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8/11/2008

Slow Foods Dinner in August

Our friends, David Mervis & Donna Musarra, invited us to cook for a fund raiser dinner for the Slow Foods Convivium in Fayetteville, AR. David & Donna's newly remodeled fabulous Victorian farmhouse includes an incredible kitchen and so I volunteered Josh, Adam and myself for the event. Having been one of the 5,000 participants in the first Slow Foods international conference in Turin, Italy in 2004, I have a strong interest in the movement toward eating locally grown produce and supporting area farmers.

Our goals for the evening included using locally grown food, from our own garden as well as items from the Fayetteville Farmer's Market. We wanted to demonstrate some of the food items while people watched and ate. And we wanted to use as few dishes as possible. It was enough work preparing and demonstrating 8 courses of food for 25 people, washing multiple courses of dishes would not have been fun.

My choice for "dishes" were freshly washed redbud leaves, basil leaves and canna leaves cut into napkin-sized portions. For serving the menu items, we used whole canna leaves with the exception of the cold cucumber soup and the dessert, which was Black Tea and Rose Sorbet served with Lavender cookie.

The menu list included the following:
Josh's freshly baked Swiss Bread Braids with Rose Butter (Josh churned butter in his grandmother's antique butter churn, while people watched and drank wine. He had a 3 pound block of freshly churned butter ready to serve).

After bread and butter, we served Dirty Cheese, a quick and tasty appetizer made of chopped fresh garlic chives, oregano, sweet marjoram and parsley. Cubes of farmer's cheese, tossed with the freshly chopped herbs and a teaspoon of olive oil, were displayed on a large canna leaf with toothpicks.

Next came Heirloom Tomatoes and Goat Cheese, with balsamic vinegar, served on red cabbage leaves.

Then The Great War Cucumber-Dill Soup, a recipe from my childhood that was a result of 2 neighbors who fought an entire summer over a mistakenly thrown yellow cucumber that thoughtlessly went flying over a neighbor's fence. With that we served a Parmesan Cracker from my Homemade Crackers Using Herbs book.

Next were Vietnamese Summer Rolls, served on heart-shaped redbud leaves, with an Achocha and Cucumber Dipping Sauce.

I'd made Curried Cracker bowls by rolling out the cracker dough and putting over the outside of large cupcake tins and baking until crisp. In those we served Adam's mixture of basils with a bit of baby lettuces, some begonia flowers and rose petals, and a few red currant tomatoes, drizzled over with a Red Raspberry Vinegar I'd made earlier in the day. Since time was running short (we cooked and ate for 4 hours) we topped the salad with locally grown Bison Meatballs, on skewers with shiitake mushroom and tiny, baby potatoes with a tomato preserve sauce over.

The next course was Cucumber Sandwiches. They were made by slicing baby cucumbers in half lengthwise, hollowing out slightly and stuffing with a mixture of cream cheese, chopped French marigold blossoms, basil and pecans, with a basil leaf sticking out the end. These were served on canna leaves which Adam (you can see the B.A. in Art coming to life, he just can't help himself) had arranged skillfully.

The favorite course of the evening was the Baby Summer Squash, stuffed with Cajun Bread Stuffing, topped with fresh Crawdads from Table Rock Lake, with a white wine sauce over that. Adam had worked for weeks catching and cleaning crawdads for the meal and we had enough left over that he made a curried crawdads and rice for dinner the next evening.

The evening ended with Black Tea and Rose Sorbet (from my book, Sensational Sorbets), served with a Lavender Cookie on the side.

For beverages we had lots of local organic wines that were donated for the event, and cold-pressed mint tea for those who wanted something other than wine. All in all it was a delightful evening and there were 2 comments that stand out in my mind:
1-"This is the most basil I've eaten in 5 years," said one guest, and,
2-"We paid $50 a person and I think you should have charged $100 a person, it's so good!"

Recipes:
Cucumber Sandwiches
8 baby cucumbers, sliced lengthwise
1 8 oz. package cream cheese, softened
4 French marigolds, yellow parts cut off and chopped,
green bases discarded
6 basil leaves, lemon or Thai if available, chopped
4 tablespoons coarsley chopped pecans

Combine cream cheese and marigolds and pecans. Pat dry the insides of the cucumbers, then generously spread the mixture on one half of the cucumber. Put on the top and insert a fresh basil leaf.

Stuffed Baby Squash with Crawdad

(You can substitute shrimp for crayfish tail)

12 - 15 2 inch size baby patty pan squashes, or substitute zucchini (slice crosswise into 2 inch thick slices)
4 cups dried bread cubes
1-2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
12-15 crawdad tails or shrimp
(about) 6 tablespoons butter

With paring knife, cut out the center of each squash or squash slice so that you have a funnel shape (don't cut all the way through the bottom). Save the interior of the squash that you've removed, and chop it in the food processor with:
1 green onion or small shallot

Saute the shredded squash innards and green onion in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the bread cubes and chicken broth and mix until the bread cubes are soft. Add water if needed until the bread cubes and squash is slightly mushy. Set aside.

In a steamer or pan, bring 3 cups of water to a boil and place the baby squashes inside. Cover and let steam for about 3 minutes. Check with a fork. You want the squashes to be just barely tender but not soft. Remove from pan and cool.

Stuff each baby squash with the stuffing, piling it up on top and firming it into the center of the squash. Top with a crayfish tail or shrimp and bake for 6-8 minutes or until the stuffing is firm and beginning to brown slightly.

Serve with the following sauce:

1/4 cup butter
1 cup white wine
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon flour, dissolved in chicken broth.
1/4 cup chicken broth

Melt butter in skillet add white wine and heat, then adding the heavy cream and continue simmering. Dissolve the flour in the chicken broth and add that to the simmering sauce. Continue stirring until thickened. If it gets thick too fast, add a bit of water.

Serve a tiny spoonful over each stuffed squash.

5/20/2008

No-Knead Bread with Herbs

This is adapted from Mark Bittman's NY Times bread recipe. It's so easy and makes an outstanding, dense, European-style bread.

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal as needed.

*Herbs: choose any, or a combination of: rosemary, parsley, sage, marjoram, oregano, garlic chives or regular chives. Chop fine until you have about 1 tablespoon.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least about 18 hours at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it. Have ready 1 tablespoon of freshly chopped *herbs and scatter over the dough surface. Sprinkle dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound, very tasty loaf of herbal bread.

4/21/2008

Lemon Balm Cake from Nature's Garden

Lots of people asked for the recipe for my cake that appeared in the Spring issue of Nature's Garden magazine. Here's the recipe and I hope you enjoy it.

Lemon Balm Rose Cream Cake

Herbs used:
3 tablespoons freshly-chopped Lemon Balm leaves
2 leaves Lemongrass (the leaf, not the bulb), snipped fine with scissors....it’s important to snip with scissors, not expect the food processor to do it)

Recipe:
1 package Duncan Hines or any brand Lemon Supreme cake mix

Combine the liquid ingredients called for on the box...usually 1 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup oil. Put that liquid in a blender with:
3 tablespoons freshly-chopped Lemon Balm leaves and
2 leaves Lemongrass which have been snipped up with scissors first. Pulse-blend until the herbs are fairly well pulverized. Add that to:
The dry cake mix and eggs, beating well and pour into two oiled, floured round 9 inch cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Cool.

With a cake slicer, slice each cake in half, making 4 thin layers.

Filling:
1 large package instant vanilla pudding
1 large (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened to room temp.
3 cups milk
1 tablespoon Rose syrup if available, or:
1 tablespoon dry strawberry Jello powder
In food processor, pulse blend ingredients, then stir in by hand, one small carton Cool Whip.
Fold together well and refrigerate for several hours.

Spread about 1/2 inch layer between the first and second layers of cake. Place the second cake on that, and cover the next layer with the filling.

Put a layer of fresh edible rose petals over that, add the third layer, repeat with filling and roses, then place the fourth layer on top.
Cover it with filling and dot liberally with fresh strawberries or blueberries and fresh rose petals or pansies. Chill for 2 hours before serving.

For information about which roses to eat and which ones have the best flavors, look for my book, How to Eat a Rose on my website, under "Books."

1/06/2008

Fresh bread with herbs

This bread is so easy a 6 year old can make it! Just add a couple of teaspooons of your favorite herbs to Mark Bittman's NY Times no-knead bread recipe (see the video here). I am not a very good bread baker - it takes a warm kitchen for good bread baking. But this recipe has only 3 ingredients and is virtually foolproof and I make great bread from this recipe. Time, not you, does the work. Go here for the recipe. The bread is so good, you will eat the whole loaf in a day! I like to add a combination of rosemary, marjoram and a touch of garlic. Or sometimes a bit of thyme with the other herbs, too. Here's what my golden marjoram looks like in January, when it turns a rainbow of color. See more plants in their winter colors at my garden blog.