Roasting in the Pacific Northwest

It’s hot here in Selah. No, not outside, where the temperatures remain unseasonably cool. Highs in the mid ’70’s, evenings really cool in the ’40’s. Not like the Midwest which seems to be roasting hot outside.

No, it’s hot in my oven, where I’ve been roasting cauliflower. Are you saying “ewww” right now? Well, don’t. It’s the simplest possible “non-recipe” for turning something kind of plain into something really yummy. Cut up a cauliflower into small flowerets. Place on a baking sheet and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Place in 400 or so degree oven (anywhere between 400 and 450 works for me) for about half an hour. Part way through remove and toss around with a spatula. Remove, sprinkle with coarse salt, and see if it actually makes it to your dinner plate, or instead gets nibbled away in the kitchen and magically disappears.

Tonight I served this with a dish of “starter chicken curry” (blogged a few months ago), except I used quinoa instead of rice. Whole grain goodness with mild, delicious taste.

Once it finally heats up outside, I’ll stop roasting things inside (the oven). Until then… happy eating for us!

Back in the saddle again

Whoa! It’s been quite a break I’ve taken from blogging. Three months since I last checked in. I must have fallen off my horse and it’s time for me to get back on, in true Western fashion. So, whether or not I have much of interest to share, I’m back. Blogging and rattling on about things of consequence or little consequence.

This past weekend we attended a fundraising event for a conservancy group trying to buy up some land along the Yakima River a little ways north of Selah, where we live. It’s prime territory for mountain sheep and without protection will be privately owned and off limits to recreational users like me. And maybe the sheep?

The event was, ironically to me, held at a private resort along the Yakima River that has been developed in the past few years. It’s a lovely spot, and has a very appealing lodge. One of those places that calls out my lack of truthfulness when making comments like “oh, I don’t really want the things that a lot of money buys….”. The weather cooperated fully for the event. Not the baking hot desert temperatures that we often already have at this time of year, but very pleasant in the mid ’70’s with a nice gentle breeze. Ahh.

The event started with a wine tasting by a Washington state winery named Frenchman Hills. The owner did an interesting on the spot blending of three different red wines to produce a very pleasant wine. An outdoor dinner on the lawns adjoining the river came next. The menu featured roast pig (from a nearby pit), roast chicken, a quinoa salad, green salad with lots of local ingredients, corn bread with honey butter, apple or rhubarb strawberry crisp with local ice cream….. on and on. Wonderful food, with encouragement to return for seconds and thirds. The roast pig, with accompanying flavorful sauce, was wonderful and I did return multiple times. Just never know when that will be on the menu again so I’d better enjoy it while I can!

After dinner, Dan Evans, who was governor of Washington state in the 60’s and 70’s when the Yakima River Canyon highway was officially designated a “Byway”, spoke. He was spry and fit looking, and seemed delighted to be able to make the drive with his wife from Seattle over to the Yakima River for the event.

Then the live Celtic music began, and we luxuriated in the view from the deck while enjoying the music.

We watched, but didn’t participate in, the fly fishing demonstrations. However, when we discovered the firepit near the river with glowing coals and all the fixings for s’mores on benches, including marshmallow sticks, we did find ourselves enjoying one last culinary delight before heading home.

Chicken curry for beginners

I love thinking about how good different dishes will taste. I like cooking lots of food. But I’ve never eaten much curry and never cooked much either. Still, when I placed an order a few months ago from Penzey’s, I included a small jar of sweet curry. I have already gone through the jar of Foxpoint Seasoning, a blend of freeze-dried shallots, chives and scallions that is absolutely delicious on scrambled eggs and lots of other things. I also have been using the other blends I bought, but for some reason the jar of sweet curry was sitting unused in my cupboard. It smells yummy and I decided it was time to “get brave” and try it. I mean, really, this isn’t some arctic adventure I’m suggesting, just cooking something using a seasoning I’m not very familiar with. So I tried it tonight in a recipe I found in a Penzeys’ catalog called Started Chicken Curry. The note said “if you’ve ever wanted to try cooking with curry, but didn’t know where to start, this recipe is just what you’ve been waiting for”. It seemed pretty simple and I had all the ingredients already. Chicken, curry powder, onion, raisins (which I normally would NOT cook with), rice, chicken broth. So I cut the chicken into bite sized pieces and proceeded to follow the recipe. Mmmm. Wonderful fragrance drifting from the pan on the stove. Half an hour later, equally wonderful tasting dish for dinner. I served it with steamed brocolli, cauliflower, and carrots. I also added some Craisins in addition to the raisins. Dave said it was the perfectly level of sweetness. The two of us finished off most of the four person servings….. Well, that’s what happens when something works!

Here’s the recipe. I did serve it topped with a little shredded coconut, as suggested, and it was a good addition:

STARTER CHICKEN CURRY

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 Cup flour
1 TB. SWEET CURRY POWDER
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 Cup margarine or butter (1/2 stick)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2-1 Cup raisins
2/3 Cup uncooked white rice
3 Cups chicken broth (or 3 Cups water mixed with 11/2 tsp. CHICKEN SOUP BASE)
1/2 Cup shredded coconut, optional

In a zip-top bag, combine the flour, curry powder, salt and pepper. Add the chicken pieces and shake to evenly coat. Heat the margarine or butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for about 5 minutes, turning once, until they are browned well. Add the onion, raisins and rice and stir to blend. Pour in the chicken broth. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer for 45 minutes or until the rice is cooked.

(picture is from Penzey’s, but honestly, mine looked just about the same!)

Road Kill for Vegans

We made a trip this past week from Central Washington to Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Beautiful destination! Lots of open road on the way. We drove, and much of the route was familiar. Many years ago (three decades!) we lived in SouthWestern Idaho in Weiser, Idaho. But the drive through SouthEastern Idaho included some new spots.

I noticed as we approached Idaho Falls that there were a lot of potatoes on the side of the highway. Not just an isolated spill from a truck, but a continuous path of potatoes off the road. I didn’t pull over and collect them, but the thought did cross my mind that if you wanted to, you could certainly feed yourself. So many potatoes. Just waiting to turn into hash browns, scalloped potatoes, mashed potatoes, french fries. And so much easier to think about that other road kill. I also noticed a few onions, just waiting to add to the menu.

Am I weird? Or do others also notice the vegetarian “road kill” as they drive along. The Yakima Valley where we live often has apples along the side of the road. What culinary delights do you find on the roadside on your drives?

Sues’ Sukiyaki Sunday

Great name for food, isn’t it? Sukiyaki. It starts with my name! But that’s not all there is to like about it. It also tastes good.

A Buddhist church in the lower Yakima valley has an annual tradition of holding a sukiyaki dinner every March as a fund raiser. The congregation is getting older and dwindling in size, but continues to hold the sukiyaki dinner with the assistance of many community volunteers. This year was the 50th anniversary. That’s a lot of sukiyaki prepared and eaten over the years.

We’ve attended other years, and headed down to Wapato on Sunday to continue our tradition of attending. The hall where the dinner is held was festively decorated with many rows of tables for the 1,500 anticipated diners over the course of the afternoon.

We were seated almost immediately and first relished the cucumber salad brought out by the teens volunteering to help serve. Dave and several others asked for a fork. I used chopsticks, remembering as I fumbled with them words of friends who went to China some years ago to teach. They were both large individuals, but when we saw them on a visit to the states after a year in China, they had slimmed down. They called it “diet by chopsticks”. After finishing the salad, individual plates of sukiyaki were brought out, accompanied by large communally served pots of steamed rice. Tea was also served.

I found it interesting to look around and see that one side of the hall was lined with tables, all set up with high countertops holding large trays of cut up celery, onions, beef and other ingredients, and volunteer cooks standing at electric fry pans, steam rising around them as the food was prepared just yards away from where we ate.

After we ate, I gazed at the hundreds of origami cranes adorning the stage and other areas of the room.

It brought to mind when my children were young and they struggled to create origami cranes also. I liked the memory, and how it brought together different times in my life. I never was very good at making the folds in the paper. I suspect I would be good at making sukiyaki. But I’m just as happy to eat it instead, contributing both my appetite and dollars to the Wapato Buddhist church funds.

Going crackers for oatmeal!

It’s been a long time since I’ve baked crackers. I like them, especially with cheese or spreads, but usually take what seems the easy way out. I buy them at the store. My sister-in-law recently reminded me that many years ago, when she and her family were visiting, I’d made graham crackers. I’d totally forgotten about that until she nudged my memories. And it was all the nudge I needed to try out a recipe for oat crackers from a new cookbook

In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite by Melissa Clark.

In the cookbook, the recipe was actually named “Port-Glazed Stilton with Homemade Oat Biscuits”. But I was interested in the “biscuits”, which really sounded more like crackers to me when rolled out thinner rather than thicker.

So, last night I measured out the white whole wheat flour and rolled oats, added a little sugar, baking soda, salt, then cut in some butter. Blending in the yogurt brought the dough together. I rolled it out, baked them as directed in the recipe. Then tried one. Yum. Tried another just to make sure. Yup. Still “yum”. Then ate a few more because they were still good. (If you look ahead to the recipe and see the ratio of butter to flour and oatmeal, you’ll not be surprised that they tasted good!) I had only made half a recipe, because I just wanted to try it out. I should have made the full recipe, as by morning we had finished them all up.

No photos to show as we gobbled them up before I had a chance to get out the camera.

Here’s the recipe:

Oat Biscuits

1 cup whole wheat or white flour
1 ½ Tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling
1 ½ cups rolled oats
½ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup plain whole milk yogurt

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease baking sheet. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the oats, and using your fingers (my FAVORITE part), rub in the butter to form a coarse meal. Fold in the yogurt.

On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough into a rectangle 3/16 inch thick. Cut the dough into 20 rectangles and transfer to the prepared baking sheet.

Sprinkle with addition salt, if desired, and bake for about 15 minutes, or until the edges are dark golden brown. Place the baking sheet on a wire rack and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to finish cooling. Store in airtight container. (laugh out loud. There won’t be anything to store if you’re like me!)

Shredded wheat “french toast”- revisiting an old favorite

Growing up, a favorite breakfast was shredded wheat biscuits fixed like french toast. Mix up eggs and milk, dip in the shredded wheat biscuit to soak up the mixture, then fry in butter, and enjoy with syrup. I never knew anyone else who had this for their breakfasts, and we all just were sure it was a secret recipe from my father’s family.

Dave didn’t grow up enjoyng this, but has always like it when I fixed it. He asked for it this morning. Sounded good to me also, except I didn’t have shredded wheat biscuits, just spoon size. Well, why wouldn’t it work? I mixed up 2 eggs with 1/2 a cup of milk, and poured in a few servings of spoon sized shredded wheat. AFter letting it sit about five minutes, I drained what little liquid was still sloshing around in the bowl, and poured them into hot butter in a fry pan.

Hey – worked just fine. And they tasted fine also, with real maple syrup and strawberries pulled out of the freezer and thawed before spooning on top.

A search of the internet showed this “secret recipe” isn’t really our secret, as others mentioned they also make this. Some people, unfamiliar with the dish, read recipes and commented about that it just didn’t sound right. But I will vouch from personal experience that it really does taste right!

No Knead Bread with the Minimalist

My old e-Mac had been slowing down, until it was about as slow as molasses. Thought I should work in a food related reference! So last week I decided to get serious about seeing if I could get it back up and working well. I am not happy to report that my many hours of effort have resulted in the computer now not working at all.

Good thing that my baking efforts have been more successful. As I continue to work my way through Mark Bittman’s favorite 25 recipes, I revisited a recipe I’ve made before for No Knead Bread. He calls it “My most popular recipe, and it isn’t even mine. Credit Jim Lahey.”

When I came upon this recipe some years ago, I really wanted to try it, but didn’t have the right baking pot. It was my excuse to buy a beautiful blue Lodge dutch oven.

I had some sourdough starter in the refrigerator that I have been messing with the past month.

It’s gradually getting more sour, and I hoped that I could use some for no-knead bread. So I searched a little on the internet and found what looked like a way to do that. Since the sourdough starter has yeast, along with flour and water, I adjusted the recipe to omit the added yeast, and reduced the flour and water to account for the sourdough starter. Things went great! Wonderful tasting bread with a crackly crust. Still not as sour as I’d liked, but that will come with time.


Part 2: Me and the Minimalist cook Stir Fried Chicken with Ketchup!

Continuing on my personal, rather minor, challenge to try all of the recipes that Mark Bittman (The Minimalist!) listed in a recent article in the New York Times as his top 25 favorites, I scrolled down the recipes listed, looking for my next choice. The spaghetti with fried eggs I made a few days ago was well received, and I was eager for another new taste treat. Some of the recipes have ingredients that I am not sure where to buy locally or that I’m not really sure I want to try (such as the squid). However, that really is the reason to try this exercise. It’s easy to look through a cookbook and try recipes that have familiar ingredients. The harder part is making things you don’t think you’ll like. But if Mark Bittman is raving about a recipe, I think it’s time to give it a try.

Still, as I was looking over the list last night, I realized that I had all the ingredients needed to make Stir Fried Chicken with Ketchup. Calling for chicken, flour, salt and pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic and ketchup, I bet that I always have the ingredients for this dish. It’s just that – well – it just sounds like of weird. But, as Mark Bittman commented “before you turn your nose up, think of hoisin sauce, oyster sauce, mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce, salsa and all the other condiments that somehow are often considered inferior in haute cuisine circles. Then think how good ketchup can taste.”

So, I cut up some chicken. I only had white meat, not dark, but proceeded anyhow and dusted it with the flour.

Then I got the rest of the ingredients ready.

Wow. That’s all the mess I can make? Seems pretty simple.

So, stir fry the chicken in part of the oil…

Remove it from the pan, and add the rest of the oil and garlic and peppers, cook a few minutes, then add the ketchup, and after cooking a few more minutes add the chicken back to the pan.

I steamed some pea pods and carrots to go with it. Looks good, doesn’t it? And – surprise? – it also tasted really good!

Here’s the recipe in case you want to also make “Manchurian” style chicken.

STIR-FRIED CHICKEN WITH KETCHUP

Time: 20 minutes

1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken, preferably dark meat, in 1/2- to 1-inch chunks

1/2 cup flour, more as needed

4 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or canola

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons slivered garlic

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste

1 cup ketchup.

1. Toss chicken with flour so that it is lightly dusted. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn heat to high. When oil smokes, add chicken in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

2. When chicken browns on one side, toss it and cook until just about done: smaller pieces will take 5 minutes total, larger pieces about 10. Remove to a plate. Turn off heat and let pan cool for a moment.

3. Add remaining oil to pan and turn heat to medium high. Add garlic and cayenne pepper and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add ketchup and stir; cook until ketchup bubbles, then darkens slightly. Return chicken to pan and stir to coat with sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve.

Yield: 4 servings.

Me and the Minimalist

I watched the movie Julie and Julia last year. Enjoyed it. Wished I had been the one to have thought up the idea and turned it into a money making book and movie, But, I didn’t really feel bad that I hadn’t mastered the art of French cooking, and didn’t really care if I ever did.

But, I was reading the New York Times yesterday, and found one of my favorite food writers bidding goodbye. Mark Bittman, the “Minimalist” has written a food column for many years. I enjoy reading his recipes, love watching the little video clips that sometimes accompany the recipes, and occasionally even try the recipes. Usually with great success.

So, when he added to his farewell column an article on his favorite 25 recipes, from the more than thousand recipes he’s used in his articles, it got my attention. Here’s what was even odder. Dave and I have a routine where at some point in the day I ask if he has any ideas of what he’d like for dinner. Hit and miss. Sometimes he does, sometimes he doesn’t. But without me prompting yesterday, he said he’d like to try a recipe from Mark Bittman. Spaghetti with fried eggs. What? That didn’t sound at all right to me. But Dave saw it on a morning show with Matt Lauer that demonstrated this recipe.

So, I made Spaghetti with Fried Eggs.

It’s been a rather blah month. I love food and cooking normally, but just haven’t been getting excited about meals. So I was glad to have a suggestion for dinner, weird as it sounded. I’m still getting local eggs – dark colored yolks and HUGE in size. So it also seemed a good use for some eggs. I didn’t make a full recipe. While it said it would serve 2 to 3, I thought it definitely looked like enough for 3, so I cut it down some.

I steamed some asparagus to fill out the meal. Quick. Simple. Great tasting. I meant to get out my camera, but was too busy filling my plate. Plus, there really isn’t anything all that exciting looking about spaghetti and friend eggs. Just good tasting.

So, here is my “julie and julia” moment. Not nearly as ambitious, but I decided that in the next few months I am going to try EVERY recipe that Mark Bittman, the Minimalist, listed as his top 25 favorites. I’ll let you know if they work, and if they really are easy to put together. I am expecting a few disappointments, but mostly successes.

Biggest disappointment? That I can’t have you come and be my guests to try out the food!