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Tips for Starting a Winter Kitchen Garden

Winter? Seriously? Who’s ready to think about THAT when we are celebrating Labor Day this weekend?

Well, here in Emerald City, I’m springing ahead to winter because now is the time to plant cold-hardy greens such as kale, chard, lettuces, and spinach.

Thanks to Seattle’s wet but relatively mild winters, I have had great luck growing a motley variety of greens. I’ve been doing it for over twenty years now and it’s always a great pleasure to go out into the garden on a cold dreary December afternoon to pick lettuce, collards, and sometimes even big Savoy cabbages for dinner.

At this point in the season, it’s too late to start cabbages by seed, as those seeds need to be sown in June for best results. That said, there’s still plenty of time to start some of the chef’s favorites such as cilantro, microgreens, kales, chard, and lettuces.

In fact, it’s exactly what I’m doing this week.

I’ve pulled up many of my spent and depleted summer plants such as Costata Romanesco zucchini, Romano beans, sunflowers, Hasta La Pasta spaghetti squash, and a few spindly tomato plants. In those naked sections of the garden, I’m turning the soil and watering it heavily to reinvigorate it before I sow any seeds. The next step will be to plant quick-growing varieties so they can get established and off to the races before the darker days start to settle in around October. Some of my favorites to plant now?

Try these

Cilantro

Arugula

Winter Bloomsdale Spinach

Chioggia Beets

Winter Density Lettuce

Provencal Winter Mix by Territorial Seeds

Yukon Winter Mix by Territorial Seeds

Arctic King

All of these varieties still have time to get established enough to produce and, in many cases with a little protection like a cloche, an upside-down glass salad bowl, or a frost blanket, they will make it through the winter and spring back to life in late February and March, just when the craving for fresh greens is really hitting home.

As I said, I’ve been winter gardening for over 20 years but as we continue to travel this pandemic pathway and suffer inflation and supply chain shortages of all ilks, I really think it’s time to rediscover the joy and practicality of winter gardening!

Just give it a GROW!

Featured

How to Make Raspberry Tarragon Vinegar

Raspberry Tarragon Vinegar

My Raspberry Shortcake berry plants, both at home and at my P Patch, are in full production mode right now. The berries are red, plump, and juicy. Perfect little seasonal moments in time really.

So, this week I decided to pick a pint and make Raspberry Vinegar.  I often make Tarragon Vinegar during the summer months as it makes a flavorful addition to homemade vinaigrettes. That said, I have never tried it with my fresh berries but this year I decided to give it a try. Using a basic Raspberry Vinegar recipe from Taste of Home as a springboard, I crafted my own version, reducing the sugar and adding fresh tarragon as a flavorful counterpoint.

The results? After straining the steeped vinegar, the finished product is a brilliant red with an aromatic raspberry flavor and a distinct tarragon note. In the kitchen, I used it in a simple Raspberry Shallot Vinaigrette destined for homegrown lettuces or perhaps even a grilled zucchini salad.

The vinegar-style storage jars can be found at Amazon or your local hardware or kitchen store in the preserving section.

Raspberry Tarragon Vinegar

A simple seasonal vinegar made from fresh raspberries and tarragon
Prep Time2 d

Equipment

  • Large Saucepan
  • Ball Mason Jar
  • Strainer
  • Funnel
  • Vinegar Style jar

Ingredients

  • 1 pint raspberries rinsed and drained
  • 2-3 sprigs fresh tarragon
  • 3 cups distilled vinegar (I used Heinz)
  • 1/3 cup sugar

Instructions

  • Put the raspberries and the tarragon sprigs in a heat proof one quart glass Mason Jar and set aside.
  • In a large saucepan combine the vinegar and sugar and bring just to a low boil. Stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
  • Pour the hot vinegar mixture over the berries and tarragon sprigs. Let the vinegar cool slightly and then cover with the lid. Let the vinegar stand at room temperature for about two days. (The vinegar will take on a lovely red hue as it sits!)
  • After about two days, strain the vinegar through a sieve and into a funnel which feeds into a sterilized jar, preferably a vinegar style storage jar. Discard the raspberries and tarragon sprigs left in the sieve. Cap the raspberry vinegar and store in a cool dark place.
  • Makes about three cups.
Featured

How to Make Lavender Honey

Sometimes the simplest things in life really are the most luxurious.

I was reminded of this last week when I decided to make Lavender Honey. I have enormous lavender bushes in full bloom on my urban lot and after I made Lavender Shortbread last week, I began to mull my other options. Lavender Vinegar? Lavender Honey Mustard? Lavender Crème Chantilly?

Then, lavender honey popped into my thoughts. I had recently read an article in Mother Earth Living and had earmarked that page. Then when my friend Marissa came by with a tub of honey made by a family in the neighborhood, I HAD to make lavender honey… it doesn’t get much more local than that, right? Lavender from the yard and honey from the neighborhood!

The process is ridiculously simple. I started with a small sterilized recycled Maille mustard jar. I then added about 1 Tablespoon of lavender flowers (picked off the stem) and poured in enough honey to cover the lavender. For good measure, I added a small branch of lavender too. The article in Mother Earth Living explained that honey is hydrophilic, which means that the honey draws the water from the plants and ultimately makes the honey even runnier. The article also instructs to simply let the lavender honey sit for a few days, during which time the honey takes on the subtle delicious lavender flavor and aroma and becomes runnier.

I left my jar on the kitchen table so I could watch it and by the end of the second day, it was runnier and very aromatic. Since I could no longer resist tasting, the next morning I added about a 1/2 teaspoon of my Lavender Honey to a couple of tablespoons of water with a dash of Penzey’s dehydrated ginger. I then microwaved the mixture in a small ramekin for about 15 seconds to infuse the flavors and poured the Lavendar Honey Ginger syrup over some diced cantaloupe and sliced local organic strawberries.

The result? It was so good that frankly it almost defied logic.

Bees working their magic on my lavender in full bloom!

Fresh, flavorful, aromatic, and healthy it was the perfect start to a summer day!

Growing Raspberries in a Small Space

If real estate in your garden is a hot commodity but you still want to expand the pickings, seriously consider dwarf varietals of plants. There are many unique options on the market and they really can be little powerhouses when it comes to prolific production and harvests.

Perhaps my favorite example of one such dwarf is the thornless Raspberry Shortcake berry from Bushel and Berry. A compact raspberry plant perfect for patios, planters, small gardens, and little corners, it produces the fattest most beautiful little red orbs each July. I purchased my first two plants over ten years ago when the variety was first introduced to the market. Over the years I have divided them, replanting many in big tubs in the garden and planting many in a makeshift raised bed at my organic community P Patch here in Seattle.

The bushes grow only to about 24 inches high so they don’t get tall and leggy. Because they are compact, they don’t shade other things in the garden and they are a fabulous edible plant for the little gardeners in the yard! My kids loved plucking these off the vine and sampling them on the spot. The berries are great in desserts, fruit salads, tarts, and cereals.

As for maintenance and care, they are very low-key! I fertilize and add compost in the spring. I trim the dead branches and divide if the containers look too crowded. When the days get warm and sunny, I water often which is critical for getting the berries luscious, plump and juicy!

Plants can be found at many small nurseries and home improvements stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot. They are also sold on Amazon. To find a retailer in your area, search your zip code on the Bushel and Berry website locater.

Simple Aromatic Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Let’s talk lavender! Well known for its beautiful flowers and aromatic scent in the garden, it’s loved the world over.

As an avid gardener, I have large swaths of this plant in my yard and for years I’ve been using it in bouquets, drying it, and making wreaths. I’ve shipped it to my daughter in NY and tucked it into a hot bath at night. That said, for years I’ve had it on my culinary to-do list to use it more in the kitchen and this year I finally got around to it!

My lavender bushes are JUST in full bloom and this is apparently the best time to use lavender for culinary purposes as this is when the essential oils are most potent.

After mulling my options and perusing some of my books, I opted to make a Lavender Shortbread, using the recipe from The Herbfarm Cookbook by Jerry Traunfeld as my launching pad. I have adapted the technique significantly from Traunfeld’s recipe but one step in that recipe struck me as crucial–blending the lavender flowers with a small amount of sugar prior to adding it to the butter and remainder of the sugar and then getting on with the recipe. Although the recipe doesn’t explain WHY they do this process, it’s apparent to me that the whizzing of the sugar and the lavender plays a key role in dispersing the extraordinary and heady aroma of the lavender into the sugar which acts essentially as a flavor carrier when combined with the butter and other ingredients.

While I was whizzing the lavender and the sugar, I wondered if the lavender would become too potent in the recipe and resemble Granny’s Pomander ball! However, the end result was deliciously subtle! The recipe is easy and the shortbread freezes great so it’s easy to stash a little summer sunshine away for a rainy winter day!

Lavender Shortbread

A simple shortbread featuring the heady aroma of lavender!
Prep Time25 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time45 mins
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Keyword: baking, cookies, lavender, shortbread
Servings: 9
Calories: 324kcal

Equipment

  • KitchenAid Stand Mixer
  • Cuisinart Food Processor
  • Nordic Ware English Shortbread Pan
  • Nine Inch Square Baking Pan

Ingredients

  • 3 teaspoons fresh lavendar buds
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 sticks butter, chilled and cut into pieces
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 300 F
  • Combine the lavender buds and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse the processor four or five times to combine and then run the machine for about 10 seconds to pulverize the lavender and sugar. (This processing step goes a long way towards dispersing the lavender essential oil into the sugar!)
  • Put the lavender sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and the butter. Beat the sugar and butter on low until the mixture is smooth and creamy, but NOT fluffy. Add the flour and combine well to make a cohesive dough.
  • Transfer the dough into a nine inch square baking pan or into a Nordic Ware English Shortbread Pan, which also measures 9 inches by 9 inches. Press the dough into the pan, smoothing the edges to get a tidy edge. (Pressing the dough into the Nordic Ware pan ensures that the dough with take on the pan's floral impressions.)
  • Refrigerate the dough in the pan for about twenty minutes prior to baking to let the dough rest.
  • Bake the shortbread in the middle of the preheated oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the shortbread is just slightly colored. Let the shortbread cool in the pan on a rack for about five minutes and then turn it out onto the rack to continue cooling. Cut the shortbread into 9 pieces when almost cool.
  • Store the shortbread in an airtight container. It also freezes very well.
  • Serve with tea, ice cream, and/or fresh seasonal berries!

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 324kcal | Carbohydrates: 32g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 21g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 5g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 54mg | Sodium: 180mg | Potassium: 36mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 11g | Vitamin A: 628IU | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg

Quick and Easy Curried Mussels!

Curried Mussels

Mussels. Inexpensive and locally grown here in the Pacific Northwest, they are easy seafood to purchase and serve year-round. For many years now, I have adored the mussels grown at Penn Cove Shellfish in Coupeville, Washington, and often look for reasons to serve them to my family and friends. The company’s logo says, “Fresh from the Water—Not the Warehouse.” Indeed, they stand by their word!

All Penn Cove mussels are shipped, carefully debearded and bagged, within 24 hours of harvest. Whenever I buy  Penn Cove mussels here in Seattle, I check the harvest tag. More often than not, the mussels at hand were pulled from the sea a mere two days prior.

The following quick and easy recipe is one of my favorites and hails from one of Seattle’s most beloved chefs–Kaspar Donier of Kaspar’s Seattle Catering and Events. It’s been one of his tried and true favorites for decades.

Quick and Easy Curried Mussels

Simple and Delicious Main Course Seafood in Less than 15 minutes!
Prep Time10 mins
Cook Time6 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American, Indian
Servings: 4
Calories: 338kcal

Equipment

  • large Dutch Oven, preferably Le Creuset

Ingredients

  • 1 cup Dry white wine
  • 1 cup Heavy Cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon minced shallot
  • 1 stalk lemongrass lower six inches only, outer leaves removed, and stalk cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 teaspoons curry powder
  • pounds Penn Cove mussels rinsed and scrubbed if needed
  • 1 Tablespoon sliced scallion
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
  • 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Instructions

  • In a large heavy Dutch oven, bring the wine and cream to a boil with the garlic, shallot, lemongrass and curry powder, stirring.
  • Add the mussels and cook, covered, over moderately high heat for 4 to 6 minutes, or until the mussls have opened. Discard any unopened mussels and remove the lemongrass stalks,
  • With a slotted spoon, transfer the mussels to four bowls. Add the scallions and butter to the cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce over the mussels. Garnish iwth fresh cilantro if desired.

Nutrition

Serving: 1g | Calories: 338kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 24g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 106mg | Sodium: 278mg | Potassium: 412mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 1030IU | Vitamin C: 8mg | Calcium: 78mg | Iron: 4mg

Enjoy!

Thrifty Garden Hack: Easy Greenhouse for Basil

Necessity really is the mother of invention.

I was reminded of this recently while struggling to deal with basil starts in my garden. I love basil but it’s a bear to grow successfully here in Seattle. Our cool maritime climate makes it hard to grow the heat loving Mediterranean herb. I have tried plastic tunnel cloches over the years, and they work to some degree on the larger plants purchased at the nurseries. But this year, I am growing nearly 100% of my plants from seeds, which adds to the challenge with basil. (Slugs love the little plants, and it takes some heat to get the plants sufficiently ramped up and rolling for the season.)

However, while mulling my options last night, I popped into a thrift store to see if I could rustle up some kind of cloche, or protective cover that I could put over my basil seedlings. I trolled the storage box section and found nothing. I considered those large plastic iced tea containers for a hot minute, but the spout proved problematic and frankly, unattractive. In the glass container section, where they have the assorted glass bowls and Pyrex containers, eureka hit! I spied three dusty, yet stylish, glass salad bowls. It immediately occurred to me that they would be perfect over my basil. I turned the pedestaled bowls upside down and indeed they looked like a cloche to me! Adding to the thrill? Bric a brac was 50% off, so each bowl was $1.

At home, they got a quick clean with hot water and ammonia and in short order, they were positioned over my tender sweet basil plants in the garden. To prevent the basil from getting charred on a hot day, I set some bricks nearby so I can vent the cloche and cool the setup.

When I stepped back to survey the results, I thought they definitely have a European vintage glass cloche effect, without the hefty price tag!

Keep it Simple Christmas Cookies!

How’s the holiday baking going?

Admittedly, mine has yet to start. I’m still in R&D mode. Reading recipes. Checking the baking cupboard. Stocking up on the essentials. That said, looking at the world around us, I’m going to put a plug in for Keep it Simple Christmas Cookies!

I know, it’s fun to make picture perfect treats but given the global pivot at hand, I’m thinking I’ll stick with one of my tried and true favorites–the Land O’ Lakes Best Ever Butter Cookie. I first tried this recipe probably ten years ago and it has been at the top of the heap over since.

Why? Aside from being easy to follow, it’s versatile, delicious, and uses only seven ingredients, most of which I probably already have on hand.

Over the years, I’ve turned these into raspberry sandwich cookies, much like a linzer cookie. I’ve rolled them into logs and used them as Slice and Bake cookies, which keep in the fridge or freezer and are really convenient to have on hand. I’ve also extracted the cookie cutters from storage and cut the dough into all sorts of fun shapes for Christmas. I’ve even packaged them up into a pretty cookie tin and sent them across the country.

So, for the holiday baking this year, I am going to do myself a fLavor, and keep it simple!

Beat the Blues with Berry Picking

Sunshine, open spaces, and fresh air are often the best antidote for a case of “the blues”.

Blueberry open spacesWell, at least that was my theory last Saturday when my husband and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to pick blueberries at Mountain View Blueberry Farm.

Located in Snohomish River Valley, this lovely nine acre farm dates back to the 1940s and boasts nine different varieties of plump and gorgeous blueberries. When we were there Saturday, we were greeted by their gracious staff, asked to wash and sanitize our hands at the hand washing stations, and given the green light to follow the pathways out to the berry fields. Lucky for us, the Blue Crops, which are big plump berries, were available for picking and in short time we filled two 10 pound buckets with the beauties!

While plucking, we enjoyed watching and listening to the families and children picking in adjacent and socially distant rows. One little guy gleefully told his mom she could make a “bazillion dollars” with all these berries and another child clearly wasn’t ready to leave when it was time to pack up and trek back out to the car!

Blueberry pie 2020Our day trip was short and sweet and in the end we carted home a hefty haul of blueberries that are now washed and stashed in the freezer. That said, before I froze all the berries for winter baking, I did bake a beautiful blueberry pie for dessert that night.

Served with scoops of vanilla ice cream, it was indeed the best medicine for battling any blues!