Friday, January 31, 2014

Weekend Recipe - Dips for the Big Game

One of the quickest and easiest chip, bread and veggie dips is Ranch.  So I worked on a couple of ways you can dress up Ranch Dressing.  It is like getting three dips in one!

Put out one dish of traditional ranch, then make the Buffalo Dip and the Chessy Bacon Dip below and you will have a great trio!  Or you can try our exotic Dilly Ranch.

Buffalo Ranch Dip

1 Cup Prepared Ranch Dressing (we recommend Backyard Patch Ranch Dressing mix)
1 Tablespoon of Buffalo Hot Wing Sauce

Simply mix the two together. I like my food spicy so if you like a mild hot flavor start out with 1 teaspoon of wing sauce and add more if you like.

Cheesy Bacon Ranch Dip

1 cup Prepared Ranch Dressing (again we recommend Backyard Patch Ranch Dressing mix)
1 Tbls. Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 Tbls. Romano Cheese, grated
3 pieces of crispy bacon

Blend the prepared Ranch with grated cheese.  Cook the bacon until crispy, cool and loosely chop. You want some bigger pieces and some smallish pieces. Stir the bacon into the Ranch Dressing and cheese and serve.

Dilly Ranch Dip

1 cup prepared Ranch Dressing (We recommend Backyard Patch Ranch Dressing mix)
1 8 oz block of cream cheese
1 teaspoon of chopped fresh dill

Allow cream cheese to soften or you can use a container of the soft spread cream cheese if you don’t like waiting around for the block of cream cheese to soften.  Put the softened cream cheese in a medium size bowl and using an electric beater beat the cream cheese until it is smooth. Add the Ranch Dressing to the bowl and beat with the mixer until smooth and completely combined.
Chop the dill, add to the bowl and mix it for about thirty second to incorporate the dill into the dip.

And for those who like more dill flavor than the recipe above.  Try this Cucumber Dill Dip that is the perfect cooling dip blend to go with hot wings.

Cucumber and Dill Dip

4 oz softened cream cheese
3 heaping teaspoons sour cream
1/2 cucumber, peeled and de-seeded
1 tablespoon fresh dill and chop finely
           (or for a more flavorful dip use 1 Tbls Backyard Patch Dill Dip Mix)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Peel & de-seed cucumber. Dice cucumber finely. Chop fresh dill.  Mix the softened cream cheese, sour cream, salt and pepper until smooth.  Add the cucumber and dill to the cream cheese mixture. Mix until combined. Refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.  Stir well before serving and adjust salt and pepper if needed.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Herb of the Week - Pineapple Sage (#2)

The most common search that seems to send people to my blog is pineapple sage, so I decided to collect all the pineapple sage recipe links into one post and share with you a few more recipes I have collected since that original post back in 2012 on Pineapple Sage. (Check out this post if you want to know how to grow this amazing plant!)

There are many ways to use Pineapple Sage.  The flavor of pineapple sage is less intense than "regular" sage and it lends a bright, almost citrusy flavor.  Add the leaves to chicken salad made with leftover grilled chicken breast or in salsas, even better in fruit salsa like mango.  Pineapple sage goes very well in a tropical fruit salad (pineapple, mango, kiwi, papaya, etc). I also like it in turkey wraps--shaved or thinly sliced turkey breast with mayo, lettuce, red onion and pineapple sage.   Combine the chopped leaves and flowers with mint, olive oil and rice vinegar and make an interesting salad dressing.  You can create a savory dish by chopping the leaves together with garlic and using as a rub on steak or chicken before grilling.  Someone I know even suggested freezing the leaves in cubes of cranberry juice.

One recipe that I always recommend is a Lemon Verbena Jelly.  This is a perfect recipe from Lemon Verbena Lady.

Here is a Savory Muffin Spread recipe of mine to try also.

Pineapple Sage as a light almost fruity taste, which makes it perfect for tea.

Pineapple Sage Tea
(Spring or bottled water is used so as not to overpower the delicate pineapple flavor with any water-related aftertaste)
1 quart spring water
½ cup packed fresh pineapple sage leaves
3 T honey
1 lemon or lime

Bring water just to a boil and pour over the sage leaves. Stir in honey and lemon or lime juice to taste. Steep tea for approximately 20 minutes. Bring to a boil and then strain into mugs.

Pineapple Sage Sugar
A nice addition for tea, baked goods, Sprinkle over muffins or chicken.

1 cup sugar
5 -10 leaves pineapple sage

First Option:.
Place crushed leaves in jar top with sugar. Let sit for 1 day - 1 week.

Second Option:.
Or place leaves and sugar in blender and blend pulsing to pulverize.

For a more savory uses of Pineapple Sage, try these two recipes:

Pineapple-Pecan Salsa  -- Makes 4 cups

 1/2 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup pineapple juice
4 cups finely chopped fresh pineapple
4 tablespoons chopped fresh pineapple sage
1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper (optional)
Pinch of salt
3/4 cup chopped pecans, toasted

Sauté onion in olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat 5 minutes or until tender. Add garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add pineapple juice; cook over medium-high heat until liquid is reduced by half (about 3 minutes).

Combine pineapple, pineapple sage, red pepper and salt in a large bowl; stir in onion mixture. Cover and chill up to 24 hours. Stir in pecans just before serving.

Sweet Potato and Pineapple Sage Soup – Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, peeled & finely chopped
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled & cut into 1" pieces
1 cup pineapple, peeled & chopped into 1" pieces
4 cups water
2 tablespoon dried pineapple sage leaves
1 tablespoon salt (and extra for final seasoning)
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper (and extra for final seasoning)
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons toasted coconut (optional)
2 tablespoons chopped cashews (optional)

Sauté the onion and garlic in the olive oil, in a heavy bottom pan over medium-high heat, until soft.  Add sweet potato and pineapple, and sauté for a few minutes. Add in water, sage, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir and bring to a boil. Then, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes until potato is tender.  Puree the mixture with a hand blender or in a stand-blender. Return the pureed soup to your pot and gently simmer, adding additional seasoning as needed. You'll definitely need to add a bit more salt and pepper.  Serve the soup with either chopped toasted cashews or toasted coconut. I also sprinkle a touch more dried pineapple sage.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Celebrating Hot Tea Month

January is Hot Tea Month, and that got me to thinking that I have always loved tea, in fact it was why I started to grow herbs, because I love tea flavored with herbs.  Now Herb Tea is technically not tea at all, but rather an tisane made by steeping herbs, but since we drink it much the same way, I will group it together with regular tea which can include white, green or black all of which come from the plant Camellia sinensis.

As a purveyor of herbal and herb-infused green and black teas, I have some tips to offer for enjoying tea, both for those who have drunk tea for years, and those who are just beginning to enjoy its nuances:

Ways to Celebrate Hot Tea Month

 1. Try a new type of tea. There are many variations beyond traditional black or green tea, including caffeine-free herbal blends (tisanes) or rooibos from South Africa.

2. Buy loose tea instead of bags. Loose tea creates a bolder, fuller flavor because it doesn't constrict the leaves like bags do.  I also heard that many tea bags these days are made of plastics, not cotton.

3. Learn how to brew the best tea. It’s not hard, but there are variations in time, temperature, and brewing equipment that can make a big difference in the quality of tea. (I did a blog on this in January 2013)

4. Understand how to store tea. Use opaque food-safe containers with a sealed lid to avoid exposure to light, heat, moisture, and air. (No glass containers) Here are some details from a previous blog.

5. Experiment with tea in other drinks, such as lattes, cider, cocoa or as Chai.  Tea can also be used as an ingredient in recipes from desserts to main dishes.

6. Host a tea tasting with friends. Try several different flavors and compare notes. Or hold an actual tea and serve scones and treats with your tea selections.

7. Put brewed tea leaves to good use. Sprinkle them on plants, add to a compost pile or cook with them!

Most people have heard that drinking tea (particularly green tea) is good for you, but they don’t do it because they have memories of less-than-pleasant tea experiences. However, once someone begins to explore all of the options out there, one can find what works for them in flavor, richness and strength.

I recommend you take advantage of suggestion number one and try a new tea.  You can find all our teas on the website.  The Backyard Patch offers caffeine-free herbal teas, herb flavored black teas and herb blended green teas, as well as Chai blends  that combine tea, herbs and spices.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Herb Garden Design - Pizza Garden

January gave me great weather for herb garden designing.  It was cold and snowy, and I was trapped in my apartment with nowhere to go and a book shelf full of books on landscaping, flowers and herbs.

Since this year we plan to get back into a house and I can actually have a pretty garden in addition to my production garden, I am pondering, scheming and planning.  I thought I would share some of the garden ideas I have pulled together.

I do not know what the yard will look like in the home we choose, so I have opted for theme gardens, some of which are small and cute, that I can plug into the landscape once I know what it is.  These are perfect for someone who want to start experimenting with herbs and does not have much space or time.  In the next few weeks I will share other theme garden ideas.  I will draw plants and shapes out on graph paper to help plan proportions, so I will have those to add to these garden plans for you to enjoy.  Plant lists and quantities will also be included to help your shopping.

A pizza garden at Michigan State University

Today I have for you a garden in a fun shape and theme – A Pizza Garden.

Make this garden leap out by creating a shape that is a circle with a wedge missing. That visual will communicate the intent of this garden.  You can also layout the plants in such a way to look like toppings on the pizza with purple basil in circular pots, or onions and chives in small groupings.  This is a great garden for a sunny spot near a deck or patio and will be a great conversation starter.

Plants to grow here in the Pizza Garden make up the ingredients: tomatoes, onions, peppers, parsley, basil, marjoram and Greek oregano. One can add marigolds around the outside to represent the cheese or the crust.

The scale for this drawing is each 1/4 inch square on the graph is about 3", so 4 squares is a foot. This Garden is approximately a 7 foot diameter circle.  The clay pots are to 12 inch diameter holding one plant each. I suggest a mix of Basil and Chives, but you can use your imagination.

To make this smaller, say 3 to 4 feet in diameter, use a scale of 8 squares to a foot and use only one example of a plant in any given location.

This garden can be edged in plastic garden edger to give it the round shape.  Or you can make it more permanent with cast tuffa or concrete.

Plant Shopping List

3 Purple Basil plants for the pots, I suggest Basil ‘Dark Opal’
2 Basil “Lettuce Leaf’
4 Chive plants for the pots
2 Onion “Spartan Banner’
4 Tomato ‘Roma’
3 Greek Oregano
2 Green Or Red Peppers
3 Parsley ‘Italian Flat Leaf’
3 Marjoram

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Coping with Seasonal Sore Throats with Herbs

I am not advocating self medication, but I wanted to share a few traditional recipes some of which are old and by old I mean hundreds of years.

One of my pastimes is to read old receipt books and historical herbals.  I have a great resource just around the corner, The Morton Arboretum.  They have a great library which focuses on botanical works.  From that library and a few others I have read several historical books about using herbs.

In the book the The American Frugal Housewife by Mrs. Child (first published in 1833) was a recipe for a poultice for the throat.  Growing up, my mother would smear my throat with Vicks Vaporub and wrap a towel around my neck, so this recipe struck me as immediately familiar.  I am thinking with the alcohol you got some of the same properties you get from inhaling the eucalyptus and mint in Vaporub. See below for my home made Vaporub recipe too!  And if you want an herbal tea for coughs, check out this previous blog post.

Mrs. Child’s Poultice
The pulp of a roasted apple, mixed with an ounce of tobacco, the whole wet with spirits of wine, or any other high spirits, spread on a linen rag, and bound upon the throat at any period of the disorder.

Horehound Lozenges
Horehound the herb has a long history of throat treatment.  It was detailed a book entitled Medical Botany by William Woodville, M.D., in 1790. And was mentioned as an ingredient in lozenges by Dr. Youman in his book A Dictionary of Everyday Wants from 1878. 

To make Horehound Lozenges: Put an ounce of horehound root powder in a bowl.  Slowly add honey, stirring constantly, until you have a thick paste.  Roll your paste into small balls.  Roll the balls in more horehound root powder.  Store in a tightly-closed tin. These will keep for up to ten years.

Drink a hot toddy

This is my husband’s favorite remedy for every winter ailment and illness.  He makes a tea, he will use a black tea or an herbal tea.  In one mug of brewed tea he squeezes in a lemon wedge, adds a tablespoon or more of honey and tops it off with a finger of whiskey or bourbon.

I think this may be a throwback to some family history as in the 1930s during prohibition; rye whiskey was sold as a medicinal liquor when made into something called Rock and Rye.  I found this recipe for a traditional Rock and Rye on the FingerlakesDistillery website

Rock and Rye
1 bottle McKenzie Rye
1 ounce dried cherries
1 orange peel
1 lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
2 whole cloves
2 6-inch lengths of rock candy
1 tsp dried horehound

Combine the McKenzie rye, cherries, orange and lemon peels, cinnamon stick and one length of the candy in a bowl with a cover and let sit – at room temperature – for 3 days.

Add the cloves, other piece of candy, and the horehound wrapped in cheesecloth for two additional days. Use a strainer lined  with cheesecloth and pour into a jar or the empty McKenzie rye bottle.

Then get lots of rest.

Marcy’s Homemade Vicks substitute
10 drops peppermint essential oil
5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
2 drops tea tree oil
2 teaspoons almond oil

Combine these natural ingredients. This will be more concentrated than Vicks Vaporub (which was originally made with petroleum jelly). You can dip a cotton swab in it then dab it on chest, feet or outside the ears. Place the dipped swab in a plastic bag and bring it with you or keep by the sick bed.  One dipped swab will last all day.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Homestyle Slow Cooker Pork - Weekend Recipe

Since it is wintery and cold here, I am all about hot food when I get home, so the crockpot is getting a work out.  My husband loves to buy Pork Roast when it is on sale and this recipes is a great item to create once he is done cutting a few pork steaks from the roast.

Home-Style Pork
makes 8 to 10 servings

4 lb. boneless pork roast , cut into bite-size pieces
1 medium onion, sliced
1 cup water
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. prepared mustard (an herbal mustard or a homemade mustard is perfect)
1 ½ Tbls. dry Tarragon, crumbled

Place roast pieces in slow cooker. Top with onion.  Pour water around roast and onion.  Combine remaining ingredients in a bowl. Spoon over meat and onion.  Cover and cook on high l hour and then on low 4 to 6 hours or until meat is tender.  Serve with your own home-made sauerkraut or a good store bought variety and used the liquid as sauce.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Chicken Herbally Delicious - Weekend Recipe

I don’t know what it is, but I love Chicken or Pork cooked in Cream of Celery soup.  I always have.  And this crockpot recipe is quick, easy and tasty.  You can serve it with potatoes, rice or noodles and you can easily substitute Pork chops for the chicken, but I recommend browning the pork chops first for the added flavor.
Chicken Delicious
makes 10 servings

10 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
½ tsp. savory
½ tsp. sage
½ tsp. thyme (or lemon thyme)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 10-oz. cans cream of celery soup
1/3 cup sherry or wine (optional)
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Rinse chicken breasts and pat dry. Place chicken in layers in slow cooker. Mix herbs together.  Season each layer with a sprinkling of lemon juice, herbs, salt, and pepper.

Combine soup with sherry or wine, if desired, in a medium bowl. Pour mixture over chicken. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Cover and cook on high 4 to 5 hours or cook on high l hour and then on low 6 to 8 hours or until chicken is tender but not dry.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Artemesia - Herb of the Week and the Year - Dusty Miller

I did a post on artemesias back in June 2013 where I gave some history and a short overview. However, since the Herb of the Year for 2014 is Artemsias (meaning all 400 species) I am going to highlight a number of them this year for the Herb of the Week.

Silver King Artemesia
Look for future postings on Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Silver King Artemesia (Artemisia Ludoviciana var. albula) also known as Western Mugwort, Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), and finally Sweet Annie (Artemisia annua).

Today, I am starting with Artemesia stelleriana known as 'Dusty Miller', because it is so well known as a garden plant.  The culinary artemesia most people know is Tarragon, but I did a post on tarragon back in February 2012.

Dusty Miller Herb of the Week
Dusty miller

Artemisia stelleriana (also called Beach Wormwood and Oldwoman) is a species of plants from the Asteraceae family, that was originally from Japan and Kamchatka. Now naturalized in the United States it is often used as a bedding plant or border because of its attractive silvery foliage and contrasting purple flowers.

Dusty miller is often planted in flower beds and is especially striking in containers where the lacy foliage is viewed up close. Dusty miller comes in several varieties, all of which have silvery foliage, but the shape of the leaves is slightly different. The mature height of the plant ranges from 8 to 18 inches. Although dusty miller is often grown as an annual, it is perennial in hardiness zones 8 through 10.

Dusty miller is a favorite because it looks good with everything. The silvery-white color is a great foil for any type of garden blossom, especially calendula, and the fine-textured foliage creates a beautiful contrast against other plants' green foliage. Dusty miller has also earned its place in the garden because it's delightfully easy to grow, withstanding heat and drought like a champion.

To Grow

It is an annual in zone 4 and can be grown from seed (and will self sow freely) or nursery plants.  It can get to 2 feet in height and as wide as 2 feet as well.  It is said to be a deer resistant plant, which may account for its popularity as a border plant.  There are perennial versions of Dusty Miller, including one called Silver Cascade which seems to be popular currently.  However, some people see Dusty Miller as an invasive plant, so I have always stayed with the annual variety that will die away at the end of the season.

Dusty miller is drought-tolerant and doesn't grow well in damp, soggy soil. Damp, humid conditions put the plant at risk for stem rot, fungus and other moisture-related problems. The plant does benefit from regular watering during warm, dry weather. Water the dusty miller deeply enough to saturate the root zone, and then don't water again until the soil dries. Avoid frequent, shallow watering, which develops weak roots and unhealthy plants.

Dusty miller is a light feeder and too much fertilizer may result in a weak, leggy plant that requires more water. It benefits from a light application of a general-purpose, slow-release fertilizer in early spring, but I have never really fertilized mine. To apply the fertilizer, sprinkle 2 to 3 teaspoons of dry fertilizer around every plant, and then water deeply to prevent scorching and to distribute the fertilizer evenly around the roots. After that, you don't need to fertilize.

Dusty miller blooms throughout the year in mild climates, sending up clusters of creamy yellow flowers. Most gardeners remove the flowers, as the blooms divert energy from the foliage. Cut perennial dusty miller down to 3 to 4 inches from the ground in spring to make room for new growth. A tired, leggy plant is revived in midsummer by removing about one-third of the growth.

To Use

The main use of this totally non-culinary or medical Artemesia is as a texture plant in the garden.  If you are interested in Moon Gardens (plants that have a silver or white character that seem to glow under moonlight) Dusty miller is an excellent choice.  Along with other Artmesias like Silver King and Queen and Sage plants and Lamb's Ear or other like it.

The leaves are covered with woolly hairs making it look fuzzy.  I like it next to Lambs Ear which is also a fuzzy-leafed plant, but without the textured leaves.  Because it is a thicker leaf you can place it in arrangements and it holds up well. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

Herbal Anatomy -- winter blog series

I always choose something to do in the winter months that will take me to a deeper level of understanding of the plants I grow and love.  This year it is an exploration of plant  (herb) anatomy.  Over the next few weeks I will explore the parts of the plants the various descriptions of the parts and the uses of those parts.

I am going to begin with plant nature, like perennial vs. annual; then talk about roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruit. I will include as many images as I can so when Spring comes you can go out and investigate your garden in a whole new way!

ANNUAL PLANTS spring from the seed, make their full growth and then die at the end of the growing season.  Many well know herbs are annual, like dill, cilantro and basil.

A BIENNIAL PLANT does not flower the first year, but produces leaves only. The second year of its growth it flowers, after which it dies. The carrot and parley are examples of biennials.  Many biennials are grown as annuals in the herb kingdom because the leaves are more important than the seed it will produce the second year.

A PERENNIAL PLANT lives for more than two years. If the plant retains its leaves during the winter, it is known as an EVERGREEN; if the leaves fall upon the approach of cold weather, it is said to be DECIDUOUS. Many herbs like sage, common thyme, tarragon and mints a,mong others are all perennial.
Lemon Verbena a Deciduous Tender Perennial
TENDER PERENNIAL - this is a perennial plant that cannot withstand most Zone 5 conditions, it will die if winder temps get below 10 to 0 degrees F.  These plants can be treated as annuals or brought indoors for winter.  Rosemary and Lemon verbena are both tender. 

AN HERB is a plant having a soft stem which dies down to the ground after the plant has reached it full growth.  This is the botanical definition.  The Herb Society definition is any plant beneficial to humankind through culinary or medicinal means (which includes, shrubs, trees and herbaceous plants.)

A SHRUB is a plant which has a woody stem, grows to a height of twenty-five to thirty feet or less, and branches near the ground. Sage is a shrub as is winter savory.

Burr Oak - Morton Arboretum
 TREE has a woody stem, is higher than a shrub and does NOT branch near the ground.

 STOLON is a form of a branch which curves or falls down to the ground, where they often produce roots.  Mint does this as it can propagate from root, seed and branch (that is why it tends to be invasive.)

A CLIMBING PLANT is any plant using an external support to raise itself above the ground. The term “vine” is used for certain climbing plants. Hops which is also an annual and passion flower are great vining herbs.

A PROSTRATE PLANT  – a plant growing flat on the soil surface with little or no upward growth.  There is a genus of Rosemary an, Corsican Mint and several thyme varieties which all are considered prostrate.

  SUCKER is a branch of subterraneous origin, which, after running horizontally and emitting roots in its course, at length rises out of  the ground and forms an erect stem, which soon becomes an independent plant.  Examples are roses, raspberries, mints.

A RUNNER is a prostrate, slender branch sent off from the base of the parent stem.

An OFFSET is a similar but shorter branch, with a tuft of leaves at the end, as in the house-leek or hen and chicks.

A SPINE  is a short and imperfectly developed branch of a woody plant, as exhibited in the honey-locust.

A TENDRIL is commonly a slender leafless branch, capable of coiling spirally, like grapevines.

INDETERMINATE GROWTH is the term used to refer to branches and leaves growing for an undetermined length of time to be stopped only by other factors such as frost.  Most herbs are described as indeterminate because the growing season end varies by the time of the first frost in the fall.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Bath Blend of the Month - Comfort from the Cold Bath

Another in the series of monthly Bath recipes, this one is perfect for the cold weather and if you are in Illinois, like me, you are preparing for subzero weather for several days, so this will be exactly what we need!

Yield: 3 1/2 ounces

2 tablespoons dried lavender flowers and leaves
2 tablespoons dried rosemary leaves
1 tablespoon dried gingerroot powder
2 tablespoons dried eucalyptus leaves
Fresh eucalyptus leaves, rosemary leaves to float in bath water (optional)

Mix together dried herbs. Place them inside a square of natural fabric, a muslin bag, or a metal tea ball. Secure your bundle tightly so the herbs do not escape.  You can make two bags with this recipe.

To use: Hang the herb bag under your water tap. Fill the tub with warm (not too hot) water, letting the water flow through the herbs. Get in the bath, squeeze out your herb bag and place it behind your neck as you bathe. You also may use it to scrub your body with a bit of soap.
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