Monday, November 26, 2012


"There's rosemary, that's for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember."

           ~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Known for centuries as the “herb of remembrance”, rosemary has played its part in human life all the way from weddings (to encourage couples to remember their vows!) to funerals. 

As Christian legend has it, that the rosemary bush sheltered the Holy Family in their escape to Egypt. In gratitude, Mary laid her cloak on the shrub, turning its white flowers blue. 

Rosemary has been credited with enhancing love, warding off plague and typhoid, and growing only in the gardens of the righteous. Aromatherapists prize its essential oil for its strong, fresh, camphor aroma and its clarifying/invigorating benefits. It blends well with citrus, forest, and Oriental notes, and can be found in rinses for dark hair, room deodorants, household sprays, disinfectants, and soaps. 

Present-day research is looking into rosemary oil as beneficial in fighting Alzheimer’s Disease - “herb of remembrance”, indeed! 

In the kitchen, Rosemary lends a savory, pungent note to many dishes. It goes beautifully with pork, beef, and poultry - sparingly with fish - and pairs well with cheese and fruit, especially citrus. Here are just a few of my favorite rosemary recipes, for the holidays and beyond - enjoy!

Rosemary Roasted Cashews
From Ina Garten
1 1/4 pounds cashews (About 4 cups)
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt
1 tablespoon melted butter

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place cashews on an ungreased baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes until they are warmed through. Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients in a large bowl. Toss the warm nuts with the rosemary mixture until completely coated. Serve warm.

Rosemary Cheese Fingers
From The Complete Book of Herbs, Lesley Bremness  ISBN 0-14-023802-6
2 oz butter                                                     
2 cups rolled oats                                           
1 ½ cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated        
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbl chopped rosemary (fresh or dried)
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 350°.  Melt the butter in a saucepan.  Place remaining ingredients in a bowl and mix in the butter.  Press the mixture into a greased 8” square pan.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  Cut into fingers.

Rosemary Squares
From The Pleasure of Herbs , Phyllis Shaudys ISBN 0-88266-423-9
1 cup flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. dried rosemary (or 1 tsp. fresh)
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2/3 cup chopped pecans
1 cup candied fruit & raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8x8” square pan. Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together; add rosemary and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs vigorously, gradually adding brown sugar. Add vanilla and mix well. Add the flour mixture and mix until moistened, the fold in pecans, candied fruit, and raisins. Pour into pan and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove from pan while still warm; cool and cut into bars. Yield:  30 squares.

Slow-Cooker Rosemary Roast
From Jules

½ cup good steak sauce
1 (4-5 pound) chuck roast
2 Tbl dried minced onion
1 Tbl fresh or 2 tsp dried rosemary
Whole baby carrots
Red potatoes, peeled and cut up

Pour steak sauce into the slow cooker’s crock.  Place meat in the crock, turn to coat both sides with steak sauce, and remove to a plate.  Place vegetables in the bottom of the crock and sprinkle with half of the rosemary.  Next, sprinkle the dried onion and remaining rosemary on each side of the roast and place it on top of the vegetables.  Cover and cook on Low for 10 hours or High for 5 hours  (times may vary, depending on your slow cooker).  If desired, make gravy from the juices.

Variation: Instead of steak sauce and minced onion, use a can of condensed French onion soup. Pour half over the vegetables, season with rosemary, then use the remaining half on each side of the roast and season roast with rosemary as well. Makes a great beef/onion gravy.

Enjoy your Rosemary, and Happy December!   ~ J.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Craft show season!

 We interrupt these recipes for The Season...

Basic booth setup... all in place and ready to go!
The view from where I sit, before the show opens

Just a sample of needle-felted alpaca earrings. More to come!

Monday, October 8, 2012


Scented Pine Cone Mix (recipe follows)
In looking through my files of herbal classes I've taught over the years, I've just noticed a glaring omission - I have never written a handout on making potpourri! How can this be? Potpourri was one of the first things I ever made to sell at craft shows - I still make several types of it regularly. So, why have I never written down  any instructions for it?

Maybe because it's just that easy. With a few basic guidelines, some simple equipment, and your own nose, you can make a blend that looks pretty and smells wonderful.

First of all, a few "fun facts":  The term "Potpourri" refers to a blend of flower petals, bark, spices, and other botanical materials that are intended to gently scent the air. It gets its name from the French words for "rotten pot". This relates to the "wet" type of potpourri, where wilted-but-not-dry flower petals are layered with salt and allowed to ferment. The wet method of making potpourri could possibly date back to ancient Egyptian and Chinese cultures.

The "dry" method of potpourri-making involves using essential oils and dry plant materials. Its history is a bit shorter, since essential oils date back only to the invention of steam distillation (late Middle Ages). This is the method we'll be exploring in today's post, and in the radio show episode that goes along with it: .

(Hey, why have I never thought of posting the corresponding show link IN its blog post? Blonde moment!)

Commercial versions of potpourri tend to use unscented petals, wood shavings, and other materials with a heavy dose of synthetic fragrance oil. This type of potpourri is not usually allowed in my house, since the synthetic oils tend to give me a stuffy nose and a dull headache. We're taking the natural route, here, friends. The scent of natural essential oils may not last as long as the artificial stuff, but it's usually a lot less likely to aggravate the sinuses. To be sure you have the natural ones, look for oils that are labeled "Essential Oil" (rather than "Fragrance Oil"), and that have the words "pure and natural" on the label.

Before you start

This is a reasonably safe craft, but some of the materials should be handled with respect. Essential oils are pretty potent substances, so take care not to get them on your skin and do not take them internally. Keep essential oils out of the reach of children - some can be poisonous. Research and know what you're using. The same holds for dried materials. If you're drying your own flower petals or collecting materials from the outdoors, be sure you know what you're using.

When mixing potpourri, it's a good idea to wear a dust mask. Pollen, dust, powdered spices and fixatives... you may want to keep your lungs clear of all those, right?

And that brings us to Equipment. You will need non-reactive bowls/spoons/measuring cups that you can dedicate to craft and never use for food again. By "non-reactive", I mean stainless steel, glass, or ceramic. These substances will not react with or be changed by the essential oils. I've found some great, inexpensive stainless steel bowls at Big Lots and similar places. The Goodwill or other thrift shop is worth a try, too.

Suggested Equipment:
Dust mask
Large bowl
Mixing spoon
Eyedroppers or pipettes (available at health food stores, or the Atlantic Spice Company - see my links, to the right on this blog)
Smaller bowls in various sizes - not strictly necessary, but can be handy
Canning funnel for pouring potpourri into a jar or bags
Gallon-sized glass jars

Making Potpourri
Many of the basic parts of a Potpourri can be found at a good herb/health food store, or online:

Essential oil: The real scent of your mix. 
Fixative: Material that absorbs the essential oil and releases it. slowly. Fixatives act as a sort of preservative for the scent, and help it last longer. Some examples are orris root, calamus root, cinnamon sticks, oakmoss, frankincense tears, myrrh gum, benzoin gum, vanilla bean, rose hips, and cellulose fiber (ground corn cobs). Citrus peels, bay leaves, dried hibiscus flowers are a few milder fixatives. There are plenty more in each category - these are just some of the ones I've used most often.
Filler (both scented and unscented): The pretty and fluffy/bulky part of the mix. Fillers help create air pockets in the potpourri, and give it color and texture while holding the scent. Flower petals, leaves, spices, seed pods, small pine cones, wood shavings (especially cedar and sandalwood), dried berries, citrus peel, dried fruit slices - almost any botanical material can serve as a filler as long as you like the look. 

From left to right: Cinnamon sticks, dried hibiscus (top center), whole rose hips (in measuring cup), and a package of cinnamon-spice simmering potpourri
Basic instructions for dry potpourri:
Measure out fixative into a non-reactive bowl. With a pipette or eyedropper (or the dropper cap that comes on some essential oil bottles), measure out and gradually drip essential oils onto the fixative material(s). Place in a glass jar and shake well to blend the oil and the fixative.

Once the oil is absorbed, mix the scented fixative with the filler materials. Pour the mixed potpourri into a large glass jar (1 gallon or larger), shake well, and store in a cool dark place. Shake the mixture every day - you want every piece of your potpourri to meet up with a piece of the fixative. 

After several days, open the jar and sniff the mixture to see if you'd like to add more oil. If you do, try to drip it on the pieces of fixative and any darker-colored, woodier parts of the mix that the oil won't stain. Replace the jar lid, shake well, and store in a cool dark place for two to six weeks to cure and mellow. Be sure to shake the mixture every day or so. After the mix finishes aging, place in decorative containers with lids, or package up to give as gifts.

Adapted from Herbal Treasures by Phyllis Shaudys
Atlantic Spice/San Francisco Herb Co. sells a small, dark brown birch cone that is gorgeous in this mix!

Scented Pine-Cone mix in a candle vase
(vase purchased at a Yankee Candle store)
6 oz. assorted cones (red pine, spruce, hemlock, tamarack, or other medium- to small-sized cones)
2 oz. orange peel, dried (large-cut or cut in long strips)
1 ½ oz. orrisroot, in as large chunks as possible
1 oz. cinnamon pieces, 1- to 3-inch
1 oz. whole hibiscus flowers (for color, texture, and a weak fixative)
½ ounce bay leaves, torn up if very big (or lemon eucalyptus)
90 drops essential oil*

     Blend oils together and drip onto orrisroot. Mix with all the other ingredients and let set, covered, for 3 weeks. Shake often.
     A bag of scented cones, decorated with a Christmas-plaid ribbon, makes a thoughtful gift or an attractive bazaar or craft show item! 

* I like to use a mix of cinnamon and sweet orange oils, for a sweeter scent. If you like a less-sweet, more spicy scent, the original recipe calls for:
21 drops cinnamon oil
21 drops allspice oil
21 drops sweet orange or bergamot oil
15 drops clove oil
12 drops nutmeg oil

For a simmering potpourri, "pretty" isn't the main thing. The ingredients tend to work a little harder, with a little less "fluff" allowed! All the dry ingredients in this mix are scented, and the scent comes out beautifully in simmering water.
The essential oil isn't absolutely necessary in this mix, either, and can be omitted entirely. If you'd rather replace the allspice oil with cinnamon, orange, or lemon for a sweeter scent- have at it!

From The Pleasure of Herbs, also by Phyllis Shaudys, contributed by Dody Lyness
1 cup whole allspice
1 cup star anise
1 cup ginger root, c/s
* 1 cup sassafras bark c/s
2 cups orange peel
2 cups lemon verbena leaves
2 cups rosebuds & petals
30 drops allspice essential oil
3” cinnamon sticks

     Mix all dry ingredients (except cinnamon sticks) in a large stainless steel, glass, or ceramic bowl. Add 5 drops of allspice oil at a time, stirring well each time. Use cinnamon sticks as decoration when packaging.
     To simmer, use about 1/3 cup of mixture per cup of water. Do not leave unattended.
     * Sassafras bark can be extremely expensive, and may be omitted if desired. If harvesting your own, use the dried bark from the roots of young sassafras trees.

Pomanders are not exactly a potpourri, but have been used since medieval times. They are decorative and useful for covering up odors. The type shown here dates more from Colonial and Victorian days,  although the Colonials frequently used less-expensive apples as their base fruit. In our homes today, we can keep a closet or little-used room fragrant with the spices and citrus of a pomander.  Oranges are used most frequently, but you might also try apples, lemons, limes, crab apples or kumquats.  The smaller pomanders can be hung on the Christmas tree or tied onto packages

1 small Orange - thin-skinned variety. (doesn’t have to be pretty!)
¾ cup Cloves, whole (approx. 2.5 oz)           
½ cup Orris root powder (~ 2 oz.)                 
¼ cup ground Cinnamon (~ 1 oz.)                 
¼ cup ground Allspice (~ 1 oz.)                    
1/8 cup ground Nutmeg (~ .5 oz.)                 
Dust Mask (very important!)
Bamboo Skewer
Ribbon for hanging

The orange should be near room temperature, so it’s easier to handle.   
1.     Mix spices and orris root together. 
2.     Poke bamboo skewer through the fruit, from stem end to blossom end.  Snap it off about 1” from end of fruit, if you’d like. 
3.     Use an awl, crewel needle, or other sharp object to punch holes in the fruit, a small section at a time.  Insert stem ends of whole cloves into the holes. Cloves should be roughly ¼” apart.  The fruit skin will shrink as it dries, pulling the cloves more tightly together.    Traditional pomanders are simply covered with cloves, but you can create patterns if you’d like.
4.     Optional:  When orange is completely covered with cloves, you may brush it with an essential or fragrance oil (Orange, orange & clove, cinnamon, etc.).
5.     Roll the “cloven fruit” in the orris & spice mixture.   Place fruit and spices in a cardboard shoebox, if desired.
6.     Leave the fruit in the spices in a warm, dark place for 4-6 weeks, rolling the fruit in the spices every day that you think about it.  I put mine on top of the fridge.  The spices will help dry and preserve the fruit.
7.     When fruit is completely dry, remove the bamboo skewer and brush loose spices off the pomander.  Using a long needle, thread a ribbon through the hole.  Make a loop in the top for hanging, and tie the bottom in a bow.  (if necessary, you might first tie the bottom around a 1” piece of skewer to keep the ribbon from pulling back up through the fruit.)
If kept in a closed place, your pomander should last for years.  The spice mixture can be re-used for additional pomanders.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Resting on your (Bay) Laurels...

A couple of recipes for using bay leaves - Enjoy!

Traditional recipe, from
1 Tbl. salt
1 Tbl. ground bay leaf
2 Tbl. white pepper
2 Tbl. black pepper
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp.cinnamon
1 Tbl. allspice
1 Tbl. mace
1 tsp.celery seed
1 Tbl. cloves

Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Place in an airtight container and store in a cool, dark place up to 4 months. Use to season poultry, fish, beef, vegetables, and sauces. Yield: about 1/2 cup

1 ½ cups sour cream
1 ½ cups mayonnaise
6 ounces chopped corned beef
2 Tbl. minced onion
2 Tbl. minced fresh parsley
2 tsp. dill seed
1 to 2 tsp. Beau Monde seasoning
1 small rye bread loaf, hollowed out
Party rye slices

Combine first seven ingredients in large bowl; mix thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Spoon dip into hollowed loaf and serve with party rye slices.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Fall is in the air!

This morning, I woke to cloudy skies and a little chill in the air. And did I actually see a hint of orange on the topmost leaves of the maple tree, out back? Yahoo! The Autumnal Equinox comes this week, a cold front is on the way - time to get the hoodies out of storage and make way for Fall!

My own recipe - perfect for a Sunday afternoon open-house in the Fall, or post-sledding party in wintertime.

1 gallon brown apple cider - clear cider will do, in a pinch
3-4 cinnamon sticks (about 3” in length)
1 Tbl. whole allspice
2 tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. star anise, optional
1 Tbl. dried orange peel ( ¼” cut)  OR
1 whole orange lightly studded with cloves*
½ cup brown, white, or Demerara sugar, to taste.
(Cider can vary in sweetness - test it out!)

Mix all ingredients in a large pot or crockery cooker. Heat almost to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for 30 to 45 minutes.  Test-taste along the way, to make sure the spice proportions suit you. Strain and serve in mugs with a cinnamon stick.  Adding rum is very optional!
* If using a fresh orange, omit dried orange peel and 1 tsp of the cloves.  Float the orange in the cider while simmering, 
Also, if you will be holding the cider at a simmer for a long time - as in a crock pot, for a party - the spices will get stronger and stronger. Either strain them out after 45 minutes or be prepared to add a little hot, unspiced cider, periodically. 


This is an absolutely gorgeous cheese ball. The pomegranate seeds look like rubies against the green of the chopped cilantro, and the inside is a deep Fall gold. It's also delicious - a little bit sweet, a little dash of curry, a hint of heat. 

From The Herb Companion magazine, Oct./Nov. 1998 issue
16 oz. extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 Tbl butter
4 Tbl chopped crystallized ginger
1 bunch (4 to 8) green onions with some green tops, chopped
1 Tbl hot curry powder
¼ tsp crushed red pepper (or more, to taste)
2 tsp paprika
3 Tbl medium-dry sherry or white wine vinegar
1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped (substitute Italian parsley if you don't care for cilantro)
Seeds of 1 pomegranate (optional)

Process all ingredients except cilantro & pomegranate seeds in a food processor until blended.  Turn out onto plastic wrap, cover, and refrigerate overnight. (Can be formed into balls, wrapped in plastic wrap, and frozen for later, at this point.)
When firm, form into a ball and roll in the chopped cilantro.  Stud generously with pomegranate seeds if desired.  Serve immediately, or rewrap with plastic wrap and keep in the refrigerator until about 20 minutes before serving.  Serves 12 as an appetizer.

Coming on next week's radio show... Herbal Comfort Food!

Enjoy, and stay Snug. ;)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Scented Holiday Gifts!

I've been playing with herbs for most of my adult life, and taught my first herb class in my living room, on October 16th, 1997. A group of my friends attended, paying 5 bucks each to listen to me talk. Oh, and there was food. (Did you doubt if for a second?)

From there, I branched out into classes at local churches. I started working for a local garden center in 1998, and taught more classes there. And for local gardening groups. And at a cooking shop. That was the height of "cool", complete with fully-equipped kitchen classrooms and cameras on my hands. FUN!

One of the most popular series of classes I've ever presented was titled "Scented Holiday Gifts". It was geared toward small things (think teacher/neighbor gifts and party food), and usually involved three sections: Gifts for the Home, Gifts for Bath and Body, and Gifts for the Taste Buds. Every year between 2002 and 2009, I'd come up with a new slate of recipes/ideas for the year - usually 20 or so different things per class. I'd make up samples of most of the food, some of the non-food, and we would make-and-take the remaining six or eight recipes during class. 

It was a madhouse. It was a blast. I'll have to do it again for real, some year.

In the meantime, here's this little forum for posting recipes and tips! I'd like to break it into several posts, re-sharing some of the things that seemed to be the most popular. And maybe adding a thing or two that I've found along the way. ;)

Ready? Set... GO!

Cinnamon Ornaments

"Cinnornaments" are one of my most popular craft-show items, and a great craft to do with kids. 
Most-asked question: 
"Can you eat these"?
Most-given answer: 
"You could, but the jingle bells might not go down so well." ;-)

1 pound cinnamon (about 4 ½ cups)
One 25-ounce jar applesauce (a little less than 3 cups)
Extra cinnamon for sprinkling on countertop

Reserve about ½ cup of the cinnamon and about one tablespoon of applesauce.  Mix the rest together, forming a loose ball.  Dough should not be sticky or wet (add more cinnamon if necessary).   Let dough rest for 15 to 30 minutes.

Now, work the dough!  Knead it, pound it, smack it, poke it with your fingers, until you have a nice smooth ball without any cracks.  Sprinkle a countertop with cinnamon, and start forming the dough into a smooth, flattened circle or oval.  Again, work out any cracks or rough spots that form. (If dough seems dry, work in small amounts of reserved applesauce.) Roll out with a rolling pin until it’s a little less than ½ inch thick.  Thick is best! Cut with cookie cutters, and dip the backsides lightly in cinnamon.  Next (here's an Important Thing), use a thin soda straw to poke holes for a ribbon.

Mini-cookie cutters make great pins! Just glue a 1" pin back on, after baking.
Transfer ornaments to an ungreased cookie sheet, and bake at 150 degrees F for 45 minutes.  Turn everybody over, then bake for another 45.  Turn ornaments over again, put them back in the oven, and turn it off.  Leave them in for 2 to 3 more hours.  Makes 30 to 50 ornaments, depending on thickness and size of cookie cutters used. When ornaments are completely dry, decorate as desired with craft paint, glitter, jingle bells, sequins - anything you want! 

Hints, tips and FAQ’s:
v All measurements are estimates!  Weather conditions, brand of applesauce, type of cinnamon, and the phase of the moon (just kidding) can affect how much of what you use.
v Cheap applesauce is just fine.  Ditto cheap cinnamon, if you can find it. (Sam's Club)
v If you only want to make a few ornaments, just use 4 ½ parts cinnamon to 3 parts applesauce.
v You might want to wear a dust mask while in the first stages of mixing.
v Have applesauce at room temperature.
v If you forget to make the holes for the ribbon, never fear!  Just go to your local craft store and pick up some sticky-backed magnetic tape.  Voila!  Refrigerator magnets!
v This ain’t cooky dough.  It doesn’t need to rise, so you don’t have to treat it gently.  Pound it till it behaves!
v Rinse & dry hands frequently while you’re working the dough.  Makes it easier, and keeps those little dried bits from mixing in with the “good” dough and causing speckles.
v Have fun!  That’s the whole point of doing this to begin with, right?

So, here you have just a taste of Scented Holiday Gifts. More to come, in the weeks ahead!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Preserving your harvest, Part 2: Oils, Vinegars, Butters, and Pastes

Homemade butter, ready to add a few herbs!

Save that flavor! There are more ways to preserve herbs for the winter than just drying or freezing - making herbal oils, vinegars, butter, and pastes (pesto).

  • Herbal Oils: Not to be confused with “essential” oils. These are actually herb infused oils, used mainly for cooking. Gently heat olive oil, peanut oil, or other vegetable oil until it’s warm and fragrant. This will take three to five minutes, depending on how much oil you’re heating. Then pour the oil into a glass jar to which you have added fresh herb sprigs, herb leaves, garlic, or chilies. Use about three 2-inch sprigs, one clove of garlic, or one chili for each cup of oil. Let oil cool, cover, and store in the refrigerator for a week to let flavors develop. Use the oil to sauté and in marinades and salad dressings. Store oil in refrigerator and use within one more week.

  • Herbal Vinegar: Choose white vinegar, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar, or rice vinegar, depending on the herbs you’re adding. Be sure to choose a vinegar that will not overpower the flavor of the herb you’re adding. Heat the vinegar but don’t boil it; then pour it into a glass jar to which you have added fresh herb sprigs or leaves. Use about three 2-inch sprigs for each cup of vinegar. Garlic, shallots, or chilies can be used, too, by adding one for each cup of vinegar. Let the vinegar cool, then cover it with a plastic jar lid, since metal will react with the vinegar fumes and corrode. If all you have is a metal lid, place clear plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar before screwing on the lid. Store in a cool, dark place for up to a year. Use the vinegar in salad dressings and marinades and to deglaze pans.

  • Herb Butter: Combine about 1 tablespoon of minced fresh herbs with ½ cup softened sweet butter. Wrap the mixture in plastic and store it in the refrigerator for up to a month or in the freezer for about three months. Use the butter on warm biscuits or toast, steamed vegetables, poached chicken, or fish. Or use it to sauté .

  • Herb Paste, or Pesto: Check out my Basil post for a good, basic pesto recipe. And then… broaden your scope with it by using other herbs, different nuts, omitting the cheese and or garlic, using different hard cheese, etc! Pesto keeps very well in the freezer.
You can also omit the nuts, cheese, and garlic entirely to make an herb/oil concentrate: Use 2 hard-packed cups of herb leaves to ½ cup good-quality canola or safflower oil. Blend in a food processor until you have a coarse paste. Will keep 1 to 2 weeks in the refrigerator or 1 to 2 years in the freezer. You can use the icecube-tray trick to freeze herb pastes: Simply fill a tray with the paste, freeze it, then pop the cubes out into a freezer bag for storage. (I'd suggest double-bagging or placing the bag in a sealed container for longest-lasting flavor.)

However you decide to preserve your herbs, be sure you give yourself a healthy pat on the back come January. You’ll be enjoying the fruits of your garden and the work of your own hands, adding in a small (but very tasteful!) way to the quality of your life. So, save that flavor and enjoy your herbs!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Preserving your harvest: Drying and freezing

Picture this: In the depths of January, you’re making a big pot of vegetable soup. You go to the cabinet, take down several neatly labeled jars, and shake out some dried leaves. Crushing them between your hands, you release all the scents of summer – basil, oregano, thyme. You let the fragrant pieces fall into your steaming soup, bringing your garden into your home in the middle of winter…

Ahhhh, Herbal Drama! But by preserving your own herbs, you really can add flavor and new interest to your meals throughout the year. You can also save some serious money – just take a look at how much grocery-store seasonings cost. Your own, home-preserved herbs will also be fresher, healthier, and taste so much better.

Harvesting your herbs
If you’re planning on preserving your herbs, it’s best to harvest them when their flavor is at its peak.
  • Harvest just before the plant begins to flower. (For better yields all summer from herbs like basil and oregano, remove the flower stalks as they form.)
  • Pick your herbs in the morning on a dry day, after the dew has dried but before the sun is fully on them.
  • For most leafy herbs, clip stems rather than individual leaves, taking no more than 1/3 of the length of any stem.
  • For parsley, clip the entire stem down to the base of the plant.
  • Washing herbs is usually not recommended, since it actually washes away some of the essential oils that give them their flavor. If you feel you must, you can give them a quick rinse, then gently blot dry or run through a salad spinner.
  • After washing, be sure they’re as dry as possible.

The main goal of drying is to remove moisture while losing as little flavor as possible. How best to do this depends on the plant itself. If using the microwave or the oven, remember: Heat evaporates essential oils, and essential oils are what give herbs their flavor. So, use as little heat as you possibly can.
  • Keep only the most perfect leaves for drying. Discard any with yellowing, spots, holes, etc.
  • For most plants, leave the leaves on the stems. Gather the stems into bunches and band the ends together with a rubber band. Hang bunches in a warm, dark place with good air circulation.
  • If dust is a concern, you can punch holes (lots of holes) in brown paper sacks and place them over the bunches before you hang them.
  • When the leaves are very crispy, strip them from the stems, leaving them as whole as possible.
  • If you’d like, you can save the dried stems and throw them in the fireplace for a fragrant winter fire…or use on the grill for extra flavor.
  • If leaves are too fleshy to dry in bunches, you can pick them from the stems and lay them flat in a single layer on a screen or paper towels. Check often and gently stir them around. This also works well for flower petals, chamomile flower heads, and anything else without a stem.
  • Careful microwave drying can work for some herbs, especially basil. Place a single layer of leaves on a paper towel and cook on full power for short bursts of 30 to 60 seconds. Watch very carefully so that they don’t scorch. Cook until leaves are mostly dry, then let them air dry for a few days until crispy.
  • Oven drying can work, too. Set oven at its lowest setting, and leave the door open for air circulation.
  • Food dehydrators can be great for herbs. Follow manufacturer’s directions.
  • BE SURE TO LABEL HERBS WHILE DRYING! Dead leaves all look a whole lot alike!

Store dried herbs in clean glass jars, away from light and heat. They should last for a year or more, and the taste will be far superior to store-bought seasonings.

Many herbs freeze very well, giving you summer-fresh flavor in a convenient little package. Try freezing dill, fennel, parsley, chives, or basil (which should be blanched, or will turn black).
  • Seal small quantities, about 2 to 3 tablespoons, in freezer bags.
  • Freeze herbs alone or in your favorite combinations – soup herbs, for example, or blends for poultry, fish, or salad dressing.
  • Label bags clearly, and group them all together in a large freezer container. This keeps them from getting lost or damaged.
  • You can also freeze herbs in water: Finely chop the herbs, fill ice-cube trays half full with them, then top off with water. When frozen, pop them into freezer bags and label. (Chopped, frozen leaves all really look alike!)
So... this is how you can get started with "putting up" your herbs for the winter. Next week, we'll be talking about more methods - Herbal oils, vinegars, butters, and pesto. Hope you'll check back - until then, enjoy!

- Jules

Beautiful Basil

There’s not much better than fresh basil, any time! It's summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and basil will be reaching its peak flavor. 

Try basil in your cottage cheese, with pasta, with anything tomato, or in these recipes:

Very Basic Tomato Salad.  Fresh tomatoes!  Slice up the reddest, ripest tomato you can find.  Chop a few fresh basil leaves and sprinkle over the top.  Cover with plastic wrap, let sit a bit at room temperature, then serve.   Salt is very optional. Slices of fresh mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil makes it Caprese Salad - paradise!

Genovese Pesto Sauce
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
¼ cup pine nuts, walnuts, or pecans
Pinch of salt, or to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Combine garlic, basil, nuts and salt in food processor.  Process until chopped fine and formed into a paste.  Gradually blend in olive oil alternately with the cheese, processing until well mixed.  To store, place in covered containers in small quantities, cover with more olive oil, seal and refrigerate.  To avoid spoilage or “off” flavors, you must freeze pesto if it will not be used within two days.   A handy way to freeze for future use:  Spoon sauce into plastic ice cube trays and freeze.  (You probably will want to dedicate the ice cube trays just for pesto, since they’ll reek of garlic forever!)  Pop pesto cubes out, and place into a freezer bag.    (Double-bag for long storage.)   Use a thawed cube or two over buttered pasta or noodles, drop a couple in a kettle of veggie soup, or perk up ready-made spaghetti sauce. 

Basil Vinegar
From Herbs: Cultivating & Cuisine by Carol Asher
1 quart jar, wide-mouthed
Basil, bruised
Wine vinegar

Fill jar with bruised basil to about ¾ full. Add vinegar to cover. Cover jar tightly (do not use a metal lid). Place in a warm, dark place for 2-4 weeks, shaking periodically. After vinegar has reached the desired flavor, strain into a decorative bottle, adding fresh basil to denote the flavor.

From Herbs – Cultivating & Cuisine
3 Tbl. butter or margarine, melted
Four 6-oz. flounder fillets
1 Tbl. lemon juice
1 Tbl. lemon thyme, minced
¼ cup fresh pesto 

Line a shallow baking pan with aluminum foil and lightly brush foil with half the butter. Arrange fillets in the pan and brush fish with remaining butter. Sprinkle fish with lemon juice and spread with pesto. Broil 5 inches from heat for 10 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Serves 4.

Enjoy - and stay cool this summer!   - J.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Lavender Recipes!

As promised, here are a few little ways to bring more lavender into your life.

This is great drizzled over toast, English muffins, granola, or stirred into a cup of tea!
1/4 cup English lavender buds
1 cup honey (not the creamed kind)

Place lavender and honey in the top part of a double boiler and simmer for about an hour, checking water to make sure it doesn't boil away. Remove from heat and strain out the lavender while the honey is still warm and thin. Pour honey into a clean jar with a lid, and store at room temperature.
Note: You do not ever want to let honey reach its boiling point. It will bubble up in a flash, leaving a sticky mess all over everywhere. Ask me how I know. ;-)


Adapted from the Atlantic Spice Company's recipe
The original recipe called for "Tilia Flowers", which Atlantic Spice no longer carries. They do carry the cellulose fiber fixative, which is basically ground-up corn cobs. Their link is listed to the right, and the San Francisco Herb Company is their sister company for all our western U.S.A friends.
You can omit the cellulose fiber if you'd like - just increase the amount of cedar chips by one cup, and drip the oil onto them instead.

Caution: Essential oils are potent and should be handled with care. Be careful not to get the oils directly on your skin or in your eyes! When mixing, use only non-reactive bowls, spoons, etc. (glass, ceramic, or stainless steel - no aluminum, plastic, etc.), and dedicate them to craft use from that point forward. (I like to get bowls & such at Goodwill for craft purposes!)

6 cups cedarwood chips*
4 cups lavender
1 cup cellulose fiber fixative
1 cup cinnamon sticks (1-inch)
1 cup cloves, whole
¼ to ½ ounce cinnamon or lavender essential oil

Drip essential oil onto the cellulose fiber nuggets, blending well. Mix with all other ingredients. Fill wide-mouth jars about ¾ full, cover tightly and store in a cool, dark place. Check fragrance after several days and add more cinnamon oil if desired. Cure for 2 to 6 weeks, shaking occasionally.

*Note: Cedar chips sold as bedding for small animals will work just fine, and are usually a lot less expensive than herb-store cedar!



Dried lavender buds
Sheer wire-edged ribbon
Buttons or beads

Cut a 13” length of sheer wired ribbon.  Turn ends under about 1/4" and stitch.  Fold 5 ½ inches of the ribbon over on itself and stitch the sides together.  Put the lavender mixture into the pocket.  Fold over the remaining 2 inches to make the pocket flap.  Sew a button or beads to the pocket to secure the flap. 


Have fun with your lavender!  - J.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Loving Lavender!


I love Lavender! It's been a favorite for centuries, and with good reason:

It's beautiful in the garden - no self-respecting cottage or herb garden would be without it.
It attracts bees and butterflies! (Ever tried lavender honey? Yessum!)
It smells heavenly - all clean and crisp and sweet and sunshine.
It keeps that scent when it's dried. For years.
Because of that scent, it keeps moths out of the closets.
Its oil soothes sunburn, burns, and scratches. And headaches.
It makes a fabulous syrup for making lemonade. Or iced tea.
It makes a load of laundry smell like sunshine.
It makes a soothing and refreshing bath.
It is a "balancer" in aromatherapy terms: if you're dragging, it's thought to pick you up. And if you're tense,  
          it's thought to calm you back down. Balance. :)
It's delicious in tea, in Herbes de Provence, in a cake with blueberries... let me count the ways...

In other words, I could go on and on and on.

Lavender's botanical name is "Lavandula", which comes from the Latin lavare, "to wash". I've always thought of it as an English plant, but it actually originated in the Mediterranean region. (Many thanks to Roman soldiers for spreading it and other herbs around!Ancient Greeks and Romans added it to bath water, medieval folk carried it to ward off the plague, and it was historically recommended to treat “A light migram or a swimming ov the braine”.
 Yup, I'd rather not have my braine swimming, either! *innnnhale*

In the garden, lavender loves sunlight, warmth, and a well-drained soil that's on the "sweet" (alkaline) side. Here in my part of Kentucky, our soil has more than its fair share of clay - so the "well-drained" part is difficult at best to achieve. Our air is also extremely humid in the summers, which can be a little bit of a problem for some lavenders. 'Grosso' (pictured below) is an exception to this, and can grow to over four feet in diameter around here! I planted my lavender next to our concrete driveway - lime from the concrete tends to leach into the soil, making it a little more alkaline. Happy Lavender Campers.

Left: Lavandula angustifolia 'Hidcote'. Right Lavandula x 'Grosso' .
So, as I write this, it's June - full-on Springtime in the lovely state of Kentucky. The lavender has been blooming for several weeks now, keeping the bees happy. I cut quite a bit of lavender every year, both for my own use and to sell in little bunches at craft shows. The bees and I have an Understanding... when I'm harvesting bunches of stems, I move slowly and talk softly to them. I reassure them that I'm only taking some of it, and leaving plenty for them to enjoy. So, we work quietly and happily alongside each other. At this point in the season, whatever is left is all theirs - since I'm harvesting it mainly for ornamental use, I prefer to take stems that haven't bloomed-out yet. But I still go talk to them, of an early morning. :)
Bumblebee this morning, busy  in the 'Hidcote'

Freshly cut stems of  'Hidcote', which has the darkest-purple buds and blooms of any Lavender I know.



In my own home, I love to dry it and put it in a certain little vase.  My Mom had the vase from my Granma (my Dad's mom), and passed it on to me long ago. It usually lives on the bathroom window sill, but sometimes I like to change it up a bit. :)



Whoops - it's time to go set up for the radio show! I'll be back with another post, with some recipes. 
Promise. :)

Monday, May 7, 2012

Talkin' Derby!

The first Saturday in May in the beautiful state of Kentucky - that's Kentucky Derby time! This year, my husband and I didn't host our usual family party. It felt strange. A little sad on one hand, because we love entertaining, but there was a little bit of relief mixed in there, too. Nice to take a break, enjoy the lovely May weather, mix a leisurely Mint Julep or two, and just watch a big horse race together! 

Earlier that the morning, we walked up to our neighborhood farmer's market and got some lovely, fresh, local food for supper - beef bratwurst for the grill, asparagus and strawberries and lovely first-of-the-season heirloom tomatoes. DearHubby gave me the green light to go on and make my Mom's version of  "Derby Pie" for dessert. So, a great Derby Day! Quiet, but great - one of the horses DH drew for me from the Derby pool at work WON, even! Twenty bucks for me - or maybe 10 for me and 10 for him, for being such a sweetheart. :)

So! On last Monday's radio show, I talked about my "dream Derby menu". In other words, if I had unlimited time, unlimited budget, unlimited help (and unlimited calories!), what would I serve for a Derby party? I also made it a requirement to only use recipes I already have on hand - no googling!

And here's what we'll do... in the interest of time and space, I picked the three "Really Derby" recipes from the bunch to post here - if you'd like any others, please feel free to send me an email at . I'll be more than happy to share!

And here's what I ended up with:

*Mint Juleps*
Minted Homemade Lemonade
Iced Tea

Kentucky Bourbon Spread
Derby Cheese Torte
Peppered Shrimp Cheesecake Spread 
Baked Brie with Apricot Preserves
Crackers and fresh fruit, especially strawberries
Fresh veggie tray with Ranch dip

Mom's Strawberry-Feta Cheese Salad

Main Course:
Roasted beef tenderloin on butter buns 
*Henry Bain Sauce*
Country ham sandwiches on Orange Marmalade Biscuits

Side Dishes:
Asparagus with Mimosa Topping (from USA Today)
Mom's Cheese Grits Casserole

Derby Pie ( ), OR
*my Mom's recipe for A Pecan Pie with Chocolate and Bourbon, Named for A Famous Horse Race*
Pet's Bourbon Balls
Lemon Charlotte Russe with fresh raspberries

And... The Recipes:

Mint Juleps
 (Recipe from The Courier-Journal newspaper, with my comments added.)
Crushed Ice
2 Jiggers Bourbon
1 Jigger Minted Simple Syrup (Recipe Follows)
Fresh Mint Sprig

Fill a julep cup or glass full of crushed ice.  Pour bourbon and syrup over the ice. Stir. Stick a fresh sprig of mint in the top of the cup and serve. 
Makes one very potent serving.
(The tradition is to serve with a straw, cutting the straw short so that the drinker’s nose is close to the mint sprig – adds to the Total Experience!)

To make more juleps: Combine 1 pint bourbon and ½ pint minted simple. Chill in the refrigerator overnight or until needed. Fill the julep cups with crushed ice. Pour in the bourbon-mint mixture, add mint and straw. Serve immediately. Makes about 5 juleps.

Simple Syrup
1 cup cold water
2 cups sugar
6 mint sprigs (Or much more, to taste – I loosely pack as much as I can into the pan.)

Boil the sugar and water for 5 minutes. (* Start the timer when you turn on the heat.  Around 5 minutes, test with a candy thermometer – at 210 degrees, it should be perfect!)  Cool . Add the mint leaves. Let syrup “brew” overnight or for 12 hours. Stir the syrup a couple of times and strain through a fine sieve or cheesecloth to remove mint.
Makes ½ pint.
Recipe can be doubled.

If using your own mint, pick it on a dry morning , after the dew has dried but before the sun is full on it.  Rinse lightly and pat dry.  To store unused fresh mint, place stems in a jar of water (like a flower bouquet) and cover the tops with a perforated plastic “veggie” bag.  Place in refrigerator.  If keeping for a long time, remove the lower leaves before placing stems in water.

Mint Syrup is also great in iced tea, or for making lemonade!

Henry Bain Sauce
Developed by Henry Bain, a waiter at Louisville's Pendennis Club, this sauce is Absolutely Necessary when serving sliced beef tenderloin on Camelot buns (or other little buttery buns).  It’s also great on hamburgers, chicken, or anywhere else you’d use steak sauce. 
Note: The Pickled Walnuts are optional and very expensive, but can usually be found at Burger’s market on Grinstead Drive in Louisville, Kentucky. Nice folks there, too.  ;)

½ bottle Tabasco sauce (that's the small bottle - use the whole thing if you like it hot)
1 bottle Major Gray’s Chutney (17 oz)
1 bottle pickled walnuts, drained
1 bottle Lea & Perrin’s Worcestershire (10 oz)
2 bottles chili sauce (12 oz each)
2 bottles ketchup (14 oz each; 2 ½ cups total)
2 bottles A-1 Steak Sauce (10 oz each)

Combine Tabasco, chutney, and whole walnuts in a blender, until smooth.  Wash bottles, and use to re-bottle the sauce if desired.  Makes enough to last the average family for about a decade.  (It keeps very well in the refrigerator, but the idea is to give lots away!)  

A Pecan Pie with Chocolate and Bourbon, Named for A Famous Horse Race.

From Mother
There is a pie called "Derby Pie", that is made by one specific business with one specific recipe... and the name is copyrighted to the hilt. So, I'd either purchase their pie - which is excellent - or I'd make my Mom's version, which is a little different. ;)
¼ cup butter
1 cup sugar
3 beaten eggs
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. vanilla
¾ cup light corn syrup
2 Tbl. bourbon
½ cup chocolate chips
½ cup chopped pecans
Unbaked pie shell

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cream butter, gradually adding sugar.  Stir in remaining ingredients. Turn into pie shell; cover edges of crust with strips of foil. Bake for 40-50 minutes; reheat to serve. 
Pie can stay out of the fridge, well-covered, for a day or two, but I like to refrigerate it once it's been cut. It's great warmed up in the microwave with a scoop of vanilla ice cream or some real whipped cream.

So, here you have the start of a real Kentucky Derby "Do"! And please do feel free to e-mail me for other recipes. I love sharing!

Next up... Roses! And a non-food recipe or two, to pamper the outside of yourself. 

:D - J.