Thursday, September 30, 2010

Instant Gourmet - making herbal butter!

I was surfing the net the other day and ran across a quote from a Gourmet Cooking blog.  They said “Herb butters are among the small but important details offered by fine restaurants and appreciated by gourmet diners.”  Reading that reminded me that the first items I experimented with after harvesting from my original herb garden were Herb Butters.
Herbal Butter is a simple, fun and easy way to experiment with different herbs.  It helps you to realize the tastes and the flavor families.
The best part about herbal butter is you can use either salted or unsalted butter or even margarine or butter substitutes.  You can also use fresh or dried herbs.  That makes them a great item to make in the winter when you are missing fresh herbs and planning your herb garden for next year.
How to Craft Herb Butter
 When using fresh herbs instead of dried herbs double the amount used in a recipe calling for dried herbs, as dry herbs have a more intense flavor.  The general rule in making herbal butter is: Use 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh herbs; 1-1/2 teaspoons of dried herbs or 1/2 teaspoon of ground seeds like dill seed, fennel seed etc. for every 4 ounces or 1/2 cup of butter which has been softened to room temperature.
Herb butters can be used to flavor to cooked foods, a way to rev-up your morning toast, or even as an appetizer on crackers.  They can be made in advance, kept in the refrigerator for days or frozen and kept for months. I used to make a bunch at one time, roll them into a ball or pack them into a ramekin and freeze them.  Then when friends stopped by, I grab one out, let it thaw and serve.  They all thought I was a genius and I was just thrifty, by making extra every time I made herb butter.
Some suggestions to get you started
Basil Butter:  1 tablespoon dried basil and 1-1/2 teaspoon dried parsley. Use on green beans, summer squash or zucchini. It is equally delicious on top of poached eggs, noodles or for sautéed fish.
Fine Herbs Butter:  1-1/2 teaspoon parsley; 3/4 teaspoon tarragon; 1/2 teaspoon rosemary; 1/2 teaspoon chives. This is delicious on cheese and egg dishes or can be used on fish, meats, or vegetables.
Mint Butter:  Combine 1 tablespoon of mint and 1 tablespoon of lemon choice with the butter. Add the lemon juice gradually to prevent curdling. This is ideal with lamb or can be used on new potatoes, carrots or green peas.
Mixed Herb Butter:  Add 3/4 teaspoons of each of the following dried herbs – chervil, chives, dill, mint and tarragon plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice. This is great on noodles or broiled tomatoes or can be used on broiled fish or meat.
Sage Butter:  1 teaspoon dried sage; 1/2 teaspoon dried celery leaves or 1/4 teaspoon celery seed; 1 teaspoon onion juice; 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Use it on poultry, lamb chops, veal, or vegetables.
Tarragon Butter:  2 teaspoons dried tarragon; 1-1/2 teaspoon dried parsley; 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. This adds a unique flavor to tomato dishes, eggs, cheese, or noodles. It can also be used on lamb or fish.
Lemon butter: 1 teaspoon lemon peel; 2 teaspoons dried lemon balm; 1 Tablespoon lemon juice.
When you have made the butter spoon it into ice cube molds or candy molds and use within 2 days. Alternatively, if you want to keep it longer, freeze it.  Remove it from the freezer and allow to thaw at room temperature for several hours before it is required. 
These are just a few ideas as the possibilities are endless. Try experimenting with your own favorite combinations. You should be able to think of many more recipes to make your own herb butter.
And if you want to save the hassle, the Backyard Patch has a multitude of pre-blended Herb Mixes formulated just for making herbal butters.  You can find them all right here: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&rd=1&item=370330738928&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Garlic Chives - Herb-of-the-Week

Every Wednesday  is Herb-of-the-Week day, I feature a blog on a special herb each Wednesday and detail it uses, growing habit and include recipes using the herb, and will include herbs to prove not all herbs are for eating!
This week’s herb is Garlic Chives
There's garlic (Allium sativum), and there are chives (A. schoenoprasum)—and then there are garlic chives (A. tuberosum, also called Chinese chives), which are just at this time of year, brightening the garden with pretty globes of starry white flowers, dearly loved by the bees.
Since they are practically the same as Graden Chives, Garlic Chives can be used and stored in the same manner. They are distinguishable from chives by their flat, broader leaves and fragrant white flowers. Otherwise, they look very similar in appearance.

As you would expect by the name, garlic chives have a delicate garlic flavor and are used extensively in oriental dishes. Garlic chives are a good choice for those who shy away from full-flavored garlic, just as regular chives are happily consumed by those who do not care for the strong taste of fresh onions.
They are a perennial that grows from a rhizome to a height of 20 inches.  It will flower in the fall and the flowers or leaves can be used to make herbal vinegar.  Since garlic cloves are considered slightly hazardous for making vinegar, I use Garlic Chives instead.  You can make the vinegar just like any herbal vinegar, enjoy the wonderful flavor of garlic and the long shelf life and not worry about botulism or other bacterial issues.
Growing
Like its cousin Garden Chives, Garlic Chives grows in a clump, however it easily propogates by seed which it produces in profusion in the lovely white flowers. The tiny black seeds can be collected them by tapping the drying seed head onto a plate.  You can then sprout the seeds for spicy salad sprouts. Or you can clip the seed heads while they're still green, dry them in paper bags, shake out the seeds, and add the pretty heads to your herbal wreaths. Or you can let Nature take its course, in which case you will have more garlic chives than you know what to do with. (Of course, they do make lovely pass along plants.) In cold regions, they'll die back to the ground and pop up again in the spring. Every two or three years, dig and divide the clump in the fall.
Using Garlic Chives
Snipping the flat, narrow green leaves into salads, omelets, soups, and mashed potatoes, where they add color and a subtle garlic taste. The tender young leaves are best to cook with, so it's a good idea to shear the entire clump back to the ground every three or four weeks, to make sure that the leaves don't get tough and bitter. You can dry the snipped leaves for winter-time use, or pop them into small plastic bags and freeze them.
Chinese herbalists use garlic chives to stimulate the appetite, improve digestion, and fight fatigue—another reason to plant and enjoy this ornamental culinary herb.
Medicinally it can be used to help with nasal congestion and cold symptums and does have some of the same antiviral/antibacterial properties of garlic, but is not as potent.
Recipes

Garlic Chive Blossom Stir-fry

This recipe calls for flowering chives, also called flowering Chinese chives or flowering leeks. This popular Chinese delicacy is inexpensive, and sometimes available in the produce section of local supermarkets as well as Asian groceries.  The trick to this easy side dish is not to overcook the chives. It goes well with everything from noodles to fish or prawns. Serves 2 to 4.

Ingredients:
2 bunches flowering chives
2 tablespoons light soy sauce
2 tablespoons chicken broth or water
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil for stir-frying
1 teaspoon cornstarch mixed with 4 teaspoons water
Preparation:
  1. Wash the flowering chives and drain. Cut on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces (use the buds).  
  2. Combine the soy sauce, chicken broth and sugar. Set aside.
  3. Heat wok on medium-high heat. Add the oil, drizzling down the sides. When the oil is hot, add the flowering chives. Stir-fry for about 1 minute, until they turn a brighter green.
  4. Push the chives up to the sides of the wok. Add the sauce in the middle. Add the cornstarch/water mixture to the sauce, stirring quickly to thicken.
  5. Mix the sauce with the flowering chives, cook until the sauce is boiling, but don't overcook. Serve immediately.
Chinese Scrambled Eggs

This recipe for Chinese scrambled eggs is made with Chinese garlic chives. These go very nicely with egg, but you can use regular chives as well. This dish typically calls for a large quantity of chives - feel free to reduce the amount to 2 or 3 tablespoons and add other seasonings if desired.  Serves 2 to 4

Ingredients:
1 1/2 - 2 ounces Chinese garlic chives (to make 1/3 cup chopped)
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons light soy sauce or up to 1/2 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black or white pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable or peanut oil
Preparation:
  1. Wash and drain the garlic chives. Remove the hard ends and any wilted green leaves at the top and chop into 1-inch lengths until you have 1/3 cup (5 tablespoons).
  2. Lightly beat the eggs. Add the soy sauce or salt, 1 teaspoon vegetable oil and pepper.
  3. Heat a heavy skillet on medium high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, lifting the frying pan so that the oil covers the bottom of the pan.
  4. When the oil is hot, add the chives. Stir-fry briefly, then add the beaten egg mixture. Reduce the heat to medium and gently scramble the eggs. Remove them from the heat when they are just done but still moist. Serve hot.

Herbal Vinegar with Garlic Chives
To make herb vinegar, wash and dry your fresh herbs thoroughly then pour warm vinegar, not hot, over them in glass jars. You can use any type of vinegar but distilled. Be sure that the fresh herbs are completely covered by the vinegar. Seal the jar and allow them to sit for a month or two to mingle the flavors. Do not allow the herb vinegar access to direct sunlight

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Rosacea & Women's Health and Fitness Day!

Tomorrow is Women’s Health and Fitness day.  I always feel that is a good reminder that Women have different health issues than men do and we should take care of ourselves accordingly. And you should ask yourself What can you do to begin your own personal fitness program? Diet? Exercise? A regular daily walk? Riding your bicycle?  Taking up Yoga?  Today is a good day to begin!  I ride my bike home from the office about 10 miles almost everyday.  I love being outdoors.  Right now to help me focus on my surroundings – not just on getting home.  I am on a counting squirrels campaign.  (Since September 1 35 gray, 7 red, 4 ground.)
There is a great book on women’s health and herb healing by Rosemary Gladstar entitled Herbal Healing for Women that I think is worth looking at if you are interested in Herb-related treatments.
So, like many people with fair skin and red hair suffer from Rosacea.  Rosacea is a fairly common skin condition that is characterized by redness or flushing of the cheeks, chin, nose and forehead.  I have taken medication, used antibiotic creams and ointments, but found that nothing worked long term, so I started using herbal remedies and have had some success.  I thought in a quest for women’s health (although this is not a woman only disease since former President Clinton suffers) I would share some of those remedies.

Homemade Rosacea “Cure”


Rosacea has no cure. Even its causes are not clearly understood. Instead, it is a condition of symptoms. Rosacea sufferers experience a reddening of the face and neck and may have pimple-like bumps. The condition can be treated. The only rosacea "cure" is to reduce and manage flare-ups.

Basic Care Routine

Wash your face with lukewarm water instead of hot water as heat will bring more blood to the surface and worsen the condition. Wash with a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser. People with rosacea should not use defoliating scrubs or strong, astringent cleansers. Skin care products with aloe vera and/or vitamin E have been helpful in some cases.

Do not use clay masks for cleansing. Instead, try a homemade mask with an olive oil base mixed with calming, chamomile tea and a little oatmeal, which has anti-inflammatory properties. After washing your face, always pat it dry with a soft towel. Wash three or more times daily, depending on how oily your skin is.

Some cases of rosacea have shown improvement from washing with pine tar soap. Some recommend smoothing on a lather, letting it dry, then leaving it on throughout the night. Wash it off in the morning and follow through by applying a bag balm to your face and leaving it on for about 10 minutes.

Try mixing mineral water with apple cider vinegar for a homemade facial toner. Spray this onto the face directly and pat it dry.

Nutrition to Help

Change your diet as part of your homemade treatment. Drink apple juice, preferably brands lower in sugar and preservatives. Eat more berries. The antioxidants in blueberries, blackberries and strawberries are good for skin. Get plenty of Omega-3 fatty acid oil. Eat more leafy and green vegetables.

Drink fenugreek tea. This has been known to be especially helpful with skin disorders, most especially acne. If you cannot find the tea, buy fenugreek and steep it in boiling water to make your own tea.

Avoid chocolate, alcohol, and fatty, fried foods and spicy foods. Tomatoes, too, can trigger rosacea flare-ups and should be avoided. Now not all of these cause flairs for all people.  Alcohol and tomato sauce will do it for me.  You may be different.  Pay attention to the foods that irritate you and reduce the intake.

Lavender Skin Treatment
Lavender's antibacterial astringent and anti-inflammatory properties make it an effective treatment for Rosacea.

Things You'll Need:

  • 3 drops pure lavender essential oil
  • 1 tablespoon grape seed oil
  • Cotton balls
Blend the lavender essential oil with the grape seed oil in a small bowl.
Cleanse and rinse your face. Gently pat your face dry with a towel. Be sure not to irritate our skin.
Apply a bit of the mixture to a small area on your face to determine whether you are allergic. Lavender contains geraniol, which may be an irritant for rosacea in some people. If you experience any redness at the test spot, don't use the mixture.
Dip your cotton ball into the lavender oil blend. Massage it gently into your skin. Avoid any contact with your eyes, nostrils and lips. Repeat until you have applied it to your entire face. Pat off any excess oil and let the rest to soak in.
Make these steps a part of your daily facial routine.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Making your own Herbal Bread

If you want to cut carbs, just not ALL of them you many want to turn to an herb bread.  The rich and varied textures of herbs can satisfy your palate resulting in feeling full sooner.  The best part is the ease at which you can incorporate herbs into bread.  So, scope out these recommendations for using herbs in bread.

You can slip herbs into any bread, roll or biscuit or cracker you make.  The only trick is to coordinate the herbal flavoring with whatever else you are serving with the bread.  Use the same herbs you would use to flavor the main course.  Biscuit made to go with a turkey dinner are delicious flavor with parsley, sage, rosemary or thyme.

Both fresh and dried herbs work well in baked goods.  How much to use depends on your personal takes, of course, but in general about 1 teaspoon of fresh strongly flavored herbs such as tarragon or dill will flavor one loaf of bread or a dozen biscuits.  Use larger quantities of milder-flavored herbs such as parley, chervil and lovage, beginning by adding 2 teaspoons the first time you make the breads and then adjust to your taste.  If you use dried herbs instead of fresh, cut these amounts in half or you may overpower the bread.

Remaking store-bought dough

If making bread simply doesn’t fit into your schedule, you can add herbs to store-bought dough for bread, rolls or pizza.  It takes only a moment to flatten out a thawed loaf of bread dough and sprinkle some fresh or dried herbs over it and roll it up into a loaf shape again.  For preformed rolls, make a depression with your thumb and sprinkle in the herbs.  Pizza dough gives you incredible scope, since you only need to press the herbs into the top, brush with olive oil then add you toppings.

Herb Bread from Scratch

Your herb garden can also add new dimension to any sweet breads or cakes you make.  Anise, lemon verbena, and lemon balm make the flavors more complex.  Angelica and sweet cicely allow you to cut 1/4 to 1/8 of the sweetener you usually use in the recipe.  Whatever you are baking, let your imagination roam through the herb garden to pick the perfect accompaniment.


Herb Bread Recipe

1 Tbls. yeast
½ cup warm water
2 Tbls. onion, chopped
1 ½ cups milk
4 Tbls. oil
1 Tbls honey
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
5 cups unbleached white flour
1 Tbsp. sage, chopped finely
3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped finely
2 tsp. thyme, chopped finely
1 tsp. rosemary, chopped finely

Directions add yeast to warm water.  Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes.  Sauté onions.  Separately bring 1 ½ cups of milk to the scalding point.  Pour milk into a bowl.  To Milk add yeast mixture, oil, honey, salt and eggs.  Stir in flour to form dough.  Before kneading, add sautéed onions and herbs.  Knead the dough until it is smooth.  Place it in an oiled bowl, and let rise.  Punch down the dough after 1 hour and form into two loaves.  Place in loaf pans.  Let rise for 45 minutes.  Bake the bread at 400 degrees for roughly 1 hours or until loaves sound hollow when tapped.

The Backyard Patch has two blends that are specially formulated for making an herb-flavored bread, but after years of experimentation we have discovered that several of our blends are good with bread, including: Herbal Spread, Butter N Cheese Blend, Garlic & Herb Combination, Marcy’s Dill Dip Mix, Fiesta Dip Mix, Chili Blend, Potato Topper.  To find all these blends check out our product pages on our Website or this listing in my Etsy Shoppe

Friday, September 24, 2010

Making Parsley Oil

Parsley is a biennial herb.  The second year it really just focuses its energy on making seed, so the quality of the leaves are greatly diminished.  For that reason I generally treat it as an annual and at the end of the season, I cut the plant off at the ground, or yank it out by the roots. 

Drying parsley is often not the easiest thing to do (it is one of those herbs that turns brown if drying conditions are not perfect.)  As a result I try to preserve it different ways.  One of the best for preserving that bright, green flavor of both curly and flat parsley is to make parsley oil.


Making Parsley Oil

2 cups (500 ml) parsley leaves
½ cup (140 ml) vegetable oil

1.                  Bring a pot of water to boil and season with salt.
2.                  Blanch the parsley. (Allow parsley to remain in boiling water for only 2 minutes, then remove.)
3.                  Place the blanched parsley on a tea towel.  Ball up the edges of the tea towel and twist them into a knot to squeeze all the water from the herbs.
4.                  Place the squeezed parsley into the blender and add half the oil.  Puree for a few seconds and then add the other half of the oil.  Pulse the blender rather than letting it run continuously as the heat generated will darken the oil.  Continue to purée until the oil becomes bright green.
5.                  When green, empty the oil into a bowl and cover with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate overnight.
6.                  The following day, place cheesecloth in a strainer placed over a bowl and pour the oil into the cheesecloth.  Allow it to drip until the oil is strained.  Do not force the oil through the cheesecloth or this will make the final oil cloudy.
7.                  Bottle the oil for use.  Keep it in the refrigerator.  It will only hold for a few days, but can be frozen for slightly longer storage.
8.                  Now you can have some fun. 
a.       Use the oil to decorate serving plates with a few drizzles; you can be like Martha Stewart!
b.   You can make an excellent dish with tomatoes, see this recipe.
c.       It can now be used in any dish where you would use plain oil.
d.       It is good tossed with spaghetti or shaped pasta and blanched vegetables.
e.      Make a vinaigrette salad dressing with 2/3 cup oil and 1/3 cup vinegar. You can really play with the flavor by mixing it with herbal vinegar, like basil or lemon. 

The Backyard Patch does not make oils for commercial sale, however we do have herb blends that mix with your own canola, olive or vegetable oil.  Check them out at on our Webpage 

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Lemon Balm - Herb-of-the-Week

Having christened Wednesday Herb-of-the-Week day, I feature a blog on a special herb each Wednesday and detail it uses, growing habit and include recipes using the herb, and they are not only for food.

This week’s herb is: Lemon Balm
I could not go any farther into the herb-of-the week program without introducing you to a lemon herb.  I will admit a lemon herb bias.  I adore anything in the herb kingdom that is lemon scents, lemon flavored or citrus in taste.  I am on the hunt every spring for lemon herbs that are newly introduced.  For this entry I am going to share Lemon Balm.  It is an easy to grow herb with such a variety of uses that anyone can add it to their herb or vegetable garden.
Lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is native to the Mediterranean and has a history going back at least 2000 years.  In the doctrine of signatures the heart shape of the herb led to its use as a treatment for heart ailments.  It is however, known to be good for lifting depression, calming anxiety, relieving insomnia, and helping to relieve nervous tension..  It is considered one of the good herbs for lowering blood pressure and can help with allergic reactions to the skin because of its antihistamine action.  Being gentle and light it can be given to children and its anti nausea applications make it a good herb to take when feeling under the weather.  As a cooking herb, it is valued for its lemon flavor.
Growing
Lemon Balm is a dependable perennial up through zone 3.  The plant will grow 2 feet high, bearing small white non-descript flowers in mid- to late summer.  The square and branching stems support broadly ovate or heart-shaped leaves with scalloped edges.  The whole plant smells delightfully lemony, with the scent being best when the tiny flowers begin to open.
It dies back completely when winter arrives and comes back when the soil begins to warm.  Its sunny yellow green leaves are usually the first you see emerging in the spring.  It is in the mint family and can grow prolifically.  It tolerates just about any soil conditions and can grow in sun or shade.  The seed will spread this plant easily around your garden, so best to harvest it strongly and often to keep it from producing flowers.
There are several varieties of Lemon Balm available.  Of special note is Golden Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Aurea’) which does not flower and has an attractive chartreuse color that contrasts well with other shades of green.  There is also a lime-scented version known as  Lime Balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Lime’).
Cooking
Light and fresh, lemon balm adds a splash of citrus and mint undertones to both savory and sweet dishes.  Use the young tops for cooking and teas because the large, older leaves tend to have a soapy, musty flavor.  It is best used fresh, but can be dried quickly and stored carefully for use in teas and herb blends; on drying it will lose some of the nuance of its flavor.
You can chop it into fruit salad, add it to lemonade, you can even put the leaves in ice water and use them for finger bowls.  The lemon fragrance is perfect as an added green to salads and the medicinal properties of relaxation are great in an herbal tea.  It can be used in cooking wherever a taste of lemon is desired, which means it is perfect on fish, great with chicken and adds a splash of flavor to vegetables and rice.  The only thing to remember is like oregano, you should add the fresh or dried lemon balm toward the end of cooking, as cooking lemon balm too long will dissipate its flavor.
Problems with Lemon Balm
About its only growing problems (besides its desire to spread seed) is that in the damp months of fall, like September it can get powdery mildew due to thick leafy stems and lack of air circulation.  To cure this just cut the effected foliage and discard.  It will grow back just fine.

Recipes
Lemon Herb Butter
½ cup (one stick) of butter or margarine
1 Tbls. finely chopped lemon balm
1 Tbls. finely chopped Lemon thyme
1 tsp. Chipped lemon verbena (remove leaf center rib)
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
Combine all ingredients and refrigerate overnight.  Delicious on breads, vegetables and as a baste on fish or poultry.  I have even used this as a butter served with steak (like Bobby Flay!)

Lemon Balm Dip

4 Tbls. dried dill
4 Tbls. dried lemon balm
2 tsp. granulated lemon peel
1 tsp. ground lemon pepper
Mix all ingredients together.  Use 1 Tbls. of this blend with 1 cup sour Cream and 1 cup mayonnaise to create a dip.

Lemon-Berry Chardonnay Cordial

3/4 cup sugar
1/4cup chopped fresh lemon balm
3 cups fresh or frozen blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, or blackberries
3 cups chardonnay

In a blender or food processor, process sugar and lemon balm until leaves are finely chopped and mixed into the sugar.  Wash and drain the berries and place in a quart jar.  Sprinkle with herbed sugar.  Add wine to jar and cover.  Refrigerate at least 1 month or until mixture is slightly thick and sweet.
To use:  1. For an aperitif, strain and pour into glasses.  Garnish with fresh sprigs
 2. For a summer beverage: Strain and pour ¼ cup into a tall, ice-filled glass.  Fill the glass with soda water or sparkling water.
 3. For dessert sauce: spoon over baked meringues, fresh fruit or ice cream.

Trouble sleeping?
Let the aroma of Lemon balm give you restful sleep by making an herb pillow.  Blend 2 Tablespoons each of lavender, hops, lemon balm and rosemary.  Place the blend in a cloth bag or tie into the corners of your pillow case to add with restful sleep.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Herbal Salts & Gourmet Salts - Make your own!

I have been asked if I carry exotic salts from the Himalayan Mountains and if my sea salt is from the Dead Sea.  I know these questions come from popular media and marketing that have touted the benefits of these exotic salts, many of which are uniquely colored and very expensive.   But is the higher price tag worth it? And is there really something special about these salts of many colors?  Well let’s explore this by first explaining the four basic types of salt.
The Four Basic Salt Types
There are four basic types of salt: table salt, mined salts, sea salts and kosher salt.
About 100 years ago, the Morton Salt Company fixed its place in our kitchens by adding an anti-caking agent to table salt, creating a perfectly pourable, uniform product, hence the slogan, “When it rains, it pours.” They also included iodine, because many people were deficient in this natural element. (Hardly anyone is anymore.) And to mask its mineral aftertaste, they added a form of processed sugar. When you get down to it table salt is quite a chemical conglomeration.  And mixing salt with sugar might not be the way to go, particularly now that there are so many tasty options.
 Mined salts, also called rock salts, are extracted from the earth like other precious mined commodities, and are generally processed by being boiled in brine from which the liquid evaporates, leaving mountains of chunky salt crystals behind. Some of these crystals are actually slabs, which are large enough that you can bake or grill foods directly on them, seasoning the food with luscious natural brine. Before it is processed, table salt is a mined salt.
Sea salts are formed when salt water evaporates from pools and cliffs. The crystals are then carefully scraped off. There’s a lot of variability in the structure of salts left behind by sea water. Fleur de sel, or “the flower of salt,” is the caviar of all sea salts. Its lacy “flowers” form only on warm days when the winds are calm on the Brittany coast of France.
Kosher salt can be mined or from the sea. Its structure—tiny, stacked pyramids —is what makes it so valuable. Its shape helps it dissolve much better than common table salt, and it’s easy to pick up by the pinch. Plus, the large surface area of the crystals imparts a lot of flavor, so you can use less. Relatively inexpensive kosher salt is the everyday cooking favorite of chefs and food lovers. 
What Salt Means for Your Health
Almost all Americans consume too much salt. In fact, the average American eats about seven pounds of salt each year, and that’s about double what health experts recommend. Avoiding processed foods is one way to reduce sodium intake. Salting after cooking is also an obvious sodium reducer. Relying on a bounty of herbs and spices for flavor is another fantastic way to cut down on those seven pounds. But there’s nothing quite like salt for great cooking.
My husband was very anti salt.  He would leave it out of recipes, never add it when cooking, and generally find ways to work around it and without it.  He did not eve like to have it on the dinner table.  I, on the other hand, enjoyed salt in moderation so added it after foods were cooked, especially when cooked by him.  My husbands new hobby, however, is gourmet cooking and what he soon realized watching the food network and reading up on cooking was that it is very valuable to the palate.  It elicits wonderful, flavorful compounds from every food you may want to eat. It preserves many of those foods as well. It amplifies and elevates flavors in a way that simply makes things taste more like themselves. It keeps colorful foods colorful. And it helps to combine and seal in flavors as nothing else does. Salt makes foods sing.  And if you want to be a gourmet—your food must sing.
There came the dilemma, what salt should we then use.  I understood that gram for gram; fancy gourmet salts contain just as much sodium as common table salt. So the key is to use less.  And that’s exactly why some people prefer sea salts—you really can use less because the rich flavor requires less to get the same enjoyment.  When gourmet salts are combined with flavor-boosting herbs and spices, and especially if they’re used primarily as a finishing flavor, it’s possible to reduce your sodium intake dramatically. In addition, you may benefit from the trace minerals and elements present in salts from various parts of the globe, and you won’t find any of those nutrients in regular salt.
Blend Herb Flavors With Salts
One of the ways to minimize salt intake and up the flavor capacity is to blend herbs into salts.  The good news is it is not hard and you can experiment to create your own blends with very little expense.  Salt crystals can extract and absorb essential oils and flavors from herbs with little effort and no special tools.  Famous chefs have done this well recently.   Sara Jenkins, chef-owner of Porchetta, sells Porchetta Salt, created with earthy Mediterranean herbs, and wild fennel pollen.  While Dario Cecchini, a butcher in Tuscany, has packed aroma form lavender and rosemary, into an ultrafine Italian sea salt he calls Profumo del Chianti.  Justin Esch and David Lefkow, share a dream of making everything taste like bacon. If you agree with my husband that bacon goes with everything, you might like their BaconSalt line, which includes several flavors like Hickory, Maple and Peppered.
Create Your Own Gourmet Salts
Delicate salt crystals will extract and absorb the essential flavor compounds from your favorite herbs and other added ingredients, creating a perfect infusion. 
To craft your own seasoned salts, start with a ½ teaspoon of kosher or sea salt.  Stir in an herb or herb combination, gently, as salt crystals are delicate.  You can use fresh or dried herbs; keeping in mind that dried herbs have a concentrated flavor and stronger taste so less will be needed compared to fresh herbs.  Once blended, you can keep your salt in a tightly lidded container for about a month.
Here are some flavor families to get you started, but don’t be afraid to experiment:
Citrus zest: grapefruit, lemon, lime, orange
Robust Herbs:  basil, cilantro, rosemary, or sage
Sweet or Floral Herbs: lavender, lemon balm, lemon verbena, rose, dill or mint
Savory Herbs: marjoram, oregano, parsley, savory, tarragon, thyme; or whole bay leaf
Herb seeds: whole caraway, celery, coriander, cumin, fennel, poppy, or sesame
Garlic: 3 fresh cloves, finely diced, or 1 teaspoon dried
Onions: finely diced fresh shallots, onions or scallions
Peppers: whole peppercorns or finely diced dried chilies
I resisted making herbal salts commercially for years because I craft most of my blends to be salt-free for those with dietary restrictions.  In fact I went so far as to make Salt Substitutes instead of flavored salt.  But recently I began to work with rock salt and found that if you blend herbs with rock salt you get wonderful flavors and a long shelf-life because you can use the salt and herbs whole then grind them onto or into dishes as you prepare them.  So using the same grinder jars I use for my Herbal Salt Substitutes I was able to craft Gourmet Herb-Seasoned Salts with mined rock salt.  If you want to try either of these wonderful products, visit our e-store at http://www.backyardpatch.etsy.com/ .

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seasonal Dill Seed Recipes

Some herbs are so plentiful in the fall you want to try to use them.  Dill is one of those herbs.  You can see it all over as the beautiful umbels begin to set seed.  You can use that seed to make dill pickles, but it is also good in these flavorful recipes:


Lime Dill Dressing

2 Tbls. Lime juice
1 Tbls. Vinegar
½ tsp. sugar
½ tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. coarsely ground dill seed
1 Tbls. Mayonnaise
½ cup olive oil
salt & pepper to taste

Bland together all ingredients except olive oil, salt & pepper; add oil in a steady stream, blending until thoroughly combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Makes ½ cup.

Dilled Brittle Bread Crisps


A light crunchy herb cracker you can serve with wine or juice.

2 ¾ cups flour (plus more to roll dough in)
2 Tbls. Sugar
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. baking soda
2 Tbls. Coarsely ground dill seeds
1 stick butter
1 cup fresh plain yogurt
1 egg, beaten with a 1 tsp. water
whole dill seeds
course salt, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  In a food processor or with pastry blender combine flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and dill seeds.  Add butter and process until mixture is like a course meal.  Add yogurt and mix until just combined.  Make into small balls the size of almonds.  Refrigerate until chilled.  On a lightly floured board roll each ball out as thin as possible.  Place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash, sprinkle generously with whole dill seeds and course salt.

Bake 5 minutes or until golden brown in upper part of the oven.  Remove from pan to cool.  Store in tin box or sealed container. Makes 4 to 5 dozen.

Baked Flounder or Haddock
2 lbs. fresh or defrosted flounder or haddock
6 Tbls. butter or margarine
1 Tbls. Dill leaves or seeds
Parmesan cheese
Paprika


Heat butter or margarine in a low oven with dill.  Place fish in greased pan and brush both sides with the warm herb butter using a pastry brush.  Bake the fish in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, then sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and some paprika for color and broil for 3 to 5 minutes.  (May be covered with aluminum foil and kept warm in a low oven until everything else is ready.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

September Garden Care

September is the time to choose your garden plants to rescue from harsh winter winds.  Anything you want to bring in for winter should be handled now and annual seeds can be sewn for next year. 

Scatter your dill or coriander seed in the garden in the fall and if soils and garden conditions are right, it will sprout in the spring giving you an early crop.  You should dig up and repot your tender plants in September to give them time to adjust to the pot before bring inside in late September or early October when the frost arrives.

Place your dug plants in fresh sterile soil in clean pots and put them in a shady spot for a week or so.  Then you can place them back in the sunshine until bringing them inside.

Sturdy plants like a scented geranium that is a few years old will tolerate a thorough washing before repotting to remove any insect eggs nestling among the roots or leaves.  Rinse the roots, cut back the root system by one third and give the foliage and stems a sudsing in a lukewarm solution of mild soapy water.  Rinse the foliage off in a bucket of clear water.

Besides the Scented geraniums, plant to bring in rosemary, marjoram, bay and any perennials you wish to enjoy fresh.  Mints for example, do well inside in a hanging basket near a sunny window, leaving room for spreading roots.

If you enjoy dill, cilantro scented geraniums, there are many herb blends available from the Backyard Patch including these flavorful herbs.  Check us out at http://www.backyardpatch.com/.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Spud Celebration!

Yesterday was National Spud Day!  Never giving up on a reason to celebrate and eat potatoes I thought in honor of National Spud Day, I would share some herb and potato recipes with you.

Roasted Potato Cubes with Pesto Dipping Sauce
2 pounds medium red potatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
8 sprigs fresh thyme
1 cup grated Parmesan (4 ounces)
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and black pepper

Directions


Heat oven to 400° F. In a large roasting pan, toss the potatoes, thyme, Parmesan, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Roast, stirring once, until golden brown and crisp, 45 to 50 minutes. Serve at room temperature with pesto for dipping and these make a great appetizer (or you can serve them hot as a side dish with beef or pork.)
For Pesto Sauce see our blog on August 30th 


Unique Potato Salad
1-pound small red potatoes (about 12)
kosher salt and black pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup crumbled blue cheese (about 1 ounce)
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar (a nice herbal vinegar will work well too!)
1 small head Boston lettuce, torn (about 4 cups)

Directions
Place the potatoes in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and add 2 teaspoons salt. Reduce heat and simmer until tender, 14 to 16 minutes. Drain, run under cold water to cool, and using a fork or your fingers, break the potatoes in half. In a large bowl, combine the blue cheese, vinegar, ¼ cup of oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Add the lettuce and potatoes and toss to coat. Serve with flank or flat iron steaks, seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature with pesto for dipping and these make a great appetizer (or you can serve them hot as a side dish with beef or pork.)

Mashed Potatoes Extraordinaire!
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes (about 6), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 scallions, trimmed and chopped
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 pounds salad tomatoes (about 5 medium), chopped (Canned tomatoes can be used in this recipe, but fresh ones are preferable.)

Directions
Place the potatoes and garlic in a large saucepan and cover with lightly salted water. Bring to a boil; cover and simmer about 20 minutes or until a fork easily pierces a potato.  Drain the potatoes and garlic. Mash with a potato masher or a fork until smooth. Blend in the milk, butter, parsley, scallions, Parmesan, and salt. Gently fold in the tomatoes.


Backyard Patch Herbs creates several blends that are perfect with potatoes.  We made a grouping called Spud Celebration Sampler that we think you should check out.  Or you can see all of our products at http://www.backyardpatch.com/  

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