Time for More Basil

Back in early October, we had unseasonably cold weather.  So I snipped about a dozen branches from the basil plants in my garden and put them into water, hoping to extend their usable life by a few weeks. To my surprise they rooted and thrived in my kitchen. (I was surprised because I have never had luck keeping potted basil plants inside.) To my even greater surprise, I was able to keep them going for six months … well at least one of them. Because I used their leaves all winter, I am down to the last stem on my last branch. They were incredibly easy to keep going. I just changed the water and washed out the jars about once a week. What a wonderful, unexpected run of fresh basil. It is still too early to put new plants into the ground, as basil is not very cold hardy. However, I can start a few pots and just bring them in when the temperatures are about to dip too low. Yay! No need to be without this wonderful herb!

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Have a lovely weekend!

Iced Minted Orange Juice

My first waitressing job was working evenings at a deli while I was in high school. Early on, I was scheduled for a Saturday morning 7 a.m. shift. Until I got on the floor to serve tables, I didn’t realize that apart from the owner who was in her office doing book work, I was the only employee working. That meant that I was cooking, serving, and busing tables … with no training on the breakfast shift. Fortunately, I knew how to cook, but I was a little flustered nevertheless. Not thinking, I served orange in a large glass of ice to one of the customers – after all, that was how I liked to drink my orange juice. Boy did he chew me out. “Who drinks orange juice with ice? What are you thinking!?” But, I still like my o.j. with ice, and Minted Orange Juice – a blend of iced mint tea and orange juice – is served just that way. This is a beverage that I came up with for serving with breakfast in heat of summer when o.j. seems a little too heavy and yet it feels too early in the day for iced tea. Enjoy!

Minted Orange Juice

6 c. cold water

1 cinnamon stick

1 c. clean fresh-picked mint leaves, plus some for garnish

12 oz. frozen orange juice concentrate

1/2 – 3/4 c. sugar, or to taste

4 c. ice cubes, plus ice for serving

1. Place water and a cinnamon stick in a pot and bring to a boil. Remove from heat. Add mint leaves. Cover pot and steep for 15 minutes.

2. Place orange juice concentrate, 1/2 c. of the sugar, and ice cubes to a pitcher. Strain mint tea into pitcher. Stir until concentrate, sugar and ice cubes are dissolved. Taste. If desired, stir in the remaining 1/4 c. of sugar.

3. Chill until serving. Serve over ice and garnish with mint leaves.

Note: If you don’t have fresh mint, substitute 4 mint tea bags.

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Chimichurri Sauce

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This morning I noticed that my cilantro has been growing quite nicely with the relatively cool weather that we have been having, so I decided to pick a bunch to make Chimichurri Sauce. (Once it gets hot, cilantro goes to seed quickly.) Chimichurri Sauce is an Argentinian condiment that is traditionally served on grilled meats, especially grilled steak. It can also be used as a marinade, dipping sauce or salad dressing. Shown above, I have served it on a grilled portobello mushroom with salad greens and avocado. Yum! I hope that you enjoy the recipe!

Chimichurri Sauce

2 c. fresh cilantro, packed

5-6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 T. chopped yellow onion

1 fresh Fresno chili pepper, chopped

1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil

2 T. fresh lime juice, or to taste

1/4 – 1/2 t. sea salt, or to taste

1. Wash cilantro and remove any large stems. Blot leaves dry with a paper towel.

2. Place cilantro, garlic, onion, and Fresno pepper in a small food processor. Pulse until ingredients are finely chopped. Transfer ingredients to a medium size bowl.

3. Stir in olive oil, lime juice, and salt to taste. Refrigerate until serving.

Variations: Substitute flat leaf parsley or spicy oregano for part or all of the cilantro; substitute lemon juice or red wine vinegar for the lime juice; substitute red pepper flakes for the Fresno pepper; add cumin, thyme or paprika; add tomatoes or red bell peppers.

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Garlic Chives: Let the Harvest Begin

Garlic Chives (allium tuberosum) are one of those plants with which I have a love-hate relationship. I love the way that they look  in bloom and the way that their flowers help fill the gap between summer and autumn in the garden. But garlic chives are one of those plants that are not happy staying put. They spread themselves all around the landscape. Fortunately, they have culinary uses. (A rather pungent herb with a flavor akin to garlic and onions, garlic chives can be used in stir fries, soups, and stews.) Since mine are just on the verge of going to seed, for the past few days we’ve been yanking them out of the garden except the few spots where they are wanted. Then we’ve been sorting through it all, removing stems, roots, and damaged leaves, washing the healthy leaves, and putting them in the  oven to dry. Since the pilot lights in my ovens are always on, the ovens never cool below 110 degrees F. which makes them perfect for this use. Once the garlic chives are completely dried out, I will chop, bag, and store them in the freezer until ready to use. I find that herbs keep their color best this way. I’ve read that garlic chives lose their flavor once allowed to flower, however, to me they seem plenty flavorful; and besides, I just couldn’t let them take the space they have appropriated in my garden if I didn’t let those striking white clusters appear.

The Underrated Chive

I enjoy growing herbs and edible flowers. Chives are wonderful to grow because both the greens and the blossoms are edible. My favorite use for snipped chives is mixed into plain Greek yogurt with a little salt and pepper for a veggie dip. I use the chopped blossoms in salads and omelets and whole blossoms for garnishes. I just made a bottle of herbed vinegar with whole chive blossoms, snipped chives, golden oregano leaves and a peeled clove of garlic.

To make vinegar wash herbs and shake well to dry. Add to a sterilized bottle. Top with white vinegar or a blend of white and rice wine vinegar. It is generally recommended that the vinegar be of 5% acidity.

Seal bottle with a cork or plastic cap. Store in a cool dark place for several weeks. The flowers will have a bleached appearance and the vinegar will have picked up color from the herbs. Strain vinegar before using. Use in salad dressings or sprinkle on vegetables.