Seasonal Foods: Sour Cherries

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This past Saturday – with Tala’s help – we did something crazy. We pitted 20 pounds of sour cherries. What? These don’t look like the cherries you find in the grocery store, or even the farmers market? It’s true. These cherries are a different variety, and a different animal altogether. Sour cherries are extremely rare and hard to come by out here on the west coast, but if you’re from the midwest, or even the northeast, you may have had a tree in your yard or neighborhood growing up. Most likely, although we’re not 100% certain, our cherries were Montmorency Cherries – a variety widely available in Europe and scattered throughout the US. They need frost to thrive, you see, and that’s one of the only times I can think of that our amazing Bay Area weather prohibits us from access to a particular produce item. You can’t have everything, I guess.

Anyway, sour cherries are THE pie cherry. Their tart acidity and depth of cherry flavor is what really makes the cherry pie you’re used to what it is. And getting them, pitting them, and making it yourself produces THE BEST cherry pie filling. Trust me. These cherries are also what should be used to make maraschino cherries – or brandied, bourbon, or any other liquor-infused cherry you prefer. I think Tala plans to put some up this way this year, while I’ll be making her a Slab Pie for her birthday with mine. (More about that later.) Just don’t pop one in your mouth expecting to love it – even if you promise me you love sour things! These cherries will make you pucker, though I do recommend trying one just so you understand their raw flavor.

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Miraculously, pitting all 20 lbs only took about 2 hours worth of work, but we did make an assembly line system out of it, which helped. My utensil of choice is a paperclip, but a bobby pin will work as well. You can’t use a pitter on these cherries, because it’ll destroy their delicate, juicy interiors. The pit isn’t as attached to the flesh in these cherries as it is in sweet cherries, it more, well, floats around inside and just needs to be scooped out. You pluck the stem off the top, poke the end of an unfolded paperclip into the stem end, and scoop out the pit. Pretty simple! So what are we going to do with 10 lbs each? Too – late – we already froze them! In that first photo, you can see them in their luminescent glory, all spread out on sheet pans and waiting to be popped into the freezer. Once they’re solid, you can store them in canning jars or ziploc bags. They’ll keep for about a year this way – and it maintains their pure flavor and color very effectively.

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Now that we’ve inspired you, we hope you can find these lovely orbs for yourself! Maybe you can make a pie or turnovers? Some true maraschino cherries for your old fashioneds? These cherries are only available for a few weeks in June, and most certainly the farmers markets are already sold out. You might have some luck at Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl, or maybe BiRite will have them. Just for reference, you’ll need around 2 or 3 pounds to make anything like a pie or other pastry, so scoop them up if you see them. A handful won’t do it.

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And because this is a wine blog, after all, let’s talk about the wine that accompanied our pitting extravaganza. The 2011 Robert Sinskey Muscat à Petits Grains tastes like flowers in your mouth. It’s fresh, delicate, and crisp. A wonderful and versatile complement to our indoor-picnic lunch of fresh chevre, castelvetrano olives (our fave!), oven roasted tomatoes from last year’s crop, smoked oysters, and Oakland’s own Firebrand Bakery bread. Tala and I both loved it – though she preferred the 2010. This wine is made in very small quantities, so ask for it very nicely if you’re ever at the Sinskey tasting room, and they might sell you a bottle. No promises.

Recipe: Easy Fluffy Blueberry Pancakes

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It’s officially the middle of June. Spring sprung a while ago and now the days are getting longer and warmer. One of the most lovely seasonal ingredients you can find around here this time of year is fresh blueberries. They are delicious! Tart, flavorful, juicy and bite-sized. Blueberries are extremely versatile; you can add them to your oatmeal or pancakes, enjoy them with fresh ricotta cheese or hide them inside of cornmeal muffins for a delectable surprise. To top it all off, they are my favorite color – blue!

I get my blueberries from a family farm at the Alemany Farmer’s Market called Hooverville Orchards. This vendor is only at the market for the summer, fall & winter seasons. They grow apples, pears, citrus, peaches, sweet cherries, sour cherries, blueberries and various other fruits. You can find them at the Alemany market from early June through February. Because they grow sour cherries, I find myself coming here starting in late May, hoping to find them on their first weekend back at the market to ask when their sour cherries will be in (more on that later).

For now, we have settled for blueberries. Since Father’s Day is upon us, I thought it would be nice to cover a pancake recipe. Dads love pancakes, it’s a well-known fact. My own father used to make pancakes for us every Saturday morning while we watched the Smurfs. He wasn’t much of a cook so he used Bisquick instead of making them from scratch. I always assumed that since my father never made them from scratch then they must just be too complicated to make without a mix. How wrong I was! Pancakes are very easy to make, you just have to use a light hand, butter and medium-low heat. Anybody could make these, even kids.

Fluffy Blueberry Pancakes
(adapted from allrecipes.com)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup milk
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tbsp. white sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 egg
2 tbsp. butter, melted
3/4 cup fresh blueberries
Additional butter for cooking

Method:
In a medium bowl, add the vinegar to the milk and let stand for 5 minutes while it sours. Melt the 2 tbsp. butter on the stovetop or in the microwave. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda & salt in a medium bowl. Whisk the egg & melted butter into the soured milk. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk until just barely incorporated – there should still be some small and medium lumps in the batter (this will ensure tender, fluffy pancakes!). Gently fold in the fresh blueberries.

Heat a large skillet over medium-low heat. Melt enough butter to just cover the bottom of the pan. Pour batter 1/4 cup at a time onto the skillet and cook until you start to see bubbles on the surface of the pancake and the edges begin to dry. Flip the pancake and cook on the other side for 2-3 minutes, or until golden brown.

Sprinkle with powdered sugar & fresh blueberries for garnish, and serve with syrup of your choice.

Happy Father’s Day everyone!

Seasonal Foods: King Salmon

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In the Bay Area, there aren’t many things the locals take more seriously than baseball (Go Giants/A’s!). One of those few things is food. Case in point: Dungeness crab, Hog Island oysters, farmer’s markets, Berkeley Bowl/Rainbow/BiRite, Cioppino, countless “New American” restaurants featuring local ingredients, Mission burritos, food trucks, pop-up restaurants, dim sum, and brunch in general. Your average Bay Arean knows more about farming, fine dining, international cuisine and cooking than most Americans. Our airport has the finest food of any I’ve ever been to. Finally, some of the best meals are the cheapest, served from trucks on the street with a side of grilled green onions. What’s not to love?

Once a year, starting in late May, we start to see local King Salmon hitting the markets and restaurants. These delicious beasts spawn in the Sacramento river and are a delicacy in our Bay Area culture. In 2008 & 2009 there was no King Salmon season at all. In 2010, the season only lasted 4 days. Needless to say, this fish is expensive! Prices vary greatly by location. I’ve seen it for as much as $28/lb. at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and for as little as $19.99 at Sun Fat Seafood in the Mission.

King Salmon is aptly named. Also known as Chinook Salmon, it’s salmony in color, slightly sweet and has a lovely texture. This is one of the salmon species you can eat raw. The skin is the best part, absolutely wonderful when it’s pan-fried with sea salt until crispy. It’s excellent for curing, or prepared in the way I feel is best: Simply pan roasted in olive oil with salt, pepper and a slice of lemon.

We have a farmer’s market in my neighborhood on Thursdays afternoons, and our fresh fish vendor had King Salmon for $22 a lb. I bought a 3/4 lb piece, cut it into two, and pan-roasted it simply with salt & pepper. Served with matchstick carrots & ginger in a honey & olive oil glaze, topped with melted leeks, accompanied by a wedge of lemon and a side of brown rice.

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We enjoyed a bottle of Dutton-Goldfield 2012 Russian Rivery Valley Pinot Blanc alongside this lovely meal. It’s surprisingly rich on the palate for such a young and light-bodied wine. Pale straw in color, it has notes of stonefruit, mineral and citrus with a nice acid backbone and delightfully long finish. It was perfect with the fish and vegetables. Unfortunately this wine is no longer available for purchase, but it was $25/btl. retail when I bought it. Dutton-Goldfield has a wonderful wine club, you can opt out of any offering and the discount is 20%. They are definitely worth checking out if you are in Sebastopol; they make lovely Syrah, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc & Gewurtztraminer.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll in all, I can’t complain that this was my dinner. I feel very fortunate to have these exceptional-quality ingredients at my fingertips. I love to cook seasonally, and while I love King Salmon, I probably won’t think about it much for the rest of the year because I will be distracted by other seasonal delights. Think of tomatoes, hard winter squash, chanterelle mushrooms, apples and garlic scapes.

Easy Meals: Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of our favorite seasonal foods here in the Bay Area is stonefruit. Colleen loves it so much, she got peaches tattooed on her back. True story. I was at the Alemany Famer’s Market today to stalk the sour cherry vendor (2 more weeks…) and snagged a tasty-looking sample from a neighboring stall. All they had were yellow nectarines, which happen to be my favorite.

Holy moly! They were amazing. So sweet, juicy, tart and creamy – the perfect stonefruit. I picked up a big bag of them for $3/lb (organic, too) with no real intentions for them other than shoveling them into my face.

I left the Alemany market, took a detour for the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market and found that Cowgirl Creamery is now selling mini 4oz. tubs of burrata. While I have no issue plowing through a full 16oz of this sweet, creamy, heavenly cheese, I decided it would be better for my heath and pocketbook if I bought the little tub. It’s the perfect amount for two people and it only cost me $5.

I remembered a cheesemonger once told me that the perfect accompaniment for burrata was stonefruit. I then recalled a salad I recently had at Eno Wine Bar in Union square with grilled peaches, peppery greens and burrata cheese. It was heavenly, although the peaches were under-ripe. I thought I would do the concept justice and make my own rendition at home with perfectly ripe fruit. I picked up a big bag of watercress from County Line Harvest and took my bounty home to Brisbane.

My husband and I enjoyed this lovely salad accompanied with a peppery champagne vinaigrette and a bottle of Wind Gap 2012 Trousseau Gris. Trousseay Gris was once widely planted across California, but these days there’s only about 10 acres of it left. It creates a wine that is delicate and fresh with aromas of honeysuckle, mineral & citrus. It’s so fresh and delicious, I thought it would be a lovely compliment to our summery salad.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pair was a match made in heaven. You can pick up this wine for yourself for the super low price of $24. It’s hard to find a wine this delicious and well-made at this price point, so I suggest buying up as much of it as you can if you see it in a store.

The salad was very easy to make, the recipe is below.

Nectarine & Burrata Watercress Salad with Black Pepper Vinaigrette
(serves 2)

Ingredients:
1/3 lb. watercress, pepper-cress, spring mix, arugula, or whatever
1 tree-ripe yellow nectarine or peach
4 oz. burrata
Olive Oil
Champagne vinegar
Pinch of salt
Fresh ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Put the greens into a large bowl.
  2. Pour equal parts champagne vinegar & olive oil (about 1 oz each) into a 4 oz canning jar with a lid or a small bowl.
  3. Add salt and pepper to the dressing.
  4.  Put a lid on the jar and shake the dressing, or whisk in the bowl.
  5.  Cut your nectarine or peach into pretty slices.
  6.  Cut your 4 oz. of Burrata into wedges.
  7.  Pour the dressing onto the greens and toss.
  8.  Plate equal parts of greens into two separate bowls.
  9.  Fan out your stonefruit slices and place them in the center of the salad.
  10.  Garnish the stonefruit slices with two wedges of burrata.
  11.  Drizzle the burrata with olive oil and give it another grind of black pepper

Enjoy your amazing salad and wash it down with copious amounts of California Trousseau Gris.

 

Seasonal Foods: Ramps

ramps

If you’ve ever walked into a fancy restaurant in California during the spring-time, you have probably seen Ramps on the menu, complimenting your favorite main courses. These seasonal little nuggets of oniony goodness are basically wild leeks, which have recently found fame on the menus of fancy restaurants all over America due to their intoxicating aroma and good looks. Ramps have deep roots in Southern Appalachia where they are used in traditional recipes and in the past were used as a tonic to ward off the ailments of winter.

I have not heard of ramps growing in the wilds of California, but you can certainly buy them here at specialty grocery stores. Out here we seem to have this other variety of useless wild onions that pack no flavor and will take siege of your backyard given the chance (ask me how I know). I buy ramps at the Far West Fungi stall in the San Francisco Ferry Building Marketplace for $5 a bunch. I am sure those in Southern Appalachia would balk at the price, but let’s be real; this stuff is shipped across the country. If they were local, they would cost at least twice as much (har).

Ramps have a pungent garlicky-oniony smell and look much like a green onions. They are best served with foods from the same season such as King Salmon & morels. In the South, they are often fried with potatoes in bacon fat. In fact, ramps are so delicious that they are considered a threatened species in some places where they don’t grow as voraciously as they do in Appalachia. Maybe someday ramps will be as endangered as blue fin tuna due to demand. Real talk.

Tonight I am going to try grilling mine and serving them with Prather Ranch skirt steak tacos on Rancho Gordo tortillas ($3). How would/do you prepare ramps? Let us know in the comments.