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Archive for the ‘Local Food’ Category

Many people loathe brussels sprouts because they were force-fed them as a child or because they only know them as a gross, overcooked mess on their cafeteria lunch tray. And sadly, that is probably how most people will continue to encounter them since the vast majority of U.S. production winds up in the frozen section, where larger specimens are de rigeur.

But brussels sprouts really are delicious, and it is the sprouts that are too small to meet processed food standards that are the tastiest. Although all vegetables are better fresh, this is especially true of brussels sprouts. Fresh, they’re nutty, sweet and meltingly tender. Once they’ve been sitting around for too long, they become flatulent and flabby-tasting. I cannot warn you away from most supermarket sprouts strenuously enough. They’re usually too big, which means they’ll have leathery, slightly bitter outer leaves; and packed into a plastic-covered tub that’s been shipped however many miles it is to you from Monterey County, Ca, where most of the U.S. supply is grown.

So if you see them at the farmer’s market, snap them up. They’re quick and super-easy to cook. Here’s how I cooked a batch I got from Phan’s Farm at the Heart of the City Farmer’s Market:

Simple Brussels Sprouts:

1/2 – 3/4 lb smallish brussels sprouts
1 pat butter
1 tsp salt

Cut the bases off the sprouts, then slice them in half. Set them face-down in a shallow frying pan and put enough water in the pan to cover them just over half way. Cover the pan and put over high flame. Once the water is boiling, add salt and lower heat to medium. Cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and return to pan. Add 1 pat butter and swirl sprouts around in pan to coat. Done!

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I was never much of a playing-with-my-food type when I was little. That was before the age of purple ketchup (alas, that is not me in the picture), Go-Gurt and Lunchables, so maybe I was just lacking in intiative and creativity in the absence of corporate-formulated “kid food”. Either way, I now seem to be going through an extended phase of buying stuff basically just because it looks fun and I want to play with it.

So I picked these mushrooms up yesterday from Far West Fungi, which I’d had in mind because I was going to make steak sandwiches for dinner. Of course, they do have a nice-sized basket of your standard white button mushrooms for $2, but these caught my eye instead. Why buy something that you see every day when instead, you can have a strange fungal mass that looks like a hedgehog crossed with a coral growing on top of a cauliflower?

It turns out that this mushroom goes by several different appellations including: bear’s head, monkey’s head, Pompom Blanc and satyr’s beard, among others. It also has a pretty wide range of different physical manifestations. Of course, if you buy the cultivated kind, you probably don’t have to worry overmuch about that.

The clerk at the store told me that this variety of mushroom tastes kind of like crab, which sounded too good to be true – and it was. It does definitely have a shellfish undertone to it and is not as aggressively mushroomy-tasting as your average button mushroom or portobello. The texture is also softer and juicier; these mushrooms give off quite a bit of liquid when they cook, which could make them a good candidate for mushroom stock or risotto.

Nothing quite as involved and grandiose as stock or risotto was in store yesterday, though. Instead, I just sliced and sauteed them with a little butter and tossed them into what was probably the most pretentious steak sandwich you could imagine: leftover roast beef slices w/ caramelized onions and Braeburn apples, Colston-Basset stilton, the aforementioned mushrooms and some German-style cole slaw on the side.

What can I say? That’s just what we had in the fridge. Not sure if I should be embarrassed by that, or just grateful that that’s the kind of food you can get this time of year in California.

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Every now and again, my weekly stroll through the farmers market gets interrupted by a sighting of something extraordinary that makes me stop in my tracks and think, “holy shit!”. This week, it was yuzu.

Yuzu is something that I’d tasted all my life in a processed form, but had never had fresh. It’s in a lot of Japanese seasonings, most commonly the ponzu dipping sauce served with shabu-shabu and sashimi; and it’s apparently also commonly consumed in Korea in yuja-cha, a honey-laden tea meant to ward off the winter cold.

The ones I bought tasted basically like a cross between an orange (without the sweetness) and a lemon (but without the puckering sourness). A glance through Harold McGee indicated that yuzu is composed of a pretty considerable medley of flavor notes: limonene (citrus), pinene (pine), terpinene (herbaceous), linalool (flowery), sulfur (musky), terpenoids (spicy).

My parents used to impress upon me how hard it is to find fresh yuzu every time they’d crack open a bottle of Mitsukan ponzu (which doesn’t even have any real yuzu in it), so I was eager to snatch up a couple from De’Santis Bella Frutta and try them out. The first thing that struck me about them was their heady, perfumy scent. The second thing that struck me was, unfortunately, how breathtakingly expensive they are – $20/lb (??!!). But my curiosity got the better of me and I bought them anyway.

Now, given that I’d now spent $18 on only a few fruits, I was determined to use every last bit of them. I sent two home to my parents, and then got to work on zesting the rest. The fresh bits of peel work very nicely in tsukemono, where they added a warm citrus undertone to an otherwise mundane batch of salt-pickled turnips. I dried the remainder of the zest for ginger-honey tea, which makes for a nice, cozy brew for the crumby, rainy weather we’ve been having of late. I reserved the juice (of which there wasn’t terribly much) and minced the rind to steep in about 2 cups of soy sauce for homemade ponzu – which is also a great accompaniment for tempura or fried fish in addition to shabu-shabu.

All in all, a decent purchase from my favorite fruit vendors at the Heart of the City Farmers Market (they also sell at the Sunday farmers market at the Civic Center in San Rafael). Can’t wait to see what surprises they’ll have in store next time around! In the meantime, I’ll have to try some other yuzu recipes I’ve come across, like this pork cutlet with yuzu miso and shiso.

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I first came across this extraordinary-looking vegetable a couple of years ago at New York’s Union Square farmers market, attracted by its chartreuse hue and mesmerizing fractal pattern. A sign at the stand proclaimed it to be “romanesco cauliflower”. When I bought it this past week from the Capay Organic store at the Ferry Building, I was told it was a kind of broccoli. I’ve also seen it sold as Broccoli Romanesco, Roman broccoli and Broccoflower. According to Elizabeth Schneider’s exhaustive reference, “Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini”, the consensus among plant breeders is that it’s a kind of cauliflower.

Regardless of what branch of brassica oleracea it most closely hews to, it’s delicious. It tastes like cauliflower, but with a distinct, pleasing nutty quality and a nubbly texture that sets it apart from both broccoli and cauliflower.

I cooked mine two ways – I blanched a batch of it just to see what the unadulterated taste of it was like; and I slow-cooked it in a variation of a recipe from Alice Waters’ new book. While it is very pleasant lightly cooked on its own, slow-cooking it turned it soft and meltingly velvety, which was a nice surprise.

Here are 2 ideas for what to do with this broccoli/cauliflower/whatever next time you can’t resist buying it:

Blanched Romanesco Cauliflower:

Bring 4 c of water to a rolling boil. Snap all the stems off from the central stalk and set aside. Then, quarter the stem crosswise. Salt the water; toss in the cauliflower and cover. Cook 3 minutes, or up to 5 if you prefer the end result to be a bit more tender.

Slow-cooked Romanesco Cauliflower:

1 head romanesco cauliflower (about 1 1/2 lbs)
3 medium cloves garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp bacon fat (optional)
1/2 c vegetable or chicken stock

Cut the cauliflower into 1/4 inch slices crosswise, then mince. Mince the garlic. Heat the olive oil and bacon fat (if you’re using it) in a heavy-bottomed pan and sautee the garlic lightly. Add the cauliflower, stir to coat in oil, add stock, reduce heat to low and cover. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding more liquid as necessary. Salt to taste.

This makes a really nice omelette stuffing, and is also great over angel hair pasta with bits of bacon or prosciutto.

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Delicatas are probably my favorite kind of winter squash. They have the perfect texture, aren’t too moist or too dry and have a deliriously sweet taste that goes well with all things winter. The standard way of cooking them is to simply cut them in half, brush them with olive oil and then bake them until soft – at which point you can gobble the whole thing down, skin and all.

But that would be so easy. It wouldn’t require hours of baking, boiling, pureeing, fussing and mess-making in the kitchen. So I decided to try making delicata gnocchi. Now, I love gnocchi, but I absolutely hate it when they’re too heavy and you feel like you have a leaden torpedo of dough in your stomach from eating them. Here’s what went into the dough:

The meat from 4 roasted, seeded delicata squash and 3 baked russet potatoes
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Instead of adding flour to the dough until it became manageable enough to roll out and cut into pieces, I just left it as it was and used a spoon and a pastry spatula to spoon the dough up, divide it and drop it straight into boiling water. This I served with fennel sauce:

3 fennel bulbs, browned in a covered pan with 2 tbsp olive oil
blended with
1 cup milk
1 cup grated parmesan cheese

I reserved some fronds off the fennel to mince and toss on top for an extra anise-y kick. As you can see, it wasn’t the most elegant meal, but it was damn tasty.

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Couldn’t resist buying these citruses from DeSantis Bella Frutta at the market. They’re a couple of Meyer lemons (the “it” lemon of the moment) plus a baseball-sized fruit they were calling sweet lime. Meyers come in a bewildering array of different colors (the ones at Whole Foods, for example, are light orange) and cover a pretty wide flavor spectrum ranging from almost tangerine-like to puckeringly sour. These had green mottling that I’ve never seen before and were very mild. The sweet limes had a very strong citronella scent to them that I actually found kind of off-putting, but the juice was delicate and very slightly sweet.

I suppose I could have made a batch of lemonade, or some lemon-ginger tea, but instead, I decided to give lemon bars a shot even though I was horrified to find out that lemon bars (which I love) are basically a big pile of sugar, eggs and butter. To give the bars a veneer of healthfulness, I made a whole wheat crust with crushed almonds (also from DeSantis!). Doesn’t this look wholesome??

OK, so maybe it doesn’t, really. Here’s what’s in it:

1/2 cup ground almonds
1/2 cup wheat germ
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup almond butter (so far so good…)
and
1 stick of frozen butter, cut into small pieces

Yeah, yeah, butter is full of cholesterol and will cause your arteries to harden, but without it, the crust would have been the consistency of dirt. And no one wants to ruin tasty lemon curd with dirt.

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My boyfriend picked up Jennifer McLagan‘s excellent Bones: Recipes, History and Lore a little while back and the cover photo of a couple roasted marrow bones, complete with parsley salad and marrow spoon had been taunting me from the kitchen table ever since.

While it is now terribly in vogue among a certain kind of gourmand to seek out the funkiest of meats (“duck fries”, i.e. duck balls, from Incanto anyone?), I haven’t laid a finger on anything more adventurous than chicken liver in ages. So we picked up some marrow bones from Drewes’, determined to give it a shot, and cooked them up the other night after a lengthy stay entombed in the freezer.

It turns out that they’re extremely easy to cook, but just require a little planning. Marrow bones must be soaked for 12-24 hours in a few changes of water to leech all the blood out of them. I’m not sure what would happen if you skipped this step, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. Who knows what old, mouldering blood trapped in a cow leg tastes like. Here’s what they looked like when they came out of the water bath, pale and bit ghostly:

You’d think that after having to soak the bones for ages, cooking them would also be a production. But it wasn’t. It took about 15 minutes in the oven at 450 for them to cook through – although in all honesty, we left them in for a little too long and the marrow started to actually melt and flood out of the bottom of the bones. So I’d recommend checking on them periodically and pulling them when you can put a toothpick into the center w/ no resistance.

Marrow is tremendously rich – it tastes kind of like a steak distilled into butter that’s made out of beef – so it’s a good idea to have some bread and something sharp and peppery or mellow and sweet to eat with it. We ate ours with rounds of toast, an arugula-fennel salad and roasted beet soup to cut through the fattiness.

And not to sound like a broken record here, but I’d also like to point out that bones are just about the cheapest thing you can get from your local purveyor of pastured beef. Some meat CSA’s even toss them in for free with your meat share. Of course, with all the high-end restaurants clamoring for them as well, that may not be true in San Francisco or New York.

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