Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Basil-Mint Sorbet

Nothing evokes the essence of summer like basil--you know that sudden wave of sunshine that washes over you in winter when you open a freezer bag of the pesto you made in August? This sorbet goes even further ... it's transporting, ambrosial; the mint and basil combine in a heavenly taste that opens eyes in surprise and conducts a symphony on the taste buds.

I discovered the recipe in Frances Mayes' admittedly hedonistic book about life in her Tuscan villa. I make it every time my friend Judy comes to visit from Maine. It's the kind of thing you need to eat with someone who also hears the music of the taste bud orchestra! Some people (you know who you are) refuse to try this dessert, saying it looks like pond scum. Their loss! More for us!

Depending on my mood and the state of the basil and mint plants, I sometimes greatly increase the amount of basil and mint. And sometimes I strain the blended herb liquid, but you don't need to.
Adapted from Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

3/4 cup sugar
3 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup mint leaves (or lots more)
1/2 cup basil leaves (or lots more)

Boil 1 cup water with the sugar for 5 minutes, stirring little if at all. Cool.

In blender, blend remaining two cups water with mint and basil leaves until thoroughly pureed. Add lemon juice and cooled sugar syrup, and chill well.

Freeze in ice cream freezer, or if you don't have one, use the ice-cube tray/repeated blendings method.

Serve in little bowls that you've put in the freezer for a while.

The sorbet is best made and frozen about 4 or 5 hours ahead of serving; long-term freezer storage hardens it.

Serves six or eight, depending on size of serving.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Berry Good Strategy

It's easy to be overwhelmed at the farmer's market when you survey the beautiful and not inexpensive berries that draw you in with their aromatic scents and luscious colors, tempting you to buy. But if berries are a part of your life and you're not willing to pay even more for faded, odd-colored, corporate-frozen berries from the supermarket, simply gird yourself with a Silpat and a baking sheet, and stride confidently into the world of having your own local berries all winter long. You'll be glad you did.

Set aside the berries that you want to eat fresh, and prepare the others as if you were going to use them right away ... wash, stem, slice if desired. Drain the berries well, and spread them in one layer on a Silpat-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Set the sheet in the freezer, and when the berries are frozen, carefully and gently fold the Silpat sides up, and then the ends, to loosen the berries. When the berries are rolling around freely, gather the two long sides of the Silpat into a chute and guide the berries into a one-gallon freezer bag. Seal well, double bag if you'll be storing them a long time, and put the bag in the freezer.

The frozen berries will keep their shapes fairly well even when thawed, so you can use them for compote or cobblers, as well as for smoothies. I can't overemphasize the usefulness of a Silpat silicone baking liner. They're available at Ariel in Richland (they're open on Farmer's Market morning!), so do stop by and pick one up. You'll use it for lots of things, and will find yourself thinking up new uses for it, like I did with freezing berries!

The same technique works with all fresh fruits ... cherries, peaches, nectarines. Give your freezer a colorful collection of local, summer fruits that will cheer you in winter.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Joe's Special (And So Are You)

From Mark Bittman (and me) comes this variation on a classic dish. Brown up a pound of local ground beef along with some fresh chopped garlic (available in the Spring at farmer's markets) and local onion. For fun, chop up some baby bok choy that you bought at the farmer's market on a whim, and stir it in with the onion. Add a bag of fresh, local spinach, washed and snipped down with kitchen shears, and stir 'til it's cooked, then break about four local eggs into the mix and stir 'em in. Don't forget salt and pepper. I topped ours with my newest thrilling local find, smoked goat cheese from a local farmer. He calls it "Goat Colby."

Now, I'm the kind of person who puts eggs in bowls and beats them before adding them to a dish like this, but tonight I reformed. It's liberating! Just crack the four eggs open on top of the hot meat mixture, break the yolks with your spatula, and stir 'til everything's cooked.

Alongside local sugar snap peas so young you don't even need to string 'em, local radishes, and local strawberries for dessert, this Joe's Special is robust dish that makes a good warm-day meal because there's no oven involved. You can play with the ingredients endlessly, all summer long.

And you know what? This is another Entirely Local Meal. Bravo!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Easy Meal Ideas

This article came out in the New York times a few years ago, and I post it here because it exemplifies the style of cooking at which I am trying to become more adept: making a meal of the ingredients on hand.

I cut the article out and taped it to the inside of my pantry door, and sometimes I just stand there and read a few of the 101 ideas Bittman offers. Just a glance or two at it can put you in the frame of mind for creating satisfying, speedy meals, especially during the farmer's market season when your fridge might be (ahem) a little full of fresh, local produce.

By keeping certain staples in the fridge (cheeses, oils, nuts, eggs, olives, etc) and in your cupboards (pasta, canned salmon, soups, canned beans, and such), as well as some freezer basics like meat and fish, you can forget complex recipes and merely combine the parts into a whole. Next up for me is Idea #28, using my fresh, local eggs, Pat 'n Tam's ground beef and the Schreiber and Sons spinach and onions I got last week.

There's a time for complex recipes and for spending hours in the kitchen. But summer ain't it.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Management of Your Farmer's Market Booty

Okay, this is going to get a little personal. But if one takes the trouble to go to a farmer's market and stock up on fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other wonderful stuff, it doesn't make sense to let ANY of it go to waste. Here are a couple of tricks to keep your wondrous goods rotating happily.

1) Keep a list of the fresh stuff you bring home from the market. Post it on your fridge. Gaze at the list for inspiration. Cook with your beautiful produce. Cross off stuff that you use. This way, your fresh produce will be used when it IS fresh, and will not become a sad, cast-out victim of Produce Neglect, producing guilt that you don't need.

2) Invest in clear storage containers, especially for refrigerated items. This way you can SEE what you have, and will be more likely to USE it. We are, after all, pretty simple creatures. See, reach, eat.

Classic cooking (Cordon Bleu, Culinary Institute of America, etc.) has as its main theme the age-old premise of respecting food and not wasting it. A good value to cultivate!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Arugula-Pecan Pasta with Local Flatiron Steak

Don't go thinking I'm inspired all the time. Last night we had scrambled eggs with leftover spinach in them, and toast. For which, of course, I am very grateful.

Still, I was ready for something with a little zing tonight, but couldn't seem to zero in on anything. It's always tempting to cave in and go out. But reading Cathy Erway's book is inspiring because she went without eating in a restaurant for TWO YEARS. I know Mr. Eating the Scenery prefers eating in, so I really try to make that happen.

When uninspired, I usually start tidying things up, and in so doing, I picked up the latest issue of Sunset magazine, which (!) had a page turned down on this recipe!

I had two bags of local arugula, and had picked up some flatiron steak from Pat 'n Tam's at the Pasco farmer's market a couple of weeks ago. Sunset called for walnuts in the pesto, but I was out of them so used pecans. And they used hangar steak and made a complex sauce for it. But I used up all my cooking mojo for today just making the pesto.
Adapted from Sunset Magazine

When using arugula in salads, I usually tear out the big stems. But for pesto, you can leave them on! I always toss the pesto with only part of the pasta at first, and only mix in more if needed to get the pesto:pasta ratio just right.

1 pound dried pasta ... penne, farfalle, rotini ... no matter

2 bags (about 2 quarts sort-of-packed) arugula, washed and spun dry, and lightly snipped down with kitchen shears to reduce its volume
Grated peel of one lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup walnuts or pecans
3-4 ounces (about 3/4 cup) crumbled Oregon blue cheese, divided

Put pasta water on to heat. Cook pasta according to your taste.

In food processor, combine arugula, lemon peel, olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth and desired pesto texture is achieved. Add nuts and 1/2 cup of the blue cheese. Blend just until cheese and nuts are in small pieces.

Toss pesto with hot, drained pasta, and top with remaining crumbled blue cheese.

For the steak:

I simply broiled the flatiron steak about 8 inches from the broiler until it was browned, and turned it once, broiling again until medium rare when sliced. Salt and pepper was all it needed. This is the first Pat 'n Tam's steak I've had, and the flavor was excellent.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Olde English Seed Cake

For bedtime reading, the Miss Read books can't be beat. A deep calm comes over one upon opening one of her books at the end of the day. Quiet English villages in the Cotswolds ... cottage gardens, eccentric characters, and never a day without tea. When someone falls ill in Fairacre or Thrush Green, "lemon barley water" is produced, a restorative believed to help strengthen a weakened constitution. It's simply lemonade made with water in which barley has been cooked, sweetened with honey.

Seed cake is frequently offered at tea. In modern times, seed cake is merely a sponge cake with caraway or anise seeds added. It's still served at English teas. But its origins go back as far as the 1500's, when it was a yeasted, round cake. It's mentioned in Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, its round shape said to represent a medieval shield known as the Buckler.

Years ago my mom and I made a round skillet bread with caraway seed in it, called "San Francisco Firehouse Bread." That memory, plus the intrigue of making a recipe with a history going back to an age when books had titles like Book of Cookrye and The English Huswife, prompted me to do a little research and create this cake of seeded exquisiteness. Not something we often bake with, seeds bring a unique flavor as well as a gritty crunch.

Step back in time ...
Adapted from this website

I used a mixture of seeds; you can use all of one type if you wish, or a different mixture than mine. Make sure any mixture you use is a pleasing one.

1 package yeast
1/8 cup warm ale or water

1/2 cup (1 stick) organic butter
2/3 cup organic sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt

2 fresh, local eggs
2 teaspoons anise seeds
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1/2 teaspoon cardamom seeds

1-1/2 cups regular flour
1 cup whole wheat flour

About 1-1/2 cups milk (I used some fresh, local buttermilk from this adventure!)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Sprinkle yeast over ale or water in a small bowl.

Crush seeds lightly with a mortar and pestle if you have one.

In food processor, cream butter, sugar and salt until smooth. Add eggs, seeds, flours, yeast mixture, and 1 cup milk. Blend JUST until smooth. You should have a thick batter. If needed, add remaining 1/2 cup milk.

Pour batter into buttered 8-inch round cake pan. (I used a buttered 8-1/2 inch springform pan.) Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on rack for about 15 minutes before running knife around sides and turning cake out onto a plate.

Makes 8 servings.

Friday, June 4, 2010

First Richland Farmer's Market of 2010

Richland's Farmer's Market started its 2010 season today with vendors lining both sides of the Parkway ... almost as many as you see at the height of the season. This is a very popular market, I think because it's well organized, has a great variety of vendors, has a festive atmosphere with several food booths and often live music, and parking is easy.

The first photo above shows my CSA farmer's booth today ... I always stop there because so much of the produce is organic. And of course, delicious. If not for Schreiber and Sons, I wouldn't have had a Winter CSA to sign up for, and probably would never have begun this blog.

The second photo is from the very first Richland Market in 2006. The market opened in pouring rain that didn't let up for several hours. I was privileged to serve almost every week as "counter" for the Richland Market during its first year, tallying the number of customers who came through. It has been a joy to see the number of market customers increase impressively during subsequent years. I'm grateful to John and Tara Erben for their hard work and vision in bring this market to reality and keeping it fresh!

Here's to a great summer of Friday mornings at the Richland Market!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

First Southridge (Kennewick) Farmer's Market

Today was the inaugural, kickoff, maiden voyage ... the very first Southridge Farmer's Market in Kennewick. The market will be open from 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. Thursdays from now 'til October 21. A respectable number of vendors were present, with a good selection of your basic early-summer produce. This market has some pretty extreme potential for growth because of its location near densely populated areas. All in all, another excellent way to get fresh, local produce into your life!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Secrets of Rhubarb

The taste of rhubarb still thrills me as much as it did when we ate canned fruit all winter and gloried in this, the first "fruit" of spring. The ruby-red stalks have been available at the Pasco Farmer's Market this year, and I usually get around four pounds.

To the trimmed, sliced rhubarb, I add about two cups of water and 3/4 cup or so of agave syrup. Honey works well, too. Cook it up, stirring frequently and adding water if necessary, 'til the pieces are soft.

Rhubarb has an interesting affinity for basil; if you add some chopped basil after the rhubarb is cooked, it will create a delightful "mystery" flavor that people will try to place, usually unsuccessfully.

This year I learned that my trusty Wusthof kitchen shears do a fine job of slicing the stalks much more quickly than using a knife; the shears cut completely through the rhubarb's strings rather than having to put extra slicing effort into using a knife.

You can actually dice raw rhubarb up finely (1/4 inch or so) and bake it into muffins, pancakes and breads as you would raisins or cranberries. I am thinking about coming up with a rhubarb granola recipe.

Rhubarb is easy to grow once established, though it is a heavy feeder. I currently don't have a rhubarb patch but would like to!

Very Local Butter

You can't get much more local than your own kitchen. Until discovering Pure Eire Dairy, and learning that saturated fats have been much maligned and in fact are quite vital to our health, I hadn't thought too much about making my own butter, although I've been purchasing organic butter for some time, and ghee occasionally.

Because the healthiest butter is made from grass-fed cows' milk, and Pure Eire's bossies are grass fed, it seemed right and proper to produce butter with their cream.

It is tricky to describe the vast difference in taste of this butter from commercial butter. Have you ever been in a cow barn at milking time? Have you been near a cream separator either during operation or when it's being cleaned? I have. But if you have not, butter made with this cream will taste unusual to you. Its flavor is the essence of pure dairy cream.

I learned a few things for next time, and because of this butter's ethereal taste and health appeal, there will be a next time.
Adapted from Fat byJennifer McLagan and also from this site.

1 pint (2 cups) local heavy cream from grass-fed cows
1/2 teaspoon salt (if desired)
1 quart ice water, with ice in it to keep it cold

Let the cream warm to room temperature. Pour into food processor and turn on. The cream will whip, then separate, and then the butter will seize and become a ball, leaving a milky liquid in the food processor bowl. Immediately stop the processor when the butter becomes a ball. Pour off the buttermilk through a fine sieve, and save for other uses (pancakes, cornbread, etc.). Return any pieces of butter that collect in the sieve to the food processor.

Now you are going to "wash" the butter to remove the remaining buttermilk from it. Pour about a cup of ice water onto the butter and process so that the butter mixes with the water and then separates into a ball again. Drain off the water through your sieve, discarding the water each time, and repeat this process until the water is fairly clear. It took four washings for me. Gather the butter up into a ball.

Now you want to remove any remaining water from your ball of butter. I must take issue with the directions that called for squeezing the water out by hand OR kneading the butter on a clean towel. I used both these processes, and they are incredibly messy, the butter sticks to your hands and to the towel, plus your hands will quickly melt the butter, making it stick even worse.

In the end, I used a dough scraper to keep scraping the butter up off the towel as I kneaded it. During the kneading, sprinkle the salt, if you are using it, over the butter and knead it in.

I persevered, but for next time I am going to be on the lookout for butter paddles, which our ancestors used and which I suspect have not been improved upon for generations. You simply circle the ball of butter around between the paddles, and the water runs out in the grooves.

The yield is about one cup of the best-tasting butter you've ever had.
Update: We don't use a lot of butter, so I was especially pleased that this homemade butter kept sweet and delicious for three weeks. That's because I "washed" it, to remove the buttermilk. You can use the butter just as it comes out of the food processor without removing the buttermilk with the water washes, but it will go sour quite fast. This butter is best on breads, toast, popcorn, and used for sauteeing fresh vegetables ... the taste of the butter is so good that you'll want to use it in ways that let you appreciate the flavor.

Spaghetti with Shrimp, Clams and Scallops

A while back I posted about our local Northwest Seafood Market, and last weekend I sought out their fresh clams and shrimp for a special birthday dinner. This recipe is from a lovely, lush cookbook called The Food of Italy, and just looking through it makes you want to rush into the kitchen and start cooking. The book's picture of this dish inspired my friend to comment how delicious and Italian it looked, so it seemed like destiny that she should have it for her birthday dinner!

And so her mother and I had great fun cooking this delectable dish. We made adjustments to the original because we both prefer a generous amount of sauce to a more spartan amount of pasta. As well, we omitted the squid tubes and baby octopus, and upped the quantity of other seafood.

For such an innocent-looking dish, it packs a lot of flavor from the saffron, garlic, and seafood. It's definitely a keeper, and quite suitable for special-occasion dinners!

This amount will serve about 12 people, but the recipe is easily halved.
Adapted from The Food of Italy

2 cups dry white wine
2 generous pinches of saffron threads

4 pounds clams
2 pounds shrimp, shelled and cleaned
1 pound scallops, cleaned

1-1/2 pounds dry spaghetti

5 tablespoons olive oil
6 garlic cloves, crushed or chopped
1 28-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 14-ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes, undrained
1 cup chopped parsley

Lemon wedges to serve

Put the wine and saffron in a bowl and allow to steep.

Clean clams, scrubbing if necessary. Rinse well and discard any that are broken or open and don't close when tapped on counter. Place clams in large pot with 1-1/2 cups water. Cover and turn heat to high, cooking for 2-3 minutes or until all clams open. Remove clams from liquid, and reserve liquid. Remove clams from shells, discarding any that don't open, and set clam meat aside.

Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling water, timing it to be done when you are ready to mix it with the finished tomato/seafood mixture.

Heat olive oil in large Dutch oven (we used a 12-quart one) and add garlic and both cans of tomatoes, and cook, stirring, for a minute or so. Pour in the saffron-infused wine and the reserved clam liquid. (We only used about a half cup of the clam liquid, but that was just us.) Simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Add the shrimp and cook until all shrimp begin to turn pink, then add the clam meat and scallops, cooking and stirring occasionally until shrimp are thoroughly pink and scallops are opaque.

Stir in the parsley, and add the drained, cooked pasta and gently mix well. Turn out onto very large platter or into a large serving bowl. We dusted the top with grated Parmesan cheese, and very pretty it was. Garnish with lemon wedges or serve them separately.