A Comfort Food Rethought

Last week I told you Hubby still wasn’t feeling well; he (finally) took himself to the doctor to learn he was suffering from Walking Pneumonia.  This form of the illness is not necessarily life-threatening, but it is a lung infection that drains your energy and prevents sleep at the same time it demands it.  He came home with an antibiotic and proceeded to sleep in his chair for two days.  As he regained his sense of smell and taste this week it made sense to make him one of his favorite dishes: Cabbage Rolls.

The head of cabbage was large enough that I decided to make my family’s traditional recipe and play with the filling with the rest of the leaves.  Since I can’t use the tomato in my mother’s version, I use broth (yup, our home-made) to cook the rolls in.  I believe the tomato comes from a Polish recipe while the broth is more traditionally (southern?) German.  But there are variations of cabbage rolls from much of Europe and Asia.  Hubby warms some of the tomato sauce I made him this summer to put over the rolls as he enjoys the combination.

To mix things up I began thinking of what else I could fill the cabbage with.  The lamb filling from the Dolma would be amazing.  How about lentils with curry, chili or Garam Masala for a vegetarian version?  Traditional fillings are pork, beef, or lamb, but I am sure are just as good.  Fish?  What ethnic seasoning combination wouldn’t be fun to try.  Pork with ginger and soy sauce in Napa Cabbage?  Savoy, red or green head cabbage, pickled or fresh… the possible options are unlimited.

Needing to work the Locati Cellars tasting room at the last-minute, I had less time to play than anticipated.  Hubby, my driver, as I can walk but not yet drive after my surgery, was in charge of choosing what to pick up to fill the remaining cabbage leaves.  Ground turkey that I combined with onion, turmeric and Garam Masala, also cooked in the broth as that is what I had available.  These smelled heavenly as they cooked and they are wonderful!  Traditional Polish Cabbage Rolls can be served with yogurt, I took out a bit of my locally made sheep milk yogurt to have with this and it is fabulous!

Stuffed Cabbage Balls

  • 1 large head cabbage
  • 1-2 lbs lean ground beef
  • ½ lb ground pork (not necessary, but flavors well)
  • ½ cup par boiled white rice
  • 1 finely chopped onion
  • ½-1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 can crushed or diced tomatoes
  • 1 can V-8 style juice
  • 1-2 Bay leaves

Cut the stem from the head of cabbage, steam in two inches of boiling water (stem side down)in a large pot until the leaves are cooked, 5-8 minutes (they should be pliable, but still firm enough to work with). Cool the head of cabbage, maintaining the stem side down as the water drains through the cabbage best that way. When cooled, peel leaves from the head as carefully as possible, set aside to finish cooling.

To par boil the rice put rice and an equal amount of water in a saucepan, bring to a boil, simmer until water is gone. Let cool.

In a large bowl, place all meat, rice, etc. and work until well mixed. Form balls to fit the cabbage leaves, rolling the leaves around the ball of meat. Place each roll, seam side down, in a large pot, layering until they are all in. Place the bay leaves among the rolls; pour tomatoes & juice over the whole pot, just covering the cabbage. Cover and simmer for 1 ½ to 2 hours to cook the meat thoroughly. This can be done in the oven if you are using an oven proof pot (dutch oven style or in a lasagna pan) at 350*F.

Serve hot with liquid from the pan or thicken to a gravy if desired.  A piece of fresh rye bread is my favorite accompaniment to sop up the broth at the end of my meal.  But potatoes would be just as good.

Ok, your turn, does your family have a favorite Cabbage Roll recipe?  How do you serve it?  What else would you like to try wrapping?  Since the rolls freeze well and are easy to heat, they make a quick mid-week evening meal or nutritious lunches for work/school.

Happy New Year to everyone. Cheers!
Happy New Year to everyone. Cheers!

Have a spectacular and safe New Year’s Eve celebration and ring in 2017 with those you love close by.  Cheers!

Festive fare you’ll love all year

Are you looking for something a little different to make for holiday guests this year?  You can slice these for small bites or serve as-is for dinner.

When my mother, a heavy influence in my cooking, told me Rouladen was her choice of birthday dinner every year with her parents I wondered why I had never seen her make it or had it myself.  Curiosity led me to look into what went into making them; remarkably straight forward I decided to get to it.  I was certain they were more complicated than they looked as my mother’s reticence to making them had to have a reason.

No such thing, they are simple and easy to make.  I began with the German version from my old German cookbook (yes, I still use paper cookbooks) using raw bacon and raw onions.  The Scandinavian cookbook had a version with cooked bacon and sautéed onions, so I made that next.  To me the German recipe cooks together, melding the flavors better than the Scandinavian recipe.  But my mother was content with the Scandinavian ones I brought to her just before Thanksgiving; that is apparently her preferred style.  My Hubby was thrilled to be a guinea pig for my learning and hopes I will make them again once I am back on both feet.

I did find a version online that was a bit different, it had parmesan cheese in it rather than bacon.  What the heck, we had the cheese, so we tried it; no disappointment here.  I also found an Italian version of rolled steak with tomatoes.  Apparently, as with so many things, there are ethnic recipes that use local ingredients and techniques common to cooking in general.

Rouladen

  • Thin cut beef, veal or pork; pound to thin if necessary
  • Thin sliced onion (saute’ for Scandinavian style)
  • Dill pickles sliced or spears
  • Stone ground mustard
  • Bacon slices (precook for the Scandinavian style)
  • Shredded Parmesan, optional (in place of bacon slices if desired)
  • Soup stock
  • Olive oil to brown
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Cotton string or toothpicks

Layer, roll, tie, brown, simmer and enjoy.  We paired this well with a local Cabernet Sauvignon.

Hope your holiday celebrating is well under way and those you love are close to heart if not to hand.  Cheers!

So Lame

Did you have a wonderful dinner with friends and family yesterday? Will you be continuing your celebrating with everyone and everything you have to be Thankful for or shopping on Black Friday?  I hope you have been enjoying your extended weekend with family and friends.

When Harvest ended I made a concerted effort to see a doctor to set in motion the process of correcting a painful bunion and hammer toe on my right foot; last Friday, I had my surgery.  Has anyone else experienced this?  After being foggy brained for a few days, Hubby and I came down with colds and we knew we were having chicken soup for supper on Thanksgiving.  He makes the most amazing chicken soup, all from scratch.  Despite his cold he has taken such good care of me!

Foot surgery convalescence.
Keeping my foot elevated with ice most of this week with my most excellent Hubby taking care of me.

My independence and activity level have been curtailed drastically and I have at least another week of no weight baring to get through.  (It actually helps to not feel good, I am less antsy.)  The prescription medicine makes me so dizzy I can’t function, so lots of keeping my foot raised and ice (primarily behind my knee) with an over the counter anti-inflammatory when needed.  Our new floors are perfect for a few minutes of zipping around on my rented scooter when I do get up.  I am sleeping on the sofa so I can keep the foot raised without keeping Hubby awake all night fidgeting.

Chicken Soup

  • 1 whole chicken or 2 game hens (turkey breast works well here too)
  • Water to cover the bird(s)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chopped carrots
  • 4 cups frozen peas
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 1 package of your favorite egg noodles or 2 cups cooked grain of your choice

Boil the bird in water until cooked, approximately 45 minutes. Remove from the water to cool.  If your broth isn’t strong enough for your liking use a high quality bullion replacement (low sodium is best) to amp it us a bit.  Cool the broth enough to skim the fat from the top and dispose of it.

When the meat is cool enough, remove it from the bones and skin, pulling into bite sized pieces.  (I keep the bones and skins to continue to boil in my soup stocks as there is still a lot of nutrition left in them.)  Turn the broth on and put the chopped carrots in to cook.  Saute the onions and garlic in a small amount of butter or olive oil until they are soft, put it into the simmering soup pot with the egg noodles.  Cook as long as the noodles need.  Add the chicken, peas and parsley right before the end of the required cooking time. Serve immediately.  This is a family favorite and comfort food extraordinaire.  Cheers!

Thankful, just thankful

This week, with only a few days notice,  a group of friends gathered at our house for a ‘Feast of Friendsgiving’; a Harvest meal to celebrate our successful Crush experiences and catch up.  We hadn’t seen each other since August, as the first grapes were coming in.

Monday afternoon we decided Thursday evening we would have ourselves an ‘alternative’ Thanksgiving meal together.  Traditions are all well and good, but you can change it up once in a while, or think outside the box, if you will.  Utilizing the traditional foods of Thanksgiving we were to each prepare a dish to contributed to the whole.  Our contribution was a pot pie of turkey and garlic mashed potatoes, the recipe is below.

I grabbed a few sprigs of berries, red leaves and greenery from the yard, put out the hand thrown pumpkins my son made many years ago, and lit candles (I love candles) and some appropriate napkins and the tables were set.

As everyone arrived the meal came together: glazed carrots, corn bread, spring rolls, pasta with Brussel sprouts and prosciutto, the turkey pot pie, cranberry walnut tarts, cranberry Sangria, and a deconstructed pumpkin pie.  Great food, excellent wine and the best of company…

Turkey Pot Pie with Garlic Mashed Potato topping

  • 1 or 1.5 lb precooked turkey chopped or ground turkey browned
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1 large clove of garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery hearts
  • 1/2 lb quartered fresh crimini mushrooms
  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup high quality chicken broth with 1/4 cup reserved
  • 2 table spoons cornstarch to thicken the 1/4 cup reserved broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried ground sage
  • 6 cups peeled, cubed potatoes
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 3 large cloves of garlic minced fine
  • 3 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

Your pan should accommodate your meal, shallow is better.  I used a 14″ cast iron frying pan for a group of ten.

Boil the potatoes to just soft, drain the water and return to the pot.  Add the sour cream, butter and minced garlic and mash to a creamy consistency.  Keep warm.

Brown the meat, if it is uncooked, add the carrots, then mushrooms, adding the onion, garlic and celery hearts (the leaves at the middle of the celery bunch) pouring the white wine over everything and lowering the heat.  Add the peas to the pan, spreading them out over everything.

Have the 3/4 cup of broth simmering, whisk the cornstarch into the cold, reserved broth to thicken it.  Pour this over the turkey and vegetables.  Either dived into ramekins or leave it in the large pan.  Cover with the mashed potatoes, sealing them to the sides of the pan as best as you can.  Place under a broiler (or in a hot oven if it is on for another dish) for a moment to brown the potatoes.  Sprinkle the parsley over the top and serve.  The wine you cooked with is likely a terrific wine to pair with.

As you travel or make room for family and friends in your own home, we wish you the most wonderful and safe Thanksgiving.  Cheers!

Turkey season

It is November, time to think about Thanksgiving.  Do you travel or do you do the cooking?  If you stick with a traditional turkey dinner, how do you like to cook your turkey?  With or without dressing/stuffing?  Deep fried?  Smoked?  Gravy or not?  What else to you make to go with it?

Most of the time we are visitors to my brother and sister-in-laws, unless weather prevents our making the five hours drive.  I love turkey, but with this arrangement I don’t get leftovers.  My answer is to roast a turkey before hand, typically stuffing the cavities with fresh herbs, apples, onions and garlic.  Removing the meat right away I put the drippings, carcass, bay leaves and lots of vegetable scrapings and trimmings into a large pot of water and simmer it for hours and hours to make a rich turkey broth.  Next to chicken soup, this is a fantastic way to fend off germs during the cold and flu season.

We provide the cranberry sauce and wine, easily replaced if we can’t make it across the state. Yup, lots of wine I make goes with us, and I cook the cranberries into a whole-berry jam that finds it way to toast and waffles over the course of the next few mornings when not used with leftovers.

Turkey soup from homemade turkey broth.
Making turkey broth from the pan drippings and carcass of the turkey, with all of the vegetable scrapings and clippings is the best!

Ah, leftovers: love ’em, hate ’em?  Hubby isn’t fond of them, I find them a challenge.  How to use the left over white meat before it dries out too much to enjoy.  What to do with the small pieces that inevitably cover the serving platter after carving and at the end of the meal.

There is the tried and true turkey sandwich, of course, and it does have a place of honor as a quick way to use the leftovers.  That dry meat cries out to be made into turkey salad (like chicken or tuna) with mayo and celery, also a great standby.  Use some of the broth, small turkey pieces, fresh vegetables, barley, rice or pasta to make a wonderful soup.

I try to get a bit more creative.  I am a fan of grain in my salads, high in nutrition and flavor with lots of texture hot or cold.  When you find yourself faced with the leftovers in your fridge, try this recipe.

Turkey, Kale and Buckwheat Salad

  • 3 cups cubed cooked turkey meat
  • 6 cups cleaned, stem removed, torn kale leaves
  • 1 cup buckwheat groats, dry toast in pan before cooking
  • 2 cups home-made broth
  • ½ cup chopped onions
  • 2 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/3 cup Craisins
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Dressing as desired
Thanksgiving leftovers as salad
Turkey, craisins, onion, garlic, kale and cooked buckwheat groats make a flavorful salad from leftovers.

Lightly toast the buckwheat groats in a dry frying pan to bring out the best flavor; once toasted the buckwheat is referred to as Kasha and is likely available where you can purchase buckwheat groats.

As with rice, 1 cup of groats to 2 cups liquid (water or broth) to a large pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes after coming to a boil.

Once cooked, leave the remaining liquid in the pot, add your other ingredients to the hot buckwheat, tossing well. The kale wilts and everything warms, releasing aromas but not loosing crisp texture or nutrition. Season to taste with salt and pepper, adding a dressing as desired.

Turkey salad after Thanksgiving.
Fresh greens and buckwheat groats amp up the flavors of leftover turkey from Thanksgiving in a super healthy way.

As we ramp up to the holiday season and all of the excess that comes with it, this is a nutritious, tasty meal to keep you going.  Hot or cold (leftovers of leftovers?) we enjoyed this salad; even my darling Hubby.  Pairing it with a rose’, dry white, or light red if you leave the salad naked, pair to your dressing if you use one.

Tell me about your favorite recipes for Thanksgiving left overs.

Cheers!

Work with what you’ve got…

This week didn’t happen as planned, not unheard of during crush, but way off of everyone’s expectations.  We did get Sauvignon Blanc for Lagana Cellars and Orange Muscat for Locati Cellars, but the Pinot Grigio we anticipated didn’t get harvested by the vineyard as expected.  Everyday those grapes hang they are more ripe than we want them to be; a full week will pass from the day we planned to press them before they are harvested.  We will make it all good, but I think this is the longest delay we have ever had waiting for grapes.  Previous record is a day after schedule, just for reference.

At home we have some harvesting of our own to contend with.  My herb gardens are prolific as usual, so I have been cutting and drying for tea and seasoning.  This week Hubby picked five pounds of tomatoes from the three plants he has on the patio.  Considering he already eats lots of tomatoes daily he knew he needed to do something with the volume so he wouldn’t lose it.  I suggested I cut some of the basil and make him pasta sauce; he accepted.  Although I can’t eat it, making it is a pleasure.  He gave it a thumbs up and has added it to pasta and cabbage rolls already this week from the bowl I left in the fridge.  About three quarts of pasta sauce went into the freezer for him to use through the winter.  So, if you have lots of tomatoes and need to do something with your bounty, consider this a quick recipe that lends itself to lots of applications.

Quick Pasta Sauce

  • 5 pound fresh tomatoes, coarsely chopped
  • 1 yellow, orange or red pepper, coarsely chopped
  • 1 large onion, coarsely chopped (Walla Walla Sweet Onion went into ours)
  • 1 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dry fennel fronds
  • 2 teaspoons dry oregano crumbled
  • 1 large bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup red wine, (Locati Cellars Sangiovese went in ours)
  • 2 small cans tomato paste

Chopping your vegetables is the most work for this sauce.  In a large, thick bottomed pot, saute’ in olive oil the onions until translucent then add the garlic and pepper until fragrant.  Put all of the tomatoes into the pot and cover, lower the heat to medium.  When they are soft and the skins leave the flesh use an immersion blender to puree everything.  (Note: using a blender is great, just do small amounts at a time and return all to the pot for seasoning.)  Add all herbs and the red wine at this point and heat to a simmer; try to avoid boiling as the herb flavors will be better retained without the high heat.  Once the sauce is hot through open both cans of tomato paste and add promptly, stirring everything together. (Note: opening both ends of the can, or puncturing the bottom of the can and blowing the paste out, is a quick way to empty the cans.)  I removed the sauce from the heat and let it sit for several hours covered before removing the bay leaves.  Putting it into containers and then into the refrigerator overnight before they went into the freezer.

Despite not eating nightshade fruits like tomatoes and peppers, I do cook with them for those I love.  There is a lot of hand washing and I am careful not to rub or scratch my skin until I have washed with soap, but the smiles and exclamations of goodness are worth the effort.  (For chiles I wear gloves as they don’t wash off well enough.)  We have learned to work with my allergies and sensitivities without having to make either of us do totally without something we love.  The basil I grow makes pesto that I will put on my pasta and pizzas in place of pasta sauce and I love the flexibility I have to add lots of garlic to it – something I really enjoy.  Let me know if you have a pasta sauce you love to make that has different ingredients. Cheers!

Where did the summer go?

The sun is setting earlier these days, making our evening walks and bike rides a tighter squeeze before dark. This week the school bus started making its morning and afternoon rounds again too. Grape samples say we are ready for Crush 2016; both Locati Cellars and Lagana Cellars are scheduled for picking; by my next post we will have at least half of our white grapes pressed (three varietals).  Autumn Equinox is just weeks away and I feel like summer is just getting started.

This last week I prepared a few meals for the freezer to accommodate the Hubby’s potato harvest and my grape harvest schedules.  There are some quick-to-fix items in the cupboard as backup too.  While visiting with my parents for their anniversary last weekend my mother provided me with four beautiful zucchini from their garden and encouraged me to look up the Curried Zucchini Soup recipe from Allrecipes.  She tells me she changed it up a bit with more seasoning than called for and sweet potato; that even my father (doesn’t like zucchini) loved the soup.  (We are curried soup fans, recall this post?)  So, with four fresh zucchini available, a Locati Sweet Onion, locally grown garlic from the Farmers Market, and two cups of my own amazing turkey broth made from a whole turkey we roasted that I simmered with trimmings from all of the vegetables we cook with.  As I don’t do nightshade fruits, I make my own curry mix (recipe below).

My changes to the Allrecipes.com soup summed up:

  • added two large cloves of garlic and sautéed with the Walla Walla Sweet Onion
  • grated the zucchini rather than chopping it
  • added one teaspoon of freshly grated ginger as I added the zucchini
  • tossed the zucchini until it wilted before adding the curry powder and stock
  • used three tablespoons of curry powder
  • home-made soup broth, turkey based
  • no blender use after the soup cooked, personal preference

I would like to put diced potatoes and chopped water chestnuts in next time, maybe some turkey pieces too as Hubby likes to have his meat.  Preparation and cooking were speedy; might even make it again before the fresh local zucchini are gone… if time allows.

 Nightshade-free curry powder (sorry, been using it so long the sources have disappeared):

  • 4.5 teaspoons Turmeric
  • 2 heaping teaspoons cumin
  • 2 heaping teaspoons coriander
  • 2.5 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 1 heaping teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Fenugreek
  • *when I cook I ad 1/4 cup fresh parsley to the pot as well since I typically have this available rather than putting dried in the blend

Sift it all together, put it in a jar and close the lid tightly.  This is a fairly mild curry, as you can imagine, so we like more than most recipes call for.  It takes a few minutes to measure and mix, but well worth it.

I wanted to pair an off-dry Riesling with dinner, but couldn’t find one in our wine cooler.  Instead I chose a L’Ecole Chenin Blanc (dry) in hopes the fruit would pair well with the spicy curry.  Alas, not the best together.  Had I looked at my previous post I might have grabbed the Arbor Cellars Marsanne/Picpoul blend that I passed over this evening.  But, we have fresh watermelon and that was a delight with the wine as dessert!

It took a while to fly out of Harvey Field in Snohomish on Sunday due to the cloud cover.  Once we took off and managed to find a hole to climb through we were greeted by sunny blue skies and the majestic Mount Rainier. Cheers!

Stuffed grape leaves for dinner

Every time I go through the vineyards I think about picking some of the leaves the next Spring from the ends of the rows where they are typically more abundant than the grapes that will hang in that area; I have yet to make time during the Spring to do so.  Having Greek and Lebanese friends (but not grape vines) most of the other places I lived there seemed to be an endless supply of these heavenly little delicacies and I decided I wanted some.  I purchased a jar of preserved grape leaves (originating in California but packaged in Vietnam – go figure) last month to make dolmas (stuffed grape leaves).  It is about time I learned to make these for myself since they aren’t much different from making the cabbage rolls I make all the time.

Under a small stream of water from the kitchen tap I carefully unrolled and teased apart the individual grape leaves, rinsing the brine from the leaves and straightening them out with the help of the water.  Laying them vein side up along the counter with the stems facing me I removed the small stem from each leaf with a pair of scissors; pinching between my finger nails worked for the largest leaves, but not for the smaller, more fragile ones.  Some of the leaves were torn, so I left them aside.

My filling was a mixture of ground lamb, uncooked white rice, and seasonings; the recipe is below.  More moist than the filling for my cabbage rolls and needing so much less per leaf; I used a spoon to place some at the base of the grape leaf, where I clipped the stem.  I provided you with a handy-dandy picture showing you how to roll the leaves for best results.  Not too tight as the rice has to have a bit of room to expand inside the wrapping.

I oiled the bottom of my wide, shallow, heavy saucepan and placed the wrapped dolmas in two flat layers.  Lemon juice from one lemon, another tablespoon of olive oil and broth to cover the layers in the pot finished the preparations.  Once the broth is beginning to simmer, lower the heat to keep them from jostling each other and opening.  Maintain the simmer for about an hour, being sure to cook the meat and rice all the way through.  If you see there isn’t enough liquid to cover the grape leaves, add enough to just cover and finish cooking.

Tzatziki made with my sheep-milk yogurt, grated cucumber and the juice of half a lemon will accompany these delightful dolma and falafel for supper.  There were enough cherry tomatoes and fresh basil to make Hubby a Caprese salad as well.

Dolmas

1 8 oz jar of preserved grape leaves, drained, rinsed, stem removed, vein-side up

1/2 pound ground lamb

1/2 cup uncooked long grain white rice

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tablespoon fresh mint leaves chopped

1 tablespoon pinenuts

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 teaspoon dry oregano

1 egg

juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cups broth or water

Prepare the grape leaves first, spread them along the counter with the vein-side (back) of the leaves up; clip off the stem.

Mix together the lamb, rice, olive oil, pine nuts, seasonings and egg.  Drop by tablespoon full onto the base of each leaf.  (Note: larger leaves can handle a bit more filling while smaller leaves need less.)  Using the photo to guide you if you haven’t rolled grape leaves before: 1) start with the basal sections and fold them up over the filling, 2) bring the side sections toward each other over the filling, attempt to fold the top leaf section to fit the size of the packet if necessary, 3)roll the covered filling toward the tip of the leaf.

Lay the filled grape leaves seam-side down in an oiled heavy pot, if there are torn leaves, you can lay them on the oil before neatly placing the rolled packets on top.  Add a second layer if there are too many to fit in one layer in the pot.  Pour the lemon juice over the layers, pour the broth in and add water to cover if necessary.  Watch the pot to be sure the broth simmers but doesn’t boil, dislodging the rolls.  Reduce the heat and maintain a simmer for about an hour to fully cook the lamb and rice.  If the liquid disappears below the top layer add water to ensure the rice has enough moisture to continue to cook.

Remove from the pan to a serving plate with a pair of tongs.  Be gentle as the leaves are fairly fragile.  Serve with tzatziki.

Falafel

1 cup prepared falafel mix (chickpea flour and seasoning based)

1/2 cup hot liquid (water or broth)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Lightly stir the juice and liquid into the dry mix with a fork. Let it rest a couple of minutes while your frying pan heats with olive oil.  Drop the falafel as small balls or patties onto the hot frying pan and flip as soon as cooked on the bottom side.  This is a very quick process.  If you like, you can finely chop onion and garlic, toss into the dry mix and then add the hot liquid and lemon juice.  Serve with tzatziki.

Alice May Brock‘s famous quote has been one of my favorites for years due to the credit she gives garlic – I feel the same way. Have you noticed how much garlic goes into everything I make?  In case you aren’t familiar with it:

‘Tomatoes and oregano make it Italian; Wine and tarragon make it French.                           Sour cream makes it Russian; lemon and cinnamon make it Greek.                                         Soy sauce makes it Chinese; Garlic makes it good.’

And what wine to pair with such a delightful, Mediterranean meal? I would choose a Zinfandel or Primitivo for the lamb and seasonings, but we were headed to the airport for a night flight right after supper; eight-hour minimum wait after consuming alcohol before piloting a plane, so no wine with this dinner.  Cheers!

Rose’, a sweet onion aptly named

I realize I am a bit of a sucker for Walla Walla Sweet Onions, but once you have them you know, without a doubt, they are the sweetest onions grown – anywhere!  This year a small number of Rose’ Walla Walla Sweets has been made available in our local Farmers Market by Locati Farms.  Handy tip: you too can have Walla Walla Sweet Onions, just hop online and order from the Locati Farms link above during the June/July season.  A few weeks ago I wrote to tell you about ‘sweet rose’ onions in the Netherlands; those onions are nothing like this.

Rose' and yellow Walla Walla Sweet Onions
Look, Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onions from Locati Farms!

Hubby and I sliced a yellow and a Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet to compare raw flavor: both wonderfully sweet, as expected.  Most red onions have a fierce bite from the Pyruvic Acid; most make your eyes water from the naturally occurring sulfur as you slice them.  The beauty of our local onions is their lack of both Pyruvic Acid and sulfur.  Of course, this very thing, coupled with the higher water content of the Walla Walla Sweets is what makes them tender and reduce their storage time.  You can dehydrate them to prolong storage like I do.

Locati Cellars at Locati Farms
Preparing to bottle 2014 red wines at Locati Cellars production facility at Locati Farms.

The history of the Walla Walla Sweet is closely entwined with the wine we make at Locati Cellars.  Michael F Locati, winery owner, is a third generation Walla Walla farmer, following his Grandfather, Joe Locati, and father, Ambrose, and uncle, Pete, along with his brother, Ambrose (Bud) Jr.  Wine grapes and onions, as well as asparagus, are what the family focuses on now.  Michael J Locati, nephew to Michael F Locati, has been patiently developing the red sweet onion over the last seven years.  By 2018 production of the reds will begin to reach commercial levels.  That means Northwest area grocery chains like Fred Meyer and neighborhood stores and restaurants along with the Walla Walla Farmers Market will have them.  The link above will eventually allow you to order Locati Farms Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onions.  Just think, you can experience these exquisite onions.  Thank me later as I have a recipe to share with you for these delectable onions.

Midsummer picnics, barbecues, and humble meals at home, whatever your reason, this potato salad combines the Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onion (or use a sweet onion you have access to) and roasted Yukon Gold potatoes (think really good french fries) with the savory notes of dill weed, celery seed and dry ground mustard in a creamy dressing to take this salad to another level!  It is based on my mother’s potato salad recipe but instead of boiling the cubed potatoes, I rub them with olive oil and roast them so they are slightly crisped on the outside and soft on the inside.  I was eating the salad warm  after making it and it was super tasty.

Roasted Potato Salad

8 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, rubbed with olive oil to coat

1 1/2 cups Rose’ Walla Walla Sweet Onion, diced small

6 hard-cooked eggs, chopped

1 teaspoon celery seed

1 tablespoon dill weed

fresh ground pepper and salt, to taste

2 teaspoons dry ground mustard

3/4 cup each mayonnaise and sour cream OR 3/4 cup each mayonnaise and Miracle Whip

Paprika, optional

Locati Cellars 2014 Dolcetto
Locati Cellars 2014 Dolcetto balanced the herbs and texture of the Roasted potato salad beautifully.

Hard cook your eggs while your cubed potatoes roast in a 350* oven until they begin to turn gold.  Let the potatoes cool a bit, chill to peel the eggs before chopping.  Combine the potatoes, minced onion, chopped eggs, celery seed, dill weed, salt and pepper.  Toss gently to distribute the seasonings.  Mix together your choice of dressing with the dry ground mustard; make sure the mustard gets well blended; add the dressing to the potato mix.  Fold until evenly moistened.  Sprinkle with paprika if desired.

We chose to maintain the Locati theme and pair this salad with Locati Cellars 2014 Dolcetto.  Meaning small sweet grape, this wine is deep purple and full of ripe fruit flavors.  The salad and wine paired beautifully bringing out the herbs and fruit in a nice balance.  Cheers!

Sunset in Walla Walla, no filter is necessary.
Sunset in Walla Walla, no filter is necessary.

Cast iron: the cookware that does it all

Cooking with fresh ingredients is all fine and good, but if you don’t have quality cookware, you just might be missing a significant part of the health and joy of cooking.  Everyone has their opinion as to what makes great cookware, the merits of each are all over the internet for you to make your own decision.  In our house cast iron is IT.  From the time I was learning to cook this has been my choice.  Hubby, never having cooked with it before meeting me, stepped up and excels at it.  Cast iron requires a bit of practice to understand how well the cookware holds heat and when to reduce the temperature to be sure your food doesn’t burn.  The biggest drawback is the weight of the pot or pan with food, the largest pans requires a Herculean effort for me to move them, but it is worth it!

Versatile, going from stove top to oven or grill and the perfect way to cook with a fire pit, making a main dish or dessert, means just a few pieces will go a very long way.  My first three cast iron pieces were old, well used and purchased at a flea market when my kids were very young: two wonderfully seasoned frying pans of different sizes and a deeper, long-handled pot that needed some TLC.  There were no lids for any of them but they were perfect to me (I still use them all).  And these are just the unclad (no enamel coating) pieces!

Silit pan on glass cooktop
Silit, enamel coated cast iron pots from Germany, are our choice of cookware.

Being foodies, when we married Hubby and I decided to replace the stainless pots that I brought to our communal home (they now reside with my daughter and are still used to make scrumptuous meals).  It took us a couple of years to find the just-right, we really want to cook in these pans.  Our choice? A line of German enameled cast iron pots, Silit.  Family and friends have Le CreusetLodge, and a myriad of off brands, but we really liked the modern, clean look of the Silit.  Do your homework and choose the pieces you are most likely to cook with as you don’t need a huge array of sizes and styles if you won’t use them.

Not sure cast iron can be used on a glass top stove? I have moved many times and used my arsenal of cast iron on each glass top range successfully.  Lifting the cookware rather than sliding, cleaning the glass surface regularly, and monitoring the heat of the pan so it doesn’t get too hot (yes, it can get red-hot); all things that should be done anyway to maintain the glass.

Cleaning enameled cast iron is, of course, normal soap and water cleaning, but ‘seasoned’ cast iron comes with a whole set of preconceived hurdles.  Iron rusts, minimize the exposure to water, dry the pan as soon as you finish cleaning it.  Scrubbing with salt, baking soda, or a scrubby pad; just make sure to get the food off of your pan (who wants microbes residing in the kitchen).  If you are truly camping (we glamp now), sand is an appropriate scrubbing agent.  Soap is even fine (we use it on occasion when we forget it is in the sponge already).  Rinse well no matter what you use and dry it immediately. Simple really.

Cooking sausage in a cast iron skillet
Cooking sausage, bacon or other fatty food helps maintain the seasoning on a cast iron skillet.

Seasoning a cast iron pan is not difficult or laborious.  If you cook fatty foods (cheesy bread or bacon anyone?) you are seasoning your pan as you cook.  Watch your heat though as fat does catch fire if too hot; keep a metal lid and baking soda within reach for emergency grease-fires.  Oh, don’t keep it over the stove as you don’t want to reach past the flames to get to your fire-retardant.  Needing to actually work at seasoning the pans? Turn the oven on to 350*, put a dollop of oil or fat in the pan(s) and set them in the oven to heat through.  With a hot pad remove one pan at a time, spread the now hot oil with a thickly folded paper towel all over the inside and top edge of the pan (if the bottom isn’t feeling nice and smooth, do the outside and bottom as well).  Put the pan back in and repeat until all of your pieces are seasoned.  Turn off the heat but leave the pans in the hot oven as it cools.  This should maintain the excellent cooking surface.

Frittata ingredients prepared before heating the pan.
Prep all of your ingredients before you heat your cookware.

Cooking in cast iron, as I said earlier, requires a bit of practice to get the pan hot enough (preheat) and then turn the heat down quickly enough during cooking to not burn your dish.  Of course, when you are searing a piece of meat, cooking cheesy bread (a family favorite), or stir frying you want the pan hot.  That is the beauty of cast iron: it holds that heat even when cold food is placed on it!  I prepare all of the vegetables, meat and seasonings before I turn the stove on as it allows me to focus on working with the pan and monitoring the heat.  Deglaze the pan with wine or vinegar or cook tomatoes in your dish, the cooking time with the acidic food isn’t sufficient to ruin the seasoning if you have kept it up.  Starchy foods (e.g. fried potatoes) will stick, that is the nature of starch, but if you are patient and careful, this food too shall come out truly yummy.  Use the utensils you have, use pot holders to grab handles as they heat up with the pan, use the best ingredients you can get your hands on and get cooking; use them!

Have you got a cast iron skillet you haven’t used?  This is one of our favorite cast iron skillet quick meals: a frittata.  I am basing the ingredients on a 12″ diameter frying pan for reference.  When my kids were little I would extend left overs this way, so feel free to use what you have handy:

Preheat the oven to 350*.  (I put the amounts of each ingredient below, prepare them before you heat the skillet.)  Pour a couple of table spoons of olive oil into the pan and preheat the stove element on high until the oil is hot (it begins to move in the pan).  Toss in 1/2 cup chopped onions and two cloves of garlic chopped fine, saute’ for two minutes before adding two small zucchini cubed, mushrooms cut to about 1/2″ pieces; continue cooking until the onion is clear and the zucchini browned.  Turn off the burner and remove from the electric element.  If the pan is almost dry, add additional olive oil at the edges of the pan and give it a quick stir.  Add a cup of shredded gouda cheese (or cubed precooked meat if you prefer), sprinkle a couple of table spoons of fresh thyme or a teaspoon of dry thyme and 10-12 eggs already shelled and gently scrambled with 1/2 cup of milk and salt and pepper to taste (I use water due to my allergies).    Place the pan in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes.  Five to ten minutes before the pan should come out, spread 1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese across the top. The frittata is done when the top is still a bit wiggly and the cheese is browned.  There you go, one pan of healthy, yummy goodness!

Frittatas are Italian, pair them with Barbera, Dolcetto, or Sangiovese, or focus on a strongly flavored ingredient and pair a wine with that ingredient in mind. I love taking left over frittata with me to work for lunch.  Cheers!