Category: basil

Garden’s last hurrah: nectarine basil preserves (+ a salsa).

It’s September, and the weather is changing. My little herb garden is still growing, but it’s struggling. I know it’s short-lived: the temperatures are dipping down into the 50′s at night, and they’re starting to show the signs that it’s too cold for them. So I’m using every last bit that I can. Making sauces & throwing in extra basil, making cilantro rice, and making rosemary-herbed chicken. Because before I know it, I’ll be drying them all for use over the winter.

When I was a kid, this time of year used to depress me. Back at school for weeks already, time in the pool getting cut drastically short (or disappearing altogether), the weather changing, etc. As an adult I find it doesn’t anymore… sure, I miss the summer. But after long, swelteringly hot days where my face feels like it’s melting off, I look forward to the coolness of the fall. The quietness. The changing leaves. The awesome fall TV lineup. The ability to bake a cake & not have it be too hot to breathe or have the frosting form nothing but a sad, pathetic puddle of sugary mush.

I definitely always miss my garden once the fall weather moves in. Using dried herbs just isn’t the same. And I miss all the fresh produce, too.

But right now… it’s still just warm enough, and it’s all still fresh.

Beautiful, fresh Washington State nectarines.I mean, come on… really now… they’re insanely beautiful!

I made the following recipes after receiving a second massive box from the Washington State Stone Fruit Commission. You might remember that the last time it was a huge box of beautiful peaches. This time, it was half ‘Sweet Dream’ peaches, half ‘Honey Royale’ nectarines (shown above); grown in an orchard right outside Yakima, Washington. They were so stunningly picture perfect, I couldn’t help but snap some photos before they were gobbled up. The nectarines were so big & perfect they almost looked like apples! Just gorgeous. I swear, I have never seen such beautiful fruit before. Not even at farmer’s markets, or gourmet food stores. The fruits I’ve received from them have been some of the best produce I’ve ever had.

So of course, after I took photos… a few of them got eaten fresh. And my parents took some. Gave a few to lucky neighbors.

And the piles of fruit that were left were all for me to play around with!

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A fairy tale of eggplant proportions.

Magical trees.

Funny thing, memories are. When I was a wee little tot, there was a tulip tree on my property that had a hole in the bottom. It was one of the original trees from when the house was built, so by the time I was a kid it was already not only over 30-something years old, but massive. Right where the trunk met the grass, the roots grew in such a way that made it look like there was a doorway leading into the tree. A little cave, or “fairy house.” It intrigued me so much, that little door. I used to imagine that little creatures lived in there, and had a whole little tree house with furniture made of twigs & carpets made of woven grass. Maybe fairies, maybe gnomes, maybe even mice or squirrels. Preferably the kind that wear little vests & glasses.

Sadly, I grew up… & the tree was removed because it got too big.

Keeping that in mind, think of what went through my mind when I saw this recipe for “Pickled fairy tale eggplant” over at Food in Jars. It immediately conjured up images of fairies & that little door in the tree. It brought back memories that had absolutely nothing to do with eggplant. So of course, I had to make it. However- I do not like eggplant. In the past, I’ve made things like melanzane sott’olio & passed ‘em along to my mother. So I figured why not do that again… who could turn down a pretty pinkish jar of something called fairy tale eggplant?

(I know, I’ve been stalking Food in Jars lately. I can’t help it)

Sicilian eggplant. Close enough to "fairy tale" eggplant for a jar of pickles, right?

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Scenes from the garden, 2013.

My grandpa's 60+ year old rose.

Typically, I update about my little container “Victory garden” a few times during the summer. But because I’ve been so busy this year, I really had to pare down. I didn’t grow anything other than the usual herbs; a few of mine come back every year (chives, oregano, mint) and I bought a few more, like dill, tarragon, rosemary, etc. You all saw my garlic already. So I was going to stick to just herbs, my little garlic shoots & my flowers, but then I bought a cherry tomato plant at the last minute because it felt kinda naked without any veggies. But I swear, I’m stopping at that!  I have way too much going on this summer to have a massive garden.

Anyway, I was inspired by my visit to the Queens County Farm Museum & I thought I’d share some photos with you of my garden, & what I’m growing this year. Even if it’s not a lot of stuff, it’s still beautiful, because nature is always beautiful & interesting. That rose pictured above is from a plant that’s over 60 years old. It was one of the first ones my grandpa planted when he moved out to Long Island from the Bronx, and it’s still the most beautiful rose I have.

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Blueberry cream pie for Dad, plus a bonus jam.

This is my dad. Well, it’s him in the 1970′s, anyway.

Mein papa, 1970's.

My dad likes food.

My grandpa Butch liked food too, but he was my maternal grandpa, so there was no blood relation between them. However, between the two of them, I think that’s where I inherited my love of eating, my ability to eat more food in one sitting than a truck driver twice my height & weight, and also… my ability to inhale food as if it was the last meal on earth. Honestly, I eat faster than anyone on the planet. Everyone yells at me, tells me not to rush, to enjoy it. AND I’M NOT RUSHING. I DO ENJOY EVERY DAMN BITE. I JUST EAT FAST. Get over it. I once had someone ask me if my parents were in the military, because they knew someone who grew up in a strict military house where meals were timed. No. My parents were not insane drill sergeants, and neither of them were in the military. I just friggin’ fast, okay? Sheesh.

Anyway…

Other things I get from my dad: my height (I’m 5’9″ or 5’10″, somewhere in there), my stubbornness, and I’m sure my mother could tell you many more.

My dad also likes blueberry pie (I did not inherit this).

Pie prep!

Blueberry cream pie for Father's Day! The only baking involved is the crust.

For Christmas, a guy Jay works with went and picked up a bunch of pies from this place out on Long Island called Briermere Farms. They’re known for their pies, and they’re pretty incredible I have to say. Even though the only one I’ve had so far is the chocolate cream, I’ve seen how they look & visually they look… well… they look like pies you want to dive into headfirst, basically. And the fact that they’re all natural, homemade & don’t contain nasty preservatives or fake stuff? Even better. From the website:

All of our pies, bread, muffins, cookies, cakes, jam, and jelly are made right here on our farm from scratch. There are no pre-prepared ingredients or fillings bought for use. Most of the fresh fruit used in our bakery is grown right here on our farm.

But anyway, this guy drove all the way out there with a list of pies that other guys ordered, and picked them all up, just because the pies are that good. I’m talking like 30-something pies. They’re that big of a deal. So Jay ordered us a chocolate cream pie for dessert, as well as blueberry cream pie just for my dad, since he’s such a big blueberry pie fan.

And it definitely lived up to the hype. Even Jay liked it- and he hates berries more than I do. So I thought, gee, when Father’s Day comes around next spring, I should try & duplicate that pie.

Blueberry cream pie!

And so Father’s Day is here. And who better to look to when recreating a fantastic, cream-filled pie than Paula Deen? I mean, really.

So I found Paula’s version of the blueberry cream tart, and I decided it seemed pretty damn good. Now I’m not sure if it tastes anything like the one from Briermere Farms, but my dad sure likes it. I adapted it slightly from Paula’s original recipe. And looking at this pie, I take back what I said about not being a pie person. I make a pretty awesome looking pie!

And I guess we won’t have to order this particular pie from Briermere Farms anymore.

Easy & delicious blueberry cream pie. Perfect for Father's Day or a summertime barbecue.

BLUEBERRY CREAM PIE (adapted from Paula Deen’s Blueberry Tart recipe)

Ingredients:

  • 1 9-inch deep-dish pie crust
  • 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 pint (8 oz. or roughly one cup) fresh blueberries (I used Driscoll’s*)
  • One 21-ounce can blueberry pie filling (or equivalent amount of homemade blueberry pie filling)

Directions:

  1. Preheat your oven to 350° F.
  2. Make your pie crust, and press it into your pie dish, poking holes in the bottom and sides with a fork. Bake for 10-12 minutes (or as directed on the package if using frozen) until golden, then remove and let cool completely.
  3. Beat the cream cheese with the confectioners sugar. Beat the heavy cream with the granulated sugar until it forms soft peaks, then fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture. Add the vanilla. Fold in the fresh blueberries gently.
  4. Spoon the cream mixture into the cooled pie shell and top with blueberry pie filling. Refrigerate until well chilled.
  5. Serve to your dad & tell him to enjoy!
 *I used Driscoll’s berries because I really liked what I read about them over at Food in Jars.

Easy & delicious blueberry cream pie.

I’m sure you could probably use a cookie crust, like graham cracker, and there wouldn’t be any baking at all! You can totally make your own blueberry pie filling, and on the same note you can use a frozen pie crust if you prefer.

Yes, there are people who will tell you not to, yes there are people who’ll rip you a new one for not making your own everything… but do what’s best for you. If it’s your first pie, then take baby steps. Pie crust can be rough for a beginner (it took me a long time to get a handle on it and I still suck at fancy crusts!). Of course, this is an easy pie to start with if you’re new to pie-making: there’s relatively little to do, not a lot of baking involved, and not too much prep.

And not for nothing, I think this idea would work really well with cherries, too, and probably even raspberries.

Fresh blueberries for blueberry cream pie (and blueberry basil jam!)

And if you’re like me and you buy more fresh blueberries than you need, you can make a simple little jam, too.

I decided to create something a bit more unique than your average blueberry jam, however. An added Father’s Day bonus for dad, if you will. My friend Chrisie made blueberry basil preserves last year & ever since then I’ve been dying to do that myself. It sounded so different, like it wouldn’t work. But yet the smell of the blueberries cooking with the basil totally made sense. It’s a genius idea, really, even more so than my raspberry-jalapeño-cilantro jam.

So what I did was I took Love and Olive Oil’s recipe for blueberry basil preserves and used Food in Jar’s recipe for small-batch blueberry ginger jam and kind of made a Frankenstein monster of blueberry recipe jamminess.

Blueberry basil preserves.

SMALL-BATCH BLUEBERRY BASIL PRESERVES

Makes about 12 ounces; either one half- pint (8 oz.) + one 4 oz jar or three 4 oz. jars

Ingredients:

  • 1 dry pint fresh blueberries, washed & dried (again, I used Driscoll’s)
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4-5 large basil leaves, washed & torn

Directions:

  1. Smash your blueberries a bit and place them in a bowl with the sugar. In a mortar & pestle, bruise the torn basil leaves slightly and add to the blueberries & sugar. Toss together & let sit for one hour.
  2. Meanwhile, sterilize two 8 oz. jars or one pint jar, and put the lids in hot water to soften the seal.
  3. When ready, put the fruit mixture into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 15-25 minutes or until it passes the plate test/reaches 220° F. This might take longer or maybe even less time; it will depend on the weather, how much liquid is in the berries, the ripeness, your stove, the type of pan you use, etc.
  4. Pour into warm prepared jar(s). Wipe rims, place lids & bands, and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.

If you’re umfamiliar with term “the plate test“, you have no idea what I mean when I say “sterilize your jars“, then click those links, and if you’re totally new to the canning thing but you desperately wanna start… then go read my post Canning for Dummies.

Blueberries are like little bombs of pectin, so I’m not sure why people always want to add more pectin to blueberry jams. They don’t need it! Let them cook down on their own. Oh, and wear a dark-colored apron when you make this. Blueberries like to attack sometimes.

Blueberry basil preserves.

4-ingredient blueberry basil preserves.

I can’t speak on the taste, but it sure looked pretty. And that pool of clear blueberry “liquid” is actually gelled, & wrinkles when pushed, so the preserves aren’t as loose-set as they appear. I tried to show in the photos that there are indeed basil leaves in there, but those suckers were hard to find. You’ll have to trust me.

Happy Father’s Day to all the awesome dad’s out there. Enjoy your day!

 Sources & credits: Longaberger black 11″ pie plate, Sur La Table marble rolling pin, vintage silverware, Ball® 8-ounce jars can be purchased at freshpreserving.com.

Deep dish “pizza in a cake pan.”

Deep dish cake pan pizza! So easy!

If there’s one thing you take away from this post, it’s this: pizza is good.

There are people who will tell you it isn’t. There are folks who demonize it, bitch about the cheese or the amount of carbs. There are people who claim it’s greasy & unhealthy or who say things like “Wow, look, a heart attack on a plate.” Those people aren’t your friend. Sure, they disguise themselves as “friends.” But really, anyone who tries to tell you that pizza is bad is a horrible person.

Pizza isn’t bad. Pizza isn’t at fault.

People who eat pizza four times a day, every day, and eat themselves obese? They’re at fault. Those people who don’t get any exercise, eat crappy diets & then get sick & blame cheeseburgers or pizza? It still doesn’t make pizza- or burgers- the bad guy. Pizza isn’t an every day, all day meal. Neither are cupcakes. Or ice cream. Or cheeseburgers. And if you can’t understand that, and you’re blaming food, then honestly you need to sit down & re-examine your life. STOP BLAMING FOOD. STOP LABELING THINGS LIKE BREAD AS “BAD.” BREAD IS NOT BAD. You are bad for food shaming people. YOU are the asshole. By telling people to stop eating carbs or fats or sugar altogether you aren’t educating them in a good diet, you’re making them feel bad. Not to mention spreading false nutritional information, because since when has one or two slices of pizza- or even a whole pie, really- made anyone fat? Never, that’s when.

And let me just say this: one of the things that totally drive me nuts/insane/bananas/bonkers/pick a word about having a food blog that isn’t loaded down with quinoa or gluten-free fad diet stuff are the questions. Ohhh, the questions. Such as…

“Oh mah gah, like how do you NOT weigh 1,000 pounds!?”

“Holy crap if I ate like this I’d be a freakin’ WHALE! How do you stay so skinny?”

“Where do you put all this food??? You’re so thin!”

“Marilla, seriously, how are you able to eat all of this?”

“No really… how is it possible your house is full of delicious treats and you don’t eat them all?”

Have you ever heard of self-control? Moderation? COMMON SENSE? Do you HONESTLY think I eat nothing but cupcakes & pizza four times a day every single day? What planet do you come from? I eat a shit-ton of salads & vegetables, but who the hell wants to read about that? I certainly don’t. Salads are boring. Delicious, yes, but not interesting. Trained monkeys can figure out how to make a good salad, let’s face it, it’s not that hard. Also… these people asking these questions are clearly not food bloggers. Because if they were they’d realize that by the time the food is prepared, cooked & done, the photos are set-up & taken & every one else has eaten, we’re too damn tired to eat or to do anything but nap.

Deep dish cake pan pizza: how to make deep dish pizza the easy way, from the dough up. NO MIXER REQUIRED!Side note: isn’t it funny I posted ice cream and pizza within a few days of one another? I think so. Junk food done right!

Okay now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the good, positive pizza talk. ‘Cause everybody loves pizza! Well, unless you’re one of those buzzkills I mentioned above, anyway… but who cares about them? 

Being from New York, I especially love pizza. I’m partial to New York pizza, of course, but I do love me some deep dish. Thick, oiled crust, gooey cheese. Oh man. It’s some good stuff. I could live on pizza, really. Although like I said- that’s not exactly feasible… either way, I love it. I also love making my own pizza, as is evidenced by the four or five different recipes I have posted on this blog alone! Making your own dough is not as hard as you think it is, even if you don’t have a stand mixer with a dough hook you can make your own awesome pizza dough.

EASY PIZZA DOUGH RECIPE

Makes two 8″ deep dish cake pan pizzas, one 9″x13″ pizza or 3-4 free form thin crust pizzas

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 teaspoons active dry yeast (not instant)
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 2 cups lukewarm water

Directions:

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast, then make a well in the center.
  2. Add the olive oil and the 2 cups lukewarm water.
  3. Mix until a soft dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead gently for 5 minutes.
  4. Set aside in an oiled bowl and cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel.

 Deep dish cake pan pizza with easy homemade dough.

How good does that look? Drool-worthy. And EASY. I promise you, it’s very, very easy.

DEEP DISH CAKE PAN PIZZA

Ingredients:

  • 1 batch homemade pizza dough (if using frozen or refrigerated, thaw & let it come to room temp)
  • 2 cups marinara sauce or sauce of your liking, homemade or store-bought (this sauce works well), or, two large tomatoes sliced & patted dry
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced
  • shredded or finely grated parmesan cheese (I used a combination of both)
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried basil
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • sliced pepperoni, crumbled ground beef, or any toppings of your choice

To make the pizza:

  1. Preheat the oven to 425° F and get two 8″ cake pans ready.
  2. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon each of dried basil & oregano in a small saucepan. Heat gently until it smells like it’s ready. Turn off the heat & brush the cake pans with it fairly liberally.
  3. Divide the dough in half. Press each ball into it’s own cake pan. If it springs back too much, let it rest for 5 minutes and try again. Punch & press it into the pan, pushing & pulling the “crust” over the top of the pans by roughly 1/2″.
  4. Brush the crust part with the olive oil mixture and sprinkled a handful of shredded parmesan and a 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese over the bottom of each of the pizza crusts. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove the pizzas and add the sauce or sliced tomatoes and then the remaining mozzarella cheese, as well as any toppings you might want to add. Sprinkle with more parmesan (I used grated for the tops), add a basil leaf (if desired) and put back into the oven for 15-20 minutes or until sauce is bubbly & crust is golden.
  6. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10 minutes before cutting. This dough also works when made in a single 9″ x 12″ baking dish or pan for a “Sicilian”-styled pizza. Cooking directions for that pan size can be found here.

I’d avoid using fresh mozzarella for this as it can be too watery and make your pizza too soupy. If you do use it, make sure it’s drained thoroughly & patted dry as much as possible. Also, if you make your own sauce for it, try using fire-roasted tomatoes. I guarantee you you’ll never want to use a regular can of tomatoes again. And be sure to use fresh tomatoes that have been patted dry of all liquid as well, if you aren’t using sauce & you’re taking the fresh tomato option.

Serve with more cheese, preferably while singing “That’s Amore.” Red gingham tablecloth & bottle of chianti with the straw bottom optional.

Deep dish cake pan pizza!

P.S. the tiki mug giveaway ends TONIGHT at 11:59 p.m. EST! Don’t miss out!

Bell pepper salad & warm(er) weather!

The weather here is finally getting warmer. FINALLY. Last year at this time, it was already warm. As a matter of fact, my herbs began growing in March of last year when we had a streak of 70° degree weather. I think it even hit 80° a few times. And by mid-April, my chives were huge. So huge, in fact, I was using chives on every dish… and I had chive blossoms everywhere: I was making egg salad with them & chive blossom vinegar with them, and I had jars of them on my counters like they were flowers until late June. This year? They’re tiny little green shoots still, no sign of blooms. So I’ve been waiting patiently for things to get a bit warmer, or at least for the snow & sleet to finally stop… and the fact that it’s been in the 50′s lately (except for a few days) and relatively nice out, save for some rain & very cold nights, makes me really happy. And tomorrow it’s going to be around 66°!

Hey, it’s the little things. Like the weather getting warmer, or the flavor of a bright red pepper that means summer is coming.

(This photo is from last summer)

And at least in 50°-60° weather you can start to garden, or go for long walks and get some fresh air. And- even though it might be too cold to eat outdoors- you can maybe cook outdoors! Which is where today’s recipe comes in. It’s a fresh & easy side dish (or burger topping, or salad topping, or hell- even a hot dog topping) that takes no time at all to make. It’s great on sandwiches or with sandwiches.

When choosing your peppers, choose ones that feel heavy for their size. Avoid ones with wrinkles, cracks or blemishes; pick ones with taut, firm skin.

TANGY FOUR-COLOR BELL PEPPER SALAD

Makes about 3 pints

Ingredients:

  • 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, sliced in half
  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 2/3 cup white-wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 teaspoons fresh basil (or 2 teaspoons dried)
  • 4 teaspoons fresh oregano (or 2 teaspoons dried)

Directions:

  1. Place peppers and tomatoes in a large glass jar with lid, or mix them together in a large mixing bowl. Shake or stir to combine; set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, sugar, salt, pepper, basil, and oregano, whisking well. If using a jar to mix, pour mixture over peppers, then close lid and shake well to coat. If using a bowl, scoop the pepper mix into the jar(s) and then pour the liquid over them, equally if using more than one jar. Add more vinegar & oil in equal parts if desired (to fill jars with more liquid, if needed). The liquid should be at least halfway up the jar.
  3. Serve slaw from jar if desired, immediately, or store covered in the refrigerator. Salad is best when made a day before serving, so all the flavors can meld together.


The dressing itself is awesome, and once the peppers are gone I recommend keeping it to use as a salad dressing. The peppers impart their flavor into it after sitting in it for a while, so it makes a great peppery Italian-like salad dressing.

I served it a little over 24 hours after making it alongside & on top of big ol’ fresh green salads that included romaine, iceberg, red cabbage, carrots and baby arugula.

But like I said- it’s excellent with just about anything. Here are some other serving ideas:

  • Just like that open-face tomato & feta sandwich I made last year with my garden fixin’s, this is a great dish to make on a really hot day. And, also like that sandwich, it’d be fantastic eaten just as it is as a light summer picnic meal, maybe with a little feta crumbled on top.
  • This would be really good with the Southern pickled shrimp I posted last year, too, maybe on a bed of greens. (Those pickled shrimp aren’t what you think, by the way. They’re like ceviche de camarones- just shrimp in an herby seasoned olive oil/lemon juice mixture. No vinegar. Don’t be afraid!)
  • Speaking of greens, like I said above, it’s awesome on top of a regular ol’ lettuce salad, too. The peppers are perfect additions to any salad, and the vinagrette that’s already in the jar is an amazing salad dressing in and of itself.
  • Oh, wait- here’s another GENIUS idea: mix it with some cold pasta & fresh grated parmesan as a pasta salad- with or without a 1/4 cup of mayo.
  • As a hamburger topping. The tang of the vinegary peppers with a thick, juicy burger is perfect!
  • Alternatively, this would be delicious as the filling of a wrap. Maybe with some grilled chicken, or shrimp, or even with avocado, sliced portobello mushrooms or black beans if you’re a vegetarian.

Mmm. Oh man- now I’m getting hungry.

And it takes literally, like, five minutes to pull together. Store it in pint jars in the fridge for a quick fix- just pull one out an hour or so before you want to use it to let the oil come back to it’s normal consistency and you’re good to go. I actually made one quart jar (above) and a pint jar… I mean, if you really want to, make 6 half-pint jars. It doesn’t matter. Whatever.

For an even more colorful salad, you can use small different colored heirloom tomatoes such as Black Cherry, Blondkopfchen, Snow White, Hartman’s Yellow Gooseberry or Sun Gold. And if you can find a purple Bell pepper, or a chocolate Bell pepper, then add them too! Last but not least: you can also add a head of cabbage, thinly sliced, to this. Then it would become a kind of “slaw” I suppose… but boy would that give it some heft. Not to mention make a massive portion! You can also add a chopped red onion to it, or celery. Experiment! Try adding cilantro instead of basil & oregano for a different flavor. Use rice vinegar instead of white wine vinegar & sesame oil instead of olive oil for an Asian spin. Shake things up.

Literally. I mean, shake the jar to mix it up.

A time to plant, a time to sow.

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Yes, I know, you’re all in “fall-mode” already. Me too. It’s hard not to be when Halloween has infiltrated every store & every blog (or Pinterest page) is pushing pumpkin desserts! And I’ve got those coming for you, too. But first there’s still some wrapping up to do when it comes to summer. Namely the garden.

Every year at this time, I start to dry my herbs. They continue growing until mid to late October, usually, unless it gets very cold at night very quickly. As do the peppers, sometimes. But the herbs usually get so large midway through the summer, that I end up cutting them back in late July and using most of them fresh (or freezing them). The rest I dry and add to my dried herb jars. Then I cut them back again in September. Drying fresh herbs is one of the easiest things to do, as is freezing them, and if you grow your own herbs I strongly suggest you do it! For cilantro, I suggest freezing it in olive oil. Basil is also good that way, as well as rosemary. You can freeze them in water, too, if you prefer. As far as drying them, there are, of course, quite a few different ways to do it… but this is what I do. I bought little jars from Ikea to store them in, but small Ball jars work too, as do cleaned out baby food jars. All you have to do is cut your herbs and give them a good shake outside to evict any unwanted tenants. Not cilantro, though, dried cilantro tastes nothing like fresh and it’s not really worth it. You’re better off freezing that. Anyhow, cut ‘em down and give ‘em a a shake or two… then give them a good rinse and let them dry overnight on a paper towel or clean dish towel. The next morning, tie the ends of each herb together to create a bunch, and tie with soft twine (or use a small rubber band). Place them in a brown paper lunch bag that you already labeled and “hang” them in it, gathering the top of the bag together around the bottom of the stems and tying it. Then hang the bags or place them in a cool, dry place for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, you’ll have dried herbs (if not, let them hang another week, there shouldn’t be any moisture left in them). Take them out of the bags and gently tug, pull or scrape the leaves of the herbs off the stems with your fingers. You can crumble the basil, oregano & parsley at this point, if you wish. Place them in your jars and label. Or, if you have non-edible lavender, use it in a sachet. All done!

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Anyway… as you might have guessed, this is the last garden post of the season. Sad, yes. But each year it comes whether we like it or not. The good things far outweigh the bad: the fresh veggies that start to come in record numbers, the fresh herbs that grow like crazy, and the delicious meals, sauces & salsas that can come of them all.

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Except this year.

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This year I was lucky to get 8 Cajun Belle peppers, 4 SuperTasty Hybrid tomatoes and 1 Green Zebra tomato. That’s it. Of course, my herbs were huge and I got tons of use out of them all season, not to mention the pesto I’ll be making & freezing because my basil is taking over a small country. But my vegetables were not at all what they have been in the past. Why? I don’t know. The weather, maybe? I know the country is having the worst drought in two decades. But here in NY, it was a pretty wet summer (wetter than usual), but that flip-flopped from very very hot to very very wet almost constantly. The plants barely had time to dry out and recover from one storm by the time another one hit. Though really, I’m not sure. Maybe it was the crazy wind with all those severe thunderstorms (& tornadoes! WHAT?), maybe it was the really bad heat in between all that, maybe it was just me. My mind has been other places this summer, and I haven’t been as anal-retentive about keeping up with the gardening. I noticed some funky curly leaves on the tomatoes and I never even did anything about it. I haven’t weeded or used any fertilizer/plant food at all either. And maybe it was the fact that I chose heirloom tomatoes, not hardier disease-resistant ones this season. But regardless, no matter what the reason, that’s all I got so far. The “mystery plant” died sometime in mid-August, so I guess I’ll never know what it was (glad we weren’t taking bets!). Now my peppers & tomatoes will probably keep growing for a few more weeks, or at least until it gets too cold at night, but I doubt I’ll get much more out of them. Of course, if I end up with anything else, you’ll all read about it for sure. But basically, that was my bounty of 2012, and I was lucky to get it.

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But it was still worth it. Each tomato or pepper is one more tomato or pepper I didn’t have to buy.

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I cut those last three peppers off before they matured, because I wanted to use a variety of peppery heat in a dish I was making. The green tomato took forever to finish growing, it wasn’t done until last week. And the SuperTasty’s? Ugh. They were a struggle all season. Like I said, I could probably take some of the blame, if not most- I wasn’t 100% invested this year. But the weather was downright bizarre, so I’m just going to use that as my excuse. In all my years of having a veggie/herb garden, this is the first year my bounty was pathetic, so I guess I should be thankful. And the best part? Using fresh tomato slices from my own plant, and fresh oregano to make a fantastic light hot weather dinner: a tomato feta open-face sandwich, using one of my SuperTasty hybrid tomatoes & both kinds of fresh oregano.

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I feel almost silly for writing up the recipe for this, it’s so easy, but epicurious.com did too, so I’m in good company. This is a good way to enjoy the fruits of your garden on a really hot, sticky late summer night. Or a slightly warm early fall evening.

TOMATO-FETA OPEN FACE SANDWICH (from epicurious.com)

Ingredients:

  • Thick slices of white bread (Pullman loaf is ideal)
  • Olive oil (good quality oil meant for eating)
  • Tomato slices
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Slabs or crumbles of feta
  • Fresh oregano

Directions:

  1. Lightly toast thick slices of white bread, then drizzle with olive oil.
  2. Add tomato slices, salt and freshly ground black pepper, slabs of feta, fresh oregano, and more oil.
  3. Eat!

I bet this sandwich would look delightful with different colored heirloom tomatoes, and it would probably be amazing with blue cheese or Gorgonzola crumbles too. Noms.