lovin’ the herb

I love to grow fresh herbs. I love the smell of fresh herbs. I love to cook with fresh herbs. There’s nothing that says summertime to me more than overflowing pots of lush herbs on my back steps; it makes me happy just to look at them. Sometimes I run my hand along the rosemary or sage stems just to let them give off their lovely aroma. And who doesn’t love the way fresh basil smells. I’ve been thinking I just may start rubbing the leaves behind my ears as my summer scent. Anyway with all these wonderful herbs around I try to use them at every opportunity and since the more you clip herbs the more abundant they become, it’s really a win-win situation.

Finding uses for fresh basil is really a no brainer— as soon as Jersey tomatoes start hitting the farmers market I make a simple caprese salad or a Sweet Summer Sauce with my homegrown cherry tomatoes. Abundant amounts of oregano go into my Smokey Baked Beans, I use fresh rosemary on roasted potatoes and to marinade pork, cilantro has a starring role in my Spicy Corn & Black Bean Salad and what would Herbed Drop Biscuits be without fresh thyme. However as tasty as these few dishes are, they don’t really put a significant dent in my herb supply. I’m always looking for new ways to work fresh herbs into my cooking and my latest creations are a brush on grill sauce for chicken and a creamy buttermilk salad dressing.

The grill sauce is a super simple way to give some fresh summery flavor to chicken or vegetables without much advance prep. Sure it makes a mess of the grill, but the you’ll enjoy dinner so much it will totally be worth a few extra minutes with the grill brush. And the salad dressing is something like a healthy hybrid of caesar and ranch, it turns nothing fancy greens into a salad worth serving guests.

Here’s wishing you a Summer filled with lovely sights, sounds and smells.

Buttermilk & Fresh Herb Salad Dressing
Say so long to that bottle of store bought dressing and hello to yum! I usually sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan on top of the salad and sometimes a few slivered almonds.

herb salad5

2 tbsp. fresh basil
2 tbsp. fresh dill
2 tbsp. fresh parsley
1 tbsp. fresh tarragon
3 tbsp. sweet onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. lemon juice
4 tbsp. light mayo
3 tbsp. plain low-fat yogurt
2 tbsp. light sour cream
1 cup reduced fat buttermilk
2 tbsp. shredded parmesan cheese
1 tsp. granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the herbs are finely minced and the ingredients are fully blended.
  2. Pour into a glass jar and chill overnight, allowing flavors to blend, before drizzling over salad greens and serving.

Grilled Chicken with Fresh Herb Sauce
You can brush this on the chicken or vegetables as you grill them. It will make a mess of the grill, but it’s totally worth it!

herb grilled chicken

6 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. fresh oregano leaves
1 tbsp. fresh parsley leaves
1 tbsp. fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves
1 tbsp. honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 package of chicken, thighs or breasts

  1. Place all the ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Allow to run until herbs are minced and a thick sauce has formed.
  2. Heat grill to medium-high. Brush the chicken with the sauce and begin to grill. Flip and continue to baste with the remaining sauce until chicken is completely cooked.
*adapted from serious eats
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alakazam… pesto!

Ahhhh Spring… The birds are chirping, the flowers are blooming and my thoughts have turned to planning my vegetable garden. For me there is nothing more satisfying than tending, harvesting and enjoying veggies produced in my own little backyard.

Part of what appeals to me most about vegetable gardening is the sheer possibility. The possibility that you’ll have a bumper crop of string beans and become this summer’s “String Bean Queen”, the possibility that you’ll plant the eggplant too close to the yellow squash and create some crazy hybrid vegetable and even the possibility that the pumpkin you and the kids were so excited to grow, ends up a total bust.

How I love the daily nurturing and fervent watching for the slightest growth, flower and finally fruit. It gives me such joy! Long before I ever had actual raised beds to plant in I was an avid container gardener. Then it was mainly the growing of herbs, tomatoes and a little lettuce that made me happy. I used those early garden successes in every fashion I could think of, but more than just about anything else I made pesto. Tons of pesto in fact; traditional basil and pignoli, kale and toasted walnut, mint and almond and even arugula and pistachio. I was “The Pesto Queen”!

Pesto is one of the most versatile sauces I can think of. It’s great as a spread on crackers or sandwiches, yummy mixed with some Greek yogurt and served with raw veggies, makes a tasty salad dressing when thinned out with additional lemon juice and oil and can even enliven a simple bowl of minestrone soup.

But the thing that I truly love the most about pesto is that it tastes just like Spring. Fresh, green, unhurried and full of promise.

I wish for you a Spring brimming with promise and possibility…

Arugula and Pistachio Pesto
This pesto is fantastic just about anywhere, but particularly good as a sassy little appetizer with goat cheese and won ton wrapper cups (see recipe below). 

6 1/2 cups of arugula, packed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup salted and roasted pistachios, shelled
4 garlic cloves
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/8 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

  1. Boil six cups of water in a medium-sized pot. *Working in small batches, quickly blanch arugula and then shock it in a bowl of ice water. Wring the blanched arugula dry and place in a food processor.
  2. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, pistachios, garlic, grated cheese, salt and pepper. Pulse until smooth. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper. If the pesto is too thick add a bit more oil and lemon juice. Use immediately or store refrigerated in an airtight container.

*I always blanch whatever type of green I’m using to make pesto. You don’t have to, but it helps keep your beautiful pesto bright and green, rather than turning brown in a day or two.

Goat Brie & Pesto Cups
These are a snap to make but look like you’ve toiled for hours.

24 wonton wrappers
pesto (homemade or store bought)
4 oz. goat Brie cheese
shelled pistachios, for garnish

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray a mini muffin pan with cooking spray and gently mold the wonton wrappers into each cup. Then lightly spray each raw wonton cup with the cooking spray.
  2. Bake the wonton cups for about 6-7 minutes, until they turn a light golden brown. Remove the baked cups from the muffin pan and allow to cool for a few minutes before filling.
  3. Fill each cup with a square of goat cheese, a 1/4 tsp. of pesto and garnish with a pistachio.