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In Praise of Pistachios

Friday, 14. November 2014 5:26

Pistachios growing in California's Central Valley.

Pistachios growing in California’s Central Valley.

 

A pistachio is a wonder.

For much of its growth cycle, its shell is empty. Only later does the tiny, sweet, green edible kernel grow inside.

It’s a phenomenon that has even surprised many a first time grower.

This summer, I was invited by the American Pistachio Growers to Fresno to watch the annual pistachio harvest.

There are more than 650 pistachio growers in Arizona, New Mexico and California. The Golden State boasts the most with more than 98 percent of the total growers and more than 300,000 acres of pistachio trees.

The pistachio crop may still pale in comparison to California’s almonds, which make up 940,000 acres. But pistachios remain an important crop, bringing in $1.3 billion in revenue. Indeed, the pistachio crop is expected to double in the next seven years.

With its hot, dry climate and rich soil, the Central Valley became a natural place to plant pistachios, which hail from the Middle East. In the 1960s, plantings began in the Fresno area. Nowadays, you’ll find family farms that have grown pistachios for generations.

Although they’re one of the more drought-tolerant trees, this year’s pistachio crop, which just finished harvesting, is about 30 percent lower than usual.

Tasting a just-picked pistachio.

Tasting a just-picked pistachio.

Once the kernel forms inside the shell, it keeps growing until it gets so big that it splits the shell, the sign that it is ripe for picking. Hence, the naturally created slit that pistachios in the shell possess, which makes it easier for us to crack them open with our fingers. A real treat is getting to taste a just-picked pistachio. Unlike salted, roasted ones from the store, a fresh one is softer and even more buttery tasting.

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Category:Enticing Events, General, Health/Nutrition | Comments (8) | Author:

Fig and Pistachio Stuffing for Thanksgiving

Wednesday, 12. November 2014 5:26

Stuffing that doesn't have to weigh you down.

Stuffing that doesn’t have to weigh you down.

 

Think of this as Thanksgiving stuffing-lite.

Oh sure, it still has half a stick of butter in it.

But there’s no sausage in it. Nor any milk, cream or eggs. It gets moistened with chicken broth instead.

It also gets crunch from a profusion of pistachio nuts. And it gets a grown-up touch with dried figs that have been macerated in sweet white wine overnight. But don’t worry, they don’t come out tasting overly boozy. The alcohol tempers the fruit’s sweetness and adds a rounded depth. If you don’t have the Mucscat or Essensia called for in the recipe, you can improvise. I actually ended up using Canadian icewine I happened to have on hand.

The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbook writers, Molly Stevens. It first appeared in the February 2007 issue of Bon Appetit.

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Category:Fruit, General, Recipes (Savory) | Comments (8) | Author:

Snake River Farms Kurobuta Crown Roast of Pork and A Food Gal Giveaway

Monday, 10. November 2014 5:26

How's this for an alternative to the usual turkey for Thanksgiving?

How’s this for an alternative to the usual turkey for Thanksgiving?

 

Tired of turkey for Thanksgiving?

Or tired of it being dry and a total letdown?

Then, give the bird the heave-ho and turn your attention to the pig instead.

Ham is too predictable. But a crown roast of pork? Now, that’s not only an unexpected pick, but a dramatic one to boot.

Now, imagine one from heavily marbled Kurobuta pork. Now, we’re really talking.

Recently, Snake River Farms sent me a sample of its crown roast to try. It’s the first one I’ve ever cooked. Now, I’m wondering: What took me so long to discover this show-stopping hunk of pork?

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Category:General, Great Finds, Meat | Comments (7) | Author:

A Tacolicious Time at Home

Friday, 7. November 2014 5:26

Lamb shanks -- Tacolicious-style.

Lamb shanks — Tacolicious-style.

 

Few of us are lucky enough to score a dinner invitation to San Francisco Magazine writer Sara Deseran’s house.

Because if we did, we apparently would find ourselves chowing down deliriously on “Lamb Adobo Taco with Spices and Oranges.”

For Deseran, co-owner of the Bay Area’s Tacolicious restaurants with her husband, Joe Hargrave, this is one of her go-to dishes when entertaining.

Fortunately for us, she’s sharing that recipe in her newest cookbook, “Tacolicious: Festive Recipes for Tacos, Snacks, Cocktails, and More” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy. The cookbook features the seasonal, bright flavors of Tacolicious at its best in such recipes as “Shrimp Cakes with Corn-Basil Salsa,” “Albondigas in Tomato-Chipotle Sauce,” “Lone Star Breakfast Taco” and “Pineapple-Coconut Aqua Fresca.”

TacoliciousBook

After one taste, I can see why this dish is such a favorite of hers. Lamb shanks braise in a rich, dark sauce that resembles mole but is far easier to make. It’s one of those sauces that announces itself immediately with boldness and deep complexity, as well as a kick of heat that starts off slow and gentle, then builds the more you eat of it. The taste is very earthy, with a touch of fruitiness from the chiles, and just the merest hint of tanginess.

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Category:Chefs, General, Recipes (Savory), Restaurants | Comments (5) | Author:

Jacques Pepin: On His 14th — and Final Cooking Series

Wednesday, 5. November 2014 5:25

Jacques Pepin and his grand-daughter Shorey preparing to film an episode of his last cooking series.

Jacques Pepin and his grand-daughter Shorey preparing to film an episode of his last cooking series.

 

When Chef Roland Passot informed his kitchen recently that none other than his longtime friend Jacques Pepin had just made a reservation for dinner that night at La Folie in San Francisco, his young cooks flew into a tizzy. They were disappointed that they didn’t get the news sooner so that they could have brought in their books for him to sign. As it is, a few intrepid cooks ran out to the store on their break to buy Pepin’s cookbooks just for the chance to get them autographed that night.

Such is the appeal and admiration of the renowned Jacques Pepin — Emmy Award- and James Beard Award-winning chef and former personal chef of French President Charles DeGaulle — who for generations has proved an inspired teacher not only to home cooks but to countless professional chefs.

Last month, I caught up with Pepin, who left his home in Connecticut to spend most of October in San Francisco, filming his 14th — and final — cooking series, “Jacques Pepin: Heart & Soul.” It will air next fall and include a companion cookbook.

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Category:Chefs, Food TV, General, More Food Gal -- In Other Publications | Comments (10) | Author: