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My favorite kitchen tool: a sharp knife. If asked if I have a tomato corer or a garlic peeler or an onion chopper, I just pull out my ten inch chef’s knife. No gadgets for me. Kitchen gadgets just take up space, and I am not willing to share my limited space with silly little unitaskers. If the item only serves one function, it does not deserve a spot in my kitchen.

 

I honestly don’t remember much from culinary school, (sad) but I use my knife skills daily, so that alone almost makes the money spent worthwhile. Almost. I remember as the instructor of Cooking 101 passed out the black knife bags complete with straps and zippered pockets. I opened my brand new knife kit, ripping the Velcro straps apart to reveal shiny steel blades in evenly spaced pockets. I reached in to pull out one of the shimmering blades, and sliced my finger open. Stupid boning knife. The giant bandage on my hand certainly reminded me to act with caution around these tools during the first few weeks.

 

But, sharp knives soon changed from alien beings that I feared to absolute necessities that I could not cook without. Learning how to cut quickly, cleanly and correctly takes time, and lots of practice, but makes such a huge difference in all cooking. Food cooks unevenly when cut unevenly, herbs bruise when minced with a dull knife, and bread just squashes into a lumpy mess instead of falling into clean slices. Expensive knives are not necessary; my favorites are Forschner brand, only about thirty dollars for the larger knives. Very reasonably priced for tools that last for years.

 

Why am I talking about knives when the title of this post is carrot, cauliflower and coconut curry? Because the vegetables need to be sliced thinly and evenly so they cook evenly. Such an easy dish to make, don’t ruin it with giant, uncooked clumps of cauliflower! Take the time to really prepare all your ingredients, as the dish is so fast and easy to cook. I chopped up everything first, then started heating the pan.

Carrot, Cauliflower and Coconut Curry

Serves 2 to 3 people

1 Tbsp vegetable oil

1 tsp sesame oil

4 large cremini (or button) mushrooms, quartered

1/2 cup thinly sliced onion

1 cup carrots, peeled, thinly sliced on a bias

1 cup thinly sliced cauliflower florets

1 14 oz can unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tbsp green curry paste (Green is my favorite, it is vegetarian and the ingredients include ginger, garlic, and lemongrass, yum! Red and yellow curry pastes will also work. If you are sensitive to spicy foods, start with just a bit of the curry paste, and taste as you go. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out!)

2 green onions, sliced on a bias

Heat a wok or large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the vegetable oil and then the mushrooms. Cook until the mushrooms are golden brown. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onions and sauté until softened. Add the sesame oil, garlic, carrots and cauliflower. Reduce heat to medium and add coconut milk and curry paste. Cook until sauce bubbles vigorously and thickens, and vegetables are crisp/tender. Stir in green onions. Serve with brown rice, rice, coconut rice, rice noodles, soba noodles, whatever you have!

 


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Yoga and Quinoa

My sister, the graphic designer, the yoga-student, the vegetarian, the concert-obsessed, does not cook. She can heat leftovers or make herself a bagel or cheese sandwich or burrito, but if it requires more than five minutes of prep time, she gives up. So many sad little recipes wanting to share their nutritious, delicious flavor combinations with her, but they remain only pretty photos and lists of ingredients, never to experience the real world.

So, when her yoga instructor announced to the class that their final would include a potluck of vegetarian dishes, guess who little sister ran to? Great guess, her big sister, the chef and professional home kitchen-messer-upper. She asked me to make a quinoa salad I prepared for her friend’s wedding a year ago. She promised to in return do the dishes, and she did not go back on her word. She returned from the yoga class with a huge grin stretched across her face and demanded that I add that recipe to my blog, as several people had requested the recipe. So, finally, here is the much requested recipe for quinoa and black bean salad with jalapeño vinaigrette.

Quinoa Salad with Jalapeno Vinaigrette

1 cup quinoa (I used red, but regular quinoa works just as well)
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, cleaned and small diced
3/4 cup Jalapeno Vinaigrette
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
3 green onions, chopped
1 cup halved grape tomatoes
1 Tbsp minced cilantro

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water. Add the quinoa to the boiling water, reduce heat to medium high and boil for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Stir occasionally. I under cook it slightly because it will soak up the dressing and soften more over time. Not a fan of mushy quinoa! The grains will puff up and be tender, but they should still have a bite to them if cooked properly. Drain the quinoa well, then return it to the pot it was cooked in and add the vinaigrette, black beans green onions and chopped bell pepper. Mix well and refrigerate, uncovered, until cooled. Add the tomatoes and cilantro, stir to combine, and add salt and pepper to taste. I like this salad a little saucy, so I sometimes stir in a little more vinaigrette before I serve it, but that is just a personal preference. My sister prefers it drier! I also like to add corn, but my sister doesn’t like it, so I left it out. Feel free to experiment and add other ingredients, that is the best part of cooking!

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Picture taken by Daniel Finucane of River Rock Photography. Use him! http://www.riverrockweddings.com/

I am a married woman! I also work at a new job (banquet chef at a Portland brewery) and live at a new address. The last few months involved insane amounts of planning, packing, lifting, running, stressing, worrying and just plain ol’ craziness. Very, very glad only memories remain from that period of my life. Still, I could have fit in time for blogging if I really tried, but the real reason I slacked so much on my online recipe sharing: I finally felt happy. Sounds strange, right? Honestly, I started blogging because I needed something to feel good about. The same routine every day, the same people driving me insane, the lack of creative control at my job, it all put so much pressure on me that I needed an escape, any escape, to feel in control again. I love my job so much now; I no longer get stress headaches or scream at my fiancé (now husband!) just to release the rage. I actually get to make food that I like, I write my own recipes and menus. Love, love, love it. I started focusing more on creating recipes for my new banquet menu at work, and still continue to work on that gigantic project. Never-ending, but in a really great way. Finally, my little sister/roommate started pestering me to jump back into blogging (I think mostly to test her title of official taste tester of all meat-free items) and here I am, back at the keyboard again. Now that I am here, I wonder why I ever stopped. Oh yes, that’s right. I need to measure stuff when I cook if I want to post the recipe. Not really my thing. I prefer to just throw things together and taste test as I go. That method doesn’t translate well for those who haven’t spent years in a professional kitchen, however. Oh well, I guess I will dust off the measuring cups and spoons shoved in the back of my kitchen drawers. Here is a recipe for a vinaigrette that my husband made for a salad we served to some friends, and it was such a hit, they all asked for the recipe. So, we made it again, and measured the ingredients this time. We then served it to my family, and even my spice-hating mom fell in love. She said she will never buy bottled dressing again!

Jalapeño Vinaigrette

So simple to make, and it lasts for a long time in the refrigerator if you want to make a large batch. You can also make this in a blender, just add all the ingredients except the oil, blend well, and then slowly drizzle in the oil with the motor running. I use vegetable oil, I find that olive oil can get bitter when blended too much, and just over powers all the other flavors. I skipped the detail cutting on this batch by using the blender, as you can tell if you look at the picture!
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
1 cup oil (vegetable works fine, or plain olive oil, not extra virgin though, too strong)

Combine all ingredients except oil in a bowl. Whisk the oil in slowly, until completely combined.

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My good friend bought a new house this year with ten acres of land. The property came with a tractor and also acres of strawberries. Her husband loves the tractor so much, he jokes that they bought a tractor and got some land for free. Boys and their toys! I prefer the strawberries myself. The most generous soul on the planet, my friend let her friends (including me, yay!) pick the berries and take them home for free. What an opportunity! If only my apartment freezer could hold more . . . oh well. I picked a good quantity of the large, red berries (although not so sweet this year, way too much rain) and enjoyed the sunshine with my friend. I took the berries home and de-stemmed the ones that escaped my fingers during the drive. I froze some in freezer bags, and also made a batch of my favorite freezer jam. Ok, so this jam includes sugar, which I am trying to avoid, but I just had to make it anyway. Everything in moderation, right? Sometimes I just need a piece of toast with homemade jam, or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I rush out the door. At least I can proudly say I made this jam myself, I even picked the berries myself.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

Yields 5 (8oz) half pints

Buy the Ball brand No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin. The recipe is on the package!

4 cups crushed strawberries

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 package Ball No Cook Freezer Jam Fruit Pectin

Stir sugar and contents of package in a bowl until well blended. Stir in 4 cups of crushed fruit. Stir 3 minutes longer. Ladle jam into freezer jars and top with lids. Let stand until thickened, about 30 minutes.

My mom never buys jam, she just stocks her giant freezer full of homemade jam during the summer. Blackberry jam, strawberry jam, raspberry jam, jam from any kind of berry she can get for a reasonable price. As a child, I always hated helping Mom pick berries. The sun beating down on me as I squatted by the low plants (we always picked berries on the hottest day of the year), slowly filling the pint containers, my fingers stained with juice. I hated squishing the berries with sugar and feeling the dribbles of sugary juice hardening on my arms as I worked. Hot and sticky work. But even then, I knew the importance of this task. My summer labor filled a freezer full of berries and jams, ready for the rest of the year. When I moved out of my parents’ house eight years ago, I immediately started to miss the huge, icy, over-stuffed freezer in my parents’ garage. A little apartment freezer just doesn’t hold nearly as much. I drifted away from making my own products, and started to get lazy at meal time. Now, I am trying to return to my roots, and trying to keep my freezer full to bursting with as much as I possibly can. My next challenge (which scares me, I’ll admit!) canning!

A photo from work of a dessert using local strawberries. Not at all healthy, but definitely delicious! I threw some strawberries in a blender with mascarpone cheese, powdered sugar and some heavy cream. Super fast strawberry mousse in only a couple of minutes! You just have to watch it carefully, to make sure the cream doesn't overwhip, because then you would have sweet, strawberry-flavored butter!

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My sister, a vegetarian, loves the bean and cheese burritos we ate growing up. A flour tortilla spread with canned refried beans, sprinkled with grated Tillamook cheddar, micro waved for a minute and rolled up. An easy recipe even my sister can make! (Just kidding, Diana!) Very simple and ingenious, but I associate canned refried beans with the taste of vomit. I just can’t stand them. I also prefer to stay away from shortening-filled, white flour tortillas. I love corn tortillas, which typically consist of just corn masa, water and salt, but sometimes I just want a burrito.

I decided to try a fat-free whole wheat tortilla recipe with my kind of ingredient list: short! Just whole wheat pastry flour, water and sea salt. The fewer ingredients and steps included in the recipe, the more likely I am to try it. If you love store-bought white flour tortillas, this recipe may take some getting used to. I love the nutty taste of whole grain products; I will always choose whole grain over white when presented with an option. So, this recipe worked out perfectly for me. Simple, quick, easy and no added fat.

Finish off the tortilla with some of my favorite items: pinto beans, queso fresco, and avocado pico de gallo. A yummy, slightly more time-consuming version of the menu staple of my childhood. Not that time-consuming if you think ahead though! I soak the beans overnight, cook a large batch, and use them throughout the week in many applications. I can do that, because of my love of beans, but cooked beans also freeze well if your family or stomach complains of bean overload. The rest really comes together quickly, although I am less likely to attempt the long versions of these items during hot summer days. The less I turn on the oven or stove top, the better. Prepare for many blog posts involving green salads and fresh fruit during the summer!

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Yields about 4 large tortillas

1 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

1/4 tsp sea salt

Directions

In a large bowl combine the flour and 1/2  cup of water. Mix well. Add more water if needed, to get the mixture to a dough consistency. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is soft. Make it into balls (4 to 6 depending on size). Roll each ball out as flat as possible on a floured surface.  Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the rolled out tortilla to the pan and cook for about 45 seconds to 1 minute or until it is bubbling and starting to brown. Then turn it over and cook for another 45 seconds. Wrap each tortilla in a clean kitchen towel as soon as it comes out of the pan.  Serve immediately. These tortillas are better freshly cooked, they don’t reheat as well.

Fill with warm, cooked pinto beans, queso fresco and avocado pico de gallo. Enjoy!

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I usually spend a lot of time planning and preparing for family holidays and special occasions. This Father’s Day, however, I decided to go simple. What better than burgers? I make fun of my dad constantly for single-handedly keeping McDonald’s in business. He loves the coffee drinks, and the hamburgers, and the cashiers know him by name. I would understand his fast food fascination if he experienced few home-cooked meals at the kitchen table. But, his wife (and professional chef daughter!) keep his stomach full (if not fat, those who know him understand!). So, I really see him as my biggest challenge. I may never convert my family to live a fully organic lifestyle, but can’t I at least reduce the number of fast food napkins in the glove compartment?

I love great burgers, but so few I eat actually fall under that category. I don’t like burgers super-huge and beefy, I enjoy not feeling sick after eating one! So, the first step in my burger-making day included a trip to New Seasons. I picked up ground beef, ground pork, organic buns (made with beer!), tomatoes, pickles (finally, a source for the elusive organic pickle!) and locally grown red leaf lettuce.  Including ground pork in the burgers always gives them a flavor I prefer. More levels of interest for my tongue, and not as heavy. The combination, plus the high quality of the meat, made my brother ask for the ingredients in the recipe. After I recited the list he said “Really, no Worcestershire or anything?” I guess it sounded too simple! Two of my brothers even asked for seconds. Not that strange, considering their bottomless pit stomachs, but still flattering!

Beef and Pork Burgers

Yields 8 four-ounce burgers, but feel free to go smaller or bigger! (I prefer smaller myself)

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 tbsp garlic powder

1/2 tbsp onion powder

1/2 tbsp kosher salt

1 green onion, thinly sliced

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix evenly and well, but be careful to not over mix. The more you mix, the tougher the meat becomes. Form into 8 patties and refrigerate. Preheat the grill (or a sauté pan, if you lack an outdoor grill, or just prefer a house perfumed with tasty burger aromas!) over medium-high heat. Add the burgers to the grill, and do not touch. Burgers only need one flip! The more you mess with them, the more juice they lose and then they dry out. They are also more likely to fall apart. Let the burgers cook, untouched, until they look about half done. They should lift easily off the grill with a spatula at this point. If they have to be forced, they are not ready yet. Flip the burgers and continue cooking until they are done. Because pork is included in this recipe, the burgers should be served well done. Add cheese (if desired) just before they finish cooking, and serve on a bun with your favorite condiments.

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See that large metal grain bin? My dad made that! Yes, I am a proud daughter who enjoys bragging about how her daddy made the thing with Bob’s face on it  outside of Bob’s Red Mill. My dad designs and repairs feed mill equipment for a living, which I never understood the appeal of (smelly, hot, physical, not my kind of job . . . but wait, that describes my job perfectly! I guess I am a daddy’s girl!). I did help him out when I was younger, for less than a week. I could not take more than that! My “helping”  included  screwing large nuts and bolts into large, metal grain bins, in the pouring rain, and complaining about it constantly. I remember shivering in clothes completely soaked through, and screwing small pieces of metal into larger pieces of metal with numb fingers. But, I also remember the rides to and from Bob’s, talking and laughing with my dad, telling stories and planning where to stop and eat. I remember my brother helping my dad operate the crane, and standing in awe as they lifted giant sheets of metal into the sky. I remember touring the mill with Bob, meeting the other employees, and eating a brown bag lunch in the cafeteria with the piano in the corner. I remember feeding the ducks in the pond, smelling the musty air in my dad’s service truck, shopping in Bob’s little store, and  buying some oatmeal or rice flour for my mom. Great memories about a place that I now frequent as a customer. I feel like I contributed in some very small way, to building a part of my favorite store/restaurant.

We visited Bob’s on Saturday for breakfast, the best breakfast anywhere, ever. Tender biscuits, perfectly cooked over-easy eggs, and the best part, the hash browns. Crispy on the outside, perfectly seasoned and not greasy at all. You can really taste the freshness of everything, and how much love goes into every menu item. I ordered my new Saturday favorite, the hash brown casserole with biscuits. Way too much food for one meal, but to go boxes exist for a reason, right? My boyfriend prefers the classic hash browns, eggs and toast, a little boring for me, but no menu item at Bob’s disappoints. We left with to go boxes stuffed with breakfast for the next day, ready to enjoy the sunshine.

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Pork tacos for my employees today. I insist on serving them pork even when I know plenty of leftovers always end up going to the mission on our donation days. I love pork so much, I can’t help but try to bring others to my side with a spicy, shredded pork taco, or a tender sandwich oozing barbecue sauce. Funny how many of them don’t eat “swine” (as my banquet manager says!). Religious, cultural or vegetarian reasons prevent so many people from partaking of my favorite meat. I try to share my love of pork with as many people as possible, but so many resist. I really don’t eat much meat, and except for a really great burger, I can usually do without cows. However, I can’t imagine life without a juicy, brined and seared pork tenderloin, still slightly pink on the inside. Whether sweet and salty, with a tart-sweet fruit sauce, salsa or chutney, or thinly sliced with homemade cilantro-lime aioli on a whole wheat roll, it always leaves my taste buds dancing. Most recently, my favorite cut of meat shared a plate with a fresh mango salsa and wonderfully quick couscous. A popular combination that I never tire of, though the type of fruit I use varies with the season. If you can find a local or organic pork tenderloin, grab it while you can, and enjoy one of my all-time favorite dishes.

Another version of pork tenderloin with mango salsa I did a couple of years ago. I told you I love this combination!

Maple Syrup Brine for Pork

1/4 cup real maple syrup

4 cups very cold water

1/4 cup kosher salt

Combine all ingredients, stirring well until salt is dissolved.

Seared Maple Pork Tenderloin

Yields about 4 servings

1 pkg pork tenderloin (about 2 lbs)

1 recipe Maple Syrup Brine

olive oil

sea salt and black pepper to taste

Place the pork in a large container and cover with the brine. Marinate in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours, but no more than 12 hours. More than this will cause a chewy texture and an ultra-salty piece of pork.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Remove the pork from the brine and dry it off gently with paper towels. Season the pork with salt and pepper. Heat a large, oven-proof  sauté pan over medium high heat. Add a small amount of olive oil to the pan. Make sure the pan is very hot, it should be almost smoking, but not quite. Add the pork gently, with tongs, being careful not to splash any oil. Leave it along for a couple of minutes, until you can start to see the pork browning. You want a nice, golden brown color. Flip the pork carefully, and cook the other sides until it is evenly browned. Place the pan in the preheated oven, and cook for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the internal temperature reads 145 degrees. I prefer my pork still slightly pink in the middle, but not bloody. Let the pork rest for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing to allow the juices to redistribute. Serve immediately.

I like to turn any leftovers into sandwiches, with homemade aioli or barbecue sauce and any veggies I have lying around. Just thinly slice the meat and serve any way you wish. Also great in tacos!

Mango Salsa

1 mango, peeled and small diced

2 tsp cilantro, minced

2 Tbsp red onion, minced

1/2 ea jalapeño, minced

1/2 tsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

1/4 tsp crushed red pepper

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

Also great with pineapple instead of mango, or add some red bell pepper or cucumber, or anything else that sounds good to you! Have fun and experiment.

And an appetizer version I made at work with cranberry chutney.

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A month straight of Oregon rain really starts to get depressing after a while. I actually love the rain (as long as I’m not stuck walking in it!), a good thing considering where I live. I can’t stand hot weather, and the more rain I see, the longer I get to avoid hot, sweaty, sleepless nights. But, after a dreary May filled with windstorms and flooding, the sun finally burned through the clouds and even I rejoiced.  I ignored the pile of soaked socks in the laundry basket and skipped past the sink of dirty dishes. I could not stay inside on such a lovely day. No, today needed celebration, sun and food. Time for a picnic. The refrigerator still bulged with leftovers from the Mexican fiesta we threw for my boyfriend’s family, so I decided on a menu not involving the traditional sandwiches and salads. I grabbed as many ingredients from the refrigerator as I could, and chopped them up into a couple different salsas. A bag of organic corn chips, a couple of bottles of water, and a picnic table next to the river completed the meal. We feasted on avocado pico de gallo, mango-radish salsa, tomato-cucumber salad, and slices of juicy mango. Yes, my boyfriend asked for meat as I pulled the food from the cooler, but as he polished off the last salsa-topped chip, he admitted he did not even have room for a chicken wing. The sun continued to shine as we walked along the river and as I took some time to photograph the nature around me. A wonderful day, a wonderful meal, and a small dent in the products in the refrigerator. A very productive and mood-lifting day!

Avocado Pico de Gallo

Yields about 3 cups

1 avocado, peeled and small diced

4 roma tomatoes, cored and small diced

1/4 cup minced red onion

1/2 jalapeño, seeded, stemmed and minced

2 Tbsp minced cilantro

1 tsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

Mango-Radish Salsa

1 mango, peeled, and small diced

4 large radishes, stemmed and small diced

2 Tbsp minced red onion

2 tsp minced cilantro

1/2 jalapeño, minced

1/2 tsp olive oil

Juice of 1 lime

Sea salt and black pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and serve immediately.

I added 1 diced roma tomato to this when I made it, but I prefer it without. I just needed to use up some tomatoes fast!

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Growing up, Sunday mornings meant cold cereal. We looked forward to those mornings because our parents made them special. We never ate cold cereal any other day of the week, just Sundays before church. The rest of the week Mom cooked us pancakes, waffles, hash-browns and eggs, applesauce oatmeal, Scottish oatmeal, Cream of Wheat or breakfast burritos. I laugh now, remembering that we thought the processed, boxed cereal beat out the other homemade treats. Strange kids. Now I prefer any other option, including oatmeal, but with that silly thing called a job, I find few mornings with time for measuring cups, sauté pans or even boiling water. I just don’t like getting up any earlier than I need to! So, I typically make the most important meal of the day a bowl of granola. But, have you ever read the ingredients on a box of the stuff? And the healthier options just get me even further into debt. My version below includes olive oil, flax seeds, maple syrup, all my favorite ingredients! I added applesauce to reduce the fat content (plus, the applesauce really helps to create wonderful clumps, the best part!), and used maple syrup and honey as the sweeteners. And I know with every bite exactly what I am getting.

Granola - Before baking

I love that you can really make a granola recipe your own, as long as you keep the proportions of liquid to dry ingredients correct. Feel free to experiment! That is the best part of cooking. I didn’t add dried fruit to mine because I just don’t like it that much, but definitely add some if you are a fan!

Cinnamon-Almond Granola

3 cups rolled oats

2 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp sea salt

1 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut

1 cup Scottish oatmeal (you can substitute quick oats, or just add more rolled oats. Do not use steel-cut oats)

1/2 cup golden flaxseed meal

1/2 cup golden flax seeds

1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

1/2 cup applesauce, very smooth (I used my recipe and pureed the applesauce in a food processor. Chunky applesauce is yummy, but doesn’t work as well as an oil substitute!)

1/2 cup real maple syrup

1/2 cup honey

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine the oats, spices, salt, coconut, Scottish oatmeal, flaxseed meal, flax seeds and almonds in a large bowl. In a separate bowl combine the remaining ingredients and mix well. Thoroughly mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Spread the granola evenly on the prepared baking sheets. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, stirring well every 15 minutes. The granola should be very golden brown when done. If you like it extra clumpy, as soon as you remove it from the oven, place another sheet of parchment paper on top of the granola and press down firmly and evenly. Remove the parchment and let the granola cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

Granola - After baking

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I finally found time to for a trip to my local farmer’s market! Not even the lively Oregon rain could keep me away this time! I can’t wait for all the summer harvests of corn, berries, tomatoes and stone fruit! But in the meantime, I found huge displays of tasty root vegetables and leafy greens. I didn’t buy much this time (I need to clean out my refrigerator first!) but I couldn’t ignore the rainbow of carrots, baby turnips and beets. I love waking up early and having a fresh carrot to crunch on! No comparison to the grocery store variety. So much sweeter and crispier.

I also picked up a quesadilla from the Canby Asparagus Farm booth for my boyfriend. Filled with cauliflower, a rainbow of bell peppers, onions, zucchini, grilled chicken, and of course, asparagus, this local treat always satisfies. The way they throw the cheese directly on the grill until it melts and gets a little crispy, plus their chipotle-spiked salsa, really makes this quesadilla special. It gets a little messy if you try to eat it with a plastic fork while you walk, but who cares? Can you really wait until you arrive home?

I started my morning with a bowl of homemade granola and organic milk, so I skipped the market lunch, but did pick up a marionberry lemonade. They squeeze the juice right in front of you, and offer endless combinations of fruit to add to your tart-sweet drink. Very refreshing, even in the rain!

Find a farmer’s market near you and support your local economy!

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If you live in the Portland area, you need to try Pambiche. Great Cuban food at reasonable prices and fabulous desserts as well. I don’t eat out often anymore, but when I do, I try to make it mean something. I prefer to support the local businesses as often as possible. No one makes a better Cuban sandwich than Pambiche (not a lot of Cuban competition around here) and they serve it with salty-sweet-crunchy tostones (fried plantain chips) and banana ketchup. But, I can’t always justify going out to eat, when I can replicate the results in a satisfactory manner at home.

I woke up a couple of days ago craving a Cuban sandwich slathered in yellow mustard and dripping melted swiss cheese. I tried to ignore the craving and decided to start my morning with homemade granola and a walk. I spent the morning walking the Springwater Corridor, but not surprisingly (I do live in Oregon, don’t I?), ended up getting rained out. Luckily, I found myself on Milwaukie Avenue by the QFC grocery store as raindrops pelted my ponytail. I decided to look around, and found a good selection of organic options. Well, for May in Oregon, anyway. I also found the Draper Valley chicken that I serve at work, but could not locate in local grocery stores. I felt satisfied with my purchases as I exited the store with a natural pork shoulder (very hard to source organic meats! Come on pig farmers!), a pack of organic ham, organic swiss cheese and some whole wheat buns. Oh, and a jar of pickles. Not organic, but cravings for Cuban sandwiches compare to cravings for chocolate or ice cream. Not easily ignored. A Cuban sandwich must include pickles! This summer I promise to can tons of my own kosher dill pickles, but until then, I find myself at the mercy of the grocery store shelf. I arrived home with my treasures, and immediately stuck the pork in the oven. Now, many fancy recipes for pulled pork exist, but when a Cuban sandwich craving strikes, I prefer to go the quick route. Cut the excess fat from the meat, rub it generously with kosher salt, throw some water in the pan and let it go.  Ok, so not the quickest route, as the pork takes about 3 to 4 hours in the oven. Most alternatives take longer though! Finally, several hours later, I sat down to enjoy my yummy, pork-stuffed creation. Worth every minute of preparation, and definitely satisfied my Cuban craving. Only problem, I woke up the next morning with my mouth watering for more salty ham, tender pork and tangy pickles stuffed in whole wheat bread. At least this time my refrigerator already held all the ingredients I needed! Maybe by the end of this week I will tire of the combination. Maybe.

Help! The pan of applesauce is crushing me!

Pulled Pork

1 piece of pork shoulder (mine was about 3-4 lbs)

kosher salt

water

Cut the excess fat from the meat, the more fat you remove, the leaner the pork will be. Rub generously with kosher salt and place in an oven-proof dish. Add about an inch of water, and cover with foil. Bake at 300 degrees for 3 to 4 hours, or until the pork easily shreds apart when touched. If you have to force the pork to shred, it has not cooked long enough. Remove the pork from the liquid immediately (be careful, it will be hot and should fall apart easily), and cool briefly. When cool enough to handle safely, shred with your hands or with two forks. (I prefer my clean hands, a chef’s best tool!) Refrigerate until completely cool (under 40 degrees) then cover and store in the refrigerator. If your pork shoulder is bigger, it will take longer to cook. A full-sized pork shoulder can take as long as 12 hours. Just pay attention to it and check it occasionally for tenderness.

Cuban Sandwich

Yields 1 sandwich

1 whole wheat hamburger bun or other whole wheat roll

2 thin slices of organic Swiss cheese

2 thin slices of organic ham

2 tbsp pulled pork

2 baby dill pickles, thinly sliced

organic yellow mustard

olive oil

Preheat a sauté pan over medium low heat. Spread both cut sides of the bun with yellow mustard. Add a slice of Swiss to each bun half, then a slice of ham. Top the bottom bun with the pork, and then the pickles. Add the top bun. Add a teaspoon of olive oil to the preheated sauté pan. Add the sandwich, then top the sandwich with a piece of foil and something heavy to press it. (I used the pan of homemade applesauce I had cooling on the stove!) Cook for a couple of minutes, or until the bottom of the sandwich is golden brown. Make sure the heat isn’t too high, or the sandwich will burn. Keep an eye on it. Flip the sandwich, and repeat the process with the foil and heavy object. Cook until golden brown. Remove from the heat and serve.

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I fell in love with a Mexican . . . cheese! Yes, my boyfriend hails from DF, or Mexico City for all the non-Spanish speaking folks. He introduced me to fresh Mexican cheese, or queso fresco. Great on tostadas, enchiladas, tacos, taco salads, taquitos, pretty much anything with jalapenos or cilantro included in the recipe. Beats the heck out of greasy shredded cheddar. Cheddar has its applications as well (a grilled cheese sandwich with gooey, sharp white cheddar and garlicky kosher dill pickles, yum!), but when cooking Mexican food, nothing beats fresh queso fresco (kind of redundant, huh?). It doesn’t really melt, but caramelizes if baked in the oven or under the broiler. Yummy! One problem, it never goes on sale! Once and a while, maybe, by fifty cents. Pretty expensive stuff. And when I started to shift my eating habits more towards the organic options, I couldn’t stand the thought of cutting out my new favorite cheese. So, I researched my options the way I always do, online. I found plenty of recipes for homemade queso fresco, and they sounded so easy, I wondered why I never thought of it before. I tried it out with some organic milk, and sure enough, it turned out wonderfully! And so easy to make. I can now make my own organic lime and sea salt queso fresco, with my own spin and control over sodium and preservative content. I am so in love with this cheese, that the other cheeses may start to get jealous. Oh well, I may have one great love, but I can have some fun on the side once and a while, right? I mean you, cheddar!

Lime and Sea Salt Queso Fresco

I adapted this recipe from the recipe on this website.

Yields about 1 cup crumbled queso fresco

1 qt whole milk, do not use ultra pasteurized

1 lime, juiced

1 tsp sea salt

Heat the milk in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until the milk almost comes to a boil. Tiny bubbles should  form around the edges of the pan, but do not bring the milk to a full boil. If you use a thermometer, the milk should reach about 195 degrees. Add the lime juice. Stir and then remove from the heat. Let sit for about 10 minutes. The curds should start separating from the whey almost immediately.  After 10 minutes, stir and then pour the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined strainer. (There are uses for the whey if you want to save it). Sprinkle the curds with the sea salt. Gather the curds in the center of the cheesecloth, and form it into a loose ball. Top it with a plate and some weights (canned food works well) to help with the draining/firming process. Refrigerate (make sure there is a bowl under the strainer!) for a few hours until the majority of the whey has been pressed from the cheese. Remove the cheesecloth and store the cheese in the refrigerator in a covered container for 5 to 7 days, depending on the freshness of the milk.

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If you read any of my other blog posts, you will notice the word mom mentioned many times. This post continues my theme of mom-inspired creations, which may never end. Sorry if you tire of hearing about this wonderful woman, but her hard-working example in the kitchen made me who I am today, a lover of food, cooking, and all things culinary. She ruined me for many things, including her famous apple pie (I may never even attempt to replicate her specialty) and also pancakes. Rarely did her pancakes drip with maple syrup. Her homemade oatmeal pancakes came with a variety of toppings. Applesauce, peanut butter, berries, jams, whipped cream and her simple berry syrup made from apple juice concentrate, frozen berries and corn starch. Mom taught us to cook as soon as she could, and pancakes topped the list of items we enjoyed helping her make. No Krusteaz or Bisquick for her, just a few fresh ingredients in a bowl and an electric griddle. It is her fault I am a pancake snob. Yet, I am sure she would not complain about me blaming her for that. I never order pancakes from a restaurant. Restaurant pancakes rarely taste like anything other than white flour and grease from the over-used griddle. Spongy rounds of dough made from prepackaged mix do not appeal to me. Why buy them when I can make them better? I often say that I never make the same recipe twice. I enjoy experimenting and trying new versions of the same classics. However, I found my new favorite pancake recipe a few days ago. A recipe destined to fulfill my pancake cravings for years to come. No more searching the internet in vain for new pancake inspiration. I found pancake heaven. Filled with whole grains, low in fat and sugar, and even great reheated! My kind of recipe. They may even threaten the popularity of the homemade waffles that typically fill my freezer. I adapted this recipe from Flaxseed Meal Pancakes from Bob’s Red Mill. When looking for a whole-grain recipe, I typically start with Bob’s. I highly recommend anything with his smiling, bearded face on the label.

Golden Flaxmeal Pancakes

Yields 12 each pancakes

1 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 tsp sea salt

3 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 cup Scottish oatmeal

6 tbsp golden flaxseed meal

1 1/2 cups organic milk

2 tbsp real maple syrup (no fake sugar syrup!)

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

olive oil

Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder and cinnamon. Add the oatmeal and flax-seed meal. In a separate bowl combine the milk, maple syrup, egg and vanilla. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry, and combine. Do not over mix, or the pancakes will be tough. The batter should still be lumpy. Heat a non-stick skillet (or electric griddle or whatever you cook your pancakes) over medium heat. Drizzle one teaspoon of olive oil in the pan, and then add the pancake batter, in 1/4 cup portions. Flip when the edges of the pancakes start to dry and bubble. These pancakes may take longer to cook than the typical pancake recipe, because of the whole grain ingredients. Cook the pancakes until cooked through (the pancake should feel spongy and springy when you touch the middle of it). Do not flip the pancakes over again! Flipping them again will only dry out the pancake. This goes for all pancake recipes. Remove them from the heat and continue with the rest of the batter. Eat immediately, or refrigerate for a quick breakfast later in the week. Much better fresh, of course, but I don’t feel like cooking at 4:30 in the morning, so sometimes I make a huge batch of these and grab one as I run out the door. Great bus stop food! Minus the toppings, of course.

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I hate peeling. Anything. Anything at all. I will cut up fruits, veggies and meats all day long, but I cannot stand peeling. Not a great thing, considering my profession. Dishwashers and prep cooks peel for me at work. But who peels at home? Well, usually, no one. I buy mostly Yukon gold potatoes and use them skin-on, the same for apples, pears, and almost anything else. Even carrots I cut up to use in stocks or sauces, peel on. Most of the nutrients reside on the outer surfaces of produce anyway, so my laziness translates into more nutrition for me! Yay! I really do prefer the taste and texture of fruits and vegetables with the peel on, in most instances. But, through experimentation I found one item in which the peel only takes away from the result. Applesauce. I do not mean the nasty baby food purée sold in jars on supermarket shelves. Gross. I mean homemade, tart and chunky applesauce with just the right amount of cinnamon. Unsweetened and untouched by chemical processes. If only someone would peel the apples for me. A freezer full of homemade applesauce waiting for me year-round? Heaven. I remember helping my mom with this freezer staple on sweltering summer and early fall days. Fine, “helping”. My definition of help included whining about how much I hated peeling apples, moping, and taking early tasters from the finished batches. Mom did not especially appreciate this kind of help. She told me if I wanted to snack, to make my own applesauce and not eat the batches she just slaved over. She also reminded me of how much I enjoyed eating the applesauce on my pancakes, waffles and french toast during the winter months. If I wanted to partake of those treats in the season where produce only comes from the grocery store, I must help her. I grudgingly agreed, and proceeded to sulk as I peeled endless mounds of green, red and yellow fruit. I appreciated all this effort when breakfast time arrived, and a pile of oatmeal pancakes topped with applesauce appeared on the table. Just hard to remember when elbow deep in apple peelings. Mom always microwaved the batches, but I remember how many boil-over issues this caused, which also led to the dreaded microwave cleaning. Ever tried to scrub cooked-on apple bits from the inside of a box? I do not recommend it. I prefer the stove top version. More time-consuming, but less mess. I love this applesauce stirred into oatmeal, as a sweetener for granola, with yogurt, breakfast foods (as mentioned before), topped with toasted nuts or simply by the spoonful. Not even close to the store-bought version, and outside of the peeling, very easy as well.

Cinnamon Applesauce

Yields 4 servings (If you can share!)

4 ea apples (I used organic Fuji apples, but almost any tart apple works. Combinations work best. Granny Smith, Gravenstein, etc. Just please do not use Red Delicious. More like Red Flavorless)

1 cup water

1 tsp cinnamon

Peel and quarter the apples. Core the quarters and cut each quarter into four pieces. Add apple pieces to a large pot. Add water and cook covered over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until apples soften and mush when stirred. Add more water if necessary. The cooking process can take up to an hour and a half, just be patient and keep and eye on the pot. Add the cinnamon and stir well. Remove from heat, cool slightly and serve immediately. The applesauce can also be made in large batches and refrigerated or frozen. Great to make when apples are plentiful in the summer and fall.

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