Friday, February 24, 2017

Weekend Recipe - Fun & Easy Taco Dip

There is this website called that posts information about holidays, National days and other stuff like that.  Under the heading of Bizarre and Unique Days I often find something interesting to post about when I am at a loss for ideas.  When I was surfing there one day, I found National Tortilla Day.

Today, February 24, is National Tortilla Day.  The website did not know the origin of the day, but their guess was a tortilla company may have started it.  I thought it was an unusual day for it -- in Winter, not picnic season or a tortilla-related holiday, but who am I to judge.  I thought it was a great day to celebrate tortilla chips with a quick and easy dip, and if you are cold be sure to add some hot peppers!

Fun and Easy Taco Dip
8 ounce block of cream cheese, softened
16 ounces sour cream
2 Tbls BYP Fiesta Dip Herb Mix
1/2 of an 8 ounce bottle of taco sauce
8 ounce package shredded taco cheese (or cheddar cheese)
1 can sliced black olives
shredded lettuce
1 -2 chopped tomatoes, or 1 14 ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
Jalapenos, optional

In a bowl, blend softened cream cheese and sour cream with BYP Fiesta Dip Mix and mix well. Spread mixture onto a large platter. Layer on the remaining ingredients. Top with 1/2 1 bottle of taco sauce. Put in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve with tortilla chips.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Vanilla - Herb of the Week

Vanilla Beans are the fruit of an orchid.  I am not sure that counts as a true herb, but since it does fall into the edible and useful aspect of a plant I thought it was appropriate.

I first learned that vanilla was an orchid when I first attended the orchid show at the Chicago Botanic Garden a few years ago. The Orchid show is always in the winter and this year runs from Feb. 10 to March 26, 2017.

Vanilla orchid display at Chicago Botanic Garden

I recommend traveling to it if you are anywhere near the Chicagoland area while the show is open.  It is colorful, amazing and might just scratch that itching to garden issue one tends to have in the winter months.

The family of  orchid that makes vanilla is actually Vanilla.  The most common for industrial food production is Vanilla planifolia, or flat leaved VanillaThe orchid flowers for 1 day, then creates a long narrow pod that takes 6 to 9 months to mature, and another 3 to 6 months to cure.  You can see why vanilla can be expensive.

Vanilla can only grow 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, so while the major species of vanilla orchids are now grown around the world, they originally came from Mesoamerica, including parts of modern day Mexico and Guatemala. Like all orchids, vanilla is a vine.  It can grow up to 30 feet long. The Flat-Leaved Vanilla is the only orchid used for industrial food production. The vanilla pod is frequently referred to as the bean. The pods are picked when they are still not ripe, and then plunged into hot water and laid out to dry for anywhere from two to six months. While these pods can be very expensive, scraping them yields a potent vanilla flavor and the black specs that will color whatever you’re baking. They’re definitely worth the splurge. Like saffron, vanilla is very labor intensive to produce. In order for vanilla orchids to produce pods, the plant must be pollinated by hummingbirds or a specific species of bees native to Central America. Furthermore, the flowers are only open for a short period of time. In order to harvest vanilla commercially, therefore, the plants must be hand-pollinated.  Most vanilla today comes from Madagascar and the island of Réunion Seventy-five percent of vanilla on the market today is derived from vanilla plants in Madagascar and Réunion. It is commonly known as Bourbon vanilla, named for the island Réunion, which was formally named Île Bourbon.

Flat-leaf vanilla
Vanilla extract, the way most of us know vanilla, comes from macerating vanilla beans and mixing them with water and alcohol. 

Beyond the wonderful flavors that vanilla imparts to baking, you can also add it to beauty items with great benefit.

An infusion of vanilla and witch hazel can be used as a skin toner that will reduce pore size and decrease puffiness around the eyes.

Vanilla Toner
2 vanilla beans
8 ounces of witch hazel
   (an astringent available in a drug store or drug store section of a department store)

Slice the beans lengthwise and cut into small pieces.  Place in a glass jar and cover with witch hazel extract.  Shape well.  Store in a cool dark place for 2 weeks and shake daily.  Strain out the vanilla and place liquid in a glass bottle.  You can apply with cotton balls or with a mister.

If you do not have vanilla beans handy you can make an aromatherapy spray using vanilla extract

Vanilla Room Spray
 1 ounce witch hazel extract
 3 ounces water
 2 tsp vanilla extract

Pour all the ingredients into a 4 ounce glass bottle and shape well.  Using a mister, shake well and spray the air avoiding light color furniture and clothing.  The vanilla scent in the air can reduce anxiety and evoke pleasant memories.  It is was used with great success for those having MRI tests, reducing the anxiety of being in an enclosed space.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fast Recipe for a Busy Weekend - Salsa Meatloaf

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup prepared BYP Salsa made with fresh or canned tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup unseasoned bread crumbs
  • 1 to 2 Tbls. BYP Grilled Meat Rub or Meat Seasoning Blend
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • minced dried parsley, to taste
  • salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 F. stir Meat Seasoning blend or Grilled Meat rub into bread crumbs.  In a large bowl combine beef, salsa, seasoned bread crumbs, cheese, egg and garlic. Add parsley, salt and pepper as desired. Bake in a 5 x 9-inch loaf pan for 45 minutes. Servings: 6 to 8.  You can pour extra salsa over the top as you bake for a bit of sweetness.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Valentine's Day: It's Not Just Chocolate and Roses

I have to admit that my two favorite Valentine herbs are chocolate (oh, yes, it's really an herb) and roses.  In fact I make a great black tea blend using both crushed chocolate and rose petals that I call “Valentine Lover's Tea.”   But there are actually many herbs that can help you celebrate the season of love.

Herb Lore 
Periwinkle (also called Vinca minor). It was believed that people who ate periwinkle leaves together would fall in love.

Honeysuckle. The scent of honeysuckle was thought to induce erotic dreams; hence, many parents forbade their daughters to bring it into the house.

Bay laurel. If you want to dream of your future lover, pin five bay leaves to the four corners and the center of your pillow, before you go to bed tonight. Be sure to repeat the traditional charm (it won't work if you don't) St. Valentine, be kind to me, in dreams let me my true love see.

Yarrow. A lady hoping to attract a reluctant lover was advised to walk through a patch of yarrow, barefoot at midnight under a full moon.  
In the Language of Herbs, Yarrow means EVERLASTING LOVE, so giving it in a blend for bath may make the perfect Valentine gift.

Modern Love Herbs
Herbs have romantic meanings, and can bring a romantic touch to your Valentine's Day. Combine any of these special Love Herbs to tell the story of your love and devotion and enjoy an Herbal Valentine!

1. Basil 
Basil, with it's spicy scent, has meaning in the language of love. It's very meaning is LOVE.  Try this spicy sweet cocktail made with Lemon Basil:
Lemon Basil
Lemon Basil Tequila Cocktail
1 serving
2 parts Tequila
1 part premium Triple Sec
1/2 lemon
6 lemon basil leaves
1/2 part simple syrup
Club soda

Muddle lemon, basil and simple syrup in a chilled glass. Add ice, triple sec and tequila. Top with club soda. Garnish with a lemon wheel.
Basic Simple Syrup Recipe
makes approximately 1 1/2 cups
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup water
Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Allow mixture to cool, then decant into a clean container with a tight-fitting lid. Keeps in the refrigerator for several weeks.

2. Calendula
According to the language of herbs, Calendula means JOY. What a lovely thing to say to your beloved. Add calendula to your teas of course, but how about a soothing treatment to make your skin shiny and soft for you special someone?
Special Calendula Facial
Petals of 2 calendula flowers (about 2 Tbls.)
2 Tbls. instant non-fat dry milk
1/3 c. boiling water

Combine the milk and flowers in the water and allow to steep for 5 to 7 minutes.  Remove herbs and use the mixture to wipe face or soak a cloth in the liquid and lay over face and relax for 5 minutes to let the calendula soften the skin and bring back a rosey complexion.

3. Thyme 

According to the language of herbs, Thyme brings with it the meaning of AFFECTION. Perfect for young love or deep friendship. What better way to express your devotion to someone, than to include a sprig of thyme in their Valentine?
Or you can try this thyme seasoned Red Soup –
Roasted Tomato and Red Pepper Soup
2 ¼ pounds tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 large red bell peppers, seeded and quartered
1 onion, cut into thick slices
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tbls. olive oil
1 tsp. fresh, ½ tsp. dried thyme

Preheat over to 450 degrees.  Arrange tomatoes (cut side up) bell peppers, onion, and garlic cloves on a large baking sheet.  Drizzle oil over, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.  Roast vegetables until brown and tender, turning peppers and onion occasionally about 40 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Cool.

Transfer vegetables and accumulated juices to food processor and all thyme.  Puree soup, gradually adding about 2 cups of water to thin soup to desired consistency.  Chill until cold, about 3 hours.  Can be prepared 1 day ahead.  Cover and keep refrigerated.  If soup becomes too thick, thin with water to desired consistency.  Serves 4.

4. Patchouli
The heady scent of Patchouli is not surprisingly included in a list of romance herbs. According to the Language of Herbs, Patchouli means PASSION. Associated with love, wealth, and sexual power, patchouli can be used in incense blends, potpourri, and ritual workings. To use patchouli to it's fullest extent, tuck some dried into small sleep pillows, or sachets. The rich, lusty scent, will entice your love to feel romantic.
Blessing Oil
Use 1/8 Cup base oil (like almond oil, walnut oil or even canola oil),
    then add the following:

5 drops Sandalwood
2 drops Camphor
1 drop Orange
1 drop Patchouli

5. Lavender (lavender sachet photo)

In the Language of Love, Lavender means DEVOTION and UNDYING LOVE. It is no surprise that lavender has always been considered the herb of love. It's delicious and romantic scent is loved by most of us.  Make a sachet and place it in the dryer with your bed sheets to infuse them in wonderful scent.
Or try one of these wonderful lavender creations:
Lavender Aioli
1 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, unpeeled and crushed
2 fresh sprigs lavender (leaves and flowers), bruised
3 eggs
1 Tbls. lemon juice

In a small saucepan, gently heat the oil with the garlic and lavender over low heat for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat just before it starts to bubble.  Allow to cool to room temperature.  With a sieve over a small bowl, strain the lavender oil, pressing with a spoon to extract soft solids from the garlic and lavender.  Discard herbs. 

In a food processor or blender, process the eggs and lemon juice until well blended.  With the motor running, add the lavender oil a few drops at a time, then in a thin, steady stream until all the oil is absorbed and the mixture is thickened.  Season to taste with salt and black pepper.  Refrigerate for up to 2 days or use immediately.  Aioli thickens on chilling.

Great on sandwiches, as a spread on toast and stirred into steamed vegetables.

Soothing Oat Bath
2 cups rolled oats, ground to a fine powder in the blender
1 cup baking soda
1 Tbls. dried Lavender buds
10 drops lavender essential oil

Grind 2 cups rolled oats to a fine powder in a blender then add baking soda, lavender flowers and lavender oil.  Add 1 to 2 Tbls. to a muslin bag and place in the bathtub while it is filling.  Squeeze the bag and relax into the water with your sweetie!

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Exotic Herbs for 2017 - Herb of the Week

I always encourage folks to grow at least one herb that is new to them.  Something you have not tried before, something that is a bit harder to locate and might require on-line ordering or a special inquiry at your local nursery or a trip to a plant sale or nursery out of your local area.  I think it is important to explore plants and herbs and this is a great way.  You do not have to be the one how know every herb or grows them all, but try one new something that is out of the ordinary.

Here are some suggestions:

Pineapple Mint (Mentha suaveolens 'Variegata') - this is a mint we will have available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Plant sale on May 11 & 12, 2017.  I love it as a focal point plant because it has variegated leaves that are random in nature.  Some are green and white, others white and green, still others only white or only green, sometimes all on the same stem. It smells and taste minty with a hint of sweet pineapple.  It is great tossed into a fruit salad or made into a fuit dip.  I think the best thing about it is, the plant is not always winter hardy.  It may not make it though a Midwest winter so you do not have to worry about it taking over the garden.  It has a somewhat less than upright habit which makes it very attractive in a container kind of falling out the sides.  For more info on this plant check out the previous blog post - Herb of the Week Pineapple Mint.

Variegated Lemon Balm

Variegated Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis 'Aurea') - You will have to search for this one, it is not easy to locate, but do not be afraid to ask for it at your nursery because it is is hardy and will grow in part shade it is often int he landscaping section with the catnip.  This is also a mint and like its cousin Lemon balm can grow well and spread.  You can use it anywhere typical Lemon Balm is used in cooking and tea and has all the same soothing and relaxing properties.  I love the color of the leaves more yellow and green than white and green, as it makes a great contract in an otherwise overly green herb garden.  it is also lovely planted among white items like Dusty Miller Artemesia and snowy catnips.

Lemon Grass is another great plant that is often overlooked in the Midwest.  It is an annual here (native to Zone 9,) so you must dig it up and bring it in to over-winter or do what I do and harvest it at the end of the season at ground level and hang dry it.  The grass fronds are lime green to bluish green and can get 3 to 5 feet tall in a single growing season. I like to plant them in groups of three, but the other two plants can be other grasses like a zebra grass or a red grass for contrast.  The lemon grass has a wonderful lemon scent, especially when cut.  It needs full sun and rich well-drained soil with ample moisture.  I planted mine last year in the rain garden and it soaked up the extra moisture and grew thicker more fragrant leaves as a result.  It can be used in cooking and tea.  The citrus-lemon flavor is great in broths and stir fry and the tea is light and lemony and a wonderful after-dinner tea to aid digestion. There was an Herb of the Week post on lemon grass in 2010

I've made suggestions like this in the past for exotic herbs to try, so here are a few of my past suggestions you can check out too:

Exotic herbs to try  (from 2013)

Exotic Mint Varieties (from 2016)

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Chamomile Stew - Bath Blend of the Month

This milky stew of salts and herbs is soothing to the skin, relaxing to the body and mind and generally a great way to wind down  and revitalize in the middle of Winter.

1 1/2 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup Epsom salt
1/8 cup baking soda
2 Tbls cornstarch
1/2 cup lavender
1/2 cup chamomile

Blend ingredients together, and store in an air-tight jar.  

To Use: Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of blend to a muslin bag and suspend in the tub as it is filling.  Soak and enjoy!

Friday, February 3, 2017

Mustard Pretzel Dip - Weekend Recipe

It is also good with pita chips, crackers and veggies.  It is based on a recipe my father made for years, and is perfect for your Super Bowl party.

1 cup sour cream
1 cup mayo
1 cup prepared mustard
½ cup sugar
¼ cup dried minced onion
1 Tbls BYP Horsey Dip Mix or 1 Tbls prepared horseradish

In a bowl, combine ingredients until well blended, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to meld flavors, then serve with sourdough pretzel nuggets.  Makes 3 ½ cups.
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