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Happy Harvest Season

8 Oct


Is there anything better than the start of autumn? The cooler weather, fresh and breezy air, and all the yummy food that arise at this time all bring about a welcomed reset button. At the first feel of a slight wind, I’ve got 5-year olds yelling, “It’s autumn! Can you feeeeeel it?!”

Years ago, when I lived in Orange County, California, I worked at a year-round school where we started the year in July and received a 3-week fall break come the end of September. Oh holy goodness that break was so exciting! For the last week in September, and half of October, I gallivanted around SoCal visiting farmers markets, specialty food shops, and cooked most of the days away. The very best part, however, was taking a yearly trip up to Napa to visit my friend, Heather, who just happened to work for a very prominent winery.

Traveling to Northern California specifically during the grape harvest is simply special. There is a magic in the air matched only to that first nose, first swirl, first sip of fabulous wine.   The wine in Napa is big and exciting – tastes of fruit, mineral, and spices inevitably convert the faint of heart. Those in Sonoma are intricate, earthy, hitting the front of the tongue with brightness and pungency and almost leaving a feeling of urgency for more. Even the everyday oyster crackers served to cleanse the palate tasted better in wine country. As written endlessly in boundless foodie mags, the restaurants are fabulous, the food is fresh, and the locavore movement is thriving. Just thinking about the smell of hot, vine-laden grapes (sweet, earthy, and pungent) and the sight of the Russian River Valley (breathtaking does not do justice), literally makes me want to pop open a bottle right here and now.

Please excuse the drool.

Moving from California to Oregon created some initial sadness, but as Rob and I quickly warmed to the cold and wet climate, and we found a whole new world of wines. Not only was the now-infamous Willamette Valley a mere day-trip away, but the Umpqua Valley wineries proved to be some of our favorites. They were smaller, quainter, and not at all stuffy as the winemakers themselves would be happy to pour a perfectly Oregon-air-chilled glass of Baco Noir and chat the day away. Our Oregon wine excursions created a brand new set of memories of the Harvest Season. We would pack a lunch, sit on a picnic table in the vines or one overlooking the cascading evergreen hills with pockets of clouds blurring their branches, sip wine, and just be. It was quiet; not much talking, and there were never any hooting wine tour buses tainting the experience, nor the pressure to “hit up” as many wineries as possible. The whole experience was so relaxing, so picturesque, so perfect it felt unreal.

Recently, my mom and I went antiquing and I found a gem of a book: West Coast Cookbook by Helen Brown. The copyright is in Roman Numerals (which I’m convinced were invented only to make people’s shoulders drop and eyes roll), and after too-much-for-an-educated person-deliberation, I figured the copyright was 1952.

This book has more character and personality then expected in a dusty, antique find, and filled with so much culinary information. Aspics, cheese, bread, game meat, coffee, chocolate, all have sections devoted to their significant history rooted in the West, and Ms. Brown discussed it with mouthwatering eloquence. Phrases like, “You can’t turn off a cow,” and “tortillas are the staff of life,” keep the pages turning and the stomach grumbling. That is, until my eyes stumbled upon this:

“This is a vinous book. Good food is nothing without good wine, and our generous use of it as a beverage and as a necessary part of our cookery has much to do with the pleasure of our table…. When I speak of our wines, I mean Californian. The amount produced in Oregon and Washington is negligible.”

What?! Oregon, Washington – insignificant wine? Sorry Helen, you’re wrong on this one. While California has its fancy viticulture charm, the Pacific Northwest has its own delicious backbone of wine history that California would be envious of (but surely never admit).

Alas, it’s a pain in the neck to hold a grudge, so I won’t. Helen is still a cool gal. So as I’m remembering Harvest Days memories, and enjoying my antique find, a fantastic meal dedicated to the West during the Harvest Season is in order. Turning to the Fish & Shellfish section of the cookbook, Ms. Brown states “fish is not a food to be eaten only when nothing else is available, but is, when properly prepared, food as good as it comes.”

Ain’t that the truth?

So here it comes: good food! To be paired perfectly with good wine, no less!

There are a few parts to this Smoked Salmon Layered Salad. First off, layering salads should be the new thang if you ask me. They are so pretty and so much fun to eat. Oh, and a whole meal served on one giant plate, family style. Easy? Yes. No fuss?   No problem. And the gourmet-ish mushroom croutons? Get out of town! Such a show stopper.

Pair this meal with a great glass of Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay, and you’ve got yourself a West Coast, harvest-inspired meal. Enjoy!


Smoked Salmon Layered Salad
(serves 4)

  • 2 tins of quality, hot smoked salmon (for the canned version, King or Coho would be best; Chuck’s Seafood in Charleston, OR, and Josephson’s in Astoria, OR both ship throughout the country).
  • 1 lb. fresh, end of the summer green beans, cleaned and stem-end removed
  • 1 pint crimini mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 1 large sweet potato, diced into ½ -in pieces
  • 1 head tender lettuce – either romaine, red lettuce, or the baby lettuce mix from a bag. If using romaine or red lettuce, roughly chop.
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed and roughly chopped
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p

** This meal pairs perfectly with Oregon Pinot Noir (I love Giradet from the Umpqua Valley), California Rose (Louis Martini makes a good one found in the heart of Napa), and Washington Chardonnay (Three Rivers is a great Columbia Valley un-oaked version).

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the sweet potato dices on a baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil, s&p. Roast the sweet potatoes until the edges are browned and the insides are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.

While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the green beans by seething them in a large sauté pan. Seething is a combination of steaming and sautéing in one pan. Put the green beans in the pan with 2 tbsp of olive oil, ¼ c water, and a good pinch of s&p. Heat over medium heat, turning the green beans often, until the liquid has cooked away, and the green beans are bright and cooked through (the beans should still retain a bit of a crunch – they should not have the texture of a stewed bean). When the beans are done, set aside.

To make the mushroom “croutons,” simply put the mushrooms in a sauté pan with the 2 tbsp of butter on med-high heat. Stir, then let be to brown, stir, then let be to brown, until all the mushroom pieces are so browned and lovely, and almost crunchy. Transfer mushrooms to a paper towel-lined plate, season with a bit of salt, and let cool. They will continue to crunch-up while cooling. (Seriously, these things are addicting. They may not even make it to the salad.)

To make the dressing, mix the Dijon mustard, lemon juice, honey, and a pinch of s&p together. While pouring in the extra virgin olive oil, whisk until combined and smooth. Set aside.

For the smoked salmon, open the container, drain if necessary, and flake the salmon using a fork. Set aside.

Now for the assembly! On a large serving plate, first put down the lettuce, and then sprinkle over the sweet potatoes, and the chopped thyme. Then evenly spread out the green beans, and the smoked salmon. Top with the mushroom croutons, and serve with the dressing in a carafe on the side for individual drizzling (I’ve found that this salad has enough flavor as is, that some enjoy without the dressing).

Dig in, image you are sitting among the vines, and enjoy!


No More Turkey

1 Dec

Ok.  There comes a point where the yummy leftovers really do become: urgh-leftovers, again?  We needed a change.  With just bits and pieces of Thanksgiving food still sitting in the oversized and, now, underfilled refrigerated storage containers, Rob and I have been craving a change.  Especially a healthy one.

But creating healthy, yet creative, interesting, and tasty dishes can sometimes be tricky and require some thought.  No one wants to eat twigs and berries (and I’m not referring to cinnamon sticks and blueberries, cause those are just darn delicious).  And many tasty proteins are not the leanest.  So while chatting with a great friend yesterday, I expressed my Tryptophan slump.  What should I make that healthy, easy, and comforting?  She lead me in the direction of her go-to fish dish she and her husband love.

With my new found inspiration, I drove the long and winding 2-lane road in the cold, cold rain to pick up the freshest fish Coos County has to offer.  When I got to the city of Charleston, a teeny, tiny Fishermen’s town, I was met with bright lights on the beautiful boats, a reminder that one of the finest seasons was upon us – CRAB season!  Today, December 1st, is the first day of the new crab season, and last night all the crab boats were parked like LA cards on the 405 freeway just waiting to get underway.  Their crab pots were expertly stacked and loaded, and seagulls were acrobatically dive-bombing hoping to get a rogue scrap of bait.  In a couple of weeks, the finest, sweetest, Dungeness Crab will be available to devour, no butter needed.  Saliva-inducing crab aside, last night’s fish goal was Dover Sole.

I had originally planned on using Halibut, but it is out of season, and the only Halibut available had been previously frozen (there’s nothing wrong with previously frozen fish, but in this area, if you can get something fresh, it’s better to take the bait.  Ha!).  So seeing these beautiful , uncloudy, thin filets of Sole, I went for them.  I also splurged for a piece of in-house smoked Chinook Salmon that an uncanny flavor cousin only to bacon.

While paying, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a younger couple asking to taste a piece of smoked Sturgeon.  Sturgeon?  The prehistoric fish of modern culinary confusion?  I, of course, strike up a conversation seeing the opportunity to ask the question that is usually directed at me in these parts, I ask, “Are you two visiting the area?”

A super nice couple, they explain they are from Chicago (which explains why they are a super nice couple) and on a road trip seeing as much as they can of the U.S.  My first inclination was to ask if they were lost, being that Coos Bay isn’t exactly a national sight to put on the Bucket List.  But as the guy started singing, “On the Road Again,” I couldn’t help but smile and say, “That’s really cool!”

After giving some tips on where to go for dinner and what to see at night, and a reluctant negative response to their question about whether the rain would top, I made my way home.  Hopefully wherever that couple is today, they fondly remember their Southern Coastal Oregon experience, and hopefully enjoyed the Sturgeon.  :o/

Getting home, I channeled Gen (my friend with the fish idea) and proceeded to bake this lovely, flakey, buttery fish.  I added my own twist by using chili and lime, and topped the filets over super-roasted sweet red onions and fennel.  We had some leftover Pinot grape Rose wine from the weekend, which paired perfectly with the heat, citrus, and caramelization.  Everything was so delicious and healthy, and so not anything like turkey.

Tonight will be another light dish, and Gen’s idea definitely pulled me out of my recipe slump.  I’ve already started conjuring up a healthy bunch of light ideas to relieve the holiday food-hangover.  But it probably won’t last long – Christmas is only 25 days away!  Bring on the sugar cookies!

Chili Lime Crusted Dover Sole over Caramelized Red Onion and Fennel (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. Dover Sole filets
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 c Panko bread crumbs
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp basil leaves, finely chopped
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • zest of one lime
  • juice of 1/2 lime, save other 1/2 for garnish and/or to drizzle over cooked fish
  • 1 red onion, halved and sliced
  • 1 fennel bulb, sliced
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  On a sheet tray, mix red onion and fennel with 2 tbsp olive oil and s&p.  Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring twice, until caramelized and browned.

Meanwhile, in a saute pan, melt butter, and add Panko bread crumbs, red pepper flakes, garlic, and lime juice.  Stir over med-low heat until bread crumbs are coated and slightly browned.

In a baking dish, pour the remaining 1 tbsp of olive oil, and layer the Sole on the bias over each other, completely filling the dish.  Sprinkle the lime zest over the fish with a bit of s&p.  Pour the bread crumb mixture over the fish, and place into same oven as the roasting veg.  Bake the fish for 15-20 minutes, until flakey and bread crumbs are browned (Note: the fish will shrink a bit and let off juices, so the fish will slightly braise in its own liquid, keeping it really moist).

Serve fish over a pile of caramelized veg, and squeeze a bit of lime over the top.


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