Monday, April 27, 2009

Tuna and Asparagus Salad with Mint

I'm often asked how I find time to prepare all of my meals while being a full-time student - not to mention the whole laundry-list of things with which I fill my day. The answer is, I'm kind of boring. Now, before I set myself up as a total square, let me clarify - my meals during the week (especially busy school weeks like this one) are extremely routine.

My secrets to fast, fresh eating are pretty much the same as every cook on the Food Network claiming to save you time. There's planning ahead, using whole, fresh ingredients, and throwing them all in a Tupperware container with apple cider vinegar and shaking the hell out of it. Ok, well, maybe that one is uniquely mine, but let me tell you, it works.

I steamed a big handful of asparagus (in a pan on the stove - you don't need a special asparagus cooker) - chopped it up with a cucumber. I had a can of tuna in oil, so I didn't need to add olive oil to my "dressing", and put the veggies and the fish in a Tupperware container (I wasn't lying - I do this at least twice a day) with some salt and apple cider vinegar. A few shakes, then the whole shebang goes over a bed of lettuce with some chopped fresh mint on top. Seriously. That's it. So good, so fresh, so easy.

This dish is a perfect example of my eating habits - a bed of lettuce, whatever veggies I have in the fridge (which I chop, steam, or roast), a protein source (usually beans, fish, or chicken that I've already cooked), and some oil, salt, and vinegar. A bit heartier than your typical dinner salad, this one-plate approach is a great way to use up veggies, get your protein and fats, and save a bunch of time cooking a full meal. I know I'm reinventing the wheel - Oooh, a salad for dinner, how creative - but the thing that makes this real eating is quantity and quality. Plus, I think adding fresh herbs to any dish makes it feel a little less like you're eating on the run.

This might be easiest for me because I think there are very few veggies (or fruits, for that matter) that don't go well together, and that everything tastes delicious in apple cider vinegar. That's it, full disclosure, that's how I eat in my "real life" when things get hectic. If I'm on the run, everything just stays in the tupperware (with lettuce) until lunch time.

Now, if I haven't run the point home, I'm SO BUSY THIS WEEK, so that's all for now. Eat well!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring Roots with Ramp Pecan Pesto and Feta

If and when I have a restaurant of my own, it will be the type with a prix fixe menu of whatever-I-feel-like-making from the ingredients in season, hopefully from my own farm. Oh, and it will feature this recipe. Making the most of spring vegetables - Garlicky Ramps, Fingerling Potatoes, Spring Onions, Heirloom Carrots, and huge White Turnips - this dish is simultaneously decadent, healthy, and good for the earth, the local community, and your wallet. How can you beat that?

I roughly chopped a few fingerlings, spring onion bulbs, turnips, big orange and purple heirloom carrots, and tossed them with a bit of olive oil and salt. I threw these in a 425 degree oven until they smelled good and were toasty golden. I chopped and sauteed the tops of the spring onions - the green parts - and a big handful of ramps in some olive oil. When they got soft, I added a few splashes of dry sherry. This mix went into the food processor with some Parmesan cheese, garlic, toasted pecans, salt, pepper, and more olive oil. This is SO GOOD, I could eat it on EVERYTHING. Yes. Everything.

When the roots were done, I topped them with the pesto and some good crumbled feta. A sprinkling of fresh chopped oregano from my garden and it was dinner time. There's no exact recipe here - and substitution is the name of the game. Use what you can find in your area or what you have in your fridge. Add your favorite herbs, play around with the roots, change up the cheeses, and use whatever toasted nuts you have.

Eating consciously is about enjoying locally grown and raised products in season, and meals like this prove how that never has to mean deprivation. Eat well, and keep your fingers crossed for my future restaurant. Blog readers get a discount.

A girl can dream.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Last Market of April

I love how the farmers' market brings color to an otherwise drab and dreary Portland Saturday. The market was packed despite the gray weather, and it was pretty depressing to see everyone bundled up against the chill when, less than a week ago, we were all walking down the street in shorts and tanks and lying about in our underwear in our backyards. Just a bit of a wake up call that this is Spring, not yet Summer - even though I have ONE WEEK of classes left!

This summer is going to be epic. I received a grant to travel around Oregon painting around the State Parks in a van. I'll be seeing the best of the state, and hopefully checking out more markets outside of Portland. One hitch - I've signed up for my CSA which starts in 6 weeks (woo!) so I'll have to be popping in and out of PDX.

I'll still be blogging - think Lemonbasil meets On The Road - but the focus will shift to fresh, mostly raw uses of the goodies in my weekly CSA box. It should be a lot of fun, and I can't wait to show you the adventures I'll surely be finding.

For now, here are some photos from today's market - including my bounty, which I got for under twenty bucks. It's a fun challenge to see how much delicious produce I can get while keeping within my budget - I'm never disappointed!

Eat well - and here's to hoping the sun comes out again soon!

A gorgeous Snow Morel

So many vendors are selling starts this year, which means a lot more people are starting their own gardens. Awesome!

Beautiful bouquets in the making

The belles of the market - the red ladies.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Maple Oat Peanut Butter Cookies

A while back, my roommate Dragonfruit spent a crazy amount of money on some high quality maple syrup for a breakfast-for-dinner party. Some other friends brought another bottle of syrup, which was used first - presumably under the pretense of not wasting the "good stuff". Needless to say, we still have a big thing of syrup in the fridge. What is a "special occasion" for syrup?

Enough time elapsed without the syrup being opened that it was obvious it just had to be used. I whipped up these cookies, inspired by Ashley over at Sweet & Natural, and they were a hit! Baking with maple syrup is great when you just need something sweet, but don't want to load your body with empty calories. Loaded with fiber, these are great - no white flour, no refined sugar, vegan - and they taste great. The pickiest of my friends thought they were so fantastic, he kept sneaking to the kitchen for more. You don't need the fanciest, schmanciest maple syrup, but make sure it's actually syrup - trust me, you'll be able to tell the difference.

Just a tip, take these out of the oven a bit before you think they are done. These were meant to be on the soft side. Like me. ;)

Eat well!

Maple Oat Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup natural peanut butter
1/2 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or AP flour)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup dry toasted oats

Preheat the oven to 350. In a large bowl, combine peanut butter, maple syrup, canola oil and vanilla extract until well blended. In a separate bowl, mix together whole wheat pastry flour, baking soda and salt. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, along with oats, and stir until just combined. Let sit for five minutes. Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls, flatten to about 1/3 of an inch and place onto cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes. Makes 18 cookies.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day with Grilled Asparagus and Ramps!

Take a moment and thank the earth today for being our home, the earth's water for quenching our thirst and giving us power, the trees for giving us fresh air and beauty, and best of all, the soil for feeding us and every other living thing. Today would be a perfect day to cook a special "Earth Day Meal" - try to use local products, avoid using plastic bags or non-recyclable or re-usable packaging, and eat with the lights off. Talk to your kids or your friends about the great world that sustains us, and try to give back - plant a few seeds, build a bird sanctuary, ride your bike instead of drive, and keep the earth in your thoughts. Gratitude and respect brings health, and the healthier the earth is, the healthier we are.

My treat on earth day is going to be a yummy potato and chard casserole, but I thought I'd share a delicious way to prepare two of my favorite spring vegetables.

Last weekend at the market was pretty inspiring - the asparagus was piled high, the rainbow chard brought colors other than green and brown to the tables, and the rhubarb is showing itself to be a stable spring top seller. Also, the ramps are here! I love ramps - also known as spring leeks - the beautiful, flat-leafed alium is similar to a scallion, but has a real garlicky kick. According to John Mariani, author of "The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink," the word ramp comes from "rams," or "ramson," an Elizabethan dialect rendering of the wild garlic. They are native to North America, and can be used in everything from buscuits to pesto. Mmmm... ramp pesto...

I decided to pair some ramps with my other favorite - asparagus - on the grill. Portland had her first really GORGEOUS stretch of sunny days last weekend, and in order to celebrate and extend these delusions (or anticipations) of summer days, I busted out the Weber and tossed the veggies in olive oil and rosemary, grilling them for a few minutes - just until they are slightly browned and tender.

You could also broil them, if its too early for the grill - but this gave them a great smoky flavor, and the leaves of the ramps crisped up like chips, while the asparagus was perfectly tender. Simple, flavorful, and earth friendly. Eat Well!

How are you going to thank the earth today?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spicy Phở-esque Soup with Bok Choy and Wheat Noodles

Whenever I'm feeling particularly under the weather, or when the rainy weather itself is making me blue, I head to Phở Dalat on SE 39th, just north of Hathorne, for a big bowl of their Special Combination Phở. The combination of rich, savory broth spiked with Vietnamese herbs, the soft noodles, and the big bunches of herbs is so fundamentally comforting, and it never fails to brighten my mood. This is my (somewhat accidental) take on a traditional Phở. It may not have the Saigon cinnamon, star anise, charred ginger, cloves, or black cardamom pods that give the real deal its complex flavor, but this chicken broth-based soup came alive with the addition of fresh herbs and Sriracha (the ubiquitous chili-garlic hot sauce).

I'm growing bok choy in my container garden on my back porch, and I'd been meaning to harvest some for a while. The weather has been pretty nice lately, and my herbs, lettuces, and other greens have been growing so fast its hard to keep up. What better way to use up ambitious veggies than to make a big pot of soup?

I chopped up the bok choy, sauteed it with garlic and red onion, and added a scoop of this onto a bowl of whole wheat noodles, and topped it all off with my spicy herbed chicken broth.

Traditional Phở is garnished with Thai basil, fresh chili peppers, lime wedges, and bean sprouts. My version uses fresh basil, and some perfect little orange limes I got at the farmers market. Yes, you read that correctly. LOCAL OREGON CITRUS!!!

I nearly cried when I saw these little guys, and I'll be sure the pick more up tomorrow. They added a great freshness to my soup, and, well, everything else I ate this week. Come on, if you've read this blog for more than a few weeks, you'll remember that citrus is my achilles heel when it comes to eating locally. But there they were, little limes masquerading as kumquats or tiny oranges.

Give this soup a try next time you have some extra herbs on hand. It's pretty simple, and I swear, it tastes so much like Phở, without the imported, hard to find spices. Here's to exotic-but-local comfort food, from my backyard to your computer screen. Eat well!.

Spicy Phở-esque Soup with Bok Choy and Wheat Noodles

8 cups Chicken Broth
2 inch chunk of fresh ginger, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled
Big handful of fresh cilantro
Big handful of fresh parsley
Big handful of fresh mint
Big handful of fresh basil, plus extra for garnish
Sriracha, to taste
1/2 red onion
Olive Oil
1 lb. bok choy, chopped
Whole Wheat Noodles (I used spaghetti noodles)
lime slices

In a medium stockpot, bring chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add ginger, garlic, herbs, and sriracha. Simmer about 30 minutes.

Strain broth and return to pot over low heat.

Cook noodles to package directions, drain, and rinse. While the noodles cook, sauté onions in oil until translucent. Add bok choy and cook 5–10 minutes.

Divide noodles among six bowls. Add A scoop of bok choy mix to each bowl. Pour hot broth into bowls and garnish with basil and lime.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top 10 Best Books on Conscious Eating

My library routine is pretty, well, routine. I return the books I've finished, pick up the books I've put on hold, and make a beeline for the cookbooks and cooking section. It's not large, maybe ten shelves, but this section never fails to supply me with a few choice picks. Over the years, as I've become passionate about what I call "SOLE" Food - choosing ingredients that are Seasonal, Organic, Local, and Ethical - I've been inspired and informed by some amazing authors. I find myself recommending these books over an over to my friends, family, and strangers in the produce section.

Here are my top ten favorite books about the food we eat, the passionate people who grow it, and how our choices effect our bodies, our communities, and the world.

1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
This book is my hands-down favorite on the subject. Many of you will recognize Kingsolver's name from her classic novels like the Poisonwood Bible and the Bean Trees, and this book is a beautiful little gem of storytelling, memoir, food politics, family, and a lot of good food!

2 Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection by Jessica Prentice (Chelsea Green)

3 The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World
by John Robbins (Conari Press)

4. Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan - Many know Michael Pollan as the spokesman of the modern food-awareness revolution. This is my favorite of his books because of it's people-oriented approach.

5. Hope's Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet
by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappé

6. Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes
by Mark Bittman

7. How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table
by Russ Parsons

8. Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (Crown Publishing)

9. The Revolution will not be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements by Sandor Ellix Katz

10. Slow Food Nation: Why Our Food Should Be Good, Clean, And Fair by Carlo Petrini

* Regional Bonus: Portland's Bounty: A guide to Eating Locally and Seasonally in the Greater Portland and Vancouver Areas by Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon's Interfaith Network for Earth Concerns; 2nd edition (2001) - Available through the Multnomah County Library

These books are full of inspirational ideas, facts, recipes, and stories about the people who realize that food is the key. Have you read these books? What did you think? What are your favorites?

Eat, and Read, Well!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Purple Potato Salad with Sunchokes, Eggs, and Creole Cream

This dish is one of those immensely satisfying uses of interesting ingredients from my local farms and artisan food vendors, on a beautiful day simply dripping with promises of Summer. The weather this weekend was so mind-numbingly perfect - light breeze, low seventies, clear skies - that I'm almost positive nobody in the city accomplished anything more than a park stroll and a picnic. Which is, incidentally, exactly what I think a weekend should be.

In a comical contrast to last weekend's rainy, freezing market Saturday, this week's market was one of the best attended in my memory. This is the first year the Portland Farmers Market has ceased allowing pet access in the market, and it was clear to see why - there was hardly enough room for the shoppers! Every farmer I talked to was all smiles, joking about how the ups and downs of the weather effect the market as much as the farm.

This weekend we were all like new crops, reaching our leaves up to the sunny warmth, and getting our nourishment from the water, soil, and sun of Oregon. And nowhere was it more evident than the PSU market.

I picked up some of my favorite market finds - purple Peruvian potatoes! - from Prairie Creek Farms' booth. These little jewels are a relatively recent cross between the All Blue and Russian Blue varieties, and feature a striking blue-purple center with white rings. Inspired, headed off to find another basket of sunchokes. I had a salad in mind, and nothing was going to get in my way.

Well, that is, until I was distracted by the return of Pam Kraemer and the Dulcet Cuisine table! If you haven't heard of Dulcet's ketchups, sauces, spice rubs, and mustards, I'm sorry. If you have, you'll know that they have on of the friendliest, taster-friendly booths at the market, and sophisticated, locally-crafted condiments. I picked up some Creole Mustard and set off the finish tracking down the ingredients for my feels-like-summer Purple Potato Salad!

I peeled and chopped up 2 pounds of the purple potatoes, 1 pound of sunchokes (which I didn't peel), and simmered the tubers in a big pot for 15 minutes. I drained the roots and let them cool to room temp in a big bowl. I hard-boiled three eggs, chopped them up, and diced half a purple onion. Throwing everything into the bowl and lightly tossing, all I had to do was whip up a dressing. In a small bowl, I mixed a half cup of plain yogurt, two tablespoons mayonnaise, a tablespoon of the Creole mustard, two tablspoons of cider vinegar, salt, and pepper, and drizzled this over the potato/sunchoke mix. Yum.

Wouldn't this be perfect for a Passover or Easter lunch? Such pretty colors - just calling out to be eaten while sitting on a blanket in the middle of a park, getting absolutely nothing accomplished. And not regretting it one bit.

The rain will be back, the cool will have a bit more fun with us before this kind of weather is the norm, and I won't be able to sit here with a hint of a sunburn, avoiding my classwork for much longer. But we can soak it up while we can, and taste the flavors of summer, even in April. Eat well, friends. Enjoy the sun.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Quesadillas with Leeks, Turkey, and Sheep Cheese

This is one of those meals birthed from an iron-chef-esque hurried hunt for lunch. What's in the fridge? Tortillas... sliced turkey... ooey gooey sheeps cheese... and a leek. How can I use these random ingredients to make something passable in the ten minutes I have before class? Ah, the totally nontraditional quesadilla!

I spread some of this delicious sheep's milk cheese called "Valentine" on some corn tortillas. The cheese is from Ancient Heritage Dairy in Scio, Oregon, and you can find their awesome sheep and cow cheese every weekend at the PSU farmers market. Their dairy sheep are some of the happiest animals on earth, and the dairy's slogan is "Raised with respect, nourished to nourish you." Their sheep's milk feta is my absolute favorite, anywhere. But that's for another day.

I sauteed the leek in olive oil, but I didn't add any salt - if you're using a creamy cheese like this one, the flavor is already in there - and threw them on the cheesey tortilla. I topped it off with a slice of turkey, and popped it in a hot pan for a minute on each side. A dash of hot sauce, some cilantro, and a dollop of yogurt and I was ready to eat.

I'm not enamored with the hot sauce I've got right now, and I'm thinking of trying some of Dulcet's sauces instead. They have a Sweet Orange Chile Mustard that is killer on a sandwich. I hope they'll be showing up at the market soon!

It doesn't take hours to cook fresh, local food. Take it from a busy college student on a budget. Speaking of which, I've got class in ten minutes! Gotta run, Eat well!