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Thursday, August 26, 2010

strawberry cosmopolitan

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the conspicuous cart

I admit to feeling a bit self-conscious when I’m trundling through Costco with one of those colossally tall bottles of Kirkland-brand vodka in my cart. I think the bottle is taller than Meredith. Whenever I’m in Costco, I’m always likely to meet several people I know, or who know me from the farmers market…  and when I inevitably do, I always imagine they are thinking “Ye gods! Does she actually DRINK all that vodka? What a lush!”

It could be worse… I’m not buying cartloads of pizza pockets, battered onion rings, microwaveable burgers, or buckets of Miracle Whip. And I’m buying that vodka to make fruity five-o-clock drinks—not to guzzle straight out of that monstrous bottle. Usually my cart is also loaded with the other necessary ingredients: limes, lemons, watermelons or peaches, strawberries or oranges, grapefruits or plums

Really, when you think of it, vodka could be construed as a HEALTH food. A drink every day is supposed to be good for your heart, right? I don’t really like the taste of alcohol, so a fruity mixed drink is just the ticket to keep me healthy. And just think of all those vitamins in the fruit! Not gonna catch ME with scurvy! 

But back to that bottle. Unless you, too, have bought one of those massive jugs of 80-proof, you have no idea how unwieldy that monster is to pour a measure of vodka into a tiny jigger. I wish they would change the shape into something more manageable. Like the Absolut Citron bottle. [Whoops! Did I just admit to buying another Costco-sized bottle of alcohol?] Anyway, if the bottle weren’t so tall, it would have two advantages. One, it would be easier to pour. And two, it might not be QUITE so conspicuous in my cart.

Here’s a drink I love to make with strawberries and the aforementioned lemon-flavored vodka. I don’t have to tell you where I get the Absolut Citron, do I?

strawberry cosmopolitans

This recipe makes enough for two strong drinks. I like to make this in the blender, with frozen strawberries—either local ones from the farmers market that I’ve frozen, or the berries from the big bags from (you guessed it) Costco. But if you have fresh strawberries you want to use, by all means do that!

8 or 9 large strawberries, frozen or fresh (don’t thaw first, if frozen)
3 ounces lemon vodka
2 ounces Cointreau (orange-flavored liqueur)
1 ounce freshly-squeezed lime juice
sweetener to taste (see recipe for sugar syrup, below)

1. Put all the ingredients except for the sweetener in the blender, and buzz until nicely pureed and smooth.
2. Taste and add sweetener if needed. I like to add a little if my strawberries are tart, but the Cointreau is sweet, as well, so taste it first.
3. If you’re using frozen strawberries you can just pour this into a small glass if you want, without ice, but I like to put lots of ice in a tall glass and then pour the drink over the top. It stays cold longer. If it’s really thick and icy when you first make it, pour it into the glass first and then push the ice cubes on top and into it. Drink with a straw, if you have it!!

sugar syrup

1 cup water
1 ½ cups sugar

1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, under the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Cool the syrup and pour into a glass jar and keep it refrigerated.

 


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Monday, August 16, 2010

raspberry rickey

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fruity drinks, sunset beach optional

For the last few years, we have taken advantage of the post-Christmas lull in bakery sales to take a vacation. (January seems to be a month to cut down on carbohydrates—even healthy whole-grain sourdough ones—in favor of salads and other New Year’s Resolution-type fare.) We have gone to Costa Rica now for two years running, and have really enjoyed the sun and warmth, beautiful beaches, fresh fruits and vegetables, and friendly people. When we are there, we rent a house near the ocean, and five o’clock every day finds us wandering down the path to the beach, fruity drinks in hand. We sit on driftwood logs, enjoying the relative coolness of the evening, sometimes chatting with fellow sunset-watchers, other times just enjoying the sounds of the surf while we attend the deliberate plunge of the sun into the ocean. If there are other children present, we also watch Meredith rolling around in the surf, filling the air with laughter and her swimsuit with sand.

This year, as our departure date loomed, and we prepared to head back to wintry Anchorage, Dan and I discussed ways to bring some of our relaxed Costa Rican lifestyle home to Alaska. One tradition we vowed to continue was our sunset drinks on the beach…  even though in Anchorage we would face challenges.

1. There is no beach in easy reach. Mudflats, yes…  beach, no.
2. We lack a dependable sunset at a useful, pre-dinner hour. In the winter, we’d be sucking down mojitos at 3:30 in the afternoon, and as for summer? We’d have to eat our dinner after midnight if we waited for sunset to enjoy our planter’s punch. 

No matter. Fruity drinks at five o’clock, no beach or sunset required. Since we have returned from Costa Rica, I have put every conceivable local and non-local fruit available into service in my explorations of fruity and alcoholic concoctions. Frozen blueberries picked in Kachemak Bay last year, strawberries from the farmers market, pear juice from the health food section of Fred Meyer, and watermelons hauled home from Costco have all been used with great success.

This recipe is one of my favorites, and I’ve just gotten to the end of the frozen raspberries we picked from our neighbors’ bushes last summer. If you don’t have local raspberries, frozen ones from the supermarket work just fine!


raspberry rickey

I think this might be my favorite drink at the moment.  It’s like having dessert first!

for each drink:

½ cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1 ounce freshly squeezed lime juice
2 ounces vodka
a dash of creme de framboise or Chambord or other raspberry liqueur
sugar syrup (see recipe below) to taste
Perrier or soda water to top up

1. Put the raspberries in the bottom of a tall glass. If they are frozen, let them thaw. Moosh the berries up with a fork until they are reduced to a rough and seedy paste.
2. Add the lime juice, vodka, raspberry liqueur and a splash of sugar syrup and stir well.
3. Add ice cubes to fill the glass, and then top up with bubbly water. Stir well and taste it, and add more syrup to taste.
4. Serve with a straw. This drink works best with a straw, because you can suck up all the yummy raspberry morsels through the straw. If you don’t have a straw, all the raspberry bits get stuck at the bottom below the ice cubes.

sugar syrup

1 cup water
2 cups sugar

1. Combine water and sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally, under the sugar is completely dissolved.
2. Cool the syrup and pour into a glass jar and keep it refrigerated.

 


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Thursday, August 27, 2009

cornmeal pancakes with blueberries

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the biggest egg

This story begins almost four years ago, when Dan and I and Meredith were driving over to the Hillside trails one day. Two-year-old Meredith was bundled up in the back, in preparation for a ride in the ski pulk. Suddenly, we drove by a row of three large peacocks perched on the berm at the side of busy Birch Road!  What the….? Peacocks? In the wintertime in Anchorage? I pulled over to investigate. Obviously we should inform the owners that their peacocks were on the run. We backed up to the nearest driveway, and pulled partway in, where we came to a gate with a charming sign warning us that miniature horses were at large on the property. We weren’t sure what to do… open the gate and go in? Or just trust that someone with miniature horses at large were probably comfortable with their peacocks on the loose? We figured that the peacocks were probably fine, and drove off for our ski. Ever after that, whenever we drove by, we would look for the peacocks, but we never saw them again. We thought that when Meredith got a little older, maybe we could stop by and ask to see the flock.

The following summer, we were helping a friend publicize a big community park party. She asked me to hand out invitation flyers to houses in the neighborhood. I agreed, but requested the half-mile of road where we’d seen the peacocks. This was my chance! Meredith in the jogging stroller, we sped through our assignment, and finally reached the last house…  the peacock house! We let ourselves in through the gate, making sure not to let any miniature horses escape. Lucky for us, we got to meet wonderful, warm, friendly Mary Bolin! Not only did we get to see her peacocks, but the peahens, miniature horses, regular horses (with a brand-new foal!) and chickens, too.

Now that we know Mary, we run into her all the time. We see her at the farmers market, shopping for her week’s vegetables, and she is a huge supporter of our produce box CSA program (she even buys boxes for her friends at Christmastime). One Saturday, she gave Meredith a HUGE egg—a PEAFOWL egg!! We were so excited about this egg. For several days Meredith just wanted to save it and make nests for it. (Mostly it stayed in the ‘fridge, but it would come out for little adventures in various bowls lined with napkins and washcloths.) A week later when we saw Mary again, we confessed we were having trouble imagining actually cracking the egg to cook it.  She suggested that we blow the egg out of a hole so we could keep the shell! What a great idea! That made us all happy. Dan rummaged out this great German egg-blower that his mom had sent us at Easter a few years back, and we finally got to try it out! It worked like a charm!

We didn’t want to scramble just one egg, and fried or poached were definitely out, so we just ended up making delicious pancakes with it. Dan and Meredith will very often make pancakes together on Sunday morning, to relax after the busy bake and Saturday farmers market…  and the peafowl egg made it even more special!!

It’s been several weeks since the pancake-making episode, and to my astonishment, Meredith has not yet broken the egg shell! And to add to the excitement, Mary mentioned the other day that one of her peahens is broody and is sitting on a clutch of eggs! Wouldn’t it be amazing to get to see a tiny pea-chick in a few weeks? I hope they hatch!

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cornmeal pancakes with blueberries

This recipe is only slightly adapted from a great one in the King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking book. Dan and Meredith make this recipe just about every weekend, so he has the recipe memorized. Usually.

½ cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup milk
1 egg
½ cup whole wheat flour (pastry flour, if you have it)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Place the cornmeal in a medium bowl. Pour the boiling water over it, stir the mixture thoroughly and let stand for 15 minutes. This step allows the cornmeal to absorb the water and it will be like polenta at the end of 15 minutes. Stir in the melted butter, then beat the egg into the milk and add to the cornmeal mixture.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour and sugar, baking powder and salt. Add the try ingredients to the cornmeal mixture and combine with a few swift strokes. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes.
3. Heat a nonstick griddle if you have one, or a heavy skillet. When the surface of the pan is hot enough that a drop of water sputters across it, grease the surface lightly with vegetable oil on a paper towel, the spoon the batter onto the hot surface, ¼-cup at a time. Sprinkle blueberries over the surface of the pancake. Let the pancakes cook on the first side until bubbles begin to form around the edges, about 3 minutes. These pancakes take a little longer to set than most. You may need to adjust your heat up or down to get the pancakes to cook through without scorching the surface or being too pale. When the cakes are set through the center, fluip them and let them finish cooking on the second side, until they’re golden brosn, 1 to 2 minutes more. Serve immediately with syrup and butter. (We love to use the Alaskan Birch Syrup from Kahiltna Birchworks.)


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Thursday, August 13, 2009

toast with nut butter and raspberries

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the berry bug

Our neighbors called just as we were finishing dinner and invited us over to pick golden raspberries. It was almost Meredith’s bedtime, and not long before my own… but we couldn’t resist! Meredith has been at Blueberry Camp with her preschool class all week, so she was especially jazzed.  “I’m a better berry picker than you, Mom, since I’ve been practicing on blueberries all week!”

Just between you and me, she would be hard pressed to be a better berry picker than I. I inherited a berry-picking compulsion (or is it a learned behavior?) from both of my parents, so I have a hard time dragging myself away from a bush (or a hillside or forest, for that matter) if there is still a berry left. Three summers ago, when Meredith was but a small and tiny mite, there was a banner blueberry year in Kachemak Bay. In a couple of weeks, I picked 40 gallons of blueberries (high-bush), mostly during Meredith’s morning and afternoon nap-times, all around our cabin where I could hear her cry when she woke up. Not that I’m obsessed or anything. Ha.

Even so, I didn’t dissuade Meredith from her delusion that she might be a better picker than I am. I humored her, because I want to encourage this sort of behavior, not crush her with my berry-picking ego. Berry picking is soothing and contemplative, and I love it. I do hope Meredith catches the berry bug, too. It’ll serve her well in the future: filling the freezer and emptying her mind, all at the same time.

THANK YOU, Kari & Wade, for letting us pick your raspberries! As you can see, we enjoyed the berries for breakfast on toast with nut butter. Meredith got especially creative with her design!

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toast with nut butter and raspberries

Not exactly a recipe…  just a wonderful breakfast this time of year, when the raspberries are ripe in backyards. It also makes a fabulous afternoon snack! We always use our own Rise & Shine bakery whole grain sourdough pan loaves for the toast, but any sturdy whole-grain bread will work just fine.

And here’s how I like my almond butter. I love roasted almond butter (not the raw kind), and I like it a little bit salty, like peanut butter. Most almond butters don’t come salted—but it’s easy to mix in salt when you’re stirring in the separated oil when you first open the jar. If you don’t prefer almond butter, use peanut butter, instead! That’s what Meredith had this morning.

slices of whole wheat sourdough bread
almond butter (I prefer roasted and salted) or peanut butter
raspberries

Toast the bread, and spread it with nut butter. Get in touch with your inner pastry chef and decorate the nut buttered toast with raspberries. Eat with more raspberries on the side, if you like. Sip tea or coffee between bites. Enjoy pure bliss.


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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

watermelon gin fizzes

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biting off more than I can chew

Do you grind your teeth at night? I’ve done it since I was very small—I ground my baby teeth completely flat. My mom could hear me creaking and gnashing as I slept, unaware. Even though I’ve worn my night-guard faithfully every night since I was fourteen (I can’t go to sleep without it), the grinding has caused serious damage over the years. Apparently, one’s enamel can only hold up so long to such abuse.

A few weeks ago I went in for my annual dental exam, and learned that in addition to the two crowns (complete with root canals) I already possess, I’m looking at getting four more in the next few years. My teeth are splintering from decades of grinding. Now I know why my dental floss keeps breaking—the sharp edges of cracked enamel are slicing right through it.

I came home and thought about this. A lot. This seemed like an important message.

Looking back, after I quit my office job three years ago, I devoted myself to a series of projects dear to my heart: the bakery, the farmers market, the CSA, and the Alaska farmers market non-profit. But I realize I bit off more than I could chew. Maybe because I can’t seem to digest these monstrous mouthfuls during my waking hours, my sleeping body chomps and gnashes away all night, trying to masticate them into manageable morsels.

Instead, I’m just reducing my molars to rubble.

So I’m working on more effective ways to chew and swallow my outsized mouthfuls, and I’m learning how to take smaller bites in future. I’m finding the joy in letting go of projects that will be fun for others to undertake, and I’m learning to say “no thank you” to extra obligations.

I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to STOP grinding my teeth; after all, I’m asleep when I do it. But I’m hopeful that by slowing down and simplifying my life as much as I can, I will reduce the pressure on myself, and in turn, on my molars.

I’ve been ruminating on this post for a while now (please forgive the dental puns—I promise this is the last), and was stumped for an accompanying recipe. But then I thought of the perfect solution: refreshing and delicious Watermelon Gin Fizzes! First, they require no chewing. And second, these drinks send a clear message: “RELAX! TAKE A BREAK! STOP WORRYING!” If you aren’t into alcohol, just skip the gin—these yummy drinks are wonderful either way. Just make sure you sit down and relax when you drink yours. Sip slowly and imagine melting into your chair.

watermelon gin fizz

The idea for this drink came from an Eating Well magazine a few summers ago.

important notes:
1) You can get all the ingredients for this drink from Costco in the summertime.
2) I like to put my gin in the freezer, and everything else in the refrigerator (ginger ale, watermelon if it’ll fit, and limes). If you think of it ahead of time, you can even stick your pint glasses in the freezer.
3) You can add 1 or 2 ounces of gin, to your taste.

ingredients for 4 drinks:

half of a large (preferably seedless) watermelon
several limes
1 can ginger ale
gin
ice

1. Cut the watermelon in half and cut the rind off the outside with a sharp knife. (Be careful not to cut yourself—this is sort of an unwieldy process.) Cut the melon into approximately 1-inch slices, then cut the slices across so you have tall columns, about 1 inch square. (Take out the black seeds, if there are any.).  Reserve a few pieces of watermelon for garnish, if you want.
2. Put the lid on your blender, but remove the little insert in the middle of the lid (or just keep the lid off—but it will be messy).  Turn your blender on, and while it’s going, slide the strips of watermelon through the lid and pretend you have a juicer. At first, you’ll want to cover the top up with your hand so the juice doesn’t spray out, but after you’ve got several pieces in, it doesn’t make such a mess. When you’ve got a blender-full of juice, puree for about a minute, to really pulverize the pulp.  Pour the juice into a pitcher and keep going until you’ve got as much juice as you want. (You can freeze the juice for later if you want to blender the whole watermelon now and make more drinks next week.) 
3. If you kept some pieces of watermelon for garnish, cut them into cubes. 
4. Squeeze several limes to get at least ½ cup of juice.
5. You can make everything ahead up to this point.  Just make sure and put everything back in the ‘fridge until you’re ready to serve the drinks.

To make the drinks:
Put a handful of ice cubes in the bottom of a (preferably chilled) pint-sized glass. 
Add to the glass:

1/3 cup ginger ale,
2 tablespoons lime juice, and
1 to 2 oz. of gin (to your taste) in the glass. 
Fill to the top with watermelon juice.

Garnish with watermelon cubes and sip in the sunshine! 


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Monday, May 04, 2009

rhubarb crisp

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My rhubarb is up!

Rhubarb, that harbinger of spring…  or for those of us living in Alaska, of summer! We’re thrilled to see it poking up out of the ground! I know, these little crinkled leaves don’t look like much, but once they get going, the stalks really shoot up! Since not very many types of fruit grow in Alaska (and strawberries and raspberries are still a long way off), we’re happy for any fruit-like substance that can eke out an existence in our backyards.

We’re even more excited than usual, because of the unusually warm and sunny weather we’ve had these last several days. Everyone I know has gone stark-raving mad, capering about in the sunshine and soaking up the rays as much as ever they can. I think we’ve gotten more sun this past week than most of us got in all of last year’s cold and rainy summer. Oh, does it feel good!

But rhubarb popping up in the garden does come with a certain sobering responsibility. Suddenly, I remember that I have several bags of sliced rhubarb in the freezer from last summer. And if I don’t use it up now, before the next crop comes in, I’ll be even more overwhelmed with rhubarb than usual. My rhubarb plants are divisions of my mom’s, planted over thirty years ago. I have no idea where they came from, but they are wonderful, with fat, tender, cherry-red stalks that produce all summer long (if I make sure to break off the flower stalks as they come up). If I’m not diligent about cooking and eating rhubarb and processing it to freeze, the plants are likely to overwhelm the entire front of my house.

So! We’ve been eating rhubarb crisp, apple-rhubarb crisp, rhubarb coffee cake, and rhubarb-apple pie. Here’s my recipe for rhubarb crisp, in case you still have some in your freezer from last year…  and a variation with apples that I like even better. But if your house is in danger from being overtaken by a rhubarb plant, I recommend the former recipe. It uses more rhubarb.

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rhubarb crisp

When the rhubarb is coming on strong, it’s time to take decisive action. This recipe is based on one from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone.

half or all of the recipe of the crisp topping, below (to your taste)
10 heaping cups rhubarb, sliced into 1-inch pieces
2 cups sugar
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a small pinch of ground cloves (don’t go overboard here)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the topping and set it aside.
2. Combine the rhubarb with the sugar, flour, and spices. Coat a large gratin dish with oil or non-stick spray. Pour the fruit into the dish.
3. Bake, uncovered (without the topping), for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven. (You can do this step earlier in the day if you’d like.)
4. An hour or two before you’re ready to eat the crisp, sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 more minutes, or until the juices from the fruit are bubbling and the topping is brown. Serve hot or warm.

rhubarb-apple crisp

half or all of the recipe of the crisp topping, below (to your taste)
1 ½ pounds apples, peeled and cored
2 pounds rhubarb, diced into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
¼ cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
a small pinch of ground cloves (don’t go overboard)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Make the topping and set it aside. Dice the apples, then put them in a bowl and toss with the remaining ingredients. Pour the fruit into a 2-quart gratin dish.
2. Bake, uncovered (without the topping), for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.
3. An hour before you’re ready to eat the crisp, sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit. Return to the oven and bake for 25-30 more minutes, or until the juices from the fruit are bubbling and the topping is brown. Serve hot or warm.

crisp topping

This recipe makes enough for 1 heavily-topped crisp, or 2 lightly-topped crisps. Make this recipe, and if you like a light topping, use half and freeze the rest until you want to make another crisp. Or use the whole amount of topping on one crisp.

Another note: the Loriva walnut oil is really fantastic; it’s roasty and toasty-tasting and very rich. Don’t bother using refined walnut oil, because it doesn’t have much flavor and the recipe won’t be nearly as tasty. Use butter, instead. If you don’t want to use walnuts, replace the nuts with an additional ½ cup of rolled oats.

6 tablespoons Loriva toasted walnut oil or melted butter
½ cup brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup flour (whole wheat or white flour—whichever you prefer)
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup chopped walnuts
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Combine all ingredients so you have a crumbly, moist mixture.


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Friday, December 12, 2008

green salad with pears, fennel & pear vinaigrette

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cooking with kids

This time of year, we all have so many traditional sweet treats to make—for our friends, family, and ourselves! I remember making lots of special holiday cookies with my mom when I was little. Some that come to mind are the spritz butter cookies that I loved to squirt out of the press in green wreath shapes and decorate with red hot candies, the krumkake that we made in a special waffle iron and then rolled around a wooden cone, and the peppermint-flavored dough that we rolled into pink and white snakes and then twisted into candy-cane shapes. For a few years, my mom even made rosette cookies, with the heavy iron molds she dipped into the cookie batter and then deep-fried in her electric wok. Remember those? Dusted with powdered sugar, they left a grease slick on the roof of my mouth… With all those fond memories, plus plenty more of my own favorite cookie recipes, it’s pretty easy to think of holiday treats and cookies to make with my four-year-old, Meredith. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

But why do we only think about including our kids when we’re making treats and sweet things? I didn’t learn how to cook until I went to college—my mom didn’t think to include us kids when making dinner—I think she just wanted to get dinner on the table, and didn’t need us underfoot. So in the interest of teaching Meredith to cook healthy, delicious meals (not just desserts), I try to include her in all sorts of cooking projects. She’s not always quite as interested in making a salad as making treats like graham crackers (eating raw dough is one of her favorite hobbies), but there is almost always a fun part in even the most ordinary meal. If I’m not rushing to finish lunch or dinner, I’ll ask if she’s interested in helping. And usually she is—for a little while, anyway!

My greatest inspiration for Meredith-inclusive cookery is my friend Cate, who writes a fabulous blog about cooking with kids: Tribeca Yummy Mummy. She is all about including our kids in cooking real food—using real, raw ingredients, and making meals and FOOD, not just treats. Thank you, Cate, for encouraging us to raise our expectations of what we assume our kids are interested in, and are capable of doing in the kitchen!

For this salad, Meredith chopped up the pears for the dressing with a table knife, helped measure the rest of the dressing ingredients into the blender jar, and then picked pomegranate seeds. (Oh, and then she helped eat it!)

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green salad with pears, fennel & pear vinaigrette

This salad is one of my absolute favorites—and it’s great with winter pears. It’s based on a recipe from Annie Somerville’s Everyday Greens. I love fennel, but the key to eating raw fennel is slicing it really thinly. It’s quite a tough vegetable when raw, so if the slices aren’t thin, you really get a jaw workout. I use a mandoline—a fancy slicer that allows me to get paper-thin slices—but if you’re careful to use a very sharp knife and take your time, you can get thin enough slices by hand. (If you want more justification for buying a mandoline, see my recipe and story for the cabbage & fennel salad with apples & raisins.)

The dressing is really fun, too—it’s just pureed pears with some pear vinegar and a little olive oil and salt. SO tasty, though, and it’ll keep for a couple of days in your refrigerator if you have leftovers. I’ve found a couple of different brands of pear vinegar in grocery stores and specialty stores in town, but if you can’t find any, you can substitute 4 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar and 2 tablespoons apple juice.

Dressing

1 medium pear, peeled, cored, and chopped coarsely
6 tablespoons pear vinegar
½ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
sugar, as needed

Place the pear in a blender with the vinegar and salt; puree it until smooth. Drizzle in the oil while the blender is running. Taste for salt and sweetness. If your pears weren’t very sweet, you might want to add a little sugar to the dressing, or you can add more olive oil to tame the vinegar’s sharpness. Refrigerate until ready to serve the salad.

Salad

2 large heads of lettuce, or about 10 cups of baby salad greens
1 large fennel bulb, cut in half, cored, and sliced very thinly crosswise
1-2 ripe pears
Optional garnish in winter: ¼ cup pomegranate seeds

1. Wash and dry the greens and make the dressing.
2. When you’re ready to serve the salad, cut the pear(s) in half, cut the core away, and slice thinly.
3. Put the greens and fennel into a bowl and toss them with dressing to your taste, then add the pears and toss gently. Arrange on individual plates, and if pomegranates are in season, top with their seeds. 

 


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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

strawberry & mint salad with honey-balsamic dressing (with pear and peach variations)

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late-season laissez-faire gardening

By the end of the summer, the Alaskan produce is finally coming on like gangbusters! Were eating lots of greens from my husband Dan’s small but nevertheless chickweed-choked vegetable patch. The garden is surprisingly productive, considering that we never seem to be able to keep ahead of the weeds during the late summer. I guess it’s a combination of the extra rain helping the weeds, and our reduced gardening motivation. We’re always on top of it in the early summer, providing a healthy environment for the little seedlings to grow—weeding, thinning, watering obsessively. Then, as the months go by, and the plants are growing nicely, a more laissez-faire attitude sets in—I imagine it’s like parents with grown children. Watering is rarely, if ever needed, and we’re just harvesting at this point—not doing much tending. “Come on, you great, lazy heads of lettuce! You’re big boys now! You can compete with that hedge of chickweed!”

In honor of those giant heads of lettuce, that somehow do overcome the encroaching weeds, I’m sharing a recipe for our favorite salad that we love to eat all summer. You can use different fruits throughout the summer, but the funny thing about strawberries here in Alaska is that we can get great ones even into September if the weather has been cool like this summer! You can substitute ripe peaches for the strawberries, or ripe pears in the fall; in that case, top with toasted almonds and omit the mint. It’s wonderful, too!

strawberry & mint salad with honey-balsamic dressing (with pear and peach variations)

This recipe is a variation on a recipe in Audrey Alsterberg and Wanda Urbanowicz’s Rebar: Modern Food Cookbook. If you’re skeptical about putting fruit in a dinner salad, this recipe will change your mind. If you can get really sweet, fragrant strawberries, there is no reason to eat anything other than this salad until the strawberries run out.

When the strawberries run out, use peaches and pears, as the season changes. Just omit the mint and add a generous garnish of toasted almonds. (Toast them for 15 minutes in a 350 degree oven.)

If you want to serve this salad with something else, try it with any kind of a sandwich or toast with a topping. I tend to like eating so much of this salad for dinner that a nice fat slice of whole grain sourdough toast drizzled with olive oil is all I really need.

dressing

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
½ large white or red onion, minced very fine
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
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1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Whisk all the dressing ingredients together, except the oil. Slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. Season with more salt and/or honey to taste. I usually make a double batch of this and keep it in the refrigerator—it lasts quite well. If the dressing separates, just bring it to room temperature and whisk it back up to combine.

strawberry salad

3-4 cups ripe, fragrant strawberries
2-3 stalks fresh mint
10-12 cups of leaf lettuce or baby greens, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces

1. Cut strawberries into slices.
2. Pick the leaves off the mint, wash them, and just before serving, chop them finely.
3. Fill a big salad bowl with the greens. Toss with dressing to your taste, add the mint and strawberries, toss once more, and serve immediately.

pear or peach salad variation
I eat this salad with pears throughout the fall, so I toast trays-full of almonds at once, and make double batches of the dressing to store in the refrigerator.

3 ripe, fragrant pears or peaches
1/2 cup whole almonds
10-12 cups of leaf lettuce or baby greens, washed, dried and torn into bite-sized pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Toast the almonds for for 15-20 minutes, until fragrant and perfectly golden-brown inside. (Bite one in half to check!) Chop the nuts coarsely.
2. Core fruit and cut into slices.
3. Fill a big salad bowl with the greens. Toss with dressing to your taste, add the pear or peach slices. Toss once more, top with almonds, and serve immediately.

 


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