Friday, October 29, 2010

Apple Bones, An Apple Sale, and Apple Tastings

It's a race to get your favorites from the markets, and with so many varieties, it can be daunting this time of year. I spotted these Bramley's Seedlings at the San Francisco Ferry Plaza Market and grabbed a few for my morning favorite: Apple Pie Oatmeal, a recipe from my book. I'll snap some photos and write a post about it next time. There were lots of apples at the market and this weekend the Ferry Plaza Market is hosting an apple tasting. I saw the flyer for the event and I wished I could stay just so I could taste the differences between Washington and Californa apples. I was sure the colder Pacific Northwest made a difference in apple flavors.

After I arrived home from San Francisco, I listened to a phone message from my friend Bill Davis, "The apples are in, call me if you want some." I smiled wondering what varieties he had this year.

Bill is retired and he volunteers once a week for WSU Ag Research Center in Mount Vernon. Every week he does a lot of work with tree fruit there and rarely asks for any reimbursements. At home, Bill raises mason bees and is an expert with raspberries and tree fruit, especially apples. He also volunteers for the Seattle Tree Fruit Society, a group that works with expert and amatuer tree fruit growers and shares information on growing, grafting, and growing techniques.

"I'll take 10 pounds of Jonagolds," I blurted without hesitation. My apples were gone, and these apples are a cross between two of my favorites--Golden Delicious and Jonathon. Also, I wasn't sure what Grouse Mountain Farm was bringing to the U-District market this week or if Cliffside Orchards would be there, two of my favorite apple-growing farms. This season I'm devouring about 4 apples a day, and my Cooking Assistant loves apples so much he devours cores which I've nicknamed "apple bones." On Finn's wish list is a plate of apple slices with Massa Organics almond butter. Dream on Cooking Assistant.

Bill told me the Tree Fruit Society's annual apple sale is this Sunday, October 31st, at the Center for Urban Horticulture. I went to this apple sale a few years ago and the number of varieties they sell is almost intimidating. And how can you possibly remember them all? It's worth going to this sale to support these growers and to see the abundance these dedicated growers produce. You can also find out how the apple farmers deal with coddling moth and apple maggot--two persistent apple pests.

Before I left, Bill asked if I wanted to try a few different varieties, which of course I did. The last one he handed me had "White Winter Pearmain," written in tiny letters on the bottom. This apple variety was first recorded in 1849 and is believed to have originated in the eastern part of the United States.

My Assistant found it right away. The flavor is mild-sweet-tart, but the crunch is perfect and it has plenty of juice with each bite. I imagine it as a great variety for caramel apples.

In addition to the Tree Fruit Society apple sale on Halloween, the University District Farmers' Market is hosting an Applepoloza with apple tastings this Saturday at 10am. Be sure to vote for your favorites. And check out the apple pie making demonstration from master pie maker Kate McDermott. Pies are so popular now and who doesn't want to know the secrets of which apples to use or how to make a flaky crust? This event will no doubt draw more people and make the market a very busy place on Saturday so since parking is limited, walk, take a bus, ride a bike, carpool or just get there really early. I'm getting there early to meet some friends. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Empanadas, San Francisco, and the Scoop on Rancho Gordo Beans

I love it when I go away from home and find exactly what I need without even looking. That's what happened last weekend when I met my daughter Jennifer who lives in Phoenix and my neice Roxanne who lives in San Francisco. We met in San Francisco for a girl's weekend getaway. Mostly I wanted to disconnect for a few days, relax, and discover something new, and I really wanted to catch up with both of them.

Jennifer and I visited a pet store to get treats for dogs we both left behind. It was this cute little place on Castro street where I bought a small bag of gourmet dog biscuits and a stunning schoolboy outfit for my assistant.

Not far from the store we met Roxanne and we stopped for lunch at this charming little place called Urban Bread. As soon as I spotted the veggie empanadas, I knew I had to have one. I've been trying to create empanadas for a veganized Argentina recipe article for Vegetarian Journal and I hadn't been having great success with the dough. I know veggie anything from Argentina sounds odd, but trust me, there are food options beyond the ubiquitious asado in Argentina.

The empanada was perfect. The outside of the pastry had a shine to it and tasted like an egg white had been lightly painted over it, and the flaky crust crunched ever so slightly in my mouth tasting very rich like puff pastry. The delicate flavor was so good, it had to be loaded with butter. It will be a challenge to make a vegan version, especially if it requires lower fat ratios, but this tasty near perfect empanada gave me a goal to shoot for with my own recipe.

Autumn in San Francisco
I must say we walked, and walked, and walked some more and the weather in San Francisco felt like home with the grey days and all the drizzling rain. It was a little warmer than Seattle and not as windy. The cold here seems to trigger bright fall colors in leaves that fall from trees. If I lived in San Francisco I'd definitely miss all the gold, orange, and red tones we get in the Northwest. Nothing but brown and grey in San Francisco.
I insisted we all visit the Ferry Plaza farmers' market again. (The three of us also got together last year and my request was the same. Who cares about plays or movies? I want to see the markets!) Roxanne says the smaller markets have better prices and more character, but I like touristy things and I wanted to visit Book Passage Bookstore, check out the fresh figs and get more almond butter from Massa Organics.

As we walked, horns blared, trolley cars rattled and there were lone people ranting about politics or chanting about God and the world on various corners. Sidewalks were packed and as we drew closer to the market, street musicians played every kind of instrument.
Rancho Gordo Beans
I was surprised that one of the first vendors outside the market was Rancho Gordo Beans. I knew about these beans from the Veggie Queen. Check out her video on how to cook beans in under 10 minutes. I also read about Rancho Gordo beans on 101 Cookbooks and I became very intrigued.

It used to be easier to buy heirloom beans in Seattle. In the 1990s, PCC Natural Markets stocked many varieties, but through the years the numbers dwindled and now it's hard to find heirloom beans in any natural food store here. (Okay, maybe Delaurenti's near Pike Place Market still has some, but those are definitely not anything locally grown.)
I must have paused at the table starring at the Heirloom Beans book a little too long before moving on to the beans, but about a week ago when I had lunch with my editors at Timber Press, they mentioned a Rancho Gordo book in the works. I remembered the conversation as I flipped through the book, perusing the recipes. I was puzzled: Why Rancho Gordo would have two books?

"Can I help you?" A woman's voice asked.

Startled, I looked up and blurted: "Are you doing another book with Timber Press?"

"Oh that," she replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "It will be really different than this one," she said. "I think the editors changed the focus of the book in the middle of the project, as I recall," she added.

Still, I'm intrigued. If not a recipe book what will it be?

Now there are two books I definitely want to get next spring from Timber Press--one on corn from Anthony Boutard and this Rancho Gordo bean book. This small Northwest gardening press is definitely branching out into the food world in a compelling way.

As I gathered bags of beans, I tried to restrain myself. Lugging heavy bags around San Francisco is not my idea of a fun time, but on the other hand, I could easily have taken one of every variety. That's how excited I was about finding Rancho Gordo beans. I found flageolets for my friend Patty who has had no luck finding these beans in Seattle; I got tepary beans, an heirloom variety from the Southwest that I haven't tasted for years, and best of all I found prepared hominy (dried corn)--another common ingredient in recipes from Argentina.

Sometimes you just get lucky and find exactly what you need.
My Cooking Assistant gets props not only for wearing goofy clothes but for really getting into the act and looking as intrigued as I am by Rancho Gordo beans.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Getting Ready for Winter at Ayers Creek Farm

This past weekend was hectic but I'd been looking forward to stopping at Ayers Creek Farm where Tito rules the fields.

Two days before I visited Ayers Creek Farm, I drove to Portland and had lunch with my publishers, and after an overnight stay at a cheap motel, I had a cooking demo Saturday morning at the Portland farmers' market. Okay, I went obsessively early and shopped for myself briefly. I couldn't pass up the hearty guavas, figs. or the artichokes but as I went from booth to booth, I quickly discovered the abundant garlic at Seattle markets was non-existent in Portland and I needed it for one of the recipes I wanted to cook. Where were the garlic braids of fall? Are we that far apart in growing seasons? I found one farmer selling garlic at the market, so it was perfect for the Garlicky Greens. I'd actually picked the recipe because it called for lots of garlic, sauteed until it caramelized and turned sweet. Caramelized garlic tames bitter greens.

Anyway a fun cooking assistant, Allison Jones showed up to help with the demo and she was funny, energetic, bubbly, and totally self-confident. I got Allison's blog before I left. It just seems to be the first thing you ask anyone these days. With so many bloggers, it's hard to keep up with them all, but check out her blog and discover what drives this Portland foodie.

In Corvallis that afternoon, I did a meet and greet at the GrassRoots book store, then an evening of catching up with my amazing editor Lorraine Anderson, who graciously cooked a black bean and corn pizza from my book for me. I fell asleep early and like my Cooking Assistant might say, I slept like a puppy. The next morning I headed for Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon.
I hadn't visited Ayers' Creek Farm since I interviewed Anthony and Carol for my book, in the summer of 2008. This time I'd get to see how Anthony and Carol prepare for the winter Hillsdale farmers' market. They're scheduled to sell there from December through February and corn or polenta is one of the products they bring. It's made from flint corn (above). Anthony takes it off the cob and grinds it. The polenta is mostly yellow with little flecks of red from the flint corn. (Freshly ground polenta. How cool is that? I'm dreaming about the sweet flavor already.)

Anthony is also busy drying beans. Most dried beans are machine harvested but the Boutards let the beans dry in pods on the plant for as long as possible, then the beans are all hand-harvested and laid on screens before they're separated from the pods. The beans and grains are placed on screens in a room with fans and a dehumidifier to keep them dry. Carol told me they're prone to mold if you just spread either beans or grains on plastic. "You could easily lose all the grains or beans if you don't have air circulation." she'd said.

Look close and you can see some of the black beans separate from the pods, here.

'Can you stay for lunch?" Carol asked. She didn't have to ask twice. I love their over-sized kitchen and the colorful shredded carrots and beets looked perfect. Carol stirred, a creamy cauliflower soup and when she brought out a loaf of crusty artisan bread, I was in heaven. The lightly curried creamy soup was perfect on such a beautiful sunny autumn day.

I spotted these hot peppers drying in the sun and I had to snap a quick photo. These will also be sold at the winter market.
We sat down to eat and in our conversation I discovered Anthony just wrote a book about corn--all phases of corn from baby corn to polenta. The book will be printed by Timber Press and it sounds like it will be available next spring. I'm putting Anthony's book on my wish list now, and I'll preorder a copy, that's how much I'd like to read a book by Anthony Boutard.
I couldn't stay long because it's a long drive from Gaston, Oregon to Edmonds and Anthony and Carol had to get back to autumn farm chores. I felt like I'd interrupted enough already. Carol had to wash pumpkins and Anthony had to get the wheat crop planted.

"Would you like a few tomatoes, before you go?" Carol asked. She told me the tomatoes would be great roasted and made into sauce for winter. I couldn't believe this generous offer. Our own tomato crop got blight and we lost every tomato plant. Tomatoes grown by the Boutards were a lovely gift. We rode out to the rows of tomatoes with Tito, who loves all aspects of farm life.
I was tired, so I confess that I listened to The Girl Who Played With Fire on the way home and I got sucked into the story and almost wanted to keep driving just find out what happened to Lizbeth Salander.

My Cooking Assistant was so impressed with the box of tomatoes and peppers from one of my favorite farms. People who live in Portland--you are so lucky to have such great farmers like the Boutards!

Monday, October 11, 2010

No Tricks: It's All About Cool Stores, Corn Mazes and Pumpkin Patches in Snohomish

I bought this cute sparkly cat mask for my Cooking Assistant on Saturday in Snohomish. I was there to see La Gourmet Depot, a new cosmopolitan specialty food store and to meet Laura Hall the manager who was busy ordering inventory for this great new store.

Le Gourmet Depot is way cool. It's a boutique ingredient store with a beautiful wooden bar with wooden stools and tall tables with tall chairs. There is a huge silver fork and spoon on one wall and the atmosphere is antique-chic, very classic. It fits perfectly with this town and all the fun unique shops here. Wine, balsamic vinegars, olive and truffle oils--this is a foodie's delight.

In addition to cooking classes, they're hosting "throwdowns," where locals post their best cooking specialities on a blackboard and other people are free to add their names to the list. As soon as there are two or more with the same specialties, they have a "throwdown," or a cooking competition where those attending judge decide who wins. There's a chili throwdown coming up early in November.

During the summer, the farmers' market is right outside Le Gourmet Depot. How cool is that? This is a store that is in a perfect position to connect with the community in many ways.

Laura says Le Gourmet Depot will also carry locally processed foods, and I'm excited about doing some events in her store. Look for one early in the new year. What shall I cook? I'm thinking about the local possiblities already.

As I drove home, I was amazed at how many pumpkin patches and corn mazes seem to define the farmland around Snohomish. And every open farm I passed had cars parked in dirt lots and lots of people meandering through mazes and pumpkin fields. What fun for the whole family.
Check out these pumpkin patches and corn mazes:
  • Bob's Corn and Pumpkin Patch--features free hayrides on Friday's, an amazing corn maze and of course more pumpkins than you know what to do with.
  • Carleton Farm--features a corn maze, pumpkin patch and new this year--a haunted swamp maze on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Craven Farm--boasts the county's first pumpkin patch, Craven Farm has been hosting pumpkin events for 27 years. Enjoy a tractor pulled hayride, tackle the 15 acre corn maze and don't forget to visit the gift shop before you leave.
  • Stocker Farms--hosts the famous Field of Screams with a Rock Star Zombie Contest. This maze looks truly spooky and brings me back to my childhood when I watched Boris Karlof's TV show Thriller on a grainy black and white TV.
  • The Farm at Swans Trail--features Washington's largest corn maze, and they don't offer any spooky mazes but you get a great farm experience with a hay maze, wagon rides and a farm animal petting area.

And if all that isn't enough to get you out to Snohomish, on October 23 Snohomish hosts The Great Pumpkin River Race and Celebration. From 11am to 5pm in Historic Downtown Snohomish activities include: children's crafts, face painting, pumpkin painting, a carved pumpkin contest and a costumed pet and owner sidewalk parade. Five dollars gets your pumpkin into the River Race. For more details check out The Festival of Pumpkins.

Odds and Ends or Other News of the Week--

Two taste-off contests were held at Seattle Farmers' Markets recently--apples and tomatoes. Kudos to the winning farmers!

Wade and Judy Bennett of Rockridge Orchards took top spot for the best tasting apple this year with their heirloom Jonathon apple. I'm such an apple snob these days and I must say, it rivals my very favorite golden delicious apples from Cliffside Orchards. Plus it probably has more antioxidants with it's rich red color.

Liz Eggers and Michael Hampel of Grouse Mountain Farm took top honors for the 2010 10 brix contest. Brix measures the sugar content in fruits and vegetable, and Rowley says there wasn't any 10.0 (because of our damp, cold spring) but he found an 8.5 in a German Red Strawberry. I was at their booth when Jon Rowley was snapping a photo of them for his blog, check it out and read Liz and Michael's farm's story and how they farm.

Blaze the farm dog is a bit bored by this news at the market, but she's a good sport for waiting patiently all day at the Saturday market.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Let the Baking Begin: Peach-Huckleberry Crisp and Gluten-Free Squash Bread

Peach-Huckleberry Crisp
It all started with my cooking assistant. It was his turn to select the fruit of the week. Why is it always his turn? He picked Grouse Mountain Farm's O'Henry peaches and I don't blame him because who can resist the seductive fragrance of these fall peaches? I had a variety of ripe fruit on hand, so I thought a peach dessert was in order.

The cool fall weather inspires me to bake, so I baked my favorite crisp recipe. I've made many crisp variations over the years, but I always fall back on this same recipe for the crispy topping because it's absolutely the best crisp recipe in the world. No amount of fooling with the recipe makes it any better. The recipe is in my cookbook, and just last spring I used the same basic recipe for a Rhubarb-Cherry Crisp . Check it out and make it your favorite recipe, too.

I also had huckleberries and some frozen blueberries and I thought the berries and peaches would make a perfect fall crisp.
The recipe calls for butter in the topping. Does my assistant care? You could make it with a vegan equivalent (margarine or coconut oil) but I love the buttery flavor of the original recipe. I stressed a little before making this recipe because I'd vowed a commitment to a 30 day vegan diet after attending the the Veg Fest in Portland a few weeks ago. I was inspired. "Let's get healthy," I'd told my assistant Finn when I came home. But we are weak when it comes to this crisp and we love the way butter makes the topping taste so decadent.
My assistant is very good at restraining himself, but this dessert really tested his will power. Try it, you won't be able to resist either.

Gluten-Free Maple Pumpkin Bread
Another thing that compels me to bake is winter squash. It makes an appearance at markets in early October and Mair Farm-Taki is one of the first farms to bring it to the University District Market.

Farmer Katsumi Taki grows great tree fruit--check out his farmer profile in my book--but Mair Farm-Taki is also famous for amazing Japanese vegetables. Katsumi passes out samples liberally--steaming chunks of squash lure customers to choose a variety of squash with their greens and autumn fruits.
My friend Patty found this odd long squash that I'd never seen before. I can't remember what it was called, but when she handed me a sample we immediately asked Katsumi if he could cut it in half so we could split it. You can do that at the market--just ask farmers and most will gladly cut something big in half.

Katsumi told us the squash was a Japanese variety. He grows many quirky vegetables that no one else grows.

At home, I treated this like any other winter squash. I shoved it in the oven at 350F. and baked until it was soft--about 45 minutes.
The day I baked it, I was writing an article about healthier baking for my Take 5 column for Marlene's Market and Deli. As I considered which recipe I could send with the article, I remembered Maple Pumpkin Bread, in my book. The recipe specifies whole wheat pastry or barley flour and I stared at it trying to imagine how it might taste made with buckwheat flour. Since I've met so many folks who have gone gluten-free, I wondered how a gluten-free version of this bread would turn out.

So I got out the buckwheat flour I'd bought at the Portland farmers' market. Then I rolled up my sleeves and got out the rest of the ingredients, eager for the experiment to begin. Here is what I made:

Gluten-Free Maple Pumpkin Bread

Adapted from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, bread is studded with dried fruits and nuts and is perfect for breakfast, brunch and afternoon snacks. It’s a healthy sweet treat without the holiday guilt! The original recipe specified 1 1/4 cups whole-wheat pastry or barley flour. Use either option and make it your way.

1 cup buckwheat flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon each: cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg

1/2 cup raisins or currants

1/4 cup chopped dates

1/4 cup dried cranberries or

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

3/4 cup cooked, mashed pumpkin (or winter squash)

1/2 cup maple syrup

2 tablespoons canola or sesame oil

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly oil a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan.

2. Combine dry ingredients and dried fruit and walnuts. Mix well and set aside. In a blender, combine sweet potatoes, maple syrup and olive oil until smooth. Combine wet and dry ingredients. Mixture will be quite thick.

3. Spoon into loaf pans. Bake for approximately 45 minutes. Bread should pull away from the sides of the pan. An inserted toothpick will come out clean when the bread is done.

4. Let cool 15 minutes before removing from pan.