Monday, September 28, 2009

Dinner Club: Eating Local


sunflowers from Me & Moore Farm in Eugene, OR

My husband and I were lucky enough to play host to our dinner club this month. We live in a part of the world that never ceases to amaze us with its bounty, so we chose to eat local for dinner club! Our original rule was that every last ingredient had to be found at least in our state (if not closer!), but we did end up having to cheat with a few hard-to-find ingredients. Not everyone stuck with the rules, but everyone had lots of fun. It was really interesting doing all of the research, contacting local farmers, and making what are usually convenience items from scratch. I highly recommend giving this a try where you live. It is a wonderful way to gain appreciation for local agriculture and gratefulness for the global ingredients we have easy access to these days. Without further ado, the menu and the recipes (with links to sources provided where applicable).

local apples holding beeswax candles from Beeswax Candle Works in Cottage Grove, OR, which uses wax from local bees

The Menu
  • Roasted red pepper, eggplant, and feta spread with non-local crackers
  • A trio of local cheeses
  • Pears, grapes, and strawberries
  • Height-of-Summer Five Tomato Salad with Gorgonzola Toasts ( I don't even like gorgonzola, and I love these!)
  • Fresh Roasted Beets and Carrots
  • Individual Beef Pot Pies (scroll down for the recipe!)
  • Apple Pandowdy
  • Fresh Apple Cider that we pressed ourselves in our backyard (it was so much fun; highly recommended!)
  • Tiny gala apples covered in honey caramel (another great recipe located below)

We were in charge of the main course and the beverage, and I threw together the caramel apples as a little party favor. One of the most interesting things about this project was making things from scratch that I usually buy at the grocery store without giving it a second thought, things like beef and chicken stock, tomato paste, and apple cider. I even attempted to find salt! We live in a coastal state, so you wouldn't think this would be a big problem, but apparently Hawaii and Maine are the only US states that do the salt thing. I did find some at the giftshop of a historical maritime museum, and I sent the nice lady on the phone a check and self-addressed, stamped envelope and waited patiently. When my hotly anticipated salt packets arrived, however, they had "Not for human consumption" stamped across the front. What else is someone going to use a packet of salt for?! Below, you can find the recipes for the pot pies and the caramel. Enjoy!

Individual Beef Pot Pies
adapted from a recipe in the Cooks Country cookbook

crust:
3 oz cream cheese, softened (from Nancy's in Springfield, OR)
8 Tablespoons butter, softened (from Umpqua Dairy in Roseburg, OR)
1 cup white, whole wheat flour (ground from wheat from Sunbow Farm in Corvallis, OR)
a pinch of salt, not local :(

Combine cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add flour and salt; mix until well-combined. Chill until you are ready to use it.

filling:
1 Tablespoon olive oil (from the Oregon Olive Mill at Red Ridge Farms in Dayton, OR)
2 lbs stew beef, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks (from Knee Deep Cattle Company in Coburg, OR)
1 large onion, minced (from my backyard)
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped (from Thistledown Farm in Junction City, OR)
4 cloves garlic, minced (Thistledown)
1 lb potatoes, peeled and cubed (from my backyard)
5 Tablespoons flour (see crust recipe)
1 3/4 cups chicken stock (made with all local ingredients except cloves and peppercorns)
1 3/4 cups beef stock (made with all local ingredients)
3/4 cup red wine (from Hinman Vineyards outside of Eugene, OR)
1 Tablespoon tomato paste (made from tomatoes from my backyard)
2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme (from my backyard)
1 cup frozen peas (from my backyard--this wiped out the last of our stash)
1 bay leaf (I'm pretty sure these were local, although I'm not positive)

Dry the beef thoroughly with paper towels, then season with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottom pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in small batches, brown the meat on all sides. Remove from pot and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium, and add the onions, carrots, and potatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onion has browned lightly, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook 1 minute more. Add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly, for another minute. Whisk in the wine, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Add stocks, tomato paste, thyme, and the bay leaf. Add the meat along with any juices that have accumulated. Bring to a simmer, partially cover, and reduce heat. Continue simmering until the stew is just a little thinner than you'd like, cover completely, and continue cooking until the meat is very tender. We got to this point about 2 hours after starting the whole recipe. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove dough from fridge. If you are making individual pot pies, divide the dough up into the corresponding number of balls. Pat the dough out until it can fit over the top of your baking dish with a small amount of dough hanging over, about 1/4 inch all the way around. Remove stew from heat, add peas, and stir. Divide stew into individual baking dishes, top with crust, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until filling is bubbly and crust is nicely browned. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving. Don't worry; pot pies stay hot forever!

Honey Caramel
from the National Honey Board

1 cup butter (from Umpqua Dairy in Roseburg, OR)
2 cups pure honey (from Bear Mountain Honey in Creswell, OR)
2 cups whipping cream (from Lochmead Dairy in Eugene, OR)
1 cup brown sugar (This is one where I partially cheated: White Satin sugar--which produces lots of store brands including Albertson's, Safeway, and WinCo here in Oregon, uses sugar beets from both Oregon and Idaho. I did my best!)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (again, I cheated, but I used vanilla extract that I made myself from Tahitian vanilla beans and vodka)

Melt butter in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add honey, cream, and brown sugar; mix well. Cook until mixture comes to a boil, stirring frequently. Continue boiling and stirring until a candy thermometer registers 250 degrees. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. If you want to make caramel apples, let the caramel cool to room temperature before dipping, then refrigerate. If you want to make caramels, pour the hot caramel into a 9-inch square pan lined with plastic wrap; refrigerate before cutting.
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Sunday, September 27, 2009

Daring Bakers and Sweet Melissa Sundays


The September 2009 Daring Bakers' Challenge was hosted by Steph of A Whisk and a Spoon. She chose the French treat, Vols-au-Vent based on the Puff Pastry recipe by Michel Richard from the cookbook Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan.

This month's Daring Bakers Challenge was so much fun. We had to make vols-au-vent, which are basically little puff pastry cylinders filled with sweet or savory deliciousness. The best part was that we had to make our own puff pastry! This was something I had never done before, and to be perfectly honest, something I hadn't even considered doing. Store-bought puff pastry is pretty darn good, and you cannot beat it for convenience. Thaw, unfold, use. But making my own puff pastry was a cinch! I kept expecting it to be hard at some point, but it really wasn't at all. For anyone who hasn't done this before, you just make a dough out of flour, salt, and water, beat a few sticks of butter into a flat square with your rolling pin, and wrap the butter up in the dough like a Christmas present. Then you roll out the dough/butter sandwich, fold it, and give it a quarter turn. Repeat this 5 more times with a lot of chilling time between sessions and voila! Puff pastry! To make vols-au-vent, you use a round biscuit cutter to cut out pairs of circles. One circle is the bottom of the cylinder, and the other gets its middle cut out and becomes the walls. This is the only part of the entire experience that gave me trouble. The bottoms are supposed to stay at least a little flat, while the walls rise up nice and tall, thus giving you something to fill. The complete opposite happened to me: the bottom of each cylinder rose about 3 inches while the walls stayed flat. But they tasted good, and they were just for us for dinner, so I didn't really care that they looked odd and didn't hold any filling. I topped mine with a creamy, herb-filled chicken pot pie filling. It was delicious, and I'm glad I have extra puff pastry in the freezer that can be pulled out and made into all sorts of buttery delights!



This week's recipe for Sweet Melissa Sundays was for Savory Muffins with Caramelized Onion, Sage, and Cheddar, which we had with Corn Risotto with Bacon and Basil (really good!). They had a really, really good flavor, but unfortunately, my muffins were really dry. Luckily, there are other variations on the savory muffin recipe, so I will get to try it again at some point and work out the kinks. Thanks to the wonderful Hanaa of Hanaa's Kitchen for choosing this week's recipe, which can be found on her blog.
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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cooking With Kids: The Family Kitchen (and Individual Zucchini and Cheddar Frittatas)


I checked this cookbook out of the library, spent a few evenings browsing it in bed before turning out the lights, and decided that I have to own it. What a fantastic cookbook!! Written by award-winning chef (and mom) Debra Ponzek, The Family Kitchen is chock full of beautiful photos and wholesome, made-from-scratch delights ranging from blueberry crumb muffins for breakfast to balsamic, rosemary, and lemon grilled chicken for dinner to turtle brownies for dessert. One of the things I like most about this cookbook is that it is a regular cookbook with food that adults will love and that kids can help prepare. Each recipe is written as a regular recipe with a little box in the margin that tells you what steps kids can do either with help or on their own. The cookbook also includes sections on safety, organization, and sanitation.

Good Things:
-This cookbook is a regular cookbook! It has lots of recipes (nearly 100), lovely pictures, and nice stories to go along with each item.
-The Family Kitchen isn't a cookbook for kids; it is a cookbook for families, and I really love that! The food is just regular food that grown-ups will like eating and kids will like helping to prepare.
-The food is delicious, and not in a "Wow, I'm surprised!" way.

Bad Things:
-This isn't a cookbook for young children to start making things on their own.
-All of the food looks lovely and appetizing, but it isn't your typical "kid-friendly" food. I wasn't sure whether to list that under bad things or good things! If you have picky eaters, sometimes you have to resort to pizza faces and fruit salad with colored marshmallows, OK!
-While it is a lovely cookbook, there is nothing visually to capture the fancy of a preschooler or young grade-schooler.

Overall: Like I said, I checked it out of the library, and am going to buy a copy as soon as it is due back. I think that is pretty high praise!

Individual Zucchini and Cheddar Frittatas
from The Family Kitchen by Debra Ponzek
These were delicious and incredibly easy to prepare. We were short 1 egg, so we just decreased the half-and-half by a smidge and they turned out fine. Really great reheated the next day too!


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 medium zucchini, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
2 shallots, thinly sliced
3/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground pepper
7 large eggs
2/3 cup half-and-half
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar cheese (we used a mixture of medium orange cheddar and mozzarella)
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously spray 12 cups of a muffin tin with cooking spray. In a medium saute pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until just shimmering. Add the zucchini and shallots and saute for 3 to 4 minutes, or until wilted and soft. Pour off or drain any excess moisture. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and about 1/8 teaspoon pepper. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, half-and-half, cheddar cheese, thyme, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. We did not add the cheese at this point. Season with a few grinds of pepper. Divide the zucchini mixture among the muffin cups. This is where we dealt with the cheese. We sprinkled the cheese on top of the zucchini in each cup. Top each cup with the egg mixture, dividing it equally among the cups. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until puffy, golden brown, and just set. Run a dull kitchen knife around the outside of each frittata and remove. Serve immediately.
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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Cake Slice and Sweet Melissa Sundays


Let's get this Cake Slice business out of the way first. Since I wasn't the best Cake Slice Baker this summer, it was really important to me to end our twelve months baking from Sky High: Triple Layer Cakes with a strong effort. So, in spite of a very busy week, I made time to bake a Triple Chocolate Fudge Cake because I didn't want to blow off yet another month, and because the picture in the cookbook looked so darn pretty. Things, however, went wrong in a big, big way. After filling and crumb-coating the cake, I carefully lifted it into the fridge for its big chill. Sadly, the foot of the cake pedestal snagged on the edge of the fridge shelf and all three layers went flying into the fridge, which was littered with dry carrot leaves from an earlier project. After some crying and swearing, I picked off the crumbling greenery, shoved the layers back together, threw away the large chunk that had broken off the top, and decided to persevere. I frosted it, tried to make it look its best, and loaded it into the car. Despite going incredibly slowly and taking every turn at a probably-annoying-to-other-drivers crawl, the whole thing fell over again and wedged itself against the passenger-side door. I had to open the door very slowly while wiggling my hand and arm into the car so that I could catch the cake, pedestal, and dome before they shattered in the gutter! And it didn't even have the decency to fall on the side that was already missing a sizable chunk. Maybe I was hardened to it by the time I tried it, but I didn't think it tasted good and threw away most of my piece.

Next month, we start baking from an all new, not completely full of layer cakes book! Hooray! And if you want to join, I think the powers that be are accepting new recruits. The information is at the end of this post by Katie of Apple & Spice, where you can also find the recipe for the cake, which lots of people other than me liked a lot!


And now, for Sweet Melissa. Sweet, sweet Melissa. I can't begin to say how much I love this cookbook. If you haven't been persuaded to buy The Sweet Melissa Baking Book yet, you must have a heart--nay, a stomach--of stone! This week's recipe for Orange Scented Scones was chosen by Robin of Lady Craddock's Bakery. This recipe has made a scone-lover out of me! I usually find scones a little on the heavy side, but Melissa Murphy's recipe produces light, airy cakes that are pleasantly crisp on the outside and deliciously tender on the inside. As per the advice of our lovely hostess for the week, I doubled the amount of orange zest in the dough. I also made a glaze with powdered sugar and the juice from my zested orange, and poured that over the top of each scone after they had cooled for about 5 minutes. They were simply heavenly! And after the chocolate cake debacle, I think I deserved a little baked heaven!

You can find the recipe for these delicious Orange Scented Scones here, at Robin's blog.
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Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Perfect Pound Cake


This week's delicious SMS recipe for Perfect Pound Cake was chosen by Michele of Veggie Nums Nums. If you'd like the recipe, she has graciously posted it--along with all of the notes from the cookbook--on her blog!

I really enjoyed making this lovely pound cake. I like fancy recipes, but life's current hectic-ness makes me appreciate recipes that call for normal ingredients, come together quickly, and taste wonderful. Melissa Murphy's pound cake recipe definitely fits the bill in every way. My only regret is that I didn't really get to have any! I made it for a baby shower, but my husband had to work late that day. So the cake hitched a ride with a friend, and I only got to eat the ends! Poo! I hope everyone liked it. I haven't had any phone calls thanking me for the most delicious pound cake ever, but no one has thrown eggs at my house either, so I think it was at least passable!

To see how other Sweet Melissa bakers fared, and to get perhaps a slightly better opinion of this week's recipe, visit http://sweetmelissasundays.wordpress.com/bakers/
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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Sweet Melissa Sundays: Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake


This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays recipe, Fallen Chocolate Souffle Cake was chosen by Sarah of Blue Ridge Baker. I think everyone was really excited to make this cake because it looks absolutely beautiful on the cover of The Sweet Melissa Baking Book. And it was beautiful in person, and quite easy to make. I just wish I had liked it more! Quite a few other SMS bakers found that their cakes baked a lot more quickly than the recipe indicated, but I baked mine for the full amount of time...and my cake seemed dry. Nevertheless, it was a joy to photograph. Quite dramatic!

I would love to try someone else's results just to see if they were better! Does anyone want to overnight a piece to me? ;)
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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cooking With Kids: Paula Deen's My First Cookbook (and Sausage Quiche)


When I was growing up, Santa brought me and each of my siblings (and my mom) a new cookbook each Christmas. Now that I'm a mom, it is a tradition I plan on continuing with my own children. My oldest got her first cookbook last Christmas, Paula Deen's My First Cookbook. She loves it, and so do I! We've made at least half of the recipes from this adorable cookbook, and they've been pretty darn good. There aren't any recipe photos, which I usually think is the death knell for a cookbook, but every page is covered with adorable illustrations by Susan Mitchell.

Good Things:
-A cute, illustrated glossary at the beginning introduces the young chef to some basic cooking terms, as well as measuring and cooking techniques.
-There's a "How to Set a Table" diagram and instructions. Call me old-fashioned, but I think knowing how to set a table properly is important. I always notice when a table has been set incorrectly!
-Each recipe has a whole 2-page spread: the left side has an illustrated list of tools and ingredients, and the right side has the recipe.
-At any point during a recipe where an adult's help is needed, it specifically says, "You may need an adult to help you with this." I love that.
-The recipes are easy and tasty. My favorite recipe so far? Cheese Eggs with Onions and Ham. Not complicated, right? You'd think it just tasted like eggs, but seriously, they were the best eggs I've ever had!
-The recipes are clearly geared towards kids, and most of the steps can be done by a child without any help from a grown-up. Not all children's cookbooks are like this, by the way!

Bad Things:
-This is a typical Paula Deen cookbook, so there's no effort to make the food really healthy or anything. Butter, marshmallows, cheese, etc.
-A lot of the recipes use refrigerated biscuit dough, crescent roll dough, etc. If that is a deal-breaker for you, you could always go the homemade route.

Overall: I love this cookbook, and up until we got the Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook, it was my daughter's favorite too. The food has been delicious and the recipes are easy. We fully intend to cook our way through the entire book!

Sausage Quiche
from Paula Deen's My First Cookbook
I grew up eating the most delicious quiche in the world, my mom's quiche. I think it is really hard to beat. That being said, this sausage quiche was delicious and easy. It was rich and flavorful. And it only has five ingredients! By the way, I'm leaving out all of the "have your adult helper" phrases to keep things brief.

1 lb mild bulk sausage
1 8-inch deep-dish pie crust in an aluminum plate
2 cups grated sharp cheddar (we used medium)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute sausage in a skillet over medium heat, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks. Cook until no pink remains, about 10 minutes. Drain the fat, and spread the sausage in the bottom of the prepared pie crust. Sprinkle the cheese over the sausage. Break the eggs into a bowl, pour in the half-and-half, and beat them together with a whisk. Pour the mixture over the cheese. Put the quiche on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven. Bake the quiche for 35 to 40 minutes, until the center is not jiggly. Take the quiche out of the oven. Let it sit for about 15 minutes before cutting.
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