I have big, big plans for picnics in 2011. Last summer, I think, Brian and I were cheated...busy lives kept us from really taking the time to relax on weekends and enjoy each other's company on weekday evenings. Life is still moving quickly, but this year we've adjusted our priorities. And picnics are close to the top of my new list. Nothing quite says summer like packing a basket of simple foods, folding up your favorite quilt, and driving out to the country. Or, if you really want to get your picnic quota up, simply walking out to the backyard and plopping down on a patch of shady grass. That can happen any old day, and this year I plan to make it happen quite often.
A few weeks ago I started a list. My 'foods fit for a picnic' list, as I call it. On this piece of gridded paper I placed edibles such as 'not-too-crumbly biscuits' and 'pulled pork' and 'spicy coleslaw'. Also, there were 'buttermilk cookies' and 'dill pickles' and 'egg salad'. These were all recipes that I wished to research and experiment with, to really nail down so that I would be prepared for outdoor eating at any point between April and October. As of this week, I've crossed one off.
For some reason I've always had a thing for egg salad. Most versions I've ever had have been very bland, and I am never fully satisfied after choosing it for a sandwich over deli meat or roasted veggies. Regardless, for all these years, I've told myself and others "I really love egg salad!" And so when it made an appearance on my 'foods fit for a picnic' list (because of course, egg salad belongs at a picnic) I immediately started thinking about creating a fantastic herbed pesto that I could drizzle over top. You know, to make the egg salad more interesting.
Armed with this Alice Waters recipe recommended by a friend, I set about preparing what was to be the ultimate picnic sandwich...egg salad drizzled with chive pesto served on artisan bread. I smeared one slice of bread with the pesto, piled a heap of egg salad on another slice, and debated how to photograph my creation. While debating, I sampled the salad...and kept eating. This salad is so delicious, the exact opposite of bland, that the beautiful, emerald-toned pesto was immediately packed up and stashed away. Chopped eggs tossed with mayonnaise mixed with fresh chives, dijon mustard, and capers requires no accompaniment aside from a thick slice of good bread. Its the capers that make the salad, truly. I'll never eat egg salad without capers again. That would be like having a whole summer go by without a picnic, and that just won't do.
Its been awhile since I've had abellaterra post and I am WAY overdue. Things are actually happening out there in our 20' x 20' patch of veggie heaven and its not just about herbs anymore. But, because I'm behind and because spring herbs should be prolific pretty much everywhere right now, I'm going to give you another herb post. But don't worry, not only did we plant tomatoes, cucumbers and bell peppers today, we also harvested our first spinach and bibb lettuce as well so you should be seeing some diversity around here very soon.
The chives are in full bloom...aren't they lovely? I clip them to put in vases around our house, not only because I love their color but also because if the flowers are left to reach full maturity in the garden we will have chives popping up in every nook and cranny next year. They are incredibly hardy and reproduce like crazy - we divide them to give to friends each year just to keep things under control. Luckily, we are big fans of cooking with chives in our household so those we keep rarely waste away in the garden.
We've also recently discovered that thyme is a very useful herb in a variety of dishes. Keep it whole in soups or as a bed for baked white fish or salmon (it will infuse the fish with a delightful flavor and scent). Or, gently pluck the leaves from the stem and stir them into a buttery barley risotto, our newest discovery and one that fast-tracked its way to the top of our favorites list.
This meal is one that I concocted while sitting at my desk in the office, waiting for the last 30 minutes of the work day to tick by. My mind tends to wander towards food often, especially when dinner is eminent. On this particular day I realized that things were getting a little sparse in our refrigerator, other than a little baggie of brussels sprouts I'd picked up at Whole Foods the weekend before that needed to be cooked as soon as possible. We always keep a variety of grains in our pantry and luckily so because on this day, thoughts of risotto topped with golden brussels sprouts danced into my head and refused to be silenced.
I wanted a risotto heartier than the typical white rice variety so chose to use barley instead. If you've never tried using barley in risotto I insist that you do, as soon as possible. Barley adds an earthy depth to the dish that is especially good with herbs, spinach or mushrooms. It may take a bit longer to cook than the traditional rice dish but it is more flavorful and filling*.
Brian and I ate in complete silence this night, save the occasional "this is SO good" or "I could eat this EVERY night" comments. The thyme complements the barley and the brussels sprouts beautifully, and the high-quality butter was worth the extra splurge. I used Heidi's recipe for the brussels sprouts, which never disappoints. They were perfect.
I'd like to say something about risotto. Not only is it delicious, its relatively simple. I think it gets a bad rap because of the rather lengthy period of stirring that it takes to reach perfect creaminess, but if you've got someone to hand the spatula over to every now and then and a glass of white wine to sip when its your turn, the task really isn't that daunting. And it is completely worth the effort.
Buttery Barley and Herb Risotto with Golden-Crusted Brussels Sproutsserves 3-4
24 brussels sprouts - rinsed, stems removed, chopped in half
1 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for rubbing
salt + pepper
1/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
Heat the broth in a small saucepan over medium heat and keep at a low simmer.
Melt 2 tbsp butter in a large, heavy-bottom saute' pan. Add the onion and garlic and saute' over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, until translucent. Add the barley and stir to coat with the butter, about 1 minute.
Add the white wine to the pan and stir briskly to deglaze. When the wine has evaporated add 1/2 cup of broth to the pan. Stir until the liquid has been absorbed and repeat. Stir often, adding broth 1/2 cup at a time and letting it absorb before adding another. You may not use all of the broth, but you'll know the risotto is done when the barley is tender but not mushy. The risotto should be creamy and hold together without any liquid around the edges.
Stir in the remaining 2 tbsp butter, parmesan cheese and herbs. Salt and pepper to taste.
While risotto is cooking, prepare the brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts should be rubbed in olive oil before being added to the pan. Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in large non-stick pan. Place brussels sprouts, flat-side down, in pan and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cover and let cook for about 5 minutes.
Remove a sprout from the pan after 5 minutes and test for tenderness. If tender, remove cover from pan and toss sprouts to quickly brown on round side, about 2 minutes.
Dish risotto immediately onto plates. Top with brussels sprouts and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and freshly ground pepper.
*Don't get me wrong, I love a good arborio rice risotto as well, but I typically reserve it for when the risotto is a side rather than the centerpiece. Arborio rice has a milder flavor and is tasty with butternut squash or other sweeter vegetables like beets.
I am a big fan of bread. Such a big fan, in fact, that sometimes I will choose to have an extra piece after dinner in lieu of a second pour of wine, or even dessert. In the last year or so I started dabbling with bread baking, lots of quickfruitbreads, a few loaves of whole wheat, some scones, even some fabulous dinner rolls at Thanksgiving. But biscuits have always frightened me, just a bit. I’ve heard horror stories of folks attempting to make biscuits and ending up instead with pancakes, or worse, hockey pucks.Because of this fear I am always amazed when I come across a really fabulous biscuit. Mother’s in New Orleans bakes one of my favorites, so good that Brian and I stop by the restaurant on our way out of the city to load up on the black ham variety to eat on the plane ride home. (The unbelievable ham they produce has something to do with that stop as well...the last time we were there we bought a cooler just so we could bring a few pounds of it home with us.) And then there are the cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster, a restaurant I haven’t been to since I was a teenager. Even after my 10+ year absence from the establishment the memory of those golden lumps is still crystal clear.WhenFoodbuzz contacted me a few weeks ago to find out if I would like to sample some Kerrygoldproducts (yes!) all I could think about was cheddar biscuits. After the chives popped up in the garden my intent was set - cheesy, chive-y buttermilk biscuits would be gracing our breakfast table, and hopefully they would be soft and flakey as well. I decided that even if I failed at the texture, the power of delicious Irish cheese and fresh chives would carry them.I found this recipe at Thibeault’s Table via Tastespotting. It was easy enough, delicious, and though my batch didn’t turn out as beautifully as the photos accompanying the recipe, they weren’t pancakes or hockey pucks which relieved me greatly. I was amazed by their lightness...prior to this experience my most recent biscuit-like endeavor was of the hearty oat variety (recipe will come, I’m still perfecting it) which, compared to these, sit like bricks in your belly. My technique needs some work. The recipe didn’t call for a specific amount of cheese so I guessed, which may be the reason why my biscuits didn’t puff up quite as beautifully as the example. Or it could be the fact that a bit of time passed before the ingredients pulled from the fridge were incorporated into a batter and then stuck in the oven...the problem with photographing as you go. But the flavor was great, and Brian has requested that they be added to the permanent rotation for indulgent weekend breakfasts. It seems like I will have plenty of opportunity to perfect the consistency.And I have to say, the Kerrygold Dubliner cheese was excellent. So good that the first block I bought was consumed with a loaf of crusty bread before ever making it into the biscuits it was intended for. The Pure Irish Butter is also delicious, although I think it may be too soft for this recipe. My batter was very sticky, which may have also contributed to the lack of puffiness. But spread across the top of a fresh-from-the-oven biscuit? Perfect.Cheese + Chive Buttermilk Biscuitsrecipe modified from Thibeault's Table
Preheat oven to 450*. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
Using pastry blender or fingers, cut-in the butter until the dry mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Add the cheese and chives and mix well.
Stir in milk and mix with fork until a loose batter forms. Gently pat the ingredients together but do not over-handle.
On a lightly floured board, pat out dough until you get a 1/2" to 3/4" disk. Cut with biscuit cutters (I used a jar lid, a glass would work too) and place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake at 450* for 15-18 minutes.
Oh yes, it was a weekend filled with indulgent breakfasts. Is that bacon on my plate?!? What?!?
I"ll be sharing another breakfast with you this week, but it is of the sweet variety and involves oatmeal. Get excited, because it is fabulous. :) And its healthier than eggs, bacon and biscuits, so who wouldn't be excited?
I hope you're all having a great week!
There have been a few small changes in the garden since my first bella terra post. The thyme, sage and oregano are starting to show some green. The blackberry and raspberry vines have tiny bits of new growth. And the weeds are popping up with a vengeance. Brian (my hubb) and I have big plans for the weekend. Some fence repair, re-mulching the paths, weeding and seeding. In just a handful of days (7-10 to be exact) we should have broccoli, peas, beets, lettuce, kale and spinach poking out of the rich compost. I can't wait. :)
Here, the blackberry vine...The very first signs of life I see in the garden each year are chives. Beautiful green shoots that peek from beneath the blanket formed by last year’s growth, the late-fall crop that laid down their lives with the first hard frost to protect the next generation. They were already popping up two weeks ago when I ventured into the garden for the first time since fall. The new chives are thankfully resistant with help from the old - they managed to survive the late snow we had just last week. When I visited the garden after work one evening to check their progress I was pleased to find that they were ready for me to cut.here, on march 7th...see how they've grown?
Chives are one of my favorite herbs to use in the kitchen because they are so versatile. Toss them with fingerling potatoes to roast, sprinkle them raw over top of an omelet, fold them into batter to be baked in cheddar biscuits...their mild, onion-like flavor allows for endless possibilities. I’d bookmarked thisNY Times recipe for an herb frittata earlier this month and knew as soon as I spotted those lovely bits of green from over the fence that the time had come to try it.
I'd never made a frittata before. It seemed to me that it would be a difficult task and, having never read a frittata recipe before, I assumed that it would contain whole milk and cheese (similar to a quiche) and not be terribly productive to my weight-loss efforts. Boy was I wrong, on ALL assumptions. For one, the process was really easy. As long as you have a decent non-stick skillet and some patience, this dish really couldn't be easier. And I used just two dishes to make it...two! I really like a quick and simple recipe, but add "very little clean-up" to its list of attributes and I am in love.
Second, the frittata is much healthier than any quiche recipe I've made. The main contributor to its healthfulness? A lack of crust. That's right...no crust. And...no cheese. The greek yogurt makes the consistency so creamy that you'll never miss it. Plus, this particular recipe is loaded with spinach and herbs, not to mention heart-healthy walnuts and yummy mushrooms.
I was so impressed with my first frittata experience that I've already been dreaming up new combos of flavors. I can't wait until that pile of herbs and spinach pictured above is all home-grown from my garden, maybe with some bell peppers and tomatoes mixed in. Oh, what a glorious summer it will be...
Spinach, Herb and Mushroom Frittata258 cal, 19g fat, 6g carbs, 1g sugar, 2g fiber, 11g protein [nutritional info from thedailyplate.com]
recipe adapted from the NY Times
12oz baby spinach
1 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup chopped chives
8 fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and chopped
8 large eggs
1/2 cup thick Greek-style yogurt
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
3/4 teaspoon salt, preferably kosher salt (more to taste)
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 to 2 garlic cloves (to taste), green stems removed, finely minced
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons if you don’t have a nonstick pan)
Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Fill a bowl with ice water. Add the spinach to the boiling water and blanch for 10 to 20 seconds. Transfer to the ice water to cool for a few minutes, then drain and squeeze out excess water. Chop finely.
Beat the eggs in a large bowl. Stir in the yogurt, walnuts, salt and pepper. Add the spinach, herbs and garlic, and mix together well. Adjust salt and pepper. Let sit for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the mushrooms.
Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. Drop a bit of egg into the pan, and if it sizzles and cooks at once, the pan is ready. Pour in the egg mixture, scraping every bit out of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Roll the pan to distribute the eggs and filling evenly over the surface. Shake the pan gently, tilting it slightly with one hand while lifting up the edges of the frittata with the spatula in your other hand, in order to let the eggs run underneath during the first few minutes of cooking. Turn the heat down to low, and cover the pan. Cook 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan every once in a while, until the frittata is just about set. Meanwhile, light the broiler.
If the frittata is not quite set on the top, place under the broiler, about three inches from the heat, for one to two minutes, watching closely, until just beginning to color on the top. Do not allow the eggs to brown too much or they’ll taste bitter. (I wound up leaving it under the broiler for about 4 minutes total, until just starting to brown).
Remove from the heat, allow to sit in the pan for five minutes or longer, then carefully slide out onto a platter. Serve warm or at room temperature.
In the Blog World...
Tina at Carrots 'N' Cake has released a call for guest bloggers...how fun! If you haven't checked out Tina's blog yet you really should. She's got great daily tips for creating a healthy lifestyle through good eats and exercise. Guest blogging is a great way to spread your blog words to further reaches, so consider sending her an email with some ideas!
Two Spoons made a savory version of my scones! Yum...the possibilities are endless. :)
Ryan at Chasing Daylightmade bella eats enchi-ritos! So glad you enjoyed them, Ryan!
Jennifer and Jessica of Keep It Simple Foods have been enjoying my dark chocolate PB and strawberry breakfast combo...glad you're liking it ladies! Mmmm...a little french inspiration in the morning is a great start to any day! :)
If you've tried a recipe you've found on bella eats, let me know! I'd love to read your thoughts on it and send others your way. :)
Who else is THRILLED that tomorrow is Friday?!?!?!? :)