Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Strawberry Lassi

Laura's Lassi

My daughter, Laura, made Strawberry Lassi to serve with Chicken Curry she prepared when she was home for Christine's wedding.  Light, refreshing and simple to blend together, you can vary the fruit to whatever is in season. 

I still had two baskets of Suzi's organic strawberries on hand, so I whipped up some lassi to go with a venison curry I threw together at the last minute yesterday.  Another great use for my canned venison.  I stir-fried sliced carrots and cauliflower florets in a little olive oil, added the broth from the pint jar of venison cubes along with the meat and stirred in a heaping spoonful of mild curry paste.  I tossed in some frozen peas for color and  a half-cup or so of canned petite-diced tomatoes, covered it and let the whole thing simmer until the vegetables were barely tender, then I took the lid off and let the juices evaporate a bit.  I didn't have any coconut milk on hand or I would have added that at the very end.  We ate it over brown rice, topped with a dollop of plain yogurt.  Yum! 

Strawberry Lassi
serves 4
2 cups fresh strawberries
2 cups plain yogurt
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup iced water

Blend all ingredients together and serve over crushed iced.  Buttermilk in place of yogurt is supposed to be good, too, but I haven't tried it.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Chicken Salad Veronique

Perfect chicken salad for a hot summer day.  This salad was a huge hit at my daughter's wedding last month, so much so, that I was asked to make it again two weeks later for my nephew's wedding in California.  The dressing is perfect--light and slightly sweet because it is a blend of mayonnaise and lemon yogurt.

"Veronique" generally indicates grapes in the recipe; I prefer seedless red grapes for the color they add.  If grapes are out-of-season (I don't buy the ones from South America), I sometimes use chopped Granny Smith apple and local walnuts in place of the almonds.

I made a gigantic batch for the wedding.  A friend came over on Thursday and we cooked and diced all the chicken breasts, stemmed and halved the grapes, and chopped the celery.  We stored everything separately in plastic bags in my extra refrigerator.

On Friday I mixed the dressing and combined all the ingredients (except the almonds, which I toasted, cooled, and bagged) so the flavors would blend overnight.

Saturday, just before serving, my kitchen crew (very dear friends) added the almonds.

 Mixing half of the entire batch in my canner for lack of a large enough bowl.

Toasting the almonds in half-sheet pans.

This recipe serves four to six.  It's delicious on sliced croissants (if you can find or make real butter croissants), but we also like it in whole wheat pita pockets.  It's also delicious just on a big lettuce leaf.

Chicken Salad Veronique
(I have been using this recipe for over twenty years.
I have no idea where I got it.)

3 cups chicken, cooked and cubed (I use chicken breasts*)
1 cup seedless grapes, halved
1/2 cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
1/3 cup Best Foods mayonnaise
1/3 cup lemon yogurt (I always use Yoplait and I use the whole container)
1/2 teaspoon mustard (I use Country Dijon)

Toast the almonds in the oven or a dry frying pan and set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, mix the chicken, grapes, and celery.  In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, yogurt, onion powder, celery salt and mustard.  Stir the dressing into the chicken mixture and chill several hours or overnight.  Add the almonds just before serving.

*Leftover cooked chicken works fine.  If I am cooking chicken breasts just for this recipe, I place them in a buttered shallow pan, brush them with a little olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, cover with foil and bake in a 375 degree oven for about thirty minutes or until the juices run clear.  Two large or 3 medium chicken breasts is about right for three cups of cooked, diced chicken.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Local Organic Strawberries!

I was thrilled to find organic Seascape strawberries at the Big Lick Farm booth this morning at our local farmers market.  Suzi and Asinete's farm is now "Certified Naturally Grown."   This is a fairly new designation for small-scale farmers who need to avoid the expense of becoming "Certified Organic."

Conventionally grown strawberries are always on the list of fruits to avoid because they are often heavily sprayed with pesticides.  No spray on these and only organic fertilizers are used.  And they are sweet and juicy.

Suzi says they should have them all the way into September.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Summer Jo's

The Mezze Platter
Clockwise from top:  Orange-Olive Tapenade, Pistachio-Pepper Chutney,
and White Bean & Mint Hummus served with Sumac-dusted pita wedges.

My friend, Laura (not to be confused with my daughter, Laura, who is also my friend!) and I had lunch at Summer Jo's in Grants Pass last week on our way home from a trip to Central Point.  I have been raving about how wonderful the food is for months, but Summer Jo's is only open Thursday through Sunday and we never seem to be passing through on the right day.

Last Thursday we planned ahead so we'd have the opportunity to eat outdoors on a beautiful summer day.  For our appetizer, we split the Mezze Platter pictured above.  All of the spreads were delicious; the tapenade was my favorite.  We ate our fill and still had some left to box up and take home.

For our main course, we split a Poached Chicken Sandwich made with their own multi-grain bread, roasted red peppers, field greens, and cilantro-almond relish, accompanied by a salad with a creamy tarragon dressing.  I love tarragon and the dressing was perfect. 

Seriously, this is a place I could close my eyes and point to anything on the menu and I know I would enjoy it.  It's so difficult to choose because the choices are all so tantalizing.  They use local, organic herbs, vegetables, and fruits that they grow right there on the farm, regional pastured meats, artisan cheeses, and they bake their own bread.

Okay, so on to dessert.  Don't fret if you don't see it listed on the menu.  The waitress will bring a tray and, trust me, you will be hard-put to resist.  Once again we were splitting it.  I could tell Laura wanted to try the Lavender Creme Brulee, but knowing how much I love chocolate, she graciously agreed to the decadent Brownie with Raspberry Coulis and Chantilly Cream.  One bite and we decided it was an excellent choice; dense, dark, did I say decadent?  It was all that and more and beautifully presented.

Really, Summer Jo's is worth a special trip to Grants Pass.  Laura said all my high praise was justified.  I'll be eating there again in August with my husband for our anniversary dinner when we head south to see my favorite Shakespeare play, The Merchant of Venice.

P. S. They serve breakfast too!  Check out photos of my husband's granola and poached eggs from last year's post.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Local Chicken!

I just picked up four local chickens from Beth and Kerry Olson of B & K Natural Farm, located in Sutherlin.  They have a sign-up sheet at their booth at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market.  You put down how many whole chickens you would like and they call you when they are ready to butcher them, once or twice-a- month.  You pick them up at from the Olsons in the parking lot next to Kruse Farms.

They also have packages of frozen ground turkey and two-packs of turkey drumsticks for sale.

I put three chickens in the freezer and refrigerated one to roast in my slow cooker tomorrow or Sunday.  I'm going to make meatballs out of the ground turkey for dinner tonight.

They only sell the chickens whole, so if you want parts, you'll have to cut them up yourself.  Not that difficult with a sharp knife.  Check out my post on Thrifty Chicken for ideas on getting the most out of one bird.

The whole chickens are $2.50 per pound and range from three to over five pounds per bird.  The ground turkey is $4.00/lb. and the turkey drumsticks are a dollar a piece in packages of two.

I think I will try canning some chicken this fall.

We are lucky to have hormone-free, antibiotic-free, humanely-raised poultry available in our area.  Folks are finally catching on and the Olsons said they have a hard time keeping up with demand now.  That's progress!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Vanilla or Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

I made these shortbread hearts from leftover dough I had frozen after I finished baking over 1500 miniature heart-shaped cookies (half vanilla, half chocolate) to fill the favor bags for my daughter's wedding last month.

The recipe below is adapted from the one in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.  I had to come up with my own chocolate variation; I couldn't find one anywhere.  Christine's colors were black and white with red as an accent.  The chocolate cookies would have been darker if I had used "black" cocoa powder, but it's hard to find and I didn't think about it in time to mail-order it.

Vanilla Shortbread Hearts

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 (6 ounces) cup sugar (I used superfine)
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon real vanilla extract
1 1/2 (7 ounces) cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (2.5 ounces) cornstarch
pinch of sea salt

Cream together the softened butter and sugar with an electric mixer on the low setting.  Add the egg yolk and vanilla and mix until well-combined.  In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cornstarch, and sea salt.  Add to the butter mixture and mix in just until it holds together.  Divide in half, press into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill several hours or overnight.  Alternatively, you can roll each half out to the desired thickness (1/8 to 1/4 inch) between two sheets of waked paper and freeze in a 2-gallon ziploc bag.  It's very easy to peel off the waxed paper, place the dough on a lightly floured board and cut into shapes.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 275 degrees.  Line a cookie sheet with parchment.  Roll out dough to desired thickness (if you didn't freeze it that way you'll need to let it soften about 30 minutes) and cut into shapes.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the thickness.  Do not let the cookies brown.  Remove from oven and let cool on cookie sheet for one minute.  Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

 Cookies everywhere!

If you have a convection oven, you can bake three sheets at a time for 15 to 19 minutes.

Chocolate variation:  Same as above but increase sugar to 1 1/4 cups and add 1 ounce melted and cooled dark chocolate (I used Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips) to the butter mixture.  Add 1/4 cup (1 ounce) cocoa powder with the flour.

To dip the hearts in chocolate, use the recipe for Chocolate-dipped Strawberries.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I Love Basil

The warm weather finally gave my basil plants the boost they needed to really take off.  I was able to cut enough today (1 ounce) for a batch of Basil Butter with Garlic.  I just tossed the ingredients in my food processor, pulsed it for a few seconds, and, voilĂ , the perfect way to preserve basil for year-round use. 

The Cuisinart DLC-7 Pro food processor pictured above was given to me by my parents as a college graduation present in 1984.  It's still going strong 26 years later.

The recipe makes nine ounces of flavored butter.  I spooned 1-ounce "blobs" onto waxed paper and put them in the freezer.  That's perfectly portioned for eight loaves of Semolina Bread with Basil Butter.  I used the remaining ounce of butter to sautĂ© thinly pounded chicken breasts for tonight's dinner.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Drying Sweet Cherries

 Pitted bing cherries going into the dehydrator.
I crowd as many as possible onto each tray.

I picked up 60 pounds of pitted bing cherries at Hentze Family Farm in Junction City on Friday and have been dehydrating them all weekend.  Yes, I am generally the "Buy Local" gal (hey, Junction City is only about seventy-five miles away) but Hentze's is the only place I know that will pit the cherries for you and their machine never misses a pit!  I pick cherries at Shady Lane Orchards for fresh eating, but it would take me a very long time to pit 60 pounds for drying using my Norpro hand-powered cherry pitter and it quite frequently leaves pits in.  (Works better for pie cherries, which I do pick locally and pit myself.)

I can fit 30 pounds of bing cherries at a time in my Excaliber dehydrator, using 8 of the 9 trays.  (The top tray is too close to the ceiling to fit such plump, juicy cherries.)  I dry them whole, so it takes about 36 hours at 135 degrees.  You could speed it up by cutting them in half, but be prepared for purple fingers for a few days.  After they are dried (larger cherries will not be as dry as smaller ones) you need to transfer them all to a large covered container and let them sit at room temperature for a few days.  This is called conditioning and during this time the moisture content evens out, so the smaller cherries that perhaps got a bit too dry absorb some of the excess moisture in the larger cherries that didn't get quite dry enough and they all end up just right.  Then I store them in plastic bags in the freezer in one-pound amounts.

After 30 to 36 hours in the dehydrator.

Dried cherries are a favorite snack around here and I love having them on hand for baking.  In fact, I just pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven that I made with dried bing cherries, white chocolate chips, and chopped walnuts in a cocoa cookie dough.  Yumm!!!

Get Your Blueberries Soon!

Just got back from picking another eight pounds of blueberries out at Ed and Sharon Richardson's Big Bend Berries.  It was my third time out there this season for a total of 33 pounds, but I still don't have enough to last until next July.

My husband eats more of them than I do, so he's happy to go out and help when they are open for evening picking on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm.

There are still plenty of nice berries, but you have to hunt a little bit for them now.  Lots of people just pick the ones that are easiest to reach and leave many, many big, ripe berries on the bush.  If you lift up the branches and take a peak underneath you will be well rewarded.

The Richardsons don't use any sprays on their berries, so you are free to sample to find your favorite variety.  Blueberries should not be washed before freezing and it is not necessary to flash freeze them individually on cookie sheets, as they don't stick together.  I'm always careful to pick blueberries without leaving the green stem on (and I have trained my family to do the same) so all I have to do when I get home is put them in plastic bags and toss them in the freezer.  When frozen, I just shake out however many I want onto my hot or cold cereal, into the blender for a smoothie, or measure them out to bake a pie, muffins, pancakes, etc.

I made a blueberry pie to take to a Friends of the Umpqua hiking club meeting the other night and one person said it was "the best pie she had ever eaten."   High praise, indeed!

Big Bend Berries will be open for another two weeks or so.  In addition to Tuesday and Thursday evenings, they are open from 8:00 am to noon on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.  Their number is (541) 673-8767.  

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Honey Maid Shrunk My Graham Crackers, Too!

Note:  I thought it was a clever title until a google search came up with a post from August 2009 with the same name.  I didn't notice a change in the crackers until June of 2010.

The Nabisco Honey Maid graham cracker on the left was purchased in June 2010.  The one on the right was purchased in May 2010.  I could see immediately that the new graham cracker was smaller, by almost half an inch in width.  (Yes, I got out my ruler.)  That was no big surprise.  Ice cream "half gallons" are now actually 1.75 quarts and the amount of tuna in a standard can has decreased considerably over the last few years.  I figured it was just economics (or greed.)

The real problem with the new graham crackers is the taste.  Graham crackers are one of the few baked goods I buy, rather than make myself.  I like them spread with natural peanut butter (and topped with chocolate chips if there are no cookies in the house) and sometimes we like to make s'mores.  

These new graham crackers taste like sawdust!!!  You can see from the photo that they are pale and pasty-looking, not golden like they used to be.  What they have done is increase the whole grain from 2 grams to 5 grams per serving and they point that out on the new box.  Well, I wasn't buying them as health food.  After all, they're still made with partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil and high fructose corn syrup--two ingredients I almost always avoid.  I was buying them because I liked the way they tasted.

Guess I'm going to have to spend some time learning to make my own.  I certainly won't be buying these again!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Raspberry Freezer Jam

A sunny bowl of just-picked raspberries

I picked about nine pounds of raspberries yesterday at Dillard Farm Market for $1.25/pound.  This was enough to make three batches of Raspberry Freezer Jam with enough berries leftover to get some raspberry vinegar started.

I posted two years ago about the Ball freezer jam pectin that uses much less sugar than the older kind.  They changed the packaging this year.  This is what it looks like now.

The ingredients and directions are the same.  It's as easy as ever.  Sherm's and Bi-Mart both carry it.  Look for the set of five plastic 8-ounce containers (purple lids) nearby.  They're perfect for one batch of freezer jam.  They also work really well if you like to make individual containers of homemade yogurt.

Weaver Creek Ranch Pies and Yarn

There'a a new pie vendor at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market.  Deborah Keller of Weaver Creek Ranch offers freshly baked pies, whole or by the slice,  at her booth on Saturday mornings. 

No need to worry about trans fats in these pies, as they are made with an all-butter crust. As someone who has baked quite a few pies in her time, I can tell you that an all-butter crust is more difficult to work with (check out my Perfect Peach Pie recipe if you want to give it a try) and more expensive, but the flavor is unbeatable.  I doubt there is anywhere else in town you can buy a pie that isn't made with at least some shortening.

If you're a knitter you'll also want to check out Deborah's  hand-dyed yarn--such lovely colors!

I'm a beginner knitter, still trying to learn to knit socks.  I have one sock finished!  When I complete the pair I think I'll treat myself to one of those t-shirts that says, "Knitting is knotty."

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Independence Day

Fireworks last night in Riddle

Our family tradition is to drive down to Riddle and watch the fireworks from the high school football field.  Their fireworks display is the very best I have ever seen and it's right over your head.  The whole town turns out for it and the field is filled with smoke from all the kids setting off their own fireworks along the track.  A local band entertains us while we wait for the sky to get completely dark and we all stand up and join in as a local singer belts out the Star-Spangled Banner.  Then the sky lights up with a spectacular show.

Before heading to Riddle last night, we enjoyed a simple Sunday dinner at our house with my parents.  

Hazelnut-crusted chicken strips
Lettuce from my garden, sliced strawberries, and goat cheese crumbles 
in a white balsamic vinaigrette
Garlic-roasted red, white, and blue potatoes
(which are actually pink, yellow, and purple when cooked, 
but it's the thought that counts)
Kevin's favorite milk chocolate chip cookies

I'm off to pick raspberries at Dillard Farm Market today.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Farmers Market Morning

I made it back to the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market this morning.  I have missed our local market the past two weeks (wedding/Portland trip) and I will miss it again next weekend while I'm in California for a nephew's wedding.

Hom put together a lovely bouquet of flowers for me.  I've been enjoying the roses left from Christine's wedding, but the petals are now drying in baskets and they're halfway to becoming potpourri.

I bought a garlic braid from Joni Leet.  I have a booklet that shows how to make one, but I have yet to grow enough garlic to make my own.

I picked up a head of white cauliflower and some Romanesco cauliflower and Suzi's last basket of organic strawberries at the Big Lick Farm booth.  My own strawberries are waning.  The basil transplants I put in weeks ago are looking pretty sad, so I bought two new transplants and I'm hoping the warm weather will stick around and get them off to a better start.

I dropped off copies of our new Think Local Umpqua 2010 local pages guide to several vendors and the man at the Dillard Farm Market booth insisting on giving me a basket of raspberries.  I'm hoping to get out to his place on Monday to do some picking.

The red and blue potatoes will be combined with the white (yellow) potatoes I already have for some sort of red, white and blue dish for tomorrow's 4th of July dinner.  Not sure yet if it will be potato salad, roasted potatoes, or if I'll just serve them boiled and buttered.

Janice Bunyard at Bunyard's Barnyard gave me the bunch of tarragon.  I'd like to try my hand at some homemade tarragon mayonnaise, but if I don't get around to it in the next day or two I will start a bottle of tarragon vinegar.

Someone bought out all the feta tarts before I got to The Baklava Lady, but she sent me home with a Phyllo Honey Stick for Kevin.

I will enjoy exploring a California farmers market or two while I'm away, but it's always good to come home to our friendly local farmers.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

An Absolutely Delightful al Fresco Lunch

I drove out to Glide today to have lunch with a friend.  The original plan was to meet up at the Illahee Restaurant & Bakery, however, my friend was the beneficiary of her out-of-town neighbor's CSA box for the week from Big Lick Farm, so she decided to recruit my help in eating up the bounty of local produce.  Lucky me!!!  Here's what she prepared:

Cream of Broccoli and Bok Choy Soup
(made with homemade chicken stock!)
Country French Bread
(that she had baked this morning)
Taco Salad 
(made with beef she had ground herself, lettuce from her garden
and topped with all the usual condiments plus her own creme fraiche)
Fresh Fruit Cup of Raspberries, Blueberries,
Grapes, and Strawberries
and for dessert
Cake (NOT from a box!)
topped with a Rhubarb and Raspberry Compote
and a dollop of whipped cream

We ate out on the deck at a table she had set with linen and china and silver she collected in Germany.  The food was superb and we never run out of things to talk about. I got to "help" even more by taking home a huge bag of snow peas, broccoli and a jar of the rhubarb/raspberry sauce.

Thank you, my dear friend.  Next time, my house.