Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Favorite: Strawberry Shortcake

A Guest Post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

Memorial Day means strawberry shortcake for me.   Who doesn't like it?  If you're raising your paw,  leave your address in the comment section and I'll gladly do away with your serving.  I'll keep it quiet. No one needs to know.

Celebrate the day your way

Memorial Day claims to celebrate those brave souls who served and died for our country, and though there have been some changes today, I'm sad to say in the past, this holiday didn't tradtionally include  K9 cadets, like those that served in Viet Nam and were euthanized or left in Viet Nam after the war.  Designated as military equipment, not one Viet Nam canine made it back to civilian life!  German Shepherds have served since World War II, but frankly the dark side of military K9s  is too much for me.  Consider this: German Shepherds were the first dogs to lead blind soldiers! And now assistant dogs help soldiers recover from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It's a good thing these dogs can't be left behind in a foreign land.   I hope times are changing  for canines in the military, but I do wonder whether the canine status has changed from "equipment" to cadet?  

Maybe there is something good about being a breed that ranks on the bottom of a "dog intelligence" list.  No one expects much, and anything you do is applauded.  Plus you can get away with a lot of stuff. (If those tests were given with the nose in mind, bloodhounds and bassets would be rated the highest, but hound dogs are much too independent-minded for the military.)

As for Memorial Day, I give four paws up for strawberry dessert.  I love the first fruit of spring.  (I can't eat rhubarb; it's poison for dogs; so it doesn't count.)  I can smell the sweet strawberry blooms in our garden when I walk out the front door.  Berries aren't far behind, if the slugs don't beat us to them, that is.  

This weekend I was allowed to inspect the garden yard, and I saw these strawberry flowers.   It was a supervised inspection, but I was thrilled to smell the radishes, sugar snap peas, kale and lettuce growing just outside our door. 

Strawberry blossoms

No home grown berries yet, but the lady brought berries home from the market.  Sister Chloe and I nearly crushed them with our initial enthusiasm over the lady's return home.  Big mistake: we wouldn't want to crush something this pricey.

It's still early in the season and the early berries command higher prices, so if you can wait a few weeks, more local berries hit the markets and the price becomes more affordable.

I can't wait.  Thankfully neither can the management here.

I love berries as much as I love Satsuma oranges, which is slightly more than apples and bananas, but a little less than nectarines.  I am spoiled and I don't really care how much they cost,  but I hope management keeps them coming all summer long.  I've learned to just quietly keep pressing for another taste and adopt a look that says "I'm starving."   Why else do you think basset hounds have perfected the sad look?

 A Short Strawberry Story:

We walk by our neighbor's berries every day.  His  plants grow on a ledge a little higher than my head and I first smelled the blooms, and would stop and simply inhale. Later the green fruit came (not as intriguing a scent) and finally the berries which were heavenly. Every day I'd stop and inhale the sweet perfume, but I wasn't allowed to touch.  Though once I did sneak a berry before the lady could stop me.

One day the neighbor man told the lady that he'd been growing the strawberries for squirrels.  "Can you imagine that, Finn?" the lady said to me.  As if squirrels require strawberries!  After that encounter, the lady let me pick one or two berries whenever we stopped for a sniff.  She never took one for her self, but she encouraged me to pick my own, which I did until the berries were all gone.  

Chloe also picks berries.  

What does the lady expect to happen in our garden? 

This photo was just for show!  I have to beg and beg for berries after photos are snapped.  The stink-eye is required for this shot.  

Kitchen Prep Work

Another human peeve:  I'm often shown the door when it comes to prep in the kitchen.  I had a free pass for quite awhile until the lady suddenly grew annoyed when I waited at the refrigerator door for a carrots.  Excuse me, but who had been passing out carrots every time the refrigerator door opened?  It can be crazy-making around here.

The other day I overhead the lady say the knives make it too dangerous for dogs in the kitchen.   She is probably really afraid she will stab herself.  She is clumsy and trips over me and steps on my paws frequently when I lay at her feet. 

The lady took out  her ancient cookbook for this one.  It's so old, the mold on the pages is older than me.  It's all cracked and held together with old tape. 

I think she made up the marinated strawberries herself.

Marinated Strawberries
(Serves 4)

2 pints strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1 to 3 tablespoons berry wine

1. Remove stems and wash berries.  Slice into a medium serving bowl.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Stir and add a little berry wine.  

2. Refrigerate and allow to sit for about an hour.

Management's note:
This cake recipe originated in an old Better Homes and Gardens Cook Book.  The original recipe specified "cake flour," "shortening or salad oil" and an egg.  Cake flour in old cookbooks means pastry flour which is lower in gluten and gives the cake a better crumb.  Whole wheat makes the cake a little on the heavy side, but with fresh whole wheat pastry flour, the flavor is so good, you don't notice.  I'm a big fan of Nash's white wheat pastry flour.

Quick Cake
(Makes 1 8-inch cake)

1 1/2 cups soft wheat pastry flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg or 1/4 cup mashed banana
1/2 cup milk (dairy, almond, soy, rice or cashew cream)
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F. 

2. Sift dry ingredients together.  Beat egg, oil and milk together.  Stir in vanilla.  

3. Combine wet and dry ingredients.  Stir for about a minute.  Bake in an oil or wax lined pan for 25 to 30 minutes.

Serve cake topped with berries and coconut sorbet.

Cake is good, but something is missing.   

I prefer the berries to just about everything.  When given a choice between my saw dust cube dinner and berries, I choose strawberries every time.  

I'm putting my order in for seconds now.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Two Soups in One: Radish Top and Cauliflower Soup

How Two Soups Came Together

Today I'm sharing the blogging stage with my food-obsessed Cooking Assistant  (aka the dog picker).   Could be a mistake but he's got kitchen privileges, while I make and adapt recipes from Heidi Swanson's Supernatural Every Day, a cookbook that's been getting a lot of use lately in my kitchen.

I often discuss recieps and I'd wanted to make Cauliflower Soup, but there was no way I could make it  with local produce. This season's cauliflower is still weeks away, and just last week I heard it was the last call for the overwintered cauliflower at Nash's Organic produce.  Pricey but good for end-of-the-season cauliflower.

I wanted to make this soup so badly, I'd practically decided to bag the seasons, for one week, and when I went to the market this past Saturday, I saw perfect radishes at Let Us Farm.  My first thought: why not use the radish tops and make two kinds of soup?

I love the tender sweet lettuce from Let Us Farm!  They are greenhouse grown right now, but once they harvest the lettuce from the fields it will be even more vibrant and tasty.

The radishes tempt me.  Radish top soup has been on my must-make list for a long time.  For one thing, I'm tired of  adding radish tops to my compost heap and last summer I'd heard how many other market shoppers used these greens--from green smoothies, to stir fries to sauces.  So why not use a simple turnip greens soup from my cookbook and substitute radish greens?  

But I still wanted cauliflower soup.  I wasn't exactly thinking about putting the two soups together in the same bowl, not yet anyway. But that's what I love about cooking.  Like a good story, things can change course quickly when it comes to soup.

Which brings me to my Guest Post by Finn the Cooking Assistant, who sometimes embellishes his stories.

Kitchen Priviliges by Finn the Cooking Assistant

Though my garden priviliges were rudely revoked this weekend when I picked a few of radishes, my kitchen priviliges remain intact. What happened to "what's mine is yours?"  The radishes were delicious and I'd been moving on to sample the lettuce when I was interrupted and shown the gate.  I cried but the only asnwer I got was "Quiet!" hissed by the lady. The garden remains my dream, especially since I know where the radishes and strawberries grow.

In the kitchen, my favorite place is directly behind the lady.  I  touch her ankles as we share little strip of carpet, and if anything should fall I'd sense it in her movement.  Also if I fall asleep, the lady's movements wake me.

Mostly she doesn't mind but one day she stepped on my ear.  I cried out as the lady fell over me, landing with a thud on the kitchen floor.  But instead of concern and "Are you okay Finn?" there was much yelling and hand waving as if the incident was my fault. I was ushered out of the kitchen, pronto.  

I'd like to point out I was not the one doing the stepping.  Also I don't have the advantage of height so I can supposedly see everything underneath me. I think humans like to blame others, it comes easily to many of them, but this is not the first time the lady has fallen over me, and each time she has the gall to blame it on me.  Seriously, I'm sorry for her but is her clumsiness my fault? 

It all has to do with the roles of leaders and followers. A follower should pay attention to the leader at all times.  The lady won't ever learn how to be a good follower. She sticks tiny plugs in her ears and hums songs like she's on another planet.  Following and observing isn't really a hard task, unless you don't pay attention. The number of times the lady has gotten it wrong makes me question how long humans will last on this planet.

One thing she does get right is cooking.


I love vegetable soups but they often need a little thickener--a roux with oil, flour and water blended together, or cornstarch, arrowroot, potato starch, rice flour, and even corn tortillas torn into bits, for starters. You can also use a cooked potato, puree in and that's the way this soup is thickened.  However,  don't make the mistake of getting a purple or red potato because it will seriously alter your soup's color.

The lady and man planted potatoes from Olson farms in our garden.   They did this last year too, and  ended up with a bumper crop of potatoes in the fall.  But this early in the season, most of our produce comes from the market not our garden.

Since we are also on a buget the lady writes lists on Fridays, yet always manages to come home with more than the things on the "list." 

Sister Chloe and I did a thorough bag check when the lady returned.   

And guess  what I found?

Those little red bulbs fascinate me.  And the sweet, spicy scent lures me.  I'd eat the entire bunch if I wasn't on such a short leash around the produce.

Brilliant idea to swirl the soups together.

Radish Top Soup 
(Serves 1, or use it to swirl into another soup)

1 spring onion, 1/2 cup chopped shallots or garlic greens (use garlic greens only for canines)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Radish tops fro 1 bunch of radishes, washed and chopped
1 cups vegetable broth, water or half broth/or water and half milk (soy, rice, almond, cashew or dairy)
Dash of garlic powder
1 tablespoon green salsa
2 tablespoons almond butter
Generous pinch of smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
1 or two radishes, finely chopped for garnish

1. Saute the onion or shallots in a medium saucepan, in olive oil.  Add radish tops and vegetable broth.  Cook until greens soften.  

2. Puree with an immersion or regular blender, adding green salsa, almond butter. smoked paprika, and lemon to taste.  Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle radishes over the top.

Back to the book for the second act . . .

This book is filled with great ideas like these crispy mustard croutons.

If you ask me, these croutons push this soup into the spotlight.

Though the lady made this soup pretty much like the recipe specified, except for the cashew cream and smoked paprika, she says you can drop the butter and cheese and not miss them, unless of course, you wanted to share with your Cooking Assistant.  And seriously, who wouldn't if your assistant is so cute and loves everything you make?

Cauliflower Soup
Artisan Spring Cheese and Mustard Croutons
(Serves 4 to 6)

3 cups artisan bread, cut roughly into chunks
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard
Smoked paprika

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves separated, peeled and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into bite size
3 to 4 cups cut fresh califlower, cut into bite size pieces
Freshly ground pepper to taste
2 1/2 cups water or vegetable broth
1 cup cashew cream*
2 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2/3 cup grated cheese, use your favorite (optional)
Olive oil

1. Preheat oen to 350F.  Make croutons by tossing placing bread in a bowl and heating the butter, olive oil, mustard, and smoked paprika in a small sauce pan on low.  Stir in salt, blend, then toss mixture with bread.  Toss well, then spread the bread cubes on a baking pan.

2. Bake for about 15 minutes, turning them once with a spatula halfway through baking.

3. While croutons toast, make the soup.  Heat a soup pot over medium heat.  Add oil and garlic cloves.  Stir and cook until cloves soften, but not brown.  

4. Stir in the potato, ground pepper and water.  Cook on medium-low until potatoes and cauliflower are tender, about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Puree with an immersion or traditional blender, gradually adding the cashew cream, mustard, and half the cheese, if desired.

5. Serve with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.  

Cashew Cream
(Make 1 cup)

1/2 cup raw cashews
1/2 cup apple cider or juice
1/4 cup water
Salt (optional)

1. Soak cashews in apple juice for at least 1 hour.  

2. Liquify in a blender, adding lemon juice to the desired degree of tartness.  If using for savory foods, you can also add a dash of salt.  (Note: A dash is approximately 1/8th teaspoon)

I'll take the croutons. . . .

Monday, May 14, 2012

Award Winning Peanut Butter Apple Cookies and the power of optimism

A Guest Post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

I love a good self-indulgent holiday. Unfortunately Mothers' Day isn't that day.  In the first place, not everyone has a mother or even remembers their mother.  Why, I barely recall Mom, except that when  all us puppies got teeth, the bitch had enough.  One day she stood up, shook us all off, and walked away.  And from then on, the bitch growled if we came close.  (I say this after all the outrage over a Time Magazine cover, I'd heard about last week where a four year old child was still nursing.  I've got just one thing to say--teeth, it's a natural stopping point.  Sometimes humans should look to the canine world for a little common sense guidance.)  I digress, but  I'll just say, I was disappointed when I learned Mothers' Day did not mean I'd be receiving some really cool gifts.

I heard mothers now want spa days instead of flowers.  Come on!  "I want this," I want that," It doesn't stop with humans and the stakes are raised every year.  What I want to know is: when is Dog Day? 

At our house, the lady got two big bouquets of flowers this weekend and I learned the flowers came from a donation to help a rescued pit bull who suffered a great deal of nerve damage from brutal mistreatment.  It's a criminal case where the police are searching for this pit bull's previous owners.  The damage done was most likely because this sweet pit bull refused to fight.  

The flowers have a pleasing scent but not one that captures my attention.   You've seen one flower, you've seen them all in my opinion.

"Want to take a picture?" the lady asked, picking up her camera.   I got in position but I was not impressed.

Not until I took a closer look.

There, on the lip of the vase was a delicately perched biscut.  I found it immediately. Mothers' Day was getting to be a lot better than I'd initially expected.   

In difficult times, one must keep the faith that even though you can't see the whole staircase, know you're on the right path and each step takes you a little closer your dreams.

And if you've got a friend to share in your journey, it's so much more special.

We went on a super long walk on Mothers' Day.  It's funny how no matter which way we go, we end up back at home.  Always tethered to the lady (I'm certain it's so she won't get lost) I've mapped out our walking world by the routes we take and no matter how far we go, all paths lead back home.  And a good thing they do, because delicious smells were coming from the hot box in our kitchen yesterday. 

Pillsbury Grand National Contest booklets from the 1950s still offer kitchen inspiration today.
Sometimes the lady thumbs through old recipe booklets.  She mentioned they came from her mother. "Timeless recipes," she calls them.  The scents of butter, cinnamon, maple syrup and vanilla are embedded in the pages.  I'll take anything with peanut butter.  Self indulgence could be my middle name.  I'm learning more ways to be human every day.

Management's notes:
If you want less processed than organic sugar, maple syrup migh work but it would make the cookies more crispy and you'd have to add a bit more flour to compensate for the liquid.

We used freshly ground soft white wheat flour from Nash's Organic Produce.  You could also make these cookies with Holmquist hazelnut butter, local butter and eggs.  

Adapted from a recipe by: Mrs Clara B. Walker of La Grande, Oregon
Peanut Butter Apple Cookies
(Makes about 4 dozen cookies)

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup softened butter or Earth Balance
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar (Florida crystals)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 egg beaten or 1/4 cup mashed banana
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup grated apple

1. Sift together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon.  Set aside.

2. Cream together the butter and sugar.  Blend in peanut butter and egg or mashed banana.  Cream well.  

3. Add dry ingredients gradually along with vanilla and grated apple.  Mix well to distribute the grated apple.   Chill for 10 minutes in the freezer or 20 minutes in refrigerator.

4. Preheat oven to 375F.  Using a teaspoon scoop dough into hands and roll into a ball.  Place on a greased cookie sheet (or use parchment paper).  Flatten with a fork, making a criss-cross pattern.

5. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.  (If you have a helpful cooking assistant like mine, save any burned cookies and pass them out as a token of appreciation.)

Got my eye on one that has my name on it.
Focus on what you want and sweet rewards will flow your way.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Whole Grain Rice Salad, 101 Cookbooks, and an artist date

I've been reading Heidi Swanson's blog 101 Cookbooks every week for years now.   I was  excited to get her new book, but the thing is, I don't always make recipes from it because of her abundant use of eggs and dairy.  Milk is fairly easy to replace but eggs can be a challenge if a recipe specifies too many (like 10). Also with eggs from my friends at River Farm running me $7 a carton, we don't eat very many at once.   Anyway, Heidi's blog and cookbook also have many vegan recipes. And I found this inspiring recipe in her book Super Natiural Every Day. I used it as a springboard since sweet cherries aren't in season yet and all I had were frozen pie cherries.  

Well, why not a pie cherry vinaigrette?  That's what I thought and this has got to be one of the best salad dressings I've ever created!

My Cooking Assistant Finn is game for anything as long as he can supervise and clean bowls.  This is his day to post, so I'll let him weave his artist date story for you.

Dreams, Artist Dates and Good Books: A Guest Post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

Memory foam and bits of sun have been calling so I took a brief hiatus.  I can't resist taking time to revive my dream life, catch up on new stuff in the garden and on the street and read some compelling stories.

Seriously, if you can't take time off to smell the flowers, what's the point of anything?  And if you've lost your sense of smell, I'm sorry for you because there is no point, at least not in the canine world.  A dog who can't smell is like a human who can't see.

Our long walks on Sundays are like artist dates, and my lady snaps phots and we stop to sniff everything.  I like it when we visit this semi-abondoned strip mall known as downtown Perrinville. Empty store fronts, huge garbage cans, old cars and even an abondoned garden, tucked away between buildings. 

I don't get why humans don't just turn this empty mall into a farmers market.  This empty "village"   has never had any stores listed on this sign.

And could someone tell me why if there aren't any stores, why is there so much stuff in the garbage?  Where does the furniture come from?

I have to try it out before we leave.   Who knows? It could be better than what we've got at home. 

I poke around but I'm not allowed to take anything in this place.

This car smells a bit like naugahyde seats and ashtrays that were once actually used.  I feel like I'm in some kind of time warp here.  This car might actually be bigger than our house.

Fancy cars and movie stars--you can have them.  Give me a run down building or a plastic pair of lips and I can spin some stories.

Too many stories, still waiting to be told.
If loose lips sink ships, somewhere a ship is going down.

At home I'm captivated by the Hunger Games (though I must say I thought it was about eating and hunger when I first saw the book.)  I've discovered the second installment near the bedside and I've started reading while management is away.  The only downside  is it isn't a scratch and sniff book.  The publishing world is missing an entire marketing segment by not aknowledging our olfactory receptors. When they start producing a canine friendly format,  I'll be the first in line to actually buy a copy.  

Still I can't put it down, and  all I've got to say is who's the clown that lost my place?

You might think a dog reading a book a bit odd.  Kind of like a blind guy flying a plane.

I'm getting back to this book. 

I hope you enjoy this salad, it's a bit different from Heidi's recipe and the pie cherries seemed to make a lot of vinaigrette.  Bon Appetit!  Until next time.

Whole Grain Rice Salad with 
Arugula, Shiitake Mushroom, Pecans and Cherry Vinaigrette
(Serves 6)
Brown rice takes about 45 minutes to cook.  You can plan to eat this salad hot or cold.  But blend the dressing and add arugula to the warm rice so the arugula wilts.   I used pie cherries from my freezer, but you can also use fresh cherries when they're in season, which should be late May or early June in the Northwest.  This salad easily passes for a main dish and leftovers make an easy unique lunch option.

4 shitaki mushrooms, stems removed (composed or saved) and caps roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Mama Lil's peppers, chopped (optional)
2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
4 handfuls arugula, tough part of stems removed
1 cup tart pie cherries, pitted, chopped and divided 
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup cherry (or red wine) vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar or sweetener of choice to taste
Fine grain sea salt
A few basil leaves, chopped
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Heat a heavy skillet.  Add mushroom and dry fry until they soften.  Blend with Mama Lil's Peppers, if desired, then combine mushrooms with brown rice.  Toss arugula in until it wilts.  Stir in 1/2 cup cherries and set aside.

2. Blend remaining cherries, olive oil, vinegar, sweetener and salt. (Taste as you add the perfect amount of sweetener needed to enhance the tart cherry flavor.)  I use a regular blender, but you an also use a hand blender.   Pour a small amount onto the rice and arugula. Add the mushrooms. Gently toss.  You may not need all of it for your salad and if you add too much, the salad could get saturated and soggy. Garnish with basil leaves and chopped toasted pecans.