Monday, June 26, 2006

Market Recap: Week 20

Last week's Market Recap went unreported while my wife and I visited friends and family in Portland. The week before there had been more cherry varieties than I could reasonably bring home, early season pluots didn't taste like much of anything, and Doug Stonebreaker of Prather Ranch had no bacon.

A week later several stands had quit selling cherries. While confirming that the season was over for them, the guy working the Hamada farms booth pointed out that next weekend would probably be the last weekend for their apricots. Apricots which offer up ample squirming proof of their organic credentials.

A few stalls down someone was selling cherries from a single crate at 7.00 a pound. Second only to 10.00 a pint blueberries in terms of sheer pricing chutzpah. We were relieved to find that Lagier Ranches still had Rainier Cherries and also Sour Cherries. I'll have more to say about sour cherries later this week, in the mean time here's a photo.

In a rare break with Market Recap protocol I'll also offer up this photo of Sour Grapes, even though my wife stumbled upon them at Berkeley Bowl.

Still no word on Prather Ranch bacon. Though the appearance of Highland Hill Farms Bacon over at Meathenge seems encouraging. Suppose there's always the off chance it came and went while we were up north...

Just for the heck of it: Shrimp

It's been a while since we ate shrimp. I prepared these with olive oil, fresh herbs, a basic kosher salt and some sliced garlic scape. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Cannard Farms Pepper that found its way into the dish. Tough not to think of this as a ringer ingredient, but doing so when referring to a dish that features garlic scape would be kowtowing to celebrity rather than obscurity. I'm not that kind of guy.

A minute a side on the grill and they were done, but I prefer this photo of the shrimp pre-skewer.

Incidentally, this was one half of a surf and turf combo featuring Buffalo Ribeye.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Market Recap: Weeks 17 and 18

Flavorful stone fruit were everywhere at the Grand Lake Farmer's Market last week. I tend to associate good-tasting examples of these with later summer months, and after a long wet spring, they seemed were both welcome and unexpected. Sweet and rich peaches, tart and chewy apricots, and all kinds of cherries (King, Rainier, and Tulare varieties). There were blue berries as well.

All were more expensive than they tend to be later in the year, but the taste makes the premium palatable.

After an absence of nearly two months, County Line Harvest Farms was back at the market. Their arugula is the best I've tasted with the exception of Knoll Farms. It lacks that grown-wild shape and color, but makes up for it in piquancy.

This week's new arrivals included black berries at Lagier Ranches. These should be excellent in a couple weeks; now they taste more tart than flavorful. There were also a few varieties of Pluot. I didn't taste these after my wife waved me off.

Of course, most of these fruits have been available for some time, and for less money, at Berkeley Bowl. Some consideration of the philosophical differences between people who are, and are not, swayed by that sort of thing is something I intend to address eventually.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Blanxart Chocolate Negro Con Almendras

According to an entry at Global Province, "Blanxart is a small artisanal chocolate company located in Sant Joan Despi, a town just outside Barcelona. Its owners make over 100 types of chocolate and pralines, all by hand, using traditional recipes and select cocoa beans from South America and Africa, which are roasted and blended in the atelier." While their Chocolate Negro Con Almendras can be found at both Dean and Deluca and La Tienda, my wife picked up two bars for me at The Spanish Table in Berkeley.

The taste of the bar is curiously bright. It is packed with small chunks of almond, and the fruit taste of almond (akin to marzipan) nearly overwhelms the acidity of the dark choclate.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus)

Cardoons (Cynara cardunculus) are a winter staple here in northern California, and figure prominently in Italian dishes like Bagna Cauda. Of the ten recipes for cardoons over at Food Network, nine are associated with Mario Batali.

Until a recent meal at Aziza, I had somehow managed to go fifteen years in the bay area without having eaten a single bite of cardoon. There they served a pungent salad of cardoon with crushed garlic, olive oil, and meyer lemon.

Reproducing this salad at home was more involved than it might sound. To prepare cardoons you have to first remove the leaves, and then the spines that that dot the outer most rib on either side of the stalk. Once you've done this, you need to remove the ribs off the back of the stalk, using a vegetable peeler. To get the stalks tender, you also need to boil them for thirty-five (35) minutes.

According to the folks at Tip Top Farms, cardoons are closely related to and taste a lot like artichokes - I don't find this to be the case. There are portions of the plant that smell like an artichoke smells, but after you've variously peeled, boiled, and chilled, they don't taste like much of anything. Meaty celery maybe.