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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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Cookies and Salads

23 Aug

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The other day, Rob and I did some Back To School grocery shopping, and it happened to be a date-night of sorts. We had already eaten dinner, and flashbacks of our Coos Bay days of taking a stroll down the fun-house halls of Walmart at 10 pm rushed in our minds as we stood in the Publix cookie aisle with two other couples. Hushed conversations evolved and we noticed the other couples, slowly and closely meandering, stopping and short-pointing with only a pinky, then whispering some more, were having the exact same musings as Rob and me.

“Remember these?”

“Oh, I ate a box of those ones once.”

“Huh, the packaging has changed on these ones.”

“Strawberry Oreos? Really?”

“Ooo these look so goooooood.”

Then, super-stealthily that short-pointing pinky turned into a swift grabbing hand snatching that Back To School treat. One couple got always-recognizable-even-when-cleverly-stuffed-under-the-16oz.-bag-of-baby-kale Pepperidge Farms cookies, the other couple further down settled with an audible let’s-be-responsible sigh on a cookie/cracker thing, and Rob and I chose Fig Newtons. The original. Always a Back To School classic, at least in my lunch box.

Seams harmless, right? Then, what’s with all the whispering and sideways glances? After further investigation of our late-night cookie aisle recon, this Back To School treat shopping was not for the kids. It was for the adults.

Who knows what happened to the other couples, but Rob and I waited until we got home (there is some restraint), and I dove into the little squares of fruit and cake. After a couple, the “fix” was over, and all was right and just in the world.

Teaching Kindergarten can be a different kind of crazy at beginning of the year, and even in this hot, hot, hot Jacksonville heat, a craving for comfort food spikes at the end of the day. Rather than turning to the cookies, I’ve actually found myself becoming increasingly adventurous with salads. Yes, salads. With the help of our farm basket, I have been experimenting with hot and cold salads, sweet and savory salads, grain and paleo salads, and many more. Come to realize it, more often than not, I have written about salads throughout the years. Well, hold on to your carrots, my friends, cause here comes another.

I called this the Chop Chop Salad, before I realized that there were actually many variations of an actual salad called a Chop Chop. So, I guess I’m adding another variation to the many recipes out there (although I’d like to continue to live in my ignorance that I actually came up with the really cool name). Literally, take every single vegetable that you love and toss it in a bowl. Add lettuce or any other green you’d like, or not. Add grains like quinoa, barley, or spelt, or not. Add a dried fruit or nuts, or not. You get the picture. Pour the contents on a big cutting board. With two chef’s knives, chop chop the heck out of it. Pour it all back into the bowl. Top with your favorite dressing. Voila! Chop Chop Salad! For such an incredibly unrefined technique, it creates such a beautiful presentation, and it’s fabulous for fun entertaining. Here’s how I made mine (everything was just a small handful, fresh and raw, unless otherwise stated):

  • Roasted kale
  • Corn
  • Carrots
  • Crimini mushrooms
  • Roasted green beans
  • Tomatoes (seeded)
  • Celery
  • Green onions
  • Manchego cheese

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The very best part of this salad happened to be the interesting dressing. To me, a big, full Chop Chop salad needs a hearty dressing. These days, however, cream and mayo-based dressings haven’t been making much of an appearance in our house due to the calories they add to the otherwise healthy dish. So to keep the creamy need, yet lose the bulk, I made a Cauliflower Dressing: ½ head of raw cauliflower, ¼ c extra virgin olive oil, ¼ c water, 1 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp agave nectar, 1 tbsp fresh dill. Throw it all into a blender with some s&p, whir until smooth and pourable, and taste for more seasoning. Pour a desired amount on your Chop Chop Salad, mix, and sit back and crunch away.

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This salad made for a great lunch the next day at school, and I told my kids all about it. At 5-years old, they weren’t so interested in a bowl chalked full of veg. Although I did get many oohs and aahs when I said “corn.” I think even a couple of excited claps.

It’s Back To School – a time for new beginning and taking risks. This salad isn’t risky at all, but try it anyway. It’s easy! It’s your own creation of tastiness! It’s healthy (which means you can dive into those cookies afterwards)!

Enjoy!

Jill and Sig’s Excellent Adventure

4 Mar

Last winter on the Southern Oregon Coast left me with a bitter, angry, vitamin-D-deprived, taste in my mouth.  This winter, I was ready; knowing March is what it is in these parts, I stocked up on canned tomatoes, frozen berries, and lots of citrus to bring brightness to the dark, damp days.

But now, as I’m looking out over my sun-soaked overgrown backyard and reminiscing about the last couple days of dandelion dotted winery roads, iced coffee cravings, and chasing Sig around a dirt field, I’m wondering what happened to the anticipated dreary weather.  The hemp-laden Nature God in charge of Oregon must be making up for last year – or Al Gore was right!

While Rob had to travel this weekend for work (actually down to Cali), I decided to do something I haven’t done in a long time – nothing.  By nothing, I mean quite a few things actually, but all things I don’t do very often, including spending patient and slowed-down time focusing on food.  And I was able to share these fun moments with my dog, like a true Oregonian.

Friday brought a delicious breakfast of a poached egg over left over beer-braised wheat berries with blue cheese.  Enough protein and energy for our next outing: sea stone collecting on the beach.  Years ago, Rob took me to this beautiful beach where the wind blows harder, colder, and stronger that Chicago would be jealous.  So much so that it gave me a “cold nerve” in my ear, thus straining my neck to pain so bad, I accidentally flung a teapot across the room when I turned the wrong way.  Nonetheless, it’s still a beautiful beach.  So, I brought my goose down winter coat, and my 1080 ear protection preparing for the worst.  As Sig and I happily strolled along the beach, picking up gorgeous, rock-cycle-influenced rocks (yes, Sig was picking them up too, realized what I was doing and wanted to help out), I found myself taking off layer upon layer.  The amazingly unordinary weather fought my silly winter clothes, and won.  By the time we were back to the car, both human and dog were panting.

After a quick water break, lunchtime was upon us.  I drove a further bit south to a wonderful little coffee shop, where I did something unfathomable: I sat, drank coffee, ate lunch, and read.  I had a perfect view of the car and could see Sig doing a gopher dance, popping up to look through one window, then quickly dropping down only to appear in another window a few seconds later.  With attention shared between my Kinfolk magazine, the unmarried surprisingly flirtatious older couple at the table next to me, and betting on which window Sig would be smiling through next, the afternoon was, well, perfect.

Driving home was one of the first times we felt relaxed in a long time – I drove more slowly than usual, and Sig sang the zzz’s.

The evening meal was the perfect top-off to the already Swedish-massage-like day: Chinook Salmon Terrine with Lemon Butter Toasts.  Smooth, creamy, salty, and tangy and paired with one of my favorite Willamette chardonnays, I thanked the day and fell asleep in bliss.

Next adventure: a Saturday trip to Eugene.  After a spicy red pepper and bacon breakfast burrito, Sig and I were off – by far the longest car ride he’s ever had.  His excitement was overflowing.  Almost crossing the line between cute and annoying.  But after a desperately needed trip to Trader Joes, a momentary weakness overcome at Pottery Barn, and a quick walk, we were both ready to go home; but not without a stop at one of Oregon’s plopped-down-along-the-side-of-the-road-because-the-soil-is-amazing-everywhere wineries.

The sun was so bright yesterday Sig kept jumping from seat to seat in our Explorer, trying to find the coolest spot.  His waterproof double coat was definitely not meant for 70-degree winter weather.  As I drove past fields of agriculture, I pulled into the cutest barn-style tasting room, my mouth watering anticipating what treats were to come.  There was a Border Collie obediently running along side his owner, immediately sending Sig into a you-will-be-my-new-best-friend-if-only-I-could-sniff-you frenzy.  Meanwhile, completely ignoring the pubescent territorial sheep angrily bah-ing at us invading his space.  Leaving him to gopher at the farm animals (yes, I just turned gopher into a verb), I indulged in one of my favorite things: tasting wine.  It was good; a perfect break to a second perfect day.

Our drive home consisted of Sig’s sideways, head-tilted glances as I belted David Gray around the windy pine-lined road, leaving him thankfully exhausted.  Remembering Friday night’s meal, I wanted another Jill-type dinner, but also craved a bit of comfort.  Thus, I vamped up a favorite college-days meal: Herbed Cheesy Bread with Spinach and Fennel Salad with Cheese “Croutons.”  After 4 slices of that tangy, cheesy, spicy bread, I was more than content.  Both Sig and I were asleep by eight.

Today continued our Jill and Sig adventure story; however, like every adventure story, there must be a little bit of drama.  With another beautiful day on our hands, I spent my time on Sunday brunch: Brown Sugar Caramelized Acorn Squash with Rosemary Maple Bacon and Cardamom Infused Coffee.  Being that it was Sunday after all, and there were chores to be done, Sig and I decided to take some time to soak up the sun after much cleaning and laundry.  As I sat, I could hear his collar tags jingle with each leap, bounce, and jaunt around the fruit flies coming out early for a spring-like tease.  That is, until I couldn’t hear his playful jingle anymore.  Looking around the corner of our yard, I realized the worse: the gate had been left open, and Sig has escaped.

Now it’s my time to really thank the Oregon Nature God (or Al Gore), as if it were pouring rain, windy, and cold, I would be even more of an angry pet owner chasing my dog around the wild fauna-filled field across from our house.  If it weren’t for the very distracting smell of deer scat, I’d probably still be out there chasing.

Sig is relaxing now. With the sun setting on my keyboard, I’m back to doing the same: enjoying the fleeting warmth, typing more slowly than my normal work cadence, and thoughtfully contemplating another my-favorite-type of meal for dinner.  Despite his Great Escape, it’s actually his birthday today, and also despite the unintended near heart attack, I made him some homemade doggie treats to celebrate.  As the kitchen air still lingers with peanut butter and barley flour, our adventure story is ending with the same note it started on: lots of good food and, well, lots of nothing.

Chinook Salmon Terrine with Lemon Butter Toasts (makes 2 small ramekins)

  • 1 can unsalted Chinook Salmon in oil (it’s a pantry staple in the Pacific Northwest)
  • 2 tbsp grainy mustard
  • 1 tsp rosemary
  • ½ tsp mint
  • 1 oz. goat cheese
  • ½ tsp raw agave nectar
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (just from about ¼ a lemon)
  • 2-3 cabbage leaves
  • s&p
  • olive oil for drizzling 

Lemon Butter Toasts

  • 6-8 slices rustic French bread
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter, room temperature
  • zest of one lemon, dried (spread on a piece of parchment paper, and bake for about 15 minutes at 300, or microwave for 30-40 seconds on high)
  • pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 

Using a mortar and pestle, combine the mustard, rosemary, mint, goat cheese, agave, lemon juice, and s&p, until combined.  It should be the consistency of a sauce.  Set aside.

Drain the canned salmon and flake apart with a fork.  Set aside.  Take the cabbage leaves and line the inside of the ramekin until the cabbage just comes above the edges.  Working in layers, put the salmon on the bottom, and press down until packed.  Then, pour in a thin layer of mustard sauce.  Then salmon, pack, mustard, etc. until the last layer is salmon.  Drizzle with olive oil and cracked pepper, and cover with aluminum foil. 

Put foil-covered ramekins in a square baking dish, and fill dish halfway with hot water (cooking the terrines in a water bath keeps them evenly cooking, as well as creates steam for moisture).  Cook in a 375-degree oven for 20 minutes.  Remove, or cut open the foil, and continue cooking for 15 minutes. 

Meanwhile, mix together the butter, dried lemon zest, and salt in a small dish.  Toast the French bread slices (bottom layer of oven, or separate oven if you are so lucky), and while still warm, spread the dried lemon butter on one of the faces.

When terrine is done, serve with a small spreading knife, and spread salmon on the toasts.  Serve with a half-oaked chardonnay.

Enjoy! 

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