Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Got Chives? Make Chive Oil and Blossom Vinegar!


I planted chives in my garden a couple of years ago because I love the color and onion-y bite the chopped greens bring to green and grain salads, hot or cold vegetable dishes, eggs, or pasta. So when the purple pompoms of their blossoms started to appear, it seemed like there should be a better use for them than simply as a garnish, which would really only use a few of them. (I'm not a big garnish person, anyway, since most food I make around here disappears before I can "scatter artistically" as Martha Stewart might suggest.)

Chive blossoms in my garden.

Doing a bit of research, I found suggestions for making infused vinegar and oil using the chive blossoms and stems which can then be used to make a vinaigrette for salads and vegetables. The vinegar picks up a gorgeous rhubarb-red tint from the blossoms, and the oil gains a light chive flavor from a mix of blossoms and chopped stems, which would be fabulous for dipping crusty bread, Italian-style, or drizzling over crostata or grilled fish. Our house vinaigrette recipe would be perfect using the oil and substituting the vinegar for the lemon juice.

Infuse, strain. Done!

Like most infusions, this is dead simple to prepare, requiring stuffing the blossoms or chopped stems into jars and filling with vinegar or oil. Seal the jar, take it into your basement or a cool cupboard for a couple of weeks, then strain and—voila!—it's done. Make enough and you can fill small jars to share with friends.

Chive Blossom Vinegar and Chive Oil

Clip blossoming chives near the base of the stem, trimming off brown or dried parts. Pick off blossoms. Chop stems into 1/2" lengths.

For vinegar, pack blossoms into pint jar (or jars, depending on how many blossoms you have and how much vinegar you'll use). Fill jar with vinegar to within 1/2" of top. I used white wine vinegar, but some recipes call for white vinegar, which to my taste would be too strong; others call for white balsamic vinegar. Seal with lid, but not too tightly, to allow vinegar to breathe. Store in cool, dark place for two weeks. Strain into clean jar(s) and seal with lid(s). Keep up to six months in a cupboard away from heat or light.

For oil, fill jar(s) 2/3 full with stems and a few blossoms. Fill with extra virgin olive oil to within 1/2" of top. Seal with lid and store in cool, dark place for two weeks. Strain into medium bowl or pint measuring cup, then pour strained oil into ice cube tray and freeze (this prevents botulism* spores from developing). Pop frozen cubes out of trays and place in zip-lock bag. Store in freezer and thaw as needed.

* This step is a fairly recent requirement in food preservation and is not reflected in the dozen or so recipes I consulted in reputable recipe books and online, but it makes sense considering the risk.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

In Season: Summer Avalanche Warning


It wasn't an auspicious beginning to a meeting. As I sat down to talk with Josh Alsberg, aka "Fruit Monkey" and proprietor of Rubinette Produce in the wondrous land of food that is Providore Fine Foods, he said he had sad news.

"Strawberries are done," he deadpanned.

Hood strawberries.

My shocked expression caused him to quickly add, "I mean Hoods. The heat cut them off." Then Alsberg assured me that we will be seeing other varieties like Seascapes and Albions through the summer and into September, though the harvest this year is looking slimmer than usual—the word he used was "trickle"—so he's advising you strawberry addicts out there to get to the farmers' markets on the early side to get your fix.

In happier news, he said the bounty of other berries is about to bury us, and he's started to see raspberries, blackberries, tayberries and loganberries on farmers' fresh sheets. He expects marionberries and local blueberries to appear en masse by the 4th of July, and the "bloobs," as we refer to them here at home, should stick around well into August.

Blueberries ahoy!

A caveat: Alsberg emphasizes that the summer's heat will affect all the berries—it can make strawberries more woody. He said the best time to buy berries at the markets is on the early side while they're still cool, then process them soon after you get home so they're not sitting around in the heat. As for freezing, his advice is to spread the berries out on sheet trays—the industry refers to it as "IQF" or "Individually Quick Freeze"—before freezing and bagging. (I hasten to add that Monsieur Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm would disagree…)

Cherries aplenty

Alsberg also crows that "cherries are on!" and we should be seeing local—he includes Washington's Yakima-area fruit in that definition—red-fleshed varieties like Attikas, Royal Brooks and Chelans at farmers' market stalls. Pro tip: Alsberg shares that local cherries tend to be more expensive at the beginning of the season when the harvest is just getting going, so if you can hold off until after July 4th, you should see prices begin to drop somewhat. (Wink wink, nudge nudge.)

Costata romesco squash.

It's not all fruit out there, either, and despite his Fruit Monkey moniker, Alsberg is equally excited about the coming avalanche of vegetables about to bury us in local green (and yellow and red and…). We're in the throes of squash season, he says, with zucchini, crookneck, eight-ball (a type of ball-shaped zucchini), pattypan and costata romanesco (a ribbed green summer variety) flooding in. You'll also find alliums in abundance, with scapes of all sorts—leek, shallot, garlic, etc.—sticking around for a bit, soon to be overshadowed by fresh, as opposed to cured, Walla Wallas, red onions, scallions and fresh shallots.

Sprouting cauliflower.

There is the slightest whisper about local tomatoes starting to appear, but Alsberg said that it'll be mid-July before they'll be available in any quantity. Peas, asparagus and favas, those fleeting bright green delights of spring, are on their way out, as are the spring roots like radishes and turnips, but cucumbers are coming and local lettuces are in their glory right now. Romano beans and their compatriots are just starting to appear, as are all the herbs, including my favorites, basil and tarragon, along with local celery and carrots, as well as newer faces like sprouting cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli (referred to as PSB in certain circles).

A rainbow of potato varieties.

Alsberg didn't realize he'd made "ze leetle joke" when he said that "new potatoes are starting to turn up" (ha!), but shoppers should find yellow, red and fingerlings aplenty. With warming temperatures, rhubarb will be getting scarce, but don't despair, local eggplant is coming, as are melons (by the end of July) and apricots.

Other bits and bobs to look for include orach, a red-leaved plant in the same family as spinach and chard, and arugula. Local corn will be coming around the end of July, as will the plethora of peppers from sweet to hot. You'll start seeing plums in mid-July with the full panoply appearing in August along with table grapes.

My advice? Boot up your spreadsheets and make a plan to use some of this local goodness now with schemes to preserve some for winter!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Summer Reading List for Food-ophiles


Civil Eats, which I like to think of as a national version of Good Stuff NW (ahem…), has just put out its summer reading list of books about our food system, 21 New and Noteworthy Food and Farming Books to Read This Summer.

Included are a wide range of topics, from Black Food Geographies: Race, Self-Reliance, and Food Access in Washington, D.C. by Ashanté M. Reese, to Robyn Metcalfe's Food Routes: Growing Bananas in Iceland and Other Tales from the Logistics of Eating. There are a few more traditional(-ish) cookbooks, too, like Indian(-ish): Recipes and Antics From a Modern American Family by Priya Krishna with Ritu Krishna, and Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables, 100+ Recipes and 230+ Variations by Abra Berens. There's even a celebrity(-ish) tome from author and journalist Michael Pollan's mom and three sisters called Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes from the Pollan Family.

I also contributed a review to this collection, of an engaging book from first-time author Stephany Wilkes called Raw Material: Working Wool in the West (top photo) that describes her transition from high tech executive in Silicon Valley to itinerant sheep shearer in the American West. My review said, in part, that she "brings to life the cast of the interesting characters and ornery sheep she encounters on her journey to understand the ranchers and the land they steward, and [to] discover the terroir of wool."

Five Fabulous Summer Cocktails


For once I'm not going to give you a lengthy lead-in, describing sipping margaritas over a long evening watching the waves wash in as the sun set at a little palapa on the Malecón in Puerto Vallarta—true story!—or waxing eloquent about cachaça, the fermented sugar cane brandy of Brazil. Nope, I'm getting right to the recipes, because that's what's important when you've got a hankering for a cold drink on a hot summer day. Cheers!

Dave's Ultra Margarita
Adapted from the Coyote Cafe

2 Tbsp. extrafine sugar
6 Tbsp. lime juice
3 oz. blue agave tequila
2 tsp. Cointreau or triple sec
Kosher salt
1 lime

Put large-size martini glasses in freezer to chill. Fill cocktail shaker 2/3 full of ice. Put all ingredients into shaker. Shake till "the sound starts to change just a little bit" (10-15 seconds at most). Take glasses out of freezer. Put salt in a wide, shallow container. Cut a small wedge of lime, make small cut in center of the wedge from cut edge to pith. Put over edge of glass and run the wedge around it. Holding the glass at an angle, submerge the edge in the pile of salt and twirl. Put one large ice cube in glass. Pour 1/2 of margarita mixture in each glass.

* * *

Caipirinha

1 heaping Tbsp. superfine (baker's) sugar
1/2 lime
2 oz. cachaca

Trim ends off lime so white rind is gone. Cut lengthwise and remove pith from center. Slice almost all the way through perpendicular to axis of lime, leaving rind side intact. Slice diagonally a couple of times, again, not slicing through. Cut in half, perpendicular to axis and put in glass flesh side up.

Put sugar over lime. Muddle gently, squeezing out all the juice you can. Put into shaker. Fill with ice. Add the cachaca. Shake. Pour with ice into tumbler.

* * *

Gimlet

2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup*

To make simple syrup, in a small mixing bowl stir 1 c. sugar (or superfine baker's sugar) into 1 c. water until dissolved.

Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

* Think about simple syrup differently, and your cocktail can suddenly take on a whole different character. Infuse the syrup with rhubarb or elderflower or basil or…?

* * *

Americano Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Campari
1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
Club soda
Lemon twist

Fill cocktail glass half full of ice. Add Campari and sweet vermouth. Top with club soda and stir to combine. Add lemon twist.

* * *

Mojito
Adapted from Williams Sonoma's The Bar Guide

6 fresh mint leaves
1-1/2 Tbsp. simple syrup
1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice
Crushed ice
2 oz. light rum
2 oz. club soda
Lime wedge for garnish

Put mint leaves into a highball glass. Add simple syrup and lime juice. Muddle gently (try to leave the leaves whole rather than tearing them up too much...that way you won't have to strain them through your teeth when you drink it). Fill glass with crushed ice and add rum and soda. Garnish with lime wedge.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rollin' Rollin' Rollin': Meatloaf with Greens & Cheese


Do you ever get an idea in your head and it just sits there, occasionally tweaking your brain with that "now what was that" niggling feeling? That was the case when I was thawing out some pasture-raised hamburger from Carman Ranch the other night, wondering whether to make burgers—we had leftover homemade buns in the freezer—or a marinara with pasta, or tacos or…meatloaf?

Pat out the meat and top with cheese and greens.

That's when it hit me. That idea I'd toyed with at some point in the misty past to make a meatloaf with the usual sofrito of onions and garlic, binding it with eggs and oats, but then flattening it out, filling it with with greens and rolling it up like a jelly roll.

How would I roll it up? Would it stay together or crumble into a mashy mess? There was only one way to find out.

Pull away the sheet as you roll.

Fortunately, my neighbor Bill had gifted me some radishes from his garden with their gorgeous greens still attached, and we had some leftover grated Parmesan from a risotto I'd made the night before. The rest, as they say, was history.

Rolled Meatloaf with Greens and Cheese

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped fine
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 lbs. hamburger
1 1/2 lbs. ground pork
2 eggs
1/2 c. rolled oats
1 Tbsp. dried herbs (I used a combination of basil, oregano and thyme)
2-3 c. greens, sliced into chiffonade (I used radish greens, but kale, spinach, chard or any other greens would do.)
1 c. finely grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 375°.

Heat olive oil in medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers, add chopped onion and sauté until tender. Add garlic and sauté briefly until aromatic. Take off heat and allow to cool.

Combine hamburger, pork*, eggs, oats and onion mixture in a large bowl. (I mix it using just my fingers so the meat stays crumbly and doesn't get clumped together.) Form the meat into a loose ball in the bowl.

Lay out a sheet of parchment paper or plastic wrap about 15" long on a cutting board. Put the meat in the center of the sheet and start pressing it out until it's about 3/8" thick. Sprinkle it with the cheese and the greens in an even layer. Take the long edge of the sheet and start rolling it, repairing any cracks with your fingers, peeling away the sheet as you roll. Close up each end by patting the meat over the exposed edges.

When it's rolled up completely, transfer seam-side down to a sheet pan that's lined with parchment. Bake in a 375° oven for 40-50 minutes until instant-read thermometer inserted in thickest part reads between 140-150° (cookbooks all say 160°, but I find that results in drier meatloaf, so you decide for yourself). Remove from oven, tent with foil and allow to rest for 15 min. Slice and serve.

* I like a combination of beef and pork, since it seems to me to make a moister loaf, but all-beef is perfectly fine, too.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Smokin' Dinner: Puerto Rican-Style Smoked Pork Shoulder & Black Beans


When I invited two of my favorite Italian restaurant owners over for dinner, the last thing they were going to hear from me was, "Wait until you try my risotto. I think you'll love it!"

So I went in a completely different direction, to the small island east of Cuba that was hammered so mercilessly by Hurricane Maria a little less than two years ago, an island filled with our fellow American citizens who are still all but ignored in the sturm und drang of our current national crises du jour.

Going into the smoker.

It's hard to find this island's cuisine represented on our local dining scene, and while the flavors of cumin, garlic and chile are found in many Latin cultures, I thought it might be fun to make a dinner based on a Puerto Rican theme. Plus we love their take on pork shoulder, a dish called pernil that, though delicious when roasted in an oven or even on a grill, takes on a whole different character when left for several hours in the smoker.

With Dave primed to spend his day, beer in hand, tending the fire, I needed to come up with a side that would fit in. It just so happened that I had some black turtle beans from Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm in the pantry, so I put them on to soak while I did a little research.

Ready to go! (And check out that smoke ring.)

Similar to the black beans I make for taco nights at home, traditional preparations start with a sofrito of onions, garlic, cumin and chile powder, then add in chopped peppers, splashes of wine and vinegar, and chopped olives. These are best simmered for several hours, allowing the beans to get buttery-tender and for flavors to meld into a rich, stewy whole, so I put them on first thing in the morning. Cooking them overnight in a 250° oven would work, too, the only problem being you'd wake up wanting to make huevos rancheros after breathing in the heady aroma of the cooking beans all night.

Dave, of course, did his usual magic with the pernil, allowing the pork to roast low and slow, swathed in the smoke from the mix of charcoal and fresh oak. And the beans got their share of raves, along with sincere thanks from our friends, who, like most chefs I've cooked for, are just grateful to have someone cook for them for once!

Pernil
Adapted from Mark Bittman

1 pork shoulder, 4-10 lbs.
4 or more cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, quartered
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves or 1 Tbsp. dried
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ancho or other mild chili powder
1 Tbsp. salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil as needed
1 Tbsp. wine or cider vinegar
Lime wedges for serving.

Heat oven to 300 degrees or prepare a fire in the smoker, allowing it to reach a stable temperature of 250-275°.

Score meat with a sharp knife, making a cross-hatch pattern. Pulse garlic, onion, oregano, cumin, chili, salt and pepper together in a food processor, adding oil in a drizzle and scraping down sides as necessary, until mixture is pasty. Blend in the vinegar.

Rub this mixture into pork, getting it into every nook and cranny. Put pork in a roasting pan and film bottom with water or, if smoking in the smoker, place it on a rack above a pan of water. Roast pork for several hours until an instant-read thermometer reads 180°. [Our 10-lb. shoulder took 6 hrs. - KB]. Add more water to the pan as necessary, until meat is very tender.

Let meat rest for 10 to 15 minutes before cutting it up; meat should be so tender that cutting it into uniform slices is almost impossible; rather, whack it up into chunks. Serve with lime.

* * *

Puerto Rican-Style Black Beans

1  lb. dried black beans, rinsed thoroughly
3  Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1  large yellow onion, chopped
2 poblano peppers, chopped in 1/2" pieces
4 to 5  garlic cloves, crushed
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. oregano
4 c. water
3  bay leaves
1 Tbsp. salt, plus more to taste
2  Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/2  c. dry white wine
1/2  c. green olives stuffed with pimentos, thinly sliced

The day before cooking, soak beans overnight in large pot with water covering them by at least 3". The next day drain them and rinse. Set aside.

Heat oil over medium-high heat in large Dutch oven. Sauté onions until translucent, stirring frequently. Add chopped peppers and garlic and sauté until tender. Add cumin and oregano and sauté 30 seconds. Pour in water and add drained beans, olives, bay leaves, vinegar, and white wine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook, covered, for at least 2 hours. Check occasionally to make sure the beans aren't dry. If they are, add more water.

When beans are tender, if beans are too soupy remove lid and keep simmering until liquid is reduced. Remove bay leaves, turn heat down to warm until ready to serve.

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Your Food, Your Legislature: Take Action to Protect Oregon from Invasive Canola


Canola has a long and sordid history in Oregon going back to 1990, when it was designated as a controlled crop with strict regulations on where it could be grown in the Willamette Valley, because of its habit of cross-pollinating with other crops. And ever since, producers have come back again and again to try to expand the restrictions on its production.

On July 1, current rules that cap annual canola production at 500 acres in the Willamette Valley expire, and—suprise, surprise—once again canola producers are attempting to roll back that restriction. The Oregon Legislature is considering SB 885, a bill that would maintain the current 500 acre per year cap indefinitely.

Canola field in Boardman, Oregon.

Meanwhile, according to Ivan Maluski, Policy director of Friends of Family Farmers, the ODA has announced a newly proposed rule to replace current expiring canola restrictions. "This draft proposal simply falls short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of the Willamette Valley’s specialty seed industry," Maluski writes. "ODA’s proposal includes no acreage cap, doesn’t explicitly prohibit canola production in a proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves large parts of the Willamette Valley unprotected."

What can you do about it? You can e-mail your legislators and tell them to maintain the current restrictions as outlined in SB 885 (sample letter at bottom). You can also submit e-mail comments on the ODA canola rule by Friday, June 21 at 5 pm (sample text at bottom; written comments can be sent to Sunny Summers, Oregon Department of Agriculture, 635 Capitol St. NE, Salem, OR 97301).

Canola blossom.

Why should you bother? Here's what I wrote in 2012:

"The Willamette River, from its headwaters in the Calapooya Mountains outside of Eugene to its confluence with the Columbia north of Portland, forms the base of a long narrow valley that not only contains 70% of the state's population, it's also Oregon's most fertile agricultural area. Averaging only 25 miles wide, the valley's rich volcanic and glacial soil was deposited here by ancient Ice Age flooding and can be half a mile deep in some areas.

"Orchards, vineyards and farmland vie with urban areas for space in its narrow confines, and some crops have been tightly controlled to prevent problems with cross-pollination from the distribution of pollen by the wind, water and dust churned up by traffic along its length. Canola, also known as rapeseed, has been one of those controlled crops and has been regulated in Oregon since 1990.

"Because it is a member of the Brassica family (Brassica napus, B. rapa and B. juncea), it can cross-pollinate with with similar brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, kale and turnips, endangering these valley crops and the farmers who depend on them for their livelihoods. With the bulk of the domestic canola crop also contaminated with GMOs (approx. 93%), this presents a particular threat to organic farmers and seed producers, since current USDA Organic guidelines do not allow for genetically engineered material."

Canola cross-pollinates with other brassicas.

The Oregon Dept. of Agriculture (ODA) issued a temporary ruling in 2012 to allow planting of the crop in certain formerly protected areas, prompting Friends of Family Farmers (FoFF), the Center for Food Safety (CFS) and three Willamette Valley specialty seed producers to file suit to stop the ruling from taking effect. As a result, the Oregon Court of Appeals overturned the ODA's action, whereupon the ODA filed for a permanent ruling to allow growing of canola, prompting the legislature to pass a ban on the production of canola in most of the valley through 2018. Unfortunately, in 2015 a handful of canola growers unhappy with the previous bill pushed through HB 3382, which authorized 500 acres of commercial canola production per year from 2016 through July of 2019.

What all this means that if you care about being able to buy locally grown, organic, non-GMO produce at the farmers' market or greengrocer's, it would behoove you to write your legislators and submit a comment to the ODA. I've made it simple to do by supplying suggested text (below) that you can copy and paste into your e-mails or letters. (Thanks to FoFF for supplying bullet points).

* * *

(Find your legislator here.)

Dear [legislator],

I am writing to urge you to support SB 885. We must maintain current restrictions on Willamette Valley canola production that expire July 1 in order to protect the region’s important specialty seed industry and the hundreds of farmers, gardeners, and food producers who depend on it.

Thank you,

[your name and address]

* * *

(Here's the ODA's e-mail address.)

Dear Director Taylor:

I am writing because the Oregon Department of Agriculture’s draft proposal to address the risks from canola production falls far short of what is necessary to protect the unique attributes of Oregon’s world-renowned specialty seed industry.

I oppose the draft rule because it includes no acreage cap, doesn’t prohibit canola inside the proposed Isolation Area, doesn’t prohibit herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered canola varieties, and leaves many Willamette Valley farmers unprotected from the risks associated with canola.

The final rule should include: an acreage cap not to exceed 500 acres per year inside the Willamette Valley Protected District; a clear prohibition on canola production inside the proposed Isolation Area; a larger Isolation Area where no production of canola would be allowed; clear protections for seed farmers outside the proposed Isolation Area; and a clear prohibition on growing herbicide tolerant or genetically engineered varieties of canola.

Thank you,

[your name and address]