Feeds:
Posts
Comments
Spring incarnate

Spring incarnate

 

“… asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden bed….”

Proust has it right concerning the joys of asparagus. My idea of the perfect spring dinner is a meal filled with this most favored vegetable, juicy strawberries, early greens, tangy rhubarb, succulent chicken and hot crusty bread.

Here are ways I like to cook these foods:

  • Asparagus – Wash and snap off the tough ends.  Drizzle with olive oil, grill or broil until just tender, (about 7 minutes), then sprinkle with salt and lemon juice.
  • Strawberries – There’s nothing better than sliced berries served with freshly whipped cream. To whip the cream beat on high with electric beaters, add sugar and vanilla to taste then continue beating until soft peaks form.
  • Early Greens – New lettuce, dandelion greens, (harvest before they flower) and edible flowers can be tossed with a vinaigrette. To make the dressing whisk together ½ teaspoon of salt, 3 tablespoons of olive oil, one tablespoon of vinegar and a ½ teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
  • Rhubarb – Ok, now I know this is really gilding the lilly to have two desserts but it has been a long winter so time to live it up. I like making a rhubarb crisp; chop up your fruit, sprinkle it with a generous amount of brown sugar, dot with butter and sprinkle with uncooked oats, nuts, more butter and more sugar. Bake at a 350 degree oven until the rhubarb is soft and bubbling and the top is lightly browned. To make a fancier version I like to use the Joy of Cooking apple crisp recipe.
  • Chicken – Last but not least, comes the noble bird. For a super juicy chicken the trick is to use a dutch oven and sear the chicken on high heat in a few teaspoons of canola oil.  You can use a whole chicken or parts.  Once the meat is well browned take it out, put in a chopped onion, turn down the heat and deglaze the bottom of the pan. Next I throw in whatever vegetables are at hand like turnips, potatoes, celery and carrots. Return the chicken to the pot, top this all with generous handfuls of fresh herbs, a bit of salt and pepper then put the lid on and put it in a 275 degree oven for 1 ½ to two hours. 
Tasty

Tasty

Bon appetit!  In the comments section let readers know your favorite early spring foods and how you like to prepare them… yum.

Elder Flower Syrup

Sambucus Cerulea or Blue Elderberry

Sambucus Cerulea or Blue Elderberry

Elderberries are in bloom now in the lower elevations of Puget Sound.  The Blue or the Black Elderberry is the one to use instead of the Red Elderberry.

 

Freshly picked Elder Flowers

Freshly picked Elder Flowers

These fragrant white to pink flowers can be gathered, steeped, then the liquid sugared to make a delicious syrup.  If you have the patience to wait, the dark blue berries can be gathered in the late summer to make into a dye, syrup or wine.

Here is a recipe for making a quart of syrup:

Ingredients:

  • 30 elderflower heads
  • 1 quart water
  • 4 cups  sugar
  • Juice of 2 lemons or limes
  • zest of 2 lemons or limes
  • 2 tablespoons citric acid
  1. Zest the lemons or limes and put in a large bowl, then the citric acid and lemon or lime juice.
  2. Remove the flowers from the stalk and add to the bowl
Flowers, citric acid, zest and lime juice

Flowers, citric acid, zest and lime juice

  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to dissolve.
  2. Pour the syrup into the bowl and stir to combine.
Flowers, acids and sugar syrup

Flowers, acids and sugar syrup

  1. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let it sit for 2-4 days.
  2. Strain the mixture through a sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar. Store in the fridge for up to six weeks.
Here is what it looks like after steeping for a couple of days.

Here is what it looks like after steeping for a couple of days.

Here is the strained syrup.

Here is the strained syrup.

This syrup has a very delicate flavor and scent.  It tastes good mixed with seltzer water or even better with some champagne or vodka.

A tiny Elder Flower

A tiny Elder Flower

It’s Thyme!

thymejpg-e78ecb03df5c20a7Right now is a great time to harvest thyme.  To harvest this useful herb just take your kitchen shears and snip off bunches.  I usually trim off the top three inches and make sure to leave a lot of the plant intact; if you clip off too much you can kill the plant.

You can use the fresh thyme right away, strip the leaves and freeze them or dry them on a rack or in a colander.  Once the leaves are crisp and dry rub them between your hands and the leaves will fall off.  Store in an airtight container in a dark place;  I usually put them in a small mason jar.

Be careful and add only a little at a time.  It has a tangy, strong flavor that can overwhelm instead of accent if too much is used.

Drying thyme

Drying thyme

Here are some of my favorite ways to use thyme:

  • Mix fresh or dried thyme with butter to make a lovely spread for tea sandwiches or toasted bread.
  • Mix thyme with cream cheese for a deliciously flavored spread.
  • Stuff a chicken with thyme and roast it.
  • Mix dried thyme with sea salt and let sit for 5 minutes.  Use this as a roasting or grilling rub on your favorite fish or meat.
  • Use a pinch of fresh or dried in an herbed vinaigrette dressing.

If you haven’t planted any of this great herb yet then now is a good time to do so.  Most plant stores carry this herb and I would suggest getting plants rather than seeds.  (You can grow it from seed but it takes a lot longer.)  Plant in full sun and especially during the first year, water regularly.

 

Ginger Bug!

This zesty fermented drink is the base of a great ginger ale or beer.  You can also use it for rhubarb or other flavored sodas.

Fresh, organic ginger goes in with the peel still on.

Fresh, organic ginger goes in with the peel still on.

Making it is a easy as chopping up some ginger, putting it in a jar, adding dechlorinated water and some sugar.  The recipe calls for two teaspoons of ginger, two cups water and two teaspoons of sugar but I just tossed in equal amounts of ginger and sugar and splashed some water in.

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth to let in air but keep out insects.

Cover the jar with a piece of cloth to let in air but keep out insects.

Each day give it a good stir and add two more teaspoons of sugar and ginger.  After about a week it will start to bubble and you’re all set.  You can have it as is or I have been cutting it with some soda water.  You can also make a naturally bubbly soda with this starter but I haven’t gotten that far yet.

It's a bit startling to look at but it tastes quite nice.  The fermentation uses up most of the sugar so it's tangy and just a touch sweet.

It’s a bit startling to look at but it tastes quite nice. The fermentation uses up most of the sugar so it’s tangy and just a touch sweet.

Now that you have dried herbs making your own blends is easy! These make great gifts as well as stepping up the flavor of your own dishes.

Lavender

Lavender

Here are some of my favorite blends:

Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence usually contains basil, bay leaf, marjoram, rosemary, summer savory and lots of thyme. Lavender can be included too but don’t add too much as it’s pretty strong.  Here is a base recipe to start with but feel free to play around to get the flavor you like.  If you don’t have all of these herbs it’s fine to leave some out.

  • 2 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 1 Tablespoon dried marjoram
  • 1 Tablespoon dried summer savory
  • 2 Tablespoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon lavender flowers
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ Tablespoon dried rosemary
Rosemary

Rosemary

Rub for Grilling

  • 3 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 Tablespoon dried savory
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons dried fennel
  • 1 bay leaf
Oregano

Oregano

Italian Seasoning

This tastes great in spaghetti sauce, on pizza or in salad dressings.

  • 4 Tablespoons dried basil
  • 2 Tablespoons dried oregano
  • 1 Tablespoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried garlic, (you can leave this out and use fresh instead when it’s time to cook)
  • 1 bay leaf

You can put these blends into small jam jars or metal containers.  Keeping air and light out will help the flavors stay bright.

 

Rhubarb Crisp

The rhubarb is exploding out of the ground – it’s time to make a crisp!  There are many ways to eat this tangy plant but my favorite way is in a crunchy, nutty, sweet and sour dessert.

Fresh rhubarb

Fresh rhubarb

Ingredients:

  • Fresh rhubarb stems
  • 1/4 cup tapioca or flour for thickening the juices
  • 2 cups sugar
  • One cup flour
  • 1/2 cup melted butter
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • One cup nuts
Cut rhubarb with tapioca and sugar sprinkled.

Cut rhubarb with tapioca and sugar sprinkled.

Here’s how to make this tasty dish:

  • Harvest rhubarb stems by pulling them firmly up and out of the base of the plant.  Trim the leaves and the ends off so you are left with the ruby stems.
  • Wash off the garden dust and cut into pieces about 1/2 inch wide.
  • Put the cut pieces into a baking dish, set the oven to 375 degrees
  • Sprinkle the tapioca or the flour and depending on the amount of rhubarb and the degree of your sweet tooth, one cup sugar over the cut rhubarb

Streusel topping

  • Mix the melted butter, oats, remaining sugar, nut and flour together so it is a crumbly mixture.
  • Sprinkle this over the cut rhubarb
  • Dust with cinnamon
Making the streusel.

Making the streusel.

Bake for 40 to 50 minutes until the dish is bubbling, the top is brown and the rhubarb is soft.

Ready for the oven.

Ready for the oven.

Let cool a bit then serve as is or with ice cream or milk.

 

Each year I look at the riot of colorful flowers in my garden and want to save them for the dark winter months.  One of the best ways I have found to do this is by making dried flower bouquets.  After a lot of trial and error the plants that seem to work the best for this are chives, yarrow, money plant, lavender, hydrangea, oregano, pearly everlasting and grasses with showy seed sprays.  Other flowers will dry but a lot of them fall apart or quickly fade.

To dry the flowers cut them with long stems and strip off the bottom leaves.  Next tie them at the top with string or wire and hang them in a dark place until dry.  I string a piece of rope across the rafters in my basement and hang the bunches from there.  Once dry you can arrange them in whatever way you like.

Try out different flowers from your yard and let me know what you like to dry!

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

Bluebells dry well to a deep lavender color.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

When drying chives pick and hang them in a dark place before they open completely.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Hydrangeas are always good for drying.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Daisies are not thought of in dried bouquets but they dry quite nicely.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

Sea Holly dries well and has an interesting shape to it.

A flower and garden show at Epcot Center in Orlando, Florida? Yes!

Whee!

Lots of butterflies

smaller version-5

smaller version-12

aquaculture

smaller version-3

 

smaller version

 

Mango Sticky Rice

“Yummers” yelled my entire family when I brought out homemade mango sticky rice. This dessert is delicious and simple to make.

Choose ripe mangoes. I like to use these Champagne or Filipino, mango as there are fewer strings.

Choose ripe mangoes. I like to use these Champagne, or Filipino, mangos as there are fewer strings and they are very sweet.

Florida-63

Coconut cream is next on the ingredient list. You can also use coconut milk but the cream is better.

Florida-64

Cook your sticky rice in a pot or rice cooker. This rice is different than regular rice. It is sweeter and clumps together.

When the rice is cooked, cut your mangoes into squares and gently blend the fruit and coconut cream in with the sticky rice. Add honey or sugar to taste.

I like to add in mint for a tasty garnish.

I like to add in mint for a tasty garnish.

Seed Starting

Here’s some more information on starting seeds.  Right now is a great time to get seeds going for warm season crops like tomatoes and for cool season crops that need a little boost like collards.  While cool season crops can be direct sowed soon I find that doing starts let’s me get a bit of a jump on the season and beat the slugs too.

I put a lot of seeds in one pan to start with then plant them out.

I put a lot of seeds in one pan to start with then plant them out.

I have started sowing a lot of seeds in a cake pan with holes in the bottom then prick these out into larger cells once they have sprouted.  This way I can pick the strongest plants and know that each cell will be filled.

Dampened start mix.

Dampened start mix.

To prefill the cells I add water to the soil mix and shake it up until the soil is damp.  Wetting seed starting mixes can be a real pain but this seems to help.

I pour the mix down the middle then sweep it into the cells.

I pour the mix down the middle then sweep it into the cells.

Once the mix is damp I dump a lot down the middle of the cells then use my hand or a board to sweep the mix into the cells.  Next I lightly tamp the soil down with the bottom of another seed tray.

Chopsticks are just the right size for making a seedling hole.

Chopsticks are just the right size for making a seedling hole.

To plant out the seedlings I make a hole with a chopstick then carefully separate out the seedling touching only the early leaves and not the stem.

All set!

All set!

Once the seedlings are replanted place them in a bright window under a grow light.  Here is a good way to set this light up using what you can find at the local hardware store.