Friday, January 9, 2015

Baked Oatmeal for the New Year

(Originally published in The News Review on January 6, 2014)
Recipes in this post: Baked Oatmeal, Individual Baked Oatmeal Cups

Baked Oatmeal with berries and hazelnuts
For me, 2014 will go down in my journal as a year of tracking. With the help of my smartphone and several free apps, I was able to gather data about many aspects of my life. Technology has made this quite simple. I used My Fitness Pal to record what I ate. I wore a Fitbit activity tracker to see how much exercise I got. I used Spendee to keep tabs on where my money went.

What did all this tracking teach me? When it comes to diet and nutrition, I learned just how many calories I currently consume. I found that I have no trouble keeping my saturated fat intake under 20 grams or my dietary cholesterol under 300 mg. per day. I do a good job limiting my sodium intake to 2300 mg. I get plenty of fiber, calcium and vitamin C. I rarely, however, get the recommended amount of vitamin A or potassium. Like most folks, I need to eat more vegetables.

By monitoring my physical activity, I discovered that on days I don't hike or go to the gym, it's pretty difficult to rack up 10,000 steps. I definitely sit too much.

By recording where I spent my money, I was able to see what percentage of my grocery budget goes to local food. By now you know that I am passionate about supporting our local farmers, ranchers and food producers. There are, however, many food items not grown or produced in this area that I purchase from a grocery store. I was curious to see how many of my food dollars stay in Douglas County. Turns out, on average, more than forty percent of my food budget is spent on local fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and a few miscellaneous prepared food products. I don't qualify as a locavore, but every bit counts toward growing our local food economy. Still, I have room for improvement.

I don't intend to continue tracking every morsel I eat or every step I take this year. The goal, of course, is to use what I learned to make positive changes. Isn't that what January and the New Year are all about? It's a chance to take stock and consider adopting a few simple habits that will help us live healthier, happier lives.

If improved health is on your list, incorporating more whole, nourishing foods into your diet is a step in the right direction. Breakfast is a great place to start. I'm a big fan of morning smoothies and I have a high-fiber cold cereal that I enjoy, but on frosty mornings there's nothing like a hot meal to warm me up from the inside out. A steaming bowl of oatmeal topped with fruit, nuts, cinnamon and a touch of sweetener makes a “stick-to-my-ribs” breakfast that will carry me all the way to lunch. It's quick and easy; no recipe required.
Baked oatmeal takes those same ingredients and kicks it up a notch. The addition of eggs and milk bumps up the protein and instead of a bowl of porridge you end up with a breakfast “cake” you can eat with a fork. What's more, you have leftovers for the rest of the week. Just pop a square of baked oatmeal into the toaster oven or microwave and breakfast is ready. Baking the oatmeal in individual muffin cups or ramekins lets you vary the combinations for each family member.

Resolutions needn't be grand or complicated to be effective. Whatever your goals might be, here's to a healthy and happy 2015!
Baked Oatmeal

This recipe lends itself to endless adaptation. Vary the amount or type of sweetener according to your tastes. Substitute coconut oil for the butter or omit it entirely and spray the pan with oil instead. Experiment with different fruit and nut combinations like sliced bananas, blueberries and walnuts; dried cranberries and pecans; or finely diced apples and raisins.

3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cups berries, fresh or frozen, divided
½ cup coarsely chopped nuts, optional
2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
6 tablespoons Sucanat* or packed brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups milk, whole or low fat
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the butter over low heat or in the microwave. Use part of it to generously brush the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan. Set the remaining butter aside to cool. Scatter 1 ½ cups of the berries over the bottom of the pan. If using nuts, sprinkle about a third of them over the berries.

In a medium bowl, stir together the rolled oats, sweetener, cinnamon, baking powder and salt. Cover the berries and nuts with the oat mixture.

In a the same medium bowl, whisk together the milk, eggs, vanilla and the rest of the melted butter. Pour over the oats and fruit. Sprinkle the remaining berries and nuts on top.

Bake at 375 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown on top and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cut into squares and serve with cream and/or maple syrup, if desired.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

*Sucanat (which stands for “sugar cane natural”) is a less refined sweetener made from dehydrated, rather than crystallized, sugar cane juice. I love its strong molasses flavor. It's available in the bulk bins or natural foods section of most grocery stores. If you decide to use a liquid sweetener, whisk it into the egg and milk mixture rather than combining with the dry ingredients.

Bananas, blueberries and walnuts are ready for the oatmeal topping.
Individual Baked Oatmeal Cups

Baking the oatmeal in small ramekins or a muffin tin allows you to make several varieties in one batch and customize the ingredients for other members of the family. 

Follow the recipe as directed but distribute the fruit, nuts, oat mixture and egg mixture evenly among well-buttered muffin cups or ramekins. Fill the cups only about two-thirds full as the oatmeal will rise as it bakes. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 35 minutes.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fresh Produce in the Land of Plenty

(Originally published in The News Review on Tuesday, December 2, 2014) Recipe links: Glorified Cauliflower, Roasted Romanesco, 

A lovely display from Norm Lehne Garden & Orchards
A stroll through the farmers market is like a trip to an art museum, with the added benefit that I can afford to purchase the edible masterpieces I admire. The produce vendors in particular go to great lengths to create esthetically pleasing displays. With an eye for color, texture, balance and detail, fruits and vegetables are carefully arranged in baskets, bins, crates or free form pyramids. The results can be stunningly beautiful. No wonder still lifes of food are my best-loved works of art.
A beautiful Big Lick Farm display
 My dear friend Gloria Johnson is a woman who loves vegetables almost as much as she loves cheese. Gloria and her husband Roland are currently humanitarian missionaries in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. They are thrilled to be in Africa serving people they have grown to love. Gloria is the most enthusiastic, energetic, upbeat person I have ever known (her maiden name is Jolley!) and she's embraced the daily challenges they face with courage, optimism and a sense of humor. One of her only complaints about life in the capital city of Kinshasa is the limited availability of fresh produce and its exorbitant cost. A tiny box of grapes? Thirteen dollars! A single red pepper? Six bucks! In one of her email updates to friends back home, Gloria implored us not to take the abundance and affordability of our fresh fruits and vegetables for granted:

"The next go to the grocery store, Kruse Farms, any other farm, Sherm's in Roseburg, anywhere that has produce!  Please PLEASE hug...(I MEAN IT!!!) the produce person and anyone else within reach.... then... pick up a head of cauliflower and caress it, kiss it, hug it, buy it, take it home, prepare it any way you want then slowly and lovingly chew each morsel and say my name at least 10 times while doing so.   And forever more don't race through the produce section of the store, or farmer's market, just stop, savor every color, every texture EVERY beautiful piece of freshness and thank the Lord that you have it."

In honor of Gloria's wishes, I offer my version of Glorified Cauliflower, a whole head steamed to perfection and covered in a "glorious" cheese sauce. I serve it in a shallow bowl with a large spoon and it looks lovely. (Well, one member of my family says it looks like a brain, but he eats it nonetheless.) If you're lucky enough to have leftovers, you can easily turn them into a creamy soup.

Of all the varieties of cauliflower on display-- white, orange, purple, green-- the most intriguing to me is Romanesco, also called Romanesco broccoli. It stands out from the crowd with it's lime green, cone-shaped head of spiraled florets. (For you mathematicians reading, the number of spirals on a head of Romanesco is a Fibonacci number.) Roasting it with olive oil brings out the sweet, nutty flavor.

You and I are indeed fortunate to live in a land of plenty. We have year round access to more fresh fruits and vegetables than we could ever tire of eating and at prices we can afford. So take your time. Saunter through the market or produce aisle and let your senses delight in the visual feast. Then fill your bag or basket or cart and count your blessings.

Roasted Romanesco

Romanesco (some say it's cauliflower, others call it broccoli) with it's lovely green color, nutty flavor and spiky,spiraled florets, is my favorite variety for roasting. Rinse well, break the florets off the stem and toss with olive oil and salt right on a shallow baking sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 25 minutes, just until barely tender when pierced with a fork or cake tester. Serve immediately.

Glorified Cauliflower

This recipe is adapted from one in my old Betty Crocker cookbook. A tender head of steamed cauliflower is cloaked in a velvety cheese sauce. As a bonus, any leftovers can be pureed into a creamy soup.

1 large head (about 2 pounds) cauliflower
a heel of bread* (optional)

Remove the leaves, stalk, and any bruised or discolored areas, leaving the whole head of cauliflower intact. Rinse thoroughly and drain. Place a rack or steamer basket in a large saucepan. Add an inch of water and a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Place the cauliflower on the rack and place the bread (if using) on top of the cauliflower. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 20-25 minutes, just until tender. While the cauliflower is steaming, prepare the cheese sauce.

*Placing a slice of bread on top of the cauliflower absorbs some of the "aroma" and keeps it from filling the whole house. This helps when cooking broccoli and cabbage, too.

Cheese Sauce

Betty Crocker may have enjoyed processed American cheese, but I like to use extra-sharp aged cheddar in this sauce. Be careful not to let the sauce boil after you add the cheese or it may separate.

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
one or two dashes of cayenne pepper, to taste
paprika for garnishing

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over low heat until foamy. Stir in the flour, dry mustard, salt and white pepper with a wooden spoon or rubber scraper until smooth and bubbling. Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil and stir for one minute. Add the shredded cheese and stir until melted. Remove from heat and season with cayenne. Cover to keep warm until ready to serve.

When the cauliflower is tender, carefully remove it from the pan and allow any water to drain off. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl. Pour half of the cheese sauce over the top, letting it run down the sides of the cauliflower. Garnish with paprika. Pass the remaining sauce at the table.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Note: I use ground white pepper because it is invisible, but black pepper is fine, too. You can buy white pepper in the bulk spice section of most grocery stores. 

Easy Cheesy Cauliflower Soup: Turn your leftovers into a creamy soup for a light lunch or first course later in the week. Puree the cauliflower and any remaining cheese sauce with equal parts milk and chicken stock (canned or made from chicken soup base). Start with a half cup of each and add more to desired consistency. Heat gently to serving temperature. Do not boil. Alternatively, you can freeze the leftovers (without additional milk and stock) to make soup at a later date.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bacon-Topped Chicken Pot Pie

(This would be a great use for turkey leftovers, too.)

My daughter made a beef pot pie with a bacon top crust for her husband last summer and inspired me to give it a try. (She got the idea from a Game of Thrones cookbook.)

Chicken Pot Pie is one of my son's very favorite meals and he is also a bacon lover, so I knew he'd get a kick out of this combination.

First, I precooked the bacon top crust. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a piece of parchment or a Silpat on a cookie sheet. Form the raw bacon into a lattice by laying one strip across the top of the pan horizontally, then place a second strip vertically, overlapping the first at the top left edge. Continue adding strips, alternating horizontal and vertical strips and weaving them under and over each other until you have formed a square that will cover your pie pan. I used a whole package of bacon. I like thinly sliced bacon so it gets nice and crispy. Bake 15 to 20 minutes until the bacon is almost cooked to your liking. Remove pan to a cooling rack. Increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees. Invert your pie pan over the bacon and trim into a circle. Allow the bacon to cool while you prepare the filling and bottom crust.

I used my Classic Chicken Pot Pie recipe. (You can halve the pastry recipe or freeze the top crust to use later.) Line the pie pan with the bottom crust letting the pastry hang over the edges. Pour the filling into the crust. Place the circle of bacon over the filling. Trim the pastry to about 1 inch and roll it up to enclose the edges of the bacon. Crimp with your thumb to seal.

Bake as directed in the recipe, 30-35 minutes, until the filling is bubbly and the bacon is crisp. Serve immediately.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Pumpkin-Walnut Bars with Cream Cheese Frosting

Pumpkin-Walnut Bars ready for a church event.

My friend, Phyllis Highley (check out her products at Oregon Oats), shared this recipe and we both made Pumpkin Bars for a church dinner last night. Several people requested the recipe, so here it is:

Pumpkin Squares

2 cups sugar
2 cups pumpkin (I used pumpkin I had frozen last year)
3 eggs
1 scant cup vegetable oil
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups chopped nuts (save some to sprinkle on top)

Mix together pumpkin, eggs, sugar and oil in a large bowl. Add flour, soda, cinnamon, salt and nuts. Mix well and pour into a well-greased cookie sheet or jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Cream Cheese Frosting
(Phyllis said she likes to double the frosting and that's what we both did for the bars we served last night, so the following recipe is already doubled)

6 ounces cream cheese
2 sticks butter
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar.

Blend all together and spread over cooled cake.

Jennifer's notes: I used walnuts, Phyllis used pecans. They were both delicious. I lined the pans with parchment and sprayed the sides with oil spray.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Maple-Glazed Walnuts and a Winter Salad

Originally published in The News Review
November 4, 2014
Recipes in this post: Maple-Glazed Walnuts, Toasted Walnuts, Mixed Greens with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese

It's Election Night as you read this. I will have been to the courthouse by now to deliver my ballot in person, wearing the cozy, non-partisan, red, white and blue “Get-Out-The-Vote” sweater that is my Election Day tradition. I miss voting at my local grange, where all the poll-watchers and precinct workers were my neighbors and knew my name. Tonight we'll build a rip-roaring fire in the fireplace and I'll crack and sort walnuts while we watch the returns come in.

We go through a lot of walnuts in our house. My husband and I each eat at least one handful every day. I put them on cereal, in oatmeal or yogurt or just eat them plain, straight from the zip-top bag in the freezer. I also use them in cookies, muffins and brownies. Unlike some other nuts, walnuts taste great raw and unsalted. Occasionally I will toast them in the oven to bring out even more flavor before adding to a salad.

If you've only eaten nuts from the grocery store, you have likely never tasted a truly fresh walnut. When properly handled and dried, they have a delicate crunch and rich flavor without any hint of greasiness. Brosi's SugarTree Farms near Winston (541-679-1472) has walnuts in the shell for $2.25 per pound. Kruse Farms in Roseburg (541-672-5697) should have walnuts soon. They're very much in demand and won't last long so don't procrastinate. I don't know of any orchards where you can pick your own, but you might have a neighbor with a tree who would probably be thrilled to share the harvest if you don't mind gathering and drying the walnuts yourself. You can find detailed information on harvesting and drying nuts on the Oregon State University website at

With the holidays fast approaching, my mind turns to simple gifts I can make at home. Since I have little talent when it comes to crafts, I have to rely on gifts from my kitchen. Maple-Glazed Walnuts are quick to make and can be done several days or even a week ahead of giving. I package them in clear glass jars or cellophane bags and tie with a big bow, easy and elegant.

The Umpqua Valley Farmers Market has moved indoors for the winter. There is still wonderful local produce to be savored: red and green cabbages, purple, orange and white cauliflower varieties, broccoli, red and golden potatoes, beets, carrots, turnips, leafy greens, winter squash in all shapes and sizes, and even sweet potatoes, You can find all this and more at First United Methodist Church in Roseburg (1771 W. Harvard) from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturdays.

When we visited my daughter and son-in-law in La Grande last spring, they served us a salad of baby greens, roasted root vegetables, Brussels sprouts and creamy goat cheese. It was so good, I had two huge helpings! That was my first experience eating Brussels sprouts and I couldn't get over how tender and sweet they were. Keep your eye out for local Brussels sprouts which should be available in a few weeks. I've added my own twist to this salad with a sprinkling of Maple-Glazed Walnuts.

Toasted Walnuts

Lightly toasting walnuts enhances their flavor. Toast only as many as you will use within a day or two.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Toast for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring once or twice, just until they become fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn or they will taste bitter.
Maple-Glazed Walnuts

My friend, Pat Gausnell of Roseburg, shared this recipe with me many years ago. The candied nuts add a crunchy, sweet surprise to salads. Only real maple syrup and pure vanilla extract will do, no substitutes. Beware! These are addicting!

½ cup real maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups walnuts, halves and large pieces

Line a cookie sheet with parchment or waxed paper. Set aside. Combine the syrup, butter, salt and cinnamon in an 8 to 10-inch skillet. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir until mixture begins to thicken, 2 ½ to 4 minutes. It should be the consistency of raw egg whites and you should be able to draw a heat-proof spatula or wooden spoon across the bottom of the pan, leaving a bare trail that does not fill in quickly.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Immediately add the walnuts and stir until the nuts are evenly coated with the glaze. Turn out onto lined cookie sheet, spread into a single layer and allow to cool completely. When cool, store in an airtight container.

Note: If you did not cook the glaze long enough and the nuts are still sticky even after they have cooled completely (give them at least an hour or so, depending on the weather and humidity in your kitchen), put them in a low oven for a few minutes to help them dry out.

YIELD: 2 cups
Maple-Glazed Walnuts add a sweet surprise to this winter salad.
Mixed Greens with Roasted Vegetables and Goat Cheese

The combination of roasted vegetables and creamy goat cheese turns this salad into a filling lunch or a substantial first course. This recipe is adapted from Tosca Reno's Beet & Arugula Salad in her book, The Eat-Clean Diet Recharged (Random House). My daughter, Christine, used spinach instead of arugula and added parsnips. I substituted Maple-Glazed Walnuts for the sunflower seeds.

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 pounds root vegetables (any combination of beets, carrots, and/or parsnips,)
1 pound Brussels sprouts
2½ teaspoons salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
4 cups arugula or baby spinach
4 cups mixed baby lettuce
½ cup Maple-Glazed Walnuts or plain, toasted walnuts
1 (4 ounce) log of goat cheese
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Prepare vegetables for roasting as follows: Peel the carrots and parsnips, cut lengthwise into quarters and then crosswise into 1½-inch pieces. If using baby beets you can leave them whole, unpeeled, trimming the stems to one inch and then slipping the skins off after roasting. If using large beets, trim stems and roots, peel and cut into quarters or eighths. Keep them separate from the other vegetables to minimize color transfer. Trim the Brussels sprouts and cut in half. Place vegetables in a large, shallow baking pan. Drizzle with 1½ tablespoons of the olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Toss well with your hands to coat evenly and spread into a single layer. Bake 30 to 45 minutes until tender, stirring every ten minutes. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.

To assemble the salads: Toss the washed and dried greens together and divide evenly among four plates. Arrange the roasted vegetables on top. Slice the goat cheese log into eight rounds and place two
in the center of each salad. Drizzle each plate with remaining 1½ tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons rice vinegar. Scatter 2 tablespoons coarsely broken walnuts over the top and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

YIELD: 4 hearty servings

Monday, November 3, 2014

Got Apples?

This is a guest post from my daughter, Christine. She spent the weekend preserving apples and found some great ideas for using up all the apple peels and cores.

Christine was just over a year old when we bought this box of apples from The Apple Man. He used to bring apples down from Washington and sell them out of the back of his van.

Dear Mom,

Just finished processing all of the apples that I bought. I was thinking you might want to do a fall post on all the things you can do with apples. There are a lot of great articles on how to use apple peels in creative ways, in addition to the usual apple sauce recipes. Although it definitely took two full days of canning/drying etc., I feel like the yield I got from them was pretty impressive. Without including the cost of my own time or the energy used by my stove and dehydrator, my calculations show that making my own applesauce is cheaper than buying unsweetened applesauce from Walmart. (Great Value brand costs $1.98 for 46 oz, so for me to break even, I had to be able to make at least 22 quarts of sauce for the amount of apples I purchased.) 

I bought 75 lbs of apples at the farmers market for $10 per 25 lb. box (total of $30, or 40 cents per pound, which was cheaper than I could find to pick them myself) - two boxes of Granny Smith and one box of Jonagold. I mistakenly thought that you should use tart apples for canning like you do for pie, before I read the recipes that said you're supposed to use sweeter apples. Oops!  At least they were local (from Martinez Garden in Milton Freewater which is only about an hour away from La Grande). From these apples, I was able to make:
  • about 3 quart size bags full of dried apples
  • about 1 quart bag full of dried apple peels (dusted in cinnamon for putting on oatmeal to add texture and flavor)
  • 2.5 pints of apple peel jelly 
  • 3 quarts of apple juice (using only the peels and cores)
  • 25 quarts of applesauce
I'm exhausted but pretty proud of myself!  Thanks for teaching me how to do all of this, and to appreciate the process to begin with.  


Note: Christine says the apple peel jelly is a really pretty natural red color, even though more than half of the apple peels she used were from green apples. She added ground cinnamon and whole cloves (tied in a coffee filter) when she made the apple juice and used that juice to make the jelly. Great Christmas gift idea!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Umpqua Valley Food Day

The event is next Saturday, Oct. 25 from 4-7 at Phoenix Charter School. It is the Third Annual Umpqua Valley Food Day Celebration, which is in honor of the National Food Day that is going on all around the country. The goal is to encourage people to eat more healthy, local, and sustainable foods.

From 4-5 there will be a community seed swap, booths with groups such as Big Lick Farm, and a short seminar on gardening from school horticulturist Mary Ellis.

From 5-7 we will be screening the documentary Food Matters.

The event is free to the public. Bring your kids, seed packets and healthy snacks!

Here is more info on Food Day: