spring vegetables say hello, locavore!

A pile of the first, tender spring roots in our glorious valley never ever fail to make me all daffy.  You can keep your Jesus miracles.  I like natural ones. So I captured a bunch of the beauty at the Lane County Farmers Market today (with a few thrown in from last week).  Click the thumbnails to enlarge.

Lots of radishes: elongated French breakfast, bright pink ruby, and red ones. Hey Bales is growing daikon and has bunches of little ones about 4 inches long.  They’ll make wonderful pickles.

Tiny creamy-white turnips are a fleeting treat — they all too soon grow up, oy.  Pickle them whole or braise in a slightly sweet, buttery broth.  Spring onions are garlic are beginning to give way to leeks, and raabs are on their way out.

I saw one vendor with snap peas (the Organic Rednecks).  Beets in a rainbow of reds and yellows, from tiny to large, are all over the market.  You should retain the greens for beets and turnips; steam or saute them after washing, and dress with a little butter and garlic or with dashes of soy and rice vinegar and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.

Many vendors are selling tomatoes and peppers.  Unless you have a greenhouse, DO NOT give in to the temptation.  Every year I get closer and closer to the old timers who don’t plant tomatoes until mid-June.  Egads, who can wait that long!  But then I watch their tomatoes grow faster and better than mine.  So. Food for thought.

I also saw the first artichokes, new potatoes, many more eggs than last year, tender zucchini, napa cabbage, dried beans and grain, and flowers galore.  Those cherry blossoms are so gorgeous.  Too bad they’re so fragile.  SLO farm (who is selling the cherry blossoms) is also selling my absolutely favorite dark purple lilacs.

Enjoy the weekend and don’t forget to listen in to Food for Thought on KLCC (89.7) tomorrow, Sunday, April 29, at noon!  We bring you urban chickens and campus food pantries.

quarter of a cow: spring chuck pot roast with salade mirepoix

This is Episode 1 of my new occasional series, Quarter of A Cow.  Given I have not been very good about my earlier series, Meal of the Week, I am opting for an unscheduled series.  I would like to help others eating through a beef share with helpful hints and tips, and I’d like to keep a record of what might work for next year. 

Today’s topic: chuck roast.

Life in the southern Willamette Valley means we’re kissing cousins to our livestock production.  All along the valley, one can buy some of the best local meat in the world in bulk — cow, lamb, pig — for an astonishingly low price/quality ratio.  Until just a few years ago, we couldn’t easily buy poultry, but that has changed with more purveyors of chicken, turkey and duck, not to mention chicken awareness in the form of the urban chicken craze.  I had the fortune to watch a chicken butchering at Sweetwater Farm last spring, and I see that the Ancona duck farmers Boondockers Farm is allowing folks to attend their own butchering process.  It’s a good thing to see and understand.

But…I’m already getting off topic, no?

Beef.

This year marked my first as a chest freezer owner, so I opted to share a quarter of a cow with a friend from a small farm with just a few head of cattle.  Completely grass fed, the cow worried me a bit because I was concerned with flavor and fat content often not sufficient to create juicy, marbled meat.  And yes, it is leaner, but the taste is marvelous.  It’s almost as if it was aged. (Um, could that be because we couldn’t pick it up for a week when it was ready?  I hope so.)  We had the meat cut and wrapped at Farmers’ Helper in Junction City, a charming little place that does custom cutting and sells local meat by the pound.

As we move into grill season, I’ll be offering suggestions for the primer cuts; for now, it’s all about the soup bones, chuck, and other tough cuts suitable for braising. A note on names: butchers’ cuts are often confusing because of the bewildering number of names each cut can be called, and similar names for very different cuts.

On a chilly, rainy spring day, I wouldn’t say no to a simple pot roast.  My spring recipe modifies my winter lemon pot roast recipe — it cooks the roast at a low temperature overnight, so it doesn’t heat up the house during the day, and it’s not browned, which creates soft, tender, mild slices of beef.  Browning the pot roast does unquestionably provide a richer broth and a pretty sear, but I also like the cleaner spring version with lemon.  A beef share usually comes with a bone-in chuck roast, so I’ve written the recipe using that cut, but feel free to use a 3-4 lb. boneless roast more commonly available in the market.

Even springier is to forgo the mirepoix — the saute of chopped celery, carrot, and onion which forms the base of so many winter braises — and use the vegetables instead as a chopped salad with a lemon and parsley vinaigrette to serve on the side.  Substitute chives or green onions for the yellow storage onions, in this case.  I would mince the carrots, celery, and parsley instead of chopping it roughly as I did in the picture.

Instead of potatoes, why not cook up some whole grains, like the purple barley from Open Oak Farm?  Also nice and light for spring.

Spring Chuck Pot Roast

This roast needs to be cooked overnight or for at least 10 hours, then cooled so it slices nicely, so plan ahead.

  • 4-5 lb. chuck roast, bone-in
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion or shallot, or a mix
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • a few fresh thyme springs (lemon time if you have it) or 1/4 dried thyme
  • Juice of two lemons
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1 cup beef broth (homemade or low-salt)
  • salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  Face the roast situation: how large is your pot?  If bone-in, I recommend deboning.  For me, that means cutting into two or three large pieces, which fit nicely into my 5 L. dutch oven.  Rub the meat with liberal amounts of salt and pepper.

In a dutch oven large enough to hold your roast, saute onion and garlic in butter slowly over medium-low heat until golden brown.

While the onions are browning, zest one lemon and juice both of them.

Add the meat to the pot with the lemon juice, lemon zest, thyme, and beef broth.

Before closing the lid, take a large sheet of aluminum foil and cover the pot tightly.  Then add the lid. This improves the seal.

Place in oven and let cook overnight or for about 8-9 hours.  In the morning, open up the pot.  The meat should be a ghastly grey.  As long as it’s thoroughly cooked and falling apart with tenderness when you slice off a piece, you’re good to go.  If you’re feeling unsure, don’t hesitate to turn the oven up to 300 degrees and let cook another hour or so.

Essential: after cooking, remove the roast and let rest until cool.  You might do it quickly on the counter for about 20 minutes, or even better, in the refrigerator for a few hours.  You’ll find the roast slices beautifully when cold, then you can reheat it in the juices left over from the braise.  Don’t discard your meat juice!  Boil it down with a pat of butter, then strain and pour over the meat after sliced.  Add some chopped chives to be very springy, indeed.

Serve with the salade mirepoix described above (minced celery, carrots, and chives in a lemon-parsley vinaigrette) and steamed barley.  Also wonderful with spring greens.

Other Chuck Roast Recipes from the Files:

why did the chicken cross the road?

Get ready to call in with eternal questions or new ones.  This week on Food for Thought on KLCC, Ryan and I will host some local chicken luminaries, Bill Bezuk of Eugene Backyard Farmer and chicken activist Robin Scott, also known as the brains behind the Friendly Neighborhood Farmer network.

We’ll also welcome the Rev. Marisa Tabizon Thompson, Episcopal Campus Ministry chaplain and organizer of the new food pantry at University of Oregon for local area college students.  Listen in live at noon on Sunday, April 29, on KLCC (89.7), on affiliate stations everywhere in Oregon but PDX, or livestream at klcc.org.

think pink

Finally, beautiful weather.  I celebrated Earth Day with the fuchsia tones of my blooming azaleas, beets as long as my arm, and jeweled sushi.  We weeded the garden and planted more seed, including poppies, carrots, leaf celery, dill, and borage.

I took advantage of the beet stems and greens, something I highly suggest.  Made beet stem pickles using my pickled chard stem recipe, but the beet stems are stringy, so it’s best to chop them up.  I was thankful I thought to experiment with a chopped quick pickle relish using the leftover vinegar and bits of stems, spring onion, carrot, dill flowers, and fennel seed.  Made a terrific addition to bean tacos, a barley salad, and salmon.

The mushrooms, beets, and bright pink radishes all came from the Lane County Farmers Market on Saturday.  The sushi was yet another delicious meal from Kamitori.  Chef Masa worked with the Cinema Pacific staff to host a dinner reception after Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about a 3-Michelin-star sushi restaurant’s 85-year-old chef in Tokyo.  If you haven’t been to Kamitori, on Willamette and 11th, you really should go and experience Japanese sushi.  It’s unique in Eugene.  See my review in the Register-Guard by following the links here.

for earth day: a most unnatural dish

“She was not fashioned to swim in Heaven, she is a Fish of Earth, she swims in Terra-firma.” – Djuna Barnes

I call it salmon déjeuner sur l’herbe.  And I celebrate the place on this earth for the unworldly, the out of place, the odd couples, the unnatural, the freakish, and the fish out of water.  We must remember there’s not just one way to celebrate the earth, and the earthlovers who don’t dance around under the moon may just swimming through the universe sauced, nestled in with colecrop and rosemary flowers, and crowned with Johnny Jump-up.

Édouard Manet’s painting “Déjeuner sur l’Herbe” (“The Luncheon on the Grass”) was the talk of the town in 1863 when it was refused by the Parisian Academy’s annual Salon exhibition for its uncanny and offensive content.  It was real and not real, familiar and outlandish.  It’s hard for us to imagine that these women were seen as prostitutes, for who else would be picnicking on the grass with two fully clothed men?  That they were students or artists was worse.

What I see when I look at this painting, though, is a look of boredom and longing.  The picnic basket overturned with fruit uneaten, a waste.  Every glance is distracted, away on a different trajectory.  It must have been a dreadful bore to listen to hours of mansplaining.  One woman picks flowers; at least she has been able to escape into the landscape and stretch her limbs.  But this one begs us, silent, to choose body over mind. We can read her as any number of allegories — youth, modernity, sexuality, art, even the earth. But most of all it’s about difference.  Manet went on to exhibit it in the Salon des Refusés (the Rejects Salon) in an annex of the sanctioned Salon.  And although it was booed and hissed, some people liked this fish out of water.  He wasn’t alone.

I’ve been thinking about this painting ever since the Nature Conservancy asked me to do a post for Earth Day as part of their picnic campaign this year.  The salmon was kind of an accident.  Even better for a fish of the earth.  I should remind you that the Earth provides food for 7 billion lovely, individual people and you can learn more about this year’s Earth Day on April 22, or even host your own Earth Day picnic along with thousands of others, if you so please.

My picnic, my déjeuner sur l’herbe, is a beautiful Oregon chinook salmon on black rice with flowers and herbs plucked from my garden at the moment winter broke into spring.  Try it — a shower of herbflowers on any finished dish.  It’s such a joyful and simple way to celebrate the seasons and continuing bounty we receive from our planet.  The salmon itself was clothed in an aluminum foil packet and oven-poached in a broth made of white wine, fennel fronds, dill pickle juice, and butter, at 325 degrees.  When it was done, I blended a little of the broth in with a small head of frisée, chives, and walnuts to make a fresh green sauce. Can be eaten warm or cold.

Happy Earth Day!

razor sharp: clam recipe ideas from a disgruntled shopper

PartyCart razor clam ceviche with chermoula

I went into a local fish store recently and saw a big heap of razor clams (silqua patula).  They’re the long, skinny clams that when pounded flat yield a piece of meat about as big as a nice T-bone.  I had had them recently on the coast in Yachats, pan-fried, and I wondered what other popular ways they might be served. I was thinking about a delicious abalone rice I had had in Japan, where a small abalone we procured on a boat trip in the Sea of Japan was chopped up and added to the rice water to make the most delicious, subtle rice.

So I asked the fishmonger who was helping me if he knew any other ways to cook razor clams other than pan-fried.  He said he had never had them and didn’t know, so he’d get someone else.  Fair enough.

The second person told me that they must be pan-fried. That was the only way to eat them.

Really? I asked.

Yes, he said, dismissively. The only way.

I replied, so nobody EVER eats them any other way?

Nope, he said.  Cover them in breadcrumbs and panfry them.  You just want to cook them quickly.  I WOULD NOT chop them up and put them in a chowder.  They’re too nice for that.  You’d waste them.

Naturally, I said, trying not to be annoyed.  But what about without breadcrumbs?  Maybe quickly seared and tossed with pasta, or a light sauté with butter and wine?  You’ve never heard of any other recipe from anyone else?

You ought to be on Top Chef! exclaimed the first fishmonger.

Nope, he said. There’s only one way.

Do you think anyone else here might know another way? I said.

Nope, he said.

Clearly not.

I really thought about whether I wanted to name the fish store, but I usually like them very much, so I’ll leave it to word of mouth.  If you know someone who works at a fish store that sells razor clams in Eugene, direct them to my blog, if you please.  At this place, the service can be taciturn at times, and they rarely have time to chat — but they let you know it.  This time, I was asked if I needed help the second I stepped up to the counter and then again about two minutes later, then had my order totaled up and presented to me as finished twice before I was finished choosing.  I’m not the speediest customer in the world, but I wasn’t exactly dawdling, either. But I understand how intense it gets behind the counter.  I don’t understand, though, when businesses don’t educate their staff well about the items they’re selling.  It means a lost sale.  Period.

Soooo…for those who are interested, since razor clam season is still open in Washington and Oregon, and the clams should still be around for a week or so, here are some other ways to prepare razor clams.

1) Razor clam ceviche with chermoula, an herb sauce with garlic and cumin from Morocco on a homemade pita chip.  I had the one pictured above at PartyCart.  There might still be some if you hurry down there.  There’s another recipe for razor clam ceviche with bright chili and red onions, plus the nice briny flavor of samphire (aka sea beans) here.

2) Two ideas posted in this thread of people searching like me.  The first is an impossibly long, slow braise, which makes octopus and squid tender, so I guess it works with big clams, too: “[Portland’s Wildwood Restaurant Chef Dustin] Clark sears pounded, tenderized [razor] clams in olive oil, then simmers them in an intense sauce of preserved tomato, fennel, shallot, white wine and green garlic for a long time in a slow oven. ‘I like to reduce the sauce way down because the clams will exude juice as they cook,’ Clark says. ‘The clams need to cook for an hour or two to have a chance to relax and become really, really tender.'”

3) And the second idea is rather brilliant, a PNW gravlax-style cured razor clam with conifer tips instead of fennel fronds:  “Equal parts sea salt and sugar, pinch or fresh pepper, pine needles or cedar tips. Chop the needles or cedar mix in with the rest. Coat liberally onto clams, wrap in cling film, place in flat container with weight on top of it. Wait 2 days then brush off and slice and eat on some crisp bread, or better yet, very fast, like 10 seconds on each side, sear, slice into inch long strips and place on light salad.”

4)  Thai razor clam salad with pickled vegetables, crushed peanuts, fresh green mint, Thai basil, Vietnamese sawtooth cilantro (which they’re selling at Grey’s right now as a start), and fried garlic and shallot.   The recipe is complex, but I think that you could improvise and still have a wonderful offering.  I don’t know what vegetables they use, probably a pickled mustard green.  But you could quick pickle carrots or cucumber or cabbage with salt for a couple of hours on the counter (toss with a handful of salt, let sit, then rinse off the pickles and squeeze all the water out of them).  Or maybe use chopped pickled chard stems?  Not remotely authentic but DELICIOUS.  Or heck, just use chopped fresh carrots and cabbage.

I’ve also seen razor clams grilled in their shells and dressed with a vinaigrette.  Or butter.  Can’t go wrong there.  Any other ideas?  I’m open.

more rain

I took these pictures in June last year.  Too depressing even to contemplate. The good news is that the rain is watering newly planted ‘Parmex’ rolypoly carrot starts (hedging my bets), ‘Garden Grey’ sage, dill, and all the tiny lettuce and cilantro plants that are popping up.  I stuck in some late garlic, too.  My onion crop looks great and the peas are finally taking off.  How’s yours?