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Artichokes

What was left of five artichokes the three of us had for dinner last night.

There were two things I remember eating in great quantity as a child (actually I’m sure there were many more than two) artichokes and corn on the cob. I think my artichoke record was four in one sitting and eight ears of corn. The corn was always homegrown and the ears weren’t usually quite as large as store-bought ones but still, I loved these two things. I have a feeling my four-year-old is going to give me a run for my money on the artichoke front soon. I certainly can’t put away four in one sitting anymore. And he ate one and a half artichokes last night and they were big.

For inexplicable reasons we haven’t eaten many artichokes for a few years but somehow this year the bug is back and I’m buying them at every turn. The ones pictured above are from a local farm (DeNoble Farm in Tillamook, OR) and are available at the Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays.

Growing up my mother boiled them and we dipped the leaves and much-anticipated heart in regular store-bought mayo and I loved them that way. Then I spent a lot of time in Italy and learned of the dozens of other ways of preparing them, all of which I loved as well. Most of those preparations–stuffed, grilled, roasted, in a ragout, in a frittata, etc.–are a bit more time-consuming so this spring I’ve mostly been doing it the good old American way.  I made them for my in-laws in Colorado 10 days ago and it turned out to be the first artichoke my father-in-law had ever had and he loved it.

For last night’s I used a bit of leftover aioli (with chives and thyme) and stretched that with the store-bought stuff and it was perfect.

I was much too excited to start eating to remember to take any photos of the original, beautiful bowl of five whole artichokes so all you get is the dregs that I promised I'd save for Ellis for dinner tonight.

So, if you want a low fuss summer meal, pick up a bunch of artichokes; get out big bowls for the leaves and thistle parts and a bowl of mayo, homemade or not and go to town.

P.S. I know it’s more common to steam artichokes but I’ve always just boiled them, water coming about half way up the artichokes (stem end down) for about 45 minutes to an hour (depending on size they might take longer). You want the stem and heart to be very tender when pierced with the tip of a knife or fork. When tender I hold them upside down by their stems to drain them well and then they are ready to eat. I’ve always assumed boiling was faster than steaming and I always seem to be in a hurry but by all means steam them if you prefer.

Wild Flowers and Summer Lentils

Nuttal Evening Primrose

We spent last week high up in the mountains in Colorado with my in-laws. Late June at 8500 feet in and around Rocky Mountain National Park is one heck of a beautiful place to be. I’ve always loved wildflowers but have rarely gotten out of the city in spring/early summer for many years. I became a certified wildflower geek, camera in tow, making everyone stop so I could take pictures and falling asleep with the wildflower book in hand. So this week you’re going to get a tiny sampling of those photos.

Colorado Tansy Aster Flower

Boulder Raspberry Flower

Wild Iris and Shooting Stars

When we returned home to a more or less empty fridge but thriving garden and well-stocked pantry/freezer I made a quick, hearty salad. I found a container of previously cooked French green lentils (Puy lentils) in the freezer.  I tend to cook lentils (regular brown, red, little green, etc. ) in the cooler months but I’m finding more and more uses for them this time of year and my four-year-old really likes them, so there they were waiting for me in the freezer.

I picked arugula, parsley, and chives in the garden, made a garlicky dressing with Greek Yogurt and that was it. I’ve given more detail in the recipe below but it’s really just a guide as to how one can use those heartier pulses (or grains) in summery ways. So experiment away with what you have in your garden, freezer, pantry and of course there’s that yogurt. One of my favorite cookbook authors Yotam Ottlenghi has a disclaimer in the headnote of one of his recipes (that I can’t seem to put my finger on at that moment) that goes something like this: “I know not all of you want to dollop rich Greek yogurt on everything you eat but in this case, it’s really worthwhile. . .”  I feel that way more often than not and in this recipe the yogurt turns into a silky dressing.

We had just barely unpacked when I made this dish and I neglected to take any photos. And I’m venturing to guess that the wildflowers were much more photogenic than this salad (or that my  very limited photography skills could represent).

Summer Lentil Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Serves 4 as a side or 2 as a light entrée

2 1/2 cups cooked and cooled small French green lentils (see note above)

3 -4 cups arugula (or other strongly flavored salad green) cut into 1-inch ribbons

1/4 cups of parsley roughly chopped

3 tablespoons chives, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced or mashed with some salt with the side of a chef’s knife

1/4 cup Greek or regular full fat plain yogurt

2 tablespoons good-quality extra virgin olive oil

zest of half a lemon

juice of half a lemon

2 teaspoons red wine or sherry vinegar (to taste) or just more lemon juice

salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix all ingredients together. Taste for salt and acidity and adjust as you like. Serve with good bread and cheese for a light supper.

Ponderosa Pollen Cone -- I was completely fascinated by these cones. In another week's time they will "explode" and cover the whole landscape with yellowish-green pollen. They were so decorative and almost stylized looking and ranged in color from pale yellow to this deep rose.

Fava Beans and Cookbook Winner(s)

From the bag into the pot! No washing, no shelling, no nothin'!

I just realized that last week I posted basically the same recipe I had posted a year earlier (even using the same photo!!!!) and that my plan for today’s post was to link back to a post I swore I wrote last year about this short-cut way of cooking fava beans . . . but alas that post seems only to have been imagined!

I’m writing two posts this week because I’ll be out-of-town and on vacation next week. Appears I really need that vacation . . .

Anyway, I learned how to cook fava beans like this from my friend Carol (of Ayers Creek Farm fame). Favas are a spring treat in our region and are only in the markets for a few weeks. They are often overlooked because most preparations have you shell them, then cook the beans and then peel each individual bean. And while the result is definitely worth it, it is a more labor intensive and time-consuming process than most veggies require. So since I learned the below method I enjoy far more favas each year than I used to.

You literally cook the favas, big squishy pods and all in a large pot of heavily salted water until the individual beans start following out of the pods and then you don’t peel the individual beans. So if you like fava beans and wish you used them more, make this and report back. Curious to hear if you love it as much as I do.

Now to the cookbook giveaway winners. I had to choose two of you since there were just so many lovely comments. So, as randomly chosen as possible (having my four-year old pick two numbers): Ginna and Quisicosa will receive the Grand Central Baking Book. Please email me your addresses and I’ll send you your books. Thanks to the rest of you for your lovely comments and I’ll do another one of these sometimes soon.

Fava beans dressed with yogurt, cilantro, lemon juice and zest and garlic

Fava Beans with Cilantro, Yogurt and Lemon

Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm told me about this method of cooking fava beans which eliminates the time consuming step of peeling each individual bean. This is an Iranian way of cooking favas.

2 pounds fava beans in their pods

¼ cup kosher salt

1/3 cup Greek yogurt or plain, whole milk yogurt (or more if you want it saucier)

1/3 – 1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro (can use a few tablespoons of chopped mint instead)

1 -2 teaspoons lemon juice (to taste)

zest of one lemon, finely grated

1 medium clove garlic, minced (or 1 stalk green garlic, minced)

1 tablespoons olive oil

salt & freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place your whole fava bean pods in a six-quart pot (or slightly larger). Fill the pot three-quarters full of water or until the favas are just covered. Add the salt (it seems like a crazy amount of salt but I promise it turns out just fine) and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the water stays at a rapid simmer and cook covered, until the pods start falling apart, between 20 and 30 minutes. Drain and fill pot of beans with cold water. This allows you to extract the beans more quickly. You can also just drain and let sit until cool. Remove beans from pods. There is no need to peel each individual bean. The skin should be tender and the beans perfectly seasoned. Toss beans with the remaining ingredients. Adjust seasoning to your liking. Enjoy as a side dish or on crusty bread or tossed with cold pasta for a hearty salad.

Fava beans cooked this way (and without the dressing) are delicious with pasta and a bit of parmesan, with boiled potatoes and parsley. I’ve added them to Israeli couscous with some mint and grated, hard cheese (Asiago Stella, I think).

Class Update: It’s getting down to the wire for signing up for the two remaining June Cooking Classes. One or two spots left in each–lunchtime and improv!

Bread (and a Cookbook Giveaway)

I grew up in Germany eating good bread. My mother (the American parent) quickly learned my father’s old world tastes and became an expert bread baker. She made a dense, chewy rye bread with cracked coriander in it and one of my fondest childhood memories was eating that bread, sliced thinly, toasted, then cooled and then smeared generously with butter and topped with apricot or raspberry jam. Heaven! And just as good, topped with Gruyère or Swiss Cheese our Gouda, again on lots of butter. My mother also  made yeast rolls and whole wheat sandwich bread and I loved all of it and remember rounding up my friends on weekend mornings in the tiny village we lived in to come have warm bread right out of the oven.

My mother still bakes bread but she lives more than an hour away and now she’s most famous for her biscuits, but that’s another blog post. And now I live two blocks from Grand Central Bakery which is quite fortuitous since my first job out of college was at Grand Central. I arranged the bread and pastry displays, learned how to make good coffee and made sandwiches–mostly I remember the daily marathon of making sandwiches during the lunch rush. I’ve always loved their breads with their fabulous crusts and chewy interiors.

Grand Central Bakery's new Whole Grain Sandwich Loaf

Now, however, they have a new kind of bread which in some ways is nothing like the breads I grew up on and tend to gravitate towards. However, it is packed with seeds and whole grains (very German!) but is made in a more classic American sandwich bread style, i.e. softer and more tender. What I like about it though is that it still seems like a real loaf of bread, not something that is overly processed or engineered, which is what most sandwich bread seems like to me. Note the lovely mouse hole, as we called those irregular holes as children, which to me signals real bread. I recently picked up a loaf and used it every which way.

With Sharp Cheddar and my mother's Bread & Butter Pickles, about to be grilled. . .

The grilled version of the sharp cheddar and bread & butter pickle sandwich was not very photogenic but boy was it good. A friend inspired me to make the below version with fresh goat cheese, minced, fresh thyme and cheddar and then I made another version with a bunch of parsley in addition to the thyme. All are worth repeating and were devoured by neighborhood adults and kids alike.

With fresh goat cheese and herbs and more cheddar. . .

The crunchy, gooey, savory sandwiches before they disappeared.

And finally, the bread served as a good vehicle for my leftover slice of asparagus and snap pea frittata that I enjoyed in the back yard on one of the sunny (!!!!) days we’ve had recently.

Frittata sandwich with arugula and some sharp cheddar, again.

This bread is available in the Portland and Seattle areas at all the Grand Central Bakery storefronts but also in Portland at Pastaworks, Zupans, Whole Foods, New Seasons and Beaumont Market. And for those of you who do not live in the area, I hope you have a good alternative.

Lastly, to further honor my erstwhile employer, I’m going to give away a copy of the Grand Central Baking Book co-authored by the lovely Piper Davis and Ellen Jackson. This book is a collection of many of the bakery’s beloved treats for any time of day, sweet or savory.  So leave a comment about bread and/or sandwiches and I’ll randomly choose a winner to receive this gorgeous book.

Lastly, there are still spots available in my June 23rd Lunch Time Class and the June 25th improv class in which we’ll truly cook with what we have and collectively come up with a menu.

Happy Cooking and Eating!