Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary

I would like to start by saying: my aunt Jane is an amazing lady.

Not only did she send me this antique cherry picker she found at a garage sale a couple of weeks ago, but she is pretty much responsible for my complete and utter obsession with garage sale-ing and flea market-ing.  She also taught me how to bargain.  Before I was even ten years old.  Believe it.

She’d take me to garage sales and flea markets all over the Bay Area on the weekends, and helped me to start a small ceramic dog collection by showing me the bargaining ropes. For you newbies, I’m talking about how to suggest a price that’s well lower than what’s listed and then slowly work your way to the middle.   Or how to pretend like you only have only two dollars in your wallet when you actually have ten.  It’s a skill that, as insignificant as it may seem to you, is incredibly important to me to this day, and especially so now that I’m living in Portland, the garage sale capitol of the world.

There are many, many other life’s lessons and skills that I’ve learned from Aunt Jane, but today I’m thankful for our common appreciation for antiques (especially kitchenware) and good bargains.

Might I add, she’s also quite the cooking extraordinaire, and one of my first true kitchen role models growing up.

I hope she would approve of this simple, yet delicious creation.  Something tells me she would.

Simply Roasted Cherries with Rosemary 

Ingredients

  • A whole bunch o’ cherries, washed and de-stemmed
  • A sprig or two of rosemary, de-stemmed and roughly chopped

You don’t necessarily need a cherry pitter, although it is quite handy and useful!

First you must preheat the oven to a low and slow 250 degrees.  As it’s heating up, you will want to pit your cherries.  I’ve seen recipes where people roast cherries with the pits in, or even entirely whole and with the stems still attached, but I’d rather avoid the nuisance and since I now have a cherry pitter, I went all out on the preparation.  De-stemmed, pitted, halved, the whole nine yards.

So yes, chop in half, and spread onto a baking sheet, skin side down.  Sprinkle with coursely chopped rosemary, and place in the oven.  Allow to bake for at least an hour, if not more, keeping an eye to watch for burning.  Bubbling or crackling noises are okay.  After a long while, your cherries should have shunk to about half their original size, browned or crisped up a bit, and shriveled up like your skin after a long bath (how’s that for kitchen imagery?). If you pop one into your mouth, you will notice how the flavor and sweetness of the cherry is greatly enhanced.

From this point forward, the world is your oyster!  Er, cherry.  You may do with them what you please.  Pop them in your mouth as a healthy snack, throw them on some crackers with your favorite chevre as a beautiful and delicious appetizer, add them to fresh greens in a salad, or even incorporate them into a pastry of your choosing.  It would be utterly impossible to find dissatisfaction in your outcome.

Now, this recipe isn’t quite brain surgery.  In fact, it’s safe to say you could probably do it blindfolded.  It’s the concept that I’m trying to emphasize here, that uncommon pairings of fruits and herbs can and DO go well together.  Also, that fruit can be enjoyed in more ways than just fresh, or in a pie or pastry.  In fact, in many cases roasting or grilling is an incredibly useful method for enhancing the sweetness of the fruit.  It’s also a fabulous way to disguise fruit that you’ve allowed to go a day or two past it’s prime.

If you want to cook simply and do it well, then you will allow the ingredients to speak for themselves.  This is what I’m learning.

 

 

 

 

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Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita

There are a few reasons why I chose to make this recipe.

1.  Frankly, I’m sick of making popsicles.

2.  I had a whole bunch of plain yogurt in my fridge that needed to get used up.  I bought the dill specifically for this reason: I have been wanting to make raita/something to dip my baby carrots in on a hot day for a while now, so with some leftover raita this recipe is a two-fer.  Two birds, one stone.

3.  I also had this huge bag of lentils from when we first moved in that we haven’t used and was starting to feel guilty about it, oddly enough.  Is there such a thing as chef’s guilt?  For not using what you’ve got before it starts to go bad (like the chard and beets sitting in my veggie drawer as I type)?  Even with non-perishables?  Because if so, I have it.

4. For the first time in almost two months of living in my new spot, it was the first night that I had the entire place to myself.  The boyfriend, roommate and puppy went camping for Ryan’s birthday, and since I had a Plate & Pitchfork event the next day, I couldn’t go.  I enjoy cooking no matter who’s home, but the fact that I had the place to myself that night meant that I could go on a cooking spree uninhibited and uninterrupted.  What’s further, I could cook whatever I wanted because I would be the only one eating it.  I’d be surprised to find myself in the majority opinion of the household when it comes to lentils normally, but this night was different.

5.  Look at the size of these spinach leaves from our neighbor’s veggie garden! How could I not include these in the recipe?!  They are so awesome.

Lentil Cakes with Cucumber Dill Raita 

Yields: 8-10 small to medium sized lentil cakes

Ingredients

Raita:

  • 1-2 cups of yogurt, must be PLAIN
  • 2 Tbsp. Vegannaise, or plain mayo (I prefer the taste of Vegannaise and it’s much healthier)
  • Half a cucumber, skin-on and thinly sliced and julienned (with a mandolin if you have one.  If not, try to mince the cucumber as thinly as possible)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of fresh dill, chopped
  • a handful of capers, chopped
  • juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • Optional: a few splashes of hot sauce of your choosing (I added Secret Aardvark Habanero hot sauce and it worked perfectly to add a hint of residual spiciness)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Lentil Cakes:

  • 1 cup organic lentils
  • 1 cup brown rice
  • Half an onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • a nice sprinkle of chili flakes
  • 1 cap-full of apple cider vinegar, for lentils
  • olive oil for sauteing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for cooking, preferably a higher smoking point oil.  I used a few tablespoons of pork lard that I rendered in a slow-cooker a while back and have kept stored in the freezer.  It works amazingly well for cooking pancakes, grilled cheeses, and in baking for pie crusts, etc.  It makes it much easier to avoid burning what you’re cooking, and as an added bonus you add a very slight bacon-y flavor to whatever you’re cooking.  I don’t expect you to have lard on hand, however I do recommend looking into it for future recipes)
  • optional: a handful of golden raisins or dried apricots, chopped.  (I actually used about a tablespoon of homemade apricot preserves I had made a few weeks ago that worked very well in this recipe)

Start by soaking the lentils on very low heat in salted water for an hour or two.  During this time you can prepare the Raita.  Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, stir well to combine and throw back in the refrigerator.  Drain the lentils, add fresh (salt added) water and cook according to package directions.  At the same time, cook rice according to package directions on a separate burner.  When the lentils are firm and starting to “pop”, remove from heat, add a splash of apple cider vinegar and stir to incorporate fully (don’t add too much, just maybe a cap-full, because any more than that is overpowering).  Allow the lentils and rice to cool down while you saute the sliced onion in olive oil, and when translucent add the chopped fresh spinach, curry powder, salt and pepper and stir until well incorporated and nicely wilted.  

In a large bowl, combine the lentils, brown rice, onion/spinach mix (and raisins, dried apricots, or apricot preserves if you’d like).  Add the eggs as well (it would have been smarter of me to combine the eggs in a small bowl and whip before adding them to the mix beforehand) and stir to incorporate fully.

In a saute pan, heat the oil or lard until sizzling hot (my trick is to soak my hand with water from the sink and “throw” the residual water into the pan to see if it sizzles.  If not, be patient for a few minutes then try again, and if so then it’s ready to go).  Add the lentil “batter” to the pan, forming small palm-sized circular patties.  It’s important to keep in mind that they are fragile and prone to break or split easily.  Do not to mess with them too early or else they will break, but also keep a patient yet diligent eye on them so as to prevent burning.  This can be tricky, but I suggest letting them sit on each side for 4-5 minutes and then flipping them very carefully in between.  As with pancakes, once each batch is finished, place them carefully on a plate and keep them in a warmed oven until completely finished.

Place 2 to 3 on a each plate, and top with the chilled Raita.  Serve with a lemon wedge and maybe some extra fresh dill if you have left over, which you should.

What I love about this recipe is that there’s so much room for playfulness here.  You can add almost anything you’d like to the cakes, whether it’s broccoli, kale, cilantro, zucchini, chopped apples, flax seeds, nutritional yeast, etc.  Its a great canvas for exploration, and I suggest, if you are interested in making a similar recipe, that you do add your own twist to it.  I’d love to hear your ideas or suggestions.

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips

This isn’t the first time I’ve done a blog post devoted to kale chips, but they’re just so gosh darn delicious (and addicting, I might add) that they deserve to be brought back to the forefront of my blog for this evening.

HA! Tricked you.  You totally thought this was my veggie garden, didn’t you?

I WISH.

Actually, my rad new neighbor(s) stopped by for a chat this morning and mentioned that their backyard veggie garden is in serious summer surplus mode and demand is at a premium.  It’s. A. Rough. Life. For. Us.

As a self-diagnosed veggie hoarder (note the pic of the current state of my fruit/veg drawer in the fridge), I pretty much teleported myself to their backyard as soon as I possibly could to get my hands on some.

Among the wide variety of awesomeness I found, I came home with some basil, rosemary, a few leaves of rainbow chard, and kale.  I have some manners.  Some.

Having just picked up a new bunch of purple kale at the farmer’s market yesterday, I knew that throwing the leaves in the fridge would likely result in a mess of yucky smelly goo on the bottom of the veggie bin. It’s never a good thing to let fresh food go to waste, let alone a very nasty waste.   And anyone who’s ever suddenly found themselves with a surplus of kale can likely attest to this phenomenon.  If not, then you my friend are a jedi of kale.   But for us less gifted, there is one solution to this problem and it is a good one at that: kale chips.  Make a batch and, I swear, you’ll be down to a workable amount of fresh kale before you know it.  These babies are so addicting (and guilt-free), they’ll be gone before you leave the kitchen.  Literally.  As in, I put them in a bowl to share with everyone else and just stood in front of the bowl shoving them in my mouth for like five minutes until they were gone.

Cheesy Vegan Kale Chips 

Ingredients:

  • One bunch of organic kale, de-stemmed and chopped into large pieces
  • One healthy dose of olive oil, maybe two to three tablespoons, poured in small increments
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Chili Flakes
  • Two or three large pinches of nutritional yeast (“healthier” alternative to cheese, many vegans use it as a substitute to that cheesy flavor.  For instance, my old roommate Susan used to make vegan mac ‘n cheese with nutritional yeast.  It doesn’t compare to cheese in texture by any means, but I actually really enjoy using it  on popcorn, scrambled eggs, kale chips, etc.)

Preheat oven to 250 (any higher and your kale chips will burn).  In a bowl, toss kale with the rest of ingredients and ensure an even coating.  Spread out evenly on a baking sheet or large piece of aluminum foil.

Place in oven and bake for about an hour, or until the chips are completely dehydrated and crispy.  Remove from oven, and enjoy.

Lesson learned today: Dino kale is the best type of kale to use for chips due to its rigidity.  It’s the kind with the long and thinner crinkled dark green leaves pictured above.  A close second is the green kale- the firm, almost sharp looking leaves that you can usually find in the market or grocery store.  Try to avoid using Russian or Purple kale.  Also, don’t over oil the greens.  Use only enough to very thinly coat each leaf, as the oilyness comes out when crispy and the idea is to avoid greasiness.

Blueberry Honey Yogurt Pops

Improv in the Kitchen.  It’s a game a like to play quite often, really.  When you buy something at the store or market without any intention of what to do with it.  So you open your fridge and cabinets, checking out what you have and could possibly combine with said ingredient to make something awesome.  Sometimes the end product is an epic fail and other times it’s great! You never really know what you’re gonna get, but that’s the fun of it.  You should try it sometime.

For this past episode of Improve in the Kitchen, the key ingredient was blueberries. To be honest with you, I’m on the fence with blueberries.  I like them, I do.  I can almost feel my immune system flex as I nibble away on the juicy little blue balls of antioxidant awesome.  And you have to give the blueberry some credit for its adaptability.  She knows how to play it cool, to chill on the sidelines, to be that wingwoman that’s always down to go out  and have a few drinks with you after you’ve broken up with your boyfriend for the fifth time and need to vent about it.  But after a few drinks, you realize that you really just want to dance.  Try as you might to bring her along for a few tequila shots and an epic dance floor sesh, she’s not really into that.  Yeah, she’s just kind of boring.  She’s sweet and compliments others well, but a blueberry just isn’t that exciting.

Enough blueberry bashing.  I feel very strongly about second chances, about finding the best in everything and everyone. Sort of.  And anyone who knows anything about blueberries knows that the frozen kind is far superior to the fresh form. So in the spirit of frozen blueberries, I turned this batch into popsicles, because on a hot summer day there’s almost no such thing as a bad popsicle.  And after we demolished the badass batch of cilantro lime popsicles, I’ve been having very serious popsicle withdrawals.

This is how it all went down:

I took these babies, washed them and threw them in a saucepan with a cup or so of water and a couple tablespoons of honey on medium heat.  While this was happening, I found some plain yogurt in the fridge and mixed a cup or so with honey to incorporate a bold tart/sweet flavor into the mix.  After all the honey had melted into the liquid and the blueberries were bursting, I removed it from the stovetop to cool down.

Next, the mixture went into the blender.

Then through a cheesecloth into a bowl to strain all the larger particles and skin pieces out.

I poured a little of the yogurt/honey mixture into each, then added the blueberry/honey mix on top being careful in pouring softly to maintain the separation.  I froze them for an hour or so, stabbed them with popsicle sticks and then froze for a few more hours.

AND BAM! Blueberries, they’re alright in my book.

Simple Strawberry Agua Fresca

I seem to have developed this habit of buying (or picking!) lots of berries and then having no idea what to do with them.  The other day I did this again with hood strawberries.  I keep hearing about how the season is so short and you can only get them for a very small period of time, so I end up buying a box or six.  I’ve done this every few days for the past month or so, and only just now am I noticing that they’re disappearing.  Sad.  So to honor this last batch, I decided to make something I’ve been wanting to make for some time now, and I’m not sure why I haven’t because it’s just a breeze to do!

I made a batch of strawberry agua fresca, and it’s so simple that it almost doesn’t deserve an entire blog post.  But then again, it’s so delicious and refreshing that it, undoubtedly, DOES deserve it!  When I think of agua fresca, I am immediately brought back to my roots, to my childhood filled with mud, dirt, grass, cuts, and mexican food.  I think of my family’s weekly ritual of dining at Cactus Taqueria every wednesday for the past fifteen or so years now.  Even though I’m long gone living in Portland and can no longer make the weekly gatherings that still occur today, I can still recall my family’s exact orders.  My dad: a chile relleno with extra guacamole and a horchata, sometimes.  My mom: half chicken, half shrimp burrito mejor with no cheese or sour cream, in a whole wheat tortilla.  My sister and I both: chicken mejor burritos, salsa on the side and refried beans.  And never without an agua fresca to accompany it.

Strawberry Agua Fresca

Ingredients

  • 2 cups water
  • 3/4 cup of sugar
  • 1 basket of fresh strawberries, stems removed
  • Juice of 2 limes

Dissolve sugar in water over medium heat.  Meanwhile, puree the strawberries in a blender.  If you don’t like the seeds or pulp you can strain the puree in a fine mesh strainer.  I actually prefer my agua fresca to have a pulpy consistency so I just left it as is.  Once sugar has dissolved, remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so.  Pour into a container, add pureed strawberries and lime juice.  Stir, then fill remainder of container with cold water and ice.  Serve with a slice of lime garnish.

Plate & Pitchfork: Champoeg Farm est. 1856

This gallery contains 20 photos.

Yesterday began my first experience as a staff member of Plate & Pitchfork, a Portland-based company that brings the dining experience to farms throughout the greater Portland area in the summer season.  Each weekend Plate & Pitchfork hosts these events, which include a farm tour, guest speakers, and an ingredient-driven coursed dinner with wine and beer … Continue reading

Cilantro Lime Popsicles

What is it about Portland living that has me practically obsessed with finding ways of incorporating fruit into summertime treats?  It’s like I’ve made this shift from vegetables and savory dishes to fruit and all things sweet now that the sun’s out (when it’s not raining, that is).  I’m wearing flip flip flops and my beloved straw hat.  I’m riding my bike to and from the farmer’s markets on a regular basis.  I’m buying fresh flowers for the house.  And from the time I wake up in the morning until I go to sleep, I’m daydreaming about sinking my teeth into a juicy peach while sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch, sipping on iced-tea out of a mason jar.

Now just hold on for a second…last time I checked I was all bundled up in blankets looking out at the snow-filled Snowmass landscape from my balcony, a bowl of Kale, Fennel and Sausage Soup simmering on the stove.  Who is this summertime fiend I’ve become and where did she come from?

Case in point: cilantro lime popsicles.  Now, there are two reason why I chose to feature cilantro in my popsicle.  Firstly, cilantro is awesome.  Second, my good friend Alice, who I have reconnected with since moving to Portland, regularly hosts an “Iron Chef” competition from her home with a dozen or so of her culinarily-inspired buddies.  Each competition there is a new featured ingredient.  When I first moved here, she invited me to her “Iron Chef: Avocado” competition.  My simple thinly sliced avocado and Cremini mushroom with lemon parsley vinaigrette hardly stood up to the other amazing creations that night, but I filled up on delicious food and drink, great conversation, an all around awesome time, and perhaps too much- if even possible- avocado.  However, this next competition is “Iron Chef Cilantro”, I’m planning on really bringing out my big guns for this one.  It will be taking place in August, but I’m already deep in training.  As a challenge to myself, I opted to bring a desert this time and after much inner debate settled on the always trendy popsicle. So, this batch is actually a trial run in preparation for next month’s competition and it turned out pretty damn spot-on taste-wise, with the cilantro flavor really coming through even when up against the strong notes of lime, and it just about hits THE spot on a hot summer day.  Regarding presentation, I like the simplicity but also think I’ll need to step it up big-time if I’m in it to win it.  You make the call, let me know what you think!

Behold my secret weapon.

Cilantro Lime Popsicles

This recipe yields about 16-18 ice cube-sized popsicles, if you’re using an ice cube tray like I did

Ingredients

  • 2 cups granulated sugar (I used the organic light brown kind from Trader Joe’s and loved it)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup organic cilantro
  • Juice of 3-4 limes, zest of one
  • Popsicle sticks or other holding device

Bring sugar and water to a boil on medium heat, stirring constantly to dissolve the sugar.  As the mixture is heating, chop the cilantro coursely (make sure it’s not too finely chopped or else it won’t strain correctly).Once boiling slightly, remove from heat, add chopped cilantro leaves and zest of one lime.  Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes.Meanwhile, juice the limes.   When syrup mix is slightly warm to room temperature, run through a fine mesh strainer to remove as much leaves and zest as possible from the liquid.  Add the lime juice to the syrup and stir to incorporate.  Place one cilantro leaf in each ice cube slot if desired for decoration, and pour syrup mix to fill the tray(s). Place in freezer until it begins to freeze and turns from clear to opaque .  After one hour or so, remove from freezer and place popsicle sticks into each (if they don’t stick upright, you must freeze for a half hour or so more).  Once popsicle sticks are in, place back in the freezer for another few hours.  To remove from tray, run the bottom under hot water for a few seconds and they should slide right out.

The only way I could see it getting any better is by removing the popsicle sticks, and bringing out the blender and a few shots of tequila.  Cilantro lime margaritas, anyone?