yakimaWe’re spending this week with the Junior League of Yakima, Washington, and their gorgeous collection of seasonal recipes, Fresh from the Valley.  It’s a cookbook that proves there’s no reason you can’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables all year round, even if you live in Yakima, Washington.

Or even if you happen to be visiting your family in western Pennsylvania, where it actually began to snow two hours after we finished cooking.

The cookbook includes a section for each season, but we decided to do two from spring, one from summer, and one from fall, helped along by my parent’s very well-stocked freezer.  They blanch and freeze corn – often corn they grew themselves – and buy local, hormone-free beef from a small rancher.  And no, my parents aren’t hippies.  As my dad says, “We’re just independent, self-sufficient cusses.”

No, my parents aren’t militia folk either.

The cooking operation this week was like something out of Three Rivers Stadium in 1979.  My folks, my sister, my little niece, all got in on the action, and we put together a darn nice little meal if I do say so myself.  For our appetizer courses, we chose two recipes from the Spring section.

Fresh Fruit Salad with Honey Dressing

This recipe was handed down from Inez Hardy, a Yakima Valley pioneer from the early 1900s.

We are USDA food pyramid poster children.

We are USDA food pyramid poster children.

2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon celery seeds
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 tablespoons vinegar
1 teaspoon grated onion
1 cup vegetable oil

1 cantaloupe, cut into bite-size pieces
1 honeydew melon, cut into bite-size pieces
Sliced strawberries
Grape halves
Sliced kiwifruit
Orange sections
Pineapple chunks

For the dressing, process the sugar, dry mustard, paprika, salt and celery seeds in a food processor until mixed. Add the honey, lemon juice, vinegar, and onion, and process until blended. Add the oil in a fine stream, processing constantly until thickened.

For the salad, combine the cantaloupe, honeydew melon, strawberries, grape halves, kiwifruit, orange sections, and pineapple chunks in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss to coat.

Serves 12

This recipe was a shoo-in for our menu, partly because of Inez Hardy, but mostly because, in my dad’s spare time, (i.e. when he’s not installing complicated electrical wiring, farming, working in the garden, inventing recipes, or taking his grandchildren to the library), he is a beekeeper.  Our honey takes Sue-Bee, and kicks it right in the teeth.

When you’re making the dressing, I’d recommend adding only half as much oil as the recipe calls for.  Trust me, it’s plenty.  And if the idea of grated onion on fruit salad makes you uneasy, you can also use this dressing on a mixed greens salad.

Bruschetta with Fresh Tomatoes and Basil

Bruschetta is Italian for thickly sliced bread that has been grilled, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with sea salt.  This recipe is one of the many variations that exist.

Me and My Sis

Me and my sis

1 French baguette
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
4 very ripe tomatoes, cut into quarters
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cut the bread into 1/4- to 1/2-inch slices. Arrange on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 12 minutes. Combine the garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil, salt and pepper in a food processor and pulse until the mixture is slightly chunky. Remove the bread from teh oven and turn. Place a spoonful of the tomato mixture on each slice. Return to the oven. Bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until heated through. Serve warm.

Note: You may sprinkle the bread with shredded Parmesan cheese before adding the tomato mixture.

Serves 8

We were not keen on the idea of putting the mixture in the food processor, and just mixed everything together in a big bowl, making sure to mince the garlic finely.

Our next recipe moved us into the Summer section of Fresh from the Valley:

Sirloin Steak with Roasted Corn Salsa


You need this salsa in your life immediately.

3 cups (3 to 5 ears) fresh Yakima corn
4 scallion bulbs, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped
1 to 2 jalapeno chiles, finely chopped, including seeds

1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds (1 1/2-inch-thick) sirloin steak
Lime wedges (optional)

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
4 scallion stems, thinly sliced

For the salsa, heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Spray the heated skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Cook the corn in the skillet for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Remove the cooked corn to a bowl. Cook the scallion bulbs, garlic, salt, cumin, chili powder and pepper in but butter in the skillet over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes or until the scallions are tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the cooked corn, tomatoes, and jalapeno chiles.

For the steak, combine the salt, cumin, chili powder and pepper in a small bowl and mix well. Rub the steak with the seasoning mixture. Grill over hot coals for 9 to 10 minutes per side or to the desired degree of doneness. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes before slicing.

To serve, slice the steak. Heat the corn salsa over medium heat. Stir in the cilantro and scallion stems. Spoon the corn salsa over the steak. Serve with lime wedges.

Serves 4 to 6

This dish is amazing, particularly because of the corn salsa, which could be served over pork or chicken, or mixed with black beans and served over rice or in a burrito, or just eaten with tortilla chips or toasted pita.  Yakima corn being unavailable, we made do with some Bodacious that my parents had picked and frozen over the summer.  It has a bold, juicy flavor, which it retains well even after freezing.

So, when all was said and done, the grown-up plates looked like this:


And the kids’ plates looked like this:


Eh, whatever.  At least there are some vegetables on there.

However, we did not have to resort to trickery, threats, promises, or substitutions to get my niece and nephew to eat dessert.

Apple Cake with Hot Vanilla Sauce

My 4-year-old niece, hard at work (though she'd tell you she's 4 and 3/4).

My 4-year-old niece demonstrates her impressive apple peeling skills.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups shreded apples
1/2 cup chopped pecans

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup evaporated milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Do not be alarmed by the very thick batter.

Do not be alarmed by the very thick batter.

For the cake, cream the sugar, butter, egg, flour, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in the apples and pecans.  Pour into a greased 8- or 9-inch cake pan.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.

For the sauce, combine the sugar, evaporated milk, butter and vanilla in a saucepan.  Cook for 5 minutes over direct heat or for 20 minutes in a double boiler, stirring frequently.  Pour over the warm cake.

Serves 12

Serves 12, my foot.

Serves 12, my foot.

We had a great time working on this Junior League meal together, so much so that my mom has declared that we must do it every time we get together from now on.  She has also declared that next time, my dad and Brady are in charge of the menu.

Next week, it’s back to Los Angeles, and my tiny galley kitchen.  I’m thinking perhaps a nice Springfield, Illinois Sunday supper.