Tarragon, parsley and sunflower seed pesto

TARRAGON PESTO

 

A few years ago, I decided to plant a herb garden and one of the herbs I planted was tarragon. I love the way it smells and I have fond memories of a tarragon and red wine vinegar salad dressing my mother used to make. When I planted it, I had grand ideas for recreating that dressing. Sadly, I’ve never been able to duplicate it.

Every year my tarragon plant survives our harsh Cleveland winter and grows back bigger and better than the year before but I haven’t really put the herb to good use in my cooking. This year, all that changed when I stumbled upon the idea of using it for pesto.

I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical at first. Tarragon has a strong, anise-like flavor that can be extremely overpowering so highlighting it in a pesto seemed risky. As I researched different recipes, a common theme was to cut the tarragon with an equal amount of parsley, which has a fresh, bright flavor.

The result was surprisingly delightful. (Unfortunately, I didn’t think to take pictures but it looked like pesto.) Blending up the tarragon with the other ingredients helped to mellow out the flavor, while still giving a slight anise note. Since tarragon is part of the sunflower family I used sunflower seeds instead of traditional (and expensive) pine nuts and they gave it a nice nutty texture. You’ll notice the recipe doesn’t include garlic, which seems like blasphemy when talking about a pesto recipe. I left it out for fear of having too many strong flavors but I think you could add a clove or two and still have a wonderful dish.

Tarragon, parsley & sunflower seed pesto

1/2 cup tightly packed fresh tarragon

1/2 cup tightly packed parsley

4 tbsp sunflower seeds

2 tsp lemon juice

6 tbsp olive oil

Add the first 4 ingredients to a food processor or blender. Start blending on a low speed and gradually add the olive oil until the pesto is a creamy consistency. You may need more or less olive oil, depending on the consistency you’re going for. If needed, increase the mixing speed to fully incorporate the ingredients.

Just like any other pesto, you can serve this immediately on pasta, as a spread for bruschetta or as a fancy homemade pizza sauce. It also freezes very well. I plan to use my left-over pesto the next time I make my quick and easy pesto salad.

Have you tried making pesto with something other than basil? Share your experiments in the comments. I’m always looking for new recipes!

 

Grow an indoor mini-garden with sprout seeds

As the month of February is winding down, I’m starting to look forward to spring, warm weather and fresh produce from my garden. I start to really miss gardening this time of year but I’ve recently discovered an easy way to get fresh tasty vegetables into my diet, even in the middle of winter.

What’s the secret? Sprouts!

Close-up of newly sprouted seeds

Newly sprouted seeds

Ok, maybe that’s not a mind-blowing epiphany. I’ve grown sprouts for years using a simple mason jar. They’re delicious and packed with nutrients . I love them on salads, in sandwiches and in my green smoothies. But, my very small house doesn’t have room for more than one jar of sprouts at any given time. Plus, there’s usually a 4 to 5 day wait between crops.

As I was looking for alternatives to using a jar, I ran across the concept of using a multi-tray system that lets you stack 4 trays of growing sprouts on top of one another. Each tray has drainage holes to making watering the sprouts easy. Growing vertically helps make the most of small spaces and using 4 trays at the same time increases your yield.

Growing sprouts indoors couldn’t be easier, even for the green-thumb challenged. First, soak your sprout seeds for several hours.  This helps them draw in water and activates the growing process.

Once they’ve soaked, rinse them a few times with clean water. I use the trays for this since they have drainage holes. Spread the seeds in the trays, then stack your trays on top of the catch basin. Water them at least twice a day. Each time you water, move the bottom tray to the top so that each tray gets a chance to be watered first.

3 trays of a multi-tray sprouted with 3 varieties of sprouts in different stages of growth

3 trays of sprouts at different stages of growth

In 4 to 5 days, the sprouts are ready to harvest! If you’d like them to green up a bit, place them near a bright window that gets indirect sunlight for a day. (Direct sunlight can burn them.)

Close-up of broccoli sprouts in a seed sprouting tray

Fresh broccoli sprouts taste like radishes

You can de-hull the sprouts or, if you don’t mind the slightly bitter flavor, you can leave the hauls on. To de-haul, fill a bowl with water then place sprouts in the bowl and start to break apart the clumps. The hulls will either fall to the bottom of the bowl or float on top of the water (in my experience, it depends on the variety of seeds). If they fall to the bottom, you can skim your spouts out of the water. If they float, skim the hulls and discard them, then remove the sprouts from the water.

Whether you choose to de-hull them or not, use cool clean water to thoroughly rinse them. Dry them well with a few paper towels and eat them right away (I usually can’t wait) or store them in the refrigerator. My trays came with a lid so I can store my sprouts right in the tray.

The beauty of this system is you can either start 4 crops of spouts at one time or you can stagger the start date and have a continuous supply.

I’m currently using the Victorio 4 tray sprouter and I love it for it’s a small footprint. It takes up almost no space!

Growing sprouts has given me a fun, easy way to satisfy my love of watching things grow this winter. And as a bonus, I’m eating more healthy salads so I can use up all the sprouts I’m growing. I’ve grown broccoli, alfalfa, mung bean, red & green lentils, and I’m currently soaking a mix of adzuki, gamut and fenugreek seeds.

Have you tried growing your own sprouts? What are your favorite varieties?

P.S. The opinions in this post are completely my own. Victorio has not compensated me in any way to talk about their product. 

 

 

Garlic scape, basil and almond pesto

Garlic scape and basil pesto

Garlic scape, basil and almond pesto on Instagram

If you follow Emmet Street Creations on Instagram, you know that I have been somewhat obsessed by a culinary delight known as a garlic scape. Last fall, I planted around 30 cloves of hard neck garlic in my garden for the sole purpose of harvesting the scape.

The garlic scape is the flower that grows from the bulb of hard neck varieties of garlic. As it grows, it forms a graceful curl.

Harvesting the scape allows the plant to put its energy into growing the bulb. The scape has a very mild garlic flavor and can be used in any way that garlic can be used. I’ve roasted them whole with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, diced them to add flavor to roasted asparagus and I’ve frozen a bunch for future use.

So far, my favorite way to use them is in pesto. You can make pesto with only the garlic scape, olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan. But, I love basil pesto so I incorporated basil as well. For a twist, I used almonds instead of pine nuts.

Garlic scape and basil pesto

10 to 12 garlic scapes, roughly chopped with the bulb removed

1 cup tightly packed basil leaves

1 cup chopped almonds

1 cup parmesan cheese

1/2  to 1 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Add the first 4 ingredients to a food processor or blender. (I used my Vitamix.) Start blending on a low speed and gradually add the olive oil until the pesto is a creamy consistency. I ended up using the entire cup of olive oil but you may prefer less. If needed, increase the mixing speed to fully incorporate the ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve this immediately on pasta, as a spread for bruschetta or as a fancy homemade pizza sauce. It also freezes very well. I plan to use my left-over pesto the next time I make my quick and easy pesto salad.

 

 

The Loofah Soap Experiment: Update #6

The loofah experiment: Update 5

I successfully picked, peeled, washed and dried two loofah before the snow started to fall here in Ohio. Sadly, the rest of the loofah didn’t dry out before the temperatures plummeted.

Soon, I’ll unveil the soap that I made with the loofah I was able to harvest. In the meantime, I thought I’d share this video to show what a loofah being peeled looks and sounds like. I’m thinking about using this as an audition piece for a sound effects technician on “The Walking Dead.”

 

The Loofah Soap Experiment: Update #5

The loofah soap experiment: Update 5

Isn’t that a lovely picture of dried loofah sponges? I wish I could take credit for growing these but alas, my loofah are still as green as can be.

Green loofah

Well, all of them except for this monstrosity.

Zombie loofah

Apparently someone got too busy and neglected her garden for a few weeks. This is not what I intended when I started this project but I’m not about to let a little setback deter me. In the spirit of Halloween, I’m calling this a zombie loofah. If you or someone you know is a zombie who needs a little exfoliation, drop me a line and this little gem is all yours. After all, zombies deserve smooth skin, too.

Loofah sponges are supposed to dry on the vine but since the weather is getting colder and mine are showing no signs of starting to dry out, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I removed one of the loofah from the vine and enlisted the help of a former Boy Scout to string it up like a Thanksgiving turkey. It is now hanging from a rafter in my garage.

Tying a loofah with string

I’m really itching to make a soap using loofah. For now, all I can do is be patient and let nature take its course.

Did you miss out on some of the loofun? Check out some of the prior installments of the experiment to see loofah baby pictures, wild vine growth or try a new recipe

Northern Ohio road trip: Schoepfle Gardens

When Matt and I are looking for something to do, we often search for botanical gardens in the area. There’s no better way to get inspiration for my own garden than to check out what the pros do. The other day, I ran across Schoepfle Gardens, a 70 acre park that is part of the Lorain County Metro Parks system.

The founder, Otto Schoepfle, sounds like my kind of guy. He had a passion for continued learning throughout his life and according to the information on the Metro Parks site, he went to Europe several times to learn about new plants and then came home to apply what he had learned in his garden.

I imagine Otto as a great lover of nature and this statue of him conveys that perfectly. Look closely to the left and you can see a butterfly flitting above the flowers. It’s as if his outstretched hand is summoning the butterflies and woodland creatures to him.

Otto Schoepfle

Yellow swallowtail on marigolds

Otto lived and worked on the grounds from 1936 until his death in 1992. That’s 56 years of hard work, sweat and dedication. He set up a trust and donated the acreage to the Lorain County Metro Parks in 1969 but he continued to live in the family home, located on the grounds, until his death.

Schoepfle Gardens - Formal Path

Schoepfle Gardens

One of the most impressive specimens on the property is the Dawn Redwood tree.

Schoepfle Gardens redwood tree

According to the placard, the Dawn Redwood was once thought to be extinct. It was rediscovered in China in the 1940s. Otto went to China and brought back two seeds. This tree is from one of those seeds.

Over the years, Otto received help from volunteers in the community and he loved working with local children. In 2007, a music themed children’s garden was added along with a carousel. The horses and animals were refurbished by local artists and are stunning.

Schoepfle Gardens - Carousel

Restored Carousel

 If you live in Ohio and love nature and gardening, Schoepfle Gardens is a must see. If you don’t live near by, you can take a virtual tour, narrated by legendary Cleveland newscaster Leon Bibb, here.

Want to read more about the history of the Dawn Redwood? There’s a short yet fascinating story here courtesy of the good people at dawnredwood.org.

Know of any must see botanical gardens in your own state? Share the website in the comments below. I’m always looking for new inspiration!

The Loofah Soap Experiment: Update #4

My loofah plant is exceeding all of my expectations for what a plant grown in a shady Ohio yard can achieve. It is the largest plant I have ever grown from seed. I garden for the simple joy of watching plants grow and this plant has been thrilling to watch as it takes over my fire pit, kindling pile and everything else that gets in its way.

Loofah plant

When I planted the seeds earlier this year, I hoped for at least one loofah that would be big enough to dry and use in a soapy creation. At last count, I have nine loofah and the largest currently measures 18 inches!

Loofah

The fruit of the loofah is edible when it is young and tender, before it has developed the exfoliating fibers most people are familiar with. It is similar in texture and taste to zucchini and can be used in any recipe that calls for zucchini. If Bubba had been a loofah farmer instead of a shrimper, he would have said, “You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. There’s uh, loofah-kabobs, loofah creole, loofah gumbo.” You get the idea. (And, I may have seen a certain movie a few too many times.)

Bubba may have found a million different ways to prepare loofah but when it comes to home-grown veggies, I prefer a simple preparation with very few ingredients. I want to experience the flavor and character of the vegetables that I grow. When I cook zucchini, I sauté it with olive oil and a pinch of garlic and then season it with salt and pepper.  That preparation seemed like the easiest choice for my first foray into eating loofah.  The first chance I had, I picked a tiny baby loofah, cut it up into chunks and sautéed it just like I would a zucchini.

Tiny loofah

Four ingredients turned this tiny little vegetable into a tasty appetizer. (And I had fun stomping around the house and pretending I was a giant eating a full sized zucchini that I cut with my giant knife and served on my giant plate. I have an active imagination. Don’t judge.)

Loofah

 

My only regret is that I didn’t pick more so that I could try other recipes like this Thai stir fry called Buab Pud Kai.

Have you seen loofah sold in markets where you live? Have you tried it in a recipe? Tell me all about it in the comments and share your recipes!