Monday, August 29, 2011

Celebrate National More Herbs, Less Salt Day 2011!

Today is National More Herbs, Less Salt Day so I thought this was a great time to remind you of the Backyard Patch Salt-Substitute Grinder Jars and the fact that most of our Herb Mixes and all of our Herb Seasonings are salt-free.
Our classic salt substitute blends with a new "twist."  They come in a grinder topped jar.  You receive a great combination of flavorful herbs that can grind right into dishes as you cook, or onto a completed meal just like salt or pepper grinders.  You also receive the nice long shelf-life associated with Backyard Patch herb blends.  These grinders also release the wonderful aroma of the herbs as they work! 
  1.  Herby Salt Substitute
  2. Savory Salt Substitute
  3. Oniony Salt Substitute
  4. Spicy Salt Substitute (NEWEST!)
Each Grinder Jar is re-fillable, so you can save the jar and help the environment.  They sell for $4.75 with refills priced at $3.50
Get yours today on our website.

Most, but not all of our Herb mixes are salt-free.  When you use nice fresh herbs you can eliminate salt and don’t really miss it.  So here is a short list of our most popular salt free herb mixes for sauces, dips, cheese spreads and rubs.  We thought it might be a bit much to list all 27 salt-free blends, but you can check them all out on our Website.
  • NEWEST – Salt-free Lemon Chive Dressing
  • Beauy-Monde (a salt-free version of the original Spice Island blend)
  • Marcy’s Dill Dip
  • Salsa Mixes (all three heats!)
  • Garlic and Herb Combination
  • Fiesta Dip
  • Boursin Cheese Spread (the Butter N Cheese, Herbal Spread and Cilantro Spread don’t have any salt either)
  • Potato Topper
  • Lemon-Sage Marinade
  • Grilled Meat Rub & 4-Spice Meat Rub
Each of our mixes are available in a zip-seal pouch for just $2.35. You can find them all in this listing on eBay, or individually on our Website.

Herbal Seasonings (Always have been and always will be salt-free!)
Herbal Seasonings are blends of herbs you can shake into any dish or meal.  We serve them up in a glass jar ($4.50) or a refill pack ($3.50).  They can substitute for a large collection of single herbs by giving you a tasty blends formulated to spice up your cooking with just a shake.
Here is a list of the blends currently available.
All of them can be found in this etsy listing, or individually on our Website

Have fun and enjoy you National More Herbs, Less Salt Day!

For some recipes to use with Salt Substitute blends, check out this blog post from last August!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Writing Books about herbs?

I always wonder if kids who are diagnosed with ADHD today are really suffering from an illness or are they many times more like me.  My life as a youngster was boring, growing up in a small town where we lived on the fringe of that small town meant I was isolated even from the friends I made in school. 
There were few kids in our neighborhood which meant making up friends in my head instead.  My deeply inventive imagination created people I could have a conversation with.  When I was in school I still had those conversations, just not out loud, so I seemed to be day dreaming or distracted when I was actually talking to my friends about what was going on in class.
 It wasn’t like I was not learning; I think it actually enhanced my problem solving to discuss my work with my imaginary friends.  But class size was smaller and teachers noticed and gave me more work to do to keep me occupied.  The fact that no one really knew about these friends, meant no one ever suggested I put them into a book.  I had to find a real friend to suggest that. 
My best friend Donna and I spent years writing down the conversations we made up in our heads that created a pantheon of characters with individual personalities and amazing back-story.  Sometimes we think about preparing them for sale to a publisher, but we never seem to find the time.  I get serious about it about once every 9 months and review and edit things, send them to her for fine tuning and somehow they languish and we never make the final leap. 
It’s a shame actually; the characters we created are rather good and the life situations appropriate.  This month I have been more avid about completing a book.  Last November I joined National Novel Writing Month. I was unable to finish a novel in month I did write 50,000 words, but the book was not finished. 

When the summer came and they created “CampNaNoWriMo” a month for both July and August to write a novel in a month, I decided to try again.  It has been light hearted and fun and I have been enjoying it.  The first month (July) I did not get to 50,000 words, but this month I am ahead of schedule and should finish my book and reach 50,000 words.  I am very thrilled to be in a place where I can say a book is finished.  Now I think I might actually write that Herb book that has been floating around in my head.
Here are a couple recipes from my current published cookbooks, The Amazing Herb Cookbook and The Herb Cookbook:

Chicken with Herbs & Tomato (Serves 4)
4 chicken breast halves, boneless & skinless
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 Tbls. olive oil
1/2 cup chicken stock
3/4 tsp. tarragon herbal vinegar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground pepper
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
2 egg whites
1 Tbls. safflower oil

In medium saucepan, cook garlic and tomatoes in oil until soft.  Add stock, vinegar and 1 Tbls. herbs and simmer to create sauce.  Mix remaining herbs with salt, pepper and bread crumbs in a shallow bowl.  Beat eggs in a separate shallow bowl.  Dip chicken cutlets in egg and then in bread crumb mixture.  Cook in large skillet on medium/high heat until juices run clear.  Serve with sauce.
From “Amazing Herbs Cookbook” by Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Delmonico Sauce (makes 2/3 cup)
A wonderful vegetable sauce for fresh broccoli or green beans.  Also makes a good salad dressing.

1/2 cup prepared Backyard Patch French Dressing
     (made with Patch French Dressing Herb Mix)
1 tsp. ketchup
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp. chopped green peppers
1 hard boiled egg, finely chopped (or rubbed through a sieve)

Mix ingredients in order given and serve.
This recipe excerpted from "The Backyard Patch Cookbook" by Marcy Lautanen-Raleigh

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with Lydia of RocksandLydiaAnn (beadwork)

As promised I am able to share today some information from a friend of mine who makes jewelry.  She and I both belong to the Elmhurst Etsy Team which is a local Illinois group of crafters who have stores on  Her name is Lydia Slockyj and her shop is called RocksandLydiaAnn.  I thought the name was clever and asked her how she chose it.  I was intrigued to learn that she has a special affinity for rocks.  “I love the beauty of rocks.  There are so many different rocks and each one different, some are bought and some are found each with special meanings behind them.”  

Lydia does with wire things I can only hope to learn someday.  It is called wire wrapping where you bend wire into forms and shapes and in some cases wrap it around the item.  In Lydia’s case it is her rocks.  She describes it better than I can: “I find it to be a challenge to make each piece because each is so unique.  I don't use patterns when I make a piece it is something I've been thinking about for awhile and then I ponder how I can create it.  I am not formally trained, I didn't have the opportunity to go to school and learn lapidary or silver smithing, so sometimes I make a piece and I don't like the way it came out and I chuck it and start all over. However, the process gives me a sense of fulfillment, it gives me tranquility. ”  

                                                           Winter Wind

I asked her to describe what she liked best about this medium because it is obvious in her pieces that she sees in mere stones incredible attributes which she highlights with her wire creations. 

“The rocks are a medium all in itself, the polished rocks are beautiful, the color is brought out along with some of the detail.  Something about raw rocks in there original form though is exquisite to me.  With a raw rock, you see where it's been, you see nicks and cracks, and memories.”

So curious was I that I had her tell me how she creates her items.  “I think it's the possibilities of it.  You start with something basic, something raw and from there you end up with utter beauty.  You bend the wire, you hammer the wire, you twist, and turn the wire.  You can even solder it (although I have not done that yet).”

                              Here is her favorite work, a wire wrapped donut rock.   

“My sister loved it, and when my family really love's one of my pieces I give it to them.  It was a gift for her, she has been one of my rocks my entire life and I owe her more than I can ever repay.  My family has been a great support both with encouragement to continue with my jewelry journey as well as with everything else that comes with life.”

Although it is difficult to imagine it, she has not been working in this medium for very long.  She started working with beads stringing bracelets and necklaces.  After finding herself leaning towards the natural colored beads with the markings, it was a small step to considering ways to incorporate some of the rocks my family and I have collected over the years into pieces of art.  Lydia went on to explain, “I wanted to be able to do more and thought why couldn't I find a way to So I originally just practiced with what I had at home, pieces of electrical wire and just some rocks I picked up from the yard.  I found that with patients, a lot of patients I could make some really stunning pieces of jewelry.”

I look at my attempts to make wire decorated pieces which come out looking nothing like what I crafted in my head and realized I needed to know what she found to be the hardest thing to do.  To my surprise it was not the jewelry at all but rather the business end of things that gave her the most trouble.

I can sympathize with that.  Like me she works a full-time office job and has to squeeze time in for her craft around that schedule.  I think also she may still be shy about self-promoting.  I used to feel that way --wanting to let my herb products speak for themselves, but they do not.  I have to shout their amazing flavors and versatility from the roof-tops because of the competition.  But if her creative nature, which she says is the easiest part for her, has its way she will soon be showing off too because her amazing work and talent can only improve with time.

I am so sure of that I want you to take a look at her pieces and let us know what you think.  She has a nicely filled Etsy shopYou can also find her on Facebook and Twitter

My final question to Lydia was: Are you experimenting with something new?  She answered: “I am always trying new things, right now I'm trying to learn how to peyote stitch, which to me is very difficult.  I love the way it looks and if I can get it down and incorporate some beautiful rocks I think it will be breathtaking!”  So do I!

I have another beading friend who can weave beads like nobody’s business.  I will share her items with you soon.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Herb of the week – Cilantro (again)

Back in June I did a blog on the love-it-or-hate-it herb Cilantro.  Most everyone has a strong opinion about this lacy green herb. Like it or not, you've probably eaten it in a Mexican or Thai dish at restaurants.  This time I wanted to share a new pork chop recipe I discovered on the Internet (location lost to my cut and paste, sorry!)  It is still rather warm here and cooking in the crock pot is always a great alternative to heating up the kitchen and with a cold salad (like the black bean salad below) this is a quick meal without the heat and annoyance.

Cilantro is from the parsley family but has an entirely different taste so we try not to use the two terms together much. Coriander and cilantro are actually two words used to describe the same plant.  Coriander is a spice and Cilantro is an herb.  Actually the leaves from the plant are called cilantro while the seeds that develop are known as coriander.  Once a plant begins to produce seed the leaves and flavor change so you can no longer harvest the leaves. Plants that are allowed to develop seeds can be harvested, you can cook with the seed or save it to seed a new crop.
To Grow

If you see the plants for sale, be aware that cilantro has a long tap root like its sister the carrot. You will have limited success transplanting cilantro. It takes about 45 days for cilantro to transition from seed to a harvestable plant.   The very best way to grow this herb is from seed. Sow a few seeds every few weeks to have it fresh when you want to add it to a recipe. Thin the seed (six to eight inches) and pinch the seedlings when they are about one to two inches tall in order to encourage more leafy plant growth. Then you can quickly toss the thinnings into a salad or a salsa. Cilantro needs full sun and can grow in some light shade in southern states. Although cilantro likes a sunny location, it is quick to bolt in the hottest part of summer. Cilantro plants like well drained soil and plenty of water. Plants grow well in containers and is attractive in mixed herb container plantings. Succession plantings are best because cilantro has a short life. When the plant blooms, pinch off the flowers and add to salads or use as garnish. Or, if your plants go to seed, harvest the seeds and dry it to use it as its spice coriander
To use
Cilantro is very popular in Mexico, Asia, and Italy as a garnish for delicious salsa, sauces for chicken and pork, and other great cuisines. Cilantro is usually added to recipes at the end to preserve its flavor.
Black Bean Salad Recipe (Serves 6 to 8)

1 (15 ounce) can of black beans, thoroughly rinsed, and drained (or 1 1/2 cup of freshly cooked black beans)
1 1/2 cups frozen corn, defrosted (or fresh corn, parboiled, drained and cooled)
1/2 cup chopped green onions or shallots
2 fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded and minced, or 1 whole pickled jalapeño pepper, minced (not seeded)
3 fresh plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped
1 avocado, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1/2 cup fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
2 Tbsp lime juice (about the amount of juice from one lime)
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of sugar (to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Make sure to rinse and drain the beans, if you are using canned beans.
In a large bowl, combine the beans, corn, onions, jalapeno chile peppers, tomatoes, avocado, cilantro, basil, lime juice and olive oil. Add sugar and salt and pepper to taste. (The sugar will help balance the acidity from the tomatoes and lime juice.) Chill before serving.


Cilantro Pork Chops in the Crockpot
4 pork chops, trimmed of excess fat
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped and divided
1/2 red onion, chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons ground cumin, divided
2 teaspoons chili powder, divided
2 medium tomatoes, coarsely chopped

Heat vegetable oil in large non-stick skillet. Rub pork chops with salt and pepper. Place on hot skillet. Sear each side 2-3 minutes. Meanwhile, place half of the chopped cilantro, red onions, half the cumin, half the chili powder, and salt and pepper in bottom of crockpot. Place seared pork chops on top. Place chopped tomatoes, remaining cilantro, remaining cumin, remaining chili powder, and salt and pepper on top of pork chops. Cook on HIGH for 3-4 hours.
Serve with Spanish flavored rice (scroll to bottom of page to find it) and steamed broccoli.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

How Tuesday - Compound Herb Butters - Summer's Special Gift

Today's How To-sday is about making Herb Butter, sometimes called Compound butters

Herb butters are the best way I know to dazzle a dinner guest. Besides being less hazardous than letting your husband start the charcoal, they are embarrassingly easy to make and you'll rake in the compliments. As I say when I lecture, even some small part of you wants to seem like Martha Stewart, so why not take the easy road.  Herbal Butters are a terrific way to show off all the work you've put into your herb garden and relax while doing it!   

Nothing beats the savory flavor of herb butter with a warm loaf of bread, but don't limit yourself--use them when grilling steaks, broiling or sautéing fish; scrambling, poaching and frying eggs; basting chicken, dotting on carrots, squash, zucchini or roasting new potatoes. Herbs pack the butter with more punch, so you use less, saving fat and calories.

You can use either butter or margarine, but the flavors are different--especially when cooked. Butter develops a remarkable nutty flavor--incredible with most vegetables, but margarine is better for high-temperature cooking because it doesn't scorch as easily.

To prepare the herb butters, start by softening the butter or margarine. (All these recipes call for 1 pound -4 sticks, but you can halve them). Using an electric or stand mixer, beat until light and fluffy, scraping the sides often.  Blending will take anywhere from 3-5 minutes, depending on how powerful your mixer is and how bored you get.  The longer you blend the lighter and more spreadable the butter.  If in a hurry or if you want a less fluffy butter, you can use the faster method of skipping the beating and just using a fork to blend the herbs into softened butter.   To lower the fat, beat in a small amount of skim milk (no more than 1/3 cup per pound of butter).  

Once the butter is well mixed and fluffy, add the minced fresh or dry herbs and beat until well combined. When using dry herbs soak them for about 10 minutes in a tsp. of lemon juice before mixing into butter.  The basic instructions are the same for all the recipes listed here.

Herb butters are best made ahead so the flavors can blend--chill them at least 3 hours and serve slightly softened. They'll keep in the refrigerator for a month and can be frozen for up to 3 months.  

Marjoram - Thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sweet marjoram, or 1 1/2 teaspoons dried (soaked in white wine or water)
1 1/2 tablespoon minced chives
1 tablespoon minced thyme
1 tablespoon minced parsley
Mix as instructed above.  Delightful with fresh bread, fish or vegetables--brush on new potatoes, cover and bake for 45 minutes.

1 small clove garlic, minced or pressed
1 tablespoon lemon rind
1 tablespoon orange rind
1 tablespoon mixed lemon herbs like lemon thyme, lemon basil lemon balm or lemon verbena
A perfect accent for baked or broiled chicken, fish or duck.   

2 tablespoons minced rosemary (only 1/2 Tbls. dried)
2 tablespoons minced chives
Robust flavor is excellent with chicken, game hens or a hearty bread.

6 jalapeno peppers (more if you're brave), seeded and well-chopped
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
Try this with corn on the cob, chicken or potatoes.

Consider these recipes a springboard: other herbs good for butters include lemon thyme, basil, tarragon, sage and dill--and don't forget seeds, too. As a general rule, use 1 tablespoon fresh herbs per 1/4 pound butter.

  •  To eat with a crusty bread, pack it in crocks. For a more dainty look use a Madeleine pan, ramekin or small molds. (You can remove the butter more easily from a mold if you set it in a pan of hot water for a few seconds.)   
  • You can use a butter curler to make short or long curls or a melon baller for balls. Add texture to balls if you like with the back of a fork (peanut-butter-cookie style).
  • For individual portions, form the herb butter into a log, roll in minced herbs and slice into rounds. (This version freezes very well.) 
  • In a hurry? Shape into a mound on a plate using a rubber spatula (or your hands, I won't tell) and surround with the fresh herb of your choice.  If that's too messy for you, shape it on wax paper instead of a plate and chill for a few hours--the cold butter will be easy to transfer to a clean plate.
  • Or you can pat the butter onto a waxed-paper-lined shallow pan, chill and cut out shapes with cookie cutters, smoothing the edges with a finger dipped in hot water and garnishing with fresh herb sprigs.  
Use your inner Martha Stewart and create even more delightful butter designs.

If fresh herbs are not something you have access to, we recommend our specially blended herbs for butters and cream cheese, like Herbal Spread, Butter N Cheese and Cilantro Spread.  We have a Cream Cheese sampler with all three or you can buy a set of our 5 best butter blends here.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Talking Tea

Just the other day I actually went to the trouble of blending a batch of tea just for me.  I find that now that I am making so many more items for sale (internet business for the Backyard Patch has been good recently!) I rarely blend something solely for my own use.  I had just dried some Lemon verbena and the freshly dried leaves made me crave some Zesty Lemon Tea.  In the process of making and drinking tea, I grabbed a book off the shelf and found this poem about tea:

The 1st cup caresses my lips.
The 2nd shatters my lonely sadness.
The 3rd sparks my intellect.
The 4th flushes out grievances.
The 5th purifies my every cell.
The 6th connects me with the divine.
The 7th prepares me for paradise.

- Lu Tong, Chinese poet, 798-835 
Hold on. Aren't Lu Tong's seven cups of tea overdoing it? Not really. Ishi Khosla, clinical nutritionist and director, Whole Foods, says that even up to eight cups a day is fine. Typically, however, she recommends three to four cups, for that is enough to provide you the great benefits found in tea.

"It's got antioxidants, and its goodness provides protection against heart disease and cancer. It also fights stomach infections and improves brain function, besides boosting the mind and de-stressing you," she adds.  

Now I have always had a sensativity to caffien so if I want to sleep at night those 7 cups better be mostly caffien-free hrerbal teas, but putting htat asside for a moment, there are many virtues of green and black tea.

Green and black tea come from the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis. The leaves are simply processed differently, and that is the only difference.  

Tea speeds up the body's metabolic rate and for an average-weight person, drinking normal amounts of tea could burn off an extra 70 calories a day. That's what 12 minutes of walking would usually achieve.

Both forms of tea are high sources of antioxidants, with research suggesting that they have upto 10 times polyphenols, which are usually present in fruits and vegetables. Polyphenols are a type of antioxidants. These wonder nutrients scavenge for cell-damaging free radicals in the body and detoxify them.

In that sense, tea packs in more punch than a vitamin pill. It also lowers your cholesterol levels and speeds up the recovery of heart cells after an attack. Tea is good news for the middle-aged. Its antioxidants keep you looking radiant and young; it is hydrating, and so long as you don't make it extra calorific with spoonfuls of sugar and dollops of cream, it could be the perfect substitute for water. Hydrated skins never look wrinkled, so that should be incentive enough to drink tea — especially if you are not the type to drink enough water in its natural form.
Another boon for the 40-plus — tea cuts the risk of rheumatoid arthritis and could even keep you safe from Alzheimer's as it boosts brain functions. Most people can't get out of bed without a hot cup of tea — which is really fine and is a good habit, as tea is a good friend for life. So, drink up!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Herb of the Week - Ornamental oregano

This year when I went to the FOPCON Herb Sale (Friends of the Oak Park Conservatory), I got my favorite go to plants like lemon verbena, lemon basil and purple basil because I love the care they take at FOPCON with those varieties.  They are the best of any I get elsewhere.

Wanting to get at least one out of the ordinary herb I picked up an ornamental oregano plant -- Kent Beauty, Origanum rotundifolium

One of the most beautiful ornamental herbs I have had the opportunity to grow is this unique plant. While most oregano varieties are grown for their culinary use, Kent Beauty and a few other ornamental oregano varieties are not, and in fact, have no taste at all. Ornamental oregano are best used for their beauty in gardens, borders, and especially containers.

In the photo above, I created a hanging container out of a red bucket and the oregano shares space with a traditional garden sage.  The red bring out the pink color in the ornamental blooms.

As the Kent Beauty grows, it spills gracefully over the sides of its re-purposed container. Its simplicity is enchanting.  Kent Beauty is a delightfully fragrant herb, attractive to bees, and has such a delicate “tossled” beauty about it. Its foliage is actually hard to describe. It has wiry stems that reach 4″ in height, with beautiful blue-green stemless rounded leaves. The leave will darken on the edges as the plant ages.

Off of these stem ends, bloom textured bracts, similar to hops, in a delicate mauve pale pink color throughout the summer. These delightful mauve pink bracts can be cut in full bloom, hung, and dried upside down for use in crafts.  I took my first cutting just after I took these photos.

Kent Beauty is native to Turkey, Armenia, and Republic of Georgia and is a hybrid ornamental oregano of Origanum rotundifolium x Origanum scabrum. I have seen multiple preferred climate zones for this herb, so check with your plant source for details for your area first, before purchasing.  At FOPCON they marked it as a tender perennial which generally means it will not winter over if we have our bone-chilling winter cold with high winds which is typical here in January.  However, I intend to bring mine indoors this winter and see how it looks hanging in the bedroom window. 

Prune Kent Beauty closely back after its summer bloom. It does best in well-drained soil. It prefers to be in dry soil, between thorough waterings. That makes it a great container plant like a scented geranium which will not need to be watered twice daily in the peak heat like some herbs in containers do.  It is best to protect it from excessive winter moisture if you hope to winter it over.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

How Tuesday - How to make Lemon Balm Popsicles

It has been hot for three weeks straight now in Illinois.  This is unusual for us.  About 5 to 7 straight days of extreme 90s (with 100+ heat indexes and humidity) is about all we get in a summer.  We have had so many consecutive days of heat with overflowing humidity that it makes you feel like you will melt into a puddle of mush if you stay out for very long.  My husband, who has asthma, finds it unbearably difficult to breathe, so we do nothing outdoors together for very long.  My garden was dried to a cinder in early July with drought conditions, and then pummeled with heavy rain several times in the last two weeks so that the plants are now struggling with broken stems and muddy leaves or have simply given up all together.

One of the most resilient herbs in the garden have been the mint plants.  They have not gone to seed like the basil, cilantro and dill and they are not as covered in soil as the calendula, sage, oregano and marjoram.  One of the mint family plants I plant in great abundance is Lemon Balm.  It seems unaffected by the heat; although I noticed it was growing very slowly in the dry conditions earlier this month.  The splashed soil from the heavy rain did not seem to stick as badly as it did to the poor calendula.

Gardening in the heat has also been a challenge.  There is no potable water at my garden spot so I have to bring in everything with me.  Did I mention I ride a bicycle to my garden?  The rule recently has been.  If you run out of water and all that you have left is the bike bottle, it is time to go home.  On the way home I then stop to get something frozen from the 7/11.
There is something about a frozen treat when it is hot.  At the last two garden walks it was terribly hot and humid so on the drive home we stopped for slushies and Popsicles.  When we lived on the farm, Chas and I would get Popsicles from the Jel-Sert outlet store in West Chicago. (They make those colored flavored sugar water in the plastic tubes that you buy and freeze- we loved them!)  Now I make a more natural snack using lemon balm. 
Since the heat is not dissipating, I thought it was time to make some Popsicles and since Lemon Balm is doing so well in the heat, I will make them with that.
Lemon Balm Popsicles are very cooling and they are also soothing and calming.
To make them you need water, lemon balm (fresh or dried) sweetener, and containers to freeze in.

Simply cut some fresh lemon balm, then pluck off the leaves and loosely pack them into a measuring cup.  Give yourself about 2 cups of fresh or 4 tablespoons dried.
Using a large bowl or ½ gallon jar place the plant material in the container and cover the herbs with about 8 cups of boiling water.  Let it steep for about 20 minutes (same time for fresh or dried herbs).
Strain the liquid from the herbs and sweeten.  For these I like to use honey and about 1 to 2 Tbls. For 8 cups is plenty.  I generally use 1 tsp. per cup of water.
Pour the liquid into freezer containers.  If you have Popsicle molds that is great.  I have not had those in years, so I use small ½ cup Glad containers and for the stick I use a spoon.
Freeze several hours or overnight and enjoy.
Tallgrass Kitchen posted this recipe for Popsicles using hibiscus that I thought was amazing too!

Hibiscus Lemon Balm Ice Pops
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
1 small bunch lemon balm
3 tsp. dried hibiscus flowers (you could also use BYP Tangy Hibiscus Tea
1 1/3 cups water

1) Heat 1/2 cup water in small saucepan until almost boiling. Stir in 1/2 cup sugar until dissolved. Toss in lemon balm, and let steep for at least 30 minutes. Strain syrup to remove lemon balm.

2) Boil 1 1/3 cups water. Steep hibiscus tied in a coffee filter or placed in a tea infuser for at least 30 minutes. Remove infuser.

3) Combine hibiscus tea and simple syrup. Pour into ice pop molds and freeze until solid.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Recipes for Today - side dishes

So many times recipe books focus on the entrée and not the accompaniments.  So when I found a uniquely titled cookbook during a trip with my husband to visit my parents in North Carolina, I just had to buy it.  It was called “Everything but the Entrée.” 

We ran across a place that has been hard hit by the recent economic times.  It was a Craft/Artisan shop called Tamarack that focuses on items made in West Virginia.  Right on Interstate 77/64 (Exit 45) it was a great respite after traveling through the mountains in PA.  There were artists in residence like potters and glass blowers, musicians, some playing live (and we were there in the off season), and the most amazing selection of hand-crafted items from glass to wood, and beads to blankets.  It was amazing.  And the Food Court was darn tasty! 

I think it lost some state funding recently which is really too bad because it was a must stop on every trek to North Carolina or other places south.  According to their website, they are still open 8 AM to 8 PM, so you can stop too!  I was very impressed with the state of West Virginia that it would recognize and promote it local artists and crafts people because I am not sure I would have ever experienced these items if that shop had not been there.

On one of our first visits there I picked up a cookbook put out by the Junior League of Parkersburg, West Virginia.  It was called “Everything but the Entrée.”  (You can get yourself a copy by writing to the Junior League at P.O. Box 4051 Parkersburg, WV 26104.)  In this wonderful hardcover book they had breads, breakfast and brunch items, salads, side dishes, desserts and more.  We actually planned a brunch for January 1 using recipes we read while traveling back to Illinois on that very trip.

Sprinkled through the book is information on the amazing projects of the Junior League throughout is longer than 75 year history.  I have not had as much fun reading a cookbook as I did this one and I have never even been to Parkersburg, WV, but I feel like I have visited.

Since that purchase I have been more attentive to the sharing of recipes not only to make a main dish but also to make side dishes.  So today I thought I would share three recipes for quick and easy side dishes using my herb blends from the Backyard Patch.

Orzo and Herbs
This recipe is quick and simple and you can use several different seasoning blends to make it a different dish every time you serve it.

7 cups water
1 cup orzo
2 tsp. olive oil
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. pepper
Tbls. Backyard Patch herb blend -- any one of these will work:
            Savory Salt Substitute
            Butter N Cheese Herb Mix
            Grilled Meat Rub Herb Mix
            Italian Seasoning Blend
            Meat Seasoning Blend
            Soup & Salad Seasoning
            Vegetable Seasoning

Bring water to boil in a large pot.  Stir in the orzo and cook for 6 minutes.  Place the herbs, oil salt and pepper in a serving bowl.  When the pasta is ready, drain and add it to the bowl.  Toss well and serve wither hot or cold.

Asparagus Carrot Squash Toss

8 ounces asparagus, cut diagonally into 1 inch pieces
8 ounces carrots, cut into Julienne strips
1 yellow squash, sliced
3 Tbls. melted butter or margarine
3 Tbls. lemon juice
salt to taste

Place asparagus, carrots and yellow squash in a steamer basket.  Set over boiling water in a Dutch oven and steam for 8 to 10 minutes or just until tender crisp.  Transfer the vegetables to a serving dish.

Combine Butter, lemon juice and herbs in a bowl.  Pour over vegetables and toss gently.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 6.

Sweet and Sour Green Beans

4 slices of bacon (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
¼ cup vinegar
2 14 ounce cans of green beans
  (You can also use 1 pound fresh or frozen green beans to make this as well, but you will need to steam the beans first)
Black pepper

Cook the bacon in the skillet until crisp.  Remove to paper towels and drain.  Save the drippings.  Crumble the bacon.

Sauté the onion in the bacon drippings (if not using bacon then use 1 Tbls. canola oil.)  Stir in vinegar, French Dressing Herb Mix and pepper to taste.  Cook uncovered for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the undrained green beans and bacon to the skillet.  Simmer uncovered to at least 5 minutes until heated through. Serve hot.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.

It was great with a steak and I think it would also be good with pork chops or pork roast.
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