Saturday, September 12, 2015

How Does My Garden Grow: Summer Basil Oil

In life there is a struggle for simplicity.  We rarely achieve it.  There are moments we catch glimpses, or experience short bursts that bring a full appreciation of what life might be like if we knew how to live simply.

If you follow my blog you know, I feel most centered when my hands are in the dirt or my mind and body are in my kitchen.  Nature provides to us free of charge, incredible flavors, colors and textures.  When food is prepared closest to how nature intended it is “simply” the best. 

In north Florida summer stays late.  It stays long past its welcome but there are gifts to be enjoyed as the long days begin to wind down.  This means summer herbs are abundant, and if you are growing basil, it is at its peak.

One of the best ways to reap this gift of nature is to preserve your summer basil with a good olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and a few good grinds of cracked black pepper.  What is created is a intensely fragrant and flavored oil that is a perfect addition to soup, roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes and marinades. It also makes for a perfect gift to share with family and friends.

Photo from driftless organics
Basil Oil Recipe
Makes about 3/4 cup
Recipe from Epicurious

1-1/2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
3/4 cup olive oil

Blanch basil in a medium saucepan of boiling water 10 seconds.  Drain.  Rinse under cold water.  Pat basil dry with paper towels.  Transfer to blender.  Add oil; puree until smooth.  Transfer to small bowl.  Season with salt and pepper.

Note: Can be made 3 days ahead.  Cover and chill.  Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.


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Sunday, August 9, 2015

Dirt to Table Experience: Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sriracha Lime Dressing

Contrary to popular belief butternut is a tender skinned winter squash with little tolerance for cold air. My luck with growing butternut squash has been dismal.  I planted it too late, too early, and mostly ended with a lot of vine and no squash.  Late last winter my fellow community gardener gave me three butternut seedlings (from her saved seeds) to plant. The seedlings were planted in what can be described as a micro-climate in my garden.  A  sunny area with a high oak canopy to slightly reduce the peak mid-day Florida temperatures.  The Gods must have been singing Hallelujah!!  I became the proud mama of several butternut beauties. 

Surprisingly, fresh butternut is very easy to peel and cut. It has a sweet, nutty flavor that really explodes when given the opportunity to release its natural sugars from a good pan roasting, and a dusting of a heady spice like cumin.

My husband stumbled across this recipe while looking for ideas to use butternut squash in a salad.  The simplicity of this beautiful summer salad starts with peppery greens paired with the nutty and sweet roasted squash.  The flavors continue to move to the next level, with a kick in your pants flavor combination of cumin and sriracha sauce.  Now, let's cool it down with citrus and agave nectar or honey.  This is a winning combination of flavors.  The black beans and pepitas add a pop of protein and texture to this stunning and delicious salad.

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Sriracha Lime Dressing
Serves 4
Recipe from Cookin Canuck

2  tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon sriracha
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar or honey
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1-lb. peeled and cubed butternut squash
1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
4 cups arugula
3/4 cup black beans (drained and rinsed)
1/4 cup pepitas (pumpkin seeds)


In a small bowl, whisk together the lime juice, sriracha, agave nectar and salt.  While working slowly pouring in the olive oil.

1.  Lightly coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.  Place the butternut squash on the tray.  Sprinkle he olive oil, cumin, salt and pepper over the squash and toss to coat.

2.  Roast the squash until tender when pierced with a fork, 25 to 30 minutes.

3.  In a serving bowl, toss the arugula, blackens and pipettes.  Add the roasted butternut squash and the dressing, and toss again.

Serve immediately.


Next Cooking ClassCooking with Herbs: Saturday, September 19th at 10:00 a.m.
We are going to take your senses on a journey to discover how to use fresh herbs in your kitchen. You will learn how to take a dish from good to fantastic using fresh herbs. We will also talk about growing, handling and storing your fresh herbs.
Call Brown's Kitchen early (850) 385-5665 to reserve your spot.

photo from Herb Z

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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Stay out of the Kitchen: Summer Gazpacho

The heat has become almost unbearable. The humidity on most days is pushing 100% along with the 100 degrees F.  temperatures. We affectionately refer to the heat here in the panhandle of Florida as "swamp heat".  Unlike the southern part of the state which lay claim to a tropical climate, us hooligans in the north beg for a breeze and surrender to the hot stagnant air.  Of course jealousy ensues from the south in the winter time as we experience a change of seasons which gives way to cool air and frosty mornings.

This month's cooking class theme was  STAY OUT OF THE KITCHEN.  I focused on sharing with my class at Browns Kitchen a few simple to prepare cold dishes when brought together make a fantastic summer meal. The menu was centered around this delightful and refreshing summer gazpacho soup.

Gazpacho is a Spanish soup enjoyed in the country's southern Andalusia region and neighboring Portugal which both experience very hot summers.   This blend of raw vegetables including, cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, onions and fresh garlic with tomato juice as the base come together creating a incredibly fresh and flavorful cold soup.

This summer soup is best prepared ahead of time to allow the flavors to full develop.

Summer Gazpacho
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Ina Garten

1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
24 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions.  Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped.  Do not overprocess!

After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper.  Mix well and chill before serving.  

The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Luck of the Irish and Traditional Shepherd's Pie

Ireland is like one big picnic spot
~Bailey Knapp

I feel like I need to start this post with a resounding  "America there is nothing Irish about corned beef and cabbage!" Okay, there I feel better. Who knew?  It is believed that when the Irish came to America corned beef was cheap, readily available and soon became the meat of choice. It is also believed the close proximity of the Jewish and Irish immigrant communities played a role in establishing corned beef and cabbage as a mainstay meal in their new homeland.

As an American in Ireland you feel the similarities. A sense of kinship.  If you are not listening close you might think the accent is American, if you fail to listen closely, you can easily mistaken an Irish person for being American.

Ireland is stunning. Your first impression is the intensity of the color green and the lushness of the landscape with its cragginess and tall grasses.  Ireland landscapes are dotted with small family farms. Beef, lamb and milk production are the agricultural products of Ireland.  The coast line is equally as stunning.  The Irish weather? Let's just say when there is a sunny warm day, the Irish feel lucky. While standing on the Cliffs of Moher  (the wind literally moved my body).  I believe it is the only place where I experienced my hair literally blowing in all directions at the same time.

The only way to discover a new culture is in a up-close and personal way. We do it by spending time with the locals, walking the neighborhoods, shopping local stores and eating in local establishments.  In Ireland this is so easy. The Irish are incredibly warm and friendly-Even the farm animals say hello.

Bailey enjoyed saying good morning to this friendly guy

The Irish Rush Hour 

At first we thought the colored dye on the wool of the sheep were a marker for the farmer to identify their flock of sheep.  It is actually used to distinguish female (red) from male sheep (blue). 

We thought it would be fun to pull off the road with our dinner and eat along side the sheep. Eating along side the road was an excellent idea! Eating your dinner with a mature ram at your back with his herd of ladies and a grocery bag of food? Not such a good idea.  We high-tailed it out of the sheep pasture.

Found ourselves a great picnic spot across from the grazing flock of sheep.  This photo is proof Ireland is indeed like one big picnic spot.

And the beauty continues

And continues....

There is no better way to honor a country and its culture than re-creating a traditional dish.  In Ireland a pub favorite is Shepherd's pie which is traditionally made with lamb.  Replacing the lamb with beef is sometimes called a cottage pie. The theory goes that a shepherd is only concerned with his sheep (lamb or mutton) not cattle (beef).

Shepherd's pie is a simple flavorful combination of ground meat and veggies baked in a light gravy with a mashed potato topping. You can make this for two or make it a for crowd.  This dish freezes easily and a is a kid friendly and family favorite meal.

Traditional Irish Shepard's Pie
Serves 4-6
Recipe from Grumpy Irish Lady

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon black pepper
1lb. ground beef or ground lamb
1 large onion, finely diced
3-4 large carrots, finely diced
1 cup frozen peas
3-4 sprigs  fresh thyme, finely chopped
2 tablespoons flour
1 tablespoon butter
1 glass of red wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 cup chicken stock
6 cups fresh or leftover mashed potatoes
1 egg beaten
Grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven too 400F.

Sauté carrots the olive oil until almost tender.  Add onions and sauté for another 2-3 minutes.  Add beef or lamb.  Season with black pepper and thyme.

Cook until the meat is browned. Drain the fat.  Return the meat to the pan.  Add butter and peas.  Sprinkle with flour and toss to coat the meat.  Add tomato paste, wine and Worcestershire sauce.

Reduce slightly.  Add chicken stock.  Allow to reduce down until you have a thick meaty gravy.  Season to your taste.

Reduce from heat.  Grease an oven proof dish (9x13 oval baking dish works well) with butter and add the sauce.  Spoon or pipe the mashed potatoes over top.  Brush with egg and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until potato is nice and brown on top.


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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Hold the Sauce! Oven to Table Thin Crust White Pizzas

Don't get me wrong I love traditional Pizza but, crave a lighter thin crust white pizza (no tomato sauce) on occasion.

I experimented with two recipes.  The first recipe was a proscuitto and arugula pizza.  This pizza was a beautiful contrast of a thinly sliced Italian proscuitto paired with baby arugula greens-it was delightful.  The second recipe focused on summer squashes which by itself can be bland but, paired with caramelized onions, thyme and crushed red pepper and it comes alive with flavor.

The beauty of homemade pizza is the opportunity to savor the season.  There is no set rules for the toppings.  The dough can be homemade or store purchased. You can use what you have on hand or what you see in season at the farmers market.  The effort and time you want to invest is up to you.

You can embrace the lighter healthier side of pizza using the recipes below as your foundation.

Proscuitto and Arugula and Zucchini and Caramelized Onion Pizza
Makes 2-10 inch pizzas
Recipes from Fine Cooking
Proscuitto and arugula pizza

5 oz. fresh mozzarella
1-1/2 Tbs. freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1-1/2 Tbs. heavy cream
1-1/2 Tbs. buttermilk
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour for the peel
2-8 oz. balls pizza dough (homemade or store bought) at room temperature
2 cups baby arugula
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 oz. thinly sliced proscuitto

Put a pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven, heat the oven to 550 F., and let the stone heat for at least a half-hour.

Cut half of the mozzarella into a 1/2-inch dice and put in a medium bowl. Thinly slice the other half and, using the side of the chef's knife, mash it into a paste.  Add it to the diced mozzarella .  Add the Parmigiano, cream, and buttermilk, and season lightly with salt.

Lightly flour a peel.  Stretch one dough ball into a 10-to 11-inch round and transfer to the peel.  Spread half of the cheese mixture over the dough almost to the edge and season with black pepper.  Slide the dough onto the hot stone and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is nicely browned, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to the cutting board and slice.

Drape half of the proscuitto over the pizza.  Toss the arugula with just enough olive oil to dress it very lightly.  Season with salt and pepper and scatter half over the proscuitto.  Repeat to make the second pizza.

Zucchini and caramelized onion pizza

3 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbs. thinly sliced chives
1 tsp.  finely chopped thyme
1 small zucchini, trimmed and thinly sliced or shaved lengthwise
1 small yellow squash, trimmed and thinly sliced or shaved lengthwise
1 cup coarsely grated mozzarella
Flour for the peel
1 8-oz. balls pizza dough (homemade or store bought) at room temperature
Sea Salt
Crushed red pepper (optional)

Put a pizza stone on the lowest rack of the oven, heat the oven to 550 F., and let the stone heat for at least a half-hour.

In-a 12-inch skillet, heat 1 Tbs. of the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and well browned, 15 to 18 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining 2 Tbs. olive oil with the garlic, chives, thyme and a good pinch of salt.  Add the zucchini and squash and toss to coat.  In a small bowl, combine the two cheeses.

Lightly flour a pizza peel.  Stretch one dough ball into a 10 to 11 inch round and transfer it to the peel.  Top with half of the caramelized onion and just enough cheese to cover the onion.  Top with half of the zucchini and squash, alternating colors and direction and slightly overlapping them; the squash does not have to cover the whole pizza.  Sprinkle with a little more (about 1/2 cup) of the cheese.

Slide the pizza onto the hot stone and bake until the cheese is melted and the crust is nicely browned, about 8 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board and sprinkle with sea salt and crushed red pepper flakes, if using.  Repeat to make the second pizza.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

Savoring the Seasons: Avocado and Pineapple Salad

Cool summer salads like this one makes me want to throw open the patio doors, fire up the grill and let the Florida summer months begin! In spite of knowing, I will regret this comment in August when the swamp heat arrives (laugh).

This is a cool summer salad. The fresh flavors, highlights the season and keeps you out of the kitchen and out doing the things you enjoy. Paired with roasted pork? Shut the FRONT DOOR!

There are just a few key ingredients fresh pineapple, avocado and thinly sliced red onion drizzled with a light fresh squeezed citrus vinaigrette-that's it!

Avocado and Pineapple Salad
Serves 10
Recipe from Fine Cooking

1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
2 Tbs. fresh orange juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced crosswise
1 habanero chili, seedd and finely chopped
1 large Florida avocado, or  medium Hass avocados, sliced 1/4-inch thick lengthwise, then cut crosswise into halves or thirds
1 small pineapple (about 2-1/2 lb.), peeled, quartered, cored, and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick

Whisk the oil, lime and orange juices, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp. pepper in a medium bowl.  Add the onion and habanero and toss,  Set aside at least 10 minutes and up to 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, shingle the pineapple and avocado on very large flat platter or 2 smaller platters.  Using a fork, scoop  the onion slices out of the vinaigrette and scatter them over the avocado and pineapple.  Drizzle the remainng vinaigrette over the entire platter.

Season with a little salt and serve within 1 hour.


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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Casual and Comforting: Farfalle Pasta with Arugula

My boys consider meals that do not include a chunk of meat a snack.  Since our teenager appears to be eating less meals with us these days, I am beginning to shift the focus to easy to prepare "empty nesters" meals.  It won't be too much longer, and it will be just my husband and myself at home. Gone will be the days of trying to find meals to pack in the most carbs, protein and calories into my very active teenage son.  His parents surely do not have a physical need for such food combinations. The attention is shifting to lighter, plant based meal options (eye roll from husband at the mere sound of "plant based").

This easy to prepare pasta dish focuses on flavor packed ingredients such as sun dried tomatoes, arugula, and kalamata olives. Walnuts and beans are added for a good source of healthy proteins, and  the dish finishes off with a generous grating of sharp Asiago cheese.

If you are looking for a good "go to" satisfying casual meal then add this recipe to your file.

Farfalle Pasta with Arugula
Serves 6
Recipe from New Leaf Market

12-ounces farfalle (bowtie) pasta
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
5-ounces arugula
1/4 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
1 cup canned great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1 lemon, zest and juice
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 ounces Asiago cheese, shredded

Bring large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the noodles until al dente, about 8 minutes.  Remove from heat, drain and set aside.

Heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a large pot.  Sauté the garlic for 1 minute and add the cooked pasta, sun-dried tomatoes and walnuts and sauté for another 1-2 minutes.  Add arugula and wilt for a few minutes, then add the olives, beans, lemon zest and juice and the remaining butter and stir well.  Remove from heat and season with salt and black pepper.  Stir in Asiago cheese and serve.

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