gardening, herbal fare

If you give a friend some eggs…

…with apologizes to the mouse and the boy who let him in the house…

If you give a friend some eggs,

eggs6

she is going to ask for some milk and cream. When she gets some milk and cream, she will probably ask for some sugar. When she gets the sugar, she will likely need some flour. Then she will want an iPad so she can search for some recipes. When she looks on Pintrest, she might realize that she also needs some strawberries and vanilla. She will probably ask for a whisk. When she is finished baking,

german pancake

she will want a broom to sweep up her mess. She will start sweeping. She might get carried away and sweep every room in the…Oh, who are we kidding? She would never get carried away sweeping. Especially in the spring when she has raking to do yet.

When she is done sweeping, she will probably want a nap. You will need to make up the couch with her favorite blankie and pillow. She will lay down and make herself comfortable and call for her puppy. She will probably ask you to read them a story…

“Diary of a Compost Hotline Operator: Edible essays on city farming” might be the perfect book on such a day.

strawberry cafoutis

While our urban town has allowed chickens for the past few years, I still have not taken the urban chicken plunge. I don’t know why exactly, except that my life already seems overrun with animals. Two indoor cats. One puppy. A large garden that seems to attract every wild animal for miles around.

Recently a dear friend gave me a dozen eggs from her own urban chickens. What to do with them? How best to use a dozen fresh eggs? The first recipe was easy to chose, as I have long wanted to make the French dessert, clafoutis. Alas, I used strawberries instead of the usual cherries, which makes the dish a flaugnarde instead of a clafoutis. I like the word clafoutis best, so I am sticking with that. Either way, it is an egg-rich dish, much like crepe batter but baked in the oven instead of the stovetop one by one. The next dish – mini German pancakes – baked in muffin tins. Topped with strawberries and blood orange segments (above, on red and white plate), these will be good for breakfast or a quick snack.

egg shells

Look at these beautiful eggshells! They are almost too pretty to compost.

Eggshells have many garden applications and can be used directly in the garden. Just crush the shells. Scattered around your tomato plants, eggshells – high in calcium – can help to prevent blossom end rot in the ripening fruit. Scattered around hostas, the rough edges can ward off slugs and snails. Crushed eggshells can also be added to your birdfeeders in the spring, as female birds need extra calcium during nesting season.

bibliophile, herbal fare

Cranberry Easter

I introduced you to our dear friend, Mr. Whiskers, back at Thanksgiving. A lovable fellow, though Grandma says he has too many whiskers and not enough soap.

Cranberry Easter, part of Wende and Harry Devlin’s holiday-themed Cranberry series, features Mr. Whiskers, Maggie and Maggie’s grandma. Mr. Whiskers’ friend Seth, lonely after the death of his wife, wants to sell Cranberryport’s general store and move away. “Suffering codfish,” exclaims Mr. Whiskers, as he tries to come up with a plan to keep Seth in town.

cranberry easter 1

The importance of friendship is at the heart of the Cranberry books. Mr. Whiskers knows “friends always take care of one another. That’s the way it is in Cranberryport – on holidays and the whole year round.” There would always be a place for him at Grandmother’s table. And for Easter, there would be cranberry cobbler for dessert.

The Devlin’s always set the season where you can almost feel like you are in Cranberryport… “The trees began to bud and soon there was a magical green mist all over the land.” What a lovely description of spring! …a magical green mist all over the land…

If you have young children, be sure to check out Wende and Harry Devlin’s Cranberry books. Getting children attached to a series at a young age is a great way to foster a love of reading, as there is security in familiar characters and children will come to look at the characters as friends. What is better to a child than looking forward to Mr. Whiskers making a return visit every Easter or Thanksgiving? Inside family jokes, such as the loveable Mr. Whiskers having too many whiskers and not enough soap, only reinforce the characters and build upon the book and the pleasant memories associated with it. More importantly, getting children active in a book gives them another outlet to experience the book. As much as children love to be read to, they also love to pull up a chair or stepstool and cook with a loved one.  (Other books in the Cranberry series include: Christmas, Birthday and Valentine.)

The recipe at the end of Cranberry Easter is for cranberry cobbler. I have yet to make it, but I did want to share my favorite cranberry dessert recipe – cranberry apple crisp. Thanks to the Devlin’s, I have come to think of cranberries as a year-round ingredient, instead of just a seasonal treat.

cranberry easter 2

Cranberry-Apple Crisp

1/2 cup rolled oats

1/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup butter

1/2 cup walnuts (optional)

3 medium apples – peeled, cored and sliced

1 16-ounce can whole cranberry sauce

For the topping, in a medium mixing bowl, stir together the rolled oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in the walnuts. Set aside.

For filling, in a large mixing bowl, stir together the apples and the cranberry sauce. Transfer the filling to an ungreased 8×8 baking pan.

Sprinkle the topping on the filling. Bake at 375 degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes or until the apples are tender and the topping is golden brown. Serve warm.

If desired, top with whipped cream or ice cream. Makes 6 servings.

*** This recipe can easily be made gluten-free.

pink flowers

herbal fare

Endive salad with basil and tomatoes

The garden centers are filling up with lush spring inventory, including tomatoes and basil. The perfect pairing. In North Texas, our last average freeze date is March 17th, which means Mother Nature can still throw us a curve ball. We have been known to have a freeze in the middle of April and snow on Easter. This does not mean you have to wait to plant frost-tender plants. It just means that you have to watch the forecast and be ready with frost cloth or old sheets. (I personally favor a five gallon bucket turned upside down over the plant and removed as soon as the air warms up.)

endive salad with basil

Endive salad with basil and tomatoes

2-3 endives, leaves separated
1 large naval orange, peeled and sliced into circles
1 large tomato, sliced (or a dozen cherry tomatoes, cut in half)
1/4 red onion, finely sliced (I prefer shallots, personally)
5-6 basil leaves, thinly sliced – extra for garnish, if desired

Dressing:
1/2 teaspoon orange zest
3 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon sea salt

Wash and prepare endive leaves and arrange on a large platter. Zest about half of the orange and set zest aside for dressing.

Cut off the peel of the orange, along with the outer white membrane. Slice into thin circles and arrange over the endive leaves. Slice the tomato and onion and arrange on platter. Top with sliced basil leaves.

To make the dressing, add the olive oil, lemon juice and honey to the bowl with the orange zest and whisk together. Pour the dressing over the salad and sprinkle with the sea salt. Serve right away.

If making ahead, add the dressing just before serving so the endive leaves do not wilt.

Hint for slicing basil: Wash and pat dry basil leaves. Stack basil leaves and tightly roll from one end to the other. Thinly slice the rolled leaves. Separate basil slivers and use as desired.

herbal fare

Cheddar Dill Puffs

If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again. So it goes with dill and me.

I can grow fennel, which is botanically related to dill though miles apart in flavor. I try, try again with dill, which is how it sometimes goes with gardening. As with real estate, gardening is all about location location, location. Until I find dill’s perfect location, I will resort to buying fresh dill at the grocery store.

Fennel growing in my southern Denton county garden in January, despite the record cold:

fennel

Cheddar Dill Puffs

Ingredients:
1 cup water
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour (I used King Arthur’s gluten free flour)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons fresh dill, finely chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, cook the water, butter and salt until the butter melts. Stir to combine. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously about two minutes. The mixture will start to come together and pull away from the sides of the saucepan. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. The batter will separate, then smooth out after each egg is added to the mixture.

Stir in cheese and dill.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop the batter on prepared baking sheets by spoonfuls, about one inch apart. Bake about 25-30 minutes or until the cheddar puffs are golden brown.

Makes around 22 cheddar puffs.

dill cheddar puffs

herbal fare

Lavender lemonade

While I have long cooked with a variety of herbs, I am relatively new to utilizing lavender. It wasn’t until I tasted a lavender cheddar cheese last year that I became intrigued with cooking and baking with lavender. This recipe is one of my new favorite drinks.

Lavender lemonade
Lavender mixture:
Bring 2 cups water with 1/2 cup sugar to a low boil, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Add 1/4 cup honey and 3 tablespoons dried culinary lavender. Cover and let steep 15 minutes.
Strain lavender mixture, pressing down on the lavender to release more of its essence.
In a large pitcher, combine lavender water with 2 cups lemon juice and 4 cups water.

lemons

Chill at least two hours and serve over ice. Garnish with lemon slices, if desired.

Serves eight. (This lemonade goes wonderfully with lavender macarons, pictured above.)
This recipe can easily be cut in half.

herbal fare

Cranberry Mint Green Tea

lime and mint picture

Cranberry Mint Green Tea, iced

Bring 2 cups water to a low boil. Add 2 green tea bags and let steep ten minutes. Remove tea bags and chill tea, at least one hour.

Meanwhile, place 1/4 cup frozen cranberries in a bowl with 2 chopped mint springs and juice from two limes. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.

When ready to serve, mash cranberry mixture until berries are popped and mint leaves well crushed. Strain mixture into cold tea.

Serve over ice and garnish with mint leaves and lime slices.

Serves two.

cranberry green tea

herbal fare

Strawberry Basil Doughnuts (baked and gluten-free)

On my continued quest to use herbs in unusual ways in the kitchen, I have cobbled together a recipe for strawberry basil doughnuts. Baked. And gluten-free.

Not your typical cardboard gluten-free snack.

Nor are they your grandma’s homemade doughnuts.

strawberry doughnuts2

1 2/3 cup gluten free baking mix (I used King Arthur, as it is my favorite gluten-free product)
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup strawberries
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease doughnut pan and set aside.
Mix all ingredients together in blender until strawberries and basil are well chopped and incorporated.
Carefully pour the batter into the doughnut pan. (I used a canning ladle for this, but a small measuring cup with spout would work as well.)

Bake for 15-20 minutes. Let set on cooling rack for 5-10 minutes.

If desired, dip the doughnuts first in melted butter then sugar.

(I had extra batter so I made mini muffin with the remaining batter. Same baking time.)

bibliophile, herbal fare, vintage

Vintage Tea Party, a book reviewed

Vintage Tea Party by Carolyn Caldicott is one of those books that need repeated readings to be fully absorbed.

Once through just for the photographs, which are simply stunning. From the double page spreads of English landscapes to the smaller photographs of tea cups, finger sandwiches and beautiful tablescapes, the photographs draw you in and make you want to linger a bit.

Another trip through the book and you glean the history and importance of tea, the rise of afternoon tea, the difference between low and high tea, the joy of a fireside tea and the petite adventures of a nursery tea.

The book draws you back again for the recipes, which require another – now deeper – study of the photographs. The recipes are written in English measurements, but can be easily converted.

From beginning to end, this book is charming. To quote, Vintage Tea Party tells “how afternoon tea developed from its modest beginnings to become a much-loved celebration of indulgent pleasures.” A century and a half may have passed, but I am absolutely in love with Anna, the Duchess of Bedford’s idea of “a tea and a walk in the fields.”

How to get that vintage tea party look?

Step one: Check your attic or Grandma’s china hutch for cups, silver and linens. Antique markets always offer an abundant selection of tea party essentials. One need not have matching dishes. Mix and match and coordinate to please your tastes and style.

tea 2

Step two: The food… When homemade treats are not possible, shop at a local bakery or pastry shop for tiny morsels. A baguette sliced and topped with butter and fresh jam and a few bits of fine cheese are simple enough yet pleasing. I adore Ms. Caldicott’s advice: “You don’t need to be a domestic goddess to have a tea party. As long as the tea ingredients look home-made and are served with vintage style, there are ways to cheat and make life easier.”

tea 3

Step three: The tea… Ah. The tea. So many possibilities and so many personal favorites. The British Emporium in Grapevine is one of my favorite places to shop for tea, but most groceries now carry a variety of options.

Now, about that tea and a walk in the fields. Brisk fall days such as today are the perfect pairing!

tea 1

 

herbal fare

Go Texan!

One of my favorite things to do at the Texas State Fair is cruise through the Go Texan Pavilion and check out all of the Texas-made products.

This year, I tried out a new (to me) jam – Jammit! Jam. I was drawn in by the herbal combinations… peach and thyme… papaya rosemary… lemon dill…

I ended up buying the Peach Thyme Prosecco and the Cherry Clove Cabernet.  The guys enjoyed the peach thyme jam tonight on a fresh baguette. I am saving the cherry jam for closer to the holidays. It tastes like Christmas in a jar! I can’t wait to try it as a cheesecake topping.

jam

While standing in line to pay for the jams, I spotted a soap combination I had not seen previously – lavender sage. It smells heavenly. I haven’t bathed with it yet, but am looking forward to it.

soap

soap 2

herbal fare

Rosemary – The dessert herb?

It is easy to get in a cooking rut.
Making a savory dish? Reach for parsley, rosemary, thyme or basil.
Making dessert? Go for mint or lemon verbena.
There are a few notable crossovers, such as mint in Greek dishes. But what about rosemary? In a cake?
As unorthodox as it may sound, this recipe will have you swooning. And looking at rosemary in a whole new light.

orange and rosemary

Rosemary Orange Bundt Cake with Rum Glaze

1 (2-layer) package yellow cake mix
1 small package vanilla instant pudding mix
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 orange, zested
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup rum
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1 cup pecans (optional)

Glaze (recipe follows)

Combine cake mix, pudding mix, rosemary and orange zest in a large bowl. Add water, oil and rum. Mix well. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well with each addition. Stir in pecans. Pour into a bundt baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick baking spray. Bake at 325 degrees for one hour or until baked through.

Pour glaze over cake while still in pan, allowing glaze to soak in before removing cake from pan. Invert cake onto serving plate so that the glazed top is facing up.

cake2

Rum glaze

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/4 water or orange juice
1/4 cup rum

Bring the four ingredients to soft-boil stage in a saucepan. (235 degrees on candy thermometer.)

cake3

Recipe adapted from Along The Garden Path by Fredericksburg Herb Farm
Allergy information:
I have made this using both regular cake mix and gluten-free cake mix. I have not made this egg or dairy free. Pecans are optional. I do prefer the added texture of the pecans, but my spouse hates pecans and my son is allergic to them. Photos on the blog are gluten and pecan free.