“We cannot set down foot but tread on strawberries,” an early English settler in America
Last weekend I was at the Portland farmer’s market downtown and bought a BEAUTIFUL half flat of organic strawberries. The strawberries were from California (I prefer Oregon ones) but that was fine, I had red gold in my hands! There is nothing like red ripe strawberries to make me totally dork out and do the “strawberries are here!” dance then turn the kitchen into a strawberry wonderland.
Even though strawberries are available all year round due to the miracle of shipping them from Peru or some such place, those aren’t real strawberries. They don’t taste, smell or act like a real strawberry, just resemble one…sorta. Real strawberries are red all the way through and are fragrant and juicy. So when the “real” strawberries appear, I am overjoyed!
Strawberries are an ancient fruit that many cultures have danced over for thousands of years. They are native in the Northern hemispheres but the modern strawberry was developed from plants born right here in North America. The first written history on this adored plant is by a Roman Senator in 224BC and from there on out they are a popular subject to (droll) write about. When the European invaders, I mean settlers, came to America they were astonished at all the strawberries growing in the new world.
Not surprisingly, the strawberry is woven through many Native American tales as the berry that brings peace to the home and village with its bright color and sweetness. They would take the wild strawberries and mash then up, add cornmeal and cook them on the fire. (Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the ancestor of the strawberry shortcake.) The settlers waxed poetically about these humble cakes.
Those Native American’s were no dummies as strawberries are a super valuable source of antioxidants. In fact they are rated 3rd highest in antioxidants out of all foods with blackberries and walnuts in first and second place. Strawberries are also turning out to be a powerful anti-inflammatory and actually help regulate blood sugar instead of spike it. (That has the nutrition geeks furiously researching!) So if you have diabetes you can regularly enjoy this delights.
I recommend only buying organic strawberries as conventional ones are sprayed with up to 300 types of anti-fungals, pesticides and herbicides. We aren’t the only ones who love these sweet nuggets so the commercial farmers fight back with chemicals. Conventional strawberries are listed second (with apples being first) as the most “dirty” produce. They are literally poisonous like Snow White’s apple. Please don’t be tempted by the witch of modern chemicals and buy conventional strawberries.
I couldn’t help myself, I had to do strawberry shortcakes for the recipe to share today. I mean, there is no other way to better enjoy the season’s best. These sweet little nuggets have a couple of interesting ingredients that you wouldn’t normally think would be good together but they add a depth instead of detract. I have a gluten free option that is equally amazing on my website, cavewomancafe.come. Take a walk on the wild strawberry path and be amazed!
Strawberry shortcakes with a new twist
Heads up! These take 20 minutes of chill time so figure that into your prep time. Please use as many organic products as possible but the flour, sugar and berries are the most critical. Serves 8
1.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1/2 cup of cornmeal, Fine ground
5 tablespoons of organic sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder
1/4 teaspoons of salt
The zest of one lemon
1/2 cup (1 stick) of chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup of half and half
1 large egg, beaten
2 pounds of organic strawberries, washed and sliced
A few tablespoons of sugar, depending on how sweet the berries are
3 Tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (I used white balsamic)
A few cranks of black pepper or a large pinch
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
Whipping cream or ice cream
Heat the oven up to 425 degrees and get a mediumish. In the bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and lemon zest till all fluffy and well mixed. Cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or with two forks or the old fashion way, my favorite, with your fingers. (Hopefully you washed your hands first) When the butter is fairly well incorporated, add the cream and mix till just barely blended. (BTW this first step can be done in a flash with the food processor. Just mix the dry ingredients with a few pulses, then add the butter and pulse till the butter is just starting to mix in, then add the cream and pulse till barely mixed)
Turn you dough out on floured work surface and gather into a ball then flatten out into a rough 8×5 inch rectangle about 1 1/4 inches thick. Don’t overwork the dough or it gets tough. Cut the dough into squares to make 8 biscuits. Put the biscuits onto a lightly greased baking sheet and chill for 20 minutes. Brush the top of the biscuits with the beaten egg and sprinkle with some sugar. Tuck in the oven to bake for 15 minutes or until they are golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack to await their grand moment. (This step can be done a day ahead of time)
Gently mix your lovely fresh red ripe strawberries with the sugar, balsamic vinegar, black pepper and vanilla. Let them set for about 30 minutes to marry the flavors. (You can whip your whip cream up here with a dash of balsamic vinegar, a couple tablespoons of sugar and some lemon zest) Cut the biscuits in half and serve the strawberries spooned in the middle with whip cream. Place the top of the biscuit tittering on top and a dollop of whip cream. Sprinkle a wee bit of black pepper on the whip cream for beauty. Do the happy strawberry dance.
About 160,000 years ago, the human diet went gourmet and started eating seaweed. This was about the time that all homo sapiens became coastal dwellers due to the fact the ocean contained a limitless source of nutrition including the super nutrient dense, salty seaweed. It turns out our ancestors were way smarter than us as we hardly eat seaweed unless it is wrapped up in a sushi roll.
It is interesting the note that seaweed contains the flavor profile of umami, which lights up the taste buds and ignites the response to eat as much as possible. In fact, seaweed is umami which MSG was originally grown from before it was turned into the chemical monster it is now days. Our bodies have evolved to highly desire this umami flavor since it was only in seaweed to our ancient grandparents. So seaweed=umami=nutrition, simple.
Seaweed is a supercharged food filled with antioxidants, calcium and a broad range of vitamins that we don’t typically get from land food. One of the most important of those nutrients is iodine, which is missing in most every other food we eat. Iodine is imperative for maintaining a happy thyroid gland and its and hormones. (That’s why they add it in salt)
It also has extraordinary high levels of calcium, B-12 and soluble fiber in it. Sea veggies seem to help regulates many of the hormones and it a major anti-inflammatory food. This is quite possibly the fountain of youth in Japan as some claim the high consumption of seaweed contributes to the county’s super low incidence of diseases.
I bet your thinking, “That’s great Dana, but I haven’t got the foggiest idea what to do with it.” My best suggestion is to get local herbalist Vivi Tallman’s Seaweed Sprinkles” and sprinkle it on everything. (Her number is 503-368-8255 and she also sells at farmers markets in the area) I love the stuff and find it easy to use. You can also pulverize nori sheets in a blender and put it on the table with the salt and pepper. You’ll find yourself reaching for it a lot!
Also familiarize yourself with the seaweeds of the world and its culinary uses. (I found it interesting that there is not any known poisonous seaweed to humans and it is located in all oceans.) Start finding ways of incorporating it into your cooking. Get playful and curious here, it will pay off!
I decided to do just that and have been playing with many types of seaweed in the kitchen. I started making dashi, which is a Japanese soup stock made with kombu seaweed (which is kelp, yup, kelp). It is the base of many Japanese’s dishes. I also made a fish soup out of the dashi that was wonderful! Have fun playing with your (sea) veggies!
Chawan Mushi with shrimp and spring peas
Chawamnushi is a Japanese custard steamed in a cup. Chawan means tea cups or rice bowls, and mushi means steaming in Japanese. Simple enough and amazingly delicate and addictive.
1.5 cups of dashi or chicken stock
1 tablespoon of sake(or use a white wine)
A pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons of low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon of sesame oil
1 tablespoon of finely grated fresh ginger root
3 large eggs
1/2 cup of fresh shelled peas
OR 1/2 cup of frozen peas
OR 1 cup of chopped fresh pea pods
3/4 cup of baby shrimp, cooked
1/2 cup of chopped shitake mushrooms
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Pick out 4 small heat proof bowls of ramekins to make your Chawan Mushi and turn on the oven to 375 degrees. In a medium mixing bowl, combine dashi stock, 1 tablespoon of sake and sugar in a bowl and stir till the sugar is dissolved. Add the soy sauce, sesame oil and the ginger and mix some more. Measure out 4 tablespoons of this mix into a small cup and set it aside for now.
Gently whisk the eggs up in a bowl. Do this so gently that you do not create any bubbles in it. Gently stir the bulk of the dashi mixture into the eggs. Divide the peas, shrimp, mushrooms and green onions among your four ramekins, saving out some for garnishes. Pour the egg mixture over the veggie-shrimp mixture.
Get out a rectangle glass baking dish (9×13 works) and set the ramekins in there. Set in the oven and fill the baking dish with water till is about halfway of the ramekins. Bake at 375 for 5 minutes then turn the heat down to 325 and bake for 25 minutes and check for doneness. The custard is set when it is still quite jiggly and if you poke it with a toothpick or knife it produced clear dashi like fuild. If it isn’t quite done yet, keep baking and checking every 5 minutes so you don’t overcook it. Garnish with the saved veggies and shrimp then add one tablespoon per ramekin of the reserved dashi mix and serve up with a smile.
How to make Dana Dashi
This is Dana Dashi, other words, not traditional. If you want traditional, remove the ginger and add bonito flakes. You can get the kombu and other sea veggies at Mother nature’s and bonito flakes at an Asian store in Portland or order online.
A 4 inch square piece of kombu (or there abouts)
A piece of fresh ginger, about the size of two fingers, cut into thin slices.
6-8 shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 quart of water
Get out a nice stainless steel pot and place the kombu, mushrooms and ginger in it. Cover with the water and soak for 30 minutes. (No heat) Set the saucepan over mediumish heat until the water just starts to boil. Remove the seaweed and keep the ginger in it and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. When it is cool, pour the liquid through a fine mesh strainer or 2 layers of cheesecloth and into a bowl. Ta daaa! You have Dana dashi. That wasn’t hard, was it? Store it in the fridge for up to 1 week. Compost the strained out stuff.
“Curing inflammation may well turn out to be the elusive Holy Grail of medicine.” William Joel Meggs, MD
I know chronic inflammation it isn’t a soft and fluffy subject but it is a big issue that has been causing a lot of health problems in the western world. What is amazing about this epidemic is that we can affect it dramatically with what we eat. Understanding inflammation and why it is stomping around among us can be confusing but I’ll give it my best shot.
Inflammation is (mostly) our friend. It is the body’s very natural and healthy response to injury and infection. It defends our bodies by sending immune cells and key nutrients to the areas that need them most. Say you get a paper cut your finger and you notice it turns red, gets hot and swells around the wound. The body has increased the blood flow around the cut to heal it and keep out the nasty bugs. The inflammation is healing the wound. Good.
Where it all goes awry is when inflammation persists for too long and spreads too far. That is when it becomes chronic (long term) and systemic (full body). This fiery type of inflammation has been linked to cancer, arthritis, heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s and anything else that ends in “itis”. Bad.
The big question is how does inflammation turn from good to bad? This issue stems from the fact that most of our immune systems in this day and age are overworked and underpaid. Image that your immune system is a fire station. Every time there is an emergency, as in an invasion by something not good for your body, the fire station ramps up and runs out in full gear to put out the fire. Then, in a healthy immune system, all the firefighters go back to the station and clean up, repair the equipment and rest.
But if the fire station was called out on constant emergencies, with no back up, there would be full scale burn out eventually. The equipment would fail from overuse and no repair and the firefighters would fall down on the job. This kind of chaos is exactly what is happening in an overburdened immune system that is constantly under threat. Chronic inflammation harms rather than heals because the immune system’s attack never stops, never repairs and makes poor decisions due to fatigue.
The causes of chronic inflammation vary from person to person but some of the fires are started by being overweight, under stress, lack of sleep, smoking and in a toxic environment. The biggest fire of all is the foods we choose to eat — or not to eat. Think about it, eating is the #1 thing we do day in and day out that affects our health. If your immune system decides that the food you are ingesting is an enemy, then it battles to put out the fire. 70–80 % of your immune system is located in the gut so if the enemy food is constantly present you have full systemic chronic inflammation due to your diet.
There are quite a few foods that are proven to cause chronic inflammation and they are unfortunately the foundation of the American diet. Foods like wheat (gluten), milk, alcohol, sugar, MSG, preservatives and food colorings are enemies of the immune system. Low fat, high carb diets have been discovered to cause inflammation too.
Also many of our oils like partially hydrogenated oils and Trans fats are big culprits. Surprisingly the polyunsaturated vegetable oils like safflower, sunflower and soybean oils are just as bad. They are loaded with omega 6s which are proven fire starters for sure. Our ancient ancestors ate a diet with an omega 6 to omega 3 ratio of 1:1 and now our current diet is on the average 16:1 with it going up 200% just in the last 50 years. That is due to the obscene rise in process foods filled with these bad oils.
Consequently foods rich in Omega 3s like fatty cold water fish (i.e. salmon and sardines), pasture raised, grass fed meats and eggs, macadamia nuts and flax oil are powerful anti-inflammatory foods. The foods ginger, turmeric, onions, garlic, vegetables, fruit, dark leafy greens and green tea are your friends too. It’s actually pretty easy to remember what foods are anti-inflammatory, just think of whole foods that are intense in color and flavor. (I’m not talking Jelly Belly beans either)
This salad that I am sharing with you today is loaded with anti-inflammatory foods. Just look at its bright color and flavors and you know you have a food that puts out the fires of inflammation. Serve this with a cumin glazed salmon and you will have a happy immune system sitting next to the pool, on vacation…finally.
Cabbage-carrot slaw with cranberries and mint
Try to get juice sweetened dried cranberries and all organic ingredients to really make this perfect. The cranberries are available at Mother Natures.
¾ cup of dried cranberries
3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons of honey
½ teaspoon of ground cumin
1/8-1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1/4-1/2 teaspoon of a fine salt
1/3 cup of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
1/2 of head of thinly sliced red cabbage
2 large carrots, julienned or shredded
1/2 cup of thinly sliced fresh mint leaves
1/4 cup of sliced almonds, lightly toasted
To start off this color bang of a salad give your cranberries a spa treatment by putting in a small bowl and cover them with hot water. Let them soak for 10 minutes, then drain them in a mesh strainer and let them dry off while you do the rest of the salad. Clean and prepare all your veggies and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, honey, cumin, pepper and sea salt. Then while whisking away like crazy add the olive oil in a slow steady stream till combined. Add the cabbage, carrots and mint and toss well. Adjust the seasonings and then right before serving, toss in the nuts. As with any slaw, if you let the flavors marry for a few hours it is always better. To your health!
“Rodnoi otets nadoyest, a shchi—nikogda! One may become fed up with one’s own father, but never with shchi!” Traditional Russian saying
I don’t know if you have been watching the Winter Olympics but the hubby and I sure have. Watching them has been a tradition long upheld in my family. Not only am I constantly astonished by the talent and tenacity of all the athletes but also fascinated by the country that hosts it. This year the host country Russia, is particularly interesting.
I grew up in the “Cold War” era and Russia has always been this mysterious and dangerous country steeped in tradition and pride. Everything about the place is dramatic and edgy; their weather, politics, history, music and even their alphabet seems a bit menacing somehow. As I ponder all these things, the inevitable question comes up for me, what do these people eat?
If you think about it, there is not a lot of Russian food to be had in our neck of the woods. In fact I think the only thing close I have had was the very interesting and delicious food at the Bosnian restaurant “Drina Daisy” in Astoria. (A must try if you haven’t eaten there yet) My curiosity aroused, I dove down the rabbit hole of Russian cuisine.
Russia is the largest country in the world and its cuisine reflects its diverse and vast cultural span but there are definitely some foods that they all seem to love and eat often. The Russian menu, not surprisingly, is made up of hearty simple foods that sticks to your ribs and keeps you warm. Foods like stewed and smoked meats, potatoes, cabbage, mushrooms, onions, fish, honey and whole grain breads to name a few. They also really love pickled foods.
In a land of harsh winters, it’s no surprise that soul-warming soups are a mainstay. They have over 7 different categories of soups but the oldest and most venerable is the Shchi, (pronounced “sch-ee”) a cabbage based peasant soup. This soup is recorded in the written word as far back as the 9th century when cabbage was introduced to Eastern Europe. Shchi is considered the national Russian dish and it is generously woven in their history.
Generally speaking, shchi is a cabbage soup with meat broth base. The peasants had to stretch every morsel of meat they had and this soup was the way to do it. There are many recipes for it as there are soup pots in Russia but the two common variations use either raw or sauerkraut. Undoubtedly the most recognizable shchi to Westerners is borscht, a hearty, colorful, beet soup. It actually came from the Ukraine but was quickly adopted throughout all of Russia and Eastern Europe.
The base of borscht is either beef or pork broth then it is filled with beets and other hearty root veggies that can last through the long white winters of Russia. After a lot of research I liked this recipe the best. The traditional recipes do not call for the beet greens but I could not help myself, I had to put them in. You know how I feel about those nutritious greens! Enjoy this earthy soup with a fat dollop of another Russian fav, sour cream. Naslazhdat’sya! (Enjoy!)
I made my pork stock from a juicy ham bone left over from Christmas. I do not peel my beets or potatoes and they are wonderful that way (and saves time!) Serves a Russian army or 8 people.
3-4 quarts of beef or pork stock
Meat picked off the bones from making the beef or pork stock
4 medium potatoes, cubed into large pieces
8 medium beets diced
1 15 oz can of low salt diced tomatoes
OR 2 large tomatoes, diced
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
1 tablespoons of olive or coconut oil
1 large onion, diced
2 fat carrots, grated
1 green pepper, cored and seeded then diced
1/2 head of a big green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/4 cup of fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon of honey
1 tablespoon of dried dill
OR 2 tablespoons of fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste
Beet greens from beets, chopped into bite size chunks
Sour cream to serve with it (Try cultured sour cream)
Make your stock the night before by plopping a ham or beef bone with meat on it in a gallon of water and simmering for hours. Chill in the fridge overnight and the next morning skim the fat off the broth, bring to slightly warm on the stove and then pick the meat off the bones. (By bringing the broth up to warm it saves your hands!) Put the meat back in the soup and discard the bones. (You can skip this step and use store bought beef broth with water and add some chopped beef of some sort and simmer till tender but I’m warning ya, it won’t be as good.)
Bring the broth up to a simmer on medium heat then add the potatoes, beets, canned tomatoes and tomato paste. While that is simmering, heat up the oil in a large skillet over med-high heat, then sauté the onions and carrots till fragrant (about 4-5 minutes) Add the cabbage and sauté till the leaves begin to wilt then add the bell pepper, cooking for another minute or so. Turn off the stove and let that sit till the beets are tender in the soup stock, then add the veggies to that and simmer for another 5-10 minutes.
Time to season this jewel bright soup with the lemon juice, honey, dill and salt and pepper till it tastes just right. Add the beet greens and cook about another 5-10 minutes till they are wilted then serve in big bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of dill alongside a crusty rye bread and salad. Priyatnogo appetite!
There are many amazing things about this beautiful place that we live in. The majestic trees, clean water, vibrant wildlife, (including the elk that eat my garden) and the mighty pacific ocean roaring in the background make up just a few of the truly amazing features. But of all our natural resources, the one that foodies lust after is the delicious wild mushrooms that abound on our forest floor.
Even though wild mushrooms grow all year long, it is in the fall that they are in their true glory. During this time, mushroom hunters flood into the woods searching for these delicacies, such as the lovely and tasty chanterelle, which can be sold for up to $20 a pound. Yup, crazy huh? But ya see, these mushrooms are called “wild” because they are. They cannot be grown in captivity.
Due to this fact, and how highly they are prized in the culinary world, we literally have gold growing in our woods. This causes an interesting phenomenon where everyone from the humble home cook to slick professional outfits are combing our woods for the wild mushroom. Recently, caveman hubby, out hunting deer, ran into a “team” of mushroom gathers with specialized backpacks that had been sent into the woods with GPS devices to gather the bounty after a team of “hunters” had come through and GPS mapped the crops of mushrooms.
It is no wonder, there is all this woo haa over these little jewels as they are incredibly tasty and chocked full of nutritional benefits. There is no better food for us than wild foods. Wild foods are packed with phytonutrients, which are essential to good health for more reasons than I have room to write about. Our well behaved and domesticated produce doesn’t hold a 10th of these nutrients that wild foods do.
There are over 20 types of wild mushrooms growing around us. The most favorite of these are the king bolete AKA porcini mushrooms, morels and the above mentioned chanterelles. But there are also the lobster, chicken of the woods, fairy rings, and the prince, to mention a few. It is a veritable smorgasbord of mushrooms out there to try!
But please don’t run out there and start tasting mushrooms. If you are interested in mushroom hunting, first take a class or at the very least go out with someone who knows what they are doing, armed with a good book on mushroom identification. As we all know, there are also poisonous mushrooms out there that will drop you in your tracks. It is a blast (and way cheaper) to go hunting for them, just make sure and do it right.
I recommend buying them to start with. Look for mushrooms that are dense and fragrant. Do not buy specimens that are slimy or with decay spots on them. Also light feeling ones have been picked for a while and are dehydrated. Store your treasures in the fridge in a dry paper bag and use within one week.
Make sure and clean them well, right before using. The chanterelles sometimes require breaking them apart to clean all the grooves and folds where pine needles hide. Do not soak them and dry them well with a clean kitchen towel after cleaning because if they soak up too much water the flavor is compromised.
The best way to get the flavor of a wild mushroom is to slice them and sauté them in butter and garlic. Plain, simple honest. Mushrooms in general, love butter and you will love them in butter. Spoon this on anything from toast, mashed potatoes, chicken or eat out of the pan. I personally love mushroom soup. Love. Here is my long standing favorite mushroom soup from the venerable “Moosewood cookbook” by my hero Mollie Katzen. Take advantage of this particularly bumper crop mushroom season to cook this up.
Hungarian wild mushroom soup
This tasty soup can be a meatless main course good for two people or a starter for 4. Takes about an hour to prepare. I used chanterelles and highly recommend them here. This is excellent poured over chicken breasts and baked or as a gravy.
2 tablespoons of butter (yup!)
2 cups of chopped sweet onions
1.5 to 2 pounds of wild mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon of kosher or flaked salt
2-3 teaspoons of dried dill
Or 2-3 tablespoons of fresh dill, minced
1-2 teaspoons of sweet paprika
1 tablespoon of fresh squeeze lemon juice
3 tablespoons of flour
OR 2 tablespoons of arrowroot powder for gluten free
2 cups of a mild stock or water
1 cup of milk
Black pepper to taste and a sprinkle of crushed red pepper (red pepper optional)
1/2 cup of sour cream
Finely minced fresh parsley for the top
Click up your heels! You are about to make history! Melt the butter in a large dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat for about 5 minutes till fragrant and seductive. Reverently add the mushrooms, salt, dill and paprika. Sauté for a minute, the cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring now and then. Then stir in the lemon juice.
While still cooking sprinkle in the flour while stirring constantly. (If you are using the arrow root power, mix it into a 1/2 cup of the stock and add it at that time and skip the flour.) Reduce the heat to medium low and cook and stir for another 5 minutes or so. Add the water/stock and cook for 10 more minutes while stirring and drooling. (Try not to get it in the pot) Stir in the milk, black pepper and crushed red pepper. Taste and adjust the seasonings. When it is perfect, work in the sour cream and heat gently, no boiling at this point, till it gets hot but not boiling. Serve topped with the freshly mince parsley. Enjoy this golden delicious NW wonder!