Sunday, May 31, 2009

Patio Herbs

I began to fully understand how the term “container garden” came to be in use, when I started thinking about writing to tell you about my “pot garden.” I might eat granola and have a slightly more laid-back lifestyle than is in vogue these days, but if you really know me, you know that really is oregano growing on my porch. To keep myself out of trouble, I’ll try to refer to my stash of culinary herbs on the back patio as a container garden or patio or porch garden (although I might become more google-able if I use the word “pot”).

Anyway, the herbs are growing, and only a few need to be transplanted to larger pots. (I had to buy some more potting soil…don’t you just hate buying dirt?) I should be able to supplement my dishes quite favorably (or flavorably) all summer. I have the “Scarborough Fair” quartet (parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme), oregano, four kinds of mint (spearmint, peppermint, orange, and chocolate), dill, tarragon, and summer savory, something new to my cooking that goes well with tomatoes and green beans. I also have a spicy salad greens mix just coming up from seed, and I planted two kinds of basil seeds that were pretty old, and I don’t know if they’ll come up.

I bought most of the herbs as plants from garden centers, but a few are leftovers from last year that I managed to keep alive over the winter. The oregano has actually survived two winters, at least. In magazines and such, they’ll tell you that you can keep a fresh herb garden at a sunny window all winter, but I think those bits of advice were written from places where the angle of the sun is higher in the winter than it is here in southeastern Minnesota. I can keep some things from dying during the cold months, but nothing really grows.

The thyme plants I bought were very well developed and there’s a lot that’s ready to eat, so, to celebrate my porch’s bounty, I used thyme to flavor some quick and easy drop biscuits. I didn’t have buttermilk or yogurt in the house, so I tried sour cream to make these (I had juuuuuust enough), with good results. We enjoyed these biscuits with scrambled eggs with more fresh herbs and cheese for Sunday brunch.

You could use knives or even your fingers to cut the butter into the flour mixture for these biscuits (or anything else that uses a similar procedure), but I really like using a pastry blender. The one I like is in the photo below, and has blades rather than thick wires as I have seen in other models. I also strongly recommend a Microplane grater for removing lemon zest. It takes off just the nice fragrant, flavorful yellow part, leaving the bitter pith behind. (I used my kitchen shears to harvest the thyme and the whisk to stir the flour mixture, so they got in the shot too.)

The dough for these biscuits is quite wet, but results in a nice crust and moist interior. They can be simply dropped onto a baking pan rather than rolled and cut.

Sour Cream Drop Biscuits with Lemon and Thyme
adapted from Cooking Pleasures magazine

1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
½ cup sour cream
¼ cup milk
zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

Preheat oven to 425 F.
1. Place flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir well with a whisk. Add butter and cut in with a pastry blender until the butter is well-distributed and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

2. Mix the sour cream, milk and lemon juice together in a measuring cup or small bowl. Add to the flour mixture. Add thyme leaves. Stir gently just until the mixture is no longer dry. Do not beat or overmix.

3. Scoop out dough in equal portions and place on a baking sheet that has been greased, or lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. I made large biscuits and got 5 out of the dough.

4. Bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes or until the outside of the biscuit is beginning to brown. Cool slightly before consuming. These are best right away, but are just fine later, and can be frozen as well.

Makes 5-6 large biscuits

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