June 25, 2010

Oregon Strawberries

Weeknight dinners are usually simple.

I try to get away with using as few ingredients as possible. Seasoning salmon with a couple pinches of sea salt, and a drizzle of olive oil, then roasting it in the oven at 400 degrees while sautéing a veg with a bit more sea salt and garlic on the stovetop usually does it. Dinner can be served 20 minutes after coming home from work. Last night, as I picked out my asparagus at New Seasons market, the produce clerk was stacking little green cardboard boxes filled with ruby-red Hood River strawberries, just delivered by a local farmer. The smell of berries permeated the air, and everyone in the store seemed to gravitate to the produce section.

I adore strawberries. ALL strawberries. Fresh, frozen, sliced, made into jam or jelly, however I can get them, I’ll eat them. Once the first boxes of strawberries, usually from California, hit the shelves in the summer, I can’t help but buy them. But the smell and flavor of freshly picked Oregon seasonal berries is divine, like nothing else in the world. Last night, smelling and seeing them tumbling out of their little flats, I was whisked back in time to summers in junior high when I’d pedaled my bicycle down the winding country roads in Wilsonville early in the morning to pick berries at Wilhelm Farms. I earned about twenty cents a box—and it took me all summer to save up enough for Cherokee Rope sandals and a pair of San Francisco Riding Gear Jeans.

I grabbed up a little box of the juicy berries and tossed it into my basket. For dinner, I lay the perfectly roasted salmon fillet over a bed of sautéed asparagus, and sliced a handful of Hood River strawberries on top. The flavor combination was heavenly. My subtly amazing husband poured us a glass of Pinot Gris to wash it down.

This week, I plan to purchase my weight in Oregon Strawberries. If the weekend schedule allows, I may wind up carting my kids out to Wilsonville to help me forage at a U-pick farm, or we’ll hit a Farmer’s Market, or maybe just go back to New Seasons for more. However we get our hands on them, I plan on blissing out on local strawberries and somehow, add them to every meal. After all, the season is sadly short, and once they are gone, it’s back to the usual imported berries that just don’t have the same deeply strawberry-ish scent and flavor that has the power to make my socks go up and down.

*I tried this recipe last year, adapted from an old Gourmet magazine article, and LOVED it. It’s the ideal blend of spicy and sweet, and is a gorgeous color to boot. Serve with blue corn tortilla chips and it would be perfect for a Fourth of July Barbeque appetizer, or use as a fresh fruit salsa on grilled fish.

Avocado and Strawberry Salsa
• fresh Serrano or jalapeño chili
• 2 firm ripe avocados
• 1 cup finely chopped strawberries
• 1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
• 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
• 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• ¼- ½ teaspoon sugar (can be omitted if you like)

... and plenty of Corn tortilla chips to serve on the side

To make salsa:

Wearing rubber gloves, remove stems, seeds, and ribs from chili and chop fine. Dice avocados and stir together chili and remaining salsa ingredients. Salsa may be made several hours ahead and chilled, covered.

June 24, 2010

THIS is what Awesome looks like

I want to be brave, and creative and stylish, no matter how old I am. 
{photo from the NY Times via Uncle Beefy}

Embrace the day kittens.

June 23, 2010

The Essence of Ed

The book, The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones, opens with such a poetic passage:

What is the most exalted peak of cuisine? Is it the freshest ingredients, the most complex flavors? Is it the rustic or the rare? It is none of these. The peak is neither eating nor cooking, but the giving and sharing of food. Great food should never be taken alone. What pleasure can a man take in fine cuisine unless he invites cherished friends?”

A few weeks ago I took the kids to visit their grandmother and Ed on the Alsea River.

For as long as I’ve known my children’s grandmother, their father’s mother, she has opened her home and heart to family and friends, enticing them to stay with delicious food. She was an angel, descending from Costco, filling our house with soups and roasted turkey, homemade elephant ears and nourishment when I came home from a long hospital stay after Emma was born. When she is worried or wanting to show her concern for family, she cooks. Making food from scratch and sharing it is her absolute favorite thing to do, and over the years she’s played the motherly-hostess at countless picnics, barbeques, birthday parties and celebrations. Her love for family goes into everything she makes.
Grandpa Ed is the exact same way. When you first meet him, based on his demeanor, you might mistake him to be a slightly grizzled curmudgeon. Retired from the Forestry Service, Ed at first is a bit quiet, aloof, and if you didn’t know better, shy. He grows blueberries on the property, teaches his grandchildren to fish, and wears western style shirts and suspenders like nobody’s business.

But Ed is much more than that. He, like Marilyn, dotes on family and adores his grandchildren and his ancient dog Ty, (both of whom hover around his legs in the kitchen for treats while he cooks) And he shows that love through his cooking.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we relaxed in their cabin on the river. The kids fished from the little dock, we went for long walks down winding gravel roads and played cards and dominos at the kitchen table when it rained. Always, in the background, was the comforting smell of delicious homemade food. We woke up every morning to the scent of Ed’s famous sourdough blueberry pancakes and bacon. Marilyn baked bread and made cinnamon rolls to serve with dinner, and around 4:00, the deep, smoky scent of savory marinated steaks roasting on the barbeque on the deck tempted us to stay forever.

Bikram, one of the chef’s at Oregon Culinary Institute, once told me about a woman in his class was cutting a potato. She was so intent, gripping the knife tightly, her mouth in a hard line, and she sawed at it violently. He’d stopped her, laid his hand gently over hers and asked her what was wrong. Her shoulders let go their tense elevated position and she immediately burst into tears. He said she’d told him she was angry, she’d had a bad day, nothing was going right. “Be calm.” Bikram advised. “Take a breath. Relax. Do not let your anger come into your food. It will make it bitter.”

Chef is from Nepal, descended from a long line of Ayurvedic Physicians, and although his passion is not medicine but food, he understands the link between food and health. He understands and teaches his students about the deep, almost medicinal connection between cooking and the soul. He’s the one who’s taught me about how much better food tastes and how much more nourishing, even spiritually, food can be when it’s made with “a content heart”. He reminds students that some of who they are, how they are feeling, the essence of the chef, is like spice. It seeps in, like flavor, to what you cook. I believe it. However few ingredients or rustic the dish, if it’s made by people who care or who love you, it tastes better than the most expensive or exotic meal.

Ed’s blueberry pancakes, his secret barbeque sauce,  and Marilyn’s chicken soup, dinner rolls and chocolate whipped cream Worm Cake, (she makes for my children every year for their birthdays) tastes like family and home.

After all, the very essence of good food is love.

Grandma Marilyn’s Worm Cake

2 packages Famous chocolate cookie wafers
1 pint whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
½- 1 tbs superfine sugar (depending on your preferred level of sweetness)

This is the simplest and most delicious cake. Marilyn makes it for each of my children ever year for their birthday and it’s so easy, kids can make it themselves as a fun summer project.

Whip the cream, adding a bit of sugar and vanilla as becomes thick and fluffy. Frost each individual chocolate wafer and stack together, end to end. When the “worm” is complete, frost with remaining whipped cream and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Decorate with tinted coconut flakes and candies if desired.

*And PS my darlings-- an absolutely fabulous book and movie that links human emotion to cooking is Like Water for Chocolate. Another, not as highbrow but every bit as delicious, is Simply Irresistible. My daughters and I have watched this movie together many times… it’s a lovely kitchen love story.

June 22, 2010

for fun...

June 17, 2010

ready for a long weekend?

The Hubs is whisking me away for a long weekend.  Ta Ta for now my lovelies, I'll pick up the blog again in a few days!

{photo via Piewacket}

June 11, 2010

Saving Grace on a Cold Friday Night at the Ball Field

Elegant Spiked Hot Chocolate

So I admit it.  I am a whiner.  I am not really your hard-core, sit-in-the-bleachers-during-a-rain-storm kind of gal.  My kids LOVE sports and are really good at them.  Spencer hit two grand slams in just 2 weeks and honestly, I couldn't be more proud.   But we've been absolutely soaked with rain this week in Portland and Vancouver, and although his tournament game was cancelled last night due to the field being covered in water, tonight is a make-up game and starts at 8:00 PM, which means I'll be shivering and cheering until at least 10:00 PM.  I posted my confession of complete wimpy-ness on FaceBook, and I'm sure, earned a few raised eyebrows from the "good" moms who don't mind so much sitting for hours watching their youngsters.   I'm more the type of mom who likes to bake him a cake for when the game is over. 

I've found a compromise though.  Rather than the dry powdered somewhat metallic tasting hot chocolate served at the game in the lovely Snack Schack near the field, I'm running home to whip up a batch of this to pull me through a cold Friday night.  Now if I only had a heated seat pad...

Friday Night Hot Chocolate for Sexy/wimpy Moms

6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
2 cups milk
Sugar, optional
a small glug of Grappa Italiana

1. Place the milk, chocolate and sugar to taste in a small saucepan. Simmer until warm and the chocolate completely melted.
2. Divide between two travel mugs and top with a shot of grappa.

June 9, 2010

a day of rain

Inspiration........, originally uploaded by Gayle_T.
As the rain pounded on the metal roof overhead, she pushed her feet down further, toward the end of the bed, using her toes to find the chilly, smooth spot of sheets that had not cocooned her in the night. She looked out the window, through trails of water, unfazed by it. After all, rain on Sunday meant a day inside. It meant wearing soft faded jeans, an old t-shirt, and a sweater. It meant making soup from scratch, and steaming mugs of strong coffee. A rainy Sunday was the best excuse in the world to not be productive, and to instead, step back, and breathe a sigh of relief from the usual rushed pace the rest of the week demanded.

She was not really the athletic type. Even on sunny weekends, she avoided running, outdoor sports, or any activity that required the use of sunscreen or shorts. Her limbs were pale and unnecessary exposure was avoided whenever practical. She was perfectly happy wrapped in a blanket, reading, writing and watching old movies on the couch or people at the bookstore downtown.

Flinging back the covers, she took the top quilt with her, wrapping it like a shawl over her head and around her shoulders while she padded into the bathroom to start the shower. She plopped down to sit on the small, oval, shag rug, then waited for the water to heat up, staring patiently at the billows of steam rising above the top of the shower curtain. Stepping out of her warm quilt and into the almost scalding stream of hot water, she let it run over her and warm her to the core. Slowly she emerged from hibernation. Going over the list in her mind, she organized, by priority, the responsibilities that must be done; the few chores and errands left over from the list the day before and one or two of the things she hoped she had time for after everything else was caught up.

Turning off the water and stepping out of the claw foot tub, she noticed the bathroom, now opaque with steam. It was hard to see, and the soap-scented fog engulfed her, but her mind was clear. She slipped into her husband’s faded cotton bathrobe, tying the frayed belt around her waist. Finally, she headed to the quiet dark kitchen, ready to warm it up as well and bring the rest of the house to life with the day’s first batch of coffee.

June 8, 2010

If I could choose one Lasagna recipe...

What a treat.

Our lovely friend Pam and her mother Ingrid came from Germany to visit last week.  Pam's hubby Frank will be the new Big Shot in Hungary soon, and before they move, she decided to get a bit of travelling in. 

Kev and I were treated to a mouthwatering dinner of homemade lasagna, fresh green salad and red wine when they visited... Pam made it and brought it to share and I swear, this is the recipe that tops all recipes... we had seconds and licked the plate clean.  It's a classic Barefoot Contessa concoction. 


• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 1/2 pounds sweet Italian turkey sausage, casings removed
• 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in tomato puree
• 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste
• 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided
• 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
• 2 teaspoons kosher salt
• 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• 1/2 pound lasagna noodles
• 15 ounces ricotta cheese
• 3 to 4 ounces creamy goat cheese, crumbled
• 1 cup grated Parmesan, plus 1/4 cup for sprinkling
• 1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten
• 1 pound fresh mozzarella, thinly sliced


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the olive oil in a large (10 to 12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes over medium-low heat, until translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the sausage and cook over medium-low heat, breaking it up with a fork, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until no longer pink. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, the basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat, for 15 to 20 minutes, until thickened.

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with the hottest tap water. Add the noodles and allow them to sit in the water for 20 minutes. Drain.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, goat cheese, 1 cup of Parmesan, the egg, the remaining 2 tablespoons of parsley, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

Ladle 1/3 of the sauce into a 9 by 12 by 2-inch rectangular baking dish, spreading the sauce over the bottom of the dish. Then add the layers as follows: half the pasta, half the mozzarella, half the ricotta, and one 1/3 of the sauce. Add the rest of the pasta, mozzarella, ricotta, and finally, sauce. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup of Parmesan. Bake for 30 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling.

June 7, 2010

Cage Match Supper Club Does Fiji

The “Cage Match Supper Club” was an idea clearly conceived after multiple glasses of wine.

It’s a dinner group of four couples committed to, above everything else, entertaining ourselves and each other.

After our group’s first gathering in March to sketch out our mission statement over an exquisite dinner at the school, we inked our first date for May. The first dinner party would be at Chet and Heather’s abode.

The theme was “Fiji” and the food was FABULOUS.

Chet and Heather had vacationed one Christmas in Fiji, and Chet has extensive knowledge of the area due to the year he lived and worked there on a stint as a Fiji Adventure tour guide. Upon entering their home, we were each outfitted with a colorful sarong to look the part. Each “non host” couple brought drink concoctions meant to be consumed along with the dinner, and since our food was traditional fare found in Fiji, our beverages were tropical in theme.

My Subtly Amazing husband and my cocktail concoction, confusingly titled “The Hairy Bitch,” wasn't the least bit hairy or bitchy. Basically, it was a mixture of two glugs pineapple/coconut juice, one glug of white rum and a dash of triple sec, served with a dorky look on the face, a bendy straw,  in a coconut cup found at Goodwill.   Chad and Laurie provided lovely Dark and Stormy cocktails and Matt and Mary yet another oddly named but appropriate beverage.  (Those recipes will be posted tomorrow kittens)

{cheesy grins via Kev and Chet}

The evening played out a bit like an eighth grade social studies class.
We indulged in perfectly spiced Indian food, which, we learned, is a staple in Fiji due to the largely Indian population. Chet filled us in on Fiji culture and Heather loaded the iPod with music indigenous to the islands, then Kevin created a betting pool in which we each chose soccer teams that we thought might win in the upcoming World Cup.
Dessert was a mind blowing batch of Heather’s homemade creamy peanut-butter frosting and banana chip topped Elvis Cupcakes.
We ended the evening with a traditional kava ceremony. Stuffed full of delicious curry, and sitting cross-legged on a reed matt in the living room, Chet filled the ceremonial kava bowl with authentic powdered kava root and water, making it a somewhat muddy and floral tasting murky “tea”, which immediately numbs the tongue.
I’m not so sure I’ll imbibe in Kava often in the future, but I already anticipate the next Cage Match Supper Club dinner party. The food and company was absolutely brilliant, and I know more about Fiji then I ever imagined. Maybe, when you are old, you find Eighth Grade social studies finally fascinating, and any chance one has to wear a sarong is welcomed.

I just don’t know yet if I’ll be able to supply costumes to our guests for my brilliantly themed “Liberace Cookbook” supper.

June 3, 2010

The Errant Blogger

Shannon and Greg, originally uploaded by uncommonmuse.
Well darlings, you may have noticed I've been a little lax in my posting lately... I've been post processing all of the lovely photos from the San Diego wedding and staying up very late every night for the past two weeks to complete the project.

I think I'm about to wind it up though and should be back to writing and cooking very soon, so be patient with me.

Air kisses kittens!

ps~ aren't these lovebirds simply gorgeous?