Category Archives: farmer’s market

Farmers Market Day and Red Cooked Pork Belly

My favorite Saturday activity, when I don’t have a pajama day, is heading to the farmer’s market with a friend to shop and to have a little something tasty for brunch or lunch.

We stopped at the Italian butcher first, Guerra’s Meats, where I scored a fat ribeye, breakfast sausage, some cheeses and milk, for another $30. I like getting my weekend protein first, then filling in with vegetable and other items from the el cheapo farmer’s market.

This weekend I spent $20 at the farmer’s market, including my fantastic huarache el pastor lunch. A huarache is a bean filled masa dough pancake, shaped like a football, and topped with something meaty with the perfect amount of salsa, crema and a handful of chopped cilantro. You can buy them at La Palma Market on 24th Street if you don’t go to the Alemany farmer’s market.

A huarache was the perfect lunch, leisurely nibbled while sitting on a tiny clear spot of a loading bay next to a nice farmer’s truck. It was good to rest a bit after doing all of our shopping and to kick our heels against the back of our cement perch like we were little kids again. For some odd reason a diet soda tasted awfully nice but as it was a rare treat for me I just enjoyed it (mostly) without guilt.

String market bag

My new knitted string market bag performed superbly, I could not believe how much it held, and how nicely everything stayed. It was stuffed with broccoli, obscenely large leeks, the freshest green onions I had ever had the pleasure to hold, pale green zucchini and yellow ball zucchini, a huge bunch of mint and rosemary, crimini and ugly shiitake mushrooms, enormous yet light sourdough English muffins and cranberry walnut bread. I should have taken a picture of it stuffed and outstretched but still comfortable and incredibly stylish on my shoulder.

(If you would like to make one of your own, please visit The Inadvertent Redhead)

I have enough food for breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the entire week and probably into the next week, supplemented with more protein from my freezer.

After unloading my friend’s groceries at her place and doing some menu planning while petting her pretty cats and slugging back the necessary glass of red wine, I headed home and started cooking.

My huarache was quite filling but around 4:30 pm I made a snack of Humbolt Fog cheese and the cranberry walnut bread. With my pollinosis the cranberries were a little troublesome but not enough to dissuade me from eating the bread. I started on a pot of red cooked pork belly.

The pork belly was trimmings from the Mangalitsa pork I bought a while back. I had to trim the raw pork belly so that it would fit in my brining bags and the excess, uneven pieces were about 2 pounds. The red cooking, or a slow braise in a soy, Chinese rice wine, ginger, spices and garlic broth, is a traditional way to cook pork belly and other fatty meats. It couldn’t be simpler, I put all of the ingredients in my 5 quart pot, brought it to a boil, covered it and simmered it until the meat was super tender. The aromas it generated as it simmered were amazing, I felt full just by being in the kitchen.

After 2 1/2 hours and another 10 minutes of cooking on high to reduce the sauce I poured off the fat and decided I was too full to eat anything so into the fridge it went!

Sunday morning I dined fabulously well on a huge toasted sourdough muffin, one side buttered, one side smeared with raspberry jam, and a handful of tiny Italian breakfast sausages.

Meantime, I cooked the ribeye in some bacon fat from the red cooked pork belly and sliced it thinly for work lunches. The bok choy I brought home from work on Thursday was quickly steamed and given a light dressing of oyster sauce and chilled. The pale green zucchini and yellow squash were cut into planks along with some onion, the rosemary and some lemon zest and olive oil and roasted until just crisp-tender. They were packed into a tub for the fridge. The mushrooms were sliced and browned in my biggest and yet too small skillet, the last slosh of port in the bottle went in along with some dried herbs from last summer and a bit of butter. This was packed up with the sliced steak.

Getting quite tired of the kitchen by now, I steamed some basmati rice and wondered what happened to the bag of jasmine rice I bought a few weeks ago, a desultory search in the pantry and auxiliary pantry bags did not yield it. Huh…. I made myself a little bento lunch of rice, the jade green bok choy and the red cooked pork belly.

Bento

Later in the the week I’ll roast the broccoli for lunches and make a leek and bacon pasta. I might make a pizza one night with some of the zucchini. I also have some frozen ground pork which would be wonderful stuffed in the ball zucchini.

It was really fun prepping good food for the week and I enjoyed my domesticity. I also washed up the kitchen and dumped the trash and did some hand laundry. The vacuuming didn’t get done nor did the dusting but I will fit that in some night when I don’t have an extracurricular activity.

I sunk into my comfy Martha Washington chair with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and some knitting and mindless television before going to bed. It was a fun and productive weekend, nourishing to the body and soul.

REC: Red Cooked Pork Belly

(printer friendly)

3 lbs. of fresh pork belly, cut into cubes
3 pieces of palm sugar or 1 1/2 ounces rock sugar
3 pieces of whole star anise
3 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2 tsp. five spice powder
3″ piece of fresh ginger root, sliced into 1/2″ medallions – no need to peel
2 T light soy sauce (this is less salty than regular soy sauce)
3 T dark soy sauce (I use Tamari)
1/4 cup Shao Xing wine – or a white vermouth
2 cups chicken broth – low sodium is best
1 bunch of green onions – whole

Place the pork and all of the other ingredients into your heaviest pot with a lid or a Dutch oven, my 5 quart Le Cruest pot was perfect for this dish.  Bring everything to a boil, stir and cover with a lid.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 1/2 hours.  Test the pork, it should be very, very tender when pierced with a fork.  

Remove the lid and simmer over medium high heat for 10 minutes, stirring, to thicken the sauce.  Pour off the fat and remove the ginger, anise and green onions and compost them.

Serve with plain rice.  Serves 4-6.

Creamy Potato Leek Soup with Crispy Leeks

I wanted to share an article I wrote for a friend’s site a few years ago about this time of year, it is one of my favorite recipes still.

As winter recedes and Spring takes her dainty steps forward we yearn for Spring flavors but are limited to winter produce. Sometimes, the best solution is to simplify and intensify the brightness of our chilly weather vegetables. In this mood, I focused on the bright green sprightlyness of the humble leek.

I found an enormous specimen at the market; heavy, fatter than the circumference of my wrist, squeaky fresh and deeply oniony. I sliced it thinly and washed it well in icy water, separating the slices into lacy rings. Some I scattered on a small baking tray, drizzled with fruity olive oil and Maldon salt, to be roasted until crispy in a slow oven.

Mondo Gordo leek

In my favorite soup pot I melted a knob of butter and tossed in the remaining mound of leeks and a sprinkling of salt. They caramelized slowly and filled my little kitchen with the sweet onion aroma unique to the leek. A fat russet potato was peeled and diced and added to the pot along with a few pints of cold filtered water. An aromatic local Bay Laurel leaf was tossed in, bounty from a recent hike, the tinyiest dash of earthy cumin and a grating of a fresh nutmeg from a friend’s vacation in Jamaica.

By the time the soup had finished simmering, until the potato was tender and the leeks succulent, the leek rings had finished baking and were lightly golden and crispy.

Baking leek rings

A few quick bursts of the immersion blender in my soup pot and my dinner was ready.

I plopped into the bowl of creamy, soft green soup a dollop of tangy sour cream, a few fat curls of sheep’s milk Pecorino and a tangle of crispy leeks. Each spoonful of this humble potage yielded a different mouthful of the essence of leek and a promise of spring.

Creamy Leek Potato Soup with Crispy Leek Rings

The creaminess of the soup comes from the potato and the addition of
sour cream at plating. This recipe is also wonderful without the dairy for a vegan entree or starter. Also, best of all, this recipe is gluten free!

1 large or 2 medium leeks, thinly sliced, including the tender green section, 3 cups
2 T olive oil, divided
1 T unsalted butter
1 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
A few grinds black pepper
1 large russet potato, peeled and diced, 2 cups
1/2 bay leaf or one small leaf
1/8 tsp ground cumin
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
4 cups water
Sour cream
Sheep’s milk Pecorino, shaved into curls using a sharp vegetable peeler

The Soup
In a soup pot melt the butter with the rmaining 1 T olive oil and
saute the remaining leeks on medium heat until tender. Add potato,
water, salt and pepper, nutmeg and the bay leaf. Simmer until potato
is very tender, 20 – 30 minutes. Remove bay leaf. Purée until creamy
but the soup still retains some texture.

Crispy Leek Rings*
Preheat the oven to 250 and line a baking tray with parchment paper.

Wash the leeks well in cold water in a large bowl and separate them into rings. Repeat until no dirt remains in the bowl and spin them dry in your salad spinner. Sprinkle enough leeks onto the tray to cover it, and drizzle with 1 T olive oil and sea salt. Bake for 30 -60 minutes until golden brown and crispy.

(* Thank you to Molly Katzen for sharing her original recipe, Leek Chips when we were chatting on Twitter one night.)

To Serve
In each bowl, add a fat tablespoon of sour cream, a few pieces of the
Pecorino and a good heap of crispy leek rings.

Serves 4 with some squabbling over the remaining crispy leeks

Victory Blackberry Pie

I made a victory pie, a blackberry pie to enjoy on Superbowl Sunday. Sadly the 49ers lost (even though they shouldn’t have but I don’t want to get into *that*) the pie was still a win because it was my own victory.

I have long had an irrational fear of pie crust, any kind of rolled dough just doesn’t work for me. I never get the consistency of the dough right, it sticks, it rips and tears, it bakes up wrong, it tastes wrong or pasty, it’s just stupid and scary. For years I have struggled with my hot, not made for pastry, hands and have grumpily given up to buying premade pie crusts and hated them.

Meanwhile my mOm bangs out perfect pie crusts with her elegant, cool hands like she’s making a bed, smoothing out the pastry with effortless strokes. I have watched her and helped her year after year and I’m still a failure.

Then a great lady in town started her handheld pie business. Natalie Galatzer of Bike Basket Pies delivered her mini sweet and savory pies using her cute bicycle and the pie crust was the bomb. I met her when I was doing culinary tours during The Great Unemployment. I couldn’t really afford them but loved the samples she gave during the tour.

When I got a job I would order her pies for myself and then I started ordering them for the office and we all scarfed them up marveling at her great crust and divine fillings. How on earth did she make her pies so well and make so many of them? Practice obviously, and a great recipe.

When she stopped her business due to exhaustion and burnout I was glad for her for taking a rest and selfishly a tiny bit sad because how could I possibly live without her Shaker lemon pies? But then, a fabulous email arrived! Natalie had written a recipe booklet!  It is probably the most adorable recipe book I have ever seen, the illustrations are so adorable and really capture the joy of Bike Basket Pies.  The instructions and recipes are well written and explained and are a joy to use.

http://bikebasketpies.com/index.php/bike-basket-pies-booklet/

But I was still afraid. Then the Great Allergy/Intolerance arrived and fruit was banned from my life, along with many things I loved, nuts, potatoes, eggs, who all knew what else. The doctor still doesn’t know why but one day I could eat raspberry jam, then cherry, then walnuts, then fresh berries (but not strawberries) and the occasional potato chip. This summer I ate about six pies, mostly blackberry, and life was good again.

Last year Natalie announced she was teaching a pie crust making class. I had to go! With a very gimpy ankle I got to the darling Pot and Pantry for her class and made pie crust. It was great, we all had to make a batch and it felt good. I froze the pie crusts from the class since I had yet to go grocery shopping alone.

In early February, after a month of heinous flu and secondary sinus and ear infections, I made it to the farmer’s market with D___ and bought great vegetables and $15 of blackberries and Buddha’s Hand citrus. It was fantastic to shop without a cane and not feel so petrified of being knocked over. I was weak as a jellied eel after a long fever but the sunshine felt great. The moment I got home I went hope to bed and slept for 3 hours. I sugared down the berries though before going to bed for the evening and resolved to bake a pie for the Superbowl.

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On Superbowl Sunday I made breakfast and had a nap and tried to knit but that didn’t work, too tired still, but I did get up to make soup from all my vegetables, a minestrone of sorts, and to roll out the pie crust.

I was nervous but just did it, using a Silpat on my kitchen table. It rolled out pretty nicely, cracking here and there but it went okay! I made a rustic pie/tart using a tiny tin, just enfolding the giant berries inside the dough.

I brushed the crust with milk and a generous sprinkling of coarse sugar, and just remembered to add a pat of butter on the fruit. Into the oven it went.

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The juices were thick and bubbling, the crust was nicely browned, it smelled good. I was excited.

The game was sad but I thought consolation by pie would be nice. It was better than nice, it was perfect. The 49ers should have won that game but it cut as keenly because the pie was my victory.

The crust was crunchy and yet flakey, it held together, the fruit was delicious and not too soggy or sweet, it was just perfect. I still have one crust left to make a savory pie this week, greens and goat cheese I think or perhaps a winter squash. I can make pie now!

My pie.

My victory.

Natalie’s pie recipe booklet for Bike Basket Pies is available here, I have given away several copies as gifts so I would recommend you buy several.

Menu Planning

I came home from Thanksgiving with my darling parents and found that my refrigerator door was left ajar about 2″. Horrors! The great dumping and clean-out commenced on Monday night after work and then my fridge was sadly empty except pickles, hard cheese and wine. Time to shop and for menu planning!

D___ and I went shopping together this weekend and I discovered a few shops that I must frequent in the future . A terrific butcher shop on Taraval reminded me of our beloved long-gone Quilici’s, and the lovely guys there helped me with grass fed beef stew pieces, nicely marbled and hefty for $7.99 a pound. They also had terrific dried pastas in shapes like lasagnetti and mezze penne.

Next was the wonderfully inexpensive Asian market with perfect, organic produce and Eastern European dry goods and dairy. You have to love a shop that sells Ak Mak, Bulgarian feta, Russian sour cream and my favorite salsa and chips, plus gigantes beans. I splurged on two huge produce crates filled with groceries for $77.00. The clerk insisted I take my haul away in boxes because they were free, never mind that I can’t really carry one box, let alone two, but they were free, and bags cost $.10! One should never argue with the clerks, they’re savvy, budget wise.

Somehow D___ and I staggered into my apartment with everything in one trip. We filled my dining table with food, and I started my menu planning in earnest over a cappuccino.

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Meals For The Week:

  • Beef Bourguignon ~ inspired by Mastering The Art of French Cooking
    1. beef, fresh shiitakes, carrots, onion, celery, tomato sauce, red wine, garlic, leek top bouquet garni, chopped parsley. Served with farrow.
  • Chicken Stew ~ inspired by George Bradshaw
    1. chicken thighs, carrot, onion, fennel, bay leaf, chicken broth, dill, roux, white wine,sour cream. Served with jasmine rice
  • Gigantes Plaki ~ from Modern Greek
    1. Great white beans, onion, garlic, tomatoes, parsley, bay leaf, oregano, feta, squirt of lemon at the end. Add shrimp, perhaps?
  • Sautéed Greens
    1. Chard, dino kale, watercress, garlic, lemon olive oil. Serve with quinoa. Breakfast option.
  • Coconut Rice Pudding ~ inspired by Wing Wings
    1. Bomba rice, coconut milk, sugar, sea salt
  • Green Salad
    1. romaine, orange bell pepper, green onion, fennel, avocado, feta, balsamic vinegar, Dijon mustard, Lodi olive oil.
  • Red Beans and Rice ~ inspired by Country Cajun Cooking
    1. Pink beans, andouille sausage, tomato, onion, green onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, Aleppo chile, Sriracha, beef stock, jasmine rice.
  • roasted Corn Salad
    1. Corn, artichoke hearts, edamame, olive oil, lemon juice, tarragon
  • Salsa and Chips ~ post shopping nibbles
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    Lately I have been preferring to eat my main meal at lunchtime and have something lighter when I get home with a glass of wine or tea. Some of these entrees are also destined for the freezer for when I lack the energy to make something simple.

    I also have a few items in the pantry and freezer that need to be slotted in somewhere:

  • pork truffle butter and crackers
  • adjvar and crackers
  • pork rillettes
  • butternut squash
  • As the dishwasher purrs along, I started poaching the chicken and chopping the vegetables for that stew, and realized I’m tired and want a bubble bath. I’m taking a glass with me to the tub while the carrots, onion and fennel simmer slowly. I’ll finish the stew for supper tonight and cook the greens for breakfast.

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    It feels nice to be home with the fridge stocked, good smells perfuming the air and a good meal plan for the next little bit.

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    I’ll make sure the fridge door stays closed!

    P.S. Thanks to Laura of Hey Mom What’s For Dinner for the inspiration to plan a batch of meals

    Baked Salmon in Parchment – Fish CSA

    In San Francisco we are lucky to have access to some of the nicest seafood in the world.

    Even here, buying fish from the grocery store is always slightly perilous, you really have to trust your fishmarket and you really have to know what is sustainable, what is okay to eat when and what is fresh. Even the best fishmarket will sell fish that is on Monterey Bay Aquarium’s watchlist for seafood that are endangered or that should not be eaten due to health reasons a.k.a. too much mercury or grown in a fish farm that uses unhealthy fishmeal and contains unsanitary conditions. Recent articles have depicted the horror stories of farmed shrimp from Asia being cooled in ice made from local bacteria-laden water, or fed meal made from pig feces.

    I carry the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watchlist in my wallet, and now have their app on my phone which helps me when I go shopping for seafood.

    Lately I have circumvented all of these issues by buying directly from fishermen through the Siren SeaSA. A CSA or Community Supported Agriculture is more commonly known as a way to buy produce directly from farmers and growers. Anna Larson of Siren SeaSA has developed a network of fisherman that fish sustainable seafood off of the coast of California using responsible methods and delivered fresh, often the same day it is caught.

    Every other week I go to pick up my fish share from a nice lady who waits inside of a local market for just one hour with a cooler of ice and beautifully fresh seafood. This week I received black cod, which is currently marinating in a miso, ginger, garlic, and miren marinade. Last time I had a beautiful piece of King salmon from Bodega Bay.

    I decided to have the King salmon for lunch and preheated my oven and prepared a piece of parchment paper with which to bake the salmon inside.

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    Isn’t it a beautiful color?

    I topped it with a pat of butter, a sprinkle of dill and a little salt and folded it up inside the parchment.

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    Traditionally the parchment is cut into the shape of a heart and folded in half and pleated around the edges to make a little half-moon, but I was hungry and in a hurry so I just did a rectangle and it worked out perfectly. The benefit of cooking fish in parchment is that you have virtually no cleanup, a quick wash of your baking sheets and there is no residue to scrub off. The parchment can be folded up and thrown away, a compostable container that holds all of the juices and aromas inside for your olfactory enjoyment and gustatory pleasure.

    The packet is slipped into the oven for a quick bake for 15 minutes at 425 F and after a short rest the salmon is perfectly cooked, slightly rare in the middle, with a pleasant puddle of melted butter and dill flowing around the edges.

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    With a little salad and a small glass of wine it was a delightful weekend lunch. And I did not feel guilty at all about eating salmon, which has become increasingly endangered along the western US coast.

    Next up: a recipe for miso black cod!

    Happiness is….. Meaty Treats

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    Happiness is…. a spread of the best of the Bay Area….

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    Acme pain epi, Boccalone salumi, Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam soft ripened cheese, 4505 Meats foie gras pot au creme and duck sticks, and Anchor Steam beer.

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    Best of all is sharing them with a dear friend as a belated happy birthday treat!

    Happy birthday Luna!!!

    Salmon BLT Revisited

    A few years ago my dear friend Laura shared her salmon BLT recipe which is so divine, especially during tomato season.

    I made it a bunch of times and then sadly it slipped from my recipe rotation until last week when Anna emailed me and said that she saw it on my blog and wanted to make the salmon BLT and that the post deserved a picture. Salmon BLTs, what a wonderful idea! Tomatoes are just starting to come into season now here in San Francisco so it is perfect time.

    I had physical therapy that day and Deb ferried me over and back and to thank her I had invited her to stay for dinner, so invited Anna to come over for dinner too so we could have a BLT party with the girls.

    Deb and I went to the grocery store and picked up a few necessary items and Anna came over later with salmon and gorgeous ripe tomatoes from our favorite produce shop. Since I’m still really laid up with this stupid ankle surgery Anna and Deb got busy in the kitchen. They cracked open several bottles of wine and cooked and joked while I lounged around with ice packs on my foot while they made the best dinner ever.

    It’s kind of a weird feeling to have people cook for you in your own home when I’m usually the one that’s preparing everything and being (or at least trying to be) the perfect hostess for my friends but it’s also a wonderful treat and a wonderful gift to have friends come over and take such good care of me when I’m needing a lot of extra help.

    They laid out the wonderful Acme herb slab bread and roasted the salmon briefly in the convection oven while the bacon cooked and the tomatoes and lettuce were prepared.

    Sadly I cannot eat eggs at the moment, or perhaps forever, so I did not have any mayonnaise in the house so there was a great discussion on what should be spread on the bread instead. Should they use butter or mustard or should there be something else. Happily I had a wonderful jar of French tarragon mustard in the fridge from Williams-Sonoma that cost the earth and I also had a jar of this delicious spread by Stonewall Kitchen, a balsamic onion garlic jam.

    The sandwich was prepared and boy was it a beauty.20120701-193645.jpg

    The majority of the loaf of bread was sliced in half leaving a mere 4 inch piece left for another day. It was warmed through in the convection oven while the salmon rested, then spread with the tarragon mustard one one side and balsamic onion jam on the other. The succulent roasted salmon was spread on top and then layered thickly with slices of perfectly crisp bacon. The other half was layered with crisp lettuce, juicy local tomatoes and mild red onions, sliced thinly.

    After much laughter somehow the gals managed to put the two halves together without it falling all over the kitchen floor, a true miracle. The massive salmon BLT was then cut into thirds and then again into halves and heaved on the plates. I could not believe the size of these massive sandwiches, each one must’ve been at least 8 inches across.

    Anna had brought over some of her amazing Russian pickles that have been left to sit with garlic so they were highly perfumed with the allium;they were some of the most delicious pickles I have ever crunched.

    It was pretty quiet in The Roost while we ate these sandwiches and they disappeared with alacrity.

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    It was so extremely satisfying to have two of my dearest friends piled on the bed with me while we munched on these amazing sandwiches and watched silly television and laughed and joked about everything. We had serious discussions and fun discussions and it was just the perfect night at home; my heart and my stomach were full and happy.

    The recipe is here I hope you give it a try yourself while fresh wild caught salmon and local tomatoes are in season.

    Honey Heaven

    I am a California girl and literally grew up in a land of milk and honey. My mom was conscientious in her grocery shopping from the local co-op and we ate a lot of local products including some of the finest honey that our little bee friends produce.

    (Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

    Most of our honey was orange blossom or clover and occasionally we would be treated to honey in the comb, to be chewed on slowly like gum until little pellets of beeswax were left behind to be genteelly spit out (or not so genteelly, like when my sister and I fought like little animals, bee wax pellets were the perfect sticky projectiles).

    As an adult doing my own grocery shopping I became a regular customer at the Marshall’s honey stand at the farmer’s market. There were so many different varieties of honey to sample, including my childhood favorites, and new ones very local to San Francisco, such as star thistle (we knew they had to be good for some purpose), eucalyptus and cappings honey. Cappings honey is the honey cut from the end of the combs which has a naturally thick and creamy texture. I began to use bee propolis which is the royal jelly and pollen, to help my allergies.

    Honey is an ancient food,l and a natural preservative. Archeologists have found preserved honey in Egyptian tombs that albeit rather petrified was still edible after thousands of years. Honey in its natural state stays perfectly well for a long time, and if it crystalizes one can re-melt it and it will be no worse for the wear. In itself honey is a perfect food.

    (Photo courtesy of the National Honey Board)

    I was so delighted to be invited to a cooking demonstration and honey tasting party by the National Honey Board. The amazing New Orleans born pastry chef David Guas has his own cafe and bakery in Virginia, the Bayou Bakery, Coffee Bar & Eatery. He is on a tour for the National Honey Board to share the versatility and varieties of honey and a few local writers, media and bloggers were treated to a lovely event at the fabulous Ketchum test kitchens. Chef David is honey collector and advocate and is so impassioned and enthusiastic about honey that despite my inherent love for honey I was motivated to expand my honey collection even more.


    Isn’t he a honey?

    It was an intimate, casual event, and Chef David visited with us as we sampled some of his signature recipes prepared for the National Honey Board, such as a Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler made with tropical fruits, coconut water and toasted coconut on top. We had little bites of walnut bread topped with slim slices of blue cheese and drizzled with buckwheat honey, and Chef David’s “Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread on celery sticks.

    After catching up with our friends and getting to know Chef David we proceeded into the Ketchum test kitchen, my how I wish I could just move right into that glorious room!

    Chef David had six pots of honey laid out on a counter and we were given a chance to sample each type of honey in a blind tasting. What a challenge this was to apply a wine tasting lexicon to the subtleties of honey, but it turned out to be a revelatory experience. The range of flavors, textures and aromas in each honey sample was so different, and between sips of water we tried to guess the varietal of the source pollen based on the flavor profiles. Very few of us had accurate guesses and it was fascinating to hear how each of us interpreted the flavors of the honey.

    (Photo courtesy of National Honey Board)

    Here are some more unusual varietals of honeys from the United States, some of which I had never tried before:

    AVOCADO
    Primarily produced in California, avocado honey is gathered from avocado blossoms. It is a well-rounded honey with a rich, buttery flavor and a flowery aftertaste.

    BASSWOOD
    Basswood honey has a fresh taste suggestive of green, ripening fruit. It is often characterized by its distinctive lingering flavor.

    BLUEBERRY
    Taken from the tiny white flowers of the blueberry bush, the nectar makes a light, amber-colored honey with a moderate fruity flavor and the aroma of green leaves. It is produced in New England and Michigan.

    BUCKWHEAT
    Typically produced in Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, as well as Eastern Canada, buckwheat honey is dark and full-bodied. It has been found to contain more antioxidant compounds than some lighter honeys.

    CLOVER
    Clovers contribute more to honey production in the United States than any other group of plants, with Red clover, Alsike clover, and the white and yellow sweet clovers the most important for honey production. Clover honey varies in color from clear to light amber and has a sweet, flowery flavor and a pleasing, mild taste.

    EUCALYPTUS
    There are over 500 varieties of eucalyptus plants with the majority found in Australia and Canada. Eucalyptus honey varies greatly in color and flavor but tends to be a stronger flavored honey. Some eucalyptus honeys have a slight menthol flavor and scent.

    FIREWEED
    Fireweed honey is light in color and comes from fireweed, a perennial herb that grows immediately following a forest fire. Primarily produced in the Northern Pacific states and Canada, fireweed honey is a delicate, sweet honey with subtle, tea-like notes.

    ORANGE BLOSSOM
    Orange Blossom honey, often from a combination of citrus sources, is usually light in color and mild in flavor with a fresh scent and light citrus taste. Orange blossom honey is produced in Florida, Southern California and parts of Texas.

    SAGE
    Sage honey, primarily produced in California, is light in color and heavy-bodied, with a mild but delightful flavor. It is extremely slow to granulate, making it a favorite among honey packers for blending with other honeys to slow down granulation.

    SOURWOOD
    Sourwood trees can be found in the Appalachian Mountains from Southern Pennsylvania to Northern Georgia. Sourwood honey has a sweet, spicy, anise aroma and flavor with a pleasant lingering aftertaste.

    TUPELO
    Tupelo honey is a premium honey produced in northwest Florida. It is heavy-bodied with a mild, distinctive taste, and is usually light golden amber with a greenish cast. Because of the high fructose content in Tupelo honey, it granulates very slowly.

    WILDFLOWER
    Wildflower honey is often used to describe honey from undefined sources.

    Source: http://www.Honey.com | http://www.Honey Locator.com

    Chef David fired up the glorious Viking range and started his cooking demonstration to illustrate the incredible diversity honey has in the kitchen, beyond spreading on hot buttered biscuits or stirring into tea.

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    We perched convivially on stools around the capacious islands in the test kitchen, our attention rapt as Chef David toasted slivered almonds and then whirred them into a creamy almond butter spread. He used copious amounts of honey to caramelize more toasted almonds in a saute pan with a little butter then mixed quickly with corn flakes for a super crunchy tasty almond crunch to sprinkle on top of the almond butter filled celery boats.

    He confessed the almond and cornflake crunch doesn’t last for very long in his house because of his voracious little boys, but it would keep quite well and crunchily for over a week.

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    Chef David then whisked together a quick creamy salad dressing with honey and tossed this with halved flame grapes and slivered almonds and peppery baby rocket for a refreshing and delicious salad. I imagined adding chunks of leftover roasted chicken or turkey for a faux Waldorf salad for a fast summer supper.

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    His next demonstration made me feel he was near and dear to my heart. Chef David honey glazed bacon slices in the oven, and turned them into crispy-chewy honey glazed BLTs. Holy cow, was this ever fantastic. The honey flavor really showed well against the smoked bacon flavor and I mentally kicked myself for not trying this sooner with my pig candy experiments.

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    Chef David then showed us his simple yet scrumptious honey brined pork chop with a honey whole-grain mustard sauce. Brining pork chops is a standard for many, including myself, but brining chops using honey instead of sugar imparts all the complexities of the honey into the pork and obviates the need to add additional flavorings such as fruits, herbs and aromatics.

    The brined chop was seared in a pan and finished in the oven and removed to a platter to rest. The pan drippings, or fond, were dissolved in water and dollops of honey and whole grained mustard were added to reduce for a quick pan sauce. I don’t think even Wordsworth could describe the sweet, savory and meaty nuances this pork had in each juice bite. Pure heaven.

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    Honey has been used largely for desserts and Chef David gave us his favorite and show stopping honey lemon cheesecake dessert pops. Imagine an eggless cheesecake with Meyer lemon zest but in a popsicle form, resting on a huge platter of buttery crispy honey graham cracker crumb crunch. One picks up the creamy, glistening pop half coated in crunchy crumbs and nibbles this confection slowly off the popsicle stick. His sentiment, “Everything tastes better on a stick” is something I have said for years and it was such a playful and friendly dessert, so very charming in its simplicity and the flavor of honey was perfectly highlighted. I may never eat regular cheesecake again.

    The combination of honey and almonds in the demonstration recipes is not a coincidence. Besides producing honey the honey bee has an enormous role in California and the world’s agriculture by pollination. Almond trees, for example, are solely pollinated by bees, so if the bees did not exist we would never have an almond.

    The news has been filled with the collapse of bee hives throughout the world and the scientists are still trying to figure out the cause and how to prevent this tragedy from continuing, for the sake of our bees and for the future of agriculture. Some speculate is it due to a mite infection in the hive, others blame pesticides and genetically modified crops (GMO) such as those created by Monsanto. There is an interesting article about Monsanto buying the world’s largest bee research firm here, one wonders what this means about their future veracity.

    This is an important issue to stay informed on and I hope as you enjoy your next bite of something in the kitchen with honey, or try some honey in the comb you think about the magic that our bees produce and what we as responsible consumers need to do to help preserve our bee population. Please support your local honey producers and buy directly from them whenever possible.

    Chef David Guas’s Recipes:

    Tropical Honey Coconut Water Cooler

    “Crunchy” Honey Toasted Almond Spread

    Grape and Almond Salad with Honey Yogurt Dressing

    Honey-Candied Bacon & Lettuce Sandwich

    Honey and Whole Grain Mustard-Glazed Pork Chop

    Honey BBQ Pulled Chicken on Buttermilk Biscuits

    Honey BBQ Sauce

    Buttermilk Biscuits

    Honey-Lemon Cheesecake Pops

    Resources:

    For more information about honey, honey bees and recipes, please visit the National Honey Board

    To learn more about the different varieties of honey and what is harvested near you, visit the Honey Locator

    Stuffed Full of Squash

    I was not going to share this article with you because of what happened but then thought that perhaps I should.  Most food blogs only show you the most perfect,  “delicious and amazing” recipes coming out of xxx’s kitchen, complete with the perfect food porn photography and drool-inducing descriptions.

    Life isn’t always that way though, I think a real person has successes and failures in the kitchen but we the audience never seem to ever hear about the flops or failures or the “meh” of it all.  So, in the spirit of keeping it real, here is my recent flop.  Well, sort of flop.

    I have had a pumpkin from my CSA box from the Fall and it  became part of my Christmas decorations.

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    I have decided that I would roast it stuffed full of tasty things, inspired by my friend Laura’s recipe from Hey What’s For Dinner Mom?.

    Laura’s recipe is meatless and uses quinoa but I had some fancy pants sausages and was out of quinoa, so I checked in with my friends at the recipe swap. The recipe they suggested is by Dorie Greenspan and uses bread which is perfect because I have some artisan sourdough slab about to go stale so I adapted both recipes into my dinner.

    Mis en place

    Stuffed Pumpkin

    1 sugar pie pumpkin, seeded
    Salt and pepper
    Olive oil
    1/2 loaf Della Trattoria Meyer lemon and rosemary bread, torn into smallish chunks
    2 chicken and spinach sausages
    2 Tbl pork fat
    1 large leek
    1/4 pound mushrooms
    A bunch of dino kale
    1/4 c white wine
    1/3 c heavy cream (I used sour cream thinned with milk)
    4 slices leftover bacon
    1/2 grated Peccorino Romano
    Sage leaves
    1/3 bunch of parsley
    6 cloves of Garlic, smashed
    Salt and pepper

    I cut out the stem end of the pumpkin using a sharp knife like you would to make a jack o’lantern, and then cut off the strings on the cap with the chef’s knife and set the lid aside.

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    Now for evisceration.  I scooped out seeds and pulp with an ice cream scoop but you can use a sturdy metal spoon.  Save those seeds if you like roasted pumpkin seeds. I was not in the mood so into the compost bin they went.  Usually this step is gooey and messy, but my pumpkin wasn’t all that gooey inside.  I should have paid more attention to this fact, but onwards I went.

    I put the hollowed pumpkin on a baking sheet lined with foil and seasoned the cavity with salt and pepper and olive oil.  I poured in the oil and then threw in the salt and pepper and smeared it all around with my hands; they are Nature’s best spatula!

    Olive oil, salt & pepper the inside well

    Then I started assembling the stuffing ingredients. I used my Wovo salad bowl but any large bowl will do; toss in the leftover bacon and the sausages chopped into small pieces.

    Leftover chopped bacon

    It is hard to believe I had leftover bacon but it happens!

    Aidell's chicken spinach & feta sausage, chopped

    I chopped up the parsley rather roughly and added that to the bowl too along with the smashed garlic cloves and the grated cheese and a few dried porcini.

    Picnik collage

    On the stove heat I heated up a large frying pan and melted the pork fat (or use olive oil or bacon fat or butter, it’s up to you).  The leek was halved lengthwise, then into cut into slices about an 1/8″ thick, put in a colander and washed them well.  I like washing the leeks after they are cut because it’s easier to get the mud out if they are dirty. Lately our leeks have been really dirty. Heh.

    Picnik collage

    With just some of the water shaken off, I tipped the leeks into the hot frying pan and added a few pinches of salt. A swift stir with the spatula then I grabbed a clean cutting mat and sliced up the mushrooms and add them to the leeks.  Lastly, I grabbed the sheaf of kale leaves and chopped off the stems into smallish pieces and added them to the frying pan.

    They all cooked together until everything was very tender.  Meanwhile, I had a glass of wine and then attacked the kale leaves. Whack-whack-whack I went with my largest chef knife to chop them roughly.  Once the other veggies were tender, I added the kale and put on the lid for a minute or two until the kale has wilted a bit.  Wine in hand I tossed and sauted the kale and vegetables until the kale was completely tender.  I let the mixture cool a little bit.  So far everything looked and tasted great, good levels of salt, the veggies were all fork-ready.  My stomach growled.

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    (L-R: kale stems, leeks, mushrooms sauteing; a rough chop; the kale will fill the pan up but it cooks down to nothing)

    Meanwhile it was time for the heart of the stuffing, the bread. I purchased this loaf of bread on a Saturday it was now Tuesday so it was just this side of being stale, perfect for a stuffing.

    You could just chop it but I like the rough texture of hand-torn bread so I sliced the bread, then took a seat and over the bowl I ripped up the bread into small pieces, about 1/2″.

    Della Trattoria bread ready to be shredded

    The stuffing was almost done, I just needed the cream and wine and a few herbs, salt and pepper. A quick toss with my hands I was ready to stuff my pumpkin. Since this stuffing does not have egg or raw meat I was able to taste a few pieces to make sure the seasoning was right on. I wanted it to be a little heavy on the salt to offset the pumpkin which is essentially bland and would be mixed into the filling.

    The stuffing for my pumpkin. Yum.

    I really packed it in and it all just barely fit!

    Stuffed and ready for the oven #2

    Don’t forget to put its hat on!

    Don't forget to put its hat on!

    Isn’t that beautiful?!  Into the oven it went, at 350 for 90 minutes. I checked it then and the pumpkin was still not fork-tender so I let it go for another 30 minutes. At last a fork just slid easily through the side of the pumpkin and it smelled so aromatic with the herbs and garlic I could barely contain myself.

    Ready to serve!

    I pulled out the stuffing first, and sneaked a bite. Hmmm. It was delicious but not all moist and steamy like I expected.

    Finished stuffing

    I scooped out the pumpkin and despite it being fork tender the flesh was rigid and oddly firm. I scraped all of it out into a bowl and tasted it – it was fine but dry and more starchy and did not have the squashy pumpkin texture it should have.  Hmmm, when did I get that pumpkin again?  I realized I couldn’t remember.

    Pumpkin and stuffing

    Huhmmm. I sat a bit and thought and thought. And then I remembered. This pumpkin was not from November, it was from October or perhaps earlier and in my overheated apartment it probably had completely dried out and converted its sugars into starches. Whoops!

    I tried steaming the flesh a bit in a steamer on the stove but realized that it really needed to be used in a soup or something. This explained why the stuffing seemed so dry. The pumpkin, which normally would have exuded lots of juices while cooking, was essentially dessicated and therefore the stuffing had the consistency of being baked in a dish and did not get hydrated from its squashy container. If I had intended to bake the stuffing in a casserole I would have added a lot more liquid and covered it while baking to emulate the interior of poultry or other moist cavity.

    Craptastic.

    My dinner was completely salvageable though. I added about a cup of leftover chicken broth I had and another good slosh of wine to the stuffing and put it in a small casserole dish and covered it foil to bake for 30 minutes. Taking it out of the oven, I peeked under the foil and stood back as a cloud of steam erupted. I realized this was the stuffing I had expected. The mushrooms and garlic were soft and tender, the bread had that pleasant squish of being amalgamated with wine and cream and broth and the generous flecks of greens and chunks of bacon and sausage were like firm nuggets within each bite. It was delicious despite the absence of the pumpkin!

    I saved the pumpkin for my next batch of soup. Lesson learned. I hope you try stuffing a pumpkin or other squash but please do make sure it is not Paleolithic in age!!

    Fall Produce Explosion

    My CSA delivery today was an explosion of all the bounty that is Fall…

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    • A Sugar Pie pumpkin
    • Curly kale
    • Ruby red beets with greens
    • Nantes carrots
    • Broccoli
    • Green leaf lettuce
    • Garnet sweet potatoes
    • Yellow onions
    • Fennel
    • Red radishes

    My brain is swirling with ideas for this produce. There is so much of it that I have to take it home in two batches!

    For the Sugar Pie pumpkin, it will grace the counter in my day job’s reception area until after Halloween next to the cauldron of Sees Candy halloween treats. We do Halloween right at the office!

    But after Halloween I think I will make my favorite chicken pumpkin soup with Marsala. The broccoli is dinner tonight with cauliflower left over from last week; a quick stir-fry with some hosin sauce should do the trick.

    The kale and beet greens sauteed together with garlic and ginger will make a nice side dish to a roast chicken. The carcass of the chicken and the leftover meat will become the soup.

    I am also in the mood for a Thai curry so perhaps some of the pumpkin will be used for that, thinly sliced with the rind on.  Many salads will be created given the size of this head of lettuce and I have some lovely Italian tuna packed in olive oil and the fennel for one night.  Carrots will  be put into everything.  There are never enough carrots.

    But now I’m running out of ideas…

    What on earth am I going to do with two large bunches of radishes?   Help me please!

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