Archive for the ‘Farmers’ Markets’ Category

Persimmons: Not to be Confused with Small Pumpkins

December 10, 2008

The Beautiful and Wonderful Persimmon!

The Beautiful and Wonderful Persimmon!

Meet Persimmon. Pronounced, per-SIM-un, not, per-sinn-amon, like cinnamon. Seriously, what a culinary faux-pas on my part, but I blame geography. I just could not buy fresh persimmons when living in New York City and therefore, I have never had to try to pronounce the fruit’s name. Outside of perhaps the Upper West Side’s food Mecca, Fairway (on a rare day), and some of NYC’s finest restaurants, I have never seen, and obviously have never eaten, a persimmon. And yes, I now regret the last 30 years…persimmons are a mouthful of magic!

A Hachiya Persimmon

A Hachiya Persimmon

My first close encounters with a persimmon occurred at the South Pasadena Farmers’ market this October. It was only after complimenting the farmer on his cute little pumpkins did I learn that persimmons are in no way related to squash, but they are their own fruit with many different varieties. Persimmons are in season in the Fall and we generally see the two most common persimmon varieties: the Hachiya, which is recognizable by its acorn shape; and, Fuyu, which looks like a squat tomato or small pumpkin. I have yet to eat the Hachiya variety of persimmon, but I had my first Fuyu persimmon and at first bite, I was in love.


A Fuyu Persimmon - similar to a small pumpkin, right?...:)

The Fuyu persimmons can be a little tricky for naive fruitarians. With many types of fruit, like pears or peaches, we know when they are ripe because there is a softness to them. Fuyu persimmons, conversely, are ripe when they are firm and can be eaten as is – much like an apple. This really through me for a bit of a loop. Before I first tasted a Fuyu persimmon, my instinct told me that its firmness would make it as unedible as an unripe nectarine, for example. Surprisingly, while there is a definite initial bite to a ripe Fuyu persimmon, there is an immediate tenderness in the fruit’s flesh that does not necessarily have a solitary taste. Sounding sort of like a sommelier, a Fuyu persimmon has a nuttiness to it which is offset by soft hints of honey and apricot. Its just delicious!

Coming from the East coast where apples dominate our farmstands in the Fall, I had no idea that persimmons were so versatile and offered such a diverse culinary palette. A little recipe research shows that persimmons pair well with almonds and walnuts and would make a great salad when tossed with greens. The pulp of persimmons can also be used in baking, much like pumpkin puree is used when making pumpkin bread or cookies. I am anxious to try baking Christmas persimmon cookies – an interesting concept for a California cook as it gives your holiday cookie a very seasonal meaning…

So while I may have spent years thinking that a persimmon was pronounced differently and shared the same genus as a pumpkin, I look forward to exploring its flavors. Hopefully I’ll have a good persimmon recipe to share soon!

Until next time…


Harvest Meals: Part II

November 26, 2008

There is so much to do in preparation for the Thanksgiving feast tomorrow, but I wanted to quickly write about the tasty harvest meal George and I had for dinner last night. As I previously wrote, I went a little hog-wild, or legume-wild I should say, at the Alhambra Farmers’ Market on Sunday and pretty much bought a farmers’ market sampler platter of vegetables. Wanting to eat and cook as much of the produce as possible before Thanksgiving, as it most likely will not get eaten afterwards, I created a culinary plan to make “harvest meals” every night this week.

Sunday night, as my previous posting indicates, was somewhat of a success. The blackberry-red wine reduction was a culinary travesty, but our roasted vegetables and plum tart were huge successes. On Monday, I had good intentions of making a ratatouille with the fresh zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes I bought, but due to an unanticipated, and fortunately very short-lived illness, George had to take over cooking Monday’s dinner and he passed on making the ratatouille. He did make a mean taco and we saved the ratatouille for last night.

Sauteed Ratatouille

Sauteed Ratatouille

So…Ratatouille. Admittedly, I wanted my ratatouille to resemble Remi’s ratatouille in the movie Ratatouille, but I decided to simplify the ratatouille recipes I found and just make more of a ratatouille hash. Chopping up an onion, a few small zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes, I sauteed the vegetables in a little olive oil and seasoned them with salt, pepper, pepperincino flakes, oregano and a lot of fresh basil. It wasn’t bad! It was a very light and very fresh side-dish that was served next to baked chicken breasts. Of course the ratatouille could have been so much more, but for a quick and easy mid-week harvest meal, it couldn’t have been more perfect. So keeping in step with the culinary theme this week, a huge dent was made in our agri-rator (a refrigerator full of agricultural produce) and in the spirit of the Thanksgiving week, another harvest meal was had!

On deck for tonight’s harvest meal….something with green beans!

Until next time….

PS – As a quick aside, I did remember to properly salt my eggplant for the ratatouille. I began salting the eggplant about an hour before I was ready to use them. The salting process really makes all the difference – my eggplant was actually edible this time!

Harvest Meals: A Week of Thanksgiving

November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving!

I really love this time of year. In the third week of November, I usually start to feel a magical buzz in the air, which always seems to have a crescendoing effect up to Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that it is a holiday that is not materialistic or greedy, but one that simply brings family and friends together for a meal. Thanksgiving, historically, was a harvest meal celebrating the cooperation between the English settlers and Native Americans in 1621 in which thanks was given to the successful bounty of crops. I really love Thanksgiving’s symbolism and while most Americans are not literally giving thanks to a successful crop season each year, our Thanksgivings – or at least mine – truly does symbolize a harvest meal.

The anticipation and preparation of Thanksgiving is almost has much fun as eating the meal itself. This year, while I am not hosting Thanksgiving or preparing the turkey, I am making a few side dishes. I am very excited for my role this year, mostly because I feel like I have graduated from sous-chef or kitchen helper to “chef contributor.” I take my role seriously and have well-researched the types of dishes I want to prepare, focusing mainly on recipes that can be made from fresh and local ingredients.

Brussel Sprouts - Alhambra Farmers' Market

Brussel Sprouts - Alhambra Farmers' Market

After deciding on a brussel sprouts dish and perhaps a cauliflower gratin of some sort, I made my way to the Alhambra farmers’ market. Alhambra, a town nestled between San Marino, South Pasadena and San Gabriel, offers a farmers’ market every Sunday that is a real treasure trove of fruit and legume wonders. Although I was at the farmers’ market to buy just the few items I needed for my Thanksgiving side dishes, the spirit of the the harvest got me a little produce-happy. Quickly forgetting that it is a short week due to the holiday, and that we are traveling this weekend, I bought enough fruits and vegetables to last us two weeks. Armed with fresh plums, pears, and blackberries, a few varieties of basil, four pounds of brussel sprouts, a head of cauliflower the size of a garbage can lid, a few pounds of string beans, heirloom tomatoes, baby zucchini, and the list goes on…I left the farmers market feeling the need to give thanks to my bounty of crops.

While I think George is slightly skeptical of the farm that is now residing in our refrigerator, I have devised a culinary plan in which George and I will honor Thanksgiving’s symbolism by having a harvest meal every night this week. And our meal last night did just that. Using the fresh blackberries, I made a blackberry-red wine reduction and served the sauce over sauteed pork chops. This recipe idea, while admittedly novel, is not one that I would recommend. The reduction was bitter and almost a bit acidic, and even though the ingredients seemed so benign, (shallots, wine, chicken broth, blackberry puree and salt and pepper), the sauce did not come together as I hoped. Fortunately, the rest of our dinner did and we enjoyed perfectly roasted potatoes and carrots and a fresh salad that incorporated the heirloom tomatoes I had bought earlier in the day. And for dessert, well that just took the cake…or tart!

A Beautiful and Tasty Plum Tart!

A Beautiful and Tasty Plum Tart!

Check out this plum tart! Not only did it actually look beautiful, but it was a simple recipe that accentuated the flavors of the fresh plums. The filling was simply quartered plums placed symmetrically around the tart shell with a sugar, cornstarch, vanilla and lemon juice batter poured over the plums. The tart was so tasty and thankfully off-setted my blackberry reduction debacle.

Our Sunday night dinner may have made a dent in our produce-laden refrigerator, but it also jump-started this important holiday week. While George and I will have another harvest meal tonight, The Alhambra Farmers’ Market – and the local produce Southern California has to offer – certainly puts the meaning of Thanksgiving into perspective this year.

Happy Thanksgiving and until next time…