Where is the love? The love for the common mushroom? Chanterelles, morels, cepes, and the like get all the attention! Button! Button! Button! There’s only so much the common mushroom can take.
Did you know the button mushroom has just as much nutritional benefit, if not more. than their wild and fancy counter parts? Yeah, it’s true. Research has shown mushrooms provide immune system support, protection against cardiovascular disease and lowering risk of breast cancer. All this and it tastes great.
Look for button mushrooms that are firm, plump, clean, and pale in color. Those that are wrinkled or have wet slimy spots should be avoided. Make sure you don’t keep them in plastic bags because mushrooms breath and plastic will make them deteriorate faster, so grab a cloth bag or throw them in a paper bag. If the mushrooms are dirty, wash them and if not, just take a damp paper towel and wipe away any smudges.
My favorite way to enjoy mushrooms are to slice them thin and sautéed them on high heat with good quality fat, minced shallots , parsley, and a squeeze of lemon juice on toast. Yeah, life is good.
March 2014 newsletter
Spring is here as we say goodbye to a cold and very dry winter. Drought has plagued farmers and consumers alike. A statewide drought emergency was called by Governor Brown in January and water restrictions began in many cities. Your farmers are doing their best to sustain their farms and themselves during the drought, so talk to them about their situation and support them in their efforts to continue to bring you fresh locally-grown fruits and vegetables.
It’s a great time to visit your farmers’ market and pick out some spring greens – lettuce, kale, spring onions, asparagus, artichokes, spinach, broccoli, and chard are here, just to name a few. And don’t forget pick up some leeks and cabbage for St. Patrick’s Day!
March also brings National Agriculture Week. Celebrate local agriculture’s contributions by shopping your farmers’ market, buying locally-grown products, and thanking your farmer for their hard work and dedication to keeping agriculture a viable vocation for the future.
March brings overcast, sometimes drizzly mornings interspersed with sunny afternoons. Bursts of color begin to erupt in our home gardens; and each week some new seasonal delicacy appears at the farmers’ market. Stands brimming with fragrant citrus fruits are now joined by other cool-weather crops like snapping-fresh asparagus spears, sweet multi-color beets, tender salad greens, big bumpy fava beans, mild-mannered leeks, a trilogy of plump peas (English, sugar-snaps, and snow peas), and a scarlet sea of early strawberries. The farmers’ market is also well stocked with crisp green cabbage and numerous potato varieties ideal for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Spring flowers abound…ever the perfect antidote to a gloomy day.
Even with all this bounty before us, it would take a very cold-hearted Californian to resist the charms of the season’s first artichokes. Here where they are cheap and plentiful, artichokes have become part of the California lifestyle. I never tire of them—steamed or boiled; braised; marinated; fried; stuffed and baked; or blanched and charred on the grill. Bring it on.
The following recipe is adapted from one that appeared in Sunset magazine a number of years back. This convenient cooking method is a nice switch, and celebrates the artichoke’s origins with aromatic Mediterranean flavors. It’s also a great make-ahead dish, since these artichokes are equally delicious at room temperature.
–Edible thistles of the sunflower family and native to the Mediterranean, artichokes were brought to California in the 1880’s by Italian immigrants.
–California produces 100% of all commercially grown artichokes in the United States
–Approximately 75% of harvested artichokes are sold fresh; the remaining 25% are
processed as canned hearts and crowns or as frozen, quartered artichokes
–Globe artichokes are cultivated mainly in California’s foggy mid-coastal regions.
–The peak season for artichokes is March through May, with a shorter second season in the fall. Artichokes grown in the fall are usually more cone-shaped than round, and their outer petals have a purplish tinge.
–The first artichokes to appear at the top of the plant are the largest; those picked thereafter are smaller. The “babies” that grow under the plant’s large silvery leaves rarely develop a choke, so they can be cooked and eaten whole or cut into slivers and eaten raw.
–Buy artichokes that feel heavy for their size, with an unopened, compact leaf formation and firm stem with little sign of browning at the end. The leaves should “squeak” when pressed together. (However, note that thornless varieties—without prickly tips—will not pass the squeak test.)
–A slightly bronzed or blistery look on the leaf edges (dubbed “winter’s kiss” by some advertising wizard) is merely an indication of the artichoke’s exposure to frost, and does not affect the artichoke’s quality. (In fact, some growers swear they taste the best.)
–Refrigerate unwashed artichokes in a closed plastic bag for up to 5 days.
–When preparing artichokes, some cooks prefer to wear rubber gloves to protect their hands from the prickly tips.
–To reduce discoloration, as you are working drop each cut artichoke into a large bowl of acidulated cold water (i.e., 3 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar to 1 quart cool water).
–Don’t discard the artichoke stems! They taste remarkably similar to the prized hearts. When you find an artichoke with a nice fat stem, use a small knife or a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler to remove the tough, fibrous outer layer; then steam or roast it along with the artichokes. (Watch closely, as they cook faster.)
–1 medium artichoke weighs in at a mere 60 calories, with 7 grams of fiber.
3 large farm-fresh artichokes, each about 4 inches wide, preferably with thick stems attached
1/4 cup California extra virgin olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, peeled if desired
6 small sprigs of fresh thyme or other favorite herb
6 thin lemon slices, seeds removed
Coarse (kosher) salt
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Working 1 artichoke at a time, break off and discard the small tough outer leaves. Use a large knife to cut off the tips and stems. With kitchen scissors, snip off the thorny tips from the remaining leaves. Trim the dark base from the stem end and peel the coarse outer fibers from the stem and artichoke bottom. Cut artichokes in half lengthwise and remove and discard the fuzzy choke with a melon baller or small spoon. Drop artichoke halves and stems in a bowl of acidulated water. Repeat with remaining artichokes.
- Pour oil into a 13- x 9- x 2-inch baking dish…or any other dish in which the artichokes will fit snugly in a single layer. Roll the peeled stems and artichoke halves in the oil to coat lightly. Arrange artichoke halves cut-side down in the baking dish. Place a garlic clove in the cavity where the choke had been; then slide a sprig of thyme and a lemon slice under each artichoke half. Tuck the stems into spaces between the artichokes. Cover with parchment paper to prevent discoloration; then cover tightly with foil. Bake until the artichoke bottoms are just tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 40 minutes.
- Carefully place each artichoke half on a serving platter, cut-side up, leaving the garlic and thyme in place, topped by the steamed lemon slice. Arrange the stems on the platter; drizzle the baking juices over all, and season with salt. Serve warm or at room temperature; as is, or with mayonnaise, aioli, melted butter, and/or fresh lemon wedges on the side. Serves 3 artichoke lovers at dinner, or 6 polite people as part of a buffet.
Food fraud is an ever-growing problem in the US. And olive oil is at the top of the list. A 2011 study of extra virgin olive oil by the Olive Center at the University of California at Davis found that 73% of the five best-selling imported brands failed to meet the standards of taste and smell established for that grade of olive oil set by European regulators.* Some olive oil that claims to be from Italy or Spain is actually brought from other countries and re-exported from there. Olive oil may be diluted with other oils like soybean or vegetable oil, or fabricated entirely from a cheaper oil doctored to look like olive oil. The “extra virgin” label does not pass the test, either. Over 69% of bottles labeled “extra virgin olive oil” were not extra virgin.
So you’re not getting what you pay for! You’re not getting the quality OR the heart-healthy benefits associated with extra virgin olive oil!
On October 25, 2011 the United States adopted new olive oil standards, a revision of those that have been in place since 1948, which affect importers and domestic growers and producers by ensuring conformity. In the California certification program, California producers submit their olive oil for sensory evaluation, where a panel of certified tasters conducts a blind tasting, and chemical analysis, rigorous lab testing to confirm acidity levels and other aspects of the oil are on target. If the oil passes certification the producers earn the right to display the COOC seal. Purchasing olive oil with the COOC means you are buying fresh, California grown, 100% extra virgin olive oil.
The olive oil sold at your local farmers’ market can be counted on to give you the highest quality and the best flavor of locally-made California olive oil. If you choose to try Italian or Spanish oils – or any other country’s olive oil – make sure you read the fine print on the label carefully!
Visit the UC Davis Olive Center for interesting articles on California olive oil and on the 2011 study.
Click here for a list of some of PCFMA’s olive oil producers at the markets.
February 2014 newsletter
February is a busy but short month. It’s Heart Health Month and the farmers’ market offers wonderful fresh heart-healthy produce for you to enjoy. Asparagus will be arriving close to the end of the month and it’s a very good heart healthy vegetable. Sauté, steam, bake, or shave into a salad raw. Delicious! It will be around the market through May, so pick up a few bunches, and blanch and freeze for later use. Be sure to pick out some lovely fresh cut flowers and sweets for your special Valentine. Fill your market bag with seasonal fruits and vegetables, fresh bakery items, local honey, and other treats for a homemade gourmet dinner. Your loved one will be so impressed! And don’t forget to gather some winter favorites like winter squash, leafy greens, carrots, beets, citrus, and more. Make a big warming pot of soup or stew that’s loaded with good things. Make this your heart-healthy month!
The rise of farmers’ markets and the local food movement has created a dramatic shift in American tastes. Consumers increasingly are seeking out the seasonal fresh foods grown on local farms rather than those trucked to supermarkets from a thousand miles away. And these are just ordinary people who have become informed about their food choices and care about small farmers. Local food integrates production, processing, distribution and consumption on a small scale, creating sustainable local economies and a strong connection between farm and table.
The result of all this local eating has gradually increased the number of small farms, which were declining for more than a century! Once, the average age of a farmer was 60 years old! Children did not want to take over the farm from parents, but now small farms have increased by 20% over the last 15 to 20 years!
Heirloom varieties of fruits and vegetables have been rediscovered and are very popular at farmers’ markets and specialty stores because of their amazing flavor. Grass-fed beef and pork and free-range chickens have steadily risen in importance for health reasons and for humane treatment of animals.
The Eat Local Food Movement will have a tendency to go mainstream with large supermarkets claiming to have local produce, and that’s fine as long as the claim is true. Be sure to shop your farmers’ market for real local food and other local products. Visit Slow Food USA for more information.
Over the past six years, CCD has wiped out an estimated 10 million beehives worth $2 billion. Bee colonies in the U.S. are so decimated that it takes 60% of the nation’s bee population to pollinate a single crop, California almonds. And that’s not just a local problem; California supplies 80% of the world’s almonds!
The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), USDA’s internal research agency, is leading several efforts into possible CCD causes. Varroa mites, a virus-transmitting parasite of honey bees, have frequently been found in hives hit by CCD. Some consider current pesticide and fertilizer use as another cause of the disorder. Researchers suspect that stress could be compromising the immune system of bees, making colonies more susceptible to disease, possibly caused by “poor nutrition (due to apiary overcrowding, pollination of crops with low nutritional value, or pollen or nectar dearth), drought, and migratory stress brought about by the increased need to move bees long distances to provide pollination services (which, by confining bees during transport, or increasing contact among colonies in different hives, increases the transmission of pathogens).”
To watch a short video on Bee Colony Collapse visit http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ur1ZFj22K94. To learn more on what’s being done about bee colony diseases view the USDA Colony Collapse Disorder Plan at www.ars.usda.gov/is/br/ccd/ccd_actionplan.
California Grown Flowers
The local movement has reached the California nursery business. Flowers purchased locally are just plain fresher. Most flowers you see at the s upermarket are imported, mass-produced and laden with chemicals.
Debra Prinzing’s book The 50 Mile Bouquet: Seasonal, Local and Sustainable Flowers, “draws the comparison between the locavore movement in food and a growing awareness among consumers about the origins of the flowers they buy.”
Half Moon Bay and Watsonville have the perfect climate to grow gorgeous flowers and plants. And you’ll always get a better product the closer to the source your purchase is. Our local nurseries and flower growers are proud of their offerings and they work hard to achieve the best flowers and plants available.
Enjoying flowers that are grown locally rather than those that are shipped from other countries reminds you to observe nature throughout the year and enjoy each season as it comes. Happy Spring!
Visit California Grown Flowers Facebook page for fun facts and ideas.
Pastured eggs are from hens raised on pasture, as opposed to being kept in confinement and fed primarily grains. Eggs from pastured hens contain higher levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids than those of their less fortunate cousins, factory hens. Though not necessarily organic, and having both brown or white shells, they are much healthier than those from grain-fed, confined chickens.
The hens might be feed a supplemental diet during the dry winter months, but their diets are usually worms, insects, and other critters on the ground. This natural way of feeding hens gives the yolk that beautiful orange color. They also taste much richer.
Pastured eggs also have 10 percent less fat, 40 percent more vitamin A, and 34 percent less cholesterol than eggs obtained from factory farms.
Some consumers confuse the concept of free-range eggs with pastured eggs. Many conventional egg supply companies encourage this confusion, because consumers are sometimes willing to pay a premium price for products that they believe were harvested in humane and sustainable ways. The two terms are not synonymous, however, and “free range” eggs, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, must come from chickens that are offered access to the outside. Many commercial production companies provide this access in the form of a small door that is opened a few times a day; used to being confined indoors, the chickens make no move to explore the outdoors. Pastured chickens are raised in a pasture, with mobile coops to roost in at night.
Although there is no scientific basis for it, some people also believe that pastured hens are happier, and seek out pastured eggs because they are concerned about the treatment of food animals. Enjoy pastured eggs in your next omelet, salad, or dessert. You’ll notice the difference in taste.
From: MARIO HERNANDEZ, PCFMA MARKET CHEF
In an attempt to discourage its customers from falling into a culinary rut, a supermarket in England adopted the slogan, “Try something scary today.” This made me smile, but also got me thinking. It’s really not a bad way to approach shopping at the farmers’ market.
In February, do you automatically load up your market bag with apples and oranges? Perhaps tossing in a bag of lettuce or a head of broccoli every now and then? Ho-hum. It’s time to get out of that rut. Make this the year to explore new horizons and embrace the bounty of California’s top growing regions—all of which are represented at the Danville farmers’ market.
Have you ever tried cardoon? Pummelo? Carambola? How about that wild tangle of Asian greens you’ve walked by a dozen times? We’re talking produce here, folks. How scary could these things possibly be?
One of the many advantages of shopping at a certified farmers’ market is the person doing the selling is the same person doing the growing. So if anyone knows how to tackle a kohlrabi or choose a cherimoya, it’s your friendly local farmer. Here’s the challenge for 2014: when you come across anything unfamiliar at the market, just ask the person who grew it. Like most proud parents, they love to talk about their progeny. And their enthusiasm is often contagious.
This month at the farmers’ market, along with those “scary” items you vow to try, no doubt you’ll also want to pick up something sweet for Valentine’s Day. How about something comfortingly familiar, seemingly extravagant, and vaguely romantic? Nothing but farm-fresh strawberries will do.
After months of hiding underground, strawberries are now appearing at the market. Oh sure, they’ll probably get sweeter and cheaper as the season progresses; but for now, they are a colorful addition to the limited lineup of winter fruits. A hopeful sign that spring is on its way. And unlike the hard-as-rocks strawberries sold in most supermarkets, these little gems are the real deal, i.e., they actually smell and taste like berries. Imagine!
While sorting through a mountain of papers I had saved for one reason or another, I came across this long-forgotten recipe. It’s something that used to be served as a special dessert at the Four Seasons in New York City. I hadn’t made these for years. Maybe even decades. And I have no idea why I stopped. (Might it be because I couldn’t find the recipe?) Anyway, these shiny glazed strawberries are now back in rotation.
If you were once a devotee of candy apples—the carnival specialty consisting of an irresistibly crisp, tart apple encased in a crackly-sweet coating that shattered with each bite—think of these strawberries as their sophisticated cousins. The chic relatives who fly in from Paris for the weekend.
These glossy fruits are a welcome break from the ubiquitous chocolate-covered strawberry, yet every bit as delicious. And even though I may have gone overboard in my explanation of the candying process, it’s really quite simple to do. Just have everything set up before you get started, and it will be done in no time.
Best of all, unlike candy apples, these do not provoke the wrath of the American Dental Association. Since it’s only one teeny bite, your veneers should remain in place.
2 baskets farm-fresh strawberries, stems and green caps left intact
2 cups granulated pure cane sugar
1/8 teaspoon of cream of tartar
2/3 cup water
- Rinse the strawberries in a large bowl of cold water. Drain well in a colander and pat dry with paper towels. Arrange the strawberries on an absorbent towel to air-dry.
- Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat; or line with parchment or foil and spray with no-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
- In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar and cream of tartar. Stir in the water until evenly moistened. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbles surface around the edges of the pan. Continue cooking, without stirring, watching carefully, until the mixture becomes a clear syrup that reaches the hard-crack stage (300 to 310 degrees F.) on a candy thermometer. Remove from the heat.
- Working one at a time, dip a berry into the sugar syrup by holding its long stem or by using a bamboo skewer. (Coat only the red part of the berry; not the green cap or stem.) Immediately transfer the berry to the prepared baking sheet to cool. (The syrup will harden as it cools.) Repeat with the remaining strawberries.
- Once cool, these are best served within 2 hours. Do not refrigerate.
Tips for Crackling-Good Success
- Long-stemmed strawberries make for an especially showy presentation. Valentine’s Day comes only once a year, so you may as well look like a big spender. If long stems are not available, stick a bamboo skewer securely into the cap of each strawberry to use as a “handle.”
- Use only perfect—and perfectly dry—fruit. Any moisture left on the berries, or any nicks in the flesh that might leak moisture, will throw off the chemistry.
- Don’t attempt to make these on a humid or rainy day. The sugar syrup may never harden. (It’s that moisture thing again.)
- If you don’t own a candy thermometer, buy one. But if that’s out of the question, here’s the old-school way of checking the temperature: Drop a small spoonful of hot syrup into a bowl of ice water. Remove the resulting candy from the water and try to bend it between your fingers. If the proper hard-crack stage has been reached, the syrup will form brittle threads in the water, and will crack if you try to mold it with your fingers.
- You want to work fairly quickly, before the sugar syrup cools down and loses its crackling powers. You can prolong the proper temperature by carefully placing the pot of hot syrup inside a larger pot or bowl filled with a couple of inches of hot (not boiling) water.
- This is NOT a project to do with young children. Or clumsy adults. In fact, have a bowl of ice water nearby, just in case any of the sugar syrup splatters; immediately submerge your hand in the ice water.