Tag Archives: herbs

Easter Sunday (and Easter Monday) Dining

Sorry for the delay in posting … no real reason.

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter weekend with friends and family. Four days off seems like a lot but, amazingly, it’s Monday already and they flew by. It was a mild weekend so I went outside and bbq’d a tray of lamb shoulder chops, a package of asparagus and a package of jumbo hot dogs for my Easter dinner. It was all delicious.

Supper – Chickpea soup with a crispy kale garnish and the lamb chops, kale salad, sweet potatoes and grilled asparagus.

Instead of buns or rolls, I used part of the dough from the traditional Romanian Easter bread, pasca, which I posted already, to make a pull-apart braided cross.

And here’s the star of the meal. The cheese filling is an accent not the main feature.

I cut some of the flowers from the front ‘garden’ for my Easter table and though the daffodils are all faded (they were gorgeous last weekend) the narcissus are beautiful, as always. My dad’s plantings are doing him proud yet again.

And speaking of plants, I planted a small egg tray (2 seeds in each of 6 cups) of lavender seeds a couple of weeks ago but there’s no sign of any seedlings yet. I’m not quite sure why I decided to plan them, but I have had this package of seeds for a while so I thought I’d give it another try in the face of previous fails.  UPDATE (04/22) : only 1 seedling germinated. It was never a very successful package of seeds so I suspect there was something wrong from the source.

I’m debating on what else I should plant this year from my collection of seed packets. Mostly herbs since that’s mostly what I have. Basil (Italian and Thai), some shiso since none of the four or so lovely plants I had in the house over-wintered successfully indoors, from the fall planting. One leaf after another dropped off until all I was left with was a bare stalk with faded blossoms on it. I suppose I could have gathered the seeds but I didn’t plan ahead. As to the mitsuba, I have one very leafy plant sitting on the window sill in the entry way. I pinched off the older faded leaves as a new furl appeared in the center and now I have huge leaves on it. The pot isn’t very large or deep but I’m wary of transplanting in case the shock causes them all to drop off.

It seems like the sage plant I bought from the city market has overwintered successfully outside without any type of covering but the rosemary … I’m pretty sure it’s dead. Thyme, oregano and mint plants were also in the pots but it’s too soon to tell if they’re going to come back.

Sourdough Duo – Carole L’s Bread and Rosemary and Garlic Focaccia

ETA: A quick picture of a holiday loaf version of Carole’s bread … Dried Cranberry, Honey and Orange Zest.

Add-in: 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 tbsp honey and 1 tbsp orange zest.

I decided to combine two sourdough bread posts into one to reduce the post overload. I’m putting Carole L’s bread (two versions) first because I’m including the recipe with it (it’s only available on FB and I’m rewriting the instructions with more information). I’m also going to make it again while I’m unlikely to repeat the focaccia one. It was good but not amazing.

Carole L’s No Knead Sourdough Loaf

Trial 1 – plain, baked at temperatures and times given

I over proofed the bread before baking so my slashes weren’t very effective

Trial 2 – Parmesan, basil pesto and pine nuts, baked at higher temperatures, with time adjustments

Crust is nice and crunchy … a bit of pressure and it cracked

Parmesan, Pesto and Pine Nut Small Sourdough – makes one 1 1/2 pound/ 700 gm baked loaf

Dough 1

1 1/2 cups flour (all purpose or bread flour)
1/2 cup room temperature water
1/2 cup sourdough starter

Dough 2

1 1/2 cups flour (all purpose or bread flour)
1/2 cup room temperature water
1 tsp salt

Optional add-ins:
For the 3P version above, I used 2 tbsp each of grated parmesan cheese, basil pesto and pine nuts. I’m thinking of doing a cranberry and orange version for Christmas.

In a large bowl with a lid or a container that you can seal well with saran wrap, mix together the ingredients for Dough 1 and form a ball. Cover the bowl and leave on the counter at room temperature (~70 deg F) for at least 12 hours. (Longer is fine. I left the first attempt for over 20 hrs which helped develop the ‘sour’ taste that gives sourdough its name.)

The next day, add the ingredients for Dough 2, including any add-ins you might like and knead for 2-3 minutes.

Shape into a boule (ball) or batard (torpedo shape) using a bit of flour and place into a banneton or a bowl lined with a flour dusted linen type towel. Make sure your bowl is large enough for the dough to double in size. If the bowl has a lid, use it, otherwise, place the bowl into a large plastic bag and tie it close. (Some heat is generated during the rising process. You wouldn’t think so, but it’s true. Keep it in if you can.) Place the bowl in a warm place for about 2 hours.

After an hour, preheat the oven with a dutch oven, including lid, to 500 deg F/260 deg C.

NOTE: Test the dough for rise (it may not double) after about 1 1/2 hrs to see if it’s risen enough by pressing lightly with your finger tip to about 1/2 an inch in depth. You want the dough to spring back a bit … not immediately, cause that means it’s not proofed long enough. If you press down on the dough, and the shape of your finger remains, you’ve over proofed it. Oh well.

Turn out your dough into your hot dutch oven. If you’re afraid to burn yourself, line a large baking sheet with a sheet of parchment paper and turn it over onto your rising bowl. Then flip the bowl so your dough ends up on the parchment paper. Transfer the dough including the parchment paper sling into your dutch oven.

Place the dutch oven lid on top and bake for 30 minutes. You may want to throw a couple of ice cubes into the dutch oven before you add your bread, but that’s not essential.

Take the lid off the dutch oven, reduce the heat to 425 deg F/220 deg C and continue baking for another 15-20 minutes.

Remove the dutch oven from the oven and cool the bread on a cooling rack for at least 2-3 hours before cutting.

* * *

I was going to bake another tartine loaf but then I saw an amazing focaccia on a FB sourdough group and gave it a shot. I still cut my breads too soon after baking but, as a new sourdough baker, I just can’t wait to see what that crumb looks like.

The recipe I used was found here. I steeped minced garlic and finely chopped fresh rosemary in warmed extra virgin olive oil and then basted the oil over the top of the dough before I baked it. I think I went a bit overboard on the rosemary for my taste but otherwise, it’s a tasty bread to split and use as a sandwich bread or for dipping into stew, marinara sauce or seasoned extra virgin olive oil. The texture of the bread is quite similar to a loaf of ciabatta bread, but shaped into a flat sheet so there’s no ‘wastage’ with the taller areas of a loaf.

Before and after baking

Cut into strips and dip into marinara sauce or split in half and toast for sandwiches.

Shiso (Perilla) and Mitsuba Seeds

This post features my first attempts to germinate shiso and mitsuba seeds … the timing isn’t the best but I think I learned a lot for next spring.

As a fan of Japanese dishes, especially sushi, I’ve heard of shiso, also known as perilla, and its various uses in both its green and red forms.

Most simply the green version can be included in hand rolls or as an edible garnish under sashimi. The red form is most famously used for coloring pickled plum, or umeboshi. I happened to whine express my culinary interest in acquiring some in correspondence with a blogging Swiss friend and she offered to send me some seeds from her plants. I emailed her my snail mail addy, and as it was almost the end of summer, thought I’d have something to look forward to in the spring. I was pleasantly surprised to find an envelope in the mail in almost no time as well as detailed growing instructions and the assurance that more seeds would come for spring planting.

So, with nothing to lose, I gave it a shot.

The shiso seeds are small and round, similar to basil seeds in size. And like with basil seeds, you get the first embryonic leaves peeking through a light covering of soil about 4-5 days after planting. Wait until the first TRUE leaves appear and the stalk is about an inch in height before thinning and transplanting the seedlings into larger pots. I planted 10 seeds and got 5 germinating.

Shiso seeds were planted in the back row … you can see the first 3 seedlings.

D-shaped embryonic leaves with more normal oval shaped leaves in the middle.

Shiso leaves have their 2nd and 3rd set of ‘true’ leaves. Only one of the mitsuba seedling has its first set of ‘true’ leaves. They were planted at the same time.

Also included in the package were seeds for mitsuba, also known as Japanese parsley, which is said to have a celery like flavour with a number of uses, including as a garnish in soups and as a sushi ingredient.

Mitsuba seeds are long, thin and black, similar to cumin seeds. I attempted to germinate about 10-12 seeds but only 3 sprouted. The embryonic leaves reminded me of leaves of grass so I wondered if I had actually managed to sprout one when the first hint of green peeked through the soil. Only the husk of the seed coat, which was still attached let me know I had succeeded.

At first I thought only one seed had germinated but over the course of the next 10 days, a second and then finally a third sprout was seen. It took almost 3 weeks for the first ‘true’ leaf to appear.

And even longer before I felt confident enough to transplant them into pots. Parsley like ‘true’ leaves.

ETA: 10/10/2016 Since I was having so much trouble with the mitsuba germination, I tried a method suggested by the friend who sent me the seeds to germinate the shiso – on damp cottonballs misted with water daily after 2 days of refrigerating.

It took a bit over 3 weeks but 2 out of the 11 seeds germinated… so far. I covered 6 of the seeds with a damp paper towel as well, as a test.

Ham, Potato and Corn Chowder, Chicken Breast Duo and Honeycomb

It’s fall time again and with the nip in the air, and my kitchen, I’m planning more substantial cooking projects that will warm me up.

Like this ham, potato and corn chowder I found on someone’s blog. The ingredients are similar to a previous soup I’ve posted, other than using a roux to thicken it up to the consistency of a chowder. You can add whipping or half and half cream if you want to add richness to the dish. And don’t mind the extra calories.

In the meantime, however, I thawed out the last of the boneless, skinless chicken breasts from my freezer (1 pound in total) and turned them into chicken and kale pesto spaghetti

… and a fast and tasty marinated Middle Eastern dish on skewers called chicken tawook.

Both are dishes I’ve made before so no recipes.

I recently got a late afternoon craving for something sweet and whipped up this variation on a peanut brittle. Honeycomb is a nut free toffee in which, similar to a brittle, baking soda is added to a caramelized sugar mixture. The sugar used and, most importantly, the amounts of baking soda added vary. The extra baking soda used in the honeycomb creates lots of bubbles resulting in a sponge-like texture that shatters in your mouth as your crunch down on it. I started with a brittle recipe but added an additional teaspoon of baking soda. Next time, I’ll make a traditional honeycomb with brown sugar and molasses in place of the white sugar and corn syrup I used.

NOTE: DO NOT disturb your molten sugar mixture once you’ve poured it out onto your buttered or greased baking pan in order to even it out. You’re flattening out all of those lovely bubbles if you do so.

Broccoli and Danish Blue Cheese Souffle

I hate wasting food, but for some reason, I seem to be discarding broccoli stems. Just one stem and a few florettes and you have a delicious addition to a plain cheese souffle. This is a variation of my basic cheese souffle recipe for two. Over the years, I’ve made it with leftover shredded salmon, spinach, sauteed mushrooms and various cheeses.

Lovely moist interior

Unlike the usual souffle recipe, in which the eggs are separated and the eggs whites are beaten until stiff and then folded into the souffle mixture, whole, beaten eggs are added in this version. The souffle won’t rise as much as the regular method, and will fall quicker, but you can make the souffles, bake one and refrigerate the second one for the next day.

If you don’t like the strong taste of blue cheese, replace the 2 oz of blue cheese with 1 oz grated Parmesan and 1 oz crumbled blue cheese. I used a generous pinch of dried thyme instead of the chives.

Baked Kibbeh (Kibbeh bil sayneeye)

Kibbeh is a delicious Middle Eastern appetizer, mezze offering or main dish. Served with tzatziki or other yogurt based sauce, few people would pass this by.

I’ve made the individual stuffed version but it’s fiddly to make and then you have to shallow or preferably, deep fry, the football shaped kibbeh.  I chose to make this kibbeh in a pie plate, but you can also make it in a 9×13 inch baking dish and cut them into diamond shapes.

My first attempt used only beef but a combination of half beef and half lamb is even tastier. You can use the same recipes for this version except bake for 40-45 min in a preheated 350 deg F oven. I added 2 tsp of the Baharat made below to the filling and 1 tbsp to the shell mixture.

Baharat spices before and after being ground

Turkish Baharat

2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp coriander
1 tbsp dried mint
1 tbsp clove
1 tbsp nutmeg
1 tbsp green cardamom
1 pinch cinnamon

Toast dried, whole spices lightly. Let cool and grind in coffee grinder. Store in dark bottle in the fridge or freezer.

Dessert … Turkish delight (loukum)

Pesto … What kind do YOU make?

Nothing new about this post. I had intended to make a different kind of pesto but my poor basil plants have gone to flower, cause I’m neglecting them. The big leaves at the bottom are turning yellow and dropping off. At least I’m watering every day which is a necessity in this hot weather and a hot weather alert is coming up again. I made a couple of tasty things while dealing with the visit from the handyman (and his wife and daughter who help out) who is here to weed the worst of the back.

PS: They got 1/2 the lemon curd rolls, all the cherry braid and the rest of the ciabatta bread that I’d baked earlier that day.

* * *

Of course, the classic Genovese pesto of basil, pine nuts, garlic and Parmesan cheese with extra virgin olive oil is familiar to most people but you can mix and match your herbs, the nut used and even the oil.

Basil picked from my plants … FINALLY

For a strong tasting meat, like a leg of lamb, make a pesto with fresh parsley, toasted walnuts and walnut oil if you have it handy  … or just a nice neutral vegetable oil like canola. Butterfly your leg of lamb, spread the pesto over the meat, then roll it up, tie it and roast. The pesto will flavour the meat and keep it moist. If you put your leg of lamb on top of some potato wedges, the juices will flavour the potatoes. (Sorry, I dont’ have any pics to share.)

That reminds me. I really need to pick up a leg of lamb.

If you don’t want to buy a whole leg of lamb and butterfly it, pan fried lamb shoulder chops with a mint-cilantro pesto pasta is amazing.

Pesto garlic bread – Combine equal parts softened butter and pesto. Add some grated Parmesan cheese to the mixture as well, if desired. Spread over your favourite crusty bread and place the bread on a baking sheet under the broiler just until the bread is crunchy and the butter is melted

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta

Creamy Chicken Pesto Pasta – serves 2

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast cut into 3/4-1 inch cubes
1/4 cup whipping cream or chicken broth if you want to watch your calories
2-3 tbsp pesto
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
150-200 gm fettuccine, linguine or spaghetti cooked according to package directions

In a large saute pan, heat up the oil over medium high heat. Saute the chicken cubes until cooked through.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the pesto, whipping cream and cheese. Mix well and add the cooked pasta.

Add salt and pepper as desired.

Serve with crusty bread and a salad.

VEGGIE Add-ins: Steamed broccoli florettes or halved cherry tomatoes sauteed briefly in the same pan, after the chicken was browned. Sauteed pepper strips or sliced mushrooms would also be great.

Risotto Duo … Lemon Shrimp Risotto and Fresh Corn Risotto/Arancini

My brother did a grocery drop off … ok, it was beer, a grapefruit cooler and corn on the cob, but it still counts as groceries in my book. I am attempting to think of creative things to do with my goodies.

First, the fresh corn.

Risotto is usually a side dish like pasta but, like pasta, you can make it an entree by adding a protein.

Lemon Shrimp Risotto

I decided to make a basic risotto with a flavourful chicken stock (Better than Bouillon, in this case) with saffron threads and a half glass of Reisling Pinot Grigio. I removed one third of the risotto when it was almost done to a second saucepan and added diced sauteed shrimp to it and a bit more stock. I stirred in some lemon zest and juice just before serving.

Ingredients: 1 1/2 cup arborio rice, 1/2 cup white wine, 5 cups chicken stock with a pinch of saffron threads, 1 onion, finely diced, 1 large clove garlic, finely minced, 1 cup fresh kernel corn, 6 tbsp unsalted butter, 6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, 3/4 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, zest and juice of 1/2 lemon, salt and pepper as needed. If desired, fresh basil leaves, julienned, may be added to the risotto along with the lemon zest and juice.

To the rest of the risotto, I added fresh corn kernels, cut off the cob and sauteed in butter and olive oil, and after refrigerating the risotto overnight, I made cheese arancini. I was going to add fresh basil to the filling but I got too tired to bother going outside to pluck fresh basil off my plants.



Speaking of basil … here are a few pictures. Of course, the hot weather has got me down so I’m letting my plants go to seed rather than harvesting them and making pesto as I’d planned.

Red Pepper Falafel: Baked versus Shallow Fried

Falafel are one of my favourite meatless mains. I haven’t had them in ages so recently, when I ended up with a beautiful red pepper in my veggie drawer, I decided to make a batch and incorporate a roasted red pepper puree into the mixture. I was reluctant to fry so I looked up baked falafel recipes.

And while I waited for the first batch to bake, I used the tried and true shallow frying method for the remaining mixture.

All of the falafel started out the same size but while the oven baked ones ended up rather flat and crispy, kind of like hockey pucks, the fried ones puffed up into plump, crispy balls with a soft and moist interior.

Baked falafel (on the left) for 20 min at 375 deg F and shallow fried (on the right) at ~ 350 deg F (#4 electric stove setting)

Mise en place – Soaked chickpeas (garbanzo beans), cilantro and mint, onion and garlic, egg and roasted red pepper. Do NOT use canned chickpeas if you can avoid it. You want the texture of soaked chickpeas.

Falafel mixture – about 2 tbsp are shaped into walnut sized balls for baking or frying after being pressed lightly into a 1/2 inch thick patty.

Baked falafel – the parchment paper, as well as the tops of the patties, are sprayed lightly with a vegetable spray to help them brown

Flatter baked falafel

Shallow fried falafel plump up during cooking

Next time, I think I’d use more roasted red pepper puree and the Sriracha sauce the original recipe suggested for a ‘red’ falafel. To be honest, I forgot about the latter.

My Sad Little Herbs

I started some Italian basil from seeds back in April, in egg cartons. They were transplanted into pots after they grew their first set of true leaves. The picture was taken 06/01.

ETA: 06/14 What the 3 pots above look like today.

In May, I seeded some Mammoth (top tray) and Thai (bottom tray) basil. But, between the temperature variations and my forgetful nature, I lost a LOT of the seedlings that you see below cause I didn’t thin them. I may have forgot to water them a few times during the REALLY hot weather after I put them outside too.

I even bought some small herb pots at the city market. And planted THEM in a timely fashion. Whether I end up with anything useful for my cooking is anyone’s guess.

Sage, 2 rosemary and a fragile thyme plant

Mint that overwintered in the pot (you need a flamethrower to kill these suckers) and an oregano plant