Sow the Seeds of Dinner

Gardening. It’s the ultimate added-value pastime.

Not only do you get fresh air, exercise and Vitamin D when you weed, plant and prattle around in the soil but you also get hyperlocal produce for dinner! Afterall, it was plucked from your garden, patio or even windowsill.

It doesn’t get much more regional than that, folks!

I’ve been an avid gardener for probably thirty years now and I continue to be amazed at how a simple little seed can ultimately work its way through the soil and onto my dinner plate a few months later.

Even if you think you don’t have a green thumb or a sprawling yard,  seriously consider growing something.  Think about what vegetables you enjoy,  do a little planning and give it a shot.

Chives or parsley can be “planted” on a sunny windowsill.  Mini lettuces can be sown in patio planters or in small spaces in the garden. Even tomatoes, such as Tom Thumb and Stupice, which are great for small gardens, can produce prolifically in a pot and taste great in a salad.

Need some inspiration? Here are a couple of my favorite resources for sowing the seeds of dinner!

Seed Racks at the Garden Center or Grocery Store

Don’t snarf at the seed racks in the big box stores. The seeds are well priced and the displays have a great variety. You can also score a deal by using coupons and the varieties featured are usually pretty easy to grow. Read the sowing instructions and give it a shot.  I regularly buy Burpee and Ed Hume from the racks at my Fred Meyer. What do I purchase? Zinnias, lettuces, chards, herbs, cosmos, sunflowers and more. Want a small space variety? Look for the little container icon on the Burpee packets. It’s a great indicator of which ones will work well in a mini-plot.

Mail Order 

Order some seed catalogs and read them on a rainy day. They make great wish books. I circle and mark mine up and then order. I have found some great small space varieties at both Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine and at Territorial Seed Catalog in Oregon. My insider tip? When in doubt, call the customer service folks at these companies. They are incredibly knowledgeable and have steered me in the right direction many times.

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Defrost at the 2018 Northwest Flower & Garden Festival!

Spring fever in January is never a good thing, especially out here in Seattle where it is still a bleak, cold, dark, sometimes frosty, and always rainy.

For me, the best medicine has been a hefty dose of garden therapy. Of course, it’s too early to start digging and planting in my urban backyard or P-Patch, but one thing I look forward to every year is the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Held at the Washington State Convention Center from February 7-11, this annual garden show has always defrosted my green thumb.

This year the show, which is the second largest in the nation, celebrates a legacy of 30 years. The theme will be “Garden Party.”   Trends in organic and urban gardening, sustainability, and variety of culinary experiences will be embraced and the twenty magnificent and elaborate Show Gardens will reflect the theme. The show will also have a spectacular lineup of seminars led by experts in the field as well as daily DIY competitions with experts.  As usual, the massive shopping Marketplace will be chock full of vendors and will offer a great opportunity for gardeners, both experienced and beginner, to get answers, explore new varieties, ask growers specific questions, and stock up on favorites for the season ahead.

So, if you are itching for spring, check your calendar and plan accordingly.  If you need a little inspiration, check out these photos taken last year:

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2017 Northwest Flower and Garden Festival Show Garden

Seattle’s Pike Place Market-A Gift in January

Sometimes, life tosses you a gift on a whim. Yesterday, I got one of those gifts at Seattle’s most iconic destination—the Pike Place Market.

You see, I had to be down at the market yesterday morning for a client meeting. Unfortunately, the weathermen predicted rain, which, of course, isn’t unusual for the Emerald City.

So, I grumbled, dressed accordingly, and gave myself lots of extra time to get downtown.

While weaving my way towards the waterfront, I noticed that the sky was breaking up and rain was absent. By the time I parked the car the weather was looking downright acceptable.  Puffy clouds.  Light wind.  Patches of blue. When I stepped off the parking garage elevator and onto the spectacular new MarketFront,  I looked out at Elliott Bay and gasped. The view rivaled that of any spectacular August day. Expansive blue skies, calm seas, bright sunshine, panoramic mountain views, and incredible visibility. Plus, it was only about 9 AM so there was absolutely no one at the market.

No cars. No traffic. No tourists. No school kids. It hit me. I had the market to myself. I only had to share it with the dedicated shopkeepers and vendors who were setting up. Score!

I had about an hour to kill so this hour became a gift to me. Of course, I’ve been to the market hundreds of times since I moved here in 1995 but yesterday I had a chance to see it all over again as a resident, a tourist, a cook and a writer.

I strolled the market, snapped photos and realized that as much as the city of Seattle has grown and changed over these last 23 years, pretty much everything about the historic market has remained the same. The cobblestone streets stand firm. The tiles on the pathways in the market pave the way for curious tourists.  Le Panier continues to attract customers not with a fancy window display but with an amazing aroma. My favorite restaurant, Café Campagne, which has been tucked in the same corner for decades, still has their fabulous country pate on the menu. The talented flower vendors fill the stalls (year-round) with bright local bouquets sold for a song. And, the world-famous fishmongers continue to keep everyone hooked with their displays of amazing Northwest seafood.

My hour went quickly but it was an exercise in slowing down and taking a breather. It was a reminder that gifts can come in the smallest ways…and when you least expect them!

Here’s a snapshot of what our amazing market looked like yesterday!

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Hacking the Starbucks Egg Bites

Mobile breakfasts are a challenge at my house. It simply isn’t easy to get out the door and power everyone up with a nutritious high protein start to the day. Trust me. I’ve struggled with this one for two decades.

As the proud owner of two Instant Pots (3 quart mini and 6 quart duo), I recently joined the Instant Pot Facebook community online and have noticed countless folks going gaga over their versions of the Starbucks Sous Vide Egg Bites.  Prior to reading these glowing posts, I had never had one of these bitty bites but on Saturday I decided to see for myself.

While at Starbucks, I ordered a round of the Bacon Gruyere bites. Priced at $5 plus 10% tax, they rang up a $5.50 and I was handed two very small egg disks that arrived warm and savory. The texture was intriguing. It was light and fluffy, kind of like a cross between a soufflé and a quiche. The nutrition facts per serving indicated 19 grams of protein.

Starbucks egg biteOverall, I found the egg bites to be very good but personally, I wouldn’t rely on them myself. Without a doubt, they would get pricey ($30 bucks per work week) and frankly, I hate going to Starbucks and standing in line because that’s a huge time suck. So later that day, I did some googling and found numerous variations on how to make them.

This version from Foodie and Wine was the one I printed off and used as a basic guideline in terms of ingredient proportions and cooking times. Her recipe called for heavy cream, cottage cheese, hot sauce, and a significantly higher quantity of shredded cheese, so I tweaked the basic ingredients and improvised on a tool. For cooking the egg bites in the Instant Pot, I used my vintage Wedgwood ramekins instead of the silicone molds or small canning jars that everyone seems to use. I reasoned that my four-ounce ramekins would work just fine and they did.

Basically, I took four large eggs, about 1 loosely packed cup of shredded cheese, ¼ cup of milk, about two tablespoons of sour cream and a pinch of salt and whizzed that in my Vitamix. I then put one cup of water in my 6-quart Instant Pot, added the cooking rack and set the ramekins, which had been sprayed with oil and sprinkled with bacon bits, on the rack. I divided the egg mixture evenly between each ramekin. I sprinkled the tops with a little dehydrated onion and chive and covered with foil.

I set the Instant Pot to STEAM for 8 minutes. At the end of eight minutes, I let the pressure release naturally and after about seven minutes the button popped down and my egg bites were ready. When I removed the lid, the foil had crept up and when I removed the foil I found big puffy egg bites that within a minute or two deflated but remained very hot and steamy. I removed them with tongs and turned out the egg bites which were gorgeous and velvety…just like the ones I tried at Starbucks.  They were great on toast, out of hand on the go, or set on a bed of arugula.

Starbucks Puffy Egg BitesAside from being high in protein and easy to make, the best part is that the eggs bites can be kept refrigerated for five days and reheated each morning. The reheated eggs still taste fresh and they don’t have any of that nasty overcooked egg taste either. They’d be great bagged up and tucked into a purse to be reheated at the office or they’d make a great breakfast for a teenager dashing out the door hoping to beat the clock.

So, all in all, my sous vide egg adventure was a success and it’s something I will make again and again.  Here’s my version:

 

Missy’s Easy Instant Pot Egg Bites

Ingredients:

Cooking spray for preparing the ramekins

4 teaspoons Costco bacon bits, or to taste

4 large eggs

1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese

¼ cup 2% milk

2 to 3 tablespoons sour cream

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons dried red onion or chives if desired

1 cup water

 

Tools

four ¼ cup heatproof ramekins

6 Quart Instant Pot Duo

Instant Pot Rack

Aluminum foil for covering ramekins

Tongs

 

Technique:

Prepare the ramekins: Spray the ramekins thoroughly with the cooking spray. Divide the bacon bits evenly between the ramekins.

In a blender blend the eggs, Cheddar cheese, milk, sour cream, and salt for about thirty seconds.

Divide the egg mixture evenly amongst the four ramekins.

Divide the onion or chives evenly over the tops of each ramekin

Set the cooking rack into the instant pot and pour the one cup of water into the pot.

Set the ramekins carefully on the racks and cover lightly with a piece of foil.

Put the lid on the Instant pot and set the valve to SEAL

Set the Instant Pot to  STEAM and adjust the cooking time to 8 minutes.

At the end of eight minutes, the Instant Pot will beep. Allow an NPR, Natural Pressure Release, which means you are just letting the pot pressure come down slowly on its own. This should take about seven minutes. Once the valve has gone down, remove the lid and the foil.

Using tongs, transfer each ramekin to a cutting board and let rest for a minute or so. The egg bites will be puffy at first and then deflate a bit. Unmold and serve or let cool and store in fridge, reheating for about 30 seconds when desired.

Makes 4 Egg Bites.

 

Tartar Sauce: Slash the Fat with Yogurt

IMG_5754Tartar Sauce. It’s a classic accompaniment to fish. It’s great on a fish sandwich or with a piece of fried halibut or cod or baked salmon.

That being said, it isn’t a great accompaniment to the waistline. My favorite brand, Marina Tartar sauce, packs a walloping 180 calories and 20 grams of fat in two tablespoons. Two tablespoons? Let’s face it. Who really sticks to serving sizes? So, I bet it’s safe to say the calorie count on a tartar sauce accompaniment to a fish sandwich can run far higher than 180.

IMG_5758.JPGTackling this juggernaut has been on my recipe bucket list for some time but it was only recently that I nailed a real solution. I bought an Instant Pot back in August and have been making some really gorgeous yogurt in it every week. (I use the recipe from This Old Gal.) I generally have two quarts of homemade yogurt on hand each week and as a result, I have been finding all sorts of amazing ways to add this creamy protein-packed ingredient into my everyday meals.

That’s where my low-fat tartar sauce comes in. On Saturday, I had a piece of defrosted Alaska halibut in the fridge and some white hamburger buns on the counter. Both needed to be used up and I was in recipe development mode. So, I decided to make a halibut sandwich and that’s when the idea for yogurt tartar sauce was born

Admittedly, I was a bit doubtful. I tossed the idea out to my husband. He was really doubtful. Nonetheless, I went at it, substituting my yogurt for the mayonnaise and adding Western Family dill relish, some diced Walla Walla onion, the juice of half a lemon and some salt. A quick stir resulted in a luscious tartar with all the flavor of the classic and far less fat. Dolloped on a piece of cooked panko coated halibut it was a revelation.

IMG_5734The recipe that follows is ridiculously simple. If you don’t have homemade yogurt, storebought is fine. If you use Greek yogurt, you might need to thin it with a bit of milk to get that dollopy texture. Thin it a bit in the beginning, then add your relish, onion, and lemon juice, and if the texture needs adjusting, add a bit more milk or lemon if desired

Yogurt-Tartar Sauce

1/2 cup homemade plain yogurt, or store-bought plain Greek yogurt

2 to 3 teaspoons prepared dill relish, I used Western Family

1 to 2 Tablespoons chopped sweet onion

juice of half a lemon

salt to taste

In a small bowl, whisk or stir the yogurt to loosen and smooth out. Add the relish, the chopped onion, the lemon and salt to taste. Stir to combine and if using Greek yogurt, add a little milk or more lemon juice to adjust the texture.  Make 1/2 cup.

 

 

 

 

 

Lemony Dill Halibut Salad: A Scandinavian Refresh

I created this halibut salad this weekend after we had some friends over for dinner. My husband had cooked about three huge pieces of halibut from our June trip to Alaska and we had about a pound of cooked halibut leftover. While cleaning up on Saturday, I put it in the fridge. On Sunday I decided to do something with it to avoid waste.

My taste buds steered me towards a lemony Scandinavian flavor profile that day…I had attended the Nordic Culinary Conference here in Seattle back in May and I think it was those thrifty creative chefs—Claus Meyer, Sasu Laukonnen, and Titti Qvanstrom—  who inspired my path that afternoon.  At the conference, the chefs discussed how they avoid waste, use local ingredients, and employ simple techniques to ramp up inherent flavors and achieve impressive dishes.

So…while staring at a Pyrex dish full of flaky white fish,  I challenged myself to make a fresh and appealing salad with the leftover. Rather than just mix it up with some mayo which is the  traditional route to go for those who do employ leftover fish in their kitchens…I decided to ramp up the flavors.

Leftover fish can be a tough sell.  I wanted a “refresh”.

So, I looked in the fridge and the garden and pulled my Cuisinart forth on the counter. My food processor is crucial for challenges like this. It speeds the process and makes fish tidier to work with.  From the garden, I gathered a handful of dill, and a rummage through the fridge yielded some decent celery and a big voluptuous lemon.  With that, I had a game plan!

The key to my Halibut Refresh? I added lemon juice BUT I added it at a critical point.

I didn’t want to dilute that burst of sunshine.  I wanted to make sure it played a key role so I sprinkled the juice directly on the halibut and processed the halibut, celery and lemon BEFORE I added the mayonnaise.  I am convinced that this simple sequence in steps made an enormous difference in my end result because the lemon got mixed into the fish and the fish absorbed it, becoming light, sunny, and citrusy in the process. I then added the dill and the mayonnaise.

Here’s the recipe. A ridiculously appealing Alaska Halibut salad with definite Scandinavian tilt. I enjoyed it on piece of Larsen’s Bakery Light Finnish Rye. A match made in heaven.

Lemon and Dill Halibut Salad

3 celery stalks, cut into big chunks

8 to 10 ounces cooked halibut (poached, grilled or baked is fine), broken up into chunks

1 large lemon, rolled on the counter and then juiced*

2 to 3 tablespoons fresh dill

2 to 3 tablespoons low fat mayonnaise,  or to taste

Salt to taste

To Serve:

For serving: slices of lightly toasted rye bread and fresh Bibb lettuce leaves

For garnish: citrus zest, thinly sliced red onion, extra dill

 

Put the metal blade in the food processor, add the celery chunks and process the celery with three or four pulses to chop it. Put the halibut in the food processor, drizzle the lemon juice directly over the cooked halibut. Pulse once or twice to mix and incorporate the lemon juice. Add the fresh dill and the mayonnaise and pulse three or four times just to mix. Taste for seasoning and add salt to taste.

To create an open faced sandwich: Serve the salad on lightly toasted rye with a piece of lettuce and garnished with zest, extra dill, and thinly sliced onion if desired.

*Lemon Tip: To extract the most juice from a lemon, roll it on a counter before you juice it. You can also prick a couple holes the lemon, zap it in the microwave for twenty seconds, roll it on the counter and then juice it. These little techniques go a long way towards extracting all that sunshine from a lemon!

 

 

 

The Cooking School at Tutka Bay Lodge!

The visuals from my journey to the cooking school at Alaska’s remote and serene Tutka Bay Lodge last week.

Indeed, a picture is worth a thousand words.

I am still working on the full write up from the class, but in the mean time here’s some eye candy…

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