Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer Fruit Recipe Round Up

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

It's a summer fruit fest spring through fall in the Northwest. It's every dog for himself so I grab what I can before it all disappears into the freezer or dehydrator.  I remember fondly the year I first arrived and I'd snagged a dish towel off the counter that was filled with nectarines and plums, and my cohorts rushed in and helped me dispose of the evidence quickly.

Now, I'm sad to see apricots are no longer at the market.  At least they were in our market bags this Saturday. Last year the Lady made this fabulous cool Apricot Soup infused with Mint.

This year we made this fresh apricot vinaigrette for salads.

I'm amused to hear people say, "We eat with our eyes first."

No "we" don't. People have lost the art of really smelling the nuances of food and they try to make up for it by spouting nonsense.  Most people are scent handicapped when it comes to appreciating the scents of the world.

That's how I find strawberries on the bush because I don't see red.  I foraged for strawberries shamelessly and allowed the birds to take the blame once again for our small harvest.  Sure the Lady caught me a few times, and but my nose leads me to exactly where those berries are hiding.  

Check out this strawberry shortcake recipe and substitute raspberries or blackberries.  It's all good when it comes to berries.

And what would summer be without our favs--North Star Cherries from Grouse Mountain Farm?  Pie cherries have priority for the dehydrator since they make fabulous holiday gifts.  Of all the cherries in the Northwest, North Star cherries have the very best flavor.  Well, according to the Lady anyway. Sweet or tart, I love them all.

This crisp recipe originally came from The New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook.  The Lady uses a version of this combined with the recipe from her cookbook, for just about every fruit that comes down the pike.  

It really is as good as it looks.  My job is the "prewash" so bowl scrappings are all I get when it comes to desserts around here.

And then come the berries . . .

Ayers Creek (Gaston, Oregon) Certified Organic  Chester Blackberries
The sweet perfume of summer berries begs me to linger over the boxes.

Here's the same crisp recipe.  Who needs new dessert recipes all the time?  Just change the fruit. Management claims the best topping is Double Rainbow coconut sorbet.  Who needs dairy when nondairy is this good? 

So close; maybe too close.

What happens when the photographer is too slow.  It's tongue twister.
For lots of berry recipes check out this website.  Dumplings, fritters, Romanoff and even berry pizza.  I prefer to gorge on fresh berries myself.

The Lady rarely uses written recipes for berry desserts.  "How can you go wrong with berries?" she's fond of saying.  

Oh I might disagree.  Here's one berry cobbler that went horribly wrong in the looks department. Look like someone stepped in it.  But so what?  Unlike humans, canines don't consider looks the most important aspect of a recipe, and it isn't when you think about it.  I've seen this disaster more than once in our kitchen. . . .  and it all gets eaten, proving that not everything that tastes great at home has the eye-candy, foodporn look.

The important part is whether you've licked every drop from your plate.

When melon season arrives, I can't bark loud enough.  Check out these Japanese melons from Mair Farm-Taki.

I'm all for eating melons fresh.   We get fresh melons from River Farm.  A little over a week ago Liz and Eric's house burned down in the Taylor Bridge Fire.  I think this sweatshirt was one of the fire. casualties :(.   All dogs and people accounted for and safe :)

These cantaloupes wouldn't last long around here.  And the best part is River Farm has a bumper crop this year.  Why not support the farm and buy lots of their amazing melons?  You can find them at the U-District  and West Seattle markets. 

The best cooling summer fruit around, melons are the sweetest when grown in the dry heat of summer. That's why the best melons in Washington come from east of the Cascades.

Here's a few chillin recipes for melon:

Or cool off with a Melon Lime Cooler

It that doesn't chill you out, check out this Coconut Melon Soup

And who doesn't love popsicles

I'll take a heaping helping of fresh melon.  You can get great deals on seconds at River Farm!

Hold the phone; is this my share?   I'll be begging again soon.

Begging is hard work, but it's a dog's job, and the payoff isn't so bad.

An Abundant Crop of Cookbooks 

I'm just the recipe tester, but the Lady takes lots of ideas and recipes from The Northwest Vegetarian Cookbook (Timber Press, 2010). That's how we developed an appreciation of Oregon fruit in a big way.  It's also why the lady takes better photographs now.

The book grew out of  Local Vegetarian Cooking (LOC Press, 2004) the Lady's first book that was more local, with only Washington farms and farmer profiles.

John Huschle from Nature's Last Stand in Carnation

Local food is still trending and a new crop of Northwest local food cookbooks with farmer profiles has sprouted up this year.  Neither book has as many recipes, but they've got lots of color photos. Eye candy for humans.   They look promising and I'd say I can't wait to read them, but I'm all about sampling when it comes to food.

Maybe I'll just put my feet up and relax with a blueberry cooler--blueberries, crushed ice, coconut sorbet, banana, and fresh orange juice.  

Wait--I think I found the tiniest party in the world in this pot.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Healthy Easy Pasta With Vegetables

A guest post by Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker)

One reason I love summer isn't because of the naps in the sun or the incredible amount of summer vegetables, but pasta ends up on the plate a bit more often now. Sure it's loaded with carbs, but come on, humans are overly fanatic over no-carb everything, and they're still overweight.  What's up with that?  (Could it be too many people are in denial about fast food burgers???)  Plus pasta is one of the quick dishes the Lady prepares.

Sadly though, this weekend recipes were made behind closed doors.  The Lady claimed I'm a pest, that I steal food, but who's the one who opens the refrigerator door and asks me to point out the carrots? "Let's check the refrigerator for carrots," she says. Even once invited me to help myself!  Thought it was funny.  Hahaha. "Watch him do it again," she'd said to the Man.  The randomness of human decisions never ceases to amaze me, but as I pondered this on Saturday, I was shown the door.  "Get out! The kitchen is closed," the Lady said as she pulled the screen across the doorway.

Like it's some signature recipe she's afraid I'll steal.

But I'd seen the treasures that came from the market--peppers, melons carrots, zucchini and greens.  And melons.  Haven't sniffed them since last year.   The Lady had declared she wasn't buying many peppers this season, "They're up to $6.99 a pound," she'd whined. But there they were--peppers (I guess red though they looked more greenish to me)  from River Farm, too!  I'd pay any price for peppers, but I have no pockets for change.  I love peppers, and summer squash--don't get me started.

Last year's prices for peppers at the markets 
Sometimes I can make off with a carrot or two but sadly this wasn't one of those days.

Love the smell of summer squash.  I've stolen a few from the garden this season.

Well, did you expect me to be good?  Patty pan squash--another summer weakness for me.

While she was at the market, I investigated this book that she brought home last week.  Inside a Dog's Mind--really?  Do they really want to go there?  Like accessing a sports fanatic's mind during a football game. It may turn out not be all that interesting.  It's funny how badly humans want to know what's going on in a canine's head.  Why do dogs to this or that--all the conjectures, even in the supposedly nonfiction more "scientific" books make me laugh (inside, of course, since dogs don't really laugh--or do they?)

It was easy to leave the book and investigate market bags when the Lady arrived home.  Just about everything but the pickles, olives and pasta from this recipe came from the market.  

Check it out.  Then make your own easy version.  The secret is garlic and balsamic vinegar.

Beat the Heat Easy Basil-Vegetable Pasta 
(Serves 2 or 3)

2 cups pasta (shapes such as bowties or curls)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 3 cups summer vegetables, cut or diced in small bite-size pieces (peppers, zucchini, cauliflower, carrots, romanesco, onions)
2 or 3 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
4 medium ripe tomatoes, chopped
Handful of basil, chopped
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Handful of chopped arugula
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 cup small dice marinated tofu (optional)
Shredded cheese (optional)

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add a teaspoon of salt and pasta.  Cook according to directions.  Drain and rinse with cool water.

2. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add oil and vegetables.  Stir and cook until they soften, adding a little water, if necessary to keep them from sticking.  

3. Add the tomatoes, basil and balsamic vinegar.  Cover and simmer for another 5 minutes or until tomatoes soften to desired consistency. Stir in arugula until it wilts, then season with sea salt and pepper to taste.   Stir in tofu or top with cheese as desired.

I love my job!!!  Bone Appetite!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Fresh Apricot Vinaigrette

Finn the Cooking Assistant (aka the dog picker) is working on his memoir, or so he claims.  I'm not so sure.  But since we are smack in the middle of summer (finally in the Northwest we get a week or two of actual summer), we are deep into salads and summer fruit.  Last Saturday I came home from the market with about a pound of pie cherries and bag of apricots. The season for apricots is short, shorter than cherries but not as long as peaches, here in the Northwest.

I wanted to come up with a recipe from the ingredients that appealed to me at the market.  This cute little cauliflower from Willie Green's Organic Farm was an impulse purchase at the last minute.  Come on who can resist cauliflower.  If you notice the outer leaves are gone.  My assistant always gets those first.

At first glance these 3 items--apricots, cauliflower and tomatoes--don't go together, but I was leaning towards making a vinaigrette with the apricots, maybe using a little chopped mint and making a composed salad.   I wondered has anybody made apricot vinaigrette?

Well, what else are you going to do when you have a question but google it.   So here's Rachel Ray's apricot vinaigrette, made with apricot preserves and plenty of olive oil (EVOO--almost too corny for me to even say).  And here's another salad--lentils and kale with an apricot vinaigrette--at Food 52, also made with apricot preserves.  And here's a green bean salad with a dried apricot vinaigrette.   Not much help here with my fresh apricots, but what's to figure out?  It's a salad dressing, not rocket science and I love to experiment. 

I don't have my own fruit flavored vinegar yet, but I will soon with DIY Fruit Flavored Vinegar Recipe!

Finn has a few ideas of his own he'd like to try.  Unfortunately I put the apricots next to his biscuit jar, so he's very confused when I get an apricot to eat and don't share.  He gently nudges me, reminding me that we all share at this house.

I had an idea of what apricot dressing would taste like, but I hadn't imagined it would look something like the bottled 1,000 Island Dressing that mom put on the table when I was young.  The flavor is distinctly tangy, it would pair well with green beans, kale, cauliflower and the flavor over juicy tomatoes was amazing.  I kept wondering how it would taste over pan fried tofu.  Maybe dip tofu and carrot kebobs into it.

I think I'll try this idea using peaches and nectarines too.

Apricot Vinaigrette
(Makes about 1/2 cup)

4 or 5 apricots, washed and pitted
1/4 cup berry vinaigrette
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Agave nectar or honey to taste
1 clove garlic, pressed or garlic powder to taste
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in a blender.  Serve over baby greens, grated carrots or cauliflower and tomatoes.

The last or my Rent's Due Ranch garlic powder.  Must learn to make my own this year!
I blended everything together then realized garlic was missing and I'd just used the last of my fresh garlic.  I've saved this garlic powder from Rent's Due Ranch, but I don't think they sell it anymore, so I say, best to go with fresh if you don't have a good garlic powder. 

I wasn't sure what to put in this salad besides cauliflower and tomatoes.  Then I saw these little flowers, and sure they look pretty but they don't really add flavor.

I tasted them and thought they had a distinct taste like bubblegum.  When I asked Tom to taste them, he said, "They taste like gum."  Not even bubble gum; not every appealing, so I took them off and my Cooking Assistant was glad to dispose of them.  He chewed them like they were candy.

But the tomatoes . . . they were perfect and a bit of chopped mint was a nice touch, too.

 I'm not sure I've found the best use for it, but I can't wait to try making this with peaches and nectarines
What's your best kitchen experiment?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Romano Bean Salad with Arugula and Peppers

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

"I'll be back with carrots," the Lady told me, as if that was her excuse for not doing the morning walk. Anyway, I'd expected lush carrots when the Lady returned from the market.  I sniffed every bag, but all I found a big bag of green Romano beans. "Where were my carrots?  I sighed.  I'm really getting worring about the Lady's memory.  Who could forget carrots at the market?

I sulked.  Then I got a whiff of the fresh green beans and I remembered them from last summer. Sublime.  I didn't care about the carrots anymore.  

The Lady said green beans are one of the best buys at the market right now. At least I don't have to worry forking over money to buy my own food.  Dogs don't have pockets for keeping change anyway.  Sorry no spare change. . .   Anyway, back to beans--you've got to be crazy not to love green beans!  And so many kinds to pick from here-- green, yellow wax and Romano and of course the haricort verts. The last one must be said with a trace of food snobbism. 

We don't eat haricort verts at our house.  At least I've never indulged in those skinny, French green beans for $7 to $10  a pound.  Someone please tell me are they worth paying more than twice the price? Give me the yellow, green and flat Romanos--that's the kind of beans I'm barking about.

Beans from the Hillsdale Market in Portland, Oregon
I love them raw, of course what dog doesn't?  Blanched until fork tender is heavenly, too.  If it was just me, I'd eat them plain off the vine--no recipe necessary.

Salad Making Options

The Lady scanned books and web for recipes.  So many included bacon or hard boiled eggs, but Management discarded those ideas.  The Lady is a picky eater (no meat, fish, chicken, cheese . . .) and she likes just vegetables, so many in fact, I have food scraps beyond my wildest dreams.  I am the perfect dog for this house.  (Oh, I suppose my sister is included, too).  No food hits the compost heap before its time here..

What we found:
This one from Food Network, included walnuts, but there wasn't anything special about it.  Food Network has some really crappy excuses for recipes. What's up with offering recipes that sound like they've all been done before?  Even the Lady says, Food Network has gone down hill since they took away Ming Tsi's East West cooking show.  Really?  That was so long ago, it was before I was born!

Then there was this recipe that practically screams: Where's the vinegar?  Come on, is it really a "salad" without the ping of lemons or vinegar?  Sure they suck the color out of the beans eventually, but the point is eat the salad the first day!  Whysave any for tomorrow/

Then we came across this one with tofu and arugula, and the Lady found the key ingredient. Arugula.  Oh and of course the Lady had to add red peppers, which she insisted added color.  But why point that out to me, when we canines only see shades of grey when it comes to red?  If humans saw what we see, they wouldn't be so impressed by red peppers.

Notes from the Management:

This is just a simple salad with local ingredients, well, except for the orange.  And if you have some berries you can make your own berry vinegar with this cool recipe I found on Summer Salad Sundays.    I never know what treasures I'll find there. And if you're looking for more summer salad ideas check out Miz Helen's Country Cottage on Thursdays.

Romano Bean Salad with Arugula and Peppers
(Serves 4)

1 pound Romano beans, rinsed, ends removed
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
2 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, pressed
1/4 cup finely chopped red pepper
Handful of arugula, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Blanch green beans in a large kettle of water until fork-tender, for about 5 minutes. Do not overcook!
Rinse immediately in very cold water (to stop the cooking process).

2. Combine orange zest, juice, vinegar, olive oil, mustard and garlic in a small bowl   Whisk together until well blended.

3. Gently toss with blanched beans, red pepper, and arugula.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Refrigerate for an hour before serving.

Here's the entire easy summer meal:

Romano Bean Salad
Grilled Vegetable Tostadas
Northwest Berry Crisp

Nothing better than grilled peppers and summer squash in the summer!

From where I'm sitting it all looks good.  Bone appetit!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cucumber Salad and Favorite Links

I finished an article for Vegetarian Journal  and a column for The Sound Outlook for Marlene's Market, and meanwhile time drifted by and my usual posting day passed. My Cooking Assistant of course was ready to pose and post as always. And though he doesn't mind missing a deadline, he's not above giving me the stink eye if the treats aren't forthcoming. 

I think we both know who's really in charge here.

My Cooking Assistant will return with his feisty views on life next week.  In the meantime, I'm sharing some cool links and my favorite cucumber salad recipe.

Here are links, hope you enjoy them:

  • I love a good summer read, and this one was a page-turner--so twisted and dark--right up my alley. And I loved this edgy futuristic YA series--so much better than the Hunger Games!   I like a good food read too, so this one is up next, and if you are a Mark Kurlansky fan, you'll love learning how frozen peas got onto our plates.  I've also put White Bread on my to-read list.  Slate calls it a history of national paranoia.  Could be truth is better than fiction.  Is white bread killing us?  Maybe everything is.
  • One of my favorite blogs Lifehacker, posted this one titled Is Everything I Do Killing Me?  Again, maybe it's right on for me.    
  • And this one from Vashon Island.  It could be Tom's goofy bulldogs, Boz and Gracie that keep me interested, but his musings about food, family and friends make a satisfying distraction.
  • I'm also quite impressed with the tiny house craze that seems to be sweeping the country.
  • At the farmers' market one day I noticed a Tool Library vendor.  Seems another tool library will open in September.  Sharing tools--an idea that makes you wonder why it took so long to happen.
  • Love all the clothing swaps and of course if you love books, sign up and check out the books released in your area through Book Crossing.  Free is the magic word.
  • Though I'm not usually excited about city traffic, I'm excited about this new Seattle attraction and I swear I may just get out of my enclave and venture into Seattle to check out the view.
  • So many people get away during the summer months, but why leave when the best produce of the year is here.  Still my favorite daycation escape is to this Oregon market.   Ayers Creek Chester Blackberries make the trip more than worthwhile.  Speaking of markets, I have plans to visit this one and this one before the summer ends.  Maybe I'll see you there . . . 

Cucumber salad

We didn't plant cucumbers this year, but now is the time to get them.  Prices at markets range from $7 a pound to 50 cents each.  You find them for less at more Oregon markets.

Cucumbers at the Hillsdale Farmers Market in Portland

Japanese cucumbers at the U District Market in Seattle
I loved cucumbers and vinegar as a child.  Just apple cider vinegar and cucumbers--I'm still crazy for it after all these years.  I'm a big fan of all the flavored apple cider vinegar that Wade Bennett from Rockridge Orchards sells at the market.  Cherry, Raspberry, and Blueberry--hard to decide which one to use.

Rockridge Orchards farm made cider vinegars

Examine all possibilities before reaching a decision.
I wanted to keep is simple, so here's the recipe:

Cucumbers and Avocado in Apple Cider Vinegar
(Serves 4 to 6)

3 medium size cucumbers, partially peeled and sliced
1 avocado, pitted and diced
1 small onion, sliced or diced
1 small red pepper, diced
Apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly chopped dill
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place cucumbers, avocado, onion, and pepper into a bowl.  Cover with apple cider vinegar.  Add olive oil and gently mix.  Add a handful of dill and salt and pepper to taste.  Leave the mixture in the refrigerator for about an hour before serving.

Don't share the onions with your canine companions.