Improving School Lunch; Empanadas; Tangerines; Glorious Fish; Cowgirl Creamery; Plantains

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Laura Avery follows the scent of tuberose to the market stall of Linda Gallardo of Skyline Ranch, one of the biggest and most established flower growers in the market. For 25 years Skyline has been bringing unusual varieties of flowers to our tables. Now French tulips are making an appearance. These high maintenance gals favor growers with only one flower per bulb before they're completely spent and discarded. Changing the water frequently will help keep these beauties in your house for up to ten days. Linda suggests that dropping a few pennies in the water to make them last longer and keep them erect. (The website calls that an old wives' tale, explaining that that the tulips may show a brief energy surge, but will then droop and have a shortened life span. Sounds like a good experiment for your kids science project.) Soon to make an appearance at the market...lilacs and cherry blossoms!

Laura also chats with local food writer and chef Amelia Saltsman about tangelos, which are a cross between tangerines (mandarins) and grapefruits. Tangelos are easy to identify by their little button tops which make peeling quick work. After an exhaustive study, Amelia discovered how to preserve both the perfume and fragile acidity of the juice of the tangelo. Her Tantalizing Tangelo Bars are delicious and sparkle with a glitter of tangelo zest atop the golden curd.

Tempting Tangelo Squares
For the crust:

  • 1/2 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1/2 pound) cold unsalted butter, cut into half-inch pieces
For the filling:
  • 4 eggs
  • 1- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • zest of two tangelos
  • 1/2 cup tangelo juice
  • 1/4 cup Meyer lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
  • 4 tablespoons flour
Preheat oven to 350--. In a mixing bowl, stir together the powdered sugar, two cups flour and salt. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal. Pat the mixture into the bottom and up sides of a 9 x 13 pan. Bake in center of oven until just lightly golden, 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile whisk together the eggs, granulated sugar, zest, tangelo and Meyer lemon juices, Grand Marnier and 4 tablespoons flour until very well blended, about one minute. Pour the filling over the crust and return the pan to the oven until the filling is set, 15-20 minutes. Cool completely before cutting. Makes 24 2-inch by 2 and one half-inch squares.

COOK'S TIP: Use a microplane zester which produces finely chopped zest (the brightly colored part of the citrus skin) in one motion.
-- 2006, Amelia Saltsman.

Chef/author Ann Cooper has spent the last few years developing a pilot program on Long Island, New York, for transforming school cafeterias into culinary classrooms for students, one school lunch at a time. Her approach is to teach students why good food choices matter by providing fresh organic lunches at a nominally increased cost and creating an integrated lunch curriculum centered on regional, seasonal, organic, and sustainable meals. Ann is concerned about the latest reports from the CDC that forecast 30 - 40% of children born in the year 2000 will have diabetes, and that this might be the first generation of children to not live as long as their parents. She says that we have the power to change this future, by changing what we feed our children.

Gustavo Arellano, food editor of the OC Weekly, shares a fabulous find in Lake Forest in south eastern Orange County. Empanada Man offers Argentine-style empanadas and Argentine wines. The empanadas, like a turnover with a savory filling, come in several flavors, including smoked corn cream, ricotta cheese, and ham and cheese with pineapple. They also have fabulous alfajores, a sort of cookie sandwich, filled with dulce de leche and rolled in shredded coconut.

The acclaimed chef of Water Grill, Michael Cimarusti, has a new restaurant, Providence, where you can experience his passion for fish, prepared with artful presentations that highlight the intrinsic beauty of the natural ingredients. The restaurant also offers a spectacular tasting menu. Michael stops by to demystify the underwater creatures who are still a mystery to many of us.

Ever wondered if all those little orange citrus fruits--clementines, mandarins, tangerines--are just different names for the same tangy fruit? Russ Parsons, food columnist for the Los Angeles Times, comes to the rescue as he explains the difference. And speaking of Russ Parsons, you might check out his wonderful article this past Wednesday, a cowboy spread in honor of Oscar weekend.

Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery began making beautiful artisan cheeses with partner Sue Conley eight years ago, using milk from another Good Food favorite, Straus Family Creamery. Now they have several varieties of cheese. Cowgirl's fabulous "cheese library," a delicious read, also gives wine pairing suggestions.

Mark Bittman, author of How to Cook Everything and The Best Recipes in the World shared his knowledge about cooking with plantains, which are like bananas, but are always cooked.

Sauteed Ripe Plantains (Maduros)
Time: 20 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
Two cautions about making these plantains, the traditional and ideal accompaniment to Chicken with Rice (Arroz con Pollo). One, don't use plantains unless they are black, far riper than any banana you'd consider eating. And two, keep the heat moderate to low or the high sugar content of the plantains will burn.

  • 2 ripe plantains, almost completely black, peeled
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons neutral oil such as canola or butter, or a combination
  • Salt to taste
  • Lime wedges
  1. Cut the plantain pieces in half, lengthwise. Place the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the plantains and turn the heat to medium-low.
  2. Cook, turning frequently and adjusting the heat so as not to burn the plantains (the riper they are, the more sugar they contain, and the more likely to burn). They are done when golden brown and tender 10 minutes or less.
  3. Sprinkle with salt and serve with lime wedges.

Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 green-to-yellow plantains
  • Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, as needed
  • Salt
  • Lime wedges
  1. Peel the plantains: cut the end off of each, then cut each one crosswise into thirds. On each third, make three vertical slits through the skin, down to the flesh. The skin will now (mostly) come off with your fingers; if any remains, trim it off with a paring knife.
  2. Cut the plantains into 1/2-inch rounds. Film the bottom of a skillet with oil and turn the heat to medium; a minute later, add the rounds (you'll probably be able to do this in one batch) and sprinkle with salt. Brown lightly, then turn and brown the other side; as they brown, remove to a plate. You can do this procedure an hour or two in advance of eating.
  3. When the plantain rounds have cooled a bit, put each between two pieces of waxed paper and pound with the side of your fist or the palm of your hand until they spread out and just about double in diameter; they will look squashed, which is right.
  4. Again, film the bottom of the skillet with oil and again, brown the rounds on each side (this time you'll probably have to cook in batches). Serve hot or warm, sprinkled with salt and lime juice.

Baked Plantains
Time: about 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

  • 2 large, very ripe (black) plantains
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Pinch allspice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • Vanilla ice cream, optional
Preheat the oven to 400DF. Don't peel the plantains, but cut off their ends, then split them in half the long way. Make a few gashes in their flesh. Mix together the sugar, allspice, and cinnamon and push into those gashes. Dot with butter, pushing some of the butter into the slits as well.
  • Put the plantains in a baking dish that will hold them comfortably. Bake until the tops are bubbly, about 20 minutes; you can run under the broiler if you'd like, to brown them a bit. Let cool a little before serving.
  • Mofongo
    Time: about an hour
    Yield: 4 servings

    • 4 green plantains, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 pinch saffron, optional
    • 4 cups well-flavored chicken stock
    • Oil for deep frying
    • 4 thick slices bacon, or use salt-pork, prosciutto, or cracklings
    • 1 Tablespoon chopped garlic
    • Chopped fresh cilantro leaves for garnish
    1. Mix a handful of salt into a bowlful of cold water and soak the plantain chunks in it while you prepare the remaining ingredients. Combine the saffron and the stock and heat; keep warm. Bring at least an inch of oil to about 350DF.
    2. Cook the bacon until crisp; remove and drain. Remove the plantain pieces from the water and drain, then deep fry the pieces (careful; they may spatter) until golden brown and tender. When they're done, while still hot, add them to the container of a food processor with the bacon, garlic, and some salt and pepper; you may have to work in batches. Process until the consistency of mashed - not whipped - potatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning, then quickly shape into rough balls.
    3. Place in soup bowls, douse with the broth, garnish with cilantro, and serve immediately.