I was going to post a pasta dish this week – it’s really good and summery but still creamy and light – but I just couldn’t bring myself to suggest that you turn on both your oven and your stove. I don’t know about you, but we are in the middle of a heat wave. It’s another heat wave, or maybe it’s the heat wave we’ve kind of been having all summer despite a couple days last week. We have established a system of closing our windows around noon when it starts to get really hot outside, turning on the air conditioning when the inside temperature gets unbearable, and then opening the windows in the evening once the outside temperature is lower than inside or maybe if there’s a slight cool breeze blowing by.
On days like this, I can’t imagine eating anything hot. In fact, I would prefer that everything I ate was cold and crunchy, preferably also maybe juicy or with a little tang or spice to it. These toasts almost fit that bill – no juiciness really (unless you include the cucumbers that I GREW IN MY OWN GARDEN – sorry, I’m excited), but lots of crunch from the sliced vegetables and tang from the miso cream cheese. You do have to turn on your toaster, but it’s worth it, I promise.
I love butter. Let’s be clear here, I don’t like to grab a stick and eat it like a candy bar, the way my mother used to. Certainly not. But there is something to be said for a good piece of sourdough covered in melty butter. Or a roast chicken that’s been slathered in butter and salt and pepper. You know what I mean?
Recently, Jonah and I have become more interested in buying “good” butter. Butter is butter – it’s good. But we were wanting to buy butter made with milk from grass-fed cows. It started a couple months ago when our roommate’s dad, Bruce, came to visit. Bruce is very knowledgeable about diet and nutrition, and while he was here we had many conversations about foods that people think are bad for you (aka butter) but aren’t really if you eat them well. Good fats are good for you, guys! Things like good olive oil, good butter, even chicken livers (fatty, yes, but full of nutrients), are things we can enjoy without feeling guilty about it.
So when I was sent some coupons for Straus Dairy products, I knew immediately I wanted to try their butter. I started with ye old piece of toast. What better way to judge a butter’s character? It was good. It was richer and creamier than your average butter. So I took things to another level. I had bought some chicken livers the day before, so I made some chicken liver paté (Julia Child’s recipe, in case you were interested). And let me tell you, it was some incredibly creamy paté.
Let’s talk for a second about Straus Family Creamery. After spending a fair amount of time on Straus’s website, perhaps one of the things I find the coolest is that they were the first 100% certified organic creamery in the country. For real! Evolving from a family dairy farm, Straus Family Creamery was officially founded in 1994, when Albert Straus saw going organic as a way to differentiate himself and save the state of local family farming. The butter has 85% butterfat content, and is less moist than normal butter. What does this mean for us bakers? It means it’ll brown more evenly and be more flaky. And for the cooks? It doesn’t burn as easily. Now I know, this butter ain’t cheap. But when you’re making butter heavy things like paté or shortbread, I think it’s worth spending the extra few dollars. You don’t skimp on a pork shoulder or buy cheap-o chocolate for your chocolate chip cookies, do you? I thought not.
Enough waxing poetic about butter, Annie. Let’s get on to this recipe for herb and lemon shortbread. On our front steps, we have a little pot of herbs that we carried with us from our last home. Our thyme isn’t looking so hot, but the sage is coming back strong this spring. And every time I walk by that pot, I start thinking of things I could do with those herbs. This week, I had an idea for this herb and lemon shortbread. And lo and behold, I had one stick of this beautiful butter left. It was perfect.
Herb and Lemon Shortbread
Note: I used solely sage for this recipe, but any combination of sage, rosemary, and thyme would be great, I think.
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbl plus 1 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp freshly chopped herbs (I used 1 tsp of freshly chopped sage, and wish I had used more)
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 stick (8 oz) Straus Family butter, unsalted, at room temperature
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Sift flour and salt together in a medium bowl, set aside. In a small bowl, combine 2 Tbl sugar plus chopped herbs and lemon zest. Rub these ingredients together with your fingers – this will make sure the sugar absorbs the oils from the herbs and lemon, making it perfectly aromatic. Add the sugar mixture to the flour, and stir until combined. Cut the butter into chunks, and combine it with the flour/sugar mixture with a fork or a pastry knife, blending until you’ve got a beautiful soft dough.
Gently press the dough into a 9×9 baking dish or a 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of sugar over the top. Bake until it’s golden brown around the edges. Once you’ve removed it from the oven, carefully cut it into wedges or squares or whatever shape you like while it’s still hot. Allow to cool before separating it. It helps to run the knife along the lines again.
I think this shortbread would make a fantastic base for lemon bars or rhubarb bars or any kind of bar topped with curd. Just saying.
This is a sponsored post. I was given coupons for Straus Dairy products, and all of the opinions below are my own.
I often find myself frustrated with how much stuff I put in my compost. I guess I should stop right there and say, at least I have a compost, right? The beautiful city of Portland has roadside pickup every week, making it so wonderfully easy to make more environmentally conscious choices. There aren’t a lot of cities that do that. Anyway, I know I could save some bones and carrot tops and onion tops and parsley stems for stock… But I just don’t do it. I mean, I do sometimes… But not as often as I should. And there’s one thing lately that I have always felt guilty after putting it in the compost: kale stems. Jonah and I eat a fair amount of kale – usually sautéed with butter and garlic or something like that, sometimes in a salad. But I always am frustrated at the toughness of the stems, and wish I could do more with them.
After a little research and looking around, I mostly found that people who do use their kale stems either sauté them with their kale, simply adding the stems first so they cook for longer, or put them in smoothies. I wasn’t really into either of these options, so I made myself a third one. With the all-in pesto in mind, and a container of pine nuts whining from my pantry, I got to work making some kale stem pesto. I wasn’t planning on sharing this pesto here, since the recipe is really improvised, but I got so many comments and questions about what it was when I posted pictures on my Instagram and Facebook, that I thought, why not? This pesto is certainly a product of whatever you’ve got around, which is generally my theory about pesto. Herbs are good, parmesan is good, and other than that, you can kind of go crazy. Nearly any kind of nut will work, any greens, and you can really play until you find some flavors that you like. I didn’t do any measuring here – mostly just throwing in handfuls of this or that – but below is an approximation of what I used.
The beautiful thing about pesto is that it can be a complete reflection of your kitchen: if you just went to the market and have some radish greens, use them. If you don’t have any pine nuts but plenty of pistachios or walnuts, use them. If it’s raining and you want something heartier, add more cheese.
We tossed our kale stem pesto with fresh spaghetti (you can find a recipe here) and topped it with sliced grape tomatoes, which added a really nice juicy brightness. I also like to make a thick piece of toast and slather it with fresh pesto.
Kale Stem Pesto
1 bunch of kale stems, plus probably the equivalent of 1 leaf of kale
1 cup spinach
1/4 cup parsley
~ 3/4 cup pine nuts
Fill a small pot halfway with water, salt well, and bring to a boil. Roughly chop kale stems into about 1/2 – 1 inch pieces. Add to boiling water, and cook until stems are easily pierced with a knife. Drain and cool.
In the bowl of a food processor (or blender), combine kale stems, a few small chunks of parmesan, about half the pine nuts, 2 cloves of peeled garlic, and a few glugs of olive oil. Pulse to combine. Add spinach, some parsley, and a hefty sprinkling of salt. The key here is to taste and add. If you want a little more spice, add another clove or two of garlic. If you want it creamier, more nuts, and olive oil. If you want it greener, add more spinach and parsley, or some fresh basil or chard if you’ve got some around.
Did you know that February is Lamb Lover’s Month? Neither did I, until I was contacted by the American Lamb Board to participate in a lamb cooking contest (you can vote here, starting February 14th: www.lambloversmonth.com). Yes, that’s right folks. How could I possibly say no? So I filled out my registration, and got a boneless leg of lamb in the mail last Friday.
I immediately started researching lamb cooking techniques, and ended up kind of combining a few recipes. Because lamb is often used in Greek/Mediterranean cuisine, most recipes have lots of rosemary, lemon, mint, and even some yogurt sauces. I didn’t want to get too fancy because I wanted it to be something that we all could easily pull off. I wanted to do some kind of spice rub or marinade where I could leave the lamb overnight to really absorb the flavors of whatever I ended up going with.
So after some research, I decided to go with an adapted version of a recipe from The Herbfarm Cookbook. I used varied amounts of all of the ingredients to go for a little more of the taste I wanted (more lavender, thyme, adding lemon, etc.) and was very happy with the result: a strongly herb-flavored (but not overpowering), perfectly cooked piece of lamb.
For our sides, we cooked brussels sprouts in a combination of melted lamb fat and oil: slice each sprout, top to bottom, into 3-4 pieces, heat the fat/oil, toss in a layer of sprouts (careful, it will spit and it will hurt – long sleeves are your friend), and sprinkle with salt. Cook until the bottoms are nice and dark, tossing occasionally if desired. We also made a rough version of fingerling potatoes gremolata: slice up your potatoes, toss in oil and salt, sprinkle with some chopped garlic, roast them until tender, and then when you’ve removed them, top them with some melted butter and chopped parsley. And salad. We had salad too. If you like this recipe, the blog post, even just the pictures, head over to www.lambloversmonth.com to vote for our little blog to win the Lamb Lover’s Month cooking contest! It would be super awesome, and maybe I’d even invite you over to enjoy some free lamb…
Hope you all have a lovely Valentine’s day, featuring some kind of delicious food! (A latte with your loved one? A sexy seafood dinner? Roasted lamb? The possibilities are endless – get out there and try something new and adventurous!)
Herb Rubbed Lamb
1/2 cup fresh rosemary pines
4 tsp fresh or 2 1/2 tsp dried lavender buds
4 tsp fresh thyme leaves
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 Tbl Dijon mustard
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
zest of one meyer lemon
6 Tbl olive oil
1 boneless leg of lamb (about 3 pounds, though more also definitely works)
6 woody branches of rosemary
1 meyer lemon, sliced into thin rounds (and seeded, if necessary)
optional: a few more cloves of garlic, number is dependent on your passion for the garlic
1/4 cup red wine
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Start by processing all the herb paste ingredients except for the olive oil in a food processor until the herbs (particularly the rosemary leaves) are chopped. Now, with the machine running, slowly pour in the oil. Most machines have a spout type thing at the top you can remove so that you can pour ingredients in while blending. Continue to blend until it has reached a thick sauce consistency, scraping down the sides when necessary. There will still be little chunks of rosemary and garlic, you can’t make a complete paste out of it, but do the best you can.
If the lamb is tied, untie it. Spread the lamb out, and with a sharp knife, trim as much fat as you can from both sides of the meat. Think that fat is gross and that you’re going to toss it in the trash? Don’t! Fat can be used for lots of things. Melt it down and use it to cook veggies in or make a broth (I think? I’m not sure how well that would actually work if you haven’t got ANY meat attached, but it’s worth a shot.) Find a baking dish where the lamb will fit snugly. Rub the top of the lamb with about half of the herb paste, flip it over, and rub the other side. Set it in the dish, cover with plastic wrap, and stick it in the fridge for 8-24 hours (the longer the better). Now, I am not particularly a fan of recipes where you have to refrigerate anything for more than an hour – planning ahead is not my forte. But you know what I’m learning? It’s so worth it. When you let anything (particularly meat) absorb the flavors of your marinade or rub for a long time, it makes such a big, flavorful difference.
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Remove your lamb from the dish and, attempting to remove as little of the herb rub as possible, roll the lamb back into it’s original shape. If this seems relatively impossible (as it did for Jonah when he was rolling it), just roll it into whatever shape makes sense – you just want it to be kind of spiraled and uniform in size. Hopefully that makes sense. We also took some whole cloves of garlic and stuck them in little crevices in the lamb before rolling it up. They got gently cooked, and made for a nice look when the lamb was sliced for serving. Take a few pieces of kitchen twine and tie the lamb snugly in three places (or more, whatever you need to do to make it work – just as few as possible, mostly). Put the rosemary branches and lemon slices in the bottom of the baking dish and gently set the lamb on top. Roast the lamb at 425 for 10 minutes before reducing the heat to 350 degrees. Roast for about an hour and a half, or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the center registers 130-135 degrees. Note: ours DID NOT take an hour and a half. It was done a little over an hour at 350. Take the temperature in a few places and use the lowest . Remove the roast from the oven, transfer it to a board (preferably one with those grooves around the edges as it will be releasing lots of juices), cover it loosely with foil, and let it rest for about 10 minutes.
While the meat is resting, whip up the sauce. Take the rosemary branches and lemon slices out of the baking dish, and tilt the dish so the drippings all run into one corner. Skim off as much fat as you can, transfer the remaining juices to a little saucepan. Add the wine and put it over low heat. Use a whisk to stir in the mustard and vinegar, and season to taste with salt and pepper if you’d like. Remove the strings from the meat and slice it thinly. Arrange on a platter (or just throw a couple slices on each plate) and pour the sauce over. Voila! A delicious dinner.