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Happy Harvest Season

8 Oct

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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!

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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!

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And… We’re Back

5 Jun

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There are many reasons I can provide for my lack of stories, pictures, recipes, and overall blog-o-sphere absence.  Like:

  • My students took over the classroom and forced 5 hours of homework a night on me for retaliation of years of self-diagnosed assignment abuse.
  • The computer broke only when I tried to blog.  It was the weirdest thing.
  • I got a new camera and the user instructions were in Swahili.
  • My left foot hurt.
  • Oregon, just simply, ran out of food!
  • We won the lottery and spent the last 6 months in Tuscan wine caves (it was like the beer cask scene from the movie, “Strange Brew”)
  • My dog ate my computer.

Can you tell I work in a middle school?

While I could keep going (and going) with absurd excuses, to be perfectly honest, time, life, and my pre-teen educational environment have taken over.

Every morning, the baby robin’s nest next door croons beautiful give-me-worms melodies – sounding more like a scene from “Cinderella” than real-life nature – making it a struggle to put on clothes and shoes and make-up and face the day.  Even though Rob and I are generally in bed by 9:00 at night, we would much rather spend the next 2 ½ days lying in bed, listening to the birds, and enjoying the last gorgeous Spring the state of Oregon has to offer us.

That is right, as the Coast Guard’s bell tolls, we are leaving this emerald wonderland and are bound for the converse of cold and dampness: Jacksonville, Florida.  Thus, our days have been filled with house hunting, house buying, paperwork, paperwork, decorating, wondering, movers, packers, plans, plans, plans, and inventory.  All on top of our current respective daily careers, of course.

Let’s take a jaunt back 3 years ago, shall we?  The belly-aching was insurmountable moving from sunny Southern California to cold, gray Oregon.  But like moss on the north side of a tree, Oregon and stuck to me and engulfed me with a soft, squidgy, comforting – albeit a bit damp – hug.  I love this place!  Now we have to leave.  Remember the berries?  Oh, so many berries?  And the fish – the cold Pacific water fish is unbelievable.  And the greens.  Grassy, earthy greens that even the freshest grocery store products can’t prove justice.  While I might not miss 30 straight days of rain in March, I will miss almost everything else.

But on to the next challenge: life in Florida.  Jacksonville, Florida, no less, close to the border of Georgia and true to traditional Southern roots.  Can this Southwest, SoCal, Pacific Northwest, Scandi of a girl be transformed into a Southern Belle, AND find roots in new agriculture?  Well, even a blind hog finds an acorn every now and then.

But until then, we are going through our pantry, freezer, and fridge and coming up with some great use-them-all-up dishes.  One of which was my enchilada green salad.

After a week (yes, a week) of this year’s Cinco de Mayo celebrations (seriously. good. food.), one is, shall I say (in a polite and correct oration), no longer craving the heavy, cheesy, spicy goodness that is Mexican food.  But what to do with all the extra homemade enchilada sauce?  Sweet, tangy, smoky and real, to sit in the back of the fridge it was not its fortunes fate.

So to alleviate the too-many-beans bloat, and keep the fresh enchilada sauce alive and well, the Enchilada Green Salad was born.  Light, green, crunchy, fresh, with the hint of smoke and creaminess, combined with a subtly onion brightness.  It was simply divine.

As life will continue to keep me crazy at the moment, I found it best to return to my blog roots, deeply seeded in food, fun, and stories.  But for now, please be patient with me, and revisit the last few years of Oregon recipes – as we have.  Wish us luck on the long-haul (with Siglet in tow!).  Jacksonville – and a soon-to-be sweet southern accent – or BUST!

Enchilada Sauce
(makes 1 pt)

  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • 10 oz tomato paste
  • 1 pint chicken stock
  • 1 ½ tbsp. Ancho chili powder
  • 1 ½ tsp cumin
  • ½ tsp crushed, dried oregano
  • s&p

Over medium heat melt butter and add the flour to create a roux.  Mix well, stirring until the flour is golden brown and smells like popcorn.  Add the tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and oregano, and mix well.  Slowly add the chicken stock, whisking the whole time to ensure no lumps.  Bring mixture to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.  The sauce should be smooth and thickly coat the back of a spoon.  Season to taste with s&p.

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Enchilada Green Salad
(serves 2)

  • 1 head chopped romaine lettuce
  • 1 cup chopped, or julienned, baby spinach
  • 1 tbsp fresh cilantro, packed and roughly chopped
  • 3 green onions, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced
  • 2 tbsp Queso Fresco cheese
  • 2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • s&p
  • 2 tbsp Enchilada Sauce

In a large bowl, toss the romaine, spinach, cilantro, and green onions together, and set aside.  To make the dressing, mix 2 tbsp of the Enchilada Sauce with ½ tbsp of extra virgin olive oil.  The dressing should resemble the texture of a creamy dressing and have a silky feeling in the mouth.

Pour desired amount of dressing over salad, and top with a sprinkling of Queso Fresco, and a touch of s&p to taste.

Enjoy!

OuchyWowWow

11 Jan

Before I get to explaining said phrase, let’s recap the wonderful holiday season:

Healthy Holidays - Bacon, Bourbon, and Garlic Bruschetta

 

Black Truffle Butter Turkey - OMG.

 

I DID attempt cutting down our tree... unlike some people I know.

 

Braised Lamb Shank - one of our faves.

 

Italian Cookie making day.

 

Cherry Bourbon Truffles - Rob couldn't get enough!

 

Finnish Cookies and Maple Pepper Glazed Pretzels - assorted holiday gifts

 

Mom with Turner and Sig... which puppy looks like the chunk-a-lunk?

 

Christmas Eve Tamales - shredded pork or green chili and cheese. Despite the needed fat to masa ratio, these were fluffy as clouds.

 

Christmas Dinner - Beef Wellington. We skyped my mom for the carving!

 

Mom's Asparagus and French Bread Strata - fantastic with my dad's Split Pea Soup

 

What I see in the kitchen every time I start cooking.

 

Happy 2012!  Supposedly, according to Mayan Calendar beliefs, we are doomed for an end-times catastrophe this year, so huzzah!  Let’s make the best of it!

Due to my lack of picture taking (except for when the camera is right next to me in the kitchen), I didn’t get any footage of the surprise Rob and my parents planned for my 30th birthday.  After a quick hug and peck on the cheek from my parents, I was promptly blindfolded and then fugitive-like pushed into the back seat of their car.  All occurring in the loading zone of John Wayne Airport (come to think of it, where was TSA?!).

After a short car ride, I was lead through a bit of a walk, all the while being told to “DUCK!” and “Don’t step in the puddle!” (to save the inference, I’ll tell you there was nothing to duck from, and absolutely no puddle, and lots of laughs from my Dad and Rob).  After one giant – and invisible – “step up,” and a few muffled giggles, the blindfold was removed to reveal my friends from Irvine sitting in my favorite Mexican restaurant ready to toast my 30th.  It was fantastic and I am so thankful to have such thoughtful and generous people in my life!  Thank you for the celebration, family and friends!

During my visit back home, we climbed rocks on the beach, had a martini at the Yard House, shopped more than Rob would have preferred, held (and considered) a Remmington shotgun (20 gauge), ate ham (a rarity in my family, to both my Dad’s and Rob’s dismay), and down-right enjoyed ourselves.  The trip back to Oregon was capped with an overnight trip in a swanky suite room in Portland, and a slight dreaded sense of that thing called “life” creeping back in a few days.

Then comes the OuchyWowWow.  At this point, most of the students that have had me as a teacher are now saying this phrase, and maybe even extending its extreme expression: OuchyWowWow Muchamugonga.  Years and years ago, when my sister was young, this became her phrase for any sort of cut, scrape, bump, or “booboo.”  Personally, I think her phrase explains the angst of a stubbed toe much more than the usual strongly-and-specifically-chosen-adult word, and it fits here:

I cut my finger.  Badly.  Chopping cabbage for one of our favorite dishes: Apple and Bacon Braised Cabbage.  The nail was almost completely gone, and I went so deep the nailbed was revealed (which is white, by the way.  I originally thought I had cut to the bone, which sent me into shock.  Shock is no fun.  I digress).  After Rob bandaged me up, made me drink some water and eat some food, we decided going to the emergency room was the responsible thing to do.  After a soft-cast and a hard tetanus shot, I knew cooking (let alone showering with two hands) was not in the cards for a while.

Especially two days later when I had to remove the bandage.  I told my mom about what happened through email, and she almost threw up.  Rob was there helping me, and he did throw up.  So I’ll refrain from details on this food blog and just say that I’ve never screamed in pain before… it was hands-down-unarguably OuchyWowWow Muchamugonga pain.

Thus, Rob had to cook.  And get this – he didn’t make pasta, nor steak!  Rob pulled out a great Southwest-style appetizer salad that was perfectly fresh and filling, ideal for the New Years Resolution I’ve already broken with ice cream.  He described it as “learning how to fish,” as I taught him how to make salad dressing, which really gave this salad zip and zing.  As he should be, he’s very proud of cooking for his wife, the cook.  Props, hubby!

So in honor of my Irish husband stretching his comfort cooking roots and taking care of me, here’s his Southwestern Bean Salad with Chipotle Lime Dressing (hold the fingers).

Southwestern Bean Salad 

  • 1 head Romaine lettuce
  • 1/2 can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tbsp grated sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 tbsp grated pepper jack cheese 
  • roughly chopped cilantro, as garnish

Chipotle Lime Dressing 

  • 2 tbsp mayonnaise
  • zest 1 lime
  • juice 1/2 lime
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, finely chopped 
  • 1/2 tsp raw agave 
  • s&p 

In a large salad bowl, mix the salad ingredients together (saving the cilantro garnish for the end).  

In another bowl, mix all of the dressing ingredients together, season with s&p to taste.  

When ready to serve, pour desired amount of dressing over salad, and garnish with cilantro.  

Enjoy!  

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