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Body on fire

March 21, 2014

“Curing inflammation may well turn out to be the elusive Holy Grail of medicine.” William Joel Meggs, MD

Cabbage carrot slaw

Cabbage carrot slaw


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

cabbage carrot slaw

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!

From Russia with love ♥

February 18, 2014

“Rodnoi otets nadoyest, a shchi—nikogda! One may become fed up with one’s own father, but never with shchi!” Traditional Russian saying

 Ukrainian Borscht


Ukrainian Borscht

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!)

 Ukrainian Borscht


Ukrainian Borscht

Ukrainian Borscht
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!

My gift to you, gluten free baking tips to make Santa proud

December 10, 2013
Gluten free pecan pie bars

Gluten free pecan pie bars

I have a solemn promise to keep with you, my dear readers, before the year has drained out. The time has come to share with you some of my magical gluten free baking knowledge to bake delights that will make Santa Claus rub his tummy with glee. (Particularly if he is gluten intolerant)

Gluten free is the buzz word these days and it essentially means baking without gluten which is present in wheat, rye, spelt, barley, bulgur, and oats. (Oats themselves do not have gluten but are usually processed with wheat and are consequently gluten covered. You can get gluten free oats now from Bob’s red mill.) Gluten, as it turns out, is quite the fiend in our caveman digestive tracts and causing quite the commotion.

It is estimated that one in seven people are now gluten sensitive on some level and 1 in a 100 are downright gluten intolerant. I gave up gluten and all grains about 3 years ago because I wanted to reduce my inflammation that I was constantly battling. I will confess, I went kicking and screaming but I was simply amazed at what happened; I lost weight, feel great, and all my allergies went away! (When I am staying true to the path) I’m a believer.

Now, it is important to qualify that there are many different types of gluten free baking. There is the group that uses anything that doesn’t have gluten in it to bake with like rice, tapioca, and garbanzo bean flours. These recipes tend to use processed sugar too. Then you have the other far spectrum that is grain-free and processed sugar free baked goods. And of course, there is everything in between. I tend to lean towards the grain-free side of the fence so that is where my knowledge is.

There are two primary types of gluten free, grain free flour; nut flour (almond being the most popular) and coconut flour. Almond flour is “nutrient dense” aka lots of calories and expensive but delicious, fiber rich and low carb. The best almond flour for cooking is finely ground and blanched. (Do not get almond “meal” as it is not a baking flour) Bob’s Red Mill, finely ground, is my personal favorite and it is made by a semi-local company. Everyone raves about “Honeyville” almond flour but I have never tried it. Honeyville is a bit cheaper than other brands too if you buy in bulk online.

An important tip to remember when baking with nut flours is that they burn VERY easily. It is super imperative to take your baked goods out of the oven earlier that later or you will have burnt buns. Almond flour can be subbed for wheat flour but it is such a different absorption rate that the recipes usually don’t turn out so I suggest baking with proven recipes unless you are adventurous and don’t mind baking failures.

Coconut flour is a whole nuther beast. It is a thirsty flour and you need a fraction of the amount as you expect and needs a lot of eggs to make it work. Coconut flour is high in fiber, low in carbs and calories. It is also inexpensive. It doesn’t burn as easy as almond flour but is more tricky to work with so use already tested recipes when you first start out. There are many recipes out there these days that are combining both of the almond and coconut flours to make very delectable baked goods. Make sure and store all nut and coconut flours in the freezer and let them thaw for an hour before using.

This recipe I am sharing with you today is a great recipe that highlights almond flour. It also uses coconut palm sugar which is much lower in the glycemic index than most sugars. These bars are seriously addicting! I made them for Thanksgiving and they were GONE before dinner. They can be made with any raw nuts that you have on hand and are completely transportable. (Which is great for Santa) Have a very wonderful holiday season.

these gluten free pecan bars will win over Santa

these gluten free pecan bars will win over Santa

Perfect Pecan Bars (Gluten and grain free)
The coconut palm sugar and arrowroot powder are available at your local health food store. 

The crust
1 3/4 cups of almond flour
1/4 cup of arrowroot powder
1 tablespoon of coconut palm sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon of salt
2 Tablespoons of melted coconut oil or butter
1 egg

Heat up your oven to 350 degrees. Blend all your dry ingredients together with a mixer (or with a whisk) and then slowly add the melted oil/butter and the egg as the mixer is going. Press the crust into a well-greased 9×11 or 9×13 baking dish (it will be spread thin. If you want the bars thicker, use an 8X8 baking dish) and then pop in the oven to bake for 10 minutes. Prepare your filling to pour into this.

The filling
1/2 cup of butter
1 cup of coconut palm sugar
1/3 cup of maple syrup
2 Tablespoon of coconut milk or heavy cream
1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2.5 cups of pecans

While the crust is baking, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add all the ingredients but the pecans and stir until well mixed. Let this lovely mess come to a simmer while stirring occasionally then simmer for 1-2 minutes stirring all the while to keep it from burning. Pour the pecans into the sauce pan and stir them in then remove from heat.

When you remove your crust from the oven, pour all this yumminess onto the crust. Spread the filling evenly over the crust with a rubber spatula, then return to the oven to bake for 20-25 more minutes. The bars should be bubbly and the crust getting brownish when done. Let the bars cool for a while before cutting as this recipe needs to cool before they sit up. Then cut into small pieces and remove from the pan with a flexible rubber spatula. Should serve 16, but could serve just one, particularly if it is Santa. They are addicting!

Magical baking tricks from a kitchen witch

November 9, 2013
Walnut maple spice cookies

Walnut maple spice cookies

Halloween is the gateway season for me. It opens up my imagination, turns my oven on and lets the baking begin! It’s magical how it happens. The pumpkins start appearing on doorsteps and all’s I can think about it what sort of goodies I can bake with them. Then next thing I know, the house is filled with the warm spicy scent of fall baking and I gain weight. Magic, I tell you!

I realized as I was miraculously making cookies and pumpkin pie bars appear from my enchanted oven that I have actually amassed a fair amount of tricks for treats. I thought I would share my secrets with you so that with the wave of your magic rubber spatula and a little work you can have charmed baked goods popping out of your bewitched oven too. (Hopefully sans the weight gain)

I could wax on like the full moon about all my tips but we are just going to focus on ingredients this article. Every kitchen witch knows that her finished spells are only as good as her ingredients. There is nothing more disappointing than lack luster spices that have lost all their enchantment. I recently bought some cinnamon that had no fragrance or taste and was super light brown in color. I threw it out. I suggest that you go through your spice cabinet and do the same to your fizzled out spices before the magical baking season starts. I do it every year.

Dig through all your spices and separate them into two categories; good and questionable. Test the questionable spices by smelling them, checking their color and tasting them. If they have none of the above going for them, toss em out with the old batwings. I suggest one year expiration date on most baking spices before they turn into (rotten) pumpkins.

The very best place to replace these spices is Mother Nature’s in Manzanita or any health food store that carries bulk spices. They have bulk spices that are organic and non-irradiated. Buy only as much as you can go through in a year. Get nutmeg whole and grind your own with a microplane grater. (BTW a microplane grater is the best kitchen tool ever! And if you find you don’t use it that often you can apply it to your heels like my sister-in-law.)

For cinnamon I must recommend that you buy Vietnamese Cinnamon from King Arthur Flour online. This spice is enchanted! I am a cinnamon connoisseur and this is by far the best I’ve ever had. It is worth the trouble, One sniff and you will fly around the room and thank me. You will notice the difference in your baked goods.

While you are there, get a small bottle of their “Fiori de sicilia” which is an orange vanilla extract that is one of my secret ingredients in baked goods. This stuff is magical! You will only need a teaspoon for your baked goods that you want orange flavor in and suddenly you are magician. It is most excellent in chocolate too.

And speaking of chocolate… my hearts delight, another product King Arthur Flour carries that I can’t do without is their “black cocoa” which is dark chocolate baking powder. This is black gold and has the richest chocolate flavor. I mix it half and half with regular cocoa powder for magical results. The best and easiest to find chocolate chips are Ghirardelli 60% chocolate chips. These are delicious and gluten free too! (Most chocolate has gluten in it, crazy huh?) I also love love love Kallari gluten free organic chocolate from the amazing chocolate store, Chocosphere. You will never be the same if you eat this chocolate.

Always use unbleached organic flour, for health and perfect baked goods. Conventional flour has enough pesticides, herbicides and anti-fungal chemicals to curl even an evil witch’s toes. I have gone to baking gluten free mostly these days and will talk about that in another article. That is a whole other field of magic!

These cookies have been a favorite cookie in our house for years, before I went gluten free (Well mostly gluten free) They are warm with the spices of fall and filled with the magic of the season. The frosting really makes them so don’t skip on it and also make sure and toast your walnuts for the full flavor.  Have a wicked good baking season!

Maple walnut spice cookies

Maple walnut spice cookies

Walnut Maple Spice Cookies

1.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking soda
1/4 teaspoon of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground ginger
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon of ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of butter, softened
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
1 farm fresh egg

Preheat that enchanted oven to 350 degrees and lightly oil a couple of baking sheets. To get the magic stirring, place the flour into a medium bowl and make a well in the center. Dump all your spice and baking soda and powder into the center of the well and whisk well till well mixed. Then blend the butter and brown sugar with an electric mixture until it gets super creamy and fragrant, about 4-5 minutes. Add the maple syrup and egg in there and mix some more till well blended.

While your electric mixer is going on slow, add the flour mixture to the wet gradually till it is just mixed. Scoop out blobs of batter (about 1 tablespoon) and drop them on the cookie sheet leaving room between the cookies. Wet your (clean) hands and flatten the cookies a bit, (they don’t flatten well on their own) and bake for about 12-14 minutes until just barely brown around the edges and no longer shiny. Cool completely before frosting. (They are much better frosted so don’t pop that cookie in your mouth!)

Maple frosting
1 cup of powdered sugar
2 tablespoons of maple syrup
2 teaspoons of butter, softened
1 tablespoon of milk or cream
½ cup of toasted walnuts

With your magic electric blender, whip up all the above ingredients till well blended and fluffy. Spread on cookies and then sprinkle the walnuts on top, rather quickly, as the frosting will start to harden. Serve up with warm apple cider and love.

Searching for the wild mushroom

October 19, 2013
chanterelle mushrooms

chanterelle mushrooms

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.

chanterelle mushroom soup

chanterelle mushroom soup

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!

Confessions and cookbooks

October 8, 2013
Sweet and tangy meat balls

Sweet and tangy meat balls

What happened?? I was extolling the praises of the particularly fine summer we had and the red ripe tomatoes just in the last issue. Then BAM! No more summer, no more farmer’s market and tomatoes are getting hard to find. As I write, a big, soggy, windy storm is beating my garden down to the ground. This kind of weather makes me want to cook and make confessions.

I have a confession to make, I have affairs….with cookbooks.

Yes, it’s the dirty truth. It goes like this; My new cookbook arrives in the mail, I’m so excited as I tear the package open and lovingly thumb through the pages, drooling, running my hand over the pictures, thinking of all the great things we could do together, then I close it. It sits on the table for a few weeks where I look at it less and less and then it goes to the GIANT cookbook self, never to be loved again.

Affair over…….. then I order another cookbook.

Seriously I have an addiction. This became very clear to me when I ordered a rare and highly acclaimed cookbook for my birthday, to the tune of $70! What am I doing? I’ve decided that I must stop this vicious cycle. I am putting myself on a cookbook fast. No more cookbooks till I start loving the ones I have. (Clears throat)After the one I just ordered comes in the mail.

I, proclaim, right here in front of you all, that I will cook a recipe out of one of my cookbooks every week. Once a month, I will review one of these many fabulous cookbooks I have on my blog, plus share a recipe from it. I will go through my cookbook bookshelf and get rid of the ones I will never ever use. Then in about 100 years I might be able to order another one….maybe.

So on that note, there is no time like the present to start on reforming myself. Let’s start with the first cookbook in the pile up.

Gather, the cookbookGather, The art of Paleo Entertaining
By Bill Staley and Hayley Mason

This is a BEAUTIFUL cookbook! (It is also beautifully priced at almost $27 on amazon, $40 everywhere else.) It actually was on the table more like a month as my love affair with this book was hot and heavy. It’s probably the pictures. I love the pictures. Let’s face it, we all love pictures. Every recipe has a lovely picture of it displayed on a generous page, which is something wonderful.

The other thing I love about this book is the way they have it arranged, by the seasons, where they have menus, shopping tips and more pictures. I have a particular bent for cookbooks arranged this way as it is the way food arrives to us, in seasons. (That is if we are in tune with them) That is also a time saving element for me as I don’t have to go through the whole book to find what is in my fridge.

While thumbing through this lovely book I was blinded with the novel concept, what if one could throw an event that is totally gluten and grain free? This book makes it completely conceivable. I always had this fixed idea that a big dinner party could not be completely gluten free, just not possible. But I am a converted believer. If you love to entertain and are gluten and grain free, this is the book for you.

And now that I am a converted cookbook hoarder I will plan one of these events and do it. But meanwhile I’ll leave you with the recipe that I made out of stuff on hand, meatballs. Oh yeah. They were very good but I had to change them a bit. (that is also an addiction.) Feel free to make them with bison or free-range grass finished beef, as venison doesn’t hang out in everyone’s freezer but thanks to my caveman hubby, it’s in ours.

Paleo meatballs

Paleo meatballs

Sweet and Tangy Venison Meatballs
These need to be started the night before, so plan that into the recipe.

Da meatballs
2 pounds of grass feed beef or venison
2 shallots, minced
2-5 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons of high quality Balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons of coconut aminos
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of bacon fat or coconut oil

Da Sauce
1 tablespoon of bacon fat or coconut oil
½ large onion, diced
8 once of crushed pineapple in the juice
15 ounce of (no salt added) tomato sauce
2 tablespoons of high quality balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon of smoked paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

In a mediumish bowl, mix all the meatball ingredients except the bacon fat, and squish it all together with your hands. (If you have a better way, let me know) Tuck it in the fridge, overnight for the flavors to marry. The next day, Preheat your oven to 350 degrees then squish the bacon fat into the meatballs, then form into 1 inch balls and place them onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. (You can use parchment paper to line the baking dish but have you read the ingredients on that paper? The clean-up was easy without the paper) Pop them into the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes, till they are done. (You test this by eating one! He he)

While those nuggets are baking make the sauce. In a medium saucepan, heat up your bacon fat on medium heat and then sauté the onions until they are fragrant and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients and stir till well blended and simmer at just barely bubbling for 20 minutes, stirring often. The sauce will thicken and coat the back of spoon. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Then add the cooked meatballs to the sauce and serve with love. Can be an appetizer, which you can keep warm in a crock pot or a main dish served over rice with a salad.

Play with your food

September 26, 2013
Tomato conserva salad dressing on heirloom tomatoes

Tomato conserva salad dressing on heirloom tomatoes

I had the most delicious experience last week. My vegetarian daughter was in town and we checked off an item on our bucket list and dinned at the very veggie centered restaurant, “Natural Selection” in Portland. This restaurant has been on our list for a while since it received many awards shortly after its opening in March of 2011. Now many of you might know that drawing attention in the abundant Portland culinary scene is impressive, but to get this highest praise and be a vegetarian restaurant…. Astounding.

The distinguishing feature about Natural Selection is that the dishes are all vegetable based, which is different than vegetarian, but kinda the same. Let me explain… the dishes are comprised solely of veggies, not tofu, tempeh, grains or any manner of vegetarian “protein”. They are made completely of local veggies in colorful and delicious combinations. You can tell the chef Aaron Woo has fun developing these playful dishes and it is paying off, the place is wildly popular.

This is an indication of an undercurrent that has been surging forward in the culinary scene for a while. Chefs are getting into playing with veggies and not just treating them as a “side” dish. Now I’m not talking about whipping up a salad or steaming some groovy haricort verts with goat cheese to be on the side, nay, we are talking vegetables as a main dish, presented in the same glory and love as a hunk of prime rib.

Some of the veggie centered dishes I have had the pleasure of enjoying lately are eggplant fritters with zucchini “noodles” in an orange heirloom tomato sauce, grilled cauliflower steaks with olive and tomato relish or how about the cucumber avocado salad with edamame, togarashi and nori, then the astounding nettle and chestnut croquettes. Humm, I’m drooling. Who says eating veggies has to be boring??

This time of year it is easy to get creative with all the abundance of veggies dancing around us. This has been a fine year for tomatoes (finally!) and boy oh boy have I been having fun with all the delicious heirloom tomatoes that are glutting the farmer’s market. They have been a part of almost every meal served in our house for the last two weeks. Ah, why oh why is it such a short season?? Every time I eat one of these colorful and tasty delights, I morn just a bit at how it won’t be much longer.

Then I read an article in “Fine Cooking” on how to save the season with slow roasting tomatoes in a bit of olive oil and garlic. I decided to give it a try and was more than pleasantly surprised! The tomatoes are deep and richly flavored with an intense “tomatoey” taste that might rival a fresh tomato. They are easy to chop and add to anything that you want to add a flavor kick to like salads, pizza, polenta, eggs, in sandwiches and on your ice cream. (Well maybe not the ice cream)

Making these flavor nuggets is easy but takes about 4 hours of slow roasting, so take that into account, but they are worth it! This Friday is the last farmer’s market, so get down there, stock up on sun filled tomatoes and make some tomato conversa to play with and save some summer in the freezer.

Tomatoes conserva

Tomatoes conserva

Tomato Conserva
These rock. You can use them up on anything you like. I like them chopped and added to salads or on steamed veggies.
4 pounds of juicy red tomatoes like beefsteak
2 medium garlic cloves, sliced into thin pieces
1/3 cup of high quality olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper

First off, buy your organic tomatoes at the farmer’s market and revel in their beauty. When you are ready, position the racks in the oven to the top of the oven. Turn on the oven and heat it up to 350 degrees. Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch thick rounds and place in a single layer on two rimmed baking sheets. Drizzle the oil over the red ripe beauties so they are all oiled, place a slice of garlic on some of the tomatoes then sprinkle with salt and pepper and pop in the oven.

Lower the heat to 225 degrees and slowly roast 4-5 hours, only peeking in on them a few times to rotate the pans. The tomatoes will start to look wrinkly and like juicy sun dried tomatoes. Watch them closely towards the end as they can burn easily at that point. Let them cool for 10 minutes before using. Eat slowly and with relish. Will keep in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week and frozen for up to a couple months. Longer if vacuum sealed.

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Heirloom tomatoes with tomato conserva salad dressing
The dressing is amazing and can be used on any salad. I really like to use the marinated fresh mozzarella bite sized balls in this salad. You can get them most anywhere. Fine cooking suggested burrata, which is a fresh mozzarella with soft creamy insides, but I haven’t found that in our small town anywhere.
The dressing
1/4 cup of tomato conserva, chopped
1/4 cup of Extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon of salt and pepper

The salad
1-2 pounds of heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4 inch thick
8 oz of fresh mozzarella or burrata
10 or so basil leaves, chiffonade
Flaky sea salt such as Maldon’s for serving

Put all the ingredients for the dressing in a small jar with a tight lid and shake it up. Shake it good!
Layer the tomato slices on four salad plates and then add 2 oz of the cheese to each plate, sprinkle with the basil and sea salt, drizzle with the dressing and serve. Voila! Fun with veggie

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