Friday, November 28, 2008

What is a Persimmon?

persimmons-- round Fuyus and heart-shaped Hachiyas
(round Fuyus on left, heart-shaped Hachiyas on right)

I was selecting persimmons at the farmers' market last weekend, when the woman next to me leaned in close so that the farmer wouldn't hear her and whispered, "I bought some of those last year and they were awful."

"Really?" I asked, surprised that anyone could use the words "awful" and "persimmon" in the same sentence.

"Yeah. Especially the ones with the pointy bottoms. They're so bitter," she added.

"You mean like a green banana?"

"Yes! Exactly!" she said, and gave an involuntary shudder.

"That's because you ate it when it wasn't ripe. Those are called Hachiya persimmons; they need to be really, really soft before you eat them."

"Well, someone told me that I could eat persimmons like an apple," she said, confused.

"Yeah, the Fuyus, not the Hachiyas. There's a big difference."

"Well I wish I had known that last year. I ended up using them as a centerpiece for my Christmas table, then threw them away."

Threw them away? That's when I involuntarily shuddered.

That's the problem with persimmons. Eat an unripe Hachiya, and you could banish them from your life forever. But, oh, what a mistake that would be! A ripe Hachiya is pure bliss -- glossy, jelly-like coral colored flesh that tastes like sweet mangoes and apricots.

I don't ever want anyone to throw away a persimmon again, so I'm here to help. Read on to learn all about persimmons.

Though persimmons are well-loved throughout many parts of the world -- they are Japan's national fruit -- they puzzle many Americans who are unfamiliar with them. That's why it helps to have a well-educated farmer like Barry Karol of Karol's Tropical Fruit Farm to help you out. With persimmon season running from late October through December, Barry has been talking up persimmons a lot lately.

Persimmons are a winter fruit, so I asked Barry why they do well in San Diego. He explained, "There are 14 climates zones in San Diego. It's actually the most diversified agricultural place on the planet. That's why persimmons grow so well here."

You don't have to live in San Diego to enjoy persimmons; they are typically available in most supermarkets during the holiday season. Here are some pointers to help you select the best ones.

Hachiya persimmons
(heart-shaped Hachiya persimmons must be eaten very ripe)

Heart-shaped Hachiya persimmons have a shiny deep orange skin that may be streaked with black. Don't worry. Barry says those are just sun spots.

a fully ripe Hachiya persimmon
(a fully ripe Hachiya persimmon)

Hachiyas are astringent, which means they can be eaten only when fully ripe. How can you tell when a Hachiya persimmon is ripe? Hold it in your hand. It should feel like it's filled with water and will be extremely soft and squishy. Removing the thin skin reveals coral colored flesh so thick and glossy it looks like jelly and tastes like it too -- it's an intoxicating blend of mango and apricot. Eat them plain or use them in baked goods, sauces, and smoothies.

Just remember: DO NOT eat an unripened Hachiya. It can take up to a week to ripen, so to speed things up, place the fruit with a banana inside of a paper bag. The banana releases ethylene, which speeds up the ripening process.

Fuyu persimmon
(a Fuyu persimmon can be eaten hard or soft)

Fuyu persimmons in contrast are squat and rather heavy for their size. Their skin ranges from pale yellow-orange to brilliant reddish-orange; generally, the darker the color, the sweeter the taste. Fuyu persimmons are non-astringent, which means you can eat them either firm or soft. Firm Fuyus can be eaten like an apple, skin and all. And when you slice off the top, a beautiful star will appear in the flesh. Crunchy cinnamon flavored Fuyus are also great in salads and salsas.

Persimmons are highly nutritious. One fruit packs 55% of your daily vitamin A. According to Barry, "Persimmons are high in beta-carotene. In their raw form they're more nutritious; once they're heated, they lose some of their nutritional value."

I hope that I have saved at least one more person from the horrifying experience of eating an unripe Hachiya. So please, this holiday season, eat persimmons instead of just using them in your centerpiece.

persimmon sundae
(Persimmon, Gingersnap, and Caramel Sundaes)

To learn more about persimmons and their history, check out my latest NPR Kitchen Window article, "Falling for Persimmons," which includes four recipes:

Here are more persimmon recipes from my blog:

If you're in San Diego, then check out our amazing farmers' markets. You can catch Barry at the Little Italy Farmers' Market on Saturday mornings and the Hillcrest Farmers' Market on Sunday mornings. He doesn't have a web site, but he gave me his business card with his email: barrykoral [at] hotmail [dot] com. I'm sure he'd be happy to hear from you if you have questions or comments.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Hey, Dad, I Finally Like Spaghetti Squash!

scooping out spaghetti squash

No, this is not a picture of a sea anemone. It's spaghetti squash. And though my mom doesn't like it, she makes it all the time for my dad since it's his favorite type of squash. Her favorite, by the way, is buttercup. I know this because the three of us have the same conversation every year as if it's a revelation:

Dad: "What did you buy at the farmers' market this week?"

Me: "Some butternut squash."

Mom: "Ooh, yeah? I love butternut squash. But you know what's even better? Buttercup. You should try it."

Me: "Yeah, Mom, I have tried it, but I don't like it as much as butternut."

Mom: "How could you not like buttercup squash?!"

Dad: "You know what the best squash is? Spaghetti squash. Your mother makes it with tomato sauce and cheese. Oh, I love it like that. You should try it."

Me: "Yeah, Dad, I have tried it, but I don't like it as much as butternut."

Mom: "Oh, yes, your father loves that spaghetti squash. I don't. Blegh."

Dad: "How could you not like spaghetti squash?!" (Then, convinced that this is the year he will persuade me) "Well, you don't know what you're missing."

spaghetti squash

Well, Dad, you'll be happy to hear I finally agree with you. I didn't know what I was missing, until last week. My local supermarket had a sale on winter squash, so I ran right over to stock up on acorn and butternut, only to find a bin filled with a dozen spaghetti squash. Yeah, sure, I thought, that's cause no one wants it. Since I cannot pass up a bargain, I bought one anyway.

I had buyer's remorse the minute I got home. I didn't want it with tomato sauce. Let's face it, spaghetti squash is not the same as spaghetti no matter how hard you try. Then I thought of making an herb pesto but was all out of sage. And that's when it hit me. My favorite way to eat real spaghetti is with butter and salt.

Once the squash was cooked, I excitedly scooped out the cooked flesh, which is the best part of cooking spaghetti squash anyway. Then I added butter, salt and black pepper, and some grated Reggiano-Parmigiano.

It was good. OK, it was better than good. It was delicious. It tasted like, well, spaghetti. The firm luminescent gold strands of flesh become deliciously coated with melted butter just like pasta. For a richer more savory flavor, sprinkle some fresh thyme, rosemary, or parsley on the squash before serving. This is a simple, fresh, and comforting side dish that I'll be happy to make again.

My parents and I will likely have our annual squash talk this week. I have a feeling it's going to end a little differently this year though. So, what's your favorite squash?

spaghetti squash with butter, cheese, and thyme

Baked Spaghetti Squash with Butter and Cheese
Makes 4 servings
Print recipe only here.

1 small spaghetti squash (about 2 pounds), halved lengthwise, seeds removed
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon butter
2 tablespoons grated Reggiano-Parmigiana cheese, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
a few pinches of coarse sea salt and several cranks of freshly ground black pepper
a sprinkling of fresh thyme, basil, or parsley, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan with tinfoil (for easy clean up). Place squash halves flesh side down and pierce all over with a fork. Cook for 45-50 minutes, or until tender.

Using a fork scrape the hot flesh from the squash and place in a bowl. Add butter, 2 tablespoons cheese, and salt and pepper. Lightly toss until well combined. Garnish with remaining 2 tablespoons cheese and herbs, if using. Serve immediately.

You might also like:

Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Sweet Potatoes

Roasted Acorn Squash with Medjool Dates and Toasted Almonds

I'm sending this to Scott of Real Epicurean who is the hosting this week's Weekend Herb Blogging, now managed by Haalo.

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Holiday Orange, Date, and Pecan Bread, (Plus Some Tags and a Meme)

Orange, Date, and Pecan Bread

I have been tagged by the lovely Val of More than Burnt Toast to bake bread and help raise awareness of an international charity called Breadline Africa, which Jeanne of Cooksister has brought to the attention of food bloggers.

According to Jeanne, "Blogger Bake-off was launched by Breadline Africa on Blog Action Day. The slogan is bake bread, give dough and the aim is to raise $1 million in funds to help alleviate poverty in Africa. Their plan is to convert shipping containers into locations for food production and distribution in Africa. It is hoped that these sustainable community kitchens will not only provide food such as bread and soup to those in need, but also opportunities for skills development within poor communities."

Click here to find out how to get involved.

Bloggers can download the Blogger Bake-off widget and tag five other bloggers to do the same. There is no obligation to donate money; even mentioning it on your blog will help create awareness. Here are the 5 bloggers I'm tagging. It's great if you are able to participate, but no problem if you're not.

1. Rosa of Rosa's Yummy Yums
2. Stacey of Stacey Snacks
3. Susan of Farm Girl Fare
4. Susan of Wild Yeast
5. Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups

Orange, Date, and Pecan Bread

Now for the bread. I am in love with succulent fresh Medjool dates, which are currently in season. Underneath their iridescent, crinkly skins is soft, sticky flesh that tastes like a mix of rich caramel, wild honey, and sweet cinnamon.

This moist, dense quick bread is chock full of dates and pecans and is laced with orange zest and a medley of spices -- a special bread for a special cause.

Did I mention it's low-fat? So if you have guests staying over for the holidays, it would be a deliciously light breakfast bread to serve the morning after a big turkey dinner.

Orange, Date, and Pecan Bread

Orange, Date, and Pecan Bread

Makes 4 mini loaves
Print recipe only here.

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
2 large eggs plus 4 egg whites
1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup orange juice
2 teaspoons orange zest
1 cup pitted, coarsely chopped Medjool dates
1/2 cup pecans

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Coat 4 (5 X 3- inch) mini-loaf pans/tins with cooking spray. Adjust the number of pans accordingly based on the size you use. Just remember, with smaller pans, baking time will be shorter; with a larger loaf pan,baking time will be longer, by about 15 minutes.

In a medium size bowl, whisk the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves together.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs, buttermilk, oil, orange juice, and orange zest.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, and using a rubber spatula, mix until just incorporated. Fold in the dates and pecans. Divide the batter evenly among the pans.

Since breads bake more quickly using small pans, bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the cakes are a deep golden brown and a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack; let cool for 10 minutes, then unmold and place on a rack to cool to room temperature.

Orange, Date, and Pecan Bread

Like that nifty coffee mug? I received it at the BlogHer conference this past summer, courtesy of Elise of Simply Recipes. I'm sure you have all used it before, but just in case, is a wonderful tool. It archives recipes from over 2,600 blogs. So check it out!

I'm sending my bread to Lore of Culinarty who is looking for your original holiday inspired recipes for this month's Original Recipes round-up.

I want to give a shout out to Food Hunter of Food Hunter's Guide to Cuisine who honored me with an I Love You This Much Award. I'm passing the love on to all of you!

Val also flattered me with this Kreative Blogger Award. Thank you, my dear!

Here are 5 more Kreative bloggers whom I admire for their creativity.

1. Aran of Cannelle et Vanille
2. Jude from Apples Pies, Patis, and Pates
3. Kate from Kate in the Kitchen
4. Kathy from Panini Happy
5. Oakley from lemonbasil

Now you five know what to do!

Last one! I have been tagged by Mark of No Special Effects to do the Commenter's Meme. Here's how it works.

List your last 10 commenters, (I wrote this post a couple of days ago, so I named the last 10 at that time), then answer the questions below:

1. deborah of Taste and Tell
2. maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita
3. meeta of What's for Lunch, Honey?
4. eatmedelicious
5. maris of Mad About Martha
6. mark of No Special Effects (I guess he's exempt since he tagged me for this!)
7. lisa of Jersey Girl Cooks
8. sarah of What Smells So Good?
9. chris of Melecotte
10. abby of Confabulation in the Kitchen


1. What is your favorite post from number 3's blog? I loved the post about her son, Soeren's, wish for a tree with all of his favorite berries on it.

2. Has number 10 taken any pictures that have moved you? Who wouldn't be moved by her sweet newborn, Cash?

3. Does #6 respond to comments on his/her blog? Yes, and he does a great job!

4. Which part of blogland is number 2 from? New York.

5. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7 what would it be? Keep on doing what you're doing.

6. Have you every tried something from number 9's blog? I haven't made an exact recipe, but I was inspired by her fig posts this past fall and made a couple of similar dishes.

7. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you? Yeah, I'm smitten with her Chocolate Mint Cupcakes. How cute would these be for St. Patrick's Da

8. How often do you comment on number 4's blog? I'm not sure. So maybe I should do more!

9. Do you wait for number 8 to post excitedly? With the holiday baking season upon us, yes! Sarah is an amazing baker and contributed several wonderful cookies including Soetkoekies to my Eat Christmas Cookies Event last year.

10. How did number 5's blog change your life? Um, I just met her, so we're not that deep into the relationship yet.

11. Do you know any of the 10 bloggers in person? No, unfortunately.

12. Do any of your 10 bloggers know each other in person? Um, I don't know.

13. Out of the 10, which updates more frequently? I think Chris of Melecotte. And she works full time in a middle school. How much does she rock?

14. Which of the 10 keep you laughing? Mark. Come on, you know you're funny.

15. Which of the 10 has made you cry (good or bad tears)? Maryann. Her family posts always warm my heart.

Whew! Now if you 10 feel like playing along, you know the rules. If not, no worries.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipe: Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears

What exactly is the root of all this antipathy toward Brussels sprouts?

Is it the color? Sometimes it's not easy being green. Or yellowish-green.

Is it the smell? You know what I'm talking about. Boil Brussels sprouts on your stove top for 10 minutes and the neighbors will begin to wonder which farm animal you recently adopted.

Is it your mother's fault? If she served mushy, water-logged, brown Brussels sprouts when you were a kid, it's not your fault that you hate them.

Let me attempt to ingratiate Brussels sprouts with you, especially since many of you will likely be cooking and/or eating them next week on Thanksgiving.

Though Brussels sprouts have been around since ancient times, they are named after the city of Brussels in Belgium, where they have been cultivated (and appreciated) since Medieval times. Brussels sprouts are members of the brassica family, so they're related to broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and kolrabi, none of which are going to win any popularity contests. That's why Brussels sprouts taste like cabbage and are sometimes referred to as "mini cabbages."

Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears

5 Tips for Liking Brussels Sprouts:

1. Select brightly colored Brussels sprouts that are free of black spots or other blemishes, which indicate they are old.

2. Choose smaller Brussels sprouts, which tend to be nuttier in flavor and less "cabbagy" tasting.

3. DO NOT overcook them. Overcooked Brussels sprouts release more sulfur, which causes that smell. You know the one.

4. How you cook Brussels sprouts makes a big difference in how they taste. First par-boil Brussels sprouts and "shock" them. Partially boil the sprouts for 2-3 minutes, then plunge them into a bowl of ice water; this will stop the cooking process and maintain the sprouts' vibrant color. Then you can saute them on the stove top or roast them in the oven.

5. If you are invited to someone's house for Thanksgiving this year, offer to make the Brussels sprouts, so you don't have to suffer Aunt Maude's sadly boiled, mealy sprouts for another year. Everyone will be thankful for that.

And for you food bloggers out there, here's a secret for building traffic. Come up with a killer Brussels sprouts recipe. Believe it or not, of all the posts I have written, one that continually elicits reader emails is Brussels Sprouts with Toasted Breadcrumbs and Lemon. Many people have emailed me thank you notes, saying that this "sunny" version of Brussels sprouts has become their new favorite. I even had one woman say she subscribed to my feed because of that recipe.

So there you have it, a way to build blog traffic and reader subscribers with Brussels sprouts. I wonder if Problogger knows about this.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Pears
Makes 6 servings
Print recipe only here.

Sweet honey and pears act as a foil to the earthy Brussels sprouts. It's a simple yet elegant dish that is ideal for a holiday dinner.

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 large Bartlett or Bosc pears, unpeeled, and thinly sliced
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh minced ginger
4 sprigs fresh thyme, plus extra for garnish
salt and several cranks of freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup lightly toasted walnuts, chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. In a large saucepan boil Brussels sprouts for 2 minutes; drain.

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients (except walnuts) and toss until vegetables are well coated. Lay vegetables in a single layer on a tin-foil lined baking sheet (for easy clean-up). Roast for 20 minutes, turning once, or until vegetables have a few brown spots.

Place cooked vegetables in a serving dish. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with toasted walnuts and some extra salt and thyme. Serve immediately.

Don't forget to check out the previous three traditional Thanksgiving side dishes with a twist:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Honey-Lime Glazed Pepitas

Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Sweet Potatoes

String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Meyer Lemon

I'm sending this to Siri of Siri's Corner who is the hosting this week's Weekend Herb Blogging.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mom's After-School Snacks

crunchy peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chunk muffins

When I was a kid, the best part of school was when it ended. That's because I knew when I got home my mom would have an after-school snack waiting for me.

The only thing that got me though a day of learning fractions was knowing there was freshly baked banana bread, oatmeal cookies, or chocolate pudding with bananas and graham crackers waiting for me.

Mom's after-school snacks are the inspiration for today's Crunchy Peanut Butter, Banana, and Chocolate Chunk Muffins.

crunchy peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chunk muffins

So the next time your child has a test on fractions, surprise her or him with a chocolaty peanut butter muffin and a glass of cold milk. They may just be eternally grateful.

What after-school snacks did your Mom make for you?

crunchy peanut butter, banana, and chocolate chunk muffins and milk

Crunchy Peanut Butter, Banana, and Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Makes 12 regular size muffins
Print recipe only here.

Note: These muffins are meant to be a special treat, not an everyday food. However, if you'd like to reduce the calories and pump up the nutrition, you could replace half of the flour with whole wheat flour, whole milk with low-fat or skim, butter with Smart Balance butter substitute, and 1 egg with 2 egg whites.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 cup milk (whole or low-fat)
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large eggs
2 small bananas (about 1 cup)
1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dark chocolate (I used 65% cacao)**

3 tablespoons coarsely chopped unsalted peanuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dark chocolate

Place rack in center of oven, and preheat to 375 degrees F. Spray a 12 mold regular size muffin pan with cooking spray.

Combine flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl and stir well.

In a separate bowl, combine milk, butter, and eggs and lightly beat with an electric mixer. Add the bananas and peanut butter and lightly beat (it's okay if it's a little bumpy). Add to the flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Avoid over mixing the batter as it will become leaden. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the chocolate chunks.

Spoon the batter evenly into the into 12 muffin cups. Sprinkle each muffin with some chopped peanuts and chocolate. Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden and a cake tester inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack to cool for 5 minutes before removing each muffin and placing on a wire rack to cool.

**You could substitute semi-sweet baking chocolate for the dark chocolate if you prefer.

You might also like:

Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and Chocolate Chunk Cookies


Banana Coconut Almond Bread

I'm not the only one who loves any and all combinations of chocolate, peanut butter, and bananas. Check these recipes out:

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Announcing Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 2! A Food Blog(ga) Event

Yup, it is currently 89 degrees in San Diego (it was 93 degrees at the mall, where I was earlier). November 15th, and it's 90 degrees. This is hard for a New England girl to comprehend.

Sweat was pouring down my back as I marched through a tinsel tinged mall, listening to Christmas Carols. Weird.

So when I got home, I had to get things moving, and there is only way to do that: Let's start Eat Christmas Cookies, Season 2! You can check out last year's amazing round-up of cookies from around the world.

So start baking and send me any and all Christmas cookies; truffles and brownies count too. Just no pies or cakes, please. Santa really prefers cookies.

Here's how you can participate:

Post about a Christmas cookie from today, November 15th through Sunday, December 21st at midnight PST. I will be posting your recipes as I receive them, so the earlier you send them in, the more likely someone else will see your recipe and try it for Christmas.

Within the post:
  • Please link to this page so others can participate.
  • CHANGE as of Dec 19th. Please link to the new Round-Up, Part 2 page so people can see the cookies as they are posted here. Part 1 can be found here.
  • If you really want to score some points with Santa this year, then you can also put the festive Christmas Cookie Logo below.

Email your entry to foodblogga [at] yahoo [dot] com, and put Christmas Cookies as the subject. In the e-mail please include:
  • Your preferred name
  • Where you live
  • Your blog’s name and URL
  • The URL of your entry
  • The name of the cookie
  • If you know how to re-size pictures, then please send along a 200 X 200 pixel pic of your cookies. If I don't see a re-sized pic attached, then I'll come get it at your blog.
  • Multiple entries are allowed.
Don’t have a blog but would like to participate? No problem. Just email me your name, location, recipe, and brief description or story about the cookies. Please attach a 200 X 200 pixel picture to the email if you’d like it to accompany your recipe.

Questions? Leave them below or Email me.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thanksgiving Side Dish Recipe: String Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Meyer Lemon

Green beans with prosciutto, pinenuts, and Meyer lemon

Sometimes I wonder if I'm truly an American. I mean, I have never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread, I have never eaten at Taco Bell, and despite its nearly iconic status in American cuisine, I cannot abide green bean casserole. You know the one -- green beans with cream of mushroom soup, topped with crispy fried onions.

Growing up, I never knew what a casserole was; my mom (and grandmother) never made them. After hearing about green bean casserole from friends at school, I felt like I was missing out -- I told my mom, "It has fried onions on top! It's like green beans with Funyuns!" The next day she bought the ingredients for green bean casserole; I couldn't have been happier.

Unfortunately, she made the green bean casserole in front of my grandmother, Nan. I still remember her look of shock when my mom opened the can of fried onions. "Onions in a can? Who ever heard of such a thing? And who puts soup on string beans?" she said, "Bah, that's American food." I reminded her, "Nan, we are American." "Yeah," she replied, "but we cook Italian."

Despite Nan's protests, I got my green bean casserole. I was giddy with anticipation. Unfortunately, with the first bite, my giddiness ended. Green bean casserole was nothing more than mushy green beans topped with salty soup and greasy onions.

I declared, "I don't like it." Though she didn't say a word, I could see the smile of satisfaction on Nan's face.

extra virgin olive oil, proscuitto, Meyer lemons, and pinenuts

If Nan could still make green beans, this would be her style: Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Meyer Lemon. I made this side dish last Thanksgiving, and it was such a hit that there were no left-overs. It's no wonder. The combination of salty prosciutto, earthy pine nuts, and tangy Meyer lemons enlivens the string beans.

Although you could add the prosciutto raw to the string beans, cooking it for 30-60 seconds renders it irresistibly crisp and savory, like bacon, but much better. It's an easy way to dress up otherwise humble string beans and will surely please your guests. I'd keep the string beans al dente; they'll remain brilliantly colorful and will have that satisfying snap when you bite into them.

I'm not even gonna get into what Nan thought about sweet potatoes and marshmallows.

Green beans with proscuitto, pinenuts, and Meyer lemon

Green Beans with Prosciutto, Pine Nuts, and Meyer Lemon

Serves 4
Print recipe only here.

1 pound string beans, trimmed
1 tablespoon pine nuts
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 ounces prosciutto, cut into thin strips*
the zest of ½ Meyer lemon (about 2 teaspoons)**
the juice of ½ Meyer lemon (1 ½-2 teaspoons)
coarse sea salt, to taste
7-8 cranks freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

In a deep pot, boil the string beans for 2 minutes. Drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and maintain their color. After about 2 minutes, drain and pat dry.

Place pine nuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Shake pan in a back-and-forth motion until pine nuts are golden and aromatic, about 1-2 minutes. Set aside.

In a large skillet, warm 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add prosciutto strips; cook for 30-60 seconds, or until just crisp. Add the string beans to the skillet and stir well. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and salt and pepper; stir and heat through, 1-2 minutes. Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts and additional lemon zest, and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately.

*You can substitute pancetta or bacon for the prosciutto, if you prefer.
**Meyer lemons, which are available at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, are sweeter and less acidic than regular lemons, but either works well.

You might also like these other Thanksgiving side dishes:

Roasted Acorn Squash with Honey-Lime Glazed Pepitas

Olive Oil, Caramelized Onion, and Sage Sweet Potatoes

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pear and Cardamom Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

pear and cardamom cake with pecan streusel

It's the same every autumn. Pears sit quietly in the wings while apples take center stage.

It's no wonder. Think about it. Do kids crave candied pears every Halloween? Do moms pack pear sauce in their kids' lunch boxes? Can something be as "all-American as pear pie"?

Pears are good. Some pears, such as Seckel pears -- diminutive, super sweet fruits-- are surprisingly good. Overall though, they just don't get the respect of apples.

When it comes to baking, however, pears blossom into something special. In fact, I have made this cardamom coffee cake with pecan streusel twice -- once with apples and once with pears. You can tell which one I preferred.

Given their mild flavor, pears work beautifully with cardamom, a enticingly fragrant spice. Though a relative of ginger, cardamom has a unique flavor that is difficult to describe. It is intensely aromatic yet not overwhelming in flavor. It has notes of ginger, clove, and citrus, which is why it works so well when paired with fall fruits.

So, go ahead and give pears a little limelight.

So tell me, do you like pears?
What are your favorite ways
to cook and bake with pears?

Oh, and congratulations, Haley! You are the winner of Food to Live By.

Haley was chosen by using the random integer generator at

pear and cardamom cake with pecan streusel

Pear and Cardamom Coffee Cake with Pecan Streusel

Print recipe only here.

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup chopped pecans
4 tablespoons butter, melted

1 cup diced, peeled, firm but ripe pears, such as yellow bartlett or bosc
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup buttermilk

Place rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter or coat with cooking spray an 8 inch square pan.

To make the streusel, in a small bowl combine flour, sugar, salt, cardamom and pecans and toss until well combined. Pour melted butter evenly over mixture, and using your fingers quickly toss and pinch the mixture until little pebbly pieces form. Refrigerate while making the cake.

Peel and dice pears and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flours, baking soda, salt, and cardamom.

In another large bowl, using an electric hand mixer cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs, lemon zest, and vanilla and beat at medium speed until light. Reduce speed to low and add the buttermilk. Beat until well blended. Add the dry ingredients; beat until just incorporated and the flour is dissolved. The batter will be thick and creamy. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the diced pears until well blended.

Pour the batter into the pan and gently shake it to even it out. Sprinkle the pecan streusel evenly over the top of the cake and press lightly with your hands.

Bake for 35 - 45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before unmolding onto the rack to cool at room temperature.

Unmold the cake, and place on a rack. Allow to set for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

You might also like:

Tuscan Torte di Mele (Apple Cake)

Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Cranberries, Raisins, and Pecans

Fresh Pineapple, Banana, and Pistachio Cake with Rum Icing

Helen's Plum-Raspberry Cardamom Crumbles at Tartelette
Shreya's Thri-Laddoo (a type of Indian festival food) from Mom's Cooking

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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Election Day Harassment and All-American Apple Sauce

raw apples

Unlike the battleground states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, or Florida, California was pretty much a lock for Mr. Obama from the outset. I didn't get a single phone call to try to win my vote. Even when I went to vote last Tuesday, I wasn't harassed for being a liberal or a conservative; I was, however, harassed because I don't like stickers.

After I voted, an impossibly-perky, election worker armed with a roll of stickers stopped me on my way out:

Perky young election worker: Wait! Wait! You forgot your "I Voted" sticker.

Me: Oh, no thank you.

Perky young election worker: You don't want a sticker?

Me: No, thanks.

Perky young election worker: But how will people know you voted?

Me: Well, as long as I know I voted, right?

Perky young election worker: Well, at least take a sticker for your husband. (Jabbing the stickers towards me.)

Me: No thanks. He won't want a sticker either.

Perky young election worker: (Now drawing attention to us from Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) But how do you know he doesn't want a sticker?

Me: OK. I'll take his sticker.

Perky young election worker: Are you sure you don't want your own sticker?

Me: (fearing for my safety) OK, sure. I'll take a sticker.

I felt like I was in the Seinfeld episode when Kramer refuses to wear the AIDS ribbon during an AIDS walk:

Feeling patriotic (and now safely away from intense polling girl), I decided to go home and make an all-American apple pie. Then I remembered that I really don't like making pie crusts that much, so I made all-American apple sauce instead.

cranberry, raisin, and walnut apple sauce

This Cranberry, Raisin, and Walnut Apple Sauce is a variation on my basic homemade apple sauce. It gets a kick of flavor from tart cranberries and sweet raisins. Enjoy it as is or serve it warm with a scoop of creamy vanilla bean ice cream. After all, ice cream always gets bi-partisan support.

Homemade Cranberry, Raisin, and Walnut Apple Sauce
Yields 5 cups, cooked
Print recipe only here.

8 McIntosh, Rome Beauty or other sweet apples (about 8 cups), peeled and chopped**
1 cup fresh cranberries
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
3 cups water
1/4 cup light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

Place all ingredients from apples through nutmeg in a deep pot. Bring to a boil for 10 minutes, or until the apples begin to break down. Lower to a simmer and cook 15-20 minutes, or until the apples are completely soft. Stir well with a spoon until a thick sauce forms.

Leave a few lumps and bumps in it or puree it in a blender for a smooth finish. Just make sure to let it cool first before pouring it the blender! Stir in the raisins and walnuts. Let the sauce cool before serving.

**Like Jeff's mom, Dorothy, of Dorothy's Broccoli Pasta and Italian Almond Biscotti, I leave the skin on one or two apples to impart a warm reddish color to the sauce. If you don't like the texture of the skin, you can puree the sauce until it dissolves.

You might also like these recipes featuring apples:

Crunchy Veg Salad with Lemon-Tahini Dressing

Apple, Fennel, and Celery Salad

Red Lentil Mulligatawny with Apple-Celery Salsa

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