The winter has pulled its misty blanket down over the coast and the time of inward has begun. I used to dislike this season and pine for the long sunny days of summer but now I rather enjoy this quiet time full of long luxurious nights and hearty nurturing food.
My favorite of these hearty foods are the slow cooked ones like stews, soup, and braises. These long cooked foods reflect the season in how everything seems to slow down and take its time with a delicious outcome. They need the same thing as winter; patience and a low slow fire. The process of taking humble ingredients such as tattered veggies, a tough cut of meat, spices, and liquid to make an aromatic flavorful dish is nothing short of magic.
There are a few secrets to making this magic happen in the pot. The first important trick is to brown the meat. This adds an intense rich depth of flavor to the dish that isn’t achieved any other way. The important safety tip to this is to actually brown the meat and not sweat it. If you sweat it, it makes for very tough meat in your pot no matter how long you cook it.
Brown your meat at high heat and in small batches with stew pieces so make sure the pieces have plenty of room in the pot to brown. The easier way to do this is with a whole piece of meat like a lamb shank or a chuck roast. Using a whole piece of meat will technically make it a “braise” opposed to a stew. (I love braises!) If you don’t have the patience to brown the meat right, just don’t do it at all. This way you won’t get tough chewy meat but you won’t have the depth of flavor either.
Next you want to de-glaze the pan with a flavorful liquid, like broth or wine, add your spices and veggies, tuck the meat in and wait. The secret for a flavorful stew or braise is cooking it for a long time at a very low heat with the lid on. This condenses the flavors like no other way of cooking.
I recommend a heavy pot like a cast iron dutch oven. If you don’t have one, invest in one. Seriously, they will change your life. You can spend as much on a dutch oven as you want from the fancy pants “Le Creuset” at $250 to the work horse Kirkland (Costco) at about $80. I have the Kirkland and just love it. (You can use a slow cooker for these meals as well just set on low for 6-8 hours.)
I also recommend using dried herbs and spices. Fresh herbs do not hold up to the long slow cook and virtually disappear. If you want to add fresh herbs, do it at the end to preserve the flavor like I have done in this Moroccan lamb braise. It is such a brilliant dish and even though it has many spices in it, the long slow cook brings them together in perfect balance. (And the aroma while it is cooking will fill your senses!) Settle in and enjoy a lovely slow winter’s meal.
Moroccan slow cooked lamb shanks
This dish is easily made vegetarian by subbing cauliflower and sweet potatoes for the lamb and cooking it just till the veggies are done. You can sub in almost any meat (no fish) but lamb is best. Lamb is available at Mother Nature’s from a local meat farmer. Serves 4
1 TBS of cumin
2 tsp of coriander
1.5 tsps of salt
2 tsps of fennel seed
1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper
1 tsp of smoked or sweet paprika
1/2 tsp of ground black pepper
4 lamb shanks
OR 2 pounds of lamb stew meat
2-4 TBS of coconut oil or another high heat oil
1 large onion finely chopped
2 TBS of tomato paste
2 cups of broth, chicken or beef
1 15.5 oz can of garbanzo beans
1 cup of dried apricots, cranberries or chopped dates
1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes
2 cinnamon sticks
1 TBS of finely grated fresh ginger
Zest of one lemon
Juice of one lemon
1TBS of honey
Garnish with chopped fresh cilantro
This is going to be fun and delicious! Mix the first 6 spices together in a shallow dish, such as a pie plate till blended. Rinse your meat and pat it dry then roll it around in the spices till well covered. Heat up the oil over medium high heat in a dutch oven or other heavy stew pot and brown the meat on all sides. (This is a breeze with the shanks but if you are using stew meat, you will need to do it in two batches so that it will have room to brown) Transfer the meat back to the spice plate after browning.
In the same pot, add a bit more oil and sauté the onion, reducing the heat to medium, until the onion becomes fragrant and translucent, about 5 mins. The onions will pick up all the left over spices and simply have you dancing over the pot! Add the broth and deglaze your pot by cooking for a few minutes, then add the beans, dried fruit, tomatoes, cinnamon sticks, ginger, lemon zest, juice and honey and bring to a boil stirring often. Last but not least, add the lamb and all the rest of the spices in the pie plate, then reduce the heat to a low enough setting that the stew just barely simmers. Cover the pot and go read a book. Simmer till the meat is super tender and falling off the bone, about 3-4 hours. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Serve with cooked quinoa or cous cous and sprinkled with fresh cilantro.
I have a personal question to ask you, how’s your pants fitting? Mine are tight. Yup, it’s that time of the year when we all get the opportunity to start new and take the tight out of our pants. One of my favorite ways to combat the battle of the bulge is to break out the grapefruit. Their bright color and brilliant flavor seem to cut through the layers of fat and melt them off.
This isn’t just wishful thinking, it is actually true. Grapefruits contain naringenin, a flavonoid that balances out blood sugar levels and helps to prevent metabolic syndrome, a condition associated with weight gain around the waist. Researchers reported naringenin has this effect because it signals the liver to burn excess fat rather than store it in the body. (Super important for the muffin top elimination program!) Eating half of a fresh grapefruit before a meal was found to produce a significant weight loss, according to studies.
There are many other healthy benefits to this fruit as well. It is obvious they are loaded with Vitamin C and antioxidants but what most people don’t know it that grapefruit also are bursting with lycopene, which tomatoes are famous for. Lycopene is a cancer fighter called a carotenoid. Among the common dietary carotenoids, lycopene has the highest capacity to help fight oxygen free radicals, which are compounds that can damage cells and cause cancer. (BTW, lycopene is only found in pink and red grapefruit, not the white)
Grapefruits are also a champion in reducing the bad cholesterol, LDL. If you eat a grapefruit everyday for 30 days you could possibly lower your LDL by up to 15%. Another magnificent fact about this wonder fruit is that is prevents kidney stones. If you ingest 2 cups daily, it will change your urinary PH level to the point where it will significantly reduce the formation of those little painful buggers. (This is true of orange and apple juice too) The nutritional benefits of these fruit are too numerous to list but just knowing the fat burning fact has me signed up eating one a day.
It is important to note that this powerful fruit has some drugs that it doesn’t play well with. If you are taking immunosuppressants like cyclosporine and calcium channel blocker drugs, such as felodipine, nifedipine and verapamil, or statin drugs, you should avoid grapefruit. The compound we were talking about earlier, naringenin, messes with the way your body absorbs these drugs which can cause big problems so make sure and read about it and stay informed.
On a lighter note, grapefruit are a relatively young fruit in the great spectrum of produce time. They were created in the 1700’s by crossing a Jamaican sweet orange with an Indonesian pomelo (both very ancient fruits) in Barbados. If you have never had a pomelo you aren’t missing much. They are large grapefruit looking thing that is super tart, pulpy and thick skinned. This cross was a great improvement on this old cranky fruit, believe me.
Grapefruits hopped over to Florida in the early 1800’s and became quite a sensation. Soon there were grove upon grove and now the US leads the world in grapefruit production with Texas being at the top of that pack. It’s no wonder, as the grapefruit is as delicious as it is nutritious. Avocados and grapefruit are a refreshing combo that highlights two fruit that are in season. Try this easy and tasty grapefruit salad to beat the tight pants and winter blues.
Grapefruit and Avocado salad with grapefruit vinaigrette
You can make this meal an entrée with the addition of cooked shrimp. I prefer our local bay shrimp that are sustainable seafood. Serves four.
2 washed ripe avocados
2 washed pink grapefruit
1 large shallot, minced
A head of butter lettuce
OR enough spinach for 4 servings
1/2 cup of pomegranate seeds (optional)
1/4 cup of grapefruit juice
1/4 cup of EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Zest of a grapefruit
1-2 cloves of garlic, pressed
1-2 teaspoons of honey, warmed
Salt and pepper to taste (A pinch is good)
Start this salad by preparing the grapefruit. We want nice fat pith free grapefruit slices, so cut the peels off the grapefruit then cut the segments out of the grapefruit over a bowl so you can catch all the juice. When you are done cutting the segments out of the grapefruit, squeeze the juice from left over grapefruit in the juice bowl.
When you get done with this process you should have enough grapefruit juice for the vinaigrette which you make now. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing in a small canning jar, put the lid in tight and shake-a shake-a till well mixed.
Set out four plates and layer with the washed and separated butter lettuce or spinach. Now cut the avocados in half, remove the seed and cut into slices, lengthways and arrange on the greens alternating with grapefruit segments in a pin wheel design. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the avo slices to prevent them from turning brown and the rest of the salad. Sprinkle with the minced shallot and pomegranate seeds and a pinch of salt and pepper then serve up some health in the new year.
Every once in a while a person comes along that changes your life. Julie Barker, former owner of Bread and Ocean Bakery, is one of those people for me and the community. Julie just sold Bread and Ocean to a local family. This transition has brought lots of memories flooding in about Julie that I am so thankful for.
When I first met Julie in 1995, she was part owner and chef at the Blue Sky Café in Manzanita. I was new to town and still cooking hamburger helper for dinner. For those of you who remember, “The Blue Sky Café” was a luminary dinner restaurant that changed the way people thought about food…forever. I know it changed me; I fell in love with food there. It was open under Julie’s care (and a few partners) from 1987 to 2003. As one of my friends put it, “The Blue Sky became the watermark for all restaurants, everything was compared to it and still is.”
Julie didn’t start out as the chef she has become, she started as a bartender/server. Julie remembered, “When we bought (the Blue Sky) my partners came up with the name the “Blue Sky” which in the finance world means unrealistic and impractical expectations. Which was very true as we bought it for much more than it was worth.” She continued, “But you know, you fall in love with the idea of an amazing glamorous life where you cook and serve beautiful food and people come in and they love it. It is such a simple dream….but it’s actually a lot of hard work.”
They also came to realize how difficult it was to have good cooks as Julie said, “When we (Julie, her ex-husband and partners) bought Blue Sky in 1987, our cooks were pretty much run of the mill and we ended up weeding them out. I started messing around in the kitchen out of necessity.” She was completely untrained so she started searching for direction in her cooking and began devouring cookbooks like novels. “I would read hundreds of them and one of the important ones I got was The Café Beaujolais Cookbook” which Julie consumed.
Around this same time, Julie and her ex hubby stopped in Mendocino at the Café Beaujolais and had dinner. This turned out to be a game changing meal. “At this meal we ate things like a goat cheese salad with bacon vinaigrette, you know that was the very beginning of chefs using goat cheese, and it changed my life! From that one meal I woke up,” She paused, “and fell in love with food and cooking.” Manzanita has been ever thankful for this awakening!
Julie left the Blue Sky in 2003 and started Bread and Ocean bakery. This was an upheaval for the devotees of the Blue Sky, but we were able to wet our appetite on her crazy delicious sandwiches, deli salads and stellar baked goods. She continued to shine her great love of food down on us from this delicious place till she became restless once again.
That’s the thing, with a great lust for taste comes restlessness and we will benefit once more. Julie is going to open an ice cream and chowder shop in Nehalem this next spring called “Buttercup”. She shared, “I will be making 5 different rotating seasonal chowders – a traditional, maybe a spicy Thai-style seafood chowder, maybe a non-dairy, coconut milk based sweet potato, black bean and corn or smoked chicken or smoked salmon or shrimp chowder.” Julie continued, “My list of ice creams, sorbets, gelatos is long but plan on rotating 10 seasonal varieties including non-dairy.” I’ve seen her list of ice creams and it is going to be crazy delicious offerings once again. And once again she will be sourcing her produce, milk and even salt locally.
Meanwhile back at Bread and Ocean, things are going to be pretty much the same. All the fabulous foods offered there will stay there along with all the employees that are going to keep things running smoothly during the transition.. The new owners, George and Linda Reddish and their daughter Emily LeCompte will be making every effort to keep Bread and Ocean delicious so make sure and go on down and support this local family.
As a parting gift, Julie has generously shared her most requested recipe, her famous potted Montrachet that was served at the Blue Sky. We are so lucky she has brought her love of food to so many people, it’s contagious. After all, I am no longer serving hamburger helper. Julie, I thank you for this. You have brought such deliciousness to our lives.
Potted chevre or montrachet
This recipe is for a big or a little jar as you want to make it. I like to make it in half pint jars. They will last in the fridge for up to a month so make a bunch of them and have them ready for gifts or pot luck additions for the holiday season.
Layer in crock or mason jar or whatever in this order for EACH layer:
2 T soft goat cheese like chevre or montrachet
1 T. chopped sundried tomatoes
1 T. chopped roasted garlic
2 tsp chopped olives of choice…kalamatas are Julie’s fav
1 T. chopped fresh herbs…she liked to use basil and oregano
2 T. really good extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
Get out all the ingredients and prep them first. Layer the ingredients in your chosen clean jars and make sure and press down each layer. Pour you EVOO over each layer as you go. You should be able to get 3 layers in a 1/2 pint jar. Finish off with a generous pour of EVOO. Make sure and bring this most requested recipe to room temp before serving. Serve with baguette slices from Bread and Ocean.
I have discovered the most fabulous way to cook turkey. This is a revelation. It truly is. The turkey turns out tender, juicy and oh so flavorful. While I am eating it I am thinking “so this is what turkey can taste like?” Think about it, how many of us have learned to choke down that dried up ole turkey with gravy? Well I’m here to tell you there is a way to make turkey that is truly life changing.
The secret…… drumroll…. is braising. Braising is a French word that means cooking a food with a dry high heat to brown it and then stewing it in water at a low heat. Braising is also referred to as “pot roasting” sometimes but whatever you call it, it can take a meat that normally gets dried out easy and make it succulent. It is the perfect solution for turkey.
You will need to get a turkey that either you cut in half or have the butcher do it for you. With it cut in two you can submerge it in the broth to cook in. It is also possible to cook a bigger turkey for thanksgiving, like I am, you just have to use two roasting pans and possibly two ovens (and of course, up the cooking time). Don’t let the long instructions put you off, it’s actually an easy method to cook a turkey and the results well worth it! This is a turkey to be thankful for.
Succulent braised turkey
Serves 10-12. You can use homemade or store bought broth for this.
A quart of apple juice
OR 1 cup of organic sugar
1 cup of salt (I prefer kosher)
2 gallons of cold water
Sprigs of fresh herbs like rosemary, sage and thyme
12-14 pound pasture-raised turkey, cut in half
2 onions, chopped coarse
3 ribs of celery, chopped coarse
2 carrots, chopped coarse
4-5 big mushrooms, chopped coarse
4-6 garlic cloves peeled and quartered
6 springs of fresh thyme
6 whole sage leaves
1-2 springs of fresh rosemary
4 TBLS unsalted butter melted
1 quart of chicken turkey broth
1 quart or so of water
1 cup of white wine
The first thing to do is to make your brine. Get out a giant pot that you can easily submerge the turkey in. (Some people brine in a medium cooler. I brine in a crab cooker pot) Add the two gallons of water, apple juice, salt and herb sprigs to the pot and mix till well blended or the salt (and sugar if you are using it) is dissolved. Wash your turkey in cold water and then submerge the two halves in its salty spa. ( if the turkey isn’t submerged, add more water) Add a few cups of ice or so to bring down the water temp, cover and refrigerate for a minimum of two hours or preferably overnight. (This is where a cooler comes in handy if you don’t have an extra fridge hanging around. Just keep the bird on ice in the cooler and it takes the place of a fridge)
When you are ready to cook your turkey, lower the rack in your oven so that you can fit a turkey in there and preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Prep all your veggies (but not the herb sprigs) and place in a big bowl and toss with 2 tablespoons of melted butter and a little salt and pepper. Layer the veggies in the bottom of a large roasting pan and add the sprigs of herbs. Take your turkey out of the brine, dump the brine down the sink, and pat your turkey dry with paper towels. Take the other two tablespoons of butter and rub all over the turkey skin. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Lay the two turkey halves on top of the veggies and tuck in the oven for 15-20 minutes to brown it up.
When the turkey is lightly brown, take it out of the oven and reduce the temp of the oven to 325 degrees. Pour the broth, wine, and water around the turkey, the liquid should come up half way up the sides of the pan. Add more water if it hasn’t. Place a piece of parchment paper over the turkey (to keep the skin from sticking to the foil) and then cover pan tightly with aluminum foil. Tuck this lucky bird back in the oven and cook till the breast temp reaches 160 degrees, about 1.5-2.5 hours depending on the size of your bird. Take out of the oven and drool, I mean marvel at your turkey.
Remove the bird from the broth and put on a large cutting board, tent it with the foil to keep warm. Meanwhile, strain the veggies and herbs out of the broth and do whatever you want with them. (I put them in the compost or squish them up and add the broth.) Make your gravy in your normal way with the broth. (You get to make an extra-large batch here!) Save the rest of the broth for soup the next day or freeze. (This stuff is gold! Don’t throw it out!) Cut up the turkey and serve with the gravy. Bon appetite!
Here is an oldie but goldie on an ancient bread that has been baked to celebrate Halloween for centuries. Enjoy and happy halloween!
Originally posted on The Go Lightly Gourmet:
“The spirits of dead friends sought the warmth of the
Samhain fire and communion with their living kin.”
Halloween is one of the oldest holidays on our calendar. It dates all the way back to the ancient Celts, some 2000+ years ago, who called it Samhain, (pronounced, sow-in.) Samhain means summer’s end and it was a time to harvest crops and animals and get ready to hunker down for the long winter months. Samhain was their New Year’s Eve and was a time of merry making and feasting.
These folks believed that on Samhain, the veil between the worlds grew very thin and ghosts would walk the land to visit the living and perhaps do a tad of mischief. This is true, in a way, because this holiday is on the exact day that night and day are the same length. It is a plunge into the darkness…
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For Halloween I’m going to tell you a very spooky story. Once upon a time there was a green green valley filled with happy farmers and lots of happy clean animals and produce. Everything was very healthy and thriving, even the bugs and weeds.
One very bright farmer, that was kinda lazy, had an interesting idea one day, “What if I can find a way to kill those weeds and bugs that eat my crops without breaking my back all day?” So he got busy and invented pesticides and herbicides. It was all innocent enough, really it was, he was just trying to get more time in the hammock with his ice tea.
The pesticides and herbicides worked great! (Except it killed lots of good bugs and plants too) Some of the other farmers were pretty excited about this new development, especially when they got more time to play video games and eat cookies. But there was a wise ole woman, with one eye that wandered off and bees in her hair that lived in the greenest part of the valley, that wasn’t having it. No sir, her wandering eye could see into the future and she saw nothing but bad things coming from this.
She stomped her feet and told the future, but no one was listening except some of the younger farmers who had a feeling this was bad too. The farmer that invented the killer sprays, being smart and stupid at the same time, came up with another idea. What if he dissected the DNA of the produce, animals and the killer sprays and mixed them together so that the sprays wouldn’t destroy the plants that you wanted to grow, only the weeds and bugs?
Oh this new invention made the ole woman’s eye spin round in her head like a top and the bees droned angrily! She ranted and raved and told the future again about how these plants were really disguised monsters that would bring ruin to green valley. They would bring birth defects, cancer, autism, organ failure, inflammation, digestive and skin issues, food allergies, immune disorders and many more diseases to humans and the flora and fauna that she could not see but knew. But they weren’t listening, they were busy spraying these crazy new plants and marveling over how they didn’t die.
There was a young farmer that was listening however. He was very smart too, and he started doing testing on the effects of these “frankenfoods” as they were called in green valley. He found out that the ole woman was right! This farmer went to the green valley government FDA to tell them, but he was shocked to find that it was now run by the same farmer that invented all this.
He decided to try to tell everyone he could about the monsters that were disguised as real foods; some folks listened and joined him in raising produce and animals without the modifications and poisonous sprays. The others scoffed at them and told him they just didn’t understand, without these great new plants and sprays, they were all going to be out of jobs and starve…….at least that is what the government told them.
This went on for a while till something bad begin to happen, all the bees started to die. Between all the sprays and the toxic genes that were spliced into the plants that came out in the pollen, the bees just couldn’t live. The flowers weren’t being pollenated and the crops stopped producing. People started dying of malnutrition and strange diseases and everyone wondered why. And if that wasn’t enough, the children were being born with green skin and too many eyes.
The ole woman, her bees and the band of thoughtful farmers, told them why, and yelled, shouted and shook signs that the frankenfoods were monsters and needed to be labeled so. But the rest of the now dying green valley was perplexed, they couldn’t think straight anymore since the monsters were taking over their bodies and turning them into zombies. They hazily thought, “There was no reason to label the frankenfoods at the store, because 80% are already frankenfoods and why do we need to know anyway? They are good for us…right? (rib-bit)”
And so our scary story comes to a fork in the road and only you can determine which way it is going to end. Are the frankenfood monsters going to turn everyone into zombies? Or are the thoughtful farmers and consumers going to stand up against the monsters and demand that they get exiled from the green valley? (or at least have them labeled)
To the exile these monsters vote yes on labeling these frankenfoods but the most important thing is to vote with your dollar and only buy organic when every possible. If a product has GMOs in it, they cannot label it organic because most GMOs have a pesticide or herbicide spliced into their genes. (A little interesting tid-bit that most people don’t know)
It only takes 5% of the consumer’s dollars to tip the scale towards more corporations labeling GMOs on their own. They are ruled by the dollar no matter what their scruples are. So, the future is in your hands. Remember, food is medicine or poison, just depending on what you choose to put in your mouth.