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Oyster stew for the holidays

December 22, 2015

“Oysters are one of the supreme delights that nature has bestowed on man.” James Beard

20151207-IMG_6949Oysters are one of the great celebration foods that over the centuries, rich and poor alike have enjoyed. The early English settlers practically survived on oysters as they were a reliable and tasty source of nutrition. Of course, they learned this from the Native Americans who had been dinning on this briny bivalve for over 6000 years. The new world was swimming with a seemingly endless supply of oysters and everyone was chowing on them. Obviously oysters are deeply woven into American’s culinary history.

Within this rich culinary history is a smaller chapter on oysters being served up on Christmas Eve, usually in the form of oyster stew. This tradition came over with the Irish immigrants in the mid-1800s. Back in Ireland, on Christmas Eve they would make a dried lingcod stew to adhere to the Catholic belief of no (land) meat that night. When the Irish came in great force to America they found that oysters tastily replaced that ole’ salty cod and a star was born.

It seems there are as many ways of making oyster stew as there are immigrants that have come to our shores. Some like it simple and some like it complicated. My husband Paul’s father was a big believer in a simple oyster stew and was horrified to have Paul make him oyster stew that was full of spinach and water chestnuts. He declared it “hippie chowder” and fished out his oysters to make a simpler rendition.

It is important to be picky about your oysters and buy only the best and most fresh. They are filter feeders and are what they eat. We are so lucky here on the North Oregon Coast to have Netarts Bay Oysters at our fingertips. Netarts bay is a pristine estuary that is considered more of a salt water inlet, as it has no rivers that dump into it. This insures that even in the rainiest of conditions (like now!) the bay remains clean, free from run off.

Manzanita fresh foods and Community Supported Fishery in Garibaldi sell Netarts Bay Oysters but they only come in the shell. We prefer them in the shell and I have instructions in the recipe if you purchase them that way. If you choose to buy pre-shucked raw oysters for this stew, its makes it much easier but you won’t get Netarts’ oysters that way.

This recipe I’m sharing is Paul’s rendition of oyster stew, a cross between “hippie chowder” and a purist’s oyster stew. It’s a very easy stew to make and worth the effort. The oysters make this stew full of the flavors of our beautiful coast worth rejoicing and a shining holiday meal.

20151207-IMG_6957NW Pacific oyster stew
Serves 6 for dinner, more for an appetizer.

1 tablespoon of coconut oil
1 large onion, diced large
2 cloves of garlic, minced fine
5 stalks of celery, diced large
2 large leeks, white and light green parts, chopped into rings
1/4 teaspoon of dried red peppers
1/4 cup of butter, cut into fourths
8 cups of liquid (that includes the oyster juice)
2 large white potatoes, cubed
1 teaspoon of black pepper, cracked
1 tablespoon each of minced fresh sage, parsley and rosemary
OR 1 teaspoon each of dried sage, parsley and rosemary
3 dozen oysters in their liquid (if they are in the shell, start the recipe at the *)
2 cups of half and half
Salt to taste (we didn’t need any)
Small pats of butter to serve on top of the stew

Prepare to make history with your oyster stew! First, melt your coconut oil over medium high heat, in a large soup pot. Toss in the celery, leek, garlic and onions and sauté for 5-8 minutes, stirring the whole time. (If they need a bit more oil, don’t feel shy about adding a bit more coconut oil. This is not a diet dish!) As soon as the veggies are translucent and fragrant stir in the butter and red pepper flakes. After the butter has melted, add your oyster juice and water to equal 8 cups. Next toss in the potatoes, black pepper and herbs and wait till your pot just starts to simmer and turn down the heat to medium low, or where it will stay on a slow simmer.

When the potatoes just start to get tender, add the half and half. Bring the pot back to a simmer, stirring the whole time. Taste your stew now and see if there is need to adjust your seasonings. (You can prepare to this point the day before. Put the cooled stew in the fridge with the oysters till you are ready to serve. Heat it up to a simmer and proceed from here.)

When you have the flavor where you want it, slide in the oysters and cook for 3-4 minutes until they just start to curl. (This is an important time to watch out as you can easily overcook these little gems and get tough chewy oysters.) Fish out an oyster and chop it into a few pieces and see if they are cooked to your liking. If they are, serve immediately with a pat of butter on top and hot sauce on the side.

*If you get oysters in the shell, wash them well with a scrub brush first, then steam them in a large pot nestled in a strainer with a couple inches of water in the bottom. (For more info on this you can google it) Steam them till they just start to open, about 10-20 mins. (We used a turkey roaster with the rack in it for this) Save the water in the bottom for the stew after straining it through a cheesecloth. (It may be a bit green, but it won’t show up in the final product, honest) Shuck the oysters carefully and save them in the fridge till your soup base is ready. Place 6 oysters per serving in the bottom of each bowl they will be served in and pour the hot stew base over them to heat them. Serve immediately.

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Sustainable farming, Cuban style

November 28, 2015
20151106-IMG_6908

Cuban pork roast with mojo sauce

As most of you know this year was a historic year as the USA opened up new relationships and an embassy with Cuba for the first time in 56 years. That means that American citizens can get reacquainted with Cuba for the first time in over 50 years. You still have to declare on your visa that you are traveling for educational purposes, but hey! We’ll take it!

Cuba has really had a very interesting 56 years since our break-up, particularly in regards to food. As most of us are aware, Cuba and the Soviet Union were best buds so the USA shut her doors to Cuba even though she is only 90 miles away. But what most Americans don’t know is that Cuba almost starved when the Soviet Union collapsed in1989.

The USSR and the soviet bloc were major import/export trading partners that supplied them with 80% of their food and oil so when they went under so did Cuba. During this crisis called “The Special Period” (what was so special about it??) the caloric intake of the Cuban people dropped 50%. Dogs and cats disappeared from the landscape, these people were starving! On top of it all, since oil wasn’t being traded, the fields went untilled by the useless tractors. Things were looking bleak for Cuba as America turned a baleful eye on anyone interested in helping our neighbors.

Then an innovative miracle happened in 1993 when a group of Australians broke rank and brought the concept of permaculture to Cuba. Now, permaculture is a way of farming that uses everything in nature to create a cooperative system that works together to nourish everything, not just the people. It’s kinda hard to explain but basically it is farming with what ya got and giving back to the land. Cuba really employed this form of sustainable agriculture and in a few short years became a self-sufficient island.

One great example of this is Havana. It is a very large city, roughly the size of L.A. and with permaculture the people were encouraged to grow food anywhere and everywhere. Parking lots were torn up, meridians were tilled, planter boxes built and now Havana grows 60% of its own food, right there in the city! Wow.

havana farming

Urban farming in Cuba

Through necessity, Cuba has become a world model of sustainably and innovation in agriculture. In 2013 the International Permaculture Convention was held in Cuba with many flocking to its shores to learn from them. Talk about overcoming adversity! Our country has a lot to learn from them as they feed their country with organic produce and nourish their land while doing it.

One thing that Cuba has learned is to use what they have and make their food with dynamic flavors of the tropics. If there’s one thing that turns up the volume on the taste of anything, it’s Cuban mojo sauce. Pronounced mo-ho, this sauce is a combination of garlic, citrus juices and herbs that makes a terrific marinade or as a dipping sauce.

This is the roast pork recipe developed by rock star chef, Roy Choi, for the movie “Chef”. (If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it!) This pork roast has the citrusy garlicy flavors that are distinctively Cuban that brighten the dark days of November. It’s like a party in your mouth! Use left overs to make the famous Cubano sandwich that is immensely popular in Miami. Make sure and start the recipe the night before so it can marinade. Buen provecho!

20151106-IMG_8813

Cuban pork Mojo

 

Cuban Mojo Pork Roast
You are welcome to reduce the garlic if you like but I recommend you try it. (I saw some recipes for mojo that had up to 40 cloves of garlic!) Please ask for and buy only humanely raised pork. Serves 6-8

The mojo
3/4 cup of olive oil
1 cup of cilantro
Zest of one orange
3/4 cup of fresh orange juice
1/2 cup of fresh lime juice
1/4 cup of mint leaves
8-10 cloves of peeled garlic roughly chopped (yeah baby!)
1 TBLS of fresh oregano leaves
OR 2 tsp of dried oregano
1 TBLS of ground cumin
1 tsp of salt
1 tsp of black pepper
Pork
3-4 pound pork shoulder (humanely raised)
One large onion, cut into rings
Cilantro and mint for garnish

I suggest putting on some Cuban salsa music for this recipe. When you have that turned up loudly, combine all the ingredients for the mojo sauce in a food processor or blender and give it a whirl till all the ingredients are well blended.

Pour the mojo into a food storage container large enough for it and the pork roast. Wash the pork roast well under cold water then gently place in the mojo sauce and roll it around till it is well acquainted with the mojo. (Reserve out 1/2 cup of the mojo if you want to use it to dip) Put the lid on the mix and stick in the fridge to marinate overnight, turning a few times if you think of it.

The next day take the pork out of the fridge, roll it around in the mojo some more then let it come up to room temp, about 30 mins. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 300 degrees, cut and place your onion rings in a dutch oven or covered baking dish, then put the pork and mojo in the pot over the onions. Cover the pot and put in the oven to bake for 30 minutes a pound, so about 2 – 2.5 hours.

When the time is up, test your pork and make sure it’s done by flaking it with fork, if it falls apart easy, it is done. Take the top off the pot and let it brown for 15-20 minutes till it is just getting crusty and golden brown. Take your delicious fragrant pork out of the oven and let rest for 20 minutes before slicing…if you can wait. Serve with reserved mojo, black beans and rice garnished with cilantro and mint.

Screaming good haunted sailor’s bread

November 6, 2015
Sailor's Bread recipe from teh Heceta Head cookbook

Sailor’s Bread recipe from teh Heceta Head cookbook

We recently took a two week camping trip down the Oregon coast at a slow and ambling pace to discover lighthouses. I had no idea that lighthouses are so cool! When you visit them, the history is palpable and you can almost see the ghosts of the past fading in and out of the walls. Come to find out, in some of the lighthouses you can see ghosts as Oregon has haunted lighthouses.

One of the most notorious of these is Tillamook Rock Lighthouse, was also known as Terrible Tilly. It was built on a rock 1.2 miles off of Cannon Beach in the tempestuous Pacific to give sailors a guiding light around Tillamook head. She was fated to see many deaths and drive men mad. It all started in 1879 when surveyor John Trewavas, set foot on the rock to inspect it for the lighthouse and was instantly swept out to sea, the first victim of Terrible Tilly.

Many others perished during her construction and just weeks before the lighthouse was lit a ship called the Lupatia sank near there and 16 bodies of the crew washed up on the rock. Soon after that, lighthouse keepers reported hearing low bone chilling moans in the stairwell to the lantern. It quickly earned a notorious reputation of being a haunted and dreadful place to be where lightkeepers would go mad from the months marooned out there.

Yaquina Head lighthouse

Yaquina Head lighthouse

Yaquina Bay lighthouse near Newport is also known to have hauntings going on. This lighthouse was only in commission for three years till Yaquina Head Lighthouse (a most beautiful thing to behold) was built. In 1874, the crew of the whaling ship, Monkton, went mutinous and set their Captain adrift in a small boat off the coastline. He was final found on land…….. in the form of a ghostly sea captain with a red beard and skeleton face.

He drifted among taverns and homes, “looking for a place to stay and someone to join him in death” as he moaned to one terrified observer. He eventually came to haunt the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse after it was decommissioned. Supposedly a young lady disappeared at the lighthouse soon after that, never to be seen alive again and now haunts the grounds of the lighthouse with the ghostly captain in a flowing dress screaming in anguish.

Heceta Head lighthouse

Heceta Head lighthouse

One of the most famous haunted lighthouses is the Hecate Head lighthouse near Florence Oregon. This is the home to the “Grey Lady” AKA “Rue” who haunts the lightkeeper’s house that is now a bed and breakfast. Supposedly she was the wife to an assistant lightkeeper when their child drown in the waters near there in the 1890s. In despair the young mother committed suicide by throwing herself off a cliff. She now haunts Heceta Head Bed and Breakfast, ever searching for her child. Guests to this day have gentle encounters with the grey lady and the chefs of the bed and breakfast consider her family.

The Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast is also known for their cozy (haunted) rooms and spooktacular 7 course breakfasts that people die for! The place is run by the frighteningly talented duo of Michelle Korgan and her husband Steven Bursey. Their cookbook; “The Lighthouse Breakfast Cookbook, recipes from Heceta Head lighthouse” was materialized in 2009 so that more than ghosts and guests can enjoy their excellent fare. This recipe from the cookbook, “Sailor’s Bread” seemed like the perfect potion to sweeten even the sourest of ghosts. This magic bread begins the night before when you start your brew on the stove so build that into your plans…..before it’s too late!

haunted sailor's bread

haunted sailor’s bread

Haunted Sailor’s Bread
This vegan bread contains no eggs or dairy so it can be taken on long ghostly voyages. (Or at least keeps well in the freezer wrapped up like a mummy) Adapted from “The Lighthouse Breakfast Cookbook, recipes from Heceta Head lighthouse”.

3/4 cup of organic sugar
2 TBLS of cocoa powder
2 tsp of cinnamon
1 tsp of ground ginger
1 tsp of nutmeg
1/2 tsp of allspice
1/2 tsp of cloves
1/2 tsp of cardamom
1 tsp of salt
1 cup of water
1 cup of raisins
1/4 cup of dark rum
1 cup of light tasting oil like avocado oil
2 TBLS of molasses
1 cup of walnuts, coarsely chopped
2.5 cups of unbleached organic flour
1.5 tsps of baking soda
3/4 tsp of baking powder

The night before you want to bake this magic bread, take out of small saucepan and add sugar, spices and salt then stir till well blended. Slowly add the water while stirring making sure everything is becoming a good potion then stir in the raisins. Heat up the concoction on the stove over a medium heat till it just.about.boils. Turn off and add the rum, (take a swig like a good sea captain) cover and go to bed and allow the magic to happen.

The next morning, (yawn and stretch) make some tea and turn on the oven to 350 degrees and oil a large glass bread pan or two small ones. To the magic brew, add the oil, molasses and the nuts then mix a little bit. (No worries, it won’t blend in well with that ooey gooey mess of yumminess) In a medium-large mixing bowl, mix together the flour, soda and baking powder then with the mixer going slowly add the flour mixture till just blended.

Pour into your bread pan(s) and sprinkle the top with coarse sugar and tuck in the oven for the transformation for 50-60 minutes for the big loaf and 35-45 mins for the small ones or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for 20-30 minutes then turn out on a wire rack to cool the rest of the way. We couldn’t resist and fed on it before it cooled. I imagine if you let it cool all the way it won’t crumble when cut but I don’t really know cause it dematerialized.

Apples; the secretly disguised superheros

October 27, 2015
Gluten free paleo crisp

Gluten free paleo crisp

A recently scored a huge box of beautiful organic apples picked from a local tree. When I opened the box and breathed in the aroma of fall, I was struck with how this common fruit is really a superhero posing in plain clothing. Immortal and extraordinary, the apple has been flying out of phone booths and through history in art, science experiments, legends, and torrid love affairs. It has also been seen flexing its vast muscles and protecting health and smashing disease for centuries.

The wild apple of ancient Asia, malus pumila, a member of the rose family, is the ancestor of our current juicy superstar apple. The malus was small and sour, much like our crab apples. There are many tales told of this ancient apple and its rise to fame but the ever imaginative Romans are credited with cultivating it into the predecessor of our caped crusader. They began the magic by creating 7 different varieties of the apple. There are now over 7,500 varieties of apples being grown worldwide. The leading producer of apples is China, (big surprise!) with the US coming in second with Washington State as the quarterback.

There is a wee bit of controversy that needs to be cleared up for our superstar. The apple has never deserved the publicity that it was the downfall of the Garden of Eden. (But I guess every super hero is misunderstood occasionally.) According to historians there is no specific name given to the fruit Eve tasted from that notorious tree. They believe Eve’s fruit of temptation might have been a pomegranate or possibly even a quince since those were the popular fruit during the time the bible was written.

No matter what the mysterious past of the apple is, today it is the world’s favorite champion fruit with American’s eating an average of 50 pounds per person. Johnny Appleseed was on to something when he planted apple trees across the country, bringing nourishment for generations to come. (Even though it is rumored that he planted the trees for hard cider)

These are a rare heritage apple called "Wolf Rivers". They are huge and beautiful!

These are a rare heritage apple called “Wolf Rivers”. They are huge and beautiful!

The nutritional benefits of our humble hotshot are astounding. A medium apple eaten raw with the peel on has only 81 calories and a whopping 3.7 grams of soluble fiber. (Make sure and eat them with the skin on, most of the good stuff is in there.) It is also loaded with antioxidants, potassium, folic acid, Vit C and calcium. The amazing apple also has been shown in studies to reduce the chance of lung, breast and colon problems and consequent cancer. An apple a day really does keep the doctor away!

How does one pick the right apple out of 7500 different varieties for the dish? I once again, sacrificed myself and my husband for the good of all, and found that out. Honeycrisps are the BEST for eating and baking. They even edged out the old reliable granny smith’s. Gala’s are a pretty good all-around apple too if you can’t find honeycrisps. Macintoshes are the best applesauce apple but do not bake with them or you just get mush.

There are so many wonderful varieties of apples that are being dusted off from the past now, it is incredible to gaze upon them in wonder. The farmer’s market in Portland has a few apple farmer vendors that offer heirloom varieties that are flying back in style again. It is so much fun to taste the difference in all these apples! I recommended you do your own personal trials with apples and see what you uncover of this super hero in disguise. Start with this very simple dish to highlight the brilliance of the apple.

Gluten free apple crisp

Gluten free apple crisp

Honey Apple Crisp
This recipe can be gluten and dairy free, but not vegan due to its use of honey. If you wish to make vegan just sub maple syrup for the honey. Make sure and use organic apples as conventional apples are loaded with toxins. Serves 4-6

The fruit
4 large apples, peeled, cored and cut into slices
1/2 lemon, squeezed over the apples
1/2 cup of raisins (optional)
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of cardamom
2 tablespoons of honey

The crisp
1/2 cup of almond flour or wheat flour
1 cup of gluten free oats
A pinch of salt
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/4 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts
1/4 cup of butter or coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup of honey
1 teaspoon of pure vanilla

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and pick out a beautiful pie plate or 9×9 baking dish and lightly oil it. First, make the fruit filling by tossing the apples with the lemon juice in a mediumish bowl. Sprinkle in the raisins and spices and toss till combined then drizzle in the honey and stir till well incorporated. Arrange the apple slices in your baking vessel and set aside till you get the topping made.

To make the topping, stir the flour, oats, pecans, salt and cinnamon together till it is all blended nicely. While stirring this mix, slowly add your melted butter, then the honey till the mixture gets clumpy. Lastly, stir in your pure vanilla to make your nose dance. Pour the crumble topping over the apples and pat down so it fills the crevasses of the apples. Tuck in the oven to bake for 20-25 minutes till the topping is just starting to get golden and a knife easily slips into the apples. Try not to buzz about at the end of the baking as honey and nuts burn quickly. Serve with ice cream or vanilla yogurt. (of course)

Enjoy the fruits of the summer….in sangria

September 1, 2015
Sangria is a great summer drink

Sangria is a great summer drink

All this talk of drought has made me thirsty! I’m off my soapbox and mixing up a drink to quench my thirst. (Can you say short attention span?) I am going to take a left turn here and talk about a very spirited subject instead of a hot one.

I recently attended a very gentle summer birthday party where the sun glimmered through the trees and sparkled off a pitcher of blood red sangria. I was struck with the beauty of this drink with all the fruit of the season floating in it giving it the quintessential flavor of summer. No summer is complete without at least one pitcher of sangria to enjoy.

Sangria is a wine punch that was born in Spain close to the time of Christ’s birth which is kind of interesting cause the word “sangria” means blood, or the color of blood. It is also interesting because very first beginnings of sangria were from roman soldiers who invaded the region 200 years earlier and stained the earth red with the blood of the locals. It was those soldiers that planted the first red grapes that sangria is made from.

The Romans not only introduced grapes to Spain but also their spiced wine that they loved to drink. The water was well known for being as dangerous as the swords of the Romans so they drank wine instead. It was watered down a bit and spiced heavily with herbs and exotic spices that they just happened to have in their rucksacks. The Spanish got even more creative and added luscious fruits from the area and sangria was born.

As the years went by and the Romans faded back to Rome with their rucksacks full of spices, sangria was made with just fruit. After all the Spanish had abundant fruit to spare and into the sangria it went! A lovely wind brought sangria to the shores of America in 1964 where it was served at the World Fair in New York and has been a sensation here ever since.

I highly recommend making your own sangria as it is as easy as falling off a slippery log. The pre-made sangrias are full of corn syrup, other unmentionables and made with poor wine. It is well understood that a marginal wine can be made better by turning it into sangria but I suggest you use a good wine, not the best, but a good mid-shelf wine to make sangria. The best wines to use are fruity dry wines like zinfandel, Syrah or a Malbec. (I like to use a zinfandel like Clos Du Bois, which is surprisingly good and a great value at around $15 a bottle.) If you want to follow in the steps of the Spanish try making it with a Tempranillo, Garnacha or a Roija.

Sangria is probably the most adaptable recipe in the world as it takes wine, fruit, fruit juice, a little sweetener and possibly some brandy. Done. Now get creative. You can even make a “sangria blanco” with white wine of your choice. The sky is the limit to experiment with this wonderful wine drink. I recommend serving it in wine glasses with ice and maybe a sprig of mint. I have shared a couple recipes for you to rift off of or try just as they are. Enjoy the fruits of the summer….in sangria.

Sangria!

Sangria!

Classic Sangria
Makes about 8 servings. Feel free to add any fruit that is laying around, I added a peach. (no bananas please)
1/2 cup of water
1/4 -1/2 cup of honey (depending on how sweet you want it)
1 bottle of dry red wine such as Syrah or zinfandel
1/2 cup of orange juice (Fresh squeezed is best!)
1/2 cup of brandy
1/2 cup of an orange liqueur like Cointreau or orange curacao
1 orange, cut into wedges, peels on
1 lemon, cut into wedges, peels on
1 lime, cut into wedges, peels on

Add the half cup of water and honey to a small sauce pan and warm up till the honey is completely dissolved. Add that mix and the rest of the ingredients to a pitcher and chill for at least 3 hours and preferably overnight. Serve over ice, fruit and all.

NW sparkling berry sangria
Makes 12 or so servings. If you want to get really creative, make juice ice cubes the night before by filling an ice cube tray with pear or apple juice and a few berries per ice cube and freeze overnight. If you use these ice cubes in your sangria it will not get watered down. Tricky huh?

1 firm pear, cut into wedges
1 peach, cut into wedges
A couple pints of berries like blackberry, blueberry or strawberries
1 cup of a pear brandy like Clear Creek (Local and delicious!)
1 bottle of a good crisp rosé (Stoller and Ponzi make good ones)
1 bottle of a sparkling wine like prosecco or Lambrusco

Mix the berries, pear, peach, brandy and rosé together in a pitcher and set in the fridge overnight to chill and marry the flavors. When you are ready to serve, pour the bottle of sparkling wine into the pitcher with the brandy mix and serve immediately with ice.

Altering climate change, one carrot top at a time

August 10, 2015

“When we think about threats to the environment, we tend to picture cars and smokestacks, not dinner. But the truth is, our need for food poses one of the biggest dangers to the planet.” National Geographic on the future of food.

Carrot Top Pesto

Carrot Top Pesto

I think it is safe to say that our climate is changing. This is a tough subject that even though it is talked about a lot, there doesn’t seem to be much being done to change it. I think that is because everyone is a little at loss on what we can do to avert this. I know I am. But it has come home to roost here on our lovely coast and it is time to talk about how it affects us, our food and what we can do about it.

Everything about our food is tied to climate conditions. Our agriculture and fisheries are highly dependent on specific climate conditions to flourish. We see those changes all around us as our ocean warms and our rain and snow become elusive. The tomatoes may love it but there are many ancient ecosystems that have been in place for hundreds of thousands of years, that don’t.

Organic carrots and look at those tops!

Organic carrots and look at those tops!

On top of this concerning climate change is the looming fact that humans are thriving and the population of the world is expected to increase by two billion more in the next 30 years. That is a population increase of more than 35% to our already weighty footprint. So the million dollar questions are how are we going to feed our population and not ruin this fragile planet? And what can the individual do to make a difference?

National Geographic recently did an in-depth study into this very challenging subject and have come up with some pretty good answers to these questions. They have a 5 step plan on feeding the world and lowering our impact on our environment that is quite frankly brilliant. It is a very practical and thoughtful strategy that I want to share with you here over the next few articles as this is a very important subject that affects everything; our planet, our wildlife, our food, our children and ourselves.

To start up the great plan to save the world, I thought I’d share this wonderful recipe for carrot top pesto in the spirit of reducing food waste. It was developed by a London chef, April Bloomfield, for those carrot tops that we all toss in the compost. If you have never nibbled on a carrot top, there is a happy surprise waiting for you. They have an earthy, spicy flavor to them (and a bit bitter too) that you will find plenty of places to use them. I treat them like herbs and sprinkle them in salads or add them to stir fries and marinades. What a delicious way to improve our climate.

Carrot Top Pesto with Cheese and roasted carrots. Not the prettiest dish but delcious for sure!

Carrot Top Pesto with Cheese and roasted carrots. Not the prettiest dish but delcious for sure!

Roasted carrots with carrot top pesto and burrata
It is easy to strip all the carrot leaves off the stem in one fell swoop. Pinch the stem near the top with the fingers of one hand. Then run the fingers of your other hand down the length of the stem from top to bottom.

The Pesto

2 cups of lightly packed carrot leaves, stems discarded, roughly chopped
A small handful of fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup of nuts such as walnuts, filberts or pine nuts
1/2 cup of parmesan cheese, finely grated
1 garlic clove, quartered
1/2 tsp of a flaky salt like Maldon’s or Kosher
1/3 cup of really nice extra virgin olive oil

Pesto is made very easily in a food processor and if you do not have one, go buy one. (You can also make it in the blender but just make sure and chop everything a bit finer before subjecting your blender to it.)

In your handy dandy food processor add the carrot tops and basil and pulse a few times. Then add the nuts, cheese, garlic and salt and pulse several more times then process full on while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Stop and scrape down the sides occasionally till the pesto is blended well and beautifully fragrant. Taste and season with more salt if you fancy.

The carrots
20 small carrots, about the size of your fingers, scrubbed but not peeled. Leave 1/2 inch of the green tops on them. If they are big, cut them in half
3 Tbs of very good virgin olive oil, divided
A few pinches of Kosher or another flaky salt and pepper
1/2 pound burrata cheese or marinated fresh mozzarella balls
A handful of carrot top leaves

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees with a rack in the center. Pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a heavy roasting pan big enough to hold all them carrots in a single layer. Toss the carrots in the olive oil, position them to a single layer and then pop in the oven to roast, stirring every once in a while, till they are done about 10-15 minutes. Sprinkle a few pinches of salt and some pepper on the carrots and toss again. Let the carrots cool for a bit to serve.

Cut the burrata in half and arrange on a pretty serving platter. If you are using mozzarella balls, scatter them about the serving platter. Arrange the roasted carrots so they are pointing this way and that, rather rebellious like. Add 3-4 Tbs of the pesto in little dollops, here and there. (You’ll have left over pesto to use in a million delicious ways like on your eggs and in your salad.) Drizzle one Tbs of the olive oil over everything, sprinkle a few chopped nuts and garnish with carrot leaves. Serve either as an appetizer, vegetarian main dish, or a side. It does it all!

Life is a clafoutis

June 23, 2015
Cherry clafoutis

Cherry clafoutis

“Life is just a bowl of cherries, don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious” Lew Brown

Cherries just make me happy. I bought a bunch of cherries at the first farmer’s market of the season and when I started munching on them, the old song, “Life’s is just a bowl of cherries” came dancing into my head. The red juice was staining my fingers and I was chewing around the pits and spitting them out and thinking that song was spot on. Life doesn’t get much better.

We are in the height of cherry season here in the NW, with cherry stands popping up everywhere. This season is through July and is fast and furious as cherries are highly perishable. The State of Washington grows 40% of the country’s sweet cherries but what most people do not know is that Oregon has quite a history with cherries too. The beautiful and uber popular Bing cherry was developed in Milwaukie Oregon in the late 1800’s by Seth Lewelling and his Chinese foreman, Ah Bing. (It was named after Bing when he couldn’t get back to the US from China after going there for a visit.)

Beautiful bing cherries

Beautiful bing cherries

Cherries are an excellent crop here in Oregon where most of them are grown tucked in the shadow of Mt. Hood on hillsides overlooking the Columbia River. The mountain blocks most of the rain that blows in from the west, protecting the cherries from weather that would otherwise split and soften the fruit. The Willamette Valley also have orchards and there have been cherry orchards surrounding The Dalles for generations but the industry has changed over the years.

For one thing, there’s more profit in fresh cherries now. It used to be that the lag time to get the cherries from the tree to the mouth was so great that only people living around cherry orchards had that privilege. Now with planes, trucks and refrigeration much of the world gets to enjoy fresh cherries. In Japan, the Rainier cherry is considered a delicacy. They get a buck a piece for them since it is so expensive to get them there fast, but it can be done.

Life is a bowl of cherries

Life is a bowl of cherries

A generation ago, it was impossible, so the industry centered on the sugary, lipstick-red preserved concoction called the maraschino cherry. We all remember those, if only in our “Shirley Temple” drink as a child. The maraschino was originally created from Marasca, a small black cherry that grew wild on the coast of present-day Croatia. To preserve them, the ancients pickled the cherries in seawater then marinated them in a liqueur made from the Marasca’s juice and pits. A taste for the marinated Marascas soon drifted beyond the Croatian shores and an ingenious recipe was created to turn Oregon cherries into maraschinos.

Because of this, processing maraschino cherries became a big industry in Oregon during the mid-20th century. The nation’s two largest maraschino manufacturers are still located in Oregon to this day. I remember being told as a child that the maraschino cherry wouldn’t digest for 7 years in your gut. (Now who would tell a kid that?) I stopped eating them and so did many other people and the maraschino cherry fell from grace to be replaced by the fresh cherry industry.

One of my favorite ways to eat cherries, other than fresh, is in the delicate and delicious French dish clafoutis. (Pronounced “kla-foo-tee) The French have a way with food and this dish perfectly highlights the lovely cherry suspended in a custardy goodness and it’s easy! Some French bakers like to bake it with the pits in the cherries because they release an almond flavor into the dish. I prefer to pit my cherries and add a bit of almond flavor so I don’t have to worry about someone breaking a tooth on a pit! This is the one reason to buy a cherry pitter which I am eternally grateful for so that life is not the pits, just a clafoutis full of sweet cherries.

Julia Childs' cherry clafoutis

Julia Childs’ cherry clafoutis

Julia Child’s Cherry Clafoutis
This luscious dessert is super simple! To make gluten and dairy free sub almond flour for flour and coconut milk for milk. It serves 6-8 (Maybe, depending on your portions sizes)

1/3 cup of organic granulated sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup of flour
1.25 cups of whole milk (preferably the Bennet Farm’s milk)
1 TBLS of vanilla
2 tsps of amaretto (optional)
OR a few drops of almond extract
Pinch of salt
3 cups of pitted bing cherries
1/4 cup of sugar for the top
Powdered sugar (optional)

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees and butter up 6 ramekins or a ceramic tart dish. (Try not to use metal and DO NOT use a cast iron skillet it makes the clafoutis turn grey and taste like iron. As you can tell, I thought this was a good idea…once.)

This job is done best in a blender. I know Julia Childs did not make it in a blender but she would love how this turns out. Start by putting the flour, eggs and sugar in the blender and whirling on medium speed till blended well. In a small bowl, combine the milk, vanilla, amaretto and salt then slowly add the milk mixture to the egg mixture while the blender is going. When your batter is smooth pour it into your prepared dish(s) and then drop the cherries in so they are well distributed.

Tuck in the oven to bake for 10 minutes, then carefully sprinkle the 1/4 cup of sugar on top, close the oven and bake for another 30-35 minutes for the large dish and 20 minutes more for the ramekins. The clafoutis are done when they are puffed, golden and a knife comes out clean when poked in the center. Let them cool for a few minutes then sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with whip cream.