carts and a cold one TONIGHT!

The third annual Carts and A Cold One Cook-off at Ninkasi Brewery will be held tonight!  The festival is a benefit for Slow Food Eugene‘s programs: School Gardens Project, Farm to School, and Terra Madre Program.  Carts battling for supremacy: Vanilla Jill’s Frozen Yogurt, The Sandwich League, PartyCart, Rolling Stone Pizza, and Sammitch.  Way cooler than Faerieworlds, in my opinion, but I’ve never really been one for elven ears or excess vowels.  If you want a taste of what you’ll see, watch Whiteaker tastemaker Elliot Martinez on a short film from last year’s CACO.

Also: listen in on Food for Thought on KLCC today at noon with Laura and Ryan, who will host Farmer John Karlik of Sweetwater Farm.  They’ll discuss the local food movement, a new farmer’s market in the Fairmount neighborhood, and Sweetwater’s efforts to bring fresh produce to a low-income neighborhood in Springfield with LCHAY, WFFC, and Dari-Mart.

And a note to project managers: if you want me to promote your food-related festival in Lane County or thereabouts, send me a very short blurb (paragraph-length) and .jpg image like the one above at least a week in advance to my Facebook page or email at wellsuited [at] gmail [dot] com.  The easier it is for me to post, the more of a chance I’ll be able to do it.

the unexpected pleasures of savory watermelon

As soon as the sweet, dense, singular Eastern Oregon-grown Hermiston watermelons hit the market in late July, I try to keep a tub full of ready-to-eat slices close by in the refrigerator, just in case a heat-related emergency arises.  But heat and watermelon can be even chummier, I realized last night at an illuminating supper.

Taco Belly (which no one calls by its official name, Taqueria Belly) is the fancier new Belly’s scruffy kid sister, but no less beloved by its owners and staff and customers.  The regular menu is good, but the specials…well, sometimes the specials just Knock. It. Out. Of. The. Park.  I submit to you Exhibit A:

A grilled watermelon “salad,” special du jour du yesterday.  Watermelon salads are usually fussy things, with little cubes and precious dots and twiddles and fringes.  This was big, luscious slices of watermelon, grilled on a hot fire with the rinds on.  Then the slices were topped with pepitas, fresh goat cheese (I think), a simple roasted salsa roja, and a smattering of white onion and cilantro.  The pile is crowned with a few edible nasturtium flowers, which add not only fiery glory but a peppery and slightly bitter note.

This morning, admittedly high on watermelon, I found an elegant appetizer of salmon sashimi draped over a spiced watermelon refrigerator pickle from the slightly odd blog My Man’s Belly.  You can find her recipe linked in the watermelon category of the Punk Domestics preservation collective blog.  You might try smoked salmon, homemade gravlax or quickly seared salmon, as well.  Oregon salmon, of course.

But we can’t stop there.  I’ve been saving a recipe from the Bite of Eugene last year for exactly a moment like this, an original recipe that Iron Chef Oregon 2010, our dear Gabriel Gil of Rabbit Bistro & Bar served at the festival and distributed to attendees. Watermelon gazpacho. Yes.  It’s a subtle and perfect blend of watermelon and sweet, acidic summer tomatoes, with red peppers, cucumbers, onion and garlic to provide the underpinnings a good gazpacho needs.  It was my favorite soup last summer, so I asked Chef Gil (last year, hope he remembers) if I could post it on the blog.  And I trust my delay will be your future pleasure!

The soup should be started the night before you plan on serving it, since it needs to sit for 12 hours.  I suggest using dark, high acid tomatoes and Sungold cherry tomatoes, but any garden tomato is a winner in August.  You might want to reserve some of the vegetables for a little garnish in each bowl.  Straining the soup through a fine sieve is really an important step for a mind-blowing texture that will make your guests roll their eyes back into their heads in delight, but if you don’t have a sieve and don’t mind a more rustic finish, the blender will do.  You will still be loved.

Rabbit Bistro’s Watermelon Gazpacho

  • 2 lbs. assorted heirloom tomatoes
  • 1 pint basket heirloom cherry tomatoes
  • 1.5 lbs. clean watermelon, no seeds
  • 1 English cucumber, peeled and diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 baguette, diced
  • 1 medium Spanish onion, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • 1 cup dry red wine, preferably Spanish
  • 1 cup olive oil, preferably Spanish
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large container, mix all ingredients well and press on the tomatoes and watermelon, ensuring that they release enough liquid to almost cover the mixture. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least 12 hours. Blend, in a blender, in batches, and pass through a fine sieve.  Serve in chilled bowls.  Serves approximately 8.

jam plans: our heroine dreams of a mobile future

I’m happy to report I bought the rest of my berries for Jam 2012 today: raspberries, Marionberries, and blueberries.  Everything’s going in the freezer so I can make jam when I’m able to stand on my own two feet. The raspberries will be mixed in a red fruit jam with my own gooseberries and currants, above.  The Marionberries will be augmented with a little Clear Creek Crème de Cassis, I think, and the blueberries will go into next year’s Haskapberry jam.

Probably not the best jam year in the world, since the fruit (other than the blueberries) is ending its season, and the very best time to jam, and when I usually jam, is when the fruit is new on the vine and the ripeness doesn’t lead to overly sweet, almost cooked flabbiness.  Not to mention, of course, the small alterations one finds in frozen fruit jam.  But that’s ok.  I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to do it at all.

I also bought cherries to make pickled cherries, which I should be able to do from the wheelchair, and apricots, which should make a quart of brandied apricots.  Barely enough, but I’m thinking small.

It killed me not to buy pickling cucumbers, as they’re up now at Thistledown Farm in 10# bags, the sweet little ones that make the best fermented pickles.  But apparently, there is no room in the refrigerator, and I’m out of energy anyway.

For those of you who are curious, my knee is doing well.  Still don’t know when I’ll be able to put my foot down (literally or figuratively) so it’s the wheelchair for a few more weeks.  Sad about this, but know it’s healing as it should.

sweetwater farm’s two new markets — and one partnership with dari mart!

Excited to learn that two of my favorite local farmers, Lynn Crosby and John Karlik of Sweetwater Farm/Good Food Easy CSA, are breaking ground yet again!  That’s Farmer John, above, at this year’s Fun with Fermentation festival.  Creswell-based Sweetwater Farm has two NEW farm stands, one in the Fairmount neighborhood at 19th and Agate on Sundays, and one in an unexpected place — outside the Dari Mart at 1243 Rainbow Drive (at Centennial) in Springfield on Wednesdays.

As excited as I am to see Sweetwater join together with a new local meat and poultry vendor Fair Valley Farm (Edited: some of the participants I listed earlier are not participating) at the Sunday market from 10-2:30, filling a void in our week full of markets, I’m even more excited about the Springfield market on Wednesdays between 4 and 6 p.m.

Why’s that, you say?

It’s not just because today, Wednesday, July 25, is their grand opening with cooking demonstrations and a kids’ activity area from 4:00-6:00 p.m…

It’s what this Springfield market represents: a growing movement to bring healthy and fresh local food to areas that don’t have easy access to fancy supermarkets and almost daily farmers markets like we do in South Eugene.  Dari Mart, a family-owned local company that also operates Lochmead Dairy, has almost 50 stores in the Willamette Valley, and we are so thankful for their interest in sustainability initiatives.  Last year, they formed a partnership  with several local non-profit organizations (including the Willamette Farm and Food Coalition and NEDCO (Neighborhood Economic Development Corporation) of Springfield) to improve good food access and fight childhood obesity in what are called “mixed-income neighborhoods.”  The organization spearheading the effort, Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth (LCHAY), notes that Dari Mart is a pioneer in this type of partnership, as there aren’t many mid-sized chain operators interested in connecting with local farmers and non-profits to introduce fresh produce and other healthy food to the convenience store.  You can learn more about LCHAY’s initiative called the Healthy Corner Store project, and more about Dari Mart’s efforts to bring fresh food to its customers, here.

Sweetwater Farm has been selling produce now for a few weeks at Dari Mart’s Centennial location, and Lynn tells me that it’s been going well so far.  Come make it even more of a success today, and enjoy their official grand opening!

And if your organization is interested in participating in a similar project or you’re looking to give these folks some welcome media exposure, LCHAY’s contact is Claire Syrett, Manager, Policy and Advocacy Initiatives, Lane Coalition for Healthy Active Youth (LCHAY), 541-682-4306, claire at lchay dot org.

a year in pickles: pickle recipe index

If there’s any specialty of this blog, it’s not gardening or sustainability or Northwest politics or seasonal cooking or local cheerleading or events or complaining a lot.  It’s pickles.  We’re not quite at that magic time of the year in Oregon yet, but I see from the hits on my blog that other places in the country have hit pickling time with a vengeance.

Suffice it to say, I always have pickles on hand, and I spend the whole year pickling.

Throughout summer and late into the fall, I put up crocks and crocks of red and white sauerkraut.  Some of the sauerkraut I can and give as gifts, and other jars I leave fresh in the refrigerator, where they last for months.

Also for winter eating, I make crocks and jars of fermented and vinegar dill pickles with giant bags of perfectly sized cucumbers I buy at a local farm and my own horseradish or grape leaves, plus full heads of garlic. I make dill relish every other year.  The fermented dill pickles have delicious juice that I use all year ’round in potato salads, as a marinade for salmon, and to deglaze pan-roasted fish or shrimp.

In autumn, I restock my tomatoes, salsa, and ketchup supplies. As it gets colder, I turn the rest of the green tomatoes into pickles or salsa.  I used to use all my sweet and hot peppers to make the pepper-eggplant spread ajvar (for freezing) but my new tradition is to put up a few half-gallon jars of hot peppers to ferment and make hot sauce after many months of fermentation.

In winter, when I see the citrus fruits at their best, I make a couple of jars of salt-preserved lemons and lemon zest vinegar (to use in a pinch when I’m out of fresh lemons), and, occasionally, marmalade.  I turn a 5-lb. bag of local dried Fellenberg or Brooks prunes into pickled prunes, to eat with winter roasts. I stew some of the sauerkraut in Pinot Gris (and save the Riesling for drinking — life’s too short to waste good Riesling) and eat it with kielbasa and other smoked meats.  If I remember, I corn a brisket for St. Patty’s day in March.  I make mustard and horseradish relish from my horseradish plant’s roots.

As soon as the spring produce starts coming in, I make refrigerator pickles: salted savoy cabbage, cucumber quick pickles, chard stem pickles.  Flavored vinegar-making also begins in spring with the little purple pompom chive blossoms and tarragon, then ends with wild blackberries, Concord grapes, and cranberries in the fall.  Starting in May, I put up the requisite asparagus pickles and dilly beans; I love giving the jars of slender, perfectly straight crisp vegetable crunchies as hostess gifts for parties throughout the year.  Cauliflower pickles are a standby, as well — the purple cauliflower makes a vibrant magenta pickle.  Each time I make a vinegar brine for canning pickles, I do a double batch, then use the excess brine for refrigerator pickles made of whatever is on hand: baby turnips, carrots, beets, kohlrabi, brussels sprouts…

It’s hard to believe, but we eat them all.

Here are my pickle recipes, indexed, if you’d like to try some or all of these ideas!  All of the canned pickles are produced using tested, safe recipes that are approved by the Master Food Preserver program, with which I’m a certified volunteer.

iron chef eugene 2012: chef jeff strom of koho bistro!

Last night at the Bite of Eugene festival, four stalwart souls faced off in the annual Iron Chef Eugene competition.  The dishes were tasted and the results were tallied by judges including our very own Boris Wiedenfeld (above, at last year’s competition).  After heated battles in which Anthony Parshall of Lewis & Clark Catering bested Codi Lapoint of Falling Sky Brewing, and Jeff Strom of Koho Bistro emerged victorious against Jen McElroy of Wild Duck Cafe, we have a new champion.

Chef Jeff Strom reigns supreme as Iron Chef Eugene 2012!

Visit the restaurant (Koho Bistro’s website) tonight to extend your congratulations, and listen in to our interview with Chef Jeff on Food for Thought on KLCC (89.7FM) on Sunday at noon.  We’ll hear more about the competition, secret ingredient, and how the battles were won.

UPDATE:  Listen to the show archive here.

Also on the show, we’ll be interviewing David Gremmels, co-owner, president, and cheesemaker extraordinaire at one of Oregon’s delights, Rogue Creamery!  They’re in the middle of making the award-winning Rogue River blue cheese, released once a year in its signature pear brandy-macerated grape leaf wrap.  We’ll hear about the process and other important developments in the cheese world.  We’ll also hear the latest in garden developments and how the summer produce crops are doing this year from our friend and frequent contributor Ross Penhallegon of OSU Extension in Lane County.  It should be a great show.  Don’t miss it!  Listen to KLCC on the radio in Eugene, one of our many sister stations in Oregon, or live on the internet!

fermented hot pepper sauce

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, but Culinaria Eugenius put up a peck of fermented peppers!

Here’s how I started, with my fermented pepper recipe.  I packed a few half-gallon jars full of fresh hot peppers, garlic, and a salt brine.  It sat in a cool corner until the fermentation got going, rewarding me with the most delicious, spicy-sour peppers that would last through the winter.

They were so beautiful, and so bold.  After chopping up dozens of the peppers to use in my salsa, stirfries, beans, and anything else that would benefit from a burst of heat, I used up every last drop of sour brine from several large jars.

Happily, I realized I still had enough to make hot sauce from the hottest and fruitiest of the peppers.  I had one large jar in the back of the fridge, a blend that was heavy with burnished brown Ethiopian beriberi peppers.  They made me cough, they were so strong, but the mix of peppers had so much more depth than the plain jar of jalapenos or the mixed jars of jalapenos and other Central American peppers.

So I chopped the peppers roughly, added bit by bit to the blender with all the brine, and got this:

And thus, the best hot sauce in the world was born.  I can’t emphasize how delicious this stuff was after spicing up the salt brine from October to June.  And it’s all about the fermentation.  Fermentation is the secret of some commercial hot sauces; Tabasco, for example, ferments its pepper mash in oak barrels for up to three years.  But we don’t really take advantage of this at home, often just counting on the half-vinegar half-water hot peppers that we can from the Ball Blue Book.

There are reasons for avoiding fermentation with pepper sauce, including the problems keeping the mash at a cool temperature.  Peppers are a bit more finicky than cucumbers.  At first, I tried to strain off the delicious brine and keep that on the counter, but it developed a white film, so I knew it had to be refrigerated.

And even though the peppers in brine were fine for many months in the refrigerator, the blended hot sauce, after sitting in the refrigerator for a month or so, started to grow white mold on top, so I had to get rid of the rest of the jar.  I attribute this to the complete lack of vinegar in the brine.  You might try adding some vinegar as a preservative.  I definitely recommend making the hot sauce in small batches, since the peppers in brine last beautifully long in the refrigerator, but the peppers in the sauce seem to have a short refrigerated shelf life.

Hank Shaw’s hot sauce recipe, a wholly different preparation than mine, directs the cook to add spices, which would be great next time.  The recipe also includes two particularly good tips: using a growingly available binding agent called xanthan gum to prevent the sauce from separating, and letting the sauce settle to remove excess air.

For about 2 cups of finished hot sauce, he advises using 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum, mixed with 2 tablespoons cold water.  Without the xanthan gum, expect the pepper mass to float atop some briny water in your jar.  Nothing dangerous, but not the most visually appealing thing in the world.  A good stir fixes the problem.

Shaw also recommends this easy tip to battle separation:

Pour into a bowl or large jar and let this settle for 1 hour to allow all the trapped air you introduced into the sauce while blending to escape. If you skip this step your sauce will not hold together as well.

I’m going to try these steps next year for sure!  Until then, I’ll be eating this glorious sauce on barbecued pork, tacos, chicken wings, gazpacho, etc., etc., etc.