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Monthly Archives: April 2011

Vermont, Sonoma, France, and Point Reyes

Butter makes the world better (so is bacon and anchovy).

Continuing with my quest for the best tasting butter, I did another tasting today, and this time among the farm crew at Full Circle Farm.

Unlike my 1st tasting, I have some pretty impressive line-up this time:

  1. Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery of Vermont: Cultured Butter with sea salt. A whopping 86% butterfat.
  2. Vella Cheese Company of Sonoma: Bear Flag brand that I purchased at the farm store at Green String Farm, Petaluma. Green String is a place pretty much like Full Circle.
  3. McClelland’s Dairy of Sonoma: Organic from grass fed cows.
  4. Pamplie, Extra Fine Butter with Fleur de Sel from Ile de Ré: The only French AOC butter in my line-up, from the region of Poitou-Charentes.
  5. Straus Family Creamery from Point Reyes: European Style Lightly Salted Butter, 85% butterfat.

 

My house eating-butter, Straus, for whatever reason, tasted waxy and was the least favorite among us. Pamplie which everyone likes, also is the saltiest. Since salt triggers the brain to release dopamine and endorphin (the ‘pleasure hormone’), which may have contributed to its winning status.

Here is the tallied vote from most favored to least: Pamplie, Bear Flag Brand, Vermont, McClelland’s, and finally Straus.

Thanks Wes, for being the math genius among us.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

Yes, you can shred them in salads or stirred into risottos. All spring-time classics. But for me, them fried is like an instant lift to a Roman trattoria.

From The Food of Italy,

Batter

  • 3 egg whites
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • ½ C all-purpose flour
  • warm water

 

  • ~15 blossoms for frying
  • Corn or peanut oil for deep frying

 

  1. Sift flour into a bowl and stir in ¼ tsp salt. Mix in the oil then slowly add ¼~½ C warm water, changing to a whisk when the batter becomes liquid. Continue whisking until the batter is smooth and thick.
  2. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until stiff peaks form, then fold into batter.
  3. Dip the blossoms in batter until all sides are coated. Drop in 350F hot oil and fry until golden brown. Turn once to fry both sides.
  4. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt.
  5. Serve immediately.

6190 Miles and Counting

If one typical carrot at Safeway travels 1800 miles to reach our dinner table, I wonder how far my entire plate of lunch salad travels to Sunnyvale.

  • Arugula, from my own front yard garden. Miles to table:  0.
  • Marvel lettuce, from my own front yard garden. Miles to table: 0.
  • Orange juice & orange peel in dressing, from my neighbor’s backyard tree. Miles to table: 0.
  • Smoked duck breast, from Fabrique Délices and will assume it is sourced from Sonoma, the closest place that raises ducks for foie gras. Miles to table: 90.
  • Olive oil, from Dean & Deluca, milled at San Casciano Val di Pesa, Tuscany. Miles to table: 6100.

 

 So I blew it on the dressing … and I haven’t even counted the Morten’s Kosher Salt.

Organic asparagus (foreground)

Contestant #1: Organic from Salinas Valley 80 miles to the south, the town of Gonzales to be exact.  

Contestant #2: Conventionally grown from San Joaquin Delta to the north.

Purchased both from downtown Sunnyvale’s Farmers Market, at $3/bunch.

Examining the bunch I got from the San Joaquin Delta, the guy tending the organic stall actually commented that they are the best looking ones he has seen from them.

But the proof is always in the pudding.

Don‘t have time to fuss too much. Just blanch in salt water, ice bath, drizzle melted butter on top and some fresh lemon zest. Finally salt and pepper to taste.

First of all, both are very, very good. Juicy, sweet with a springy crunch. This is what eating with the season is all about.

However, there’s no doubt that the organic one has a much deeper, asparagus-y flavor. I tasted them with my eyes closed and had no problem telling the differences. It is like tasting between an over-watered tomato and one that is dry-farmed. Sure, one is fat and juicy, but that flavor as mother nature intended only comes through from the dry-farm.

Organic wins, again. And they are the same price, so why not?!

Pea shoots pesto pasta

Being a Chinese means I grew up eating and appreciating pea shoots.

Definitely not all season, it is a spring time treat. Chinese preparation is always a quick sauté. Rumor has it that Hunan Home at Los Altos, it’s $13 a plate. Fine greens requires a fat wallet.

I thought I was an expert on pea shoots until I tasted the ones grown at Full Circle Farm.

Working at the farm, I have the fortune of munching on freshly picked baby pea shoots as I walk through the field. The texture is succulent and crisp. The taste is grassy with a subtle hint of ‘pea’. It whispers spring.

At the farm, it is actually a cover crop, what the farm crew grows to re-energize the soil with the plants’ natural release of nitrogen.

Pea shoot pesto over grilled fish, with a side of pea shoot salad

Because of its unusual quality, I like to eat it raw. Some good olive oil, sherry vinegar, a little orange juice, then salt and pepper. I also have it with the bottled Orange Muscat Champaign vinegar from Trader Joe‘s. It’s perfetly fine.

For the older but bigger shoots I make pesto. Just a quick blanch, ice bath, a clove of raw garlic and lots of olive oil into the food processor. Salt and pepper to taste.

Tossed with pasta and topped with one Full Circle‘s egg, it is glorious.

Wild Boar double chop

In my previous life as an internet consultant, I certainly had my shares of free food from clients.

However, never ever had any of them toss me a pack of vacuum-sealed frozen wild boar chops, yet to be cooked.

This morning, when Chef Maurice generously shared with me a sample from his game purveyor, the guy looked at me and the 3 boxes of fresh produce I just delivered for Full Circle Farm, quite suspiciously: “You are not a vegetarian, are you?”

Not by a long shot.

By any measure, the chops belong to Rose, our farm manager. But just so happened, sitting in my frig at home, I have 2 pieces of center-cut bone-in all-natural pork chops that I plan to cook tonight.

I really want a side-by-side taste comparison.

Until today, I think I only had wild boar as sausages for whatever reason. These are surprisingly small-boned, looking just like lamb chops. I pre-salt both cuts a few hours ahead, and stud in the meat crushed juniper berries. They are roasted on the stove with pan juice as the sauce.

Regular pork chop vs. Wild boar chop

First of all, Wild boar definitely is not white meat. It looks like red meat and it tastes like red meat.

Even though the wild boar were frozen and the regular chops were fresh, for both taste and texture, the wild one wins hands-down.

It is like comparing New York Strip versus Ribeye. One is lean and mild; the other is full-flavored and rich.

So Chef, get the wild boar. But hopefully, it can be sourced locally.

Fava Bean Amuse

There is nothing more seasonal in the vegetable kingdom than fava beans.

Asparagus, corns, tomatoes also have a limited season, but you can find those in the supermarkets pretty much all year long, no matter how tasteless they are. Fava is just below the radar, not popular enough for hot house or imports from Chile.

Thank goodness.

I plant my own fava beans because I like mine tender, sweet with a mild crunch and I can go from garden to table in less than one hour. Big, fat, starchy ones need not apply.

I should also mention that they grow vigorously with no extra care what so ever.

Traditionally, fava requires two steps of shelling. First from the long pods, followed by a quick boil, followed by an immediate ice bath which preserves the brilliant green. Finally they are shelled again to reveal the very inner ‘peas’.

That’s a lot of work and a lot to throw away.

Whole Roast Fava Beans

That’s why roasting them whole is very appealing. I had it a few years back at A16. Such a revelation. The only problem is, you have got to have the very first crop, the tender sweet ones. A week or two older, the pods are too tough.

The anchovy is not a must, but it really adds another dimension. It absolutely does not make it fishy. It’s all about umami.

To roast whole, generous toss young fava beans with good olive oil, kosher salt and pepper to taste. Snip a few oil-preserved anchovies. Roast in 400F for 25-30 minutes. They should be very limp with nice caramelization. Once out of the oven, chiffonade some mint leaves on top if you happen to have them running wild in your backyard. No garnish is perfectly fine.

For the absolutely tender, sweet ones, lightly toss them with the best olive oil you got, salt and pepper, then just a little bit of chopped tarragon on top. The taste is ethereal.