Archive for the ‘At the Market’ Category


Candy Canes in Julyh

August 10, 2011

Recipe development for national magazines and large companies can be tricky. You have the obvious challenge to make something new and delicious, but the harder part can be getting ingredients out of season. The lead time is up to six months, from creating the recipe to print and the Internet.

Scoring rhubarb in early February I thought was a no-go, but I miraculously found a few overpriced forlorn stalks in a local grocery store. The check out woman gave me a weird look as I spent $20 for pretty sad looking fruit, but I didn’t care. I bought it all.

Berries can be easier to locate as South American fruit is available in winter. Frozen peaches work as long as they aren’t packed in sugar, and you have to dry them off to get rid of excess moisture. Neither of these fruits tastes the same as the local in season counterparts so you have to channel the summer fruit and adjust accordingly.

Recipes for winter publication pose problems even though they don’t rely on delicate summer fruit. Need cranberries in July? You won’t find them at Safeway. Luckily I found a half a bag in the back of my freezer. Here’s a tip I learned later on: Whole Foods has them in their freezer section all year.

Candy canes and fruit cake were last week’s search. I looked all over and asked a couple of stores if they had any stashed in the back leftover from last year. Thank goodness for Amazon. In a day they were on my door step.

Now that I am provisioned I have to get my head wrapped around the idea that even though I am cooking in shorts and flip flops I have to think Christmas. The good news is gingerbread men and women are as good in August as they are in December.


Got Pie?

June 10, 2011

We all know late spring and summer to be baseball season, allergy season and fog season but for me it’s also pie season. I make an endless variety of desserts using fruits but pie has a special place. When I make desserts at home for the next few months it’s almost always pie. It starts with strawberry-rhubarb and quickly expands to cherry as soon as they are at the market. Apricot, raspberry, and blueberry follow as soon as possible.

Nothing beats pie from the making to the eating.

It’s kind of an art to make one but it isn’t difficult. Take your time and focus. Make the same pie recipe several times. Once you get the hang of it you will find it relaxing. I promise.

I use all butter in my crusts, no shortening. While many believe the latter gives a flakier crust you can get a wonderful texture with butter and you get the butter flavor.  Shortening crusts taste bland. They also don’t get that beautiful golden brown color you get from butter.

Pulling a pie hot from the oven with its brown crust and bubbling fruit is a sight to behold. You wait until it cools just enough so the fruit settles and you don’t burn your mouth when you take a bite.

Unless a pie has a cream or custard filling never refrigerate it. Like a tomato, its flavor and texture decrease once you do. If you want to warm it don’t put it in the microwave. Eat a piece warm from the oven or reheat in a preheated 350 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Pie doesn’t need fancy garnishes or presentation. The only thing you have to do after putting a slice on a plate is decide if you are going to eat it with whipped cream or ice cream.

Email me at if you want a recipe for strawberry-rhubarb or blueberry pie.


The Fancy Food Show through the Eyes of a Pastry Chef

January 19, 2011

The other day I went to the Fancy Food Show at Moscone Center. Held every January in California, they also have a summer show on the east coast. It’s the place to find specialty food producers.

Individuals are there promoting their secret family recipes as well as large corporations. Countries even have booths to promote the foods they import. Not surprisingly The Italian booth had lots of pasta and olive oil and The French cheese, jams and terrines. South Africa was even represented by a family owned company, Fry Group Foods, which makes vegetarian meat alternatives.

It’s a bit crazy to see row after row of booths representing about 1,300 food companies. They are set up in a grid and you can easily get lost as you walk around. After 10 aisles, they all look the same. It’s best to do a quick walking tour of the entire show and stop at the places that look interesting.

Sweet things are everywhere. There were at least 175 companies that sold chocolates of one kind or another. This doesn’t even count the companies like Guittard, TCHO and Ghirardelli who sell baking chocolate. If they are all making money it’s no wonder there is a cacao shortage. There were also over 90 cookie companies. Who knew that many high end packaged cookie companies could exist in one country.

Biscoff, the delicious spiced biscuits known by most people as the cookies served along with peanuts on Delta Airlines, was there. They have recently come out with a spread, kind of like Nutella, based on the cookie. It does taste like the cookie without the crunch. That being said, I’m not sure what I would do with it.

It’s interesting to see the trends at the show. A couple of years ago pomegranate products were everywhere. Before that it was salsa and mustards. This year biscuits for cheese and sweet potato products had a strong showing. One company makes a water that is to be used as a palate cleanser between courses. It will be interesting to see what reappears or disappears for the 2012 show.

All conventions are good for San Francisco and local restaurants appreciate their business. But it’s especially fun when food people come to town.



November 23, 2010

With winter almost upon us there aren’t many local seasonal fruits you can use on your Thanksgiving  menu, or for that matter the days after. Fortunately persimmons are now at their peak and the markets are full of them.

Although they are not quite as popular as Meyer lemons you occasionally see trees in backyards around the Bay Area.  A persimmon tree with full grown persimmons is a strange site. A big storm can remove all the leaves and the orange fruit hang like ornaments among the bare branches. It looks as if someone hung each individual fruit by hand to make the tree look less barren.

The name persimmon comes from the Algonquin Indians who lived on the East Coast of the United States and Canada.  California has a good growing climate for persimmons but top world producers are China, Korea, and Japan.

The two most common varieties you see at farmers markets and in grocery stores are Fuyus and Hachiyas. Fuyus are squat and look like a slightly flattened tomato. The acorn shaped ones are Hachiyas.

Fuyus can be eaten firm or soft. On menus you often see them thinly sliced in salads.  I like to combine them with Little Gems, pecans and either a hard cheese like Manchego or a soft blue cheese. This combination is delicious.

Persimmons are eaten dried too. The Japanese have a traditional method for drying persimmons that dates back hundreds of years. For an interesting article about a family in the Gold Country who makes hoshigaki, Japanese for dried persimmons, go to:

You have to ripen Hachiya persimmons before you can use them, which can take several days on the counter top. My trick is to put them in the freezer overnight and then defrost them on the counter. Freezing them helps break down the fruit and you have almost instant ripe persimmons. Once they come to room temperature they are soft and ready to use.

Some people like to eat ripe Hachiyas like an apple. Narsai David once told me they were one of his favorite fruits. Since they are full of Vitamin A and C, I tried to eat them straight but just couldn’t do it. Even when soft the tannins make them too astringent and bitter for my taste buds.

But for baking Hachiyas are great. My favorite dessert with persimmons is persimmon pudding. Served warm with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and some caramel sauce it’s a crowd pleaser.

Here’s my recipe.

Persimmon Pudding

Serves 8

About 5 ripe Hachiya persimmons

3 large eggs

1 cup granulated sugar

4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to warm

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups of half and half (or 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream)

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan.

Remove the stems from the persimmons and cut the flesh into pieces. Purée the persimmon flesh in a food processor until smooth. Strain the purée through a medium-mesh sieve to eliminate any bits of skin and seed. You should have 2 cups purée.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until blended. Whisk in the melted butter.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, and cloves onto a piece of parchment paper or into a bowl. Add the salt. Stir the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, stirring until combined. Stir in the persimmon purée.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. The pudding will sink as it cools.

Serve the pudding warm, scooped into bowls with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce.

It can be reheat it in a 325°F oven for about 15 minutes.


In Praise of Blue Chair Fruit

June 11, 2010


Last weekend my nephew picked up a case of apricots from a roadside stand on his way home from college near Sacramento. I turned them into two cases of apricot jam, that now join the case of strawberry jam I made from small Seascape strawberries.

I am proud of all my jars lined up on the counter, but that’s nothing compared to how much jam Rachel Saunders makes at Blue Chair Fruit.  Rachel worked in restaurants (mostly front of the house) for 10 years as she perfected her jam making skills. In 2008 she launched Blue Chair Fruit. Five minutes after you meet her who realize how serious and passionate she is about jam. When you talk to Rachel you want to make jam and eat jam.  You can’t get it out of your head.

Rachel and I both believe that jam making shouldn’t be a lost art. It really isn’t difficult and tastes so much better than what you buy in the grocery store. You need to start with good quality fruit, make it in small batches so the flavor stays fresh, and cook it just until it sets.

To make her incredible treats she shares kitchen space with Grace Street Catering in Oakland. (This is also the location of the pop up store mentioned in The SF Chronicle a couple of weeks ago.) Rachel, her 6 copper jam kettles, and several assistants transform cases of organic fruit into jars of jams and marmalades. Her suppliers include Blossom Bluff Orchards and Dirty Girl Produce. Last year she made more than 15,000 jars and 90 different kinds of jams and marmalades. This year she hopes to make at least 30,000. If you are impressed with the amount wait until you taste it. It’s amazing.

Her flavors vary from year to year depending on fruit availability. In my refrigerator right now I have Concord Grape and Damson Plum Jam, Spiced Bourbon-Tomato Conserve and Black Fig Jam with Almond, Citron and Clove. This year the late rains destroyed a lot of the apricots and cherries so you won’t be seeing as much of these.

Jam isn’t just a summertime thing for Rachel.  Her favorite jamming season is actually September when the Damson plums arrive but she keeps herself busy in winter too with citrus marmalades.

I met Rachel through our mutual book agent. She asked me to write a quote for the back of the book and after reading the galleys I was in jam heaven and had to meet her. When her book comes out in September you can discover her world of jam making. In the meantime you can purchase her jams at various Farmer’s Markets. Better yet, sign up for one of the classes she is offering this summer. You learn not only jam recipes but also the principles behind her craft. And she includes dinner.

Go to to find out more details.