Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cucumbers are in season. Here's what's cookin'.

Summer is a tough time to post.  The kids are at my heels and carving out time to write is a challenge.  Therefore I'm going to try something new.  
I'm going to try writing shorter but more frequent posts and using the Blogger App on my phone.  I've become a bit lazy and am relying too much on my Facebook page.   I need to direct more traffic here, so here goes nothin. 

My cucumbers are actually going nuts right now.  I got my starts at Joes Gardens and that's just the additional time they needed to get growing.  Yesterday I picked three big boys that are at least 12 inches long.
They are English cucumbers and are my favorite.  So now what?  One if the biggest problems with home gardening is what to do with all the produce you have outside your door.  It's a good problem to have, but it's still a problem.  Here's where my cookbook and culinary magazine addiction can benefit you. This months recent edition of Food and Wine Magazine had a nice recipe for cold cucumber soup that calls for 2 stinking pounds of cucumbers!!!  Yep, that'll do quite nicely.  My husband Matt is riding his bike today and visiting our favorite local seafood place Vis Seafoods on his way home from work.  He's going to pick up the salmon and I will be making the soup.  
Here's my adaptation of the recipe.  Remember I'm lactose intolerant so I have to modify these things. Have fun, take a look, and leave a comment or question. 

Cold Cucumber Soup
(Adapted from Justin Chapple's Tangy Cucumber Soup)

Ingredients:
2 lbs. English cucumbers-halved, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 cup plain yogurt ( strained or Greek)
3 tbsp. lemon juice
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (extra for garnish)
2 tsp. chopped dill
1 tsp. chopped tarragon 
Salt & pepper to taste

Process:
This recipe calls for Greek yogurt.  I don't usually have that in my fridge so to compensate I just strain the yogurt that I can digest at home.  
Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and scoop about 2/3 cup of your favorite local plain yogurt into it. Tie the corners of the cheesecloth together with kitchen string, attach to a wooden spoon and hang over a bowl to catch the excess liquid (the whey). Strain the yogurt for at least an hour.  The longer you strain it, the thicker the yogurt. 
Peel, seed and chop 2lbs of cucumbers. For me this was about 2 large English cucumbers. 
In a blender or food processor purée the cucumbers, yogurt, lemon juice, garlic, dill, and tarragon. When blending gradually add in the olive oil until smooth and silky.  Transfer to a bowl, cover, and refrigerate until chilled (at least 30 minutes). Salt and pepper to taste. 
Serve in chilled bowls, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with extra dill. 

A few notes. This soup can easily be used as a sauce for fish.  Today I served it as a side of soup to go with some local salmon.  Serve with a dry wwhite or dry Rose wine.  We've been enjoying some fantastic Spanish varietals this year. 
Not sure where to go for wind in Bellingham?  I highly recommend Seifert and Jones. It's my favorite place in town to get a quality wine.  

Here's some pics for us visual folks. 


Monday, May 26, 2014

Surpise! Salmon Cakes For Dinner It is.

Salmon Cakes!

Recently I stumbled upon a new food blog.  It's http://www.skinnytaste.com/  Oh goodness this is a fun cooking blog.  Lately it's where I go when I extra ingredients and have no idea what to make for dinner.  The recipes are always good, low calorie, easy to prepare, and never boring.  When I need inspiration or want to try something new this is where I go.  SmittenKitchen is nice too but sometimes the recipes can be a bit daunting.  My boys are involved in taekwondo right now on Tues. and Thurs. and some days I don't have time for extra steps and additional prep. 

Anyway, last week I was prepared to make salmon kebabs.  I had extra salmon leftover from my CSA box and I mistakenly assumed it was cubed.   I had everything ready and was all set to stick my salmon onto my skewers when I took the salmon out of the package and realized that the pieces were WAY too small.  It was ground salmon.  Hmmmmm.  Time to switch gears.  In the past I would have been really upset but lately I've been trying approach life with less intensity.  So I looked in my pantry and fridge and tried to find some staples and figure out a solution. Not only did I find a solution but I also found a new recipe. 

Salmon Cakes!!! 

Now I've made crab cakes before but never salmon cakes.  Despite growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I didn't grow up eating a lot of fish, let alone salmon.  Spontaneously cooking with fish requires me to be a bit courageous.  I decided I was going to be brave and it totally paid off.  These salmon cakes are really good, easy to put together, and require only about 15 minutes in the fridge to chill.  From beginning to end, they took me about 45 minutes to prepare.  That includes time spent in the refrigerator.   Not bad for a weeknight meal. 

Here's my recipe.  Experiment with the ingredients and post your changes right here.  I love getting new ideas. 

Salmon Cakes

Ingredients:
  • 1 lb. ground or chopped salmon (no bones)
  • 1/4 cup panko (keep a bit extra for pan frying
  • 1/2 lemon (juiced)
  • 1/2 red onion (finely diced)
  • 3 fresh basil leaves (finely minced)
  • 1 tbsp. salted capers (rinsed)
  • 1 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. Dijon mustard
  • 1-2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil (first cold pressed)
Place all ingredients into a dish or bowl and combine with impeccably clean hands. 
Try to make sure that all the ingredients are fully distributed but don't over mix.  If the salmon mixture is too wet then add more panko.  Take small handfuls of salmon mixture and roll into balls.  Flatten the balls into patties, place onto a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and chill in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. 

When salmon patties are thoroughly chilled heat up the olive oil in a non-stick skillet on medium heat. Sprinkle each patty with a bit more panko.  Then place each salmon cake into the hot olive oil, and brown on each side.  This takes about 2-3 minutes per side.  Let the salmon cakes rest on a wire rack until ready to serve.
Mix it up!
 
Chill in the fridge.
 
Get frying.
 
Both sides!
 
Cook on the rack.
 
Serve and enjoy.

I served my salmon cakes over toasted rye bread and fresh salad greens.  I also topped them with additional basil.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Hooray! Hooray for cassoulet!

Carcassone at night. 
I went to a blog class last year and the instructor told all of us never to offer excuses for not blogging.  Since then I have followed that advice.  Life is busy for everyone.  I would love to blog every day or week but with two kids, a husband, a garden and a house to run, I don't always get what I want.  However, I have noticed that it's been a long time since I've last posted.  January 2014 being my last one.  I won't offer an apology but I will give a reason to explain my absence.  Two reasons actually. 
The first is that I have been spending more time on Facebook.  I opened up a Facebook page to go with this site and I must say that I love updating that.  It's easy to post pictures and let you all know how I like to live locally.  A post actually takes a significant amount of time to put together and Facebook is much more accommodating.  If you want to see some of my Facebook updates, feel free to like my page.  Here's the link.  https://www.facebook.com/livinglavitalocal?fref=ts
The second reason I haven't been so frequent in my blogging posts is that I just finished a very nice trip to France/Spain with my family.  My husband and I took our two boys (5 and 8 years old) without checked luggage and it really required a lot of planning.  While my husband put together the actual trip, I had to do all the day-to-day prep. that usually goes unnoticed but prevents meltdowns and such.  It was a fantastic problem to have but it required a lot of attention. 
So, now that we're back I wanted to recreate one of the best meals we had while in Carcassonne, France and I wanted to use as many local ingredients as possible.  For those of you who aren't familiar, Carcassonne is a small medieval town in the south of France.  It's one of the few completely walled cities left in Europe and resides in the Languedoc region on France's Mediterranean coastline.  The city has a long and violent history, but they are one of the three cities in the Languedoc that are known for making cassoulet. 
What is cassoulet, you say?  Basically it's a rich bean stew that consists of duck confit, sausages (usually pork), and another meat.  Here's a Wikipedia link that does a pretty good job describing it.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassoulet
You also might be asking yourself what duck confit is.  Duck confit is duck that is slowly cooked in its own fat.  Before the days of refrigeration this is how meat was preserved, especially if salt was in short supply.  Duck confit is a laborious process and I felt that cassoulet was daunting enough.  Therefore I decided to purchase my duck confit from the Community Food Co-Op.  It wasn't as expensive as I thought because I only bought two legs.  One for Matt (my husband) and one for me.  The kids could taste some but I pretty much assumed they would eat the sausage.  Duck is pretty rich stuff and my kids will taste but not eat a lot of it.  Yay!!!  More duck for me.  Ummmm, and Matt too.  
Before I begin telling you how I made this cassoulet I want to stress that there are numerous versions of this dish.  The ingredients vary greatly but the process is really what counts here.  Also, cassoulet is not something you want to attempt on a weeknight.  It takes a long time.  Jacques Pepin has a recipe (that I haven't tried) for 30 minute cassoulet but in general most "shortened" versions take at least a day.  Depending on how much you want to do by hand, it can take up to 7 days!!  My recipe only took one day.  Therefore, the decision to make this "shortened" version of cassoulet rests on a few key points.
  1. I'm not a professional chef.
    I'm a woman who likes to cook at home.  I have a great passion for food but I am not formally trained in any way.  Every thing I have learned has come from experience.  I do not have the knowledge (yet) to make my own sausage and I don't have the guts (yet) to make my own duck/goose confit. 
  2. I'm a busy mom and don't have 3-7 days to dedicate to food.
    As much as I love food, the idea of spending that much time on one dish gives me the twitches. 
  3. I am lucky enough to live in a town where I can buy good quality products from local businesses who are more than happy to financially benefit from my lack of know-how and laziness. 
    I don't need to do everything myself and if I can support a local business in the process then I consider it a win-win.  For this dish my holy trinity for purchasing local ingredients is the Community Food Co-Op, Mediterranean Specialties, and the Bellingham Farmer's Market.


Here's the recipe I used to make this dish.  Feel free to cut/copy/and paste it and then print it out.  I'm still working on a printer friendly option for blogger.  (If any other fellow bloggers have some suggestions I'd be open to them hearing them.)  This recipe was inspired by Chef John from foodwishes.blogspot.com but my recipe doesn't utilize his crust.  Most chefs will agree that the bread crust is an essential component to a cassoulet but I have to disagree a bit.  Why?  Well, my husband and I sampled two different cassoulets at  two different restaurants and both did not include a crust.  I figured that if two chefs in Carcassonne didn't feel that the crust was necessary then that was good enough for me. 

Here's a few pictures for us visual folks to help get you started. 





Lay out your beans on a tray and pick out any stones or icky looking beans.



Rinse your beans before you soak them.



Get your meat ready. 
Take a look at that ham shank!  It's a whopper compared to the duck confit.  Not to worry what the duck lacks in size it makes up for in taste. 




Cook your ham shank with your beans.




Remove your beans to a separate bowl.  Keep shank and the cooking liquid (not shown).
Remember at this point it's just pork and beans.




Brown the meat in the super tasty rendered pork fat.




Remove the meat and sauté those veggies in that yummy fat.




Mix the veggies into your bowl of beans.





Layer!  Beans + meat + beans = cassoulet.



Cover with the bean cooking liquid.




Cassoulet for the kids.




Cassoulet fore the adults. 


Jenn's Cassoulet 
inspired by Chef John of foodwishes.blogspot.com

Ingredients: (links provided for locally purchased or locally made ingredients)
Beans:
For the rest of the dish:
  • 1/2 lb. fresh side pork or pancetta or bacon 
  • 1 lb. pork sweet Italian sausage
  • 2 legs of duck confit
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 14 oz. can of roasted diced tomatoes (Muir Glen Organics)
  • 1 tsp. herb de Provence
  • 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
The process:


First get started with the beans. 
Soak beans overnight and drain.  Place beans in a heavy dutch oven with ham shank, bay leaf, garlic, onion, whole clove, rosemary, thyme, chicken stock, and water.  Bring everything to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.  Simmer beans for about 1 hour. 
**Please note that my beans only took 30 minutes.  I was shocked!  Please taste your beans every 20-30 minutes to prevent overdone and mushy beans.  The beans should be firm but soft in the middle.  Older beans can take up to 3 hours.  Be prepared for your beans to take forever.  If they're done sooner it's fine.
After beans are fully cooked, strain, reserve cooking liquid and remove the ham shank.  You can throw away the onion, clove, garlic and such, but SAVE the liquid and ham.  You'll need them later.
At this point you should have a bowl full of bean cooking liquid, a ham shank on a cutting board and another bowl full of beans.  Cover everything to prevent evaporation of liquid which leads to the beans/ham drying out.


Now, that the beans are done let's get started on the next part of the dish.
In the same heavy dutch oven you used for the beans brown the side pork or bacon.  You want to render the fat.  Once browned put the leftover bits into the beans.  Then brown the duck confit and sausage in the rendered pork fat.  Once browned take the duck and sausage out and place onto a plate.  Add onion, carrots and celery and sauté for10 minutes.  Add the canned tomatoes, herb de Provence, salt, pepper and cook for 5 more minutes.  Take the vegetables and mix them into your bowl of beans.

Now the layering begins.  Put half of the bean mixture on the bottom of your dutch oven.  Then place your browned duck, sausages (and their reserved juices that gather on the plate) and ham shank on top of the beans.  Cover with the remaining bean mixture and try not to worry that the beans don't cover the entire ham shank.  It's fine. 

Finally, pour the bean cooking liquid over everything and make sure that the beans are just barely covered.  Keep the leftover cooking liquid to add if your beans are getting to starchy later on.
Put the entire pot into the oven at 350° for 30 minutes.  Check to see if you need to add more liquid.  Some beans are starchier than others.  I didn't need to add more liquid.  I did need to remove a bit though.  Put cassoulet (you can call it that now) back into the oven for 20 more minutes.  Check starch levels again.  You should notice that a subtle starchy crust from the beans is forming.  That's what you want to see.  If you don't see it then take out more liquid. 

Increase the oven temperature to 375° and cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes. 
When finished remove all the meat onto the cutting board.  Cut the ham off of the shank and remove any sinew or fat. 
To serve ladle beans into a shallow bowl and place meat on top.  Enjoy! 

I highly recommend having this meal with a full bodied red wine.  I was lucky enough to find a French wine from Minervois a region just outside of Carcassonne. 





 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Trends: Friend or Foe?


It's the new year of 2014 and there are more new trends than ever.  Frankly, I'm feeling a little bombarded by them.  Weather trends, health trends, cooking trends, diet trends... blah blah blah.  They're everywhere and continually perpetuated by Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and others.  It doesn't really matter because their vehicle is the internet.  It's overwhelming at times.  Everything is constantly changing and so quickly.   Yesterday, I was extremely frustrated by it all and then I realized that I too am involved in a trend.  The "local" trend.  I perpetuate this trend with this blog (Ah!  Blogging is also another trend.  Dagnabbit!) and an accompanying Facebook page.  I guess I too am guilty of overwhelming people. 

What's so wrong with being trendy anyway?  Like most things in life there's the good and the bad.  Let's discuss. 
The good aspects of new trends in general are:
  • They get people out of their comfort zone.  Trying new things can revitalize you.
  • They help you take a new look at old, possibly bad, habits. 
  • You get a lot of support trying a new thing because "everyone is doing it."
  • As human beings we like to be part of something bigger than ourselves and with many people turning away from religion/other belief systems this helps fill that psychological void.  (See what I did there.  I got all deep on you.)
  • It makes you feel like you did in High School (If you were popular that is.)
Now the bad parts about being part of a trend.
  • You just got the hang of the "new" trend and now it's old.  Now you feel like the old fuddy duddy trying to keep up.  No one likes that.
  • Some of those old "habits" weren't all that bad and now you're feeling the consequences of it.  (This is how I felt about getting on the dairy is the devil trend.  Dairy wasn't exactly awful, I was just having too much of it.  By cutting ALL of it out, over time I made my body unable to tolerate lactose completely.  Then when I was ready to reintroduce dairy back into my life I found myself being severely lactose intolerant.  It's been over 10 years now and I still have problems.  Now that's a bad consequence of a trend.)
  • There's no support for you now because "no one is doing it."
  • It makes you feel like you did in High School (Even if you were popular who wants to feel the old peer pressures of High School as an adult?)
  • Eventually, all the trends start contradicting each other.  (First, whole foods are good, now some are bad, and pretty soon you can't eat anything but some smoothie you read Gweneth Paltrow drinks.)
One of the biggest problems I have with trends is that they are not based on much.  They are based upon a very new idea that has little research to back it up.  I know.  I know.  That's part of it's appeal but it's a potentially dangerous one.  This is especially true for health trends. 
So many people who are on the "all grains are bad" trend are going to find themselves very undernourished.  Not all grains have gluten in them and they are important for a well balanced diet.  Apparently, in Facebookland, beans and other legumes are becoming the culprit of many health problems?  Really?  Can we please keep things simple people.  How about we just eat whole, regular foods and eat as little processed foods as possible.  O.K.?  Sheesh.

Then there's the whole all vaccines are bad trend.  Remember Jenny McCarthy?  I do.  While she's not the one who started it, she is the one who popularized it.  My son Ross was about a year old when she started her uneducated rants about vaccines causing autism.  She took her own motherly feelings of worry and guilt, capitalized on them, and scared the crap out of millions of parents.  Now, what do we have?  We have lovely whooping cough epidemics throughout the U.S. and now this because somehow we just can't shake the idea that vaccines are somehow wrong.  http://www.king5.com/health/body/Another-flu-death-reported-officials-warn-about-unusual-season-239071751.html

That is a particularly strong trend that is having some traumatic and dangerous results.
 
So what does this mean for me and this blog? Well personally I am very uncomfortable with the idea of  "being local" as a trend.  It may have found a resurgence as a trend, but it's actually a very old concept.  A value really. 
This is when I get all sentimental and start thinking of my grandparents.
They had a mom/pop store during the WWII and for a time their existence relied heavily on their local community.  Then the BIG and NEW trend on the 50's and so on made the idea of being local as old fashioned or bad.  Out went the mom and pops and in came the Piggly Wiggly's of the era and here stayed a new value.  Big is good.  Small is bad.  It became a national value really and we are finding that it too has had some terrible consequences. 
So where's the distinction for us now?  When does something that started as a trend become a good idea to hold onto?  How do you know what's worthy of your time and energy?  In short. 
How do you know if your "trend" is valuable? 
Well you have to ask yourself some insightful questions and take a good hard look at the answers. 
  • Do you like this trend? 
    Ask yourself if you truly enjoying participating in whatever you're doing.  I immensely love working with local people, businesses and places.  More importantly I love discovering new ones. 
  • Can you see yourself doing this 10 or more years from now?
    If you can see this being a part of your life then keep on with it despite what others say or do.  This is the hard part.  Going against the grain is never easy.
  • Is this something you feel is important enough to share with your children/grandchildren/people close to you?
    This is when a trend becomes a value or value system.  I talk about doing things locally with my kids all the time.  For me it's not just a trend but rather a way that we show support and hence become a valuable part of our community.  The sense of community is a very, very old value.  It's biblical actually. 
Yesterday I had a local experience that illustrated the importance of hanging on to my local value system. 

I went out to buy a Miele stick vacuum at Dewaard and Bode.  They are a large local appliance company and I've bought many things from them over the years.  They embody an older yet important sales value.  The idea that the customer should be very informed about what they are buying and get the best price is solid here.  I also found that they are willing to send you to another local store to help you get what you want.  The vacuum I wanted was out of stock and Dave, the salesman, could see that I really wanted this thing that very day.  So he called another store, Rector's Vacuum Service., and not only did they have the vacuum I wanted, they also had it $10 cheaper. 

This is the part of "being local" that is not trendy.  It's not trendy to send a customer to a competitor.  It's trendy to find that product online for cheap.  Really cheap.  But guess what?  If I have a problem with that vacuum I can go back to Rector's and they will help me.  They are quite passionate about vacuums there and now I am as well.  I don't get that same experience online. 
It's the local experience that this blog represents and perpetuates.  It's because of that experience that will ensure that Dewaard and Bode will have a loyal customer for a very long time. 

I want to end this post by dedicating it to all the local businesses out there that enhance our local experience.  Thank you for making the trend a value.  Lord knows we need something solid and stable like that in this world.

Friday, December 20, 2013

My Local Holiday Haunts

 




The holidays are officially here and there's plenty to do.  It's the perfect time to celebrate our fabulous local shops, cafe's and restaurants.  I have a few regular places that I frequent and I've found some delicious new ones as well.  Here's a compilation of my local haunts this season. 

Every holiday I do my utmost to support local businesses as much as possible.  Shopping, eating and lounging locally is one of the best ways to help you feel connected to your community on a deeper level.  Here is where I've been and where I plan to be this holiday season. I am providing links to as many places as possible this year.  Need more ideas or better reasons to live locally?  Check out Sustainable Connections webpage.



1.  Fairhaven Toy Garden:  I bring both my boys to this store all the time.  Sometimes we just play and sometimes we buy.  This year to pacify my children I had them pose with the toys they wanted for Christmas and took pictures of them with my iPhone.  When I finally went shopping for their gifts I had the perfect electronic Christmas list all ready to go.




2.  Kids Northwest:  I've blogged about this wonderful store before.  Mike and Janet are awesome people and steadfast owners and I have been buying Christmas slippers for the boys there for a few years.  This year we hit a milestone.  Ross has finally outgrown the size of slippers that they carry.  I bought Finn's there and Mike sent me to another local store to get Ross' size.  You will find that a common theme among local businesses.  If they don't carry something always ask if there is another place in town to get what you need.  More often than not you will discover a fantastic new store but also unique things you couldn't find anywhere else. 
 

3.  LFS (Lummi Fishing Supply):  This is where Mike sent me to get Ross' slippers.  This place is amazing!!!  I found at least 5 different things within minutes that I wanted for myself, let alone others.  They carry Acorn slippers for kids, men, and women.  I've got to send Matt there for me.  Now please understand that this is a fishing supply store.  Don't be discouraged by all the manly there.  There is a plethora of items that would be great gifts for men, women and children.  Remember this place also had fantastic outdoor coats, fleeces, sweater and hats.  Currently I am coveting their fisherman caps.  They are considered incredibly chic for women's fashion in Paris right now. 
 

4.  Ciao Thyme:  This company not only runs their own café but they also cater, host dinners, provide cooking classes, and sell fantastic cooking/food items.  A gift certificate, cookbook, lunch, or gourmet items are fantastic gifts for your favorite food enthusiast ( I hate to use the term foodie.  It conjures too many sarcastic mental images).  I have been hooked on this place every since I was lucky enough to attend a dinner there.  The menu is local and inventive and I can guarantee that the food isn't just impressive but rather astounding.  Gift certificates can be used for the café, dinners, and goods.  This is one of my new favorite places.


5.  Seifert & Jones:   There's a new wine merchant in town and let me tell you that you are missing out if you don't get yourself down here.  Ted and Diane know their stuff and this shop has incredible vino for all price ranges.  Where else can you get a collectors wine and a drinkable one at the same place.  Don't know what wine goes with what?  They will guide you through the confusing world of wine from France to Chili.  Diane was the first to help me in this area when I first came to town.  She was the wine buyer for the Fairhaven Market (now Haggen) then.  I miss seeing her there on my weekly trips to the grocery store but now I'm thrilled that I can still obtain her (and Ted's) guidance in wine.  I always go home with great bottles and I found their prices to be quite reasonable.  Pop in take a look and better yet come to one of their free tasting's on Friday/Saturdays.  Check the link for upcoming events.
 

6.  Launching Success:  This is an exceptional educational store that is heavily used not only by teachers but also parents.  They also have an amazing selection of toys and their Lego section is pretty impressive.  This locally owned store also coordinates with school PTA's and gives back a percentage of sales for participating schools.  Can't get that at Toys-R-Us.
 


7.  Chocolate Necessities:  This store houses some special chocolatiers.  Not only is there chocolate incredibly authentic and delicious, almost all of it are works of art.  I got my son's preschool teachers some fabulous treats here.  Authentic truffles, chocolate mardi gras masks, decadent dark chocolate hot cocoa mixes and yes even gelato are sold here.  Their prices aren't out of this world either.  If you can control yourself it can be a very reasonable adventure.


8.  Pure Bliss Deserts:  Right next door to #7 is this delicious desert house.  They make incredible cakes, tarts, and a variety of other delectable.  They even offer wine and beer for those who like to imbibe with their cake.  I got my son's teacher a gift certificate to use at her discretion.  Last year I purchased an incredible lemon tart.  Gluten-free and dairy free options are available upon request. 
 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Brussels Sprouts: Yet Another Reason to Buy Local

File:BrusselsSprouts-OnVine.jpg

As some of you may know I'm an avid vegetable eater.  I looooove my veggies.  Always have.  Always will.  However, I have one veggie that so far I have been unable to enjoy. 
The Brussels sprout. 
Oh my.  They are awful things.  Little tiny bitter cabbages that seem to retain their caustic bitterness no matter what I do to them.  I really want to like them.  They are supposedly very good for you but I just can't get past their horrible reaction in my mouth.  I have literally tried everything I know to enjoy the Brussels sprout.  I have even fried them in bacon fat.  BACON FAT!!!  That is when I gave up.  If I can't make them even approach a tolerable level through bacon fat then perhaps this veggie just wasn't meant to be.  I walked away from that dysfunctional relationship and I wasn't the better for it.
So imagine my surprise when I saw that Matt and I were given a bag of Brussels sprouts in our CSA this month.  "Ugh!", was all that I said.  It was like seeing your ex after a really bad breakup.
It's no surprise that I hate waste, so naturally I wasn't going to throw them away.  I wasn't going to give them away either.  Oddly, some little tiny voice way in the back of my head told me that these might just be different.  Something had changed.  But what was it? 
Location.  Location.  Location.
These sprouts were locally sourced and the others ones weren't.  I bought them like most people did.  In the grocery store.  Perhaps these sprouts were being too harshly judged from my previous bad experiences.  Then I started to remember some characteristics of brussel sprouts that might explain why they had never worked for me in the past.  Here are some reasons why I thought these local sprouts might be better.
Brussels sprouts:
  • Hate to travel. 
    They don't age well on the road and are particularly fussy once picked.  Like most veggies and fruits in order to get them to the grocery store they have to be picked earlier than normal.  You just cannot pick Brussels sprouts before their appointed time.  They get bitter very quickly.
  • Grow the best in colder climates.
    Around here most of the grocery store sprouts grow in California.  In case you haven't heard it's usually pretty warm there.  Brussels sprouts get bitter in the heat and sweeter in the cold.  Around here they can even withstand a mild winter.  If it's cold in your area and you get local sprouts they will be sweet and not bitter and therefore taste FAR better.
  • Taste the best when their natural sugars are caramelized. 
    Some people roast them in the oven with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Others use bacon fat and sauté them in a pan over medium high heat.  Whatever you do make sure at least one side gets lovingly browned.  That's the caramelization.  That's the good stuff. 
  • Are fussy!!!
    You can't just throw those suckers into the oven or pan.  Sprouts require tending. 
    Peel off the tough or discolored leaves.  Trim the ends especially if brown.  Soak them in a large bowl of cool water, scoop them out and let dry.  Then slice them in half.  Now they are ready for cooking.  Feel like skipping these steps?  Get ready for bitter nastiness.  They will taste a lot better when handled properly.
  • Go with just about anything
    Put them over pasta with that extra bacon.  Eat them as an accompaniment to roast chicken or grilled lamb.  Whatever.  They will go nicely with most main courses.
So the next time you see Brussels sprouts in your CSA, a farm stand or better yet the Farmer's Market.  Give them a second chance.  They might just surprise you. 

Here's how Matt made them.  I was understandably skittish and carefully observed with a nice glass of wine.

Matt's Brussels Sprouts
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 lbs. of Brussels sprouts
  • 1/3 cup finely diced pancetta or bacon
  • 1 tbsp. butter (I prefer cultured butter)
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
Method:
Peel off tough or discolored outer leaves of all the sprouts.  Trim the ends of each sprout while still leaving it intact.  Soak in a large bowl of cool water and let dry.  Then slice in half.  Try to make sure that all sprouts are of similar size.  Larger ones might need to be cut in fourths or thirds depending upon desired size.  Leave the root intact otherwise the sprout will fall apart. 

Meanwhile melt the butter in a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan and add the pancetta.  Keep the heat medium low and fully render the fat from the pancetta.  Once the pancetta is crispy add the Brussels sprouts cut side down.  Turn heat up to medium high.  Once sprouts are browned on one side (6-7 minutes) turn them over and place lid on top of the pan.  Cook for a few minutes longer and add pepper to taste.  Serve immediately.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Easy Handmade Local Crafts and Gifts You Can Make For the Holidays.

Our youngest son is in his last year of preschool at Gardenview Montessori.  It has been a warm and loving place for our entire family and we are sad to see our time there almost at an end.  Every year Gardenview hosts a holiday bazaar and there's a bevy of ways to be involved.  This year I chose to make some homemade creations to sell and then all the proceeds would go to our beloved school.  After posting some pics on my personal Facebook page (I'm still considering making a Living laVita local Facebook page) people began asking for how-to's and recipes for these donations.  So I decided to create a post about it.  This post is a how-to tutorial on how to make the following holiday goodies. 
  • 100% whole wheat pancake mix
  • Pumpkin Spice pancake mix
  • Gingerbread cupcakes with vanilla frosting topped with peppermint chips.
Not only did I have fun making these items but I realized that they make really good holiday gifts.  Also remember that all of these items are for a person with severe lactose- intolerance (That's me!).  The gingerbread cupcakes have buttermilk in them and are easy to digest for the lactose intolerant.  Buttermilk is awesome for that.  To find out why check out my other blog/website regarding dairy and digestion.  www.deconstructingdairy.weebly.com

O.K.  Let's get moving.  Let's start with the pancake mixes. 
In a nutshell, these are very simple.  It's all the dry ingredients of my recipes mixed together and divided into clean mason jars.  You really could make a fancy holiday mix out of just about anything.  Don't like the idea of pancake mixes?  Choose something that you like or that someone else would like.  I'm considering the idea of a brownie mix, hot cocoa mix, savory bread mix...The options are endless.

Here is the recipe for the pumpkin spice pancakes. They are known also as whole wheat pumpkin pancakes.  It's the same recipe but the idea of pumpkin spice and putting that label on a jar is more appealing. This recipe makes about 12 pancakes and will fill 1 16 oz. pint jar.  Since I filled 6 jars with pancake mix I had to multiply the recipe by 6.  You will need a huge bowl or container.  I used the plastic containers I usually use for making bread.  It should hold at least 1 1/2 quarts. 

Here is the recipe for the 100% Whole Wheat Pancakes that don't feel like a brick in your tummy. 
A brief note on whole wheat flours. 
I prefer to use stone ground whole wheat whenever possible.  The problem however can be one of texture.  Whole wheat is heavy and absorbs more liquid that all-purpose flour.  You cannot just substitute whole wheat flour for all-purpose.  Enter whole wheat pastry flour.  Whole wheat pastry flour has the same health benefits as regular whole wheat flour but is lighter and doesn't create that heavy brick-like feeling in your tum.  White whole wheat flour can also be used in place of whole wheat pastry flour but may be more difficult to find and I feel is a bit lacking in flavor. 

Getting back on topic.  Here's the recipe. 

100% Whole Wheat Pancakes
Dry Ingredients:
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 tbsp. pure cane sugar
Wet Ingredients:
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 cups milk of choice (I prefer buttermilk or plain kefir)
  • 3 tsp. oil of choice (I prefer coconut oil)
Mix the dry ingredients together completely.  Melt the coconut oil separately and stir into dry ingredients.  Lightly beat the egg with a fork and stir into the batter.  Finally, add the milk last.  I use a whisk and beat furiously until I get the texture I want.  The batter should not be super thick and lumpy.  It should be smooth and pourable.  Batter too thick?  Add more liquid a little bit at a time and whisk thoroughly.  Moisture in the air can contribute to a too thick or too runny batter.  This recipe errors on less liquid because adding more dry ingredients can be more difficult to adapt. 

Then you just cook the pancakes as you normally would.  For those who have never made pancakes here some basic directions.
  • Heat up oil in a pan on medium heat.
  • Pour or spoon a small amount of batter into the pan.
  • When the sides of your pancake appear dry and the center of the batter is bubbly, flip.
  • Cook the other side, plate and eat that sucka!

**To make the pancake mixes follow these directions.

1.  Wash all lids, rings, and jars in warm soapy water and let them dry completely. 

2.  Multiply the dry ingredients by 6 for 6 pint jars.

3.  Whisk all the dry ingredients completely and fill up each jar to the rim.  Recipients will have to add their own wet ingredients. 

4.  Make labels for the tops of your jars.  I went to this site and downloaded the red regular wide mouth lids onto sticker paper that I got from my local Stampadoodle http://www.stampadoodle.com/.  This is a fantastic local craft store. Cut out the circle stickers and put onto the lids.  Then write down what is inside the jar, i.e. pancake mix, or pumpkin spice mix.

5.  Stampadoodle also has complimentary dye cut patterns.  As long as you buy your paper there you can use their huge supply of crafting dye cuts.  For those of you who don't know, dye cuts are automatic cutters that will cut a specific shape over and over.  They are expensive to buy your own so I opted (with help) to use a label cut out.

I also went to avery.com and downloaded an appropriate template onto my computer.  I used the dye cuts (red label patterns) to choose a template that would fit.  Then I typed in my directions for using the mix (what wet ingredients to add). 

6.  Print the directions out onto the sticker paper, cut to fit the dye cut label and stick it on there. 

Don't you like my antique paper cutter?  It's my mom's and it has a story.  I will share it if pressed.  You need to ask though.  Preferably in the comments section.  :-)   

I used some green hemp string to affix the labels to each jar. 

Here's a so-so picture of the final product.  Remember people buy Bisquick to save themselves the time of mixing dry ingredients.  These mixes are fun, cheerful, healthy, and save your friends/family the inconvenience of making them from scratch.  We all need some extra time savers during the holidays right? 

Now if you still have energy to spare.  Here is the recipe for the Gingerbread Cupcakes I made.  They are super amazing and at the bazaar they sold out in about 1 hour!  If I new they were going to be that successful I would have made more. 

Before I begin I want to tell you that while I make fantastic gingerbread, I struggle with frosting.  I haven't mastered it yet and I resorted to using a canned frosting.  Sorry, but it's the only one I know that doesn't have dairy in it and I haven't found a lactose-free frosting recipe that I like yet.  If you have suggestions/ideas for a good one.  Post it here please!!!


Gingerbread Cupcakes with Vanilla Frosting and Peppermint Chips:
Dry Ingredients:
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour (whole wheat pastry flour will work too)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cloves
  • 2 tsp. ginger powder
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
Wet Ingredients:
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup cane sugar
  • 1 cup oil of choice
  • 1 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 cup (or 1/2 pint) buttermilk  (plain kefir will also work but I prefer buttermilk)
Sift the dry ingredients together into a large bowl. 
In a separate bowl whisk the eggs and add the sugar.  Beat until smooth.  Add the oil, molasses and buttermilk and mix thoroughly.  Gradually add the dry ingredients and whish until smooth. 
Pour batter into cupcake wrappers (I used Reynolds silver ones for their festive appeal) about 2/3 full.  Bake in a 325 degree oven for 30-40 minutes.  Bake until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Remove the cupcakes from the cupcake tins and cool on a wire rack.  When completely cool frost with Pillsbury Whipped Vanilla Frosting.    Top with peppermint chips.  If you can't find any in the store, just crush up some candy canes in a plastic Ziploc bag.  Boom!  Instant peppermint chips.  Here are the ones I used.  http://kencraftcandy.com/All-Products/Seasonal/Christmas/All-Natural-Peppermint-Chips

That's it! 
Actually it was a lot of work and took all day.  But really it was for a good cause and I have about 1 or 2 times a year that I get all crafty.  That stuff takes forever!  I am going to make the gingerbread cupcakes again though.  They were insanely good and I'm not a sweets person.  That is saying a lot!

If you have questions feel free to post them here.  I get back very quickly. 
Happy Holidays to you all.