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.

 

Berries, as in Wheat

Lately I’ve been reading up on wheat berries and have learned I need and want these powerhouses in my morning muesli and more…

According to Livestrong.com, “Wheat berries are rich in vitamins B1 and B3; and the minerals magnesium, phosphorus, copper, manganese and selenium.” What that means is they are valuable to overall body care, i.e., nervous system metabolism, blood pressure, cardiovascular and blood formation, bones, you name it.

wheat berries grain

There are different types of wheat berries, too: hard and soft berries, which grow at different times of the year and serve different purposes. Lest we get too far into the weeds, suffice to say, I settled on hard or red wheat berries.

Since wheat berries can take 60 minutes or longer on the stove top, I knew this was a job for the Instant Pot. With the pot loaded and ready to go, I’ve learned it’s much faster to bring it all to a boil before proceeding. It’s then a simple matter of setting the timer to 35 minutes with a 10 minute natural release and walking away. It’s sooo nice to let the pressure cooker work its magic and return to a generous 3 cups of plump chewy kernels.

Med wheat berry plate

In that amount of time I was able to establish a plan for my Mediterranean wheat berry salad. I channeled my pending tiny summer garden, still on the horizon—one with the usual crop of tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, green onions, plenty of flowers and herbs. Ahhh, I can’t wait!

Altogether the vegetables’ earthy flavors harmonize and blend well with the hearty wheat berry kernels while accents of Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, and lemon do their part to brighten and shine. The salad holds incredibly well and is equally good chilled or at room temperature. It’s an ideal side for grilling and outdoor dining.

Mediterranean Wheat Berry Salad

  • 1½ cups cooked wheat berries
  • ¾ cup garbanzo beans, rinse & drain
  • ½ cup baby tomatoes, halve
  • ½ cucumber, seed, chop
  • ⅓ cup mixed baby peppers, seed, chop
  • ½ cup parsley, chop
  • ⅓ cup green onions, chop
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crush, mince
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Accompaniments: Fresh spinach leaves, Kalamata olives, feta or paneer cheese, parsley, lemon slices

For dressing, combine lemon juice, evoo, garlic, salt and pepper in a small bowl, adjust seasoning it should be lemony.

For salad, place the wheat berries through green onions in a medium bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss. Drizzle half the dressing over the salad and toss to lightly coat, add more as needed.

Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Adjust seasoning, add dressing as needed. Serve chilled or room temperature. To serve, pile on a spinach lined plate, garnish with olives, parsley and squeeze lemon juice over the top. Serves 4 or more.

Variations: substitute 1-1/2 cup prepared couscous or bulgur wheat. Add 2 Tbsp or more mint, finely chopped and/or 1 tsp grated lemon. To the dressing add 1/8 tsp cumin, 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes.

Short and Sweet: Spiced Cran-Apple Jam

One of the benefits of living in Oregon is our availability to fresh, tart cranberries.  Oregon’s coastal region’s moist bogs provide ideal conditions for the spindly, low growing bushes to thrive.

courtesy oregon cranberry growers assn.

 

Their juicy tanginess makes an ideal foil in sauces, chutneys and other condiments, in salads, and for baking.  I like to stock up on cranberries when they are abundant, from October to December.

 

I recently came across a forgotten bag of berries stuffed in the recesses of the fridge that needed to be either frozen or used up.  Here’s my ten minute solution:  a sweet and sour cranberry-apple jam that falls somewhere between jam and chutney.

cran apple jam

 

The jam’s spicy-tart bite is a delicious wake-up on morning toast, as an edge with peanut butter in a sandwich, and even as a mild condiment with curries.

 

Nice to know it is laced with B, C and E vitamins, too.

 

Spiced Cranberry Apple Jam

Ingredients

  • 12-ounce bag fresh cranberries, rinsed and drained
  • 1 large Gala, Fuji, or Honey Crisp apple, peel, seed, chop
  • ½ cup apple cider
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ¾ cup brown sugar
  • Pinch sea salt
  •  ¼ tsp five-spice powder, or cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla pod, seeded, or 2 tsp vanilla extract

Directions

  1. In a medium pot, combine cranberries, apple, cider and vinegar, sugar, salt and five-spice and bring to a boil over high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. If using vanilla extract hold off until finish to add.
  2. Simmer over medium heat until cranberries begin to burst and jam thickens, 8-10 minutes. Just before removing from heat, stir in vanilla and simmer briefly. If desired, mash berries with a bean or potato masher, for more jam-like consistency
  3. Let cool, remove the vanilla pod. Transfer jam to a pint jar with the cinnamon stick if using.  Will hold in refrigerator 2 weeks or longer.  Yield:  2 cups

A Pansy Tribute

Pansies are one of those simple plants that just keeps on giving.  There must be a pansy created for every condition and region of the country.  I first became aware of them in Greenville, South Carolina where they bloomed like crazy in the blazing summer heat.   In my McKenzie River garden,  violas and violets,  pansies’ relatives, were the first to poke their tiny purple heads out the early spring snow.

Late this summer, I hastily added a few pansies to fill out a sparse planter in my dooryard garden. Without much effort, they consistently carried on and bloomed with the least amount of care; and still, as  winter approaches,  pansies  remain one of the durable spots of color in my depleted pots.

I tend to go with plants that serve a dual purpose in my garden: I prefer attractive as well as edible varieties. Some are perennials, like herbs, towering garlic onions and nasturtiums.  Annual favorites are mesclun blends, petite tomatoes, and climbing baby cucumbers.  Weirdly, when it comes to harvesting the pansies I have resisted.  I’ve been happy to simply behold their nodding faces in a spectrum of purples, blues, reds and yellows, all perfectly framed by their deep green leaves.

As I headed out this morning, I was alarmed to note that the pot of pansies had diminished to a sad state of drooping heads and withered yellow leaves.  It signaled the end of a season.  Later in a moment of reflection, I decided to stage my own act of thanksgiving—gratitude for my garden and all the pansies that have given so much joy this year.

Back in the kitchen, I set about creating a special salad featuring the pansies in an end of season tribute.  So, here it is, a pre-winter canvas of mixed greens and fresh herbs with a bit of radicchio and shredded carrot for crunch.

The basis of the simple dressing is a mild yet flavorful German mustard blended with a bit of chives and lemon juice all whisked into an emulsion with extra virgin olive oil. Atop the greens, a few dried cherries are scattered with crumbled feta cheese, toasted almonds and walnuts.  Finally, a smattering of pansy blossoms and petals grace the plate with their gentle sweetness and color.

A Pre-Winter Salad with Pansies

Ingredients
Per serving
3-4 organic pansy blossoms
2-3 cups mixed greens with radicchio and shredded carrots
1 tablespoon fresh parsley and/or other herbs
2 tablespoon toasted walnuts and/or almonds
2 tablespoons dried fruit: cherries, blueberries or cranberries
2 tablespoon feta cheese, large crumble
Dressing
¾ teaspoon German or Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced chives
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Pinch salt and pepper
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, to taste

Directions

  1. Rinse and dry fresh pansies and any other available fresh flowers, mixed greens and herbs.
  2. Toast the nuts.
  3. Prepare the salad dressing: place mustard in small bowl, add the chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and combine well. Slowly whisk in the olive oil to emulsify.  Adjust seasoning and set aside.
  4. In small mixing bowl, place the salad mix, tear the petals from 1 or two blossoms, drizzle with part of the dressing and toss to coat.
  5. To serve: plate the dressed greens mixture, top with crumbled feta, dried fruit and nuts, and tuck in remaining flowers.  Drizzle with a bit more dressing and serve. Yield: 1 serving.

 

Feta Focus

Feta is a fresh, briny cheese often associated with foods rooted in the sun-drenched Mediterranean cuisines – think olives, capers and vegetables like eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, and tomatoes.  Here in the US, feta is often made from cow’s milk which produces a pleasantly mild, slightly tart cheese.

To be called feta in the European Union, it must originate in Greece and be limited to sheep and or goat’s milk, thus offering a rich panorama of flavors and textures. Depending on process and aging time in brine, Greek feta can vary in saltiness, range from soft to hard textured, and taste from tart to tangy.

One popular treatment is to submerge bite-sized feta cubes in olive oil along with assorted herbs, garlic and such, and allow the marinade to infuse into the cheese; the longer the better.  That is certainly lovely with a robust cheese that responds to big flavors, but beware of overpowering a mild flavored feta.  To better showcase feta’s more subdued qualities, I prefer to deconstruct the whole concept.

For this simple method, begin with a block of feta, slice it for easy serving, sprinkle it with herbs and seasonings, and drizzle it lightly with olive oil. Cover it and allow the flavors to meld for an hour or so in the fridge.

When ready to enjoy, bring the marinated feta to room temperature, perhaps drizzle with a bit more olive oil if it appears dry, and garnish with fresh herbs.  Serve with an assortment of olives, crusty bread, pita crisps or crackers, pass a bowl or crunchy radishes, and call it good!

Herb Marinated Feta

Ingredients
1 lb. fresh feta cheese
1 teaspoon thyme
1 teaspoon savory, rosemary, or oregano
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh thyme
Accompaniments: assorted olives, fresh bread or pita crisps, crunchy radishes

Instructions

  1. Slice the feta and arrange it on a serving plate.
  2. Sprinkle the cheese with herbs and red pepper flakes. Drizzle lightly with olive oil.  Cover and chill for an hour or longer.
  3. To assemble, drizzle with a bit more olive oil if it looks dry, dust with grinds of salt and pepper. Garnish with fresh thyme, assorted olives.
  4. Serve with crunchy bread, crackers or pita crisps, and a bowl of fresh radishes.   Serves 4.