The weather was so great last weekend that we decided to grill outdoors! So we fired up the grill using mesquite wood and put on a wonderful pork loin roast from our El Cerrito Meat Department. Just salt, pepper and a bit of olive oil and cooked until it had an internal temperature of 145F. The plantains we chose were blackened on the outside and we split them lengthwise (leaving the peels on). With a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper we placed them cut side down first. When we flipped them over and we brushed them with a mixture of honey (Bay Area Bee Company), ginger spread (The Ginger People) and fresh Meyer lemon juice. It turned out great! We chose to serve them up on tortillas with our favorite toppings. What is your favorite thing to grill right now?
Aji Panca Butternut Squash Risotto
- 1 butternut squash (2 to 3 pounds) peeled, seeded, cut into 1/4” dice
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
- 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt, divided, or to taste
- 6 to 7 cups Imagine No-Chicken Broth
- ½ cup mascarpone cheese
- 1 to 2 chopped, seeded, rehydrated Aji Panca chiles (take the seeds out while still dry and then soak in water overnight)
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 2 cup finely chopped yellow onion
- 1/2 cup water
- 2 cups Arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- Set a rack in upper third part of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the butternut squash on baking sheet, drizzle 3 tablespoons of olive oil, sprinkle with the 1 teaspoon of the salt and toss. Place in the oven and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until cooked and very soft. Scrape onto a bowl and set aside.
- Pour the no-chicken broth into a saucepan set over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low.
- While your both comes to a simmer, combine the mascarpone cheese with the maple syrup in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Before moving on, be ready with your roasted butternut squash and chicken broth that should be at a low simmer, if need be, raise heat to medium.
- Heat ¼ cup olive oil in an extended casserole or Dutch oven set over medium heat. Once hot, add the onion and ½ teaspoon of the salt, and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until softened and wilted. Pour in the water and continue to cook and stir until the water has completely evaporated, the onions have become even softer, and they begin to glisten with the oil.
- Incorporate the rice and stir well to combine with the vegetables and coat in the oil. Add the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, stir, and cook 3 to 4 minutes. The rice should start to smell toasty, but it shouldn’t brown.
- Pour in the wine, stir, and cook 2 to 3 minutes more until it completely evaporates, then immediately add a large ladleful of the simmering broth. Cook at a simmer until it is absorbed and you can see the bottom of the casserole when you stir.
- Add the next ladle of broth, along with about a fourth of the roasted butternut squash, simmer and cook until the liquid is absorbed again. Repeat 3 more times, adding another ladle of broth and a fourth of the squash each time, until all the squash has been added. Add the chopped Aji Panca.
- Continue adding broth by the ladleful until the risotto is cooked al dente. Add a cup more broth and stir before you turn it off; it should be quite soupy, yet the broth should be thick.
- You may have used only 6 cups of the broth or all 7 cups, depending on the heat of your stovetop and the weather where you live. What matters is the rice is still al dente and the consistency still seems a little bit soupy.
- Turn off the heat, add the chopped parsley and the seasoned mascarpone cheese. Stir well to mix. Sprinkle on the grated parmesan and serve.
Broccoli and Quinoa Salad (adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine)
Good make-ahead side dish or vegetarian entrée.
Serves 6 as a side or 2-3 as an entree.
1/2 cup Alter Eco dried white or red quinoa, rinsed (ON SALE)
2 small or one large head of broccoli, stalk end trimmed (about 1 pound)
6 pitted dates, chopped
3 scallions (green onions), thinly sliced
4 ounces (about 1 cup) Rumiano sharp cheddar cheese, cut into ¼-inch cubes (ON SALE)
1/3 cup diced roasted almonds
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons or more fresh lemon juice
Salt—for boiling the quinoa and to season the dish
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add 1/2 cup of quinoa and return to a rolling boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and cook at a lively simmer, uncovered, 12-15 minutes. Taste quinoa to make sure it’s tender. Once tender, drain quinoa in a fine mesh strainer, shaking off as much excess water as possible. Dump the drained quinoa back into the saucepan and cover saucepan, placing two layers of paper towels underneath the lid.
Shave off thin layers of the broccoli florets with a knife, rotating the stalk, until you reach the thicker stems. Trim stems off the stalk and peel the stalk with a vegetable peeler until you reach the tender, light green interior. Chop stalk into ¼-inch cubes and add to the bowl.
Add the dates, scallions, cheese, almonds, and quinoa. Add several generous pinches of salt and the red pepper flakes and toss to combine. Add olive oil and lemon juice and toss again. Cover salad with plastic wrap pressed directly onto the surface of the salad. Let sit at least 30 minutes before serving (or transfer to an airtight container and chill for up to 3 days). Toss again, taste, and re-season with additional salt, red pepper flakes, and/or lemon juice if needed before serving.
I love entertaining at home. Compared to dining out, it’s more personal, relaxed, and affordable.
As a former restaurant manager and sommelier, I have a few tips to help you pull it off effortlessly at a moment’s notice.
I find it helpful to stock up (12 or so bottles) and have diverse inventory on hand. At Annex Wine & Beer, we offer a 10% discount if you buy a case or more. Couple that with some bargain items like our Closerie des Lys Blanc for $8.99, and you get great savings. That makes racing through bottles a little easier to swallow!
Wine Shopping list:
- Copious amounts of rosé! Most are delicious with or without food. That makes it a great “cocktail wine” for impromptu visits from friends.
- A yummy white to please your friend who just wants something cold and easy to drink. We have lots to choose from in the $10 price range.
- An affordable red for those who only go for the darker juice. Again, we have a ton in the $10 to $15 range. And remember, you get 10% off if you buy a case. Mixing and matching wine is just fine!
- Reds to complement grilled items. The caramelization that happens on steaks and veggies alike calls for Pinot Noir. Try the Domaine Girard Pinot Noir from France ($12.99), Klee from Oregon ($17.99) or The Gardener Pinot Noir from right here in Sonoma ($25).
- Sparkling wine (Prosecco, Crémant, Champagne) to have on hand for a celebratory start to the gathering or mimosas in the late morning.
Our wine specialists at the Annex can help you curate a terrific summer drinking list with both familiar favorites and new varietals!
Food Prep and Shopping Suggestions:
These finger friendly bread based snacks are great for noshing at formal and informal gatherings.
Step 1: Slice 1 to 2 loaves of French bread (try an Acme baguette) into 1/4-inch-thick rounds.
Step 2: Brush each slice with olive oil (Burroughs Family Farms Bulk Olive Oil is on sale right now. And it’s delicious!) or melted butter (I love how affordable and tasty the Cadia butter is)
Step 3: Place the rounds on baking sheets and bake at 350 degrees until crisp throughout and lightly golden around the edges, about 15 minutes.
1. Spread with Coeur Chevre organic fresh goat cheese, orange marmalade (try one from Frog Hollow or Full Belly Farms, both are located right across from the cheese section) and fresh mint.
2. Spread with fig jam (Inna just delivered their black mission fig jam!), top with blue cheese (Farmstead Original Blue) and prosciutto (try La Quercia) or ham (I love True Story).
3. Spread with fig jam, top with goat cheese and chopped walnuts (grab a bunch from our bulk bins).
4. Spread with butter, top with thinly sliced bread-and-butter pickles (Woodstock or Cadia are both great choices).
5. Spread with hummus (grab our Annex made pre-packed Hummus), top with olive tapenade (try the Divina Kalamata olive spread).
These toppings are all items that are fairly easy to either keep in stock or grab quickly from one of our stores.
Here’s to happy, memory-making gatherings!
If you are anything like me and you love crunchy, crispy, salty snacks, I invite you to try this delicious (and simple) recipe using kohlrabi!
Kohlrabi is one of the most underrated and forgotten vegetables in our winter produce line up. It is a cultivar of cabbage and is part root, part leafy greens. The root part can be eaten raw (think slaw) or cooked. The greens can be used as you would kale, collards or other winter greens. With so much versatility, it’s a wonder this root doesn’t get more love. Perhaps the recipe below will help to change all that!
Savory Kohlrabi Crisps
- 3 bulbs of kohlrabi (select those with unblemished leaves and bulbs that are not cracked)
- 1/4 cup of olive oil
- Salt (to taste)
- Preheat the oven to 250 degrees
- Peel the kohlrabi, taking off a significant portion of the outer layer. You want to remove the layer that looks fibrous as this will not soften and will remain stringy and unpleasant to eat. The inner core is where you will find the sweet “meat” of the plant. Save greens for another use.
- Once peeled, cut the bulb into ½ inch round lices to resemble chips.
- Toss the sliced kohlrabi in a bowl with 1/4 cup olive oil and 1 tsp of salt.
- Once coated (and glistening), place one layer of the kohlrabi on a sheet tray lined with a non-stick sheet (like this Silpat sheet) or coat the bottom of your sheet tray with cooking oil. Tip: the Silpat is less likely to stick to the veggie chips.
- Mix the kohlrabi around and rotate the tray every 15 to 20 minutes in order to cook each piece evenly.
- The total cooking time will range between 30 minutes and one hour depending on your oven and the size of your kohlrabi slices.
- The end result should be golden, chip-like crisps.
- Once they are cooked, remove them from the oven, slide them off the hot tray and onto a plate with paper towel (or cloth) to soak up some of the oil and cool. Toss with salt (to taste) immediately so that it soaks in while the crisps are hot.
If you end up baking these at home, please feel free to share your results with us on Instagram @naturalgroceryco
In our house, we refer to broccoli florets as “little trees.” We’ve done this since our son was starting to eat solid foods. He LOVES broccoli and other green vegetables to this day (now he’s five)!
With winter in full gear, broccoli becomes one of our winter staples. It’s in the brassica family (along with other cabbage) and is hearty enough to withstand the chilly winter weather.
The word broccoli has Italian origins and stems (pun intended) from the word “broccolo” which means cabbage sprout or flowering crest of the cabbage. The word broccolo is rooted (another pun!) in the Latin broccus which means “projecting.”
Now that we have the etymology covered, here’s one of our favorite ways to prepare our “little trees”:
Steamed Broccoli with Pistachio-Orange Dipping Sauce
Prepare the Broccoli:
Cut 2 heads of broccoli into bite sized pieces. Steam or blanch until just tender. Set your timer for 5 minutes then test a piece with a fork, or knife point. When cooking the broccoli, remember to lightly salt the water, and that the broccoli will continue to cook with residual heat once you remove them from the steam or water, so you want them to be almost ready when you remove them to cool.
Prepare the Pistachio & Orange Sauce:
- 2 Valencia oranges
- 2 cups roasted, salted pistachios (shelled)
- 1 tbsp. Champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
- 1 small clove of garlic
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tbsp. water
- ¼ cup olive oil
- Juice the oranges.
- Combine all ingredients in the blender. Blend on high.
- Taste the mixture, adjust for thickness (consistency) and salt levels.
If it tastes flat, add a teaspoon more vinegar and a dash of salt. If it tastes too sharp (indicating too much garlic), add the juice of another 1/2 orange and another handful of pistachios.
The consistency of the dip should be like hummus. Add olive oil and water to adjust as needed.
This recipe will be a little different each time you make it because all these ingredients vary… oranges are different sizes and have different amounts of juice, garlic is more or less potent depending on its age and olive oils are different depending on varietal and harvest date. So, play with your ratios each time. Taste along the way. Try the sauce with the steamed broccoli to get the full flavor profile.
If you have a little one in your house, this is a great recipe to make together. At this point our son instructs us on salt level, acidity and overall balance. And he LOVES dipping his “little trees” into this sauce!
See you soon,
While shopping in our El Cerrito store bulk section, I was tempted to try the organic oat groats instead of the rolled oats. I was both inspired by the current sale price ($1.19/lb) and want the healthiest option for our five year old son. Our bulk buyer, David gave me another reason. He said, “why not eat things as close to the way mother-nature produced them as possible.” I can’t argue with that logic so I bought a bulk bag of groats.
Here’s what I did to process the groats:
Before bed, I put one cup of groats in a heavy bottom stainless steel pot along with three cups of water.
In the morning, I turned the burner on medium heat and started cooking in the same pot where I soaked the grains.
Every 10 to 15 minutes, I checked the pot and stirred. 30 minutes into cooking, the groats were sticking to the bottom of the pot so I added more water (1 cup). I also added ¼ cup of raisins, a pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon. 20 minutes later I added another 1/4 cup of water because the water was nearly absorbed. The groats cooked for a total of 1.5 hours. I added additional water (1/4 cup) another three times during the cooking process.
If you cook groats at home, add water as you see fit. It takes a lot to overcook groats but very little to burn them when there is not enough water in the pot. In other words, keep ’em hydrated.
The groat cooking process took longer and required more attention than the rolled oats. However, the nutritional benefits make the extra time worth it (when time allows!). For hurried mornings, consider cooking a larger batch. Soak the groats before heading off for your day, cook them in the evening and re-heat them with a little extra water and/or milk in the morning. Or, make enough for leftovers every time you prepare groats.
Why Eat Oat Groats? Here’s what one of our wholesalers (Hummingbird Wholesale) writes about this wonder grain:
Organic Oat Groats are whole oats with only the outer husk removed.
In general, oats have more protein and healthy fats, and less carbohydrates than most other whole grains. This grain is high in beta-glucans, which work to stimulate the immune system. They contain more soluble fiber than any other grain, and oats are also beneficial for their anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-itching qualities.
Sounds like a great food if you ask me! Here’s to your morning meal!
Yams or Sweet Potatoes?
We all love to make yams for Thanksgiving, but did you know that you are actually eating sweet potatoes? In the United States we refer to an orange fleshed sweet potato as a yam, but they are really two completely different species. The true yam does not grow in the northern hemisphere. They are only grown in the Caribbean, Africa and parts of Asia. The Yam can grown up to 150lbs and 4.5′ in length. Their flesh ranges in color from white to yellow to pink and they have a very thick, scaly, alligator like skin.
Their flesh is also very starchy and dry. Yams are more closely related to lilies and grasses than they are to sweet potatoes, which are in the morning glory family.
Sweet potatoes are native to tropical regions of South America. Peruvian sweet potato remnants dating as far back as 8000 BC have been found. You can eat them raw, baked, boiled, steamed, roasted, broiled, grilled, fried and just about any other way you can think of!
At The Natural Grocery Company, we have a variety of different sweet potatoes to
choose from year round. The orange flesh varieties are known as “moist fleshed” and the white
fleshed varieties are known as “dry fleshed.” Here are the types we carry at both our stores:
Garnet-An orange fleshed variety that is the most popular. This is the traditional “yam” we eat at
Thanksgiving. With a dark red skin and bright pumpkin colored flesh, this sweet potato is great
prepared almost any way. It is very sweet and has a nice creamy, velvety texture when cooked.
Jewel and Beauregard-Both types have an orange flesh. These varieties have tan skin and tend
to be a little sweeter than the Garnet. I like to use the Beauregard in my sweet potato pie recipe.
It is very moist when cooked and has a texture that is not as velvety as the Garnet. Great for
making sweet potato fries or chips!
Hannah– This variety has a light tan, almost white skin with white flesh. The white flesh is
crumbly and has the texture of a russet potato when cooked. This year, I will be making a
Hannah sweet potato pie with cardamom and vanilla.
Japanese– Also a white fleshed variety, this sweet potato has a very dark purple skin. Because of
its drier texture, I like to slice these, drizzle with olive oil, cinnamon and cayenne and bake at
350 degrees until they soften and turn a golden brown color. They are also nice in soups.
Purple Stokes/ Okinawa sweet potato- This super food variety is my favorite! With a bluish
purple skin and deep royal purple flesh, this sweet potato has a texture very similar to the Garnet
but has an extra sweet earthiness to the taste. Originally from the Americas, this variety was
introduced to Japan in the 14th century and has become a staple on the Island of Okinawa where
it is eaten almost every day. This is believed to be the reason why Okinawa has the largest
percentage of people living over the age of 100 (more than any other country). This variety has
150% more antioxidants than blueberries and is wonderful prepared almost any way. Try using
these in a pie (beautiful) or mashed instead of regular potatoes. Add some extra antioxidants to
your Thanksgiving table!
By Casey Goode, Produce Manger at ECNG
Pomegranate: The Apple With Many Seeds
The word pomegranate translates from Latin to ” the apple with many seeds’, but did you know that it is actually classified as a berry? There are over 760 different varieties of pomegranates worldwide and some of these trees can grow to be more than 200 years old! This super fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 months but at my house they don’t last more than a couple of days before we crack into them! There are a few different ways to eat a pomegranate, but my favorite way is to cut it in half along the equator, turn them flesh side down over a bowl of cold water and smack it with a wooden spoon until all of the arils’ fall out. The arils will sink to the bottom of the bowl while the pith, or white part, will float. The arils will keep in the refrigerator for about 4-5 days and can be eaten by themselves or sprinkled on top of a salad, over yogurt or mixed into a rice pilaf with chopped walnuts. If you don’t mind a mess, you can also juice them using a citrus juicer!
Pomegranate season is from September to February in the Northern Hemisphere. This has earned it the nickname “The Jewel of Winter. The pomegranate is native to Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Northern India, Bengal, and Southern Asia and is cultivated widely throughout the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa. The pomegranate was first introduced to California by Spanish settlers in 1769. Pomegranate concentrate is a popular ingredient used in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean recipes. The juice is concentrated to about 250% stronger to form a thick sauce (grenadine). When added in cooking, it gives unique flavor and intense sweet taste. Grenadine is used to make cocktails, sorbets, and in several mouth-watering Middle-Eastern dishes. The city of Granada, Spain is named after the Spanish word for pomegranate, “Granada.” In early English, the pomegranate was called the “apple of Grenada.”
Pomegranates are not only delicious, they have amazing health benefits as well! There are two unique substances in pomegranates that are responsible for most of their health benefits. The first is Punicalagins. Punicalagins are extremely powerful antioxidants found in the juice and peel of a pomegranate. They are so powerful that pomegranate juice has been found to have three times the antioxidant activity of red wine and green tea! Pomegranate extract and powder is typically made from the peel, due to its high antioxidant and punicalagin content (almost 3 times the amount found in the juice). The next is Punicic Acid. Punicic acid, also known as pomegranate seed oil, is the main fatty acid in the arils (seeds). Punicic acid also contains unique polyunsaturated oil, an omega 5 fatty acid, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties. The oil fends off free radicals to keep skin aging at bay. It also provides protection against sun damage. Pomegranate seed oil provides relief to people suffering from eczema, psoriasis and sunburn. The anti-inflammatory properties of the oil calm irritation and redness of the skin. It also heals wounds and restores skin health. The juice is also a good source of many vital B-complex groups of vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B-5), folates, pyridoxine and vitamin K, and minerals like calcium, copper, potassium, and manganese.
So far this season we have had 3 varieties for sale. Early Foothill, Sweet Israeli and Wonderful. Come in and grab some of these awesome miracle fruits and try them out in a new recipe! They are also great to use as a natural food coloring when baking up your favorite cakes or cookies!
By Casey Goode, Produce Manager at ECNG
Pancakes make me feel like it’s a special occasion…but perhaps that’s silly. When I make the batter ahead of time, it’s super easy to cook up some pancakes any day of the week for breakfast or an afternoon snack. To make it a healthier treat, I top it with plain yogurt, a drizzle of honey, nuts and fruit (fresh, dried or preserved).
Here’s my go-to recipe: