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Cauliflower and Herb Spread

3 May

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It’s picnic season! I knock on wood as I say this, but Portland has really been delivering some fine spring weather this year, and I can’t wait to keep our outdoor time at its maximum level. Playing outdoors, eating outdoors, sleeping outdoors—it’s all in our future.

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My love of picnics is no secret, but I do sometimes wonder how I can shake up our picnic spreads without diverting too much from what makes a picnic meal so enjoyable for me. Picnics are casual affairs for us, without a reliance on silverware or fussy presentations. While we do sometimes pack a picnic that includes a salad or two thrown into a lidded container, it seems almost antithetical to the very spirit of a picnic to make your food fork or spoon-required. This means our picnics tend to include a lot of cheese selections to pair with bread, a good amount of fruit and vegetables in their most casual form, and, of course, a treat or two…or threeoh, fine to round out the meal. It’s a lovely way to eat, but, tough as it may be to imagine, even I, at times, get a bit overloaded by cheese and sweets.

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Last week, when thinking of ways to diversify our picnics, I started dreaming of my favorite white bean spread. It’s a nearly perfect item to slather over a hunk of crusty bread, and, with silky pureed cauliflower swapped in for the creamy white beans, I began to imagine a new picnic food to audition this year. As it turns out, this combination of sweetly sautéed onions, fresh herbs, and smooth cauliflower is even better than I thought it would be. It’s even better, dare I say it, than cheese. For your friends who are allergic to legumes, it makes a great alternative to hummus or other bean spreads. For your vegetarian friends, it’s a super flavorful topping for bread that needs no meat to make it shine. For your vegan friends, try swapping the butter for ¼ cup of good olive oil, and sauté the onions and garlic slowly, until they begin to really melt. For everyone, make a batch of this right now, grab yourself a picnic blanket and a baguette, and head outside.

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Last Year: Crisp Baked Vegetable Wontons and Spinach, Fennel, and Pear Salad with Brown Butter Hazelnuts

Cauliflower and Herb Spread

1 medium head of cauliflower

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

2 pinches red chile flakes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Trim cauliflower of leaves and tough inner stem. Cut cauliflower into small florets, then place in a steamer basket. Over a pot of boiling water, cover and steam cauliflower florets for 10 to 12 minutes, until the florets are tender. Remove steamer basket from pot, and allow cauliflower to cool a bit while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In separate saucepan, melt butter over medium low heat, then add onions, garlic, herbs, and chile flakes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent about 7 to 10 minutes. Add steamed cauliflower. Mash or puree with a food processor or stick blender until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a dish or bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.

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3 Doors Down Cafe’s White Bean and Fresh Herb Spread

22 Oct

This recipe is one of those food discoveries that, when revealed, makes you want to weep with joy. A few blocks from our house is a great little neighborhood restaurant by the name of 3 Doors Down. It’s a lovely place, featuring fantastic seasonal fare (a concept they’ve long embraced, far before it became a national trend), great wines, and an atmosphere that caters to both a nice family meal or a special evening out with friends.

That last point is a fairly spectacular achievement, and I give nothing but glowing reviews to 3 Doors Down for being so capable of meeting such disparate needs. On more than one occasion I have spotted a variety of simultaneous diners at 3 Doors Down that included a couple with a new baby snoozing away in an infant carseat, a table of six adults ordering wine two bottles at a time, several tables of dressed-up, cozy couples, and a party of three that included two adults and one bowtie-wearing six year-old (full disclosure: one of those tables was my household).

Every meal at 3 Doors Down is started with a dish of this superb white bean spread, accompanied by a plate of crusty bread. To illustrate its allure, picture this: when the aforementioned bowtie-wearing child was presented with a petite dish of the tasty spread, a single taste was all it took to hook him, and before long he began simply spooning the deliciousness into his mouth, forgoing the bread entirely. While all the food at 3 Doors Down is top notch, there cannot be enough fawning words dedicated to the creamy, flavorful white bean starter. So savory and rich, so wonderfully fresh and delicious, it is practically the definition of comfort found in a food. And the tear-inducing part? The recipe is available on their website, because that’s how great 3 Doors Down really is. Whip up a batch of it and you’ll see firsthand why my tears of joy were totally and completely justified.

Last Year: Cider Pressing and Two Kinds of Cupcakes

3 Doors Down Cafe’s White Bean and Fresh Herb Spread Recipe

I made this with freshly cooked beans, as called for in the recipe, but I see no reason why one couldn’t use canned cannellini beans if pressed for time.

2 cups dry cannellini beans

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, finely diced

2 tablespoons fresh garlic, finely chopped

1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

2 tablespoons Italian parsley, finely chopped

2 pinches red chile flakes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Cover beans with water by two inches. Soak for at least 4 hours, or overnight. Drain beans. Put beans into saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook beans until tender, about 1 ½ to 2 hours. Drain.

In separate saucepan melt butter over medium low heat and add all remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent about 7 to 10 minutes. Add cooked beans. Mash or puree with a food processor or stick blender until chunky-smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove to a dish or bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and serve with crusty bread.

Makes 4 cups.

Tzatziki Biscuits with Caramelized Shallot Butter

6 Sep

September is an odd time for cooking. Summer is still clinging on for dear life, and in Portland we often get more warm days in September than we do in June. On the other hand, the warmth we feel in the air is always undercut with a cool, crisp feeling, a sign that no matter how many days we get to experience the glory of 90 degrees in September, autumn is, in fact, on its way. September really may be Portland’s prettiest month, offering sunshine, late summer flowers, warm days, and crisp nights. As I mentioned before, however, with weather like this, what’s a person to cook?

You see, part of me wants to stretch out summer as long as possible, grilling things, eating outside, and comprising meals of light, flavorful bites, as is befitting of summer. Another part of me, craving the comforts of autumn food, wants to turn on the oven, roast things, bake things, and take advantage of the season’s newest crops of apples and pears. For as much as I love summer food, I might actually like autumn food more, what with its ability to straddle the line between fresh and light (tomatoes, berries, grilled corn), and soothing comfort (apples, roasted anything).

To bridge the gap between the two seasons, I often find myself coming up with meals that can celebrate the best of both summer and autumn. These lovely, light biscuits manage to do just that. With a nod to cool and refreshing tzatziki, the biscuits are punched up with dill, olive oil, creamy yogurt, and a nice dose of lemon zest. Paired with an utterly autumn-inspired caramelized shallot butter, you’ve got a great combination of flavors. To bring this pairing home even more, slip a thick slice of cucumber into a biscuit and crunch down into the companionable world of summer freshness melting into crisp autumn.

Tzatziki Biscuits with Caramelized Shallot Butter Recipe

Tzatziki Biscuits

Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon dried dill

½ teaspoon sea salt

½ cup plain yogurt

½ cup milk

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1 large clove of garlic, peeled and mashed or grated into a fine paste

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch chunks

In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups plus 2 tablespoons of the flour, baking powder, baking soda, dill, and sea salt.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, lemon zest, garlic, and olive oil.

Add the cold butter to the flour mixture and, using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs with a few pea-sized chunks of butter strewn throughout. Pour the yogurt mixture into the flour and butter, and use the pastry cutter to mix the liquid ingredients into the dry. Mix just until the ingredients come together and form a somewhat shaggy mass. If the mixture is unbearably sticky, add in the remaining flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, mixing with the pastry cutter until everything comes together in a workable mass.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Gently flatten out the dough a bit, then fold it over on itself and pat down to adhere the dough together. Gently flatten out the dough again, fold it over again, then gently flatten and fold once more. Pat the dough into a rough 10-inch oval then, using a 1-inch biscuit cutter, cut out rounds of dough, placing each one on the prepared baking sheet. Cut the rounds as close together as possible, ensuring that you are using as much of the dough as possible during this first cutting. Piece and pat together any remaining scraps, then cut out the remaining biscuits. The less you handle the dough, the lighter your biscuits will be, so be judicious with your cutting.

Bake the biscuits in the center of the oven for 12-14 minutes, until the bottoms are dark brown and the tops are a deep golden color. Remove from baking sheet to cool slightly before eating. Eat while still warm.

Makes about 20 biscuits.

Caramelized Shallot Butter

1 teaspoon olive oil

1 large shallot, sliced into medium-thin rings

pinch of sea salt

4 tablespoons unsalted, room temperature butter

In a small pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced shallots and allow to sizzle gently for a couple of minutes, then add the sea salt and reduce heat to low. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until shallots are deeply browned and very limp, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for 10 minutes or so, until it reaches room temperature.

In a small bowl, pour the shallots and any remaining olive oil over the butter. Mash the shallots into the butter, then, using a fork, whip the butter up a bit until it has lightened just a tad.

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