Monthly Archives: October 2009

Green Bean Casserole, Revisited

‘Tis the season. For a lot of things, actually.  I hear talk of comfort food and big cozy sweaters, fires in the fire place and hunkering down to watch old movies and read a good book.

And with all this rain, cooling temperatures, it’s also the season of wild mushrooms. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve eaten various types of the seasonal delicacy in recent weeks, but they include a wonderful spinach salad with wild mushrooms and goat cheese at FareStart, a kind of ragout of chanterelles at a dinner meeting held at Lisa Dupar’s Pomegranate, and a roasted corn soup with wild mushrooms at Barrio. It’s always time to celebrate when the price of chanterelles begins to approach that of cultivated mushrooms, a sure sign the bounty is here. So we’ve had them at home, as well, sautéed with chard and garlic, or added to a rice pilaf.

But ’tis THE season as well. The holiday season. The one that has us all starting to dream up menu plans and flip through magazines for ideas. Thanksgiving is hands-down my favorite holiday of the year, not to mention one of my favorite meals. And it’s one that I love to keep traditional. No standing rib roast or salmon fillet or crown of pork. It’s always turkey, or on rare occasion maybe Cornish game hens, as I did on the grill one year. Stuffing, absolutely. Potatoes? Yes, mashed and rich. A bright crisp salad. Something pumpkiny for dessert.

Only thing missing is a green vegetable. And the most quintessential side dish at this time of year is the famous green bean casserole. Nostalgic, beloved, but who today can stomach the canned provinence of the original’s ingredients? I know I can’t. Which is why, in the course of developing recipes for my Wild Mushrooms cookbook, I came up with a from-scratch version. Simple white sauce. Lots of fresh wild chanterelle mushrooms. Savory leeks. Crisp green beans. And a chanterelle/bread crumb topping. Still a little nostalgia in there. But with a whole lot more flavor! (Go ahead and use those crunchy canned fried onions if you just can’t imagine this recipe without them.)

chanterelles

One of the many beautiful watercolor illustrations done for my book by artist Don Barnett

Green Bean and Chanterelle Casserole

from Wild Mushrooms, in the Northwest Homegrown Cookbook Series

 

1 1/2 pounds green beans, trimmed

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 leeks, white and pale green parts only, split, cleaned and sliced

1 pound chanterelles, brushed clean, trimmed and coarsely chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup dried bread crumbs

White Sauce:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups whole milk

Pinch freshly grated or ground nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the white sauce, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture foams up and begins to smell slightly nutty, 2 to 3 minutes (the flour should not brown). Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until the sauce thickens, whisking often to avoid any lumps or sticking, 6 to 8 minutes. Take the pan from the heat and whisk in the nutmeg with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously butter a 12-inch oval baking dish or other 2-quart baking dish. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, add the green beans, and cook until they are bright green and nearly tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a sauté pan or large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring, until tender and aromatic, 2 to 3 minutes. Set aside about 1/2 cup of the chanterelles and add the rest to the skillet. Cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are tender and any liquid they give off has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes. Take the skillet from the heat and stir in the white sauce, white wine, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the beans and stir to evenly coat them in the sauce, then transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.

Pulse the bread crumbs and reserved chanterelles in a food processor to a fine crumbly texture. Scatter the mixture over the green beans and bake until bubbly-hot and the topping is nicely browned, 30 to 40 minutes. Spoon onto individual plates to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings

Green Beans on Foodista

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Vancouver Island Trip: Part Two

Ok, so where was I? Ah yes, lounging in my Victoria hotel room on a lazy Saturday. This was the view at one point inVIharbor the morning, typically Victoria: incoming float plane and a Black Ball ferry heading in from Port Angeles. Outgoing whale-watching trip (that bright orange boat center)  and a tugboat on some mission or another. It was late morning by the time I was done with that previous post and I was powerful hungry. We quickly headed off for lunch. (Breakfast consisted of hotel room coffee and the few lingering ginger snaps in the car-snack-supplies bag.)

A quick stroll to circumnavigate the harbor, and we were down on a pier joining others at a very popular lunch spot, Red Fish Blue Fish. This place is all about sustainability, down to the converted shipping container in which the tiny, efficient, friendly restaurant is housed. Sunny, a bit of a breeze, it was a good day to visit the no-frills spot with its outdoor-only seating. You can grab a stool at the bar-type seating toward the back of the pier, but we opted for the squat backless chairs along the pier’s edge, one doubling nicely as a table for two. It was a severe temptation to over-order, but we honed selections down to include the Pacific Rim Chowder (fish, coconut milk, redfishcorn, garlic, hints of chipotle), a 1-piece salmon and chips (huge portion! their hand-cut, twice-fried chips are outstanding, as is the homemade tartar sauce) and spicy Pacific fish sloppy joe (small pieces of fish in a light sauce, with aïoli and lemon pickled onions). Notice the wood utensils offered, definitely no effort spared to keep the environmental footprint to a minimum. Can’t wait to return to try the tacones, barbecued oysters and other selections.

A nice stroll back to the hotel to retrieve the car and we were off for the day’s explorations. Never too early to consider gin, one of my favorite subjects (I’m a big believer in the idea that it’s 5:00 somewhere!). So our first stop was Victoria Spirits, makers of Victoria Gin. They’re located out on the Saanich Peninsula to the north of town (where you also find Butchart Gardens and Sydney, with its busy ferry docks from US and mainland Canada). The drive, once we got off Highway 17, was really lovely, winding through the trees, lots of lovely old homes along the way, sometimes opening up to a field where horses graze. At the end of many of the driveways, we saw tables laden with garden fruit, fresh-cut flowers, garlic,VIgin eggs — with honor-system prices noted. So charming!

Victoria Spirits‘ tasting room is housed on the Winchester Cellars property, a very pretty setting surrounded by trees and garden. Ken Winchester added the gin to the business’ portfolio last year, but he has moved on to new things. The new owners, Brian and Valerie Murray (with a fun-loving bunch of colleagues), carry on the gin tradition, also making a pinot noir eau de vie (loved it! smooth and flavorful). They’ll start work on whiskey later this year, though product won’t be debuted for at least a few years, since it will take an element of aging. And bitters are on the agenda as well! Will look forward to checking in with them again as the months go by.

After a couple judicious sips at Victoria Spirits (while my non-drinking hubby took in the garden surroundings), the next stop was Sea Cider. Just a bit further up the peninsula, almost an apple’s throw from the water, this is one lovely setting for whiling away a good hour of a lovely Saturday afternoon. It’s a new-construction building that looks to have been here for years, though the youthfulness of the apple orchard that spills down toward the water is a give-away that the property’s been in place for just a few years. VIsea2Those trees are able to produce, now, about 30% of the cider-making needs, the rest coming from other sources in British Columbia. Over the years, as the trees mature, the goal will be that Sea Cider will become an “estate” cidery, with all their apple needs coming from this property.

This isn’t a tasting room, per se, where you belly up to the bar and sip little samples of selected products. Instead, the scenario is table-service. Of course, as a first-time visitor looking to take it all in, I couldn’t not order “the long flight,” a generous pour of all nine ciders currently available. My favorites of the ciders were Kings & Spies (made with Kings and Northern Spies apples, brought a bottle home) and Pippins. For an afternoon nibble, we chose the platter for two, a delicious array of things to snack on, including locally made sausages, cured salmon, eggplant salad, and some Moonstruck cheese from Salt Spring Island. Such a pretty, enjoyable setting.VIfox Little surprise they were shooing customers out a bit early that afternoon to get ready for a wedding, a lovely spot to tie the knot.

Sunday morning, and I wanted to venture beyond the hotel for breakfast. A little sleuthing quickly turned up Blue Fox Cafe as a locals’ favorite at this hour of the day, confirmed by the front desk gal who helped us verify where it was on the map. It wasn’t too hard to find Blue Fox, thanks to the small group of folks clustered on the sidewalk in front. It’s a bustling, cozy, colorful little no-reservations place; and they don’t take names on a list, so you just hang out and wait your turn as a pretty regular stream of folks vacate their tables. Our wait was only about 20 minutes; when we left, after noon, the line was at least twice as long.

Bob opted for the lunch side of the menu, a great club sandwich with a generous and flavorful salad alongside.  Huevos Rancheros always jumps out at me from breakfast menus, I went with that for morning sustenance that day. Great staff, friendly and efficient. And they get major gold stars from me for brining a small pitcher of frothed hot milk when I simply asked for milk for my coffee. I can see why this is a Victoria favorite; we’ll surely return on another trip.

VIfeast1Our time on Vancouver Island was capped off in grand style with a Sunday  afternoon at Feast of Fields. I’d been hearing about this annual local-foods indulgence for a number of years, from my friend Mara Jernigan who helped found the event. The fundraiser–in its 12th year–is put on by FarmFolk/CityFolk each September, held on a different Island farm (this year was the only repeat, the event returned to Providence Farm where it had been held in 2003). Check out the cool wine-glass-friendly “plates” on sale for a mere $5: planks of local cedar. Brilliant. And aromatic!

It was one of those perfect mid-September Northwest days: sunny, blue skies, light breeze, warm. About thirty restaurants from various spots in the area were on tap, not to mention a few dozen or more wineries fromVIfeast2 throughout BC. And Victoria Spirits with their gin, some local breweries and a teamonger. No trouble sating ourself with (sometimes return visits for) late summer gazpacho with vodka-pickled Manila clams (Marina Restaurant); blackberry-walnut baklava (Providence Farm); local Red Fife wheat blinis with Cowichan Bay smoked duck (Fairburn Farm); grain fed beef burgers with ale-braised onions (Spinnaker’s Brewpub); pastry cones with wild mushrooms and smoked goats milk crème fraîche (Sooke Harbour House) and even lovely little mini gluten-free wedding cakes (VinCoco Patisserie). Man alive, it was a lovely afternoon of grazing on the farm. So pleased to finally make it to that celebrated event; I highly recommend trying to plan a mid-September trip to the Island to partake.

After the Feast, we settled in at Fairburn Farm for a last night of the trip. Powerhouse Mara was busy at the event for a couple more hours, we sat out on the big porch with another couple from Seattle, shooting the breeze, talking about life and travels and food. Dinner was simple and delicious, family-style pasta with a perfect bolognese-style sauce. And sleep was blissfully sound. Breakfast the next morning was temporarily interrupted by VIbuff2the chance to watch the farm’s herd of water buffalo parading from the field up to the milking barn. We walked up later to visit with some of the young’uns who are still housed in the barn until old enough to join the others. Before long, we were off, heading back to Nanaimo for the ferry trip back to the “real world” on the mainland.

This trip to Vancouver Island had been a long time in coming, more than a few years had slipped by since our last visit–and countless short-lived efforts to work it into the schedule. It was a full and wonderful time. We packed a lot into those five days, maybe a bit too much. For such a relaxing, unwind-inducing place, we didn’t do a whole lot of relaxing and unwinding. But next time. It won’t be five or six more year. And we’ve already got a list going of things to do that trip that didn’t fit into this itinerary.

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Smith Tea: Return of an Icon

Welcome back, Mr. Smith! I was wondering what had come of you…..

About this time last year I was working on a feature article for Horizon Airlines Magazine recounting the lives and times of Northwest tea companies. It’s a story impossible to tell without the name of Steven Smith coming up. The one-time manager of the first natural foods store in Portland went on to co-found two powerhouse tea companies: Stash (1972) and Tazo (1994).  He’d moved on from both businesses by the time I was doing research (Stash was sold in 1993; Starbucks purchased Tazo in 1999, but Smith stayed on until 2006), though  I read plenty of historical perspective on his work at Stash and Tazo and found a great radio interview online (the link for which seems to have died).  The best I could do in terms of learning where Smith was at that moment insmith1 time, however, was the speculation of “somewhere in the south of France” from one of the tea folks I spoke with.

So what appeared on my front porch this week but a small box from Portland announcing the return of Steven Smith to the world of Northwest tea, with a couple lovely boxes of tea to boot. Back home in Portland, he’s once again scouring the world for the very best tea resources and crafting wonderful blends.

Smith Teamaker represents a core mission of “developing a tea line where I can take people as close to the ingredients’ origin as possible,” Smith explains in the press release. Twelve signature teas launched the enterprise (though many more show on the Web site), each blended in small batches with careful attention to the exact provenance of individual teas incorporated in each blend. To the degree that inputting the batch number found on the bottom of the tea box into the “Batch No. Lookup” spot on the home page brings up specific details of that box’s components.

smith2Based on the panache of the packaging and the pedigree of the founder, I instinctively reached for the fine mesh tea strainer I was going to use to brew a sample cup. Loose-leaf is the purist’s path to a perfect cup of tea, right? (I’m saying that as a coffee drinker, mind you, as in “I think I heard that once…”) Surprised was I to find the teas in these boxes come in individually sealed sachets. I had to laugh when I read this clarification on the side of the box: “Our roomy, relaxed fit [!!] sachet encourages greater full leaf expansion to give you better flavor.” So apparently it’s the best of both worlds–loose leaf tea that just happens to be corralled in a tidy pouch of delicate mesh.

The Northwest is well blessed with outstanding tea purveyors (Remedy Teas, T, Barnes & Watson among them), not to mention a wealth of interesting, varied tea shops and salons in which to enjoy them. So did we need one more elegant, selective, high-end tea to now make those choices tougher? Well, perhaps not “need” exactly. But I do think the region surely benefits by having one of the industry’s gurus return to the fold, helping ensure the Northwest remains the envy of tea lovers everywhere.

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Les Hamburgers

I hope you read that title with an appropriately thick French accent, as I’d intended. Lay ambehrgehr. It makes a difference. Because this isn’t about the all-American hamburger we all know and love, instead a Gallic take on our Yankee icon.  

It really had never crossed my radar in all the time I’ve spent in France that the French were big on hamburgers. At least I never saw evidence that replicated the way we love them in the U S of A.

Here’s the limit of my hamburger-related memories from France: I was on a study-abroad program in Dijon my junior year of college. There were just 6 of us, a small program, we were each housed in a family home. And one day each week we convened at our coordinator/den mother’s apartment for lunch, with random host family members joining us. One day a friend’s “French mom” arrived with a packet from the butcher. Some lovely ground beef, all richly red and mottled with the little flecks of white fat. She just plopped that mound onto her plate and dug right in. No pretense about “steak tartar” with its seasonings and accoutrements. It was a culinary learning moment.

So I’ll clarify here that indeed this story is about cooked hamburgers. Les hamburgers à la française.

What inspired this musing is having run into a friend back in July at the preview screening of Julie & Julia. Chatting before the movie started, she told me that the first Julia Child recipe she ever cooked was the hamburger recipe in Mastering The Art of French Cooking. The assignment in her home-ec class was to cook a recipe from a cookbook and that’s what she picked. I kindlyMastering3 asked if perhaps it was another book she was thinking about, secretly sure she was muddling her memory.

No, she assured me, it was Mastering. Volume One.

Huh?

Didn’t quite compute. Pommes de terre dauphinois, sauce chasseur, veau Prince Orloff, bavarois au chocolat, sure. But hamburgers? In fact, there it is, bottom of page 300, the heading “Ground Beef–Hamburgers; Bifteck Haché.”

Julia explains, “Shock is the reaction of some Americans we have encountered who learn that real French people living in France eat hamburgers. They do eat them, and when sauced with any of the suggestions in the following recipes, the French hamburger is an excellent and relatively economical main course for an informal party.”

So I owed Karen an apology. And I got out the grinder attachment for my KitchenAid. Not because of that recent discomforting New York Times article about ground beef; this was a few weeks prior. Instead because Julia said so: “Be fussy about your meat; have all the fat and sinews removed, and have it ground before your very eyes or better, grind it yourself.”

You’ve got a copy of the book, right? [I’ll wait while you go check your shelves] No? Well you should, pick one up next time you’re out. Even if it’s just for the reading quality and the depth of knowledge that the inimitable  Madame Child shares with us. You don’t have to cook the stuffed leg of lamb or an elaborate cassoulet. Plenty of great go-to recipes for a casual meal, like endive and ham gratin or sole poached in white wine.

hamburger1I picked up some chuck at the store, dutifully trimmed and ground it. Then  following her steps for Bifteck Haché à la Lyonnaise (with onions and herbs), added the sautéed onion, thyme, egg and softened butter she calls for (being fresh out of bone marrow or beef suet).  While I did spend a lot more time on those 4 or 5 burgers than I would have buying a pound and a half of ground beef, the flavor really was a few steps above the norm. Not just the flavor, but the texture too, so toothsome, resistent, juicy. My only quibble with Julia’s method was the final coating of the patties in flour before cooking; I found it just encouraged sticking and burn potential, I preferred the unfloured version.

The real French-ness of this recipe shines next: making a little pan sauce to serve over the burgers, dispensing with the frivolous bun/lettuce/tomato finish we come to expect. I chose red wine to dissolve those tasty bits stuckhamburger2 to the pan, reducing quickly to a nice sauce. Simple in presentation, powerful in flavor.

I’m sold. There is a lot to be gained in fresh-grinding meat for burgers, and surely meatballs, sauces, other favorite uses for ground beef, whether your motives are gastronomic or health-related.

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Sipping Olympic History

Having had a fabulous trip to Vancouver, BC earlier this year, which included a cocktail or two (plus an amazing dinner) at Yew in the Four Seasons Hotel, it grabbed my attention to read about the Olympics-themed cocktails recently unveiled for the restaurant. The Games will be starting in 127 days, and yes, there are a lot of people counting down (not the least, official timekeeper Omega watches at this link). I found myself mentally doing so as we passed through US customs at Blaine a couple of weeks ago, noting the new expanded crossing gates that aren’t yet open.

But back to those cocktails. Yew’s master mixologist Justin Taylor put together three concoctions that celebrate Vancouver’s hosting of the Games, tipping his hat, too, to two past Canada host cities.

The Bronze cocktail is Montreal-inspired (1976 hosts), with Canadian rye whiskey that’s infused with Quebec maple syrup and Granny Smith apple.

The Silver honors Calgary’s 1988 hosting of the Games, with buffalo jerky-infused vodka, housemade Clamato juice, chile peppers and horseradish.*

And the Gold is saved, of course, for the 2010 host Vancouver. The  commemorative  cocktail melds cucumber- and dill-infused BC gin (wonder if it’s Victoria Gin?), fresh citrus and egg white, with a garnish of candied smoked salmon.

I had no intention of trying to slip back up to Vancouver before the Games begin, but now I’m thinking twice. With luck, Canada will not only capture some gold medals in the competitions, but perhaps Yew will consider holding the Gold cocktail on their menu for a while.

 

* The press release noted this cocktail as a twist on the Caesar. Nothing salad-related, the Caesar is a Canadian cocktail of note that one of my go-to cocktail resources said they think is more flavorful than the similar Bloody Mary. What they share is vodka, Worcestershire sauce, celery salt; where they differ is the Bloody Mary using classic tomato juice, the Caesar has always been made with clam liquor-enhanced tomato juice. According to Cocktail: The Drinks Bible for the 21st Century, the Caesar was first served a good two years before Clamato juice was developed down in California. I’ve never had a Caesar but will surely seek one out soon.

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Kitchen Tricks: Tomato Paste

paste1Sometimes I presume that everyone does all the same little tricks in the kitchen that help make our cooking lives easier and more efficient. Like laying down a dampened paper towel under a cutting board to keep it from slipping around on the counter (though my no-skid KitchenAid cutting board makes that unnecessary). Or using the side of a broad chef’s knife to first crush hazelnuts a bit before trying to chop them, avoiding the whole nuts rolling around on the board.

But thought I’d go ahead and pass this one along just in case. I have a pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove for tonight’s pizza (making enough to have a few portions to freeze for another time). After the onions and garlic had lightly browned and the canned diced tomatoes simmered for a few minutes, I added a generous tablespoon of tomato paste. Didn’t need to open a can, just grabbed this sheet of frozen tomato paste from the freezer, snipped around one of the mounds, and plopped it into the pan. Could not be simpler, and does wonders for stretching the life of one of those cans of tomato paste, large enough that I seldom use the whole thing in one recipe.

Whenever I do open a can of tomato paste and have used the tablespoon or two called for, I cut a piece of plastic wrap and set it on the counter. Then, on go the mounds of tomato paste, spaced well apart. You can be precise if you like, making them each a level tablespoon for measured portions, but I just do it freestyle.

paste2Then the paste is covered with another layer of plastic, a bit larger than the first to allow for covering the mounds. I don’t obsess about there being no little pockets of air, but do my best to seal the outer edges and envelop the tomato paste as well as I can. Then into the freezer on a flat surface until frozen solid. At that point, you can bunch up the sheet and store it in the door nook or some other out-of-the-way spot. Next time you need some tomato paste, just cut around a mound or two with scissors, peel away the plastic, and you’re good to go.

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Kindness of Keftedes

I was nearly tempted to pick up the phone on Saturday and call in. Rick Steves and his radio-show guest Don George were discussing the kindness of strangers, the subject of a book George had edited. At the mere mention of the theme—influenced, in part, by the travel-show context—I immediately thought of her. A tiny wisp of a woman, in the train car with us at about hour 35 of a rather epic journey that began in Rome and was leading us to Istanbul.

Some day I’m going to write an essay about that train trip. It was summer of the year 1985. Six of us from the  University of Puget Sound had just wrapped up the inaugural year of the school’s study abroad program in Dijon, France. Joanne and I stayed on to travel the summer before heading back for our senior year. She’d spent her senior year of high school in Istanbul and the family’s daughter was to be married that summer. It was an opportunity not to be missed since we were, generally speaking, in the neighborhood. Hindsight? Maybe we should have flown. But that train ride proved to be the most fascinating travel experience of my life, archived in many pages of that summers’ journals. I wouldn’t trade the uncertainties and challenges of the trip for anything. Because there was also music, laughter, adventure. And the kindness of strangers.

It was a long trip, even at first when we thought it was about 40 hours—including the train trip from Rome to Brindisi, an overnight boat trip from there to Patross, train to Athens, another train there to the Greek/Turkish border, yet another train then on into Istanbul. I’ll never forget that moment in the compartment at the end of the car, where the map was. We found the spot on the map showing the Greek town we’d just left. Noted relative distances of how far we’d traveled, how far we had to go. Checked our watches. Did some quick calculations in our heads (a real-life math story problem!). And soon realized we were not going to be arriving when we thought. Ends up there was an extra 24-hour period we failed to notice on the original train scheduled.

Lord a-mighty. We weren’t prepared for a 64 hour trip! Honestly, we were barely prepared for a 40 hour trip. Every last Italian lira was snatched up for an unexpected train supplement, levied onboard. We didn’t get more than a few drachmas in Athens because we weren’t staying in the country, just passing through on the train. Starving, we made a trip to the café car. Our funds afforded us just two very pitiful cheese sandwiches: dry white squares of bread with nothing but nondescript yellow cheese between them.

Tired, frustrated, hungry, we returned to our train compartment—the type with banquette seats, so you’re face to face with fellow travelers. While we gnawed on our sandwiches, the grandmotherly voyager motioned to us. She had a basket packed for her lunch, which included a tin of keftedes, small seasoned balls of ground meat. Handing us each a few, nodding her head insistently, we were wide-eyed with gratitude and surprise at the gesture of her sharing her lunch with us.

I wish we could have done more to thank her than mouth our feeble English words. But her wide smile showed how well she understood.

It’s a kindness I shall always remember. One I wish came to mind more often, though, encouraging me to recognize opportunities in my days when I could pass that kindness along.

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