Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Recipe - Ratatouille on the Grill - vegetarian recipe

I love ratatouille.  It is the perfect dish to eat up summer vegetables.  Recently I located a recipe by Bobby Flay making Grilled Ratatouille.  I was intrigued.  I felt he did not use nearly enough herbs in his recipe so here is my version (but when do I ever??)  Remember you are grilling the vegetables, so do not cut them too small.  You can chop them smaller after they are cooked.

Grilled Ratatouille

2 zucchini, cut into quarters lengthwise
2 yellow squash, cut into quarters lengthwise
1 eggplant, halved lengthwise
2 red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered
2 yellow or green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and quartered
2 red onions, quartered
1 pint grape tomatoes (or you can use cherry tomatoes instead)
1/2 cup olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Dried herb blend
      – you can use BYP Vegetable Seasoning or create a blend using thyme, oregano, and basil
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
2 Tbls. finely chopped fresh oregano or basil leaves
3 Tbls. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

Preheat grill to medium-high. Place all cut vegetables and the tomatoes in a large shallow baking dish, add the 1/2 cup of olive oil, and toss to coat. Season with dried herb blend, salt and pepper, to taste. Place the vegetables on the grill and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, turning halfway through the cooking time. Remove the tomatoes, cover grill, and cook the remaining vegetables for 2 minutes, or until almost cooked through. Transfer vegetables to a cutting board and coarsely chop (leave tomatoes whole). Place the chopped vegetables and tomatoes in a large bowl, add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano and fresh parsley and season with salt and pepper, to taste. Serve at room temperature.

For comparison her is my traditional Ratatouille Recipe which I seasonal market as a Recipe Combination with all the dried herbs included.


3 Tbls. oil
3 onions, coarsely chopped
2 green peppers, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 egg plant, peeled and cubed
2 zucchini, quartered, seeded and cut in 1” pieces
6 fresh tomatoes, peeled and cut
          2 tsp. BYP Herbs de Provence HerbalSeasoning
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley (1/4 cup dried)
1 bay leaf

Sauté onions, peppers and garlic in oil, add remaining vegetables and herbs.  Cover and steam 20 to 30 minutes or until vegetables are tender, adding more oil if needed.  Remove bay leaf before serving.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vegetable Marinade - Weekend Recipe

I like how grilling brings out the sweetness of vegetables and in the summer when the vegetables are fresh this is just so much fun.  I have been experimenting with dressing for grilled vegetables.  An herbal butter is wonderful on hot cooked vegetables but in the summer something slightly more tart may be called for so I have been crafting vinaigrettes to toss the cooked veggies in.  This recipes seems to be the best (or at least the most popular.)

Basil Vinaigrette for Vegetables

3 Tbls olive or canola oil
1 Tbls plus 2 tsp. basil or purple basil herb vinegar
1 Tbls minced onion (finely chop or grate a wedge of an onion)
½ tsp. fresh bruised lemon thyme leaves
1 tsp. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
3 or 4 needles of rosemary finely minced


Grill your vegetables, like egg plant, zucchini or summer squash, cherry tomatoes or tomato slices, green or colored peppers in any combination.  Place the dressing ingredients together in a cruet and shake well.  Toss the cooked veggies with the dressing and serve immediately.  This recipe can make a great grilled veggie salad if you chill the veggies before serving with the dressing.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Monthly Herbal Bath Blend - Sporty Bath Blend

I tell ya -- You set your Blog to do a few things for you so you can spent extra time in the garden and look what happens when you are not minding the store!!

So to catch up with many things that did not get done.  I want to post the Monthly Bath recipe.  I have one that is perfect for summer.  My feet truly take a beating in the summer, I where sandals and flip flops, I garden in Crocs, and I generally avoid sport shoes unless it is raining.  I had to wear those for the Elmhurst Garden Walk as we had a week of rain before the event and the ground was saturated.  Wet shoes, warm weather, I was a bit smelly by the time we got home that afternoon.  But a quick dip in the bath with this blend and I was refreshed and ready to unload the crates!

Herbal Bath Blend - Sporty Remedy
  • 1 Cup Chamomile
  • 12 Bay Leaves, Crushed
  • 1/4 Cup Rose Petals
  • 1/4 Cup Sage
  • 1/4 Cup Rosemary
  • 1/4 Cup Oregano 
Mix the dry ingredients. Stir well and stuff a metal tea ball or muslin bag with the blend (lace or cotton fabric will also work). As you run your bath, place the tea ball or bag in the tub, under the running water. Then, relax and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Purslane - Herb of the Week

This year my experimental Community Patch (a 20 x 20 garden I am documenting on another blog) has a number of vegetables and herbs in it.  One of the weeds it grows very easily is Purslane.  Purslane is actually considered a medicinal herb so as I pulled this plant out of the garden, carefully setting it aside to use at home, I realized it would make a great Herb of the week!

This week's Herb of the Week is Purslane (Portulaca oleracea)

What Is Purslane?

Purslane, a humble creeper with a centralized taproot, is a great example of a no-fuss annual that deserves more respect. You've probably been yanking it out of your lawn or flowerbeds for years without knowing what a treasure it can be in the right hands. The word purslane (or purslain) comes to us from the Latin, and was mentioned in “Naturalis Historia" (or Natural History) written by the botanist Pliny the Elder in around 79 A.D. 

If you keep houseplants, it looks like a poor man's, tiny jade plant with a horizontal habit. Like jade plant, it's a succulent with fleshy, oval leaves. Common purslane also boasts reddish stems that make it easy to identify, even when it's a bitty seedling. If you're watching for it in late winter or early, early spring, it looks perky when everything else in the garden but the crocus plants are still hunkered down and shivering (metaphorically speaking). That little bit of green can be more warming that a mug of hot chocolate on a cold, gloomy day.

Where Does it Come From?

Purslane isn't native to the U.S., but it has gone native here. It can grow in almost any soil, and even small, discarded pieces can reroot easily. Purslane sets seed quickly and reproduces very effectively (note the VERY). Along with dandelion, purslane could be the poster child for invasive, peskiness in locations where it isn't assiduously monitored and contained. This ought to put it into perspective: One purslane specimen can produce up to 50,000 seeds.

Botanists can trace the origins of purslane to India -- or possibly Africa. Common purslane is actually a popular vegetable in many parts of the world. It's used in stir fry, salads and can be added to veggie medleys the way you would add leafy greens like spinach. Folks think it tastes a bit like spinach, or at least a cross between spinach and watercress. You can find plenty of recipes that add a handful of purslane to traditional potato salad. It's also a welcome ingredient in Greek salad. It can be served raw, steamed, stir fried or pickled. What parts do people eat? That would usually be the tender leaves and stems.

To Grow

The modest purslane growing in backyard gardens across the U.S. isn't the only representative of the purslane family. There are cultivated culinary varieties that tend to have a more refined flavor (somewhat less sour), and a more upright growth habit. There are also ornamental purslane cultivars that remind me a little of begonias. Nearly 500 varieties of purslane have been identified to date. Moss Rose (Portulaca grandiflora) is in the same family as Purslane. Cultivated purslane is sometimes sold as var. sativa.  

Purslane salad
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/melystu/4768772580/">mystuart (busy!!)</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photo pin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/">cc</a>

Even though you won't have trouble cultivating it regardless of the condition of your garden, in a perfect world purslane prefers rich soil that drains well. It also likes a sunny exposure and a regular watering schedule.  If wanting it wild like mine, you will see it early in the garden as it really begins to take off as the soil temperatures soar in late spring and early summer.

To Use

The leaves are tender and fleshy, with a slight crunchy texture.  Purslane has been used both as a food and a medicine in the Mediterranian basin, India and China for thousands of years. It has a slightly sour, salty, lemony spinach flavor.  The leaves are the most commonly used, but the roots, flowers and seeds are also edible.  It is mucilagenous, so it is a great thickener for soups.  You can blanch the leaves if this is not to your liking.

Purslane doesn't have the aesthetic appeal of, say, arugula in a dinner salad, but it does have some pretty impressive things to recommend it just the same: 
  1. Purslane has one of the highest levels of omega 3 fatty acid (alpha-linolenic acid or ALA) of any plant tested so far.
  2. It contains high concentrations of vitamins C and E.
  3. It's a good source of potassium and magnesium.
  4. It contains high levels of the heart healthy antioxidant beta-carotene.

Some historical uses for purslane may be the result of wishful thinking, but it has been used in the past to treat colds, depression, gastrointestinal distress, insect bites, low sex drive and urinary tract infections.

Purslane chicken
<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/juliepics/2680868283/">feministjulie</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photo pin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/">cc</a>
Popular with Elizabethans, you can cook the fleshy leaves in a similar manner to spinach and serve with a splash of vinegar.  You can add the leaves to salads.  You can blend it in equal parts with sorrel to make the traditional French soup Bonne femme.  It is a nice companion in stir fry too.  In Australia Aborigines used the seeds to make seed cakes.  You can also pickle it by brineing with wine or apple cider, garlic, chili and peppercorns.

*Special note: Purslane has an impressive nutritional pedigree, but it also contains high oxalate levels. If you have kidney problems, avoid adding purslane to your diet before discussing your plans with a medical professional. You may also want to check the latest research by visiting MedLine Plus (a service of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), WebMd or any of a number of other medical reference sites on the internet.


Purslane Soup

1/2 pound. purslane chopped
3 1/2 Tbls. butter
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and sliced
3 Tbls. cream

Cook purslane in butter in a covered pan.  Add stock, and potatoes.  Cook until potatoes are tender, then puree in a blender.  Sitr in cream, the garnish with fresh purslane.

Purslane Pickles

Use any size jar with a plastic lid. Narrow-necked bottles can be a problem. Fill your jar or bottle with freshly-harvested purslane cut into two-inches pieces. Leave a little space at the top. Fill the jar or bottle with room-temperature apple cider vinegar, being sure to completely cover the plant material. Cover. (Metal lids will corrode; do not use.) Label, including date. This is ready to use in six weeks; but will stay good for up to a year.  For added flavor add a garlic clove or 1 teaspoon of peppercorns.

To use: A tablespoon of purslane vinegar on cooked greens, beans, and salads adds wonderful flavor along with lots of minerals. You can also eat the pickled purslane right out of the bottle or add it to salads or beans.

Making Purslane Tincture

2 glass canning jars with lids
Enough fresh purslane to fill both jars
Enough 80- or 100-proof vodka to fill one jar
Cutting board
muslin or cheesecloth

Harvest the purslane. The purslane should be healthy, not wilted, rotted or yellowed. You need enough to fill both jars, as it will take up considerably less volume after you chop it. Sterilize the canning jars and lids by submerging them in boiling in water for two minutes. Set aside. Chop the purslane very finely--the smaller the pieces the better--and fill one of the jars to about 3/4 full. Add vodka to the jar full of purslane slowly, until the liquid just covers the herb. Gently shake to release air bubbles, then add more vodka if necessary to cover the chopped purslane. Seal the jar with the sterilized lid and shake vigorously. Place in a cool, dark place out of any kind of sunlight. Shake the jar every other day for at least one month. Two months is better. This period of storage and shaking is to allow the purslane's essential oils and medicinal compounds to dissolve into the alcohol. When the time period is up,  strain the liquid into the other, sterilized jar using muslin or cheesecloth, squeezing as much liquid from the purslane as possible. Cap the jar and store in a cool, dry, dark place.

Personal note - Because of the fleshy nature of purslane, I dry it on paper towel before I use it to make a tincture.  That cuts down on water in the mixture which can cause it to spoil.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Recipe - Chicken & Squash

This is a light recipe that uses some great seasonal items.

3 oz.  chicken breast
1 tsp olive oil 2 1/4 cups of spaghetti squash

1 red pepper, cut in half seeded
1 tomato cut in half
2 cloves of garlic, wrapped in foil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
Sprinkle of fresh oregano, basil and or thyme

Grill/fry chicken in olive oil, salt and pepper, set aside. To make spaghetti squash easier to remove, cut squash in half and remove the seeds.  Then place one half of the a seeded squash in a microwaveable dish with 1/2 cup of water, loosely cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high approx 5 minutes or until squash comes loose with a fork. Scrape out with a fork. Measure out 2 1/4 cups into a bowl.  

Place tomato, red pepper, and foil-wrapped garlic on a baking pan under the broiler until the red pepper skin is blackened. Turn over and broil 5 more minutes. Do not turn tomatoes. Do not salt at this time.

Once done, place roasted pepper, tomato, and garlic in a mini chopper or blender with balsamic vinegar, herbs, salt & pepper. Blend.  Pour sauce on squash and top with chicken, and VOILA!

For more summery squash flavor used diced summer squash or zucchini.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Weekend Recipe - Chicken with Sorrel Sauce

This recipe is part of our Zodiac Box for Cancer.  We make a number of herb-themed boxes for the signs of the Zodiac and find the right recipes is my favorite part.  This recipe uses Sorrel, an herb that is fresh in the garden right now!  You can make this ahead and leave in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours before baking.

2 boneless chicken breasts
olive oil

1/3 cup sorrel (about 6 leaves) chopped
1 Tbls. margarine
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup light whipping cream
2 tsp. chopped parsley, fresh
1 tsp. fresh tarragon
½ tsp. rosemary
salt & pepper to taste

Fry chicken breasts in a Tablespoon of olive oil with tarragon until just cooked.  Melt a table of margarine in a pan and add sorrel and stir until wilted.  Add sour cream, whipping cream, herbs, salt and pepper.  Cook on warm until finished frying chicken.  Place chicken in a 8 x 8 x 2 inch pan and cover with sauce.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Pour sauce on squash and top with chicken, and VOILA!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Traveling to Southern Indiana to visit gardens

We took a trip over the Fourth of July to southern Illinois and Indiana.  It was one of those you get to see gardens and I get to see ships and agricultural buildings.  So hubby and I were both happy.  It was a leisurely adventure through the area along the Ohio River and I have other gardens to share, but I wanted to start with this little treasure I found outside Evansville, Indiana on the Lloyd Expressway.

We drove past this garden, created as a display garden by the Southwest Indiana Master Gardener Association, several times over the two days we were in the area and finally on the last day I said, we have to stop I need to know what it is.  I could see the sign, but not read it from the road.  What we found nestled between the Boy Scouts of America building and the Red Cross Disaster Relief offices was this great little gem of a garden.
taken from the "lookout garden" a few feet above the rest you get a great overview

Divided into several smaller theme gardens they had everything from a pond and rain water garden to a kitchen garden next to a log cabin, experimental gardens, and even a large vegetable garden that is used to provide produce for the local food bank.
The Cottage Garden
There were many flowering plants and a wide assortment of herbs.  There were a few plants I could never grow this far north that were exciting to see flourishing in the southern Indiana heat and humidity.

The Cottage Garden was just like you would find outside an English Cottage with tight groupings of flowers and herbs.  I loved the arbor and picket fence that left know doubt as to the setting and it framed a nice view of the gardens beyond.

There were the usual July flowering herbs to be seen like Anise Hyssop and Echinacea.

There was a variety of echinacea I had never seen before that was eye catching not just for its color, but the texture and shape of the flowers which in some ways looked like a Zinnia.  It is called 'Hot Papaya.'

There was a log cabin that had been moved to the site from a local farm around which were a nice vegetable/herb kitchen gardens.

They had a Berry Patch with strawberry and other bush berries growing against a fence. A nice display of this year's All American varieties.  These were displayed in these neat recycled plastic raised beds that added a nice texture and gave small plots to display the plants.

My favorite garden was the Sensory Garden.  Laid out with sunny and shady spaces, the focal point was a wonderful stone path where each stone was surrounded by low growing thyme plants. (Okay it was the thyme that made it my favorite!)

thyme walkway
The thyme was a mix of varieties, with a fuzzy creeping thyme the most dominant.

Through the arbor was a shady spot with a perfect bench that allowed for quiet contemplation.

A cedar gazebo gave another shady spot to rest and was surrounded with colorful and flowering shrubs as well as a broad assortment of lilies.

The vegetable garden covered the entire back edge of the garden and included tomatoes, peppers, squash and a large selection of cabbage.

Made me happy to see the squash was about as far along as mine is at home!

There were a few gardening techniques to try that I saw displayed especially for frames to grow beans and tomatoes.  They were also experimenting with compost mixes and had a nice area of compost bins you could look at as well.

The land this garden is built on was 1.2 acres donated by the state on the grounds of the state hospital back in 2005.  They have leased more land from the adjacent Boy Scouts of America headquarters giving them a nice sized garden which they make the focus of part of their garden walk, held in early June each year.

The only disappointment for me was the little bins they had in the garden which must sometimes hold brochures with more details.  All of these were empty.  Perhaps they are only stocked during the garden walk which I missed by a month.

The selection of herbs was nice.  And some of the varieties unique enough that it was obvious they did not always go for the typical or the easy.  Their borage (unlike mine) was in full bloom.

The Lemon Balm they grew was a golden variety that was flourishing.   An they had all the staples, oregano, marjoram and chives in the kitchen garden in front of the log cabin.

There were a few plants that I envy because they do not winter over well or at all in northern Illinois.
indian poker, a plant I cannot grow in northern Illinois  was featured

 Something I had only heard of but never seen was this creeping St. John's Wort, whose leaves look almost succulent.

another view of the All-American plants

I was even able to indulge my artistic side with my new camera and took a few very nice flower images.

Flowering St. John's Wort
Flowering Silver Mound Artemesia

I recommend a stop at the Southwestern Indiana Master
Garden Association Display garden on Lloyd Expressway
just west of Evansville, Indiana if you are anywhere near the area!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Special recipe - Using Herbal Vinegar

When I first started my business, back in 1995, I was most keen on teaching people to make herbal vinegar.  I think this is a simple way to incorporate herbal flavors into your cooking and they are easy to make, was well as making great gifts to share your garden abundance.

 I made a How-To on Making Herbal Vinegar a few years back so I will not go into that, but this time of year when we often eat salads because the heat drives us out of the kitchen, an herbal vinegar is a great companion to have.  Also herb vinegar is what you need for flavorful marinade for grilling meats and vegetables.

 Today I thought I would share two recipes.  The first I created back in 1995 when I was doing demonstrations on making vinegar at farmer's markets and the second is a great creamy dressing.  I make a log of vinaigrette blends with herbal vinegar, but this one is a departure from that with a great herbal character.

Herb Shallot Marinade
Tenderizes less expensive cuts of meat.  Marinade chicken or beef 3 to 4 hours or overnight, then cook as usual.

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

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

Herb Salad Dressing  or Dip    
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
2 Tbls. herbal vinegar (sweeter herbs like dill, lemon balm, or chive are perfect)
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/2 tsp. dried lemon balm
1/2 tsp. dried tarragon
1/2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. lemon juice
dash salt & pepper

Soak the dried herbs in the lemon juice until absorbed (or use 1 tsp. each fresh herbs instead.) Blend with remaining ingredients and allow 4 hours in refrigerator to meld.  Can be used as a dip or thinned with 3 T. of milk for salad dressing.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Crockpot Bar-B-Que chicken - Weekend recipe

Fire up the grill or use your oven for this quick and easy BBQ chicken.

Crockpot Bar-B-Que Chicken
6 to 8 servings

6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. chili powder
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. savory or sage
1/2 cup water

Ideal slow cooker size is 5-quart. Place chicken in slow cooker. Whisk together remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Pour sauce mixture over chicken. Cover and cook on high 1 hour, and then on low 4 to 6 hours, or until chicken is tender but not overcooked.   If the sauce begins to dry out as the dish cooks, stir in another 1/2 cup water.  You can substitute the 3 tsp. of seasonings with 1 Tbls.of Backyard Patch Bar-B-QueSpice Mix

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Herb of the Week - Companion Plants

I've written on companion planting before, but I came across several new articles and resources on the subject, that I thought some updated info would serve everyone.

For a while it was believed that Companion Planting was only folklore and had no basis in science, however experts now call the interaction of plants allelopathy or "growth inhibition as the consequence of the influence of one organism on another."  The scents or air interactions as well as root excretions of certain plants will effect others.  Here are some examples of what I mean:
  1. Legumes, such as peas and beans take nitrogen from the air and fix it for their own use, which will in turn benefit neighboring plants.
  2. Some plants exude chemical from the root that repel insects, like the African marigold. This plant will give off a chemical called thiopene which repels soil nematodes.
  3. Other plants may attract beneficial insects which in turn keep pests in check, like mint that attracts hoverflies.
Herb Companions

I have always known that tomatoes and basil enhance each other, so this year in my community garden I planted three varieties in the tomato bed to see which one has the best effect.

basil planted between the two rows of tomatoes
Chamomile, German variety (Matricaria chamomilla) improves the flavor of cabbages, cucumbers and onions.  The plant also accumulates calcium, potassium and sulfur which it returns to the soil.  These minerals are good for lowering the pH of the soil (making it more acidic) which vegetables like.

Chervil improves the growth and flavor of radishes and keeps aphids off lettuce.  Good to plant near dill and cilantro too.
chives 2014
Chives will improve the flavor and growth of carrots and a tea made from chives can be used to treat downy mildew on cucumbers.  I tried it on my rosemary for the same issue and it worked!

Geraniums will repel Japanese beetles and are a nice low growing addition to a rose garden.

Mint deters white cabbage moths, aphids and ant.  It improves the health of tomatoes and cabbages when grown near them.  It also attracts hoverflies and predatory wasps, but keep it away from your parsley.

Nasturtiums by tomatoes in cages.
Nasturtiums with work on wooly aphids, whiteflies and cucumber beetles.  Whitefly is a bug that likes lemon verbena, so I often plant nasturtiums in my lemon verbena pots. If I had known about the cucumber beetle thing, I think I would have ringed my community garden with nasturtiums before I planted anything.  As it is, I set in some seed only after the cucumber beetles ate alot!

purple sage
Sage is used as a companion for broccoli, cauliflower, rosemary and cabbage and carrots as it will deter moths and beetles because of its strong scent, but don't place it too close to the cucumbers.

marigolds encircling tomatoes
Scented marigolds (sometimes called Mexican or French marigolds) are the best at repelling soil nematodes, but remember a dense planting is needed, not a random plant here and there.
scented marigolds
Stinging Nettle helps neighboring plants to grow more resistant to spoiling. It also increases the essential oil in other herbs.  And a tea made with the leaves can be sprayed on plants to help them grow strong stems.

Summer Savory should be placed near the beans and onions to improve the flavor. I just discovered a midget variety that I think will work great around these plants.
Midget Summer Savory (Saturejus hortensis 'midget')
Tansy will keep away leaf borers and is very good companion in the fruit orchard or among the grape vines.

The Practical Organic Gardener by Brenda Little
How to Grow More Vegetables by John Jeavons

The Essential Herbal magazine - several recent editions from 2013 and 2014

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