Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Jazz up the Christmas feast with herbs from the garden


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Here is just one potential Christmas feast maximizing flavor from the herbs still providing in the garden at Christmas: 
Fig preserves with rosemary cheese for appetizer
Rosemary inspired rack of lamb
Garlic and herb roasted vegetables 
Fresh greens with hot bacon dressing 
Topped off with cranberry mint sorbet

Fig preserves and rosemary cheese 
To make the rosemary cheese, combine 8 ounces softened cream cheese, 3  ounces softened goat cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, and 1 teaspoon coarse black pepper.  Blend until smooth.  You can serve in a beautiful crystal dish or go for a mold.  For a molded cheese, put the mixture in the mold, chill for 2 hours, unmold onto serving plate (you can run warm water over the top of the mold to get it to release easier).  You are now ready to cover with fig preserves and serve with your favorite crackers. 

Figs are super easy to grow in pots.  I bought a Chicago hardy fig that survives in our Zone 6 garden.  I do bring it indoors each winter as a pot lowers the effective zone by 2.  If given a large pot, they will produce many fruits over the summer and fall season.  

If you want to make your own preserves, simply cook in a medium sauce pan 1 pound of fresh, ripe figs (washed and stem removed) with 1 cup of sugar for 30 minutes, uncovered.  If keeping in the refrigerator, you can pour directly into a sterilized quart jar or 2 pint jars, leaving a 1/8 inch head space.  If you want to store in the pantry, you will need to “process” your preserves.  This is really easy.  Just put in a large stock pan, covered with water.  Heat until boiling and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove using tongs, allow to cool, and store in a dark, cool place.

I put my hot jars on a kitchen towel so they are not “shocked” by the cold counter top.  I also use Weck canning jars since they are all glass, including the lid.  

Rosemary inspired rack of lamb
Stop by your local meat market and get a French cut rack of lamb. Remove the fat and gristle, coat the outside with olive oil then cover with a 1/2 cup crushed rosemary and 1/4 cup sea salt mix.  Roast fat side out at 425F for 35-40 minutes in the oven or on the grill until the interior temperature reaches 150F.  Let stand 10 minutes before slicing so that the juices won’t be lost during cutting.  If you prefer garlic, here is another rub option-2 cloves garlic, 3 tablespoons parsley, 2 teaspoons chives, 2 teaspoons thyme, 2 teaspoons rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon salt,  and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.  Mix together and coat the rack of lamb and cook as above.

Garlic and herb roasted vegetables
This recipe works with any really firm vegetables you like.  Here is one variation.  Cut 4 sweet potatoes, 3 medium turnips into 1.5 inch cubes, and 2 large onions into 1.5 inch wedges.  In a gallon plastic bag, place 12 cloves crushed, peeled garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram, 2 teaspoons salt, 6 tablespoons olive oil.  Mix thoroughly.  Add your cut veggies and squish them around until they are coated on all sides with the herb mixture.  Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  Roast in a 450F, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.

Potatoes, turnips and onions are all veggies that can be stored over winter if kept in the proper conditions.  Be sure to keep potatoes covered or in a dark place as when they turn green, they are toxic.  Sweet potatoes will keep for a month if kept in cool dry conditions and bagged with an apple to keep from sprouting.

Mixed greens with hot bacon dressing  
An old Southern favorite is hot bacon dressing.  Cook 4 slices bacon until crisp, reserving 2 tablespoons of the drippings (grease).  Crumble the bacon and set aside.  In a small sauce pan, combine 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons water, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon grated onion, 1/8 teaspoon dried mustard, bring just to boil and add bacon.  Remove from heat and whisk before serving.

There are greens still growing in the garden that are a perfect pair for the sweet hot bacon dressing-chard, sorrel, spinach, mustard greens, cultivated dandelions and even some winter hardy lettuce.

Cranberry mint sorbet
I am not a huge fan of the gelatin cranberry sauce.  This is a great way to include the traditional cranberry in a totally new and refreshing way.  

Combine in a medium sauce pan 3 1/4 cup water and 3/4 cup sugar, bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat, add 3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice, 2 tablespoons fresh mint and 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.  Allow to cool and strain.
  
Combine another 3/4 cup of water and 1/2 cup cranberries in a small sauce pan and bring to boil.  Cover, simmer for 8 minutes or until skins pop.  Cool completely.  Use food processor, process until smooth.  Strain out solids.

Combine orange and cranberry mixture and pour into 9x12” pan, cover and freeze.  Reprocess in food processor, half at a time and refreeze until ready to serve.

With this warm winter, straight from the garden herbs are an easy way to have dishes bursting with fresh flavor. 

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