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?

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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.

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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.)

 

herbal fare

The exquisite pleasure of figs

I live in a house of non-foodies. I shouldn’t complain too much. My husband and teenage son will both eat things like Brussels sprouts and endive. They both appreciate fresh well-prepared foods. My son will even eat salmon and sushi. (My husband never eats fish. Ever.)

But cheeses? Fuhgeddaboudit. Both hardly tolerate anything wilder than cheddar, Monterey Jack and Parmesan. Goat cheese? Blue cheese? Feta? Not going to happen. (In fact, the night I served them fried goat cheese with frisee will live on in infamy.)

Figs? Nope. Not going to happen either. Which is fine with me. The fig tree is mine. All Mine. I can pick and eat all the figs I want, give away what I know I can’t eat and let the birds have the rest.

“To eat figs off the tree in the very early morning, when they have been barely touched by the sun, is one of the exquisite pleasures of the Mediterranean.”  ~ Elizabeth David, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.

Thankfully, fig trees grow and produce extremely well in North Texas, so we can have that touch of exquisite pleasure from the Mediterranean, too. Eating a fig fresh from the tree, like eating a tomato right off the stem, really is a gardener’s delight.

fig rocker

Since I am the only one in this household that eats figs, I look for recipes that I can easily make as an individual serving or freeze portions of individually. This fig tart recipe was easily quartered for the perfect lunch-size portion.

fig tart

Fig Tarts with Honey and Herbs
Makes four tarts

Dough:
1/4 cup corn meal
1 cup all purpose flour (I used gluten-free flour from King Arthur brand)
Pinch of sea salt
4 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
8 ounces cold cream cheese

Toppings:
24 small to medium figs
honey
1-2 ounces creamy goat cheese
fresh herbs, washed and chopped fine (I used a mixture of thyme and chives, but rosemary would also be nice)

In a food processor, mix together the corn meal, flour and salt. Add the butter and cream cheese and blend in the food processor until a ball of dough forms.

Separate the dough into four equal portions and place in refrigerator for about one hour. (Can be kept up to three days.)

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each ball of dough until it is about 7 inches across. Transfer the crusts onto the baking sheets and fold up a small edge of dough.

To prepare figs, wash and trim stem end from figs. Slice fruit into quarters. Place figs onto the prepared crusts. Drizzle honey over the figs, then crumble on goat cheese, as desired. Sprinkle with fresh herbs.

Bake 25-30 minutes, rotating baking sheets half way through.

(Since I was making this for lunch, I added a bit of sauteed shallot and pancetta to the crust before topping with the figs.)

herbal fare

Blueberry-peach lavender crisp

While I have long cooked with herbs, I am relatively new to cooking with lavender. Not one to be easily intimidated in the kitchen, lavender intimidates me.

Remember this, more so with lavender than any other herb…
A little goes a long way.
More is not better. Ever.
When in doubt, error on the side of caution. (Add a bit at first, then taste and increase if desired.)

Blueberry-peach lavender crisp is one of the first lavender dishes I attempted. After all –  Fresh blueberries. Fresh peaches. Crispy topping. Not much can go wrong with that.

lavenderblueberrypeachcrisp

Blueberry-peach lavender crisp

For fruit:
4 cups fresh peaches, peeled and sliced
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon dried culinary lavender buds
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

For the topping:
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 packed brown sugar
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter

Instructions:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
In a food processor, mix the lavender and sugar and pulse until lavender is infused in the sugar. In a bowl, mix together blueberries, peaches, sugar and cornstarch.
Pour fruit into an 8×8 baking pan.
Reusing same bowl from fruit, mix together oats, flour and brown sugar. Melt butter and add to the flour mixture and combine with a fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbles.
Spread topping mix over fruit.
Bake 25-30 minutes, or until top is lightly golden brown.

My recipe edits:
For the picture above, I had less peaches and more blueberries than called for, but used five cups total of fresh fruit. Also, the blueberries were farm fresh, very large and juicy. The fruit portion is bluer than it would be normally.
I use gluten-free flour and gluten-friendly oats in this recipe, in the same quantities.

gardening, herbal fare, vintage

Garden Travels: Lavender Ridge Farms

Last month, I had the great pleasure of visiting Lavender Ridge Farms, an herbal and culinary destination just up the interstate from my house.

lavenderfarm17

Located in Gainesville, Texas, this two acre lavender farm has been in the family for more than 150 years.

lavenderfarm18

In previous generations, the farm grew melons and strawberries. It opened in 2006 as a lavender farm, one of the few such farms in North Texas. (If you have ever tried to grow just a few lavender plants in your backyard garden, you will understand and appreciate why there are few lavender farms locally.)

Visitors to Lavender Ridge Farms are given a basket and instructed on how to properly harvest lavender.

lavenderfarm8

I was surprised to see that all sorts of pollinators are as attracted to lavender blossoms as humans are.

lavenderfarm7

In addition to growing and selling lavender, the farm’s gift shop houses many lavender items for bath, kitchen and home. (If you are weak and buy all things herbal, take a trusted guardian. Though I don’t regret buying two cookbooks, a package of their house blend lavender tea, lavender pepper spice blend and an enormous bag of dried lavender buds for future craft projects. Plus. A few plants, including the lavender plant Phenomenal. Below is a display of Lavender Phenomenal, not what I purchased.)

lavenderfarm2

Lavandula x intermedia Phenomenal is a new variety of lavender that is marketed as durable in our high heat and humidity better than other varieties. Lavender Ridge Farms has had phenomenal success growing this plant.

The farm also sells irises, which can be viewed and ordered in the spring, with delivery and planting that fall.

lavenderfarm15

Cafe Lavender offers a shady respite, where you can dine in a lovely plant-filled courtyard while overlooking the lavender field. (Sorry, I failed to take a picture looking that direction, I was too enamored by the plants in the courtyard!)

lavenderfarm14

The cafe’s menu features several lavender infused dishes, such as lavender honey chicken salad and lavender cheesecake. (Both were divine!)

lavenderfarm5

The farm’s large pollinator garden was aflutter with butterflies the day of my visit.

lavenderfarm12

I could have spent all day poking around the gardens and viewing the many assorted garden ornaments.

lavenderfarm16

I loved their creative use of rusty saws and garden implements.

lavenderfarm11

Lavender Ridge Farms’ facebook page says it best:
An herb’n experience you can’t get in the city.

lavenderfarm9

gardening, herbal fare

Of rhubarb and nutmeg

I have no clue who first tasted rhubarb and thought, “Why, if one only added enough sugar, this might be edible!” I do know that rhubarb didn’t become widely consumed until sugar became affordable.

The children in my neighborhood would sit and swing and dare each other to eat a bit of raw rhubarb. “Found a peanut, found a peanut, found a peanut yesterday” we would sing as we swung. “Cracked it open, cracked it open, cracked it open yesterday,” and we would snap a piece off and eat it. If we were brave enough. My mouth still remembers that sharp tartness all these years later!

Much like lemon and gooseberry, rhubarb is in a league of its own. Perfectly inedible alone. Wonderfully edible with enough sugar.

As a new Texas homeowner 22 years ago, I thought rhubarb grew like a weed everywhere. Not so. The foliage came up beautifully that first spring. It grew and grew and looked wonderful. Then summer hit. And the rhubarb melted back into the earth from which it had emerged, never to be seen again. I have since thought rhubarb impossible to grow this far south.

Alas, Texas A&M says it is possible! As an annual, not a perennial like northern gardeners grow it. Oh. And through the winter, not the summer. Basically, if you are familiar with growing rhubarb up north, turn everything on its head and you, too, can grow it Texas. Maybe some day I will try again to grow rhubarb. Until then, I will just buy it at the grocery store.

(Texas A&M also says that rhubarb is never eaten raw, which may explain why I still shiver when I think about eating it raw as a child.)

rhubarb

Rhubarb upside down cake

Ingredients:

3 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup butter, melted

Batter:

1/4 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole milk

Place rhubarb in a greased 10-ince cast iron skillet. Combine sugar, flour and nutmeg. Sprinkle over rhubarb. Drizzle with butter and set aside. For the batter, in a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until blended. Beat in the egg. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Gradually add to the egg mixture alternately with milk, beating well after each addition.

Spread over rhubarb mixture. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Loosen edges immediately and invert onto a serving dish. Serve warm.

Serve with whipped, cream, if desired.

(Rhubarb is technically a vegetable so eating the leftovers for breakfast starts your day off right. Just sayin’.)

nutmeg

If you have never tried fresh ground nutmeg, you must… It is so much fresher than the ground spice bought at the grocery store.

herbal fare

Hibiscus Lemon Bars

I am on a quest…

How to use tea in my baking? Can I (Could I? Should I?) add herbs into all of my recipes? If so, does it add depth to the dish or is the addition merely cosmetic? And: What herbs and teas go best together?

Since I have long been enamored with hibiscus in my garden, I thought it only appropriate to start on this quest with hibiscus tea.

I had tea- and herb-loving company visiting from out of town over Mother’s Day weekend so that seemed like a great time to launch this culinary adventure.

Conclusion: The hibiscus tea gave the lemon bars a wonderful rose coloring, while adding some cranberry-like tartness to the lemon. Lemon verbena, added to the crust, brought nothing to the dish. The crust was made from gluten-free flour and turned out perfectly with no adjustments.

Trinity Rose Tea Shoppe, a locally owned small business, has a wonderful selection of herbal teas. I used their Organic Radiant Red Hibiscus Tea in this recipe.

Isn’t this beautiful? It really is a radiant red!

hibiscus tea

Crust ingredients:

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup flour
pinch of salt (if using unsalted butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

Filling ingredients:

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried hibiscus tea
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup flour

Preheat over to 350 degrees.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Add in the flour and salt, mix until it is just combined. Press the dough evenly across the bottom of  a 9×9 baking pan.

Bake the crust for 15 minutes or until it is lightly browned. Set it aside to cool, while leaving the oven on.

To make the filling, stir the hibiscus tea into the lemon juice and let it sit for 15 minutes. Strain and discard the hibiscus.

Whisk the eggs and sugar together until well blended. Stir in the lemon juice and then blend in the flour.

Pour the filling over the cooled crust and return to the oven and bake another 20-25 minutes, or until the filling is set.

Let cool fully before slicing. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

hibiscus lemon bar