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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Smells Like Spring Spirit

We were enjoying a lovely spring tease here last week and my mind began turning to nettles. I strongly believe that our bodies, if we let them, will guide us to the foods we need for health. In the winter, I crave citrus, just when I need that extra boost of vitamin C. This time of year, as I notice the first signs of spring, my body craves green things, especially nettles, and I think it is more than a revolt against the root vegetables that have sustained us the last month or so. Call me crazy, but I think my body knows that now that the trees are beginning to bloom, a regular dose of nettles with their powerful anti-histamine properties, are just what I need to combat seasonal allergies.

Luckily, a friend with a nettle patch invited us over to meet her baby goats (that's Annabel with sweet boy-kid Eden) and pick to our hearts' content. She suggested trying to make pesto with our nettles and last night, as I was trying to figure out what to do with a bounty of cream cheese, I stumbled upon a couple recipes for savory pesto cheesecake (one with basil and another with spinach) and on went the light bulb. We have lots of delicious roasted hazelnuts from local grower Freddy Guys, so naturally they joined the experiment.

The pesto smelled and tasted like spring, all fresh and green, and even had hints of cucumber. While most cheesecake recipes call for whipping the cream cheese in mixer, adding one egg at a time, and then adding flavor components, in my dishwasherless kitchen, I am loathe to dirty both the food processor and the mixer bowl while prepping a weekday night dinner. So, once I had the pesto, I just added the cream cheese, eggs, and milk to the food processor and ran it until the mixture was thoroughly blended. The cake was airier than most cheesecakes I've made, which may have been due to using the food processor. No one seemed to mind and after a couple bites, Annabel, who had been a bit miffed when she learned earlier that I wasn't making sweet cheesecake, asked if she could have more for breakfast.

Finally, while the recipe suggests using a springform pan, my secret cheesecake weapon is my nine-inch round mold from Demarle. Like everything I cook in my Demarle pans, cheesecakes unmold perfectly every time. I may host a Demarle party here this spring. If you would like to come for some yummy food and to learn more about Demarle, let me know.

Stinging Nettle-Hazelnut Pesto Cheesecake
1 cup fine, dry breadcrumbs
½ cup hazelnut meal
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
½ cup butter, melted
3 cups fresh stinging nettles
¼ cup hazelnuts
1 large clove garlic, cut in half
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
⅓ cup hazelnut oil or olive oil
24 ounces cream cheese
3 eggs
¼ cup milk
Garnish: crushed hazelnuts

Preheat oven to 425ºF. Combine breadcrumbs, hazelnut meal, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese and butter; press on bottom and 1 inch up sides of an 9-inch springform pan. Bake for 15 minutes, then cool while you prepare the filling. Reduce oven to 300ºF.

Position knife blade in food processor bowl; add nettles, ¼ cup Parmesan cheese, hazelnuts, garlic, salt, and pepper. Top with cover; process until smooth. With processor running, pour oil through the food chute in a steady stream until mixture is blended.

Add cream cheese, eggs, and milk to food processor and process for a minute, until mixture is thoroughly blended.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour or until the cheesecake is almost set. Turn the oven off, and partially open the oven door. Leave cheesecake in oven for 1 hour.

Garnish, if desired, and serve immediately or let the cheesecake cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and chill.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Figuring Out Fennel

Fennel bulb intrigues me and I love it in salads and roasted, but ideas for how to combine its nutty licorice-ness in a cooked savory dish have alluded me. Two fennel bulbs and a chuck roast in my fridge inspired me to do a little searching on the web. A beef stew with fennel gremolata stood out, but I could see I would have to make a few changes to suit my cooking style and what I had on hand. Since I was going to be zesting an orange for the stew, I knew that I would have to make my son's favorite salad, a combination of arugula, fennel, and orange that we enjoy with Dungeness crab on special occasions.

In reviewing the recipe for the stew, I knew immediately that I would not use red pepper, both because it's out of season and because I wanted to emphasize the flavor of the root vegetables. While I have canned tomatoes in my pantry, that much tomato did not go with what I had in mind either, though it seemed that a bit of my lactofermented ketchup, with its cloves and celery seeds, would complement the dish and thicken the braising liquid somewhat. If you don't make your own ketchup, use plain tomato paste. Most commercial ketchups will add too much sweetness.

I only used four ¾-inch strips of orange zest--about half of the zest from one medium size blood orange--but that was enough to give the dish a rich orange flavor that worked well with the beef, fennel, and root vegetables. I used a vegetable peeler to remove just the orange zest, leaving behind the bitter white pith. I left the remaining strips of zest on a rack to dry. I keep the dry strips in a jar to add to dishes like this one when I don't have oranges on hand.

As I mentioned in my post about Beouf Bourguignon, when braising in my sauteuse pan, I have to keep a close eye on things as the liquid tends to dissipate thanks to the pan's large surface area. I cooked some potatoes to go with the meal and added some cooking liquid to the braise. You could do the same, or add more broth. If you're using a Dutch oven, you probably won't have this problem. Got picky eaters who don't like cooked root vegetables? Remove all the meat from the finished dish, purée the vegetables with a immersion blender, then return the meat to the deceivingly delicious gravy.

Braised Beef with Orange, Fennel  and Root Vegetables
Serves 6-8

1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons tallow
2½ to 3 pounds chuck roast,  cut into ¾-inch chunks
1 large onion, sliced
1 large fennel bulb, sliced
1 carrot, diagonally sliced
2 medium beets, sliced 
1 parsnip, diagonally sliced
3-4 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 tablespoon finely minced ginger
2 tablespoons lactofermented ketchup or tomato paste
1 teaspoon fennel seed
1 teaspoon dry thyme or several sprigs fresh
1 pint beef broth, more if needed
4 ¾-inch wide strips strips of zest peeled from one blood orange, reserve rest of orange for salad

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Melt tallow over medium high heat in a Dutch oven or sauteuse. Mix salt and pepper together in a small bowl, then sprinkle half of it generously over cubes of beef. Brown beef in on all sides, then remove from pan. Saute onion, fennel, carrot and parsnip in the same pan, adding some more tallow if necessary. When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic, ketchup, fennel seed, and thyme, cook for 2 minutes then add the broth and orange zest. Return meat to pan, cover, and bring to broth to a boil. Move pan to oven and cook until meat is tender, about 1½ to 2 hours. 

Arugula, Blood Orange, and Fennel Salad
Serves 4
juice from 1 Meyer lemon or other small lemon
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
3 tablespoons sesame seed oil
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon miso (optional)
salt and pepper
1 small fennel bulb
1 blood orange
1 pound arugula

Combine lemon juice, rice wine vinegar, oils, and miso in a jar, cover, and shake vigorously. Taste and add salt and pepper. Set dressing aside. Cut the fennel bulb in half lengthwise, through the root. Remove the core. Holding the stem end of the bulb half, thinly slice the fennel on a mandolin or with a very sharp knife. Repeat with other half. Place slices in a bowl. Section the orange, holding it over the bowl of fennel to capture the juices while you work and dropping freed orange sections in bowl. Toss the orange and fennel together--the citric acid from the orange will keep the fennel from browning. Just before serving, toss fennel, orange, and arugula with about half of the dressing, reserve the rest for another day.    

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Portland Area Home Food Production Resources

Two people ask for local gardening/food production resources last weekend...must be all the fine weather. Here are my faves. Please comment with yours!

Books About Growing Food Here
Growing Vegetables West of the Cascades by Steve Solomon
Maritime Northwest Garden Guide: Planning Calendar for Year-Round Organic Gardening by Carl Elliot and Rob Peterson

Local Organizations
Growing Gardens
Portland Permaculture Guild
Home Orchard Society
Oregon Tilth: Organic Gardening Classes
OSU Extension, Gardening
Trackers PDX

Email Lists

PDX Goats
PDX Backyard Chickens

Web Sites and Blogs
Throwback at Trapper Creek

(Nita farms and blogs out in the gorge)
Portland Nursery has a ton of gardening brochures here . I find their vegetable calendar is especially helpful.
Rainy Side Gardeners
Raising Rabbits in the Pacific Northwest
Rabbit Revolution

Local Businesses
Naomi's Organic Farm Supply
Urban Farm Store
Pistils Nursery
Portland Nursery

Sunday, February 7, 2010

New Twist on Potato, Leek & Asparagus Soup

Potato-leek soup has been with me for a long time. Most famously it was the base for an asparagus-potato-leek soup I made for President Jimmy Carter years ago, when I worked as a bookseller and he came to our store to sign a book of poetry. Back then I followed a recipe from Perla Meyer's Art of Seasonal Cooking, but nowadays I let my pantry (by which I mean, all my food storage areas: my pantry, freezer, fridge, and even my garden--I'm "storing" potatoes there now) guide me instead. I discovered a quart of spring 2009 asparagus lingering in the freezer this weekend and with the hints of spring 2010 popping up all over the place (why, Hello, Hyacinths!), I thought that would be a good addition. Annabel wanted a cheese soup, so grated cheddar went in too. (She even agreed that potatoes, as long as they were pureed, would be okay, which is a big step for a girl who has hardly let potato in any form pass her lips in three years.)

The twist? We're out of chicken broth. And vegetable stock. There's a jar or two of beef broth in the pantry, but I've always thought that beef is too rich for this soup, which has a light spring air about it, especially with the asparagus. I have been saving up chicken backs and veggie scraps in the freezer for my upcoming Stocks, Soups, and Stews class and not made any stocks for my own use lately. What to do? A friend recently asked on Facebook what she could do with the abundant whey she had leftover from making cheese. Someone suggested soup and, fortunately, I have lots of whey too. So, into the pot that went as well. I was concerned that it would add an excessively tangy flavor, but not at all. If you have "way too much whey" on hand, here's a way to use some up...otherwise, chicken broth or vegetable stock will be just fine.

2 tablespoons butter
2 large leeks, white and pale green parts sliced
2 pounds potatoes (I used German butterballs from our garden), chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 cups whey (or chicken broth or vegetable stock)
1 pound frozen asparagus
1 generous cup grated cheddar cheese
salt, pepper
creme fraiche, sour cream (optional)
bacon bits (optional)

Melt butter in a soup pot over medium high heat. Sauté the sliced leeks in butter until soft. Add the potatoes and garlic, then add enough whey to cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes or until potatoes are soft enough to mash with a fork. Add the asparagus and cook for a couple minutes, long enough to barely soften the asparagus. Remove pot from heat and purée with an immersion blender or in batches in a blender or food processor. Return the puréed soup to the pot and add the cheese. When the cheese is melted, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of cream fraiche or sour cream and a sprinkling of bacon bits.

Friday, February 5, 2010

When Life Hands You Liver...

Recently, I took a package of what I thought was pork sausage out of my deep freeze and put it in the fridge to thaw. Imagine my horror when I opened the package to find pork liver when I was supposed to make pizza for dinner that night. Yuck, right? Well, I found a pound of actual sausage, thawed it in the microwave, and my son's birthday dinner was saved. This package of liver sat in the fridge a couple days while I contemplated what to do with it. No way we were going to eat frank liver, especially pork liver, which even some liver-lovers can't abide. Liverwurst seemed like a good choice, but the recipes I found online called for ingredients I didn't have on hand or didn't want to use in an experiment that could go horribly wrong. So, in my usual idiom, I improvised. According to several of the recipes I found, you're supposed to let the cooked liverwurst age for a couple days, allowing the flavors to meld. Well, I baked this yesterday afternoon and it's half gone. Guess they liked it?

I grind most of my spices fresh--it really does make a difference. I have a dedicated pepper grinder that I use for small amounts and a coffee grinder for times when I need to grind larger amount or larger spices that won't go through the pepper grinder. Allspice is one of those. To grate nutmeg, I use my Microplane grater, one of my most used kitchen hand tools.

Braunschweiger (Liverwurst)
Makes one small loaf

1 pound pork liver
1 pork heart
1 pound unseasoned pork sausage
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves, freshly ground
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
¼ teaspoon allspice, freshly ground
¼ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly ground

Preheat oven to 300º F. If you are use a food processor for grinding, cut the liver and heart into cubes and freeze for 30 minutes, so that they will not turn to mush during processing.

Sauté the onion in a little pork fat or butter until it is soft. Sprinkle with the spices to warm them. Process the onion mixture, liver, and heart until you have a smooth purée, then add the sausage until just blended. Fry a spoonful of the purée over medium heat until cooked through to taste for seasoning. Adjust if necessary, but note that flavors will be less intense after the finished paté is cooled. I felt mine tasted to salty when it was fresh out of the oven, but once cooled it did not taste overly salted.

Pack the purée into a loaf pan and cover tightly with foil. Put the dish in a pan with an inch or two of boiling water and bake at 300º F until meat is cooked but not browned (meat thermometer should read 160-165º F), about 2 hours.

Remove baking dish from the pan of water and let paté cool in the dish. Refrigerate 1 to 2 days before using, if you can.

Deck Family Farm Meat Buying Club Intructions

The beef, pork, and poultry are raised by them, the lamb and goat by other local farmers near Junction City, Oregon, just west of Eugene. All animals are raised on pasture. The Decks follow the intensive rotational grazing method on their farm to maintain and increase the fertility of their soil and use no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, hormones or antibiotics. Their retail meat is butchered at Dayton Meats, which does not "wash" the meat in citric or lactic acid (this is done to most meat you buy at the store, even at New Seasons). I think the Decks must need to update their web site, because it says that they are "looking for a nitrate-free cure," but Christine Deck told me recently that Dayton does indeed do a nitrate-free cure.

Buying club orders are 20% off the retail price. You can order boxes as well, but they are same price as listed on the Deck web site. If there is enough interest in the ground beef, we can get the wholesale price of $4.99/pound. (The organic ground beef comes from culled dairy cows, who have received small amounts of grain during milking. The regular ground beef is from 100% grassfed cattle.)

Delivery is free. The Decks prefer payment by check at the time of delivery, though if you would like to pay by credit card, we can make arrangements for that. The meat will arrive frozen and there will be a two-hour pick-up window. Delivery is expected before noon. Pick up will be at my home, 13228 NE Eugene Street, a few blocks north of 132nd & Halsey.

Place your order by Wednesday, February 10. Please follow these instructions to order:
  1. Use the ordering page on the Deck's web site to calculate your order estimate (do not actually place your order thru their site),
  2. Subtract 20% off the retail cuts you want to order (boxes and wholesale ground beef are not subject to the 20% discount),
  3. Indicate what you would like in this form.
I also organize a food buying club, with a monthly Azure Standard drop, plus we do bulk orders of produce during the growing season, bulk meat purchases (mostly from the Decks, but some other local farms as well), and starting this year, hosting a CSA pick up site. You can join the buying club by signing up for the Yahoo group we use.