Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sage Garden Herbs

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Sage Garden Herbs is one of the nicest places on the planet. You will be driving down St. Mary's. You will cross the perimeter, you will drive past all the nurseries and garden shops, and you will think you are lost and you missed a turn off. You will be almost at the floodway when you see the sign. You will slam on the breaks, almost missing the lane, and freak out the driver behind you.

When you drive up the lane, you enter an oasis of herbs and flowers.

I love going to Sage Garden Herbs. You walk through the greenhouse. You are encouraged to rub your fingers through the herbs. The scents delight and overwhelm. Not only is there basil and thyme and oregano, but there are twelve different types of basil, 6 oreganos, 9 thymes. I have tried lime basil, orange thyme and pineapple sage. This place is a cook and a gardeners paradise.

And Dave Hanson, the friendly proprietor, knows everything about the herbs he sells. He will tell you where they are from, how to grow them, which plants will do best in your conditions, how to harvest them, what to cook with them, all their medicinal properties and tidbits of folklore around them.

The reason I am writing about this place now, is that I was out there last weekend doing a cooking demo. Dave planted a garden last spring filled with squashes, peppers, chard, onions, and a large variety of heirloom tomatoes. Dave wanted me to come out to demonstrate what to do with all his garden's bounty. So, I arrived out there with a knife, a couple of frying pans, a little olive oil, salt, pepper etc. He had a table laid out with a cornucopia of fresh deliciousness, and said "Go!" In fourty five minutes I had prepared an heirloom tomato salad 3 ways; made a tomato and goat cheese galette, rolled some swiss chard rolls and whipped up a delicious choke cherry and lemon verbena mojito. I was just about to whip up a squash pancake with a tomatillo chutney, when Dave Yanked me off the stage. I had been talking for almost an hour and could have gone on for two more hours. Unfortunately, I was trumped by a troupe of belly dancers.

After demonstrating some basic knife skills, I started talking about how I want to encourage people to cook without recipes. I was talking about letting the produce inspire and direct you. I wasn't two minutes into my presentation when a woman in the back row raised her hand and asked "will you be giving us recipes for these?"

so, I told her I would post them on my blog.

Heirloom Tomato Salad, 3 ways

2 lbs assorted heirloom tomatoes, look for a variety of colours, sizes and shapes
2 tbsps white wine vinegar
4 tbsps olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. cut tomatoes into wedges
2. toss with oil and vinegar, season.

version 1, simple basil

toss basic recipe with a quarter cup fresh basil

version 2, south east asian

1 tbsp mint, chopped
1 tbsp thai basil, chopped
1 tsp lemon grass, finely chopped
1 tsp ginger, finely minced
1 tbsp green onion or chive, chopped
1 hot pepper, finely minced

mix all the above with basic tomato mix

version 3, a little bit greek

2 tbsp oregano, chopped
1 tbsp basil, chopped
a few sprigs of thyme
1 small red onion, juilenned
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
1/2 cup calamata olives

mix all the above with basic tomato mix

Heirloom Tomato and goat cheese Galette

basic tomato recipe
1 cup goat cheese
1/4 cup fresh basil
4 round of pastry. (make your own, by frozen puff pastry, even use pita bread)
salt and pepper to taste

spread goat cheese on pastry
arrange tomatoes on top
sprinkle with fresh basil, season with salt and pepper.
bake at 400F for 10 to 15 minutes

Swiss Chard rolls

8 large leaves of swiss chard. (Large beet greens work as well)
1 farmer sausage, removed from casing and chopped up
1 cup cooked white rice
1 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 cup heavy cream

1. in skillet, saute garlic sausage. add garlic and dill. remove from skillet and mix in with rice. check seasoning. add salt and pepper as required.
2. cut stem off swiss chard. With the back of a knife, crush the spine of the leaves to make more flexible. blanch leaves quickly in boiling water. fill leaves with sausage rice mixture and roll tightly.
3. in skillet where you cooked the sausage add cream. bring to a boil. place rolls in hot cream and simmer to heat through. serve.

Choke Cherry & Lemon Verbena Mojito

1/4 cup choke cherries
2-3 leaves lemon verbena
2-3 leaves fresh mint
2 wedges of lime (one is for garnish)
1 tsp simple syrup (optional)
1 1/2 oz white rum
4 oz soda water

1. in mixing glass muddle the cherries with the mint and verbena.
2.add squeeze of one lime wedge, throw whole wedge in the glass
3. add rum and simple syrup. Shake vigorously. Strain into a highball glass over ice.
4. top with soda water, garnish with a lime wedge. enjoy!

the one I didn't get to:

Over Sized Zucchini Pancake with Tomatillo Relish

2 cups grated zucchini from one of those ridiculously large late season squashes
2 eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp paprika
canola oil

1. mix squash with eggs, bread crumbs and seasonings.
2. form into pancakes and fry in oil until both sides are golden and crisp.
3. serve with tomatillo relish and sour cream. this is also a great base for a piece of grilled fish.

Tomatillo Relish

1 tbsp canola oil
2 cups tomatillos, husks removed and diced
1 medium onion, diced.
1 jalepeno or other hot pepper, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cider vinegar

1. saute onions. add garlic, spices, jalepeno and tomatillo. saute for 1 minute.
2. add sugar and vinegar. bring to a boil. simmer until the mixture has a "relishy" consistency.

A few more random things you might want to know about sage garden herbs.

* they have the best grass seed. It is called eco-lawn. it uses grasses native to this part of the world. it grows slow, so less mowing. It grows anywhere, even in full shade. It will eventually grow thick enough to choke out weeds. I have never had any luck with grass seed, but this stuff is awesome. Plant in the fall, again in early spring, and again in fall. The only prep work is to rake the lawn before you spread the seed.

*In spring you can order lady bugs from Dave to spread in your garden to eat other bugs. Nature's pesticide! Did you know that in southern california, they drop lady bugs from planes to protect their organic field greens crops?

*Dave and I used to do food and herb demos together. The highlight was the Thyme Martini. We are talking about reviving these in the spring. Look to the Sage Garden Herbs website for more details.

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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Now, what should I do with pumpkin pappardelle?

Fall is my favourite season. At very least, it is in the top five. And I love fall food. It really is the best of all possible culinary worlds. You have tons of great local produce still available, but the weather has cooled down so you feel like cooking again. In summer, cooking is about using the kitchen as little as possible; quick salads and a piece of meat grilled on the BBQ. But in the fall, the crock pot comes out, the big dutch oven is dusted off and the roasting pan comes off the top shelf. In fall, you feel like cooking again. Slow braises, stews, big hunks of meat slowly roasted for hours, this is what fall cooking is all about. You have market gardeners practically giving away their squash, root vegetables and hearty fall greens. Fall is the time to gather your friends and family back around the hearth and cook and eat until there is nothing left to do but sleep.

I love Fall at the bistro. This is the season when I get to bring back all my favourite cool weather dishes. Cassoulet reappears on the menu, probably braised lamb shank and of course pumpkin ravioli.

But wait, there's the problem. We have too many favourite fall dishes. There is no room for anything new. My god it's killing me! I am stagnating! I am sick and tired of the stoopid pumpkin ravioli!

There is always the tension for me between giving the customers their best loved dishes and being able to create new food experiences. I need to keep myself interested in order to cook well, but everyone has been asking about the pumpkin ravioli since the day we took it off the menu. What am I to do? The longer we are open, the more difficult this problem becomes. We will put a new dish on the menu, but then this becomes a favourite that we can't get rid of.

When I have time, and am feeling creative, I will sit down and write a new menu as if I was opening a brand new restaurant. I will think about the flavours of the season, I'll flip through my cooking magazines and cook books. I'll visit the local markets, grocery stores, even wander through the aisles of the local safeway looking for inspiration. I'll call my purveyors and find out what they have this time of year. "Herman," I ask, "What do you have going on this season?". He answers, "pumpkin pappardelle". Now, what should I do with pumpkin pappardelle?

Once I have my brand new menu written, I look at my most recent menu and the menu from last year, and figure out what I want to keep from these menues. Then I combine the old and the new. Wrestle with finding room for all the things I want. Decide that some of my dishes will be saved for dinner specials, argue with my wife, staff and customers about what everyones favourites are, and finally, usually 1/2 an hour before we launch the menu, we have a menu on paper ready to go.

Nature's Farms Pumpkin Pappardelle with Ground Turkey and Sage Meatballs

1 lb ground turkey
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 tbsps minced parsley
1 tbsp minced fresh sage
2 (vita egg) eggs,
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
pinch of cayenne
salt and pepper to taste

1. combine all meat ball ingredients.
2. form into small meat balls.
3. bake meatballs in a 350F oven for 15 mins until cooked through


1 lb Nature's Farms pumpkin pappardelle
3 or 4 sage leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsps butter
1 clove garlic, minced
pinch of chilies
2 cups, arugula
1/2 cup almonds, toasted
turkey meat balls

1. saute sage, chilies and garlic with olive oil and butter. Add meat balls.
2. cook pappardelle according to pkg directions.
3. toss pasta with meatballs, arugula and almomds. Check seasoning.
4. serve, top with parmesan if desired.