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A Platter of Veg

25 Sep

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I have to say, I am really missing our Wintergreen Farms CSA basket from Oregon.  The beautiful greens of the Oregon summer and fall are nowhere to be seen at this point in the Florida growing season, and the heat is still as persistent as ever.  However, that being said, a few weeks ago, a small local market opened up in our housing community that has filled up our crisper with almost as many goodies as our Oregon CSA baskets did.  For $20, we can get 9 baskets of fruits or veggies, each about the size of holding 3 beefsteak tomatoes.  Good deal?  I think so. 

We made a point to go to the little market last Saturday, as friends were coming into town to stay the night.  All week I had been flipping through my recipes, trying to get inspiration from many a cookbook, all with no avail leaving an empty, white plate sans what to cook for dinner.  I hate that feeling.

Back when I lived in Irvine, CA, the UCI Farmers Market was a Saturday must.  Every week, I’d stock up on the season’s freshest, and would jump into my car with loads of cooking ideas – some of which I had to write down before even driving away.  I would come home to my little 710 square foot apartment (a fourth of which was the perfectly one-person-proportioned U-shaped kitchen) that overlooked the Portola Foothills, and cook the Saturday away.  Most dishes were vegetarian, most were written down, and if I deemed the dish good enough, I’d bring it to my parents’ house to share.  I learned how to cook this way, and found it invigorating.  Thinking about it, even now, I get that same comfortable excitement, motivation, and inspiration.

Rob called it my “Saturday Routine.”  He knew not to mess with it.  When we moved to Oregon, we created our own Saturday Routine together by visiting markets up and down the Coast, stopping at a fabulous winery for a glass of Pinot, and cooking our bountiful veg from our weekly basket.  Occasionally we’d have friends over for a low-key night, or hold down a local dive watching Oregon play that week’s losing team.  While it was never officially mentioned, I could totally see Rob saying, “Oregon’s Saturday Routine totally kicks California’s Saturday Routine’s BUTT!” 

So this past Saturday, filled with the overflowing emptiness and panic ensuing from what to make my guests for dinner, we went to the little market in our neighborhood.  I got excited.  So much so, that I started talking in circles about ideas and recipes; Rob knows from experience when this happens, to just let me have at it.

“Rob, what do you think if I grill some eggplant – should we do eggplant, or would zucchini be better?”

“Babe, I thin-“

“Wait, why don’t I do both!”

“Ok, then.”

“Look!  The Honey Crisp apples are out!”

“Aren’t those the ones that – “

“I LOVE THOSE!  Remember how they were all over the Pacific Northwest?”

“Yeah, I – “

“Ooooooo tangeloes!!!”

The poor lady helping us out had the patience of a Saint, and I’m sure she was happy to see us go – mostly for the reason that she wouldn’t have to hear my voice anymore, but also that I walked away with 3 baby eggplant, 4 zucchini, 3 apples, a basket of pluots, a basket of tangelos, 2 bunches of green onions, 4 heirloom peppers, 3 beefsteak tomatoes, and a basket of cherry tomatoes.  YUM. 

So dinner with our friends consisted of a rustic, marinated, grilled vegetable platter.  With the zucchini, baby eggplant, carrots, green onions, apples, mushrooms, and heirloom peppers, we mixed in some turkey sausage for the omnivores, and paired it with a lovely kale and dill pesto.  Really, it was the marinade that made this dish amazing – it is tangy, sweet, and perfectly complimentary to the smoke of the grill, leaving the veg addictive.  The leftovers were amazing, too.  I simply heated up the veg with some feta cheese, but I can completely imagine the second round as a lovely grilled vegetable soup, or a fantastic Panini.   Yum again. 

The night, and the dinner, was a hit, and it felt so good to be inspired again.  Feel free to use any vegetable you would like in this dish – really anything that can hold its integrity on a hot grill will work fine.  Fruit works, too, and please enjoy with good company.  Hopefully a giant platter of veg will inspire you as much as it did for me.  

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Grilled Veg Marinade
(makes just over a pint) 

  • ¼ c olive oil
  • ¼ c apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • juice of one tangelo (or an orange)
  • 3 whole sprigs of thyme
  • 1 large garlic clove, slightly smashed
  • about 10 peppercorns
  • a 4-fingered pinch of kosher salt

Pour all ingredients in a quart-sized mason jar.  Seal tightly, and shake well to mix.  Put in the fridge for a few hours to marry the flavors. 

About 30 minutes before grilling the veg, pour over the marinade, and mix well so all the juices sink in and impart the flavor.    

NOTE: cut your veg into pretty thick pieces, and large enough that they won’t fall through the grill grate.  Go straight from the marinade to the grill, medium heat, and grill each side.  Mix with, or without a protein of your choice, and serve on a big platter.  And extra sprinkling of fresh basil on top adds a nice touch. 

Enjoy! 

We’re Home and It’s Hot, Spicy, and Pickled

12 Jul

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Well, we’ve made it.  Our cross-country road trip taking 4 days and 3295.2 miles, reaching record-breaking temperatures across the desert (122 degrees – are you kidding me?), hastily sneaking the pup into motels, and trying not to get killed by crazy San Antonio Friday night downtown drivers, has lead us to Landed Gentry.  We’ve been in our new house now for just over a week, and have been unpacking piles of boxes taller than us, all the while trying to get used to the newfound heat and humidity (for all you skeptics out there, absolutely there is a difference between a “dry heat” and humidity).  But, my pasty Oregon skin has started to get accustomed to that strange bright orange thing up in the sky, and Rob, Sig and I are quickly becoming accustomed to Southern life.

First of all, the Farmers Markets are something unlike anything I’ve seen before – huge, sprawling, and you better know what you want to get cause these folks aren’t fooling around.  I’ve never felt intimated at a Farmers Market before, but with new experiences come new things to try.  So far, Rob and I have been indulging on true Georgia peaches, sweet corn, amazing tomatoes, and greens, greens, greens – my favorite thing.

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In between unpacking boxes, and learning how to sew picnic bench cushions (thanks, Mom!), I have even been trying my hand at some Southern staples.  After a short deliberation, a couple lip smacks, and a way-too-serious-for-tea expression, Rob announced I passed the Sweet Tea test.  Of course I docked it up by making it Lemon Basil Sweet Tea, which, probably isn’t truly a Southern staple, but it was my take on the sweet refreshingness that is cold, black tea.

At the Farmers Market, I saw a huge bag of what they called “stir fry,” which really was just a mix of already roughly chopped and shredded cabbage, carrots, onions, summer squash, and some collards.  Standing there, gaping at the bounty bulging out of the simple plastic bag (honestly, drool could have been possible), the lady running the booth, whose skin revealed that the parking lot market was a spa compared to the mass amounts of Southern Georgia farming she has done in the humid sun for probably most of her life, almost threw the bag into my hands.

“Smell it!”

“Uuuum….”

“I said, smell it, honey!”

I’ve learned quickly to do what I’m told.

And am I ever glad that I did, as my car, shortly after, was filled with the “stir fry” freshness and potency.  But my plans for this veg were not wok-ready.

On a Saturday outing of exploring and a reprieve from unpacking, Rob, my mom, and I stumbled upon a cute little eatery in downtown Jacksonville called DIG Foods.  It was all vegan, and so~o delicious.  My mom and I split a sandwich made of a black bean spread and Chow Chow, a pickled Southern favorite.  It gave me inspiration, and became the culinary destiny for my bag o’ veg.

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As my Scandi roots started bubbling to the surface, I created a pickling brine perfect for this veg to accompany any sandwich, salad, or topped on a perfectly fried chicken breast.  The key is a 3:2:1 ratio of water:vinegar:sugar.  It works every time, and the flavor combinations are endless.  For this veg, I added a spice (a few chili peppers, as I was given about 20 for a dollar at the market), sliced garlic cloves, caraway seeds, thyme sprigs, and, of course some salt and peppercorns.  The best part about a pickling brine is you can make it any flavor you’d like to compliment the food being pickled.  It’s the perfect avenue to be creative in the kitchen.  After pouring the hot brine over the veg and letting it sit for about 10 minutes to give it a good, quick wilt factor, I ladled the veg into sterilized mason jars and put in the fridge to seal.

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The next day, Rob turned his plain bologna sandwich (which, I think is fabulous in its own right), into something pickly and spectacular.  He even got comments on his lunch at work.  He took the sandwich again the next day, but wasn’t too mindful of the chilis, thus scalding his tender Irish mouth for the rest of the day.  Today, he didn’t take a lunch.  Oh well.

The recipe for the pickled veg is one to be adapted to your liking, just make sure you use the 3:2:1 ratio for enough brine to completely cover whatever veg you are using.  Use a lighter, brighter vinegar (I like unsweetened rice wine, apple cider, or white balsamic), and play with the flavorings.  Ginger, horseradish, dill, bay, rosemary, mint, pink peppercorns, you name it.  Then make it your own!  Enjoy!

home

Food for the Sole

18 Jan

I think I’ve mentioned before the different types of “days” we would have that caused kids to rejoice, parents to groan, and school to inevitably be cancelled.  Last year, we had the typical Snow Day.  That was followed in the spring with a Tsunami Day.  In California, we had a Fire Day and occasionally kept the kids inside for recess due to bad air conditions.  I thought that about capped off the tank of the types of “days” causing school closures; that is, until 8pm last night.

Our school district has a wonderfully effective automated alert system used for any type of information that masses of Coos Bay folk should need to know.  However, when I saw “Coos Bay School District” pop up on my caller ID last night, my thought immediately went to what any normal person would feel when work was calling their house way past the 9-5; I’m half-way through dinner, and not enough sips of a drink in to honestly say I couldn’t drive back in to help out with whatever circumstance arose.  But immediately when I answer I hear the familiar automated voice of our Business Director canceling school tomorrow due to, you ready for this, wind.  Wind?  Yes, wind.

Initially, the feeling of ecstatic yay-I-get-to-sleep-in-and-watch-the-Today-Show-!! jubilation came jumping out as I gloated to my husband (and replayed the message on speaker while dancing around the kitchen).  I even called my mom to relay the fun news.  A Wind Day!  I think she even called me a “Lucky Duck.”

But then, as what seems to be happening more and more lately, and at an alarmingly rate, the adult in me kicks in.  Wind?  We live on the Southern Oregon Coast, where hurricane 50+ mph winds is just a stormy winter Tuesday for us.  This was different.  One of the worst storms in years was about to hit the Pacific Northwest, putting Seattle under a blizzard and giving Coastal towns the jolt of a lifetime: 90 mph winds and heavy rain were expected – enough to keep little Siglet from walking in a straight line outside, enough to make us prepare a safe room incase the windows blew out, and definitely enough to close schools.

I know wind – my family had the fortunate experiences of living in Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas, all giving us their share of tornadoes – one even on our moving day.  But for some reason, I didn’t feel prepared for this storm.  I know how the Arctic winds howl off the ocean in these parts, and even on a “good” day it can knock you off your feet and chill you to the bone.

When Rob and I went to bed last night, we knew it wouldn’t be pretty.  What neither of us expected was to feel the constant vibrations, shaking, and deafening jolts of winds and rains so harsh and angry that not even earthquakes can compare.  The shaking of an earthquake stops, eventually.  But these gusts of wind just kept on coming with a fast-ball-wind-up to smack our little house daring it to stand a chance.  The neighbor’s forgotten trashcan made hollow noises on the street, like a kid smacking a plastic toy on the wood floor.  The sound of the wind was completely anticipated, yet shocking, like violent waves of an ocean crashing into rocks.  By the morning time, after a night of on-and-off-jolted-out-of-I-finally-relaxed-sleep shenanigans, the wind was more like waves of nausea.

Rob got up and went to work – it was another military realization (for me) that while my profession was put on hold for safety for a day, his was more than expected to perform.  After a power outage that swept the Oregon Coast (Sig and I tried to take a nap in the daytime darkness, but it ended up being last night, round 2), I remembered the thing that Rob and I were so enjoying last night before our wind day preparations began: Dinner.

Our fishmonger had some beautiful Petrale Sole, and I splurged a bit to get some.  Even Rob was excited.  I thought about our usual Sole dishes – Sole Meuniere, Baked Sole, Stuffed Sole, or just plain pan seared with tarter sauce – they all sounded good.  But one thing sounded better: Cioppino.  It was a cold night, we knew a storm was coming, and the spicy warming fish soup just sounded perfect.

And it was.  This might be in the top ten.  I actually didn’t use any other fish that is usually called for in Cioppino because, 1) Rob won’t eat it, and 2) I wanted the subtle taste of the Sole to stand out.  I even left the pieces whole when putting them into the soup to let them delicately break as they saw fit, leaving big fresh pieces the stars among the humble veg and slurpable broth.  Topped with a simple but flavorful tarragon and caper aioli, the flavors were fantastic.

During a day like today, when turning off the outside and getting some sleep was not an option, I was so (so, so, so, so) glad there were leftovers.  Even as I write, the rain is constant and the wind is relentless, but at least Sig is taking a nap by the fire (actually, he’s so exhausted that his head is literally hanging off the edge of the couch… poor guy).  And I got my Cioppino.  Talk about comfort food.  Lucky me.

Sole Cioppino with Tarragon Caper Aioli
(serves 4)

  • ½ lb. Petrale or Dover Sole
  • ½ red onion, diced
  • 1 large fennel bulb, diced (save about 1 tbsp of the frawns)
  • 1 large celery stalk, thinly sliced
  • 1large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 can whole tomatoes, roughly chopped or broken up with your hands (discard can juice)
  • ½ c full bodied white wine (I used a buttery Chardonnay)
  • 2 c water
  • ½ a lemon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • s&p

 Tarragon Caper Aioli
(makes a large ½ c)

  • 3 large tbsp good mayo
  • zest of a whole lemon
  • juice of ½ a lemon
  • a couple dashes of Tabasco Sauce
  • 3 tsp capers, roughly chopped
  • 2 full sprigs of tarragon, chopped
  • about 1 tbsp fennel frawns, chopped
  • s&p

 First, make the aioli – combine all ingredients in a small bowl and taste for seasoning.  Set aside (the longer this sits, the more married the flavors will become, which is a good thing). 

For the Cioppino, heat the butter in a large shallow pot over med-high heat.  Add the butter and a pinch of salt, and sauté until translucent.  Then, add in the fennel and celery, a pinch of salt, and sauté until soft.  Add the garlic and stir until it becomes fragrant, about 1 minute.  Pour in the wine, and let it simmer and reduce for about 2 minutes.  Add in the red pepper flakes and bay leaves, as well as the juice of ½ a lemon, and pour in the water.  Also, cut the half of the lemon just used into quarters.  Add the lemon quarters to the pot.  Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer and cover for about 5 minutes (this is an important step – it really creates a light and flavorful broth). 

After about 5 minutes, uncover the pot and add in the tomatoes, and simmer again, covered for another 5 minutes.  The soup should be chunky, but still have the presence of broth.  Taste for seasoning. 

Add in the whole Sole pieces – really nestle them into the soup, and cover again for about 3 minutes, until the Sole is cooked through.  Since Sole filets are very delicate and thin, they cook fast and will start to naturally break apart in the soup. 

Ladle into big bowls, and top with a dollop of the aioli.  Inhale the spicy, herby, sea-watery scent, and Enjoy!! 

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