Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Days of Au Gratin Potatoes

Now that I’ve eaten my way through the past month and I’ve over dosed on sugars, fats, and rich foods, my sensibilities seem to be returning. Suddenly I’m craving uncomplicated and simple dishes – comforting things that don’t require a lot of effort or thought on my part.

Recently a nice roasted chicken and Potatoes au Gratin filled the bill perfectly. My latest manner of cooking chicken is to rub it with olive oil, season it well with salt and pepper, and stuff the cavity with a little rosemary and a few wedges of lemon. I start the chicken off in a hot oven to brown it, then pour a little chicken stock over it, lower the heat, and bake it a total of about 75 minutes, basting every 10 minutes or so until it's juicy and nicely browned.

My post holiday lethargy caused me to compromise just a tad - and in the name of simplicity (and laziness) I just kept the temperature at a steady 375 degrees and baked everything until done – about the same amount of time (a little over 75 minutes). It worked nicely and the aromas coming from the kitchen were enough to tempt my extremely jaded palate.

I tend to forget about Potatoes au Gratin and whenever I make them, I always ask why have I waited so long? I prefer a potato such as a Yukon Gold because their waxiness hold ups well during the baking process and their flavor is superb. In desperate moments, regular Idaho bakers have saved the day.

Au Gratin Potatoes
6 potatoes, peel, thinly sliced
2 small onions, peel, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peel, thin slivers
salt and pepper
butter
12 ounces evaporated milk, skimmed
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter an au gratin dish and set aside.

In a buttered baking dish layer potatoes, onions and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dot with butter, cover with evaporated milk or half and half and bake for 60-75 minutes or until browned and crisp on top. After about 45 minutes sprinkle with grated cheese. Slice and serve.

Note: water or chicken stock can be substituted for the evaporated milk. Serves 4 to 6 ~

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Problem

Q:  How much land does it take for the world's population to live sustainably for one year? 
A:  1.2 Earths

I've been reading Sustaining Life, the seminal work edited by Harvard physicians Eric Chivian and Aaron Bernstein, and endorsed by United Nations' Kofi Annan.   It underscores the importance of biodiversity and elucidates the human havok, especially the disasterous potential of argibusiness, currently underway in all corners of the world. 

To produce all the necessary resources and to absorb all waste per person/per year: 
N. America                       + 22.0  acres per person
W. Europe                           12.4            "
Asia Pacific and Africa           2.5            "

In other words, the average American uses and wastes 4.5 times more than the acceptable limits to maintain the Earth's sustainability.

It's embarassing, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Possiblity of Popovers

It was only a matter of time. 
Now, I’m asking, “Why did I wait so long?”
We are talking about popovers. I think my resistance to the possibility of popovers had a lot to do with their quirky and mysterious do's and don'ts that in my mind translated into too much work and too much risk for too little reward. Cooking them in a greasy hot pan only to watch them rapidly deflate seemed neither productive nor exciting.

On the other hand, I am deeply intrigued by anything that's mostly egg, milk, flour, and a little butter. There’s something utterly basic and perfectly satisfying about this combination that places me immediately in my comfort zone.

When Cook’s Country aired a recent PBS program on No Fail Make Ahead Popovers, they had my attention and yet I didn’t want to wait around for my next roast beef to make it happen, so I set the recipe aside.

It took a big pot of Black-Eyed Pea Soup on the heels of the popover program that would create the right conditions for the possibility of popovers to finally register. I had planned to bake a pan of cornbread but was short on cornmeal; in a fit of inspiration I pulled out the popover recipe and gave it another look.

Very much along the lines of crepes the batter is whisked together, and then it rests a bit before baking. Of course by now, the prerequisite popover pans that I held onto for years are long gone, but I’m assured that my muffin pan will work just fine. The batter is poured into the greased and floured tins, baked in a hot oven until the popover structure is set, then the heat is reduced and they bake in a slow oven until firm, crispy and brown. They are then poked with a skewer, returned to the oven to remove any persisting moisture, poked again, and allowed to cool slightly. Beyond an investment of about 2½ hours I had nothing to loose.

Actually, the 2½ hours passes quickly--because the popovers become their own entertainment. One of the rules in popover baking is not to open the oven or they may collapse; another rule. This is one of those times when an oven window and light are just about essential. In very short order the popovers begin to brown lightly and the edges set inward. As if watching flowers unfurl and blossom, they begin to balloon out and expand upward. Mesmerized, all eyes are glued to the oven door. It’s an amazing sight from which I could hardly pry myself away.

As the popovers rise and begin to set, an egg-y pancake-like aroma ebbs over the kitchen. I’m imagining how great these would be for breakfast: make the batter ahead… in the morning slide them into a hot oven… get my day organized… and return for the popover climax. The smell alone would surely draw the most unconscious out of bed.

Every word of Cook’s recipe turns out to be true. They do not collapse, and they heat up beautifully. Beyond that, the interiors have a warm eye-rolling custardy texture and outside they are lovely, crisp and tender. I pulled out the black cherry preserves--but apple butter, marmalade, strawberry or any other favorite jam would be worthy of these delights. Suddenly, the possibilities appear endless.  Bet you can’t eat just one.

Perfect Popovers
Courtesy of Cookscountry.com

3 eggs, room temperature
2 cups milk, warmed
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled a bit
2 cups bread flour, or all purpose
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar

In large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar.

In separate bowl, whisk eggs until foamy; whisk in butter, then the milk.

Whisk 3/4 of milk mixture into the dry ingredients until smooth and no lumps remain; then whisk in remaining liquid. Transfer the batter to a large measuring cup for easy pouring and let stand 1 hour. Can be refrigerated and brought to room temperature.

Adjust rack to lower 1/3 of oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Grease 6 popover tins or 10 muffin cups with vegetable shortening, dust with flour. Whisk batter lightly to recombine then pour into tins, filling almost to rims.

- Bake until they begin to brown, about 20 minutes; this is important because they can fall if not firm at this point.

- Without opening oven door, lower heat to 300 degrees and bake additional 35-40 minutes, until golden brown all over. Remove from oven and poke small hole in top of each with a skewer.

- Bake about 10 minutes longer, until deep golden brown. Remove to wire rack and poke again; cool 2 minutes and turn out. Serves 6-10, depending on size.

Note: once completely cooled, they can be stored at room temperature in zip lock bag for 2 days. To serve, reheat for 5-8 minutes in 400 degree oven. (I've microwaved individual servings about 1 min., they puffed up nd were excellent.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pumpkin Plethora

I am one of those who believes that there is no such thing as too much pumpkin and so it was pretty much a no-brainer as to what I would include in a recent dinner party dessert.

As an aside, I am extremely saddened to acknowledge that Gourmet magazine published its final issue in November. For years I collected editions and would regularly pull them out and thumb through them for inspiration. The writing was first rate, especially in the early days, the photography, legendary and thoughtfully stylish.

In a tribute to the end of an era, I was compelled to create Pumpkin Parfaits, Gourmet's Dessert of the Month featured on-line in October. The parfait is a pumpkin mousse--which couldn’t be easier (if you have a can of pumpkin puree on hand) layered with homemade gingersnaps (if time allows) and dreamy whipped cream. 

When the dessert has firmed up, the moisture from the whipped cream and mousse will have nicely softened the snaps and provide an additional dimension of texture.  It has all the earmarks for a perfect party dessert:
  •  no stress preparation
  • made and assembled a day ahead
  • visually stunning individual servings
My gingersnaps are the crunchy old-fashioned variety designed for dipping in coffee, tea, or milk--with just enough ginger and spice for that edgy bite. The recipe, a Joy of Cooking standby, is easy to make and does not require special handling. It makes enough cookies for snacking, or the extra dough can be chilled or frozen and freshly baked later.

Pumpkin Parfaits
Inspired by Gourmet magazine’s on-line tempting recipe

1 envelope unflavored gelatin (2 1/4 tsp)
1/4 cup cold water
1 can pure pumpkin (15-oz)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
pinch salt
2 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
20 gingersnap cookies, broken up (recipe follows)
For garnish: ¼ cup candied or spiced nuts, lightly chopped
6 parfait glasses

Sprinkle gelatin over water in a small saucepan and let soften 1 minute. Bring to a bare simmer, stirring until gelatin has dissolved. In a medium bowl combine pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, salt and gelatin mixture.

Beat whipped cup cream until it begins to thicken, sprinkle in sugar and continue whisking until soft peaks form, and add vanilla. Fold about 2 cups of whipped cream into pumpkin mixture.

Spoon about 1/4 cup pumpkin mixture into the bottom of each glass, then sprinkle with some of cookies and top with about 2 Tbsp whipped cream. Repeat layers once, ending with cream.

Chill until set, at least 2 hours. Before serving, sprinkle a few chopped nuts on top of each. Serves 6~~

Gingersnaps
These cookies improve with age; inspired by a Joy of Cooking recipe

3/4 cup butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar (can be part brown sugar)
2 eggs, well beaten
1/2 cup molasses
2 teaspoons vinegar
3 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3 teaspoons ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/2 cup demerra sugar for dipping

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and 1 or 2 cookie sheets. Sift dry ingredients: the flour, soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

In mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Mix in eggs, molasses, and vinegar. Stir in dry ingredients to blend.

Form dough into 1" balls. Roll in sugar. Bake approximately 14 minutes, until surface crinkles. Let stand briefly and move to rack to cool.. Store airtight.  Makes approximately 48 -3” cookies~~

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kohlrabi Wrestling



I’ve had a 3 pound kohlrabi rolling around in my refrigerator for over a week now. I brought it home after a recent work day at the GrassRoots Garden, trimmed off its gangly cabbage-like leaves, crammed it into a rear corner of the fridge, and proceeded to ignore it.

Actually, I’d been procrastinating because other than nibbling on it raw, I hadn’t the slightest idea what to do with a massive 3 pound kohlrabi. Lamenting my uncertainty to fellow gardener, Claire, she raved and recommended a curry treatment. Huh.

After a little research, I learn that kohlrabi is low in calories, about 19 per ½ cup; it’s high in fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamin A and C. It has a mild cabbage-like flavor and a moist, crisp texture. I’m told to look for 2” bulbs; if larger, peel them. Right. The kohlrabi is very popular in Northern India, and has made its way to Israel, China and Africa. It is also used in Italian, French and German cuisines.

This evening I decide it's time to confront the behemoth taking up way too much refrigerator space. I hack away--peeling and whacking it into bite size morsels. I have a small bag of lentils which I pre-cook while wrestling with the rock-hard rascal. The remainder of the dish comes together quickly and by the time my jasmine rice is cooked the kohlrabi is tender (20 minutes). I suspect my 8” specimen takes a little longer than the average 2” bulb. I’m not sure my rendition is authentically Indian, but it sure is good.

Kohlrabi Indian Curry
Inspiration from Fondy Market (www.fondmarket.org)

1 Tbsp oil
1/4 tsp ground turmeric
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 Thai chilies, split open, seeds remaining
1 large onion, chopped
1 green finger pepper, seeded, cut into rings
1 large tomato peeled and chopped (or 1 14 oz can)
1 T tomato paste
2 medium kohlrabi globe (1 pound), peeled and cut into ¼ inch cubes
kohlrabi leaves, rib removed and cut into strips
1 cup cooked lentils, liquid reserved or 1 can chickpeas (14 oz)
3 cups stock
salt to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil in heavy pan. Stir in turmeric, coriander, cumin, chilies, and onion. Sauté on medium heat until onion browns about 8 minutes.

Add chopped tomatoes, pepper, tomato paste and sauté another 5 minutes.

Add kohlrabi, lentils, and stock. Cover and cook until kohlrabi becomes tender—about 9 minutes.

If using kohlrabi greens add in the final 5 minutes of cooking.

Garnish with cilantro. Serves 8.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Food Safety Bill

The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee will mark up S. 510, the Senate version of major food safety legislation already approved by the House of Representatives, on Wednesday, November 18.

The bill focuses on foods regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, not meat and poultry which is regulated by USDA.

The bill includes several key reforms that would put real teeth into federal regulation of large-scale food processing corporations to better protect consumers. However, the bill as written would also do serious harm to family farm value added processing, local and regional food systems, conservation and wildlife protection, and organic farming.

The good news is the HELP committee could fix those problems with the adoption of some common sense provisions to retain a crack down on corporate bad actors without erecting dangerous new barriers to the growing healthy food movement based on small and mid-sized family farms, sustainable and organic production methods, and more local and regional food sourcing.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and the National Organic Coalition, have fashioned just such a set of common sense provisions that must be added to S 510.

 - The bill should provide small and mid-sized family farms that market value-added farm products with training and technical assistance in developing food safety plans for their farms.

- The bill should direct FDA to narrow the kinds of farm activities subject to FDA control and to base those regulations on sound risk analysis. (Current FDA rules assume, without any scientific evidence or risk analysis, that all farms which undertake any one of a long list of processing, labeling or packaging activities should be regulated.)

- The bill should direct FDA to ease compliance for organic farmers by integrating the FDA standards with the organic certification rules. FDA compliance should not jeopardize a farmer's ability to be organically certified under USDA's National Organic Program.

- The bill should insist that FDA food safety standards and guidance will not contradict federal conservation, environmental, and wildlife standards and practices, and not force the farmer to choose which federal agency to obey and which to reject.

-  Farmers who sell directly to consumers should not be required to keep records and be part of a federal "traceback" system. All other farms should not be required to maintain records electronically or records beyond the first point of sale beyond the farmgate.

From The Community Food Security Coalition


Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Great Pumpkin Experiment

Yes indeed, we’re into superlatives.

For qualifiers, I’ll begin by simply stating that I have succeeded in creating The Great Pumpkin Bar. This may be of no consequence to those uninterested in pumpkin matters, but to the rest of the world, it's a very big deal.


I am one of those who adore anything that includes pumpkin: ice cream, pasta sauce, you name it.  I don’t understand why it takes the age of Halloween to roll around before my thoughts automatically shift to pumpkin, but every year it comes on strong.

In years past I have tinkered with pumpkin bars and I’m always quite happy with the results. This year, however, I wanted to bake a bar that was just a little different: not the cheesecake/swirl type, or the gingerbread/pumpkin sort, or the mini-pie affairs.

I knew what I didn’t want.

The results are an indescribably-delicious-dense-heart-warming-ginger-spiced pumpkin melange resting between a crumb crust and topping.

You be the judge, and may the Great Pumpkin be with you, too.  Happy Halloween.

The Great Pumpkin Bars

Crumb Crust and Topping
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup oatmeal
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter, moderately cold, in chunks

Pumpkin Filling
2 eggs
1/3 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup sugar, a combo 1/2 c. granulated and 1/4 c. brown is good
15 ounces canned pumpkin pulp
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, chopped
1/2 cup chopped nuts, hazelnuts or walnuts are good
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, line and spray 9x13 pan.

For the crumb crust: place the dry ingredients in mixing bowl, and mix well with paddle. Add butter and continue to mix until crumbs form. Remove about 2/3 cup for topping. Spread the remainder in baking pan, press down. Bake until the crust begins to color, approximately 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare filling: wipe out mixing bowl, add the eggs and beat well; add the oil and continue to beat until light. Add the sugar and continue beating; add the spices. Separately combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Blend about 2/3 of dry into filling, add the crystallized ginger and raisins, and then stir in the remaining flour mixture until combined. 

Spread the filling evenly over the baked crust. Add the nuts to the crumb topping and sprinkle evenly over the filling. Bake 35-40 minutes, until sides pull away from pan. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Cut into about 25 bars.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Veritable Quandary

No, this is not a review of that legendary Portland Restaurant.  I’m referring to my state of mind upon a first appraisal of my bumper crop of green tomatoes. I am learning that this is one of the benefits and challenges of a successful garden. The zucchini plight, I understand, but what about all those green tomatoes?

I dashed outside between rainstorms this past week and gathered up a big bowlful of green plum tomatoes that were still clutching onto their vines. Ever the unengaged gardener, I had to reach this point before I could fully confront the obvious: what do I do with all these green tomatoes? Now, there are the old stand-bys--like Fried Green Tomatoes or Green Tomato Pie, but they seem just a little too pedestrian for my first foray into a new and exciting food realm. Well, of course. It’s my best rainy day default: Soup.

Peppered bacon gets all the credit, because that’s what started the ball rolling. At Food Network, Emeril and I seemed to be thinking along the same lines: I imagined a sort of BLT in a bowl. This lovely bright soup is so yummy that admittedly, I had a second sampling just to make certain it was that good. Emeril suggests a drizzle of Cilantro Oil, which I passed on; it just doesn’t need any further embellishments—beyond a healthy smattering of peppered bacon.

Spicy Green Tomato Soup
Inspired by Emeril Lagasse, Food Network

2 slices pepper bacon, diced
1 medium onion, peeled and thinly sliced
2 whole garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 bay leaf
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and diced
2 yellow Hungarian or banana peppers, or others such as Anaheim, or poblano, seeded and diced
1 3/4 pounds firm green tomatoes, cored and cut into eighths and chop
3 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons hot sauce

In a soup pot cook the bacon until crispy, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the bacon, and drain on a paper towel. Remove all but 2 tbsp bacon fat from pot.

Add the onion to the pot and saute until soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic, bay leaf and peppers, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and stock, salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Cook soup for 10 to 15 minutes or until the tomatoes soften.

Remove the bay leaf, and using a handheld blender, lightly puree the soup leaving a slight chunky texture so that ingredients are still identifiable. Stir in the lemon juice and hot sauce to taste. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper.

To serve, ladle the soup into individual bowls and garnish with reserved bacon. Serves 6 ~~

Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Picked Passel of Peppers

For the past week or so I have been volunteering at our community GrassRoots Garden. Merry, the wonder woman in charge there encourages young and old to come, visit, work, or simply savor whatever the garden offers up that day.

The 2 ½ acre garden started about 18 years ago as a partnership between the Master Gardeners, Food for Lane County, and our local St. Thomas Episcopal Church. Since then, it has become a glorious setting that teaches earth-friendly gardening and self-sufficiency. Over time the garden has evolved and taken on its own personality: it’s inviting, energizing, and healing.

It’s harvest time, and there’s heightened activity to bring in the crops before the rain and frost arrives. I’ve been assigned to pulling up tomato plants and cages – it’s back breaking work, but totally rewarding. On Friday, I returned in time to join the volunteers for lunch. The food team that day had prepared a big pot of wheat pasta tossed with a freshly cooked tomato sauce, loaded with peppers, onion, and garlic. As we sat under the grape arbor sheltered from the afternoon sun, there was a relaxed calm. For many, this is regarded as a safe place, a sanctuary, and retreat from life’s hardships and challenges.

That day I met a woman 3 months pregnant with twins, a severely handicapped man, a 7’ professional basketball player, several teenagers, an elderly man and his dog, and a couple of women that had arrived by bus from across town. We all chatted as we worked and enjoyed the coolness of the fall afternoon.

I left the garden with a big bag of mixed peppers. On the drive home I suddenly felt emboldened by my afternoon experience--and moved to face one of my biggest fears: canning. 

I’m not exactly sure why I have avoided canning all these years; perhaps I don’t completely trust my ability to safely pull this off. Although I have no problems eating commercial products, I’m a bit skeptical of the home canning process; things like salmonella and botulism concern me, a lot. My daughter has also been bit by the canning bug this year, and has shared her successes with me; with her added encouragement I prepared for a pickled pepper canning challenge.

Armed with my daughter’s advice and my trusty standby, Helen Witty’s Fancy Pantry, I proceeded. Their ideas were surprisingly similar, so I felt I was on fairly solid ground. The peppers are not peeled or cooked ahead; they are packed into jars, covered with an easy brine and seasonings, and processed in a hot water bath. How simple is that?

According to Helen they should stand a couple of weeks before sampling, so I am unable to make any further pronouncements at this time. Stay tuned!

Pickled Peppers
Inspired by Helen Witty’s Fancy Pantry

2 1/2 pounds small peppers, red, orange, yellow, washed, seeded cut into 1/8s or wide strips
7 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt
2 1/2 cups apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, peel, sliced
1 tablespoon dried oregano
8 dried red peppers
2 tablespoons olive oil

Wash, rinse and drain eight 1 pint canning jars, lids and bands.
Pack sliced peppers into jars, add a few slices of garlic, a sprinkling of oregano, 1 chile pepper to each jar.

Combine the water, vinegar, salt and bring it to a boil, stir to dissolve the salt. Pour the hot liquid over the peppers leaving approx. 1/2" headspace, and drizzle each with approximately 1 tsp. olive oil.

Top with lids and bands and process jars in boiling water bath for 20 minutes, or according to manufacturers directions. Remove from heat and let stand uncovered for 5 minutes, remove to baking sheet and cool undisturbed for about 12 hours. Tighten the lids and allow to stand for 2 weeks or longer. ~~

Monday, October 5, 2009

Lost and Found: Hollywood Diet Bread

Recently during a conversation with my daughter I was teasing her about being partially made of Hollywood Diet Bread. While I was pregnant back in the 60’s, my body experienced a complete reversal, and tragically I could not bear to be around food. The idea of it, let alone the smell of it -- made me miserably sick. I was one of those rare pregnant women, who instead of gaining too much, lost weight.

Fortunately, early on I discovered that two slices of toasted Hollywood Diet Bread, along with a couple of soft boiled eggs would soothe my queasy stomach and perk me right up--it was just about all I could keep down! It became quite the joke-- even a pregnant woman could loose weight on Hollywood Diet Bread! Nevertheless, I loved being pregnant and I associate this bread with fond memories. Since it holds a very special place in my heart I’ve always liked having a loaf salted away in the freezer--for those moments of nostalgia. Sadly, over the years it has become increasingly difficult to find.

When I mentioned this to my daughter, she suggested that I should try making my own. Huh, what concept. For those who may have missed this venerable institution, Hollywood Diet Bread was hailed for having only 46 calories per slice—plus it contained carrots, sea kelp, cabbage, and other mysterious vegetables and healthful ingredients. In spite of all these additions, it had a light texture, was mild tasting and surprisingly satisfying. Mostly, I remember one key element: the characteristic sesame seeds on top.

With that in mind, I went to work on this seriously daunting challenge, and I’m pleased to report my first results in developing an updated version of this beloved bread. Based on my incredibly high expectations, the loaf turned out amazing well! The texture and crumb are that of a fine sandwich loaf, the flavor is mild, well balanced with a slight sweet nuttiness from the wheat and sesame seeds. I’m still a bit puzzled by the color which is caramel with a faint tinge of green. Some might find this questionable, and it could be adjusted by deleting the kale, but since I like everything else about it, why mess with a good thing? I suspect the color of the loaf will be affected by the type and size of vegetables included. Note that I used one medium plum tomato; a larger one may make all the difference… or maybe a beet…

What I do know, is that I feel like an old best friend is back--with a face lift! I think I’ll try another piece...

Final wrap: This is a very easy loaf to make since it is a no-knead dough that beats about 7 minutes in the mixer. The vegetables need to be cooked and pureed, which is key to the success of this bread. For speed, I used the microwave and was done in a flash. A quick pulse in the blender with the rest of the liquids and you are ready to go.


Harvest Wheat BreadMy version of “Hollywood Diet Bread"
1 envelope yeast, rapid rising
1/4 cup warm water
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 medium plum tomato, chopped
5 medium kale leaves, or comparable spinach, or other green leaf, chop
1/2 stick celery, chopped with leaves if available
1 tablespoon parsley, or other mild herb
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, divided (save about 1 Tbsp. egg white for glaze)
1/2 cup milk, or other liquid
1 1/2 cups wheat flour
1 1/2 cups enriched white
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame seeds

In mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast on top of water and let stand about 7 minutes until it begins to bubble. Spray a 9x5" loaf pan.

Microwave the carrot and tomato until soft, 2-3 minutes. Add kale, celery, parsley and sugar and microwave until kale is wilted, another 2 minutes. Allow to cool briefly and puree the vegetable mixture in blender along with oil, egg and milk. There should be about 1 2/3 cup of this thick mixture.

In mixing bowl, add the flours, salt and vegetable mixture to the active yeast. Combine all and beat for about 7 minutes until it forms a shaggy dough. Scrap into loaf pan and smooth evenly with floured fingers if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap, sprayed; let stand until it reaches the top of the pan, about 1 hour. Meanwhile preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make a glaze with reserved egg white and about 2 tsp. water. Brush the top of the loaf with the glaze and sprinkle evenly with sesame seeds. Bake about 45 minutes until it is nicely browned and has pulled away from the pan. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Makes 1 loaf ~~

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Lavender Highlights

The lovely tall arched blossom wands of my lavender plants have been winking and waving at me lately with their most seductive “come hither” look. It’s their last hurrah of the season and they want to be memorialized, not left high and dry.

In that spirit, I went online and visited a few of my fellow food writers and bloggers to see what they were doing with lavender. Over at http://www.seriouseats.com/, an Italian Lavender Honey Spice Cake caught my attention; I’ve always been a sucker for French honey spice cake. Another promising idea for Lavender Syrup, came from http://www.cafejohnsonia.blogspot.com/.

Lavender honey is luscious, but not this time around I mused; so why not create lavender syrup and drizzle it over the cake after it is baked? Thus, evolved Prune and Fennel Tea Bread Laced with Lavender Syrup, a dense loaf scattered with dried plums and toasted hazelnuts. It's a far cry from the Lavender Honey Spice Cake, but it was my starting point, and I appreciate the impetus. However, it is similar to the honey cake in that it improves with age. If you can bear it, wrap the loaf tightly and let it rest in the fridge a day or two to allow the flavors to meld; it’s well worth the wait. Try it in the afternoon with a cup of Earl Grey Tea.

I have some thoughts on Lavender Syrup. Lavender is known for its therapeutic and medicinal qualities, and can become seriously intense when overdone. This particular syrup is well balanced and intoxicatingly mild. It’s so enjoyable, that I have concocted a refreshing cooler which takes advantage of my current supply of Lavender Syrup: in a glass, muddle 1-2 Tbsp. Lavender Syrup and a sprig of mint, add ice and top it off with Sparkling Water with Lemon Essence.

Prune and Fennel Tea Bread Laced with Lavender Syrup
1/2 cup prunes (dried plums), about 10 large, seeded & lightly chop
1/4 cup hazelnuts, chopped, toasted
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
1 1/2 cups flour, optional: substitute 1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon allspice
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons butter, melted, cooled
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil
1/2 cup yogurt, or sour milk
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1/2 cup Lavender Syrup (see below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray 9x5" loaf pan.

Combine prunes, nuts and fennel and set aside. Combine dry ingredients thru allspice and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, lightly beat eggs, then whisk in sugar until light. Whisk in melted butter, then the oil. Stir in 1/3 of the dry ingredients, then 1/2 of the combined yogurt and vanilla. Stir in another 1/3 of the dry, then the remaining milk and vanilla. Add the final dry ingredients and the fruit and nut mixture. Spread into loaf pan and bake 50-60 minutes until golden and pick inserted comes out clean.

Let the loaf stand briefly, then poke the loaf with a skewer. Slowly drizzle the syrup over the loaf. Let stand 10-15 minutes to allow syrup to soak in and remove the cake from pan. Cool on rack.

Wrapped well, this cake improves with age; if possible, allow the flavors to blend at a least a day or two.

Lavender Syrup
Inspired by
cafejohnsonia.blogspot.com
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons lavender leaves or flowers
dash vanilla extract

Bring water and sugar to a boil, stir to dissolve, and simmer to thicken slightly, about 30 minutes.

Add lavender to syrup, remove from heat and let stand about 15 minutes; reheat to just below boiling point again and let stand about 15 minutes, repeat one more time, remove from heat and stir in vanilla; allow to steep until cool. Strain into bottle. Add a clean long stem of lavender for decoration if desired. Store in fridge. Let stand a couple of days before using.

Note: Culinary lavender may also be found at http://www.penzeys.com/

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Garden Salsa

Salsa has a long standing position of love, celebration, and sharing in our family. When my daughters were growing up, I learned to make salsa at the hands of a well-seasoned master, my father-in-law, Gene Graven. He was a colorful raconteur, a bigger-than-life character who lived an Ernest Hemmingway sort of existence. He loved the women; he was an avid fisherman, he hunted, worked and traveled extensively in Latin America, and he even dabbled in Hollywood films. Most of all, he loved life and he shared it with devilish generosity.

I thought of Grandpa Graven recently as I was making salsa from the garden. Although my salsas have varied over the years, his true basics are still included: garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes--beyond that, the skies the limit. On this occasion, I had plum tomatoes, a delicious lemon cucumber, a Hungarian pepper, garlic, and a Walla Walla onion to add to the mix. With a handful of cilantro and a good squeeze of lime, it was spot-on!

Of course, I slathered plenty of this salsa atop an excellent Chile Verde mentioned in a recent post. Boy was it good. I imagine Grandpa Gene is grinning in approval with an ever-present stogie perched from the corner of his lips, and he's mouthing the words, “Dos Equis.”

Mama Borah's Salsa
Similar to Grandpa Graven's salsa, especially handy when to
matoes are not plentiful
4 large tomatoes, seeded, cut up
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
4 jalapeno peppers, seeded, minced
1 small can Ortega chilies, chopped
1/2 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1/4 cilantro, optional
1 pound canned tomatoes, drained and seeded, chopped
1/2 lime, juice of
1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper

To prepare manually, chop or mince all items and place in a molcajete or a mortar and pestle; crush tomatoes through onions and cilantro. If unavailable, use a medium bowl and a clean small slender bottle such sauce bottle, and press down to break up fibrous pieces. Add the chopped tomatoes and grind again; season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper.

To use a food processor, lightly pulse tomatoes through onion and cilantro. Add canned tomatoes and pulse briefly, do not over process. Add lime juice, salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning. Makes about 3 cups. ~~

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Meditation on Chile Verde

With the big Oregon State/Boise game scheduled for prime time viewing this past week, I wanted to have a big pot of piping hot Chile Verde ready when hunger hit. I am so glad for the forethought, because as it turned out for this Oregonian, the chili was the high point (no pun intended) of the night. In a nutshell, Boise controlled the game and left us in their dust. It didn’t stop there; low points kept coming when Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount decided to deck a Boise teammate for heckling him post game. The remembrance of this bungled match-up was even more unsettling as fans watched while Blount was escorted/dragged off the field, screaming and kicking like a spoiled child.
Thank heavens the Chile Verde was deliciously soothing! Although I had little doubt about that--since preparing chili, in one form or other, should be an act of love. Excellent chili is a thoughtful process that requires several steps and a certain amount of time and effort.
As far as I am concerned, the ultimate flavor of Chile Verde depends on the addition of pork. In this case, I begin with a lean sirloin pork roast and cut it into chunks. I brown it well, and allow it to slowly simmer until fork tender and the liquid has pretty much cooked away. Then, I pull it apart with a couple of forks until it falls into shreds.
While the pork browns, simmers, and stews, I launch into prepping the very easy verde sauce. I begin by husking, and simmering a dozen tomatillos for the base. When they are soft, I drain off a portion of the liquid and puree them in the blender until thick. I prep a handful of jalapeno peppers, a couple of bell peppers, and an onion into strips. (In the past, I have also used ripe and flavorful poblano peppers--instead of the bell peppers, which can be fairly bland.)

Adding separate layers of flavor to the pork intensifies the final result; so this is when the onions, peppers and garlic are added to the pork and allowed to soften. Following that, another round of seasoning is added with cumin, oregano, chili powder - and perhaps a bit of smoked paprika, which mysteriously lurks in the background. All of this is lovingly tossed together until aromatic. The tomatillo sauce is stirred in and allowed to simmer into the pork a few minutes; then the cooked beans are added, the pot is reduced to low, and barely simmered for an hour or so.

Of course, chili is always best when the flavors further develop by refrigerating overnight. Here, the tomatillos provide a tarter, more acidic flavor than the tomatoes. The amount of heat can be controlled by the removal/addition of the membrane and seeds of the chiles used. Of course, jalapenos and poblanos are hotter than bell peppers. On final, I stir in the crowning touch, a handful of chopped cilantro--which further enhances the tomatillos with a pronounced herbal-citrus bite. I like mine with a drizzle of chive crema. Be still my heart.
Chile Verde
2 1/2 pounds pork roast, cut up
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chile powder, and/or smoked paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
12 tomatillos, halved, 1/2 cup chopped onion, pinch oregano simmered til tender
4 - 12 oz. cans assorted beans: red, black, pink, white, etc., rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornmeal, thinned in 1/2 cup water (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)


In a large pot brown the pork, add onion and garlic and toss until aromatic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with water and simmer until fall apart tender, and liquid is absorbed; one hour or longer.

Prepare tomatillos: remove husks, if large cut in half; rinse and place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup chopped onion and a pinch of oregano; add water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Place in blender and puree; set aside.

When the pork is tender, break chunks up with a fork to lightly shred. Add peppers, onion and garlic and toss until aromatic and onion becomes soft. Add chili powder, cumin, and toss till aromatic. Pour in the tomatillo sauce and simmer briefly. Add the beans and toss to combine simmer 45 minutes; if you wish to thicken it further, stir in cornmeal thinned in water and continue to simmer until thick another 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Stir in cilantro, if desired and serve. Serves 8.

Note: for Chive Crema: stir 2 Tbsp chopped chives into 2 cups yogurt until desired consistency. Add a dash of salt and taste for seasoning. Let stand a few minutes before serving to blend flavors. ~~








Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Blueberry Bread and Bunko

I was invited to attend a birthday celebration for my 87 year old neighbor this past weekend and wanted to bake Alice a small treat for her enjoyment later. I also needed to return recently borrowed camping gear to another friend and wanted to take along a little thank you gift for her, too.
Gift loaves of Blueberry Hazelnut Bread came to mind, since I’m still dealing with the balance of my last blueberry picking foray. Oregon blueberries are compact little morsels that aren’t terribly sweet, and to compensate for that, I wanted to add another ingredient that could offer up a little more natural sweetness and moisture. In my recipe collection, I found a cleaver idea: crushed pineapple.
Frequently, sweet breads can be loaded with oil--which I find completely unnecessary and unimaginative. Applesauce has long been regarded as a beneficial and handy substitute for some of that excess oil; so, why not pineapple? The only caveat I might offer, is to drain the pineapple well; if you add some of the lovely pineapple liquor, do so sparingly, because the batter thins quickly.
When making blueberry muffins, I like the gentle addition of a tiny bit of nutmeg. Here instead, allspice is used, which is the heavy hitter in the nutmeg spice spectrum—and is a true and loving companion to pineapple. These flavors are instrumental in Caribbean cuisine, so perhaps this is also a slight homage to an idyllic month long stay in Grenada, the heart of nutmeg and allspice country.
Quick breads are by name, easy to create; I used a mixer, but a good whisk would incorporate the eggs and sugar just as well. In the past I have made similar breads to round out luncheon plates, and the slight sweetness of fruit bread is the perfect accompaniment with a chicken or seafood salad. However, if you are baking a stand alone tea bread for general snacking, a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar added to the granulated sugar will give a slight bump in the sweetness.
Since these were gifts, I finished the loaves with a drizzle of confectioner’s sugar thinned with lemon juice. After they were cooled and firmly set, I wrapped them in colorful plastic film gathered up and tied with raffia bows.
As a footnote, the loaves were a huge success. I spent the afternoon with Alice’s friends and family experiencing my first ever Bunko phenomenon – a spirited dice game, where one moves from table to table lured by laughter and high stakes. I carried home a bite-size chocolate bar as one of the top three winners. Now, I feel as if I am firmly planted in Oregon. What’s next, Bingo?
 
Blueberry Hazelnut BreadThis slightly sweet bread is good with luncheon salad—chicken or crab. Inspired by Elizabeth Terry’s Savannah Seasons
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped
2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray with oil, two - 6 cup loaf pans.

Sift dry ingredients. In mixer, beat eggs with sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well, and stir in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the pineapple, nuts and berries, and pour into pans. Bake 1 hour, turn out and cool on rack before slicing with serrated knife. Yield: 2 loaves ~~

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Into the Wilderness

For the past three weekends I have been a sublimely happy camper enjoying the great outdoors as part of a Forest Ecology class. Our first outing was a two day trip where we hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail and became familiar with Douglas Firs and hemlocks. On our following trip we headed to the Redwoods for a long and utterly magical weekend walking the beach of the Pacific ocean and exploring lush fern canyons. Our final trip was a stunning overnighter to Crater Lake; here we breathed in the high desert pine air and were awed by intense volcanic history and Indian lore.
I had visited all of these places in the past, but this was indeed different. Our instructor was a bundle of information and enthusiasm—and we all jumped on board with her; overnight we literally became “Tree Huggers.” (It’s actually one way to measure a tree’s girth.)

We learned about the necessity of fire in the wilderness—it is nature’s way of renewing itself. We learned the critical importance of balance in nature; when one species disappears, it affects an entire community. I didn’t know that the redwood tree is fire resistant, and that its ability to retard fire partially accounts for its longevity. The redwood is our tallest and most primitive tree, and sadly, we are left with only a handful, and these are protected primarily in the preserves of Northern California and Southern Oregon. Over the last couple of centuries we have sliced and diced these ancient marvels almost to extinction, and have managed to nearly eliminate what it took nature thousands of years to create.

As you can well imagine, the discussion of food was a serious and ongoing conversation among our ranks. We did some fine dining which included such extravagant camp treats as: smoked brisket, burgers, and bratwurst. Breakfast was often on our own; or some made piles of egg burritos, or other such treats. As long as I had my pressed coffee in the morning I was very happy. To round this out, I decided to make ahead a stack of my old sailing favorite, Eggs McBorah, a convenient breakfast enjoyed while underway, traveling or other limited conditions.These solid morsels pack well; they are nearly non-destructive, and highly satisfying.

You’ve probably surmised that we are talking shades of Eggs McMuffin and you certainly do not require a recipe; but here is one alternative for planning and execution purposes. I have also learned that this is one breakfast that goes down with equal enthusiasm hot, room temperature, or cold.


Eggs McBorah
4 eggs
spray oil
4 slices chiplotle cheese, or as needed
fresh ground pepper
4 slices smoked ham, thin sliced, or more if needed
4 English muffins, spit, toasted and lightly buttered
1 or more ramekins, or other small microwaveable dishes

Spray the ramekins and lay 1 or 2 slices of ham in bottom of ramekin. Crack 1 egg into each dish, break the yolk with a sharp knife, and sprinkle with a few grinds black pepper. Top the eggs with thinly sliced cheese. Cover the top with a paper towel, tuck under the dish and place in microwave oven.

Cook one at a time for approximately 40 seconds or until cheese is melted and top is firm. The yolk should still be slightly runny. Carefully remove with mitts or towel, the dish will be hot. Run a knife around edge to loosen the egg and invert onto the top slice of a toasted English muffin.

Add the bottom slice and set upright. Repeat with remaining 3, or as many as needed. Allow to cool before wrapping. Can be made ahead; store in refrigerator or other cool spot. ~~


Friday, July 24, 2009

A Tarter Torta

In keeping with my passion for anything custard, here’s a dessert that goes beyond that simple criteria. As a matter of fact, the custard gets lost in translation as the lemony custard-like layer and crust meld into a lovely Lemon Torta.

This is another one of those excellent desserts that I tend to forget altogether - until I am looking for a lemon “something”. It has a few other built-in advantages, such as it can be made as much as two days ahead. If you are entertaining, this is certainly a handy bonus, since the last thing you want to worry about is the dessert! I affectionately refer to the Lemon Torta as one of my “soldiers” because it is nearly indestructible and it is best served at room temperature. Clearly, we have the perfect candidate for potlucks, picnics, and sundry other recreational dining opportunities.

This torta has the additional advantage of being light and reminiscent of cheesecake (if you consider cheesecake light). It’s a refreshing finish to a seafood meal or even a heavy Italian feast. To paraphrase the words of Shakespeare, “The sauce is the thing,” and as is the case with cheesecake, the sauce matters. In order for your Lemon Torta to really sing, consider even the smallest dab of a lovely sauce to play an integral part.

For my particular dinner (and my breakfast the following day) I opted for a very fresh Raspberry Sauce (essentially Glazed Raspberries). I made the sauce with part of my raspberries and simmered them briefly with a bit of water and sugar, when they released their juices and became syrupy I removed the pan from the heat and added a squeeze of lemon juice - or splash of a complementary liqueur, if you wish. I strained this, returned the liquid to the pan, added the rest of berries, gently heated it briefly to combine the flavors, and then allowed it to cool.

Lemon Torta
From Entertaining for a Veggie Plane by Didi Emmons

Crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 8 pieces
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Filling:
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 lemons, rind grated and juice of
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9" springform pan or 8" square pan.

Crust: In food processor combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse until crumbly, about 10 seconds. Add the egg, vanilla and 2 teaspoons water, pulse until the dough just comes together.

Transfer dough to prepared pan, pressing down lightly to make even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust begins to brown around the edges. Transfer pan to cooling rack.

For filling: In mixing bowl combine eggs and sugar and beat about 5 minutes, until very pale. Add rind and juice and incorporate; Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture and fold them in. Pour filling over the crust and bake until golden brown and knife comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool on rack completely. Unmold and cut into wedges. Serve with a fresh sauce, fresh raspberries or other fruit, or whipped cream.

This is best made a day ahead, can be held up to 4 days ahead, covered well. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Banana-Buck Fever




This afternoon I needed no further excuse to pull out the old blender and build myself a tall cool smoothie than to read the deck thermometer registering 90 degrees in the shade. On days such as this, there’s nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold smoothie to perk up sagging spirits.

Into the blender went the ice, a ripe banana for sweetness and body, a bit of orange juice, a little milk, a dash of vanilla to finish it off and I let ‘er rip. Done!

Banana smoothie in hand, I headed outside to catch the late afternoon breeze as it washed over the hillside behind us and cooled the backyard deck. I eased onto a lounge chair, took a long draw on my thick smoothie, and inhaled the summer pine-scented air. It was enchanting, truly enchanting. My entire body levitated as I floated into sublime smoothie bliss. I sipped away, lost in euphoric contemplation - but in the recesses of my mind, a vague snap-crackle tiptoed into my consciousness; then came the hazy slow motion of a branch swaying - likely stirred by the wind. More twigs break. There was simply too much perimeter interference to ignore any longer. In disdain, I turned my attention to the disturbance; 20 feet away a muscular buck with fuzzy fir on his forked horns was frozen in his tracks - staring right back at me.

There was a time when we had plenty of animals roaming down from the hillside behind us, but in recent years the gun shots echoing off the neighboring canyons have surely been a deterrent. This is indeed a rare sight.

Nonchalantly, I picked up my handy camera perched next to me, aimed it in his general direction, and fired one frame; just enough for Buck to hightail it through the trees.

You may wonder, “What is an out-of-focus deer doing in a food blog? Who cares?” Today, I was a witness that Buck existed and my one photo here is evidence. This is a record that Buck strutted tall and gracefully through my backyard, as his forefathers did before him; and today, with the help of a banana smoothie, this beautiful, wild creature made at least one person very happy. Who knows Buck’s fate, as hunting season looms?


Banana-Buck Smoothie
This is a basic recipe; other fruit, juices, and dairy products can be substituted

1 cup ice
1 ripe banana, sliced
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup milk, yogurt, or buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
garni: mint, strawberry, or orange slice

Into blender container place all ingredients; pulse to combine and then blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses, garnish with mint, and a piece of fruit. Serve with a straw or a long spoon for stirring. Serves 2 ~~

Note: Other suggestions: peaches and apricot nectar; blueberries and cranberry juice; pears and apple juice, mangoes and guava juice, etc.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Seasonally In Sync

I received a link to Fete Accompli, Austin, Texas caterers currently garnering raves for their handmade specialty appetizers based on local and organic products. It’s a fine example of the commitment and flexibility necessary to consistently provide high caliber cuisine. Produce doesn’t always materialize as planned due to unanticipated variables such as weather, economic influences, supply/demand, and distribution. Unforeseen circumstances happen, and customers should understand in advance that substitutions are inevitable, but in all likelihood, they will not be dissapointed and the outcome will be just as good - perhaps even better than anticipated.

This style of commercial cooking is all about being in sync with the season and with local farmers and purveyors, and in creatively designing specialties that will showcase the very best available at their peak.

The home cook can do the same; here it’s about living in harmony with nature, the season, and our farmers – who can be as convenient as our local Farmers Market. We can also participate on our own level, by growing a pot of tomatoes on our deck, or in a hanging basket. We can claim a square of soil and transform it into a patch of lettuce or any other specialty that works. There’s a real sense of wonder and fullfillment experienced when we pluck and savor our first ripe tomato, pepper, or strawberry that we have planted, nurtured and watered.

These days, I am completely enamored by the idea of self-sufficiency: to bake my own bread, to make my own chutney, to brine and smoke my own chicken, and perhaps, to grow my own lettuce. That was the scenario that played out this past weekend when I had the magical good fortune of discovering all of these riches in my fridge at the same time. The results: a simple-yet-elegant smoked chicken sandwich on cornmeal loaf bread, with apple-cranberry chutney and butter crunch lettuce. Superlatively uncomparable!

Simple Smoked Chicken
4 pound chicken
Brine:
1/4 cup sea salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 cloves garlic, slivers
1 tablespoon olive oil

Tools and props: apple or other wood chips, vertical chicken roaster, grill with smoker hood

Rinse the chicken and allow it to drain. In a 2 cup measurer, place salt, pepper and 1/2 cup very hot water, allow salt to dissolve. Add the garlic and cool the hot water with approximately 1 cup cold water. Pour the water into a large zip lock bag, add the chicken, and pour in enough additional water to cover the chicken. Swish around and seal the chicken well, removing as much air as possible. Place the bagged chicken into a deep bowl large enough to hold the chicken snug for storage purposes. Chill for 4 hours or longer, turning once or twice if not fully covered.

Prepare grill with smoker hood. Cover the wood chips with water, and soak in a small bowl for at least 20 minutes.


Drain and pat dry the chicken, rub it with olive oil and place on a vertical chicken roaster. Fill the bottom pan of the chicken roaster with water, beer, wine or any preferred liquid.

When the grill is very hot, sprinkle the white coals with 2/3 of the woods chips, replace grill rack and place the vertical roaster and chicken carefully onto the hot grill. Cover and roast the chicken for about 1/2 hour. Carefully remove lid, add additional coals if necessary, add remaining wood chips, add water to roaster pan if necessary, replace smoker hood, and roast for at least 30 - 45 minutes longer. The chicken should be deep mahogany and internal temperature should register 160-170 degrees.

Remove chicken from grill and let stand 5-10 minutes before removing it from vertical roaster. Allow to cool 10 - 15 minutes longer before carving.


Note: for bread, chutney or further recipe references, please refer to index.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oatmeal: Mr. Congeniality

I had a backlog of over-ripe bananas recently. Sometimes, when that happens, I’ll whip up a yummy breakfast drink – or, in a serious time crunch, I’ll peel and freeze them for later use. This time, I mused over a photo of Banana-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies from a recent Cooking Light magazine and decided to go full throttle.

For some folks the sight of chocolate chips might be enough to send shivers up their spine and create an instant craving; for me it’s oatmeal. Call me crazy, but I love its texture, nutty flavor, and its congenial ability to partner up with others. If oatmeal has a sun sign, I suspect it would be Taurus: earthy, sexy, and seriously worthy of a frisky romp.

According to Cooking Light, each cookie has 3.6 grams fat and 115 calories; considering the healthy dose of oatmeal, I find this completely within the acceptable range. I might even dig out the chocolate chips and opt for one more cookie. As a footnote, these improve with age, if you can keep them around long for that to happen.

Banana-Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
The ripe banana adds sweetness, moisture and flavor and substitutes for some of the usual sugar and butter. Inspired by Cooking Light magazine, July 2009
1 ripe banana, mashed
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, or a combo of white and dark chocolate

Preheat oven to 350° and spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray.

In mixing bowl, combine first 5 ingredients in mixing bowl and beat until smooth. Add egg and beat well.

Separately combine dry ingredients and add to banana mixture. Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop batter by heaping tablespoonfuls 2" apart. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden. Cool briefly and remove to a rack to cool. Yield: 18-24 cookies ~~

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