Saranac Lake has a wonderful farmers market every Saturday in the summer and fall. It's more than fresh local produce, though of course there is plenty of that. We've expanded our farmers market into locally grown meats and cheeses, cut flowers, honey and maple syrup, delicious snacks, and even artisan crafts like pottery and hand-turned fountain pens.
Since it is held in Riverside Park, there are even more possibilities, such as live music in the bandshell or boat rides from the docks, depending on what other events are scheduled for that weekend. The riverside setting, just steps from our historic downtown, encourages all kinds of browsing and scenic possibilities.
But this Saturday, my friend was on a mission. She was giving me a Chopped Challenge.
In fact, there's so much to choose from on Farmers' Market Saturdays that I really had no idea what ingredients I was going to wind up with. "Chopped" on television pits aspiring chefs against each other with a motley group of ingredients. The best meal wins.
My Chopped Challenge would have a few key differences. The ingredients would come from that Saturday's farmers' market, and I am a very aspiring chef. I have improved a great deal, but then my starting point was the first breakfast I cooked for my husband. I served it and he stared at his plate for a long time.
"What?" I prompted.
He has excellent diplomatic instincts. "It just doesn't match the picture I had in my head."
So when my mysterious bag arrived, I was familiar with many of the places the food had come from. I was not sure how they would all go together.
What a beautiful day at the farmers market! It has such a gorgeous setting in Riverside Park, right on the water. And everyone there is so nice, it’s hard to walk two steps without getting into a great conversation.
I’m not going to lie, I was trying to get the most random ingredients possible to make it more of a challenge. (Sorry, Pam!) So when I saw the little bottles of South Meadow Farm maple syrup, I knew I had to get one. I love their place (went to a beautiful wedding out there once) and I love their syrup!
There's so many wonderful culinary things to do with maple syrup, I thought this would be one of the easy parts. But of course, it's the combining that can trip up the chef.
I don’t know the first thing about buying meat because I don’t cook with it, so that was a tough one. I wasn't really sure what would be easy for you to deal with and what would be more challenging. But I saw that Harmony Hills farm was selling ground pork and decided it seemed rather rare, at least among the market's other offerings, and I also noticed that it was pretty affordable, so I grabbed it.
Cheese is a farmers market necessity, so I had to get some. I stopped at North Country Creamery’s booth and bought some of what they call Farmers Cheese, which the woman said was a mild cheese - just to make it a little easier on you!
The snap peas with the pretty petunia (is that what kind of flower that was?) came from Juniper Hill Farm. When I told them what I was doing, the guy insisted that I take some garlic scapes for free as well. They were all so nice!
I can’t wait to hear what you came up with! I know I’d never have a clue what to do with that kind of a combination of ingredients.
Oh, she's really come up with a challenge, all right. It was like one of those puzzles where we can put it together but there is one piece left over.
I love pork and it is a meat which goes particularly well with sweetness, so the maple syrup seemed to have a natural home. Yet my first thought about incorporating the cheese was in a kind of queso dip with the pork. (I love a wild queso dip -- putting pork in it was not that bizarre.) Except I couldn't imagine the maple syrup fitting into that.
Maybe I could do a maple vinaigrette on the pea pods. Those weird green things (I didn't know what the garlic scapes were until my friend told me the day after we'd made the dinner) could go into either dish -- perhaps. Still, I felt the pork and maple syrup had a kind of magnetic attraction in my mind. And cheese certainly didn't belong on the sugar snap peas.
When I got them home and laid on our workspace, my husband brightened when he saw the ground pork package. "We could make those spicy pork things we like so much when we go to Lisa G's."
"That's a great idea. But what about the maple syrup?"
"It will be the sweet part of the sweet and sour sauce."
Chef Robert's Adirondack Pork Wraps
Brown one pound of ground pork with salt & pepper, add chopped green things (the man was going by smell at this point) and minced garlic to taste, simmer to meld flavors. Serve wrapped in foldable lettuce leaves (we had romaine) with spicy sauce:
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green things (garlic scapes)
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- dash of ground mixed pepper
- 1/4 cup light port
- 2 tablespoons Bragg's apple cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons Bragg's aminos
- 2 squirts cayenne chili sauce
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
- 3 tablespoons local maple syrup
- dusting of cornstarch as the sauce thickens, to taste
Lightly saute the garlic scapes, ginger, and garlic in the sesame oil. Add other ingredients, stirring at intervals over medium heat for 10 minutes, or until flavors blend and sauce thickens. (All ingredients to taste, measurements approximate. We skipped the cornstarch, but the sauce will stay put if that is added during heat.)
The pea pods were steamed with sea salt and freshly squeezed lemon juice, then simply dressed with butter.
Turns out, those weird green things were garlic scapes. They are the flower bud of the garlic plant, removed in late June (how timely!) to encourage the bulbs to put their energy into growing the bulb part, not the flower part. Chef Robert had used them correctly, just from the smell.
I know: What about the cheese? That was my one real contribution to the meal, but it was a vital one. Our Adirondack Chopped Challenge was coming together so well... except for that delicious farmer's cheese.
It certainly didn't fit into what was becoming an Asian-themed meal.
But we are cosmopolitan here in the Adirondacks, welcoming many cultures. In the French tradition, we had the cheese for dessert, dipped into some wonderful gourmet jams. That we had gotten from previous trips to the farmers market, just to keeps things all so homemade and delicious.
The dinner was awesome. So much so, we want to repeat it very soon.
Challenge accepted! And, achieved.
Recipe and meal created by Chef Robert.
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