Prior to 2011 I had been on the land now occupied by the Waco Downtown Farmers Market exactly one time. The place was still an RV campground, and I was there to interview Biscuits O’Bryan. He was a cowboy storyteller and chuck wagon cook. O’Bryan, a character portrayed by Monte Jones, was in town for a presentation at South Bosque Elementary School, where Abby was teaching at the time. Not many other folks were camping at the site just off Interstate 35. I imagine it wasn’t easy to get a good night’s sleep with highway traffic passing just a few yards away.
Years later on November 19, 2011 lots of work by a bunch of volunteers came to fruition with the opening of the Waco Downtown Farmers Market. More than 2,000 visitors and 20 vendors were there on that first Saturday. The day started off cool — the overnight low was 46 degrees — but it later warmed up.
On a recent Saturday our family ventured to the market with one goal in mind: Whatever we were going to have for dinner that night, we would purchase fresh that morning. And since we were there in a focused state of mind, something else jumped out at us that I’m sure was in place during our previous visits to the farmers market, but had remained unnoticed until then.
It’s just as much a community center as it is a place to buy meat and produce.
So not only did we find ingredients for our dinner, we also found a happening social scene. The American Red Cross was on hand offering heart-healthy demonstrations, such as smoothies made in a blender attached to a bicycle — if you wanted a smoothie, you had to pedal for it. A Zumba class was being offered on a concrete slab between the parking lot and the vendor tents. Rock-and-roller Ted Nugent and his wife, renowned Zumba instructor Shemane, were doing some shopping. Many folks were there with their dogs. My buddy from high school, Jerry Zucha, who is senior pastor at FiveStone Community Church in Garland, was there with his family, killing a little time before a Baylor basketball game that tipped off later that afternoon. We ran into them while we were all standing in line waiting for breakfast burritos from Sergio’s food truck.
And we found plenty of options for our dinner. One of the first vendors we visited was Texas Hill Country Olive Company out of Dripping Springs. We bought a couple of things there: a bottle of strawberry balsamic vinegar and a bottle of lemon-infused olive oil. Abby figured those would pair well as a salad dressing, and they did. We drizzled the mixture over arugula and purple carrots we bought from one of the many produce vendors. We also came away with a pair of large sweet potatoes and some Swiss chard. For our main dish we bought a chicken from Richardson Farms of Rockdale.
Finally, from C&J Farms in Corsicana, we bought a jar of Applewood/Jalapeno Smoked Sea Salt and a jar of Jalapeno Honey, and we bought three types of cheese from Brazos Valley Cheese, though we used just one for our dinner.
We had to add a few staples — butter, flour, white wine and the like — but we purchased all the main ingredients for dinner at the farmers market. We spent a little more than $100, though the cheeses and all the bottled products lasted way beyond what turned out to be a wonderful meal.
- 1 whole chicken, spatchcocked
- 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons seasoned salt
- Pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 tablespoon mustard (Dijon or stone-ground, whatever you have on hand)
- 1 tablespoon butter, cut into pieces
To spatchcock a chicken, place the bird breast side down on a cutting board with the tail facing you. Hold the fleshy flap on the chicken’s tail — called a parson’s nose — with one hand and cut out the backbone using sharp scissors or a boning knife. (Discard the backbone or save it for the next batch of chicken stock.)
Turn the chicken over so the breast side is facing up and, using the palm of your hand, press down firmly on the chicken to flatten it some. Rub olive oil over the surface of the bird. Sprinkle with seasoned salt and pepper. (We used C&J Farms’ Applewood/Jalapeno Smoked Sea Salt and omitted the pepper.)
Heat a skillet large enough to hold the flattened bird. Add butter and let melt. Place chicken, breast side down, in the pan. Place a plate on top of the chicken and then place on the plate a heavy object, such as a large can of tomato sauce, a brick or whatever you have in the kitchen. Cook the chicken for 15 minutes over medium or medium-low heat until the skin on the bottom is dark brown.
Heat oven to 375 F. Flip the bird over, add the plated weight back on top and cook for another 15 minutes.
Remove the plate and weight; place the skillet in the oven. Cook until the chicken is cooked through, about another 30 minutes, until the juices run clear, the internal temperature reaches 165 on an instant-read thermometer, or there is no visible pink when you cut into the chicken.
Remove the skillet from the oven and place the chicken on a plate to let it rest. Remove all but about 2 tablespoons of the drippings in the skillet. Sprinkle flour over the drippings and stir until flour is incorporated. Keep stirring and cooking the mixture for another 5 minutes. Use wine to deglaze the pan, scraping up the bits stuck on the bottom.
Let wine reduce for 5-10 minutes; stir in mustard. Turn the heat to low and swirl in butter, one piece at a time. Wait until each piece of butter is melted and incorporated before adding the next.
Cut the chicken into pieces, place on plates and spoon the sauce over all. Makes 4-6 servings.
Note: This link has a video on how to spatchcock a bird. Ignore the directions involving skewers. bbcgoodfood.com/videos/techniques/how-spatchcock-chicken-video.
Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Swiss Chard
- 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
For the Swiss chard:
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
For the honey butter:
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 2 tablespoons honey
Heat oven to 425 F. Place sweet potatoes on a sheet pan or cookie sheet and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread into an even layer and roast until tender and the potato pieces can be easily pierced with a fork, for 30-45 minutes. Remove from oven and scrape potatoes into a serving bowl. Set aside.
To prepare the Swiss chard, remove the stems from the leaves and cut the stems into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut or tear the leaves into bite-size pieces. Add olive oil to a skillet set over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, for about 1 minute. Add stems and leaves and saute until tender, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in lemon juice and zest. Add cooked chard to prepared sweet potatoes; toss well.
To make the honey butter, add butter and honey to a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until butter melts and ingredients are mixed together. (We used C&J Farms’ Jalapeno Honey for this recipe.) Pour over the sweet potato-chard mixture and toss to combine. Makes 6-8 servings.
Arugula Salad with Balsamic-Olive Oil Dressing
- 1/2 bunch arugula
- 6 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced or grated (We used unpeeled fresh purple carrots.)
For the dressing:
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 3/4 cup olive oil
- Mild white cheese, such as Monterey jack or white cheddar
- Freshly ground black pepper
Chop or tear arugula into bite-size pieces. Toss in a bowl with sliced carrots. Set aside.
To make the dressing, pour balsamic vinegar into a medium bowl. While whisking constantly, slowly drizzle in olive oil until mixed well. (We used Terra Verde Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar and Terra Verde Lemon-Infused Extra Virgin Olive Oil.)
Drizzle about 1/4 cup of dressing over arugula mixture and toss until the leaves are coated. Taste and add more dressing if needed.
Just before serving, shave the cheese into thin slices and place on top of the salad. (We used Montasio cheese from Brazos Valley Cheese.) Then coarsely grind fresh black pepper over the top. Makes about 6 servings.
Note: You won’t use all this dressing for one salad. Cover and refrigerate the unused portion. If you don’t want to make this much salad dressing, follow the directions and use 3 parts olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar.
- 3 tablespoons olive or coconut oil
- 1/3 cup popcorn kernels
- 2 tablespoons butter (or more to taste)
- Seasoned salt, to taste
In a medium saucepan with a lid, place oil and three or four kernels of popcorn. Heat over medium heat until popcorn pops. Add remaining popcorn to coat all the kernels, then remove from heat for 30 seconds. Place the pan back over the heat with the lid just offset to let steam escape. In a minute or so you’ll start to hear the kernels begin to pop. When the popping slows down to one every 4 or 5 seconds or so, remove the lid and pour the popcorn into a large bowl.
Add butter to the hot pan and swirl until melted. Pour butter over hot popcorn and add seasoned salt to taste. (Again, we used C&J Farms’ Applewood/Jalapeno Smoked Sea Salt.) Makes 4 generous servings.