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

#TBT: What I Did This Summer

September 24, 2015 § 8 Comments

We’re back — and throwin’ it back for #TBT! Betcha thought 650Food had drifted away to the Land of Forgotten Blogs, but not so my friends! Way back in June I made the decision to take the summer off for a much-needed and long-overdue creative and lifestyle reboot. (On the blogging front, it’s hard to know how/when to announce this sort of thing. So rather than hang a virtual “Gone Fishing” sign on the blog, I thought it better to just leave things open in the event that I ended my hiatus sooner than, well, now.)

As a solopreneur and long-time Boss of Me, I’ve been notoriously bad at taking time off, regrouping, and recharging. For years “time off” has really meant working double-time before or after, just to make up for the time off. So, if you do the math on that, there’s no actual time off. And the guilt — oh, the guilt! It’s a Greek chorus of “You should be…” following me everywhere I go. Yeah. Over time, that sort of thing takes its toll on your health and your creativity. Especially here in the Bay Area, we’re so worked up about, er, work, and being busy that we don’t make time to take vacations, see friends, or even sit down to a slow, comfortable dinner at home.

It occurred to me that all of our “busy” and “not enough time” is self-inflicted. (And I’m not pointing fingers here. I’m the first to ‘fess up that my overworking and overscheduling is down to me and no one else.) It’s the choices we make about how we spend our time, coupled with a sense of obligation that leads to this feeling of being overwhelmed. I’ve been there enough times to know. And I’ve seen it affect the physical and mental health of friends and family — more and more as the years go by. I don’t think this is the way we’re meant to live. Taking a break allows you to breathe, get perspective, and hopefully regain the experience of enjoying your days, not rushing through them.

My “what I did this summer” story isn’t some epic Eat, Pray, Love experience; I didn’t eat my way through a Grand Tour of Europe or run off to a yoga retreat in Costa Rica. In fact, most of my exploring happened close to home, and the farthest I ventured out of the 650 was to my parents’ place in rural Ohio. Mostly, I sought to savor every day — whether that meant researching a food-related topic for an article or blog post, spending time catching up with friends, or finally visiting local landmarks (Filoli Mansion & Gardens: check!). Of course, local food played a big part in how I spent my summer off. Following are some of the highlights of my summer; I’ll be writing about some of these experiences as part of #TBT in the coming weeks.

Jammin’
Jam making is one of those sweet-kitchen skills that wasn’t covered in my culinary school program. It’s something I’ve wanted to learn for years, but was afraid to try for fear of (1) screwing it up and (2) botulizing myself or someone else. This summer I dug in, did my research, and turned about 50 pounds of fruit (booyah!) into jam. Really good jam. Guess what everyone is getting for Christmas this year?

Homemade Backyard Apricot-Lime Jam

Homemade Backyard Apricot-Lime Jam

Harley Farms Goat Dairy Visit
Early in the summer I took a day trip down the coast to Pescadero to check out their local food scene. The  folks at Harley Farms Goat Dairy make some delicious, award-winning goat-milk cheese: ricotta, fromage blanc, and (my favorite) chevre with honey and lavender. Located just past downtown Pescadero, it’s worth a visit. The gardens are beautiful, and the goats are adorable. You can buy the farm’s products on site and picnic nearby.

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Harley Farms Goat Dairy in Pescadero, CA

Central Coast Food Tour
When I initially started thinking about a California road trip, I was focused on visiting historical sites — Hearst Castle, the missions, and so on. And yet, somehow my Central Coast trip became all about the food. From the Thursday night Downtown SLO Farmers’ Market to Ruddell’s Smoked Salmon Tacos in Cayucos, I pretty much ate my way through San Luis Obispo county.

From the coast to San Luis Obispo, SLO county has some delicious eats!

From the coast to San Luis Obispo, SLO county has some delicious eats!

Local Lunches
There’s something really indulgent about a leisurely weekday lunch, especially if there’s wine involved. With its fresh, made-to-order food, sangria, and friendly service, Mama Coco Cucina Mexicana in Menlo Park became one of my go-to spots.

Fresh, home-style Latin food at Mama Coco Cucina in Menlo Park

Fresh, home-style Latin food at Mama Coco Cucina in Menlo Park

CSA Open House at Fifth Crow Farm
If you’ve been following the blog for the past (eep!) almost two years, you know that I’m a strong advocate of knowing the source of your food. Know what you’re buying, where it was grown — and better yet, meet the person who made that food. This past spring I switched my CSA from a larger organization, to the 650’s own Fifth Crow Farm in Pescadero. What better way to support the local food system and a growing small business? When the Fifth Crow folks announced the CSA-subscriber open house, lunch, and farm tour in August, there was no way I was missing it.

A day on the farm: Fifth Crow Farm's CSA Open House

A day on the farm: Fifth Crow Farm’s CSA Open House

That’s my summer summary. What about you? Share your “what I did this summer” stories and food memories in the comments below.

Waste-Less Wednesday: Getting the Most from Summer Fruit

June 17, 2015 § Leave a comment

Ever feel like you’re in a race to keep ahead of food waste at home — particularly during the summer? Summer, for all of its wonderful bounty of fresh produce from CSA boxes, farmers’ markets, and home gardens, also presents a challenge: how to make the most of the fruits and vegetables that come into your home before they get too soft, wilty, or (ugh) moldy? With the drought continuing here in California, it seems more important than ever to use up what comes into the kitchen, rather than letting it any of it go to waste.

I seem to be managing the vegetables so far (salads — lots of salads with an array of lettuces — paired with roasted vegetables like fennel and carrots), but the fruit is another story. Between glossy, large, bright-red strawberries from Fifth Crow Farms and an abundance of quickly ripening backyard apricots and long-lingering lemons, I’ve got more than my fair share of fruit — and with it a small case of FOMO. I mean…What if I don’t make the most of that fresh, seasonal fruit while I can?

Santa Rosa Plums

Neighborhood plums in the 650

If you’re struggling with the idea of not enjoying all of that fruit while it’s fresh, ease up. The beauty of eating seasonally is that you get to look forward to that bounty and really appreciate it while the food is available — when it’s at the peak of flavor and freshness. But you also have the option to preserve that fruit for later enjoyment, too. So, here’s your cheat sheet for enjoying summer fruit now and later. From proper storage to freezing to (yes, you can!) making jams and preserves, here are some ways to reduce summer fruit waste at home.

Optimal Storage
I try to get as much life out of my fruit as possible, which starts with storing it appropriately. First thing to know: different summer fruits have different storage needs. More important is that not every piece of fruit has to (or should be) stored in the refrigerator. After many years of trial and error, here’s how I’m storing summer fruit.

  • Berries: Don’t wash until you’re ready to use them. To store, line a plastic or glass storage container with paper towel. Arrange the berries in a single layer on the paper towel, cover with a well-fitting lid, and store on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Soft berries (raspberries, blackberries, etc.) will last a few days at most. I’ve been able to keep strawberries and blueberries this way for up to 10 days, but typically have to replace the paper towel and wipe down the interior of the storage container to remove condensation every 3-4 days.
  • Stone Fruit: Again, I don’t wash stone fruit until I’m ready to use it. Store ripe fruit in a single layer in a dish or on a sheet pan at room temperature and use or freeze it within 2-3 days. Storing stone fruit in the refrigerator results in an unpleasant, mealy texture, so don’t do it. (Note: Cherries are the exception! Store cherries in a closed container or ziplock bag in the refrigerator to extend their lifespan.)
  • Citrus: Wash, dry, and store at room temperature in a dish or bowl if you’re going to use them within 2 days. Otherwise, store in a ziplock bag (with the air pressed out) in coldest part of the refrigerator (usually the bottom shelf or crisper drawer). I’ve kept citrus this way for up to three months.

Freezing
Already know that you’ve got too much fruit on hand and want to freeze some for later? There are three ways to prepare fruit for freezing:

  • Unsweetened Pack
  • Syrup Pack
  • Sugar Pack

I’ve tried all three methods and have found that the unsweetened approach is quickest, easiest, and leaves me the most flexibility for using the fruit when I thaw it. Here’s how:

  1. Wash the fruit, removing any dirt. Place on paper towels or cotton kitchen towels and pat dry, removing as much moisture as possible.
  2. Cut away any bruised, damaged, or moldy spots, then prepare the fruit as follows:
    Strawberries: Remove green tops and hull.
    Stone fruit: Slice in half and remove the pit.
    Blueberries and soft berries: Remove any stems.
  3. Arrange the fruit in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined sheet pan (don’t crowd or pieces might stick together when frozen), then place in the freezer for an hour or so — just until the fruit is frozen.

    Frozen apricots thawing

    Frozen apricots: washed, halved, pitted. Ready for bagging.

  4. Store fruit in a freezer bag with the air pressed out.

For more information about freezing fruit using the syrup and sugar pack methods, check out The National Center for Home Food Preservation’s web site.

Making Fruit Compotes
Compotes are my favorite way to use up berries that are past their prime for eating out of hand or not pretty enough for decorating a cake or tart. Berries, sugar, and lemon juice are all you need to make a quick berry compote, and you can tailor the amount of sugar and lemon juice to your taste.

Need a starting point? For every 6 ounces of berries, add 1 to 1½ ounces of sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice. Cook in a saucepan over medium to medium-high heat for 10 minutes for a thinner, saucy compote, or as long as 15 minutes for a thicker, jammy compote. Try this Strawberry-Orange Compote (or substitute your favorite berries).

DIY fruit yogurt: swirl in your own homemade compote

650 Strawberry-Orange Compote with organic Greek yogurt

Preserving: Jams and Marmalades
I’ve been baby stepping my way into canning this year, but it’s turning out to be my new addiction! When I made my first batch of marmalade, and the canning seals didn’t bounce back when I tested them, I did the happy dance around my kitchen. After another successful batch of marmalade, I was ready to move on to making apricot butter, and then strawberry jam.

If you’ve been thinking about canning, but felt uncertain or afraid, don’t let that hold you back! It’s easier and less scary than you might think! Just take the time to learn a little about the process of canning and why it’s important to follow recipes and canning steps as written. Here are some resources that I’ve found informative and helpful.

  • Easy citrus marmalade: If you’re just starting out, this Blood-Orange Rosemary Marmalade from The Herbfarm Cookbook is an easy introduction to canning. Prep work is minimal, and there’s no water bath processing step to worry about (you will have to sterilize the jars and lids, though). I’ve substituted regular oranges and ruby grapefruits with success.

    Mmmmm, marmalade

    Blood Orange-Rosemary Maramalade (just as good with ruby grapefruit or navel oranges!)

  • Small-batch canning: If you’re short on kitchen storage space or don’t want to invest in making large batches of jam (seriously, what would I do with 10 pints of jam??), then small-batch canning is for you! What do I mean by small-batch canning? Think: 2—4 pints or half-pints at a time. Food in Jars blogger and author Marisa McClellan offers a wealth of information about the equipment for and process of canning on her website, not to mention some tasty recipes. (Use the site’s search box to locate small-batch jam recipes or scroll through the recipe index.)

    From left to right: Ruby Grapefruit and Rosemary Marmalade, Honey Strawberry Jam, Apricot Butter

    From left to right: Ruby Grapefruit and Rosemary Marmalade,
    Honey Strawberry Jam, Apricot Butter

  • Pectin-free, low-sugar fruit jams: While searching for small-batch, pectin-free, low-sugar recipes, I stumbled upon this post on Northwest Edible Life. Blogger Erica not only provides a detailed introduction to making jam the old-school way, but also offers up this fun chart for creating your own custom flavors.

Sharing Is Caring
And let’s not forget the simplest way to reduce food waste: share with family, neighbors, and friends. Every summer I trade apricots to my next-door neighbors for their home-grown tomatoes. They make apricot pie, and I make a batch of oven-dried tomatoes (some of which eventually make it into the freezer for longer preservation!).
Want a broader community for sharing your abundance of home-grown fruits and vegetables? Try offering it on neighborhood websites Freecycle.org or Nextdoor.com.

How are you preventing summer food waste at home? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comments below or on our Facebook page.

I Scream, You Scream: Easy Apricot Honey Ice Cream

July 18, 2014 § Leave a comment

If you follow national food holidays, then you might know that yesterday was National Peach Ice Cream Day. Years ago, I came across a super-easy recipe for fresh peach ice cream in the New York Times Magazine.

Missed National Peach Ice Cream Day? Get some Apricot Honey instead!

Missed National Peach Ice Cream Day? Get some Apricot Honey instead!

It’s the kind of recipe that makes you want to make fresh ice cream as soon as possible: the ingredient list is short and seasonal, and the technique is simple. What could be more summery, more luscious than fresh juicy peaches (or any stone fruit, for that matter), rich cream, sugar, and lemon juice swirled together in your own ice cream machine? And better yet, there’s no custard to make, which cuts the ice-cream-making time in half! You read that right: no eggs to separate, no cooking, no straining, no “did I overcook the custard?” worries.

That NY Times Magazine recipe, which has become a summer standard in my house, was a timely find for me all those years ago. I’d learned to make ice cream using a classic custard base, but it’s a time-consuming process that takes about 12 hours when you factor in the “best practice” of chilling the custard overnight. Custard-based ice cream, while delicious and indulgent, definitely requires planning ahead to make at home. Finding a no-cooking version changed things for me — I could whip up a rich, fruity ice cream in a few hours! (It’s also inspired me to make ice creams with other stone fruit, which leads me to…)

This year I’ve used that simple recipe as the inspiration for homemade apricot ice cream. Why? you might ask. Why not stick to the tried-and-true, especially when peaches are so plentiful and still in season? Simple: because I don’t have peaches. But I do have apricots — lots of them. So much so that they’re taking up most of my freezer, and it’s time start using up some to make room for other food.

I love apricots, but the sad truth is that they have a short season and don’t keep long. Most of the fruit on my tree ripened within one week, and I was having a hard time keeping up with the harvest (not to mention trying to stay ahead of the greedy squirrels and birds in the process). Not wanting to waste any of the lovely fruit, I grabbed everything I could: the perfect, the bruised, the really soft, and the verging-on-overripe. Thanks to a friend’s suggestion, I opted to freeze most of what I harvested, especially the soft and overripe fruit. This “ugly fruit” is perfect for ice creams, sorbets, sauces — any recipe in which the appearance of the fruit doesn’t matter.

So, if you find yourself with a bounty of apricots and have exhausted your jam and tart recipes, try this Apricot Honey Ice Cream.

Recipe: Apricot Honey Ice Cream
I love the honeyed flavor of very ripe apricots balanced with a bit of tartness. The addition of mild-flavored honey and lemon juice play up the sweet-tart components of the fruit and provide some contrast to the richness of the cream.

Yield: Slightly less than 1 quart of ice cream
Adapted from “Frozen Assets,” by Julia Reed, NY Times Magazine, June 29, 2003

What you need:

Ice cream maker
1-quart container with lid
Fine-mesh strainer
Small bowl
Large bowl
Small saucepan
Large spoon
Rubber spatula

Ingredients:

1¼ pounds very ripe fresh or frozen apricots (I used frozen)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 – 1½ tablespoons light-colored, mild honey (such as orange blossom)

How to:

  1. Place the fruit in a large bowl (or, if frozen, in a flat dish to thaw).
    If frozen, let the fruit thaw at room temperature, which should take about an hour.

    Frozen apricots thawing

    Frozen apricots thawing

  2. Sprinkle fruit with sugar and lemon juice, mixing well. Let the fruit macerate for about 30 minutes.
    Using the back of a rubber spatula or large spoon, press on the fruit, breaking it up as much as possible. We’re going for a “rustic” ice cream with some chunks of apricots, not a fine purée.

    Apricots combined with sugar and lemon juice... waiting for the cream and honey

    Apricots combined with sugar and lemon juice…
    waiting for the cream and honey

  3. Optional: Slip the skins from the fruit and press them against a fine-mesh strainer set over a small bowl to extract any remaining juice and flesh. Add the extracted juice/flesh back into the fruit. Discard the skins.
    Skins removed from apricots and pressed against a fine-mesh strainer

    Skins removed from apricots and pressed against a fine-mesh strainer

    It’s up to you whether you want to keep the skins on the fruit or remove them. I found that once the fruit thawed, the skins easily came away, so I just removed them. Plus, it’s a texture thing. If you’re ok with the skins, keep ’em and skip this step.

  4. Combine the cream and honey in a small saucepan, place on the stove top, and bring to a simmer.
    I prefer the honey flavor to complement the apricot, so I used 1 tablespoon. If you prefer a more dominant honey flavor in your ice cream, use up to 1½ tablespoons.
  5. Once the cream has reached a simmer (lots of tiny, frothy bubbles around the edge of the saucepan), remove the saucepan from the heat and let the cream cool on the stove top.
  6. Combine the cream and fruit mixture and taste for sweetness and acidity.
    Here’s your chance to make any adjustments to mix. If you prefer a sweeter ice cream, add a bit more sugar. If you want to add some brightness, add a bit more lemon juice.
  7. Cover the mixture and chill it in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours — or, if you can wait, overnight — so that the flavors combine and the mixture thickens.
  8. After the mixture has chilled, process it in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer directions.

    Churning apricot honey ice cream in the ice cream maker

    Churning apricot honey ice cream in the ice cream maker

  9. While the mixture is churning in the ice cream maker, place a 1-quart container  in the freezer.
    You want to transfer your churned ice cream (which is partially frozen) into a chilled container to reduce melting on contact.
  10. Transfer the ice cream to the prepared container and freeze for 2 — 4 hours before serving.
    Packing ice cream into chilled container for freezing

    Ready for freezing — or eating, if you don’t want to wait!

    After about 2 hours, the ice cream will have a softer consistency, so if you prefer a texture that’s more soft-serve-like, then don’t freeze it as long. For a harder texture, freeze for 3 — 4 hours.

 

Field Trip: Celebrating Summer with CUESA

July 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

It’s summer! Just writing those words brings a smile to my face. (Could you tell that it’s my favorite time of year?) rusty-blade-flowers

How did you mark the official arrival of summer? Did you barbecue at home with the family and neighbors? Take your kids to the park for a picnic? Pass a leisurely afternoon day drinking with friends on the patio of your favorite restaurant? Whatever you did, I’ll bet it included friends or family and food!

I get a little giddy when I think of all the wonderful, fresh food that’s available from our gardens and local farms this time of year — which you could probably figure out from my recent posts about local stone fruit and coastal strawberries. We’re so fortunate to have fine weather and a long growing season here, but also a culture that values growing, making, and  sharing good food.

So how did I mark the official start of summer? With some delicious food and fine cocktails, of course! CUESA’s Summer Celebration at the Ferry Building on June 22 was the perfect summer kickoff party. The event, which benefits CUESA’s educational program, celebrated the bounty of summer produce with small plates and handcrafted cocktails created by some of the city’s best chefs and bartenders. (There were also fresh nonalcoholic libations: juice blends and shrubs.) Each plate or beverage was inspired by one of six categories of summer produce  — or “culinary families,” as CUESA calls them:

  • Alliums
  • Berries
  • Cucurbits
  • Grains and legumes
  • Leaves and flowers
  • Stone fruit

Most of these food families are probably familiar to you — especially berries and stone fruit. Alliums and cucurbits might be less-familiar names, but you’ll recognize their family members. Allium, the latin name for garlic, includes all varieties of garlic and onions, including shallots, leeks, and scallions. But what the heck are cucurbits? (Ok, am I the only person who hears Bill Cosby’s voice saying “Riiiiight. What’s a cucurbit?”). The cucurbit family includes vine-growing produce, which are botanically classified as fruits: squashes, melons, and cucumbers.

More than just a tasting event, CUESA’s Summer Celebration brought together farmers, chefs, beverage crafters, and food lovers of all kinds from around the Bay Area to taste, savor, and learn. While you might know CUESA as the people who put on the Ferry Building farmers’ markets, much of what CUESA does involves educating consumers about sustainable agriculture and local food systems. (Want to know more about their mission? Check out their site.) The Summer Celebration included a variety of fun and creative educational games to teach attendees more about each culinary family. (An added bonus for food geeks!)

Santa Cruz’s Dirty Girl Produce had a gorgeous display of alliums and challenged attendees to an allium “sniff test.” Could you tell the difference between onions, leeks, shallots, and scallions with just your sense of smell? Not as easy as you might think! I had a chance to test my berry knowledge by spinning the Wheel of Berries to answer a berry trivia question. My prize? Yum — a tasting of fresh berries! However, one of my favorite games of the evening was “What’s Your Stone Fruit Name?” (I won’t tell you how it works, but there’s not much skill involved).  For the rest of the evening I was “Flavor King,” and my date? “Golden Blaze.” We wrapped up our game-playing at Grains & Legumes Jeopardy, rocking the Grains category, but stumbling on the Legumes. Looks like I need to brush up on my legume facts, but it was fun all the same.

The event was also an opportunity to connect one-on-one with food growers, such as Frog Hollow Farm, Sierra Cascade Organic Blueberry Farm, Star Route Farms, and Dirty Girl Produce. I learned some “Fruity Facts” and talked food waste solutions with the Frog Hollow folks, who grow some of sweetest, most flavorful peaches and apricots in the area. I got the lowdown on how Sierra Cascade’s farmer, John Carlon, created a sustainable farm by understanding and working with the synergy between the blueberries, bumblebees, and gophers. And I experienced edible blossoms and leaves (oh my — Meyer lemon blossoms! Floral, perfumey, sweet, and citrusy, with a bit of crunch.) at Star Route Farms’ beautiful display.

There were so many delicious creations to try, but here’s the short list of favorite tastes from the event.

Alliums
The Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham flatbread from Il Cane Rosso doesn’t look fancy, but it’s so flavorful and craveable. To me it was like a next-level nacho plate. The flavors paired well, as did the contrast between the crispy flatbread and the tasso ham. Even thinking about it now is making me hungry.

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Sweet Onion and Tasso Ham Flatbread with Roasted Shallot Cream and Crispy Spring Onions (Lauren Kiino: Il Cane Rosso, Red Dog, and Fearless)

Berries
Most of the handcrafted cocktails showcased locally produced spirits — and gin seemed to the spirit of choice. I’m not a gin fan, but this cocktail of raspberry, lemon, bitters, and No. 29 gin was a favorite. Plus, it had a super-cool (pardon the pun), large ice cube.

Logan's Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Logan’s Run with No. 29 Gin: raspberry, lemon, bitters, gin and one really nifty ice cube (John Gasparini: Rye on the Road)

Everyone I talked with listed “the pork belly” as one of their top tastes of the evening. 1760’s tasting spoon paired rich pork belly with a sweet berry compote. A bit of bad planning on my part, as I tasted this one later in the evening, not leaving enough time to round back for seconds… or thirds…

Pork Belly with Berry Composte, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Pork Belly with Berry Compote, Coriander, and Pistachios (Ben Stephans: 1760)

Cucurbits
And this is why I love tasting events: being surprised by something unexpected! I was thinking “yeah, yeah, stuffed squash,” when I saw this plate, but this stuffed squash from Bluestem Brasserie was delicious!

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

Sausage-Stuffed Ronde de Nice Squash with Goat Cheese and Squash Blossom-Pepita Pesto (Francis Hogan: Bluestem Brasserie)

I was holding off tasting most of the desserts until later in the evening, which meant that I missed out on a few — and maybe that worked out for the best. Yigit Pura’s Panna Cotta was worth it, and he has restored my faith that there is well-made, creamy panna cotta in the world. Perfect summer dessert: light, balanced, fruity. Trust me, if I weren’t so full, I would have eaten two more.

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Tout Sweet)

Strauss Family Creamery Yogurt Panna Cotta, with Cucumber, Basil, & Gin Gimlet Gelee, and County Line Tuscan Cantalope (Yugit Pura: Tout Sweet)

Grains & Legumes
Andrew Court’s Ancient Grains & Seaweed Salad was another surprise of the evening, which is why there’s no photo of the plated dish. (Sorry, you’ll have to make do with this fancy copper baby bathtub full of the grains and legumes used in the salad.) I pretty much inhaled it once I tasted it. The grains were perfectly cooked, the seaweed added a bit of umami flavor and crunch, and the dressing brought it all together. Deliciously healthy, and yet indulgent at the same time.

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Ancient Grain & Seaweed Salad with Wasabi Vinaigrette (Andrew Court: The Fairmont San Francisco)

Leaves & Flowers
Here we have the first gin cocktail of the evening, and it might have changed my opinion about gin! This one, made with the 650’s own Rusty Blades Gin, was probably my all-around favorite. Again, not a gin fan, but Rusty Blades reminded me more of an aged whiskey and was really tasty with a bit of sweetness. The cocktail was summery, citrusy, and floral, and garnished with a pretty flower. Loved it!

Rusty Blade Gin's summer celebration cocktail

Rusty Blade Gin’s summer celebration cocktail

Smoked salmon? Yes, please! I thought Gaspar’s English pea and chive blini would be nothing more than a delivery device for the salmon, but I was so wrong! This bite pulled together the sweet flavor and soft, creamy texture of the blini with the smokiness of the fish and the herbal accent of the chives. So good!

Gaspar's English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Gaspar’s English Pea and Chive Blini with Smoked Salmon

Stone Fruit
If you’ve read past posts, you know that Campo de Ecanto Pisco is regular in my home-bar lineup. Pair that with Frog Hollow Farms apricots for Rye on the Road’s Pisco Apricot Tropical, and wow! Yes, I’ll be doing some major “research” to reverse engineer this one at home.

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Pisco Apricot Tropical, made with Campo de Encanto Pisco and Frog Hollow apricots (Greg Linden: Rye on the Road)

Last, but in no way least, was A16’s Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad. The beets and fruit played perfectly together, while the yogurt and nuts added texture and flavor. The kind of salad you could eat all summer long!

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep's Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Stone Fruit & Roasted Beet Salad with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Pistachio & Dragoncello Sauce (A16)

Did you attend CUESA’s Summer Celebration? What was your favorite drink or small plate?

Grow Local: Got Stone Fruit?

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?

Apricots on the tree

Which beauty to pick now?

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.

Santa Rosa plums, ripe on the tree

Santa Rosa plums in the 650

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).

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Beautiful apricots from my backyard

Plums are deep red when less ripe, becoming red-purple with a bloom of blue when ripe.

Santa Rosa Plums

Plums: reds aren’t quite ripe, while the purples are just about ready

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
Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp

Fruit filling for 650 Apricot-Pluot Crisp: Fruit, sugar, lemon juice, cornstarch, and vanilla bean seeds

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.

Almond crisp topping

Almond crisp topping added to fruit. This baby is ready for the oven!

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!

Apricot-Pluot Almond Crisp just out of the oven

Freshly baked fruit crisp, just out of the oven

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.

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It's what for breakfast

Apricot-Pluot Crisp with Almond Topping: It’s what for breakfast

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?

All I need is a spoon...

All I need is a spoon…

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