Get down and dirty in the garden
Even though we’re still having hard frosts, sigh, our garden centers and nurseries are already beginning to sell herbs and plants, and I’m having trouble restraining myself. You see, it used to be that I was an emotional eater, and to a certain extent, I still am. But now, I think I’m an emotional plant buyer, and it’s been a LONG WINTER.
Check out my latest additions:
1. MINTS: I have always had a lot of success with mint, especially because, when I first planted mint (catnip) during my freshman year of college, I planted it directly into the ground. Big mistake – it spreads like a weed. On any given summer night, you can still catch me chasing cats from the yard or watching as Pitters and Janie (my two fancy felines) flirt through the dining room window with the drunk kitties of the night.
Peppermint (Mentha × piperita)
So far this year, I’ve bought chocolate mint (Mentha piperita cv.), spearmint (Mentha spicata), and peppermint (Mentha × piperita). Read about all kinds of mints from the article Many Mints: Recipes and Growing Tips for Mint, found in the latest issue of The Herb Companion by herb expert, Jim Long.
I grew spearmint and peppermint last year, so I’m excited to experiment with chocolate mint this year. It is said to leave an Andes Chocolate Mint flavor in your mouth. Here’s a recipe I found from Mountain Valley Growers:
Chocolate Mint Banana Bread
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 2 extra large eggs
• 1 cup mashed banana
• 1 teaspoon vanilla
• 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
• 1/8 cup dried crushed chocolate mint
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1. Preheat oven to 350 F and butter loaf pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, banana and vanilla. Add flour, soda, salt, chocolate mint and nuts. Mix well.
3. Bake for about an hour – a knife inserted in the middle should come out clean. Freezes well and mint quantity can be adjusted for taste.
2. PINEAPPLE SAGE (Salvia elegans) and LEMON THYME (Thymus × citriodorus): Still excited about the idea of dessert herbs, I added these two really fragrant herbs to enjoy when the weather starts to warm up, which, I hope, will be happening soon-in the very NEAR future. Ahem, anyone up there listening?
I was introduced to pineapple sage my first day working for The Herb Companion and was fascinated with the potent fragrance – I’m looking forward to using it in some dishes this summer, like this one from a 2005 article in The Herb Companion, Sizzling Summer Treat: Herbs on the Grill.
In early fall, when the rest of the garden is drifting into slumber, this 6-foot-tall herb ignites the sky with a lipstick-red flower that’s just as tasty and heady as its leaves.
• 4 chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch chunks
• 20-ounce can pineapple chunks in juice
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 cup dark rum
• 2 sprigs cinnamon basil, chopped, stems removed
• 2 red peppers, cut into chunks
• 12 large pineapple sage leaves, torn in half
• 1 handful pineapple sage flowers
1. Wash chicken and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside. Reserving juice, drain pineapple chunks. Set aside. Mix pineapple juice, brown sugar, rum and basil in a medium-sized glass bowl. Place chicken in mixture and marinate for at least 30 minutes. Thread chicken, pineapple chunks, red peppers and pineapple sage leaves onto skewers, alternating ingredients.
2. Place skewers on prepared grill, away from direct heat. Grill for 5 to 6 minutes per side, basting with marinade. Garnish with pineapple sage flowers.
Lemon Thyme Cookies
Makes 3 to 4 dozen
This recipe is from a 1995 article in The Herb Companion, Herbs in the Cookie Jar.
• 1/2 cup butter
• 1/4 cup sugar
• 1 1/3 cups flour
• 2 tablespoons freshly snipped lemon thyme
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Beat the ¬butter with the sugar until fluffy, then add the flour and thyme. Roll the dough 1/4 inch thick and cut out shapes (we like stars). Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets and bake 10 minutes. Cool on racks.
3. CILANTRO: Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is an essential herb for most dishes of the Mexican food variety, my other emotional crutch (which also happens to be what I gave up for lent). I have a sad face right now, but I'm thinking it’s going to be a nice summer.
Photo by Ciordia/Courtesy Flickr
Here’s a cilantro recipe I found from a 1998 article in The Herb Companion, The Cilantro Seduction.
Shredded Chicken in Cilantro Sauce (Pollo Encilantrado)Serves 8
Serve this dish with small bowls of chopped cilantro, chopped white onion, chopped serranos, and lime wedges. It’s also good with rice instead of corn tortillas or tostadas (deep-fried tortillas). Any extra sauce keeps for several days in the refrigerator. Tomatillos look like small, green-husked round tomatoes. They have a sweet-tart flavor and are widely used in Mexican cooking.
• 2 pounds (about 20 medium) tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
• 1/2 white onion, quartered
• 13 cloves garlic, peeled
• 10 to 12 serrano chiles, stemmed
• 1/2 teaspoon salt
• Freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 white onion, coarsely chopped
• 1 1/2 cups cilantro sprigs, packed
• Pinch of sugar (optional)
• 5 teaspoons canola oil
• 4 green onions, chopped
• 4 cups cooked chicken, shredded into bite-sized pieces
• 20 corn tortillas or tostadas
1. Place the tomatillos in a pot with enough boiling water to barely cover along with the quartered onion, 4 garlic cloves, serranos, and salt and pepper; reduce the heat and simmer for 7 minutes, or until the tomatillos lighten in color and become soft. Don’t cook them so long that they burst open. Drain, reserving the cooking liquid.
2. Puree the cooked ingredients in a blender with the chopped onion, 6 garlic cloves, and 3 to 4 tablespoons of the cooking liquid. Add the cilantro and coarsely blend. Season to taste with sugar, more salt, or additional chopped serranos. Set aside and keep warm.
3. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large pan; add the green onions and remaining garlic, minced, and sauté briefly. Add the chicken and toss over medium heat for 2 minutes.
4. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining oil and add the cilantro/tomatillo sauce and cook for about 3 minutes on medium heat.
5. Place the chicken in a large bowl and pour about 3 cups of the warm tomatillo sauce over it. Serve over tortillas or tostadas. Pass the remaining sauce.
4. FRUITS: I also added a few brambles (raspberries and blackberries), some blueberries and a self-pollinating cherry tree I'm particularly excited for. I have also purchased a few perennials, ferns, hyacinth and columbine as well as a beautiful exotic indoor orchid, The Jungle Monarch (photos of which will be posted when in bloom!)
So, that's what I've been up to so far this spring, how about you?! Any exciting experiments?
If you've got a question, I've got an answer. Shoot an email over to firstname.lastname@example.org.