Monday, November 11, 2019

Celebrate Local Cranberries with This Cranberry Tart


Oregon cranberries are one of those somewhat under-the-radar crops though, in fact, cranberries are native to the Northwest. The berries have been harvested by indigenous people for millenia and were (and still are) used fresh and dried in many traditional foods. They were traded widely among First Nation people on traditional trade routes, along with salmon and other products.

Cranberry bog.

Cranberries were first grown commercially in Oregon by Charles McFarlin, who settled in Coos County after failing, like so many others, to make a fortune during the Gold Rush of the late 1800s. He planted vines he brought from Massachusetts, later developing a variety known as McFarlin that is still grown today.

Most of the state's cranberries are grown in Coos and Curry counties on the South Coast and, at nearly 3,000 acres and accounting for 95 percent of the state's production, it's just five percent of the nation's commercial harvest. Most cranberry growers are heavily reliant on pesticides and herbicides to control insects and weeds that can devastate crops, but there's a growing number of farmers who are transitioning to organic methods.


Cranberry harvest.


While small in number, organic cranberry farmers are joining forces and sharing successes and challenges, according to an article from Oregon Tilth, one of the region's largest organic certifying agencies. It says that state agricultural agencies, which normally provide support to farmers, are almost exclusively geared to conventional growers and aren't up to speed on the specific needs and challenges of organic farmers, so this homegrown network of organic growers has become critical to the success and availability of locally grown, organic cranberries.

Many family farms grow cranberries.

“It’s been a steep learning curve,” according to cranberry farmer Richard Schmidt, who is quoted in the article and, with his wife, Pam Schmidt, owns Schmidt Berries in Bandon. “We’ve really relied on our neighbor, Ty Vincent, and his dad, Bill Vincent [of Vincent Family Cranberries]. They were the ones that put the farm into transition [to organic] after 30-plus years of traditional practice. It’s their expertise and practical experience that have made our new inexperienced farmer reality much easier. They are the essence of succession in a community. We’d never really been farmers before, and had never lived or farmed on the Oregon coast…we mainly rely on our neighbors. We’ll help them harvest, and they help us harvest. They’re organic too, so we can share equipment, which is kind of nice.”

You can find local, organic cranberries at some stores and area farmers' markets, and I can't say enough about the flavor of these ruby-colored jewels in jams, chutneys, sauces and, of course, pastries. This recipe for a cranberry tart is one of those can't-miss, smash hits that has been the raved-about culmination of two dinners so far this season!

Cranberry Tart

For the pastry:
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 stick plus 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 c. ice water

For the filling:
1 lb. cranberries, preferably locally grown
1 scant c. sugar
2 Tbsp. orange liqueur (triple sec, Cointreau, Grand Marnier, etc.)
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
Zest of 1/2 large orange
Egg white (optional)

Preheat the oven to 375°.

In a food processor, combine the flour with the sugar, salt and butter and process for about 5 seconds. With the processor running, drizzle in the ice water over the flour mixture until the pastry just begins to come together, about 10 seconds. Transfer the pastry to a work surface, gather it together and pat into a disk. Wrap the pastry in plastic or wax paper and refrigerate until chilled, about one hour.

Ready for the oven.

Just before the dough finishes chilling, place cranberries in a large bowl and add sugar, liqueur, cornstarch and orange zest. Remove dough from refrigerator and place on well-floured surface. Roll out into large round approximately 14-15" in diameter. Transfer to large, parchment-covered baking sheet (I usually fold the dough in half very carefully, transfer it to the sheet and unfold it). Brush the bottom of the dough with a very thin coating of egg white to within 4" of the edge. Place cranberry filling in the middle, keeping it within 3-4" of the edge of the dough. Lift the edges of the dough and fold over on top of filling, pleating it slightly to keep the tart's rounded shape. An option here is to brush the dough with egg white and sprinkle it with sugar to give it a shiny appearance.

Place in oven and bake at 375° for one hour or so until filling is bubbling and crust is golden.

Photo of cranberry bog from USDA. Photos of harvest from Vincent Family Cranberries.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Eventful: Fill Your Pantry & Winter Vegetable Sagra!


Spring has always been a favorite time of year, coming, as it does, at the end of a cold, damp season here in the Pacific Northwest. The warming temperatures, the first taste of the peppery greens emerging from the soil—it rings my chimes every time! And of course the abundance of summer can't be beat, starting with the region's justifiably renowned berries and the ensuing cavalcade of summer vegetables and fruits.

As colorful as it is delicious!

But I'm finding that, in the last couple of years, fall and winter have wangled their way into my heart, especially with the emergence of new, packed-with-flavor varieties that local farmers have adapted to our maritime climate, many of which can thrive in the field without row covers or hoop houses. I'm not just talking about beets and turnips here, either, but a whole plethora of chicories—bright red radicchio, speckled castelfranco, curly endive and escarole, and even an Italian outlier called puntarelle—with their slightly bitter bite, as well as new squash types that will make your old butternut blush, along with other upstarts like purple sprouting broccoli.

To celebrate this season of deliciousness and sample it first-hand, on Sunday, December 8th, Friends of Family Farmers and the Culinary Breeding Network are joining forces to once again to present the Fill Your Pantry and Winter Vegetable Sagra. Fill Your Pantry is a one-day community bulk-buying event encouraging you to stock your pantry for the winter with items from local farms such as storage vegetables, fruit, beans, pasture-raised meats, grains, canned goods, and other products. Take a look at the incredible list of products and sign up to pre-order. (Pre-ordering is encouraged, with orders to be picked up at the event. Farmers will bring a limited amount of product to sell at the event.)

Fill your pantry and your belly!

The Winter Vegetable Sagra—"sagra" being Italian for a rural festival—will have some of Portland's best-known chefs offering (free!) tastes of dishes featuring the many different varieties of winter vegetables being grown by Oregon farmers, along with cooking demonstrations and activities for kids. Not only that, and this speaks volumes to me, there's a cookbook swap where for every good quality cookbook you bring in, you can swap for another one of your choice!

It's all happening on December 8th from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at The Redd, Portland's hub for local food and farms, at 831 SE Salmon St. in Portland.  Past events have been not only a showcase of the vitality of our local food system, but an opportunity for the community to celebrate the bounty that is available to us year round.

Photos by Shawn Linehan Photography.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Farm Bulletin: Open Days, and a Tally of the Harvest


I was thrilled to find the latest farm update from contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in my e-mail in-box this morning, detailing the results of the year's harvest. Please make plans to attend at least one of the open days outlined below. Your holiday table will thank you!

Autumn with his cold and wet demeanor came stomping about early, necessitating careful staging of the harvest. We have accommodated his early entrance and are now in a good state of affairs, able to schedule the remaining open days of the year. We will be open next Saturday and Sunday (9 & 10 November) from 2 to 5 p.m. We will also be open the Sunday before Thanksgiving (24th), as well as the 8th and 22nd of December.

Ayers Creek Borlotti.

The tomato harvest came to an abrupt end three weeks earlier than last year and we lost all of the zolfini and Dutch Bullet beans; sometimes a farmer has to walk away from a soggy mess rather than try to salvage a harvest of inferior quality. No point in that, tears at the heart worse than simply turning it under. There is fine crop of wheat sprouting there. We do have a few left over from 2018. Fortunately we have a good crop of Borlotti, Wapato Whites, Tarbesque and Purgatorio.  We will have Roy’s Calais flint and Peace, No War cornmeal, and whole kernels for hominy. Pumpkin seeds, cayennes and the small grains also fared well. We are able to shrug our shoulders and admit that this was a much better year than last.

My nephew with his favorite squash.

Among the fresh goods, we will have plenty of Sibley squash, beets, spuds, melons, apples, big white onions and greens. Late August, we planted a mix of bok choi, napa, daikon and turnips as a soup green mix for our own table. We had enough seed to plant about 1,000 feet, so 1,000 feet were planted as it was easier than cleaning out the seeder. We will bag up some as a field run mix. We have dubbed it the Rorschach mix, because there are so many ways you can approach the vegetables. You can pickle them, or use them in salads, stir-fry or soups. Whatever suits the moment and your character.

We have, essentially, run out of preserves, so don’t expect any until the 24th of November. We should have a full selection on the 8th of December if you are looking for Christmas gifts.

The good Borlotti crop inspired a new label (top photo); funny how that works. Carved from a cherry block, it was inspired by the lettering of Hector Guimard's signs for the Paris Metro stops. A similar lettering style graced the cover of the Modern Jazz Quartet's album Concorde (1955), over a photo of the Place de la Concorde. Preparing tomorrow’s breakfast, take a moment and listen to Sigmund Romberg’s "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise" as performed on that album. The opening bars are a canon from Bach’s "The Musical Offering" with Percy Heath taking the theme on the double bass, and Milt Jackson (vibraphone) and John Lewis (piano) working the counterpoint.

The whole album is a masterpiece.

Dried cayennes.

A new label for the Ayers Creek Cayenne is in the queue. It will be in the Arabesque style carved from a block of shina, Japanese basswood, the same wood as used for the barley label. The asymmetric leaves of our cayenne are very beautiful, and we have a bunch carefully pressed as models. The softer wood carves and prints differently. Shina also chips slightly as the knife moves across the grain, which provides a softer effect. A bit more difficult to carve as a result. American basswood is another wood available. As an aside, King City, Oregon is home to McClain’s Printmaking Supplies, an excellent resource for those of us who are attracted to the medium. They are exclusively mail order.

Queue up Tom & Jerry performing Beethoven’s "Turkish March" as an inspiration for the cayenne label? Nah, a mouse is already used for the flint corn label, and we have no appetite for a copyright infringement claim. To our knowledge, Tom and Jerry never performed an Arabesque anyway.

Grinding cayennes for fermenting.

On the matter of the Ayers Creek Cayenne, we had an excellent crop this year, both in terms of quantity and quality. We have been working with this cayenne for a decade and a half, teasing out its best qualities. The effort has paid off as the fruits is now well-characterized and no longer erratic in quality. They are an amiable companion in the kitchen with a fruity complexity, very much a pepper of Oregon. The “fresh” cayennes measured 13° Brix out of the field, and after two weeks on a rack, the fruits had risen to 23° Brix as the sugars continued to develop and concentrate.

This year we sold some fresh to our restaurant accounts but we much prefer selling them dried. That said, we process fresh cayennes for our own use. We remove the seeds and placental tissue, run the fruits through a meat grinder, salt at 2.5%, and let the mash ferment. When it has aged for a few months in the garage, we will run the ferment through a food mill to remove the skins, then add some vinegar to extend and stabilize the resulting sauce. In the meantime, a jar of the fermented mash is always handy in the refrigerator.

Cayenne seeds and placental tissue.

The caps with placental tissue and seeds attached are beautiful, worthy of an ancient mosaic. It is not strictly necessary to remove these parts of the fruit, but they are where most of the heat resides and are inconsequential contributors to the overall flavor. Moreover, the corky fiber of the placental tissue detracts from the texture. We find the lighter dose of heat makes the pepper easier to use and savor, fresh or dried.

We also make an oil flavored with the cayennes. The dried cayennes are stripped of the cap, seeds and placental tissue, cut up into 1-inch (25mm) pieces. For a quart of oil, we use a quarter pound or so of prepared peppers (100 grams per liter). The oil is heated to 150 to 160°F (60 to 70°C), the heat is turned off and the cayennes are added, steeping until the oil cools. We have used raw sesame oil, grape seed oil and sunflower oil. The result is a beautiful red cayenne oil. Because of the high sugar content in the fruit, do not overheat the oil as you will end up burning the sugars.

L to R: Dried fruit; cayenne oil; ground peppers; fermented sauce.

The oil extracts the fat-soluble carotenoid pigments and aromatics from the flesh. The water soluble components remain in the fruits; specifically the dark anthocyanin-based pigments and the sugars, and these move to the front of the flavor profile. After draining the oil, we run the peppers through a meat grinder to make a separate condiment. The anthocyanin pigments in the ground peppers lend a pleasant touch of bitterness that plays well against their sugars, reminiscent of bittersweet chocolate.

The photo (above left) shows the deseeded dried fruits, the oil, the ground dry peppers after the oil is drained, and the fermented fresh fruit. At the open days, we will have samples for tasting.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Katherine Deumling: Love Your Leftovers


"Food is beautiful. Food is nourishing and delicious and, yes, complicated. However, food should be a joy, not elicit fear."

Teaching people to cook delicious food at home has been the life-long mission of Katherine Deumling, and is the driving force behind her business, Cook With What You Have. She has just released the third in her series of e-books, "Love Your Leftovers! Favorite Meals that Save Time, Money & Effort", which expands on her mantra of developing creativity and confidence in the kitchen so that you and your family can enjoy delicious, healthy food on a daily basis.

Author and educator Katherine Deumling.

Katherine spent her early childhood in West Germany, the daughter of a creative, efficient mother with a sprawling vegetable garden whose cooking centered around fresh produce and pantry staples, which became the inspiration for Katherine's own cook-with-you-have ethic. A post-college fellowship gave her the opportunity to travel to Italy and Mexico to study how and why people cook the way they do, then a decade of work with Slow Food—including a stint as Chair of Slow Food USA—expanded her awareness of food systems and regenerative agriculture, and gave her an enduring passion for the combination of pleasure and politics.

Her love of leftovers was born out of both necessity—her husband likes to take his lunch to work and she's the busy mother of a teenage son—as well as frugality. She figures that by using leftovers her family saves more than $1,500 per year by not buying lunches, plus minimizing food waste by using or repurposing perfectly good (and delicious) food. Then there's the time and effort saved by having lunches packed and ready to go the night before.

Cauliflower macaroni and cheese.

"Love Your Leftovers" continues Deumling's quest to give people what she terms "agency" in the kitchen, that is, to feel creative and effective when it comes to making food. The 17 dishes in the book, 13 of which are plant-based, are designed to boost cooks' personal satisfaction and to short-circuit what she calls "the tyranny of the recipe-based structure." If a recipe calls for a half-teaspoon of thyme, she said, some people give up because they don't want to make a trip to the store instead of simply leaving it out or trying another herb.

"Even smart people shut down in the kitchen," she said, because they've never been given permission to be creative and develop their own tastes rather than slavishly following the dictates of a recipe. Or as Deumling said, her aim is to encourage people "to beat the system" by making deliciousness part of their daily lives.

Cauliflower Mac'n'Cheese

Vegetables can make for great comfort food! This makes a lot and is even better the next day, heated up in a skillet with just a splash of olive oil on high heat. It develops a crust and is sublime!

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium cauliflower, stems & florets chopped (about 8 cups)
1 lb. pasta (penne, rigatoni, rotini, corkscrew) 1 1/2-2 c. grated cheese (sharp cheddar, gruyere)
1 Tbsp. Dijon-style mustard
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1⁄2 tsp. chili flakes
1⁄4 tsp. grated nutmeg
Black pepper
1 3/4-2 c. hot pasta/cauliflower cooking water
1⁄2 c. bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400°.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add salt. Cook the cauliflower in the boiling water until very tender, about 15 minutes. Scoop the cauliflower out of the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a food processor or blender. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook until just al dente. Scoop out 2 cups of hot, starchy cooking water and then drain the pasta and put it in a 9" by 13" baking dish or other similar baking dish.

Carefully process the cauliflower with the 1 3/4 cups of cooking water, olive oil, cheddar, mustard, chili flakes, nutmeg and pepper. (You may have to work in batches.) If the sauce seems too thick, add the remaining liquid or a bit more water—it will thicken when baking. Taste and adjust seasoning. You want it to be quite strongly flavored. Pour the sauce over the pasta, toss, and spread mixture evenly in dish. (You can make the dish to this point, cover, and refrigerate for up to a day.) Sprinkle the top with breadcrumbs or additional grated cheese. Bake until the pasta is bubbling and the crumbs are browned, about 20 minutes if all your components were hot, 30 minutes if not. Pass under broiler for more browning if you’d like.

Serves 6+

Photos by Shawn Linehan from "Love Your Leftovers."

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Farmers' Markets: Cultivating Community


I've been covering farmers' markets in the Northwest for more than a decade, starting with my weekly Market Watch column in the Oregonian's FoodDay to regular posts right here on Good Stuff NW about what's coming in from our region's fields and forests. One thing that's always impressed me about our market scene is the sense of community that exists not just between farmers and their customers in the market, but among the farmers and vendors themselves. This month's Beaverton Farmers Market newsletter brought that to mind again, and I thought I'd share with you market manager Ginger Rapport's reflections on that topic.

Our mission at Beaverton Farmers Market has always been to cultivate community. Yes, we believe that bringing fresh local foods to the Beaverton community is a large part of our mission, but without building strong relationships with community members, vendors and farmers we cannot succeed in delivering the other. We believe that’s what keeps you coming back to the market even more than the growing number of fresh food choices you can choose from (we’re very fortunate to live in an area that has many). We foster community.

Building relationships with customers and each other.

This past weekend proved that we have been successful in our efforts, as the community came together to help one another out. Long before shoppers hit the market our crew and vendors are busy setting up in the early hours of the day. While the market may open at 9 a.m. in the fall, our staff and vendors are already on site at about 6 a.m. preparing for the day. Last Saturday began when one of our vendors had the misfortune of having her car break down in the market. After vendors and market staff moved her car out of the way in the market, Ron Lilienthal of More-Bees, sprang into action to troubleshoot his neighbor’s car. He didn’t want her to be stranded once the market was over. Being the handy guy that he is, he borrowed some tools from the market, ran out for a part and was able to make repairs so that she could leave the market at the end of the day.

Building relationships cultivates community.

Early in the day on our staff had received word from both Denison Farms and Gathering Together Farm that they were stuck in standstill traffic on Interstate 5 North with all lanes blocked. Sadly, there was a multiple car accident with injuries and a fatality. We were saddened by the news, but grateful that our vendors were safe, just delayed. Both vendors were able to make it to the market some time after opening. Once the farms arrived, the Beaverton Farmers Market really rose to the occasion—vendors, market staff, and even customers chipped in first to unload Denison Farms’ truck. After Denison Farms was set up, Tom Denison came over to help pitch in at Gathering Together to get their booth set up as well. Customers, employees, market staff and other vendors were stocking produce in baskets and unloading boxes and pallets. We appreciated the patience of our customers and the camaraderie of our community as we worked through the rocky start.

We like to think of our market as a microcosm of a small town—some days are rougher than others, but we’re all working together to make this market the best it can be: a place to gather with neighbors, new and old alike, providing fresh local food and relationships.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Eggplant Parmesan My Mother Would Love


Nothing's better on a crisp, blustery fall day than something cheesy, melty and creamy. Grilled cheese sandwiches with a steaming bowl of cream of tomato soup. A multi-layered lasagne infused with sauce, mushrooms and meat, its edges crusted with caramelized cheese. An eggplant parmesan, the meltingly tender purple-rimmed slices stacked in their casserole as carefully as a fieldstone wall, held together by roasted tomatoes and parmesan.

The definition of comfort food.

My go-to recipe for eggplant parmesan was one from "The Cooking of Italy," part of the Time-Life "Foods of the World" series that my mother had subscribed to when I was a child. It calls for salting the sliced eggplant to draw out moisture, then frying the slices in olive oil. It says to somehow limit the amount of oil, a task I've found impossible since the slices soak up oil like a shaggy dog in the rain. Plus it takes way too long to do, at least for this impatient cook.

That was when I started searching online and found a recipe by Food52's Nancy Jo that called for roasting the slices in the oven, which made much more sense since I could cook all of them at once. (Thanks, Nancy!)

Roasting, not frying? Brilliant!

The Time-Life recipe is extremely simple—other than its time-consuming eggplant prep—only calling for five ingredients: the eggplant, salt, flour, tomato sauce and cheese. I dispensed with the tomato sauce recipe it uses, since at the time it was published, cooks like my mother would have used little cans of not-very-flavorful industrial tomatoes that required some "doctoring" (another common phrase back in the day). I had my roasted Astiana tomatoes that require no zhooshing other than a few slices of garlic.

I had picked up some aged provolone to accompany the Parmegiano Reggiano and Pecorino Romano we always have on hand, so those were mixed and layered with the roasted slices and sauce. The result was a bubbling, rich, gooey, hearty casserole that I think my mom would have approved of.

Eggplant Parmesan

3 lbs. eggplant
6 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano and/or aged Provolone, grated*
1 qt. roasted tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
Flour
Salt

Preheat oven to 450°.

Slice eggplants lengthwise into 1/4" slices. Salt both sides and place in single layer on paper towels to drain, at least 30 min. Pat dry and dredge in flour, knocking off extra flour that may be clinging to the slices. Line baking sheet(s) with parchment and lay the eggplant slices on the sheet in a single layer, lightly drizzling them with olive oil. Bake eggplant slices for 15 min., then flip slices over and bake another 15 min. Remove from oven and reduce oven heat to 400°.

While eggplant bakes, slice garlic cloves thinly. Heat olive oil in small skillet over medium heat. When the oil shimmers, add garlic slices and heat briefly, then add roasted tomatoes. When sauce just begins to boil, reduce heat and simmer.

Oil casserole or baking dish. Add a thin layer of tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. Place a single layer of eggplant slices on it, then a thin scattering of grated cheese, then another layer of sauce. Repeat until all the eggplant is used, then top with a final layer of sauce and cheese.

Bake for 30 min. at 400° until bubbling.

* Can be a mix of any of these cheeses, though I used roughly half provolone, half Romano/Parmesan. Also (note to self) a smoked, aged provolone might be, as they say in Italian, perfetto!

Farm Bulletin: Soak Beans Before Cooking, the Farmer's Plaint


Some cooking techniques are writ in stone. Preheating your oven before baking. Rinsing basmati rice in several changes of water before cooking. Stuff like that. Others are matters of debate, with pros and cons argued vociferously on either side. One of those is soaking dried beans overnight before cooking. To no one's surprise, I give credence to contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm's explanation (see below), who, in my opinion, with Carol Boutard, grows some of the finest beans in all the land.

Why has the practice of soaking grains and beans prior to cooking persisted for several millennia? Biologically, two separate events occur when the bean awakens in the presence of moisture.

Ayers Creek Farm borlotti beans.

Germinating seeds release into the surrounding soil nasty compounds when they germinate. These compounds discourage insects, fungi and bacteria from attacking the seedling before its own defenses are developed. Some seeds also release compounds that prevent neighboring seeds from germinating, a phenomenon called allelopathy. Some people claim these compounds are nutritious and tasty. Poppycock, I say. I suggest tasting the soaking water and decide for yourself whether the stuff is tasty…it isn’t. This is one reason why people traditionally soaked grains and legumes, and then drained the soaking liquid before cooking them.

Soaking makes beans sweeter and smoother.

There is a second reason, more of an aesthetic gesture. The seed is very carefully packaged to provide energy in the form of simple sugars and building materials in the form of amino acids when it breaks dormancy and the embryo begins to grow. Millions of simple sugars are connected together to form starch molecules. The amino acids are connected to one another to form proteins. The starches and proteins are densely packed around the embryonic plant. When the seed germinates (i.e. soaked overnight), specialized enzymes snip apart the starches and proteins, and those unpacked units are then assembled to grow the plant. Imagine a pallet of lumber that is strapped together, efficiently packaged for storage and transport, but not yet a house. The enzymes are akin to carpenters, pulling the pallet apart and reassembling it. They also need energy to fuel their work in the form of simple sugars until the seedling is ready to photosynthesize its own food.

Black beans.

Cooking without soaking relies on the brute force of heat to break apart the package rather than the elegant, gentle, natural mechanism given us in the simple seed. Akin to running over the pallet with a bulldozer. I find the flavor and texture are better with soaking, a bit sweeter and smoother. I cannot fathom the objection to soaking them overnight, as though it is some major inconvenience. Bear in mind, the farmer spent several months tending the crop for your table.  What’s a few more hours to do justice to the farmer’s careful effort? 

So that's it.

You can find a good selection of Ayers Creek Farm dried beans at Rubinette Produce.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Company's Coming: Gluten-Free Fruit Crisp, Anyone?


We've all been there. A good friend or beloved relative is coming to dinner, someone who has a dietary restriction, whether chosen—vegan, wheat-free, vegetarian, religious—or unchosen, like an allergy to nuts, wheat, garlic, sugar, etc., or an intolerance to certain foods. And I don't know about you, but my initail reaction is to freeze up when it comes to planning the menu.

This happened recently when a couple we've known for years were coming over, one of whom has ascertained over the years that her system doesn't respond well to gluten. It's not celiac disease, just as my husband's intolerance to lactose isn't life-threatening; it's just something that makes for a "rumbly tumbly," as Winnie-the-Pooh would say.

Gluten-free crumble topping? Done!

The main dish was easy—they're meat-eaters, and I'd just bought a grass-fed sirloin tip roast from Carman Ranch that I was planning to slice open, slather with a sorrel-shallot-rosemary-fennel pollen mixture, then roll up and rotisserie. An Astiana tomato risotto using tomato stock from the 120 pounds I'd roasted this summer, and a castelfranco chicory salad with Caesar dressing were easy decisions.

But then…dessert.
Ready to pop in the oven!

Virtually every dessert we normally make has some flour in it. Tarts, pies, crisps, cakes, all flour-dependent. Sorbet was an option, made with the scads of berries I had squirreled away in the freezer, but we were short on time for it to freeze properly. A trip to the store to buy a commercial sorbet was my back-pocket solution, but could I come up with a gluten-free dessert that wouldn't require (another) trip to the store? (The short on time element, remember?)

A search for "gluten free crumble" led to a recipe on the Kitchn website for a gluten-free topping that merely required grinding up oats in the food processor until they were the consistency of flour. Score! Their recipe (in my humble opinion) resulted in a clumpy product that didn't appeal to me, so I ground the oats in the processor and used the "flour" as a substitute for the flour called for in my family's crisp recipe, along with the usual suspects: brown sugar, oats, cinnamon and butter or margarine.

Delicious! A crisp for the ages.

The result was a virtual identical twin of the original recipe, especially glorious because I used a combination of frozen marionberries from our neighbor's garden and equally incredible Chester blackberries from Ayers Creek Farm—and the splash of Cointreau in the berries didn't hurt, either. And for the full-gluten experience, you can feel free to substitute one cup of all-purpose flour for the oat flour below.

Gluten-Free Berry Crisp

For the topping:
1 c. oat flour (see instructions, below)
3/4 c. uncooked rolled oats
1 c. brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cinnamon
1/2 c. melted butter or margarine

For the filling:
4-6 c. berries
1 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. Cointreau, triple sec or eau de vie

Make the oat flour by processing 1 1/4 cups of uncooked rolled oats in the food processor until it has a flour-like consistency. Mix the oat flour together with the other dry ingredients in a medium-sized bowl. Pour in melted butter or margarine and stir with fork to combine. Set aside.

Place berries in large mixing bowl. Add sugar, liqueur and cornstarch and mix thoroughly. Put in 9” by 12” baking pan. Scatter topping mixture over the top and bake in 350 degree oven for 50 min. to 1 hr. until bubbling.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

In Season: Fall Has Fell? More Like Exploded!


Like many farmers I've talked with in the last couple of weeks, Josh Alsberg of Rubinette Produce seemed shell-shocked at how quickly summer has left the scene. "It fell off the cliff real fast," he said, recalling how our usual leisurely stroll from summer into fall seemed more like a bad writer's solution to tying up the loose ends of a messy script.

A high mountain pass, a hairpin curve, screeching brakes and a looping, slow-motion tumble into the canyon. (Like one person's summary of the voluminous Anna Karenina: "Anna. Train. Squish.")

Espelette peppers for a spicy hot sauce.

It's certainly not all doom and gloom, though. Alsberg emphasized that farmers' market shoppers will find that some peppers are still available, as are some local table grapes that weren't mush-ified by the cold rains, but you'd best catch them now or say sayonara until next year.

Josh's favorite apple, the Rubinette, of course!

What you will discover at farmers' markets are a panoply of apples and pears from local orchards, along with fresh ciders by the gallon. And, on October 19th at Providore Fine Foods, Alsberg is hosting a tasting of more than two dozen varieties of heritage, heirloom and hard-to-find apples—specially priced for the event—as well as local ciders and a variety of apple-y treats from Tim Healea at Little T American Baker. Another reason to go? Five percent of the day's sales will go to benefit the Sauvie Island Center, which provides local children with unique experiences that helps them make the connection between the food they eat, farming and the land.

Black futsu.

Look for squash to come on strong—Alsberg hates the term "winter squash," preferring instead the term "hard squash" to differentiate it from the softer-textured summer squash like zucchini, costata romanesco, crookneck and pattypan. He rattles off delicata, acorn and butternut as the more common exemplars of the hard squashes, but gets a gleam in his eye when he talks about his fondness for more unusual (and usually better-flavored) varieties like Black Futsu, Tetsukabuto, Gill's Golden Pippin and Robin's Koginut, an organic variety developed by rock star vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek of Cornell University.

If you're looking for the best flavor, it's always better to know your local grower, Alsberg believes. "When it's industrially grown the flavor goes out the window," he said. Big growers are looking for yield and an ability to sustain less-than-ideal shipping conditions; flavor is way down the list of their priorities, he says.

Castelfranco chicory.

Chicories are also going to be abundant, and you'll find local farms offering not just radicchio, escarole and frisée on farmers' market tables, but pale green-speckled-with-red heads of Castelfranco, the long green romaine-like Sugarloaf (known as Pan di Zucchero in Italy) and the pink-to-deep-rose Rosalba. Tardivo is another variety that's gaining popularity, with its long, thin, arching leaves and thick white ribs. (Alsberg claims to have created the hashtag #ChicoryIsTheNewKale, and who am I to argue?)

A good year for mushrooms!

Local mushrooms are going strong, plentiful enough that you can look for good pricing on chanterelles in the coming weeks. Persimmons are also looking plentiful, and you might begin to find pawpaws from a couple local farms. Pawpaws, also called the Indiana banana, are the largest edible fruit native to North America with a flavor that tastes like a cross between a mango and a banana, and breeders have been adapting them to the Northwest's maritime climate.

Purple sprouting broccoli.

When I exclaimed at the bunches of purple sprouting broccoli that I saw on his shelves, Alsberg launched into the glories of brassicas, saying that they're just beginning their season and should be abundant for the next few weeks. The bottom line is, don't mourn the passing of summer, because there's plenty to be excited about in the chilly days to come.

Providore Fine Foods, which includes purveyors Rubinette Produce, Pastaworks, Flying Fish, The Meat Monger, Little T American Baker and Hilary Horvath Flowers, is an advertiser on Good Stuff NW.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Getting 'Shroomed: On the Mountain with Oregon's First Family of Fungi


"That's why we call it mushroom hunting, not mushroom picking."
- Jack Czarnecki on the rigors of foraging for mushrooms

The Czarnecki family is well on its way to becoming a mushroom foraging dynasty, with fungi running in their veins the way filaments of mycelia run under the forest floor. In 2012 I was privileged to meet Jack Czarnecki when I interviewed him for a story about Oregon truffles, then just beginning to be recognized as equals to their legendary cousins in France and Italy. Jack, the third generation of this restaurant family, migrated from his native Pennsylvania to Oregon so he could hunt mushrooms year round. Sensing my curiosity about his craft, he subsequently invited me to join him and his compatriots to climb in the legendary Trufflemobile on a hunt for their wiley prey.

Jack at Joe's Donut Shop on a previous hunt.

Jack, retired from restaurateuring as well as active mushroom hunting, has passed on the family's traditions to his sons Chris and Stefan. Chris, a chef, took over ownership of the Joel Palmer House in Dayton, assiduously maintaining its mushroom-centric focus while adding a more contemporary twist to its preparations. Stefan (top photo), who owns wine touring company Black Tie Tours, had announced he was taking a day away from that business to head up to Mt. Hood to hunt mushrooms for the restaurant, and I inquired if he might be able to squeeze in one additional passenger.

Dick Nelson, mushroom maven.

As with his father before him, we arranged to meet at Joe's Donuts in Sandy, a requisite stop for foragers to pay obeisance to the mountain gods for a successful hunt and a dandy place to get sustenance for what was sure to be a long day of clambering through brush and up and down hillsides. As we set out for the mountain, the shotgun position in the front seat next to Stefan was taken by his dad's longtime mushroom-hunting buddy Dick Nelson, as familiar with the spiderweb of rutted tracks leading to the best spots as was Jack. Much discussion ensued as to which spots might yield the best results, and a general plan was formulated.

White chanterelle emerging.

Our primary goal was to hunt matsutake mushrooms, prized for their distinctive spicy scent as well as their flavorful culinary properties. The "matsies" were just beginning to appear, pushing their way up out of the duff of the forest floor, often no more than a bump in the undergrowth or, at best, a glimpse of white through the needles. Second were porcinis, also considered a seasonal delicacy. Last but not least on the list were white chanterelles, cousins of the more ubiquitous gold-colored variety, and much more abundant than either the matsutakes or porcinis.

An early dusting of snow.

A dusting of snow covered the trees as we headed down the highway past Government Camp, turning off the main road to one of the secret spots euphemistically named for a distinctive feature like The Rocks or The Dock. A few favorite spots yielded a smattering of the targeted fungi, but it was our last stop, an anonymous wooded slope that I'd visited with Jack on a previous trip, that ended up yielding a small bonanza of matsutakes and a plethora of whites.

Dick finds the prized "matsi" of the day.

Fortunately I was with Dick, who would point with his walking stick—actually a mop handle he'd borrowed from his utility closet at home—at a slight mounded lump on the ground, suggesting I should brush aside some needles in case it might disguise a matsutake just popping up. Which it invariably would. These mushrooms need to be dug in their entirety rather than cut off at the base like the chanterelles, to reveal dusty, dry earth clinging to the base that, along with their distinctive aroma, is a telltale sign.

All told we gathered more than thirty pounds of mushrooms in five hours, most of which would be going to the Chris at the restaurant, but I was generously allowed to bring a few pounds home to roast and freeze for future dishes where I could relive the smell of the woods on our hunt, the bracing nip in the mountain air, and Dick's charming Mona Lisa smile.

Read more about this iconic Oregon family, including links to my articles on Oregon truffles and mushrooms. Top photo courtesy Stefan Czarnecki.

Saturday, October 05, 2019

Fermentation Fascination: DIY Hot Sauce


I had this whole plan, see? I'd been searching without success for the thick-skinned, thick-walled, fleshy espelette peppers like the ones I found four years ago from Viridian Farms—which is unfortunately no longer in existence—and used to such great effect to make some kick-ass, fruity, smoky harissa. In the intervening years I'd tried espelette peppers from various area farms, but the fruit, while it had the requisite thick skin, was uniformly thin-fleshed. When roasted, the flesh stuck to the skins like glue, making peeling arduous and not worth it in terms of resulting volume.

This year I was determined to try again to find those perfect peppers and purchased peppers from two more farms. Again, sad trombones.

Harissa.

With the first couple of pounds I managed to make a very small batch of harissa, but the next two pounds were just not going to be worth the work. Not wanting to waste their fruity, biting heat, I was casting about for good uses. Most suggestions were to dry and grind them to a powder, but then I ran across farmer and author Josh Volk's Instagram photo of chopped peppers that he'd fermented in a 3.5 percent salt mixture.

Bubbling away.

Aha!

A little back-and-forth with Josh led me to chop the two pounds of peppers in the food processor, add the salt, pack them in a Mason jar, set the jar in a dish in the basement, then put a zip-lock bag of water inside the jar like a pickling weight, which allows it to breathe (and overflow if necessary). Putting a lid on isn't necessary, but if you do, make sure it isn't screwed on tight—it needs to breathe!

After four days I saw bubbles and a little puddle underneath the jar, which indicated that fermentation was, indeed, occurring, so I left it for a few more days. Recipes say you can allow it to ferment for as long as a month, but being the impatient person I am, I gave it a week before bringing it upstairs to whiz in the blender, adding water to thin it to a sauce-like consistency.

Sour (i.e. pickled) corn.

The result? Well, we used it as a hot sauce on pork tacos along with some of Hank Shaw's sour corn that I'd made earlier and we thought it was great. But the real test came when I gave some to my neighbor Ivy Manning,  a hot sauce aficionado as well as author of countless authoritative cookbooks, for her expert opinion. Her reaction? "Can you just pour some out on the counter so I can roll in it?"

'Nuff said.