August 27, 2015

How to Store Fresh Parsley and Cilantro

How to Store Fresh Parsley and Cilantro

Grocery stores sell food to make money. That means when you buy fresh vegetables, fruit, and herbs they are displayed and sold in a way that takes the least amount of room to move product. Basically what's best for your herbs and veggies isn't always the way that the grocery store sells them. The best examples are parsley and cilantro. Most stores pile them into a bin and spray them with water multiple times a day. No!!! Then most shoppers go to the store, bag the herbs, and throw them into the crisper drawer. Five days later the herbs have turned black and mushy and need to be thrown out. No one wants to waste money throwing out fresh ingredients.

How to Store Fresh Parsley and Cilantro

The answer is to store your parsley and cilantro correctly once they come home from the grocery store or are picked from your garden. Storing them correctly is actually very easy and they can last up to two weeks, giving you a lot longer to make that fabulous recipe that you bought them for in the first place. The following is the method I use to store parsley and cilantro in the fridge and it works great!
  • If you buy your parsley and cilantro from the grocery store the first thing you want to do is take them out of the bag, remove the wire (or other binding), wash them, and then cut off about 1/2 inch of the bottom stems. 
  • Fill a small glass with water. 
  • Place the stems in the glass,
  • Cover the herbs with a large Ziploc bag, the end of the bag with the zipper should be at the end of the cup. Use a large bag so the herbs have room to breath. 
  • Zip the bottom of the bag closed around the cup. This is important, it keeps the air out of the bag making the herbs last longer in the fridge. 
  • Place the herbs in the fridge for 1-2 weeks (parsley can actually last longer sometimes 3-4 weeks, especially if it's fresh cut from your garden). 
  • If you are using garden herbs follow the same steps, just skip the steps regarding taking off the bag and wire. 
That's it, very easy and will make your fresh herbs last significantly longer. This method also works for fresh dill.

How to Store Fresh Parsley and Cilantro

August 21, 2015

Homemade Jalapeno Mint Jelly

Jalapeno Mint Jelly

When mint grows it can take over a garden. One little plant turns into a monster in a matter of weeks and then you're left scratching your head over what to do with the abundance of mint that has suddenly appeared. Everyone loves fresh mint hot/iced tea, but what about something that will bring the taste of fresh mint into the fall and winter months.

Fresh Garden Mint

Welcome to the world of mint jelly. Mint jelly is delicious and great with crackers and cream cheese for parties or with lamb for savory dishes. Plus there are so many varieties that can be made and enjoyed, making it a fun type of jelly to experiment with flavor profiles. One such flavor combination is Jalapeno Mint Jelly.

Garden Jalapenos

Jalapeno Mint Jelly is a great way to use garden herbs and peppers. If you're like me and your mint and jalapeno plant have exploded this recipe is a nice way to use the overabundance of both. Just don't do what I did and wipe your eye after mincing jalapenos, bad plan. Garden jalapenos can be a lot spicier than store bought so I would suggest wearing disposable gloves, or at least avoid touching your face. The burn takes a long time to go away, I promise.

print recipe

Jalapeno Mint Jelly
This is a great way to use garden herbs and peppers and enjoy their flavors in the fall and winter.
  • 3 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup small mint sprigs
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 jalapenos, seeded and minced
  • One 3 ounce pouch liquid pectin
  • 1 drop green food coloring
1. Combine sugar and mint in a large non-reactive pot, crushing mint as you stir. 2. Add vinegar and water and over a high heat bring to a boil, stirring to prevent burning. 3. Boil under sugar melts (approximately 3 minutes). 4. Add minced jalapenos and boil hard for 3 minutes. 5. Add pectin and food coloring (if using) and boil hard for 1 minutes. 6. Over a heat proof bowl, strain jelly. 7. Pour jelly into sterilized jars leaving a 1/4 inch head space. 8. Pop any bubbles using a knife or straw. 9. Wipe rims and close jars. 10. Place jars in a boiling water bath canner, bring back to a boil, and process for 10 minutes.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 4 half pints

  • Sterilize jars for 10 minutes, keep lids and rings in a pot of water over simmer. Don't boil the lids as it can damage the seal. 
  • Make sure to wipe the jar rims before placing lids on. Jam left on the rim can make the jar not seal. 
  • If you like your jelly a darker green add another drop of food coloring. 
  • I've had great luck with getting this jelly to set. It sets easily and doesn't take a long time to get to the jelly temp. I always use a candy thermometer to double check. The plate and spoon tests I seem to fail at, I'm great at many things, but my thermometer is my friend. 
I haven't had much time to post in the last week. School started for my kids and I decided to tackle a big painting project in our house. Needless to say I didn't have much time to post, hopefully next week will be calmer. I am planning a few posts on how to store fresh herbs and a recipe for candied jalapenos, stay tuned! 

August 13, 2015

How to Use Coffee Grounds in Your Garden

How to Use Coffee Grounds in Your Garden

Having grown up in Seattle coffee has always been a part of my life. I've had every type of coffee making gizmo you can imagine and have a very particular way that I like my coffee. All this coffee has led to a lot of used coffee grounds. Now I am one of those people who hates to throw anything out. I literally try to reuse or recycle everything. It's a major part of the reason that I cook from scratch. Not only does it save money, but it greatly reduces the amount of waste and trash that my family goes through. So I also reuse my coffee grounds. That's right instead of throwing my used coffee grounds out I use them in my garden.

How to Use Coffee Grounds in Your Garden for peppers

Any of you that garden flowers, fruits, or vegetables know that certain plants like higher or lower amounts of various nutrients. The soil in the area that I live in is full of clay. It holds moisture and drains horribly. Additionally my soil is very alkaline. I have to reduce the pH for pretty much anything to grow, especially my azaleas and acid loving plants. My neighbors have all decided I'm pretty much nuts as I take my pH/moisture meter out everyday and test my soil.

How to Use Coffee Grounds in Your Garden for Jalapenos

In order to amend my soil and make it more favorable for my various plants I compost and use natural fertilizers. One of the various items I add to my less than stellar base soil is used coffee grounds. Now there are a couple of ways this can be done.
  • Add used coffee grounds around the base of plants. Dig into the soil a couple of inches and add in the grounds then re-cover with soil.
  • Make a compost tea. Place coffee grounds into a bucket of water, let sit overnight and then water your plants. My tomatoes and peppers love compost tea. 
  • Use grounds to deter snails and slugs. I have a horrible slug problem in the beginning of most summers due to torrential thunderstorms each year. While beer is the best solution, it isn't always feasible when it rains all the time. The coffee grounds are a nice deterrent for pests, just add a ring around your plants. 
  • Research goes back and forth on how effective coffee grounds are on changing soil pH, but most agree that coffee is rich in nitrogen, magnesium, and potassium. If your plants need a little boost coffee grounds are a nice option. My tomatoes and peppers love coffee grounds and do great when they are added to the soil
  • Seedlings also love a dose of coffee grounds at planting time. I use it every year and they love the extra boost of nitrogen
That's it. Coffee grounds can be great for your garden and save on your trash. Plus it gives you a great excuse to have that afternoon cup! 

August 12, 2015

Fresh Garden Mint Iced Tea

Fresh Garden MInt Iced Tea

It's August and that means most gardens are overflowing with fruits, vegetables, and herbs. After having spent months tending to our plants, our gardens are finally producing a wonderful bounty. Now what to do with all the excess. What started out as one small mint plant by August can turn into an entire bed being run over by this aggressive weed/herb. One can only make so many jars of jelly (I will be posting a few recipes for mint jellies in the coming weeks), so what else can be done with huge amounts of mint. Ice tea of course!

Steeping Fresh Mint Iced Tea

So this year I planted one small mint plant that my mother in law bought at the Charleston Farmer's Market. Well, this one little plant went a little crazy with the fish fertilizer that I fed it (tip: use fish fertilizer, it's awesome and one of the best gardening tips my mother ever gave me growing up) and has had to be moved to larger pots twice this summer. I have made jellies, cakes, muffins, all using mint and I still have a huge, huge plant. So about a month back I decided I would add mint to iced tea for my kids. That one pitcher has turned into hundreds, they love it. The following is the recipe I use for Fresh Garden Mint Iced Tea.

Fresh Garden Mint Iced Tea
This is a great way to use garden mint, especially since mint grows so well and you end up with a ton!
  • 12 Tea Bags
  • 8 cups Water
  • 1/2-1 cup Sugar/Sugar Substitute
  • 5-10 Sprigs Garden Mint
1. Cut 5-10 sprigs fresh garden mint 2. Place 12 tea bags in a heat proof bowl 3. Wash mint and place in bowl with tea bags4. Add 8 cups boiling water to the bowl 5. Let steep 20 minutes 6. Place strainer over heat proof pitcher and strain tea into pitcher 7. Add sweetener of your choice and stir 8. Let tea chill in refrigerator until cold
Prep time: Total time: Yield: 8 cups 

  • I have made this recipe with a variety of different teas. The best is a watermelon lime tea my husband bought me. It makes great iced tea! Regardless is works with pretty much any type of green or black tea
  • How much sugar/sweetener is really a personal choice. If you like McDonald's sweet tea add a whole cup. If you like to sweeten at the glass, don't add any
  • I use stevia for my drinks. It's my sweetener of choice, I limit the amount of granulated sugar we consume since my oldest has ADHD and sugar makes him bounce off the walls. However, this recipe would work with sugar, splenda, you name it. I haven't tried it with honey so I can't speak for how much to add (I would love to hear if you experiment and find out though!)
  • This makes strong tea. My family likes their iced tea to taste like tea, not water. If you like your tea weaker, reduce the amount of tea bags to 8-9
  • A sprig of mint is 6-8 leaves, so 10 sprigs would be about 60-80 leaves. You can use one really long sprig of you want. It doesn't have to be 10 small sprigs. 

August 11, 2015

How to Freeze Fresh Garden Tomatoes

Freezing Fresh Heirloom Garden Tomatoes

Winter tomatoes can be a huge letdown. They are more often than not lacking in flavor and can cost over twice as much as canned. However, you don't have to sacrifice the delicious taste of fresh tomatoes in the middle of the colder months, you just have to plan ahead.

Freezing Fresh Roma Garden Tomatoes

Freezing fresh garden tomatoes is easy and only takes minutes. Depending on your preference, the tomatoes can be frozen whole and then peeled, or they can be blanched and kept whole or diced. Either method is simple and make it possible to enjoy the taste of fresh tomatoes throughout the winter.

Freezing Fresh Heirloom Roma Tomatoes

The following are the two methods to freeze tomatoes:

Freezing Tomatoes Whole With Skins
  • Wash and pat tomatoes dry
  • Lay tomatoes flat on a metal jelly pan or baking sheet
  • Place the baking sheet in the freezer and allow tomatoes to freeze (you want the tomatoes to not be completely frozen, just frozen to the point that the skin can be peeled-normally 1-2 hours)
  • Once the tomatoes are frozen, remove sheet and tomatoes from freezer, skin the tomatoes, and place tomatoes in a freezer proof container. Tomatoes will be good 6-12 months
Freezing Tomatoes Without Skins
  • Wash and pat tomatoes dry
  • Bring a pot of water to a boil
  • Place tomatoes in boiling water and blanch 45-60 seconds
  • Place tomatoes in an ice water bath to cool
  • Peel skins off tomatoes
  • You can either keep the tomatoes whole and follow the last 4 steps in the first method above or dice the tomatoes (and seed if you prefer) and place in a freezer safe container
Since frozen tomatoes have a tendency to become mushy I recommend using frozen tomatoes in soups, stews, and chili. They also work for homemade pasta sauce or any dish in which the tomatoes will be cooked down to the point that the texture won't matter.

That's it, very simple and a great way to enjoy garden tomatoes throughout the fall and winter.
Tomorrow's post will be a recipe for iced tea using fresh garden mint, stay tuned. 

August 10, 2015

How to Dry Fresh Garden Herbs

How to dry fresh garden herbs

My garden every year can be a series of near disasters. I love gardening, but there is a lot of work that goes into beautiful looking vegetables, fruits, and flowers. Last year I lost all my tomatoes to blight. I almost cried after spending months babying my heirlooms and then within days they were completely gone. This year has been a much better year. It hasn't been without its near disasters, but I know now that it takes near obsession for a great and abundant garden. I have also accepted the fact that my neighbors are probably wondering about my mental sanity as I take a PH meter around my garden and talk to my plants about their needs for the day. I hate to admit that these oddities are things that I do on a daily basis, but it is what it is, my plants love a good pep talk and I like giving one. Come August there is nothing better than looking outside and seeing all the fruits of your labor come to fruition.

how to dry fresh garden rosemary

Now comes the part of what to do with all the herbs, fruits, and vegetables that come from your stellar garden. The easy answer to that is that you dry, preserve, and dehydrate. Today is the first in a series of posts on how to enjoy the bounty of your garden year round. First up is drying fresh garden herbs.

If your anything like me you plant every herb you can find at the nursery and if you have a great garden year you are swimming in herbs come August. Now herbs love to be cut. I'm not talking a little here or there, I'm taking you can cut thyme, oregano, and rosemary almost back to the ground and they will grow up twice as big. So don't be dainty with the scissors, go for it, any of the long leggy growths that are pouring over the side need to be cut back.

how to dry fresh herbs

Basil, sage, parsley, dill, and cilantro also love to be cut back. However, they are preserved and stored slightly differently. I only dry dill seed and use parsley, cilantro, and basil fresh. The flavor really does not dry adequately on these herbs. Oregano, thyme, and rosemary dry very well and taste great dried. The following is the method I use to dry fresh herbs for storage.

  • Cut back fresh rosemary, oregano, or thyme. You want to cut long stems that have adequate growth and stem length to be bundled. I normally do one huge cutback in late August where I cut my herbs almost down to the ground and then dry them. 
  • Wash the herbs making sure to remove all dirt and dead or discolored leaves. Strip bottom leaves off stems so there is an inch or two of bare stem at the bottom of each herb bunch. 
  • Allow the herbs to completely dry before placing in bag. Placing wet herbs in bags will result in moldy dried herbs.
  • Bunch herbs into groups of 6-8 stems and tie together with kitchen twine. Take a lunch size brown paper bag and cut smalls holes in it for ventilation. Place herbs in bag with stems facing out of the top. 
  • Tie twine around top of bag (and herbs stems), make a knot in order that the bag stays put and tie the herbs/bags upside down in a cool dry place for one to two weeks, or until leaves have completely dried out.

Dried Herbs

Recipe Type: Spice
An easy way to dry fresh herbs from your garden to enjoy year round.
Preparation Time: 0h, 15m
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