Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Sweet Dreams Bath Tea

Many people do not think that a bath is a good idea in the summer, but it is actually very good for you.  Sun screen, sun exposure and daily workouts and summer activities make skin sweaty and oily and allow it to pick up a number of toxins.  This blend will give you a great reason to take a bath and the relaxation effects will give you a good night's rest.

Sweet Dreams Bath Tea

1 cup lavender buds

½ cup hops

½ cup mugwort

½ cup mullein

½ cup jasmine flowers

8 drops lavender essential oil

4 drops patchouli essential oil
Blend dried herbs together in a large bowl.  Place in a tightly sealed jar for storage. 

To use: Add 2 to 4 Tablespoons in a muslin drawstring bag and hang under tap while filling tub, or brew in a saucepan of 2 cups of water simmered for 5 minutes and poured into bath water.  Fills about 10 bags

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Monthly Recipe - Vanilla Extract and Banana Bread

Since the garden is slow to get going this year, I am not sad that the recipes I chose to share this month are Bread Recipes.  I am known for my famous Zucchini Bread – I have shared that recipe before, you can find it here.  This past Christmas I made zucchini bread and used the vanilla I made myself to create it.  The flavor was much richer than distilled vanilla, so I thought I would share with you how to make your own vanilla extract.

I will  start, however, with the first recipe for this month I have a simple one- Banana Bread.  Most of the breads I will include are quick breads, those that do not require yeast, however I do have a couple yeast recipes you might like, too.

Banana Bread

½ cup sugar

½ cup brown sugar
½ cup butter
2 eggs
½ tsp pure vanilla extract (see below)
3 very ripe bananas, peeled and mashed
1 ¾ cups flour
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp dried cinnamon basil leaves, crumbled
¼ tsp cinnamon or allspice, but I recommend BYP Cinnful Dessert Blend which contains both
Pinch salt
½ cup chopped walnuts, optional
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, Grease a 5 x 9 inch loaf pan.  With an electric mixer, cream together the sugars and butter until fluffy.  Reduce the speed and add eggs one at a time.  Add the vanilla and mashed bananas and mix well.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon basil, and cinnamon (or allspice or Cinnful Dessert Blend.)  Add to the banana mixture and mix until just combined.  Stir in nuts, if using.  Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake 45 to 55 minutes more, until firm in center.  Let sit for 5 minutes on a wire rack, then run knife around edge and remove from pan.  Wait until cool to slice and serve.

Making your own vanilla extract

Alcohol can be used as a medium to make an extract.  If you are a baker, you will love experimenting with extract tinctures for flavoring cakes and cookies.

A tincture is an herbal extract made by infusing herbs in alcohol. This alcohol-based preparation is designed to preserve the natural benefits of chosen herbs and can be used to treat a variety of circumstances.

The alcohol—generally 100% vodka—extracts the medicinal constituents from the herbs, resulting in a strong and powerful concentration of the herb’s healing essence. Tincturing also allows the water in the alcohol to extract the water-soluble constituents from the herb, further increasing the tincture’s herbal potency.

This recipe is the simplest way to make your own liquid herbal extracts in your own home.

1.  Start with a clean 12 oz.  jar that has a tight-fitting lid and the herbs of your choice. If you can use fresh herbs this is best. Fresh material is always preferred but availability is determined by season you are making your extracts.  When making vanilla extract you need vanilla beans. One will be plenty.   

2.  Slit open the bean and scrape out the inside, then place the scrapings and the bean in the glass jar with a tight-fitting lid.

3.  Pour a good and strong alcohol, like vodka or everclear over the vanilla.  Completely cover the herbal material, and leave 2-3 inches of alcohol above the herbs.  100 proof alcohol is recommended, but you can also use grain alcohol.  When using grain alcohol, mix it with equal parts of purified water to create 50% alcohol to 50% water ratio. 

4. If using dried vanilla, you will need to add more alcohol over the next day or two as the dried herbs absorb and expand. A good ratio for dried material is about 1 part herb to 5 parts alcohol, and with fresh material 1 part herb to 3 parts alcohol.

5.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid, shake well, and place the jar in a dark place.  Allow the mixture to soak and macerate for 4 to 6 weeks. Shake every few days to help the alcohol extract the active constituents from the vanilla.

6.  After 4 to 6 weeks strain the vanilla out of the resulting liquid, which will have become very dark. Use a large strainer lined with fine mesh or cheesecloth. Make sure to tightly squeeze the material to extract every precious drop from the cloth. Funnel the material from your larger container into smaller bottles, preferably amber bottles and store in a cool dark place.  An herbal tincture will be good for at least 3-5 years, if not indefinitely.

Rich dark color of infused vanilla, just before straining

To find any recipe featured this month - use the search box and type: BreadJun
To find any theme recipe from this year type: recipe2018

For 2018 the monthly recipe themes will be:
   January - Chicken Soup (ChickJan)
   February - Beef Stew (StewFeb)
   March - Jambalaya (JambMar)
   May - Ham and Shrimp Dishes (ShrHamMay)
   June - Bread recipes (BreadJun)
   July - Garden Delights
   August- Grilling
   September - Salsa, Corn and Jelly
   October - Squash Dishes
   November - Pumpkin Recipes
   December - Herbal Cocktails

Friday, June 1, 2018

Making Chive Blossom Vinegar - Weekend Recipe

My favorite herb flavored vinegar to make uses Chive blossoms.  You can only make it at the beginning of the season when chives bloom in their lovely pinky purple flowers.  On a good year I can get a jar or two of vinegar from my plant at the house, so this year, although late, is exceptional. The plant has more blossoms than it has in years and I have already collected two jars of blossoms and expect to get two maybe three more.

Why do I love this chive blossom vinegar?
Chive blossoms are an edible flower that tastes great in a salad due to their light onion flavor.  For those who find true onions too strong these are a great way to access the flavor without the pungency.  The blossoms make a gorgeous pink vinegar that looks good on the shelf as well as lends a wonderful onion flavor and scent to salad dressings, marinades, a vegetable splash, and other dishes where a hint of onion is perfect.

The best part of this year was hubby asked it there would be some soon as he was missing it and wanted to make bean salads with it

How do you make Chive Vinegar?
Making vinegar is one of the easiest things to do and I have detailed the steps before.  For chive blossom vinegar you need a jar.  I use a canning jar, but many times use Marzetti slaw jars and corn syrup jars to craft vinegar as they fill the shelf so neatly.

Fill the jar half full with vinegar, distilled white is fine, nothing fancy is needed.  Just make sure it has a 5% acidity on the label to avoid any bacteria.  

Go out to the garden with the jar and begin cutting the blossoms, popping them into the jar.  Once you harvest them all you will want to give the chives a hair cut, about 2 inches off the ground to promote good new growth and perhaps more flowers later in summer.

Continue cutting the chives until you fill the jar, then add vinegar to fill the jar to the top.  Put on the lid and let it sit.

24 hours later, starting to turn pink
The vinegar will extract the flavor and color from the blossoms.  Even 24 later you will start to see the pink color suffusing the vinegar.

Wait about 2 weeks, strain out the flowers and begin to use the vinegar.  Try this great dressing/dip:

Herb Vinegar Salad Dip / Dressing       
1/2 cup mayonnaise 
1/2 cup sour cream 
2 Tbls. chive blossom or other herb vinegar 
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1/2 tsp. sugar 
dash salt & pepper

Blend ingredients in covered container and allow 4 hours in refrigerator to meld.  Can be used as a dip or thinned with 3 T. of milk for salad dressing.

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Ham & Cheddar Strata

Once posted as part of an advent calendar, I still feel this is a great recipe that can make a great make-ahead breakfast dish.  You can freeze individual servings and enjoy for a quick breakfast or lunch.

8 oz. thinly sliced deli ham
3 cups reduced-fat (2%) milk
7 large eggs
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 loaf French bread (about 12 oz.), cut into 14-in. slices
8 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh chives

Spray 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray. Line dish with ham. In large bowl, whisk together milk, eggs, mustard, thyme, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper until well blended.

Arrange half of bread slices, overlapping slightly, on bottom of prepared dish. Pour half of milk mixture over bread. Sprinkle with half of cheddar. Repeat layering. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove plastic wrap and bake strata 50 to 55 minutes or until golden and knife inserted in center comes out clean. Let stand 5 minutes. Garnish with chives. Makes 6 main-dish servings

To find any recipe featured this month - use the search box and type: ShrHamMay
To find any theme recipe from this year type: recipe2018

For 2018 the monthly recipe themes will be:
   January - Chicken Soup (ChickJan)
   February - Beef Stew (StewFeb)
   March - Jambalaya (JambMar)
   May - Ham and Shrimp Dishes (ShrHamMay)
   June - Bread recipes
   July - Garden Delights
   August- Grilling
   September - Salsa, Corn and Jelly
   October - Squash Dishes
   November - Pumpkin Recipes
   December - Herbal Cocktails

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Mistakes New Herb Gardeners Make

So you're thinking of herb gardening, or maybe you tried it last year and it was an utter disaster? Have no fear. There are a few simple mistakes that many herb newbies make (and I know, because I made most myself). Master these simple and practical tips for herb gardening and you'll be using your own fresh herbs in no time.

Fresh herbs are one of the greatest ways to increase the taste of your food healthfully. I often toss whatever leafy herbs are at hand liberally into a salad to add unexpected variations in flavor (basil, oregano and dill are all great choices). Fresh herbs can add punch to sauces or create intensely flavorful crusts for roasted meats. While fresh herbs are now regularly available at grocery stores year-round, growing your own herbs is a great way to master flavors you like and control the origins of your food. Growing herbs at home can be easy whether you live in a house in the suburbs or an apartment in the city.

Let it be known that one of the reasons I started to grow herbs was because they are much more resistant to diseases and infestations, but that still means you need to avoid a few mistakes to be able to enjoy them to the fullest. 
Don’t worry I am not going into soil pH, chemical make up of the soil or any of that.  Those discussions are for those who want to increase a harvest, not enjoy a few herbs in the backyard.  I have only tested my soil once or twice and once was because I was afraid it may have changed after a horrendous flood.

Mistake 1: Growing from seed. Many herbs are perennials rather than annuals (dill, cilantro and basil being exceptions) which means they take forever to mature and impatience can set in.  When you first start out trying to grow fresh herbs, I recommend you begin by trying to grow from seedlings rather than planting your own seeds. You can even grab a small plant at the grocery store to get you started.  Seeds grow slowly; some take weeks to germinate; others need precise conditions to sprout and grow.  All of these can be a headache for a new herb gardener, so skip it dive right in with plants.

Mistake 2: Starting with the wrong varieties. Choose herbs you enjoy eating, those that enjoy the weather where you live.  Don’t try something that says it likes cool weather if you, like me, live in Chicago.  Those hot days in late June will kill it.  Some plants can help you grow others.  Basil wilts if it does not get enough water, you can use it to gauge if you are watering all your plants enough.  Or choose scented geraniums, which love dry soil and will endure being forgotten rather well.
scented geranium
Mistake 3: Watering potted herbs like houseplants. It is better to water herbs daily only a moderate amount than to water once a week like a houseplant and let them dry out.  Houseplants love this, herbs require moderate and regular watering. This is particularly true during hot summer months. Make sure the soil drains well and that your containers have a drainage holes and it will be difficult to water herbs too much.

Mistake 4: Not cutting early and often. As a novice gardener, it may seem like your puny little plant just isn't ready for a trip to the barber, but then you will find yourself sitting there wishing for leaves without much success. Basil is a great herb to practice pruning. Basil, like many herbs, if you don’t trim aggressively it will continue to grow straight up, and become too tall and top-heavy. Clipping or pruning makes herbs bushy and causes them to produce more leaves.  It also keeps them from flowering.  You rarely, if ever, want your herbs to flower.  Flowering herbs lose flavor in the leaf when they produce flowers, giving you even more reasons to prune your herbs.

To prune you cut the herb just above a set of growing leaves. With basil, when you cut the plant that way, the originally trimmed stem will no longer grow. However, two new stems will grow around the original cutting, creating a “V” shape. 

Making your first trim approximately 3-4” above the soil produces a nice sturdy plant. Of course you want to be sure you are always leaving a few good sturdy leaves on the plant.

As it continues to grow, continue to prune it approximately every 3-4" for a nice solid plant. Your clippings make great bits of herb to experiment and cook with and result in more leaves to use later.

Mistake 5: Taking the leaves from the wrong place. When you are just starting out it seems to make so much sense to pick off a few big leaves around the bottom of the plant, and let those tender little guys at the top keep growing. Wrong. Leave those large tough old guys at the bottom alone. They are the solar panels that power your herb's growth. Once your plant is big enough to sustain a decent harvest, keep on taking from the top, as you have been when pruning. That way you get all those tender new herbs that are so tasty, and your plant gets to keep its well-developed solar power system in place. Plus, if you pluck from the base and leave the top intact, you get a tall skinny plant that will flop over from its own weight. (See rule above!)
Mistake 6: Growing the wrong variety. When choosing herbs, read the label carefully. For example, there are two main varieties of oregano: Mediterranean and Mexican. Mediterranean oregano is the more common variety, and what you likely own if you have conventional dried oregano in your cupboard. I have Mexican oregano growing in my personal garden. I love Mexican oregano in spicy dishes, for making beans from scratch, and often use it in tomato dishes where I don't want the flavor to seem too much like marinara. Similarly, there are several types of tarragon, French Tarragon and Russian Tarragon are the most common, however if you want a culinary tarragon then you want French which cannot be grown from seed and must be cultivated from root.  The first year it grows slowly then after that it springs from the root and gets more than 3 feet tall (see next rule).  The Russian variety is easy to propagate, drought tolerant and very often substituted for French, but the scent is not nearly as strong and the flavor for cooking is very limited.

Mistake 7: Being unaware of final size! If you are planting in soil instead of pots, take care that your cute little herb seedling doesn't become a giant plant that takes over your garden. A word of warning for oregano and mint: both can be voracious growers. If you are planting outside in a garden, rather than in pots, you may want to consider potting these herbs and then burying the pots in the ground. This will add a measure of control to the root systems of these herbs, which can otherwise take over a garden and strangle nearby neighbors. 
spreading spearmint
Mistake 8: Give yourself Rewards. There is an element to passion about herb gardening. To want to continue you need to feel rewarded. With herbs, finding uses and experimenting with new herbs and new uses can be that reward.  So don't stick too long with one or two herbs just because they work. Branch out to a few other basic herbs that you will use regularly in your kitchen. There are few things more rewarding than being able to pop out to garden to clip fresh herbs to use in my cooking. Once you have become comfortable with your first plant, I recommend moving on to try growing oregano, mint, rosemary and thyme. All are regularly useful herbs in the kitchen, and all are relatively easy to grow. 
Cuban oregano (with pansies)

A young woman in a Garden center near Burlington, WI introduced me to this year’s new herb. Cuban Oregano Plectranthus amboinicus, a semi-succulent perennial plant in the family Lamiaceae with a pungent oregano-like flavor and odor. It is native to Southern and Eastern Africa. It is widely cultivated and naturalized elsewhere in the tropics where it is used as a traditional medicine, spice, and ornamental plant. I love the scent and cannot wait to try cooking with it.

Basil Perpetuo

I was also at a garden center and found a variegated Basil that I have wanted to try since I first wrote about it, Basil Perpetuo a beautiful basil with a great flavor for Pesto that I have been looking to buy as a plant since 2014, because I hate growing basil from seed!  You can read about this and other Pesto Basil in this post from 2014

Friday, May 25, 2018

Spicy Sauteed Shrimp with Rice - Weekend Recipe

Spicy Sautéed Shrimp with Rice

2 cups Instant brown rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lemon, zested
16-oz. jumbo shrimp, thawed and peeled
Crushed red pepper
2 Tbls. canola oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1 zucchini, sliced in half and cut unto ½ inch half mons
2 tsp dried garlic, minced
1-14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 Tbls. BYP Garlic and Herb Combination
4 oz. plain goat cheese

Cook rice according to package instructions. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Stir in lemon zest, set aside. Season shrimp with salt & pepper and crushed red pepper, to taste.  Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add onion, pepper and zucchini. Sauté until vegetables are tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic, tomatoes, and BYP Garlic and Herb Combination, bring mixture to a simmer and allow water to cook away.  Add shrimp.  Cook stirring frequently, until no pink remains. About 5 minutes.  Break apart goat cheese and stir into mixture until incorporated.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with brown rice. 

To find any recipe featured this month - use the search box and type: ShrHamMay
To find any theme recipe from this year type: recipe2018

For 2018 the monthly recipe themes will be:
   January - Chicken Soup (ChickJan)
   February - Beef Stew (StewFeb)
   March - Jambalaya (JambMar)
   May - Ham and Shrimp Dishes (ShrHamMay)
   June - Bread recipes
   July - Garden Delights
   August- Grilling
   September - Salsa, Corn and Jelly
   October - Squash Dishes
   November - Pumpkin Recipes
   December - Herbal Cocktails
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