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Locavore Cooking with Southern Efficiency and Northern Charm

Archive for May 2010

Monica Bhide’s Morel Pulao with Cashews

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Morel Pulao with Cashews.

I don’t cook Indian often at home, but it’s not for lack of love of the cuisine, and especially, its fragrant spices. I reviewed Ragavan Iyer’s tome while at The Sun and just met this Indian chef extraordinaire at the recent IACP conference in Portland. But lately I’ve been most fascinated by the fusion recipes of Monica Bhide, who regularly writes for The Post‘s food section and NPR’s Kitchen Window. And her newish Modern Spice cookbook is a gem. Mark Bittman wrote the introduction.

Because morels are the most tempting wild mushroom now in season, Bhide’s Morel Pulao with Cashews grabbed me. I’ve made it twice now, both times without the exact ingredients on hand. I substituted sauteed chanterelle duxelles for the morels the first time and used fresh ones this second time. Didn’t have paneer on hand to use either time, and I had trouble “stuffing” the morels without causing them to crumble. Still, this aromatic, flexible basmati rice dish makes an excellent side or even main dish with a salad. Sauteeing the cardamom, cinnamon stick, bay leaves, grated onion and ground cashews together creates quite a comforting perfume. This is delicate Indian comfort food. The recipe is also less complicated than it sounds. Maybe next I’ll tackle South Indian masala dosas, with their fermented crepe batter. But for now, a rice pulao is a nice place to start. Click below for the recipe.

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Written by baltimoregon

May 31, 2010 at 1:36 am

Beguiled by Berries

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What are those, tomatillos? Hopefully they'll be deep indigo and sweet soon.

Just a strawberry or two to tease us.

Of all the bounty that grows in Oregon, our berries are best. We even have certain varietals–think Marionberries–exclusively developed and grown here. So naturally I’d want to try to cultivate some of these sweet gems in my home garden.

Last summer, let’s just say I didn’t get off to the best start. I bought a hanging strawberry basket that unfortunately dried up, as it got ignored while we were traveling all of July and part of August. I also had two discounted blueberry plants shrivel up when I waited to long to plant them. But a $2 gooseberry from the Habitat for Humanity Restore miraculously survived. It’s only promising about two gooseberries this spring, but that’s a start. Not that I’ve ever cooked with gooseberries. But I hear they make nice pie and jam.

A wee gooseberry or two.

To keep slugs at bay, I’ve got about a half dozen strawberry plants in small pots. The ants still seem to be crawling all over the few ripe owns. Our erratic weather just hasn’t been warm enough to redden them up. Heck, it even hailed last week, and farms suffered the damages. I can see why local growers such as Denison Farms do strawberries in hoop houses. Now I appreciate their labor. And they grow them without pesticides or chemical fertilizers, unlike my once-beloved Baugher’s pick-your-own berry farm in Maryland. When I went out to the Taneytown area farm to report my story for The Baltimore Sun, I remember some whitish and blue chemical residue around their strawberries made those bright red rubies slightly less appetizing.

Evidence of Thursday's brief hailstorm.

At least one of two blueberry plants looks like it will yield a bit of a crop. I dug two scrawny five-year old bushes (can’t remember if they were Bluecrops, Chandlers or Dukes) up from a patch Hazelnut Hill orchard wanted to clear out. Not bad for $5 a piece. But I probably didn’t amend our clay soil enough before planting those shallow rooted things at home. I did try to mix in some acidic mulch to encourage the ground to drain a bit better. Then we had a truck blow some mulch into the area. Hope it wasn’t all for naught. It did pain me to see the honeybees mostly ignore my two bushes in favor of the neighbors’ heartier berries in early May. I planted ours near their border, to encourage cross-pollination. Survival of the fittest, indeed.

Written by baltimoregon

May 24, 2010 at 11:55 pm

Luscious Yogurt Panna Cotta: My New Favorite Make-at-Home Dessert

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With a stewed strawberry-rhubarb sauce.

Or with creamy, non-stringy Atulfo mango, mint and lemon verbena.

Searching for a fail-safe dessert recipe that’s always sure to impress your guests? What about a simple, but elegant, no-bake panna cotta?

I ran across this luscious recipe from our local Nancy’s Yogurt while searching for something new to do with rhubarb. It’s from Cathy Whims of Portland’s acclaimed Italian spot, Nostrana. To lighten it up, I used two-thirds yogurt to one-thirds cream. I couldn’t stop dipping my spoon into the pot as the concoction warmed. And it was hard to wait overnight for the gelatinous molds to cool before digging in. But then your work is done and your dessert sits patiently in the fridge, waiting for your guests. Minimal assembly is required. Just un-mold the ramekins, jiggling the panna cotta out with that satisfying Jello thwump. Garnish with fruit and serve. In addition to strawberry and rhubarb, it’s also delicious with creamy, cut-up mango.

Your guests will be delighted. My brother-in-law said it was one of the best desserts (he must have meant at-home desserts) he’s ever had. It’s like a custard or creme brulee but easier on the waistline and so much easier to prepare. This yogurt panna cotta almost reminds me of that custard-style Yoplait Thick & Creamy I used to love as a child, but better. It’s all about the texture. But then so many memorable foods are.

I think I’ve only made panna cotta once before, a lumpier pumpkin panna cotta for Thanksgiving that was hard to strain and keep smooth. I remember loving a passion fruit panna cotta I once splurged on at the Silver Moon Bakery on the Upper Upper West Side. I plan to make this panna cotta during next winter’s grapefruit season. This non-baker is thrilled to have another dessert to add to her repertoire. Just don’t wear it out, right?

Written by baltimoregon

May 24, 2010 at 12:43 am

The Simplicity of Sushi

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Tried rice on the outside for the first time.

Imperfectly shaped but still delicious homemade maki rolls.

Just when I start getting back my momentum, I’ve abandoned you dear readers (if you still exist!) again. My sister was visiting from ATL, and then this week I had the cheesy Food Show and mounds of end-of-term papers to still grade. Excuses, excuses, I know.

After clogging my arteries with too much free cheese at the recent Seattle Cheese Festival, a light meal of raw, fresh, vegetal sushi appealed. I sprang for some nori, tiny ume plums, roasted sesame seeds and polished rice at Rice & Spice, a little Asian mart near downtown that I’m reminded of when I bike by. We had a ripe (now in season from California!) avocado at home as well as shaved ginger I pickled recently, with Linda Ziedrich’s easy recipe. And I had garlic scapes from dear Sang to use instead of scallions in the rolls. Though now I worry why hasn’t my garlic, which I dutifully sowed around Columbus Day, produced its own scapes yet? I want to make garlic scape pesto!

My pickled ginger over too fishy salmon roe. I bought it frozen but it is better (and less smooshed) fresh.

My package of nori prodded me to try an inside-outside fancy maki roll, with rice and roasted sesame on the outside, for the first time. If you line your bamboo mat with plastic wrap it really isn’t any harder than a regular roll. Just really press the rice into the sheet of nori. And cut that sheet in half. I usually use the whole sheet but that makes it actually harder to roll. Cutting is always harder than rolling for me. That’s when the sushi can fall apart. It’s important to cut the rolls with a sharp knife, which sadly mine are not. Nothing like making sushi to remind a gal her knives need sharpening!

Written by baltimoregon

May 21, 2010 at 10:11 am

Warming Up to Rabbit

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New Zealand-California crosses on Julia Sunkler's farm.

Check out my FOODday article this week on Oregon’s rabbit farmers. It certainly generated a lot of criticism. But active debate as good, as long as folks remain respectful. I hope my critics will note that non-profits such as Heiffer International encourage subsistence farmers to raise rabbits for meat to prevent hunger and reduce global poverty.

Written by baltimoregon

May 11, 2010 at 9:05 am

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Gluten-Free Goodness

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Rebecka sinks her teeth into these chewy, sweet hazelnut and coconut (flourless) wafers.

I’ve fallen in love with a simple gluten-free cookie recipe just in time for a visit from my sister Elaine, who unsuccessfully tried to get me on the bandwagon when we visited her in Atlanta in January. My gluten-free friend George (the man behind Corvallis Local Foods) had a birthday party coming up, and I had bags of ground hazelnut and also almond flour to burn through. So I turned to this simple Piedmontese recipe for Italian Hazelnut Cookies from Eating Well magazine. I didn’t bother to skin the hazelnuts, because mine, from our local Hazelnut Hill farm, were already ground into a meal. Plus, I like the color, texture (fiber?) and flavor the thin skins provide anyway. All you do is beat the egg whites into stiff peaks and then mix that fluffiness in with the combined sugar and ground nuts and then bake. I added some coconut and cardamom to the mix to spice things up. The results are quite addictive. With no added oil or starchy carbs, one can almost be convinced these cookies are good for you.

This is a recipe to return to again and again, with endless possible variations. They’re really almost like roughed up tops of macaroons in a way. This weekend, I made the cookies with the almond flour I love from Trader Joe’s, coconut and chunks of chocolate in some. I was thrilled to finally have a use for the containers of long-forgotten egg whites I had frozen away. The key is to find a use for the whites and yolks at about the same time. Stay tuned for my mention of yolks in the aioli I made for a steamed version of stuffed artichokes last week.

Written by baltimoregon

May 10, 2010 at 1:19 am

Greek Avgolemono (Egg and Lemon) Soup with Sorrel and Morels

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Creamy, lemony goodness, with some sauteed earthy rings of morels.

Some random seasonal ingredients I sprang for through Corvallis Local Foods came together in my souped up version of the Greek avgolemono (Lemon and Egg) soup Monday night. I fell in love with this simple soup while waiting tables the summer after my sophomore year of college at the now defunct Konsta’s Restaurant in Richmond. That soup was the one thing we were allowed to eat on the house.

Purchasing some tart sorrel leaves inspired my recipe. I had never heard of this cool weather spring green until chancing upon it at the market last year. Related to astringent rhubarb, sorrel is high in potassium and Vitamin C, but also oxalic acid, so it should be eaten in moderation, especially if you’re prone to kidney stones. I also just put one scrappy sorrel plant in my garden and look forward to harvesting the perennial next spring. Chefs seem to use it in salads, sauces and pestos and soups. It seems my impulse to pair lemony sorrel with creamy eggs was right.

What "moral" mushrooms.

Then I had homemade chicken stock in the fridge, after roasting a whole bird. Plus farm fresh eggs and plenty of lemons. So avgolemono, or to be exact, an adaptation of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood “Mediterranean Lemon Soup” it would be. In a separate pan, I caramelized onions and then sauteed some cross-section circles of the morels I finally got my hands on from the Mushroomery and added that to the finished soup. I had plenty of mint and other herbs in the garden for garnish. Instead of rice, I added my favorite “Harvest Grains” blend of Israeli couscous, quinoa, orzo and split baby garbanzo beans to the mix.

The resulting soup was creamy and light but still heartier than such lemon-egg soups usually are. We had stuffed artichokes to round out the meal. More on artichokes TK in another post.

Written by baltimoregon

May 6, 2010 at 11:04 pm

A Poached (Then Roasted) Chicken in Every Pot

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First poach the whole bird for 10 minutes.

Then roast at 450 degrees, melting the skin and rendering it oh so crispy.

Hearing Michael Ruhlman speak in defense of roasting one’s own whole chicken (a process that surprisingly stillĀ  intimidates a number of time-crunched Americans) at a foodie conference in Portland late last month made me curious to try his (ala Thomas Keller) supposedly fail-safe method for a crispy yet tender bird.

But then Dan came across this hybrid process for “the perfect roast chicken” as a recommended link on the Marginal Revolution blog, beloved by epicurean economists everywhere. So per Felicity Cloake’s advice, I found myself poaching the whole bird for 10 minutes and then firing it at Ruhlman and Keller’s recommended 450 degrees. The poaching method appealed, since I was seeking extra moist breast meat for chicken salad. My mother’s beloved tarragon chicken salad recipe, of course, says to just poach the breasts and cut up that meat. But whole free-range chickens from Draper Valley were on sale, and I’d rather have a carcass to boil down into stock anyway.

A "keeper" chicken salad: poached meat tossed with greek yogurt and mayonnaise, a little champagne vinegar, salt and pepper, rehydrated dried cherries and golden raisins, a minced shallot, two tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon, chopped toasted walnuts this time instead of slivered almonds. Yum!

The secret to these roast chicken recipes? Pat the bird dry before roasting, so the skin crisps and doesn’t steam. Ruhlman and Keller forgo basting and/or covering the bird with pats of butter for that reason. I did splash some olive oil on the skin with salt but now I fear that wasn’t necessary. I also could have done a better job trussing, per Keller’s suggestions.

Roasting at 450 was 25 degrees higher than I usually go, and boy did the oven smoke as the dripping grease splattered. Do I need to self-clean my oven after this process? It’s hard to believe Judy Rodgers’ famous recipe from the Zuni Cafe calls for roasting at 480 degrees. My meat was tender, considering I bought a whopping 5.5 pound chicken, nearly double the size the pros recommend for the tenderest meat. But hey, it’s sustainable to bring them up in weight for not much more feed.

And boy was that chicken crisp, yet not 100 percent in a spots, perhaps because of the pre-poaching. But writing this makes me realize the Zuni Cafe recipe may be the way to go, with its dry salt rub in advance, now my favorite way to brine a Thanksgiving turkey. It’s about time I stopped ignoring everyone’s advice. Hey, Michael Ruhlman roasts a chicken every week. It takes practice to refine your technique.

Speaking of technique, for some reason I left covered the carcass I was boiling into stock. Duh. I guess I’ll have to now cook it down so it’s more flavorful for soup. At least I didn’t leave the cooling stock out on the stove overnight, a mistake I’ve made more than once. Stay tuned to see what kind of soup I’ll cook up this week.

Written by baltimoregon

May 3, 2010 at 1:18 am

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