Eat Plants

 
Cilantro: My Love/Hate Relationship
By Chef Bev Shaffer


Well, okay—hate is a very strong word, so maybe love/dislike would be more appropriate. But think about it—most people either love cilantro or they don’t; there’s no grey area with this versatile herb.

My mission here is to enlighten you on this wonderful herb—cilantro is the leaf, coriander is the seed. Cilantro does well in cooler weather, and once it gets hot it—like most of us—bolts. But that doesn’t mean its mission at that point is over—seeds for cilantro can be picked and stored with your spices, and it is a very attractive plant to butterflies and other pollinators.

Before it bolts, however, let’s be creative in the kitchen with two of my favorite cilantro themed recipes, a Cilantro Lime Dressing (marinade for meats or a dressing for a festive summer salad) and a Cilantro Pesto (made with pumpkin seeds). Yum!

 

Cilantro Lime Dressing

  • 2 Tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • zest of 1 lime
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • zest of 1 orange
  • ¼ cup fresh orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons apple cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoon local honey
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor combine the cilantro, zest and juice of the limes and oranges, vinegar, honey and sea salt. Pulse to combine; stop and scrape sides. With machine running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until well combined. (Dressing may separate, so feel free to whisk well to combine just before serving.) Makes about 1 cup.

Cilantro Pesto

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ¾ cup finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • ¾ cup toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1 ¼ teaspoons coarse sea salt
  • ¾ cup avocado or extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor combine the garlic and cilantro. Pulse to mince and combine; stop and scrape sides. Add lime juice, seeds and salt; pulse until seeds are finely chopped. Slow add oil and blend until combined. Makes about 1 ¼ cups.

Basil Basics and Recipes
By Chef Bev Shaffer


If you haven’t started to grow basil in your garden or on your deck, what are you waiting for? Basil is an easy plant to grow, with its only major requirements being full sun and consistent water. Its delicious flavor will make it the most useful herb in your summer kitchen.

Some Basics:

  • Plant in rich soil in full sun
  • Water, fertilize and prune plants on a regular basis
  • Don’t let the plant flower (for the best flavor)
  • Prune every four weeks (or sooner if they show signs of getting ready to flower) just above the bottom two sets of leaves
Immediately after planting, prune your basils by cutting them back to just above the bottom two sets of leaves. What?! This early pruning may seem drastic, but it actually stimulates growth. Match the basil variety to its use. Basils come in all shapes and sizes, but which one you choose will depend on how you’ll use it in the kitchen.

Pesto basils: some types include ‘Genovese’, ‘Italian Pesto’, ‘Profuma di Genova’. The best option for making pesto, these varieties are aromatic, full of flavor, and vigorous growers. They have a lovely scent—a balance of citrus oil, licorice, cinnamon, spice and mint.

Lemon basils: some types include ‘Mrs. Burns’, ‘Sweet Dani’. Lemon basils are good in vinaigrettes, especially with vegetables and seafood, but they shine in beverages and desserts, too.

Lettuce leaf basils: some types include ‘Napoletano’, ‘Lettuce Leaf’, ‘Mammoth’. Characterized by huge leaves (5 to 6 inches long and 3 to 4 inches wide) these varieties are perfect for sandwiches and salads. Their flavor includes notes of mint, anise and citrus.

Culinary Tip: Store fresh herbs in ice cube trays. A great way to store herbs like basil, parsley, chives and cilantro is to freeze them; quick and easy to do.

  • Pick fresh leaves off the stems, then wash and dry them
  • Get an empty ice cube tray and place as many leaves as you can into each cube slot
  • Add water, pushing the herbs down when they begin to float; place the tray in the freezer
  • Take the cubes out once they are frozen, and put them in a plastic freezer bag; they’ll keep in your freezer for up to a year
  • Use in soups, sauces or stews; just pop a few cubes into the pot and stir!

Here are a few recipes for managing an abundance of basil…

BASIL PESTO

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
  • 1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
  • ¼ cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley leaves
  • 1 small clove garlic
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Put the basil, pine nuts, parsley, garlic, ½ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper in a food processor. With the machine on, slowly pour the olive oil into the feed tube and process, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl as needed, until the mixture is very finely chopped and pasty. Season to taste with additional salt, if desired. Yields about 2/3 cup.

FRESH TOMATO and BASIL SAUCE

Ingredients:

  • 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 large cloves garlic, sliced as thinly as possible
  • 2 lb. cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup lightly packed fresh basil leaves, very thinly sliced

In a large sauté pan, heat the oil and garlic over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic is softened but not browned. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently to coat and then raise the heat to medium. Simmer, stirring occasional and adjusting the heat to maintain a lively but not-too-vigorous simmer, until the tomatoes have been reduced to a thick, pulpy sauce, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and sprinkle on the basil. Stir to combine thoroughly. Serves 4.

Suggested serving:

  • 1 lb. cooked farfalle pasta
  • Spooned atop grilled shrimp, scallops or whitefish
  • Spread on thick slices of garlic bread
  • Want to add cheese? 5 oz. ricotta salata, cut into ¼ inch dice
Photos courtesy of Bev Shaffer
An Herb That Needs No Introduction: Rosemary
By Chef Bev Shaffer


If you know your way around the kitchen, rosemary needs no introduction. An evergreen shrub native to the Mediterranean, you may already have a “love/hate” relationship with this culinary herb. In my experience, people that dislike (e.g. hate) rosemary have had it in dishes where the cook or chef had a heavy hand and perhaps didn’t chop it well—so it overpowered everything and you felt like you had fallen, mouth first, onto the floor of a pine forest. Not to worry—fragrant and earthy, let’s take it beyond the savory aspect and enjoy its flavor and aroma in one of my favorite uses, a Lemon Rosemary Cake with Fresh Lemon Glaze.

 

Lemon Rosemary Cake with Fresh Lemon GlazeReprinted with permission from CAKES To Die For!, author Bev Shaffer, (Pelican Publishing Company, 2010)

This cake has such bright flavors, and rosemary helps it cross over from a simply sweet cake to a treat that would go perfectly as a ladies’ luncheon “bread” or with barbecued ribs.

Ingredients: 2 cups unbleached, all purpose flour 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder ¼ teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary 1/3 cup light olive oil 1 cup granulated sugar 2 large eggs ¾ cup buttermilk

Lemon Glaze: ¾ cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Heat oven to 325° F. Grease a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, zest, and rosemary. Set aside.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the oil and sugar until well blended. With mixer on medium, add the eggs, one at a time, until mixture is a pale yellow. Scrape down sides and bottom of bowl.

Alternately, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk to the sugar mixture, stirring just to blend. Spread batter into prepared pan. Bake for 52 to 60 minutes or until golden and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes.

For the Glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until mixture is smooth. Spread glaze atop warm cake.

Cool completely on a wire rack. When ready to serve, run a knife around the inside edge of the pan and carefully remove the cake. Serves 8 to 10. Plant some rosemary today—in patio pots or an herb garden—and enjoy this aromatic earthy culinary wonder.

Tasty Idea: Edible Landscaping

By Chef Bev Shaffer


Yes, your gardens can be BOTH pretty and productive, and often times the sunniest spots in our yards are the front yards. So why not mix and mingle some plants into your landscape that are functional/edible? Here are some ideas…

Herbs plants are not only easy to grow and fragrant, but they blend beautifully into your gardens. Grow several types of BASIL, and don’t skip the purple leafed varieties that are particularly decorative. FENNEL will add a touch of whimsy, height and a wispiness that will add movement to the garden.

SAGE is so easy to grow, and its mounding shape make it the perfect front-row ornamental. Add some tricolor sage as well for the pink tinges. An assortment of THYME softens the garden, and many of the low growing varieties like a lemon thyme work well in front of taller basil plants.

   

LAVENDER and NASTURTIUM add sensory delight to the garden. Tuck a clump or two of LEMONGRASS into your edible landscape and grow a touch of the tropics. (Chef’s Note from Bev: Nasturtium flowers add beautiful color a peppery flavor to your greens salads.)

Pot a variety of MINT and CHIVES to intersperse throughout, keeping them from “taking over”. ARUGULA and KALE make a stunning border in mixed planters. Keep the greens evenly moist and sow seeds a week or so apart so you have a succession of fresh greens.

Train some POLE BEANS up a decorative trellis, tower or tepee-shaped structure – they make beautiful vertical accents. And don’t skip the BUSH BEANS, to add dimension and for ease of planting/picking.

Put on those boots and dig in to the hottest gardening trend. You’ll soon become a Foodscape aficionado.

 
 
 
A Great Time to Use Those Windowsill Herbs
By Chef Bev Shaffer


While you’re waiting for that all out blitz of outdoor planting, let’s celebrate those windowsill herbs that provided some much needed greenery during the drab winter months.

(I know, I know—one or two 50°F days and you’re ready to go—but Mother Nature will surely remind us with some “you shouldn’t have planted those yet” frost before end-of-May that she is in charge!)

Add that sprig of greenery and familiar foods take on new character. Fresh herbs contribute pleasing aromas and flavors—from subtle to pungent—and using them creatively is one of the keys to good cooking. Pinch a few sprigs and rinse herbs under cold running water, then shake off excess moisture and pat lightly with a paper towel or clean dishtowel before using.  

 

 How about this?

Fresh Herb Mayonnaise

To 1 cup of your favorite mayonnaise, add 2 teaspoons lemon juice and about 1/4 to 1/3 cup chopped fresh herbs. Mix well, then cover and refrigerate at least until next day or for up to 1 month. That turkey sandwich or your favorite mayo based potato salad will never be the same!

Need a dab of herbed butter for your broiled fish, baked potato or grilled steak? Easy.

Whipped Herb Butter

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup room temperature butter, salted or unsalted, 2 teaspoons lemon juice, and about 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh herbs with a hand held mixer, stopping and scraping the bowl and beaters often, until well blended. Add a twist of freshly ground pepper, too.

There now. Go back to shopping at Uncle John’s Plant Farm store and greenhouse for tools, garden gloves, potting supplies and seed packets. Plan your garden. Soon—very soon!

  

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