Friday, September 28, 2018

Travels, Fall Color and a TJs Meal

It's been an interesting couple of weeks. Portland was delightful as always, with not a lot of fall color yet, but good times with Susan, Kate, McMenamins and Powell's Books. Visited SCRAP PDX, a fantastic place for crafters because they recycle all sorts of crafty items that are donated, so the prices are very low. I bought a scrap of black leather that had already had lots cut out of it, but was big enough for me to fashion a phone case (at some future date), plus a handy strap to attach to the case...from another bin. Took in the semi-final game of the Portland Thorns, which they won! First professional women's soccer game I've seen in person and it was wild. The fans are amazing, creative, and vocal. Did a little shopping, some fun eating, took a hike in the Bishop's Close at Eagle Rock along the river and had fun in an antique shop, too. Good times!

Home for two days with a sore gut...probably something I ate on the way home. One busy Wednesday of feeling O.K, then off to Denver to help my brother celebrate his birthday. My older sister was there, too, in from North Carolina via Michigan. It was a Big Kids reunion. Had a good time the first evening and next day, then came down with Sweetie's cold. Still managed the birthday party during the weekend, but hope that I didn't get everyone else sick!

One of the highlights of the trip was the last day there. We took a drive to Estes Park and finally got to see some fall color because the aspen that high up (12,000 feet above sea level at one point) were turning their amazing golden color with hints of orange. Because they are almost always surrounded by dark green conifers, the color pops even more. Photos below.

While I was gone Sweetie got over his cold and worked on the deck some more. It's almost finished and looks really good. He is a true craftsman. Will post photos soon.

While in Portland I had a great vegan dish that you might want to try, especially if you love Trader Joe's. It was created by Kate's friend Jackie, who works at TJs. Doesn't look like much, but it is delicious and filling, too. First you bake some sweet potatoes (yams actually) until they are soft, then you cut them in half and top with Trader Joe's Cowboy vegetarian patties (from the freezer section), which you have baked along with the sweet potato during the last 10 minutes or so. When I made it I couldn't get the oven to work, so I just pan fried the patty and it was fine that way too. You can divide the patty up into three or four pieces. Add some Trader Joe's garlic spread and some sliced avocado or guacamole on top and you have a great meal.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Headed to Fall Color

Having just returned from a quick visit to Portland, the city that embraces the unusual, maybe even weird, now I'm headed to Colorado for some fall color (I hope) and family time. Sweetie and Pi will keep the home fires burning. The painting above was on the wall of the home where I stayed in Portland and is quite lovely, as are other pieces of art there.

No recipes, just a note that the quince are almost ripe and that they will be plentiful this year. Maybe I'll actually get around to making the recipes in the Quince cookbook I purchased 3 years ago. Hope so. The walnuts are falling, making noises in the night on the new deck. The acorns ping on the barn roof, then slide down toward the driveway.

Gravenstein apples are still with us but will soon be gone. Perhaps there will be a pie when I get home.

The zucchini are still producing but the squash stay smaller. The time for 'baseball bats' squash is probably past. Love that the bees are dancing around the tiny flowers on the sunflowers where the seeds form. A lovely fall treat. Soon there will be seeds like these.

That's all for now. Stay warm, stay dry, and stay safe.

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Lentils and Eggs

When I was visiting Los Angeles in the summer (yes, it's still summer but it's beginning to feel like fall and school has started again, so summer seems like it's in the past) we went for brunch to a place called Playa Provisions in Playa Vista (I think). They had an eclectic menu but not a lot of items that were non-dairy. One dish that sounded good was lentils with tomatoes and egg and kale. It was outstanding! A touch of vinegar when served added just the right note against the beany flavor of the lentils and the richness of the soft boiled egg. I came home and decided to see if I could replicate the dish, or at least come close.

After searching the Internet I found a recipe by Bon Appetit that was close so I made a few tweaks and served it for dinner a few nights ago. It was delicious and filling and Sweetie enjoyed it, too. One of the key elements is a soffritto of onion, carrot, celery and garlic (the Bon Appetit recipe had fennel and not celery but I don't like fennel flavor) which is cooked almost into a paste. This plus the tomato sauce really flavor the lentils in a great way!

This is a vegetarian dish but could be vegan if you skip the egg. The Bon Appetit recipe called for serving it with bread that had been fried in olive oil, but I just toasted some seeded sourdough and put on some non-dairy margarine for me and butter for Sweetie. I also sprinkled on a bit of Parmesan cheese on his serving and he said that made it even better.

You could probably serve this the day it is cooked, but I like to 'age' dishes with onions, so I put it in the fridge in the pot it was cooked in for a couple of days. That made reheating it easy. The already cooked spinach was reheated in the microwave and spooned on top of the lentil mixture before I added the egg. I actually forgot to add the red wine vinegar, but plan to do it next time (there were leftovers) since the sharpness is a great foil for the relatively bland legumes. The bread is nice for sopping up any juices. I served it in a shallow, wide soup bowl and that works really well because there are some juices.

Lentils and Tomato Stew with Egg and Spinach
serves 4

1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
sea salt to taste (I used about 1/2 teaspoon)
1/2 cup tomato sauce
2 cups lentils (preferably French green), picked over and rinsed
1 cup baby spinach, rinsed
4 large eggs
4 sliced crusty bread
red wine vinegar and grated Parmesan cheese (for serving)

Pulse onion, celery, carrots and garlic in a food processor until soffritto is finely chopped.

In a heavy bottomed pot over medium heat, heat the olive oil and add the soffritto, stirring to coat the vegetables with the oil. Season with salt and cook, stirring occasionally for 10-12 minutes, until soft.

Stir in the tomato sauce and cook, stirring occasionally until golden brown and very soft, about 10-12 minutes. Add a splash of water if it is browning too quickly. You want to caramelize the vegetables.

Add the lentils and 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until lentils are almost tender, 30-35 minutes. Uncover and simmer for another 10 minutes to reduce the liquid.

Skim about a cup of the liquid at the top of the pot and place it in a microwave safe dish. Add the spinach and cover with foil. Let sit to wilt the spinach. Refrigerate this spinach mixture.

Taste the lentil mixture and adjust for salt, if needed.

Refrigerate the pot of lentils at least 24 hours and no more than 48 hours. You can also just make the rest of the recipe from this point without refrigerating the stew, but the flavor is better with a rest.

On serving day, reheat the lentil stew over low heat, stirring as needed to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook at a simmer for 9 minutes. Removed from the pot and run under cold water until just cool enough to handle. Carefully remove shell while keeping egg whole. Place on a cutting board.

Reheat the spinach mixture while the eggs are boiling. Toast and butter the crusty bread.

Put about a quarter of the lentils in a bowl. Top with a quarter of the spinach mixture. Slice the hot eggs in half lengthwise and place, yolk side up on top of the veggies in the bowl. Add a splash of vinegar and sprinkle with Parmesan, as desired. Serve with the toasted bread. Serve at once.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Dusky Blondes

It felt a little bit like fall today, which is great. I've always liked the season of fall best of any season. It wasn't too hot this morning, so Sweetie and I went downhill to the pear tree and picked some pears. They are colored greenish gold and gold, but still hard, which is exactly right. I'll wrap them in newspapers and check them regularly until they are the perfect, juicy ripeness. If you pick them off the tree when they are ripe the inner part of the pear is usually gritty and overripe. Picking them early solves that. We also picked some Gravenstein apples from the two trees that are left. When we moved here there were more apple trees, but they were pretty old. I plan to make applesauce and maybe a pie or apple crisp. I love them baked, too. They tend to turn very soft when cooked, but have a wonderful, sweet-tart flavor.

Gravenstein apples are part of the Slow Food movement because they are dying out. People want apples that they can store and that ship well. Gravensteins are easily bruised and don't keep well at all. If you can find them, do enjoy some fresh or baked into your favorite treat. But this post is actually about cookies that are almost, but not quite, as dark as brownies.

Yesterday I baked  a version of blondies bar cookies. This time I added some espresso powder, which made them almost as dark as brownies, but not quite...I'm calling them Dusky Blondes. The flavor is still richly butterscotch, but the addition of coffee makes them more sophisticated. The coffee addition inspired me to use prunes for the dried fruit and walnuts for the nuts. I used only dark chocolate chips and the results were absolutely wonderful...and sort of fall-like. The chocolate is a supporting player here so they really aren't at all like a brownie. They are moist, rich, chewy and addictive. I froze about half of them so that I will limit how many I eat. Straight Shooter is visiting, so I know he will eat four or five of them this weekend and Sweetie likes them, too. Bet you will too, if you make them!

Dusky  Blondes
A variation of a recipe by Jill O’Connor in Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey, Desserts for the Serious Sweet Tooth.

1 cup (2 sticks) butter or margarine
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup plain applesauce
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
¾ teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder

1  cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup dried plums (prunes), chopped
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Position oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Use cooking spray to lightly coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan.

Melt the butter and sugars together in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring constantly, until the butter and sugars are blended and completely melted and starting to bubble gently. Remove the pan from heat and let the mixture cool slightly.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, applesauce, vanilla and salt.

In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and espresso powder.

Slowly whisk the cooled butter and sugar mixture into the eggs mixture just until combined. Whisk in the flour mixture to form a loose batter. (Make sure the batter is cool before stirring in the remaining ingredients, otherwise the chocolate will start to melt before the bars are baked.)

Stir the chopped  nuts, chopped prunes, and dark chocolate chips into the cooled batter.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spatula.

Bake until the top is shiny and slightly crackled and feels firm to the touch, 30 – 35 minutes. A wooden skewer inserting into the batter should come out with moist crumbs clinging to it. Let cool on a wire rack to room temperature, then cut into bars and serve.

Makes 16 large or 32 small bars.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Summer Is Winding Down

Have not been posting here much because I've not been baking and even our meals have been pretty simple...sliced tomatoes with a scattering of fresh basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar plus salt and pepper, baked potatoes, grilled zucchini with some herbs and pepper, grilled meats or chicken, the occasional salad with fresh veggies in it.

Part of that is due to hot weather, part due to time spent traveling and in the garden, and part because Sweetie asked me to slow down on baking while his back gets better. He has little resistance to my baking and right now can't be active enough to burn off the calories. He is doing much better and we took a good walk at the Laguna this morning.

So instead here are some garden photos:

I have so enjoyed the day lilies this summer. They are all gone now, but I had bright orange greetings each morning for over a month!

The morning glories are taking over this yellow rose bush but soon everything will get pruned back and the annuals will get tossed in the compost, so I'ts OK.

I've been weeding and cleaning up but there is soooo much garden to get to. No photo of it, but the main planting of bearded iris have all been weeded and the leaves trimmed, ready for winter.

Sunflowers are really just getting going, with two in full bloom and another about half way open. There are a few more that should bloom in September.

The lovely red rose by the barn, which I purchased years ago at the Russian River Rose Garden in Healdsburg, just loves the spot where it is planted and it keeps getting bigger and taller each year.

 Last in the alphabet, but not in my heart, are the zinnias. I planted them in the big pots with the flax and some herbs and another flower whose name I forget, and they are constantly blooming, making the front walkway a very cheerful place.

The flower at the top is a red California poppy, one of a number of different colors of poppies I grew this year.

That's all for now. Hope to have something food-ish to post soon.
Happy Labor Day Weekend!