5 Easy Ways to Preserve The Harvest: Herbs

Herb Harvest_Alba 2014

Happy Harvest, Blessed Equinox! Autumn has arrived!

Any regular readers of this blog know that the autumn is my favorite time of the year. The colors are so vibrant after the lush green of summer, the air is crisp and that crispness seems to make food taste so much better!

Today is the first day of autumn, the official equinox will happen tonight at 10:29 PM, EST. This is the perfect day to give thanks for the bounty of the season, all those delicious garden fresh fruits and vegetables that we have been enjoying all summer and that we can now harvest and use to prepare foods to keep for the leaner, colder months and let us not forget about our herbs, those wonderful plants that bring such wonderful flavors to our foods.

I love having a nice big herb garden although I admit that some years I am not very good about preserving the harvest. This year I decided to make it a priority. We didn’t have a very big vegetable garden this year – it was an unseasonably cool summer this year here in Vermont. So I concentrated on my herb garden. I had a variety of annuals and perennials and I really tried to make the most of the harvest this year.

I hope you enjoy these five easy ways to preserve your herbs and some delicious recipes to go with it, so you can enjoy your harvest all winter long!

DRYING HERBS:

Hanging from rafters

The easiest way to preserve herbs is to dry them. Some herbs are better for drying, than others because there are more natural oils in them and therefore they retain their flavor better. Herbs I particularly like for drying are: oregano, thyme, sage, rosemary, savory and anything in the mint family. These herbs will retain their flavor for about 6 months to a year depending on how you package them after drying.

It takes about a week for most herbs to dry. Those that are very oily and have woody stems, like rosemary and sage might take a few days longer. The best place to dry your herbs is in a well-ventilated place that gets a lot of natural sunlight. In my fantasy world I live in a little cabin in the woods with herbs hanging from the rafters in the kitchen. So that is where I decided to dry my herbs this year, and they did very well.

Thyme

You know your herbs are dry when they crumble easily at the touch. Dried herbs should look much like they did while they were in the ground, the same color and have a strong smell.

thyme in bottle

You can see in this picture, I have some thyme from last year on the bottom and the thyme I just harvested and dried on top.

Once your herbs are dry, you can package them for storage. I prefer glass bottles. I usually save any old glass spice jars, and then re-use them for this purpose.

COMPOUND BUTTERS:

Compound butter

Compound butters are another great way to preserve the harvest and add some excitement to winter meals. Several years ago I made an herbal compound butter with maple to rub under the skin of my Thanksgiving turkey. I couldn’t locate that recipe, so I made up one of my own. I am looking forward to putting this on my turkey this year. However, I made extra. I might toss it with some roasted sweet potatoes or winter squash or perhaps put a dollop in the pan when I am cooking chicken. Making compound butters is really very easy and is a great way to enjoy your herbs.

Autumn Maple Herb Butter

INGREDIENTS:
16 Tablespoons of softened butter (I use Kerrygold)
8 TBS of fresh herbs minced – I used a combination of sage an rosemary, equal parts
1 teaspoon of black pepper
3 Tablespoons of pure maple syrup (from Vermont of course!)

METHOD: On a large flat plate place the butter and spread it out a bit. Don’t work it too much or it will begin to melt. Sprinkle the herbs, pepper and drizzle the maple on top, then gently fold everything into the butter.

TO STORE: I found these wonderful Ball Frozen Herb Starters to help me preserve my herbs this year. So using a spatula I filled the cubes until all the butter was gone and then froze it over night. The next day, I popped them out and put them in a plastic freezer bag and then back in the freezer to be used later.

PRESERVING HERBS IN BROTH:

broth

I always have bone broth on hand. If you don’t you can always use some organic free-range chicken (or vegetable) broth. I like Pacific Organics in a pinch. This is an easy way to get you a step ahead when making soup in the winter. I love a good chicken soup, so I created a quick Chicken Soup Starter.

Chicken Soup Starter

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups fresh herbs, minced (I used a mixture of sage, rosemary, winter savory, parsley and thyme)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD: Mix the herbs and the garlic together. Place the herb mixture into a silicon freezer cube, fill to the top and then press down. Continue doing this to all the cubes in the tray until all the herb mixture is used up. Mix the salt and pepper in the chicken broth and then pour on top of the herbs. If the chicken broth is thick, it might not fill in around the herbs. I had that problem with mine. So I used a chopstick to swirl everything together, this left a little more room in the cube and so I just added more broth to fill the cube to the top.

HERBAL VINEGARS

vinegars

If you have a large bulk of herbs and you have dried as much as you will need for the season, I find that making herbal vinegars is the next best thing. It uses up a lot of herbs and you can use the vinegars on many things – salads, drizzle on grains, rice, and vegetables. You can even take a tablespoon of it for a healing elixir. This article by herbalist Susun Weed sheds more light on this and gives wonderful directions for how to make these vinegars. I made several this year: oregano vinegar, cilantro vinegar and one with sage, rosemary and thyme.

PASTA SAUCES

Every year I make pesto from the basil in my garden. I really like adding arugula to it and sometimes I make a pesto using cilantro (one of my favorite herbs). I don’t find that either basil or cilantro dry very well, so if you have an abundance of these herbs (or parsley, chives) I recommend turning them into compound butters, vinegars or making pasta sauces.

This year I made a different kind of sauce as well. My favorite chef, who is also a dear friend, Bruno Staccioli lives and cooks in Tuscany. A few years ago, he and my other dear friend Grazia De Tommaso wrote a lovely cookbook called Cucinar Cantando which is now also a small café, opened by Grazia in Colle di Val D’Elsa a year or so ago where she cooks local rustic specialties.

I was lucky enough to receive one of the first 11 special addition copies of the book and it is still to this day one of my very favorites. The recipes are simplicity at their best.

Bruno makes the most mouthwatering delicious food – all local and seasonal. One of my favorite dishes he makes is pasta with a butter and sage sauce. It is very simple, literally butter, sage, garlic and topped with parmigiano. But it is mind-blowingly delicious! The first bite brings me right back to a fall day in Tuscany, the clean crisp air with the scent of wood burning. Paired with a beautiful glass of red wine and I am in heaven. To read more about my adventures in Tuscany, click here

So I decided to do myself a favor and make up a batch of this sauce, in compound butter format that I can just toss on the pasta when I feel like a quick amazing dinner.

Butter and Sage Sauce

INGREDIENTS:
16 Tablespoons of butter (I use Kerrygold)
13 leaves of fresh sage, minced
5 cloves of garlic, minced

METHOD: I made this recipe just like the compound butter recipe at the top.

Fresh Figs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic Reduction

Fresh Figs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic Reduction

 

Fresh Figs with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Balsamic Reduction

I know it seems strange that my last two posts have been about wintery soups and now I am here slapping you in the face with a full-on summer dish. But that is the game that Mother Nature plays with us – bringing us out of those cold dark days and into days full of bright greens and colorful menu options. When we just can’t take any more cabbage, and root vegetables, Mother Nature bring us a summer bounty full of fresh baby lettuces, snap peas and later tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, stone fruits and these little beauties.

Just look at the color of that fig – if that isn’t a sexy show stopper on your spring and summer table, I don’t know what is! It is the perfect hue of spring green.

I am also pleased to tell you that this little snack is not just gorgeous, but also super easy to prepare and only requires 3 ingredients – figs, cheese and balsamic vinegar. There is very little prep work and it is absolutely delightful to eat. Win, win, win! Beautiful, fresh and elegant. Perfect for sharing with friends and family. There is just something magical about the pairing of figs and balsamic vinegar. The sweet, syrupy richness of the vinegar cutting through the sweetness of the fig is unparalleled.

asset_BestBloggersContest

I have entered this recipe in this month’s Better Recipes Best Blogger Recipes Ever contest featuring Potluck and Party Food. If you bring this to a potluck or party I can guarantee that it will be the hit recipe!

If you have a great potluck and party recipe, please enter your recipe too. The more the merrier! The winning blogger each month will win a full page feature in a Better Homes & Gardens magazine! That means if yours is one of them, thousands of new readers will discover your voice. You will also win a $1,000 cash prize and be guest editor for a day!

Please check out my recipe and if you like it, I would definitely appreciate your vote in the contest. You can vote every day, so if you really like the recipe, think about voting more than once. Thank you and enjoy!

Meaty Minestrone Soup

 

Meaty Minestrone

I know I have been promising this soup recipe for some time now, and since many of us are still experiencing winter weather, I decided it is still relevant for the season!

This is a great way to use your homemade bone broth. It is loaded with lots of delicious vegetables and the combination of grass-fed beef and pastured pork sausage makes it very hearty. So hurry up and make some today before the weather gets warm again!

Meaty Minestrone

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound of grass-fed beef
½ lb of sausage (I used homemade Italian sausage : Pap-Pap’s Italian Sausage made with pastured pork)
3 cups of mushrooms (I used baby bellas, cut in half)
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 TBS olive oil
6 cups of homemade bone broth (I used a pork and chicken combination)
5 small potatoes, chopped small
8 carrots, chopped small
1 can of organic diced tomatoes
½ can of organic tomato paste
1 cup of sun-dried or oven-dried tomatoes
2 cups of organic spinach (or other greens)
1 TBS of red wine vinegar
1 TBS Beau Monde seasoning
1TBS dried sage
salt and pepper to taste

METHOD: Sautee the beef, sausage, mushrooms and garlic in olive oil until the meat is browned and the mushroom are a little soft. Salt to taste before adding to the broth. Meanwhile, in a soup pot, bring broth to boiling and cook the potatoes and carrots for about 15 minutes. Add the beef and sausage mixture to the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, tomato paste and sun dried tomatoes and let cook for about 10-15 minutes. Then add the greens, red wine vinegar and seasonings. Cook another 5 -10 minutes, until flavors are incorporated and greens have wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serves 8-10

Happy Spring!

 

Deviled and Scotch Eggs for Ostara

 

(Deviled and Scotch Eggs for Ostara)

I know I promised you all a soup recipe next, but I needed to take a pause here to welcome Spring!

It is officially spring here in the Northern Hemisphere, but when I look out my window it is to look at endless snow, with more expected over the next 2 days! It hardly feels like Spring here, although there are subtle differences if you look for them. Roberto was just remarking about how the sunlight coming in the window feels like Spring sunshine and I know I have felt that the air has taken on a softer nature. Of course there is another hour of daylight than just a few weeks ago. However, we have no buds on the trees yet, nor any flowers poking up through the snow, and the Canada geese have not passed our house on their way back home yet, but I know the root children are waking up under ground waiting for their big growth spurts.

I have a nice group of women in my community who meet once a month. We rotate houses and we also rotate the topic of conversation, it has gone from childbirth and what we all did with our placentas, to more community matters and then over to more spiritual topics, but it is always a wonderful evening.

I hosted this month’s meeting and I always celebrate Spring or Ēostre (Ostara) with Eggs, which is truly the most symbolic food of the season (see why here).

I made a nice platter of Deviled Eggs   (this time I spiced them with honey mustard, dill and chives) and Scotch Eggs and another platter with Smoked Salmon, pickles and olives. We had a nice spread, all of the women brought something different –  a nice effervescent bottle of white wine, a tray of chocolate covered strawberries, a sausage and veggie casserole, a gorgeous apple tart and a nice bottle of homemade ginger beer to wash it all down with. It felt like a very springtime menu!

What do you do to celebrate Spring?

Easy Techniques To Make Super Gelatinous Bone Broth!

Bone Broth

SUPER Gelatinous Bone Broth

There is a lot going around these days about the health benefits of eating bone broth and, or gelatin (aka collagen). Bone broth contains gelatin, which in turn contains the amino acids glycine and proline. These amino acids are found in the bone, connective tissue and organs of animals. Our ancestors used to consume these parts of the animals they ate, but modern diets don’t usually include them, which is a shame because gelatin is great for our skin, nails, hair, joints and even our digestive organs, which directly relates to our immunity.

This article  discusses the many health reasons to consume gelatin, including, digestive health, releasing toxins and wound healing. It also gives suggestions for how to incorporate it into your diet.

I stated taking collagen when I was pregnant with my daughter. I started craving jello at about 4 months – and it made me think, why am I craving this? The main ingredient in jello is gelatin and what is gelatin good for? Bones. I was craving jello because I was literally growing my daughter’s bones, skin, joints and teeth. If that doesn’t put “you are what you eat” into perspective, I don’t know what does! I always say collagen is the reason why she is in a very high percentile for height! This post is not officially a part of my Post-partum Foods series, but it should be! If you know someone who is pregnant, make a batch of bone broth for her!

When anyone I know asks me what they can do for immunity, or especially if they are having digestive issues or joint issues, one of the first things I suggest is eating bone broth because it is so easy to make and so good for you! In fact both of my parents managed to break bones this year from accidents, and I made sure they both got some collagen to take during the healing processI make sure to include bone broth in our family meals, mostly in the way of soups and stews, but I also take this collagen* every day, stirred into my morning hot drink (usually Dandy Blend, sometimes Lavazza Decaf). 

So now that you are getting a general idea of why it is so important to add bone broth, or gelatin/collagen to your diet, how easy is it to make it? SIMPLE. It is one of the easiest things to make.

In my house, I am known affectionately as “the bone collector”. At any given time we have lots of bones in our freezer. We also have lots of whole chickens in our freezer, because we homestead and raise our own meat birds. Some years we have to “turn over” our laying hens when they stop producing eggs, and these hens are usually too small to roast, so I will use them to make bone broth. I also collect bones from other meals and sometimes buy beef bones from our favorite farm. The point is you have a lot of options when it comes to getting your raw materials. Collect bones, freeze them and then pull them out whenever you need to make more broth. I often mix and match my bones; one of my favorite broths to make is a chicken and pork broth, which is what I used to make the soup I will share with you in my next post.

All you need to make your own bone broth are: bones, apple cider vinegar (preferably raw), water and a crockpot.

Step 1: Place bones or whole chicken in the crockpot
Step 2: Cover bones and or chicken with water
Step 3: Pour in 1 TBS of raw apple cider vinegar (at this point you could also add seasoning, I like to season simply with salt, pepper and one or two bay leaves)
Step 4: Turn Crockpot on High setting and let cook for 24-48 hours.
Step 5: After 12 hours, put crockpot on the Low setting
Step 6: Strain broth and store

If you used a whole chicken, you can now take the meat off the bones and reserve to make classic chicken soup,  chicken tostadas, even my Moroccan chicken salad or throw it in some pasta! Then I store all the skin, tendons and other less desirable pieces to mix in with my pets’ food. I burn the brittle bones in our wood stove. This means there is never any waste.

This is a simple process that is mostly hands off, very cheap (you already bought it!) and so good for your health. There really is no reason not to do it! Plus, if you have pets they will literally love you forever!

Post-Partum Freezer Meals: Eggplant and Spiced Meat Bake

 

Eggplant and Spiced Meat Bake

The Mediterranean flavors are still on my mind and today’s post I will share with you a delicious casserole dish that is easy to assemble and cook, but tastes like you spent hours putting it together. This is a great addition to your post-partum freezer meal list because it is one of those dishes that tastes even better a day or two later after the flavors have really had a chance to marry, and there are some really great flavors! If you aren’t going to freeze this for later use, please make sure you make enough for leftovers, or you are really missing out!

This recipe is based loosely on Moussaka. It has all the same elements, the tomatoes, the béchamel and the spiced meat. However, I didn’t have any ground lamb, as is traditional, so I used what I did have – buffalo meat. You could use ground beef, lamb or even ground turkey in this dish and it would taste great!

When choosing your eggplant, smaller is always less bitter, yet even so I still salt and drain them before cooking to take any bitterness out. I used graffiti eggplants in this dish, I really like the flavor and they have a great melting quality to them when cooked, which is perfect for this dish. You can easily spot them because they are tear shaped and have variegated coloring of purple and white.

I hope you enjoy this hearty, delicious and simple dish!

INGREDIENTS:

3 medium eggplants, cut into thin rounds
salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 pound of ground meat
1 tsp of ground cinnamon
1 tsp of Beau Monde (contains, cloves, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, bay leaf and pepper)
2 hand fulls of arugula
1 – 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes

¼ tsp nutmeg
1 cup of organic yogurt (I used homemade goat yogurt)
3 eggs

METHOD: Cut the eggplant into thin rounds, place in a colander and mix with about a tsp of salt. Let rest for 20 minutes. While the eggplant is resting, preheat the oven to 400 F. After 20 minutes, rinse the eggplant and squeeze out any excess moisture. Stir the eggplant in a bowl with 2 TBS of olive oil. Place on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Heat the rest of the oil in a skillet sauté the onion and garlic until translucent, then add the meat and spices and cook until nice and browned. Then add the arugula and the tomatoes. Simmer the sauce for about 20 minutes, or until it gets nice and thick. Salt and pepper to taste.

While the sauce is cooking whisk together the nutmeg, eggs and yogurt. This is in place of a traditional béchamel sauce.

Place a thin layer of eggplant in a large glass baking dish and then put a layer of the meat sauce. Continue to do this until all the ingredients are used up – in the same manner you would make lasagna – end with a layer of eggplant. Then add the yogurt mixture on top.

Place in the oven on the middle rack and bake for about 45- 50 minutes, until the top is golden brown. Let it rest for about 10 minutes before cutting into it.

Serves 6

Shredded Lemon-Yogurt Chicken over Grain-Free Naan with Garlicky Tzatziki

 

Shredded Chicken on Naan with Tzatziki

(Shredded Lemon-Yogurt Chicken over Grain-Free Naan with Garlicky Tzatziki)

Sometimes in the dead of winter, you long for something sunny and bright. During winter’s darkness I often become hungry for the bright sunny tastes of the Mediterranean.

On a recent trip to Costco we were excited to find organic chicken – breasts and thighs. This might not sound very exciting, but when you raise your own chickens for meat (and eggs!) most of the time the only chicken meals you really make are whole roasted chickens or chicken soup. When you free-range your chickens they don’t tend to get as nice and plump and so the breasts and other parts tend to be on the smaller side. So we were excited to find decent quality chicken cuts for very good prices at Costco to add some diversity to our dinners.

Having various cuts of chicken is a luxury for us and so I wanted to do something fun with the meat. I made several slices into each breast and stuffed them with slices of meyer lemon. Then I rubbed the breasts with a mixture of homemade goat yogurt, salt, garlic, oregano, mint and lemon juice. I baked the breasts in the oven until the meat could be easily shredded. Then I served the shredded meat on top of grain free naan bread with slices tomatoes, cucumbers and arugula and then topped the whole thing off with homemade tzatziki.

This meal really hit the spot! It was comprised of all the flavors I was looking for without taking a long time to make. Cooking with an infant in the house means cooking in stages. I made the naan earlier in the day – easy to reheat later. I also made the tzatziki early, so the garlic had time to really penetrate the yogurt. I decided to bake the chicken so it was very hands off. Then at the end I just had to pull the whole thing together.

I served it with a simple side of oven roasted eggplant dices.

Lemon-Yogurt Chicken Breasts

INGREDIENTS:

2 organic chicken breasts
¼ cup plain organic yogurt (cow, goat, non-dairy)
2 TBS lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mint
drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil

METHOD: Place chicken breasts in a shallow baking dish and mix with all the ingredients. Let sit in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 2 hours. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place baking dish with chicken and marinade in the oven and cover, bake for 45 minutes until meat is tender enough to shred.

Tzatziki

INGREDIENTS:

1 ½ cup plain organic yogurt (cow, goat, non-dairy)
2 TBS lemon juice
½ of an English (seedless) cucumber, shredded
5 cloves of garlic, shredded or grated
salt to taste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried mint
drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil

METHOD: Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

Oven Roasted Eggplant Dices

INGREDIENTS:

2 small eggplants, diced and salted
extra virgin olive oil

METHOD: Preheat oven to 400 F. Dice the eggplant and place in a colander, lightly salt the eggplant and let sit for about 20 minutes. In 20 minutes rinse the eggplant and squeeze the pieces to get the water out. Place on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast for about 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Salt to taste.

Grain-Free Naan Bread

I have used both of these recipes and they are great for this purpose!

Grain Free Garlic Naan (Gluten/Yeast/Nut/Dairy Free) by Real Sustenance
Paleo Naan Bread (Flatbread) by Swiss Paleo

 

The Best Brownies Ever (with Cherries!)

Paleo Brownies (with Cherries!)

(gluten free/grain free/ dairy free/ paleo)

I did not title these Paleo, or Gluten -Free or even Grain-Free, because that might give you the impression that I believe these are the best PALEO (or GF ) brownies ever, when what I really mean is what the title says  - they are THE BEST brownies EVER.

I should have posted these for Valentine’s Day, but of course I didn’t make it. I did actually make them ON Valentine’s Day, so that should count right? But really these brownies are not for a special occasion, they are for every day. They are so good that they are considered one of the staples at our house and I am not even really a fan of chocolate desserts. They take only a few minutes to put together and they are packed with protein and have very little sugar. So they are actually quite good for you! Roberto even tries to get me to let him have them for breakfast and of course they are healthy enough for that, I just prefer them as an evening indulgence.

I have tried a ton of different paleo and gluten free brownie recipes because Roberto loves chocolate and I do enjoy brownies, if I am going to have something chocolate. Through this process of trying various recipes I came up with my own recipe. These brownies are pretty dense, so although they don’t rise much when baking, they are satisfying. If you like them really moist and fudgy cook them a little less.

The main ingredient is almond butter, so make sure to use one of good quality. My favorite is Barney Butter . Barney Butter is smooth and rich and doesn’t separate like so many almond butters on the market. It also doesn’t rip whatever you are trying to spread it on. Barney Butter is also certified GMO free, which no one can complain about. I lived on this stuff when I was pregnant with my daughter – stirring it into yogurt, mixing it into smoothies, putting it on top of ice cream, eating it with bananas or just right off the spoon if I needed an extra little boost. So if you know someone who is pregnant, get her a jar of Barney Butter, she will love it!

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup almond butter, I use Barney Butter
½ cup full fat coconut milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/3 cup cacao powder
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
pinch of salt
2 TBS. raw honey
1/3 cup chocolate chips, I use Enjoy Life Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips – they are Gluten, Dairy, nut & Soy Free,
Optional: 1 tsp of Dandy Blend or espresso powder
1 cup of cherries (frozen or fresh)

METHOD: Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8×8 pan. Mix all the ingredients together, except the chocolate chips and the cherries and then fold in the chocolate chips and cherries. Pour batter into pan. Bake for 18-20 minutes (20-22 minutes if using the cherries).