Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Lavender Season in the Northwest

You can see lavender blooming everywhere now. I've long been seduced by the fragrance of this intoxicating flower, but I only started cooking with it in the past few years, since I've known Kathy Gehrt--lavender expert and enthusiast.

Here is the first lavender for sale at Mair Farm-Taki at the market last weekend. But before you buy lavender to cook with, you should ask whether it's a culinary variety. Some types of lavender are too strong for food and end up imparting a soapy flavor. I had that I-just-ate-a-bar-of-soap experience with a Popsicle I actually finished last summer at a farmers' market. I could tell they hadn't used a culinary lavender variety. It's definitely not the flavor you want when you use lavender.

You can often find plant starts for lavender at farmers' markets. One big surprise for me was how many lavender farms and festivals there are across the world. Lavender's magic is definitely contagious.

This is Kathy teaching an herb container class at Sky Nursery. Check out my interview with Kathy about self publishing on my other blog.

I think my Cooking Assistant is seduced by the berries not lavender, but dried lavender buds, make great flea repellents and little sachets add a lovely scent to a dog's bed. Lavender has also been added to treats and shampoos for pets. In dog treats, lavender is said to promote a calm state of mind. Some dogs need that.

Other dogs just need more attention. I think Chloe feels left out because she's not the star of the show.

For more lavender products and a great get away check these two lavender festivals in Sequim in July.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Soup Project: Creamy Broccoli and Arugula Soup with Caramelized Zucchini and Avocado

How I found this soup

I read so many food blogs last week, I needed a break. I'd been looking for ideas and checking out the endless blogs from the self-appointed foodies.Somewhere along the way I'd commented on a recipe and had wanted to use it for this blog, but I'd looked at so many food blog posts, they all began sounding alike, and the only one that really stuck in my mind was this ridiculous shark party blog with a badly carved watermelon shark sitting in blue jello cubes and annoying Britney Spears-like music that played over and over again.

Anyway, I couldn't remember where the recipe was, and the only ingredients I remembered was broccoli, arugula and onions.

It was a pureed soup that originally came from Gwenneth Paltrow's cookbook.
I know, Gweneth Paltrow, seriously? I'd seen her book but figured it was a celebrity gimmick and never gave it a second glance. But this recipe--it was simple--broccoli, arugula and onions. The combination somehow sounded perfect.

Getting the ingredients

I knew I'd find broccoli and arugula at the market.

I got some flowers and plant starts, but I didn't find broccoli or arugula at Rent's Due Ranch--this is just shamelss product placement. I love JoanE's displays. The big basket of flowers--a feast for the eyes.

I got Willie Green's broccoli; Mair Farm-Taki's spring onions and arugula, but the arugula bunches were so small and I ended up getting two. With the broccoli at $4, the arugula $6 and the onions $5, I was up to $15 for this soup that makes 4 servings--that's two meals for us.

While I was at Mair Farm I asked whether some of the varieties of vegetables came from Japan. Katsumi said they have seed sniffing beagles that prevent anyone from bringing seeds into the country. Okay it's a little off the soup topic, but I like to know about how agriculture laws affect us and I often think we're so removed from government-ag connections that we often don't see how regulations affect us.

Back to the soup.

I was craving an exotic flavor, where the mild background of broccoli boosts the snapppy arugula. One thing about the Soup Project is that breaking away from the usual go-to recipes can be a challenge the more people you cook for and if those people are picky or have food allergies, it's even more challenging.

I ran through the possibilities for making it creamy without using dairy--coconut milk, blended tofu, a potato or cashew cream? Rice flour, a corn tortilla and even arrowroot can thicken soup but I was thinking more along the lines of hazelnut or almond butter for texture.

Either nut butter would work. Peanut butter isn't the same, so don't even try it. But nut butter won't make the soup thicker. A handful of oats is an old trick from the 1970s that I used make soups thicker.

Check out the leek tips. They have perfect garlic overtones.

Here's soup recipe #23:

Broccoli-Arugula Soup with Spring Onions, Caramelized Zucchini and Avocado
This creamy soup thickens as it cools, so you may need to add more liquid for leftovers.
(Serves 4)

1 1/2 cups chopped spring onions
1 cup sliced leek tips (optional)
2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's peppers (optional)
1 1/2 cups broccoli tops, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 cups water
1/4 cup oatmeal
1 1/2 cups chopped zucchini
1 large or 2 small bunches arugula, roughly chopped
1/4 cup almond butter
1 1/2 cups chopped zucchini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and chopped

1. Saute onions and leek tops in 1 tablespoon canola oil, with Mama Lil's peppers if desired, until onions are transparent but not caramelized.

2. In a large saucepan or small soup pot, place broccoli tops, salt, 2 cups water and oatmeal. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until broccoli is fork tender, about 5 minutes.

3. While soup cooks, heat a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add zucchini and remaining oil. Stir and cook until caramelized (browned). Remove from heat.

4. When broccoli is fork-tender, add arugula and cook until wilted. Remove from heat and add remaining water. Puree in small batched with almond butter until smooth and creamy. Stir in zucchini. Combine avocado with lemon juice and spoon a little into each dish. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

5. Serve with crusty bread.

I hate to confess this but I could have eaten the whole pot myself. That's how you know you really struck gold. Plus Tom liked it.

And of course, there's my Cooking Assistant thinks pre-wash is his given duty. I wouldn't exactly call him the most discriminating foodie.

But see how his eyes turn into little slits when he's happy. It's a 4 Paws Up winner!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

$100 a Week for two--buying summer fruit

Summer has finally arrived, and it's getting sketchy with my food budget. Last summer I easily spent $160 a week with all the fruits and quirky vegetable finds, like the leek tips I brought home yesterday. It's definitely harder to stick to $100 a week for two, but I anticipated the deluge of summer fruits early when I thought about each season, and during summer we stock the freezer for winter.

Here's how I'm hoping most everything I want will fit in:

Every bit of change I had since January filled two dream boxes for summer fruit. I hope quarters are abundant, and I'm not sure it will take me through apple season, but I've pretty much got summer fruit all paid for in advance. The organic versions are expensive and I already got my peach and nectarine CSA from Rama Farm and I suspect that will have to be above and beyone my $100 a week allowance, if I do it again this year.

The scent of local organic strawberries from Rent's Due Ranch is worth the price. The berries from our yard are never as good. Even my Cooking Assistant is happy.

I was trying for one of those William Wegman poses, but basset hounds don't listen as well as weimaraners. Check out this video of Wegman's dogs going over a spelling lesson.

Finn doesn't usually have a clue when I talk about anything, and if he does, he barely shows it. Basset hounds see the world through their nose. The only way Finn would pose with a strawberry on his head is because I have one in front of him.

He really wanted that berry.

Rewards for the persistent dogs in life who know what they want.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Musing about Leek Tips

What are those? I said when I first saw them at Let Us Grow a few weeks ago at the market.

"Leek tips," Cecile said. "They're good roasted. We ate them like French fries."

Now she had me. I'd never seen anyone selling leek tips at the market, and who knew you could roast them? I put them on my official "list" this week.

Finn couldn't be coaxed into looking at them. (Since leeks are in the onion family and onions are toxic to dogs, maybe he's onto them.)

Cut them in half lengthwise; drizzle with olive oil and roast at 350F. until the tips get crisp. That's the recipe Cecile gave me.

They taste a little garlicky. The flowers are the best part because of the texture.

If you have leek tips in your yard, you may want to try this. If you don't, maybe it's time to consider getting some leeks in the ground to winter over for next spring. I've got them on my list of fall vegetables.

I often wonder if all these quirky food finds from the market have turned me into a food snob. I can't imagine going back to the days of iceberg lettuce, rock hard tomatoes, Delicious apples, and conventional celery. I got a taste for something better now.

Do some people just not have taste buds? Or does fresh and local turn you into a food snob? What do you think?

Friday, June 24, 2011

Favorite Links

I thought I'd round out this week with some of my favorite things that have really excited me this year.

This blog intersects with my three loves, food, photography and my two basset hounds, so here are a few of my links that I've returned to more than once:

Food Connections
  • Spinach Soup with Cashew Cream--this soup was crazy good. Of the 22 soups from "The Soup Project" that I've made, this one by far has the most possibilities for spin off recipes. What can I say? I love cashew cream!
  • Quinoa Fritters--this recipe that I pilfered from The South American Table by Maria Baez Kijac has saved me many times when dinner time approaches and I have nothing in mind. Okay, it's not the healthiest recipe because the fritters are fried, but the flavor and texture will leave you wanting more.
  • Make an Artist Date in Your Garden--this concept has changed my life. The artist date concept came from Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way, and the idea is to make an artist date with yourself once a week. It can be anywhere--walk on the beach, check out an antique store, go to an art museum, watch a parade--but you must immerse yourself in the moment like an artist. This is a way to fuel creativity and I find it helps a lot in the kitchen, the garden and with photography. If you don't have a garden or it's raining like it is here, check out this fabulous garden blog.

Food blogs
I'm over the edge lately when it comes to food blogs. I've been looking at as many as I can and it feels like every stay-at-home-mom and home cook has started a food blog. Here's a tip for you if you're thinking of starting one, please don't start out with "I have four lovely children" (or two or three). Please look at many blogs first and see if you have anything new to add besides your own recipes, we're knee deep in recipes, I never thought it could get deeper but it does. Every time I turn around someone mentions a food blog they've started. I find myself smirking, thinking, really, another one? And yet here I sit writing about food. You can find many food bloggers at blog hops--the biggest trend blogging this year.

Blog hops are like putting your name in a fishbowl for a prize. If you put your name in enough bowls, you'll pick up followers. Here's how you do it: get the Mr. Linky tool and hook up. When I checked out the people who participated it seems like a workable strategy, especially for the host who gets all the incoming links but are these these people all really followers? On the creepy side, the crowed ocean of what-I-cooked-for-diner-is just a hint that we've become way too obsessed over our daily menu choices. The good and the bad blogs, I check them all. Check out this one with the carved shark over blue jello cubes. What do you think? Creepy, quirky or boring there isn't enough time in the day for all food blogs in this country. Enough rambling.

Here are my favorite food blogs (no Mr. Linky tools here):

  • 101 Cookbooks--I love Heidi's vegetarian recipes and her photos can be quite inspiring.
  • Smitten Kitchen--I'm a new follower for this one, and it's not vegetarian but her photos, story and recipes are worth taking a look at.
  • Orangette--not vegetarian either but seriously who doesn't love Molly Wizenberg's Orangette?

Food Photography
Good food photography is intriguing, inviting and harder than it looks to get the right angle and right lighting using the right lens. One way to improve it study popular food blogs where lots of comments are generated about the photos. Another way is to find tips on line. Here are some of my favorite links to better food photography

The Pioneer Woman's tips for better food photography--I like her focus. Pioneer woman's recipes with close up photos comes about as close as you can get to food porn. Check out this rhubarb dessert and see how she gets hundreds of comments without any blog hopping parties.

Compositon, lighting, lenses and filters--Since I took pictures for my book, I've been interested in honing my skills. I check out photography websites and blogs and here are two of my favorites.
  • Dean Riggott-- amazing farm photography for landscape photos
This is Whispering Winds Farm (not my best moment in the farm photo category), but it's yet another shameless attempt to mention that Farm-to-Fork dinner I'll be attending on July 16th. Check it out, it's so affordable for a dinner on the farm. Plus we're giving out door prizes, so get your tickets!

Basset hounds and dogs
If you haven't seen Cooking with Dog and you like dogs, you simply must see it. The talking poodle is totally my favorite. Also, when I realized Pioneer Woman has two basset hounds, I now check her posts about for news about Charlie and Walter. Anyone with one or two dogs on their blog gets my attention. Here are my favorite links for those of you with four footed assistants.
  • Tall Clover--Tom a farmer-blogger on Vashon Island and has two bulldogs who are hilarious.

I need to ramp-it-up, get a few basset action photos, but every time I take out the camera Finn poses.

Don't try this one without serious supervision.

Rumbling on the tracks? I think Finn and sister Chloe are keepers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Seasonal Greens with Fresh Lemon, Honey and Avocado

I miss taking pictures for my photography class. So I took out my camera and then got carried away taking pictures of this salad I made today, so it would seem a shame to waste them.

Mizuna greens are still in season, and this salad is so cooling and tasty, you might just eat the entire thing like I nearly did.

I got White Frills mizuna at the market on Saturday from Let Us Farm, and I immediately thought about this salad I used to make all the time--a kale and avocado salad with this lemon-honey dressing that went perfectly with kale's slightly bitter flavor. White Frills mizuna has a hint of peppery wasabi but it's so mild, you almost have to eat the greens raw to experience it. I knew the hint of wasabi would be perfect with avocados and lemon, but really, what isn't good with that combo?

The White Frills was in big bunches. In this picture half of it had already been used, a good deal, I'd say at the market. If you don't have mizuna for this salad, you can also use kale or turnip greens. You need to chop the leaves very, very thin.

Get organic lemons for this because you'll need the zest which is the outer peel. And who wants pesticide traces in their salad?

Two small lemons is all you need. If it's a large lemon you could get by with one, but I got two small lemons for $1.40, still not terribly expensive if you compare prices of salad dressings today.

And the honey--add your favorite to taste. Some people prefer more tart; some more sweet. I added about a tablespoon of honey.

And don't forget the avocado. I used two small ones.

Here's the recipe:

Lemon-Honey and Avocado Salad with Seasonal Greens
This salad is best enjoyed soon after making it. Make it with kale and it keeps for a day, maybe two at the most, but softer greens like mizuna should be eaten right after it is made.

2 organic lemons, juice and zest (about 1/2 cup lemon juice)
Olive oil
1 large or 2 small avocados (preferably Haas variety), seeded, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 to 8 cups greens, thinly sliced (use mizuna, kale or mustard greens)
Wild flowers, strawberries or toasted pecans or walnuts

Blend the lemon juice, zest, honey and olive oil together. Add the avocado, salt and freshly ground pepper. Gently mix into the greens. Top with wild flowers, berries or toasted nuts.

When the weather is hot, this salad makes a perfect meal.

Pansies are pretty but they don't taste like much, but I also had a few arugula flowers that were to die for.

Somebody likes salad.

Even the dogs were hot on this first warm day in the Northwest, funny how the sun can be too much for the hounds.

He's not a warm weather dog, but a Seattleite all the way through. The boy liked the greens a bit but he went crazy for the strawberries. I had about four and almost added them as an afterthought. I've made this salad with apples, pears, added blue cheese and dried sour pie cherries.

Add something exotic to this salad. Have fun.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Soup Project: Red Lentil Soup with Mint and Chard

I am lousy at following recipes and always have been. When I made sugar cookies at age 7, I added baking soda instead of baking powder and wondered why the cookies had a metalic flavor. At least twice in my life, I've left the rising ingredient out of a cake or brownies with disasterous consequences. News flash--no one wants to eat brownies spooned out of the pan. But soup mistakes, that's another story.

Thankfully, soups are forgiving.

I give you this warning because I followed a recipe for my soup of the week and I had a few issues. First, I must mention that I found the recipe at the Pennywise Platter on The Nourishing Gourmet. (Check it out because these are delicious healthy budget friendly recipes. Love the blogging carnivals.) Anyway one recipe intrigued me--Red Lentil Soup with Mint and Beet Greens. It wasn't the title or the main ingredients but the recipe used mint and coriander and blended an egg in at the end of cooking.

And as for the beets--in the Northwest, we are between seasons for most root vegetables, except potatoes. The overwintered crowd is gone and new spring roots, save for turnips, haven't arrived yet. Chard was my best bet because beets and chard are cousins and the recipe didn't specify using the roots.

Chard in the spring is stunning with bright pink and yellow stems and vibrant leaves, but chard should be eaten soon after picking because the leaves are more fragile than they look. Go ahead stuff them in the vegetable bin and then you'll see fragile.

Carrots weren't listed in the recipe either but they're always a sweet addition to soup.

Celery was the only vegetable I bought at the store. Local celery is in season in the near the end of summer and beginning of fall in the Northwest. The celery I got was organic because it's always on the list for the most pesticide laden ridden vegetables. One farmer also told me that stalk celery soaks up lots of soil nutrients too, called it a "heavy feeder." But that's another story.

Also since I had shallots, I used them instead of onions, but I wouldn't use shallots next time because they are a pricy onion substitute, and with so many ingredients, the delicate flavor of shallots totally disappeared here.

The original recipe also listed bulger, but I have so much quinoa since a friend gave me a Cost Co size bag of it, plus I wanted make my $100 food budget for two people go farther.

And then there was the potato. I don't think Tom thinks a soup is a soup unless it has potatoes in it and I had this one that I'd been considering planting.

I cooked this soup in my new pressure cooker thanks to the inspiration from The Veggie Queen. I made a few changes and I made one big mistake that I didn't even notice until we were enjoying the soup. Thankfully, mistakes in soup (as long is it's not burned or oversalted) can be fun.

One thing about quinoa-- it soaks up liquid like as sponge. Don't stress when you have to add more water the next day and if you want to make this soup with bulger, check out the original recipe:

Red Lentil Soup with Mint and Chard
(Serves 4)

3 shallots or 1 onions, peeled and diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 stalks celery, sliced
3 medium ot 6 small carrots, sliced
1 bunch chard, leaves removed, reserved, and stems sliced
A dozen or so mint leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1 tomato, chopped
1 cup red lentils
1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
6 cups water
1 egg, lightly beaten (optional)
Freshly ground pepper
Extra mint for garnish

Heat a soup pot or bottom of the pressure cooker over medium heat. Add shallots or onion and oil. Stir to coat, then cook until onions are translucent. Add garlic, celery, carrots, chard stems and cook for a few minutes longer.

Remove from heat. Add mint leaves, salt, coriander, tomato, red lentils, quinoa and water. Lock lid in place, turn heat on high and bring to high pressure. Lower heat to maintain pressure. Cook for 6 minute. Allow pressure to come down naturally while you make salad and slice bread.

Stir in chard leaves, until lightly cooked. Add egg, if desired. (I forgot to add the egg, but the soup was so good neither one of us noticed until we'd eaten quite a bit.)

Add freshly ground pepper, most salt and more mint leaves, if desired. Add lemon juice to taste.

Quinoa imparts a simple beauty and delicate flavor to this soup. If quinoa was a fabric it would be lace.

Good scents always wake up my favorite Cooking Assistant.

I think my version looks quite different from the original recipe, but see for yourself. And the missing egg? I don't think I missed it, and maybe I saved some money leaving it for another meal this week.

Happy Meatless Monday!

Be sure to check out my other blog tomorrow for an interview with Jill Nussinow, pressure cooking advocate and author of The New Fast Food: The Veggie Queen Cooks Whole Food Meals in Minutes.

I couldn't disappoint Finn, he takes his job as prop in cooking photo very seriously.