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Pastured Meat: Clams with Chorizo, Kale and Saffron

Clams with chorizo, kale and saffron

Add Blue Valley Meats from Walla Walla to the list of Washington farms that we love and frequent.  We use their neighborhood pickup service and it’s worked out great; choose a participating delivery spot near you when placing your order online, then pick it up on the assigned date and time.  Very convenient for those of us west of the Cascades.  I highly recommend Blue Valley if you are interested in consuming more pastured meat since their livestock is 100% grass fed.  One tip: the fat in grass-fed meat melts out more easily while cooking, so use care and don’t overcook it so your meat stays nice and juicy.

Is grass-fed meat better for us?  Yes, it is.  It’s also better for the livestock.  If you’ve read any of Michael Pollan’s books, then you already know that grass and leafy vegetation is what cattle eat naturally; their stomachs are made to digest all those tough fibers.  Grain diets are not natural for cattle.  They weaken their immune system which, combined with overly crowded conditions of most grain feedlots, leads to livestock illness more often than anyone wants to think about.  That’s why so many antibiotics are used in livestock, which contributes to why we are seeing more antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are difficult to wipe out with conventional treatment methods.  Allowing livestock to forage in a pasture keeps them healthy and happy.  From a human health perspective, certain strains of E. coli are dangerous to us, but the risks are greatly reduced when we eat grass fed meats.  How so?  First, E. coli lives in manure.  Cattle roaming happily in the pasture aren’t covered in manure like cattle trapped in a feedlot.  Second, farms like Blue Valley slaughter and process livestock one at a time, which ensures a thorough job of cleaning the carcasses.  And third, naturally occurring E. coli bacteria live in our guts all the time but dangerous levels and strains are usually controlled by our stomach acid.  However, corn-fed diets lower the pH levels of cattle stomachs, thus allowing E. coli to adapt to a more human-like stomach environment.  This evolved, adapted E. coli is what is so dangerous to humans nowadays.  Continue reading


Southwest meets Northwest: Green Chile and Smoked Salmon Chowder

roasted green chile and smoked salmon chowder

My freezer is stocked with New Mexican green chile after a trip home over Thanksgiving, so I’m about as content as a Southwestern girl can get.  I have plans for all that chile–it absolutely shines in soups and stews, and it’s high season for big ‘ol batches of soup in the Northwest.  This is the only time of year my slow cooker maintains its own place on the counter and my freezer is full of soup ready to defrost and heat, perfect for dinner when it’s dark by 4:30pm.
You won’t need your slow cooker for this chowder since it’s so fast and easy.  Most of the work is in chopping up all those veggies.  If you’re pressed for time, a few pulses in your food processor will do the job.  If you’ve had a particularly frustrating day then sharpen your knife and get to chopping.  Sometimes food prep can be the most meditative and centering thing you do in single a day.  Breathe in, breathe out…chop chop chop.  Get into the rhythm and take solace in the fact that you’re creating a delicious dinner and will soon bask in the warmth of a perfect bowl of chowdah.

And abandoning modesty for a moment–this is one of the best things I’ve made this winter.  Ivar and Duke can kiss my green chile.  Enjoy!

Gorgeous Gougeres

Gougeres

I have no idea where October and November went.  October was an abnormally beautiful month in Seattle and I was thrilled that so much of our garden was still productive during official Fall.  We spent lots of time outside, so I will attribute the lack of posts in October to being sun drunk.  Some very dear friends moved to Hawaii just as I was returning from an amazing month in Maui.  Another very dear friend recruited me to serve on the Board of a brand new creative arts non-profit and event space in Georgetown called The Trap.  I had a bunch of dental work done.  I made a ton of jam and chutney.  We put in an offer for an investment property after months of searching for just the right place and having the first one fall through.  The annual Casa Latina (I serve on the Board) gala was a smashing success and great time–we had a little bidding war with a nearby table and won a trip to Costa Rica!  My dear friend Pierre paid us a visit and we had a ridiculously silly good time.  November brought history-making elections.  We acquired two new hens and had to end up butchering one of them; it was our first time doing it and quite the learning experience.  I’m still an omnivore.  Some good friends got married.  We closed on the house the night before we left for New Mexico for ten days.  Hanging out with my family and some great old-school friends was just what I needed to refresh.  My mom and I made 13 dozen tamales after Thanksgiving, which I’ll post soon.  I hunted down red and green chile like a crazed drug addict and finally got to spend some time in Santa Fé.

So now we are well into December and the holiday buzz and consumer rush and fears of the Mayan calendar ending brings us to Gougeres.  These little French cheese puffs are like small popovers that disappear entirely too quickly…they are truly addictive and melt in your mouth. Perfect and easy little hors d’oeuvre, laced with gruyere and begging to be paired with some savory tomato jam or more cheese.  An accompanying glass of sparkling wine is strongly recommended.  These will get you into the holiday spirit while you think about all the happy mouths at your next party.  Happy Holidays to you and yours!

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Upcountry Maui: O’o Farm, Ali’i Kula Lavender Farm, and Surfing Goat Dairy

Maui’s beaches and sightseeing are indeed spectacular, but there’s an entirely different experience waiting should you decide to visit gorgeous Upcountry near Haleakala.  It’s about 10 degrees cooler than the rest of the island, a little cloudy, and the perfect break from sun and sand.  Stretching across Maui’s southern and eastern coastline, Haleakala National Park houses Maui’s highest peak.  Rising approximately 10,o00 feet above sea level, Haleakala’s slopes can be seen from just about any point on the island.  Haleakala means “house of the sun” in Hawaiian, and legend says that the demigod Maui lassoed the sun from its journey across the sky as he stood on the volcano’s summit, slowing its descent to make the day last longer.  In addition to being a tourist magnet for mountain-top sunrises, the fertile slopes are home to ranches, botanical gardens and farms with breathtaking views.  We visited three of these places and it made for a really fun day off the beaten path.

O’o Farm

Nestled in the community of Kula, O’o Farm consists of eight sustainably maintained and biodynamically cultivated acres.  The farm is the result of the owner’s commitment to providing high-quality, local produce for their Maui restaurants in order to deliver a true farm to table experience for diners seeking to participate in the slow food movement.  In 2000, Louis Coulombe and Stephan Bel-Robert purchased mostly undeveloped land with a small citrus and stone fruit orchard and a few coffee trees.  Today, O’o farm is maturing with more coffee trees, fuju persimmons, white sapote (tropical pear), five varieties of lemon, lime, tangerine, tangello, pomello, mandarin oranges, plums, figs, cherries, avocados, berries, kaffir lime, buddhist palm, almonds, loquat, peaches, Maui onions, and more.  They recently added a few chickens.  The farm supplies upscale Lahaina eateries Pacific’O, I’O, The Feast at Lele, and Aina Gourmet Market.  O’o Farm is also the home of roasting operations for Aina Gourmet Coffee.  Aina is a single-origin coffee offering unique characteristics derived from the land, and in their own words, offering Aloha in every cup.

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Squash-a-palooza: Perfectly Simple Grilled Squash

This might be the last time you get to break out the grill in 2012, so take full advantage!  If summer squash and zucchini have been mysteriously showing up on your doorstep as gardening neighbors do their best to unload the last of their harvests, don’t fret.  This is a classic throw-together dish that can’t even really be called a recipe because it’s so simple.  Simply perfect to go along with anything.  If you have one of those snazzy non-stick grill toppers for veggies, then it’s even easier.

1.  Cut squash into spears

2.  In a large dish, toss together squash, a generous drizzle of olive oil, onion slices, some garlic if you feel like it, salt, pepper and chopped rosemary.  Add a squeeze of lemon juice.  Grill over medium-high heat until nicely caramelized on all sides; flip or rotate as appropriate.

3.  Serve with grilled meat or fish.  Or cut it up and toss it into pasta.  Leftovers are great for an egg scramble the next day–sprinkle with parmesan cheese for extra umami punch.

4.  Eat outside…it’s probably our last chance to do it this year.

Sigh…good-bye summer!  It’s been a joy.  And thank you for not short-changing the Pacific Northwest this year, our garden is especially appreciative.


Squash-a-palooza: Summer Squash and Corn Chowder

Oh my squash.  This chowder is truly, simply, really delicious.  And fast and easy to make!  You can also prepare it vegan or vegetarian by subbing the milk and omitting the bacon, see instructions below.  It’s the perfect summer segue into fall and uses the best of the passing season’s bounty.  Get your soup bowls ready!

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Squash-a-palooza: Spiced Summer Squash Bread

Move over, zucchini bread.  This summer squash bread is delightfully and perfectly spiced, moist, and travels well. It’s the perfect quick breakfast to jump-start your day.  This recipe makes a large-ish amount, twice as much as your normal loaf pan. Use a 9×13 dish, or 2 loaf pans.  It freezes well, so eat one and store the other for that last-minute bake sale, for a good friend, or whenever.

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Squash-a-palooza: Summer Squash Relish

It’s 80 degrees and sunny in Seattle today.  I’m in Maui right now but cheering on the last warm days before heading into what will surely be a bittersweet, gorgeous Fall.  If you are still harvesting summer squash, there are lots of options to use your glut…don’t toss it!  Today I’ll be posting several recipes, but this one stands out as a way to use up quite a bit.  Also–if you shred your squash (food processor to the rescue here), you can stash it in your freezer for months.

This relish is unexpectedly delicious; slightly sweet and just acidic enough to brighten any meat.  It’s also easy to make.  Grill up the last of those hot dogs and hit ’em hard with this relish…I think you’ll thank me.

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My First Cookbook: Thank you Beaj

I just turned 37.  I’ve been cooking in one way or the other for nearly 30 years now.  I started young; being raised as a daughter by a Mexican-American family pretty much guaranteed that I would know my way around the kitchen.  Generalities aside, I certainly didn’t have the passion for food that I do now.  I didn’t lust after it or ogle pictures in food magazines, though I’m 100% sure that it would’ve been different if we had the internet back then.  I also didn’t have much interest in learning new techniques or trying new ingredients.  Growing up in landlocked New Mexico and Arizona, I wasn’t a food explorer.  We ate what we ate, and a lot of it involved beans, rice, ground beef, chicken, chile and tortillas.  However, I did understand that eating dinner together every night was important to my mom, at least when we were young.  She could never really articulate why it was so important when we would attempt to argue with her. I can look back and easily realize that countless defining, awkward, revealing, uplifting and somber moments took place around a kitchen table, any kitchen table–ours at home, my grandparents’, aunts’ and uncles’ houses, and even while visiting family in Terrenate, Mexico after a cow was freshly killed and butchered to feed visiting extended family and a township of 300 during a cousin’s wedding.  My cousin Arnold was the only one of us brave enough to sample cooked cow’s blood; he was the original Andrew Zimmern and to this day will try anything–anything–at least once.  I didn’t understand how food creates community, belonging, first phases of lifelong friendships, yearning.  How it settles arguments and forces us to face one another after a particularly hurtful episode.  Or how it defined us as a family and as members of society.  I guess most kids don’t.

I also didn’t realize how food could create, or serve as an accomplice to, conflict.  My dad loved, and I’m sure secretly still loves, potted meat. Yes, that catfood-like meat product paste in the small blue cans.  My mom could never understand why he wanted it, but bought it for him at the commissary week after week only after thoroughly expressing her disgust for the stuff.  For him, it evoked powerful memories of working in the fields when he was a kid.  It was the only thing my grandmother could wrap up in a tortilla that would survive the South Texas heat while he and other kids his age toiled away day after day.  And it was the only thing waiting for him when he could finally sit down, wipe the sweat from his face, take a short break, and just breathe.  Potted meat was my dad’s peace.  Decades later, after serving in Vietnam and retiring from the Air Force as a ground systems mechanic, he had his first heart attack.  My mom dealt with it by rearranging the furniture a few times (including the kitchen table and a ridiculously unwieldy grandfather clock) and going on a cupboard cleaning rampage.  It was no more potted meat for him.  No more anything fun for him.  For a little while, anyways.  For some people, the threat of dying becomes diluted with enough time and at some point you decide that if you’re gonna die, it’s gonna be with a goddamned cheeseburger in your hand.

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Jerry Traunfeld’s Nasturtium Capers

Adapted from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld (Scribner 2000)

Nasturtiums are true multi-use flowers.  They’re easy to grow and beautiful, and they attract pollinators to your garden to boot.  Both nasturtium flowers and young leaves are edible as long as you grow them organically, which isn’t hard to do.  They provide a peppery punch similar to watercress in salads, and the flowers add a gorgeous splash of color.  Nasturtiums even contain decent amounts of vitamin C.

A regular caper is the flower bud of the Capparis spinosa plant and its seedpod is called a caper berry, which is also delicious (especially in a bloody mary) when brined.  The seedpods of nasturtiums look just like the caper plant’s buds, and they taste similar to capers once pickled.  In my opinion they’re better.  Nasturtiums form seedpods in late summer; you’ll find them attached to the stems underneath the foliage, where they develop in clusters of three.  You want young pods that are still green since mature seedpods turn yellowish and hard.

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