Monday, March 31, 2008

How to Choose an Artichoke

I found myself asking this question of myself and others several times this past Saturday at the farmer's market when I realized I had forgotten Aliza Green's handy produce guide, and no one could give me a straight answer. One farmer actually told me to just choose one that I liked. What does that even mean? So, upon returning home I consulted my guide and here's what I discovered: an artichoke should have tightly packed and brightly colored leaves, its cut end should also be fresh and definitely not "black." Ick! You may have also noticed that the market is awash in these feisty flowers at the moment, and that's because they are in season from now through May. Enjoy them while you can!

Quiche with Gouda, Mushrooms, and Shallots

I am a lover of our mighty, ovoid friend the egg, but usually for a main dish, I veer the route of the frittata rather than the quiche. This time, however, I went against the grain and made a quiche (with store-bought crust, sorry). As you might imagine, it was a basic fundamental recipe with a few twists by way of the ingredients.

I sauteed amply seasoned shallots and crimini mushrooms in olive oil, thyme, and a little sherry, which after letting cool to room temperature, I poured into my egg and cream mixture (six eggs and about half-a-cup of heavy cream). After laying thick slices of gouda over the bottom of the crust, I baked it for about half an hour or so. I served it up with some toasted artisanal bread, sliced tomato, and rosemary for garnish. All in all, it didn't wow me, but then I suppose I didn't expect it to either. If I were to do it again, I'd grate much, much more Gouda into the egg mixture and on top of the surface to brown a bit, too. You might even try throwing in some cayenne pepper for kick.

Winchester Cheese, Twenty-Two Days Later

A long, long time ago, on Saturday, March 8th (she writes, while wincing: is anyone still out there?), I visited the booth of southern California's own Winchester Cheese, the only cheese vendor at our humble market. Manned by the friendly and generous Dan, Winchester offers a mouth-watering assortment of homemade Gouda cheeses.

On my visit, I saw mild, medium, aged, jalapeƱo, cumin, and garden herb, but I have a sneaking suspicion that there may be others. Dan has an organized selection of samples on offer; I had only the first three, mild, medium, and aged.

But before going on, I just have to remark on how wonderfully meticulous Dan was in meting out his samples: he'll make sure before you take your first test that you start with a milder cheese so that you don't sully your palette for these subtler samples by beginning with a sharp cheese. I thought this was so mindful, I couldn't let it go without remark.

Now, we can proceed with the more general cheese commentary. Though usually a fan of aged Goudas, like that sold at Dean & Deluca in NYC, I opted to purchase the medium, here. I found the aged to be a smidge too sharp, for me. Eaten alone, the semi-soft medium cheese is creamy, with a subtle, but still unmistakable bite at its end. I recommend eating it slowly and alone at first, then maybe adding a mild cracker or olive with it.

In browsing their website, I discovered that Winchester offers membership in a Cheese Club, which provides bimonthly shipments of two cheeses for an average cost of $20-$25. This seems about on par with the cost of cheese at the market, which can get pricey at around $10.

I will post my recipe from my cheese (Quiche with Mushrooms, Gouda, Shallots, and Fresh Thyme) and a post with Ha's Apple Farm and a general market report presently. Please don't give up on me readers! I'm here, I promise.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Don't Eat Anything That Doesn't Rot"

This is the title of a very interesting interview with Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma. We can all thank Brock for sending it to me. And at the end if you don't heed my command to "Get thee to a farmer's market!" then you're crazy. This does lead me to a confession I have to make: I missed the market this morning. But guess what happened instead! I got a new nephew! Simon! Look how cute and sleepy he is. Being born is such hard work.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Calling All Yogis & Yoginis

I am officially signed up to do the YogaWorks Teacher Training Program that begins this April and I am so excited!!! Though some people do the program to deepen their own personal practices, I really want to teach. So, if you or anyone you know is looking to get started with some private lessons, I'm you're gal.

A Plum Pick

We all have our theories about how to pick out the best broccoli, pomegranates, and melons, but sometimes they just don't work and we get stuck with a week's worth of strawberries that shrivel in a day or a 5-pound dried-up watermelon. If you count yourself among this unlucky group, check out this great article on about how to select summer fruits.

Though I'd love to become the standard-bearer for evaluating produce, I've still got a lot to learn. And for that reason, I decided to pick up a copy of Aliza Green's book mentioned in the Slate article. It's a handy--and handsome--guide that covers both fruits and veggies. (And because I love it, a few more words on the design of this book. It's short and chubby and just over pocket-sized with rounded edges and a smooth-to-the-touch, colorful, matte-finish cover.) Each entry provides a general description where you can learn fascinating things about fruit. For example, did you know that cherries first originated in the Balkans but have been cultivated in the Middle East and Mediterranean regions for 2,000 years? I didn't!

In addition to fun and useless trivia, you can also learn during what months each fruit is harvested, what to look for (and what to avoid) when picking it out at the market (either farmer's or super), how best to store it, preparation instructions, and, my personal favorite, a list of some of its "flavor affinities."

Thank you Aliza Green. Never again will you see me shaking a cantaloupe or knocking on an apple. I now know what to do.

Sunday, March 9, 2008


I am completely obsessed with Westies. I know this has no relation to the farmer's market or fruit or cooking, but I don't care. Look how cute! I want one! Do you think he and Donovan could be friends? I do...

Unsolved Mysteries Revealed

I don't know why it's taken me so long to finally find out what oro blancos and cocktail grapefruits and pomelos actually are, but I have, and I'm sharing my research with you.

Oro Blanco: The oro blanco is apparently a pomelo hybrid.

Pomelo: A variety of grapefruit, the pomelo is a native of Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, but is obviously grown elsewhere. Like its sibling/offspring/relative, the oro blanco, pomelos have spongy flesh and sweet fruit. I have found my samples from the farmer's market to have a more bitter flavor than oro blancos.

Cocktail Grapefruit: This mythic fruit, unknown to my East Coast readers, is actually a hybrid of the frua mandarin and pomelo. As far as I know, they are only grown in California. (Sorry for the poor quality image.)

Please feel free to share anything you've discovered as well.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Market Notes

I know, I know, I'm a neglectful blogger. But I'm turning over a new leaf and really getting down to business. Before I post this week's feature report on Winchester Cheese, I thought I'd share some general market news with my regular readers. Although you may not be able to tell by the weather in Irvine, winter is coming to an end, which means the citrus season is, too. Lovers of Sweet Tree's petite mandarines, I'm talking to you: beware, you only have until the end of March to eat your weight in those bright and tiny pockets of perfection. I've also begun to notice already that the once abundant sweet, firm, juicy navel oranges have begun to dry up, which means my beloved oro blancos and fruas will, too. I'm so sad! Run, go, make another golden greyhound while you can! When the first Saturday arrives without them, you'll surely hear my sobs across campus.

In other happier news, crates of strawberries have begun to pop up all over the market! I tried as many as I could today and finally decided to pick up a bundle. And sugar snap peas are also beginning to roll in, which is great news for me: I love to make a cool pesto puree in the summer with sugar snap peas, parmesan cheese, and olive oil. Let's also hope that before long we can start to see some good tomatoes. It has been a long, dry, almost completely tomato-less winter for me.

Though before summer's sugary sweets begin to roll in, we'll have to make it through the no-man's-land of April. In the meantime, stock up on citrus!

See you at the market!

Monday, March 3, 2008

Donovan Sez..., Cilantro v. Chrysanthemum

This is it. The face-off you've all been waiting for: Cilantro versus Chrysanthemum. What will he devour first? Will the little-known green leaf from Yao Cheng supplant Big D's all-time favorite? Could it be?

Let's find out!
At the start, the competition stays pretty close, while Donovan weighs his options.

But, wait, before long he seems to head for something. Is it ... the cilantro?
Yes, indeed it is!

And the cilantro wins!!!!!!!! Woo!!!!

Poor chrysanthemum. It sat there all night, untouched, unloved.
For our next battle, I'm thinking cilantro v. oro blanco. Care to make a wager?

Yao Cheng, Part II

I went back to Yao Cheng Farms this week to continue my report on their offerings. I found largely the same selection of leafy greens and gourds, but with just a couple noticeable alteration: it was out with the honeydew, in with wintermelon and shark fin squash!

The latter is a green-and-white speckled, fairly rare variety of winter gourd, which often appears in soups. Though I didn't buy the shark-fin squash, I did pick up half a kabocha squash, which I'm quite excited to try. I also filled up a bag with the chrysanthemum greens I saw at Yao Cheng last week, which I've never seen or tried before.

It has a powerful floral flavor and aroma, which I think is going to be amazing in the tangy lemongrass soup I plan to make with it later this week. (Stay tuned for that recipe.) Yao Cheng also had some absolutely gorgeous green onions, which I snatched up and will also incorporate into the soup.

In general, the market had a strong selection of the citrus we've seen all season: navel oranges, mandarines, oro blancos, pommelos, and Fuji apples. I picked up a couple navels from Garden of Eden, which were quite dry, so I plan to stick with Sweet Tree next time. If you've seen anything fabulous, please do let us know.

Forbidden Fruits

If you haven't already seen this op-ed piece in the New York Times, you should take a look at it now. Chances are, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll be interested to learn about the disturbing, but not altogether unsurprising obstacles put into play by the Farm Service Administration (essentially the bureaucratic puppet of corporate agriculture) in order to prevent local growers of subsidized crops like corn and wheat from cultivating other fruits or vegetables on these so-called subsidized "corn-based" acres.