My Mom, the Fruit Whisperer…and 5 Fruit Picking Tips

My mom never pretended to be a good cook, but there were (and are) a few culinary skills she’s good at.  She excels at making boxed brownies and cake mixes look homemade.  She’s great at fruit cutting, a skill that is just as important as cooking in the Asian culture.  Oh, and she is a rock star when it comes to picking fruit.  That’s why I call her “The Fruit Whisperer.”  In other families, there are secret recipes handed down from generation to generation.  In my family, it’s the art of picking fruit.  Growing up, without fail…after every meal, we’d have a plate of perfectly cut fruit.  And I knew, before even taking a bite into it, that it would be juicy, sweet, and the perfect texture.  So how does one go about picking the perfect fruit?  It’s an art and a science, and takes years of practice, but here are a few tips to get you started:

Apples

Let’s start with the basic apple.  I like mine firm and crispy, and don’t understand people who like them mushy.  That’s just plain weird.  To select a firm and crispy, it should feel and sound like just that.  What does that mean?  Pick up the apple and feel it.  It should feel firm with no mushy spots.  Mushy spots mean mushy apple or rotting.  Ew!  Once you’ve confirmed it’s firm, flick it like you would if you were to flick somebody’s ear.  The sound of it should be crispy, vibrant, and sort of echo (vs. flat and dull).  Check out the demo here (sans noise, which would have been helpful.  Working on it!).

Apple flick

Created with cinemagr.am

Berries

Berries are usually in wrapped packages, so difficult to feel…but usually it’s more about the fragrance and smell.  For example, with good strawberries, you can usually smell them with a simple sniff.  The smell of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are a bit more faint, but still there.

Grapes

Grapes should be firm and you can usually feel them through the plastic bags they come in.

Watermelon

OK, here’s the big kahuna and one that’s taken me years to really “get.”  Watermelons are complex and take a combo of sight, sounds, and touch.  The overall shape of it should be symmetrical and not lopsided.  Color should be bright green (if it’s light green, it’s over ripe) with a spot of yellow (where it used to rest on the ground in the field).  The belly button should be small.  And finally, you need to give it a good slap to really know if it’s the one.  Imagine that you are make believe slapping somebody’s face…palms open, good amount of force.  Whack it and then listen.  It should sound hollow and you should be able to feel a slight vibration.  I was at the Whole Foods the other day slapping away and taught this technique to the fruit guy who worked there.  It works…for real.

Other Melons

Melons are a bit like watermelon.  Their shape should be smooth and symmetrical.  Cantaloupes are better if the surface is smoother/ pattern is denser.

Hope this is enough to get you started.  If you have any other fruits you’re curious about, write ‘em down below in the comments and I’ll ask mama if she has any words of wisdom.

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Karen’s Famous Banana Blueberry Muffins

Everybody raves about my friend Karen’s Banana Blueberry Muffins, but I’ve never had them before, so I decided to give it a go.  After whipping them up and scarfing down 4 of them all by myself, I can honestly tell you that they are freakin’ good.  They’re not too sweet and have a nice nutty flavor to them from the oats and flax.  Mine were a tad bit over-baked at 23 minutes, so it might depend on your oven.  Even so, they were still delish. I’d check them at 18-19 minutes.  They should be uber moist.  Oh, and if you haven’t guessed, my friend Karen subscribes to a healthy lifestyle, so the muffins are healthy, too….which means you can eat more of them and not feel guilty.  Happy baking…and eating!

baked goods

Karen’s Famous Banana Blueberry Muffins

3 ripe bananas
<3/4 c. Sugar (slightly)
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 cup Flour
1 1/2 cup oats
1-2 Tbs (guess) flax meal
1/2 c blueberries (guess to your liking)
1/2 c walnuts (to your liking)

Preheat oven to 350, I like to make muffins. You can put into bread form as well.  I’ve also modified with chocolate chips!

Cook time muffins:  22-25 min  (Might depend on your oven.  Check them at 18-19 minutes.)

non stick muffin cups

Delfina Pizzeria: A slice of heaven

Hi Delfina Pizzeria.  I love you and your pizzas.  I’ve tasted a lot of pizzas in my time and you’re my favorite….to quote the movie Mystic Pizza: “A slice of heaven.”

OK, kinda creepy that I’m writing a love letter to a pizza joint, but it’s THAT good.  Delfina Pizzeria (not to be confused with the actual Delfina restaurant, which doesn’t serve pizza) is an SF classic.  Yes, you’ll probably have to wait in line, but it’s worth it.  So what’s the hype about? Well, as a pizza connoisseur, I rate all pizzas based on these criteria:  1) crust 2) sauce 3) cheese ratio….Delfina scores high on all 3.   The Neopolitan inspired thin-crust pizzas comes piping hot out of the wood-fired oven…good texture: doughy, but crispy and airy at the same time.  The sauce is the right amount of tanginess and thickness…and pairs nicely with the mozzarella cheese, which is in perfect ratio with the rest of the ingredients.  Am I making you drool yet?  My go-to’s are the Margherita and Salsiccia (fennel sausage), which I highly recommend.

If you’re impatient (like me) and don’t like to wait in line, then I’d suggest phoning in an order and picking it up (usually takes 15 minutes).  They don’t deliver, but if it’s a nice day, you can picnic in Dolores Park (a block away) with your pizza and make a day of it!

Rhea’s Deli’s big honkin Korean steak sandwich

Some things are worth a tummy ache.  Rhea’s Deli’s Korean steak sandwich is one of them.  The deli has a wide array of other more traditional American deli sandwiches, but I’ve never tried any of them since the Korean BBQ steak sandwich is so AMAZING.  It’s juicy, tasty, sweet, tangy, savory, and spicy…everything you want in a sammie.  And big enough for 2 meals!  A few caveats, so you know what you’re getting into if you decide to hit up this joint in the Mission.

  • You should absolutely call right when it opens (11:30am) and put in an order.  Most likely you’ll have to wait 20-30 minutes anyways for your sandwich.
  • They no longer have the pork katsu sandwich (tear).  Not sure why!
  • Prices have gone up (Korean BBQ sandwich is $10.35 now), but it’s worth it.  Suck it up!

 

Adventures in Strawberry Picking

I had a yearning to do something very “American” for Labor Day, so decided to drag my sis to Davenport to go strawberry picking at Swanton Berry Farm.  Before you get too excited, let me spoil it by telling you it was a BUST.  There were NO strawberries to pick…nada, zilch.  As you can see from the pix below, not a speck of red in the strawberry patches.  So disappointing!  Thank goodness, the strawberry shortcake and olallieberry pie were to die for!  Shortcake was buttery and yummy with the perfect ratio of strawberries to cream.  Ollalieberry mini pie was heaven- thick, flaky crust with tart filling.  Oh man, I love a good sweet!  Check out the pix below.

Good roadside signage to get your attention.

Empty basket = no strawberries

Inside the general store.  Kitsch’d out.

Olallieberry pie- AMAZE

Bed of sunflowers blowing in the wind…

Momed in Beverly Hills: I’d totally go back

Despite being located in the ritzy neighborhood of Beverly Hills, Momed is a casual Mediterranean dining spot with great food, service, and atmo.  Surprisingly low on the pretentiousness meter!  We were greeted by a friendly server that was nice enough to throw in an extra chocolate baklava at the end (love her!).  Interesting apps, including the avocado hummus pictured below paired with the chubby pita bread hot out of the oven.  For mains, we gobbled up the spicy Pide (Turkish pizzas) and the duck shawarma (not pictured here since I devoured it too quickly).  Overall an enjoyable meal.  I’d totally go back!

Avocado hummus with pita | Spicy pide | last bite left of chocolate baklava

Jars of spices out on display

Cool spaceship looking lights overhead

Winner winner tofu dinner

Do you ever get home from work and think “ugh, now I have to cook dinner?!”  Well here’s another winning easy, quick, and tasty weeknight recipe.  I usually hate bottled teriyaki marinades, but Soy Vay’s Veri Veri Teriyaki’s a good one (with bits of garlic and sesame).  Tofu your heart out!

Teriyaki Tofu Steaks

  • Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki Marinade
  • 1 block of Firm Tofu
  • ~ ½ lb of ground up turkey (or chicken or beef)
  • Oil for cooking
  • 1 green onion or sliver of red bell pepper for garnish (optional)
  • Cooked rice or chopped cabbage/lettuce (optional)
  1. Slice tofu block into steaks (see picture).  Warm up 1 tablespoon of cooking oil in skillet until hot and gently place steaks on it.  Tofu should be slightly brown before flipping over to the other side.  Brown other side of tofu steaks as well.  While you wait for this to happen, start Step 2.
  2. In another skillet or sauté pan, warm up ½ tablespoon of oil until hot.  Add ground meat and sauté until meat is cooked through.  Add Soy Vay Veri Veri Teriyaki sauce until meat is covered.  Can add to taste.
  3. Now it’s time to plate.  If desired, either plate rice OR cabbage/ lettuce at the base.  Top with browned tofu steaks and top with the teriyaki meat.  Garnish with green onions and red bell pepper.  Time to chow down!

3 Random Tips for Jars, Stains, and Fruit

I’m no Susie Homemaker, but I get by around the house!  🙂 Anyway, here are 3 random tips that I picked up along the way.

1.  Rubber dish gloves for stubborn jars…creates more friction.  I also hear if you run the jar under warm water, that loosens it.

 

2.  Dish washing liquid for greasy stains.  I’m sure you’ve had those oh crap, WTF moments where you stain your favorite blouse (see me below).  No need to run out and get a special something something for it….just use something you already have at home- dish washing liquid.  It’s supposed to get rid of grease on plates, so why not on clothes and fabric couches?

 

3.  Wait to wash fruit until just before eating it.  Fruits have a natural coating that keeps moisture inside, and washing will make them go bad faster.  I’ve made that mistake one too many times!

 

If you want more clever tips and tricks with everyday household items, check out this BuzzFeed post “19 food tips you need to know.” You’ll never look at CD holders and hot dogs the same way again!

 

 

Houston, we have no problem (eating)

I was in H-town a few weeks back visiting friends and like most trips, I pretty much ate my way through town.  I used to live in Texas and what I miss the most (besides the freakin awesome Tex Mex) are the local diners and kick-ass gas stops.  Got my fill this time around with a stop at Barnaby’s for Sunday Brunch and Bucee’s (pronounced Bucky’s) for a quick bevo (short for beverage).

Barnaby’s is a cute cafe with tons of character.  The story is that Barnaby was the family dog who passed away and they named the restaurant in honor of him.  That’s why there are flying dogs with wings painted all over  the ceiling. He’s in heaven kicking it and having a ball.  Food is pretty tasty there too.  I got the standard breakfast plate with eggs, hash browns, sausage, and a biscuit.

Texans must love their animals because like Barnaby’s, Bucee’s is heavy on the cartoon animals.  If you’ve ever driven from Dallas to Houston, then you’ve probably seen Bucee’s.  It’s a popular trucker stop full of beaver souvenirs, nuggets (like caramel corn, but fluffier), fudge, and anything else you might crave on a car ride.  A good breather from the heat and the flat, mind-numbing drive.  🙂

Yum, Taco Tuesday is here!

One trend that I’ve been hot on is specials that correspond to a day of the week:  Taco Tuesdays, Wine down Wednesdays, Thirsty Thursdays.  Hey, whatever helps you get through the week!  Well, last week, we brought the tradition home.  We had beer and tacos on Tuesday.  Yummy for the tummy!  BF made his famous tequila halibut tacos with red cabbage slaw (hint:  You can find this recipe in the Good Fish cookbook).  I can’t take credit for the meal, but I did help with the slaw.  It definitely was more time intensive for my liking and runs counter to my Lazy Cook philosophy, but totally worth it.  Drool, below.