Friday, February 18, 2011

Summer of the heart

By Laura Leasman

All the cold and snow we have had this winter is making me yearn for summer and the greening of the landscape. Growing up, having a large garden was always a part of summer. The whole family would take part in weeding, processing and eating the wonderful food the garden produced. I can honestly say that I did not appreciate it at the time. I actually hated going out and weeding, or sitting at the table shucking peas. I now realize what a valuable experience and amazing family I have, in part due to the time we all spent together as we grew up and the chores we were forced to do as a family.

I now find great joy in going home and visiting the gardens. I do not have space for my own garden, but I can get my garden fix at my parents' or at friends' homes. Vegetables fresh from the garden are a necessity of summer. Picking cherry tomatoes off the vine, warm from the sun, or pulling carrots, wiping off the dirt and eating them immediately are a joy that can only be experienced.

My mom’s herb garden was added after I left home for college. I can visit and see all the wonderful plants growing heartily due to the cool rains and bright sunlight: sage, rosemary, tarragon, dill, thyme, parsley, cilantro, oregano, echinacea, and basil are just a few of the herbs that comprise the herb garden. Dad has been able to utilize these amazing plants to flavor his vinegars. The vinegars, made from home-grown fruits such as grape, rhubarb and apple, are infused with the herbs. The flavors meld over time and create a complex and enjoyable culinary experience.

One of my favorite recipes, due to its simplicity, bright contrasting color combinations, and fresh taste is a dish made from fresh basil, tomatoes, and fresh mozzarella cheese. Simply slice the tomatoes and cheese and arrange on a plate. Fresh basil leaves, either whole or sliced into thin strips, are then sprinkled on top of the tomatoes and cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (perhaps Leatherwood Garlic), and top with cracked black pepper and a little salt. This salad is indicative of summer and always a crowd pleaser.

Oh Summer, you are so close and yet so very far away!

Friday, February 04, 2011

Leatherwood Vinegars add zing to Mediterranean cooking

By Laura Leasman

Within the last fifteen years, I was introduced to the fresh taste of Mediterranean cuisine. My first experience was with the family for whom I used to nanny. One night after work I was invited to join the family for dinner. They were making falafel and had hummus and pita bread on hand. We snacked on Kalamata olives and chatted as the falafel cooked in extra virgin olive oil. The falafel was served on the pita bread with humus, tomato, and lettuce.

I slowly became hooked to the light fresh flavors that can be found in Mediterranean cooking. I now love the large quantity and variety of vegetables, and the contrasting colors, they impart to the savory dishes. Eggplant is one vegetable, often used in Mediterranean cooking, that I am still working with. I find the eggplant to be very versatile, it absorbs the flavors of the food it is cooked with beautifully, but I have yet to perfect my cooking technique. Hummus, falafel and pita bread are still a favorite. These three ingredients, layered with tomato and lettuce, are a light and flavorful meal.

My favorite Mediterranean dish is the Greek, or Turkish, salad. The basic ingredients are: lettuce, tomato, red onion, Kalamata olives, Peperoncini peppers, and feta cheese. This salad is wonderful drizzled with olive oil, Leatherwood Vinegary vinegar and topped with freshly cracked black pepper.

I like to make my own dressings. It is easier to control the amount of the ingredients and I can tailor it to my taste craving of the day. I love to use the herbal vinegars. Ones I would recommend include basil, thyme, rosemary, and garlic, as well as any of the fruit vinegars. If home-made hummus is on the menu to accompany the salad, a dash of vinegar added to the hummus adds depth to its flavor.