Getting a Head Start

December is for entertaining. Whether you are a host or a guest, time is always a big consideration. Evenings are often multi-tasking marathons, angling to see as many friends as possible, though never fully enjoying one gathering before heading off to the next.

And then there is your own in-home entertaining to deal with. Choosing a date and time to accommodate the schedules all your family and friends can be a challenge of epic proportions.

Whichever holiday you choose to observe this month, and whenever you choose to celebrate it, one nagging question remains: what to serve? If you shrink from entertaining cocktail party revelers into the wee hours of the morning, or dread the formality of an elegant dinner party, consider inviting friends in for a relaxing late breakfast buffet. Yes, that’s the meal formerly known as brunch.

If you are suddenly paralyzed by thoughts of pre-dawn alarm clocks and broken hollandaise sauce, hear me out.

Egg strata is a layered main-dish casserole that requires advance preparation, ensuring an easy morning for whoever’s on kitchen duty. Set the table at your leisure the night before. Stock up on locally-grown produce and flowers from the farmers’ market. The morning of your party, set out icy pitchers of fresh-squeezed orange and grapefruit juices; pop open a bottle or two of champagne, make a big pot of coffee, and you’re halfway there.

                 …and now for a little something on the side.

This is an opportunity to show off your entertaining chops, offering a colorful and appetizing array of side dishes to accompany the strata. The more guests you invite, the more options you’ll want to provide.

–Ward off the morning chill with creamy butternut squash soup served in espresso cups

–A platter of smoked salmon dotted with capers and garnished with thinly sliced red onion and lemon wedges. Serve a small bowl of sour cream and a peppermill on the side.

–Fill a large salad bowl with spinach, arugula, or assorted seasonal lettuces, quartered fresh figs, and candied walnuts—all tossed with a champagne vinaigrette

–Small bunches of seedless grapes, piled high in a bowl of ice

–Tiny cornmeal muffins served alongside chilled fresh orange and cranberry compote

–Small scones or bran muffins studded with bits of date and/or dried apricot, served with sweet butter and apricot jam

–Roasted “smashed” new potatoes with fresh rosemary

–Sweet potato gratin with fresh ginger and a drizzle of honey

–A bowl of chunky homemade applesauce with a touch of cinnamon

–Baked pear halves stuffed with raisins, walnuts, and brown sugar, served with a small bowl of sweetened crème fraiche

–Try a modern take on Waldorf salad: bite-size pieces of crisp apple, chopped celery, halved red or green seedless grapes, dried cherries, and toasted walnuts, all bound together with vanilla yogurt instead of mayo. Add a squeeze of fresh lime juice to highlight the flavors.

–If breakfast automatically registers “pork products” with you, bring on a warm platter of crisp bacon, link sausage, or Canadian bacon. All can be cooked in advance and warmed in a low oven just before serving.

                          Three-Mushroom Celebration Strata

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces

2 ounces dried mushrooms, such as morels, porcini, or shiitake  

1 tablespoon California olive oil

2 large shallots, finely chopped

4 ounces (white) button mushrooms, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

4 ounces (brown) cremini mushrooms (about 1 1/2 cups)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1 teaspoon soy sauce*

10 ounces day-old artisan bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, crust-on, cut into 3/4-inch cubes (about 5 cups)

8 ounces shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese (about 2 cups)

10 large eggs, lightly beaten

4 cups half-and-half or whole milk

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

  1. Prepare the strata 1 day in advance. Use some of the butter to grease a 13- x 9-inch or other shallow 2 1/2- to 3-quart baking dish.
  2. Place the dried mushrooms in a heatproof medium bowl. Add boiling water to cover and let stand until plumped and softened, 20 to 30 minutes. Pat dry with paper towels; then slice.
  3. Combine the remaining butter and the oil in a large skillet. Cook over medium heat until the butter has melted. Stir in the shallots and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the rehydrated dry mushrooms and the fresh mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until the liquid cooks away, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir in the thyme and soy sauce and cook 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat.
  4. Spread the bread cubes in the prepared baking dish and sprinkle the cheese evenly over the top.
  5. In a large bowl, combine the eggs, half-and-half, salt, and mustard. Whisk until well blended. Pour the egg mixture over the bread cubes, and top with an even layer of mushrooms. Use a rubber spatula to press down the ingredients to ensure that all of the bread is coated with egg. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  7. Discard the plastic wrap and place the cold casserole in the oven. Bake until the top is puffed and nicely browned and a knife inserted into the center shows no evidence of uncooked egg, about 1 hour. Tent the dish with foil if the top is browning too quickly. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes before serving with a large spoon. Serves 8.

*Soy sauce may seem like an odd ingredient here, but in addition to adding a bit of sodium it boosts the natural flavor of the mushrooms. Don’t worry. Your strata will not taste like Chinese take-out.

 The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

 

 

Making Memories

For the first few weeks of this month, a towering pile of cookbooks and glossy magazines is never far from my reach. And once I tire of flipping pages, I turn to Pinterest and other trusted web sites for inspiration. It becomes a part-time job. Thanksgiving is coming, and I seek perfection. A kind of Norman Rockwell-meets-Martha Stewart affair.

Unlike other holidays that drag us into debt, Thanksgiving celebrates the simple basics in life: nourishment, sharing, and gratitude. Preparing a thoughtful meal shows how much you care….about your friends, your family, and California’s bountiful resources.

I do the bulk of my Thanksgiving shopping at the farmers’ market—where the food is fresh, healthy, and locally grown. It’s also the most meaningful way I know to show my gratitude to the people who grow the food we eat throughout the year.

As I navigate my way through the market in the crisp morning air, I look for freshly-harvested walnuts and almonds to enhance everything from appetizers to desserts; plump raisins, dried apricots, and other dried fruits; just-picked lettuces; pure fruit juices; sugar pumpkins and crisp apples for pies; acorn and other winter squash; artisan breads to serve as is, or to cut into cubes for homemade stuffing; aromatic extra-virgin olive oil, yellow onions, celery, parsley, and garlic to enhance that stuffing; tender young carrots; broccoli; Brussels sprouts; sweet potatoes; locally-produced honey; russet potatoes and Yukon Golds for mashing; pomegranates, pears, persimmons, and all other matter of fall flora, fauna, fruits, and veggies to make a spectacular yet affordable still-life centerpiece for my table.  Thanksgiving comes but once a year, so this is no time to scrimp.

To lessen the odds of a family uprising, I plan the menu around tried-and-true old standards that simply cannot be messed with: roast turkey, creamy mashed potatoes, giblet gravy, herbed bread stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. But just to keep things interesting (for myself), I go rogue with some of the appetizers, remaining side dishes, and/or desserts. Sometimes these new additions are met with great enthusiasm. Other times, not so much.

Brussels sprouts roasted until lightly charred, then topped with a hailstorm of glistening pomegranate seeds, was a winner. Ditto for Thanksgiving slaw—finely shredded green cabbage, a bit of shaved red onion, toasted sliced almonds, and dried cranberries tossed in a mustardy apple cider-maple vinaigrette—expertly assembled by my 12-year-old grandson while I fussed over something else. Those are the good memories.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was last year’s mashed sweet potatoes with chipotle chiles. (Can you say, muy caliente?) I am still haunted by the sight of five grandchildren frantically reaching for their water glasses, desperate to cool the fire.

Undeterred, I still like the idea of serving mashed sweet potatoes– primarily because they can easily be made in advance and reheated just before serving. This year’s version is also refreshingly low-fat, making a good foil for the many rich dishes served that day. The fresh ginger adds spice with just a hint of heat, and is tamed by the sweet tang of orange.

You may notice the conspicuous absence of marshmallows, puddles of melted butter, booze, pecans, and molten brown sugar in this recipe. (I’ve saved you a couple of hundred calories here.) If your family has a collective sweet-tooth, you can always add a tablespoon or so of honey. But that’s it. This is a vegetable. Not dessert. And it won’t scare the children.

MASHED SWEET POTATOES WITH ORANGE & GINGER

4 pounds (about 4 large) red-skinned sweet potatoes (yam variety), scrubbed but not peeled, patted dry

2 medium oranges

3 tablespoons finely grated or minced fresh peeled gingerroot

Fine sea salt

Honey, to taste (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the sweet potatoes on a foil-lined baking sheet, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Prick the skins 2 or 3 times with a fork. Bake until a knife slips easily into the center of each potato, 50 to 60 minutes. Set aside to cool.

 

  1. Grate the zest from 1 orange and chop finely. Halve and juice both oranges, straining out any seeds. (You will have about 2/3 cup fresh orange juice.)

       

  1. When cool enough to handle, peel the sweet potatoes and cut the flesh into chunks.

 

  1. Working in batches if necessary, combine the sweet potato chunks, orange zest, orange juice, ginger, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Process, pulsing the machine on and off and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until smooth. (Alternatively, the mixture can be beaten with an electric mixer.) Taste, adding more salt to taste, or honey, if using. Serve at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Just before serving, reheat gently in a double boiler or heavy saucepan, or in the microwave. Makes about 5 1/2 cups, to serve 6.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

 

 

 

 

Scare Up a Taste of Summer

Following September’s brutal heat wave, I am ready for fall. I’m ready for a tower of pumpkins on the porch; a wreath on the front door;  a roaring fire in the fireplace and flickering candles throughout the living room; a pot of soup simmering on the stove; and a fluffy down comforter in the bedroom.

But maybe not so fast. The farmers’ market still features a few delicious remnants of summer that merit our attention. When long-simmered to silky perfection, end-of-season vine-ripened tomatoes, firm and shiny eggplant, crisp bell peppers, and pungent garlic conjure up the flavors of summer without sacrificing the essence of autumn.

The French celebrate the dwindling harvest with ratatouille, a summer vegetable stew; but Sicilians make caponata, a masterful example of agrodolce—an addictive blend of sweet and sour flavors. So popular is the latter, ersatz versions can be purchased in jars and tins; and many a Sicilian mama cans her own to be enjoyed throughout the coming months. In a pinch you can always make it from scratch year ‘round—using canned tomato products—but it will be little more than a poor imitation of the following recipe.

Eggplant caponata is rustic by nature, so there are no fancy knife cuts to master or veggies to peel or seed. Relish the aromas as it simmers, then refrigerate for a while to develop the flavors. (It will keep several days in the refrigerator, and is actually best if made a day or two in advance.)If you’re looking for a little added crunch, top with a shower of toasted pine nuts just before serving.

Serve caponata at cool room temperature as a dip or spread, with celery sticks, California endive, crackers, or pita bread. (Crostini topped with a generous smear of California goat cheese and a spoonful of caponata is life-changing.) It can also be served as a condiment alongside plain grilled chicken or fish; as a zesty topping for a simple pasta dish; or as an unforgettable sandwich spread.

Caponata makes a bewitching snack for adults to nibble between trick-or-treaters on Halloween, as the garlic will surely keep the vampires at bay. Give this concoction a bloody name if you must—just be sure to eat, drink, and be scary!

Farmers’ Market Caponata

1 onion, chopped

1/4 teaspoon crushed hot red chili flakes, or more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

California olive oil

3 or 4 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 large eggplant (about 1 1/4 pounds), chopped

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 large celery rib, finely chopped

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 very ripe medium tomatoes (about 12 ounces total), coarsely chopped, juices reserved

1/2 cup coarsely chopped pitted olives, such as black Kalamata or green cerignolas, or a combination

2 tablespoons drained capers

1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, such as flat-leaf parsley, marjoram or oregano, and basil

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Lemon wedges for serving

 

  1. Place a 12- to 14-inch skillet or saute pan* over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, swirling to coat the bottom of the pan. Add the onion, red pepper flakes, and 5 or 6 grindings of black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is softened but not browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

 

  1. Stir in the garlic and cook just until fragrant, 30 seconds to 1 minute.

 

  1. Add the eggplant, bell pepper, and celery and cook until the vegetables begin to soften, about 10 minutes. If the mixture starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, add a tablespoon or two of water to loosen things up.

 

  1. Stir in the tomatoes, olives, capers, and herbs. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is very soft, 15 to 20 minutes.

 

  1. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. Taste, adding more salt, pepper, and lemon juice as needed. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 3 days. Freeze for longer storage.

 

  1. To serve, let return to cool room temperature for an hour or so. Taste again, adjusting the seasonings if needed. Mound the caponata onto a plate, drizzle liberally with olive oil, and sprinkle with pine nuts, if desired. Surround with lemon wedges, for guests to squeeze. Makes about 4 cups.

*A shallow pan, like a skillet or saute pan, speeds the cooking process by allowing the cooking juices to reduce quickly. Lacking such a pan, go ahead and use a Dutch oven or other similar pan. It will just take a bit longer to cook.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

 

 

 

Sweet September

Many parts of the country are already dealing with fall weather, but here in California we revel in the luxury of an extended summer. While autumn’s early crops begin to appear at the farmers’ market, we continue to savor end-of-summer tomatoes, sweet corn, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, melons, and a decent representation of stone fruits.

This is an especially good time to load up on just-picked corn and vine-ripened tomatoes—sweeter than ever, with end-of-season prices to please your pocketbook. It’s going to be a long, lonely winter without those beloved veggies, so plan on getting your fill this month. But that doesn’t mean you should overlook the new arrivals! Look for a wide array of crisp apples and juicy pears to begin showing up each week at the market.

Bosc pears, one of my favorites, are some of the first to hit the market. Unlike most other varieties, these are best eaten while still slightly firm. For the next few months they will undoubtedly be part of every cheese course I serve—sometimes sliced and drizzled with a bit of local honey for added glamour. And Bosc pears will be my first choice whenever I reach for a piece of fruit to snack on, or something special to toss into a green salad.

With their long tapered necks, russeted skin, and almost sandy-textured flesh, Bosc pears maintain their elegant shape when cooked, making them ideal for poaching in a spicy-sweet syrup; baked with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of sugar; or halved, brushed with olive oil, and grilled.For a different savory note, sauté sliced pears in butter, seasoned with salt and pepper and perhaps some chopped fresh rosemary or thyme, to serve alongside grilled or roasted pork or chicken.Pears also make an interesting twist on recipes that normally rely on apples—like bread pudding, clafoutis, pies and tarts, cakes, quick breads, crisps, and cobblers.

When the evenings turn cool, a warm dessert can be the ultimate comfort food. Place this crisp in the oven shortly before serving dinner so it will be ready when you are. (As an added bonus, you’ll also enjoy an appetizing dose of aromatherapy as it bakes.) Serve with a scoop of cold yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream. If you’re lucky, there will be enough left over to eat at breakfast the next morning.

Pear-Ginger Crisp

For the crumb topping

3/4 cup coarsely chopped California walnuts

1/4 cup granulated sugar

6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

 

For the pear filling

1/4 cup (packed) dark or light brown sugar

1/4 cup finely chopped crystallized (candied) ginger*

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

5 Bosc pears, peeled, stemmed, cored, and cut into thick slices or coarsely chopped

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan or a 9-inch round deep-dish glass or ceramic pie plate.
  2. To make the crumb topping: In a food processor, combine the walnuts and sugar. Process, pulsing the machine on and off, until the walnuts are finely chopped.
  3. Add the butter, flour, and salt and process, pulsing the machine on and off several times, until the mixture forms very coarse crumbs. Set aside.
  4. To make the pear filling: In a large bowl, stir together the brown sugar, ginger, flour, and nutmeg. Add the pears and lemon juice, tossing gently to coat the pears with the dry ingredients. Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan.
  5. Use your fingers to crumble the walnut mixture evenly over the top. Place the pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet to catch any drips. Bake until the filling is bubbly-hot and the topping is golden, about 1 hour. Let cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.

*Cook’s Tip: Look for crystallized ginger sold in bulk—often in plastic bins in the produce section of supermarkets. The tiny glass jars sold in the spice section can be prohibitively expensive.

_________________________________________________________________________

Pear Pointers

  • There are over 5,000 varieties of pears grown in temperate climates throughout the world. France is renowned for superior pears, followed by California and the Pacific Northwest.
  • Pears in the U.S. today date back to colonial times when French root stock was brought to Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.
  • Because they are extremely fragile and prone to bruising, pears are picked to arrive at the market when fully mature, but not quite ripe. Unlike most fruit, pears improve in both flavor and texture after being picked.
  • Look for pears that are free of blemishes and soft spots. To ripen, place them upright on a towel-lined tray at cool room temperature for several days, as needed. Refrigerate ripe pears, handling carefully to avoid bruising.
  • To test the ripeness of pears, use your thumb to gently press the neck of the fruit near the stem. When ready to eat, the flesh should give slightly. (Varieties vary. Bosc pears should remain fairly firm.)

-Pear arithmetic:

3 medium pears = about 1 pound

1 pound pears = about 3 cups sliced fruit

Pear skin is perfectly edible, but tends to toughen when cooked. For this reason, peel pears prior to cooking. (A swivel-bladed vegetable peeler does a fine job.) Dipping pears in lemon water will slow the browning of the flesh that inevitably takes place.

  Errata

 Last month’s recipe for Boysenberry Crumb Bars says to beat in vanilla in Step 2. But there was no vanilla in the ingredient list. (sigh) That’s because you should add the lemon zest in Step 2. (2 teaspoons lemon zest does appear in the ingredient list. Aaargh!)

How this happened: While developing the recipe I switched gears midway and decided to flavor the dough with fresh lemon zest rather than vanilla extract, to play up the fresh-fruit flavor.Unfortunately I neglected to make this change in the recipe text.

Mea culpa.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

 

 

Berry Good Times

This is the month to leave no stone unturned, as tree-ripened peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots are at the peak of perfection.

The August farmers’ market is also loaded with dozens of varieties of vine-ripened tomatoes; crunchy, bursting-with-flavor cucumbers; a color spectrum of sweet bell peppers; the best just-picked corn; mountains of tiny summer squash; and tender young green beans. Pick up a bottle of California extra-virgin olive oil, and your meals for the week will pretty much make themselves. For dessert and warm-weather snacking, you can’t beat sweet-as-candy grapes; juicy watermelon; ruby red strawberries, and so many of their multi-hued cousins.

One of my favorites is the elusive boysenberry, so seldom found fresh in supermarkets due to their fragility. Their season is also pitifully brief, so it pays to seek them out now. Eat your fill this month, and preserve a secret stash to enjoy throughout the year. Boysenberries freeze well, and make exceptional jams, pies, cobblers, crisps and such.

The boysenberry resembles the blackberry in appearance, but has a deep red-to-purple color and rich, distinctive sweet-tart flavor.

Northern Californian Rudolph Boysen created the hybrid boysenberry in 1923 by crossing a raspberry, blackberry, and loganberry—to my mind, the best of all worlds. It took years of nurturing by esteemed farmers and other horticulturists to develop the berry we know today. In fact, it was their signature boysenberry preserves that put Knotts Berry Farm on the map.

As summer winds to a close, there seem to be an inordinate number of picnics and barbecues happening. This is the perfect time to showcase the season’s bounty—from homemade salsa and veggie-centric salads, to the last of summer’s fruits. The following recipe works well as a potluck dessert, as it has all the goodness of pie without any of the last-minute mess of cutting and serving in the great outdoors. I often place each square in a paper cupcake liner before piling them into a basket or other picnic-friendly container for easy serving.

Boysenberry Crumb Bars

Buttery Pastry Dough2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (about 2 teaspoons)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Boysenberry Filling

1/2 cup granulated sugar

4 teaspoons cornstarch

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Juice of 1 lemon (about 2 Tablespoons)

4 cups farm-fresh boysenberries

Optional: Confectioners’ (powdered) sugar for serving

  1. Grease a 9 x 13 x 2-inch baking pan; line the bottom and sides with parchment or foil and grease again. Position the oven rack on the lowest level and preheat to 350°.

 

  1. To make the dough: Combine the butter, sugar, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on Medium speed until soft and light, about 3 minutes. Beat in the vanilla.

 

  1. Reduce the mixer speed to Low and mix in 2 1/4 cups of the flour, occasionally scraping down the bowl and paddle with a rubber spatula. Mix just until smooth and well blended.

 

  1. Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape about 3/4 of the dough into the prepared baking pan. Use the palm of your hand to evenly press down the dough without compressing it too much. Refrigerate the dough-lined pan until needed. Work the remaining 1/4 cup flour into the remaining dough with your fingertips, forming 1/4- to 1/8-inch crumbs. Set aside at room temperature.

 

  1. To make the filling: In a large bowl, stir together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in the lemon juice. Fold in the boysenberries, stirring gently to coat.

 

  1. Spoon the filling over the chilled dough, spreading into an even layer. Scatter the reserved crumb mixture over the filling. Bake until the filling is bubbly-hot and the crust is cooked through and barely browned at the edges, 30 to 35 minutes.

 

  1. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cool completely. Carefully lift the slab of baked dough out of the pan and onto a cutting board. Cut off the browned edges if desired; then cut the slab into 24 (2-inch) squares. Store in an airtight container. If desired, just before serving sprinkle the squares with confectioners’ (powdered) sugar.

 

                                                     Berry Good Things to Know

 Boysenberries are drupes, meaning each berry is composed of dozens of tiny sack-like fruits called drupelets. (How’s this for idle cocktail-party chatter?)

The proper balance of sweetness and tartness occurs only when berries are left to fully ripen on the vine. Once picked, they will never taste any better.

Refrigerate unwashed berries in a shallow airtight container lined with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

Rinse berries clean just before using; and gently pat dry between paper towels.

Berries are high in Vitamin C, fiber, and antioxidants.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

 

…and the livin’ is easy

A morning spent at the July farmers’ market is my happy place. The combination of blue skies; truckloads of just-picked sweet corn; and the intoxicating perfume created by juicy stone fruits, plump blackberries, ripe strawberries, and fresh flowers does it to me every time. Top it all off with a little live background music, and I’m ready to do some serious shopping. There’s a reason I keep an ice chest in the trunk of my car.

Sometimes there are not enough days in the week to eat all the produce I end up lugging home. But between veggie-centric meals; seasonal desserts and snacks made from seasonal fruit; my own small-batch preserving; and sharing the bounty with lucky neighbors, nothing ever goes to waste.I’m all about relaxed, one-dish meals, especially in the summertime when produce is at its peak. It’s time to show it off. The following salad is a fairly typical offering; serve it with crusty artisan breadfrom the farmers’ market and you’ve got yourself one company-worthy lunch or dinner. For dessert? Wedges of ice-cold watermelon. For a vegetarian option, simply eliminate the chicken and add some crumbled California goat cheese.

Yes, there are a number of steps involved; but the good news for the host is that all of the prep—including the grilling—can be done at your leisure in the cool morning hours so you can assemble the salad just before serving. Easy peasy.

GRILLED CHICKEN & SUMMER VEGETABLE SALAD

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes

1/4 cup California olive oil, plus extra for the corn

1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

2 garlic cloves, crushed with the side of a knife

2 1/4 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

5 ears corn

Salt

3/4 pound farm-fresh green beans

1 large Fresno or other mild chile pepper, seeded if desired, thinly sliced

1 cup vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, stemmed, halved if large

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

5 or 6 large handfuls baby arugula leaves

Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

Freshly ground black pepper

 

  1. To make the marinade: In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, and pepper flakes. Whisk in the oil. Stir in the rosemary and garlic.

 

  1. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry. In a large heavy-duty zipper-seal bag, combine the chicken and the marinade. Seal the bag, turning it several times to coat the chicken. Let stand 2 hours at cool room temperature or refrigerate for up to 24 hours, turning the bag occasionally to distribute the marinade.

 

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; and prepare a large bowl of ice water. Add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until bright green and barely tender, 2 to 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and immediately plunge into the ice water to cool. Trim off and discard the stem-ends of the beans. Cut crosswise into 2-inch lengths, if desired.

 

  1. Prepare an outdoor or indoor grill over high heat. Shuck the corn, and use a damp paper towel to remove any excess silk. Trim off the stem-end of each ear of corn, creating a flat base so it can be held upright when removing the kernels. Rub corn with oil and season with salt. Grill, turning, until golden and lightly charred in spots. When cool enoughto handle, working one at a time, carefully hold each ear of corn upright on a large rimmed baking sheet, with the flat end positioned securely on the sheet. Cut downward with a large knife to remove the kernels.

 

  1. Remove the chicken from the plastic bag, discarding the marinade and garlic. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt. Grill the chicken breasts, turning once or twice, until nicely browned on the outside and white throughout but still juicy on the inside, 8 to 10 minutes total. When cool enough to handle, cut or tear into bite-size chunks. Combine the corn and chicken in a large bowl.

 

  1. Add the green beans, chile pepper, tomatoes, red onion, and arugula to the bowl. Pour in about 3/4 cup of the Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette and toss gently to mix. Taste, adding more vinaigrette if needed. Season with salt and pepper to taste and toss again. Transfer to a large rimmed serving platter or shallow bowl and serve at once.

 

Serves 6 to 8.

Basil-Lemon Vinaigrette

1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, minced or crushed through a press

Fine sea salt

1/8 teaspoon crushed hot red pepper flakes

3/4 cup California olive oil

2tablespoons chopped fresh basil

In a 2-cup measure or bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the pepper flakes. Whisk in the oil to blend. Stir in the basil. Taste, adding more salt if needed. Makes about 1 1/4 cups.(Any leftover dressing can be used in other salads during the week.)

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

 

Bring on the ‘Cots!

Anyone who has ever purchased an apricot at the supermarket has probably already learned an expensive lesson: don’t bother. Occasionally, if you’re fortunate enough to find fruits that are organically and locally-grown, they may indeed taste okay—but you will surely pay a premium for the rarity. This is yet another good reason to buy your produce at the farmers’ market.

In order to develop their distinctive floral fragrance, sweetness, and velvety texture, apricots need to ripen on the tree. There is simply no other way. Unfortunately the tree-ripening process also leaves them soft and far too fragile to ship without bruising. This may be less of a problem for California locavores, but many of the apricot orchards that once blessed our state have been replaced by housing developments and high-tech office parks, seriously reducing sources for tree-ripened fruit. Due to increased land values and the related expenses, apricot growers who held their ground and stayed in business now must often rely on selling to large commercial canners, jam-producers, and other fruit preservers in order to remain solvent.

To meet consumer demand throughout the United States, scientists thought the answer was to develop bruise-resistant apricot varieties designed to appear picture-perfect for weeks at a time and withstand all sorts of abuse during shipping. Too good to be true? You bet. One bite into that tough, mealy little orb and you’ll know you’ve been had. It’s frightening to think there is an entire generation that assumes this is how apricots should taste

When you first encounter a golden pile of tree-ripened apricots at the farmers’ market, no doubt you’ll immediately want to eat your fill out-of-hand. Go ahead. Be greedy. Apricot season is short but sweet, making this a perfectly justifiable indulgence. But don’t forget to purchase a pound-or-two more to incorporate into family meals for the week. Start the day with apricot halves topped with Greek yogurt, a few California almonds, and a drizzle of local honey. At cocktail time, tuck a spoonful of goat or blue cheese into pitted apricot halves. Make your own compotes and chutneys to serve with pork or poultry, or add apricots to a Moroccan lamb stew.

The following free-form tart is called a galette in France or a crostata in Italy. Regardless where you live, this rustic dessert is a winner. If making a traditional pie terrifies you, this easy preparation provides all of the flavor with none of the angst. And no peeling required!

Perfectly ripe fruit is arranged on a pastry round, then the ends of the dough are folded up and over to create an edge that holds in the juices. If you feel the urge to get fancy, top the fruit with some toasted sliced almonds or a splash of amaretto before baking…but simple is usually better. Once apricot season comes to a close, you can make this dessert with berries, peaches, nectarines, or plums.

This pastry is a dream to work with, but when pressed for time substitute a sheet of prepared pie dough.

APRICOT GALETTE

Buttery Pastry Dough (recipe follows)

1 pound ripe apricots (8 to 12 apricots), pitted and halved or quartered, if large

6 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

  1. Prepare the dough and chill as directed. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

 

  1. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the dough into a 13- to 14-inch circle or oval about 1/8-inch thick. (It’s fine if the shape is slightly irregular. There is also no need to trim the edges of the pastry; they should remain a bit ragged.) Loosely drape the dough around a rolling pin and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

 

  1. Arrange the apricots on top of the pastry, leaving a wide, 2- to 3-inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the apricots with the 6 tablespoons sugar and dot with the butter. Using your fingers, fold the pastry border up and over the filling, pleating the pastry as needed to fit. Brush the pastry edge lightly with water and sprinkle with the remaining 1 teaspoon sugar.

 

  1. Bake until the apricots are bubbly-hot and the pastry is crisp and golden brown, 50 to 55 minutes. Let the galette cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, then use 1 or 2 wide spatulas to slide it carefully onto a wire cooling rack. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cutting into wedges with a pizza wheel or sharp knife. Serves 4 to 6. This is best served the same day it is made, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side.

Buttery Pastry Dough

 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and refrigerated until firm

1/3 cup ice water

 

  1. In a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Process briefly to blend. Add the butter and process for 5 seconds.

 

  1. With the machine running, add the ice water, processing just until the dough begins to come together. Form the dough into a smooth ball and flatten into a 6-inch disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or as long as 2 days. Freeze for longer storage.

 

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well.

Seeing Red

Most farmers’ markets are only getting started this month, “setting up shop” in asphalt parking lots across the United States. But here in Danville, where our farmers’ market thrives year ‘round, we’re merely picking up speed. Tender young veggies abound, along with a seasonal kaleidoscope of locally-grown sweeties: look for plump apricots, luscious cherries, and juicy cantaloupe. And strawberries. O, those beautiful berries!

Some foods are so perfect in their natural state that it’s a shame to mess with them too much. Take farm-fresh strawberries, for instance. Oh sure, you can boil them up for jam or jelly. Or toss them with rhubarb for a rosy pie filling that tastes of spring. You can bake them into an airy soufflé or freeze them into icy sorbets. All very nice. Or you can just grab one by its little green cap and pop it into in your mouth…and the taste sensation probably won’t be any less spectacular.

But this month ushers in times—like a Memorial Day cookout, a bridal shower, or graduation party—when you feel the urge to gild the lily and showcase spring’s perfect strawberries in an original way… without spending hours in the kitchen. The following recipe could be the answer.

This two-part spread is a study in contrasts: warm, oozy cheese topped with cool, sweet-tart strawberries, made even more irresistible with the bite of fresh ginger, the mild heat of jalapeño, and the refreshing sensation of lime and mint. Best of all, it’s a snap to make, and feeds a crowd.

Instead of baking the cheese as directed in the recipe, you may choose to make your life easier still by simply spooning the salsa over a room-temperature wheel of brie or a log of California goat cheese.

Alternatively, double the salsa recipe and serve it as a dip for pita or tortilla chips, or alongside a plain omelet or cheese quesadilla. It also makes a tasty condiment for grilled or roasted pork or poultry. More adventurous souls will spoon it over chocolate ice cream for dessert. It’s all good.

There’s no need to wait for a special occasion to make this, however. This versatile, low-cal salsa is equally delish served over plain yogurt or cottage cheese.

Baked Brie with Fresh Strawberry Salsa

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger

1 teaspoon local honey

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 small jalapeño chili pepper

1 1/4 cups hulled and coarsely chopped strawberries (about half of a 1-pint basket)

1 or 2 green onions (scallions), thinly sliced

1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh mint leaves

1 (5-inch) wheel of brie (about 15 ounces)

  1. In a bowl, mix together the lime zest, lime juice, ginger, honey, and salt.
  2. Wearing rubber gloves, remove the stem, seeds, and ribs from the chili pepper and chop finely. Add to the lime mixture; then gently stir in the strawberries, green onion(s), and mint to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 45 minutes (or as long as 6 hours) to blend flavors. This makes a generous 1-cup of salsa.
  3. About 45 minutes before serving, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the cheese on a heatproof serving dish and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until the wheel of cheese is soft when touched in the center but still holds its shape. Spoon the chilled salsa over the hot cheese and serve with plain unsalted crackers (water biscuits), wheat biscuits, or baguette slices. Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer.

Berry Good Things to Know

–A shiny berry is a fresh berry. Once picked, strawberries lose their natural sheen in a matter of days.

–Locally-grown berries are inevitably more flavorful and have a more succulent texture than varieties grown for shipping.

–Fresh green caps, intense perfume, and vibrant, uniform color are other qualities to look for in strawberries. Avoid those “white shoulders” that mean the berries were picked before their prime. Also remember that bigger is not always better!

–When stored properly, farm-fresh strawberries can last 1 week or longer in the refrigerator. Here’s the secret: Line a plastic container with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Gently pile in the unwashed strawberries with their green caps intact. Top with another paper towel, seal with an airtight lid, and store in the lowest part of the refrigerator. 

–Do not rinse strawberries or remove their green caps until just before using.  Rinsing berries removes their naturally protective outer layer; and their caps prevent water from soaking into the strawberries, diluting the flavor and altering their texture.

–To clean strawberries, place in a colander or large sieve and rinse quickly under a gentle spray of cold water. Pat dry with towels; then remove the green caps, if desired.

–To hull strawberries (i.e., remove the green caps), use the sharp tip of a paring knife; the pointed end of a swivel-bladed vegetable peeler; or a strawberry huller—an inexpensive tweezer-like gadget available at most cookware shops. This removes not only the leafy green cap, but also the tough little core beneath it.

–For best flavor, eat strawberries at cool room temperature.

–1 cup of halved raw strawberries weighs in at around 49 calories. They are a good source of vitamin C, and also contain potassium, iron, and folic acid.

The  Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ides of April

Chances are you’ve already filed your income tax returns…or, at least, handed over everything to your accountant. This is as good a reason as any to pamper yourself.

If you’re in a funk or simply feeling the financial pinch of tax time, a night on the town may not be in the cards. But here in California good food is always an affordable luxury, especially when you shop at the farmers’ market.

Spring is here, and the market is abloom.After months of little more than juicy citrus to satisfy our cravings for fresh fruit we revel in early strawberries, with armloads of bright flowers to lift our spirits. Also look for locally-grown asparagus, squeaky-fresh artichokes, crunchy peas, fava beans, crisp celery, and young beets.Spring is short but sweet, so shake off the seasonal doldrums and make the most of it.

Often without ever having tasted them, beets are scorned by kids and grown-ups alike. You’ll always find canned beets in lackluster salad bars, a jolt of color radiating from beneath the clear plastic sneeze-guard. A walk past the bussing station of any less-than-glamorous restaurant—where stacks of abandoned salad plates are dotted with slimy purple remnants; their shocking-pink juices bleeding into rivers of ersatz dressing—certainly does nothing to improve their image. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The first thing to remember is that canned beets are about as sexy as canned peas.

Available year-round, the best tender young beets—no larger than a golf ball—are now piled high at the farmers’ market. Earthy, sweet, and delicious, with vitamin-packed greens that are not only edible, but downright tasty. For a change, try white or golden beets, or the candy-cane striped Chioggia variety. (But don’t expect miracles. The Chioggia variety cook to a uniform color.)

A salad made from “real” beets is a thing of beauty, whether served as a side dish or—accompanied by a loaf of crusty artisan bread–a light meal on a warm day.

 AND THE BEET GOES ON….

–Large beets tend to have a woody texture. Look for small, firm beets with crisp green tops attached. Perky leaves indicate they have been freshly harvested.

–To store: Cut off the beet greens, leaving an inch or so of the stems attached, as the leaves tend to draw moisture from the roots. Refrigerate the greens for up to 2 days in an open plastic bag. The bulb-shaped beet roots, when stored unwashed in their own plastic bag, will last a week in the refrigerator.(Any longer, and their natural sugars convert to starch.) Scrub beets well just before cooking.

–Don’t get caught red-handed: Red beets bleed. Wimps like me wear thin latex gloves when working with them. For those who yearn for the more tactile approach, avoid unsightly stains by washing your hands, cutting board, and knife immediately after peeling and slicing. (If needed, scrub stubborn stains with coarse salt.)And wear an apron to avoid The Jackson Pollock Syndrome.

–Beets can be eaten raw: just peel and grate before adding to salads. (I once worked with an editor whose beet-loving husband regularly consumed them in their natural state, merrily eating them out-of-hand like an apple. But that’s a whole other story.)

–Cooked beets can be peeled and refrigerated in an airtight container for several days, so it’s smart to cook more than you’ll need for a single meal.

–For the best flavor and least mess, roast beets with their skins and “tails” (root ends) intact. See recipe for details.

–Beets are done when the tip of a sharp knife can be easily inserted and withdrawn from the center. When properly cooked, their skins will slip off easily, using a paper towel or your fingertips.

ROASTED BEET SALAD WITH GOAT CHEESE & WALNUTS

1/3 cup California walnut halves and pieces

2 bunches (8 to 10 beets total) small-to-medium beets—any variety—with greens attached

1/3 cup California walnut oil or olive oil

2 tablespoons fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon California red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon chopped fresh tarragon leaves (optional)*

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

About 2 ounces soft California goat cheese, coarsely crumbled

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a baking dish and bake until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 10 minutes. Let the walnuts cool. Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
  1. Cut off leafy greens from the beets, leaving about 1 inch of the stems attached to the roots, and set aside. Scrub the beets under cold running water. Put the damp beets in a small baking dish, add a few tablespoons of water, and cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Roast until the beets are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 35 to 50 minutes, depending upon size.Set aside to cool.
  1. In a small jar, combine the oil, orange juice, vinegar, tarragon, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, about 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and the mustard. Seal tightly and shake the jar until the vinaigrette is well blended. Taste, adding more salt or pepper as needed.
  1. When the beets are cool enough to handle, rub off the skin and cut the beets into 1/4-inch thick slices. Combine the beets and about half the vinaigrette in a bowl, tossing gently to coat. Cover and set aside to marinate at room temperature for about 30 minutes, or longer if refrigerated.
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse the beet greens well and tear into large pieces. Add greens to the pot and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Transfer the leaves to a colander and rinse under cold running water. Drain well and squeeze dry.
  1. To serve, toss beet greens with the remaining vinaigrette. Spread the greens on a small serving platter and top with the marinated beets. Scatter the walnuts and goat cheese over the top and serve at once. Serves 4 to 6.

*If you don’t have—or don’t like—fresh tarragon, just omit it, or substitute fresh parsley or chives. Don’t bother using dried tarragon. It can be nasty stuff.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

 

A Departure from Tradition

This is the month when everyone is Irish…if not in fact, at least in spirit. That alone is cause for celebration, but March also marks the arrival of some of spring’s sweetest crops at the farmers’ market.

While shopping, don’t limit your purchases to spuds and cabbage needed for the traditional American-style St. Patrick’s Day meal. Also treat yourself to a bunch or two of freshly-dug beets; a few baskets of early strawberries; and plenty o’ green: squeaky-fresh artichokes; sweet locally-grown asparagus; tender baby lettuces; plump fava beans; and peas of all persuasions. It’s going to be a good week.

You may also want to re-think the corned beef and cabbage thing. Maybe this is the year you want to simply to nibble something good in front of the television as you watch The Quiet Man. Enter: Irish Nachos.

This hearty dish includes all of St. Patrick’s favorites, piled high onto a bed of warm, crispy potatoes.What’s not to like? Instead of opening a few cans, as one often does for classic nachos, this one is brimming with fresh ingredients, all in the colors of the Irish flag. Think of it as a deconstructed baked potato with a hint of the Emerald Isle. Serve with small plates and forks for a casual supper, or as a super-snack for sports fans.

This crazy fusion is a crowd-pleaser; and all the elements can be prepared ahead, and are easily multiplied as needed.There’s no point in offering an actual recipe here, as you are the master of your nacho destiny. Add as little or as much of the ingredients as you like. Here is the architectural blueprint for making your masterpiece, along with a couple of helpful recipes.

How to Assemble Irish Nachos

  1. Make a batch of Crispy Smashed Potatoes (recipe follows). If you will be serving soon, do not turn off the oven. Transfer the potatoes, along with any crispy potato bits, into a shallow baking dish and topwith a generous handful of cheese.

As far as the choice of cheese, your options are wide open. You can get fancy with crumbled soft goat cheese, but a robust, Irish cheddar or a bit of farmhouse blue are other good choices. If you would rather stick to the basics, use shredded Monterey jack or another favorite, cheddar.

  1. If desired, top with your choice of meat and another handful of cheese. Place in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the cheese has softened or melted (as you prefer) and the potatoes are heated through.

Any protein will do here, but coarsely chopped cooked bacon or pancetta; crumbled cooked sausage; or bite-size shreds of corned beef all work well.

  1. Top the warm potato mixture with a mound of very thinly sliced green cabbage or a shower of baby arugula leaves, and drizzle with Herbed Sour Cream (recipe follows). Place the remaining Herbed Cream in a small serving bowl.
  1. Scatter 2 or 3 thinly-sliced green onions and 1 shredded carrot over the top. Serve at once with a couple of large spoons, so guests can serve themselves. Pass the reserved Herbed Sour Cream on the side. Serves 4 to 6. Maybe.

Crispy Smashed Potatoes

12 Yukon Gold or red creamer potatoes, each about 1 1/2-inches in diameter

Coarse (kosher) salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons California olive oil

  1. Place the potatoes in a large pot. Add enough cold water to cover, and about 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. Bring the water to a boil over high heat; then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the potatoes are tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes. (This part can be done hours in advance, so all you need to do is roast the potatoes just before serving.) Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  1. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of the oil, turning to coat.Arrange the potatoes in a single layer. Using a potato masher or a large fork, smash each potato until it’s about 1/2-inch thick. (Don’t aim for perfection here. You want plenty of nooks & crannies, with bits of potato spilling out.) Drizzle with the remaining olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper. Roast the potatoes, turning once, until nicely browned, 25 to 30 minutes.

 

Herbed Sour Cream

1 1/2 cups sour cream or plain yogurt

3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons minced fresh chives

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill, basil, cilantro, or tarragon

1teaspoon fresh lemon or lime juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

Dash of cayenne pepper

  1. In a bowl, combine the sour cream, parsley, chives, dill, lemon juice, salt, and cayenne. Stir until well mixed.
  1. Serve at once, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 day.

Other options to consider

  • Check your produce drawer! Veggies like diced bell pepper, blanched fresh peas, or bite-size broccoli florets add healthy crunch and more green!
  • Guacamole aficionados always appreciate another dose of their favorite green; or a drizzle of tomatillo salsa for a touch of heat.
  • I always think 1 or 2 sliced jalapeno chile peppers are always a good idea. No, they’re not the least bit Irish, but the color works—and I love the added zing.
  • Still yearning for beans in your nachos? Try shelled fava beans or edamame.
  • Not feeling that layer of meat? Omit the meat and cheese altogether and, just before serving, scatter thin slices of smoked salmon or trout over the top.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!