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Boots and Squash

9 Oct

It’s officially fall.  Well, by the calendar, it has been fall for a few weeks now, but the dark dawn and translucent layer of frost on my windshield revealed evidence of the crisp morning weather.  The leather boots came out today for the first time since the end of spring.  It felt good to put them on, and almost made my pumpkin-spice candle smell even more warming.

But then, like a clichéd after-school-special, my day fell towards the wayside.  The way, way wayside.  So much so, that a small outbreak of hives that started to form at about 2:40 gave a clear visual indication of how my mind, body, and spirit needed sweatpants and a good hug from Sig (since Rob was on duty).

By the time I got home, the Oregon Coast had done what it does best: surprise me.  Opening the sliding glass door, our backyard, with its high, wind-blocking picket fence, greeted me with warm sunlight and the smell of the harvest season.  I took off my boots, and let the sun warm my once tanned legs.  It was like an instant spa-treatment.  If an extravagant spa could put a fall afternoon into a circulation inducing all natural fiber body wrap, you betcha I’d pay the big bucks.

As Sig ran around doing his wild-ass-dog circles (you’d have to see it to understand), I sat, breathing deeply, and thought about my roots.  Who I am, and what I do.  Which inspired me to pull out something I haven’t looked at in a long time.

My recipe book.  Now, if you were to look at our bookcase, you’d see loads of beautiful, well-published, artistically crafted cookbooks, all which have been read, most from cover to cover.  However, not many of them have tomato-sauce splatters on the pages, as I do not generally cook with them.  Being the eternal student, I have always used cookbooks as textbooks of sorts, reading them for education, technique, history, and inspiration.  Then, I create my own.  My recipe book has the creations that I, and my friends and family, have deemed worthy of cooking, eating, and enjoying again, and it’s constantly under construction.  But, sadly, I hardly ever go back to see what inspired me to cook many years ago.

So, as a part de-stressing act, part inquisitive wonder, and part let-the-dog-continue-to-run-his-full-head-off submission, I flipped to the very back of my book.  There, staring me in the face, were the recipes that taught me how to cook.  There were no fancy French sauces, mostly vegetarian ingredients, lots of salads, and whole grain proteins.  There was, what I thought would be a disaster but turned out great, the dandelion greens dish with tarragon and poached eggs.  There was the warm spinach salad that my ex-boyfriend loved.  A clump of pages forward, the wild mushroom and grilled peach ravioli that I served my mother-in-law-to-be.  I learned about flavor through flexitarian cooking, and my fancy French sauces of today should be showing a debt of gratitude; without the cooking sans animal protein days of the past, I doubt I would have learned the depth and flavor simple, from-the-ground ingredients can create in a meal.

Immediately, I was taken back to my 715-square foot apartment in Irvine, CA, with the early autumn Santa Ana winds provoking a dry throat and frizzy hair.  Despite the wifely nagging I often give to Rob about eating leftovers, I abandoned the last-night’s vegetable lasagna with the swanky broccoli pesto, and went back to the cutting board

Going straight to the source (many of our farm ingredients), I roasted a fall-favorite: Delicata squash.  Sweet, soft, and a little bit grassy, the house started to smell like Thanksgiving.  After caramelizing some red onions, a perfumed, tangy, warm salad was created, one that gave me that comforting, fall hug I needed after a long hard day.  It was a simple, easy, and delightful meal, and reminded me of why I started cooking in the first place: to create healthy, tasty, true-to-food meals.

Tomorrow will be better, this, I already know.  It will be a new day, new frost, have new challenges, and a fantastic leftover salad waiting for me at lunchtime.  I might even, once again, wear my boots.

Warm Delicata Squash and Swiss Chard Salad
(serves 2)

  • 1 Delicata squash, peeled, seeded, and diced (or a small butternut squash would work well, too)
  • 1 small red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, main vein removed, and roughly chopped
  • ½ granny smith apple, thinly sliced
  • 1 tbsp Gorgonzola blue cheese
  • 1 large tsp chopped basil
  • 1 ½ tsp honey
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 1 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Prepare the squash on a baking sheet by drizzling 1 tbsp of olive oil, and sprinkle a generous amount of s&p.  Mix so that all the squash is coated with seasoning and place in oven.  Roast for 13 minutes on one side, and shake pan so other side also browns, about another 7 minutes. 

Meanwhile, heat the onions in 1 tbsp of olive oil in a sauté pan over med-high heat.  Add s&p to help soften the onions.  Saute, stirring often, until the onions start to caramelize.  Once all the onions start to brown, deglaze the pan with the white balsamic vinegar, and turn heat down to med-low.  Simmer until all liquid has reduced. 

To make the dressing: mix the honey and apple cider vinegar in a small bowl with s&p.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, while whisking – the mixture should thicken and become glossy.  

To assemble the salad, mix the chard, onions, squash, apples, and dressing until just dressed.  Top the salad with the chopped basil and blue cheese, and mix again if desired.

Serve with a crisp, half-oaked chardonnay. 

Enjoy! 

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A Foodie Day

8 Aug

Let’s just say, yesterday was a good day.  Especially since almost every ingredient I used throughout the day came from local Oregon farms (or waters).  Check it out:

Breakfast (which turned into Brunch by the time it all came together): Deconstructed Egg Salad; soft boiled quail eggs with a creamy vinaigrette, with tender greens and scallions, and bacon.  I’m sure it was quite a sight to see, me hunched over the counter for nearly 30 minutes delicately peeling the thin skins on all those darn little quail eggs, but it was worth the backache, and the time.

Lunch: “Blue” Pesto over Tomatoes; a sweet, tangy, and creamy blend of blueberries (we keep getting more from our CSA basket!  Last summer was 42 potatoes, this summer should be 42 blueberries!), blue cheese, lemon basil, and lemon juice, poured over freshly picked beefsteak tomato slices.  Unlikely combination, fantastic concoction!

Happy Hour: Lemon Pepper Edamame; Just like it sounds!  Creamy, crunchy soy beans, still warm in their pods, topped with a sprinkle of freshly cracked pepper and lemon zest.  The bowl was gone while the hour was still happy.

Dinner: Sauteed Shrimp with Tomatoes and Chard; since Rob is out of town, my mercury level will definitely rise this week with the amount of shellfish I’m planning on consuming (despite all my efforts and preparations, he still won’t touch the stuff).  This simple meal, combined with fresh artisan sourdough, completely rounded out the foodie day.  I was licking the bowl.  Literally.  Please don’t judge.

Sauteed Shrimp with Tomatoes and Chard (serves 2) 

  • 1/2 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined 
  • 1/2 small sweet white onion (Walla Walla is great), thinly sliced
  • about 10 cherry tomatoes, quartered 
  • 2 c swiss chard sliced into very thin ribbons, called chiffonade (measure after you slice) 
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/8 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 c chardonnay 
  • 1 tbsp marscapone cheese
  • zest of 1 lemon 
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • s&p 
  • good crusty bread, to serve, preferably sourdough

In a large saute pan, heat the olive oil over med-high heat.  Add the onions, and a bit of salt, and saute until translucent.  Add the tomatoes and the chard, and continue to saute until the chard has just started to wilt.  

Meanwhile, season the shrimp with salt and pepper.  

Once chard has started to wilt, add in the red pepper flakes, oregano, and deglaze the pan with the chardonnay.  After about 2 minutes, add in the shrimp, and saute until shrimp is just starting to turn to pink.  Cover the pan and let simmer until shrimp is just cooked, about 3-4 minutes.  Take off the cover, turn off the heat, and add in the marscapone cheese, stirring to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.  

Serve in a shallow bowl with the pan sauce, and with chunks of bread to rip off and soak up all the goodness.  Then, lick the bowl when finished.  

Enjoy!  

Sig got a hold of a rogue blueberry. He played with it for a while, but then swallowed it whole, and started begging for more. Figures.

Honor Thinking

22 Feb

Isn’t February just flying by?  It feels like just yesterday that Rob and I were sitting down to our fabulous Valentines Day dinner, rather than over a week ago.  I kind of wish it was just yesterday – we had the most amazing meal: Marinated Flank Steak, perfectly grilled (despite the pouring rain and 30+ mph wind gusts – our garage smelled like a steakhouse, but it was well worth the smell and safety hazard), sweet potato soufflé, roasted asparagus with hollandaise sauce, 36-hour fermented rosemary and citrus Fougasse bread, and finally a chocolate sponge cake with pinot-marionberry sauce.  Needless to say, we were weak at the knees, and not just for each other.

We had to get in as much quality time together as possible as Rob has had a funky schedule lately, and my week was filled with a trip to Portland.  Wednesday morning, six other teachers and I drove up to attend  a national Mathematics Leadership Conference put on by the Teacher Development Group.  It was simply an honor to be asked to go, as it was geared towards teaching us how to teach teachers to become better teachers.  The week was filled with fabulous research, mathematical practices and developments, and the over-arching mentality and high expectation to honor thinking.  By Saturday night, my brain was full… and so was my stomach.

We were fed like royalty!  Giant dinners, beautiful lunches, all you can eat (and I did) breakfasts, and a dessert table that was always at the ready with any pastry, cake, cookie, or puff a heart could desire.  There was so much food, and so much sitting, then more food – I started to hope that my brain’s energy was capable of burning calories.

Alas, algebraically proving a linear function did not quite accomplish the same results as a 5-mile run.  So on top of sleeping most of Sunday, I planed for a major detox.

In a few of my entries, I’ve mentioned my former vegetarian days and have fond memories of cooking many meatless meals.  Vegetarian cooking is what made me a cook – figuring out flavorful alternatives to protein and animal fat was a welcomed challenge, and I was always delighted when those enjoying my food would have the oh-my-gosh-there’s-no-meat-in-this-dish epiphany with only a few bites left on the plate (just ask my Irish mother-in-law).  But such that it was, after many years, pork belly (bacon, pancetta, etc.) brought me back to the omnivore world.

So this past Sunday morning, still sleepily in my PJs, I had to honor the thinking of my past and go back to enjoying my vegetarian days.  Wanting to really detox, I decided to nix dairy and limit bread as well, leaving my compilation of vegetarian recipes more veganized.  Carrot in hand, I knew I soon would be feeling cleansed, at least until a Bacon Butty sang my name.

With Tuesday rolling on through, so far, so good.  Even my meat-loving hubby has taken on the detox challenge (beer is mostly yeast, barley, and water, right?).  The last few days has provided us with a flurry of delicious fruit and vegetable smoothies, two rounds of leek broth that never got the opportunity to see the inside of the fridge,and experiments with Tahini paste.  But the most amazing dish so far has been a simple chard salad with a finger-licking roasted garlic dressing.  The hot bite of garlic just plain gives in to the long intense oven heat, leaving the cloves so sweet, caramelized, and wonderfully mushy.  Mushy garlic = yum.  Not exactly an equation for a linear function, but the answer to an insanely healthy vegan salad.

And tonight’s meal was another unbelievable flavor sensation… Chinese Peanut Lettuce Wraps.  Should detoxing really be this much fun?!

Raw Mushroom & Swiss Chard Salad (serves 4)

  • 5-7 stalks of large swiss chard leaves, washed, ripped off the stem and julienned into small “ribbons”
  • 1/4 c dried cherries, roughly chopped
  • 2 c crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette

  • 1 head of garlic, sliced in half
  • 1 tbsp white balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp Agave nectar
  • 3/4 tsp finely chopped rosemary
  • about 1 tsp water
  • s&p

To make the vinaigrette, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Take the sliced head of garlic, and create a package, lightly folding aluminum foil around the garlic.  Reopen and add the water and a bit of s&p.  Lightly close the package, place on a sheet tray, and roast for about 30 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned and mushy (a pairing knife can be inserted into a clove and pulled out without resistance).

Once cooled enough to handle, squeeze the garlic cloves out of their paper into a bowl.  Add the rosemary, white balsamic vinegar, agave nectar, and mix to incorporate.  Slowly drizzle in the extra virgin olive oil, whisking all the while.  Taste for seasoning.

Pour the dressing into a salad bowl, and assemble the salad ingredients in the same bowl.  Toss to incorporate.  Taste for seasoning.

Enjoy with some crusty buttered bread, or spiced croutons!

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