May 29, 2010

Persephone's Pomegranate Punch

Persephone's Pomegranate Punch

In Greek mythology, the changing of seasons is attributed to the goddess Persephone, whose fruitful symbol is the many-seeded pomegranate.

Lest you think all we drink around here are our lovely Oregon wines, let me offer this as our house summer beverage of refreshment. Appropriate for young, old and teetotalers alike, it is pretty to look at, chilled and refreshing, good for you, and not-too-tart-not-too-sweet delicious to boot.

This beverage is fitting as our summer stand-by this year, too, as one of Persephone's other attributes is that of protector of marriage. Since our Big Day is right on the heels of summer, we'll sip of Persephone's fruit as we allow her to do her good work in our behalf.
Persephone's Pomegranate Punch

Fill a large highball glass with ice. Squeeze in one lime wedge, and toss the squeezed wedge into the glass. Pour in 2 ounces 100% pure Pom Wonderful pomegranate juice. Shake in two dashes of Angostura bitters, and top the glass off with sparkling water. Garnish with a lime slice, if desired.

May 25, 2010

Using My Noodle

Pistachio, Spinach and Lemon Pasta with Pfeiffer Pinot Gris

A tangled nest of spaghetti in nutty lemony sauce is a house favorite. It's especially nice on a day when time is short and the kitchen is hot, as it takes all of 20 minutes, six ingredients, and only the heat necessary to boil spaghetti to create. I've been making this for years, adapting a Martha Stewart recipe and even taking it a step further with my own lime and cilantro version. Both the lemon and lime versions are wonderful all on their own for a nice vegan meal, or make great accompaniments to grilled meats and fish of all sorts.

As long as I'm putting my mind to it, wouldn't a orange/pecan version be just as wonderful?
The wine My Baby chose for this meal was the Pfeiffer 2006 Pinot Gris. The Pfeiffer's call their Pinot Gris, "Fruity, flowery and perfumey." We think this is a lovely and interesting Pinot Gris, highly aromatic and showing a bit of grapefruitiness long with its intense pear fruit. This wine is enjoyable with a wide range of food pairings, and its citrus notes work in harmony with the lemon sauced pasta.
Pistachio, Spinach and Lemon Pasta Rapido
This entire dish takes only the time required to cook pasta to complete, about 20 minutes from start to finish. Alternate ingredients for a terrific lime-cilantro version is listed in parenthesis. The lime version would be terrific served with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Give that a try, too.

1/2 cup shelled raw pistachios (1/2 cup raw pepitas)
1 shallot, cut into eighths
1 whole lemon, scrubbed and cut into eighths (1 lime + 1/2 cup chopped cilantro)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (Arbequina variety is good here)
1/2 pound spaghetti
2 cups baby spinach, packed
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Toast pistachios (or pepitas) in 375 degree oven until fragrant and just beginning to turn color, 6-8 minutes. Watch closely not to over-toast. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Plunge in spaghetti, stirring, and cook until tender, according to package directions. Reserve about 1/2 cup cooking water for sauce.
Meanwhile, place cooled pistachios and shallot in bowl of food processor. Pulse until finely chopped but not yet pasty. Place in large bowl. Without cleaning processor bowl, finely chop lemon; peel, seeds and all. (For the lime/cilantro version, add the cilantro along with the lime and process together.) I find this best chopped very fine, but still with a little character; certainly not to the point of puree. Place lemon in bowl with pistachio mixture.

Add olive oil, salt and pepper and stir well. Place spinach atop pistachio mixture. The warm pasta will slightly cook it to al dente stage. Place drained pasta in bowl with reserved pasta water and stir until pasta is evenly coated with sauce. Place on 4 serving plates.

May 21, 2010

You Know The Way to Move Me, Cherry

Grilled Thick Pork Chops with Cherry Mustard Glaze and LaVelle Cabernet Sauvignon

The closest town to our country place is six miles away and has a population of 1700; not exactly a cook's shopping mecca. The quickie-mart is good for grabbing milk or other basics, but for most groceries, it's a 30 mile one-way trip. This time of year though, our little Saturday Farmer's Market is stuffed with so much Willamette Valley goodness that fewer of those long excursions are necessary.

Last week at the farmer's market, we reacquainted ourselves with Biancalana Pork Growers who had several cuts of pork and their own sausages for sale. Biancalana is a small Willamette Valley family farm who raise pork humanely, and with no growth hormones, antibiotics or GMO's. At Biancalana, pigs roam widely, dining on Oregon's famous blackberry vines, grasses and other natural vegetation, and a feed of corn, grain and soybean.

We picked up a couple of these 1 1/2" thick boneless chops at an exceptionally reasonable price for such lovely meat. Grilled over charcoal with a seductive fruity spicy glaze, these chops are downright inspirational. We'll be buying our pork from Biancalana from now on.
LaVelle 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon

LaVelle 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon was a terrific match to the grilled pork. Its complexity and depth held up to the smoky meat, and the deep, dark fruit notes were great with the cherry sauce. The mid-range tannic structure stands up nicely throughout the length of a meal, as good after the last bite as the first. LaVelle is in Oregon's southern Willamette Valley, but the grapes for their Cab are from the Columbia Valley of Washington.

In another month we'll be in cherry glory in Oregon. It'll be another couple of years before the cherry trees My Baby planted last year are producing, but cherry preserves are at the top of the list when they do. This cherry preserve based glaze is simple, but really dolls up grilled meat. I use this sauce and its variations on grilled fish, chicken and beef.

Cherry Mustard Herb Glaze
1/4 cup Cherry Preserves (Bonn Mamon brand is terrific)
1-2 teaspoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, leaves stripped from stems
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together. Apply to meat after flipping on the grill, spreading it to the edges.

It was really important with this nice thick meat to be sure to give it a good 10-minute wait after grilling to allow the juices to reabsorb into the meat and for it to finish cooking. This was the most succulent pork chop I remember having.

May 18, 2010

Chard and Chard

Chard and Chard
One of life's big Aaaaaaah's is putting on comfy clothes after a long work week, snuggling up to a warm sweetie, enjoying a nice pizza, easy wine, and Gwen Ifill on the tube; an important Friday night decompression point I have come to depend on. This weekly pizza ritual gives ample opportunity for experimentation, or sometimes just the chance to use up bits of things from the fridge. This week's pizza and wine combo, though, is something to write about.
Creamy Chard, Proscuitto and Hazelnut Pizza
A creamy, intensely green chard sauce- not quite pesto, but along that line- topped our standard dough this week, along with mozzarella, bites of proscuitto and hazelnuts. Robin over at Vegetable Matters frequently provides an inspiration point with her interesting flatbreads, as was the case here. This chard sauce is a take-off of her idea, and we've found it to be quite versatile. Read to the end to find out some other exciting ways we've been using it.

Part of the joy of this meal was the wine selection. We are learning, through our extensive but not-so-exhausting research, that the wine and food relationship is not so different than Goethe's Theory of Colors. Goethe shows us that the colors opposed to one another on the color wheel, "reciprocally evoke each other in the eye." Similarly, wine and foods opposed to one another on the flavor wheel evoke each other on the palate, providing delightful dancing counterpoints. Those next to one another, both colors and food/wine, provide a visual or flavor monochromy or connectedness, which is also a lovely but quite different thing. Some day I'll write more in here about this continuum of science and art.
Palotai Winery's 2009 Chardonnay played it both ways with this chard pizza. Palotai's Chardonnay is fermented in neutral oak, which allows its varietal fruitiness (which is often hidden with the heavily-oaked Chards) to come forward and add a big sparkle to the earthy bitter chard. But, it does have a creamy mouthfeel of its own so it played in unison with the mozzarella and hazelnuts. Amazingly terrific.

We started with our usual dough. I often make it in double batches and freeze half for a later convenience. Thawed in the refrigerator for a day, it warms up to perform just as if it were freshly made.

Fresh From the Garden
Out in the garden we went to harvest a large bunch of Swiss chard. In less than an hour these glossy leaves went from garden to plate. Fresh, fresh, fresh. Since we have planted several rows of chard this year, we'll surely utilize it in this delightful sauce again.
Homemade Dough and Bright Green Sauce
After stretching the room-temperature dough out into a nice thin round, this luscious green puree went atop, followed by some mozzarella, pieces of proscuitto, roughly chopped Oregon hazelnuts, and green onions from the garden too. Here's how to make the creamy chard and our favorite dough:

Creamy and Versatile Green Chard Sauce
4 cloves garlic
one large bunch Swiss chard, big ribs removed
1/4 cup cream
a healthy grating of fresh nutmeg, about 1/2 teaspoon or more
salt and pepper to taste

In bowl of food processor, roughly chop garlic and leave it in the bowl.

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Blanch chard leaves in 2-3 batches, removing blanched leaves directly to food processor bowl. Add cream, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Whirl away until mixture is a smooth puree. Thin with more cream, if necessary, to suit your application.

We liked the sauce so much, the next day we made more to mix with blanched potato cubes, which we layered with a cheese blend and baked as a side dish. Votes are in to try it schmeared on English muffins topped with a poached egg, which we'll try soon. It would also be delicious warmed in a skillet, an egg plopped into its depressions. lidded and left to steam until the egg is set.

Pizza Dough
3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
3/4 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
2 cups + all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place water and yeast in bowl of mixer with dough hook. Allow to stand about 10 minutes until yeast is foamy and dissolved. Add salt and flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing with dough hook at medium high speed, until it is incorporated. As you knead, the dough will come together on one cohesive but soft ball. Knead until the dough is smooth and satiny. Remove dough hook, cover lightly with plastic wrap, an allow to sit in a warm place for about one hour, until doubled in volume.

Roll out dough, cover with toppings and bake at 475 degrees for 15-20 minutes; allow less time for lightly topped pizzas and more time for heavily topped pizzas.

May 13, 2010

Peas Be Upon Us All

Lemony Minted Fresh Pea Soup
We'd lingered too long at home before heading out to run errands on a recent Saturday morning, and by the time we had returned home from our "in town" business we were famished. In a matter of 20 minutes we were sitting under the apple tree to this sprightly verdant soup. I've waited nearly that long at a fast-food drive up window, but with provisions as delightful and simple as this, why would I ever again do that?

King Estate's 2008 Signature Viognier provided a lovely counterpoint with its juicy pineapple and honeysuckle notes. This wine is highly aromatic and has a snappy balance. King Estate is a quintessential Oregon winery that produces highly consistent wines that appear on wine lists throughout the U. S. There are many reasons to like King Estate wines, and this lovely Viognier is one of them. Another is that the winery is only 45 minutes through the countryside from our home.

Lemony Minted Fresh Pea Soup

3 green onions, sliced thinly, including some of the green ends
2 tablespoons butter
One pound shelled peas,
One cup half-and-half, more or less, to suit your fancy
2 tablespoons fresh mint, finely chopped, more for garnish
Zest of half of one lemon, additional for garnish
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Melt the butter in a small soup pot. Just before it reaches a good bubbling, add the green onion. Stir frequently to soften, about 1-2 minutes. Add peas, mint and cream. Turn heat down to medium-low, cover and simmer for 4 minutes. The goal is to barely cook the peas but retain their fresh brightness; too much time on the stove will turn them a dull dingy gray-green. Stir in lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Blend thoroughly with an immersion blender until very smooth and creamy. Add more warmed cream to thin the soup as desired.

If you are serving this to The Queen, strain through a fine mesh strainer for maximum silkiness. If you are sharing this on a late Saturday afternoon under the apple tree with your baby, you can skip that step. Garlicky crostini and a hunk of Canadian white cheddar rounds the meal out nicely.

May 11, 2010

Eat Your Flowers

Tempura Frizzled Herb Blossoms
Light, crispy, aromatic appetizer-on-it's-own-stick tempura frizzled herb blossoms... Mmmm. Served with a chilled white wine on a late spring afternoon at the peak of afternoon warmth, this is a lovely snack. If you happen to be sitting in the Oregon countryside observing an impending but far off rain cloud, all the better. After all, those April showers have brought May flowers. You may as well eat them. The blossoms would make a nice little starter for company as well.
The sage and chive blossoms in their herb pots at our back door inspired this dish. Catch the blossoms while they are young and tender for the most subtle flavor. Serve with a little aioli on the side.

Tempura Frizzled Herb Blossoms

Washed and well-dried herb blossoms (chive, sage, oregano, etc.), long stems intact (do this up to several ours in advance, as your blossoms need to be impeccable dry for the batter to stick and to avoid massive oil splattering)

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan or Parmesan-Reggiano
pinch salt
a few grinds of fresh black pepper
3/4 cup seltzer or club soda, more or less

Combine dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in seltzer or club soda until batter is smooth and lump-free, adding more liquid as necessary to make a thinnish batter.

Heat 1/2 inch canola or vegetable oil to 355 degrees in a heavy skillet. Swirl a few blossoms into the batter, shaking off excess over bowl. Place blossoms into heated oil, leaving stem ends out of the oil. With tongs, turn frequently to brown evenly on all sides, a total of 1-2 minutes per blossom. I found it easiest to put only 3-4 blossoms into the oil at once, as they do require constant attention and turning to keep from burning. Bring oil back to temperature after each batch and do it again until all blossoms are crispy and brown.

Consume with dispatch with a glass of chilled white wine.

May 5, 2010

Start Your Fiesta Early

Black Bean and Egg Stuffed Poblano Chiles
It's funny, isn't it, how most people tend to look really good in their favorite color? And how people usually live in climates that make them feel at their best? We seem to have internal dials that, if not overridden by our socialization, lean us toward our own favorable outcomes. My inkling is that my intense love of breakfast is more than just my love of eggs and toast and nice little pastries. I'm of the physiology that optimally requires to be fed in the morning, and the sense of well-being breakfast provides just makes me love it. My dials are just set that way.

The zippy bold flavors of Mexican cooking make for an especially friendly breakfast, and here's one of my favorites. I'm not advocating this, but when I've been in Mexico, I've seen local men downing tremendously hearty breakfasts with a nice cerveza.

Black Bean and Egg Stuffed Poblano Chiles
1 poblano chile for each person you are serving
1.5 - 2 eggs per serving
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed (This is enough for 3-4 chiles)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
A nice handful of grated white cheddar per serving
A nice shaving of cotija cheese per serving
Salt and pepper to taste
Salsa for serving

Roast each chile until blistery and blackened over most of its exterior. If you are lucky enough to have gas service, use your gas cooktop. Skewer each chile through the stem end with a fork, and hold the chile over the open flame, rotating as each side becomes charred. If you don't have a gas stove, broil close to your heating element, watching closely and turning so that each side gets evenly charred. (As long as you're at it, you may want to thrown in an extra chile here for tonight's supper-- Sliced thinly, roasted poblanos are fantastic in smashed potatoes aside a pork tenderloin.)

Scramble your eggs lightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stop cooking them before they are at your desired level of doneness, as they will get more time under heat to finish. An overdone, tough, flubbery egg is no egg at all in my book. Use restraint here.

Mix the cumin in with the black beans.

Slice the chiles open from the stem end to about 1" from the bottom. Careful reach in and remove as many seeds and membrane as you can. Divide the beans, then the egg, between each chile. Tuck the grated cheddar in, leaving a good gap in the opening. Place under the broiler for just a minute or two, until the cheese is hot and melty and perhaps even beginning to barely brown in spots.

Top with salsa and sour cream, if you like.

May 1, 2010


Caramelized Onion Bleu Cheese Prosciutto Burgers
There are times, thankfully, that a person can simply out-wait or outwit a hankering. Other times the desire is elevated more to gnawing lust status, and the only way around it is through it. That is the story of this hamburger.

Life Is Good
The Oregon outdoor grilling season first comes in intermittent snatches. Our spring weather is quite mutable so it's best to be prepared for whatever comes. A clear blue sky, gentle mist, heavy downpour or even hail may be experienced all within the course of a day; sometimes within an hour. Here at our country place, the grill gets dusted off and the briquets, matches and other outdoor cooking accouterments get put in a dry but handy location. When the glorious bright moments do occur, bless the soul who has ground beef waiting in the fridge.
My Baby's Thick Burger, Still a Little Pink in the Center
In the glory of a sunny afternoon, My Baby stoked the coals while I was inside caramelizing the onions. The kitchen window screen was open so that our banter could continue while we were at our tasks, and we could shoot timing information back and forth. I'd made variations of the onions before and I knew they'd be terrific on the bleu cheese-prosciutto burgers My Baby had suggested. No other condiments are necessary.
Onions, About 10 Minutes Left to Go

Caramelized Onions
4 yellow onions, peeled, sliced about 1/4" thick
A goodly swirl of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Leaves of two or three thyme branches, stripped off the stems
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over medium heat. Add onions. Allow onion to gently sizzle in pan for several moments without stirring. Sprinkle brown sugar over onions. Gently stir, flipping onion rings more than stirring them. Let them hang out between stirs, regulating heat so that they don't burn but don't just idle about. This process takes about 25 minutes. Layer in salt along the way, adjusting at the end. Add thyme leaves about 5-7 minutes before you predict the onions to be done.

Your aim here is for soft, tender onions that haven't yet given up their shape entirely. Not mush. Rings; soft rings. They will be quite deeply brown, but you've kept good care of them and they are not blackened at all.
A Working Lunch
Make more of the onions than you will need for your hamburgers, as they make a terrific panini with blue cheese on good bread for lunch the next day.

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