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Ten Apples Up On Top

25 Sep

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While the weather is just starting to cool down out here on the Florida/Georgia border (meaning, it’s 85 degrees with a breeze and a drizzle), it is strangely starting to feel like autumn. Every once in a while the trees rustle, and the abundance of overzealous salespeople pushing the newest crop of Halloween and Thanksgiving goods is enough to make one forget that is it is, still, technically September.

However, I must admit, I’m one of those people. Our house already has decorative pumpkins perched on the dining room table, cinnamon-scented candles burning with delight, and a giant trifle dish full of apples on the counter. My autumn inspiration started when Rob and I took a trip to Asheville, North Carolina. It’s a small town in the mountains, with farm stands, roads that wind up pine-lined cliffs, and a fabulous food-filled downtown. Really, we ate our way through the city, and still barely made a dent. One thing we did learn when our mouths weren’t stuffed with trout, or barely, or tomato bisque (but they were maybe half-full with wine from tasting at the St. Paul’s winery – we are civilized after all), was that Asheville is the 7th largest producer of apples in our nation.

What a way to welcome fall – go to a place that is inundated with the first, and one of the most prominent, symbols of the season!

Of course, I shopped. We got apples, we ate apples, I got an apple yard flag, we tasted and bought apple cider; we were, for lack of a better word, tourists.

So back to reality (aka: Kindergarten), we are starting to learn about apples this week. The kids are so excited. Apples! Is there anything more delightful? Christmas? Nah. Valentines Day? Hardly. And don’t even get me started on birthdays. The day that we “experiment” and taste and graph different colored apples is more exciting than Ronald McDonald himself delivering free chicken nuggets. When we read Dr. Seuss’ Ten Apples Up on Top, they are simply engrossed – open mouths, wide-eyed, engrossed. To Kindergarteners, apples are the crème de la crème of the new season.

To be honest, they are to me as well. All over the internet apples are springing up with cider recipes, butter recipes, pies, cakes, and roasted with pork tenderloin. So I decided to add one of my own with a simple, fresh, early autumn salad featuring, you guessed it – celery. WHAT? Ok, ok, apples are in there too, but in a different way: as the dressing.

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Similar to the cauliflower dressing I made a while ago, using a fruit or a veg to amp of the faux-creaminess of a dressing is a super simple, and none-the-wiser, trick. In this case, I used a Jonathan apple (I left the skin on because I like the little specks of red throughout the dressing), cored it, and whirred it in a blender with ¼ c apple cider vinegar, 2 heaping tsp honey, juice of ½ a lemon, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and s&p. The outcome: a non-cream, creamy dressing sweet and tangy and perfect for your favorite fall foods. Here, I was a bit mundane, trying to jazz up the humble (yet deliciousCelery, Bacon, Cheddar, and Parsley Salad (use those ingredients, add as much or as little as you want).  But this dressing would be good over chicken, pork, even as a nice addition to cranberry and walnut-laced coleslaw. Really, the possibilities are endless.

Just like my students’ excitement.

Please try the dressing and let me know how you used it! Can’t wait to hear!

Enjoy!

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The Meal That Changed Rob’s Life

2 Oct

Well, not really.  But I did get him to eat salmon… finally.  Rob has never been a fish person, but living on the Oregon Coast has given him an experience with fish that has he can’t deny; the fresh fish here is downright amazing.  Fantastic.  Fabulous.

Last weekend, Rob’s parents were visiting us on their journey through a whirlwind Oregon adventure.  Driving down the Coast, they realized sooner than later that there are no “national” chain restaurants here (there’s not an Olive Garden to be seen, fortunately or unfortunately?), so experiencing new restaurants and foods was luckily on the menu.  And when they arrived, I wanted to show a true, seasonal, local Pacific Northwest meal.

But that meant Rob would have to eat salmon.

Oh my.

The Oregon Coast is utterly amazing, and a main reason is because of the food.  So when I asked Rob about how he’d feel if I cooked Chinook salmon for his parents, he surprisingly was all for trying it out again.  There have been many times I’ve asked Rob to try salmon, “Just *bleeping* taste it!” each time with no avail.  He makes his “fish face” (it’s a term of endearment), and is quite polite about it all, but has never enjoyed the experience.

“So, why now?”

“I don’t know,” he shrugged, “I just want to give it another try.”

The wife in me knew that maybe he wanted to show off for his fish-loving parents (which provoked a little audible giggle), but the cook in me was ecstatic.  Yay!  Rob will eat one of the most amazing ingredients to come out of the Pacific Ocean!

I cooked my favorite kind of meal: simple, tasty, with flourishes only to enhance the flavor of what already is.  With ingredients this fresh and beautiful, there’s no benefit to altering them, only to support them.  Like the humble adjective to the bold action verb in an interesting sentence, the specific sauces and sides add more than just color to a dish (sorry, we’re in the 5th week of school – my teacher nerdiness is bound to come out sometime).

While the fish was obviously a fresh purchase, there are things that I like to keep on hand in my kitchen that makes entertaining super easy.  Those humble sides and sauces, when seasonal and well planned, can be made ahead and create a painters palate of a menu.  For this particular dish, I took some local corn and tomatoes and did a hot sauté for a quick relish.  The creamy addition were melted red onions with green apples – sweet, tangy, and rounded out with a douse of white wine (yes, sometimes I actually do put it in the food).  Finally, and while everything is best in threes, the finale sauce was a special (and favorite) no-cook fresh strawberry, maple, and rosemary coulis.   Strawberries, believe it or not, are at the end of their season up here, and there’s something about the sweetness of a berry that pairs so Scandinavianly well with salmon.  Trust me; channel your inner Tuula and Johaan.

While putting the it’s-really-not-a-lot-of-time-but-tastes-like-it-was-prepared-for-days time into creating the special touches to add to a dish, it let’s the true star shine.  The salmon tasted like salmon, and like what cooked salmon should taste like: the smell of a foggy ocean morning mixed with cucumber and butter.  Finally, Rob understood.

While the meal was great, being able to reconnect with family was even better. There will be stories to repeat forever (like how my Irish in-laws had to go to an Italian restaurant in Ireland because, “You can only eat so many carrots and potatoes!”) and stories to be reminded of forever (I’ll leave those be).  The trip was a whirlwind, but so much fun, and we spoiled ourselves with a steady flow of great food and wine.  After all, if you can’t indulge with family, then with whom can you indulge?

Baked Salmon (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. wild Chinook salmon (preferably fall season, Pacific Norwest rivers)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ c white wine (either a chardonnay or pinot gris)
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. 

Prepare the salmon by patting it dry, then rubbing it with olive oil and lemon juice.  Sprinkle a large pinch of s&p, and place, skin side down, in a square baking dish.  Pour over the white wine, and cook until salmon is just cooked through.  NOTE: rare to med-rare salmon tends to have the best taste, but know where your fish came from before consuming undercooked protein.

Serve with the following sauces:

Corn and Tomato Relish (makes 1 pint)

  • 2 ears of corn, kernels cut off
  • 1 large tomato
  • ¼ tsp fresh thyme, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Heat the corn and tomato in a sauté pan over high heat.  Season with s&p and the thyme.  Cook for only about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes soften a bit (but do not break apart), and the corn warms through.

Melted Red Onions with Apple (makes about 1 pint)

  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced
  • ½ Granny Smith apple, small diced
  • ½ c white wine
  • ¼ tsp red pepper flakes
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Over medium-low heat, sauté the onions, apple, and red pepper flakes in the oil until they start to soften (seasoning with s&p from the beginning will help with this process).  Deglaze the pan with the wine, picking up any brown bits that have formed on the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the wine until the mixture is smooth, and it looks like the onions have “melted” and submitted to the low, constant heat of the pan. 

Strawberry Maple and Rosemary Coulis (makes about ½ pint)

  • ½ pint strawberries, hulled
  • 1 tbsp good quality maple syrup
  • ½ tsp fresh rosemary
  • juice ½ lemon
  • small pinch of salt

 Put all ingredients into a blender, and blend until thick, smooth, and almost frothy. 

ENJOY! 

Bouquets of Freshly Sharpened Pencils, and Tomatoes

10 Sep

Yes, it’s that time again.  New clothes, three-ring binders, pencils, red pens, and those annoying snap-in three-hole punches that leave perfectly little round paper confetti all over the industrial carpeted floor.  The kids are back tin school, and my feet hurt.

It has been three years since I’ve been in a self-contained classroom, and while having worked as a single-subject teacher, a specialist, and then an instructional coach have all been incredible, and memorable, learning experiences, I’m so glad to be back with the kids.  Each day is different, and frankly, kids are cuter than adults (usually).

But getting back on the horse of the day-to-day-is-completely-different expectation has limited me on some of the things I have loved doing.  Such as waking up at 7:30 and watching the Today Show.  Taking long walks, catching up on food blogs, and reading cooking magazines.  And more than anything, spending most of the day in my perfectly L-shaped kitchen, making tomato jam, blueberry sauce, and tomato sandwiches.

In the August edition of Bon Appetit magazine, Adam Rapoport did a little blurb on Hellman’s Mayonnaise – it’s tang, it’s smoothness, simply it’s perfection.  Especially paired with a still-warm-from-the-sun tomato.  Finally, to read from someone who agrees with me about eating that mayo from the jar (well, I guess I learned from the best: Mom and Uncle Tom).  That little written oration, almost so easy to miss through the early pages of the mag, speaks passion and more than anything, a real summer taste.  Tomatoes, mayo, period.

Until now.  I have been playing with tomatoes for weeks now, and refuse to let one succumb to the overripe gods of the compost pile.  During the bitter, rainy winter/spring months, there’s sans a tomato in sight in our kitchen, so now is the time for indulgence.  I’ve even brought them to school and eaten them like an apple, brushing off my colleagues’ I’m-trying-not-to-look-at-you-but-it-seems-a-little-weird stares.  But the sauce I made, not originally intended for tomatoes, has made the lycopene-laced fruit speak loudly and with force: Peach and Fig Butter.  It’s sweet, tangy, subtle, and giving tomatoes a run for their money.

A friend’s mom was visiting from NorCal (where almost every fruit, veg, and leafy green has the ability to flourish wildly), and brought some Adriatic Figs to share.  These figs were so ripe they were about to pop – their bright green skin thin and stretched, like a, well, tomato ready to pop.  Adriatic figs are milder and less holiday tasting than the common black Mission Fig, and pair well with many summer flavors.  Two of my favorites being tomatoes and peaches (which I mix often), I imagined the perfect combination of a thick, smooth fruit butter to spread on tomatoes speckled with a creamy Gorgonzola.  Paired with a crisp Oregon Pinot Gris, can’t you just taste it now?

It was fabulous.  I took a shortcut with the butter by immersion blending the fruit after it had been simmering for a bit (rather than starting with a puree), shortening the thickening process drastically.  Despite the name, fruit butters don’t actually contain butter, but get their name from the thick, smooth quality the long simmering process renders.  Thick this was, and tasty.  The figs cut the sweetness from the peaches, and the subtle “warming” spices rounded out the fullness of the flavors.  Slathered on a tomato, our taste buds sung.

I teach 6th graders this year.  They are a lot different from the 4th, or even 8th graders I’ve grown accustom to teaching.  They, unlike my 4th and 8th graders, don’t care so much about my cooking stories.  They think talking about Fig and Peach Butter on a tomato is weird.  Maybe it is.  Not much is cool, unless you have a knack for really dry, overly intended sarcasm, which I, unfortunately, remember exuding all too well.  Call it the hormones, or maybe just the “transition year,” but I’m hoping they will come around to understanding the idea of having a passion for something as much as they understand an author’s voice in writing, or variables in algebra.  Having a passion is cool.  It made Adam Rapoport write about mayo.  It made me pair unlikely ingredients.  Hopefully, they will realize the coolness, too.

Fig & Peach Butter (makes 1 pint)

  •  5 large Adriactic figs, very ripe, diced
  • 2 large yellow peaches, peeled and diced
  • ¼ + 1/8 c organic sugar
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • ¼ tsp ground ginger
  • ¼ tsp ground cardamom
  • ¾ c water

Heat all ingredients in a pot over med-high heat until bubbly and liquidy. Add the ¾ c water, and blend well using an immersion blender or spoon into a stand blender.  Cook over low heat until very thick (when running a spoon through the butter, it should leave a trail).  Note: the butter will sputter when cooking; use a deep pot unless you want your stovetop to get covered in random, sticky, Jackson Pollock looking splotches. 

Let cool (it will thicken even more), and slather over tomatoes, toast, dollop on oatmeal, or whatever your heart desires.  Enjoy! 

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