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    THE NIBBLE’s Gourmet News & Views

    Trends, Products & Items Of Note In The World Of Specialty Foods

    This is the blog section of THE NIBBLE. Read all of our content on TheNibble.com,
    the online magazine about gourmet and specialty food.

Archive for Fruits & Nuts

TIP OF THE DAY: How To Select The Best Fresh Cherries

Cherry season is fleeting—just a couple of weeks in some locations. It is also frustrating, because we’re not having a good cherry season this year. Every cherry we’ve sampled has been bland. They look good, but don’t deliver on the palate.

The term “cherry-pick” is a hint. The expression comes from harvesting the fruit: The pickers are instructed to carefully select the ripe fruit only. Unlike other tree fruits, cherries don’t ripen or improve in flavor after they’re picked.

Are we getting unripe fruit? Have growing conditions been substandard? Is the fruit mishandled after it’s harvested? We want answers (but more importantly, we want good cherries).

  • Picked too soon, cherries are pale and tasteless; too ripe, they’re soft and watery. According to Produce Pete, the best time to pick seems to be when the birds start eating them (birds have an instinct for ripe cherries).
  • Weather challenges are a fact of life: Produce is at the mercy of the growing season. Fruit needs sufficient heat to develop full flavor and can be harmed by excessive rain during crucial weeks, when water penetrates the skin and dilute the flavor.
  • Bad storage can easily diminish flavor and texture. Fruit doesn’t respond well to changing temperatures. From a warm grove to a hot or cold transport or storage room and back again, varying temperatures can wreak havoc. If you’re in a key cherry growing state (California, Idaho, Michigan, Oregon, Washington State), you’ve got a better chance to get the best fruit.
  •    

    picota-cherries-basket-foodsfromspainFB-230

    Fresh cherries, one of the happy signs of summer. Photo courtesy Foods From Spain.

     

    TRY IT BEFORE YOU BUY IT

    You can’t bite into a peach to see if it’s sweet enough before you buy it, but you can score a cherry. It’s the only way to make sure you’ll be happy with them.

    If the flavor doesn’t deliver, it’s not worth the calories if you’re looking to snack on raw fruit. Find another variety, keep tasting cherries as you come across them, and hope for a successful score elsewhere.

    This is not to say that you can’t use less flavorful cherries to make delicious cherry pies, tarts, jams, sauces or ice creams. In recipes, added sugar compensates for what’s missing in the fruit.

     

    queen-anne-bing-cherries-230r

    Queen Anne and Bing cherries. Photo courtesy Washington State Fruit Commission.

     

    REAL CHERRY PICKING: WHAT TO LOOK FOR

    While these tips don’t ensure that the fruit will be sweet, they’re a good start:

  • Firmness. The most common varieties (Bing, Rainier, Queen Anne) should be firm. However, some heirloom varieties (Black Tartarian is an example) are naturally softer. Be sure to taste them: Some heirloom cherries have the best flavor.
  • Plumpness. Good cherries will be plump and dark for their variety and have fresh, green stems, indicating that they were recently harvested. Cherries without stems won’t keep as well as fruits with intact stems.
  • Size. Look for fruits that are large for their variety and avoid smaller fruits with a higher proportion of pit and skin to flesh.
  • What To Avoid. Shriveled skin, dried stems and dull patina indicate cherries that are over the hill. Leaking flesh and brown discoloration are signs of decay.
  •  
    If the cherries aren’t sweet enough in their natural state, perhaps a homemade cherry tart will put you in the summer grove?

    Our favorite easy tart recipe follows; pâte brisée is our tart crust of preference.

     
    The most demanding part of the recipe is pitting the cherries. You don’t need a cherry pitter.

  • Pit cherries with a paper clip.
  • Pit cherries with a pastry tip.
  •  
    EASY CHERRY TART RECIPE

    Ingredients

  • Pâte brisée (recipe below)
  • 4-6 cups cherries, depending on tart size, pitted
  • 1 jar currant jelly
  •  
    Preparation

    1. MAKE pâte brisée crust.

    RECIPE: PÂTE BRISÉE

    Pâte brisée (pot bree-ZAY), or short crust*, is a buttery tart crust with a crumbly texture. It is used for sweet and savory pies, tarts and quiches. It can be made several days in advance and kept in the fridge, or frozen for a month.

    Ingredients

  • 2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
  •  
    Preparation

    1. PULSE the flour, salt and sugar in a food processor until combined. Add the butter and pulse 15 seconds, until the ingredients resembles coarse meal.

    2. ADD 1/4 cup ice water through the feed tube in a slow stream, until the dough just holds together when pinched (add remaining water as needed). Do not process more for than 30 seconds.

    3. PLACE the dough on a work surface and gather it into a ball; divide ball into two equal pieces, flatten into a disk and tightly wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.

    4. PRESS into tart pan, refrigerate or freeze for later use (defrost in the fridge for several hours or overnight). First spray tart pan with cooking spray if desired.

    5. BAKE. Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Cool completely, about 1 hour before adding fruit.
     
    *Brisée actually is a participle of the French verb briser, which means to break, shatter or smash. We don’t know the origin, but inspired by the store of ganache, we like to think cookware was broken by whomever created the recipe.

      

    Comments

    PRODUCT: Brown Turkey Figs

    A trip to the farmers market yesterday reminded us that brown turkey figs are in season (June through September). Other nice surprises were fresh lychees and okra, but our pitch today is for the figs.

    Figs are a “locavore” food: The fresh-picked fruit neither keeps well nor transports well. That’s why most figs on the market are dried, and you should enjoy the fresh ones while you can.

    There is nothing more special than a sweet, tree-ripened fig. Different species have skins that range from dark brown to green to purple. The brown turkey fig has it all: a beautiful purple brown color with a green collar surrounding the stem. The flesh is amber color with a mild flavor.

    The brown turkey fig (Ficus carica)* is an all-purpose fig, delicious fresh and in preserves and other recipes (see recipe ideas below).

    Brown Turkey figs were first cultivated in Provence, France, bread from earlier varieties. Today, they grow best in Southern California.

    Ripe figs yield to the touch. You can ripen them at room temperature.

       

    brown-turkey-figs-whole-half-melissas-230

    ‘Tis the season for brown turkey figs. Photo courtesy Melissas.com.

     
    *Other names include Aubique Noire, Negro Largo and San Piero.
     
    TOO MANY FIGS

    If you have too many ripe figs, you can place them on paper towels, covered with plastic and refrigerate them for a few days. Or, place them in a freezer bag and freeze for up to six months.

    Or, purée the ripe figs and use the purée in cocktails (mixed with white spirits, for example), smoothies, or as a topper for ice cream or sorbet (add sweetener if necessary).
     
    HISTORY OF THE FIG

    Figs have been a food source for man for more than 11,000 years. They were first cultivated in ancient Egypt, though they are believed to be indigenous to Western Asia.

    The fig is one of man’s first cultivated crops—perhaps the first. Archaeological evidence finds that the fig predates the domestication of barley, legumes, rye and wheat, and thus may be the first example of agriculture. In fact, archaeologists propose that the fig may have been cultivated 1,000 years before the next crops—rye and wheat—were domesticated [source].

     

    Roasted Figs in Mascarpone Cheese Honey and Hazelnuts

    Roasted fresh figs with honey and hazelnuts:
    a simple, elegant dessert. Photo by Karcich |
    Dreamstime. Here’s the recipe.

     

    Native to the Middle East and western Asia (it grows wild in dry and sunny climates), the fig is now widely grown throughout the temperate world.

    The fig is a member of the Moraceae binomial family, sometimes called the fig family. Other members include the banyan, breadfruit and mulberry. There are almost 200 cultivars of figs, in a wide range of shapes, colors and textures.

    Figs are among the richest plant sources of calcium and fiber. They are rich in calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium and vitamins B6 and K and are a good source of antioxidants, including flavonoids and polyphenols. They are sodium-free and cholesterol/fat-free.

    Today, the top 10 fig producing countries are (beginning with the largest) Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Iran, Syria, United States, Brazil, Albania and Tunisia.

    Cultural trivia: The word “sycophant” comes from the Greek word sykophantes, meaning “one who shows the fig.” “Showing the fig” was a vulgar hand gesture.

     
     
    RECIPES WITH FIGS

    Don’t peel the figs. Enjoy them with breakfast cereal, yogurt or cottage cheese; sliced on sandwiches with fresh or aged cheese; chopped and added to rice; stuffed with cream cheese or goat cheese as an hors d’oeuvre; or raw or grilled as a side dish, cut in half and served with grilled meat or poultry.

    Here are a few recipes from THE NIBBLE’s collection:

    Main Courses

  • Fig & Maple Fizz Recipe
  • Give A Fig Cocktail Recipe
  •  
    Appetizers & First Courses

  • Endive Salad With Figs Recipe
  • Fig & Radicchio Salad Recipe
  • Prosciutto-Wrapped Figs Recipe
  •  
    Main Courses

  • Honey Balsic Fig-Glazed Ham Recipe
  • Bison With Fig Balsamic Reduction Recipe
  •  
    Dessert

  • Brie Torte With Fig Jam Recipe
  • Fig Flower With Honey Goat Cheese Recipe
  • Roast Figs With Honey & Hazelnuts Recipe
  • Goat Cheese Ice Cream With Whole Figs Recipe
  •   

    Comments

    NO-BAKE DESSERT: Mascarpone Spread & Basil Blackberries

    This fresh blackberry dessert is sophisticated yet so easy to make and serve.

    A tub of mascarpone turns into a sophisticated spread when topped with a simple mixture of balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, blackberries and basil.

    Serve it with biscotti, cookies/biscuits or unsalted crackers, and guests will be asking for the recipe.

    This recipe is from Driscoll’s. Prep time is 15 minutes, cook time is 5 minutes.

    RECIPE: MASCARPONE DIP

    Ingredients For 6 Servings

  • 1/3 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • 1 package (6 ounces or 1-1/2 cups) fresh blackberries
  • 2 tablespoons thinly sliced basil leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • Large pinch of fleur de sel or other sea salt
  • 1 container (8 to 8.8 ounces) mascarpone cheese
  •    

    mascarpone-basil-blackberries-driscolls-230

    Mascarpone spread, a delicious no-cook, no-bake dessert. Photo courtesy Driscoll’s.

  • Biscotti, plain cookies or non-salty crackers/biscuits*
  •  

    http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-photography-ripe-blackberries-bowl-food-close-up-image33432102

    We love finding new ways to enjoy
    blackberry season. Photo © Olha Afanasieva
    | Dreamstime.

     

    Preparation

    1. BRING vinegar and brown sugar to a boil in a nonreactive small saucepan over high heat. Boil until reduced to 2 tablespoons. Pour into a medium bowl. Let cool.

    2. GENTLY STIR in blackberries, basil, pepper and salt.

    3. FILL a bowl with hot water. Dip bottom of the mascarpone container in water for about 5 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, unmold mascarpone onto a serving platter.

    3. SPOON blackberry mixture over mascarpone, being sure to scrape all juices out of the bowl, and letting berries fall randomly. Serve with biscotti, cookies and/or crackers.

    It’s that easy!
     
    *Examples: almond cookies, butter cookies, cream crackers, digestive biscuits, graham crackers, ginger snaps/ginger bread, ladyfingers, Moravian cookies, pizzelle, shortbread, speculos, springerle, stroopwafel, tea biscuits, water biscuits, wafer cookies, wheatmeal.

     

    ABOUT BLACKBERRIES

    Blackberries grow wild around the world, and in most places they are picked in season, not cultivated. Cultivation is relatively modern and done mostly in America [source].

    The blackberry is a member of the Rosaceae family of flowering plants. The largest genus in the family is Prunus, which includes almonds, apricots, cherries, peaches and plums.

    The blackberry is a member of the Rubus genus, which also includes dewberries (which look like raspberries to the untrained eye), raspberries and hybrids such as boysenberry, loganberry and tayberry.

    The blackberry isn’t black, per se, but a very deep purple. It is not the same as a black raspberry, Rubus occidentalis, a raspberry grown on a limited basis*, primarily in Oregon.

    What distinguishes the blackberry from the raspberry genus is that its torus (receptacle or stem) “picks with” the fruit. When picking blackberries, the torus comes along with the berry (as you get with strawberries). With raspberries, the torus remains on the plant, leaving a hollow core in the raspberry fruit.

    Blackberries typically peak during June in the South, and in July in the North. You can enjoy a simple bowl of berries at breakfast, lunch (add them to green salads, enjoy them for dessert), dinner or for snacking; for drink garnishes on a cocktail pick; or use them in recipes.
     
    *Black raspberry plants yield significantly less fruit than red raspberries, and also commonly suffer from a disease complex that gives them shorter lifespans. They are more costly to produce on a large scale.

      

    Comments

    FOOD FUN: Watermelon People

    We received an email from Bean Sprouts Café and Cooking School, which focuses on better-for-you food for kids and families. As is our wont, we went to check out the website and found these watermelon people.

    It reminded us that it was time to get out the cookie cutters and have fun with our food while melon season is in full force.

    For snacks, desserts or a plate garnish (a piece of melon on the dinner plate, with a sandwich, etc.), you’ll win smiles from kids and grown-ups alike.

    Dice the pieces left over from cutting shapes and add to a fruit salad.

     

    watermelon-people-beansprouts-230

    We are everyday [melon] people. Photo courtesy Bean Sprouts Café | Portland, Oregon.

     

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Summer Salad With Berries & Mandarins

    A salad so fruity, you could have it for
    dessert. Photo courtesy
    PeachValleyCafe.com.

     

    Doesn’t this salad from Florida-based Peach Valley Café burst with summer?

    Blueberries, mandarin segments, strawberries, frisée and baby greens are garnished with shaved Parmesan cheese, toasted almonds and homemade peach ginger dressing.

    You can add or substitute any other seasonal fruits: bananas, peaches, kiwi or other favorites.

    GINGER PEACH DRESSING

    Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons lime juice
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • Optional: 2 tablespoons flaked coconut
  •  

    OPTIONAL SALAD INGREDIENTS

  • Lettuce: bibb/Boston, endive/radicchio, frisée, mesclun, romaine
  • Fruit: bananas, berries, kiwi, mandarin or orange, nectarines, peaches, pineapple
  • Onion: chive, green onion, red onion, sweet onion
  • Nuts and seeds: almonds, chia, flaxseed, pecans, pepitas
  •  
    Mix, match and enjoy.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Fruit Soup

    You don’t have to turn on the stove or the oven to make this refreshing dessert: fruit soup.

    Made from fresh or dried fruit, served hot or cold, fruit soups are underrepresented on American menus. Yet, they offer variety year-round.

  • Cold soups tend to be made with seasonal fruit and are thus served in warmer weather.
  • Soups made of dried fruits, such as Norwegian fruktsuppe (made of raisins and prunes), can be served hot or cold in any season.
  • Fruit soups can be cream soups or purées with or without the addition of fruit juice, and can include alcohol such as brandy, champagne, Port or wine.
  • Sweet fruit soups can include meat; and in at least one instance, a fruit soup can be completely savory, like \Chinese winter melon soup.
  • While fruit soup can be served for dessert, it also can be a first course or an intermezzo between fish and meat courses.
  •    

    blackberry-gazpacho-driscolls-230sq

    Fruit soup in a footed bowl. Photo courtesy Driscoll’s.

     

    Here’s a no cook light summer dessert dessert recipe from berry king Driscoll’s. Made primarily of blackberries, it adds red wine for a sophisticated layer of flavors (some red wines are often described to have hints of blackberry flavor).

    Prep time is 5 minutes. Serve with a piece of shortbread on the side.

     

    http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-blackberries-image11753307

    Fresh blackberries. Photo © Ninette Luz |
    Dreamstime.

     

    RECIPE: BLACKBERRY FRUIT SOUP

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 2 packages (6 ounces each) blackberries
  • 1 cups dry red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon or Pinot Noir, or substitute a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar)
  • 1/4 cups sugar
  • 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
  • Salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 cups sour cream or plain yogurt
  • 1 package (6 ounces) Driscoll’s Raspberries
  • 1 package (6 ounes) Driscoll’s Blueberries
  • Fresh mint for garnish
  • Optional topping: crème fraîche, thin lime slice, mascarpone, sour cream, toasted sliced almonds, vanilla yogurt or frozen yogurt
  • Optional: shortbread or other cookie
  •  

    Preparation

    1. PURÉE blackberries, wine and sugar in blender or food processor until smooth. Press through a strainer to remove the seeds. Discard solids.

    2. STIR in lemon juice; season lightly with salt and pepper. Cover and chill several hours or overnight.

    3. LADLE soup into chilled bowls, footed glasses or wine goblets. Drizzle or spoon sour cream on top, and scatter with raspberries and blueberries.

    4. GARNISH each serving with a mint sprig or coarsely chopped mint.
     
    MORE FRUIT SOUP RECIPES

  • Chilled Papaya and Watermelon Soup Recipe
  • Chilled Raspberry Yogurt Soup Recipe
  • Diet Fruit Soup Recipe
  • Simple Fruit Soup Recipe
  •   

    Comments

    PRODUCT: How To Enjoy Guava

    As we did an online search for “guava” recently, we were surprised to find that “What color is guava?” scored 2,900 searches last month. There’s obviously an interest in guava. But have you ever tried one?

    Guava, also known as guayaba (the Spanish name) and Bangkok apple, is a round to oval shaped subtropical fruit that is actually classified as a berry.

    Guava is native to Mexico, Central America and northern South America, but is now cultivated in tropic and subtropic belts around the world.

    The skin of the immature fruit is bright green in color, but becomes yellowish green, maroon or yellow when ripe. The flesh is creamy white or rosy pink, depending on the variety. The taste is reminiscent of a cross between an Asian pear and a crab apple: refreshing, fruity, mildly sweet and tart. The texture is firm and crisp, like an Asian pear.

    Guava can be eaten fresh, used in desserts or for nectar/juice, preserves or sauces. A guava contains about four times the amount of vitamin C as an orange.

       

    GUAVA-baldorfood-230

    Some guava varieties have white flesh, others have rosy flesh. Photo courtesy Baldor Food.

     
    Some varieties have an edible rind and small seeds which are also edible. When ripe, the exotic aroma is alluring. One bite will transport you to the tropics!

    Guavas are ripe when the aroma wafts up from the fruit: You can smell it, sweet and musky, without putting it to your nose. Ripe guavas have a two week shelf life if refrigerated, or about a week if left at room temperature.

     

    guava_cake_kuki-s-cookbook-230

    Guava cake, made with guava nectar. Photo courtesy My Recipe Magic. Here’s the recipe.

     

    WAYS TO SERVE GUAVA

    The first way to test the waters could be with a simple box of guava nectar. Ceres, Goya, Hero, Jumex, Kern’s and other brands are available in many food stores.

    You can drink the nectar or use it in recipes: baking, sauces, smoothies, etc.

    If you’re keen on the guava flavor, the next step is to buy a fresh guava and let it ripen. Use it in everyday recipes:

  • Barbecue sauce and salsa (replace other fruit with guava)
  • Cocktails and mocktails
  • Crêpes
  • Dip (mix equal parts of guava preserves and mayonnaise as a dip with shrimp, chicken fingers or crudites)
  • Fruit tarts, bars, fruit breads, etc.(replace peaches with guava in most recipes)
  • Glaze for chicken and pork
  • Sauce: a sweet sauce on cheesecake, ice cream, French toast and pancakes
  • Smoothies and shakes
  • Sorbet and ice cream
  •  
    Here are dozens of recipes from Emeril Lagasse and other Food Network chefs, who use guava in everything from grilled fish to pound cake.

    And here’s an easy savory sauce for grilled proteins from Melissa’s chef Ida Rodriguez.

    RECIPE: SAVORY GUAVA SAUCE

    Ingredients

  • 6 ripe guavas
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 small onion finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 2 teaspoons hot pepper sauce
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUT each guava in half. Scoop out the pulp and place in a bowl.

    2. HEAT oil in a suacepan and sauté onions until they are soft and translucent. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens.

    By the way, guava is delicious with cream cheese. In our youth, our mom had a passion for cream cheese sandwiches with guava preserves. We always joined in.

      

    Comments

    NO-BAKE DESSERT: Strawberries & Mascarpone

    If you’re a fan of no-bake summer desserts, here are two of our favorites from Driscoll’s, a California-based marketer of berries.

    In both bite-size recipes, lush summer strawberries are filled with a mascarpone whipped cream, a combination of rich mascarpone and heavy cream. Mascarpone cheese gives the whipped cream filling extra body and flavor.

    The strawberries are easy to fill and decorate.Prep time is just 15 minutes. Add some blueberries for a red, white and blue dessert.

    RECIPE: STRAWBERRIES & MASCARPONE WHIPPED CREAM

    Ingredients For 4 Servings

  • 16 large strawberries
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Optional garnish: almond sliver, chopped pistachios, blueberry
  •    

    strawberries-mascarpone-driscolls-230

    Strawberries filled with mascarpone whipped cream. Photo courtesy Driscoll’s.

     

    Preparation

    1. CUT stems off of the strawberries and place stem-side down on on cutting board. You have two choices to proceed: (1) Cut the berry into three, including a “hat,” as shown in the photo; or cut off the pointed end and scoop out a bit of the strawberry pulp to create room for more filling. Both versions are shown in the photo.

    2. PLACE the mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until thickened and smooth.

    3. PLACE the mascarpone mixture in a piping bag with a star tip attached or in a plastic bag with one corner cut off. In option 1, slowly pipe the mascarpone cream atop the bottom and middle thirds of the berry and top with the “hat.” In option 2, pipe the mixture into the center of the berry, and create a rounded mound on top, and top with optional garnish.

    4. REFRIGERATE until ready to serve.

     

    Lemon-Mascarpone-Strawberry-Tulips-driscolls

    Strawberry “tulips” filled with lemon
    mascarpone. Photo courtesy Driscoll’s.

     

    RECIPE: LEMON MASCARPONE STRAWBERRY TULIPS

    Here, the simple yet elegant strawberry treat is enhanced with with a lemon-flavored filling and a tulip shape. Prep time is 15 minutes.

    Ingredients For 16 Pieces

  • 16 large strawberries
  • 1/2 package (6 ounces) fresh blueberries
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon curd
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • Garnish: grated lemon zest
  •  
    Preparation

    1. CUT stems off of the strawberries and place stem-side down on cutting board. Cut each strawberry lengthwise into quarters, stopping just before knife hits cutting board, so berries stay intact. Place on a serving platter.

    2. COMBINE mascarpone cheese, heavy cream, sugar, lemon curd and vanilla in a medium bowl and beat with an electric mixer until cream is thickened and smooth. Place mascarpone mixture in a piping bag with a star tip attached or a plastic bag and cut off one corner of the bag to pipe.

    3. PRESS one small blueberry down through the center of each strawberry, taking care to keep berries intact. (It’s a blueberry “surprise.”) Slowly pipe the mascarpone cream into the strawberries until filled. Top berries with a single blueberry and garnish with lemon zest.

    4. REFRIGERATE until ready to serve.
     
    WHAT IS MASCARPONE

    Mascarpone is sometimes referred to as “Italian cream cheese.” It’s softer and richer than American-style cream cheese, with less of a tang.

    Mascarpone has an extraordinarily high butterfat content, unsurprising given that it’s made from the cream skimmed from cow’s milk. Truly fresh mascarpone has almost a sweet flavor, and this is a cheese with very low or no sodium. It’s highly perishable and must be kept cold.

    In Italy, mascarpone is often served with fresh fruit instead of the American preference for whipped cream. It is what gives tiramisu its creaminess. While some think mascarpone is the chief component of cannolis, it is actually ricotta. Mascarpone or ricotta is used in Italian cheesecake.

    Mascarpone is believed to have originated in the Lombardy region of Italy, most likely in the late 1500s or early 1600s. The name “mascarpone” may come from the Spanish “mas que bueno” (“better than good”), a holdover from the days when the Spanish ruled Italy.

    Another possibility is that the name derived from “mascarpia,” the local dialect term for ricotta, because both ricotta and mascarpone are made by very similar processes.

    Look for American-made mascarpone from Crave Brothers or Vermont Creamery. Try eating it from the container with a spoon!

    More about mascarpone.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: Finger Limes

    An import from the Australian outback, finger limes have quietly entered the realm of American produce.

    At the international Citrus Exhibition in 2004, California avocado grower Jim Shanley discovered this unusual Australian fruit. Envisioning endless opportunities with restaurateurs and home cooks, he planted the first trees in the U.S. in 2006. Five years later he harvested Shanley Farms’ first crop, giving them a proprietary name, Citriburst Finger Limes.

    Finger limes, discovered growing wild in Australia, are a micro-citrus, growing on thorny shrubs. The fruit is cylindrical, 1.5 to 3 inches long and variously colored, including rosy-pink and green. Similarly, the pulp color varies, as you can see in the photo at right.

    The pulp is described as citrus pearls or citrus caviar. The tiny beads can be squeezed out of the finger lime and used in any place that would employ lemon or lime juice or zest, from seafood to desserts. An advantage: The pearls are a charming and decorative garnish.

       

    Finger-Limes-shanleyfarms-230

    Finger limes, filled with juicy “pearls.” Photo courtesy Shanley Farms.

     

    And they’re fun. The juice bursts from the citrus pearls when you bite into them, the flavor a bright and refreshing combination of lemon, lime and grapefruit.

    In California, the season is typically from late June/early July through January. But thanks to the very dry and mild winter this year, the trees have been fruiting since early May. Get yours now!

     

    Oysters_w_Finger_Limes-shanleyfarms-230

    Add a burst of fresh citrus to anything. Here,
    oysters get a snazzy finger lime garnish.
    Photo courtesy Shanley Farms.

     

    RECIPE: OYSTERS WITH FINGER LIME MIGNONETTE

    Ingredients

  • 1 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 12 finger limes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 24 oysters, such as Malpeque, Kumamoto, or Belon
  • Crushed ice or rock salt
  •  
    Preparation

    1. COMBINE rice vinegar,shallot, finger lime pearls and pepper in a small bowl. Cover and chill for an hour.

    2. SCRUB the oysters under cold water with a stiff brush to remove the dirt. Next, fold a durable thick cloth several times to create a square; this will steady the oysters as you shuck them. Using the towel as a mitt, place the oyster, cup-side down in the palm of your towel-covered hand with the hinge facing you; have a small bowl handy to catch the delicious juice.

    3. INSERT the tip of an oyster knife or dull butter knife as far into the hinge as it will go. With gentle force, twist the knife back and forth to pry the shell open. Using the knife, cut the muscle away from the top shell, bend the shell back, and discard it. Run the knife underneath the oyster to detach it completely, but leave it in its shell. Tip out the briny liquor into the bowl and pour it back over the shucked oysters.

     

    4. NESTLE the oysters in a bed of crushed ice or rock salt to keep them steady. Spoon the finger lime mignonette on top and serve.

    Find more finger lime recipes at ShanleyFarms.com.

    TYPE OF LIMES

    How many different lime varieties have you tried? Check out the different types of limes.

      

    Comments

    TIP OF THE DAY: How To Buy Peaches

    bowl-summerset-peaches-froghollow-230

    Summerset peaches. Photo courtesy Frog
    Hollow Farm.

     

    This tip is from Pearl Driver, the marketing director at Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, California (in the East Bay region of the San Francisco Bay Area) and Farmer Al Courchesne, a co-owner and farmer-in-chief.

    “Before I started working with Frog Hollow Farm,” says Pearl, I would carefully inspect each individual piece of fruit and select what I believed was the sweetest and most ready-to-eat—only to go home and find out how off the mark I was!”

    She now shares her “insider tips” on how to select peaches.

    HOW TO BUY PEACHES

    There are three main characteristics help to identify a sweet, juicy, ready-to-eat peach: color, touch and skin texture.

     
    Color

    The real color you want to look for is not the rosy blush but the background color of the fruit. It should be deeply golden, not pale yellow.

    The rosy red color is deceptive: Our brains are genetically evolved to think that the color red implies delicious and sweet. As a result, peach growers have bred the red color into their peaches. It doesn’t ensure superior fruit.

     

    Touch

    You can tell if a peach is ripe by a gentle yet firm squeeze with your fingers (not hard enough to bruise it). If there’s a little bit of a give, it means that the fruit is almost ripe—but not quite.

    Leave that peach on the kitchen counter for another 2 to 3 days, until it is soft to very soft.

    Skin Texture

    This is the most telling of all three characteristics, and the one least known.

    You can tell that a peach is ready to eat by looking for signs of shriveled skin around the stem end. Those wrinkles indicate a really ripe peach.

    The wrinkles develop during ripening, when water starts to evaporate from the fruit’s porous skin. As the peach starts to dry up, the flavors intensify.

    Now you’re ready to head out and pick out some peaches.

     

    organic_peaches_autumnFlame-froghollowfarm-230

    Autumn Flame peaches. Photo courtesy Frog Hollow Farm.

     
    Storage

    When you get them home, here’s a grower’s tip: Always store fruit on your kitchen counter in such a way that no two pieces of fruit are in contact with each other.

    In other words, it’s better to line them up on the counter than have them touching each other in a fruit bowl.

    A final suggestion:

    Pearl’s favorite fruits from the farm are the O’Henry peach and the Flavor King pluot. So keep checking the website and when you find them, treat yourself to a box.

      

    Comments

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