To each his herb

Last week I talked about spices, and warm flavors.This week it’s herbs, and cooler flavors.

Fresh herbs are always best, but sometimes you don’t have the luxury.  There’s some dried thyme, as well as oregano and dill in my spice cabinet in case of emergencies.   But because those dried herbs can quickly lose their mojo, keep dried herbs no more than six months (label the bottle with date you brought it home).  rolled-herbs

To keep the fresh herbs longer, you’ve got two choices.  Either lay out about 6 pieces of paper towel on the counter.  Spritz the paper with cold water.  Then set a bunch down, and roll.  After that bunch is covered, lay down another bunch.  Roll, then lay another bunch, and so on.  When all the herbs are wrapped up, spritz the paper bundle, and place in a large zip top bag.  Refrigerate.

You second choice is easier but you don’t get quite as long a shelf life.  Trim the ends off the herbs.  Fill a tall glass with water, and place in the trimmed herbs like flowers in a vase.  Change water daily.

“Rosemary for remembrance”.  I’ve grown rosemary since Uncle Will, my honorary grandfather, died when The Kid was two.  I bought one very hardy, low maintenance Mediterranean variety which is now a large shrub outside my front doors.  It’s both fragrant and ornamental—many places use it for landscaping. rosemary-basilBasil is a soft leafy herb with that distinctive, fennel/licorice flavor.  It’s a staple in Italian foods.

I like to heat two cups of extra virgin olive oil and add a big handful of each herb.  Before adding the herbs I roll them between my hands to bring out the oils.  I then let the herbs steep until it cools.  I strain it and store it, covered, in the fridge.  This oil is great for dipping bread into.  It’s also good brushed on meat before grilling.  And if you’re not big on red sauce on pizza, brush a little of this aromatic oil on it, then arrange your toppings.

I make a paste of fresh thyme, lemon zest, Parmesano Reggiano, smashed fresh garlic, olive oil, and salt and pepper.  I either crust a pork tenderloin with it or smear some under chicken or turkey skin. lemon-thyme-pasteQuite a few years ago my mom developed an allergy to eggs, and from then on, left them out of the potato salad.

I discovered I liked it better without eggs, so I made it that way, as well.  Only I added fresh dill and flat-leaf parsley.

I made it one night when we were visiting family friend Chef Chrissy.  When I served it, Chrissy mentioned that it was a little ‘passive’.  I think that was a nice way of saying boring.  Then Chrissy’s dad, Bear tried it.  He informed me that it was the best tater salad he’d ever eaten.  So from then on it was called…

Passive-aggressive potato saladpassive-potato-salad

8 medium-size red or Yukon gold potatoes, boiled to fork tender, cooled, peeled and cubed

½ yellow onion, diced

3 tablespoons each parsley and dill, chopped finely

4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided

1-1½ cups Hellmann’s mayo

Salt and pepper to taste

Place cooked, cubed potatoes in large bowl.  Add onions and herbs, drizzle in 2 tablespoons oil and toss.

Starting with 1 cup, stir in mayo.  If you need more, add more.  Season, taste, and re-season if necessary. Cover and let sit at room temp for 1 hour.

Right before service, stir in last 2 tablespoons oil.Serves 4-6.

When using fresh herbs in cooking, the later you add them, the fresher the flavor will be.  And always hold a little back, to sprinkle on the finished dish.  If only you could perk up your own life the same way…Thanks for your time.

The Kid in headlights

Recently, I’ve learned something.

I’ve realized why my mom is so eager to have Petey and me visit, and why she doesn’t like it when we show up late, or leave early.

There’s no accounting for her taste, but I think she misses us.

This epiphany smacked me upside the head after The Kid moved out.

I went from being pregnant with my child living inside me, to a baby then toddler that was always with me. Later were schooldays, each one complete with crazy mornings followed by evenings with the whole family. Then it was college, with every break spent at home. The last step was adulthood, and The Kid’s own castle which has relegated us to a couple of phone calls a week and two or three quick (quick to me, anyway) visits a month.

Petey and I are seriously missing this human we’ve created.

It’s like trying to lure a fawn to eat out of your hand. I try to be subtle and not make any sudden movements. Or pester with too many phone calls and emails. I don’t want to scare Bambi off, and clumsily miss a visit or cut one short by being too “Mom.”

So, when we are lucky enough to have The Kid join us for a meal, I try to make sure everything on the menu is either a childhood favorite or something new that will really be enjoyed.

Whenever we eat at Mom’s and something doesn’t turn out perfectly, she gets upset. I have to admit that I’d get a little impatient because it was just a burned roll, or a veg that finished late — no big deal.

But now I understand. A few weeks ago The Kid came for Sunday lunch, and I made a family fave; porcupine meatballs (or as we call them, road kill). I was crushed when they didn’t quite cook all the way through, and the rice was a little crunchy in spots. We were so eager to have our offspring over, and I had screwed it up.

My rational side (and spouse) tells me The Kid probably never gave it a second thought.

Last weekend we had our precious guest for dinner. We had bacon wrapped tri-tip, salad, Whole Food’s really delicious yeast rolls, peas, and a tasty new potato dish.

Horseradish Baked Mashed Potatoes

3 pounds waxy potatoes

1 medium-large russet potato

1 Bay leaf

4 sprigs rosemary

1 1/4 teaspoons dry thyme, divided

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Kosher salt

12 peppercorns + freshly cracked

5 tablespoons butter

½-1 cup buttermilk (approximately)

1/3 cup provolone, shredded

2 tablespoons horseradish

1/2 cup shredded horseradish jack (I use Taste of Inspirations brand available at Food Lion) tossed with 1/4 teaspoon of the thyme and paprika, then set aside.

Peel and cut up potatoes to similar size. Place in a large pot. Cover with cold water by about 2 inches. Add 3 tablespoons salt, bay leaf, 4 sprigs fresh rosemary. In an infuser or cheesecloth, place 1 teaspoon dry thyme and 12-15 peppercorns. Add to water. Boil until knife easily pierces potatoes. Drain, removing any herbs from spuds.

Put potatoes back into pot, along with salt and pepper to taste, and cold butter cut into pieces.

Mash with potato masher until mostly smooth, with a slight chunkiness.

Stir in provolone, horseradish, and about 1/2 cup buttermilk.

Check for seasoning. Stir in only enough buttermilk as needed, you want it stiffer than normal (like biscuit dough). It loosens while baking, and you don’t want it runny when serving. Spoon into greased casserole dish.

Bake covered for 20 minutes at 350.

Uncover, sprinkle on horseradish cheddar, and bake for 30 more minutes. Then put under broiler, and watch until the cheese is browned and crusty. Remove from oven, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Serves 6-8.

So there you have my pathetic tale of woe (and a new way to enjoy spuds).

Your children have the ability to turn you inside out forever. For those living in an empty nest, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

And for parents who are lucky enough to have kids still living at home — just you wait. It’ll come sooner than you think.

Thanks for your time.

Cream Of Insert Name Of Ingredient Here Soup

Originally published in the Herald Sun 9/13/2012

When I was pregnant, and The Kid was just about done cooking, one of my oldest friends, Kiki, came to help the beached whale that was me, and to make sure Petey had food to eat, and clean boxers to wear.
While she was visiting we ate, a lot. One of our favorite things was to get a fresh baguette and a big hunk of brie, and eat until the bread was gone, or we passed out, whichever came first.
One evening, for a change of pace, and some actual nutrition, Kiki decided to make us cream of mushroom soup, with a big salad.
At this point, the only cream of mushroom soup I had any familiarity with was the gray slimy glop in the can. And then, only as an ingredient in a casserole.
But Kiki had been to culinary school, knew what she was doing, and promised me the soup would be yummy.
In about thirty minutes, I waddled out to the kitchen to taste.
It was rich, creamy, and redolent of caramelized mushrooms, chardonnay, and thyme. I was a convert.
The best part of all was that my friend assured me that the soup was a breeze to make.
A few years later, I picked up a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook at the Durham library book sale.
Leafing through it, I saw a recipe for asparagus sauce. It wasn’t a sauce for the vegetable, but a sauce made with asparagus, to serve on chicken, or fish.
Since it was in season, and there were tons of gorgeous ‘goose’ (Kid-speak for the spears) available, I decided to give it a whirl.
It was basically asparagus, sautéed with some onion, then pureed with water.
It was pretty darn awful.
So, there I am, standing in the kitchen, staring down at a big pot of beautiful, yet inedible sauce.
Then I remembered Kiki’s soup. So, I put in some chicken stock, and added some heavy cream.
I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but that pot of yucky sauce turned into a pot of silky, delicious cream of asparagus soup.
That was the day I figured out cream soups.
It’s less a recipe and more of a technique. You can use any vegetable you’d like. If you buy what’s in season, you’ll get the freshest, cheapest veggies.
For the directions, I’ll use broccoli.

Cream Soup
Serves 6
2 heads fresh broccoli cut into florets
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 Tbl butter
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
1 ½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl snipped chives or chopped parsley
Blonde roux (equal parts butter and flour cooked on low until lightly browned)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Holding back two cups florets, sauté broccoli and onion in butter, until onions turn translucent. Add wine, and let reduce until almost dry (called “au sec”; pronounced “oh seck”).
In a food processor or blender, purée cooked veg, adding a little of the stock to keep it loose enough to blend. Pour this back into your soup pot.
Add the rest of the stock and the cream.
To thicken the soup (you may not want to, but I like mine so thick a spoon almost stands up in it):
If you are using roux, allow the soup to come to a boil, and stir in roux until it is the thickness you like,
For the cheese, you want the soup below a simmer, not boiling, or it will separate and get grainy. Slowly whisk the cheddar in, a bit at a time, letting it melt completely before adding more to the pot.
Check for seasoning, and add the raw florets. When the raw broc has cooked in the soup for ten minutes or so, it’s ready.
Spoon into mugs and garnish top with chives or parsley.

The neat thing about this soup is that you can get really creative.
Using carrots? Garnish with chopped crispy bacon, and add a little cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg (Don’t use the pre-ground canned nutmeg. It lost all the volatile oils, and flavor long before it reached the grocery shelf.)
Trying to make a mushroom soup as good as Kiki’s? Add fresh thyme, and maybe a bit of rosemary. And next time you make a recipe calling for cream of mushroom soup, you can use your own, homemade ambrosia, instead of that can.
Really, any veggy that catches your eye in the market will work, even a leafy veg, like spinach or cabbage. Just remember, if you choose hard vegetables like potatoes, or a fall squash, chop them a bit smaller, and par boil or toss them in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes so they won’t have to cook from a raw state in the soup (which will take forever).
On a cool, rainy day, there’s nothing better than a grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm soup.
Actually, there is.
A grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm, homemade soup.
Thanks for your time.