Gardening for Dinner: Using seasonal bounty

fried green tomatoes

I have never really considered myself a gardener. I have always had a plant or two growing in a pot or hanging basket and on some rare occasions, actually got something to eat from them. Then, four years ago, my wife and I bought a house and discussed putting in a raised bed for a small garden. That first bed was five feet by 10 feet and served as our very first garden. 


We didn’t get a whole lot out of that little bed, I think because we overplanted the small area. I wanted a large variety of vegetables and that didn’t work out so well. So, the following year, I added five more boxes and three half-barrel planters so that I could get a larger variety. 


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Grilled Salad: Welcome to your new obsession

grilled salad

I still remember the first time I decided to grill salad. Still in culinary school and just learning about layering flavors, my class was focusing on a duck confit salad, and that dish seemed very heavy for traditional greens. Yet I didn't want to go down the familiar path of a frisee salad. So, I wondered: what if I grilled some romaine? My thought was that the smoky, charred flavor would really complement the duck but not overpower it. Using duck fat and sherry vinaigrette as dressing, I gave it a shot, and it turned out to be a huge hit. I've been grilling salad ever since.


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Seasonal Pick: Garlic scape chimichurri

garlic scape chimichurrie

Ah, summer. Farmers markets are hopping, CSAs start up again, and access to über fresh and local produce is finally easy once more. Except that in the first days of summer, the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and squash we love to gobble up aren’t ready yet. Instead, vegetables and herbs that may be less familiar — pak choi, fiddleheads, ramps, and garlic scapes — still grace the stands. 


I’ve learned two tricks over the years when it comes to approaching cooking with new foods and both have served me well. First, ask the vendor. What is this? To what is it similar? How do you like to cook with it? They almost always steer you in the right direction.


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Kitchen DIY: Mastering quick pickles

quick pickles

Whenever I make up a batch of quick pickles, I think about my grandmother, who had such a lush, amazing garden, and the food preservation skills to match. She had little in the way of finances, so she was always very frugal about using whatever was on hand so we could enjoy the tastes of her garden throughout the long, cold Minnesota winter months. I remember zucchini, squash, tomato salsas, even fruit pickling. If she grew it, she canned it.


When I grew up and became a chef, I never forgot the way my grandmother would make sure to use produce wisely so that there wasn't any waste, and of course, I never forgot her quick pickles. 


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Eat Your Weeds: 3 foraged plants that are ready for dinner


Although there are numerous fresh herbs this time of year — and it's only going to get better from here until those first wintry flakes — what you find in your garden or farmers market is only part of the medicinal and culinary mix of options. 


In other words, try eating some weeds. 


What many people consider weeds could be the start of a beautiful herbal relationship. Once you start recognizing these once-reviled weeds, you'll begin to see your yard in a whole new way. Here are three that are often saved from my lawnmower's wrath, with many making their way into our dinners.



Outstanding for allergies, nettles (sometimes called stinging nettles) are usually abundant in both urban and rural settings. Just when I was planning on going out to forage them in the woods, I realized I had some growing just under my flowering cherry tree. 


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Seasonal Pick: Strawberry rhubarb baked oatmeal

oatmeal bake

I went to the farmers market last weekend for the first time this year with three things in mind: tomato plants, rhubarb, and donuts.  I came home with two out of the three.  The tomato plants and rhubarb were a breeze to find, but sadly the donuts were all sold out.  


Despite my donut fail, I was excited about my other two finds. I’ve been dying to get my hands on some fresh rhubarb, and there was plenty to be found at the farmers market. Since I returned home sans donut, I was pretty hungry for breakfast.  I decided to put my rhubarb to use and whip up an oatmeal bake.


I absolutely love oatmeal bakes because oatmeal is amazing, and you get breakfast for the rest of the week! What is easier than heating up some leftover oatmeal bake and drizzling it with some milk to “rehydrate” it, and calling it breakfast? Not much, friends.


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Foraging for Dinner: Ramp and asparagus risotto


I have never really considered myself an expert at anything, but if I were an expert at something, I would have to say it is foraging and using ramps. Ramps are the wild version of onions that grow in shady and sandy forest areas, often near rivers and streams, which is why I usually come across them while I am trout fishing. 


Years ago, I would go out looking for ramps and not find a single one. I must have spent an entire season looking for ramps and didn't find any. Now it seems like they are all I see. If there are ramps around, I can find them.  


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Kitchen DIY: Homemade tortillas


The more I experiment in the kitchen, the more I learn how easy it can be to make stuff from scratch that I never thought about making before. Homemade tortillas are a perfect example. I’ve always bought them from the store and haven’t really given them any more thought than that.


However, I recently made a pulled pork recipe from a new cookbook, and while it didn’t call for tortillas, I thought that not only would they be a great excuse to try making them from scratch, but also that they’d be a great addition to the recipe. And they were! 


These are ridiculously easy to make, with ingredients you probably already have on hand.


Homemade Flour Tortillas

Recipe makes 12 6-inch tortillas

2 C all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

1 tbsp shortening

3/4 cups water


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