Blood oranges….

blood orange slice

blood orange

I have to say that for the most part, I hate shopping–except food-related shopping. When I do food-related shopping, I almost always come home with something that was not on the shopping list (Yes, I do make shopping lists, but I don’t really do meal planning.)  do sometimes venture in to the food store without a list, though I do try not to go food shopping when I’m hungry. Sometimes I go to the grocery store impulsively and spontaneously–triggered by some extraneous event.

My last such foray was triggered by sitting at the counter of Hope Valley Diner discussing food with another regular lunch customer–also a foodie.  What sent me to the grocery store was his mention of a chocolate cake from Fresh Market: namely chocolate ganache cake.That definitely got my chocolate imagination going–after all ganache is basically chocolate and cream, maybe some butter–but it’s really serious chocolate–adult chocolate.

Being in need of a chocolate fix since I’d been indexing all morning, I detoured by the Fresh Market on my way home (it really wasn’t more than a half mile in the opposite direction) hoping that I would find chocolate ganache cake by the slice. So–my intent on entering the Fresh Market was to obtain a single slice of chocolate cake.

As I walked through the entrance into the vestibule I was immediately faced with packages of California-grown Moro blood oranges. I seem to be constitutionally incapable of walking away from blood oranges, so there was the first “additional” item, so I really did need to get a basket though I hadn’t thought I needed one.  Now the blood oranges were not individual–they came in a little easy to carry bag–meaning that I now had several blood oranges.

Continuing on my way to the bakery section, I detoured though the produce (around the edge of the store).  That took me past the Bolthouse juices. (Yes, I find daily grapefruit, orange, etc boring too many days in a row.) I noticed a couple that I’d not found at my Harris Teeter market, so those (Daily Golden Vedge and the Stone Fruit Smoothie–still haven’t found the Mango Ginger + carrot) )got popped into the basket.

I made it to the bakery counter after a brief detour around the cheese counter and the seafood salad bar. I first noticed a whole chocolate ganache cake–shiny top as you’d expect from ganache, very dark, with the sides of the cake covered with dark chocolate shavings or chopped. Thankfully, there was a single slice of this luscious looking cake in the case. That got put into the basket with a sigh of relief–after all, THAT was what I came for! I made it back past the chocolate bars and other candy without adding anything more to the basket, checked out, and headed for home.

Blood Orange and Sage Sparkling SodaOnce home I had a blood orange–and realized that I was going to be eating or juicing blood oranges for a bit. Though straight blood orange juice is certainly not a hardship, serendipity has a way of intervening. While I was perusing my favorite blogs, what should I find but a gorgeous photograph and a recipe for blood orange and sage sparkling soda.

The image at the left is from Snixy Kitchen blog–just too gorgeous not to “plagiarize” with attribution, and share. I’d not thought of the combination of sage and orange, but with the “imagery” of the blood orange I’d just eaten, and a brush of the sage wintering on my deck, I knew I had to try it. This as a beverage is definitely a keeper–I’m sure that I’ll be making sage simple syrup again, and I have to think this would make a great sorbet as well as something to put in a glass and drink.  This combination of orange and sage also has me thinking about veal, pork, maybe chicken….Thank you, Snixy Kitchen for a great combination!


Now if you’re wondering about the chocolate ganache cake?  Well, I ate it before it even occurred to me to take a picture, and I haven’t found a chocolate cake image that even comes close–so I’ll have to go with words: very, very dark, moist, with ganache between the layers and as icing, not too thick.  Dark chocolate chips/shaving on the sides, not too sweet, but sweet enough–adult chocolate–absolutely luscious.  That’s probably where I’ll go look for my next chocolate fix.

…and planting continues

I’ve been working on planting the herbs on my deck this weekend–though it’s been raining off an on so it’s not going as fast as I’d hoped. In the past I’ve tried filling in the bottoms of very deep pots to decrease the amount of potting mix needed, I’m not doing that this time around. Going to go with the advice posted by in “Growing Herbs in Containers.”

As usual, when I’m skulking among little plants at the nursery, I’ve come home with some unplanned ones:  Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) and Cuban oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus) for the herb garden–and they are looking good, but my summer savory crumped.  Guess I’ll have to get another one…which means I’ll probably come home with more than that….

Growing herbs in containers

From Gardener to Go (Sharyn Caudell) some pointers on growing herbs in containers.  For other gardening information you’ll find “Tip of the Month” at her website.

Herbs are wonderful addition to any garden.  They are beautiful plants and everyone knows that fresh herbs add so much to cooking.   Many of our herbs are Mediterranean in origin.  This means they grow in thin, often rocky soils in a hot summer climate with no rain in the summers.   Central North Carolina has the hot summers and one of the best ways to provide the other conditions is to grow them in containers.   Herbs will languish with ‘wet feet’ so good drainage is essential.

If you have sandy, well-drained soils in your garden, you can probably grow them directly in the ground.   For the rest of us, choose a large container. Some folks use flue tiles which are made of terra cotta. These are available from building supply stores.  Place the tiles upright on the ground and fill with a good soilless mix such as a high-quality potting mix. You want a potting soil that does not compress to a wet mix.   Several good brands are Fafard, MetroMix, Pro-Mix, Sunshine Mix and others (these are professional mixes).  If you can’t find those, look for a potting soil that does not contain moisture-retaining granules; this type is great for hanging baskets that you don’t want to water constantly but not herbs.  Try lifting the bag. It should feel light for its size.  Some potting soils are very heavy in the bag and will be too dense and wet for herbs.   You can mix perlite with the soil to improve the drainage. (Perlite improves aeration and drainage; vermiculite holds water so read the bags carefully!)   Do not add Styrofoam peanuts or pebbles or anything in the bottom of the pot to improve the drainage; it doesn’t work.  Soils drain by capillary action between the small pieces of the soil (think of a very thin straw).   Adding items in the bottom of the pot shortens the capillary ‘straw’ and holds more moisture in the pot.  To keep the soil from washing out of the pot, line with a sheet of newspaper, window screening, landscape fabric or several coffee filters. These will hold the soil in place while the roots form.   It is a good idea to mix in some dolomitic limestone with potting soil.

Herbs need 4 to 6 hours or more of sun per day.  Try to pick a spot that is easily accessible from the kitchen so you will use your herbs.   Herbs require moderate water so you don’t have to tend these daily.    Some good herbs to start with are parsley, chives, basil, thyme,  oregano, rosemary and sage.   Parsley is a biennial  plant—it sets seed its second year and then dies. Basil in an annual that needs replanted every year.   Chives, thyme, oregano and sage are perennials.   Rosemary is a shrub with lovely small blue flowers in the spring.  There are small varieties that will do better in a container.  Dill and cilantro will grow well in the spring and fall but will bolt, flower, set seed and die in our summer heat.   Pruning off the flowers or dead-heading will keep your herbs growing longer.   Herbs require little fertilizing.  It is better to be very sparing of fertilizer than to have lush growth that may be damaged in the winter.  You can always add a bit more fertilizer if you need it.   Most herbs will be fine with no fertilizer for the first year.

IMG_4073You can grow chives and parsley in a vegetable garden easily.    French tarragon is a wonderful herb that doesn’t do well in our summers.  You can substitute Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida) instead. This is actually a marigold that grows to 3-plus feet and has yellow flowers. Use the leaves as you would tarragon.   It is an annual.   There is a substitute for celery that is a perennial: cutting celery (Apium graveolens var. secalinum). It grows 12-15 inches and has a wonderful celery flavor but not the long stalks of regular celery.  It is an evergreen and will self seed.

In general, deer don’t like herbs because of their strong flavors or smells but a really hungry white-tail will eat almost anything.  Don’t use pesticides on your herbs.  The black and yellow caterpillars of the pipevine swallowtail butterfly will devour your parsley, dill and fennel plants but the leaves will grow back.

There are many other herbs that have been used medicinally or for dyes that are grown in our gardens for their beauty.   Browse the herb section at your garden center or find a book on the subject. You will enhance your garden and your table by growing herbs.

Renewing the herb garden

Even though perennials return year after year, they are not forever.  Eventually old age or inclement weather takes its toll.  It seems that my on-the-deck herb garden has reached it’s expiration date and is in serious need of refreshing. That’s my project for the weekend.

img_3910.jpgSome of the herbs that I’ve grown were plopped into pots in a rather topsy-turvy fashion.  With the summer heat here it takes a lot of watering keep the smaller pots going, and some things just didn’t make it, whether from erratic watering or just plain old age.  This year I’m going to try to be a bit more organized and make the herbs a little easier to care for.

I’m fortunate to have a good friend and neighbor who is a serious plant person, and gardener, with a garden consulting business–Sharyn Caudell at Gardener to Go.  She’ll look over your garden space and give planting advice, show you how to plant, make suggestions about what to plant and where to plant it.  I’m shamelessly taking advantage of her know-how to  improve my herb plantings on the deck.  In exchange for some help on one of her projects she’s made suggestions about how I can improve the container herb garden. She is going to do a post on growing herbs in containers for us.

First thing on the  list was bigger pots with several plants in each so that there will be less watering.  I’m sure that some of my herbs that were in smaller pots bit the dust because of erratic watering during the last summer.  Others were just old plants–even perennials don’t last forever.

For my plants, it’s a trip to Gunter’s Greenhouse and Garden Center since their plants are locally grown.  They will have big bags of soilless mix for potting too.  Then it’s time to get my hands in the dirt–well, the potting mix.

Red, white, and blue roasted potatoes

Happy Fourth of July to all!

mixed color potatoes in colander

I really was planning to do something special today–more smoked lamb and goat shanks–but I admit to turning to a total wuss, wimping out…as I looked at the weather forecast for the week.  Even though those are easy, it still requires some minding of the grill, and I just could not face it.  I resolved to have a quiet, cool Fourth of July–just me and the cat–indoors with the air conditioning…and I woke up this morning wishing I’d not been such a wuss.

Saved by friends!  An impromptu invitation to join them for grilled chicken this evening.  So–I’m having my quiet Fourth, but with friends and neighbors.

close-up of cut purple, pink/red, and yellow potatoes

Not to go empty-handed, I am making some patriotic roasted potatoes–red, white, and blue–Red Thumb, Russian Banana (okay, bit of fudging here), and Purple Majesty potatoes (new ones from the farm).  Since it’s HOT (my thermometer is reading 98°F now), I’ve decided that those roasted potatoes are going to turn into something that can be eaten at “room temperature”, that will be light and refreshing, and compliment the chicken.

I’m taking  newly dug tri-colored potatoes and scrubbing their delicate skins carefully, cutting as needed to have them equal sizes so that they cook at the same rate, tossing them with a little olive oil; then into a preheated pan and into a 350° F oven until they are tender.

cut and oiled potatoes on baking sheet

I’ve done what America’s Test Kitchen recommends and placed cut sides in contact with the baking sheet so that at least some of the potatoes will brown to give roasted flavor. Now for some complimentary and contrasting flavors to finish these. Since all these do taste a bit different, and for me one of the fun things about this is to be able to taste the individual potatoes and to compare them–think about comparing wines–I want light seasoning–nothing to overwhelm the potatoes themselves. The only seasoning at this point is kosher salt.

Since it’s hot outside (my thermometer is now reading 99.7°F ), I’m thinking light and cool flavors.  I don’t want “potato salad”–so vinegar is out, but I do need something “bright”–and light, and something cool.  Time to check out the herbs on the deck, and the crisper drawer.

lemon, tarragon, chives, mint, and chili peppers.

Chicken makes me think tarragon.  Cool makes me thing mint–hmm.  Let me smush a couple of leaves together and see how that smells.  Tarragon–warm, mint–cool.  Need some brightness to set off the earthiness of the potatoes–lemon zest, and maybe just a bit of lemon juice over the potatoes while they are still warm.  Seems a good start–but not quite there yet.  Needs a little “spice”–some very finely minced red chili pepper might just do it.

After the potatoes had been in the oven for 30 minutes, I used the tip of a paring knife to check doneness–not quite; and, not quite brown enough.  (I probably should have used the heavier half-pan baking sheet instead of this one–drat.) I kicked the oven temperature to 450°F for another 15 minutes and checked again.  Perfect!  Brown potatoes–so out of the oven, ready for the first seasoning.

roasted potatoes--browned edges of the red, yellow and purple  ones.While still hot, I tossed them with the zest of one lemon and most of the juice of the lemon–nice bright flavor to contrast with the brown and earthy potatoes.  After cooling a bit, I tossed in about a tablespoon each pretty finely chopped French tarragon and mint. That got the first taste of cool mint, followed by the warm flavor of French tarragon.  So far so good.

I let them stand for a bit and tasted again–the lemon flavor is there but not overwhelming–the juice has added just a bit of tartness, but not enough to taste like a “potato salad”. Now, I’m debating chives and chili pepper.  I taste the chili pepper–it’s not screaming hot–and I think that just an occasional bit of heat as you eat the potatoes would be nice.  I seeded and removed the ribs, and finely minced about 1/5 of the pepper and tossed that with the potatoes. (Still debating about the chives–I really don’t want them to taste like ersatz baked potatoes.)

seasoned IMG_6935After standing for a bit longer, I tasted again, and decided that chives are not what is needed here–I probably should just leave them alone!

So the final seasonings are the zest of one lemon, lemon juice, mint, tarragon, and just a touch of  red Serrano chili pepper, and a very light sprinkle of a good fruity, extra-virgin olive oil.  I hope that after standing a bit more (not to be refrigerated before we eat the at ambient temperature–or maybe a little less–thermometer now at 100.6°F ) there will be flavors of warm and cool herbs, the brightness of lemon (juice and zest), and an occasional burst of heat from the chili pepper.

Using the baking sheet so that the potatoes are spread out and don’t steam, and preheated does really help get browned roasted potatoes.  If they are too crowded, they will only “steam” and not brown–not really roasted.  The browning is, after all, the whole purpose of turning on the oven!

It’s not smoked lamb shanks, but it’s going to be a pleasant evening with friends–and I do think that something similar will return to go with those lamb shanks when they happen later–when the temperature does not turn me into a total wimp!

…and yes, I’ve done that final taste–yum!  No chives though.

roasted potatoes, with herbs and chili peppers in serving dish.

Leftovers? Possibly–it is a big dish of potatoes for three, but leftovers here are desirable.  Tomorrow they can become a roasted potato salad–perhaps with just a splash of balsamic vinegar, adding some fresh tomato, and cucumber, and, perhaps, some celery, radishes, crisp sweet onion or some freshly snipped chives.

Happy Fourth of July!  A son goût!  

Haricots verts with herb-infused oil

Taverna filet beans

haricots verts (Taverna)

Yes, it is French for green beans–and they are Phaseolus vulgaris, but they are special green beans–not like Kentucky Wonder, or some of the other rather common beans.  To find them in the seed catalogue you need to look for “filet” beans.  They are bush beans, but the pods are small and slender (when harvested appropriately). Not having a large garden, I don’t grow my entire supply of green beans–the usual pole beans or bush beans like Kentucky Wonder–I buy some from the farmers’ market and I even use frozen ones in the wintertime.

These little beans are something that does get space in my garden or in a container on my deck–with successive plantings throughout the summer so that I can dash out and pick a single-serving batch when I want them.

My favorite way to cook them is to steam them very briefly (about 5 minutes) until just tender, shock  them in ice water so that they stay brilliant green, and  toss them with some extra-virgin olive oil infused with fresh herbs, and served at room temperature.  A favorite of mine for those hot summer days when you’re being fussy about what you eat.

containers of herbs on deck and stairway


Since I do grow a lot of herbs on my deck with containers arranged on the stairway, and since I prefer not to let them bloom since that affects the flavor of the herb, I keep them cut back to prevent blooming–or grow varieties that do not bloom as readily as the common culinary herbs.  I find that I often need to give the marjoram and the oregano a “butch” cut.  This does not involve a neat trim–it’s taking the hedge shears with the long blades and lopping off the tips.  That leaves me with a handful of fresh herbs to share with my neighbors, or to use to make herb-infused oils to have on hand, and to use during the wintertime.

It’s simple to make herb-infused oils.  For immediate use, you can simply blanch the herbs, then “shock” in ice water, squeeze dry, and purée with enough oil to make a slurry, then add more oil.  Let stand, refrigerated, for 24 hours and strain through coffee filter.  These can keep for about a week, refrigerated.

For longer storage, I prefer to heat the herbs in oil to about 185 to 195° F and then strain.  At that temperature, you should be safe from any bacterial growth.  The last batch of oil that I prepared, I washed, blanched and dried the herbs; then chopped them and popped them into my very small slow cooker overnight, and then strained them.  This oil is probably not as bright green as it would be had I not heated it for that long, but the aroma is really great.

My favorites with the haricots verts is either sweet marjoram, or Syrian oregano (also sometimes known as zaatar).  Both of these herbs seem to intensify the sweetness and the “bean-ness” of the haricots.

Most herbs lend themselves well to making flavored oils:  sage, oregano, thyme–whatever is your favorite–try different ones with the beans, and vary it according to the flavors of other dishes served at the same time.

A son goût!  

For basil lovers….

Here is a link to the Herb Companion with information on growing and using basil.  There are descriptions of some of the various kinds–I’m trying cinnamon, lemon and lime basils this summer.  Would not want to be without my Thai basil either.  I love the spicy globe basil, but seem to have a hard time growing it.

More on growing herbs

For those just starting gardening, and growing herbs is a great place to start, here’s an article from The Herb Companion that addresses the joys of having a kitchen garden of herbs (in containers), and how easy it can be.  You’ll probably find that it’s addictive!  Once you know how easily you can grow them almost any where, and how useful they are, you’ll not want to be without fresh herbs in season.

Chervil & Savory

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)

Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) is a wonderful herb, but unless you grow it yourself, you’re unlikely to every taste it.  It’s too delicate to be found in the grocery store in the little plastic boxes or in bunches.  I’ve not see it at the farmers’ market as a cut herb either.

As the plant is delicate, the flavor is too:  hints of anise/tarragon and parsley but subtle–which is not something you’d say about French tarragon.

Chervil seed is easy to germinate but the plant is difficult to transplant as it has a taproot. It likes rich, moist soil that is well drained, and would like to be in partial shade. You can sow outside several weeks before the last frost.  It is another herb that like cooler weather, but it may be prolonged by providing some shade, e.g. planting it under other plants. Like cilantro, it is a fast-growing annual that will flower quickly.  If you cut off the flowers you can prolong the foliage to some extent, but the old leaves will change color (from the lovely greet to yellow and purple) and become tough and lose flavor.  If it becomes one of your must-have herbs, you can sow successively (as with cilantro) throughout the growing season.

To harvest, cut sprigs about two inches above the ground, taking the older leaves from the outside of the plant, but be sure to leave the new center leaves as this is where the new growth is occurring.  As with most other herbs, you should not harvest more than one-third of the plant at a time since it needs the leaves for photosynthesis.

In cooking, use it where you want delicate flavors e.g. with mild fish or seafood.  It would do well with young poultry that has more delicate flavor than the older bird.  Chervil would be good with young vegetables–e.g. baby carrots, or fresh baby peas.   The leaves are mild enough to add to salads, and to use as a garnish in place of parsley.  It could be used with many of the same foods as tarragon, only where you’d like a more delicate touch–e.g. with eggs. It’s so mild that you will want to use lots of it–quite in contrast to tarragon.

I am not a fan of dried chervil–it seems to lose a lot of flavor and come across somewhat hay-like, even when I’m sure I’ve obtained it from a supplier with good turnover of their dried herbs.  So for me, it’s one of the signs of spring, right along with the new peas.


Image from Mountain Valley Growers

Winter savory (Satureja montana)

Savory is not going to be found in the grocery store shelves either.  Two savories, summer (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (Satureja montana) have very distinctly different growth and appearance.

Summer savory is an annual about 12 to 18 inches tall that tends to be rather sparse, lanky looking with grayish green leaves that will last only until frost.  Winter savory is a perennial, evergreen or semi-evergreen, shrub with a bushy habit, usually not taller than about 12 inches.  It’s leaves are glossy, dark green and closely spaced.

While both have are spicy, rather than sweet flavor (like tarragon or chervil), the winter savory is spicier and hotter than the summer, but they can generally be used interchangeably, though the milder summer savory is best with fresh summer veggies.  I think that the savories are most commonly associated with northern European cooking than with American cooking.

Both winter and summer savory are sometimes known as the “bean herb” as they are particularly used with dishes made with dried beans;  the somewhat milder summer savory is great with fresh beans as well (fava, lima, or green beans).  Other uses include with cabbage, Brussels sprouts, and with summer squash, and roasted potatoes.  It’s potent enough to use in marinades for beef, lamb, as well as chicken and pork.

The summer savory is easily started from seed.  Summer savory is not fond of being transplanted (if starting indoors use peat pots so that you do not have to disturb its roots).  It does will is average soil that is well drained, but well watered.   It will want plenty of sun and does need to be well fertilized.  Blooms will appear between the leaves on the upper portion of the plant.  At that point you should cut the plant back by about one-third in order to prolong its culinary use by encouraging more foliage.

Winter savory can tolerate poorer soil than the summer, but it also must be well drained. It also wants plenty of sun.  It is hardy to about zone 5,  if the roots are not wet during the cold weather.  Wet roots in the winter may well mean no savory in the spring–really true of most perennial herbs!    After or as it blooms (I prefer not to let my herbs bloom), it should also be cut back to encourage it to be bushy and increase foliage, which is what you want for cooking.

Both are harvested by cutting springs from the plant–remember not to cut more than one-third of the plant at a time so that it can keep growing and producing.  If you need to store savory,  wrap in a slightly damp paper towel and place in a zipper-lock back.  Summer savory should hold for about a week, and winter for about two weeks.

A must-try dessert

Since I’ve gotten Trillian installed I get all these quick updates from Twitter and Facebook zipping across my desktop. This one, given that it’s berry season,  looked like something I should pass on.

I’m not usually “into” cakes particularly, but I do have a weakness for good pound cake, especially with fresh berries, figs, and good ice cream.  (Good pound cake means one that does not shy away from the good stuff like butter.)

It’s from David Lebovitz. If this recipe is anywhere near as tasty as the recipes in The Perfect Scoop, it will be a real keeper! Take a look at this Bay-leaf-infused Pound Cake!