Sunday, October 26, 2008

Rainy Days and Tamale Pie

It was raining, cold, damp and miserable, with no let up in sight. I was content to remain indoors enjoying the rain as it pelted away outside; perhaps a bit of puttering, catch up on a stack of reading, take a deep breath and contemplate life. I built my first fire of the season and snuggled in for an easy, relaxed day.

By mid afternoon anticipatory thoughts of dinner begin to surface: something warm and satisfying, easy comfort food... a survey of the fridge offers no such solutions. In the freezer, however, I spot a small container of lentil chili, leftover from a previous feast.

My thoughts drift to cornmeal… ever since South Carolina I have been a big cornmeal and grits fan. I can’t get enough of it. I love grits for breakfast, polenta in the evening topped with almost anything, I love cornmeal in cakes, biscotti; you name it.

Not long ago, a friend shared a delicious handmade tamale purchased at a small downtown Mexican mercado. It reminded me of Costa Rica and the fabulous banana leaf wrapped tamales I enjoyed there for breakfast: a simple vegetable filling encased in creamy masa. Superb.

I flash on the tamale pie I labored over years ago for special company. According to others, it was a disaster. Perhaps it was a bit heavy on the cornmeal mush border… but what’s wrong with that? Nevertheless, it has been the brunt of endless family jokes and I haven’t made tamale pie since.

Well, why not? A quick search on line and I get a few good ideas and proceed with my simple, satisfying and highly enjoyable Tamale Pie. Note to self: continue saving those yummy lentils! I’ll be making this one again!

Since I adore anything with chilies in it, I tend to have a cabbage on hand for such occasions. This version of cabbage salsa, a salad or slaw of sorts, is the perfect accompaniment, and is equally as good with fish tacos to posole.

Rainy Day Tamale Pie
Easy comfort food

2 cups Chilified Lentils (see index)
1 cup cooked chicken, shredded (optional)
10 whole black olives
1 tomato, sliced, then halved
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
4 1/2 cups water, divided
1 cup cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup yogurt

Spray 7x11" casserole and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cornmeal Layer: In medium pot, bring 3 1/2 cups water and salt to a boil. Combine remaining 1 cup water and cornmeal together and gradually whisk mixture into boiling water. Reduce to medium low, cover loosely and simmer til thick and very tender, about 14 minutes; stir regularly to keep from sticking on bottom. Remove from heat and stir in yogurt.

To assemble Tamale Pie: Spread about 2/3 of cornmeal evenly over bottom of casserole dish. Combine chili and chicken and spread evenly over the cornmeal layer. Press the olives evenly into the mixture. Top with sliced tomato
and sprinkle with half of the shredded cheese. Spread remaining cornmeal in an even layer on top and sprinkle with remaining cheese. (Can be done ahead and refrigerated to this point)

Bake 30-40 minutes until golden. Let stand about 15 minutes before cutting. Serves 4

Cabbage Salsa

Excellent accompaniment with pork, chicken, or fish
1/2 head cabbage (8 cups) core, very thin slice and cut in half again
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 green onion, chopped
3 jalapenos, seed, minced
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1/2 teaspoon pepper or red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon cider vinegar, or lime juice or to taste

Place cabbage in large bowl and sprinkle with salt. Let stand about 20 minutes then drain off any liquid.

Add remaining items and toss to combine. Chill until needed. Makes about 3 cups. This lasts very well. ~~

Sunday, October 19, 2008

172' Peel Revealed: World Heralds Apple Record

All the current political rancor and financial upheaval has me starved for any shred of enlightened, positive news. OK, the fact that our headline here stems clear back to 1976 may seem a bit dated or desperate to some. In truth, the prized peel was actually 172 feet, and 4 inches long - an understated bit of whimsical levity for these depressing times. (Hurrah!)

Another pleasant, non-controversial tidbit: October is National Apple Month. How reassuring to know that America's revered apple is suitably honored with more than a sensational and fleeting 15 minutes of fame!

It seems that the ubiquitous apple is always around, so what's the big deal? Thanks to cold storage technology, come those dreary days of winter, the apple is a frequent and welcome addition in many households. Once October appears again, we are blithely reminded how little comparison there is between a crisp, juicy, sweet apple fresh picked from the tree and last year's mushy and flavorless counterpart.

And so with renewed gladness in our hearts and happiness abounding, it is time to embrace a new crop of apples - and this year they are excellent! But wait, there are so many varieties to select from, deciding on the right apple can be tricky. Fortunately, many markets now provide plenty of product information ranging from the state or country of origin to their flavor profile and suggested usage. Generally speaking, I tend to rely on the eye ball approach: apples for eating have wrinkles on their blossom end while apples that are good for cooking are smooth on the blossom end.

As stocks tumble and leaves fall, it's comforting to remember that everything has its season, and the simplest pleasures are often the most rewarding. How appropriate, and what better reason to celebrate everyone's pal, the humble and versatile apple. With apple cider, apple butter, apple pie…

Apple Oatmeal Cake
Moist and flavorful

3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup oats
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup light-brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large golden apples, core and chop
1/3 cup shredded coconut
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and spray 8x8" pan.

Combine dry ingredients and oatmeal and set aside. Chop the apples and set aside.

In mixing bowl, beat the butter, add the eggs one at a time. Add the sugar and beat til cream, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla.

Stir in the dry mixture and mix well. Add the apples and coconut and mix to combine.

Spread into prepared baking pan and bake for about 35 minutes, or until bars tests done. Remove to rack and cool thoroughly.

Cut and sift with confectioner’s sugar. Serves 9 or more.

Apple Ginger Chutney
A nice accompaniment to roast pork, venison, duck, turkey or curries
6 medium Granny Smith apples, peel, core, chop
1 large onion, chop
1 clove garlic, mince
3/4 cup cider vinegar
1/2 cup orange juice
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 cup golden raisins
2 tablespoons ginger root, peel, grate
1/4 cup crystallized ginger, mince
3 medium red jalapeno chilies, or 1 red pepper, seed chop
1 tablespoon mustard seed
3/4 teaspoon each salt, allspice, cinnamon, celery seed, red pepper flakes or to taste

In a large saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally over moderate heat til thick, about 40 minutes.

Cool and store in refrigerator. Will last at least 2 weeks or longer. Makes 6 cups. ~~

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Running on Empty: Morning Fixes

I love breakfast, or more correctly, I love the idea of breakfast.
I visualize myself commencing my day stylishly savoring a favorite selection of morning foods: beautifully presented fresh fruit, wholesome breads enfolded in a lined basket, eggs one of a thousand ways, excellent coffee, all the trimmings.

For many years my schedule was so crazy erratic it was far easier to pass on breakfast altogether and deal with it later, perhaps on the weekend. I had the attitude if I couldn’t sit down and calmly enjoy my meal, I’d rather not; a bad habit and counter productive: running on adrenaline and coffee.

The breakthrough came when I finally made the correlation between my eating meals regularly and achieving optimum performance. I started recognizing that I didn’t fade unexpectedly, my mind was sharper, and my physical stamina improved. I began making an effort to eat something in the morning, and for a long time Raisin Bran was my uninspired, yet highly satisfying solution.

While living in Florida where fresh fruit is abundant year round, I got in the habit of cranking out a smoothie for a morning pick me up. Orange juice was usually part of the equation and whatever fruit happened to drop from the sky. I’d take a break with my smoothie, sit under my queen palm and watch the lizards chase each other.

Since I’ve been working from home much more this past year I’ve taken to preparing ahead a pot of a dried grain - such as oatmeal, along with some dried fruit for a quick warm up in the microwave when the urge hits.

Recently, I had one of those amazing ah ha! moments when I contemplated couscous as a breakfast option. Why not, indeed! The new crop of apples and pears coming into the markets make this the perfect time to include them as well.

Couscous with Honey and FruitFrom Herb and Honey Cookery
by Martha Rose Shulman

1 cup couscous
1 1/2 cups boiling water, pinch salt
1 tablespoon butter
1 apple, core and chop
1 pear, core and chop
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
4 tablespoons raisins
3 tablespoons apple or other juice
1 tablespoon honey

Topping: yogurt and honey

Place couscous in bowl, add salted boiling water, cover and let stand while preparing fruit, about 10 minutes.

Heat butter in sauté pan, add apple and pear, sprinkle with cinnamon and nutmeg. Sauté a few minutes, add juice and raisins. Cook stirring 3-5 minutes. Stir couscous with fork to separate grains and add to the pan; heat thoroughly, stirring occasionally. Serve topped with yogurt and more honey if desired. Serves 4-6.~~

Fruit Smoothie with Yogurt

1 cup orange juice
1 large banana, in pieces
2 tablespoons wheat germ, optional
1 cup plain yogurt
1 tablespoon honey, (opt.)

Place all in blender and process for @ 30 seconds.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Lavender State of Mind

Ever since my stint on the French Riviera a few years back I have been smitten by lavender. The Mediterranean heat and soil create the perfect growing conditions for its cultivation, and I vividly recall romantic fields of lavender artfully brushed about the countryside. The markets were redolent with its fresh green scent, too. I’m still transported by anything even remotely related to lavender, from sachets and dried arrangements to colorful Provencal fabrics.

On my return home I tried growing lavender, but sadly South Florida was not the South of France. To my elation I discovered it grows very well here in Oregon and have wasted very little time in planting two varieties: a yellow and a blue-purple. I’m told lavender can be slow to bloom in its first year, so I’ve been happy to fuss over them like a doting parent, just happy they are there: growing chubby and sending up a few colorful blooms.

One day this summer on a visit to my local farm stand, I spotted huge bouquets of lavender; apparently a bumper crop shared by a local grower. I was beside myself with excitement: the idea of having such a huge amount at my disposal! I gathered up the biggest bunch possible and buried my nose in the center of this blissful purple haze! Heavenly! My own catnip!

Now, really. I needed more information; why was I so undone by lavender?
I learned that it has a long association with love and is considered an aphrodisiac. It has great healing qualities and is used in antiseptics. And how about some of the folklore claims: back in the Dark Ages it was considered an embalming aid for corpses; and mystics still recommend it for clearing rooms of evil spirits.
Well, there you have it, Nature's insurance policy. With lavender nearby, all my bases are surely covered!

Today lavender is as popular as ever and is practically a household word; it’s ultra-clean scent is in laundry detergents, household cleansers and body products. If that's not enough, it is used to induce sleep, ease stress and relieve depression. It is also used as a tea, to make compresses for dressing wounds and to apply to the forehead to relieve congestion on sinuses, headaches, hangovers, tiredness, tension and exhaustion. Personally, I can vouch for its calming and uplifting qualities!

Suffice to say, it’s been quite the relaxed lavender summer; with all my puttering I managed to whip through my entire supply except for one small dried bouquet. This past week with the change of seasons approaching, it was cooler and time to bake. Again, I had lavender on my mind.
Here is my favorite biscotti recipe which includes cornmeal and usually fennel seeds for flavoring. I’ve substituted lavender instead – its delicate perfume provides an exquisite complement. This cookie is especially delicious with Earl Grey tea for dipping.

Lavender Hazelnut Biscotti

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 tablespoon orange juice
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
1 3/4 cups flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon lavender buds, heaping
1 cup hazelnuts, coarse chop

In a mixing bowl, mix sugar, butter, orange juice and vanilla, beat in the eggs.

Separately combine dry items and stir into sugar mixture. Stir in lavender and nuts. Cover and chill until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees line a cookie sheet with parchment or silpat. Shape dough on sheets into long flat loaves, about 1 1/2" wide. Place them 2" apart, they will spread. Bake until light brown, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and lower heat to 350 degrees.

Let cool to touch, and with serrated knife, slice into 1/2" to 3/4" thick diagonal slices. Place cut sides down on pans. Bake again, til lightly toasted, 15-18 minutes. Transfer rack to cool. Store airtight up to 3 weeks. Makes about 3 dozen. ~~

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Homage to the Humble Bramble

For this city girl, it’s been quite a year. My move to the country has been more than a major geographic relocation; it has also been a psychological and emotional shift. I am reminded of that each time I walk out my door and clip an herb or pick a berry.

I’ve always appreciated excellent fruits and vegetables and certainly prefer shopping organic when possible. But, in my flawed thinking, produce would always be on my market shelf, I might pay more for it, but that was the height of my inconvenience. I had not made the actual connection between my daily food supply and the earth from which it came.

Now, living closer to the land I am fascinated by the order and rhythm of nature; I’m awed by nature’s systematic abundance. How miraculous, the seasonal process of a mere sprout shooting from the earth, manufacturing new branches and leaves, buds and blossoms, and finally bearing its own sweet and succulent fruit, with little assistance on my part!

Early in the season, my neighbor next door warned me about our shared blackberry bushes. Apparently, in the past their invasive brambles have gotten wildly out of control, choking everything in their path. I couldn’t bear to completely eliminate them, so I promised to scrupulously monitor their growth and maintain only the tiniest little patch.

And so, it has become a ritual and my joy to regularly oversee my little patch of berries, to marvel at their ability to thrive, to snip when necessary, and to happily harvest a bowl of ripe fruit for later sharing and enjoyment. I have discovered there is nothing better than fresh berries straight up, or perhaps topped with a nice scoop of vanilla ice cream.

This past weekend on a regular inspection with bowl in hand, I dipped and peered at my thorny bushes looking for more berries. I was perturbed and deeply mystified to admit that my seemingly endless supply was apparently drying up! How could that be? Barely able to glean a full cup of fruit, I sadly noted this year’s best berry days were gone for good.

Back in the kitchen, it was only right to pay final homage to my beloved blackberry patch. With such a limited offering, I pulled out my most suitable companions, two large tart apples, and set about making a beautiful and appropriate tribute, an old-fashioned Apple Berry Crisp.

Apple Berry Crisp

1 pound tart apples, 5 cups peeled, cored and sliced bite sized
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup blackberries
Topping1/3 cup flour, divided
1/3 cup oats
1/3 cup brown sugar
pinch salt
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons butter, cut up
2 tablespoons canola oil

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9" oven proof bowl or pie dish.

In large bowl, toss apples with lemon juice and orange juice, sprinkle with sugar, cinnamon, and 1 Tbsp of flour. Toss to coat. Place in baking dish and bake about 15 minutes, to pre-cook while preparing topping.

In same mixing bowl, mix oats, remaining flour thru spices; work in butter until mixture forms clumps; then add oil and distribute evenly. Gently add the blackberries to the partially cooked apples and crumble topping evenly over fruit.

Bake until top is golden and crisp, 30 - 35 minutes. Serve warm with cream or ice cream.
Serves 4-6. ~~

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Green and Glorious

The buzz at our Farmers' Market this past week was all about the baby tomatoes at Quail Ridges’ booth. To prove their point, samples of 5 or 6 different heirloom baby tomatoes were neatly lined up for side-by-side comparisons.

Of all, I was most smitten by the baby green tomatoes. Perhaps it was their vibrant green color that threw me off, but I was not prepared for the flavor that burst forth as I popped one in my mouth. This little ball of dead ripe dynamite utterly exploded with sheer tomato essence!

Still reeling, I wandered over to Grateful Harvest’s booth and blankly asked Jessie about those funny looking green beans she was fussing over. It always amazes me how patient our vendors are, repeating the same information over and over as if it were the first time. With a sweet smile, Jessie explains that these Italian flat beans may look tough, but they are quite tender and cook in a flash.

At home much later, it occurs to me that I have all the makings for a delicious fall pasta "primavera". One quick bite of a Romano bean tells me Jessie was right: these are so tender they will cook in a hurry!

Since this will be shades of a stir fry, I begin by bringing the pasta water to a boil. I sauté the veggies and add winter savory, my current favorite herb. It ties the fresh green flavor of the beans and the earthiness of the mushrooms together into a lovely package; the jewel-like baby green tomatoes are left whole for mouth popping entertainment. Yes, the pasta creates the perfect canvas for these beauties to shine and clearly begs for cheese. Ricotta salata, my choice, plays an active role here; if not available, feta would be another good option.

Pasta with Romano Beans, Mushrooms and Baby TomatoesFor a special finish, sprinkle this “primavera” with sauteed bread crumbs flavored with garlic and herbs
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
½ Walla Walla sweet onion, cut into long strips
3/4 pound broad beans, trimmed and diagonally cut in 1 1/2" lengths
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces mushrooms, stemmed, sliced
1 cup baby tomatoes, red, green, or any color as available
1 teaspoon fresh savory
1/2 teaspoon salt and red pepper flakes to taste
1 teaspoon fresh oregano
1/2 pound fettuccine or linguine
1/2 cup ricotta salata, 1/4" slice and cut into 1" strips
fresh oregano for garni

Begin by bringing salted pasta water to a boil. When water is boiling, add pasta and cook until al dente, approx. 10 minutes. Drain, reserving @ 1/2 cup of hot pasta water, and rinse.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp oil in large sauté pan over medium high heat, add onion and cook briefly til aromatic. Add cut beans and stir fry until just tender, about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic, then the savory; cook 3-4 minutes til mushrooms begin to release their liquid. Stir in the tomatoes and heat well.

Place the rinsed pasta pot back over medium heat, heat the remaining tbsp or oil, and add the drained pasta. Toss the pasta to coat with olive oil and season with salt, red pepper, and oregano. Add the sauteed veggies and combine lightly. Add the ricotta salata and heat well. Garnish with the fresh oregano if desired. Serves 2 as entree, 4 as a starter or side. ~~

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Bowling for Lettuce

Prowling about our local Farmers' Market recently, my eyes were suddenly transfixed upon the enchanting baskets freshly displayed at Fern Ridge Nursery’s booth, heads of red and green lettuce formed into lush hanging gardens, utterly dripping in natural abundance.

No question, this was a must have: a veritable bowl of instant salad to smartly grace my rear deck, only steps from my kitchen door. I envisioned self languishing on deck, fabulous lettuce positioned nearby, scissors casually poised, a small stylish dish of flavored olive oil on the ready for dipping. A snip, a dip, a knowing nod, too charming for words!

Moments later, puffed as the proud owner of a new pet dangling from its leash, I strutted off with my prize, handling instructions attached:

“Harvest outer leaves.
Inner leaves will continue to grow allowing you to enjoy fresh salads for weeks!”

Truth is, my lettuce basket was so beautiful, I could hardly bear to snip its perfect leaves, I could only stare for two days.

It took an arm load of zucchini, sweet peppers and red onions to shake my trance and thrust me into action. Fridge staples of Kalamata olives, pepperoncini, and a coveted block of Greek feta made it a no-brainer.

It was time to grill!

Grilled Greek Salad
A satisfying summer meal, with enough additional marinade to baste a small amount of fish, chicken, pork or beef .

2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt and dried red pepper flakes
3/4 cup olive oil
Grilled Vegetables
2 medium red onion, cut into 3/4-inch rounds
3 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into thick slices
3 small yellow squash, cut lengthwise into thick slices
2 medium red bell peppers, cut into 2" wide pieces
2 medium green bell pepper, cut into 2" wide pieces
10 cups mixed lettuce
1/4 cup fresh herbs, such as oregano, marjoram, mint, dill; more for garni
1 cup red baby tomatoes
1 cup Greek feta cheese, large crumble
1 cup Kalamata olives
1/2 cup pepperoncini pepper, slices
additional accompaniments: radishes, cucumber, grilled bruschetta

Prepare dressing/marinade, whisking in olive oil to emulsify.

Prepare grill and when coals are glowing: brush vegies with marinade and grill to mark on each side, about 4 minutes per side, do not over cook. Grill bread if making bruschetta, brushing with additional dressing if desired.

Assemble salad: arrange grilled items attractively on top of lettuce and fresh herbs, garnish as above. Pass dressing. Serves 4 as entree.~~

Thursday, September 4, 2008

American as… Bodacious Corn

Last year at this time, corn was just corn. In the south, they grow it sweet and it all passed my lips in a hurry, unnamed. Back then, I liked to strip the husk back and remove the silk. I’d place the moist rewrapped corn in the microwave for about 3 minutes. When it was steaming I’d remove the husk and quickly sear the kernels on the grill, then drizzle with a little lime juice, maybe some chili flakes.

It was Michael Pollen’s book, Omnivore’s Dilemma, that underscored for me the fundamental importance of corn in this country. I understood that it was an early American staple shared by the Indians and early settlers; I got the historical significance.

What I failed to appreciate was corn as the American success story, of its incredible impact on the industrial age. Once it was discovered in a lab that a slight alteration of corn’s genetic composition could make it more abundant, more useful, it wasn’t long before the revolution kicked into high gear. Corn’s affordability and versatility made it the darling of industry; corn was everywhere: in sugars, oils, cereals and other convenience foods; in plastics, packaging and fuel. For a country hungry for beef, it was the prime feed for cattle. Corn was no longer just a vegetable; it was a commodity capable of influencing national economic policy.

On my cross country trip this year, catchy signs would appear along the road side for ‘Bodacious Corn!’ They were usually situated at the most inconvenient times, when I had no desire to stop and inquire. I would press on in my westerly direction, and continue to muse. Bodacious? Corn? What does that mean? Was it some sort of local mythology? An incomplete ad for Burma Shave?A corny joke, perhaps?

Now, here in Oregon, I’ve been told all about Bodacious corn and the debate rages on. Considered by some ‘hands down the most superior corn available’; it’s easy to grow, big, fat, juicy and absolutely delicious; it keeps and freezes quite well. Referred to as a triple sweet variety, it is considered cutting edge in corn breeding technology.

Good gracious, it’s Bodacious! Only in America.

Garden Cornbread
Practically a meal, this low fat veggie laden beauty is moist and portions easily thanks to the secret ingredient: couscous.

1 tablespoon butter, divided
3 scallions, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
1/2 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 cup or more fresh corn kernels, 1 large ear
2 tablespoons pepperoncini, slices
3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup couscous grains
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line and spray 8" square pan.

Spray a medium skillet and melt 2 tsp butter over medium low heat. Add the scallion and peppers; cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the oregano and corn; cook 2 minutes longer. Remove from heat and add pepperoncini.

Sift flour, baking powder, soda and cornstarch into a bowl; add the salt, sugar, cornmeal and couscous and combine evenly. Stir in buttermilk and eggs with a few strokes, then stir in vegetables, do not over mix.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake until set and almost done, about 15 minutes; brush top lightly with remaining butter, melted. Remove from oven when puffed and golden, about 20 minutes.
Serves 4-6. ~~

Chili-fied Lentils with Corn
Inspired by Didi Emmons’ Entertaining for a Veggie Planet

For a meat version, substitute about ½ pound cooked ground beef for pumpkin seeds

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
28 ounces can diced or crushed tomatoes, with juice
2 cups lentils, green or brown
4 chipotles in adobo, or see note below
2 cups water, up to 4 cups or more
2 tablespoons cornmeal
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/3 cups corn kernels, @ 1-2 ears
1 cup pumpkin seeds, roasted, toasted, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
accompaniments: green onion and yogurt crema, pickled red onions, cilantro

In large pot sauté onion in olive oil; when soft add garlic, cumin and coriander, and sauté til aromatic. Stir in tomatoes, the lentils, chipotles and 2 cups water and bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer adding water as needed as it thickens; cook 40 minutes. Stir in additional 1 cup water plus 2 tbsp. cornmeal and simmer additional 10 minutes or longer, until lentils are soft and it has thickened. Adjust seasoning, adding salt and pepper.

Add the corn kernels and heat through, about 2 minutes. Stir in cilantro and pumpkin seeds. Serve in bowls topped with sour cream, more cilantro, and a few more seeds. Serves 6. ~~

Note: if chipotles in adobo are unavailable: substitute 3-5 dried peppers, plus 1 tbsp each smoked paprika, chili powder and cider vinegar; and a pinch cinnamon.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gad Zukes!

It's that time of year again. Once more it’s zucchini time, and we're primed for a few good belly laughs. What in the world will we do with all this funny looking zucchini? For starters, I offer some shareable humor poking fun at the versatile yet bland zucchini, the occasional clown, and surely one of nature’s most prolific characters:

Here's a gardener's joke…
How can you tell a person who doesn't have any friends?
He has to BUY his zucchinis! (Snicker!)

Or, how about this second amendment joke…
Beware of dangerous vegetables!
A man in White Plains, N.Y., tried to hold up a bank with a zucchini.
The police captured him at his house, where he showed them his "weapon". (Dark humor!)

My favorite doctor joke…
A guy has celery sticking out of one ear, lettuce out of the other, and a zucchini up his nose. He goes to the doctor and asks him what’s wrong.
The doctor tells him, "Well, for one thing, you’re not eating right."
(Guffaw! ! ) Gad Zukes!

Now without further ado, may I present to you the following variations on a theme and true gustatory delights. Bon appétit!

Zucchini Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta
Handsome make-ahead accompaniment with pasta

3 medium zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 green onion, chopped (including greens)
1 large clove garlic, crush
2 tablespoons pine nuts, chop lightly
2 cups spinach, shredded and packed
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated, divided
1/2 dash nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 tablespoon crushed mixed seasonal herbs, basil, oregano 1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper each
1/2 cup bread crumbs, divided
olive oil for drizzling

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.
Cut zucchinis in half, scoop out centers (if unmalleable, the flesh may be softened by placing in microwave for 1 minute).

In small sauté pan, heat olive oil, add green onion and garlic and stir briefly, add the pine nuts, tossing until aromatic; stir in the spinach to wilt. Set aside to cool.

In medium bowl, combine ricotta and about 1/3 cup of the parmesan, stir in the red pepper flakes, nutmeg, and herbs and season with salt and pepper. Add the sautéed veggies, plus about 2 Tbsp bread crumbs or enough to bind.

Sprinkle zucchini halves with salt, mound with filling, and place on prepared baking sheet.
Combine remaining bread crumbs, cheese and a little olive oil to moisten; sprinkle over the tops of the filled zucchini and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Can be make ahead to this point.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until bubbly and tops are golden brown.
Serves 6 ~~

B.L.D. Bars
These tasty treats are great any time, especially Breakfast-Lunch-or-Dessert. They hold well making them the perfect partner for picnics or travel.

3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup coconut flakes
3/4 cup dates, chopped
3/4 cup raisins or dried berries
2 cups zucchini, freshly shredded, or reserved from another cause

1 tablespoon melted butter
2 tablespoons buttermilk or milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup powdered sugar
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped, toasted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line and spray 9x13 pan. Combine dry ingredients and set aside.

Cream butter and sugars, add eggs and vanilla. Stir in dry mixture. Stir in dried fruits and zucchini. Spread evenly in pan and bake 35 to 40 minutes. Cool briefly.

Whisk topping until smooth and drizzle over top, sprinkle with nuts. Cool then cut.
Yield: 24 or more bars ~~

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Blue Heaven

There’s a sign on the highway that taunts me every time I drive past it: “Blueberries U-Pick”. I’m always too busy, too dressed, going somewhere else, always with the excuses. One morning this past week I decide to drop everything and just do it.

The Blueberry Patch is an institution in these parts and families are encouraged to come and spend the day, as evidenced by the number of parked cars that have preceded me. There’s quite an operation in process. It’s the coolest part of they day, and the lemonade stand is already in full swing. Next to it, folks with buckets of berries surround the cashier’s weigh station idly chatting and waiting their turn. In a quiet moment I sheepishly step forward and murmur that I’m new at this, a first timer.

Chuck the manager, clearly has been through this drill many times before. Taking me under his wing, he moves around the stand and reaches for a harness and bucket. In short order I’m fitted with my gear, snapped in, and we are headed out in search of proper picking grounds. I ask Chuck how much the bucket might hold. “Oh, maybe ten pounds,” he calculates and stops at a row. He carefully pulls a loaded branch over the bucket and gingerly loosens only the ripe ones, they fall effortlessly into the bucket. Nice.

“What about snakes?” I nervously ask Chuck as I examine the shady, inviting bushes. Chuck assures me not to worry, his dogs stay busy; he wishes me happy picking, and retreats.

I examine my territory. I am alone amongst 47 acres of tall fat bushes. Where is everyone? Where do I begin? I sample a berry or two; they are plump, juicy and delicious. Wow! I have the necessary incentive to proceed.

Not so easy. I fumble as many of my fattest gems entirely miss the bucket and fall below. On hands and knees, I search out these errant beauties, the ground is scattered with them! How sad… one for me, and one for the pot. I gaze about, it’s a gorgeous setting, the bushes are lush, green, and so tall that they actually provide a bit of cover from the warming sun. I’d love to have one of these in my yard, I muse. My bucket is filling incredibly slowly. I have allotted myself 1 ½ hours for this task and time is passing fast. At this pace, I will be here all day.

With renewed vigor I approach the bushes in earnest and an easy rhythm develops. I smile as I pluck away. I overhear voices and snatches of conversations. A guy is asking his girl friend if she is waiting for the berries to drop into her bucket by themselves! Someone else is talking about their current travel; they’ve been to the hot springs and decided to stop. I hear Latinos chattering back and forth and the clipped sing-song banter of Asians hard at it. I am thoroughly embracing this cultural enclave! The berries are falling into my bucket by themselves, I look down and it is almost full! Done!

I am now an accomplished picker and smartly head to the weigh station, to expedite this matter and wrap it up. The owner is there presiding over the proceedings. He eyes my bucket of effort and heartily congratulates me as he places my loot on the scales. “Nine pounds!” he announces and beams.

I’m impressed too, that’s a lot of berries.

Blueberry Crostata with Hazelnut Streusel
A light free-formed pastry, lemon-scented blueberry filling and hazelnut enhanced streusel

1 1/2 cups flour, less 2 Tbsp
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup butter, partially frozen, cut into 1/2" pieces
2 tablespoons shortening, partially frozen, cut into pieces
4 tablespoons ice water, or more if needed
Streusel1/3 cup flour, heaping
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch salt
1/4 cup butter, cold, diced
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
Berry Filling3 cups blueberries, heaping
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon lemon, zest, grated
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten with 2 Tbsp water

For pastry: Place dry ingredients in food processor and place in freezer to chill. When ready, process 5 seconds to blend.
Add half each of the butter and shortening to processor and toss to coat with flour. Pulse 4 or 5 times, then process 4-5 seconds. Add remaining butter and shortening and pulse 4-5 seconds or to consistency of fine meal with some pea sizes. Add 4 tbsp ice water all at once and just to form clumps, adding more water if necessary. Press into a ball with floured hands and form into 5" disk. Chill 30 minutes or longer. Makes 9-11"shell.

For streusel: In same processor place dry ingredients and pulse to combine; Add butter and pulse to form pea sized crumbs, add hazelnuts,pulse briefly. crumble with fingers to form clumps; and chill til needed.

For filling: Combine the dry ingredients in medium bowl, add lemon juice and toss. Add berries and stir to combine.

To assemble crostata: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line baking sheet with parchment.
On floured surface, roll out pastry to about 11-12" circle. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and pile berry filling onto center leaving 1/2-2" border. Sprinkle berries with crumbled streusel, holding a little back. Brush edges with beaten egg and gently fold the edge of dough up and over berries, pleating and sealing to encase berries and form neat secure circle. Fill in with remaining streusel and brush exterior pastry edge with beaten egg.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until blueberry filling is bubbly and pastry is golden, lower heat if streusel browns to quickly. Cool. Serve warm or room temperature. Serves 6-8. ~~

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Aroma Therapy

Odors and scents catch my attention immediately, frequently without any particular awareness on my part. Clearly, the years of professional cooking and multi-tasking in the kitchen have enhanced and refined my sense of smell. The 'whiff test', an essential component in my own culinary tool box, can be the crucial step in averting potential disaster or simply keeping me on track. If food is on the edge of burning, that horrid acrid smell is a toe-curling alarm. In baking with chocolate for example, each degree of doneness has its own fabulous set of aromas. And there’s nothing is better than the perfume of a perfectly ripe peach.

In my new home I am completely captivated by all the deliriously heady fragrances emanating from my hillside and garden. I love deeply inhaling the pungent woodsy odor of our tall elegant cedar trees, each new rose offers its own personal sweetness, and I’m enthralled by the incredible vitality and freshness of lavender. A snip here and snip there, into the kitchen they come and soon the sublime scents of nature waft throughout the house.

As my picked bounties fade all too fast I begin pondering ways to savor them longer, to preserve them. I carefully lay snippets of flowers and herbs about to dry and it’s not long before I have petals and bouquets everywhere. I really need to get this under control.

Voila! Good Fortune arrives via Goodwill in the form of a food dehydrator, sans owners manual.

On line research, input from friends, repeated trial and error, slowly I develop a rhythm of harvesting and drying my lovelies. Obvious here, potpourri is the next magical step in this mysterious escapade. Back to Goodwill, one large storage jar later and I’m in business, all these mystical components merge into a fledgling concoction with personality and character. She is named appropriately after her motherland, Vida Lea Potpourri.
I harvest glorious lavender and decide it is most definitely one of the key elements in my potpourri. I watch the rose bushes like a predator, waiting for the perfect time to capture their essence. In a heart beat lavish bouquets evaporate into small piles of dried petals. I spot tiny cedar cones sprinkled about the yard and gather them up, but hold them in abeyance, hoping for larger prototypes as time goes by. I pluck tendrils of sage which flourishes here, this provocative, musky element is an excellent addition. More dimension is still needed and I invite a few extraneous renegades - mandarin orange peel from Australia and cinnamon bark from my local Market of Choice (!).

Another learning curve, I’m gleaning old collectible cook books and discover that back in the day, essential oils and orris root were used in potpourris to boost and stabilize their scent. I consult my friend Kathleen from my local Farmers Market, who also owns Pioneer Natural Soap Company and specializes in botanical products for the home. Together we create a unique oil blend especially for Vida Lea Potpourri.

I add our oil blend and once a day give the potpourri a good shake to distribute the fragrance. The curing procedure will go on for several weeks before it is completely set. I smile at this remarkable abstract of nature in a jar – a richly scented myriad of colorful shapes and textures. Pure ambrosia.

But wait! There’s an added benefit: by adding our signature oil blend to distilled water, I have instant Vida Lea Aroma Spray! My own personal cloud of lavender, cedar, rose, citrus and cinnamon for linens, beds and clothes!

In theory, it would have been faster and easier to simply dash out and grab a bag or a bottle at the store. Then again, it is all about the process.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Just another Chartreuse Cone Head

This past weekend I dragged home another new friend from the Farmers Market. There, at Macready’s, in a corner all cozied up next to the eggplant lurked a suspicious extraterrestrial specimen – an odd sort, sporting a bumpy, chartreuse green, purple tinged cone head.

“What’s this?!” I squint and puzzle.
“Broccoli Romanesco,” Louise murmurs and continues sorting her tomatoes, “it’s a cross between cauliflower and broccoli.”
As if it was just another eggplant.

No newcomer I learn, broccoli Romanesco has been around since 16th century Italy. These days it is regarded as a specialty crop and rarely appears in the average grocery store – thus, the perfect candidate for farmers markets. Apparently, it has grown in popularity with urban gardeners as well, due to its unusual appearance plus the fact that it can regenerate itself. The gardener need only harvest a required amount, not the entire head, and it will grow back again.

Much later the same day, in hungry deliberation, my refrigerator looks very empty and not much to draw from. Except for a peculiar chartreuse addition. I inspect it and decide it looks neither like cauliflower nor broccoli, besides anything resembling those familiar florets is replaced by quirky spirals. I quickly assess the obvious possibilities. When I think of cauliflower I tend to first consider a curry or a cheesy sauce. Here, curry may mask its flavor and I will never know what I’ve eaten. Moving towards cheesy, I opt to honor its Italian heritage and go for a variation on an old standby, Pasta Carbonara.

I have been preparing versions of Pasta Carbonara for years and it continues to adapt and re-invent itself, depending upon my current financial condition and/or health focus. It is basic enough that I usually have the necessary ingredients on hand and can create a tasty and satisfying meal in no time. Here’s one more evolution that makes an easy one pot meal in less than an hour.

Pasta Carbonara with Broccoli Romanesco

1 head broccoli Romanesco, cut into bite-sized florets
4 slices smoked bacon, in 1/2" slices
1 small onion, sliced into small strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 dried red chili pepper, crumbled
3 eggs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
salt and pepper
10 ounces penne pasta, or other
Additional Parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Cut broccoli into bite sized florets and set aside. In a small bowl beat egg, Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper and set aside.

In medium skillet cook bacon til crisp; remove bacon and drain off all but 2 Tbsp bacon drippings. Add onion, sauté onion til soft and translucent, add garlic and crumbled dried pepper flakes and toss til aromatic.

Meanwhile cook pasta about 6 minutes, add broccoli and cook another 3 minutes, til all are still al dente. Do not over cook. Drain, reserving about 1 cup pasta water. Whisk about 1/2 cup water into to egg mixture.

Remove skillet from heat, add pasta and toss to combine with onions. Pour egg mixture over pasta and toss to coat pasta; add additional pasta water to form creamy saucy. Return to low heat if necessary to set sauce. Sprinkle with bacon and pass additional cheese. Serves 4. ~~

Notes after the fact: I’m impressed! Broccoli Romanesco has a slightly sweet root flavor similar to turnips. It makes a perfect component with the pasta for a quick one dish meal, and it is good match with the creamy cheese and bacon of the Carbonara Sauce. Cooking it al dente, as I prefer most of my vegetables, holds the color and shape nicely. Next time I will bring home a bigger head!

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Contemplation on Beets

I'm embarrassed to truthfully admit here that I’ve never cooked a real beet. In my twisted mind I'm thinking, "All that red. What a mess."

However, my personal challenge this summer is to reach out to lesser known produce, i.e. those I haven’t had a previous kitchen encounter. This leaves a very broad field, since without a nudge I tend to gravitate to the same comfortable options. That in mind, beets came into focus at my local farmer’s market this week and I timidly opted for only 4 – just in case. They sat in my fridge for 2 days as I pondered what to do next.

With all the fabulous fresh fruit lately I’ve gotten into deep dessert overload. In fact, I’ve been seriously contemplating a one day fast - a time to halt, to eat simply and meditatively. Only enough to purify the mind, body and soul: a light salad, a bit of fruit, round it out with lemon tea. A very good idea.

In this salad mode I mused, I could kick it up a notch and take the easy way out with those beets! Feature them raw with some edgy greens, a delicious cheese - perhaps a Rogue River Blue or a Basque P'tit Pyrenees, add sweet tangy Australian mandarin orange wedges, some toasted hazelnuts, maybe a few olives, top it all off with a lovely Raspbery-Citrus or Sherry Vinaigrette. Nice. Well, not exactly a simple salad, and likely more than a days worth.

Of course then, Red Flannel Hash was a real possibility… I love Corned Beef Hash; but it seemed the humble beet would slip into obscurity, overshadowed by those hefty hash partners. Besides, I’m trying to go light here… maybe not.

A friend suggested Borscht and we both tittered at the idea! Borscht? Ha! Now that’s desperately dull, isn’t it? I’m sure I’ve had it before, but it left no memorable impression. And so it went. Until I remembered the Smoked Chicken Stock in the freezer; and then Borscht began to make sense. More research, further contemplation. Thus evolves a soup equally worthy of an all day fast, a feast, or a classy chilled starter course.

Good news! I am relieved to reveal that beet juice is not life threatening, although I carefully donned surgical gloves, just in case. The peeling and chopping proceeded quickly, as opposed to roasting them whole (another consideration), and I was done in no time; all surfaces including my wooden board wiped clean without a trace of red! Into the pot they went along with the other veggies and soup was ready within 30 minutes! Next time I will forget the gloves - and there will be a next time!

This is truly a healthful soup, incredibly satisfying, and a stunning ruby red color to behold. I personally like the texture and identity of the jewel-like vegetables and opted not to puree – another option. Although the Smoked Chicken Stock is a fabulous addition, I now recognize that the combination here is so pristine, an excellent vegetable stock would be equally successful. I took my cue from the pickled beets we served at Thanksgiving when I was growing up, and offset the beets’ natural sweetness with a similar touch of cider vinegar. On final, I stirred in chopped dill plus a good hit of fresh lemon juice, and tweaked it with a bit more sugar to balance the sweet/sourness. A dollop of yogurt to swirl in makes this a spectacular summer soup – hot or cold.

Further embellishments: add grilled or sautéed Kielbasa for a full and satisfying meal. If the beet greens are available, cut them up, sauté in olive oil and garlic, add a hint of lemon juice, and garnish the soup.

Beet Borscht
Inspired by 1998 Bon Appetit magazine, per Epicurious

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chop
2 cloves garlic, mince
¼ teaspoon allspice
6 cups Smoked Chicken Stock, approx., or other broth
1 cup tomato sauce
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, medium chop
3 red potatoes, medium chop
4 beets, peel, medium chop
1/2 head green cabbage, cored and medium chop
1/4 cup dill, chop, or more
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Additional salt, pepper, sugar, or vinegar to taste
Yogurt or sour cream, lemon, dill

In a large pot over medium high, heat oil and sauté onion until soft; stir in the garlic and allspice and cook until aromatic. Add broth, tomato sauce, condiments and seasonings; add carrots, potatoes, beets, cabbage.

Bring soup to boil. Reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Stir in the dill; adjust flavors with lemon juice, salt, pepper as needed, and/or sugar to balance.

Serve hot or cold. Top with dollop of yogurt, sprinkle with dill, offer additional lemon. Serves 6. ~~

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Peach Perfect

With all the hyper-fresh fruit hitting the markets in these last days of July, I’m on a serious dessert kick. Nothing is better than a ripe, juicy peach heavy with the sweet promise of summer; so tempting of late, I barely made it out of the market before polishing off my first one. Heading home and temporarily sated, my mind turned to visions of a glorious Clafoutis with peaches.

Ever since I experienced my first Clafoutis at a charming inn in France I have been smitten by this dessert. It was displayed, somehow oddly appropriate, in welcoming splendor on a large entry table - a large deep pan-full, partially cut, for all to ponder. Ultimately, it was as remarkable as it appeared: thick dense fruity custard loaded with sliced apples, sheathed in a puffed and crisp exterior.

I religiously collect Clafoutis recipes and photos, prepare it, sample it whenever the opportunity is presented. One thing I do know, is that there must be as many ways to prepare this classic as there are ways to make bread pudding. Depending on the proportions of egg, flour and milk/cream, the results can be anywhere from a custard base, to a crepe-like consistency, and even a cake of sorts. I love them all.

One version that caught my curiosity recently comes from The French Farm House Cookbook by Susan Hermann Loomis. This one seemed to have a higher amount of milk/cream and more flour than most; plus requiring a minimal amount of butter. Although cherries tend to be the traditional fruit in the Limousin region, Susan suggests apricots. In the past I have also made delicious Clafoutis with apples, pears, plums, and even mangoes.

As far as I am concerned, this is utter perfection. It has all the attributes I find important: it looks delicate and fragile, however it remains beautifully puffed and light. It stands firm and stable, in wonderful contrast to the thick sumptuous interior custard afloat with intense sliced peaches. To die for!

Peach Clafoutis
Adapted from The French Farm House Cookbook
by Susan Hermann Loomis
4 peaches -- pitted and cut into thick wedges
1 cup flour -- minus 2 Tbsp, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt -- heaping
2 cups milk, divided
3 large eggs
1/3 cup sugar, or more
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon butter -- cut into 6 pieces

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, butter and lightly flour 9 1/2: round tart pan or baking dish.

In mixing bowl place the sifted flour and salt and mix to combine. Whisk in 1 cup milk until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, whisking after each. Whisk in sugar, the remaining 1 cup milk, and vanilla.

Arrange the peaches in bottom of baking dish. Pour batter over fruit. Dot with butter and bake until golden and puffed, 30-40 minutes. Cool thoroughly. Serves 6. ~~

Clafoutis Musings: Be certain to butter and flour the baking dish, it will help the rising process. Another trick is to use a very hot oven. Regarding sugar quantity, depending on the fruit, I sometimes sprinkle additional sugar over it before adding the custard. The peaches are so juicy I would not recommend this and would add a bit more to the custard instead. Milk vs cream: it’s customary in most Clafoutis to include cream in the custard, I find 2% milk suffices nicely, just don’t skimp on using the best fruit available.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Kitchen Kuchen

This past weekend I wanted to bake a casual seasonal cake of some sort for out of town visitors and was thrilled to spot marionberries at my neighborhood produce market. These sweet, plump beauties are a coveted specialty crop here in Oregon, and surprisingly as it turns out, marionberries haven’t been around all that long. They were introduced back in the 40’s/50’s as a hybrid cross between two other stalwarts: the small highly prized ollalieberry and the large, prolific Chehalem blackberry.

Here’s a marionberry version of my latest easy dessert and adaptable snack of choice from Grazing by Julie Van Rosendaal, a great little cookbook on simple snacks of all descriptions. It’s fairly stingy on the butter and includes yogurt, which I appreciate, with my penchant for pecking….

Some may choose to call this a coffeecake because of the yummy crumble topping; however as a fellow grazer I prefer to loosely refer to it as a kuchen, with its less limiting implications and timeless possibilities. Try other seasonal fruits such as apricots, pears, or other berries, you won’t be disappointed.

Marionberry Kuchen
Adapted from Grazing by Julie Van Rosendaal
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup plain yogurt or milk
1 1/2 cups berries; 2 peaches, apples, 3-4 plums peel if needed, slice
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons corn syrup or honey
1/4 cup almonds, sliced, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line and spray 8x8” pan or 5x14” tart pan.

In a medium bowl whisk butter and sugar until well blended, beat in egg and vanilla.

Combine dry ingredients separately along with lemon zest: add half to the butter mixture and beat just to blend; add the yogurt and beat just to blend. Add remaining dry ingredients and beat until just combined.

Spread batter evenly into pan. Sprinkle with berries or layer sliced fruit on top, placing slices close together to overlap, the fruit with shrink as it bakes.

For crumble: In a small bowl, stir sugar, flour, cinnamon together, add the butter and crumble with fingers or fork. Stir in almonds if using and sprinkle the topping evenly over fruit. Bake 30-40 minutes or until golden and springy to touch. Cool in pan; or if using tart pan cool briefly and unmold sides, allow to cool and remove bottom. Serves 4 to 6. ~~

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Soul Food

Nothing speaks to me on a primal level more than a dense, tangy loaf of crusty bread; it's appealing, satisfying and comforting, a tangible link with the past when bread had revered status, and it wasn't about the carbs. I am completely in awe of the talent and dedication involved in creating a well crafted loaf. Upon reviewing the possibilities of producing a fool proof first-rate version at home from I was instantly intrigued: billed as an ‘artisan no-knead bread baked in a dutch oven’.

Thanks to its originator, Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan, this formula is approachable for the most novice baker. The dough requires a pittance of ¼ tsp. yeast with a first rise at room temperature taking up to 18 hours; this slow process produces an active highly fermented biga of sorts. Baking the dough in a heavy covered pot (a dutch oven) produces the moisture necessary for a dense crust and intense crumb.

Call it providence, about this time my sister-in-law steps forward bearing an unwanted dutch oven – with no inducement on my part! My mind is already processing the necessary time requirements for the ‘artisan no-knead bread baked in a dutch oven’. I start my dough before dinner; it takes minutes to whip up and set it aside for its overnight rise. By mid morning the dough is light, the surface dappled with bubbles. Since this is a wet, somewhat awkward dough, a dough scraper helps to gently move it about. A couple more flip-roll-and-rest sessions and by late morning my bread is in the oven sending off a marvelous, yeasty perfume. I can hardly bear not lifting the lid for a quick peek but resist. Finally, it’s baked and cool enough for lunch. Well, actually, it was lunch.

Note to self: Plan ahead.
I’ve made this loaf several times now, using different flour combinations, adding seeds, nuts, herbs and various flavorings to satisfy my mood or complement a meal. With my recent glut of garlic whistles, this week’s solution was obvious: French Onion-Garlic Bread, pungent with green garlic and Parmesan cheese and topped with caramelized onion and more cheese - truly outstanding. In lieu of garlic whistles, substitute sautéed garlic slivers.

French Onion-Garlic Artisan Bread
Inspired by Manhattan Sullivan Street Bakery
3 cups flour
1/4 tsp active yeast, or quick rise
1 3/4 tsp kosher salt
1 1/2 cups water
olive oil for coating
extra flour, cornmeal, or wheat bran, etc for dusting

Filling Additions: 1 Tbsp olive oil, 2 Tbsp chopped garlic whistles or fresh garlic slivers, 3 Tbsp. chives, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese,grated
Topping Additions: 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 sweet onion sliced in half through center and cut into strips, 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
Tools: 1 or 2 bowls, wooden spoon, scraper, large cotton towel, 2 3/4 qt. dutch oven

Ahead prepare any additions to bread: saute 2 Tbsp chopped garlic whistles or garlic slivers in olive oil to soften.
For bread dough: In a medium bowl combine all of the dry ingredients, including dough additions of garlic, chives and cheese. Using spatula add water and stir for 30 - 60 seconds to incorporate and form a loose wet dough, it will be sticky and shaggy.

Lightly coat the inside of a second medium bowl with olive oil, place dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and let dough rest at room temperature (70 degrees) for 12-18 hours,until light and bubbles form on surface.

On lightly floured surface, gently turn out dough sprinkling lightly with flour and fold once or twice. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rest 15 minutes on the work surface, or in a bowl.
Next, shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel with flour, cornmeal, or bran; place dough seam side down onto the towel and dust again. Cover the dough with the towel and let rise 1-2 hours at room temperature, until more than doubled in size.

At least 30 minutes before dough is ready, put cast-iron pot (or stoneware) in oven; preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove pot from oven when it has been heated. Carefully slide hand under towel and flip dough over and into hot pot; it will look messy. Cover with lid, bake 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare Caramelized Onion Topping: in medium saute pan heat oil and onion, saute over medium heat about 20 minutes until onion begin to turn golden. Allow to cool.
After bread has baked 30 minutes, remove from oven, sprinkle top evenly with caramelized onion and grated Parmesan cheese. Return to oven and reduce heat by 25 degrees, bake uncovered until loaf is browned, 15 - 30 minutes more. Remove pot to wire rack to cool briefly; carefully turn bread out of pot to cool on rack. . Makes one 1 1/2 pound loaf. ~~

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Fava Beans and Garlic Whistles...

Back in the land of milk and honey, last Saturday I ventured downtown to the very established Eugene Saturday Market. After struggling with the sadly under performing downtown farmers market in Greenville, SC my spirits soared with this robust, ebullient, slightly off tilt extravaganza in full glide.

There was chatter among the vendors, some thought it a little slow for this time of year. Were the nearby Olympic Trials creating competition instead of a draw? From my starving perspective there were plenty of folks milling about, shopping, chatting up the eclectic artisans and vendors promoting their tie-dyes, pottery, astrological advise and such. The food booths were surrounded by swarms of hungry diners and undecided debaters, others simply gawk and support nearby impromptu musicians.

The real sensory overload for me was across the street on yet another block showcasing a bustling assortment of local farmers, nurserymen, bakers and related merchants. To this point, I have maintained some level of composure, but fully loose it here! Healthy, charming plants I've never seen before are provided with personalized handling instructions; abundant displays of handcrafted breads and fresh baked sweets are intertwined with artisan honeys, jams and preserves; a procession of booths brimming with pristine organic produce: multi-colored radishes, fresh berries, cherries of every type, kales, lettuces...

At one booth, Jessie stops mounding green beans long enough to tell me about their latest crop of fava beans - something I've always wanted to try. Shell them like peas she explains, they are so young and tender they haven't yet grown the tough outer skin that can form around more mature beans.

Next to the fava beans are tidy bunches of thin green, snaky looking things Jessie calls Garlic Whistles. I love it! Alice Waters also refers to them as Green Garlic, they are the tender stalks of the garlic plant plucked before the bulb forms.  Into my politically correct market bag they go!

Much later... I stand transfixed in my kitchen staring down at my morning haul.  When I was little I could not abide lima beans - my mom's version were were flavorless, dry, and chokingly inedible. As I begin the tedious shelling process my biggest nightmare sets in:  these guys remind me of those dreaded lima beans.

Nevertheless, with ultimate faith in Alice Waters' judgement and Jesse's encouragement I cautiously press on. I cook them only long enough to soften them, al dente perhaps, but not bleach out their vibrant green.

Whoa!  Delicious and creamy, with a slight bit of texture from the skin - their subtle flavor reminds me of roasted chestnuts. So simple, so complete, the crunchiness of the mild garlic whistles, the fresh herbs and the pasta all soar in a triumphant symphony. Unfounded fear, thank you, Alice.

Fava Beans and Pasta
Adapted from Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook by Alice Waters
1 lb pasta, garganelli, penne, or a shell of some sort
3 cups fava beans, young and tender; 2 lbs in shell, blanch, peel
3 tbsp olive oil, more if needed
1/2 cup garlic whistles, mince, cut off the tough flower end
1/3 cup green onions, chopped
1 tsp winter savory
1 tsp rosemary
lemon juice, a few drops to taste
2 tbsp parsley, chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumble or shave
olive oil for drizzling

Cook the pasta al dente. Reserve a cup or so of pasta water.

Meanwhile prepare fava bean ragout by heating about 3 tbsp olive oil in skillet over moderate heat. Add the fava beans, the garlic whistles, the herbs, freshly ground pepper and salt to taste. Gently cook until onions are soft and beans are tender, about 5 minutes. Add a splash of pasta water to keep moist, stir in the green onion towards end of this process to avoid overcooking.

Drain the pasta and combine the ragout and pasta in pot over low heat to gently heat and coat pasta thoroughly; add pasta water if dry. Squeeze lemon juice over the mixture, season to taste. Transfer to serving platter and garnish with cheese and parsley, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and serve. Serves 4 or more. ~~

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Relocation Fixation

One year, two moves, 3,000 miles later and I'm back!

A re-location to Greenville, South Carolina seemed like a terrific opportunity and I was right. New surrounds, new friends, and efforts to support the Sustainable Ag movement was thrilling and distracting, posting here shifted to low priority.

This spring an unexpected series of events surfaced and in mid-May I re-valuated, minimized my life, re-packed my van, and ventured west on a life altering trip across the US with a return to Oregon and family.

Too much infomation for now, but enough to say there is a vibrant thread from those days still running through me, evident in a deepening thoughtfulness and appreciation for my daily food supply - with all that entails.

Very early this morning, in twilight thought, I realized how much has happened - and continues to play out each and every day. I'm guilty of not fully acknowledging these times and for not placing more importance on the simplest pleasures. It's a little late for regrets, the immediacy of the moment is lost, but there's a great likelihood that there will be more to come and more to share.
"Take the time to give each task its due -
it comes out in the food: a generosity of spirit.
Call it rejoicing, tenderness, graciousness,
or simple attention to detail,
the quality of caring
is an ingredient everyone can taste."
- Tenzo Kyonkun


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