Blueberry Chèvre Salad

Blueberry Chèvre Salad

July is National Blueberry Month, and we’re celebrating with lots of information and recipes.

As I mentioned last week, I just can’t get enough blueberries this season. I’ve been eating them in nearly every meal. In fact, my go-to salad for lunch has been some variation of this salad.

I almost always have some kind of soft cheese in the fridge. Lately, I have been buying different kinds of chèvre to use in various salads. It’s especially delicious with sweet salad ingredients, like beets. Or blueberries. In this case, I’ve boosted the blueberry flavor by using a blueberry chèvre.
Plain chèvre also works quite well, as does honey chèvre, and surprisingly even the herbed chèvre.

Blueberry Chèvre Salad
1 cup fresh lettuce
10-12 fresh blueberries
2-3 tbsp chèvre
1 tbsp finely chopped red onion
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
4-6 walnuts
dash sea salt

When I’m making a salad for lunch on the go, I assemble the salad in two containers. One has the lettuce, berries, walnuts and cheese. In a smaller container, I mix the oil, balsamic vinegar, onions and salt. I dress it just before eating it to keep the lettuce (and cheese) from getting soggy.

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad

Earlier this week, I visited my local farmstand and saw bins of cute little red and blue potatoes next to another bin of tiny little “regular” potatoes, and felt it was only appropriate to buy some to make red, white, and blue potato salad to take to the family BBQ. And, one of my favorite things about being friendly with the farmer is the ability to ask questions about the vegetables. Turns out, they grow the same potatoes we offer: All Blue, All Red, and Yukon Gold.

In this case, I not only got some info about the specific potatoes they grow, but got some good recipe advice! Like the advice to add some whole garlic cloves to the boiling potatoes, and to splash a couple of tablespoons of apple cider vinegar on the potatoes while they’re cooling.

What I like about these potatoes are that the color goes all the way through. Not only do they have red or blue skins, but the flesh is red and blue as well. The color holds up during the cooking. And another great thing about using fresh potatoes is that the different flavors come through in the salad. This recipe, which is a variation on the suggestions made by my farmer-friend, really brings out the different flavors and colors!

Red, White and Blue Potato Salad
2 pounds potatoes – mixed
4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 eggs, hard boiled, sliced
1/2 pound bacon, fried
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup minced celery
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
fresh thyme or dill

1. Clean and slice potatoes into small cubes, approximately 1/2″ in size. Place potatoes in large pot and cover with water. Add peeled garlic cloves. Bring water to boil and let bubble until potatoes are just fork-tender.

2. Remove potatoes from heat, drain and rinse with cold water until potatoes are only slightly warm. Move potatoes to large bowl and add apple cider vinegar, using a spoon to gently stir potatoes until they are all covered with vinegar. Cover and place in refrigerator to cool completely (at least 1 hour).

3. Hard boil eggs. Cool in ice water or refrigerator. Slice into small pieces. Set aside.

4. Fry bacon. Drain and cool. Chop into 1/4″ to 1/2″ pieces. Set aside.

5. In small bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, relish, celery, and onion.

6. When potatoes are cool, stir in mayonnaise mixture until all potatoes are completely coated. Gently stir in eggs and bacon. Garnish with fresh thyme or dill.

 

We here at Smart Gardener want to wish you and yours a very happy Independence Day celebration. We hope it’s filled with good food and good fun!

Corn: Knee High by the 4th of July!

Corn: Knee High by the 4th of July!

When asked to think of summertime veggies, most may think of plump, ripe, red tomatoes, but I, on the other hand, think of corn. I remember driving with my grandma as a child and stopping along a long, windy backroad in western Maryland to nibble on corn straight off the stalk.

As I got older and learned to cook, fresh corn from my mom’s garden became my favorite ingredient to use. I love it in the kitchen because you can serve it fresh or cooked, and it’s great for grilling. Anyway you slice it, corn is a great crop to grow in your backyard!

Corn (Z. mays), also known as Maize, is a unique crop originating from Mesoamerica where it was so prized it had its own deity among the Aztecs — Centeotl. In North America, the Native Americans used corn as one of the Three Sisters — a planting method that incorporates tall, hungry Corn; climbing, nutrient-providing, Beans; and short, sprawling Squash — which is still used by organic gardeners and permaculturalists today! Unlike other vegetables from the garden, corn can be used to make a variety of things from biofuels to animal fodder. Due to its ability to be transformed, corn has become a highly controversial crop regarding Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) and industrial agriculture. Don’t worry, SmartGardener.com offers numerous varieties of Heirloom and Organic corn varieties that are GMO-free.

Hopefully your corn has already been planted! A sure way to know you’ll have a great crop this year: Knee high by the Fourth of July!

Corn Chowder
Serves 4

2 ears of corn — kernals removed (2 cups), cobs cut in half and reserved
1 cup yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup carrots, chopped
2 tbsp butter
4 cup milk
1 bay leaf, dried
1 cup red potatoes, diced
1/4 cup red pepper, diced
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
salt and pepper to taste

Melt 2 tbsp of butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add onions and let cook about 5 minutes until translucent. Add carrots and celery and sauté for about 5 more minutes.

Stir milk into the mixture, and add cobs, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a bare simmer–on the lowest possible temperature while still simmering. Allow to simmer for 30 minutes, checking on it regularly.

Discard cobs and bay and slightly raise the heat. Add potatoes, red peppers, 1/2 tsp of salt, and pepper to taste. Cook for 10 – 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Raise heat a little more and add corn and dried thyme and cook for 5 more minutes. Serve immediately.

Simple Carrot Slaw

Simple Carrot Slaw

Do your go-to recipes change for summer cooking?

In the summertime, meals become a bit less structured around here. There’s too many outdoor activities to enjoy that the idea of spending an hour in the kitchen cooking dinner just doesn’t make sense. With our busy schedules, we typically throw something on the grill and toss together some kind of side dish and a salad.

One of my favorite side is carrot slaw. It works well with all kinds of carrots, goes together quickly and stores well for leftovers (if there are any!). This is a recipe I’ve made countless times, and it never fails to please.

Simple Carrot Slaw
1 pound fresh carrots, shredded
1/4 cup mayo*
1 tsp horseradish*
1 tbsp honey

*You can alter how much mayo and horseradish you use, to suit your tastes.

Mix. Serve. Enjoy. It’s as easy as that.

What are some of your favorite summer recipes for carrots?

Chervil

Chervil

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is related to parsley, and has a flavor similar to Tarragon. Chervil’s lacy leaves are finely cut and light green, as delicate and dainty as their flavor is subtle. The classic herb is essential in French fines herbs mixtures and is often used as a Tarragon substitute. Chervil has a refined taste reminiscent of Anise and Parsley, delicious in salads or to highlight sauces, sautés and soups. Because it can be difficult to find in the grocery market, Chervil is an important herb for kitchen gardeners to grow – its special flavor rewards your efforts many times over.

Chervil is best grown from seeds sown directly into the soil. It develops a long taproot, and does not transplant well. It prefers a cool, moist location, otherwise it tends to bolt. Even so, it is a good plant for succession sowing, so even if it bolts, the new plants can still be harvested.

Herbed Carrots

1 pound fresh carrots, peeled and cut
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chervil, divided
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. In a mixing bowl, toss the carrots with the olive oil and 1 tablespoon chervil, and salt and pepper. Place the carrots on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes.

Remove the carrots from the oven. While the are still hot, toss with the remaining tablespoon of chervil, the butter, and more salt and pepper, if you desire.

Peppermint

Peppermint

Peppermint (Mentha × piperita) is actually a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. With its parentage, you’d be right if you guessed it loves moist conditions — in the wild it is often found growing along the sides of creeks and ditches. In older gardens, it can usually be found under leaky faucets.

If you have ever grown mint, you probably also already know how invasive it can be. It doesn’t generally produce seed, but instead propagates by sending out underground runners, and can be easily restrained by taking simple measures, such as keeping it in pots or contained beds, or staying vigilant at trimming it back.

Mint has long been used in medicinal potions. It has a high menthol content, and its oil can be found in all kinds of products, from ice cream to toothpaste. While usually associated with iced-tea, and as a garnish for desserts, mint also adds a simple, fresh flavor to many typically savory dishes. Lamb with mint jelly is a popular dish in many parts of the world. In India, fresh mint leaves are often added to lightly cooked vegetables.

Spring Salad

1 cup uncooked quinoa
1 medium carrot, shredded
1 cup fresh green peas, blanched
3 green onions, sliced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Rinse and cook the quinoa following the instructions on the package. You can prepare the quinoa the day before and allow it to cool overnight, but you can also spread it out on a baking sheet and place in the fridge while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

In a large mixing bowl, mix the carrots, peas, and green onions and add the garlic, olive oil and lemon juice. Stir in the cooled quinoa, until all the ingredients are well mixed. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle the top with the chopped mint leaves and serve.

Lavender

Lavender

Lavender is one of the most popular herbs mentioned when people are asked to name their favorite scented plant, second only to roses, and maybe lilacs. English Lavender (Lamiaceae Lavandula angustifolia) is the most common type of lavender grown for commercial purposes. Its fragrance can’t be met by the other types of lavender. It also makes a great landscape plant, especially in colder climates. In warmer climates, you’ll find Spanish or Mexican Lavender, which also has a nice fragrance, but isn’t as strong.

When you think of lavender, you probably think of sachets, potpourri, body lotions, and relaxing bath fizzes. But did you know there’s a rich culinary history of using lavender in the kitchen? Its flavor is a pleasant change when added to savory dishes in place of rosemary, and it is delightful when paired with sweets. Just remember, a little goes a long way.

Lavender Lemon Shortbread

1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
½ tsp salt
1 tsp lavender flowers, dried
1 tsp lemon zest, finely grated

In a mixing bowl combine chopped lavender, lemon zest, and sugar. In a hand-held mixer at moderate speed, beat the butter into the sugar mixture. Add in flour and salt and mix on low speed, until it begins to form a soft dough (you can do this all by hand, too, it’ll just take longer!). Transfer to a sheet of wax paper and refrigerate for 20 minutes. Roll out to a log that’s 4” thick and refrigerate for 45 more minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut the shortbread log into rounds, ¼” thick. Place on an un-greased baking sheet and freeze for 10 minutes. Bake shortbread in oven for 20-25 minutes, until very slightly browned. They will stiffen up once out of the oven so don’t overcook them. Transfer to a wire rack and allow to cool before enjoying.

Tarragon

Tarragon

Tarragon (Asteraceae Artemisia dracunculus) makes a great companion plant for gardens. The scent and taste of tarragon is disliked by many garden pests, and it does a good job of repelling them naturally. It is also reputed to be a nurse plant — a plant which enhances growth and flavor of companion crops. While Russian Tarragon is easier to grow than French Tarragon because it is hardier, more vigorous and can be grown from seed, it is also much milder in flavor and for this reason it is rarely grown as a culinary herb. For French Tarragon, it is better to purchase plant starts or root cuttings.

Tarragon is one of the four fines herbes used in French cooking, along with parsley, chives and chervil. Tarragon’s delicate flavor is particularly well-suited for chicken, fish, and egg dishes. In fact, tarragon is one of the main components of Béarnaise sauce. But it also is a delightfully delicate flavor-surprise when paired with citrus, in a citrus salad, in an orange-tarragon sauce over salmon, and in this ambrosial sorbet.

Grapefruit Tarragon Sorbet
(Adapted from Gourmet)

2 cups grapefruit juice
1 cup sugar
1 cup water
1 tsp dried tarragon, crumbled

Bring sugar, water and dried Tarragon to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved allow it to simmer for 5 more minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and whisk in grapefruit juice. Churn in an ice cream maker. Once complete, transfer sorbet into an airtight container place in the freezer to harden even more.

If you don’t have an ice cream maker, place in an airtight container in the freezer. Allow to chill, stirring every 30 minutes. It will take roughly 2 hours until the consistency gets thick. Keep in an airtight container.

Will keep 1 week in freezer.