My wholesale partner, growing buddy and good friend, Pat Stewart, was recently featured in our local newspaper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Chattanooga, TN. Here is her story...
Cook: Herbs figure importantly in Pat Stewart's cooking
By Karin Glendenning
Community News Writer
Pat Stewart is a busy woman. With a job as a quality systems manager at William Wrigley Jr. Company as well as growing herbs for Possum Creek Herb Farm and a business, called Down to Earth, where she makes and sells garden-inspired gifts and gourmet treats, she still finds time to cook and experiment with recipes.
She has entered the Hamilton County Fair on three occasions and each time came away with a blue ribbon for her entries: Tomato Juice, Tomato Bread and Parmesan Cornbread.
"Not only do I enjoy cooking, but I enjoy people enjoying my cooking," she said.
Except for baking, when she always follows recipes exactly, she likes to experiment with food. "It's Katie bar the door for me. It's always a pinch of this or a pinch of that," she said.
"I come from a family of cookers. I grew up where the family revolved around the hominess of the kitchen and breaking bread together. Lots of my recipes are ones I got from my mother and grandmother," she said.
"When I cooked Thanksgiving dinner the first year after my mother died, my dad said "If I'd closed my eyes, I would have thought Eileen (her mother) cooked it.? That was the greatest compliment I've ever received. I thought I had arrived," she said.
Mrs. Stewart said she makes everything from scratch and likes making recipes her own. The Parmesan Cornbread is a good example of this. When she wanted to enter the fair, her husband suggested she enter her cornbread, so she went out to her backyard herb garden and gathered several varieties and came up with the prize-winning recipe.
Mrs. Stewart was born in Hixson, but her mother came here from New York, so she said her cooking reflects both Southern influences and Yankee ones. When it comes to Thanksgiving dressing, she said she always prepares her mother's recipe that uses regular bread instead of cornbread, but she has tweaked it so she uses half white bread and half whole-grain bread.
She said her specialties are her cheesecake, which she calls "the widow-maker," and her bread dressing. "I'm a purist when it comes to cheesecake. Mine is very dense and not fluffy. It's my mother's recipe," she said.
Mrs. Stewart partners with Michele Brown to grow herbs that they sell at Possum Creek Herb Farm in Soddy-Daisy. In two greenhouses she raises a huge variety of savory plants, including pineapple sage, Greek and Roman oregano, rosemary, salad burnet, lovage, sage, dill, cinnamon basil, Genovese basil, anise hyssop, chives, chamomile, chocolate mint, fennel and a selection of medicinal herbs. She also grows scented geraniums, and this year harvested a crop of garlic in her vegetable garden along with heirloom tomatoes, green beans, okra, cucumbers and squashes.
Several of the recipes she shares with readers today make use of many of the herbs she has learned to use to make her food interesting and tasty.
HERBED CHICKEN BREASTS
(Once Michele Brown of Possum Creek Herb Farm introduced me to the world of fresh herbs, I was hooked," said Mrs. Stewart. "I use Herbs de Provence, which is a combination of rosemary, thyme, savory, fennel seed, basil, lavender and marjoram. This is a great combination for any poultry or pork chops or loin." She said this recipe works best on a gas grill with indirect heat, or it may also be cooked in a 350 oven.)
Herbs de Provence
Extra virgin olive oil
Preheat grill or oven. Rinse and dry boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Lightly coat chicken breasts on both sides with olive oil. Coat the tops of each breast with Herbs de Provence. Cook chicken breasts until done, without turning. The herb crust can be eaten with the chicken or scraped off. (The flavor will still remain.)
IRISH STEW DUMPLINGS
("As a child, I remember my grandmother and mother making these dumplings every time we had beef stew. I always thought they looked like clouds," said Mrs. Stewart.)
1 cup sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon shortening
1/3 to 1/2 cup milk
Sift dry ingredients together. Cut in shortening. Add enough milk to make a drop batter. Drop by spoonfuls on the top of simmering stew and cover. Cook, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Don't peek!
PARMESAN HERB CORNBREAD
(Mrs. Stewart came up with recipe when she decided to enter the 2005 Hamilton County Fair and won a blue ribbon for it.)
2 cups self-rising corn meal mix
1 egg, beaten
1/8 cup oil
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon minced fresh basil
1/2 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
1/4 teaspoon minced fresh sage
1/8 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 450. Mix ingredients together. Pour into a preheated 9-inch cast iron skillet or greased 9-inch square pan.
Bake 25 to 30 minutes. Sprinkle some extra Parmesan on top as soon as cornbread comes out of the oven.
BLACK BEAN SOUP
1 1/2 cups dry black beans
1 1/2 quarts chicken broth
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Clean and rinse beans. Put beans, stock and oil in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer beans approximately 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1 carrot, grated
1 medium potato, peeled and grated
3 tablespoons chopped green pepper
1/4 pound chopped or shredded ham (not a sweet, honey variety)
2 teaspoons fresh or 1 teaspoon dry oregano
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper
1 minced garlic clove
3 tablespoons parsley
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Juice of 1 lemon
Sauté onion in olive oil until tender, then add shredded carrot and potato. Cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring constantly.
At the 1 1/2 hour mark, add vegetables, ham and seasonings to beans. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for the remainder of the bean cooking time. The beans and vegetables should be tender.
Add lemon juice and stir.
Optional additions of any combination of chopped green onions, rice, sour cream or Louisiana Hot Sauce add spice and variety to the servings.
CRUNCHY TUNA SALAD
("This is a kind of 'make it your own' tuna salad. There ends up being less tuna in it than anything else," Mrs. Stewart said. "My husband told me years ago that he didn't like tuna salad. I love it, so I set out to find a way to get him to like it. This was the result. This makes enough for a crowd. You can play with the recipe and reduce it or just come up with a combination of your own," she added.)
4 to 5 cans light or white tuna in water, drained and flaked
Chopped Kosher dill pickles
Chopped red onion
Chopped red and/or green bell pepper
Mayonnaise to taste or enough to hold mixture together
Combine ingredients, using amount and type of vegetables to suit personal taste. Serve with savory bread or chips.