Garden Salsa

Salsa has a long standing position of love, celebration, and sharing in our family. When my daughters were growing up, I learned to make salsa at the hands of a well-seasoned master, my father-in-law, Gene Graven. He was a colorful raconteur, a bigger-than-life character who lived an Ernest Hemmingway sort of existence. He loved the women; he was an avid fisherman, he hunted, worked and traveled extensively in Latin America, and he even dabbled in Hollywood films. Most of all, he loved life and he shared it with devilish generosity.

I thought of Grandpa Graven recently as I was making salsa from the garden. Although my salsas have varied over the years, his true basics are still included: garlic, onion, peppers, and tomatoes–beyond that, the skies the limit. On this occasion, I had plum tomatoes, a delicious lemon cucumber, a Hungarian pepper, garlic, and a Walla Walla onion to add to the mix. With a handful of cilantro and a good squeeze of lime, it was spot-on!

Of course, I slathered plenty of this salsa atop an excellent Chile Verde mentioned in a recent post. Boy was it good. I imagine Grandpa Gene is grinning in approval with an ever-present stogie perched from the corner of his lips, and he’s mouthing the words, “Dos Equis.”

Mama Borah’s Salsa
Similar to Grandpa Graven’s salsa, especially handy when to
matoes are not plentiful
4 large tomatoes, seeded, cut up
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (optional)
4 jalapeno peppers, seeded, minced
1 small can Ortega chilies, chopped
1/2 large Vidalia onion, chopped
1/4 cilantro, optional
1 pound canned tomatoes, drained and seeded, chopped
1/2 lime, juice of
1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper

To prepare manually, chop or mince all items and place in a molcajete or a mortar and pestle; crush tomatoes through onions and cilantro. If unavailable, use a medium bowl and a clean small slender bottle such sauce bottle, and press down to break up fibrous pieces. Add the chopped tomatoes and grind again; season to taste with lime juice, salt and pepper.

To use a food processor, lightly pulse tomatoes through onion and cilantro. Add canned tomatoes and pulse briefly, do not over process. Add lime juice, salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning. Makes about 3 cups. ~~

Meditation on Chile Verde

With the big Oregon State/Boise game scheduled for prime time viewing this past week, I wanted to have a big pot of piping hot Chile Verde ready when hunger hit. I am so glad for the forethought, because as it turned out for this Oregonian, the chili was the high point (no pun intended) of the night. In a nutshell, Boise controlled the game and left us in their dust. It didn’t stop there; low points kept coming when Oregon’s LeGarrette Blount decided to deck a Boise teammate for heckling him post game. The remembrance of this bungled match-up was even more unsettling as fans watched while Blount was escorted/dragged off the field, screaming and kicking like a spoiled child.
Thank heavens the Chile Verde was deliciously soothing! Although I had little doubt about that–since preparing chili, in one form or other, should be an act of love. Excellent chili is a thoughtful process that requires several steps and a certain amount of time and effort.
As far as I am concerned, the ultimate flavor of Chile Verde depends on the addition of pork. In this case, I begin with a lean sirloin pork roast and cut it into chunks. I brown it well, and allow it to slowly simmer until fork tender and the liquid has pretty much cooked away. Then, I pull it apart with a couple of forks until it falls into shreds.
While the pork browns, simmers, and stews, I launch into prepping the very easy verde sauce. I begin by husking, and simmering a dozen tomatillos for the base. When they are soft, I drain off a portion of the liquid and puree them in the blender until thick. I prep a handful of jalapeno peppers, a couple of bell peppers, and an onion into strips. (In the past, I have also used ripe and flavorful poblano peppers–instead of the bell peppers, which can be fairly bland.)
Adding separate layers of flavor to the pork intensifies the final result; so this is when the onions, peppers and garlic are added to the pork and allowed to soften. Following that, another round of seasoning is added with cumin, oregano, chili powder – and perhaps a bit of smoked paprika, which mysteriously lurks in the background. All of this is lovingly tossed together until aromatic. The tomatillo sauce is stirred in and allowed to simmer into the pork a few minutes; then the cooked beans are added, the pot is reduced to low, and barely simmered for an hour or so.
Of course, chili is always best when the flavors further develop by refrigerating overnight. Here, the tomatillos provide a tarter, more acidic flavor than the tomatoes. The amount of heat can be controlled by the removal/addition of the membrane and seeds of the chiles used. Of course, jalapenos and poblanos are hotter than bell peppers. On final, I stir in the crowning touch, a handful of chopped cilantro–which further enhances the tomatillos with a pronounced herbal-citrus bite. I like mine with a drizzle of chive crema. Be still my heart.
Chile Verde
2 1/2 pounds pork roast, cut up
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon oregano
6 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
2 bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1 whole onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chile powder, and/or smoked paprika
2 teaspoons cumin
12 tomatillos, halved, 1/2 cup chopped onion, pinch oregano simmered til tender
4 – 12 oz. cans assorted beans: red, black, pink, white, etc., rinsed and drained
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornmeal, thinned in 1/2 cup water (optional)
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

In a large pot brown the pork, add onion and garlic and toss until aromatic. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with water and simmer until fall apart tender, and liquid is absorbed; one hour or longer.
Prepare tomatillos: remove husks, if large cut in half; rinse and place in a saucepan with 1/2 cup chopped onion and a pinch of oregano; add water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until tomatillos are soft, about 15 minutes. Allow to cool. Place in blender and puree; set aside.
When the pork is tender, break chunks up with a fork to lightly shred. Add peppers, onion and garlic and toss until aromatic and onion becomes soft. Add chili powder, cumin, and toss till aromatic. Pour in the tomatillo sauce and simmer briefly. Add the beans and toss to combine simmer 45 minutes; if you wish to thicken it further, stir in cornmeal thinned in water and continue to simmer until thick another 15 to 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning. Stir in cilantro, if desired and serve. Serves 8.
Note: for Chive Crema: stir 2 Tbsp chopped chives into 2 cups yogurt until desired consistency. Add a dash of salt and taste for seasoning. Let stand a few minutes before serving to blend flavors. ~~

Blueberry Bread and Bunko

I was invited to attend a birthday celebration for my 87 year old neighbor this past weekend and wanted to bake Alice a small treat for her enjoyment later. I also needed to return recently borrowed camping gear to another friend and wanted to take along a little thank you gift for her, too.
Gift loaves of Blueberry Hazelnut Bread came to mind, since I’m still dealing with the balance of my last blueberry picking foray. Oregon blueberries are compact little morsels that aren’t terribly sweet, and to compensate for that, I wanted to add another ingredient that could offer up a little more natural sweetness and moisture. In my recipe collection, I found a cleaver idea: crushed pineapple.
Frequently, sweet breads can be loaded with oil–which I find completely unnecessary and unimaginative. Applesauce has long been regarded as a beneficial and handy substitute for some of that excess oil; so, why not pineapple? The only caveat I might offer, is to drain the pineapple well; if you add some of the lovely pineapple liquor, do so sparingly, because the batter thins quickly.
When making blueberry muffins, I like the gentle addition of a tiny bit of nutmeg. Here instead, allspice is used, which is the heavy hitter in the nutmeg spice spectrum—and is a true and loving companion to pineapple. These flavors are instrumental in Caribbean cuisine, so perhaps this is also a slight homage to an idyllic month long stay in Grenada, the heart of nutmeg and allspice country.
Quick breads are by name, easy to create; I used a mixer, but a good whisk would incorporate the eggs and sugar just as well. In the past I have made similar breads to round out luncheon plates, and the slight sweetness of fruit bread is the perfect accompaniment with a chicken or seafood salad. However, if you are baking a stand alone tea bread for general snacking, a couple spoonfuls of brown sugar added to the granulated sugar will give a slight bump in the sweetness.
Since these were gifts, I finished the loaves with a drizzle of confectioner’s sugar thinned with lemon juice. After they were cooled and firmly set, I wrapped them in colorful plastic film gathered up and tied with raffia bows.
As a footnote, the loaves were a huge success. I spent the afternoon with Alice’s friends and family experiencing my first ever Bunko phenomenon – a spirited dice game, where one moves from table to table lured by laughter and high stakes. I carried home a bite-size chocolate bar as one of the top three winners. Now, I feel as if I am firmly planted in Oregon. What’s next, Bingo?
Blueberry Hazelnut BreadThis slightly sweet bread is good with luncheon salad—chicken or crab. Inspired by Elizabeth Terry’s Savannah Seasons
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon allspice
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted, chopped

2 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray with oil, two – 6 cup loaf pans.
Sift dry ingredients. In mixer, beat eggs with sugar until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well, and stir in the dry ingredients.

Fold in the pineapple, nuts and berries, and pour into pans. Bake 1 hour, turn out and cool on rack before slicing with serrated knife. Yield: 2 loaves ~~

Into the Wilderness

For the past three weekends I have been a sublimely happy camper enjoying the great outdoors as part of a Forest Ecology class. Our first outing was a two day trip where we hiked part of the Pacific Crest Trail and became familiar with Douglas Firs and hemlocks. On our following trip we headed to the Redwoods for a long and utterly magical weekend walking the beach of the Pacific ocean and exploring lush fern canyons. Our final trip was a stunning overnighter to Crater Lake; here we breathed in the high desert pine air and were awed by intense volcanic history and Indian lore.

I had visited all of these places in the past, but this was indeed different. Our instructor was a bundle of information and enthusiasm—and we all jumped on board with her; overnight we literally became “Tree Huggers.” (It’s actually one way to measure a tree’s girth.)

We learned about the necessity of fire in the wilderness—it is nature’s way of renewing itself. We learned the critical importance of balance in nature; when one species disappears, it affects an entire community. I didn’t know that the redwood tree is fire resistant, and that its ability to retard fire partially accounts for its longevity. The redwood is our tallest and most primitive tree, and sadly, we are left with only a handful, and these are protected primarily in the preserves of Northern California and Southern Oregon. Over the last couple of centuries we have sliced and diced these ancient marvels almost to extinction, and have managed to nearly eliminate what it took nature thousands of years to create.

As you can well imagine, the discussion of food was a serious and ongoing conversation among our ranks. We did some fine dining which included such extravagant camp treats as: smoked brisket, burgers, and bratwurst. Breakfast was often on our own; or some made piles of egg burritos, or other such treats. As long as I had my pressed coffee in the morning I was very happy. To round this out, I decided to make ahead a stack of my old sailing favorite, Eggs McBorah, a convenient breakfast enjoyed while underway, traveling or other limited conditions.These solid morsels pack well; they are nearly non-destructive, and highly satisfying.

You’ve probably surmised that we are talking shades of Eggs McMuffin and you certainly do not require a recipe; but here is one alternative for planning and execution purposes. I have also learned that this is one breakfast that goes down with equal enthusiasm hot, room temperature, or cold.

Eggs McBorah
4 eggs
spray oil
4 slices chiplotle cheese, or as needed
fresh ground pepper
4 slices smoked ham, thin sliced, or more if needed
4 English muffins, spit, toasted and lightly buttered
1 or more ramekins, or other small microwaveable dishes

Spray the ramekins and lay 1 or 2 slices of ham in bottom of ramekin. Crack 1 egg into each dish, break the yolk with a sharp knife, and sprinkle with a few grinds black pepper. Top the eggs with thinly sliced cheese. Cover the top with a paper towel, tuck under the dish and place in microwave oven.

Cook one at a time for approximately 40 seconds or until cheese is melted and top is firm. The yolk should still be slightly runny. Carefully remove with mitts or towel, the dish will be hot. Run a knife around edge to loosen the egg and invert onto the top slice of a toasted English muffin.

Add the bottom slice and set upright. Repeat with remaining 3, or as many as needed. Allow to cool before wrapping. Can be made ahead; store in refrigerator or other cool spot. ~~

A Tarter Torta

In keeping with my passion for anything custard, here’s a dessert that goes beyond that simple criteria. As a matter of fact, the custard gets lost in translation as the lemony custard-like layer and crust meld into a lovely Lemon Torta.

This is another one of those excellent desserts that I tend to forget altogether – until I am looking for a lemon “something”. It has a few other built-in advantages, such as it can be made as much as two days ahead. If you are entertaining, this is certainly a handy bonus, since the last thing you want to worry about is the dessert! I affectionately refer to the Lemon Torta as one of my “soldiers” because it is nearly indestructible and it is best served at room temperature. Clearly, we have the perfect candidate for potlucks, picnics, and sundry other recreational dining opportunities.

This torta has the additional advantage of being light and reminiscent of cheesecake (if you consider cheesecake light). It’s a refreshing finish to a seafood meal or even a heavy Italian feast. To paraphrase the words of Shakespeare, “The sauce is the thing,” and as is the case with cheesecake, the sauce matters. In order for your Lemon Torta to really sing, consider even the smallest dab of a lovely sauce to play an integral part.

For my particular dinner (and my breakfast the following day) I opted for a very fresh Raspberry Sauce (essentially Glazed Raspberries). I made the sauce with part of my raspberries and simmered them briefly with a bit of water and sugar, when they released their juices and became syrupy I removed the pan from the heat and added a squeeze of lemon juice – or splash of a complementary liqueur, if you wish. I strained this, returned the liquid to the pan, added the rest of berries, gently heated it briefly to combine the flavors, and then allowed it to cool.

Lemon Torta
From Entertaining for a Veggie Plane by Didi Emmons

1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, chilled, cut into 8 pieces
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons
2 lemons, rind grated and juice of
2 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9″ springform pan or 8″ square pan.

Crust: In food processor combine the flour, sugar and salt. Add butter and pulse until crumbly, about 10 seconds. Add the egg, vanilla and 2 teaspoons water, pulse until the dough just comes together.

Transfer dough to prepared pan, pressing down lightly to make even layer. Bake for 15 minutes, or until crust begins to brown around the edges. Transfer pan to cooling rack.

For filling: In mixing bowl combine eggs and sugar and beat about 5 minutes, until very pale. Add rind and juice and incorporate; Sift dry ingredients over egg mixture and fold them in. Pour filling over the crust and bake until golden brown and knife comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Cool on rack completely. Unmold and cut into wedges. Serve with a fresh sauce, fresh raspberries or other fruit, or whipped cream.

This is best made a day ahead, can be held up to 4 days ahead, covered well. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Banana-Buck Fever

This afternoon I needed no further excuse to pull out the old blender and build myself a tall cool smoothie than to read the deck thermometer registering 90 degrees in the shade. On days such as this, there’s nothing more refreshing than an ice-cold smoothie to perk up sagging spirits.

Into the blender went the ice, a ripe banana for sweetness and body, a bit of orange juice, a little milk, a dash of vanilla to finish it off and I let ‘er rip. Done!

Banana smoothie in hand, I headed outside to catch the late afternoon breeze as it washed over the hillside behind us and cooled the backyard deck. I eased onto a lounge chair, took a long draw on my thick smoothie, and inhaled the summer pine-scented air. It was enchanting, truly enchanting. My entire body levitated as I floated into sublime smoothie bliss. I sipped away, lost in euphoric contemplation – but in the recesses of my mind, a vague snap-crackle tiptoed into my consciousness; then came the hazy slow motion of a branch swaying – likely stirred by the wind. More twigs break. There was simply too much perimeter interference to ignore any longer. In disdain, I turned my attention to the disturbance; 20 feet away a muscular buck with fuzzy fir on his forked horns was frozen in his tracks – staring right back at me.

There was a time when we had plenty of animals roaming down from the hillside behind us, but in recent years the gun shots echoing off the neighboring canyons have surely been a deterrent. This is indeed a rare sight.

Nonchalantly, I picked up my handy camera perched next to me, aimed it in his general direction, and fired one frame; just enough for Buck to hightail it through the trees.

You may wonder, “What is an out-of-focus deer doing in a food blog? Who cares?” Today, I was a witness that Buck existed and my one photo here is evidence. This is a record that Buck strutted tall and gracefully through my backyard, as his forefathers did before him; and today, with the help of a banana smoothie, this beautiful, wild creature made at least one person very happy. Who knows Buck’s fate, as hunting season looms?

Banana-Buck Smoothie
This is a basic recipe; other fruit, juices, and dairy products can be substituted

1 cup ice
1 ripe banana, sliced
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup milk, yogurt, or buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
garni: mint, strawberry, or orange slice

Into blender container place all ingredients; pulse to combine and then blend until smooth. Pour into tall glasses, garnish with mint, and a piece of fruit. Serve with a straw or a long spoon for stirring. Serves 2 ~~

Note: Other suggestions: peaches and apricot nectar; blueberries and cranberry juice; pears and apple juice, mangoes and guava juice, etc.

Seasonally In Sync

I received a link to Fete Accompli, Austin, Texas caterers currently garnering raves for their handmade specialty appetizers based on local and organic products. It’s a fine example of the commitment and flexibility necessary to consistently provide high caliber cuisine. Produce doesn’t always materialize as planned due to unanticipated variables such as weather, economic influences, supply/demand, and distribution. Unforeseen circumstances happen, and customers should understand in advance that substitutions are inevitable, but in all likelihood, they will not be dissapointed and the outcome will be just as good – perhaps even better than anticipated.

This style of commercial cooking is all about being in sync with the season and with local farmers and purveyors, and in creatively designing specialties that will showcase the very best available at their peak.

The home cook can do the same; here it’s about living in harmony with nature, the season, and our farmers – who can be as convenient as our local Farmers Market. We can also participate on our own level, by growing a pot of tomatoes on our deck, or in a hanging basket. We can claim a square of soil and transform it into a patch of lettuce or any other specialty that works. There’s a real sense of wonder and fullfillment experienced when we pluck and savor our first ripe tomato, pepper, or strawberry that we have planted, nurtured and watered.

These days, I am completely enamored by the idea of self-sufficiency: to bake my own bread, to make my own chutney, to brine and smoke my own chicken, and perhaps, to grow my own lettuce. That was the scenario that played out this past weekend when I had the magical good fortune of discovering all of these riches in my fridge at the same time. The results: a simple-yet-elegant smoked chicken sandwich on cornmeal loaf bread, with apple-cranberry chutney and butter crunch lettuce. Superlatively uncomparable!

Simple Smoked Chicken
4 pound chicken
1/4 cup sea salt
2 teaspoons pepper
2 cloves garlic, slivers
1 tablespoon olive oil

Tools and props: apple or other wood chips, vertical chicken roaster, grill with smoker hood

Rinse the chicken and allow it to drain. In a 2 cup measurer, place salt, pepper and 1/2 cup very hot water, allow salt to dissolve. Add the garlic and cool the hot water with approximately 1 cup cold water. Pour the water into a large zip lock bag, add the chicken, and pour in enough additional water to cover the chicken. Swish around and seal the chicken well, removing as much air as possible. Place the bagged chicken into a deep bowl large enough to hold the chicken snug for storage purposes. Chill for 4 hours or longer, turning once or twice if not fully covered.

Prepare grill with smoker hood. Cover the wood chips with water, and soak in a small bowl for at least 20 minutes.

Drain and pat dry the chicken, rub it with olive oil and place on a vertical chicken roaster. Fill the bottom pan of the chicken roaster with water, beer, wine or any preferred liquid.

When the grill is very hot, sprinkle the white coals with 2/3 of the woods chips, replace grill rack and place the vertical roaster and chicken carefully onto the hot grill. Cover and roast the chicken for about 1/2 hour. Carefully remove lid, add additional coals if necessary, add remaining wood chips, add water to roaster pan if necessary, replace smoker hood, and roast for at least 30 – 45 minutes longer. The chicken should be deep mahogany and internal temperature should register 160-170 degrees.

Remove chicken from grill and let stand 5-10 minutes before removing it from vertical roaster. Allow to cool 10 – 15 minutes longer before carving.

Note: for bread, chutney or further recipe references, please refer to index.