Inspiration – A True Seedless Sugar Baby Watermelon

Dave's signNot only am I lucky enough to live within cycling distance of what I consider to be one of California’s best Certified Farmers’ Markets, the Sunday Downtown Sacramento Market, there is a wonderful farm stand about 5 miles down river from me for those times when I need to replenish either fresh fruit or veggies during the week.  From May until the end of October, Dave’s Produce becomes my mid-week “go to spot” for fresh produce shopping.

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Dave’s Produce belongs to Sacramento River Delta Grown an Agri-tourism Association of businesses adjacent to the lower Sacramento River. The group’s mission is to promote: Agricultural sustainability and profitability through Agri-tourism, and Agri-education, by providing public accessibility to local farms, while enhancing the public’s awareness of production agriculture, and enjoyment of the rural farming experience. The businesses are varied and include many of the wineries from the Clarksburg region, which I might add make some very nice wine. It’s a beautiful area and one I love exploring in all seasons.

Dave's farm standDave’s Produce is part of Vierra Farms which is where the farm stand is located. Here’s how they describe their location on their website: “Vierra Farms is influenced by the Sacramento Delta Region by its proximity to the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay. Situated at the edge of the Sacramento River, Vierra Farms takes advantage of the coastal gap as the northern and southern coastal ranges meet at the Sacramento Delta. As temperatures rise in the central valley, cool maritime breezes are pulled directly across the Sacramento region creating a distinctive climate that helped create Vierra Farms’ premium mouth-watering watermelon and bountiful hard squash​ that has been provided to the greater Sacramento area wholesale, retail and food service customers for over the past 10 years.”

I have to say they are right on when they talk about premium mouth-watering watermelon, the squash too, but I want to talk about one of the varieties of watermelon they grow, Inspiration.

Inspiration watermelonInspiration is what is called a black watermelon, the name referring to the outside color of the melon. It is a true Sugar Baby seedless, early maturing watermelon with a brix of 9.5, Brix being a measure of sweetness , where 7.8 – 8.2 is somewhat sweet, 8.3 – 9.0 is sweet, and >9.0 is very sweet. The melon I bought was definitely sweet, seedless and juicy, a perfect summer melon. 

I think this particular watermelon is grown in other regions of the US and would love to hear from you if you have tried it or other black watermelon varieties this summer. I’ll be looking for it again out at Dave’s next season.

chopped watermelon

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Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings

I wonder how many of you are making turkey soup today? One of my favorite reasons to roast a turkey is to end up with the carcass and bits and pieces of turkey that I can make into a rich broth.

Since it’s a Sunday I was off to the Farmers’ Market early. The market was pretty quiet this morning with some of the farmers enjoying a holiday and some of the customers waiting until it was warmer out. It was a nippy 36° when I headed out around 8:30. On my shopping list, leeks & carrots for the soup. Not on the list but looked too good to pass up; onions, crimini mushrooms and a nice little head of broccoli to stir-fry later in the week. Also picked up some Sickle pears and Fuji apples.

Here’s the Turkey Vegetable Soup with Dumplings recipe I came up with today: You’ll need a couple quarts of broth (if you don’t have enough turkey, supplement it with chicken) and a couple of cups shredded turkey meat.  In large pan sauté 2 sliced leeks (about 1lb, white part only), 2 stalks celery and 2 carrots that have been rinsed trimmed and diced in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Cook covered, for about 5 minutes, add the stock and a few fresh sage leaves; bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium, cover, and simmer until vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Stir in the turkey or you can do like I did and add it just before serving the soup. If you don’t have turkey you can make this with chicken and chicken broth.

For the dumplings: while the soup is cooking mix 1 cup flour, ½ cup cornmeal, 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 2 teaspoons finely chopped sage leaves in a large bowl. In another small bowl mix together 1/3 cup milk, 1 large egg plus 1 large egg white, beaten lightly together to blend and 1 tablespoons melted butter. Lightly stir the liquid mixture into the dry mix until it is just combined. Drop dumpling batter in 12 to 14 heaping tablespoon portions on the surface of the simmering soup. Cover pan and simmer over medium-low heat (do not allow the soup to boil) until a knife inserted into the center of a dumpling comes out clean, about 10 minutes.  Makes 6 – 8 servings. I really liked the dumplings. The texture and flavor were great. I’ll definitely try them again. The soup as always was good and will be even better when I reheat it for a meal later this week. I separated out the dumplings into a container of their own when I put away the leftovers. I’ll probably try steaming them or heating them in the microwave to reheat them.

If you’re not sure how to make turkey stock here is Aunt Maymie’s turkey stock recipe: 1 turkey carcass (broken into pieces so it will fit in the pot) and whatever bits and pieces are left of the turkey. If there’s dressing still stuck on the carcass I just leave it.  If you didn’t use the giblets for gravy now is the perfect time to use them, except the liver. I think the flavor of liver is too strong so I never use it, I give it to the cats. One likes it raw the other likes it cooked. Anyway, once you have the carcass in a stock pot add one whole onion stuck with two whole cloves, a couple of carrots cut into large chunks, a couple stalks of celery (leave the leaves on if the stalks have some), a few sprigs of fresh parsley, fresh thyme sprigs and a few leaves of fresh sage. Next I cover the carcass with water and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and simmer until the carcass is falling apart (an hour, sometimes a couple of hours). Let the stock cool down then strain through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth that has been placed over a large bowl. You may have to ladle the stock a little at a time depending on how big the sieve is. You can use the stock right away or freeze it for future use. It’s hard to say how much broth you’ll end up with. The final amount will depend on how big your turkey was.

Craving Mac n Cheese

The other day I made my favorite Mac n Cheese. I’ve been craving it for a while but it’s been too warm to cook this type of food so when the days started cooling off I knew exactly what it was time for; creamy Mac n Cheese with crispy edges and crusty top.

It was a Saturday and the Farmers’ Market that I usually go to is on Sunday morning. That means I was out of just about everything fresh. So, that night I feasted on my Mac n Cheese accompanied by only a simple salad of baby greens, shredded carrots and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. Tasty enough but as I sat down to eat I thought, “you know what would be great with this Mac n Cheese, grilled Brussels sprouts”.  Next morning as I shopped the Farmers’ Market the first thing I picked up was some Brussels sprouts and some Crimii mushrooms. I also picked up a nice butternut squash, some onions and a couple of Black Arkansas apples (more on these later)

Sunday night I grilled the Brussels sprouts, Chrimini, onion and garlic and feasted on left over Mac n Cheese with a side of the roasted veggies. Oh my was it good. Definitely a great accompaniment to the Mac n Cheese. You can find more ways to fix Brussels sprouts on my January 22, 2010 post, \”How I Learned To Love Brussels Sprouts\”. You might even consider one of these versions as a side for Thanksgiving.

Here’s the recipe for the Mac n Cheese. It’s from James Beard’s American Cookery and has been my favorite since my son was a little boy. Which, as I consider it, was a long time ago.

Macaroni and Cheese I

½ lb macaroni (I use brown rice pasta)

3 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Dash Tabasco

1 to 1 ½ cups shredded Cheddar cheese (I use a sharp Tillamook)

Boil the macaroni in salted water till just tender. Drain well. Prepare a white sauce — melt the butter in a heavy saucepan, blend with the flour, and cook several minutes over medium heat. Heat the milk to the boiling point, stir into the flour-butter mixture, and continue stirring until it thickens. Add the seasonings and simmer 4 to 5 minutes.

Butter a 2 or 2 ½ quart baking dish or casserole. In it arrange alternate layers of macaroni, sauce, and cheese, ending with cheese.  Option: Cover the top with buttered breadcrumbs. Bake at 350° for 25 minutes, or until the top is nicely browned and the sauce is bubbly. Serve at once.

OH, THE CORN!

Sunday morning bounty amongst my reusable produce bags.

The weather forecast for today is 100 so I was up early watering and getting a few chores done before my 7:30 bicycle getaway to the Farmers’ Market. Another beautiful ride and this time I had my trusty little camera with me. The market was packed when I got there; evidently everyone else had the same idea. I made the rounds and found another vendor with fresh corn. The corn I got last week, although touted to be excellent, wasn’t much better than field corn. To say I wasn’t impressed would be putting it mildly. Sweet corn is serious business. This looked to be, not only fresher, but also sweeter. Of course only tasting would answer that. My market bag filled quickly with white nectarines, Donut peaches (more on these later), apricots, several kinds of summer squash, green and yellow wax beans, a couple of tomatoes, two Walla Walla onions and two ears of that beautiful corn.

Tower Bridge and the Sacramento River

Delta King and the I Street Bridge

On the way back I stopped to snap a couple of pics so you could all see the nice views of the river that I have on my ride. The first picture was taken just south of Old Sacramento and the second shows the Old Sacramento riverfront area. Quiet this morning, but this afternoon it will be busy with lots of folks enjoying the river.

Once I was home I laid out my bounty for a couple of quick pics then stored it all away. Since it was now close to 10 and I hadn’t eaten yet, I thought it would be nice to have brunch. Actually I wanted to have the corn I bought so I rationalized that it was late enough for brunch. And, since I was dining alone I could pretty much do what ever I wanted. My version of brunch included some leftover BBQ chicken and grilled veggies from yesterday and the corn. OH, THE CORN! I wish now that I had bought at least six ears. I would have skipped the the chicken and veggies and just had corn, slathered in butter and sprinkled with just a tiny bit of sea salt. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Fresh at the Market in April:

Here’s a list of what you might find at your Northern California Farmers’ Market in April.  Be sure to check out the veggies that are just becoming available and watch for first of the season cherries.

*These vegetables should be available for the first time this month.

Artichokes

Arugula

Asian greens

Asparagus

Avocados

Beans

Bok Choy

Broccoli

Cabbage

Carrots

Cauliflower

Celery*

Chard

Collards

Dandelion/Chicor

Endive

Fava Beans*

Garlic

Green garlic*

Kale

Kohlrabi*

Leeks

Lettuces

Mushrooms

Onions

Parsnips

Peas*

Potatoes

Purslane*

Radicchio*

Radish

Rhubarb*

Rutabaga

Scallions

Spinach

Turnips

*This fruit should be available for the first time this month.

Cherries*

Dried Fruit

Grapefruit

Guavas

Kumquats

Lemons

Limes

Mandarins

Oranges

Pomelos

Strawberries

Tangerines

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta – Light, Creamy and Perfectly Delicious!

Early Sunday morning my sister Judy and I headed for the downtown Sacramento Farmers’ Market. This morning’s market visit was to buy fruit and vegetables for the week and to also get some Meyer lemons for a recipe that we were going to make that morning.

I had recently found a recipe for Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta. It was included in a recent article by Marlena Spieler, a freelance writer for sfchronicle.com, called Former thief\’s new squeeze: Meyer Lemon Ladies.  Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert made with cream, milk, sugar, and gelatin and literally means “cooked cream”. It originated in the Northern Italian region of Piemonte. and is traditionally served with wild berries, caramel, chocolate sauce or fruit coulis. The only way I had previously tried it was topped with fresh mixed berries. Which I might add was very good. But, since Meyer lemons are currently in season I really wanted to try this version.

The recipe didn’t disappoint. It was easy to prepare. It was light, yet rich and creamy. Overall it was perfectly delicious. I have a feeling that this will be one of those recipes I use over and over again. I’ll definitely try it again, a little later in the season, topped off  with some fresh blueberries or strawberries.

Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta

Serves 6 – 8

1 envelope unflavored gelatin

1 cup + 2 tablespoons superfine sugar

1 cup whipping cream

1 cup Meyer lemon juice (4-6 Meyer lemons)

2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest

1 cup nonfat Greek-style yogurt

Sprinkle gelatin over ½ cup cold water in a small bowl; let it soften for 5 minutes or until no dry spots remain.

Combine sugar and ½ cup of water in a saucepan; bring to a simmer and stir until sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and add the gelatin mixture, stirring until gelatin dissolves. Add cream, lemon juice and lemon zest. Let cool slightly.

Put yogurt in a mixing bowl and whisk to loosen it up. Add the cream mixture, little by little, gently stirring after each addition to break up any lumps of yogurt before adding more cream. Do not over stir.

Pour mixture into a 5-cup bowl or mold. I used 7 individual ramekins. Tap the bowl on the counter to remove air bubbles. Cover and chill until set, 6 hours or overnight.

As you can see I finished mine off with Meyer lemon peel. I’m in love with this recipe hope you will be too.

Thank you’s go out to Marlena for sharing this jewel of a recipe, and to my sister Judy for actually making it while I was working on several vegetable dishes for a dinner we were going to later in the day.