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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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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The New Williams Sonoma in Seattle: Bucking the Trend

If you live in Seattle and like to cook,  be sure to check out the new Williams Sonoma at the University Village. A whopping 10,000 square feet and only opened since yesterday, this store immediately engaged me.

I’m a tough nut to crack when it comes to cookware. I am partial to certain brands such as Le Creuset, Cuisinart, Kuhn Rikon,  All-Clad, and Wusthof, so I’m well aware that high quality cookware comes at a hefty price. It’s an investment that should last a life time.

IMG_3664So, when I entered the new Williams Sonoma today,  I felt like a kid in a candy shop. Unlike the old store located across the Village, which was significantly smaller and cramped, this large store is open, inviting and spacious. It also features floor to ceiling displays of cookware in a variety of styles and sizes from an array of manufacturers.

I have to say that over the years when I shop for cookware, I have noticed that very often items I am interested in aren’t in stock and I am referred to a website or a catalog. This catalog default method always irritates because I like to pick up the pots and pans I might buy. I also like to hold a knife or, in the case of an appliance, inspect the controls and the features.  I also ask a lot of questions and always appreciate the knowledge, opinion,  and input from the storekeepers.

IMG_3686When I roamed around the new store today, I really felt as if they had hit the mark. The huge displays of cookware drew me in and fed my curiosity. Although I’m not in the market for new cookware right now, it was very helpful to see all of the options right there in front of my eyes and to be able to compare and contrast the choices between the different brands. Shopping experiences like this simply aren’t that easy to come by these days and I spent a fair amount of time in that department.  I soon found myself wishing I could justify purchasing a set of Mauviel Copper Pots from France. Alas, I couldn’t justify it even with the Grand Opening Discount of 20% so I moved on to the next department…Cutlery and Small Appliances, which sits right behind the cookware.

IMG_3673This u-shaped section is by no means a run of the mill department because in the center of this section, there are tables with small appliances, cutting boards and sponges. The helpful customer service gal told me that shoppers are invited to “test drive” the appliances right there before purchasing! They have large wooden tables set up with various appliances, a cutting board and a sponge! I really liked that approach and set up. This morning the Vitamix representative was there buzzing up a pineapple and grape smoothie and discussing the fine points between the different models. As for the knife display, the sales gal pointed out that they even keep a bowl of fruit and vegetables at the ready so cooks can try different knives right then and there to see how different knives feel and function in the hand.

IMG_3697Although I resisted the Mauviel pans, I succumbed to buying an Emile Henry pizza stone. Again, it was the display that sucked me in. They had the regular Emile Henry pizza stone (which I once had) and then a bright red round ridged Emile Henry stone. I suspected that the ridged pan was designed to make a crispier pizza crust and indeed that is what I was told.  With little delay, I had one rung up. Thankfully that 20% Grand Opening Discount brought that pan down in price by $12.

So, if you like to cook, check it out. Cooking is, after all,  a sensory tactile experience and buying cookware should be one, too.

Thankfully, Williams Sonoma is bucking the trend and reinvesting in that delicious reality.

72 Hours in Homer, AK: Bucket List on Steroids! Part One

RV Alaska June 2017A trip to Homer, Alaska, at the height of the fishing season and only two days before the summer solstice can only mean one thing. A bucket list on steroids. My husband, son and I flew up to Alaska last week and it was a quick and tightly focused trip to see some clients, do research, fish, and explore the region.

When we were planning the trip beforehand, we decided to rent an RV from  Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage. Chris has done this before but this was the first time I was embarking on the RV rental gig. We ran some numbers beforehand and realized that renting an RV and driving it the four hours to Homer out on the Kenai Peninsula was far more economical than flying down there, staying in hotels, renting a car, and eating out. The RV also gave us complete freedom to organize our trip according to our schedule and needs. And, combined with the daily 21 hours of daylight at this time of year, we were able to maximize our time in a very remote location.

After flying from Seattle to Anchorage we were greeted at the airport by the rental company shuttle which took us to the facility where we checked in, watched a safety video, and loaded our Minnie Winnie with gear, clothing and food. Our Minnie Winnie was spacious, gorgeous and appointed with Cuisinart cookware, bed linens and fluffy towels. We rented a toaster and the coffee pot.

Our first night was spent in Seward, Alaska simply because we didn’t want to drive so long after leaving from Seattle that morning. We stayed at a municipal campground in town, watched the cruise ships navigate into the dock, marveled at the massive halibut and rock fish haul on display and then left early the next morning for Homer,  the Halibut Capital of the World. Located on the Kachemak Bay and in the shadow of Kachemak Bay State Park, this place is a nature lover’s paradise.

The spacious and clean Heritage RV Park, located right on the Bay, became our home for three nights. Sitting right on The Spit and adjacent to the local (and stocked) fishing lagoon, this RV park is also within walking distance to town and the marina. This proximity to the attractions worked great because we didn’t have to unhook the RV and trek the lengthy rig in to town to see the sights. Our site was right on the beach and had some of the best Alaskan scenery I have ever experienced. We didn’t have to eat out because our fully equipped kitchen was stocked and ready.

During the three days, we covered a lot of territory even though the Spit is relatively small in size. Fishing for halibut. Making tacos at a local cooking school. Losing a BIG fish in the lagoon. Discovering a new water trail around the Bay, Watching fishermen fillet their fish. Kicking back and enjoying the Midnight Sun. Watching the sun set and indulging in Klondike Bars and berries at midnight on Father’s Day.

For more on my 72 Hours in Homer, watch for Part 2: The Cooking School at Tutka Bay Lodge. 

 

 

 

 

Tomato Season 2017: Digging Those Eastern European Heirlooms

Well, I admit it. I start thinking about the upcoming tomato season in December. Seattle is ridiculously dark and rainy during the last month of the year, but without fail that’s when my tomato and garden catalogs trickle in and that’s when I leave the holiday hubbub at the door and start to plan for the spring.

This year, we are having a ridiculously cold and rainy spring and everyone is wondering when the dreary weather will hit the road. No one has any answers and the media even salts the communal wound by publishing articles saying this is the rainiest season EVER for the Emerald City.

That being said, I am still marching forth on my tomato planning but I am also preparing for what will most likely be a late and truncated tomato season. When I moved to Seattle from New York over twenty years ago, I got turned on to the Eastern European heirloom tomatoes. I was told that these varieties are naturally conducive to Seattle’s maritime climate and that they produced flavorful unique tomatoes that defy the odds. Indeed, varieties such as Black Krim, Moskvich, Gregori’s Altai, Cosmonaut Volkov, Stupice and Siberia have been the backbone of my tomato beds for year.  These varieties sit alongside the classic heirlooms such as Carmello, San Marzano, Mortgage Lifter and Brandywine.

I often push the envelope and plant my tomatoes around April 15th but NOT this year because nighttime temperatures are still dipping to 40, which is way too cold. Hence, I’m coddling my plants at the kitchen table and at locations throughout my little house until the days get warmer and brighter.

If you haven’t gotten your tomato game plan in order yet, fear not because there’s still lots of time to reach for some of the Eastern Europeans. I grow some by seed but I also rely on the plants grown by Langley Fine Gardens on Vashon Island. You can find them at  Sky Nursery in Shoreline, at Swanson’s Nursery in NW Seattle and at select farmer’s markets during spring.  Or, you can simply order live plants directly from Territorial Seed in Oregon.

 

 

Banh Town in North Seattle: Vietnamese Street Food Served with a Smile

It pays to drive the carpool. It can be deliciously rewarding in many ways.

Twice a week I drive my son and his buddy over to evening lacrosse practice. En route, I get the scoop on everything from the Spanish curriculum at a local middle school to the boys’ recap on last week’s game.

Recently, one of our carpool conversations circled around food. We were talking about my son James’s favorite teriyaki joint in the neighborhood and our 14-year-old car pool passenger quickly chimed in with HIS favorite joint in the area…Banh Town.

Banh Town: Vietnamese Street Food. Banh Mi. Pho. Happiness

I was immediately intrigued by his suggestion because the place had been on my list for about two years…Will quickly gave me a recap on their pho and their sandwich selection. Sighing in the back seat, he told me their vermicelli salad was “the best.”  I think Will was in fact making a mental note to get back there sooner rather than later.

I made a similar note and this week when my husband and I wanted something light, fresh and different for lunch, I suggested Banh Town. We were soon out the door and on our way to this small, bright and cheerful little family owned and operated Vietnamese restaurant. Located at the busy intersection of Greenwood Avenue North and Holman Road and sitting right behind a Jiffy Lube, Banh Town is a treasure. The interior is bright and the walls are decorated with large  colorful photographs of Vietnam.

 

Vermicelli Salad.JPGChauanh, was our server and she is also one of the owners. Service with a smile seems to be the mantra at Banh Town and we were quickly briefed on the menu which includes an array of banh mi, pho, vermicelli salads and a variety of starters. Although I’ve been making a lot of pho during this wet and rainy Seattle winter we’ve been having, I opted to celebrate the sunshine yesterday and ordered the chicken vermicelli salad ($9.95). My husband had the five spice chicken banh mi ($6.95) and we shared two spring rolls ($7) and an order of quail’s egg poppers ($7), which were a family recipe from Grandma Le. ( I think Grandma Le might be Chauanh’s maternal grandma. We were told she is a great cook and she is cited as the recipe creator on a few of the flagship items on the menu so take note!)

Bahn MiThe banh mi arrived with a side of sesame slaw and the sandwich was light and beautifully done with a crispy airy French roll and lots of fresh cilantro. My salad was full of flavor and the skewered chicken was grilled to the perfect degree. Perched on top of cold vermicelli noodles and a cucumber lettuce combo, the chicken added a nice protein punch to the light and satisfying entrée. The quail’s egg  poppers were crispy on the  outside and the interior was subtle and comforting.

The bill was reasonable by Seattle standards and totaled less $40 with tax and tip. The restaurant  is now open seven days a week and offers takeout and delivery via Doordash and Postmates.

The restaurant’s logo touts: Banh Town: Vietnamese Street Food. Banh Mi. Pho. Happiness.

Yep, that pretty much sums it up.

 

 

 

Discover Asian Doodle Soup!

We’ve all heard about Zoodles…spiralized zucchini that often takes the place of pasta in savory dishes.

Well, I’ve come up with Doodles! Spiralized Daikon radish that works equally as well in hot and cold dishes.

Until yesterday, I had never bothered with Daikon radish, a huge mild white winter radish from Asia. A cruciferous vegetable high in fiber and low in calories, this vegetable is indeed an underappreciated powerhouse.  When I was at the upscale Asian market in my neighborhood this weekend, I noticed boxes and boxes of these radishes around the produce department. Clearly a seasonal loss leader, they were priced at 49 cents a pound so I decided to buy one.  At the time, I didn’t know what I’d do with it but I figured something would strike my fancy.

At home, I was going to originally prep the ingredients for my Asian Chicken Salad but the weather was awful over the weekend and the chill permeated so I ditched the salad idea and decided to craft a warm and soothing Asian soup. That’s when I had my AHA moment. The Daikon was on my counter and it occurred to me that the elongated vegetable would be perfect spiralized!

daikon-doodles-2017

So, I readied my  KitchenAid Spiralizer  with the fine spiralizer attachment, cut the daikon into five inch chunks, and attached it to the spiralizer. It spiraled perfectly and the “Doodles” worked great in an Asian pho with shredded Napa cabbage, cilantro, Thai basil and scallions.   I simmered them in a homemade Asian-style chicken broth over moderately high heat for about three or four minutes. After that,  they softened a bit but retained some crunch. A very satisfying low carb and low calorie way to get a hefty hit of vegetables on a cold rainy Seattle day.

I didn’t use them all in one go yesterday so I stashed the leftover Doodles in the fridge and they stored perfectly—no browning or discoloring and they remained crispy and crunchy overnight.

So, if you find Daikon on sale and you happen to have a spiralizer in your kitchen, give Doodles a go!