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All You Can Eat

Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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October 25, 2011 3:42 PM

Candy, squash, or candied squash? I'm sweet on delicata

Posted by Nancy Leson

"I hate squash. You couldn't pay me to eat it." So said my friend Melissa. "Five bucks says you'll love this," I replied, handing over one of the slices of delicata squash you see below. She ate it -- and liked it.

What's there not to like? You can even eat the skin. (In fact, it's my favorite part.) As far as I'm concerned, delicata squash, simply roasted with olive oil is better than candy. Don't believe me? Just try it yourself.



I'll pass on the candy corn, but these delicata rounds? I can't get enough of them. [photo/Nancy Leson]

I'm amazed how many people aren't familiar with delicata, common though it may be, especially this time of year. "What is that?" I've been asked after bringing a platter to a potluck (note: they're almost as good at room temperature as they are hot from the oven). What do you do with those?" a checker at my neighborhood grocer wondered when my squash rolled down her check-out lane a few weeks back. Here's what I do:

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May 3, 2011 7:00 PM

The time is ripe for avocados. Too ripe? Let's hope not.

Posted by Nancy Leson

The first time I laid eyes on an avocado, I was 18 years old. And I had absolutely no idea what I was looking at. Where I grew up, "alligator pears," as they were once known at fussy restaurants, were an anomaly. This was eons before guacamole was available in plastic tubs next to the fresh salsa in the refrigerated case at supermarkets across the land. These days, Americans consume 141 million avocados -- and that's just on Cinco de Mayo.



They'll be making plenty of guacamole all over town -- and the nation -- this week. [photo courtesy Z'Tejas]

Indeed, I remember tasting my first ripe avocado way back when. My instant reaction: "Ewwww!" Rest assured I'm singing a different tune now. When it comes to the pear-shaped fruit, I'm a fervent fan. Yet far too often I slice into an avocado only to find myself once again saying, "Ewwww!" (Or worse.)

Why? Because unlike bananas, whose skins clearly indicate their state of ripeness, avocados are far more secretive: What you hope to see is not always what you get.

Perhaps you're familiar with this scenario: You buy a "ripe" avocado and find that it's not ripe enough. Or you attempt to ripen one for future use, leaving it sitting prettily in a bowl on your kitchen counter. Just when you're convinced it's perfect, you take a knife to it and find the fruit is not creamy -- it's mushy. And instead of lovely avocado-green flesh, you're confronted with (surprise!) brownish-black bruises.

What are we doing wrong? That's what I set out to find out.

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June 1, 2010 12:07 PM

Seattle area farmers markets: What's new at yours?

Posted by Nancy Leson

When it comes to the proliferation of neighborhood farmers markets, how many is too many? My friend and neighbor Rebekah Denn tackles that question and gets some answers this month in Seattle Magazine (read her story here).

You probably know how I feel about farmers markets: I can't get enough of them. Throughout the year I shop at Pike Place Market, the U-District and Ballard (among the year-round farmers markets). And I certainly appreciate the goods available further afield during farmers-market season (Columbia City? Worth the schlep on Wednesdays). You'll find a wide-ranging list of local markets right here. But as much as I'm willing to drive far and wide to get my fill of those colorful venues, I get even greater joy knowing once spring's in full-swing, there's a Saturday market within walking distance of my front door in Edmonds.

My local market starts small, expands as the season progresses and closes (waaaah) in October. And like so many neighborhood farmers markets, it's become as much a social occasion as a shopping destination. Seriously: I can't walk two feet without seeing -- and chatting up -- a familiar face, whether it's my next-door-neighbor or one of Seattle's talented young chefs, like this guy:



Chef Nate Crave (late of Spring Hill and Monsoon, now plying his trade at Etta's), with his wife and daughters at the Edmonds farmers market on a recent Saturday.

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February 23, 2010 4:42 PM

Seattle Farmers Markets: nice work -- if you can get it

Posted by Nancy Leson

When I was strolling around in the sun at the University District Farmers Market last Saturday, telling myself how lucky I was to be alive and well and living in the Pacific Northwest, I was thinking about how great it would be if every shopping experience was like that one. Of course, I may not think so if I had to run the place -- let alone six other markets comprising the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance. But if oversight of seven Seattle farmers markets sounds like a great job to you, perhaps you're the "highly qualified individual" they're looking for to take on the job as operations manager. Maybe you're the stand-up guy or gal "who has a demonstrated history of progressively responsible experience managing non-profits, farmers markets, small business or special events, and superior supervisory and leadership skills." Interested? Know anybody who might be? Here's a link to the job posting -- with the details and qualifications spelled out.



Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance Director Chris Curtis Wants You! (or someone you know, maybe?)

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May 11, 2009 10:41 AM

What's in a name: "cabbage rabe"

Posted by Nancy Leson

A recent trip to the farmers market had Eater Jackson Holtz stymied:

"We bought some wonderful, fresh `cabbage rabe' at the Ballard Farmers Market last week. At least, that's what the vendor called it. Here's the rub. I can't find anything in any of my extensive food library that talks about any rabe other than broccoli rabe which seems, perhaps, a whole other vegetable. What we bought are clearly the immature -- and tasty -- tops of plants. Is the farmer making this stuff up? Are they called a different name?"

When I showed up at the Edmonds farmers market for its seasonal debut a week ago Saturday, I posed the question to Nate O'Neil, owner of Frogs Song Farm on Skagit County's Fir Island. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, he'd just sold his last bouquet of "cabbage rabe." While that's not what he calls it (more on that in a bit) Nate knew exactly what I was talking about. His wife, Shannon Dignum, sold me several bunches ($2/each) this weekend.



Frogs Song Farm's Shannon Dignum and her cabbage-shoot bouquets


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April 30, 2009 10:50 AM

Garbanzo beans, chickpeas, ceci: get 'em while they're fresh!

Posted by Nancy Leson

You many have already heard about my penchant for buying "exotic" fruits and vegetables -- something I do regularly when shopping at Asian markets. I view the exercise as a fun science experiment, figuring, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but it's always an education. Well, last night I stopped into my local PCC, and right inside the front door was a sign promoting fresh garbanzo beans:


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March 11, 2009 2:52 PM

Seville oranges: going, going, gone?

Posted by Nancy Leson

"I was just reading your article about making marmalade from Seville oranges," Eater Teresa Jonsson wrote this morning. "Do you know where I can find fresh Sevilles in Seattle? I've been calling stores all over the place and have been unsuccessful." Funny she should ask. Earlier this month I was trolling the produce aisles at Shoreline Central Market when I found this:



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December 11, 2008 3:25 PM

Get 'em while they're hot: Theo chocolatier Autumn Martin takes the (molten-chocolate) cake

Posted by Nancy Leson

Bless my pal Mina's heart. And God help mine. Yesterday she showed up at my door with two tiny canning jars filled with chocolatey goodness: the dessert course served at my book-club meeting the night before. Which I'd missed, because I was busy accompanying my kid to the Greater Seattle Aquarium Society's annual Christmas potluck where I got to play Fisho and trade White Elephant gifts. (Don't ask.) Anyway, last night, when Mr. Sweet Tooth, Jr. wondered, "What's for dessert?" I thrilled his sweet little heart by offering up these:



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October 15, 2008 2:16 PM

Praise the lard -- and pass the pie

Posted by Nancy Leson

Today on my radio show Food for Thought, my pal Stein and I chewed the fat about leaf lard, discussing what it is (the precious fat surrounding a pig's kidneys), where you can buy it (I'll get to that in a minute) and why anyone in their right mind would willingly ingest something as grotesque looking as this:

Here's the short -- and incredibly flaky -- answer:



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October 6, 2008 10:02 AM

Mad about matsutake

Posted by Nancy Leson

The French and Italians can have their stinkin' truffles. I'd much rather eat matsutake. Fond of pine and fir, this magical mushroom calls the forest floor of the Pacific Northwest home -- and calls my name loud and clear this time of year. That's because October is when Japanese chefs all over town are steeping fresh matsutake in a delicately seasoned broth, serving them with gingko nuts in a small teapotlike vessel. They call it matsutake dobin mushi. I call it an edible autumnal aromatherapy session.

But this year I decided to take my matsutake obsession a step further, so on Saturday, I pulled on my boots and did something I've often longed to do: I went matsutake hunting. And whaddaya know? I found some -- at Uwajimaya:



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September 8, 2008 7:30 AM

Yes we can: tomatoes

Posted by Nancy Leson

If you love the idea of canning, but are fearful of the process, relax: Roma can be built in a day:



But first, it's a good idea to do as I did, and find someone who knows the drill. For my pal Jodi, that someone was her friend Michelina, an Italian nonna who learned to "make jars" -- as Michelina refers to the tomato-canning process -- in her native country. After several years of studying at Michelina's elbow, Jodi's now passing the tradition along to her family and friends.

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September 4, 2008 3:02 PM

Baby, it's chiles outside

Posted by Nancy Leson

Earlier today I introduced you to Chili's Deli & Mart. Now say hello to chiles roasted outdoors -- and to farmer Pedro Esquivel, seen here handcranking the goods at the Kirkland Wednesday Market:



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August 28, 2008 7:06 AM

I'll be the judge of that: part one

Posted by Nancy Leson

Since doffing my restaurant critic's hat and its attendant anonymity, I've been able to take part in some seriously fun food events. Including a couple of cooking contests -- like "Ready, Set, Go. . .Cook!": an Iron Chef-style competition held last Saturday at the U-District Farmers Market. That test of taste pitted Joseba Jimenez de Jimenez (chef/owner of Harvest Vine and Txori) and Jason Wilson (chef/owner of Crush) in a fight to the knife-wielding finish. I got to wield a fork. Nice work if you can get it, huh?

The chefs shopped for 15 minutes and spent another 45 creating a multi-course masterpiece of market-fresh memorables using their own salt, pepper and olive oil and a single "secret" ingredient from home. In the end Joseba won by a mustache hair: 81 points to Jason's 80. Clearly, there were no hard feelings:



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August 19, 2008 10:52 AM

Ready, Set, Go . . .Cook! Plus, an Incredible Feast

Posted by Nancy Leson

While I'm crazy about my neighborhood farmers market -- as much for a chance to blab with my neighbors as to shop for just-picked produce -- I've been looking for an excuse to get out of my 'hood and hit the University District Farmers Market. This weekend I plan to do it in good company. You coming? I hope so.

As part of the 15th anniversary-season celebration, the U-District Farmers Market is hosting its annual Ready, Set, Go . . .Cook! competition on Saturday, August 23rd -- and I'll be on hand to judge it.

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August 15, 2008 11:13 AM

Urban foraging -- a berry good pastime

Posted by Nancy Leson

On Tuesday morning, after dropping my son off at camp, I was driving down the street just a few block from my house when I spotted this woman enjoying a quick snack:



So I did what any food blogger with a camera in her purse would do. I pulled over, got out of the car, introduced myself and said, "Hey, lady! Save some for me!"

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July 17, 2008 9:19 AM

Take a stand on produce stands

Posted by Nancy Leson

Marty House wrote, wondering: "Do you or any of your readers know of a place to find a list of farmers with roadside produce stands? I can easily find farmer's markets, but would love to have a directory of roadside farmers. Nothing better than produce straight from the fields!"

Ain't that the truth, Marty -- though I'd amend your comment to suggest that produce is even better when it comes straight from your own "fields" -- a homegrown advantage that more and more folks are taking advantage of these days. While the potatoes on my "back forty" look pretty good in the photos, below, if you were to take the wider view or my garden, you'd see that with exception to those spuds, the pickins' are slim -- thanks in large part to bad husbandry (mine, not my husband's) and my very brown thumb:


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Food for Thought | Nancy Leson on KPLU

Listen to Nancy at 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. during Morning Edition, at 4:40 p.m. during All Things Considered and again the following Saturday at 8:30 a.m. during Weekend Edition on KPLU 88.5.

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