October 9, 2010

Four Places for U-Pick Pumpkins… From a Farm!

Filed under: In season,Ingredients,Los Angeles,Orange County,Published stories — Professor Salt @ 10:51 pm

Three mini pumpkins at Westminster HS

This story also appears on the OC Weekly food blog.

This time of year, commercial pumpkin “patches” sprout up overnight in asphalt parking lots, replete with enough incandescent lighbulbs to power a cut-rate riverboat casino. Which got me thinking – surely there must be farms in our paved-over county where pumpkins actually grow in the earth? Where can we take the kidlets to pick their own pumpkins off the vine? There’s not many, but here are some more interesting (and cheaper!) options than buying your jack o’ lantern pumpkins at the supermarket.

Westminster High School FFA
You’ve seen their pumpkin patch as you zip past on the 405 freeway. This working farm belongs to the school’s Future Farmers of America program, which sells their harvest of pumpkins and fruit every Wednesday afternoon at the farmer’s market at the Westminster Mall. But once every year, the farm is open to the public during it’s annual Fall Festival. This year, it’s Saturday October 30 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Newly hired faculty instructor Dave Bentz says, “we’ll have pumpkins for sale, face painting, dunk tank, pumpkin carving. The infamous ‘goldfish booth’ is coming back. I wasn’t here for that last year for that, so you’ll have to come to find out.”

Co-instructor Dave Eusantos notes they grow “six varieties of jack o’ lantern pumpkins, including Fairytales and White Ghost pumpkins. We have big ones and little ones for the young kids, ranging from $1 to $5 dollars”

Admission is $5 per person, which includes burgers, dogs, chips and soda. The FFA students man the games booths and the petting zoo (which are not just animals hired for the event, but the farm’s own livestock). All proceeds from the event support the FFA.

Bentz says during the rest of the year, “the public can still can support us by going to the Westminster Farmer’s Market and buying our product. When persimmons ripen, we’ll send those over, also avocados. I teach a floral class, so we’ll be sending our pumpkin-themed flower designs there. Any time someone makes a contribution to the FFA, we’re a tax free organization so it’s a tax benefit.”

Westminster High School 14325 Goldenwest St., Westminster (714) 893-1381
To get to the farm: enter from Goldenwest Street, turn onto Main Street into campus, and follow it past the football fields until you reach the farm.

Tanaka Farms in Irvine

Can’t wait that long to go pick pumpkins? Tanaka Farms in Irvine welcomes the public daily to pick pumpkins from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with no admission fee. The Tanaka family has been farming since 1941, and third generation farmer Kenny Tanaka says, “we’ve been doing the pumpkin patch for about 20 years now. It first started off with guided tours around the fields, then developed into wagon rides, petting zoo, corn maze and pick your own pumpkins”

“These days, we’ll drive you over to the field on the wagon, and then it’s self guided after that. We have a 30 acre farm, and you’ll see most of it on the wagon ride. We have baby goats, baby lambs, baby lambs, a couple of llamas in our petting zoo. On weekends, we have games like pumpkin basketball shoots. We’re giving ATV rides, and built a pedal-cart course out in the field.”

Cost for individuals are $3 for the petting zoo, $5 for the wagon ride, and U-pick pumpkins are sold by weight. Kids aged 2 and under are free. A 6-8 pound pumpkin runs $3.25, and there’s a sliding scale from there, up to a 30 pound pumpkin. School and youth groups can arrange for all-inclusive package rates.

The award wining BBQ team from The Rub Company out of Buena Park will be smoking Santa Maria style tri tip and pulled pork on Saturdays and Sundays. Tri-tip and pulled pork sandwiches are $6, hot dogs $3 and BBQ corn $2.50.

Tanaka Farms 5380 3/4 University Dr., Irvine (949) 653-2100 www.tanakafarms.com

South Countians can head over to South Coast Farms in San Juan Capistrano. They are one of the few local farmers growing organic pie pumpkins, which are sweeter and better suited to baking. They do not  grow jack o’ lantern pumpkins,  so you can’t take the kids for a pick-from-the-field experience.  They truck those in from elsewhere, and you choose from pumpkins set up in their farm stand parking lot. General manager Rebecca says on Saturdays and Sundays, they offer “more old-fashioned activities, like butter churning, and not the ‘carnival-ly’ activities” you’d see at an asphalt pumpkin patch.

South Coast Farms 32701 Alipaz St., San Juan Capistrano (949) 661-9381 www.southcoastfarms.com

Another one-weekend event, and a big one at that, is  Cal Poly Pomona’s annual Pumpkin Festival and Insect Fair on October 16 & 17. A pancake breakfast is offered only on Saturday from 8a.m. to 11 a.m. There will be thousands of pumpkins in the field. There will be games, a petting zoo, horse rides. Bug out over the College of Agriculture’s display of  500,000 or so insects.

Pumpkins cost $5 each (beach ball size) or 5 for $20 (Oct. 16 & 17 only)
Insect Fair: $6 adults; $4 students and children 3-12 years; 2 and under are free!
Pancake Breakfast (Saturday from 8am – 11am): $5 adults, $4 kids 12 and under
Prices for individual activities such as horse rides and the petting zoo vary.
Organized groups (schools, scouts, etc) can arrange for private U-pick trips the week prior to the festival.

Cal Poly Pomona Pumpkin Festival and Insect Fair October 16 – 17, 2010. 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Cal Poly Pomona Farm Store 4102 S. University Drive, Pomona (909) 869-4906

October 6, 2010

Local Spiny Lobster Season Opens Today

Filed under: In season,Ingredients,Orange County,Published stories — Professor Salt @ 8:26 pm

*Florida stunt lobster -- not actually Aliso Creek. Photo by Flickr user baxterclaus

This story also ran in today’s OC Weekly

Shellfish lovers: the commercial season for local, spiny lobster opens today! Recreational divers and sport fishermen got a head start, literally grabbing bugs by hand from our local waters since last Saturday.  Those of us less inclined to make like Steve Irwin and dive for our own catch can buy them from some of our waterfront fish markets until the season ends on March 16, 2011.

There’s a few differences between Pacific spiny lobsters and Atlantic lobsters. They have no claws, but bigger tails. The meat can be a little firmer, but also sweeter in flavor, depending on who you ask. As with any shellfish, the key is to not overcook the meat. The myth that bigger lobsters are tougher than smaller ones is a lie to cover up poor cooking technique.

Prices will fluctuate during the first few weeks until the market settles on a fair price. In past years,they’ve sold at $25 / pound or so, with the smallest legal lobsters weighing in around 1 1/4 pounds. As a reference point, Maine lobsters were selling for $7.99 / pound at Irvine’s 99 Ranch Market this weekend.

What’s that? You just want to be the judge and not the executioner? Some fish markets will also cook your lobsters for you. Seafood this fresh should be enjoyed simply – steamed, boiled, grilled, perhaps even raw as sashimi. The following waterfront fish markets will sell you truly local lobsters that were caught just hours before, and a few will also cook them for you.

In Dana Point Harbor, Jon’s Fish Market will sell you live lobsters to take home for $23.95 / pound, or boil / grill them for you to eat on site. General Manager Megan Fitzgerald says that their lobstermen work the waters from San Clemente to Laguna Beach.

Jon’s Fish Market 34665 Golden Lantern St Dana Point, CA; (949) 496-2807 www.danapointharbor.com

Set back on a side street off of Coast Highway, Pearson’s Port Fish Market sits on a floating dock on Newport’s Back Bay.  They do not cook seafood on site. They sell local shellfish in live tanks holding local shellfish. Chuck Pearson says that their spiny lobsters are caught in local waters around Newport and Laguna Beach, and the price, today anyway, is $19.99 a pound.

Pearson’s Port 100 E Coast Hwy, Newport Beach; (949) 675-6771

Skunked at the Newport Beach Dory Fleet

I only saw only one fisherman working this rainy morning at Newport Beach Dory Fleet fish market. It’s a co-operative of independent fishermen based at the Newport Beach Pier, and each boat specializes in different catches. Ara Kara of Live Fish Company shrugged at today’s poor weather and water conditions and prepared his gear for this weekend. He expects the two guys in the co-op who specialize in crab and lobsters to be selling later in the week.

The fishermen return with their early morning catch between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., and sell directly to the public as weather allows. They do not cook anything on site either. Weekends are the best days because the entire fleet should be working. Sometimes, like today, they don’t go fishing at all. But if you wanted a sure thing, you’d be buying frozen jumbo prawns raised on a farm in the Philippines and not wild, local sea creatures.

Newport Dory Fleet 2111 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach; www.doryfleet.com

In Long Beach, Berth 55 Fish Market will sell you live bugs, and serve them steamed or grilled. Their fishermen didn’t bring back any today either, but they plan on selling starting tomorrow.

Berth 55 Fish Market 555 Pico Avenue, Long Beach, (562) 435- 8366; www.berth55fishmarket.com

That’s a list of waterfront fish markets in Orange County confirmed to sell local lobsters, and there might be others as you move inland. In past years, I’ve seen spiny lobsters for sale in Little Saigon live seafood markets (such as T&K Food Warehouse) but I haven’t been able to verify any that intend to carry this year. If you spot any clawless spiny lobsters, let’s hear about it in the comments section!

Asian Pear Grilled Cheese Sandwich

Filed under: Home cookin',In season,Ingredients,Recipes — Professor Salt @ 10:59 am

Asian pears at UC Irvine farmer's market

This story also appears on the OC Weekly food blog.

If you’ve been to our local farmer’s markets in the past three weeks, you’ll have noticed that Asian pears have arrived. As with the apples they closely resemble, the new crop is packed with lightly sweet nectar. Their firm crunch adds a great texture to a cheese sandwich, and the sweetness is a nice counter to the lightly salty, slightly lactic tang of an aged cheese. This week, here’s a few ideas for making killer grilled cheese sandwiches.

Grilled cheese is easy enough that a child can make it, yet sophisticated enough that high end restaurants like Campanile dedicate one dinner a week to them, and a food truck built its entire business around it.  You already know how to make grilled cheese, so today’s post is not so much a recipe, but a few ideas to consider.

1. Shred semi-soft cheeses yourself so they melt quickly. Avoid pre-shredded cheeses. While convenient, pre-shredded cheeses contain anti-clumping agents. For the same reason they keep shreds from sticking together in the package, they also don’t melt as well when you want them to. Use a box grater and shred your own cheeses.

2. Try a sandwich with a crispy Parmigiano-Reggiano crust on the outside. Mario Batali correctly calls Parmigiano the king of all cheeses.  The  imported stuff definitely tastes more distinctive than domestic Parmesan. The real deal will have the words Parmiggiano-Reggiano hot stamped into the wax shell of the cheese wheel.

3. Use whatever bread you prefer, but I like a white bread with pull and texture for this gig. Instead of regular, squishy white  bread, I use a Pullman loaf white bread, that perfectly square loaf that used to be popular before the 1950′s and the advent of Wonder bread. It’s still found at Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese and Korean bakeries. You might also see it called by its French name, pain de mie. Buy yours at Cream Pan, Diho Bakery, 99 Ranch, JJ Bakery, 85C Bakery, J Sweet Bakery, Mitsuwa, Marukai, Ebisu, Freshia, or other Asian bakeries and supermarkets.

One Asian pear, peeled and sliced into 1/8″ thick slices
Bread, such as a pullman style white bread
Easy melting semi-soft cheese, like Brie, Muenster, Jack or Fontina. If using a mildly flavored melty cheese, consider adding a second, more sharply flavored soft cheese like chevre, blue cheese, Raclette or Morbier for a deeper cheese funk.
Parmigiano-Reggiano, for crusting on the outside of the sandwich

  1. Peel the Asian pear with a vegetable peeler – the skins are thicker and more fibrous than apple skins. Cut into 1/8″ thick round slices, cutting north pole to south pole.
  2. Preheat a nonstick pan over medium-low heat.  It’s much easier to make the Parmigiano crust with a non-stick pan. A too-low heat is better than too-high heat.
  3. Lightly spread some butter on the outside of the bread and lay it on the pan. Sprinkle melting cheese inside the bread,  a slice of Asian pear, more cheese, and another slice of bread.
  4. After four of five minutes, the soft cheese should start melting. Lift the sandwich up, and sprinkle some Parmigiano in a thin layer in the middle of the pan. Flip your sandwich over, then lay the uncooked side on top of the Parmigiano.
  5. After another four minutes, the Parmigiano should be toasty and crisp. Scrape under the cheese crust with a spatula, lift the sandwich, then repeat the Parmigiano step on the other side.

October 4, 2010

Local eggs and meat at Buena Park HS

Filed under: In season,Ingredients,Orange County — Professor Salt @ 2:58 pm

This story also appears in the OC Weekly.
chicken.jpgUnless you’ve built a chicken run in your yard, you probably haven’t tasted an egg raised right here in Orange County. Locally raised beef and pork is even harder to find unless you know where to look.
At Buena Park High School, students of the Agricultural Sciences program produce all that. They raise Black Angus cattle, Yorkshire hogs, grow fruits and vegetables, raise chickens and sell all their produce at the school’s farm store.

Jessica Fernandes is the faculty instructor of the Agricultural Sciences program, now in its fifty-second year. Its long history is a reminder that Orange County was largely productive farmland past World War II. In more recent decades, the school’s farm program went to seed. “This is my fifth year,” Fernandes says. “When I started, the farm was knee-high with weeds, and had only 85 to 100 students.”

seedlings.jpgSince then, grant money was raised, land cleared, and new animal pens and a greenhouse were built. The students own their animals and tend to them every day. They show their animals at county fairs, hold leadership positions, and learn life skills they couldn’t get in any other educational class. Fernandes notes with obvious pride that “now we have 335 students, two teachers, fully usable classrooms, animals everywhere and a farm store.”

The student-run farm store is open to the public every Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. during the school year. Vegetables are sold at bargain prices. On a recent visit, only a few dozen eggs were available and had sold out long before I arrived. So I went home with pork shoulder steaks and chorizo, carefully packed in butcher paper and flash-frozen by the butcher that processed them.

The pork shoulder steaks looked darker than the usual bland-white-meat from industrial farms, and had a noticeably more prominent dark meat flavor. Fernandes attributes that to the way the animals are raised. “It is not the breed of hog that makes the difference,” she says. “The difference is in the high quality feed, the care by the students and the exercise…. we are a much smaller scale farm and care a great deal about quality over quantity.”

The insistence on quality is the reason their eggs sell out so quickly. The flock of chickens is deliberately kept small as not to overcrowd the hen houses; thus egg supply is limited. The availability of their beef and pork will vary throughout the year as animals are bred, raised, shown and sold. Regarding that fluctuating supply, Fernandes says, “If people tell us what they’re interested in, we’ll hook them up with a student to meet their needs.”

Mrs. Fernandes concludes, “I would like the public to know this is a student-run program. It’s the best way to get local fresh produce and meat, and also a great way to support the kids in your community who need it the most.”

The Buena Park High School Farm Store is located in a classroom on the northeast corner of the school’s large campus. Set your car’s GPS to this virtual address (the building is not labeled as such)

527 Magnolia Ave., Fullerton, (714) 992-8778; www.buenaparkffa.com

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