Saturday, October 15, 2011

Crispy Pork Belly with Couscous and Plum Sauce

     The warm, sun-filled weather of summer has gone.  Cooler nights accompany daily rain-clouds that march through the Rogue Valley like a military invasion.  Most of our summer vegetables have been harvested, despite a few lingering tomatoes, peppers and stone fruit aching to be released from their stemmed bondage.  October in Southern Oregon makes the sleepy pear orchards come alive with the bustle of box-crates, ladders and trucks.  The harvest is a time-sensitive affair; almost overnight, the orchards are picked and the fruit is packed, resulting in the distribution of fine fruit to most of the country.
     The fruit trees on our property have received a different kind of attention.  Unfortunately, we did not enjoy very much of the fruit from our trees due to pest thievery. Birds, rats, squirrels, raccoons and deer have all eaten well this year!  However, our flowering plum tree produced a hefty yield which seemed relatively untouched.  This is a type of purple-leaf plum (or cherry plum.)  As the fruit is not wonderful raw, I decided to use it for a sauce.  I harvested approximately 2 pounds just as the fruit began to fall from the branches on its own accord.  It doesn't get any riper than that!

Ripe cherry plums.

     Crispy, braised pork belly was the first thing that came to mind after tasting the tart sweetness of the plum sauce.  Soft, fatty, savory pork belly is undoubtedly one of the finest foods, ever.  Although it is the same cut as bacon, uncured pork belly braised in fruit juice and booze will create a fork-tender feast worthy of applause.  Despite being a guilty pleasure, moderate amounts of braised pork belly can undoubtedly increase the quality of one's life.  Layers of muscle and fat give the braise a fluffy, fork tender appeal.  My sweetheart affectionately refers to it as "bacon cake," for obvious reasons.
     The belly is served on a bed of toasted pearl (Israeli) couscous tossed with fresh mint and cilantro.  The refreshing, herbal notes from the couscous form a flavor platform for the pork and plum sauce to dance upon.  The blend of equal parts mint and cilantro brings a bright Thai profile to the tiny pasta beads.  The glaze has a sour plum flavor that cuts through the fatty belly at the same time the sweetness highlights the savory meatiness.  Japanese plum wine, made from Ume plums, sweetens the sauce with a floral essence and slight vanilla taste.  Large couscous lends a bubbly, pearlescent texture to contrast the crackle of crisped skin.  Because the braise can take several hours, I cook the belly the day before serving, so it has a chance to cool for portioning (cutting warm, braised meat can result in frustrating destruction.)  Additionally, keep in mind that the belly is very rich; a smaller portion may be sufficient.
     I prefer to braise this cut with the skin attached, covering the meat below.  As the belly cooks, it begins to float in the braising liquid surfacing parts of the meat which could dry slightly.  Naturally, the skin insulates the muscle in a moisturizing layer of thick fat.  You may find that the rind is just too much fat to consume.  If so, I recommend cooking the belly with the skin still attached, removing it once the meat is cool.  There are claims that pig skin can be unhealthy because the animals secretes toxins through the skin, like humans.  This, however, would only concern customers of producers who raise animals in highly toxic conditions.  If the pork is not organic (or at least naturally raised,) I would probably avoid it altogether, personally.  Also, be sure your butcher removes the mammary glands from the belly; these glands can cause an unpleasantly piggish flavor.

Crispy Pork Belly

3 lbs pork belly (rind on)
3 cups pork stock (or chicken)
3 cups apple cider
2 cups sake
2 cups plum wine (ume)
11/2 cups coconut juice
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 granny smith apple, seeded and quartered
1 large Spanish onion
1 bulb garlic, peeled
2 Thai chili peppers, seeds removed
1/2 Tbs black peppercorns
kosher salt

  • Place aromatics into deep braising pan, season belly liberally and place on top with the skin side up.  
  • Pour liquids into pan, cover with foil and bake at 400°F for 45 minutes, then drop the temperature to 325°F for 4 hours.
  • Allow to cool in liquid.
  • Remove carefully, wrap and chill the belly.

To serve crispy:

  • Cut 5 ounce portions, score through fat (1/4 inch.)
  • Season with salt, place fat side-down in cold pan and into 450°F oven for approximately 8 minutes (until golden brown and warmed through.)  
  • Remove and slice through scored marks.

Braised belly, scored through the rind and first layer of fat.

Plum Soy Glaze

2 lbs cherry plums (fresh, whole)
1 cup plum wine (ume)
2 tsp tamari soy sauce

  • Gently smash plums in a heavy-bottomed sauce pot, add wine and simmer for 25 minutes (stirring occasionally.)
  • Pass through large strainer.
  • Reduce to a glaze (approximately 1 cup.)
  • Add tamari and pass through fine strainer.

Thai Pearl Couscous

1 cup pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 Tbs sunflower or rice bran oil
1 tsp salt
3 cups water
2 Tbs cilantro, chopped (fresh)
2 Tbs mint, chopped (fresh)

  • Lightly toast couscous in oil, add water and salt.
  • Simmer rapidly, stirring occasionally for 20-30 minutes.
  • Allow to cool, slightly, then add fresh herbs and serve.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Hanger Steak with Fries

     Don't worry, I'm okay...  I think.  Perhaps I should begin with an explanation.  I know that I should apologize for my absence from this blog, but I do not feel sorry.  The fact is, I have had a lot on my plate.  I was recently hired as the chef of a new business and bought a house all in the same week!  'Busy' is an understatement.  The eighty-hour work weeks on top of moving (and then maintaining a little over an acre during growing season) has consumed my every waking moment.  I am so grateful for the good fortune this year has provided but it truly has not been easy.
     Since my last post, I continued to work at the Ashland Food Co-Operative (in what is the nation's "most productive" food co-op deli.)  We produced large volumes of deli food including ethnic, vegan, organic, wheat-free and even totally raw dietary options.  Amazingly, our weekly sales reached into the seventy-thousand dollar range during the slow months of March and April.  Things were good, but I was dissatisfied with this type of heavy production.  So I searched for, and found, a head-chef position at a small bar in the historic town of Jacksonville, Oregon.  The position was unique, (in many ways) primarily because I was the only kitchen staff.  Oh, and we didn't have a kitchen either; a convection oven, panini press and rice cooker were my appliances.  I will spare you the details, but essentially, I made delicious happen with very little, every day.  I have since moved on to bigger and better things but needed to, at least, explain the cause for such a lapse.
Bud loves our new home, especially the field.

     Summer has arrived and it is hot!  Daily readings of 100°F in the shade make for perfect barbeque weather.  Conveniently, the house we purchased came with a Weber gas grill in good, working condition.  Even more convenient was the hanger steak in my freezer, patiently waiting to be thawed.  (This was not part of the home sale, of course.)  Hanger steak (hanging tender, or onglet in France) is also known as the 'Butcher's Steak' because it often goes home with them at the end of the day.  You see, hanger steak is the best steak of all.  Ha! I can't believe I said it... but it's true.
     Don't get me wrong; I love ribeye and greatly admire filet mignon, but they do not compare to the perfection that is hanger steak.  This cut is highly desired because there is only one hanging tender on a cow.  The nomenclature is derived from its position on the animal "hanging" below the diaphragm.  This location  is dually benevolent because the surrounding organs impart great flavor, and because the muscle is very tender as it is not used for locomotion or steering.  The steaks are small (1 1/2 to 2 pounds, typically) with one steak slightly larger than another, more slender steak.  A large band of ligament and silver-skin runs through the two portions and should be removed creating two uneven steaks or approximately 4, 7-ounce steaks.  The steaks, simply seasoned with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil, are best cooked to medium-rare (at most.)  After grilling, allow the steaks to rest before slicing across the grain.
     These steaks were served with a quick, marinated tomato salad and fresh baby arugula dressed lightly in lemon juice and olive oil.  Hand-cut french fries complete the meal with classic virtue.  Albeit unhealthy, there is no substitute for a perfectly fried potato.  Stacked alongside a juicy steak seems to be a common aspiration for the modest yet elegant fry (other than riding in a basket of beer-battered fish, of course.)  They say that if a potato is good and healthy, then it's "fit to be fried."
     For great fries, use russet potatoes (these are more starchy) and rice bran, peanut, sunflower or coconut oil.  First, blanche the potatoes in oil at 275°-250°F for about 10 minutes (or until slightly softened.)  Then, cool on a drained rack in the refrigerator before frying again in the oil heated to 360°-375°F for about 7 minutes (or until golden brown.)  As soon as the fries come out of the oil, season with salt so that it sticks.

Marinated Tomatoes

1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half
1/4 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and minced
2 shallots, peeled and sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, shaved thin
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 Tbs sherry vinegar
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and marinate for 15 minutes.

Grilled hanger steak with marinated tomatoes, baby arugula, and hand-cut fries.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Black Cod with Chorizo

The Siskiyou Mountains, with Mt. Shasta in the distance, border Northern California and Southern Oregon.

     A dormant Southern Oregon landscape currently sleeps through winter's drawn out procession.  Constant, cold fog teased by mid-day sun keeps the ground damp, and the trees barren.  Green grass is the only sign of spring, even though it has been a very mild winter.  Most of the snow has melted from the Siskiyou Mountains, frustrating skiers and scaring farmers.  Hopefully, more will fall to replenish the watershed and thrill adrenaline junkies.  The weather is dreary enough to spice things up a bit.  Comfort food with a Spanish flare is what I fancy.  Black cod with homemade chorizo and pinquito beans served with a big hunk of crusty bread and garlic aioli will, undoubtedly, warm up the soul.

      I am presently educating myself in all things local, within the realm of sustainability.  There is much to learn in a new region with varying seasonal patterns, farming practices, standards of expectation, and limited availability.  The biggest challenge, however, is the lack of USDA certification inspection facilities nearby.  Many local ranchers cannot feasibly ship their product almost 200 miles for inspection, then back down to the Rogue Valley and market it as a 'local' product.  The benefit of local food, environmentally speaking, hinges on the pin of carbon emission reduction.  In order to buy truly local meat and seafood one must use a non-USDA approved distributor.  However, without overcrowding feed lots while administering hormones, pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified feed, there is little worry for disease and bacteria, which would otherwise need to be tested for.
     I am reminded of my experience raising my own pig for slaughter in Southern California.  I had no idea what I was getting into, and although it may seem pretty straight-forward, raising a pig is like raising a little rhinoceros, or better yet, a giant gopher.  Sure, they are cute and funny, but also very strong, iron-willed, and always hungry.  It was not easy keeping the pig in the pen.  Pigs are professional diggers.  Although my pig, appropriately named Carnitas, was not sustainably nor organically raised, she was happy, healthy and received plenty of attention.  Vegetable scraps and leftover starches (to supplement the barley-corn feed) were commonly given to the pig instead of the local landfill.  Furthermore, when it was approximately 45 days to slaughter, I changed her diet to wild acorns and figs (which are easily foraged in Santa Barbara.)  Acorns are high in fat, and figs have plenty of sugar which also helps to increase the animal's weight and improve the flavor of the meat.  Raising one's own pig is not easy; I do not recommend it to anyone.  But, if you decide to do so, be sure to give the animal plenty of rummaging space, bury 12 inch boards into the ground below the fencing (or use electric fence,)  and consult your local city hall for zoning restrictions on livestock.  Oh, and be sure to dispose of the manure appropriately.

Mt. Shasta, beyond the Klamath River entering Yreka.

     It seems that hog farming can go one of two ways; it can be environmentally conscientious or  devastating.  The usefulness of omnivore ranching provides a dietary ease for the farmer, but it can destroy waterways from waste runoff.  Pasturing the animals enriches the soil, by turning up nutrients and quickly composting organic matter.  Also, the natural landscape absorbs animal waste instead of sheeting it into culverts and gutters down toward rivers and streams.  The varying diet of pasture foraging gives the pork a fatty meatiness far from any sort of 'other white meat' associations.  Willow-Witt Ranch, near Ashland, Oregon produces organic, sustainably-raised, pastured pork.  (A wonderful USDA approved product.)  Additionally, the ranch raises pack-trained goats for adventurers, milking goats, young chevon, eggs, meat chickens, and seasonal vegetables.  They even sell their own goat dairy, homemade sausages, and ready-to-use compost by the cubic yard.  Nestled high in the Southern Cascade Mountains, this 440 acre ranch has implemented many benevolent practices to appreciate.  Energy independence, sustainable agriculture, wetland restoration and holistic forest management are the greatest achievements a farm can produce in addition to their bounty.  Willow-Witt Ranch believes that "like pure mountain water, good stewardship here at the headwaters cascades through the entire watershed."

     My training as a professional cook in Santa Barbara, California taught me many things.  I cherished the amazing abundance of year-round produce and locally raised food.  Santa Maria style barbeque is a traditional meal, utilizing pinquito beans (a cross between white and pink beans) served with oak-grilled, top-block sirloin or tri-tip steak, fresh salsa, and tortillas.  The simplicity of such cultural food is what, I think, makes it so appealing.  These tiny little beans have found a special place in my heart (they don't take up much room in there.)  Even though we are far from the Central Coast of California, dried beans travel well and these seem to frequently find their way into my homemade chili and bean stews.

Cook pinquito beans the same way you would cook pinto beans:  

  • Pick through the dried beans to prevent any unwanted pebbles ending up in your food.  
  • Soak them in plenty of water overnight, and simmer in a large pot with a quartered onion, garlic cloves, salt and a dried chili pepper (I prefer chili de arbol.)  
  • There should be a small amount of excess water leftover from the cooking process.  (This helps keep the beans moist and enriches the broth of the finished product.)

     Chorizo is a pork sausage found in most Latin countries, in a number of regional varieties.  It takes on a different form and flavor in each of its beloved faces.  In Portugal the sausage is usually dried in shorter casings.  In Mexico, it is often sold fresh and made with native chili peppers and salivation glands (which melts into crumbly bits when cooked.)  Spanish chorizo is usually made with paprika and comes short, long, dried, or fresh.  To serve with the flaky, white, slightly firm flesh of black cod I prepare a fresh, Spanish-style chorizo with Mexican flavors.  Pork shoulder provides ideal taste and a perfect balance of marbled meat and fat for grinding into this light-cured, caseless sausage.  It 'ages' with the strong flavors of Mexican chili peppers, fresh oregano and garlic, smoked paprika, and tequila.  I would also serve this fresh sausage with clams, calamari, sea bass or along with kale and potatoes (if cod is unavailable.)
     Black cod, also known as sablefish, or 'butterfish' is abundant in the wild.  Commercial fisheries have not over-fished black cod, and mindful fisheries use hook and line instead of trawling gear (which destroys marine habitat on the ocean floor.)  Line catching also allows the fishermen to safely minimize endangered discards and by-catch.  These large round-fish are found below 656 feet, and as deep as 9,800 feet, in the North Pacific waters from California to Alaska and over to Japan.  Locally harvested off the coast of Oregon by Port Orford Sustainable Seafood, this very rich, sweet flavored fish has high omega-3 fatty acids making this a heart-healthy choice, as well.  For information regarding sustainable fishing practices the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has developed a fish watch website for habitat and harvesting information regarding most species found throughout the country.  Here is a link.
     Both the fish and pork, among other goods, are available to purchase through Rogue Valley Local Foods, a local cooperative that drops off orders at various locations within the valley.

Rogue Valley from Mt. Ashland

     Keep in mind, this recipe calls for the sausage to marinate for 24 hours, before grinding.  Also, this is a large recipe, but the chorizo freezes well, pre-portioned.  Using freshly ground spices dramatically increases the boldness of the flavor due to a timely release of essential oils.  Warming the peppers, cumin and black pepper at 250° - 300° F for a few minutes before grinding creates a deeper, more palatable tone to the spice mixture.  This sausage is moderately spicy, in my opinion, with a delayed heat revealed after a few seconds.  If freshly ground spices are unavailable, you may wish to increase the cumin and peppers.  Prepare the measured spices and chopped aromatics ahead of meat cutting to keep the pork cold.  Also, remove any glands from the pork shoulder as these will tarnish the sausage's flavor.  This dish requires two saute pans, a preheated oven, a small amount of dry sherry and room temperature butter.


2 egg yolks
10 cups light flavored oil (grapeseed, olive)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 lemon juiced
salt and pepper to taste

  • Using a food processor (or mortar and pestle,) crush the garlic with a tiny amount of salt.
  • Add yolks, blend till smooth.
  • Slowly add oil (while mixing,) incorporating as you drizzle.  (Mixture should thicken as it emulsifies.)
  • Add juice to loosen.
  • Add remaining oil (slowly,) then season with salt and pepper.
  • Aioli should have consistency of mayo, but with strong garlic and fresh lemon flavor.


5 lb pork shoulder, cut into 1" cubes (max. size)
1 1/2 oz kosher salt
2 Tbs ancho pepper, dried and ground
1 Tbs smoked paprika
1 Tbs cayenne pepper, ground
1 Tbs fresh garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin, ground
1 tsp black pepper, ground
1 Tbs fresh oregano, chopped

3 Tbs tequila, chilled
3 Tbs red wine vinegar

Fresh chorizo

Mix seasonings (except tequila and vinegar) with pork, thoroughly.

Pack tightly and marinate for 24 hours.

Grind through medium die on meat grinder.

Mix meat and tequila / vinegar.

Cook a small piece and adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary.

    Pan-Seared Black Cod

    8 oz. boneless fillet of black cod
    salt and pepper to taste
    cooking oil

    • Preheat oven to 500° F.
    • Heat large cast iron or steel pan with oil (canola, grapeseed, rice bran, or safflower) until barely smoking.
    • Season fillet with salt and pepper.
    • Sear on one side till golden, then quickly flip fillet and finish in the oven for approximately 4 minutes.

    Black Cod

    Plate Assembly

    • Heat a large saute pan with some oil until barely smoking, add 4 oz of fresh chorizo slightly broken-up.  
    • Cook through, breaking-up the sausage and stirring to brown the outer bits. 
    •  Add 1 oz dry sherry to pan (away from flame) and reduce briefly.  
    • Add 6 oz of cooked pinquito beans to the pan with about 1-2 oz water, or stock.  
    • Reduce a bit more and remove from heat, fold 1 tablespoon of butter into beans and chorizo, 'till melted, and serve immediately with finished cod on top.  Garnish with fresh scallions, chives (or fine herbs mix of chopped chive, chervil, parsley, tarragon, and thyme.)  

    Black cod with pastured-pork chorizo and pinquito beans.

         Deglazing the chorizo with dry sherry lends a velvety sweetness to compliment all the components of this dish.  The tiny pinquito beans are a fun and flavorful addition, while ciabatta bread has all the nooks and crannies needed to appropriately enjoy this meal.  Under the beautifully opalescent fish, this is a bean and chorizo stew, really.  The broth soaking bread and fillet of 'butterfish' make this an interactive meal of memorable proportions.  I would recommend serving a nice light salad on the side of this belly-stretching behemoth.

    Saturday, January 1, 2011

    Beet Salad

         I must apologize, as it has been over a month since my last post.  Things have been, well, preoccupying.  We left our homestead in northeast Wyoming for better work, or as I should say, better food.  Our move west to the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon went well, despite the challenges associated with packing our belongings across a frozen footbridge and into a 6' X 12' trailer in the dead of winter, then driving it halfway across the country over icy passes and through frequent snowstorms whipping the over-sized load in tow.  Might I add, this is the second time we have done this sort of "I'll never do that again," kind of towing in inclement weather.  We were fortunate to approach the Denio Pass (with it's white knuckle, sweaty brow, cliff hanging, sans guard-rail, gravel strewn, boulder dropping, 8 percent grade) during a lull in the late November storms prevalent throughout the northern Nevada ranges.

    Fog sets on snow-speckled mountains surrounding pear orchards in the Rogue Valley.

          Southern Oregon is beautiful and rich.  Beautiful for the magnificently mystical mountains covered in various types of trees, which create a stage for the daily displays of fog dancing on the peaks and valleys.    It is rich, for the abundance of locally grown, sustainable products found at the markets.  Sustainable farming is the future of food.  Roughly speaking, it is a practice that takes no more from the earth than it gives back 'sustaining' a healthy ecosystem within the agricultural environment.  Most organic farming operations are well aware of such practical methods.
         Joel Salatin, of Polyface Farms in Virginia, is a shining example of sustainable farming.  He has shown that sustainable farming does not require reinventing the wheel.  Instead, following older techniques and understanding biodynamic relationships between animals and plants allows a farm to produce high quality foods without chemical dependencies.  Encouraging chickens to scratch through pastures just after cattle have grazed, prevents the need to use anti-worm medication in the cows, but also provides manure disbursement (which would otherwise burn the grass where the dung was left intact.)  Also, allowing many different crops to grow in the same plot of land eliminates the exploitative deterioration of soil quality found in all monoculture systems after only a few years.  Further examples of sustainable farming include: rain-water gathering for irrigation, biological filtering of waste-waters, recycling of manure for all-natural fertilizer or methane gas, and even bio-diesel production from poor quality or surplus crops to run agricultural machinery.  Small steps like these add up to a better future for everyone, but primarily for the farmer who is unable to make ends meet in a world overrun with a consumer-based appetite for fast and cheap.
         The food industry has, at long last, slowly turned a marketable corner down the road of limitless opportunity, cobbled with free resources, and gas lit by no-impact righteousness (at least within most of Europe, coastal United States, Asia and Australia; basically anywhere with a conscientious population.)  Standing Stone Brewing Company in Ashland, Oregon has made extensive efforts to run a restaurant and brewery as environmentally pro-active as possible.  They even provide beneficial incentives encouraging employees to bicycle to work.  This trend will hopefully overpower the corporate domination of food production systems, currently growing throughout the world, within our lifetimes.  'Hopefully,' is a moderate word to use.
         In my opinion, incredibly wealthy companies like Monsanto repeatedly destroy efforts made to better the future of food by lobbying and passing bills favorable to their biotechnological reign.  Vote against the eternal ownership of all seed genetics and against the production of genetically modified foods, in order to save our agricultural system from total obliteration by not buying ANY of their products.  Europe has already kicked this 'Franken-food' out of the continent as we should have, long ago.  For more detailed information, watch: Food Inc.,  The Beautiful Truth,  Food Matters,  King Corn,  Dirt! The Movie or read any of Michael Pollan's books.  Next step, VOTE with your purchases; it's the only way.

    Okay, enough ranting, no more digressions . . .

         Much of our new life here in Oregon will revolve around the world of frugality.  Spending little is crucial to making it through hard transitions.  Our new home has no garden, no chicken coop, nor does it have a fish-filled creek running through it.  There is no fireplace to fuel and no tools to build with (in this last year alone, I have built 3 bridges, 1 trolley, and 1 gondola just to cross the creek for road access.)  It is a different lifestyle here, one which we have lived before.  Still, I must admit how strange it is to venture into town daily, for errands, job hunting, and even to shop for delicious, organic food.  Living at the cabin, we needed little from the city proper itself, other than milk and proteins.  Things must change though, in order to progress but, also, in order to share a knowledge worth it's weight in beans, so to speak.
         Alas, I must share my favorite utilization of the humble beet.  Beets have been essential to commercial sugar production for many years.  Sweet, simple to cook, vibrantly colored, and healthy to boot; the beet is a universal food for the creative cook (who must also be tolerant of stained hands.)  Simply roasted with some sherry, butter and water, then peeled, cooled and cut is my favorite way to enjoy beets.  The greens are incredible as well, providing many essential vitamin and mineral contributions to a delicious braised side dish.  However, the usually ruby-colored gem hidden beneath the soil is certainly the prize.

         Thanks to Ruby's mother, we have several jars of canned beets (schlepped from our garden in Wyoming, miraculously preserved with all their deliciousness) for our enjoyment through such fiscally harrowing times.  Canning increases the shelf-life of foods to their ultimate limits (other than drying, of course.)  Much like most processed foods, sanitation and sterilization are key to canning well.  Properly canned beets can taste as good as the day they were picked.
         I have decided to share a recipe from the early days of my career.  This dish sold like hotcakes in a now closed restaurant, primarily because beets were making a come-back on menus everywhere, but also because the dish itself was brilliantly coordinated.  There are many things that just taste great, and that is all that need be explained.  This is one of those things.  I wish I could describe the flavor of this dish better than I know how.  It tastes like what the beet wanted to do, what it wanted to become.  I know, it sounds incredibly cheesy, but I am not making this up.  If the beet could speak, it would say: "Serve me with blue cheese in a lemon-parsley vinaigrette, please and thank you."  (Because beets are so very polite.)

    Vibrant vinaigrette pictured with Oregon Blue Cheese.

         This dish is pictured with a balsamic reduction for visual contrast and depth of flavor.  Additionally, I used Rogue Creamery's Oregon Blue Cheese made (from raw milk) in Central Point, just a few miles from our home.  Their artisan cheeses are crafted with a commitment to sustainability.  In California, we would use Point Reyes Blue Cheese (my personal favorite) instead, because it was closer to home (another sustainable product as well).
         Watercress is a suitable medium for this salad, but mâche (lamb's lettuce or corn salad) would be optimal.  The texture of crisp greens is more important than the peppery flavor.  Italian flat-leaf parsley has a much more palatable flavor than its curly cousin, therefore, securing its preferential use in the vinaigrette.  Also, canned beets were utilized instead of, ideally, fresh roasted beets.  If pickled beets are all that is available, omit the vinegar in the dressing and deconstruct its essential components: lemon zest, parsley, shallot, and olive oil.  Combined, the separate ingredients marry into their own dressed completeness.

    Lemon Parsley Vinaigrette

    1 large bunch picked Italian flat parsley (3 cups packed)
    3 lemons zested
    1 lemon juiced
    1 shallot
    1 clove garlic
    1 Tbs sugar
    1 Tbs whole grain mustard
    1/4 cup sherry vinegar
    1 1/2 cup olive oil
    salt and pepper to taste

    Blend all ingredients until smooth.
    *Makes just over 1 quart.

    Beet Salad

    3 ounces roasted beets (peeled, cooled, and cut into 1/8ths)
    1 ounce mâche, watercress, or micro-greens
    2 ounces blue cheese
    1 ounce lemon parsley vinaigrette
    pinch salt and freshly cracked black pepper

    Toss lightly and serve.