Tag Archives: cooking with herbs

Herban Summer Cooking

I almost forgot that I’d contributed recipes to the June issue of Cooking Light. Some magazines, particularly the larger nationals like CL, have really long lead times for the articles. I’d turned those recipes in well over a year ago and moved on to many other things in the meantime. But when I flipped past page 87 and saw a lovely full-page photo of a lemon verbena gimlet

Lemon Verbena

Lemon Verbena

cocktail, my first thought was “wow, that sounds good right about now,” followed quickly by “hey, that sounds familiar!” A few other summer treats I concocted for that issue include the gingered blueberry shortcakes, arugula salad with chicken and apricots, and grilled flank steak tacos with avocado-lime salsa.

Much as I would have liked to whip up a lemon verbena gimlet right away, the recipe reminded me that my lemon verbena plant had not survived the extra-harsh winter we’d had in Seattle. A matter of days later, I’d rectified that with addition of a new lemon verbena plant, along with lemon balm, chervil, purple sage and a few other items I couldn’t resist. Is it EVER possible to go to the garden store and leave only with the items on one’s list?

Shiso

Shiso

Since then I’ve had shiso on my mind. Also known as perilla (though I’ve only ever known it to be called shiso), this distinctive herb is part of the mint family but has a much more complex flavor than any mint you may have tasted. Imagine mint blended with basil and a touch of anise and sweet grass….. For the cooking class I taught on Orcas early June, I’d done a recipe from my Crab
cookbook, a saladof sliced cucumbers, daikon, shredded shiso and crab in a light rice vinegar dressing.

And for a current project, for which I’m editing and testing many recipes from Seattle-area chefs who are participating in the next volume of Celebrated Chefs, shiso has come up a couple of times. One in a cucumber salad served with black cod from Jerry Traunfeld at Poppy, and another in a nectarine sauce served with mushroom-stuffed rabbit saddle from Bruce Naftaly at Le Gourmand. Shiso seems to be the herb of the moment, at least in my little world. Now I’m inspired to experiment with a cucumber-shiso

Happy thyme, tarragon and bronze fennel

Happy thyme, tarragon and bronze fennel

combo in a cocktail, may try that later today with some vodka and a splash of sake.

On my way home from Orcas I stopped at the amazing Christianson’s Nursery between La Conner and Mount Vernon. The shopkeeper at Neston Orcas had kindly clued me in to this glorious plant emporium when I inquired of her whether she’d ever seen shiso plants available in garden retail for the home garden. She made a quick call to Christianson’s and found out that not only did they have shiso, but carried both the green and red varieties. This is the most vast, lush, diverse, and inspiring nursery I’d ever been to. Part of me was sorry that I had only a bit of time to spend here, anxious to get back home before the crush of afternoon rush hour. The other part of me was happy about it, knowing every extra 10 minutes of looking around would add another $50 worth of plants to my bounty.

I did, of course, leave with more than just the shiso. One lime basil, some flat-leaf parsley, starts of peppery greens, a couple types of chiles (Lemon Drop and Cheyenne), and some floral picks to replant in a couple containers. I don’t have a big garden by any means, but I do thrill at what I am able to cultivate from my own little slice of urban farmland! In cocktails, salads, desserts, iced tea, maybe even a batch or two of ice cream — I sure am going to have fun playing around with these new herbs this summer.

herbs1

Chiles, salad greens and lime basil

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Cooking at Home: Fresh Bay Leaves

Fresh herbs are the norm in so many recipes today, a very happy change from those days when all our herbs were from little tin cans in the kitchen cupboard. That comes thanks both to the availability of fresh herb bundles in grocery stores and more of us home cooks growing chives, thyme and rosemary in our windowsills or patio containers. But one herb seems still relegated to the dry state: the bay leaf. It’s not an herb I’ve ever seen in fresh bundles at the store, and at farmers markets only occasionally, usually then as a nursery plant for the garden.

But I haven’t had to shop for bay leaves for a number of years. Not since I got

My happy bay tree

My happy bay tree

myself a little start in a 4-inch pot a decade or so ago. Now the plant’s a few feet tall and keeps me in fresh bay leaves year round.

When cooking simple steamed rice, I’ll toss in a bay leaf (torn in a few spots to help release the aromatic flavor) into the boiling water with the rice for a distinct boost in flavor. Added to any stew or soup, you’ll gain a more pronounced flavor with notes of spice, using fresh bay rather than dried. And no chicken goes into the oven around here without a couple bay leaves nestled underneath, a couple more tossed in the cavity.

By far one of the most interesting uses I know of for fresh bay leaves is this surprising dessert: bay leaf crème brûlée. This recipe was sent to me by chef Jerry Traunfeld for my very first cookbook, The Northwest Best Places Cookbook, which came out in 1996. Jerry was the longtime chef at the celebrated Herbfarm restaurant, which then was still in its original, more rustic location in Fall City east of Seattle. In fact, it’s because of that recipe (and the testing I needed to do) that I bought that little bay plant at the Herbfarm’s retail herb shop (which they no longer have at their newer Woodinville location).

Jerry’s hard at work putting finishing touches on his new restaurant, Poppy, which is due to open in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood in September. The web site shows some work-in-progress photos. He tells me that the bay plant he put in his home garden about 10 years ago is now 20 feet tall and nearly

Too bad this isn't scratch-n-sniff

Too bad this isn't scratch-n-sniff

taking over. And for an herb garden at his new restaurant, he just bought a new cultivar of bay, one with interesting wavy leaves.

If I can keep a bay plant alive for a dozen-plus years, anyone can. It sits on my patio in that pot year-round, no special treatment, no specific regimen of care. Once you start cooking with fresh bay, you won’t ever want to go back.

 

Bay Leaf Crème Brûlée (courtesy of Jerry Traunfeld)

 

2 cups whole milk

2 cups whipping cream

12 fresh bay leaves

1/2 vanilla bean, split, or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3 whole eggs

5 egg yolks

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Pinch salt

1/2 cup superfine sugar*

 

Bring the milk and cream to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Coarsely tear the fresh bay leaves and add them to the mixture along with the vanilla bean, if using. Remove the pan from the heat and let steep for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Beat the eggs, egg yolks, granulated sugar, vanilla extract (if using), and salt in a large bowl. Whisk in the steeped milk mixture until well blended. Strain the mixture through a fine sieve, discarding the bay leaves and vanilla bean. Pour the custard into eight 3/4-cup ramekins and set them in a shallow pan filled with 1 inch of hot water. Bake the custards until just set but still slightly jiggly, about 40 minutes. Let cool, then chill the custards for several hours or overnight.

Just before serving, sprinkle the surface of each custard with the superfine sugar, pouring off any excess. Using a small blow torch, caramelize the sugar just until nicely browned. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 servings

* Superfine sugar will melt and caramelize more evenly than regular granulated sugar, but you can use the latter if you wish.

from The Northwest Best Places Cookbook, Sasquatch Books, 1996

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