Saturday, April 7, 2012

Herb Garden

A garden is a place of healing. It's a place I can go to  restore myself and reduce stress. You know,  just working in my garden or taking a stroll in it at the end of a long day helps renew me. In my garden, I have several beds where I have planted herbs for my senses and for my table.   The culinary herbs that I have planted are oregano, basil, thyme, mint, sage, parsley, and chives.  All things used for traditional cooking.

I also dry my herb at the end of the season.  In using herbs you use less when it is dried because it becomes more condensed and intense.  


Oregano is an perennial and has come back bigger each year for me.  You may wish to contain it in that it spreads.  It becomes a beautiful ground cover.  I do not contain it because I love to see it drop over my little herb wall.  I dry it by sitting it in the oven overnight on lowest heat and then put in jars for dried oregano during the winter.  I use it in my spaghetti sauce and most of my Italian red sauces. To store fresh oregano rinse it and wrap in a paper towel and then a plastic bag. You can refrigerated it will last for a week. 


Chocolate Mint

I planted one small plant and it now has taken over where I have planted it.  This is a very sweet tasting mint that does have a hint of what tastes like chocolate.  It is very fragrant and I do not want for any mint at this point in time because of its abundance.  I should have put it in a container like I did with my chives so it wouldn’t have spread so.  I do love it and am glad I have planted it even if it has spread.  You may wish to contain it.  Frequent cutting will promote branching.  I like to make mint jelly.  It is a nice gift to give away at Christmas along with a red apple jelly.   You can also seep it and make a mint tea from fresh leaves or dried leave.  I dry mint the same way I dry oregano.  See storing below.  To store fresh mint rinse it and wrap in a damp paper towel and then a plastic bag. You can refrigerated it and it will last for a week.  

Flat Leafed Parsley

There are more than 30 varieties of parsley, but the most common are curly-leaf and the more pungent Italian or flat-leaf parsley. The flat-leaf has more flavor than curly parsley and is preferred for cooking, while dried parsley has little flavor at all.  Dried parsley will give a dish color though. Just an FYI, in ancient times parsley wreaths were used to ward off drunkenness. Chewing parsley will help with bad breath from food odors such as garlic.  I buy small plants and by fall they take over my tub I plant them in.  I also dry my own parsley for winter soups.  To store fresh parsley rinse and wrap it in a damp paper towel and then a plastic bag. It can be refrigerated for up to a week. You can also freeze parsley! Just clean, chop and let dry; then put in little baggies and seal.


The chive is a member of the onion family. It grows in clumps and reaches a height of 6–12 inches. It produces narrow, hollow leaves and attractive violet, globe-shaped flowers in May or June. This bulbous plant can be propagated by dividing clumps (keep 4–6 bulblets per clump), planting seed, or planting bulbs similar to onion sets. Chives are perennial and will grow for many years. To prevent overcrowding, divide established plants every 2–3 years. Flowers can be removed to encourage foliage growth. In fall, transplant a clump into fresh potting mix and place indoors on a south or west window to enjoy fresh chives throughout the winter months. Allow chive plants to experience a freeze before digging clumps and potting. The resulting plants will be of better quality. To store fresh chives rinse and wrap it in a damp paper towel and then a plastic bag. It will last for up to a week if you refrigerated it. I love to use them in salads and dips. They make a very nice garnish also.

Egg Drop Soup

4 cups chicken broth, divided
1/8 tsp. ground ginger
2 tbsp. chopped fresh chives
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tbsp. cornstarch
2 eggs
1 egg yolk

Reserve 3/4 cup of chicken broth, and pour the rest into a large saucepan. Stir the salt, ginger and chives into the saucepan, and bring to a rolling boil. In a cup or small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and cornstarch until smooth.  Bring to boil and add to broth until thick. 

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs and egg yolk together using a fork. Take broth off of heat.  Add eggs slowly, stirring soup in clockwise direction with wooden spoon. A pinch of white pepper adds depth of flavor. Egg should cook immediately.  You may wish to use more eggs.

Variations:  In step 1, add 1 T soy sauce and garlic clove crushed to broth.   Let steep a few minutes to flavor broth.  Strain broth and let come to a boil and then thicken with cornstarch.  Can serve with crisp noodles.


This popular annual herb has dark green or purple leaves and may reach a height of 12 –24 inches. By mid summer, small white flowers are produced on spikes. The beautiful foliage has made this plant a popular addition to the home landscape.

Basil prefers both warm soil and air. It should not be planted in the garden until all danger of frost has passed. It may be easily started from seed. It is also available as small transplants. You can increase your number of plants by rooting basil stems in water. Be sure to thin plants to a spacing of 10–12 inches apart. To promote bushy plants, pinch back growing tips. Also, remove flowers before seed matures.

For fresh use, wait six weeks after planting to begin harvesting the leaves. Make your final harvest before the first frost in fall. Rinse and wrap in a damp paper towel and then a plastic bag. Refrigerated basil  will last for a week.  For drying, harvest leaves just before the plant produces flowers.  You can also freeze in ice cubes and toss the ice cube into your sauce.

You may want to try potting up a few plants in potting mix and over-wintering them as houseplants in a bright south or west window.

Try sweet or Thai basil.

Fresh Tomato, Basil, and Mozzarella Pasta

8 oz uncooked bow tie pasta
3 cups chopped roma tomatoes (1 pound)
1 tsp. chopped, fresh thyme
½ cup chopped, fresh basil
2 tbsp. minced shallots
1 tsp.  crushed garlic
1 cup cubed, fresh mozzarella (this recipe also works well with ½ cup brie, rind removed.)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste

In a large bowl combine tomatoes, basil, thyme, shallots, garlic, olive oil, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. Allow this mixture to sit for about one hour. Prepare pasta according to directions on package. Mix together hot pasta and sauce. Serve immediately.


Pesto is an Italian classic. It's simply a paste made from basil leaves and other good stuff.  It is used on many pasta dishes.  In a blender combine:

1 cup fresh basil leaves washed and tightly packed
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts or walnuts ( you can toast them in a pan in the oven - bake 10 minutes at 400 degrees but watch them carefully, you can burn them before you know it)
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/4 cup olive oil

Blend these ingredients together at a high speed until smooth, then put the paste in a bowl and add:
1 Cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

Warm Spinach and Basil Salad

6 cups spinach
2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup olive oil
3 cloves finely chopped or minced garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts
3/4 cup diced prosciutto (ham also works nicely.)
3/4 cup parmesan cheese

Wash, rinse, and drain 6 cups of spinach and 2 cups of fresh basil leaves. I always remove any stems and tear larger leaves in half. Toss the prepared spinach and basil in a bowl and set it aside. In a skillet, combine 1/2 cup of olive oil with 3 cloves of finely chopped or minced garlic and a 1/2 cup of pine nuts. Stirring constantly, sauté these ingredients over a medium heat for a few minutes and then add 3/4 of a cup of diced prosciutto or thinly sliced, cooked ham. Continue to sauté until pine nuts are a nice toasty brown and the prosciutto is heated through. Pine nuts tend to burn easily so it should take but a few minutes. Pour this hot mixture over the salad greens and toss. This recipe is enough for four people, but if you'd like to make more or less of it just remember that it's one part basil leaves to three parts spinach.


6 or 7 ripe plum tomatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chopped.
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 baguette French bread or similar Italian bread
1/4 cup olive oil

Prepare the tomatoes first. Parboil the tomatoes for one minute in boiling water that has just been removed from the burner. Drain. Using a sharp small knife, remove the skins of the tomatoes. (If the tomatoes are too hot, you can protect your finger tips by rubbing them with an ice cube between tomatoes.) Once the tomatoes are peeled, cut them in halves or quarters and remove the seeds and juice from their centers. Also cut out and discard the stem area. Why use plum tomatoes instead of regular tomatoes? The skins are much thicker and there are fewer seeds and less juice.
Make sure there is a top rack in place in your oven. Turn on the oven to 450°F to preheat.
While the oven is heating, chop up the tomatoes finely. Put tomatoes, garlic, 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, and vinegar in a bowl and mix. Add the chopped basil. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Slice the baguette on a diagonal cutting about 1/2 inch thick slices. Coat one side of each slice with olive oil using a pastry brush. Place on a cooking sheet, olive oil side down. You will want to toast them in the top rack in your oven, so you may need to do these in batches depending on the size of your oven. Once the oven has reached 450°F, place a tray of bread slices in the oven on the top rack. Toast for 5-6 minutes, until the bread just begins to turn golden brown.
Alternatively, you can toast the bread without coating it in olive oil first. Toast on a griddle for 1 minute on each side. Take a sharp knife and score each slice 3 times. Rub some garlic in the slices and drizzle half a teaspoon of olive oil on each slice. This is the more traditional method of making bruschetta.
Align the bread on a serving platter, olive oil side up. Either place the tomato topping in a bowl separately with a spoon for people to serve themselves over the bread, or place some topping on each slice of bread and serve. If you top each slice with the tomatoes, do it right before serving or the bread may get soggy.
Makes 24 small slices. Serves 6-10 as an appetizer. Or 3-4 for lunch (delicious served with cottage cheese on the side.)


Thyme is a widely used culinary herb. There are several varieties, but the most popular is common thyme.  Thyme in Iowa is an annual and you have to replant it each year or bring it in in the fall. It is a short perennial, growing 4–8 inches tall with stiff woody stems and small gray-green leaves. In summer, fragrant, lilac-pink flowers appear in clusters, which attract many bees.

During full bloom, cut 5–6 inch stems and allow them to air dry. You may harvest more than once in a growing season. Rinse and wrap in a paper towel and then a plastic bag. Refrigerated it will last for a week. 

After leaves are thoroughly dry and brittle, remove them from the stem and store in an airtight container. Thyme is often mixed with other herbs.  It goes very well with meat dishes such as chicken and pork. 


Dill is an annual plant that reaches 2–4 feet tall with blue-green feathery leaves. The small yellow flowers are arranged in clusters called umbels.  I have only used fresh dill for pickling so do no grow it every year.  I usually used dried dill when a recipe calls for it. 

Dill is easy to grow and will do well in many different soils, though it prefers a well drained, fertile spot. Grow dill in full sun. Sow seed directly into the garden. Once the seedlings have reached 1–2 inches tall, thin plants to 8–10 inch spacings. Or plant small transplants. Dill self-seeds readily.

The leaves, flowers and seed may be used for cooking and flavoring. To harvest flowers, cut when flower heads are in full bloom and allow to dry. To collect seed, allow plant and flowers to mature, usually 2-3 weeks after flowering. Cut stems with flowers, hang upside down, and collect the seed by placing paper beneath the hung bunches. Dill leaves may be used fresh or dried. Harvest and chop fresh leaves into salads, cottage cheese, dips, soups and stews. 

Fresh Dill Potato Salad

7 cups of sliced potatoes cut in disks (skins on and I prefer red potatoes)
1/2 cup vinaigrette or Italian salad dressing
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 green onions finely chopped
2 tbsp. fresh dill
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes in disks and leave the skins on. Then cook them in boiling water until tender. Rinse and drain then put them in a bowl and coat them with the vinaigrette or Italian salad dressing. Do this while they are still hot so they will absorb more of the flavor of dressing.

Marinate them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. Next lift the potatoes out of the dressing and put them in another bowl. Mix together the remaining ingredients. Blend dressing and fold into the potatoes. Refrigerate until ready to serve.


Please refer to the chapter on cucumber for more recipes that call for dill.  Dill and cucumbers go hand in hand.  I use my Kerr Canning book for my pickle recipes.  


Many foods bring up memories and when I hear sage I think of Thanksgiving.    They go hand and hand.    Sage is a perennial and I grow it, harvest it, and dry it every year.  It has a wonderful smell that calls up memories of past Thanksgivings. 

It is a woody plant growing to about two feet with gray green, bumpy leaves. One quick brush of the leaves with your hands will reveal the luscious aromatic oils of sage. Sage will grow in many different soils, but needs good drainage otherwise root rots set in. It prefers a full sun area, especially the colored leaf cultivars, but will grow in light shade. Sage should get a hard pruning in spring to keep it compact.  It should come back each year  bigger and better if winter is not too hard.   I have had to replant once.

People have been cooking with sage for thousands of years: Recipes for sage pancakes have been dated to the 5th century B.C. Like most culinary herbs, sage is thought to be a digestive aid and appetite stimulant. You can use it to reduce gas in the intestines and, as it also is antispasmodic, to relieve abdominal cramps and bloating.

Native American use sage in religious ceremonies and burn as incense in their sweat lodges.   It is said to have magical properties.  I have made sleep pillows as gifts putting sage in them to give pleasant dreams.

Fresh sage leaves should be aromatic and should have no soft spots or dry edges. Wrap in damp paper towels and store in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. Use within 4 to 5 days.

Fresh leaves may be covered in olive oil and stored in the refrigerator up to 2 months. Use the flavored oil for 
sautéing or in salad dressings.. 

To freeze fresh sage leaves, wash and pat dry, remove leaves from the stems, and pack loosely in freezer bags. Freeze up to 1 year. Be aware that freezing will intensify the flavor of the herb and adjust accordingly.

Dried sage is preferred by most cooks and comes in whole leaf, rubbed, and ground form. Rubbed sage has a light, velvety texture, whereas ground sage is more of a free-flowing powder. As with all dried herbs, store closed containers in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Use within 6 months for best flavor. All my dressing recipes call for sage.  It also goes well with any poultry or pork. 

My Egg Bake

6 eggs
1 package of frozen hash browns (can substitute with dried bread also)
1 lb of pork breakfast sausage
1 cup grated cheese (I use mild cheddar)
1 can of  cream of mushroom soup
1 tsp. of dried sage (or to taste)
1 tsp. onion powder (you can chop an onion if you like but you know me and onions)
Salt and pepper to taste. 

Brown sausage and drain well.  In bowl whisk eggs well.  Add the cheese, mushroom soup, sage, onion powder, salt and pepper, and well drained sausage.  Pour over hash browns after they have thawed.  Mix well and put in a greased baking dish.  Sprinkle a extra cheese on top.  Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown in oven at 350 degrees. 


This small, perennial evergreen shrub is not hardy beyond the mild Zone 6 area, and is usually treated as an annual in Iowa.  The plant is very fragrant and valuable in cooking and scenting. Add it to a flower arrangement for looks and fragrance  The narrow, leathery evergreen leaves are dark green above and gray underneath. It produces clusters of pale blue, white, or pink flowers in spring.

Purchase garden transplants or propagate from stem tip cuttings. Plant rosemary in a sunny, well -drained site and space them one foot apart. Rosemary also grows well in a container. Keep plants evenly moist. Do not allow them to dry out. In fall, plant in fresh potting mix and bring indoors to enjoy throughout the winter.

Prune stems throughout the season as needed. Use fresh or dried leaves in cooking. It is often mixed with other herbs.

Rosemary is said to improve the memory and is used as a symbol of remembrance.  It was also used In the wedding ceremonies in the middle ages - the bride would wear a rosemary headpiece and the groom and wedding guests would all wear a sprig of rosemary, and from this association with weddings, rosemary evolved into a love charm. Newlywed couples would plant a branch of rosemary on their wedding day. If the branch grew, it was a good omen for the union and family. Today in some weddings rosemary is presented to wedding guests, as a symbol of love and loyalty. 

The most culinary use of rosemary is to stuff  meats with it for extra flavor.  Try it on pork, beef or chicken.
If you are grilling, you can use a hardy stem for a skewer to put pieces of chicken on or veggies like zucchini and tomatoes.  Grilling the rosemary skewers directly on the stem infuses the meat with delicious rosemary flavor and aroma.  Toss some in the fire for extra infused smoke.

Rosemary Cookies

Rosemary is regarded as the herb of remembrance and friendship so it is certainly appropriate to use around the holidays when so many friends and family get together.  Give out as gift or take to friend’s homes when you are invited.  The recipe begins with a basic sugar or butter cookie recipe.  You can use your own favorite recipe if you like.

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
1 1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 3/4 cup flour
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 scant teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

Blend together the butter, shortening, sugar and eggs until creamy.  Sift flour into the mixture then add the other dry ingredients; the cream of tartar, soda and salt, and blend together. Next add the most important ingredient at least when it comes to flavor, 2 scant teaspoons of fresh very finely chopped rosemary.

Form the dough into small balls and place them on an un-greased baking sheet. Press the balls flat with the bottom of a drinking glass that has been dipped in sugar. This gives them a nice crunchy glaze. Bake them in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for only about 8 minutes. It's a good idea to loosen the cookies as soon as you take them from the oven. This is a great way to enjoy both the flavor and aroma of rosemary.  I prefer a silpat in making cookies.

Lemon Rosemary Sauce

1/2 of a shallot
1 cup white wine
1 cup lemon juice
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Pinch salt and pepper
1/2 stick butter
Fresh rosemary

Heat your sauce pan to get it nice and warm. Add half a shallot. Add 1 cup white wine and 1 cup lemon juice. Stir in 1 cup whipping cream and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil and add half a stick of butter. This will thicken it up.  Once the sauce thickens, spoon it over chicken breasts, veal, salmon or pasta. As finishing touch from the garden sprinkle a bit of fresh rosemary over the top of the sauce.

Herbed Oil

1/2 bunch parsley
1/2 cup packed fresh basil
1/2 bunch fresh thyme
1/2 cup packed fresh oregano
1/2 orange, zested
1 tsp. whole black pepper corns
2 cups canola oil
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a 1-quart mason jar, place all of the herbs, zest,  and peppercorns. Pour both oils into a saucepan and heat to 200 degrees F. Pour the hot oils into the jar and cover with a kitchen towel. Let stand overnight.
Place cheesecloth over the top of the jar and replace the outer rim of the lid. Invert and strain oil into desired container.

Variation: You can use this method for making any simple herbed oil by just using the one herb you wish to flavor the oil with such as thyme oil, rosemary, sage, etc. 

Herbed Jellies

You can make jelly out of most anything.  I use a standard recipe and just steep different herbs and add to the jelly recipe.  The following is my mint jelly recipe that I have given as Christmas present, but you can do the same with basil, sage, thyme, rosemary, etc.  They can be a nice house warming gift also.

1 1/2 cups packed fresh mint leaves and stems
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 1/4 cups boiling water (I have also used apple juice for more flavor and nutrition)
1 drop green food color
3 1/2 cups white sugar
1/2 (6 fluid ounce) container liquid pectin

Rinse off the mint leaves, and place them into a large saucepan. Crush with wooden spoon, masher or the bottom of a jar or glass. Add water (or apple juice), and bring the mint to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. Strain, and measure out 1 2/3 cups of the mint.  Don’t have fresh mint, you can also use mint extract to flavor or combine to add more mint flavor to your taste.

Place 1 2/3 cups strained mint tea into a saucepan. Stir in the lemon juice and food coloring . Mix in the sugar, and place the pan over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is boiling, stir in the pectin. Boil the mixture for a full minute while stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and skim foam off the top using a large metal spoon. Transfer the mixture to hot sterile jars, and seal. Process any unsealed jars in a water bath for 10 minutes.

Variation:  Use herb of your choice and try to make rosemary jelly or basil jelly.  They are wonderful. You can find simple jelly recipe in the Kerr Canning Cookbook.  

Cleaning and Storing Herbs

Italian flat leaf parsley is used to illustrate this process. The bright green leafy tips of parsley are the most desirable parts, but save the long stems that are too fibrous to eat. They are extremely flavorful and can be added to soup stock. Never buy parsley that is wilted, yellow, or has holes in the leaves. Select the bunch that is erect in structure and has dark green leaves--qualities to look for when selecting most herbs.  Better yet grow you own.

Place the herbs into a deep bowl of cold water, or into a clean, water-filled sink. Use a lot of water when washing herbs--too little water doesn't allow the dirt to settle or the herbs to float clear. Once the herbs are submerged, stir them before leaving them to soak for a moment. Once the dirt has sunk to the bottom of the bowl, remove the herbs by skimming them up and out of the water. (Pouring the bowl's contents through a straining device will only dump the dirt back onto the herbs.) Rinse the bowl or sink free of dirt and repeat this process until the herbs are cleaned to your satisfaction.

Once the herbs have been cleaned, spread them out on a dry towel. Carefully blot the herbs with the towel before gently rolling it up around them. Let the bundle sit for a few minutes until the excess water has been absorbed.

Pick the leaves off of the stems. For aesthetically perfect and fiber-free herbs, completely remove any trace of stem. Some herbs like cilantro, however, have edible stems that do not need to be completely removed. Discard or save stems as needed.

These herbs are ready for cooking! They can be tossed into a salad or pasta, used whole in a sauce, torn, or chopped. 

You can store them in the refrigerator by wrapping them in a wet paper towel and putting them in a baggie for up to two weeks.  You can also dry them  by putting on a cookie sheet making sure they are not on top of each other.  Put into a heated oven on the lowest heat, turn off the oven and let sit over night and store them in small canning jars.  Make sure they are completely dry.  You can also freeze herbs by putting into baggies and taking out all of the air or putting them into ice cube trays with water and freezing them in an ice cube, then store in a baggie.   Don’t let any go to waste. 

For year round fresh herbs, grow them in doors in the winter.  I have dug up and brought some of mine in before the first frost.

Also when cutting flowers add a few cuttings of your favorite herb for filler and fragrance.  They make beautiful bouquets.  You can even just make a bouquet of your herbs by themselves and put them down the middle of your table for table decoration.  

Tomorrow I start sharing the family recipes I have gathered over the years. 

Be happy and may God bless you and yours.  

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