herbal fare

Cool as a cucumber salsa

Many years ago, Lucinda Hutson’s Cool Cucumber and Dilled Artichoke salsa was my first introduction to “salsa that isn’t your typical salsa.” It remains one of my favorite recipes both for its unique combination of flavors and for its cool and refreshing taste. I also find it highly adaptable. If I am leaning more toward Mediterranean, I will pretty much make the recipe as intended. If I am leaning more toward Tex-Mex, I will often omit the dill and artichoke and go heavier on the hot pepper. I always use salad burnet, as I find it pairs beautifully with the other flavors. Lucinda’s beautiful cookbook was one of the first herb gardening / cookbooks I bought 20+ years ago and one that I still pull out and reference often. The photographs of her garden are so inspirational and her plant knowledge is excellent. The recipes? Always amazing! And always filled with wonderful herb combinations!

Cool Cucumber and Dilled Artichoke Salsa

2 medium cucumbers

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 shallot, minced

2-3 serrano peppers, chopped

1/2 cup red onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons whole mustard seeds

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sugar

12-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1 tablespoon fresh mint or salad burnet

2 teaspoons olive oil

Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Chop cucumber halves and sprinkle with salt. Place chopped cucumber in a colander and allow to drain for 10 minutes to remove any bitterness and excess moisture. Mix cucumbers with the remaining ingredients. Chill for at least one hour before serving.

Recipe from Herb Garden Cookbook: The complete gardening and gourmet guide By Lucinda Hutson, copyright 1998

herbal fare

Salad Burnet

If I had to rank the culinary herbs I grow at the melodious garden, from absolute most favorite to very very least favorite, lemon verbena would be at the very tippy top of the list, most favorite, hands down. Second on the list, just a pinch and a speck below my beloved lemon verbena, would be salad burnet. Thankfully asking a gardener to name their favorite plant is akin to asking a parent to name their favorite child. It is simply too hard to compile such a list, with too many variables at play. Are we ranking by usefulness or simply by beauty? It soon becomes problematic, so best to just start rambling on about the merits of all, which is my preferred method. For plants, that is, not children. Having only one child, it is easy to have a favorite. But – if asked about culinary herbs – salad burnet would always land a solid second place.

Salad burnet features petite deeply serrated leaves, which have a clean cucumber-like taste. Now do I use it in the kitchen as much as the old standbys, rosemary, parsley and thyme? Most likely not. But this herb is versatile, unique and quite flavorful. Sadly, it is often overlooked, both by gardeners and by garden centers. When I am able to find it in the nursery trade, I am apt to buy a half dozen or more starts, either for my own garden or to give away to fellow gardeners. (I have not yet tried to grow from seeds, but that is on my list of Garden Goals for 2023.)

I love to use salad burnet in salads, soups, sandwiches and egg dishes. It is especially good mixed with cream cheese as a spread for tea sandwiches. Salad burnet brightens up many beverages, from fresh squeezed juices to homemade lemonade. It pairs especially well with lemon, cucumber and celery.

As the name suggests, it really shines as a salad herb. Simply strip the leaves from the stem and toss with your lettuce greens. Young, tender stems can be minced and added, as well.

The young, vibrantly green leaves make a fabulous edible garnish!

Salad burnet grows in a small clump from one central root, with the soft stems arching out from the center. The younger, smaller leaves have the best flavor, so for that reason I regularly harvest from the outer stems so that none of the stems ever reach their full mature size. That is also a great way to keep the plant looking tidy, as the older stems can get weighed down and create a lovely habitat for pillbugs, if grown out in the garden. If I intend to use as a garnish, I will harvest the youngest, brightest green leaves.

After twenty-plus years of growing salad burnet, I find that I prefer to grow it in a container, where its foliage can cascade over the edge of the pot. If we end up with a spell of brutally hot and dry weather, such as this past summer, I can easily move it to a bit of shade if need be.

This herb is generally considered an evergreen in zones 7 and 8. I have not dried salad burnet for winter use, as it is said to not hold its flavor well when dried. I much prefer to use salad burnet fresh and, thankfully, we seldom get snow cover or long periods of freezing weather, so I am able to harvest fresh much of the year. If I was not able to have fresh year-round, I would most likely freeze salad burnet for winter use.

Depending on what reference book you are reading, salad burnet may be listed as either a biennial or a short lived perennial. In my experience, it is a short lived perennial, generally living about three to four years in my garden. It is listed as invasive in several online references, but I have never seen or heard of it being invasive in the North Texas area. Our growing conditions in zone 8a, Dallas-Fort Worth, are generally nothing like its native habitat.

The flowers are either inconspicuous or fascinatingly Dr. Seuss-ish, depending on your perspective. I find they make an interesting addition to a small floral arrangement.

In my garden, salad burnet generally tops out around one foot tall and maybe as much in diameter if I am not harvesting on a regular basis. It will tolerate full sun if watered on a regular basis in summer, though will well with partial sun.

herbal fare

Lemon verbena scones (Gluten-free)

Lemon scones are perfect for so many occasions – bridal showers, baby showers, tea parties, quiet summer breakfasts on the patio, large family Sunday brunches. They are quick and easy to make – and beautiful on a serving tray.

If you have read my blog more than once or know me IRL, you know I add the herb lemon verbena to Every.Thing! Quick tip: For any recipe calling for lemon… Add some fresh or dried lemon verbena leaves to a food processor, along with the amount of sugar the recipe calls for. Give them a whirl together, until the leaves are minced finely. This releases the oils from the leaves into the sugar crystals. When added to the recipe, you will have an extra dose of lemon spread throughout!

lemon cutting board

Most of my baking these days is gluten-free. I was diagnosed with celiac back in the dark ages, long before there were good options for baking. I am so thankful today that there are gluten-free flours available at most any grocery. For these scones, I used a regular scone recipe, but exchanged the flour with Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour mix.

And! Did you see my new board, above?! I will give it it’s own post later on… I bought it from a local gentleman, retired military, that is making and selling amazing handmade woodwork items.

lemon scone1

Lemon verbena scones

For the scones:

1/3 cup sugar, whirled with a handful of lemon verbena leaves

Zest from one large lemon

2 cups gluten-free flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

8 tablespoons cold butter (freeze for a bit before or use straight from the fridge)

1 egg

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Mix sugar and lemon zest together in a bowl. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt and mix well. Grate the butter into the flour mixture. Cut the butter into the flour mixture until coarse crumbs form.

In a separate bowl, mix together the egg and cream. Add to the flour mixture and stir until ingredients are combined. Make sure to scrape down sides of bowl to fully incorporate all ingredients.

Shape the dough into a ball and place on a lightly floured surface. Roll dough out into a 7 inch circle. Cut into 8 wedges.

Place the wedges on a parchment covered baking sheet. Separate the wedges, so there is a bit of space between each one.

Bake in preheated oven for 15 minutes or until lightly brown.

Let scones cool for a few minutes, then transfer over to a wire cooling rack.

Make glaze (recipe below) and brush over cooked scones. Enjoy!

 

 

Lemon glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons melted butter

Mix all glaze ingredients together, making sure all powdered sugar is fully incorporated.

 

gardening, herbal fare

Lemon herbs… Lemon verbena and Lemon balm

I rave about lemon verbena most any chance I get.

Meet a new gardener? I am bound to ask them if they grow lemon verbena, then I will start into a five minute mini-lecture on why everyone should grow the herb.

Talking to an experienced cook about using fresh herbs versus dried herbs in the kitchen? I am likely to start talking about my passion for using lemon verbena.

Discussing flower gardening with a grower at the farmer’s market? Yes. Even then I will recommend lemon verbena.

If the botany world had Super Fans, I would be Lemon Verbena’s biggest fan.

But why lemon verbena when lemon balm is so readily available? Following is a bit of a compare/contrast of the two herbs… (I will leave lemon grass for another day, as that is in a league of its own.)

Let’s start first with a side by side look at the herbs.

lemon verbena and balm

This collection of potted plants is right outside my front door, where I can run my fingers through the leaves of the herbs or run outside to snip off a bit of herb for cooking. I grow both lemon verbena and lemon balm in containers, though I will also plant lemon verbena in the ground.

Lemon balm is in the mint family, which means… It would overtake the world if given the chance. I always, always, always plant lemon balm (and mints) in containers. For me, one lemon balm plant is sufficient. It has an impressive root system and will readily spread to fill a container. Or the neighborhood.

Lemon verbena is a woody annual herb, which grows and produces leaves along one central woody stalk. I generally plant half dozen plants each spring, some in containers and some in the ground. I don’t use all that I plant, but it is a lovely carefree addition to the garden. I love the way it tends to sprawl around other plants and I love brushing against its fragrant leaves whenever I am in the garden.

Lemon balm is extremely winter hardy and can survive temperatures up to 20 below. Lemon verbena, however, is frost tender around 30 degrees. I have had a few plants overwinter in sheltered locations in my zone 8a garden, but they are nowhere near as robust as they were the previous year. Likewise, I have overwintered the plants in a container in the garage during cold spells and it comes through just fine, just not as full and lush as a new plant.

The most important comparison, for me, is in the leaves…

lemon verbena and balm2

Lemon verbena has long, thin leaves with smooth edges. Pinch off a leave and crush it to release the oils and you will smell a cool, refreshing scent. Lemon balm has short leaves with scalloped edges. Crush a lemon balm leaf and you will smell warmth. To me, that is also a great indication of how I use the two herbs. If I want to make lemonade or iced lemon tea, lemon verbena is my go-to. If I want to make a warm cup of tea to soothe a sore throat, lemon balm is my first choice. I also prefer to bake with lemon verbena, as I find it brings a bright zest to most recipes.

Both lemon verbena and lemon balm can be easily dried for winter use. (My preferred lazy drying method is to put a baking rack over a cookie sheet and place the cuttings out flat to dry.)

Likewise, the leaves of both can be used in soap making, tea blends, baking, etc.

My preferred method for using their leaves in baking is to add several leaves (fresh or dried) into the sugar portion of the recipe. Whirl in a food processor to finely mince the leaves and release the oils directly into the sugar. The sugar is then incorporated into the recipe where the scent and taste can be enjoyed throughout.

lemon verbena1

Lemon verbena will flower, however I am always pinching leaves off so do not get any flowers on my plants. Lemon balm does freely bloom, which the bees and small butterflies enjoy. Lemon balm can and does spread through seeds, in addition to its spreading roots. The photo below shows, just above the center leave, where the lemon balm had earlier bloomed.

lemon balm

Lemon verbena and lemon balm grow in very similar environments. Both do well with adequate water and are not happy with dry conditions. Lemon balm would love an extra drink or two of water, but certainly does not need it. But it is forgiving to occasional over-watering. When grown in a container, allow for good drainage for both herbs. Both herbs prefer a sunny location, but are happy with some afternoon relief in the hottest of Texas summers. Mine are near a large bur oak tree and get bright light in the morning until early afternoon, then a bit of shade until evening.

Now… For the million dollar question… Why do I prefer lemon verbena over lemon balm? I think its leaves are prettier and I love the coolness of its scent. It has more of a crisp summer smell, in my opinion.

Whichever one you plant, I hope that you enjoy experimenting with herbs in your home.

herbal fare

Herbal Rhubarb Peach Crisp

My pandemic baking game started out strong. Apple cobbler. Pumpkin pie. Lemon pudding cake. Fun, fun times. Until it started to hit me in the hips. And thighs. The baking had to cease. For a while, at least…

This weekend, I was at the grocery store and found (cue angels singing and the planets aligning…) Fresh Rhubarb! In Texas! In August?!? During a pandemic?! We still can’t find dried beans or a can of Lysol, but we can find fresh rhubarb? Okaaay. I won’t look that gift horse in the mouth.

Now… What to do with the stalks of rhubarb? Something herbal, of course. Something gluten free. Semi healthy. Hmm… Herbal rhubarb crisp.

In more than a decade of gluten free baking, I have found crisps to the the easiest and most forgiving of gluten free desserts. Gluten free oatmeal is somewhat easy to find at most large grocery stores. And crisps only call for a bit of flour, so the often times gritty texture of gluten free flour is masked by the other ingredients.

Now… What herbs to use? Rosemary and thyme sound interesting. Earthy. Yet bold enough against rhubarb. And… available fresh in my garden year-round. Alas. I should have bought a bit more rhubarb… The stalks did not measure near as much as I though they would. A quick glance around the kitchen and I spied a bowl of fresh peaches. Peaches are heavenly with rosemary and thyme, so I decided to chop up a peach to up the fruit content of the crisp and off-set some of the tartness of the rhubarb. In looking for the oatmeal, I spied some raw hazelnuts – bought for snacking but too Meh for that. A bit of crushed nuts always, always is good in a crisp topping.

And there you have it… Herbal rhubarb peach crisp with rosemary, thyme and hazelnuts! This was either going to be an epic failure or a memorable recipe. Thankfully, it was the later. Very, very tasty. And “healthy” enough for breakfast tomorrow morning. Recipe to follow.

rhubarb with herbs

Rhubarb peach crisp with rosemary, thyme and hazelnuts

Filling:

5 nice size stalks of fresh rhubarb, sliced

1 large fresh peach, skinned and chopped up

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

1 teaspoon each of minced rosemary and thyme leaves

Crisp topping:

1 cup gluten free oats

1/2 cup gluten free flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup chopped raw hazelnuts

1 stick butter, melted

 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly butter an 8×8 casserole dish.

Combine all filling ingredients in a large bowl. Evenly spread in casserole.

Combine oats, flour, sugar and hazelnuts in a large bowl. Add melted butter and mix until a crumbs form.

Evenly top the filling with the crisp topping, making sure all of filling is covered. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Allow to cool slightly before serving.

rhubarb crisp

gardening, herbal fare

Harvesting herbs ahead of freezing weather

Wow. Is that a scary headline or what?!
Freezing weather?!
Here in North Texas, we are staring our first official freeze straight in the face. The night that all gardeners fear – the end of fresh basil and fall tomatoes… (Unless one is blessed with a greenhouse.)
Mid-November is our first average freeze date so we are due for some cold weather.
Most of our herbs are cold hardy here in zone 8a. We are fortunate to harvest thyme, rosemary and the like all winter long. But – basil, lemon verbena, scented geraniums, lemongrass…all melt at the first whiff of winter air.
Thankfully, there are as many ways to extend the season as there are ways to enjoy fresh herbs.
Without further ado, here is a list of my favorite ways to use summer herbs all winter long…

1.) Basil pesto
Pesto can easily be frozen in small Ball canning jars or ice cube trays, then thawed slightly to pop out and use all winter long.
Basil can also be chopped up and frozen in a bit of olive oil to be used as a dressing for salad or pasta.

2.) Herbal vinegars
lemon vinegar

I love to make herbal vinegars to use as a base for salad dressings. Use white vinegar, red wine vinegar, apple cider vinegar – whatever suits your tastes. (And vinegar is inexpensive – try out some new varieties!) Add any combination of herbs, citrus rind, hot peppers, etc. Let set in a cool dark place for six weeks or so, to allow flavors to meld. Strain out herb mixture and pour vinegar back into a clean jar for use.

herbal vinegars

3.) Hang to dry, then store in Ball canning jars for winter stews, sauces and teas

4.) Herbal butters

herbal butter

Add herbs of choice (such as a mixture of parsley, thyme and basil) in a food processor with softened butter. Pulse until herbs are chopped and incorporated throughout the butter. Roll into a cylinder on wax paper and store in freezer until ready to use. (They can be stored about 3 months in the freezer. Butter can be stored 7-10 days in the fridge.) Use on vegetables or meats.

5.) Make and freeze bone broth or stock

6.)  Bake and freeze for later

rosemary zucchini bread

Baking and freezing is a great way to enjoy the fresh taste of herbs all winter long, plus gives you a head start on holiday festivities! (Orange rosemary cake with rum glaze pictured above. This recipe freezes incredibly well!)

What are your favorite ways to extend your herbal harvests?

 

herbal fare

Sweet Potato Cornbread Muffins

If you love sweet potatoes and you love cornbread (especially made with fresh milled cornmeal from a local farmer’s market), you have to try out this recipe.

sweet potato cornbread muffin

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup sweet potato, cooked
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cup milk
3/4 cup flour (I used gluten-free)
1 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly brush 12-cup muffin tin with oil.

Mix together sweet potato, eggs, oil and milk. Add in remaining ingredients and stir until combined. (Do not overmix.)

Pour batter into prepared muffin tin and bake 20 minutes, or until the cornbread is golden. Let cook five minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

boggy creek

gardening, herbal fare

Rosemary + Lemon =

I am always looking for new ways to use fresh herbs in my baking, but often think I have tried every flavor combination possible. And then along came…

Rosemary lemon bars.

I was intrigued. And rightly so. The rosemary gave an earthy depth to the citrus punch of lemon bars. I won’t bore you with a recipe, aside from this: Add one to two tablespoons of fresh minced rosemary to the dough portion of your favorite lemon bar recipe. Be sure to incorporate well so the oils from the rosemary infuse the dough.

lemon rosemary bar2

A few culinary tips for the day…

Adding fresh lemon zest is one of the quickest ways to up the citrus flavor in any recipe. Be sure to zest just the yellow portion of the lemon. Do not zest the bitter white portion.

lemon zesting2

What is the easiest way to mince fresh rosemary?

rosemary1

Take the rosemary section and lay it down on a cutting board. Hold in place.

rosemary2

Run your knife down the leaves, just offset from the branch.

rosemary3

Once the leaves are off the branch, you can mince as fine as you like.

All rosemary varieties are edible, though they do vary in flavor and in growth habits.

Some rosemary plants grow as stiff upright shrubs. (See photo below.) Their branches can be cut and used as kebob skewers to impart more rosemary flavor into meat or mushrooms.

upright rosemary in pot

Trailing rosemary (shown below) is lovely growing over the edge of a raised bed, retaining wall or container.

trailing rosemary in pot

Rosemary is winter hardy in North Texas. If you are “blessed” with heavy clay soil, as many of us are, it is best to amend your soil with compost and earthworm castings, as rosemary likes well drained soil. Rosemary can be planted year-round in zone 8a, though garden centers will have the best selection in spring and fall.

lemon rosemary bar1

 

 

herbal fare

Fig, pancetta and thyme pasta

This is a recreation of a lovely herbal fig pasta dish I enjoyed at a small Italian restaurant in Austin earlier this year. I cut the recipe (below) down to a single serving. It was a quick and delicious lunch.

figsscrabble

Fig, pancetta and thyme pasta

fig pasta

Pasta (16 ounces of your choice of pasta, I used gluten free fettuccine)

5 ounces pancetta, chopped
2 shallots, minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup cream
1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
1 cup vegetable or chicken broth
12 figs, quartered
fresh thyme, removed from stems (about 2 teaspoons, or to taste)
sea salt and fresh black pepper

Cook pasta to package directions and keep warm.

Meanwhile, saute pancetta, shallots and garlic until pancetta is golden brown. Add figs and thyme and cook another minute or until figs are lightly cooked. Remove from pan.

In pan over medium heat, add cream, Parmesan cheese and cooked pasta. Stir constantly until cheese is melted, about two to three minutes. Stir in 3/4 to 1 cup broth until pasta sauce is creamy. Add fig and pancetta mixture and lightly toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately. Serves six.

Photo below: Leia perfects the photobomb

figs photobomb

herbal fare

Figs… Figs… Ice Cream…

Today is National Ice Cream Day.

With 100+ degree days forecast for the upcoming seven days, I think we should get at least a week to relish in ice cream guilt-free.

I have fond memories of attending ice cream socials at my late aunt and uncle’s rural Nebraska church, with many many hours spent beforehand, cranking the ice cream maker, churning batch after batch of homemade ice cream for the event. There is something so comforting and nostalgic about the old wooden ice cream maker, packed with ice and rock salt, the quintessential sight and sound of summer. I am sure my son won’t have such fond memories of his mom pulling out the Cuisinart ice cream maker, pouring in the ice cream mixture and flipping the switch to On. But there is something to be said for whipping up a quick batch of ice cream on a hot July afternoon… And I love the smaller size of the Cuisinart ice cream maker, as it allows me to experiment with flavor combinations.

(The Cuisinart ice cream maker insert needs to be chilled in the freezer the night before making ice cream. This recipe can be adjusted for other ice cream makers.)

fig ice cream take 2

Fig Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream

1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1 cup fig pulp
1/4 cup chocolate chunks, chopped

Slice the figs and scoop the pulp out with a spoon. Mix together all of the ingredients, except the chocolate chunks. Chill in the refrigerator for a few hours. Prepare your ice cream maker and add the liquid mixture. Churn until it is mostly set. Add chocolate chunks and churn until combined. Once the mixture is frozen, transfer to a freezer-safe container. Cover and freeze for several hours before eating.

(I have Celeste figs in my garden… It took several dozen of the small figs to make one cup.)