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Winter Soups

Crescent Dragonwagon

My longtime friend, Crescent Dragonwagon, author of dozens of children's books, cookbooks, novels, poetry and fiction, as well as one of the best vegetarian cookbooks ever written, had a souper-habit. Put simply, the crockpot in her kitchen always had soup cooking. Every day she'd add something new and every evening, she'd have a cup of soup along whatever food she had fixed and for whomever was in the house for dinner. The soup was always on;  I've eaten her "perpetual soup" many times and it was always delicious. With cold weather in the making, or having already arrived in many parts of the world, it's time to make soup. One of Crescent's soups that she used to serve at her Dairy Hollow House Restaurant, was the curried pumpkin bisque. You can find the original recipe in her book, Soup and Bread, but here's my own Crescent-inspired version.
Her recipe calls for nearly all the ingredients to be cooked in one big soup pot, onions with peelings on, etc., then strained through a colander. She used chopped-up, whole pumpkin, seeds, peel and all. Same with apples, no need to see or core them. My version, listed below, is based on whatever I have on hand at the time and a little different method.
I chop the ingredients rather than cooking them whole or in large chunks. It just appeals to my sense of organization and order. I saute the chopped ingredients in a bit of olive oil until they are tender.
If I don't have pumpkin on hand, I use butternut or a similar squash. Cut in chunks, peeling left on and seed removed, it microwaves in about 6 or 7 minutes. Once it cools, the peel is easy to, well, peel off.
Here's the recipe. I've made it so many times I should go back to Crescent's Soup and Bread book to see if it still resembles the original.
Curried Squash Soup
This is a really tasty winter soup and you can vary the ingredients according to what's in the pantry. Rather than chopping everything individually, I put all the raw ingredients in a food processor and chop them. Occasionally I put some canned pumpkin in the mix, other times I use different squash or a combination of the two.

1 butternut squash, stem and seed removed, cut in chunks, microwaved until soft
1 large sweet potato, microwaved, peeled
4 apples, cored but not peeled, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, quartered
1 large carrot, cut in pieces
1 large baking potato, scrubbed, peeling left on, diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled of course, crushed
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups chicken broth, or vegetarian broth instead
2 cups water
4 cups apple juice (or frozen apple cider if you can find it)
1-2 tablespoons curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste

1 - Microwave the squash and sweet potato and set aside to cool; peel and discard peelings.
2 - Working in batches, chop the raw ingredients in a food processor.
3 - Add the olive oil to a stockpot and heat. Add the chopped onion, apples, carrot, garlic and potato, stirring often and simmer until almost tender. Add 2 cups water and continue cooking until vegetables are completely tender. Add additional water as it cooks, if needed.
4 - Working in batches, process the chopped vegetables, sweet potato and squash in a blender, and puree until the soup in nice and smooth.
5 - Pour that back into the stockpot and add the chicken broth and apple juice, including the salt and pepper and curry powder. Simmer for a few minutes and taste the soup. If the first tablespoon of curry powder wasn't quite enough, add more but not so much it overpowers the soup. It's ready to serve. You can add a bit of half and half or cream if you wish but this is a surprisingly creamy soup without anything extra. This makes enough for about 8 or 10 average soup bowl servings.

Below is another of my favorite soups I like to make in winter. When I spoke at the Frankenmuth (Michigan) Herb Society a few years back, they asked me for some of my recipes for their luncheon. This is one that was on that menu.
Ginger-Orange Carrot Soup, with a cracker from my Homemade Crackers book.
Ginger-Orange Carrot Soup
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 pounds small baby carrots (or if using larger carrots, peeled and cut up)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry rice
1-2 teaspoons freshly-grated ginger
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup (or slightly more) heavy whipping cream or half and half

1 - In skillet saute the onion in butter.
2 - Transfer the saute to a soup pot with the 5 cups of chicken stock, honey, baby carrots, tomato paste and rice. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer and cook, covered for about 30 minutes or until rice is tender.
3 - Transfer soup to a food processor and puree with the orange zest, ginger, cream and salt and pepper to taste. Puree well, this is meant to be a very smooth soup. Return the soup to a pot to keep it warm until serving but don’t let it boil. Taste and adjust seasonings. If too thick, add more chicken broth. The recipe serves 6 as a side dish soup with salad, served in small coffee cups.

You might like serving either of these soups with some homemade crackers from my book, Homemade Crackers Using Herbs.


Pickled Peppers for Winter

Peppers of all kinds can be pickled.

Before we had the first hard frost here on the farm, I pulled up all of my pepper plants and brought them into an unheated room. The peppers continue ripening, drawing strength from the plants, and I can collect the peppers as I need them. 

Hot sauces and pickled peppers.
I’ve been working for several months on a new book about making hot sauce, including how to can and freeze homemade hot sauces. I’ve been testing the recipes for several weeks and the kitchen counter is stacked with little jars of varying kinds of sauces. I’ve also been playing around with pickled pepper recipes and if you still have peppers, try this recipe and tell me your opinion of the flavor. I think it’s pretty good. I like to mix sweet and hot peppers for this and these pickled peppers are good on sandwiches of all kinds.
Pickled peppers, the flavor improves with age.
Pickled Peppers 
(hot or sweet peppers, either one)

About 30 jalapeno peppers, stem removed and peppers slit open on one side
2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 teaspoon whole yellow mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric 
1/3 cup sugar
*Pickle Crisp (available at Wal-Mart, and makes crisper pickles)

1 - Combine all ingredients (except peppers) and heat the liquid in a non-corrosive sauce pan (stainless steel, glass or enamel, not aluminum nor cast iron). When the mixture begins to boil, lower the heat and add the peppers then continue simmering for about 5 minutes.

2 - Pack the peppers tightly into sterile, hot, glass jars. Pour in liquid and leave 1/2 inch headspace. Add 1/8 teaspoon *Pepper Crisp to each jar. Wipe jar rims with damp cloth and screw on new jar lids to finger-tight, then lower into boiling water, with enough water to cover the tops of the jars by an inch.

3 - Start timing when the pan of hot water begins boiling. Process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and cool on a towel on the kitchen counter for the jars to continue sealing. Don’t re-tighten or bother the lids as it will break the seal and cause the pickles to spoil. This makes 4 pints.

Click here to visit my website for my books and products.  Our special blend of Chili Seasoning is on special this month. 

Click here to see our specials. You won't find it fresher, or more tasty anywhere, and 1 pound for $12 is a great price!


Avocado Banana Bread

Fresh, ripe avocado
Do you ever look at the avocados at the grocery store and think - cake? Neither do I, but somehow I got on the newsletter list for the California Avocado Council (their job is to promote California avocados by developing recipes). Occasionally I try one of their recipes and this one just sounded so strange that it had to be good. Here's their recipe, but of course I can't follow a recipe exactly and always wind up tinkering with it as I go. Here's my revised recipe (I added coconut and pecans and an extra egg). It's actually more like banana bread than it is cake.
Bananas and avocado makes a moist loaf.

Avocado-Banana Cake

1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup flour (I used half whole wheat and half regular flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 ripe, fresh avocado
1/4 cup canola oil
1 cup packed brown sugar (my diabetic version is 3/4 cup Stevia brown sugar, and 1/4 cup actual brown sugar)
2 large eggs
2 very ripe bananas
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I used pecans instead)
1/4 cup buttermilk (didn't have any so use 1/4 cup milk and 1 teaspoon white vinegar)
I added 1/2 cup coconut that wasn't in the original recipe

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line a 9 x 5 x 3 inch loaf pan with nonstick foil and lightly grease the bottom.
Combine dry ingredients (except for coconut), mixing and set aside.
Scoop the avocado into the food processor or mixing bowl.
Add the bananas, oil and brown sugar and blend until light and creamy.
Add the dry ingredients, mixing well, then add one egg at a time, mixing after each one.
Mix in the nuts and coconut and pour into prepared loaf pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.
This makes a very moist bread, good with cream cheese or as a low-calorie dessert or snack.

And for all who asked if the new puppy has a name yet, she is now Cricket. Molly is adjusting pretty well, mostly ignoring the new puppy.
Cricket, new addition to Long Creek Herb Farm


Pesto Bread, Freezing Pesto

Sweet basil
As the late summer days shorten and night temperatures cool, basil plants slow their growth. If you've kept your plants clipped back all summer, keeping them from going into flowering, then you likely have more basil than you can use. It's a good time to freeze some pesto for use during the winter.
Culinary herb bed where I grow 12 different varieties of basil.
It doesn't really matter which kinds of basil you use for pesto. I usually mix more than one variety, like sweet basil and lemon basil. Or Greek columnar and Thai basils. Purists use only sweet basil, but the important thing is to use whichever basil you have. Here's my recipe for freezing pesto.
Freezer Pesto

4 cups basil leaves, loosely packed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons almonds or walnuts (you could use pine nuts, they're more expensive, but I like almonds better)
6 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Put everything into the food processor and blend ingredients until smooth. Scrape the edges to make sure everything has been processed.
Pour the mixture into ice cube trays, filling each section. Freeze for 24 hours, then pop out the cubes into Zip-Lock bags and keep frozen.

Now the trick. When you are ready to use pesto, combine it with half Romano, half Parmesan cheese, freshly grated if possible. Since those cheeses don't freeze well, the flavor of your pesto will stay much fresher if you don't put the cheese in the pesto before freezing.

The end of summer also means the roses are blooming vigorously. This pesto doesn't freeze as well as plain basil pesto, but use it on fresh-cooked tortellini with a few shrimp or mushrooms added.

Rose and Basil Pesto
Roses and basil taste great together!

2 cups fresh basil
1 cup fragrant *rose petals
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup pine nuts (I prefer walnuts)
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon food grade rose water
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (don't substitute bottled juice) 
1 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/4 cup Romano cheese, freshly grated
Salt, optional

Peel and coarsely chop garlic, then add rose petals, basil, nuts and olive oil in food processor. Pulse blend until everything is well pulverized.
Add remaining ingredients and mix well. This can be stored for up to 4 days in the refrigerator.

*If you aren't sure what roses you can use, visit my YouTube video for tips on using roses in food.

Thai basil, in need of having the flowering spikes removed.

The other crop from the garden in excess this time of year are zucchinis. Here's a way to use up more basil with zucchinis to make zucchini pesto bread. Thai basil is good in this, but so is lemon basil or any kind you have on hand.

 Zucchini Pesto Bread
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup basil pesto

1 stick butter, melted, divided

3 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup grated zucchini

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9 by 5 by 3-inch loaf pan with butter.

Combine the eggs, ricotta, pesto, and 4 tablespoons of the melted butter in a mixing bowl, mixing well. In a separate mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt, and stir to combine. Add the grated zucchini to the flour mixture and stir to coat the zucchini.

Combine the flour-zucchini mixture to the egg-cheese-pesto concoction, and mix well. This will be a fairly thick mixture so be sure to stir it together well.

Transfer the dough to the loaf pan and top with the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, about 55 minutes to 1 hour. Cool the bread in the loaf pan on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes before removing the loaf from the pan.

The Zucchini Pesto Bread can be sliced and used for grilled Provolone cheese sandwiches, or for any kind of sandwich bread. Top slices with very thin slices of tomatoes and grated Parmesan cheese toast under the broiler. This bread also freezes well.


Making Homemade Hot Sauce

Just a few of the pepper varieties I'm growing.
If you've been a follower of my blogs for very long you know I have a great love for peppers. In Pepperspeak, I'm a "pepperhead," meaning I like most everything peppery. Fresh, dried, pickled, sauced, fried, roasted, I like them all.
Bhut Jalokia, or Ghost Peppers.

For about the last 5 years if you did a Google search for the words, Bhut Jalokia pepper, you would find my blog posts at the top of the search. Now that more people are growing and writing about what was, until 2 years ago, the world's hottest pepper, rated at 1 million to 1,200,000 Scoville Heat Units. But that world record now goes to the Trinidad Moruga Scorpion, which weighs in (in heat) at 1,200,000 to 2,000,000 heat units.
Peppers drying in dehydrator.

Pepper drying at our house is a regular occurrence in the fall months. I annually grow around 25-30 varieties of hot peppers and use most of them dried, the varieties mixed together and crumbled for winter seasoning. Some of the sweeter varieties such as Poblano, I roast and freeze.

I'm working on a new book on hot sauces and so this month I'm cooking up some new ways to use my peppers. Hot sauce is easy to make at home and you can can, refrigerate or freeze what you make.

The basic recipe I'm starting with is easy for anyone who wants to make hot sauce. You can vary it according to the kinds of peppers you have on hand, and the amount of heat you want.

Scoville Heat illustration.
For example, if you like virtually no heat, your sauce could contain Poblano, Ancho or Pasilla peppers, rated at 1,000 to 1,500 H.U. If you want a little heat, add Cascabel (1,500-2,500 Heat Units). Jalapenos and Hungarian Hot Wax will give you 5,000 - 15,000 Heat Units. Cayenne peppers rate at about 30,000 H.U. and Habanero peppers are about 50,000 - 70,000 depending on where they are grown. You can mix and match in the following recipe. Just remember, you can always ADD heat, but once the sauce is made, you can't remove it. You can vary the kind of vinegar or lime juice you use, but don't leave it out because that's what preserves it. Your sauce should contain something acidic, like vinegar, to make up about 20% of the sauce. White wine vinegar, distilled white, apple cider vinegar, rice wine vinegar, all can be used.
You can also play with the basic recipe by using some oregano, marjoram or other herbs to give a different flavor.

Simple Basic Hot Sauce Recipe

1 - Put the following into a food processor (you will need to do this in 2 or 3 batches:

15-20 fresh hot peppers, stems removed (leave seeds in)
3 or 4 garlic cloves, skins removed
1 medium onion, cut in chunks
Pulse-blend until this is coarsely chopped

2 - Coat a medium saucepan with 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil and empty the contents of the food processor into it. Saute the mixture in the skilled for 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3 - Add 1 cup water and 1 cup of your favorite vinegar and continue cooking for 20 minutes. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt while mixture cooks.

4 - Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Pour the mixture into a blender (not the food processor) and blend for 4-5 minutes on high speed, or until everything is completely pulverized. The sauce will thicken slightly once it's in the refrigerator, so if it seems too thick coming out of the blender, add another 1/4 or 1/2 cup vinegar to thin (don't use water, remember, the acidity is what preserves this.

Your hot sauce is now ready for putting into jars and keeping in the refrigerator. This will keep for 2-3 months refrigerated. You can also freeze some of it in ice cube trays, then once frozen put in plastic bags in the freezer for later.


Recipes, Fresh From the Garden

Here are the recipes I promised. To read the story about the dinner and the meal, visit my garden adventures blog:
Chilled Romaine Soup  
Chilled Romaine Lettuce Soup

3 tablespoons butter
2 medium onions, sliced
salt & pepper
2 large heads romaine lettuce, cut into “ribbons”
2 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 cup half and half
Shredded lettuce and thinly sliced radishes for garnish

Saute onions in butter, about 3 min. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add the of lettuce to the pan, cooking until it wilts. Add stock, bring to a boil, lower heat to medium and cook until soft, about 5 min.

Process in blender with until smooth. Refrigerate for an hour. Add half and half, adjust the salt and pepper and top with finely chopped lettuce for garnish. Makes 6 cup-sized servings.

Bruchetta Salad

Bruchetta Salad
(I used Brandywine and red pear tomatoes for this; Romas work well, too)

3-4 large heirloom tomatoes (or 6-7 Romas), chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1 shallot, chopped (or 2-3 tablespoons chopped sweet onion)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
6-8 basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon freshly-chopped oregano
1/4 cup rumbled feta cheese
Olives for garnish
salt & pepper, optional

Several thin slices freshly-toasted French bread, brushed with olive oil on side

Combine first 6 ingredients, mixing well. Let sit on the kitchen counter or in refrigerator, for at least an hour for the flavors to combine. Drain well, lay 1 to 3 thin slices of the toast on plates, then top with bruchetta. Sprinkle on crumbled feta and add olives for garnish.
Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Corn Pudding, Long Beans and Carrots.
Fresh Corn Pudding
6 ears of sweet corn, shucked, silks removed
1 cup half and half
2 teaspoons sugar or Truvia
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 cup (half a stick) butter, lightly melted
3 eggs, beaten

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Oil the insides of 6 ramekins and set aside.

Into a large bowl, coarsely grate corn (it's easy to slice it off with a knife, just don't slice into the cob). With the back of a knife, scrape each cob to get the remaining liquid from the corn. You should have about 2 cups.

Whisk together in a bowl the remaining ingredients and stir into the corn until combined. Pour the mixture into the ramekins and set those in a shallow baking dish. Pour boiling water in the baking dish until it is about half way up the sides of the ramekins. (At this point I often put it in the microwave for 3-4 minutes to heat everything and speed up the cooking time in the oven, and if you do that, you can reduce the cooking time to about 20 minutes). Otherwise, bake the puddings about 45-50 minutes. Remove ramekins from the water and let cool about 5 minutes to set up. Run a knife around the edges and invert each pudding onto plates. Makes 6 puddings.
Green and red long beans with Ginger Carrots

Marinated Long Beans
I grow Thai Red-Seeded Long Beans, but any long bean will work. Pick the beans when they are about the diameter of a small drinking straw. Bring a small pan of water to a boil and drop in the beans (I figured 3 long beans per plate). Let simmer for 5 minutes, take out and let cool. Coil 2-3 beans in a circle like a wreath, tucking parts in and out until they will hold together.

Saute 1 slice of bacon, chopped in small pieces and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped onion, with a scant tablespoon of olive oil. As soon as the bacon and onion are cooked, turn off the heat and pour that over the coiled green beans in a dish.

Fresh Ginger Orange Carrots
This is intended to be a garnish with the beans rather than a side dish but you could increase the amounts and use it as a side dish.

2 medium to large carrots, cut in half, each half cut into spears, lengthwise
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
1 tablespoon orange juice concentrate
1 tablespoon butter

Bring water to boil in a small saucepan. Add the carrots and cook for 6-7 minutes or until just barely tender. Drain.
In the same saucepan, combine the ginger, orange juice concentrate and butter and heat just enough to melt the butter. Stir then add the carrots, tossing to coat. Set aside to marinate for at least an hour. These can be served hot or cold. I stuck 2 carrot spears through each green bean "wreath," the beans were hot, the carrots were room temperature.

More recipes to come.


Recipes from 50th Anniversary MN Herb Society

Just part of the food from the Shady Acres Herb Farm barbecue.
If you'd like to read the story of why I was speaking at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, and who the other (famous) speakers were, read the post here. Since there wasn't room for the recipes, I'm posting them here. First was the homemade Sage Cheese Ball, made by one of the members. It was delicious and went fast. You might like to make it, and serve with one of my homemade crackers from my book, Easy Homemade Crackers Using Herbs.

Sage Cheese Ball with homemade cheese.
Sage Cheese Ball
8 cups heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup buttermilk

Combine the cream and buttermilk, cover with a cloth and let sit out on the kitchen counter for 24-36 hours. Pour that into a sieve or strainer that's lined with cheesecloth, cover, and let it drain for about 3 days. That's it, your cheese is ready to use (and refrigerate). Chop about a dozen fresh sage leaves very fine and mix into the cheese. Press into a mold or pan and let the sage flavors mix into the cheese for about a day. That's it, the cheese ball is ready to eat!

Shady Acres Herb Farm's Gift Shop.
The ladies from the MN Herb Society presented, "Ten Herbs in One Hour" and it was well organized and gave a lot of information in a short period of time. Theresa Miesler, of Shady Acres Herb Farm (who was my home-host while I was there) gave her presentation on mint and mojitos. We all had a few Mojitos the following evening, too!
A perfect Mojito.
Mojitos for 6, Theresa Mieseler
9 ounces rum
2 handfuls spearmint
3 limes, squeezed
1/3 liter club soda
12 ounces simple syrup (2 parts sugar in 3 parts hot water, dissolve then chill)

Muddle the mint in the pitcher with a spoon, add the limes and the juice from them, then add the rum and club soda. Pour over ice in glasses and garnish with more mint.

You could also use stevia (it's correctly pronounced "stev - ia" with a short e, unlike what most of us have been calling it (as if it were spelled steeeevia). Use a simple stevia syrup in the above recipe in place of simple syrup.
Stevia plant, zero calories, lots of sweet.
Stevia Syrup, Vernoica Malone
4 cups water
1 cup of stevia powder or dry crushed stevia leaves

Bring the water to a boil, add the stevia and mix until dissolved, cover with a lid and let steep until cooled. Strain and refrigerate until ready to use.
The Sherried Rosemary Almonds look ordinary - the aren't!
Eleanor Wagner's Sherried Rosemary Almonds
(This works just as well with peanuts, cashews or other nuts; they were so good, 
they were being eaten about as fast as they were put on the tables!)

1 1/2 cups blanched or unblanched whole almonds (or other nuts)
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder

Spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Bring brown sugar, sherry and water to a boil in a small saucepan and continue simmering for 10 minutes. Meanwhile mix remaining ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside. Add almonds to syrup and stir to coat. Add dry ingredients and mix well. Spread almonds on baking sheet separating them with a fork so they don't stick together. Cool, then store in an airtight container. Makes 1 1/2 cups so you may want to double the recipe.


Five Fun Ways to Use Basil

A bed of basil varieties in bloom.
We're at the height of the basil season. As long as basil gets enough water, and you remember to keep the flower stalks pruned back (unlike in the photo above where all of the basils are in full bloom) then  your plants will be producing non-stop. The more you prune, the better the flavor. But have you run out of things to do with your basil? Of course you are probably making lots of pesto and freezing it for winter (my recipe for fool-proof frozen pesto is on this page).
Basil, garlic, Parmesan, olive oil, nuts - regular pesto.

Here are 5 great exciting ways of using basil you may not have tried yet.
Dip a big pile of assorted basil cuttings in water and lay on the grill.

1 - Lemon-Basil Grilled Shrimp. 
Cut a big, double-handful of lemon or lime basil, as in the photo above. Dip it in plain water and lay the basil on a medium-hot barbecue grill. Spread 2 or 3 dozen raw shrimp over the basil, pull down the barbecue lid if you wish, and steam the shrimp for 60 - 90 seconds. Flip the shrimp over and give them another minute. The lemon basil flavor will be steamed into shrimp, giving it wonderful flavor.
Basil Lemon Ice Cream

2 - Nutty Basil Lemon Ice Cream
Karen Keb, editor of The Heirloom Gardener magazine told me about making homemade ice cream with basil this past week. She used sweet basil, pine nuts and lemon, and sounds so good I have to make some, too! Here's the link to her recipe, which she posted on the Mother Earth News website. Thanks, Karen, for sharing your recipe!

3 - Basil Pesto Burgers
Combine about 2 pounds of ground chuck with 1 medium onion, finely chopped, 1/4 cup basil pesto, salt and pepper and mix well. Form into burgers and cook on the grill. The pesto gives great flavor, you won't be sorry you did this! (This method works well with veggie-burgers, too).

4 - Banana-Basil Smoothie
Use any kind of basil for this - I like Thai, but lemon, sweet, Genovese, Greek Columnar, Purple Ruffles, it doesn't matter, they all work just fine. In a blender, put 1 frozen banana, 1 tablespoon honey, 7 or 8 basil leaves (or more, to taste) with 3 cups of milk. I add a few ice cubes, too. Blend it until smooth. For a milk-free smoothie, I use either pineapple or cran-raspberry juice instead of the milk.
Blackberry-Basil Sorbet
5 - Blackberry Basil Sorbet
I especially like Greek Columnar basil or Purple Ruffles for this recipe but any variety works just as well. (The recipe is from my book, Fabulous Herb and Flower Sorbets, on my website).
Begin with 3 cups of blackberry juice (or blueberry, etc.) Add 1/2 cup sugar, 6-8 fresh basil leaves, 1 cup of water and the freshly-squeezed juice of 1 lemon. Blend well in blender and chill the liquid for at least an hour. Pour into a sorbet maker and freeze until firm.
36 pages of herb and flower sorbet recipes.

There you have it, 5 ways of using up some of your excess summer basil you may not have considered.

Of course, there's always the old stand-by, plain basil pesto toasted on sourdough bread, too!

Fresh or frozen pesto toasted on sourdough bread, that's not too bad, either!


Watermelon Peach Avocado Salsa

Herb Shop porch, looking out on one part of the garden.
These two areas, above, are in and near the garden look and wonderfully cool, don't they? But like much of the U.S. today, it's sweltering hot. We've been above 100 degrees F. most of this week. Fireworks displays in most towns are cancelled due to fire dangers. It's bleak, pastures and lawns are just crispy sticks, ponds are dry. We're watering the garden here on a daily basis, trying to keep the plants alive and growing.

Here's hopefully a small bit of inspiration, a half watermelon filled with watermelon salsa. I made it to take to a picnic at our friends' house this evening. You might like to make this over the Independence Day holidays, too. Yes, it will look better surrounded with chips and other food, but I took the photo before I left for the party.
The flavors of sweet watermelon, crispy peppers, peaches and avocados go well together!
I'd like to say this recipe is from my book, Sensational Salsas from Apple to Zucchini, and I do have a really good watermelon salsa recipe there, but this one was inspired by the Avocado Association newsletter this week. I had to tinker with their recipe a bit to suit my tastes, so here's my revised recipe:

Watermelon, Peach and Avocado Salsa

1 half seedless watermelon, innards chopped and drained
2 whole avocados, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 peaches, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 small green bell pepper, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, seeds and stem removed, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 teaspoon salt

Mix and chill, then fill the scooped-out watermelon and take to the party with chips.

Muscadines growing on gazebo post.
The muscadines are ripe this week on the gazebo (some of the other varieties aren't ready yet). If you aren't familiar with muscadines, they're a Southern variety of grapes. Thirty three years ago when I moved here, our weather wouldn't have allowed muscadines to grow, but in that period of time, we have warmer winters and such plants thrive here. Muscadines do better in the Ozarks than many other grapes simply because they don't suffer from many of the grape diseases, fungus and the like. I never have to spray muscadines - I always had to spray regular grapes, and I like the flavor of these better. Muscadines have a lot more sugar, some varieties taste like a burst of grape jelly in your mouth!
If you'd like more salsa recipes to help you keep cool in this miserable heat, order my book, Sensational Salsas. It's full of my recipes for such things as Banana Salsa (it's a favorite in my salsa workshops!), Watermelon Salsa with Black Pepper, Cantaloupe Salsa and many, many more - yes, even one for Zucchini!

The Salsa book is on sale this month when you buy Easy Dips Using Herbs, too. Here's the link to my website.

Stay out of the heat if you can, drink plenty of liquids, move slow and be safe. Happy gardening!


Lavender Cookies, Ginger Beet Cake

Lavender flowers give wonderful flavor to cookies. Even people who say they don't like all that "herby stuff" like these. They're easy to make - it only takes minutes. I use the food processor and unless you're a cookie purist, you'd never know that I used shortcuts and simple methods. Here's the recipe.

Jim's Lavender Cookies
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup additional sugar
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 3 Tablespoons dry lavender flowers in the food processor and pulse blend until the flowers are well chopped. Set aside.

Cream the butter and 1 cup of flour in the food processor until the sugar is well dissolved. Add the remaining ingredients, including the sugar-lavender mixture and pulse blend just until the dough is mixed.

Roll a heaping tablespoon full of the dough between your hands, then roll that in the reserved sugar and place about 2 inches apart on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake for 8-9 minutes, or until the edges begin to turn golden. Bake a minute longer if you like dryer cookies, or take out at the 8-9 min. mark for softer, chewier cookies.
Makes about 24 cookies.
Last year, in March, I was in Round Top, Texas for the herb festival at Festival Hill. They served Ginger Beet Cake - yes, made with beets, and it was a huge success. I asked for their permission to share the recipe here, and did so in last year's post. Here's my revised recipe with my own additions. This is a delicious cake and you will never guess it has beets in it!

Ginger Beet Cake. Not a crumb of this cake was left over!

Ginger Beet Cake
 You can make this cake ahead and freeze it for later. It requires no frosting,
just a dusting of powdered sugar if you wish, or leave that off and just
add whipped cream and a few bachelor's buttons!
1 15 oz. can of beets (not pickled, just plain, canned beets)
1 1/2 cups flour (I use 1 cup unbleached flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour)
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
2 cups sugar (I use 1 1/2 cups granulated stevia or Truvia and 1/2 cup sugar)
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons dry ginger
2 Tablespoons fresh grated ginger
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup nuts, chopped (I used pecans or walnuts)
3/4 cup coconut

Heat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a food processor, empty the entire can of beets, juice and all. Blend it well. Combine the rest of the ingredients except for the chopped nuts, mixing well. Fold in the chopped nuts. Pour into a 9 x 13, oiled and floured baking pan. Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Let cool. Serve with real whipped cream. People were going back for seconds, saying this couldn't possibly have beets in it.
No Cool Whip for this, use real whipped cream!


Herbal Luncheon

I ran across these from the year I spoke at the Frankenmuth Herb Society. What a great group, they titled it, "3 Days with Jim Long" and use my recipes for their luncheon. Here are some of those recipes.
Herbed Cheese
(serves 8-10 if using about 2 cubes per person)
The combination of the fresh herbs and cheese makes a delightful taste of spring flavors.

Herbs used:
1 sprig (about 8-10 inches long) Greek or Sicilian oregano, leaves removed, stem discarded
4-5 whole leaves Garlic Chives, cut in large pieces
2  4-inch sprigs Marjoram (remove the stem if tough and discard)
2  4-inch sprigs Thyme (remove the stems and discard them)
4 or 5 sprigs parsley, larger stems removed

2 pounds of  Farmer’s cheese, skim milk, Muenster or similar cheese, cut into 1 inch cubes
2 teaspoons cooking oil or olive oil

Place the coarsley cut-up Garlic Chives, Oregano Marjoram, Parsley and Thyme into a small food processor with the nuts and pulse-blend until the mixture is well chopped.

Mix the herb/nut mixture into the cubes of cheese with the oil, mixing enough to disperse the herbs over the cheese. Refrigerate over-night to let the herb flavors blend into the cheese. Serve 2 or 3 cubes with toothpicks at room temperature with good crackers and fresh vegetable garnish.

Main Course
Mexican-Mint Chicken Salad
 (serves 6-8)
Herbs used:
 All herbs are fresh only. Dried herbs will  not give a similar flavor as fresh. A sprig is a stem of herb, about 4 inches long. On most herbs, the leaves are stripped off and the stem discareded.
1 sprig, or about 6 leaves cut up, fresh Mexican mint marigold (Tagetes lucida)...or substitute 2 teaspoons freshly-chopped French tarragon but use the marigold if possible!)
4 leaves (about 2 teaspoons chopped) Garlic chives
1 bunch Chives, or about 4 tablespoons, chopped
1 sprig, about 1/2 teaspoon fresh Thyme, stem removed and discarded


4 large fresh or frozen boneless chicken breasts
2 cups diced fresh jimaca if available, or 1 sm. can diced water chestnuts, drained
2 cups canned pineapple chunks
1 tart apple (such as Granny Smith)
6 leaves Mexican Mint Marigold, chopped
4 leaves Garlic Chives, chopped or snipped
4 tablespoons Chives or 3-4 whole green onions, green and white both, chopped
2 cups Hellman’s real mayonaise
Salt to taste

Simmer the chicken breasts until tender, with 6--8 cups water in which you have added a rib of celery, an onion, cut up and 3 or 4 peeled, cut up carrots. Reserve the broth.
Cool chicken and dice in inch sized pieces. Add remaining ingredients and mix gently. Refrigerate a few hours before serving. (Note, if making this the night before, add the herbs a few hours before serving).
Serve on lettuce leaf with crackers on the side with fresh herb garnish.

Garnish could include carrot fan, parsley, radish, cherry tomato with whole leaves of garlic chives crossed over salad. Or, serve with a cup of soup and whole grain crackers.

This is an excellent soup to accompany the chicken salad and I especially like the surprsing combination of fresh flavors. It’s a beautiful creamy golden orange soup with a delightful summery flavor and uses up the chicken broth from cooking the chicken for the salad.

Ginger-Orange Carrot Soup
(recipe serves 6 as a side dish soup with salad; serve in small coffee cups).
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 pounds small baby carrots (or if using larger carrots, peeled and cut up)
1 heaping tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons dry rice
1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup (or slightly more) heavy whipping cream

In skillet saute the onion in the butter. Transfer the saute to a soup pot with the 5 cups of chicken stock, honey, baby carrots, tomato paste and rice. Bring to a boil and turn down to simmer and cook, covered for about 30 minutes or until rice is tender.
Transfer soup to a food processor and puree with the orange zest, ginger, cream and salt and pepper to taste. Puree well. Return the soup to a pot to keep it warm until serving but don’t let it boil. Taste and adjust seasonings. If too thick, add more chicken broth.


Lemon Balm-Blueberry Cake (easy version)
Herbs used:
3 tablespoons freshly-chopped Lemon Balm leaves
2 leaves fresh Lemongrass (the leaf, not the bulb), snipped very fine with’s important to snip with scissors, not expect the food processor to do it adequately. Don’t substitute dry lemongrass.)

1 package Duncan Hines or any similar brand Lemon Supreme cake mix

Combine the liquid ingredients called for on the box...usually 1 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup oil. Put that liquid in a blender with:
3 tablespoons freshly-chopped Lemon Balm leaves and
2 leaves Lemongrass which have been snipped up with scissors. Pulse-blend until the herbs are fairly well pulverized. Add that to:
The dry cake mix and eggs, beating well and pour into two oiled, floured round 9 inch cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.
Slice the 2 layers of the cake to make 4 thin layers.

With cake slicer, slice each cake in half, making 4 small layers.
Lemon Balm.

1 large package instant vanilla pudding
1 large (8 oz.) package cream cheese, softened to room temp.
3 cups milk

In food processor, pulse blend ingredients, then stir in by hand, one small carton Cool Whip. Fold together well and refrigerate for several hours (or overnight).

Spread about 1/2 inch layer between the first and second layers of cake. Place the second cake on that, and cover the next layer with the filling. Put a layer of fresh blueberries over that, add the third layer, repeat with filling and berries, then place the fourth layer on top. Cover it with filling and dot liberally with fresh blueberries.

Dessert option 2:
Pineapple-Verbena Sorbet

Herbs used:
Lemon Verbena leaves

1 can frozen pineapple juice concentrate, thawed but still cold
3 leaves fresh Lemon Verbena, partially cut up
2 juice cans cold water

In blender, place the Lemon Verbena leaves, pineapple juice concentrate and 1 can of cold water. Blend well until the leaves are completely pulverized. Add the remaining can of water and pour the mixture into a hand-cranked or electric sorbet mixer. Freeze until firm. Serve in previously-frozen bowls (I freeze the spoons, as well, the sorbet stays firmer that way)