Sun Syrup

It’s lavender time in Oregon.  I’m smiling, because sitting next to me is a glorious bouquet of lavender which is permeating the room with its clean, dazzling scent.

With this glut of lavender, I’ve been experimenting with a new syrup for drinks and desserts and I’m wondering why I didn’t think of this idea sooner.

It is tough to beat the combination of lavender and lemon, they are such a natural together.  But it occurred to me that it could use middle notes for further enhancement.  The answer was so obvious:  it needed vanilla.  I gave it a try in my last batch and was amazed at the difference!

I also wanted to do away with the sugar and the heating of the simple syrup for a more natural approach.  I’d replace it all with agave nectar combined directly with the flavoring mixture.  Then, I’d let the power of the sun would work its magic.

For the flavoring blend, I gathered up lavender blossoms, lemon zest, a bit of lemon, part of the vanilla and smashed it all together.  I blended this mash with agave syrup and let them hang out in the sun for an afternoon.

Lavender buds (2)
Sun Syrup

I couldn’t help myself.  I kept opening the lid to check the aromatics—and it continued to blossom.  I gave it a taste, the flavor was intensifying beautifully.  I took this as a good omen and decided to let the syrup stand at room temperature overnight and into the next day, and when I thought about it, I’d give it a good shake.

Lavender Soda

You could call this a sun syrup because the heat of the sun is enough to release the natural oils and flavors into a tantalizing summer blend for spritzers and a myriad of other uses.  This syrup is delicious drizzled over Olive Oil and Yogurt Cake. Fair warning: it is addictive with fresh strawberries.

Vanilla-Lavender Syrup with Lemon

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbsp fresh lavender blossoms and leaves
  • 1 Tbsp lemon zest
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract, divided
  • 1½ cup agave

Instructions

To make the syrup:  with a mortar a pestle, pound the lavender, lemon zest and juice, and 1/2 tsp vanilla to soften and release aromatics. Place in a 2 cup jar, add the agave and shake to combine.

Let the mixture stand in a warm sunny spot for 4 to 6 hours. Then allow it to stand at room temperature overnight, shaking once or twice to disperse mixture.

The next day strain the mash through a fine sieve lined with cheesecloth.  Place the syrup in a clean jar or bottle, add the remaining vanilla and shake well.  Let stand at room temperature 1 more day to mellow flavors, then store in fridge for 2-3 weeks.   Yield: 1-1/2 cups

Vanilla-Lavender Sparkler

Pour about 1 tablespoon Vanilla-Lavender Syrup into 8 ounce glass. Half fill with soda or sparkling water and stir well. Add cracked ice, squeeze in a lemon slice, top off with more soda water, give a stir and tuck in fresh lavender if available.

 

Soup & Salad in a Bowl

I have been thinking about them for a while now. It’s not that they are complicated or require a lot of effort to make, I just need to be in the right mood.  I suspect I connect them with summer because today we got our first blast of heat, and when it approached the mid 90’s I started rummaging around.

Well, of course I found them!  I had everything needed and proceeded to set up the pressure cooker.  Hot or not.

Yes, you know what I’m talking about.  It’s the crazy green Le Puy lentils that I’m always ranting over.  True characters, those little powerhouses of potassium, iron, and magnesium… with peppery flavor and a firm texture that doesn’t turn to mush.

Earlier, I was in the mood for a soup, but this heat called for something lighter and I waffled toward a salad of some sort.

Lentil soup salad close

That was the answer: an easy lentil soup dotted with vegetables and fresh herbs. This soup is so good, it can be eaten hot, warm, or cold and with the help of the pressure cooker I figured I’d be done in about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, I checked on the radish supply, and mine were huge!  This would require Pink Himalayan salt.  Today’s salad would be an arugula blend laced with more fresh herbs from the garden.

Lentil soup_salad long

I’d keep it simple with a perky drizzle of white wine vinaigrette and crumbled blue cheese scattered about.  Soup and salad in a bowl.

By the time I was hungry, the soup had cooled to warm… and that is the way it was: filling, flavorful and toooootally satisfying.

Le Puy Lentil Soup with Herb Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 cups dried Le Puy lentils, rinsed
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, small chop
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp mixed dried herbs (Herbes de Provence or thyme, rosemary, sage)
  • 1 carrot, chop
  • 1 stalk celery, small chop
  • 2 tomatoes, seed and chop
  • 3 cups beef stock or 2 cups stock plus 1 cup water
  • Salt and pepper, fresh ground
  • Fresh herbs: 1/3 cup fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, rosemary, savory, dill, any

Mesclun Herb Salad

  • 2-4 ounces mesclun blend with arugula
  • 1/3 cup fresh herbs:  parsley, thyme, rosemary, savory, dill, any
  • White Wine Vinaigrette
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp fresh herbs, chop
  • Salt and pepper, fresh ground
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 oz crumbled blue cheese

Instructions

  1. In multi-cooker/pressure cooker set to Medium Saute, heat olive oil. Add the shallot and cook briefly, then the garlic.  Once aromatic, add the herbs and stir to combine.  Then the carrot, celery, and tomatoes, toss to combine.
  2. Add the stock, the lentils and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer.  Cover, lock lid, set to HI Pressure for 5 minutes.  When complete, turn off and disconnect PC.  Carefully release pressure and open lid.  Adjust seasoning. Serve hot, warm, or chilled.
  3. Prepare the vinaigrette and adjust seasonings.
  4. When ready to serve soup, stir in the fresh herbs. Ladle into soup bowls, top with mixed greens, drizzle with vinaigrette, and sprinkle with fresh herbs and crumbled blue cheese.  Serves 4

Raging Ragu

Porketta roasts occasionally come up on promotion at my local market and I’ve deliberated, but have always passed.  Recently, I spotted a good looking pork butt in the meat case and decided to give the porketta concept a try with my own seasoning blend.

You guessed it.  I made easy work of it in the multi-cooker, finished it under pressure, and was done in less than an hour.  The results were great.  Even better, there was enough left for another meal—and the main purpose of this post.

The porketta creates an absolute stellar Ragu, and arguably the easiest and best meat sauce imaginable.

Ragu and Pappardelle

Just to recap the porketta process, a 3-pound seasoned roast was sliced in half.  Both pieces were seared in the multi-cooker. 1-1/2 cups of water were added to the pot to further deglaze and build pressure. A rack was inserted and the meat was placed on it.  The pot was set to HI Pressure for 30 minutes with a 10 minute natural release.  The roast was then ready to go.

I chose a simple marinara sauce as the basis of the Ragu and cut well over a pound of roasted porketta into 1” chunks.  The meat was so tender, it nearly fell apart in the process.  All the better.  Into the sauce it went, along with some of the residual pan drippings.  The Ragu burbled and mingled for 20 to 30 minutes.

Ragu and Spinach Pasta

If you can bear to wait, the Ragu is even better the next day.  Serve this delight over pasta or as an astounding pizza topping.

Porketta Ragu

Ingredients

  • 1 to 1-1/2 lbs roasted porketta, cut into chunks
  • 4 to 6 cups marinara sauce

Instructions

In a large pot, heat the marinara sauce.  Meanwhile, cut the left over porketta roast into 1″ chunks, break it up a bit with a fork and add to the sauce.  Heat until meat is moist and begins to fall apart but still chunky, about 20 minutes.  Serve over linguine, rigatoni, or pappardelle and top with fresh parsley and grated parmesan cheese. Serves 2 to 4

Porketta Seasoning:  1 Tbsp fennel seeds, 2 tsp oregano, 2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper, 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, 5 crushed garlic cloves, 1 Tbsp olive oil.

Crush the fennel thru pepper flakes in a spice mill or mortar and pestle.  Add the crushed garlic and the olive and combine well.

 

Grill Time: Salad Time

It’s Memorial Weekend, so it must be barbecue time.

Here’s a versatile little salad with bright summer undertones for just such an occasion. It is affectionately referred to as my Mediterranean salad since it includes a combination of sweet tomatoes and peppers—and quite often cucumbers.

IMG_20190420_172221678_HDR-01

If you are including cucumbers, add them just prior to serving for best results. I’ve kept the herb contribution fairly minimal in this recipe, but I actually prefer far more whenever possible, and mint is especially good. A lemony dressing is essential to really bringing it all alive.

In an effort to include more whole grain alternatives to meals, here plump wheat berries balance nicely with the garbanzo beans. The berries require some advance cooking time: 60 minutes on the stovetop, and 35 minutes under pressure. Lacking that, replace the wheat berries with quicker alternatives like bulgur wheat or couscous.

The salad can be made a day ahead and it holds nicely.  As with many Mediterranean dishes this one shines at room temperature, making it ideal for a day trip or as a side for relaxed outdoor grilling and dining.

Its colorful composition works well as part of an easy snacking platter with sliced meats, cheeses, condiments and such.

IMG_20190429_175546276_HDR-01

Or, along-side the salad, add small romaine leaves and pita crisps for scooping up bite sized portions. Happy Memorial Day!

Mediterranean Salad

Ingredients

  • 1½ cups cooked wheat berries, couscous, or bulgur wheat
  • ¾ cup garbanzo beans, drained
  • ½ cup baby tomatoes, half
  • ⅓ cup green, red, or mixed baby peppers, seed, chop
  • ½ cup parsley or more, chop
  • ⅓ cup green onions or 1/2 shallot, small chop

Dressing

  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, mash & mince
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  •  1/4 tsp sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniments: Fresh romaine, Bibb lettuce, or spinach leaves; Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, parsley, lemon slices

Instructions

  1. Combine dressing in a small container and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl place the wheat berries through green onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss.
  3. Drizzle about ⅓ cup dressing over the salad and toss to lightly coat. Refrigerate a couple of hours or overnight.  Adjust seasoning, add dressing as needed.
  4. Serve chilled or room temperature with a light drizzle of fresh lemon juice over the top.   Serves 4.

A question of quinoa

I hope we have gotten past quinoa’s trendy phase and can settle down and fully accept it for how great it really is—stellar nutritional virtues and all.  Judging from most market shelves, quinoa has definitely secured a presence and has moved from novelty to staple status.

We know quinoa is incredibly versatile; its slight nuttiness blends well with just about anything. I’ve gotten in the habit of cooking up a batch and incorporating it in meals during the week.  It works in a salad, maybe a grain bowl, part of a dinner, and even for breakfast.

Another personal motive is to hold back enough for my precious Quinoa Bars, an old favorite. I’m always glad to have them in the fridge. There will be times in the course of a week that I’ll be in a wild rush, and know I can reach in and grab one without missing a  beat.

IMG_20190521_125849208_PORTRAIT-01
Quinoa Fruit Bars

The moisture from the pre-cooked quinoa seems to keep these bars moist but not soggy—they hold very well without drying out after a few days, and the slight nuttiness blends well with the oat flakes and dried fruits. This last time, I went for a combo of dates and dried cranberries then topped them with bits of sliced candied oranges stashed away from a Trader Joe’s offering.

IMG_20190521_125727015_PORTRAIT-01

There’s still a lot of discussion about rinsing quinoa to remove a natural bitter coating from the seeds. I buy mine in bulk and have no idea whether this has been done. I usually forget to rinse, but as or yet have not noticed any pervasive off taste.

So here is the latest “new and improved” version of Quinoa Fruit Bars. They are even easier to make and enjoy!

Quinoa Fruit Bars  

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup all-purpose flour, or half whole wheat or other flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp each allspice and dried ginger
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup quick oats flakes
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/3 cup yogurt
  • 1/2 cup agave or honey
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup cooked white quinoa
  • 3/4 cup dried fruit: chopped dates, dried cranberries, raisins, apricots or candied ginger

Garnish: 1 Tbsp Demerara or other coarse sugar or candied fruit garnish

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 8”x8″ pan with non-stick foil or spray with non-stick oil.
  2. In medium bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, spices and salt.  Mix in the oats. Add the dried fruit.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk the egg, then stir in yogurt, agave, vanilla, and cooked quinoa.
  4. With spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet just to incorporate.  Spread evenly into pan and sprinkle Demerara sugar over the top.
  5. Bake 30-35 minutes, until it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan and the top begins to brown.  Cool on rack and slice. Yield: 16-18 bars

About the birds and the bees

This wouldn’t be much of a food blog if I didn’t give a mention to the UN’s stark IPBES report released today linking human behavior to nature’s crisis threatening extinction of 1 million plants and animal species—within the next few decades.

_106779578_species_extinction_640_v2-nc

Most of this activity has ramped up within the last 50 years with the doubling of the world’s population since 1970.  Food supply and unbridled consumption seem to be driving this impact on nature.

This is not new, but the totality of it all looming large within our children’s lifetimes’ forecasts crises of staggering proportions. When I was studying sustainability in college ten years ago there were those advocating a shift away from an economic model based on a country’s GDP, consumption, and wealth, to one based on a quality of life index.  They theorized it to be a more holistic indicator of livability for of an entire population, not just a few.

That was a highly unrealistic notion. We are valued as consumers and as such, we seem incapable of reigning in our appetites or addressing real issues like soil degradation, waste accumulation, plastic pollution, water pollution and land use geared toward the elimination of forests.  It’s not our problem, let someone else deal with it.  Until you come face-to-face with it.

It’s complicated, but the report urges that we all do what we can and begin by demanding responsible political action. Climate change is mentioned; it’s woven throughout their findings. But it’s the sum consequences ahead that we are not prepared for. This crisis is happening so rapidly that nature has not been able to adapt. Once our fragile food web is sufficiently disrupted there goes the food supply.  When bees are unable to pollinate and plants are barren, there is no fruit.

Our natural environment is undergoing unprecedented stress. The report recommends that we begin to recognize the severity of this crisis (not dismiss it as fake news) and make conscious changes and choices. To make a difference they say, it will require a “transformative change”—a collective reality check if you like. What’s the likelihood of that happening?

On a roll with Naan

Lately I’ve been eating more than my share of naan bread—as I “perfect” my flatbread skills.  Even though it originated in India and Pakistan, naan’s popularity is definitely not limited to Southeast Asia. It is delicious with just about anything looking for bread.

Because naan typically includes yeast and yogurt it tends to be chewy and light, with a slightly tart flavor. It’s not as fast to make as unleavened breads like tortillas or roti, but when you get your rhythm going you’ll be rolling out naan like Lucy at the chocolate factory!

IMG_20190315_181137983_HDR

 

Lacking a tandoor oven, the next best cooking alternative is a heavy cast iron skillet (I can’t wait to give it a whirl on the outdoor grill!). For now a large, very flat crepe pan is working just fine.

Although the dough is not complicated and is easily mixed by hand, allow adequate time for the kneading and rising. I often make the dough and refrigerate it overnight.  Once the dough is ready, the cooking time is next to nothing. It’s merely a matter of rolling out one flatbread at a time and laying it down onto the very hot surface.

Naan part 2

The naan begins to puff and blister almost immediately, requiring a quick flip from one side to the other. This rapid succession ensures that both the yeast and yogurt deliver the bread’s addictive chewiness. I like to sprinkle a dusting of Lebanese za’atar over the top while still moist.

Enjoy the naan warm with or without butter dipped in soup or stew. Serve it as a snack with seasoned olive oil, hummus, pate or cheese.

IMG_20190317_191335570_HDR

Naan Bread 

  • 2-1/2 cup AP flour, approximate
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp instant yeast
  • ½ cup hot water
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoon oil and/or butter for pan

In a medium bowl combine 1 cup of the flour, sugar, salt and instant yeast.  Make a well in center and add the water and oil. With a spoon incorporate the flour a little at a time into the liquid.  When combined, mix in the yogurt.

Continue to stir in enough flour to form a loose dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and continue to knead in additional flour as needed to form a smooth light dough, about 10 minutes. A bench scraper may be helpful to move the dough about.

Return the soft dough to a clean oiled bowl, loosely cover, and let rise in a warm spot until doubled, about 1 hour.

Divide dough into 8 portions. On floured surface, roll out one portion at a time to about ¼” thick and 8” in diameter.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium/high heat.  Lightly brush the skillet surface with oil and/or butter.  Lay the naan into the pan, let it puff, bubble, brown and cook on each side, with blistered pockets—about 3 minutes per side. If too hot, lower heat. A lid may be useful to hold in heat if necessary. Remove bread, wipe out pan and repeat. Yield: 8 flatbread