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Saturday, July 19, 2008

From Los Angeles to UC Davis with a Stop at San Francisco's Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market

On our way to UC Davis for our son Michael's freshman orientation, we first went to San Francisco. Taking I-5 we drove straight up the Central Valley with its seemingly endless miles of rich farmland, passing truck after truck filled to overflowing with California's bounty: tomatoes, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, lettuce, onions... Like most Californians we love being on a road trip but nowadays we don't have the luxury of time so we usually fly when we travel. For this trip we had set aside five days and we relished a rare opportunity to get in the car and hit the road.
In San Francisco we stayed with Michelle's cousin Marii, her husband Ron, and their daughter Claire. Their house is in the Marina so we could take walks along the Bay within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. Ron is a great cook and we decided that one night he, Michelle, and I would cook dinner for Michael, Marii, and Claire.
Saturday morning, while Michael slept in, we went to the Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market to prep the meal.

The last time I shopped at the market I was working for San Francisco based DotComix, a web animation site that imploded when the internet bubble popped in 2000. At that time, the farmers' market was across the street from the Ferry in a small parking lot. Now the market encircles the Ferry building and fills the Plaza on the southern end, giving the shoppers a clear view of the Bay Bridge.

For an appetizer Ron was going to barbeque skewers of Wagyu beef he'd ordered on-line from ADiRECT Foods. The night before we'd eaten at a neighborhood Japanese-fusion restaurant called Umami. We talked a lot about what created that extra flavor ("umami") that is neither sweet, bitter, sour, salty but something more. We knew using mushrooms was one way to create that extra flavor. At the market he found fresh morels that he wanted to try with the beef. For our part Michelle and I wanted to keep dinner as summer-friendly as possible so we focused on buying ingredients we could grill and use for salads. Dessert would be a Banana-Chocolate Chip Walnut Cake I'd made at home.

There were stand-outs at the market: large bunches of watercress from White Crane Springs Ranch, peaches and nectarines from Frog Hollow Farm, and Ella Bella Farm's broccoli di cicco (sprouted broccoli). We also bought corn, tomatoes, arugula, and Italian parsley. The market is such a treat. Even if you didn't need to shop, walking through the crowds and enjoying the visual experience of the waterfront setting is more than enough reason to come to the market.

Ironically we would have missed one of the best parts of the market if the forest fires weren't raging in California and Nevada. We were just about finished shopping when we were surprised to see our friends Val and Florence. They live a block away from us in LA. Florence is one of the most accomplished cooks I know. There was no one better to give us tips about the market. They were two days into a week-long vacation in Reno when the forest fires came close enough that they had to leave, as Val put it, "because it was raining ash." Having traveled frequently to San Francisco, Florence knew where to buy the best peaches--Frog Hollow Farm--and which vendors had the best prepared food.

We hadn't planned to eat at the market because we were on our way to Sausalito to have lunch with friends, but Florence insisted that we couldn't leave without sampling her favorites. Luckily there were four of us to share. There was lox, cream cheese and a slice of thick-cut tomato on sourdough bread topped with red onions and lavender sea salt from Cap'n Mike's Holy Smoked Salmon, toastadas de ceviche with shrimp and avocado from Primavera, and RoliRoti's porchetta sandwich, the crispy pork sliced to order by chef-owner Thomas Odermatt. Florence told us that the porchetta sandwich was just like the ones she loved in Rome. For us the porchetta sandwich was a highlight of our trip. With napkins in hand and our stomachs full, we thanked Florence and Val for their much-appreciated advice.

Claire had patiently endured our extra time at the market. We owed it to her to finish shopping quickly. While she ate a breakfast muffin from Downtown Bakery, I picked up a chicken from the Golden Gate Meat Company and a piece of Capricious cheese from Achadinha Cheese Company.

Later that afternoon Ron, Michelle, and I cooked our dinner, which included grilled chicken, sausages, and vegetables; a summer drink of white rum, mint, and limes that combines the best of a Mojito and a Caipirinha; Ron's skewers of Wagyu beef and morels were amazing, the morels' earthiness perfectly complimented the meat's buttery sweetness; chopped liver and egg salad; grilled lavash; arugula and carrot salad; chopped salad; watercress with grated Capricious cheese; and the banana chocolate chip walnut cake.
We had a wonderfully leisurely dinner with time to catch up about family, tell jokes, and talk about favorite movies. As a reward for my helping cook dinner, Claire made me a drawing in recognition of my "hard work and generosity." Appreciation is a great gift for anyone who cooks.

Of all the dishes we made, what Marii liked best was the chopped salad with grilled vegetables and Italian parsley. There will be more about the rest of the dinner in subsequent posts, but I wanted to start with Marii's favorite dish.

Summer's Best Chopped Salad

A salad with an infinite number of variations.

Yield 4 servings
Time 45 minutes

Ingredients

2 bunches Italian parsley (washed, finely chopped, leaves and stems)
1 large avocado (peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped)
4 carrots (washed, peeled, cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs)
2 scallions (washed, ends trimmed)
4 ears of corn (husks and silks removed, washed)
1/2 pound broccoli (washed, ends trimmed, stems peeled, florets cut into 1/4" thick, 2" long slabs; if using sprouted broccoli grill whole)
1/2 pound string beans (washed, ends trimmed)
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Put the chopped parsley and avocado into a large mixing bowl. Heat a barbecue grill. Drizzle olive oil on the vegetables, season with sea salt and pepper. Grill 5-10 minutes until lightly brown. If you don't have a grill, you can accomplish a similar result in a 350 degree oven. Turn frequently in either case so the vegetables don't burn. Remove and let cool.

Reduce the balsamic vinegar in a saucepan on a low flame until you have a quarter of the original volume. The vinegar will become sweet.

Finely chop the grilled vegetables, add to the parsley, drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic, season to taste with sea salt and pepper. Toss well and transfer to a salad bowl.

Variations

Keep the salad vegetarian and grill any vegetable you enjoy, like squash, asparagus, onions or mushrooms, chop, and add to the salad.
Add grilled meats like Italian sausage or chicken or shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crab.

Add cheese such as crumbled feta, finely chopped comte, mozzarella, Swiss or cheddar.
Add chopped olives.
Add chopped salami.
Add chopped grilled eggplant.

Add chopped artichoke bottoms.

Add chopped hardboiled eggs.

Add homemade croutons.

Add chopped roasted beets.

1 comment:

Catalectic said...

Bravo Bravo Bravo
I myself am a male who loves to cook. I cook for my wife all the time, I even have recipes of my own, and favorite tv show is 'National Chef'
I work for my family, my life, and food! I love to travel because food is literally a hobby of mine! :O)
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