My First "Tasty Tuesday" Column

In case you missed it, or don't get The News Review, here is my first contribution to the new "Tasty Tuesday" food section.  Scroll through for photos and recipes.  I'll also post each recipe independently for easy reference.

Validation. That was my first reaction to Michael Pollan's newest book, Cooked. Mr. Pollan poses several questions, but two hit home for me. “What [is] the single most important thing we could do as a family to improve our health and well-being?” and “What is the most important thing an ordinary person can do to help reform the American food system, to make it healthier and more sustainable?” The answer to both, according to Pollan, is to cook.

I've spent a good portion of my adult life in the kitchen in an attempt to put nourishing and tasty food on the table for my husband and three children. I claim no professional credentials. I've been cooking from scratch for 35 years and I have a passion for foods grown and raised in the Umpqua Valley and for the farmers and ranchers who produce them. I took on the role of family CFO (Chief Food Officer) because I enjoy cooking; over the years it's become political, an act of defiance and self-reliance. I refuse to outsource the preparation of my dinner to corporations motivated solely by profit, without concern for my well-being or the health of the planet. Buying directly from our local farmers and ranchers benefits everyone, whether it's at farmers markets, fruit stands, u-pick farms or through a community-supported agriculture (csa) share. I vote with my fork.

Through my once-a-month contribution to this new food section, we'll explore how to incorporate more of our local bounty into our everyday meals. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition, but knowing what's in season, where to find it, and how to prepare it can go a long way toward helping reduce our dependence on “convenience” foods. So let's get cooking!

Chicken strips are a favorite with kids and simple to prepare. I've added hazelnuts to the breading because I adore them and I stock up on them every fall at Norm Lehne Garden and Orchard. We're fortunate that Beth and Kerry Olsen of B & K Farms in Sutherlin expanded their poultry processing facility last year to meet the local demand for their naturally raised chickens. You can find their products at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market on Saturdays or during the week at Umpqua Local Goods on Cass Street in Roseburg. The buttermilk dressing is used to coat the chicken strips before breading and additional dressing, reserved separately, can be used for dipping the baked strips. Add some steamed broccoli and boiled or pan-roasted new potatoes, both available at local markets, and perhaps a salad and you have a well-balanced meal. For those who fancy a sweet finish, local strawberries and rhubarb beneath a whole grain topping should do the trick.

I'll try to highlight local sources whenever possible. Your most complete resource is the 2012-2013 Think Local Umpqua guide, available at NeighborWorks Umpqua and member businesses.

Hazelnut-crusted Chicken Strips

3 to 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, about 1 pound
½ to ¾ cup buttermilk dressing (above)
1 cup hazelnuts
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
½ teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
1 teaspoon onion powder
dash of cayenne

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment or spray with oil. If you have not already done so, prepare the buttermilk dressing. Combine the nuts, flour and seasonings in a food processor and pulse until nuts are finely ground. Place in a shallow pan. Measure the dressing into a small bowl. Cut each chicken breast lengthwise into 1-inch strips. You should get 3 or 4 strips out of each one. Dip each strip in the dressing, turning to coat all sides and then roll in the nut mixture, pressing the coating into the chicken. Discard any remaining dressing. Place the coated strips on the baking sheet, leaving a little space between each one. Bake for 15 minutes, turn them over and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes, just until chicken is no longer pink in the middle and the outside is crusty. Serves 4 to 6.

Ranch-style” Buttermilk Dressing and Dip

¾ cup mayonnaise
½ cup buttermilk (more or less, depending on how thick you like it)
1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ to 1 clove garlic, pressed or finely minced
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients with a wire whisk or fork. Use immediately or refrigerate several hours to allow flavors to blend. Makes 1 ¼ cups. 

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crisp

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

For the filling:
12 ounces rhubarb, sliced into 1/4-inch pieces (3 cups after slicing)
16 ounces strawberries, hulled and sliced (2 cups after slicing)
3/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Stir the flour and sugar together in a medium bowl. Add the rhubarb and strawberries, tossing until well coated. Transfer to a 9 x 13 baking pan.

For the topping:
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose flour
2/3 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (freshly grated if possible)
a dash of sea salt
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup rolled oats (I use quick oats)
1/4 cup butter, softened or melted

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl (same one the fruit was in, no need to wash it), stirring well to distribute the spices evenly. Stir in the softened or melted butter until a crumbly mixture forms. Sprinkle over the fruit mixture. This seems like a lot of topping, but just keep sprinkling it on until all the fruit is covered well.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes, until topping is browned and rhubarb is tender when pierced. Serve warm or at room temperature with a dollop of real whipped cream or a scoop of
vanilla ice cream. Serves 8.

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