23 August 2008

Summer Berry Basil Sauce



Summer Berries

In my corner of the world blueberries are fading from the scene as blackberries burst onto center stage. And what fabulously juicy show stoppers they are! While blueberries are tame and almost genteel, blackberries are wild and full of end-of-summer exuberance, not to mention generous, finger-staining, juicy sweet flavor.

In this area wild blackberries grow in abundance. They pop up everywhere, unbidden. When they sneak into my back yard I pull them out. In my small garden they are a stickery nuisance. If left to take hold a blackberry vine is hard to dig out, so I pull them out gently when they are small.

But around the lake, beside the road, near the woods, bordering sports fields - any place that is not meticulously kept and gets a glimmer of sunshine - blackberry bushes flourish. And when their plump dark berries hang heavy from the vines, aren’t we glad? Those out for a walk or run stop to pull a few berries from the vines for a taste, mid-flight. Children linger on the edge of sports fields to gather a few sweet mouthfuls betweens games. Enterprising young bakers gather berries and make treats to sell to neighbors. There is nothing quite like the fine explosive tangy sweet flavor of a sun warmed berry fresh from a stickery blackberry bramble. Venturing into a bramble heedless of the danger of scratches and snags is like fighting for the last luscious wild taste of summer before giving in to the routines and domestication of fall.


Blueberries or Blackberries?

As I was planning meals for the week I remembered a recipe I made during blackberry season last year, Blackberry Basil Sauce. It was adapted from a recipe in Martha Stewart Living, and made good use of this wild end-of –summer fruit. I used the sauce to top Cheesecake Bars made from a recipe I found on Baking Bites for a luscious dessert. Yum!

Eager to recreate that rich taste of summer I thought I would make it again. I knew just where a lovely blackberry bramble held several clusters of dark ripe fruit and I planned to use them fresh from the vine…..until time grew short and the afternoon heat topped 100 degrees. By then, sitting in the shade sipping lavender lemonade, I had to admit I had enough blueberries on hand to make the sauce and that it was much more practical to use them and save the blackberries for another day. To save even more time and, more importantly, to avoid turning on the oven, I decided to forgo the cheesecake. Instead, I used the Berry Basil Sauce that evening to make a Berry Meringue Parfait with Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookies I had left from earlier in the week, an idea inspired by this post at Cherrapeño.


That decided, I tried to remember my approach to the berry sauce from last year. I read through the recipe and the notes and when I saw it called for cinnamon I remembered that great cinnamon spiced fruit salad from a few weeks ago, a recipe I found on Cooking in Cleveland. The flavors of honey with lemon and cinnamon have been on my mind ever since so I adapted the recipe for the berry sauce to include that combination.

I had actually forgotten how simple this sauce is to make. The complex taste makes it loom larger in memory but, in fact, it only requires a few simple ingredients and a few minutes to prepare. The result is simply fabulous.

When the sauce was ready I whipped 1 cup of heavy cream with 2 Tablespoons of vanilla sugar until soft peaks formed. When the sauce had cooled slightly, I assembled the parfaits in wine glasses layering a few tablespoons of the Berry Basil Sauce topped by a Chocolate Chip Meringue Cookie and a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, and then repeating the layers. The result - a light and easy summer dessert. The sauce was just as good with meringue cookies and whipped cream, as it had been on cheesecake. In fact I think it would also be delicious with shortbread or sablé cookies or ice cream. And wouldn’t it be interesting served with grilled chicken or over a fresh or grilled peach?

A few days later, when the temperatures cooled and I had a bit more time I made the sauce again, this time with blackberries. I also had a perfect peach, ripe and soft and golden. I peeled the peach, split it in half and poured the warm Berry Basil Sauce over it. With a spoonful of whipped cream on top it was beautiful! The peach was tender, tangy sweet and juicy. The berry sauce was mildly sweet with the fragrance of wildflower honey, the warmth of cinnamon and the sleepy summer fragrance of fresh basil. This sweet treat both looked and tasted like summer sunshine in a bowl! What a gorgeous finalé to our late summer heat wave.



Berry Basil Sauce

2 cups seasonal berries, ( I used blackberries or blueberries)
¼ cup fresh basil (several sprigs)
2 Tablespoons honey
1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

In a small saucepan stir together the basil sprigs, honey, lemon juice, cinnamon and 1 cup of the fresh berries.

Cook gently, over medium heat, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes, or until berries have softened and released their juice. With the back of a spoon squash some of the berries against the side of the pan while cooking.

Remove from heat. With a spoon, remove the basil sprigs and discard.

Stir in the remaining 1 cup of fresh berries.

Spoon warm or cold over your choice of cake, cookies, ice cream or fresh fruit.

19 August 2008

Blueberry Salsa


How are blueberries like summer? As quickly as they show up, plump and gorgeous and enticing, sending me scrambling for ways to enjoy their deep blue tangy sweetness - yes, just as suddenly, they are gone.

Last week, at the Camas Farmers Market, I picked up a half flat of the last of Meadowglenn Farm's blueberries for this season. At the same time I picked up the recipe sheet from the market’s weekly food demonstration. It included an interesting blueberry salsa that grabbed my attention. For some reason I had never thought of making blueberry salsa before and yet looking at the recipe it seemed sort of obvious. I thought of a small restaurant on the waterfront at the Port of Camas-Washougal where I have eaten several times. At Puffins, a cute little turquoise restaurant on the docks, you can sit outside and watch the boats while you enjoy a wide selection of tropical salsas featuring fruit and other fun Caribbean style food.

Fresh fruit, salsa and chips just screams summer with a no heat approach to preparing something fresh and tasty to snack on. All the heat is in the chile peppers which actually contain capcaicin, a substance that, while spicy, is said to stimulate the body’s natural cooling mechanism among other health benifits. Plus, the spiciness adds a grand counterpoint to the luscious sweetness of sun ripened fresh local berries. I wanted to try this recipe right away.

Early in the week, I collected the rest of the ingredients - fresh ginger, a shallot, cilantro and a serrano pepper- and made the salsa to share at a gathering later that evening. Was it good? It turned out to be fantastic! My tasters, a bit wary at first, asked a number of questions before they dug into the salsa with their tortilla chips. Yet, once they made the plunge, they found that they really enjoyed it’s cool freshness and mild spicy sweetness. I will definitely make this salsa again!


Blueberry Salsa
(from a recipe for Teriyaki Pork Chops with Blueberry-Ginger Relish picked up at the Camas Farmers Market)

1 cup fresh blueberries, coarsely chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, seeded and minced
1 Tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
1 Tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt

Combine ingredients in a small bowl and let sit for twenty to thirty minutes for flavors to blend.

Serve with tortilla chips or over grilled meat as a relish.

Note: Luckily fresh blueberries can still be found at the farmer’s markets, from other microclimates in our area. Blueberries and blackberries were abundant at the Vancouver Farmers Market this past weekend.

13 August 2008

Green Bean, Walnut and Feta Salad


Have I said this before? Oh yes, but here I go again. I love green beans! Always have. Still I don’t usually find that I get all that imaginative when it comes to serving them. I like them a few ways and that’s how I usually prepare them. For comfort food I like them cooked long and slow with onion and a piece of ham or a little bacon grease. I do that on holidays or when I’m having an old fashioned southern style meal. I also like green beans with a fresh bright ginger sauce in a recipe I discovered earlier this year, for a more contemporary approach. And I like them plain, simply steamed and tossed with a few drops of sesame oil and/or tamari sauce.

Now I have discovered a great salad featuring green beans. When it all comes together just right, which is to say when I don’t burn the nuts or overcook the beans, or compromise on the freshness of the dill, it is better than good. This salad is green bean poetry! It is composed of the tender crunch of garden fresh green beans cooked al dente, punctuated by the brisk intensity of thinly sliced red onion circles. To offset the colorful textures it adds the soft salty tang of freshly crumbled feta cheese. Then this tasty composition is balanced by the earthy depth of toasted walnuts, and the feathery sweet subtlety of freshly snipped dill. Gathered in a spare oil and vinegar dressing, with a touch of garlic, these flavors and textures delight the eye and satisfy the palate.

This recipe was once clipped from an issue of Southern Living. It took me years to try it but I’m so glad I finally did. It has added a bright spot to my summer and armed me with the perfect dish to take to summer barbecues or serve as a side for simple make ahead dinners. I recommend it highly.


Green Bean, Walnut and Feta Salad
(from Southern Living)

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
¾ cup olive oil
¼ cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced garlic
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1½ pounds fresh green beans
1 small purple onion (or 1/2 - 1 cup of the smaller inner rings of a red onion), thinly sliced
1 (4-oz) package feta cheese

Toast walnuts by spreading in a shallow baking pan and placing in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside.

Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, dill, garlic, salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Trim and cut green beans into two inch pieces. Arrange the beans in a steamer basket over boiling water. Cover and steam until crisp tender (approximately 15 minutes.) Drain and rinse thoroughly under cold water. Pat dry.

Toss together beans, walnuts and onions in a serving dish. Crumble the feta cheese over the top. Cover and refrigerate.

One hour before serving, pour prepared dressing over bean mixture. Toss thoroughly just before serving.

Yield: 6 servings.

11 August 2008

Washougal Main Street Market

While attending a concert by the Little River Band at Washougalfest a couple of weeks ago I gained a new appreciation for downtown Washougal and the brightly welcoming Reflection Plaza area. I was impressed by the way the space at the corner of Main Street and Pendelton Way, was used to support a crowd of several thousand. This newly updated space in downtown Washougal came across as a great location for community gatherings and special events.

One of the events it hosts is the weekly Washougal Main Street Market featuring “high quality local produce, flowers and one-of-a-kind artisan creations." Having recently discovered this inviting venue I decided to stop by the farmers market in Washougal while I was out shopping for produce this weekend. I'm glad I did.


Parking was simple, in a space right beside the plaza area. In the plaza I found a dozen or so booths surrounding an area with tables and space for local musicians to play. I scanned the booths for the fresh produce and baked goods I was looking for. The weather was cool and gray on Saturday, a little sleepy for an August morning, but there were still enough customers when I arrived that I waited in line to buy some bread from Julia Bakery. I bought a delicious triple berry scone for my own breakfast and a loaf of cinnamon swirl bread to take home.


At the same table I bought some beautiful leaf lettuce and yellow squash from Hargrave Gardens and then moved down to the peach stand. There I bought some beautiful ripe peaches from Maryhill, east of Washougal in the Columbia River Gorge. There it is warmer and brighter than in the Portland area and the peaches are ripe and juicy, perfect for a short cake later this week.


Mac’s Garden had a stand selling fresh and dried herbs along with some zucchini squash, onions and beets. On a whim I bought a bunch of beets. I’m not sure what I’ll do with them but they are photogenic in an earthy sort of way. I have never much liked beets but lately, especially after viewing Karen’s gorgeous beet salad at Family Style Food, I am thinking I should really give them another try.


By then I had collected all that I could carry and so I walked past homemade tamales and Kindred Spirit Soap Company as I headed toward my car. Perhaps I can check them out on my next visit.

I did stop to ask some of the vendors and market coordinators what makes the Washougal farmers market special. They told me it was the friendly local atmosphere. They were delighted that, with an exception or two, the produce there is grown in the Washougal area and the artisans are local too. Even the music is by local musicians. Around 11 am they say the market is usually at its busiest with people showing up to eat lunch and visit with friends and neighbors. On the other hand, if you are looking for the best selection of fresh produce, I recommend arriving early. The market is open on Saturdays 9-3 through August 30, though I heard that they are considering extending the market into September.

07 August 2008

Simple Things - Sweet Corn


Nothing says summer quite like sweet corn on the cob. It’s the truth... yet it is something I had almost forgotten. You see, I seldom cook corn on the cob. For well over a decade I have had at least one child at my table who was wearing braces or some sort of appliance in their mouth and, as many of you know, under those circumstances corn on the cob is taboo. But just this Spring my youngest child got his braces off and when I saw sweet corn show up at the market I bought some.

At first I planned to cut it from the cob to add fresh corn to my Corn Salad with Pecan Dressing. That corn salad is a great summer side dish. I knew it would be even more delicious made with fresh sweet corn. So I shucked the corn and cooked it.

As I watched the steam rising from the pot another idea came to mind. I remembered my Aunt standing at the stove with steam rising from the pots she carefully tended. Then I remembered how she used to make a skillet of fried corn from any leftovers the day after we had eaten corn on the cob. Nostalgia got the better of me and I decided to serve my corn on the cob for dinner and then make a pan of fried corn for dinner the next day. I had six ears of corn and only three of us for dinner. It seemed like there would be plenty so I drained the corn and set it on the table.


It seems everyone else had forgotten how much they liked corn on the cob too. I didn’t even put butter on the table, or corn holders. They just picked up the corn and bit into it. Slight sighs of joy followed. After a quiet minute or two my husband became dreamy eyed and told us how corn reminded him of childhood summers and of visiting his Aunt Marie and Uncle Fred. My son then reached into his memories and asked if we didn’t have this more often when he was little, as he nabbed a second ear from the bowl.

All I could think of was hot summer days, before any of us had air conditioning, and my Aunt standing over the stove in her hot kitchen with that steam rising from the huge corn pot as she cooked our evening meal. I also remembered the great family stories when the meal was over, sitting around her dining room table, or at the picnic table in the back yard when relatives from out of town would stop by for a day or two. Then there was always some fried chicken and salads galore, not forgetting a big bowl of corn on the cob. Everyone, full and satisfied following the evening meal, had time to talk and answer questions, tell tale tales and share some laughter.

Ahhh! Sometimes the simplest things are really the best! It was great to have a dinner my family really enjoyed and it was nice to have that family time, sharing memories around the table. Before we were done there was none left for Fried Corn or Corn Salad. But, of course, summer’s not over yet….

I do have a simple way of cooking corn that cuts down on the heat produced just a smidge and helps the corn come out of the pot sweet and tender. It is the way described in my 1980 version of "Betty Crocker's Cookbook." I never thought of it as a recipe but it is different than the way many people cook their corn.



Corn on the Cob

Shuck corn and remove the silk just before cooking.

Place corn in just enough unsalted cold water to cover.

To the water add 1 Tablespoon of sugar and 1 Tablespoon of lemon for each gallon of water in the pot.

Bring water to a boil. Boil for two minutes. Remove from heat.

Let corn sit in the water for 10 minutes.

Drain corn and serve.

04 August 2008

Blueberry Oat Muffins


I have been enjoying the new farmers market in Camas, on 5th Street, between Birch and Cedar. It was introduced this year with the hope of bringing together local farmers and people eager to support sustainability and to eat locally grown produce straight from the farm. So far it seems to be going well. It is a nice place to shop on Saturday mornings while taking in a little live music, seeing some food demonstrations and visiting with friends and neighbors.

While the selection of vegetables is fairly limited, what I have found at the Camas Farmers Market is an abundance of locally grown berries. Wonderful huge fresh blueberries from Meadowglenn Farms are my favorite. The blueberries have been so plump and sweet that my husband and son eat them by the handful straight from the box. By the time I get them home the box is getting low. Every time they walk by the box in the kitchen they grab another handful and by Monday morning few are left to use in a recipe.

Last week I set some aside. I wanted to try a muffin recipe from the sheet I picked up when I bought the berries. The recipe sounded too good to be true. It claimed to be low in fat and yet promised a rich flavor from a combination of oatmeal, buttermilk, just a little sugar, egg whites and fresh sweet blueberries.

The muffins turned out to be delicious! Soft, creamy, delicately nutty and mildly sweet, they were more like a nice bowl of hot oatmeal than a coffee cake. Leftovers were great when split and toasted. But then again, with these beautiful local berries, how could I go wrong?

I also added a handful of fresh blueberries to a fruit salad I put together for breakfast. I dressed it simply by whisking together one Tablespoon of honey, 2 teaspoons of lemon juice and a pinch of cinnamon. I hardly expected it to be amazing until I found I couldn't stop tasting it while it sat for the flavors to blend. This is a great way to dress many summer fruits and it is so easy. I think it would be especially nice on honeydew and maybe pears, or grapes and strawberries, or even just by itself, served with a spoon....well maybe that's just me! Anyway it was delicious, a nice complement to hot Blueberry Oat Muffins, fresh from the oven.


Blueberry Oat Muffins

1 cup old fashioned oats, uncooked
1 cup low fat buttermilk
2 egg whites, lightly beaten
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 cup flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup blueberries (fresh or frozen)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly spray 12 muffin cups with cooking spray.

Mix oats and buttermilk in a medium bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

Add egg whites, butter and lemon peel, mixing until well blended.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl and mix well.

Stir in dry mixture, just until moistened.

Gently fold in blueberries.

Fill muffin cups nearly full. Bake 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool muffins in tins on a wire rack. After 5 minutes remove from pan. Serve warm.

Yield: 12 muffins

01 August 2008

Lavender and Other Edible Flowers


Local Lavender

There was an abundance of lavender at the Camas Farmer’s Market last Saturday. That was a good thing since lavender was exactly what I was looking for. I saw a recipe at Big Black Dog for Lavender Chicken a couple of weeks ago and I have been eager to try it ever since.

But lavender that is suitable for cooking can be hard to come by. While lavender is edible it is not commonly used in cooking and is more often grown for other uses. Sometimes dyes and preservatives which are not intended for human consumption are added to make the blossoms more attractive for crafts or potpourris. For this reason you want to make sure the lavender you use in cooking has not been sprayed with harmful pesticides or treated with other chemicals that are not suitable for food crops.

Nancy, from Lacamas Lavender Farm, assured me that no pesticides are used on their flowers. Not even fertilizers are used after the flowers begin blooming, and nothing is added to enhance color or fragrance. Their lavender is fresh from their farm, naturally fragrant and pretty and safe to use, offered for sale locally at the Camas Farmer's Market.

As I looked for information on what to look for when searching for culinary lavender I found some great history, tips, and recipes for this fragrant herb at What's Cooking America. There I found tips on which variety of lavender is best to cook with and suggestions for using lavender in bread recipes, for making lavender sugar and much more.

Another great source of information was the website for Purple Haze Lavender Farm in Sequim, Washington. This site offers recipes and information about lavender as well as featuring a store where culinary lavender and lavender products can be ordered. It even offers information on farm tours and vacation rentals if you are interested in learning even more about lavender or simply enjoying a great vacation in scenic Washington.


Edible Flowers

Lavender wasn’t the only edible flower I found at the farmers market. Friendly Haven Rise Farm, a local organic farm offering classes and stayovers, was also at the Camas Farmers Market offering edible flowers. Their salad mix contained herb and wild flowers mixed with rose petals along with sprigs of fresh herbs. Mixed with a bag of locally grown lettuce, also for sale at the farmer's market, I thought these flowers would make a lovely salad to go with the Lavender Chicken I had planned for dinner.

At home, I mixed the marinade for the Lavender Chicken, using lavender blossoms, fragrant basil leaves, fresh lemons, pungent garlic and lots of extra virgin olive oil. A sprinkling of other fresh herbs from my garden were thrown in as well.

While the chicken marinated I prepared a salad from mixed greens and added some lavender blossoms and the edible flowers from the market as well as a few nasturtium, mustard and rose petals from flowers growing in my own garden. Many flowers are edible and have very interesting flavors. Nasturtium petals have a peppery flavor and rose petals are fragrant. Still some flowers are poisonous so always check with a reliable source before using them in your cooking.



Dinner

After assembling this pretty mixture of petals and greens I tossed it with the remains of a bottle of Newman’s Own Family Recipe Italian Dressing. I know, I know. I could make my own dressing, and lots of different viniagrette's would be easy to make and would taste great with this salad, but I like Newman's Own dressing and I was cleaning out my refrigerator and that is what I used.

After my husband grilled the Lavender Chicken I sliced it and served it over the simple salad I had prepared. I also added a colorful portion of Corn Salad with Pecan Dressing to the plate to complete a pretty and delicious summer dinner.


Note: On this occasion I made my salad using chicken hot off the grill. This presentation would also be good with cold chicken, perhaps leftover from a barbeque the day before, or leftover chicken sliced and gently warmed in a skillet before serving.

This recipe for Lavender Chicken is really delicious. The meat turns out tender, moist and delicately flavored. It is a great recipe for a casual weekend dinner but would also be wonderful for a picnic or a summer potluck. Everyone at my table had good things to say about it and eagerly ate the leftovers the next day.

Alanna at A Veggie Venture has come up with some pretty icons to signify information and recipes related to locally grown produce and farmers markets. I will be using this icon when I discover something fun or delicious at our local farmers markets.

Though the fledgling Camas Farmers Market is small I had a blast there, talking to the friendly vendors, checking out the beautiful herbs and flowers and thinking of ways to use the local produce. The weekly Camas market, operating on Saturdays from 9am - 1 pm through Oct. 4, 2008, offers some small town atmosphere, a number of interesting local products and some nice produce to supplement the week’s menu.