Sunday, April 19, 2015

Grapefruit - I'm a fan . . . now.

There was a common phrase back in the 50’s “mature” women used when they were dissatisfied with the numbers looking back up them from the bathroom scale; “fat and forty.”  Even though, today “fifty is the new forty”, I can attest to having the same concern.  And not just fat, but sag, drag and bag.  Oye vey! 
One of the diet foods of those days gone by, but not completely gone, is grapefruit.  Women and men the world over, well at least in the Bay Area, regularly consumed half a grapefruit in the morning and often the other half for their afternoon meal to help with weight loss.  To dress it up a bit some would add that healthful garnish, the maraschino cherry.  I too resorted to eating grapefruit when I had forty or so pounds to lose after having my babies. 
But I don’t like grapefruit.  They’re too tart, cold and sour.  By the time I resorted to eating grapefruit I knew enough about those cherries to avoid them.  Instead I doused my diet fruit with powdered sugar.  By baby number three I splurged and purchased a few special little spoons with  ridges along the edges to help me cut into the individual segments.  But no matter how much care and consideration I put into plating up my breakfast to make it more appealing or the amount of that soft white confection I sprinkled on this sub-tropical fruit of Asian origin, I was ultimately dissatisfied.  With every bite my face would involuntarily scrunch up towards the right, my eyes would wince closed and I’d have to take a deep breath before digging my spoon in again. 

Because there are so many other options to choose from when trying to reduce my caloric intake, grapefruit never seems to make its way into my grocery cart. When buying citrus I choose oranges, blood oranges when in season, and always lemons and limes.
But now is the season for grapefruit, at least those grown in Texas and Florida.  I believe the grapefruit harvested in Arizona and California have their peak season earlier in the year.  Anyway, my research indicates grapefruit trees bloom in April and May, but may not be harvested until the following fall or summer.  Further reading tells me it was Captain Samuel Shaddock, a 17th century English ship commander, who brought Pomelo seeds with him to Jamaica. Pomelo are one of the four original citrus fruits from which all those others are derived. The others being Citron, Mandarin and Papeda. Grapefruit is a hybrid of the Pomelo and were referred to as "shaddocks" or "shahucks” up until the 19th century.  Pomelos seem rather interesting too.  But I’m focusing on letter Gg this week, so it’s all about grapefruit. 

Most of us are most familiar with Pink, Ruby Red and Oro Blanco. These names tell us what type of pulp we'll find inside, pink, red or white.  And I'm glad to discover grapefruit is chock full of vitamin C, fiber pectin, is reported to lower cholesterol and has strong anti microbial properties against fungi. They also aide in digestion, are supposed to help reduce cellulite! ~ (wow! that’s great!), fluid retention and may help with acne.

I'm not so glad to hear grapefruit react badly with certain medications, which recently caught my attention while watching one of those prescription commercials.  And not surprisingly, in order to get consumers more excited when buying grapefruit they are often irradiated so the pulp will be really ruby red when we cut into it.  This may be an issue for those intent on staying as organic
as possible when purchasing fruit.  But don’t forget our bananas are harvested so early they can’t possibly ripen on their own.  They get a blast of something allowing them to turn that beautiful shade of yellow we’ve come to know at our local market.      
 It is in the spirit of being an honest epicurean, I am beckoned into my kitchen with grapefruit in hand, willing to give it another chance.  While at the store I followed the recommendation to select grapefruit that felt heavy for their size.  This indicates juiciness.  I like juicy.  I kept them in the refrigerator, not in my fruit basket on the counter.  It is best to eat your grapefruit within one week.  I’m ready to start.  

 Broiled or Grilled Grapefruit
I decided to broil my grapefruit.  Cooking is supposed to reduce that tartness I don’t care for, especially in the morning.  I’m more of a coffee and pastry person, so this better work.  I cut one grapefruit in half, sliced a bit off the bottoms so they wouldn’t roll around on the pan.  On one half I sprinkled 1 tablespoon of brown sugar, the other half for my daughter I drizzled some spun honey.  On both halves, I sprinkled some crystallized ginger and three little slices of banana.  Then I placed them on a parchment lined baking sheet and put the sheet into my preheated oven, (broil), for about 7-8 minutes.  Enough to see some caramelization and toasted edges of banana.  These were GREAT!!  Indeed, broiling or even grilling the grapefruit will help to reduce that sour taste and replace it with a mild sweetness, but still offer the flavor of bright citrus.  I’m a broiled grapefruit convert now.  Oh! – to make things easier, I also ran a sharp knife along the side of the fruit and made cuts to separate the segments, being careful not to cut all the way through the rind. 
 Toronja Rellena
Next, toronja rellena, stuffed grapefruit.  This is 12-step process to create a treat common in Costa Rica and Puerto Rico.  Although, to be honest, I don’t recall my family ever preparing this dish and I could not find it in the cookbook my Tita gave to me.  12 steps is more time than I wanted to spend on this today so I came up with an adaptation.  Again I cut one grapefruit in half, removed the seeds and then carefully scooped out the pulp.  Traditional toronja rellena requires cooking the rind halves in water and baking soda and then making it into a candied shell.  Again, too much time.  I set the hollow halves to the side and using a small saucepot placed all that juicy pulp, one whole cinnamon stick, 2 tablespoons of dulce de leche, and a pinch of salt.  I heated the mixture over low heat and allowed it to simmer for about 10 minutes.  Then I removed the cinnamon stick and poured the rich, thick mixture back into the grapefruit shells.  I garnished with fresh lemon zest and tasted.  WOW!! ~ again another hit!  I made my resident guinea pig sample a bite.  Yup, he liked it too.  A unique combination of lusty, rich caramel and the verve and vigor of tamed tartness. 
 Braised Pork Chops w/Grapefruit
Giddy with success I wanted to really knock something out of the ballpark.  I had two nice, bone-in, pork chops sitting in the refrigerator so I thought I’d put them to good use. I started by dredging them in some flour I seasoned with salt and pepper.  Then I browned them in a heated skillet with about 1 tablespoon each, of olive oil and unsalted butter.  When the chops were browned to my liking, I removed them from the skillet and set them off to the side.  I then took half of one red onion, sliced, added a bit more butter and sautéed the onions until soft.  I poured in that swallow of apple juice my son leaves in the bottle in the refrigerator, (about ¼ cup), ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and returned the chops to the skillet.  Covered it with a lid, reduced the heat to low, then allowed the chops to braise for about 10 minutes.  Meanwhile I took another whole grapefruit, removed the skin and separated the segments. This is known as supreming.  When the sauce had reduced and thickened, I added salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme and half of the grapefruit segments.  I simmered everything another 2-3 minutes.  When ready to plate up, I shaped a mound of cooked white rice, with fresh parsley on two plates, placed one chop on each and spooned the sauce over the top.  A hit of lemon zest to open the tastebuds and they’re done. 
I am not going to be using apples as my go-to accompaniment to pork chops ever again!  This little creation of mine was amazing!!  I mean it I really hit this one out of the ballpark.  Watch out 51’s!  The natural saltiness of pork, the tartness of the grapefruit, the earthiness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the apple juice and the red onion, came together in a veritable parade of flavors that will forever be friends.  Think I'll be inviting grapefruit into my grocery cart more often.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ff is for Fiddleheads!!

A friend of mine participates in one of those fresh produce co-ops where you indicate whether or not you’re interested in picking up a basket early Saturday morning.  You can either order the regular basket or go organic.  I refer to this as her mystery basket, because when she arrives in the morning, standing in line with her basket, bag or wagon she’s presented with an eclectic collection of fresh produce.  She never knows what she’s going to walk away with.  But the good news is it’s all fresh and in season.

Yesterday my girlfriend called me and said she was given a bag of some funny looking, bright green and purplish curly things in her basket. 

“They kind of look like curled up caterpillars.”

“Bright green, purplish curly things?  I asked.  “Hmmm, oh!  Fiddleheads!” I exclaimed with great excitement.  “That’s amazing!  They gave you  Fiddleheads?  They have a very short season.  Like Blood Oranges, if you blink and don’t buy, you’ll miss out.  I’ll come over later this afternoon and we’ll cook ‘em up.”

When I arrived around 3:00, sure enough, there in her woven basket lined with a blue and white gingham cloth napkin was almost a pound of these tender little rolls.  I explained to her that Fiddleheads are a great source of vitamins A, B2 and B3, potassium and phosphorous.  Their taste is similar to asparagus and artichokes and they can be used in much the same way.  You can steam them, boil, fry or sauté them.   Some folks even pickle them.  They aren’t common in the produce section of your local grocery stores, since they have such a short harvest season, about two weeks,and they don’t keep well, maybe two or three days.   You’re more likely to find them at farmers’ markets or in this case in your produce “mystery basket”. 

“Well what exactly are they?”  She asked.

Fiddleheads are the coiled, frond of the Ostrich Fern.  Their harvest season is so short because within two weeks the coils unfurl and grow into full ferns.  I’ve read in some articles you can eat them raw, but I also learned in the 90’s, there was an outbreak of food borne illness suffered by those who ate raw or undercooked Fiddleheads.  So I follow the recommendation to boil these little fella’s first then prepare them to my liking.  I just can’t ever find them!

“Why are they called Fiddleheads if they come from the Ostrich Fern?”  She inquired further.

  By now her interest was piqued.  She had her hands in the basket and fingering through her collection of this unique little spring vegetable.

I instructed her to rinse them clean in the colander I fished out of her cupboard as I continued talking.  I explained that in this case the name is not derived from the origin of the food, but rather from its appearance.  It resembles the spiral end of a fiddle or violin.  The Fiddleheads my friend was given were fresh and of good quality.  A nice bright green colour with tinges of purple.  No soft or yellowish patches.  That would indicate old Fiddleheads. 

Once she had finished rinsing off the fuzzy scales, together we trimmed off the ends.  I added all the Fiddleheads to a large saucepot of salted, boiling water I had started earlier.  While they boiled for the next seven minutes I asked how she would like to prepare them.

“So, do you want to fry these and eat them as a snicker-snacker, make a stir fry, add them to a pasta dish, in a quiche or use them in a big salad?” I offered.
“Ohh, I’m not sure,” she was wavering.

“Hey!  You keep asking me to teach you how to prepare a nice risotto.  I can do that today.  We’ll make risotto with the Fiddleheads and add some fresh lemon zest to give it pop.”
“Okay,” she was back on board. 

“Good girl!  So do you have and Arborio or Carnaroli rice on hand?”

“Any what?"

Fiddlehead Risotto Recipe
6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth                            3 Tablespoons unsalted butter + 1
1 large shallot, minced                                                   1 cup short-grain rice, (Arborio, Bomba or Carnaroli)
½ cup dry white wine                                                     2 ounces fresh, grated Parmesan cheese
1 ½ cups Fiddleheads, clean and boiled                      Zest from one large lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

1)      In a large saucepot heat broth to low, gentle boil.  Reduce heat, cover and keep warm until ready to use.

2)      In a separate medium saucepot heat butter over medium-low heat, until butter just begins to foam.  Add minced shallots cooking until they soften, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. 

3)      Add all the rice and continue cooking, stirring constantly until each grain of rice is well coated in butter and shallot.  About 5 minutes

4)      Lower heat and stir in all the wine.  Continue stirring and loving up the rice mixture.
5)      Once all the wine has been absorbed by the rice, stir in about ¾ cup of the warm broth.  Continue stirring, (by now you’re probably sipping a glass of that wine yourself).

6)      Once this liquid has been allowed to be absorbed by the rice, ladle in another ¾-1 cup of the warm broth.  Keep stirring, allowing the broth to be completely absorbed.  Continue this pattern until you have a nice creamy mixture of risotto.  About 25-30 minutes.  You may not use up all the warm broth.

7)      Season with salt and pepper to taste, add that additional tablespoon of butter, Parmesan cheese, the Fiddleheads and the lemon zest.

If your risotto is too thick add some of that warm broth.  Check again for additional seasoning if needed.  And serve immediately.                   Makes 6  4-oz. Servings

Okay, this isn't a picture of our Fiddlehead Risotto, it's someone else's.  Too much of that white wine so I forgot to take a picture of ours!