May 29, 2014 Cilantro Pesto with Shrimp


After spending some time weeding and watering in the greenhouse, Joe made an inspiring suggestion to me, “why don’t you make cilantro pesto sometime?” Now that the warmer temperatures have arrived, everything in the greenhouse is growing like mad. The lettuces are picture perfect and ready to harvest and a row of cilantro is at it’s best.

Cilantro, coriander, Chinese parsley, whatever you choose to call it, it’s one herb that people are rarely on the fence about. You either like it, or as I’ve heard often, feel it tastes like soap. Now maybe I haven’t consumed enough soap in my day, so I’m not sure what that’s all about.
Cilantro is one of our herb garden staples. It’s versatility takes it from Mexican to Thai, from salsas to curries. I decided to make a pesto that would accompany fresh Florida shrimp I purchased at our favorite seafood market, Hellers. Fresh, meaning never frozen, a rarity in this area. I decided to keep the pesto simple, no cheese, so that the bright flavor of the cilantro would shine through. Cilantro is the only herb I know of where the tender, and I must emphasize tender, stems have the same flavor and can be used along with the leaves. Limes would usually be my citrus of choice with cilantro, but since, I didn’t have any, they are quite expensive now and the ones I have purchased recently haven’t been that good, a juicy lemon would fill in quite nicely.

Toasted almond slivers added a subtle nutty quality to the pesto, walnuts or pine nuts are also good choices. I like to toast small quantities of  nuts in a dry nonstick skillet on the stove top. I find that when I toast nuts in the oven I am opening the door so frequently to shake the pan to avoid spotty burning, it’s easier to do them on the stove.

I chose an oil relatively new to me, avocado oil. It is cold pressed, high in monounsaturated fats and vitamin E. It’s flavor is mild and buttery. It can be used for skin and scalp care as well, but mine will stay in the kitchen.
The cilantro pesto was an excellent accompaniment to the shrimp that I cooked in the grill pan.  The addition of a little serrano pepper gave the pesto just enough heat.
As for some people’s dislike of cilantro, I read there is an essential oil found in the fresh leaves and unripe seeds that can be recognized immediately and not to everyone’s liking. It has to do with a genetic predisposition on how individuals perceive flavors. If you are a “hater” you are in good company. Julia Child is quoted as saying when asked what foods she hated most. “Cilantro and arugula, I don’t like at all. They’re both green herbs they have kind of a dead taste to me.” Harsh Julia, that’s just harsh. For the rest of us who enjoy the crisp, bright flavor of cilantro this is a simple recipe worth trying.




Cilantro Pesto

Makes about 1 cup


  • 1 1/2c  packed coarsely chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
  • 1/2c avocado oil
  • 1/4c lightly toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1t cumin
  • 1t chipotle chili powder
  • 1/2t kosher salt
  • 1/2t or more to taste finely chopped Serrano pepper


  1. Combine all the ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth. Use immediately or up to three days.


May 21, 2014 Fiddlehead Ferns and Yellow Oyster Mushrooms with Spring Garlic


Standing in line at the mushroom vendor at the farmers market on Saturday I spotted them. Among the portabellos, creminis and the morels, there was a basket of fiddlehead ferns The two customers ahead of me purchased some, so was it the power of suggestion, I’ll never know. They were being sold by the third of a pound, so I put down my five dollars and walked off with a small brown paper bag filled with fiddlehead ferns.
Fiddlehead does not refer to a specific species of fern but the coiled form of any fern that has not yet unfurled. In the United States they are ostrich ferns, mostly found across the northeastern states and the Great Lakes region, particularly along shady river banks. Wherever they grow their availability is only for about a three week period in early spring when ferns grow their new shoots.

The name comes from it’s appearance; fiddleheads look like the tuning end of a violin. They are also known as croziers because of their resemblance to the top of a shepherd’s staff. Their fifteen dollar a pound and higher price is for a good reason, they are wild harvested and not cultivated. I resisted nibbling on a raw fiddlehead when I read that eating them raw can cause stomach distress. It is advisable not to hunt for fiddleheads without an experienced forager.  One variety, the royal fern, cultivated in the Far East has been linked to stomach and esophageal cancer.  Boil fiddleheads for three to four minutes in lightly salted water with a pinch of baking soda. This helps them retain texture and color and removes bitterness and the possibility of gastric distress.
Fiddleheads are a good source of vitamins A, C and fiber. Their flavor has been likened to asparagus, green beans with a chewy texture all it’s own. To prepare fiddleheads, rinse, remove any residual brown paper-like coating and trim the brown ends. They do not keep well so use them as soon as possible after your purchase.

In this recipe I combined fiddleheads along with mild garlic shoots and another farmers market find, yellow oyster mushrooms, grown locally in Kennett Square, Pa, the mushroom capital of the United States.


Fiddlehead Ferns and Yellow Oyster Mushrooms with Spring Garlic Shoots

Serves 2


  • Water
  • 1T kosher salt
  • 1/2t baking soda
  • 1/3lb fiddlehead ferns
  • 1 stalk of spring garlic
  • 1/4lb yellow oyster mushrooms (white are fine)
  • unsalted butter


To prepare fiddlehead ferns

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil.
  2. Trim the browned ends off the ferns. If any brown covering remains on the ferns, rub it off. Rinse briskly under running water.
  3. Drop ferns into a large pot of boiling water to which you have added 1 tablespoon kosher salt and 1/2t baking soda.
  4. Boil until tender, about 3-4 minutes. Drain well.

To finish the dish

  1. Chop the tender end of the spring garlic finely. Tear mushrooms into bite sized pieces.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Melt a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter in the pan. Add mushrooms and cook until mushrooms release some of their liquid and begin to brown. Add fiddleheads to the pan and sauté lightly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
How do I love thee, fiddleheads? Let me count the ways….
Unfortunately, the yellow color disappears when the mushrooms are sautéed.
Spring garlic gives a mellow, mild garlic flavor.
Ferns from our yard. I wonder if they could be harvested? Not going to try.

May 8, 2014 Turkey Spinach Meatballs

DSC_6855aNine times out of ten I would be more than likely to skip over a recipe that’s labeled “kid friendly”, especially if that recipe isn’t even in the magazine! But I was in search of a quick, mostly make ahead recipe that would include ground turkey and spinach.

The spinach in question was the last of the pick from seed Joe planted last October. It wintered over quite nicely in the greenhouse, considering the extremely cold and snowy winter we had. These were not the smaller leaves that we would use in salads but larger ones that would be fine incorporated into a stir fry or cooked down for a dish. I wasn’t in the mood for soup or a stir fry. Larb, the Thai dish that uses ground meat wrapped in lettuce leaves (I could substitute spinach..) was a possibility, but I still wasn’t satisfied yet.
Finally I found it, sort of, in the March edition of Bon Appetit, a column called “The Providers” written by bloggers and husband and wife, Jenny Rosenstrach and Andy Ward. It was an article about strategies for feeding a busy family with preplanned homemade meals. No recipe here but a small postscript to find a recipe for turkey and spinach meatballs on Bon

Okay, I’m “biting” now, meatballs would be a change of pace for us and we haven’t had a meal with pasta in quite a while. Not that you would have to have them with pasta. Rice would work,so would polenta, on a roll or just by themselves. I pulled a few bags of my oven roasted tomatoes out of the freezer for the marinara sauce and I was ready to go.
The spinach in this recipe was the frozen variety, I have no problems with that, I always have some on hand. It’s just that I had fresh that wasn’t going to be fresh for long and wanted to use it up. The next question for me was, how many cups of fresh spinach does it take to make the equivalent of a ten ounce package? Since my frozen chopped spinach of choice these days is Birdseye, I checked the package, nutrition information yes, but nothing regarding the fresh equivalent. I checked the web, the best I could find was that 1.5 lbs of fresh spinach would cook down to the 10 ounces needed. I just trimmed the large stems and cooked all the spinach I had, a crisper bin full. It looked fairly close to 10 ounces, final weight after squeezing out excess liquid, 9.2 ounces, not too bad I would say.
The marinara sauce is very basic, quite similar to what I already make. I substituted 2 quart bags of our roasted tomatoes, drained of excess liquid. That excess liquid is certainly not the prettiest, but a very flavorful tomato juice, a special treat for the chef. Since I cooked whole leaf spinach, I roughly chopped it after it was cooked down and drained it well before adding it to the meat mixture.
After a somewhat messy beginning, I coated my hands with non stick spray before forming the meatballs so the mixture wouldn’t stick to my fingers. Another selling point of this recipe is that the meatballs are broiled in the oven, eliminating the splatter that comes along with stovetop cooking. This is a recipe that can be doubled, work once, eat twice. The writers of the article recommend freezing in single serving batches so they can be thawed as needed. It’s protein and vegetable all in one juicy meatball served with a simple but flavorful tomato sauce, a great weeknight meal.


Turkey Spinach Meatballs

from the Bon Appetit website

Makes 20 meatballs, serves 4

Ingredients for Marinara Sauce

  • 1/4 c olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1t dried oregano
  • 1/4t crushed red pepper flakes
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2T tomato paste
  • 1-28oz can whole peeled tomatoes (I used my own roasted tomatoes)

Directions for Marinara Sauce

  1. Heat oil in medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion, stirring often, until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, oregano and red pepper flakes; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add tomato paste and 1 tablespoon water and cook, until tomato paste coats onion and begins to darken, about 3 minutes.
  2. Add tomatoes to saucepan, crushing with a fork or wooden spoon when you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and gently simmer until slightly thickened, 20-25 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Be sure to stir frequently so the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pan.

Ingredients for the Meatballs

  • Non stick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend
  • 1/4 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 lb. ground turkey
  • 1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach, thawed, squeezed to remove excess moisture (I used fresh spinach that I cooked down and chopped)
  • 1/2c finely shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2c plain dried breadcrumbs
  • 2T chopped fresh flat leafed parsley
  • 1t fennel seeds
  • 1t finely grated lemon peel
  • 1t kosher salt
  • 2T olive oil,

Directions for the Meatballs

  1. Preheat broiler. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat with nonstick spray
  2. Using your hands or a fork, gently mix egg, onion, garlic, turkey, spinach, Parmesan, breadcrumbs, parsley, fennel seeds, lemon zest and salt in a large bowl until just combined.
  3. Scoop out turkey mixture by the 1/4 cupful and form into balls, you should have about 20. Place on the prepared baking sheet, spacing 2″ apart; brush with oil.
  4. Broil meatball, turning often, until browned all over and cooked through, 15-18 minutes. Add to marinara sauce.
  5. To do ahead: Meatballs with marinara sauce can be made 2 weeks ahead. Let cool completely and freeze individual portions in resealable plastic bags. To cook, reheat gently until meatballs are warmed through and sauce is bubbling, 15-20 minutes.
Fresh spinach, cooked down and ready to be chopped.


After the broiler, ready to be sauced.


May 4, 2014 Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

DSC_6841aWhat could be better on a chilly and rainy spring evening than a bowl of warming soup? Our latest rainstorm brought us cooler than normal temperatures and rain that was coming down at a half an inch per hour. Lemony chicken and orzo soup was the perfect choice. It’s a blend of the comfort of chicken noodle soup with a tip of the hat to avgolemono, the classic Greek egg and lemon soup.

Easy enough for a weeknight dinner, the initial prep time is only about five minutes and soup is on the table in less than an hour. It starts with chopped leek and celery sautéed in olive oil until softened. Next boneless chicken thighs and broth are added to the pot, brought to the boil and simmered. Chicken thighs are the best choice in making soup, they hold up well and stay tender in cooking. Orzo means “barley” in Italian and is the rice shaped pasta in this soup. Though not essential, you could toast the orzo first, it adds a depth and nuttiness to the soup. If you choose to toast, do this first in the pot you will cook the soup in, eliminating the need to dirty an extra pot. The orzo is cooked in the broth and the chicken is shredded and added back to the soup.


What really takes this soup from average to outstanding is the addition of fresh chopped dill and a squeeze of lemon at the end that brightens the flavors. Let each diner add  lemon to their own taste. More vegetables could be added if desired, sliced carrots or baby spinach would be good choices. A new approach on an old classic that is quick, simple and delicious.


Lemony Chicken and Orzo Soup

Serves four


  • 1 T butter (if toasting the orzo)
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium leek, white and pale-green parts only, halved lengthwise, sliced crosswise 1/2″ thick
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced crosswise 1/2″ thick
  • 12 oz. skinless, boneless chicken thighs
  • 6 c low-sodium chicken broth
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4c orzo
  • 1/3 to 1/2 c chopped fresh dill
  • Lemon halves (for serving)




  1. If toasting the orzo. Heat a dutch oven over medium heat. Add butter to melt. Add orzo and cook until toasted, 3-5 minutes. Transfer to a plate
  2. Heat oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add leek and celery and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft, 5-8 minutes.
  3. Add chicken and broth; season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and simmer until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate. Let cool, then shred chicken into bite-size pieces.
  4. Meanwhile, return broth to a boil. Add orzo and cook until al dente, 8-10 minutes.
  5. Remove pot from heat. Stir in chicken and dill. Serve with lemon halves for squeezing over.