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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Local Flavor

An Orange tree in your backyard? Welcome to California.
The Coachella Valley in Southern California is about as far from the reality of Northern Minnesota as possible. Countless varieties of citrus trees, laden with fruit, stand in yard after yard; as ubiquitous as apple trees in the north. Towering date palms, their long fruit-bearing tendrils hanging overhead stand on the street corners, unfathomable to my Midwestern senses.    

Poolside in Palm Springs

When I received an invitation from my summer neighbors, Steve and Kevin, to join them for a few weeks in February at their home in Palm Springs, I was not about to decline. Kevin and Steve are the ultimate hosts. No detail is missing when you visit and their dinners and dinner guests, at home or on the town, are always memorable.

At the Wednesday market in Palm Desert

Note that with a foot and a half of snow standing in my yard at home, I was visiting the local farmers market yesterday down the road in Palm Desert, awestruck by fresh golden raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, an endless array of citrus fruit and oooh, the vegetables. Artichokes the size of softballs, fresh ripe tomatoes covering whole tabletops, gorgeous greens and perfect root vegetables; this is FEBRUARY?

As we walked from booth to booth I looked for fruit and vegetable varieties I had never seen before, like a cross of Mandarin oranges and Kumquat called a Mandarin-quat. These tiny citrus fruits are eaten skin on. The interior is bitter and the skin sweet, creating an amazing burst of flavor in each bite. We bought a couple of Arkansas Black apples and were surprised at their amazing perfume and interesting texture. We tasted (and bought) 2 bottles of absolutely stellar olive oil from Malibu Olive Company, one with a slightly peppery finish and one with a much more floral finish, both perfect for salads or, even better, dipping bread.

Malibu Olive Company

Sharing a scone from L'Artisan

Did I say bread? We were lucky enough to run across L’Artisan Bakery from Thousand Palms, California who displayed an astounding array of breads, focaccia and pastries. This stuff is RIDICULOUSLY good. Blue Cheese Walnut Focaccia? Caramelized Onion and Parmesan Loaf? Fig & Pistachio Boulot?  Who does that?  We bought a delicious scone to share as we walked and a Tomato, Kalamata and Feta Focaccia loaf for later in the day. These guys are definitely on my OMG list.

Tomato, Kalamata & Feta Focaccia from L'Artisan Bakery

Bautista Family Organic Dates were selling an array of date varieties, from the more common Medjool and Deglets to Zahidis and Honey Dates. We chose Halawy and Khadrawy dates along with Medjools for a variety of texture and flavor. Nearby was everything from locally grown olives to honey and cheese.

Locally grown olives

Also at the market was guest chef David Schy who was showing off the beauty of the fresh oranges, herbs and olive oil that were sold in the booths surrounding us. As we chatted, he tossed together this colorful and flavorful salad.

Orange & Olive Salad with Red Onion & Cumin
Recipe by David Schy

1 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
½ -1 tsp Ground Cumin (to taste)
¼ tsp Crushed Red Pepper flakes
1 Tbsp cilantro, Italian Parsley or Mint or any combination of the 3, chopped
Pinch of Kosher Salt
1 Tbsp good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Organic Navel Orange, peeled and cut into pieces
1 Organic Blood Orange, peeled and cut into pieces
2 Tbsp Red Onion or Shallot, very thinly sliced
2 Tbsp Green and Black Olives, minced

Cut the peel from the oranges and slice into small pieces.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the vinegar, herbs, pepper flakes, cumin and salt. Whisk in olive oil.  
Add the orange slices, olives and onion to the bowl and quickly toss together.
This can be served immediately but is better if left to marinate for an hour or more.

Tomatoes that taste like...tomatoes. Crazy.

Did I mention the Orchids?

Last night Kevin and I feasted on a simple salad of Mixed Greens in Ruby Grapefruit-Balsamic Vinaigrette with the focaccia we purchased from L’Artisan Bakery, bringing together the treasures from our morning foray to the market; a delightfully local meal in the desert.

Our farmers market dinner

Mixed greens in Ruby Grapefruit-Balsamic Vinaigrette
This vinaigrette would also be fantastic on a salad with that classic combination of dates, goat cheese and bacon.  

1 oz fresh Organic Pink Grapefruit Juice (from ½ of a small grapefruit)
1 oz Balsamic Vinaigrette
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbsp local organic honey
1 sprig of fresh Thyme or a pinch or two of dried thyme
Kosher Salt and fresh ground Pepper to taste
3-4 oz good quality olive oil

Squeeze the grapefruit half and measure 1 oz (1/8 cup). Remove any seeds and pour into a medium size bowl. Add Balsamic vinegar.
Whisk in Dijon mustard, then whisk in the honey.
Add fresh thyme or if using dried thyme, rub between your palms over the bowl to release more flavor from the herbs.
Taste mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the olive oil slowly whisking constantly until mixture begins to emulsify. This will take a few minutes.

In a large bowl, toss the greens in a little of the vinaigrette. Plate the greens and top with fresh citrus fruit sections, nuts and cheese.

Fresh local berries in February were irresistable

1 comment:

  1. Nice article and great photography.

    Please stop by my pavilion the next time you are here for a complimentary bottle of EVOO.