Friday, September 30, 2011

Herb Crusted Tenderloin

Pork tenderloin is the hubby’s go-to meat when he is ready to cook for the month.  He enjoys it more than Chicken and the pricing per serving is about the same.  He has many ways he roasts, bakes and grills this meat, but encrusting the outside with herbs is his favorite way.

This recipe was adapted from the book Gourmet Meals from Crappy Little Kitchens by Jennifer Schaertl .  Since our kitchen is a galley style apartment kitchen that two people can barely stand in at the same time. I could not resist the book title when I saw it and the recipes are great.  Check it out:

In my adaptation we used a Backyard Patch Herb Seasoning blend Do-It-All Seasoning.  We also used a combination of apricot jelly and dried apricots.

Herb Crusted Pork Tenderloin

• 1/3 cup Backyard Patch Do-It-All Seasoning
• 1 whole pork tenderloin, about a pound
• Sea salt to taste
• Black pepper, to taste
• 1 pound dried apricots, quartered
• 3 tablespoons Backyard Patch Do-It-All Seasoning
• 2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place 1/3 cup of seasonings in a small bowl and set aside. Season the pork with salt and pepper. In another bowl, combine the apricots with the 3 Tbls. Do It All Seasonings. Place the pork on the cutting board. Insert your bread knife into the short end of the tenderloin. Hold the pork steady with one hand lying flat on top of it, and carefully slice through the center of the pork lengthwise, creating a tunnel of sorts.

2. Stuff the seasoned apricot pieces into one end of the tenderloin tunnel until they start coming out the other side. Store any leftover stuffing in an airtight container in the fridge, and it will stay good for a week. Completely cover the outside of the pork with the herb mixture.

3. Place your 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat (any higher and you will burn your herbs) and add the olive oil. Once the oil begins to shimmer, carefully place the tenderloin in the pan. Allow it to brown for 1 minute, and then turn it slightly. Repeat this until the tenderloin is brown all the way around, and then place it in the oven to finish cooking for 15 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 165 degrees.

4. Carefully remove the tenderloin from the pan and place it on a cutting board to rest for 5 minutes. Then cut the tenderloin into 1/4-inch disks.

5. Serve with roasted vegetables.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Storing Your Herbs

This time of year I am always thinking about the preservation time periods I will get from the herbs I am drying.  I thought this would be a great time to share the average shelf life
Shelf-life is a term used to reflect the amount of time an herb or spice has before its taste, flavor and scent deteriorate.  The components of a plant that give it smell and taste are called volatile oils.  Those oils can evaporate or oxidize.  To maintain the best length of time the herbs and spices should be as close to whole leaf as possible.  For example those that are cut or powdered and have more surface area can deteriorate much more quickly.
Time periods to use for keeping herbs and spices:

Whole Herbs and spices
Leaves and flowers           1 year
Seeds and barks               2+ years
Roots                                3+ years

Ground Spices and Herbs
Leaves and flowers         6 months
Seeds and barks              6 months
Roots                               1 year

Black and green           1 year
Herbal Teas                  1 years

How you store them is also important to the length of time they stay potent.  Closed containers to protect them from direct sunlight or extreme heat are best.  This prevents oxidation which deteriorates the flavor, color and aroma.  Small jars closer to the size of the herbs or spices held cuts down on air trapped with them which can increase the deterioration.   Spices and herbs can pick up the odors of items around them so something sealed is best.
Avoiding light is helpful in improving the length of freshness.  Dark colored jars or those covered entirely with labels that will block light are perfect.
Moisture build up which can happen when the temperature fluctuates can be very damaging.  It can cause the flavor to seem off and can result in mold.  Make sure that your herbs are not stored next to the stove or above it for this will result in great fluctuations in both temperature and humidity.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Garlic Pasta - No Meat Monday Recipe

No Meat Monday Recipe - Garlic Pasta

Chas and I were working on pasta sauce and canning tomatoes recently and got involved in a discussion about No Meat Pasta dishes (I like meat in may pasta and he prefers vegetarian.)  After a while we ended up experimenting with this recipe I found in Cooking Light magazine from April 2004.

I felt it was perfect to share as the herbs and vegetables to make it are perfectly in season right now, so you can try it out.


  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 5 cups chopped plum tomatoes (about 2 pounds) (You can use two cans diced if you don't have fresh)
  • 6 cups hot cooked campanella (about 12 ounces uncooked pasta) we actually used Ziti
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) grated fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper


  • Heat olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add minced garlic; sauté 30 seconds. Add chopped tomatoes; cook for 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. Add pasta, basil, cheese, salt, and pepper, tossing gently to combine.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bathing with Herbs - Gel Soap

This recipe is a great way to use your harvest of fresh herbs this time of year.  Check out the alternatives for others herbs to try.

Chamomile Gel Soap

6 cups water
1 ½ cups ground chamomile
2 cups grated castile soap
½ cup borax

Heat water and chamomile until boiling.  Simmer for ½ hour and steep until cool.  Strain out the chamomile.  Meanwhile, shred with a fine grater, castile or other pure mild soap.  Reheat 3 cups of cooled chamomile tea to a boil.  Add soap and ½ cup borax.  Stir and boil for 2 minutes, then cool.  Pour into pretty container and keep covered.

Alternatives:  Use whole leaves of the following herbs and strain out once steeped and cooled instead of chamomile.  Lemon grass for oily skin, peppermint for astringent soap, lavender for washing lingerie.  If you like scent, you can add about ¼ ounce of essential oil, but avoid bergamot or pennyroyal as they irritate sensitive skin.

Check out the many Bath items of the Backyard Patch. 

Recipe - 3 ingredient Grilled Chicken Legs

A friend challenged me to enter a contest with a recipe using only three ingredients.  I have trouble using only a few ingredients, mostly because I like a combination of herbs in dishes.  However, I realized that an herb blend could count as one ingredient, so I got my blend of herbs and only three ingredients (salt & pepper are “free”).  I did not win the contest but the recipe was so good I decided to share it with you.

Three Ingredient Grilled Chicken Legs with Herbs

Serves 6
6 tablespoons olive oil
5 pounds whole chicken legs (7 to 8 pieces)
Salt & pepper to taste

Mix herbs, salt, pepper, and oil in a small bowl. Pull chicken skin back as far as possible. Rub chicken legs with herb mixture then pull chicken skin back in place. (Refrigerate until ready to cook.)
Place chicken, skin side down on hot grill rack; cover and cook until impressive grill marks form, about 5 minutes. Turn chicken over, cover, and continue to grill until remaining side is grilled marked. Turn all burners on low and continue to cook chicken until golden brown and cooked through, 25 to 30 minutes longer.  I like to add 2 tsp. of lemon zest to the herbs but that is a fourth ingredient!

If you want to try other recipes using these seasonings. Check out the Recipe Archive on the Backyard Patch Website.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Herb of the Week - Lemon Thyme

One of my favorite herbs second only to Lemon Verbena is Thyme, especially lemon thyme.  Thyme is an herb that grows well in Illinois and sometimes depending on winter and spring conditions grows exceptionally well.  This was a good year for Thyme.  The winter had a high amount of moisture (you do remember that snow right?) and not a lot of extremely cold days.  In fact this was the first winter of recent memory where we did not have those bone chilling cold days with the terrible wind Chicagoland is famous for and I did not miss it.  The fact was my herbs loved it.  Before the heat wave it looked like this was going to be a summer of record harvests and good quality herbs.  However, after a perfect spring harvest I had to forgo a summer harvest due to the extreme heat.  But our rain was good, so once the weather cooled the herbs burst forth with amazing growth.  I have now been harvesting daily and getting nice scents

Thyme has many varieties that generally fall into two categories the low growing ground cover type called creeping thyme (Thymus praecox)  and the upright mounding varieties called bush thyme (Thymus vulgaris).  My two favorite thyme plants (although I must admit I grow 17 different varieties from coconut to Wedgwood) are Common Thyme and Lemon thyme (Thymus xcitridorus.) These are both bushy mounding thymes.

Silver variegated Thyme
Yellow variegated Thyme
Lemon thyme comes in several varieties with differing habits and most years I grow at least three different ones because I find the weather conditions generally favor at least one giving me the spectacular lemon flavor I am looking for.  Makes me wish for scratch and sniff computer screen because this stuff is great.  This year the variegated lemon thyme did best.  I have two types a yellow variegated and a white variegated, known as silver.  The yellow variegated plant I have had for several years it is the variety ‘Doone Valley.’  As you can see it is slowly reverting to an all green color which is typical of this variety.  But even the green is a lemony bright green which makes this a fun herb to use in salads and as garnish.  It is nicely hardy and I even transplanted to take indoors last year.  The white is a new plant for me this year.  The variety is “Hi Ho Silver.”  It is different from my former silver thyme called ‘Silver Queen.’  This one seems to be keeping its silver better than the silvers I’ve had in the past. 

To Grow

Thymes can grow both in containers and in the ground.  Those with a low growing habit make a great addition to your path and walking areas.  They will thrive in a hot dry spot which makes them great for edging plants.  My original thyme bed was two feet wide along the front edge of the 22 foot garden.  The edge drained down into the yard so it was the driest part of the garden and the thyme plants did well there.  Now I grow them in any spot where other things tend not to thrive, so you will find them tucked into the ends of rows or along the side of a path in my production garden.  Thyme hates heavy rainfall.  The splashing covers the leaves with dirt and the damp soil mixed with their tight tiny leaves can result in mold.  So if you live where rain is frequent, place your thyme in a pot so you get good drainage.  They do love a strawberry pot too!

Soils for thyme can be nutrient poor and well-drained with at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.  If you fertilize them you will get bushy growth at first, but then the get lanky and die out in the center.  They do need good air circulation which why edge planting really helps, then they can only be shaded and the air blocked on only one side.  Some people say you can fertilize thyme grown in a container once a month with a weak compost solution of fish emulsion, but I never do until I bring them in for the winter.

They require little maintenance so you just sit back and enjoy them as they grow.  The root system is shallow so a good layer of mulch and chopped leaves will prevent frost heaving during the winter.  Because in Illinois that raking dry wind on super cold days can be desiccate leaves and kill plants I pray for a layer of snow to cover them in winter, but just in case I do rake leaves over them after the first frost for added protection.

Propagate by root division and layering.  They grow so slow from seed that unless you start them inside early in winter, they will be so small when transplanted that they never amount to anything until well into the fall.
To Use

Thyme has a robust and some feel intense flavor.  It is very herby and there is no doubt you are it.  Fresh thyme can be sharp with strong earth tones.  Dried is it has a deeper richer flavor.  Always use less dried, most rules say ½ that of fresh, I do 1/3.  The great thing is you do not have to chop it much.  Just strip the leaves of the fresh stems and stir in.  I store my thyme on stems and roll the stems on a paper towel to separate and crumble the leaves while removing the stems.  Most thymes have a strong stem so you do not want to chop that up, but using a full sprig in a soup or broth is great.

You can use thyme on the stem as a stuffing inside a roasting chicken or turkey or use them underneath as a bed when roasting pork or potatoes.  The robust flavor makes any thyme an excellent companion for beef, lamb, pork and even game meats like venison and elk.  They lemon and lime varieties are good with fruits.  It is a basic in Mediterranean cooking and part of a traditional Bouquet Garni.


I have so many recipes that use thyme, as it is a household favorite that it was hard to choose what to include here, so look in the next few days for a couple more I found while searching out these examples.

Lemon Herb Pesto

For summer time, Pesto is a great food to try because you can eat it hot or cold, make it in a hurry and use as a topping not only on pasta but on grilled chicken and seafood.  I adapted this recipe from the herb shop that originally inspired me the Herbal Harvest of Geneva, IL!

3 T. olive oil
2 T. lemon vinegar
2 large cloves garlic
1 cup washed and dried lemon basil
¼ cup lemon thyme
½ tsp. ground pepper
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Place oil, vinegar, garlic, herbs and pepper into a blender or food processor in order listed.  Blend until thoroughly chopped and smooth.  Pout into a small bowl and stir in cheese.  Serve over hot or cold pasta (linguini, fettuccini or a bow tie are perfect.)  Or you can spread it on chicken breast or fish filets and grill before serving over pasta and steamed vegetables for a quick easy meal.

Thyme Jelly

1 Tbls. fresh lemon thyme
½ cup boiling water
1 ½ cup unsweetened grape juice
3 cups honey
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 box powdered pectin

Make an infusion (tea) of thyme 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 thyme 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.

Lemon Steak

1 sirloin steak (about 2 ½ lbs.
½ cup lemon juice
2 T. olive or canola oil
1 Tbls. grated lemon peel
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp. celery seed
½ tsp. lemon or common thyme, crumbled
½ tsp basil, crumbled
½ tsp. Basil, crumbled
½ tsp. paper
¼ tsp. salt

Place steak in a glass baking dish.  Prick both sides with a fork.  In a small bowl combine lemon juice, oil, lemon peel, garlic and herbs, salt pepper and celery seed.  Whisk together.  Pour over steak and turn to coat both sides with marinade.  Cover and refrigerator 24 hours, turning several times.

About 30 minutes before cooking, remove dish form the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.  Reheat broiler.  Place steak o broiler rack in pan, reserving the marinade.  Broil 3 inches form heat source, about 12 minutes on each side for medium rare, basting with reserved marinade several times.  Discard any remaining marinade once cooking is completed.

Serves 4 to 6 depending on serving size.

Warm Goat Cheese and Tomato Herb Salad

I developed this one from a recipe in the Herb Companion magazine back in the 1990s.

½ small head of butter lettuce
2 ripe garden tomatoes
6 to 8 sprigs (total) of thyme and lemon thyme and maybe some summer savory
¼ pound goat cheese

Flan leaves of butter lettuce into a circle on two salad plates.  Slice tomatoes crosswise and center on the lettuce overlapping the slices to forma decorative wheel.  Place whole fresh herb laves or sprigs onto tog the tomatoes. Divide goat cheese into two thick slices and warm briefly in medium temperature oven or microwave until cheese softens and begins to melt, but still holds its shape.  With spatula lift cheese from baking sheet and place in center of each circle of tomatoes.  Decorate with additional herb sprigs.

Crispy Potatoes

2 ½ lbs. potatoes, thinly sliced
3 Tbls. olive or canola oil
3 Tbls. butter, melted
2 Tbls. parsley, chopped
¾ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. thyme, crumbled
1/8 tsp. pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Arrange potatoes in 13 x 9 inch baking dish or a jelly roll pan.  In a small bowl combine remaining ingredients.  Spread over potatoes. Cover and bake 30 min. Then remove cover and allow potatoes to crisp for 5 to 7 minutes.

Colorful Vegetable Casserole
3 cups cauliflowerets
3 cups sliced carrots
3 cups broccoli florets
1 cup mayonnaise
¼ cup finely chopped onion
3 Tbls. prepared horseradish
¼ tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper
1/3 cup dry bread crumbs
½ tsp. dried thyme
2 Tbls. butter or margarine, melted
1/8 tsp. paprika

Place cauliflower and carrots in a large saucepan; add a small amount of water.  Cover and cook for 3 minutes.  Add broccoli; cook 4 to 6 minutes longer or until vegetables are crisp-tender.  Drain.  Combine mayonnaise, salt and pepper; add vegetables and mix will.  Pour into greased 2 quart baking dish.  Combine bread crumbs, thyme, butter and paprika; sprinkle over vegetables.  Bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until heated through.  Makes 12 to 14 servings (and freezes well.)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

How Tuesday - Making Herbal Vinegar

This time of year, when the herbs grow large and beg to be harvested is my favorite time of year to make vinegar.  I make it in the spring too, but not as much as in the fall.  This year, I have made lemon verbena vinegar, Purple basil, lemon basil, and several new combinations, like chives and thyme together.

I thought I would share today the steps for making vinegar--

The most important thing you need when making herb flavored vinegar is the vinegar.  You want to obtain the best vinegar your money can buy.  As long as the acid content is 5% or more will not have to worry about bateria and your vinegar will have a great shelf life.  

The following instructions were included in my most recent article in the Essential Herbal Magazine.  In that particular September/October 2011 issue were articles about making oils and elixirs.  I recommend the magazine highly if you like exploring herbs and their uses.  Here is a link to check it out: The Essential Herbal Magazine.

Things to keep in mind:
  • Cleanliness is essential.  Wash all your utensils, bottle and containers with hot soapy water.
  • Use non-reactive containers for the steeping process, glass, plastic, porcelain and enamel coated steel with tight fitting non-reactive lids.
  • Freshly picked herbs yield the best results.  I pick mine in the morning before the sun leaches the essential oil, rinse them and let them air dry while I prepare the bottles and jars.
  • Steep your vinegar away from sunlight as the flavors are best maintained this way.
  • Always be sure your herbs are completely covered with vinegar to avoid mold growth.
  • Herb vinegars generally do not spoil, but they will lose their unique herbal character about 18 months after rebottling.
General Instructions:

Once herbs have dried from washing, place them in a glass jar and bruise them with the handle of a wooden 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. 

If you want herbs in the finished product add new unbruised herbs.  Then enjoy!

If you wish to experiment with your own vinegar, good herbs to start with are lemon herbs, basils (especially colored ones like the purple basil above), chives (and chive flowers) and thyme (both lemon and regular).  They are perfect for cooking and easy to incorporate into recipes.


Herb Shallot Marinade
I crafted this recipe for my first herb lecture back in 1995.  Great on pasta and vegetable salads.  Tenderizes less expensive cuts of meat.  Chicken breasts are delicious marinated 3 to 4 hours or overnight, then broiled or barbecued.

3/4 cup oil (olive)
3/4 cup of any Herbal Vinegar
3 Tbls. shallots, finely chopped
1 Tbls. fresh parsley, chopped
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

Mix all ingredients in small shallow bowl, beating until well blended.

Basil Summer Salad
This is a great way to enjoy your fresh basil from the garden.  
You can use a basil vinegar as well as the one recommended.
Slice fresh tomatoes from the garden.  
Top each tomato slice with a slice of fresh mozzarella cheese.
Top that with a basil leaf.
Drizzle with chive blossom vinegar or thyme vinegar and good olive oil.

Oven Barbecued Chicken
3/4 cup catsup
1/4 cup lemon herb vinegar
2 tablespoons chopped dried onion
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 cup water
4 chicken breasts
Combine above ingredients (excluding chicken). Simmer 10 minutes. In a 9x13 inch oven safe dish, arrange chicken skin side up. Pour sauce over chicken. Bake at 350° for 60 minutes. Baste midway.

Skinless, boneless chicken breasts will work for this recipe. If you use skinless chicken, add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil. Use less vinegar to suit your tastes.  You can substitute an herbed wine for the vinegar in this recipes as well.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Picnic and Tailgates - herb recipes for FUN!

Football season has finally started and I am thrilled.  I love the sport of football.  In part, this is due to the fact my father taught me the terminology and strategy of the game while we watched together on Sundays giving me the ability (unlike most other girls in the marching band) to understand what was going on when I sat through the games in high school.

His teaching gave me the tools to like the game and I still do.  Once the car racing season ends I love nothing more than a football game on Sunday!

Being that Labor Day weekend and the football season are linked this year. I am going to share some great appetizer and picnic recipes so you can enjoy the last harah of summer before Fall in upon us! 


Spinach Tomato Appetizers
This recipe is great for using the abundance of tomatoes this time of year!
1 10-oz pkg. frozen chopped spinach
1 c Italian bread crumbs
3 green onions, chopped
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 TB butter, melted
1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese, more for garnish
1/4 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp Tabasco sauce
6 thick tomato slices
ground black pepper

Cook spinach according to package directions and drain well. In a medium
bowl, combine spinach, bread crumbs, green onions, eggs, butter, 1/4 cup
Parmesan cheese, Worcestershire sauce, garlic, salt, white pepper, thyme,
and Tabasco sauce; mix well. Arrange tomato slices in a single layer on a
greased baking pan. Sprinkle with black pepper. Mound an equal portion of
spinach mixture on each tomato slice. Sprinkle with additional Parmesan
cheese. Bake uncovered for 15 minutes.
Walnuts and Parmesan Bruschetta
1 Tbls. fresh thyme (1 tsp dried)
1 Tbls. fresh parsley (1 tsp. dried) 
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Thinly slice half a baguette. Place the rounds on a baking sheet and broil them until they're golden brown (about 1 1/2 minutes per side).

Pulse the walnuts, Parmesan, herbs and salt in a food processor until crumbly. Add the lemon juice. While the machine is running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Spread the mixture on the rounds. Garnish the bruschetta with additional Parmesan, if desired.  Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Marinated mushrooms and artichokes

1/2 to 1 cup prepared BYP Caesar Salad Dressing
fresh button mushrooms or sliced portobello
frozen cooked artichoke hearts

Marinade fresh mushrooms and frozen cooked artichoke hearts in prepared BYP Caesar Salad Dressing for several hours in the refrigerator.  Drain and serve on picks.

Creamy Cucumber Salad

2 cucumbers, peeled and sliced
1 t. garlic salt
1 c. sour cream
3 T. dill vinegar (may substitute regular vinegar and 1/4 t. dill)
4 t. minced green onions

Sprinkle cucumbers with salt in colander and allow to drain for one hour.  Rinse with clear water and drain 5 minutes.  Mix sour cream, vinegar and onions in serving bowl.  Add cucumber slices and refrigerate 2 to 3 hours before serving.  Keeps well on ice!  Serves 4 to 6.

Picnic Burgers

You can make these ahead and just warm them on the grill or in the broiler before serving.

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, pork or turkey
2 Tbls. garlic powder
1/2 Tbls. black pepper
2 Tbls. mixes fresh herbs, finely chopped
2 Tbls. light soy sauce (do not add extra salt)
3 4 Tbls instant oats or break crumbs

Mix ground meat with herbs and seasonings.  Add soy sauce and oats.  Mix well.  Shape into mini paddies (make a golfball sized meatball and smash flat.)  Cook on a griddle or grill uuntil internal temp is at least 170 degrees.  Serve on buns with all the fixins.

1/2 french baguette loaf
1 cup walnuts
1 cup grated Parmesan
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