Friday, March 23, 2012

Another "use it up" recipe (or bravery in the kitchen)

I've travelled to almost every corner of the United States. Each area I have visited has its own unique beauty, but no where else have I found the diversity of plants that are here in my little corner of the world. My husband and I own a tiny little piece of the "Evergreen State"--one and one-half acres in the Puget Sound region.

When we bought the property years ago, it was completed blanketed with hazelnut, dogwood, maple, and alder trees and the undergrowth was a tangle of ferns, huckleberries, and briars. Twenty years later one acre has been pretty much "tamed"--wild berries and weeds have been replaced by shrubs, perennials and annual flowers. But the "back" one-half acre is still forested and wild.
There is a nature trail that meanders through that section of our property, providing an amazing display of native plants--huckleberries, ferns, trillium, and numerous wildflowers. We are so blessed to be here.

However, there is one rather unwelcome plant that raises its ugly little head each Spring--the stinging nettle. For the unaware or uninitiated, stinging nettles are a beautiful plant (see photo above), but the stems and leaves are covered with millions of tiny hairs--each one ready to release a painful dose of formic acid at the merest brush. The sting causes extreme pain and welts that can last anywhere from several hours to several days.

Well, guess what I did today? I harvested nettles!! Yes, call me crazy, but these denizens of the forest are wonderfully tasty and nutritious if you know how to conquer their "wild side". A brief simmer in boiling water is all that is needed to tame the beast and have a nutritious deep green vegetable ready to be sauted, simmered in soup, or turned into a rich pesto.  Cooked nettles are slightly remeniscent of spinach, but slightly less bitter. 

(I wonder what brave soul first attempted to eat nettles?)

First, you need to wear protective gloves when harvesting nettles. Not canvas or cotton--something non-absorbant such as vinyl or cowhide. Snip just the top part (or first three levels) of leaves and place in a clean bucket. Keep clipping until your bucket is full. Bring your harvest into the kitchen.

Next, bring a large pot of water to boil.

Don a clean pair of rubber gloves and place you nettles into the kitchen sink. Run a bit of water over your harvest and then begin plucking leaves from the plants. Place the leaves in a colander and discard the stems.

Scoop the leaves into the boiling pot of water. Set your timer for 3 minutes, and stir the pot once or twice so that all of the leaves are submerged into the boiling water.

After 3 minutes drain the cooked nettle leaves into a colander and let cool.
When cool enough to handle, squeeze the water out of the cooked nettles (yes, they are safe to touch!). Give them a rough chop on your cutting board and then toss into the food processor. Now you're ready to make pesto.

Stinging Nettle Pesto

  • cooked nettles, squeezed dry, roughly one cup
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Whir until finely chopped. While the blade is moving  slowly pour in:

  • 3/4 cup olive oil
Stop and taste your pesto. You'll probably need to add a bit of salt. If the mixture seems too thick, add some water (about 2 tablespoons).

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The REAL March Madness

It doesn't matter where the roots of your family tree were planted--today we're all a little bit Irish.

I come by this claim honestly, however. My paternal grandmama was Irish, so that puts me at a hale and hearty 25 percent. If eating at an Irish pub isn't your thing, here are several recipes that you might like to try in your own kitchen:

Irish Whiskey Cake

Spotted Dog (Irish Soda Bread)


Sunday, March 11, 2012

If there is cake in Heaven...

Photo: Jamie Chung


....this exactly what it will look like. It will be eight layers tall, full of butter and sugar, cream cheese and Southern Comfort (yes, in Heaven), and covered with toasted coconut flakes.

Martha Hall Foose created this spectacular dessert for Bon Appetit magazine (February 2012). This is not a simple one-bowl cake and it definitely requires an investment of time and money, so save this one for special occasions. Pull out this recipe when you want a cake that is definitely rich, over the top, indulgent, spectacular, decadent, and yes, Heavenly.


Southern Comfort Coconut Cake


  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 3/4 cups cake flour plus more for pans
  • 2 1/2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut (not reduced-fat)*
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 5 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil, warmed to melt*
  • 1 cup buttermilk

Frosting and Assembly

  • 4 cups unsweetened coconut chips*
  • 2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/2cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup Southern Comfort
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 cups powdered sugar

* ingredient info: Unsweetened shredded coconut, coconut oil, and unsweetened coconut chips can be found at some supermarkets and at natural foods stores.



    • Arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven; preheat to 350°. Coat cake pans with nonstick spray; dust with flour. Whisk 2 3/4 cups flour and next 3 ingredients in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter at medium speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth, 3–4 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, beating to blend between additions. Beat until light and fluffy, 2–3 minutes. Gradually beat in oil. Beat in dry ingredients at low speed in 3 additions, alternating with buttermilk in 2 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients. Divide among four 9" cake pans (about 2 generous cups batter per pan); smooth tops with a spatula.
    • Bake until a tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 22–27 minutes. Transfer pans to wire racks; let cool in pans for 5 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks, remove pans, and let cakes cool completely.

    Frosting and Assembly

    • Preheat oven to 350°. Place coconut chips in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Toast until some of the chips are golden brown (some will remain white), 5–7 minutes; let cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
    • Using an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on high speed, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth and creamy, 2–3 minutes. Add 1 1/2 Tbsp. Southern Comfort and salt; beat to blend, about 1 minute longer. Add sugar; beat on low speed to blend. Increase speed to high; beat until fluffy, 5–6 minutes.
    • Using a long serrated knife, cut each cake in half horizontally (most reviews of this recipe suggest that you omit this step). Place 1 layer, cut side up, on a cake stand or plate. Lightly brush with about 1/2 Tbsp. of Southern Comfort. Spread 1/2 cup frosting over. Repeat with remaining 3 layers, Southern Comfort, and frosting. Chill cake for 30 minutes. Leave remaining frosting at room temperature. 
    • Cover sides of chilled cake with frosting. Cover cake loosely with foil and chill overnight. DO AHEAD: Can be made 2 days ahead. Keep chilled. Let cake stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
    • Gently pat handfuls of toasted coconut chips over sides and top of cake and serve.