June 27, 2011

Copper Rivers and Sunny Skies

 Glorious Copper River Salmon

It's the end of June and the flannel sheets jut came off the bed today. The grill is finally ready for full-on action, not just the occasional use between rain showers it has received in the last couple of months. The indoor table is being passed over for one of the al freso dining rooms available on our property, with every meal, morning, noon and night being taken outside.
 Our Trusty Weber

Summer, ladies and gents, it seems, has finally arrived in Oregon.

 Some with Pesto, Some Without

I'm determined to use the grill as frequently as possible before Labor Day. A glorious Copper River King salmon fillet swabbed in a layer of fresh pesto, bathed in smoke and heat until the skin is rendered crisp is about as wonderful as a meal gets. A few grilled vegetables, a marinated potato salad and a quintessential Oregon Pinot Noir made for one of the most memorable meals I can recall.

Argyle 2008 Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley

Argyle 2008 Pinot Noir (given 90 points by both Wine Advocate and Wine Spectator, not that I put too much stock in such things) has beautiful balance of fruit, acid and tannin. Spice box on the nose, Oregon berry and cherry fruit and damp clean peat work so perfectly with the crackly-skinned salmon.

Copper River salmon is only available for a very short window, so we are sure to take advantage whenever we see it. The goodness of salmon from this particular river is not hype. These stellar athletes of fish must swim 300 miles up a 1000' elevation in cold waters to their spawning grounds, requiring extra amounts of those precious Omega-3's. It is these conditions that cause Copper River salmon to have its red rich flesh, succulent flavor, firm texture and high oil content which makes it excellent for the grill.

 Can you believe that the weather forecast predicts rain again tomorrow? Maybe those flannel sheets came off a day or two too soon.

June 23, 2011

Places of Inspiration

Spelt Flour Chamomile Apricot Cake Inspired by Kim Boyce, and a Few Other Places

(The potholder upon which the cake rests was a gift from my friend Liz who is an amazing textile artist. The other side of the potholder is really the intended focal point, but I love this side the most, partly because of her architectural handwriting, )

The change of seasons always provides a huge inspiration to me in the kitchen. For this reason, it is shear delight that we have four very distinct seasons in Oregon. Summer, though, is late in coming this year, which means it's still going to be a wait for the sunny plums, apricots, cherries and berries which I've been dreaming about since mid-winter. Sour cherry sorbet is on hold, as is strawberry shortcake (our strawberries are still only coming ripe a few at a time.) The plums hanging on our trees are only about the size of my thumb, so it will still be a while before I'll be baking a much anticipated plum upside-down cake. All of our orchard fruits are late this year.  With low heat units to date, I can't even imagine what the 2011 vintage of Oregon wines will be like.

This phenomenon has made me think a lot about sources of food inspiration. Without the muse of a plump velvety apricot or glossy crimson cherry (the cook's equivalent of a beautiful landscape or gorgeous model to a painter) where else do we look for stimulus? 

This nice and slightly off-beat cake started with reading through Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain and landing upon her Olive Oil Cake. Her cake is different in that it includes flavor notes of rosemary along with a handful of chopped dark chocolate, and more distinctly that it uses a dab of spelt four. I've never baked with spelt before, so that sounded interesting. Inspiration #1.

Mountain Rose Herb Chamomile Tea

If you can put rosemary in a cake, why not chamomile flowers? We've been drinking potful after potful of the most wonderful chamomile tea in our still nippy evenings. Mountain Rose Herbs makes some great teas, and this chamomile is glorious. One hundred percent chamomile flowers, it brews up into a softly floral golden brew. Inspiration #2.

Notes in the Margins: Other Flavor Combos to Try With This Recipe

I'm craving fresh fruit, but all that is available in my house at the moment are some dried apricots. A quick glance through The Flavor Bible confirms my inkling that, yes, apricot and chamomile are compatible. And if Kim Boyce gets a kick out of adding dark chocolate to rosemary and olive oil, why not add some of that, too? Inspiration #3.

This cake is really wonderful. It has a very delicate crumb for an olive oil based cake, with no heaviness or chewiness that I've experienced with others of the genre. The olive oil flavor does come through, so choose your oil wisely. I suggest choosing either a neutral flavored olive oil, or one with a definite fruitiness. The basic formula is a great framework for seasonal or any other type of inspiration.

Kim's Olive Oil Cake falls at only about a 6 on a 1-10 sweet scale, so it functions nicely as an afternoon tea cake, or as a lovely way to breakfast. A scoop of ice ream (why not chamomile?) or plop of whipped cream dresses it up for an official dessert. I did learn that I'm an all or nothing person when it comes to chocolate. Next time I'll either add quite a bit more, or none at all.

Where do you look for inspiration in the kitchen? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

June 3, 2011

Sourcing: That's Some Tomato

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan
Country living, with all of its upside, comes with a few disadvantages. The one-hour round trip to the nearest full-service grocery has put a halt to my former habit of running to the market on a whim for a few ingredients. I've always loved having a well stocked pantry, but living in the country, it becomes essential.

On the recommendation of Bon Appetit magazine (April 2011, page 124) in an article called Buy American Eat Italian, I ordered (among other things) a half-dozen Jersey Farms crushed tomatoes from Primizie Fine Foods in the Bronx. At some level, this goes against my "buy local" ethos to have foods shipped via Fed Ex across the country, but let me tell you how worth it this was for this pantry staple.
Items for a Happy Pantry
This is the best brand of canned tomato I've ever had. A fresh, sweet tomato scent popped up as I was opening the can. Super thick and rich, there was no watery separation of juice from the flesh. I could image spooning bites directly into my mouth, but instead, decided to gussy up the crushed tomatoes a bit first.
That's Some Tomato!
Primizie sent along in the box a recipe for a 5-minute marinara sauce, which I immediately whipped up. The only change I made was to saute half of a small onion in the olive oil with the garlic before proceeding, and adding a good big pinch of the oregano at the end:
Primizie's 5-Minute Tomato Marinara Sauce
I first used the sauce on a pizza, topped with house-made Italian sausage and some other things. It was superb.

With the remaining sauce, I made a version of Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan that I knocked off from Kay at My Home Cooked Meals. (Hers is a little prettier, and do check out her site... she's a great teacher!) The rich, fresh tomato sauce really shone in this dish. Thanks, Kay, for the great idea.

 LaVelle Vineyards, a nearby Willamette Valley winery, produces a Bordeaux blend from Columbia Valley grapes. 2008 Trilogy (Merlot, Cab Sauv and Cab Franc) has the unique huskiness of Hungarian oak, and stands up nicely to red-sauced pasta dishes or most anything off the grill. Yes, my tomatoes were from far, far away, but the wine, at least, was home-grown.

 LaVelle Vineyards 2008 Trilogy

Back to Primizie Fine Foods. The Italian oregano and salt-packed anchovies (which I am enjoying as I write this, on a nice Romaine salad) that arrived are also stellar; just as lovely as the tomatoes. I had a question regarding my invoice, and a quick call to Becky at Primizie resulted in a friendly, quick answer. It means something to me when a company treats me like a valued customer, and that is definitely the way things are at Primizie. Even though I paid a small fortune to have heavy canned tomatoes shipped across the country, I will do it again for the quality and service they offer. Do give them a try.

June 1, 2011

Black Horse & the Cherry Tree

Kim Boyce's Cherry Crumb Bars

...Or, as in the case of our recent house guests, a grulla mare, her buckskin filly and a black walnut tree. This post could also be subtitled: Things I Never Expected To Happen In My Lifetime.

Born on the infamous March 11,  Shez Tsunami Slick (Tsu for short) 

Several weeks ago My Baby got a call from our neighbor Kay of Joel-and-Kay, with whom we share a nearly mile long drive and who own the hundreds and hundreds of acres of land that swallow up our five acres as if it were a mere postage stamp. Joel farms and ranches, Kay tends to things domestic, runs their social calendar, and above all is an avid and accomplished horsewoman.

 All I could overhear of the conversation sounded something like this:
"Hi, Kay. Great, and you? (wa-waa waa wa wa) Oh sure, when? Great. I'll check with Pam, but I'm sure it won't be a problem. Bring them by any time. (wa waa wa wa) Our pleasure, Kay. See you soon."
After he'd hung up, My Dear Sweet Hospitable Baby said, "Well, if it's okay with you, Kay would like to bring her mare and filly to stay in our stable and pasture for a few days while they are away."

I am not proud of what happened next. And it goes like this:
"Baby, are you nuts?? Horses? Us? I'd have thought you were nuts to bring a goldfish home, but HORSES??"
"Yes, but Pam, they'll be outdoor horses."
"Baby, let me remind you that my only experience with horses was the time forty-five years ago when my Dad took me to the shopping center parking lot, paid a man $1, sat me on a horse and walked me around in a circle for 5 minutes. May I remind you that your only experience with horses was the riding lessons you took when you were in 6th grade, and that was forty-SEVEN years ago. I'm not sure that large animal husbandry was a part of my moving-to-the-country agreement!"
 "I tell you what, Pam. Let's take a vote: All those in favor of the horses coming say aye. All opposed say neeeiiigggh."
And so my life goes. The Things I Never Expected In My Lifetime list just keeps growing.

 Beautiful Mama Shez Come Undun (Charm for short)

Once I got over the dizzying fact that my neighbor trusts us enough to keep her horses alive (or more plausibly that she trusts her horses to keep themselves alive), they ended up being a great delight. One of the fun aspects of their companionship, besides the handsome lawn ornamentation they provided, was feeding them their buckets of grain twice a day. It is this grain along with this terrific catchy little song (woo hoo) that inspired me to bake the Cherry Crumb Bars.

(I will add, to further underscore my incompetence where horses are concerned, that the representational horse-food oats in this recipe are good for horses, but the rye is NOT a representational horse food. I just learned that if horses eat rye a problem of enormous stable-clean up proportions will ensue. I'm really glad our four-legged guests didn't share the baked goods.)

 My Baby, In His Hay-Day

The recipe came from the highly recommended Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain cookbook. This was my first baking project from her book, only because I have yet to take inventory of the necessary flours and grains with which to stock the pantry in preparation, but I did have whole oats and a dab of rye flour. A simple buttery rye and wheat shortbread is baked, then topped with preserves and the buttery oat-y crumb topping and baked again. I found the bars to be just sweet enough and just tender enough to not feel like Euell Gibbons' "health food", and the texture actually improved the next day. This treat stayed delicious for several days and its moderate sweetness made as fine of a breakfast as it did a dessert.

A Little Experiment with Whipped Skim Milk Instead of Cream
 (Not So Successful!)

Cherries from our trees are still a month away this year in our chilly spring weather, and I can't wait for them. But while I do, Bonne Maman Cherry Preserves nicely suffice. This brand of preserves from France is my favorite purchased jam.

My Favorite Purchased Jam
I hope that Kay never asks me to take care of her houseplants while she's away, because I really am no good at all with those.

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