Sunday, June 29, 2008

Panini without a Press

You don't need a panini press to make a great sandwich! A brick works very well, but you do have to turn the panini over half-way through the cooking process.

I used homemade semolina focaccia, provolone cheese and mesquite-smoked turkey in the sandwich above. The focaccia already had basil, garlic and candied tomatoes in it.

You will need:
Focaccia, cut into sandwich-sized squares (or wedges if the focaccia is round)
Olive Oil
Thinly-sliced meat
Condiments of your choice (pesto, mayonnaise, dijon mustard, butter, etc.)
A brick
Parchment paper

Heat a frying pan or griddle on medium heat. Holding a bread knife horizontally, cut each focaccia piece in half to make a top and bottom. Brush the crust sides with olive oil. Spread the condiments (if desired) on the cut sides. Place the bottom half, crust-side down, in the frying pan. Top with a slice of cheese . Add some meat and then another slice of cheese. Place the top half on and cover with a small piece of parchment. Place the brick on top of the parchment and cook for about 3 minutes, until the bottom slice of cheese begins to melt. Remove parchment and flip the whole thing over. Replace the parchment and the brick and cook for another minute or two until both sides are crispy and the cheese is melted. Serve immediately.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"Candied" Tomatoes

This method is based on one in Suzanne Somers' book, "Eat Great, Lose Weight" which has some fabulous recipes. I snip these into bite-sized pieces and add them to salads, knead them into bread dough and use them to top focaccia.

You will need:

Ripe Roma-type plum tomatoes, washed, cored and cut in half lengthwise
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Line a half-sheet pan (cookie sheet with sides) with parchment or lightly oil it. Arrange tomato halves cut side up on the pan. It's okay to crowd them together side by side; they will shrink as they bake.

Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, if desired.

Bake for 2 to 3 hours until they are chewy and just slightly moist in the center. The natural sugars will caramelize and the sweet tomato flavor will become very concentrated.

Allow the tomatoes to cool to room temperature. Pack tightly into glass jars and then cover with good quality olive oil.

Candied tomatoes prepared this way can safely be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or frozen for up to a year. Do not store at room temperature.

As a bonus, the flavored oil can be used in cooking or salad dressings.

Zesty Greens with a Chive Blossom Vinaigrette

Having washed and chilled lettuce in the refrigerator makes it easy to get a salad on the table in a hurry. The Zesty Greens Mix I bought from Jim Leet last week at the farmers market is delicious. I added some bite-sized pieces of Candied Tomato that I had frozen in olive oil last fall and then used the oil and my Chive Blossom Vinegar to make a tasty dressing.
Chive Blossom Vinaigrette
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
snipped fresh chives if you have them

Whisk the olive oil into the vinegar until fully emulsified. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper, whisking some more until the salt is dissolved. Stir in the fresh chives.

Makes 1 cup. Store any leftover dressing in the refrigerator, but let it come to room temperature before using.

Grilled Zucchini

One of my favorite ways to prepare those first slender zucchini of the season. The zucchini I bought were about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Simply slice them in half lengthwise, brush both sides with oil (I used sesame oil, but olive oil or peanut oil work well too), and grill them about 10 minutes or until just barely tender. I used my small George Foreman grill that cooks both sides at the same time. If you do them outside or on a stovetop grill, turn them over halfway through the cooking time.

While they are grilling, toast a tablespoon of sesame seeds in a dry frying pan over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes, just until they turn from pale to golden. Sprinkle over cooked zucchini along with a bit of coarse salt and serve immediately.

You can grill asparagus spears the same way; they cook even more quickly!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Homemade Strawberry Yogurt

My new Excalibur dehydrator makes the perfect incubator for homemade yogurt. It's a very simple process, but a good kitchen thermometer really helps...

Combine in a medium saucepan:

2 quarts milk (I used whole milk, but you could use low-fat)
1 cup instant powdered milk
(This makes the yogurt thicker and boosts the protein and calcium content)

Stir to mix well. Set over low heat and bring to 180 degrees (scalding), stirring almost constantly so it doesn't scorch. Remove from heat and let cool to 115 degrees. This will take about 30 minutes.

Stir in 2 heaping tablespoons plain yogurt. I used Dannon Activia brand. Stir in 2 tablespoons honey, if desired.

For plain yogurt, just pour directly into clean 8 oz. canning jars or plastic containers. If you like "Fruit-on-the-Bottom" yogurt, place a tablespoon or two of jam in the bottom of each jar before pouring the milk mixture on top. I used Strawberry Freezer Jam for the yogurt in the photo above.

Cover the jars loosely with the lids or with a sheet of waxed paper.

Place in dehydrator (or anywhere else you can maintain a temperature of 115 degrees) and incubate for 3 to 5 hours, until yogurt is thick and pulls away from the side of the jar in one mass when tipped on its side.

Cap tightly and refrigerate. Use within a week or two. Makes 8 (8 oz.) jars.

For more details on yogurt-making, check out the following link:

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Farmers Market Bounty

The Umpqua Valley Farmers Market is really taking off now. Each week it gets busier and busier. Here's what I bought today:

4 zucchini from Norm Lehne Garden and Orchard. They are just the right size for grilling or stir-frying but I may decide on chopping and dressing them with a lemon vinaigrette and shavings of parmesan cheese for a Zucchini Salad.

8 medium beets, a large bag of Zesty Greens Mix and some snow peas from Jim Leet of Linnea Marie Farms. The beets will be roasted, tossed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and garnished with freshly-snipped chives for a warm salad.

I'll be using the greens for a huge salad tomorrow when I have company for Sunday dinner and I may try out the Chive Blossom Vinegar I started last month in a new dressing. It smells very pungent and might go well with the enchiladas I'll be serving.

The snow peas will be stir-fried in a bit of peanut oil and sprinkled with chili pepper flakes.

I sampled Kathy Linn's Strawberry and Balsamic Vinegar Truffles at Umpqua Valley Chocolates and would have bought some, but she was sold out. I opted for a 4-pack of Chocolate-covered Caramels topped with Sea Salt instead and I also bought 2 pounds of her pasture-raised, antibiotic-free extra-lean ground beef.

At Sweet Briar Farms, I picked up a package of breakfast sausage links--just made Friday I am told--and I'm thinking I will take them to Sunriver with us this week for a sausage and eggs breakfast.

I'm not sure of the name of the woman from whom I bought a dozen fresh eggs, but I should have bought two dozen. I've already used four this afternoon in the custard for Homemade Chocolate Ice Cream (Sunday's dessert) and Chocolate Chip Cookies. This same vendor's husband makes gorgeous wooden cutting boards and one will definitely be on my birthday list in a few months.

I picked up a beautiful bouquet of flowers at Dang's Garden for our dining room table. Flowers are always a bargain at the market. For five or six dollars I can have fresh flowers that will last all week as long as I trim the stems and give them fresh water every other day.

The Baklava Lady sold out of Spanikopita before I had a chance to buy any, but I did try some of her Fineza cookies. Delicate orange and honey flavor, topped with bits of walnut. (They were actually my breakfast!)

A new vendor was there with fresh yellow and red sweet cherries. It was a variety I'd never heard of (and can't remember) but they are very good. My favorite are Bing Cherries, but I have heard the local crop will not be very big this year. However, Gordon Hentze, a fellow student in the Master Food Preserver course, tells me that at Hentze Family Farm in Junction City it looks like they will have a great crop and better yet, they sell them already pitted! Perfect for drying! No purple fingers! I will pick local cherries if I can find them, but this is another great resource.

Chocolate-dipped Strawberries

An easy, elegant dessert or a beautiful garnish for Strawberry Shortcake.

You will need:
Fresh, ripe strawberries with leaves attached (if you pick your own, leave a bit of the stem on too for easier dipping)
Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Chocolate Chips or semi-sweet if you prefer
Vegetable shortening or refined coconut oil (I use Spectrum brand organic, non-hydrogenated shortening)
Cookie sheets lined with waxed paper.

One cup of chocolate chips will coat 1 1/2 to 2 dozen medium-sized berries. For every cup of chocolate chips add 2 teaspoons shortening. Don't substitute butter; it doesn't work correctly.

Wash the berries and gently pat them dry with paper towels.

Place the chips and shortening in a small glass bowl and microwave for 45 seconds. Stir and then microwave for another 30 to 45 seconds. Stir again until all the chips are melted.

Holding each strawberry by the stem or leaves, dip into the melted chocolate until just a bit of the red is showing at the top. Scrape the bottom side against the bowl to remove excess chocolate and place on waxed paper-lined cookie sheet to harden. Repeat with remaining berries until all the chocolate is used up (or you run out of berries.)

You can cover and save any leftover chocolate and remelt it another time or you can try dipping pretzels, dried fruit, etc. into it. My personal favorite way to finish it off is to use chunks of ripe banana to clean out the bowl, eating as I go.

You can speed up the "drying" time by placing the dipped berries in the refrigerator for 10 to 20 minutes, but they will firm up at room temperature in 30 to 45 minutes. The shortening keeps the chocolate just a bit soft so it doesn't crack into pieces when you bite into the berry.

When hardened, place individual berries in white, mini-muffin tin liners to serve. They will keep overnight in the fridge, but the chocolate may get condensation on it when they are brought to room temperature again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Strawberry season is here!

Local strawberries are finally here! I picked a heaping bucketful of red ripe berries last week at my parents' house and we have been enjoying them with a sprinkling of powdered sugar, blending them into breakfast smoothies and making Chocolate-dipped Strawberries for dessert.

My own strawberry plants have just started to produce a bowlful every few days for fresh eating. A bit more sunshine would bring out their sweetness, but they are a big improvement over the crunchy California berries from the supermarket. I was in California recently for a family reunion and there are delicious varieties of strawberries available at the farmers markets--Seascape and Gaviota are superb--but the ones they ship up here can't compare with our own Oregon Strawberries.

Kruse Farms and Deer Creek both have u-pick berries available. I picked 14 pounds Thursday morning because I was dying to try out my new Excalibur dehydrator. Washed, hulled and sliced in half, this was just the right amount to fill all nine trays. It took about 12 hours to get them leathery and chewy, but not crispy. I had to discipline myself not to eat too many as I peeled them off the drying sheets--they are sooooo delicious ! "These are for next winter," I tell myself, "when fresh, local fruit is scarce."