An interview with Just Add Cooking founder Jan Leife

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We’re celebrating the fifth anniversary of Just Add Cooking all week long! Over the past five years, we’ve been proud to deliver Boston’s only local meal kit and support local farmers, fishermen and artisans by delivering their ingredients to our customers. Today, we’re going back to where it all started with an interview with founder, Jan Leife.

And don’t forget to take a moment to celebrate with us in our social media contest. Simply post to our Facebook page or tag us @addcooking on Twitter or Instagram with #justaddcooking5 to be entered to win a free week of meals. We’ll be picking one winner on Friday, November 3. Leave us a review, photo or tell us why you love Just Add Cooking!

Why did you start JAC?

Back in Stockholm my family used a Swedish “matkasse” for many years and we found the service was fantastic. We saved time, had a healthy and delicious dinner every day of the week, got variety, and improved cooking skills (both me and my sons). When moving to Boston with my wife in 2012 I thought it would be a good idea to start a similar service.

What was the experience like setting up this service in the city of Boston?

It was easy and inexpensive to set up the company in Boston and there was a great enthusiasm from those around me about what I was doing. The entrepreneurial culture is amazing here and everyone thought it was fantastic that I started a company and they wanted to help. As an example, one of my neighbors started to work with me and help me out a lot.

What is special/different about JAC?

We’re the only full-service, local meal kit company in New England. We think of ourselves as a farm-to-home service. There are many benefits of being local when working with food. Fresher ingredients, fewer food miles, less packaging material, and supporting the local community. The fish is fresher than what you get in the store and we use two frozen water bottles instead of 10-15 lbs of gel packs when we package our boxes.

What are you most proud of regarding JAC?

With our “Local Scalable Business Model” we’re building a true sustainable food system for the future. We’ve started a movement that will change the way people eat locally produced food. We’re not just putting lipstick on a pig.

Tell me more about this “Local Scalable Business Model”

This is what is really unique about JAC. We are not just another meal kit company doing the same thing as everyone else, we have a completely different model for doing this kind of service. Because we are local, we cut down significantly on food miles and are conscientious about our packaging materials. Our food is being packed and shipped on the same day within the Boston area, it is not being frozen and traveling across the country. I think that a sustainable business model, an eco-friendly business model, will be necessary in the future and we have already rooted this in the core values of JAC.

Tell us about the evolution of the meal kit industry

It started in Sweden 10 years ago and is still growing there. It has grown from a 0 to a $5 billion industry here in the USA and is expected to reach $36 billion by 2025. Meal kits are expanding all over the globe, and are here to stay, definitely.

What is it like to be an entrepreneur in the city of Boston?

Exciting! Boston has a great culture for entrepreneurs with all accelerators, startup communities, and investors. We have received great support and encouragement from our partners because they believe in our business. An extra treat is that I can bike to every meeting.

Speaking of biking to work, how important is it to you to follow through on the sustainable practices you preach in your business also in your everyday life?

I think it is very important to follow through on the sustainable practices that we preach as a company. Composting and recycling are things that I do every day.

What would you say about the work environment at JAC? How do you create a positive work environment for your team?

I truly believe in teamwork and a flat organization. Information is essential, all employees should know what’s going on in the company and know how they contribute to the overall goals. I want to delegate and not hang over people’s heads. I believe that my staff will do their best to achieve the goals for the best of the company. I am there to be a supportive guide. I think as a leader it’s important to ask your employees: how do you want to solve this problem? I respect their knowledge and I want to hear what they think.

We also implement the Swedish concept “fika” — informal meetings over coffee accompanied by pastries. We enjoy eating together and trying new things. There is frequently test cooking happening and people will often bring in different foods for everyone to try.

What are some of the differences in the work culture in Sweden versus the U.S.?

There are many differences, the single one that is most obvious in day-to-day work is that Swedes will answer you more directly. Americans are excellent at marketing themselves and their ideas but tend to talk excessively while Swedes are really focused when they execute and spend less time selling or talking. This is not a question about ranking because there are different approaches in both places but if a Swede is in a room of Americans and a questions is asked, you can probably expect ten sentences from the American and one from the Swede [laughs].

Do you have a favorite recipe from JAC?

There are many delicious recipes, if I need to pick one it would be really hard, maybe the Irish Smoked Haddock Chowder or the Asparagus Risotto or the Poblano Pork and Dumpling Stew or Seafood Paella or…

What is your favorite thing about utilizing local Boston produce?

I love the fish and seafood we have here in New England. Lobster should be every man’s right ;-)

Chef Jody Adams Cooking Tips PLUS Bonus Recipe!

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Chef Jody Adams

This week, we are honored and excited to welcome legendary Boston chef Jody Adams to Just Add Cooking for a series of celebrity chef recipes that will be released in upcoming boxes. First up: the James Beard Award-winner and chef at the helm of TRADE, Porto and Saloniki here in Boston is giving us the recipe for her Roasted Chicken with Muhammara, a hot pepper dip originally from Syria, out in this week’s box!

We checked in with Chef Jody Adams to get her inside tips for making this dish as tasty as possible. Here’s what she had to say: “Seasoning the chicken with salt and pepper overnight allows the seasonings to penetrate the bird. When cooking, I put a little water in the roasted pan so the sugar in the pomegranate molasses doesn’t burn.”

jody adams roasted chicken with muhammara

Keep an eye out for future recipes from Jody Adams in September boxes, and we’ll be partnering with other fantastic Boston chefs throughout the fall, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you’re itching to get cooking like a world-class chef at home, check out this BONUS recipe from Jody Adams, Spaghetti with Maine Crab Meat, Toasted Breadcrumbs and Garlic. A perfect end-of-summer meal!

Spaghetti with Maine Crab Meat, Toasted Breadcrumbs and Garlic

From In The Hands of a Chef

Makes 4 entrée servings

The Ingredients

Kosher salt
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1½ cups coarse slightly dry breadcrumbs
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
1 pound high-quality dried spaghetti
1 pound Maine crab meat (fresh, or frozen and thawed—it’s broken up in the coarse of the recipe so either will do), picked through to remove any shell
½ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

The Recipe

1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.

2. Heat ¼ cup olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs, stirring until they’re toasted and golden brown. Remove from the pan and set aside.

3. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel and add the remaining oil to the pan. Add the garlic. Cook the garlic over medium heat until golden. Add the tomatoes and ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (more if you prefer), season with salt and cook until the tomatoes are tender but not falling apart, about 3 minutes. Set aside until the pasta is cooked.

4. Add the pasta to the boiling water, stirring so the individual strands remain separate. If the pot isn’t large enough for all of the spaghetti to lie flat, either break the strands in half or hold one end of the pasta bundle while the other end softens in the boiling water. As soon as the end softens release the pasta into the water. Cover, if necessary, to bring the water back to a boil Wait 1 minute, then stir again. Check periodically to make sure the strands aren’t sticking together. Cook until the spaghetti is tender, but still offers a little bit of resistance as you bite into it. Begin checking for doneness after 8 minutes. Before removing the pasta, take a measuring cup and scoop out ¼ cup pasta water. Set it aside for use with the sauce. While the pasta is cooking warm a large bowl.

5. Pour the pasta into a colander. While it’s draining, return the tomatoes to high heat. Add the crabmeat and parsley and heat through. Empty the spaghetti into the warm bowl. Pour the tomatoes and crab over it and toss well. If the sauce is too thick to coat the spaghetti, add the pasta water to thin it, then toss again. Toss with the breadcrumbs and serve.

5 Questions with Our Guest Chef Jeremy Sewall

Chef Jeremy Sewall Lo Resolution

Chef Jeremy Sewall is an acclaimed Boston chef, restaurateur and seafood authority. Chef Sewall is the author of the James Beard nominated cookbook “The New England Kitchen: Fresh Take on Seasonal Recipes” and the chef/owner of Lineage in Brookline, MA, Island Creek Oyster Bar in Boston and its sister restaurant Row 34.

Chef Sewall has contributed three delicious recipes for upcoming Just Add Cooking boxes. Before you cook, get inspired with some tips from Chef Sewall himself.

Your career, while global, has focused on fresh, local, farm-to-table food. What inspired this focus?

Food rarely benefits from travel. I have a romantic idea of food in my head; about only cooking and eating fresh caught fish and freshly picked produce. That is what inspires me in both my cooking and how I design a menu. I try to keep my focus on utilizing what is local and freshest to me. 

bacon_wrapped_monkfish_with_sunchokesYour recipes, both in your restaurants and cookbook, utilize a lot of local fish that some of us may not normally think to cook with. Two great examples are the monkfish and mackerel featured in your Just Add Cooking recipes. What local seafood do you think New Englanders often overlook, and what are your tips for cooking confidently with them?

I think most New Englanders focus on the old standbys, cod, haddock, lobster and familiar species like those. New England waters have so much more to offer like monkfish, mackerel, bluefish, hake, redfish and countless shellfish. Don’t be afraid to try new things, the confidence comes with repetition of cooking these over and over.

We’re headed into the warm weather in Boston and many of us will be seeing produce we’re unfamiliar with at the farmer’s market. What’s one “can’t miss” under-appreciated local item, and what’s your favorite way to prepare it? 

There is not only one thing that you can’t miss. There are so many things that everyone should try. I think some of the different greens and root crops get passed over some times. I always encourage people to buy one thing weekly that they have never tried before and this will give them new favorites that they will look forward to. When preparing new things I start with simple recipes, make sure you are really highlighting the ingredient. 

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What’s your personal favorite dish, whether in the cookbook, your restaurants or simply something you cook for your family at home?

I don’t have one favorite recipe or dish. If I am cooking in the restaurants it is different then cooking at home. Cooking at home for my family, is always fun because it can be communal and simple. It’s as much about the time together as it is the food in front of us. Cooking in the restaurants I am inspired by the season, what’s new and what’s next.

Our customers are not professional chefs. What’s your best advice to someone who’s feeling a little intimidated cooking the recipes of an award-winning chef?

Don’t be intimidated, it’s just food. Enjoy the process as much as the result.

Want to give Chef Sewall’s recipes a try? They are available for delivery starting Sunday, April 24th, so order now to choose them for your box!

How to Choose the Right Chef’s Knife

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Using the right knives is essential to success in the kitchen. Whether you’ve just invested in a set of knives or are looking for advice on the right things to add to your collection as you start cooking more, we’ve got you covered. The first part of our Knife Skills series will focus on how to choose the right chef’s knife: what to look for when purchasing a good-quality knife, the price range and how to care for your knives.

A good chef’s knife is an investment. It is the one ‘go-to’ tool in your kitchen that can perform a myriad of tasks and, if treated correctly, will last a lifetime. I’ve had some of my knives for over 20 years and they are still going strong. This in, in part, because of the initial financial investment I made in them and also because of the way I care for them.

Step 1: Test the Knives

When purchasing a knife, be it a chef’s knife or other type, it is a good idea to go to a store where you can test out the knives – physically hold them and see how they feel in your hand. Some knives are heavier than others and have different handle configurations. Some handles are made of wood, others of plastic, and some are metal. When you are using your knife, you want it to feel comfortable, like it is an extension of your arm.

What to Look For

Weight: You will notice, when you actually hold the different knives that there is a marked difference in the feel and the weight of them. German made knives tend to be heavier, and the blades thicker while Japanese knives are lighter and the blades are thinner. Ceramic blade knives are very light as are some of the less expensive (read: less well-made) knives.

Knives that are forged of high carbon or high carbon stainless steel are the choice of many professionals and home cooks alike. The have many pluses, including their quality and durability, their ability to keep an edge and ease in sharpening and a few drawbacks, the most notable being the price.

Sturdiness: When you hold the knife, you want it to feel solid, and when you engage the blade, it should remain strong and firm. If it wobbles or bends at all, set it down and move to then next one.

The exception to this is if you are purchasing a fillet, slicing or boning knife. We’ll talk about those in the next post. As you hold the chef’s knife, notice the blade. It should be smooth and sharp, with a definable edge to it. If it has serrations on it, again, set it down and move along.

Blade Extension: Look at the blade as it meets the handle. A good knife’s blade will extend all the way through the handle. This helps to balance the knife and reinforces the blade.

You will notice some knives that have handles that are simply attached to the blades. These are generally less expensive than full-tang knives making them a budget-friendly option. They are also lighter and made of stamped stainless steel. Their main drawbacks are that they are not as strong as high carbon forged knives and they are difficult to sharpen. They range in price from $30 to $100.

Ceramic blade knives are also very light and have super-sharp blades. They are budget friendly also. Their main drawback is that the blades can chip very easily and some are less durable. They range from about $20 to $70.

Step 2: Set a Budget

A good chef’s knife, one that will last you for years and years with proper care, will cost anywhere between $75 and $300. I advocate for one closer to the $75-$150 range. Some of the better known manufacturers are Wusthof, Henckels, Victronix, Miyabi, Global and Shun.

$150 for one knife may seem like (or be!) a lot of dough to lay out. Again, if you think of it as an investment, it may ease the initial wallet shock. Many of the better made knives come with lifetime warranties as well. Good to know when you’re considering which knives to buy.

Step 3: Set up a Care Routine

To ensure that your knife will last you a lifetime, proper care is in order. If I can impress one thing upon you it is to never, EVER put your knives in the dishwasher. EVER. Hand wash them with hot, soapy water (no steel wool!) and dry them. Store them either in a knife block, in a knife sheath or on a magnetized bar. This is to protect the blades and also for safety.

Next post we’ll learn about the different knife types and their applications and I’ll offer suggestions as to which knives will provide a good, solid foundation for all of your kitchen adventures. Until then, happy chopping!

- Chef Holly Pierce

The Other “Whole Foods”

Chef Holly Pierce is back this week with an education on the term “whole foods” – and what it means to eat them.

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When we hear someone say the words ‘whole foods’ often we immediately think of the grocery store chain that has been steadily rising in popularity (and numbers) since its inception in the 1980’s. Indeed, the original Whole Foods Market was conceived in order to “provide a more natural alternative to what the food supply was typically offering at the time” in part by offering local, natural and organic whole foods. They have since expanded their repertoire and offer many different types of food items, some of which are considered ‘whole’.

So what exactly is a whole food? An amalgamation of definitions from Webster’s, Wikipidea and Dictionary.com describes a whole food (or whole foods) as: food that has been minimally processed or refined and contains no additives or artificial substances; food in its whole form. Fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, dairy items, eggs, beans and unrefined grains (rice, oats, barley, etc) are all examples of whole foods. A rule of thumb has been that whole foods can be found in the perimeter aisles of the grocery store, in the produces, dairy, meat and fish and bakery sections. While this is true to a certain degree, not all foods in those sections are free from additives or artificial substances. This is where things start to get confusing. Let’s start with processing.

Processing is a term used to describe the course of action taken starting with the raw ingredient (beets for example) to the end product (let’s say pickled). The more steps and additives involved, the more processed the food is. In this case, the beets would be minimally processed as they involve only few other natural ingredients (sugar, vinegar, salt) and one step to pickle them. Most processed foods (think any items in a box, can or sealed bag) contain additives and preservatives in order to keep them shelf-stable and prolong their life. Some common additives include nitrates or nitrites, BHA and BHT, artificial colorings and flavorings, high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. Meats and dairy can also contain preservatives and additives (such as hormones and antibiotics).

How do we recognize whole foods? One sure-fire way is to choose foods that are in their most natural form and read the label if it comes in a package. Yes, whole foods can come in packages. Frozen fruits and vegetables, for example, are whole foods (provided the only ingredient in the package is said fruit or vegetable). A loaf of bread is a whole food. Ideally, bread has about 3 ingredients; flour, yeast and water. If the label on your loaf of bread has more than say, 5 ingredients and some of those you either do not recognize or cannot pronounce, set it back on the shelf and look for another one. Other examples of whole foods in a package are grains (rice, pasta, oats, etc), beans, vegetables, and sauces.

Great places to find whole foods are your local farm stand, farmers market/CSA share or co-op. Buy your baked goods from a local, scratch-made bakery or if you are feeling really adventurous, make them yourself! Ask your local butcher where their meat is sourced from, how it is treated while it is alive and how it is processed afterward.

Another great place to find whole foods is in your weekly delivery box from Just Add Cooking. We source the freshest and most natural ingredients we can find so that what ends up on your dinner table is healthy, whole and delicious.

The basic message about eating whole foods is to help us pay attention to what we are eating and choose the most healthful, nutrient dense, natural foods. The goal is to have a balance of foods which nurture and nourish us, body and soul. An apple is a whole food. An apple turned into an apple crisp is a whole food as well. See? Balance.

How to Clean and Cook Leeks

Chef Holly Pierce of The Soul Chef is back this week with a primer on leeks. These are abundant at New England farmer’s markets and in season right now, but they can be a little tricky to clean or figure out how to use. Check out Chef Holly’s tips or give them a try in our Leek & Potato Soup this week!

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Leeks, a member of the onion and garlic family (called Allium), are a delicious addition to many dishes. Their flavor is a cross between onion and garlic and you can use them raw or cooked.

Leeks are grown in sandy soil and, like onions, have many layers to them. These layers can trap the sand, making them gritty if not cleaned well. The easiest and quickest way to clean leeks is to cut off the root end (the end that looks like a paintbrush) and the dark green leafy end, leaving the white and light green parts. Slice the leeks into rounds or half-moons (slice the whole leek in half from white end to green end then lay the flat side on a cutting board and slice into half rounds) and place the slices into a bowl filled with water.

Swish the leeks around a bit and let them sit for about 10-15 minutes. Lift them out into a colander with a slotted spoon or small mesh strainer. You’ll see that any dirt or grit has sunk to the bottom of the bowl. Give the leeks a good shake or blot any excess water and add them to your recipe as directed.

You can use leeks interchangeably with onions, and saute or fry them in the same way. Watch them carefully when you cook them (use a medium heat) as they can burn easily and turn bitter. They are also wonderful braised slowly in a bit of water or broth until very tender and served with a squeeze of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Most famously, they are a key component in the French soup Vichyssoise, made from a puree of leeks, onions and potatoes.

Give these delicious veggies a try this fall and winter for a new addition and flavor in your favorite recipes!

Q&A with Chef Jason Bond of Bondir

Right now, Just Add Cooking customers are getting a special treat in their boxes: recipe options from Chef Jason Bond of Bondir Cambridge & Bondir Concord. Chef Jason has created three delicious recipes that take advantage of seasonal, farm-fresh New England ingredients and allow you to cook high-end, restaurant-quality meals at home. Chef Jason’s Bondir-inspired recipes include Pappardelle with Cucumbers and Zucchini, Sweet Potato Tart and Pork Sausage with Beans and Cabbage – all made with locally-sourced ingredients.

Chef Bond Collage
He’s stopping by the blog today to give a little more background on his cooking style and philosophy! Order by THIS WEDNESDAY, October 7 at noon to select Chef Jason’s Pork Sausage with Beans and Cabbage in next week’s delivery!

Just Add Cooking: What was your motivation for opening Bondir and what is the general philosophy you carry forward in the restaurant?

Chef Jason Bond: I wanted to open Bondir to be able to explore ideas and celebrate pristine and amazing ingredients.  The menu has always been about the ingredients and flavors, and the service has always focused on taking excellent care of the guests who come into our dining room.

JAC: Why did you choose to work together with JAC? 

Chef: Just Add Cooking is working really hard to source local ingredients and to buy from many of the same purveyors that I do.  It can be difficult for a home cook to find really good ingredients and also to know what to do with all the different vegetables they see at the market.   JAC guides home cooks and is a resource in finding and preparing great ingredients.

JAC: What was your inspiration for developing the dishes that you created for Just Add Cooking?

Chef: I wanted to show how you can make a great tasting dish that is healthful, beautiful, and easily put together with the right organization.

JAC: How did you adapt your restaurant-style dishes for the home cooks of JAC?

Chef: I work hard in the restaurant to cook fresh and as close to “home-style” as possible, meaning no production shortcuts or huge batches.  My cooking style is focused on freshness and pure flavors and is easily adapted to actually cooking at home.

JAC: As a chef working many nights in a restaurant kitchen, what are some of your favorite dishes to cook on an evening at home?  

Chef: I like a satisfying dish that is also easily put together.  I don’t want to have to wash six different pots after I’ve made dinner.

JAC: What’s your favorite tip or secret you can share with the home cook to make their life easier or their food even better?

Chef: Don’t be afraid.  Use salt, let your roasts caramelize, push a few boundaries.  You’ll be a better cook for it.

 

Q&A with Samantha Levin of Sam Lives! smoothies

Sam sampling on launch day in Portland, ME

If you received a Just Add Cooking box yesterday, you also got a fun surprise: a bottle of a brand new smoothie called Sam Lives! Sam Lives! describes itself as a wicked nutritious, delicious meal in a bottle. Here at Just Add Cooking, we’re always looking for local companies that are delivering on similar missions to ours: delivering fresh, real foods and making it easy to stay healthy. So we jumped at the chance to give you all a taste of Sam Lives!

We also had the chance to chat with Samantha Levin, the young, energetic founder of the company. She’s got a fun background that many of you New England locals may recognize (we’ll let her tell you about that) and lots of great initiative in bringing fresh juices full of both micro- and macronutrients to the masses. You can check out her smoothies at select Whole Foods in the Boston area. Take it away, Sam!

JAC: Give us your background/how you came up with SamLives?

Sam: In 1992, when I was two years old, my family named their juice business, Fresh Samantha, after me. What started as a small family operation in my grandparents’ basement in Maine, grew into a juice sensation! Now, I’m all grown up, and fresher than ever with my own blends – hence the name, Sam Lives! :) However, unlike Fresh Samantha and other standard smoothies and juices, Sam Lives! has all the macronutrients of a complete meal. And while most meal replacement shakes are made from artificial powders, Sam Lives! is made from fresh, real foods!

The idea to create a delicious and healthy meal for on the go came to me in college. I always found myself writing papers through lunch and running out the door without breakfast. As a major foodie and health nut, microwavable meals and ramen just didn’t cut it! In this fast-paced age, I knew I wasn’t alone in this dilemma, so I decided (with juice already in my blood!) to make smoothies that would actually fill you up and provide you with all the vital nutrients of a full meal.

JAC: Tell us a bit about your philosophy behind the smoothies?

Sam: Unlike most juices, cleanses, and smoothies that only have micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, and living enzymes), we make sure our superfood smoothies have these nutrients along with all of the macronutrients necessary for a complete meal:

  • Plant-based proteins from shelled organic hemp seeds, not powder or soy. I make sure there’s a spoonful of whole organic hemp seeds in each bottle so you always get 6-8g of protein – more than a whole egg!
  • Good fats from organic extra virgin olive oil and organic hulled hemp seeds. These are actually known to help the body burn fat and better absorb vitamins and minerals!
  • Complex & unrefined carbs from fresh fruits and veggies – these give your body the energy to thrive!

We blend the fresh fruits, veggies, olive oil and seeds whole to hold onto essential nutrients, like fiber, that are lost when juicing.  We also focus on keeping the organic hemp seeds in each bottle whole, so that you have to chew them. This simple act promotes healthy digestion and releases enzymes that help your body absorb more nutrients! We use cold pressure, instead of heat, to crush pathogens but keep vitamins, minerals and enzymes alive!

For more detailed information on our health-conscious philosophy and process, check out our FAQ.

JAC: How do you come up with your recipes?

Sam: By creating a giant mess in my kitchen! In the chaos, I eventually find a combination of fresh fruits, veggies and seeds that make for a complete meal and delicious smoothie all in one!

My ultimate goal with each recipe is to help improve the American diet. I know (from personal experience!) that people don’t always have time to make themselves a meal during the work or school day. Rather than reaching for processed microwavable meals, fast food, or artificial meal replacement protein shakes, I hope they’ll pick up my wicked delicious, super nutritious meals in a bottle instead!

Bottle lineup 1
Fun fact: Sam’s mom creates all the illustrations for her brand – just as she did for the Fresh Samantha brand back in the 90’s!

 

 

Tomato Tips from Red Fire Farm

Tomatoes are some of summer’s best treats. While they’re available all year round in grocery stores, the short window that they’re in season here in New England is by far the best they taste. You’ve only got a few weeks, so how do you capitalize on the bounty of tomatoes at farmer’s markets here in the Boston area? We checked in with our friend Sarah Voiland at Red Fire Farm for her tips on making the most of tomato season.

tomatoes red fire farm

JAC: Let’s talk tomatoes. Most of us are used to seeing them year-round at the grocery store, but now’s the time to hit the farmer’s market to get some while they’re in season. What’s the difference between off-season tomatoes and what we can find locally right now?

Sarah: Since starting farming, I pretty much don’t eat tomatoes out of season anymore. What you can get from a locally vine-ripened tomato is worth the wait. The mealy, bland winter tomatoes look pretty, but that’s not where it’s at! I want a tomato with some juice and flavor. Most tomatoes in stores are varieties not built for flavor, but built to travel long distances and ripen on the trucks. So they’re harvested green and don’t have well-developed flavor profiles, and that’s why you often get the grainy texture issues.

When you grow the tomato in the ground (as opposed to hydroponically) and let it ripen fully on the vine, you can get the best flavor – but you then have a tender fruit prone to bruising and cracking that just can’t travel well. That’s why buying tomatoes from local stands is your best bet for flavor. In late July in Massachusetts you will start to see the first field-ripened tomatoes coming to stands – cherry tomatoes and early red slicers. As you get into August and beyond, more of the heirlooms ripen.

JAC: How long does tomato season last in New England?

Sarah: Once it gets going in late July, tomato season will be with us until the fall frost, which comes around early to late October. Some recent years in our area have had shorter seasons because of the now prevalent Late Blight disease that kills off tomato plants, so we are never quite sure how long they will be abundant anymore.

JAC: What kinds of tomatoes will we see? Any recommendations for varieties that are tougher to come by, that we should purchase if we ever see?

Sarah: The breadth of variety of tomatoes is truly astounding. At Red Fire Farm, we grow over 150 types, and that’s just a selection of what’s out there. You can find tomatoes in a rainbow of colors from yellow and green to purple and chocolatey brown. We have field and taste tested them every year and over time picked out our favorites. Some of the best for taste are Green Zebra, a little green tomato with green striations and a yellow blush when ripe. Brandywine, which is a pink beefsteak type, has beautiful color and a depth of flavors that kind of take you traveling. Sungold Cherry Tomatoes ripen to a bright golden orange and have an excellence balance of bright and tang. Matt’s Wild Cherry Tomatoes are little cherries, almost the size of currants. They were found growing wild along a trail in Mexico and now they win contests for flavor in Massachusetts! There are many kinds and all are worth trying if you love tomatoes.

JAC: Do you have any recommendations on which kinds are best for which uses? 

tomato sauce recipeSarah: For tomato basil salads, my favorite thing to do is get a rainbow of colors and sizes, then slice them up and arrange them together, sprinkle a few whole cherry tomatoes on there. Then you can taste each one and enjoy the beauty.

If you’re making sauce, there is a whole class of tomatoes that are bred just for that purpose, to have more flesh and fewer seeds for cooking down into a thicker sauce. They are often called paste, saucing or plum tomatoes. Look for varieties like Plum Regal, Amish Paste or Federle. We have a recipe for how to make big batches of canned tomato sauce here on our recipes page: http://redfirefarm.com/recipes/preserves.html

At the farm, we grow a couple tomato varieties that are especially perfect for stuffing, and you’ll find that they have empty chambers in the middle like a pepper. Cherry tomatoes are very easy to add to salads and keep on hand for snacks. For sandwiches, I like a tomato that can be the feature, so I look for a variety with a lot of flavor and a good-sized slice. Striped German, a later season type, is so big you can cut one slice and It will cover the bread!

JAC: Many of us are going to run out and buy a boatload of tomatoes before they’re gone for the season. What are your recommendations for storing them fresh so they last longer, and do you have any recommendations for preserving them if we over-buy?

Tomatoes should never be refrigerated – they lose flavor and change texture when chilled. Store out of the sun in a coolish spot, ideally 55 degrees, though kitchen counters are fine. There are a plethora of ways to save your tomatoes for future eating, from making sauces to freeze or can, to roasting them in the oven. Roasting is one of my favorite methods of preserving – you slice them about ¾ inch thick, brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast in the oven at 325 degrees until the edges start to caramelize. Then freeze. If you have no time and a bunch of tomatoes about to go past, you can stick them whole in the freezer and thaw to make sauce later.

JAC: I hear that Red Fire Farms celebrates these fleeting gems with a Tomato Festival each summer. Can you give us some information about that?

Every August in the peak of tomato season we hold a tasting of over 100 varieties of organic tomatoes. A big farm festival has built up around that core idea, with chef demos of recipes, workshops on making sauce and other skills, wild edible walks, a 5K fun run through the farm fields, tons of vendors with things like roasted sweet corn and wood-fired pizza, live music, Pick Your Own tomatoes and more. This year we have Erin McKeown and Her Fine Parade Coming to Play.

The festival will be held on Saturday, August 2 from 12-6 pm. Read more on our website at http://redfirefarm.com/news/tomatofestival.html

Runners and walkers can register for the 5K through the farm fields here: http://redfireform.com/formstack.com/forms/tomato_trot_5k_registration_form

For making sauce and salsa in bigger batches, we offer bulk orders and half bushels of tomatoes in late August here: http://redfirefarm.com/farmers_markets/bulkorders.html

We hope to see you out at the farm in peak tomato season!

 

Meet Megan Gerber, Just Add Cooking’s New Dietitian

meal kit box ingredientsIf you’re a Just Add Cooking subscriber, or you’ve even had a peek at our recipes, it’s pretty clear we have a serious emphasis on flavor and putting delicious meals on the table every night. But providing dinner to our customers is about more than ensuring it tastes good: we take very seriously the importance of a balanced meal with high-quality, locally-sourced ingredients from New England farms and vendors.

To that end, we’re happy to introduce Registered Dietitian Megan Gerber, who is rigorously evaluating Just Add Cooking meals for nutritional balance and helping us with a very exciting advancement for those with dietary restrictions. In fact, Megan was instrumental in assisting us with gluten-free designations for our recipes. Today, we asked Megan a few questions to give you a better sense of the nutritional evaluation that each Just Add Cooking recipe is undergoing.

JAC: Tell us a little about your background.

Megan: I got my dietetic degree at the University of Connecticut and live and work in Boston. My full-time job is as a Clinical Dietitian at Carney Hospital in Dorchester. On a personal note, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease two years ago, so I have a background in understanding food safety and dietary restrictions as well as general nutrition and am particularly passionate about the gluten-free designation process that we underwent when evaluating Just Add Cooking’s recipes.

JAC: What drew you to the Just Add Cooking approach?

just add cooking dietitianMegan: Many people’s diets are deficient in fresh produce and whole foods. Just Add Cooking is a great solution to this issue. I love that they’re getting people back in the kitchen and cooking, making them aware of how to use ingredients and how to incorporate many fresh foods into their diets. 

JAC: What’s the process you undergo in checking Just Add Cooking recipes for nutritional balance?

Megan: I combine my perspective on a balanced meal with the Just Add Cooking culinary team’s approach. The main goal for Just Add Cooking is bringing people together in the kitchen, helping them to cook for themselves as opposed to takeout or convenience fields, which is a huge step in the right direction health-wise. Just Add Cooking focuses on healthy, family-friendly meals.

When I look at the recipes, I combine the recommended daily values for the macronutrients in the dish with the My Plate example, which suggests that your plate should be ½ produce, ¼ grains and ¼ protein. My focus is on ensuring there are plenty of vegetables, produce and lean proteins in the meals and keeping an eye on fat and saturated fat contents.

Keep an eye out on the Just Add Cooking recipes for Megan’s commentary in the future, and check out our NEW Gluten-Free Recipes by looking for the green GF that appears in your meal planner!