August 27, 2013 Chocolate Mint Sorbet

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When given a choice between ice cream and sorbet, nine times out of ten I am going to opt for ice cream. But when the frozen treat is made with rich dense chocolate and cool refreshing mint I will be the first to make my choice sorbet.

Sorbet, by definition is a frozen dessert that contains no dairy or eggs. Most of the time it is made with a fruit base, but in this recipe, chocolate, in the form of semi or bittersweet chunks and cocoa powder bring an unexpected creamy smoothness to the frozen treat.

Making sorbet is relatively easy. It starts with a syrup that combines the simplest of ingredients, granulated sugar and water. The typical one to one ratio of many simple syrups is increased in this recipe to more than three to one (water to chocolate) because of the addition of sweetened chocolate to the syrup. If you chose to use unsweetened chocolate the syrup should be sweeter. The two are brought to a boil, taken off the heat and infused with sprigs of mint.

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Mint with blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mint is one of the easiest herbs to grow and we have many varieties in our garden. It is a perennial (meaning it will come up every year) and can quickly become invasive. Either choose an area in the garden where you don’t mind if it spreads or plant mint in containers. I chose spearmint for my sorbet, it has a milder, sweeter flavor than the more robust flavor of peppermint. Mint can be quite intense so taste your syrup after it has steeped a bit. A half hour is usually my stopping point. The mint should bring a refreshing flavor and never overwhelm the mixture. Strain the simple syrup, I like to do this several times to ensure no particles of mint are left behind. Return the syrup to a simmer add the chopped chocolate and cocoa powder and whisk until smooth. Choose a good quality chocolate for your sorbet since it will be the star of the dish. In a 2008 taste test with a large selection of brands, Cooks Illustrated recommended both Callebaut and Ghirardelli, the later having a wider distribution in many supermarkets.

Whisk the mixture until smooth. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled, overnight works best. Be sure to stir the mixture before adding it to the ice cream maker.  If you don’t own an ice cream maker you can still make this dessert. Place the mixture in a shallow wide stainless steel pan and place in the freezer for several hours until set. Remove the pan from the freezer and puree the almost frozen mixture in a food processor. Return this mixture to the pan, cover and freeze several hours before serving. The texture will be more grainy, like a granita, but just as delicious. Let the sorbet stand at room temperature for about ten minutes to soften before scooping. So when you crave something cold and minty with some satisfying richness, try this delicious treat.

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Chocolate Mint Sorbet

Makes 5 cups

Ingredients

  • 3/4c granulated sugar
  • 3c water
  • 6 4-inch sprigs of peppermint, spearmint or chocolate mint
  • 6 oz premium bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1/2c unsweetened cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the mint, cover, and remove from the heat and steep for 30 minutes. Strain and return the syrup to the saucepan.
  2. Return the syrup to a simmer. Add the chocolate and cocoa, remove the pan from the heat and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate until thoroughly chilled. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s directions.
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Infusing mint into the simple syrup.
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After straining the mixture, add both chocolates and whisk thoroughly.

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August 26, 2013 Curried Yellow Squash Soup

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It’s around this time of year when the output of garden produce really starts to sneak up on us. The mounting pile of zucchini/yellow squash were calling out to me again. Joe was “looking forward” (not!) to yet another trip to the dentist. Not certain of the state his mouth would be in when he got home, I decided to make a curried summer squash soup. No chewing required!

Curried summer squash soup gets it’s heat from Thai curry paste. A paste, as opposed to a curry powder is made up of mostly wet ingredients. A Thai cookbook I have lists fourteen different recipes for curry paste. Green curry paste is a combination of aromatic herbs such as lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime and gets its color from fresh green chilis. Red chili paste uses dried red chilis.  We grow many of the uniquely Thai ingredients and someday should make my own but I decided on the convenience of a jarred variety.

Since green curry paste is considered the hottest, add it to your own taste. Start with a half teaspoon and go from there. We like a little heat so I used a whole tablespoon.

This recipe is very simple. I peeled the bumpy skin and removed the seeds from the squash.  Just a little chopping, sautéing and into the blender for a spin. It’s equally good hot or cold. The mild nutty flavor of the squash pairs nicely with the heat of the curry paste. Top with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro for a creamy warming summer taste treat.

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Curried Yellow Squash Soup

Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appetit

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 3T vegetable oil
  • 4c chopped yellow squash (zucchini would be fine also)
  • 3/4 c chopped onion
  • 1/2t to 1T Thai green curry paste
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3 1/2c low sodium chicken broth
  • Sour cream
  • Cilantro sprigs

Directions

  1. In a medium saucepan heat 3T vegetable oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add squash, onion and curry paste. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Cook until tender, 8-10 minutes.
  3. Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender, 25-30 minutes.
  4. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. Taste to correct seasonings.
  5. Serve soup warm or cold, topped with sour cream and cilantro sprigs.
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Summer squash of different sizes.
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I like to remove the seeds before chopping them.
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Two large squash made four generous cups of cubed squash.
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Saute squash and onion in a saucepan.
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The squash becomes silky smooth in the blender.
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Delicious warm or cold.

 

August 22, 2013 Zucchini Lasagna

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When you grow big zucchini, make zucchini lasagna. In this recipe, zucchini or yellow squash “noodles” replace the usual pasta. I cut the zucchini in half lengthwise first so that I would have a flat surface to work with. A mandoline works best here. In case you didn’t know, a mandoline, also spelled mandolin is a hand operated kitchen tool with adjustable blades that produces uniform slices. They can cost anywhere from about  two hundred dollars for a professional stainless steel style model all the way down to less than twenty dollars for a plastic model. The more expensive models will slice, julienne and waffle cut, the less expensive ones just slice. Whatever model you choose, use the hand/finger guard when you run the food against the blade, believe me, I speak from personal experience.  If you have steady hands and no slicer, use a sharp knife and be sure to use a cutting board to stabilize the squash to ensure even slices. Since zucchini is 95% water it is best to precook it to reduce excess moisture that will end up in your finished dish. Some of the recipes I saw suggested parboiling, sautéing, but I found that grilling worked well for me. My version is totally vegetarian. If you want something more substantial, add ground beef, turkey or sausage to your sauce. Just like regular lasagna, it tastes even better the next day, if it lasts that long!

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Zucchini Lasagna

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 3-4 long zucchini/yellow squash
  • 4c thick tomato sauce
  • 1 15oz container of regular or low fat ricotta cheese
  • 3 lightly beaten eggs
  • 2T fresh chopped basil
  • 2T fresh chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1t dried oregano
  • Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  • 1 11/2 c grated Parmesan cheese or other similar grated cheese
  • 1lb grated  mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place baking rack in the lower position.
  2. Cut squash into 1/4″ inch thick slices, to fit the pan lengthwise, if your squash is shorter, just orient the slices in the opposite direction, just be sure they cover the pan.  You should have enough slices to make three layers.
  3. Heat a grill pan or an outdoor grill to medium high heat. Brush both sides of the slices lightly with olive oil.
  4. Grill squash slices on both sides so that they have grill marks, 3-5 minutes each side. Squash should be cooked but not falling apart.
  5. In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, eggs, parsley, basil, oregano and a cup of the Parmesan cheese. Reserve the rest for the top layer.
  6. In a 9×13 glass or ceramic dish, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Place the first layer of squash over the sauce. Spoon a third of the ricotta mixture over the squash. Sprinkle with a third of the mozzarella cheese. Repeat the layers two more times, sauce, “noodles” ricotta, ending with the mozzarella cheese and reserved Parmesan from step four.
  8. Bake for one hour, rotating pan half way through cooking time. Let lasagna rest for at least a half hour before serving.
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I used my Matfer mandolin slicer, a gift many years ago to get neat uniform slices.
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Slices should be 1/4″ thick
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Use the grill or a grill pan to slightly cook the zucchini.
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Fresh zucchini with tomato sauce, delicious!

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August 20, 2013 An August Summer Salad

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That purplish red in your salad mix back in the eighties used to be red cabbage, there’s a good chance now your salad mix is called mesclun and the slightly crunchy burgundy red component is radicchio. Placed side by side, red cabbage and radicchio might look alike with their shiny smooth leaves and tight heads but that is where the similarities end.

Radicchio (pronounced rah DEE kee oh) is a member of chicory family that also includes endive, escarole and frisee. Originally cultivated and imported from the Veneto region of Italy, it is widely grown domestically by both commercial and home gardeners. Once again, we get our seeds from a company, Seeds of Italy. We have grown both the Treviso that produces heads that grow taller, much like a Romaine lettuce and the Verona that produces a rounder more compact head reminiscent of Bibb lettuce.

Our mid summer planting of radicchio will eventually yield tight magenta red heads with bright white ribs when the cooler temperatures of fall arrive. The initial growth is bright green, a little bit fuzzy, already displaying it’s characteristic bitter flavor. A good way of introducing reluctant palates to bitter greens is to pair them with contrasting flavors. Combining bitter greens with sweet, salty and acidic ingredients is a good way of taming their flavor and balancing out the bitterness. Since I needed to thin out both beet greens and radicchio I combined the bitter greens of the radicchio with the milder beet green.

Tangy pickled blackberries were an interesting addition to this salad. A recent recipe for them in Food and Wine magazine intrigued me enough to make a few pints from berries I picked up at the farmers market. I wasn’t sure where I would use them, perhaps with some thick juicy pork chops, but this salad seemed like the perfect opportunity to try them out. The sweet and sharp flavor of the berries contrasted nicely with the radicchio.  Crisply cooked cubes of pancetta provided a fatty and salty contrast.  A little bit of finely julienned pickled ginger and sweet earthy raw beets gave color, texture and yet another flavor element. The final touch, a dressing made with blackberry ginger balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a little Boursin cheese to provide a creamy element. A totally improvised and very flavorful way to use our baby greens.

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These baby radicchio plants look nothing like the mature plants of the fall.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radicchio and Beet Green Salad

Serves two

Ingredients

  • 1/2c creamy herb cheese (like Boursin)
  • 2 1/2T balsamic vinegar (I used a blackberry ginger balsamic)
  • 1T water
  • 1/3c extra virgin olive oil
  • 4-5 cups of baby beet and radicchio greens
  • 1/4c diced pancetta, cooked until crispy
  • 1/2c finely julienned raw beets
  • 2T finely julienned pickled ginger
  • 1/4c pickled blackberries (recipe follows) you could also substitute fresh black or blueberries
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

  1. In a small food  processor, pulse the cheese with the vinegar, water and olive oil until the dressing is smooth. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
  2. Place beet and radicchio greens on a serving platter, top with julienned beets, pancetta and pickled ginger. Toss with enough dressing to lightly coat, there will be some left over. Sprinkle blackberries on top. Finish with a grind of pepper.

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Spiced and Pickled Blackberries

Makes 4 1/2 cups

Ingredients

  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 2 juniper berries
  • One 1/2-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced
  • 1 small bay leaf
  • 2c red wine vinegar
  • 2c water
  • 6T sugar
  • 3T kosher salt
  • 1 shallot, quartered lengthwise
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 18 ounces fresh blackberries

Directions

  1. In a mortar, lightly crush the peppercorns with the allspice, juniper berries, ginger and bay leaf. Transfer to a medium saucepan and add the vinegar, water, sugar, salt, shallot and thyme. Bring just to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and the salt. Let the brine cool completely.
  2. Strain the brine into clean glass jars and add the blackberries. Cover and refrigerate for at least a week before serving.
  3. Pickled blackberries can be refrigerated for up to 3 months.

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August 13, 2013 Shaved Squash Salad with Sunflower Seeds

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On rainy days like today that cute little zucchini that you decided to leave on the vine for just one more day will now resemble a baseball bat when you go to the garden to look for it tomorrow. Don’t get me wrong, I love zucchini. I dream of zucchini in the winter and bemoan that I have to pay $1.29 or more a pound for a vegetable I had buckets of only a few months ago. Our current glut of zucchini/yellow squash called for a new recipe. This summer we have gone the usual route and sautéed them with garlic and basil, cut large ones like spaghetti and tossed them with pesto and even breaded and fried them, a throwback, and might I say a delicious one, from Joe’s childhood.

I decided as a change of pace this time to serve zucchini raw or crudo as the Italians say. Which is quite apropos since many of the summer squash varieties we grow are from Italian varieties.  One of the characteristics I appreciate about some Italian varieties is that they grow longer, not fatter if they are left on the vine for a longer period of time. I use a special peeler for the zucchini spaghetti-like noodles that I toss with pesto, this recipe requires nothing fancier than an everyday vegetable peeler. Wash and trim the ends from your squash. Our yellow variety has a bumpy skin that I peel off first and discard. It’s easy to make several flat planes to peel off thin ribbons of squash. Just stop peeling before you get to the seeds.

The recipe called for some torn basil leaves. To intensify the lemon flavor in the salad, I harvested some of our Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil. It was first grown by, surprise, Mrs. Burns in southwest New Mexico as early as the 1920’s. Mrs. Burns’ is an heirloom variety (grown prior to 1940) that is taller and has larger leaves than other lemon basil varieties. Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil is also known for it’s intense lemon fragrance and flavor.

The tender squash ribbons are combined with some creamy and salty feta and summer squashes’ most frequent companion, basil. Though the Mrs. Burns variety has larger leaves that most lemon basil varieties, they are still small enough to add whole leaves to the dish. The salad is tossed with a simple dressing of fresh lemon juice and a flavorful olive oil and topped with crunchy sunflower seeds. The salad is light with a satisfying crunch. It’s quick to assemble and visually pleasing, especially if you use both yellow and green squash. Try other combinations with the ribbons, halved cherry tomatoes and some Parmesan, corn and avocado, the possibilities are limitless. A different and healthy way to use the bounty of the garden at it’s peak.

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Shaved Summer Squash with Sunflower Seeds

Bon Appetit August 2013

Serves four

Ingredients

  • 2 large or 4 medium zucchini and/or yellow squash
  • 2T fresh lemon juice
  • 2T extra virgin olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/4 to 1/3c  crumbled feta
  • 1/4 c basil leaves, torn if large, left whole if very small
  • 2T salted, roasted sunflower seeds

Directions

  1. Shave squash lengthwise with a vegetable peeler, stopping before you get to the seeds.
  2. Toss squash ribbons with lemon juice and olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
  3. Top with feta, basil leaves and sunflower seeds.
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A sharp vegetable peeler is all you need to make the squash ribbons.
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Mrs. Burns’ lemon basil
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Mrs. Burns’ son, Barney, was one of the founders of Native Seeds/SEARCH and introduced this heirloom variety to growers everywhere.

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August 11, 2013 Roasted Beet, Beet Green and Peach Salad

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This salad celebrates the beginning of one beet crop, the harvest of another and beautiful local peaches from the farmers market.

In the last several years we have discovered the advantages of succession planting. Succession planting means that with some shorter season crops, like salad greens, beets and carrots, we plant fewer rows at one time but we do multiple plantings throughout the growing season for a continuous harvest. Our most recent planting of beets is the fifth of the season, this works well for us since we are only feeding ourselves, friends and family with the vegetables we grow.

Beet “seeds” are actually a dried fruit or a seed cluster that is made up of 2-6 seeds. So if you only planted one beet seed, you would still get several plants. The first thinning can occur when the seedlings are about 2 inches in height leaving the healthiest plants to mature. Snip the greens with scissors at soil level so as not to disturb the remaining plants. This will allow the remaining plants to gain more water, sunlight and nutrients from the soil. If you don’t thin, you will get all tops (unless that’s what you wanted) and there will not be enough space for the roots to develop into healthy round beets. We do a second thinning when the greens are a little bit larger. Some of those greens can still be used in salads, the larger greens are best sautéed with a little garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Beets are in the same family as spinach and chard and the greens share a similar mild flavor.

So what is the difference between red and yellow beets? Beats me! Now could I resist that one? Other than the fact that they don’t “bleed” like red beets, the only other difference is their flavor is a bit milder than the red varieties.

Roasting beets in foil brings out their sweet, earthy flavor and is the easiest and neatest way to cook them. If you are roasting both red and golden beets wrap them separately so the colors won’t bleed together. Scrub your beets well, no need to peel at this point, cut or snap off the top and trim the root end.  Place them on a sheet of heavy foil, top with a splash of olive oil, salt and pepper and maybe a sprig of thyme. My beets are rarely uniform in size, so I start checking them in 45 minutes. Beets that are easily pierced with a tip of a knife are ready. Once the beets are sufficiently cooled, the skins slip off easily.

Both yellow and white fleshed peaches are in season now at our local farmers market.  The standard yellow peach we are all familiar with has deep yellow skin with a vibrant red or pink blush and yellow flesh. White fleshed peaches have grown in popularity since the 1980’s when heartier varieties were developed that could be shipped to markets. The skin of the white peach is pale and pink with pale flesh and in the case of these peaches, tinged with vibrant red. White peaches are sweeter than their tarter yellow counterparts and are best enjoyed fresh, not cooked.

In this salad I combined the last of current beet harvest with the delicate baby greens of our most current planting along with sweet white peaches, creamy goat cheese and some toasted walnuts. The peach flavor was even more enhanced with a vinaigrette made with a peach balsamic vinegar from The Tubby Olive. A white wine vinegar combined with a touch of sweetness from honey or agave sweetener could substitute.

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Roasted Beet, Beet Green and Peach Salad

Ingredients

  • 3 small beets, roasted and cut into wedges
  • Olive oil, kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2 peaches, pitted and sliced
  • 6 ounces mixed greens- I used beet thinnings, any combination of baby greens will do
  • 1/4c peach or white wine vinegar
  • 3/4c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 t  Dijon mustard
  • 1 t honey or agave sweetener, if using white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 to ½ cup blue or goat cheese, crumbled
  • ¼ cup walnuts, toasted and chopped

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425° degrees F.
  2. Wash and scrub the beets well.
  3. Place beets on a large piece of aluminum foil, season with a splash of olive oil and a little salt and pepper then fold the foil into a packet. Place the foil on a cookie sheet to catch any drippings and roast 45 minutes or until tender when poked with the tip of a knife. Allow beets to cool 15 minutes. Once cool, peel the skins off using your fingers or a paring knife (they should come off easily).
  4. Slice the beets into wedges and set aside.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, oil, mustard, and honey until completely combined.
  6. In a large salad bowl, add the mixed greens and toss with desired amount of dressing.
  7. Add the peach slices, roasted beets and toss again.
  8. Serve salad with roasted walnuts and crumbled cheese on top.
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The most recent harvest of golden beets.
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Beet greens ready to harvest for a salad.
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Roasted golden beets, the skin peels off quite easily.

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August 8, 2013 Pesto Summer Vegetable Salad

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This isn’t a recipe as much as it is a formula. In the summer months when we are enjoying vegetables fresh from the garden and the farmers market, we have the occasional leftover. A cup of cooked beans, several ears of corn, cherry tomatoes, roasted peppers, you get the idea. I decided one evening to combine what I had on hand into a summer vegetable salad that I dressed with a few splashes of a lemon vinegar and a few tablespoons of fresh pesto from the garden. You could even add a grain like quinoa or some cooked pasta. A quick and easy side dish, as long as you have pesto on hand. And why shouldn’t you? Take advantage of your garden’s or the farmers market’s fresh basil and make a batch today.

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Basil Pesto

Makes 1 cup

Ingredients

  • 3 cloves of peeled garlic
  • 3T pine nuts or walnuts
  • 1/4t salt
  • 3c gently packed basil leaves
  • 1/2c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c freshly grated Parmigiano

Directions

  1. Chop the garlic, pine nuts and salt in a food processor until finely ground, about 15 seconds. Add the basil leaves and process until no whole leaves remain, another 15 seconds or so.
  2. With the machine running, pour the oil through the feed tube in a steady stream. Stop and scrape down the sides, process for a few more seconds.  The mixture should be ground to a paste-like consistency with a little of the leaves texture still remaining.
  3. Add cheese and pulse until incorporated.

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Pesto Summer Vegetable Salad

Serves four to six

Ingredients

  • 8 c mixed vegetables such as cooked asparagus spears, cut into thirds, avocado slices, roasted or raw pepper strips, cooked corn off the cob, cherry tomatoes, sliced in half. cooked green or yellow beans in 1″ pieces, roasted portabello mushroom strips, cucumber rounds, cooked zucchini slices-try to have a variety of at least three
  • White wine, Sicilian lemon or another light vinegar
  • Basil pesto
  • Crumbled feta or goat cheese

Directions

  1. For the dressing, in a small bowl, stir together 3 tablespoons pesto and 1 tablespoon vinegar.
  2. Place vegetables in a large bowl.Add just enough vinaigrette to moisten the vegetables taking care not to overdress it (you may not need it all). Add the feta, if using and toss again. Let the salad rest for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld and then taste the salad again. If necessary, add a little viniagrette and salt and pepper. Serve as soon as possible.

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August 3, 2013 From Farm to Table Dinner

DSC_1204aSaturday, July 27th was a beautiful summer day and the the date for the fifth annual “From Farm to Table” dinner benefiting the Heritage Conservancy of Bucks County. The conservancy is an accredited not for profit conservation organization that has protected the open spaces, natural resources and historical properties of Bucks County, Pennsylvania for over fifty years. Since it’s conception in 2009, the venue for “From Farm to Table” has been Lindsay Farm in Jamison Pennsylvania.

Donated to the conservancy in the year 2000, Lindsay Farm is a 197 acre former dairy farm that dates back to the Revolutionary War. Good friends of ours first made us aware of the dinner and the organization and we have attended since the conception of the event five years ago. Memberships, ticket sales from the dinner, silent and live auction items all benefit the conservancy’s efforts to preserve land in Bucks County.

The menu created by the chefs at Earl’s Bucks County and Jamie Hollander Catering showcased the seasonal bounty of Bucks County and the surrounding area. The menu was built on a foundation of  locally sourced, fresh and organic produce and meats. Guests enjoyed both stationery and passed hors d’oeuvres while walking around the grounds before adjourning to the big white tent for a delicious buffet dinner.

As always, the event ran smoothly and we had the winning bid for two of the live auction items. As a former off-premise caterer I especially appreciate the planning and hard work it takes to execute an event like this successfully. I have read that for the past several years this event has been sold-out and is regarded by one publication as the prime “foodie” event in Bucks County. For me it’s an evening to enjoy time with friends, sample delicious food and make a contribution to help, if only a small amount to the preservation of the ever decreasing open spaces and farmland of Bucks County.

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Mexican station with spicy salsas, relishes and crispy tortillas.
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Smoked oyster mushroom en croutes topped with thyme cream.
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Earl’s gazpacho
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Corn taco with carne asada and goat cheese
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Watermelon gazpacho with cucumber lids.
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Dinner was served buffet style under the tent.
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Our plated first course, heirloom tomato stacked salad with micro greens and wine berry vinaigrette.

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