Thursday, March 4, 2010

Herb & Garden Tips

The last couple of days I was out walking around with my daughter on our property because despite all of our snow we've had sunny days in the 40's. I actually saw a little bit of green under the snow, and started thinking about my herbs and flowers (actually I felt a little giddy!). Today I have a few tips and a question and answer from a reader.

Some herbs can be dug up in the early spring and divided as you would many perennial flowers. This includes chives, oregano, yarrow, mints and lemon balm. Wait until the danger of frost has past before dividing. Dig deeply and around, so you don't chop the roots if at all possible, and break the clumps apart gently. Plant the herbs immediately, watering well afterwards. I like to add a little compost to each new planting in the hole.

If you are growing mint in the ground, go out after a good rain and pull up the runners that have spread from the main plant. They can spread VERY quickly, so you want to pull them now, and keep watch over it. Even broken pieces can root and continue to grow, so be vigilant. Remember, never let your mint flower or go to seed. Even if you have too much to harvest be sure to cut off the flowers before they go to seed.

Herbs for shade: sweet woodruff, violets, evening primrose, and wintergreen can take fairly heavy shade. Lady's Mantle, angelica, sweet cicely & monkshood can take partial shade.

When chopping herbs like lovage, celery, cilantro, or parsley save the stems and place them in a resealable plastic freezer bag. Next time you make stock with meat or poultry, throw the stems in the pot while it's cooking and strain out before using. This makes a great addition to stock.

Hardy Hibiscus: What do you think is the latest time I should prune, I forget every year. Zone 8, buds are just now peeping through. OK to still cut back? And how much....6-8" or more?

I'm guessing you are talking about what they call "tropical hibiscus" because here in Zone 5 ours grow up from the roots with new growth each year, so we don't need to prune. You can prune your hibiscus now through about August. Start with the longest branches and work your way around. The most important thing to know when pruning is you don't want any new growth during a frost. As long as you are past your frost date you should be fine.

We have more pruning advice on OFL:


Monday, March 1, 2010

Yogurt Cheese With Herbs

There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second. ~Logan Pearsall Smith

Yogurt cheese is an easy and delicious herb treat to make in any season, but especially when you have fresh herbs to snip. I use plain yogurt, but regular or lowfat is fine. If you can buy Greek style yogurt that is even nicer. You'll want about a tablespoon of snipped herbs. You can use any combination of chives, basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, lemon thyme, or garlic chives. All of these are usually available in the grocery store if you don't grow them yourselves. I use scissors and cut up all the herb leaves after removing from the stems. They can be minced as well. You can also use dry herbs, but cut the amount in half.

Place a half of 32 ounce container of yogurt in a strainer. I have a yogurt cheese strainer I picked up but you can use cheese cloth placed over a bowl, or another type of strainer. As long as the yogurt drains into a container, and you can place the entire thing in the refrigerator, you'll be all set. Add the herbs and about a tsp. of minced garlic to the yogurt. Gently mix them into the yogurt, then cover and place in the refrigerator. You can allow this to drain for a few hours or even overnight. At that point add a little salt and freshly ground pepper. Use it as a dip with vegetables and crackers, or a spread on bagels. You don't have to put the herbs in before straining, but it gives it time to blend as it's draining.

This recipe is a perfect one for experimenting with herbs. You can use oregano, basil, rosemary, parsley, dill, sage, garlic chives. For a different flavor try minced cilantro, chili peppers and garlic, then serve with tortilla chips.


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Baking Recipes

A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold. ~Ogden Nash

It's always nice to bake on Sunday so everyone can ease into Monday morning with a little home baked goodness. With two teens and a ten year old, our Mondays can be chaotic to say the least, so anything that helps the morning go better is welcomed.

Today I looked through my cookbook collection for bread recipes and ran across a neat little book I had forgotten about. It's a Fleishmann's Yeast booklet from 1910. This recipe calls for a "cake" of yeast which is equivalent to 2 1/4 teaspoons of active dry yeast.

English Bath Buns

2 cakes yeast (4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast)
1/2 cup milk, scolded and cooled
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup butter
4 eggs
4 cups sifted flour
1/2 tsp. salt
5 tablespoons sugar
1 cup almonds, chopped

Dissolve yeast in one tbsp. of the sugar in lukewarm milk. Add the butter, eggs unbeaten, flour gradually, and the salt, beating thoroughly. This mixture should be thick, but not stiff enough to handle. Cover and let rise in warm place one and 1/2 hours, or until light. Sprinkle balance of sugar and almonds over top, mix very lightly and drop into well-greased muffin pans. Cover and let rise until light, which should be about a half hour. Bake 15 to 20 minutes in a moderately hot oven (350 F.) These buns should be rough in appearance.

I also have All About Home Baking, a General Foods Corp. book, from 1933. Many of the recipes call for "cake flour" which is available in the store, but often all I have on hand is regular all-purpose flour. You can substitute regular flour by combining 3/4 cup all-purpose flour plus 2 tablespoons of cornstarch for each ONE CUP of cake flour that is called for in a recipe.

Chocolate Bread

3 cups sifted cake flour
3 tsp. baking powder
1 1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 egg, well beaten
4 tbsp. melted butter or other shortening
1 1/4 cups milk
2 squares unsweetened chocolate, melted

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder and salt, sift again. Add the brown sugar and mix well. Add egg and melted butter; then add milk gradually, mixing thoroughly. Add chocolate and blend. Bake in greased loaf pan, 8x4x3 inches, in moderated 350 degree F. oven 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until done. Cool before slicing.

Cinnamon Drop Biscuits

2 cups sifted cake flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3 tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 tbsp. butter
1/2 cup milk
1 egg, well beaten

Sift flour once, measure, add baking powder, sugar, salt and cinnamon, and sift again. Cut in shortening. (I use a fork) Combine milk and egg, then add all at once to flour mixture and stir carefully until all flour is dampened. Then stir vigorously until mixture forms a soft dough that clings to sides of bowl. Drop from teaspoon on ungreased baking sheet. Sprinkle with additional sugar. Bake in a hot oven (400 degrees F.) for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 2 1/2 dozen.

On OFL we have more quick bread recipes to try: