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6 May

The Oregon Coast is known for many wonderful things: the fishing, logging, rugged and picturesque beaches, amazingly horizontal rain, and knock your socks of wind.  During the summertime, the berries are so abundant, juicy, wildly out of control, and ready to burst in the sunlight.  While hiking, the smells of nature overwhelm the senses, and the lavish growth provides oxygen in a way that only Vegas casinos try to mimic.  It’s almost blissfully intoxicating.

But then, there are specific facets of our little unique area that make Coastie wives, like many of us here, count down the days for the next tour orders.  Most of us have lived in many areas and, for better or worse, follow our devoted and honorable husbands to wherever their duties lead.  Some places are great, some are debatable due to preference and weather, and some, well, downright takes some getting used to.  Actually, some make us seethe.  We bubble, foam, and stir during needed girls’ nights, finding comfort not only in the local cuisine, but in each other.  I think this is typical girlfriend-venting fashion, and it is definitely in style in Coos Bay.

A while back, I met Chef Michael Chiarello at one of his retail stores in California.  He was very friendly and we spent a good deal of time chatting about my mom and The Lazy Susan, storytelling, cooking, and my blog (which is my favorite mixture of the latter two).  He also told me about how he cooks his asparagus – in a sauté pan with only a little water, a fat of some sort, s&p and that’s it.  Cook them over fairly high heat until the liquid is gone, and you are left with the most vibrant green, crisply tender asparagus to where even roasting can’t compete.  Well, being a true fan of roasting veg, I had to give it a try.

I have been cooking my asparagus, and many other sturdy veg (including springtime green beans) that way ever since.

Today, as I whipped up a quick lunch to eat in the backyard and soak up the extremely needed Vitamin D filled UV rays, I stared at my cooking green beans watching them jump, bubble, spit, and spat.  It was kind of a simple violent, yet exhilarating way to cook, the oil and water keeping true to their non-emulsifiable nature, yet continually working together until only the memory of a sheen remained in the pan.  A quick finger-poke-test, and sure enough, the veg was perfect.  How funny it is that a perfect result comes from such a bustling process.

The seethed green beans, concentrated with flavor, mixed with sliced SoCal strawberries (only the best), roasted chicken breast and the salty, tangy bite of shaved Manchego cheese, made the perfect Sunday afternoon spring lunch (and honestly, I think the sun made it even better).

The term for this type of cooking preparation is called seething.  It fits; heat and agitation and opposite viscosities mixing, releasing, venting, and finally leaving a very clear finish of comfort and joy.  Kind of like the girls’ night venting about the frustrations of our chosen/forced environment, over beautiful wine and delicious food.  It always ends with hugs and smiles, all around.

Chicken, Green Bean, & Strawberry Salad (serves 2)

  •  1 roasted chicken breast, roughly chopped (I bought the pre-roasted one from the grocery store… makes a quick meal so much easier!)
  • 1 handful green beans, woody end snapped off
  • 1 c strawberries, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 oz. Manchego cheese, shaved
  • juice ½ a lemon
  • ¼ c water
  • ¼ c grape seed oil
  • s&p

In a sauté pan, heat the water, oil, green beans, and s&p over med-high heat.  Stir occasionally, and let cook until all liquid is gone and the beans are tender. 

Slice the green beans on a bias, mix with the chicken and strawberries, and squirt the ½ a lemon over the salad.  Sprinkle with just a touch of fresh s&p, and top with the shaved Manchego cheese. 


Getting Saucy

7 Jun

It’s testing time again at our school.  That means taking an amped-up-for-the-end-of-the-school-year-knowing-summer-is-just-around-the-corner child and sitting them in front of a computer screen to answer math and reading comprehension questions.  If you listen hard enough, you may be able to hear the groans and exasperated sighs, from both kid and teacher.  But if you listen even harder – yes, put your ear to the screen – you will hear the sounds of joy from realizing hard work really does pay off.   Again, from both kid and teacher.  And just in time for the summer.

I always get a little nervous around testing time, hoping and wishing that the students put forth the brain power they’ve gained this year to show improvement.  For some, I’ve even taken to practicing my willful ESP: choose A, you can do it, A, A, A, no – don’t change your mind!  For the most part, the kids care so much, and want to do well, too.  So, while the existential teacher side of me continues to send vibes, I fully well realize the kids are the ones doing all the work, and there’s no reason to worry.  I love the look they get after getting those high scores – it’s a look I wouldn’t have gotten at the beginning, or even middle of the school year, but now their comfort level is such that their at-home personas are clearly visible.  After seeing their own success, their eyes, body language, and even sometimes verbal expression give me a mixture of, ‘Wow!  I’m aweeesome!’ all the while maintaining their oh-so-very-cool confidence of ‘See Ms. T, I tooold you!’

So being that it’s almost summertime, after all, and the kids are getting wonderfully spunky and saucy in their attitude and personalities, so am I.

Rob and I have been craving summer foods.  Our Wintergreen Farms CSA basket should be arriving within the next couple weeks (from which my 42potatoes name came about), and we are antsy with anticipation.  Summertime foods are down-right fantastic and our hunkering is even surviving the occasional cold blasts of coastal wind, still reminding us that where we live is not exactly considered “tropical.”  But that doesn’t stop us.  No Sir-ee.

Thinking about bar-b-qued food, the first thing that comes to mind is not chicken, fish, nor veggies – it’s sauce.  Yes, sauce.  Saucy sauce.  Finger-licking sauce.  Makes anything delectable, sauce.  Makes the napkin tucked into a shirt a fashion statement, sauce.  Makes evidence of devoured food on lips and chin sexy, sauce.  You know what I’m talking about.

I’ve been all about the sauces lately, mostly because I’ve also been all about the BBQ.  Rob and I have been grilling veg, meats, and most recently, chicken; and to the delight of our stomachs, our neighbors just made grilled moose burgers that were out of this world.  It is putting us in the summertime mood, and making me just as rambunctious as my summer-awaiting kiddos at school.

As Rob stood over the grill last Saturday (looking very Tommy Hilfiger in his khaki shorts and flip flops, beer in one hand and  oversized manly grill spatula in the other),  the menu consisted of grilled spring and summer veg (zucchini, summer squash, asparagus, and mushrooms), chicken legs and wings, and peaches, all with their own special sauce.  The veg got a light drenching of a sweet basil balsamic that was just tangy enough to have a mouth-fight with the smoky char from the grill.  The chicken sat in my go-to dry rub for a while before being lathered and painted with an amazing sweet and spicy strawberry BBQ sauce.  And then the macerating peaches got a hot caramelization from the grill and then cooled off with a frothy cream infused with honey and mint.  The sauces were simple, easy, and made the simple main ingredients shine.  And the smell of that BBQ… it just can’t be beat.

So, with summer vacation right around the corner and the hint of 72 degrees in the air, the kids will continue to get more saucy over the next week, I guess I will, too!

Strawberry BBQ Sauce (makes about 4 c sauce) 

  • 1 tbsp butter 
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 2 c very ripe strawberries, roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp organic sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 
  • 1 1/2 c ketchup
  • 3/4 c dijon mustard
  • 2 chicken stock
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • couple sprigs of thyme 
  • s&p

Let the butter melt over a medium pot sauce pot, and add the diced onion.  Season with a pinch of salt, and saute until translucent.  Add the strawberries and the sugar and let cook until soft and mushy.  Add in the garlic, and stir until you can smell it, then add the ketchup, mustard, chicken stock, and herbs.  Season with a bit of s&p and stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, and then to a quick simmer, and reduce the sauce – stirring occasionally – until the sauce is syrupy and completely coats the back of a spoon.  

Strain the sauce over a fine mesh strainer, smooshing the ingredients so that all of the liquid strains out.  

Pour into a serving bowl and use on your BBQ favorites!  



Lazy Susan

31 Mar

For those of you who know my mom, you know that she is not the least bit lazy.  Actually, I might go as far to say that she feels slightly insulted that she must share the name with the turning platter or spice cabinet.  Not exactly knowing the origin of how the common kitchen apparatus came to be, I almost want to deem it a new non-lethargic name: Non-Lazy Susan.  After all, that turny thing really does a lot of work when you think about it.  Why the rambling about a kitchen item?  I’ll explain.

Last week was my spring break.  No, I don’t have any crazy Mexican Riviera stories to share, nor did I wake up sunburnt in especially uncomfortable places.  But Rob and I do have some pretty amazing stories, and recipes, to share from last week’s Orange County adventures.

It all started with a lovely trip to the mall (one of many trips to the mall) where we learned that one of California’s most known names in the culinary world of Italian, California, and specifically Wine Country cuisine would be visiting for a book signing.  It was a small event, and Rob and I were lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time to RSVP. So Thursday night, Rob, my mom, and I sipped a bright up-and-coming red wine blend (Bridesmaid), and ate a lovely pasta salad appetizer and waited among other food and wine enthusiasts to meet Chef Michael Chiarello.

Needless to say, his stories about food and cooking inspiration, and the trials, tribulations, and joys of wedding celebrations were heartfelt and genuine and probably made everyone want to go home and whip up a remarkable dish to share.  I, too, was getting motivated and started thinking about what I could create with the bounty of spring veg popping up these days.  But it wasn’t until I publicly implied that my mother lazy in the middle of his presentation that made me want to go home and crawl under a rock.

While showing and explaining some of his retail products, mid-sentence Chef Chiarello paused for a moment and started asking for a “Susan.”  Thinking he was being funny and looking for someone to use in his story, I turn and point to my mom with a small “she’s right there!” outburst.

“A Lazy Susan?” Chef asked, turning in the direction of my pointing finger, aimed at my mom who had just happened to be sitting down near the side of the room.  An audible gasp and even more audible giggle engulfed the room as my face turned to a deep shade of strawberry – seriously, visions of a “Violet” casting for the next Willy Wonka remake ran through my head.  Quickly I tried to diffuse the situation.

“No!  No!!  That’s not – oh crap,” which, of course, evoked more unwanted crowd reaction.  My mom was smirking and shaking her head.  Rob had an I-want-to-laugh-at-you-but-know-that-will-most-likely-get-me-in-trouble-face.

“Is that Susan?” Chef asked.  “Well, she doesn’t look lazy,” he continued, “but she is sitting down.”  More less-tense crowd laughter ensued, leading to an expertly diffused situation on his part.  And as he continued with his initial thought of explaining the usefulness of the turning platter, I turned to go give my mother a hug and apologize.  She was smiling, which made me thankful to see that the experience had been a funny one, and a completely memorable faux pas (but just to be sure, when we got our cookbooks signed, I did introduce my mom as Non-Lazy Susan).

While that little moment was, well, memorable to say the least, the rest of the night and the rest of our vacation was wonderful.  We spent some amazing time with my mom, I got to go to Heather’s baby shower, and we shared some amazing meals.

I have commented enough that the fish from the Oregon Coast is outstanding – and it is – but, there are some down south that Oregon just can’t beat.  Case in point: Ahi Tuna.  It’s a more warm-water fish (tropical and subtropical), one that could not survive the cold, often arctic streams of water we have up here.  So, as best to do on vacations, we indulged: Brown Butter Seared Ahi Steaks with Strawberry and Arugula Salad.  Yum.  It was a very “California” dish as strawberry season recently started and a few miles from my parent’s house is one of the best organic strawberry farms in the area.  To this day, I’ve never found a strawberry to beat theirs (and I eat a LOT of strawberries during the months of March through June.  I’m surprised I don’t turn into a strawberry.  Oh goodness… channeling Willy Wonka again).

We also visited the UCI Farmer’s Market, brining home beautiful veg and sausages, which ended up in a Wild Mushroom and Thyme Frittata, and an oh-so-comforting meal starring my mom’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage that is just to die for.

Traveling home late Sunday night, I knew going back to work was only a few hours away, and our blissfulness of vacation was waning.  But, with our food and our experiences, we have the memories to keep and stories to share.  If you are in a location to get local sushi grade Ahi, please try out this recipe before strawberry season ends – the combination of the creamy rare fish with the tangy sweet strawberries and peppery greens may even make you feel indulged and relaxed by a mini vacation (just don’t go accidentally call your mother Lazy!).

Brown Butter Ahi Steaks with Strawberry and Arugula Salad (serves 4)

  • 2 lbs. sushi grade Ahi Tuna steaks
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 4 c baby arugula leaves
  • 1 pint strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/8 c white balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 c good extra virgin olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp roughly chopped basil
  • parmesan regiano for shaving on top of dish
  • s&p

For the salad, mix the arugula, basil, and strawberries in a large bowl.  To make the dressing, mix the vinegar and lemon juice in a bowl, and add a bit of s&p.  Whisk in the extra virgin olive oil until emulsified (you will toss the salad with the dressing right before serving; the dressing should just be a touch of tang to the salad, not overly dressed at all).  Taste for seasoning.

To prep the Ahi, pat the steaks dry with a paper towel, and season with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, and a very generous bit of pepper.  Preheat a heavy bottomed pan to be smokin’ hot.  Melt the butter in the pan until brown bits start to form.  Then using tongs, add the Ahi to the pan and sear each side, about 2-3 minutes, depending on the thickness of the steak (the inside should stay very rare).

Serve the steak with a handful topping of the salad, and shave a few shreds of parmesan regiano on top.  Maybe drizzle a bit of fruity finishing oil on top, if you have it.

This pairs beautifully with a light California Pinot or Sauvignon Blanc.  Enjoy!!

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