Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Favorite Appetizer

Our trip departure was delayed by a day so I thought I could squeeze one more little post in before we go. I'd like to share a simple 5-ingredient appetizer that I like to make. It is not particularly seasonal so it can be made any time of the year. I like to pair it with a frizzante, or semi-sparkling wine, like a Prosecco.

Rosemary Walnut Goat Cheese Honey Toasts
You will need:
a fresh baguette
6 oz. of soft goat cheese
1 T. fresh or dried rosemary
1/3 cup walnuts
some honey for drizzling
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Chop walnuts and toast until fragrant in an iron skillet. Bring goat cheese to room temperature for ease of spreading. Crush dried rosemary with a mortar and pestle or with your fingers until it is in small pieces (~1/4") or chop fresh rosemary. Slice baguette into rounds. Spread with goat cheese. Place on a baking sheet in preheated oven for 9 minutes. Remove and sprinkle with toasted chopped walnuts and crushed rosemary. Drizzle with warmed honey and serve.


One last photo of my birthday bouquet looking Christmassy 
Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Less is More and the Concept of Enough

Lately I've been pondering the concept of enough. For many years now this country has held the philosophy that more is better. More money, bigger cars, bigger houses, larger portions, big box stores, more possessions, larger screens, more options, etc., etc. Corporations want to make more and more profits. When is it enough? Is there ever an enough?

A friend once told me a story about an experience he had on an island off of Papua New Guinea many years ago. He was with some native young men out in the forest. I can't remember if they were hiking or hunting or what. They stopped to make a fire. As the fire got going my friend started to add more wood. "No, don't do that," the boys said, "that is Enough". They lived on a small island, fuel wood was scarce, and from a young age they had internalized the concepts of conservation and sufficiency.

The Pre-Columbian native people of our country seemed to be innately conservation-minded as well. It would be crazy for anyone with a subsistence-based life tied to the land to be wasteful. But the conception of limitless resources and the ways of wastefulness and poor stewardship seem like such an inherent part of the collective American psyche. 

I think about the native folks living here just 500 years ago in this country. Their concept of enough was so tied to food, water, and fuel wood; the resources needed to get through the year. I can relate to this feeling when it comes to firewood. We heat almost exclusively with wood and much time and energy is expended to procure it. What a wonderful feeling when it is all split and stacked tightly in the shed. Ahhh, we have Enough to make it through the winter!
Our modern day concept of enough is complicated by money and the uncertainty of the "economy" and by unknown college expenses, health care, and "retirement". It is hard sometimes to really know what is enough when it comes to these things. But there are many day to day things where this concept of enough can be applied. An example that comes to mind around Christmas time involves excessive giving of presents, especially to children. Does a child really need 27 gifts? Could 1 or 2 or 3 be Enough? Could the few even be appreciated more than the many? Other examples for the exploration of Enough might include food, alcohol, technology, clothes, cars, power consumption; consumption in general.

A long ago friend's parents had the word PLENTY carved on a shelf in their kitchen. I try to embrace the concept of Plenty in my life especially as it relates to food and love and time. It is tied to the concept of Enough. Plenty is Enough's generous cousin.

We on this planet Earth have to realize that we ALL live on an island; an island in space, and that our resources are finite and precious. We in the U.S. need to stop using more than our share. Individuals and corporations need to re-examine the paradigm of continuous expansion. It's like that top 1% trying to hang on to every cent of their tremendous wealth as if their lives depended upon it. As if it were their food stores or firewood for the winter instead of the obscene surplus it is hard for most of us to imagine. (Oh, oops, I'm gravitating toward the political. But even food, my neutral topic, can be political.)

I believe there can still be Plenty for everyone if we can re-discover and re-define the concept of Enough.

My son's kindergarten class sang this song for their holiday concert today:

It's a world of laughter, a world of tears
It's a world of hope and a world of fears
There's so much that we share
That it's time we're aware
It's a small world after all...

Okay, well that was a big topic for the kind of time I have to post. I have written Enough. On another note our family is embarking on a 15-day road trip in a couple of days and will return early in the new year. I'm not sure whether I will have a chance to post along the way so there may be a Farm Girl Blog lull but I am excited about continuing my new hobby in 2012! I wish everyone a holiday season of Enough and Plenty!


Monday, December 12, 2011

The Enormous Bread Bowl and the Journey to My Happy Kitchen

When I was around 19 or 20 years old I used to bake these decadent poppy seed white-chocolate chip cookies and sell them at cafes in Sebastopol. My aunt, a baker, upon learning of my interest in baking gifted me with a bread bowl. It is an extraordinary bowl. It was made by Robinson Ransbottom Pottery out of Roseville, Ohio. I liked it at the time but I also felt a bit burdened by it. The thing is huge and weighs all of 15 pounds. At the time, I could fit all of my belongings into one vehicle. For years, I moved an average of once every 6 months and oftentimes shared a kitchen with numerous college roommates. After college I began my career by working seasonally for the Forest Service and so my nomadic lifestyle continued. For many years the bowl and I were separated. It sat in a closet at my parents' house, unused but not forgotten. 

Even my first house was too small for the bowl. In 1998 I bought a 700 square foot cabin at Lake Tahoe where I worked at the time. Oh, the joy of my own kitchen at last! It was small and dated but it was mine. I have fond memories of sushi get togethers, BBQs, fresh pasta, pesto shrimp, apple pies, baba ganoush, hummus, quiches, soups, salads, and scones. Cabinet and counter space were both limited. I remember one particular incident where I was blending some batter for apple clafouti. The blender lid was not secured properly and batter sprayed out all over me. I stepped back, right onto the edge of a pie plate full of brandy-sauteed apples and batter which, of course, flipped up, covering my shoe and the floor with a sticky mess. It was on the floor because I had run out of counter space. Actually, if I recall correctly, this occurred about 5 minutes after I had chipped my grandparents' old crystal liquor decanter as I pulled the bottle of brandy from the back of a crammed cabinet. Oh, how I longed for a bigger kitchen!

It wasn't until 8 years ago, when we moved into our current house, that the bowl had a kitchen to properly accommodate it. When not in use for baking, the bowl literally serves as our bread bowl. It sits prominently but unpretentiously in a counter corner where it holds our loaves of bread, baguettes, and chips. It is also the perfect bowl to mix large batches of dough and leave it to rise. I am not a weekly bread baker but instead am sporadic. But whenever I am ready the bowl is there. Although it has now seen a lot of use as a container and for pizza dough and bread projects it looks as new as the day I received it 20 plus years ago. It is made to last and down-homey and wonderful. It took awhile for me to settle down and find my happy and spacious kitchen and now the bread bowl is an integral part of it. 

Yesterday I used it to mix pumpkin bread batter.

Mom's Pumpkin Bread
Notes: My mom always made this with homemade fresh pumpkin puree and I do the same but I'm sure canned would be fine too. This recipe makes one large loaf (9"x5") but is easily doubled to make 3 medium loaves. Freezes well.

In one bowl mix:
1 3/4 cup flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1 t. salt
3/4 t. each cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger 
1/2 t. clove
In another bowl mix:
2 eggs 
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
1/2 cup water
1 1/4 cup pumpkin puree
 - Add dry to wet ingredients. Stir well. Add 3/4 cup of raisins and 1/2 cup of chopped walnuts or pecans. Bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hour or until toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Birthday Blog

Many years ago today, I was born. This December 9th dawned clear and crisp with temps in the teens. Being a hungry farm girl, this day will be about food and cooking as much as anything. My birthday request to my husband was to keep up with the dishes as I cook my way through the day. The only way to keep our kitchen warm when it is 18 degrees outside is to keep that oven and stovetop going.

We are having a favorite local couple in for dinner. My friend, a kindred spirit, is bringing greenhouse grown arugula salad, a jar of homemade gooseberry jam, and her special ginger carrot cake. You can see why we are friends.

My kitchen plans for the day include a miso sesame ginger sweet potato dip that I definitely want to share with everyone. It is a super healthy, simple but unique, and tasty recipe. I also plan to make spicy fennel almonds, ground turkey chili, Mexican wedding cookies, and pumpkin bread. On a wintery day, spending time being creative in the kitchen (especially with someone else on dish-duty) is my idea of a little bit of heaven.

Yesterday I made smoked-sea-salted caramels. I almost never make candy but I was inspired by an advertisement for salted caramels in a holiday Crate and Barrel catalogue that appeared in our mailbox recently.

These will make nice gifts for the neighbors

Below is the sweet potato dip recipe. You will need miso paste and sesame tahini.  
Miso, sesame, and sweet potato dip
1 lb. deep orange flesh sweet potatoes, peeled
   and cut into 1 to 2 inch chunks
2 t. minced fresh ginger
2 T. white or red miso paste
1 ½ T. tahini
2 t. soy sauce
2 T. thinly sliced green onion
1 ½ t. toasted sesame seeds

1. Steam sweet potatoes until tender (~20 mins). Drain reserving liquid and let cool slightly.
2. Whirl sweet potatoes, ginger, miso, tahini, soy sauce, and a bit of the reserved liquid in food processor until very smooth.
3. Transfer to bowl and stir in ½ the green onions. Sprinkle top with remaining green onions and sesame seeds.  *A drizzle of sesame oil is also nice.
4. Serve warm or at room temperature with cucumber slices for dipping.

The finished dip sans the green onions
(I thought I had some??)

Every holiday season our quaint downtown hosts a "Sparkle Night" where all the businesses stay open late and serve food and drink. There is a lights parade and carols and a Christmas tree lighting on the grand old courthouse lawn. It is always a cold night but a couple thousand intrepid men, women, and children bundle up and come out to meet their friends and neighbors, and share in the holiday cheer. On Sparkle Night 7 years ago I tasted these spicy almonds at a business and jotted down the recipe from the proprietor. They are quick and easy to put together and make a nice appetizer for company. My husband loves savory nibbles in the pre-dinner hour and these are perfect for that too.

Christmas Sparkle Spicy Fennel Almonds
non-stick spray
3 T. sugar
2 t. fennel
1 t. dried crushed red pepper
1 t. salt
1 c. raw almonds
1 T. water

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.
Line a small baking pan with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Combine sugar, fennel, red pepper and salt in a bowl. Add 1 T. water and mix well. Add the almond and stir to coat well. Spread in a single layer in pan and cook stirring occasionally (2 or 3 times) for approximately 25 minutes until the almonds are golden brown. Cool and break apart. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

SUSHi!! Part 2

This is the second part of a post on sushi making. See Part 1 (December 5th) for a list of essentials you will need before you begin.

Making the rice
1 scant cup of rice makes 4 sushi rolls (feeds 2)
1 heaping cup makes 5 sushi rolls (feeds 3)
Rinse sushi rice a few times in the saucepan you are going to cook it in. I even like to let it soak for a few minutes while I am pulling out other ingredients. Drain off water and add 1 1/2 cups water for each cup of rice. Bring just to a boil and then turn heat down. This rice is fast cooking so set the timer for 10 minutes. You can use this time to prep filling ingredients. Also place a couple tablespoons of rice vinegar and a couple teaspoons of sugar into a small saucepan and set aside. This can be heated quickly to dissolve the sugar as the rice is finishing. This mixture is then poured over the cooked hot rice as you are stirring to cool it.

The filling
Again, here is where the possibilities are great. You can go veggie or vegan, raw or cooked, spicy or mild. My fillings are dictated by what is available to me at the moment. Some suggestions: sauteed shiitake mushrooms, raw jicama, sauteed zucchini strips, pickled daikon radish......

Asparagus is yummy in sushi rolls and even when it is not in our garden I'll sometimes buy just four or five stalks just for this purpose.
I simmer these in a shallow pan until tender
You can also use bay shrimp or chopped up fish to make a spicy mayonnaise filling. Just add some mayo and cayenne and Joe's Stuff or other favorite spicy blend. My brother and I once made a filling like this with chopped cooked artichoke hearts. Use your imagination. Below are several ingredients I prepped for recent sushi rolling session. I seared the albacore with a wasabi/oil rub. The bowl contains a spicy shrimp mixture. Everything else is just cut up in thin strips.

Making the rolls
When you are ready to roll, you will need a small container of water (I use the cup measure I used for the rice) near your work station. (You know I just had the thought that there is probably a perfectly good YouTube video that shows you exactly how to do this!) Place the sheet of nori shiny side down on the flatter side of the rolling mat. Spoon some warm but not hot rice onto the seaweed and spread it out to make an even layer leaving half an inch at the bottom and 1 1/2 inches at the top. Lay your ingredients across the center of the rice. If you are a beginner, start small. Do not over-fill or it will be more difficult to roll. I keep a small bottle of sesame oil nearby to drizzle over the filling once it is in place. The rolling part just takes a little practice. If you've ever rolled a cigarette or...ahem...anything else like that, you already have the basic concept. 

Right before you begin to roll you will dip your finger in the cool water you have placed nearby and wet the top edge of the nori. Then, using the mat to help, roll the bottom edge AROUND the top of the filling and try to tuck the bottom edge of nori in under the filling with your fingers a bit. Then use the mat to continue to make as tight a roll as you can, making sure you get a good seal with your wet edge. Roll completely up in the mat and compress lightly with your hands. Unroll and presto:

Rolls can be cut up and eaten immediately or made ahead several hours and refrigerated. Remove from fridge a good half hour before serving. They are more flavorful when closer to room temperature. Use the sharpest serrated knife you own and saw into bite-sized pieces. Arrange on a platter and serve with wasabi soy sauce. Reconstitute the powdered wasabi with a bit of water before adding soy sauce.

I love raw fish but as you can imagine it is challenging to obtain sushi grade fresh fish here in the mountains. And then there is the sustainability issue. Here is link to the Monterey Bay Aquarium's ocean-friendly seafood recommendations: Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch  

I buy sushi grade Ahi (Bigeye) tuna from a grocery store here in town. Here is what the seafood guide has to say about Ahi.

Tuna, BigeyeBest Choice: These fish are abundant, well managed and fished or farmed in environmentally friendly ways.Ahi, Po’onui, Patudo, MaguroU.S. AtlanticTroll, Pole-and-line
Tuna, BigeyeGood Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.Ahi, Po’onui, Patudo, MaguroWorldwideTroll, Pole-and-line
Tuna, BigeyeGood Alternative: These are good alternatives to the best choices column. There are some concerns with how they are fished or farmed – or with the health of their habitats due to other human impacts.Ahi, Po’onui, Patudo, MaguroU.S. AtlanticLongline
Tuna, BigeyeAvoid: Avoid these products for now. These fish come from sources that are overfished or fished or farmed in ways that harm the environment.Ahi, Po’onui, Patudo, MaguroWorldwide, Except U.S. AtlanticLongline

It looks like if you are going to get serious about eating ocean-friendly, you will need an open line of communication with your supplier. Not all of the information necessary to make an informed decision is always listed on the label. I have to admit that I am not sure about the Ahi I buy. I will need to ask how it was caught next time I am at the market. I'll let you know what I find out. It could be that I will not longer be able to purchase it in blissful ignorance....

Monday, December 5, 2011

SUSHi!! Part 1

I love sushi. It is sensual. I love the taste of seaweed and wasabi. I love the texture of raw fish. I think it is beautiful to look at and a treat to eat. It feels healthy and light. It is one of the only foods that I experience intense cravings for. Because of that, I make it often. If you also love sushi but are daunted by making it yourself, I hope to embolden you to get rolling! Making sushi rolls is as easy as making burritos once you get the hang of it.

It can also be super budget friendly. Like much Japanese cuisine, it features rice.  The rice is the canvas for your creativity. It is a great way to use up that last carrot, the ripe avocado, that half a cucumber from last night's salad, etc. It is easy to turn a few random veggies into an eye and palate pleasing presentation.

So, where to begin? You will need a few things to get started. Once these items have been procured, making sushi is a breeze. If you live almost anywhere but Quincy, you should be able to find these items in your area. There is an Asian market in Cotati, Ca that I stop at every time I visit my parents. That is where I pick up wasabi powder, nori (the sheets of seaweed for rolling), rice vinegar, extra rolling mats for friends, etc.

1) A rolling mat
A bamboo rolling mat costs a couple bucks. Here is one on bamboo mat
2) Nori sheets
A package of 50 costs me $7 at my Asian market. Make sure you get full-sheets not half-sheets.
3) Rice vinegar
Either seasoned or not. You can find this at most grocery stores.
4) Sushi rice
Sushi rice is typically a short-grained white rice. This does work the best to create the sticky consistency for spreading on the nori but I have used all different rices successfully in a pinch. Short-grained brown rice works well but its flavor can eclipse some of the more subtle fish flavors. It is a great healthy option for veggie rolls though.
5) Wasabi
A Japanese spicy hot horshradish sold in paste and powder form. I always buy the powder. 
6) Sesame oil
This is not necessary to make sushi but I love it drizzled in every roll I make.

Well, since I accidentally hit "post" at this point, I think I am going to make the sushi tutorial into two separate posts, part 1 and 2. Look for part 2 tomorrow. Here is a mouth watering photo to keep your interest.

Spicy shrimp, seared ahi, asparagus,
cucumber, and avocado roll

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Comforting Lamb Stew

I made a lamb stew last night for dinner. The nights are cold; the fire is warm; and this kind of dinner hits the spot. We bought a lamb awhile back from a local ranch. If you have ever purchased a butchered animal before you know that part of the fun is choosing how you want the butcher to cut, prepare, and wrap it. With the lamb, for example, we had a choice of ribs: chops or Frenched racks, legs: bone in or out, shoulder: chops or ground or stew chunks, etc. I have used the stew meat for shish-kabobs in the summer. Last night I created a tasty and satisfying one-pot meal I will now share.

I started with just a one pound package of lamb stew meat. Use more if you like a meatier stew. Cut the pieces up until they are truly bite-sized. Salt and pepper and cumin the chunks and then roll them in flour. Pour a few glugs of olive oil into a heavy pot and heat till hot.  Brown the meat in the pot and then remove.

Add 2 chopped onions and a large chopped garlic clove to pan and another glug of oil if necessary and saute until tender.

Add the meat back in. In the fridge I had a half a can of Amy's Organic Soups Chunky Tomato Bisque which I added at this point. You could substitute a cup of tomato sauce or diced tomatoes and maybe a teaspoon of sugar. Add 1 teaspoon of grated lemon zest and the juice from half a lemon. Also sprinkle on a teaspoon of cinnamon and stir well. At this point you can add 4 cups of beef stock and a bay leaf and let it simmer for 1 hour. After 1 hour add 2 cubed potatoes and a few sliced carrots.  Simmer for 25 or 30 minutes longer until vegetables are tender.  Salt to taste.  
Serves 4.

Ingredient List:
1 lb. lamb stew meat
2 onions
2 yukon gold potatoes
a few carrots
1 cup tomato soup or tomato sauce 
   or diced tomatoes
a lemon
a bay leaf
olive oil
a little flour for dredging
a little sugar (optional)


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Joy of Blogging

It is the last day of November and my last post of the month. I began this blog just over 3 weeks ago on November 7th. I love the new dimension that it has added to my life. Now as I am pondering a subject during my daily activities, I think, "I want to blog about that!". I now have a dedicated blog notebook where I jot down ideas. I have read that the only really "successful" blogs are those that focus, focus, focus their content. My notebook reveals anything but focus. But their definition of success (a huge following and advertising income) is not the same as mine.

I have realized that it is fruitless to attempt to write unless I am alone in the house. There are 3 mornings a week when this is the case; Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. I've always looked forward to and thoroughly enjoyed my alone time but now I especially cherish sitting down to create a post. It focuses my mind in an almost meditation-like way. I feel that the writing is literally waking up my brain and I have lately been feeling more of a mind-body balance than I have felt for a while. That is success enough for me!

On the backside of the blog where I am currently typing my post before it is published there are tabs where you can change the settings and design of the user interface. There is also a tab for statistical data about your blog's activity.  I admit to being fascinated by this. It shows how many pageviews your blog has in a day and you can view this data as a graph over a week, month, or year. It also has a map showing where your clicks are coming from across the globe. My blog has been opened from Russia a surprising number of times. I have no idea what that is about. The next highest number of views come from Germany. Fascinating! 

Below is a list of ideas for future posts from my notebook. I appreciate all the interest and support from friends and family thus far. Hopefully you will continue to check back periodically to see what I'm up to.
  • The Meadery
  • Solar Oven (next summer)
  • S.A.D.
  • Kindergarten Story
  • So Many Food Loving Farm Girls
  • Words
  • Caught Between Worlds
  • The Gift of Food
  • Stephan Way Chardonnay
  • Precious Nutmeat
  • When You Realize Your Kids Were Listening
  • Sweet Potato Dip
  • Children's Cultural References
  • Locavore
  • Cauliflower Soup
  • Sushi! 
  • African Groundnut Stew (Thx Candace)
  • Nigel Slater's Tender (Thx Don and Renee)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Sticker Free

Here we are home again; back from a lovely traditional Thanksgiving gathering. When we travel from our place in the mountains to my parents place near the coast we cross the fertile Sacramento Valley. Between Marysville and Oroville on Highway 70 there is a succession of fruit and veggie stands that sell the produce of the region. Our favorite is Tony's. We have been stopping there for the past 8 years as we make the trek across the valley to visit family. Jerralee has watched our son grow from a baby to a boy and gifted him with honey sticks and gourds to decorate. In the summer their stand is overflowing with multiple varieties of peaches and other fruits and veggies galore. This time of year you can find winter squash, persimmons, pomegranates, mandarins, dried fruits, and nuts.

I have to say that I am partial to produce without stamps or stickers on it. At Tony's, like at most farmer's markets, there is not a sticker to be found. To me it is an indicator of low food miles. Many of the stickered fruits and veggies you find at the grocery store have traveled many miles indeed. Lately here in Quincy I have seen avocados from New Zealand in the stores. Since California and also Mexico are such big avocado producers it is hard to understand how it is economically/environmentally viable to import this fruit from a completely different part of the globe. Yes, a good deal of the food we Americans eat is much more well-traveled than the populace eating it.

It is challenging to eat sticker-free in our isolated mountain town through the long winter but our holiday trips through the valley and to Tony's are helpful in this regard. 

Seasonal, sticker-free produce 
The lemons are from my parents' place. I am fortunate in that both my parents and my in-laws have lemon trees because they certainly don't grow here. Last winter I used some of my in-laws' (they live in Calistoga, CA) Meyer lemons to make a delicious limoncello (Italian after-dinner liquor). The sugar pumpkins are good for cooking and came from a new favorite stopping place near Petaluma, CA called Green String Farm

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Food Thankfuls

Thanksgiving is almost upon us. It is this farm girl's favorite holiday, a holiday that gives thanks for the bounty of the earth by gathering to eat it with loved ones. Tomorrow we drive down from the mountains to the "farm" and my parent's house. They have been hosting a large Thanksgiving gathering there for over 30 years straight.

Here are a few food thankfuls:

Last night we ate the last of the summer garden tomatoes. These were the ones that were pulled from the vine green after our first dusting of snow in early October and placed in boxes lined with newspaper to ripen. This year the tomatoes were late to ripen due to unseasonably cold weather into June. It was mid-August before we had our first sweet ones. Then followed 2 months of tomato bliss. We usually can squeeze about 3 months of garden tomato eating out of the year. And then guess what?  Nine months virtually devoid of this beloved fruit. I am thankful for garden tomatoes and the seasonality of them which makes them so precious.

Last garden tomatoes with mashed
avocado dressing, then tossed with lettuce
A lovely young couple in town recently had their first baby. When we were new parents we were lavished with baby clothes, toys, books, blankets, etc. by friends, family, and even acquaintances. It is lovely to be able to return the favor. This particular new mom is also a gardener and has generously shared some of her produce with me in thanks for the things we have passed on to her family. She paid me a visit today. Take a look.

Huge fat heads of garlic and butternuts
I am thankful for this gorgeous produce today. Food has to be my absolute favorite gift! 

For our Thanksgiving gathering I am bringing a cranberry walnut tart and a colorful broccoli salad. Last night I did a trial run on the salad. Check these colors:

So I am certainly thankful for this bright combo but extra thankful for the recipe for the almond butter-based dressing that I found in a recipe for a different salad on Heidi Swanson's lovely food blog 101 Cookbooks.

This dressing would be yummy on any type of vegetable salad.

Almond Butter Dressing

1 clove garlic
scant 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 c. almond butter
3 T. lemon juice
1 t. honey
2 T. olive oil
2 T. hot water

Sprinkle salt over garlic and mash and chop to make a paste. I did this with a mortar and pestle. Whisk salty garlic paste with almond butter, lemon juice, honey, and olive oil. Add hot water and whisk until light and creamy.
My last food thankful for the day is for the cranberry walnut tart I made this afternoon. I won't include the recipe here (ask if you'd like it) but the photo will give you an idea of its festive appearance.

So Happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy the company you have and don't forget to appreciate the colors and textures and flavors of the food before you!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Recipe Drawer

I have been collecting recipes for well over 20 years. Sometime soon after I graduated from high school my father bought me a copy of the old Joy of Cooking.  For years I shoved scraps of paper with handwritten recipes between the front cover and the first page of this book. Eventually I couldn't close the book any longer and had to move the ever-growing pile of recipes to a box.  For the past 8 years they have had their own large kitchen drawer.  A couple years ago, frustrated with the dysfunction of riffling through hundreds of recipes to find the one I was looking for, I created recipe category folders.  So there is a folder for meat-based recipes, one for veggie/side dishes, one for breads and desserts, and a separate folder for cookies. Some of the folders are so fat that they barely contain their contents but at least its something. The meat-based recipe folder is the thinnest due to those 15 years of a vegetarian diet. 

All of my favorite recipes, that get made often, hover near the tops of the folders. When I have to hunt for a buried one there is a little time commitment involved.  I bring the folder to the kitchen table and page through the pile, re-living memories and being inspired along the way.  Usually when I go in search of one recipe I end up pulling 2 or 3 to the top that are calling out to be made. 

There are recipes from my travels, restaurants, old roommates, my mother, dear friends, and almost forgotten acquaintances.  There is the recipe from the Mennonite woman who had raised 12 children that I met in Belize.  She served me lunch in her home and on the table was a heaping bowl of sweet cucumber relish that tasted unique and delicious.  I wrote the recipe on a page of pink stationary as she dictated it to me. Now as I unfold the worn page I see that there is a quote at the bottom of the stationary she gave to me.  “Love never fails…..” I Corinthians 13:8.

There is the corn chowder recipe that was dictated to me in tandem by a pair of grandmothers who won the peoples choice award at a local chowder festival I attended years ago.

There is the carrot cake recipe that I finally obtained from the cook at the restaurant that used to be behind “The Cutthroat Saloon” in Markleeville, Ca.  It is the best carrot cake I have ever tasted.  I used to drive down there from Tahoe to go to Grover Hot Springs State Park and I would always stop in for a piece.  So I finally asked for the recipe, (this is probably 15 years ago now), and it was given grudgingly.  It now lives in my recipe drawer on a lavender piece of cardstock under the title: Thee Carrot Cake.  The lavender color helps me find it when I need it.

This is where the Luddite in me comes in.  I understand completely that any tech-savvy cook today has hundreds of thousands of recipes at his or her fingertips on their smart phone or iPad.  I myself have been using Epicurious for years and my folders now contain many favorites printed from the internet.  So I do not necessarily oppose the new, I am just cautious about giving up the old.  I just made up some song lyrics!:  I’m cautious about change.  What am I giving up for what I gain?.........  (Yes, I am a total geek.  We can get that out of the way right now.)  Anyway, I’m cautious about digitizing my drawer.  It would be more convenient and fast but gone would be the colors, textures, shapes, and sizes of the pages.  Gone would be the food stains and handwritten notes and changes.  The recipes chronicle my food interests through time and the handwriting itself triggers memories that may be lost if it were all traded for generic typeface.

I'll leave it at that for today but I have more thoughts on the old vs. the new so the topic is "To Be Continued"......  I'd love to hear your thoughts too in Comments!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Cinnamon, Nutmeg, and Ginger

It is getting cold here on the shady side of the iceberg. Living in the mountains of the Sierra Nevada in the wintertime requires a certain fortitude, and attitude, for that matter, that I sometimes wonder if I possess. The morning temps have been hovering between 20 and 28. Snow is on the way this weekend. And this is just the Fall. Winter sometimes lingers here until early June. It is a long haul, especially here on the shady side of the iceberg.

But on the bright side (and the warm side) there is cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger. Without even thinking about it I instinctually begin cooking and baking with these spices as the weather cools. How wonderful that these spices go so well with the season's produce and have the ability to warm you up on a chilly Fall day. Let me share a few of the things I've been making in the past week or two that incorporate these spices.

Carrot Gratin
Courtesy Eric Skokan, Black Cat Farm Table, Boulder, CO.

1 1/2 lb. carrots peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato peeled and thinly sliced
1  medium onion peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves peeled and minced
1 cup half and half
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or not freshly grated)
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 sprigs of thyme

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Combine carrots, potato, onion, garlic, half-and-half, cream, nutmeg and salt in a large mixing bowl. Toss well to combine. Transfer to a an ovenproof baking dish. Lay thyme sprigs over the top. Cover with a tight fitting lid or foil.
3. Bake about 1 hour. Remove lid and continue baking for 10 minutes to allow the gratin to brown. Let sit for 10 to 30 minutes and remove thyme sprigs before serving. Serves 6.
We grew several types (and colors!)
of carrots this year
Looks like an eye right?
And carrots enhance eye function!
The gratin straight from the oven
Butternut Squash Soup

I forgot to take pictures of this when I made it last week.  I am still getting used to this food blogging thing.  There are, of course, many variations of this simple blended style of soup.  I like this one with nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, AND one of my all-time-favorite spices, cumin.

1 medium onion chopped
1 T. butter
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of butternut squash peeled and cubed
1 potato peeled and cubed
1 (or 2 if small) apples peeled and cubed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1 cup apple juice
1 cup milk or half-and-half
salt and pepper

Saute onion in butter until soft then add butternut squash, potato, and apple.  Saute for a few more minutes. Add 1 to 2 cups of water and all of the spices and let simmer for 15 minutes or until potatoes and butternut are tender.  Let cool a bit and then blend in food processor or blender until smooth. Return to soup pot and add apple juice and milk or half-and-half and heat through. Season to taste with salt and a little pepper. Serves 6

Chewy Ginger Raisin Cookies
I never make these in the Spring or Summer but they are a staple cookie in our house this time of year.

Combine and beat together:
2 c. dark brown sugar
1 ½ c. canola oil
2 eggs
½ c. dark molasses

Stir together:
4 c. flour
4 t. baking soda
2 t. cinnamon
2 t. ground ginger
1 t. ground cloves
½ t. salt
Optional: 1 ½ cups of raisins added to dough last

Gradually add the dry mixture to the wet one in the mixer (I highly recommend using a mixer if you have one.)  Dough should be quite stiff.  Roll into small balls with the palms of your hands and then roll the balls in granulated sugar or a courser raw sugar if you have it and place on greased cookie sheet or parchment paper.

Bake at 375 degrees.

8 or 9 minutes for chews (this is the way I do them)
10 or 11 minutes for snaps

Makes a lot (4 to 7 dozen depending on size).  I often halve this recipe if it is just for our family.

*A note about my recipes.  If there is no credit given it is either because I made it up or, it is one of the scores of recipes in my "recipe drawer" (the subject of a future post) that are hand-scrawled on anything from a napkin to an envelope and the source has been long forgotten. Like, for example, the ginger cookie recipe above comes from a photocopy of a handwritten recipe that I believe may have come from a co-worker of my father's, 20 or so years ago, when she sent cookies home with him and I requested the recipe. The tattered page now has my notes and changes on it along with vegetable oil stains. : )