Sunday, June 7, 2009

Summer Magic

For a cook that focuses on using fresh and seasonal ingredients, June begins the magical season of abundance and variety of produce that continues through fall every year. Like magic every week one favorite from the Market goes out of season to be replaced by several other choices. The biggest challenge for me over the next several months is to buy only what we can eat or preserve the following week. With just two weeks before summer solstice kids are out of school for the summer and the stone fruits are coming out of the orchards in abundance. Cherries of all sorts, peaches, and apricots were offered from heaping bins at several stalls around the Farmer's Market. We said goodbye to asparagus this week as the Delta is too hot for the tender shoots (grocers will source asparagus from Washington State now). It was an exceptional asparagus year for the Delta this year that we took full advantage of. Squashes, spring onions, garlic and salad greens continue to appear at several stalls in vibrant colored skins and sublime taste.

This week I yielded to the tempting look of ugly tomatoes from Capay Farms, an organic grower that brings their produce in from Yolo County. They have their tomatoes in earlier than other purveyors by growing the vines in the ground under hoop frame canopies that have clear plastic stretched over, which raises the temperature under the frame much the same as a greenhouse. They are good tomatoes, but not as good as what we will see in July harvested from vines grown in direct sun. Nonetheless, we bought some bufala mozzarella from Cow Girl Creamery that I will pair up with one each pineapple and brandywine tomatoes and some fresh basil from my garden to make our first caprese salad of the season for Sunday dinner. Let the summer begin!

Stacy and I arrived early (about 8:30 AM) at the Market this week to be sure to get chickens from Mountain Home that were promised to be fresh, never frozen this one day from the latest flock. The birds were there as promised, although they are huge, weighing six pounds and more apiece. The girl behind the counter, daughter of the farmer that raises the birds, told us that they were processed a week later than planned because the processor was vacationing. It is amazing that the birds gain two or three pounds in a single week! The price per pound was slightly lower which makes sense given the difference in product from the first two flocks we bought from. Because of their heft, though, three chickens still rang up at over $80 total. Once I got them home I de-boned two of the birds in preparation for a dinner party later that night we threw for a long-time couple friend of ours along with their two kids. The size of the birds made the work challenging. The reason I didn't de-bone all three of them was because only two carcasses along with the four legs, thighs and wings is all that would fit in my biggest roasting pan! I roasted the carcasses to put away to make chicken stock and the legs and thighs for our go-to-work lunches. I put a dry rub on the boneless breasts to marinate for a few hours. I also cooked a honey mustard and apricot glaze that was applied to the breasts during roasting. We will use the same recipe next week in our meetup for the chicken entree. The chicken breasts were good, but not as good as the birds we enjoyed two months ago when we first bought from Mountain Home. I will not buy any more from that flock. Marin Sun Farms chickens are better, with birds weighing between two-and-one-half and three-and-one-half pounds each. Hopefully Mountain Home will coordinate their processor for smaller birds for the next flock.

I also made the grilled pluot salad with some rosa flavor pluots and some red and gold apricots for our friends. It was amazing. The recipe is ready for our meetup and for us to enjoy as long as the fruit is available in the fleeting stone fruit season at the Market.

Stacy and John Murphy host an instructional, nutritious, and fun hands-on cooking class one or two Saturdays each month using ingredients that come fresh from the San Francisco Farmer’s Market.

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