Monday, June 25, 2012

Fennel-Orange Salad with Avocado, garden stories, and a book about local food

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

Banned from the garden again and we don't even have tomatoes yet!   

I wonder who was the whistle blower this time?

No comment from the tree gallery. 

Seriously, I think he was just jealous because he didn't see the eggshells before I ate them.  They were strewn around the radishes, to deter slugs, I'd heard the Lady say.   I didn't see any slugs, and  the radish leaves were quite delicious, too.  And the beer in tiny containers sunk in the ground wasn't bad either, but there were a lot of slugs in those.

"Out!!" I heard Lady shout, as she gazed at what used to be radishes.  I pretended not to hear, just kept sniffing.  One of the hounds that lived here before me got away with the deaf act for 10 years. I must not be that good yet, because the Lady didn't buy my act.

Two lessons I've learned: 

  • Never make hasty moves
  • Everything is negotiable.  

Management must be placated.  I was already into it.  My head already droops well below knee level, and my bloodshot eyes shoot me over the top into the pathetic category.  Not to mention, the outstanding number of people who say, "Those hounds--they aren't the sharpest tool in the shed," whatever that means.  

I hang my head, go sit by myself and let gravity do some magic with my jowls and eye lids. If that doesn't work, I roll on my back, legs in the air.

Sooner or later, the Lady softens and calls me into the kitchen for a carrot or celery stalk.  "You going to be good, Finn?" she asks.  We both know the answer.  I'm weak and food is my jones, just about anything will do.  T

 But this time she offered a leash.  I held back until she let me sniff the biscuits she tucks in her pockets on walks.

I discovered  a secret path.

It led into the woods, down some stairs and into the forest. 

Is this what Alice in Wonderland felt like at first?   Perhaps another world was just around the corner.   

I never got the change to find out.  Skinny Chloe wouldn't budge.  She sat at the top of the stairs.  All I know is, I'm coming back here someday, because the main character always goes into the haunted house or takes the creepy path into the forest. 

In the meantime, let's eat.   The Lady made the perfect salad, yesterday.  I'll let her tell you a bit about the ingredients.

Spring Treasures--bargains and budge busters

The first week I've seen fennel at the market and since I'd just put in an order to make post cards with this Orange-Fennel Salad recipe, I thought I'd share it here first.

I found a similar recipe in this book that I'd checked out from the library this past week.  Funny, the book was published in the same year as mine.  It's all upscale--"first class all the way" as they say with glossy full color food photos, and lots of them.  It weighs in at 3 1/2 pounds and of course was printed in China.  (Do publishers really think folks who eat local foods are so superficial they don't care where a book is printed?  Apparently so.)

Sorry, I had to rant.  It's my biggest pet peeve with cookbooks these days.  It's so off-base and wrong for a book titled Eating Local, to print books in China so they can sell more books in this country.  Sure it's cheaper but give me a break!  Let's keep it real:  a slug is a slug, even if it's wrapped up in full color photos.  I always check to see where a book was printed these days especially if the title suggests consumers buy local foods.

This is fennel in the picture is the kind that comes later in the season. Like zucchini, fennel bulbs start out small and get bigger as the season moves along.  Right now the bulbs are small, but that's all you need for this excellent salad.  I got mine at Lettuce Us Grow at the U-District Market.  

The tangerine and avocado are organic and came from a natural foods store.  Prior to that they resided in California.

The arugula came from our garden.  Good thing my sweet Cooking Assistant didn't find it before I got some.

Fennel-Orange Salad with Avocado
(Serves 4)

1 fennel bulb, diced small or sliced thin
4 cups arugula, torn or cut into pices 
1 tablespoon finely chopped orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange or tangerine juice
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil or hazelnut oil
1 large avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup toasted chopped walnuts, or crumbled gorgonzola (optional)

1. Combine the fennel and arugula in a salad bowl.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk togetehr the orange zest, juice, lemon juice and oil.  Pour dressing over the avocado and stir to coat.

3. Toss dressing with fennel and arugula.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.   Sprinkle with walnuts or gorgonzola, if desired.

Uh oh--someone got carried away with the photo shoot again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Tangerine Dream Cake with Strawberries

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

I love my job.  

I'm thrilled to inspect incoming produce, and I'm often rewarded just for looking.  How sweet is that?

The scents of spring boost and energize my spirit. I'm off the sofa in a flash, checking for carrots, but such cruelty these past few weeks-- no carrots were forth coming again.  Must I resort to begging? I know carrots are back.    I sniffed through the entire bag, and came up with the usual--greens and berries.

I'm also crazy about our new soft pack cooler.   I scored a free pass to hang my head inside.  "Just for the photo shoot," the Lady says.  So, of course,  I take advantage.  Why not?  I inhale the scents of all the fresh vegetables.  I was deep in produce meditation on Saturday when  I heard a neighbor call out:  "You're turning that dog into a vegetarian!"

Is that so wrong? I wonder.  It's not like the Lady is twisting anybody's paws around here.  Who says I wasn't born this way? 

I have a definite preference for the vegetable.  And the fruit.

Cake isn't so bad either.

I think I picked the right house.

The Lady made this amazing vegan tangerine cake.  It looked a little like this one, but it was much better,  and no eggs or dairy was involved in making this sweet treat.  The flour came from this farm. Much of the good organic citrus is fading from the scene since it's mostly seasonal for winter and spring, but I'm crazy for mineola tangerines thanks to my old mentor Abe who lived here long before I arrived.  Abe used to wake up from a deep sleep whenever citrus was peeled.  He'd drool and whine and make a fuss, and demand one segment after another.   Old Abe would definitely approve of this cake.

This cake would be perfect any time of the year, and with strawberries, it's crazy good.  

You don't want to miss it, so go get some end of the season organic tangerines while you can.

Tangerine Dream Cake
(Makes 1 9-inch square or round cake)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup sugar or Florida crystals
1 tablespoon organic tangerine zest
Juice of 2 to 3 tangerines (enough to make 1 cup)
1/3 cup canola oil
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Preheat oven to 350F.  Lightly oil or line a cake pan with parchment paper.

2. Combine dry ingredients and tangerine zest in a medium mixing bowl.  Add wet ingredients and mix well, but don't overstir.  Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for about 45 minutes or until a cake tester come out clean. 

This, I must say is misleading because 

this is my actual share.   I seriously need a raise, if I'm to continue this modeling gig.

A dog can dream.  Here's what we did with the strawberries.  Lucky me, I get all the over ripe berries.

A little sugar to draw the strawberry juice out.  A bit of zest to add some zip and some tangerine juice for the marinade.

Let them sit, but don't wait too long.   Because that cake is calling.  The only thing missing is the coconut sorbet.

I may not get it all but a dog can dream, can't he?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Shark

Remembering Dad

Dad was a fly fisherman for years before he discovered free diving.   He grew up in Colorado and knew all the best stops for fly-fishing in the Rocky Mountains.  Our family moved to a number of small towns before we landed in San Diego where Dad took up diving.  

Every weekend Dad got out his wet suit, went diving for fish in La Jolla and collected abalone (this was the 1960s and there wasn't any limit on how many wild abalone you could collect, and apparently like the plains buffalo people thought abalone would last forever).   Dad cleaned it, sliced it and we took turns pounding the abalone into edible steaks.  We stocked so much abalone and fish in our freezer, we ate it all year, two or three times a week.  

Dad joined local diving clubs that hosted tournaments and with dad's competitive nature, trophies began multiplying on living room shelves.   When we moved to San Jose, Dad alternated between fly fishing in the Sierra Mountains and diving in Monterey.

Dad's diving friends called him the "Shark" until he  passed away a few years ago.  When we were cleaning out Dad's house, his diving buddy Perry stopped by and he shared diving stories and the story of how dad earned his unique nickname.

Dad had expanded his diving areas beyond California to Mexico and Belize.   Dad had gone diving with some friends in the 1980s.  Dad was in his 60s then. 

"We were diving off the coast of Belize and your dad hollered, 'Perry get my spear gun, quick.'  I looked and was shocked to see two sharks circling your dad."  Perry got dad's spear and started swimming towards him. He was nearly there when suddenly the sharks swam away.  Maybe they were harmless, maybe they were dangerous.  Dad never got a chance to find out.   

I saw a different guy when Perry talked about Dad, and I was really touched by Dad's friendships (and dogs, of course) that meant so much to him.  He attended his high school reunions for years and had friends that went back to high school.

After dad was gone, Perry wrote this great tribute: 

"Del you were the Shark . . .
We were dive partners and good buddies.  Though we were an odd couple . . .
An engineer and an artist we never had a heated disagreement.  You were good company and we did have some laughs during our adventures. I'm glad you got to read an advanced copy of the dive chapter in my latest book.  Diving California, Mexico, Belize and Tortilla were adventures you pulled me into . . . and I will always be thankful you were my good friend.  Del you logically avoided friction or futility, you liked things to go smoothly.  You were always engineering a good plan.  We got fun to go our way.  Those times are all treasured memories.  I'm glad you passed into this next adventure with no big  pain, mess or lingering fuss after eighty seven good years.  Good plan, Shark,

Del's old Los Gearous Reef Champ,

A rich man, when it came to friends, Dad had no shortage of friends in his liftime.  

Here's a salute to connections that make the world go round.  

Hope your Father's Day was a happy one!

Dad in the Coast Guard in The Marshall Islands during World War II

Monday, June 11, 2012

Whole Grain Rice Salad with Sugar Snap Peas and Pistachios

Spring, sun, and sugar snap peas have arrived!

I was so excited to see sugar snap peas at the market that I paid the early high price of $6.00 a pound!  It was a treat and it's early in the season, but I'll be very happy when we have peas in our own yard where Finn has not sniffed the pea vines yet, but has occasionally been stopped from eating our still green strawberries.

Finn will return next week to his guest blog spot. The inquisitive hound claimed he needs the week off to sniff some good stories and discover delectable foodie treasures.  He's also investigating some the new scents at the dog park which you may or may not want to know about.

And who doesn't want to explore, even if it is only your own neighborhood.

Between catnaps and walks,  I caught Finn checking out Good Dog Carl.  I love this book, but  I think Finn was studying Carl's techniques for grabbing treats when humans are gone.   

The quirky hound loves staring at books.  

So I left this one out, just in case he wanted to dream big.  (The stories aren't all about food in this book, but these 13 stories about women told through different characters are poignant, sweet, wistful and pure comfort food for the soul.)   Not to mention the title raises an intriguing question, especially for my Cooking Assistant:  If you could eat anything you wanted for an entire day, what would it be?  

Shopping the Market

As for me, primary food gatherer at the farmers' market I was once again tempted by these early sweet treats.  But I'd spent my money on greens so my friend Patty shared some with me. 

This is Patty (left) at the market with JoanE McIntyre from Rent's Due Ranch.  The picture was taken last year.  On another note, it's sad JoanE won't be at the market this year for Rent's Due.  For me  farmers I've gotten to know become the face of the farm and those are the connections I seek out at the market.  It won't be the same without JoanE's smile and enthusiasm. 

Our strawberries in the garden are still in the green stage.  I showed them to Finn who licked his lips in anticipation. The price is high now.  Only one farmer selling them, but hopefully it will come down a bit, but by the time they do, we should have lots of berries in the garden!

This is what I was really looking for at the market. 

Sugar snap peas were the last items on my market list.  While my friend was buying bread, I was thinking about going back to Willie Green's to get the peas I'd spotted earlier;  then I saw these peas right in front of me. 

If you don't know Youth Garden Works, you really should check out the video on the link.  If you do, I hope you support this program.  One way is to frequent their booth at the U-District farmers' market.

Photo shoots and recipes

Though my Cooking Assistant wants time off to sniff the neighborhood, he still insists on posing in  recipe photo shoots. 

In the beginning of my creation I'd imagined a salad with brown rice and snap peas, but didn't quite have the flavors down.  Still, the garlic seemed perfect, after all it is the season.  

A  strawberry-orange vinaigrette occurred to me,  but somebody beat me to the berries.  


Only a few were left by the time I got the bowl out.  I'd been marinating them in Rockridge Orchards Tayberry Wine, but seriously I think there were only four berries left by the time I got to them.

I'm not pointing fingers, but the hound does know where the carrots are kept.   I bought the last of the mineola tangelos for this; you could juice a fresh orange instead of the tangelo.

I'm crazy about whole grain salads, but I hate to pay deli prices. And they are so easy to make and this is one of those great dishes that you can do many things with for leftovers.  You can also do many variations of the vegetables for this.  I hope you like it as much as we did!

Whole Grain Rice Salad with Sugar Snap Peas, Pistachios and Strawberry-Orange Vinaigrette
(Serves 4)

1 3/4 cup water
1 cup brown rice
Pinch of sea salt (optional)
2 cups sugar snap peas, washed and prepared
4 to 5 inches of garlic scrape tops
2 or 3 bulbs of spring garlic, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
5  strawberries
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
Splash of berry vinegar
1 teaspoon chopped Mama Lil's Peppers
Sea salt 
1/2 cup toasted pistachios (or your favorite nut)

1. Bring water to a boil in a small pan over medium heat.  Add rice and sea salt, if desired.   Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes or until rice is tender and water is absorbed. 

2. While rice cooks, fill a large pasta pot with water, bring it to a boil and add sugar snap peas and garlic scrapes.  Blanch for two minutes, drain, plunge vegetables into ice cold water to stop the cooking.  Snip 

3. Heat a small frying pan over medium heat.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil.  When pan is hot, add minced garlic.  Stir and cook until garlic is soft and lightly browned.

4. Combine remaining olive oil, berries, orange juice, splash of berry vinegar, peppers, and sea salt with an immersion blender.

5. Combine rice, peas, garlic, tossing gently.  Slowly pour the dressing over the rice.  Don't add it all at once, because you may not necessarily need all of it.  You can always refrigerate it and  use it on another salad later.   Toss in the pistachios.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Rustic Spring Flatbread with Asparagus and Life Lessons from a Hound Dog

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

I drool over pizza at this website, it's pure food porn to me. Occasionally I hear lady muse about why certain bookmarks like this one appear on her laptop, but if you want to know, we haven't had homemade pizza for a long time around here. I've been feeling a nostalgia for it.  

Then suddenly this weekend, the lady was talking pizza.  Talk about dreams coming true and prayers answered. She got out this book, and flipped to a flatbread recipe.  My first thoughts: the good old cooking days are back, baby!  I could chase my tail or roll over for this!

But before I dish about pizza and give you the recipe which came from this book, let me tell you how I was unceremoniously booted from the garden this past week.  

Apparently I'd walked over squash plants. Who knew?  All I heard was "Bad dog!  Get out!"  As if I'm supposed to automatically know those little things were going to bear vegetables one day.   Frankly, the plants all look alike to me, except the ones that smell like food.   Thank God, no one said anything about missing radishes and lettuce leaves with big bites I took out of them.  

Back into the house I went, but I didn't even hang my head.  I live in the world of "No."  I'm used to getting tossed out of the kitchen and the garden.  But the lady and man forget.  I think they have short-term memory loss.  I'll be invited back because I'm handsome, loveable, and frankly persistence wins in the end.  

In the meantime, I'm hoping to learn a few tricks from this book. I discovered it on the lady's bedside table.  Counter-surfing anyone?

I think the lady is trying to discover my secrets by reading this one, but how can anyone learn from a dog that chases sticks for a hobby?  Hello?  Even if  the main character Blake claims he is only humouring his "owner," no one really believes that.  Frisbees or balls? You ask.  

I give this kind of look, if you catch my drift. 

The Stink-Eye
Maybe I have contemplated the contents of the garbage can next door, but why gnaw through chicken-wire or burrow underneath a fence to get there?  Seriously, wait for a gate to be left open!  That Blake isn't just bad, he's dense.  And his kind often passes for "bright."

Go ahead and underestimate me. The lowly hound dog.  I love it, because there's nowhere to go but up from there.  I get kudos for the sitting and waiting, and I can drool all I want.  It doesn't get much better than that.  Untapped food possibilities on the home front keep me going.  How can I get into the freezer or the pantry?  

Lesson number one: Know what's important and go for it, no matter what anyone says.

A place on the sofa; an occasional TV program tossed in--that's the life for me. 

Even as a pup I knew what I wanted.  I went for the asparagus, the cauliflower, the cheese, and so what?  A dog has to learn how to get his paw in the door, leave it there.  

Live your story and dreams will come true.  

Lesson number 2:  Act as if you have no idea what "No!" means, no matter how many times people say it.  Sure, you'll earn a reputation for being stubborn.  But is that so bad, if you get what you want?

How else do you think I gained access to the refrigerator?

Management provides us (my sister and I) with 5-pound bags of carrots!  I come running when the refrigerator door opens.  I freeze until I get a carrot.

Life is good.   You can put anything on top of this pizza and since asparagus is everywhere now, why not indulge in some asparagus pizza?

Recipe notes:

This is a version of Rosemary Amaranth Flatbread with Roasted Red Peppers page 114 in The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook.  The rustic flatbread makes the best personal pizza in the world.  And the dough can be made with other grains like polenta (cornmeal) and teff.  You can use all whole-wheat flour, but it takes a more skilled bread maker to work with the flour because it tends to remain sticky.

The toppings can vary and what you want on top is up to you.   This week we had asparagus, but perhaps next week, we'll try mushrooms and snow peas.  One recipe makes four little pizzas and those disappear much too quickly and I barely got a few pizza bones.

I smell two with cheese and two without.  I'll take the cheese.

Polenta Flatbread with Roasted Asparagus

Makes 4 11-by-3-inch flatbreads

1 cup plus 1/4 cup water
1/3 cup polenta (coarse cornmeal)
2 teaspoons fast rise yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 or 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 pound asparagus
1 sliced sweet spring onion
1/2 cup sliced olives
1/2 to 1 cup grated aged cheese, your favorite variety

1.  Combine 1 cup water with polenta in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the amaranth is soft, about 30 minutes.

2.  Place cooked polenta in a large bowl.  Add the remaining 1/4 cup water. Mix well.  The mixture should be about 115F—warm enough to touch.

3.  Sprinkle the yeast over the top and gently fold polenta over the yeast. Blend in yeast. Let the mixture sit until the yeast bubbles up—about 5 to 7 minutes.

4.  Add the honey and salt. Blend thoroughly. Add whole-wheat flour and stir vigorously, scraping the bowl often.

5.  Blend in the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition. When the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, turn it out onto a floured board and knead 5 minutes, adding the oil so your hands don't stick to the dough.  The dough should be smooth and elastic.

6.  Gather the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel.  Let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk—45 minutes to 1 hour.

7.  Roast or grill asparagus and onions.  Roast in a 350F oven for about 20 minutes, depending on the thickness of the spears.  Grill in a basket for about 10 minutes or until tender. 

8.  Poke the dough with your finger.  If the indentation remains, the dough has finished rising.  Push it down, then turn it out on a counter.  Oil your hands with about a tablespoon of oil then knead the dough about 5 turns.  Set aside for 5 minutes.

9.  Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Divide the dough into four portions and roll each into a log. Pat or roll into an oval shape about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. The ovals should measure approximately 11 by 3 inches.
10. Place on a baking sheet and top each with the asparagus, onions olives, and cheese.

11. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes. Gently slide off the parchment paper to a cooling rack. These little flatbreads can be refrigerated and reheated in the microwave or oven later, if they last that long.