April 30, 2011

Fresh Pineapple Gallette

Vacations can be great. And I'm on one. Family; royal wedding sleepover (yes, we stayed up all night) shopping; wine tasting; hanging out; thinking about life. Since I've only got one more vacation day left in which to relax, let's get right to the short and sweet of it, shall we?

Here is a divine, simple dessert that showcases fresh fruit and perhaps one of the best, most buttery pastry crusts I've ever made. Minimal desserts speak to me more and more, and this one certainly is simple. The idea and pastry crust recipe comes from one of my old favorite inspirations, Flo Braker and her Art of Simple Baking. I loved this Fresh Pineapple Galette first time I made it decades ago, and love it still. My version is sans Flo's crumble topping, simplifying it even a bit more.

Flo's Butter Pastry is perfect just as she suggests. The only thing I do at all differently is to roll the pastry dough out between sheets of wax paper, which eliminates the need to use excess flour which can toughen the baked crust. The other thing I do, in lieu of the crumble topping which sweetens the galette, is to sprinkle demerara sugar in the bottom of the rolled crust, place the sliced fresh fruit atop the lightly sugared crust, then sprinkle more demerara sugar atop the fruit before folding the crust in. That's it! Super easy, fresh and good.

Our Willamette Valley bubbly from Domaine Meriwether, a 2000 Captain Clark Vintage Cuvee, a provided creamy palate, with citrusy and exotic fruit notes. The crispness of this methode champenoise (we call it Champagne at our house; no matter what the "rules" are, that is what it is) balances nicely with the buttery crust and tropical fruit. Definitely give this a try together.

I've got one day of vacation left before heading home to Oregon. I'm not quite ready to hit my usual routine, but I miss Murray the Amazing Wonder Dog and my little house in the country. Did I mention how great vacation can be??

April 19, 2011

Love Nest Cooking: The Truth

Love Nest Pasta a la Heidi Swanson

Perhaps I over-dramatize on occasion. Like the time I told you about our cute little Love Nest.  Yes, it's cute and yes, it's little, and it's all the nice things I mentioned a year ago. What I didn't share then is that once a week (usually Monday mornings), I crawl out of bed at the uncivilized hour of 5:30 a.m. to drive the hour-and-a-half to the office, otherwise known as the hometown of the Love Nest. I read somewhere that for optimal perkiness, a person should keep the same sleep pattern day in, day out. I don't do that. Some days of the week I wake at 7:30, some at 6:30, some at 8 a.m. The horrific back-to-the-office-day alarm comes as an assault. 

Another Love Nest Truth I Didn't Share With You: 
A Severely Sloping Cooking Surface

This morning I drug my weary tukhus away from dreams, the warmth of the covers and the sweet morning scent of My Baby into the chilly, dark dawn. I had my suitcase and garment bag packed in the car last night as usual, but a few last minute items always wait until right before I drive away, including a small cooler packed with a few food items to get me by for the 3 or 4 days away.  The Love Nest cooking plan this week included a ultra-green eggy springtime pasta I'd read about from Heidi Swanson over at 101 Cookbooks. It sounded easy, delicious and healthful; I had sugar peas, green beans and spinach at home with which to make it. Great. Easy peasy.

So at 6:15 this morning, having traded in weatherproof boots and jeans for high heels and office attire, I packed my little cooler, which required cutting an egg carton with kitchen shears so that the two eggs necessary for Heidi's recipe would fit with protection, a task that definitely strained my small-muscle coordination that early in the morning. Veggies, leftover pineapple galette (stay tuned for that), eggs, a dab of remaining fennel-potato gratin from the weekend, a sandwich baggie full of my favorite peanut M & M's, and tiny neat ice packs to keep it all fresh. Viola. Food for the week. Kisses and goodbyes, and I was off.

Sometime around noon I went to fetch my cooler from the car. No cooler. That's how together I was this morning. I packed the cooler and forget to put in the car. No cooler = no food.

After a long day at work, I schlepped to the grocery and purchased the things I'd left behind. In the meantime, a new iteration on Heidi's suggested recipe came to mind. All the veggies would still be great, but garlic and a little salty tang thrown in would be nice. Feta would work well for that.

In a non-rational hunger delirium, I chose this off-the-shelf Riesling purely because of it's name. By then I was really hungry, my pineapple galette was nearly a hundred miles away, and a cupcake sounded really good. I have no comments on the wine. You get what you pay for, and I got what I expected. Except no cupcake.

It was a fresh, tasty, easy weeknight meal. The next time I make it, some torn basil and a handful of pine nuts would be a nice addition.

If I don't forget them at home.

April 15, 2011

Taste Buds

Tea and Ginger Steamed Halibut
We called ourselves the Taste Buds.  Each of the twelve of us had an above-average interest in learning more about food, wine, and cooking and gathered every other month to cook and share a meal. Together we ventured into untried territory to grasp new skills, new flavors, and to deepen our appreciation for fine wine. The rotating host house conjured up a fantastic thematic menu, and we'd typically share the preparation duties.  All evening long, we'd sip great things, cook great things, eat great things and laugh. Man, did we laugh.

We took many culinary "trips around the world" together via those meals, but I learned the most at Selina's house. Selina is from China, and when she and Mike hosted, all 12 of us would gather around their huge kitchen island and Selina would start issuing duties. The traditional Chinese meals we made always involved a variety of meat, poultry and fish prepared in a multitude of ways, with incredible ingredients sourced from the Chinese community in San Fransisco where Selina's mom lived. I was fascinated by Selina's uber-seasoned heavy wok, razor-sharp knives, and still vividly recall the first time I ever wielded Selina's seriously scary huge cleaver, used to chop off heads of things or whack up a mahogany-dark sticky chicken right through the bones.

Eventually, life took me in a different direction, but I have missed my old Taste Buddies. I still even have vivid dreams about those times and those people.

In the Steamer
The other day My Baby brought home a meaty, thick piece of halibut from the fish market with the idea of steaming it in tea. My contribution was the scallion, ginger and dark savory sauce I recalled from my experience of steaming fish under Selina's tutelage. And so, a simple but brilliant meal was born.

Selina Recommends Pearl River Bridge Dark Soy, Which Has Molasses-Like Qualities

In the bottom of our steamer pan about an inch of water was brought to a boil, to which about 3 tablespoons of loose-leaf oolong tea was added. In the steamer basket went half of a 2" piece of peeled fresh ginger, cut into thin matchsticks and half of 5 scallions, also cut into matchsticks upon which the fish rested. The remaining half of each smothered the top of the fish. Lidded, the fish was perfectly steamed in about 7 minutes. 

 So Delicious
The tea gave the fish a subtle perfumed quality that was ethereal. The drizzling sauce was a quick stir of about 1 tablespoon each of regular soy sauce, dark soy sauce and mirin, and one scallion, finely minced. It took longer to find the three bottles in the pantry than it did to mix up the nice accompaniment.  Did I mention that besides being fresh, beautiful and tasty, this is a really fast meal to prepare?

We served the fish atop steamed jasmine rice and a stir-fry of green beans, shitakes and thinly sliced red pepper, giving them our very favorite treatment. (We love these beans so much, we wrote about them in our very first ever blog post, and references to them show up regularly. I learned the basic formula from another Taste Bud, Kathy.)

Abacela 2009 Viognier, Estate Grown in the Umpqua Valley

I give credit to those fun Taste Bud years for laying a great foundation for my passion for wine. Now, it wouldn't be dinner if My Baby (and forever Taste Bud) and I didn't discuss the wine pairing options throughout the afternoon leading up to our meal. He had several really good ideas for this match up, but landed on the Abacela 2009 Estate Viognier. Abacela's trailblazers, Earl and Hilda Jones, are famed for putting Tempranillo on the map in Southern Oregon, and produce lovely wines. Their Viognier bears only slight tropical notes usually associated with Viognier, leaning to more of a ripe pear and apricot fruitiness. The perfumey nose is heavenly, and it's roundness is lifted beautifully with its mid-level acidity which balanced really, really nicely with this lean springtime meal.

Cheers to my old Taste Buddies! I wonder what you are cooking and drinking these days, and hope each of your are happy and well.

April 10, 2011

Noticing Spring

Budding Red Plum

Our Oregon countryside acreage is a breathtaking place from which to observe changing seasons. If I'm privileged to live a good long life, I'll have maybe 85 or 90 spring seasons to experience which, in my sense of time, is not that many. And with 51 of them now gone, I'm motivated to pay really close attention to each gift of  a northwest spring.

Last summer, during the dog days, you stopped by my garden for a stroll and a glass or two of wine. Thanks for dropping by again to notice the extravaganza of spring here at our special place.

Burgundian Countryside

Out Our Southern Willamette Valley Back Door
 If these photos don't make you want to save thousands on your next vacation by coming to Oregon instead of France, I don't know what will! While here, you may confuse yourself with being in the Burgundian countryside, but it's all Oregon.

Before we get started on our pastoral walk-about, let me me tell you a little about today's refreshment. The air is still a little too nippy to really enjoy a chilled white in the out-of-doors, but a little too warm for a big, heavy red. So, I have an idea...

While you may confuse this wine with a Burgundy from France, it, too, is all Oregon. Sarver Winery 2008 Pinot Noir has stolen my heart. First I must admit my absolute adoration for the Pinot Noir grape. Pinot Noir, for me, evokes the best of all that is feminine. From goddesses to tom boys, you can find it in Pinot Noir. Elegant and refined; sassy and sexy; earthy and unpretentious; those contrasts can all be detected in Pinot Noir, and if you're lucky, sometimes you find it all in one glass. That is the case here. Let's fill up your glass, and we'll talk more about the wine a little later.

This year, spring seems to be teaching me lessons about contrasts. I'm curiously attuned to the distinctions between hydration and saplessness; vigor and dormancy; sun and rain (here in springtime Oregon often one hour will entertain several shifts between them both.)

 Budding Yellow Plum
The first thing I'll point out is some of the blooming fruit trees. Here are the yellow plum buds up close...

... and here is the same plum tree in it's entirety, in full white bloom. It makes me a little excited about making some great things this summer, like sherbetty plum ice cream...

Plum Upside-Down Cake
... or this fantastic plum upside-down cake. Remind me again in the summer, and I'll share the recipe with you.
We had a woodpecker friend who insisted for a while on drilling his holes in our house siding. I was relieved when he discovered the perch of this leaning shovel handle this winter, and went about his woodworking on our old apple tree instead of our home. His handiwork adds a little more character to this already beautiful tree.

In the vegetable garden, the only thing happening is the gnarly remnants of last year's kale (above) and Swiss chard (below.) We've had several nice meals throughout the winter from these hardy growers.

It wouldn't be spring, of course, without emerging pops of encouraging color. The monotony of winter drab is certainly broken with these hopeful flowers.

This tree hasn't yet let go of its crisp brown leaves from last autumn, but still plays host to a ring of sunny daffodils. See what I mean about contrasts?

I love this billow of daffodils, and especially how they seem so contrary to the bare structure of the trees behind.
The sweet scent of the white hyacinths under the guest room window delivers a fine welcome all the way to the front door. Soon, they'll be surrounded by a flounce of bleeding hearts.

Candy-Striped Camelia

Big Old Cedar
Oregon definitely felt the roaring lion of March this year. A brief though intense storm blew through on March 13, bringing down nearly half of our 40-foot cedar. This photo doesn't show the scale of this loss, and we are grateful that it didn't come down on our roof. Some of our friends weren't so lucky with this storm. It was a good reminder of the power of nature.

So when life gives you trunks, you make trivets. And coasters. Can you smell the sappy cedar? What an amazing scent.

Our grass is utterly juicy. Chlorophyll production is in full throttle,

as is also evident via our weed production.

The primeval-looking pear tree is just beginning to bud out, while the hedgerow behind is adorned in layers and layers of lacy petals.

The grand-daddy black walnut is also slow to wake up.

Do you notice how quickly the light changes this time of year? One second it looks like this,

and in the next second it shifts to this,
and as things fall into shadow, the air remembers winter and becomes cold again. Let's warm up inside where we can refill our glasses, have a nosh, and sit by the fire, shall we?

Can you smell the berries and spice on the nose, and taste the juicy bright cherries, dried pink rose petals, and loamy "funk" in our Pinot Noir? Can you believe that the Sarver's sell this for only $20? I think it's one of the best Pinot Noir values in all of Oregon. And, if I may say, not terribly unlike some good French Burgundy's I've had.

 The wine tastes so delicious with a platter of Franco-Oregonian flavors. (Or is it that the flavors taste so good with the wine?) Truffle pate; Oregon's world renowned Rogue River Blue cheese, which is wrapped in pear brandy-soaked grape leaves (ooh la la); freshly toasted hazelnuts from last autumn's farmers market; Dijon mustard; tarragon-y French cornichons; homemade blackberry preserves; a bit of brie and some dried cherries and figs. I'm in heaven. Or is it Oregon? Or France?
Before we sit in front of the fire, maybe you'd like to see My Baby's orchid in full bloom in the shaded west window. The window that is shaded by our half-there cedar tree.

Thanks for stopping by to enjoy this bit of spring with me. As always, I've really enjoyed your company!

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