My Five Favorite Eats in 2020

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. 

Boquerones

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.

boquerones
Boquerones with fennel, arugula, and gluten-free pasta

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.

tomato and burrata salad
Chef Simona Oliveri’s Tomato and Burrata Salad

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.

Sushi Shin 15-piece box
Sushi Shin’s 15-piece nigiri

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.

Pluerry Compote

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.)

pluerries in box
Ten pounds of organic pluerries from Kashiwase Farms

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.

spicy ginger and persimmon muffins
Spiced persimmon and ginger 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?

To Market, To Market

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.

market-collage

What’s in the market now: Palo Alto California Avenue market, Spring 2017

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.

dim-sum-notcenter

Dim Sum on a sunny Sunday

P1100197

Because: meat

masa

Fresh masa for handmade tortillas

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.

City/Market Market Day(s) Open
Belmont Sunday, 9am – 1pm Year-Round
Daly City, Serramonte Ctr. Thursday & Sunday,
9am – 1pm
Year-Round
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?support-small-farms

Weekend Recipe: Seasonal Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Goat Cheese

October 3, 2015 § Leave a comment

It’s a fine line between the end of summer and beginning of fall here in the 650. Our warm, sunny days might continue right up until Thanksgiving, making you wonder how the holidays came up so quickly. The clues are there: leaves turning from bright green to brown and vibrant red (but slowly, not all at once), shorter days, and a change in the way the sunlight comes in my kitchen window… more golden in color, but not as bright or strong as during the summer.

You see it in the markets, too, of course. Summer produce is mostly finished by October 1, although in good years you’ll still see strawberries lingering for a few more weeks. Stone fruit is long gone, as are blueberries and the second flush of figs. Apples, pears, and persimmons have made their way into the market. Even the concord grapes have come and gone.

I’m now doing the happy dance for the efforts I made to preserve food during those crazy hot days of summer: the jars of jam that have taken over most of a large kitchen cabinet, not to mention the roasted tomatoes, beets, and peppers that have filled my freezer. I’m a little wistful to see summer go; it’s definitely my favorite food season.

Back in early June, after visiting Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, I put together what I thought of as the quintessential 650 summer salad: mixed baby greens with edible flowers from Fifth Crow Farm, topped with strawberries (also from Fifth Crow Farm), Blenheim apricots from my backyard, and Harley Farm’s Honey Lavender Chèvre.

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy chèvre

Local Summer Salad: My backyard apricots, Fifth Crow Farms greens and berries, Harley Goat Farms Dairy Chèvre

By the time I made the second visit to Harley Farms in late August to pick up more Honey Lavender Chèvre, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make that same salad again until next year. My backyard apricot tree was bare, as the harvest ended at the beginning of July, and Fifth Crow Farm’s tender baby greens with edible flowers weren’t showing up in my CSA box. Instead, they’d been placed by spinach and baby kale. (Not that I’m complaining, by any means. That’s the beauty of eating seasonally, new things just keep coming!) *sigh* It was a nice little dish, that salad, and I look forward to making it again next June, when those Blenheims are ripe and sweet. In the meantime, there were other salad variations with which to enjoy that luscious goat cheese from Harley Farms.

What follows is the original Pescadero-inspired salad from early summer. If you can still get good strawberries now, go ahead and make it, substituting sweet-tart apples or even fuyu persimmons for the apricots. Otherwise, you can squirrel it away for next year, when strawberries and apricots hit the market in early summer. If we’re well into fall by the time you read this, then scroll on down to the bottom of the page for a seasonal variation.

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Summer)
2 Servings
I believe in improvising when making salads — use whatever you’ve got and assemble the ingredients according to your taste. There’s no measuring, and you can’t really go wrong, as long as you’re using fresh ingredients that you enjoy. I’ve approximated the measurements for two servings, but feel free to adjust to your taste and appetite.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic baby greens salad mix with edible flowers
3 – 4 medium organic Blenheim apricots, rinsed and sliced into eighths (Early fall version: substitute thinly sliced sweet-tart apples, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl)
8 – 10 medium organic strawberries, rinsed, stemmed, hulled, and sliced into quarters
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper

How to:

  1. Split the ingredients between two bowls or dinner plates. Place the greens on the dish first, then top with slices of fruit, arranging the pieces evenly.
  2. Drizzle olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice over each salad.
  3. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
  4. Top with crumbled goat cheese.
    Wine pairing suggestion: French-style rosé
    plate-top-view

Salad of Greens, Fruit, and Honey Lavender Goat Cheese (Fall)
The roasted carrots in this autumn version of the salad add a sweet-savory-earthy component that works surprisingly well with the honey lavender goat cheese. If you’re feeling adventurous, toss in some roasted fennel, which plays well with both the apple and the carrot.

Ingredients:

3 – 4 cups Fifth Crow Farms organic mixed lettuces, spinach, or a combination, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 medium sweet-tart apple, such as Honeycrisp or Pink Pearl, cut into thin slices
2 – 3 medium roasted carrots, cut into chunks
2 – 3 tablespoons honey lavender goat cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
Organic lemon juice
Salt and Pepper
Optional: Chopped toasted pecan pieces to finish the salad

How to:

  1. Follow instructions for the summer salad version for assembly.
  2. Wine-pairing suggestion: California chardonnay

Weekend Cocktail: Orange Margarita

May 8, 2015 § Leave a comment

College friends of mine get together every summer for an annual birthday party. Well, not just a birthday party. The birthday party is the capper on a week-long reunion at a low-key vacation spot (think: Bend, OR or Cape Cod, MA). What started out as a lobster-and-Freixenet dinner party in a college fraternity house (more than a few) years ago has morphed into a yearly vacation tradition that includes spouses, kids, and friends joining in for a week of hanging out, cooking together, and competitive games of bridge.

The birthday party location varies every year, switching from right coast to left to accommodate East Coasters and West Coasters equally. I attended a few of the West Coast birthday parties in the decade or so after graduating university. In the early years, most of us were just fresh out of school and settling into apartments and careers. Some of us were in serious relationships. Some were not. There were no kids, no bedtimes, and probably more cocktails than cooking. (And wine. Lots of wine.) People slept on the floor. Clothing was lost. Long-running inside jokes were born. And we ate and drank well. The food was always plentiful and fresh, especially the birthday party dinner, which consisted of a spread of seafood (lobster was the star), salad, and sides, and of course: cake.

The guys handled the organization of the event, the cooking, and the beverages. My friend Jon took on bartender duties at more than one of these events. Unfortunately, my favorite cocktail — the margarita — was not his specialty (sorry Jon). Ever the excellent host, he was willing to make it right. “You know what this needs?” he asked enthusiastically, and then without waiting for me to answer: “Orange juice!” No. No, it really didn’t. But to this day it makes me laugh to think about it. One of those small, but memorable moments from a long time ago.

Flash forward to this year’s day of margaritas: Cinco de Mayo. I’ve been thinking about revamping my standard House Margarita to create an organic version using my new favorite tequila (Casa Noble Añejo). The first idea was to replace the Cointreau, which has a heavy alcohol taste, with the organic, lower-alcohol, sweeter Greenbar Distillery Organic Orange liqueur.

Important safety tip: it’s not a one-to-one replacement when it comes to orange liqueurs. Because the Greenbar liqueur is sweeter than Cointreau, I had to adjust the acidity of the cocktail. So, then how to coax out the orange flavor of the liqueur and adjust the acidity without the lime taking over, while letting the chocolate and caramel flavors of the tequila shine through? Good ol’ trial and error.

After a few rounds of testing different amounts of lime juice and adding some rich simple syrup to balance the acidity, something was still missing: more orange flavor. So there I am on Cinco de Mayo thinking how do I add some true orange flavor and sweetness plus some acidity, without making things too lime-y? And then it hit me: You know what this needs? Orange juice. No kidding. (Thanks Jon.)hero-1

Recipe: Orange Margarita
Yield: 1 cocktail
Not your classic margarita, this one brings the orange flavor forward, while downplaying the lime and letting the unique flavor of the tequila shine through on the finish. You can vary the sweetness by increasing or decreasing the amount of rich simple syrup. For an all-organic cocktail, choose organic limes and oranges, if possible.

You’ll need a double old-fashioned or highball glass, cocktail shaker, shot glass with measurement markings or measuring spoons, and ice.

Ingredients:

2 ounces Casa Noble Añejo organic tequila
¾ ounce Fruitlab Organic Orange Liqueur
1 ounce freshly squeezed orange juice
½ ounce freshly squeezed lime juice (Tip: Zest the lime before juicing; set aside zest for Lime Salt)
¼ ounce rich simple syrup (recipe below)

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

Start your weekend off right: Five ingredients to a fresh Orange Margarita

For the glass:

Lime wedge
Thin round of lime
Lime salt (recipe below)

Note that I’ve given the ingredients in ounces. If you’re using measuring spoons:
2 ounces = 4 tablespoons
1 ounce = 2 tablespoons
¾ ounce= 1½ tablespoons
½ ounce = 1 tablespoon

How to:

  1. Prepare the glass.
    Pour the Lime Salt onto a small plate. Run a wedge of lime around the rim of the glass, then turn the glass upside down and dip into the Lime Salt. (You’re trying to get the salt mixture to adhere to the outer rim of the glass). Set aside.
  2. Combine tequila, orange liqueur, juices, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with four or five cubes of fresh ice.
  3. Shake 4 – 5 times (not vigorously) to combine and pour into a prepared glass.
  4. Float a thin round of lime in the glass for garnish.hero-2

Recipe: Lime Salt
Ingredients:

Zest of one lime
¾ teaspoon kosher salt

How To:

  1. Preheat oven to 250° F.
  2. Line a small baking tray with parchment paper. Spread the zest on the baking tray and place into preheated oven to dry for 5-6 minutes, stirring and tossing halfway through to ensure even drying.

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

    Fresh lime zest, ready for drying

  3. Remove from oven and allow to cool.
  4. When zest is cool, place in a small bowl. Break the zest into smaller pieces, approximately the same size as kosher salt grains, by rubbing it between your thumb and forefinger or crushing with a pestle.
    You want to create something that looks like crushed — but not powdered — zest. 
  5. Combine the crushed zest with the kosher salt.
  6. Set aside until you’re ready to make the cocktail.

Recipe: Rich Simple Syrup
Yield: About 6 ounces syrup
Rich simple syrup has twice as much sugar as water, resulting in a thicker syrup with more sweetening power than regular simple syrup. If you can, use organic, fair-trade sugar as it has a richer flavor than refined white sugar. Adding a few drops of lemon juice to the mixture will minimize crystallization during storage.

What you need:

1-quart saucepan
Rubber spatula
Glass or plastic container with lid for storing the syrup

Ingredients:

4 ounces sugar
2 ounces water
A few drops of lemon juice

How to:

  1. Combine the sugar, water, and lemon juice in a saucepan and place on the stove top.
  2. Give the ingredients a stir and heat just until the sugar has melted and small bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and allow the syrup to cool to room temperature.
  4. Refrigerate syrup in a closed container. Store up to three weeks.

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