Cherry, Wild Rice, and Quinoa Salad

The end of June is always exciting because it heralds the beginning of cherry season in the Northwest, and this year’s (farmer direct) crop is as delicious as ever.  Although I demo’d a salad for my last blog post, summer is all about salads so I decided to try another one – Cherry, Wild Rice, and Quinoa salad.

This salad is very easy to make, tastes great, and looks pretty as well.  I started with a recipe from the May/June 2012 issue of Eating Well magazine and adapted it to my liking.  I had never had wild rice and quinoa together before, and I’ve got to say that they taste fabulous.  The original recipe had you cooking the wild rice for a half hour and then adding the quinoa and cooking for another 15 minutes, but I’m in the habit of cooking quinoa with short grain brown rice for a full hour when I make it at home (in a pressure cooker, no less).  I cooked both grains together for 40 minutes and they both turned out tender and delicious!

Along with the WA cherries, I also used our locally grown and roasted hazelnuts from Holmquist Orchards in Lynden as well as Beecher’s Smoked Flagship Cheddar, made in Seattle at the world-famous Pike Place Market.  Both added a delicious element to the salad, along with the celery and apple cider vinegar dressing.  All in all, customers thought the salad had a nutty, smoky flavor made richer with sweet cherries…and I heartily agree!

Cherry, Wild Rice, and Quinoa Salad © 2013 Sassy Sampler

Cherry, Wild Rice, and Quinoa Salad © 2013 Sassy Sampler


Cherry, Wild Rice, and Quinoa Salad

Makes eight 3/4 c servings

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 c wild rice
  • 1/2 c red quinoa, rinsed well
  • 1/4 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c apple cider vinegar
  • 3/4 t sea salt
  • 1/4 t fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 c halved & pitted fresh sweet cherries
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3/4 c coarse grated aged goat cheese or smoked cheddar (or you can dice it)
  • 1/2 c roasted hazelnuts, coarsely chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil over high heat.
  2. Add wild rice and quinoa, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for 40 minutes.
  3. While the rice is cooking, whisk oil, vinegar, sea salt, and pepper in a measuring cup and prep your other ingredients.
  4. Drain grains and rinse with cold water until cool to the touch; make sure you drain the grains well.
  5. Once cooled, add the rice/quinoa mixture to a large bowl.
  6. Add the cherries, celery, cheese, and hazelnuts and toss to combine.
  7. Add the dressing and toss to combine.
  8. Serve at room temperature, or cold from the fridge.

Quinoa (pronounced Keen-wah) is an ancient grain and was a staple in the ancient Incas’ diet.  Quinoa has a natural coating called saponin that needs to be rinsed off the grain before cooking (it can upset your stomach).  Rinse quinoa in cool water until the water is clear.  This is easiest done in a very fine sieve.

Cherry, Wild Rice, and Quinoa Salad PDF

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad

triple choco mousse cake

Triple Chocolate Mousse cake

May is always a month of chocolate for me – both my husband’s and my birthdays are in May, along with five other family members (plus both of our cats) and everyone is a chocolate fan. For my husband, I made a truly scrumptious triple chocolate mousse cake, and for myself I made ganache filled “ultimate” chocolate cupcakes.   Both recipes came from Cook’s Illustrated and turned out fantastic.  If you would like a copy of either then let me know!  The mousse is (naturally) gluten-free and I adapted the cupcake recipe to be gluten-free.

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

Ultimate Chocolate Cupcakes

Due to my sweet-filled month, for my first demo in a while I thought it might be good to prepare and share a more wholesome recipe, and I found it in Tracy Hill’s cookbook Delightfully Free (she’ll be at Seattle’s Pike Place market today signing copies, and you can also buy it at the Cordata store).  Not only are the photos mouth-watering, but the recipes are pretty awesome too, and they are all gluten, dairy, and refined sugar-free!  I knew when I saw the photo for this salad that I wanted to prepare it – it would be a great salad to bring to a graduation party or BBQ, and would also serve as a well-rounded main course because of the combination of brown rice, beans, nuts/seeds, and vegetables.

We’re still at the beginning of our growing season here in the great Northwest, but I was able to purchase some local garlic scape to use instead of the green onions in the original recipe – I sliced them very thin (garlic scapes are typically cooked, but if you don’t overdo it then they are great in a salad) and they added just the right amount of fresh tasting garlicy-ness.  We have local basil in stock, and I also used some of the local roasted hazelnuts that we carry in our bulk department.

The salad was very popular with customers and those that tasted it wanted to know how soon they could buy it pre-made in the deli (I did give a sample to our Cordata Deli Manager with the feedback…hopefully you’ll see our version soon!).  I’ve included instructions on how to cook brown rice and beans from scratch, but you can always grab some pre-cooked rice from the Deli’s Grab and Go section and a can of beans to cut down on your time in the kitchen.

Enjoy!

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad © 2013 Sassy Sampler

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad © 2013 Sassy Sampler

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad

adapted from Delightfully Free by Tracy Hill

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 1/2 c cooked (and cooled) brown rice
  • 1 1/2 c navy or cannellini beans, cooked from dry or 1 can Great Northern Beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 c chopped celery (I sliced them pretty thin)
  • 1 1/2 c chopped yellow or orange bell pepper (about 1 large pepper)
  • 1/3 c chopped green onion or garlic scapes
  • 1/2 c fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped (or chiffonade cut)
  • 1 c halved cherry tomatoes
  • 3/4 c Balsamic Dressing, or more to taste
  • 2/3 c chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, and/or pumpkin seeds

Balsamic Vinaigrette Dressing  (makes about 1 1/2 c)

  • 1/4 c red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 c grapeseed oil
  • 1/8 t sea salt
  • 1 t agave nectar
  • 1 small garlic clove, pressed or minced
  • 2 T water
  • Small pinch of paprika
  • Pinch of xanthan gum

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Shake all dressing ingredients together, except xanthan gum, in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.  Add the xanthan gum and shake again.  For smoother flavors, emulsify the dressing by mixing all ingredients, except xanthan gum, in a blender on high for 30 seconds.  Add the xanthan gum and blend again for 10 seconds.  Store in the refrigerator.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all salad ingredients, with the exception of the nuts/seeds and dressing.
  3. Toss salad with about 3/4 cup of dressing (or more if you like!) – be sure to give it a few good shakes to re-mix.
  4. Sprinkle the salad with the nuts/seeds when it is served, or you can mix them in just before serving.

Note from the cookbook author — This salad is extra tasty made a day ahead of time (keep the nuts/seeds set aside until you serve).  It is also a great topper for green salad.

Note from the Sassy Sampler – Customers commented that this salad would be great with parboiled green beans or with feta cheese sprinkled on top…and I agree!

To cook short grain brown rice:

Thoroughly rinse 3/4 c rice.  Add to a small bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid and cover with 1.5 cups of water and sprinkle about 1/2 t of sea salt.  Allow to come to a boil and then cover with the lid, turn heat down to low and allow to cook undisturbed for 1 hour.  Remove from heat and let sit for 5 – 10 minutes, remove the lid, fluff, and enjoy!

To cook navy/cannellini beans:

Note—beans will expand to 2.5 times their normal size, so you will only need to cook 1/2 c beans for this recipe

  1. Go through the beans on a plate to remove any stones, dirty or damaged beans, etc.
  2. Pour the beans into a medium bowl and cover with water—remove any “floaters”.
  3. Drain beans and cover with at least 1 1/2 c of COLD water.  Soak the beans overnight (you can do this on the counter), or at least six hours.
  4. Rinse the beans three or four times until the water runs clear.
  5. Put beans in a pot and cover with fresh water.  Bring to a boil and simmer for 60-90 minutes, until beans are tender.  Add salt (if desired) only in the last few minutes of cooking time or your beans will take longer to cook.
  6. Cooked beans are best the next day and can be stored in the fridge for up to 4 days.

Visit Tracy’s website at www.delightfullyfree.com and check out her cookbook of the same name!

Balsamic Rice and Bean Salad PDF

Homemade Peppermint Patties

Keeping with my annual tradition of finding a fun and easy recipe for Valentine’s Day, this week I decided to make one of my husband’s favorite treats – peppermint patties.  I must say, they were a BIG hit when customers sampled them yesterday and I gave out a record number of recipes! 

I found a great recipe on Taste of Home that only used five ingredients – sweetened condensed milk, powdered sugar, peppermint flavor, chocolate chips, and some shortening (all of which you can buy organic and trans-fat free at the Co-op).  This recipe is fun because you can shape the peppermint dough however you like, something I realized after I had made all my patties for my recipe demo – I’ll pat the dough flat and use a small cookie cutter to shape them as little hearts for the holiday!  It also comes together relatively quickly – it took me about 20 minutes to make the dough and shape the patties, plus chill time, and then it took me about 10-15 minutes to coat them with chocolate, plus chill time.

© Sassy Sampler 2013

© Sassy Sampler 2013

One thing I learned from this recipe is that I will always put a little oil in my chocolate from now on if I am using it to cover candies – I’ve always had difficulty with getting a nice even coating of chocolate when I make things like this, and the shortening added to the chocolate in this recipe really makes a difference.  If you are averse to vegetable shortening (we carry an organic 100% palm oil version), or just don’t have any on hand, I think that coconut oil would be an acceptable substitute.

If you are vegan and are craving some of these homemade candies, I suggest making this coconut version of sweetened condensed milk created by Sunny B on her gluten/dairy-free recipe blog – I think it would work great in this recipe.

…I’ll also mention that our Bakery has developed a vegan peppermint patty that will be available soon – I got to sample one and they are yummy!

Mmmmm...organic peppermint patties! © Sassy Sampler 2013

Mmmmm…organic peppermint patties! © Sassy Sampler 2013

Homemade Peppermint Patties

adapted from Taste of Home

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 c organic sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 1/2 t organic peppermint flavor (use less if you use real extract)
  • 3—4 c organic powdered sugar (up to 1#)
  • 3 c (18 oz) organic fair-trade dark chocolate chips
  • 2 t organic vegetable shortening (or organic coconut oil)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a bowl, combine milk and peppermint flavor.
  2. Stir in 3 c powdered sugar, to form a stiff dough. Once you have initially incorporated the sugar into the milk mixture, it is easiest to finish mixing with your hands.
  3. Knead enough remaining sugar to form a dough that is very stiff and no longer sticky.
  4. Working quickly, shape into 1” balls (really compact the dough) and place on a waxed paper or parchment lined baking sheet.
  5. Flatten balls into 1 1/2” disks.Place cookie sheet in the freezer for half an hour, flipping them after 15 minutes (don’t freeze them for longer than that).
  6. Melt the chocolate chips and shortening in a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl over about 1” of boiling water, stirring frequently. The chocolate is easiest to work with when it remains hot, so once the water is boiling and the chocolate has melted, turn off the heat but keep the bowl on the pot to keep the chocolate warm.
  7. Place a fork under a patty and dip in the chocolate mixture; tap fork against the side of the bowl gently and scrape excess chocolate off the bottom of the patty using the side of the bowl.
  8. Place patty on waxed or parchment paper to harden—you can either do that at room temperature or in the fridge.

These have a great shelf life—keep them in an airtight container (separate layers with parchment paper) in the fridge for up to a month.

Chocolate Peppermint PattiesPDF

Homemade Almond Milk

Almonds are one of the healthiest “nuts” you can eat (they are related to the peach, and are technically considered a seed). They are high in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, as well as protein, and they also contain amino acids, manganese, and Vitamin E.   The US is the world’s leading almond grower, and essentially 100% of those almonds are grown in California.

Commercial versions of almond milk contain preservatives (which I feel affect the flavor), although they also tend to be fortified with calcium and Vitamin D which is a plus.  The biggest downside, however, is the sugar that is added to them.  Keeping this in mind, I set out to create a simple almond milk recipe that didn’t require any special equipment and didn’t have any added refined sugar.  After looking at dozen different recipes/methods, I decided to get into the kitchen and get working!

I started by soaking the almonds overnight in the fridge, covered.  This is an important part of the process because the soaking really brings out the milky-ness quality of the almonds and also makes them more digestible, resulting in better absorption of nutrients.  Another great benefit of soaking almonds (or any nut) is that it removes the tannin from the skin, which gives nuts their bitter flavor.

The next morning, I halved and pitted some Medjool dates to use as a sugar alternative, and also set them to soaking (so your blender is able to process them).  Once those had soaked for about 45 minutes, I got out the blender and started processing – first a heaping cup of soaked almonds went in, then 2 cups of water.  It only took a minute or two for the almonds to grind down, and then I added the dates (tasting the concoction after every two dates to see how the sweetness was progressing).  I decided that five was the perfect sweetness – not so sweet that it was overpowering but sweet enough to compliment the amazing almond flavor.  You can choose to omit the dates entirely, or add up to seven if you really like the sweetness of commercial almond milk.  The nice thing about using dates as the sweetener is that they are also high in fiber and are easily digested.  I added the last two cups of water, plus a pinch of Himalayan pink sea salt (my favorite) and I was ready to strain my milk.

You can strain the milk in a number of different ways, or if you are going to use the almond milk strictly in smoothies, then you can choose to omit this step (leaving the almond pulp in the milk gives you the full benefits of the almonds and is protein rich).  I chose to use a jelly straining bag, as it fit perfectly over the opening of my pitcher and has a super fine weave so I knew that my milk would be very smooth.  You can also strain the milk using a nut milk bag or a fine mesh metal strainer (I would suggest putting a few layers of cheesecloth in the strainer – that way as you finish you can gather up the corners and squeeze the last of the milk out of the pulp that is left over.  The almond/date pulp that you are left with can be used in many ways, including adding a bit to your morning oatmeal, adding it to smoothies, or dehydrating it and using it as a flour alternative.

Success – for about $1.33 a serving I had four cups of the most delicious organic and fresh non-dairy milk I have ever tasted!

Homemade Almond Milk © Sassy Sampler 2012

Homemade Almond Milk © Sassy Sampler 2012

Homemade Almond Milk

Recipe by Sassy Sampler

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 c raw, organic almonds
  • 4 c filtered or spring water (cold)
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 3-7 fresh Medjool dates  (optional, for sweetness), split in half and pit removed, soaked for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours
  • Vanilla bean, cut in half and one side scraped and reserved (optional) OR 1/2 t pure vanilla extract

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Soak almonds in fresh water for at least six hours or overnight (if you choose to soak overnight, then cover and refrigerate the almonds).
  2. Drain and rinse soaked almonds.
  3. Using a blender or Vitamix, add almonds to blender with 2 cups of water.  Blend until it is relatively smooth (all the noticeable chunks are gone).  Add the sea salt.
  4. Add dates and blend to fully combine—3 dates will be slightly sweet and 7 dates will be similar to store-bought almond milk sweetness.
  5. Add remaining 2 cups of water and blend to combine (depending on the size of your blender, you may need to hand mix in the remainder of the water).
  6. Add vanilla bean seeds or extract if using and blend to combine.
  7. Strain mixture into a large bowl or pitcher, either using a metal fine-gauge strainer set over the bowl or a nut milk bag/jelly strainer bag.  If using a strainer, I recommend adding a square of folded cheesecloth and straining through that—you can gather up the corners and squeeze out all the milk much more quickly than using just a strainer.
  8. If using a strainer and no cheesecloth, use the back of a spoon or rubber spatula to gently push the milk through the strainer (don’t push down too hard or you will get some of the pulp in the milk).
  9. Refrigerate for up to 4 days in a covered container.  Because this is a raw drink, there may be separation after it sits—just mix and enjoy!

Almond Milk PDF

You can use the leftover pulp in many ways:

  • Put it in a dehydrator and you will get almond flour
  • Mix a tablespoon or two into your oatmeal/hot cereal.
  • Mix with a little honey or agave and spread it thin on a baking sheet—bake at 350°F until crunchy.
  • Add to smoothies
  • Check out Pinterest for more almond pulp ideas!

Almond milk is a tasty way to add heart-healthy fats to your diet!

Your leftover dates can be used for future batches of almond milk, or can be made into a yummy “caramel” dip…or you can just eat them!  I recommend pitting them and then putting a walnut in the center (great suggestion for an appetizer from a customer).

Peach Almond Bars (gluten-free and vegan options)

August heralds the arrival of sweet, tree-ripened, farmer direct peaches from the Okanagan Tree Fruit Cooperative at the Co-op, and they are delicious once again this year.  These are the best peaches money can buy because not only are they organic, but they are picked and delivered by the farmer’s co-op directly to our co-ops, so at no time are they sitting in some warehouse waiting to be delivered to the consumer.  I knew I wanted to feature them this week, and I found the perfect recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s Best Summer Desserts edition.

Every recipe I have ever made from Cook’s Illustrated or America’s Test Kitchen (one of the best shows on PBS, it you ask me!) has turned out fantastic, and they don’t disappoint with their recipe for Peach Bars.  I’ll note that both of their websites have limited free content, but I gladly pay the subscription fee because they don’t allow advertising in their magazines or their websites. Their Peach Bar recipe was easily adapted to being gluten-free (it should turn out pretty identical whether you make it with all-purpose flour or a gluten-free flour blend), and if you replace the butter with margarine or coconut oil you can make a vegan version as well.

This was a simple recipe because the bulk of the work is done by the food processor – you don’t even have to carefully cut the peaches.  I used a couple large and juicy white peaches and one yellow peach, as well as Nature’s Hollow Peach Preserves for a little extra peachy kick.  These bars aren’t overly sweet, and I really wish I could have taken photos of people trying them to illustrate how yummy they are – they don’t look very exciting on the plate, but the look of surprise on people’s faces once they tasted them was priceless!  I highly recommend whipping up a batch – they taste like the best part of summer and you will be exceptionally popular with those you choose to share them with!

Peach Almond Bars © Sassy Sampler 2012

Peach Almond Bars

makes 24 bars

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 3/4 c sliced almonds (6.5 oz)
  • 1 1/2 c flour—can use either all-purpose or gluten-free blend
  • 1/3 c granulated sugar
  • 1/3 c packed brown sugar, plus 1 T
  • Sea salt
  • 12 T unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1/2” pieces (you can substitute margarine for a vegan version of the recipe)
  • 1 1/2 # peaches (about 3 large), peeled, halved and pitted, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 c peach preserves
  • 1/2 t grated lemon zest, plus 1t lemon juice

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375°F.
  2. Make a foil sling for a 13×9 baking dish—fold 2 long sheets of foil; first sheet should be about 13” and the second should be about 9”.  Lay sheets of foil over pan perpendicular to each other, with extra foil hanging over edges.  Smooth foil flush against the pan.  Spray with veggie oil spray.
  3. Process 1 1/4 c almonds, flour, sugar, 1/3 c brown sugar, and 1/2 t sea salt in a food processor until combined, about 5 seconds.
  4. Add butter and pulse mixture until it resembles coarse meal (some pea-sized pieces of butter will remain), about 20 pulses.
  5. Transfer 1/2 c of the mixture to a bowl and set aside.  Press remaining mixture into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Mix 1T of brown sugar into reserved mixture and put it in the fridge (if your kitchen is warm).
  6. While crust is baking, remove blade from processor and wipe out your work bowl.  Pulse peaches and preserves in the processor until mixture is in 1/4” chunks, about 5 pulses.   Cook peaches in a large non-stick skillet over high heat until thickened and jam-like, about 10 minutes.
  7. Take peaches off the heat, and add a pinch of salt and the lemon zest and juice.  Stir to combine.
  8. Pour peach mixture over hot crust.
  9. Using your fingers, pinch reserved flour mixture to create dime-sized clumps and sprinkle them over the peaches.  Sprinkle remaining 1/2 c almonds over the top.
  10. Bake until almonds are golden brown, about 20 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature, at least two hours.
  11. Using foil overhang, lift from pan and cut into 24 squares.  Enjoy!

Store in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.

Peach Almond Bars PDF

Gluten-free Cheesy Crackers (aka Cheese Straws)

I’ve been searching for a really good gluten-free cracker recipe – it’s something that I really miss since I started my gluten-free diet.  We sell a lot of great gluten-free crackers at the Co-op, but I have craved something that is cheesy and crunchy and I just haven’t been satisfied with what is available pre-made.

One of the things I really wanted to avoid was all the rolling involved with most cracker recipes, which is necessary to create flaky layers.  The layers weren’t as important to me as the cheesy goodness – I wanted to find a simple recipe that I could make really quickly.  I found what I was looking for on Food.com – an easy recipe for something called Cheese Straws.

I had no idea what cheese straws were (and still don’t, even after a Google search), but reviews on the recipe were fantastic so I figured it would be worth a try.  The recipe originates from Roben Ryberg’s cookbook The Gluten-Free Kitchen which utilizes gluten-free starches in all the recipes.  When I have made gluten-free crackers with a regular gluten-free flour blend in the past they were good, but they were more like savory shortbread cookies than crackers (if that sounds good, then you can find a recipe here – I just substituted GF flour for the all-purpose flour in the recipe) and since Roben’s recipe uses starches, I figured that I would get a crunchier result.

I was right…not only was the recipe very simple, but they were super delicious – I think they taste like the best Cheez-it you’ve ever had.  I have to admit that I was VERY tempted to sit and eat the whole plate myself they were so yummy, and I have a feeling I’ll be whipping up a batch just for me and my sweetie tonight!

photo gluten free cheese cracker

Gluten-free Cheese Crackers © 2012 Sassy Sampler

Gluten-free Cheese Crackers (aka Cheese Straws)

adapted from Roben Ryberg The Gluten-free Kitchen

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 T unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 c organic, gluten-free cornstarch (Let’s Do Organic brand)
  • 1/3 c gluten-free potato starch (can substitute tapioca starch)
  • 1/4 t xanthan gum
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 3 T organic cream or whole milk
  • 4 oz organic sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)

Optional:

  • 1/4 t ground red pepper/cayenne

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a medium bowl (or preferably in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment) cream the butter until really smooth, about one minute in a stand mixer and about 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer.
  3. Mix the xanthan gum, sea salt, and the starches in a bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to the creamed butter, with the mixer on low.  Gradually increase the speed of the mixer until the starch has fully incorporated into the butter. Scraping sides of bowl as needed.  The mixture will be crumbly (kind of like powdered Parmesan cheese).
  5. Add the cream/milk and mix until dough is smooth.
  6. Add the cheese and mix until the dough is smooth and the cheese is fully incorporated.  If the dough seems too dry, add more cream/milk by the teaspoon.
  7. Roll out or pat the dough to 1/4” thickness on an un-floured surface.  If the dough is too sticky to work with then refrigerate it for a few minutes.
  8. Cut into thin 4-6” long “straws” and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (or you can grease the sheet).
  9. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown.
  10. Let cool slightly before moving from baking sheet.  Serve at room temperature.

Alternately, you can make cheese crackers:

  1. Roll the dough thinly on a piece of parchment paper and move it to your baking sheet.
  2. Cut the dough (a pizza cutter works nicely) into small cracker sizes and bake for ~15 minutes, until golden.  You don’t need to separate the pieces.
  3. Once the crackers are out of the oven, break them apart.

The thinner you roll the dough, the crunchier the straws or crackers will be.

For a little flair, twist the straws as you place them on the baking sheet.

GF Cheese Crackers/Straws PDF

Zesty Marinated Asparagus

It’s May, and that’s means that it’s asparagus season in Washington.  Our state produces about 40% of the asparagus grown in the US, according to the Washington Asparagus Commission, and we recently started receiving beautiful organic asparagus at the Co-op.  This is a vegetable that is best enjoyed in season – it’s at its least expensive price and most delicious flavor.  In honor of that, I picked a recipe to sample with customers this week that is both easy and tasty – Zesty Marinated Asparagus.

Marinated asparagus is incredibly easy to make.  Simply rinse your asparagus, chop into bite-sized chunks, and blanch in a pot of boiling water for 1-2 minutes – just until it turns a vibrant green.  Immediately plunge the spears into ice-cold water to stop the cooking process, and mix with marinade in a zip-top bag or leak-proof container.  Refrigerate for at least 3 hours and you have a delicious snack or side dish that tastes complex but is simple (and quick) to prepare.

I chose to marinate my asparagus overnight in a balsamic vinaigrette – this dressing is also easy to make so it doesn’t add much prep time to the recipe (although you can always use a bottled dressing in a pinch).  Customers really enjoyed the dish – they said it was indeed zesty, had a nice crunch from the blanching, and had a nice flavor that would suit a variety of dishes. Kids even loved it – I had just as many of them asking for seconds as I do when I sample something sweet!

I would recommend using a good quality balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil – you really taste the flavors and a higher quality product will make an impact.  I say good because you need 3/4 c of each for the 2 pounds of asparagus in the recipe, so unless you’re feeling reckless, save the expensive stuff for another time.  I used Lucini 10-year Reserve Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (on sale right now for $10.89), because of its flavor and body.  I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite olive oils that we carry at the Co-op is the Mihelakis Family Greek olive oil, so I used that as well.  However, no matter what ingredients you choose to use I’m sure you’ll love this recipe.

Enjoy!

Zesty Marinated Asparagus © Sassy Sampler 2012

Zesty Marinated Asparagus

INGREDIENTS

  • 3/4 c good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 c good quality balsamic vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 T Dijon or stone ground mustard
  • 2 pounds fresh asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2 1/2” pieces
  • 2 t grated lemon zest
  • 1/4 c chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 t sea salt
  • 1/2 t fresh ground black pepper

To make the balsamic vinaigrette:

  1. Combine the vinegar, garlic and mustard in a bowl with a whisk.  Add a pinch of sea salt and whisk.
  2. In a steady, slow stream add olive oil to the mixture, whisking constantly.  Set aside and proceed with recipe.

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch asparagus just until tender and bright green, about 1 minute.
  2. Plunge asparagus into a bowl of ice-cold water to halt the cooking process.
  3. Drain asparagus and place in a large resealable plastic bag (or leak-proof container).
  4. Pour in vinaigrette and seal bag.  Mix asparagus with vinaigrette thoroughly.
  5. Refrigerate at least 3 hours (or overnight), turning bag occasionally.
  6. Just before serving, drain vinaigrette into a bowl.
  7. Arrange asparagus on a serving platter and sprinkle with lemon zest, parsley, salt, and pepper.
  8. Serve reserved vinaigrette in a small dish on the side.

Don’t leave out the parsley and lemon zest – they add the extra “zesty” to the dish.

You can also make this with store-bought balsamic vinaigrette—use 1 1/2 c.

Zesty Marinated Asparagus PDF

Don’t forget to pick up your Proud Co-op Member yard signs to help us celebrate the International Year of Cooperatives – we still have them available at both our stores, or you can also pick one up at the GaPac Credit Union on James St. and at the Industrial Credit Union on State St.  We’re also holding a photo contest on Facebook – take a photo of the sign in your yard, post it on our page, and be eligible for a prize giveaway!  Deadline is May 14th.  Go Co-op!

Carrot Ginger Salad

April can be hit or miss in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, and luckily this year is more of a hit – we have had great luck with beautiful weather on the weekends this month and it’s making all of us excited for summertime.  For my recipe this week, I wanted to pick something that tasted fresh and summery and I found what I was looking for in Organic Farm & Garden magazine (a Popular Gardening Series “magabook” by Hobby Farms.com).  They offer several recipes in this issue (along with great organic gardening advice) and I thought their recipe for Carrot Ginger Salad would be a winner.  (Note – we are sold out of the magazine at the Co-op, but you can get it online at either of the links above.)

Photo courtesy of Jerry Janeway © 2012

We still have delicious and sweet  local carrots from Hedlin Family Farm, a third generation organic farm in the waterfront town of La Conner (home to author Tom Robbins).  The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is in full swing right now, and this would be a perfect weekend to spend some time outside tiptoeing through the tulips (they won’t actually let you do that, but you get the idea).  But I digress…back to the carrots!

A lot of carrot salads are soaked in mayonnaise and have added sugar, and I didn’t want to go in that direction; this recipe is flavorful, fresh, and tastes like summer – the carrots give a nice sweet crunch and the dressing and fresh ginger add a dimension that you wouldn’t expect, as it leaves you with a subtle succession of flavors. I was hesitant to combine some of the ingredients that were listed – cumin and mint with ginger…are they crazy?  Turns out they are brilliant, as the flavors work really well within the acidic dressing and compliment the carrots and ginger perfectly.  This salad is also really simple to make and would be perfect to bring to a potluck or gathering, as it keeps at room temperature for several hours.  Enjoy!

Carrot Ginger Salad © Sassy Sampler 2012

Carrot Ginger Salad

Serves 6

adapted from Organic Farm & Garden magazine, Volume 1, 2nd edition

INGREDIENTS

  • 5 large carrots (about 2.5-3#) , grated diagonally or cut julienne
  • 1 T fresh grated ginger

Dressing:

  • 3 T fresh lemon juice
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 t sea salt
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • Pinch of ground cumin
  • 1 heaping T  fresh mint, chopped

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, combine carrots and grated ginger.  Cover and refrigerate for about a half hour so the flavors can combine.
  2. In a jar with a lid, mix lemon juice, olive oil, minced garlic, salt, a pinch of cayenne pepper and cumin, and the mint.  Shake to combine.
  3. Add dressing to carrots and mix well.  If time permits, allow the salad to sit on the counter for about half an hour before serving so the flavors can combine.

For best flavor, allow the salad to come to room temperature before serving.  (Dressed) salad will keep for several days in the fridge.  Cover tightly.  You can also double the dressing recipe if you want a spicier version.

You may be hesitant to add the cumin and mint to this salad, but don’t skip (or substitute) those ingredients—they add complexity to the salad and are an important factor in the overall flavor.

Carrot Ginger Salad PDF

Vanilla Chia Pudding

Working in the natural food industry, we see all kinds of food fads – some of them are perfectly legit and are eventually accepted into the mainstream, and some fade away for a host of different reasons.  One fad that I hope will develop into mainstream diets are chia seeds, which are considered to be a ‘superfood’.

“Why a superfood”, you ask?  Most of us know chia seeds only because of Chia Pets (which are a non-food grade version of the seed), but they pack a lot of punch in a really small package.  Chia seeds have been traced as far back as the Aztecs, who valued them because of their high nutritional value.  These teeny tiny seeds are high in Omega 3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants and also contain a respectable amount of protein, Omega 6 fatty acids, and calcium.  They help you stay hydrated (they hold over 10 times their weight in water) and are a great snack if you need a little pick-me-up.  Chia seeds are also great for diabetics because they help slow your body’s conversion of starch to sugar.

My glass of chia water from this AM!

So….how do they taste?  Pretty boring, which is a good thing.  They have a slightly nutty flavor and are pretty bland, so they mix well into a variety of different foods – you can mix them into just about any cold liquid (try stirring a spoonful into water, milk, iced tea, juice, smoothies, etc.) and you can also incorporate them into your bowl of oatmeal or yogurt.  The biggest complaint I hear about them is the gelatinous layer that forms around them when they have soaked in liquid – it can be a little strange if you haven’t tried them before.  I personally like that quality about them – it definitely makes them more interesting!

A great use for them is chia pudding – you can make a “pudding” with the seeds simply by putting some in milk and letting them hydrate, but this recipe adds some additional healthy foods like raw cashews and Medjool dates and doesn’t contain any added sugar.  It is appropriate as a snack, breakfast, or dessert and has the consistency of tapioca pudding (although it isn’t nutritionally deficient like tapioca pudding is).  It’s also really easy to make, since you are basically just throwing everything in the blender – no cooking involved!  This naturally gluten-free and vegan pudding was a huge hit with everyone who tried it (except for one small boy whose father was very disappointed because he liked the pudding so much!) and will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days – so make some all for you or to share with those you love!

Vanilla Chia Pudding photo © Sassy Sampler 2012

Vanilla Chia Pudding

Serves 6-8

From Martha Stewart Living (there are some great recipes on her website that are gluten-free – just type “gluten-free” into the search box for related videos, articles and recipes)

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 c organic chia seeds
  • 1 organic vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped—reserve seeds and pod
  • 1 c (5 oz) organic raw cashews, soaked in filtered water for 2 hours or overnight, at room temperature
  • 4 c filtered water
  • 7 organic Medjool dates, pitted
  • Pinch of sea salt
  • 1/4 t ground cinnamon
  • 2 T organic raw coconut butter, such as Artisana
  • 4 t pure organic vanilla extract
  • 2 c mixed berries—raspberries and blueberries are great
  • 3/4 c organic maple syrup for drizzling

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place chia seeds and vanilla pod in a medium bowl and set aside.
  2. Drain the cashews and rinse them well.
  3. Add cashews, water, dates, salt, cinnamon, coconut butter, vanilla extract, and vanilla seeds to a blender.
  4. Gradually bring up to high-speed and blend for 2 minutes.
  5. Pour mixture into the bowl with the chia seeds and vanilla pod—whisk well.
  6. Let the mixture stand for 15 minutes, whisking every few minutes to prevent the chia seeds from clumping.  The pudding should thicken quickly (it won’t come to pudding consistency until it has been chilled in the next step).
  7. Refrigerate pudding until cold, about 3 hours.
  8. Remove from fridge and discard the vanilla pod.
  9. Whisk the pudding.
  10. Divide pudding among 8 bowls.  Top each with berries, and drizzle with maple syrup, if desired.

You can find almost all the ingredients in our bulk department, including organic chia seeds.  I served them with Remlinger Farms Berry Jubilee, grown in Carnation, WA and organic bulk maple syrup.  The berries are in our frozen section year-round.

The pudding can be refrigerated for up to 5 days in a covered glass container.

Soaking the cashews first  makes them more digestible by deactivating the enzyme inhibitors that are naturally present.  They also won’t turn into a really smooth paste if they are not soaked.  Don’t soak them for more than a day as the nuts will disintegrate into a gelatin-like substance.

Vanilla Chia PuddingPDF

Apple Turnovers (with gluten-free option!)

I have been craving apple pie, so I figured it was high time that I tried some pie crust pastry recipes, a la gluten-free.  I’ve never noticed a pre-made product made with a gluten-free pie crust, and I think for good reason – it’s kinda hard to make…or so I thought.

My mom and I have tried in the past to adapt a regular pie crust pastry recipe to being gluten-free, but it didn’t really work.  They turned out too grainy and not very flaky, and tasted like they were gluten-free.  I next tried a very simple recipe using Pamela’s Gluten-free Pancake and Baking mix (it was just butter/shortening, water and the mix) – much better, but it fell apart in my hands after baking…and all I made was pie crust “cookies”.  I knew I was on the right track though, because it tasted really great (although with a subtle almond flavor due to the baking mix).

I had heard that you could use Pamela’s GF Bread mix to make pie crusts – one of the winning recipes in the Pamela’s recipe contest (where the fritter recipe from last week came from) was cute little mini pies made in a muffin tin.  I have had such good luck with Pamela’s products in the past that I figured it was worth a try.  I was not disappointed – the pie crust was flaky, easy to make, and absolutely did not taste like it was gluten-free!  Tasters couldn’t believe that they were eating a gluten-free crust, and we promptly sold out of the bread mix at the Cordata store.

My co-worker Michael suggested that I make turnovers for my recipe demo instead of pie – that way each sample would have enough of that awesome pie crust to really taste it.  I thought that was a great suggestion and I got to work.  I made the crust using organic butter and Spectrum’s Butter flavored Organic Shortening – it is a vegan product that doesn’t have the hydrogenated oil and trans-fat that Crisco has.

For the filling, I went straight to the Honeycrisp apples again, and my “secret” to great apple pie – a couple small Asian pears (you can also use Bartlett pears).  I have made this pie filling more times than I can count, but there was no recipe for it so I had to actually measure my ingredients!  I’ll note that you can add any sweetener to the apples as you cook them – I like to use organic dark brown sugar, but you could use agave syrup, brown rice syrup, granulated sugar, etc.  How much you need to add will depend on how sweet your apples are – the Honeycrisps are super sweet so I only added a couple of T of brown sugar.

You don’t need to use a gluten-free crust in this recipe if you can tolerate wheat.  We now have Immaculate Baking Co’s pre-rolled pie crusts at both Co-ops that could be used, or you can make your favorite pastry recipe from scratch (I recommend the one created by Cook’s Illustrated – check out Smitten Kitchen’s detailed and visually stunning post about it here).

Apple Turnovers © Sassy Sampler 2011

Apple Turnovers © Sassy Sampler 2011

Apple Turnovers

INGREDIENTS

Filling

  • About 2 # apples, peeled and sliced into 1/4” -1/2” small chunks
  • 2 small Asian or Bartlett pears, prepared like the apples (optional)
  • 2-4 T sweetener, like brown sugar or agave syrup
  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 1-2 t cornstarch

Pastry

  • 1 recipe Pamela’s GF bread mix pie crust, or 1 package Immaculate Baking Co. Pastry sheets or your favorite pie crust recipe

Topping

  • 1 t cinnamon
  • 2 T sugar

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Prepare apples and place them in a stockpot large enough to be able to mix them easily.  Add 1 T of your chosen sweetener and the cinnamon.  Mix well.
  3. Cook over medium-low to low heat for about 20 minutes, until apples are tender but not smooshy.  Mix apples periodically and taste them to see if you need to add any more sweetener (add a T at a time).
  4. After about 20 minutes, add 1/2—1 t cornstarch into the apples to thicken the juice that has accumulated.  How much cornstarch you need to add will be determined by how juicy your apples are.  Cook for an additional 5—10 minutes, add more cornstarch if necessary, and cook for 5—10 more minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, prepare your pastry (by rolling it out into a rectangular shape; if you are using the prepared sheets, just remove them from the packaging) on sheets of parchment or waxed paper.  Keep refrigerated until ready to use.
  6. Combine the 1 t cinnamon and 2 T sugar in a small bowl (this is for sprinkling on top of the turnovers).
  7. Take apples off heat and allow to cool slightly.
  8. Take your pastry out of the fridge and cut into 5”—6” circles (I used a collapsible steamer that had no feet as my guide—they are about 5” in diameter).  Try to handle the pastry as little as possible.
  9. Carefully remove pastry circles from paper and fill one half of the circle with 2—3 T of apple filling.
  10. Carefully fold over unfilled half of pastry over filling and press edges together.  Use the tines of a fork to help seal the edges.
  11. Transfer turnovers to a parchment lined baking sheet.  Cut vent slits in the top of the turnover and sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar mixture.
  12. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until filling starts to bubble out the vents and the turnovers turn golden brown.
  13. Cool slightly, top with vanilla ice cream, and enjoy!

Apple Turnovers with gluten-free option PDF

Use remaining pastry/pie crust to make cinnamon sugar “cookies” – add leftover pastry to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and cook for about 10 minutes.

You can also use this filling in pies (it works especially well with Dutch apple pies – see recipe below for streusel topping).

The Pamela’s GF Pie Crust recipe using their bread mix is also excellent for making reliable pie crusts.  One bag will make two 9” pie crusts—enough for two Dutch apple pies or one pie with a top crust.

Dutch Apple Pie/Streusel Topping

  • 2/3 c flour (gluten-free or wheat)
  • 2/3 c packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 c cold butter, chopped into 1/4″ chunks
  • 1/2 t cinnamon

Optional – You can add a 1/2 c of oats, but you’ll need to increase the butter to about 1/2 c.

Instructions

Add all dry ingredients to a food processor or medium bowl and combine.  Add butter bits to dry mix and pulse  or use a pastry cutter to cut in butter, until it is bean sized and coarse.  Sprinkle on top of pie evenly and bake until filling starts to bubble and the crust and topping are golden, about 30 -45 minutes.  Enough for one pie.