Farmstand Fun!

It has been a beautiful fall here on the East Coast--so far. The best way to enjoy the season? A trip to farm country!

Chris and I hopped in the car, rolled down the windows, turned up the radio, and took a ride down to South Jersey. They call New Jersey "The Garden State" for a reason: once you get off the main highway, you're surrounded by lush farmland, towering cornfields and tempting roadside stands selling cantaloupes as big as your head, and Jersey Fresh tomatoes by the bucketload.
The smell of Autumn was definitely in the air: just-picked apples, newly-fallen leaves, and baled hay. We of course couldn't resist all that lovely produce, so we stopped at a stand and loaded up on eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, apples, peaches (the size of a softball), and a bottomless bag of green beans. We decided to save the pumpkin-picking for another day--the trunk was pretty full, and we still had a few more stops.
Back home, all of those yummy fruits and vegetables were a bit overwhelming. How to use them up?  I wasn't worried about the peaches -- we ate half a dozen of them in less than two days. (There's nothing better than a juicy, fresh-picked peach!) But, most of the veggies were still waiting patiently to be eaten. So, I came up with a few ways to use them up. Note: Ingredients/proportions are approximate -- I just threw everything together, tasting as I went.

For the first meal, I chopped up the eggplant, squash, and yellow and green peppers and placed them in a large skillet along with a few teaspoons of olive oil. When the eggplant was tender, I mixed in half a bag of a mix of frozen peas, cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli. Once everything was heated through, I removed them from the pan and set aside. Then, I added a bit more oil to the now-empty pan, then browned a package of cubed, firm tofu. The cooked tofu joined the veggies that were waiting in the wings. I added a wee bit more oil to the pan, then in went minced ginger and garlic, a few tablespoons of yellow curry paste, about 2 1/2 cups of coconut milk, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. I brought it all to a boil, whisking until combined, adding a bit of salt to taste. Once the sauce had reduced a bit (about 8 mins or so), I returned the veggies and tofu to the pan and heated everything through, and that was it. Served over brown rice, it made a lovely meal.

For my next trick, I heated a couple teaspoons of olive oil in a dutch oven and then added some minced garlic. Then, in went some chopped eggplant, squash, carrots, salt/pepper, a few teaspoons each of cumin and paprika, and at least 1 TBS of Herbes de Provence. I added about 1/4 cup of water and cooked everything over medium-low heat until the carrots were tender-crisp. Then, I gently stirred in a can of rinsed/drained chickpeas, a cup or so of shredded chicken breast, an entire 32 oz package of chicken broth, and four tomatoes (peeled, seeded and diced), and let it simmer on medium-low for as long as I could stand it (about 40 minutes), stirring every 10 mins or so. In the meantime, I made a batch of large-size couscous and chopped up some parsley, basil and thyme from my herb garden. When the stew was ready, I added a bit more salt/pepper to taste then stirred in the couscous and herbs. Yum!

Finally, there were a few eggplants still standing, so I sliced them into thick rounds and tossed with a bit of lemon juice and set aside. Then, in a medium-sized bowl, I mixed together breadcrumbs, honey, olive oil, garlic powder, salt/pepper, and minced parsley. I buttered a casserole dish and layered the eggplant and breadcrumb mixture all the way to the top, then drizzled with more honey and olive oil.  Then into the oven to bake for about 30 minutes at 375 degrees. A lovely side dish -- this was gone in minutes. Delish!

How are you using up your farmers' market finds?