Saturday, August 30, 2014

Labor Day Menu - Weekend Recipe

Yes I will admit I stole this idea from Alton Brown.  He posted a menu for Labor Day on Facebook and I decided I could do something similar, directing you to a few of my recipes.


Salsa and Chips. A tried and true item made unique with a few extra herbs. Here is a recipe I share that can be made with my salsa mix or with a plain jar bought variety.

Wild & Crazy Salsa

1 jar sliced green olives
2 to 3 tomatoes, diced
1 peeled avocado
1 small white onion, diced
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 package Backyard Patch Salsa Mix or Hot Salsa Mix

Combine all ingredients.  Serve with baked chips or use as a topping on fish or chicken.

Grilled Pork Chop Sandwich.  Trade in the traditional burger for another sandwich option. Back in 2012 I shared a recipe for lemon tarragon grilled pork chops that makes such a perfect pork chop sandwich.  Served with coleslaw on the side or on the sandwich and you have a great dish for your labor day feast.

Caraway Coleslaw: I have several slaw recipes to recommend, including the Ranch Dressing Coleslaw, but I think the best one is the one I shared for a picnic at Ravinia the Caraway Coleslaw.  A very traditional flavor you will love it.


Melon Sweet Salad.  A blend of fresh mint and various white and orange melon served with our without ice cream.

Sweet Melon Salad
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, more or less to taste
2 tablespoons honey
4 cups cubed, seeded cantaloupe 
2 1/2 cups honeydew or a white melon like canary melon or Korean Star
1/3 cup chopped or chiffonade mint leaves, more or less to taste

Stir together the lemon juice, and honey in a small bowl. Adjust the sweetness to taste by adding either more lemon juice or honey. In a medium-size bowl, toss the melons gently with the mint and stir in the dressing. Serve either chilled or at room temperature.  this makes a wonderful topping for ice cream.


Sweet Tea Apple Sipper I shared a similar herb cocktail recipe on Facebook this past week, but this turned out to be my favorite while experimenting with herb cocktails. It is a mixture of Irish Breakfast tea, thyme, apple juice and rye whiskey.  It is our evening cocktail of choice these past few weeks. Oh and be careful this drink will sneak up on you.

Sweet Tea Apple Sipper

Irish Breakfast tea
Apple juice
Apple, sliced thin

For a different spin on an iced tea cocktail, brew a fresh batch of rejuvenating Irish Breakfast tea with added sprigs of thyme, then chill and add equal parts clear apple juice. Pour into balloon glasses and spike each with a shot of your favorite whiskey for an indulgent summer hit! Before you serve, garnish with apple wheels and sprigs of thyme.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Preserving Herbs - A collection of posts

It is that time of year when i need to discuss preserving herbs.  I do this about this time of year every year.  The herbs are getting full and bushy and now is the time to take some and preserve them for the winter.

There are many ways to preserve the fresh flavor of herbs.  We just harvested the small herb patch we have in our community garden this week (and wrote about it if you want a quick overview.)

General Posts on Preservation

Drying Herbs
I have talked about various methods for drying herbs for years.  Here are my best posts on the subject:

     Air Drying Herbs

     General Drying Methods

     How to Dry Your Harvest  

     Drying Herbs in the Microwave

Freezing Herbs

    Herbal Seasoning Ice Cubes

    Freezing Herbs

Preserving in Vinegar or Wine

     Making Herbed Wine

     How to make herb vinegar

     Making tarragon vinegar

     Making Pesto

     Using herbal vinegar

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Flavored Mustards - Weekend Recipe

The kids went back to school this week here in northern Illinois.  I always thought of the end of summer as Labor Day.  We always celebrated my birthday over Labor Day weekend.  It was a last hurrah before school started, a wonderful outdoor picnic and a family gathering.  My grandfather and I both celebrated in September and later my cousin ended up with the same birthday as me so we had much to celebrate on that day and we always did so with a picnic.

Today in honor of the early start to the school year which is cutting picnic season short, I thought I would share a couple of flavored mustard recipes.  These are each made with an already prepared mustard, but if you want to make your own mustard from scratch, check out this previous herb of the month post.

Dill mustard

1/2 cup yellow mustard 
1/4 cup freshly chopped dill pickles 
1/4 cup freshly chopped white onions 
1 Tbls. chopped fresh dill weed

Combine all the ingredients and place in a lidded glass jar.  Allow to meld in refrigerator for an hour before serving.  Will keep up to three months in the refrigerator

Apple Fennel Mustard

1/2 cup Dijon mustard 
1 grated peeled apple
1 minced shallot
2 Tbls brown sugar 
2 tsp crushed fennel seeds

Combine all the ingredients and place in a lidded glass jar.  Allow to meld in refrigerator for an hour before serving.  Will keep up to three months in the refrigerator

Peach Thyme Mustard

1/2 cup peach preserves
1 Tbls whole grain mustard
1 Tbls Dijon mustard 
1 tsp lemon juice 
1/2 tsp fresh thyme 
pinch salt

Combine all the ingredients and place in a lidded glass jar.  Allow to meld in refrigerator for an hour before serving.  Will keep up to three months in the refrigerator

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bee Balm (New Recipes) - Herb of the Week

Although I did an herb of the week on Bee Balm back in 2012, I find that this year, It has been so very attractive I cannot resist giving more information about this attractive perennial.

So Herb of the Week is Bee Balm  genus Monarda 

Bee Balm is a true Native American herb named Monarda by the Spanish explorer who discovered it in the new world in 1571. Its meaning in the Language of Flowers is Compassion. sympathy, consolation.

Known as Oswego Tea to some, this is the plant that Native Americans used to treat colds and to relax. This tea was used by the rebellious Boston patriots during the tea boycott. It is also known as Bergamot. This is a reference to its citrus-like scent which resembles the small, bitter Italian bergamot citrus orange called Orange Bergamot.  When you buy essential oil of Bergamot you are purchasing the oil of bergamot orange. This is the flavor used to give Earl Grey tea its distinctive flavor. This fragrance is very similar to the Bee Balm, but comes from a different plant.

To Grow

Bee Balm is naturalized throughout the United States. It is a hardy perennial in the mint family and grows to two to three feet tall. Its leaves grow in pairs that are oval and pointed on a four sided stem. Flowers appear in zone 5 in late June through August- September. lts tubular flowers bloom from a large round head. Both leaves and flowers have a strong citrus mint scent.
A rich purple Bee balm from the Rotary Garden in Janesville, WI

Bee Balm flowers come in colors from red to pink to purple to while. It’s roots are dense and shallow. It can easily be propagated from runners. Bee Balm which is in the mint family (you know by the square stem) can be invasive, but growth is usually checked by our cold winters.  This winter was snowy so I think the extra moisture resulted in the vivid colors and proliferation of flowers we see this year.

Bright Pink Bee Balm at the Morton Arboretum
Bee Blam flowers come in colors from red to pink to purple to white. The roots are dense and shallow. It can easily be propagated from runners. Bees and hummingbirds love the colorful tubular flowers.
The plant tolerates shade, but prefers full sun. Dry soil stunts plant growth since the roots are so near the surface. You want to plant Bee Balm somewhere where it is not disturbed by foot traffic or cultivation as the shallow roots can be damaged.  It responds well to being mulched especially in warmer climates.  Weeding must only be done by hand. Bee Balm often gets powdery mildew towards late August. The best treatment is to cut the stems to the ground and discard the diseased foliage. Do not put these diseased clippings in your compost pile.

To Use

Bee Balm flower petals are a good addition to tea, desserts and potpourri. Petals can be harvested often by picking only the flower petals and leaving the round heads attached. Picking just the petals in this way will encourage re-blooming for weeks. Dry the petals on a tray for about a week. When thoroughly dry, store them in an airtight jar until needed.

Bee Balm flower petals are edible flowers and add a citrus flavor to any dish including salad, jelly, bread, tea and honey. The fresh petals are delicious in lemonade or iced tea. Bee Balm petals are attractive and delicious with all fruits. Dried petals retain their flavor and can be used throughout the year.

Wild bee balm of light purple

Dragonfly Cheese
1  8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (4 tablespoons) margarine or butter, softened
1 Tablespoons fresh monarda petals, chopped
1 Tablespoon dried dill

Mix cheese and butter together with edible flowers and dill. Mix well. Add one tablespoon of mayonnaise if you would like the mix more spreadable. Chill overnight and serve with cocktail rye, crackers or vegetable sticks.

Bumble Bee Punch
1 quart of brewed Backyard Patch Earl Grey Tea with Lavender or Lemon Bergamot Tea
1/2 cup sugar
1 quart lemonade

Sweeten tea with sugar and stir until dissolved. Add lemonade to sweetened tea and mix in a large punch bowl. Add ice ring made with juice or tea and decorated with mint and edible flowers. Float lemon slices in punch bowl. Sprinkle with fresh monarda petals.

Herbal Headache Soother Tea
equal parts: 
     Bee balm  (leaves and flowers)

Blend ingredients together and store in a jar with tight fitting lid.  Use 1 to 2 teaspoons per cup of hot water (more if you make it iced).  Allow to steep 7 to 10 minutes before drinking.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Zucchini Bread - Weekend Recipe

We love zucchini bread and this year we are getting a bumper crop of this summer vegetable, so after making stir-fry and grilled skewers we are left with a need to make something large to use many vegetables.  Here was our solution.

Marcy's Zucchini Bread

Serve this bread toasted and with a smear of softened cream cheese for breakfast. The bread can be frozen up to 3 months.

1 cup vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs beaten
2 cups shredded zucchini (do not drain)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoon vanilla extract
¾ cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degreesF. Oil and dust with flour 2 9 x-5-inch loaf pans. Combine sugar  and eggs, add oil,  vanilla and zucchini in a large bowl. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and Cinn-ful Dessert Blend and add to zucchini mixture.  Add walnuts, if using. Stir until well combined.  Pour into loaf pans.  Bake 1 hour, or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Three tea blends for Summer

Here are three quick and easy blends for summertime teas that you can make with fresh herbs from the garden or market.

Citrus Peel Tea
Peel of one tangerine or orange with pith removed
5 to 7 lemon balm leaves, fresh
2 to 4 mint leaves (optional)

Tear the citrus peel into small pieces.  Place in a cup of  water in a sauce pan and simmer 10 minutes covered with a lid.  Remove from heat.  Add the lemon balm and mint (optional) while the mixture cools.  Strain out the peel and herbs.  Drink hot or served chilled over ice. This tea not only refreshing but also good from summers cough, allergy phlegm, stomach upset.

Chrysanthemum Tea
You need Pot marigold or Calendula for this or you can use white chrysanthemum petals.

            2 Tbls petals
            1 tsp. fennel seed or anise seed
Steep the petals and fennel in 1 cup of water, just off boiling.  Allow to steep for 7 to 10 minutes, then strain and drink. This tea is said to be good for sore throats as well as a tonic for the liver and eyesight.

 Peppermint Herbal Tea
            1 tsp. chopped fresh peppermint
1 tsp lemon thyme leaves
1 tsp. chopped fresh lemon balm leaves

Place herbs in 1 to 2 cups hot water, just off boiling, and allow to steep for 7 to 10 minutes.  A cooling tea blend perfect on a hot day that is good iced or hot.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Herbal Condiments

Herbal Condiments

This year we have been experimenting with new ways to use our herb seasoning, blends and mixes. All of these sauces and ketchups can be made with Backyard Patch Blends you may already have in your kitchen.  Open that drawer or box, pull out the blend and get stirring.  These are quick and easy and will keep for several days in the refrigerator, the ketchups even longer, so you can make them ahead and enjoy them on the spur of the moment.

Garlic Mayo

Goes great with veggie dippers, but perfect on roast beef or turkey sandwiches.  Special taste for asparagus

1 ½ Tbls. Backyard Patch Garlic & Herb Herb Mix
¼ cup finely chopped green onions (or chives)
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups mayo

Combine times and allow to meld for 1 hour before serving.

Go Anywhere Mayo
This will go on anything from sandwiches, to veggies to burgers.

¾ cup mayonnaise
zest of one lemon
juice of one lemon
1 1/2 tsp. Backyard Patch Do-It-All Seasoning
1 minced scallion,
a few drops of hot sauce

Blend together and allow to meld 1 hour before serving for best flavor.

Wasabi Ranch Sauce
Anytime you want a bit of heat on you summer sandwich or burger or even your sausage brat or hot dog.

¾ cup prepared Backyard Patch Ranch Dressing
 ½ cup grated cucumber
 juice of ½ lemon
1 Tbls. wasabi paste
Season with salt if desired

Combine all items in a bowl. Allow to meld 1 hour before serving for best flavor.

Cajun BBQ Sauce
Great on Chicken and fish, perfect on pork or use as a sandwich or burger topper.

1 cup BBQ sauce (you could even make this BBQ with BYP BBQ Spice)
¼ cup bourbon
2 tsp. BYP N’Orleans Seasoning

Combine in a saucepan.  Simmer until thick stirring occasionally 20 min.

Four Spice Ketchup
A wonderful quick ketchup for your grilled burgers, veggie or beef!

1 cup ketchup
juice of one lime
2 tsp. Backyard Patch Four Spice Meat Rub
S&P to taste

Add Ketchup to a bowl, mix in lime juice and seasonings.  Allow to meld 1 hour before serving for best flavor.

Jerk Ketchup
A sweet sensation for the burger.

¾ cup ketchup
2 Tbls. NEW Backyard Patch Jerk Seasoning
1 Tbls. pineapple or peach preserves
1 Tbls. lime juice

Combine items and allow to meld for 1 hour before serving.

Curry ketchup
A unique flavor you can keep in the fridge for several weeks.

¼ cup minced onion
1 Tbls. Butter
1 tsp. Backyard Patch Grinder Curry Blend
1 tsp paprika
pinch of cayenne
1 cup ketchup
½ cup water

Cook minced onion in a saucepan with Butter until soft.  (3 min) Add Backyard Patch Grinder Curry Blend, paprika and a pinch of cayenne.  Cook until toasted.  Add ketchup and water.  Simmer until thick (about 25 minutes.)

Cucumber Salsa
Not only a great topping for chips, this will enhance grilled chicken or fish and is wonderful on a veggie burger.

3 chopped tomatoes
1 diced seeded jalapeno
1 diced red onion
2 Tbls. BYP Fiesta Dip Mix
1 cup diced seeded cucumber
 juice of one lime
2 Tbls. chopped mint  
salt to taste

Combine tomatoes, jalapeno and onion.  Blend BYP Fiesta Dip with diced cucumber and lime juice.  Add salt to taste.  Allow to meld for 1 hour before serving for best flavor.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Herbed Milk Bath - Monthly Bath Blend

Summer sun can dry skin in ways that winter weather does not, but it is just as harmful to your skin's elasticity.  So soothe that sun damaged skin with a milk bath.  This recipe is great for summer use because of the mix of herbs.

Garden Spa Milk Bath

2 cups powdered milk
1 cup cornstarch
2 Tbls. mixed herbs (finely ground) -- see below

Combine powdered milk, cornstarch and herbs in a glass jar and shake to blend.  Use 1 to 2 Tbls of mixture in muslin bag and place under the tap as you draw your bath.  Luxuriate!

Herbs to use -- 
Choose any mixture from one to more herbs based on what you want them to do for you.

1. Chamomile
Chamomile’s gentle, fruity scent will whisk away your stress like no other. This is a wonderful choice for small children, but any age will benefit. Chamomile is an herb that can be used alone in the bath. It is safe enough for the youngest bathers, and the scent help calm the frazzled mom as well.
2. Basil
Basil is an herb of choice if you are creating a stimulating bath. The pleasant aroma will wake up your senses and leave you feeling refreshed.

3. Eucalyptus
Eucalyptus has that recognizable scent we all know of. Use it in a stimulating type bath, or one where the user is feeling congested.

4. Fennel
Another wonderful ingredient in a stimulating bath mix, fennel has a lovely, sweet scent - reminiscent of licorice.

5. Lavender
Lavender always makes the list of bath herbs. Who doesn't enjoy a soothing soak in lavender scented waters? Perfect for any type of bath, lavender is a wonderful supporting scent for most herbal blends.

6. Lemon Balm
The lemony scent of lemon balm is a wonderful bath herb. Unlike its use as a relaxing herb in tea, in the case of a bath, it is considered a stimulating addition. Adding it to your bath mix with  leave you feeling refreshed.

7. Rosemary
Rosemary offers itself as a wonderful bath herb. Its piney scent will help when you are feeling under the weather, and congested. I find that a rosemary bath helps after a long day working in the garden. The aches and pains seem to melt away.

8. Sage
Sage is included in the list of stimulating bath herbs. It may not be a pleasing scent to everyone, but it has anti-fungal and anti bacterial properties.

9. Calendula
Calendula is a true must have for any bath mixture. It is used as a soothing and healing herb, wonderful for those with dry skin, to soak a healing wound, consider this when trying to soothe an area that is out of reach 
It is good to use for my children's baths when they have chicken pox, any eczema symptoms, too many mosquito bites, or a stubborn diaper rash.

10. Yarrow
Yarrow is an unusual addition to the list. It is often overlooked for its healing properties. Use it for a soaking tub, for irritated skin and to soak healing wounds in. I find that yarrow has a pleasing scent, but it is a bit different for most folks. Try a light hand when mixing in your bath herb mix.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Cucumbers in Sour Cream and Dill - weekend recipe

We harvested 4 long cucumbers out of our garden this week and just had to make cucumber salad.  I like this version with sour cream, my husband likes a more Thai-related version.  (You can find that recipe on Facebook.This recipe is a cool side dish to serve with grilled fish or chicken.  We had it with grilled chicken and corn on the cob. It was a perfect summer feast!

Cucumbers with Sour Cream and Dill

5 cups thinly sliced regular or English cucumbers (about 2 cucumbers) 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream 
2 tablespoons herbal vinegar or white vinegar (perfect with dill or chive vinegar)
2 tablespoons sugar (or sugar substitute equivalent)
1/4 cup diced red onion 
1 to 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill 
1/8 teaspoon black pepper


Peel the cucumbers if you prefer. Place cucumber slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and toss to coat. Let stand in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours, allowing cucumbers to release some moisture then pat cucumber dry with paper towel. In a large bowl, combine sour cream, vinegar and sweetener. Add sliced cucumbers to the sour cream dressing along with the onion, dill and black pepper. Stir gently to coat. Chill 1 hour before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Fun with Herbs Harvesting - Mints

The weather has stopped raining (everyday) so that I can actually harvest herbs.  I have been making vinegar, bundling and hanging herbs and cooking with fresh herbs.  It has been glorious. The herbs with the best overall growth this year seem to be the mints.  I am not always kind to my mints as they can take over a garden if given the chance, but this year they are actually fighting back.

Mojito Mint
The second year for Mojito Mint and I love the flavor.  Not as much of it gets harvested for preservation as gets used to make regular and virgin Mojitos.  It is also great fresh in lemonade and tossed with fruit in salad. I find I like this mint for the ways I use it fresh rather than dry.

The mints I have these year are spending a lot of time sending out runners rather than making seed which says something about this summer being different.

Mojito Mints

I've been clipping them off, but you can see the dark stems coming from the bottom of the plant that look like twigs.  These will take root and produce upright branches if you let them.

Kentucky Colonel Mint

This year I grew a new mint, Kentucky Colonel. The leaf color is similar to lemon balm and the habit is very bushy.  and tall.  the flowers are almost brush shaped.  They are easy to harvest with the long upright stems and the deep veining allows them to dry very quickly even on a humid day.  The flavor is not as strong as spearmint, making it a nice addition to a salad and I intend to use it in cucumber salad, and basil pesto in the coming weeks as well.  This one also sends out runners and it takes a lot of moisture from the ground.  It is planted near a tri-color sage and I think it is stunting the sage's growth.

Tri-color Sage

The Lemon Balm has had a stellar year.  It was the first plant I was able to harvest this year.  The layers of snow really stunted the spring growth this year.  And as soon as i cut this lemon balm, it grows back more busy than before.  The bright green color is exceptionally bright this year and the scent makes you reach out to stroke the leaves every time you pass.

Lemon Balm

This spearmint plant, which is different variety than what i have in my garden, came from the community patch I have in Elmhurst. This volunteer was in the patch next to mine and I rescued it before it was removed as a weed.  the dark ribs and dark stems make  it a kin to black stem peppermint, but the fragrance is very spearmint.  I am looking forward to seeing how the color looks when dried for winter arrangements.

dark stem spearmint
Here is the black stem peppermint and you can see the similarities.  However the peppermint is not as deeply edge serrated and the flowers are not as dark in shade.  I am now very curious and will go searching for a species name as I think this mint is a keeper!

black-stem peppermint

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