Apr 3, 2012

Long live rosemary, queen of the garden!

Rosemary, "Tuscan Blue"
Click on photo to enlarge
The rosemary plant is a member of the mint family and is native to the Mediterranean area. There are at least 24 types of upright rosemary and another 12 types of creeping rosemary varieties. Rosemary now grows widely in other parts of the world, including Hawaii. It thrives in our warm and sunny climate. Rosemary is an evergreen shrub that can grow to a height of 6 feet. The long, needle-like leaves are dark green on top and pale beneath. The small flowers range in color from pale blue, pink or white, depending on the variety. If you like to cook with rosemary then you want to look for these varieties, 'Miss Jessup', 'Tuscan Blue' or 'Spice Island', which are all excellent choices for cooks. These large plants have large leaves that are very fragrant and hold their flavor when cooked or dried. I have 'Tuscan Blue' growing in my yard and it is terrific to cook with. I simply snip off pieces of the stem as I need it. It's ornamental, it's fragrant and it's delicious. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible. The small flowers can be used in salads and as garnishes. Gardeners will find an added benefit to growing their own rosemary, as it is a natural insect and deer repellant. I happen to know first hand that the deer on Moloka'i will not eat it, so I planted it all around my vegetable garden to keep them out. Many local hunters have found that this fragrant plant is great to use as an herb on venison, pork or chicken, simply add olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper, then throw springs of fresh rosemary on the hot coals of the grill to add even more flavor to the meat as it cooks.

Growing your own plants is easy to do. Simple snip about a 2 inch cutting from the soft, new growth of an established plant. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch and dip that tip into a rooting hormone. Rooting hormones can be found in any garden center, like Hikiola or Ace Hardware here on Moloka'i. Carefully place the dipped end into a container of dampened, sterile seed starting mix. Place the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight. Mist the cuttings daily and make sure the soil does not dry out. In about 2-3 weeks, test for root growth by very gently tugging on the cuttings. Once your cuttings have roots, transplant into individual pots about 3-4 inches in diameter. Pinch off the very top of the cutting to encourage it to develop branches.

Rosemary is also used for its fragrance in soaps and other cosmetics. Traditionally, rosemary has been used medicinally to improve memory, relieve muscle pain and spasm, stimulate hair growth, and support the circulatory and nervous systems. It is also believed to increase menstrual flow, act as an abortifacient (causing miscarriage), increase urine flow, and treat indigestion.

Cooks note: When measuring dried herbs versus fresh in recipes, chefs generally use a 1:3 dried:fresh ratio for converting their herb measurements. For example, if your recipe called for one tablespoon of dried rosemary then you would use 3 tablespoons of fresh rosemary. A smart cook will only use these conversions as a basic guide and will let taste really guide them in the kitchen. Dried herbs can very a lot in taste depending on how long they have been packaged. If you just dried your own herbs in your kitchen they are going to have a much stronger taste than if you bought them in the store a year ago. Likewise, fresh herbs vary in taste depending on how truly fresh they are. When making the substitution, add a little bit at a time and do a taste test to make sure that you're happy with the way it's coming out.

Baked Fish and Potatoes
with Rosemary and Garlic

1 pound new potatoes, peeled, washed, and cut into wedges
(You will need an oven-to-table baking dish that can accommodate both the fish
and the potatoes in one layer)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 fresh rosemary sprigs
4 whole garlic cloves, peeled
fine sea salt
black pepper
a 2-pound fillet from a firm-fleshed fish, such as grouper, striped bass,
red snapper, or mahi mahi
2 tablespoons fine, dry, unflavored bread crumbs

Turn on the oven to 400°F. Place the potato wedges in the baking dish, pour 2 tablespoons of the olive oil over them, add 2 sprigs of rosemary, all the garlic cloves, and salt, and pepper. Toss thoroughly. Put the dish in the preheated oven. After 15 minutes, remove the dish to turn the potatoes over, then put it back in the oven. Cook until the potatoes feel tender when tested with a fork, another 10 minutes or so. Remove the dish from the oven. Push the potatoes to the sides, making room in the center for the fish fillet to lie flat. Wash the fish fillet, pat it dry with paper towels, and lay it flat in the dish, skin side down. Strip the leaves from the remaining rosemary sprigs, scatter them over the fish, add salt and pepper, and sprinkle the bread crumbs and the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over the fillet. Return the dish to the oven and bake for 14 minutes. Let the dish settle out of the oven for 3 to 4 minutes before bringing it to the table. Makes 4 servings.

Prime Rib Roast Beef with
Fresh Garlic, Thyme, and Rosemary

1-5 pound prime rib roast
8 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped
2 cups dry red wine
sea salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons cornstarch

Place the roast fat side up in a roasting pan and pour red wine over the top. In a small bowl, mix together the garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, rosemary and thyme to form a paste-like consistency. Spread the mixture over the fatty layer of the roast, and let it sit out for about 30 minutes or until it is at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 500˚F. Bake the roast for 15 minutes in the preheated oven, and then reduce the temperature to 325˚F, and continue roasting for an additional 60 minutes. You may want to check the temperature of the meat with a meat thermometer 20 minutes or so before you expect it to be done to be sure you don't overcook the meat. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the roast and the amount of fat it has. The internal temperature of the roast should be around 120˚F for medium-rare when you take it out of the oven. Just remember that the meat will continue to cook after you take it out of the oven, so it is better to have the meat a little on the rare side. Take it out of the oven, cover it with foil, and allow the roast to rest for at least 15 minutes before carving so the meat can retain its juices. Make gravy by pouring the drippings into a saucepan. Mix two tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/4 cup cold water. Stir until the mixture is smooth and pour into the drippings; bring to a boil. Stir and let simmer until the sauce thickens. You can also just serve the drippings as au jus without thickening it. Makes 8 servings.

Roast Chicken with Garlic, Rosemary,
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy
1 Free range organic chicken
A few sprigs rosemary, cut into 1 inch lengths (Kumu Farms)
A few sprigs thyme (Kumu Farms)
2 garlic cloves, cut into sticks
2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/3 stick of butter, softened
1/3 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

15 baby carrots, leaves removed, (Kumu Farms)
A big handful of pole beans and/or bush beans, (Kumu Farms)

Take out the chicken from a refrigerator about half an hour before cooking. In the meantime, prepare the vegetables.

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Wash the chicken inside out and pat dry. Lay the bird chest up in a roasting pan and rub it with butter and olive oil before giving a gentle massage to the bird. Cut ten or so slits in the chest and insert a piece of rosemary and garlic in each slit. Fill the cavity with the rest of the garlic and rosemary.

Roast the chicken in the oven for about 50 minutes, basting often (spoon the grease from the bottom of the pan and pour over the chicken) about every 25 minutes. Then add the vegetables and thyme around the chicken, and baste the grease over them. Continue roasting until thoroughly cooked for about another 40 minutes or longer depending on the size of a chicken. A meat thermometer should reach 165˚F.

Take the pan out of the oven and transfer the chicken and the vegetables to a serving plate. Cover the bird with a piece of aluminum foil and rest for 15 minutes. Reserve the grease from the pan for making gravy sauce (recipe below). Makes 2 or 3 servings depending on how hungry you are.

Chicken Gravy
The grease from the bottom of the roasting pan
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons white wine
Salt and pepper

Combine the grease, chicken broth and wine in a medium pan over medium heat. Reduce to half. Add flour in a small amount and stir well till your favourite consistency is achieved. Adjust with salt and pepper. Serve immediately with the rosemary garlic roast chicken and Rosemary Mashed Potatoes (recipe below).

Rosemary Mashed Potatoes
Potatoes are my favorite food of all foods and rosemary mashed potatoes are the best way to eat them.

8 large yukon gold potatoes (about 4 pounds), peeled and quartered
1-1/2 teaspoons salt, divided
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup butter, cubed
3, 4 inch long pieces of fresh rosemary sprigs
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place potatoes and fresh rosemary sprigs in a large pot; add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Drain and discard rosemary, leaving cooked potatoes in the pot. Add the cream, butter, nutmeg, pepper and remaining salt; beat until smooth. I like to leave a few lumps in my mashed potatoes, so it doesn't have the texture of instant mashed potatoes. Makes 8 servings.

Rosemary/Citrus Spice Blend
grated zest of 3 lemons (about 4 tablespoons)
grated zest of 2 oranges (about 4 tablespoons)
fresh rosemary leaves from 5 (5-inch) branches (about 7 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons garlic powder
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarse sea salt

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process lemon and orange zest, rosemary leaves, garlic powder and pepper until finely chopped, about 1 minute. Add salt and pulse until salt forms smaller crystals and mixture is blended, about 30 seconds. Spread mixture thinly on a cookie sheet and put into a 250˚F oven for 45 minutes to remove moisture from the spice blend. After 45 minutes, turn oven off and leave the salt blend in the oven until it cools. When cool, pack into glass jars with tight-fitting lids and store in a cool, dark place for up to 2 months. This blend is great sprinkled in rice or potatoes while cooking, on roast chicken, grilled meats, fish, or steamed vegetables. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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