Jazz Up the Christmas Feast With Garden Herbs

Reader Contribution by Melodie Metje
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Here is just one potential Christmas feast maximizing flavor from the herbs still providing in the garden at Christmas:

Fig Preserves with Rosemary Cheese for appetizer, Rosemary-inspired Rack of Lamb, Garlic and Herb-Roasted Vegetables, Fresh Greens with Hot Bacon Dressing, all topped off with Cranberry-Mint Sorbet

Fig Preserves and Rosemary Cheese

8 ounces softened cream cheese
3 ounces softened goat cheese
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
1 Tsp coarse black pepper

To make the rosemary cheese, combine cream cheese, goat cheese, rosemary, and black pepper. Blend until smooth. You can serve in a beautiful crystal dish or go for a mold. For a molded cheese, put the mixture in the mold, chill for 2 hours, unmold onto serving plate (you can run warm water over the top of the mold to get it to release easier). You are now ready to cover with fig preserves and serve with your favorite crackers.

Figs are super easy to grow in pots. I bought a Chicago hardy fig that survives in our Zone 6 garden. If given a large pot, they will produce many fruits over the summer and fall season.

If you want to make your own preserves, simply cook in a medium sauce pan 1 pound of fresh, ripe figs (washed and stem removed) with 1 cup of sugar for 30 minutes, uncovered. If keeping in the refrigerator, you can pour directly into a sterilized quart jar or 2 pint jars, leaving a 1/8 inch head space. If you want to store in the pantry, you will need to “process” your preserves. This is really easy. Just put in a large stock pan, covered with water. Heat until boiling and cook for 5 minutes. Remove using tongs, allow to cool, and store in a dark, cool place.

I put my hot jars on a kitchen towel so they are not “shocked” by the cold counter top. I also use Weck canning jars since they are all glass, including the lid.

Rosemary Inspired Rack of Lamb

2 cloves garlic
3 Tbs parsley
2 Tsp chives
2 Tsp thyme
2 Tsp rosemary
1/2 Tsp salt
1/8 Tsp pepper

Stop by your local meat market and get a French cut rack of lamb. Remove the fat and gristle, coat the outside with olive oil then cover with a 1/2 cup crushed rosemary and 1/4 cup sea salt mix. Roast fat side out at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 35-40 minutes in the oven or on the grill until the interior temperature reaches 150 degrees. Let stand 10 minutes before slicing so that the juices won’t be lost during cutting. If you prefer garlic, here is another rub option. Mix all the ingredients together and coat the rack of lamb and cook as above.

Rosemary can overwinter indoors. You can also pick up some pretty potted rosemary in many stores this time of year.

Garlic and Herb Roasted Vegetables

4 sweet potatoes
3 medium turnips
2 large onions
12 cloves crushed, peeled garlic
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons olive oil.

This recipe works with any really firm vegetables you like. Here is one variation. Cut the sweet potatoes, turnips and onions into 1.5 inch wedges. Put the rest of the ingredients in a gallon plastic bag  Mix thoroughly. Add your cut veggies and squish them around until they are coated on all sides with the herb mixture. Place on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Roast in a 450 degrees, preheated oven for 25-30 minutes until soft.

Potatoes, turnips and onions are all veggies that can be stored over winter if kept in the proper conditions. Be sure to keep potatoes covered or in a dark place as when they turn green, they are toxic. Sweet potatoes will keep for a month if kept in cool dry conditions and bagged with an apple to keep from sprouting.

Mixed Greens With Hot Bacon Dressing

4 slices bacon
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbs water
1 Tbs honey
1 Tsp grated onion
1/8 tsp dried mustard

An old Southern favorite is hot bacon dressing.  Cook bacon until crisp, reserving 2 tablespoons of the drippings (grease).  Crumble the bacon and set aside.  In a small sauce pan, combine the rest of the ingredients, bring just to boil and add bacon.  Remove from heat and whisk before serving.

There are greens still growing in the garden that are a perfect pair for the sweet hot bacon dressing-chard, sorrel, spinach, mustard greens and even some winter hardy lettuce. Mine are doing great in their Earthboxes in the mini portable greenhouse.

Cranberry Mint Sorbet

4 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
2 Tsp fresh mint
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup cranberries

I am not a huge fan of the gelatin cranberry sauce. This is a great way to include the traditional cranberry in a totally new and refreshing way.

Combine in a medium sauce pan 3 1/4 cups water and sugar, bring to boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, add the remaining ingredients. Allow to cool and strain.

Combine another 3/4 cup of water and cranberries in a small sauce pan and bring to boil. Cover, simmer for 8 minutes or until skins pop. Cool completely. Use food processor, process until smooth. Strain out solids.

Combine orange and cranberry mixture and pour into 9-inch-by-12-inch pan, cover and freeze. Reprocess in food processor, half at a time and refreeze until ready to serve.

Mint can be overwintered indoors to be able to take snips when needed to add a refreshing taste to many dishes and beverages.