Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Summer Berries with Strawberry-Almond "Cream"

I've been busy lately, my cooking schedule is off, and I wanted a treat.  Something easy. With that in mind, I went in search of something special that wouldn't take hours to make.

I flipped through my book to grab a bit of inspiration.

It isn't warm enough for ice cream, or the vegan equivalent and it was too warm to make a cake.

My ingredient of choice is almond butter for that creamy mouth feel.  Even though I've been trying to be a more conservative food shopper, I have to admit I'm an almond butter snob.  

Massa Organics has the best.  I get almonds, almond butter and rice from Massa Organics.  I found the farm a years ago at the Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco. I don't go anywhere else for these ingredients now because--well you really have to taste them to know why they are just the best.  

I'm not really a totally reformed food snob.

We planted strawberries in our yard this year and can save some serious money, if my Cooking Assistant doesn't eat them first.  He's crafty and he often finds a way to get out there. 

Local strawberries are expensive at the market, but they're worth it because picking them is back-breaking work.

Blueberries and raspberries haven't made an appearance at the farmers market yet, but once they do, I never want summer to end.

My Cooking Assistant can smell strawberries across the street.  Look out, guard your berries because he doesn't mind picking them at all.

The northwest is the place to be in the summer if berries are your favorite food in the world.

I bought a cake to go with these berries.  Yes that's how lazy I've been.  I bought it at a natural food store and the price wasn't much more than a grocery store angel food cake. But the ingredient list was startlingly different. The cake from the grocery store had a long paragraph of ingredients.  What are all those ingredients?  I'd rather get a cake with 7 ingredients.

I noticed PCC still had blood oranges. Citrus is a good pairing with berries.  And the almond butter?  

If they suddenly went out of business, I'd rather go without, give almond butter up completely, than to get another brand. I've tasted them, they've got nothing on Massa Organics almond butter.

The berry inspector.

Please may I have some?

Summer Berries with Strawberry Almond "Cream"
(Serves 4)
The simple sauce for these berries can be enhanced with fresh mint leaves or crushed lavender buds.

2 pints strawberries, green tops removed 
1 blood orange, juice and zest
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 ripe banana
1 pint blueberries
1 pint strawberries
2 tablespoons shredded coconut

Blend (in a blender or with a hand blender) about 8 strawberries with blood orange juice and zest, almond butter and banana.

Cut the remaining strawberries into small pieces.  Pour the dressing over the berries and gently mix.  Sprinkle with coconut. You can also add spearmint leaves (like the photo at the top of the page) or add 1 teaspoon of fresh crushed lavender .

Serve on a plain white cake or with a scoop of coconut sorbet.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Baby Kale, Mushrooms and Crispy Shallots

I'm looking for anything easy these days that will change up the cooking rut I often find I'm in when spring arrives.  One of my friends often makes these crispy shallots to add to dishes, so that was my starting idea at the farmers' market this week.  I thought of adding them to purple potatoes, another favorite, these days.  Maybe I'd make a different type of Shepherd's Pie.

I got the shallots and the potatoes this time at Let Us Farm.

And of course the usual mushrooms from Sno Valley.  You can get mushrooms other than shiitaki, if you want, but I like these for their immune system supprt.

I was still thinking about the Shepherd's Pie when I saw this baby kale at Stoney Plains Farm.  Baby Tuscan kale.  All it takes is one vegetable to change my mind.

I didn't use all my shallots, mushrooms or kale--I'm thinking I'll make quinoa fritters with a kale and avocado salad--I think I'm slowly coming out of my seasonal rut.

My Cooking Assistant is never in a food rut.  His fondness for greens never ceases to amaze me.

Keep stirring and cooking the shallots on low until they brown and become slightly crispy.

My Cooking Assistant was quick to waken from his nap.  Basset hounds are slow pokes about food--it's their main motivation in life, and if he can steal a bite quickly, he will.

Baby Kale, Shiitaki Mushrooms and Crispy Shallots
(Serve 2)

6 shallots, finely diced
2 tablespoons canola or extra-virgin olive oil, divided
8 ounces shiitaki mushrooms, tough stems removed and sliced
1 bunch baby kale, roughtly chopped
2 tablespoons raspberry vinegar
Pinch of sugar or Florida Crystals
Sea salt to taste
Pepper to taste
Fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)

Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.  Add shallots and 1 tablespoon oil.  Stir constantly and cook until shallots  are browned and slightly crispy.  Set shallots aside while you dry-fry shiitaki mushrroms until they are soft.

Stir and cook until mushrooms are soft.  Remove from heat and set mushrooms aside. Place skillet on heat, add remaining oil and kale stems.  Stir and cook until stems are soft.  Add leaves, stir and add vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.  Cover and steam for 5 minutes.  Remove cover, stir and serve.  You can add a little lemon juice if you want .

Add this kale dish to soup, grains, sandwiches, or serve as a side dish for dinner.

Kake, mushrooms and shallots, grilled zucchini, purple mashed potatoes with salsa 
Couldn't you spare one bite for a poor starving hound dog?

Monday, May 5, 2014

Purple Potatoes, Leeks, Mushrooms and Arugula

Plant Start Season
The first three hundred customers at the U-District farmers market last Saturday got a free plant start.  I was so excited when I read the email that I arrived early. I met my two friends, and we walked to the Managers tent  and inquired.  It's a new tent on the north side of the market.

I knew I wanted cilantro from River Farm.  One of my friends also choose cilantro, the other chose a Black Prince tomato start from Rent's Due Ranch.

Just down from the Manager's tent is Let Us Farm--back this week from winter break. The word is, the north end is the busiest end of the market.  "It's where most of the people come in," farm Steve Hallstrom told us. At the very end (or beginning) of the market, Let Us Farm got a little bigger space this year, so business should be good for farmers Steve and Cecelia.

Steve Hallstrom of Let Us Farm

I knew arugula was the vegetable I wanted as soon as I saw it. The rest of the dish and the dinner would revolve around that. For most people, planning meals revolves around the choice of meat, but for vegetarians and those who love vegetables, the best way to decide the what's-for-dinner question is to pick a vegetable that appeals to you and then dream up what you want with it. Every dish can be a supporting character. And with fresh seasonal vegetables you don't need a lot of spices and just a few herbs.

The leeks and shallots both looked so good Steve suggested, "Why not use both?"

I ended up getting both but they each have a mild flavor that can easily be overwhelmed.  I was pretty sure I wouldn't use them together.  The young worker at the booth asked what I planned to do with the arugula. 

"It's coming together now," I'd said.   Sno-Valley mushrooms and probably purple potatoes from Olsen Farms--I knew one thing, this was going to be a main dish."  

It's just a mix and match from the farmers' market.  Isn't that the way good food should be?

And what's not to love about shiitaki mushrooms?  They're good for your immune system for one thing, and they impart a savory flavor.  Sno Valley Mushrooms are also one of the best buys at the market.  But if the price still seems steep, you can grow your own or buy seconds.  

If you're on a food budget, ask a farmer if they have any seconds for a lower price, sometimes seconds are kept behind the booth.

Before we left, I got a baguette.  Our Saturday meal wouldn't be complete without crusty bread from Tall Grass Bakery.

I decided on the leek over the shallots.
At home, the garden is currently under way.  Our arugula and mustard greens are coming up. It won't belong before we have lettuce from our garden.

Potatoes, Leeks, Mushrooms, and Arugula
(Serves 2)

4 small potatoes (waxy like Yukon, white, red or Yellow Finn potatoes)
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces, mushrooms sliced
1 leek, washed well and sliced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, pressed
1 to 2 tablespoons Mama Lil's Peppers or 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
8 ounces chicken style seitan, cut into bite-size pieces
1 bunch arugula, roughly chopped
Fresh orange or lemon juice to taste
Sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 400F.  Wash and dice the potatoes.  The smaller you cut them, the faster they roast.  Place potatoes in a baking dish and toss with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil.  Roast for 25 minutes or until slightly crispy.  Lightly sprinkle fleur de sel or sea salt over them when done.

While potatoes cook, remove tough mushroom stems and slice the tops.  Dry fry (in a frying pan without oil) until they start to become limp.  Add leek, garlic, Mama Lil's Peppers and seitan.  Stir and cook until leeks begin to brown.  When potatoes are done, add potatoes and chopped arugula to the mushrooms and leeks. 

Stir cover and cook for a few minutes, until arugula wilts.  Drizzle with orange or lemon juice.  Add sea salt to taste.