All content copyright Katrina Hall 2008 through 2025

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

freezing fresh basil

On a chilly day last September, I was struck by a display at the farmers' market - wild and vibrant stalks of fresh basil. I was curious, so I struck up a conversation with the lady behind the extravagant display. She passed on the amazing revelation that fresh basil could be frozen, without it turning black, as had so often happened in the past with my experiments with that delicious herb. The secret?

Pinch off the leaves while they are bone-dry, and toss into a plastic container, then freeze. She insisted that they would stay green as the day you picked them. You know what? She was right.

I froze some basil leaves, then roughly tore them on a pasta dish. 20 minutes later, they were still aromatic and green. Thirty minutes later, a little blackening, but still green, and that heavenly scent was still there. So there you have it - fresh basil from the depths of your freezer!

The top photo shows the frozen, dry, basil, and the bottom, the torn frozen basil gracing a pasta dish.

Isn't it amazing?

Monday, August 22, 2011

fresh zucchini provencal

Fresh Zucchini Provencal

If you think this dish looks familiar, perhaps you remember my Not-Julia's-Ratatouille . Same wonderful summer flavors, but without the eggplant ( which I'm sure makes many people very happy).

Fragrant with fresh basil and oregano, chunks of onions, peppers, and zucchini, plum tomatoes ( canned – since I only have a few cherry tomatoes here), and fresh hard neck garlic from the farmers' market, it's a great side or delicious on its own. Cook it up in a half an hour and enjoy some of the last bounty of summer.

To make:

3 cloves fresh peeled garlic, minced or sliced

3 T. olive oil

1 medium-large fresh zucchini

1 medium yellow onion

1 cup of canned plum tomatoes, cut up ( I only buy whole canned tomatoes, then run a knife through them while they're still in the can)

1 medium green pepper, cut into chunky strips

1 T. fresh oregano, or 1 t. dried

1 T. fresh basil, slivered, or 1 t. + dried

pinch of thyme

kosher salt and pepper

Pour the olive oil into the saucepan, then add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add all the other ingredients, and cook on medium low, stirring every once in a while, until the vegetables are tender, but not overcooked. Taste and add more salt or pepper as needed.

This can be spooned over pasta, or served on a platter, or in individual ramekins or dishes. It can be served warm, chilled, or at room temperature - a very forgiving recipe!


Not-Julia's ratatouille recipe is here.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

peanut butter icebox cookies and the poetry of loss

After seeing my mother a week before she died in February, I came home and lay on the couch, staring at the ceiling. I did that for a few weeks, then I began to read. I was always a reader, but this was different. I'd stay up sometimes until 3am, then get up at 6:30 and get on with my day, stopping by the library for another armful of books. And when both my children suddenly announced they were both moving away ( which, by the way, I think is wonderful), I kept reading. Now I also go on long walks, and am less faithful to posting on the blog on time. It's a process, and I think it's a healthy one.

But this summer there's been a flurry of sudden, sad deaths: a friend also lost her mother last week, a baby bird in my lilac bush lay broken-winged and still , a foodblogger lost her young husband to a sudden heart attack. When a call went out to make his favorite peanut butter pie, I could only manage to make this lovely peanut butter shortbread cookie from Maida Heatter. Here it is, in memory of Mikey, and blessings to his little girls and his lovely wife. May God hold them tenderly.

Maida Heatter's Peanut Butter Icebox cookies:

First you make the dough and let it sit in the freezer, before slicing and baking.

2 cups King Arthur flour

1/4 t. baking soda

1/4 t. cinnamon

1 stick ( 4 oz) unsalted butter, room temperature

1/3 cup smooth or crunchy peanut butter

1 t. vanilla

1/8 t. almond extract

1/3 cup white sugar

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

1 large egg

Sift together the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon and set aside.

Cream the butter and peanut butter until smooth, then add the vanilla and almond extracts and both sugars and mix well. Add the egg and mix again. Then slowly add the flour mixture and mix until it forms a ball of dough in the mixer bowl.

Remove the dough, squeezing and rolling it into a sausage shape, about 12 inches long, and 2 inches in diameter. Wrap in plastic wrap, place on a cutting board, and place in freezer for at least 40 minutes. ( you can also use half the dough now, and the rest later - just place in a freezer bag if you do that)

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line two baking sheets with foil or parchment.

Take out the log of dough and cut 1/4 inch slices off the log, transferring them to the baking sheet, about an inch apart.

Bake for 18 minutes and remove to cool.

To make sandwich cookies, just spread with more peanut butter, or leftover frosting, then top with another cookie.

Some favorite books this week:

The Poems of Stanley Kunitz

The red Garden by Alice Hoffman

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

zesty lime cookies on a hot summer day

Two fresh limes winked at me every time I opened the fridge, which was often in this sticky, hot, and humid weather we've been having. I thought about making a Mexican lime soup (sopa de lima) but the thought of simmering hot soup on the stove made me feel even hotter. Instead, I made lovely soft lime cookies, sprinkled with confectioner's sugar or sparkling sugar and lime zest. Perfect!

I made them small, I made them huge - they both tasted the same, and oddly, both baked for the same amount of time - 22 minutes. The big cookies look perfect for a nice vanilla bean ice cream sandwich, don't they? But I had them with a juicy watermelon and blueberry fruit salad, also perfectly complementing that puckery lime flavor.

I've been walking to our nearby pond daily, and yesterday the reflections of the bright blue sky and puffy white clouds in the water among the lily pads caught my eye. Astonishing, isn't it?

To make:

3 t. fresh lime juice

1/3 cup milk

1 stick of unsalted butter, softened

3/4 cup white sugar

1 large egg

1 3/4 cup King Arthur all-purpose flour

1/4 t. baking soda

1 t. baking powder

4 t. lime zest plus another teaspoon zest for decorating

Preheat oven to 350F. Line 2 cookie sheets with foil or parchment.

Combine the milk with the lime juice and let sit a few minutes.

In mixer bowl, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, then beat in the egg, then the lime juice and milk mixture.

Add the flour, baking powder and soda, and the lime zest.

Using a large ( or small) spring-loaded ice cream scoop, scoop balls of dough onto cookie sheets, leaving about two or three inches between cookies.

Mix a tablespoon of sparkling sugar with a tablespoon of sparkling sugar and sprinkle tops of cookies before baking. Just a pinch per cookie is plenty.

Bake in upper third of oven, one sheet at a time, for 22 minutes.

Remove and cool, then bake the second sheet.

Use a sifter to sprinkle confectioners sugar on top of the cookies before serving - and a sprig of mint or lemon verbena is pretty, too!

Enjoy the summer - August's going fast!