear.  With minimal fat this would be a perfect dish for lunch or dinner!

Ingredients for Lemon Chive Pasta Salad with Goat Cheese, Toasted Pinenuts, Asparagus and Yali Pear:

(serves 6)

  • 1/2 lb of Lemon Chive Pasta, boiled to al dente
  • 1/4 cup goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup pinenuts, toasted
  • 1/2 lb asparagus, trimmed and blanched
  • 1 Yali pear, cored and diced into 1" cubes
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

In a large bowl, place the cooked pasta and toss evenly with the olive oil.  Lightly season with salt and pepper and then add half of the goat cheese, pinenuts, asparagus and pear.  Mix together evenly and finish by adding the remaining goat cheese with a dash of cracked black pepper.  Refrigerate and serve when ready.

Would you check out that amazing spread?  Is your mouth watering yet?  We ate so much that I literally went into a food coma, I simply melted into the couch afterwards and could not stand up.  The best part of making a glorious meal is the silence that follows as people are eating it, nothing makes me happier than looking around and watching my loved ones eat with such intensity that it leaves little time for conversation, the sound of smaking mouths and the occassional MMmms and aaahs is music to my ears.  And of course what better way to end a feast of epic proportions than with a Fresh Mixed Berry Crumble Cake?  For those of you who have yet to try the recipe, I highly encourage you to try it, it is BEST with fresh berries.

Even my friend who is not a fan of cake has fallen in love with this recipe.  I actually left out the sugar for the berry mixture in this recipe because the berries were already so sweet -- by baking them down it releases all of the brilliant juices nestled inside these little berries of wonder.  MMMmmm and once again, there were no leftovers!

I hope you guys have enjoyed the tour of the Dallas Farmer's Market.  I highly recommend it to anyone who has not tried it out, or to people who just haven't gone in a long time.  It is such a great way to find good quality ingredients and a fun event to share with friends and family.  Somtimes we all just need to take a break from the hectic life of a big city and enjoy a relaxing and enjoyable activity, like venturing to your local Farmer's Market :)! (And guys, did I mention this would probably score you major brownie points in the girl department if you made this into a fun and romantic date?)  It's a great way to meet new people, support and discover what local farmers are growing, and reaping the benefits of beautiful quality food and ingredients.  Bon Appetit my fellow food lovers and until next time: keep warm, eat lots and I hope you all are enjoying this Holiday season!!