July 13, 2014 Pickled Beets and Pickled Beet Hummus

DSC_8128aPoor maligned beets! With descriptors like, they taste like dirty socks, mud and even wood, it’s no wonder they have a bad rap to overcome. Unlike former president George H.W. Bush who disliked broccoli, our current president is on the record as a beet hater, thus they are not grown in the White House garden.  Well all I am saying is “give beets a chance!”
Over the last few years I have developed a growing affection for beets.  In addition to the traditional Detroit Dark Red we have been growing the candy striped Chiogga (kee-oh-ja) and the bright orange-yellow Golden beet.We grow small crops of a row or two in succession all throughout the season. Beets pulled fresh from the garden have a sweet, rich and yes, earthy flavor.

I like to take small beets and either julienne or thinly slice them raw for salads. Roasted beets are good either sliced or cut in wedges on a bed of baby greens with orange supremes, goat cheese and toasted walnuts.
This summer I found myself with too many beets to use in a short amount of time. I decided to pickle some so they can be enjoyed over the course of several weeks. Pickling, simply put, is a way of preserving in a vinegar or brine mixture. The acid in the vinegar slows bacterial growth and the beets keep in the refrigerator for several weeks.

I chose a recipe from Fine Cooking magazine that used both red wine and red wine vinegar. As with any recipe, use a red wine as well as a red wine vinegar that you would be happy to drink and cook with on their own. A word of warning, red beets will stain your fingers, if you want to avoid that, wear disposable gloves when working with them. They taste great right away and even better once they have a chance to chill in the fridge. You can enjoy them on their own or add a few along with their liquid to brighten up a hummus recipe. Don’t forget, the beet greens are good to eat. Remove any large stems, blanch in boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, Drain well and saute in olive oil with some chopped garlic and red pepper flakes.

DSC_8111aDSC_8118a

Wine Pickled Beets

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts

Ingredients

  • 2 lb. trimmed red beets (about 5 medium)
  • 1 cup dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 whole allspice berries
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

Directions

  1. Put the beets in a 4-quart pot, add water to cover, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer until the beets are crisp-tender, 20 to 25 minutes. Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.
  2. Peel and halve the beets. Slice crosswise 1/4 inch thick and distribute among three 1-pint jars or other sealable nonreactive containers.
  3. In a 2- to 3-quart nonreactive saucepan, bring the wine, vinegar, orange juice, sugar, allspice, cloves, and salt to a simmer over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves, 3 to 5 minutes.
  4. Pour the liquid over the beets to cover. Let sit, uncovered, at room temperature for 2 hours to cool and pickle the beets. Serve, or cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Make Ahead Tips

The pickles can be refrigerated in a covered container for up to 6 weeks

DSC_8137a

July 8, 2014 Borlotti and Green Bean Salad

DSC_8039a-copyOur beans, both pole and bush varieties, are still a few weeks away from being ready to harvest so I couldn’t resist the green beans I spotted at the farmers market. The shelling beans we are growing are months away from being ready to harvest but I still had some left from last season.  I combined the green beans from the farmers market along with our dried borlotti beans for a simple bean salad.

Borlotti beans, labeled by the source we use, Seeds of Italy as Borlotto, are also known as cranberry beans and the very serious moniker, French Horticultural beans. They are an attractive addition to the garden. Their bright magenta colored pods with white streaks give a hint to the creamy white beans with cranberry red spots that wait inside.

Borlotti are a shelling bean which means the outer pod is inedible and must be removed. They can be used fresh, or dried for later storage. They have a wonderful nutty flavor and a creamy texture. Shelling beans need a long time to dry out. I learned that the hard way. The first year we had them, I thought they were sufficiently dry and stored them in canning jars. Much to my dismay, weeks later when I went to use them I discovered they were moldy. I learned my lesson from this and now allow sufficient time and space to achieve a totally dried bean. A dehydrator could speed up this process.

Some recipes call for only a few hour soak before proceeding with a recipe. I always try to soak dried beans overnight for the best results. In this case, one cup of dried beans became two and a half cups of soaked beans. After the soak drain and rinse the beans before proceeding with the recipe. The pretty spots on the beans are gone as soon as you cook them and they turn a pinkish brown color. Nothing can compare to the flavor of fresh cooked beans, they are sweet, creamy and delicious. If you have time restraints and choose to use canned beans, I prefer Goya beans as a substitute in this recipe.  Add chopped basil just before serving for the freshest taste.

DSC_6642a

Borlotti and Green Bean Salad

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 1 cup dried large  beans, I used Borlotti, well rinsed and soaked overnight
  • Several sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 large clove garlic, smashed and peeled
  • 1 small yellow onion, cut in half
  • 1 small carrot, cut into several pieces
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 salt-packed anchovies, filleted (or 4 oil-packed anchovy fillets), rinsed, patted dry, and finely chopped
  • 3 T. red-wine vinegar
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 c extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 lb. small tomatoes cut into quarters
  • 1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into pieces if large
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

Directions

  1. In a deep, heavy-based pot, cover the beans with 6 to 8 cups cold water. Add the thyme, garlic, onion, carrot, and 1 tsp. salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the surface. Cover and cook until the beans are tender, about 90 minutes; let cool in the broth.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the shallot, anchovies, vinegar, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until well combined. Drain the white beans and add them and the tomatoes to the bowl. Toss to coat the vegetables well with the dressing. Let stand at room temperature for 2 to 4 hours.
  3. Cook the green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and spread on a paper towels to cool. When ready to serve, add the cooled green beans to the white beans and then the basil, tossing well after each addition. Taste and add salt and pepper if needed.
DSC_6772a

A bowl of freshly shelled Borlotti beans.

DSC_8032a

The beans are almost three times their size after an overnight soaking.

DSC_8033a

Combine the drained beans with onion, garlic, carrot and a few sprigs of thyme.

DSC_8049

July 4, 2014 Turnip Slaw

DSC_8025a-copy

In the winter months turnips are mashed, glazed, braised, roasted, and bathed in nutmeg scented white sauce, but what to do with the humble root in the summer months? I love to add crisp sweet turnip slices to top a green salad along with our spring harvest of carrots and radishes and here in a delicious turnip slaw.

Japanese Hakurei turnips are pure white and delicately sweet. They should be harvested when they are about the size of a large radish and when they are small there is no need to peel.

I combined the Hakurei turnip with the more traditional purple top turnips It took ten turnips of various sizes, from a golf ball to a tennis ball to make one pound for this recipe. I left just a little of the purple on for color contrast and added some baby carrot thinnings from the garden for additonal color. Grating the turnips in the food processor made it easy, they were too small to make a decent hand cut julienne. Drain the turnips and squeeze out any excess liquid before adding the vinaigrette.

I love the smell of toasted cumin seeds and they add their own smokiness to the slaw. Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet, tossing occasionally until they turn a shade darker. You could crush the toasted cumin in a mortar and pestle if you desire to really bring out the flavor.

A harvest of Hakurei turnips. The greens are good sauteed with garlic.

A harvest of Hakurei turnips. The greens are good sauteed with garlic.

Turnip Slaw

Serves four to six

Ingredients

For the slaw

  • 1lb turnips, tops and root ends trimmed, peeled if necessary
  • 1 medium carrot, washed and trimmed

For the dressing

  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 1/2t salt
  • 1/3c fresh orange juice
  • 1t grated orange peel
  • 3T fresh lime juice
  • 1T minced shallot
  • 2t honey
  • 1t toasted cumin seed
  • 1/2t or more chipotle pepper powder (optional if you like a little heat)
  • 1/2c vegetable oil
  • 1/4t fresh ground black pepper
  • Additional kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Fit a food processor with the grating disc and shred the turnips and carrot.
  2. Drain vegetables of any excess liquid. You can let them sit over a fine colander or better yet, place vegetables on a very clean cloth dishtowel, gather up the ends and give a good squeeze. Place the grated turnip and carrot in a large bowl.
  3. Combine in a medium bowl, garlic, salt, juices and peel, shallot, honey, cumin and chipotle pepper if using.
  4. Add oil in a slow stream, whisking until well blended. Season with pepper.
  5. Pour about a half cup of the dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat. Taste and season with additonal salt and pepper. Add additional dressing if needed. Chill for an hour to allow the flavors to blend.

 

 

June 27, 2014 Grilled Chicken with Chermoula Sauce

DSC_7879a

As a lover of all things related to food and cooking, I am especially pleased when I discover something new, at least new to me. In the tradition of herb and olive oil based sauces like pesto and chimichurri, chermoula is a sauce that originates from Morocco and other North African countries. It is a tangy blend of fresh herbs and spices, lemon and olive oil.

It is traditionally used to season fish but pairs equally as well with chicken or grilled vegetables. It can be both a dry spice mixture or more commonly, an herb sauce. I used it both ways in this recipe. First, as the rub for the chicken and then as the sauce to serve with the chicken. If you like, preserved lemon peel or a pinch of saffron would be a welcome addition to the mix. If you don’t like cilantro, either change the proportions of cilantro and parsley or eliminate it altogther. Traditionally, like pesto, this was made in a mortar and pestle but a mini food processor makes quick work of the recipe. I cooked these indoors on a grill pan, if I were cooking on an outdoor grill I would prefer whole chicken pieces.  Friendly to many diets, chermoula is a sauce worth discovering.

Grilled Chicken Breasts with Chermoula Sauce

Serves four

Ingredients for marinated chicken
  • 4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast
  • 4 T fresh-squeezed lemon juice
  • 4T olive oil
  • 1t ground cumin
  • 1t ground coriander
  • 1t garlic powder
  • 1t sweet paprika

DSC_7856a

Ingredients for the Chermoula Sauce

  • 2 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  •  1/2 c coarsely chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 c coarsely chopped parsley (flat is my preference, but curly works too)
  • 1 T + 2 t freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 t sweet paprika
  • 1/2 t ground cumin
  • 1/4t cayenne pepper (optional)
  • 1/8t saffron threads (optional)
  • 4 -5 T olive oil
  • Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1.  Trim all fat and sinew from chicken breasts. Place chicken breast between two pieces of plastic wrap and with the flat edge of a mallet, pound to an even thickness, season generously with kosher salt. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil and spices to make the marinade. Put chicken pieces inside a Ziploc bag or plastic container with a snap-tight lid, pour marinade over and let chicken marinate in the refrigerator 4-6 hours, turning bag occasionally.
  2. To make the chermoula sauce, put chopped garlic, chopped cilantro, chopped parsley, lemon juice, sweet paprika, and ground cumin, cayenne and saffron (if using) in food processor and pulse to combine. Add the 4 T olive oil and pulse just enough to get it mixed in, then taste to see if you want the other tablespoon of oil and add it if you want a milder sauce. (Don’t over-process; the mixture is not supposed to be smooth.) Add salt and pepper to taste.
  3. To cook the chicken in a grill pan, spray grill pan with nonstick grill spray or brush with oil and preheat grill pan to high (you can only hold your hand there for a few seconds at that heat.) Let chicken come to room temperature while the pan heats.
  4. To get criss-cross grill marks, lay the chicken top-side down at a diagonal across the grill pan and let it cook until well-defined grill marks are showing, about 3-4 minutes. It’s okay to lift a corner to check.  Turn the chicken so it’s going the opposite way at an angle to the grill grates and cook about 3-4 more minutes. Then turn chicken over and cook 4-5 minutes on the second side, or until chicken is firm but not hard to the touch.Serve chicken hot, with Charmoula Sauce spooned over.

DSC_7862aDSC_7886a

June 18, 2014 Spinach and Mushroom Crustless Quiche

DSC_7849aAs the old song goes “see you in September”. It was time to say good bye to the spinach in our garden. Spinach does not like warm weather and temperatures have soared into the 90+ vicinity the last several days. So before it all bolted or went to seed I picked the remaining spinach.Then the plants could be pulled out of the ground and the space could be used to plant something else.
Most of the time we enjoy fresh garden spinach with dinner just sautéed with a little olive oil and garlic. It cooks down so quickly that a large bowl full of uncooked spinach soon becomes a very small plate of cooked spinach.  I decided for the last hurrah to make a crustless spinach and mushroom quiche. It would make a nice light lunch and breakfast for the next day.

A quiche essentially is a savory custard that is baked in a piecrust. A custard mixture is a liquid, usually milk or cream and combined with eggs and baked until it sets. I used fresh spinach but frozen spinach or bagged spinach would work as well. Just remember to squeeze out all the water or the custard will be too wet. Eliminating the crust saves time and calories too. Spinach and feta are a natural combination, but any cheese with good melting qualities will work, mozzerella, cheddar and parmesan to name a few.

A minor disaster occurred about fifteen minutes into baking my quiche, the power went out. We weren’t having a storm or bad weather at all, it just went out long enough (five minutes) that I had to reset all the clocks in the house and the oven, though still warm, had to be brought back to temperature. I didn’t take the quiche out of the oven, I just adjusted my baking time to make certain the custard was cooked. The top was a little too brown but still tasted good.
A delicious way to say good bye for the summer!

DSC_7839a

Spinach and Mushroom Crustless Quiche

Serves six

Ingredients

  • I cup of fresh sliced mushrooms (white, cremini etc.)
  • 8 cups of fresh spinach or 1 box frozen chopped spinach
  • 1T olive oil
  • 1t chopped garlic
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup of milk, cream or half and half
  • 1/2c feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1/3c grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2c shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. If using fresh spinach, cook it down in a large sauté pan and drain in a colander. Squeeze out the rest of the moisture in a clean dish towel. I cooked whole leaves so at this point I chopped it. If using frozen chopped spinach, thaw in microwave and drain well.
  2. In the same pan, heat the olive oil and add the chopped garlic. Sauté garlic until it starts to brown slightly then add the mushrooms.  Sprinkle a little salt and a grind of pepper over the mushrooms and sauté until they have released all of their moisture and no more water remains on the bottom of the skillet. This should take about five minutes.
  3. Lightly grease or spray with nonstick spray a 9 inch pie pan or quiche dish. Evenly spread the spinach over the dish, scatter the mushrooms over the top, then sprinkle the feta over.
  4. In a medium bowl whisk the eggs. Add the milk, parmesan and a grind of fresh pepper. Pour the liquid over the ingredients in the dish.
  5. Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese over top. Place the dish on a baking sheet, this will make it easier to transfer the dish in and out of the oven.  Place dish in the oven and bake until the quiche is golden brown and a tester comes out clean. This will take between 45 minutes to an hour, starting checking at 45 minutes.
  6. Allow quiche to cool a bit, cut into slices and serve. It’s also good cold!

DSC_7795aDSC_7829aDSC_7833aDSC_7842aDSC_7851a

June 17, 2014 Strawberry Avocado Salad

DSC_7813aIn this salad of my own design, strawberries and avocado are combined not once, but twice, in the salad as well as the dressing that tops it. Juicy sweet strawberries are in season locally and are the perfect contrast to smooth creamy avocados. I combined chopped strawberries with avocado oil to make a dressing that compliments the salad perfectly.

Avocado oil has a mild nutty flavor and is high in monounsaturated “good” fats, vitamin E and omega-3 fatty acids. It has a high smoke point (500 F) making it well suited for frying but I haven’t tried that yet.

The  greens, fresh from our garden are in their third planting now. I used Lolla Rosa and Oak leaf lettuces along with some arugula and mâche. French feta is one of my favorites, it’s creamier and milder than other varieties, a mild blue cheese would be interesting as well. I topped my salad with walnuts, almonds or pistachios would be good choices as well.

This salad is a combination of vibrant flavors, colors and textures. Add some roasted chicken and you have a great lunch or light supper.

DSC_7805a

Strawberry Avocado Salad

Serves two

Ingredients

  • Salad greens-I used a combination of oak leaf and Lolla Rosa with a little arugula, mâche and cress, enough to fill the plate or bowl of your choice
  • 2c strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 avocado, cut into chunks
  • 1/2c creamy goat cheese, I love French feta
  • 1/2 c coarsely chopped walnuts
  • Strawberry-avocado dressing (recipe follows)
  • Freshly ground pepper

Strawberry Avocado Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1c roughly chopped strawberries
  • 3T lime juice
  • 2T balsamic vinegar
  • 1T(more or less) of agave sweetener or honey
  • 1/2c avocado oil

Directions for Dressing

  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Directions for Salad

  1. Place salad ingredients on a plate or toss in a bowl. Add dressing to taste. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

DSC_7810a

 

June 14, 2014 Quinoa, Cucumber, Radish and Turnip Salad

DSC_7755a

You know that quinoa has become part of the mainstream vocabulary when it shows up in a beer commercial during a football broadcast on television. Sure, the guy eating the quinoa burger refers to it as “kwee-noh” and his friend who is looking on asks,”what is that, a loofah?” Enough people “get it” to make this a funny commercial.

Quinoa, pronounced “KEEN wah” is showing up these days in everything from whiskey, to chips, chocolate bars and yes, burgers. Quinoa is an edible seed or a pseudo-grain, because it is cooked and used in recipes like a grain.  It is closely related to beets, chard, spinach and even tumbleweeds. Quinoa is unique because it is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids and provides “good” fat along with fiber, potassium and iron. Since it is not a grain, quinoa is well suited for gluten free diets.
Even though most quinoa is sold prerinsed, it is a good idea to rinse it before proceeding with your recipe to remove any remaining saponin, a bitter coating that protects the plant from insects. Submerge the quinoa in a bowl of cold water, swish it around and drain it in your finest strainer. Like rice, the cooking ratio is 2:1 liquid to grain.

In this recipe from Fine Cooking magazine, nutty quinoa is combined with crisp summer vegetables, spicy arugula and a  slightly sweet miso vinaigrette. I used red quinoa in this recipe but white or black would be fine too. I used the radishes from our garden. They have peaked now with the onset of the warmer weather.  I also included Japanese turnips in the salad that we are harvesting now. Unlike the standard turnip, the Hakurei variety is pure white, very mild and sweet, even when raw. Don’t hesitate to add the pickled ginger, it brings just a little spiciness and acidity to the salad. This salad will be a welcome addition to picnics and potlucks all summer long.

DSC_7745a

Because of it’s nutritional profile, quinoa has been called a “superfood”.

Quinoa, Cucumber, Radish and Turnip Salad with Miso Vinaigrette

Serves six

Ingredients

  • 2-3/4 cups plus 1/3 cup lower-salt vegetable or chicken broth
  • 3 Tbs. white miso
  • 3 T seasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 T soy sauce, preferably reduced sodium
  • 1 T Asian sesame oil
  • 1/2 cup canola or other neutral vegetable oil
  • 2 T chopped sweet pickled sushi ginger
  • 1 1/2c red quinoa, any color will do
  • 1c Japanese baby turnips
  • 2c cucumbers, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2c radishes, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 2  packed cups of arugula

Directions

  1. Put 1/3 cup of the broth and the miso, vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil in a blender; blend to combine. With the motor running, slowly add the canola oil to make a creamy dressing. Add the ginger and pulse a couple of times to very finely chop.
  2. In a 2- to 3-quart saucepan, bring the remaining 2-3/4 cups broth to a simmer over medium heat. Add the quinoa, cover, turn the heat down to medium low, and cook until the quinoa is tender and the liquid is absorbed, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 3 to 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes.
  3. Toss the quinoa, turnips, cucumber, radishes, and greens together. Add 3/4 cup of the vinaigrette, toss, and serve, passing the remaining dressing at the table. (Save the remaining vinaigrette for other salads; it will keep for at least 3 days in the refrigerator.)
DSC_7677a

The French breakfast radishes are literally popping out of the ground!

DSC_7749a

The radish harvest along with a little Hakurei turnip.

DSC_7776a

June 9, 2014 Chicken Paillards with Asparagus, Garlic and Tarragon

DSC_7650aFor an easy weekend supper, nothing comes together quicker than a chicken paillard. A paillard, (pi-YAR) is a  boneless piece of meat, in this case, chicken that has been pounded flat and sauteed or grilled quickly. Actually the term paillard has fallen out of favor in the cooking world and has been replaced with the word escalope (es-kuh-LOHP). In English we would refer to it as a “scallop”, not of the seafood varety of course.

I couldn’t find the word paillard in The Food Lover’s Companion or in James Peterson’s exhaustive work, Glorious French Food. But everyone, from Rachael Ray to Daphne Oz of “The Chew” to Martha Stewart has recipes online for chicken paillards, so it’s worth keeping that definition under your hat.

Remove any tenderloins or extra fat before wrapping the breast in plastic wrap. Then pound out the meat with the flat side of a mallet to an even thickness. Pound from the fattest part of the breast outward to avoid tearing the meat.
Another French term is very important to this recipe, mise en place (MEEZ ahn plahs). Translated, this means “to put in place”. Start by reading the recipe all the way through, then check to see that you have all the ingredients necessary, or at least a reasonable substitute. I chose to use tarragon in this recipe, the original used dill. The tarragon in our garden is starting to fill in nicely and it’s anisey flavor is a natural with chicken dishes. All of the other ingredients should be measured out, prepped and ready to go, garlic sliced, lemon zested and juiced and vegetables cleaned and cut to size. In less than fifteen minutes of cooking time you can have a meal on your table that is easy and elegant.

Tarragon in the garden.

Tarragon in the garden.

Chicken Paillards with Asparagus, Lemon, Garlic and Tarragon

Serves 4

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, tenders removed
  • 1/3c all purpose flour
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2c lower salt chicken broth or chicken stock
  • 6 medium cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 large lemon, finely grated to yield 1t zest and squeezed to yield 3T juice
  • 1 lb. asparagus, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 medium orange or yellow pepper cut into 2-inch strips
  • 2T chopped fresh tarragon
  • 2T unsalted butter, cut into 3-4 pieces

Directions

  1. Using the flat side of a meat mallet, pound each chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap to an even 1/4-1/2 inch thickness
  2. In a shallow bowl, combine the flour, 2t salt and 1t pepper.
  3. Heat 2T oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat. Dredge 2 paillards in the flour, shaking off any excess, and place in the skillet. Cook, flipping once, until lightly browned, about 4 minutes total. Transfer chicken to a plate and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining oil and paillards
  4. Add the garlic to the skillet and cook over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, for about a minute. Add the chicken broth and lemon zest, scraping up any browned bits from the skillet. Add the asparagus, pepper, chicken and any accumulated juices. Nestle the chicken pieces into the liquid. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to maintain a simmer. Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and the vegetables are tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a serving platter or plates.
  5. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, tarragon and the butter. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the vegetable mixture over the chicken and serve.

DSC_7646a

May 29, 2014 Cilantro Pesto with Shrimp

DSC_7543a

After spending some time weeding and watering in the greenhouse, Joe made an inspiring suggestion to me, “why don’t you make cilantro pesto sometime?” Now that the warmer temperatures have arrived, everything in the greenhouse is growing like mad. The lettuces are picture perfect and ready to harvest and a row of cilantro is at it’s best.

Cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsley, whatever you choose to call it, it’s one herb that people are rarely on the fence about. You either like it, or as I’ve heard often, feel it tastes like soap. Now maybe I haven’t consumed enough soap in my day, so I’m not sure what that’s all about.
Cilantro is one of our herb garden staples. It’s versatility takes it from Mexican to Thai, from salsas to curries. I decided to make a pesto that would accompany fresh Florida shrimp I purchased at our favorite seafood market, Hellers. Fresh, meaning never frozen, a rarity in this area. I decided to keep the pesto simple, no cheese, so that the bright flavor of the cilantro would shine through. Cilantro is the only herb I know of where the tender, and I must emphasize tender, stems have the same flavor and can be used along with the leaves. Limes would usually be my citrus of choice with cilantro, but since, I didn’t have any, they are quite expensive now and the ones I have purchased recently haven’t been that good, a juicy lemon would fill in quite nicely.

Toasted almond slivers added a subtle nutty quality to the pesto, walnuts or pine nuts are also good choices. I like to toast small quantities of  nuts in a dry nonstick skillet on the stove top. I find that when I toast nuts in the oven I am opening the door so frequently to shake the pan to avoid spotty burning, it’s easier to do them on the stove.

I chose an oil relatively new to me, avocado oil. It is cold pressed, high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. It’s flavor is mild and buttery. It can be used for skin and scalp care as well, but mine will stay in the kitchen.
The cilantro pesto was an excellent accompaniment to the shrimp that I cooked in the grill pan.  The addition of a little serrano pepper gave the pesto just enough heat.
As for some people’s dislike of cilantro, I read there is an essential oil found in the fresh leaves and unripe seeds that can be recognized immediately and not to everyone’s liking. It has to do with a genetic predisposition on how individuals perceive flavors. If you are a “hater” you are in good company. Julia Child is quoted as saying when asked what foods she hated most. “Cilantro and arugula, I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs they have kind of a dead taste to me.” Harsh Julia, that’s just harsh. For the rest of us who enjoy the crisp, bright flavor of cilantro this is a simple recipe worth trying.

DSC_7519a

DSC_7532aDSC_7537a

 

Cilantro Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2c  packed coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2c avocado oil
  • 1/4c lightly toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1t cumin
  • 1t chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2t kosher salt
  • 1/2t or more to taste finely chopped Serrano pepper

Directions

  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Use immediately or up to three days.

DSC_7524a

May 21, 2014 Fiddlehead Ferns and Yellow Oyster Mushrooms with Spring Garlic

DSC_6942a

Standing in line at the mushroom vendor at the farmers market on Saturday I spotted them. Among the portabellos, creminis and the morels, there was a basket of fiddlehead ferns The two customers ahead of me purchased some, so was it the power of suggestion, I’ll never know. They were being sold by the third of a pound, so I put down my five dollars and walked off with a small brown paper bag filled with fiddlehead ferns.
Fiddlehead does not refer to a specific species of fern but the coiled form of any fern that has not yet unfurled. In the United States they are ostrich ferns, mostly found across the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region, particularly along shady river banks. Wherever they grow their availability is only for about a three week period in early spring when ferns grow their new shoots.

The name comes from it’s appearance; fiddleheads look like the tuning end of a violin. They are also known as croziers because of their resemblance to the top of a shepherd’s staff. Their fifteen dollar a pound and higher price is for a good reason, they are wild harvested and not cultivated. I resisted nibbling on a raw fiddlehead when I read that eating them raw can cause stomach distress. It is advisable not to hunt for fiddleheads without an experienced forager.  One variety, the royal fern, cultivated in the Far East has been linked to stomach and esophageal cancer.  Boil fiddleheads for three to four minutes in lightly salted water with a pinch of baking soda. This helps them retain texture and color and removes bitterness and the possibility of gastric distress.
Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamins A, C and fiber. Their flavor has been likened to asparagus, green beans with a chewy texture all it’s own. To prepare fiddleheads, rinse, remove any residual brown paper-like coating and trim the brown ends. They do not keep well so use them as soon as possible after your purchase.

In this recipe I combined fiddleheads along with mild garlic shoots and another farmers market find, yellow oyster mushrooms, grown locally in Kennett Square, Pa, the mushroom capital of the United States.

DSC_6922a

Fiddlehead Ferns and Yellow Oyster Mushrooms with Spring Garlic Shoots

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • Water
  • 1T kosher salt
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/3lb fiddlehead ferns
  • 1 stalk of spring garlic
  • 1/4lb yellow oyster mushrooms (white are fine)
  • unsalted butter

Directions

To prepare fiddlehead ferns

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Trim the browned ends off the ferns. If any brown covering remains on the ferns, rub it off. Rinse briskly under running water.
  3. Drop ferns into a large pot of boiling water to which you have added 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1/2t baking soda.
  4. Boil until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Drain well.

To finish the dish

  1. Chop the tender end of the spring garlic finely. Tear mushrooms into bite sized pieces.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Melt a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter in the pan. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms release some of their liquid and begin to brown. Add fiddleheads to the pan and sauté lightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
DSC_6924a

How do I love thee, fiddleheads? Let me count the ways….

DSC_6927a

Unfortunately, the yellow color disappears when the mushrooms are sautéed.

DSC_6930a

Spring garlic gives a mellow, mild garlic flavor.

DSC_6946a

Ferns from our yard. I wonder if they could be harvested? Not going to try.