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Hoshigaki, realized

They said it couldn't be done. Or maybe they said it shouldn't be done. Perhaps they said they had never done it. Whatever they said and whoever they are, I did it.  Several weeks ago, I hung several peeled hachiya…

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Strawberry jam with balsamic and black pepper

Strawberry jam

Can I make a shocking confession? I don’t love strawberries. I mean, I don’t hate them (it’s not like they’re oranges or anything); I like them fine. I just don’t swoon for them in the way that so many others do, particularly at this time of year.

But I have gained a newfound respect for them after a recent visit to a strawberry farm down in Watsonville. The good folks over at Foodista let me write it up for them, so go check it out. 

Ever since that visit, I’ve had berries on the brain. I can’t ignore them as I walk through the markets. For someone who doesn’t love them, I sure seem to have some kind of crush on them. If I were a schoolgirl, I’d be writing “Strawberries” over and over again in my Trapper Keeper. (Do kids still have Trapper Keepers? Am I dating myself? Though you have to admit, iPads do sort of look like a Star Trek — TNG, not original — interpretation of Trapper Keepers.)

Consequently, we’ve had a lot of strawberries in the house of late. Mostly, they find their way into our morning yogurt, perhaps alongside some banana and certainly with homemade granola, staving off scurvy for yet another day. But there isn’t enough yogurt in the world to complement the bounty of strawberriness upon us. And so, as is my wont, I’ve been jamming.

But you know me, right? I’m just not content to let well enough be. There’s no shortage of people in the world, or even in this condo, who are happy to eat just plain strawberry jam, but I’m not one of them. No, I just have to screw with it, just a little.

I already planned to add a little black pepper, as I adore the combination of berries and pepper, but then a Twitter friend recommended balsamic, and that appealed to my sensibilities very much indeed. And so a plan was hatched.

With one batch, I kept it just plain for the first half, then added some balsamic and pepper for the latter half, so I could compare apples to apples … er, strawberries to strawberries. The regular strawberry jam was good: Bright, undeniably strawberry. But the adulterated batch was strawberry plus. Still strawberry, no mistaking, but with lingering and haunting notes that gave it a layer of sophistication.

Perhaps I can grow to love strawberries after all.

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Chocolate-covered Strawberries

Chocolate-covered strawberries

I’m going to break form here. Normally, in each post, I tell a little story, take you on a small journey or give you kernels of insight into our lives.

Not today, no. Today, it’s all about eating with your eyes.

Because, really, what’s there to say? What could I put in words that could trigger the salivary glands better than just looking at these ruby-red, perfectly dimpled berries coated in luxuriant chocolate ganache?

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Winter Salad

Winter salad

This is my favorite season for salad. I love the sturdy, bitter greens of winter, and am eager to consume as many persimmons and pomegranates before their time ends, all too soon.

This salad was inspired by Food Blogga’s riotously colored salad of dandelion greens, persimmons and medjool dates, but of course we couldn’t let well enough alone. We definitely wanted persimmon arils in there, for their tart-sweet bursts of zing. Fresh fuyu persimmon and toasted pecans added sweetness and crunch. We also wanted to offset the dandelion greens with another green that would temper the bitterness and add some lift; the dandelion greens are so flat, they are sometimes difficult to get on the fork. Some lovely chioggia chickory did just the trick, the flecks of red mirroring the red dandelion stems and bright pomegranate pips.

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But the biggest diversion was by replacing dates with hoshigaki. To the uninitiated, as I was just a year ago, hoshigaki are hachiya persimmons that have been peeled, then hung to dry. (In Japanese, hoshi=dried and kaki=persimmon; when words that begin with a “k” sound are merged with words that end with a vowel sound, the “k” converts to a hard “g.”) During the drying process, they are gently massaged. During this process, sugars bloom to the surface, resulting in a fine, powdery coating. This lengthy and meticulous process has earned them the nickname of the Kobe beef of persimmons.


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Coppa-wrapped persimmon

Coppa-wrapped persimmons
Prosciutto and melon is one of the greatest hits in Italian appetizers, and with good reason. In two simple ingredients you get a masterful array of sensual contrasts: Earthy and fruity, salty and sweet, tough and tender. We've gone on to wrap plenty of other fruits in prosciutto; figs are a winning choice, for example. But when we wrapped crisp fuyu persimmons in prosciutto, the combination was less than stellar. The meat overpowered the delicately cinnamony sweetness of the fruit. I just love the sweet coppa at Lucca, so I thought I'd give that a whirl. What an improvement! The coppa has a fine crust of spices around the edges that played very nicely with the persimmons.

In his zeal preparing the salad for the party, DPaul diced up all the persimmons I had set out, intending a few of them to be cut into wedges for the appie. He recovered it by intertwining the coppa with dice of persimmons on a skewer. It's not just a clever save; it worked out to be an improvement on presentation and eatability. Then again, I'll eat almost anything at the end of a pick.

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