It’s that time of year. It’s finally warm enough to plant the heat lovers in the garden: squash, cucumbers, and melons. I’ve finally made it to the Saturday Farmer’s Market and there is an abundance of locally grown, yummy produce. My husband and I have been trying to further alter our eating habits to include two-thirds vegetables to one-third protein on the plate. An easy way to reach this goal is to prepare a salad or have salad makings on hand, so that we have a cooked vegetable and a yummy, salad for each meal. I am a pretty good cook, but in the past I have failed at salad making. My sister, Erica, makes a great salad. She tends to stick to the same formula but it’s always tasty. Somehow when I combine leafy greens and other stuff, it just doesn’t come out right. A couple years ago, a friend brought a simple, tasty salad to dinner that included watercress and a lemon vinaigrette. So simple and so tasty.
I want to use fresh made dressings, especially olive oil based ones. If you make a large enough batch to last for several salads, it ends up getting solidified in the fridge. So I was thrilled when Jan Roberts-Dominquez republished her vinaigrette base recipe in the Corvallis GT last fall. The nursery had Jan speak about cooking with herbs a few years ago and she mentioned the vinaigrette but I wasn’t able to listen to the whole talk. Preparing the vinegar/garlic base to the vinaigrette ahead of time and adding the olive oil and herbs at the time of serving saved me from having gloppy olive oil dressing that had to be warmed up to serve and cut down on the prep time. Check out her recipe on her blog site: http://janrd.com/blog/29314/homemade-vinaigrette-101. I enjoy using herbs from my garden, especially tarragon, parsley, thyme and chives. They’re easy to grow and it’s much more efficient to cut what I need to use for a recipe rather than buying a whole package at the store, half of which often turns black before I finish using it.
This spring I ran across a recipe for a beautiful salad that featured watercress, radicchio and radishes. (I think food should be attractive as well as tasty and color contrasts really appeal to me.) The spicy, sweet dressing made it outstanding. The spice came from chopped jalapeno. I just planted a jalapeno pepper plant and I can’t wait until it starts producing. It’s in a black pot against a hot wall, so I hope to get really good production. I decided after making that salad that I really needed to consult a few cookbooks for salad recipes. Winging it hadn’t worked in the past, so I turned to some of the numerous cookbooks I own. One I checked first was Recipes From a Kitchen Garden by Renee Shepherd and Fran Raboff. Renee is the owner of Renee’s Garden. She is a heroine of mine. I greatly admire her business acumen, knowledge and gardening ability. She has a wonderful blog on her website, a great selection of seeds including heirlooms and a passion for gardening. When Kitchen Gardens International named her one of the 10 Inspiring Women Moving the World’s Food Garden Needle (Michelle Obama was in the group), I couldn’t believe I have the opportunity to personally meet and talk to someone so well recognized. I am a huge fan! We stock 2 of Renee’s cookbooks at the nursery and as the seed buyer at the nursery, I was fortunate to be gifted a copy of Recipes From a Kitchen Garden. I have made a few dishes from this cookbook and what I have made is delicious. Renee and Fran concentrate on fresh produce from their gardens combined with other fresh ingredients. What was the first salad recipe I tried? I have to admit that I ended up combining 2 salad recipes because I didn’t have all the ingredients for one. I had radicchio, arugula, and oranges. So I made Island Sin Salad dressing with the greens and orange segments. It was very tasty. I now have the ingredients to make Crunchy Red and Green Salad (page 83) including frisee. I’m excited to try it. I wonder if I can grow frisee in my garden. You can start that in mid-summer. On the Renee’s Garden rack at the nursery, I have watercress seed. Wouldn’t it be great to grow that myself, too? That might be a goal for the for next year.
When Erica suggested that this would be a good time to feature recipes again in the blog, I asked her if she would help me to select the recipes from Renee’s cookbooks. As I had selected a salad, she thought a meal would be appropriate: salad, entree and dessert. Erica loves tomatoes and her entree selection was Tomato Tart, page 109 in More Recipes From a Kitchen Garden. I have made tomato tart in the past, but not this particular recipe. I was excited to try this version. I bought Roma tomatoes, as I thought a meatier, tomato might be better. I like using them for salsa. My husband and I were just getting ready to plant our second garden at the nursery. There isn’t enough room in my home garden to grow everything I’d like, so I share some space with my parents on the nursery property. It’s still a great time to plant tomatoes, eggplant, squash and peppers. So I picked up a paste and a beefsteak type tomato to plant plus more zucchini. The tart turned out nicely. It would help if I read the instructions through a couple times before I actually make a new recipe. I put the chives in at the wrong time, but I don’t think it made too much of a difference. I hate to admit I bought a pre-made crust. I inadvertently bought a vegan crust. It’s whole-wheat.
Finally, dessert is needed. The Renee’s Garden website (reneesgarden.com) has a number of recipes you can download. One recipe featured is for Chocolate Zucchini Cake-Orange scented. I have been meaning to try this recipe for a couple of years now. So that’ s last on the list. I was excited to see zucchini at the farmer’s market and I always have chocolate in the house, so I’ll try that one this week, too. I really do like zucchini and this year I’m trying Romanesco. It’s available on the Renee’s Garden seed rack, too. Supposedly it has long-holding blossoms great for making stuffed zucchini blossoms. I tried a recipe last year and they were pretty tasty.
If you would like to learn more about Renee’s Garden seeds, especially the heirloom varieties check out their website. Also on the website are Renee’s blogs and some recipes. She has a wealth of information to share to help you be successful in growing and preparing your own vegetables this summer. Enjoy!