A quick garden postcard: fresh January salad (and recipe)

Lettuce 'Freckles'

Lettuce ‘Freckles’

I peeked under my row cover yesterday to see how the greens are doing. What could be better than a fresh salad from the garden in January?

Lettuce grows quickly. This variety, ‘Freckles,’ can be harvested in 55 days from seed. The critical thing is to ensure it has steady moisture. With our unending rain, that hasn’t been a problem.

I’m going to toss this with a tablespoon each of dried cranberries and pecan pieces. I’ll top it off with some parmesan cheese, and dress it with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and pepper. I may throw in a few leaves of fresh thyme.

Try it. You’ll like it.

Summer peach salad

It’s a dreary, gray day today, but a visit to the farmers’ market brought all the color my eyes could want.

cherokee purple tomatoes

silver queen corn

I had never seen pink oyster mushrooms before.

pink oyster mushrooms

And hurrah! It’s peach season.

peach pyramid

I’m fixing my favorite salad for lunch. Here’s the recipe.

Salad with Summer Peaches

  • 2 cups leaf lettuce and/or mixed greens
  • 1 ripe peach
  • 1 T roasted pumpkin seeds (unsalted)
  • 1 T dried cranberries
  • 1 T crumbled queso fresco
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 2 Tsp red wine vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • black pepper

Wash the lettuce and greens and tear or cut them into bite-size pieces. Wash and halve the peach, removing the pit, then dice the peach. Add the peach, the pumpkin seeds, the cranberries, and the queso fresco to the greens.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil and red wine vinegar. Add kosher salt and pepper to taste.

Drizzle the greens mixture with the olive oil dressing (you may not use all of the dressing). Mix well but gently, using your hands to ensure a thorough coating.

Enjoy with a piece of crusty bread.

Summer peach salad

Grilling on Fourth of July? Try lemon balm pesto.

The Fourth of July is a big day for grilling in the US–although just about any summertime evening when it isn’t storming makes a pretty compelling candidate. I love grilling foods, from meats, fish, and shellfish to vegetables and fruits. More than that, I like to create my own marinades and sauces with the herbs I grow. If you’re looking for something fresh, summery, and different that’s also extremely easy to make, give my lemon balm pesto a try.

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis)

Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is an herb in the mint family. Its small white flowers attract bees and other pollinators, but you’ll be drawn by the lemony scent of the foliage as you brush it with your fingers. It is reputed to be effective as a mosquito repellant when the leaves are rubbed on the skin. But more than all of that, you’ll like the bright lemon flavoring the leaves lend to salads, drinks, and marinades. It has endless uses in the kitchen.

Lemon balm grows easily to 3 feet tall in sun or shade. It spreads like its mint relatives, so grow it in a container of well-draining potting soil mixed with compost. It does not require fertilizing, and is quite stoic in drought but delights in regular rain. One plant should be plenty for you, unless you run a busy restaurant or keep bees. In those cases, two plants should suffice.

MissingHenryMitchell’s Lemon Balm Pesto

  • 3 cups lemon balm leaves, washed
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • Coarse salt and pepper to taste
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon juice or lemon zest

Put the first three ingredients and a pinch of salt and pepper into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Start the blender, and drizzle olive oil into the mix until the mixture is the texture you like.  If you want your pesto extra-lemony, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice or lemon zest. Add more salt and pepper to taste.

Spread on chicken, fish, or shrimp before putting the food on the grill, or allow foods to marinate in the pesto in the refrigerator overnight. For overnight marinating or for brushing on food on the grill, a thinner mixture works well. I like a thicker paste as a garnish on finished dishes. It also tastes great as a salad dressing when tossed with greens, olives, peppers, and a bit of goat cheese, or as a spread on crusty bread.

The pesto may be kept in the refrigerator for a week, or may be frozen for later use. The pesto may slightly discolor as it freezes, but it will taste just fine.

Hope you enjoy your holiday grilling!

Snow pea harvest and sesame peanut noodles

Peas are not easy for me to grow. I suppose the key to success lies in timing the sowing just right, because springs here can go from frigid to tropical in very short order. But fall weather is somewhat more reliable, and this year I successfully grew sugar snap peas in containers. I’ve just pulled out the last of the vines, which are going into the compost pile.

sugar snap peas

One of my family’s favorite dishes makes wonderful use of sugar snap peas: Nigella Lawson’s recipe for sesame peanut noodles. As she notes, this is a great dish to have in the fridge for quick lunches. I make a few modifications to her recipe.

My dressing is the same: combine 1 tablespoon each of sesame oil, garlic oil, and soy sauce, 2 tablespoons each of lime juice and chili sauce, and 100 grams (1/3 cup) of peanut butter. Combine all ingredients until smooth. Natural peanut butter is best, hands-down. When I don’t have garlic oil, I use canola oil instead, and mix about 1 tablespoon of chopped, seared garlic to the noodle mixture.

For the salad:

  • 1–1 1/2 cups of fresh snow peas (I had no idea what “mangetout” was).
  • 1 fresh red or green bell pepper (or 1 cup of frozen “stop light” pepper strips, thawed)
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 2 carrots, julienned (I use a julienne peeler, which is a brilliant invention for those of us whose skills with the chef’s knife are still in development)
  • 2 ribs of celery, chopped haphazardly into small pieces.
  • 3/4 pound of whole-wheat pasta, cooked (my family doesn’t like egg noodles).
  • On the side: chopped cilantro, alfalfa or bean sprouts, sesame seeds, and red chili flakes, for those grown-ups in the house who like such things.

Boil 1 quart of water in a saucepan. Wash the snow peas and plunge them into the boiling water for perhaps 10-20 seconds, then drain and plunge immediately into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

Blanched snow peas

Blanched snow peas

In a large bowl, combine the cooked pasta, the blanched snow peas, and the peppers, onions, carrots, and celery. Add the dressing slowly, stirring with a spatula until all ingredients are lightly coated. I seldom use all the dressing; perhaps I’ll reduce to 1/4 cup of peanut butter and 2 tsp. each of the oils.

sesame peanut noodles

Garnish as you like with sesame seeds, nuts, chili flakes, etc. This recipe easily serves 10-12 and keeps well in the fridge.

What to do with perennial sorrel? Smoked Salmon Benedict with Sorrel Sauce

My friend gave me a clump of sorrel last year. I planted it promptly, and have done nothing with it.

Sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

Garden sorrel (Rumex acetosa)

We don’t eat much sorrel around here. I don’t see it in the supermarket or the farmer’s market. But it is the best kind of vegetable: a perennial that doesn’t require much in the way of care. I can tell it has been sampled rarely by a slug or snail, but I suppose it is too tangy for them to truly enjoy. I have not seen any sign of disease, despite the generous helping of neglect I have given it.

What am I afraid of?

I did a bit of searching around to find a recipe worth trying. The Splendid Table never lets me down.

Smoked Salmon Benedict with Sorrel Sauce

I made the recipe for one, which was actually worth the trouble. I started by roughly chopping the shallot. I’m not a chef; I don’t produce lovely square mince, especially when I’m cooking for myself. Next year, the shallots will come from my garden. I picked and washed a handful of sorrel leaves and chopped them roughly. I couldn’t find crumpets at the market, but I did find whole-wheat English muffins.

I started the sauce, browning the shallot and half the sorrel in butter. The sorrel cooks down instantly into a kind of slime-colored pulp, but do soldier on. Add the cream and salt. I used light cream instead of heavy.

Then I started poaching the egg. Not being the patient type who will turn an egg over and over in the water, I sprayed a ramekin with cooking spray and cracked in the egg.

Tip: Contrary to the recipe, start the egg before starting the sauce. The sauce cooks instantly and adhered to the pan. Fortunately, it was nothing a little white wine couldn’t cure. And maybe a dollop more butter.

A little bit of deglazing, and it’s time to assemble and eat. I garnished with the chives I harvested and froze a few weeks back.

smoked salmon benedict

The whole process took perhaps ten minutes, and the result was outstanding. It’s amazing how a little culinary effort can turn the day around. I felt like a civilized person as I sat down to eat–something I don’t typically feel before feasting on a cold turkey sandwich.

Treat yourself this week!

Preserving summer: Crock pot cherry tomato sauce

In the community garden where I work, yellow pear tomatoes grow abundantly. They don’t seem to be terribly popular, though, with many people besides me.

I adore them. The plants produce abundant fruit that ripens quickly. The delights of popping them straight into the mouth from the vine are well known and do not need to be recounted here. And it’s far less devastating to find one infested cherry tomato in a cluster of otherwise-fine fruit than it is to anticipate harvesting that one big slicing tomato you’ve been nursing along, only to find that on the back side of the fruit there’s a huge, oozing hole edged with gray-green fur.

yellow pear tomatoes

I came home last week with two healthy pints of fruit, to add to the remainder of the two quarts I had from last week which we haven’t finished yet. The tomatoes will never be as good as they are right now–unless, perhaps, they’ll save in a sauce?

I’ve never tried making a sauce with cherry tomatoes. Time for an experiment.

I should note that I have no experience in canning. That’s a project for another season, after much study on food safety. But freezing is the one technique of food preservation in which I feel competent, and I have a big freezer.

Recipe: Crock pot cherry tomato sauce

This recipe is easiest in a crock pot or slow cooker, but I’m also providing regular-oven instructions.

In a medium saucepan, I warmed about three tablespoons of olive oil. To that, I added three tablespoons of chopped organic garlic from a jar. I love garlic. Next year, it will be my home-grown garlic, but we all must start someplace. If you don’t like garlic as much as I do, just add a little less.

step 1: olive oil and garlic

I washed and capped the tomatoes, and sliced them in half. I didn’t bother to peel them (can you imagine?). I then added the tomatoes to the pan, covered it, and left it in a warm oven (250-275 F, 121-135 C) for two hours to slowly melt together.

In a slow cooker: add all ingredients to the crock, cover, and cook on high for one hour or low for two. Maybe keep an eye on the moisture level if you cook on high, as cooking time and temperature can vary depending on your individual slow cooker. You’ll know when it’s done when everything has turned into a delicious pulpy mush:

fresh basil slivered into sauce

For the final 30 minutes, I snipped in a tablespoon’s worth of the last fresh basil leaves I’ll see this year, and stirred in a pinch of coarse salt.

final reduced tomato sauce

This sauce is glorious, and utterly simple. When it cooled, I poured it into a small, clean glass jar and froze it. I hope it tastes just as good in January!

Slow food lunch: Open-faced Goat Cheese and Fig Sandwich with Apples and Honey

It is entirely fair to say that as a grower of fruit at home, my ambition and enthusiasm exceed my talent and success. So when I happened to look out the window just before lunchtime and saw that my fig tree, which is three feet tall and not impressive, had some fat, ripe fruit on offer, I had no qualms about seizing the opportunity. (Plus, I don’t think the other residents of my home care for figs).

I harvested four figs; the first edible treats of fall.

My favorite way to enjoy figs is as follows:

Open-faced Goat Cheese and Fig Sandwich with Apples and Honey

  • 1 oz. (30 g) crusty french bread
  • 1-2 tablespoons of goat cheese
  • 4 ripe figs, or as many as you can obtain
  • 1 small Fuji apple
  • drizzle of honey
  • freshly ground black pepper

Sprinkle the crumbled goat cheese on the bread and put it in the oven to toast. Wash and slice the apple and figs. When the bread is golden and the cheese is soft, remove the cheese toast from the oven, top with figs and apple slices. Drizzle with honey and a pinch of freshly ground black pepper. Slow down and savor.

a really, really good lunch

(I didn’t mean to make the sandwich look like a face. Now it’s bothering me.)