Lavender: Growing and Cooking With

Lavender

Lavender is such a joy to grow. Besides being a pretty plant, it attracts bees and deer don’t eat it! There are 2 main types of lavender you can grow in your garden, English or French. English lavender is a perennial; in northern climates, French lavender is an annual. Both require full sun and good drainage. Both can be started from seed, although English lavender is slow to germinate and can be a little tricky. Both types can also be started from cuttings and layering. There are many cultivars of both lavenders, although some may be difficult to find. An English lavender variety you may wish to try is Munstead, which grows to a height of 2′ and bears true lavender-colored flowers. Other varieties include Hidcote, with dark purple spikes; Alba, with white blooms; Jean Davis, with pink flowers; and Dutch with deep blue flowers. All are wonderfully scented. The foliage of French lavenders is greener than that of English types.

Lavender grows quickly once it is established, and can get quite tall in mild climates. French lavender can also be grown as a houseplant during cold winter months, and moved outdoors during the summer.

Lavenders are grown for their intoxicating fragrance. Some say that the smell of lavender can reduce headaches. The flowers are harvested just as they begin to open, and are dried on the stalk. These dried blooms can then be used in arrangements, or the blooms can be stripped from the stem and used in potpourri and sachet.

While the fragrance of lavender lends itself to all sorts of cosmetic uses, it is a wonderful ingredient to cook with, too. The secret  is to use enough lavender to impart flavor, without having your food taste like soap. That can be a tricky balance.

Lavender is a traditional ingredient in Herbes de Provence, a French seasoning blend, often used with meats like lamb or pork. Lavender can be used for so much more. I love using lavender is sweet dishes, like shortbread and in syrups that can be added to cocktails. All the recipes are using lavender blossoms that have been harvested and then allowed to dry. You can use fresh blossoms, too.

Harvest blossoms before they are fully open, if you can. Cut them with at least a few inches of their stems attached. I tie them together in small bunches, hang them up. and allow them to air dry. Once dry, I strip the blossoms off the stems and store in an airtight jar. Store in a reasonably cool location.

So here is a compilation of some of my favorite lavender recipes. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Strawberry and Lavender Ice Cream

Strawberry and Lavender Ice Cream

2 c. chopped strawberries

1 c. sugar

1 T. lavender blossoms

1 T. vanilla

2 c. cream or  half and half or a combination. You can also use some milk or even almond or rice milk.

Additional sugar to taste

Place strawberries, lavender, vanilla  and sugar in saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and chill. Combine chilled berry mixture with cream. Add additional sugar if you like. Remember that once it is frozen the ice cream will not taste as sweet so make this mixture a little sweeter than you want the final product to be. How much sugar you add varies with personal taste and how sweet the berries are. Place in an ice cream maker and process according to manufacturer’s directions. Once finished put in an sir- tight container and place in freezer. Makes about 1 quart.

Strawberry- Lavender Sorbet

Strawberry Lavender Sorbet

1 1/2 lbs strawberries

1/2 c. sugar, or to taste – you could also sweeten with honey, if you prefer, or use no sweetener

2-3 T. lavender syrup- recipe follows

Wash and stem berries. Place in food processor and blend until smooth. Sweeten to taste, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Place in a container with a lid and freeze. Once frozen, remove strawberry mix from freezer and sit it on the counter to soften a little bit. This is really the important part. You don’t want it to thaw, but you do want it soft just enough to break into chunks. Place chunks in food processor and blend it again, adding lavender syrup to taste. The liquid of the syrup also helps the sorbet to blend better. It will actually start to look a little creamy and lighter in color. You can serve it right away- or put it back in the freezer to serve later. At this point the sorbet is ready- but you can repeat the soften/process step once more, if you like, for even creamier sorbet. Makes 3-4 cups.

Lavender Syrup

¾ c. water

¾ c. sugar

1 tablespoon dried lavender buds

Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Add lavender and cook on low heat until sugar is dissolved. Bring to a boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, just until it starts to thicken a bit. Then set to the side to cool. Strain out the lavender and refrigerate. Yields just under a cup of syrup. Will keep in the fridge for weeks and weeks.

Another recipe using lavender syrup

Lemon Lavender Cocktail

2 oz. gin

1 ½ oz.  lemon juice

1 ½ oz.  lavender syrup (recipe follows)

splash of club soda

some ice

one lemon slice, for garnish

Pour gin, lemon juice and lavender syrup into a glass and stir. Top with club soda, add some ice and garnish with a lemon slice.

Lavender and Vanilla Shortbread

Lavender and Vanilla Shortbread

 1 c. vanilla sugar, plus extra for sprinkling*

2 c. butter

4 c. flour

2-3 T. lavender blossoms

Cream together the one-cup of sugar and butter. Stir in the flour and lavender blossoms. Press mixture in to a greased 9×13 inch-baking dish. Cut or score into small squares, or on the diagonal for diamond shapes. Sprinkle with extra sugar and bake in a preheated 300-degree oven for 50-55 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Re-cut the squares as soon as you remove the shortbread from the oven. Cool before removing from pan. Make about 100 small squares.

* If you don’t have vanilla sugar just use granulated sugar and add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract to the dough.

Making Vanilla Sugar

Some specialty stores sell vanilla sugar and it is expensive. I find it easy to just make my own. Vanilla sugar can be used in baking or to top desserts, in tea, and other drinks. I love to sprinkle vanilla sugar on sugar cookies and on muffins, too.

I buy vanilla beans by the pound online and use them in cooking and to make my own vanilla extract.

To make vanilla sugar just cut vanilla beans in half lengthwise and then into 1 inch pieces. Place granulated sugar in a jar and add the vanilla beans. Cover jar and shake once in awhile. The sugar is fragrant in about a week but will get stronger the longer it sits. I use one vanilla bean per cup of sugar. You can add more sugar to the jar as you use it. The beans will continue to flavor new sugar added to the jar for some time.

Herbes de Provence

Herbes de Provence

I make my own herb and spice blends often, because it gives me control over what I put in it. I also grow a lot of herbs, so it just makes sense. You can use dried or fresh herbs in this recipe. If you are using any fresh herbs, then store your mix in the freezer.

1 T. thyme, or 2 T. fresh

1 T. rosemary or 2 T. fresh

1 T. savory or 2 T. fresh

2 t. basil or 2 T. fresh

1 t. lavender or 1 T. fresh

2 bay leaves

Blend fresh or dried herbs until bay leaves are powdered. Rub this mixture on grilled meats, roasts, chicken, or fish. If using fresh herbs, make small amounts and freeze what is unused.

Lavender Liqueur

Lavender Liqueur

I started by combining 2 cups of lavender blossoms with about 4 cups of vodka in a large Mason jar. These were dried blossoms from last year’s harvest. I put the lid on the jar and let it steep together for a few weeks. After a few weeks I strained out the blossoms. Then I poured the mixture through a strainer lined with a coffee filter to get out any fine particles so my end product would be clear. I had expected the mixture to be a lavender color. It ended up a pretty honey brown color instead. It also had a very strong fragrance and flavor of lavender. Quite pleasant.

After tasting the lavender vodka I decided to add sugar to the mixture. I made a cup of sugar syrup by combining one cup of sugar with 1/2 cup of water in a small pot and brought it to a boil. This gave me a cup of sugar syrup. Once the sugar syrup cooled to room temp I added it to the lavender vodka and allowed this to mellow for another week.

The odd thing was that at first the sugar syrup and lavender vodka would not blend. The sugar syrup settled to the bottom of the bottle. No amount of stirring and shaking seemed to matter. I’d all but given up when a friend was over and tipped the bottle a few times. Amazingly it finally combined. On the advice of another friend I decided to add a couple of vanilla beans as well. The flavor is pretty interesting.

Lavender Vinegar

It’s easy to make. Just add 2 cups of vinegar for every cup of blossoms. If you are using dried flowers use 1/3 cup for every 2 cups of vinegar. Store in a cool, dark place in a container with a tight-fitting lid.Steep for at least 2 weeks- or longer.

Be sure to use vinegar that is 5% acidity- it will say that on the label. I like to use white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar or cider vinegar.

Homemade Chocolate “Magic” Shell

Chocolate Magic Shell

I used to love getting a chocolate-dipped ice cream cone when I was a kid. I still do.

The ice cream shop near my house had them. I watched as the soft serve was swirled onto the cone, then turned upside down and dipped into a vat of melted chocolate goodness. Like magic, the chocolate hardened, and made this lovely, crisp shell.

Then they came out with the squeeze bottles of the stuff. Just a drizzle onto your ice cream and the chocolate hardened like, well, magic.

There are a lot of recipes out there for “magic” shell. I tried a few. All tasted fine, but some just worked better than others. I played around and found the mix that worked best for me.

You store it at room temp, then drizzle on ice cream. In a few seconds, it hardens up.

It is very easy to make- just three ingredients. So easy- so good.

Homemade Chocolate Magic Shell

1 c. chocolate chips- I used dark chocolate chips

3/4 c. coconut oil- I used the unrefined

1/2 c. powdered sugar

Heat all together until melted. I melted mine in a microwave for 1 minute, but you could also melt over a double boiler. Stir until smooth. Store at room temp. To use, drizzle over ice cream, wait about 10-20 seconds- and it will harden.

Growing and Cooking With Dill

Fresh Dill

On appearance alone, dill is a welcome addition to any garden. It is a feathery, delicate looking plant that can reach a height of 3′ or more. It is an annual, so it has to be replanted every year. The good news is that dill is easy to grow. A lot of friends have told me that their dill reseeds itself and comes back every year.

 When dill gets tall, it should be given some support to keep it from falling over in high winds. If you plant your dill in a clump, rather than in rows, you can put a few stakes around the plants, and run twine around it for support.  I use tomato cages. I put them around the dill plants when they are small, so they grow up in the cages.

Dill does not transplant well, and seed should be sown where it is to grow or in peat pots, so you can transplant them without disturbing the roots too much.  Dill is tolerant of cold, and can be planted fairly early in the spring. The only problem with planting dill early is that the plants are past their prime when the cucumbers are coming into season. I plant small amounts of dill every couple of weeks from Spring into Summer, so I know I will have dill when I need it.  

Dill grows best in full sun and well-drained soil. While both the leaves and seeds are edible, some types of dill go to seed rather quickly, making the leaves less tasty. A cultivar of dill called Dukat, does not grow as tall as most types, and delays flowering by several weeks over other cultivars. For more leaves and a longer growing season, Fernleaf dill is another nice cultivar to plant. It is more compact, so less support is needed. Its bushy growth habit produces lots of fresh dill leaves.

 Dill seed heads are used in pickle making. The mature seeds are used in salad dressings and potato salads. The dill leaves, also called dill weed are used in carrot, potato, and other vegetable dishes. Dill is a must if you are growing cucumbers for homemade pickles.

If your dill heads mature before you need them, all is not lost. Just freeze them to use later. Dill leaves freeze great, too. You can place dill in freezer containers or freezer bags and freeze. I chop up the leaves a little to save space. To freeze dill seed heads, I just place in plastic freezer bags, squeeze out as much air as possible, seal, and pop in the freezer.

My Mom loved dill. She made wonderful crock pickles and used them in cucumber salads. She would also add dill to carrot dishes and potatoes. I have included some of her favorite dill recipes, and a few of mine. Enjoy!!

Couscous Salad with Shrimp and Dill

Couscous Salad with Shrimp and Dill

½ c. olive oil

¼ c. fresh lemon juice

1 clove minced garlic

1 t. celery seed

2 c. couscous, about 10 oz.

2 ¼ c. boiling water or vegetable broth

1 lb. peeled cooked shrimp                                                                              

1 c. diced sweet red pepper

½ c. chopped green onions

2 T. fresh dill weed or 2 t. dried

Whisk first 4 ingredients together for dressing. Place couscous in heat proof bowl and pour over the boiling water. Let stand until water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork and add remaining ingredients, stirring to mix well. Pour over dressing and toss to coat. Chill at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours. 6 Servings.

Cucumber Dill Salad

Dill Cucumber Salad

2 English cucumbers, sliced thin

2/3 c. cider vinegar

1/3 c. oil

2 T. sugar

2 t. salt

1 t. dill weed- I used dried- use about 1 tablespoon if using fresh

1 t. parsley

Fresh ground pepper and hot sauce to taste

Place cucumbers in a bowl and set aside. Combine remaining ingredients in another bowl and mix well. Pour over the cucumbers and mix together. Chill salad several hours before serving. Serves 6.

Cucumbers and Sour Cream

Mom’s Cucumbers and Sour Cream

2-3 medium cukes, sliced

1 c. sour cream or strained yogurt

¼ c. sugar

¼ c. vinegar

2 green onions, chopped

1 –2 T. chopped fresh dill or 1-2 t. dried

Combine all ingredients and chill at least 10 minutes. Serves 4-6.

Easy Dill Pickles

30-40 pickling cucumbers, 5 inches long, scrubbed and ends trimmed off

¾ c. sugar

¾ c. canning or pickling salt (non-iodized)

1 quart vinegar

1 quart water

7 fresh dill heads

3 T. pickling spice

7 garlic cloves, peeled, optional

Mix together the sugar, salt, vinegar, water and pickling spices and bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes. Place a dill head in the bottom of seven clean, hot pint jars. Add the garlic, if using. Meanwhile cut trimmed and washed cucumbers into halves or quarters lengthwise and pack upright into the jars. Trim the length, if needed to fit no higher than to the shoulder of the jar. Pour over the hot brine leaving ½ -inch of headspace. Wipe rims and screw on lids. Place in a simmering water bath and bring to a boil. Process for 10 minutes. Remove and cool. Makes 7 pints.

Dilly Green Beans

 4 lbs. table‑perfect whole green beans

1 3/4 t. crushed dried hot red pepper

3 1/2 t. dried dill seed or seven fresh dill heads

7 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled

5 c. vinegar

5 c. water

1/2 c. less 1 T. pickling salt

Wash beans thoroughly. Remove stems and tips, and cut them as much as possible in uniform lengths to allow them to stand upright in canning jar, coming to the shoulder of the jar. have jars clean and very hot, and lids and sealers ready in scalding water. In each jar place one dill head or 1/2 t. dill seed, add one garlic clove, and 1/4 t. crushed hot red pepper. Pack beans upright in jars, leaving 1 inch of head room. Heat together the water, vinegar and salt. When the mixture boils, pour it over the beans, filling each jar to 1/2 inch from the top. Run a plastic knife down and around to remove trapped air. Adjust lids, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes, start timing after the water in the canner returns to a boil. Remove jars. …Wait at least 2 weeks for these beans to develop their flavor. Yield: 7 pints   

Aunt Tillie’s Crock Pickles

1 gallon water (use spring or distilled if your water is hard)

1 c. vinegar

1/2 c. canning salt

1 T. pickling spice

garlic and fresh dill

fresh pickling cucumbers, washed and ends trimmed

     Boil together the water, vinegar, salt and pickling spice. Cool completely. In large, straight sided crock, stainless steel or food safe plastic container alternate layers of cukes with dill and garlic according to your taste. You can also eliminate garlic if you choose.

     Pour over brine to completely cover cucumbers and dill. Place plate or lid on container and weigh down to keep “pickles” submerged. Allow fermentation to take place in a reasonably cool place like a basement, but do not refrigerate. Every couple of days you should skim any scum or foam that forms on the surface. When no scum forms any more, fermentation is complete. The process can take weeks. You can also add more cucumbers as you harvest them, but try to stick the newer ones on the bottom. Pickles can then be placed in sterile jars, covered with fresh brine, sealed and refrigerated. They will keep several months this way. You can also cover with fresh, hot brine, seal and place in a boiling water bath and process at a simmer for 15 minutes to store outside of the fridge.

Green Tomato Dill Pickles- Kosher style

Green tomatoes

Stalk celery

Sweet green peppers

Garlic

2 quarts water

1 quart vinegar

1 cup salt

2-3 T. fresh dill, I sometimes add a little more

Use small firm green tomatoes.  Pack into sterilized canning jars.  Add to each quart jar a bud of garlic, 1 stalk of celery, and 1 green pepper cut into fourths.  Make a brine of the water, vinegar, and the salt.  Boil with the dill for 5 minutes.  Pour the hot brine over the pickles to within 1/2 inch of the top of the jar.  Put on cap, screw band firmly tight.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  These pickles will be ready for use in 4 6 weeks.  Yield:  About 6 quarts.

Dilled Cucumber Soup – Serve Chilled

2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded

2 c. yogurt, or sour cream

salt to taste

cayenne pepper to taste

¼ – ½ c. fresh snipped dill

1 T. fresh chopped parsley or cilantro

1½ c. milk

2 ribs celery, diced

1 sweet red pepper, seeded and diced

lemon wedges and dill sprigs for garnish

Finely chop one of the cucumbers and place in a bowl.  Coarsely chop the second cucumber and place in a food processor. Add yogurt and seasonings and blend until smooth. Add the pureed mixture to the cucumber in the bowl and add remaining ingredients, except the lemon wedges and dill sprigs. Chill soup, covered, for several hours or overnight. To serve ladle into chilled bowls and garnish, if desired with lemon and dill. Serves 4.  

Dill Gravy

1 T. oil

2 T. flour

1/2-1 c. fresh chopped dill

2 T. vinegar

1 t. sugar

salt and pepper to taste

about 1/2 c. water

In small skillet heat oil and brown the flour. Stir in all ingredients until dill wilts. Start adding the water, over medium high heat, stirring constantly. Add the water slowly, allowing the gravy to come to the boil and thicken as you go. You may need a little more or less water according to you taste. You can use stock in place of water if you prefer. Serve with meat and potatoes. Makes 1/2 c.

Dill Marinade

1/4 c. white wine

juice of half a lemon or lime

1/3 c. olive oil

2 T. balsamic vinegar

2 T. chopped fresh dill

2 T. Dijon- style mustard

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Use with chicken, swordfish, tuna or shark steaks.

Beet and Carrot Salad

1 large or 2 medium beets

2 large carrots

4 T. olive oil

4 T. cider vinegar

2 T. honey, or to taste

1 T. fresh dill weed or about 1 t. dried

Dash of hot sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Peel beets and shred or grate them using a hand grater or food processor. Place in a mixing bowl and set aside. Peel and shred the carrots and add to the beets. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over the beet mixture. Stir to coat and chill until ready to serve. Makes about 3 cups.

Mango Honey Ginger Sorbet

Mango Honey Ginger Sorbet

Sorbet is a great dessert for warm weather.  When I saw mangoes on sale the other day, I knew I wanted to turn them into sorbet. I also picked up a fresh piece of ginger root, and decided to add some to the sorbet, along with some honey for extra sweetness. The flavors worked great together.

The secret to a creamy sorbet is pureeing the mixture twice. Once with the fresh fruit, then again once the mixture has frozen. Once pureed the second time, you can put your sorbet back in the freezer until ready to serve. It is a nice dessert to have on hand. Freezing the pureed mixture in an ice cream machine will also give you a smooth final product.

Sorbet can be served on its own, with cookies, cake or fresh fruit. You can also add a scoop of sorbet to your favorite Summer cocktail.

I like to keep several different sorbets on hand, so my guests can mix and match. Making a fresh fruit sorbet is also a way of saving seasonal fruits for use throughout the year.

Here is the recipe for the mango sorbet. You might want to add a little more, or less, honey to suit your own taste. Once frozen, the sorbet will not taste as sweet. The sweetness of the mangoes will also determine how much honey you add to your sorbet.

Mango Honey Ginger Sorbet

6 ripe mangoes

½ c. honey

1 T. fresh grated ginger

Remove peel and pits from mangoes. Puree the mangoes and add the honey and ginger. Freeze. After the mixture is frozen, place mango puree in a food processor and mix again until creamy. Serve, or place back in freezer until ready to serve. Makes about 1 quart.

Picnic Food Safety

With picnic and cook-out season here-I thought it would be a good time to post some tips to keep your picnic safe.

Common Picnic Problems

Besides ants, the biggest concern at a picnic should be food safety. While most of us know to keep cold foods cold, and hot food hot, there are some basic things we should all do to insure a safe, happy day.

Away from home and refrigeration, it is can be tricky to keep foods cold until ready to serve. Bring plenty of ice and coolers for all perishable food. Keep food cold until you are ready to cook or eat it. Get food back into coolers as soon as everyone has finished eating.

Package raw meats extra carefully. Raw meat juices, spilling on salads, will make them inedible. Pack raw meats separately if you can, or on the bottom of the cooler in a leak-proof container. You might also consider bringing meats, like burgers, frozen to thaw on the grill or in the cooler. Smoked meats are safer than their non-smoked counterparts but both types can spoil. The ideal situation is to have one cooler only for raw meats.

Don’t make burgers on site. Outdoor prep is always tricky. Better to form burgers at home, where you can wash all surfaces, as well as your hands, thoroughly. If you make them there- bring disposable gloves and a lightweight cutting board to work on.

Never use ice for drinks that has been in contact with raw meat, or even if any raw meats have been stored in the ice. Keep beverage ice in its own cooler, or keep it bagged to insure it is clean and safe.

Solid blocks of ice melt more slowly than cubes, and make good cooler inserts for long, hot summer days. Also, keep coolers in the shade to offset the power of the sun.

Meat should be cooked thoroughly and ground meat is always more at risk for contamination. Make sure your fire is hot enough. Allow for chilly, windy days and pack extra coals or other fuel, to keep the fire hot throughout the cooking process.

Make sure you don’t put cooked meats on the tray that the raw meat was on. Also have different prepping and serving utensils for both the raw and cooked meats.

You can also precook meats (like chicken pieces or ribs), cool and chill until ready for dinner. Then just heat them up over the coals. This way you don’t have the worry of bringing along raw meats and you’ll spend less time cooking and more time having fun.

Mayo is not the evil purveyor of bacteria some people think. Mayo from a fresh jar, can actually retard the growth of bacteria. This does not mean you can leave the potato salad in the trunk for 3 hours because it has mayo in it. It just means that mayonnaise is not the culprit for food spoilage- bad handling was likely the cause.

While 2 hours is the maximum for food to be left out before being refrigerated again, use common sense. Obviously, on a 95 degree day that time is much shorter. Rather than one big bowl of pasta salad, bring several smaller ones that you can switch out. That way you always have cold salad that is safe. And bring plenty of serving spoons. It does no good to swap out the bowls of pasta salad for a fresh bowl, if you keep using the same serving spoon. Try to stay in the shade, too. Bringing some sort of canopy can keep food cooler than sitting in direct sunlight.

I am a big believer in a good hand washing being the best way to clean your hands- but you might not have running water where you are. Hand sanitizers are great when you don’t have hand washing as an option. I also bring a package of sanitizing wipes, in case a surface needs cleaning up, too.

If it is a hot day- you might want to have a large container, filled with ice, that you can put the bowls of salad into, to keep them colder. That way the salads are surrounded by the ice and stay cold a lot longer. You can use a small baby pool. I like to use a container designed for under the bed storage. Nice size.

In the end, it is about using common sense, and copious amounts of ice. Remember, that if you lose track of time, forget to put something back in the cooler or leave something in the trunk, it is always better to play it safe. When in doubt-throw it out.

Mini Strawberry Shortcakes

Mini Strawberry Shortcakes

These little shortcakes are as cute as they are tasty. You can have all the components ready, then just assemble when ready to serve.

Fun to serve at parties, picnics and cook outs. Because these are small, they work well with other desserts on larger dessert trays.

I made the shortcake base with a scone recipe, and used a small ice cream scoop to put the batter on the baking sheet. They ended up looking like little sandwich buns. 

I split them, and filled with sweetened strawberries. I replaced the top and added chocolate ganache and whipping cream to finish them off.

The scone is tender and not too sweet. Satisfying and light at the same time.

Mini Strawberry Shortcakes

The shortcakes
2 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
½ t. salt
1 T. baking powder
1 1/4  c. heavy cream or 1 cup half and half
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Sift together dry ingredients and gradually add cream to form soft dough. Stir mixture until it just holds together. Using an ice cream scoop place batter on baking sheet a couple of inches apart. You should get about a dozen. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden. Makes about 12. Cool on rack until ready to use.

The berries

2 lbs. strawberries, sliced thin

1/2 c. sugar, or to taste

Combine berries and sugar in medium bowl and place in fridge until ready to use. Berries should be in the sugar for at least a couple of hours and can even be prepped a day ahead to allow the juices to come out of the berries.

The ganache

1 c. semi sweet chocolate chips or 6 oz. semi sweet chocolate, chopped

1/2 c. heavy whipping cream.

Combine both in double boiler or in microwave and heat until mixture is just warm enough to melt the chocolate. Stir until smooth.

The whipped cream – use whipped cream, sweetened or unsweetened according to your taste.

Assembly: Slice the caps off the tops of the shortcakes. Place a generous spoonful of the sliced berries on the bottoms of the shortcakes and spoon some of the strawberry liquid over them as well. Place the tops of the shortcakes back on and spoon on a dollop of the chocolate ganache. I let me get to room temperature so it didn’t drip down exactly as I had planned. Top with some whipped cream and serve. Makes about 12.

Mom’s Breaded Chicken

Mom’s Breaded Chicken

With the holiday weekend upon us, I thought I would share this recipe again. It always brings back great memories of childhood picnics/cookouts with my family. I love this recipe and I hope you do, too.

I looked forward to the big family picnics we had when I was a kid. My Dad and I would go early in the morning to pick out our favorite location, and get tables arranged. Then he would start a fire in the grill and make us bacon and eggs in the cast iron skillet.

Everyone started arriving soon after that. Well, not everyone. My Mom, and one of my aunts, would always come a little later. That is because they were finishing up the breaded chicken that was always a part of these picnics. She wanted it to be served nice and warm.

It would have been breaded the day before. My mom felt that when you breaded the chicken ahead of time, it seemed to help the breading to stick better. I do it the same way today.

This isn’t fried chicken. The breaded chicken is lightly browned in a skillet, then finished off in the oven. It is crispy on the outside and nice and juicy inside. It is also a lovely memory for me of time spent with family. Here are the directions for how she made it.

Mom’s Breaded Chicken

Chicken pieces, I often use a whole bird, cut into pieces, or just thighs and drumsticks.

salt and pepper to taste

flour

Parsley

Paprika

Garlic powder

eggs

Milk

Bread crumbs

oil

Pat chicken pieces dry. Season with salt and pepper. In a bag, combine flour- about ½ c. per 8 pieces of chicken should be about right. Season flour with a little salt and pepper.  In bowl combine milk and eggs with the rest of the seasonings, including more salt and pepper. I use 1 egg with enough milk to make a thin batter for every 4-5 pieces of chicken. Keep in mind that the size of the pieces matters. Wings will need less batter than legs. Place bread crumbs in a shallow dish or in a plastic bag. Place a few pieces of chicken in bah with the flour and shake to coat, dipping off the excess. Then dip chicken pieces (1-2 at a time) in egg mixture, turning to moisten completely. Then place in crumbs and turn or shake to coat evenly. Repeat with remaining chicken until all of it is breaded.

At this time you can cover and refrigerate the chicken for several hours or overnight if desired. You can also go ahead and cook it right away. Mom suggests you bread the chicken the night before so it will stick better, but hey, you’re an adult, do what you want.

To cook the chicken, heat ½- inch of oil in a heavy skillet and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Foil a roasting pan and then place a rack inside. Once the oil is hot, brown the chicken pieces several at a time, turning to brown evenly. Place the browned chicken on the rack in the baking dish and continue to brown remaining chicken. Place chicken in oven and bake until chicken is cooked and juices run clear when chicken is poked. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the pieces, how much you browned them and how many you are cramming in one pan. Baking time will be about 45 minutes. Check a large piece of chicken, near the middle of the pan to be sure.

This is a real summer favorite and the baking on the rack helps fat to drip off, giving you fried chicken flavor with fewer calories. This chicken can be served hot, warm or cold.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

I make broccoli salad pretty often. It is one of my favorites. Sometimes, I like to switch it up a little by adding cauliflower. The result is a salad that has a great mix of flavors, colors and textures.

The addition of bacon also adds a wonderful smoky flavor. Certainly, feel free to omit the bacon for a vegetarian salad.

With or without the bacon, this is a great salad.

I make this salad year round, but more often during the spring and summer. I also like to bring it to picnics and cook outs. Everyone seems to like it.

So if you are looking for a salad to bring to your next cook-out,  you might want to try broccoli and cauliflower salad.

Broccoli and Cauliflower Salad

1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and broken into bite- sized pieces

2 broccoli crowns, cut into bite- sized pieces

1 sweet pepper, seeded and chopped

1 c. shredded cheese- I used a sharp cheddar

8- 10 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped

1/2 cup of mayo – or more according to your taste

salt and pepper to taste

Steam the cauliflower and broccoli until just tender/crisp. About 5 minutes in a microwave steamer, 6 minutes in a conventional steamer. Place in a bowl to cool down then combine with remaining ingredients and stir to combine well. Adjust seasonings, if needed. Serves 6-8.

Combine veggies in a large bowl.

Add cheese and bacon

Sage Advice

Fresh Sage

Sage deserves better. It is a wonderful herb, but I think it doesn’t get used enough. Like rosemary, sage has strong flavor, and can overpower a dish if used too liberally. The secret is to use a light hand with sage. Dried sage has a more concentrated flavor than fresh. If you haven’t cooked with sage lately, maybe you should.

Traditionally used in poultry stuffing, sage is wonderful with meats, stews, and soups. It can also be used with shellfish and other seafood. Sage pairs nicely with cheese, and in dips, in poultry seasoning, sausages, and with any wild game, especially venison. I love to add sage to winter squash soup and pumpkin dishes, too.

A fun addition to any plate is fried sage leaves. Just drop a few leaves in a pan with a small amount of hot oil. They crisp right up.

Sage is also one of the easiest herbs you can grow. It is a hardy perennial that thrives in a sunny location, although it will tolerate some shade. Deer seem to leave it alone, too. The reward is fresh sage leaves all season long. You can freeze or dry sage leaves for use year round.

So here are some recipes for using sage. Enjoy!!

Scotch Eggs

Scotch Eggs

1 1/4 lbs. bulk country style or herb sausage

1 t. sage

1/2 t. thyme

1/4 t. cayenne pepper

4 hard cooked eggs, peeled

1/2 c. flour

2 raw eggs, beaten

1-c. fresh bread crumbs

vegetable oil for deep frying

Combine sausage and flavorings and mix well. Divide into 4 equal portions and flatten. Place an egg on each flattened sausage piece and press sausage to completely cover each egg. Dredge eggs in the flour, and then dip in the eggs. Roll in the breadcrumbs and fry in 2 1/2 inches of oil (heated to 350 degrees until well browned. This will take about 10 minutes. Drain. Keep warm until served. Makes 4.

Breakfast Sausage

   Breakfast Sausage

2½ lbs. ground pork or turkey (leave on a little fat)

1 T. dried sage

2 t. salt

2 t. pepper

1 t. dried marjoram

½ t. dried thyme

¼ t. allspice

¼ t. nutmeg

¼ t. dry mustard

⅛ t. cloves

pinch of cayenne pepper

⅓ c. warm water

Mix  herbs and spices with water  and let stand  10 minutes. Add the water and spice mixture to the meat and blend thoroughly. Form into patties, and chill or cook immediately. Patties can be fried or baked. This sausage can also be frozen for later use. Makes almost 3 pounds.

Dressing/Stuffing

1 c. sliced mushrooms

¾ c. diced celery

3 T. minced onions

2 T. chopped parsley

4 T. butter

4-5 c. bread cubes

salt and pepper to taste

¼ – ½ c. turkey or chicken broth if making dressing

Sauté vegetables in butter until tender. Add bread and seasonings and toss to coat. Stuff into turkey just before cooking or add broth and place in covered casserole, cooking for 45 minutes to an hour at 350 degrees. When making stuffing allow ¾ c. per pound of turkey. You may want to stuff the bird and still make extra dressing for the next day. When making dressing be sure to cover the pan well to keep the dressing from drying out.

Amy’s Skillet Chicken Pot Pie

¼ c. olive oil

2 T. butter

1 sweet onion, chopped

4 parsnips, peeled and sliced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage

1 small bunch kale, center ribs and stems removed, leaves chopped

Kosher salt

freshly ground pepper

¼ cup all-purpose flour

3 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 T. sherry

½ small butternut squash, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 1½ cups)

½ of a roasted chicken- meat removed from bones, torn onto bite sized pieces – about 1½ cups of meat

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 large egg

Place a rack in upper third of oven; preheat to 425°. Heat oil in a deep 12-inch cast-iron or other heavy ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, about 4 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add parsnips, garlic and sage to skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic begins to brown, about 2 minutes. Add kale and season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing often, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Sprinkle flour over. Cook, stirring constantly, for 4 minutes. Stir in broth, 1/2-cupful at a time, then add squash. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is just softened and broth is thickened, 8-10 minutes. Add chicken to skillet, stir, and season with salt and pepper. Unfold pastry and smooth any creases; place over skillet, allowing corners to hang over sides. Whisk egg and 1 teaspoon water in a small bowl. Brush pastry with egg wash; cut four 1-inch slits in top to vent. Bake pot pie until pastry is beginning to brown, 15-20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375° and bake until pastry is deep golden brown and crisp, 15-20 minutes longer. Let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Spiced Yellow Split Pea Soup

1 lb. yellow split peas, rinsed

8 c. stock or water

2 c. chopped onion

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

3 potatoes, peeled and cubed

½ lb. sliced green beans

1 T. parsley

2-3 t. hot pepper sauce

1 t. chopped fresh sage- or ½ t. dried sage

1 t. dried thyme

1 t. ginger

1 t. cumin

1 t. turmeric

½ t. white pepper

2 cups diced ham

Salt to taste

Note: you can use 1 teaspoon liquid smoke if omitting meat.

Combine peas, water or stock and simmer, covered, about an hour, stirring occasionally.  Add remaining ingredients, except salt, and cook, covered, over low heat for about 60 minutes. Add salt to taste. Freezes well. Serves 6-8.

Poultry Seasoning

¼ c. dried parsley

3 T. dried marjoram

3 T. dried rosemary

3 T. dried thyme

2 T. dried savory

1 T. celery seed

1 T. dried sage

2 t. dried oregano

2 t. dried basil

1 t. ground allspice

1 t. fresh ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Store in a cool, dry place to maintain freshness.

Sage Rolls

¾ c. milk

½ c. sugar

1/3  c. butter

1 t. salt

2 packages active dry yeast

½ c. warm water

4½.-5 c. bread flour

½ c. chopped green onion or chives

1 T. dried sage

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Heat milk to almost simmering, being careful not to bum. Stir in sugar, butter, and salt. Cool milk to lukewarm. Dissolve yeast in warm water. Set aside. Place 2 cups of flour in a large bowl. Add the milk mixture, and beat together. Stir in yeast mixture, sage, and eggs. Beat with an electric mixer for 4 minutes. Gradually stir in enough of the flour to make a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl. Tum dough onto a floured surface  and  knead  until the  dough  is smooth  and elastic, about 8 – 10 minutes. Place the dough in oiled bowl, turning to grease the top. Cover, and allow dough to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45- 55 minutes. Punch dough  down, tum  onto  a floured surface, and cover with the bowl. Allow the dough to rest 15 minutes. Divide dough  into 24 – 32 pieces, depending  on the size you like. Shape dinner rolls as desired. I like to roll pieces into 6 inch ropes, and then tie them into a loose knot. Place the rolls onto greased  baking sheets, allowing them room to grow. Cover, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Bake rolls in a 350 degree oven until golden brown, 15- 18 minutes.

Mini Picnic Quiches

Mini Picnic Quiches

These tiny quiches pack a lot of flavor. They are also a great take along for picnics and cook outs. Since you can eat them hot or cold, they make a nice food for road trips, too.

The quiche recipe is made up of three parts- the crust, the filling and the custard. They are baked in muffins tins and each recipe makes a dozen. I have two crust recipes- including a gluten free crust that is made from rice and zucchini. There are three filling choices, but you can get creative and make a number of different variations. The custard is pretty straightforward- half and half, eggs and seasonings. I make a couple of batches at a time and then freeze some for later.

Picnic Quiches

 Crust Options:

Rice Zucchini Crust (Gluten free)

1½ c. shredded zucchini

1¼ c. cooked rice (white or brown)

1 egg

¼ c. Parmesan cheese

Crouton Crust

3½ c. garlic-cheese croutons, about 5 oz., ground

1/3 c. melted butter

Fillings:

 Mushroom and Onion

1 medium onion, chopped

Oil

8 oz. mushrooms, cleaned and chopped

3-4 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded or cubed fine

In skillet cook onion in oil until lightly browned. Add mushroom and cook until mushrooms are golden. Cool and combine with cheese before using.

Spinach and Bacon

12 oz. bacon, cooked and crumbled

10 oz. package of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

4 oz. Swiss cheese, shredded

Combine all ingredients. Set aside until ready to use.

Confetti

1 ear corn, cooked and kernel cut off the cob- about ½ cup

½ c. mined fresh sweet pepper

¼ c. chopped green onion

4 oz. shredded cheese- I like a sharp cheddar in this filling

 Custard:

1c. half and half

3 eggs

½ t. each basil and salt

1/8 t. each garlic powder, pepper and paprika

Directions

Grease 12 muffin cups (3 inch). Prepare crust of your choice by mixing crust ingredients together. Pat 2 tablespoons of the crust mixture into each muffin cup. Bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-12 minutes. Cool before filling. While baking and cooling crusts, prepare filling of your choice and make the custard.

Spoon 2 tablespoons of filling over each cooled crust. Spoon about 3-4 tablespoons of the custard over the filling. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 15-20 minutes. Cool on wire racks, chill completely before packing for your picnic.