Janice Hall Heck

Finding hope in a chaotic world…

Archive for the tag “Jersey Fresh”

Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh as in “Jersey Fresh”

Daily Post: WordPress.com: Weekly Photo Challenge, July 19, 2013. Theme:  “Fresh”

Fresh flowers from the yard . . .028

Fresh vegetables from the garden . . .


Fresh roasted tomatoes with basil and parsley . . .


Fresh blueberries from the farm . . .


Hot blueberry tart fresh from the oven . . .

Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart

Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart

Jersey Fresh produce . . .


Dinner will be ready soon!

Dining In: Jersey Fresh Veggies and Ratatouille

Saturday fun: going to a farmer’s produce market, then deciding what to make for dinner.

My sister reminded me about Muzzarelli’s, a family-owned farmer’s market on Oak Road in Vineland, NJ, not far from where I grew up.

Photo Credit: Muzzarelli Farms. All other photos in this post are my own.

As with most NJ markets, the “Jersey Fresh”  produce is abundant: tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, beets with greens still attached, collards, Swiss chard, romaine, lettuce, okra, string beans, lima beans, corn, giant carrots, melons, potatoes, onions, leeks, endive, escarole, pickles, sweet potatoes, and so much more.

Several varieties of eggplant caught my eye, and I decided to try some of each type. By the way, did you know that eggplant, like a tomato, is really a fruit? It is.

My final purchases: eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, zucchini, yellow squash, broad-leafed parsley. All the ingredients for a delicious summer ratatouille. Ta-dah. Dinner tonight!

A summer ratatouille uses fresh tomatoes, while a winter ratatouille uses canned tomatoes. The tomatoes on the left (below) are from the farmer’s market. The pitiful ones on the right are from my garden. Oh, well. What can I say? I did not inherit my father’s or grandfather’s green thumbs. I’ll throw these in the ratatouille anyway.

I checked Julia Child’s recipe for ratatouille in my well-worn 1961 edition of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The latest revised edition of this cookbook by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck (2009) is available on Amazon.com. How can you make a French dish without checking this classic cookbook?

By the way, Julia Child would have been 100-years-old on August 15, 2012. You can read “A Tribute to Julia” here at laughcooklove.wordpress.com.

You can make ratatouille in a variety of ways, but the ingredients are basically the same. Some ratatouilles feature sliced vegetables neatly layered in a casserole dish and baked with a sauce of tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Other ratatouilles have the vegetables all cooked together as a stew in a heavy pot.

But Julia Child says this.

A really good ratatouille is not one of the quicker dishes to make, as each element is cooked separately before it is arranged in the casserole to partake of a brief communal simmer.

I made a few changes to Julia’s process. I cubed the eggplant instead of slicing it, and then roasted it and the squash in the oven instead of sauteing them. I like the nice crisp edges on the roasted eggplant. In fact, I always make enough of this to eat as a snack right out of the oven. Seasoned and roasted eggplant cubes are healthier than potato chips and maybe even tastier.

And Julia’s quantities seemed small, so I increased them. Quantities do not have to be exact.

  • about 2 lbs eggplant (I used all four varieties I found at the market)
  • 3 small zucchini
  • 1 yellow squash
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 and 1/2 cups red, yellow, and orange peppers chopped
  • two or three sprigs of rosemary
  • dried or fresh oregano
  • fresh parsley chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic smashed
  • one very large fresh, firm tomato (or several average size)
  • salt and pepper to taste.
  • shaved Asiago or Parmesan Cheese

Roast the eggplant and squash.

  1. Spread 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil on a large baking pan or cookie sheet using a pastry brush or spatula.
  2. Peel, slice, and cube the eggplant and put on the baking sheet. Lightly drizzle olive oil over eggplant.
  3. Slice the zucchini and yellow squash, coin-shape, and put on another prepared baking sheet. Lightly drizzle olive oil over the squash.
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary, and oregano.
  5. Bake in a 375-degree oven for 20-25 minutes, turning once.

Prepare the Casserole

  1. Saute the onions and peppers in olive oil in a heavy pot for about ten minutes until soft. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more.
  2. Add seasonings to taste.
  3. Remove the skins from several large tomatoes. (Drop each tomato in boiling water for 10 seconds. Remove and peel.) (Optional)
  4. Cut large tomato in half (top to bottom), then slice into thin wedges. Layer tomato wedges on top of peppers and onions in the heavy casserole. Cover and simmer for five to ten minutes.
  5. Add the roasted eggplant, zucchini, and yellow squash and stir in gently. Adjust seasonings to taste. Add parsley.
  6. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, covered. Stir gently every few minutes. You may need to add a little water to keep it from scorching. (This recipe does not have a thick tomato sauce like a winter ratatouille might have.)
  7. Serve with shaved Asiago or Parmesan Cheese and a fresh sprig of rosemary or parsley.

As Julia Child would say,

Bon Appetite!

YOUR TURN: Do you have a favorite eggplant or squash recipe?

Dining In: Peasant Chicken from San Gimignano, Italy

A recipe for Chicken with Herb Roasted Tomatoes and Pan Sauce posted by Epicurious (recipe here) reminded me of a delicious Peasant Chicken dinner that I had in San Gimignano, Italy this past May.

Peasant Chicken is similar to Hunter Chicken (a cacciatore), but the unique feature of this dish is that it includes green olives.

Here is my photo of the dish as served in San Gimignano.

I searched the Internet as well as my own vast collection of cookbooks for recipes for peasant chicken and came up with several possibilities.

Epicurean.com has a recipe for Chicken with Green Olives that sounds like the dish that I had. That recipe is here.

I checked The Tuscan Sun Cookbook: Recipes from Our Italian Kitchen by Frances Mayes and Edward Mayes and found Chicken with Olives and Tomatoes. Mayes’ recipe uses both black and green olives. I am sure that the recipe varies with regional preferences.

I will try the Frances Mayes’ recipe today and see how my rendition compares to the original in San Gimignano.

Grocery list: Chicken, wine from the Chianti region of Italy, Jersey Fresh cherry tomatoes, broad leaf parsley, black  olives, and green olives. I already have extra-virgin olive oil. Consult the cookbook for exact quantities for these ingredients.

First, oven roast the cherry tomatoes. Cut the tomatoes in half, season with salt and pepper, and toss in garlic and herbs. Roast for a few hours on low oven heat. Here’s a peek at a bowl of the tomatoes (half the batch).

Now brown the chicken in olive oil and add a bit of chianti. Move the chicken and wine to a baking dish. Cover with a mix of the olives, parsley, and roasted tomatoes. Bake for thirty minutes.

Serve over nests of angel hair pasta or your own favorite pasta.

This is how my dish turned out. It smells so good, and it is delicious. It looks similar to the San Gimignano version, but I think the San Gimignano recipe uses white wine and more olive oil. Regardless, this recipe is definitely a keeper.

Next week, I will try the Epicurean.com recipe and see which dish comes closer to the one Mama made in Italy.

YOUR TURN: Have you tried to duplicate a dish from another country or another area of our country?

Got Blueberries?

Most people have a favorite season. My favorite? Blueberry Season.

Atlantic County in South Jersey is the place to be if you love blueberries. These little blue dynamos, sometimes called bleuets (French), thrive here.

Atlantic County has just the right balance of sandy soil and organic matter (“berryland soils”) that highbush blueberries love, and this county is the largest producer in the state with over 42 million pounds of blueberries harvested from 6,100 acres. In comparison, the next highest producer, Burlington County, harvests 5,300 pounds or more annually from 1,000 acres.

The Atlantic Blueberry Farm, Mays Landing, NJ

Hammonton, NJ, a town in Atlantic County with a population of 12,840, located between Atlantic City and Philadelphia just off the Atlantic City Expressway, claims to be the Blueberry Capital of the World. To celebrate their claim to fame, Hammonton holds a Red, White, and Blueberry Festival every year on the Sunday before July 4th. This event comes complete with blueberry pie-eating contests, baking contests, carnival games for the kids, a craft show, music, antique cars, a stage show, and plenty of food to eat. You can buy blueberries by the pint or the case, or you can just buy a blueberry pie or a jar of blueberry jam.

This year’s festival was held last Sunday, July 1, just one day after a terrible freak thunder and wind storm called a derecho hit neighboring towns. Hammonton had thunderstorms but with none of the damage that hit other Atlantic County cities. Read more about that derecho here. Because of high winds, nearby Mays Landing lost much of its current blueberry crop just mid-way through the season.

If Hammonton’s auspicious claim to be the Blueberry Capital of the World is not enough, some New Jerseyites have made another chest-thumping, back-slapping assertion. Vicki Hyman of Newark’s Star-Ledger wrote about our beloved blueberry in “How New Jersey saved civilization by taming blueberries.” You can read that story here.

Do you think we Jerseyites make exaggerated claims about blueberries? Think again.

We grow blueberries that are bigger than a penny! Here’s the proof.

New Jersey blueberries are big!

Historically, lowbush blueberries grew wild in the South Jersey Pinelands, but these berries were small and tart. Native Americans in the area used them for relieving stomach problems and other ailments. We now know that these berries, loaded with vitamins and antioxidants, protect against cancer and heart disease. Blueberries lovers also claim that these blue wonders are like the proverbial fountain of youth. Eat them, and you will have better eyesight and better skin, all the while delaying old age. How’s that for fanfaronade?

In the early 1900s, Elizabeth Coleman White (1871-1954), a cranberry farmer with a November crop, wanted to expand her family’s farm business into the rest of the year by raising blueberries. She searched out the best wild blueberries bushes in the area looking for the biggest berries. She and botanist Frederick V. Coville then cross-pollinated thousands of cuttings and developed the first cultivated blueberry bushes, beginning what is now a billion-dollar industry in New Jersey.

In 2003, Proud New Jersey fourth graders from Veteran’s Memorial Elementary School in Brick, NJ, lobbied the New Jersey Legislature to proclaim these little blue dynamos to be the official state fruit. Their bid was successful, and the Legislature recognized the highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) as one of the state’s claims to fame and fortune.

Of course, other states put out their claims for blueberries, too. The wild blueberry is the official state fruit of Maine, and several towns in Maine squabble over being the blueberry capital. Maine produces 25% of all the lowbush blueberries in North America.   Lowbush blueberry plants are about one-foot tall, whereas highbush blueberry plants are between four and thirteen-feet tall. The bushes in our local fields have a good picking height of about five to six feet.

Wild blueberries. Lowbush blueberries. Highbush blueberries. All technicalities! Let’s just say that with Atlantic County producing more than 42 million pounds of blueberries, we have earned our bragging rights!

Blueberries are very versatile. You can eat them at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and midnight snack. You can use them in drinks, sauces, soups, salads, breads, entrees, vinegars, desserts, and wines. Here are some of my favorite ways to use them.

Multigrain Cheerios with blueberries and banana

Whole wheat waffles with blueberries, peaches, and syrup

Deep Dish Blueberry Crisp

Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart

Want to try making the Blueberry Crisp or the Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart? Here are the recipes.

Deep Dish Blueberry Crisp

  • 5 cups Jersey Fresh blueberries (you can also use frozen blueberries)
  • lemon zest from half of one small lemon
  • 3 tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup sugar (use more if your berries are tart)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Crisp Topping

  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup oatmeal (or two oatmeal cereal packets-any variety)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp butter cut in pieces (or Smart Balance Margarine)
  1. Prepare the blueberries by washing gently and removing any remaining stems. (If you use frozen blueberries, let them partially thaw first.)
  2. Pour blueberries in a deep dish pie plate and toss with flour, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon.
  3. Make crisp topping by mixing brown sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter.
  4. Pat crisp topping over blueberries.
  5. Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until blueberries are bubbly.
  6. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Easy-Peasey Blueberry Tart

  • one frozen pie crust
  • 3 cups Jersey Fresh blueberries
  • 2 tbsp flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar (more if your berries are tart)
  • lemon zest from  1/2 small lemon
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  1. Let pie crust thaw for 15 minutes. Roll it out a bit on flour-covered parchment paper and place in pie dish. (Pie crust should hang over the edge of the pie plate.)
  2. Mix blueberries, flour, sugar, cinnamon, lemon zest.  Pour mixture in center of crust.
  3. Fold edges of pie crust back in over blueberries.
  4. Bake for 30-40 minutes at 375 degrees until blueberries are bubbly and crust is light brown.
  5. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Blueberries can also be used to make wine. Our local Balic Winery produces blueberry and other berry wines along with their usual grape wines.

And don’t forget fundraisers.  The American Cancer Society raises funds around the country in Relay for Life events, and a good blueberry-pie-in-the-face event gets lots of attention and dollars.

Aunt Patty smashes blueberry funnel cake in Miss PheeBee’s face in the Fantastic Blueberry Funnel Cake Fiasco Fundraiser at Relay for Life, Ocean City, NJ

Next time you buy blueberries, look at the label to see where they were raised. Maybe you will be lucky enough to buy our Jersey Fresh little blue dynamos.

Here’s a bit more on these delicious berries.


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