Cherries jubilee sizzle like July 4th firecrackers

Red, white and blue dishes feted in this blog have ranged from subtle blueberry-strawberry salsa and watermelon-feta salad to the truly thematic. Think pie assembled as an American flag and cake bedecked like Old Glory.

While the latter takes some effort, the former requires a bit of imagination to associate with Fourth of July. For culinary fireworks in a short amount of time, try the classic cherries jubilee.

Ignited with a splash of liqueur, this simple sauté of cherries, sugar, butter and flavorings elevates a simple ice-cream sundae to a celebratory course in your holiday spread. And its preparation is guaranteed to elicit some “ooohs” and “aaahs.” 

Lacking fresh cherries, you can easily make this with frozen fruit. In fact, it’s an ideal way to rejuvenate cherries, like mine, that have been stored since last summer.

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Cherries Jubilee

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups fresh cherries, pitted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise and scraped

Pinch of salt

1/4 cup brandy or kirsch

Juice from 1/4 orange

Zest from 1/2 orange

1 pint vanilla ice cream, for servings

In a skillet over medium-high heat, add the butter. Once bubbling, add the cherries, sugar, seeds from the scraped vanilla bean and the salt. Cook until sugar has dissolved, for about 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove from heat, add the brandy and carefully ignite. Extinguish flames by squeezing the juice of 1/4 orange into pan. Add the orange zest and set aside.

Scoop ice cream into serving bowls. Pour cherries over ice cream and serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Recipe by Michael Symon, via ABC

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Veggie-enhanced hummus a smart summer snack

Another camping trip under our belts has left me craving fresh vegetables.

After a weeklong campout featuring fairly diverse meals last month, my husband wanted a simpler format this time while staying in a campground lacking services of any kind. Enter the meat-bun format, as I’ve dubbed it.

About the only saving grace is hummus, one of my husband’s snacktime staples, with carrot sticks, snap peas and broccoli florets for dipping. Because hummus is available in so many flavors, Kalamata olive and roasted jalapeno factored into our snacks. And because hummus also is (relatively speaking) expensive, both were purchased on sale.

But next time, I may take a stand against vegetable deprivation and make my own hummus enhanced with veggies. Commercially made roasted carrot, artichoke, spinach, even beet varieties I’ve seen. But I could spend pennies on the dollar and blend up this roasted beet hummus. Try it for your summer snacking, picnics and potlucks.   

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Roasted Beet Hummus

1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas

2 cups peeled and diced, roasted red beets

1/4 cup (2 ounces) tahini paste

4 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons kosher salt

Juice of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons (1 ounce) extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for garnish

Crumbled goat or feta cheese, for garnish

Roasted and salted pepitas, for garnish

Coarsely chopped, fresh herbs (such as tarragon, basil, mint or parsley), for garnish

Pita chips or grilled or toasted ciabatta, for serving

In a food processor bowl, combine the chickpeas, roasted beets, tahini, garlic, cumin, salt and lemon juice. Puree mixture until smooth.

Check hummus for flavor and consistency, then drizzle in 2 tablespoons olive oil while motor is running. This makes about 3 1/2 cups hummus, which will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to two days. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Transfer hummus to a serving dish and make a small well in center. Garnish hummus with additional oil, the crumbled cheese, pepitas and herbs. Serve with the pita chips or ciabatta.

Makes 3 1/2 cups.

Recipe adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe provided by the Fat Dog restaurant.

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Poaching in syrup lends stone fruits succulence

Watching my kids’ jubilation over cherries in our yard, I can’t help but feel a pang for the apricot tree that passed on before they were born.

The tree was gnarled and bent but every few years produced a riot of pink flowers and the most delicious fruit I’d ever tasted. Spindly to start with, it died back to just one main branch before my mother-in-law, whose property surrounded the tree, declared it was time to take it out. Removing it would benefit the garden beds with more sun and summer vegetables.

Apricots have never been the same for me. Tracking down a local source has been tricky, and the grocery-store fruits from California are tart and mealy, hardly the succulent flesh that dripped juice as sweet as honey. I feel like a curmudgeon for telling my younger son that we shouldn’t buy apricots at the store, even as they beckon with skins of namesake hue.

Maybe I’ll have to break down and buy some with the intent to poach them in syrup, a technique that transforms underripe and generally unsatisfactory fruit into a sweet, luscious treat. This technique also works with those stubbornly hard grocery-store peaches and plums that, if left on the kitchen counter, often disintegrate into mush.

They may not be as satisfying as stone fruits eaten out of hand, oozing nectar. But bathed in simple syrup, poached fruits are delicious spooned onto yogurt and ice cream.     

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Poached Apricots

4 ripe apricots

1/2 cup sugar

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 vanilla bean

Rinse the apricots. Halve each along its cleft line. Twist open. Lift out and discard pits.

In a medium saucepan, stir together the sugar, lemon juice and 2 cups water. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise; scrape out seeds with back of a knife blade. Drop in seeds and pod. Bring to a boil; boil for 1 minute.

Slide in apricots; lower heat so syrup barely shudders around fruit. Cover and cook, turning apricots once, until they are tender and still hold their shape, a total of 5 to 10 minutes, depending on size and ripeness of fruit. Using a slotted spoon, scoop out apricots (leave any skins in water) and let fruit cool.

Turn up heat under saucepan, and reduce contents to a thick syrup, for about 5 minutes. Strain into a glass measuring cup. Let cool for a few minutes.

Pour syrup over apricots. Cover and chill.

Enjoy apricots, along with syrup, over yogurt, under whipped cream, alongside a slice of pound cake or solo. All good.

Makes 4 servings.

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Buckle down and use up those frozen blueberries

Cherries just starting to redden on our tree this week put me in mind of last year’s crop — still reposing in my freezer.

As I admonished my sons to wait a few more days for the fruit to really ripen, I vowed in the interim to use up last year’s cherries, followed by last year’s blueberries and perhaps the last bag of sweetened strawberries that escaped smoothies and sundae sauce.  

I’ve confessed to food-hoarding tendencies previously in this blog. And although I’ve made more of a concerted effort in recent years to use up canned and frozen goods, some deadlines still sneak up on me.

So I buckled down, put aside procrastination and whipped up a cherry-berry cobbler, based on a recipe long since posted to this blog that’s proven its worth time and again, whether it’s blackberries picked along the riverbank or peaches plucked from local farm stands.

Because picking blueberries takes longer, and worthwhile patches can be challenging to locate, I tend to spread them among as many treats as possible. One of those is a cornmeal cake with lemon. This blueberry buckle from the Detroit Free Press test kitchen would be another way to use frozen berries to their best effect.

I’m not a fan of margarine in any form and have substituted the same quantity of butter in other baking recipes, including a delicious “heart-healthy” cookie. I have noticed, however, that baked goods lacking margarine need a bit more time to brown.       

Tribune News Service photo

Blueberry Buckle

Floured baking spray, as needed

4 tablespoons trans fat-free margarine, divided

3 tablespoons reduced-fat cream cheese

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup all-purpose flour, divided

3/4 cup white whole-wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup skim milk

2 cups fresh blueberries, washed and patted dry

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F. Coat a 9-inch baking pan with floured baking spray.

In a large bowl, cream together 3 tablespoons of the margarine, the cream cheese and granulated sugar. Add the egg and vanilla; beat well.

In a separate bowl, combine 3/4 cup of the all-purpose flour, the whole-wheat flour, baking powder and salt. Add dry ingredients and the milk alternately to sugar mixture, beating after each addition until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan and top with the blueberries.

In a small bowl, combine remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Cut in remaining 1 tablespoon margarine until mixture forms coarse crumbs. Sprinkle over blueberries. Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes.

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Shellfish on the stove or fire is simply satisfying

Appetites sated on sausages, burgers, even kale salad after a week of camping, we couldn’t bypass a meal of mussels. The bivalves were a featured dish at a Hood River brew pub, our pit stop on the journey home.

We’d gotten our fill of little lake fish, referenced in this blog’s previous post. But mild, delicate trout only piqued our appetites for shellfish in a briny broth, a favorite under just about any circumstance.

Mussels could indeed translate well to the campsite, provided they were kept very cold and cooked within a day or so of arrival. Beachfront campgrounds near towns with reputable fish markets would be the ideal venue for cooking up a pot of mussels, which takes mere minutes, preserving propone. They could even be placed in an improvised foil packet, vented at the top, over an open fire. One of my favorite Eugene restaurants cooks trays of mussels in its wood-fired oven.

Inexpensive, mussels do take a few minutes to clean and debeard, but that’s a minor chore with a scrub brush and water source, perhaps a colander, too. And pantry staples that travel well into the outdoors serve just fine to flavor a broth of white wine, which happens to be among my husband’s personal camping must-haves. This recipe is courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

Indoors or out, at home or in the field, mussels are a departure from the usual weekend lunch or weekday dinner. My favorite source in the Rogue Valley for fresh mussels is The Butcher Shop in Eagle Point.

Mussels can be harvested from Oregon beaches with a shellfish license, but care must be taken to ensure they are free of biotoxins. The state’s shellfish safety hotline is an indispensable resource.

Tribune News Service photo

Mussels With Tomato and White Wine

3 pounds mussels

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

1 cup crushed canned tomatoes

1/2 cup dry white wine

Handful fresh parsley, chopped, for garnish

Crusty bread, for serving

Rinse and scrub the mussels under cold water. Remove beard from mussels, if necessary. Discard any mussels that won’t close if gently pressed.

In a large pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion, garlic and salt; cook until onion softens, for about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper flakes and oregano; cook until fragrant, for about 30 seconds. Pour in the tomatoes; cook until they have slightly thickened, for 3 to 5 minutes. Pour in the wine.

Increase heat to high to bring to a boil. Add the mussels, cover pot and cook, stirring every minute, until all mussels have opened, for 3 to 4 minutes. Discard any that don’t. Turn off heat; add the parsley.

Divide mussels and liquid between 2 large bowls. Serve with crusty bread.

Make 2 servings.

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Indoors or out, basic flavors enhance freshest fish

Eating well in the outdoors elicited the past couple of posts to this blog, as well as my most recent column in the Mail Tribune’s food section. Read next week’s installment for a few more of my family’s campout favorites.

There’s often the chance, though, that any one of these meals — carefully planned, prepped and packed from home — will incorporate a spontaneous serving of lake fish. Trout, bass and crappie all were the quarry at mountain lakes where my family camped over the week bookending Memorial Day. About half the time, my husband and sons landed a large enough fish to afford each of us a bite with our spaghetti and meatballs, “faux” risotto and chicken tacos.

As fresh as fish gets and supremely mild, these little swimmers get a warm welcome on my plate. If we could just ensure success on the water, I’d plan a whole meal to complement their tender flesh. Because we can’t, of course, we remain flexible, packing basic ingredients to cook up the fish when we’re fortunate enough to have it.

The following recipe from the Los Angeles Times showcases freshwater fish, plucked from lakes and streams in season, at its best. This is just as simple in the home kitchen as it is on the campfire.             

Tribune News Service photo

Pan-Fried Trout

6 to 8 slices bacon

2 (1/2- to 3/4-pound) whole trout, cleaned and scaled

Salt and pepper


1 to 2 tablespoons butter

1 lemon

In a cast-iron skillet, render the bacon over a low and sweet fire. Remove and drain bacon, leaving fat inside pan.

Season the trout with salt and pepper, and flour trout lightly. Add trout to skillet and fry in bacon fat until crisp and golden-brown, for 3 to 4 minutes. When fish is nearly cooked, add the butter to brown and squeeze juice of the lemon into skillet.

Remove trout from pan and spoon some brown butter over fish. Serve trout with reserved slices of bacon.

Makes 2 servings.

Adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe by Michael Cimarusti.

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Sausages and kraut, a match made for outdoors

Consider the first food you ever speared on a stick and perched over a campfire. Chances are it was a marshmallow or hot dog.

While most of us tend to outgrow an affection for sticky blobs of scorched sugar (until we introduce our own kids), our tastes for meat-in-tube-form grow up. Good-quality sausages — Andouille, kielbasa, boudin, bratwurst and their ilk — are indispensable outdoor fare.

Dining around the campfire, I like to serve Italian sausages with griddled polenta and sautéed vegetables, featured in a previous post. Or boudin blanc with a simple salad of Puy lentils, sun-dried tomatoes and diced fennel. Or bratwurst on stadium rolls with homemade sauerkraut and spicy mustard.

Some friends and camping companions, whose diet excludes grains, served up a vat of sausages and sauerkraut last summer that went down so well with a few German beers that no one seemed to miss the bun. This recipe is easy to make with a grill or griddle, plus a single cast-iron pan on a camp stove. If you don’t care whether your sausage casing crisps, just bury the bratwurst in the sauerkraut mixture until cooked through.          

Keep in mind that if you’re eating traditional fermented sauerkraut for its probiotic properties, cooking it will kill the beneficial bacteria. So a lower-cost, vinegar-brined cabbage may be the way to go.

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Bratwurst and Sauerkraut With Apple

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 quart sauerkraut (2 pounds), preferably from bag or jar, washed and drained

1 small onion, sliced

1 large apple, peeled if desired, cored and sliced thin

1 tablespoon caraway seeds, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon butter

1 pound bratwurst, cut into thick slices

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté the sauerkraut, onion, apple and caraway for a couple of minutes. Cover and continue cooking over low heat for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in sauté pan. Cook the bratwurst in butter until it browns on all sides. Pour off excess fat.

To serve, arrange sauerkraut on platter, surrounded by bratwurst. If desired, serve with Dijon mustard.

Makes 4 servings.

Adapted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from a recipe by Marian Burros in the New York Times.

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Griddled or fried, polenta is a campout favorite

Campout cuisine constituted my most recent column for the weekly food section.

While the piece focused on fried rice, I also gave tips for preparing foods ahead of time that can be laid away in the freezer and transported frozen to a campsite. Largely because of its sturdiness and relevance at any meal, polenta is one of my camping staples.

Made ahead, cooled and cut into squares, polenta can be griddled or fried for a breakfast alternative to toast or pancakes with eggs and bacon. We’ve also served it to rave reviews with good-quality Italian sausages, sautéed summer vegetables and smoked tomato chutney. All that comes together on a single portable griddle, touted in my column.

This recipe is very close in concept and would translate beautifully in an outdoor kitchen. The mélange of kale, tomatoes and legumes echoes one of my favorite recipes, calling for chard, kale or collard greens sautéed in bacon fat and combined with diced tomatoes and white beans. It’s been a favorite in cooking classes I present as a volunteer for ACCESS, which demonstrate techniques for preparing healthful whole foods on a budget. True to that format, this dish costs only 98 cents per serving, according to recipe testers for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.    

Tribune News Service

Polenta With Kale and Garbanzo Beans

1 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal, preferably medium or coarse

3 1/2 tablespoons butter, divided

1 ounce grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, peeled and chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

Leaves from 1 pound kale, chopped

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (16-ounce) can chickpeas, also known as garbanzo beans

2 lemon wedges

If you want to fry the polenta, begin making it a few hours before serving, or overnight. Add the salt to 3 cups water in a medium or large pot; bring to a boil. Have another pot with at least 6 cups water simmering nearby. Slowly sprinkle cornmeal into salted water, stirring continuously. Lower temperature to a very low simmer.

Stir frequently and add simmering water, a ladle at a time, whenever polenta starts to become stiff and dry. Cook until smooth and tender, for about 30 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the butter and the Parmesan cheese until well-mixed.

If frying polenta, pour into a large, well-greased skillet or wide bowl to a depth of 1 to 1 1/2 inches, and smooth top. When cool, cover with plastic wrap and place skillet or bowl in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or overnight to allow polenta to set. Slice into 6 wedges.

Melt remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet. When very hot, add polenta wedges so there is at least some room between each wedge (do this in batches if necessary). Cook wedges, without touching, until they start to turn brown on bottoms. Flip and cook until brown on other side. Remove to a platter.

In a large skillet, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the onion and sauté until soft, for about 3 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and sauté until fragrant, for about 30 seconds. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Stir in the diced tomatoes and cook until hot. Stir in the garbanzo beans and cook until hot. Add juice from lemon wedges and mix.

To serve, place polenta on a plate, either fried or in semi-liquid form, and top with vegetables-chickpea mixture.

Makes 6 servings.

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Pack up chilled asparagus, egg salad for picnics

The garden is starting to show promise after long months of little edible yields. Peas, artichokes, radishes and rhubarb all are coming on in quantities large enough to constitute a meal. And still announcing its relevance with a few new spears every day is the asparagus patch.

Although it’s slowed down a bit in the past few weeks, there is still enough asparagus to be gathered over the course of several days for a fine salad. And of course, June is when Washington asparagus prevails in grocery stores, making this vegetable an ideal choice for warm-weather grilling and picnics.

Here’s a recipe for chilled asparagus that would transport well to an outdoor venue. Either serve it as directed or dip spears into the homemade green-garlic mayonnaise and use them to scoop up bits of egg salad. Although it’s a bit late in the season for green garlic, the plant’s scapes (touted in a previous post) made an effortless substitute here. I picked a big bunch from a friend’s garden this week and love using them like scallions or fresh garlic.  

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Chilled Asparagus With Green Garlic Mayonnaise and Dijon Egg Salad

Kosher salt, as needed

2 bunches (2 pounds) asparagus, trimmed

4 large eggs, room temperature

Dijon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)

1/4 cup coarse fresh breadcrumbs or panko breadcrumbs, toasted

2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Green Garlic Mayonnaise (recipe follows)

Bring 8 cups water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons salt. Add the asparagus and cook, turning occasionally, until bright green and just tender, for 3 to 6 minutes. Drain and immediately spread on a paper towel-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Refrigerate uncovered until chilled.

Meanwhile, put the eggs in a small saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and remove from the heat. Let stand for 9 minutes. Drain and run under cold water until cool. Peel eggs and coarsely chop, then transfer to a bowl with the vinaigrette. Add the bread crumbs and parsley and fold gently until evenly mixed.

Pull paper towels out from under asparagus and discard. Drizzle the olive oil over asparagus and sprinkle with salt. Turn the spears with your hands to evenly coat.

Spread the mayonnaise all over a serving platter and top with asparagus, then egg salad. Serve immediately. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

DIJON VINAIGRETTE: In a large bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon espelette pepper or hot paprika and kosher salt to taste. While whisking, add 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil in a slow, steady stream and continue whisking until vinaigrette emulsifies. Season with salt. Vinaigrette may be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

GREEN GARLIC MAYONNAISE: Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add 1 stalk green garlic (1 ounce), trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1/4 cup) and a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until bright green and tender but not brown, for about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Transfer cooled garlic to a blender, along with 1 large egg and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice. Puree until smooth. With machine running, add 1/2 cup grapeseed or avocado oil in a slow, steady stream until mixture is thick like mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt. Mayonnaise may be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

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Late asparagus, early peas make elegant salad

Asparagus recipes had no sooner popped up on this blog than the weekly food section proclaimed it was time for peas.

True, the season for the two, when both are fresh and locally grown, do overlap a bit. And that window in Southern Oregon is typically June, when latecomer asparagus and the earliest peas are widespread at farmers markets, farm stands and some locally owned grocers.

Here’s a simple but elegant salad that uses both asparagus and peas to full effect. Salty, crispy prosciutto offsets the fresh vegetable flavors. Cooked and crumbled bacon or diced, cooked pancetta are fine substitutes.

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Asparagus Salad With Peas and Crisp Prosciutto

2 teaspoons minced or pressed garlic

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tablespoons chopped chives

1/3 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Pinch of sugar to taste

1 1/2 pounds asparagus

1 cup shelled fresh English peas or good-quality frozen peas

2 tablespoons olive oil

6 thin slices prosciutto, cut into slivers

6 cups mixed butter lettuces and arugula

In a small bowl or glass measuring cup, whisk together the garlic, lemon and orange juices, chives, the 1/3 cup olive oil and salt, pepper and sugar to taste. Set aside.

Peel and trim the asparagus stems if needed. Bring a large skillet of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and boil for 2 to 4 minutes, or until crisp tender. Add the peas during last minute of cooking. Do not overcook. Transfer to a bowl and run cold water over asparagus and peas to stop cooking.

Meanwhile, heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the prosciutto and sauté until crisp, for about 1 minute. Remove to paper towels to drain.

Arrange the lettuce and arugula on plates. Top with asparagus, peas and proscuitto. Drizzle with vinaigrette.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from Food & Drink magazine, spring 2009 issue.

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