Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Beverages to serve and give as gifts

Prepping for the Holiday Series

We sometimes forget that the best way to communicate the season is through beverages and scents and what better way than with hot beverages.  And these make great gifts too.  You can make seasoning blends for cider, herbal teas or seasoned hot chocolate.

Spiced Lemon Tea Mix

½ cup lemon herbs (lemon thyme, lemon balm, lemon verbena)
1 Tbls. lemon peel
1 Tbls. ginger
2 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. cloves

Blend all ingredients together. Store in a sealed jar.
To use: add 1 to 2 tsp. per cup of boiling water.

Hot Buttered Rum Mix

2 ½ cups brown sugar
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. cloves
½ tsp. salt
1 stick real butter (unsalted room temperature)

Mix brown sugar and spices in a large bowl.  Cut the butter into 4 pieces.  Mix into the sugar well with a spoon or electric mixer.  Place in a plastic container with a tight lid and store in the refrigerator.

To use: Place 1 to 2 tsp. mix in a mug. Add ½ to 1 jigger rum.  Fill mug with boiling water.  Serve with a cinnamon stick or a Tablespoon of ice cream.  Mix will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

Alternative use: For mulled wine or hot apple cider place 1 tsp. mix in a mug.  Add 1 cup red wine or apple cider.  Heat in microwave for 1 minute.  (You can simmer larger quantities on the stove.)

Cheating Cider Simmer

¼ cup powdered (sugar-free) lemonade mix
¼ cup sugar
2 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. nutmeg

You can layer the ingredients in a jar or mix together before placing in jar. (If layering you must include instructions to shake well before using.). 

For decoration tie a cinnamon stick to the package.

To use: stir 1 tsp. of mixture into 1 cup hot apple juice, hot cranberry juice or hot cider.

Lavender Hot Chocolate

You can give this one for the winter holidays or save it for Valentine’s Day.

2 tsp. dried lavender buds
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 Tbls. Dutch process cocoa powder
2 Tbls. sugar
1/8 tsp. Kosher salt

Blend cocoa powder, sugar and salt together.  Package the lavender and bittersweet chocolate separate.  Place all items in a decorative container. 

To use:
3 cups whole milk or half & half
½ tsp. vanilla extract

Pour milk into a medium saucepan and stir in lavender flower buds.  Set over medium heat and bring just to a boil.  Remove the mixture from heat and allow to steep for 3 to 5 minutes.  Strain the milk to remove lavender, then return milk to saucepan and whisk in the chopped bittersweet chocolate until melted and smooth.  Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture.  Remove from heat and whisk in the vanilla.  Divide among coffee mugs and serve with a marshmallow or whipped cream.

If crafting these beverages is not your cup of tea, try ours:

Mexican Spiced Cocoa

Sugar-free Hot Cocoa

Saturday, November 22, 2014

12 Herby Ways to Make Stuffing

How to make stuffing:
1. Cook vegetables, fruits, herbs and/or meat in butter, then add broth.
2. Toss with beaten eggs and cubed bread.
3. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and dot with butter or drippings. Bake, covered, at 375 degrees F, 30 minutes; uncover and bake until golden, about 30 more minutes (or cook the cooled stuffing in the turkey).

Yield: Each recipe serves eight and is enough to fill a 12-14 pound turkey.

Lets start with a classic stuffing that you can then modify in herb influenced ways.

Classic Stuffing
 Melt 1 stick butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 cups each diced onions and celery and 1 tablespoon each minced sage and thyme; add salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes. Add 3 cups turkey or chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Beat 2 eggs with 1/4 cup chopped parsley in a large bowl; add 16 cups cubed stale white bread, then pour in the vegetable-broth mixture and toss. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and dot with butter. Cover and bake 30 minutes at 375 degrees F; uncover and bake until golden, 30 more minutes. (Or stuff in your turkey and bake.)

More Herby Versions:

Apple-Herb Stuffing: Make Classic Stuffing (above), cooking 2 chopped apples with the onions

2. Apple-Fennel Stuffing: Make Classic Stuffing (above) with potato bread. Use diced fennel bulb instead of celery. Cook 1 cup each chopped apples and dried cranberries with the onions and fennel.

3. Porcini Stuffing:  Make Classic Stuffing (above) with shallots instead of onions and rosemary instead of sage. Cook 4 ounces chopped prosciutto and 1 pound sliced porcini mushrooms with the shallots and celery.

4. Sausage Stuffing:  Brown 1 pound crumbled sausage in 6 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 cups each diced onions and celery and 1 tablespoon each minced sage and thyme; add salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken broth and bring to a simmer. Beat 2 eggs with 1/4 cup chopped parsley in a bowl; add 16 cups cubed stale white bread, then pour in the vegetable-broth mixture and toss. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and dot with butter. Cover and bake at 375 degrees F, 30 minutes; uncover and bake until golden, 30 more minutes.

5. Kale-Garlic Sausage Stuffing: Make Sausage Stuffing (No. 4), adding 4 cups chopped kale and 1 head peeled roasted garlic cloves with the broth. Use semolina bread.

6. Herbed Cornbread Stuffing: Melt 1 stick butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add 2 cups each diced onion and celery and 1 tablespoon each minced sage and thyme; add salt and pepper and cook 5 minutes. Add 3 cups chicken or turkey broth and bring to a simmer. Beat 2 eggs with 1/4 cup chopped parsley in a large bowl; add 6 cups cubed stale cornbread and 8 cups white bread, then pour in the vegetable-broth mixture and toss. Transfer to a buttered baking dish and dot with butter. Cover and bake at 375 degrees F, 30 minutes; uncover and bake until golden, about 30 more minutes.

7. Mustard-Ham Stuffing:  Make Herbed Cornbread Stuffing (No. 6), but cook 1 pound diced ham in 6 tablespoons butter before adding the vegetables. Use rosemary instead of sage. Add 1/4 cup whole-grain mustard with the broth.

8.  Herbed Rice Stuffing:  Brown 2 cups each chopped onions and celery in 6 tablespoons butter. Toss with 8 cups al dente cooked white rice, 1/4 cup each chopped parsley and chives, and 1 tablespoon chopped thyme; add salt and pepper. Transfer to a buttered baking dish, drizzle with 1/4 cup chicken or turkey broth and dot with butter. Cover and bake at 375 degrees F, 50 minutes.

9. Cranberry-Rice Stuffing: Brown 1 cup each diced onion and celery in 6 tablespoons butter. Toss with 4 cups each cooked wild rice and al dente cooked basmati rice, 1 cup dried cranberries, 1 cup crumbled goat cheese, and salt and pepper. Bake as directed for Herbed Rice Stuffing (No. 8).

10.  Spiced Rice Stuffing:  Brown 1 pound ground beef with 2 cups diced onions in 4 tablespoons butter. Toss with 8 cups al dente cooked white rice, 2 teaspoons cumin, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. Bake as directed for Herbed Rice Stuffing (No. 8). Top with toasted sliced almonds.

11. Vegetable-Rice Stuffing: Toss 10 cups mixed chopped vegetables with olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees until golden, about 40 minutes. Toss with 4 cups al dente cooked white rice, 1 1/2 teaspoons poultry seasoning, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, and salt and pepper. Bake as directed for Herbed Rice Stuffing (No. 8).

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Making Edible Gifts

Prepping for the Holiday Series

I will be putting up my Advent Calendar again this December (check out last year’s calendar here) with a craft, idea or recipe for each day until Christmas.  However this year, in addition to that I decided to create a Prepping for the Holidays Series.  I will provide gift ideas for making your own presents, holiday entertaining ideas and recipes for holiday meals.

Making Edible Gifts

Craft an edible gift like a butter or dip and present it to your hostess or office mates.

Here are two recipes for butter:

Sweet Herb Whipped Honey

This recipe goes well with whole wheat bread or muffins so you could combine them in a bag, box or basket. It has a nice long shelf life so your recipient does not need to use it instantly.

¼ cup mild honey
1 Tbls. finely minced basil, marjoram or lemon thyme (or a mix)
½ cup unsalted butter, softened

In a microwave safe glass mixing bowl, heat honey for 45 seconds or until just warm.  Stir in herbs.  Cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator for 24 hours.  Skim the herbs from the top and discard.  Bring honey to room temperature and whip for 1 minute with a handheld mixer set to medium speed.  Add butter and mix 30 seconds more or until mixture is light and creamy.  Place in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.  Allow spread to come to room temperature before serving.

Herb Butter

1 lb. butter, softened
1 tsp. ground black pepper
½ tsp. chopped garlic
3 Tbls. chopped chives, fresh (1 Tbls. dried)
2 tsp. tarragon, dried
2 tsp. chervil, dried
1 Tbls. parsley, dried
Combine ingredients in a bowl with a fork or a hand mixer.  Divide into 4 small containers.

To use: Herb butter --  Store in refrigerator.  Let come to room temperature to serve.  Spread on hot bread, rolls or muffins.

You could try this cream cheese recipe too:

If you want the fun of making a butter, but don’t have time to blend herbs, try these Herb Mixes (they can be blended with hummus too!:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Rosemary, Lemon & Feta Spread

Feta cheese is often relegated to a crumble on top of a finished product, but that robust tangy flavor is great used in other ways too.  Here is a tasty spread you can serve with vegetables, crackers, toasted baguette slices, pretzels, etc. that makes a wonderful appetizer for holiday entertaining and the rosemary is a great seasonal herb.

Rosemary, Lemon, & Feta Spread

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
3 tablespoons fresh rosemary, finely chopped (only use 1/2 Tbls. if using dry)
1 tsp. fresh or dried lemon thyme (optional)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt & Pepper to taste


In a medium mixing bowl mix together cream cheese, feta, rosemary, lemon thyme, lemon juice, and garlic until well combined (or place in a food processor and process several times until just combined). Add salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Easy ways to dress up a Holiday Event

I am traveling around the holidays this year, but in between I still intend to have a party at my place and perhaps do some decorating., so as result I am dusting off my information on Prepping for the Holidays and I thought I would start with a few easy items.  How to dress things up and give a Holiday flair.

Food Presentation

Before slicing a cucumber, run the prongs of a fork down the length of the sides at intervals.  The slices will then have a fluted edge.

Make radish spinner garnishes.  Trim off the top and bottom of a radish.  Then cut two 1/8” thick slices.  Cut reach slice from the center to the outside gently push the two slices together where they have been out as a right angle to form a spinner.

Craft a cucumber blossom.  Peel long, thin strips from a cucumber.  Boil strips for 3 minutes.  Remove and cool.  Cut ¼ inch wide slits in the center of strip, being careful not to cut through the edges.  Gently wind strip into circles forming a flower.  Secure with a toothpick. 

Serve your dips in a hollowed out pumpkin or colored cabbage.  Use red and green peppers on your Christmas table.  Fill each vegetable with dip.  Line the inside with plastic wrap before adding the dip.

Create a cucumber spring.  Chop cucumber into 3 inch pieces.  Poke a wooden chopstick into the knife hits the chopstick.  Continue turning and cutting around the cucumber.  Remove the chopstick and gently pull the ends to form a spring.

For extra fancy veggies use a crinkle cut knife or madeline blade to chop carrots rounds, cucumbers and even pepper rings.

Garnish with strawberry fans.  To make, start at the tip and cut the strawberry into thin slices with out cutting through the end.  Spread slices open to form a fan.

To make a tomato rose garnish you need a large tomatoes and a serrated knife.  Stating at the bottom end of the tomato use the knife to saw off a continuous strip of tomato skin about ½ inch wide around and around the tomato.  Carefully roll this strip into a tight coil, then let open up slightly to create a blossom.

Make Carrot/Cucumber rings.  Cut cucumbers into 3 inch lengths, hollow out the seeds and insert a carrot into the center, then slice the combo into ½ inch slices.

Table Dressing

Do you have fall leaves or pine cones on the lawn?  Bring them in and place in a clear glass vase for a holiday festive natural decoration.  Closer to Christmas or if snow is on the ground, use colored holiday glass or plastic bulbs inter-spaced with sticks of cinnamon and star anise.  It will create a colorful and seasonal scent.

Seasonal Pomaders (oranges decorated with cloves) are a great seasonal decoration that only gets more fragrant as the season continues.

Choose a solid color - make the table all green or all red with a solid color runner, solid color Christmas bulbs in a bowl and an accent plate of the same solid color it makes whimsy without clutter.

One of my standbys is a poinsettia table cloth that was my grandmothers.  I then put a plain white runner down the center to remove clutter and accent with poinsettia flowers in bud vases.

Sometimes simple is perfect.  A pine or juniper branch in a clear champagne flute may be just the elegance your table likes.

Ideally, large parties should have more than one food location with different choices at each spot.  This motivates guests to move from place to place and thus circulate and socialize.

Join us again as we share more ideas for "Prepping for the Holiday" in the coming weeks.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Weekend recipe - Roasted Fall Vegetables

Colder weather brings on a need for hearty, warming food that will keep you going when the weather chills. I drag out the crock pot, much to my husband’s discontent, and start making soups and stews.  This healthy roasted seasonal vegetable recipe uses a number of seasonal vegetables and makes a hearty side-dish.  If you cannot get fresh tomatoes, a large can of peeled roma tomatoes can be used instead.

Roasted Fall Vegetables
  • 1 butternut squash, seeded and in chunks
  • 8 medium new potatoes, scrubbed and halved
  • 2 red onions, peeled and in wedges
  • 1 medium eggplant, in chunks
  • 1 red, 1 yellow pepper, seeded and in chunks
  • 8 whole garlic cloves
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 bay leaves
  • A few sprigs of rosemary and thyme
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 5 to 7 roma tomatoes, halved
Place vegetables in the base of an enamel roasting tray and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Scatter over bay leaves, rosemary sprigs and thyme.

Drizzle generously with olive oil and toss vegetables around with the hands to coat. Place in a pre-heated oven 400F for around 20 minutes, until browning around the edges and almost cooked. If using canned tomatoes add them now, by tucking around the cooked vegetables.  Then return the pan to the oven for another 10 minutes - or until potatoes and squash are tender.

Then enjoy with a nice glass of Chianti or Barolo red wine. Great accompanying Italian meatballs but you could always eat them as a side dish with steak, chops, chicken breast or even as a meal in itself with a pasta or rice accompaniment.

If you are ready to use your crock pot, roasting oven or Dutch oven to make some fall dishes, check out the seasonal recipes page on the blog where we have posted a number of perfect choices.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cinnful Dessert Blend beyond Dessert!

Time to bring that package of Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend that you have not been sure what to do with out into the open and create a few seasonal treats with it.

These twelve suggestions give a number of new things to try with this great blend.

Pumpkin Spice “Tea Latte”
Put seasonal spices—such as a cinnamon stick, half of a vanilla bean (pod and seeds) and some Cinnful Dessert blend in a tea infuser and place it in 2 cups steamed milk for about 5 minutes. Add the spiced milk to cups of freshly brewed hot black tea (or coffee), and top with whipped cream and a drizzle of caramel

Pumpkin Smoothie
Blend together 2 ounces of pumpkin puree with 6 ounces of almond milk, soy milk, or fat-free milk and a dash or two of Cinnful Dessert Blend to taste. Sweeten with honey or agave nectar as desired. For a thicker smoothie, replace some milk with plain or vanilla Greek yogurt. For a frosty drink, add ice before blending.

Cinnful Sugar
Combine  ½ cup of confectioners’ sugar with 1 teaspoon of Backyard Patch Cinnful Dessert Blend.  Use the mixture to season cookies, flavor popcorn or even make a simpler version of spiced nuts.

Spice Butter Cookies
First make some Cinnful Sugar. Next, make your favorite butter cookie or sugar cookie recipe and lightly dust the top of the cookies with Cinnful Sugar before or after baking.

Holiday Special French Toast or Pancakes
Stir ½ teaspoon of Cinnful Dessert Blend into every 2 cups of French toast custard (egg-milk mixture) or 2 cups of pancake batter before cooking.

Cinnful Oatmeal
Add a dollop of pumpkin puree and a teaspoon of Cinnful Dessert Blend to a serving of cooked steel-cut oats. Sweeten to taste.

Seasonal Yogurt
Add a dollop of pumpkin puree and ½ teaspoon of Cinnful Dessert Blend to vanilla yogurt. Top with a handful of cinnamon-flavored cereal. 

Cinnful Sweet Potatoes
Bake sweet potatoes until they’re nearly done; then slice halfway through each and add a sprinkling of Cinnful Dessert Blend and a drizzle of honey or caramel sauce. Continue baking until the potatoes are done.

Seasoned Cinnamon Rice
When making instant brown rice, melt 2 tablespoons of butter or margarine in the saucepan and stir in 2 teaspoons of Cinnful Dessert Blend, then add water, salt, and rice per package directions.

Cinnful Popcorn
Drizzle popped popcorn with butter and sprinkle with Cinnful Sugar (see above) to taste. Toss to coat.

Simply Cinnful Nuts
Beat 1 egg white with 1 tablespoon of water until frothy. Add 1 pound of Almonds (or other shelled nuts) and toss to coat. Spread the nuts on a lightly oiled baking pan and dust them with Cinnful Sugar (above). Bake at 250°F for 15 minutes; then reduce the heat to 200°F and bake until the nuts are caramelized, about 45 minutes longer.  (This recipe is similar to our original Cinnful Roasted Nuts you can find in this blog from 2011.)

Cinnamon Raisin Popcorn Balls
Makes 12 (2-inch) balls.  You can wrap them airtight and keep them for 2 days, but they are best the day they are made.

6 heaping cups popped corn
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup reduced-calorie light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup finely chopped raisins


Line a baking sheet with parchment or wax paper. Prepare a medium bowl of ice water. Put popcorn in large bowl. Combine brown sugar, corn syrup and butter in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. As soon as the syrup starts to lightly bubble, cook, stirring constantly, until the sugar is melted and the mixture darkens, about 2 minutes. Immediately pour the mixture evenly over the popcorn; gently mix with a wooden spoon or spatula until well coated. Toss the raisins with the Cinnful Dessert Blend then gently stir into popcorn. Dip both hands in the ice water. Working quickly, press small handfuls (heaping 1/4 cup each) of the popcorn mixture firmly into 2-inch balls. (Make sure each ball gets a little bit of the raisins.) Place the balls on the prepared baking sheet. If they seem too fragile, rinse hands with cold water and press and squeeze each ball again to help keep it together. Let cool completely before storing. To store, individually wrap in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Bath Blend of the Month - Relax and Comfort Bath Combination

This blend of salts and essential oils with some dried herbs give comfort and relaxation as well as making a great gift item. To make them get a decorative canning jar.  Those colored ones Ball has out now are nice.  Then mix the herbs and salts right in the jar. If you want to give it as a gift, you can label the jar lids.  I found these great jar lid templates at Garden Therapy you might want to try: Jar lid Templates.

Relax and Comfort Bath Combination
§  2 cups Epsom salts
§  8 drop pure lavender essential oil
§  6 drops mint essential oil
§  2 drops eucalyptus essential oil
§  2 drops rosemary essential oil
§  1 tsp dried comfrey root powder
§  1 tsp dried lavender flowers
§  1 tsp dried mint leaves
§  ¼ tsp dried bergamot (bee balm) petals

Fill a pretty jar about halfway full of the Epsom salts. Add essential oils, replace lid, and shake. Remove the lid again, add comfrey and dried herbs, replace lid and shake (again.)  Add more Epsom salts to fill the jar, replace the lid and shake again.

To use: Add 2 to 3 Tbls. of salt mixture to bath as you fill the tub.  Swish to dissolve.  Grab a cup of herbal tea and relax your cares away.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Herb-themed Holiday Gift Sets - Backyard Patch style

This year I had abundant herbs.  The cooler weather with hot flashes and abundant rain made the herbs happier than any of my vegetable plants.

On the left is the thyme bed at my community garden and on the right is a portion of the Mediterranean wing, with savory, oregano, fennel and calendula.  The purple flowering plant in the back is traditional hyssop.

With the herbs being lush we were able to craft more tea and herb cooking blends then usual and this got me to thinking about ways to package them to make the perfect gifts.

For the Tea Lover

A pretty window box holds a demi tea cup (no saucer) and three small (.5 oz) tea tins with blends of your choice.  Each box with be perfect for gifting, tied with ribbon including a tea infuser and ship-ready.  

Tea Towers

Along the same lines as the sampler we have full-sized Tea Tin Towers.  With a tea tower you get 3 or 5 teas in our full-sized 2 oz. tins gathered with ribbon into a tower of flavor.  Tied to the ribbon will be a bead-decorated tea infuser.  You can choose the teas included in the tower, or use our premade-choices. We have a three-tea tower  or a  five-tea tower  

For the Foodie in your life

We have had a popcorn shaker seasoning for several years, but this year we crafted two more to make it a threesome. We placed two (your choice) in decorative shaker jars holding .75 oz., along with an ear of microwavable popcorn.  The set is packaged in clear cellophane bag with a decorative ribbon tie and full instructions.  This gift will have a pretty tag and each flavor will be labeled.  They include: Original Popcorn Sprinkle, Cheesy Herb Sprinkle, Spicy Hot Sprinkle.
I have long thought that packaging herb seasoning blends in groups was a great idea, but I never could find the right medium.  This year I found the perfect jars and containers. We have two different sets

Everyday Seasoning Kit
This is a single herbs kit with 6 different individual herbs. We call it a Seasoning Tower.  The tins are in a colorful cardboard tube with a holiday ribbon.  Serval different colors of tube are available.

Soup Mix Gift Sets

Our soup mixes are a popular gift item and the new packaging we created last year has really helped with that.  This year we decided on a few gift combinations you can check them all out in our soup collection on the website

For the Queen (or King) in need of relaxation

Bath items are very prolific online so our items, even though they are crafted without chemicals from herbs raised organically, do not stand out.  We have decided to fix that.  We are repackaging our Bath and Spa items in a whole new way.  

Bath Salts

Many different versions of Bath Salts -- the Skin-Soothing Bath Salts, Relaxing Combination Salts and the Milk Salt Blends will all be available in lovely and colorful organza bags instead of the envelopes we have used in the past.  And the best part of this is there will be no change in price. They are still available for $3.25 for 3 ounces.  Now you can mix and match to create sets too.  We have them listed in a Bath Collection.

Is this not a cleaver idea.  I was tossing around bath scrubbies as I was putting them away and one fell onto a mason jar and suddenly I got to thinking if it was a parfait glass it would look like a Sundae!  So here is a bath salt-filled parfait glass, complete with a red tulle wrapped rose herb soap as the "cherry" on top! This is another gift perfect for teachers, groomers and others life helpers!

Like our tea tower this collection of 3 bath salts will be packaged in square boxes tied together with colorful ribbon to create a wonderful gift package that will need no additional wrapping. 

With 4 different blends of Bath tub tea to share we thought it was time the presentation got a facelift.  We are making a decorative tea bag with raffia tie that can hang from the faucet.  The tea filter bags will be filled with a single bath measure of herbs and packaged in groups of 3 ($4.95) and 5 ($7.95) in a pretty decorated cellophane bag or a set of 10 that will be presented in a colored mason jar ($20.00).

We are hoping you enjoy our special gift selection as much as we enjoy making them!

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