What to do with your herbs?

The infographic below is from the fix.com blog, an informative site with lots of easy to read information about herbs and gardening. 

Here’s what Chris McLaughlin has to say:

“When beginner gardeners ask me which plants are hardy and forgiving, my answer is always herbs. If a busy gardener asks me which plants will thrive in near-neglect, my answer is herbs. When a foodie gardener asks about fast-growing plants that will feed both people and bees, my answer is herbs

Herbs are the answer to many gardening questions for good reason: they’re an incredibly versatile and prolific group – almost to a fault. In fact, many herbs can be compared to cucumber plants. By the end of the summer, they’re being given away by the bushel because no one is sure what to do with them past some basic dishes. This doesn’t have to be the case for your abundant herb garden this year. We’ve got better ideas.”


Source: Fix.com Blog

Easy Pickling!

Food preservation is a skill somewhat lost in our modern lives. It is, however, a handy skill to learn. If you’re concerned about the future of our modern civilization, learning to store food without refrigeration or freezing is essential. Even if you don’t think we’re facing the next apocalypse, pickling is a fun and easy way to preserve food.

Homemade pickles make great gifts and there’s nothing like gracing your table with homemade pickles to make you feel like a culinary super star!

Here’s an easy to understand graphic that gives all the basics.

 

Source: Fix.com

I Like Tea!

Monthly Feature AUGUST 2014

I like tea! I like iced tea and I like hot tea. I like black tea. I like green tea. I like mint tea, hibiscus tea, tea with lemon balm, lemon verbena, lemon basil, lemon thyme, fennel, lavender thyme, olive leaf, holy basil, licorice root, chamomile, rose petals… you get the idea. 

Properly, only an infusion of leaves from the Camelia sinensis plant is to be called “tea”. That is the plant black tea, green tea and white tea is made from. This includes all the variations of black tea such as Oolong, Darjeeling, English Breakfast and Earl Grey, any green tea variety and the delicate white tea. All other drinks made with herbs and spices infused in water are officially called “tisanes”.

Botanical Print of Camellia sinensis
Botanical drawing from 1896 in the Wikipedia article on Camelia sinensis.

For the sake of ease and modernity, I call all infused drinks “tea”. OK- that’s settled. 

As any experienced herbalist or novice herb grower knows, making herb tea is a simple way to use herbs, to enjoy the flavor and aroma of a particular herb or blend of herbs and to extract the health benefits of an herb.

This is a terrific time of year to collect herbs for tea. Whether you live in the northeastern U.S. and are looking at a cold, snowy winter where your outdoor herbs are no longer available, you live where your herbs still look great and are full and lush looking, or you live in Texas where we’re experiencing great heat and drought right now, this is a good time to harvest and dry your herbs for winter use.

Tulsi, Holy Basil Plant

Holy Basil, aka Tulsi, growing at The Herb Cottage. A wonderful, healthful tea herb!

Continue reading “I Like Tea!”

Drying Herbs in the Fridge

Monthly Feature OCTOBER 2009

Fall or early winter, whatever you like to call it, has definitely come to much of the U.S. Snow and cold weather has already visited some parts of the nation, and here in my area, the terrible heat and drought of summer has broken to bring us cooler temperatures and much needed rain. The gardens at The Herb Cottage looked so sad all summer with droopy leaves on large plants, very few flowers for the butterflies and little growth on even the most heat tolerant herbs. Since the rains and moderate temperatures everything has grown so quickly.

Podrangea in yard

One pathway is almost blocked now by branches arching into the walkway, and the climbing rose, Little Pinkie, has almost completely hidden the trellis it’s on. Herbs have put on lots of new growth as well.

little herb bed

So, what to do with so much new growth on the herb plants? And, what about those of you who had the good fortune to harvest before freezing temperatures hit your area? Or, those of you who have yet to see a freeze, but know one is coming? Do you dry your excess herbs for winter use? Do you make Pesto with the abundant basil crop many of us have here in south Texas? Do you make wreaths to celebrate the change of season? Do you make herb vinegar to give as gifts? How about fresh herb bouquets for the table? Or dried ones if your herb plants have already frozen back?

There are so many ways to use both fresh and dried herbs this time of year. I recently attended a Wine and Herb Festival in Corpus Christi held at the South Texas Botanical Gardens. There were many talks on the different aspects of herbs, using herbs, growing and drying them. One talk I found interesting demonstrated a method to dry herbs I had never seen. Rather than just hang them to dry the herbs were wrapped in paper toweling and placed in a frost free refrigerator to dry.

The idea is to harvest the herbs, wash them if necessary and make sure they are free of water. Take about 6 sheets of paper toweling and lay the herbs out on one end of the long sheets of toweling. Roll the herbs up in the toweling. Write the variety and date on the package and put it in a frost free refrigerator.

Do not put the package in a plastic baggie as that will retard the evaporation of the water from the leaves, but leave it as is on a shelf in the fridge. The layers of paper toweling help absorb the moisture in the herbs and the frost free feature of the fridge evaporates the water out of the toweling. Eventually- in 3 or 4 weeks- you have nicely dried herbs that have retained their color and a lot of their fresh flavor.

oregano ready to roll
Here’s the oregano I picked clean and ready to roll up in the paper toweling
oregano being rolled
You can see the edge of the rolled bit at the bottom.
folding in the sides
After you get the roll going, fold the sides in so the herbs are completely covered inside the package.
ready for the fridge
Here’s the finished package ready for the fridge.

What I also liked about the presentation is the way the herbs were used after they were dried. The dried herbs were finely chopped in a coffee grinder designated specifically for use with herbs. Then, blends were made and put in shaker jars that had been saved from perhaps, purchased dried herbs.

The blends you could do are nearly endless: Italian- oregano, rosemary and basil, Greek- dill, oregano, parsley, one for poultry using sage, marjoram and thyme, one for fish using dill, lemon peel, fennel… the list is only restricted by your imagination and the type of food your family likes. Citrus peel can also be dried using the above method and you can make lemon pepper, orange basil or mint with grapefruit.

The herbs dried in this manner seem to keep more of their essential oils and color somewhat better than herbs air dried. The flavor is very fresh and pungent. Another benefit to drying herbs with this method is they stay very clean. And, they dry to a nice, crisp state.

Something that also surprised me is how the presenter dried celery leaves and ground them up and used them in a blend. If you’re not growing the cutting or leaf-type celery herb, this is a great way to get a celery flavor into an herb blend or into soup, salads and salad dressing.

I’m thinking drying some herbs this way and making special blends for gifts would be fun. Especially if you know someone who is trying to wean themselves from a diet high in salt and/or fat, a gift of a savory, tasty herb blend from your own garden may help that person on their way to a healthier diet. When drying herbs, none of the beneficial elements, including taste, are lost because those elements are in the essential oils of the leaf. And, the essential oil is what is preserved through drying. Only the water is taken out.

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QUOTE FOR THE MONTH

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible. -Frank Zappa, composer, musician, film director (1940-1993)

Easy Herb Recipes

Here are some hints to help you incorporate fresh herbs into your cooking

~ Rub chopped, fresh herbs like marjoram or lemon basil into fish before grilling
~ Add a teaspoon of chopped, fresh basil or dill to a cup of mayonnaise for a special spread
~ Sprinkle omelets with fresh minced herbs before folding, or add to scrambled eggs. Try herb and cheese combinations like feta cheese and oregano, or Parmesan and basil.
~ Add a teaspoon or so of chopped mint to a pot of split pea or lentil soup.
~ Rosemary and lemon basil or lemon thyme go great with chicken.
~ Sprinkle chopped, fresh herbs such as Mexican Mint Marigold (Mexican tarragon), parsley or dill on your green salad before tossing

Basic Herb Butter

1/2 pound butter, softened

1 tablespoon fresh chives
1 tablespoon fresh parsley
1 tablespoon other fresh herb
or a combination of 2 or 3 herbs

Chop herbs very fine with scissors or chef’s knife, or in a food processor. Work butter with spoon, rubber spatula or fork until smooth. Stir in finely chopped herbs. Taste, and add more herbs if flavors are not strong enough. Keep in mind, that flavors will develop more fully with several hours of storage. Be sure to remove any large stems. Refrigerate or freeze until ready to use.

Note: herb butters may be melted for use, but take care when heating, especially when broiling, as fresh herbs burn easily.

Experiment with other additions such as:

  • Lemon Juice
  • Dijon Mustard
  • Dry Mustard
  • 1-2 Cloves Crushed Garlic
  • Paprika

 Use your own judgment to determine amounts. Start small, you can always add more.

Taste often.

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Basic Herb Salad Dressing

1/4 c. wine vinegar
1 to 2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon mustard (Dijon-style or prepared)
2 to 3 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs*
1/2 c. good olive oil
1 garlic clove

Blend all ingredients, except the garlic, thoroughly with a whisk or fork. Let the flavors blend at room temperature. Rub the salad bowl with the freshly cut halves of the garlic clove. Add washed and dried assorted crispy greens. Pour the whisked-up dressing over the greens and serve promptly.

*Try equal parts basil, parsley, thyme and oregano
OR equal parts basil, savory, thyme
OR thyme, chives, basil
OR try your own combinations.

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Fresh Tomato and Herb Sauce

For maximum flavor, don’t overcook this sauce, but thoroughly squeeze the seeds and juice out of the tomatoes so it won’t be watery .

3 1/2 pounds Roma tomatoes
1/2 c. good olive oil
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 c. chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
3 tablespoons fresh chopped mint
1/4 c. chopped chives
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c. red wine vinegar

With a paring knife, slice a cross in the skin in the bottom of each tomato. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water for about 1 minute. Drain, then plunge them into a bowl of ice water to loosen the skin; squeeze gently to peel and remove seeds and excess juice. Dice the tomatoes, then puree half of them in a blender or food processor. Heat the oil, diced tomatoes, tomato puree in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the remaining ingredients and cook just until heated through.

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Lemon Balm Quick Bread 

  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 8 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup lemon balm leaves, finely chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  •  1/8 teaspoon salt
  •  1/2 cup milk
  • grated rind of one lemon
  • Grate the lemon peel and remove the juice from the lemon. Reserve the juice for the glaze.

Cream butter, sugar, and finely chopped leaves. Add eggs and beat well to get a smooth consistency. Add remaining ingredients (flour through lemon rind). Pour into one large or four miniature greased loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes if using a large pan or 25-30 minutes if using miniature pans.

Before removing from the pans, use a toothpick to prick holes in the crust.

Pour Lemon Balm Glaze over the top while the loaves are still warm.

Allow to cool completely before removing from the pan. Loaves can be frozen for later use.

LEMON BALM GLAZE

• 1/2 cup sugar

• 2 tablespoons finely chopped lemon balm leaves

• juice from one fresh lemon (about 4 tablespoons)

~~TIP:

To avoid having bits of chopped herbs in the bread, steep the chopped leaves in the liquid for a half an hour or so. If you heat the liquid first, then add the herbs, the flavor develops more fully. This liquid can then be stored in the refrigerator for later use, or used right away in the recipe.

Herbal Vinegar

To make herbal vinegar is very simple. Take a clean jar…..I like to use either a quart or pint canning jar because the mouth is wide enough to easily add the herbs. Fill the jar with the herbs of your choice. For a pint jar, about 2 cups of fresh herbs is enough. For a quart jar, 3 – 4 cups will work.

Then fill the jar with the vinegar of your choice. Wine or champagne vinegar is great, although costly when making a lot of vinegars. Next best is rice vinegar. You can usually find it in large containers (such as 1 gallon) at an Asian grocery. The cost is quite a bit lower than purchasing the vinegar in small quantities. As a last resort, you may use regular white vinegar…….the kind used for canning. It’ll give your vinegar a sharper flavor. But, it’s better than no herbal vinegar at all!!!

Harvest your herbs in the late morning after the early dew has dried, but before the heat of the day really sets in. The volatile oils are at their peak at this time. If you live where it’s dusty and the herbs need to be washed, swish them in a container of water briefly, then let them dry before making the herb vinegar. If it’s practical, wash the plants off the day before you plan to harvest them. Then, you don’t have to wash them the day you are making the vinegar.

Let the infusion steep for about 2 weeks. Then, pour off the vinegar, straining particles out if necessary. Now you can fill decorative bottles or any bottle of your choice with the flavored vinegar, adding a sprig or two of fresh herbs for looks.

Flavored vinegar should be stored in a dark place or at least out of direct sunlight. Experiment with some of the combinations below, or make up your own. Think of flavors that sound like they’d taste good together. Most of all, do it and have fun.

Herbal Vinegar Ideas

Continue reading “Herbal Vinegar”

Easy Pesto

 

  • 2 cups clean basil leaves (you can use all one variety or mixed varieties, according to your taste)
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup nuts. Pinenuts are traditional, but I use pecans because they grow here on our farm.
  • 1/2 cup grated hard cheese such as Parmesan or Romano, or a blend.
  • 5-8 cloves of garlic, according to your taste
  • Approximately 1/2 cup olive or other vegetable oil. This amount can vary depending on how much cheese and nuts you put in.

 

Food Processor:
Add all ingredients and process until you have a smooth, well-mixed pesto. The consistency should be similar to that of mayonnaise.

Blender:
This is a little more work than using a food processor, but makes an equally delicious pesto.
Place about a quarter of the basil leaves in the jar adding 1/2 cup oil, the nuts and cheese. Blend (I use the puree setting or high setting.)
You’ll need a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to push the mixture down onto the blades fairly often. —Don’t do what I did one time…. and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn’t have splinters in the pesto.

In other words…. wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!!!

After you have that first mix pretty well blended and the nuts are well ground, just keep adding the basil leaves about a handful at time until all the leaves are used up. If the mix is too thick, add a little oil to thin it down.
It doesn’t have to be perfectly smooth. In fact, I like the pesto a little coarse so I can see the leaves, but the nuts should be well ground.

To preserve the pesto, I fill ice cube trays with the mixture and freeze it over night. The next day I remove the pesto cubes and store them in a plastic bag or tub in the freezer. One cube is one serving.

Pesto can be made with other leafy green herbs. Parsley mixed with basil is tasty. Cilantro and parsley is very good, too, especially with chicken enchiladas or even Indian food like curry.

Preserving Your Herbs

Herb bundles hanging for drying
Hanging Herbs for Drying

There are several ways to preserve herbs for later use. Drying may seem like the easiest, but it isn’t always the most effective to maintain the fine taste of culinary herbs. Freezing herbs is a most effective, easy, and quick method. 

If you would like to dry your herbs as a quick way to preserve them, you can hang them in an airy place away from direct sunlight. Or lay them out on a screen or even use a cookie cooling rack with a towel over it. The idea is to get airflow around the herbs.

To make sure the herbs are completely dried, crumble them between your fingers. They should be completely dried and crumble easily. Then, store them in an air-tight container away from direct sunlight. If you’re unsure whether or not your herbs are completely dried, just store them in the freezer to alleviate any worry.

How to Freeze Fresh Herbs-  click here for a complete video tutorial.

For either of the following methods, use just the leaves and soft stems, woody stems should be discarded and used elsewhere, in the fireplace, for example, or in tea. 

Probably the best method is to freeze herbs in oil, (although there are numerous opinions on how to freeze fresh herbs). Use about 2 cups chopped herbs, singly or in combinations, to about 1/2 cup of cooking oil. Using either a food processor or blender, gradually add the oil to the chopped herbs. The mixture should be fairly thick. Pack the herbal oil into small glass or plastic containers or ice cube trays and freeze. To use, just scrape or chip the amount needed and add to your favorite recipe. These oils should last up to about 2 years in the freezer.

To freeze herbs in water or stock, chop herbs, either one herb alone or make a combination of your favorites. Fill the sections of an ice cube tray as full as you can. Simply pour hot water or stock over them and freeze. When frozen, remove from the trays and store in plastic bags for later use. Use the “herb cubes” in soups, stews, sauces or anywhere you would use fresh herbs.