by Tara Davis

I am regularly asked how I come up with menu items and recipes.

Today, I give you my full fledged answer.  First, let me share a story –

Several years ago, I worked a number of farms.  Produce, egg, chicken, and pig farms.  Often, part of all of the pay for my services was in goods. Being a big fan of the barter system, I couldn’t have been happier.  Except, I lived alone, and what in the blazes was I to do with 10 gallons of jalapeños, 2 trash bags full of cabbage 3 crates of beets or 6 dozen eggs?

Even after cooking dinners for friends and sharing with neighbors, I ended up with more vegetables than any sane person would deem reasonable.

Necessity truly is, so often, the mother of invention. So I roasted peppers and froze them in smaller amounts to be used in dishes as I desired.  I made kale chips, salsas, chutneys and chowchows. I made sauerkraut and cabbage rolls and stored (undressed) slaws to take to picnics and share with neighbors. I made purees and soups and borscht to freeze.

Not wanting to be boring or repetitive, I stretched my culinary jaws around new methods and flavor profiles.  I salt cured and marinated eggs. Everything in those days was kicked into high gear. Because that’s what happens when you are motivated by a sincere love of farm fresh ingredients and a desperate desire not to waste them.

One of these farms saw a spring over growth of brussels sprouts.  Sprouts EVERYWHERE, for months.  After selling them fresh at farmer’s markets, they were still stuck with so many it seemed almost hopeless.  So I made kimchi.

Brussels sprout kimchi for them to take to market and sell as well.  That year, the demand for that off the cuff fermented delight was so high, customers left dejected when the inevitable “Sold Out” sign went up.

But desperation is only one side of recipe development.  This time of year, as I head to the markets I so look forward to the pumpkins, early greens, wild mushrooms, persimmons, chicory, beans, pears, rutabagas, squash, sweet potatoes.  The ever so slight change in the air inspires new flavors, evokes fall feelings and cravings.

One of my very favorite things to do is buy ingredients with which I am unfamiliar or inexperienced, and work with them, make beautiful things – and ultimately fast friends – with them.  The Indian, Greek and Asian markets, with their exotic and interesting products neatly lining shelves, well labeled, but often not in English – I love to touch, smell, weigh them. Speculate and begin potential recipes right there in the aisles.

There are, as I have mentioned before, times when innovation is key.  That special on the board in a lot of places is courtesy of a great price on an ingredient, an accidental order, or is some other effort to use something rather than waste it.  No, that does not mean it is made of subpar or dangerously old ingredients.  In fact, that is a practice highly frowned upon by those in the industry with integrity and pride in our work.  But when the marinara in the freezer needs to make way for something else, or someone thawed way too much ground beef… well, sometimes spaghetti happens.

I leave you with a personally developed recipe of my own, and trust you to use it wisely:

Marinated Vegetables :   Chop 4-5 cups desired combination of vegetables into roughly 1 inch cubes or pieces. (I like peppers, onions, squash, and green beans).  Toss vegetables in a mixture of 1 cup olive oil, 1/3 cup red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp salt, 2 tbsp ground black pepper, 2 tbsp minced garlic and fresh herbs to taste.  Refrigerate for 1-3 days, stirring twice a day.  Store up to 10 days, refrigerated.