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Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Winter Market

I finally made it down to the Winter Market. In previous years, the Lexington Farmers' Market moved their digs into the atrium of Victorian Square for the winter season. This year, they stayed put. Located  under the Fifth-Third Pavilion in Cheapside Park, the market is open from 8:00AM-1PM every Saturday. The free street side parking on Short Street makes it a cinch to stop by and pick up seasonal offerings from our local farmers. On any given Saturday, chicken, beef, pork, lamb, goat, sweet potatoes, onions, breads, dried beans, canned goods,  eggs, greens, turnips, and other great things can be found. We're lucky to have a resource for locally grown farm to table opportunities available to us downtown in the dead of winter. It's
urban and real.

While I was thrilled to hear they were staying outside under the familiar confines of the pavilion, I expected to find it sectioned off and protected from the elements with barriers. Wind breaks. Tarps. Something. Nope. Armed with huge heaters, it was a full blown outdoor experience.
Business has been brisk at the Winter Market. Freed from the inner shell of Victorian Square with its piped-in music, the market is now more visible and accessible. If it's cold, bundle up when you go. Every scarf and glove will be worth the effort.

Although the Winter Market has been operating outdoors for a few weeks now, I managed to hit it on one of the bleakest days of the year. Snow. Ice. Wind. Freezing temperatures. Given all of that, I was greeted by happy farmers with smiling faces huddled under blasting heaters. Kudos. Numbed by the bitter winds, I grabbed a few sweet potatoes and baby onions before skedaddling back to my car. I can't wait to go back.

Sweet Potato Soup. 
Sweet potatoes, onions, and other stuff. I think I've roasted and pureed everything at some time or another. With pureed soups, I typically roast vegetables until they're ridiculously caramelized before blitzing them in a blender with cream and stock. That's usually how I roll. Roasting deepens their flavors and brings out their inherent sweetness, resulting in rich creamy soups. I thought about that route... for a minute.  I suppose a sultry burnt umber sweet potato soup would have been perfect on a blustery winter day. Nope. I flipped off the weather and went to a brighter side of sexy.

I needed stock. I didn't need a textbook stock, so I used  what I had on hand. After thawing a few chicken
parts and backs from the freezer, I dropped them into a stock pot with snapped celery stalks, quartered onions, parsley, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. I covered the chicken with cold water, brought the water to a boil, reduced it to a simmer, and skimmed the scum. After 3 hours (for a light stock), I ladled the stock through a cheesecloth-lined strainer, chilled it down quickly in an ice bath, and slid it into the refrigerator.

Instead of peeling, slicing, and roasting the sweet potatoes, I simple baked them in a 350 degree oven until they were fork tender. Midway through, I tumbled the onions onto the sheet pan with the potatoes, poured myself a glass of wine, and took a break. After 45 minutes I pulled the potatoes and onions from the oven to cool. When the potatoes were cool enough to handle, I scooped the fluffy flesh( about 2 1/2 cups)  into a blender with 2 cups warmed chicken stock, onions, salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. After adding 1/2 cup fresh orange juice and 1/4 cup fresh lime juice, I pureed the soup until it was smooth.

I poured the soup directly into my hand-me-down chipped Bybee Pottery soup bowls before finishing with tiny dollops of lime-infused sour cream, snipped chives, toasted almonds, and smoked paprika.

A new take on sweet potato soup. Without cream weighing it down, the citrus was key. The slight acidity of the orange/lime combination lightened the puree and countered the sweetness of the potatoes. While whispers of paprika gave the soup smoky warmth, the sour cream added subtle tang under the crunch of splintered almonds and grassy fresh chives. Light. Simple. Sassy.

Support the Lexington Farmers' Winter Market.

It's real.

Bundle up and check it out.

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