The Meyer lemon owes its presence in the U.S. to an USDA agricultural explorer named Frank Meyer, who discovered it in 1908 during one of his expeditions to Asia to collect new plant species. Among the 2,500 plants he introduced to the U.S. was the unusual thin skinned, lemon-orange citrus cross, which became the Meyer lemon, named in his honor. Continue Reading →
A sure sign that November is here is the warm orange glow emanating from many stalls at the market. This deep red-orange luminescence comes from what is known through out much of the world as kaki (a Japanese word, pronounced ‘kah-kee’), a fruit we know as persimmon. ‘Persimmon’ is a variant of an Algonquin name ‘pessamin’ for the native persimmon, which is a (mostly wild) fruit ranging in size from 3/4 to 2½ inches in diameter. Continue Reading →
It wouldn’t be fall with out the arrival of winter squash! And there are so many wonderful varieties grown on the Central Coast to enjoy.
Tips for selecting winter squash:
September is the height of the late summer harvest on the Monterey Bay and the markets are abundant with ripe summer fruits and vegetables. This year, some of the fall/winter crops are also arriving early—it’s a cook’s paradise — so many things to get excited about, so many possibilities for the table lining the aisles! The fragrance alone caused me a moment of euphoria last time I was there – it was as I walked past vendors selling basil on both sides of the aisle and came up to a booth with bundles of lavender that literally stopped me in my tracks. It was like an instant vacation to the Mediterranean. Continue Reading →
It’s that time of the year I find myself at market buzzing like a bee. When I get there, I am so excited by the choices I can hardly decide where to go first. All the colors and the scents combine to create a heavenly chaos in my brain, and it is a great time to be at the farmers market.
When I select beans, I look for beans that have a silky feel to them, that do not show rust or shriveling. The beans should feel firm without feeling brittle or stringy; while at the same time avoid those that are limp and lifeless feeling. When flexed far enough, they should break with a “snap” and show a moist and solid interior.
I find different beans take to different methods of cooking to bring out the best in them. For haricots verts, blanching works best. Interestingly enough, I find that when I think they are done and I drain them, they toughen up a bit as they cool, so always give them an extra minute if you want them tender. If you wish to use them cold, as in Tuna Nicoise, steam them or blanch them and then shock in ice water to arrest the cooking.
Green beans take to blanching well, whereas I find that yellow beans do better with steam.
For roasting or grilling, I snip the tops and tails and soak them in some water for a while before introducing them to the heat. Whether you soak or not, if roasting or grilling, always use the plumpest, most moist looking beans you can find so the internal moisture cooks from the inside as well as the bean cooking on the outside.
For years I avoided Romano type beans because they always seemed to get the slippery, filmy, fuzzy feeling on the outside, even when I steamed the beans. I have since learned that braising these beans is the answer! This is currently a favorite here with the kids, and it is pretty simple.
1 lb. large Romano beans, stems snapped
1 heaping tablespoon of soffrito (minced onion, carrot, celery- 2:1:1- sautéed until tender and golden. Make a lot of it and store in the freezer) – OR – 1/4 of a brown onion minced
1 large garlic clove, germed and minced
2 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1/2 tablespoon bacon fat, optional
1/3 cup water or white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
For shell beans, I sauté some aromatics in flavorful olive oil, then add some stock and water and simmer the beans until tender. Avoid salting them until they are done as this can toughen the beans. I find the beans taste even better the next day after they have sat in the cooking liquid. To serve simply, just reheat some of the cooking liquid, then add the beans to heat through. I sometimes will flavor the cooking liquid and reduce it to use as the sauce. The beans can be used as is, added to soups and braises, or combined with a sauté of onions and tomatoes and topped with oiled and herbed breadcrumbs to make a gratin.
The yard-long beans actually do well with more aggressive cooking techniques such as stir-frying, deep-frying, and braising. This is not to say they can’t be steamed or boiled, as this is a good first step for several recipes utilizing these. I have actually blanched the beans, then braided them before wok frying them with ginger, garlic, and sesame oil. They take well to strong flavors, and you will find that while you can use them as you would green beans, they will not be as sweet or tender. They retain their identity no matter what you do to them. By the way, these beans do not keep that well in the refrigerator, as do “regular” beans; so try to use them as soon after purchase as possible. If you must store them, wrap in paper towels in a plastic bag and store where you’d keep the lettuce.
Another thing that has me buzzing right now is corn. I love it either steamed, boiled, or off the cob and sautéed. This has the benefit of giving me the cobs to make stock with, which is now essential in my house for polenta. I like to compound flavors, and this is certainly a way to do that. Corn stock finds it’s way into soups, shellfish dishes, and a corn sauce I make for shrimp or lobster.
When I select corn, I check the cut on the stem to see that it is fresh, and not dried out. The husks should feel moist, and not brittle. I use my fingers to feel the tip inside the husk to check that the cob is full to the end and to get an idea of what the kernels “look” like (large or small). As this corn is organic, I accept the fact that I may find a bug or worm on occasion, and just get rid of it if I do. If you must pull back the husks to check, be courteous and ask the farmer first – some of them really do not want people husking the corn.
To make the stock, simply put the cut up cobs from 4-6 ears of corn in a 4 quart pot of water with a couple sprigs of thyme and marjoram, 10 fresh black peppercorns, and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer and skim off any foam. Simmer for 1-2 hours, then cool, strain through a fine mesh strainer.
You can then use corn stock as is, or reduce some of it for sauces. It will keep in the freezer for quite some time. The corn I cut from the cob will go in the freezer (I hear screams of “Heresay!” I know it’s not the same as fresh, but it is still really good…) to be used in sautés, cornbread, soups, and sauces. I also love to throw some in my breakfast, whether in scrambled eggs or on basted eggs with chiles and olives, I find it a great way to get more vegetables into my life.
Looking into the world of berries is like falling into Alice’s rabbit hole. It’s a lot different than it seems it should be. Starting with the definition of a berry — what most folks call a “berry” frequently is not. Blueberries, red currants, gooseberries, Cape gooseberry (or ground cherry), elderberries, and grapes are all “true” berries. They are all fleshy fruits that are in one piece. Continue Reading →
Blueberries are relative newcomers to the farmers markets, as they are to the entire state as a commercial crop. However, they have been around for a long time here in the U.S. and in Western Europe. The Native Americans were using them when Plymouth was settled by the Pilgrims, and it is believed they were on the menu for the first Thanksgiving. Native Americans ate them fresh, but also dried them and used them in puddings and “cakes” as well as powdering them and using them with meat, grains, and in soups. Continue Reading →
alk into many a taqueria and there they are. Sitting next to the pickled jalapenos and the lime chunks, there is usually a bowl of radishes. I asked a friend of mine, who is of Mexican descent, about why this is, and she did not have a concrete answer. Her surmise is about the same as mine – they are cheerful looking and look nice on a plate, and the cool crunch and hint of heat are welcome foils for the sometimes oily meats and density of refried beans. I asked her if her family used them in any dishes and she replied that they only use them sliced next to tacos for color and on top of posole (hominy and meat stew). I then looked radishes up in all the Mexican and Southwest cookbooks I have (and I do have quite a few) and could find only one recipe for using them raw as crudités. Continue Reading →
Eggs have become quite hip in the culinary world. They are showing up in newspapers and magazines articles, and trendy chefs are featuring them on their menus, and not just for breakfast either. This just goes to show that America is realizing what the rest of the world has known for so long – eggs are great anytime. Continue Reading →
Dandelion, or ‘tooth of the lion’ (from the French, dent de lion) is not a glamor item on everyone’s table — it’s good for you, can be bitter, and takes a little work. Although it is said the name derives from its tooth-like shape, I sometimes wonder if it derived from the bite of bitterness these leaves can sometimes pack. Personally, I like that flavor, especially when tempered with the right things. Typically, these things are fats, acid, and sweetness. Continue Reading →