Sunday, December 14, 2014

Add garden fresh taste to Christmas dishes

Garden herbs
Sunday, December 14, 2014

Add a fresh edge to your Christmas dinner by using herbs straight from your own garden.  Herbs can be harvested all the way through the entire winter in most years.  If you are growing vegetables in a greenhouse or are having a mild winter, you can also be harvesting cold hardy greens for salads or cooking.

Herbs are easy and care free to grow and almost all of them are perennials.  That means you plant once and they come back year after year.  For more details on growing your own herbs, see my blog here

Jazzing up the flavor for the main dish
You can easily make poultry seasoning for poultry or red meat from herbs in your own garden.  Poultry seasoning adds great flavor to, of course, chicken or turkey, but also veggies, fish, casseroles, pasta.

The first commercial poultry seasoning was invented by William G. Bell, a Boston cook, in 1867.  His included sage, marjoram, rosemary, oregano, pepper and ginger.

I like to make my poultry seasoning with dried sage, parsley, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram.  Some add nutmeg, pepper, ginger , onion powder and/or cloves.

Here is my poultry seasoning recipe:
3 Tbl sage
1 Tbl parsley
1 Tbl thyme
1 Tbl marjoram or oregano
1 Tbl rosemary
For lamb, rosemary is a favorite herb pairing.  For all other red meats, I use a combination of whatever I grew in the garden this past summer.  I cut and dry at the end of the season, then mix in a paper bag and store in airtight containers.

“Herbes de Provence” contains herbs that are typical of the Provence region of southern France and are grown in French potagers (kitchen gardens).  I also include sage in my herbal seasoning mix.  These are herbs that were typically used in cooking by the French in this region:

Insure all spices are crumbled into tiny pieces so they will disperse evenly in your favorite prepared dish.  You can transfer the amount needed to a kitchen spice jar.  Keep the rest in a cool, dark location.For any spices, you want to keep them as fresh as possible.  They lose their flavor over time and quicker if exposed to heat/light.

Potager gravy
To make 2 cups of gravy, cook in a sauce pan, 1/2 cup of fresh chopped carrots, 1/2 cup of fresh chopped celery, 1 cup of chopped onions, 3 cloves of peeled and mashed garlic until browned.  Add 1 bay leaf, 3 cups of chicken or beef stock.  Simmer on low uncovered for an hour or so until reduced in about half.  Strain out all solids and combine 1 cup of stock with 1/4 cup of cream and 1/4 cup of flour, whisk until smooth.  Bring remaining stock to boil, add cream mixture, defatted meat pan drippings if desired, simmer until thickened.

Herbed mashed potato options
There are a few options for snazzing up your mashed potatoes.  For 5 pounds of potatoes, you can add 5 cloves of roasted garlic, 1 cup of sour cream, 8 ounces of cream cheese and enough buttermilk for consistency you prefer.  

Or how about 5 pounds of small potatoes that are cooked until tender, then tossed with 1 cup of butter, 3/4 cup freshly, finely chopped parsley, marjoram, chives and/or thyme.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

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.

Herbal salad dressing
You can keep it simple and flavor a good white wine vinegar with your favorite herb like tarragon for the salad.  Use a mild olive oil so that the flavor of the herb shines through.  Herbal vinegars are easy to make, but you need to make ahead.  Place the herbs in the vinegar and leave in a cool dark place for at least a week.  You can strain out the herbs before using after infused.

Homemade version of Hidden Valley Ranch is easy to make.  Just mix equal amounts of buttermilk, mayonnaise, and sour cream (half cup each).  Then add parsley, dill, garlic, onion (half teas), salt (quarter teas), and pepper (eighth teas) to taste.  If the mayonnaise is too overpowering, I substitute yogurt. 

This is the perfect time for fresh spinach salads.  Spinach and other greens are in season and loving this cool weather.

Artisanal butter
If you are making an herbal butter to serve, you would want more like 2 tablespoons of herbs to 1/2 cup of butter.  Add the herb that complements the dish you are serving.  

You can either serve in a dish, roll it into a log using plastic wrap, or form into a shape.  If you use a form, simply press the butter firmly into the form, then place the form in a shallow dish of hot water.  The butter should slide out easily after a little warming.

Mint inspired beverages and desserts
Mint is also still green and growing in our garden.  Mint is wonderful to add to teas, lemonades, hot chocolate or adult beverages, even to salads.  You can also incorporate into desserts.  Chop fresh mint and add to sorbet or ice cream.  You can incorporate in a food processor and refreeze until ready to serve.

Don't forget to check out your freezer for possibilities.  This year I am planning on incorporating frozen tomatoes into my Sicilian grandpa's spaghetti sauce and a tomato bisque, my frozen eggplant for eggplant parmesan, carrots and herbs in beef bourguignon, and frozen and fresh greens in a breakfast frittata.  Possibilities are endless for using herbs right from your garden and freezer to add fresh taste to any dish you make for the holidays!

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