A harvest celebration of the precious 'rubies of the bog'
The dinner started with Elk Meatballs, Clam Chowder, and Marinated Oysters, then went on to Curried Crab Fritters, Seattle Silver Salmon, and Roast Pheasant.
When it ended with a taste of Cranberry-Pineapple Mousse, Frozen Cranberry Cream, Cranberry Stuffed Apples, and a few other sweet things, we knew we had been eating some of the best fresh, native foods of the area, the great American Northwest.
Touring this area at the time of the cranberry harvest is a colorful fall event. It includes a visit to such celebrations as a cranberry street fair, a cranberry cooking contest, a cranberry bog, and a processing plant of the Ocean Spray cooperative.
Best of all was the cranberry dinner laden with foods of the area, along with recipes and special cooking instructions. This special meal was planned by one of the area's best cooking school teachers and caterers, Karen Gregorakis, who had researched and created special dishes for the season. She called her menu "Rubies of the Bog and Pacific Nortwest Seasonal Delights."
Karen's intuitive flair for presentation started at the door of her cooking school, for as we entered we were greeted by a handsome display of flowers, fruits and food.
"Visual impact is really important to me," she said. "I take an incredible amount of time making sure that everything that goes into a recipe is arranged in a still life so that when people come in, they can see that everything we are going to use is fresh and thoughtfully arranged.
Karen and Mauny Kaseburg had both worked on the recipes. Mauny teaches classic French cuisine and lessons for Cuisinart cooking. Karen specializes more in Mediterranean cuisine and in foods native to the area.
Karen, who was a psychiatric social worker for seven years, started cooking seriously when she organized a series of classes for a cheese shop in Seattle's University District.
We enjoyed a delicious corn and clam chowder, which she said could be made with fresh or frozen corn and with steamer clams, minced razor clams, or chopped Geoduck clams. Since several of us were from the East, there was a huge Geoduck clam in the kitchen for us to observe. This clam, native to California, grows to an enormous size. This one was 10 inches long with a neck about a foot long.
The menu was well rounded, with special cranberry dishes for the occasion, and sample we did, as much as possible. Cranberry Pumpkin Nut Muffins were delicous, and so was the Venison-Cranberry Mincemeat, Cranberry Cumberland Sauce , Cranberry Chutney, Cranberry Ketchup, and other relishes.
All in all it was a superb collection of excellent dishes, interspersed with some of the culinary philosophy of this imaginative, scholarly cook.
Although there is obvious lots of fun at this establishment, food is serious business.It is the only area, Karen said, where one can still maintain quality in this technological world.
One of her interesting axioms inspires her students. "A recipe is only a beginning point. Each student must learn to add something to a recipe to make it his own. Without this kind of personalization, cooking could become a repetitious bore," she says.
Here are some of the recipes from Karen's Pacific Northwest dinner menu.
Cranberry ketchup is an excellent glaze for wildor domestic fowl and wild game. This makes one pint and should be ladled into hot sterilized jars while still hot, then properly sealed. It can be made a few days before eating and stored in the refrigerator. Cranberry Ketchup 1 pound fresh cranberries 1 medium onion, finely chopped 1/2 cup water 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar 1 cup sugar 3/4 teaspoon each: ground cloves, ground ginger, and ground allspice 3/4 teaspoon each: salt and celery seed 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Wash cranberries under cold running water. Combine wth chopped onion and water in a 2- to 3-quart enameled or stainless steel saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan tightly, and simmer for 10 to 12 minutes, or until mixture can be ewasily mashed against the side of the pan with a spoon.
Puree the cranberry mixture, with its cooking liquid, through the fine blade of a food mill or rub through a fine sieve with the back of a spoon, pressing down hard on berries before discarding skins.
Pour puree back into saucepan and stir in vinegar, sugar, cloves, ginger, allspice, salt, celery seed, and pepper. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook uncovered for 15 minutes, or until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated and ketchup is thick enough to hold its shape almost solidly in a spoon. Stir from time to time to prevent sticking. Wiht a slotted spoon, skim off and discard any foam that may appear on the surface. Taste for seasoning. Ladle ketchup into hot sterilized jars.
If fresh cranberries are not available, use canned cranberry sauce. Simply saute onions briefly in a bit butter, add to 16 ounces of cranberry sauce, and proceed with the recipe, reducing the amount of sugar to taste.
A mouth-watering marriage of two of fall's most traditional food items, these muffins provide a flavorful change from the more ordinary breads that might accompany a first course of hot soup. They are also perfect for breakfast, hot out of the oven with whipped butter, jam, Canadian bacon and eggs. Cranberry Pumpkin Nut Muffins 2 cups flour 3/4 cup sugar 3 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon allspice 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg 1/3 cup cooking oil (preferably a light vegetable oil) 2 eggs 3/4 of a small can of pumpkin 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 2 cups cranberries, coarsely chopped
Sift together dry ingredients. Beat oil, eggs, and pumpkin together. Add to dry ingredients. Stir in walnuts and cranberries. Spoon into 18 paper-lined or well-greased muffin tins. Bake at 400 degrees F. for 20 to 30 minutes.