After careful research, we purchased our new Weber kettle grill to serve as the vehicle through which we experimented with grilling vegetables and breads. We LOVED grilling fresh corn and smothering it with a reduced balsamic vinegar dressing. Veggie kabobs, eggplant steaks, and marinated tofu also captured our imagination.

We’re still getting the hang of good-old-fashioned charcoal grilling and will work to perfect our skills over time.

grilled mushrooms
Grilled Mushrooms
grilled eggplant
Grilled Eggplant with Spicy Peanut Sauce
sliced fennel
Sliced Fennel
corn, sweet potato, and sauce
Grilled Corn and Sweet Potato with Basil Aïoli Sauce
leeks
Leeks with Port Beurre Sauce
green garlic, scallions, and summer squash
Grilled Summer Squash, Green Garlic, and Scallions
grilled endive and radicchio
Grilled Endive and Radicchio
delicata squash
Delicata Squash
grilled tofu
Grilled Tofu with Sweet Ginger Marinade
grilled bread and polenta
Grilled Bread and Polenta

The Wilted Spinach with Lemon and Pine Nuts comes together quickly and provides a palate-pleasing way to ingest one of nature’s super foods. Brussel Sprouts with Chestnuts and Maple Butter may actually pave the way for this vegetable to appear more often on the menu. We were also particularly fond of the Balsamic Roasted Red Onions.

As for the beans and grains, we gave our “thumbs up” to the Warm Black Beans with Chilies and Cilantro and the Pinto Beans with New Mexican Chilies. Though not generally tofu fans, we enjoyed grilling Tofu with Sweet Ginger Marinade.

Vegetables

roasted potatoes with garlic and fresh herbs
Roasted Potatoes with Garlic and Fresh Herbs
potatoes and mushrooms baked in parchment
Potatoes and Mushrooms Baked in Parchment
winter greens
Winter Greens with Currants, Pine Nuts, and Brown Butter
apples, fennel and greens
Sautéed Apples, Fennel, and Radicchio with Calvados
wilted spinach with lemon and pine nuts
Wilted Spinach with Lemon and Pine Nuts
beans and tomatoes
Sautéed Summer Beans and Cherry Tomatoes
roasted tomatoes
Roasted Tomatoes
brussel sprouts
Brussel Sprouts and Chestnuts with Maple Butter
roasted shallots
Roasted Shallots
roasted red onions
Balsamic Roasted Red Onions
stuffed squash
Baked Squash filled with Wild Rice, Golden Raisins, and Pine Nuts
stuffed eggplant
Eggplant Filled with Mushrooms, Sun-Dried Tomatoes, and Pine Nuts
stuffed zucchini
Zucchini Filled with Corn, Chilis, and Smoked Cheese
stuffed roasted peppers
Roasted Peppers Filled with Eggplant, Zucchini, and Basil

Beans and Grains

warm beans with sage
Warm Beans with Sage
warm black beans
Warm Black Beans with Chilis and Cilantro
pinto beans
Pinto Beans with New Mexican Chilis
sweet pepper rice
Sweet Pepper Rice
basmati and wild rice pilaf
Basmati and Wild Rice Pilaf
almond-currant couscous
Almond-Current Couscous

Sauces provide wonderful accents to many of the recipes included in this cookbook. While I captured photos of some of them individually, most were simply incorporated into other dishes – e.g., Basil Aioli Sauce, Port Beurre Sauce, and Spicy Peanut Sauce.

artichoke with lemon beurre blanc sauce
Artichoke with Lemon Beurre Blanc Sauce
roasted shallot sauce
Roasted Shallot Sauce
tomatillo salsa
Tomatillo Salsa
salsa fresca
Salsa Fresca
pesto
Pesto
cilantro pesto
Cilantro Pesto
honey miso sauce
Honey Miso Sauce

These selections provided bursts of flavor to accompany other dishes in this cookbook. The Apricot, Pineapple, and Mango-Papaya Chutneys served as accents to my favorite curry dishes. The Sweet and Sour Pearl Onions and Pickled Red Onions perked up a couple of guest meals. The Cranberry-Pear Relish may become a staple of our Thanksgiving feasts. And we loved using Fire-Dried Pecans as a salad condiment.

mandarin orange chutney
Mandarin Orange Chutney
cucumbers with yogurt and mint
Cucumbers with Yogurt and Mint
lemongrass cucumbers
Lemongrass Cucumbers
lemongrass vinegar
Lemongrass Vinegar
sweet and sour pearl onions
Sweet and Sour Pearl Onions
pickled red onions
Pickled Red Onions
cranberry-pear relish
Cranberry-Pear Relish
fire-dried pecans
Fire-Dried Pecans

Note: We used Spicy Peanuts as a topping for the Chinese Noodle Salad.

If you love chocolate, the Gâteau Moule (a.k.a., Steamed Chocolate Cake) will not disappoint. It’s delicate and moist and, therefore, a bit fragile when apportioning individual slices. No one will complain! The Ginger Pound Cake is also delicious – not too heavy, not too sweet.

I made the Cranberry Lattice Tart for my mother’s birthday. My older brother declared it to be among the top 3 fruit pies that he’d eaten in his lifetime. Considering the place of honor that my family accords fruit pies, it was high praise indeed!

The Praline Cookies were a bit of an adventure. I made the Praline from scratch, following Annie Somerville’s expert instructions. It came out as expected, although it was a bit of a mess when chopping into bite-sized pieces. However, the praline blended nicely with the shortbread dough, and the cookies were a bit hit with my ISing Choir compatriots.

I very nearly skipped making the Meyer Lemon Ice Cream and Mandarin Orange Sorbet for want of an ice cream maker. A friend came to the rescue with a loan of her easy-to-use Cuisinart appliance. Both recipes were so delicious that my mouth still waters at their memory.

The Honey Mouse deserves the final mention. The sweet richness of the mouse pairs nicely with fresh berries. Great honey is the secret to success. I purchased mine from my favorite beekeeper at the Beaverton Farmer’s Market. It’s well worth the added expense and, of course, supports a valued local business.

Having extolled the virutes of the recipes for which we had success, it’s only fair that I mention a “growth opportunity.” The Ginger Pots de Crème came out somewhat watery although was still tasty. The Lemon Pots De Crème exploded in the baking dish. It was still reasonably tasty but proved a little embarassing at the “big reveal” with our dinner companions.

applesauce
Applesauce
ginger pound cake
Ginger Pound Cake
persimmon pudding
Persimmon Pudding
steamed chocolate cake
Gâteau Moule – Steamed Chocolate Cake
honey mousse with berries
Raspberries and Blueberries with Honey Mousse
lemon pots de creme
Lemon Pots de Crème
ginger pots de creme
Ginger Pots de Crème
apricot cherry crisp
Apricot-Cherry Crisp with Crème Anglaise Sauce
apple-rhubarb crisp
Apple-Rhubarb Crisp
peach blueberry pie
Peach-Blueberry Pie
cranberry lattice tart
Cranberry Lattice Tart
strawberry cobbler
Strawberry Cobbler
gingerbread with poached cranberries
Gingerbread with Poached Cranberries
baked apple
Baked Apple Filled with Walnuts and Currants
raspberry sauce
Raspberry Sauce
praline
Praline
praline cookies
Praline Cookies
biscotti
Chocolate-Almond Biscotti
meyer lemon ice cream
Meyer Lemon Ice Cream
mandarin orange sorbet
Mandarin Orange Sorbet
candied citrus peel
Candied Citrus Peel

Note: Poached Apricots are featured as a topping for the Corn Cakes.

Spike and I crossed the finish line on the Fields of Greens cooking quest on July 2, 2016, 10 months and 2 days after we began. It was a great experience for both of us. Here are a few values that emerged on the journey.

The Value of Commitment. When making the decision to be “all in” with the quest, it pretty much eliminated the should-I-or-shouldn’t-I conversation about preparing the recipes. I just figured out a way to do it and discovered culinary territory that I simply would not have explored otherwise.

The Value of Encouragement. I hit one noteworthy low point when I nearly lowered my standards for completion. The sticking point was our lack of an ice cream maker and my resistance to buying one. So I thought I’d skip the affected recipes along with a handful of others while I was at it. Hats off to my friend Rebecca for cheering me on AND letting us borrow her ice cream maker. For the record: The Meyer Lemon Ice Cream and Mandarin Orange Sorbet were unreal! Not to be missed!

bryan, julius, and amandaThe Value of Sharing. We realized early on that the quest would go slowly if we had to eat all of the food that we prepared. So we started inviting people to dine with us given fair warning that they’d be noshing on food we’d never made. Suffice it to say, the fellowship was even better than the food… and the food was really good!

The Value of “Oh Well.” We had a few mishaps in the kitchen, and we sampled a few recipes that didn’t send us over the moon. Oh well! No big deal! I have confidence in my ability to improve on my technique and the discernment to know when it’s not worth the effort.

DadA week ago today, I was at my father’s bedside when he took his final breath. His health had been fragile for years, and he experienced chronic pain over the past few months. Through it all, he was a pillar of strength in adversity and made the best of his challenging circumstances. He always managed a smile whenever anyone came to visit and never lost his sense of humor. He was a good man, a devoted husband, and a wonderful father.

I’ve found solace over the past week in the simple act of food preparation. As I’ve alternated between waves of grief and an empty, lost feeling, it has been therapeutic to continue working on my Fields of Greens quest.

Vegetarian cuisine was not my father’s favorite. He’d have eaten it if presented with no other options, but he’d prefer a good old fashioned meat-and-potatoes meal. In fact, whenever I talked about experimenting with vegetarian recipes, he’d feel sorry for my husband. Perhaps as he watches over me from heaven, Dad will catch some of the fine aromas that emanate from my kitchen and wish he had a seat at my table. If only wishing could make it so…

When I started this quest last September, I gave myself permission to make “a reasonable approximation” in lieu of a precise rendition of all of the recipes. I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get all of the ingredients locally or be willing to pay a King’s ransom for them. I wasn’t sure that I’d have the time to prepare everything from scratch. And as I don’t like to waste food, I’d allow myself use of reasonable substitutes if it made sense to do so. For example, I wouldn’t buy three types of lettuce for a salad if Spike and I wouldn’t have the time or inclination to eat all the excess.

Fortunately, I’ve yet to find an instance where I couldn’t get an ingredient at a local grocer. Admittedly, some are pretty spendy, especially when purchased off season. But for the most part, I’m able to remain faithful to the recipes as written. And when I’ve intentionally veered off course, the world didn’t come to an end.

spinach canneloniThis week’s “aha” moment in freshness surrounded pasta sheets. I’d never cooked with fresh pasta before; I’ve always opted for the standard dried stuff. But there was a big difference in taste between this week’s cannelloni made with pasta sheets and the one I prepared a couple of months ago using dried manicotti shells. Pasta sheets hold the stuffing together without being overbearing in the taste department. The resulting dish had a far more nuanced flavor. So, I guess I’m a convert to fresh pasta sheets now. Just need to keep an eye out for them as they aren’t available at every grocer.

I achieved a major milestone this week by completing 25% of the recipes in the Fields of Greens cookbook. Mark and Alicia joined Spike and me in the celebration. We paired a butternut squash soup with a baguette and gruyère cheese for the occasion. Delicious!

mark and aliciaI’ve learned quite a bit about cooking since I started this journey:

  • Cooking “from scratch” takes quite a bit of time. Spike’s able assistance has been my salvation on a number of occasions. This journey has proven to be a lovely way to spend time together. I’ve also made a point of playing good music while in the kitchen.
  • Cooking “from scratch” is far more flavorful than cooking with short-cuts. There is a material difference in taste between fresh herbs and dried herbs and between bottled garlic and fresh garlic – well worth the incremental food preparation time. The biggest surprise in this realm is the extent to which canned tomatoes overwhelm a multi-facted recipe. While far more convenient than preparing stewed tomatoes from the fruit of the vine, canned tomaotes prove to be the “dominant genes” against which everything else seems “recessive.” It’s fine for some meals, but I’ll opt for making fresh tomato sauce for others.
  • This quest has introduced Spike and me to several new ingredients – e.g., celery root, chanterelle mushrooms, calvados, gruyère cheese. By stretching my boundaries, I’ve had to get much more familiar with the inventory at my local grocers. I’m awestruck by the bounty of food stuff we enjoy in the Pacific Northwest!
  • It’s not as hard as I imagined to prepare these foods. Admittedly, I’m not stellar in my technique. (I’m still struggling with pastry!) But I’m “succeeding” at meal preparation for the most part, and I expect to improve with practice.
  • Great food turns an otherwise run-of-the-mill meal into “date night”!

spring vegetable curryIt was fairly light week cooking-wise. We signed onto a meal train in behalf of good friends who are a week out from major surgery and did a “repeat” of the Summer Vegetables with Red Curry and Apricot Chutney. Spike and I worked efficiently in the kitchen having made these recipes before. It felt good to serve up something special for them.

Otherwise, I decided to venture further into soups and stews. I made my first batch of Vegetable Stock for use in the Winter Greens Soup. With a bit more effort, I could have made a double batch of stock and saved myself some effort on the next go round. Stock freezes like a champ. Lesson learned… Meanwhile, the Winter Greens Soup was wonderful!

My second meal of the week was an ambitious one: Winter Vegetable Pie. Even the author admitted: “This is a time-consuming dish to prepare, but well worth the effort.” It had 3 major components: (i) Mushroom Stock from which I made a sumptuous Mushroom Sauce; (ii) assorted vegetables and fresh herbs for the “meat” of the pie; and, (iii) tart dough for the topping. It consumed a healthy part of a day to prepare – although I made a double-batch of Vegetable Stock while I was at it. The end result was a full-on party for our taste buds.

spring vegetable curryWhen I make this dish for company, I’ll opt for individually-sized pie plates (a la chicken pot pie.) As you can see, it’s rather difficult to get a serving out of the pie pan. I’ll also make sure to place a cookie sheet under the pie pan while baking. The filling oozed out the sides and started burning on the bottom of the oven. Spike and I scrambled to ventilate the kitchen before the smoke detectors got in on the action. Oh, well… We needed to clean the oven anyway!