Thursday, July 29, 2010

Tater Tot Casserole, Remixed

Remember back in the day when we packed raw ground beef into a loaf pan, doused it with cream of mushroom soup, studded it with those ghastly, chopped, formed and extruded plastic potato nuggets, then baked the whole shebang? I know. Tater Tot Casserole was delicious! Admit it! The stuff was dripping with fat, and sodium-laden beyond belief. But oh-so-satisfying!

What if we were to aim for a healthier version? Yes, these are the things that I think about when waking up at sparrow twit on these lovely summer mornings.

As luck (or excellent intuitive marketing skills) would have it, my fridge contained a greedy haul of organic local potatoes, the freezer held grass-fed, Pat 'n Tam's ground beef, and in the pantry was a can of organic cream of mushroom soup.

Maybe you don't want me messin' with your childhood casserole ... if so, just think of it as something else, like 'Gratin of Minced Beef with Porcini Mushrooms and Baby Potatoes' or something. But I think it appropriate to hark back to this dish's modest, middle-American roots, and its Ore-Ida namesake, the tater tot!

One 0.5-ounce package Oregon Mycological or other brand dried porcini mushrooms

2 pounds Pat 'n Tam's ground beef
1/2 of a Walla Walla sweet onion, chopped
1 can Amy's (or other natural brand) organic cream of mushroom soup
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

About 10 small, organic potatoes, scrubbed and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Fresh chives

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, pour over boiling water just to cover, place a smaller bowl on top of the mushrooms to hold them in the liquid, and let sit at least half an hour. Chop the mushrooms and strain the broth through a fine strainer into a small bowl. (Porcini sometimes have grit in them.)

In a large-ish bowl, mix the chopped mushrooms, ground beef, onion, soup, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well, so everything is mixed evenly. You may at this point saute the beef mixture and drain the fat; I drained it after the casserole was baked.

Press beef mixture into a shallow casserole. Clean bowl well with spatula. To the bowl, add the sliced potatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper. Toss well, then spread the potatoes over the ground beef mixture. Drizzle mushroom broth over all, and run a grind or two of fresh pepper over it.

Cover with foil and bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes. Uncover, and bake about 20 minutes more or until potatoes are browned and done, and beef is no longer pink.

There will be juices. I slightly tipped the hot dish and poured the juices from a corner of the dish into a Pyrex measuring cup. You don't need to drain all of them.

Sprinkle top of casserole with snipped chives. And dig in!

Makes six hearty servings.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Spicy, Gingery Chard with Eggs

How could I have gone so long on this blog without mentioning Martha? Years ago I found an Indian-spiced, curried-tomatoes-with-egg dish in her magazine, but tonight I had CHARD to use up. Gorgeous, rainbow-stemmed organic chard. Seemed to me chard would work just as well as the main ingredient, and it most definitely did.

This makes a great, quick dinner. I served it with whole wheat chapati (really just whole-wheat tortillas from the health food store freezer section) and sliced mango. I know! I should be using local fruit! But when I go to Costco I can't resist their lovely champagne mangoes ... they are buttery soft, sweet and flavorful. Besides, it's good to let one's local nectarines and cantaloupes ripen for another day.
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Garam masala is a mellow Indian spice mixture that I prefer over the turmeric and cumin called for. It has a wonderfully, slightly sweet, spicy complexity.

1 tablespoon ghee, coconut oil, or vegetable oil
3 small bunches tender, young chard
2 fresh tomatoes
1/2 of a red onion, diced, or a few shallots

1 tablespoon garam masala, or curry powder, or a mixture of turmeric and cumin
2 tablespoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 serrano pepper, chopped (seeded if it's too hot)

Salt and pepper

3 to 5 fresh eggs

Wash chard, trim stem ends, and tear leaves away from stems. Chop the stems in 1/2-inch pieces, and pile the leaves in a big bowl. Run your kitchen shears through chard leaves a few times to chop them down.

Chop the garlic, ginger and serrano in a small food processor or by hand.

In large skillet, heat oil on medium heat, and add chopped chard stems and onion. Cook for a few minutes until onions begin to soften.

Sprinkle the garam masala over the tomato mixture, and stir for a minute or so to toast the spice and bring out the flavor. Add the tomatoes, stir, and cook for a few minutes to release tomato juices. Stir in the chopped ginger, garlic and serrano. Add a little water if mixture is dry.

When tomato mixture is bubbling nicely, toss in the chopped chard leaves, and cover for a few minutes, letting the chard cook down. Stir, and continue cooking until chard is wilted and cooked. Make sure there's enough liquid in the pan to keep all from sticking.

Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste. Stir, then make 3 or 5 (depending on how many eggs you are using) indentions in the chard with a large spoon.

Break each egg into a small bowl, then tip into an indention. Cover pan and let eggs simmer for 5 minutes, or until whites are set. It's nice to have the yolks be a little runny (I think), but you may feel differently.

You can sprinkle a little cilantro over the top if you have some. I didn't, and didn't miss it.

Serves 2 to 4.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Fresh Corn with Tomato and Basil

Years ago I ran across a recipe for a pizza made with these wonderful summer ingredients, and when I made it, the taste was sublime. But it was 104 degrees outside yesterday, and turning on the oven was just not going to happen. 'Why not forgo the crust?' thought I, and in just a few minutes this delectable dish was ready.

This is 'Sugar Dot' corn from Cool Slice Produce on Road 48 and Court Street in Pasco. It's so perfect and delicious that I usually don't bother buying any other kind.

8 ears fresh corn
2 teaspoons butter or ghee
1 or two fresh tomatoes, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup smoked goat jack or other smoky cheese, shredded
2 tablespoons basil, sliced
Salt and pepper

Cut the corn from the cob. I do this in a large bowl, holding the cob at an angle and slicing downward with a sharp knife. When the kernels are removed, run the knife blade upward around the cob to squeeze out the creamy corn juice, too.

Place corn in skillet, and dot with butter or ghee. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat gently on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until corn is lightly cooked, about 5 minutes. If corn sticks, add a little water.

Smooth corn and sprinkle with half the basil and half the cheese. Arrange sliced tomatoes on top, and sprinkle over the remaining basil and remaining cheese. Cover and heat just until tomatoes are warmed.

Makes about two generous or four medium servings.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Picking Up Chickens

No, we didn't pick up our chickens by the ears, a la Lyndon Johnson with his puppy. We headed out to Benton City a month or so ago to bring home eight fresh chickens from CG Ranch. Russ and Lori have taken over the Greene Hills Farm chicken operation, and we're glad to still be able to sign up for subscriptions for their wonderful eggs and chickens. Or would that be chickens and eggs?

Age-old controversies aside, these are undeniably tasty birds. I usually roast them slowly in the oven, having stuffed a mixture of garlic, rosemary, thyme, salt, pepper, olive oil and red wine underneath the breast and leg/thigh skin. The meat is delectable, and I make the most wonderful stock just by boiling the carcasses and drippings.

Pulling the de-boned meat and frozen stock out of the freezer for chicken soup or pot pie is just one more benefit of cooking and eating local.

The picture shows the Greene Hills Farm chickens running around happily in their grassy grazing area (taken by John Ittner at a Slow Food tour of the farm a couple of years ago).

I really do hope small farms can become an ever-increasing part of our food system. We are trying to do our part to support them.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer's Best Greek Salad

When all its ingredients are at the peak of fresh perfection, this salad is to swoon over. I do take it for granted that anyone reading this blog knows what it is to swoon, I mean really swoon, while eating something like this.

The recipe was discovered, I think, in the Tri-City Herald years ago by my Mom, and we have tweaked it through the years to suit our fancies. You can add a dollop of olive oil, but I find the feta provides plenty of smoothness and flavor.

I served this salad with braised natural sausages, fresh corn on the cob, and watermelon. Summer dinner at its finest, brought to you by local farmers!

Fresh, fresh ripe tomatoes
Fresh green peppers
Fresh cucumbers
Fresh Walla Walla or other sweet onions

Kalamata olives, whole or halved
Lemon juice
Fresh or dried oregano
Feta cheese, crumbled

Prepare equal amounts of the tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers, cutting them into equally-sized chunks and placing them in a bowl sized suitably for the amount of salad you are making.

Add sweet onion to your taste, either cut into chunks the same size as the other vegetables, or diced finely so they blend in.

Add kalamata olives to your taste, and stir the salad gently. Sprinkle fresh chopped or dried oregano lightly over the salad, and add a dollop of lemon juice. Add as much crumbled feta cheese as suits your taste. Stir gently but thoroughly. The salad keeps very well but is best when made fresh.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tomato Salad with fresh Herbs

There it was ... a basket of fresh tomatoes hiding around the skirts of the Schreiber and Sons booth at last Friday's market. My own tomatoes are looking pathetic, but one Sunsugar vine had produced three tiny, sweet, golden orbs.

When tomatoes are this fresh, they really don't need any help, but sometimes a gentle dressing can lift the tomato taste, especially if basil is involved.

For each serving:

One or two fresh tomatoes, sliced, arranged in a single layer on a plate.

In a small bowl, mix:

2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 teaspoon agave syrup or sugar
a generous pinch of salt

To the vinegar mixture, add:

2 tablespoons chopped red (or green) onion

Let the vinegar mellow the onions for a few minutes. Spread the onion/vinegar mixture over the tomatoes, and scatter salad with:

Chopped fresh basil and oregano

It's fine to let this salad sit at room temperature whilst the rest of dinner is prepared.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Perfect Spud

Fresh, organic potatoes from Schreiber and Sons. Scrubbed. Microwaved or roasted just 'til tender. Tossed with organic butter and salt and pepper.

Potatoes don't get any better than this.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Mellow Mango Slaw

Even an eat-fresh-and-local fanatic like me can find more than one or two trips a week to one of our local farmers' markets a little wearing. Let's face it--sometimes it's a jungle out there on the market pavement ... but without the tropical fruit.

So when Yokes put their mangoes and red peppers on sale, I picked some up for a between-market fill-in. As often happens, I started thinking about a recipe I'd seen on another blog, and was charmed by the whole idea of using the mango and red pepper in another mellow, easy-eating salad, especially since my book group was having, fortuitously, a luncheon potluck.

The heart of my local Savoy cabbage was about the right size (the outer leaves went into this heartier slaw) and I used it even though the recipe called for milder Napa cabbage. I cut it very thin and fine.

I do have a mandoline, but in my hands it's a dangerous object, so I diced the red pepper and mango instead of cutting them in julienne. Julienning would have made a more limpid slaw, whereas in mine, each ingredient was more separate.

It struck me that coconut oil might go well with the tropical (mango) theme, and it did the trick.

My final adjustment was using Sahale Sing Buri cashews instead of finding raw ones and toasting them.

All in all, a lazy person's adaptation of an excellent salad. And the book group liked it, too.
Adapted from this recipe

2 mangoes, peeled, pitted and diced
1 to 1-1/4 pound Savoy or Napa cabbage, sliced thinly and then cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large or 2 small red peppers, diced
1/2 of a red onion, diced (about 1 cup)

6 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about two limes)
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
2 tablespoons coconut or other oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper or 1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste

1/4 cup thinly sliced mint leaves
1/4 cup Sahale cashews, coarsely chopped, or raw cashews, toasted

Combine mangoes, cabbage, pepper and onion in a large bowl. Whisk together all dressing ingredients in a small bowl, and stir into slaw. Keeps fine for several hours. Just before serving, stir in mint and cashews.

Serves 8

Monday, July 12, 2010

Languorous Basil-Mint Pasta Salad with Citrus Dressing and Two Local Beans

After the basil-mint sorbet, I found myself looking for other ways to combine these two most summery herbs. I've been craving a gentle, languorous summer salad ... not a slaw: I didn't want anything harsh and vinegary. I was thinking more like a little macerated fresh tomato, diced, with a sprinkling of steamed fresh corn kernels ... maybe diced red onion, fresh oregano, all marinated in a very light dressing. But tomatoes and corn are still well around the corner season-wise, so I created this approachable and satisfying salad with ... what else? The glorious produce already on hand.

A couple of months ago a friend called to say someone had stopped by her house selling fresh oranges, and did I want some? They were still in the fridge and still fresh, so a citrus dressing began to evolve.

The basil and mint plants on the patio needed trimming, and my fridge was literally groaning with fresh farmers' market produce. So the hardest part of creating this dish was deciding what to leave out.

I served the salad over fresh market salad greens, but you wouldn't have to.

And I kind of was aiming for a record-setting long name for this recipe, since I usually try to keep them short! Summer is a time for experimenting with new approaches, no?

1 cup orzo pasta

1/2 pound green beans, yellow or green or a mixture, topped and cut in 1-inch lengths
2 small zucchini, in 1/2-inch dice or so
2 cups garbanzo beans (I used my Winter CSA garbanzos that I'd cooked and frozen)
2 bunches green onions, white and light green parts sliced thinly, and about 3 inches of the green tops set aside

1 clove garlic
Green onion tops reserved from above
1 cup basil leaves
1 cup mint leaves

1 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar
3/4 teaspoon salt
a few grinds of black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Cook the orzo in boiling, salted water for about 9 minutes or until it's al dente. But about 4 minutes before that, toss in the green beans and let them cook just 'til tender crisp but still (if they're green) bright green. I used a mix of yellow and green beans. Drain beans and pasta, then toss them back into the empty pasta pot.

Add to the pasta-bean mixture the zucchini, garbanzo beans, and sliced onions, and stir.

In food processor, whiz the garlic 'til it's chopped fine, then add the basil, mint and green onion tops. Turn the processor on for a few seconds, then pulse just until you have a small, even chop.

Toss the contents of the food processor in with the salad mixture, and stir gently. In small bowl, whisk together all the dressing ingredients, add to salad and stir thoroughly. Cover the salad and refrigerate it for at least a couple of hours before serving, if possible. Stir before serving.

Don't be concerned about the amount of liquid in the dressing ... the pasta and beans will absorb it.

Makes six scrumptious servings.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Big Slaw

Perhaps you've noticed that slaw is pretty liberally scattered around this blog. The way I see it, the cruciferous and cole vegetables are really healthy foods, and happily, when combined in slaws of various kinds, they taste wonderful. Almost everybody likes slaws, too.

Last Saturday's trip to the Pasco Farmer's Market saw me lugging home a giant Savoy cabbage and a big 'ol green cabbage from my Winter CSA farmer himself. White radishes from an earlier trip, and spring onion whizzed into the dressing to hide its presence from Mr. Eating the Scenery, who can sometimes (not always) be seen picking raw onion out of dishes, rounded this giant slaw out very nicely. "Giant" refers not to the amount of slaw, but to the Herculean size of the cabbages themselves. In fact, just the outer leaves of the Savoy cabbage were all I used ... the delectable little head is waiting its turn for another dish!

The addition of horseradish is a little secret my Mom taught me. She decided one day that her coleslaw needed a little zing, so she added some horseradish to her classic dressing of equal parts mayo, cider vinegar, and sugar. It's a delightful little mystery taste!

The finer you cut your cabbage, the more the dressing will permeate it. You can stack the leaves or wedges in the feed tube of a food processor and use the 4mm slicing disk and get a good, shreddy cut.

Savoy cabbage leaves, thick stems cut out, sliced (about 4 cups)
Green cabbage, sliced (about 4 cups)
White or red radishes, trimmed and sliced

3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons agave nectar or honey
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon horseradish (less if your horseradish is very hot)
1 teaspoon salt
A few grinds of pepper
1 spring onion, white part only (slice green parts and put in the slaw)

Whiz all dressing ingredients together in small food processor until smooth. Toss with the salad mixture. Keeps well, and in fact tastes better when made at least a few hours ahead of time. Vary the veggies to suit what you have on hand.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Heraclitus' Stir Fry

Heraclitus was a Greek guy who said, "You cannot step into the same river twice." Profound. I often think of Heraclitus when I cook, because I tend to change even my own recipes to suit my mood and what I have on hand.

Like granola, where you can throw in this and that and change quantities and still end up with a good result, stir fries can be infinitely varied, something to be thankful for on a Saturday morning when you come home from the Pasco Farmer's market loaded with booty.

I went in an Asian direction today, although I eschewed soy sauce. But you could use olive oil, leave the ginger out and add thyme, rosemary, basil, sage ... and dust the stir fry with Parmesan before serving. Or use oregano and feta cheese ... or add chicken or shrimp ... just don't step in the same stir fry twice.

2 tablespoons coconut oil or vegetable oil
3 weird zebra-striped zucchini, sliced
3 spring onions, quartered or so
2 generous handfuls sugar-snap pea pods, topped and cut in half if you like
1 hunk of cabbage, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Toss in everything but the garlic. Stir fairly often to keep the vegetables cooking evenly, until everything is tender crisp and to your liking. Stir in the garlic, then serve with rice or couscous.

4 servings