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Herbal Essence

13 Jul
Herbal Essence

Happy Wednesday, Dear Readers:

Wow–I apologize for the length of time in publishing. I just realized it’s been nearly a month! I’ve been busy on the copywriting side, just last week making the decision to change markets after pursuing something that just isn’t happening. Cross your fingers. . . .

Well, the rain finally stopped, and now Houston will be hot, dry, with occasional afternoon “pop-up” showers as the TV weather folks like to call it.  During TS Bill, members of the Eyewitless News Teams were everywhere, scaring people to death, causing panic buying of supplies and insisting that they watch TV 24/7 or DIE! Sheesh. . .we’re fine, and now I’m back to watering the HeatCageKitchen by hand, with a big plastic watering can with a sprinkler spout.

My friends in New Orleans will be blessed with a Trader Joe’s next year. Woo hoo! The store will be located in Metairie, a few miles from where I used to live, and you could tell a whole lot of folks were happy about that one. Baton Rouge already has one, and The E Man has declared it great. But, really–after all the driving I’ve done to get to Trader Joe’s, I could not explain enough how lucky they were to get one that wouldn’t be an hour or more away. Of course, there were complaints: “why did it have to be in Metairie?” (Because you don’t make money in low-dollar neighborhoods.) A few commenters on the WWL-TV Facebook page complained about having to drive maybe 15 miles across the river to get to it. Oh, please–try driving an HOUR in Houston to get to one! (It’s why I only go when I am already planning to be near one, and stock UP.) And then a large number of commenters asked, “What’s a Trader Joe’s?” That’s REAL New Orleans.

Continuing with the Karma of Spare Parts, I ordered replacement parts for my Cuisinart blender/food processor as well as my toaster oven two weeks ago. GRRR. . .but now the floor of the toaster oven is clean, the pan is new and not worn down from scrubbing, the blender works correctly and the food processing attachment isn’t cracked anymore.. I’ve been meaning to replace the baking pan and drip tray for a while. I just didn’t think I’d have to replace another part of the blender already. But parts wear out, as we all know, and no, this was not due to doing something stupid. (Like last time.)

Neighbor K has also had her own Karma of Spare parts to deal with. In the last year or so, she has been required to replace:

  • Air conditioner
  • Washer
  • Dryer
  • Dishwasher (just last week)
  • Mattress and box spring
  • Something in her car

K has been injured twice in the last calendar year, once requiring physical therapy. She has also had take the Daft Pug to the vet recently for a back strain. DP also has liver issues, requiring additional medication. Poor little pug. He just doesn’t seem as enthused to go out with me in the afternoon these days, but it is hot, and pugs don’t do well in hot weather. We keep it short, and he does what he needs to and we go inside.

Now onto more fun things.

Summer is the time for salads, and this recent article in The Wall Street Journal discusses the simple, fresh, green salad, which, we hope, makes a comeback. Keep the pasta, tuna, and other salads and just return to the simpler salad, you know? As they say in the copywriting world, “don’t over-think it.” Dressing for salad HeatCageKitchen style is a light sprinkling of any kind of salt you like (kosher is handy by the stove), 1 tablespoon olive oil from Trader Joe’s and 1 teaspoon of Alessi’s Raspberry Blush vinegar (if you can find it) or Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar. Shake it up, pour it over your salad, toss it really well, and eat it in front of the computer like I normally do.

Just don’t put too much basil in your salad, or you’ll regret it. I speak from experience. One or two finely chopped leaves in ENOUGH. Seriously.

Anyway. . . .

The garden, as you might expect, is in full bloom and doing stuff. For the first time ever, I have a bumper crop of Anaheim chile peppers.

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

Anaheim, er, Hatch chile peppers

I’ve used a few, and harvested a few more. I don’t let them get as big as the ones in the grocery store, because a) I don’t think they’ll get that big, and b) they’ll turn red and get hotter. So I pick them and make grapefruit salsa, but I also have to find more uses for them. One of my first creations went, naturally, into the Crock Pot. One packet of chicken thighs, two 14 ounce cans of diced tomatoes, and two seeded and ribbed Anaheims finely diced:

There we go. It was pretty good. Now to figure out what to do with the rest of them.

I recommend the boneless/skinless variety, and cooking about six hours. While I like the skin-on version for roasting, the skin gets rubbery when you slow-cook it in liquid for 6 hours. But because I was just itching to cook something, that’s what I did.

Seen recently in a magazine:

Give a woman a fish, and she’ll eat for a day. Teach a woman to garden, and everybody gets tomatoes.

Have you ever known someone to have so many tomatoes they couldn’t deal with it? Yeah, that isn’t me. However, I have been getting some tasty little tomatoes in spurts:

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

Sungolds, Chocolate Cherry, and one regular-sized Cherokee Purple.

The little ones have thinned for a while, but I see flowers on the grape plants, so I’ll be having more soon. There were three of the bigger ones, called Cherokee Purple. Here’s a closer look at that one:

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

A Cherokee Purple Tomato. Looks red to me.

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

The bottom end of the Cherokee Purple

No, I don’t know why it’s called “purple,” but they sure taste good.

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

Pretty much what any tomato looks like, right?

 

I did save some seeds from the last one, and will find something to store them in later. Like the Chocolate Cherry, it has a rich, deep tomato flavor that might only need a very light touch of salt. Maybe. Keep my fingers crossed that more are coming.

The jalapeno plant finally has one growing, but I don’t know how long to leave it grow. The ones you buy in the grocery are about as big as a finger, so it might have a while to go. Sage is doing well, I’ll use that soon in a compound butter to roast some turkey thighs (yes, again.) I have moved the bell pepper plant over by the tomatoes, and guess what? I’ve got a bell pepper coming, and one or two more behind it. It’s a red bell plant, so they’ll be attached for a while.

I am still doing battle growing lettuce, but the last stub that Neighbor K gave me has grown about a foot high. Woo hoo! I’ve got one more started in the soil, and one didn’t make it. Two more romaine stubs were put in water just last night and I hope to plant them soon. The re-grown celery is doing well, but it’s not growing like the stuff you see in the grocery; it’s mostly leaves and thin stalks. I also need to get more green onions for plantable roots, since the ones I have seem to be fading off.

I killed the cilantro, unfortunately. Why? Well, I’ll tell you.

Since January, I have been attending monthly gardening classes at the local library. (This Thursday evening is on fall vegetables.) Lecturers are brought in by the Texas A&M Agrilife Extension and the Harris County Master Gardener Association. (I missed April’s lecture because I had to be downtown early the next day for a copywriting event.) I’ve enjoyed all the classes and listening to the different instructors and their helpful info. I literally happened upon the info in the library one day in January and have made it a point to attend every since.

I just looked up those websites, and realized that there are resources there I never looked at before. DUH.

Last month was the June lecture, and they brought in a nice lady who talked about growing and using herbs. (No, not the kind you smoke–get your mind out of the gutter!) Longtime readers of this humble blog know that I love my pesto, and have struggled to grow cilantro. Well, guess what I found out? Cilantro is hard to grow here because it’s so hot! I’ll try again in the fall–fall to spring is the best time for cilantro, not during the summer.

The instructor (whose name I forgot to write down) said that she occasionally gets a call or visit from a chef asking for cilantro. She points said chef in the direction of HEB to buy some. And when I used my little scraggly cilantro growth a couple of weeks ago for grapefruit salsa, it never grew back like basil or parsley. Darnit. Fortunately, cilantro is cheap in this part of the country. (You can find that one on the recipe page too, called OrangeOnionSalsa. I use grapefruits more often, because I have them around, but oranges are also very delicious.)

I did get one very valuable tip from this lady: water in the morning, not at night. DUH! I’ve been doing that (once the monsoon was over) and I found only one persistent pest this morning. (Gave him a free flight to his new hunting area.)

One pointer: if you don’t have quite enough basil for your recipe, you can use Italian flat-leaf parsley as a filler, and it’s good, too. I forgot about that, and the recent first basil harvest/pesto night used up most of the basil and parsley and gave a nice yield. It’s now in the freezer; I’ve used up all but one of my previous pesto batches, dated with plastic wrap over the top and sealed up in a little square glass container.

The lecturer offered attendees some small basil plants that were grown by a group she works with, but she wasn’t sure what type of basil. Smells like basil to me. I don’t care; I just said “thank you.” I’ll have another pesto day soon, since my original basil plant is growing back, the new one is about a foot tall, and the parsley is also growing back nicely.

That’s when I found myself needing spare parts again. Remember when I stuck the wooden spoon in the blender and broke the cutting assembly? Thought I was good on the blender until then. Well. . .while I was trying to blend up that pesto, the blender would start and then “slip,” like a wonky transmission on a car when you shift it. Then I saw and smelled smoke. . .and nothing was lit. Seems that the the “blender collar,” which screws onto the bottom of the jar and holds the gasket and cutter assembly together to sit on the motor base, was worn down for whatever reason, and was causing the “slipping.” You can see the blender and spare part listing here.)  Because it’s also been used and worn, plus cracked in one place, I added a new food processor work bowl to my shopping cart, as well as a replacement drip tray and crumb pan (which is more like the bottom of an oven) to the cart. I wasn’t planning on doing this again, but. . .I can’t use my blender without it. I was going to replace the worn-down toaster oven parts eventually, so I did it all at once.

Oh, and the pesto was completed in my food processor, which, when I win the lottery, will also be replaced, probably with a Cuisinart or other upscale version. When you buy cheap, you buy twice.

I harvested plenty of basil, and got to work with it.

Parsley and some basil

Parsley and some basil

Thought I had more pictures, but really, pesto making is not that exciting–unless you’re me, of course.

There was a lot of great information in this lecture, so finally, I’m going to share it before Thursday’s lecture on fall veggies. <hanging head>

One point that was made that I knew about 20 years ago–do NOT attempt to make flavored olive oil at home. The risk of bacterial growth is great; companies that do that have sophisticated processing equipment that eliminate the possibility of toxicity, and it’s not possible to create flavored olive oil at home for Christmas gifts. You could indeed make someone very ill–and we don’t want that!

However–flavored vinegars are a great holiday gift, because I’ve done it. The vinegar kills any possibility of bacterial contamination on contact. Back in the 90’s, I got the idea from one of the Christmas Martha Stewart books, and after researching it discovered that oil wasn’t a good idea. I collected wine bottles from friends that I knew drank wine, soaked them clean and proceeded to make them for Christmas. Everybody enjoyed them. . .at least, that’s what they said. Now I know to use a Champagne or similar vinegar; plain white vinegar is a bit too strong.

If you’re going to make flavored olive oil for yourself, just make a small amount to use within a week. It will NOT be safe to make a month in advance for gifts. Those, you buy for Christmas.

I’ve added to the recipe page PDF versions of two of the handouts we were graciously given. One is a recipe for HerbJelly, and the other is a page of links to additional information, plus a number of recipes using fresh garden herbs. Yes. . .including pesto. It’s not the one I use, but it’s pretty darn close. I’m not saying this recipe is or isn’t better than the one I use; I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly good pesto recipes out there. If you have one you like better, by all means, use it–just make that pesto and freeze it for the winter!

Of course I made some Pea and Pesto Soup. You KNOW I did. Used up the end of a container after filling up a new one.

Pine nuts are expensive, but if your grocery has a bulk section, buy just what you need and use it right away, or buy a larger amount and immediately freeze what you don’t use. (I strongly suggest a glass or plastic container intended for use in the freezer; the thinner grocery bags can become brittle in the freezer and you run the risk of losing an expensive ingredient when the bag crumbles and/or breaks. Yes, I speak from experience.) If you don’t like pine nuts, walnuts are also good in pesto.

Oh, and my apologies for the pen markings on the PDF. . .I’ve been doing that since I was at Tulane. Can’t help myself, and my cookbooks are also marked up pretty good. Yes, even the new Clean Slate book. I also add the date and my initials along with comments whether I like or dislike a recipe. Hey–why not?

Whether you grow them yourself, or hit the farmer’s market on a regular basis, herbs are great, and for more than just basil pesto. Between the links and the recipes I’ve provided, you can easily learn more and learn to enjoy more herbs. What are you waiting for?

Enjoy!

 

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