Friday, September 30, 2011

Homemade Dog Biscuits

I have a confession to make--I eat dog biscuits. Oh not Milk Bones or any of those "gourmet biscuits" that have faux frosting at pet stores, and I'm not one of those freaky people from "My Strange Addiction," but ever since I started experimenting with nongluten flours and making crackers that my friends called "dog biscuits," I've been addicted.

The biscuits started out as crackers, and in the early days I put them in cute little bags as gifts telling people they were crackers. But even my Cooking Assistant has always acted as if they're dog biscuits that were created just for him.

He could hardly contain himself yesterday when I told him I was making Buckwheat Bones, and when I asked if he'd like to take a picture he was beside himself. He started licking the bowl the minute I set it before him.

These are made with buckwheat, yams and peanut butter--no bacon involved because that really drives him crazy. And I wanted to eat these "crackers," so I stuck with the vegan version--peanut butter and yams.

The basic idea for dog biscuits is you create a liquid with the flavors you want, then add it to the flour mixture. I didn't have any stock, so I just added water. Add additional flour until the dough is very stiff.

If you refrigerate the dough, it becomes more rigid, making it easier to roll out. One cool thing about nongluten flours is you can roll and re-roll and the texture never becomes tough.

Another cool thing about making your own dog biscuits is you can use any kind of cookie cutters you want. I once gave a bag of these crackers to a friend because her kids loved the simple flavor of peanut butter and molasses. A big bonus is they aren't too sweet.

Some dogs don't want to share. That would be my Cooking Assistant. He's just waiting for his share.

Here's the recipe:

Buckwheat Bones
(Makes about 60 2- to 3-inch biscuits)

3 cups buckwheat flour
3/4 cup tapioca flour or potato starch
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed sweet potatoes or canned pumpkin
3/4 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
Approximately 1 cup water
1/2 cup bacon (optional)

1. Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Place sweet potato, peanut butter, molasses and 1/2 cup water in a blender or food processor. Puree until smooth. Add remaining water; then blend with dry ingredients. Add bacon, if desired.

2. Stir until the mixture becomes a stiff dough. Gather into a ball and place in a plastic bag or covered container in the refrigerator for at least one hour. (You can refrigerate this dough up to one week, if you like.)

3. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide dough in half. Put half in the refrigerator. Roll the other half out to about 1/4-inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters and place as many as you can on a cooking sheet. It doesn't matter if cookies touch.

4. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Biscuits should be fairly hard when done. For extra-crispy biscuits leave in the cooling oven for an hour.

It feels a little odd to eat a dog bone shaped biscuit, but the crunch and peanut flavor are what I really like.

Go ahead and make them for "your dog" but I totally get it if you sneak a few of these cool biscuits for yourself.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Soup Project: Hot Apple Soup

In my last post I mentioned the Hot Apple Soup that Shelby Slater made for the Sourdough Speaker series at the North Cascades Institute. Just the mention of the soup makes me think fall and hot apple cider.

I usually buy apples from Liz and Michael of Grouse Mountain Farm at the U-District farmers' market. But not this week because I left for the Institute on Friday morning.

I'll share a bit about my farm visit and the speaker event at the North Cascades Institute.

On my way to the Institute, I stopped at Blue Heron Farm owned and managed by Anne Schwartz. This is one of the farms that supplied the food for the dinner, and I was so excited to meet Anne and husband Mike Brondi since I'd heard about her farm for years.

Anne says she started farming organically in 1979. She and her husband Mike Brondi built this farmstead themselves. Anne worked for Cascadian Farm for 12 years and has served on the Washington Tilth board for 30 years. Her husband Mike was instrumental in growing and planting the native plants surrounding Cascade Institute's Environmental Learning Center buildings and lodges. In addition to growing food for the Institute, Anne grows for Skagit Valley Co-op and she grows food for a 20-week CSA.

When I arrived at her farm, I met some CSA members doing a work share. After Anne ate a quick lunch, she invited me back to her barn where she got busy packing boxes for Skagit Co-op. She reused some organic produce boxes and talked about the organic standards and how rigorous the inspections for organic farms are. Anne is like the grandmother or organics in Washington state.

Anne invited me to see the fields where the produce grows so I followed her and her border collie in their pick-up truck to the fields. The sun was shining and working outside looks inviting when the weather is fine. I woudn't mind being a "fair weather" farmer, but let it pour like it did today and that's another story. Farming is relentless and farmes put in time every day without many vacations.

Hard to believe sugar pie pumpkins are here already. I'm thinking pumpkin bread. Make mine gluten-free.

When I asked Anne what she liked best about farming she said, "Being outdoors." Farmers do love the lifestyle. I don't think I could keep up with Anne she's got so much energy.

Check out the vegetables in Anne's truck. They unloaded big yellow tubs so fast, I barely got time to say hi to Anne's border collie.

Deer and elk are challenges at Anne's farm, so big fences surround her organic crops.

Anne and Mike couldn't attend the dinner because Mike was running in a marathon east of the Cascades on Sunday morning, but I was able to incorporate farm photos in the slide show for after dinner. Anne sent an amazing letter telling about her start in organic farming and their connection to the Institute. Someone from the Institute read her letter before dinner and it was great to be able to show pictures of their farm after dinner.

Other farms who also contributed to the dinner were
Viva Farms (a cool Skagit Valley farm that helps new farmers get started)

The North Cascades Institute is about 45 minutes east of Blue Heron Farm. You drive over Diablo Dam to get to the Institute. Seattle City Light offers ferry tours every summer on Diablo Lake. The lights along the edge of the dam came from Pioneer Square decades ago.

The buildings were finished in 2003. Each lodge has a larger gathering room and a number of sleeping quarters with two bunk beds and a desk. It's pretty basic with bathrooms down the hall but everything is clean and green--totally inviting, I can't wait to return as a participant.

No cell phone service meant no annoying people focused like zombies in one-way conversations, the insecure checking email and pounding out text messages, or the silently obnoxious bobbing around with earphones plugged into Ipods. I loved every minute of this trip and had never before realized how annoying cell phone use can be on a continual basis.

I stayed in Fir Lodge, and sipped wine with new friends. We stayed up telling stories and talking to each other.

Before my event workers arranged this cool table to display and sell books. The squash was from Blue Heron Farm.

The first course was hot apple soup served in acup. Chef Shelby Slater said he'd used apple cider vinegar instead of apple cider and he'd thickened it with cream. It was an interesting twist on the recipe from my book. I wouldn't have thought of using the apple cider vinegar as the base but I do love vinegar and using it in soup intrigues me.

For the version in my book, I used apple juice, lemon and hazelnut butter. But I hadn't made this soup since last fall, and it's actually a sweeter soup than Shelby's version. More like a dessert soup. Also I added the zest of the lemon this morning and that made it even better. Add a dollop of coconut sorbet and well . . .

I've been sipping it all day. It's hard to stop. That a hint of hazelnut butter and lemon zest, it's seductive. Sweeten it with maple syrup adjust the flavor with lemon juice and a dash of salt and you won't be sorry.

I used 3 large honey crisp apples that I bought at Skagit Valley Co-op.

Here's the recipe close to the way it's presented in the book:

Hot Apple Soup
(Serves 4)

3 sweet-tart apples, cored and sliced (I used honey crisp)
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
2 cups apple cider (I used Rockridge Orchards apple cider)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cardamom or cinnamon
1/4 cup hazelnut butter
Dash of sea salt
Up to 1 cup water
Freshly grated nutmeg
Dollop of coconut sorbet (optional)

1. Simmer apples in lemon juice, zest, apple cider, maple syrup, and cardamom or cinnamon for about 10 minutes or until tender.

2. Blend in a blender or with a hand blender, adding hazelnut butter, dash of sea salt and enough water to thin to desired consistency.

3. Sprinkle with freshly grated nutmeg. Add a dollop of coconut sorbet, if desired.

It was pouring rain so I took pictures of this soup on a table near a window instead of on my Cooking Assistant's table.

He looked up with such sad eyes. But he got happy when offered his usual "prewash" job.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I'll Bring the Trail Mix

I'm excited about this upcoming dinner event at the North Cascades Institute this weekend. Tom is staying home with the hounds and Mair Farm cat and I'm heading to the Institurte early because I'm attending a base camp and the Institute is also hosting their annual picnic on Saturday afternoon. The picnic is free to anyone who wants to attend, so if you want to stop by, be sure to say hello.

Their blog this week featured an article I wrote about the importance of eating locally. (Watch out, it might make you hungry for apples). They also had this post that spotlights two of my favorite recipes. Margie's Raw Apple cake is amazingly easy to make.

Chef Shelby Slater selected a number of recipes from my book--Zucchini Cream Sauce over risotto, Spicy Spinach and Red Cabbage Salad to name a few. I hope Shelby makes the carrot hummus for an appetizer, but whatever he creates, I can't wait to taste it. I got a glimpse of the menu yesterday and the Hot Apple Soup will make a perfect blog post on Monday.

After the dinner I'll present a slide show of local farms and food and my talk will include farms in Skagit Valley where the Institute gets food for their events. Blue Heron Farm is contributing vegetables for the dinner and it's on the way, so I'm stopping on the way there.

Is there anything cooler than an invitation to a farm?

I spoke with Anne Schwartz of Blue Heron Farm earlier this week and I learned a lot about her farm. I first heard about her farm a few years ago while shopping at Skagit Valley Co-op. A sign hanging over carrots displayed the name and it was such pretty farm name that it stuck in my mind. Later, I bought a copy of "Washington: Renewing the Countryside" and I found a profile of Blue Heron Farm. Not long after that I heard Anne talk at The American Farmland Trust's Farm Steward of the Land Award in 2008 in Seattle. I think she spoke before Nash Huber, the first Northwest farmer and the first organic vegetable farmer to win the award.

Check your local library for Washington: Renewing the Countryside, edited by John Harrington.

Anne's farm is on Highway 20 before you get to Cascadian Home farm where Anne says she worked for 12 years. Looks like I'll be stopping at this farm stand where I hope they still have a few berries.

Here are a few pictures I'm including in the slide presentation.

This is a picture taken Rockridge Orchards, where farmer Wade Bennett keeps his own bees. It's not exactly Skagit Valley but nothing much happens without bees in the produce world no matter where you live. It's one of the topics Ill cover the the presentation.

And how can you do a food and farming presentation in Washington in the fall without talking about apples? This is Bellewood Acres on Ten Mile Road near Lynden. It was at this farm store where I bought the book above that ultimately led me to Blue Heron Farm.

Seed growing and saving farmland are two other features of the presentation.

And for some reason, this picture makes the cut for just about every slide presentation. I love that Buzz at Rent's Due Ranch sits so confidently on this heaping compost pile that feeds the crops at Rent's Due Ranch.

I'm really looking forward to this event, but I hate to leave my Cooking Assistant behind since he's also my portable therapist and resident comedian who always makes me smile, even when he steals food, since it's usually my own fault.

I think he picks up little clues that I'm leaving before the bags ever appear. One clue is my standard homemade snack food--trail mix.

The little biscuits are gluten-free crackers. I'll write a post about those sometime soon.

Here is the Trail Mix that I adapted from my book:

Trail Mix Redo
(Makes 3 3/4 cups)

3/4 cup nuts (use walnuts and hazelnuts for Northwest selections)
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
1 or more tablespoons tamari
1 1/4 cups coarsely chopped dried fruit (apricots, apples, nectarines, peaches, pears)
1/2 cup dried cherries or grapes

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Roast hazelnuts for 7 and walnuts for 5 minutes. Add sunflower and pumpkin seeds and roast for 3 minutes or until they taste lightly toasted. Remove from oven and sprinkle with tamari.

2. Stir and return to oven to dry for just a few minutes.

3. Remove from oven and stir in dried fruit.

As I snapped pictures of Finn with the food, I almost missed Skinny Chloe behind me, who likes it best behind the scenes. "Oh no you caught me!"

And then quicker than a squirrel stealing plums, she whips her head around.

Some dogs are just born with a proclivity for posing, the love of the lens and the idea of their own Facebook fan page as long as it involves rewards. They can work it for 15 minutes or more of fame. Skinny Chloe is content to work behind the scenes, as long as she gets equal rewards.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Soup Project: Creamy Celery and Split Pea Soup with Carrots

Yesterday I put together a slide show presentation for the Sourdough Speaker Series at the North Cascade Institute. The harvest celebration dinner is scheduled for this coming Saturday, and as I perused the pictures, I ate this amazing celery soup soup I made on Sunday.

I can eat soup any time of day. The soup was as good as it gets, but as I sorted photos it was hard to resist writing about the soup. Or writing about about the past Saturday, where I spent part of the day at the Bellingham Community Food Co-op where an "eat local" barbecue of meat and veggie kabobs, a quinoa and black bean salad and grilled corn on the cob drew a crowd for lunch. I passed out samples of Garlicky Greens and met shoppers and fellow food writers. Check out Whatcom Locavore Nancy Ging's blog and Melissa Elkins, the Sassy Sampler and food co-op blogger. Also handing out samples of a cucumber salad was Tom Malterre a nutritionist and blogger and co-author of theWhole Life Nutrition Cookbook. Now there's an example of eating and working that totally works. Mostly the weather sunny but cool and soup would have been a great addition to this line up.

The Chordata Co-op--a bright spot just beyond The Bellis Fair Mall.

On the way to the co-op I'd stopped at the Whispering Winds Farm's new produce stand. If you haven't stopped by this place in Snohomish County, put it on your calendar. The produce is great and the prices are right. I love the refrigerator with the glass door that Char told me she got it at a garage sale. It's only open on the weekends right now. I got potatoes, celery, beets, zucchini and kale. I miscalculated how much time it would take me to stop and still make it on time, so I barely made it to the barbecue event on time.

I got the celery and I figured I'd pick up celeriac or celery root at the Bellingham co-op. Celeriac isugly--knobby and hairy-- and doesn't look like much at all, but peel the outside and the inside is creamy like potatoes with a hint of celery. In fact, it's great to mash with potatoes but I also love it in soup. Rent's Due Ranch in Stanwood sold it last weekend at the U-District market, and when I saw the celery at Willie Green's, I knew I'd celery soup would be on the menu this week. I just didn't figure it would be harder to get the farther north I traveled.

Eating locally isn't always that easy. You get an idea and suddenly can't find what you saw the week before. I couldn't find celery root at all in Bellingham. So I stopped at Skagit Valley Co-op in Mount Vernon on my way home. I scanned the produce section, spotted the celeriac from California and finally asked a guy working there:

"Do you have any locally grown celery root?"

He said he didn't think it grew well here, that he couldn't find any farmers who grew it. I didn't really want to sound like the local food snob, but I said, "Rent's Due Ranch in Stanwood grows it." This is actually why I don't do many Saturday events. I get spoiled by my own farmers.

And I was all stoked about making this soup. I love celery and I forgot to consider that celery may grow better in warmer weather. I settled for the stuff from California rather than take a chance on the Lake Forest Park market or the Ballard market the next day.

The recipe for this soup came from my book. And of course I changed it to fit my new vision. The thick creamy texture comes from a potato blended with split peas. The soup has a stick-to-your ribs feeling without adding lots of fat.

But the real star of this soup is celery. I couldn't wait to try the celery from Whispering Winds ever since Char showed me how she was growing it. It turns out her technique had a few flaws--the celery can get too hot on sunny days but that's the great part of small market farming. You can try things out and if you lose a crop for one reason or another, you have other crops to back it up. Char did have enough (2 cups, sliced celery) for my soup.

This is celery at the U-District market grown by Willie Green's Organic farm in Monroe. Before I met Char, I got almost all my celery in the fall from Willie Green's. I think Char's celery may be just a hint sweeter. I love the crunch, the slightly bitter tones and the fact that celery is so good at lowering your blood pressure. The only thing I hate about celery is the season is way too short.

Here's the recipe adapted from my book:

Creamy Celery and Split Pea Soup with Carrots
(Serves 4)

1 celery root, peeled and diced
1 fresh lemon, juice and zest
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 shallots diced, or 1 cup diced sweet onions
1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and sliced
Pinch of cayenne
2 cups sliced celery
1 sweet tart apple, cored, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 medium white potato, peeled and diced
2 medium carrots, 1 sliced and 1 grated
1/2 cup split peas
4 cups stock or water
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Soak celery root in water with 1 tablespoon lemon juice.

2. Heat a soup pot or pressure cooker over medium heat. Add oil, shallots and garlic. Stir, reduce heat and cook the shallots until they are soft--about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cayenne. Stir and cook for another 5 minutes.

3. Add celery, apple cardamom, potato and carrots. Stir until all vegetables are coated with oil. Stir in split peas and water. If using a pressure cooker, secure lid and bring to pressure. Cook 10 minutes; remove from heat and let pressure come down naturally. If using a soup pot, bring soup to a boil; reduce heat and simmer for about 45 minutes or until peas and potatoes are very soft.

4. Blend 1 cup of the soup (without carrots) in a blender until smooth and creamy. Stir into the soup. Add remaining lemon juice and balance with honey to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Garnish with grated carrots.

I asked my Cooking Assistant if he wanted to come and pose with the soup.

Before I knew it, he reached down and grabbed the whole grain bread. And as he grabbed it sank into soup.

I think all he heard was "Would you like to help yourself!"

You don't really need to bob for the bread to enjoy this soup.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Soup Project: Borscht

Catch the cool Northwest breeze or watch the leaves float down from trees and you know it's fall. It feels like eons ago since I made Red Velvet Soup with the baby beets of spring, but lately every time the cool breeze blows I'm feeling like beets would be perfect.

Fresh beets will be all over the market in a few weeks, but they seemed scarce this last weekend.

That's the way it is, go looking for something in particular at the market, and unless it's peak season, that particular produce item suddenly becomes hard to find. You'd think beets would be plentiful all year. I finally spotted these beets at Rent's Due Ranch, in the lowly last position, practically squeezed out by the kohlrabi.

If vegetables could talk maybe the kohlrabi is saying, "Excuse me, it's not your turn yet."

"Do you have more beets?" I'd asked JoanE.

"Oh yes," JoanE said, "But not many people are buying beets right now. People get beets all winter, most don't want them yet."

It's funny how even market shoppers get accustomed to certain months for vegetables. This feeling that we "know" seasons and only buy certain vegetables at certain times means for example that stores don't accept local corn after Labor Day or plant starts after Mother's Day. And melons for Thanksgiving? If a farmer grows it, that should determine the season.

And what about celery? It's one of the vegetables that people don't even think about seasons. But fall is the best time for local celery, so check it out now.

This celery is from Willie Green's and looks and tastes like it was covered while growing. Some farmers don't cover it. Look close before you buy, if the celery is more green and tough looking, it's likely the farmer didn't cover it and it will have more bitter tones. If you like celery less bitter, ask if the farmer covers the stalks when it grows. I could eat fresh celery every day. Celery is underrated and more than just a low calorie vegetable.

It's also a vegetable that won't last long in the refrigerator at home. Use it within a few days or it will get rubbery.

The original recipe for this soup came from a recipe column I wrote in the early 1990s for a newsletter called Vegan Network. I added the recipe to the line up in this article called "Beet It," for Vegetarian Journal. My first book Local Vegetarian Cooking also included the recipe and it can also be found in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook. That must mean the recipe is timeless--for me anyway.

Onions and carrots are also part of the mix. If you're sensitive to onions, try shallots.

Many dogs love carrots, but when it comes to beets, like many people, dogs don't get the allure. Or maybe it's just that I walked away with "his" carrots, he needed to give me the stink eye.

Some people like beet greens better than beet roots. A spinach and chard relative, beet greens can be added to stir-fries, casseroles or pureed into dips. Lately, my favorite way to use the beet greens is in hot sandwiches with grilled onions, peppers, eggplant or mushrooms.

You can chop and add the greens to this soup when the soup is cooked. Heat until the greens wilt. One bunch of beets cut into chunks is about 2 cups of bite-size pieces.

I had just two carrots left because the dogs hit me up as soon as I walk in the door every Saturday. They don't leave my side until I pony up a carrot or two. I often get one bunch of carrots just for the dogs, but I was in a hurry to get to the Tumwater Library to give a talk about local farms, farmers and food.

Hope you enjoy this the soup of the week.

(Serves 4)

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
5 cloves garlic, mince
2 to 5 stalks of celery, sliced
1 pr 2 carrpts, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups water or vegetable stock (or half of each)
3 cups roughly chopped beets
1/2 tablespoon (1 1/2 teaspoons) fresh dill, chopped
1 medium baked potato, skin removed
1/4 cup lemon juice
Zest from 1 lemon, finely chopped
1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sour cream, plain yogurt or lemon cashew cream (recipe follows)
Bagel chips and lemon wedges

1. Place a heavy soup or pressure cooker pot over medium heat. Add the oil and onion, cover and sweat the onions until soft. Add garlic, celery, and carrots, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Cook for a few more minutes.

2. Add the water or stock, beets, and dill. If using a pressure cooker, lock lid in place and bring to pressure. Cook for 3 minutes, then let pressure come down naturally for 7 minutes. For a traditional soup pot, bring soup to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes.

3. Puree one cup of soup stock with the potato, lemon juice and zest. Stir back into the soup pot along with the sugar or honey to taste. Add salt and pepper to taste; adjust seasonings.

4. Top with a dollop of sour cream, plain yogurt or drizzle some lemon cashew cream. (See recipe below.)

4. Serve with bagel chips. Use lemon wedges to adjust the flavors.

Lemon-Cashew Cream
(Makes about 1 cup)
1/2 cup raw cashews
1 cup apple cider
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1. Soak cashews in apple cider for about an hour.

2. Puree with lemon zest and juice until creamy. Add to soup instead of sour cream, cream or yogurt.

My Cooking Assistant is always intrigued by bread and garnishes. He gives four paws up to this seasonal treasure.