December 31, 2020 § Leave a comment
I have been a hardcore social distancer since the shelter-in-place order went into effect back in March, which has meant eschewing restaurants’ outdoor dining options in favor of eating takeout at home and replacing my thrice-weekly grocery-store runs with pickup and delivery options. It’s been, well, weird—to say the least.
So much of my work as a food writer has been based on getting out and experiencing our local food system in person: leisurely picking up seasonal produce and fresh fish from the San Mateo farmers’ market on a Saturday morning, grabbing a weekday lunch on the fly in downtown Redwood City, or settling in for a long dinner with an old friend at a new Peninsula must-try restaurant.
And yet, while I miss those experiences, there are some aspects of the new normal that I’m digging—in particular, finding new (or new-to-me) food businesses to support. Ocean 2 Table’s weekly direct-to-my-front-door deliveries of freshly-caught local seafood—sablefish, California halibut, and yellowtail rockfish are just a few examples—have been a godsend. Maria Gregorio’s volunteer-run Giving Fruits not only provides grower-direct produce to Peninsula customers but also supports several charitable organizations. And on the restaurant side of things, new takeout options have meant being able to enjoy food from restaurants that usually have long waits for reservations, like Michelin-starred Sushi Yoshizumi in San Mateo (which I wrote about for the October issue of PUNCH Magazine) and Sushi Shin in Redwood City.
Ultimately, food experiences in 2020 were more about taking joy where I found it, rather than seeking the newest, hottest, or best-of. Following are my “top five” eats of this year.
Truth: boquerones will change your mind about anchovies. Cured in salt for preservation, then marinated in vinegar or lemon juice to balance the rich oiliness of the fish, these “white anchovies,” as they’re also known, are an excellent topper for toast, pasta, or salad. And the kicker: boquerones are super easy to make at home.
I ordered a pound of Monterey Bay sardines from Ocean 2 Table and used Hank Shaw’s recipe from his blog Hunter • Angler • Gardener • Cook to make my own boquerones in June, and I’ve been craving them ever since. Canned is just not the same.
Tomato and Burrata Salad (Oak+Violet)
Back in July, as the world tentatively opened up, I interviewed Oak+Violet’s Executive Chef, Simona Oliveri, for PUNCH Magazine’s August issue. Her passion for food and creating elegant plates for customers was inspiring—not to mention that she is one of the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. The beautifully-plated Tomato and Burrata Salad, a highlight of the restaurant’s “Sicilian Summer Nights” menu, embodies Simona’s skill and style.
The combination of thick wedges of sweet heirloom tomatoes, generous portion of milky burrata, peppery olive oil, sweet-acidic balsamic vinegar, and herbaceous fresh basil was the epitome of summer on a plate for me.
15-Piece Chef’s Choice Nigiri (Sushi Shin)
Tiny nine-seat Sushi Shin in Redwood City was on my must-try list earlier this year (before you-know-what), although with limited seating and excellent early reviews, reservations were hard to come by. When the restaurant pivoted to Tock takeout, I jumped at the chance to treat myself and splurge on Chef Jason’s 15-piece edomae-style sushi box. To heighten the at-home omakase experience, the restaurant sent a text explaining the order in which to eat each piece.
Careful preparation techniques highlight the flavor of every item in the box. Tasmanian trout, for example, is lightly smoked, but has an undertone of sweetness. Salty Kamasu (Chiba) is lightly torched; searing the outside adds a grilled flavor while maintaining the fish’s soft interior. And what to say about the Toro other than: pure indulgence! It needed nothing more than a smidge of soy sauce and Chef Jason’s lightly seasoned sushi rice to make a perfect bite. Tofu pudding with black sesame syrup was a light and satisfying ending to the meal. Currently Sushi Shin is on hiatus, but I am looking forward to their return.
When pluerries turned up on Giving Fruit’s list of offerings at the end of summer, I couldn’t pass them up. Curious about this cross between a sweet cherry and plum, I placed my order for the smallest amount available: 10 pounds. (Pros and cons on this farm-to-table ordering thing.)
If nothing else, I figured I’d knock out a few batches of jam, but I also wanted some sweet options for immediate gratification. Plum cake? Sure, but what else? Fortunately, I landed on this recipe for Santa Rosa Plum compote, substituting pluerries for plums and reducing the amount of sugar. With a touch of sweetness from the vanilla and a bit of tartness from the skins, there’s something elegant about this compote. I can confirm that it’s just as enjoyable eaten cold, straight from the fridge, as it is served warm over rice pudding.
Spiced Persimmon and Ginger Muffins
Fall brought persimmons, and this year I was determined to work them into my baking repertoire. Having zero experience with Hachiya persimmons, this was another case of “buy now, figure it out later,” which had become part of my 2020 cooking philosophy. Fortunately, Hachiyas give you time: they need to be completely, smooshingly ripe before use, which can take anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks. While the fruit (all 10 pounds of it) sat on my counter, I discovered Andrea Nguyen’s excellent ginger and persimmon adaptation of Alice Medrich’s gluten-free Dark and Spicy Pumpkin Muffins.
With a soft, cake-like texture, bits of persimmons, chunks of sultanas and spicy candied ginger, these muffins are a breakfast treat or perfect afternoon snack with black tea and honey. For Christmas morning, I dressed them up with a dairy-free cream cheese frosting and a sprinkle of freshly-grated nutmeg. It was basically cake for breakfast. With several pounds of Hachiya purée in the freezer, I’ll be enjoying these muffins at least into spring 2021.
And that’s a wrap for me! What are your top eats for 2020?
May 4, 2017 § Leave a comment
Weather-wise, things have been just a bit too Seattlesque for my taste this spring. Now that we’ve (hopefully) seen an end to the seemingly endless rainy, grey days, it’s time to get outside and enjoy our fine Bay Area weather.
May is one of my favorite months in the 650, not only because our usually fine weather settles in and days are longer and sunnier — but also because all of our neighborhood farmers’ markets are back in full swing. While we don’t lack for year-round markets in the 650, some neighborhood markets, such as Los Altos, Palo Alto Downtown, and Half Moon Bay close during fall and winter. For those of you who might have been missing your local market, the wait is over!
Here’s the list of markets re-opening in May.
|Market||Opening Date||Market Day|
|Half Moon Bay||May 6, 2017||Saturdays|
|Los Altos, Downtown||May 4, 2017||Thursdays|
|Palo Alto, Downtown||May 13, 2017||Saturdays|
|Pacifica, Rockaway Beach||May 3, 2017||Wednesdays|
|San Mateo, W. 25th Avenue||May 2, 2017||Tuesdays|
|South San Francisco||May 6, 2017||Saturdays|
April and May are a transitional time at the market as we’re seeing the last of “winter” produce, such as root vegetables and citrus, and the arrival of beans, peas, and stone fruit.
If grocery shopping isn’t on your agenda, farmers’ markets are a fun place to grab a meal and enjoy the sunshine while people watching. Just a few examples from my recent visit to the Palo Alto Sunday market on California Avenue: dim sum, grilled meat sandwiches, bahn mi, sushi, and homestyle Mexican dishes with handmade tortillas. There’s something interesting to taste whatever your food preferences.
Need to know which market is when? Following is handy-dandy list of all farmers’ markets in the 650, with 2017 opening dates. Click the market link for more info, such as location, parking, and vendors.
|Belmont||Sunday, 9am – 1pm||Year-Round|
|Daly City, Serramonte Ctr.||Thursday & Sunday,
9am – 1pm
|Half Moon Bay, Shoreline Station||Saturday, 9am – 1pm||May 6 – Dec 21|
|Los Altos, Downtown||Thursday, 4 – 8pm||May 4 – Sep 30|
|Menlo Park||Sunday, 9am – 1pm||Year-Round|
|Millbrae||Saturday, 8am – 1pm||Year-Round|
|Mountain View||Sunday, 9am – 1pm||Year-Round|
|Pacifica, Rockaway Beach||Saturday, 9am – 1pm||May 6 – Dec 21|
|Palo Alto, California Ave.||Sunday, 9am – 1pm||Year-Round|
|Palo Alto, Downtown||Saturday, 9am – 1pm||May 13 –|
|Palo Alto, VA||Wednesday, 10am – 2pm||Apr 12 – Oct 25|
|Redwood City, Kaiser||Wednesday, 10am – 2pm||Apr 5 – Nov 22|
|Redwood City, Downtown||Saturday, 8am – 12pm||April 15 – Nov|
|San Carlos, Laurel Street||Sunday, 10am – 2pm||Year-Round|
|San Mateo, College of SM||Saturday, 9am – 1pm||Year-Round|
|San Mateo, W. 25th Ave.||Tuesday, 4 – 7:30pm||May 2 – Oct 10|
Now get out and support your local food system; meet the people who grow your food and nourish our communities!
Tell me: what is/are your favorite farmers’ market(s) in the 650?
October 15, 2014 § 1 Comment
This past weekend I left the 650 behind and took a little road trip north, heading across the Big Red Bridge to Marin County. With unseasonably hot weather and clear blue skies, you would have thought it was mid-summer, not two weeks away from Halloween; nonetheless, it was perfect road-trip weather. Even the usual 19th Avenue crawl to the bridge had an upside: a sighting of the Blue Angels flying by. Lucky sighting it was, too, as the bridge itself was completely covered in fog. (The Blue Angels made another fly by while I was crossing the bridge, but the fog was so thick that I could only hear the planes.)
First stop and main event of the weekend was Bounty of Marin Organic, a food-and-beverage event/fundraiser at Marin County Mart. Despite the 19th Avenue traffic, I arrived at Marin County Mart half an hour before the event started, giving me time to stop by the event area and say hello to Jan Lee of AppleGarden Farm, who had generously invited me to be her guest at the event.*
Not only do Jan and her husband, Lou, own and operate AppleGarden Farm and AppleGarden Cottage bed and breakfast, but they also produce hand-crafted AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider from organic heritage apples on their property. Phew! Talk about a creative and energetic couple! Welcome hugs and hellos said, I left Jan to prepare for cider tastings, while I headed over to Miette Bakery to
inhale indulge in a macaron or three.
Bounty of Marin Organic kicked off at 5pm with a tasting event that featured about a dozen of Marin County’s finest organic food producers, including Star Route Farms, Gospel Flat Farm, Mindful Meats, and Straus Family Creamery. Tastes included fresh raw oysters from Hog Island and small indulgences of cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, Nicasio Valley Cheese Company, and Tomales Farmstead Creamery. There were also a variety of prepared foods by chefs from local restaurants, such as Saltwater Oyster Bar, Parkside Cafe, and Left Bank Brasserie, who used seasonal products from Marin’s organic farms to create some savory tastes. (The tasting event was followed by a family-style, farm-to-table dinner, created by the food producers and chefs who had participated in the tasting. I didn’t attend the dinner, opting for a light meal at nearby FarmShop instead.)
As the tasting portion of the event kicked off, I started my Marin food “tour” with a glass of Jan’s AppleGarden Farm Hard Cider while we chatted a bit about her business and customers. The cider itself is flavorful, crisp, hardly sweet, and a touch effervescent — what a pleasant surprise! I think the first thing I said to Jan was “It’s not sweet, or too bubbly!” She smiled knowingly and then mentioned that it paired well with oysters (Hog Island was at the table to our left) and cheese (to our right). The fat Hog Island Oysters were calling me, so off I went.
For two hours, I happily tasted some of the best local, organic, and handcrafted food from the northern 415 and western 707 (aka, West Marin), sipping Jan’s cider in between tastes of North Coast biodynamic wines. Here are some the highlights from my Bounty of Marin Organic tasting experience.
Hog Island Sweetwater Oysters
What could be better than freshly shucked local oysters?! Apparently freshly shucked local oysters with a glass of Jan’s cider. Seriously. I’ve been challenged to find a good beverage pairing with oysters, but this could be it for me.
Mindful Meats Brisket
Mindful Meats is a wholesaler that works with organic dairy farmers in Marin and Sonoma counties to source and provide pastured, organic, non-GMO meats. They partnered with Left Bank Larkspur, providing the beef for a Gaucho-Style Braised Beef Brisket with Chimichurri Sauce. The meat was so tender and flavorful, while the sauce added some spice and contrast to the rich meat.
Savory Vegetable Pastry
There were some happy vegetarians in the crowd when they found this crispy, savory treat. Stinson Beach’s Parkside Cafe created a rich, crave-able savory pastry that featured Gospel Flat Farm’s 5-Bean Salad in a croissant-like pastry with crispy exterior. Mmm… crispy, soft, buttery, earthy goodness. To further enhance the deliciousness, you could top the pastry with a spoonful of McEvoy Ranch Olive Tapenade and a sprinkling of sea salt. (Oh yes, I did. And then I went back for seconds.)
Alongside the pastries (which were snapped up almost as soon as they arrived on the table), was a display of Gospel Flat Farm produce used to make the pastries. Need I say it? A great example of farm-to-table creativity.
The table shared by San Francisco-based Boxing Room and local (as in: in the same shopping center as the event) FarmShop Restaurant was pumpkin central. These two restaurants showed just how versatile and tasty pumpkin can be. FarmShop’s contribution was a Pumpkin Hummus with spiced pepitas and pomegranate molasses, served on a house-made lavash. (And, by the way, this can’t-stop-eating-it snack pairs nicely with hard cider. The dryer cider balances and complements the sweetness of the pumpkin and molasses.)
The Boxing Room’s pumpkin soup, on the other hand, was rich with a hint of spice. It’s the kind of soup I’d crave while curled up in bed on a cold, rainy night, but that could be fancy enough for a dinner party. There was already plenty of buzz about “the soup” before I got to try one of the last few samples, and yes, it was worth it.
This event was a fun (and filling!) opportunity to enjoy some of the best food that Marin County has to offer. I love the fact that an organization like Marin Organic exists to support and promote the local, organic and handcrafted products of the area. I’ll be back Marin, I’ll be back!
Have you experienced the bounty of Marin? What did you eat? Local oysters? Organic cheeses? An amazing restaurant meal? Share your Marin food experience!
*Full disclosure: I attended Bounty of Marin Organic as the guest of Jan Lee. My opinions are my own and not provided in exchange for attendance at the event, nor at the request of Marin Organic, Jan Lee, AppleGarden Farm, or any other participants in Bounty of Marin Organic.
September 8, 2014 § 1 Comment
Oof — last week was full of, well, for lack of a better way to summarize: fixin’ stuff. The warranties on the car, household items, and yes, yours truly, are wearing thin. Mechanics, plumbers, and physical therapists are my new BFFs. That’s why, when the weekend finally arrived, I was looking forward to doing whatever was low-key and relaxing.
And yet, the plethora of peppers from my garden were calling me.
They’ve been in cold-storage limbo for the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been trying to find some time to preserve those beauties so that I can enjoy them for a few more months. Finally, with a little free time on my hands this past weekend, I got to it. What better way to get a big sense of accomplishment with small effort than to fire up the grill and roast an assortment of Anchos, sweet reds, and jalapeños!
Roasting the peppers really brings out their flavor and sweetness, and it’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy them. As with slow-roasted tomatoes, roasted peppers complement a wide variety of savory dishes. Some of the ways in which I use roasted peppers:
- Add chopped, roasted sweet red peppers to salads (delish on a Niçoise!)
- Make a quick pasta with strips of roasted anchos, roasted tomatoes, caramelized onions, feta cheese, and olive oil
- Spice up scrambled eggs with roasted jalapeños
- Stuff roasted, peeled Anchos (or poblanos) to make chiles rellenos
Once you’ve roasted and peeled the peppers, you can store them in the refrigerator for about five days, or in the freezer for up to a year.
So, if you’ve got a passel of peppers, and you’ve been wondering how to preserve them, get ready to fire up the grill.
Technique: Roasted Peppers
Below I describe how to roast peppers on an outdoor grill, however, you can also get the same results by roasting peppers over an indoor gas cooktop. (Be sure to place a metal rack over the burner to prevent the peppers from falling into the flame.) Be forewarned: if you decide to roast your peppers indoors, you must have a powerful range hood/fan to suck up the roasty smell and any smoke. Also, peppers can give off sparks or catch fire if you get them too close to the flame, so be careful! If you’re roasting more than a couple of peppers, an outdoor grill is a better solution — faster, safer, and less cleanup.
Brown paper bags (I used lunch bags, aka brown sandwich bags)
Large colander or medium sheet pan
- Heat your grill to about 450 – 500ºF.
- Arrange peppers on the grill and turn the heat down a bit.
Place smaller peppers, such as jalapeños, across the grill’s grating so that they don’t fall through (they’ll soften as they start to cook).
The heat from the grill will roast the pepper, charring and blistering the skin. Timing will vary depending on how well your grill holds heat, outdoor temperature, and the type of pepper. Anchos and jalapeños don’t take as long to roast as the thicker red bells.
- Every five minutes or so, use the tongs to pick up your peppers and check their undersides for blistering and charing.
Once the side touching the grill has blistered and charred, turn the pepper. You’ll need to keep roasting and turning the peppers every five minutes or so.
Repeat until each pepper’s skin is blistered and charred all the way around. You don’t want to burn the peppers, but you want to cook them enough to give them a roasty flavor and easily remove their skins later, when they’re cool.
- Once the peppers are roasted all the way around, they’ll start to deflate or flatten out. Using the tongs, remove them from the heat, and put them in a paper bag, then close the top of the bag.
I put two large peppers and several jalapenos in each bag. The heat and moisture of the peppers creates a steam-room effect, making it easier to remove the skins from the peppers once they’re cool.
- Place the bags of peppers in a colander or on a sheet pan and allow the peppers to cool to room temperature in your kitchen.
- When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove them from the paper bag and peel away their skins.
The easiest way to start peeling is to find a split or blistered spot on the pepper and slowly pull the skin away from the pepper (it’s kind of like pulling the film off the screen of a mobile phone).
As always, I strongly recommend wearing gloves while handling spicy peppers, such as jalapeños. Afterwards, make sure to thoroughly wash your hands, cutting board, any utensils you used when peeling spicy peppers. Don’t touch your eyes, mouth, or other, er, sensitive parts immediately after handling — wash your hands first! Better safe than sorry.
- Stored peeled peppers in container in the refrigerator for up to five days.
You can layer peppers in a single container, placing parchment in between the layers.
- To freeze, place a single layer of peppers in a plastic freezer bag, squeeze out all of the air and place either in a freezer-safe container or directly in the freezer.
Be sure to label your bag or container with the contents and date.
There are other ways to preserve peppers, including drying and smoking. I haven’t attempted smoking yet, but it’s next on my list for the jalapeños! Aside from roasting my Ancho peppers, I’ve also dried a few to use this winter. Simple sun drying on my kitchen window sill takes about three weeks, and then I store the peppers in a plastic bag.
How are you preserving peppers? Have you tried roasting your own yet?
July 23, 2014 § 4 Comments
One of the items on my Summer Bucket List this year is “blackberry picking at a local farm.” Blackberry season here in the Bay Area is rather short, usually running from the end of June until the end of July. If you want to get the best berries (or any berries at all, for that matter), you have to make a point to plan your visit to a u-pick farm. Sure, you can purchase local, organic blackberries at most farmers’ markets — no muss, no fuss — but where’s the fun in that?! If you’re a DIY kinda person, and don’t mind getting your hands dirty (or fingers stained or arms scratched up), then u-pick is a great way to get your hands on the freshest berries around.
Knowing that I was running out of time, and with all kinds of plans for what I might make with the pounds of plump, sweet dark-purple berries I’d pick myself, I decided that last Saturday was The Day. We were having perfect berry-picking weather here in the 650: sunny with a few clouds and temps in the low 70’s. I thought about making the 45-minute drive to Coastaways Ranch in Pescadero, especially as they were about to close their blackberry u-pick for the season, but opted to head over to Webb Ranch in Portola Valley instead. Getting to Webb Ranch would take less time, and they were advertising more varieties of berries. Win-win.
Webb Ranch is family-friendly and well set up for u-pick. Signs point the way to the u-pick parking lot and to the fields’ entrance (look for the white tent where you’ll enter and exit the fields). When I checked in with the ladies at the u-pick entrance before heading out to the fields, they let me know that pickins were slim (sad face). However, there were berries to be had for those pickers willing to search (hint, hint). Undeterred, I grabbed several boxes and headed out.
I saw lots of unripe, red berries on the vines, but the dusky berries I was expecting were few and far between. Anything at eye level was definitely picked over, but there were some berries at ground level. It took some scraped arms and pricked fingers from moving vines to get at those hidden treasures, but I can get a little obsessive when it comes to berry picking. After a while I got into a groove, searching vines in sections, and really just enjoying walking through the fields. I lost track of time, moving from one row to the next, squatting, moving vines (ouch), slipping my hands under leaves (ouch), and occasionally finding a cache of ripe berries, missed by the early-morning pickers.
Lost in my hunt and enjoying the fresh air and warm weather, I started to get this weird feeling. You know that point when you realize that things have gotten really quiet and there’s no one else around? When I finally put my head up and checked the time, yikes! It was past closing time for u-pick and yes, I was actually alone out in the fields. Well, that’s a first. I’ve closed bars and restaurants, but never a berry field. I looked down at my haul. Barely two containers full. Oof.
Fortunately, farmer Deano Lovecchio and his wife, who were (ahem) waiting for me so that they could close up, were nice enough to chat for a few minutes about my picking experience and what’s going on at Webb Ranch. I got the low-down from Deano on what they’ve planted and why, and what’s up with the lack of berries. Basically, it comes down to what Deano called “our weird weather” — cool, foggy mornings in the Portola Valley hills has slowed down the ripening process — along with a lot more of “you folks,” meaning more u-pickers. And this isn’t a bad thing for the farm — more of “us folks” picking means higher demand for their berries and a growth opportunity for the farm. In fact, Deano was telling me about all the additional crops he’s planted for the coming year to support the farm’s growth. (More about that in a future post!)
During my drive home I had a little internal debate as to what I might do with the berries I’d picked. Quantity-wise, things hadn’t worked out as I’d anticipated; I probably ended up with about a pound. But quality-wise: jackpot! These very ripe berries were at their best right now (ok, so I’d taste-tested few while picking…); they were very sweet, flavorful, even a bit jammy tasting, with just a hint of tartness. They wouldn’t be better tomorrow or the next day. That’s the thing about u-pick: you need to be thinking ahead as to what you’ll do with the fruit. How much you can eat or cook now and whether the fruit is sturdy enough for storing for future use. It was pretty clear from the juice leaking into the box holding the berries that these super-ripe babies needed to be enjoyed or cooked right away. I decided to split the difference: eat my fill now and cook the rest into a blackberry syrup that I could enjoy for the next week or two.
Not to be a big tease after all that talk of sweet, ripe berries, but if you’re thinking about getting your blackberries from Webb Ranch, better hurry up! This Saturday, 9am–2pm, is the last chance for blackberry u-pick for the season! Check out their website or Facebook page for the latest updates. And if you do get your hands on some sweet, ripe berries, make up a batch of this versatile syrup!
Recipe: Blackberry Syrup
This syrup is delicious on waffles, homemade vanilla ice cream, or a scoop of Greek yogurt (hint: you don’t need to buy yogurt with fruit added — make your own fruit sauces and syrups). It’s also a great way to use up very ripe, soft, or ugly berries. Note that blackberries, depending on the type, can vary in size from about 1/2-inch to 1-inch, so I recommend weight over volume measurements for consistent results.
Yield: 8 – 9 ounces syrup
What you need:
Small container or bowl to hold the strainer
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup
12 ounces ripe, fresh blackberries, boysenberries, olallieberries (or a combination of any of these)
3 – 4 ounces sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 ounce of water
- Taste your berries.
Seriously, before you go any further, taste several berries to get a good idea of how sweet and/or tart they are. If they’re very sweet with a hint of tartness, start with the minimum amount of sugar (3 ounces) and lemon juice (2 teaspoons). If the berries are more tart than sweet, they’re likely not ripe enough, and you’ll need to add more sugar — up to 3 ounces more.
- Place the berries in the saucepan and add the sugar, lemon juice, and water.
Per your taste test in Step 1, add more sugar and/or lemon juice as necessary. Just to give you an idea of what I did: the berries I used were super-ripe and very sweet, AND I prefer a less-sweet syrup, so I used only 3 ounces of sugar. Next time, I might add another half ounce to see if that brings out the berry flavor a bit more without making the syrup too sweet. If your berries are tasting more tart than sweet, consider adding more sugar.
- Bring the berries, sugar, lemon juice, and water to a boil and reduce the heat.
- Cook for 15-20 minutes over low-medium to medium heat until the mixture has thickened and reduced to about three-quarters of the original amount.
Make sure you’re stirring the mixture regularly and using the rubber spatula to break up the berries in the pot. I press the spatula against the berries until they pop.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing down with the spatula to extract as much liquid as possible.
I haven’t yet figured out a good use for what I call the “smoosh” — the leftover skins and seeds from making the syrup. Got any ideas??
- Taste the syrup and make any final adjustments for sweetness or acidity by adding sugar or lemon juice in small increments.
- Allow to cool. Store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
July 14, 2014 § 4 Comments
Recently, while I was sitting in my home office putting together a post for this blog, I heard my elderly neighbor — the one with the tomatoes — yelling my name as he came across my driveway to the back door. He’d come over to give me a “zucchini” from his garden. Now that both of our gardens are blooming, we’ve started trading. (I’d just traded his daughter a bunch of sage and an over-sized jalapeño pepper for a handful of fresh tomatoes. Talk about “shop local!”)
This zucchini was like none I’d seen before: it was the size of a cantaloupe and about two pounds in weight. Thanks to my cucurbit education at CUESA’s Summer Celebration, I figured out that what he’d given me was a Ronde de Nice, or globe squash (still… it’s a big, round zucchini). I don’t eat much summer squash, so what to do with it was an immediate headscratcher. I thanked him, turned it over a few times feeling the weight, and then put it in my refrigerator until I could figure it out.
When his daughter stopped by a few days later, she was excitedly curious about “the zucchini” — had I cooked it yet?! I had to admit — reluctantly — that I hadn’t, and that I was a little stymied as to how to prepare it. Truthfully, I still had no idea what to do with this thing, so I was, well, avoiding it. Stuffing and baking it seemed like the obvious choice (and she agreed), but the ground beef and cheese version she’d recently made for dinner with her father just didn’t fit my more plant-based diet, which meant that I’d have to come up with a recipe. Cue the interweb searches.
So, the big, round zucchini sat in my refrigerator — at eye level — for almost two weeks. I moved it from the top shelf to the middle, and then back again as I cooked my way through the rest of the produce. (Ugh. I know!) It was a thoughtful gift, and I was running the risk of letting it go the way of so many lost zucchini before it. Sad but true: every once in a while I forget about my hit-or-miss relationship with zucchini, buy some, and then struggle to use it all before it goes slimy. (Yep, eww.)
Finally, as I was contemplating dinner this past weekend, I decided it was time to deal with the big, round zucchini. What was the right way to stuff and cook this thing? I’d have to experiment. Then it hit me: what a great opportunity to use up some leftovers! I had roasted vegetables, brown rice, half an heirloom tomato, some feta — I could come up with something tasty and do it without much prep work. Suddenly this thing I’d been fretting over became a fun dinner project! Cue the aperitif.
I cut the top from the Ronde de Nice and scooped out the interior flesh and seeds. Eek. This thing could feed a family of four. Hmm, the filling I’d planned wouldn’t be quite enough for this cavernous cucurbit. Crap. I’d have to come up with more ingredients for the filling, so I started scavenging the refrigerator.
Fortunately, I’d had a new CSA box delivery two days beforehand, not to mention a few lingering items from the previous CSA box. (Still working on reducing food waste at home!) The beet greens from the previous CSA box were still good, as was the last of the green garlic. Problem solved: sautéed beet greens with garlic and spicy red pepper would round out the filling. I could also finely chop the Ronde de Nice’s cap and add some squash to my er, squash.
For additional texture I threw in some pepitas, and for a bit of creaminess and flavor, I added some olive oil and locally made feta. In the end, I needed about three cups of filling to pack out this baby! When all was said and done, most of the work was chopping and mixing. The only “cooking” I did was sautéing the greens with garlic and red pepper, and that took about seven minutes. The whole thing couldn’t have been easier. Yeah, who knew?
Here’s my version of Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash — a nod to Bastille Day and #MeatlessMonday. Feel free to substitute your own leftover grains, vegetables, and cheeses.
Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
Yield: Serves 2 as a main course; serves 4 as a side dish
Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash (below)
2-pound Ronde de Nice squash (or two 1-pound squashes)
- Preheat oven to 375ºF and lightly oil a deep baking dish or roasting pan.
- Cut the top from the squash.
- Using a dessert spoon, scrape the flesh and seeds from inside the squash, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick “shell.”
Discard the seeds and reserve any remaining flesh for future use.
- Cut some of the cap into 1/4″ pieces for the filling (about 1/3 cup total).
- Make the filling (recipe below).
- Use a towel or paper towel to blot any moisture from inside the squash.
- Stuff squash with filling, slightly mounding the filling at the opening.
If using two smaller squashes, divide filling evenly between the two.
Save any leftover filling for other uses (side dish, salad, topping for vegetarian nachos).
- Place stuffed squash in the prepared baking dish and cover with foil.
- Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking about 15 minutes longer until squash is al dente or slightly soft, depending on your preference.
Filling for Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash
If using a 2-pound squash, you’ll need about 3 cups of filling. Feel free to increase or decrease amounts or substitute ingredients, depending on your taste.
2/3 cup cooked brown rice
1/2 cup chopped roasted carrots and onions (¼” pieces)
1/2 cup chopped tomato (¼” pieces)
3/4 cup cooked corn
1/3 cup chopped squash from the cap or flesh
1/2 bunch greens (kale, beet, radish), sautéed with garlic and crushed red pepper
1½ tablespoons toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped or snipped into ¼” pieces
½ – 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
- Add to prepared squash as described above.
July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments
Time for the monthly progress report on my little edible garden! (Actually this post should have appeared last week, but the 4th of July holiday delayed things a bit.) We’re about 9 weeks along at this point, for those of you playing the home game. Lots of sunshine and more than a few hot days in June really got the tomatoes and peppers going, but put an end the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix lettuces. Herbs — both sweet and savory — are thriving, which means it’s time for harvest! Read on for more details and photos.
First up, the peppers and tomato plant are definitely rockin’ — check out this photo:
Remember, these babies were about 4 inches tall when they went into the planting boxes. Today, they range from 30-48″ tall, with no signs of slowing down.
Purple Jalapeño Peppers
Honestly, I bought this plant for the novelty, figuring if it grew, “fine.” If not, oh well. What a wonderful surprise it’s turned out to be! Healthy and hearty since planting, it’s now about 30 inches tall. The delicate purple flowers are so lovely, and the resulting black-purple fruit is really striking against the green foliage.
A few of the older peppers have matured during the past week, transitioning through a range of intense colors from black-purple to purple-red to magenta, and finally to a deep scarlet. (The fruit actually starts out green with purple shading when small, and then turns completely dark purple as it grows.) I’m thinking about using them for an infused tequila or syrup for cocktails. Gotta plan ahead: National Tequila Day is coming up on July 24!
Unfortunately, the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well. The plant is growing and spreading — it’s now about 36″ tall — but during the first and second flowerings, most of the blossoms died off. There are a couple of 3-inch peppers near the base of the plant from the first flowering, which are probably ready for harvest. Otherwise, I’ve seen some new baby-thumb-sized green nubbins appearing in the past couple of weeks, but there’s not much to photograph. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.
Ancho Chili Peppers
Like the purple jalapeños, the anchos are going gangbusters! This baby really blossoms in heat — literally. After the first round of hot days in early June, the plant was full of creamy white blossoms, and most of those have turned into peppers! I lost one pepper to a bit of mold/rot, but the rest are a luscious, shiny green. The peppers on the lower part of the plant are from the first flowering, and should be ready for harvest later this month. I’m looking forward to an August filled with chiles rellenos!
Sweet Red Peppers
This plant has been slow to start, and like the ancho, really thrives in the hotter temperatures. Oddly enough, the plant itself hasn’t grown much; it’s only about 18 inches tall. Right now it’s filled to capacity with peppers that have just blown up in the past two weeks. With a long maturity time (90 days), I don’t expect to see any red peppers until late August.
Tomato plants can be touchy — my neighbor has already lost a couple this year, despite all of his experience and attention. Fortunately, my friend Jill had some helpful advice that I took to heart for my Indigo Apple plant: lots of water and remember to fertilize. The tallest and widest of my nightshades, that little 4-inch start is now about 4 feet tall!
Like the purple jalapeño, the Indigo Apple tomato starts out green, turns purple (more violet than indigo so far), then red at maturity. Maturity is about 75 days, so the fruit from the first flowering should be ready in August — maybe the end of July, if we have another round of hot days.
Oh, my poor lettuces! Unfortunately, I let the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix stay in the ground too long, and they bolted during the 90-degree days. What’s “bolting”? It’s when the lettuce throws up center stalk, preparing to go to seed. It’s the lettuce’s way of saying: I’m done, outtie, see ya. The leaves become bitter, and all you can do is pull the head and replant.
It was a newbie mistake not to harvest entire heads sooner, but the great thing about lettuce is that the maturity is only about 28 days, so there’s plenty of time for a do-over. I planted three new varieties a couple of weeks ago.
I’m planning to try an early harvest this time around, taking more baby leaves than I did with the Little Gems.
The herbs are doing really well, but admittedly, they’re low maintenance. Water, sunshine, the occasional cutting, and they’re good. The spearmint and lemon verbena are flowering, which means that it’s time to cut some back so that I can get another harvest or two this season. It’s also time to start planning for preserving them for use in the fall and winter.
So, that’s the latest here in the 650! How is your garden growing? Are you preserving yet, or just enjoying the experience of eating garden-to-table?
Want to see how my garden has grown up? Flash back to the post in which I commit to creating my own edible garden and get all the nitty-gritty details of how I did it. Follow the progress of the first month and find out how my 4-inch plant starts fared — plant porn included, of course.
June 19, 2014 § 5 Comments
The recent hot, hot days have kicked off the ripening process for stone fruit trees here in the 650. The 75-year-old apricot tree in my backyard is heavy with pale-orange, blush-kissed fruit. Every morning for the past week, I’ve stood under that tree, looking up and pondering which small treasures to pick for the day. Which will be fragrant and ripe, and which should stay put for a few more days?
And if that weren’t happiness enough, my neighbor’s front-yard plum tree is dropping warm, juicy red-purple fruit right onto the sidewalk. Other neighbors stop by late in the day to pick up a few with their kids or while taking the evening constitutional with their dogs. The calendar might say that it’s still spring, but it feels like midsummer already.
Why do a couple of old fruit trees give me such a thrill? Maybe it’s the history — the fact that these trees have been part of the neighborhood since, well, since the houses were built 75 years ago. It’s nice to see a little of the peninsula’s past still in place here and there. I’m not exactly the tree-hugging type, but I can’t help but be impressed by the hardiness of these trees, whose branches are laden with fruit every year! They thrive without much more help from us than an annual pruning and some water. (Or in my case, almost no water, as the drip system in my yard is on the fritz.) Local and organic? Oh yeah.
I think, more than anything, it’s the sensory experience of summer fruit that I love. The colors are so beautiful and vibrant! Apricots range from yellow with pale green (unripe) to orange-pink, some with a freckling or blush of red (ripe).
Plums are deep red when less ripe, becoming red-purple with a bloom of blue when ripe.
Then there’s the scent of ripe fruit, which is like perfume: honeyed, floral, complex. (Smelling the stem end of an apricot or plum with get your mouth watering, if the fruit is ripe.) And the flavor is equally complex — sweet and slightly tart at the same time.
Apricots and plums have a short season, which is another reason that they’re so special. Unlike berries, which we’re seeing almost year-round, apricots and plums are best in summer when they’re sun-ripened and ready for harvest. If you have the good fortune to have an apricot or plum tree in your yard, then you know that these fruits are best when harvested fresh from the tree and eaten, canned, or frozen within a couple of days. Unripe fruit can be kept at room temperature and will soften, but won’t get sweeter (it needs heat and sun for that). I don’t recommend storing apricots or plums in the refrigerator, as they tend to get “mealy.” My best advice for tree-ripened apricots and plums: use ’em or lose ’em.
Need some ideas?
- Slice apricots or plums into salads: Fresh greens, local goat cheese, and toasted almonds for a tasty lunch; add grilled chicken or tofu if you need a protein
- Add a teaspoon or two of simple syrup infused with lemon verbena to one cup of diced apricots for a quick dessert or snack
- Mix two teaspoons of simple syrup with 1 cup of sliced plums, and serve with vanilla ice cream or almond-milk sherbet for a simple, elegant dessert
One of my favorite summer desserts is fruit crisp; it’s a homey and not-fancy-at-all dish that I can eat for days. (What’s a fruit crisp? It’s a dessert of baked fruit with a crispy topping made from flour, butter, and sugar. Topping variations can include oatmeal and/or nuts.) It’s also oh-so-simple to make! About a dozen years ago, Fine Cooking magazine published their “formula” for fruit crisps. I’ve hung on to that issue (#51); it’s provided me with inspiration for creative summer-fruit crisps, year after year.
I don’t typically make crisps with fall fruit; fruit crisps are mostly a summer dessert in my house. The first crisp of the summer is kind of a thing around here — it’s the kick off to summer dessert making. My first crisp of the summer this year is an Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping. (Yep, plums would have been fabulous in this crisp, but pluots arrived in my CSA box last week, and, well, I needed to use ’em or … you know.)
The fruit filling for the crisp is a combination of:
- 2 pounds of sliced fruit
- 4 tablespoons of sugar
- The seeds of 1 vanilla bean
- 1 tablespoon of cornstarch combined with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice to thicken the fruit juices as the crisp bakes
The crisp topping is the “marzipan” from Apricot and Marzipan Tart in Ripe for Dessert by David Lebovitz. The topping mixture combines almond paste, flour, brown sugar, and sliced almonds.
Per Fine Cooking‘s tip for keeping the crisp, er, crispy, I sprinkle half of the crisp topping over the fruit and bake for 20 minutes, then add the remaining half and bake for another 15-20 minutes — et voila!
Crisps are great for dinner parties, barbeques, even brunches. Serve the crisp warm or at room temperature with ice cream, whipped cream, or non-dairy frozen dessert flavored with almond or vanilla (think: sherbet or sorbet made with a plant-based milk). Should you happen to have leftover crisp, stash some for breakfast. Trust me on this one; you can thank me later. Eat it cold with a dollop of greek yogurt — although it’s really tasty just plain, too. Want to reheat your crisp? Do it in a 325ºF oven for about 10 minutes. Reheating in the microwave makes the topping soggy — you don’t want that.
My favorite way to eat fresh fruit crisp? With a spoon, right out of the baking dish, of course! Have you made fruit crisps? What’s your go-to summer fruit dessert?
May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment
As we’re heading into the last weekend of May, it’s time for the first update on my attempt to grow food. After just about a month, my little garden is flourishing! To date everything I planted is thriving, and much to my surprise, the lettuce is overflowing the planting boxes.
As a comparison, here’s what they looked like when I planted them four weeks ago. Amazing what good organic soil, sunshine, water, and a little TLC can do!
Just this week I’ve started harvesting the outer leaves for small salads, pulling only what I need from the garden. I hope I can keep this going through the summer — continuing to harvest leaves as I need them, without having to harvest entire heads of lettuce that might go to waste.
I’ve also (cautiously) started snipping the tops of the chives, for the occasional garnish. If they continue to thrive, I might get a bit more aggressive and really give them a haircut. The sage is popping, too, so it might be time to pull some leaves and fry them up. (No, it doesn’t matter what you put them on — fried sage leaves are delicious! Ideas? Try them with sausage and pasta or grilled swordfish with olive oil or roasted veggies with brown rice…)
The peppers and tomato plants are taking their own sweet time, but they do have a longer growth time (75-90 days) compared to the lettuces and herbs (30-60 days). The anchos are the frontrunners right now, with three peppers, while the purple jalapenos are a close second.
If you’re thinking about starting a garden, it’s not too late! Lettuces are much easier to grow than I ever imagined, and they give an abundant return for your time and effort. Peppers are sturdy and do well in containers — but you need some patience because they do take up to three months to really produce. Tomatoes do amazingly well in the 650 — my plant start was four inches tall with no flowers a month ago, and now it’s almost 24″ tall with lots of flowers (which means, if all goes well, fruit will follow!).
You can check out how I put my little garden together here. The post also includes resources for more gardening info.
So what’s this all leading to? Hopefully a summer of creative, simple meals made of local ingredients. Just to give you an idea of how you can “eat local,” at home, here’s a simple meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients:
The run-on, menu-style description: Baked west-coast halibut, topped with Nut ‘n Bean Jalapeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese “sauce,” and chives, served with late-spring rainbow salad. The salad brings together lettuces from my garden, carrots and beets from my CSA delivery, a sprinkling of feta from Marin, and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice (yes, from local lemons). With the exception of the fish and the olive oil, every ingredient on this plate comes from within 85 miles of where I live. How cool is that?!
Of course, you can vary the protein based on your budget and diet (chicken or tofu could work, too), and the salad fixin’s based on what’s available in your garden or market. The point here is that it’s so easy it is to create a good, fresh dish from local ingredients. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to cook something like that.” Au contraire! Halibut takes 13-14 minutes to bake; other fish or proteins might time a little more or less time. During that time, you can wash, chop, and assemble the salad ingredients. Overall, figure about 30 minutes to prep and assemble a meal like this.
The best way to enjoy a meal like this in the 650? Grab a chilled bottle of wine (or some homemade sangria), your favorite people, and head to the back yard for some nice al fresco dining. What more could you ask for this weekend?
May 27, 2014 § 1 Comment
The Downtown Farmers’ Market in Palo Alto is one of my favorite weekend markets in the 650. It’s a small market, but with an abundant selection of local produce and hand-crafted foods. For many years it was my go-to market on Saturday mornings from spring through late fall. During the Gâteau et Ganache years, my first stop was always Full Belly Farm for organic lemon verbena and peppermint for Gâteau et Ganache’s spring/summer collection bonbons, and then Green Oaks Creek Farm for sweet, juicy strawberries. If there was time, I’d run by Blue Heron for baby lettuces and broccoli, just to be sure that I had some fresh dinner food for the week.
Now that I’m getting a regular CSA delivery, and my little garden is starting to flourish, fresh food is basically on my doorstep. I don’t need to get out to farmers’ markets as often, and yet, that’s still where I want to be on a weekend morning. There’s something about a sunny spring or summer weekend morning that just about requires spending some time at a farmers’ market — admiring beautiful, fresh produce, chatting with food producers, and fantasizing about new dishes to make at home. Maybe farmers’ markets are for cooks what music stores are to musicians: a place full of possibilities.
This past Saturday I was up at the crack-of-way-too-early-for-a-holiday-weekend, but with good reason: I was waiting for the delivery of my new dishwasher. (Yay, no more resetting the breaker to make the machine go! No more re-washing dishes that didn’t get clean the first time!) Fortunately, the delivery guys arrived on time and completed the installation by mid-morning. Perfect timing to head to Palo Alto to get my market fix. With no shopping list and no schedule, I was able to just wander the market, enjoying the experience. Here are some of the highlights.
Eat the Rainbow
Color was everywhere — fruits, vegetables, flowers — and it felt like summer already! Full Belly had a pretty display of lettuces, rainbow chard, and kale. Gorgeous? Sure — and good for you, too. If you need any incentive to eat more veggies, here ya go:
Fresh herbs can make the difference between an ok dish and something really flavorful and special. Lemon verbena (one of my favorites!), rosemary, oregano, and chives — just for starters — are plentiful right now. Full Belly and Coke Farm had good assortments of fresh, organic herbs.
There’s a Mulberry Guy
The Mulberry Guy has taken over the spot where Green Oaks Creek used to be. *sigh* I really miss those strawberries, but hey… mulberries? That’s new and intriguing. Unfortunately, I arrived after the mulberries had already sold out (turns out they’re really popular and had sold out within the first hour or so of the market opening), but stayed to chat with business owner Kevin Lynch. I love the story of this business: the mulberries are grown locally — within a mile of the market location — and like most small food businesses, it’s a labor of love. Talk about Grow Local — Buy Local — Eat local! If you’re a fan of mulberries or just want to know more, clicky on over to themulberryguy.com.
Hail Her Coconess
One of the cool things (for me) about spending time at the Palo Alto Farmer’s Market is getting to visit with other artisan food producers. I met Shelly Seward, creator-owner of Her Coconess Confections, several years ago at the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon, when we were both exhibiting at the show. Shelly hand-produces award-winning, classic treats such as Rocky Road and Salted Caramels in a facility in Belmont and sells them throughout the Bay Area. (Yep, that’s right — Her Coconess is home-grown in the 650!) In case you’re wondering: yes, there are samples. Be sure to try ’em. Want to know more about Her Coconess? Check out the website.
After some sweet samples and catching up with Shelly, I stepped “next-door” to visit Nut ‘n Bean to try something more savory. Nut ‘n Bean is a young Hayward-based business making nut butters, dips, and spreads. While chatting with co-owner Katie Griffin, I tried the Blueberry Almond and Orange Honey Cashew nut butters. Both were delish, with a nice balance between the toasted nut and fresh fruit flavors, without being too sweet (Katie says the nut butters have very little added sugar). Knowing that I still had a few nut other butters in the fridge at home, I moved on to try the Chipotle Lime Almond Dip and the Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese. Oh. My. Yes, please!
The Chipotle Lime Almond Dip has the consistency of a whipped cream cheese, with a nice nutty, smoked-pepper flavor that’s got just the right amount of spice. It’s perfect with rice crackers and sweet potato corn chips (or, erm, a spoon, right out of the container). The Jalepeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese has a softer, more sauce-like consistency, and while it works as a dip, is fabulous as a sauce on grilled wild salmon (or seared tofu or baked chicken or…). Nut ‘n Bean has a serious product line, and something for every taste and diet. Vegan? Paleo? Gluten-free? You’ll love Nut ‘n Bean. Check ’em out at the market or online.
Overall, a fun trip to the market. And yes, I came home with enough food to make plenty of dirty dishes and try out my new dishwasher — booyah!
What: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market
Where: Gilman Street & Hamilton Avenue
Directions: Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market website
Saturdays, mid-May through mid-December: 8am-12pm
Parking: Street and nearby lots