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Archive for the ‘Herbs’ Category

Save fresh herbs in a small vase of water.

Save fresh herbs in a small vase of water.

Our herbs are always one of the best things in our garden. They’re thriving right now in all the sun and warmth of summer. The basil is especially growing strong. I’ve already pinched back a bunch and made some delicious pesto.

We’ll have to make another batch soon, but usually when we pick basil it’s more than we can ever use in one dish.

To save the basil (and a couple trips outside), we always make sure to get as much of the stem as possible. Then, we use what we need and store the rest in a small vase.

This really works for almost any herb – just make sure to remove any leaves that would be below the water line.

It will stay fresh like this for about a week. Plus, it makes the kitchen smell amazing!

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Lots of basil!

Lots of basil!

It must be a prime spot in the garden because our basil was seriously getting out of control. The plants themselves were taller than they’ve ever been in the past three years, and some of the leaves were almost the size of our palms.

Just to bring the plants back to a more manageable size, we had to pick a ton of basil – a full colander of about 3-4 cups when packed down. The first thing I always think of when there is an abundance of basil is to make pesto. It’s really easy to make and can be adjusted to taste.

Here’s the basic recipe* I use:

(more…)

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In my head, I said this post’s title much like Dr. Frankenstein when his experiment woke up.

While it may seem a bit silly, it kind of replicates my feelings when I saw our herbs bouncing back. The oregano has sprouted a handful of leaves, and the chives and mint are getting out of control, which is a bit of a surprise because it’s still so early in the season.

Chives and oregano in the first pot, mint behind it.

Chives and oregano in the first pot, mint behind it. The thyme didn’t survive the transplant.

Last year we dedicated an entire raised bed to herbs. Matt thought that was a waste of space, and I’ve come to see his point. Our plan this year is to intersperse the herbs throughout the vegetable beds – both as a space saver and possible pest deterrent.

But until we planted tomatoes, squash, peppers and a host of other plants, herbs were going to be on hold. So when I dug up the landscape fabric from last year’s herb bed, I replanted the chives, thyme and oregano in a spare pot until they were needed.

My thought was if they survive, great; if not, no big deal.

We’re glad to see they’re mostly doing well – the thyme looks dead, but the other two transplants look lush. I’m going to divide the chives into smaller clumps and plant them around the maple tree in our back yard. We also have hostas there that were nearly destroyed by slugs, and chives are supposed to repel those slimy beasts. Plus, they have pretty purple flowers when you let them go to seed.

As for the mint, well, Derby Day is right around the corner …

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“Your eyes are bigger than your stomach.”

That phrase typically applies to filling one’s plate with more than he or she can possibly eat. For me, it rings true when I’m planting herbs every summer. Somehow our raised bed gets filled with tons of fresh herbs–this year we planted two basil plants, two parsley plants, lemon thyme, two oregano clusters, cilantro, and our chives and mint returned for a nice harvest.

The final harvest of herbs from our garden. Almost nothing was left after this.

The final harvest of herbs from our garden. Almost nothing was left after this.

It’s more than we could possibly use in our cooking, especially when many of the herbs keep producing throughout the season. This summer I was pushing chives and basil on everyone. Aside from a couple big batches of pesto or a heavy-handed herbal infusion to our spaghetti sauce, I was at a loss on how to use everything before the weather turned cold and the plants died.

Then I came across a brilliant way to preserve herbs–the freezer. Sure, I could let them dry and later crush them to add to dishes, but that’s very time consuming, and I’m impatient. There are several methods for freezing herbs including individual leaves on a baking sheet or making ice cubes filled with fresh herbs and/or oil and water. I chose the latter, and it’s fairly simple.

1. Wash and dry the herbs, either patted dry with towels or in a salad spinner, which I used.

2. Chop them as you normally would if using fresh herbs.

3. Place the chopped herbs in an empty ice cube tray. How much in each is up to you but a tablespoon or so is a good rule of thumb. 

4. Top with olive oil or water, and place in the freezer overnight. 

5. When they’re frozen, place in individual freezer bags and label which herb is in each.

Ready for the freezer. We used both oil and water for each herb.

Ready for the freezer. We used both oil and water for each herb.

I tested this during the summer with chives and water, and it worked like a charm. I wanted to make sure I didn’t waste my time (or the herbs) if it wasn’t going to work. We did this again this fall and have had a steady supply so far this winter.

The obvious way to use these is to drop the herb cubes into soups or stews. We also take out the ones in oil and let them melt in a hot pan, which serves as a great base for sautéing onions or pan-frying fish.

Sometimes I’ll melt the water cubes in the microwave then squeeze dry the herbs to use in another dish. There are plenty of creative options.

A few things to note:

  • Personally, I felt like I had to use too much olive oil for this and will probably try to figure out a way to use less next time.
  • Also, the basil and mint turned brown in the water cubes. They still taste fine, so don’t be put-off when they don’t come out of the freezer all green and beautiful.
  • Consider writing on masking tape instead of directly on the bag. Even though we used permanent marker, it’s rubbing off in the freezer. Most of the time I can tell which herb it is, but sometimes I use it anyway and hope for the best.

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Signs of spring?

It’s been really warm here for the past several days–we’re talking 60 degrees or more in January. Ohio weather is notoriously bipolar, so I’m not surprised it was warm on Jan. 11 and is supposed to be in the mid-30s on Jan. 14.

The weather inspired me to check out our garden, which I haven’t really paid any attention to since the final leaves were raked away this fall. I was happy to see that the shredded leaves were decomposing nicely–the big, two-foot tall pile is now a smattering about three inches thick. That should provide a good nutrient boost in the spring.

That's parsley poking through the leaves. The greenery in the second bed is peas I've left to compost directly in the bed.

That’s parsley poking through the leaves. The greenery in the second bed is peas I’ve left to compost directly in the bed.

I also noticed our parsley, which was chewed down to the stems by butterfly caterpillars, is poking through the leaf debris. I knew chives, thyme and oregano were perennials but didn’t think parsley was. After a bit of research, I found out parsley is not really a perennial, it’s a biennial. That means the leaves are only good the first year, and it sets seeds in its second year.

We’ll plan on planting some more next spring, but I might let the seeds lay where they fall and see what pops up the following years.

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Caterpillars!

Cleaning up the beds today and we found a ton (ok, about 8) of these caterpillars hanging out on our parsley plants. They’re apparently the swallowtail butterfly and aren’t harmful so I left them alone.

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