Summer Quencher: Classic Gin & Tonic

Whenever my mother would visit, the first thing we did was to sit her down and hand her a gin and tonic. You might say it was the family's signature cocktail, since even before I had been introduced to the joys of a good gin, my father had instructed me in the art of making a decent gin and tonic.

To wit: a glass two-thirds full of ice, two fingers of clear-as-an-icy-mountain stream gin poured over said ice, then fill with tonic—whether plain or artisanal, it made no difference. A final touch was a wedge of lime squeezed over the top and dropped into the glass. A brief stir with a cocktail spoon (or even a finger—the alcohol would vanquish any germ that dared intrude) and it was done. No recipe, no finicky measuring of ingredients. Just gin, tonic and lime over ice was all that was required.

Some of the aunties preferred a little less gin, a little more tonic—that was fine. Some uncles may have tipped a splash more gin in the mix; no shame there, either. Ratios of two parts gin to five parts tonic may be touted by rules-bound aficonados, but in our family a perfect gin and tonic was always a personal matter, a ratio determined when the complex variables of mood, external and internal temperature, maybe even altitude (who knows?) came into play.

The one rule that always applied? Sip and enjoy.

Classic Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.


Elderflower Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
1 to 1 1/2 cocktail spoons elderflower syrup (equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.)
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin and add elderflower syrup. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine

Salad Smackdown: Nectarine and Cherry Salad

Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.

What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or  smoothskin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.

To peel or not to peel?

Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.

If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:

With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.

Roasted nectarines, anyone?

Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)

Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.

Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts

1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced
1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved
1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.

Get more fabulous peach (or nectarine) recipes for desserts, jams, salads and even cocktails! The Beaverton Farmers Market is an advertiser and supporter of Good Stuff NW.

Fermentation Fascination: Rave-worthy Quick Refrigerator Pickles

I'm not a woo-woo sort of person. Pragmatism runs deep in my veins, but recently it's been feeling like the universe is pointing me in the direction of fermentation. Not in a Portlandia "I can pickle that" way, though the show definitely picked up on a trend here with almost every chef in town featuring her own house-made pickles on every plate.

Great-grandma's recipe.

Granted, for several years I've been saying "This is the year I'm going to learn to make pickles!"—or kimchi or sauerkraut or whatever. And the year comes and goes without much progress being made, though I've participated in a few pickling sessions with friends. One of those sessions involved making pickled onions with my neighbors Bill and Jen, who have a huge garden on their city lot and preserve a great deal of what they grow every year.

When I dropped by their place to pick up some cucumbers the other day, Jen brought out one of two thick, three-ring binders full of favorite family recipes that her grandmother had carefully typed out—color me envious! It included one from her great-grandmother for fresh cucumber pickles that are ready in 24 hours. Need I mention that anything quick and easy has my name written all over it?

Rinse those cukes!

And indeed, when I got home, I sliced up those cucumbers, salted them down per great-grandma's instructions, made the brine, and a couple of hours later had two quart jars of pickles sitting in the fridge. I admit I sampled them before the 24 hours had gone by and they were delightful. So good, in fact, that they ended up coming with us that very evening as part of an antipasto platter we were taking to celebrate our friends' new home.

As for future fermentation festivities? Turns out the universe wasn't done with me just yet. Dave gave me a copy of Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation as an anniversary present, so expect to read about those adventures in future installments!

Great-Grandma's Fresh Cucumber Pickles

From my neighbor Jen.

5-6 cucumbers, about 8" long
1 medium onion
3-4 Tbsp. salt
2 c. cider vinegar
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
Optional: mustard seeds, peppercorns, fresh dill, dried chiles, whole garlic cloves

Slice cucumbers into 1/8" coins. Slice onion into quarters lengthwise, then into 1/4" slices crosswise. Combine in large bowl. Add salt and mix. Place in refrigerator for 90 minutes.

While cucumber mixture is soaking, in a medium-sized pan heat vinegar and water to a bare simmer. Add sugar. Stir until it dissolves, then add any desired spices (mustard seeds, pappercorns, dried chiles and garlic cloves). Allow to cool slightly.

When cucumbers are ready, rinse in several changes of running water, draining thoroughly between rinses. (Great-grandma says to rinse until they no longer taste of salt, but mine never did get to that stage.) Drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers and onions into quart jars, layering them with spices from the brine and the fresh dill. Pour brine over packed cucumbers, using a chopstick inserted down the side to press out air bubbles as much as possible. Cover with lid and put in refrigerator. The pickles will be ready in 24 hours. Makes approximately 2 quarts.

Marination Nation: Feta For The Win

I needed an easy appetizer to take to the annual gathering of "lady food writers" the other night—spectacularly talented writers, cookbook authors and cooks all—and was not feeling inspired. That is, until I saw that one of my favorite cheesemakers, Fraga Farmstead Creamery, had posted on social media that they would have fresh feta at their farmers' market booths over the weekend.

Simply chop, stir…

As luck would have it, one of those farmers' markets happened to be in our neighborhood, and I knew this crowd would be the perfect audience for Fraga's stellar cheese. So I got myself dressed and out of the house Saturday morning, shimmied over to the market, bought a jar of snow-white feta cubes swirling in whey brine, and rewarded myself for the effort with a breakfast bowl of Umi Organic noodles. (I think I deserved it, don't you?)

…marinate and serve!

The day of the gathering I simply drained the whey, reserving the brine for later use, and transferred the cubes of cheese to a bowl where I added chopped herbs from the garden, olive oil, chile flakes and garlic. I left it on the counter for a couple of hours, swished it around a few times, placed it on a platter lined with grape leaves foraged from my neighbor's vines, added triangles of pita, and took it to the party. Raves ensued.

I can't wait to crumble more of this amazing feta into a shrimp salad this summer, or tuck it into a hamburger patty for stuffed cheeseburgers. Yes, it's that good!

Feta Marinated with Herbs, Garlic and Lemon

8 oz. brick feta cheese
Olive oil
Fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, tarragon)
Zest of half lemon
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp. red chile flakes

Cut feta into 1/2" cubes. Place in medium-sized mixing bowl along with herbs, zest, garlic and chile flakes. Add enough oil to barely cover and mix gently. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with pita wedges.

Summer Essentials: Berries Call for Shortcakes!

It's high season in Oregon for berries, folks, and while I don't have an argument with pies, crisps or cobblers—drop one off any time, really!—in my family's opinion there's no higher or better use for fresh berries than finishing a summer's feast with fresh berry shortcakes.

The buttery, lightly sweet shortcakes, which can also do double duty as breakfast scones, come together quickly in a food processor. Shower them with a scattering of lightly sugared berries and a plop of whipped cream (or ice cream, depending on your druthers) to make these ephemeral seasonal delights shine.

Whether you've got raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, tayberries, strawberries, boysenberries, blueberries or—I know I'm forgetting some—a mixture of two or more, save a couple of pints out of your next flat of berries to make this startlingly simple and stunningly delicious classic.

Berry Shortcake

For the shortcakes:
2 1/2 c. flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
8 Tbsp. (1 stick) frozen butter or margarine, cut up
1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. whole milk

For the berries:
2 pints berries
1/4 c. sugar (adjust according to sweetness of berries)
Whipped cream or ice cream

Preheat oven to 425°.

Put flour, balking powder, salt and sugar in bowl of food processor. Pulse four or five times to combine. Add butter or margarine and pulse several times until the mixture resembles cornmeal. With processor running, add milk in a stream. Keep processor running until the dough comes together in a soft mass.

Remove dough from processor, place on floured surface and form into a soft ball shape. Divide dough ball in half and gently pat out each half with your hands into six-inch disks (they will be about 1/2"-5/8" thick). With a butcher knife, slice each disk into six triangle-shaped wedges. On a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, place wedges slightly apart for crispier sides, touching for soft sides. I usually separate them by 1/8" and they puff up into wedges that break apart easily. Bake about 12 minutes or until tops are medium brown. Remove to racks to cool.

While the shortcakes are baking, put the berries into a large mixing bowl and add sugar. Using a spatula, gently fold the sugar into the berries. Allow to macerate for at least an hour (you can also place berries in the refrigerator until assembling). Using one wedge per serving, slice wedges in half lengthwise and place on individual serving plates or bowls. Scatter berries over the top and drizzle with juice that collects in the bottom of bowl. Top with whipped cream or ice cream as desired.