Saturday, June 4, 2011

'Tis the Season to Eat Cherries (and other musings and recipes)

I just finished off the few last remaining Queen Anne cherries that I got yesterday at Andy's Produce Market in Sebastapol. Problem is, I want more. Last year was the year that Jim fell in love with cherries. He had no problem buying pounds of them and eating them (pits and stems flying out the car window) on our way back home to Guerneville. Come to think of it, around about this time of year when the fruit is beginning to appear in Northern California, it's not a good idea to follow too close behind us if you happen to see our our green Honda Civic traveling anywhere in the West County unless you don't mind being hit by the stray cherry pit, apricot stone or strawberry top. This is the only time we eat in the car and it's a lovely experience. But back to cherries.
I first discovered the goodness of fresh cherries when I lived in San Francisco and they appeared at the old farmer's market in The UN Plaza every Sunday and Wednesday. I just happened to get a few one day and decided to have a sample taste on the 5 Fulton on my way home. By the time I got there, I was left with a plastic bag of pits and very sticky fingers. It got to be a habit and although the bus drivers never said anything to me they did frown as I flashed my Muni Fast Pass and their eyes looked down at the bag of cherries then back up at my face.
They say the record rain this Spring may ruin quite a bit of the cherry crop. The ones I finished off today didn't look all that good but the taste, that taste that says "Spring" to me with all the other things to enjoy this season, was absolutely there!
What do egg incubators and peppadews have in common?
I may be going out on a limb on this one, but I think that we have Sonoma County to thank for both of them. OK, I know we have Sonoma County to thank for the invention of the chicken egg incubator. It was invented in The Egg Basket itself, Petaluma our big city to the south that borders on Marin County.
OK, so what about peppadews, those little saucer-shaped sweet, sour, a little spicy pickled peppers with the big cavity that begs to be stuffed? They may not have been produced here but they sure got a big boost from our very own Guy Fieri on his Food Network show, Guy's Big Bite.
I'd surely never heard of them before and I'm betting that is the case with a lot of other people who enjoy them.
I first started getting these at Safeway at their Olive Bar, the self-serve island with all the Mediterranean veggie appetizers. The last time I was in the Safeway over on Marlowe and Guerneville Road in Santa Rosa, they were missing. I'm hoping that they haven't disappeared altogether. They have the yellow ones in jars at G&G but the quality is not the same and they're a little too pricey. If you do get them, though, one of the best ways I know of to fill them is with an herbed goat cheese that you can put together yourself.
Stuffed Peppadews with Herbed Chevre

8 oz chevre goat cheese
a tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely minced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
15 or so peppadews
Minced chives (for garnish)
Cream the cheese, herbs, garlic and salt and pepper until a spreadable consistency is reached. (You may have to add a little milk or cream.)
Fill each peppadew with the cheese filling and garnish with some minced chives.

Another popular item that has found its way onto the appetizer table in the past several years is pita chips. These are so easy to make that I can't see spending my ever-shrinking food money of a package of them at the market.

Pita Chips
Slice pitas in two so you have two circles each with a rough and smooth side.
Brush a little olive oil on the rough side and sprinkle on some salt.
Cut each crosswise in half and each half into 4 triangles.
Lay on baking sheet and back at 375F for 10-12 minutes.

OK, now that you've got your pita chips, you'll want to find the perfect dip for them. So, in keeping with our middle eastern theme, we couldn't do better than Hummus bi Tahini. Think of it as a happy marriage of hummus and tahini.

Hummus bi Tahini
1 cup dried chickpeas, picked through, washed and soaked for 24 hours in the refrigerator.
Juice of 2 lemons
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup tahini
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon (or more to taste) harissa* (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Put drained chickpeas and garlic in bowl of food processor and run until finely chopped. Add tahini, lemon juice, cumin, pinch of salt and harissa (if using) and run until well combined.
With the processor running, add a stream of cold water just until it starts to thin a little then switch to olive oil and add until a spreadable consistency is achieved. Taste and correct for salt if needed.
I like to serve this in a bowl with a sprinkling of paprika followed by a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
*(Harissa is a fiery Tunisian condiment found in Middle Eastern or specialty food stores.)

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