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Weekend Herb Blogging

September 23, 2007

whb: Sausage-stuffed Lovage recipe

sausage stuffed lovage

Lovage is one of those obscure, sort of old-world herbs, that few people seem to have heard of. You may even have some in your garden, like some friends of mine, who were nevertheless, unsure exactly what it was - it looks, smells and tastes like celery, after all, but it never actually grows any celery stalks. Confusing beast.

My first recollection of lovage only goes back a decade, to one of those 9 course tasting menus at the Herbfarm, which included Columbia River sturgeon in a ragout of apples, leeks and lovage. While I liked it quite a bit, someoneElse announced then and there that he was going to have to figure out how to make it. I offered, "It's in his cookbook," and someoneElse has been offering me food with lovage ever since.

Most of the time, youngish leaves are used - they toughen as they get older, so save the mature stalks for soups and other dishes where you will remove them before serving - chopped up to lend a slightly more complex celery flavor to food.

lovage The stalks, however, are hollow and lend themselves to all sorts of interesting uses. As a straw, for example, for a bloody mary or other vegetable juice based drink. Rumor has it that you can candy the stems like angelica, although I have never done it. You can even make them into decorative thingies by slicing them and tossing the cut pieces into ice water. Strange but true. What I wanted to try was a bit different: creating an appetizer by stuffing the fattest stems I could find with...something.

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September 02, 2007

it's a bouncing baby blog!

adorable tomatoes I feel almost like a proud parent on the first day of school, watching my baby walk off alone into the big, bad world. (Somewhere, theKid is reading this and cringing.) In this case my baby is a it more virtual, and luckily the labor pains were much less painful. Welcome kitchenMage's Herb Garden to the World Wide Web!

Grown less than a mile from me on an organic farm, these tomatoes were downright inspiring. So much so that I had to let the garden open its gates before it was fully leafed out, so to speak, but I'd love it if you'd go visit.weekend herb blogging icon

Not much bigger than those tiny little tomatoes, the Herb Garden is showing off a recipe I made up last night for Three Tomato Pasta - a fast and delectable way to use up a bit of the season's bounty (and my contribution to weekend herb blogging). And don't forget to wander over to Kalyn's Kitchen to check out this week's herb blogging roundup.

May 25, 2007

weekend herb blogging: In love with lovage

lovage leaves

Lovage (Levisticum officinale) is one of my favorite herbs you have never heard of. The herb's lack of public recognition always seems odd to me. It's a versatile herb with a palate-friendly flavor a lot like celery, yet more complex and nuanced. Fresh, young leaves are mellow enough to use whole in a salad, but it also stands up to long cooking in soups and stews.

The obvious presenting flavor of lovage is celery, but the flavor is more complex than that. Along with the concentrated celery is a large dose of the bright green flavor of parsley and a hint of something sweetly earthy. I use it as a celery substitute whenever it is available and find it provides some ineffable extra taste that I really like.

The hollow stem, a section of which can be up to a foot or more in length and an inch in diameter, makes an excellent straw for drinks, such as a Bloody Mary, where a celery flavor is desired. Lovage stems can be candied, like angelica, as an unusual sweet treat.lovage brush

Excuse me a moment of excitement, but I just discovered a new trick for lovage stems: sliced lengthwise and put in ice water, they curl like the ridged curling ribbon they make for wrapping presents! This offers all sorts of possibilities from the sublime (make a brush for putting melted butter on corn on the cob) to the ridiculous (edible icons of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). Curlicue garnishes. Hair for Halloween monsters. This could be fun.

Lovage is also a beautiful addition to your herb garden. Unfurling from asparagus tip-like bundles in early spring, lovage quickly becomes a hip-high bush of soft green foliage.closeup of new growth on lovage Midsummer sees flower spikes shooting to eye level before opening golden umbels that slowly mature into marvelously tasty seeds, something the birds know as well as I. Come fall, the birds and I vie for themature seeds, with my winnings finding their way into stews and breads over the winter.

Gardeners appreciate lovage because it is easy to grow, tolerating most soil condition and even a bit less water and sun than large, leafy herbs. (It is easy to tell when lovage is thirsty; mine, which is in direct sunlight, droops noticeably on hot days. Fortunately, it revives just as quickly with a bit of water.)

lovage flowersA perennial that, like tarragon, requires a period of cold dormancy, lovage is often grown as an annual in warm climates. If you have to do this, you can save your own seeds, stored in an airtight jar in the refrigerator, over the winter for spring planting.

You can often find plants at a local nursery, although probably not at a 'big-box' store, and seeds are available from a number of sources, including Territorial Seeds and Seeds of Change. Better yet, keep an eye out for a plant in the garden of a friend or neighbor; If you see one, don't be afraid to ask for a start for your garden. A single plant is enough to supply all but the most avid of lovage fan - and two will do for even them - and since lovage self-seeds, there are often small "volunteers" growing around the base of established plants. Spring (now as I write this) is the perfect time to divide lovage clumps, preferably on a cool, cloudy day.

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September 23, 2006

A cook's basket of herbs

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs.

Basketofherbs1 Basketofherbs3The onset of fall in evenTinierTown brings morning fog, cooling afternoon breezes, and the annual wine tasting and auction, an event that always brings out a crowd to sample food and drink before spending a few dollars on a variety of donated goods. Depending on the amount of wine involved, the spending may climb to more than a few dollars...or so goes the devious plan.

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September 02, 2006

whb: Lavender sugar

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. . This week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging is being guest-hosted at The Inadvertent Gardener.

LavsugarMany people have used vanilla sugar, and more than a few have some in the pantry (jar+vanilla bean+sugar+time=magic), but few have lavender sugar. Indeed, most folk I say "lavender sugar" to look at me blankly. This is too bad and something I think should be remedied immediately. Fortunately the solution is simple: jar+lavender buds+sugar

Lavender is lightly sweet, and adds a vaguely floral note to food. Too much can be cloying, or "soapy," something which using scented sugar helps avoid. It's hard to go overboard because your food gets too sweet long before it gets too lavendery. It's perhaps the best complement to berries out there, bringing out the berriness without dulling the flavor (as vanilla sometimes does). I use it to macerate berries for shortcake, in whipped cream, even in the shortcake. It's also great in sugar cookies and other lightly flavored treats.

If you buy lavender, make sure you get culinary not aromatic as the latter may have oils or other non-tasty things added. I pick mine from the garden — just when the buds are showing color, but before the flowers open — and use them fresh. As you can see from the picture, I'm not the most particular about cleaning out the papery part of the bud, but you could be if you have nothing else to do with your time.

I use about 2 tablespoons of buds for a quart jar of sugar and let it sit for a month before the first time I use it. I seldom use more than 1/2 a cup at a time so I just top off the sugar, shake it every time I take some out and it goes on forever. Well, almost. I usually add more lavender when I have a fresh harvest.

When using the sugar, you can pass it through a strainer to remove the buds or leave them in. I usually strain it for things like whipped cream or sprinkling on berries, but leave the buds in if cooking the sugar in something. You can also toss the sugar with buds in a food processor to grind it up a bit, which is what I do for lavender shortbread (recipe to be here soon).

July 22, 2006

Weekend Herb Blogging: Vanilla

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. This week's edition of Weekend Herb Blogging is being guest-hosted at The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz, where Paz kicks it off in style with a Chickpea Feta Coriander Salad from Falling Cloudberries.

Vanillaoffering_1 Vanilla. Plain old vanilla. People say it like it's a bad thing, a word that's meant to conjure a flavor barely worthy of mention. Bland. Boring. Vanilla.  Pat Boone has described hiimself as a "vanilla sounding artist." Bland. Boring. White bread. Heck, if white bread had a flavor besides white it would be vanilla. There's vanilla computer configurations, which are boring and basic, there's even vanilla sex. Well, I guess that last is not so far off; the very word vanilla is derived from the Latin for vagina. (file under: odd facts I learned today)

Our last house was painted a warm off-cream color called Pudding, the vanilla pudding was implied, but it was clearly the intent of the name. It was a color you would be happy to see in a vanilla custard; opaquely thick, barely off-white with the merest hint of color from beaten in egg yolks. It wasn't chocolate pudding, or butterscotch, or even banana. Had the paint manufacturer been smarter, they would have been direct and called it Vanilla — which is ever so much lusher than "pudding" and probably worth an extra buck a gallon.

Anyone with a wee bit of search skills can turn up some "vanilla" things that are anything but bland, boring, vanilla. Case in point: The Vanilla Tapes. Not exactly bland and boring. Neither is real vanilla.

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June 24, 2006

whb: grow your own sweet bay

Weekend Herb Blogging is Kalyn's weekly venture into the land of herbs and always offers a collection of international food writers weighing in with delightful ideas for using the goodness that is fresh herbs. This week's edition is being guest-hosted by Virginie at Absolutely Green who has a French-English blog with some yummy looking pictures of food and France both.

Baymidfeb06Of all the herbs in my garden, I brought three plants with me when I moved, leaving the rest to overwinter in a friend's yard while we got settled. A Tuscan Blue rosemary, the largest of the spanish lavender, and the sweet bay tree rode with me and the cats in the pickup truck. Had I been forced to a decision, the rosemary and lavender could have spent the winter with the rest, but the bay had to be with me.

Pretty strong feelings for an herb whose dried leaves are actually not too bad, widely available and usually inexpensive. For many cooks, bay is a necessary part of the melange of herbs used in things like soups, stews, pot roasts, and, of course, marinara sauce. When used this way, bay provides a difficult to describe flavor that adds a sort of depth and complexity to the dish without leaving a discernable flavor of its own. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Stewart, I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I don't taste it.

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December 11, 2005

Multigrain Rosemary Sage Crackers

Rosemarysagecrackers

One of the year-long herbs in my garden is rosemary, which I love paired with olive oil and a bit of salt. All three flavors come through in these deeply flavorful, yet delicate, cracker that I am sure to be making many variations in the months to come. Let's call this Weekend Herb Blogging, because it still is the weekend and I haven't played a meme all week. Kayln's got interesting herbs collected on her blog every weekend, do go check out this week's offerings.

These crackers were inspired by a combination of things: the flavor profile was derived from a recipe for Herbed Olive Oil Crackers from Jerry Traunfeld's The Herbfarm Cookbook, the addition of yeast was due to a recent batch of Lavash from The Breadbaker's Apprentice, and the use of the pasta machine comes from a recent conversation with Farmgirl.

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October 23, 2005

Weekend Herb Blogging: Borage

Kalyn, of Kalyn's Kitchen, has started an irresistible—well, at least to me—meme: Weekend Herb Blogging. Lacking in cats and dogs, but not garden, Kalyn dreamt up WHB as another option for food bloggers at play. Play? In an herb garden? I am so there!

Smpinkborage2

For my first foray, I am showcasing a bit of an aberration: a pink borage flower. As you can see from the picture, the densely-clustered flowers are a lovely periwinkle blue. When I went out the other day to snag a few pictures of the herb garden in late fall, I discovered one pink flower amongst the sea of icy blue. I've been growing borage for at least a decade now and it's the first pink flower I've seen so I was pretty jazzed. (What's that you say? I should get a life? laughs)

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