Friday, July 31, 2009

Tzatziki sauce

I got to work Wednesday morning to find the air conditioning broken. It was going to be 107 that day.

I waited around for about an hour, getting some work done, but mostly feeling just too hot to concentrate. Then I walked home, where the little AC unit we have was keeping our apartment at a tolerable 85 degrees, so the cats didn’t evaporate. I put on a pair of Ben’s old boxer shorts and a tank top, turned the AC up a little stronger, and sat down at the computer to log into my work account. There I worked, at home with the blinds drawn to block the sun and cats jumping in, and then back out of, my lap. They stayed only a few minutes in my lap at a time, deciding it was too warm to share body heat.

This past week we broke heat records around the Portland area and the weather was the topic on the tip of everyone’s tongue. And why wouldn’t it be? The weather here becomes extreme for maybe two weeks out of a normal year – for about a week in the winter when it snows maybe an inch or two, or when the mercury dips below 32 while it’s raining and we get a layer of ice over everything, and for about a week in the summer when the breeze refuses to blow and the temperature shoots above 100.

We make jokes about things like frying eggs on the sidewalk, but mostly we complain about not being prepared for any of it – not enough sand trucks in the winter to even hope to make a dent in the ice on the roads, no one owning air conditioning for their homes in the summer – and in both instances, life slows to a snail’s pace. Not wanting to expose ourselves to the extremes Mother Nature bestows upon Portland, we hunker down, choose carefully only those things that need to be done, and wait…

This too shall pass and we will be once again enjoying mild summer sunshine with cool, breezy evenings. And the topic of everyone’s conversation will shift as the weather once again falls into the background of life.
I know this is all temporary, but I have to admit, I’m getting a little antsy to be back in the kitchen again. The blinds stay drawn, making for a rather dark living and cooking environment, and, for that matter, we’ve been trying desperately to keep cooking to a minimum.

But, in all honesty, sometimes the need to cook a certain way leads one to expand their cooking repertoire, to break from the norm. In hot weather, there’s no better way to eat than mimicking how those who live in hot climates. So, this week, we cooked up a crockpot full of black beans and ate burrito bowls with home-made guacamole. We lived Mediterranean-style with Greek salads (complete with our home-grown spinach!). And what goes better with Greek salads than tzatziki sauce?

I pulled out the hand-written recipe my friend Sara had written down for me in college – a tzatziki sauce recipe from a cookbook of her mother’s. The recipe is as close as I’ve ever had to the real thing outside of Greece (and let me tell you, I’ve had my fair share of bad, Americanized – and even Germanized, tzatziki sauce). At the time she copied it down, in her distinctive handwriting, we didn’t know it would be almost a perfect replica of the tzatiziki sauce would enjoy together many years later at the ‘piggy’ restaurant in Athens (that was our pet name for the restaurant that had a pig as it’s ‘mascot,’ for the lack of a better term). I love now the irony that it was her who passed this recipe onto me.

Tzatziki sauce
Don’t be intimidated by this sauce – it really is easy to make. If you don’t have fresh dill, the dried stuff is okay too, but use less because it is usually stronger dried than fresh. I didn’t quite squeeze the cucumber dry because I wanted more cucumber taste, but you can use your own discretion when it comes to how much cucumber juice you want in your sauce.

2 cups yogurt cheese (see note and picture below)
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, grated and squeezed dry
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients into a bowl and mix well. Store in the refrigerator for up to a week – I saved the yogurt container and used that to store it – and it tastes even better as the ingredients have a chance to blend a day or so.
Note: To make “yogurt cheese” spoon a 32 ounce container of plain yogurt into a coffee-filter or cheese-cloth-lined strainer. Set the strainer over a bowl and let stand in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (or overnight). Discard the liquid. (see my picture above) I used Trader Joe’s Greek Style yogurt, though, and I don’t think I really needed to do this step, because the Greek Style yogurt is already really thick. So, if you get a good, thick yogurt, you could possibly skip this step.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Drunken cherries and berries

The Oregonian published an article recently on preserving sweet cherries, with one of the recipes calling for Rainiers and wine. Wine and cherries? Ben and I were sold.

We already had berries and cherries on the brain, so we added this idea to our list of weekend preserving projects.

This is the time of year when you can’t decide which berries to eat. When you want to buy at least a pint of every type of berry at the farmers market. But if you did, you would eat berries all week and still never make it through all of them – red raspberries, white raspberries, blueberries, gooseberries, blackberries, marion berries, and even currants, all fill the market. Marion berries are my current favorite – they are the sweetest, softest, juiciest blackberry you will ever eat. They, unfortunately for those not living in the Pacific Northwest, are primarily unique to this area, and, like the hood river strawberries, are too delicate to make it past the local markets.

We set to work this weekend, our refrigerator filled with fruit. We made marionberry jam. We made blueberry jam. Then, we heated some cheap wine in a saucepan with lemon zest and sugar, brought it to a boil, reduced it, and poured it into the quart canning jar, already filled with fresh bing cherries. We did the process all over again, but this time, Ben filled two quart-sized canning jars with marion berries. I poured the heated wine into the jars and sealed them tight. They will be delicious over ice cream. They will be delicious over just about anything and even delicious over nothing! I also imagine folding them into some kind of baked good, such as scones or muffins. We also made pickles, using Ben's grandma's recipe of garlic, dill, and vinegar.

If you have never made jam, don’t be intimidated by it. It is actually really simple. You can even buy pectin that allows you to make sugar-free or reduced-sugar jam. I used this pectin in the marionberry jam, using only about 1/3 cup of raw sugar and it set right up perfectly. Nothing compares to home-made jam, using berries at the peak of freshness and adding only those things YOU want in your jam, nothing else.

We have already dug into the first jar of cherries, eating a few after dinner for dessert, and then grabbing a few more.

The other day, we made home-made vanilla ice cream. When we sat down to eat our ice cream, with a heaping of the marion berries preserved in wine, we were in heaven. Ben said this is his favorite dessert ever. I agree. And, there will be quite a bit of the 'juice' left over once the berries are gone - I'm thinking this sauce will make delicious ice cream floats!

Marion berries preserved in wine:

You can get some cheap wine for this, either in a box or in the big jugs. We used a rose for the cherries and then chose chianti for the marion berries, wanting to try a drier wine. Both turned out delicious, so I encourage you to experiment and pick wines you like. We also did one with the vanilla and lemon and one without and, again, both were delicious and different.

1 quart-sized canning jar

1 pound (about 2 pints) fresh, ripe marion berries (or berry of your choice)

2 cups wine

1/2 cup raw sugar

1 tsp vanilla (optional)

zest of one small lemon (optional)

Run your canning jar through the dishwasher or stick it in some boiling water to steralize it. Wash your berries and place in the clean jar.

Heat the wine in a small saucepan over medium-high heat and stir in sugar. Allow the sugar to dissolve and the mixture to come to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and the zest, if using. Simmer until the mixture reduces to about 1 1/2 cups, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.

Pour the wine mixture over the berries and seal tightly with the lid. Allow the jar to cool completely at room temperature and then stick it in the fridge. If you are listening nearby, you will hear the 'pop' of the lid sealing as it cools. Keep the jar in the fridge - this isn't shelf-preserving.

Wait at least 2 days before you enjoy them (I know, the waiting can be hard!!). Use within 3 months or so.


Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Beans, Beans...

We talk and think a lot about food in our household (a surprise, right?). We have conversations over the dinner table, talking about what we want to make next. We discuss what our weekly farm share will bring, what enjoyment it brings us, and how we want to cook the fresh provisions it contains. We glowingly dream about all the berries and fruit in season right now and all the cooking, baking, and preserving possibilities they present us.

Ben’s eyes will grow wide, his speech will become a bit faster, and I know he’s hooked on a particular idea. These ideas take various forms, from gluten free doughnuts with lemon cream filling (which, we still haven’t done, so I continue to hear about it) to gluten free onion rings (which we did last weekend with sweet walla walla onions). He was, in fact, the impetus behind our strawberry-jam-making session last month.

For the past two weeks, he has talked about beans. Beans, beans, the musical fruit… (sorry, I can’t talk about beans without hearing that childhood song in my head). We received a generous bag of dried pinto beans in our first farm share this summer and that started his wheels turning. The wheels got stuck on home-made baked beans. He envisioned slow-cooking them in the crockpot with bacon and sweet walla walla onions.

I have to admit, I don’t think I’ve had baked beans since I moved out of my parents house, but there is something so very Americana about them – something that reminds me of summers and fourth of July family gatherings with corn-on-the-cob, paper plates, soda and beer in the cooler on the deck, and lawn chairs in the grass. And, I have certainly never had any other baked beans than Busch’s baked beans from a can.

So Ben set about pulling together the ingredients and threw them all into the crockpot Monday morning before he left for work. We were greeted at home later that evening by a mingling of sweet and savory aromas…and well, the rest is history. Delicious, sweet, salty history. We ate them with gluten-free bratwurst and my home-made gluten-free bread rolls.

Baked beans:

1 pound dried pinto beans

1 pound raw bacon, cut into small pieces

½ sweet onion, diced

¼ cup raw sugar

1/3 cup molasses

1 heaping tablespoon Dijon mustard

The night before, rinse and sort your beans. Place them in a large pot of water and bring to boil for about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let sit overnight (this is called “heat-soaking” and removes a larger amount of the sugary starches from the beans, which reduces their musical tendencies :) )

When you are ready to assemble the ingredients, rinse the beans well with cool water and place in the crockpot. Add the rest of your ingredients and stir to mix.

Turn your crockpot on low and cook for about 10-12 hours.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

New Cascadia Traditional Bakery opens in Portland!

It's been HOT here the past few days. So hot, we haven't had much of an appetite for food - if you can believe that. Lauren, the person who gives people the "food tour" of Portland to whomever comes to visit, doesn't feel much like cooking or even eating.

Yesterday, around 1:30pm, as I biked perhaps the mile or so to the New Cascadia Traditional Bakery and coffee shop, I realized that I had eaten breakfast around 8am and completely forgot to eat lunch. That never happens to me. Forgetting to eat is against my religion (well, that is, if I had one). Regardless, I had planned on getting a delicious gluten free baked good from my favorite gluten free bakery and enjoying it with a stumptown coffee while I got some work done.

How surreal it was to walk into a coffee shop and to be able to select ANYTHING I wanted from the menu without worrying about gluten. Not even a speck. They are a dedicated gluten free facility. I felt normal again.

(For those of you who don't know, New Cascadia Traditional has opened their own bakery/coffee shop in SE Portland. Check out their website for more details.)

I picked out a delicious-looking berry muffin and an iced coffee. The muffin turned out to be a blackberry muffin with struessel topping, just like the bakery-style muffins I remember from my gluteny days. It was ridiculously good. I realized in that moment, in that first bite, that I had almost forgotten what regular muffins were like. This one jolted me back to gluteny days gone by...and I have to admit I quickly realized the "muffins" I make at home are not really muffins. I'm sure they are more nutritious than what I ate yesterday, but they are indeed something other than muffins.

I already can't wait to go back.

Today all I could think to eat was something cold, like a fruit smoothie. We had just bought a couple of pints of blueberries and I had thrown a couple of uber-ripe bananas into the freezer this week, so I made a banana-blueberry smoothie for Ben and me. It was our lunch, or snack, or something. In any case, it was good. Those of you in Minneapolis might recognize the glass from my old stomping ground...

We're also getting really excited because our plants seem to be doing really well. We have already harvested and re-planted spinach once this summer. We also have an abundant-looking crop of carrots growing expediently and about five figs developing on our fig tree (see picture below). Our blueberries have not done so well this year...partially because of an air-conditioning mistake (long story) and partly because I don't think bees get this high up to pollinate. We just planted our brussels sprout starts in their larger containers today (see picture above, with carrots in background). Think good sprout-thoughts!

Banana-blueberry smoothie:
When your bananas start to over-ripen, toss them into the freezer, skin and all. To use them in a smoothie, or bake with them, set them out for a few minutes and then peel with a knife. The skin sort of falls off them.

1/2 cup milk (I used hazelnut, but often use coconut in my smoothies)
1/2 cup ice
1 cup blueberries
1 banana, cut into pieces (a great use of frozen bananas, but regular ones are okay too)
2 tablespoons ground flax seed

Dump all the ingredients into your blender and blend until smooth. Yep, it's that easy.

Enjoy! and feel refreshed!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

As American as...beets?

Last week I baked something with rhubarb for the first time in my life and, yesterday, I cooked beets for the first time in my life.

Beets. They had been on my forbidden foods list this time last year. I was following an anti-inflammatory diet to help my body heal itself during those first few months of being gluten free. It felt big and restrictive and psychologically painful at first. I refrained from eating the usual suspects: refined sugar, alcohol, dairy, soy, corn, chocolate, and coffee. I also avoided many things one wouldn’t expect: potatoes, tomatoes, beets, eggplant, peas, shellfish, and so many other things.

Compared to the years of physical pain, however, those few months of careful eating ended up feeling like nothing.

I started this blog about a year ago. I started it because I wanted to pass on information I found about eating and cooking gluten free. I also wanted to be another example, another story, for those wondering if they, too, might be gluten intolerant or have Celiac disease. Reading myself in other people’s stories helped me figure out my own story.

I also had an intense desire to prove to people that you can eat gluten free and really enjoy food – that life in the kitchen didn’t have to be “good enough,” but blissfully epicurean. I wanted a record of all of the wonderful things the gluten free community could enjoy.

I think I also wanted to prove to myself that there was still plenty in my kitchen to get excited about.

With the need to eat gluten free came an increased desire to eat well and to feel even more appreciative of the food I enjoy. So, here I am, with an almost obsessive relationship with food. What a good thing.

My CSA is making me even more aware and appreciative of every bit of food presented to me. I am learning to use the whole plant, to see the leaves of the broccoli as salad greens and the stems of beets as stir-fry ingredients. To simply throw any part of the plant away feels like I am dishonoring all of the time, attention, and care that went into growing it.

I know this isn't a very "Independence day" themed food, but, hey, it's got the red and the white, right? ;) Serve it on a blue plate like I do and you are all set!

Beet and walnut salad

This salad makes use of the beet root and its leaves. You can chop up the stems into small pieces and add them to a stir-fry on another night. This serves 2 people.

1 bunch beets

2 cups spinach

½ onion, diced

2 cloves garlic

½ cup toasted walnuts

goat cheese

olive oil

Wash the beet roots and slice off the stems. Pull the leaves off and wash as you would lettuce. Set the leaves aside.

Place the beet roots on a piece of aluminum foil with a little olive oil and wrap the foil up and around the beets to make a closed pouch. Place the pouch in the oven at 400F for about 40 minutes, until tender. With pouch still closed, set aside while you cook the leaves.

Saute the onion in some olive oil and add the garlic. Stir for about a minute, then add the greens (beet leaves and spinach). Stir until greens begin to wilt. Divide between two plates.

Slice the beet roots into bite-sized pieces and divide between the two plates, placing them on top of the greens. Top with the walnuts and a few pieces of goat cheese.