Archive for Side Dish

Just Right Bread-and-Butter Pickles

As it turns out, when pickles are good, we eat lots of them. If they are too acid or too sweet, they languish in the pantry. I’ve tried many vegetables and many styles over the years and have concluded that we really only eat a few: “cornichons”, tiny tart cucumber pickles that are a staple of French picnic along with saucisson, baguette, butter, and a pot of “moutarde extra forte”; and bread-and-butter pickles… but only if they aren’t too sweet.

The pickling cucumber plantings are doing fairly well this year. Not well enough to make a lot of cornichons, but well enough to make bread and butters. So bread-and-butters we’ve been making, not too sweet, just right. We eat them with or piled in sandwiches, potato salad, sandwich between fried eggplants, with cold chicken or cold meat … you name it!

Happy to share my recipe below.

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A Perfectly Pretty Watermelon Salad

 watermelon salad, small

It took me a long time to accept the idea of fruit in my salads. Too gimmicky, if you had asked me! As a properly raised French child, the only acceptable fruit that was not dessert was an appetizer of charentais melon with port (or maybe Jambon de Bayonne, the French Basque version of Prosciutto).  But now? Now… I toss blueberries in massaged kale salad; I mix cantaloupes, canaries, and honeydews with purslane, shallots & jalapenos; I love peaches everywhere, including in salsa, or sliced thinly on a goat cheese open sandwich with black pepper & a drizzle of honey… and when it comes to watermelon, there is almost no limit.

Not only is this particular salad pretty, you can prepare all the ingredients ahead, keep them refrigerated in separate containers, and assemble at the last minute.. which makes it perfect for entertaining or even for potluck. Imagine the exclamations! Edible flowers bring a nice touch to the dish – in fact they are part of the WOW factor, something we can all relish occasionally. Read more

Beet-root Pesto and Beet-leaf Pesto

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As one who loves beets, I have yet to find something made with beets that I don’t like. Raw beet salad, roasted beet and goat cheese sandwich, borscht, pickled beets (a favorite), beet ice-cream, savory beet tart, sweet beet tart (see Bar Tartine, by Courtney Burns and Nicolaus Balla), and, of course (thank you Nigel Slater) beet and chocolate cake – yep, over here, please!

It’s possible that this love for beetroots goes back a long time…. As kids, when we had a cold/sore throat, my mother would thinly slice beet root, layer them with sugar, let them sit until the sugar dissolved and the beets released their juice and give us spoonfuls of the most delicious medicine one can imagine. Cold, unctuous, sweet, and beet-y. In fact, something good enough to feign a cough! Totally unlike cod liver oil!

And although homemade kvass has not been a success (it got to be pretty sticky and literally oozed out of the jar), I have not yet given up on that.

Yet, beet seems to be one of those polarizing flavors – one loves them or hates them. Over several trials and error (and the desire to serve beetroot as hors d’oeuvre without a mess), I came up with a recipe that many people who told me they don’t like beets have enjoyed: Beet root pesto (no cheese). Read more

On Cardoon

My husband says “cardoon” sounds like something out of The Lord of The Rings. I say it’s more like Deep Space 9.

Either way, we love it here. It’s beautiful in the garden and it’s delicious (recipe at the end of the post)

cardoon

While I normally start cardoons from seeds, this year I was too lazy/too late/too swamped to start seeds, and so I bought 6 healthy seedlings at one of our local small family-run nurseries Morningside Farm & Nursery. They have a super nice section of herbs, succulent, tropicals and perennials. Morningside sells cardoon as an ornamental – perennial in zone 7 or lower. For us in the Nothern Virginia Piedmont, it’s a perennial if we have mild winters — which we  have had for the last several years. Certainly cardoon is a very striking plant in the garden, with its statuesque presence (if grown well, it can reach 6 feet when in flower — the 2nd year), its large silvery felt-like leaves and its oversized thistle flowers (assuming you let it bloom). It IS a gorgeous plant. And gorgeousness is the reason most people will ever grow them for. But it’s also eminently edible: it’s an artichoke grown for its stem. When properly prepared, they do indeed taste of artichoke. The other artichoke, globe artichoke, is grown for its flower bud. Yep, you are eating a thistle bud when you eat an artichoke!

Cardoon

Cardoons growing with Swiss chard. Both vegetables produce stems that make sumptuous gratins.

Plant them out at the same time the morels emerge. Read more

Chestnuts?

Chestnut time!

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Yes, it is time consuming to shell fresh chestnuts. There, I said it. But if it’s not difficult – provided you blanch the chestnuts and peel them while still warm.

Besides chestnuts are a treat, made all the rarer because the trees take a long time to grow and bear fruit; the nuts must be harvested almost daily to avoid chestnut-eating worms. In fact, best if you can put a cloth on the ground, shake branches with a long pole and move away fast to avoid the rain of thorny shells.  Thick gloves and stout boots are helpful too.

As well, true American chestnuts are a rarity. Once a mighty tree that provided rot-resistant timber & fence wood; fire wood through coppicing; tannins to tan leather; abundant flowering for honey bees;  fresh nuts for humans, pigs, and wild life; and dry nuts and flour for winter food, chestnut trees may have constituted as much as 25% of the Eastern North American forest. Alas an imported blight practically wiped out them in the 20th century. Some remain west of the Rockies and a few specimens in rare pockets in the East. They generally don’t live long, and the most promising trees (in terms of disease resistance) have been crossed and back-crossed with the immune Chinese chestnuts through the efforts of organizations such as The American Chestnut Foundation and  the American Chestnut Cooperators’ Foundation.

So local chestnuts, whether cultivated or foraged are likely to be the Chinese or even Japanese chestnuts, or hybrids. Chikapin chestnuts (another native that grows on a small tree) are really tiny – so ignored by people.  The large chestnuts sold in the store are imported from Europe.

By the way, when buying or collecting chestnuts, carefully inspect them for tiny holes. They are the sign that the nuts are inhabited.  Discard them. I collect fresh chestnut, and as I soon as I get home, I dump them in water and discard the ones that float, on the theory that the flesh has been eaten or has started to rot.

Chestnuts are versatile, used with equal success in desserts and in savory dishes, as the lovely recipe below.

Chestnut and Onion Braisée Read more

Preserving Peppers

A sample of peppers I grew this year.

Three bushels of peppers picked in the last 3 weeks. We are eating plenty of peppers, but still…  Something MUST be done. I have used several techniques to preserve them. Peppers are still available at farmers’ market and you may have had a good harvest before the frost too. So here is what I do to preserve my peppers: drying, freezing and several ways to pickle, including hot chunky sauce. Read more

Spicy Peanut and Lemon Basil Pesto

Photo by Molly J Peterson, FoodShed Magazine

 

What to do with the last of the basil, baby ginger and chile peppers that were pick up before the storm: inspired by a peanut and chile salsa-like dish from Réunion Island (“Rougail pistaches”), this pesto-like concoctioj adds a nice kick to sandwiches, omelets and cold or hot meats.

If basil is unavailable, use a mixture of cilantro and parsley.

Yields About 1 Cup

1 cup tightly packed lemon basil (or lime basil or Thai-basil leaves, or cilantro and parsley)
½ cup roasted Virginia peanuts (preferably unsalted)
¼ cup fresh green moderately hot chili peppers (like Serrano or Jalapeno), stem end removed, and roughly chopped
1 clove fresh plump garlic (green germ removed if any)
1 piece of fresh plump ginger root, the size of your thumbnail, peeled and sliced (if using baby ginger, no need to peel)
1 teaspoon sea salt
¼ to ½ cup extra virgin olive oil (or peanut oil)

Place all ingredients except oil in a food processor. Process until smooth, adding olive oil through the feeder tube until it reaches a consistency you like. Scrape bowl down as needed. Don’t over process: You want to see bits of pieces all the different ingredients.

As with all dishes made with basil, the part exposed to air will darken as basil oxidizes. Keep refrigerated for up to a week, under a thin layer of oil.

Locavore log: basil, peanuts, chiles, garlic, ginger

Recipe originally published in Food-shed magazine, Fall 2012.

The Sixth and Seventh Days Of Christmas (more lemon recipes)

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, with still over 7 pounds of Meyer lemons left from my citrus order orgy, I made Réunion Island Lemon and Onion Salad.

Lemon and Onion Salad from Reunion Island

Lemon and Onion Salad (Reunion Island Style)

In winter, I often hunger for bright spicy flavors to liven up the stews and braised dishes that are characteristics of this time of the year. Which is often when I return to my roots of Reunion Island, when I particularly reach into the spice cabinet for pungent curcuma, floral vanilla beans, fresh ginger and other flavors reminiscent of Reunion Island. Truth be told, I use those flavors all year long, but I crave them in winter. Read more

The Fourth and Fifth Days of Christmas (of Breads and Limes)

The Fourth Day of Christmas was mostly spent cooking dinner for a group of hungry hunters, out for a pheasant shoot. It is the second time I have cooked for that group. It’s always a good thing when a client wants you back!

On the menu:

Alsatian Tarte Flambée and hot gulf shrimps with a spicy sun-dry tomato sauce. I love making that Alsatian Tarte Flambée – it’s easy and it’s always a winner! How can it not be? Slow cooked onions; bacon; crème fraiche. For informal groups like this one, I make a big rectangular tart on a large rimmed cookie sheet or a large free-form pizza. For smaller plated dinner, I make small individual perfectly round tartelettes served with a mache or frisée salad.

Free-Form Alsatian Tarte Flambee

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Roasting Cauliflower

In the colder months, we roast, braise, bake and generally use the oven without hesitation. Roasting vegetables is a great way to make their flavor really shine.  For cauliflower (as well as for other members of the cabbage family), roasting also mitigates the “boiled-cabbage” odor that can permeate the house – one that so many people find objectionable.  And while we have plenty of other veggies at the moment (roots, tubers and hardy greens) that are delicious roasted, cauliflower is possibly the vegetable that really benefits from roasting. If you ever had boiled or steamed cauliflower and lamented its ensuing sogginess, you know what I mean…

A few weeks ago I was hired to make side dishes for a large birthday party, and roasted cauliflower with capers was on the menu. Another version – a little spicier – is one I also like, as it combines ginger (a favorite spice of mine), garlic & jalapenos.  The dish can be served immediately while warm – or at room temperature. It can be prepared ahead and refrigerated; in which case, take it out of the fridge about 1 hour before serving time to bring it to room temperature. It’s – in other words – perfect for the potluck parties that are looming around at this time of the year.

If you have had boiled cauliflower before and did not care for it, try roasting it before totaling giving up on it.

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