Sunday, August 25, 2013

Peach Recipe Round-Up

I got my CSA from Rama Farm-- a double box of peaches--last week.  I had to work fast dehydrating and freezing so we could take a long weekend in Vancouver. 

Tom and I drove.  Vancouver, B.C. is just a few hours away.  On Granville Island, I was amazed at the size of the Okanagan peaches we saw at the market.  The Granville market is a bit like Pike Place Market in Seattle, but not as crowded.  

We ate pastries, bagels and fresh fruit, like this Dragon fruit.   

The seeds are a bit like kiwi seeds, but the flavor seemed bland and boring, like it was picked green and maybe ripened artificially.  Also Dragon fruit isn't locally grown.  The flavor is nothing compared to fresh Northwest peaches. 

Travelers aren't allowed to bring fresh Canadian fruit or vegetables across the border into the U.S. The official reason is too many plant diseases and insects cross borders.  This is one way to slow down unwanted diseases.  I learned the hard way. My Canadian apples were discarded at the border a few years ago.  Don't try to bring fruit across; gorge on local fruit in B.C while you're there.

We walked through Stanley Park, hiked to Chinatown, Gastown and Robson Street.   We took a water taxi to Granville Island and checked out the Wooden Boat Show.  These vintage boats were amazing.  I loved the replica of the Viking boat and the restored steam powered tugboat from the 1920s.  

We stayed at a cool hotel with free wifi and gated parking. 

I learned the value of checking out reviews first when we ate at this not-so-great restaurant where the manager had chip on her shoulder the size of a boulder. Snubbed by her one day but the next day, this was just a blip on our radar.  One experience doesn't ruin an otherwise beautiful long weekend.

Moonlight streaming through the windows.

One of my all-time favorites is a Peach-Huckleberry Crisp 

Be sure to freeze some peaches for later. Check out these tips for freezing peaches or nectarines. 

My favorte way to preserve the harvest is dehydrating.  You don't need to get fussy like this to dehydrate them.  I wash them, but I leave the skin on.  Then I put them onto trays that have been preheated to 125F.  They dehydrate at that temperature for about 5 minutes, then I reduce the temperature and dehydrate until they are still soft.  I refrigerate or freeze these.  You can continue to dry them out, if you don't mind dehydrated peaches on the crisp side.

Recipe Round-Up

Peaches pair well with: 

Vinegar, wine, spices and herbs:

Balsamic vinegar and rosemary on grilled peaches

Red wine--poached

Cinnamon sugar

Lavender Popsicles

Whatever you do enjoy fresh peaches while they last!  

Monday, August 19, 2013

Blackberry Vinaigrette

Strawberries and raspberries are fading from the seasonal scene, but blackberries (and blueberries) are still on.  Berry lovers know, now is the time to gorge yourself.  Northwest berry season is better than any vacation in the summer for me.

I brought home so many Chester berries from Ayers Creek Farm when I visited the Hillsdale farmers market that my freezer is now full.  I'm still planning on a U-pick blueberries day later this month. Where will they all go?  I'm not worried because we can always find more room for berries to extend the season. We love daily berry smoothies, it's an amazing taste treat when the season ends.

I've made berry crisp, cobbler and sorbet.   And fruit salad dressings are amazing, but the idea of a fresh berry vinaigrette has always intrigued me.  I imagined the luscious Chester blackberries in a vinaigrette and got busy looking for a recipe.  I didn't really find one I liked, most included cheese or cream, so I made my own, based on vinaigrettes I'd made in the past.

Of course you need the essential ingredients for a good salad--greens, seasonal vegetables and maybe a few nuts or berries on top. It tastes best when everything is grown locally.   When you look for seasonal specials, think about local farms.  How far does your lettuce travel from ground to plate?

Workers at Willie Greens Organic Farm in Monroe, WA

Arugula from my garden
Red peppers fresh from the farm

Garlic at the market. Get your garlic for winter storage now.

My favorite vinegar from the farmers market
I made my own raspberry vinegar last year, and I'm going to try the same thing with blackberries this year.  For this you need 2 cups raspberries (or blackberries) and enough white wine or apple cider vinegar to completely cover the berries--at least 2 cups.  Apple cider or white wine fits the bill because the vinegar needs to be at least 5% acidity according to Nigel Slater.  Although Nigel uses a stainless steel pan, I used a glass jar.  Both are nonreactive.  Don't use an aluminium or cast iron pan.  Cover and put your container aside for two weeks then strain berries.  Store your berry vinegar in a glass jar.  I keep mine in the refrigerator just to extend the shelflife which should be about month or so.  It goes fast in our house, so I've never kept it very long.

I used frozen, thawed berries for this vinaigrette.  And once you put it in the refrigerator it becomes thicker because of the amount of pectin in the berries.  Simply stir it and allow it to be at room temperature before serving.  Because it contains berries, this vinaigrette will keep for 5 to 7 days.

Chester Blackberry Vinaigrette
(Makes about 1 cup)

1 cup Chester blackberries (or use your favorite variety)
1 tablespoon chopped onion or shallots
1 garlic clove, pressed
1/2 teaspoon mustard
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1/4 cup berry or cherry vinegar
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender, except salt and pepper.   When blended, add salt and pepper to taste.

This dresssing goes well on a green salad.  Add the vegetables you like.  The blackberries were an afterthought.  Apparently they were too tempting for my Cooking Assistant who loves to try and sample the recipe of the week.

Didn't see this until after the photo shoot.  The blackberries were just too tempting.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Soldier Bean Vegetable Soup

I broke a tooth last week, and I had to eat soft foods while repairs were taking place.  I could sit around and whine, but it seemed like an invitation to enjoy some soup.  So that's what I did with all my produce this week.  I figured I'd use a few items from last week, too.

Last week on my secret vacation at the Hillsdale Farmers Market, I purchased some soldier beans at Ayers Creek Farm.  I didn't ask why these beans are called soldier beans, but today I found this blog post that said they are called soldier beans because the markings around the eye resemble an18th century soldier.  I stared at one bean after another.  Maybe if you're drunk, I thought.  It looks more like an ink blot test and sure some of them could be soldiers, or they could be ladies with rolling pins.  Get some at the Hillsdale farmers market and see for yourself.

If you want to read an amazing book about corn, check out Anthony Boutard's Beautiful Corn.  You'll finish wishing you had your own corn to tend.

Soldier beans take a bit longer than other beans to cook.  I soaked them for about 6 hours and I used a pressure cooker for 10 minutes (which seems average for dried beans) but the soldier beans required additional cooking.  I simmered on the stove top for 10 minutes.  My green beans overcooked because of this.  But the giant zucchini melted into the soup making it thick and creamy.  It wasn't such an obvious way of using up my big zucchini. 

I'd gotten corn at the market for so long, without a problem, but sometimes you get so comfortable you forget to check each ear.   They'd been packed into a bag of 5. One ear had about 2 tablespoons of corn. The lesson--although it looks like you're being picky, it's probably a good thing to feel your corn and peel a bit back to see if the kernels go to the top, otherwise you could end up with this.  It was sweet but it looks as if someone already ate it.

What happened to this corn?

I passed up garlic at the market in Seattle because I'd gotten plenty in Oregon.  I always wish I would have gotten more when I get home and see Washington garlic prices. One farm vendor at the market wanted $18.00 a pound for it.   Yikes--it's a garlic bubble.

Garlic and grey shallots

I wanted to add everything I could to this vegetable soup.  I had some purple carrots I'd gotten from Gathering Together Farm in Oregon.  

Jo Robinson in Eating on the Wild Side says purple carrots are a rich source of anthocyanins that have more antioxidant activity and potentially more health benefits than orange carrots.

Robinson also says hunter-gathers consumed far more phytonutrient-rich food than we do today.  

And my Cooking Assistant couldn't agree more.  We need more phytonutrients in our diet.

I'm colorblind and go by scent.  If smells like a carrot, it must be a carrot.
Contrary to popular belief, one does not need a reason to enjoy soup in summer.  This one is amazingly refreshing during the dog days of summer.

Vegetable Soup with Soldier Beans and Corn
(Serves 6)
I used half of a giant zucchini for this, and ended up with nearly 4 cups!  It's one way to use up the bumper crop of summer squash.

1 tablespoon canola oil
1sweet onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 large zucchini, diced
1 small eggplant, sliced
4 purple carrots, sliced
3 to 4 clovs garlic, pressed
1 cup soldier beans or white beans, rinsed, soaked for 8 hours and drained
28-ounce can fire-roased whole tomatoes
28-ounce can water
1 cup shiitake mushrooms
1 cup sliced green beans
1 cup corn or use corn from one full ear
1 cup chopped kale
1 avocado, diced

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add oil, onions and red pepper.  Stir and cook until vegetables are soft.  Add zucchini and eggplant.  Continue stirring and cooking.   Add carrots and garlic.  Stir in soaked beans when vegetables are all soft.  

Transfer to soup pot and add tomatoes and water.   Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for one hour or until beans are tender.  While beans cook, dry fry mushrooms.  Once they are soft, add a little oil and stir in green beans, corn and kale.   Continue to simmer until vegetables and beans are soft. 
Top with avocado chunks. 

Note:  I made most of this soup in a pressure cooker.  I set it for 10 minutes, but I should have set it for 12.

The purple carrots are only purple on the outside.  In soup they're so beautiful.  These are the vegetables, sauteing, before they went into the soup.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Best Berry Crisp

A Secret Vacation

If you could take a secret vacation for a day without telling a soul, where would you go?  

Every August since I wrote this book I take a secret vacation to Portland, Oregon.  I get up early and drive to the Hillsdale Farmers' Market.  I don't usually tell anyone before I go, because I'm on a mission to fill my little box freezer with Chester and Triple Crown Berries from Ayers Creek.   Check out how they're pampered.   

If I stock up on fresh berries now, I'll save money because we eat berries so frequently.  The local crop comes and goes too fast, and I miss the berries when they're gone.  So we extend the season for as long as we can by freezing berries.  The alternative is  buy cheaper, less flavorful frozen berries from who knows where at the grocery store or buy expensive organic berries from the natural foods store.  The latter isn't in my budget plan anymore, and this past year, CostCo had a recall on their organic mixed berry blends.  It makes me nervous to buy berries from who knows where.  

I'll just take my summer berry vacation.  I don't need a melon vacation but a berry trip is essential.

I wasn't the only one making a journey for these berries. Farmer Anthony Boutard said someone was driving from Eugene to pick up Chester berries the same day.   

I also look for bargains like red peppers, eggplant and garlic that cost twice as much at farmers' markets in Seattle.  Why? Is it that much harder to grow food in Washington?  Or are markets, permits and regulations strangling Washington farmers?  

As I ponder that question, I splurge on things that I can't get in Washington, like artichokes from DeNoble Farms in Tillamook.  There aren't any artichokes that match that here.  "Why don't you just move to Oregon?" a friend asked.   The truth is, I like my secret vacation.

There isn't any better place to be than the Northwest in the summer.  No where else has perfect summer weather.  And the berries . . . don't get me started.  Other people go sailing, camping or to the beach.  They go to movies, concerts, theme parks and Europe,  but I'll take a good farmers' market vacation any day.

When I finally arrive back home, someone is at the door to greet me.   

But he runs past me.  Turns out, he can't wait for the Chester berries either.

A blackberry smoothie--I wonder how it would taste with a hint of mint or lavender?

I think I bought too many. But I'm sure I can make them all fit eventually.  We live in a tiny house,  have a tiny refrigerator and a tiny box freezer. Five flats of berries and I used every space I could find to freeze them.  Even my husband's beer refrigerator outside. I learned how to freeze them from a post on Good Stuff Northwest. Amazing after using the cookie sheet method for years. When the berries are frozen, I'm putting them in bags using my Food Sealer.  That way I don't get freezer burn on the berries.

The Recipe 

I wanted make a crisp.  I have to make one crisp with berries every summer, so I got out this old cookbook--one the first cookbooks I bought long ago.  I've made other recipes but always come back to this one.  In the book, it's called Apple Crunch and it has three different versions--Apple, Rhubarb and Blueberry.

If you want a really crisp topping, add some maple syrup, the texture is amazing.   If you like your topping crumbly and less sweet, use 1/2 cup brown sugar.  I find, too much sugar detracts from the blackberries. 

I mixed blueberries and blackberries in this crisp.

Here's my modified version:

The Best Berry Crisp
(Serves 4 to 6)
The original recipe didn't list any sugar at all.  I didn't add any this time, but I have added it in the past.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter or Earth Balance 
1 heaping pint blackberries
1/2 pint blueberries
1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar (optional)
1 tablespoon tapioca

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Place flour, oats, sugar, and baking soda in a bowl and stir, blending all ingredients.  Cut in the butter or Earth Balance.

3. Place the berries in a baking dish.  Add sugar if desired and the tapioca.  Stir it in.  Add less sugar for more berry flavor.

4. Bake at 350F for 50 minutes or until top is lightly browned.  Remove from oven and enjoy.  I like coconut sorbet, but choose your own topping.

Maybe I'm pushing my luck using my Cooking Assistant as a food model