Simplicity is the key.
These are a new favorite discovery of mine: the perfect marriage of sweet berry, butter, bread, and spicy pepper.
It's pretty easy:
1. Choose a soft, neutral bread--fresh baguettes are great. Slice it thinly and on the diagonal if you want things to be fancy.
2. Spread the bread slices with good sweet butter.
3. Top with sliced strawberries. Sprinkle lightly with sugar (vanilla sugar if you have it*), and crack some black pepper over the top.
4. Resist for a few minutes to let the berries release their juices.
*Vanilla sugar is expensive to buy. Try making it instead! Indulge in a vanilla bean for a cake or some homemade ice cream and salvage the pod. Bury it in a nice sized container of granulated sugar for a few weeks (organic is best). The result is a subtle, earthy vanilla flavored sweet that can be sprinkled over all things delicious. You can also whiz it in the food processor if you want beautiful flecks of bean mixed into your sugar.
Grown Up Egg Salad
So it’s May, and that means it’s the skinny time of year: spring gardens are eeking along in the rain, winter gardens are spent, summer gardens are just a pleasant, fruity image in our heads… so unless you REALLY love salad, you might be a bit at a loss for local food ideas. Enter the wonderful, amazing, self-contained meal option: the egg.
Now, there are all the classic things you can do with eggs: soft boil, hard boil, poach, fry, scramble, make omelets, make frittatas, bake… I’m sure there are more, but you get the idea. Eggs are incredibly useful ingredients in the kitchen, and also happen to be great for you. They also are in abundance this time of year, as the hens have started laying in earnest again. They are the perfect filler food for this lean time of year. They also make perfect filling for things like, say sandwiches (another perfect food: handheld, convenient, flexible, and satisfying). Enter the egg salad discussion.
Now I’ll be honest with you all: I hated egg salad when I was a kid. Mushy, smushy, eggy… yucky. Like so many other things I have learned to like later in life, I understand now that egg salad is one of those foods more suited to an adult palate. Eggs in their sulfurous and rich fatty flavors are not all that appealing to kids, but now (as a quasi-adult) I find them delicious—especially when paired some punchy Dijon, caramelized onions, deep brown sautéed mushrooms and freshly snipped chives, as they are in this egg salad recipe. Mmmm mmmm. That with some nice, crusty sourdough bread, and some kind of citrusy and fizzy drink, and you have the perfect lunch (or light dinner) to fill the springtime food gap.
I’m shamelessly stealing this recipe from Orangette, a fantastic food blog by Molly Wizenberg. For more egg salad commentary (and many other mouthwatering recipe ideas), you should definitely check it out.
Grown Up Egg Salad
5 T oil (olive or canola work great)
1 lb mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1/2 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup freshly chopped chives (Molly used dill)
4 hard boiled eggs, roughly chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 T Dijon mustard
1 T lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1. Heat 3 T of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the mushrooms. Let those wilt down slightly then add the rest. Cook, stirring often until golden brown (about 12 minutes). Transfer to a bowl and wipe out skillet.
2. Add the remaining oil and onion to skillet. Cook over medium-high until the onion starts to soften, then lower heat to low and cook until onions are caramelized (15 minutes or more). This takes a while: be patient, stir occasionally. If the onions start sticking, dash a little water in the pan.
3. Transfer caramelized onions to bowl with mushrooms. Add chopped eggs and chives, stir to combine.
4. In a small bowl, whisk together mayo, mustard, and lemon juice. I recommend using some homemade allioli for a truly killer sandwich. If you’re feeling ambitious, that’s a great way to go. Plain old mayo from the jar works fine though.
5. Add a couple of tablespoons of the dressing to the mushroom/onion/egg mixture. Stir to coat evenly. Add more dressing to taste. I like mine a little drier, and didn’t use the whole batch. If it tastes a little dull, add an extra squeeze of lemon. Season with salt and pepper.
6. Serve your sandwiches as you like: open face or closed, on your favorite bread. Toasted sourdough and open face is my favorite way to go. This salad would be great on crostini or between any whole wheat bread and cut on the diagonal.
Molly recommends letting the salad chill in the fridge overnight to deepen the flavors. If you can plan ahead that far, and resist temptation that long, more power to you.
What about Dandelions?
I bet you've noticed them too. Especially since the nice weather recently may have encouraged you to mow your lawn... and guess what? They're baaaccckk! I don't know if anyone ever gets rid of their dandelions, even if they want to. I was walking downtown the other day and admiring all the pretty yellow flowers (ahem, weeds), and started wondering about putting them to use. I know that you can eat dandelions, and that like nettles they are out early and are supposed to be very good for you (for liver and digestive health especially). Maybe if you have some dandelion foraging know-how, you can share that in the comments. I'm most intrigued by dandelion wine though. ...sweet dandelion wine... right? at least that's how the song goes...
The other day I was flipping through my friend's copy of The Farmer's Almanac, and there it was: dandelion wine. Guess what? It looks really easy. Hmm. Perhaps it is time to experiment? I also did a little research and found a recipe for a spring tonic that includes dandelion. You should let me know if you try either of them! You might not know about the wine until 6 months down the line though.
2 quarts dandelion blossoms, all green parts removed
2 quarts boiling water
juice of three lemons (and zest, if desired)
10 ounces frozen raspberries, thawed (optional, but it makes it pretty pink!)
3 1/2 cups sugar
1 yeast cake or 1 1/4 ounce dry active yeast
1. Gather your flowers. It is best to pick them early in the morning or when the blossom is fully open. Also try to avoid spots where they were likely to have been sprayed (like along roadsides). Rinse in cool water and remove all the green bits. Put the petals in a gallon stoneware jar and pour the boiling water over them. Let sit overnight.
2. In the morning, strain the liquid through cheesecloth or coffee filters. Be sure to squeeze the petals to get out all of the juice. Place juice in large pan with lemon juice, zest (if using), raspberries and sugar.
3. Bring mixture to boil, then let simmer 20 minutes.
4. Pour mixture back into jar and cool to lukewarm. Then add yeast and stir to dissolve. Cover jar loosely with lid and let ferment for about 10 days (it's done when it stops hissing around the lid).
5. Using multiple layers of cheesecloth or coffee filters, filter mixture into a large clear jug. Let sit several days, then strain again into 3 clean wine bottles.
6. Let the wine stand until still (not carbonated), and then cap.
7. Age 6 months or so, to taste.
2 parts burdock root
1 part dandelion leaf
2 parts echinacea
1 part ginger root
1 part licorice root
1 part nettle leaf
2 parts red clover blossoms
2 parts sasparilla
1. Blend herbs well.
2. For tea, use 2 teaspoons herbs per cup of water. Steep 5-7 minutes, strain. Drink up to four cups per day as a cleansing tonic.
I will admit that radishes are one vegetable that leaves me stumped. I never really know what to do with them. They're one of the first new veggies to arrive in early spring, form gorgeous red bunches at the market, but I'm just never quite tempted to bring them home with me. Recently though, I have been endeavoring to enjoy high quality ingredients on their own merit: olive oil, baby lettuces, and now the radish is on my radar. The best way to enjoy these springtime treats, unsurprisingly, comes from the French.
Four simple ingredients are standing between you and a bright new springtime flavor, so gather together a chewy fresh baguette (Red Fox Bakery offers the best around, in my opinion), some sweet butter, good sea salt, and a bunch of the red beauties.
Slice up your baguette into generous 1/2 inch or more slices--cut them on the diagonal if you're feeling fancy. Spread the slices generously with some good, sweet butter. Top with thinly sliced radishes, and sprinkle with sea salt. Viola! The perfect way to enjoy a radish. The peppery bite of the radish is rounded and softened by the butter; its crunchy texture pairs perfectly with chewy baguette, and the salty topping is the frosting on top.
This will teach you to treasure your radishes.
All right, so I managed to unthinkingly delete a big chunk of this page. Ack! Here is a weak attempt at recreating those old posts. I included links to the original recipes where relevant. Sorry!
A Few Salad Dressings
the start of April...
Salad dressings have to be one of the most frequently bought convenience foods, and yet they are super easy to make! Hopefully one of these dressings will catch your fancy, and steer you away from bottles of the prepared stuff as spring greens start coming along. Also remember that salads don't have to contain lettuce: try potatoes, fruit, bitter winter greens, even grains like barley or spelt. Experiment and enjoy!
In order to make salad dressings you will need to keep a few ingredients on hand: good quality olive oil (available locally here!), a few vinegars (red wine, white wine, and balsamic are a good start), some fresh herbs (easy to grow in pots on the windowsill), good sea salt and freshly ground pepper, dijon mustard, maybe some mayo, and citrus (this one is trickier: buy organic, or invest in a lemon tree). With these ingredients on hand, you'll be able to whip up simple vinaigrettes in less time than it'd take to shake and open a bottle.
Note: All of the recipes below make a large quantity of dressing--unless you're sure you're going to love it, it might be a good idea to halve the recipe the first time around. All of these recipes are from Jessica Strand's book Salad Dressings. Sometimes she calls for very specific ingredients, like tarragon vinegar. With a little creativity, these can be replaced with more readily available alternatives.
Fresh Herb Vinaigrette
1 clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 t dijon mustard
1 t fresh thyme, minced
1 t fresh oregano, minced
1 t fresh basil, minced
1 t fresh mint, minced
1 1/2 t lemon juice
3 t red wine or red wine vinegar
3/4 cup good olive oil
salt and pepper
Stir together mustard, garlic, and sugar to make a paste. Add herbs, lemon juice, and wine. Stir well. Whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Keeps in the fridge for one week.
Pair with baby lettuces, radishes, and hard boiled egg.
Dijon Cream Dressing
1 shallot, minced
1 1/2 T dijon mustard
3/4 cup sour cream
2 T whipping cream
1 T tarragon vinegar (red wine would work just fine)
1 T chopped fresh dill (or mint, or thyme)
1 t lemon zest
2 t lemon juice
dash Worchestershire sauce
salt and pepper
Combine all of your ingredients and stir until smooth and blended. Season with salt and pepper. This will keep in the fridge for 5-7 days.
Pair with boiled or roasted new potatoes.
Classic Caesar Dressing
3 medium garlic cloves
2 t dijon mustard
4 T lemon juice
2 egg yolks (if raw yolks worry you, substitute heavy cream)
dash Worchestershire sauce
6 anchovy fillets, chopped (do not leave this out: it's the key ingredient!)
1 T parmesan, finely grated
3/4 cup olive oil
freshly ground pepper
Combine ingredients except oil and pepper in a blender or food processor (or pound in a mortar and pestle). Blend to form a thick paste. Whisk in oil slowly until emulsified. Season with pepper (the anchovies provide the salt for you). Keeps in the fridge 5-7 days.
Pair with romaine, of course. Nothing beats a classic caesar salad.
sometime in March...
This time of year, I often look into my refrigerator and find that my veggie options are getting a little limited: kale in the crisper drawers, kale on the bottom shelf, probably some wilted stuff I forgot about languishing in a back corner.
Don't get me wrong, I love kale. I look forward to it from the second the weather starts to chill in the fall. I eat it in soups, slip it into casseroles, hide it in lasagna, stir fry it, serve it as a salad with hot oil and garlic. But when I'm hitting the kale wall in March, I'm always in search for a simple way to consume more kale. Enter kale chips, the perfect solution: crispy, slightly caramelized, and sprinkled with chunky sea salt, these are a delicious way to enjoy the last leaves of the season.
2-3 T good olive oil
1 bunch kale
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Rinse kale well and tear into large pieces (they shrink a lot as they bake). Toss in bowl with olive oil and arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet. Top with salt to taste.
3. Bake kale until edges are browning and crisp... about 12 minutes. This varies depending on the size of your chips.
Cool on the sheet or enjoy hot: these are sure to be a hit!
Fresh Ginger Muffins
sometime in March...
These muffins are the perfect pick-me-up on a chilly, grey Oregon day. The secret to these incredible muffins is a healthy dose of fresh ginger root, whizzed in the food processor and cooked gently with sugar. Swirling this spicy syrup into a tangy buttermilk-laced muffin batter leads to some serious taste bud joy. Original recipe can be found here.
Fresh Ginger Muffins
One 2-3 inch chunk of ginger root, scrubbed well
3/4 cup plus 3 T sugar
2 T grated lemon zest
8 T unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
2 cups flour
1/2 t salt
3/4 t baking soda
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a muffin tin.
2. Cut unpeeled ginger into chunks. Whiz in the food processor (or mince by hand) until finely chopped. Measure out a heaping 1/4 cup--it's better to have too much ginger in this recipe than too little. Place the ginger and 1/4 cup sugar in a small saucepan and heat over medium until syrupy and golden, just a couple of minutes. Set aside.
3. In a small bowl, rub lemon zest into 3 T sugar to distribute. Add ginger syrup and stir to combine.
4. Put the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer and beat until fluffy (alternatively, beat by hand). Add remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat to combine. Add eggs one at a time, beating well between additions. Add buttermilk, beat to blend. Add dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Fold in the ginger syrup until well distributed.
5. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin(s). Bake 18-20 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. The edges of the muffins will be crispy and golden, the middles puffed high.
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
It's cold outside. You probably noticed. Whenever the weather reverts to this kind of chilly, overcast, Oregon-in-early-spring gray, I scour my cookbooks for a tempting soup recipe to warm me from the inside out (maybe this is especially necessary as I usually wear a stocking cap around my little apartment--I guess prefer alternative sources of heat to my creaky baseboard units). I particularly love rich, creamy soups that can stand up to crusty bread with lots of butter, and maybe a glass of wine. This tasty soup is one that I found in Melissa Clark's wonderful cookbook In the Kitchen With a Good Appetite. It is a lovely mix of sweet, spicy, and bright, thanks to the squeeze of lemon added just before serving--just what a gray day at the start of March calls for.
Red Lentil Soup with Lemon
3 T olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 T tomato paste
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne, plus more to taste (I use 2-3 pinches)
4 c vegetable or chicken broth
1 c red lentils
1 large carrot, peeled and diced
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 T chopped cilantro (optional--see note at bottom for other options)
1. Heat oil in heavy stock pot until shimmering. Add onions and garlic, sauteing until tender and golden (4 minutes).
2. Add cumin, cayenne, salt, paper, and tomato paste. Saute 2 minutes longer. Will be very fragrant.
3. Add broth, 2 cups of water, lentils, and carrot. Bring to simmer, partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft and breaking apart, about 30 minutes. Taste and salt as needed.
4. Using blender or food processor, blend about half of the soup until smooth. Add back to pot. The soup should be a little chunky, a little smooth and creamy.
5. Bring soup to gentle simmer once again. Take off heat, stir in lemon juice and cilantro (if using). Taste one more time and season as needed.
This soup was great served with crumbled feta and a drizzle of good olive oil--the salty cheese really helps highlight the sweetness of the carrot, and the oil gives it a fresh, grassy boost. Would also be delicious topped with fresh toasted walnuts.