The Big Shake: by ginger

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PS6

Release.  I love to release.  Unless it is food.  If it is food and it has made it to my (not so) delicate mouth, you had better back off!  Or keep at it, tugging and prying relentlessly, until you save me from myself (some food is bad for me but I never learn).

I love to shake.  Shaking is a great form of release, just like a big sigh.  Deep, bottom of the soul kind of sigh.  I love to sigh.  I love to shake.  I love to release.  My brother Buddy (yes, I been known to refer to him as my brother now) has a really unique shaking technique; he always has had.  When he first came to live with us, his shake was a little weak but the technique was fun to watch.  I think it was then that I knew he was one I could love someday.  He needed work though, and by work, I mean what he really needed was love and care.  I didn’t give him obvious love, but I was teaching him (with love) nonetheless.  Mom didn’t think so though; she thought I was jealous of and mean to him.  But I saw it as tough love.  His first lesson of course, was to learn who was boss.  After he learned that, there was a large agenda to fill.

I taught him to stretch.  He came to us crotchety and stiff.

I taught him to sit on the couch, waiting for the snacks to come to us, rather than jumping down and chasing Mom each time she goes into the kitchen.  This has taken some time, but he still does it often enough.  There is a whole syllabus that could be built around etiquette and maximizing the efforts in the kitchen.  It took a while for him to get a passing grade in this class and sometimes I wonder if he could use a refresher course.

I taught him to scratch, fervently behind the ears to get Mom to rub them, or sometimes just for attention.  If that doesn’t work, proceed to chewing your crotch.  That always works for gaining attention.

I taught him to move from room to room, following the sunbeams and switching up which bed to nap in.  Now that he is my brother, I let him take his pick.  And sometimes, I even let him choose first after Mommy and Daddy leave for work.

I taught him to snarf.  Snarfing must come from the nose, and the head needs to tilt with a quick flick of the neck.  It should sound wet but not dripping (although Daddy disagrees with my assessment and continues to declare, “snarf-free zones”, like the front seat of the car; silly Daddy).  It should start softly and get louder until the intended action is taken.  Snarfing is a gentle way of asking for something that you want.  Don’t ask me why it works but I have found that it does.  It is also a good method of release.  Just look at the dashboard.

I also taught him to sigh!

He used to make little sighs that you couldn’t hear, but I’m talking deep down, from the belly to the nose and back through to the toes kinds of sigh.  People pay good money to learn this technique I’m told.

He too likes to sigh big now and we both like to shake.  When Buddy shakes, he looks like a propeller starting to take-off.  It begins at his head and echos down to the small of his back where it effortlessly builds momentum, lifting his little butt upwards and back legs off of the ground ending in his little stubby tail.  This happens very quickly, yet it still seems like it is happening in slow-motion because he is a blur.  I think he used to be a cowboy.  I can almost see him on a bull-ride, hanging onto the reins as it whips him too and fro.  He’s a little scrappy guy but I bet he would hang on, back hunched forward and bottom flying up and down in the air.  His (rather large) nose would be pointing up to the sky, eyes squinted and tongue tucked at the corner of his lip where his missing tooth used to be.

When I shake, it is much more graceful.  It is proceeded by a languished stretch; front paws fully extended, pushing into the ground.  Chest forward, it dips down and my arms buckle, my back arches and my short nose skims the floor.  I sit like this for a bit, letting the stretch work it’s way through my belly from my pelvis to my lungs, then my head guides my chest back up and I shake it out.  A whole body at once, a side-to-side kind of shake.  Legs firmly planted, posture intact and a deliberate motion shake.  I was a dancer before and take movement very seriously.  Even when it appears to be a crazy move; the move is always intentional.  This goes for the moves I make with my eyes, intentional and all-knowing.  I see everything.  I plot out each move.  I work hard each day and then I need to release – sleep, sigh, stretch, then shake!

Time to eat!!!

The logical thing, I realize, would be to make a shake.  I am a dog now though (yes, it’s true) and this is not the thing I think of eating when I say, “it’s time to eat”.  So Buddy and I are off to eat our duck.  It isn’t just duck; there are veggies too, but it is raw.  I don’t think you want to hear about raw duck and I doubt Darwin’s will give up their recipe (or else I might just let Mom make it for me instead), so I think it is best to describe a good little “pick me up” that Mom is making from her “big mistake”.  It happens to be a shake (or at least that icy thing you use to make a shake).

PS5

PS2

Bonefide Tiramisu Gelato
By Stacey

This recipe came about from a bad batch of birthday “cake”, a spark of an idea from my niece, Julia and the leftover batter from said birthday cake.  I should also mention that the cake had not been traditional cake but actually tiramisu.  You can read about that story [here].  When I made it for my Mom’s birthday, it was a bit of a mistake because the eggs did not have enough yolk.  Long story short(ish), at dinner, my niece spoke of a tiramisu gelato being a favorite when she heard that tiramisu was for dessert.  This got me thinking, with all of the leftover cream, I could make gelato (or just ice cream).

ps2_gelati

I could not find my ice cream maker (since it was not in the freezer, it wouldn’t have done me any good anyways).  Remembering that my Blendtec claimed to make ice-cream, I decided to give it a try.  I whipped out the booklet which showed a recipe using batter frozen into ice cubes.  I proceeded to put some of my cream “batter” into the only ice tray I could find, a bone-shaped one for Ginger and Buddy’s Summer frozen yogurt.  Problem…this is a rigid tray and I couldn’t pry them out once frozen so I had to let them sit on the counter and melt enough to release.  By this point, I decided to skip the bother of any device and just put the whole lot into the freezer in a glass container.  Several hours later, it had frozen into a soft, supple, delicious pile of tiramisu gelato.  Julia, this one’s for you.  Ciao Bella!

INGREDIENTS

1 batch of cream batter from My tiramisu (click here for recipe)
1 (additional) 8oz tub of mascarpone
Cocoa powder or carob powder for dusting
Ladyfingers for optional garnish

PREPARE

When you make the tiramisu cream batter, add the extra tub of mascarpone to the called-for-in-the-recipe quantity.

Regardless of whether you end up with a thin or a creamy batter, transfer it to a freezer safe dish with tight-fitting lid.  Put it in the freezer for several hours.

It should be a soft velvety consistency when it is ready to serve. The longer it stays in the freezer, the harder it will be. If it is quite firm and too hard to scoop, simply let it rest on the counter until it comes to the desired consistency.  If you are serving at a dinner party or just know you will be having a little scoop for dessert, plan ahead and set it out about 10-20 minutes in advance.

Sprinkle the scoop with a dusting of cocoa and serve with a ladyfinger.

B & G 1I’m still teaching him…
PS_G & B 2it’s about the zen.

PS_Ginger emotionswhen life is good, open wide and let it in!

Even the best laid plans…

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hat top

Cook what you know.

A good motto to live by when entertaining; one I try to uphold.  This is especially true for me when it comes to dessert.  A course often overlooked as I scramble to prepare all of the others.  Simple is good!  Something in my repertoire and something that requires little to no baking is even better.  For me, that could mean tiramisu.  My recipe for tiramisu dates back to 1998 from my first journal, yet I was making it before I started documenting my kitchen, uh-ventures.  It was my thing.  I could always woo people with my tiramisu; my rendition was golden (and it was the 90′s after all, where it even stole a few lines in “Sleepless in Seattle”).journal cover Journal #1

Okay, so my rendition of Buongusto’s tiramisu was golden.  I came to acquire their rendition specifically from watching (on many occasions) the pastry chef at the long-time defunct, Buongusto Ristorante on Queen Anne, make this dessert for dinner service.  It was often late at night, after hours (because it needed to be prepared a day in advance).  I would watch him work his magic while he told me about the ghosts that haunted the kitchen of the old house in which the restaurant resided… I watched, I learned, I repeated (on a scale more compatible to our small Queen Anne Hill duplex kitchen).  It became my go-to birthday (or special occasion) cake.  I hadn’t made it in years.journal open The entry

Facing the quickly approaching birthday affair we were hosting at our house for my Mother, it seemed appropriate to make this as a birthday cake.  After all, spaghetti and meatballs had been her dinner request and tiramisu seemed like the right thing to make.

I made a very bad birthday cake.

I don’t know that I should apologize about it, because I was not actually making a cake.  As I said, I was making tiramisu.  For my Mom’s birthday (she just turned…well, we were forewarned not to say which birthday it was).

Bad birthday cake nonetheless.

I am blaming it on the eggs.  I cracked open the 7 perfectly large, brown eggs slated for this effort, but was rewarded with a meager bit of yolk in each of them.  I had virtually 1/2 the amount of yolk that I should have had.  However, this did not stop me from proceeding, diligently following each bit of scribble in my dog-eared and tattered journal.

Rather than a thickened, creamy cloud that should have spread loosely over the top of each layer of ladyfingers, I had what “spread” with the consistency of buttermilk.  I added another 8oz of mascarpone, along with two more egg yolks, (happily for them, the whites were cooked for Buddy and Ginger) and I took my hand blender to it again.  Ironically, it was even thinner than what I had before, but it was midnight and I had to move on.

Next, I slopped down a layer of this wet cream, topped it with the first layer of fingers, and poured, as evenly as I could, more of the cream over top.  It disappeared into the pores of the fingers but I topped it with the next layer of fingers nonetheless.  Now it was time for a little, big chill, overnight, in the fridge.  I learned to always make this a day ahead.  Perhaps the new day would show a fluffier reward?

The new day did not reward me with fluff.  Instead, the big chill looked like a big shake.  I should clarify this; it was like the aftermath of a BIG shake, like the kind from a big dog that was left to do their business out in the rain.  There was a puddle of cream slopping out the edges causing a very unsightly mess, and a completely exposed, un-topped layer of cake.  I mopped it up from the sides with a paper towel.  Cake sitting on the counter, I stood over it, deliberating on what would be my next move.  Mom was hanging about the kitchen now and I tried to hide the misery under a wrap of foil until I could formulate a good plan.  Family would be arriving shortly and I was still up to my elbows in mess.  Messy kitchen, messy clothes, messy hair.  Luckily, in my frustration at the state of the cream the previous night, I did not use it all, deciding to wait on topping the last layer until the next day.  Instead, I held it in it’s glass container overnight to see if it would thicken.  It did not.

I had one more 8oz tub of mascarpone and a fresh batch of eggs (because I anticipated making a fix and asked Tom to pick some up at the store).  What I did not have was time, to start over.  Into the Blendtec my extra batter went, along with two more egg yolks.  Yup, you guessed it, the result was thinner yet again.  I thought that surely, the egg yolks plus high Blendtec velocity would produce the equivalent texture of heavy whipped cream.  I was wrong.

So in desperation, I took that (newly purchased) last tub of mascarpone and emptied all but a few spoonfuls into the Blendtec container after transferring the batter back to it’s glass dish.  I then added a modest amount of cream batter back in with the mascarpone, say 3/4 cup.  Whiz, whiz, whiz…but not enough in the container to blend it well so I dug in with a rubber spatula and beat it around a little until it was finally, a lovely, little thick bit of mascarpone cream.  Yes, key word here is little (as in just enough to do the trick, but modest enough to leave exposed ladyfingers).  I spread it over top anyways and then dusted it with carob power to cover the inadequate amount of cream.  Not too shabby.  Not sexy, but not shabby indeed.  A few clever birthday candles, a dimly lit room, a festive table filled with balloons, flowers and dinner aftermath…we had a birthday-worthy cake.  It didn’t hurt that my sister-in-law had also donned the table with a double-tiered plate of Italian dolce (cannoli, amaretto cookies and biscotti).  Added a few perfectly-frothed cups of espresso and we were in business.

Sometimes, you can cook what you know, but you find you need to get reacquainted once more.  Sometimes even the best-laid plans require a change of plan and often times, they work out just fine, nonetheless.

tiramisu (candles edited)
A little rough but…still festive (and tasty).

Tiramisu

I have eaten many versions of tiramisu, some dense and thick, others light and fluffy.  There can be espresso or not, booze or not, but there really should be both.  It is important to use high-quality ingredients (as it always is), but with this dish even more-so due to the minimal flavors that are brought together to sing.  A good, thick espresso will provide a deep flavor and a gentle “pick me up”.  For the booze, a nice brandy is what I prefer, mixed with a small amount of Kahlúa and Meyer rum.  Some people use only rum or (gasp), no booze at all.  The booze is not meant to overwhelm the flavor but to add a nice sweetness and rich complexity that without would be apparent if missing.  I prefer the fluffy over the dense, indicating to me, that it has been delicately constructed with fresh eggs, whites whipped separate from the yolk and not replaced by a commercially convenient concoction.  The ladyfingers should be dipped quickly, not soaked, in the espresso and booze mixture so as to keep them from becoming soggy.  Most importantly, as mentioned earlier, it needs time to chill, preferably overnight, to allow the flavors to connect and the cream to firm.  The result should be a perfectly balanced flavor of coffee and cream with chocolate and spice.  The texture should be soft and fluffy, leaving your palette cleansed and your stomach less than over-indulged.

INGREDIENTS

5 egg yolks
1/2 cup Turbino sugar
8 oz Mascarpone
7 egg whites

1 cup espresso
1/8 cup Brandy, plus a drizzle for the cream mixture
2 TB Kahlúa
1/4 cup Meyer rum
Several grates of fresh nutmeg (or about 1/8 tsp grated)
Cocoa or carob powder

2 packages of ladyfingers

PREPARE

In a large bowl, whip together the yolks and sugar with a mixer until they are pale yellow.  Pour in a few drips of brandy and add the mascarpone.  Mix until blended.

In a separate bowl, mix the egg whites until stiff peaks form.

Pour the egg whites mixture into the cream and stir to blend.  It should be stiff enough to thickly coat the back of a spoon.

In another bowl, combine the espresso and the booze.  Set out a large platter with shallow sides or a sheet pan.  Quickly dunk the ladyfingers into the espresso mix, one side at a time.  Lay each one down on the platter or pan, forming rows until you have a single layer.

Top with half of the cream, spreading it evenly over the first layer.  Sprinkle with carob or cocoa powder then repeat the process again with another layer.

Carefully cover, trying not to let the cover touch the surface of the cream (rigid aluminum foil works well).  Chill for at least 8 hours.  It is best to make 12-24 hours in advance.

If it is an occasion cake, I make it directly on the platter since it will not transfer well other than to individual plates when serving.  Candles look festive and espresso served with is a must (at least for me).

Godere!

hat fullThe traveling birthday hat!

When I turned 40, I had a small outdoor party and my brother, Scott, gave me this hat.  Under (slight) protest, I wore it that night and then passed the torch to the next family member up on the birthday docket.  It became a tradition, passing the hat from one to the next for their birthdays.  I even took it on the plane to Hawai‘i one year and made Tom wear it for most of the flight on his birthday (he wasn’t under protest, the photos show him with a glass of Champagne and guava in his hand).  There is a little pocket on the inside of the hat and I had grandiose plans of each person leaving a picture of themselves wearing the hat, and tucking it into the pocket before sending it down the line.  Now that it is x years (I’m not talking either) later, I wish that we had done that; it would have been lovely to see them all now.  My Mom, under more than slight protest, did wear the hat too.  She looked marvelous.  “No pictures, please“.

Green soup (and ham?)

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PS_egg on wood 2

I have garden envy.  When my brother and sister-in-law moved into their newly-built house on Bainbridge Island sixteen years ago, their lawn consisted of nothing but mud, rocks, old growth trees and dreams.  Over the course of time, we have seen the transformation go from a yard that housed not even a place for Buffy to poop and pee, to many places for children to play and grow-up, adults to luncheon, retreat, tinker and entertain, and the gardener to grow vegetables rivaling those found at the Farmer’s Market.  There is a cleverly designed tree house, an elaborate garden and potting shed, a trellised patio out back with trickling water, beautiful plantings and a resident frog.  There are large trees, two in particular, that in the Summer are the anchoring points for a big screen, where movies are played for a gathering of neighbors, family and friends.  There is a water feature that was built between a neighboring house that resembles a woodsy brook that you’d never know hadn’t been there a hundred years.

But, oh what a garden has transpired.  The first time I encountered it, the vegetables were limited.  There was cabbage, very large and obnoxious looking; yet I suspect they were good.  There was kale.  This, before kale was the “it” veg to eat.  I knew not why someone would want to eat it, let alone grow it in their yard?  There it was though, not particularly interesting to me, then.  Ornamental perhaps?

On one particular visit to their house for dinner, I was taken aback by the progress.  The little garden that once was made up of a strip of property in the proximity to the length of their (long) kitchen, had suddenly become, without my knowing, a white picket fenced area, encompassing actual square footage in their yard.  Christine took me on a mini tour (because it was a mini footprint, but impressive), yes it was.

Quite some time has passed now and it is on the rarer occasion that we make it “on island”.  In the following years though, while we were still somewhat regular spectators and participants, their adjoining neighbor became family, the toddlers became kids and the kids became adolescents…the garden shed was built and the tree house was erected.  There was a dog now, other than our own, that graced the property and he (Snowball) has an orchestrated place to poop and pee.

If trees could talk, they might tell us of the nights that the neighboring families’ children came back and forth with my nieces and nephew, in happiness, in tears, and sometimes in the middle of the night.  The trees might talk of teenage gossip, pubescent fears or the story of a comforting marriage of two homes.  The trees might suggest that this was a place, in modern times, with old-fashioned values and good people.  They would also be grateful, the trees, for the love that sprouted around them and the edibles that nourished the ones within.  For that, Tom and I are happy too.

_PS_1 spoon not edited

We live off-island but fond memories (and occasional visits) still languish in our minds.  Most recently, my Mom, on her recent visit (to them, via our house) brought us home a gift from Christine; the most beautiful bouquet of hydrangeas, each stem capped in a plastic vial of water (a bouquet which made the most glorious appearance in our living room to welcome in the last of the decreasing summer sun) and a large bag filled with kale.  The most beautiful and tasty kale.  And chard. Gorgeous chard.  And tomatoes, so sweet and perfect, they were oooohed and awed upon for the appropriate amount of time before the first one burst and the fruit flies laid claim.  At this point, and not a second too soon, I had the will power and inclination to quit hoarding them for that most appropriate meal (which should always be now), and just dig in eating them raw, with reckless abandon.  So reckless, I will not share the details.  The remainder (because there were many) found their way into a most delightful fresh soup, recipe found here.

From the greens, among other things, I made soup!  Green soup…and ham.

PS_egg in soup1

 

(Almost) All Green Soup
makes approximately 12 cups

As you will find, if you continue to read what I write (in the future, and I hope you do), I am reluctant to give up a good thing…I like to dream.  I like to think about what might be best rather than what would be easiest (at the time).  So with the abundance of kale and chard (still) stored in my crisper, waiting for that perfect purpose, I decided to make soup.  Mostly with the chard, whose beautiful leaves had begun to wilt.  I had used some of them previously, in a sauté with our steak and one with our fish.  I had planned to wrap them over true cod, stuffed with bacon and leeks.  I had thought of mixing them in with ravioli and then thought of layering with eggplant, red peppers and veal.  I had imagined them as forming packets of ground lamb, co-existing with coriander, sweet onions and chopped kale.  I did though, use some to wrap my tuna salad, some to wrap my hummus, and it made its way into Tom’s turkey with cheese sandwich (surprise!).

This soup was a finale to the wonderful gift, harvested from that, now abundant, garden on Bainbridge.  The soup contains almost no fat and is vegetarian, if you leave out the ham bone I decided to throw in (used to flavor another soup effort, simultaneously occurring).  It makes more than one family could possibly eat (unless you live at that house in Bainbridge I spoke of with the two families and friends sharing the meal…but perhaps more than enough even then).  I will be freezing mine, in single serving portions, to eat for lunch at my whim.

The flavor is slightly spicy yet humble and earthy.  The coriander is apparent and the unmistakable texture of lentils adds enough weight to the soup that it tends toward the comfort spectrum rather than the light and healthy.

The health benefits are worth mention though.  There are so many green things in here, it should qualify for LEED (sorry, occupational reference).  It also contains onions, many, many onions; no feeding this to your dog(s), sorry G & B.

Chard:  Has a low impact on blood glucose, making it an excellent choice for diabetics (Linda, please take note of that and stuff it into Dad’s food, shhhh).  (a) Chard stalks: are high in glucosinolates, causing them to be a good thing for inflammatory  purposes, especially associated with surgery (pay attention Dad; I will be sure Linda is aware (heh, heh)).  (b) Chard greens: pack cartenoid which is good for your eyes and vitamin K, which is an excellent way of boosting your cardiovascular health (the stalks contain this too).  They also contain a high level of oxalates, which if you have kidney problems, should be consumed in moderation.  Consult your doctor for concerns.
Kale: Lowers your cholesterol!  Steam your kale for the best cholesterol benefit (darn, I like mine raw and massaged; still cholesterol lowering but not as much as steamed).  Steaming kale helps the fiber components to bind with bile acids which in turn help them to extract more easily (lowering your cholesterol).  Kale is also beneficial in regulating detoxification at a genetic level.  It can help with inflammation and oxidative stress.  Who knew? (Apparently everyone but me!)
Carrot greens:  Are not the tastiest eaten raw (unless you are a bunny or love bitter, herbacious and stringent, which I do) but they do pack this soup with additional vitamins A, B6, C and K, plus folate, manganese, niacin, potassium and thiamin.
Celery:  Is packed with antioxidants which protect against oxygen damage to our cells, blood vessels and organs.  The pectin-based polysaccharides in celery help to protect the stomach lining from ulcers.  However, this nutritional value is better when the celery is steamed or eaten raw rather than boiled.
Cilantro:  Is a member of the carrot family.  It helps to relieve intestinal gas pain, helps treat headaches, coughs and mental stress.  Cilantro also helps combat lead and other heavy metal toxicity (it is even being studied as a natural purification agent for water).
Parsley:  Is great as a digestive aid, natural breath freshener and more…

…I could go on, but I won’t.  You get the idea.

So, if that’s not reason enough to eat this superstar, healthy soup, eat it because it is just damn tasty (personal opinion, of course)!  You can wear it plain or dress it up with a spoonful of scrambled eggs, a dollop of plain yogurt or, better yet, a topping of tender pulled ham.  If you feel indifferent or curious, try mixing all three (green, eggs and ham!).

INGREDIENTS

1-2 TB olive oil
1 cup chopped onions
1 TB chopped garlic
1 cup chopped carrot (+ the greens if still attached, stems removed)
1 cup chopped celery
1 TB chopped jalapeño
2 cups sliced leeks
1 cup green lentils
2 tsp ground coriander
4 tomatillos
2 kale leaves, stemmed
12 oz chard leaves plus their stems, chopped
Sprinkle of sea salt over greens
2 TB lime juice
1 large bunch (2 cups) coarsely-chopped green onion
1 bunch cilantro, stems and all
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, stems removed
1/2 cup fresh parsley, stems and all
Ham bone/shank

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions, garlic, carrot, celery, jalapeño, chard stems and leeks until beginning to soften.  Turn down the heat to simmer and let them sweat until the leeks begin to melt, approximately 15 minutes.

Add the lentils and coriander. Stir to combine.  Add the tomatillos then lay the chard leaves and kale on top.  Sprinkle a little sea salt and squeeze the lime juice over the greens, cover and let cook over low heat to let them wilt and soften, about 10 minutes.

PS_cooking

Add the green onions, carrot greens (if using), cilantro, basil and parsley.  Add the stock, water and almond milk.  The liquid should mostly cover the greens but not overwhelm them.  Add a little more liquid if you feel there is not enough.  At this point, if you are using the ham bone/shank, tuck it into the liquid.  Again, this is optional and while I think it does improve the flavor, it would be just fine without it if you prefer to stick to vegetarian.  Bring this to a simmer then cover with the lid askew.  Let cook over low heat for an hour or so to really draw out the flavors.

Let sit in the pot to cool enough to handle.  Transfer the soup, in batches, to a blender or food processor (I used my Blendtec).  Purée until very smooth.  You should have a very large bowl filled with soup when you are done.  Squeeze in the juice of one lime and stir.  Serve piping hot.

If you would like to add a little texture, mix in some additional cooked lentils.  For a heartier soup, stir in some of the meat from the shank.  Another suitable garnish would be crispy bacon pieces; so many choices, so much soup…

 

PS2_baked egg 5

You can even eat it for breakfast (or this would make an equally satisfying lunch, dinner perhaps?).  Simply heat the soup and ladle it into an oven-proof dish.  Top the soup with a sunny-side up egg, a thin slice of gruyère and tuck in some thinly shaved ham.  Broil until the cheese melts then dig in.

And a happy birthday to my blog friend, Angie.  In honor of your birthday, I made green, eggs & ham!  One Sue(ss) two Sue(ss), happy birthday to you (to the tune of the birthday song, of course!).

Turn up the heat!

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PS_crostini
Tomato soup as a spread on bruschetta…Buffalo mozzarella, basil and tomatoes.

I’m addicted to food.  I think it is the food.  Or, is it the packaging that helps feed my addiction (perhaps both)?  And by packaging, I don’t just mean clever graphics, pretty bottles or catchy phrases…necessarily.  Sometimes, it is how Nature packages itself up in a pretty little shape, a sexy color, or a little grit.  I am addicted to food.

Some people collect shoes.  I collect food.  I had to think long and hard before spending $10 on a pair of socks last week but didn’t even hesitate to shell out $10.00 for a bag of fresh cranberry beans at a Farmer’s Market.  It makes me happy just knowing that I helped an independent farm and that the beans are in my ‘fridge waiting for a delicious plate to land on (whereas those socks, cool as they are, will just end up lost…from each other, and inevitably with a hole in the toe after one wear).  Hopefully those cranberry beans won’t still be in my ‘fridge next week, turning brown and growing mold (yet they probably will).  This happens sometimes.  I let things sit too long.  Sometimes because I forget it is there (buried underneath the latest find).  Sometimes I am saving it for just the right thing to make, which often occurs to me a little late.  Yet sometimes, I just like to buy fancy products, or interesting products, or something unique, ambiguous, or special; as long as it is a food product.  Those might sit on my pantry shelf, in my refrigerator or out on display, too precious to open (like a beautifully wrapped gift).  Because once opened, it gets used and then it is gone (yet I know, edible things are meant to be consumed).  Like those bottles of wine we purchased in Napa Valley well over a decade ago, hand carried home on the plane (because you could do that 15 years ago) and still haven’t drank (which, let’s face it, is the point; to drink them!).  There is the obnoxiously large bottle of black truffle pieces packed in oil that I shelled out $50 for thirteen years ago.  Yep, still in my pantry (no good to me now, but there they sit, taunting me every time I open the door).  Though I may have gotten my $50 worth just by looking at them so many times, contemplating ways in which I would use them…someday!

Sometimes it is the anticipation that brings us the most joy?  But now that I am admitting this (to myself), I realize the food is never really gone, the memory will always be there; it is about the experiences (plus sometimes, you can buy more).  During a demonstration by Thierry Rautereau at the IFBC 2014 conference, he teased the audience that the “good olive oil”, that we shelled out the “big bucks” for, is not meant to just sit on the counter.  In fact, it shouldn’t be on the counter at all (to be destroyed by the heat, “stick it in the fridge at least”).  He urged us to put it to use, as he drizzled copious amounts over a beautiful and quick tomato soup.  I chuckled to myself and caught a little snicker in Tom’s grin as he looked over at me, knowing that I am guilty of this.  The first thing I did when we went home that night (after letting Ginger and Buddy out of course), was to pop open my latest good bottle of olive oil and douse it over some thick, country bread.  We washed that down with some wine (yet some of those bottles from Napa are still cradled in our wine fridge), baby steps.

I bought another loaf of bread today.  Actually, I bought two.  This in addition to the bag of day-old ciabatta buns and the bag of mini potato baguettes.  My bread drawer is already full, no room at the Inn(box)!  As I transfer the walnut wheat baguette from it’s paper pouch to a wrap of foil, I contemplate freezing it for later use.  When I asked the girl behind the counter to get it down so I could take it home, I really couldn’t stop thinking about how it would taste with a trickle of good olive oil and a thin slice of cheese, something sturdy and pungent.  Perhaps a little honey too?  Or a swath of blueberry conserve, freshly made.  I also pictured a smear of white bean dip, dripping with garlic, creamy and white atop the dark, nutty bread, perhaps crowned with a slice of proscuitto (and possibly a fig?).  But I am too full now, and dinner is poblano stew.  With poblano stew, I need corn tortillas.  Warmed over a flame until lightly blistered.  I have been hoarding those as well.  In fact, I now realize, I might have been hoarding the wrong kind (and they too may have gone bad).  Oops.

It might sound as if I have started off-topic (or rambling on as Tom alerted me), but in fact, this topic is precisely the point.  I promised I would give a summary of the IFBC conference I “recently” attended (Tom’s procrastination has rubbed off on me it appears), so now, that is what I am going to do, and let’s face it, people willing to fly in from out of state to attend this thing, must also be addicted to food.  It appears I am in excellent company.

I bet you all are wondering what it is like to attend a food bloggers conference?  Well, of course, assuming you have never actually attended one.  I had not attended one before this year and wondered what it would be like myself.  I expected, well, I’m not really sure what I expected.  So I did what any curious person would do.  I Googled it.  What to expect.  I typed in “what to expect at a food bloggers conference”.  Go ahead.  Give it a try.  Did you find Irwin (here)?  Funny stuff.  Sadly, this post won’t be as funny.  But for that I won’t apologize.  He is clearly a funny guy.

And I’m okay with that.  What I did not expect, was to walk into a “candy” store for food addicts.  It was insane.  Insane in a good way?!  A lot of wonderful sponsors showcased their food and wares in creative and delicious ways (yes, delicious, they fed us too).  There was mention of a swag bag on the website.  I didn’t think much of it because, we were there for the speakers and meeting like-minded people, not for the food.  But then the swag bag turned out to be a swag room.  A ballroom filled with tables of product for the taking.  So I now have a swag shelf!  I am grateful and excited to try these products (many of which I have never tried).  I know how much money and effort those companies put into this so I want to say thanks.  Thank you.  Each of you.  Too many to list here so I want to just highlight some of my favorites, especially those lesser known ones:

Our friends from Spain“, Aneto, brought each participant a personalized apron.  These guys are really cool (and so are the aprons)!  They also brought many pounds worth of broth…from Spain(!).  This is not just any broth.  This is artisan broth, 100% natural, gluten free and from what I can tell, hard to come by (as in sells out fast), pricey but worth the money.  We all know that Spain is home of the Paella so how clever to have Paella broth?  Even though it surely put them over their weight limit at baggage check.

PS_apron newTom sporting the 10LitK apron from Aneto.

Soy Vay.  Say what?  Soy Vay – Toasted Sesame Dressing and Marinade (formally called Cha-Cha Chinese Chicken Salad Dressing).  I typically don’t use bottled marinades and dressings.  If I do buy them, it is usually to do with the packaging (there it is again), wholesomeness, and perhaps an unusual ingredient or combination.  They often end up on my pantry shelf along with those truffles.  Last night, however, I decided to give this a try on my salmon prep.  There are no preservatives and the ingredients were all familiar to pronounce and not unlike what I might make myself.  I was tired.  I was hungry and I didn’t want to think too hard.  And I am glad I gave it a try.  It was delicious as a marinade for the salmon (I also brushed it on my roasted eggplant) and it worked perfectly to dress some cabbage and red grapes that I tossed together for a side salad.  I grilled the salmon on a cedar plank and threw fully, non-husked, fresh, sweet corn (from Hunter Farms) directly on the grill.  Dinner was delicious (with very little effort).

Lesley Stowe stole my heart with her attention to detail, delectable appetizer pairings and a “cracker” that I can finally get behind.  Her specialty food line that boasts the small batch product raincoats crisps, is perfect for entertaining, eating straight from the box or making a mini meal.  She and her wonderful staff created a mini party and welcome oasis amongst a multitude of distracting noise.

While I am thanking people, it would be remiss of me not to give a big shout out and bear hug of gratitude to our hosts of this event, Foodista’s Founders, Sheri Wetherell and Barnaby Dorfman! These guys know how to educate, inspire and throw a fabulous party.  Thanks guys!  We will be back for sure.

Meanwhile, back to the conference; the keynote speakers were the husband and wife team Karen Page and Andy Dornenburg, that delivered a powerfull, inspiring start to the conference.  It turned out I own (and really loved reading) their book titled becoming a Chef and will definitely be buying a copy of their new book The Vegetarian Flavor Bible.

PS_TCcontact
No, that’s not Todd making mole…

Hands down though, our favorite speaker was Todd Coleman, previous Executive Food Editor of Saveur magazine, who recently launched a company called Creative Concepts.  His talk was on photography.  Although self-proclaimed as not actually a photographer per say, he really is (a good photographer and professional Photographer and Creative Director of Todd Coleman Photography).  He mostly has tenacity, vision and the ability to do the unexpected intuitively.  He doesn’t follow the rules and doesn’t think in a straight line.  Doing the unexpected, the un-allowed, even the outrageous, to get a good shot, is how he is able to deliver un-staged (staged) imagery that evoke culinary emotion.  My kind of guy.  He is also humble, casual and off-the-cuff.  I am embarrassed to admit that I actually asked someone to take a picture of us.  I NEVER do that.  Not even sure why I did.  I felt really silly afterwards because that is something I pride myself on NEVER(!) doing.

When I was young, we once had Lee Meriwether (from TV’s Barnaby Jones, as Catwoman on Batman circa 1966, and former Miss America 1955), Robert Reed (from The Brady Bunch) and others…to our house (in Alaska) during a fund-raiser my Mom was putting on for the American Cancer Society.  She bought my brother and I each a little “autograph-friendly” stuffed animal that we were to fill up with autographs from all the celebrities that attended.  I refused to get mine signed because I didn’t want to look like a groupie.  Plus, I thought it was dumb, to have someone’s signature.  Who cares?  So instead, I stood there next to Todd Coleman and smiled while someone took our picture with my phone. Delete(!).  He now classifies me as a groupie, I’m sure.  Maybe I should have sent HIM the picture instead of deleting it.  How lucky of him to be photographed next to ME?  No?  I guess not.  Silly.  In any case, if I ever meet him again, perhaps I will actually have an intelligent conversation about, say, something that he could offer unique insight into, like perhaps, publishing, magazine submittals, what it is like to be an editorial superstar/design visionary.   Instead I asked him what kind of camera I should buy.  I’m sorry Todd, I really am an intelligent person.  Don’t judge me by my (or at least my husband’s) adolescent behavior.

Todd’s words of wisdom:

PS_TCrough cake 2Abnormal serving.

“Challenge the viewer. Over the top mess…I let the milkshake sit.  I did all sorts of things to the chocolate cake after more traditional shots.” 

PS_TCpizza ladyMake friends.

On location one day, Todd was out peaking in windows and saw an old women sitting at her table (stalking with good intention).  He went and got a pizza from the restaurant he was shooting (photographs, not bullets) and asked her if he could photograph her with it in her house (hutzpah?)…creative staging!

On another occasion, he was “in a really crappy place. This guy was in here with his son. I just talked to him. I showed interest…I spent an hour taking photos. I was doing a professional photoshot with them and they didn’t even know it was happening; it ran a full page spread.”

PS_TCmolePush perspective.

Get in close with a wide angle lens. Get in really close; push into the food. Don’t worry about getting mole on your camera.”

tough guyHave no fear!

“These were some bad-ass dudes. I got the shot and got the hell out. People can get really upset with you. Sometimes it is better not to ask permission.

With that thought, the above pictures with words of wisdom from Todd, were courtesy of my iPhone taking photos of Todd’s images projected in a poorly-lit conference space and on my iPad taking notes with auto-correct deciphering what I typed.  I did not ask permission.

After retrieving my iPhone from the stranger that took the infamous Todd ‘n Me photo and deleting it, it was time for…

PS_drinks at guild 1...a brief intermission (across the street at chef Jason Wilson’s new(er) restaurant Miller’s Guild - highly recommended).

Back to the conference. 

There were several sessions involving social media, something that is definitely not my strong suit, but since I need to make myself stronger in that department, I dutifully attended.  What I learned is this.  Google+ is (apparently) the cornerstone of social media and we should all be using it.  I will be looking into this further.  Advice or helpful hints are gratefully welcome if you want to leave me a comment (please?).  Seriously though (I am serious), both Tom and I felt that being there was a humanization of living/working in such a virtual world.  Meeting face-to-face cannot be traded for tech.  Never will!  Just like turning a physical page can NOT be traded for scrolling.  The virtual world was a little bit humanized by this conference, in that we were all here, together!

Our favorite session was on wines of Bordeaux (apparently this was everyone else’s favorite too; as they were overwhelmed with the unexpected over-attendance).  It was informative, interactive (think wine tasting) and fun.  Virginia (don’t call her that), AKA: Reggie, Reg, and er, Regina (rhymes with, well, you know) who teaches at South Seattle Community College (ironically located in West Seattle) is definitely someone I would like to tag along with to France.  Or South Central, WA, in which we were invited to harvest grapes, but sadly couldn’t attend (blasted day jobs).

PS_wine
T a s t y, and no, that’s not Reggie’s arm.

Tom has a few quick tasting notes:

1.  Sparkling Rosé from Bordeaux is…t a s t y (especially in the middle of the day, stuck in a conference room on a gorgeous, sunny Fall day).

2.  White wine from Bordeaux is…t a s t y (especially in the middle of the day, stuck in a conference room on a gorgeous, sunny Fall day).

3.  Red wine from Bordeaux is… really t a s t y (especially in the middle of the day, stuck in a conference room on a gorgeous, sunny Fall day).

4.  In all seriousness, it was informative, interactive (got to get to know your table mates trying to identify scents, easy ones like vanilla, harder citrus and nut ones, and tricky ones like “church pew” (no kidding).  Reg is a great educator, clever, funny, a little naughty, someone you would want to take a class from, even if it was calculus.  Well, maybe not.  But if you had to take calculus, she’s the teacher with the wait list.

PS_Reg
Later that night, the real “tasting” continued.

I will leave you with a little tomato soup disguised as an amuse as demonstrated by Seattle’s entertaining culinary pioneer “The Chef in the Hat”, Thierry Rautureau (see commentary above).  He didn’t need to turn up the heat to get the place smoking, because the butter used in his demonstration almost invited the local firemen for lunch.  The room, however smokin’ as it was, was F R E E Z I N G.  So my/our only request for next year is, TURN UP THE HEAT, please.  No smoke required.

Tomato soup with goat cheese quenelle – amuse bouche

PS_martini glassTomato soup with goat cheese quenelle  - amuse bouche

INGREDIENTS

1 1/4 lbs fresh tomatoes, rinsed and coarsely diced
2 cloves of garlic – peeled and chopped
A handful of fresh basil, cleaned, dried and sliced
Sea salt to taste
Good quality olive oil
Optional: fresh chèvre for garnish

PS_tomato pan 4

PREPARE

Heat a sauté pan and add a bit of olive oil.  Let it rush around the pan to coat.

Add the tomatoes, followed by the garlic.

Give the pan a toss.  Your heat should be on medium.

Let this cook just a few minutes more until the tomatoes begin to soften.  Throw in the basil and toss again, cooking another minute.

Mix in sea salt to taste.

Transfer the tomato mixture to a blender or food processor and purée to your desired consistency.  For a simple, quick meal, freeze individual portions in Ziploc freezer bags for later use.

TO SERVE (Chef in the Hat style)

Fill martini glasses with chilled soup.  Using a spoon form the chèvre into oval (quenelle) shapes and place in the center of the soup.  Top with a basil leaf or other sprig of herb.

This is soup is also delicious warmed with a grilled cheese sandwich or spread on grilled bread and topped with soft cheese and herbs.

PS_Tommessycrop
Grilled cheese and (spilled) tomato soup…

Todd should be proud (abnormal serving + over the top mess)!

PS_Ron's DougTo new friends!  Doug (& Ron), see you next year?

PS_brunchTom and I made our finale meal back across the street at Miller’s Guild for (my favorite) fried chicken + egg brunch before I went to my next stop, writing class with Kathleen Flinn.!!  Highly recommend!

What a weekend it was!

(I am) Saucy

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We start out as kids with nicknames that suit us.  Sometimes those names stick for life (sorry Patty Patoot-Patoot) and sometimes we are able to shake free from their implications and mockery.  I was fortunate enough to wiggle away from my nickname of Q-tip (as long as the incriminating photographs from the 80′s are avoided).

On a trip to Hawaii (over 10 years-ago this past September), I became known as Saucy.  I like this name much better than Q-tip, but the name is not because I am spicy, sexy or hot.  It is because I am one to make sauce, but moreover because I brought sauce… to Hawaii.  In a freezer bag.  Well, actually three freezer bags, three sauces – nectarine sauce, strawberry sauce and romesco, all savory, all great for fish.

The previous Summer, we had dined out every night in Maui, but realized that there were a few really good reasons not to dine out as much the following year.  First of all, it is expensive.

Secondly, my Grandfather owns a condo in a really nice complex that has a community kitchen.  On the beach.  Well, adjacent to the beach, and with a grill big enough to roast a pig on, literally.  Okay, not literally (unless it is a potbelly pig).

But most importantly (thirdly?), we could take our time on the beach at sunset, drinking our gin & tonic leisurely rather than worrying about racing back up the slope to get changed in time to eat out before sundown (which apparently indicates bedtime around there).  After the sun goes completely away (as in no more light from the sun in the sky) the moon glows brightly, romantically tickling light onto the water and the stars sprinkle sparkles from the sky.  This is when we open up our nap sack, uncork a bottle of wine and lay out the appetizers I prepared earlier in the day.  Then (after eating of course) and only then, do we head up to the beachside kitchen where our bags of groceries have been left waiting in one of the refrigerators, turn on some music and cook out, under soft light and the sound of crashing waves.

hot grillThis is just a quarter of the grill.

Which brings us back to the grill; it is large and requires coals, but has amazing airflow to get hot, and fast.  Our friend Tim, whom we met that trip, literally throws the whole bag directly onto the grill and lights it on fire.  The first time we met them, we had been sitting on the beach at sunset, drinking our G&T.  Suddenly there was a blaze of fire up the way and to our right out of sight, in the vicinity of the grill.  We thought they were sending out a smoke signal to be rescued from the island.  But then later, they thought our tuna looked like fish-bait (size-wise, but it was block-cut and just caught hours earlier).

tuna ready for grill
Okay, this is a piece of tuna and does look like fish-bait.  It was used to make an amouse though, not dinner!

And by the end of the night, we had all become fast friends, plus they were sharing our (dinner) fish with strawberry sauce + kula corn (and there were six of them and two of us).  Each night after that, we met at the “big pool” (home of the beachside kitchen), we cooked, we drank, and we ate a family meal, talking and drinking well into the night.  And of course, there was always a sauce, or three.  To them, my name went from Stacey to Saucy and for Tom, the “big pool” became (un-officially) known as, “Chez Stacey’s Beachfront Cafe” and he always managed to find the perfect ti leaf for an appetizer “plate”.

DSC07573
This one is named “Tuna” and is NOT FISH BAIT!! Cute little beach bug, huh?

in iceNectarines on ice.

Nectarine Sauce

This sauce came to me one night when I had an excessive amount of nectarines (is that even possible?), a craving for roast duck and the desire to make a sauce.  It has been made every year since that first year, recorded in my journal (volume 2, page 72) in July, 2001.  I always freeze it in half-cup portions to use throughout the winter.  It is excellent with duck, lamb and fish but works well as a dipping sauce for wontons, potstickers, or shrimp rolls too.  It can also be added to a little Dijon mustard, sea salt (of course), lime (or lemon) juice and olive oil for a great vinaigrette.  In other words, it is versatile (and travels fine on a 5 hour flight).

You will likely have a little sludge (nectarine solids) left in the pointed part of the chinois;  I like to save this in a small bowl with a tight-fitting lid to use as a spread on toast with a little soft cheese or as a condiment on a sandwich (perhaps on ciabatta with sliced leg of lamb, or on rye with turkey, havarti and avocado).  Think of it as a bonus: spicy nectarine conserve.  I even use it on tacos.  It is the rugged cousin to the nectarine sauce, chunky and good for spreading, whereas the sauce is smooth, pretty to look at and perfect to dip in.

You can adjust the heat of the sauce to your liking by adding more lime juice and/or honey if too spicy, or adding another pepper if too tame.  It should be a nice color of butterscotch and thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  This sauce is spicy, sexy and hot.

INGREDIENTS

4 large-sized nectarines, pit removed
1 yellow wax pepper
1 jalapeño
1 Hatch chilli or 2 red Fresno chilies
1 smallish onion (sweet onion or red onion preferred), skin removed and ends trimmed
A drizzle of olive oil

1 good sized clove of garlic, chopped
1 cup sake
Juice from 1/2 fresh lime (and potentially from the other half)
1 TB Demi-glacé
1-2 TB simple syrup or honey (if needed)

PREPARE

Put the nectarines, peppers and onion on a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil.  Shake to coat.

Pre-heat the broiler and broil them on the middle rack, turning frequently, until the peppers are nicely browned on all sides.  The nectarines and onion will not be as cooked as the peppers.

Remove the pan from the oven.  Trim the stem from the peppers then scrape out and discard out the seeds.  Cut the peppers into large pieces.

Cut the onion into chunks.

Remove the pit from the nectarines and cut into large chunks.

In a medium-sized saucepan, heat some olive oil (approximately 1 tsp) and sauté the garlic.  Add the peppers, nectarines and onion.  Cook for a few minutes until they begin to soften and meld together.

Add the sake and juice of half a lime.  Continue cooking over medium-low heat for another 10-15 minutes.  Let cool slightly.  Transfer to a food processor and purée (this recent time I used my Blendtech on the sauce setting).

Pass the purée through a chinois.  It is okay (and preferred) to have 1/4 to 1/2 cup solids left that don’t pass through the mesh; reserve this to use as mentioned above.

Put the sauce back to the pan and add the Demi-glacé.  Simmer for a few minutes then taste.  If it is too spicy, add the simple syrup or honey, and possibly the juice from the other half of the lime.

This will store in the refrigerator for several days.  I usually use this sauce once or twice when freshly made and then divide it into small Ziploc freezer bags to keep frozen for use through the winter months.

PS_opahGrilled opah is a lovely choice for eating on a beach.

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Since I’m not on the beach this year, I’ll take this over to Fiesta Friday for the Novice Gardener with a party hat on my head!  This party hat is in celebration of my Dad’s birthday (happy birthday!!!!).  I heard the party at his house this evening is drinking margaritas and eating some pretty good grub.  So, since I can’t be there, I thought I would join my friends at the notoriously glorious fiesta that is being co-hosted this week by Selma and Elaine, and I will try not to break into song (as I did earlier on his annual birthday wish).

I am lighting the candles on his virtual banana cream pie!  Blow out the candles Dad and hope your wishes come true!

One!

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The number of times I have gone to Europe.
The number of meals I have eaten which included beef tongue.
The number of times I have truly fallen in love.
ONE.
The number of years I have attended the International Food Bloggers Conference (IFBC 2014).
The number of years I have written this Blog.
One!
One special, overwhelming, fulfilling, challenging, and inspirational year!
One year ago today, Pete was sitting in our dining room, asking me what I wanted this to look like.  One day before, I had no idea what I was about to get into let alone know what it should look like (other than the header, which Pete designed for me earlier).  I would not have ever gotten past the thought of a space to write down my ideas about food without first, the journals that my husband Tom bought me, ritually, each time I filled one up, or second, without Pete saying, “Hey, do you want me to come over and just help you do this thing?”.  I can’t thank them enough!

And big thanks to all of you that actually read what I write.  A bigger thanks to those that actually leave comments and/or follow my blog (Simon, you were my first follower, thanks!).  Most of all I am just happy to have a place that I can escape to and write for a few minutes, or an hour, or a day.  One!  Without that time, I feel lost.  Without that writing, I would not have connected to all of the people that I have met through this blog.  I am so glad to have “met” each of you.  I wish I could meet you all in person, have you to dinner, or share a glass of wine over a leisurely lunch.  But we can pretend (unless you actually come over, then we can do some serious eating!).

I leave you with this, a dinner that we shared last night with my Mom and her opposite-sex-partner, John (very much part of the family too), before their departure back to Alaska (after fixing numerous household things in need of repair).  One trip, one meal, one year, is never enough (but they will be back for a special birthday in a month, I will keep writing for another year and I will attend, for my second time, the International Food Bloggers Conference, September 18-20, 2015, you too can register here).

One Summer down, Fall is back in the air, and this is the meal that we shared… and for Mom, my recipe for the pork belly + canteloupe sauce.  One course is never enough.  We had five.  A good number too, but too much to write. This is about, One (recipe).

A Fall Dinner for Mom and John 9/27/14

To start - Nibbles with cocktails
Fresh shrimp spring rolls with dipping sauces (nuac chom + nectarine sauce)
+
Fried shoyu tofu sticks + golden cow’s milk cheese & everything crackers (for the nibbler (ironically not me, my Mom))
1st
Roast beet + raw zucchini and mint stack with miso sauce and pickled ginger
2nd
True cod with corn, wild mushrooms, baby bok choy and shoyu corn broth
3rd
*Pork belly + scallop, massaged kale, cantaloupe sauce
To finish
Fig, apple and ricotta galette with carmel cashew-milk ice cream
+
Berry galette with Elleno’s lemon curd yogurt

PS_spring rollsFresh shrimp spring rolls with dipping sauces.

PS_beet stack 1Roast beet + raw zucchini and mint stack with miso sauce and pickled ginger.

PS_cod 2
True cod with corn, wild mushrooms, baby bok choy and shoyu corn broth.

PS_ TOMpork 2
Pork belly + scallop, massaged kale, cantaloupe sauce.

PS_pie
Berry galette with Elleno’s lemon curd yogurt (in the making).

*Pork belly + scallop, massaged kale, cantaloupe sauce
Serves 4-6 people

It is best to get the pork belly with the skin on if you can; this time I did not but I prefer it that way (it keeps the fat from turning very black).   I learned the method of cooking pork belly from Tom Collicio’s book, “Think Like a Chef” and have experimented with many different cooking flavors, modifications ever since.  The pork belly is braised in a broth that then becomes the base of the sauce for the true cod (above) which I also used to flavor the beets, zucchini and fried tofu sticks.

The cantaloupe sauce helps cut the richness of the pork and the saltiness of the shoyu braise.  It smells of pumpkin as it cooks, and looks like butterscotch when done.  I make this sauce every Fall.  It is wonderful served with a meal of cranberry beans, pork loin and prosciutto, plus could easily be used to sauce everything from fish to fois gras.  Because I was pairing this with a shoyu-based braise, I changed out the typical Chardonnay in the sauce for sake, but either would work fine.  You can freeze leftovers in a Ziploc freezer bag or freezer-safe container.  Both the pork and the sauce can be made a day or two in advance, which makes it great for entertaining.

The kale was an afterthought because I felt we needed something green, I had some in the fridge, plus I felt it would lend a perfect balance of texture and flavor to the rest of the dish.  My favorite way to eat kale is a simple massage of olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice.  No cooking required; the heat from the pork and the sauce are all the heat that is needed.

INGREDIENTS (for the pork belly)

2 lbs pork belly, skin on if you can
Salt and pepper
1 celery stick, diced
3/4 cup onion, chopped
2 TB chopped garlic
3/4 cup corn broth
1/2 cup shoyu (I used Ohsawa organic Nama Shoyu.  Quality does make a difference but feel free to substitute for a soy sauce instead.  Please note that it might be saltier so do adjust according to taste.
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup water

INGREDIENTS (for the cantaloupe sauce)

1 cup chopped onion (or shallot)
1/4 cup chopped fennel bulb (or a few fennel stems and fronds from the garden, chopped as I did this time; I had no fennel bulb)
1 TB butter for sauteing (or use olive oil)
3 TB L’Estornell Grenache varietal red wine vinegar (or another good quality red wine vinegar) (more as needed to season)
1 cup sake (or chardonnay)
2 to 2 1/2 cups large diced, peeled cantaloupe
A handful of fresh basil (optional)
1 TB red currant jelly (I forgot it last night but it does help to thicken the sauce)
1 TB demi-glace
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1/8 cup heavy cream
Sea salt to taste

INGREDIENTS (to finish and serve)

Kale (approximately 1 leaf per person), rinsed, dried and stem removed
Olive oil, sea salt and lemon juice to taste

Fresh, dry-packed sea scallops (1 per person)
Olive oil, a knob of butter, sea salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice

Fennel fronds and flower for garnish (optional)

PREP & COOK (the pork)

Season the pork with sea salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 350-degrees

In a hot pan, brown the pork, skin (or fat) side down (this might take 10-15 minutes over medium heat).  No oil is needed as there is plenty of fat that will come out of the pork.  Drain it off periodically if it splatters too much.  You will want to reserve about 1-2 TB for cooking the vegetables.  Transfer the pork to a plate.

In 1-2 TB pork fat, cook the celery, onion and garlic until soft.  This will take about 10 minutes more. Keep the heat low so as not to brown the vegetables.

Transfer the vegetables to a baking dish.  Top with the pork belly, skin (or fat) side up.

Combine the shoyu, rice wine vinegar and water in a small bowl (or measuring glass).  Pour enough of this mixture into the baking dish to come 1/2 to 3/4 the way up, but not cover the pork.  You will likely still have some liquid left which will be added later.

Cook, uncovered for 1 1/2 hours.  Check on the liquid and add more if needed.

Cook an additional hour, checking occasionally to be sure it is not burning or running out of liquid.  If it browns too much, you can cover it loosely with foil.  Add the rest of the liquid (if any).  You could use sake or water if needed.

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3 hours is usually how long I leave my pork to cook.  It should be quite tender (the degree of tenderness will depend on the thickness of the pork and the ratio of fat to meat).  It will go back in the oven to finish later (if eating that night), or the next day (if doing in advance).

If you are doing this in advance, store the pork, in the baking pan with the liquid (and solids), covered and refrigerated until ready to use.

When you are ready to use (up to 8 hours in advance), transfer the pork to a plate.  Pick off obvious pieces of fat that have solidified in the liquid.  Strain the contents of the pan through a fine mesh strainer (or chinois) into a bowl and discard the solids.  Separate the oil from the liquid as best you can.  The liquid will likely be quite salty; this is okay. You should have about one cup of liquid.  Dilute with more corn broth (approximately 1/2 to 3/4 cup).  Taste for flavor and adjust accordingly.  It should be balanced in flavor now, not too salty, not too sweet.

Remove the skin from the pork (skip this step, obviously, if there was no skin to start). Cut the pork into 4-6 equal sized pieces. Score the fat.  Put it back into a baking pan with the liquid.  At this point, I went ahead and added a few tablespoons of that liquid to my sliced beets, zucchini and tofu. I “borrowed” more of the liquid when I went to cook my true cod.

In a 350-degree oven, cook (or re-warm) the pork until it is very tender and the fat is browned (but not burnt).  If you did not have skin on the pork, the skin will burn easier so you should keep checking in on it’s progress.  Allow 1/2 hour for this process but you can keep it in the oven for longer if you are serving other courses; just be sure to cover it or turn down the heat so as not to dry the pork out.

PREP & COOK (the cantaloupe sauce)

Heat a saute pan and melt a knob of butter.  Add the onion and fennel.  Cook until the onion is translucent, approximately 10 minutes.  Add the vinegar and cook a few minutes until most of the liquid has evaporated.

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Add the sake (or wine) and cantaloupe; continue simmering for approximately 20 minutes more or until the cantaloupe has softened and blended into the pan (another 20 minutes or so).

Strain the sauce through a chinois.  The liquid should be thin and bright.  You will likely have 1 1/2 cups.

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The bowl in the front is my strained pork braising liquid.

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Put the liquid back to the sauce pan (wiped clean).  Add the basil (if using) and let steep for 1/2 an hour, no need to turn on the burner.  Remove and squeeze liquid from basil, discard basil.

Add the jelly, cayenne, demi-glace and cream.  Bring to a simmer and reduce until it is just thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, approximately 20 minutes (it will reduce by about 1/3).  Set aside and re-heat when ready to use.

FINISH & SERVE

While the pork is warming in the oven, prepare the kale.  Slice the leaves into pieces, drizzle over some olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt and squeeze over a wedge of lemon. Gently massage the leaves to soften and distribute the flavors.  I think I might have even spooned over a bit of the shoyu corn broth (optional).  Set aside.

Rinse and pat dry the scallops (remove the muscle if it is still attached).  Score the top side with a small cross-hatch cut.  Season with salt and pepper.  Be sure the scallop is completely dry before putting them in the pan to produce a nice seared top.

Re-heat the cantaloupe sauce.  Check to be sure the pork is warmed through.

On individual plates, divide the kale.  If using fennel fronds and flowers, put them artfully on the plates too.

Heat a saute pan until hot.  Add just enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan.  When the oil is heated (enough to easily move about the pan), add the scallops, scored side down.  Do not touch them for at least 2 minutes.

When the scallops easily come away from the pan with a spatula without sticking, and they are nicely browned on the one side, throw in the knob of butter.  It should melt quickly.  Turn the scallops over.  In the 30 seconds after you turn the scallops, place one piece of pork on each plate.  Immediately squeeze in a lemon wedge and turn off the heat.  The scallops should be soft to the touch still (not rubbery), seared on the exterior and soft in the middle.

Quickly spoon the cantaloupe sauce onto each plate and immediately remove the scallops from the pan and place one on each plate.

PS_buddyOne bite!

PS_sleeping bagsTwo pups!

PS2_1110 legs!

Burnt Toast (and IFBC 2014)

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There are several ways to cook corn, none of which I spent too much time pondering until recently. For me, corn always goes on the grill and often gets treated with butter before biting into, straight off the cob.

It was pointed out to me though, during a series of semi-”deep” discussions regarding corn at our recent family reunion in Minnesota, that if you are not lucky enough to eat it raw when it is freshly picked, the microwave might be the most perfect method for it’s cooking. I was skeptical, but willing to listen and then, eager to give it a try. I also wanted to share a few other methods of cooking corn and an idea (or two) of what I like to do with it every summer (one of which I already did). However, I realize this might be less-than-timely seeing that the summer is coming to an end, for now, so perhaps I will pick that thought back up again next year…

As I ponder the subject of corn though, I turn to pondering the subject of eating. This brings me to food, which of course, is the center of this years International Food Blogger’s Conference (IFBC 2014) taking place at the Westin in downtown Seattle, which brings me to writing. Many of us attending the conference (obviously) write about food. My guess is that most of (if not all of) us enjoy food, more than might be considered normal. I am happy to fit into this category of “not” normal because it means I eat particularly well and who can complain about that?

What most excites me about the upcoming conference (beginning tonight), is the optional workshop I signed up to attend on Sunday. The workshop is about writing, creatively, concerning food, but also concerning memoirs (clarifying voice and story). This is of particular interest to me because I have been trying to write just that. Not just about food but also memories, and memories about food. Well, not just memories about food but memories that involve food (which is an extensive bank of memories).  Actually, what I really want, is to write about those things in a way that captures my voice and makes you want to read what I am writing, enthusiastically.

Burnt Toast

Not only is the content of the workshop something I am looking forward to, it is being led by New York Times Best-Selling food writer Kathleen Flinn, author of “The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry” (which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed) and her third book “Burnt Toast Makes you Sing Good” (which I have not read, but will read as soon as I can buy a copy). The title of that one makes me smile because my father is a notorious burnt toast fan and I just sent him an after-surgery care package containing some burnt biscuits I made because they tasted of burnt toast. Needless to say, burnt toast doesn’t travel well and they went to the trash. Perhaps I will ring the hospital and ask them to prepare him some freshly burnt toast? Or not. In any case, I will ring him to share my experience after the workshop and if we are lucky, I will have learned a thing or two to make me a more engaging writer (when I share the experience with you). That is the plan.

If you haven’t read Kathleen’s writing, I encourage you to pick up a copy of one of her books; well worth the read. Also, if you are attending the conference, perhaps I will meet you there and maybe you are joining the workshop too, which you do not need be at the conference to sign up for, cost is $75, you can sign-up here). Until then, inspired by the title of Kathleen’s third book, I have gone to the kitchen in the hopes of recreating the perfect burnt toast without the “burn” (and come to think of it, without the toast). Curious?

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Biscuits and “cream”
(Aka: not “burnt” toast)
loosely adapted from Molly Wizenberg (and Marion Cunningham)

I know what you’re thinking. I think I do anyways, because if Kathleen were writing this, I would be thinking “burnt toast has nothing to do with biscuits and certainly to do more with butter than with cream”. Hear me out though.

Biscuits are where I started and biscuits I am still trying to make. Ones that don’t taste of burnt toast (even though I think Dad would have liked them straight from the oven before being shoved into a wobbly envelope and flown across the country). I started out wanting to make buttermilk biscuits. I bought one from “Honest Biscuits” at the Pioneer Square Farmer’s Market a few weeks ago. It had butter dipped into the center and honey too, which oozed out the side. They were tall (double story tall) and slightly reminded me of the biscuits I missed out on at the Willow’s Inn. Almost, but not quite. I say not quite because they didn’t look quite as pretty (as the ones at Willow’s Inn).  In reality, I never actually tasted the ones at Willow’s Inn (if you recall from my lengthy post) but this Honest Biscuit was a very good biscuit.  Very good, yes.

I did not want to recreate the Honest Biscuit. What I actually wanted was a cream biscuit. One that was fluffy and moist. One that tasted, well…of cream. What I didn’t want was to actually use cream. Or white flour. But that was a minor detail. What I ended up doing was going to Orangette to find Molly’s cream biscuits I had read about years before. She has a version by Marion Cunningham (no, not the one from Happy Days) that she swears “you can’t screw up”, yet I am here to tell you that I did (screw up), twice. I had only made a few alterations: I used quinoa & whole wheat flours + corn meal rather than all-purpose flour. I used honey rather than sugar and (most notably) replaced the cream and butter for buttermilk and yogurt. So you can see why I was surprised with the unforeseen outcome?  No?

Well, I do confess that there were two attempts at this recipe, because after the first version, I was convinced that the flop was to do with my outdated baking soda (expired February of 2013) and I (reluctantly) had in-fact brushed the outside of the biscuits with melted butter (only 1 TB, but that was likely why it tasted of toast at all; their only redeeming feature). I thought the burnt part was to do with using honey (and perhaps that darn TB of butter that I diligently brushed on even the underside of the biscuit; the side that actually did burn)?  In any case, as it turned out, this was the better batch of the two (yikes!).

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The second batch received a freshly-opened can of baking powder (no, not the whole can), just 1 TB).  I reduced the amount of quinoa flour and corn meal by half, replacing it with more whole wheat pastry flour.  Then, thinking I needed some “cream”, rather than use actual cream, I used 1/2 cup cream on top, whole milk yogurt (which had already been depleted of said top cream) in addition to buttermilk (because I really didn’t learn the first time).  I also opted to use sugar rather than honey but I brushed the tops with yogurt instead of butter (not advised).

So now that you know what not to do, this is what I just did.  Just a few moments ago.  I don’t have burnt toast and I don’t have (real) cream biscuits, but I do have something that looks more like a biscuit than a hockey puck, and tastes more like a biscuit than a (hockey puck) piece of burnt toast.  Plus, it is healthier than a cream biscuit (although, full disclosure, it does use actual cream).  If you didn’t read about my corn butter, I think you should.  I replaced half of the cream with the same portion of corn butter.  I used spelt flour rather than whole wheat.  I kept with the quinoa flour (because I like the color and the sweet richness) and I replaced the cornmeal with fresh sourdough breadcrumbs (because it started out as bread, which is what we use to make burnt toast; you following?).

I made the breadcrumbs without toasting the bread, hence the term “fresh” bread crumbs.  The bread I used was the sourdough from London Plane in Pioneer Square, but any good bread will work just as well.

NGREDIENTS

1 cup spelt flour
1/4 cup *quinoa flour
3/4 cups fresh breadcrumbs (simply purée day-old bread inners, not crust, in a blender or food processor until coarsely crumbly; it will be warm and moist to touch)
1 TB baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 TB honey
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup corn butter (or another 1/2 cup cream)
Another bit of corn butter or melted butter for brushing

*quinoa flour can be purchased from some grocery and specialty stores (for a hefty price).  When I discovered the Blendtec, I am now able to make my own (well worth the small investment).

PREPARE

Pre-heat the oven to 425-degrees.

Mix the flour, breadcrumbs, salt and baking powder in a medium-sized bowl.  With a fork, blend in the honey, then add the cream.  Continue to blend with a fork until it quits “shagging” (Marion and Molly’s term).

Lay it out onto a floured work surface (which I find helpful to have fall onto a piece of wax paper).  Knead to pull it together (it will be wet and sticky). Roll it out with a pin.  In order to keep it from clumping onto the pin, I had to throw a handful of flour onto the dough.  Then, because it looked pasty, I threw over a teaspoon of corn butter to rub over too.  Roll it to 1/2″ thickness.

dough only

Now, you could cut into 12 squares (as Molly says) but I prefer round.  It was quite sticky and did not cooperate very well so my rounds were cattywampus and thin.  This is where I had an epiphany.  I took my thin discs and doubled them up with a layer of corn butter in between.  I also left one or two single-layered and half of them were top-coated with melted butter, while the rest were coated with more corn butter; all of them turned out just fine.  Better than fine, actually.  They are quite good!  yes, this is me admitting to them being good (my family will be shocked).

try thisPretty is not what these are about…

Sometimes it is about the food and flavor, not the…pretty.  Think about that. (pretty gutsy for a lead in to a food bloggers conference…no food porn here)!

How ’bout a random cute photo of my cutie pies instead?

PS_random 2They are acting a little pouty because they don’t get to go to the International Food Blogger Conference even though they are part of the “team”.

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Pretty good with boiled down blueberries though (no additives).PS_bittenI guess I should give the pups a nibble.

Down on the Farm and back to the City

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I used to tease my brother, Scott, that he was the Country Mouse and I was the City Mouse. As the years go on though, I start yearning more for the tranquility of Nature’s melodies than for the sounds of the energy bursting from the bustling city. I don’t think I would ever completely trade the skyline for clear sky but I can appreciate more now, what a sweet life country living would be.

Last month, Tom and I went to Minnesota for a family reunion. My Grandpa, on my Mother’s side, grew up in Hager City (“City”, current population 338), Wisconsin, which is just a stone’s throw across the mighty Mississippi from Red Wing, MN. It had been over thirty years since I last visited; my Great Grandmother had still been alive. One of my cousins, Sabrina, ended up marrying a gentleman there and now lives on a large farm that houses some of Wisconsin’s premiere dairy cows, supplying milk to the creameries that produce those famous Wisconsin cheeses.

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Grandpa Brown stepp’in out and me…ssshhhh, I adopted (temporarily) a dog; don’t tell Ginger and Buddy.

I had the opportunity to accompany Sabrina’s husband, “Farmer John”, while he made his rounds at milking time (PM that is, I’d have only been in bed mere hours before AM milking). I had never milked a cow before and didn’t realize what an interesting operation the whole thing was. He let us (me and a half dozen bright eyed wee ones) milk a cow, although I wouldn’t say It was of any help to him, or the cow. In fact, I felt like an intruder, knowing that the cow was being burdened by my/our inexperienced technique. It was not as I expected either. It looked so easy when he showed us.

When I went to place my hand on the cow’s teat, I expected it to be soft and squishy but it was so much larger than I thought and was taut beneath my skin, requiring a swift pull that I did not deliver well. The warm liquid shot out sideways as I did not control my grip.

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“Farmer John”

Right before we went into the barn, my sister-in-law, Irma, told me how they used to milk the cow’s milk right into a glass, pour in a shot of tequila and drink it fresh on the spot; (her family has a ranch back in Oaxaca, Mexico). When I saw the liquid squirt out toward me sideways, I couldn’t imagine having an aim good enough to hit a small opening on a glass, let alone wanting to drink it. Watching it hit a pail though (as someone more experienced did) it was cloudy white with frothy bubbles as if it had been warmed to place in a shot of espresso, so the image of their drink seemed like an intriguing ritual.

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In addition to milk, one of their main crops is corn.

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This is at the Farmer’s Market, not my cousin, but a big heap of corn to unload.

barn keep

Looking around the property, corn stalks surrounded us for as far as you could see. They were bigger than I would have imagined, perhaps twelve or fourteen feet tall. Other than the corn, the only tall structures where the barns and the silos. At night you could hear the whisper that the stalks made as they blew easily in the nights breeze. The only light came from the moon as it lit up the sky, and the flicker of the fire pit around which came good conversation accompanied by wine, until the rain came in and cleansed the earth for the next day.

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Tom and I (being ones to elevate every travel experience) stayed at the historic St. James Hotel in Red Wing. My Mom fondly remembers my Grandmother taking her there for lunch as a young child. Then, she wore her white gloves, was taught the proper placement of silverware and to say please and thank you. Our room looked out over the River and the train tracks were nearby (well, across the street). The startling and frequent blowing of the whistle both excited and lullabied us as the trains raced past.  Tom didn’t even use ear plugs after the first night (shocking!).

st james

There was deep-rooted history there, but apparently, no food served after 10:00 pm.  Our first night got us in past this hour and we dined on Chex mix, pretzels and Manhattans (classy, right?).

PS_manhatten duo
We later asked that the cherries (we forgot that was “traditional”) be replaced with lemon twists (although they might have gone nicely with Chex).

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The bartenders there were really good though, Chris, in particular, is one I would expect to find behind a serious hipster bar in Portland.

With no coffee pots in the room (gasp!), Tom went down for cappuccinos in the mornings while I showered. We would meet on the veranda where he sat, waiting in a rocking chair with the newspaper, his coffee and a wonderful view of the river, boats and folks.IMG_6458

Later, the scratch Bloody Mary’s would come, served refreshingly good, with a chaser of light beer. A (not so) light breakfast set us up for a day of family and fun.

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So, this trip brought us from city to farm and back again.

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And back at our “homestead”…

Milky Corn Broth with shrimp meat, sweet tomato and avocado  

Needless to say, we were sent home with many ears of fresh corn so when we got back I made a long-time summer favorite, corn broth; it is a broth that eats like a soup.  It is refreshing and pure, tasting deeply of corn which mingles happily with it’s favorite comrade, shrimp.  The sweetness of the corn is offset nicely by the subtle, sweet saltiness of the shrimp and further enhanced by the creamy avocado and textural nuances of tomato.

As I was straining this through my chinois, the liquid resembled the milk from a cow, slightly warm and bubbling as it pooled out and into the bowl.  The final liquid is milky, sweet and gold.  I can’t imagine a more fitting recipe (of mine) than this, to illustrate the influence and coupling of these two commodities; even though there is not actually dairy in this soup (unless you count the butter), it tastes of fresh cream kissed with corn.

The amount of salt and lemon juice will depend on the sweetness of the corn. If overly sweet, the salt and lemon juice help to balance it out.

INGREDIENTS

5 ears fresh corn, husks and silk removed
1 large (or 2 medium) sweet onions, chopped
2 TB butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups dry white wine or vermouth
4 cups water
1-2 tsp kosher salt (or to taste)
Lemon juice to taste (perhaps 1-2 TB)

Garnish: Per person, approximately 2 oz shrimp meat (Oregon or Canadian if you can), 1 wedge avocado (diced), 3 sweet baby cherry tomatoes (cut in half or quarters).

PREPARE

Remove the corn from the cobs and reserve the cobs.

In a large pot, sauté the onion, garlic and corn in the butter until soft, approximately 5 minutes. You don’t want it to brown though so keep the temperature slightly low.

Add the white wine, water, reserved cobs to the pot and bring to a simmer. Put the lid on and turn the heat down. Let it simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. The lid should help the liquid to keep from evaporating. I like to participate in the process so I check in pretty often to see how the flavor is coming along. I might remove the lid if I feel if it seems too watery and as long as the liquid is not going away altogether, I let it simmer as long as 1 1/2 hours to allow the aromatics to really permeate the liquid. There is not an exactness to the amount of time or liquid quantity, just taste and instinct.

Remove the pot from the heat and let cool slightly. I like to leave it sit until the cobs are cool enough to handle but that is not necessary. Remove the cobs from the pot with tongs and set in a bowl.  Pour the rest of the contents into a chinois placed over a bowl and push on the solids to extract all the liquid and flavor. When the cobs are cool enough to handle, use a knife to squeeze whatever liquid you can from them and add it to the bowl.

Return the liquid to the pot season with salt and lemon juice. Simmer a little more to thicken it slightly. It will be broth but should thicken enough to look like cream.

Chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.

SERVE

Place the shrimp meat in the bottom of individual bowls. Ladle the corn broth over the shrimp meat. top with the avocado and tomato.

If you had a bit of crispy bacon (say left over from breakfast), that might taste good as well (says Tom).

shrimp in bowlpour close

BONUS: Corn Butter

I recently got a Blendtec.  It competes with Vitamix and as far as I know, works every bit as good, if not better.  Plus, it fits under my cabinet and is easy to clean.  I usually throw out the mash of solids after pressing them through my chinois but, curiosity got the better of me and I decided to add them to my Blendtec and put the switch on soup mode.  I ended up with a lovely bowl of corn butter.  It is delicious on toast and I imagine many other things I have yet to discover.

PS_corn butter

And lastly, while we were in MN, we went to a park that had a special place just for monarch butterflies.  This shot is for Sheri at Unfettered Fox, I thought of her as I followed this fellow (and it’s friends) from spot to spot.

IMG_6467Have wings, will fly.

And when a late Summer storm passes through when the special guests need to be escorted to their vehicles, creative pop-up valet service ensues…

PS_johnMan on a mission.

What is wrong with me???

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Wait, don’t answer this. It is meant to be rhetorical. Oh, you already have answered? Sssshhhhh, keep it to yourself, trust me, I already know.

It is September. Yes, the month that comes on the calendar after August, which is in reality, the last true month of summer. Where did the months of June, July and August go (rhetorical, again)? I waited patiently all through the winter months, and then the first month of pre-Spring for the Farmer’s Markets to unfold. I went once back in May, by myself, and made an enormous haul. So enormous that I could barely maneuver the one-foot-in-front-of-the-other thing without teetering side-to-side. My arms weighed heavy, carrying all that my eyes told me to buy.

I bought a tomato plant too.

Did I mention my arms were full and I was shopping alone?

I left that tomato plant at numerous stands. Weaving through busy crowds, I back-tracked to retrieve it as I happily thought about all the delectable morsels it would someday soon bring.

The last stop got me talking about pickles. Not just pickles, but sauerkraut too. I had to have several large (heavy) jars.

The tomato plant was left behind once again.

It wasn’t until I had reached another 7 minutes into the walk back to my car that I realized Tomato Plant had been abandoned again.

I paused for a moment and pondered about the four dollars I had paid and the worthiness of that money, versus heading back to retrieve it, laden with bags cutting marks into my wrists.

It wasn’t really to do with the money that made me return for Tomato Plant. It was the promise of the red, juicy succulence, bursting into our mouths with nothing more than a rinse from the fountain to clean off their skins. It was also the vision of delicate red balloons, multiplying and offering more sweetness, more nutrients, more summer, again and again and….

As mentioned, it is now September, and that was my only trip to Farmer’s Market this year (until last Friday). What is wrong with me? (Sssshhhhh)

And this new friend that I could not let go, brought only one, yes one, lovely little Roma, that decided to ripen while we were away on a trip. Apparently that was it, and I am most sad.

It is a good thing I was (somewhat) fortuitous in that I did buy a second plant; the type that promises to produce tomatoes. It was in a small wooden basket, gripping from a little wood trellis and did produce a bunch of bright red gems, but, only a few really made the cut. The rest were mealy. Thankfully, a mealy tomato can still make a robust, earthy sauce. So, that is what I did, sauce, times two (well one was actually a purée).

photo 3Sorry girls, he’s taken.

My real problem is this, I sometimes go whole seasons, yearning for the next season. I know, we all do this (no?). I then go through the next season and forget to enjoy (to the fullest), all the delights that said season brings… until the end. I am now at the end of Summer without having reveled in a plethora of perfect tomatoes. And there are few foods I adore more than Summer-fresh tomatoes.

For my sprint to the end (of Summer) though, I have managed to pile 4 bags of produce, farm-fresh eggs, pasta and pickles into my car last Friday from the Bellevue Farmer’s Market before heading off for the weekend where I piled a few more bags of the same (minus pasta) from the local farm stand (Hunter’s Farm) near Hoodsport, WA. I have a very full fridge and a bowl filled with Summer tomatoes (I am happy to say, but anxious about using in time).

This Fall, I must remember to cook using pears and squash. Until then, I give you freshly grown tomatoes, roasted and puréed, served with a side of chicken and eggplant Parmesan (because, it looks a little bit like Fall and I did have mealy tomatoes for sauce).

Roasted tomato (purée) sauce
makes approximately 2 cups

Once, long ago, when I worked at (the sadly now-defunct) Seattle restaurant Italia, I noticed the ovens were constantly filled with sheets of whole tomatoes roasting and sending out a heavenly scent. The cooks would take them from the oven and dump them through a large contraption that separated the meat from the seeds and skin. I have no idea what temperature the ovens were or how long they roasted, but I did know two things; roasted tomatoes made delicious sauce, and roasting tomatoes made everything smell fantastic.

This is less of a recipe than a process. To coax out that earthy, sun-kissed tomato flavor, roasting them low and slow in the oven is a pretty neat trick. Roasting high and quick works pretty well too and I often switch between the two depending on how much time I have, what I am making and how big the tomatoes are; it is pretty hard to screw up at this.

For instance, if I am using smaller, cherry tomatoes that I want to liken to those sun-dried numbers, I usually douse them with a little olive oil, sprinkle over some sea salt and cook them at around 300-degrees until they dry out a bit, but retain their natural juices. At 300-degrees, this might take only an hour or less; if I reduced the oven to 250-degrees it would take longer, but provide a more-succulent result. I am slightly impatient (again, shhhhhhh) so I usually opt to cook at a higher temperature (sometimes 375-degrees) for a shorter time. For this sauce however, low and slow is the way to go.

INGREDIENTS

1 1/2 lbs tomatoes
1 head garlic, outer skin removed, cloves separated, hard inner skin still intact
Olive oil
Sea salt + fresh ground pepper, to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste

tomatoes raw copy

PREPARE

Preheat the oven to 275-degrees.

Put the whole tomatoes and garlic cloves on a sheet pan. Drizzle over some olive oil, then sprinkle with sea salt. Add some herb sprigs if you like, such as fresh thyme, rosemary or oregano. Shake to coat.

Place the pan in the oven and let roast for approximately 2 hours.

cooked tomato

Transfer the contents of the pan to a food processor, including juices (if any), yet removing the garlic’s skin (and any skin that easily slips from the tomatoes), as well as picking away the stems from the herbs; purée.

Add the vinegar and a sprinkle of salt and grind of pepper to taste. Process to combine. I sometimes add a little more fresh herb or dried oregano; this is optional because it will taste fantastic with or without.

That’s it. Easy, right? Yes, it truly is. You can use this versatile sauce for many things; use right away or freeze to use later.

Roasted tomato (purée) sauce with a side of chicken + eggplant Parmesan
Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

1 cup (+/-) roasted tomato (purée) sauce – see recipe above

2 smallish eggplants (Chinese or Japanese varieties work too but adjust quantity per slice circumference), sliced into 1 to 1 1/2″ slices.
Olive oil for brushing
Sea salt to season

2 boneless, skinless breasts of chicken, each breast cut in half down the center
Sea salt and pepper for seasoning
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup panko
1/8 cup grated Parmesan
Olive oil for frying
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
Soft herbs (such as basil or oregano) for garnish

PREPARE

Preheat the oven to 375-degrees.

Lay the eggplant sides on a baking sheet and brush each side with olive oil. Sprinkle one side with a little sea salt.

PSeggplant

Roast the eggplant in the oven for approximately 20-30 minutes. It wants to be slightly browned but not hard. The top will be slightly tough but with a little give to the touch. Remove from the oven and let sit. The eggplant should soften as it sits (making it hard to resist eating directly from the sheet pan; I always make enough to account for my nibbles).

In a shallow plate or bowl, mix the panko and grated Parmesan.

On a cutting board, between two sheets of wax paper, pound the chicken breasts until even and 3/8″ thick. Season with salt and pepper and throw a handful of flour over, lightly coating each side.

Dip each chicken breast quarter in egg, then press into the panko/Parmesan mix. These can set aside 1/2 to 1 hour before cooking.

chick parm

Heat a sauté pan and add enough olive oil to just fill the bottom to 1/8″ deep. When the oil is hot, add the chicken and cook undisturbed until golden on the bottom side. Flip and cook 30 seconds more. Turn off the heat and transfer the chicken to a paper towel-lined surface.

Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking pan (just enough to barely coat).

Add the roasted eggplant in four vertical lines .

Top each line with a chicken breast quarter.

Pour the remainder of the sauce over all, down the center.

Sprinkle with shredded cheese and chopped fresh oregano.

uncooked

Bake for 30 minutes, loosely covered with foil. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

close up

Now, may I recommend that you serve one quarter chicken + eggplant Parmesan, on a plate alongside a fresh green salad with vinaigrette or dressing of your choice?

photo 2
(note from the editor) Edit with a nice glass of wine, Rosé on a warm Summer day. Enjoy.

photo(And don’t forget, tomatoes are good for pups too)!

The magic mushroom – on health & healing

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PScover shot

There comes a time in everyone’s life where we need to reflect. Reflect upon our health, our happiness and our future.

That time for me, is now. With Buddy’s recent scare, and he and Ginger’s inevitable aging, I put in motion a set of changes to prolong their time with us and ensure they are as healthy, comfortable and pain-free as possible, for what we hope to be, years to come. In our quest for finding the right mix of potions, we realized that what applies to them could and should, help inform our own regiment.

Health and well-being is largely dependent on choices. We make choices everyday and those choices add up to a map of our path that brought us to where we are in life, love, work and health. Some of our health is determined by genetics, but part of our health is dependent on all of the choices that influence each of these areas. I am always amazed at how much we have control of in this seemingly out-of-control world.

Simply put, we need to take control of our lives and be informed about as much as we can to make the right choices. Fifteen years ago, I was challenged with an illness that was determined by genetics. I read up on and educated myself at the time, but if faced today with the same situation, I would have gone at it a little differently, and certainly with more vigor; in fact, that is exactly what I am doing now. More vigor, more thought, more awareness. Genetics never change (although, soon they can).

Today, I would have looked to nutrition, emotional stability, situational acceptance, the power of the mind, and the power of ancient remedies. I would have meditated, done yoga, accepted my situation in a positive light and sought out things that are not the routine answer. This is not to say that I did not do things right, because I did the best I could with what I knew and discovered at the time. I survived and came out, perhaps, a little bit stronger.

It is never too late to start making smarter choices, bigger changes, and positive impacts. One of the first things to do is to make the choice to become better educated on your options for healthy living. The next step is to make a commitment to implementing those things you learn. Then, obviously, you need to take action.  This is obviously easier said than done.

I am, in some capacity, working in all three stages. I was especially happy to find that in the, “becoming better educated” stage, that I have more excuses than ever to seek out, cook and eat wild mushrooms.

Oh, how I love wild mushrooms!
Tom does not.
Turns out they are good for us (much to his chagrin).
So good!

I recently discovered that mushrooms present significant health benefits. So significant in fact, that even Tom can’t ignore. A friend of ours turned us onto the magic of mushrooms. No, not that kind of mushroom (shame on you). Our friend had become ill, lethargic and un-diagnosed. It was not until she began taking these supplements that she was able to resume her life after years of a serious detour.

I had already read a little bit about how mushrooms might be a good thing to incorporate into Buddy’s diet when we thought cancer was lurking within. I became more intrigued after hearing about Heather’s story, and even more intrigued when I began reading up on the supporting research.

Not only are certain varieties believed to have properties that reduce blood pressure, help control diabetes, sharpen memory and strengthen immunity, the largest benefit, in context of ourselves, is inhibiting growth of cancer cells. As with most things, ingesting beneficial foods are usually not effective in delivering the potency required to reward you with maximum benefit; capsules or extracts are best suited for that. It seems though, that eating mushrooms, of any variety, will offer enough of a reward that I can optimistically recommend they find their way to your plate as often as possible. I am certainly not an expert on the subject and certainly won’t pretend to be in this post, so to read for yourself, take a look here, here and here.

I have ordered several products from this site both for Tom and I, as well as for Buddy, Ginger and Dad (read up on Paul Stamets, renowned mycology expert). They have not yet taken residence at my doorstep so I will have to report back in a later post after my real research kicks into place. I will say though, Buddy and Ginger have been religiously taking this (human-grade, made for pets) product for several months now, switching between the joint formula and digestive formula. This, in conjunction to other dietary improvements have made a remarkable difference to their health in this relatively short time. As an bonus, acupuncture for Buddy has proven to provide noticeable relief from a myriad of symptoms. Tom (inspired by Buddy’s unbiased success) has recently joined that club too (and I will talk further on this subject in a subsequent post).

As another thought for cure, and intended to help inform my cousin Bridget, epilepsy in dogs also benefits from acupuncture.  Eric, go with this, it is a small price to pay for a drug-fee loved one and might prove to be a smaller expense long-term.  Read further here for some great thoughts on the subject (Scott and Christine, you will be interested in this too).

So if anyone else is also thinking about improving their health, even the tiniest thing can make a difference. Smile more, frown less (I need to do this). Eat 1/2 instead of the whole (Tom needs to do this). Laugh when you feel like crying. Kiss your dog. Kiss your other dog (even if its just your better half). Appreciate what you have and forgive yourself for what you don’t. Eat your mushrooms. Love your life!

PSclose up

Wild mushroom and corn ragout with tomato & peach
Serves 4

Mushrooms are lovely cooked in butter and olive oil.  However, in keeping it healthy (and shareable with my pups), I am roasting the mushrooms and corn with only the tiniest bit of oil, no salt.

You can serve this by itself as a vegetarian dish, or as I did, serve as an accompaniment to beef braised in tangy peach sauce (recipe follows).

INGREDIENTS

Olive oil
1/2 lb mixed wild mushrooms (approximately) – I used a few small chanterelles, 7 shiitake and 4 trumpet
1 ear of white sweet corn, removed from cob
Pinch of sea salt
Fresh ground pepper
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 tomato, cored and diced
1 peach, peeled and sliced
Truffle oil (optional)

PREPARE & ROAST (the mushrooms + corn)

Gently wipe any dirt or grit from the mushrooms.  Remove the stems from the crimini and portabella (if using).  If using chanterelles, scrape the stems with a pairing knife to remove the grit then trim the bottom of the stem.

Put the mushrooms onto a baking dish lined with foil, and toss with the smallest amount of olive oil needed to lightly coat them; this could be just 1 teaspoon.  Set the corn alongside on the same pan.

Roast them in a preheated 400-degree oven for 15-20 minutes.  Check on them after 10 minutes to be sure they are not drying out.  Give them a little stir to mix them with the juices that should be starting to release.  If they seem too dry, close them up in the foil for a few minutes.  Pull the corn from the oven if the kernels are tender and cooked at this time.  The mushrooms are done when they are tender and browned.  The trumpet mushrooms will take a bit longer than other varieties.

Alternative cooking method for the mushrooms:

Heat a little olive oil in a pan.  Add a knob of butter and let it melt before adding the mushrooms.  

Cook for several minutes, stirring a few times, until the juices begin to release.  Sprinkle a pinch of salt over and grind in some pepper.  

Add the garlic and continue cooking until the liquid evaporates.  The whole thing will take about 10-15 minutes.

PS2just veg

PLATE

Lay down a few slices tomato on each plate and scatter the corn.  Divide the mushrooms, selecting a mix of the varieties for each plate.  Add in the peach slices and sprinkle with a little salt.  A few drops of truffle oil are a nice addition if you feel so inclined.

PSmeat with sauce

Beef Braised in Tangy Peach Sauce

Serves 4

This braised beef, as well as the sauce, is delicious over the mushroom and corn ragout.  You can roast the mushrooms and corn at the beginning of the braising time since the oven begins at 400-degrees.  The oven will then get turned down for the remainder of the braise, at which time the mushrooms and corn can be set aside and heated-through later.

The sauce will make approximately 3 cups, but for this you will only need 1 cup, so you will have extra to freeze or bottle for later use.

INGREDIENTS 

1 1/2 lbs choice boneless beef ribs
1 tsp kosher salt
Fresh ground pepper
Spelt flour for dredging
Olive oil for browning
1 cup tangy peach sauce (see recipe here)
1 sweet onion, trimmed and sliced

PREPARE

Line a baking dish (large enough to hold the ribs) with foil. The foil should be large enough to fold over and cover the ribs. Place the slices of onions onto the foil and set aside. Preheat the oven to 400-degrees.

Season the beef with salt and pepper, then dredge through the flour.

Heat a sauté pan and add enough oil to just coat the bottom of the pan. Brown all sides of the beef; be sure to let it sit undisturbed until one side is brown before moving. When it is ready to be turned, it should easily come away from the pan without sticking.

When all sides of the beef ribs are browned, transfer to the baking dish, setting the ribs over the onions.

Deglaze the sauté pan with red wine and scrape all the bits up to pour over the ribs.

Pour the peach sauce over the ribs and cook uncovered for 45 minutes. Baste the ribs with the sauce and cover with the foil. Continue cooking until they are tender, basting occasionally, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 more hours. During that time, if the pan gets too dry, you can add a little water.

The onions will be caramelized and taste delicious served under or alongside the beef. You can use the pan sauce after removing the fat, or as I did, use some of the tangy peach sauce that was not used for cooking.

____________________________________________________________

In Loving Memory of Amber Bender, September 2002 – August 2014

My dear sister-in-law Laura, our heart goes out to you and our/your beautiful, sweet Amber. She will always be by your side and in all our hearts.

photo 7I love you Mom; I’ll meet you at the other side.

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