Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Early Spring Greens Harvest

In case you didn't believe me about the gastronome awakening to Miner's Lettuce and other seemingly weedy spring greens, I went recipe hunting through the currents and found this great posting from Seattle's Ballard neighborhood:

...and this one from the highly reputable Nostrana restaurant in Portland.  See the goat cheese Pappardelle listing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Stalking Wild Greens

When talking about weeds, I find the least accusitory definition is "any plant not wanted in the location it grows".  Often in gardening, and definitely in the Pacific Northwest, our most common garden-variety weeds are wild-grown native plants, edible or otherwise useful.  One has only to decide to put them to their use.  If, in your own garden, you're not content with the natural invasions of inconspicuous foliage bearing unpretentious blooms, consider tasting them...if only once.  It's possible you'll enjoy the sweet flavor and juiciness of Miner's Lettuce, and be tempted to further harvest them for salads, smoothies, and fresh eating.

Miner's Lettuce (Montia perfoliata), is a Pacific Northwest wild native that got its name from history's gold miners who sought its freshness in late winter through early spring.  Take a look around your own yard and you may find some.  Gastronomes are rediscovering the consumable value of this and other garden-variety weeds.  These days, it is increasingly found at farmers' markets.  For some, it's always held value.  During the winter and spring that I worked the landscape crew in Laurelhurst Park, I saw the same petite grandmother harvest a large patch on the park's grounds several times.

So how do you go about harvesting this diminutive lilypad-looking green?  This simple instructional video shows how to make the most of one of our early spring "weeds".

Saturday, March 26, 2011

So you can spend more time gardening

Try this in your slow cooker:

Chicken Paprikash, known in our house as
Lulu's Chicken Dumpling Soup

1 4lb. chicken
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1-1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. paprika
chicken bouillon cubes to taste
pepper to taste
2 eggs
1-1/2 tsp. salt
1 C. all-purpose flour
(3 C. cooked chicken from the original 4 lb. chicken)
4 T. unsalted butter
2 C. onions, chopped
1 T. roasted garlic, minced
1/2 C. all-purpose flour
3 C. cooked chicken (I use Trader Joe's frozen boneless seasoned chicken strips)
1 T. Smoked Tabasco (chipotle sauce)

1.  Place the chicken, salt, red pepper flakes and paprika in your slow cooker.  Fill the stoneware 3/4 of the way full with water.  Cover; cook on low for 9 hours or high for 3-4 hours.

(While the chicken cooks, how about pulling some of those early "weeds"?  Cardamine, or Bittercress, can be harvested for fresh salad greens, as can Miner's Lettuce.  Cardamine has a peppery flavor, and a unique bitterness that is best enjoyed in very small amounts.  Miner's Lettuce has a sweet flavor and juiciness that makes for great fresh eating.  Keep an eye out for them.)

2.  Remove the chicken from the slow cooker and turn the temperature to high.  Add water as needed to bring the volume back up to 2/3 -  3/4 full.  Add bouillon cubes to taste.  This is your chicken broth.

3.  As the chicken cools slightly, put a skillet on the burner and add the 4 T. butter, chopped onions, and garlic.  Cook until the onion is translucent.  Stir in 1/2 C. flour until fully incorporated.  Pour in 1 Qt. of your chicken broth, stirring constantly, and add your additional 3 C. chicken to the broth.  Cover.  Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes.

4.  While your skillet simmers, separate the meat from the whole chicken and discard the skin and bones.  Cut the chicken meat into bite-size pieces.  You should get 3 C. cooked chicken from your 4 lb. bird.

5.  In a blender or food processor, combine the 3 C. cooked chicken from your whole bird, 2 eggs, 3/4 C. chicken broth from your slow cooker, 1 C. flour, and 1-1/2 tsp. salt.  Process until smooth.  This is your dumpling mixture.

6.  When slow cooker broth is boiling, add the contents of your small skillet to it and stir to incorporate mixture.  Let cook for 2-3 minutes.

7.  Drop dumpling mixture by rounded spoonfuls into boiling broth.  Simmer uncovered 5-8 minutes until well-formed and slightly browned.

8.  Add smoked tabasco to the slow cooker, and soup is ready to serve hot!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Raising Rhubarb

Did you ever eat the raw stems of rhubarb dipped in sugar?  I planted these for my husband, whose memories of the tangy sweet treat are fond.

This sweet little darling, Victoria, is reaching for sunlight to green and grow its ancient-looking leaves.  We have several planted in our little landscape, between ornamental perennials and container plants.  Last year was all patience, getting our tubers settled in.  But this, this will be a light harvest year if all goes well.  And 2012 will bring the bounty.

Rhubarb provides a magnificent prehistoric look to the landscape, similar to Gunnera but of much smaller stature.  If its rugged charm doesn't disarm you, and you're not content to allow edible plants idle in your landscape, tempt your friends and family with a rhubarb-strawberry crumble (recipe from Cooking Light, 2004).  And if the weather's right, make it an easy dutch oven dessert on your next trip to the mountain or the coast.

1/2  cup  all-purpose flour
1/2  cup  quick-cooking oats
1/3  cup  flaked sweetened coconut
1/4  cup  granulated sugar
1/4  cup  packed brown sugar
1/4  cup  chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
6  cups  (1/2-inch-thick) slices rhubarb (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2/3  cup  granulated sugar
2  tablespoons  cornstarch
Cooking spray
1/4  cup  strawberry spread (such as Polaner All Fruit)

Preheat oven to 375°.

Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour and the next 4 ingredients (flour through brown sugar) in a medium bowl; cut in butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal.

Combine rhubarb, 2/3 cup granulated sugar, and cornstarch in a large bowl, tossing to coat. Spoon rhubarb mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Drop strawberry spread by spoonfuls over rhubarb mixture; sprinkle with oats mixture. Bake at 375° for 40 minutes or until browned and bubbly.

Hellebore Hosanna

Cinnamon Snow, with seductive, dusky blooms glows in our woodland semi-shade.  Fully awake, leaves spreading dark green, she holds a small but significant foundation in our garden.  Who are first to greet us in the new year, delivering richness with a strength unfettered by recent frost, but our noble Hellebores, with passion and scent exuding.