Romanesco Broccoli with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

by | Nov 29, 2008

Romanesco broccoli has been popping up at farmers markets and restaurants across the Bay Area. The first time I saw it at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market it was so beautiful I could not resist buying it. But because I was unfamiliar with how it is normally cooked I was unsure how to prepare it.

Luckily, the same week I stumbled upon Romanesco broccoli it happened to be my birthday. For the occasion I had the luxury of eating at several great restaurants with this unique vegetable on the menu and got to taste it prepared by a few different chefs.

As a scientist I would argue that all this fine dining qualifies as research. It was very scientific too, I assure you.

If you are familiar with the scientific method you know that the first step is making an observation. My initial impression about Romanesco broccoli is that despite its name and green hue, the flavor and texture of this cruciferous vegetable resemble cauliflower more than broccoli. I also learned that it is usually prepared simply and pairs extremely well with garlic.

At home I decided to cook it in a frying pan using a quick steam technique (I think I made this up). I made a batch of roasted fingerling potatoes with rosemary to serve with it.

I must admit, this meal was way more delicious than I expected it to be. It would also be a beautiful accompaniment to roasted chicken, fish or pork.

Pan Steamed Romanesco Broccoli with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

Romanesco Broccoli dish:

  • 1 medium leek
  • 2 small heads Romanesco broccoli
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1.5 tbsp water
  • 1.5 Meyer lemon juice & zest

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes:

  • 1/2 lbs fingerling potatoes
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh rosemary

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Halve and chop potatoes to desired size and add to roasting pan. Finely chop a generous portion of fresh rosemary, about 1 tbsp. Once chopped, drizzle potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary, sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Mix well.

Place potatoes in oven and roast until golden brown, stirring every 10 minutes for about half hour, or until crisp.

While potatoes are roasting, clean and chop Romanesco broccoli into bite-sized florets. Clean and coursely chop leek. Peel and mince your garlic clove.

Heat olive oil on medium heat until it swirls easily in the pan. Add leeks and stir. Allow to cook about 2 minutes, then add garlic. After the garlic becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds, add broccoli and stir. Add salt and pepper.

Cover the pan and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add water and return cover to pan. Allow broccoli to steam for a minute or two, then stir. Add lemon juice and zest and continue cooking until tender, about 3-4 more minutes. Serve immediately.

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Sunchokes: Did You Know?

by | Nov 25, 2008

Sunchokes, or Jerusalem artichokes, are one of the few tubers native to North America. Despite the name, these plants are not from Jerusalem nor are they artichokes. They are in fact a type of sunflower, though their flavor is similar to that of an artichoke. For this reason Italian cultivators called them girasole, the Italian translation of sunflower. When pronounced in Italian, girasole sounds similar to Jerusalem. Hence the name Jerusalem artichoke.

Their unique taste and texture make sunchokes a fantastic addition to many foods, however they are particularly useful as a potato substitute for diabetics. Unlike most tubers, sunchokes store their carbohydrates in the form of inulin instead of starch. Our digestive enzymes do not breakdown inulin, so it has a minimal impact on blood sugar and does not raise triglycerides.

The down side of inulin is that since it is not easily digested it can produce gas and bloating in sensitive people. Cooking sunchokes well can minimize this effect. It is also a good idea to eat a small amount the first time you try them and build up your tolerance.

Sunchokes are a good source of potassium, thiamin and phosphorus, and a fantastic source of iron and soluble fiber.

They make a delicious soup, but can also be roasted, sauteed or eaten raw.

What is your favorite way to eat and prepare sunchokes?

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Silky Parsnip and Sunchoke Soup

by | Nov 24, 2008

I am really proud of myself for this one, guys. You could probably guess I was a little nervous about what to do with my parsnips and sunchokes. I find both these vegetables a little alien and I have only recently started experimenting with them.

Following my gut and combining them in a soup with leeks turned out to be a stroke of genius.

The soup I made is really simple. But do not be deceived, the subtle complexity of the flavor it packs is absolutely divine and the creamy texture of the sunchokes makes it luxuriously silky.

The finishing touch is the juice and zest of a Meyer lemon, an addition that brightens and balances the creaminess of this soup. In a pinch you could use a regular lemon, but I really recommend making an effort to find the real thing.

Because this soup is so easy it is perfect for a weekday lunch or dinner. But the rich, earthy flavors would make an excellent first course for your Thanksgiving meal as well.

Silky Parsnip and Sunchoke Soup

Ingredients:

  • 3 large parsnips
  • 5 medium sunchokes
  • 1 large leek
  • 3-1/2 cups cold water
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube
  • 1/2 Meyer lemon
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Scrub and peel the parsnips and chop them into small slices (in half in necessary), about 1/3 inch thick. Scrub the sunchokes as well, but do not bother to peel them. Instead use a pairing knife to remove any rough patches. Cut the sunchokes into 1/4 inch slices.

Clean the leek very carefully and chop it into thick sections, as described previously. In a large soup pot heat olive oil and add leeks. Saute the leeks for about 2 minutes, then add the parsnips and sunchokes. Lightly salt and pepper. Continue to saute, stirring frequently for about 10 minutes, or until the vegetables become soft and partially translucent.

Add 2 cups of water and the bouillon cube to the vegetables and bring to a simmer. Allow to simmer about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the vegetables are completely tender, turn off heat and add the remaining water. Use a hand blender* to finely puree the vegetables.

Before I got to this step I was certain that I was going to end up straining this soup. Most good pureed soups need straining to thin them out. While you are welcome to do this, I found it was not necessary if I pureed the vegetables long enough, probably because of the texture of the sunchokes. This does take some patience, however. Puree the mix for at least 5 minutes.

Once you have finished blending the soup you can heat it up again if necessary. Otherwise, squeeze the lemon half into the soup and add the zest (leaving some aside for garnish). Adjust salt.

Ladle soup into bowls, garnish with zest and freshly ground pepper and serve. You can drizzle more lemon juice on top as well, it is delicious.

*Note: I am of the opinion that whoever invented the hand blender deserves a Nobel prize. These things make pureeing soup a snap, and are easy to store and clean. This is the one I use (I have also added this item to my sidebar if you want to purchase it from Amazon). If you do not have one and want to make this soup immediately, a regular blender will suffice. However, be very careful when blending hot liquid and do not fill the blender more than halfway at a time unless you want to be doused with scalding hot soup. Hold the lid down firmly with a kitchen towel for your protection.

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Simple Gourmet: How To Peel Garlic

by | Nov 23, 2008

It came as a bit of a shock for me to learn that some people hate peeling garlic so much they have completely given up using it.

Sure the flavor is strong, but almost all cooks consider garlic indispensable. If peeling it is your problem, don’t fret! This one little trick makes garlic a cinch to peel.

First, remove single cloves from a very fresh garlic bulb (garlic is cheap, you should buy it every week). I rarely use more than one or two when cooking for two people.

Next, place the garlic clove on a cutting board oriented so that its curve is pointed upward, or at least sideways. There may be space beneath the clove, which is good. Grab a wide blade knife, such as a chef’s knife or santoku knife. Rest the flat end of the blade on the top of the garlic (as shown) and hit the top with the palm of your hand once or twice, quickly and firmly.

The impact will slightly crush the garlic clove while the outer skin retains its shape and becomes dislodged. Examine the clove and remove as much of the skin as you can (usually all of it). If some skin remains stuck to the clove hit it a few more times, using a bit more force. It does not matter if you damage the garlic.

Use the knife to cut off the hard end that attached the clove to the bulb. This may help to remove any remaining skin as well. If you still have some skin stuck to the clove, it should be easy to pick off at this point. If not, smash it a couple more times.

Recipes often called for minced garlic, so after I peel my clove I often crush it completely then make thin slices along the length, then width. Scrape off any pieces of garlic sticking to the side of the knife then quickly mince the remaining chunks. This entire process takes less than 1 minute.

It is a great idea to prepare your garlic at least 10-15 minutes before you plan to cook with it, something that makes it substantially healthier.

I can’t imagine this being any easier, but I am always happy to hear your suggestions and comments!

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Farmers Market Update: Late Harvest

by | Nov 22, 2008

jumbo carrots

Another lovely day at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. It is the weekend before Thanksgiving, and busy shoppers were scurrying about to pick up essential ingredients for the upcoming feast.

My time at the market was bittersweet today because although I am delighted to be taking most of next week off to visit family, I had to limit my shopping to the things I can eat in the next few days.

So as not to disappoint, what I did not buy I was sure to photograph.

Root and cruciferous vegetables are still the dominant forces at the stands, as well as pears and persimmon fruit. But this would not be one of the best markets in the country if our selection stopped there.

I wish all of you could have been with me today to see the GIGANTIC porcini mushrooms. They were incredible, like something out of Alice in Wonderland. What would someone even do with a 6 lb mushroom?

Another welcome highlight today was the nut selection. Fresh walnuts, almonds and chestnuts were available and I cannot wait to buy some when I get back.

Winter greens like bok choy, collards and kale are abundant and looking delicious. You can also still find green tomatoes and grapes if you want to try out Mark Bittman’s green tomato pizza recipe before they disappear.

Leeks have substantially increased in diameter in the past month, but now we are also seeing more traditional onions like shallots. These are small, almost purple onions that have a mild flavor. I love them because they are delicate enough to use in almost any dish and are perfect for single servings. Large, strong flavored yellow onions that are found at most grocery stores are less useful to me unless I am making something that cooks for a long time (like soup).

After last week’s controversy about parsnips, I decided to give them another try this weekend. I also bought some more sunchokes (a recipe will come eventually, I promise). I am thinking about making a parsnip-sunchoke soup. But I may wimp out on this idea if I start worrying too much about the flavor profile of those crazy parsnips. We’ll see. I would like to know what you guys think.

I made one rare find today that is worth mentioning: kaffir lime leaves. For those of you who are not familiar with them, these fragrant leaves give off a distinct lime-like smell and flavor that is the essence of Thai soup. At first glance they appear like a regular leaf, however they grow in a unique “double” leaved pattern. I have found these gems at a few Asian markets around the city, but this is the first time I have seen them at the farmers market. If you end up buying them, be sure to store them in the freezer to extend their lifespan.

In this picture there are a few kaffir limes (fruit) hidden in there too!

Last but not least–and this is huge–for those of you who do not know yet Scharffen Berger chocolate has finally come out with “baking chunks.” That’s baking code for chocolate chips! They are available in both bittersweet (70% cacao) and semi-sweet (62% cacao) varieties. Hooray!

If you are into baking you know that there is a tremendous shortage of quality chocolate chips on the market. (I’m a snob who thinks Ghirardelli should fall off the planet. Don’t get me started on Nestle and Hershey.) Until now, if you wanted to use high-quality chocolate chunks in your baking you would have to buy a bar of Scharffen Berger or Valrhona and cut them up yourself, a painful and messy process. Scharffen Berger chocolate chips are something I have been dreaming about for a long, long time.

Today’s purchases:

  • Parsnips
  • Sunchokes
  • Meyer lemons
  • Brussels sprouts
  • Leeks
  • Padrones
  • Fuyu persimmons
  • Fuji apples
  • Garlic
  • Oregano
  • Olallieberry jam
  • Scharffen Berger chocolate chunks (both kinds)

I hope at least some of you made it to the market today for your Thanksgiving goodies. I will not be in San Francisco for the market next week, but I do plan to visit one of the big markets down in southern California.

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Lunch Vol. 3: Roasted Root Vegetables

by | Nov 21, 2008

You may remember that last week I switched my work lunch ritual from salads to roasted vegetables. They take a while to cook, but I prepare them in large batches on Sunday night and eat them for the entire week.

After my first experiment, I had a few complaints. First, the cauliflower took too long to finish cooking, so I wished I had steamed it first. Second, ultimately there was not enough food to get me through the week so Wednesday night I made a quinoa dish to supplement my calories. That was a fantastic move!

This week I wanted to make a lot more vegetables, and I wanted them all to cook for roughly the same amount of time. To this end, I bought a zillion different kinds of root vegetables and threw them in the roasting pan.

The root vegetables I used: parsnips, carrots, fingerling potatoes, candy striped beets, and red and white Tokyo turnips. I seasoned them with sea salt, pepper and rosemary.

One thing that instantly struck me is that it was not nearly as much food as I thought it was. All those leafy green tops can be deceiving (though the beet greens were delicious!). After everything was cleaned and chopped, it was only one large roasting pan filled with vegetables.

The worst part is that after roasting, it all fit into one medium-sized tupper.

To be fair, I realized when I got home that people do not really cook radishes, so those were not included. Instead I thinly sliced my beautiful black and watermelon radishes and tossed them with rice vinegar. I let them marinate in the fridge for at least half an hour and ate a few that first night, but I ended up taking them to work and using them as a supplement to my roasted vegetables.

The good news is that I did not run out of food as expected. Also, the root vegetables were surprisingly filling and did not upset my stomach.

But I do not think I will make this exact dish again. For one thing, I was not particularly pleased with the way the turnips turned out. I used Tokyo turnips, both red and white. They were delicious raw, but after roasting they gave off a funny smell and also became a bit soggy.

The best thing in the dish, by far, was the beets. Something about roasted beets just wins my heart every time. I was also impressed with the way the parsnips and carrots turned out. I am still having trouble telling the difference between these two vegetables, however. Maybe the parsnips cooked a little better, but in my opinion they taste almost exactly the same. Thoughts?

Also, while the potatoes were good I think I prefer them roasted on their own. Roasted fingerlings with rosemary is one of my very favorite winter dishes, but they lost their luster when combined with all the other veggies. They were a little chewy, so I wonder if the juices that seeped out of the other vegetables caused them to lose their crispness.

I do still have half a bag of potatoes left, so I will be able to enjoy them roasted correctly this weekend. Yay!

In the future (next week I will be out of town for Thanksgiving) I think I will roast more beets (probably combining different kinds), and bring back the Brussels sprouts. I may continue to buy parsnips/carrots too.

I am also still taking suggestions on favorite winter vegetables for roasting. Thank you for all your suggestions so far!

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Thanksgiving and the Beginning of Fat Season

by | Nov 19, 2008
Photo by VirtualErn

Photo by VirtualErn

Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for all we have. And as Americans, we love to use this as an excuse to gorge ourselves stupid.

I mean, what self-respecting holiday doesn’t involve a feast?

We are thankful for that turkey! And for the ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, stuffing, biscuits, pumpkin pie, apple pie, pecan pie, and anything else that happens to be within eye sight.

Okay, maybe some of us are not thankful for the obligatory vegetable casserole, but we know Grandma will be mad if we don’t take at least a little scoop, so we find a small corner of the plate and plop some on. We are grateful for Grandma too, after all.

Yet deep down we all know this is not an isolated meal, but rather the beginning of a feast that lasts from the third Thursday in November until January 1. Holiday parties and family gatherings will start popping up week after week, and all the while the short days and cool weather thwart our best intentions to go for a jog.

Once Thanksgiving comes it will be six long weeks before we again remember to dust off our gym memberships and emerge from our cookie-induced daze as the reality of our new pants size starts to sink in. Yikes.

Health-wise, the holidays are difficult for us all. But don’t worry, I am not going to ask you to forego Thanksgiving dinner. Instead I have a few pieces of advice to keep this Season of Fat in perspective.

Thanksgiving Healthy Eating Tips

  1. Try not to graze. Thanksgiving dinner itself is really not so bad. As much as I sometimes wish it were, this holiday is not Carnitas Day. Usually the most significant sources of calories during the holiday season is the casual eating we do outside of mealtime. When you aren’t in a sit down meal mentality, it’s easy to lose track of how much you are really eating. Avoid the midday chip bowls, artichoke dips and cookie platters, and you are on your way to minimizing the health risks of Thanksgiving.
  2. Beware of the most dangerous foods: breads, sweets, dips, creams, chips, potatoes and cheese. These are the foods that pack in the calories with little nutritional value and minimal satisfaction. It is frighteningly easy to suck down 500 extra calories of chips and onion dip. In fact, you have probably done it. You do not even want to know how many calories are in pumpkin cheese cake (hint: possibly more than in your entire dinner). It is okay to eat these foods, just do not eat them blindly.
  3. Watch your portions. When it comes to snacks, it is easier to be aware of your portions if you take the amount you want to eat and put it on a separate plate. Better yet, just eat structured meals. Trust me, it is way easier to eat less when you are seated and focused on your meal. If not-so-healthy foods are part of your actual meal, help yourself to a normal-sized portion, enjoy it and do not go back for seconds. Eat these foods slowly, savor every bite, and you will not feel deprived.
  4. Eat a balanced meal. Make an effort to have at least half your plate filled with vegetables. No, mashed potatoes do not count (sorry). Even if the vegetables have some sort of cheesy sauce on them, at least they have fiber and nutrients and are low energy density. It is harder to stuff yourself with pie when your belly is full of veggies. The rest of your plate can be turkey, stuffing, potatoes and all the other stuff traditions are made of. Piling your turkey on top of your stuffing is cheating, by the way.
  5. Stay hydrated. Overeating (which you should avoid, but may not succeed at avoiding) can cause dehydration, and thirst is often mistaken for hunger. Drink water throughout your festivities.
  6. Enjoy yourself. The best part about the holiday season is being able to spend it with the people you care about. Your friends and family should be the focus of your holiday, not the food on your plate. Spend the day and meal talking with loved ones and savoring your food rather than silently wolfing it down. If you eat slowly, you are much more likely to eat proper portions and enjoy the food you do eat.

Happy holidays and be healthy!

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    Quinoa: Did You Know?

    by | Nov 17, 2008

    Quinoa is a seed plant common to the Andes of South America. Because it is not a grass, quinoa is not technically a cereal grain. For nutritional purposes, however, quinoa is considered a “whole grain” and is a fantastic alternative to rice.

    Quinoa is rich in dietary fiber, phosphorous, magnesium and iron. But what makes quinoa stand out nutritionally is its protein content. Unlike most grains, quinoa contains a high percentage of the amino acid lysine, making it a complete protein.

    A complete protein is a food that contains all essential amino acids, the building blocks of protein.

    If you are vegetarian, acquiring all the necessary amino acids from your diet is more difficult than if you eat meat occasionally, because plant proteins are usually deficient in one amino acid or another. For grains, the missing molecule is usually lysine. Quinoa’s high lysine content makes it a nutritional powerhouse for a grain, whether you are vegetarian or not.

    Quinoa can be found at many grocery stores (e.g. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) and frequently comes in a box. At some stores (e.g. Whole Foods) it can also be found in bulk.

    Quinoa is much faster to prepare than other whole grains. As the New York Times recommends, I like to prepare it the same way I make rice. But it needs to be monitored more carefully, since it cooks much quicker. 10 minutes boiling should be sufficient.

    I have not been able to find the red quinoa shown in the article. Let me know if you find it!

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    Turkish Quinoa Pilaf With Chickpeas, Kale and Pomegranate

    by | Nov 16, 2008

    A couple weeks ago the New York Times health section featured several recipes using quinoa (keen-wah), a small, round ancient seed from Peru that can be used much like a cereal grain.

    Because I had all the ingredients on hand, I decided to make this recipe for Quinoa Pilaf With Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Spices. I must admit, while it sounded good I did not expect to like it as much as I did.
    I did not have an onion, but I had leeks so I used them instead. This made the recipe faster since leeks only require 1-2 minutes of cooking before additional ingredients are added.
    Also, I do not have a spice grinder so I added slightly smaller amounts of already ground spices instead of toasting and grinding them myself. I just eye-balled the amounts using a teaspoon measure.
    The recipe says that canned chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans) are fine, but I prefer to make my own. In my opinion, homemade beans are much better than canned. However, I have the luxury of having a pressure cooker in the house, which reduces cooking time for beans to about 25 minutes (including depressurization). Otherwise beans require at least an hour to cook. They also require several hours of soaking. Since beans are one of my most reliable and affordable protein sources, this process is worth it for me. If you would rather just crack open a can, that is your call.
    Finally, I wanted a little more green in my meal so I steamed half a bunch of dinosaur kale. To prepare, I cut it up into bite sized pieces and steamed it for 8-10 minutes. I salted it then added it to the quinoa after I added the chickpeas. I strongly recommend adding kale if you plan to use this recipe as a main course. It was delicious!
    Adaptation of New York Times Quinoa with Chickpeas, Pomegranate and Spices (with kale):
    • 1 teaspoon(ish) cumin
    • 3/4 teaspoon(ish) coriander
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 medium leek, chopped
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 2 garlic cloves, minced
    • 4 cups cooked quinoa, (1 c. dry)
    • 1 cup cooked chick peas (canned are fine), rinsed
    • 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds

    Rinse and chop kale and place in steam basket over shallow water. Cover and steam 8-10 minutes. This step is particularly important for dinosaur kale, which can be very tough. If you are using traditional kale, reduce cooking time accordingly. Cook until tender then sprinkle with sea salt.

    Adjust a frying pan to medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the leek and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and salt, stir together for about half a minute, and stir in the cumin and coriander. Add the remaining olive oil and stir in the quinoa, chick peas, kale and 3 tablespoons of the pomegranate seeds. Stir over medium heat to heat through, several minutes. Taste and adjust salt.
    Transfer to a platter or wide bowl and decorate with the remaining pomegranate seeds. You can also mold the pilaf into 1/2-cup ramekins or timbales and unmold onto the plate, then decorate with pomegranate seeds.
    Leftover pilaf can be stored in the refrigerator for several days. Picture above was after 3 days, and it was still beautiful. Only the pomegranate seeds started losing color after awhile, but they were still tasty. Reheat 1-2 minutes in the microwave.
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    Farmers Market Update

    by | Nov 15, 2008

    romanesco broccoli

    I must start by saying it is 80 degrees here in San Francisco and absolutely beautiful outside. In November! The farmers market at the Ferry Building was spectacular today, and for me few things are as inspirational as nice weather.

    So I will just come out and say it: I went nuts.

    Last week a Thought for Food reader asked how much I normally spend at the market, and some people were surprised to hear my weekly costs hover around $30. This week I admit I went over $40. But I had very good reasons, I assure you.

    For one thing, as another reader pointed out my roasted vegetables were not really enough (alone) to sustain me for lunch the entire week. I noticed this after about two days, and ended up making a supplementary quinoa dish (recipe on the way) to fill the gap. With those two things I was good to go, but the moral of the story is that I want to make a bigger batch of roasted vegetables this week.

    Another thing is that I have become very excited about the prospect of roasted root vegetables. I never know what to do with those funny looking round things, but they are affordable and I imagine that their sweet, earthy flavors will really shine in a roasting pan. But I do not yet know which kinds I like best, so I figured I should just try them all.

    Consequently, the theme for today was buying things I do not know how to use.

    Ever heard of quince? I hear you cannot eat quince raw, but since they were available I bought one to play around with. Quince is a yellow fruit that is related to pears and apples. The smell is fantastic, and I am excited to see what I can do.

    I also bought both black and watermelon radishes for the first time. They looked so neat in this Whole Foods Blog post that I knew I had to get them if I ever saw them. It is amazing to me that although I go to the market nearly every week, there are still things I manage to overlook until someone points them out to me.

    Another special appearance today was baby Romanesco cauliflower. My bag was already really full, but how could I ignore these beautiful things? (see pic)

    I also really wanted to buy one of the winter squash I read about in the San Francisco Chronicle, but I already had too much stuff to carry home. Next time!

    Today’s purchases:
    • Romanesco cauliflower
    • Red and white Tokyo turnips
    • Black radish
    • Watermelon radishes
    • Candy-striped beets
    • Parsnips
    • Multi-colored carrots
    • Fingerling potatoes
    • Brussels sprouts
    • Dinosaur kale
    • Pomegranates
    • Fuyu persimmons
    • Warren pears
    • Fuji apple
    • Quince
    I am really going out on a limb this week, so any serving suggestions are appreciated!
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