Sunday, March 31, 2013

Exotic Herbs in the Garden

Happy Easter!  I am getting out the garden plans and making my plant lists while I have sometime off visiting the family.  As a result I started thinking about what I wanted and what I could get that was new.  that was when I remembered that a lecture attendee asked me at a recent program to list three herbs that most people have not tried in the garden which I would recommend growing.

I came up with this list: Lemon Verbena, Pineapple Sage and Garlic Chives.

Lemon verbena is my favorite herbs so I always recommend it, but pineapple sage is god for flower gardeners as well as herb enthusiasts.  And Garlic chives allows those who fear the strong flavor of garlic to enjoy its more gentle tastes.

Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla)
Perhaps no other herb can appease the true lemon lover like lemon verbena can This deciduous woody shrub to bushy, tender perennial grows 3 to 5 feet in cooler climates; 10 to 15 feet tall in frost- free regions of the South.
Growing conditions: Prefers rich and moderately moist, well-drained soil in full sun. The roots can be hardy down to 20 degrees if heavily mulched and grown in a protected area. Zone 8, so here in Illinois you need to  treat it as an annual or plant it in a container.
Culinary tips: Use fresh or dried leaves in teas and beverages; salads and fruit dishes; salad dressings and marinades; and baked goods and desserts. Lemon verbena brightens the flavor of fish and chicken


Pineapple Sage (Salvia elegans)
This herbaceous subshrub grows from 3 to 5 feet tall and features brilliant green, slightly hairy pineapple scented leaves and red, trumpet-shaped flower spikes from summer until frost.
Growing conditions: Plants thrive in full sun and rich, well-drained soil, but appreciate some shade in hot summer areas. Pineapple sage prefers more moisture and nitrogen than most other species of sage. Zone 9, but can be grown a zone or two lower if you cut back the plant in late full and cover the soil with a thick layer of winter mulch. Or you can grow it like I do in a pot and bring it in each winter along with my Lemon Verbena.
Culinary tips: Use fresh or dried leaves with foods that are enhanced by the light tropical flavor of pineapple, such as fruit salads, jams and jellies-or to heighten the flavor of cheeses and desserts.


Garlic Chives (Alliun tuberosum)
This flat leafed member of the onion family blooms with white flowers in the fall. This hardy perennial plant will grow in expanding clumps or sprout from seed.
Growing Conditions: Can sprout in almost any soil from rocky to humus and prefers full sun. In colder climates, Zone 5 and above, the leaves will die back in winter and regrow in the spring.
Culinary Tips: Both the leaves and the flowers can be eaten.  Toss the flowers into salads or use them to craft and herbal vinegar.  Chop the leaves into stir-fry, over potatoes, or whisk into salad dressings.

So enjoy a few exotics in your garden this year and see what joy you can turn up!

Friday, March 29, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Frittata with Herbs and Cauliflower

Bacon, Cauliflower, & Parmesan Frittata
A great addition to a Brunch but substantial enough to be an evening meal.  Serve with a spring salad or fresh fruit.
1/4 pound bacon, cut into 1/4-inch strips
8 large eggs
1/3 cup light cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley or chervil
1/2 Tablespoon fresh thyme
1/8 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil1 tablespoon butter
1 small head cauliflower (about 1 1/4 pounds), cut into small florets
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cloves garlic, minced

In a 10-inch nonstick frying pan, cook the bacon until crisp. Remove. Pour off all the fat. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the cream, Parmesan, herbs, and pepper until smooth. Add the cooled bacon.
In the same frying pan, heat the oil with the butter over moderately high heat. Add the cauliflower and salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is golden and almost done, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute longer. Pour in the egg mixture and reduce the heat to low. Cook, covered, until the bottom of the frittata is golden brown and the top is almost set, 10 to 15 minutes.
Heat the broiler. Broil the frittata 6 inches from the heat, if possible, until the eggs are set and beginning to brown, about 3 minutes.
Lift up the edge of the frittata with a spatula and slide the frittata onto a plate. Cut it into wedges.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chickweed - Herb of the Week

Tomorrow is National Weed Day, so in celebration, I decided to make the
Herb of the Week Chickweed (Stellaria media)
common chickweed to be exact.

This cool-season annual herb started out as a weed in Europe and has been naturalized worldwide. It is so named because it is a favorite food of chickens. Chickweed is an annual, meaning that the plant's life span is over in one year, and the plants for the next year come from seeds, either self-seeded by the plant or sewn in by the gardener.

Chickweeds are an annual herb, widespread in temperate zones, arctic zones, and throughout their place of origin – Europe. Chickweeds have established themselves all over the world, possibly carried on the clothes and shoes of explorers. They are as numerous in species as they are in region. Most are succulent and have white flowers, and all with practically the same edible and medicinal values. They all exhibit a very interesting trait, (they sleep) termed the 'Sleep of Plants,' every night the leaves fold over the tender buds and the new shoots.

To Grow
Chickweed grows from 3 to 8 inches high, and the plants will mat together and grow to about 16 inches long. The leaves, which have smooth edges, are no more than 1 inch long and can be as short as ½ inch and always grow in pairs, directly opposite each other on the stem. The stem itself is not smooth, having fine hairs covering the entire length. The flowers themselves are petite, measuring just 1/8 inch across. They are white with five petals, giving them a star shape. Directly under the flower petals are five sepals, which look like leaves, and grow as long as the petals.

There are a few different types of chickweed, each one with its own modification on the general features, and all of them are edible. Common chickweed has leaves with stalks, star chickweed has leaves without stalks, and mouse-ear chickweed has coarse hairs.

To Use
The cultivation of this her (weed) is not really necessary as it can be found abundantly in the wild.  One can gather fresh edible plant between May and July, as soon as flowers appear, it can be used fresh or be dried for later herb use.

Common chickweed as well as star chickweed can be eaten raw in salads or cooked just like spinach, for about five minutes. Mouse hair chickweed is a bit tough to eat raw. It has to be cooked. Chickweed is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals including A, D, B complex, C, rutin. iron, calcium, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese, sodium, copper, and silica.

Chickweeds are Medicinal and edible, they are very nutritious, high in vitamins and minerals, can be added to salads or cooked as a pot herb, tasting somewhat like spinach. The major plant constituents in Chickweed are Ascorbic-acid, Beta-carotene, Calcium, Coumarins (blood thinners),  Flavonoids, Magnesium, Niacin, Oleic-acid, Potassium, Riboflavin, Selenium,  Thiamin, and Zinc.

The whole plant is used in alternative medicine as an astringent, carminative, demulcent, diuretic, expectorant, and laxative. A decoction of the whole plant is taken internally as a post-partum tonic.  It is also used to relieve constipation; an infusion of the dried herb is used in coughs and hoarseness, and is beneficial in the treatment of kidney complaints.  New research indicates its use as an effective antihistamine. The decoction is also used externally to treat rheumatic pains, wounds and ulcers. It can be applied as a medicinal poultice and will relieve any kind of roseola and is effective wherever there are fragile superficial veins or itching skin conditions.  I plan to make a salve with it this spring to see if it is effective on my rosacea.

Historically, Chickweed water is an old wives' remedy for obesity. The plant has medicinal purposes and is used in folk medicine. It has been used as a remedy to treat itchy skin conditions and pulmonary diseases. 17th century herbalist John Gerard recommended it as a remedy for mange. Modern herbalists mainly prescribe it for skin diseases, and also for bronchitis, rheumatic pains, arthritis and period pain. A poultice of chickweed can be applied to cuts, burns and bruises. Not all of these uses are supported by scientific evidence.

Be careful when picking chickweed. There are poisonous plants that grow the same way, but have different features. Spotted Spurge trails along the ground and has the same leaf characteristics, but has different flowers, and if you break the stem, you will get a milky sap. Matted doorweed, also known as oval-leaf knotweed, also trails along the ground, but the leaves are not opposite one another--they alternate up the stem one by one.


Itch Relief Salve (Good for poison ivy, poison oak )
1 pint Sweet Olive Oil
2 ounces Beeswax
1 tablespoon Chickweed Powder
1 tablespoon Comfrey Powder

Put chickweed and comfrey powder into sweet olive oil and simmer 3 hours. Strain and add beeswax to warm oil. Stir until wax dissolves. Pour into salve jars or tins. If you want a thin consistency (such as a cream or Vaseline ) add only a little bit of Beeswax. Want it thicker like wax? Just add more Beeswax.

Allow the base to cool down to see what the consistency is like. If it's too thick, add more  oil and reheat, too thin, add more Beeswax.

Pain Relief Salve 1 tablespoon Chickweed powder
1 tablespoon Wormwood Powder
10 drops Tea Tree oil
2 pints Sweet Olive Oil
3 ounces Beeswax

Mix together chickweed, wormwood powder, add the mixed herbs to sweet olive oil and simmer 3 hours. Strain and add beeswax to warm oil. Stir until wax dissolves, then add Tea Tree Oil. Pour into salve jars or tins.

If you are out in the wild or have a large yard, it is possible to gather many of these salad ingredients from the landscape. (I think I originally found this recipe at Learning – but the citation is lost)

3 cups purslane, chopped
1 hard-boiled egg, sliced
1/2 cup amaranth leaves
1/4 cup cheddar cheese (or other cheese), diced into small bits
1/2 onion
1 cup chickweed
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon garlic salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Chop the purslane, chickweed, amaranth, and onion into bite sized bits. Add the avocado, peeled and diced. Add one hard-boiled egg, sliced. Mix in approximately 1/4 cup of cheddar cheese which has been cut into small bits. Squeeze the lemon over the salad, add the garlic salt, and mix well. If you have them, you can add chia seeds and one tablespoon of mayonnaise.

Flashes Blend Tea
I got this recipe from a friend who swore by Chickweed’s menopausal and post partum treatment qualities.

1 part sage
1 part motherwort
1 part dandelion
1 part chickweed & violet leaves
1 part each elder flowers & oatstraw

Brew with 1 to 2 tsp. per cup of hot water. Brew up a pot and sip when needed.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Review - Herb Gardening from the Ground Up

I picked this book up from the Librarian-curated shelves at the public library in town and was surprised at how perfect it was even for a seasoned gardener like me.  It was the drawings they included on propagation that drew me into the book.  What kept be there was the personable writing style and the depth of information.

Sometimes books on herb growing can be so elementary, giving you the top 10 herbs and growing tips and a few recipes, but his book was not in that class at all.  Written by Sal Gilbertie and Larry Sheehan, Herb Gardening from the Ground Up (2012: Ten Speed Press: Berkeley, CA) takes the approach that knowing each herb's life cycle, climate requirements, growth pattern, and means of propagation will tell you more about how and where to use them in the garden than knowing which names belong to which herbs.  I found that to be a refreshing take on herb gardening. 

Sal Gilbertie is the proprietor of  Gilberties Herb Gardens of Westport, Connecticut which was established in 1922 by his grandfather.  It is among the largest herb nurseries in the US.  At one time he gave herb advice to Martha Stewart and has appeared on her show Martha Stewart Living.  Co-author Larry Sheehan has a long list of writing credits that include newspapers, magazines, television documentaries, and dozens of books including the best-selling Living with Dogs and The Sporting Life.  Together they authored another book on high yield gardening I have not had a chance to look at.

Under the heading Four Facts of Herb Life they spend a good 20 pages going over the life cycle, climate, growth patterns (with illustrations by Lauren Jarrett that show you the spread and height of plants after the first years,) and propagation techniques divided by style of plant.  They presented the clearest and most concise definitions of annual, perennial, and biennial I have found anywhere.

The book spends another 20 pages discussing ways to plant and propagate the herbs in your first garden.  Then this book departs from others by updating what to do and look for in the second year and third year of a culinary garden as well as giving some great garden plans with plant lists. One of my favorites was the Breakfast Garden.  My hubby was intrigued by the Fish and Game Garden.

As all good herb books should, there is a focus on details of various individual herbs too.  They did not just give a top ten list, however, instead they chose 38 different herbs to detail (on more than 50 pages) and the theme gardens presented even had me thinking about how to incorporate them into my landscape.  They divide the herbs into groups with similar growth habits and soil and climate needs and then give a tutorial on how best to propagate within each group as well as other group related suggestions.  It is a unique approach to gardening with herbs that I have never seen so well articulated.  We all generally understand that dividing a mint is the best way to go, but to have a group of spreading perennials with Mint, Tarragon and Oregano as examples in which he details how to treat them all the same when propagating is exceptionally easy to understand and perfectly true!

The book has an index which is a must for me with any reference book on gardening.  I cannot possibly remember where to find what I know was in that book without an index and this one has a fine one.  Before the index, however are some must-have pieces of information including a "Start from scratch schedule" and a "harvesting and storing guide."  Those alone make the book a treasure trove of useful information. 

Herb Gardening from the Ground Up is a book I quickly added to my own library and I was ever so thankful to that Librarian at the Elmhurst Public Library for showcasing something I might not have taken a second look at if I passed it on the gardening shelves.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Chips & Dip Day!

Today is Chip & Dip Day!

To celebrate I am going to share several great dip recipes with you.  You can serve them with chips or with your favorite veggies!

Green Goddess Dip Recipe
Make this with the low-fat versions of sour cream and mayo and you will enjoy the flavors of the herbs so much more and your waistline will thank you.

2 oil-packed anchovy fillets, rinsed and patted dry
1 large clove garlic, smashed
2 scallions, including 3 inches of the green tops, cut into 1/2-inch lengths
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
6 large fresh basil leaves, torn into small pieces
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1/2 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise

1. In the work-bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the anchovies, garlic, scallions, parsley, cilantro, dill, tarragon, basil, vinegar, salt, sugar, and pepper until finely chopped. Stop the machine once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.

2. Add the sour cream and mayonnaise and process until smooth. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to allow the flavors to meld.
Green Goddess Dip Do-Ahead: This dip can be prepared up to 2 days in advance. Cover and refrigerate. Remove from the refrigerator 10 minutes before serving.

Southwestern Ranch Dressing

½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup Sour Cream
1 to 2 Tbls. Milk
2 Tbls minced Tomatoes
1 Tbls. vinegar

Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl.  Cover and chill for 4 hours before serving with your favorite chips or carrot coins.
Tapenade Dip
(adapted from Spoodles on the Disney Boardwalk)
Use this on Pita chips, Melba toast rounds, or tortilla chips.  You can use it as a bread dip by adding 2 Tablespoons with ¼ cup of olive oil on a plate.

14 ounces Green Olives Stuffed with Pimiento
7 ounces Kalamata Olives
2 ounces Pickled Onions
4 ounces Pepperocini
6 ounces Carrots
5 ounces Celery
1 Tablespoon Minced Garlic
1/4 Teaspoon Celery Seed
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1 Teaspoon Dried Basil
1/2 Teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1 cup Olive Oil
2 ounces Red Wine Vinegar

Place Olives, Onions, Peppers, Carrots and Celery in a food processor. Pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped, but not pureed.  Fold in remaining ingredients and season with Kosher Salt and Black Pepper.   The best news is the olives have a wonderful shelf-life when kept in a sealed container.  I use a canning jar.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wood Betony - Herb of the Week

Something ornamental has caught my eye, so I decided to make
      Wood Betony or Betony (Stachy officinalis) Herb of the week

An herb with a long history that dates back to the Middle ages, it was reputed to scare off evil spirits.  It is in the same family as Lamb’s Ear (S. byzantine) but unlike the fuzzy-leafed edging plant, this is a colorful ornamental that attracts bees, butterflies and other pollinators.  Currently appreciated more as an ornamental plant, it actually has an interesting medical history.

Historically Betony was considered a magical herb that could, according to the Romans, cure 47 different illnesses.  By the later half of the 17th century physicians were still touting at least 30 medicinal uses.  Among its magical properties was the ability to ward off evil.  In the Middle Ages it was planted in church yards and worn in amulets for just this purpose.  When I read in a British book, entitled Demonology and Witchcraft that “the house where Herb Betonica is sown is free of all mischief,” I almost reconsidered planting it.  Gone are the days it could cure bad dreams, gout, dog and snake bites and drunkenness, today its curative properties have been whittled down to a treatment for sore throats and diarrhea.  What I love about Betony is that it bears a unique resemblance to black tea in its taste.

To Grow
A perennial prairie plant that grows 1 to 2 feet tall, Betony is best in zones 4 to 8.  Sporting pinkish purple tubular flowers that bloom in a tiered spike, the leaves are bright green with serrated edges. The stem is square and hairy and does not branch so it has a very upright shape.   Betony requires little care except for occasional weeding.  It likes a deep, fertile soil, that is well drained but kept moist.

You can grow this plant from seed started indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost (which in Illinois means right about now.)  You can then transplant the seedlings to the garden after the soil warms. But you can also sow them directly 1 to 2 weeks before the last frost.  You will need to thin the plants to 12 to 18 inches apart and divide them every third year as the can spread widely.

They need a well-drained, moderately moist soil of average fertility.  The plant will bloom, in early July, so harvest the leaves for tea before it blooms and hang dry them.

To Use
Although history says it can cure many things, Betony is really only good for throat irritations and diarrhea.  It tastes like black tea, but has no caffeine, so unlike real black tea is actually relaxing.  The leaves contain glycosides that lower blood pressure which makes it a great treatment for headaches.  The tannins in the leaves can ease throat soreness, but do not go overboard as those same tannins will irritate the stomach if used in excess (much like aspirin will.)

Make an infusion with the leaves and gargle with it for a sore throat.  Drink the tea to treat diarrhea.

The only real recipes you can make with Betony are tea, but with a taste like traditional tea leaves it is a great foil for herb combinations.

Beltane Tea (A Spring tea)

 1 Tbls. Wood Betony

1 Tbls. Bee Balm,

1 Tbls. Orange Peel

1 Tbls. Rose Petals

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Spring Cleaning - Treating your Wood Items, Occasional Series #3

This time I thought I would give a few hints on how to treat your wood furniture.  My husband and I collect Mission and Arts and Crafts furniture.  Much of it has dulled over time, but the grain of the wood is lovely if you can get it shiny again.  We swear by both these items.

Before I begin polishing I take off the surface dust.  I use my Lemongrass Dusting Cloths for this step.

Wood Cleaner and Polisher
Polish up your older dull furniture with this mixture and bring it back to life. With all wood cleaners always test a small discrete area before you begin to determine if the fish will react to the cleaner.  You should do this whether you make the cleaner yourself or not.
1 Tbls. Fresh raspberry leaves
1 cup boiling water
½ cup lemon herbal vinegar
¼ cup lemon juice
Steep the raspberry leaves in the boiling water for 20 minutes.  Strain.  In a plastic storage bottle with a tight fitting lid combine the infusion, the lemon vinegar and the lemon juice.  Shake well.  Moisten a soft cloth with the solution and gently rub the wood in a circular motion that is not against the grain and loose and remove the dirt.  Use a second cloth damped with plain water to remove the residue.  Finish with a dry lint-free towel.

Herbal Wood Polish
¼ cup linseed oil
3 drops lavender or rosemary essential oil
Combine oils in a bowl.  Apply a light layer of polish to the wood with a brush or cloth.  Rub into wood with a soft cloth, using a circular motion.  Wipe again with a dry cloth to buff up the wood.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Weekend Recipe Bruchetta Omelets with Fines Herbs

Bruchetta Omelets with Fines Herbes
(serves 4)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons finely diced shallots
2 tomatoes, seeded and finely diced, with juices
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
12 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 tablespoons clarified butter, at room temperature 
4 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces 
Fresh chervil and thyme sprigs (for garnish – optional)

In a small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the shallots and sauté until wilted, about 45 seconds. Add the tomatoes and juices, the salt and a pinch or two of pepper. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring gently from time to time, until the tomato juices have evaporated, 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.
In a small bowl, beat the eggs until blended. Season with the salt and a pinch or two of the pepper.
Place a 7- or 8-inch nonstick frying pan over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add 1 tablespoon of the clarified butter, heat briefly and pour in one-fourth of the beaten eggs. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the butter pieces and 1 teaspoon of the Backyard Patch Fines Herbes over the surface. Allow the eggs to cook for 10 seconds, then, using a wooden spoon, begin to pull the eggs away from the edges of the pan toward the center so that some of the uncooked egg runs underneath. Cook until the eggs are still somewhat moist on the surface, but set and lightly browned on the bottom, 40-60 seconds. Using a small spatula, fold the omelet in half and gently slide it out of the pan onto a warmed individual plate. Repeat the process, wiping out the pan with a paper towel before cooking each omelet and cooking 4 omelets in all.
TO SERVE:  Spoon some of the warm tomato bruchetta over each omelet and garnish with chervil and thyme sprigs. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Spring Cleaning #2 - Occasional Series - Laundry

In keeping with a Spring theme and my desire to be Spring Cleaning even though it is still snowing outside, I am adding another post to the Green Cleaning Occasional Series.  Today I am going to focus on the laundry.

A few years ago money was very tight for us and the high cost of laundry detergent int he supermarket really hacked a chunk out of my budget.  It was then I discovered ways of making a simple, effective and low chemical washing supplies.  Now that I know how to make them I rarely buy the expensive brands in the store anymore!

For more recipes like these, I recommend the book "The Naturally Clean Home" by Karyn Siegel-Maier.  She gives lots of recipes for crafting chemical free cleaning solutions.  For the last Spring Cleaning occasional post check out this link.  And if you want to make your own soap from an herb, check out Soapwort.

Laundry Soap
These are the three recipes I rely on when making my own laundry soap.  Which one I make is mostly determined by what ingredients are on hand.  Each recipe uses washing soda.  Washing soda, also known as Soda Ash is sodium carbonate.  I obtain mine from the WalMart in the laundry soap aisle near the large boxes of baking soda.  I have noticed that some grocery and health food stories also stock it.  Washing soda is caustic, so I recommend gloves when you work with it or your hands can get raw.

Laundry soap
½ cup washing soda
½ cup borax
1 bar lavender (or unscented) castile soap, grated (about 1 cup)
¼ cup baking soda
15 drops lemon essential oil

Put on gloves. Add washing soda, borax, grated soap, baking soda and oil to lidded container. Cover and shake well. Use 3 Tbsp. detergent per load, or slightly more for very soiled clothes.

Lemon Laundry Soap Powder
½ cup washing soda
1 cup finely grated pure soap
½ cup salt
½ cup borax
½ cup baking soda
¼ teaspoon lemon, lavender, peppermint essential oil or eucalyptus oil

Put washing soda in a clean plastic bag and crush finely with a rolling pin.  Mix crushed washing soda with rest of dry ingredients.  Add the essential oil and mix thoroughly through the powder.  You can do this with rubber gloves or put the powder in a large plastic bag and knead if thoroughly from the outside.

Use 1 Tbls. for a small load, 1 ½ tables for a medium load and 2 Tbls. for a large load.  For the results of a liquid soap, dissolve the soap powder in a jug of hot water before adding to a top-loading machine.  For a front loading machine, dissolve powder in a small amount of hot water and add to dispenser.

Lavender Liquid Laundry Soap
Gentle on septic systems and the environment and you can save quite a bit compared to commercial laundry detergent.  And it will leave clothing smelling wonderful and feeling soft.

½ cup liquid castile soap
½ cup washing soda
½ cup borax
2 to 3 teaspoons lavender or lemon verbena essential oil
7.5 quarts hot water

Mix all ingredients in 9.5 quart bucket and stir well until soda crystals and borax are dissolved. Decant into clean plastic detergent containers.  Shake the mixture before using.  Use about ¼ cup per load.  I try not to keep this longer than 3 months before making a new batch.  It does not spoil, however.
Rinsing Agents/Softeners

When working with laundry something to leave a fresh scent or help with static cling is always helpful.  The following recipes can be used for that.

Laundry Rinse
1 large handful of fresh mint
2 handfuls of fresh lavender
3 cups water, boiling

Chop or cut up the mint and lavender into short lengths including leaves, flowers and stems and place in a large bowl. Pour 2 cups of boiling water over the herbs until they are well covered, adding more water as necessary.  Allow to cool.  Strain into another container and add a pinch of borax.  Stir well.  Decant the liquid into a bottle straining one last time to keep sediment or stray herbs out of your final product.
Directions for use: add ½ to 1 cup of this liquid to the final rinse in the washer or place it in a spay bottle and mist your laundry as your remove it from the washer or dryer.

The vinegar in these next two recipes will help remove soap residue from fabric giving them longer life and brighter colors and helps to eliminate static cling from the dryer.

Lavender Fabric Softener
Formulas don't get much easier than this one, both fragrant and effective. I have one of the fabric softener balls and it will hold ¾ cup of softener so I can drop this in at the beginning of the wash and not have to wait for the rinse cycle.

1 gallon vinegar (buy a 1 gallon jug of vinegar and take out 1 Tbls. of liquid)
20 drops lavender essential oil

Add the lavender essential oil to the vinegar right in the original container and you've got instant fabric softener! Shake well before using. For a large load, add 1 cup during the rinse cycle; use 1/2 cup during the rinse cycle for smaller loads.

Lemony Fabric Softener
There's nothing like the smell of lemons to suggest freshness. As many who follow me know I am a sucker for lemon, so when I found this recipe in “The Naturally Clean Home” I had to try it.  There was no need to improve on it.  It is perfect for giving you lemon wonderfulness and it works perfect in my fabric softener ball.

6 cups vinegar
1 cup water
1 cup baking soda
15 drops lemon, lemon verbena or lemongrass essential oil

Combine all ingredients in a heavy-duty plastic container. Add 1 cup to the rinse cycle for each load for truly lemon-fresh clothes.

Dryer  Sachets

I make Dryer Sachets at the Backyard Patch filled with dried herbs like lavender, peppermint or lemon verbena, but if you have need for quick scent and have a few essentials around the house, you can try this instead.  Place 2 to 4 drops of essential oil on a 4 inch square of cotton cloth.  An old hankie will do, or just cut squares of muslin.

Here are a few Essential Oil combinations you can try:

Lavender and/or chamomile for relaxation and to aid sleep
Eucalyptus and Peppermint to relieve cold symptoms
Patchouli and Sandalwood for manly scent
Scented geraniums or Violet for a floral smell
Rosemary, Clary sage and thyme for a savory or earthy tone

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Weekend Recipe - Chicken Roll ups with Herbed Goat Cheese

Chicken Roll-Ups with Herbed Goat Cheese  (Serves 4)

3 ounces soft goat cheese, broken into small pieces
3 Tbls. Dried herbs in any combination  but  chives, thyme, savory and sage will all work well.
8 chicken breast cutlets, (about 11/2 pounds)
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 large bunch arugula (about 4 ounces), stems trimmed
2 teaspoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Blend the herbs into the goat cheese and allow to stand for 15 minutes before prepping recipe.  Season chicken with salt and pepper. On a clean work surface, lay cutlets flat, with smooth sides down. Layer each cutlet with arugula; crumble goat cheese in the center. Starting with the narrow end, roll up chicken tightly; seal with a toothpick.

In a large nonstick ovenproof skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat; swirl to coat bottom of pan. Cook, seam side down, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn chicken. Brown side up.  Transfer skillet to oven.  Cook until juices run clear, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove toothpicks, slice chicken and serve as rondolettes over a bed of rice.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Visiting the National Mustard Museum

A week or so ago on a lovely winter day filled with sunshine and warmer temperatures, my husband and I traveled to Middleton, Wisconsin to visit the National Mustard Museum.  I had referenced the museum on my Herb of the Week post about Mustard Seed and this spurred a road trip!

We like traveling in Wisconsin especially around Madison and this museum is located on the northwest side of the city in a town called Middleton about 2 hours from us.  There were a few nice places to eat, a museum in a restored depot and a great atmosphere in the town on a Sunday morning.

When we arrived at the museum we were greeted by "Mrs. Mustard" Patti Levenson, the wife of the curator Barry Levenson.  She gave us a great overview and suggested the way to do the tour.  Now as a museum professional I generally am not thrilled by commercial, private collection museums, they tend to make everything including the collection for sale which sets up the wrong vibe for me.  However, this was nothing like what I had feared.  The commercial space on the first floor was that, but it also paid homage to the building it was located in, a restored former mercantile as well as supported the theme - mustard.  The museum located downstairs was not cramped or fussy, although it was rather yellow -- mustard yellow!

We started with the video which loops so you can watch the whole thing no matter when you enter.  It was a great piece, older but not so old you got distracted and could not appreciate the wealth of information it provided.  The best part of the video was this demonstration of a recipe made in a traditional bistro in the Dijon region of France.  This recipe of roasted chicken in a mustard cream sauce was the epitome of the history of mustard in that region.  It is named after the man instrumental in making Dijon famous.  When we concluded our tour and while shopping I was given a copy of the recipe which I share below.

The museum displayed jars and bottles of mustard from all over the world.  The focus was distinctly North American, but since Canada is one of the largest producers of Mustard Seed for the world, this makes a great deal of sense. 

An interesting tidbit I learned while viewing the video was that Coleman's Mustard was the first company to use modern techniques of advertising to get consumers to buy their product.  That is probably why I recognized the items in this case, because every museum I ever worked for had a least one container of Coleman's mustard in the household collection and now I know why!

Coleman's Mustard - recognize this?!

My favorite part of the displays was the Mustard Condiment Jars.  There were cases of them, crystal and ceramic and everything in between.  I imagined making my own mustard and serving them to guests in these great old-fashioned jars!

After a tour around the museum we enjoyed the shop.  I think we spent equal time in the store as we did viewing the museum displays and videos.  Mrs. Mustard and the staff were gracious and cordial and they love mustard.  We were not the only ones there, but I sometimes felt I had the staff's undivided attention.
Mustard Pots

The store was nicely organized and had all types of mustard related items.  I obtained a great cookbook I know I will share recipes from in the future.  There as also a Koop's Mustard ring toss and the only mustard vending machine I have ever seen filled with local mustard from Eau Claire, Wisconsin!

Any mustard in the store can be sampled.  They encourage you to shop and bring your items to the testing table where you can try each one before you buy.  And the range of items varies from sweet to very spicy.  You can find a mustard to suit anyone's palette.  I shared a tarragon mustard recipe in my blog post at the end of last month.  We were able to obtain a tarragon mustard while there and as Mrs. Mustard said.  "It takes much less time to enjoy this than start from scratch."

She introduced us to some flavors I might never have tried including  a Walnut Dijon that we have since made into a vinaigrette per her suggestion.  (See a variation of her recipe below.)

In Wisconsin, not far from my husband's family is the Huntsinger Farms where they grow horseradish.  We drive by it all the time and I must say mustard and horseradish are a wonderful paring.  The store contained numerous varieties combining mustard and horseradish and we tried several of them before settling on one with a sweet aftertaste that I wanted to use on potatoes and Mrs. Mustard convinced my husband would be a great addition to his savory crepe recipe.  We went home with Slimm and Nunne Habanero Horseradish Mustard and the plan to get more come Christmas to go with our annual crepe gifts to family.  My husband also obtained a Beet Mustard combo that he plans to put in the savory crepes with chicken.

The best thing about being able to taste all the mustards is I now know the quality and variety that I can get from the shop and know that even if I do not want to drive to Middleton I can order from them online at the website.

It was the most wonderful day and a most pleasant visit to the National Mustard Museum.  And snacking on what we purchased that day is still a heavenly experience days later.  I recommend that you take the time to stop by if you are ever in Wisconsin.

As promised, here are the RECIPES:

Savory Mustard Crepes (courtesy of the National Mustard Museum)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbls. Slimm and Nunne Habanero Horseradish Mustard

Place eggs, water, flour and mustard in a blender and whir until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl.  Place a medium non-stick skillet or crepe pan over medium heat.  Melt butter until hot but not smoking.  Ladle about 1/4 cup of the mustard batter on the skillet and level it by titling and rolling the skillet to create a thin layer over the pan.  Cook until set and slightly brown, about 40 seconds, then flip and finish the second side, about another 20 seconds.  remove to a warm plate and continue until batter is used.  This recipe will make about 6 crepes.  You can serve them rolled with cheese, filled with cooked sausage or chicken and topped with salsa or plain with a bit of sour cream.

Walnut Mustard Vinaigrette
Here is our variation of a Walnut mustard vinaigrette.  Mrs. Mustard serves a similar recipe (using walnut oil) over salad greens, pears slices, toasted walnuts, cranberries and blue cheese.

4 Tbls Grape oil
2 Tbls. herbed Chardonnay wine (see this post for directions)
1 Tbls. Walnut Dijon Mustard
1/2 Tbls. honey
salt & pepper to taste

Mix the dressing in a small lidded jar and shake well until combined.  The dressing can keep 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator and is always best the second day.

Poulet Gaston Gerard (courtesy of the National Mustard Museum)
(Chicken in Mustard Cream sauce)

1 frying chicken, cut up
       seasoned with salt, pepper and paprika
2 Tbls. unsalted butter
1 bay leaf
1 spring of thyme (about 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. dry)
2 Tbls. dry white wine
1 cup Creme fraiche or heavy cream
2 Tbls. Dijon mustard (the museum recommends La Musette which they stock)
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Dry the chicken pieces and season with salt, pepper and paprika.  Shea a saute pan to medium high heat and melt the butter.  Brown the chicken on both sides, then reduce the heat to medium-low.  Add the bay leaf and thyme and cook, covered, about 15 to 20 minutes or until the chicken is done, but still moist, turning at least once.

Preheat the boiler,  remove the chicken to a shallow earthenware casserole.  remove the herbs and pour off the excess butter and fat.  Over high heat add white wine to deglaze the pan.  Add cream fraiche and cook over high heat until warm.  remove from heat and stir int he mustard and all but 2 Tbls of the grated cheese.  Pour the hot sauce over the chicken, add the remaining cheese and place it under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly and slightly browned.

We have enjoyed a chicken pan sauce using one of the mustards too, but since I was not home when the recipe was crafted it will take time before I can watch the hubby make the recipe so I can write it down.  I know my husband used a Vidalia onion mustard to make it and that it was out of this world even heated up the next day!
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