Festive Holiday Salad of Reds & Greens

For holiday potlucks we like to do a little extra. Set on a bed of tender greens, this salad combines reds, greens and white as a holiday theme.holiday salad

Ingredients:

Butter Lettuce, Mache, & Radicchio, dressed lightly with oil, vinegar and salt

Roasted Beets: Peel, slice into narrow vertical strips, drizzle with oil, vinegar, salt and optional pomegranate molasses. Set in an inner ring over greens.

Deviled Eggs: 12 eggs hard boiled. Yolks, mashed and  combined with a rounded teaspoon Dijon or your favorite mustard, a quarter teaspoon of salt and black pepper. Fill eggs with yolk mix. If any of the whites hopelessly break apart just add yolk to mixture and set aside or discard the whites. As a last step place eggs.

Parsley, rinsed and chopped, 1/3 cup…sprinkle over beets and salad greens followed by pomegranate seeds.

Pomegranate Seeds: Purchase ready to use if possible. Used about 1/3 of a cup and provided a delightful crunch.

Place eggs around salad and take to your event. Do not cover with plastic wrap, it will make a mess of the eggs. Sit it all on a large tray or cookie sheet in back of car.

Roasting beets: I wrap them individually in foil and roast at 350 for about an hour. This time I made the mistake of not peeling shortly after roasting and that did not save time.

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Achoca with Sweet Red Peppers

Achoca (Cyclanthera) is sometimes referred to as a stuffing cucumber. It is native to the Andes and much cooked in Bolivia and is also grown and eaten in Bhutan. Recipes are difficult to find, most commonly it is stuffed with a rice & meat combination.  I have made this but found filling small fruits rather time consuming. They can also be filled with cheese and baked. These are good sliced and used with mixed veggie stir fries. In Bolivia, garlic is standard with achoca so this recipe is extra generous. This mild vegetable picks up other flavors and seasonings. I like the appearance of the halved fruits, they cook easily in a skillet with high sides. In this photo fruits ranged from 2” to 5” in length.
Ingredients:
2 tablespoons of oil
3 large cloves of garlic coarsely chopped (1.5 tablespoons)
½  to one cup sweet red pepper strips
1 pound or six cups of achoca halves, scooped free of seeds and pith
1 teaspoon or more Siracha sauce

With any stir fry it is best to have all the prep work done before cooking begins. Scoop out any loose material and seeds from the Achoca halves. Dried mature seeds may be used in a future garden. Heat skillet, when hot add garlic and in a few seconds add pepper strips. Last add achoca halves and stir and turn until they are softened about 5 minutes. If they are not yet tender cook for another one or two minutes, add Siracha sauce and salt to taste. This amount of siracha gives a spicy but not overpowering amount of heat but taste your way to your own preference.

Shishito Peppers Fresh Fried

This time of year peppers are in glorious high production. A simple delicious preparation is to fry fresh thin walled peppers in a bit of olive oil until the skins are blistered. sprinkle with a bit of salt and eat holding the stem, pepper, seeds and all. This batch was with our Japanese Shishito Peppers which have the slightest spicy tang. Just recently a member of our book group fried up Spanish Padron Peppers picked fresh from her garden. They were equally delicious and very similar in taste to the Shishito we’ve been eating. Several years ago we were in Mexico and the restaurant served us Serrano peppers fried in a bit of oil and salted. Same preparation and a relatively thin walled pepper. These were hot as blazes and so delicious we kept eating though our faces were getting a little red. I urge you to give this seasonal treat a try.

Methley Plums – The Taste of Summer Food

This summer is the year of fruit. One crop of fruit goes banging into the next. My fingers are hopelessly purple after spending a weekend up to my elbows in Methley Plums Cherries, gooseberries, currants have come and gone and our previously most ungenerous plum has produced a bounty of fruit.

Sam Benowitz of Raintree Nursery in Washington, saw this early plum was forced into bloom for the Seattle Northwest Flower & Garden Show several years ago when NW Garden Writers Assoc. members and Pierce County WA Master Gardeners teamed up to construct a food garden promoting the GWA “Plant A Row For The Hungry” program. We received a gold medal and The People’s Choice Cup”. It was time for me to retire from designing show gardens.

When we dismantled the garden I purchased this plum tree from Sam and planted it in our home garden. While it has a lovely spring shower of blooms, in previous years the fruits have been small and sparse. This year we have a huge supply of medium sized Japanese plums. The fruits are a deep red, a delicious sweet tart flavor and a good size for eating out of hand. The pits are not freestone but can be cut in half and popped out with a paring knife. The deep colors must mean it’s full of anthocyanins and bioflavonoids.

With this much fruit, I’ve had ample opportunity to experiment on how what to do with pecks of plums. These are recipes which we can wing it with the abundance of summer, so nothing precise, be careful with hot peppers, the heat can build. I’m not giving you my recipe for jam failure but it happened. Eat your fill of these fresh plums. They’ll store for about two weeks in a refrigerator.

Fresh Plum Salsa, chopped up plums, jalapenos, cilantro, a colorful bell pepper, onion, a little garlic, lime juice and salt. If you want to use a processor do it with a light touch. I prefer the chopped texture.

Chipotle Plum Barbeque Sauce, 6 cups of pitted plums, 3 medium onions, t tablespoon chipotle chili powder & one tablespoon smoked paprika, or 2-3 chipotles in adobo sauce, 3 large cloves of garlic, minced, ½ cup cider vinegar sugar and salt to taste after cooking. Run these ingredients in a food processor or finely chop. Put in a heavy non-reactive pan and simmer until thickened. Give these an occasional stir and it’s good to be doing another kitchen task so you can make there is no scorching. Remove from heat, season with sugar and salt. When cool package some up in small containers and share.

Plum Purple Basil Pie, Use any good pie recipe, I prefer those heavy on the fruit. Check out a peach pie recipe and simply substitute plums. The purple basil brings in a nice spicy flavor without little green specks but any basil can be used. A touch of cinnamon can be added.

Plum Dessert Sauce three cups of halved or quartered plums, 1 cup red wine, 2 tablespoons lavender flavored a honey ( a gift that is too strong for toast but good in sauces and lemonade)…add more if you think best, ½ cup sugar, 4 crushed or freshly ground cardamom seeds and 1 teaspoon vanilla. A little cinnamon, a bay leaf, a few drops of almond flavoring or liquor are all possible additions. Prepare the plums while you bring other ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive pan, reduce liquid by about 1/3.  Add plums and gently cook for three minutes. If sauce seems too thin for your liking pour off some of the juices, cool slightly and combine with 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Reheat until starch is cooked, it will be transparent. Excellent with pound cake, a scoop of ice cream or whipped cream. Homemade pound cake, good ice cream or real whipped cream recommended.

If you have a good supply of plums give one of these recipe suggestions a try and don’t be hesitant to tweak to your taste. These should work with almost any plum variety. I see our crop from the Prunus Mume is maturing fast. Just rubbing one leaves a fragrance on my fingers but coming up with something besides salted ume’ plums may be a challenge but oh, to capture the fragrance when it’s not an eating plum.

Hop Shoots Picking & Preparing

Hop shoots are a gardeners’ treat in early spring. Here are photos of them growing by the entry arbor to our herb garden at Nichols Garden Nursery. I snapped off a small bundle of emerging shoots, selecting for short tender stems and tips. Much admired in Belgium and France, where they are known as Jets de Houblon. Mature hop vines are actually more productive of hop cones when some shoots are removed.
To prepare plunge your tender shoots into salted boiling water, cook for 2 minutes and then drain. The timing can vary a bit cook only until barely tender. While shoots drain, poach eggs in fresh water (to avoid discoloration) or gently fry. Reheat shoots in butter and sprinkle over freshly cooked eggs. Don’t miss dipping a few hop tips into egg yolks.
Where these shoots are abundant they are variously sauced with béchamel, used as an omelet filling, served as a vegetable and pickled. Pickling does sound like a lot of effort for an ephemera of springtime. I’d most surely be appreciative of another’s accomplishment.

Indigo Rose Tomato Salad

This is our favorite salad using Indigo Rose OP Tomato, our new introduction for 2012. We had it nearly every day last summer and eagerly look forward to enjoying it again. Other small salad tomatoes can also be used but to my mind none are as beautiful as Indigo Rose in this delicious combination of taste and color. The deep purple exterior is rich in anti-oxidant anthocyanins and the interior of these 2” fruits is a rich bright red. The flavor is bright, tart and pleasant.

It is important to mention, Indigo Rose, the world’s first high anthocyanin tomato is a result of traditional breeding and selection over many years and not a result of genetic engineering. Bred at Oregon State University by Dr. Jim Myers, it is the result of growing out the best selections over more than a decade selecting for performance, coloration, and flavor. it is open-pollinated.
We are pleased to introduce this fine and unusual selection in 2012. We start our tomatoes from April 1 to April 15th and transplant around Memorial Day weekend.

Ingredients:

10-12 Indigo Rose Tomatoes (weight about 1.5 to 2 lbs.
3 tablespoons diced sweet onion
1 tablespoon white balsamic or red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (optional)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped parsley
6 ounces feta cheese (not non fat)

Directions: Cut each tomato into quarters. Gently combine tomatoes, onion, vinegar, oil, salt and parsley. Place in bowl and sprinkle with coarsely crumbled feta cheese. This salad is also very good with one or two tablespoons of chopped basil. Serve, this can be easily doubled and serves 3 to 8 depending on whether this is a dinner salad, with bread, or simply salad.

Oranges & Sweet Violets

Spring violets, Viola odorata, are edible flowers with a color and fragrance that compliments fresh naval oranges when both are at their peak. Peel or cut away the orange rind, leaving as little pith as possible. Cut into 1/3” inch slices. Allow one orange per person and place on individual serving dishes. Drizzle with 1/2 tsp. mild honey. Garnish with spring violets or candied violets. This light dessert is the perfect conclusion to a winter meal. A few drops of orange liquor can be sprinkled over the oranges.

Some gardeners dislike wild violets in their yards but we enjoy the fragrance and appeal of wild violets. Their scent seems to come and go because our scent receptors become exhausted and must have a few minutes to revive before we can again enjoy this definitive fragrance.