Raspberry Nectarine Tart

I stopped in at Johnson Orchards last week to pick up a box of peaches and peek at what else was available. The white nectarines were calling my name and as I loaded up a bag to take home, my mind was racing as I thought of all the things I could make with them.

Of course, almost all of them were eaten over the kitchen sink, juice running down our hands, too lazy even to slice them up.

But the last couple nectarines were begging to be turned into something special. I needed a special dessert for a get together I was hosting and I had just the idea. I decided to make a batch of lemon scented shortbread cookie dough and shape it into a large rectangle. I baked it until it was lightly golden brown and the house smelled of sugar and lemon. I whipped up a frosting with unsalted butter, a little cream cheese, vanilla and more lemon zest. I slathered the giant cookie with the frosting and topped it all with those glorious nectarines, some raspberries, and a tiny bit of mint from my garden. And just to be a little fancy, I added a few nasturtium blossoms, also from my garden, which technically are edible.

The dessert was light but so wonderfully decadent at the same time. I cut the pieces into thin rectangles to serve and before I knew it the entire thing was gone. I was admittedly a little obsessed, so I made the recipe again a few days later. This time I just piled the top with fresh blueberries and a little more lemon zest. It was perfection.

Use this recipe as a guide but feel free to play around and make it to your preferences. Don’t like lemon? Skip it. Have blackberries growing in your yard? Use those. My only recommendation is to use fresh fruit so the cookie stays crisp and doesn’t get soggy.

Peaches, strawberries, blueberries, nectarines and raspberries are all readily available right now and any combination will make a delicious and special treat.

Raspberry Nectarine Tart

For the cookie:

• 1 cup unsalted butter, softened to room temperature (2 sticks)

• ½ cup sugar

• ½ teaspoon almond extract

• 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 1 ¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

• Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer until the butter mixture is light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, almond and lemon zest and mix to combine. Add the flour and pinch of salt all at once and mix on low until a crumbly dough comes together.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Working quickly, gather the dough and shape it into a rectangle about 14 inches long and ¼ inch thick. It helps to flour your hands when working with the dough. Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cookie is lightly golden brown and the center of the cookie is cooked through. Remove cookie from oven and set aside to cool.

For the frosting:

• ½ cup softened butter (1 stick)

• 4 ounces softened cream cheese

• 1 teaspoon vanilla

• Zest of 1 lemon

• 2 cups powdered sugar

Using an electric mixer, combine butter and cream cheese and beat until well-mixed. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and mix for another minute. On low speed, add in powdered sugar until frosting is smooth and creamy.

To assemble the dessert, generously frost the cookie making sure the entire cookie has a thick layer of frosting. Wash and slice two nectarines. Top the cookie with sliced nectarines and raspberries. Garnish the cookie with minced mint and nasturtium blossoms.

To serve, use a sharp knife to cut the cookie in half down the middle. Cut small rectangles from the two pieces.

My Favorite Guacamole

Last week the kids and I followed a very dusty dirt road for what felt like a very long time to get to Umtanum Creek Falls. The description online I found for the hike said it was an easy 3.5-mile hike roundtrip with views of a waterfall. What we didn’t know is that we could have driven to Ellensburg by way of the highway and simply taken the dirt road an easy five(ish) miles to our destination but we went the long way from Selah winding up the river canyon on the far west side, driving past ranches and fields and into a forest I had never seen before.

Unfortunately, the trail was dry, steep, full of snakes and where it wasn’t dry and steep it was stinky with stagnant water and very muddy. We ran from a swarm of bees we kicked up and Scarlet, my five-year-old daughter, slipped on a rock and fell straight into a giant muddy bog. We did see the waterfall though and the kids ran along the trail with friends, scrambling over logs and marveling at butterflies, grasshoppers and tiny little frogs they found along the stream.

We stopped for ice cream in Ellensburg on our way home and decided that while the hike itself was a bit of a bust, we were still happy we went.  It’s always good to go on an adventure, even when it involves bees, snakes and mud.

We also concluded that chips and guacamole, ice cold sprites and a margarita for mom was in order as soon as we got home. We were hot, tired and dirty; but nothing some guacamole couldn’t fix.

And lucky for us, I’ve got a killer guacamole recipe. I’m a little bit of a purist in that personally, I don’t prefer onions or tomatoes in my guacamole. I do however like big bright flavor and I get that from a big handful of cilantro, the heat of a jalapeno, fresh chives and lots of lime and lemon juice. A generous sprinkle of coarse se salt at the end gives the dip a little crunch and texture and balances out the flavors. If you like a little texture to your guacamole with onions or tomatoes, then use this recipe as a starting point and add what you like to make it perfect for you. But don’t skip the lemon juice, that’s the secret ingredient.

Guacamole

• 4 ripe avocados

• 1/3 cup cilantro, minced

• 3 tablespoons chives, minced

• 1-2 jalapenos, seeded and finely diced

• Juice of 1 lemon

• Juice of 2 limes, or to taste

• ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt

• Pinch of ground black pepper

In a bowl, scoop out the flesh of the avocados. Add the cilantro, chives and jalapenos. Use a fork to mash down the avocados and combine the ingredients. Add the lemon juice and lime juice and a pinch of salt. Stir again until the guacamole is smooth and well-combined. Garnish with coarse sea salt and black pepper. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

When summer heats up, the last thing anyone wants to do is turn on the oven. So let’s not. There’s plenty of delicious food to make without ever going near the oven.

This avocado cilantro sauce is my new go-to dressing for everything. And when I say everything, I really mean everything. I use it to make pasta salad with fresh corn, peppers, onions and feta cheese. We use it as a marinade and then later drizzle it on grilled chicken and flank steak, I even used it as a dip for quesadillas for my kids.

The sauce is an easy salad dressing and a little extra olive oil thins it into a nice vinaigrette. Just load up a bowl with some rotisserie chicken, greens, veggies, a hard-boiled egg, sliced avocado and a hearty drizzle of this dressing and you have an awesome cobb salad. Bright and fresh with a touch of heat and acidity; this avocado cilantro sauce is exactly what you need to make it through the dog days of summer.

I typically make a big batch of sauce at the beginning of the week and store it in my fridge in an air-tight container for at least a couple of days. I use it as needed and try and always make sure to have the ingredients on hand to make more when I run out.

Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 1 small walla walla sweet onion

• 2 cups tightly packed cilantro leaves (about two bunches)

• 2 cloves garlic, peeled

• 1 jalapeno, seeded

• ½ cup olive oil

• 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 1 avocado

• Juice of 2 limes

• 1 teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

Give the onion, garlic and jalapeno a rough chop. In a food processor, combine the onion, cilantro, garlic, jalapeno and avocado. Pulse the ingredients a few times so they begin to break down. Add the red wine vinegar, lime juice, salt and pepper. Turn the food processor back on and while it runs, slowly pour the olive oil in until the ingredients are well-combined, and you get to your desired consistency. I like my sauce on the thinner side, so I use the full half cup of oil but if you like a thicker sauce you can use less.

I’ve tried to grow corn in my garden for years now but somehow every year the bugs win and I am left with a couple ears of sad half-eaten corn. This year, I threw in the towel, corn is four for a dollar at my favorite fruit stand and I’ve never once found a bug. Problem solved.

I needed an easy side dish to go with grilled burgers and this recipe for a riff on street corn ended up being a family favorite. If you don’t feel like grilling your corn on the barbecue, you can always boil the corn cobs in a big pot of salted water for a couple minutes.

Grilled Corn with Avocado Cilantro Sauce

• 6 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned

• 2 tablespoons butter, melted

• Avocado cilantro sauce

• 2 tablespoons Cotija cheese, crumbled

• Cilantro leaves

• Salt and pepper

Lightly brush corn with melted butter. Over medium heat, grill corn on the barbecue until the corn is lightly charred on all sides. Remove from heat immediately.

On a tray lined with parchment paper, drizzle or generously brush corn with avocado cilantro sauce. Sprinkle the corn with cotija cheese, cilantro leaves and a dash of salt and pepper.

Whole Chicken on the Barbecue

One of my favorite things to do on a hot summer night is walk the perimeter of our property, along the orchard easement road next to the tall cool grass that grows along the fence. The faint smell of the fruit trees in the neighboring orchard floats by and usually our farm animals, suddenly interested to see if they are getting fed, amble towards me curious, following along on their side of the fence. When I walk past the corral and their feeding station, they lose interest, turning their attention back to the grass they were eating.

The wind rustles the Poplar trees and brings the shouts and laughter from my kids jumping on the trampoline. They are wild and loud and burning off what feels like a never-ending well of energy and endurance.

As I loop the pasture and head back towards the house, I turn west and look at Mt. Adams peeking out from behind the rolling desert hills. The sky tonight is streaked with pink and orange, lighting up the sky and casting its warm glow on everything I see.

I’ve called Yakima home for 13 years now. When I moved here in my early twenties, I had no idea this place would capture my attention the way it has. It is more than the town I live in or where my children were born or where we work. These desert hills, the pink sky, that glorious mountain has become the backdrop to my creative endeavors. This Valley inspires the flavors in my kitchen, the words that tumble out onto the screen, my steps planted firmly in the dirt.

This recipe for a whole roasted chicken, barbecued to a crispy golden brown, served hot off the grill, directly to hungry bellies waiting patiently at the patio table is my ode to summer nights. The recipe itself is simple, adapted from a wonderful cookbook called What’s Gaby Cooking. It’s the kind of easy summer dinner that you go to again and again. I recommend an ice cold hoppy Yakima Valley beer or a lovely glass of Yakima Valley rose (might I recommend Gilbert Cellars, it’s one of my favorites) to enjoy while you supervise the grill.

Here’s the only tip I have to offer for the actual barbecuing: low and slow is your friend. This recipe works particularly well if you have a charcoal barbecue or a Traegar grill. It’s certainly not impossible on a gas grill, but you’ll need to make sure the heat doesn’t go to high. You want to shoot for around 350 degrees.

A big salad with corn fresh off the cob, crunchy bell peppers and lots of fresh herbs to go with the chicken make for an excellent and easy dinner. A ripe cantaloupe and a pint of raspberries picked up at your local fruit stand finishes the meal.

For the BBQ Chicken

• 1 ½ tablespoons paprika

• 1 ½ tablespoons garlic powder

• 2 teaspoons kosher salt

• 1 teaspoon black pepper

• 2 whole chickens, giblets removed

• Cooking spray or vegetable oil for the grill

For the BBQ Chicken Baste

• 6 tablespoons butter, melted

• 1 teaspoon paprika

• 1 teaspoon garlic powder

• 1 teaspoon dried parsley

• Juice of 1 lemon

• ½ teaspoon kosher salt

• ½ teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, combine paprika, garlic powder, salt and pepper and mix to combine. Put chickens on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Use paper towels to pat the meat dry. Sprinkle the rub over the chickens, massaging the spices into the skin on both sides of the bird. Allow the birds to rest on the counter while the grill heats.

Preheat your grill to about 350 degrees or a medium-low heat. Lightly oil the grill rack. Place chickens directly on the grill over indirect heat, breast side up to start. Cover the grill and cook for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken over, and using a basting brush, liberally coat the chicken with butter mixture.

Cook for 15 more minutes with the grill covered. Flip the chicken again, baste again and continue cooking for another 15 minutes. Continue to cook, flipping the birds and basting the meat with butter mixture every 15 minutes for a total of 1 hour and 15 minutes cooking time OR a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, away from the bone, reads 165 degrees.

To serve, transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for at least 10 minutes. Carve the chicken and serve immediately. For an extra burst of flavor, serve with lemon wedges. Squeeze lemon juice over the chicken.

The Best Summer Salads

It’s hot this week. And I don’t know about you but when it gets hot like this, the last thing I want to do is turn on my oven or even the barbecue. I want meals to be simple and fresh. And as much as I would like to eat ice cream for every meal, I grudgingly accept that’s probably not the healthiest choice, even on the hottest days.

This week I’ve got three salads to share with you. These are my go-to summer salads. Chances are if you invite me to a barbecue at your house I’ll show up with one of these recipes. All three salads are light and delicious. They use the best of the produce that’s available locally right now and chances are, you probably have almost all the ingredients at your house right now.

The fresh corn salad is a crunchy, slightly sweet salad that just gets better and better the longer it sits. Use this recipe as a guide but make it your own. The watermelon feta salad is one of my favorites. I make a riff on this recipe probably once a week and even my kids have started eating it. I love to swap the fresh red onion for pickled red onions if I happen to have a batch in my refrigerator. And finally, the cucumber salad is one of my husband’s favorites. I keep a batch in the fridge for him and he snacks on it all week. It’s cold and refreshing and easy to throw together in just a couple minutes.

Fresh Corn Salad

• 6 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cob

• 1 red pepper, diced

• ½ walla walla onion, diced

• ¼ cup fresh basil, minced

• ¼ cup olive oil

• 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

• Salt and pepper to taste

Shuck the corn and using a sharp knife, cut the corn from the cob. No need to cook the corn, if you buy it at the farm stand it’s so fresh and sweet, it doesn’t need to be cooked. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients, stirring well. Leave on the counter or cover and put in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to intensify. This salad tastes best when made a few hours ahead of time. Cherry tomatoes are an easy swap for the red pepper and a sprinkle of feta cheese is delicious with this salad.

Watermelon Feta Salad

• 3 cups seedless watermelon, diced into bite size pieces

• 8 cups spring greens or arugula

• ½ cup crumbled feta

• ¼ red onion, sliced thinly

• 2 tablespoons fresh mint

• Juice and zest of two limes

• ¼ cup white balsamic vinegar

• ½ cup olive oil

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a large bowl layer the watermelon, feta and red onion over the greens. In a separate bowl combine the lime juice, zest, vinegar and olive oil. Dress the salad, sprinkle with fresh mint and salt and pepper. Serve immediately. I’ve made this salad many many times and sometimes I add avocado and crumbled bacon as well. Adding fresh basil along with the mint and swapping the feta for goat cheese is lovely too.

Quick Cucumber Salad

• 2 english cucumbers, peeled and cut into ½ inch slices

• ½ yellow bell pepper, diced

• ½ red onion, diced

• ½ cup rice wine vinegar

• 1-2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil

• Dash of red pepper flakes

• Salt and pepper

In a bowl toss the cucumbers, bell pepper and red onion together. Pour the vinegar over the vegetables, sprinkle with salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. Add the toasted sesame oil and gently mix the vegetables with a spoon. The oil has a very strong flavor and can quickly overpower the dish. Consider adding the oil a teaspoon to get the flavor just right for your taste buds.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

Last week I rallied my motley crew of three capable, but less than enthusiastic, kids and we headed to Sloop Blueberry Farm out in Naches. There’s a few things to know about me, and one of them is: I’m serious about blueberry picking. I’ve picked blueberries in 90 degree weather and 9 months pregnant, I’ve picked blueberries at 6 in the morning, I’ve picked blueberries with a 1-week-old infant. I don’t mess around. My goal is to stuff enough blueberries in my freezer for the entire year. It never quite happens, but every year I try.

I promised the person who picked the most blueberries (fully expecting it to be me) got to pick the ice cream treat on the way home. Well, my two boys ‘teamed’ up and they picked 25 pounds of blueberries, leaving my daughter and I in the dust with just 23 pounds. They gleefully announced to everyone within a one-acre radius we were headed to Dairy Queen for giant blizzards.

Before you think we were toiling away for hours, we picked almost 49 pounds of blueberries in under two hours. Blueberries grow in clumps, almost like grapes and picking them is literally the easiest thing you can do. The berries practically fall into your bucket as you gently pull the fruit from the stems. I want to go out and pick some more but I’m not sure I have the room in my freezer. To preserve my berries, I filled my clean kitchen sink with ice cold water and dumped the berries in. I laid out clean towels on my kitchen counter and using a colander, scooped the berries out of the water after a minute or two. I allowed the berries to dry on the towels and then stored them in gallon-size freezer bags. At just $1.75 per pound, I have enough berries for pancakes, smoothies, treats and snacking to last months. If you’re local, and want to find a u-pick farm near you, go to www.farmfreshfun.com for a list of farms and what’s in season.

These blueberry crumb bars are the perfect way to use blueberries. Whether you pick them yourself or buy a container at the grocery store, nothing says summer like this sweet, fruity dessert. The crust is basically a lightly sweetened shortbread cookie with a hint of lemon zest. The filling is just blueberries with a bit of corn starch to thicken the juices and the crumb on top is the same as the crust, just crumbled over the blueberries. I found this recipe on a website called smittenkitchen.com years ago and it’s one I go back to every summer once blueberries are in season. The original recipe calls for a 9×13 pan but I prefer to use a 9×9 square pan for a thicker crust. Whichever size pan you use, you can’t go wrong.

Blueberry Crumb Bars

·         1 cup granulated sugar

·         1 teaspoon baking powder

·         3 cups all-purpose flour

·         ¼ teaspoon salt

·         Zest of one lemon

·         1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks

·         1 large egg

·         4 cups blueberries

·         Juice of 1 lemon

·         4 teaspoons cornstarch

·         ½ cup granulated sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a 9×9 pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, stir together sugar, flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. Use a fork or pastry cutter to blend in the butter and egg. Dough will be crumbly, kind of like a shortcake or biscuit dough where the butter pieces are the size of a pea. Pat a little over half the mixture into the bottom of the pan, forming an even layer.

In another bowl, mix the blueberries, cornstarch, sugar and lemon juice gently together. Layer the blueberry mixture over the crust. Crumble the remaining dough over the blueberry layer.

Bake in the oven for 45 to 60 minutes until the top is lightly brown and the juices are bubbling. The smaller pan will require closer to 60 minutes, the larger 9×13 pan will take closer to 45 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into squares. Store extras in the refrigerator.

 

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Summertime in Yakima is easily my favorite time of year; between weekly trips to the Farmers Market to outdoor concerts at Gilbert Cellar’s Hackett Ranch, hiking in White Pass under crystal blue skies and the many impromptu dinners with friends; summer is all of my favorite things: food, friends, sunshine, and fun.

My husband built a huge farm table for our back-patio years ago. These days it’s getting little rickety but nothing makes me happier than to see family and friends gathered around it. Summer just makes it all a bit sweeter, the days stretching out long, making it possible to linger around the table.

Flank steak marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and fresh herbs grilled on the barbecue to medium rare and sliced over a bed of crunchy greens is probably my favorite go-to summer dinner party meal. It’s easy and fast and doesn’t break the budget. Marinate the steak for a few hours or up to a full day before grilling it for the most flavor.

Inspired by my favorite salad at Cowiche Canyon Kitchen restaurant, I played around with a chimichurri dressing. Full of fresh parsley and oregano with a hint of heat from a splash of hot sauce, it makes the perfect steak sauce or salad dressing.

Grilled Flank Steak with Chimichurri

• 2-pound flank steak

• ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ½ cup low-sodium soy sauce

• 4 cloves garlic, minced

• 2 sprigs fresh rosemary

• Juice of a lemon

• 1 tablespoon Worchester sauce

• 1 tablespoon kosher salt

• 1 tablespoon black pepper

In a large baking dish combine all the ingredients except the flank steak, salt and pepper. Mix until combined and then place steak into mixture, turning several times to coat the entire piece of meat. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper making sure both sides are covered. Cover dish in foil and set aside for several hours or even overnight. The longer the meat marinates, the better it will taste.

Heat the barbecue to medium heat and grill each side for about 8 minutes or until desired doneness. Remove from heat and let rest for 10 minutes. Slice thinly to serve.

Chimichurri Dressing

• 1 large bunch flat leaf Italian parsley

• 2 tablespoons fresh oregano

• 3 garlic cloves, peeled

• ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

• ¼ cup red wine vinegar

• 1 teaspoon hot sauce

• Juice of one lemon

• Salt and pepper to taste

In a food processor, pulse the ingredients together until smooth. Taste and salt and pepper if necessary. To thin the sauce to make salad dressing, add additional olive oil.

To make the steak salad combine organic greens, cucumber, red bell pepper, mango slices, crumbled goat cheese and pickled onions.

For pickled onions slice a red onion thinly. In a bowl combine ½ cup apple cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar and 1 ½ teaspoons salt with 1 cup water. Pour mixture over onions and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour.

Top the salad with slices of flank steak and drizzle the entire dish in chimichurri sauce.