Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Making a Fall Craft for Cocoa - How To-sday

Stir a little sweetness into a cup of coffee or cocoa with a seasonal spoon.  I love making chocolate spoons.  They make great favors, wonderful gifts and they are fun to use.

For Halloween they can be decorated to be ghosts, spider webs or other spooky creatures and for Christmas or Hanukkah they can be sprinkled with colored sugar in appropriate colors.

Candied Spoons

12 oz. pkg semi sweet chocolate chips
2 tsp coconut oil
35 to 45 plastic spoons (you can use white, black, gold or silver or a mixture)
Candies, nonpareils and colored sugar for garnish

Line baking sheets with parchment paper and place a couple of round handled spoons in the middle of the baking sheet.

Place chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl and microwave on medium for 30 seconds.  Stir to be sure all the chips have melted.  Add shortening to thin chocolate and stir gently.

Dip each spoon into chocolate mixture to cover the bowl of the spoon.  Place on parchment paper with the bowl edge resting on handle of wooden spoon to keep it above the paper.

After chocolate begins to harden, but is still soft add sprinkles of colored sugar, mini chips or other decorations to the chocolate.

Once chocolate has hardened (which will take some time), wrap each spoon with cellophane or a small plastic bag.

Alternates: Use white chocolate and add two mini semi-sweet chips for eyes to make ghosts, or sprinkle with blue sugar for a Hanukkah treat. Use a large marshmallow on a stick instead of a spoon for the perfect cocoa stir.

Decorate with tags and ribbon for favors and gifts.

Wrap each spoon in cellophane and place in a mug to display.

Tie them with ribbon to a package of hot cocoa or coffee to make a teacher or friend gift.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Home Made Vanilla Extract - weekend recipe

My infusion program, which is gaining popularity, details how to infuse the flavor of herbs into different mediums (technically called a menstruum.) As part of the program I demonstrate how to make tisanes, simple syrup, flavored salt and sugar, and alcohol extracts.  One of the infused alcohol items I demonstrate is vanilla extract. 

Recently I have been making zucchini bread with the vanilla extract I created as part of these demonstrations.

This could be termed the easiest herb recipe you can make:

Hand-made Vanilla Extract

You need

8 ounces of plain vodka
2 to 4 vanilla pods (organic is best of course)

Put the pods in a glass jar, cover them with the vodka.  Cover and leave in a closed, labeled jar for six weeks.

After 6 weeks, you have the most wonderful vanilla infused vodka that you can use to make all your holiday baked goods.

And if  you want to start now it will make a great gift for the baker in your life.

**Important – this is not “Vanilla Vodka”. In other words – do not attempt to drink the vodka after the vanilla has been added! Consider the fact that only a few drops of vanilla extract are typically used for an entire recipe… yes, it will be like that.

If you want to try a couple other infusions using vanilla for your home or face, check out my Herb of the Week post on Vanilla.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Celebration of Roman Goddess Felicitas

On this day, Ancient Romans celebrated Fausta Felicitas, an ancient Roman Goddess of good fortune and lucky happenstance. Her name is essentially two words of the same meaning, likely doubled up for emphasis, for fausta in the Latin is the adjective "favorable" or "auspicious", while felicitas is the noun meaning "luck", "good fortune" or "happiness"; Her name can be translated as the nicely redundant "Lucky Luck"Felicitas, the goddess of good luck, on this day. 
Felicitas was shown on coins of the Empire in a variety of poses, usually holding the caduceus, or herald's staff (an attribute of Mercury or Hermes, said to represent peace) and the cornucopia, or horn of plenty. She could also be depicted holding a patera (offering dish), or with a rudder, ship's prow, or globe, all of which are also attributes of Fortuna.

Create your own special celebration of the Roman goddess Felicitas by making a list of the good fortune you have experienced in the past month. If you're not feeling so lucky, here are a few herbs that might help.  You can plant them or wear them.

  • Allspice promotes luck, health, and happiness.
  • Chamomile is the gambler's lucky herb. In Rome, gamblers washed their hands in chamomile for luck.
  • Thyme is the traditional herb of courage, and was often used as an ingredient in teas, soups, and as a main ingredient in tokens and sachets to encourage good luck in battle, in overcoming shyness, and in 'winning the day'. The word thyme may well derive from the Greek thymon, which means courage.
  • String nutmegs, star anise, and bits of sandalwood in a lucky necklace.
  • Peppermint (Menta Piperita), love and protection are this plant’s best uses. Softens roads and relationships, and makes a wonderful addition to healing, prosperity and luck amulets. A fairy attractor when planted.
  • Plant hen and chicks (Sempervivum) on your roof to bring good fortune.
  • Plant rosemary by the door for luck. 
  • Spearmint has been used as protection against curses or to attract money.
  • Honeysuckle brought into a home will help ensure a good marriage for the people who live there. Grow honeysuckle near your home to attract love, luck and wealth and to protect your garden from negative influences.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Energizing Bath Sachet Blend - Bath Blend of the Month

The days are getting noticeably shorter now, so a pick me up may be needed.  This energizing bath blend could be just what you need.  Mix it up and place 1/4 cup of blend in a muslin bag.  You can make the bags ahead or keep blend in a jar and place 1/4 cup in a muslin bag or terry cloth and drop in the bath while it is filling.

Energizing Bath Sachet Blend
½ cup lavender buds
½ cup peppermint leaves, crumbled
½ cup spearmint leaves, crumbled
½ cup lemon grass, cut small
8 drops lavender essential oil
10 drops lemongrass oil
5 drops each peppermint & spearmint essential oil

Blend the herbs together in a plastic bowl, then add each essential oil separately and stir to combine.  Allow to meld overnight, then fill muslin bags and store in an airtight container.  This recipe will make up to 8 bags.

To Use: Place filled bag under the tap while bath is filling, then slide into the water.  Use the bag as a scrubby to get even more herbal energy!

Monday, October 2, 2017

Meatless Monday Creamy Herb Dressing

If you like a cream dressing but cannot use milk or cream in your foods, this versatile recipe may be your solution.  Tofu provides the creaminess without the cream. Make the dressing with any herb that matches your meal or mood. Serve over your favorite greens.

I recommend making a combo of three herbs, like basil, savory and lemon balm or lemon basil, thyme and oregano.

Creamy Herb Dressing

  • 1⁄2 cup soft silken tofu (4 oz.)
  • 1⁄2 cup tightly packed fresh herbs, such as basil, dill, cilantro or a combo of three herbs
  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • 1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice, plus more if needed
  • 1⁄2 tsp. salt, plus more if needed
In blender or food processor, combine all ingredients and 2 tablespoons water. Process until very smooth, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice, about 2 minutes.

Use immediately or refrigerate in tightly sealed container for up to 3 days. (The vibrant color will become olive drab, but the taste will not be affected.) Stir well before each use. Thin with 1⁄2 teaspoon lemon juice or water (or more if needed) if dressing becomes too thick.

This recipe adapted from one in Vegetarian Times

Friday, September 29, 2017

Green Beans with Basil Vinaigrette Weekend Recipe

It is still in the 90s here this week, not at all what you expect at the end of September, but the basil is loving this heat and producing more leaves.  This cold bean dish is perfect to enjoy when the temps are hot and humid.

Green Beans with Basil Vinaigrette

1 lb. green beans, trimmed
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed flat parsley leaves
2 1/2 Tbls olive oil
2 Tbls red wine vinegar
2 tsp dijon mustard
fresh ground black pepper to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Fill a large bowl with ice and water for an ice bath.  Add green beans to water and cook until crisp tender, 3 to 4 minutes.  Drain and transfer to the ice bath.  Let sit in the ice bath until chilled, then transfer to a serving platter.

While the beans are cooling make your vinaigrette by chopping garlic on a cutting board and sprinkle with salt.  Mash with the side of the knife until it forms a paste.  Take this paste and add to a food processor or blender with herbs, olive oil, Dijon mustard and puree until smooth.  Pour resulting dressing over chilled beans and grind some fresh pepper to taste.

Enjoy your chilled beans with other garden fresh items or grilled chicken or a burger.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Spinach and Parsley Growing in Autumn

We decided to put hoops over one of our raised beds and try to expand the growing season.  More for starting plants in the spring rather than the fall, but then I realized Spinach and Parsley in addition to garlic can be planted in the fall for a harvest in the upcoming season.
The end of summer marks a new beginning for spinach and parsley, the easiest veggies to grow through winter.
Young plants that get their start in early fall are strong survivors, capable of making it through temperatures well below zero with proper protection.
You can pick a few leaves in fall, but the big payoff comes in spring, when your overwintered plants start to explode with sweet, crisp leaves weeks before other garden goodies are ready to pick.
Metal tube used to side the beds is covered with pvc bent to hoop over the bed and covered with plastic sheeting.


1.      In areas with strong winds and heavy snow, build a cold frame or low tunnel enclosed by a row cover to provide good protection.
2.      Mix in a balanced organic fertilizer to the garden bed.
3.      Sow seeds or set out seedlings.
4.      Until seeds germinate, keep the soil moist.
5.      Install the frame or tunnel over the plants when the first frost comes, but keep the top or ends open for ventilation until temperatures drop into the teens. Growth will slow as days become shorter and colder, and then resume in February in response to longer days.

To speed germination of spinach seeds, soak them overnight in water, and then let them dry at room temperature for up to five days. Parsley seeds will sprout faster if you place them in a strainer and pour one cup of very warm water over them. Allow the seeds to dry overnight on a paper towel, and then plant them.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Melon Basil Sorbet - Weekend Recipe

Summer is not finished with us yet meaning there is still time for a frozen treat.  With cantaloupe still available, fresh and basil just hitting its stride, this is a great time to craft this sorbet.

Musk Melon Basil Sorbet

1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup water
10 basil leaves, divided
2 small muskmelon (cantaloupe), peeled, seeded and diced

In a small saucepan, stir sugar and water over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat, add 5 basil leaves, and allow to steep until cool.  Strain or remove the basil leaves.

Puree the melon or cantaloupe in a blender or using an immersion blender until smooth.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the basil-infused sugar water (simple syrup) and reserve the remainder for another use (check out my herbal cocktail recipes for ideas.)

Finely chop the remaining 5 basil leaves and stir into the melon mixture.  Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Then pour the mixture into an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturers directions.

Pack the sorbet into an airtight container  (optimally 24 hours.)  Makes 4 cups.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cosmetic Vinegars

I love to teach and describe how to make vinegars with herbs.  Most of the time these vinegars are for consumption, they can then be used to flavor vegetables, make dressing and marinades or otherwise cook with them.  However, today I want to talk about Cosmetic Vinegars.  These are vinegar used after a facial steam or as a tonic or skin refresher, or even a hair rinse.  The technique is very similar, but the concentrations are different.

You want to use apple-cider vinegar for cosmetic vinegar.  Apples are high in antioxidants, so using anything with apples for cosmetics is highly recommended.  You want to steep these for 3 to 4 weeks.  Don’t scrimp on the steeping time, the intensity you get with a longer time period is essential to the healing benefits. You also want to add thyme and/or sage for germ fighting and rosemary because it contains volatile oils that get the blood flowing under the skin.

Marvelous Mint Cosmetic Vinegar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1 part spearmint or apple mint
1 part sage
1 part thyme
1 part rosemary

Luscious Lavender Cosmetic Vinegar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1 part lavender
1 part rosemary
1 part thyme

Steep the herbs in the vinegar for several weeks (at least 3) in a dark place. Then strain and bottle. 

To use:
Blend ½ cup vinegar with 3 cups water and splash it on your face after washing; warm in the microwave to steaming and place in a bowl and hover over it with a towel behind your head to open and clarify pours before deep cleansing.

Vinegar Hair Rinse
This flower, water and vinegar rinse removes soap residue and adds a sparkling healthy condition to your hair.

2 oz. Rosewater or other flower water
2 oz. Apple cider vinegar
2 oz. Water or an herbal infusion (tea)

Combine rosewater, vinegar and the water/herbal infusion, shake well before using as a hair rinse.

To Use: Massage in well, leave on for a few minutes. Rinse off as usual.

You can make an herbal infusion (tea) by steeping with herbs of  your choice, and allow to cool. Certain herbs when made into a strong infusion can bring out mild and subtle tones and highlights to your hair, depending on condition, color and texture. Some of the herbs that can be used are Chamomile, Sage, Basil, Horsetail, Lavender, Nettle or Rosemary.
Chamomile can be utilized for subtle golden tones
Rose softens and brings highlights
Hibiscus flowers or Alkanet root for slightly reddish tones
Nettle for warm tones
Rosemary, Sage or Walnut leaves bring out brown shades

Friday, September 15, 2017

Butternut Squash Bake - Weekend Recipe

Winter squash is just coming into season and I thought this recipe might be useful for a meal or a festive holiday dinner.  Keep it handy through the fall and winter.

Butternut Squash Bake

1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed (about 2 cups)
½ cup mayonnaise (DO NOT use low fat, only regular)
½ cup onion, finely chopped
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp. sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup crushed saltine crackers (about 8 crackers)
1 Tbls. dried savory
2 Tbls. Parmesan, grated
1 Tbls. Butter, melted

Place squash in saucepan and cover with water; bring to a boil.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until very tender.  Drain well and place in a large bowl.  Mash Squash.  In another bowl, combine the mayonnaise, onion, egg, sugar, salt and paper.  Add to squash and mix well.  Transfer to greased 1 quart baking dish.  Combine the cracker crumbs, cheese and butter, sprinkle over top.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes or until heated through and top is golden.  Serves 6.

This recipe was crafted for Walkup Farm in Crystal Lake as a postcard give-away.  I do not know if they were ever distributed to the public.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

6 Unique Ways to Preserve an Herb Harvest

There are many ways to preserve the herbs from your harvest.  Here are a few quick and easy ones to get you started.

Freeze leaves in water

Quick and easy, you just grab an ice tray fill the square halfway with water and add the herb leaves.  You can leave the leaf whole or chopped them fine.  Pop them into the freezer.  Once the cubes are frozen fill the tray the rest of the way with water and freeze again.  This two-step method makes sure the leaves stay covered by the water and ice so they keep their green color.

Once finally frozen you can pop put the cubes and place them in a zip lock bag for long term storage.  This will give you herbs for casseroles, soups, stews and long cook dishes all winter.  Discard the cubes once the spring harvesting begins.

Make a Bouquet Garni Bundle 

Bouquet garni is a bundle of herbs (thyme, bay, parsley, rosemary, savory) used in long cook soups and stews.  It is great in the crock pot where you can hang the bundle from the side and let the flavor infuse the dish, then remove the bundle when cooking is over.  You do not have to worry about leaves in the dish or picking out bay leaf.

You can use a bouquet garni fresh, or you can make fresh bundles and hang them to dry.  Once dry, you can wrap a cello bag around them and give them as a gift along with a soup recipe, or save their wonderful goodness all for yourself.

I have previously posted recipes to use with bouquet garni too!

Dry in a paper bag

Savory, Thyme and rosemary are all great candidates for bag drying.  The leaves have a small size and very little moisture, so you toss the cut stems in a bag, hang it on the wall and let the herbs dry.  Sometimes depending on humidity, I will give the bags a shake every few days. No other special treatment is needed and the herbs will be try enough to be stripped from the stems for storage in about a week.

Honey or Vinegar Infusion

Make an infusion of herbs transferring the flavor into another medium.  You can create a vinegar or honey.  See these posts for detailed instructions.

How Tuesday on making vinegar

Recipes using Herbed Vinegar

Make a compound butter
A compound butter is any plain unsalted butter to which you add herbs. You can create a single herb flavor or blend the herbs tighter to create a variety of flavors.  The general rule is 1/8 to 1/4 cup herbs into 1 stick unsalted butter.

Here is one of my favorite versions:
1 tsp parsley, finely chopped
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tsp chopped chives or garlic chives
1 tsp tarragon

Blend the herbs into 1 stick of room temperature unsalted butter with a fork to get the herbs evenly distributed.  Then roll the soft butter into a sausage in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to eat in a week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.  You can use the butter on fresh steamed vegetables, steaks, baked or roasted potatoes, rice, egg noodles are on your morning toast of muffins.

I have more recipes for making compound butter (also called Herb Butter) all over the blog, but here is one of my first. 

Make a salt

There are several ways to make herb salt.  My two favorites are just to layer the whole herb leaf in salt and allow the salt to absorb the flavor from the leaf then later remove the leaf and you have white salt infused with flavor.  Another way is to run the salt and herbs in a coffee grinder.  I start with a larger salt so that I get a fine salt with fine flakes of herbs in it. 

You can also make an herb salt with chopped fresh leaves that you stir into salt, then spread on a baking sheet and allow to dry in the open air for 2 to 3 days to a week depending on humidity.  This is a great way to infuse the salt with a mixture of herbs, like a blend of chives, thyme, parsley and sage.  You use about 1 teaspoon of chopped fresh herbs to ¼ cup of salt (I like kosher.)  Once the herbs and salt have dried, you can place the mixture in a jar where it will keep its herbal taste for at least a year.

We will be posting more ways to make herbed salt and flavored sugar later this fall.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Tarragon & Cashew Pesto - Weekend Recipe

Okay it is Pesto season and I love to make pesto, but I find if you always use Basil it always tastes the same.  So I have changed it up with Lemon Basil, or Parsley or even Cilantro, but this recipe I found on  Dunk and Crumble for a pesto made with tarragon and cashews is without doubt the best in unique tastes for pesto.  The underlying flavor of lemon certainly made my taste buds happy!

Cashew Tarragon Pesto
1 large bunch fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
4 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh tarragon
1/2 cup raw cashews
zest from 1 lemon
juice from 3 lemons
a handful of lemon balm or lemon verben stripped from the stems
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/3 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon vinegar or chive herbal vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toast cashews in a dry pan over medium heat until lightly brown and fragrant.  Allow to cool slightly.

Purée parsley, tarragon, nuts, lemon and lemon juice, lemon herbs and garlic in a food processor. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and a bit of salt and pepper, and blend until a coarse paste forms.  Add a few tablespoons of warm water to thin the sauce to desired consistency, and adjust seasoning to taste.

Use as a sandwich spread, atop a bowl of hot pasta, or alongside roasted chicken.
Makes about 3 cups pesto.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Homemade Body Butter - Bath Blend of the Month

Happy Labor Day - 

To celebrate, pamper yourself with this fluffy body butter.  It is one of the simplest to make.  You need a hand mixer and a decorative container to place it in when you complete it.  It makes a great gift and you can scent it with any fragrance you want.

6 oz Coconut Oil
2 oz Cocoa Butter
2 oz Essential Oil (your choice)

Clean your container in warm soapy water and allow to dry.

While your container is drying melt both your coconut oil and cocoa butter. You can melt them over a double boiler, or in a microwave safe bowl in the microwave in 20 second bursts, stirring in between each burst.

Once the oil and butter have melted, place them in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes. Do not place in freezer. Once the oils and butter are opaque, using a stand or hand mixer, beat on high for 4-5 minutes.

The mixture should become thick and creamy. If after 5 minutes of beating it doesn’t become thick, refrigerate for 5 more minutes and beat again.

Once the oils become creamy, refrigerate for 5 more minutes. After 5 minutes, add in your essential oil and beat until well incorporated.

Once stiff peaks form, spoon into your clean container and seal. Will last up to 6 months in an airtight container.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Creamy Parmesan Dressing - Weekend Recipe

This special recipe is fast, but worth making from fresh Parmesan and lemon basil.  It is perfect on a lettuce or greens salad, but is exceptionally good on tomatoes.  And it is thick enough to use as a dip.

Creamy Parmesan Dressing
1 cup mayo
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ lemon, juiced
2/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1 Tbls fresh chopped lemon basil (or regular basil)
2 tsp vinegar
1 tsp Worcestershire
3 tsp pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
Salt to taste

Blend all ingredients together is a shaker and shake well, allow to meld at room temp for 30 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

End of Season Grilling Butter - How To-sday

With  Labor Day fast approaching I thought it was the perfect time to share a quick, easy, made with fresh herbs, butter recipe you can use on burgers or steaks to give them some extra flavor right off the grill.

I chopped the herbs fine, grated the lemon with a micro-plane and minced the garlic by hand.  (I hate cleaning the garlic mincer.)

Using a fork I blended the herbs into the butter.  I prefer a fork to a spoon when blending butter, as it mixes well, breaks up the butter and is easy to handle.

Then I rolled the butter into a small short log and placed int he refrigerator for about 30 minutes while the grill heated and the steaks cooked.

We seasoned the steaks with salt and pepper and a drizzle of oil.  We grilled them on a closed grill 6 to 8 minutes (more if desired.)  Cut a slice of herb butter and place in the center of each steak.

Easy and wonderfully flavorful.  The citrus brightens the flavor, but some like a more savory taste you you can try it without the lemon.

End of Season Grilling Butter 

½ cup (1 stick) butter, unsalted
1 Tbls parsley, chopped
1 Tbls chives chopped
1 Tbls tarragon, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp lemon zest

Blend herbs into room temperature butter with a fork.  Roll butter in wax paper or plastic wrap, chill one hour. Serve on streaks, chops or burgers.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Tomato Strip Salad - Weekend Recipe

This is a great topping over lettuce leaves to make a dinner salad.  You can add a protein to make it a meal.

Tomato Strip Salad
1 tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into strips
¼ cup fresh or frozen peas, parboiled
2 Tbls fresh green chili strips
½ tsp lemon juice
½ tsp minced fresh cilantro
Lettuce leaves

In a bowl, toss tomato, peas, chili strips, lemon juice and cilantro.  Cover and chill.  Serve on a bed of lettuce.  Makes 1 serving

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Rose Geranium Cookies

The most popular recipe in the cooking demo program this week was cookies made with rose geranium leaves and sugar flavored with rose geranium. We will show how to make herbal sugar very soon with holiday gift ideas.

1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar (or rose geranium sugar)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp rose water
2 tsp rose geranium leaves, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 doz. small rose geranium leaves

Cream and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in egg,milk, and rose water.  Soft together dry ingredients ad add them together with the chopped leaves to the creamed mixture, stirring until well mixed.  The dough will be not be dry but also not liquid. Drop by heaping teaspoons onto lightly greased cookies sheets. Because of the liquid nature leave good 2 inches between cookies.  Press a single Rose geranium leaf deep into each cookie.  Bake in 350 degrees and bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  Serve with a gentle companion tea with light lemon or floral flavors.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Meatless Monday - Corn Stuffed Tomatoes

Today is the day of the ellipse.  I wanted to go down south to watch it, but I scheduled a lecture for tonight so I cannot go 5 hours south of here and get back before the program. Since I was doing a program on cooking I went out to find some special recipes to make it worth forgoing the trip.

The theme is using the bounty of your garden.  I found this great recipe that is mostly all vegetables.  It is too lengthy to do during the program, but I just loved it and wanted to share it.  It is tasty and can be a side dish, or served in pairs, a main dish.

Corn Stuffed Tomatoes
6 large tomatoes
½ tsp salt, optional
½ cup plain or Italian seasoned bread crumbs
2 cups corn cut fresh from the cob or frozen corn, thawed
2 Tbls celery, chopped
2 Tbls onion, diced fine
1 Tbls oregano, chopped
1 Tbls parsley, chopped
2 Tbls half and half cream
1 Tbls butter, melted
2 Tbls shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese
¼ cup water

Cut a thin slice off the top of each tomatoes, scoop out and discard pulp.  Sprinkle salt inside tomatoes if desired.  Invert on paper towel to drain.  Combine bread crumbs, corn, celery, onion,  cream, herbs and butter.  Spoon into the tomatoes.  Place in an ungreased 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with cheese.  Pour water into the baking dish.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until tomatoes are tender.  Makes 6 servings.

NOTE: You can add 2 Tbls. green pepper, diced fine to the corn mixture if you like peppers (I don't.) You can substitute 2 Tbls or basil cut in ribbons for the other herbs.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cucumber Dill Dip - Weekend Recipe

Let's get in a few more picnics and barbeques before summer ends and enjoy a few items from the garden too!  This recipes is great on carrots and celery or use it as a great spread on Cucumber sandwiches.  This is a twist on the standard Dill Dip recipe found on the package. 

Cucumber Dill Dip
1-8 oz. pkg of cream cheese, softened
1 cup mayonnaise
2 medium cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
2 Tbls. sliced green onions
1 Tbls. lemon juice
½ tsp hot pepper sauce (optional)

Beat cream cheese until smooth, stir in chopped cucumber and green onions.  Add remaining ingredients until well mixed.  Cover and chill.  Makes 2 ½ cups.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Flowering herbs - what to do with the bolting herb

This year we have been miraculously cool, but I know other parts of the country have not been so lucky, so what to do when the heat causes your herbs to bolt, or flower and make seed? 

Being the year of Cilantro I thought it was important to mention that some herbs can lose potency when flowering. Cilantro actually changes from Cilantro to Coriander and the leaves change shape and flavor.  Once a Cilantro plant starts to go to seed (bolting,) there is no amount of pinching off the flowers that can stop the process and you either pull it out and start over or use the coriander seed.

Most of the time, with other herbs, you can pinch off the flowers.  From perennial herbs like chives, marjoram, mint, oregano, sage, tarragon and thyme; cut the plants back a bit give them a good watering and let them regrow. With that care, they will keep growing and produce more flavor-filled herb leaves for you to harvest.  Use the pinched off flowers to spice up your meals in the mean time.  

In my garden the marjoram is flowering now, I like to harvest and dry the flowers for arrangements so I let it flower.  It does not seem to harm the flavor of the dried marjoram that much.

The thyme is such a prolific flowering plant that you cannot just pinch off the flowers, you need to give the entire bush a trim.  But I gather the flowers and leafy stem pieces into a paper bag and let them dry, a bit of flower in my dried stripped leaves will not hurt the flavor of anything I cook them with.

For annual herbs like basil, cilantro/coriander, dill and fennel, their one and only botanical job is to bear seeds; bolting signals the end of their growth cycle, so you need to use them before you lose them to seed (saving the seed will give you a head start on next year’s garden.)  

Basil can be halted by slipping off the flowers, but most of the other annuals need to be harvested or used before they start making seed, when it gets hot, keep an eye on them.

Dill weed can be eaten when the plant is producing seed and is still very tasty.  However if you want to dry the dill weed, you want to harvest that before there are seed heads forming.  I sow a crop of dill seed every two weeks through out the growing season to keep a fresh selection of dill weed available.  Dill is a nice herb to start now for a fall harvest so sprinkle a few dill and cilantro seed now and harvest in a few short weeks.

If your herbs have already made flowers, remember they are perfectly edible so clip them off and use as a garnish on your dinner plate or in a salad.  I like to sprinkle a few basil flowers onto my caprese salad, it adds a different flavor dimension than just basil leaves with my mozzarella and tomato.

Ramen noodles are often a quick summer dish especially mixed with fresh vegetables from the garden.  You can make a fresh herb broth to season both the vegetables and the noodles with your herb clippings.

Food writer Mark Bittman shared this broth recipe that I have tried again and again.  He puts a small handful of rosemary, thyme or sage sprigs (bolted or not), a large handful of parsley stems, a few fresh bay leaves or sprigs of savory, 1 or 2 crushed garlic cloves and a pinch of black peppercorns in a pot with 6 cups of cold water, then brings the pot to barely a simmer, removes it from the heat and steeps the herbs for 15 minutes, then strains the broth before using it.  It is perfect with all those thyme clippings and if you use sage flowers the flavor is more mellow than sage leaves.

My recent interest in herbal cocktails caused me to try tossing herbs into brandy also.  The flowers of herbs, especially the exotic basils, like cinnamon, lemon or Thai along with savory, lavender and even some garlic chive blossoms and mint flowers placed in a quart jar filled with 2 cups brandy, 1 1/2 cups sugar and 1/2 cup water when stored in the dark until October or November can be strained and bottled for holiday sipping or gift giving.  Let the herbs steep for 2 to 3 months before you strain and rebottle them.

I found this recipe in an article from England, but I think it is a great idea.

Garbage Vinegar
Use the scraps, trimmings and flowers from your herbs when you are pinching them back. The stems and flowers of culinary herbs infuse the vinegar with flavor and fragrance.  Makes 1 to 1 1/2 cups vinegar.

1 clean quart-sized canning jar with a plastic lid
1 quart of good white wine vinegar
Bits and pieces, odds and ends of fresh (or dried) herbs

Fill the jar with vinegar.  Screw on the lid. Each time you use fresh or dried herbs in cooking, instead of throwing them away or composting the leftover pieces, put them in the jar. When the jar is completely full of leftover herbs, let it sit for a week. Strain the herb vinegar through a coffee filter or several layers of cheese cloth. Pour it into a clean bottle. Cap tightly. Use frequently for marinades, dressings, sauces and any place else you want a dash of flavor.  This will never spoil and may become your perfect go to for cooking.

Another way to make garbage vinegar is to add the dregs for your single herb vinegars to a common jar.  My hubby did this when the clutter of 5 almost finished single herb vinegars got in his way in the kitchen.  He poured them all into one jar and uses it for his chicken pork marinades.

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