March 4, 2015 § 3 Comments
Earlier this year, a reader posted a great question to 650Food’s Facebook page:
I have a “minimizing food waste” question. I bought loads of fresh herbs for holiday cooking. Some I have in a cup of water in the fridge, but others are in their mini plastic clamshell awaiting turning into mush before being dumped unceremoniously into the compost bin. What’s the best way to preserve these herbs? Thanks!
Great question (thank you Amy)! Sound familiar? How often do you buy a bunch of herbs, but only need, oh, a tablespoon or a few sprigs for a specific recipe and are then left wondering what to do with the rest? Herbs are mostly delicate little things and have a short lifespan, even if you store them properly.
So, how to get the most out of your herbs without wasting them? You have options! If you want to save herbs for a later use or have a garden surplus, then consider preserving by drying or freezing. Whether you choose to freeze or dry your herbs, make sure you wash and pat them dry first. Here are two simple options for freezing herbs:
- Herb cubes. Chop herbs finely, place into ice cube trays, and gently top off each ice cube mold with water before freezing. After ice cubes have hardened, you can remove them from the tray and store them in freezer bags. Need a visual? Check out Organic Gardening’s slide show.
- Keep herbs whole and store in freezer bags. If you want to skip the chopping and just get to preserving, package your whole herbs into freezer bags. Make sure to press as much air as possible from the bags before sealing. Better Homes & Gardens recommends freezing for these more commonly used herbs: basil, chives, dill, lemongrass, mint, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme.
While I’ll always take fresh herbs over dried, having a stash of dried herbs on standby is a great option when you don’t have access to fresh or frozen herbs. There are a variety of methods for drying herbs, including air drying, low oven (180° F for 2-4 hours), dehydrator, and microwave. I’m old school and go for the air-drying method (least amount of work, too!): I tie a bunch together with a pretty ribbon, then hang them upside from a hook in my kitchen. After the herbs are dried, I remove the leaves/buds from the stems and store them in a glass jar or plastic container.
So that covers preserving, but what about ways to use up fresh herbs before they start to turn brown or drying becomes your only option?
Honestly, once herbs go into my refrigerator, I forget about them. When I had herbs growing in my garden last summer, it became an evening routine to grab a pair of scissors, head out to the yard, and just snip as much as I needed for the evening meal. But somehow when I buy herbs from the market, I don’t feel as inspired to use them on a daily basis and factoring them into daily cooking takes a bit of effort. Here are some of the ways in which I’ve been using — and using up — herbs.
Herb-infused simple syrups can be used for flavoring cocktails, making non-alcoholic spritzers, dressing up a fruit salad, sweetening lemonade… just to give you a few ideas. Best herbs for simple syrup infusions include lavender, rosemary, and sage.
Herb butter is so easy to make it’s ridiculous! And it’s sooo good on bread, crackers, fish, potatoes… pretty much anything that can serve as a butter-delivery device. Want to make it right now? Put 1 stick of butter into a microwave-safe bowl (remove the wrapper first), heat in the micowave until soft, then mix with a spatula until smooth. Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped herbs (try parsley, chives, oregano, or thyme) and ¼ teaspoon of salt. Mix again until smooth. Level up? Add two roasted garlic cloves (smoosh and mix into the butter).
Herbed Roasted Vegetables
Herbs and vegetables are a natural combo: parsley and potatoes; oregano, tomatoes, and eggplant; thyme and radicchio just to name a few. My new fav? Roasted sweet potatoes, finished with a drizzle of local orange blossom honey, crushed red pepper, and finely chopped rosemary.
When I’m absolutely too tired to cook and too hungry to wait for delivery, I’ll make soba noodles and top them with whatever I can assemble in the four minutes it takes the noodles to cook. If there are no leftover roasted vegetables ready to go, then finely chopped herbs, olive oil, a sprinkling of sea salt, and a handful of shredded Asiago cheese will do the trick.
How do you preserve or use up fresh herbs? Share your ideas in the comments below!
August 1, 2014 § 1 Comment
Time for the monthly update on my little back yard garden! As we’re coming into August, nightshades are just about ready for harvest, the sage has taken over the herb box, and I have a garden thief!
First up: that garden thief. Or maybe I should say garden thieves. It all started with chewed-up chives a few weeks ago, and was followed by half-eaten tomatoes, and more recently: brand-new baby lettuce plants chewed down to the roots!
After mentioning the chive thievery during my recent chat with Webb Ranch farmer Deano Lovecchio, I learned that cats like chives — and it’s likely that one of my neighbors’ cats was probably helping itself to my garden. (And I love cats, but DAMN!)
As for the tomatoes and lettuce, I suspect the squirrels. More than once I was excited to pick a pretty, just-ripe tomato from the bush, only to find that, while the front was gorgeous, the back half was gone. So disappointing! What this all means is that between now and next month’s update, I will be getting a pellet gun learning how to install a fence around my garden. (Good thing I’m a DIY kinda girl!) Stay tuned… In the meantime, here’s the rest of the update.
Purple Jalapeños Peppers
This plant has been the star of my garden since Day 1; it’s been flowering regularly, and the peppers are sturdy and ripening on schedule.
If you read the post on Spicy Cucumber Margaritas, then you know that these peppers turn red when mature. The mature peppers have a milder jalapeno heat, combined with a touch of red bell-pepper sweetness. To date I’ve only harvested two mature peppers, which I used to make pepper-infused tequila last month for said margaritas. If you’re looking to upgrade your margarita or tequila-drinking experience, give the recipe a try!
Just this week, half a dozen peppers on the lower half of the plant are starting to change color from black-purple to dark scarlet-red. Because the color is so dark, even through half of the transition, it’s hard to tell that the peppers are maturing until there’s a sudden pop of red amongst the green and purple.
Last month I wrote that “the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well” and “[h]opefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.” Well, guess what? Yes, I can! During the past four weeks, this plant has gone gangbusters with fruit!
A major flowering happened at the beginning of July, and yet lots of blossoms dropped, so I wasn’t sure I’d end up with more than a couple of peppers this summer. My, how things have changed. The plant is just full of big, beautiful peppers, that range from 3 – 4 inches long. While the peppers aren’t quite ready for harvest yet, I see a lot of salsas (and maybe another bottle of pepper-infused tequila) in my future!
Ancho Chile Peppers
My other rock star pepper plant! These babies are large (6 – 8 inches long), shiny green, and bee-yoo-tee-ful! As they’ve matured, they’ve grown longer, and the color has gone from a darker to a lighter green.
While many of the blossoms from the last flowering didn’t stick around, the peppers that were already on the plant are fast reaching maturity. I think our random weather — which has ranged from sunny, 90+-degrees to cloudy, 70-something days has delayed the maturity date.
The first two peppers, which started growing back in May, reached maturity, and then started to turn red before I could harvest them. I decided to go ahead and let them turn completely red by leaving them on a sunny windowsill. Eh, I have a few to spare, so let’s see what happens! Yep, I’m “making” dried ancho chiles!
I could string them up, but they get the most sun right on the windowsill. I turn them daily so that the drying process is pretty even.
Sweet Red Peppers
I don’t know what to make the red bell pepper plant. While it really started to flower and produce fruit once I ran a couple of drip lines to it during the first week of July, the growth has been minimal in the past month. In fact, I’m not sure it’s grown at all — unlike the hotter pepper plants, which are about four feet tall. The fruit on this plant is starting to ripen — especially the first (and largest pepper) — but some of the others are looking a bit anemic.
I suspect that this plant needs consistent hot and sunny weather to thrive. With the long maturity time (90 days or so), it looks like a small harvest this year.
Indigo Apple Tomatoes
Despite the loss of my first few ripe tomatoes to the local wildlife (ugh, suburban squirrels… so spoiled!), the plant is doing well. I think.
Some of the leaves are yellowing and drying out, which probably means that I need to adjust the watering plan, but the plant continues to flower and new baby tomatoes are popping up every day. Not only do the ripe tomatoes look cool, but they are delish, by the way — sweet with lots of flavor and low acidity. What I love is that the indigo/purple top doesn’t change color — just the lower half of the fruit, which does turn red when ripe.
Lettuces have turned out to be more challenging that I anticipated, mostly due to our weather. The Black-Seeded Simpson went the way of the Little Gems, bolting just a couple of weeks after I planted them. Sure, lettuces are easy to grow and don’t require much more than sun, water, and good soil, but randomly throw in a week or two of 90+-degree temperatures, and they will throw up a stalk and get all bitter in protest!
Fortunately, with 30 – 40 days to maturity, and a long growing season, I can keep trying! This month’s attempt is “Cardinale,” a sweet, mild lettuce that has medium green leaves with a tinge of red.
Apparently it’s popular with cats… or squirrels… or cats and squirrels. (Again, arrgghhh!) The Lettuce Manoa, which I planted last month, has gotten a little crispy around the edges, but is fighting the good fight, so we’ll see how it’s doing next month.
Not much has changed with the herbs in the past four weeks. They’re continuing to grow, seemingly unaffected by the random weather changes. I’m overdue to harvest and start preserving them for the cooler months, although I’m trying to keep the mint population under control by making mojitos regularly. It’s a tough job, but I’m commited to reducing food waste ;-).
Sage is the big winner in the herb box this month, which is to say that I have a crapload of sage — more than I know what to do with at this point. If you have ideas for preserving sage or recipes or, well, anything, please share!
Last but not least, the residents of the northeast corner of my yard are a lot happier since I installed drip lines there. Lemon verbena and lavender, which I’ve been harvesting for flavored simple syrups and my baby lime bush are all thriving! I don’t expect to see any limes until next year, but you never know.
That’s what I’ve got growing! What’s happening in your garden?
July 7, 2014 § 5 Comments
Time for the monthly progress report on my little edible garden! (Actually this post should have appeared last week, but the 4th of July holiday delayed things a bit.) We’re about 9 weeks along at this point, for those of you playing the home game. Lots of sunshine and more than a few hot days in June really got the tomatoes and peppers going, but put an end the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix lettuces. Herbs — both sweet and savory — are thriving, which means it’s time for harvest! Read on for more details and photos.
First up, the peppers and tomato plant are definitely rockin’ — check out this photo:
Remember, these babies were about 4 inches tall when they went into the planting boxes. Today, they range from 30-48″ tall, with no signs of slowing down.
Purple Jalapeño Peppers
Honestly, I bought this plant for the novelty, figuring if it grew, “fine.” If not, oh well. What a wonderful surprise it’s turned out to be! Healthy and hearty since planting, it’s now about 30 inches tall. The delicate purple flowers are so lovely, and the resulting black-purple fruit is really striking against the green foliage.
A few of the older peppers have matured during the past week, transitioning through a range of intense colors from black-purple to purple-red to magenta, and finally to a deep scarlet. (The fruit actually starts out green with purple shading when small, and then turns completely dark purple as it grows.) I’m thinking about using them for an infused tequila or syrup for cocktails. Gotta plan ahead: National Tequila Day is coming up on July 24!
Unfortunately, the regular green jalapeños haven’t done as well. The plant is growing and spreading — it’s now about 36″ tall — but during the first and second flowerings, most of the blossoms died off. There are a couple of 3-inch peppers near the base of the plant from the first flowering, which are probably ready for harvest. Otherwise, I’ve seen some new baby-thumb-sized green nubbins appearing in the past couple of weeks, but there’s not much to photograph. Hopefully I’ll be able to report a bounty of green jalapeños in a few weeks.
Ancho Chili Peppers
Like the purple jalapeños, the anchos are going gangbusters! This baby really blossoms in heat — literally. After the first round of hot days in early June, the plant was full of creamy white blossoms, and most of those have turned into peppers! I lost one pepper to a bit of mold/rot, but the rest are a luscious, shiny green. The peppers on the lower part of the plant are from the first flowering, and should be ready for harvest later this month. I’m looking forward to an August filled with chiles rellenos!
Sweet Red Peppers
This plant has been slow to start, and like the ancho, really thrives in the hotter temperatures. Oddly enough, the plant itself hasn’t grown much; it’s only about 18 inches tall. Right now it’s filled to capacity with peppers that have just blown up in the past two weeks. With a long maturity time (90 days), I don’t expect to see any red peppers until late August.
Tomato plants can be touchy — my neighbor has already lost a couple this year, despite all of his experience and attention. Fortunately, my friend Jill had some helpful advice that I took to heart for my Indigo Apple plant: lots of water and remember to fertilize. The tallest and widest of my nightshades, that little 4-inch start is now about 4 feet tall!
Like the purple jalapeño, the Indigo Apple tomato starts out green, turns purple (more violet than indigo so far), then red at maturity. Maturity is about 75 days, so the fruit from the first flowering should be ready in August — maybe the end of July, if we have another round of hot days.
Oh, my poor lettuces! Unfortunately, I let the Little Gem and Burgundy Mix stay in the ground too long, and they bolted during the 90-degree days. What’s “bolting”? It’s when the lettuce throws up center stalk, preparing to go to seed. It’s the lettuce’s way of saying: I’m done, outtie, see ya. The leaves become bitter, and all you can do is pull the head and replant.
It was a newbie mistake not to harvest entire heads sooner, but the great thing about lettuce is that the maturity is only about 28 days, so there’s plenty of time for a do-over. I planted three new varieties a couple of weeks ago.
I’m planning to try an early harvest this time around, taking more baby leaves than I did with the Little Gems.
The herbs are doing really well, but admittedly, they’re low maintenance. Water, sunshine, the occasional cutting, and they’re good. The spearmint and lemon verbena are flowering, which means that it’s time to cut some back so that I can get another harvest or two this season. It’s also time to start planning for preserving them for use in the fall and winter.
So, that’s the latest here in the 650! How is your garden growing? Are you preserving yet, or just enjoying the experience of eating garden-to-table?
Want to see how my garden has grown up? Flash back to the post in which I commit to creating my own edible garden and get all the nitty-gritty details of how I did it. Follow the progress of the first month and find out how my 4-inch plant starts fared — plant porn included, of course.
May 30, 2014 § 1 Comment
As we’re heading into the last weekend of May, it’s time for the first update on my attempt to grow food. After just about a month, my little garden is flourishing! To date everything I planted is thriving, and much to my surprise, the lettuce is overflowing the planting boxes.
As a comparison, here’s what they looked like when I planted them four weeks ago. Amazing what good organic soil, sunshine, water, and a little TLC can do!
Just this week I’ve started harvesting the outer leaves for small salads, pulling only what I need from the garden. I hope I can keep this going through the summer — continuing to harvest leaves as I need them, without having to harvest entire heads of lettuce that might go to waste.
I’ve also (cautiously) started snipping the tops of the chives, for the occasional garnish. If they continue to thrive, I might get a bit more aggressive and really give them a haircut. The sage is popping, too, so it might be time to pull some leaves and fry them up. (No, it doesn’t matter what you put them on — fried sage leaves are delicious! Ideas? Try them with sausage and pasta or grilled swordfish with olive oil or roasted veggies with brown rice…)
The peppers and tomato plants are taking their own sweet time, but they do have a longer growth time (75-90 days) compared to the lettuces and herbs (30-60 days). The anchos are the frontrunners right now, with three peppers, while the purple jalapenos are a close second.
If you’re thinking about starting a garden, it’s not too late! Lettuces are much easier to grow than I ever imagined, and they give an abundant return for your time and effort. Peppers are sturdy and do well in containers — but you need some patience because they do take up to three months to really produce. Tomatoes do amazingly well in the 650 — my plant start was four inches tall with no flowers a month ago, and now it’s almost 24″ tall with lots of flowers (which means, if all goes well, fruit will follow!).
You can check out how I put my little garden together here. The post also includes resources for more gardening info.
So what’s this all leading to? Hopefully a summer of creative, simple meals made of local ingredients. Just to give you an idea of how you can “eat local,” at home, here’s a simple meal of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients:
The run-on, menu-style description: Baked west-coast halibut, topped with Nut ‘n Bean Jalapeno Cilantro Cashew Cheese “sauce,” and chives, served with late-spring rainbow salad. The salad brings together lettuces from my garden, carrots and beets from my CSA delivery, a sprinkling of feta from Marin, and a simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice (yes, from local lemons). With the exception of the fish and the olive oil, every ingredient on this plate comes from within 85 miles of where I live. How cool is that?!
Of course, you can vary the protein based on your budget and diet (chicken or tofu could work, too), and the salad fixin’s based on what’s available in your garden or market. The point here is that it’s so easy it is to create a good, fresh dish from local ingredients. I know what you’re thinking: “I don’t have time to cook something like that.” Au contraire! Halibut takes 13-14 minutes to bake; other fish or proteins might time a little more or less time. During that time, you can wash, chop, and assemble the salad ingredients. Overall, figure about 30 minutes to prep and assemble a meal like this.
The best way to enjoy a meal like this in the 650? Grab a chilled bottle of wine (or some homemade sangria), your favorite people, and head to the back yard for some nice al fresco dining. What more could you ask for this weekend?
April 17, 2014 § 1 Comment
You know what I love about spring in the 650? Everything! The days are deliciously warm, and the sun sets late enough in the evening that you can have dinner outside. Spring color brightens every yard on my street, thanks to blooming trees, rose bushes, and freshly planted annuals. The luscious perfume of citrus blossoms fills my neighborhood, especially at night. It’s an indulgence just to sit in my backyard in the evening and enjoy that scent.
Spring gives me another chance to complete (hell, start) those “getaroundtoit” projects at home. It’s the time of year when I really start feeding my house-porn habit with stacks of design magazines and fantasizing about re-creating my backyard so that I can host fabulous al fresco dinners. (Hey, a girl can dream!) And in my fantasy backyard I would have a thriving kitchen garden, complete with herbs, vegetables, berries, and an assortment of fruit trees (again with the dreaming).
I have to admit that I’m having garden envy. I know — as if I don’t have enough fabulous, fresh fruits and vegetables in my life (some of which actually show up on my doorstep, thanks to my CSA)! Between the plethora of farmers’ markets here on the peninsula and the generosity of my neighbor with over-the-fence tomatoes and in-a-pinch limes, I’m pretty spoiled for locally grown produce. Yet, there’s something very special and satisfying about just slipping out the back door and snipping fresh herbs to finish off a dish, or seeing what you can pull from your own garden to make dinner.
On a recent walk through my neighborhood I noticed that my neighbors are using whatever space is available for creating gardens, including driveways and front yards. How cool is that?!
These homeowners are taking advantage of the sunny front yard for their garden.
Check out the artichoke plant in left corner of the yard:
My next-door-neighbor and his daughter just got the tomato plants in pots along our shared driveway fence last weekend. (He was pretty excited on planting day, and I have to admit, thinking about those summer tomatoes, I am too.) They also planted zucchini, basil, and lemon balsam.
I’ve had edible gardens off and on over the years, but planting one wasn’t really an option when I was running Gâteau et Ganache. I barely found time for the basics (sleep, exercise, or a meal that consisted of something more than taste-testing bonbons and marshmallows), let alone creating and maintaining a garden.
Being a seasonally focused business meant relying on local farms for the fruits and herbs I used for making bonbons. Sometimes I was able to plan fun field trips to places like Swanton Berry Farm to hand-pick organic blackberries. Other times it meant long, frustrating searches around the Bay Area to find a reliable source of fresh, organic peppermint. (Harder than you’d think, as it turns out. What’s up with that?). At some point I hoped to create a garden that would give me a reliable supply of the fruits and herbs I so loved working with when I was making chocolates.
Now that I’m cooking again and have a bit more time, I’m thinking about taking a step toward “garden-to-table.” Between my neighbors’ creativity in making their own small gardens and the impressive bounty of the farmers’ markets, I’m inspired to carve out a little space for my own garden this year. First on my list are the herbs I love using for sweet dishes: lavender, lemon verbena, and peppermint. They pair with most summer fruits and are perfect for infused syrups, ice creams, and yes, ganaches. Once I get those herbs going, I might add some basil and chives for salads and some jalapeno and poblano peppers, just because. If there’s time to get fancy, I might try some strawberries, or — dare I say it? — tomatoes. Stay tuned.
What’s growing in your yard and your neighborhood this spring?