Saturday, January 16, 2010

Dinosaur Egg Brand

Ripe Dinosaur Egg Plums

Unripe Dinosaur Egg Plums

Overripe Dinosaur Egg Plum

Dapple Dandy Pluots aka Dinosaur Egg Plums

Stem Indentation on the Shoulder

Plum + Apricot = Plumcot

One of my favorite fruits is the super sweet and flavorful "Dapple Dandy" pluot. Also referred to as the "Dinosaur Egg" plum, coined by the Jackson Family of Kingsburg Orchards in California (the family owns the trademark too).

A "pluot" or "interspecific plum" is a cross between a plum and apricot. Very similar to "plumcots", though the differences escape me. There are approximately 25 pluot varieties and no... they are not genetically modified.

Usually you need to ripen these yourself on your kitchen counter because it's hard to find these ripe in supermarkets. Although paying a hefty price in some stores will get you tree ripened fruit that can be eaten right away.Worth every penny if you can spare the change.

How to buy Dinosaur Egg plums:

Ripe Dinosaur Egg plums have a deep pink color, press your thumb against the side of the fruit, the flesh should feel soft not mushy. Stem indentations on the shoulders is perfectly normal, although brown discoloration is a sign of poor quality. Firm fruit is tasteless and will need a few days to ripen. Sampling is always best.

The chalky white powder on plums is called "bloom" and it's presence is a good sign that the fruit hasn't been handled too much from orchard to store. Please check out all my reference photos included in this post.

Ripen plums and pluots at room temperature (not in plastic), they need to breathe. Do not store in direct sunlight or extremely warm areas, this will cause the fruit to mold and spoil rather quickly. I have lost a small fortune learning this lesson. Once the fruit is ripe put it in your refrigerator.

More wonderful varieties of pluots

  • Mango Tango
  • Flavor Grenade
  • Raspberry Jewel
  • Flavor Queen
Flavorosa - very plain tasting

Plum Powder a sign of Freshness is called "Bloom"

Friday, January 15, 2010


Maybe you've seen Rambutan before and wondered what it was... it looks a little bit creepy like a hairy spider or some type of cactus. It's actually a delicious fruit very similar in flavor and texture to grapes. Rambutan means "Hairy" in the Indonesian tongue.

I've been selling this fruit for 25 years and it's popularity is only overshadowed by it's expensive retail. Most of the supply destined for world markets was shipped out of Bangkok by plane so half the cost of the fruit is attributed to air freight. But during the last few years, Central America has been playing a key role in introducing this wonderful fruit to North Americans. Mexico, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica have all been steadily increasing their tonnage as demand exceeds availability.

Peeled Red Rambutan

Rambutan is related to the Lychee, Longan and Mamoncillo fruits and is grown throughout tropical parts of Asia and Central America. If you have ever tasted a Lychee Nut before it is also very similar in texture, flavor and the flesh is the same whitish color. Rambutans have a wonderful refreshing taste, especially served cold. The fruit is 3-4 times larger than it's cousin the Lychee or large grapes.

Peeled Reddish-Green Rambutan

In North America most Asian stores sell this fruit with more of a reddish-green color. The Red fruit is more expensive, a little sweeter and usually only sold at upscale stores if you can find it at all.

Rambutan On Display At A Market

When you're buying Rambutans look for fruit with a nice "bright" color, dull looking fruit (or black tips) is old... good to buy if it's half price and eaten right away. Fruit still attached to their branches is usually fresher.

Rambutan On Display At A Market

Rambutans have a tough skin. I suggest gently cutting into the shell in a 360 degrees rotation with a paring knife. The shell will now come off easily. You can also use your thumbnail or teeth to pierce the skin but it can be a bit messier using this method. Remember there is a small pit in the middle so be careful not to bite down too hard and injure your teeth. Rambutan should easily last a week in your refrigerator, do not store at room temperature it dries out too quickly.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reuters Photo

In 1997 just days before the British Colony of Hong Kong was handed back to China, I was walking through the streets of Hong Kong taking in the wonderful and not so wonderful aromas of the markets; when I happen chanced upon the curiosity (for me) of "Garlic Stems" aka "Garlic Scapes".

I wanted to see Hong Kong before it was handed back to Mainland China. Everybody at the time was in a state of panic over what would happen to the island after it fell into communist hands.

I walked by store fronts (not produce) and noticed plates full of fresh garlic with thick green stems about 10 inches high sprouting from the bulbs. The garlic was usually situated on the counter by their cash register or in the store front window, amazing I thought... I wonder if they are edible, just for decoration or a religious offering to Buddha?

This is funny because I was an experienced international produce buyer with 15 years under my belt and of course I had imported chives (gow choy) and flowering chives (gow choy fa) from Taiwan for years but had never run across garlic stems before. Sometimes it can take years before growing and production methods and technology is advanced enough to bring a product to market.

If you love the taste of onions and garlic then I recommend trying garlic stems. Today they are widely available in asian markets and even in "authentic cuisine" chinese restaurants. They taste wonderful stirfried in a wok (cut in 1 inch strips) for about 3 - 4 minutes with a little bit of oil, salt to taste, a sprinkle of sugar and some soy sauce. Also a great addition to wok-fried seafood with a bit of chinese cooking wine.

When you are buying garlic stems, the stalks of this vegetable should be very firm similar to celery. Limpness means the product is very old or has been sitting in the hot sun and deteriorating. If the flowers are still attached, the buds should be tightly closed, compact and no wetness or slime should be evident. The stalks themselves can have a nice healthy mixture of green and yellow color but if their aroma is overpowering (almost a stench) this means they're not fresh

I hope I've introduced you to a new vegetable that you will love and enjoy and adds a new dimension to your cooking.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Stevia is an wonderful alternative to sugar and artificial sweeteners. I started to research sugar substitutes in 2003 after my mother had been diagnosed with Diabetes. She loves to add heaping amounts of sugar to her tea and on her morning grapefruit and she couldn't any longer after her diagnosis. So, I happen chanced upon the herb Stevia.

Stevia is native to South America and has been used by the natives for more than a thousand years. Zero calories, zero on the Glycemic Index, medically proven to lower high blood pressure, and in it's natural state 10 - 30 times sweeter than sugar. You can also bake with Stevia.

Some people find the aftertaste of the leaves to be a little bitter; thankfully you can buy it processed similar to sugar. Processed, there is no aftertaste and it's 100 - 300 times sweeter than sugar.

You can make liquid "sugar" yourself by cooking this herb on your stove with equal parts water and whiskey; boiling off the alcohol and then letting the concoction sit overnight. In the morning drain the liquid and discard the remnants and you have a natural liquid sweetener. I suggest experimenting with a small amount first.

In my research there is past evidence that suggests Artificial Sweetener companies had bribed certain key FDA officials or offered them key positions within their companies in return for their cooperation in keeping Stevia off retail shelves. These officials no longer work for the FDA.

Today, Stevia has become widely available throughout the U.S. though in Canada it is only approved as a dietary supplement.

Global brands like Coca Cola, Pepsi, and Cargill all use Stevia in their products today. In Japan, Stevia has been approved for decades and 40% of their manufactured foods use this natural sweetener as a sugar substitute. I believe this is a testament to it's safeness. We know many medical studies are commissioned by corporate interests that would like nothing better than to see products like Stevia banned from our store shelves.

I have been using Stevia for about 5 years. When I was in retail I sold Stevia in the herb section of my store. The suprise on people's faces when they popped a sample into their mouth and tasted how sweet this herb can be in it's natural state. LOL!

Obesity has become the number one health problem in North America today. Stevia would help eliminate that problem. So give this wonderful herb a try and if you have friends and family on carbohydrate reduced diets or are diabetic... tell them about this wonderful herb. I am not being paid an endorsement for this editorial!

Please Note: I cannot stress enough the importance of doing your own diligence. I haven't gone into any technical data because that is not what my blog is about but the data is out there for those interested enough to "Google" it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sometimes we all get bored with the everyday staples like broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, onions and such; and it's nice that there's an alternative to spice up the dinner menu.

"Romanesco Cauliflower" aka "Romanesco Broccoli" or "Coral Broccoli" is one of the most unique, eye appealing and tastiest of the cauliflower and broccoli family and native to Italy. This variety is much more tender than its cousins and easy to overcook so you need to keep a close eye on it. Nice nutty flavor I think you'll enjoy and also very good served raw.

Varieties of colored cauliflower aka "Carnival Cauliflower" include purple, orange and green. These varieties and are NOT genetically modified.

A important side note... scientific studies prove with proper farm management, organic produce is safer than conventional when it comes to the "E. coli O157" bacteria. I recommend checking out the safety practices of your organic growers before eating their produce though. There is evidence some growers do not dry their manure for the recommended period which can have the opposite impact "E. coli O157" can survive in soil 1 - 6 months depending on the variety of vegetable. You know the old story of how a few can ruin it for the whole.

Purple cauliflower is very high in anti-oxidants (anthocyanin) and a healthy additon to any diet. This heirloom variety will turn whitish color if it's pan fried or boiled, better to serve it steamed or raw if you want to show off the beautiful color. It has a milder flavor than the white and is also more tender so be careful with your cooking time. I used to kid my staff and tell them it was a blend of cauliflower and beets and ask them if they could taste the beet flavor when they ate it LOL!

The orange variety is not only beautiful to look at it's very high in beta-carotene which causes the orange color and has 25 times more Vitamin A than the white variety. Discovered in a farmer's field of white cauliflower in Canada more than 30 years ago, this naturally occurring mutant variety has a mild delicious flavor similar to the white but is much more tender.

Green Cauliflower aka "Broccoflower" is actually very delicious though not very popular with the masses. I suppose it's because the retail is usually about twice that of the white variety and it reminds us of white cauliflower and green broccoli. Yes, this variety is a cross of broccoli and cauliflower but NOT genetically modified . The term "Broccoflower" was coined by California growers Tanimura & Antle to market this crop more effectively.

When buying any type of cauliflower you should look for the following traits:

The heads should be firm and the leaves surrounding the head crisp not limp or yellow. The vegetable itself should be hard and firm when you press your thumb against the head. Softness is a sign of age. Check the center of the butt for slime and brown decay. The closed buds of the flowers should be tight, compact and no brown or black spots should be visible. The best test of all is to smell it, bad or old product will have a bad and stale aroma. Organic cauliflower and broccoli... pests love to hide in the heads so always thoroughly wash and clean. Cauliflower is best stored in your refrigerator.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Starfruit (Carambola) is one of the most talked about and recognizable exotic fruits in the world. It's a delicious, invigorating fruit, especially on a hot day or after a hard workout. At the same time this wonderful fruit can be lacklustre and tasteless if it's not bought or ripened properly. I have talked with a lot of customers that were left with a disappointed feeling after their first taste.

The important thing to do when trying a new kind of fruit is to ask someone in the produce department these five questions:

  1. What does it taste like?
  2. How do I handle it?
  3. How do I ripen it?
  4. How do I eat it?
  5. How do I store it?

If there's noone who can answers these questions, the internet is a good alternative to look for the answers.

What doe it taste like?

I think is has a flavor combination of green grapes and granny smith apples. The first taste is sweetness with the wonderful afterbite of a sour apple but not overly sour. The flesh is soft like a ripe, firm plum and the juice will run down your chin and squirt all about if you're not careful lol!

How do I handle it?

Starfruit is delicate and should be handled gently. Don't squeeze it because it will leave bruises on the flesh and won't ripen properly.

How do I ripen it?

Like most fruit sold today there is more than one grade. You're looking for fruit with green ridges and yellowing flesh without any brown discoloration on the flesh. I don't suggest buying ripe starfruit unless it's at a public market and picked that day. Remove the fruit from any bags and leave it on your counter or in a fruit bowl at room temperature. As it ripens the ridges of the fruit will turn brown, that's okay. When the flesh of the fruit turns completely yellow it's ready to be eaten.

How do I eat it?

Take a paring knife and cut the thin brown ridges off the ripe fruit and then slice it crosswise to eat in star shaped wedges. There are a few seeds that look similar to apple seeds that can be eaten or spit out. In many photos you will notice the fruit is sliced with green edges, starfruit can be eaten at any stage depending on your personal tastes. The more yellow the flesh...the sweeter the fruit.

How do I store it?

After the fruit is ripe if you haven't eaten it all already, it can now be stored in your refrigerator. This will dampen the ripening process and extend the life of the fruit by about 5 - 7 days. You probably don't want to store it any longer than this because the fruit will start to dry out and lose its appeal.

Starfruit contains oxalic acid which can harm people suffering from kidney failure or on dialysis. Symptoms can range from hiccups, vomiting, nausea and mental confusion to death. So a good way to off your better half if you get the urge. Just kidding!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Wild Red Durian fruit grown in Indonesia. Taken by National Geographic Photographer Tim Laman

Red Durian Fruit

Red Durian Fruit Tree

Durian Fruit

Durian Fruit at a Farmers Market

Durian Fruit Tree

Watch out for falling Durian sign

No Durians allowed sign

Durian Fruit Banned

No Durians allowed in cars

The Durian Fruit | 榴蓮|榴莲 |(Low Lin) is something you either love or hate there's no inbetween. Marco Polo used to eat this fruit during his travels through Asia and fell in love with it; agreeing wholeheartedly with it's nickname "The King of Fruits".

I once gave this fruit as a gift to a Produce Manager for a large grocery chain and while getting on a plane he was stopped for what security thought was bomb in his carryon. It was a good thing he had a sense of humor or I may have lost his account.

The Durian has a hard exterior shell with spikes hard and sharp enough to do some serious damage. It is a heavy fruit and the best type to eat is the "Golden Pillow" variety.

The outer shell starts to crack when the fruit is ripe and ready to eat and has an delicious aroma I love. Though most of the world disagrees with me and considers the aroma to be more of a stench.

This fruit is banned from being eaten in many public places in Asia including Airplanes, and Shopping Malls. Usually family members are banished to the garage or backyard to eat this delectable fruit so the aroma will not linger in the house.

Once while travelling through Saigon with my wife I played a trick on her and put a spoonful of Durian in her mouth she thought was ice cream. It was so funny as she tried to immediately spit it out but with servers standing all around our table she was forced by etiquette to swallow it all instead. Very funny, though I paid for it later.

The best quality fruit is harvested within a couple of days of being ripe, put on a plane in Bangkok and flown overnight to North America. Due to air freight this is not a cheap fruit to purchase usually running about $25 - $40 each. Cheaper fruit is available at about half the cost which has been picked, flash frozen, and sent by ship instead. Of course it does not compare in quality or flavor to the fresh product.

If you get a chance to try this fruit I would recommend trying the durian ice cream first. It is much easier to enjoy and is not as over powering as the fresh product can be. If you like the ice cream then move onto the real thing, but take it slow and easy. Durian will last for several days in your fridge so you don't have to eat it all at once.

It is ready to eat once the shell cracks open of it's own accord and starts to emit a nice aroma. LOL! The fruit is in sections and look almost like giant yellow lima beans and has the texture of pudding or a ripe banana.

I believe in trying everything in life at least once or you become an old dog. So give it a try, you might just love it. Available at Asian grocery stores and supermarkets in the produce department and frozen food section.

There are so many types of pears available today it can get a bit confusing. Most of us stick by the tried and true bartlett variety, though the anjou, packham and bosc, have become more popular too.

Pears ripen after they have been harvested from their trees. This can take a few days to a matter of months depending on the variety and how you decide to store the fruit. I will go into detail for the main varieties and if you have any questions after reading my post please leave a comment and I will send you a reply.



This is the most popular variety of pear and also the fastest to ripen. If you have harvested the fruit from the tree it usually takes about a week to ripen naturally; purchasing from the supermarket it will usually take 2 - 5 days. If you would like to ripen the fruit quickly place it into a plastic sealed bag on your counter but remember to check it everyday.

Ripe pears will turn only slightly yellow, full color means the fruit is over-ripe. Hold the fruit in the palm of your hand and gently push your thumb against it, if the flesh indents it means the pear is now ripe and should be removed from the bag and eaten that day or placed into your refrigerator to store for a longer period. Also, the pear will emit a sweet aroma if it is ripe. Unripe pears do not smell. If you would like to extend the longevity of any type of pear it is best to store loose somewhere cold usually about 50F/10C.

If you have bought a case of pears you need to take off the lid of the box to extend their longevity. Otherwise the naturally producing ethylene gas will be trapped in the box (or bag) and the fruit will ripen more quickly.



This delicious pear is similar in flavor to the bartlett variety. The differences are minor...packhams stay green in color when they're ripe so you need to use the smell and thumb test.

Many of us get turned off by this variety because the do take quite a long time to ripen, approx. 7 - 10 days on your counter. But don't be impatient their flavor is excellent and the fruit is so juicy.

The other thing is...these are available in the winter months when the bartlett supply is usually non-existent so if you're a pear lover your other options are limited.



I find people that like anjous (D'anjou) are usually very fussy people. Don't take any offense by my words sometimes fussy is good when it comes to buying produce. LOL! Anjous can take a good couple of weeks to ripen and these stay green in color too when they're ripe. Use the thumb test...this variety doesn't emit much of an aroma.

Also called "winter" pears because if kept cool they will last for several months. If you're on a budget, buying a case of these in Sept/Oct is a great alternative to paying higher prices in the winter months and most kids love pears.



Bosc are one of the sweetest varieties out there but they take so long to ripen. Similar to the anjou variety in ripening but I think it's worth it. Much sweeter than the anjou and bartlett varieties.

When you are buying boscs check the tips closely and make sure there's no wrinkling or browning. The stem should be thick, solid and either a light brown or green in color, not dried out and shrivelled. Also check for brown decay spots (circles) on the skin, even a small pin sized hole can blow up overnight and spoil the entire fruit.

Russetting on the skin doesn't affect the flavor or quality though is considered a lower grade because of their cosmetic appearance and should be lower priced. You can generally save up to 50%.



Other Varieties

Auroras, Comice, Abatti, Seckel and Akane are all excellent varieties too, super sweet, but tend to be much higher priced. If you can afford it try all of them they taste terrific. I highly recommend all 5 varieties.



Red Anjous, Red Bartletts, are similar to their green counterparts but sweeter and Red Crimsons are very similar in taste to Red Bartletts and they are often mistaken for one another.