Tuesday, June 30, 2009

How to use fresh herbs: sage

I think sage is one of the classic garden herbs. It certainly is a MUST in my garden, and was the first herb I HAD to purchase in the grocery store. I tried it one time in my dressing at Thanksgiving and I could never make dressing again without including fresh sage. It is so much better fresh. It works when it is in the dried state, too, but fresh sage has a far superior flavor. I don't know what causes it to lose flavor when it is dried but it certainly does. Dried sage just doesn't quite have that something extra.

Sage is a strong herb. When using it for the first time, be sure to take it slow and easy. You can always add more but don't overdo. It is wonderful in moderation but can even cause reflux to flare up in those who have that problem.

It is a great herb to put in poultry dishes. Chop a little fresh sage and sprinkle it along with garlic salt on chicken before baking for a real treat. It is one of the ingredients that gives sausage that great savory flavor. It is really good with meat, especially pork and chicken and is a great ingredient in breads. It can really add that savory taste that will take a dish to a higher level of culinary imagination.

Sage can be added to a biscuit recipe to make it a gourmet food and a savory biscuit is really good paired with chicken salad. I also like to add a little sage when I am making croutons. You can make great oven baked potatoes by dicing them and tossing them with sage and salt, plus a little rosemary, if you have it. They are very tasty this way. In fact sage pairs well with rosemary or thyme.

Sage has also been used as an herbal remedy, probably because it is high in Vitamins C and A. I have read claims that it can cure a sore throat or mouth sores and this may be true, if you can stand the strong flavor and odor. I have read that you can make a medicinal tea from sage, but it is better if you add lemon to "cut" the strong flavor. I also read that some believe it helps with excessive sweating. That claim is less likely.

I like the smooth texture of the leaves and it can almost appear a little gray at times. It will grow until frost and will be one of the first first herbs back in the spring. So try it fresh. I will bet you will have to have it that way from now on.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A welcome gift: A card deck all about herbs

My good friend and colleague, Angela, surprised me with this card deck a number of days ago and I have already found a number of things I really like about it.

First I love being able to read little snippets of information and if I leave it sitting around, say next to my salt and pepper on the table, I can open it up and read the front card, put it behind the others and go to the next card when I have a few moments.

Second, I really am interested in herbs and their uses, both to tickle my palate and as herbal remedies for better health. I think herbs are useful for so many things. I especially love knowing I can just go out to my herb garden and gather something I grew myself to add flavor to dishes I whip up, and this set of cards has some very interesting recipes I would like to try.

Third, the things I am reading give me so much information to use now and for the future. There is information about the herbs I have now in my garden, herbs I hope to have in the future, plus other uses.

In fact, I think in addition to a few new cooking herbs, I plan to begin adding healing herbs to my garden next year. I need to look for several books I have that can help me learn more about healing herbs. I know my books aren't nice and colorful like my new card deck but they will help. Please leave me a comment if you have a book on herbs or tip on herbs you would like to recommend to me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Queen Anne's Lace

As you ride along the roadsides in Coweta, you can see the lacy white flowers of Queen Anne's lace. I stopped the other day to snap some photos because I think it makes a beautiful display, kind of like a field of little crocheted doilies. I have always been fond of Queen Anne's lace and remember using it as a doll's play umbrella.

I have read it is an ancestor of the carrot and the leaves do favor carrot foliage so I can believe that. It is not hard to imagine it was named for Queen Anne and brought over to this county by early settlers because they used it as an herbal remedy, but is not used that way any more. Some even say it can be dangerous if ingested.

Today, it is sadly classified as a weed. It is a biennial which is a plant that grows only for two years and only blooms in the second year. The curly bird's-nest-like flowers are the seed pods.

A friend of mine uses it to make the most gorgeous arrangements I have ever seen. It can be prettier as a filler than baby's breath and is elegant when arranged alone in a vase. My only objection would be the bugs and ants that can hide in the flowers, but if you give them a good shaking, you can pretty much take care of that problem.

Best of all, they are free for the taking. If you check the price of baby's breath at the grocery store you can pay between $6 and $12 for a small bunch, if it is available. Queen Anne's lace only takes a little bit of effort because it grows all the time and lasts well in water. What a bargain.

The best thing about it is that when you come across a big patch of it, if you squint it looks like a mini fairyland. To me it will always be a flower.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What about all that zucchini?

Around our house we have zucchini everywhere. A drawer in our refrigerator is devoted to them and we have some waiting to be refrigerated or frozen. To help with this, we have been making tons of zucchini muffins. We like to grate them leaving the peels but some people really hate seeing the green. If you have a child (or child-like adult) who is put off by the green, just peel them first. I think they taste great either way.

My muffin recipe is especially adapted for people who have allergies. By making these out of flours other than wheat we can add other grains to our diet and have something other than wheat at every meal. Rotating our grains might make us less prone to develop a wheat allergy. Allergic people just have to think that way.

Zucchini Muffins
(Read directions carefully before preparing because there are many options.)

3 1/2 to 4 cups grated zucchini (I started with 3 cups but I think it is even better to use more)
3 cups flour (see flour options below)
3 eggs
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup honey)
1-1/2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/2 cup applesauce
1/4 cup olive oil (Use 1 cup of applesauce if you wish to omit the oil)

(You can use 3 cups of zucchini and add 1/2 cup of buttermilk if you like that better.)

Throw everything into the bowl and mix until dry ingredients are wet. Muffins are better when they are not over mixed. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes or until they are browned. My oven cooks a bit hot so you should adjust it for your oven.

Flour options: For those who need gluten free try 2 cups of oat flour and 1 cup of coconut flour.
(I haven't tried rice flour but I think it would work. It would be good instead of the coconut flour.)
For different flour options: 1 cup whole wheat flour and 2 cups white flour.
Another option: 2 cups whole grain spelt and 1 cup of white spelt

To make this without eggs, you would have to double the arrowroot powder.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our technique for growing cucumbers

Our cucumbers are really producing right now. We have so many cucumbers at this point that we can hardly believe it. It's great that we love them so much.

I think one thing causing them to be so hardy is that we put up a fence on which they could run. It keeps them off the ground and helps them grow long and straight. It contains them and keeps them off the other rows of vegetables. I think keeping them out of the mud is very helpful, too.

I first saw this technique on a website about organic container gardening. It was amazing how beautiful the cucumbers were! So big and straight and lush. It was a hassle, but we put up posts and bought some plastic garden fencing to stretch between the posts. A first, we had to coax the cucumber plants up the fence by tying them to the fencing with string and plastic ties but then they began to sprout runners and fastened and climbed all by themselves.

Sometimes a cucumber will grow into the center of the fencing and one part of it will be on one side and the other part on the other and it will be hard to get out of the fence. But, this is the only down side of growing cucumbers this way I have seen. It is better on the plant, keeps the cukes out of the mud and allows gravity to do it's thing. I don't think we will ever grow cucumbers any other way, and the fencing can be used year after year.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The essence of summer

If you asked me to give you a list of objects that describe summer to me, one of the items would definitely be green beans. They are one of the highlights of a summer garden. We picked green beans and cooked them over the weekend. In fact, they were the most talked about and praised item at our Father's Day celebration meal.

I can remember my grandmother's recipe as green beans, water and streak-o-lean, salt and pepper. That was my mother's too until she tried to avoid quite so much fat.

My recipe would be: Add few tablespoons of olive oil in the bottom of a pan, pour in the green beans, add salt and pepper and cook on medium heat until they are perfect. I like them a little beyond the bright green stage, the less water the better. I guess if you are cooking them a little hotter, you might have to add water but (this is a must) be sure to cook the water out before serving. I can remember a relative telling me that you had to "scorch" the green beans a little to make them good. I try not to do that but I am OK with just a little scorching -- not too much.

Our green beans were delicious and the smell while cooking was like -- summer!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mixed reviews for catnip tea

In an earlier blog I said I would test catnip tea and let you know what I think.

I made the tea using fresh leaves and it started out to be quite promising. Even though catnip leaves have a very strong almost musty odor, when I poured hot water over the leaves, I thought the smell became more pleasant. It had a rich, slightly spearmint, yet still woodsy smell and I liked the smell of the leaves while steeping much better. I was very happy to see there was a change.

When I tasted the tea I thought it smelled and tasted more like chamomile tea, but stronger and mustier.

But in the end, the taste was just not really to my liking. I think I could drink catnip tea for medicinal purposes, but I wouldn't drink it for refreshment. It wasn't horrible but not really great either. I am not the greatest fan of chamomile tea either, but I do like it better than catnip (or catmint) tea. It is probably something I could get used to but I doubt it would ever be my first choice.

I think the next thing I will try with catnip will be insect repellent. I think I might prefer that to catnip tea.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Recipe for a great spinach salad

Every now and then I go to a restaurant and find a dish that is so good I want to replicate it. In March, I went to a restaurant in Destin, Florida and they served us a spinach salad that was to die for. My husband reminded me about that salad the other day and I set to work to try to come up with something similar.

This spinach salad had a maple vinaigrette, and was loaded with bacon, sugared pecans, fruit and the delicious flavor of maple. Here is what I came up with.

Spinach Salad with Maple Vinaigrette

1 bag pre-washed spinach
1/2 to 3/4 cup maple-sugared pecans, chopped
1 cup fresh blueberries, washed and drained
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1 lb. bacon, cooked until crisp and crumbled
1 sliced cucumber
feta cheese

Maple Vinaigrette

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1-1/2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 basil leaf
1 clove of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
Salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients in food processor or blender. Mix on high until it has a creamy appearance. Chill for about an hour and serve with the spinach salad.

Maple and brown sugared pecans

1 tablespoon coconut oil (can substitute other oils)
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 cups whole pecans

In a small sauce pan melt the oil. Add all the other ingredients on medium high heat and and stir constantly, allowing all the ingredients to liquify. Add pecans and stir until all are coated. Pour out onto waxed paper. Allow to cool. These pecans are very tasty and can be served alone as a snack.

Bunny update

I wanted to show what happened with the bunnies from an earlier blog post. We rescued them from the garden and had to relocate them nearby. They were all unharmed and hopped happily away the next day. Apparently, they had just been weaned and we had to take this precaution to protect them from our dog/mascot, Tia. My sister took these photos as she released the bunnies.

It has become harder and harder as our community becomes less rural, to live in harmony with wild animals, displaced by rapidly increasing development. We have been having trouble with this for some time.

Our garden has been raided by geese and deer from time to time and I am sure a rabbit or two has taken a nibble. I don't mind sharing some of the harvest with our furry and feathered friends but it can become a real problem, if no precautions are taken. We have tried chemicals, wind chimes and playing a radio at night. All with some success.

We have heard that a motion sensored watering system or an electric fence would be the most effective way to pest-protect a garden. Does anyone use another method to protect their garden from animal pests? If you have any answers, I would love to hear about them.

Blackberries: Some like 'em wild

I love blackberries but not the kind you get in the grocery store. I love the old-fashioned blackberries that still grow wild on the sides of southern country roads, along fences and anywhere they are allowed to grow. They are smaller than the cultivated kind and the seeds are much smaller. I think the wild ones are also meaner than the cultivated berries because getting them off the vine comes with a struggle. Sometimes you win and often the vines scratch seriously enough to draw blood -- but the flavor cannot be equaled.

We always had blackberries during the summer because it was one of our summer tasks. We would all get a small pail and take off into the woods and along the roadsides and come back with wild blackberries that went into to the most delicious pies you can imagine. If it was a very good year we even had blackberry jam. There was nothing better. I don't think we ever had a 4th of July celebration without a blackberry cobbler.

One summer, our great-aunt Lela came from LaGrange to stay for awhile and decided she wanted to take all us girls berry picking. It was a very memorable experience because we got so lost that day. We came back with blackberries but walked so far and were so tired. We were very glad to see our father driving down the unfamiliar road frantically searching for us. I think it unnerved our aunt and if we hadn't been discovered, we would have been really scared. We came away from that adventure with memories, blackberry bramble scratches, red bug bites and enough blackberries for my mother's famous pie.

This year, being a non-drought year for us in Georgia, it means there are more wild blackberries. Right now I am picking blackberries because we MUST have a pie. I will update you when I have enough to make a good one.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

How to use fresh herbs: catnip

When we went herb shopping this year, my husband accidentally picked up some catnip. I think he thought it was mint. It actually is a member of the mint family. I had no idea how we should use our catnip. Someone mentioned to my husband that it used to be used to help colicky babies and I have always heard that cats find this herb very enticing, though I have never seen their crazy behaviors when they smell it.

I do know that it is a very full and lush herb and looks very impressive as it grows. I have also read that it has very attractive flowers and comes back year after year. We have enjoyed watching our catnip grow so I decided to read up on catnip to see if it could be beneficial for humans.

We had an unusual thing happen last evening around dusk, while in our garden. We noticed that Tia, our garden mascot was very interested in the catnip. She was sniffing and going through it like she was hunting for something. My sister kept telling her to stop but to no avail. Then I saw what I first thought was a mouse crawling from the catnip. After taking a closer look, I realized it was a baby bunny. Eventually we rescued four from Tia who wasn't interested in the catnip after all, but the bunnies.

After I read a bit about the uses for catnip I found it can be made into a toy for cats by taking two squares of cloth and sewing in catnip, like a sachet. Some recommend including rose petals.

Also, catnip is said to have some very helpful medicinal properties. You can make a tea that is often described as "pleasant." I can tell you that it doesn't have the most pleasant smell to me in the garden but I haven't tasted it in a tea, yet. I intend to try it very soon and I will let you know if it is good.

It is credited for inducing sleep, calming an upset stomach, lowering blood pressure, calming nerves and it is supposed to have some antibiotic qualities, as well. It is supposed to be safe for small children..

A very interesting use is as an insect repellent. The oil of catnip is supposed to contain a repellent that is as strong as DEET and far safer.

It is supposed to be easy to dry for later use and some have reportedly put small amounts in salad.

One negative thing is that it seems to attract aphids Apparently, it also attracts bunnies.

Monday, June 15, 2009

A fish cake for a birthday boy

This weekend, my main job was to make a cake for my four-year-old grandson. I was all set on the kind of cake he should have. It was supposed to be a monkey cake that was featured on the MarthaStewart.com website but things don't always work out as we plan -- Eli had plans of his own. His heart was set on a "fish cake" and he had every intention of helping me make it. He had even been drawing fish cakes all day. The drawings looked very much like a cute fish on a birthday card he had received earlier in the week. It also was his favorite color, orange.

I took one look at his drawings and the card and knew we HAD to make a fish cake. We had to establish some rules about putting fingers in the cake and taking bites of the cake -- things like that, but with those things taken care of, we worked hard for a couple of hours on his fish cake. Amazingly, he really stayed with it.

It is really a simple cake sculpture which is relatively easy to do, if you just have the patience. You just need a baked 9 inch, 2-layer cake, plenty of frosting, food coloring, a decorator's bag with a medium-sized round decorator's tip, a spatula, mixing bowls and spoons. I also used an ice cream scoop to form the eye but a biscuit cutter would also work. You don't necessarily need a four-year-old, but in my case it did increase both the excitement -- and the tension.

I took the two cake rounds and placed one on the plate, and with the icing, made with the recipe below and frosted the top of the first layer. Place the next layer on top and frost it, then cut out the fish shape and the fish's mouth. It will become the tail. (See the diagram, below.) With the spatula, frost the cake with a thin coat of white icing. Smooth with a spatula dipped in a small amount of ice water. The frosting will act as a glue to attach the tail. You may have to add extra frosting here and there to even things out and better define the fish shape. I took an ice cream scoop and pressed some of the remaining cake into it to form the eye shape. I then placed the eye in place and iced it with white icing.

To add the color, divide the icing into four parts. Make half of the icing light orange. Save out about 1/2 cup of white icing from the other half for the eye. Make the rest dark orange. Save about a teaspoon of the dark orange frosting and mix with dark blue to make the eye color.

After I mixed the color I piped on the colored icing in swirls until it covered the entire cake, except for the eye, and then smoothed the swirls with a small spatula. To finish the eye, pipe the icing and smooth with a spatula just as in the rest of the cake.

After I finished the color layer, I piped on the fins and scales using the lighter color. (You can use the diagram I provided to see how to decorate the fish.) Using the blue, make the pupil on the fish's eye. To finish I also piped a thin border in the same color around the eye and around the bottom of the fish. I then added the birthday message on the side of the cake.

It is a good thing to know you can make a little boy happy. What else would anyone do?

Whipped cream decorator's icing

3 sticks of butter
1/3 to 1/2 cup whipping cream
3 boxes confectioner's sugar
2 tsp. vanilla flavoring
3 boxes Confectioner's sugar

Optional: Gel food colors (like Wilton)

Cream butter and add 1/4 cup whipping cream and the flavoring. Slowly add confectioner's sugar until it is well mixed. When it gets too stiff, add more whipping cream and mix until it is smooth and creamy. (Don't add too much. On a humid day, less whipping cream will be needed.

(I will admit that it is fattening but there are no trans fats in this frosting and the whipping cream makes it lighter than the decorator icining recipes I have used in the past. I do have a problem with the food coloring and almost always make mostly white cakes. I did use the first layer of white icing and topped it with orange. I might also suggest using lighter colors.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

How to use fresh herbs: dill

Dill is so lacy and green. It is nice to have in your garden just to see the lush color, but when you start harvesting cucumbers, you really begin to see dill's true purpose. I have made pickles with dried herbs but fresh herbs really enhance the taste of the pickles. Our cucumbers are just beginning to be large enough to harvest and the first thing I had to do was make some quick pickles.

The recipe I am including is for Quick Refrigerator Dills. It is easy and a good alternative to actually canning them. It doesn't matter if they are cut into rounds or spears. Just wash the cucumbers well and allow them to dry. You can make them in a sealed container of any kind. I like to re purpose my jars so if this looks like an old pasta sauce jar, you are right. I washed and cleaned the jar, saving it for a time like this.

I filled the jar with sliced cucumbers, and then added two stalks of dill and a clove of sliced garlic. I added a teaspoon of salt on top of the cucumbers and then filled the jar 2/3 full with white vinegar. I filled the rest with cold water and stored them in my refrigerator. These pickles won't last as long as if they were canned, but they are very good and would last for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

You can also use dill for other savory dishes, including a sauce for lamb and in potato salad. I really don't use dill as often as I should but maybe I will find some other uses for it this summer. If you have any good recipes, please send them to me.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Organic is easier than it used to be

When we decided to plant a garden and use only organic fertilizers and pesticides, we thought it would be very difficult. We'd tried it before, but we couldn't find many organic products on the market. We knew that the fertilizer would be the easy part because you can always find manure, but the pesticides would be a problem.

To our great surprise, we have found a number of reasonably-priced products on the market to help us in this endeavor. The Organicide, we found at Lowe's and we also bought some organic pest spray at Arnall's in downtown Newnan that worked well but it wasn't concentrated and wasn't quite as economical. Scott's Miracle Grow has organic potting soil and fertilizers and they are available everywhere.

I have found the organic pest control products I have purchased to be much better than the bug sprays I made using dish washing detergent, hot pepper sauce and oil. Many of those recipes I read about in books or found online but they sometimes burn the leaves on some of my plants, especially the cabbage and eggplant.

I have used The Real Poop which is a fertilizer made from chicken manure, and found it to be very easy to use because it is concentrated and doesn't smell like just plain manure. It even comes with a handy little "pooper scooper!"

I think it will be easier every year to go organic. Try it. It is not as hard as it used to be and you will be happy to know your vegetables are better for you!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A pictorial walk through our garden

I was disappointed because I couldn't go to the garden today and my husband offered to take some photos to give me an update. He had done some weeding and he wanted to do some watering. While the watering was in progress, he walked around and took some beautiful photos. He took photos from different angles and perspectives from mine and I thought he did a great job.

Our cucumbers are running up the fence we put up for them. We would like for gravity to assist us in making our cucumbers long and straight. I hope it works!

Our squash is lush and beautiful!

The potatoes, okra, winter squash and pumpkins really look good, too.

Our green beans are beginning to bloom.

The tomatoes are really growing. Now, they are at least waist high. Some are higher!

I think it is time to collect supplies for canning,and freezing because it won't be long before I need them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A perfect little tea set

I have been looking for a tea set (actually a demitasse set) that was just the right size for a little girl's tea party. Even though I really wanted pink or purple flowers, I think this will work perfectly, especially since I have four tea cups with the same pattern. It is perfect for my four-year-old granddaughter who really loves to come over for tea.

The best thing about it was that it was only $6.00. I had been searching for something similar at yard sales but I have a hard time finding tea items that are worth anything at yard sales. Also, you can't beat this price for a perfect tea set. All of the other sets I have previously found were priced from $30 to $70. I am sure we will get hours of enjoyment and countless memories from it.

I have had to set up a few "rules" for myself when I go to yard sales or antique and junk stores. I can't buy it just because I like it. It must fit some useful purpose, be something I really need, or must be something I can resale for a higher price. This tea set fits into one of these categories because it is something I had been looking for and even though I will admit I really didn't "need" it, it will serve a useful purpose.

Who can resist a good bargain? I have a few "good" bargains in my basement that were mistakes. The worst one was a Foosball table that I thought would really be fun. It only needs a couple of parts to be perfect and it is still in the same condition it was in when I bought it for only $5. What was I thinking? That is a perfect example of why I had to make my rules. Do you have any "rules" for shopping second-hand?

How to use fresh herbs: basil

Today, I went to Publix and bought a great loaf of multi-grain bread. On the way home, I thought of the perfect accompaniment: Basil butter.

I have only been using basil for a couple of years and have found it is a great way to enhance many foods. You can chop a few tablespoons into salads, blend it in a homemade salad dressing, or cook up a pesto to use as an accompaniment for meats and Italian dishes. Also, it makes pasta sauce into a real treat.

I used to think I had to use oregano, rosemary and thyme to make a good marinara, but I have found it is even better if I just use plenty of basil.

Back to the basil butter: Put a garlic clove and two to three basil leaves and a stick of softened butter into a mini food processor and chop on high. I like to add about a tablespoon of olive oil to the mixture to give it a smoother texture but some think the flavor is too strong. It keeps well in the refrigerator for at least a week and is very, very good on a great slice of bakery bread or Italian bread. Allow to sit out about 15 minutes before serving so it will spread more easily.

Basil is easy to grow from seed and can even be found as a potted plant in the grocery store. You can grow it on your kitchen windowsill and is perfect in any summer garden. It won't last through the winter and you will need to start over every spring but it is an easy herb to grow.

I hope to find a few new ways to use basil before the summer is done so check back later.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The harvest begins

Today was very exciting to us because we began harvesting squash. It was really a good day for picking. We had been anticipating it for about a week but we were rewarded by a nice basket of zucchini and yellow squash (plus a bell pepper and a banana pepper) and we celebrated by making a great meal, including a mixed squash stir fry.

I plan to freeze squash and possibly find a new recipe for squash casserole. I would like to try one that is reasonably healthy and that is something I have not been able to find. Then there is that zucchini cupcake recipe I just downloaded from Martha Stewart Living that I have to try. Surely I can be creative enough to come up with a few other ways to prepare squash.

For now I will be satisfied with squash that is fresh from the garden. To make it I usually just pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan and add at least half a Vidalia onion, cut in rings. I let that simmer a few minutes and then pour the sliced squash on top. I simmer for about 30 minutes more on medium until the squash is well cooked. This is similar to the way my mother and grandmother cooked it. Sometimes I drain off some of the liquid and reduce the rest by leaving off the lid of the pan while simmering. I salt and pepper it well and that is all you need. A deep south, southern, melt in your mouth tradition.

The shocking thing is that I hated squash as a child.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

How to use fresh herbs: parsley

This one is easy. Parsley is one of the healthiest herbs you can use. It is filled with vitamins, especially Vitamin C. I planted the Italian variety but I love curly leaf parsley. I have found that the curly leaf variety is a little harder to grow. It might not be as hardy as other herbs and you may have to replant next year, but it is supposed to be a perennial.

Use it liberally in salads. I used it in this tuna salad I had for lunch, and it is great for almost any salad. Even a tossed salad is better with a little chopped parsley thrown in. Chicken salad is complimented by parsley and I really love to add a tablespoon of parsley and onion to my pimento cheese. In my opinion it takes it to a whole new level of delicious.

Parsley compliments chicken dishes, sautes and soups. In fact, you can use it in just about any savory dish. The only thing I would suggest when using parsley -- add it to a hot dish late in the cooking process. If it is overcooked, it loses some of its flavor. So, chop it and have it ready to add to your pot just before the dish is ready. Don't cook it over five to seven minutes.

It can be dried and used to sprinkle in foods, too. This is a great way to use parsley year-round. Just hang in a cool, dry place and when it is dry, crumble leaves only, not the stalks, and put in a spice jar or place in a baggie and freeze.

As you enjoy the flavor of parsley, just think about the health benefits you are getting for your family.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How to use fresh herbs: mint

Mint is one of the "staple" herbs. When you think of planting an herb garden, you immediately write down mint on your list of herbs you must have. Spearmint and peppermint are the most common varieties but you will find there are many to choose from.

Spearmint was my choice and I like it because it's one of those plants that you plant once and it just keeps coming back. You will have it year after year and it will spread all over your garden, if you leave it alone.

How can you use it? I will give you a few suggestions to get you started and you can go from there.

First, iced tea. I love mint in my iced tea. I would prefer it to lemon. I like to crush it a little and just put it in the ice and sip it on a hot summer afternoon. A-h-h-h-h! It is SO refreshing. It makes a very attractive garnish. I will admit that my photo doesn't do it justice. I had the tea, ice and mint but I didn't show you the summer's day!

Another way to use mint is to freshen your breath. Just chew a half leaf and you will get the same effect as a breath mint without the sugar. It has to be better for your teeth.

I have read that it can help freshen a room. Put it in a vase with water and allow it to waft through the air to add a fresh scent.

In cooking: Chop a bit of fresh mint in a mixed fruit salad.

Make a mint pesto to accompany a lamb dish: In a pan, melt a tablespoon of butter, add 1/4 cup of fresh chopped mint and saute on medium high heat for a few minutes, then add a tablespoon of honey. Serve with lamb.

And the best way to use mint? Chocolate.You can dip leaves in melted chocolate bark, place on waxed paper until cool. Use them as a garnish.

Make Chocolate Mint Brownies. This is easy. Add 1/4 cup of finely chopped mint to a brownie mix (or more if you really like it). What could be easier?

The down side of mint? It can be a problem with those who suffer from reflux. Even though mint is often used as a digestive aid, it can aggravate reflux. That is the only negative I can come up with.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Make these free rose silhouette note cards

It seems that roses are more popular than ever this year because everywhere I look, I see landscapes brimming with colorful roses. I think everyone loves roses and in my opinion they are the perfect summer flower.

I have enjoyed the displays of roses so much that I was inspired to share my rose silhouette note cards with you. Just print them on your home printer on card stock, cut in half with a paper cutter and fold in half. You can purchase invitation envelopes that will fit the cards perfectly. You can give them as gifts, thank you notes or invitations. I will only leave these up for the summer and they will not be available in the fall so I hope you enjoy your roses.

Download the pdf card here.