niblet ideas for new year’s eve

As we did the rest of the holidays in this dread year 2011, we’ll be celebrating its good riddance quietly, with a few friends.  If you are in need of inspiration, however, consider the links that make up my fantasy NYE party:

  • Blini made with local buckwheat flour, with a simple topping of caviar and crème fraîche.
  • Deep-fried braised octopus exactly like the one at Izakaya Meiji, dusted with salt and Sichuan pepper.
  • Tiny kale, pecorino, and anchovy crostini (extra garlic, please).
  • Pickled salmon, using a fattier Pacific (vs. Atlantic) salmon like king, and served with the onions in a big jar.
  • Ruby red shredded raw beet and carrot salad (I’d add an apple).
  • Warm, simple lentil salad served with either ham or salmon and red sauerkraut.
  • Cracked crab done with Ryan’s method of very hot roasting after pouring a vinaigrette over the meat (I’d use champagne vinaigrette with just a tiny bit of shallots).
  • Mont-blanc chestnut squiggles with mounds of whipped cream (or perhaps more elegantly served, comme ça).
  • Supremed oranges macerated in Grand Marnier, or even better, Lapsang Souchong-smoky orange Qi liqueur.
  • Gougères or Stilton walnut crackers with glasses of port.

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: preserving traditions

Part V of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part IV on paparazzi in the night market here, Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

As a certified Master Food Preserver, I was quite interested in master food preserving in Taiwan.  I already posted about our trip to the Agrioz Candied Fruit Factory.  But all manner of foods were preserved.  I was most surprised to see the varied traditional uses of preserved meat, including indigenous salted pork products.  Sausages are often made with unusual ingredients like fermented black bean soy sauce, tuna, glutinous rice, and rice wine.

At traditional and wonderful Nanmen Market, the Jinhua ham, smoked over sugarcane, hung at several market stalls behind sausages hanging overhead.  Below ground, there was an entire area for pickled vegetables, about the size and shape of a cheese cooler-counter in a good deli.

It almost pains me now to look at the gorgeous, fresh whole heads of cabbage and greens pickled in various stages of funk. It would take me a year to eat through the varieties at this single stall alone.

We mustn’t forget (to kill that gnawing appetite of mine) the tubs of duck and pork blood cubes the size of tofu loaves next to the pickled vegetables.  I won’t post the picture, as a courtesy to my more delicate readers.

But even odder preserved meats were offered at newer places, including canned roast beef in a supermarket and finely shredded “floss” beef jerky-coated bread loaves at a fancy bakery in Taipei 101.

To each his own tastes, no?

We visited, as I’ve explained before, a splendid teppanyaki restaurant Shen Yen Teppanyaki restaurant in the township of Loudong in Yi-lan Province.  You can see that the restaurant looks rather humble from afar, crouching under the green roof on a river that floods the rice paddies and plains around it.

But as we approached the front door, we were greeted by the jars of fermenting apples in juice, which apparently are turning into vinegar.  I captured a few more shots of the fermentation process for apples and, I believe, dates.  Perhaps these liquids were used to make the drinking vinegar we sipped at the start of the meal, or even the wonderful homemade liqueur at the end.


Also just outside the restaurant, crocks of thick, rich soy sauce made with little fish burbled away.  The chef allowed us to try several kinds of his own soy, without question the best soy sauce I’ve ever tasted.  I tried to find premium soy sauce to take home, without success.  Next time.

In Loudong, we also visited a farmers’ cooperative.  The city slickers in our group were less patient with the tour, but I love these kinds of places, as they provide small producers a way to provide their goods en masse and house the beating heart of an agrarian community.  Could have done without the requisite introductory DVD presentation, but I still regret not buying the green onion paste, a specialty of the region, offered at the cooperative.

Oddly, we didn’t taste green onions or almost any fresh produce, with the exception of a pomelo that I spied in the office area stacked along with the wall with dozens of its brothers. Instead, we made our own tofu and drank a range of bottled soy milk products.

We also visited a small production facility that was making 1,000-year or lime eggs, a preserved duck egg that ferments in its shell in a tub of solution for over a month.  When it emerges, two studious workers tap each shell for quality control and the eggs are sorted by size (below).

What emerges when open is a multi-hued, beautiful, and strange creature, a jellied egg in a range of greens and reds.  The interior holds a slightly sticky black yolk.  The crystalline formation on one end of the egg indicates it is of the best quality.  The 1,000-year eggs are eaten with the morning congee rice porridge.

Other delicious preserved products included the fresh passionfruit jam we ate at breakfast each morning and the variety of Japanese and Chinese breakfast pickles that attended rice and congee.

Ah, yes, and we drank fermented beverages.  The Taiwanese aren’t big alcohol drinkers, but they’ve managed to make quite decent beer and whisky.  Aged in Kentucky oak barrels but named after an indigenous tribe and bottled in small glass versions of Taipei 101, delicious Kavalan whisky, redolent of tropical fruit and vanilla, was sipped.  The stuff is sadly unavailable in the U.S., another purchase I regret not making.

I can buy, luckily, oolong tea, which is grown in the mountains south of Taipei.  We visited a demonstration tea garden ringed by camellias and kumquats, and tasted the famous Iron Goddess of Mercy (tie-guan-in) oolong grown in the region (below).

I only wish we had had more time to explore Taiwanese tea culture.  We didn’t have a chance to visit any traditional tea houses or try tea cuisine.  Luckily, we’ve got J-Tea in Eugene (and a new, expanded website with online ordering, ooh!).  I consulted with Josh, the owner, who lived and studied tea in Taiwan for many years, about the trip.  I’m glad I can stop by the shop for a little bit of Taiwanese culture when the urge hits.

And last but not least, we ate (or some of us ate) the Taiwanese national snack, stinky tofu.

Fetishized in the media as the enemy of foreigners, stinky tofu has the texture of a well-wrung sponge and the flavor of a slightly mildewy sponge.  Does that make it bad?  Well, no. I actually liked the fried stinky tofu surrounding the soup.  It was served with a quick-pickled cabbage and salty umami sauce.  The soup, strongly scented with stinky tofu from the big pieces swimming in it, however, was not my favorite.  I heard from a friend that there are more deeply stinky, creamier versions that mimic good, strong cheese.  I wish we could have tried that!

two new year’s eve menus

Many Eugene restaurants are open for New Year’s Eve, and several have special menus.  I’m posting (with slight edits for formatting) two special New Year’s Eve menus that have appeared on Facebook, one from Red Agave and one from Osteria Sfizio.  Do call for reservations, especially if you’re planning to go to the opera and need early seating at Red Agave.

What else is cooking for New Year’s Eve, Eugene?

Red Agave New Year’s Eve Menu

Four-course menu with a glass of bubbly for $55 per person, three servings: 5-5:30 p.m., 7-7:30 p.m., 9-9:30 p.m. Reservations 541-683-2206.

appetizer course

Oriol Rossell, Cava Rose Brut, Penedes, Spain: a fantastic, delicately fruited sparkling wine

Crab Salpicon & Mushroom Ragout Sopes: dungeness crab salsa & fresh mushroom ragout in corn masa baskets with ancho oil
(vegetarian option: mushroom ragout sopes only)

soup course

Truffled Sunchoke Soup: a rich, root-based soup with smoked paprika & shaved black truffles

salad course

Yacon Salad: a crisp, bright Peruvian root, diced & tossed with mixed greens, candied hazelnuts, iberico ham & a chimayo chile vinaigrette

entrée course

(choice of the following)

Pan-Seared Ahi served with a habanero-nopale salsa, pineapple-guajillo pepper sauce & green rice

Braised Short-Ribs with bordelaise sauce, sautéed greens, truffled polenta cake & cilantro oil

Corn Masa Crepes (vegetarian option) filled with winter squash, wild mushrooms, cypress grove goat cheese & truffled polenta & served with baby greens

Osteria Sfizio’s New Year’s Eve Menu

Chef’s Tasting menu, $75 per person plus optional wine pairing, $35 per person. Three seatings: 5-5:30 p.m., 7:30-8 p.m., 9:30-10 p.m. Reservations (541) 302-3000.

ASSORTED ANTIPASTI

CROSTINI & BURRATA

OYSTER CRUDO WITH GRAPEFRUIT AND JUNIPER GRANITA

POTATO CHIP WITH TSAR NICOULAI CAVIARE & CRÈME FRAICHE

Treviosol Prosecco NV -$10

PRIMI

SPAGHETTINI WITH MAINE LOBSTER, TOMATO, CREAM & WHITE WINE

Vietti Arneis Roero 2012 -$12

SECONDI

GRILLED BEEF TENDERLOIN WRAPPED IN HOUSE-CURED PANCETTA WITH NOUVO OLIVE OIL MASHED POTATOES, OREGON TRUFFLE BUTTER & NEBBIOLO DEMI-GLACE

Corsini Barolo Bussia 2007 -$14

DOLCI

SAFFRON & VANILLA SEMIFREDDO WITH ALMOND COOKIES

Maculan Dindarello 2009 -$8

it’s all downhill from here

Close to 900 hits on my blog yesterday from people looking for restaurants open in Eugene on Christmas.  Any thoughts, local entrepreneurs and/or businesses who were open and didn’t update your websites?

I am almost hesitant to admit I found Christmas a bit much this year.  But what I found at Safeway, above, took the cake.

 

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: paparazzi

Part IV of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here, Part II on fish/seafood here, and Part III on fruit here.

We got off the bus at the Ningxia Night Market and I saw the cameras.  Oh, someone famous must be here, thought I, as we headed toward them, we’ll be able to get a closer look.

And a closer look we got, indeed.

Yes, so close that we were surrounded in this little market in an old area of Taipei.  We were  followed down the narrow alley through the most remarkable, clean little food stalls I had ever seen.  The camera spotlights were kind of handy for taking my own shots, but I got in trouble for trying to stop and ask questions, or, even worse, wandering off to explore a particular stall.  This is why food writers do not make good TV stars.

For some reason, the Taiwanese specialty called stinky tofu, a slightly fermented tofu cake either fried or served in large pieces in a soup at the market, was just about the only thing the very young, very green reporters were interested in.

Yum — and here I am eating stinky tofu and showing the world I use my left hand as a scoop for food that falls out of my mouth when I’m stuffing my face.  In fact, this might be the least flattering photo of me ever:

Or is this?

The reason for the paparazzi?  No, not me.  Our trip was made possible by the Taiwanese Government Information Office, at the request of rather dashing Minister Philip Yang, above.  Yang holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from UVA, and he has devoted his career to public relations and raising awareness of the deep well of Taiwanese culture.  Not too shabby!  He invited us to Taiwan to promote the government’s new international website for Taiwanese foodCheck it out in a Chinese video of the press conference.

And here we are, eating bottarga, or mullet roe, with host and food critic Mr. Wu and Minister Yang (photo courtesy of the latter’s Facebook page).

In a realm where such sites are usually horrible, the Taiwanese food site really quite good and nothing else matches it for breadth or depth in English.  I wasn’t joking when I said it was a real service to the world at the press conference.

But the problem with being the guest of a public relations mastermind is that the man sure does like media.

Wondering what I’m taking a picture of at the night market?  Well, as dashing as Minister Yang was, I couldn’t help but be more interested in a GIANT FRIED BALL OF EVERYTHING.

Yes, that giant fried ball of everything.  In the earlier photo, Minister Yang was pointing out all the ingredients in the ball, which seems to be made of vegetable fried rice, six oysters/shrimp depending on your choice, a raw egg, and god knows what else, all wrapped up in dough and deep fried. (Photos of me courtesy of what appears to be a news photo outlet on the Internet.)

I was a bit more vivacious and less thunderstruck at the next stall, a Taiwanese spring roll vendor whose stall has been at the market since 1951.  The sweet old lady making the spring rolls was positively unflappable.

I had to squeeze between the lady and the cameras, as such:

Time to make the spring rolls!  Photo of me (and a great one, thanks!) is courtesy of Saúl Cepeda, my TV star partner in crime.

A  bit more like a burrito than a spring roll as we know them, but still tasty.

For much of the week, we were documented during meals.  Saúl and I started messing around with the cameras to break the tediousness of being constantly filmed. In fact, some of my favorite shots are with the paparazzi.

Here I am being carefully considered by a young man who took his art seriously, if invasively, outside the highly recommended Shin Yeh seafood restaurant.  I was entranced by the tanks of dozens of different fish and shellfish.  He was entranced by me.

Alas, parting is such sweet sorrow.

The experience, I have to admit, really does make one understand why famous people turn into divas and smash cameras and such. Here are a few of my favorite shots of others.  Saúl poses for Culinaria Eugenius as the poster boy of steamed shrimp, Jean Louis comments on everything he has eaten, and Egami-san makes tofu for Taiwanese media at a farmers’ co-operative in Yi-lan province.

And I even managed a half-smile out of John at Din Tai Fung in Taipei 101.  I like to think my success was due to my charmingly constant shutter-clicking during lunch, which made him feel quite at home.

Jean-Louis, who took the bullet on the photo opp behind John, will appear somewhere holding Din Tai Fung dumplings.  Sadly, it will not be at my doorstep.  I can’t even look at my photos of the truffle-pork xiao long bao dumplings without wanting to hijack a plane to Taipei.

See?  Ack.  Drool. Now that’s much more interesting than a picture of me taking a picture or eating stinky tofu.  Worth every click and bright light and interview.

OK.  What next?  I have so much more to say about Taiwan.  A preservation post is in the works.  And somewhere out there in the ethernet is an amusing interview of me, Saúl, and Minister Yang talking about food while we voluptuously (“more please, Jennifer, show how delicious it is!”) eat some amazing prawns.  But I think after that I’m going to hold off until the future allows me to say more.  After all, I do have other matters to discuss that are closer to home.  Until then, dear readers!  May you eat well and look pretty on camera as you eat.

local presents for the boozy

One of the things I hated most about being relatively attractive in my 20s was that it was impossible to sit and get lost in my thoughts in public. It always really, really bothered random men — became a veritable challenge — to see how fast they could interrupt my reverie.  Does this kind of thing still happen to young women?  I wouldn’t know.  But I’m guessing yes.

So that famous quote by Luis Bunuel about English gin and reverie in bars (I’ll refrain) was always well out of my reach, by virtue of accident of birth.  There was no way I’d be left unmolested to stimulate a reverie in a bar, English gin or no English gin. Feminism, young ladies, is being able to drink unmolested like a crotchety old surrealist filmmaker in a dark bar.

Nowadays, thankfully, I am only interrupted in my reveries in the aisles at Safeway (HELLO, MA’AM, ARE YOU FINDING EVERYTHING YOU NEED!?). Conclusion: less shopping at Safeway, more time alone in dark bars.  Make up for lost time.

And that’s my Christmas message to you, dear amateur mixologist.

If you’re looking to be lost in reverie or revel with young women, provocative men, Safeway clerks, or old surrealist filmmakers on a bender — or someone you love may appreciate the opportunity — two Oregon craft spirits should be at the top of your list.

Krogstad Aquavit is absolutely the perfect gift for a holiday party.  Drink it cold and neat. It’s distinguished from its fellow aquavits, always tinged with caraway, by the addition of star anise.  It’s a marvelous combination that evokes baking, Scandanavian snow, and tall young blond men in reindeer sweaters.  Delicious.  Made in Portland by House Spirits, so you know it’s good, and under 30 bucks a bottle.

But if you really want to impress, Calisaya, a relatively new girl on the scene, should be seized immediately.  Local distiller and bon vivant Andrea Loreto has perfected his formula, and now produces it in Eugene.  Like the bigger, gingerbreadier, jammier, and more complex Italian Antica Formula, Calisaya is a digestif in the tradition of Italian sipping bitters.  The difference is the base of cinchona bark, the same stuff that gives us quinine.  Calisaya has a cleaner, woodier profile, but is just as smooth and balanced as Antica.  It doesn’t hit you upside the head like Fernet Branca or remind you of 19th century health spas like Becherovka.  It’s worth every penny of the $45ish you’ll spend on it.

Both can be had at Big Y liquors on 6th.  They only have a couple bottles left of each.

Krogstad aquavit has found its way into some wonderful cocktails, my favorite of which is Jeffrey Morganthaler’s Norwegian Wood, which he served me long long ago while it was still in the development phase at our late lamented Bel Ami.  (Bel Ami, I might add, was the first bar I felt truly comfortable sitting in by myself.  Thanks, Jeff.)  There’s also the Viking Quest, also served by Jeff at Clyde Common, but a creation of Beaker and Flask’s Tim Davey.  It also adds a brilliant note to homemade gravlax.

Calisaya can be used as any Italian herbal bitter — with tonic, soda, on the rocks, etc.  If you’d like to try it, Marché’s Le Bar serves a Calisaya cocktail with (I think) just a few drops of bitters and maybe an orange peel (ugh, failure of memory clearly means I need to go again for research purposes.).  But it’s worth experimenting with cocktails.  Loreto provides a few on his website, the best of which is the Calisaya Negroni, which has both Antica and Calisaya, and the added bonus of being created by local bartender Justin Wafer, formerly of Eugene’s Belly and now of Tasty ‘n’ Sons in PDX (congratulations, Justin!).  Another Negroni interpretation, an all-local “Oregroni” most generously provided by the folks at Boozenik.com, will be perfect for locavore drinkers on your Christmas list.

You will be directed to the original sources for these recipes by clicking the titles, if you want to make sure I haven’t changed anything.

Viking Quest

Recipe by Tim Davey.

  • 1 oz. Krogstad Aquavit
  • 1 oz. Campari
  • 1 oz. Barolo Chinato

In a pint mixing glass add all ingredients then ice. Stir and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange disc after expressing the orange oil over drink.

Norwegian Wood

Recipe by Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

  • 1 oz. (Krogstad) Aquavit
  • 1 oz. (Laird & Co.) Applejack
  • 3/4 oz. Sweet Vermouth (Cinzano Rosso)
  • 1/4 oz. Yellow Chartreuse
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters

Stir ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail coupe. Garnish with a large twist of lemon peel and serve.

Calisaya Negroni

Recipe by Justin Wafer.

  • 1 oz. Calisaya Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Antica Formula sweet vermouth
  • 1 oz. gin

Stir, strain into cocktail glass and flame orange zest over the drink.

The Oregroni

Recipe by the Boozeniks.

  • 1 oz. Ransom Old Tom Gin
  • 1 oz. Calisaya Liqueur
  • 1 oz. Imbue Bittersweet Vermouth

Combine in a mixing glass with ice, stir for 30 seconds; pour into a chilled cocktail glass.

Garnish with an orange or lemon peel that has been rubbed around glass rim and squeezed over the cocktail. Do not neglect this, or the cocktail will seem a bit too one-note without the oil from the citrus.

While component-wise the Oregroni is similar to a Negroni, it is far drier and lighter. Plan any accompanying snacks to be lighter and saltier and with a bias toward seafood, rather than what you might serve with a Negroni.

restaurants open in eugene on christmas, 2011 edition

This post is from 2011.  For 2013, click here!

What’s open in Eugene on Christmas 2011?

Thanks to commenter MJM, who reminded me that I need to post my annual search for Christmas restaurants.  MJM notes:  “According to  http://kezi.com/page/200147, last year [in 2010,]  Shari’s, IHOP, Sixth Street Grill, Marie Callendar and Empire Buffet were all open for Christmas.”  Are they open this year?  Let me know if you have a lead on these places or others.

Industrious elves have already noticed that Izakaya Meiji is open on Christmas.  This is a note of serious cheer, folks.  Retrogrouch and I had dinner there for the first time in many months, and I was thrilled by how strong the menu and service are now.  Really fine meal.  And a nice smoky whiskey cocktail.

King Estate will put forth another delicious goose dinner on Christmas Eve (note: not Christmas) this year. Edited to add: Rabbit Bistro and PartyCart also open on Christmas Eve, as are a number of other places.  See Melissa Haskin’s blog entry for a list (and be sure to look at the link in the comments for Springfield eateries, too).

And…for those of you who are already ready to usher out the old year — and who isn’t, for Chrissake? — several local eateries are planning special menus for New Year’s Eve, including Osteria Sfizio, Nib, and Red Agave.

For those of you seeking service opportunities on Christmas, the Lane County Human Services Commission is hosting its annual Senior Holiday Dinner at the Hilton:

The 33rd annual Senior Holiday Dinner needs your support.

This local tradition, which gives senior community members an opportunity to celebrate the holidays with their peers, is seeking community financial support. The dinner is held on Christmas Day at the Eugene Hilton and Conference Center. The cost of the dinner to seniors is nominal, $7 per person. Any support significantly helps to defray the entire cost of the event.

Local senior community members age 62 or older may attend the dinner, which is coordinated by Lane County’s Human Services Commission on behalf of the Lane County Board of Commissioners. Approximately 650 seniors are expected to attend the full turkey dinner that includes entertainment, dancing, and door prizes.

Contributions from individuals and businesses are needed to make this event possible.

Monetary donations may be mailed directly to Lane County Human Services Commission at 125 E. Eighth, Eugene, OR  97401. (Please note Senior Holiday Dinner with donation.) Other door prize gift ideas could include gift certificates or merchandise. All donations will go toward making the Senior Dinner a special event for local seniors!

In addition to contributions, volunteers provide critical support for the event. Volunteers are needed to provide seniors with transportation to and from the event (most seniors attending the event live within the Eugene-Springfield metropolitan area) and the event needs other volunteers to serve as host-hostesses and servers.

For more information, call Sydney Shook 541-337-6174 or e-mail: sydney_shook@msn.com

Any other volunteer opps?  Please comment below.

PS. The photo is my Christmas salsa, made from the last of my tomatoes and Christmas miracle cilantro still sprouting in my herb bed on December 7.  Can you see why I’m having a hard time coping with winter?

on dasher! off to the lane county holiday farmers market, tout suite

The news team at Culinaria Eugenius (consisting of one hardworking, underpaid indentured servant/culinary assassin) brings you this special update in the midst of our 24/7 Taiwanese food blogging marathon:

Go. Right. Now. to the Holiday Farmers Market at the fairgrounds.  Yes, it’s inside.  Because next Saturday is Christmas Eve, this is the last weekend.  Highlights include every single root vegetable, the first Oregon truffles, a bumper crop of candycap mushrooms and some fine hedgehogs, and apples and Asian pears by the box at the River Bend Farm booth (and they still have cider, too!).

As for superlative holiday presents: my favorite popcorn in the world, ‘Dakota Black’ heirloom corn from Lonesome Whistle Farm, and the new bean soup mix from Camas Country Mill.  The soup mix includes all the legumes and pulses grown by the Huntons, plus some of their grains, like barley.

Another gift option: smoked pepper jelly from Pure Peppers.  The pepper jelly is from the same folks who brought us Hell Dust smoked pepper flakes, and is without question the finest, strongest pepper jelly I’ve ever had.  Like Lonesome Whistle and Camas Country, the Peppers grow and dry their own product in Junction City. The smokiness in the pepper jelly transforms ye olde pepper-jelly-over-a-hunk-of-cream cheese appetizer that everyone loves into something quite special.

Another very worthy pepper product to consider — the single-varietal smoked pepper powders from Crossroads Farm (first image).  I’ve been using their full-strength smoked paprika for months, and it’s even better than the stuff a friend brought back from Spain.  This year, Crossroads has expanded their line from paprika to cayenne, padron, guajillo, Hungarian, chipotle, and others.

And speaking of smokiness, Brie-berry with Smoked Almond ice cream from Red Wagon Creamery.  Every single one of you should consider the cheese and ice cream combination that’s sweeping the nation (or should be). This stuff is no joke, folks.  Red Wagon excels at the salt-sweet connection, and their cheese and fruit flavors hit it out of the ballpark.  I never buy pints of ice cream, but I ended up taking home this irresistible cranberry-studded, smoky, crunchy, rich, decadent, tangy, slightly savory Christmas miracle.

Other flavors for the less adventurous are also terrific.  (I stole this photo off their Facebook page so I can show you today’s offerings.)  They’ve just started using organic Guittard chocolate sourced from local company Chocolate Decadence, so that’s a good bet.  Sweet Potato and Cumin is better than a similar flavor I had in San Francisco last month.  The Lucy’s Cracked Candy Cane uses all-natural candy and doesn’t have the weird fake mint flavor in every other peppermint ice cream you can buy…and it also doesn’t pull a fast one and make you eat stevia with dried peppermint leaves, either.  Know what I mean?  Sure you do.

And if they still have ’em, grab up any remaining quinces and San Carlos Bocadillo membrillo quince paste at the Berg’s Organic Farm booth.  Quinces are a lovely addition to applesauce for, say, Hanukkah.  The membrillo, a Spanish delicacy and a downright smooth version of it, is made of quinces cooked down past applesauce texture, so it form a thick paste.  It should be cut into small slices and served alongside a cheese plate.  The classic combination is membrillo and manchego cheese, but any hard, decently tangy cheese works.  I’ve never seen this product offered locally with our own quinces, so it’s worth consideration for your holiday parties.

What did I miss?  Let others know what you recommend.

culinaria eugenius in taiwan: fruit loops

Part III of a photo essay of my trip to Taiwan.  See Part I on crabs here and Part II on fish/seafood here.

More Taiwanese food, on a day we could all use a little tropical sweetness.  (24 hours to go ’til grading is due!)

Fruit is one of the main daily luxuries in Taiwan; with a subtropical climate, every kind imaginable is available. At the hotel, we were greeted by three different types of fruit that changed on a daily basis.  They even provided a little card that explained what was being presented.  Note the size of the starfruit, above.  It was almost as big as a brick.

The hotel also provided two fruit stations at the breakfast buffet, so we could either get juice and sliced fruit, including papaya, passionfruit, guava, and pineapple, or chopped up fruit “stew” in a rainbow of colors for yogurt and granola.

Since I have so many images, I thought I’d try a gallery of thumbnails.  Click on the photo for a bigger version.  The series above is mostly from the Agrioz Conserves Factory, a couple of hours from Taipei in Yi-lan province, a coastal area on the northeast side of the island.  The factory candies fruit, a traditional snack for families.  Kumquats are their most popular treat (growing above at the Tea Promotion Center in a different area).  A worker individually packages each candied fruit in a small production area.  The four kumquats on a plate represent different stages of candying and drying.  The one furthest away from the camera has been dried to a leathery nugget and is most like a jujube candy.  The sweet little owner served them to us to try.  She is responsible for the jars of preserved fruit in the last photo, as well.  They’re just for display.

At every meal, we were served fruit as dessert, and often a glass of juice or drinking vinegar made from fruit at the start of the meal.  I usually think of fruit as a cop-out dessert (and therefore my kind of dessert), but in Taiwan, it was really the nicest thing that could follow a meal.  Above, you can see a pomelo we were served at a farmers’ co-op in Yi-lan province; an apple wine/vinegar being fermented in Yi-lan; a rather over-the-top ice sculpture modeled on an ancient Chinese vessel in the National Museum, poised on a bed of dry ice and topped with a fringe of fruit kebabs; and a simple plate of melons, guava, and dragonfruit with the most wonderful ume plum powder used as a sprinkle of sour-sweet-salt on the fruit.  I made it home with two jars of the stuff.

Just seeing the varieties in the market blew my mind.  I fancy myself a greengrocer connoisseur, someone who has a decent understanding of exotic produce.  But I was out of my league.  I recognized the dragonfruit, gigantic avocados and grapes in the first image, but what in the heck were the green things next to the red apples.  Why, fresh dates, of course!

The coconut fruit in the middle and the cherimoya in the fourth shot I could identify, but the delicate red wax apples I had never seen before.  They were fragile and brittle and watery clean in taste.  I recommend them.  Look for dark purple ones, or jade green ones, should you have the good fortune to land in Taiwan.

And last?  That’s a purple glutinous rice “cake” topped with candied fruit for celebrations.  The reddish rice is a lucky color.  A much nicer way to celebrate a birthday than a grocery store sheet cake made from Crisco and powdered eggs, thank you very much.

To you, Taiwan, and your glorious fruit!  I toast you with some passionfruit juice.