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Archive for the ‘Dressings, Sauces and Salsas’ Category

First spring salad of tiny baby greens

First spring salad of tiny baby greens

This could be the world’s tiniest salad. It’s the perfect, tender little harvest from my first few greens that are finally sprouting enough leaves to begin eating them. Isn’t that first handful of fresh baby greens the most amazing taste experience? It’s like eating pure energy fresh from the ground; and each leaf has its own distinct taste and texture. Here in this little collection I have baby spinach, mizuna, an heirloom red lettuce, mesclun mix, fennel, chives, fresh tarragon, the tiniest arugula leaf, several leaves of sorrel and a few pea shoots. Eating it was pure delight.

Naturally, I had to quickly mix up a bit of dressing worthy of the occasion; even my very tasty storebought Balsamic vinaigrette wasn’t really right, and it would have overwhelmed these tiny greens anyway. I spied a few leftover lemons on the kitchen counter from when Tomas was sick last week, and the aha! moment struck. In a nutshell, here is what I did (and the base for it was a few tablespoons of leftover olive oil from our recent camping trip):

Lemony Garlic Dressing

Several tablespoons olive oil

juice of half a lemon

1/4 tsp stone ground mustard (I had a little jar of saffron mustard from Prague sitting in the fridge that has a very delicate flavor and was just the ticket)

1 clove garlic, minced

several grinds of pepper

1/4 – 1/2 tsp salt

a bit of chopped fresh herbs: in this case, I used some frozen dill I found in the freezer because it seemed like it would complement the lemon really well and, well, it was there. It was probably between 1/4 and 1/2 tsp.

Mix all ingredients together in a small bottle and shake vigorously. Taste and season as needed.

This dressing had a distinct lemony bite to it, but could be softened a bit by increasing the oil to lemon juice ratio. I thought it was just exactly right for the snappy, fresh greens that I’d picked 20 minutes ago, which had a little tart bite of their own. I used the dressing VERY sparingly, just enough to add a little bright zing to the greens, not to cloak their uniquely ‘green’ flavor.

This was my salad two days ago. Today I got to add a few leaves of baby bok choi and some small radish leaves. It’s hard to believe that pretty soon I won’t be able to keep up with the overabundance of lettuces, 4 kinds of spinach, and dark leafy greens taking over the raised beds! It’s so hard to be patient…

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Posting a recipe just for whipped cream seems a bit silly, but since it’s winter and there’s not much else to do, we’ve been making a lot of desserts around here, and that’s made me think about cream. The truth is that it’s a very long way from Cool Whip or even whipped cream from a can to the sinfully delicious heavy smoothness of real whipped cream… and if you add just a couple of nifty little extras, you can take the experience from sinful to otherworldly. Ok, darned close.

Want to add that little extra something to your dessert experience? Here’s how I make mine, and I learned this from an extremely gifted chef and mom who never cut any corners, even when she was tired, in the kitchen; eating her food was always a multi-sensory, highly sensual experience. I’ve still never had a home-baked New York style cheesecake anything like hers.

Susanna’s Whipped Cream

ready for the totally un-scientific quantities and instructions? here goes.

pour your cream into a large bowl. 1 pint, or less, doesn’t matter.

start whipping it. when it gets a little thicker, add just enough POWDERED sugar (emphasis on powdered – it won’t give your cream that grainy feel!) to make it sweet but not quite as sweet as the dessert you’ll be topping it with.

add a dollop of real (emphasis on real) vanilla extract. Just a little splash. If you’re making the full pint of cream, it can be a slightly more generous splash.

finish whipping the cream to your ideal consistency – nice, soft peaks…

just before serving, add in a few grinds of fresh (emphasis on fresh) nutmeg, whip it in briefly, then dish cream out into a large bowl for passing – or for the dessert bar.

This is really, truly… the very best.

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Well, it’s high time I revived this blog. Way past high time, really. I have spent far too many months feeling way too busy to craft something as complete and complex as an actual post. So I’m going to try a different tack, and write really short little notes – just a few minutes’ commitment – and see if that creates a little life here on this page. Because sometimes doing something half-assed IS better than not doing it at all.

So until I can get some more current photos of my chickens and finish describing all 5 of the girls – who are now laying beautiful eggs – I’m going to write about the only other food- and garden-related topic that I can think of at this time of year: the contents of my freezer. Riveting, I know.

I’m sure we all have equally pathetic freezers at any time of year, but I really did try to take a step in the direction of being a good urban homesteader last fall and preserve/freeze/put up some food from the garden before the growing season was over for good. Here’s approximately what I managed to accomplish:

Dried: some tarragon (I hung it upside down as they tell you to, in the garage – a nice dark, dry place. I don’t actually know if it’s still there, or if it’s since crumbled to green dust. I also froze tarragon so if I really needed any, I’d go for the frozen stuff first anyway).

Stored: some god-awfully ugly, gigantic, not totally ripe Green Striped Cushaw heirloom squash. These guys are huge. I wouldn’t know how to get started on one. I grabbed one really small one, about the size of an average butternut squash, with the idea that I’d make some soup or something. When I cut it open, it really didn’t look ripe – too pale – so now the rest of them are just sitting there in the garage, serving as doorstops for my car. I know when I’ve pulled in far enough when my tire hits the big squash on the floor. I’m hoping they’ll make good chicken food.

Frozen: here’s where I actually got a bit of something done.

I chopped basil and froze it in little ice cube trays. Those are the most useful thing EVER. When I need fresh basil for a recipe, I just pop a cube out and toss it in. I was anal enough about this to ensure, during the prep process, that each cube equaled 1 Tablespoon of chopped basil. It’s awesome. Forget the dried stuff – I just need to do a bunch more trays of this next year. I did the same thing with parsley and oregano. All I have left right now is oregano. Apparently one uses far less of that in soup recipes.

I shredded zucchini and froze it in bags of 2 cups each. For those moments mid-winter when you really just want to make zucchini bread. I envisioned such a moment last fall; it hasn’t happened yet, but with the zukes being about the only green thing left in the freezer, it’s going to have to happen.

I made and froze several little containers of regular and walnut pesto. Yum. This stuff is so amazing; it makes a dinner into something special. Curiously, I still have one container left. One more special dinner. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.

When I realized we’d never keep up by eating it fresh, I finally capitulated and chopped, blanched and froze several cups of collard greens and swiss chard. Again, I froze these in bags measuring 2 cups of greens each for ease of adding to recipes. What a lifesaving idea. I’ve used them for quiche, stir-fries and on the side of scrambled fresh-from-the-garden eggs. With baked beans of course. Now it’s January and unfortunately, all the greens are gone. They were just so good. Next year: more of this.

A couple of containers of roasted tomatillo salsa verde. This too has the magical ability to transport you back to summertime and the garden bounty with a single punchy bite. It gets lots of raves from people stopping by for a drink in Tomas’ living room bar – a convenient quick snack to have around.

And that is all of it. Everything else seemed too sacrilegious to cook, or freeze, or otherwise alter, when it had just come out of the garden fresh. Or when it was still growing there, green and beautiful. We slowly ate all the last tomatoes – they lived on the counter for weeks – and I just blew it when it came to saving all the basil, parsley, and greens. A lot of that froze (outside – argh!) or fell prey to the marauding chickens once the garden was mostly deconstructed and they were given free rein in the yard.

Wow, that was so not just a short little note! One can wax on about pretty much anything, I guess, when it’s cold enough outside. (10 degrees now, if you really want to know).

The moral of the story, as I see it, is that there’s room in the freezer for a lot more bags of greens, trays of basil cubes, pints of pesto, and many more such ideas. These are the ingredients you CRAVE when the dark days of winter are at their worst. They remind you that there is life out there. There are long days of sunshine, rich moist soil and healthy, homegrown plants that are willing to give, and give, and give. Enough for you to eat it all fresh AND put up as much as you can get around to. Next year.

Last year's basil in the garden - an open invitation (or is it a challenge?)

Last year's basil in the garden - an open invitation (or is it a challenge?)

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Basil is beyond bountiful again in my garden. Last time (just a few weeks ago) I managed to chop up and freeze a good-sized load of it in ice cube trays. I found out that if I really pack the cubes, I get a tablespoon of basil into each square. Perfect quantities for soups or sauces, when the occasion arises. I also made a batch of the incredible maple-basil balsamic vinaigrette that I can’t stop eating. Stuff like that seems too good to also be good for you.

Here’s something else that’s good for you. I decided to whip up a batch of pesto this time, since it’s the only way to reliably use up decent quantities of basil. In my eagerness to harvest the best of my herbs, however, I picked far too many and as a result I made two batches – it worked out to 3 generous cups, or one for the week and two for the freezer. Naturally, the first has already been polished off tidily. This recipe – which substitutes easier-to-find, superfood walnuts for the expensive pine nuts – is adapted from Biba’s Italian Kitchen – perhaps a sign of my renewed obsession with all things Italian, at least culinarily speaking. (I made her recipe for potato gnocchi the other day too, but that’s another, very lumpy, story). In terms of ratios of ingredients, pesto recipes run the gamut. This one seems to me to have the right balance of basil, oil, nuts, garlic and cheese. I did omit the salt on the second round though – there was plenty of it in the parmesan cheese.

Walnut Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

1/2-3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I went for a little less to keep the consistency thicker)

1/3 cup shelled, chopped walnuts (since I was using a food processor, I sort of skipped the chopping part and just filled the cup a bit more to compensate for the size of the nuts)

2 garlic cloves

salt to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Put all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth, scraping down the bowl in between as needed. Set aside or refrigerate (or freeze) until ready to use. Makes about 1 cup.

I found that “sealing” the sauce with a thin layer of olive oil before storing in the fridge or freezer helps prevent the rapid discoloration that happens once basil is cut and exposed to light. My batches came out a bit more than a cup each. Not that I’m complaining about ending up with more pesto than predicted.

Mangia!

 

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Today is the first day of the rest of my life – my life without store-bought salad dressings, that is. Not that I haven’t ever made my own salad dressings before… but they were always a luxury, something you did for a special dish that called for it, or when you were really motivated, or found an irresistible recipe (like this one, which I will always go to for an extra-indulgent special occasion dressing – at least until I find something better, which may very well never happen).

But today, in the early hot days of summer, as I was trying to restore order to the jungle that I returned to after 10 days away from my newly planted vegetable garden, I saw herbs gone wild, overflowing their raised beds. I remembered last year, when I planted all these lovely culinary treasures and then let them go to seed – only to find myself needing fresh oregano or fresh thyme when I should have had it, and didn’t. This is not going to happen to me again, I thought; I am going to harvest and preserve this stuff if it kills me.

But it’s only May! Ok, June 1st. But the specter of being functionally herb-less in the middle of summer haunted me. The tarragon has been flourishing there in the back of the garden since March, and all I’ve done is pinched off a few leaves to garnish a salad – once. Am I going to let these $3 plants pay for themselves this year, or not?

So right now in my kitchen, there is an alarmingly large pile of oregano drying on 4 paper towels, waiting to be picked over and frozen. The tarragon plant was even scarier – two feet high and almost as thick, waving happily in the breeze. For some reason, that one screamed out “salad dressing.” Maybe because I once had a bottle of tarragon vinegar that I never did much with and still feel I tragically wasted. Maybe because my greens are growing faster than I can eat them, and the selection of bottled dressings in the fridge is getting really depressing, and wholly unworthy of the endless bounty of melt-in-your mouth fresh lettuce. So after harvesting two armfuls of 8-inch long tarragon clippings, I dove into the recipe books. Martha Stewart whetted my appetite with a lovely-sounding herb vinaigrette, but I didn’t have a shallot handy (though I regret that, because I often do and I think they’re an overlooked staple), nor sherry vinegar. Silly me. The Mediterannean Herb Cookbook suggested a dreamy-sounding creamy yogurt dressing, but alas, no yogurt (we usually have tons, but we just got back from Europe and the fridge is still empty… an odd sight).

Time to improvise. After a quick visit to Google to look at basic dressings and a reference back to Martha for quantity tips on the extras (sea salt, garlic), here is what I ended up throwing together, and BOY IS IT GOOD drizzled over a salad of just-picked spinach, mesclun mix, baby romaine lettuce, radishes, green onion, chopped walnuts and sunflower seeds. I’m full.

Tarragon Vinaigrette

1/4 cup white wine vinegar

3/4 cup olive oil (I went for the good stuff, a bottle from Hania, Crete – it is strong though – and expensive – so I would consider diluting half of it with standard EVOO next time)

1 large clove garlic, minced

generous grind of fresh black pepper

1 tsp sea salt

1 heaping Tbsp chopped fresh tarragon

1 tsp chopped fresh chives

Whisk together ingredients in a small bowl. Toss with fresh greens and enjoy!

Does it get any easier than that? Hardly. This recipe makes 1 cup of delicious summery dressing, which is plenty more than 1 serving so I have a nice little jar left over to use for the rest of the week. That gives me just enough time to whip up something else, maybe using some of the mint we planted last month or a bit of the forest of chives in my rock garden. Suddenly, there’s just no excuse for buying bottled dressings at the store. Except maybe just one for backup – a nice Newman’s Balsamic or something basic like that…

I should note that this recipe used up only the teeniest, tiniest fraction of the mountain of tarragon I hacked out of the garden today. But in my recipe research, I read that tarragon freezes ridiculously easily, and can just as easily be hung up to dry – and the dried stuff you buy in a jar apparently loses its taste within a year, so mine must want to be replaced. So I’m off to find some twine with which to string up my tarragon bounty. Who needs to spend $5 for a tiny spice bottle at the store when there are more herbs in the garden than you can shake a stick at?

 

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