Blend up pumpkin pie spice to personal tastes

The savory side of pumpkin gave this week’s food section appeal beyond Halloween.

Pumpkin tacos, empanadas and a hummus-like dip were highlighted in this week’s story. I’ll likely add these to my repertoire of pumpkin soup, curry, pizza and risotto. For dessert, there’s always the pumpkin pie a la mode ice cream in my freezer.

Served as a sweet, pumpkin often lends its name to a classic mixture of warming spices that have transcended pie into all manner of seasonal specialties. In everything from muffins to lattes, from granola to yogurt, from candied nuts to popcorn, the flavor du jour is pumpkin pie spice.

And when a recipe calls for pumpkin pie spice, it’s worthwhile to concoct your own from whole, fresh spices, rather than reaching for that canister that’s likely seen several Thanksgivings in the spice cabinet.  A fresh supply of this spice mixture begs to be stirred into coffee, tea or even cocktails and sprinkled over many a meal, from buttered toast to creamy desserts.

If you don’t have a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, you still can blend pumpkin pie spice to your personal tastes using powdered spices. Love nutmeg? Ramp up the quantity. Ginger, not so much? Scale it back a bit. Here’s a recipe adapted by the Chicago Tribune from Betty Crocker.     

Tribune News Service photo

Homemade Pumpkin Pie Spice

Into a small bowl, measure 3 tablespoons ground cinnamon, 2 tablespoons ground ginger, 2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice and 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves. Mix well. Spoon into small jars and store in a dark place for a month or so.

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Call popcorn a meal with bacon, cheese and more

An unwashed pan that prepared late-night popcorn mocks me in the kitchen on many a morning.

Too tired to prepare dinner once the kids are in bed, but craving something crunchy, salty, spicy and buttery, I turn to popcorn more nights than I like to admit. I’ve recently served it to a couple of friends arriving for a late “dinner.” Add a couple of glasses of wine, maybe a few slices of cheese and autumn’s new-crop apples and pears for a meal that’s supremely satisfying and covers almost all the food groups.

Popcorn as a meal could be justified even further with the addition of bacon. This recipe for bacon-Parmesan popcorn is one of several that Tribune News Service recently rounded up for snacking while football’s on or trick-or-treaters are arriving.

The buffalo-ranch recipe could go far toward sating my appetite for ever spicier popcorn. Infusing the oil with fresh jalapenos so far hasn’t quite done the trick. Nor has seasoning the popped corn with chipotle. Hot sauce in the butter sounds like my best bet.

And I’m betting the kids, as well as my husband, who remains ambivalent to popcorn would gobble up peanut butter popcorn.

Tribune News Service photo

Bacon and Cheese Popcorn

4 quarts popped popcorn

1/3 cup butter or margarine

1/4 teaspoon hickory liquid smoke seasoning

1/3 cup bacon bits or soy ‘bacon’ bits

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon seasoned salt or kosher salt

Place the popcorn in a large serving bowl.

In a small, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter, on high for about 20 seconds. Stir the liquid smoke into butter. Pour butter mixture over popcorn and toss to distribute evenly.

Sprinkle the bacon bits, Parmesan cheese and salt over popcorn. Toss and serve immediately.

Makes 16 cups popcorn.


Buffalo Ranch Popcorn

1 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon dried dill

1/4 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons butter

2 teaspoons hot sauce, like Frank’s RedHot

12 cups popped popcorn

In a small bowl combine the granulated garlic, dill, cumin and sea salt. Set aside.

In another, microwave-safe bowl, melt the butter; add the hot sauce. Mix until combined. In a large bowl, toss the popcorn with melted butter with the popcorn in a large bowl. Toss with seasoning.

Makes 12 cups.


Peanut Butter Popcorn

Vegetable oil, as needed

1/4 cup popcorn kernels

Fine salt, to taste

1/2 cup honey

1/3 cup sugar

1/2 cup peanut butter (free of added sugar)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Have a clean paper shopping bag or oversized mixing bowl ready.

Heat a 4-quart, heavy pan over medium heat and film bottom with vegetable oil. When oil is hot but not smoking, add the popcorn, shake to distribute, then put a lid on pan, leaving a small crack for steam to escape. When first kernel pops, put lid on all the way. As popcorn starts popping, shake vigorously to make sure kernels are distributed evenly. When popping slows to a few seconds between pops, take pan off heat.

Pour popcorn into a paper bag or bowl to cool, leaving as many unpopped kernels as possible behind in pan. (Coated with peanut butter caramel, unpopped kernels are a serious tooth hazard). Lightly salt popcorn to taste.

In a small saucepan, combine the honey and sugar; bring to a boil. Let simmer for about 2 minutes, then remove from heat and add the peanut butter. Stir vigorously until all peanut butter is melted, then mix in the vanilla.

Immediately pour peanut butter caramel over popcorn and stir with a long-handled, wooden spoon until popcorn is well-coated. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. This keeps well overnight.

Makes about 8 cups.

NOTE: This recipe also will cover one standard bag of microwave popcorn, so you can substitute that for the stovetop popcorn, if you wish.

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Cauliflower ‘steaks’ can replace meat at mealtimes

The headline on my story in this month’s Oregon Healthy Living just as easily could read: “Meatless meals aren’t just for Mondays.”

That was the message from a prominent vegan physician locally and a cooking instructor with a longtime vegan ethic. For anyone hazy on the terminology, vegan is the more stringent form of a meatless diet that omits any and all foods derived from animals, even honey. Identifying oneself as vegetarian usually indicates a diet that includes eggs and dairy products.

The wealth of plant-based foods encourage an expansion of anyone’s diet, once meat is no longer the centerpiece. Yet Laurie Gadbois acknowledged the nostalgia that so many people have for a slab of protein on the plate, augmented with plant-based side dishes.

Enter the cauliflower “steak.” The concept debuted a few years ago and has since attained popularity in big-city restaurants. As a recent story in the Kansas City Star noted, cutting cauliflower into “steaks” provides a flat surface that can be easily sauteed or grilled. The shape also suggests an entree rather than a side dish.

To cut cauliflower steaks, begin with a medium to large, firm head and trim away outer leaves and the end of the stem, leaving the core intact. Using a large knife, cut the steaks from the center of the head, cutting straight down through the florets and the core. (A few loose florets may fall away; reserve those and the remainder of the head for other uses.)

This version from the star adds tomatoes, feta and capers for lots of color, sweetness and savor. But while the ingredients call for reduced-fat cheese, I would depart from that suggestion and enjoy the extra bit of fat. Eliminating meat from a meal does more to cut fat from one’s diet than any other strategy, but reflexively reaching for reduced-fat products puts new vegetarians and vegans at risk for feeling deprived of substances that are satiating.

So pour on the olive oil, snack on handfuls of nuts and strike low-fat dairy products from your shopping list. That’s a better recipe for meatless success.

Tribune News Service photo

Roasted Cauliflower Steaks With Tomatoes and Feta

Cooking spray, as needed

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, divided

4 cauliflower steaks, cut about 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 shallot, peeled and finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1 pint grape tomatoes, quartered

2 teaspoons capers, rinsed and drained

3 tablespoons minced, fresh, flat-leaf parsley

3 tablespoons minced, fresh basil

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

6 tablespoons reduced-fat feta cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F. Spray a large baking sheet with some of the cooking spray.

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Place 2 cauliflower steaks in a single layer in skillet. Season lightly with the salt and generously with the pepper. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes or until bottom is light golden-brown. Turn steaks over and cook until golden-brown on second side. Transfer cauliflower steaks to baking sheet, arranging in a single layer.

Add 1 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add remaining 2 cauliflower steaks, cook as previously directed and place on baking sheet.

Bake cauliflower, uncovered, in preheated oven until just tender, for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, return skillet to medium heat. Add remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to skillet. Add the shallots and cook, stirring frequently, until just tender. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in the tomatoes and cook until hot, for about 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the capers and herbs. Add the red-wine and balsamic vinegars and heat through.

To serve, top each hot, roasted cauliflower steak with about 1/3 cup tomato mixture and sprinkle with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the feta.

Makes 4 servings (total yield of tomato topping is about 1 1/3 cups).

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Za’atar is a basic formula with many variations

Za’atar, a Middle Eastern spice blend, generated some discussion recently on my Facebook profile after I shared a friend’s post.

Commonly sprinkled on flatbread, eggs and cheese or used as a rub for grilling meat, za’atar has as many uses as variations. My friend, who brought my supply back from a trip to the Middle East, pointed out that Jordanian and Palestinian za’atar are not the same. The former includes a lot of sumac while the latter may contain dill. Lebanese za’atar often incorporates dried orange zest.

The basic formula consists of dried herbs, usually thyme or oregano, sesame seeds and sumac, a reddish, sour spice ground from dried sumac berries. Adding to the confusion is Morocco’s use of the term “za’atar” to describe a family of herbs.

Regardless, the seasoning is delicious with an earthiness that lends itself well to cold-weather cooking. I sprinkle za’atar on hummus and baba ghanoush in summer but over lentils and stews in winter. One of my favorite uses is garnishing “avgolemeno,” Greek egg and lemon soup, with za’atar.

Although it’s becoming more widely available, za’atar is one of those ingredients easily mixed up in the home kitchen. Toast 2 tablespoons white sesame seeds and combine with 1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme or oregano, 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt and 2 tablespoons sumac mixed in a bowl. It will keep, stored in a cool, dark place in a plastic zip bag or in an airtight container, for one month. This recipe makes 1/4 cup.

Here’s a recipe for roasting tomatoes with za’atar, perfect for the season’s last cherry tomatoes ripening in my kitchen. I might even consider roasting the green tomatoes left on the vines this way. Labneh, a soft Lebanese cheese, also is becoming more widely available. I recently spotted it at Medford’s Food 4 Less.

Za'atar is a dried-herb blend with sesame seeds. (Sarah Lemon photo)

Za’atar-Roasted Tomato Crostini With Labneh

1 long, narrow baguette

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons za’atar

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Few grinds of black pepper

1 cup labneh (available in Middle Eastern markets), or substitute Greek yogurt

Za’atar-Roasted Tomatoes (recipe follows)

Heat oven to 350 F. Thinly slice the baguette into 1/2-inch slices. Brush both sides of bread slices with olive oil, and season them lightly with za’atar, salt and pepper.

Arrange slices on a sheet pan and bake in preheated oven for about 10 minutes, turning them over when tops are light golden-brown and continuing to bake until reverse sides are also golden. Place a dollop of the well-stirred labneh on each crostini. Top labneh with two or three of the roasted tomato halves, then dust everything with more za’atar. Serve them immediately.

Makes 16 crostini.

Za’atar-Roasted Tomatoes

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste (about 5 grinds)

2 to 3 tablespoons za’atar, to taste

Line a heavy sheet pan with parchment paper. Slice the tomatoes in half. In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes with the olive oil, salt and pepper; stir until they are well-coated.

Place tomatoes on sheet pan, cut-sides up, and top each with a pinch of the za’atar. Arrange a rack in center of oven.

Turn oven on to 275 F (no need to preheat when roasting like this) and roast tomatoes for about 2 to 3 hours, depending on size of tomatoes.

Tomatoes are done when they are meltingly soft and slightly shriveled. They can be used warm or cooled to room temperature. Store roasted tomatoes, drizzled with olive oil, in an airtight container in refrigerator for about a week.

Makes 1 cup.

Recipe adapted by the Miami Herald from “Rose Water & Orange Blossoms, Fresh & Classic Recipes from my Lebanese Kitchen,” by Maureen Abood, Running Press ($30)

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Sweet peppers star in romesco or skillet chicken

Apples and pears are autumn extras in many community-supported agriculture shares.

Boxes of farm-fresh produce from Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative have boasted both fruits. But neither could be had this week when I was planning recipes for a cooking class at Medford Family YMCA.

I wanted participants to prepare a roasted chicken dish similar to the one featured in this blog’s previous post. Instead, I shifted gears toward a vegetable, actually a fruit, that would impart plenty of sweetness to boneless, skinless chicken thighs.

The CSA’s bounty of sweet peppers put me in mind of romesco sauce, that Spanish classic that blends stale bread, almonds and peppers into a pesto-like condiment. Because blenders aren’t available in the classroom, however, I “deconstructed” the sauce by roasting, then finely mincing, the peppers and seasoning them with red-wine vinegar. After slathering that onto the cooked chicken, the nuts and bread are incorporated as a panko-almond crust that tops each portion.

Tribune News Service photo

The following recipe from the Chicago Tribune streamlines my approach and maximizes the peppers’ effect.

Chicken With Red and Yellow Peppers

In a skillet over medium heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil and 2 chopped shallots. Cook until shallots begin to soften, for 1 minute. Add 1 red bell pepper and 1 yellow bell pepper, sliced into 1/4-inch strips; season with salt. Cook until beginning to soften, for 5 minutes. Stir in 1 pint grape tomatoes, halved; cook, for 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet. Season 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs with salt and pepper. Cook chicken, turning, until browned on both sides, for 10 minutes. Return peppers to skillet; stir in 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar. Simmer; covered, until chicken is cooked through, for 5 minutes.

Makes 2 servings.

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Even bug-damaged, backyard fruit is a fall treat

Autumn’s apple abundance warrants this weekend’s collection on behalf of the Backyard Orchard Community Cider Project. Read more in this week’s food section about the partnership between Ashland Food Co-op and Apple Outlaw that’s turning unwanted fruit into a limited-release, alcoholic beverage.

With a decades-old tree in a corner of my garden, I also could contribute fruit to the cause. Bug-damaged fruit is welcome in the cider recipe, which ensures that harmful bacteria are neutralized.

But our apples are so delicious, particularly after a cold snap, that I’m loathe to part with them. Although a good half of the fruit on the tree is less than perfect, the few pristine apples are treasures that my 3-year-old son relishes biting right into and gnawing down to the cores.

For fruits that aren’t in prime condition, I plan small batches of applesauce or other dishes that call for cooking the fruit. This recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, would be ideal. It also makes good use of cider. Feel free to substitute the hard stuff, so long as it’s not too tart or dry.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicken Breast With Cider and Caramelized Apples

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup Madeira or port wine

6 boneless chicken breasts with skin

1 tablespoon five-spice powder, divided

2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, plus more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

3 large tart apples, peeled (with peels reserved), cored and cut lengthwise into eighths

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup apple cider or apple-cider vinegar

2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth

1/4 cup honey

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh, flat-leaf Italian parsley

1 tablespoon candied orange peel (optional)

In a bowl, combine the dark and golden raisins, wine and ½ cup boiling water. Let stand for 20 minutes, or until raisins are fully plumped.

Meanwhile, heat oven to 425 F.

Season the chicken breasts with 1 1/2 teaspoons of the five-spice powder, the 2 teaspoons salt and the black pepper to taste.

In a large, ovenproof sauté pan, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Place chicken breasts — skin sides down — in pan and cook until well-browned and most fat has cooked out of skin, for about 5 minutes. Turn breasts over and pour off any excess fat.

Add the apple peels to pan, slipping them under chicken breasts. Place pan in preheated oven and bake until chicken breasts are cooked through, for about 15 to 18 minutes, or until a thermometer inserted at thickest part reads 165 F. Transfer chicken to a warmed serving platter and cover to keep warm. Leave apple peels in pan.

Dust apple peels with flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Pour in the cider or cider vinegar and deglaze pan, stirring to scrape up any bits stuck to pan bottom. Cook until liquid is reduced by half, for about 5 minutes. Add the broth, bring to a boil, and decrease heat to medium so liquid simmers gently.

In a second sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt 3 more tablespoons butter until butter is brown and smells toasty, for 2 to 3 minutes (do not allow it to burn). Add the apples, honey, lemon juice and remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons five-spice powder. Sauté apples, turning them as needed, until they are a rich, even-brown color and are tender, for 5 to 8 minutes. Season with pepper.

Pour any juice released from chicken into pan with apples. Arrange chicken on platter and top with caramelized apples. Drain off any liquid from raisins and sprinkle raisins on top of chicken.

Add remaining 1 tablespoon of butter to pan with simmering liquid and stir until melted. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour sauce through a fine-mesh sieve over chicken and apples. Garnish with the parsley and, if desired, candied orange peel.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe adapted by the Detroit Free Press from “An Apple Harvest” by Frank Browning & Sharon Silva (Ten Speed Press, $16.99).

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Burrata’s cream center enriches tomatoes, fruit

Fresh mozzarella has been a mainstay of my shopping list for months.

One large ball suffices for the pizza that we make every few weeks with fresh dough. But when garden tomatoes are in full flush, I keep several containers of mozzarella on hand in various sizes for Caprese salad, mentioned in this blog’s previous post.

The “ciliegine” or “cherry-size” balls of cheese are, as their name suggests, ideal with cherry tomatoes. The slightly larger “bocconcini” are my preferred size for early tomatoes.

But if I really want to splurge for salads with the season’s last tomatoes, I can pay twice mozzarella’s price for burrata, a byproduct of mozzarella’s manufacture that has become even more beloved in some circles.

Burrata’s defining feature is a rich cream center. With all of mozzarella’s fresh, mild appeal, burrata becomes just a bit decadent once the center is pierced and that cream starts to ooze out. A Caprese salad with burrata is elevated further with basil oil and a reduction of balsamic vinegar.

The domestic brand BelGioioso is found at many grocery stores. An 8-ounce container with one ball of burrata is about $8. Or check specialty shops, such as Rogue Creamery and Downtown Market Co.

There’s no reason to confine it to tomato season, of course. Figs are coming on strong and should last through this month. They make a beautiful companion to burrata and just about any fine cheese. The following recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, is take-off on grilled figs that also calls for grilling grapes, which I would have never before considered.

Tribune News Service photo

Burrata With Grilled Figs and Red Grapes

Vegetable oil, as needed, for grilling

1 to 2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil

6 ripe fresh black mission figs, cut in half

6 to 8 ounces red seedless grapes

Generous pinch of sea salt

8 ounces burrata, at room temperature

1 tablespoon honey

1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, for garnish (optional)

Toasted or grilled baguette slices, for serving (optional)

Preheat grill to medium. Once heated, oil grates well with vegetable oil.

Place the figs on a plate and brush the cut side with some oil. Place the grapes, keep bunch together if possible, on a piece of foil. Drizzle them with some of the olive or grapeseed oil. (If you have a perforated grill pan you can use it for grapes.)

Season the figs and grapes with a few generous pinches of the salt. Place figs on grill, cut sides down; place foil with grapes on grill. Grill figs for about 3 to 4 minutes or until you get nice grill marks on cut sides. Turn over and grill just a few minutes more until soft. Grill grapes for same amount of time.

Remove fruit from grill. When cool enough to handle, cut each fig half in half.

Place the cheese in center of a serving dish and surround with warm fruit. Drizzle all with the honey and sprinkle with the thyme leaves. Serve with the baguette slices. You also plate this appetizer by placing some cheese on a baguette slice and topping with a piece of fruit. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with thyme leaves.

Makes 6 servings (as an appetizer).

Adapted by the Detroit Free Press from LCBO’s Food & Drink Magazine, summer 2016.

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Stuff, bake, then broil end-of-summer tomatoes

Recent rains sent me scurrying to salvage ripening tomatoes from the garden, lest they split from the excess moisture.

Awaiting a few more Brandywines, I’d laid in some fresh mozzarella for the last few Caprese salads of the season. But the chill has left me craving a heartier treatment, with some earthiness, savor and crunch lacking in summer’s quintessential fresh salad.

Stuffing and baking a few tomatoes, then finishing them under the broiler, is looking better and better. This classic “a la Provencal” recipe, courtesy of Tribune News Service, incorporates the basil and scallions still thriving in my garden, along with the pine nuts that accent many of my simple, quick preparations starring home-grown tomatoes.

Tribune News Service photo

Tomatoes Provencal

Cooking spray, as needed

4 small to medium ripe tomatoes (about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter)

4 slices whole-wheat sandwich bread, crusts removed

1 scallion, root ends trimmed away

1/4 cup fresh basil leaves

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Salt and pepper, to taste

1/2 cup shredded Gruyere or Swiss cheese

Olive oil, for drizzling

Heat oven to 400 F. Spray a small (5-by-7-inch) baking dish with some of the cooking spray.

Cut a thin slice from top of each of the tomatoes. Scoop out pulp, leaving a small amount in shell. Invert onto paper towels to drain.

Place the bread into bowl of a food processor. Process to make crumbs. Place crumbs in a medium bowl. Return bowl to food processor. Cut the scallion into 1-inch pieces and place in processor bowl along with the basil leaves and garlic. Process until finely chopped. Add to breadcrumb mixture. Add the thyme leaves, pine nuts and salt and pepper to taste. Stir gently to blend.

Place tomatoes, cut sides up, into prepared baking dish. Spoon stuffing mixture into tomatoes, dividing evenly.

Bake in preheated oven, uncovered, for 15 minutes or until tomatoes are cooked and tender. Sprinkle the cheese evenly over tomatoes. Drizzle lightly with the olive oil. Bake for about 1 minute or until cheese is melted. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

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Sample salmon Saturday to decide $1,000 prize

A smokin’ good time is set for this Saturday on Medford’s Commons.

The Southern Oregon Smoked Salmon Fest gained a new location and a new format in its third year. Moving from Jacksonville’s Britt Festivals grounds to downtown Medford’s Pear Blossom Park, the competition will be determined by a “people’s choice” vote rather than a judges panel. A $1,000 prize is at stake.

Having served as a judge last year, I can attest to the difficulty of the task. Entries in 2015 ranged from salty and sweet to citrusy and resinous. In the end, Applegate Valley resident Paul Tipton emerged as the winner. He’s back to defend his title in this year’s contest, which features dozens of smoked salmon samples. See photos of last year’s entries on my Facebook page.

A benefit for Medford’s nonprofit Maslow Project, the event is planned from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1. Live music, kids’ games and beer, wine and food tasting are included in the admission price. Adults get in for $25, 17- to 20-year-olds for $10. There is no charge for ages 16 and younger. For more information, see

Vendors at last year’s festival offered some interesting smoking products, including equipment for cold smoking. Their smoked cheese was a delicious counterpoint to the day’s smoked salmon.

Tribune News Service photo

A standard hot smoker can be modified, though, for cold smoking with a little DIY ingenuity. Here are some suggestions and tips from the Los Angeles Time. Comte cheese, a classic French type similar to Gruyere, is highly recommended.

To create a cold smoker, attach a tube of some sort from your hot smoker to a separate chamber. An online search will reveal a lot of creative ideas, including using dryer vent tubes and pipes. You can also use a single-chamber smoker, provided the smoke source doesn’t generate too much heat and the temperature stays cool.

If you’re doing something simple, like cheese, a basic box smoker will work on a chilly morning, when the outdoor temperature will help keep the chamber cool.

Before smoking, refrigerate the cheese uncovered the night before so it develops a “pellicle” — that sticky surface to which the smoke will adhere. Place small wedges (no thicker than 2 inches) of cheese on a rack toward the top of the smoker, and place a tray of ice above and underneath it to keep it cool. Wood pellets work well here; a small tray of pellets can smolder for hours, generating lots of flavorful smoke.

Check the cheese occasionally to make sure it stays cool; if it starts to sweat, the heat is too high. After a couple of hours, pale yellow cheese will have a rich amber color and that smoky perfume. Wrap it tightly and refrigerate it; the smokiness will mellow with time.

Smoked cheese is perfect folded into omelets or other dishes, or simply sliced as part of a cheese tray.

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Brined olives, cheese, nuts make savory baklava

A recent post about pizza discouraged topping blue cheese with brined olives on the basis of both being quite salty.

Yet I lamented a lack of olives in my fridge last week when I served up my favorite Israeli feta for a friend’s visit. The feta, admittedly, is milder in flavor than blue cheese, making a rich, creamy canvas for a few thoughtfully paired accents. We did come up with some pistachios to nibble with the olive oil-drizzled cheese dusted with za’atar and sumac.

Combining the cheese, olives and nuts, this savory take on baklava likely would make my friend swoon. The topping of orange-scented honey softens the pastry’s saltiness.

Tribune News Service photo

Kalamata Baklava

1/2 of a 16-ounce package frozen phyllo dough (9-by-14-inch rectangles)

2 cups finely chopped, pitted Kalamata olives

1 1/2 cups finely chopped, salted pistachios (6 ounces)

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (about 1 cup)

1 tablespoon minced fresh garlic

2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 orange, zested and juiced (about 2 teaspoons zest and 1/4 cup juice)

1/4 cup sauvignon blanc or other dry white wine

3 tablespoons honey

Thaw 1 roll of phyllo dough according to package directions. Keep other roll in freezer.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a large bowl, combine the olives, pistachios, feta, garlic and oregano. Brush bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking pan with some of the olive oil. Unroll phyllo, but keep it loosely covered with a damp, clean kitchen towel.

Layer 5 sheets in prepared pan, brushing each sheet with some olive oil. Crumple 1 sheet on top and sprinkle with one-third of kalamata filling (about 1 1/3 cups). Repeat layering with phyllo sheets and kalamata filling 2 more times, crumpling 1 sheet of phyllo on each layer before sprinkling on filling. Continue to brush each sheet with olive oil.

Top with remaining phyllo, brushing each sheet with olive oil. Drizzle with any remaining oil. Using a sharp knife, cut stacked layers into 32 pieces on the diagonal. Bake in preheated oven for 40 to 45 minutes or until golden-brown. Cool slightly in pan on wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine the orange zest and juice, wine and honey; heat through. Pour over warm baklava; cool for 2 hours. Recut into bars before serving.

Makes 32 pieces.

Adapted by the Detroit Free Press from Better Homes and Gardens magazine, August 2016 issue.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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