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Published: Wednesday, June 12, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Food for thought while at life's crossroads

My initiation into the world of food was a San Francisco test kitchen.
This should have been heady stuff: Developing recipes for national brand clients like Dole, Del Monte, and Sunkist. But the fact was, my boss was a whacko.
So, frankly, after three months on the job, the first real payoff came via a phone call from my cousin Ron back in Washington, D.C.
"Jan, what are you doing this weekend?"
"Well, not much, why?"
"I was sort of hoping you could spend it with Carol and me to look over the recipes in my book. Maybe even give some of them a test run. If you're willing, there will be a ticket for you at the United Airlines counter for this Friday."
The book, one of Ron's ongoing personal hobbies, wasn't associated with his day job, of course. He was one of the more influential lobbiests inside the Beltway. But one of his loves was cooking. The current project was titled "Cooking With Booze," and he'd be handing it out to friends at Christmas.
Of course I went. I've always loved hanging out with my cousin and his wife.
Carol made it clear she was relieved I'd shown up. For one very practical reason: "Frankly, Jan, I'm just worried about the litigation. I mean, couldn't some of these bourbon-soaked recipes explode?"
Aside from a bit of editing to bring a common structure to the recipes, and a tiny amount of tasting and testing during one afternoon of cooking from the book, I'm not sure how much help I was for Ron's project. But I had a wonderful time.
At one point I met him downtown for lunch at one of the city's more trendy restaurants. Sans Souci, Ron explained, had become the fashionable gathering place for the Washington elite.
"In fact," he added, "I'm, going to introduce you to a real four-star general. Be impressed!"
Over soft-shell crab and a divine salad, my cousin advised me on love ("Dump the guy!"), life ("Just picture where you'll be in five years and ask yourself if what you're doing now is even on the route") and work ("You're too good for them, Jan").
Reflecting on that weekend, I can see it's obvious that helping Ron with his recipe development was pretty much a ruse.
He had sensed my arrival at a significant crossroad. Direction was called for and as only a loved one confident in his message and my ability to hear it can do, he was unfolding his road map and laying it out on the table.
Ron isn't the only member of our family who's found food to be a natural bridge between giving advice and taking it: My own brother and I have resolved multiple dilemmas while standing over a simmering crab pot, my mother heads for the tea kettle when her daughter is in need of counsel and I've learned that some of the most heartfelt thoughts spring from a granddaughter's brain while making caramels and taking turns on the crank of the ice cream maker.
With that in mind, here are a few simple summer recipes to inspire conversation and encourage dreams while you enjoy some lazy moments on the deck or on the trail with those you care about.
This is the wonderful wine cooler that my Aunt Nida used to serve at their summer house in the Sonoma Valley on balmy summer evenings.
Nida's simple sangria
1 12-ounce can frozen pink lemonade
4 can measures (using the frozen lemonade can) of club soda
4 can measures (using the frozen lemonade can) of dry red wine
1 can measure (using the frozen lemonade can) of triple sec (or other orange-flavored liqueur)
Juice of 1 lime
Fresh slices of lemons and limes for garnish
Combine all of the ingredients in a beautiful glass pitcher. Stir well. Serve over ice.
Yields 33/4 quarts of sangria.
Note: The recipe can be increased or decreased as desired by keeping the ingredients in correct proportion. Keeps for weeks in the refrigerator.
Wild rice salad with Walla Walla Sweets and smoked turkey
1 cup long-grain brown rice
1/2 cup wild rice
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups homemade or canned chicken broth
1/2 pound smoked turkey breast, cubed
1 large or 2 medium-sized Walla Walla Sweet onions, diced
1 cup peeled, seeded, and diced cucumber
1/2 cup chopped green onions (white and green portions)
1/2 cup each seeded and chopped green and red bell peppers
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1 cup fresh or frozen peas (thawed, but not cooked)
1/2 cup coarsely chopped water chestnuts
11/2 cups mayonnaise
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring to a boil the brown and wild rice, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and the broth. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, 40 to 45 minutes, or until the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from heat, toss lightly with a fork and set aside to cool.
In an attractive salad bowl, combine the smoked turkey, Walla Walla Sweets, cucumbers, green onions, bell peppers, parsley, peas, and water chestnuts. Toss gently with the cooled rice.
In a small, deep bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise and the rice vinegar, mustard, marjoram, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and the black pepper. Adjust seasonings, adding additional vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper to taste. Add the dressing to the salad and stir well, then cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
The salad makes a perfectly lovely meal simply served on a fresh lettuce leaf, garnished with a few green onion slices and toasty cheese bread.
Alternatives:
Omit the smoked turkey and serve the salad with grilled chicken breasts; or marinate and grill chicken breasts ahead of time, then cut into chunks and add to the salad.
Add sugar snap peas if available; just throw them in along with everything else.
Garlic-shallot marinade for pork tenderloin, chicken breasts or steak
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup bourbon or dark rum
1 teaspoon salt
5 cloves garlic, smashed or chopped
3 tablespoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Pork tenderloins, steaks, or boneless/skinless chicken breasts
In a small bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sugar, bourbon or rum, salt, garlic, shallots and ginger. Place the marinade in a self-closing plastic bag with the meat of your choice and refrigerate overnight for steaks and pork tenderloins, or 5 to 6 hours for chicken breasts.
Remove the marinated meat from the refrigerator and drain for 20 to 30 minutes before cooking. Either discard the marinade or pour it into a saucepan and cook it at a slow boil for 5 to 10 minutes then set aside.
Grill the meat over hot coals until cooked to desired stage of doneness. When ready to serve, drizzle some of the reheated marinade over the meat, or serve it on the side.
Yield: Enough for two pork tenderloins, four steaks or eight chicken breasts.
Here's one of those "standing around the ice cream maker" recipes I was talking about.
Taking turns with the crank always provides opportunity for sharing thoughts and dreams.
Marionberry and peach crisp with homemade Marionberry ice cream
4 cups peaches, peeled and sliced
4 cups Marionberries (or other blackberry)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 3/4 cups flour, divided
1 1/2 cups old fashioned oats
2 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 1/4 teaspoons nutmeg
1 cup butter, softened
Marionberry ice cream (recipe follows), or commercially made ice cream of your choice)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees degrees.
Place peaches in a lightly greased 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Layer Marionberries over peaches. Sprinkle with lemon juice and 1/4 cup of the flour. Combine the remaining 1-1/2 cups flour with the oats, brown sugar and spices. Cut the butter into the flour mixture with a blender or two knives until crumbly well blended. Sprinkle topping mixture evenly over the fruit and bake for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown on the crust and very hot and bubbly.
Makes one 13-by-9-inch pan.
Marionberry ice cream: Puree 4 cups Marionberries (or other blackberry variety) in food processor or blender. Remove the seeds by pressing the puree through a wire sieve with a wooden spoon or spatula. You will have about 2 cups of puree. Combine the puree with 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of half and half, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract; chill thoroughly. Transfer the chilled berry mixture to an ice cream freezer and process according to manufacturer's instructions. Makes 1 1/2 quarts.
Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis, Ore., food writer, artist, and author of "Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit," and four other cookbooks. Readers can contact her by email at janrd@proaxis.com, or obtain additional recipes and food tips on her blog at www.janrd.com.
Story tags » Cooking

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