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Created for Ness, to pair  trout roe on smoked crème fraîche.

I associate Smokiness with … being macho and bold. It is intended to tie the seafood amuse to the rest of the meat courses.

Watermelon Mezcal Shot with Basil

  • A few basil leaves. I grow globe basil which is naturally tiny, so it’s good for both flavoring and garnishing.
  • 1 1/2 oz Hornitos Reposado
  • 1 oz quality Mezcal. I use San Juan Del Rio, for its 96 proof of intensity. Besides, 10% of their proceeds benefit the education of the children in Oaxaca.
  • 1 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz watermelon juice
  • ~ 1/2 oz simple syrup. Taste it. It really depends on how sour your lime juice and how sweet your watermelon are.

 

Muddle, add ice, shake, and strain. Garnish with additional basil leaves.

Make 1

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“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey.”

If one’s goal is to gain proficiency in tempering chocolate , practicing making tiles is the easiest: Spread tempered chocolate over acetate sheet, viola.

But what’s fun in that?

Makes 6

  • 12 0z mascapone cheese
  • 1 c heavy whipping cream
  • 2 c milk
  • 1/3 c decaf espresso
  • 1/4 c strong espresso
  • 5 tbsp high quality cacao powered plus more for dusting
  • 3 1/2 tbsp granulated sugar
  • 36 lady fingers

To temper chocolate, remember these numbers: 2/3 chocolate, 1/3 chocolate. 115F, 84F, 86-89F,

This is usually a problem in late September, early October. You picked all the ripe tomatoes and the green ones are taking forever because there’s no more summer heat. Clock is ticking. You need that garden space for lettuces, kales and broccoli.

Time to let go the summer.

Or it could be the beginning of July, tomatoes were ripening one at a time. You held your breathe, sampled one plant, “Good …sweet and savory …” Move on to the next variety, “Oh no …” A few days later, it reassured you with its total lack of flavor.

Not giving up, you waited some more, hoping for a reversal of fortune.

Now it’s end of July, it’s pretty clear that you picked a LOSER!

When it comes to growing food, I am as sentimental as Simon Cowell. If you don’t taste good enough to be worthy of my time and my land, you are O.U.T.

For a tomato plant, that means I now have a 15lb of green tomatoes. 2 obvious choices come to mind: Fry them, or pickle them. The latter is less clean-up.

Bath of white vinegar, lemon-verbena-infused simple syrup, generous sprinkle of salt, and 2 hours later, I got myself a pretty decent accompaniment to the duck rillet Dwight and Kim hauled back from Paris just a couple of weeks ago. Pickled green tomatoes is about the crisp texture, clean and simple flavor, which pairs well with anything that’s been simmered for hours in glorious duck fat.

To a better choice, next year.

Garlic scape in the field

I didn’t know what it’s called in English until a couple of months ago Rose said: “Hey, I’ve got some garlic scapes in the field. Want to talk to the chefs?”

Garlic … what?!“

In Chinese, it’s literally called: “Garlic sprout”, and it is. It is the shoot that comes out of a garlic plant. When it’s not removed, the plant is going to flower and seed, which is not good for the garlic bulb beneath. Garlicky yet not sharp, it is considered a spring delicacy and scapes sautéed with Asian-style cured pork belly is a timeless classic in Chinese cuisine.

Cured pork belly sauteed with garlic scapes

As a long-time devoted fan of charcuterie, I have enough sodium nitrite that will last me 2 life times. My mom always says my body probably will not rot after I die.

A healthier alternative I can think of is fresh pork belly cooked sous vide, then broiled to get a blistering crust on the skin. Since, unlike Thomas Keller, I don’t have a thousand bucks to update my equipments, a poor-man’s sous vide is ‘confit’.

‘Confit’ is a method of cooking in fat under very low heat for a VERY long time. The most famous example is duck confit. The long cooking process results in extreme tenderness, and the fat sears in the flavor. I always save the duck/pork fat from roasting and freeze them with the hope I might ’confit’ something, someday.

What do you know. Garlic scape gives me a perfect excuse to spend 3 days playing with a dish.

Pork Belly Confit with sauteed scapes

A fresh pork belly with skin on is brined in a sugar and salt, aromatic brine for 48 hours (too long.) Then completely immersed in fat and baked in a 275F~300F oven for … 6 hours. Cooled completely, then cubed, then broiled under high heat to crisp up the skin.

It’s pretty yummy. Indeed very moist and tender and broiling gets a nice crust and caramelization. 48 hours of brining is too much. Next time 24 hours to tame the saltiness.

Spring Onion Custard with crispy bacon

I have been eyeing the spring onions at Full Circle Farm for weeks. They almost sparkle under the morning sun with the damp earth still. I asked a couple of times, and we always had just enough for the CSA shares. Oh well.

A couple days ago, Michael was rinsing them off at the packing shed after the morning harvest. “For CSA again, huh?” I asked without any expectation. “No … these are for farm stand actually.”

We have extra for the farm stand now?! In that case …

I actually had never made anything with spring onions. But hey, I am an ingredient-driven kind of cook. Vaguely remember somewhere in time, I had an onion custard. So here we are. The crispy bacon adds texture contrast and a little bit of piggy never hurts anybody.

Spring onions

Adapted from Jacques Pépin Celebrates. Makes 4.

  • A bunch of spring onions from Full Circle Farm (4~5 roots), thinly sliced, 90% whites. I reserved the green tops to make risotto
  • 1 tbsp butter plus more to coat the ramekins
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped fine
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/3 cup organic heavy cream
  • 2 pasture eggs from Full Circle Farm
  • Salt and pepper

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 325F.
  2. Sautee onions in butter until nice and soft, ~10 minutes. Add garlic, water and cover to cook over low heat for 5 minutes more. Uncover, and cook till almost all water has evaporated. Add onion mixture, heavy cream, eggs to an immersion blender. Process until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Generously butter 4 ramekins with softened butter. Divide custard mixture evenly.
  4. Prepare the water-bath. Place the molds in a roasting/baking pan and fill it with hot water. The water should come up to ~2/3 of the way up the ramekin molds. Bake in the oven for 38-40 minutes until well-set.

 

Getting them out intact is a little tricky. Good luck.

Fava Leaf Chips

As a foodie, I have to confess it felt pretty good when the chefs at Parcel 104 asked how I made my fava chips. The flavor is sweet and nutty with an unmistakable fragrance of smoked tea. Its texture delicate and light. When handled with care, the perfectly flat leaves make a compelling presentation.

They are far more interesting than dino kale chips.

Pretty much the same way as making kale chips, just lower temperature, less time, and more care.

Lightly toss damp fava leaves with olive oil. Spread them out in single layer on baking sheets. Lightly salt on top, then bake in a preheated 200F oven with convection on. Turn off the oven after 10 minutes and flip each leaf over with an off-set spatula carefully. Return to the oven and let them dry with the residual heat.

Some breakage is unavoidable and not every leaf will be perfectly flat. To ‘encourage’ flat leaves, make sure you don’t use parchment paper and make sure the leaves are damp. The moisture relaxes them to lay flat. However the same moisture makes parchment paper a wrinkly surface.

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.

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.

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.