Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Advent Calendar Reminder

Waiting to put up a longer post tomorrow, and share a bit about the program I am doing tonight at the Palos Park Library, but until then don't forget to check out the Advent Calendar on our website we have reached day 3 (Nov. 29) and are sharing many recipes for sweets, treats and fun for and herb holiday season.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Holiday Gift Making Series - Food Gifts


This year I’m trying to put a more personal spin on the gifts we give.  I have always given herb blends and many years I have given cookies, truffles and the like, but this year, I decided to use the garden bounty in a different way.  I have come up with several ideas, a couple of which I have shared already.

Food items are always a hit and rather than giving a mix or two this year, I am actually going to make up a few items and put them in a basket.  Instead of a theme, like breakfast or dinner which I have done in the past, I am going for an herb sampler of items.  Making the time to create a gift from scratch is well worth it, most people you give a homemade gift will recognise the love and effort that went into the gift making it more special than anything you can buy in a shop. 


Here are a few recipes for herb infused items you can bake up and give to your friends too:

Savory Herb Crackers
Here is the recipe, for detailed instructions for making these, check out the how to I did back in July.

Rosemary Crackers How to!


Herb Scones
Baking up a pan of scones is probably the easiest gift to create.  They have a good shelf life and you can make them as a mix or as the baked finished product.  They also do not require special tools and the variations are endless. and most versatile recipe you can create.  For other scone recipes, check out this past post.

Tea Party Currant Scones
4 cups flour plus 2 tablespoons, divided
¼  cup white sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons grated orange or lemon zest
3 sticks (1 and one-half cups) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (see testing note)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1 cup cold heavy cream
1 cup dried currants
Egg wash made from 1 egg whisked with 1 teaspoon water or additional cream
Crystallized sugar for topping, optional

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, zest and pieces of cold butter. Beat on low speed just until butter is the size of peas. (Alternately, whisk together dry ingredients and work butter in by hand.)

In a small bowl, whisk together schnapps, eggs and cream. Turn mixer on low and add liquid in a slow, steady stream and mix just until mixture is blended, about 1 minute.

In a small bowl, toss currants with 2 tablespoons flour. Add to bowl and mix for a few seconds just until distributed. Turn dough out onto a clean counter and make it into 2 balls. (Note: due to the large amount of butter and eggs, this is a very sticky dough. Add flour as needed to form into balls. It will firm up when chilled.)

Flatten into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Press or roll chilled dough out to one-inch thickness and use a cookie cutter or glass to cut scones of desired size. You can re-roll scraps but they may need to be re-chilled first. Place scones on a greased cookie sheet and brush with egg wash or cream. Sprinkle with sugar if desired.  Bake 13 to 20 minutes depending on size until golden brown.  Yields about 60 mini (2-inch) scones.


 
Herbal Jelly
Scones can be topped with jelly or with Devon cream or even lemon curd, so try this!

Savory Jelly

1 Tbls. fresh or dried summer or winter savory
½ cup boiling water
1 ½ cup unsweetened cranberry juice
3 cups honey
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin

Make an infusion (tea) of savory and water.  Let steep 5 minutes or more.  Strain.  In large sauce pan combine juice, honey, and infusion liquid and bring to boil.  Add pectin, stirring at all times.  Heat until mixture reaches a hard boil.  Boil hard for 30 seconds and give a sheet test.  Once it passes the sheet test remove instantly from heat. Pour into sterilized jars with a sprig of fresh savory in each, seal.

Sheet test –
Dip a metal spoon into the boiling syrup.  As the boiling mixture nears the jellying point, it will drop from the side of the spoon in two (2) drops, (not a stream).  The jelly is finished and should be removed from the burner.



Bouquet Garni
Bouquet Garni is traditionally bay, thyme, rosemary & parsley, but I believe you can mix your own bouquets to work with your favorite ingredients.  You can combine the herbs and place them in cute squares of fabric or muslin bags.  And put them in a bale jar or basket with a few recipes.  You can add an herbal vinegar and a bottle of quality olive oil to make a perfect seasoning package.

Here are some suggestions for a selection of Bouquet Garni bags that will compliment different types of food.

For Meat – 1 teaspoon each Nutmeg, Thyme, Chervil and Tarragon.
For Fish – 1 teaspoon each of Tarragon, Dill, Mint and Lemon peel.
For Vegetables – 4 Bay Leaves, 2 teaspoons Parsley and 1 teaspoon Thyme.

Herbal Vinegar

1 cup fresh herbs (of your choice)

2 cups wine or rice vinegar
Place the washed herbs in a jar with a plastic lid and bruise them with the handle of a spoon.  Cover them with vinegar of your choice that you have warmed in the microwave on high for about 2 minutes. 
Seal the jar with a non-reactive (plastic) lid and let sit for at least two weeks shaking daily. Strain using cheese cloth or a coffee filter and rebottle. 
For detailed instructions, check out the How-to-sday on Making Vinegar.

Herb Quick Bread
Quick breads do not have yeast ahdn have no rise time,so they make a quick and easy gift.  You can use your imagination here too, but I have given two recipes to try.


Herb Quick Bread

·         3 cups all-purpose flour
·         3 tablespoons sugar
·         1 tablespoon baking powder
·         1 tablespoon caraway seeds
·         1/2 teaspoon salt
·         1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
·         1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
·         1 egg
·         1 cup fat-free milk
·         1/3 cup canola oil

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, milk and oil; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Transfer to a 9-in. x 5-in. x 3-in. loaf pan coated with nonstick cooking spray. Bake at 350 degrees F for 40-50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan to a wire rack to cool completely.

Herb & Cheese Quick Bread

Ingredients:
·         2 cups flour
·         1 tablespoon sugar
·         2 teaspoons baking powder
·         1 teaspoon baking soda
·         1 teaspoon dried basil
·         1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
·         1/4 teaspoon dried sage
·         1/4 cup margarine or butter
·         1 cup shredded cheddar cheese or 1 cup Monterey jack cheese
·         1 egg, , beaten
·         1/2 cup yogurt
·         1/2 cup milk
·         1/8 cup poppy seeds

Directions:
Combine dry ingredients.  Cut in margarine or butter. Combine cheese, egg, yogurt and milk, and add to other ingredients. Dump into a round or square 9-inch pan, sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake at 350°F for 30-45 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Make up a basket of culinary herbs & spices to give as a gift.  You can include your own home made herb tea blends, give them pretty labels, add a herb mug and pack them all in a basket for a herb tea fan. Or pack a selection of dried herbs and spices into some little amber glass jars which you’ve labelled with the name of the contents, add a few loose herbs such as bay leaves, cinnamon sticks or even dried orange slices, cover in cellophane and finish with raffia to make your own personal herb and spice gift baskets. If you’ve grown and dried your own herbs not often available in supermarkets such as lemon thyme, chocolate peppermint and rose geranium, you can add them to your basket. Or make Rose Geranium, Vanilla and Lavender sugars and put together a gift basket for someone who likes to bake, slip in a few recipes, biscuit cutters and whatever else takes your fancy.  You can make themed gifts too, like an Italian herb gift basket for a friend who loves pizza and pasta.

If you are too busy to craft these items, check out the Backyard Patch.  We have herbal vinegars, scone mixes, cracker mixes and even soup mixes, that are entirely hand-blended with herbs we grow ourselves.  An entire selection of Backyard Patch items can be seen on
Etsy and if you use this code: PASSPORT10, you will get 10% off.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

An Herbal Advent Calendar

Advent Calendar

From the late 4th century CE to the late Middle Ages, much of Western Europe, including Great Britain, engaged in a period of fasting beginning on the day after St. Martin's Day, November 11. This fast period lasted 40 days, and was, therefore, called "Quadragesima Sancti Martini", which means in Latin "the forty days of St. Martin." At St. Martin's eve, people ate and drank very heartily for a last time before they started to fast. This period of fasting was later shortened and called “Advent” by the Church.

Today we do not fast for Advent, but rather use those days to prepare for the Christmas Holiday in many traditional ways.  One celebration we enjoyed in my family was an Advent Calendar.  We had the quilted ones and the paper ones and even some special hand-made ones.  The one I remember most was the first I remember receiving.  It was paper with little windows that you opened each day.  It came from my grandmother Shull (my father's mother.)

Every day there was a little surprise in the form of a pretty picture and a bible verse.  My grandmother also had a ceremony for lighting candles at Thanksgiving that I thought was wonderful too.  So this year in celebration of those cherished memories I decided to create an Herbal Advent Calendar.

The calendar will be filled with recipes for everything herbal.  Everyday there will be anew item.  They will include foods, teas, gift ideas, fun crafts for families and kids, bath items and ways to improve your health and reduce stress and enjoy the holiday season.  Recipes and tips will be included each day and sometimes as a reward there will be special discounts or give aways hidden with each day's calendar item.

Everyday from November 27 to December 25 I will share something new.  To find the calander -- Click this link.

Each day I will put a reminder on the blog and on facebook with a link for the day's item.

Enjoy your Advent!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

What are you Doing on Black Friday?

The Backyard Patch has engaged in a number of fun activities to promote the Holiday Shopping Weekend of Thanksgiving.

Personally I love to celebrate Thanksgiving with my friends and do very little shopping on Thanksgiving weekend, but this year I decided to support the SHOP SMALL movement.  I am going to several local shops on Saturday to spend my hard-earned cash and participating in several sales incentives through my e-commerce sites.

On ETSY (a great hand-crafted items cooperative) I have the bulk of my sales with Buy One, Get One on Herb Mixes, Herb Seasonings, Cider Blends, and Bath envelopes. And a 25% discount on Soup Mixes, Scone Mixes and Muffin Mixes. Use the code BFSoup25

On POPPY SWAP (an all-herb cooperative) I am giving free shipping all weekend.  Just use the code BYPfreeship on the site and I will mail anything you order on my dime!

I am also promoting the shops in a new venue called the Out of the Box Samplers.  Check out their special weekend promotion to find some great hand-made items.


Enjoy your Thanksgiving and remember SHOP SMALL!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Day Before Thanksgiving Potpourri Simmer


Do you want your home to spell great when the guests arrive and set the stage for the holiday?

Try this --

Grab a small sauce pan or an old mug and a mug warmer.  Then slice 1/2 an orange and 1/2 a lemon.  Add ten cloves, two bay leaves, and two cinnamon sticks.  Add enough water to the container to cover.  Then simmer mixture on the stove or the warmer.  Add more ingredients as desired to keep your house smelling delightful for the holiday season even after Thanksgiving!

Come back Saturday to learn about our special Advent Calendar...


 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Making Holiday Gifts Series - Winter Skin Care

Today's descriptions and suggestions are for simple gifts to care for your skin in winter.  A perfect selection of items you can give in a gift basket to a close friend or anyone who lives in the northern tundra!

Always keep in mind that when crafting items for the skin you need to use cleansing and exfoliating herbs.  You cleanse with herbs that contain foaming saponins, like oats and yucca as well as anti microbial herbs like thyme and sage.  To exfoliate you need abrasives.  You can use ground peach or date pits, but I prefer powdered parsley which is less harsh and has some naturally occurring acid for exfoliation.  Chamomile and lemon also contain good acids for this.

Skin Softening Wash Bag

This cleansing bag has just was you need to soften and scrub.

8-inch square muslin fabric
¼ cup ground oatmeal
¼ cup ground sunflower seeds

Place ingredients in center of cloth and tie closed with yarn or ribbon.  Gather into a pouch.  As you relax in the tub, rub your entire body with the bag, then let it remain in the water releasing its softening properties.  Discard bag when finished.

You can enhance this recipe by adding Chamomile or Scented geranium leaves to the mixture in the bag. 

Chamomile – Tones all types of complexions. The anti-inflammatory effect of this essential oil applied topically improves skin regeneration, and a cold compress does wonders for puffy eyes. Chamomile is used in facial steams to reduce puffiness and cleanse the pores of the skin.

Geranium – Wonderful oil for mature and troubled skin and brings a radiant glow and promotes circulation.

Rosewater

Rose water in addition to being an ingredient in many skin treatments is by itself a great item to use and this simple recipe will allow you to make your own.

If you do not have time to distill your own rosewater, you can create rosewater, using a much simpler method.  Your water may not be a fragrant as the distilled method, but the results are very pleasant and you can use the mild rose scented liquid as a light fragrance, after-bath splash or skin toner.  It also makes a nice addition to homemade creams and lotions.

Quick Rosewater
1 cup firmly packed rose petals, washed
2 cups boiling water

Place rose petals in a ceramic or glass bowl.  Use only fresh petals (no leaves or stems).  Pour boiling water over petals, and allow to steep until cool.  Strain off the petals and pour the scented liquid into a clean bottle.

Rose – Astringent and luxurious, rose oils and rose waters are welcome additions to almost any skin care formulation has an astringent effect on oily skin, reducing puffiness, edema and has a slight tightening effect. The oil most effective for moisturizing and hydrating the skin while having a general stimulant and antiseptic action which is good for all skin types, but especially so for dry, mature and irritated skin. It is used to repair broken capillaries, inflammation, as well as skin redness and is useful in eczema


Bath Tub Tea
A bath tub tea can help with exfoliation and the removal of agents that dry skin.  You can include a lemon in the basket and a 2-3 peppermint tea bags with the following instructions to use in the tub as well:
                                      Use these items to produce a Lemon Mint Herbal Bath Tea. 
                                      Prepare the bags of peppermint tea and slice the lemon. 
                                      Add the liquid from the tea to the bath water and float the
                                      lemon slices. Crawl into the water and soak for at least 15
                                      minutes.  Pat do not rub your skin to dry!

If you are in a hurry, you can also get some great Bath Salts, Scrubs and Tub Teas from the Backyard Patch and put them into a basket too!  Check out our choose your own basket items on Etsy.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Recipe for Today - Thanksgiving sides - Sweet potato

The basis for this side dish is gremolata.  Traditional gremolata is an herb condiment, made with parsley, lemon peel and garlic. In this recipe, Parmesan and walnuts add richness and crunch that enhance the potatoes and parsnips in the recipe that follows.

GREMOLATA:3/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg


For gremolata, place walnuts in a food processor; cover and process until coarsely ground. Transfer to a small bowl; stir in the cheese, parsley, lemon peel and juice, oil, garlic and nutmeg. Sprinkle over vegetables

Roasted Vegetables with Gremolata Recipe
Ingredients
3 pounds sweet potatoes (about 4 large), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
6 shallots, quartered
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Directions:
Place the potatoes, parsnips and shallots in a greased shallow roasting pan. Drizzle with 4 tablespoons oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 425° for 45-50 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Drizzle with lemon juice and remaining oil.

Serve witht he Gremolata on top or on the side.  Or use the Gremolata to season your main dish, like turkey or chicken.


Monday, November 14, 2011

Making Gifts Holiday Series - Gifts for Birds

Last year I wrote a set of posts on Decorating with Herbs.  This year I thought I would suggest a few hand-made gifts with herbs and such.  This will link very nicely to the Advent Calendar I am posting soon which will have other gift suggestions and ideas to make with herbs.  These will be different.

To start is a gift for our feathered freinds, who often get ignored during the winter months!

One of my great delights as a child in Northeastern Ohio in the winter was to watch the birds that gathered around the bird feeders in our backyard which my father faithfully filled each morning. Without the ability to put a bird feeder on my apartment patio, I let several containers go to seed and leave them out for the birds and squirrels.  Then in January I turn to something like this, I got this recipe originally from an internet freind who I think I got it from Susan Wittig.

Just-for-Birds Pudding
½ pound lard
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
½ cup raisins
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup mixed bird seeds
¼ cup honey or molasses
about 3-4 cups cornmeal

Soften the lard and peanut butter briefly in the microwave to make it easier to mix. Add raisins, seeds, honey or molasses, and as much cornmeal as the mixture will absorb. I keep this in the refrigerator and soften it in the microwave when I'm ready to put it out. I "butter" it directly onto tree branches and place big dollops of it on the tops of bird feeders; it will, however, stain tree bark. I have frozen it in a square cake pan, cut it into blocks, and laid the boxes on the floor of my patio on foil.

Other Winter-time Treats for Birds
  • Hang strings of popcorn from tree branches, or scatter popped corn with the other seeds in the feeder.
  • Many of summer's flowers will provide dried seeds for tasty winter treats for birds: sunflowers and coneflowers, especially. Store them in mouse-proof tins or in the freezer.
  • Punch holes in a mostly-empty orange or grapefruit half (leave some for the birds!) and hang from a tree branch.
  • Be sure your birds have plenty of fresh water—and keep the ice clear so they can get to it.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Celebrate Veterans

A friend of mine, a Chief Hospital Corpsman in the U.S. Navy, retired yesterday in a glorious and fitting ceremony.  I was not able to attend as I was in the wrong county at the time, but my husband went and his descriptions of the military traditions that were part of the event was very moving.

Printed in the program from the celebration was this amazing piece:

The Watch

For over twenty-three years
this Sailor stood the watch.

While some of us were in our bunks at night,
my Brother stood the watch.

While some of us were in school learning our trade,
this Shipmate stood the watch.

Yes, even before some of us were born into the world,
this Leader stood the watch.

In those years when the storm clouds of war were seen brewing on the horizon of history,
this Warrior stood the watch.

Many times he would cast an eye ashore and see his family standing there, needing his guidance
and help; needing the hand to hold during those hard times,
but this Father and Husband still stood the watch.

Chief Buck Hopkins has stood the watch for over twenty-three years.  He stood the watch do that we, our families and out fellow countrymen could sleep soundly in safety, each and every night, knowing  that a Patriot like him stood the watch.

Today we are here to say,
"Chief... the watch stands relieved.  Relieved by those you have Trained, Guided and Led.  Chief Hopkins you stand relieved, we have the watch."

"Boatswain, standby to pipe the side... our Shipmate is going ashore."


Congratulation and Thanks,  James R. Hopkins, Jr., U.S. Navy (ret.)




Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sleep Improvement with Tea

Sleep Improvement with Tea

Is getting a good night’s sleep something you haven’t experienced very often lately? If so, don’t freak out. This problem is widespread. People all over the world have trouble sleeping. You should realize that help is available in many forms. No one has to live in a state of perpetual sleep deprivation. There are lots of things you can do to help yourself relax and fall asleep (and stay that way) each night. So let’s begin our discussion of these helpful tactics.

Get regular exercise during the day (not right before bed!) In addition to being necessary to keep your body healthy, getting regular exercise each day helps you sleep better at night. Since your muscles are tired from your workout, they’ll be more relaxed when you go to bed at night. It is important, however, not to try to do a full workout too close to your bedtime. Exercise pumps you up, gives you energy and enthusiasm and all of those things contradict your needing to relax and decompress to fall asleep. You can ask your doctor or a trainer at your gym for specific guidelines on the best type of exercises to do for sleeping better and your overall health.

Rest Easy Tea Leaves
Herbal tea can be very relaxing. You may be familiar with chamomile tea, which is great for helping you to relax and sleep. Valerian is an herb that’s often used to help people sleep, and this can be made into a tea, however it has a strong flavor not everyone can enjoy.  The Backyard Patch makes two blends specially formulated for sleep enhancement.  One I call Dreamtime which includes soothing combination of lavender and chamomile. The other is called Rest Easy.  This gently minty tea can settle the mind and the body for sleep.  Teas with Tulsi, Holy Basil, can be used to quiet the mind from dreams and worries.  A warm, non-caffeinated beverage at night, especially one made from selected herbs, can be great for helping you sleep.

Don’t be tempted by over-the-counter products to help you sleep. If you feel you have to get some kind of medication to get relief from your insomnia, it’s time to see a doctor. Many of the sleep aids you see advertised on TV and sold at the pharmacy are potent enough to make you dependent on them. In other words, you could soon be in a situation where you can’t sleep at all without taking this medication. Taking such a substance regularly can alter your brain chemistry. If you want to take something to help you sleep, you’re better off sticking to natural and herbal products, though you should research these as well for things like side effects.

There are a lot of things that you can do to help yourself get a better night’s sleep. If your insomnia is severe or there’s a medical reason for it, you have to consult with a physician. The strategies and remedies we’ve covered here can be effective most of the time, though. So make sure you include these suggestions in your efforts to sleep more soundly. In your efforts to overcome insomnia, it may be necessary to test out various remedies and practices, but eventually you’ll be able to figure out what it takes to get the sleep your body and mind requires.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How To-sday: Making a Soup Wreath Gift

Soup Wreaths Winter Gift
I love to cook with herbs and I wish others were not so afraid of it, because really it is not hard.  Cooking with herbs is somewhat fool proof too, because if you dislike the flavor you just cook the dish a bit longer and the herb flavor will diminish.  One of my favorite Herb writers is Jim Long.  He has a farm called Long Creek Herbs and writes a garden blog and contributes to Herb Companion Magazine among others.  I find his excitement about using herbs matches my own and his creativity is fun too.
From his many writings I found this information about a wonderful herb gift idea that I just had to copy.  I like to make wreathes for decoration both in the kitchen where we can eat from them and on the door as a greeting.  For centuries, herbalists and gardeners have used wreaths to preserve the beauty of herbs and flowers long after the harvest has passed. In addition to their aesthetic value, herbal wreaths can add a delicious twist to your soups and stews this winter. What Jim Long did was make tiny wreaths that you would drop whole into a soup or stew to flavor your cooking with a bit of added whimsy.
He packaged the little circle of herbs in nice tissue paper, with a ribbon and recipe card attached, and presented them to friends.  I liked the idea so much I made them and gave them away as hostess gifts.  I also used the idea to teach Girl Scouts to cook with herbs.  They liked making the wreath and then putting it into their food.
Using Jim’s technique, you end up with a completed wreath that is only about 5 inches in diameter. It is the perfect size of an average pot of soup.  Anything bigger, according to Jim and you could over season the average stew pot.
Any of the seasoning herbs can be used. It’s best to use long-stemmed herbs, to make it easier and more fun to weave. I often construct the wreath for a specific kind of soup. For example, if I am going to attach a recipe for chicken soup, I would choose six or so from the following herbs for the wreath:
• Rosemary, thyme, celeriac leaves, garlic chives, garlic leaves, sweet marjoram, small lovage leaves, parsley, lavender, lemongrass, winter savory and lemon basil.
For a beef- or pork-based soup, I might choose from this list:
• Rosemary, chervil, thyme, savory, onion leaves, chives, garlic chives, tarragon, oregano, basil, hyssop, bay and small hot peppers.
A vegetarian-based recipe could draw from any of the herbs on either list.
How to make the wreath
1. To begin the wreath, gather your ingredients. You will need about 6 sprigs of herbs in varying lengths. Longer pieces can be woven into the wreath more easily than shorter ones. You will probably also want 3 or 4 shorter pieces to add into the wreath for bulk and variety.
2. Choose a sprig of rosemary or a similar woody, long-stemmed herb, about 12 to 14 inches long. Bend it into a loop that is about 4 inches in diameter, twisting the ends around each other. You don’t need to tie it in place, simply hold it together with your thumb and finger, then add another long-stemmed herb, twisting it over and around the first one and overlapping the ends of the first.



3. Continue adding additional sprigs — a piece of sage, some thyme, onion leaves, garlic chives and others — until your wreath looks full. Keep in mind the wreath will shrink as it dries, so add enough herbs to keep it looking full after it dries.



4.  Add a long leaf, such as an onion top from winter onions, a long blade of chives, or a leaf of lemongrass, at the very last, spiraling it like a ribbon all the way around to secure all of the herbs and give it a finished look.

5. The two ends of the spiraled leaf can be tucked under some of the other herbs and any loose ends can be trimmed off with pruners. You also may want to tuck in a nice, small red pepper or a sprig of golden marjoram for some color. Chive flowers dry well, as do garlic chive blossoms and oregano. Tuck the stem into the wreath so it is secure.


Dry Your Wreath and Prepare the Gift
Now you are ready to dry your wreath. The simplest way is to put it in a dark, dry place, like a pantry or a cabinet, until it is dry. Even the oven, without heat, works well. It’s important to dry your wreath out of light in order to maintain the vibrant color and flavor of your herbs. You can also dry them in a food dehydrator, especially one which has a temperature control and remains dark inside. If you use basil or parsley in a wreath, a dehydrator will help them keep their coloring as both will darken to black or fade to tan in some conditions. I avoid this issue by using purple basil which tends to keep the darker burgandy color as it dries.  I placed my wreath in the bottom of a paper lunch bag, folded over the top and punched a hole at the fold so I could hang multiple bags with raffia from a hook and not have to worry about dust.
Don’t, however, dry the wreath in the microwave. The microwaving process vaporizes the essential oils in the plant. Also, hanging the wreath in the kitchen isn’t a good method for drying. Light and cooking odors will diminish your wreath’s flavor and color.
Once your wreath is completely dry, you are ready to attach a recipe card containing instructions for using the wreath with a ribbon or string (the card and string should be removed before cooking). Wrap the completed wreath in tissue paper or seal it in a plastic sandwich bag and store it in an airtight container, out of light, until ready to use or give away.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Herbed Holiday Cookies

Herb and Spice Cookies 

 

I was looking through recipes as I began pulling together my advent calendar (only 19 days until the unveiling!)  There were many herb cookie recipes in my files.  I thought I would share this one that I found becasue it allows for variations.  You can make it any way you ant with whatever herbs you have around.

 

Herb and Spice Cookies

 

For best flavor, you can melt the butter or margarine over gentle heat with the herb or spice in it, cook for a few minutes, then cool in the refrigerator. Try lining a bowl with plastic wrap for the cooling--when just solidified, it can be lifted out in one hunk, instead of wastefully scraped out of a bowl which then must be washed. For crisp cookies, use real, unsalted butter. For chewier cookies, use margarine. 

Herbs and Spices To Try:  Scented Geranium, Sweet Marjoram, Lavender Leaves or Flowers, Sage, Lemon Herbs, like lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon grass, etc. Thyme Ground Cloves, Curry Powder, Chinese Five-Spice Powder, Ground Cumin, Ground Coriander, Ground Cardamom, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Allspice, Pumpkin Pie Spice or Cinnful Dessert Blend.

 

The Recipe

One stick butter or margarine, room temperature,

     infused with herbs (meaning you chop the herb fine and add it to the butter – about 1 Tbls. fresh to 1 stick (1/4 cup)

1 large egg

1 cup brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

About 2 1/2 cups flour, more or less, depending on humidity. 

Cream butter, sugar and egg until fluffy and well mixed. Add soda, mix well. Add two cups flour and mix well. Turn out onto floured counter or board, and continue to knead in more flour until dough is workable and no longer sticky.  Divide into four balls, and flatten on floured counter. With sharp knife, cut dough into thin wedges and place on cookie sheets. Bake at 375 until set but not brown. Watch carefully!

 

If you like herbal cookies I have a couple more recipes in my Recipe Archive.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

St. Leonard's Day - patron saint of green grocers

November 6 - Today is the feast day of St. Leonard of Noblac , the patron saint of green grocers.

I have been recently facsinated with feast days of Saints in ways I have not been since my Confirmation in 8th grade. I am having fun exploring garden related saints, like St. Francis and St. Leonard.

Born to the nobility, part of the court of the pagan King Clovis I. The Queen suggested to Leonard, possibly as a joke, that he invoke the help of his God to repel an invading army. Leonard prayed, the tide of battle turned, and Clovis was victorious. Archbishop Saint Remigius of Rheims used this miracle to convert the King, Leonard, and a thousand followers to Christianity.

Leonard began a life of austerity, sanctification, and preaching. His desire to know God grew until he decided to enter the monastery at Orleans, France. His brother, Saint Lifiard, followed his example and left the royal court, built a monastery at Meun, and lived there. Leonard desired further seclusion, and so withdrew into the forest of Limousin, converting many on the way, and living on herbs, wild fruits, and spring water. He built himself an oratory, leaving it only for journeys to churches. Others begged to live with him and learn from him, and so a monastery formed around his hermitage. Leonard had a great compassion for prisoners, obtaining release and converting many, who then lived near him and helped clear lands and grow crops.

It is both this work and the fact that he lived off herbs and vegetables on his travels that made him the patron saint of those who grow and sell vegetables. He is also know as the Vegan Saint.  

This is a perfect saint day to explore salad dressings, vegetable side and main dishes, so here are a few suggestions.

Hearty Vegetable Soup

Ingredients
1 tablespoon olive oil
onion, chopped
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (4 cups)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
kosher salt and black pepper
biscuit mix and ingredients to make 8 biscuits
1/4 cup shredded Parmesan (1 ounce)
15-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed
bunch spinach, thick stems removed (4 cups)
Directions
1.     Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft, 5 to 6 minutes.
2.     Add the tomatoes and their juices and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes.
3.     Stir in the squash, thyme, 5 cups water, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and bring to a boil.
4.     Reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes.
5.     Meanwhile, prepare the biscuits according to the package directions, sprinkling with the Parmesan before baking.
6.     After the soup has simmered, stir in the beans and spinach and cook until the spinach is wilted and the beans are heated through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with the biscuits.
Vegetable Barley Soup
Makes 8 quarts, serves 16
Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups barley
1/4 cup olive oil
6 carrots, diced
6 stalks celery, diced
4 large onions, diced
4 parsnips, dices
kosher salt and black pepper
1 102-ounce can diced tomatoes (or four 28-ounce cans)
1 bunch kale, thick stems discarded and leaves chopped (8 cups)
2 15.5 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed
Salt & pepper

Directions:
  1. Cook the barley according to the package directions (set aside.)
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven.
  3. Add the carrots, celery, onions, parsnips, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables begin to soften, 20 to 25 minutes.  
  4. Add the tomatoes (and their juices) and 8 cups water. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the soup has slightly thickened and the vegetables are tender, 45 to 60 minutes.
  5. Add the herbs and kale and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it is tender, 5 to 6 minutes.
  6. Stir in the chickpeas and cooked barley and cook until heated through, about 3 minutes.
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