Sunday, October 16, 2011

World Food Day: Bringing people together.

What is it about getting together over food? Having a meal is always better when you share it with others. As far back as you go in time, people always gathered around meals. Young and old. Rich or poor. While growing up, some of my fondest memories were awaiting the arrival of family and friends for meals served around big celebrations or just because. Buffet-style or sit down dinners,  these gatherings were never just reserved for the Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays. These were for birthdays, graduations,  weekends and maybe even a random Wednesday. 

I equally loved going to other people's homes to enjoy the conversations around the table. I liked the way people prepare the tables for a meal with condiments and tableware. My grandma always served a small dish of pickles and olives with the cutest appetizer forks. It was always a race to steal an olive or pickle slice without her seeing because she was old school and didn't allow you to eat - or even ask what you were having for dinner - until you sat down to the meal. She would prepare the breakfast table just as dolled up as dinner. It wasn't as perfect as Martha Stewart would have it - it was more natural and not quite as rigid. She positioned grapefruit spoons next to the grapefruit and each had ridges at the tip for scooping out the sweet and sour pulp. She'd have your personal-sized French press coffee next to that, toast with various jams and jellies and maybe a soft-boiled egg in its own special dish. I loved all this; all the special details around a table.

I have an older brother and sister and all three of us grew up to embrace cooking. We like to celebrate nearly everything and we like to do it around good food. Each of us collected old family-favorite recipes to recreate within our own homes. None of us miss a beat and we typically spend a significant amount of time in the kitchen strategizing, preparing and conversing about the meal. It's nice to see it all being passed down from my grandparents to my parents and on to us. And now we have our own kids taking on the same traditions built around the food table.

Last weekend was no different when celebrating with food. My parents came over for an early birthday weekend for my mom. We were attending a community play one night and they came over a day early to celebrate with a special dinner. The meal took on a ridiculous role when we busted out Alaskan spot prawns, oysters roasted in the shell, salmon drizzled with crab and buerre blanc sauce and a roasted beet salad with pistachios and goat cheese - not to mention the wine. It put a big smile on all our faces and we even had to hold my 3 1/2 year-old back from eating all the prawns and oysters. And, yes, this may be bragging, but here's a little photo gallery of our meal:

Oysters roasted in the 500 degree oven and served with garlic citrus butter.

Elias enjoying the oyster appetizer.

Alaskan spot prawns sauteed in lime, lemon and olive oil.

Salmon, crab and buerre blanc sauce with the rockin' beet salad.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's in the air.

You smell that? Fall is here and that means so is soup season. We kicked off soup season earlier this week when both my son and husband had the sniffles. We had a bunch of colorful rainbow carrots left over from our purchase the previous week when a group of us gathered to celebrate the last neighborhood farmer's market of the season. We needed to think of something good for these pretty things. We decided on carrot soup. Here's what we threw together and it was unanimously a hit by all three of us. We hope you enjoy it too.

Carrot Soup
1 bunch medium carrots. (any kind)
1 onion, minced
3-4 celery stalks, chopped
2 garlic cloves
1 red pepper, minced (This was left over from my son's lunch so I threw it in...good thing!)
Chicken or vegetarian broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Thyme or other favorite herbs

Saute veggies in butter or olive oil until soft. Add chicken or vegetable broth and water to cover vegetables and simmer 30 minutes or so until soft. Add salt and pepper and any favorite herbs. Puree soup in blender or food processor until smooth. Return to dutch pan and heat through.

We added a dollop  of cottage cheese because we didn't have sour cream. Fantastic!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Just Because.

Yes, this is a pan full of crab.
We made a fantastic meal last night just because we could. I'm not bragging - or maybe I am - but, it all started after some friends gave us some fresh-caught Puget Sound crab. To accompany the crab we eagerly busted out some razor clams that were burning a hole in our freezer from a March dig that my dad generously ground up for me. My husband and I decided to make a rich clam chowder and a Crab Louie salad served with homemade 1000 Island dressing made from Russian pickles I canned in 2009. I know, pretty mouthwatering!

The meal was awesome and unfortunately for them, several of our friends had to bag out from joining us so it was happily just the three of us. Even better, we had many leftovers and followed up our abundantly satisfying dinner with a breakfast fit for kings: a crab and chive omelet. The best part about this little morning diddy was all the ingredients were right from our backyard; eggs from the chickens, chives from the garden and crab from our other "backyard" in Puget Sound. We were so giddy just thinking about this meal.

A meal like this one puts me in such good mood.

The morning after.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

No gnocchi for me.

I was inspired by my CSA box recently and decided to attempt making something I normally don't enjoy: gnocchi. These flour and potato balls never impressed me much, but, connoisseurs of fine Italian food seem to love this and I thought making it would help me gain an understanding of this dish I find so bizarre. I know it's served much in the same manner as pasta with sauce or some butter and sage or Parmesan cheese. And what in the hell is not to like about sauce, butter or Parmesan?

This little adventure started out innocently enough when I got my CSA box (because of a killer Groupon deal) and found potatoes and spinach nestled inside. On the little brochure filled with ideas for all the ingredients, I found myself hovering over the gnocchi recipe. I've never met a gnocchi I liked, but I've also never made it and was slightly surprised by my enthusiastic decision to make some. My husband wasn't home to steer me in another direction - which he has boldly done before. I was on my own and off I went.

Below is my photo recap of the preparation. It was time consuming, but an interesting process none-the-less. However, I wish I had better news but, after I boiled the balls and mixed them with olive oil, salt, pepper and Parmesan cheese, they still tasted like flour balls. Occasionally, I'd get a bite that actually had potential, but for the most part it was two thumbs down. So, unless someone changes my mind, I'm steering clear of this old Italian dish. CIAO!

Flour, salt and pepper.
Sauteed and dried the spinach.

Mixed the flour, boiled potatoes and spinach together.
Rolled dough mix into long tubes.

Cut the tubes into one-inch pieces.

Pretty enough, but they tasted like flour balls with olive oil and Parmesan.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Thank you, summer.

Fresh, fresh, fresh.
It was a perfect summer evening tonight. Not because the sun was still out and the wind was low - in fact, it rained a little. No, it was perfect because we were lucky enough to have enjoyed a fresh raspberry pie with berries picked minutes before baking it. I'd never attempt to make a raspberry pie if I had to buy them in the store. It would cost a fortune. But, because our raspberry bushes are prosperous - and continue to be each year - we are thankful for the pie we ate tonight...and it's not even Thanksgiving. So, a big thank you to summer.

My grandma's crust and crumble topping.

Warm from the oven with French Vanilla!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Successful Tour!

Thank you to everyone who showed up to our backyard yesterday for Seattle Tilth's Chicken Coop and Urban Farm Tour. We had around 150 people through and received great feedback on the use of garden and chicken coop space. Lots of folks took pictures and many more held the chickens who really enjoyed the attention. They were on their best behavior and pranced around for photo shoots.

We served jars of lemonade on the 70+ degree day and encouraged our visitors to pick a raspberry or two for their cold drink. For special visitors, we served a Blue Moon in a cold pint glass with an orange slice. It was a perfect day!

Looking forward to next year's tour! Hopefully people took home some great ideas for their own yards during their visit to the 50 urban farms on the tour this year.

I'll share a great article in The Seattle Times about the tour! The Seattle Times

Refreshments and lists of resources for guests.

Elias and his helper, Tess.

Our "head" of lettuce.

A little visitor holding Blondie.

Duke chillin' in the shade.

Duke finding more shade.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

What Makes a Really Good Pizza?

Elias' masterpiece.
Pizza was never my first choice. Only recently have I turned my attention to it; making my own, seeking out the best ingredients and getting quite picky about exactly what goes on it and what kind of crust is under it.
My personal favorite crust is a fluffy, crisp and thin one. Can I be any more specific? Yes, I can - I don't enjoy all the cornmeal that some recipes call for. Lately, if I have the time, I bust out a nice handmade crust. This can be particularly hard when you are a home-pizza-maker because it never quite tastes like your favorite pizzeria down the street. I don't have a hot, stone oven (but would LOVE to put one in my back yard), or fancy pizza stones. I actually just picked up my first pizza cutter with a cool, green handle. This little item has made my homemade pizza projects a little easier. However, I must be honest, I haven't quite perfected my crust and am still searching for the right one. But, at any rate, it's fun to make pizza at home. Everyone gets their own and dolls it up as they like.
Elias' favorite part: The Cheese!

If you're looking for a quick crust version, the good news is I recently found fresh dough in plastic at Trader Joe's for only $1.29. This has been an easy hit in our household. For one, it's inexpensive. Two, the wheat doesn't taste like crunchy dirt and, lastly, rolled thin this crust almost meets my criteria. (It does lack the fluff.)

Now for toppings. I'm a meatless pizza eater - unless they throw on some pancetta or prosciutto. However, I almost always never order the "veggie" pizza because it bores me. They lost me at olives and green peppers, which is most certainly always the first ingredients listed in a "veggie" pizza. I like funk. I like weird things like arugula and sprouts and even corn like they served me in Germany. I, also, prefer the extra virgin olive oil base over the tomato base. I'm a big fan of a well-made Margherita pizza with a garlic punch-in-the-face, followed up with basil, tomatoes and whole mozzarella. I don't shy away from a Greek pizza either, but leave the meat off. I like the Kalamata olives and garlic combo with lots of gooey cheese. You get the point here.

The interesting sprout idea came many years ago from The Village Pizza in Roslyn, WA. They sprinkled a thick row of sprouts around the edge of their gourmet pizza pie. It wasn't cooked with the pie, but added after. It was a wonderful and surprising treat and one I often dream about. Too bad they are over an hour away and my last visit to Roslyn I missed out because they were closed.

Ready to put in the oven.

Here are a few of my favorite pies at a couple local places. Try them out if you are out and about:

Tutta Bella (Seattle - 4 locations) has the crust down. Fluffy, thin and crisp - this is delightful and an all-time favorite. Try the Giovanni: olive oil base, fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, prosciutto, arugula and shaved reggiano. You won't be disappointed Tutta Bella

Olympic Pizza (Seattle - Roosevelt Way) has some gooey pizza with a crispy, buttery crust. Any of their spinach, garlic, tomato combos are amazing. One pizza slice is all you need here because they don't skimp on ingredients. Try them out Seattle Olympic Pizza

Romios Pizza (Lots of locations) is the best delivery and I never veer off the Margherita pizza. There were times when it was hit or miss, but they've been nailing it recently. The best delivery in my opinion Romios Pizza

Monday, June 13, 2011

Seattle Tilth's Chicken Coop and Urban Farm Tour.

Things are shaping up in this year's garden.
We are happy to announce our participation in this year's Chicken Coop and Urban Farm Tour with Seattle Tilth. Our little urban farm and chicken coop is one among many included in this year's self-guided tour across Seattle neighborhoods on July 9. We'll expect about 150 people through our little farm, but about 300 folks buy tickets to tour over 40 Seattle farms featuring goats, chickens, honey bees and organic gardens.

Prizehead and Romain lettuce getting off to a great start!
Our little farm will feature chickens and a coop made from recycled materials, rain water harvesting, compost and an organic garden featuring fava beans, snow peas, green beans, cucumbers, lettuce, cabbage, beets, carrots, raspberries, blueberries, rhubarb and tomatoes. We are keeping it simple this year and hoping the weather treats us better this year than last.

Come check us out on July 9! Order your tickets through Brown Paper Tickets or just stop by our house (for free!) to say hello. We'll have some good snacks to feed you!

For more info head to: Seattle Tilth

Duke kickin' it in the backyard.

Raspberries galore.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Meatless Monday? How About Meatless Month!

The Road-trippers at Bryce Canyon, Utah
After my sister and I returned from a 3800-mile, food-coma road trip, we declared a need for a change.

Road trips are awesome in every way, except when you're constantly grabbing for the keep-awake Cheetos. I can't believe how many different flavors Cheetos come in. Unfortunately, we tried them all only after scarfing down the last bit of keep-awake beef jerky (sensing a theme here?), my sister dehydrated only moments before we hit the road. And I, also, took the initiative of trying every burger in every town when we did finally stop for a rest each evening. (By the way, have you tried the glorious Crown Burgers in Salt Lake City? Yes, my brother-in-law and I ordered the "Crown Burger" - a char-broiled cheeseburger with a high pile of hot pastrami.)

I'd like to say things were different when we headed back home, however, there was no such move when it came to choosing our cuisine. On our last night, we ended up with a triple-decker pastrami, corned beef and turkey sandwich in Las Vegas. Hello! I guess that's what long road trips are for - saying "screw it" and succumbing to all those ridiculous burgers, heavy meat sandwiches and bags of cheese flavored orange things.

So, when we returned to our respective homes, we almost couldn't wait to go meatless. We devised a menu and - living 8 hours away from each other - promised to talk about what we were preparing each night and swap recipes.

I reached out to my favorite vegetarian, a friend named Shelley, and asked her what some of her favorites were. This might seem hypocritical after reading what we all just ate on our road trip, but we typically don't buy processed food and cooking from scratch is the majority rather than the opposite. So, when I wanted to recreate my burger-in-every-city philosophy, yet, replace with a meatless option, I didn't want to rely on the pre-packaged meatless burgers, but rather make my own.

The process to create our menu got rather interesting and brought something to my cooking I've lacked recently - getting creative. Everything thing from fajitas, rice and beans and lasagna, to Pomodoro and double-decker tacos, not to mention those black bean burgers were added. My sister's teenagers didn't even notice they were going meatless until after the first week when my sister mentioned it to a friend and one of them overhead and asked, "We haven't eaten meat all week?" Surprise, surprise!

We've decided we may extend our meatless month beyond its timeline. We aren't putting an end date to it. If the time is right, or if we go on another road trip, we may find ourselves enjoying a Rib-Eye steak once again.

So, in support of our "If we can go meatless, anyone can" philosophy, I'd like to share a few favorites from our personal menu plan. As always, adjust to your liking!!!
Black Bean burger before hitting the grill.

I-Kid-You-Not Black Bean Burgers
1 15oz cans black beans
1 Red pepper (or orange, or yellow)
1 cup corn
1 cup bread crumbs
2 cups brown rice (cooked and cooled)
2 eggs
Salt and Pepper
Spicy aioli sauce

Puree black beans and red pepper and add to large bowl. Add corn, bread crumbs, brown rice, eggs and salt and pepper. Mix with hands and make 1-inch thick patties. Grill until heated through and top with favorite toppings. We added sauteed mushrooms, mozzarella cheese, home-made pickles and red onion. Finished it with a spicy aioli sauce: whisk mayo, cayenne and olive oil. Wha-La!

Rustic Lasagna
Whole-wheat lasagna noodles (I've never found this, but my sister has!)
1 onion, diced
1 lb mushrooms, sliced
2 big handfuls fresh spinach
1 15 oz tomato sauce
Mozzarella cheese

Saute onion, mushrooms and spinach. Cool slightly and mix with Ricotta. In baking dish, spoon tomato sauce in bottom and layer with cooking (or no-boil) lasagna noodles. Add layer of Ricotta/saute mixture and cover with tomato sauce and mozzarella cheese. Follow with noodles and each layer until finished. Mozzarella should be added to top layer. Bake 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Cool 15.

Olive Oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 Roma tomatoes, diced
Fresh basil leaves
Salt and Pepper
Whole Wheat linguine or spaghetti noodles

Heat oil and add garlic to saute couple minutes. Add Roma tomatoes and saute, turning stove down and simmering for 15-20 minutes. Cook pasta a la dente and drain; adding olive oil to keep from sticking. Return to stove and add chopped basil leaves, salt and pepper. Toss with pasta and serve with fresh parmigiano reggiano.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Neighborhood Spring Tree

The 2011 Phinney Spring Tree. Photo by Pam Herrebout
Nothing says spring like sunshine peeking out to say its heartfelt goodbyes to winter. Once the sun makes its presence, swarms of neighbors rush to their yards and tidy up a season away. It's the first 'real' outing in the yard since fall. It's a long stretch-of-the-arms salute to winter's past. Yes, even the birds are chirping with a little more zing. When it's time, it's time; winter needs to take its cue.

Decorating the tree. Photo by Gail Gensler
In one Seattle neighborhood, a community spring tree is what triggers the season's senses and it's all about community. The Spring Tree has been a tradition in this close-knit Phinney Ridge neighborhood ever since Heather Casselman and Gail Gensler surveyed the 'hood after a particularly blustery storm about six years ago. The storm blew its big horn and tossed tons of branches and limbs throughout the streets. When Heather, Gail and Heather's daughters, Simone and Marina, walked through the neighborhood the next morning, they witnessed the aftermath and took a liking to a particularly pretty branch and decided to erect a make-believe tree. The location of this cute idea didn't take long to figure out. The phone company had recently constructed an anchor cable with a yellow covering in front of Gail's sidewalk strip. They decided to tie the branch to this ugly new addition to obstruct its ugliness. Once they tied it to the pole, they realized, suddenly, it needed decorating.

Simone and Marina got started creating spring tree decorations. They decided to hang dog treats since so many folks walked their dogs on the sidewalk and, finally, they decided to add chocolates for all the other people walking by. Soon, Heather and Gail realized random neighbors or passersby were leaving their offerings at the tree. Over the years it took on a life of its own; many of the neighbors renamed it the "giving" tree: take something, leave something. In turn, this little tree has created such inspiration and joy for the people in and around the neighborhood. It's, also, a favorite among the four-legged friends who become conditioned to stopping at the tree to pick up a treat. Even after the tree is taken down, the neighborhood dogs still stop at that spot on their walks.

Offerings come and go. Some left behind have included an origami bird, a Pokeman trading card, hawk feathers, strings of beads, a tiny birdhouse, a whistle, a pez dispenser; even a set of ear plugs Heather suspects was left by a hungry worker after taking a chocolate.

Take something, leave something. Photo by Pam Herrebout
Nothing builds a community quite like a giving tree. Something so unexpected turned the heads of so many people and built a tradition around a simple jester. It teaches all walks of life to stop and appreciate the simplicity and joy such a tree gives: dogs, children, neighbors or random folks just driving by. It is something we all can learn from and create right in our own backyards.

As Gail mentioned when the ugly anchor cable was put in on her sidewalk strip, "When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade!"

Happy Spring!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Smoothie Sensation.

I've never been one to get enthusiastic about "drinking" a meal. Now, I'm not talking about alcoholic beverages - that I can do. I'm talking about healthy shakes, smoothies and what not. I know this isn't a new concept and maybe I've gotten a little soft since the recent death of Jack LaLanne, but I have finally embraced the wonderfulness of fruit and veggie smoothies. And I'm not promoting retail-created smoothies, I'm talking home-whipped delicious ones; the ones you know exactly what's in them.

My husband is ever-the- rockstar-smoothie-maker and, for years, has been trying to get me to embrace the concept. As most know, I'm an egg eater. I want to eat eggs every morning, not drink my breakfast thankyouverymuch. But, something came over me recently. I'm hooked and now I want to shout it out to the world. Yes, I get it, it's what everyone else has been doing for years . Maybe I'm a little slow on the uptake, but, several years ago, we received a juicer (yes, Jack LaLanne's official juicer) as a wedding gift. Of course, my husband was immediately gung ho about it and shot out of the cannon "juicing." I could've cared less, although I appeased him and tried all his creations which included beet and carrot juice. I admit, they were pretty good - if not a little thick - and I think I would've gotten into it if the juicer didn't waste a ton of fruit and vegetables or if it didn't take a fricken week to clean the darn machine. So, after a couple weeks, like everything else, it eventually wore out its welcome.

Fast forward five years. We decided we needed to incorporate more variety into our diets and add more raw ingredients, but sometimes you just get sick of how boring it is to eat raw vegetables. (Unless you have a bowl of ranch next to it.) My husband decided to take matters into his own hands. He busts out the standard blender and goes gang-busters on making one-of-a-kind smoothies. I took baby steps and realized when my 3-year-old was digging them, that I should be digging them, too. It, also, started leading me away from the starches and carbs I imbibe while eating my eggs, so it really was a noticeably win-win.

Now, we have them every morning and I am addicted. Bring on the crazy ingredients because nothing is off limits. I'm not kidding. The best thing about it is all the additional vitamins we're getting. Plus, it uses up extra fruit and vegetables that otherwise end up in the chicken coop or the compost.

In honor of my creative husband, here's a few of his specialties (Serves about 2.5 pint glasses):

2 bananas
1 handful of raw spinach
3 raw carrots
1 cup frozen or fresh berries (we just used up huckleberries we froze from last year's farmer's market and now use blueberries and strawberries.)
1 cup pineapple (or more...this always gives it a really cool, sweet flavor.)
2 spoonfuls plain/Greek yogurt
1 cup milk (or less)
1 cup ice

2 bananas
2 raw beets
2-3 raw carrots
1 cup frozen berries
1 cup pineapple
2 spoonfuls plain yogurt
1 cup milk (or less)
1 cup ice

1-2 bananas
1 cup cooked, raw or frozen broccoli
3 raw carrots
2 cups pineapple
2 spoonfuls plain yogurt
1 cup milk (or less)
1 cup ice

2-3 leaves Kale
2 cups strawberries
1-2 cups pineapple
2 spoonfuls plain yogurt
1 cup milk (or less)
1 cup ice

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Clean 15: food you don't have to buy organic.

I know you've seen this list before, but we all have those crazy friends and co-workers who get on such an organic kick it can be hard to look past this annoying trait. So, I thought I'd reiterate the top 15 foods you don't need to buy organic because of their low pesticide rate. (And follow up with ones you should.)
  • Onions
  • Avocado
  • Sweet corn
  • Pineapple
  • Mango's
  • Sweet Peas
  • Asparagus
  • Kiwi
  • Cabbage
  • Eggplant
  • Cantaloupe
  • Watermelon
  • Grapefruit
  • Sweet Potato
  • Honeydew Melon
And so here we are with the top 12 foods you should seriously consider buying organic due to their high pesticide residue levels:
  • Celery
  • Peaches
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Blueberries
  • Nectarines
  • Bell Peppers
  • Spinach
  • Kale
  • Cherries
  • Potatoes
  • Grapes (imported)