Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Taming the Tomato Jungle

(Originally published in The News Review on September 2, 2014) Recipe links:  Gazpacho, Bruschetta

It's a jungle out there! In my garden, that is. The tomatoes have taken over, toppling the flimsy wire cages that were supposed to contain and support them. I got a late start getting my tomatoes planted this year, but I've got a bumper crop now. I'm drying tomatoes to use in soups and stews, roasting tomatoes and packing them in jars of olive oil (stored in the freezer) for dipping bread into or adding to winter salads. I'll soon be canning tomatoes and tomato juice and freezing purée.

We grow our own because tomatoes ripened on the vine taste the very best. You can find excellent locally grown tomatoes with exquisite flavor in all shapes, sizes and colors at markets throughout the county. There are heirloom varieties in shades of rosy pink and purple to almost black. Look for green striped tomatoes, yellow and orange tomatoes, pear-shaped tomatoes and tiny cherry and grape tomatoes. And don't overlook the Roma or Italian plum tomatoes. Bright red and oblong, they are meatier than the juicy “slicing” tomatoes. Roma types, and San Marzanos in particular, make especially good tomato sauce.

My husband eats tomatoes the way some folks eat apples; he just picks one out of the basket and bites right into it. My son loves a great bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich. My favorite way to eat tomatoes? Dress them with basil, garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar and pile them high on a crusty baguette slice. Bruschetta is meant to be an appetizer, but to my mind, if it's made with good bread and tomatoes at their peak, I can make a meal of it.

How about some soup? Everything you need for gazpacho, a cold tomato and vegetable soup, is in season right now. Cucumbers, peppers, garlic, and onions blended with your perfectly ripe tomatoes become a refreshing first course for these hot summer nights.

Both of the following recipes include vinegar. Bruschetta is traditionally made with dark, slightly sweet balsamic vinegar. I like to use apple cider vinegar in gazpacho, but I've also use rice vinegar. Just the other day I was picking up a gallon of apple cider vinegar and noticed that the store brand was more expensive than the famous name brand vinegar. 

Thinking that was odd, I took a moment to compare the labels. Turns out, the name brand vinegar is “apple-flavored” vinegar distilled from grain. (I'm not sure if that would affect someone who is gluten-sensitive.) It also contains natural flavor with caramel color. The store brand's only ingredients are apple cider vinegar diluted with water to 5% acidity. 

The flavored type would be fine for filling my homemade fruit fly trap. When it comes to what I eat, I always go for the real thing.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho
makes about 6 cups


Gazpacho is basically a liquid salad. It takes only minutes to prepare, but the soup needs to be chilled for several hours or overnight, so plan ahead. You can adapt the texture from chunky to smooth to suit your personal preference. Any variety of tomato or a combination works well.

2 pounds tomatoes, about 8 medium, cored and quartered

1 medium cucumber, ends removed, cut into large chunks*

1 red or green bell pepper, stemmed and seeded

1 small red or yellow onion, peeled and cut into quarters

1 clove garlic, peeled

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste

freshly ground pepper to taste

croutons and fresh basil for garnishing

Combine all ingredients except the croutons and basil in a blender or food processor and process to desired consistency. Chill several hours or overnight. Adjust seasonings to taste. Serve in chilled bowls garnished with croutons and fresh basil ribbons.



*If the cucumber is organic, I don't bother to peel it.

Basil Ribbons

To create basil ribbons (to “chiffonade” the basil) for garnishing the gazpacho or bruschetta, rinse fresh basil leaves and gently pat dry. Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. Beginning at one of the pointy ends, roll the stack into a tight cylinder. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the roll into thin slices.
Homemade Croutons

Don't let those heels no one likes go to waste. Turn them into crunchy croutons for garnishing soups, salads and casseroles.


Cut bread into 3/4-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with fine sea salt to taste and toss very well. (You can also add a fresh-pressed clove of garlic, but it really smells up the house when the croutons are toasting.) Could also use seasoning salt, onion powder, etc. Spread on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until crisp and golden brown, stirring occasionally. Use immediately or let cool and then store in an airtight container.



Note: If I were doing a very small amount, I would just sauté the bread cubes in a little olive oil in a pan on the stove.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta
makes four servings of two slices each

5 – 6 Roma tomatoes, (about 1 ½ cups, diced)
2 cloves garlic, peeled
8 to 10 fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
8 slices crusty French or Italian bread
optional: freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino-Romano cheese

Core and quarter the tomatoes. Remove seeds if desired. Drain in a colander for a few minutes to remove excess juice. Place in serving bowl and add 1 of the garlic cloves, finely minced or pressed, the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add drained tomatoes and mix well. Let stand at room temperature while you prepare the bread slices.

Cut the bread on the diagonal into ½-inch slices. Toast on both sides on the grill, stove or under the broiler until the surface is crispy but the center is still a bit soft. Cut the remaining clove of garlic in half and rub across one side of each slice of toasted bread.

Just before serving, snip the basil into pieces with kitchen shears or cut into ribbons. Arrange bread slices on a platter and divide the tomato mixture evenly on top. Garnish with the fresh basil. Add grated cheese if desired. Serve immediately. 

Basil Ribbons

To create basil ribbons (to “chiffonade” the basil) for garnishing the gazpacho or bruschetta, rinse fresh basil leaves and gently pat dry. Stack the leaves on top of each other on a cutting board. Beginning at one of the pointy ends, roll the stack into a tight cylinder. With a sharp knife, carefully cut the roll into thin slices.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Keen for Peaches and Nectarines

(Originally published in The News Review on Tuesday, August 5, 2014) Recipe link: Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Ginger Scone Topping

Red Haven peaches from Norm Lehne Garden and Orchard

I have a peach-picking ritual. As midsummer approaches, I check the newspaper nightly, along with my email and Facebook feed, eagerly awaiting word that our local crops are ready. On opening day for my favorite varieties, I am often first in line. I drive into the orchard, park between the rows, and scout out the best trees. I want peaches that are mature with a lovely golden blush, but not too ripe or soft to travel home. I pick carefully, lifting and twisting each beautiful peach so I don't damage the trees that provide me with such delicious fruit. I gently place each sun-kissed peach into baskets and dishpans, stacking the fruit only two high to keep from bruising the delicate, juicy flesh.

Picking peaches is so easy that I often get carried away. When I run out of containers, I am forced to stop. With my precious cargo weighed and purchased (60, 70, 80 lbs!), I rush home to lay the peaches out in a single layer on newspapers that cover our dining room table. Each morning for the next few weeks I'll select two or three perfectly ripe peaches to peel and slice for my breakfast. To me it's sunshine in a bowl!

 Breakfast in a bowl from Brosi's Sugartree Farms


Everyone in my family loves peaches so most will be eaten fresh and unadorned. Some will be made into a perfect peach pie or a luscious peach cobbler. When they start to ripen faster than we can keep up, I'll begin freezing them for the winter.

Nectarines are just as delicious as peaches and their seasons overlap. I pick and ripen nectarines just as I do peaches. Because they don't need to be peeled, nectarines are a snap to freeze or dehydrate.

 Paris Orchards nectarines

The only drawback to having all of this fruit ripening indoors is the invasion of fruit flies. They can be such a nuisance! I don't remember where I first saw it, but I've been making a simple homemade trap for many years. It's not pretty, but it keeps the fruit fly population under control. Here's what you do: Put an inch of apple cider vinegar in the bottom of a large jar. (I use a one quart canning jar.) Add a few drops of dish soap and swish it around to mix. With a sheet of paper and some tape, make a cone with a small opening at one end and big enough at the other end to fit against the rim of the jar. The bottom of the cone should be an inch or two above the vinegar. Place the jar near the fruit or anywhere fruit flies are a problem. That's it! The vinegar attracts the flies. The soap coats their wings, making it difficult for them to fly out. Replace the vinegar and soap mixture every day. I keep one of these going, as needed, all the way through pumpkin season. 


Preserving the Harvest
When the peaches and nectarines start ripening faster than we can eat them, it's time to preserve some of that summer sunshine for gray days to come. I'm not a big fan of canned fruit, so freezing and drying are my go-to methods for putting fruit by.

Freezing peaches and nectarines

Freezing is quick and easy. Slice peaches (peeled) and nectarines (unpeeled) onto cookie sheets in a single layer and freeze until firm. Once frozen, pack in plastic freezer bags. The frozen slices can be eaten like mini popsicles or added to smoothies.

Drying Nectarines

Nectarines don't need to be peeled before dehydrating. Slice them about 3/8-inch thick directly onto the drying trays. The color will darken as they dry, but I have never found pre-treating them necessary. Dry at 135 degrees until chewy with no moisture pockets left. Timing will depend on the type of dehydrator you have. It can also be affected by the weather. Start checking the nectarines after 10 to 12 hours. I condition all of my home-dried fruits by placing the whole batch in a large (2-gallon) zip top bag or container with a tight-fitting lid. It should only be two-thirds full. Seal well and allow the dried fruit to sit for several days at room temperature, shaking the bag or container once or twice a day to redistribute the fruit. This allows the drier pieces to absorb some of the moisture from the not-so-dry pieces so they all end up just right. After conditioning, I pack the fruit in smaller bags and store in the freezer, if I have room, though properly dried fruit keeps well at room temperature. Dried nectarines make great trail food for hiking and camping. They can also be snipped into pieces and added to baked goods like muffins.


Lemon-Ginger Scones

These scones melt in your mouth! Perfect for a company breakfast or afternoon tea. 

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
grated zest of 1 lemon (reserved above)
1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, very cold
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup diced candied or crystallized ginger (I snip it with kitchen shears)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Cut the cold butter into chunks, add to the flour and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles very coarse crumbs. Add the beaten eggs and the cream to the flour mixture and stir gently, just until combined. Fold in the diced ginger pieces.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and, with floured hands, knead quickly 4 or 5 times. Pat the dough into a circle 1/2 to 3/4 inches thick and cut into 8 wedges. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15 to 18 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Do ahead tip: The scone dough can be cut into shapes and frozen on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. When frozen solid, package in plastic bags. No need to thaw, just increase baking time by about 5 minutes.

Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Ginger Scone Topping

Peach Cobbler with Lemon-Ginger Scone Topping


When I was baking for the farmers market, I developed a recipe for lemon-ginger scones. They were a big hit. Peaches and ginger go well together, so why not add a little zing to an ordinary cobbler by swapping these scones for the usual biscuit topping? You can find candied or crystallized ginger (either will work) at stores like Trader Joe's or in the bulk foods aisle of the supermarket.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the filling:

8 cups sliced peaches, about 8 medium peaches
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice (you will also use the zest)

Wash the lemon and remove the zest with a fine grater or Microplane zester. Reserve the grated zest to use in the scone topping. Squeeze the juice from the lemon. Peel the peaches and slice about ½ inch thick. In a large saucepan, stir together the sugar, cornstarch and spices. Add the sliced peaches and lemon juice, then bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Boil and stir one minute. Transfer filling to an ungreased 9 x 13 baking dish and set aside while you prepare the topping.

For the scone topping:

2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
grated zest of 1 lemon (reserved above)
1 ½ sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter, very cold
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup diced candied or crystallized ginger (I snip it with kitchen shears)

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Cut the cold butter into chunks, add to the flour and cut in with a pastry blender or two knives until it resembles very coarse crumbs. Add the beaten eggs and the cream to the flour mixture and stir gently, just until combined. Fold in the diced ginger pieces.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and, with floured hands, knead quickly 4 or 5 times. Pat into a smooth rectangle about ¾ to 1-inch thick. Cut into into 8 squares and arrange on top of the hot filling. If desired, brush the tops of the scones with additional cream. (Alternatively, you could skip the kneading and just drop the dough all over the warm peach mixture using two spoons.) Bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes, until filling is bubbling and scones are golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To bake the scones by themselves, follow the directions above, but pat the dough into a circle and cut into 8 wedges. Bake on a parchment-lined baking sheet for 15 to 18 minutes.

Do ahead tip: The scone dough can be cut into shapes and frozen on a waxed paper-lined baking sheet. When frozen solid, package in plastic bags. No need to thaw, just increase baking time by about 5 minutes.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Baked Beets with Vinaigrette Dressing

Lovely golden and red beets from Big Lick Farm

Baked Beets with Vinaigrette and Chives
Serves 4 to 6

This is how I serve beets most often. They're delicious warm, at room temperature, or cold. Leftovers, straight from the refrigerator, make a nice addition to a green salad. Golden beets and red beets are lovely served side by side, but you must bake and dress them separately to keep the colors from mingling. This recipe was inspired by one in the fabulous little cookbook Fresh From the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher.

1 1/2 pounds beets
1 recipe Basic Vinaigrette, omitting pepper
fresh chives for garnishing, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Scrub the beets well and trim off all but ½ inch of the stems. Place in a shallow baking dish, add ¼ cup of water, cover tightly with a lid or foil and bake for 35 to 45 minutes (longer if beets are large) until just tender when pierced with a cake tester or sharp knife. Remove from oven and let stand, uncovered, until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, prepare the vinaigrette.

Slip the skins off the beets under warm, running water. Small beets can be quartered. Larger beets should be cut into bite-sized pieces. Place in a medium bowl, add the dressing, and toss gently. Transfer to a serving bowl or platter and garnish with snipped chives.

A Basic Vinaigrette

A Basic Vinaigrette
Makes about ½ cup

The simplest vinaigrette is made with oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. It can be varied by using different types of oil (walnut or hazelnut, for example) or vinegar (white wine, red wine, sherry, berry, balsamic, herb, etc.), by substituting lemon juice for the vinegar, or by adding Dijon mustard, garlic, shallots and/or herbs. Classic proportions are three parts oil to one part vinegar or lemon juice, but you can adjust this, along with the salt and pepper, to suit your taste.

2 tablespoons vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground pepper

Measure the vinegar and salt into a small bowl or jar with a tight fitting lid. Whisk in the oil until thoroughly combined or shake vigorously in the jar. Add freshly ground pepper to taste and additional salt, if needed. Use immediately. Any leftover vinaigrette can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days and brought to room temperature before whisking or shaking to recombine.

Potato Salad Vinaigrette


Potato Salad Vinaigrette
Serves 4 to 6.

This recipe is adapted from one in my well-worn copy of Martha Stewart's classic first book, Entertaining. My brother, Dave, (the one I used to bake pies for) gave it to me as a college graduation gift. I love this potato salad served warm on a bed of lettuce. Always a hit, it's an easy do-ahead dish for potlucks and picnics. Make it the night before and chill. The next day, let it come to room temperature on the way to your event. Give it a gentle stir to redistribute the dressing before serving. Be sure to eat it within a couple hours.

2 pounds small new potatoes, preferably about 1-inch in diameter
4 tablespoons dry white wine
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Country Dijon mustard
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch finely minced green onion
1 tablespoon dried dill weed

Scrub the potatoes well, but do not peel. Cover with 1 inch of water and boil gently, just until tender when pierced with a cake tester or sharp knife. Small potatoes will take about 8-10 minutes, larger ones 12-15. Drain, let cool slightly, then cut into quarters or halves if they are very small. Pour the white wine (not the vinegar) over the potatoes and toss gently.

Whisk the vinegar, mustard, oil, onion, and dill together and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Pour over the potatoes and toss gently. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sweet and Savory Pies



There are still a few spots open in the hands on Sweet and Savory Pies class I will be teaching next month. Click here to print off a registration form.

Note: I am the volunteer instructor. Money from the registration fee goes to Umpqua Community College and the OSU Extension/Douglas County Master Food Preservers.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Strawberry Shortcake


(This recipe was previously published in the June 3, 2014 Tasty Tuesday section of The News Review)

Strawberry shortcake is a classic, but other berries and peaches can be used for variety. Plan on 5 - 6 ounces of fruit per person.

For six servings:

About 2 pounds fresh strawberries
sugar or other sweetener, to taste
1 recipe shortcake biscuits
1 cup heavy whipping cream, preferably not ultra-pasteurized
1 – 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Rinse the berries and drain well. Reserve some of the prettiest whole berries for garnishing. Remove hulls from the remaining berries and slice into a large bowl. Use a potato masher or the back of a large spoon to crush some of the sliced berries. Sweeten to taste with granulated sugar or sweetener of your choice. Set aside while you prepare the biscuits and whipped cream.

Whip the cream on low speed with an electric mixer just until it begins to thicken. Sweeten to taste with powdered sugar and add the vanilla. Continue beating until soft, billowy peaks form. Do not overbeat or you risk turning it to butter! Tip: To keep the cream from splattering your counter and cupboards, tear off a sheet of waxed paper large enough to cover the bowl and poke the ends of the beaters right through the paper when attaching to the mixer. This provides a great splash guard, but you have to peek underneath the paper frequently to make sure you're not overbeating the cream.

Split each shortcake in half with two forks or a serrated knife. Place bottom half on a serving plate. Spoon on some of the berry mixture, letting the juices soak in. Add a dollop of whipped cream. Top with the remaining half, more berries and another dollop of cream. Garnish with one of the reserved whole berries, plain or chocolate-dipped. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Find Flavors of the Umpqua on Facebook

Just an FYI here.

I am posting frequent, short updates and photos about what's in season and what I'm cooking on my Flavors of the Umpqua Facebook page. (This is separate from my personal Facebook account.) You DO NOT have to join Facebook to view the page, only if you want to leave a comment. If you are already on Facebook and you "Like" my page, anything I post will show up in your news feed.

Click here or the blue Facebook button on the right sidebar to see the page.

I will continue to post recipes and longer pieces on this blog and link to them from my Facebook page.

I'm just finding it much easier to post short bits of relevant information and inspiration through Facebook, usually from my iphone.


Friday, May 2, 2014

Old Soul Pizza in Roseburg


These thin crust pizzas bake in about three minutes.

Looking for a new place to eat on Saturdays? Check out Old Soul Pizza. When they leave the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market, these pizza makers haul their wood-fired oven over to the old Gerretson's building (1640 NE Odell St.), next to Backside Brewing Co. Even if it's raining, the outdoor seating is covered and they've got propane heaters to keep you warm.

Four classic pizzas to choose from or make up your own combination.
Late afternoon or early evening is the best time to go. They are set up by 2:00 pm and start closing down about 7:00 pm. Perfect for refueling after a hike or grabbing a bite before a movie.
They've done a great job re-purposing materials and the artwork will make you smile. Great site for a private block party. I'm thinking there will be dancing in the parking lot when summer comes!

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