Friday, December 24, 2010

Make Your Own Dog Biscuits; Buckwheat Bunnies and Bones

The first magazine recipe article I wrote for publication was "How to Make Healthy Dog Biscuits." Complete with pictures, recipes, and tips, it appeared in 1997 in Natural Pet. Though the magazine has long been out of publication, I never stopped making making biscuits. In fact, I liked creating new versions so much that I spent way too much time doing it. I had so many recipes that I added a dog biscuit chapter to my first cookbook.

Dog biscuits are way easy to make. I started by removing sugar and all sweet things from basic cookie recipes I liked. Then I substituted whole grain flours and added mashed squash or applesauce to recipes. This year I even made a special bacon-cheese flavor for canine friends, Libby, Wiley and Blue at Cascade Harvest Coalition.

For this recipe I used a Washington buckwheatflour and a pumpkin from Ayers Creek Farm in Gaston, Oregon. I found the buckwheat flour when I visited the Portland Farmers' Market this past season, so I stuck it in the freezer for pancakes and for these dog biscuits that also pass as tasty crackers.

Buckwheat Bunnies
(Makes about 76 biscuits)
Get bunny and dog bone cookie cutters at any cooking store. The beauty of this recipe is you can make the dough up to a week before you roll out the biscuits.

4 cups buckwheat flour
1 cup tapioca flour, or arrowroot
1 teaspoon kelp
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 1/2 cups baked, mashed winter squash or pumpkin
3/4 cup peanut butter, tahini, or hazelnut butter
1/4 cup molasses
1 1/2 cups stock or water

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Place squash or pumpkin, peanut butter, molasses and stock in a blender and puree until smooth. Stir liquid into the flour ingredients until a very thick dough forms. If necessary, add more water but be careful. Don't add too much or you'll have to knead in more flour. When a stiff dough forms, shape it into a ball. Work with the dough immediately or refrigerate it for up to a week.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. (If you don't have any parchment paper, oil the sheets before placing the biscuits on them.)

3. The dough should be very cold when you start to work with it. Divide the dough in half, place one half on a floured board and the other in the refrigerator. Pat the dough down; roll out from the middle. Roll to about 1/4-inch thick.

4. Cut with cookie cutters and place as many as you can on a baking sheet. It doesn't matter if they are touching.

5. Bake for 40 minutes. Biscuits should be fairly hard when done. For a very crisp texture, turn off the oven and leave the biscuits in overnight.

Bake some healthy treats for your canine friends this season. Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Flavors of Winter from Ayers Creek Farm

Corn from Ayers Creek Farm has been on my mind since I visited the farm in the fall. I'd written about this farm in my book, and when saw all the winter beans, corn, and peppers drying. I knew I wanted to get some of these specialty foods at the winter Hillsdale market. I'd meant to go last year, but the season had slipped by and I didn't want to miss it this year..

So I drove to the market last Sunday. On the drive I couldn't help thinking I can't believe I'm driving to a Portland farmers' market. Is it too over-the-edge for good food? I met this blogger while waiting in line and she totally got it. Still, practical me felt a bit guilty. I rationalized that it was my holiday gift to myself, and boy did I treat myself right this year. Once I got there, I went a little crazy filling my bags with just about everything on their tables. But honestly, the Boutard's produce table offers some of the best market finds of the season.
When Anthony cut this unique sweet heirloom pumpkin into thick slices, I couldn't resist. At home I roasted and pureed it. I used part to make a rich-tasting soup, flavored with Holmquist hazelnut butter, Mama Lil's Peppers, garlic, and roasted tomato sea salt.
I also picked up some celeriac. I'd looked at it at the U-District and the price was high and the bulbs were small. "It was a hard year for celeriac," Carol Boutard told me. That damp cool spring again. . . What crop didn't it affect? She also mentioned that both celery and celeriac were heavy feeders, meaning they require lots of nutrients. It give me more appreciation for this homely bulb. I love to mash it with potatoes and add it to soups. Some people prefer grating it raw into salads. It has a mild celery like flavor and is simply heavenly.
Once I got home, my Cooking Assistant was ready to snap some photos. Clearly he's not overwhelmed with chickpeas, posole, black Basque beans, two varieties of polenta and Red Currant fruit spread. Not much of a scent with storables for the pantry, so I got out the fresh stuff for the boy.
Cooking Assistant quickly pointed out his favorite, and of course, there was one with his name on it. Check out the horseradish, sweet potatoes, and the giant sweet red cabbage. All these things made my trip a huge success. I brought home a goldmine of awesome vegetables.

Why not let yourself go this holiday season and indulge in the food of your dreams.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Growing Green Awards, My Nomination

Why not do something nice for a farmer you admire this season?

After seeing this display of freshly ground local flour at the Medford Farmers' Market last summer, I visited Dunbar Farms. I spent a morning talking to David Mostue on his 101 year-old family farm. I was so impressed with his approach to farming and his farm plan for the future, I decided to write an article about the farm, Mostue's link to the urban community and plans for his farm.

One thing after another came up and when I don't have an absolute deadline, these projects can get put off. Come on I'd tell myself, all I have to do is organize my notes, send off a few queries. But it all takes time, and time slipped by.

Perusing my email last month, I read about the NRDC Growing Green Awards, so I went to the Website, read the requirements for the nominees and thought about David Mostue, wondering if he'd fit the requirements. I'd have to sort through all my notes.

So that's what I did. I came away thinking, Mostue's farm plan could be a great model for a farm of the future. Mostue called it "beyond organic," and it's very green.

When I told David I wanted to nominate him, he said, "I'm too young and there are so many more deserving farmers." At 26, David is young for a farmer, but he's doing many innovative things on his farm and it's easy to see he's thought out his plans into the future.

The key was to do it in 250 words. Here are a few things I mentioned:
  • Saves and grows his own seed, and uses less inputs because he grows only what his land supports--hay, vegetables, whole grains, beans and wine grapes. These are wheat berries set out on black plastic in the sun to dry. The wheat is then cleaned and sold as berries or ground into flour.
  • Uses dry-land farm techniques to conserve water. Never used a pesticide or chemical fertilizer and is closing the loop using only on-farm generated inputs.
  • Crop diversification is such that pests "can't generate enough steam to become a problem. In fact his crops are so diverse, David hopes to be a full service farm to a limited number of people instead of growing random crops for thousands of nameless customers. He'll have storables of plant-based proteins (beans) and carbohydrates (grains), as well as spring through fall vegetables and wine grapes. He has also added chickens (eggs) and goats (milk). Meat is also on the schedule for the future.

  • Saves seed--Mostue has been reseeding grains and beans on larger scales and he'll eventually have enough to sell in his own community.
  • Has plans to teach what he knows to gardeners and other farmers and also plans to offer his vintage Alli Chalmers combine as a farm service to other farms. Mostue spends hundreds of hours restoring vintage farm equipment for his farm and says there is lots of farm equipment rusting away in fields that can be restored by farmers. He uses draft horses for farm labor.
  • Participates in the Rogue Valley farm to school program and also has a farm camp where urban children learn to grow, harvest, and cook food. He also participates in Farm to Fork dinners where community members attend dinners featuring all the food from his farm. Pasta made with durham wheat was on the menu last fall.

I forgot to mention this very cool passive solar house David is building, using many recycled materials.

I think I'm over my word count this time around and okay maybe there are farmers more deserving, and I'm not sure about my bullet outline for the nomination, but the whole thing was worth a shot. Besides, the real pay off for nominating someone for the Growing Green Awards is a great feeling.

Do something nice for someone today and discover the real gifts of the holiday season.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DIY Holiday Gift Boxes and Baskets for the Foodie

It's hard to avoid the cookie and candy gauntlet this time of year, and sure I like the stuff, it's hard to resist, but I'm not in the market for a bigger wardrobe, if you know what I mean. That's why I smiled when I opened this lovely box of organic fruit, chocolate and lemonade. It was perfect--organic apples, pears, and a mango, a package of dried organic fruit and one bar of this amazing chocolate.

As I gazed at the contents, I couldn't help wondering how many farmers like this one will ship boxes of fruit for you? Then I started conjuring some possibilities for my own foodie boxes and baskets made of course with local foods.

For packaging and wrapping re-purpose anything you have that looks interesting. Sure boxes like the one above are great, but consider odd boxes or baskets you might have around the house. Some may harbor intriguing histories or stories that can be written and passed on with the gift. My hope is that one day, containers for our gifts will be as valued as what's inside and we'll look forward to giving and receiving amazing baskets and boxes who could tell a ton of tales about the houses they stayed in or where they originated.

For ideas about what to put inside your box check your farmers' market and local stores for value-added farm products that go perfectly into food boxes and baskets.

This handmade bamboo box arrived with flowering teas and is packed for leaving with a honey-scented long-lasting candle from Hive Harvest (Tahuya River Apiaries), a bag of dark chocolate cover Holmquist hazelnuts, a lavender pear sauce from River House Creations on Whidbey Island, Ayers Creek Red Currant Spread, Woodring's Chocolate Hazelnut Sauce, and Rockridge Orchards' Sweet Raspberry Wine.

You could also pack some local fresh fruit, nuts and maybe a package of cheese curds.
This vintage Chinese box, rescued from a garage sale, is a great collectors's item that could be passed along. If you have an antique collectible box, include a brief story about where the box came from and how you got it, so the next person can add to the story.

My Cooking Assistant thinks these apples and tiny seckel pears from this farm and dried apples from this farm should be sampled before shipping.

As for padding--simple or colorful--it depends on what you have at home. You can cut strips of old wrapping paper or reuse tissue from other packages. I've also padded things with colorful dish towels--another gift cooks appreciate.
I found this gift basket from last year still filled with red and green tinsel--a perfect container in need of gifts. Here's an idea for the baker on your list: local flour from this farm and two cookbooks-- The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook, Discover Cooking with Lavender. (Shameless product placement or coincidence?) Toss in a few cookie cutters and maybe a pot holder or dish towel--check your local craft markets for these items.

Discover your own ideas at a farmers' market or local craft show near you.

My Cooking Assistant would rather have a basket of homemade dog cookies, but that's another story, coming soon.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ballard Market, Tamales, and The Patty Pan Cafe

I made plans to visit the Ballard Farmers Market last Sunday and when I checked the Website for the hours that it was open, the Website opened up to this great blog by Zachary Lyons. The most recent post listed many local things you can get as gifts for the holidays, so of course I got distracted reading them all.

I'd check the market out for gifts when I got there, but what I really wanted was tamales.They're my favorite market food and it's too bad that's what killed my grandfather or so my uncle told me last summer, but not even that story could stop me from loving tamales from the market. And so many markets have them, it's fun to compare different fillings and sauces.

I've had tamales at the Austin and Medford farmers' markets, and I ended up buying a case of tamale sauce in Austin, but the tamales I like best are from the Patty Pan Grill at the Ballard Market. You can get these tamales steamed but I like easy dinners and now almost always buy them by the bag to take home. If you want something to satisfy your hunger right now, those seasonal veggie quessadillas are to die for. Roasted beets in the winter, peppers and zucchini in summer--the thing I love about these quesadillas is they shift veggies with the seasons.

Patty Pan Grill is the creation of Devra Gartenstein, author of two cookbooks--The Accidental Vegan and Local Bounty: Seasonal Vegan Recipes. Devra has this great talent for creating simple foods with great flavors, and if you want to try making tamales, you can find the recipe in The Accidental Vegan, pages 90 to 93. While you only get two choices for fillings at the market, there are four options in the book. And, if you're as lazy as I sometimes am in the kitchen, the next recipe after tamales is tamale pie-- all the flavors of tamales without the hassle of actually making them. Look for the the book at the Ballard Market, too. It's a keeper along with Local Bounty and both are under twenty dollars--my best price category for holiday gifts.

This fall Devra opened the Patty Pan Cafe. It's open breakfast through lunch (7 to 3pm) from Tuesday to Saturday. The food is simple, delicious and totally affordable. It's a very cool neighborhood cafe and if this place was in my neighborhood, I'd seriously conjure up reasons to go there.

When I went there for lunch, I got this great spicy pumpkin soup with bread and the spice was smooth and hot. It was one of those meals where I wanted more and felt like I should have ordered a larger portion. I dreamed about the flavors of that soup for days. I've already invited some friends to go there and enjoy this great simple food for themselves.

Unlike Devra's books, the cafe isn't totally vegan. I heard a rumor that meat products are on the menu, but I'm sure it's all sustainably raised, grass fed and all that, plus a wider menu selection would accomodate meat-eaters who dine with vegetarians, like Tom and I.
On my way out of the cafe, I noticed this granola that looked so inviting, all freshly made with primo ingredients. I can't take that stale stuff that passes for granola in the big bins in natural food stores. I took this picture, but wished I could have taken the granola to go instead.
When I returned home, I had little to show my eager Cooking Assistant, except the usual carrots and apples I'm always bringing home these days. Here's the HoneyCrisp apples I got from Jerzy Boys and an amazing-sweet tart Newton Pippin from Grouse Mountain Farm that I took from my "root celler" experiment. The apple scent was so overpowering I'm sure my Assistant completly forgot about my market excursion.
He was only really satisfied when I cut the small apple into thirds for him and his friends who are always waiting for something good to drop in front of them.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Best Cookie Recipe

Mom always said the best recipes in books had lots of stains next to them. If that's true, my favorite cookie recipe is one recipe you just have to make. I've hauled this recipe out every holiday season for over 40 years. Oh some years, I tweak it here and there, but for the most part, I love it as it is.

I discovered it in this Pillsbury Cookie Pamphlet that was shoved in the back of a cupboard. It was brand new then, but it's hard to recognize now. The pamphlet is like a well-used child's favorite blanket. The cover is gone, pages tattered and stained. It's followed me from Colorado, to Utah, to California, then Washington, Rhode Island and back to Washington.

When I first flipped through the book Ethel's Sugar Cookies immediately caught my eye. I was seven, and my favorite cookies were animal cookies. The first time I made them I added baking soda instead of baking powder. It was a bitter lesson, but my mistake didn't deter me. I made them again and again until they became holiday traditions.

When my daughter was young we used to decorate them with frosting. It was like a sacrilege because I secretly liked plain vanilla cookies best and scraped the frosting off before eating. Eventually I skipped the decorating, why not just skip to the good part?
This year I used Nash's whole wheat pastry flour, butter from Golden Glenn Creamery, and eggs from River Farm. The flavor of local flour really makes a difference in both taste and texture. More flour is needed or cookies seriously spread out more and some of the small trees and stars turned into blobs.

I'll add more flour next time to be more presentable for company, if they make it that long. Try them at your own risk--you may also decide a year just can't drift by without them.

This year in honor of my friend Kathy Gehrt's book Discover Cooking With Lavender, I added lavender to the mix. The result was heavenly.

Ethel's Sugar Cookies
These sugar cookies have a light butter flavor. Bet you can't eat just one. Watch the cooking time closely because they can go from golden to burned in a minute. Golden Glenn Creamery butter was salted and if you use salted butter, disregard the salt in the recipe.

3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed dried lavender buds (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lay parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Mix together butter and sugar. Beat eggs and add with vanilla. In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix in lavender buds, if desired. Stir flour mixture into butter mixture, add more flour to make a very stiff dough.

Chill for at least one hour. When chilled, take half of the dough, form into a ball, flatten and gently, from the center to 1/8 inch thick on a floured board. Cut into desired shapes, and when you don't have enough to cut into shapes, gather that dough up and roll it out again. Place unbaked cookies on prepared baking sheet. Bake 6 to 8 minutes or until delicately golden.

Makes about 45 cookies

(Hints: Try to cut as many cookies as possible before gathering up the pieces to roll again. Each time you roll these cookies they become more flour filled and fragile. fragile. You can also make this dough chocolate by melting about 2 ounces of chocolate and stirring it into the mix.)

My Cooking Assistant is impressed. What's your long-time favorite cookie recipe?